Healing through Hiking

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Because I’ve been dealing with some head and neck issues since the New York City marathon last November, I haven’t been running as much as I’d like. While I work my way back into a regular routine, I’ve been looking for other avenues of fitness, and I’ve found one that I really enjoy: hiking. I can surround myself with nature for several hours at a time and enjoy the tranquility that comes with a long walk. Plus, I love that even if you only hike for a couple of miles, it’s still a workout; you’re constantly being challenged by uneven terrain and obstacles like boulders or fallen trees.

Wissahickon Valley Park, May 2019

This past weekend Todd and I visited Philadelphia, and we spent part of the trip hiking in Wissahickon Valley Park just outside the city. Situated on the Schuykill River, it extends about seven miles to the north, with an abundance of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails. The trails are color-coded, and signposts indicate whether it’s going to be an easy trek or a tougher one. We ended up on the orange trail, a narrow dirt pathway that wound along the river, and more than once turned into a mud pit we then had to slog through. About half a mile into the trail from our starting point, we reached a landmark called Devil’s Pool (below). The river cut across the trail, and the only way across was to leapfrog over slippery rocks to the other side. At first we considered turning back, but then decided to attempt the crossing—and somehow we made it without tumbling into the river!

Devil’s Pool, Wissahickon Valley Park, May 2019

We passed several other hikers on our trek, and with each we exchanged a friendly greeting or a nod. When we came to a bridge, we crossed the river and hiked back along the other side, first on a wide gravel road and then on a path that cut through the forest. We got to see different kinds of birds (unfortunately I couldn’t identify any except the geese), butterflies, and so much greenery. In total we hiked about three miles, but it took us quite a long time and felt a lot harder than one might expect. It felt so rewarding to get back to our starting point and take a good long rest on a bench overlooking the river.

Hiking Wissahickon Valley Park, May 2019

This summer I’d like to hike in as many different parks and preserves as I can, and find a spot to stop and do tai chi (my other new obsession, but more about that in another post) along the way. If you know of any good hiking spots along the East Coast, please share in the comments! I’d love to check them out and report on our hike there!

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My New Side Project: Vacation Advisor with a Disney Focus!

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Cinderella Castle decked out for the holidays, 2017.

Hi, friends! I’d like to ask for a big favor from you today: I’m embarking on a new side venture (don’t worry, I’m still planning on blogging as usual!) as a trained vacation advisor for a company called Mouse Counselor. I know you’re all aware of my obsession with Disney, so it probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that I’m specializing in Disney vacations! I’d love to help you, your family, and your friends plan the most magical trip possible. Best of all, my services are all for free! So if you could please like my new Facebook page, Mouse Counselor: Christina Doka, and help spread the word, I’d really appreciate it. I can also be reached by email at chrisdoka@mousecounselor.com!

Thank you so much! 😍😘

From Hibernation

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The bear staggers
from his cave
smelling like musk
and dreams displaced.
His snout sniffs fearful:
What did he miss during his slumber? How
can he make up for lost time? And why—
But no.
The bear does not think these things.
They are human thoughts, mine.
Anxious questionquestionquestion,
without pause to listen
for an answer in the silence.

The bear shakes
dirt from his fur,
leisurely. He lumbers
to a stream to paw for fish.
He feeds. He yawns. He lolls in the sun.
I have a lot to learn from this bear,
and step one will be—
No. Again no
thinking or strategizing,
no linear lessons
from a time-honored tome.
Just one small act,
then another.
A breath.

Restaurant Review: The Beehive

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Some of my favorite Sundays are the ones when Todd and I meet up with my cousin Nikki for brunch. She planned my bachelorette party and was the maid of honor at my wedding, but we’ve been super close since childhood, when we used to make costumes out of our grandma’s excess sewing material. Because Nikki lives upstate from me and Todd, we usually try to pick a brunch spot that’s midway between our towns. Recently we tried out The Beehive in Armonk; it had gotten great reviews, and we wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.

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A side of bacon, a chocolate-chip pancake (what’s with the sole orange slice?), and a side of ham.

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My 29th Birthday… Sort Of

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It was my sort-of birthday this weekend: Technically I was born on February 29, the extra day in a leap year, but since there isn’t one this year, I guess I can celebrate whenever I want! Everyone was so good to me. Todd’s parents bought me the rainbow cookie cake I’m posing with in the slideshow above, and my parents got me some cute cupcake balloons and took the family out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. And everyone gave me wonderful cards and gifts! I’m so thankful to have such awesome people in my life.

I know I haven’t updated this blog in a few weeks; it’s been tough to juggle work, household chores, errands, and hangouts. And when I do have some time, I’m not too sure what to write about. But now that I’m (almost, sort of) 29, I’ll try to be more responsible and do better haha. I also hope to really make progress on my New Year’s resolutions between now and my next birthday, as well as train for the 2018 New York City marathon. But I also hope to find more time for the people who make my life as meaningful as it is: all of my family and friends, and my fellow bloggers and online amigos who push me to do better, be better, and live better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what your favorite blog posts have been, and what you’d like to see more of going forward so that I can brainstorm some ideas. And, as always, thank you so much for your continued readership and support!!! xo

2017: Books I’ve Read So Far

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas, the end of 2016 felt barren in the way of books; I didn’t have enough time to read and didn’t get my usual giant stack of paperbacks as a gift this year. Since 2017 rolled in, I’ve been trying to read instead of sleep on my morning commute, and so far I’ve made my way through five books, all of which I liked for one reason or another. Here they are, ranked in order of personal enjoyment:

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
It all begins when journalist Lo is sent on assignment on a cruise ship and meets a woman in cabin 10, only hours before Lo witnesses what she believes is that woman’s murder. But when all traces of the woman disappear, she is left unsure what to believe at all. This page-turner has a well-developed plot, a characters who leave readers questioning the truth at every moment, and a solution that you won’t ever see coming.

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Faithful by Alice Hoffman
I immediately liked the protagonist of this novel: Shelby is a damaged girl who sends her best friend into a coma and needs to figure out how to live with the guilt. The reader follows her from the accident to her future, when she’s managed to build some kind of a life for herself, and somehow never gets bored hearing about the everyday details, like the dogs she owns or the men she loves.

9781250087935_p0_v2_s192x300The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
What a bizarre novel! Though I didn’t think it was as well done as Emma Donoghue’s Room or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it had the vibe of both, and I still found it interesting and original. The story revolves around a young girl, raised to believe she and her sisters are living in heaven’s garden—but the reality is just the opposite. Each chapter reveals another piece of this terrifying puzzle.


9780062279026_p0_v1_s192x300A Million Worlds with You
by Claudia Gray
The third book in a trilogy about traveling to alternate realities to save the word, this YA fantasy novel didn’t impress me as much as its predecessors: key characters lacked presence, conflicts and struggles didn’t seem to go deep enough, and it all wrapped up a little too easily. That said, I did find the story intriguing and the pace quick, and am glad I read it if only to learn how it all ends.

 

9780316176507_p0_v2_s192x300A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This book was nothing like Atkinson’s masterful Life After Life, despite being marketed as a companion piece to that one. It was a plodding tale that slogged through different years in the life of a World War II soldier, first as a boy, then as an older man, then as a fighter, then as a boy again, without chronology or order. The writing was too wordy and the characters banal, each generation more miserable than the last.

One-Sentence Book Reviews

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When I last shared some mini book reviews with you, I was in the throes of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. Though I really enjoyed the first book, my love of the series dwindled with each subsequent installment. But I have read some really fascinating works since then, and if you’re only going to read one of the books I’m recommending below, let it be Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

The novel blew me away with its lyricism and tight descriptions, its sense of restraint, giving you just enough clues to vaguely piece together the action but still retain the pleasurable tingle of a mystery waiting to be solved. In fact, I still find myself thinking back to this book, its intricately woven themes, its heart-wrenching prose. Here’s an excerpt that I really loved:

“Up the road were other abandoned parcels, barely visible driveways leading to vacant foundations, as if someone had plucked the houses right out of the ground, leaving cavities in the shape of living spaces. I could feel the house that wasn’t there, rising out of the gaping concrete mouth. The alders shivered in the breeze, a sound so familiar that I shivered, too.”

Now, without further ado, the reviews:

Worth It…

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith: In this novel, written with remarkable precision and passion, a young woman visits an old friend on an island commune—but she soon realizes that nothing is as it appears, not even her own mind, her shadow-struck heart.

The Way of Wanderlust by Don George: This writer’s very intimate anecdotes offer great insight into travel, writing, and our own capacity for goodness and human connection.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey: At turns whimsical and wry, poet Novey reveals bit by bit the strange and compelling tale of a Brazilian author who climbs into a tree and disappears, and the translator who leaves behind a solid life in Pittsburgh to search for her.

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik: If you can look past his copious allusions and penchant for philosophical rambling, you’ll discover interesting stories and good questions about the past, present, and future of the food scene.

Don’t Bother…

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke: I liked the “cozy mystery” concept of this novel, but everything else fell flat: a weak and illogical plot, characters that were no more than caricatures, an insubstantial setting, and a serious dependence on telling the reader things that were quite obvious already.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: I read the first volume of this series when teaching fourth grade last year and enjoyed it; however, the second book felt forced, and much of the intrigue of the earlier novel had been extinguished.

Run the World by Becky Wade: Professional runner Wade recounts her travels in order to learn about running cultures in other countries, but unfortunately the entire book just sounded like an extended high school essay.