Forest Bathing and Creativity Therapy

American mind, body, spirit circles have been hopping on the bandwagon of Forest Bathing in the last couple of years. Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku) began as a health program introduced by the Japanese government in the early 80s to encourage people to connect with nature for the sake of their health. In the ensuing years, the government funded multiple studies that showed very real physical effects of the practice including decreased blood pressure and lower levels of stress hormones.

I was reminded of shinrin-yoku in a book that Beyond Words published a couple of weeks ago by Dailly Om founder Madisyn Taylor called Unmedicated: The Four Pillars of Natural Wellness. It lays out a holistic plan for treating anxiety through meditation, journaling, regenerative nutrition and exercise, and community. Despite what the title might imply, it very pointedly does not shame people who choose to use medication to treat mental illness (like me)it just provides and alternate path. That path happens to include regularly connecting with nature.

My personal position is that if someone needs medication to manage mental illness, it’s important that they shouldn’t feel ashamed to do so. I’ve found that even when taking medication, however, it’s important to treat yourself kindly and engage in behaviors that help you feel at peace. While for something to be truly forest bathing it must conform to a strict set of guidelines, it’s still a simple and nourishing idea: go outside and savor the experience.

A hike, for instance, is not really forest bathing, what with its structured endpoints and physical exertion. But a short path through a gorgeous place can’t help but have a positive effect, and the idea of a *leisurely* hike was appealing. In Astoria this past weekend, we brought our niece’s visiting Flat Stanley and enjoyed the outdoors. We did a one mile hike to the cathedral tree, up some muddy pathways and slick wooden staircases, past ferns growing from the mossy trunks of trees, and to the Astoria column and a wide-open view of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean.

I shot most of these photos (except for the ones taken with my phone) in manual, something I’m still trying to get the hang of. Please, bear with my blurriness.

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You May Not Be as Right as You Think

And enduring a dose of public shame could make you a better person.

When you go to sleep without any melatonin, Tylenol PM, or beer buzz, there’s a good chance you’ll be visited by the ghost of humiliations past. There’s the usual horror of childhood bodily functions gone awry, like the time someone I know peed their Halloween costume laughing at a class party in third grade (not me…definitely not me).

What really nags are those times when I’ve said or done something totally asinine and gotten nailed for it.

In tenth grade, I thought I was pretty damn smart. I mean, my parents and all my teachers told me I was. So when it came to working on a biology worksheet in a group, getting in a heated debate over one of the questions with my classmate seemed like a great idea.

“What are you talking about? Of course water contracts when it freezes! Everything contracts when it freezes!” I said, getting a little bit too intense, a little too loud, and drawing eyes from all over the room.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said.

“Of course it does!” I said.

He was laughing at me, with a look in his eyes that I now know was incredulity but then thought was stupidity. After class I ran out to find my eleventh grader friend who got really, really good grades to corroborate what I thought had to be true.

“Stephen,” I said. “Ice contracts when it freezes, right?”

“No, dude,” he said, “it definitely expands.”


“Yeah, when we were out in the midwest, the water would freeze into the cracks in the road, then the roads would get all messed up because the ice would expand and break the asphalt.”

ice on the road

The camera zooms in on horror creeping across my face.

“It’s because of the hydrogen bonds,” Stephen went on. “Why?”

During lunch I tracked down my classmate and, in front of his friends, apologized for being such a dumb ass. He laughed it off and said it was ok, probably thinking I was a huge weirdo for even bringing it up again. Maybe I was. Maybe he just hadn’t felt that soul-sucking horror of being so publicly wrong before. But from then I realized that, at least in the world of science, I might need to check my facts before being so vehement.

And it wouldn’t be too much longer before I learned that lesson didn’t just apply to science.

I don’t completely remember what spurred this, possibly some racialized violence in the school, but that same year the school decided to put on a “tolerance assembly” (back before we realized “tolerance” wasn’t that high of an ideal to aspire to). Someone decided it’d be a good idea to send all the students interested in helping out with it into the band room to talk about what the best way to put on the assembly would be.

Because why wouldn’t that go well?

At one point, a very good friend of mine suggested that there be a section of the assembly, a monologue maybe, regarding gay rights.

Squeamish about sex, bitter about finding out that a (different) boy I liked was gay, and indoctrinated into a way of thinking that I had never yet questioned, I said, “Maybe we should just stick to things that people can’t control and not sexual choices.”

The look of betrayal on his face was gutting. “You think that I chose to be gay?” His voice had gotten the strangled tone I had heard only when he was very upset.

I broke out into a cold sweat and my heart started hammering, “….isn’t it?”

“NO. It’s not.” He said.

This led to a lot more arguing, with me trying to defend the stupid thing I had just said, all the while watching how much my words had crushed someone I cared so much about. The assembly took place the following week, and I don’t remember much about it because by the end of that meeting, feeling like an enormous hypocrite, I decided not to participate.

I wish that I had begun my young adulthood more enlightened, more open, and more willing to listen before blundering into something I didn’t understand. I had to learn the hard way. After school I did some ugly-crying as I apologized to my friend, and thankfully he forgave me. To this day, he’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, and someone who has taught me more than I think even he realizes.

No matter how smart or well-intentioned you are, there’s always a chance that you are completely and utterly wrong.

Maybe social media has made us more defensive and inured us to feeling the kind of shame we need to change and grow. Too often, I think, we conflate well-deserved calling-out with bullying or undeserved criticism. The fact remains that these negative experiences that haunt us as we try to lull ourselves to sleep are so ingrained for a reason. They are some of the most important moments of our lives, and teach us the importance of pausing to listen.

Save the Beer!

This damn near broke my heart, and I have been so embarrassed about it that I was afraid to post. But for the sake of honesty and integrity, I have a confession.

My most recent beer didn’t carb.

I know. It’s a dumb mistake. I didn’t really know why it happened. The brew had gone crazy during fermentation, bubbling airlock and all. This airlock bubbled like a damn geyser basin without the damaging geothermal effects. First I wasn’t sure if the priming sugar had been properly distributed, but I had added it to the wort, not to each bottle. In that case, however, there should have been at least one bottle bomb in the five or so beers I opened (depression mounting with each lack of “pfft” upon cracking).

This is some barber-shop surgeon-brewer shit.
This is some barber-shop surgeon-brewer shit.

It was my husband’s opinion that, since I had used Trappist yeast during fermentation, which is a slow fermenting yeast, it might be a good idea to add ale yeast with the priming sugar during bottling to ensure that the beer carbed up in an expedient manner. The high alcohol content of the beer probably killed off the ale yeast before it ever got a chance to eat the carbing sugar and make CO2.  Based on the fact that the yeast was pretty much the only thing that was majorly different than other partial-grain brews I had done, this seemed quite possible.

Above are the makings of an experiment to try to make some reparations. Rather than rebottling everything without knowing the potential outcome, I’m trying an experiment with just one bottle. Since I used cognac to soak the original vanilla beans that went into the wort, I used cognac as a quick-fix sterilizing agent. I felt like I was about to cut a boil out of some gold-miner 49’ers neck. I opened a sterilized pack of Champagne yeast with cognac-covered scissors, dipped a sharp, sterilized knife in to capture a couple of grains of yeast, and put them into a sadly-uncarbed bottle. Then I put a new bottle cap on.

So now it sits on my dining room table like the ark of the covenant, and I’m afraid upon opening I will be filled with the sting of failure. Anyway, we’ll see if this does any good in about a week. I figured the least I can do before just giving up and wasting a few gallons of potentially decent beer is to try this experiment.

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New career, new beginnings

Things are awesome right now, kiddos.  Thursday a couple of projects got wrapped up that made me realize I’m finally on the first rung of a ladder on my way to what I’ve been wanting to do for-freaking-ever.  I finished my internship at the Independent this week, and today I also finished my first graphic design class–strongly, I might add.

You know how you spend all this time telling yourself that what you want to do with your life is too selfish or to trivial and then realize you’re just a small part of an enormously complex world so maybe your “trivial” place is actually relevant too?

You heard me.

So I’m finally getting paid to write, even if it’s just web-copy.  Gotta start somewhere, right?  And I decided that this new juncture was probably the perfect time to start my new blog, which I’ve wanted to do for a really long time.  It’s amazing how gratifying it can be to just plunge into giving what you really want to do everything you have instead of hanging back and beating yourself up for being selfish.

A giant step for me on the mental health front, also.

A year ago I was a crumbling ball of suck rocking back and forth in my therapist’s office.  It’s been a really intense couple of years trying to figure out how to stabilize.  It’s included counseling, thought stopping techniques, self monitoring, journaling, and a whole lot of screaming and crying to be completely honest.  In September I finally found the right medication to get me off of the floor (quite literally), and yesterday when I saw my doctor, I was finally comfortable enough to embark on treating the anxiety medically.

The anxiety is why I quit my job working at the rape crisis center.  That was the job I thought I should have in lieu of writing–the less trivial more noble, more helpful job to my self-recriminating spinning-top of a brain.

I feel a little frustrated that even though I’ve come so far I still am stricken occasionally when riding in a car or when an idea gets planted in my head that just won’t go away (usually it’s that somehow I’m going to accidentally break that bone at the base of my sternum and my insides are going to get shredded).  Since adding 5mg of a new medication, though, there have been a few times when I should have “gone off” but didn’t–the trigger thought came and the body didn’t follow.

Anyway, just thought with all the mental health progress over the past year, this was news worth sharing.

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5/3/1 Day Uno–SO MANY REPS

Sorry for the gap in posts!  The last couple of weeks have been exciting and have laden me with different writing adventures that have kept me busy.  I’ve also been babying my knee–but enough of that silliness!

Today marked the first day of my new fitness adventure: Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program.  I am copying my husband hardcore, but he’s not complaining.  It’s billed as the best system for “raw strength”–intriguing, I say.  It’s all very testosteronified, and I was so enthusiastic about my foray into manliness that I OD’d on scotch Friday night and spent all the following day watching Mad Men (though I did have to avert my eyes nauseously a couple of times–that’s a lot more scotch…).  Now that my hedonism has hit such critical mass, it is time to return to health once again.

I’m doing the 5/3/1 “Boring But Big” track.  A week is composed of four days, with one major lift every day with assistance work.  The lifts are military press, squat, deadlift, and bench press.  Since my knees are a little iffy still, I’m skipping squat day this week and trying myself out with body-weight squats every day.

During marathon training, on my lift days I’d just lift heavy with a few warm ups.  5/3/1 has you lifting more reps lower than is intuitive.  I thought–hey, that doesn’t seem so hard.

I’ll go ahead and eat my words, because my arms are about to fall off.

Today was Military Press day–a lift that has seen me frozen at three sets of three 50 lb reps for months, feeling like a major weenie.  Wendler says if you do a lot of low-weight/high-rep, you’ll surprise yourself by your improvements later on.  The bar weighs 45 lbs so I had to improvise, lifting a dumb-bell over my head in press position trying not to emulate lifting Simba from The Lion King.

Not going for Circle-of-life here, friends..

This is roughly how it looked:

Warm up- 20 x 2 x 5, 30x2X5

5/3/1- 30 x 1 x 5, 40 x 1 x 5, 45 x 5

Drop sets–25 x 5 x 10 (it ended up being 26 instead of 25 because I had to resort to a kettlebell)

Big but Boring: Ring rows 5 x 10, Body-weight squats 5 x 10

On the “Big but Boring” bit, I was supposed to be doing chin-ups, but we have those great rings outside that I want to put to good use, plus there would be no reps to speak of on chin-ups because I simply don’t have that kind of strength yet.  Ring rows are close enough.

That kettlebell 26 x 5 x 10 almost made me cry–that I was not ready for.  And squats?  HOLY CRAP!  I am already sore.  I was already sore after two sets.  Forget delayed onset muscle soreness, how about immediate onset muscle soreness?  I may not say this tomorrow, but it’s a good thing I got back to this, because all that Colorado microbrew was starting to show.  When I start adding hill sprints to my next work-out, that’s going to disappear.

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