Monday, July 28, 2014

Return to nature

I'm finally back, after a week in the Midwest visiting family, followed by a week of trying to catch up on everything. It honestly took me by surprise how much I had to deal with when I came back! If I had planned ahead, and I usually do, I would have prepped posts ahead of time. But that didn't happen, so for this, like with the rest of my life, I'm playing a bit of catch-up.

Of course, I dove right back into my regularly scheduled life as soon as my feet landed on my home turf again. I spent a day with my girlfriends to celebrate one friend's birthday with lunch, pedicures, and shopping. There was the inevitable PT appointment to deal with the pain resulting from a 2500 mile road trip. Friday was packed with lunch with my theater "brother" and a happy hour where my friend's husband's band played.

Saturday dawned bright and warm (but not too warm, as has been the case with this entire summer, to my everlasting gratitude!), and I headed up to Gifford Pinchot State Park to meet my friends Dave and Mari, who were camping there for the weekend.

Gifford Pinchot Lake
Now, I'm not a huge fan of camping. I've done it, and it's fun and all, but I don't sleep particularly well on the ground, and I'm really the type of person who is not comfortable if my hair doesn't get washed every day. But I definitely enjoy the other aspects of camping - being surrounded by the sounds of nature, spending time with friends, sitting around a campfire. And in recent years, I've decided that I kind of like hiking. I'm no expert hiker, and usually by the last mile or two, I'm only moving under the motivation that I'm almost to the point where I can take off my shoes and relax.

We didn't get the chance to hike at all last year, due to busy schedules, so I had been badgering my friends to go this year. Once all three of us were free from show schedules (we're all performers - that's how we met), we decided, almost spur of the moment, that this was our weekend.

From the end of the caravan
We set out around 1pm, planning to hike the 8 miles or so around the lake in the park, or as much of it as my injured knees would allow. Dave and Mari are experienced hikers/campers, and were fully decked out in their "roughing-it" gear, although Dave had to find a new walking stick along the trail, as he'd accidentally broken his while loading their camping gear into the car. I was armed with extra water, sunscreen (I don't venture outside without it!), a few granola bars, knee brace, and cell phone (for taking pictures only).

Wineberries - Yum!
The Lakeside Trail was well marked, except for one little jog where we were pretty sure we were following an old overgrown trail and had to kind of forge through the woods a bit. We found wineberries along the trail, which are edible and sweet, and red baneberries, or "bird crack" as Mari dubbed them, which are incredibly toxic but lovely to look at. Dave pointed out the two disc golf courses along our route, and explained the game and the difficulty of each tee we passed. The day was gorgeous, the company even better, and even though we could hear lots of voices filtering upward from the lake, we actually encountered very few people along the trail. Really, just a perfect day!
The "not too steep" trail.
Yeah right, Dave!

Because my knee wasn't suffering too badly (especially once I put on the knee brace), we even detoured along an adjoining trail, which Dave, our navigator, assured me wasn't steep. Ahem.

By the time we reached the campsite again, we had hiked 8.7 miles. We were pleasantly exhausted and had a few blisters on our toes, but were happy with the day and life in general. And I think we were all happy to change into flip flops and crash in our camp chairs. After a delicious campfire dinner, we lounged by the fire until the late hour and the mosquitoes reminded me that it was time for me to leave.

If you've never gone hiking, I highly recommend it, especially this summer, when the weather has been so mild and lovely. But either start small, or go with someone who is experienced, like I do, because it's definitely easy to get in over your head!

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Traditional Independence

Happy Independence Day!

I know, I know, it was actually three days ago, but since I'm currently blogging only once a week, that's what you get. And actually, this is coming on the heels of my own Independence Day celebration.

I firmly believe that one important element of the fabulous life is to establish traditions that are meaningful to you in some way. Whether it's the annual family reunion or always going out for burritos before a ball game or singing a certain carol every Christmas Eve, it's these little details that put the sparkle into life.

Of course, that could just be my Irish talking.

In my family, we have endless traditions, ranging from the small and lamentable (Mom's lime Jell-O with pineapple every Christmas), to the large and meaningful (annual trips to the Midwest to visit the extended family). One of my favorite traditions is our Independence Day celebration.

Every year, my hometown hosts their salute to local veterans on July 3rd (postponed this year until the 6th due to thunderstorms). Thousands of people from all over gather in the Community Park to share in music, food, and friendship, before ending the evening with fireworks. My mom makes sure to get there just as soon as the park opens to stake out her spot close to the water and away from the docks where some of the more obnoxious boaters rev their engines and overuse their air horns. We haul in picnic food, spread a blanket, and bask in the sunshine and the breeze off the harbor until it gets dark enough for the fireworks show, which usually rivals what you would see in major cities.

It's one of my favorite traditions, in a year filled with wonderful ones. I think it really speaks to me because it's very much a throwback to the Americana of our parents' generation. It's small town America at its finest, from the community band playing John Phillip Sousa marches to the funnel cake stand to the school buses shuttling people back to their cars in the parking lot of the community college.

As we sit on our blankets and nibble on broccoli salad and Wheat Thins (this year I provided a Strawberry Pretzel Salad, which was a staple at nearly every summer church potluck I attended as a kid. And yes, this was another desperate bid to use up the remainder of my strawberries, which are now frozen!), a steady stream of friends, acquaintances, and neighbors stop by to visit, and some even park their own camp chairs next to ours to continue catching up. Former teachers stop to see how we've grown into our lives, and former classmates pass by

with their families. Friends from my parents' church will stop by to joke around, and childhood friends come by to introduce their spouses and children.

By and large, the crowds are friendly and respectful, flags and glow sticks are enthusiastically waved by small hands, and the cacophony of "oohs" and "ahhs" serves as the soundtrack to the professional fireworks display shot off of the barge in the harbor.

It's one of my favorite times of the whole year, because it's a reminder of all of wonderful things about our country, which we're so inclined to forget the rest of the year when bombarded by talk of political scandals and government ineffectiveness. For that one evening of the year, it's about celebrating the American spirit, and the foundations of our country - family, community, and freedom.

What are your traditions, for this holiday or others, that make your life a little more fabulous?

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.