Spending A Lovely Morning Planting Trees

The Tennessee Environmental Council had an initiative this year to distribute (for free!) and plant 100,000 native Tennessee trees across the state . . . all on one day. It was the largest community tree planting event in the state’s history. This more than doubles the 46,000 trees they planted for the same event last year.

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Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary was just one of the places involved in the mass planting. I visited there before for a basket weaving class, but I never got to explore their property.

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We planted oaks, plum trees, and shortleaf pines. I was really surprised how small the trees were. The oak and plumb tress just looked like sticks and the pines were only a few inches tall. But, they were all adorable. It did not take much effort to get the trees planted. We just needed to dig about an 8 inch hole deep enough to fully insert the roots.

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There was such a great turn out of volunteers that it didn’t take long to get our trees planted. So, I stopped by to visit some of the owls on the way out. Below is Thoreau the barred owl. Thoreau made his way to Owl’s Hill after being hit by a car and losing most of his right wing. Poor baby. He was, however, very wise and told me precisely how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. I’ll never tell.

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Now, for your enjoyment (because reading about trees is kind of boring) I give you some bad tree jokes:

Do you want a brief explanation of an acorn?
In a nutshell, it’s an oak tree.

What is a tree’s favorite shape?
A treeangle.

Why did the pine tree get in trouble?
Because it was being knotty.

I apologize for all of those.

An Unplanned Night of Poetry

My five week hiatus from law firm life has ended and I have finally settled into my new job. I’ve made it through the first few weeks, and so far life is wonderful. I am working approximately 30-40 hours a week less than at my old firm, and I have filled that extra time with seeing my friends and actually taking care of myself. Oddly enough, all the free time for long hikes, trivia nights, dinners, and hot yoga sessions have put doing new things (or at least writing about them) on the back burner.

On one of my nights out, my friend Katie, who I hadn’t seen since law school, and I headed out to catch up over a drink. At the bar we started to chat with a gentleman named Adam seated next to us. We went through the general getting to know you topics: where are you from, what are you doing in town, how do you feel about the first few weeks of the Trump administration, etc.

We learned that he was in town for a poetry reading as part of Nashville’s First Saturday art crawl. I told him that going to a poetry reading was on my list of New Things to do, and we promptly invited ourselves along.

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The reading was held at Sauvage Galerie, a bizarre little gallery in a residential neighborhood in South Nashville. The room was tiny, and the art consisted of mixed medium design, which I am pretty certain was just trash glued to wood and I think one piece was just part of a mop. Ron Swanson would not approve. I respect what the artist was going for, but I was not hip enough to get it.

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The three poets for the evening were J. Joseph Kane, Robyn Leigh Lear, and Adam Day. Poetry has never really been my thing. I love novels, biographies, and Buzzfeed articles about which dog best matches my personality (Great Dane, ironically). That said, I enjoyed the varied expression of the three different poets and I got a lot more out of it than I would just reading words on a page. I would totally go to another reading in the future . . . but I still don’t see myself ever reading poetry for fun.

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I promise more interesting and exciting posts are heading your way. First I just have to get used to actually having a life again first. More adventures are to come!

Taking a Sushi Making Class: A Delicious Way to Spend the Afternoon

After about 14 years of being a vegetarian, two years ago I added fish back into my diet. At the time, I was preparing for a lengthy trial and I was eating even less than I was sleeping. I knew my standard veggie diet was not going to keep me going when I was away from home working 24 hour days. I was staying near Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, so it was the perfect place to try sushi for the first time. It was love at first bite. (I am still sorting out my ethical dilemmas with eating fish, but that is a story for another day.)

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Fast forward to present day and sushi (and fish in general) is now a major part of my diet. Since I love eating it so much I wanted to see if making it was just as much fun.

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My friend Amber and I (well, actually we are related, but if I tell you how it will make me sounds a lot older that I am) went to Kabuto in Richmond, VA to take a private sushi class with their sushi chef.

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We each got to select 3 rolls we wanted to make. Amber chose the Fire Cracker Roll (tuna and scallion roll topped with red pepper); Cajun Roll (shrimp tempura, fish eggs, avocado, and spicy mayo); and a California Roll. I selected the Dynamite Roll (tuna, yellowtail, and spicy mayo); Killer Roll (eel, avocado, with tempura flakes on top); and a Philadelphia Roll (because I just can’t get enough cream cheese).

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We started with a lesson on how to make the sushi. You begin by grabbing a large clump of rice, somewhere between the size of a large egg and really small baseball. The rice is then spread across the nori (the seaweed paper that comes with sushi). I probably went a little heavy on the rice . . . because rice is delicious.

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Once we lined the nori with rice, we flipped it over to add our ingredients. I wanted to pack the roll, but a little went a long way.

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Then it was time to roll! Much like in life, you gotta keep it tight to keep it all together.

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We used the bamboo sushi rolling mat to compress and shape the rolls to be nice and pretty.

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All that was left was to slice the rolls. The trick was to have a slightly wet blade and saw through the roll rather than trying to slice it.

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Voilà! Just a few finishing touches and I had a full plate of scrumptious sushi!

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We loved our sushi making class and the results were delicious. Having the private lesson (and a chef willing to take photos of us) made the experience extra special. Plus, any new experience where you get to eat your creation can’t be bad!

Absinthe: Sampling the Green Fairy

Absinthe rose to popularity in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and was fashionable among the literati of Paris. Some famous fans of the drink include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and my hometown favorite, Edgar Allan Poe. Absinthe was outlawed in the United States in 1915, but since the ban was lifted in 2007, it has experienced a resurgence. While Absinthe has a reputation for being a hallucinogenic, that label is is merely a result of legend and exaggeration. Sorry.

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Despite my past travels to Europe, I had never had an authentic glass of absinthe. So, I thought that it would the perfect thing to help me unwind during a little après–ski. My friends Lilas and Chris joined me in a visit to The Absinthe Bar in Breckenridge, which boasts the largest selection of absinthe in the United States.

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The menu had 19 types of absinthe from France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the USA. I selected Pernod absinthe, a French absinthe often written about by Hemingway, which is from the original producer of commercial absinthe and has a high alcohol content and a heavy anise flavor profile. It is made using the same ingredients as in the early 1800s.

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There are a few processes through which absinthe can be made. One method, which my bartender used, is classic French absinthe ritual. The ritual involves placing a sugar cube on top of a perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the specially designed absinthe glass. Ice water is then dripped on the sugar cube, which dissolves into the absinthe. This causes the green transparent liquor to “louche” into an opaque mint green cocktail.

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The result was a fun, cold liquorish-flavored cocktail. The Pernod was slightly bitter, but that was partially offset by the dissolved sugar. While liquorish isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’d like to sample more because I find the history and process to make absinthe fascinating.

Snowmobiling to the Continental Divide

I have been a bit delinquent with my posting. The last few weeks have been filled with traveling and spending time back home in Virginia with my family, so I simply have not been able to find the time to write. I still have many adventures and stories to share about my time off from work!

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One of my favorite snowy excursions during my time in Breckenridge was snowmobiling through the Swan River Valley and up to the Georgia Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide. In Colorado, the divide separates the the watersheds that flow into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

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I booked a tour with Good Times Adventures, the same company that took me dog sledding. The season had just begun so we had brand new, two-week-old 2017 Ski-Doo Grand Touring 600 snowmobiles. They were sleek and sporty and, most importantly, came with heated handlebars and throttle.

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I booked the first tour of the day so I could see the sun rise through the trees as we climbed 2,000 feet to the summit. At first, driving the snowmobile took a little getting used to. Every time I hit a bump or block of ice I was worried that I was going to go careening into the line of trees. However, after just a few minutes on the trail I was able to relax and enjoy the wintery landscape.

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Our guide, Susie, took us though the winding snow-white paths which were dotted with pine trees and hills. Occasionally, we got to see a dog sled out for a morning run or some horses on their way for a visit with a vet.

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As we neared the peak, the trail steepened and the trees cleared.

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I was greeted with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Swan River Valley, Summit County and the White River National Forest.

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I was also greeted with the coldest air I have ever felt in my life. While my long underwear and snow suit kept me nice and toasty in the valley and on the trail, the icy wind at the top cut through it like a knife through butter. I was only able to get a few pictures at the top before the battery in my phone froze and died.

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Other than the view, the most striking part of being at 11,585 feet is the absolute silence. All I could hear was the wind and my labored breathing from the thinned air.

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Even though my phone battery died, my video goggles managed to capture the entire journey to and from the Continental Divide. I tried to trim the hour-long trip as much as I could, but the ride was just too beautiful to only make a 3-minute montage. Here are some of the extended highlights:

If you have a chance to visit the Rockies in winter, be sure to add snowmobiling to your itinerary. It is certainly worth the detour.

Snow Skiing in the Rockies

As part of my New Years trip to Breckenridge I decided to try my hand at skiing. It is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but living in the South does not afford a lot of opportunities to hit the powder.

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I had never taken part in any winter sports prior to this trip (if you don’t count sledding down my front yard after snowstorms). I knew that if I was going to hit the slopes I would have to take a lesson. Me, on skis, without any training, would be a menace to everyone on the mountain.

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My friend Jill and I took a lesson for first timers in order to learn the basics. The first half of the day was designed to get us acquainted with the fundamentals.  We started by skiing in a circle on one ski, sidestepping up and down a hill, and then wedging down a hill. All of this, fortunately, was in a designated ski lesson area. This was wise, because while I was doing well with skiing, I was not doing so hot with stopping.

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Somehow after lunch, and with a few extra tips from my instructor, I managed to get a better hold on slowing myself and eventually stopping. When we returned from our break, five of the eight members in our class decided not to return. Apparently, they determined skiing was not for them. That was sad for them, but awesome for the three of us who remained. We basically got a semi-private lesson for the rest of the day. In the afternoon our awesome instructor took us up the QuickSilver SuperChair life to Ten Mile Station.

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I felt like I had a better handle on the skis in the afternoon than in the morning. We practiced our turns going down the slope so I was able to build up a little speed and confidence. I really liked being able to break away from the group and have a little space to practice. I managed to finish my day with no major incidents or broken bones.

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The next day I met up with my friends Lilas and Chris, who just happened to be in Breckenridge at the same time. Luckily, I mentioned my visit in a previous post which Lilas read while sitting in the Denver airport.

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I was excited to ski with them, not only because they are amazing people, but because they are substantially more accomplished skiers than I.

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We started on the same runs I tried the day before, but took a few different routes down—a few of which were much more complicated than what I did the day before and included icy wooded paths and sharp hills. We also took the A-Chair higher up Peak 9 where I learned that all green trails were not created equal. I actually spent a good part of my day on my back with a lovely view of the sky.

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But overall I had an absolute blast, falls and all. At the end of the day I decided to take one more pass down the mountain. Mainly because the easiest way to get to the ski shop was to ride the lift back up and ski down. Somehow I managed to make it the entire way without incident and I actually had my GoPro recording.

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Here is my video of my first time skiing all the way down alone without falling. Yes, I am going slower than almost everybody, but I am pretty sure everyone else had been skiing a lot longer than one day.

I can’t wait to go skiing again. I will definitely take another lesson (or two) next time to give me a refresher and help me develop my skills. Unfortunately, unless the resorts get a lot closer to home, it may have to wait until next season.

Dog Sledding Through The Rocky Mountains

When I was first planning my winter vacation I wanted something to complement my escape to the Dominican rainforest. When I could not find another tropical retreat that fit my days off, I decided to go the complete opposite direction and head to a winter wonderland. As part of the trip, I wanted to cross off a few things from my winter To-Do List. Item #1 on that list was dog sledding!

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I went to Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, Colorado. Good Times has 160 purebred Siberian huskies, and is the largest Siberian husky kennel in the United States. The dogs consume 2000 pounds of dog food a week and have a protein snack after every run. Sounds like me on vacation.

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The dogs are well cared for and do 2-3 runs (10-15 miles) a day. But the dogs love to run! This is actually a light workout for a Siberian husky, as they are capable of running for over 100 miles a day or 20 hours straight! In fact, while waiting for the next run, the teams have to be tied to a tree so they don’t take off. They want to run all day!

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Good Times Adventures uses all female and all males teams “to keep trouble in the same place,” but racers often mix males and females. Our guide said that the females are much faster and goof off less.

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The dogs start training at 6 months and are a part of a team until they are about 7-8 years old. After retirement, the pups become part of their adoption program.

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We had an all male team with Fez and Django (the lead dogs), Olaf and Drake (the swing dogs), Chief and Trix (the team dogs), and Cyprus and Ninja (the wheel dogs).

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The dogs in the front are the super smart lead dogs who guide the pack. However, if they make a mistake or get into a fight they will get “demoted” and moved further back in the lineup. Our guide said that the dogs can tell when they get demoted and promoted.

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The dogs in the back wheel position, according to our guide, are the “meatheads” and workers of the bunch. They are not the brightest lightbulbs. (But who needs to be smart when they are that handsome?)

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Each tour accommodated six people. The dog sled was led by our guide pulling a sleigh via snowmobile. Four people rode in the sleigh and the other two rode the dogsled, one as the rider and the other as the musher. We all got to take turns in each position.

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The actual ride was spectacular! It was a blast to zoom though the snowy woods behind a team of dogs.

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We took some of the hills pretty slowly, but once we got going we had to hold on tight!

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I really don’t know what I loved more, the scenery or the ride itself.

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While the dogs do almost all of the work, the sled does come with a safety brake. We also help control the sled by leaning into the turns.

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However, some of the turns were a little too rambunctious and we almost took a little spill (pictured above). But fortunately we were able to stay on the sled.

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Both before and after the run I got to pet the dogs. They were sweet and soft, but definitely just waiting to have a chance to do some more running!

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Below is a compilation point of view video of our runs. I did not have a helmet to attach my GoPro to, so I rented some awesome goggles that recorded it for me. As a disclaimer, my friend forgot I was recording so there is some language that is not suitable for children.

Here is a compilation video from the guide sled. You can’t hear her swearing in this one.

If you want to add a little adventure to your winter travels and cuddling on some adorable doggage is a priority, then go check out Good Times Adventures. However, book early. I called weeks in advance and they were already almost fully booked during my visit.

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