Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Monthly Archives: May 2013

How many kids should one have? None? Just one? An even pair? A dozen?

For most, the answer to this question is dictated by accident, chance or circumstance (biological, economic, career demands, the need for extra hands on the homestead). Others consult Mother Gaia before they reproduce.

Back in 2011, The Guardian ran this persuasive article about one woman’s choice not to have any kids to reduce her impact of the planet. You can eschew SUVs, GMOs and phthalates, but, if you’re the kind of person who might drive a Prius, your offspring are likely to devour resources and pour forth pollution. Forget cloth diapers and homemade baby food. You lose the battle to save the planet as soon as you give birth to the kind of kid who’s going to backpack around Europe after college, or, worse yet, find him/herself by trekking in Nepal.

I’ve got two kids. I’m not going to attempt to come up with excuses for my selfish behavior. Instead, I’m taking action. From now on, I’m putting my little ones on a low-carbon diet.

No toys, just found objects. A tent in the yard instead of additional square footage. They’re going to have to learn to ride those tricycles quick because I’m done driving them to Tumble Tikes and Kindermusik. Computer literacy? Forget it. In our home, educational enrichment will be focused on developing useful skills. Think foraging lessons and home brew workshops.

I predict they’ll whine about their dry water table and empty kiddie pool, but, soon enough, they’ll learn to love their low-impact lifestyle. Kids adapt. To make the transition easier (on me), though, I’m dropping them off with my parents while they adjust.

I’m off on vacation to Japan. My parents will have to come up with their own plan to atone for the carbon emissions they generated when I was born.

Which is all my way of explaining why I might not be posting for a few weeks.

Signing off until mid-June…



If you would be happy for a week, take a wife. If you would be happy for a month, kill a pig. But if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden.

This proverb is etched into a stone at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Maryland, a whimsical wonderland of hedges, fountains and flowers. 

Ladew is the kind of place that inspires competent gardeners to take their own efforts to the next level and intimidates the rest of us.

Harvey S. Ladew, the wealthy playboy who created Ladew Topiary Gardens, died in1976.  Late in life, he arranged for his home and gardens to be transferred to a non-profit organization so the public could enjoy his life’s work.  Mr. Ladew had hordes of friends, partied with the stars, traveled the world, and was known for his sense of humor.  I’d like to believe he chose his proverb as a joke.

Even though he must have employed a team of landscape experts, I’m sure Mr. Ladew was well aware of the headaches involved in maintaining a garden.  As far as I can tell, gardening mostly involves losing the battle against weeds, watching birds and deer pick off long-awaited produce, and enduring dull watering sessions enlivened only by mosquito assaults.  A good sense of humor may be the most essential characteristic of a successful gardener.

I’m not much a gardener.  Perhaps my sense of humor needs some work.

I do love a beautiful garden though.  Especially when it’s maintained by a non-profit organization or as a public park.  If only we could redirect a fraction of the collective energy and funds expended on private gardens to build public parks, every city and town in the country would enjoy a garden like Ladew’s.  Topiary and all.  Happiness would abound. Husbands would better appreciate their wives and pig slaughter would quickly fall out of style.*  Sounds like my idea of a perfect world.


*Yes, I know all the cool cats are butchering their own mammals these days.  And they’re really into their own private gardens. Yet more proof that I am not a cool cat at all.

Several of you expressed some skepticism about my commitment to internet-free living after my last blog post in which I belittled people hiking the Appalachian Trail with their eyes glued to their smart phones.

To prove my purity, I’ve decided to spend a week (gasp!) off the internet.  Film-makers, take note.  I’m available for documentaries, reality TV shows and even Youtube appearances.

I fully expect to spend the week in the moment, tuned in to the pleasures of face-to-face interactions, enjoying quiet, undistracted time, and watching leaves unfurl outside my window.

You, too, can experience the benefits of my week unplugged.  Just follow this blog.

On the off chance that TV crews don’t materialize, I’ll do my part to keep the world informed about this grand experiment.  Look out for hourly twitter updates (Sack of roving wool and un-crafty internet-free preschooler’s Mom #TwoThingsThatDontMixWell), photos on Pinterest (felted laptop cover and matching cell phone sack*), Facebook status updates (“is missing all the photos of wineglasses in scenic locations”) and daily blog posts (“Another Humorless Musing Due to Lack of Awareness of Social Trends to Riff On”).

It’s going to be a fun week.**

*Like a certain friend who ate an entire KFC family meal before jumping into a juice cleanse, in preparation for my internet diet, I’ve already started an orgy of web-surfing.  Roving wool + dishsoap + water= felt!

** Disclaimer: I’m not actually going to even attempt to spend the week away from the internet.  I’ve got too much important stuff going on, like a long instant queue on Netflix and several sitcom episodes set to expire on Hulu.


I recently took a hike on the Appalachian Trail with my family.* I am reporting back with the sad news that A.T. thru hikers have lost their edge.

My family and I arrived at a state park snack shop.  We happened to be at the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail where hikers traditionally indulge in the “half-gallon challenge,” downing half a gallon of ice cream as quickly as they can manage.

I spent a lot of time with A.T. thru-hikers way back when.  I’m familiar with the powerful aromas and grotesque appetites typical of most of them.  I’m cool with all of that.  I was appalled, though, by the thru-hikers I saw the other day.

Every single one held a smart phone or had their eyes on a charging electronic device.

Sure, cell phones existed ten+ years ago when I hiked a chunk of the trail, but no thru hiker I met would have even thought about carrying one.  The thru hikers I knew were so pure, they scorned toilet paper.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is about disconnecting.  Enjoying the quiet of the woods and the beauty of ponds and mountains.  It’s about adventure.  Losing your way in a thunderstorm and hiking three miles in the wrong direction, away from shelter, because you don’t have a GPS.  It’s about surprises.  Trudging over rocky terrain well past dark to reach a hostel only to find it’s full because you had no way to email ahead and make a reservation.  It’s about thrills. Hitching into a town with some seriously sketchy guy you’re worried might be a serial killer because you need to reach a post office before it closes and you have no way to call a cab.  Today’s thru-hikers are destined to miss all of that.

Without a doubt, technology is deteriorating the quality of the A.T. experience.

Rest assured that my childrens’ morning in the nature was not spoiled by the smart phone invasion. They remained completely captivated by all of the ice cream and didn’t even notice the communication-obsessed hikers.

I explained to my children that hiking almost always involves large quantities of ice cream.  They really don’t like hiking all that much, and I wanted to provide a positive association. Now I just need to figure out a way to arrange for all of our hikes to cross ice cream stands.

Hmmm.  A smart phone sure would come in handy for that.

*Okay, “hike” might be an exaggeration.  I ambled at the pace of a two-year-old for about a mile and a half.  In my defense, I was also holding a two-year-old’s hand, attempting to steer him away from poison ivy and tics. Ah, wilderness!

Sometimes, the best thing one can possibly do to feel better is leave the comforts of everyday life behind.  Great literature teaches us that attempting a new sort of existence, even for a relatively brief period, can transform your life.  Or at least lead to a great book.  Think Siddhartha leaving the palace, Henry David Thoreau setting up house in the Walden woods, Ernesto “Che” Guevara peeling out on his motorcycle, or N. Peligeiro accepting a teaching job in Mexico.*

Haven’t heard of Mr. Peligeiro?  He’s the author of Behind the Wheel, a sort of travelogue and collection of musings on living abroad, teaching, friendship, and the path from Minnesota to la pura vida.  In Behind the Wheel, Nick longs for adventure and wider horizons.  He heads south of the border, to the beach, but, lacking a trust fund, can’t survive as a beach bum for long.  Rather than return home, he accepts a teaching job at a private school in what sounds like a lovely inland area of Mexico.  He arrives to find out of control classrooms and a city erupting in gang violence.  Fortunately, he also finds a colorful collection of colleagues and the opportunity to write about their shared struggles. 

I once caught a ride on a cargo ship in the Amazon.  As soon as I hung my hammock, another American descended.  He was blond, deeply tan, dreadlocked, had been traveling around South America for about a year, and couldn’t wait to share his stories with an English speaker he hoped he could convert to an admirer. You can picture him, right?  The main character in Behind the Wheel reminds me of that guy, but unlike that dreadlocked fellow who didn’t have a self-deprecating bone in his body, Nick is modest, funny and down to earth.  Sometimes you want to smack the guy for treating the girls in his life like souvenirs (cheap, fun to collect, ultimately disposable) but I kept rooting for him from page one to the conclusion. 

The plot is pretty loose in this book.  Early on, the reader knows Nick’s going to make it out of the violent town with little incident.  Still, I couldn’t put it down. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while.

Behind the Wheel is available from Musa Publishing and Amazon.

*Bonus points if you can come up with a female example of this trend.


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