Category Archives: self improvement

My 2018 End of the Year Note

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It feels strange to be writing another entry that is not about travel. I did travel this holiday season, back to Chicago, but the primary purpose of the trip was to visit family, not to explore new places.

I have also already written about both visiting places I have previously lived and about New Years as a time of reflection. Now that I feel more grown-up, I want to provide what other serious individuals provide, a year-end summary.

2018 in Review

I will always yearn for travel and adventure. However, 2018 took my attention in other directions. The year started with some major trips, including Vegas, Whistler, and Death Valley.

After those trips, I really needed to get my career back on track. The five years prior to this one had seen tons of great adventures, which I catalog on this blog. However, they had not been too great for my career. We all have to earn a living, and it can be hard having to do so in places that are not the right fit.

At first I was going about it in the manner that most do in 2018, looking for opportunities online. By springtime, I decided that getting out there, networking, and meeting people would be a better way to try to create something new in my life.

I ended up catching a break. In August, I started a new job which is both in the field I had originally studied, meteorology, and provides a working environment that is both flexible and collaborative. Not too many people can travel for a living, and not too many people actually want that lifestyle. Having a job where the work itself is fulfilling, and is also flexible enough that I can pursue significant travel and adventure, is probably the best scenario I could have hoped for. Therefore, I can say 2018 was a hard year but also a great one!

Before starting that job, I did go on one more major road trip, in Early August.

Since then, my life has actually been quite busy. In addition to starting a new job with a significant commute…

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I continued some of the freelance work I had been doing prior to starting the job, as well as some of my involvements in professional organizations. There were some weeks, particularly in September and October, where there was very little spare time. I came into the holiday season quite exhausted!

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2019 and a New Sense of Self

In addition to getting my career back on track, I feel that I am coming out of this exhausting but fruitful year with a better sense of who I am than I have had for years. A lot of people talk about “discovering themselves”. I feel this is an appropriate, yet sad, way of putting it. What I “discovered” about myself is stuff that I had known all along. I had just lost sight of them because of some of the disappointments and negative feedback I had received at various points in my life.

I determined I loved weather and science by the time I was five years old. It didn’t take much longer for me to figure out what else makes me who I am.

I often do not match what people expect from me. A lot of people think they understand the world, and the people in it, based on rudimentary aspects of who someone is; race, age, gender, economic status, and partisan politics. It saddens me to see people placing more, not less, emphasis on theses things in the past few years. This is one component of today’s world I refuse to be a part of or encourage, as who someone is is more about what they value and how they treat people.

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For the first time in my life, I actually feel like I am in a position to help people, as opposed to being the one that needs help. With this spirit, as well as my new job and other engagements, I want to encourage the following in the world around me:

  • Bridging the worlds of science and enterprise. I believe this is the best manner in which we can bring the benefits of scientific research and scientific knowledge to the general public, in a manner that is fair and equitable.
  • Encouraging people to spend less time alone, indoors, and seated. There are a lot of mental and physical health problems in my country that are only getting worse thanks to things like people spending more time in front of screens and less time conversing with one another.
  • Creating a more flexible world, particularly in the workplace. This means removing outdated rules and assumptions which are costing many people the opportunity to be who they really are.

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This may not be what some people desire of me, but it is my life. These pursuits were determined by matching my interests, values, and expertise with a desire to improve the condition of humanity.

I personally learned a lot more about life the year, which I will cover in my next entry. In addition to traveling and exploring less towards the end of 2018, a few other areas of my life also ended up getting neglected, particularly my physical health and social life. While going to an event with a professional organization can be enjoyable and productive, I have realized that it is no substitute for taking part in activities with friends. As I start 2019, I plan to place a higher priority on…

  • Physical health and particularly getting active and moving
  • Creating and nurturing some kind of a community
  • Expressing myself, and my unique-ness at all times
  • Finding new activities, new restaurants, new ideas, and exploring new places

Thank you for reading- hope you all have great plans for 2019!

A Weekend in Nature 90 Minutes from Denver

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One mistake I witness quite often is people constantly turning their getaways into some form of challenge of their own. There is probably nobody more guilty of this than me; always seeking the far away destination, wanting to climb the tallest mountain, cycle over 100 miles a day.

Challenging ourselves is important. We all build character by challenging ourselves, especially outside of work. However, we also all sometimes need a break that is a genuine break, not stressing ourselves to get to a faraway destination with no spare time, exhausting ourselves physically, creating an alternate form of stress- “vacation stress”.

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Summer in Colorado began with an extreme drought, large wildfires all over the state, and restrictions on fires in nearly every county.

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Fire restrictions across Colorado July 28, 2018

With some rainfall in the mountains, in the past week, some counties in Central Colorado began to lift these fire bans, permitting fires at campsites.

One of the problems we have here in the United States is limitations related to time. According to Project Time Off, an organization whose mission is to remove the stigma around taking time off from work, the average American takes less than 20 days of vacation per year, and Americans collectively forfeit over 200 million days off due to concern for how they will be perceived at the office. Therefore, it is not all that common for Americans to feel the need to maximize their vacation time, utilizing every precious hour.

This stigma will not go away overnight. Most likely change will be gradual, and considerations related to time limitation will still be a factor in the coming decades. However, given our recent mental health challenges, and recent research pointing to the psychological benefits of being in nature, trips like these are probably more important than ever.

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Georgia Pas is one of several areas about a 90 minute drive from Denver, right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, with dispersed camping, meaning camping without the amenities of a campground.

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These camping areas are nearly always within a short drive of the kinds of places where the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains can be seen in all of their majesty. Georgia Pass, less traveled than mountain passes along paved roads, like Hoosier Pass and Guanella Pass, offers the same panoramic views but with less people.

It also, based on this one trip, feels like a place with more wildlife.

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However, sometimes the camping experience is not about the feeling of being on top of the world on a mountain pass, or overlooking a photogenic lake, as is commonly shown on the cover of travel magazines. Sometimes, camping is about being in a strangely calming place like this, with trees, bushes, other random vegetation, and a creek moving fresh mountain water along to a gentle rythm.

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There is something about this specific scene, deep in the forest, surrounded by nature. It feels in a way, like the exact opposite of stress. There is no hurry here, nobody is causing unnecessary anxiety, and the only abrupt changes in plans occur when a thunderstorm pops up unexpectedly.

There is, however, work. Camping isn’t just sitting around the fire. The fire must be started and maintained. Meals must be cooked. Tents need to be set up, and dishes washed manually. It isn’t a resort vacation. In fact, while camping, far more work goes into filling the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter than it does back in the city, even on the most stressful day.

There are ways to relax that require little to no work. Watching television only requires owning a television and selecting a program. Laying at a beach only requires finding a way to get to the beach. Yet, sitting around a campfire with loved ones, looking at the stars and watching the full moon rise between alpine trees, then waking up to the alpenglow hitting the tops of the trees, somehow actually feels far more relaxing than just laying around at home or nearby.

Or maybe it is about getting away from all of the things that are currently creating anxiety in our lives, which include TV (mostly the news), our phones, work, and, competitiveness in general. This takes work. It takes work to get away from life’s pressures. However, it is good for us, regardless of our situations, to occasionally escape our stress sources, without substituting them with “vacation stress”. Unfortunately, many of us in the United States still find ourselves in situations where we feel our time away is so precious, taking part in activities that create this “vacation stress” is the only way to get meaningful experience out of the limited time we have to vacation.

Welcome to Summer

Week after week is spent focusing on some sort of life endeavor; a major project at work, a personal improvement initiative, a diet, starting a business, preparing for kids. Meanwhile, the world around us continues to tick. All of a sudden we realize that everything has changed. A jacket is no longer needed in the morning. Darkness does not set in until well after 8 P.M. Every evening, the neighborhood kids are outside being lively. While our focus had been elsewhere, the subtle process of seasonal transition has transformed the world around us. It is now summer!

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Although it has felt like summer, here in Colorado, for a few weeks, in the United States, Memorial Day is often referred to as some sort of unofficial beginning to summer. With most businesses not providing time off for the Easter holiday, and Cesar Chavez Day being a holiday in only two states, for many, Memorial Day is the first day off in several months. I have even had a pervious employment situation where there were no holidays between New Years Day and Memorial Day.

With vacation shaming running rampant in this country, causing Americans to collectively leave over 700 million vacation days unused annually, it is easy to imagine countless American who spent the three months leading up to Memorial Day doing little else besides work and tending to home and family needs.

2018 in particular was a year where the Spring Season was easy to miss, as winter felt quite persistent across much of the country through April.

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Chicago even reported measurable snow four times in the Month of April!

Many experienced the kind of weather they typically associate with Spring only briefly before summer-like conditions spread across the country.

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By Memorial Day, 100 degree temperatures were reached in Minneapolis, while the Florida Panhandle was experiencing the start of the tropical storm season.

While it is completely understandable why some people were completely blindsided by the start of summer, it feels, in a major way, unnatural. Seasonal cycles are embedded in how our culture developed, flushed and progressed. They can be seen in the way our calendars were constructed, the holidays we celebrate, the traditions we all enjoy and even in art and music. Perhaps most importantly, they guarantee that we must periodically stop what we are doing, and move on to a new set of experiences and a different kind of energy. In a way, they guarantee progress.

All the major biomes in the Colorado Rocky mountains were alive this Memorial Day weekend, as if they knew this Memorial Day deadline for the start of summer existed and needed to be complied with.

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The Aspen trees glowed an almost neon green in the bright sunshine, contrasting with the pine trees in some places, while clustering up, highlighting their own light gray branches in others.

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Somewhere slightly above 10,000 feet (3.05 km) in elevation the forest transitions to densely packed evergreens.

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Nourished from the melting of the residual snow at higher elevations, they shade the ground below them with a raw power almost feels as if they are, collectively, the protectors of the mountains.

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Along the trail, they reveal only what they want to reveal. Periodically, they reveal small previews of what is to come, building suspense and creating an experience.

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Above the trees, the remnants of the snowy season, which is any time of year besides summer at 12,000 feet (3.6 km) in elevation, fades away slowly transitioning the energy of the surrounding rocks, bushes and grass.

In the modern world, summertime for many feels like a time to thrive. It is often the busiest time of year. Surprisingly, this appears to be true for both weather dependent activities such as travel and recreation, as well as indoor ones. It is also the time of year where more is possible. Long days, less travel hazards, and in many cases less discomfort when outdoors gives us the chance to both let in and out a deep breath and smile, but also take our activities to the next level.

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Many of us did not keep our New Years resolutions, some could have even had their goals and desires forgotten about over the past few months. However, the start of a new season, indicated by the coming and passing of Memorial Day weekend, provides no better opportunity for each and every one of us to re-orient ourselves towards what we really want out of life. The coming season may be the best time to make a change- to chose life!

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As the floodwaters gradually recede, I look forward to the calm feeling the warmth of summer provides. I look forward to the energy of cities and towns alike, flooded with people walking to the park, walking their dogs a little longer, and to festivals and cookouts. I look forward to the energy it produces in each and every one of us, inspiring us to leave the computer screen, put down the remote, and go outside an play a little. I look forward to the brightness of the sun lightening the hearts of all of us. I look forward to seeing the lives that will be transformed by summer’s energy!

Christmastime in Copenhagen

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There is, perhaps, no better way to get into the spirit of Christmas than to find oneself surrounded by the ambience of the holiday, taking part in local traditions. Christmas may mean something different to different groups of people. Some focus more on the religious aspects of the holiday. Others on the secular. Still others celebrate different holidays altogether.

In central Copenhagen, where the spirit of the holiday can be seen all around, with decorations on buildings and streets.

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And numerous Christmas markets all over town offering holiday treats.

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The spirit becomes contagious. It is felt in the air. It is hard not to want to join in the traditions of the region. Eating nordic food, both new and old.

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And, of course, drinking gløgg, a warm spiced Scandinavian wine commonly drank on cold, cloudy winters days; particularly at Christmastime. It would be almost impossible to imagine myself here at this time of year without drinking it.

Denmark is known to be a happy place despite the weather, which is commonly cloudy and rainy, particularly in wintertime. In fact, it may even be because of the weather, as Danish culture has found some unique ways in which to cope.

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Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), is a word we do not have a direct english translation for. It is happiness, in a friendly, slower paced, and cozy sort of way. Upon any reading or discussion of the subject, it becomes quite apparent how the weather has influenced the culture. Winter here means a lot of time spent indoors, in the dark. Spending it among good friends, eating good food, and removing oneself from the pressure of day-to-day life provides some form of rejuvenation.

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While Copenhageners spend a lot of time indoors at this time of year, it is apparent that they do not let the weather stop them from cycling. Despite the cloudy, and even rainy weather, and daylight that only lasts from roughly 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., there are still plenty of people on their bicycles, using them to transport themselves, and sometimes even other people and their cargo, around town.

As a cycling enthusiast, this is actually one of the factors that drove me to want to visit Copenhagen. It is by some measures the most bike friendly city in the world, and boasts one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters. Perhaps because of the fact that nearly every street I encountered here in Copenhagen had some form of bicycle accommodation, it is a way of life here that cannot be stopped by the combination of darkness, rain, and temperatures in the lower 40s (around 5C).

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Besides what appeared to be the expectation of year-round commuting, I noticed several other manners in which the cycling culture here differed from what I see in the United States.

First, the bikes are different. I saw mostly cruisers not necessarily designed to go high speeds.

Second, cyclists here most certainly follow the rules. Nobody ran red lights.

And, finally, I also noticed that it is common practice here to leave bikes unlocked. I guess there is less worry about theft, but the idea of not locking a bike feels foreign to me.

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There is perhaps no place more iconic here in Christmastime than Tivoli gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks.

The lights here, at night, are a must see for anyone who comes to Copenhagen at Christmastime, even for those who do not care for roller coasters.

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Recent reports have linked the lack of social support to unhappiness, poor health, and other bad life outcomes. The Danish people appear to take pride in their status as one of the happiest countries in the world, and, at least in part, attribute it to this concept of hygge.

According to the Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wilkins, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (which happens to be located in Copenhagen), hygge, while practiced all year long, is strongly linked with the Christmas season. The idea of taking a break from the stress of everyday life and spending time with loved ones is the core element of Christmas no matter where it is celebrated.

Often times the season for this is cut short. For many, some combination of pressure to complete end of the year tasks at work and holiday shopping keeps stress levels high for much of December. Experiencing Copenhagen in late November, with the spirit of Christmas already in full swing, I am inspired to make this entire season, not just a couple of days at the end of December, about giving, sharing time with those closest to me, and de-stressing.

Focusing on What Really Matters

That is, the people that have made, and continue to make, my life what it is.

Our day-to-day lives can become, at times, spiritually toxic.

We get preoccupied by what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. Often that involves a combination of work, other responsibilities, and some form of “quest” we have for ourselves. For many, that “quest” is status or career related. However, for some, things that are typically thought of as “leisurely” can end up being that quest….

I need to get a better golf score.

I need to be the best looking person at the party…

I need to get a better time running up “the incline“…

How much skiing can I do in one day?

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More often than not, we achieve what we set out to do, as long as we willing to put the necessary time and energy into it. If it truly matters to someone to be popular, they eventually will be popular. If it truly matters to someone to advance at work, make a lot of money, or even play on a winning softball team, well, it will be done.

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I guess things do happen by accident too.

It’s just a simple matter that, well, nobody has the time and energy for everything.

We have to make choices. We have to set priorities. Over time, our lives end up becoming reflection of the priorities we set. When I see a divorced and single powerful executive, well, it is clear where their priorities have been for quite some time.

Sometimes I lose sight of this, but people have always been a priority to me. I feel far more fulfilled when I share my adventures with people, and I am certainly more satisfied when the tasks I perform on a regular basis are having a positive impact on the lives of other people.

Acting more in accordance with what my true priorities are, I spent a long weekend, right in the middle of the summer, in the flat midwest, largely indoors.

Not just in the maze of suburbs that surround Chicago, and in Indianapolis, Indiana, but also traveling I-65 between the two, not the most glamorous ride.

The main draw to Indianapolis is its affordability. It does not necessarily find itself at the top of people’s “bucket lists”, or desired travel destinations.

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However, many chose to live here. The city continues to grow and appears to be prospering!

Which means that, in Indianapolis, a group of people can easily find enough interesting things to do and have a really good night out. It is often cheaper too. Well, that is unless the evening includes a visit to the most expensive steakhouse in town…

One of Indiana’s most iconic restaurants aside, the weekend was not about being at a high profile destination. It was about the people I was around, and it was nothing short of magical. I felt that feeling that is so elusive we do not even have a word for it in the English language; the opposite of loneliness, in a world that is lonelier than ever! I am blessed to have the people in my life that I have, near and far, from all my life’s “chapters”, and people who are willing to set aside time and energy to meet up with each other. This is what made me feel so wonderful this weekend- possibly more wonderful than I would have felt had I went off on my own, to a bucket list destination, or spent this time trying to advance my career.

 

When we act according to our true priorities, the result is always better 

Just as important as what our priorities are is how our priorities are set.

Not everyone will set their priorities exactly like I do. The question is whether we are being true to ourselves when these priorities are determined, day in and day out whenever there are multiple needs competing for our time, money, attention, and energy (i.e. life).

Are we making choices based on our own understanding of what we need to feel happy and fulfilled? Or are we letting something else dictate what we prioritize? Fear of losing a job? The desire for approval from others? Someone else?

The world can often bring us in the wrong direction, setting the wrong priorities. The boss pressuring you to perform. Peers bringing out your competitive side. Even self-doubt. This is why I urge everyone, in order to achieve a better life result, to..

  1. Determine priorities for yourself. List them, and order them.
  2. Each week set aside time to evaluate, and most importantly, reassert in your own life what your priorities are and how that should be reflected in your choices.
  3. Occasionally re-evaluate those priorities, and determine if some areas are needing more attention.

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TEDxMileHigh: Point of Departure

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It’s a mid-summer weekend in sunny Colorado and thousands of people are standing in line, actually various lines that snake all around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. They are all waiting to get into the theater to hear a series of talks. These talks will cover a wide variety of subjects. One will be about a big idea, something that may change the world in the coming years. Another may be a personal narrative, and another may even be a musical or poetic performance. The only thing these talks have in common is the main draw. The main reason anyone chose to spend a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer inside a building as opposed to in the mountains where most Coloradans chose to spend their summer weekends, the association with a brand known as TED.

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Most people have some form of exposure to TED talks, even if they did not purposely seek them out. TED talks are shown at all sorts of conferences and workshops, are shared with friends and colleagues regularly, and are commonly found in web searches. This was the first time I chose to attend a TED event, but I have watched quite a few TED talks in my life. When you are really ill, watching TED talks on YouTube can be the most productive thing to do with your time.

What I notice most about TED talks, both at this conference and online, is the fact that I never get bored during them, despite the fact that I find it quite easy to get bored and antsy during presentations, especially of the standard power point variety. It is quite clear that the people who organize TED events (and TEDx events, which means they are independently organized) follow a formula that takes into account how the human mind works and responds to information as presented. Talks are generally 15-20 minutes, consistent with most scientific understanding of the human attention span. Short videos are presented between talks of wildly differing topics to ease the transition from one topic to another.

Speakers undergo a rigorous three-month long process of preparation to ensure all TED talks meet their standards. As a result, speakers always seem to emphasize the right words, stay poised, and avoiding using filler words. Auditions for speakers for this conference took place in February, and auditions for their next conference, in November, take place at the end of July!

When I think of the brand TED, the first thing I think of is people who think like me. By this, I do not mean people who have the same opinions on certain specific issues or policies. It is more of a general sense of what “TED people” are like. If there is one thing that binds all the people who speak at and participate in this brand known as TED, it is the desire to think beyond the day-to-day routine, the next task or the next purchase. People come here because they want to be inspired. They imagine possibilities beyond what is seen directly in front of them day-to-day. They want to engage their intellectual curiosity. They believe their life will be changed, or even that the world will be changed, by something they hear about and talk about here.

The conference provided a few other perks as well…

Each ticket, regardless of whether it was General Admission, VIP, or All Access, provided a free lunch, to be redeemed at one of many food trucks located in sculpture park behind the Denver Performing Arts Center (which houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). There were vendors for many other other organizations too, including ones that focus on environmental activism, sell new flavors of tea, or focus on career development. At the end of the conference, I even got a free pair of eclipse glasses, which I intend to use to view next month’s total solar eclipse.

 

After 22 speakers spread over three sessions, meeting countless interesting people, and a really awesome after-party (there was an after party both nights, but I only attended the Saturday night one due to poor meal planning on my part), I felt something absolutely crazy. I came out of this conference with more energy than when I had arrived. I wasn’t expecting this, as most conferences leave me drained. This one covers even more intellectually and emotionally draining topics than most.

The success of the TED brand seems to run contrary to every piece of business advice I have ever received. I am always told to have a specific product in mind, a narrower purpose, and a specific target audience, like all those blogs that focus on one activity.

Yet, this idea seemed to start with a broader purpose; to inspire and change the world. Then, they thought about humanity and found the most effective way in which to present the information. If TEDxMileHigh Point of Departure taught me anything (other than specifics like how fast a supersonic jet can go) it is to stop worrying about how others achieved, or what status anyone has. It is all about having something to offer that people see as worth-wile, and bringing it to them effectively, regardless of titles or perceived status.

The Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market

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What does it mean to have a “healthy community”?  I am encouraged to see more and more people actively consider their life choices, their environment, associations and just put more thought in general to how they spend their time, energy, and money.  This feels like a dramatic shift from, say, ten years ago.  However, embedded in some of the most high profile public improvement related pursuits in the modern era is an unfortunate residual strand of laziness.  After all, we do want something for nothing.

This often manifests itself in buzz phrases that people use to not-so subtly indicate some form of association with a popular present-day initiative.  Perhaps the one that bugs me the most is the term “sustainability”.  In many of its common present-day uses, the definition of this term “sustainability” has been narrowed to only mean sustainability in the environmental sense, short-changing the term of its full definition, and shortchanging discussions of “sustainability” of their full impact.

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Whenever I ride a bicycle to a Farmer’s Market, I feel as if I suddenly become the personification of the term “healthy community”.  It’s the standard image, embedded in every montage that any health or parks department has put together to promote some kind of health/ community initiative in the past six years.  People riding their bikes to buy pesticide-free produce and meat products from local farmers and ranchers.

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And there are a few booths that sell those products, including one with that cow diagram that just always confuses me.  Why are there like 50 types of beef?.  However, most of the booths at this Farmer’s Market are not vendors selling food.  In fact, I saw a somewhat random assortment of products that made me curious as to how one goes about determining what is appropriate for a Farmer’s Market.

And, as is the case with any other Farmer’s Market I have been to, there were plenty of booths where one can get food that is, well, not healthy.

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In Wisconsin, any Farmer’s Market I would attend would have a good number of booths selling cheese curds.  If the country ever breaks up into its 50 states, and Wisconsin becomes its own country, it would probably stock pile cheese as a strategic reserve, much the same way Canada stock piles maple syrup.

I would say a majority of the food vendors at this Farmer’s Market offer food that is not typically considered healthy; including many different varieties of baked goods, food trucks, and a bunch of stands that sell items like tamales and burritos.

Interestingly, several booths at this Farmer’s Market are operated by Local civic organizations advising residents on how to effectively garden and compost.  This gives this Farmer’s Market somewhat of a unique touch, that contributes to the health and sustainability of the community in a different way.

But, the same way being a successful person is about more than simply becoming “goal oriented”, eating well is about more than just buying things that are “organic”, and having a productive work team is about more than just “synergy”, having a healthy community is not just about initiatives like this.  There are a lot of other factors, culturally, near and far, that make this place what it is.

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Regardless of what we are trying to achieve, it takes time, effort and active participation.  We all want something for nothing.  We want to be able to claim some sort of accomplishment, moral validation, status or belonging by claiming association with some positively viewed buzzword, and maybe taking part in a token activity like going to a Farmer’s Market.  But, to really live healthy takes a much bigger commitment.  And there is more to having a “healthy community” than a video montage showing people like me bicycling to Farmer’s Markets.

What we do every day can be healthy, or it can be not.  For most of us, it is both, depending on the situation.  The intellectual rigor we need to truly evaluate our lives, the journey we are on and the communities we live in, involves respecting the complexity that is ourselves, our surroundings, and even places with divergent outcomes like the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  It is at that point, with the understanding of places, activities and concepts beyond buzzwords and vague terms, we complete this transition, elevating our level of intellectual discourse and giving ourselves the tools we need to make the best of our lives and communities.