Blazing a Trail of Her Own

I’m so honored to share my friend’s journey while she supported her husband’s journey on the Appalachian Trail.  Rick, his friend Mike, and Lisa  are my present day heroes!  I’m so encouraged by Lisa’s writing and I’ve begged her to continue.  Along those same lines, Rick Yates needs to write the book on his A.T. adventure.  I’m going to keep saying that like Dorothy clicking her heels together!   Enjoy a glimpse into Lisa’s life from March to September 2018.

Blazing A Trail of My Own: My Personal Journey As An A.T. Thru-Hiker’s Wife

by Lisa Sells Yates

“ A 40 day hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail? Wow, really? I’m sure that will be a great experience for you. You should totally do this! Go!” Those were the words and thoughts I had when my husband told me that a friend of his, a former co-worker, had taken note of the miles he was walking every day since retirement and asked if he might be interested in hiking the A.T. His friend was planning to hike the entire trail. Rick decided he would be a section-hiker taking him from Amicalola Falls (Springer Mountain), GA to Damascus, VA.

The hike began on a cool, misty, and very foggy morning on March 17, 2018. About three weeks in, I visited Wiley and NAVster (trail names given to them by other hikers) in Gatlinburg, TN. Oh my! I could see the excitement in Rick’s eyes, hear the passion in his voice and the exciting stories and experiences from the hike so far. Everything I heard and saw from these two hikers stuck with me.

Soon after, on a Sunday afternoon, we had a phone visit as it was a “zero day.” I told Rick that I had thought about a lot of things on the drive back home from our recent visit. I told him I knew him well enough to realize that he is driven to finish what he starts. Though I never expressed it out loud, I always knew he would want to keep going after he began this crazy adventure. So, during that phone visit, I urged him to think about it and with my blessing, to keep hiking. I think he was truly surprised and not expecting this. You see, he had just recently retired and we were just starting to enjoy retirement together. I knew if he did not attempt to finish the entire trail he’d regret it. He had the perfect hiking partner and the timing was perfect as well. So with more heart to heart talking, tears, laughter and of course some apprehension, we both knew a big decision had to be made within about 12 hours. After hanging up the phone, I sat on the couch in disbelief at what I had just encouraged him to do! What in the world was I thinking?

I received a text message from Rick as I was leaving the gym the next morning. He had taken the night to think things through and discuss with Michael, his hiking partner. He started the text with, “Well honey you opened Pandora’s Box.” I did not need to read any further as I knew he was going to do it. He was actually going to attempt to hike the entire 2,190 miles! At first, I cried a bucket of tears and then I knew in my heart that we had both made the right decision. We both agreed on our quickly made decision and were determined to put forth the effort this journey required.

Now I had to get in the right headspace realizing that my best friend would be gone for the next 5 ½ months (6 months total) on the journey of a lifetime at my urging him to do so! But what I did not think of immediately was that I, too, would be going on a journey of a lifetime and I would also be making discoveries.  It was time to buckle up. Me, myself and I were about to take on six months alone! Side note here:  You see I married at 21, right out of college, and never truly lived on my own before!

Just as the Appalachian Trail has twists and turns and mud and muck, life can also take on the same paths. There is also much beauty seen on the A.T. with bright blue skies,  mountain streams, full moons, and stars just as life can bring renewal, promise, brightness and exciting challenges.  The twists, turns, mud and muck were beginning as things started breaking, leaking, squeaking, and falling apart in the house, yard and car.  

Then the matters of the heart became present on another part of my trail.  The unexpected death of two friends, one being the mother of our future daughter in law, the diagnosis of cancer for my sister, and my uncle being placed in hospice.  Happy events as well were experienced as my daughter and son-in-law began selling their first crops at a farmer’s market after months of hard work, sweat and tears.  My son and his beautiful girlfriend announced their joyous engagement.

Today I celebrate my transformation of growth as I look back on these parts of my own journey, on my own trail.

I have always enjoyed my alone time but when it lasts for six months, it can get old real fast. To deal with my loneliness, I took on indoor and outdoor home projects. I read several books and watched several series on Netflix.

 I took notice of my quiet time and learned how to meditate and do yoga. I have learned to set an intention for each day and how to navigate areas of life that I had ignored. I learned how to just “be” and find contentment in being.

There are so many discoveries to list but these seem to stand out the most. I can now say with confidence that:

I am capable.

I am enough.

I am worthy.

I am strong.

I learned that being strong is also allowing yourself to see your weaknesses and learn from them.  Yes, I had meltdowns but I didn’t wallow in them.  I’ve become confident in making decisions. I don’t always need permission. I can say no and not feel guilty. I can say yes and not have doubts. I can say that I need help and not feel like a wimp. When needed,  I can put myself first.  I can look at myself in the mirror and daily practice (and practice and practice) to make peace with my self image. I have struggled with my self image for years. I am learning to be myself and like who I have become. To borrow the words of my cousin, in which I find much truth, “We sometimes can’t see what our energy is being saved for until we go through the growing hours.”

As I reflect back on these months, I am grateful for this season in my life. I have evolved and believe I am better for it.  I am grateful for my supportive family and friends that have  not only cheered on Rick but me as well. I am grateful for the cards, texts, phone calls, food after my surgery and the wonderful and fun visits of friends and family to keep me company!

Last but definitely not least, I will be forever thankful and grateful to my amazing, persevering “#myhubthehiker” who will now join that elite group of thru-hikers that complete the entire journey of the Appalachian Trail! To quote the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, “Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the A.T. in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T.”  Wow! Let that sink in for a minute!

I am thankful to Rick for believing in me enough that he felt he could continue on this crazy adventure. Watch out world, Rick and Lisa 2.0 is about to take on a new adventure together as we no doubt will be stronger as individuals and as a couple.

Whatever “trail” you might be blazing,  give yourself grace. Don’t take each day for granted. Do the hard stuff.  Don’t settle for anything but the best and remember the best is a process which doesn’t come overnight.  If you need help, by all means ask. There are experiences to learn from by tackling them alone.  There are relationships to be renewed,    relationships to be formed, relationships to be found that never before existed until you’re out there in your own wilderness.

 Live your best life! Write your own story! Trust in your faith and trust in yourself. “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” ~ Kalpana Chawla

Lisa Sells Yates

August 28, 2018

Small-town Vibes in the Big City

When you have a chance to spend a few days with a friend, do it.  If that friend has a front porch, by all means, go spend time there.  Relax, drink something cold, wave to her neighborhood friends and give a pat on the head and a little scratch under the chin to her dog.  Prop your feet up.  Yes, it’s humid but enjoy the gentle breeze and the swoosh of air from the porch ceiling fan.  Be open to any suggestion from your friend — she knows her neighborhood and surrounding community.  Take her advice on restaurants and antique store browsing.  Have long conversations into the night and, most of all, laugh!  

I had this chance recently on a trip to Atlanta to visit my friend, Lisa.  She lives in Inman Park.  Nestled close to city things, this little area is canopied with oaks, dogwoods, and crepe myrtles.  The streets wind over hill and dell past beautiful parks.   You will pass historical homes and cozy bungalows.  Churches stand strong and welcome all — including a filming crew for the television show MacGyver.  You’d think you were in Hollywood but Georgia has fast become a favorite among the film industry.  

Entrepreneurship is alive and well in this community.  We enjoyed delicious meals your Grandma would have made but I think even my Memaw would have said the grits at Rising Son and Highlands Bakery were the best she’d ever put in her mouth.  You know that creamy, soft, yet just a touch of firmness, that makes them oh so Southern.  So good you just want butter on them — no cheese this time.  Eggs are always “iffy” for me in a restaurant but both these breakfast and lunch spots knew that perfect measure of cooking an egg. Friendly servers who made us  feel like family, not a customer. 

Wahoo Grill served a mouth watering Atlantic Coast scallop and Lisa had trout.  We did talk during our meal but not much.  Delicious attention to the preparation and the seasonings really complimented both dishes.  I’ll never turn my back on deep fried fish with a view of the beach but the meal we shared at Wahoo Grill was one I’d return to again and again.  

Folk Art is a cozy corner restaurant  with sports on the flat screens, tasty libations,  and great food.  The menu covers anything you might be looking for — especially with a group of people wanting different things.  While my meal of BBQ pork and sides of vegetables was not my best choice from their varied menu, I did enjoy the atmosphere and I’d return to try other offerings.  I’ll admit I’m a North Alabama and Northwest Florida BBQ fan and it’s hard for me to go off point when it comes to BBQ.  A+ for effort and trying new things, though!  

When it comes down to it, excellent chefs given the proper kudos for their excellent twists on tried and true favorites, my most favorite meal during our visit was at Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker, Georgia.  We traveled a few miles to this friendly restaurant where we had fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé, and turnip greens.  Yes, low carb aside, I even had sweet tea.  Lisa was recognized by a woman serving up the evening meal.  After several years of Lisa and her friends frequenting this restaurant, this lovely woman was still serving.  A blessing to know that in our crazy world jobs are still steady and workers appreciated.  

Plundering through a couple of antique malls, you might find your Mama’s cookware, old books you read as a child, new and unique items, too.  I came close to buying a handmade throw from India.  I looked at it twice and then on the third look decided to let it go.  I settled on a set of nesting dolls from Russia — Matryoshka.  It will be a fun little item for grandkids to play with at LeeLee’s house.  Hindsight?  Should have bought both. 

Good meals, great conversation, belly laughs, seeing a small town in a big city, and friends spurring one another along during a new phase of life — seek out and find these things.  Treasure them.  Enjoy the life you have surrounding you today, including a few things “off plan.”  

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your sweet Southern hospitality.  You are loved. 

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 8.59.58 AM

Monday Morning Prayer

It’s the last Monday of August and summer continues to bear down on us.  The humidity was higher than temperature this morning.  My back porch prayer time was quick. 

Dear Lord, it’s hot.  But let’s remember these folks that you and I know have needs today.  Bless them with the best of  You,  thank You, Amen.

I felt His grin.  I grinned, too.  We relate that way. I moved quickly back into the cool conditioned air of my house.  He knows my heart.  

He smiles at you, too, and knows your heart.  May your Monday be a good one.

Elementary School Obstacle Course

Balance.  First thing that comes to my mind is Montclair Elementary School’s obstacle course — back in the day — late 1960s and early 1970s.  The routine is still in my mind, pretty much.  Climb over the wall, climb up and then cross the horizontal ladder hand over hand, run the tops of the tires, and then balance/walk on the balance beam. It was about a foot off the ground.  I don’t remember any of it being unattainable but, after the movements made to climb and hang/swing on that ladder, it took a minute to pull back the momentum and actually balance for the walk.

To me, it’s a great picture of life.  We climb, we hang and still maneuver, we gingerly step over and on top of obstacles, and then we’re told  we need to balance.

Is it possible?

We have momentum, adrenaline, a plan to guide us through and then someone steps in and advises us to balance.  Is that a bad think to suggest?  Maybe we are balancing well for our circumstance. 

Looking back to the obstacle course — which we might equate to life — It took a certain amount of balance to climb the wall, hang from the horizontal ladder and get to the end of it, hand over hand, to the topping of the tires and walking the balance beam.   (I’ve repeated myself so I know you are feeling this obstacle course.)

It takes balance every day to get through what we have to do.  Work, live the single life, live the married life, a widowed life, raise a family, pay off debt, maintain cars and houses, take on full parenting when a spouse is out of town or we no longer have a spouse.  It may not look picture perfect.  And who drew that perfect picture standard, anyway?  Somehow you  do find a balance, your new normal, and it doesn’t look like the way everyone else does it or  the way our grandparents did it.

The more we understand that our lives cannot be compared, our own balance will be easier.  The best question someone asked  me, a health coach to be exact, was this:  What works for you and what do you need to do to make it work better?   

She didn’t give me a plan but did give me resources after I explained what I felt was manageable.  There were choices and none were bad.  Manageable, moderated, likable, and rewarding choices; including things many think to be taboo when finding health and stability.  We all have different life formulas that can give us a good result.   

I picture my granddaughter working on a new task.  She’s two and a half years old.  We all could step in to show her the supposed right way but it’s just too rewarding to watch her work diligently and then proclaim, “I did it!”  

Don’t beat yourself up over your life not looking like another person’s life.  They may proclaim balance and that’s great.  Just remember, you have your own obstacle course, you will finish, and with balance say, “I did it!” 

August Book Review: The Bookshop at Water’s End

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 11.46.59 AM

I bought this book last year, 2017, in my favorite writer’s town,  Fairhope, Alabama, at Page and Palette.  The cover showing a barefoot girl led me to think it would be a good summer read.  Do covers matter?  Yes!

Thumbing through the book, each chapter was devoted to a character and written in their voice.  Their names struck a good note:  Bonny, Lainey, and Piper.  Piper is Bonny’s daughter and Lainey is Bonny’s best friend.  Other characters are woven into their chapters — an old boyfriend for Bonny, an ex-husband,  a new boyfriend for Piper, and a bookstore owner who knew Bonny and Lainey when they came spend time in her bookstore on family vacations on the coast.     A couple of unsuspecting characters show up and add to the intrigue to  these ladies  finding the answers they look for in Watersend, South Carolina.  The past weaves in the present story and brings mystery, emotional pain, misunderstandings, love lost, love gained, responsibilities, and forgiveness.  As a marker for all good books I read, the first paragraph grabbed me.  I wanted to know why a young woman who resembled someone from the past brought curiosity to the book store owner.  The owner, who bridges their past with their future, obviously holds the key to unlocking much for these ladies at Watersend.   

Toss this book into your beach bag and enjoy. Take it in the car line, to practice, enjoy at lunch, or on a business trip.  It would be a good selection for a book club as it contains a section for discussion. I’ve recommended this book to my writers’ group as a wonderful lesson on theme, plot, character development, and a not so fairytale ending that still leaves you feeling hopeful and ready to find your own, “One thing.” Shop for it your favorite indie bookstore!

I look forward to the author’s next book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, coming out in October 2018.






…and I say it’s all right.

Morning greets me with booming thunder and a rain shower.  We’ve had these bursts of weather all summer.  I love the variety.  Enough rain for the grass, flowers, and trees  while plenty of sun shines through the day giving vacationers their money’s worth.

It’s a good way to begin Monday.  The not so gentle sound of rain is soothing and the breeze is cool.  There’s a bit of cinnamon smell in the air — maybe a grass or flower.  

The squirrels scurry along my back fence.  The rain does not slow them down.  I can’t see it from my back porch but the sound of traffic is not slowing down either.  Folks traveling to work, appointments, maybe on vacations.  If you know the area, you can take the road for a short-cut  to avoid at least one toll on the way to the beach.  Now a siren.  

Already the rain is slowing and the sky is brightening.   Here comes the sun, here comes the sun; and I say, it’s all right…

A Summer Day in 1960s Pensacola


Our summer weather has me remembering summer life as a kid in Pensacola.  We’d ride our bikes, build forts from pine straw, play kick ball in the street, and run to the shelter of  a friend’s front porch or carport when the afternoon thunderstorms struck.  

If  it was hot before the storm then we endured even more sweltering heat after the rain. Steam rose from the pavement. The moisture was thick and the air thin.  If we weren’t soaked from the rain we were soaked in sweat.    We were kids without a care in the world except waiting for the distant bell sounding from the tri-wheeled snow cone truck.  It was the only cure for the miserable heat.  If we weren’t  packing a dime, we’d run home to beg our moms for one.  

I remember the day I played the game, “Find the Tossed Dime.”  I lost the game to a single opponent, me.  I didn’t find the dime and my mother scolded me for being foolish.  “Why would you throw your snow cone money in the grass?”  “To see if I could find it,” I replied with a shrug and tears. My friend gave me a “bite” of her snow cone and I vowed never to experiment with money again.

In the evenings we played hide and seek between our  yards.  As we  found ourselves giving into the need for rest, our little band of friends  gathered under a mimosa tree for ghost stories.  The older kids would dare us and we would try, not once, but nearly every evening of the week, to find Bloody Mary.   They told us if we repeated a certain mantra as we looked into a hand mirror,  in the dark utility room off the carports, we would  see Bloody Mary in the mirror.  We had no idea who she was or why she would appear but before we could say, “I can see you Bloody Mary,” five times while looking at the mirror, we’d run out of the utility room screaming for our lives!  We were great entertainment for the older kids who laughed at our gullible selves. If only we’d been wise enough to have ketchup on the ready and come out of the utility room covered in it!

By the time the street lights began to buzz and come on, we scurried home to meet our parents’ imposed playtime deadline.  We’d take a bath and fall on bed sheets  our moms had washed and let dry on the clothesline.  They felt crisp and smelled so good.  We dreamed of the next morning  — a new day of riding bikes, playing kick ball, being scared, and remembering to not toss the dime in the grass before spending it on a cherry flavored snow cone.

Living Life

I want to live a life free with love, compassion, honesty, integrity, empathy, and do it all with less talk.  Do it with movement.  Dance, sing, write, paint, and in the midst of the movement, listen.  My dance, my song, my writing, my painting, the way I listen and take in life works for me.  I can’t teach it to you. You have to listen to your own life. We all can listen.  

Live life, feel life — listening.  We can take our  worried thoughts, heartaches, conceived notions, and judgements to a peaceful place.  Turn our setting from full speed ahead to a slower pace and listen. Feel the emotions.  Cry, be angry, mad, defeated, address them all.   Take a deep breath and listen the sounds of life, the spirit of life, and let the ebb and flow of life move you.  The movement from the mountain top, the walk through the valley, the cool stream or warm ocean on your feet, the gentle breeze and rustle of the leaves — feel emotion, feel life, and listen.  Then live.  We will have more valleys, more mountains, more unbelievable days of sorrow, pain, happiness, and fulfillment.  Be free to take on the emotions of life, feel them, and listen — in a place where you alone can hear.  Feel. Listen.  Live.

When we walk away from the noise, the confusion, the need to be first, the need to be on top of it all, the one with the information, the source, the one who wins at every station of life — we walk away and find the new places where our souls can flourish — the place where we are free  to feel, listen, and live.  

Feeling Life

We have to feel life.  I heard that on Grey’s Anatomy.  I’m sure I can back it up with a bible verse but for now it’s the word of Dr. Grey.  It’s true because I’ve done both.  I’ve felt life and I’ve also shielded myself from life.  

No matter, either way, we are going to feel and have emotions.  My belief is that God made us that way.  And yet we try to overcome  — when it’s not time to overcome — all for the sake of time.

Without holding hard feelings against a man who said, just a few short days after a funeral, “We must move on,” I say his timing was off.  The death was a shock; maybe not to some but to many.  We all have to feel life and I’d add to Dr. Grey’s words — we have to feel death.

Marriages go through tough times and we smile and say I love you.  We’re afraid to discuss, verbalize, and be honest  because we’re taught to forgive and move on.  Vulnerability sets in and we turn to friends, counselors, and lovers to discuss what we won’t discuss with a mate.

In our fast paced world, now more than ever, we just move on.  How much do we leave behind?  

Those feelings will come out.  We have to feel.  Our bodies were made to feel.  Pinch your arm.  Did it hurt?  Yes, it did.  But maybe you say no because you, because I, have become conditioned to “work through it.” We get to a point where we say, “No big deal.  I can handle it.”

What if we stop, feel the pain, express the anger, discuss discouragement, and confess our wrongs and stand for rights?  What if we do feel life and actually live in the reality of  life instead of  skirting issues, avoiding, and shouldering the pain?  

We all have to learn to live and die well.  That doesn’t mean we have a smile on our face through it all.  It should be that we deal honestly, put pride aside, be the people we are made to be.  

I’m thankful that when I  have to deal with the feelings of life that are not good ones, I can be encouraged by people who understand.  Be the encourager that does not give a pat answer.  Be the person that says, if it’s true, that you understand their feelings and it is OK to feel life and death.   

I think we will all be healthier for it.