Get Lost: Nature Nurtures Us

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When I was a kid, my dad and I took trips to several national parks: Yellowstone (Wyoming), Arches (Utah), Zion and Bryce Canyon (Utah), and Rocky Mountain (Colorado). We stayed in rustic lodges, rode a mule or two, saw a lot of small mammals and a few snakes (I clearly remember one large rattler) – no grizzly bears – and ate our fair share of hamburgers and granola bars.

I finally visited the Grand Canyon (Arizona) with a friend the summer I moved from California to Maine (at that time I did not realize I was moving to Maine), and have spent enough time in Acadia to know it’s one of my favorite places.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had,” wrote American novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

I could not agree more. So too do the folks at National Geographic magazine. They must, they are dedicating a number of issues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In the kick-off issue, there is an article about how when we get closer to nature – be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree – we do our overstressed brains a favor. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, specializes in attention and he believes when “we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, bur our mental performance improves too.”

Maybe, the article suggests, the large-scale public health problems e.g. obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, are because folks are spending way too much time indoors. Let’s be honest here – we were not meant to be indoors as much as we are and to live in places with no trees or grass as part of the view.

South Korea gets it – they are planning 335 healing forests manned by “health rangers” – imagine hiking, drinking elm bark tea, rubbing lavender massage oil onto someone else’s forearms…Embracing nature. A hundred-million-dollar healing complex is under construction next to one healing park and then there’s the government-run “happy train” that takes kids who have been bullied into the woods for two days of camping. WOW!

An ancient Korean proverb “Shin to bulk ee” – “Body and soil are one.”

Environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have found a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improves attention skills and short-term memory. A street walk does not.

What do you say to getting outdoors every day – ok once a week – walking in the woods or a large park and taking in the naturalness of it all.  No cell phone needed.

I can only imagine how much clearer, happier, and relaxed I will be after several days in Grand Teton National Park.  And yet, I have access to the outdoors every day – the life I have created for myself is one with minimal light pollution at night = amazing star gazing, and access to a field where I can wander and feel nature whenever I like. During the summer I go barefoot in the garden, dirt under my nails and am so happy.

The power of the outdoors.

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Top: Central Park, NYC in November. My backyard winter 2015.

Get Lost: Big Mountain Skills Training in Wyoming

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One day last November, I committed to climbing the Grand Teton this June.  The mountain stands at 13,770 feet above Jackson Hole, Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The tallest mountain I have climbed hiked to date is Mt. Katahdin at 5,269 feet. That one kicked my butt. So, yes I have to be in much much better shape for this – as in the best shape of my life.

I first heard about the trip via Alpenglow Expeditions, which I found via Instagram and Outside magazine. They partnered with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG), and that is who runs the trip. Or program – I am not “just” climbing a mountain – I am training for big mountain climbing for four days. All the essentials I will need to climb more mountains in South America and Africa (the kind that do not require oxygen tanks).

Skills I will learn include:
crampon and ice axe travel (not sure how much ice there will be then, but guess we will see, there will be snow)
multi-pitch rock climbing
glacier and crevasse rescue rope techniques

To get me started JHMG provided me with training information, altitude information, and a laundry list of equipment needs. They also pointed me in the direction of a wonderful bed and breakfast run by former Olympians and encouraged me to join a rock gym (check – Love Love Love Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough).

Well, what do you think, folks? Are you game for tagging along with me as I get fit, do pre-treks on Mt. Washington and Katahdin, practice good nutrition, and shop for layers and a pack and other on the trail items?! There will also be the occasional poem or quote or article referenced regarding all the good associated with immersing one’s self in wilderness.

Who’s excited!?!? ox and p.s. have you done anything like this? I would love to hear tips on gear, training, if you climbed the GT, Jackson Hole hangouts…. I have already gotten so many amazing tips from folks, the more the merrier!!

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

While in New York City at the beginning of December, I made sure to see the exhibition “Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibit featured more than 100 objects from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, in the Central African regions that are now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

When the Portuguese sailors arrived on the coast of Central Africa in 1482 to scout for trade opportunities, the kingdom of the Kongo was at the height of power. Three million people (I have no idea how historians calculated this) were ruled by a king and his network of advisers, provincial governors, and village chiefs.

Never willing to let anything alone, Catholic missionaries arrived soon afterwards to convert everyone beginning with the king. Eventually local artists began producing crucifixes, rosaries….and Christian works found their way into tribal arts. Christianity was more or less formally adopted there in 1491.

During the nineteenth century, an exceptional number of minkisi were made. These are (according to the Met’s website) a container of spiritual forces made by a sculptor and a ritual specialist to investigate (the cause of) and cure (literally and symbolically) a chronic problem or physical ailment.  In this case, Western nations haphazardly and ruthlessly carving up and devouring Africa.

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Mangaaka, the undisputed “king and master” , was the personification of an abstract force charged with the arbitration of trade disputes. According to the Met’s website “As the supreme adjudicator of conflicts and protector of communities across the Chiloango River region, it (Mangaaka) was the most ambitious and monumental sculptural form developed as a high point in Kongo expression. ”

The exhibition features fifteen of the twenty surviving Mangaaka (power figures) in the world – brought together for the first time from collections spanning the globe. Each was believed to be created by a different carver of the Yombe peoples, each a wooden male figure standing about four feet high with big white eyes, bits of iron, nails, with sharp teeth and a pouch. They are sad and aggressive, beautiful and tragic – artistic evidence of how the west nearly destroyed (the effort is still in process) Africa and eliminate tribal societies.

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One of my favorite parts of the exhibition – B&W postcards by Belgians including two of ancestral shrines for chiefs in front of thatched open-front structures along the Chiloango River (fyi, not connected to the Congo River).

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And I love walking through the African galleries at the museum. Such an extraordinary collection of masks!!  The mask pictured above marks the transition for boys into adult life. For up to a year, boys are separated from the village and made to undergo a series of ordeals including circumcision – designed to measure their strength and courage. The year culminates in the symbolic death as children and rebirth as men. **This practice was common in the DRC, Kenya…. and I brought home (legally!!) a beautiful circumcision mask made by a tribe I spent time with in the center of the DRC.

Afterward wandering the African galleries, I ventured on to Roman wall paintings and finally the arms and armor….before having a wonderful lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. Such a treat!!!

Cheesemaking in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The lush hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province are best known for armed groups clashing, but they are also home to a number of small dairy farms producing fine cheese.

The consequences of the violence continue to have devastating consequences for local populations in parts of Masisi territory, where as recently as the summer of 2014 some residents lost their homes and were forced to relocate to IDP camps.

Yet, these dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers, have not only survived the recurrent fighting, but astonishingly – prospered. (*The farmers still live in/on the edge of poverty.)

Known simply as Goma Cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch Gouda is popular throughout the country. Though not part of the traditional diet, the cheese fills in for a variety of Western dishes – pizza, sandwiches, lasagna…

A fan of the cheese since my first trip to the DRC in 2014, I traveled the 48 miles of bumpy road west from the North Kivu capital Goma through the Mugunga area to one of the farms.

The farmers and their families live where they work, in huts and homes by the “factory” – a building with several rooms filled with nothing more than a bathtub, buckets, and some metal molds.

Belgian priests first started making cheese here in the 1970s. Then the country was known as Zaire and ruled by a dictator. Tutsis (an ethnic group often associated with dairy farming and as the victims of the Rwanda Genocide) resided in the area. It was almost two decades before the bloody attacks truly began.

Today, during periods of calm, NGO workers and the few Congolese who can afford it, spend a weekend at one of two farms that also operate B&Bs. The cheese (you buy a whole round) costs $4 on the farm, $5 or so in town, and between $10-20 as you begin to travel to towns west of Goma (Kisangani, Kinshasa). For $10-20 you can enjoy cheese and coffee (I highly recommend this!!).

As you can see in my pictures, the cows (a variety of African and European) graze on steep pastures with a UN base below.

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On the road from Goma to the farm – note the volcanic rocks from the 1977 eruption. Black earth is everywhere!

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That’s a UN base you see in the background! They are everywhere it seems.

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A cheese mold

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A farmer’s home

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The farm we visited offers horseback riding to guests. My friend B and I both tried it, but found the horses a bit wild so I got off pretty quickly and she had one of the farmers lead her around a small field.

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The view we had while eating cheese and sipping coffee!!!

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Lodging for overnight guests (offered seasonally and during calm times).

Women Need to Own It

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HELLO 2016!!!!!!

A doable New Year’s pledge. Do you down-talk yourself?  Notice if you do and try to stop yourself from doing it again.

McKenzie Long of Cardinal Innovative wrote the following:

“Yeah, I’d love to climb with you, but I hope you don’t mind rope-gunning because I haven’t climbed in forever.”
“I can come, as long as you don’t mind that I’m slow.”
“I’m excited for tomorrow, but I know it will crush me.”
These are generalized statements, but they could have been said by any number of women I have met and recreated with over the years, myself included. Statements like these are a common way for a woman to accept an invitation to go climbing or hiking or skiing but also allow for herself to have an excuse for not performing well.
I live in a mountain town, where the majority of the population is athletic, physically fit, and adventurous. Everyone lives here for a reason, and for most that reason is to play in the mountains. Statistically, I would be willing to bet that the percentage of of strong, bad-ass athletes here is much higher than in a typical town of the same size. Within this demographic are numerous independent, skilled, strong, and inspiring women who I have the great pleasure of knowing and counting as friends. But among this group of women I have noticed a phenomenon that I find increasingly disturbing: the feminine down-talk.
Whenever the discussion turns to upcoming plans or invitations to do something, many women accept the invitation but immediately discount themselves and their abilities. It has reached the point where this is the most acceptable thing to say when someone invites you for a day in the mountains. However, the more women down-talk themselves, the more other women feel the need to also down-talk themselves. It is like a battle of who can say they are the worst.
I don’t notice this happening as often with men. (If anything, the opposite tends to be true.) Even if, as a listener, I know that the woman talking is neither weak nor slow, if she constantly repeats this to me, I will start to believe it. And if I start to think that about her, how many other people who hear her say these things will also make those judgments of her? Even worse, will she start to believe this of herself? And how many times have I done this to myself? In an effort to be modest, I have instead portrayed myself as incapable when in fact I am working very hard to be anything but.
I think women need to own it. We need to take full ownership of the things that we are good at, the things we work for, and the skills we have spent years building. There should be no more cutting ourselves down. It is uncomfortable to the person you down-talk yourself to, it damages your own self-confidence, and it makes women as a whole appear hesitant and powerless, which is certainly not the case.
There is a difference between being honest about your abilities and talking yourself down. I’m not suggesting that women should make ambitious plans where the objective is way over their heads, I’m simply asking them to own up to the talents and abilities that they do have and to to be proud of them. I don’t think this requires boasting either. A woman can accept an invitation from a friend to go out for a day of physical activity without discussing how bad they are at that sport, and that is perfectly acceptable.
I recently met a woman who is impressive in many ways: she is a ripping big mountain skier, one of few female ski guides where she lives, funny, friendly, the whole bit. But she impressed me even more when she told me that she was working on responding to compliments with “Thank you, it’s true” rather than brushing them off and discounting what someone has said about her, which is something many women have a habit of doing. As a group, if more women accepted compliments like this and less women felt the need to down-talk themselves, it would in-turn bring up everyone’s morale.
This isn’t just an issue amongst outdoor athletes, it also happens in the workplace. The Atlantic recently published an article on their website about how women are less likely to take credit for their own work. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In she explains that when men are asked for the reasons behind their successes, they most often credit their own qualities by saying things such as “because I’m intelligent” or “I’m creative.” By contrast, when women are asked for the reasons behind their success, they credit external factors such as luck, someone helped them, or they worked hard.
When asked how I got my freelance business started, I have on more than one occasion responded with these EXACT three reasons. Looking back, I can see how that answer fails to credit me for my accomplishments.
When I started out freelancing, I had trouble establishing my hourly rate. I felt that I didn’t have enough experience to charge what was reasonable, so I had a very low price. This resulted in not only clients taking advantage of me, but worse, they assumed I did lousy work. As I struggled to find the right balance for my rates, I met a guy who was starting his own freelance photography company. He is a skilled photographer, but one of his very first jobs was a high paying expedition to photograph professional climbers on a high profile mountain. I was aghast.
“How did you score that job as your first?”
“I went in with confidence, knowing I could do it, and laid a high price on the table. It’s all about the confidence you exhibit.”
And he couldn’t be more right. I was having trouble establishing rates because I wasn’t looking for clients with complete confidence. Instead I was doubting my own abilities, and that inevitably came across in pitches and discussions with clients. Now, having more design experience, more freelancing experience, and better negotiating skills, I can be confident that I have a lot to offer a client. And that confidence can show itself in the way that I talk about myself.
So with negative self- talk, what are women’s costing themselves? They are costing themselves their own success.
Let’s own it. Be fast, be strong, and be tenacious.
How did I get my freelancing business started? I’m creative, so I found alternative solutions to the standard workday script. I’m brave, so I approached people I admired and explained that I could be an asset to their businesses. And yes, I worked hard.
Thank you, it’s true.

Pics – top: Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone (inspiring). bottom: Athleta (one of my favorite brands).

Istanbul Pics

The rest of the pics from my brief visit to Istanbul in October.

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View from my hotel room day, night. *Very top pic of the hotel courtesy of the hotel.  I treated myself BIG time while in Istanbul with a room at The House Hotel Bosphorus. A 19th century Ottoman mansion at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge next to the famous Ortakoy Mosque. Originally the plan was for me to (a la Gwyenth Paltrow) take the hotel’s private boat from near the airport, but alas I will have to do that next visit as it was not working during this trip.

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My guide Hulya, a local food writer who is a friend of a friend, showed me the sights and taught me about some of the culinary traditions – and bonus I even got a lesson in Turkish politics. We started with a walk along the Bosphorus seeing the wooden houses of Istanbul (sadly under threat from new construction…) and rounded out our walking tour with coffee and chocolate cake. One of the coolest places I was introduced to is the former home of an opera singer who under the full moon would sing in front of his home to anyone wandering by – crowds would gather. Here’s a link to him singing. *The dish at the bottom – rice, almonds…is made when someone dies – each person in the family… stirs the dish. Interested in learning more about Turkish food traditions, here is a link to an interesting blog post.

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For what translates into a few dollars I went on a 50-minute ferryboat ride on the Bosphorus from the Marmara Sea (to the south) with the Black Sea (to the north). From the upper deck I could see numerous mansions and palaces dating back to the 15th century. The palace pictured is Kucuksu Palace (translated means “small water” palace) from the mid-19th century. The walls and towers of the waterfront fortress built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmen II during the 1450s are beautiful – seeing them made me hunger to learn more about this great conqueror and the days of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Anyone have any suggestions??
**Do not take a private cruise – the ferry is likely MUCH cheaper and you’ll see everything and the comfort level is fine. Only reason I wouldn’t might be if Istanbul is rocked by terrorist attacks in the future (there was one in the capital a few days before I arrived in Istanbul) and then frankly I wouldn’t feel safe on the public ferries (zero security).

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For dinner we ate at Ciya Sofrasi in the Asian side of Istanbul. Excellent!!

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After dinner we ventured on for baklava (it is after all the city of phyllo dough and honey) then wandered the streets of a lively bohemian neighborhood on the European side of the city and had tea atop a lovely shop with – yes – a view of a lit up mosque. Exquisite.

Sebago Lake Apiaries – Hive Update

Happy Holiday Weekend all!  I hope you are having a fun, relaxing one. Here’s a brief Sebago Lake Apiaries update (that’s me btw).

Bought my friend’s woodenware and am expanding next season from six to eight hives – assuming all my hives make it through this crazy winter (50s Friday, teens Tuesday).

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ALL hundred plus pounds of honey sold out!! *I did gift a few jars and fulfilled a couple barters (love barters).

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My bee mentor J gifted me the most incredible bee-related goodies.

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Harlem

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Last week I went to New York City, and because I was staying uptown I visited Harlem a couple times. A friend had told me about the Malcolm Shabazz market, which is made up of individually owned boutiques selling traditional African crafts, clothing, and oils. I picked up a bracelet made by the Maasai, a people living in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are renowned for their courage, diet/health, knowledge of animals/nature, and beautiful jewelry. *I plan to travel to Kenya one day, so the bracelet will be a beautiful reminder of a future trip.

I found out later the market is run by the storied Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque known in the past for its Black Nationalism where Malcolm X preached. According to The Wall Street Journal, these days the mosque is “an interfaith pillar open to different races and religions.”

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While in town I also ate at Amy Ruth’s Restaurant  – known since 1998 for their soul food classics like chicken & waffles (the “Rev. Al Sharpton” special). It was fun, the service wonderful, the food delicious.

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Safe Pet Holiday

I recently learned poinsettias and mistletoe are poisonous to pets. With two young cats in the house I am foregoing the former this year – not sure I have ever hung mistletoe. The holiday season should be fun and safe for all humans and furry ones :) ox

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Weekend Reading

Wow, it has been a while since I did a “Weekend Reading” post hasn’t it!?

The Oxford American Annual Music Issue!!!!!!!!! My friend M told me their CD is amazing. p.s. check out this playlist from the Southern Foodways Alliance!!!

It is all I can do to remain calm about the December 18 opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. PLEASE let this film from a galaxy very, very near be good, it looks good!! Trailer here. And hey, my screen crush Oscar Isaac is in it so obviously the casting is good!

I have been going to bed early! The days being short and all I find myself getting into bed by 9. According to this site I could stay up 45 minutes later and get a full night of sleep.

Made these delicious (!!) pumpkin brownies – the chocolate ganache about sent my sugar-deprived body into overdrive. Good thing brownies freeze well – or so I have been told.

And a little from me on Paris.  It was with great trepidation I agreed to watch the recording of HBO’s Last Week Tonight host John Oliver’s brilliant/scathing monologue slamming the attackers. I was not prepared to laugh, but his cursing his full throttle let it all out brilliance was beautiful and needed. Screw those spineless assholes. In all his satirist glory he had this and much more to say:

‘And third, it is important to remember, nothing about what these a**holes are trying to do is going to work. France is going to endure, and I’ll tell you why. If you’re in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good f***ing luck.

‘Because, go ahead, bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring John-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macaroons, Marcel Proust, and the f***ing croquembouche!

‘You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight my friend, you are f***ed.’

No one is taking what happened lightly, but folks even my friends in Paris are finding a way a reason to laugh at something and are forging ahead sitting in cafes and taking in the air outside. In the weeks and months and likely years ahead we will be confronted by acts of evil by ignorant, cowardly imbeciles who are led by selfish, ugly bastards in high towers who kill out of greed and ego and nothing at all resembling religious freedom or whatever crap they are spewing. I am writing out of honesty as much as anger. I have met military commanders who have stated terrorists oftentimes cannot read the Quran and instead of having religious propaganda on them they have pornographic paraphernalia. Yes, really honestly. There is much more to be said, but this is not the place and I am not the person. So, on this Friday one week after the attacks on Paris and Lebanon and elsewhere I simply say Mon amour et de sympathie a mes amis. We stand together so says all the nations all the people who have shown their support of the people of Paris. Our hearts beat as one.

Images from the blissful week I spent last fall in one of the most culture-rich, beautiful, delicious cities on the planet.

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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