reset | refresh

the ability to create is one of the greatest gifts we've been given. there are things that you will be inspired to create that literally no one else will. your mind is a sacred place, and within that sanctuary, new ideas are born, fresh concepts and ways to look at the world burst into being. you have an imagination, and with it you can begin the journey towards absolutely anywhere from exactly where you are right now.

i love creating. i love making things - especially making things up and writing them down - the scientific name for which is storytelling. it's what i do most days. but lately, i've also been pondering the fact that, as a creator, it's so important to be careful to not get so caught up in creating that you begin to value yourself based on what you create; it can be an easy and slippery abyss to stumble into: a sort of addiction to productivity.

this simple fact has been churning in my thoughts:

the fact that you exist makes you valuable. 

not what you do, or the content you create. simply being is an art all it's own; a sort of magic that you manifest into the world everyday. you are here, you are living and breathing and awake and alive, eating toast and humming songs and going for walks in the woods and smelling the sweet air. you are here. and sometimes you need to just be.

i've been coming up with practical ways to remind myself of this on a regular basis, often beating back my hunger for achievement and productivity to recenter myself in the urgent truth that i must be. i must, we must. or else we overlook the sheer sweetness of life. on top of that, it's actually really important to be happy and create from a place of happiness rather than making happiness a trophy you will only receive upon the completion of your goal, or perhaps to-do list. (there's an entire TED talk about that that i love.)

so, after trying a bunch of things, here's a few things that have helped me to stay present, slow down, savor, and just be; just respect who i am and where i'm at right now. maybe they'll help you too.

1. practicing yoga

i'm a pretty active person. i love running and working out and lifting weights and martial arts, but i would have to say that yoga has helped me in more ways than all of these, and on top of that, has enhanced my experience and perspective on everything i just listed. there is no great object to achieve in yoga, there is not a checklist, or a rank you're working towards... there is simply, the practice of yoga; being grounded right here, right now in this moment. breathing deep, tending to your needs, and letting go of that which no longer serves you.

i've been loving practicing yoga first thing in the morning between coffee and making breakfast (it's best to practice on an empty stomach, and it does wonders for your digestive health), or breaking up my workday with a yoga practice in the middle of the afternoon. this is especially beneficial if you find yourself spending loads of time at a desk (like me).

if yoga isn't your cup of tea, maybe you find a quiet place to do some stretching, or go for a walk and do some deep breathing instead. if you've been wanting to give yoga a try, but haven't been sure where to start, this is a great place.

2. taking a shower

this can actually be a nice thing to do before a yoga practice and i have heard some instructors recommend it: rinse off the day thus far. whether you're practicing yoga or not, this feels extremely good, and can be a great way to reset your day by emotionally and physically cleansing. sometimes if things aren't going as i'd planned or if i'm having a rough day, taking a break from everything and taking a nice hot shower can be just what i need to feel refreshed.

3. getting outside

deep breathing fresh air is important, and there's lots of research, articles, and common sense to back this up. sometimes we just sit in one room, slouching over a laptop for way too long. we stagnate. we need some movement, oxygen, and a great big change of scenery. i'm cultivating a new habit of  getting up, taking a break, and taking my dog rocket for a walk when my brain starts to feel oat mealish.

not to mention the fact that the outdoors is the best place to go, and full of thE COOLEST THINGS LIKE TREES AND BIRDS AND BUGS AND AWESOME NOISES AND SCENTS AND UGGH. just shut off your phone and go have some fun, alright??

4. drinking tea or kombucha

this is another ritual i love; afternoon tea after most of my work, if not all of it, is finished for the day. i drank loads of tea while i was in england and the habit sort of just stuck. when i'm writing or relaxing, you can usually find me drinking a nice hot mug of pg tea (a delicious brand i discovered while in kensington) with a splash of whole milk and a teaspoon of vermont maple syrup.

kombucha is another favorite of mine. the kind i usually buy is raw, organic, and packed with probiotics and enzymes that help support your immune system. i've been enjoying gt's autumn special, which has a warm, cinnamon undertones and hints of apple and is delicious over ice.

5. listening to classical or acoustic music

lately i've been returning to my roots and gorging on loads of classical music. my mom raised my sister and i largely on Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, and i find these are still the melodies that sooth, sustain, and help me best to think. there's actually scientific evidence about ways in which classical music benefits us. another favorite fallback is native american cultural music, which inspires and relaxes me in equal measure with it's sweeping beauty and varying energy. these are a few of my favorite classical pieces, and these are some of my favorite cultural tracks. enjoy. :)

alright sweet soul, now it's your turn - what is your #1 tip for resetting and refreshing? i've love to hear it (and give it a try). oh, and what is your favorite kind of music to unwind to?

stay stoked,

a man with one eye | part two

we have a happy life. people who look in on it from the outside would probably say 'strange' is a better name for it; the solitude and the long, quiet, winter months, and how i climb the trees in spring just to spend hours lost among the apple blossoms. the way dee makes cider in the fall, enough to last us through the cold months, the way he teaches me from old books over the kitchen table. it's the sort of life most people can't easily relate to or categorize.

most people run away from the things that fight behind their eyes; they fill their brains and senses bursting with noise and scents and flavors. they fill each moment and chase away the quiet so that they never have to hear what the whispering voice inside them has to say.

i might have lived that way too if dee hadn't raised me. he was different than most people. he didn't run away from the smoke and the sound of war, he ran towards it. to do anything else, he said, was to let the demons win. it seems a heroic sort of principle to live by.

dee never says much, so when he does say something i always know it must be important. so tonight when he looks at me from across the table and clears his throat, i listen.

"em, this morning when dog ran off, did you go wandering in the woods when i told you not to?"

i twist my lips, biting back the honesty. my expression is enough confirmation for dee. he tips his head back and sighs.

"em, i tell you things for a reason," he says. "do you think i just want to be an old stick in the mud?"

i shake my head.

dee rests his elbows on the table and clasps his hands together. his soft brown eyes study my face.

"there's dangerous things in the woods - wild animals sometimes. if i'm not with you, there'd be no one to protect you, em," he says, and he's very serious. "don't go wandering unless i'm with you."

my lips are still twisted and there's a thousand thoughts running mad through my head.

"what about whoever lives in that house?" i ask. "they're out here too."

one of dee's thick, black eyebrows lift. "house?"

"the little house - the one that's a few miles off in the hollow where the ground is all soft and rusty with pine needles," i swing a hand toward the window. "you ever seen it?"

dee's expression doesn't change from that serious one. his forehead is etched.

"don't you go snooping in where you don't belong,"

"who lives there, then?"

dee heaves a long sigh.

i bounce in my chair a little and plant my elbows on the table. "if you tell me the whole story, i'll be content. if - if you don't then you know how i am: i will think of nothing else until i've gotten myself twisted into a mess."

dee rolls his eyes and takes a long swig of cider, probably wishing it was alcohol.

"alright, fine - if you promise to just stop."

"that's a really vague request."

 "stop snooping around that house, you understand?"

i take a deep breath and consider it. it doesn't sound like a promise i'll be able to keep, but i know that if i don't agree to these terms i won't get even a scrap of the story twitching on the tip of his tongue. and dee is the best kind of story teller - the kind who makes really good sound effects and does the different voices and everything. the temptation is too great.

"alright," i sigh.

"alright," he repeats but in a satisfied tone, rolling up his sleeves and sitting back with his glass. "alright, then i will tell you the story."

dee pauses and sips his cider, then he settles into a different frame of mind, it seems.

"you know mrs. hilling, the old lady with the gray hair who lives -"

"the one who lives down by the river, a couple miles away? yeah. the one who makes the yarn that you gave me for christmas last year."

"yes, her. well, when i first moved out here after i got out of the military, i went down to her house and introduced myself to and let her know that i was building a place and moving out here with my niece. i didn't say a whole lot else, but you know how she talks: she told me, among many other things i cannot remember, that i should take care bringing a young girl out here because of the wolves and because you would get ugly hands from all the hard work, but most of all because..." dee gets quiet, his eyes sparkling with firelight. "...and this is the crazy part, so listen carefully."

i lean in.

"...'and because, mr. desmond,' she says, 'there's a hermit living in the cabin down in the hollow - a hermit who never leaves his house - a hermit none of the locals have ever seen' i just chuckled and said 'well, mrs. hilling, there aren't too many locals around here, and there's nothing wrong with liking a little peace and quiet'."

"and then?"

dee sips his cider, then he cracks a little grin.

"do you know that lady stabbed a finger right in my face and said with the most serious look on her face, 'mr. desmond do you know what people have called him? do you know what they say about him?'"

he pauses again and i raise an eyebrow.

dee looks at me for a long moment then smiles and shakes his head. "i told her thank you, but that my niece wasn't afraid of the occasional coyote or hermit, or of getting her hands dirty. but she did tell me that she'd heard him called, this guy who owns the cabin - she'd heard him called 'one-eyed billy'. i kid you not, it was like something out of a movie," dee drains the rest of his cider, setting the empty glass down on the table.

"one-eyed billy?" i repeat, stunned by the delicious mysteriousness of it all. "do you think that's true? do you think he's only got one eye?"

dee shrugs. "that's the man's business, not my own."

"yeah, but,"

"no, no, nooo, none of that," he shakes his head with a stiff lip. "people are unkind to say stuff like that, and to talk about it is to fuel it."

"but why do you think he only has one eye?"

"we don't even know that it's true."

"why do you think he never leaves his cabin? doesn't that seem kind of strange?"

dee gives me a long hard look and then points one weathered finger at me accusingly. "remember that promise you made me, hmm? you're not going to go poking around that poor guy's house. just leave him alone. do you think i'd want some irritating neighbor girl snooping around here because she'd heard some bitter old guy with big scar on his arm was living out here with his niece like some charles ingalls wannabe?"

i almost choke on my cider. i shake my head, wiping my mouth. "i guess not, sir."

he rolls his eyes and gets up to take my empty dish and his. "didn't think so."

i sit at the table for a minute, draping my hand down into the soft fur hunched next to me. thoughts swirl around in my head as i think about the house and the dark windows and the lack of smoke piping from the chimney. i think about how empty it looked and how lonely it must be to live there. i think about the prospect of only having one eye.

"how does she know he's only got one eye if no one's ever seen him?" i ask from the table.

"it's just a rumor. i think the kid who brings him groceries started it."



"oh nothing," i keep petting dog. "i'm just trying to imagine it all now."

"well stop that."

i smile a little, biting my lip. "i promised not to snoop," i call back into the kitchen. "not to quit imagining."

"bet you wouldn't like it if someone imagined all kinds of things about you," dee retorts.

i trace my fingertips back and forth through dog's fur, thinking about it. i tip my head back, turning the idea over in my mind.

"i don't know," i say at last. "i guess it would depend on what they imagined."

it's been a cold cold but bright blue fall day here in vermont. the leaves are red and gold and the sunlight is falling in bright yellow beams. it felt like just the right sort of day to post this part of the story. not going to beat about the bush, i'm a little in love with the character of dee.

i've been over here writing and editing like mad, and doing yoga and drinking lots of tea in between. i have a few things i'm just bursting to share with you !!! ANYWAY, what's your favorite part of the week been?? let's catch up in the comments <3 

stay stoked,

the house in the hollow | part one

the dawn is still so new; like a baby just born, it's eyes are still blue. navy drizzles down with just enough gray to illuminate the dull shapes of trees and the outline of the cider house and the stacks of wood beyond the frosty window. i'm still tucked under a thick wool blanket, nestled up to my nose. my exhales paint the air in puffs of white and i squeeze my eyes shut again.

cold, cold, cold. 

new sappy wood crackles and hisses in the stove, meaning it's already been tended; coals that had dwindled overnight had resurrected to flames. i can hear a distant thwack, thwack, thwack, coming from outside. i lay there listening, curled beneath the blankets and wishing dawn would ebb back below the horizon.

every morning comes cold and too early, sneaking up on our little cabin. i'm always the last one up; dee is up before morning gets here.

sliding from my bunk, my toes touch the cold wood floor. i wrap the blanket around my body and hobble into the kitchen, sucking back curses as the cold reaches through my skin to fill my bones. the kitchen is quiet and damp and dark except for the pale yellow oil lamplight casting shadows across the cupboard.

clink, clink. two mugs.

i set the water kettle on the iron top of the potbelly stove, warming myself there until it whistles, steam feathering up into the crisp air.

i fill the mugs and stir in milk from a glass bottle. swallowing it down, i fill my belly with warmth, muddling into my boots. i whistle quietly to the shaggy pile of slumbering fur heaped by the creaky oak door. his nails tick tick tick across the floor and he shadows me out into the cold cold cold gray silence that lies beyond the cabin, interrupted only by the continuing thwack, thwack, thwack. 

the woods are thick and still and the air hurts my face. the branches hang gathered like bunting, drenched in shades of rust and gold. dog weaves through the birches and maples, his nose inches above the ground. all seems newborn to him.

my feet crunch against the ground as i follow the sound of iron striking wood through the first touches of dawn. at first my uncle is only an outline in the distance; darker grays against a washed away sky. the ax swings up over his thick, wide shoulders, and comes down with a thud that rattles through my boots. i float closer like a ghost, my boots silent now as they pass over the soft ground and shuffle to a stop next to the big round trunk; sap drizzling from it's hacked away side.

when the ax comes down again, dee lets it stay put, straightening his back like someone who hasn't stood at full height in awhile. despite the cold, sweat trickles from his thick, curly black hair and rolls down his forehead. he wipes his face in the crook of his elbow and pushes up his flannel sleeves. i extend one mug and he wraps one hand around it. he takes a few big deep breaths and then drinks some down.

his real name is Frances, but no one ever calls him that he says; his men called him Desmond, his last name. and so i call him dee, instead of uncle. and he does the same for me - calls me emerald even though it's not my real name; he says i'm the only girl he's ever known with eyes like the gem stones. me and my momma; i'll have to take his word for it.

dee's eyes are the biggest and warmest brown you ever saw, and now they scan the woods as he hands his empty cup back to me.

tipping my head back, i look up at the towering old oak, it's spidery arms reaching for the leaves it had long since lost. dee looks at me and then up at the tree, resting one thick, strong hand against the rough bark.

"good morning, emerald," his voice a gruff mahogany.

"good morning," i say.

dee is tall and strong, and barrel chested. his arms are thick and one is scarred, a "tattoo from afghanistan" he calls it, though never explains how he got it; only that it was part of why he'd built the cabin.

"where's dog?" dee asks suddenly.

shivering in the blanket, i keep it wrapped around my shoulders as i twist around to glance through the shadowy trees.

"i let him out," i say. "i'm sure he's just over there."

dee gives a stiff nod, but then says "you watch him carefully," as he yanks the ax out of the tree's side again. "you don't let him wander - and you don't wander either."

"no sir."

dee stands straight and drinking in the air for a minute more, before giving a delayed nod. he swings the ax forward and little bits of soft tree flesh burst away like confetti.

i crunch back to the cabin, craning my neck to see around the trees, looking for dog.

i see blankets of golden needles covering the ground like silk. i see big, thick oaks, and white patches of overcast light coming down through the gray now. i see a cardinal dipping through the colors of the morning and i hear the wind against his wings. but i don't see dog.

i set the mugs on the sill of one of the two windows carved out the front of the cabin like gaping eyes. i shoot glances over my shoulders, hoping dee is still working. i hear the thuds of his ax.

my footsteps quicken as i dodge around the trees, puckering my lips to give a short, swift whistle. "dog," i whisper. "dog, come here,"

my voice is soft and swept up in the quiet as a breeze swells from the ground to push through the birches and sway the pines. i bite my lip as i stop, looking around me for glimpses of tan and charcoal fur passing through the trees like ghost.

"dog," i whisper again and again, walking farther and farther.

the thwacking sound grow more and more distant.

i keep walking and walking; listening to the birds chatter and my quiet exhales as they puff into the hard new england air like clouds.

finally, i hear a scuffle to my left, where a cluster of brambles and blackberry bushes lay. i stop, frozen.

i step closer, reaching out to brush aside the scruffy branches. my jaw stiffens.

dog digs among the brambles, his nose to a rabbit burrow.

i'm not sure how far i've walked, but i know its farther than i have before. i've never seen anything out here in the woods -  nothing but trees and the sparrows and the bushes full of berries in the summer. but here, the trees stretch away to circle around a hollow; around a little house that stands as quiet as the trees. no smoke rises from the chimney and the windows are black.

i sink back in the brush, softly whistling for dog.

he digs and digs and doesn't listen to me. my lower lip is pinned between my teeth.

i peer through the branches, catching snatches of the logs and mossy roof; a bewildered feeling filling my belly.

"psst, dog - dog, come!"

finally, dog pulls himself reluctantly away from the hole. he follows me back through the woods, and we move quickly and quietly back over the soft prints my boots made in the soil. in fact, i run. dog bounds along at my side.

soon i hear the thwacking of dee's ax again, and with it, echoes in my mind of words he had said to me ten thousands times over:

"it's good to be out here - out here alone. where things are real, em."

i'd always agreed. but now i can't help but glance over my shoulder, back to the brambles where the little house stood.

the little house in the hollow that i've never seen before.

hey sweet soul <3 i hope your week is treating you like gold. i thought since it was autumn now it was time for a new story. these cooler, drizzly vermont days drench my head with story. this one came to me yesterday and was still in my head this morning, so here you go. i hope you like it. i recommend listening to the violet hour by the civil wars while you read it.

stay stoked,