OM. I’m a Woman Tree Climber

Time really flies when you’re having fun. By the close of the weekend, Sunday, April 17th, I had learned how to tie a Michoacan knot, retreived foreign objects in trees, wore a BUFF, and made more than a dozen new girfriends. The itinerary for the Western Chapter Women’s Tree Climbing course was a packed schedule. Breakfast at 7 a.m., climbing instruction starting at eight, and the day’s events not ending until twelve hours later.

My interest in climbing trees budded during the summer of 2010 at the non profit, Casey Trees in Washington D.C.. While I was on vacation, the youth tree care crew got to experience tree climbing at the National Arboretum, and I remember feeling very envious of the students’ opportunity. My interest heightened into a fervor after reading about Steve Sillett, a botanist renowned for finding the tallest Redwood trees, in the enthralling book The Wild Trees by Richard Preston.

I free climbed trees as a tomboy growing up and have some recent experience rock climbing, but this animal was all together different. First, different equipment and knots. We used a termination knot, the anchor, to tie the standing line to the harness or if spliced just onto a carabiner, and we learned a few different tension knots or rather a tension hitch like the Michoacan and Knut. The system of climbing we used for ascending is what’s called Ddrt, doubled rope technique; the rope is secured over a branch or crotch of the tree and both ends hang parallel to ground and are isolated from other branches. The tension hitch, like the Knut, grips the running line so that when the climber pauses or rests, the main knot secures her safely in place. When ready to descend all you do is put pressure on top of the tension hitch. To let go mid air, take in the view, and put trust in the equipment and system is thrilling.



Body Thrusting and Footlocking

One way to get up the tree is to place your feet on the trunk and lean back and thrust your hips up. This exerts a lot of the upper body strength as you pull on the running line three times to get vertical movement. You can also use your lanyard to walk up the tree, but my preferred technique was using the secured foot hold or footlocking to inchworm up into the canopy.

Climbing is a Team Sport

The most challenging part of climbing I found was the actual first step. Getting the rope into the tree requires some determination in throwing a line over your tie in point. This is like vertical bowling. Though it is the same motion and throwing technique as in cornhole, I could not for the life of me get the line to go to my target. I was always throwing ahead of or behind me. Fortunately I had a great climbing buddy that set the line for us or I wouldn’t have made it up the tree.

There is an I in climbing, but the activity is really team centric. I got a high from the team comraderie and bonding we did as women collectively learning from each other. It was a very supportive environment, and high fives and yays were abundant.  I am grateful for the instructors’ patience and willingness to share so much expertise and guidance. 


OM the Sound of the Universe

Before lunch beak each day we were treated to a restorative yoga session. This meditation balanced well with the physical endurance required for the day. I’m not one to remember all the poses, but we did practice Warrior I and II.  This stance strengthens the legs, opens the hips and chest, and stretches the arms and legs. Perfect for relaxing after body thrusting. It also develops concentration, balance and groundedness, and energizes the entire body. All important things required to remain alert and practice safety while climbing.

At the end as we all lay there in corpse pose, my thoughts just melted away. All the windows of the room were open and a breeze filtered in blowing away our worries and fears and the extranalaties creeping in from work and home. The smells of the great outdoors: woods, leaves, and the lake and the gentle sounds materialized in my mind the guest bedroom at my grandparents house. In summers past my brother and I would lay in each bunk bed, with our heads close to the screen windows, and listen to crickets and smell the night air.

Then we wiggled our fingers and toes back to reality. Emails were exchanged and goodbye hugs given. We were all physically tired but still reluctant to get in our cars and break the spell.

I’ll end with this quote from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I feel it captures the spirit of the weekend:

I laid there in the grass and the cool shade, thinking about things and feeling rested and ruther comfortable and satisfied. I could see the sun out at one or two holes, but mostly it was big trees all about, and gloomy in there amongst them. There was freckled places on the ground where the light sifted down through the leaves, and the freckled places swapped about a little, showing there was a little breeze up there. A couple of squirrels set on a limb and jabbered at me very friendly.

The orange object was the first prize I climbed to. A rockin’ new hairband in DayGlo Orange.

The Goodrum Highlife

Having spent time with my colleague Goodrum last Thursday for the majority of the work day, I have been doing a little introspection about my approach to life. This week I have been feeling grumpy. Goodrum on the other hand is friendly, optimistic, and helpful. He is a great sport. Goodrum once told me an outlandish story about how he helped an old man cross a busy intersection in the Bayview and how he got cheers, applause, and a boost to his street cred. He always lends a hand. Goodrum is the embodiment of Gallant from the Highlights activity books you read while sitting in the waiting room of any Dentist’s office in the 90s.


My thoughts than led me to this quandry, is a happy person a good person? And vice versa? Than that scene came to mind of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka’s egg room where the Eggdictator sends her down the chute to the incinerator.


Good people are described as kind, helpful, caring, understanding, patient, and loving. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky1 points to twelve commonalities of happy people; here are those that relate to being a good person:

  • Express Gratitude
  • Be Optimistic
  • Avoid Comparison
  • Practice Kindness
  • Cultivate Relationships
  • Learn to Forgive

Studies show that little acts of kindness actually release serotonin and boost wellbeing. I need to practice more kindness and be more forgiving. My temper flares most at the book ends of the work day, during the commute. Any suggestions for practicing mindfulness are welcomed. Reading on the train is a great distraction, but it’s the boarding and exiting that grates on my nerves. What is really ironic is that the most used phrase signed in my highschool yearbook was “nice.”

I am going to put forth my best effort to practice the Golden Rule and model Goodrum’s behavior over the next 21 days.

Instead of rolling my eyes, I will smile.

Instead of muttering under my breath, I will give people slack and not act so righteous.

Instead of bowing my head to avoid eye contact, I will say hello to strangers. 

Tomorrow I work with Goodrum again, so hopefully he continues to rub off on me. 

Pardon me please, for I must get to bed.

Sidebar–’s word of the day for March 23rd, was joie de vivre. The french word describes a feeling, the delight in being alive.

  1. Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. Print.

Chopped Vegetable Delight

Tonight I volunteered for a hands on activity to repeat the happiness created by producing with our hands. My TGIF was spent chopping vegetables with Project Open Hand, which was founded by Ruth Brinker when she started preparing meals for seven neighbors who had Aids and were literally wasting away during the height of the epidemic in San Francisco. From her brotherly love grew an organization that serves 2,500 meals daily to the sick and elderly.


Knife Skills

The kitchen was no sweat shop, but there was a lot to do in an hour. We chopped over a dozen boxes of cauliflower and onions and a bushel of peppers. I just wanted to use the word bushel, but really a milk crate size heap. The prep list was checked off quickly; we were an efficient assembly line, and the pungency of the onions only moved a few of us to tears.20160219_185458-01

One of the three rules for volunteers is no dissemination of aids as the volunteer manager explained, “No sex, no blood contact, and no breastfeeding.” Everyone was on good behavior and there were no hurt paws. I wielded the knife skills I picked up at the Niles Pie bakery, my transitional job when I moved to California.

Rule # Two

Have a great experience. I met a few new people, socialized, and was productive with my hands.  I also learned that cauliflower bruises with human contact and the cheesy Béchamel sauce is a creamy cover up. The veracity of this I couldn’t find but the volunteer coordinator ‘Mac scored points with his English kitchen humour.


In the lobby of Project Open Hand is this portrait of Ruth; she passed away in 2011. What began as something so small really blossomed into a community service that is nourishing lives not only through food but human contact also. Where meals are provided at various centers throughout the city, activities are planned for socializing like: tai chi, bingo, and art projects. For seniors the engagement lowers risk for depression and cognitive decline.

A grateful client of the program said, “I come here five days a week for lunch. I’m really counting on this food; it’s my primary meal of the day. If I wasn’t coming here for lunch, I’d be eating a whole lot of Chef Boyardee. And I know that would not be good for me.” This quote made me recall an image of my Grandpa’s sadly stocked fridge: a head of iceberg lettuce, ketchup, some Kraft singles, and maybe a loaf of bread.

So it felt rewarding to help prepare meals for those thousands of grandparents receiving assisstance and to feel I made an impact. From the heart of the Tenderloin, I did something that really benefited others.

For dessert there were brownies and milk, and that was really the cherry on top of already a happy evening. I’m so looking forward to the next Project Open Hand.

Hands on the Monkey Wrench

Happy hands make happy days. I have been working on a quilt for over six years. I started it that long ago, back in 2010 when I lived in D.C.. All the blocks are sewn together, it’s the actual hand stitching that is so time consuming. This year I am going to finish it. That’s right. I’m going to finish a craft project. The quilt has sat forgotten in my closet amongst a heap of fabrics for various sewing projects that remain unassembled.

I liberated the quilt from its bin at the beginning of the month. To see it now, sitting out daily, is a reminder of a long term project I want to finish. My husband isn’t too happy though finding on the floor pins that secured the sandwich of layers.


Do What You Love and Love What You Do

Having realistic goals helps create direction in our lives and we feel a sense of accomplishment when we achieve the plans we set out to do. Our accomplishments then boost our confidence and happiness. Making things by hand deepens the sense of accomplishment. When you make something you feel productive. Creating with your hands is said to reduce stress and be mentally restorative. The process of making in activities like cooking, painting, or writing absorbs our attention and reduces self consciousness and rumination.

I love to sew. The act of line making with thread is very soothing, especially by hand. I have almost quilted one full monkey wrench block. Twenty nine more to go.


Listed as a secret to adulthood, Gretchen Rubin reminds us in her Happiness Project, “I can choose what I do, but I can’t choose what I like to do.”

She is telling us to be authentic in what we love and commit to it and make time for those things we love. I think this goes hand in hand with advice about goal setting. Goals should be our own and not what somebody else wants us to do. When we want it ourselves, we achieve it.

Spoiler Alert

I saw this idea reflected in How to Be Single, which was not a total romcom flop. Alice, played by Dakota Johnson, keeps trying to find a mate that is equally into the same thing she really digs–hiking the Grand Canyon. At the end we see her hiking by herself in a Cheryl Strayed kind of way or maybe she’s winking at her partner before the credits role. She kept putting off what she loved and dreamed about in exchange for a man or love. I love when Alice turns over a new leaf and just starts doing the stuff she really wants to do with no excuses. Like when she spontaneously goes to check out the Rockefeller Tree because it makes her happy.

I feel this happiness/ well-being project has helped me tune into what makes me feel alive. With continued effort I hope to invest more time into doing what I love, even if it means going solo or with strangers.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”-Henry David Thoreau

Apply Thoreau’s optimism to all your goals and you will be more likely to suceed. Just remember to be realistic. Small steps add up and feet turn into miles.

What’s one achievable goal you have this month?




Inside Out: Colors of My last Two Weeks

Jack Kerouac said, “The more ups and downs, the more joy I feel. The greater the fear, the greater the happiness I feel.”

The last several days I have felt such a wave of emotions: despair, sadness, anger, gratitude, fear, and joy. Over MLK weekend I traveled back east to my mom’s house (joy) and last week had a job interview (fear). Unfortunately not good news to report on the outcome (sadness) and kicking myself in the pants for that.

All I was told in advance was to arrive 15 minutes early to prepare some answers to a few questions. The gauntlet was to present three short presentations to a specific audience given a scenario.

Rewards in Fear

I wanted to jettison and had no sense of focus. Probably half my allotted time was devising an escape plan. I was so afraid of failing and sounding incoherent, so when a panel member asked me if I was ready, I tried to excuse myself. She, with great kindness, cajoled me to stay and proceed with the interview.

In the past I’ve been mostly successful. In school I got mostly A’s and I’ve never had huge hardships to overcome. For interviews, the jobs I really wanted, I landed.

This time, I didn’t close the deal (heartache and regret). The outcome would have changed my life and at a time when I feel so engulfed in a professional rut.

I also found thanks for these reasons:

  1. The positive body language and attention panelists gave me while interviewing allowed me to drive home peacefully without self abasement.
  2. The experience of failure and for the ability to overcome my post rejection embarrassment and accept candid feedback.
  3. That feedback. This was a great, professional learning moment.
  4. For the woman to woman support and mentoring.

John Waters talks about fear and failure, specifically professional rejection in his 2015 commencement speech at RISD. He offers the wisdom that a “no is free.” In speaking to this assembly of artists he was telling the cohort through the metaphor of hitchhiking to put out their thumbs. Eventually somebody will say “Get In.” In other words take risks, put your work and self out their, and don’t be afraid of rejection. And like the rejoinder my husbands gives, “What’s the worse they can say?” when I ask him if I should go for it and I start casting doubts.

Recognition of Joy

The best part of my week was a training class taken for professional development at work. Employees are required to log ten hours of training, so the hour session, Intro to Photography looked like an easy and fun credit. It was sold as a way to improve photos for reports and presentations. The session was taught by a communications team member who had a background in art, and I was delighted by his presentation. In the first half hour we reviewed the rule of thirds, odd numbers, and terms like golden hour, repetition, and depth. We spent the second half critiquing photos, mostly taken on our cell phones. I shared a recent photo taken on Market Street on my urban visual safari. It got great applause and this really boosted my confidence.

Market Street, San Francisco

I recall seeing Inside Out last year and feeling that the plot had great parallelism to my own internal state the last two years adjusting to the Bay Area. The main characters are the five emotions in Riley’s head. Joy is the film’s protagonist and her character made me want to enlist her at the helm of my emotional headquarters.

Joy’s goal has always been to make sure Riley stays happy. She is lighthearted, optimistic and determined to find the fun in every situation. Joy sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great. –DisneyWiki


If you haven’t seen the Disney film, it ranks up there with Up and Toy Story. Joy’s character teaches us that happiness is not a disposition to be had all the time and instead all the other emotions like sadness, fear, and anger must do their job in order for Riley (us) to function properly.

Last time I promised some photos, so here are two about recent sunshine.

Sunrise over Mission Peak from 
Victorian in San Francisco.

This year I will continue to seek gratitude on this blog journey, even in the less favorable times like failure. Tell me how Joy is operating at your headquarters?


I Spy Something…

Have you ever been on a visual safari? I have had this idea for a while, to go on a several hour walkabout through my community or it could be a new place, but the idea is to take note of everyday ordinary things that strike you as beautiful, spark a special memory, or make you smile. The idea for a visual safari started as a way to find imagery for art projects. Now with my resolution to find and practice gratitude, this walkabout seems like a great opportunity to practice gratitude during work and share the visual highlights of my day in-lieu of complaining about lack of pay, mindless work, or the latest fault of my manager.20150604_141340

Since my arrival to California, two years ago this month, I have felt detached and not my authentic self.  I am not using my talents and feel my 9 to 5 work does not matter. (Is this selfish?) I am in the throws of trying to make a career change, and came across two things this weekend that deepened my resolve to find gratitude.

Changing your job and life are by definition concerned with the future. Whereas gratitude is about the present.

Job coach Dr. Valerie Young instructs her clients on her website Changing Course that “it’s imperative to shift from a state of constant yearning for what you don’t have to being mindful of those blessings, however small, that you do have… right now.”

So much of last year was spent on bemoaning what I don’t have and comparing my career track to my peers. One way I reduced such guilt trips was to deactivate my Facebook account.

On this journey to switch career tracks, I will try not to get so lost in yearning for change or for the future that I fail to see daily blessings. I will instead celebrate my current work as I strive for change.

Reasons Why I Love My Job

  1.  I am not fettered to a desk; instead the great part of my job as an inspector is seeing and experiencing the lanscape of San Francisco.
  2. I look at trees instead of a screen all day.
  3. My two hour round trip commute allows me to read on average one book a week.


Perspective: Half Full or Half Empty

Authors of Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, suggest that the fine line between prosperity and poverity is the degree of gratitude in your life.

With this in mind I found this perspective shared by Sociologist Kathryn Edin in her ethnographic research on the lives of the extreme poor, specifically those surving on less than $2.00 a day, particularly helpful in shifting my mindset. The book shares the stories of men and women, mostly single mothers.

The following is about Jennifer who recently left a low wage cleaning job because it was making her ill, and she was facing a frantic, new job search while living in a shelter.

“Her vision of the good life remains astonishingly humble: she dreams of a full time job paying $13 an hour, a set schedule, and decent working conditions. She believes that at this wage she could find a modest apartment in a safe neighborhood, perhaps even afford a reliable used car. This is her American Dream.”

There is much to rejoice in. Later this week, I look forward to sharing some photos from my visual safari-gratitude challenge.


Road to 2016, Mud and No Flats

I am a believer in resolutions, something to aim for through the year. A thread to anchor the speeding days from floating away into oblivion. For 2015 I set a goal to log 1,500 miles. Not in our Prius, but on foot, by bike, on running trails, in the pool, or on the dreadful treadmill.

There was a carrot: exercise, seeing new places, burning calories from baked goods, and increased wellbeing from being outdoors and free of a device. The beginning of the year was a poor start; at the close of March I hadn’t crossed even a hundred miles.

I picked up the mileage in April, and started putting down a hundred miles each month. And more was on the line, the value of a new pair of running shoes. I was to fork over the cash value if I failed to finish.

Most of my miles accumulated were on the road cycling. My favorite ride would be finally making it across the Dumbarton Bridge, west from Fremont and completing a full 45 mile loop, mostly on the Bay Trail. I figured out the route in three trials, the penultimate being several months ago and getting me about two thirds around the south bay to a set point where my husband would retrieve me.


I love the landscape of the Baylands, for being captivated by the beauty in the negative space, the textures,  and the reflections of the sky in the marshlands.  The imagery became fodder for my lithography class prints this fall.



Sometime back in the third quarter, I submitted defeat and modified the overly ambitious 2015 goal to a thousand miles. A consequence followed. Now I would have to finish double or nothing.

In December I began to cheat. I started logging my commute miles, roughly two miles each way to the Bart. It should count, I rationalized.

On Christmas I set out to make the full baylands loop without the swag van. The trail was wet from seasonal rain, and the mud caked my tires so badly in one section that I had to reroute myself in Sunnyvale. Yet, finding one’s way is so satisfying. 

Tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, I will squeeze in a run to…


complete 800 miles. Doh! I admit failure. The stakes were not high enough. It was house money. And moreover, it’s not the destination, but the journey and “the doing more important than the outcome.”

What is your 2016 mindset?

Many of us fail in keeping our resolutions. Just more quickly. 😉 Psychologist Richard Wiseman admonishes that the key is to not fall back on your own will power. To help keep that resolution he advises to:

  • Go Public
  • Keep it limited to one goal
  • Break it down into small and achievable steps
  • Document progress (plug for mapmyrun)
  • Reward yourself and don’t quit because of setbacks

There will be no wagers for me in 2016. Instead of a goal or resolution per say, I want to make a declaration to carry a certain mindset this New Year.

Last week’s Christmas Eve sermon focused on the modern symbolism of the gifts the Magi bring to baby Jesus as told by Rex Knowles in relating his children’s portrayal of the Nativity Story. Gold, circumstance, and mud. These are the gifts transformed by a child. We are reminded to hold gold lightly and forget earthy things, dance in circumstance, and play in mud.

To the Inn, the manger, before God, we bring our gold, circumstances, and mud. We cannot check our impatience, our family dysfunction, sins, poverty, imperfections, wealth, or doubts at the door. We must be our authentic selves and praise God for his unconditional love. We are received and swaddled in his Grace.

My minset for 2016 is to be more thankful for my talents, my health, and my husband, accept my modern family, and not let circumstances or mud cloud my outlook. To go for it, like a new job and new social connections, without making any excuses. What is to lose?

So in five words, my 2016 resolution is to Find Gratitude, Reach, Bemoan Less.

Let me know if you have suggestions for how to document my progress. Happy New Year!

P.S. Chinese superstition says not to sweep or dust on New Year’s Day, or you will sweep good fortune away. Let the mud sit.