Upstate Hiking

My family has always loved hiking and we used to do a lot of state park camping when we were growing up. I have fond memories of weekends spent in Stony Brook, Watkins Glen, and Letchworth, all of which are just a couple hours’ drive from Rochester. Last summer, we spent a week in the Adirondacks hiking, boating, and spending time without cell phone service in beautiful scenery. This year, for the first time ever, we had a proper staycation in the Rochester area and spent the week doing a variety of Fun Family Activities, which ranged from hiking and wine tasting to board games and bar trivia. We chose Letchworth State Park for our hike because the park is huge and we knew it would be easy terrain for the dog.

I love the gorges at Letchworth . . .

. . . the trees . . .

. . . and everything that grows and lives along the trails. . . .

Pretty, right? I highly recommend a visit. Need a buddy? Happy to go with you if I’m in the area! If camping isn’t your thing, there’s the beautiful Glen Iris Inn in the park, too, and the best view of the gorge is just beyond.

But one hike was not enough, so my sister and I spent a day at her newest local find, Grimes Glen, which has now topped the list of my favorite Rochester area hikes. It’s also probably the most challenging hike I’ve done around here and perhaps the only hike that my sister and I have done just the two of us. And we had such a great time.

Grimes Glen is basically a walk up Grimes Creek that takes you in the creek itself . . .

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I sorely missed my Tevas, sitting unhelpfully outside the door of my apartment in Singapore.

. . . scaling ropes tethered to trees and rocks to get up the banks and waterfalls . . .

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. . . and picking your way through trees, waterways, and shale walls that basically become a playground!

There are three major waterfalls at Grimes Glen and we spent a few hours sitting on the ledge of the third fall. It was tricky to get to and we saw exactly three groups of people in the entire time we were there. The noise of the water echoed off the shale and our vantage point from the top of the waterfall let us see all the way to the bend in the creek. It was so unexpectedly private!

Once the sun reached the highest point in the sky, we were ready for a swim. I find counting to three very motivating and my sister was kind enough to indulge me until I was (briefly) completely submerged in the frigid water. I couldn’t bring myself to join her in the fall itself, though, not once I came up shrieking because of the cold. My last swimming in a waterfall experience was in Laos a couple years ago where it was much, much warmer!

And the privacy I mentioned? We climbed back up to our ledge and spent a few minutes topless to dry off, enjoying the sun after our dip. And why not, really?


Upstate New York may be older, emptier, and more downtrodden than I remembered, but it’s as beautiful as ever.

Go exploring. Spend some time outside; it’s lovely there.

The First Time

I don’t often listen to country music, though that has changed recently since it’s now the soundtrack of the summer in my mum’s car. This is funny because the rule in our house growing up was that the only person allowed to swear was rap artist Eminem, which is a far cry from country music. On a recommendation from someone I’ve known a very long time, I listened to “For the First Time” by Darius Rucker. While it didn’t do it for me in terms of a song, I do like the question it contains:

When’s the last time you did something for the first time?

Thinking about my own experiences (I’ve recently tried flotation and partied at a gay club) led me to pose this question to a few people. Answers ranged from doing yoga to finding one’s way without directions to scuba diving to going to the beach alone. Everything was new at one point, even those things that have become routine, obvious, and easy.

As with most things, I thought about this question in terms of students. I expect that young people more readily do new things than the average adult. Part of that is certainly that young people have had fewer experiences overall so more things are new. As a result, though, they’re also probably more willing to be beginners than those of us who are used to being experts in our fields.

Being a beginner can be scary. It means asking for help and guidance, which might feel strange to people who are used to guiding others and giving instruction. Being a beginner means feeling awkward, asking questions, making mistakes, laughing at yourself, and figuring out how to do it better next time. That means being vulnerable, which many of us dislike. We all know that it’s easy to say, “So you’ll mess up. What’s the worst that could happen?” and smile helpfully to novices in our own fields. But we also know that errors can be jarring when we’re used to doing everything right.

When’s the last time you did something for the first time? Was it so long ago that you can’t remember? Was it just yesterday and you’re excited for the next new thing? Have you kept at it or decided it’s not for you? Are you going to give it another try? Or bring a friend?


At the beginning of 2018 I bought a wall hanging that says, “If you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done.” It has encouraged me to take chances, do new things, have difficult conversations, and treat myself with the warmth, acceptance, and compassion I show to others. Admitting that I’m doing something for the first time has grown easier. Admitting discomfort and uncertainty has grown easier. Being content in the moment lasts longer and I’m happy just being where I am.

Doing the new thing, the scary thing, the thing for the first time has made it easier to look at the world with fresh eyes. Wonder and curiosity have become a deliberate part of the choices that I make and I’m much happier because of it. There’s less cyclic questioning, less second-guessing, and less worrying about what might happen if. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve let myself be new.

So be inexperienced. Admit uncertainty. Make mistakes. Ask for help. Be gentle with yourself. You’re the only self you’ve got.

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways — and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings. – Alain de Botton

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Across the Bay

My summer break this year started with a few days in San Francisco before I crossed the bridge into Berkeley for the Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators. I’ve been trying to go to this institute for a few years and I’m finally not moving countries so my school agreed to fund my attendance! The summer institute focuses on socio-emotional learning (SEL), mindfulness, and character education, all of which are at the core of how I believe education can make the world a better, more peaceful place. One of my leadership roles at school is closely tied to SEL and I attended the institute for reasons of personal growth as both an educator and individual and to develop as a leader. I won’t go into the details of the institute here, but please send me a message if you’d like to hear about it! It was a very valuable experience and I’d really love to chat!

Every morning of the institute began with an optional hike or yoga class, which was a clear indication that I’d be spending the week with a group of 8- like-minded people. Choosing between the two activities was easy – I love yoga but one can’t hike the Berkeley Hills anywhere but Berkeley. Beginning the day with time outside in the sunshine makes me very, very happy and a way to start the day feeling alive. The weather at the beginning of the week was chilly, cloudy, and a bit rainy (the first rain in months, we were told) but it quickly turned bright, sunny, and just gorgeous.

The flowers were beautiful, too, whether cultivated in gardens or growing freely in nature. I love seeing the differences between flora (and fauna, for that matter) in different places.

The hikes gave us beautiful views of San Francisco, too, which got better as the weather cleared up, though the locals explained that the marine layer of fog does take time to burn off.

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The institute concluded daily at 5pm and with one exception I spent each night wandering through town with new friends. It’s amazing how people can come to know each other in such a short time under the right circumstances, and I’m really grateful that this was the case. The night I didn’t spend in Berkeley was special, too, because I went to neighboring Alameda to reunite with Singapore friends who moved to Paraguay the year that I moved to New York! I was really glad we could make that work, especially because we missed each other by a day in Washington, DC last summer. I love having people all over the world.

The part of Berkeley around the university was definitely in summer mode. Shops and restaurants had limited hours and were pretty empty, which was both a blessing and a curse. But there were also parts of town that were more “real people” than “college kid”. It made me laugh because I was mentally comparing everything I saw and everywhere we went to Syracuse University where I went to school; our “college kid” was Marshall Street and “real people” was Armory Square. But it was fun to look around, especially considering Berkeley’s social activist history, People’s Park, and excellent street art.

I really enjoyed my time in Berkeley and it was nice to have some time there to collect and wrap up my thoughts about the school year before travelling to Rochester to be with my family. This was an institute for educators, after all, and I did have one assignment to complete for work.

I know I’ve said this about a few different places lately, but I think Berkeley is somewhere I could live in great contentment. There are beautiful places to hike, the weather was glorious (based on my sample size of the last week of June), and the food was delicious. It’s close to San Francisco and it’s near the water. Yoga, zen, and vegetarianism were everywhere.

But then again, especially because I’ve been thinking like this a lot, maybe it’s not so much the place that makes the difference but the mindset that I have while in a certain place, the person I am in that place. Because what do I actually need? What do I want? The simpler those things are to obtain, the easier it is to feel content exactly where I am.

Maybe I’m getting better at that.

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Very small me and very tall tree

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place