Musings on Maine

The Maine of my childhood was a ”Once a Summer Jaunt” to Ogunquit with my family.  It is a beach community on the cold north Atlantic. I can remember my father toting a shovel and digging four-foot holes in the sand to bury me or my brothers up to our necks in the gravel like sand.  That’s about the extent of my memories.  My parents met on a sailboat in Maine.  The rest was unknown until recently.

I’ve been to Maine twice in the last month or so as my boyfriend, Roy, has been hiking the Appalachian Trail.  At this point he is heading southbound from Mount Katahdin.  I dropped him off in Millinocket in July and met up with him again in Rangeley.  After two trips to Maine, I figured if you aren’t a Mainer, or even if you are, you might want to know some of the things I noticed.

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Things I noticed in Maine:

Porcupines

It’s true I never saw a live porcupine during my travels but I saw several roadkill.  Porcupines have always seemed more like an imaginary creature like a unicorn or a “pesky squirrel” in the movie Bambi. In researching porcupines, I now know that North America has the New World variety which can live their entire lives in trees.  Since they are nocturnal as well, it makes sense that I never saw a living one in my travels.  They are apparently vegetarians and eat the bark of trees.  Maine is loaded with trees and its nick name is the Pine Tree state.  I never knew that Maine was a great habitat for porcupines but apparently it is.

Baby Moose Crossings

Roy and I stayed in Carrabassett Valley at the Sugarloaf Ski resort.  They have a sign as you drive into the resort for baby moose crossings.  I have never seen a sign for baby moose crossing.  Where in the world are you going to see a baby moose crossing sign.  Maybe Canada?  Montana? To see a sign like that sparks anticipation and wonder.  Maybe it’s my lucky day?  Maybe I’ll see a baby moose?  68594829_2829580670404533_5219311946783784960_nThey wouldn’t put a sign up unless it was possible. I didn’t see a moose, let alone a baby moose but what fun to imagine I would.  Roy ended up seeing an adult moose on the trail although it moved on quickly which is exciting.  I guess I’ll live vicariously through him.

Snowmobile Country

Outside of going to school in Ithaca New York which is well known for it’s “Lake Effect” snow, I have never lived in an area that has to make provisions for snowmobiles.  In Millinocket and, later, Rangeley, all had signs for snowmobile crossings, snowmobile repair and snowmobile parking. It feels almost like the wild west with its alternative modes of transportation of horses with stables and posts for tying the reigns. I can’t imagine owning a snowmobile and using it as transportation.  It’s really hard to imagine it in 85-degree heat and most buildings not having central air conditioning. I imagine how these remote forests turn into a wonderland of snow-covered paths and the snowmobile being an essential form of transportation. It’s a great alternative to snowshoes.

Swinging Mailboxes

As Roy and I drove through the backroads of Maine (and anything west of I-95 is a backroad), we started noticing the crazy looking mailboxes along the side of the road.  Many mailboxes were hung from a long metal arm with sometimes several feet of chain link.  They were suspended far above the road.  There were many mailboxes that were surrounded on all sides with reflectors.  Of course, I had to look into the “swinging mailbox” thing and figure out what was up.  Apparently, in Maine, you are responsible for your own mailbox and if a snow plow happens to hit your mailbox, you need to replace it.  If there is no mailbox to deliver your mail to?  You have to hike in or snowmobile (see above) to the post office because the post office won’t deliver your mail without a mailbox.  Quite the catch 22.  So, there are all kinds of mailboxes that are suspended 44 inches above the road to avoid menacing but crucial snow plows.  I think this is fascinating how the local folks have adapted to their surroundings.

High Hit Area

When Roy and I first drove along I 95 up to Bangor and then on to the far northern reaches of Maine (Millinocket is north of Montreal), we started seeing signage for “Caution High Hit Area” with a picture of a deer on it.  The signs are red and orange and catch your attention.  Upon reading up on it, these signs are displayed temporarily during the Spring and Summer months as deer head out of the forest looking for fresh green grass along the road side.  68394077_246821372867885_8152510138750599168_nThe sign would frequently say how long the hit area extended, sometimes up to 17 miles.  So, as I was driving, I was hypervigilant looking for deer and I would start to lose track how long it had been since I saw the sign. Pretty soon I was always hypervigilant, especially at dusk.  In retrospect, I never saw a single deer or moose or elk while in Maine, but I have seen deer in my own neighborhood in North Carolina.

Whoopie Pies

This is probably a New England thing.  This whole post is probably a New England thing. Whoopie pies are at almost every grocery store and restaurant. They are enormous.  Roy and I ended up buying one on a lark to see what the Whoopie Pie thing was all about.  The Whoopie Pie was the size of a Whopper.  We ended up splitting it between the two of us and I’m pretty sure I wanted to unhinge my jaw while trying to take a bite. It was delicious.  Moist chocolate cake with a peanut butter flavored cream filling in between.  Their origins are with the Pennsylvania Dutch so I’m not sure why it’s so big in Maine but if you want to try a Whoopie Pie, you can definitely find them in Maine.

As we drove around Maine, I kept thinking, I could totally live here with all this pristine wilderness and remote uninhabited lakes.  This is off the grid. Most businesses are in old barns or farmhouses.  There is nary a modern building in Western Maine. Finding a McDonalds or Walmart can be an hour’s drive away. It’s remote with thousands of miles of forest, rugged mountains and barren lake banks. It’s mostly untouched by man. I have to believe that the winters are miserable and harsh for this place to be so untouched.  Perhaps I will come back in the winter to find out.

My Father’s Pivot Point: Korea 1947

My late father went in the Army on February 20, 1946 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then onto basic training at Camp Crower in Missouri. World War II had ended with the Japanese surrendering on September 2, 1945 and the Korean War didn’t start until June 25, 1950. This means that when my father ended up in Korea in 1947, he was there during a tumultuous time. The Japanese were gone, and the United States military were there as military oversight. My father at the age of 22 was in a foreign land, that spoke a foreign language during uncertain times.

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In 1947, my father was about halfway through his bachelor’s degree. He had two semesters at Colby College and one summer semester at the University of Minnesota.

From my father’s personal history:

I volunteered for duty overseas. Signing up in the regular army to be sure I got out in 18 months, I awaited assignment to culture laden Europe where most GI’s went. What a shock when I was shipped to Fort Stoneman in California on the Sacramento River, near San Francisco. I was shipped out as a radio repairman to Korea – I didn’t even get stationed in Japan!

So, there was my father on his way across the Pacific on a life defining journey:

Authority

From my father’s personal history:

With hundreds of men confined to foc’siles in bunks stacked 5 high, the trip across the Pacific became a nightmare when a 3-day storm made most troops seasick. Not allowed on deck for air, the mess halls had no one to man them, latrines were stopped up by vomit and the stench become overwhelming as men threw up and relieved themselves in their bunks. I was OK till someone 4 bunks above vomited on me—then I heaved too. During all this, officers kicked us out of their way to get by and I learned to hate arbitrary authority—military law could put us behind bars if we hit back.

This scene is horrendous. The disarray. The lack of humanity. The impact on my father was a life led with levelheaded fairness. In the multitude of comments from his past students from his 30 plus years of teaching history was that he was fair. Grades were earned. Rules around discipline were clear on the first day of his class. He was never one to abuse authority and he used it judiciously.

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Respect

As my father wrote:

We rode a train down the Peninsula to Ch’ongju, a mountainous area between Seoul and Pusan. We broke up wooden seats and started fires in the passageway – to prevent frostbite from bitter winds whistling through broken out windows. Seeing young Korean boys with a single shirt, shorts and rubber shoes without socks staring at us from railroad stops along the way, left me incredulous. I, near a fire, with heavy army boots, two sets of socks, a hat and helmet liner, was damn near freezing to death, so how in hell could those kids survive?!? I hoped we’d never have to fight such people. Though we had better weapons it was clear their survivability and toughness were far superior to ours.

When my father ever spoke about his life challenges, he never brought this experience up. When he spoke of life not being fair, his experience in Korea did come up. He never forgot the cold and those kids. Even though his experience was one small step above those kids, his respect for them was immense.

Curiosity

My father wrote:

One day, befriending our houseboy with a pack of matches, he took me far back into the mountains to visit his grandfather’s village. Kids and most adults had never seen an American before. Sitting in his grandfather’s hut amidst male villagers, I saw women peeking from another room for their first wide-eyed stare at a real man from the West. Politely declining pipes of opium, I passed around chicklets and showed photos of my family in response – pointed to a worn newspaper blowup of N.Y.C. skyscrapers on their wall and telling them through my houseboy interpreter I had lived near there. They laughed, shaking their heads, insisting it was just artistic imagination and that there was no such city like that.

My father was not a news reporter, he wasn’t working on behalf of the army, he did this all on his own. He ventured out to find out what was out “there”. I find this to be amazing. For the price of a pack of matches, he sought out a new perspective. In the many condolences I received from his past students, the over arching theme is that he made history come alive. He marched around classrooms with a pointer as a rifle and made the students feel like they were there. This curiosity. This wanderlust. I don’t believe it started in Korea but it certainly opened the door.

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Shift       

My father always famously said that he went to Korea a liberal and came back a conservative. As he wrote:

My 7 months’ allowed me to contrast our America with poorer lands in a way unobtainable from books, converting me from a liberal critic of our way of life to a defender of American society thereafter. The poverty imposed upon Koreans by 50 years of Japanese conquest was grim. Men and women squatted and defecated anywhere outdoors even in the river they got their cooking and drinking water from. A pungent stench of human excrement overpowered us wherever we went, reminding GI’s of missing sanitation, a lack of paved roads, bridges, safe drinking water, electricity and unheated houses in sub-zero weather. I pondered how Koreans could be happy in a land stripped of forests for fuel, widespread malnutrition, open body sores, universal disease and general mistreatment by local police and authorities.

It also shifted his trajectory of his career and future studies. He sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge with the Army and decided to finish his interrupted Sophomore year at Berkeley. He studied Intro to Government, Foreign Policies and U. S. History (he proudly received two B’s and an A). This lit the fuse to his 34-year career teaching and demonstrating history.

Korean Woman

This piece was prompted by finding the pictures attached from my father’s photos.  I am fortunate that he left behind his legacy in written and photographic form. But isn’t that his way. The great historian leaving his thoughts and personal evidence for me to have a better understanding of this great pivot point of his life. I asked him in his last few months if he had any regrets. The only one was not getting a PhD. The rest is all a life full of adventure, stories told and sharing his experiences. His students and his children are the fortunate and enriched receivers. We got to live it with him.

You Can’t Push a Rope

This has been my mantra for the last few years. My son insists on texting instead of calling. “Whelp, you can’t push a rope.” My coworker rarely makes a deadline. “Yep, you can’t push a rope.” You want your friend to sober up. “Hmmm. You can’t push a rope.” Pushing is frustrating. It’s trying to force reality. It’s trying to change someone or a reality that is not within your control. I do it all the time. I tell someone how great I feel since becoming sober. Or how my asthma and inflammation has receded since going sugar-free. I send reminders about the deadline to my team only to have the same culprit miss the deadline AGAIN. All this pushing is exhausting. I cannot force my will on anyone. I am only responsible for myself.

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I read a post from Seth Godin this morning in which he wrote, “People don’t change (unless they want to). Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset. But only when we want to. The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it. It’s the wanting to.” And it’s not my personal wanting to change my child or coworker or ex that works. It’s their own personal decision. It’s their wanting. Not yours. Not mine. The only way to push is if they ask you to help them.

Here’s how to give up pushing the rope:

Relinquish control          

For the longest time, especially as a parent, I thought I had control. Like I was the puppet master. If I wanted my daughter to be a great volleyball player, or my son to attend my alma mater, I could make it happen. I could push and dictate and shove my wishes upon my children. I could impose my will. I can take the same stance with projects and deadlines I disagree with and lose sleep over not having the ability to reroute the course toward my way of thinking. I think that’s why I even started saying, “You can’t push a rope.” I was essentially acknowledging that I didn’t have control. I relinquish. I let go of the struggle of trying to rewrite the outcome. I think of the Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Let what happens happen, let go of the rope and relinquish control.

Patience

I have always admired my father’s ability to be patient. I frankly try to channel his energy when I want something (out of my control) to change. I want an answer from the attorney, I want this fight behind me, I want the project to be done, I want everyone to turn in their work on time. I want. I want. I want. When I channel my father’s patience, I get calm. I slow down. I step out of the whirlwind of desire and wants. It’s uncomfortable but peaceful. Time will unfold and what is supposed to happen will happen. Perhaps someone else will pick up the rope when it’s time to pull instead.

Provide support

If I’ve learned anything from being sober, it’s to share my experience and let it lie. The teacher in me wanted to preach and dictate. “This is how you should do it.” I’ve learned that it’s better to start off by asking for permission: “Do you want some advice?” or “Do you want to know my experience?” If you just give out advice, neuroscience shows that it shuts your listener’s brain down. Think about that when you are trying to educate your child on the dangers of drugs or who they should be dating. By giving advice or dictating what they should or should not being doing, you are shutting down their brain. They won’t hear you. If your advice is asked for or permitted, start off with: “My experience with drugs, alcohol, dating, overdue projects, parenting, graduate school, cooking, marathons, dog ownership, divorce, home repairs, debt, finding a job, a difficult boss, waiting tables, owning a restaurant, riding a bike, driving a car, etc. is…” Provide support but ask for permission and tell your story. Try not and tell someone what will happen if they start drinking again or don’t pay off their credit cards or don’t take a job in plastics. We aren’t clairvoyant. Speak from your experience the last time you pushed a rope.

Actively listen

I have found in coaching that reflection on your own thoughts is one of the most powerful tools of coaching. Knowing that someone isn’t trying to sway, influence or manipulate you helps you feel safe and reflect on what you really want. This happens through active listening. If I’m trying to push a rope, I’m wrapped up in my own agenda. When I am actively listening, I am making a safe space for someone to reflect. I’m also not tied to the outcome or the agenda (see Relinquish Control). Perhaps your child, parent or coworker will ask you to pull the rope with them. It’s up to them. Listen to what they need and then decide what to do with the rope.

I think about the months and years that led up to my marriage falling apart. As I look back, I was pushing that rope so hard, I was tripping over it. I had no control over my husband and never did. What I realized in just a few weeks after the collapse was that I could control my own path, one step at a time. I let go of the rope and, after anguish, time and self-reflection, it’s never been better. Leave the rope behind.

The Story I’m Telling Myself

We are all storytellers, especially to ourselves. We fill our heads with distorted facts and assumptions that can create long-term impact to ourselves and our relationships with others. Brene Brown has been a pioneer in this. She talks about a situation with her husband as she swam in a lake in the hill country of Texas. She has told this story in her book, Daring Greatly and in her recent Netflix special. I was derailed recently by a decision a close relative made. I was talking to my coach friend, Sandy, about it and she said, “Did you see Brene on Netflix?” I said, “Yeah.” Sandy said, “What was your big takeaway?” I didn’t remember. Sandy said, “What is the story you are telling yourself?” The story I was telling myself was that this recent decision was made deliberately to alienate me from the relative. But once I held it up to the light, I realized that this simply wasn’t true. Once I spoke the story, it magically evaporated.

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I hear this a lot when I coach folks. “My son doesn’t pick up his room, making me do the work.” “My coworker isn’t timely with the report because they don’t respect my time.” “My spouse is laughing with that woman because he’s attracted to her and wants to have an affair.” The story we tell ourselves is almost always detrimental to our self-esteem. Our story telling is demeaning and makes moving forward difficult.

Here are some ideas on how to stop the damage of storytelling:

It’s an illusion

The first thing to realize is that it’s all just one big illusion. Odds are you aren’t telepathic. Most of us aren’t. It’s amazing how often we all attribute motives to folks outside ourselves. “They aren’t returning my calls because they dislike me.” “He didn’t compliment me on my new blouse because he hates it.” “She offered to drive because she doesn’t like the way I drive.” I do this constantly. I make up judgements from other people that have NO basis in fact. At. All. It’s just like a movie when the main character dies. It’s just a movie. No one really died. The same goes for my story in my head. It’s just made up scenery to make the plot seem more sensational. The story you are telling yourself is nothing but an illusion.

Bring it out into the light

As a child, did you think there were monsters under your bed or in your closet? I did. I used to see hundreds of monsters and ghosts in the shadows of my bedroom. Once I turned the light switch on? They were all gone. Shine a light on the shadow that is making the monster. Bring it out into the light. Say the story out loud to a trusted friend or coach. If there is no one available, speak it. Say as Brene does, “The story I’m making up is…” I like that she says “making up” instead of “telling” because it’s so much more obvious that it’s not true. It’s a figment of your imagination. Speak it into the light.

Stand in their shoes

When I am emotionally triggered, I have completely left my prefrontal cortex and have lost any ability to reason. When triggered, it is really hard for me to try and understand where someone else is coming from. I lack empathy. All I see is an offensive attack and I am devoid of understanding. When I can take some time to let the emotions rest and not be triggered, I think about all the possible reasons someone might be seeming to attack me. My son’s room isn’t clean? Homework has piled up and there’s a new love interest in his life. My spouse talking to another woman? She’s his closest friend at work and supported him on a difficult issue at the Project Planning meeting. Client isn’t returning my calls? They are on vacation or are under a tight deadline at work. When I do “Third Entity” (from CRR Global), I physically have the client stand in the virtual place of the person they have a conflict with. Standing in the other person’s place can help clear up assumptions. Try standing in their shoes.

Hold up a mirror

We all bring our own baggage to any situation. Our own biases, cultural and family norms. Toilet seat up or down. Bedroom doors open or closed. “God Bless” or “Bless you” or “Gesundheit.” A lot of our thinking is on auto pilot based on the last ten, twenty, thirty years of our life. You might think someone is rude if they don’t return a phone call in one hour, one day or one week. Personally, I’d rather someone text or email, rather than leave a voice mail. We all walk around with our own parameters. So what assumptions are you bringing to the situation? Those assumptions are working into your storytelling. It’s all made up.

It’s all about holding your thoughts under a microscope and picking it apart. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding on tightly to assumptions and norms for years that probably need to be let go. It’s so easy to hold on tightly to these assumptions and cause long term damage with the ruminations that take place. Perception and storytelling are not reality. Let it go.

Supporting an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

My boyfriend, Roy, started thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) on March 19th, 2019. The 2192-mile trail meanders from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. If this is the first time you are reading about thru-hiking the AT then you, most likely, figure it might take a month or two to accomplish that task. Perhaps you could measure the time it takes to complete the trail in a matter of weeks. If that’s what you think, you’d be terribly surprised to know most people take anywhere from 4 to 7 months to complete the task. In addition, they don’t hike for a week and then take a week off. They don’t go from hotel to hotel or cabin to cabin each night or order take out to their camp site. Most hikers are like Roy, they hike every day for 8 to 10 hours for 7 to 10 days straight and then take a zero or nero day in a small random hiker town you have likely never heard of. They then hitch back to the trail and continue on their journey. It is a grind. Day in, day out. They don’t stop for rain, or snow, or black bears, or rattlesnakes. They just keep hiking. The history of the Trail demands it.

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I have been supporting Roy on this auspicious endeavor for the last four months. It is not what I expected. At all. There have been many surprises along the way.

Here is what I learned from supporting Roy on the trail:

Educate

Roy starting planning for his hike in the Spring of 2018. He started mowing his lawn with a 50 pound back pack on. He trained and ran in a triathlon. He researched stoves, shoes, tents, and trekking poles. He watched hundreds of YouTubes from other AT thru-hikers. He sent them to me. We spent weekends watching thru-hiker YouTube accounts from people named Darwin, Dixie, Big Foot and Handstand. I read three books on thru-hiking. I needed to know the lingo. The difference between a nero and a zero or the difference between stealth and shelter camping. We hiked a minuscule part of the AT near Franklin, NC and camped out overnight with no electricity, plumbing or mattress. That experience helped me understand in a very small way what Roy was going to be dealing with day in and day out for six to seven months. Educating myself was critical to be the best support I could be.

Supplies

The biggest surprise for me was the amount of supplies that I keep in boxes for when I rendezvous with Roy. I currently have four cardboard boxes in a closet in my home that I packed up in my trunk, starting every time I saw him south of Pennsylvania and onwards. There are slippers, flip flops, long pants, shirts, caps, jackets, razors, nail clippers, band aids, socks, duct tape, trekking poles, mail, prescriptions, trail runners, gloves, bandanas, zip lock bags, garbage bags, books, and various other sundry items. Some he uses, some he doesn’t. It all depends. I am the traveling store. He went through three different raincoats in the first two months on the trail. When you wear a jacket every day on the trail, they have different uses and must have a particular zipper or pull string or particular length; that’s the importance. Imagine wearing the same thing. I mean the VERY same pair of shorts, shirt, underwear and jacket for weeks on end. It better be right. And if it’s not right, you better find a better one. I had no idea how critical the supplies were to being on the trail.

 

Rendezvous

When Roy was south of the Mason-Dixon line, I would try to meet up with him every three or so weeks. GPS tracking is not great along the trail and only Google maps has been able to show me precisely where the trail crosses a particular road in Virginia so that I can park and wait for Roy to show up. It’s sort of like Apollo 11 with the lunar module and the main capsule trying to rendezvous. You know, a wing and a prayer but so far, we have done well; sometimes with no cell coverage or in the midst of pouring rain. Once we meet up, we inevitably need to stop and get Roy some kind of food. It might be a drive thru Taco Bell or some random diner, but most of the one to two days is watching Roy eat. And eat. And eat. The rest of our time together is Roy taking a shower, and then a bath, and then a shower. His stuff is usually exploded within the hotel room and all the dirt and rain from the trail is draped over furniture and shower stalls. Next up is heading to a coin operated laundry and drinking bottomless coffee. It helps if it’s free from the hotel lobby. The one thing Roy does NOT want to do is walk or hike…anywhere. This is understandable; any walking has a different meaning and would not be forwarding his progress on the AT. Eventually, after sleeping, watching TV, resupply shopping and eating, we head back to the trail and he soldiers on.

Emotional Support

Roy recently started heading southbound on the trail from Mount Katahdin in Maine. When we drove up from Pennsylvania, it became clear that Maine was a whole other matter. Millinocket Maine is very remote. So remote that they don’t even have a Walmart. So remote that many roads in the area are gravel. In the Southern Appalachians, I was used to Roy being able to call me or text me at least once a day. The greatest length of time that he wasn’t connected was about 48 hours. In Maine? It was over 4 days before I heard from Roy. This was an eternity. I needed to know he was OK as much as he needed to tell me how hard hiking in Maine is. There have been many times that all he wanted to do was hear my voice. I felt the same way. Someone out there cares where I am and how I’m doing. Just being reassured that he isn’t lost or injured is so gratifying. I need to hear from him as much as he needs to hear from me. We provide each other emotional support.

This has been a fascinating journey. I am traveling to towns that I would never have visited had it not been for this thru-hike. It’s opened my eyes to a micro culture that is AT thru-hikers where weather, shoes, food and cell coverage are the priority and nothing much else matters. It’s a small hyper focused world and is devoid of all the distractions of everyday life. Most of all I am surprised that I am envious of his adventure although I know I could not endure the challenge.

Memories of Cutting Loose with My Father

I originally posted this about 5 years ago. My beloved father passed away this past week and I felt that this post really captured his spirit and wanderlust. When I originally wrote this, he was 88 years old and living in North Carolina. The photo illustrates that a sure fire way to my father’s heart has always been desserts. I am so glad we had the opportunity for this trip and that I wrote about it. He was a remarkable man and is dearly missed.

Original post from April 2014:

My dad’s 87-year-old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream. This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well-honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open. Whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no preconceived notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before, but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talk to just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.

The Six Reasons Why You Need a Coach

Bill Gates famously said “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you are a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or bridge player.” There is a misperception that getting coached, whether it be for personal or business reasons, implies that you are defective or perhaps less than. I love the analogy a recent facilitator for my Advanced CliftonStrengths Coaching said: “You won’t go up to an NBA basketball star and tell them they don’t need a coach anymore.” So, if you have hit mastery, it’s OK to just coast on your laurels.

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I have to say that as a coach, I am suspicious when another coach doesn’t have a coach. How can you coach if you don’t see the value for yourself? I see having a coach as sharpening my saw and realizing that I’m not finished. I have room to grow. Unfortunately, many organizations only use coaching to turn a bad egg around, which gives it a bad reputation. Coaching is embraced by many organizations as a perk and it enhances their workforce.

Here are the six reasons why you need a coach:

  1. Clarity: Perhaps it’s hyperconnectivity or maybe the clatter of conflicting and competing goals, but coaching has brought clarity to my life. I can get wrapped up in the immediacy of getting laundry done, packing for a trip and making sure bills are paid instead of being clear about the path I am headed down. I find this to be especially beneficial when there is more than one apparent goal. I have been coached about the priorities in my life dozens of time and it’s not until the distractions are temporarily put to rest during coaching that I realize that supporting my loved ones is the most important goal for the next few months. Coaching has helped clear the fog and provided clarity.

 

  1. Blind spots: There are many things that I take for granted or have made assumptions about for years; some, even decades. Coaches help you seen the unseen. They uncover the pattern that is not apparent. I just worked with a CEO the other day who realized that he had no problem paying compliments to his child but was hypercritical with his direct reports. This was a blind spot. He realized that if he could focus the same openness and benevolence with his direct reports, he would be more approachable and a better leader. Coaches help shine a light on the blind spots.

 

  1. Perspective: Coaches don’t have a dog in the fight. They are outside the situation. They aren’t your direct report, your boss or your partner. There are very few people in your life that have this perspective. This makes them much more unbiased and open to possibility. My child, my parent or my boss might try and limit my choices and add to my limiting beliefs, but a coach can set up a safe space where anything is possible. They can also suggest resources that might be helpful. I remember when my marriage suddenly and unexpectedly dissolved, my coach, Tammi, suggested a book by William Bridges called Transitions. It was invaluable to help me make sense of being in the neutral zone for many months. The neutral zone is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. I don’t think I would have found it on my own. Coaching provides a different, neutral perspective.

 

  1. Accountability: When I coach, I ask my client if they want any accountability around the actions they have come up with. The important thing to remember is that coaches don’t decide on action items, the client does. So, if my client decides they are going to go to one networking event per week, month or year, that was their decision. When you come up with your own action items, you are much more motivated to see it through. You own it. If you want accountability or not, you are the best to decide. Some clients (like those who are naturally responsible) don’t need any accountability. But as a client said this week, “Oh yeah. I’ll forget and won’t make this happen unless you follow up with me.” So as a client you may or may not need the accountability. A coach is there to help with accountability.

 

  1. Powerful questions: Coaches employ powerful questions to help tease out insight. As my Neuroleadership Coach Training taught me, new connections between neuropathways are made with powerful questions. This is virtually impossible on your own. The other thing is that powerful questions have a positive forward-looking perspective. Sample questions are: “What is possible? What if it worked out exactly as you wanted it? What does success look like? What do you want?” In a safe space, these questions open up and create new thought pathways. Coaching is about powerful questions.

 

  1. Happier: I have found that most of my clients are happier. I have found myself to be happier once I started being coached. I feel more balanced and less frazzled. I have changed other things in the same timeframe, including being sober and a long-standing meditation practice, but I believe that checking in with Tammi once a month has brought about a new balance and perspective. She has been with me on my journey for over five years and has seen the highs and lows. I appreciate the space she creates for me to do my best work and reflect. As William Arruda wrote for Forbes, “Because coaches help you identify and align your values, create a focus, cut through clutter, and clear tolerations, they help you increase your professional fulfillment.” Coaching makes you happier.

It’s important to know that coaching is not mentorship, consulting or therapy. I know that many clients say it “feels” like therapy, but therapy has a backwards view and coaching has a future, positive view. It feels like therapy because there is someone who is deeply connected and listening to you. It’s the gift of truly being heard. Have you thought about having a coach?

Even More Lingo from Hiking the AT

I wrote about many of the acronyms and lingo from the folks hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) several weeks ago and I realize I left out some. It’s amazing how much of the lexicon I have been using for the last year. And it’s increased as my boyfriend, Roy, started training and then began his 6-7-month odyssey going from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. By the time this piece publishes, Roy should be over halfway through his ambitious 2,192-mile hike.

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Most, if not all, the lingo is used on any long thru-hike like the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington), the CDT (Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada along the continental divide), the JMT (John Muir Trail in the Sierras in California) and the Long Trail (a trail that winds through Vermont through the Green Mountains).

Here is even more lingo from the AT:

Hiker Hobble – If you have ever run a long-distance race, you know what this feels like. In the case of thru-hiking, it’s stiff muscles, lost toe nails, bruises from a fall, blisters from hiking boots, chafing from a pack strap or your clothes, and carrying all your worldly goods on your back. Oh…and most hikers sleep on the ground with about two inches of air between them and the cold hard ground. These are all causes of the Hiker Hobble.

Camel Up – Water is the heaviest item you carry on a thru hike. To camel up is to load up by drinking as much water as practical, instead of carrying it in bottles. For most of the AT, finding a water source is not a big issue, depending on whether or not there has been a drought. There tend to be many springs and creeks along the route.

Bonus Miles – These are the extra miles a hiker has to walk to resupply, stay at a hostel or get back to the trail after heading into a town. It’s a misnomer to call them “bonus” because they are extra miles that are not adding to your total towards Katahdin. The extra miles that are off the trail towards a scenic overlook or a waterfall are also considered bonus miles, because they are miles that don’t “have” to be walked to complete the trail. You can imagine that if it’s 2 tenths of a mile for a scenic overlook, you may think twice about adding any bonus miles. You also need to wager that if a town is six miles away from the trail, will you be able to hitch hike or will you have to walk all six miles (and back to the trail)?

Cold Soak – Roy and I watched dozens of YouTube videos on people that hiked the AT and PCT, and many of them save the weight of a small stove and pot by cold soaking their food. One hiker named Darwin cold soaks while in hot climates, like the Mojave desert or mid-summer in Pennsylvania. Roy is not a fan, as he looks forward to a hot meal at the end of the day. Apparently, there are all kinds of things you can cold soak. So, if you cold soak oatmeal, you just put in room temperature water over the oatmeal in a sealed jar and let it soak until is edible (or as edible as possible).

AYCE – I didn’t know this acronym until Roy texted me from trail towns saying that he was at an AYCE Chinese restaurant. I was thinking, well that’s an odd name for a Chinese restaurant. It stands for All You Can Eat and there isn’t a hiker on the trail that won’t stop at an AYCE restaurant in town. Roy told me that four hikers were in one restaurant and each of them ate 4-7 plates each.

Hiker Box – This is a box where hikers discard unwanted items. These can be at hotels or outfitters close to the trail. Sometimes it’s at an actual shelter on the trail, where someone gives up a piece of gear or clothing that they have decided they don’t need due to weight (most likely) or they have found unnecessary to have.

Shake Down – Many outfitters will shake down your pack, especially at the beginning of a thru hike and will help newer, less-experienced hikers reduce weight for their pack. They will weigh the pack and then pull everything out and explain that while three pairs of socks are important, three pairs of underwear are not.

Vortex – This is when you get sucked into something that is not on the trail. Say you head into a town to resupply and next thing you know, you’ve decided to stay at a hotel, take a zero, hang out with other hikers, spend too much money and aren’t making forward progress on the trail. The vortex sucks you in and you have a hard time getting back to the trail.

Vitamin I – This is ibuprofen. Tons of hikers eat it like candy to stave off the hiker hobble.

Stealth Camping – This is when you stay at a non-designated camping spot. This might be on someone’s property or any flat spot on the trail. This can happen because you are too far from a shelter site to make it before nightfall or the shelters are full of campers and you need to move on farther to camp. It’s apparently a good way to stave off bear activity since it’s a non-established site.

Hiker Midnight – Thru-hikers typically go to sleep around 9 PM. Hikers want to get their sleep before waking up at dawn to head back on the trail.

Hiker Trash – Frequently hikers are seen as homeless since they are technically homeless and all that accompanies that, like long beards and the funky smell associated with not showering for days (sometimes weeks).

Yogi – This is when hikers intentionally seek food, drink, or rides from sometimes unsuspecting people. Roy gave a ride to some thru-hikers some years back and they went to a restaurant and they hoped that Roy would pick up the check. It comes from Yogi the Bear and all of those picnic baskets he received.

It’s an entire subculture out there on the trail and I am living vicariously through Roy on his great adventure. I’m sure a week from now, I’ll use more trail-related lingo and feel compelled to write about those as well. In the meantime, Roy is out there in the long green tunnel, hiking his own hike and looking for trail magic along the way.

The Magic of Camp DeWitt

My family gathered to celebrate my father’s 94th birthday in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 19th, 2019. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about my father’s fascinating life and that of our family’s over about forty-eight hours. My oldest brother, Dave, my sister-in-law, Judy, my older brother Rick and I went for a hike along the Rio Grande on the morning of the second day. As we hiked, I asked Rick what was one of the happiest times of his life and he responded, “Camp Dewitt. The whole purpose of life was simple, and that was to beat the Grays and we often did.”

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Sailboat on Lake Winnepesauki near Camp Dewitt

 

Camp DeWitt was a private boys camp on Lake Winnipesauke near Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. My father taught history in Wilmington, Delaware and spent his summers working at camps. In 1964, my father started working at Camp Dewitt as the Waterfront Director when I was 3 years old. My two brothers attended as campers and my mother and I spent most of the summer there at the beach or shopping with other wives and daughters. My parents and I lived in a three-room cabin on Family Circle that actually had our last name “Noice” on the cabin. My single cot was in the kitchen (which was basically a sink) and I always remember looking out the window next to my cot in the morning at the pine trees above. The possibilities for the day were endless. The setting was bucolic. Pine trees, sandy beaches, rustic cabins and a beautiful 27-mile lake. It’s only, in retrospect, that I realize how ideal the situation was because, outside of my dad working 6 days a week, everything else was recreation and relaxation for the rest of us in the Noice Clan.

Here is why Camp DeWitt was so magical:

Escape

For ten years, I never spent a summer in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. Our family never belonged to a neighborhood pool, we never owned a beach get-away and, for most of that time, did not own an air conditioner. As I look back, I cannot imagine living in suburban Delaware during the hot, humid summers while most of my friends escaped to the beach or local pool. The mountains and lakes of New Hampshire were the norm for me, and my family and I can appreciate now what a serene and magical escape it was.

Learning skills

My brothers were able to learn all sorts of skills at the camp, including archery, arts and crafts, tennis, swimming, football, baseball, sailing, riflery, canoeing and rowing. They both went backpacking in the White Mountains and on overnight canoe trips. For me, girls and boys too young for camp were able to use different facilities when the campers were on rest hour or at meals. I loved the giant trampoline and swimming in the lake. My mother enjoyed not having to cook as we ate every meal in the main dining room. I remember a massive stack of white bread on every table and a giant milk dispenser that even had my favorite: chocolate milk. My father learned how to repair used sailboats for campers to use. He also led canoeing trips into Quebec province. I remember my whole family going on a sailboat for several hours on Lake Winnipesaukee after camp ended, with my dad at the helm while time stood still.

Freedom

Every summer, there was a small gang of kids for me to hang out with that were either girls or boys too young to be campers. We knew every trail in the camp and every back route to get somewhere to avoid disrupting the campers on their daily schedule. There was Slippery (Soap-Soap) Rock, which was a huge slanted rock right on the lake that was not frequented by campers and an excellent place to go swimming. There was a PA system that announced reveille, meals and taps. I can still smell the pine-scented air from the trail my mother and I would walk down to go get breakfast. I wasn’t a camper so there was no place for me to “be” except for meals and the trampoline right after lunch. Most of the families would sit on the beach in the afternoon and I would swim out into the lake, past what seemed like countless sandbars hoping to make it to Plum Island. No schedule. No responsibilities. Just time in a beautiful spot.

Explore

My father had Wednesdays off. When he was off, more times than not, we went off to explore New England. We usually went to Ogunquit Beach in Maine at least once a summer, where my dad always brought a shovel so that we could make huge sit-in sandcastles. My dad would bury one of us, if not all, up to our necks in sand. The highlight was going to the Kancamagus Highway and Rocky Gorge. At the time, we were allowed to go sliding down the frigid rapids and slippery rocks in our bathing suits and getting out before going over the impending waterfall. My male cousins from Florida were campers as well and they could not stand the freezing water temperatures. There were also the trips to Alton Bay and Wolfeboro, with the main intent to acquire ice cream or maple candy. My mother used to take us to the Hansel and Gretel Shop, which had an enormous selection of penny candy and a large pool to go fishing for plastic fish. In case of rain, my mother and I went off shopping to the Bass and Pandora outlet of tax-free Manchester.

Traditions

The camp had many traditions, including snipe hunts (a futile hunt for an imaginary bird), a beauty contest where my dad dressed up like Miss Delaware and Campfire Circle. I’m not sure why the camp brats like me were included, but I can remember sitting at the huge campfire and what seemed like the entire camp sitting around as my father came in from the dark as Big Chief Chibougamau. The biggest event of the entire summer was the All Camp Relay Race, which pitted the Blues and the Grays against each other. Each camper was assigned a team and number when they started camp. My brothers were Blues, with Rick as number 24 and Dave as number 67. And most events had some sort of competition pitting the Blues against the Grays. It all came down to the last day of camp and the All Camp Relay, and I was always rooting for the Blues to win. I can remember the race started at the camp entrance and went through the entire camp, including swimming and sailing races until it came down to the two team captains sitting at a table eating a container of graham crackers. The first one to whistle was the winner. So, there were two teenagers mowing through 20 graham crackers without water and trying to whistle. They were surrounded by hundreds of spectators and held all the hopes of bragging rights until the next summer.

I think of the sacrifice my dad made for all those summers so that my family could have a terrific summer in what I will always think of as an idyllic setting. The camp was sold many years ago and is now a residential community, but I still go back whenever possible to put my toes in Lake Winnipesauke and to smell the pine-scented air. I think back to a time where I had no worries, and anything was possible. Magic.

The Gift of Being Heard

I’m in Omaha, Nebraska as I write this during Gallup’s Strength Summit. This is a gathering of likeminded folks who utilize Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinders in coaching, facilitation and self-discovery. I am taking an Advanced CliftonStrengths Coaching course to help hone my coaching skills. Yesterday, we spent part of the class talking about Reflective Listening, and I think it’s a skill we all can use to better our relationships and to connect on a more meaningful level with the people in our lives.

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I think that being heard is an art that is being dissolved by our hyper connectivity. Our brains are hijacked by screen time and the constant checking of our phones, that we rarely take the time to connect. I think in my coaching practice that the main reason people seek my coaching is to be truly heard. To connect. To feel understood. It seems so simple, yet most of us go through the day without being heard and, in turn, rarely create the space to truly listen to someone else.

Here are the secrets to give the gift of being heard:

Technology Free Zone:  Turn off your phone. Stow it away. Pack your laptop up. Perhaps go outside and take a walk with whomever you would like to listen to. The minute you pick up your phone or check your iWatch, that is telling the other person that there is “a notification that is more important than you.” As written by Melissa Dahl for The Cut, “Recent research has also found that the presence of a cellphone — again, even if no one uses or even touches it— weakens our ability to connect with other people, especially when we’re trying to discuss something meaningful. When you’re trying to concentrate, on work or on the person you’re with, it’s best to put the phone away.” So, unless you are waiting for a call from the Lottery Commission, turn off your technology to truly listen.

Listening with your answer running: This is called Level One listening. You are listening, mostly to wait for your partner to take a breath so that you can jump in and respond. A really poor example of this was a study outlined by Julie Spitzer for Hospital Review, “On average, patients have 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before physicians interrupt, according to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.” I had a long standing habit for interrupting, I know it’s a difficult habit to break. If you let go of your response and let your partner talk freely, they will be more forthcoming as they won’t feel as though they have to rush. Let go of the answer. Be present.

Listening for content: This is called Level Two listening. This is focused listening. You are paying attention to details. As a coach, I am noting the use of particular words, especially the repeating of the same word. So, it might look like, “Joe, I’ve heard you say ‘move forward’ six times since we started talking. What would help you do that?” I’ve had my coach, Tammi Wheeler, tell me how many times I’ve spoken a word and I feel deeply heard. When someone is counting how many times you’ve said a particular word, I know that we are connected and that I am being understood. It helps me realize connections and patterns that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. Listen for content.

Listen with all your senses: This is called Global Listening. You might think that this can only happen in person but being that I coach most of my clients on the phone, it’s amazing what you can “hear”–whether it be an energy shift or drop in the voice. I’ve asked, “Did you just sit up straight? I felt an energy shift.” When you use all your senses, you feel deeply connected and, outside of discovery and curiosity, all agendas are dropped. I am fully present to whomever I am listening to. I can hear my daughter say, “Yeah, I’m going to look for a new job.” But I will point out that I don’t hear any energy around that and not hold any judgement around it. I don’t want my coachee to feel obligated toward action unless they are committed. When you listen with all your senses, you’ll know when someone is committed to action because you will feel it.

Be comfortable with silence: I think this comes with age or maybe hundreds of hours of training. I still remember during my first training certification over a decade ago, the instructor told us to be comfortable with silence. I had a need to fill in the gap with my voice. During my MBTI training, the facilitator told us to count to twenty seconds after asking a question. TWENTY SECONDS?!? That’s an eternity when you are standing in front of a room as a new trainer. When you get comfortable with silence and let the conversation lapse a few times, you realize it gives space. It makes you present. I remember my boyfriend, Roy, commenting on how I was comfortable with silence. That has been a decade in the making and I am happy to report that it makes space for being present. Work on getting comfortable with silence.

The most important take away is that this all takes time and practice. Don’t expect to be able to hit on all cylinders right away. We are all just works-in-progress along a continuum of mastery. It’s such an important gift and if you think about it…it’s completely free. The only cost is your attention, presence and time. Who needs to be the recipient of your listening skills?