How to be present in the great outdoors

Put down your phone.

Step outside.

Look up at the sky. Notice the colors. Notice the clouds, or lack thereof.

Feel the air with your skin.

Is there a breeze? Is it cold, or warm or wet?

Observe the light.

Is it bold and bright? Are you squinting? Or is it soft and gentle like a watercolor painting?

Listen. Listen past the sounds of people or traffic or machinery. Listen for the wind in the trees or the leaves scuttling on the pavement. Hear the sounds of the birds.

Don’t think, “I should get a picture of this and share it on Instagram.”

I mean, it’s ok if you think that, but don’t give into the temptation -or, if you do, just snap a quick picture and post it later. Enjoy the moment yourself, and with whoever you’re with right now.

Just be.

Observe. Sense. Feel. Breathe.


A Minimalist Trip to Boston

This past weekend, Dave and I went up to Boston! I love going there. It’s an easy drive (as long as you don’t hit traffic…), and the city itself is just so… people-sized.
Months ago, I saw that The Minimalists were going to do a show at The Wilbur. In a moment of spontaneity, I bought us tickets. So that’s how we ended up on this trip.

I accidentally booked our Airbnb for the wrong night… luckily it was just the night before the show instead of the night of. So we just went up a day early.

We got to our Airbnb a little after 3, got settled, and then hit the streets. We walked up to Boston Public Gardens and strolled around and people-watched. Boston Common was already set up with all kinds of tents and stuff in preparation for the Marathon.

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We walked along Newbury Street and made our way to the Prudential Center. My mom had mentioned that there was an observatory there that you could get great views of the city. As I am a fan of looking at life from above, we made this a priority to check out.

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The view from the Pru was nice, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. We watched planes coming in and out of Logan, saw lots of sailboats on the Charles, found the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and finally, watched the sun set over Fenway Park. Pretty cool! We did sit and watch some of the documentaries they had about immigrants to Boston and how the culture has changed over time. It was well done, and very relevant to our current political climate.

There was a lady playing her violin during the sunset. She played Can’t Help Falling In Love, which is one of the many UB40 songs that Dave seduced me with back in the day. (I know it was originally done by Elvis – whatevs…) Here’s part of it…. I didn’t think to start recording until midway through, and then I move the camera too fast… ugh. I am not a videographer.

After that, we were super hungry, so once at ground level, we found a place called 5 Napkin Burger. There was a veggie burger on the menu, so I was game. It wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped, but it was good. I was more enamored with the mint and lemon iced tea, of which I drank two.

We walked back to our Airbnb, which was in the Theater District. By the time we went to bed, around midnight, we had already been hearing lots of ruckus from the comedy club next door, and the people leaving the various theaters around us. Not a big deal – that’s life in the city, right?

After snuggling into the comfortable bed, we fell asleep quickly and peacefully. Several hours later, I began dreaming that a band of jolly Irish men was bustling down the street, singing heartily. But no, it was no dream. As consciousness returned to me, I realized there were actual men singing heartily down in the streets below. I don’t know if they were Irish, but they were loud. Then there was lots of yelling and honking and general mayhem. I regretted not bringing my earplugs along… fail!

Fortunately the commotion only lasted about a half an hour and then we slept soundly for the rest of the night.

The next day we met up with Nick and Matt for lunch at Temezcal, and the weather was so nice that we sat outside. It was a leisurely lunch and a great time of catching up with each other and discussing life. Actually, I had just seen them both the week before in Northampton, but that’s a story for another time. (Not really, but it made you think my life was interesting for a second there, right?)


Matt, Nick, Dave and me – obviously

After parting ways with Nick and Matt, Dave and I cruised up to the North End. I mean why not hit all the sections of Boston while we were there? We hung out on the pier by the aquarium for a while and then got a delicious pineapple smoothie in Quincy Market, before wandering around for the rest of the afternoon.

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Eventually the time came for us to get over to The Wilbur theater to see the Minimalists. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been reading their blog and listening to their podcasts for a while now – if you’ve been paying attention to my blog, I have mentioned them before and my own quest to live a more minimalist lifestyle.

We were a bit early – we arrived at 6:45 or so, which seemed like a reasonable time for a 7pm show. There was no line, and most of the seats were still empty.  The stage was plain, and they just had some mellow background music playing.

The place filled up, a little after 7pm. They came out and the crowd went wild. They started out by telling their story, which if you search for their TED talk, you can hear for yourself. The second part of the show was a Q&A.

The majority of the questions were what you would expect – people asking for advice about a particular aspect of minimalism, or how to make certain lifestyle changes.

Some of the questioners were – dare I say it – devotees of minimalism. One women proclaimed that she had a “one in, one out” policy, so before she would buy something new, or, presumably, receive a gift, she had to get rid of something she already had. She asked them how they dealt with the emotional struggle of deciding whether to keep something or get rid of it.

After some prodding, she revealed that the item in question was her mothers vintage Levi’s jacket that she actually still wears.  For some reason she felt it was frivolous and she should get rid of it, even though she obviously didn’t want to. At that point a bunch of people in the audience shouted out that she should just keep it. Seriously.

Another woman was kind of a sad case.  She spoke of how she had successfully followed all the steps to becoming a minimalist and now she didn’t know what to do next. She seemed to be hoping that they would just tell her what to do with her life. At this point, they had reached the “lightening round”, where they were only supposed to give tweetable-sized answers, so they gave her some statements about how life without passion isn’t living, and that sort of thing. It was disturbing to me that she apparently didn’t have passion for anything. Or maybe she felt she needed some kind of permission to pursue it. Or maybe she was just trolling all of us…

The show was interesting and light – there were lots of funny comments and good points made. I can’t say that I went away having learned anything new, but Dave said he enjoyed it and that he thought it was interesting.

They had a meet and greet afterward, which we decided to skip since we hadn’t had dinner yet and also because I feel super awkward meeting “celebrities” and I wouldn’t have known what to say.

We grabbed dinner at Panera and then headed out. It was actually pretty nice driving home after the show – there was virtually no traffic and we made it home in just under two hours.

All in all, it was a great trip. If you’ve never been to Boston, make sure to check it out someday!

The Mins

As seen from the window of Panera, where we immediately ran after the show.

Costa Rica Trip, Day 3 – La Catarata Fortuna & The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

On Monday morning, while our friends and family back home were commuting to work in the cold and snow, Dave and I were preparing to visit our first Costa Rican waterfall!

Of course we had to start with the hotel breakfast – fruit, eggs, gallo pinto, and toast – which was just what we needed to fuel the adventure.

La Catarata Fortuna

La Catarata Fortuna, aka La Fortuna Waterfall is located only a few miles outside the town of La Fortuna. It was a gorgeous drive, with breathtaking views of both Arenal and Cerro Chato.

It cost about $15 for admission to the park, and it helps to have a healthy pair of legs. There are over 400 steps to climb down to the waterfall! By the time we were at the bottom, I could feel my calves quivering and I just hoped they weren’t visibly twitching.

The waterfall is breathtaking. Seen from the viewing platform above, it looks deceivingly delicate, like a lock of silver hair streaming through the forest. At the bottom of the stairs, looking up the 200+ feet of thundering whitewater, you really get a sense of it’s might.

The river bends around to the left, where there are lots of shallow, calm areas. And rocks, of course. We spent a bit of time relaxing here, trying to capture video of fish with the GoPro, and enjoying the fresh water.

When we’d had our fill of calm, we climbed back up the few stairs to the pool at the base of the waterfall. People were swimming here. Of course we had to try it out too.

The water was surprisingly cold (though not as cold as a Vermont waterfall), and extremely turbulent. There really was no shallow area – you just sort of slid in and had to swim. There were some rocks to stand on, but the water was moving around us so vigorously that I couldn’t keep my balance. The closer you got to the waterfall, the more turbulent it got. So much for that romantic vision of putting my head under the waterfall and tossing my hair back sexily. I’m pretty sure it would break a person’s neck.

There was actually a lifeguard on the scene and a lifesaver (is that what those foam rings are actually called?), but he was standing so far back from the water that I think a person could drown before he made it across the slippery rocks, untied the life preserver (ah, that’s what it’s called, right?) and threw it into the water.

I called it quits after a few minutes in the pool, preferring not to drown on my third day of vacation. Dave went back in with the GoPro, to try to get some action shots, but the camera would not cooperate. Note: learn to use your GoPro and troubleshoot any issues before you take it on vacation.

Moments later, two young women approached him and asked him to take their picture. The three of the struggled to remain upright in the water during the transaction. I ate some cheetos and watched from the sidelines.

After drying ourselves off we were ready to hike back up the 400+ steps.


I was a bit worried, since I have weak lungs, weak legs, and – frankly – am just a weak person all around. It ended up not being too bad. We (I) only had to stop to rest once. We stopped next to a mother and grandmother who were carrying a very fat baby. The grandmother gave me a knowing look and said “gordito!” as she shuffled the baby onto her other hip. He was smiling broadly and clearly not concerned with the fact that he was overweight and weighing his people down.


Taking a breather on the way back up.

Once we got to the top, we changed out of our wet clothes and had a look around the butterfly garden there. There was also an orchid garden, but the entrance was closed off because they were doing construction in the area. That’s one of the downsides to visiting in the off-season – not everything you might want to see or do is available.

The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

While perusing the map the day before, we noticed there was a cacao farm along the route between la Fortuna and the waterfall. So we casually dropped in on our way back, and found out that a tour would be starting at 1. We had just enough time to eat some more snacks and slap some more sunscreen on my white self.

The tour began under a covered patio, where the guide gave a history of the natives use of the cacao fruit, and how it evolved over the years to the chocolate we know and love today.

We then walked around the farm, which not only had cacao plants, but also coffee, banana and lots of flowers.  We learned about the different colored pods and how to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Then we gathered in another covered area, and the guide gave an interesting explanation and demonstration of how the cacao is harvested, the different components of the fruit and how it was used back in the day versus how it’s used now.

We got to taste the raw beans. They were covered with a slimy white goop, which is actually cocoa butter and felt quite lovely as I rolled it around on my tongue. We were warned not to try to chew the raw bean because it would be intolerably bitter.

He showed how the farmers dry the beans and let ferment them before grinding them up. Several people in the audience took turns grinding the dried beans. Then, the other guide showed how to pour the ground beans from one bowl into another, while blowing through the falling pieces, to blow the bits of shell away. She had a girl come up and try it, and it seemed much harder than it looked.

Luckily we were sitting in the back row and there were eager kids in front of us, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself with any of these activities.

We got to taste the ground up chocolate. It was kind of like tasting baking chocolate, only fresher. Not sweet, but not terrible, either.

They made us a drink of hot chocolate, which was good, but the highlight for me was when they had us line up and receive a spoonful of melted chocolate. There was a table full of toppings – sea salt, nuts, caramel, coffee, and different spices. I tried it with sea salt and it was so amazing, I had to go back and get another spoonful. I would have gone back for a third (they said we could have as much as we wanted), but by then the line had dwindled down and I didn’t want to look greedy. Plus, Dave said if I wasn’t careful, I would get the runs.

After we left the chocolate place, we were ready to get some lunch. It was close to 3 pm at this point, so we were pretty hungry.

I’d seen a sign in one of the restaurants in la Fortuna, proclaiming it to be the home of “The Best Vegetarian Food in Town”, so I suggested we try it. It was called Life House. At 3 pm, it was basically deserted, but a friendly waiter came over and took care of us quickly. I got a veggie burger and Dave got a chicken sandwich. Both were really yummy. We met the owner of the restaurant, who grows much of the food in his own garden. It was a neat place.

That evening we went to Ecocentro Danaus, which is a local conservation and education center. We’d read that they gave night forest tours. However, when we arrived, they were just closing up, and they told us to call and make a reservation for the next night. It was a gorgeous time for a drive though!


Costa Rica Zipline Video

I hereby present my first video made with GoPro Studio!

You might be surprised by how long it actually took to make this, and as I watch, I keep seeing bits and pieces I want to modify, but I will leave it at this…. it is my first try, after all. 🙂 I hope you enjoy!

A Whirlwind Tour of MA, NH & ME

Last Sunday, I woke up with the sun. Dave helped me load up the little Mazda and I zoom-zoomed off to Nick’s house. After some strategic rearranging of my car so we could fit all his stuff in it, we were off again.

An hour later we were at the Claire Family’s house in New Hampshire! It only took me a year to finally get up there to meet Mr. Ronan. This is the family who found my blog while they were pregnant with Ronan. I’ve written about them a couple of times: here, and here and here.

It was great to spend a few hours together at their lovely home. Denny (Ronan’s big brother) was a hoot and so full of energy! He was so excited to show Nick and I all his toys and his room, and was determined not to be left out of the lunchtime conversation.

Ronan was a sweetheart. When we first got there, and I first held him, he was crying because Denny had woken him from his nap. But after he had some lunch he perked up and was happy and laughing, and chasing Denny around the house on his hands and knees. Lindsay and Dennis are really going to have their hands full once he starts walking!

Visiting the Claire Fam!

After we said goodbye to the Claires, Nick and I were off to Acadia. It was another 4 hour drive north. We grumbled about this for a bit, but the time went by pretty fast and gave us lots of time to catch up on each other’s lives. At Mom’s request, we stopped at When Pigs Fly, which is a bakery in Kittery. We managed not to eat all the bread before we got to the campground.

Some of the things we did in Acadia were:

Scoped out the view on Cadillac Mountain. It was a little chilly up there! Also, crowded, but we managed to get this picture which makes us look like we are mostly alone.

The gang on top of Cadillac Mountain!

Chilled at the campsite. Actually, we really didn’t do much of that – we were too busy going out and exploring.


Scoped out the Bass Harbor Head Light. We were looking for some Japanese gardens, but failed to find them. We found this light house instead.

Bass Harbor Head Light

We spent some time climbing on the rocks and looking at stuff in the tidal pools there.

The McKelvie kids take over the rocks

We drove into Bar Harbor to find out if we could go on a whale watch or a puffin tour. When we saw the prices we were less inclined, so we decided to just walk across the sandbar to Bar Island.

The sandbar… or is it a parking lot?

We, along with several dozen other people, walked up to the summit. It was a beautiful view!

Looking back at Bar Harbor from Bar Island

Later, we made our way to Thunder Hole. Despite being there at the appropriate time, we did not hear it thundering. Instead, we watched lots of people climbing the rocks and we wondered how there had not been more fatalities at this location.

Thunderless Hole

On our final day in Maine, we rented paddleboards and found a secluded lake on which to take them out. The lake was amazing. The water was surprisingly warm and very clear. As soon as we got out of the car, we could hear loons calling on the water. We saw a mama loon with two young loons. We saw adult loons diving and coming up really far from where they’d dived. We even saw a bald eagle! Kris and I went out on the paddleboards and were able to find the tree where the eagle was perched. He (or she?) was grooming, and as we watched, a huge, white tail feather fell out of the tree and helicoptered down. It landed on a bush right on the edge of the water, so I was able to paddle over and get it. That’s my kind of souvenir!

Returning from a paddle adventure.

Of course there were lots of other moments that I did not get pictures of – our evening of lying on the rocks looking up at the stars, counting satellites and talking and laughing about all sorts of things, eating lunch at an unfriendly restaurant in Bar Harbor, Kris and I riding bikes the wrong way on the park trail and almost getting our eyes gouged out by a seagull.

As always, I love getting to spend time with my siblings. It’s always funny to see each other and notice how similar we actually are, despite living miles and miles apart, and to recount old stories and create new memories. Sigh. A week is not nearly long enough.

Bonus picture:

The rest of the family eating lobster while Kris and I were back at the campsite eating vegan sausage and peppers and potato salad.

Back to the Earth, I Feel It

Bonus points to anyone who can identify the song lyrics in the title.

It’s been over a week since we had our family camping trip in Vermont, but I wanted to document the experience for myself and all my fans. (Hi Suzanne, Terri and Janet!)

This post is going to be mostly pictures, because I took approximately 100 of them during the weekend.

It was a humid and sunny Friday night when Kris and I set out on our journey northward.

I applied several filters to this image but was unable to make myself not look like a ghostly apparition.

We drove for many hours and had deep conversation about the meaning of life, or at least the meanings of the current things that are happening in our lives. We stopped at the Vermont Country Deli  for dinner. It’s right off exit 2. We’re big fans.

After a few more hours, we arrived at beautiful Lake Champlain.

Sunset sky over Lake Champlain. Ah.

It was dark by the time we got to the campground, but we were able to get our tents set up quickly and then proceeded over to where the rest of our family had already gotten a fire going. We hung out for a bit but were soon sleepy and required some slumber.

Immediately upon lying down on the rocky ground, I regretted not bringing the foam mats that I usually have. Epic fail.

The next day dawned sunny and bright:


Good morning, Lake Champlain!

Some family members immediately embarked on a kayak trip to the little island pictured above. It’s two miles away. TWO MILES.

And they got caught in a thunderstorm. Everyone survived, don’t worry.


Innocently paddling away…

Meanwhile, back at the campsite:

They slept on an air mattress. 

It had been 10 days since the biopsy, so it was time to remove my stitches. Kris volunteered to play doctor. I gazed out over the lake and tried not to visualize what was going on. Of course it was over in an instant, and it did not hurt at all, even though I screamed dramatically.

Kris finally gets revenge on his annoying big sister.

One of our family’s obsessions is doing puzzles.  Ok, it’s mostly John and I who are obsessed, with Nick playing a supportive role, and Kris preferring to gaze out across the lake while holding a dish.


Ignoring the gorgeous weather and scenery to focus on the puzzle.

Oh hey, it’s the American Revolution.

Despite failing to actually get to the Rally for Ally this year, John and I were granted lovely green shirts and we sported them proudly.

I spent part of one afternoon relaxing and doing some much-needed sketching. Oh, and there's my shy feet!

I spent part of one afternoon relaxing and doing some much-needed sketching. Oh, and there’s my shy feet!

Later, I relaxed in the hammock. Shy feet again.

Later, I relaxed in the hammock. Shy feet again.


I built a little cairn. I like making them as precarious as possible.


I found some interesting driftwood as we waited for sunset.


We watched the sunset by the ferry crossing. Hey New York!

The final night it was down to me, Kris and Mom. After watching the sunset, we headed back to the campsite to make s’mores and hang out. As we sat there talking, I noticed a bright orange blaze in the sky. My first thought was that it was a fire, but it’s location didn’t make sense. Suddenly we realized it was the moon! It was peeking over the horizon like a ball of fire. I desperately tried to capture the beauty of it with my phone camera, but, if you’ve ever tried taking a picture of the moon, you know how that goes.


I begged my phone to take a decent picture of the moon but this was the best it could do.

We took turns looking at it through the binoculars. The mountain that was between us and the moon has wind turbines across the ridge. Through the binoculars you could see the turbines silhouetted against the moon. It was SO cool.

That night it was so windy that I kept waking up thinking it was torrential downpour. When I woke up in the morning I could hear the waves crashing against the shore. We packed up our stuff and had breakfast with Mom before setting out on our journey home.

The weekend away was definitely a nice break. I didn’t “unplug” as I had intended to, mostly because I was using my phone to take pictures the whole time. Even so, it was relaxing to be in the wilderness…


The Mazda’s first camping trip.

Ok, so it wasn’t really THAT wild, since we drove right up to the site, but once you get down to the lake, it’s very wild and unruly. And did I mention gorgeous?

Did you figure out the song lyrics?

Rusted Root, Back to the Earth.