Day 108 of the Nowhere To Be Project took place largely on the top of Vail Mountain. This is because once we reached it after two hours of climbing, our legs were too tired too budge from our scenic perch. We hiked one of our very favorite trails, Berry Picker. It gets it name from the plethora of wild raspberries that line the path. It is a 3.2 mile climb through breathtaking terrain and ending at Eagle’s Nest. I’ve been hiking this trail for over 40 years and never tire of its challenge.
Today marked the first hike of the season and that one is always the toughest. The altitude paired with the ascent help make the climb a trek in all senses of the word. Many people choose to take the gondola to the top and hike down, but I always do the reverse. I want to earn that view because it makes me appreciate it more. That’s the thing with life and travel. We must amble through the rough patches tirelessly to be capable of feeling true gratitude for all of the lovely flat ground.
On Day 106 of the Nowhere To Be Project I found myself crammed in the middle seat of a 737. Clearly, karma sought to even things out a bit after the pleasantness of my flight ten days ago. Life in the middle seat bears a striking likeness to middle age with it’s annoying limitations. If the middle seat is midlife, the aisle most definitely represents youth with its freedom to escape on a whim. That would leave the window as an ode to old age, I think. The window gives sight and with that comes the wisdom we often associate with aging. I don’t care for the middle seat. I don’t especially like the window either. I absolutely adore the aisle though. Does that mean I’m young at heart? Or perhaps I’m just trying to hang on to the zeal of youth with all my might? The bottom line is that no matter which seat we find ourselves in, we must find a way to make it fit. If we can do that, we might just enjoy the ride.
On Day 103 of the Nowhere To Be Project I had the privilege of revisiting the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida. The museum presents key events in the history of Central Florida ranging from Native American occupation to the Florida Cracker pioneers to Walt Disney World and beyond. Sadly, the Pulse Nightclub Shooting has been added to Orlando’s historical timeline since my last visit. The two year anniversary of the incomprehensible mass murder of 49 innocent people just passed on June 12, 2018.
At first I wondered if the wound was still too fresh and raw for a museum exhibit to be appropriate. However, upon viewing it, I found the museum’s exhibit to be a moving, respectful and tasteful memorial to the victims. The museum’s approach is geared toward presenting the event through the lens of the overwhelming response from the community. Included in the exhibit are heartfelt letters and toys left at the nightclub in the aftermath of the terror, quilt blocks made to comfort the injured and the families of the victims and to memorialize those who were lost, and impassioned anti-hate artwork. The exhibit closes with a trip down a flight of stairs embellished with ribbons, each carrying a personal sentiment from a visitor. I hope you’ll make your way to the Orange County Regional History Center should you ever find yourself in Central Florida. We must never forget or relent. #OrlandoUnited
On Day 100 of the Nowhere To Be Project I found myself on the verge of an emotional meltdown. I’ve been in my hometown for the past couple days to deal with some family stuff. I’m not one of those people who longs for the familiar comfort of their hometown. Quite the contrary actually. For me, my hometown is more comparable to a haunted graveyard than a welcoming respite. As a result, I came here very, very reluctantly after receiving some news that left me feeling compelled to leave my husband and dog midway through a RV road trip. In short, a sense of obligation led me back here again. Truth be told, I usually avoid being here at all costs because the ghosts of my dysfunctional childhood seem to lurk around every corner, both literally and figuratively. Every street holds a memory. The faces seem to stare with a sad and familiar knowing. This place nearly stole my spirit and that is why I left. I knew that happy people existed and I eventually found them. I also found my own happiness along the way and I protect it fiercely.
Many say that running away is never the answer. As a retired mental health professional, I can tell you that sometimes running is an effective survival mechanism. This is especially true if what you’re running from is incapable of change. Flight can provide sweet relief when you’ve exhausted every ounce of fight within you. My personal beasts only show their fangs in Central Florida so I generally stay away.
The good news about today is that I self-medicated with a joyful lunch with my happy, healthy, fang-free adult son. I followed this up with a trip to the mall (another perfectly acceptable coping mechanism, within reason of course:-). First, I devoured a scoop of Häagen Dazs dairy-free chocolate salted fudge truffle ice cream, each lick bringing a bit of calm and composure. Then I bought a luscious cruelty-free tarte lip gloss at Sephora in the cheeriest color I could find. Surely it will help me shine my way through the rest of my time here. Self-care comes in so many forms, doesn’t it? Maybe, just maybe, these small indulgences will keep the ghosts at bay until my impending escape.
On Day 96 of the Nowhere To Be Project I made my way to Mackinac Island, Michigan. It is a picturesque island in the upper peninsula of the state. There are no cars on the island, but bicycles and horses provide transportation around its quaint streets. While I’d never visited the island prior to today, it lived in my memory from the stories my mom told me about her visits here as a child. She and her family would drive up in the summer for a day or two for their “vacation”. Both of my parents came from meager means and according to their shared memories, Mackinac Island was a retreat for the wealthy. I remember my mom describing The Grand Hotel, an historic hotel on the island, as a palace. She recalled peeking in the windows as a little girl, awed by the grandeur of the elegantly dressed guests. Of course, The Grand Hotel was my goal today and I enjoyed lunch there in honor of my mom. The stately building is teeming with people and history. The sprawling front porch is a great place to rock away the hours to the sound of the surrounding water and the perfect spot for remembering those we’ve lost. The only thing missing today was my mom and I certainly felt her spirit with me. To that end, I’m pretty sure she forced me into her favorite fudge before boarding the ferry back to St. Ignace, haha.
Day 87 of the Nowhere To Be Project ushered in our final day at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in upstate New York. We have enjoyed a restful 72-hour break from the road and feel ready to grind out some more miles tomorrow. Staying in a place with a casino can be dangerous for some. I’ve seen so many people these last few days who seem positively strung out by the neon lights, the relentless dinging of slot machines and the endless hope for a big win. I often used the example of slot machines to teach probability while educating college students. More often though, I used casinos to exemplify addiction.
Many people don’t realize that psychologists work with casino developers to design systems that keep people playing. You give them some money and are strung along on the cusp of “the big win” until you’ve literally crapped out. As a result of this, casinos make a lot of money. In fact, they never really lose.
Luckily, I am able to see gaming as strictly entertainment. I never count on winning. Actually, I expect to lose. Every. Single. Time. I set a very modest limit at the get go and throw in the towel immediately after that limit is exhausted, or if I am gifted with any significant win. I have seen so many instances over the past several days where gamblers lose it all and more in the process of striving for “the big win”…grocery money, an entire weekly paycheck, or money that is needed for medication, etc. Gambling is an addiction that is just as fierce as alcoholism or drug addiction. Users chase a high that is fleeting at best and devastating at worst.
Surprisingly, my husband and I walked away from our casino sojourn a few hundred dollars ahead. I’m thrilled to say that we spent our last night feasting on pasta at an Italian restaurant, rather than blurry-eyed in front of a slot machine.
If you, or someone you love, has an issue with gambling, take action now to address it. A good place to start is: www.gamblersanonymous.org
Day 86 of the Nowhere To Be Project was lazily whiled away at the SKANA Spa at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in upstate New York. This was my first visit to a Native American spa and it was an absolute treat. Fittingly, Ska:ná is the Oneida word for peace. The entire property (resort, casino, lodging) is housed within the Oneida Indian Nation and every inch of it was so thoughtfully designed with full integration of the principles, practices and beliefs of the tribe.
The spa took the Native American inspiration to an even deeper level. Each and every corner of the facility was beautiful and utterly soothing to my soul. The materials used in its construction and design mimic the natural environment making it feel as if you are truly one with nature. It would be extremely difficult to find anything to be anxious about in this space. My husband and I both enjoyed a one hour “Arnica Muscle Repair” massage before meeting for a lovely spa lunch of herb salad, hummus and Native America tea. We then retreated to the co-ed mineral pool for a while before lavishing in the steam, sauna and whirlpool. The little touches throughout the spa such as the tribal textiles in the massage rooms, herb-infused cucumber water, fresh fruit, nuts and unique Native American tea blends really added to the pampering vibe. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.
We’ll finish the night with some relaxing saxophone music in the lounge before dinner, and perhaps a little gaming in the casino to cap off a near perfect day. I wish you ska:ná.
On Day 85 of the Nowhere To Be Project we started the day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. After such a nice time last night and this morning, we decided that we needed a vacation from our vacation. We’ve been moving from place to place each day, packing it all up each morning and unfurling it later each night. For those who’ve never RVed, the lifestyle requires a surprising amount of work and physical labor. As a result, we’ve been feeling a bit worn out and decided that we needed to find a spot to park and pamper ourselves for a few days. We lucked into a place with a RV Park called Turning Stone Resort and Casino. It is located in Verona, a beautiful area of New York with rolling hills and wide stretches of nature. The park itself is about a mile from the main resort and casino, but a free on-call shuttle service makes that a nonissue. Our goals for this get-away from life on the road are to relax at the spa and pool, and to live it up at the casino, restaurants and night clubs that are on-site. We’d also like to take showers that are longer than 30 seconds for a few days, haha.
We had an RV when our kids were small and always felt so exhausted after those trips. Back then, we were working around the kids’ busy school and activities schedules as well as our crazy work hours. These limitations made us feel like we had to cram everything the kids were interested in seeing into one trip. Now, we have nothing but time, yet we still find ourselves spinning like crazed tops. The bottom line is that we literally have Nowhere To Be (hence “the Project”) and it is about time we start enjoying it! I think a massage will be a good place to start tomorrow, don’t you?
Tragically, Day 72 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked another senseless school shooting. High schoolers in Santa Fe, Texas started their day with the horror of gunshots and with that, the world, as they knew it, ceased to exist. I heard a statistic that this was the seventh school shooting in the United States since the start of the year. At times likes this, we all ask “why”.
As a mental health professional, my answer to the “why” question is specific. We must teach mental health in schools. When my kids were little, I focused on mental health awareness with them in ways they could understand. This evolved as they grew and continues even now that they are young adults. As an educator, I taught about mental health care and its importance. I will always treat mental health as a priority and I wish our leaders would too.
Mental health is just as critical as physical health (and is inextricably tied to physical health). Yet, as a society, we don’t address it. We take kids for well visits where we weigh them, measure them and vaccinate them, but we don’t ask them how they are feeling. We test their reading, writing and math ability, but we don’t asses their mood, brain or their mental health. We don’t tell kids that it is normal to feel things like anger, sadness, and jealousy, and we certainly don’t encourage them to talk about these things. We don’t empower kids with the skills necessary for mitigating life’s stressors and over time this erodes mental health. If we did, they might learn how to cope with them in rational ways rather than with unimaginable violence.
My kids used to jokingly say, “you can stop shrinking us now”. I will never stop and neither should you.
Sitting on the beach today got me thinking about my work over the years in a good way! Being a mental health professional for years taught me that most people want a quick fix for their issues. Hence the popularity of Xanax. Anxiety is a constant struggle for a good portion of the population and a pill that offers quick relief exists and is widely available. A win-win, right? Not exactly. Most anti-anxiety medications are addictive and can introduce unpleasant side-effects.
Lifestyle changes are highly effective means of mitigating anxiety. However, people usually don’t like to hear that increasing exercise, sleeping more and cleaning up their diets are massively powerful tools for increasing mental wellness. Considering what I’ve witnessed on the beach today, I should have taken a different approach in advising self-care. What I mean by this is that everyone here on the beach appears to be relaxed. This is in stark contrast to what I might be seeing if I were sitting in any Starbuck’s across the country where person after person presents with countless anxious behaviors while self-medicating themselves with pricey caffeinated libations.
If I had my career to do over again (which, thankfully, I don’t:) I wouldn’t have been so aggressive in my efforts to get people to move and sleep more. People just don’t want to feel that they have to find time for better health. Rather, I would have suggested a regular beach day. Something about the sound of the ocean, the breeze and the feel of the sand just heals. Problems and worries seem to crumble away when you’re seaside. Most people would welcome this type of prescription, I think. #prescribevacationsnotpills