Trekking Past Fear

View from Fifth Peak, Tongue Range, Adirondack State Park

View from Fifth Peak, Tongue Range, Adirondack State Park

We giggled each time we referred to “the Summit” on our hike yesterday.  “It sounds like we’re hiking Everest when you say that,” my friend would chide me.  But what else do you call the top?  The end of the trail.  The mountain’s highest point where you enjoy the view.  The place you’ve been striving to reach.  Granted, our six mile trek didn’t stretch our physical boundaries.  There were no death-defying crevasses to traverse.  There were no potential avalanches, or rock falls. There were no Yeti.  None of the hazards of a Himalayan adventure.  (Nor were there Sherpas hefting our sandwiches, chocolate, and water.)

However, the area of our hike IS known for its Timber Rattlers.  And I am really scared of snakes.  They don’t just make me uncomfortable.  Their liquid-muscle movement shoots lightening fear through me every time.  I’m not proud to admit this, and I’ve worked on this fear for many years.  But it still lingers.  So when I learned that we were venturing into snake country on our hike, and large poisonous snake country at that, I considered reconsidering the hike.  “Damn,”  I thought.  So I picked-up the phone and I called my Forest Ranger neighbor to get his input.  He assured me that there are indeed plenty of Timber Rattlers in the Tongue Range and that it was likely I’d see one.  Particularly on the rocky summit where they’d be out warming themselves on this cool October day.  “Great,” I thought, “set my sandwich down right on the table of its coils.”   I began to reconsider the hike more seriously. But then he also assured me that these snakes are far from aggressive.  That I’d really have to provoke one for it to do me any harm.  He’d never heard of any snake bites in that area.  Then we discussed snakebite procedure.  

“The most important thing,” he said, “is to get to the hospital.  Whether you’re carried out or air-lifted.  Hike out if you have to.  Now, this will hurt like hell, but you’d have to do it.  The important thing is to get to the hospital.”  I breathed deeply, listening to his sage advice.  Trying to stay calm as I imagined myself in the situation:  Walking off the mountain, trailing three feet of rattler, its fangs imbedded in my blackening calf.  I began to giggle.  I suppose it would let go, right?

“But really, Mandy, consider yourself lucky if you see one.  Seriously.”  

Okay, I can’t ever imagine myself feeling lucky watching a three feet long, thick-as-your-wrist, poisonous snake slithering across my picnic spot.  But none the less, I felt comforted and reassured by his words.  I had the information I needed to go forth with our little trek and not feel scared.  I wasn’t going to be looking for Mr. Snake with every step.  I wasn’t going to be walking in fear, thinking every branch, twig, and root was going to begin slithering and rattling.   I knew what to look for, and where to be a little more aware or cautious.  I had a sense of what to do if I saw one.  So no, we  were in no way about to summit Everest.  But I was going to potentialy face one of my own little deamons on our outing.  That’s adventure enough for me.  

We had plenty of good conversation on our journey.  We breathed in the October crisp air.  At the summit, we drank in the vast, mountainous views.  We marveled at the shadows of clouds on the pewter-like skin of Lake George, far below.  We stretched out on the warm rocks and savored Belgian chocolate.  

If there were any snakes out that day, they kept themselves hidden.  Or I was just too oblivious enjoying myself.  Either way, I’m happy not to have encountered any.  And so, I would imagine, are they.  It was a glorious day.


When Life Fills Up via pinterest
via pinterest  US Space Station in front of the moon


Yesterday, I posted a photo from my morning hike.  Deb posted the response, “Thankfully it energized you so that you could return circulation to the right side of my body!  THANK YOU!”   Thank YOU, Deb.  That comment totally made my day.  It reminded me how the little things we do for ourselves really do make a difference.

You see, I’ve been really busy lately.  As a friend put it, I’ve “had my hands full.”  Which is terrific if you’re a massage therapist. It means you’re helping a lot of people, which is why you do what you do.  A full schedule also means you’re  paying your bills and your taxes and that you can join that CSA and that you’re actually going to be able to send your daughter to Costa Rica in the spring.  But a full schedule also means long days.  And that frequently means making sacrifices elsewhere.  Like not making it to your daughters’ soccer games.  And eating ramen noodles or cereal for dinner.   Like not discovering the vacuum had died until the dog hair and dust bunnies were thick in the corners.  Like being a little tired and preoccupied when your daughters are talking about an incident in biology and not really hearing them.

Thank goodness for small pleasures and blessings.  Morning walks in the woods.  Cooking potato latkes for breakfast with Delaney on her day off.  Watching the Space Station cross the night sky with friends.  Breakfast sandwiches at the river with a neighbor.  The smile on a client’s face when the pain is gone. Game night.  Pinterest.  Consumer Reports arriving in the mail with “Vacuums” as their headline.  Clear blue skies.  $.10 off on a gallon of gas.  FaceTime.  A cup of hot tea.  My meditation cushion.  Not needing to light the wood furnace even though it’s mid-October. These are the things that re-charge me, that fill me up, that nourish me.  Some I seek out.  Some are gifts.  This is the good stuff that keeps me going so that I can do the good stuff I need to do.  What fills you up in hectic times?  What keeps you going?

What Stands Us Up

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

So on yesterday’s Anatomy Quiz I asked you to tell me how many bones are in your spine. Perhaps more importantly, I asked you to take  some time through out your day to notice your spine:  how it moves, how it feels, any discomfort, what it looks like…  I’d really like to hear your observations.  Seriously.  Please.

So the question was a bit of a tricky one, mainly because I didn’t specify an age.  A-ha!

Are you intrigued even the slightest now?  Well, in case you actually are, I’m going to tell you that when you were born you had 32-34 vertebrae (bones) in your spine.  As an adult you have 26.  Does that sound odd?  I imagine so.  Let me back up a bit.  We were all born with 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae.  You may have heard of them referred to as C1-7.  You have 12 thoracic (chest) vertebrae:  T1-12, and 5 lumbar (lower back) vertebrae: L1-5.  These numbers are set.  The 7 cervicals connect your torso to your cranium, the 12 thoracics each articulate with a rib (or at least the cartilage  which attaches to a rib) and literally form the backbone of the structure that houses and protects your heart and lungs, and the 5 sturdy lumbar vertebrae form the foundational base of your spine.  All those vertebrae are stacked on top of each other, curving their way up the back of your torso, with a nice disc between each one for cushioning.  Your spinal cord runs from your amazing brain and down through the center of this curvy stack of strength, and your peripheral nervous system passes through these bones and feed their way to every aspect of your body, making everything you do in life possible.

But I haven’t mentioned all the vertebrae yet.  Here are the tricky two.  I mean 10.  I mean

8…  Your sacrum and your coccyx.  When you were born, your sacrum consisted of 5 bones.   Your sacrum is that inverted triangle that articulates with your lowest lumbar vertebra (L5) and your pelvis.  You may have heard of your sacroiliac joint?  Bingo.  That’s the place where your sacrum and ilium (the upper portion of your pelvis) meet.  Sometime between age 7 and puberty these 5 lumbar vertebrae fused into one.  Same thing happened with your coccyx, also frequently referred to as your “tail bone”.  This skinny little guy started out as 3, 4, or 5 separate bones.  The number differs from person to person, though 5 is the most common number.  Like the coccyx, it fused into one as your body matured.

So as an adult, you have a curvy stack of 26 bones forming your spine.  Because of the way it’s positioned with your pelvis and your cranium, it’s what keeps you upright.  Well, that and a great number of muscles all working together.  Taking care of your spine and your back is crucial to your healthy longevity.  So please, drink plenty of water.  Why?  Because your spinal discs (those cushions between each vertebra) actually absorb water each night while you rest, and that’s really important.  Good sleep and rest each night is also important, of course.  So is getting healthy nutrients from the food you eat.  Try counting nutrients, not calories and fat in the food you eat.  Stretching is also vitally healthy for your spine.  Stretching eases and prevents tension in the musculature that supports your spine.  Range of motion is key in your spine and in all the joints of your body.  So go ahead and sign up for that yoga class.  And GO to it too.  Please.  Chiropractic care and acupuncture are healthy interventions to keep your body and your back strong and healthy.  And of course my personal favorite, (drum roll please) Massage Therapy. It’s not a luxury, it’s good health care.

Your spine is a wonderful apparatus.  At least I think so.  Maybe you know a little more about it now.  Please, take good care of it.

Anatomy Quiz #2



Good Morning!  Thought we’d start the week with another Anatomy Quiz.  So here goes:

  • How many bones are in your spine?
  • Bonus:  Can you name the different regions of the spine and corresponding vertebra?  (Yes, Deb, I’m talking to you.)

If you haven’t a clue, that’s fine.  But why not just tune-in to your back today.  Notice how it moves.  Notice your back’s mobility and fluidity, or lack-there-of.  Do you have any tension or discomfort anywhere along your spine?  Where exactly?  What does it feel like?  Look at your spine in the mirror (using the double mirror thing to see behind you) or look at your partner’s spine.  What do you observe?  I’m not asking you to be critical. I just want you to get some sense of this wondrous part of your body.  I encourage you to investigate and experience your spine today.  Have fun!

Altered, cont’d

via Pinterest

via Pinterest


I’ve been noticing how I have been altered since John’s phone call the other morning.  My feelings of anxiety and apprehension around him have turned to compassion, concern, and support.  We live far removed from each other.  800 miles and many years separate us.  I’ve only met his family once, perhaps twice, and then only briefly.  Our lives have carried on without each other.  And yet, of course, with the news of the death of my former husband’s stepson, the estrangement falls away.  Rightly so.  I want to help.  I can’t begin to imagine what he and his family are experiencing with this tragedy.  They’re living the unthinkable;  the unimaginable.  Every parent’s worst nightmare.  This is their reality now.  And I want to send them support, love, comfort.  Small tokens.  Small, yet I believe that compounded with the hundreds of ways they’re being loved and supported by their family and friends at home it all adds up to something that will help to carry them through this time.  At least that is my wish for them.

Calling hours are this evening from 5-8pm.  We won’t be traveling to West Virginia for the services.  But tonight at 5pm Marleigh, Delaney, and I will be lighting two candles:  one for Ethan, who lost his life on the evening of September 30th, and another for those who love and were loved by him.  We will burn the candles for the duration of tonight’s service.  I invite you to join us in lighting a candle tonight.  In support of John and Susan and their family if you like, or in support of anyone else who is suffering and in great pain.  Please share your stories if you like.  I’m always grateful to hear them, because we’re all in this together, aren’t we.  And when it comes down to it, it’s the love and support we share that  help each other through it all.




Tuesday morning I received a call from my former husband.  I noticed how my stomach began slithering in knots and my heart began to race.  Even after 10 years my body still had that immediate visceral response  just seeing John’s name on my ringing phone.  I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, waiting for my car to be inspected.  Not the place to talk.  I put my hand over that slithery place in my abdomen, took a deep breath, and smiled.  It’s okay, I thought to myself.  I imagined he wanted to talk about Marleigh and Delaney, as they hadn’t spoken in several months, and I didn’t anticipate it being a particularly pleasant conversation.  I’ll get back to him when I get out of here, I thought.

But the moment I heard his voice in his message, I knew this wasn’t a frustrated or angry call.  I could hear immediately that there would be no riot acts being read. His voice was soft, his words were paced slowly.  He was calling to tell me his stepson had died in an auto accident the night before, and he really needed to talk to his daughters.  Could I help him.

I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, amidst a regular day.  Their world had been turned upside down.  Altered indelibly.  Unimaginably.

Phone calls and text messages have filled the quiet spaces of these past two days.  They will continue to do so.  There seems so little I can do, other than send love and support from afar.  Assure John that our daughters are healthy, and happy, and, most importantly, safe.  John’s partner fills my thoughts.  The mother of the young man who died.  I wish her comfort.  Great comfort.  May she be held and cradled.  May she receive and feel great love.  May she feel comfort.


And the Answer Is…

Occiput  via Pinterest

via Pinterest

For those of you who were absent for yesterday’s pop Anatomy Quiz, here’s the question:

The Occiput:  What is it? and Where does it live in your body?  Discuss.   Extra Credit for naming any muscles associated with it.

The Occiput (aka Occipital Bone) is the bone at the base of your cranium.

  • It articulates with the temporal and parietal bones of your cranium and serves to cradle, support, and protect your Amazing Brain.
  • It also articulates with your first cervical vertebra (aka C1, the Atlas Bone).
  • There’s a circular hole in the bottom of your Occiput called the Foramen Magnum (Great Hole).  Your spinal cord leaves your brain and passes through this space, then begins its journey down your spinal column.
  • Like Deb pointed out in her comment yesterday, some important muscles attach at your occiput:  Your suboccipitals, splenii, and upper trapezius are among them.  (You will not be quizzed on those names.)
  •  If you’d like a more scholarly description of the Occiput, please read Deb’s comment from yesterday.  But don’t let her scare you, she has a graduate degree in this stuff.

During your massage session, when you’re lying on your back, I’ll hold your cranium in my hands and my fingers will wrap around your occiput.   You might be surprised at the tension and discomfort you hold in this region.  But when you think about it, it makes sense.  These muscles help hold your heavy head (brain and all) up on top of your spine.  They work hard all the time stabilizing and balancing that mighty head of yours.  Muscular tension in the occipital region can be the source of (chronic) headaches.  Massage, of course, can resolve this tension and be a source of tremendous relief.

Many thanks and great job to those of you who participated in the quiz.  I LOVED your answers, both the text book and the creative.  Join me again next Monday for the next Pop Anatomy Quiz.  Don’t be shy, ALL answers are appreciated.  And there’s no right or wrong.

Your Sacred Garment




“The body is a sacred garment. It’s your first and last garment; it is what you enter life in and what you depart life with, and it should be treated with honor.” —Martha Graham


Your Body is a Sacred Garment.

It’s Your First and Last Garment;

It is What You Enter Life In

And What You Depart Life With,

And It Should Be Treated With Honor.


Taking care of yourself/your body is not a luxury.  It is not decadence.  It is not something you need to apologize for.  Or make excuses for.  Or put off doing.  It is completely essential.  Vital.  Treat your body with honor.  It is your sacred garment.

What will you do today to honor and take care of your sacred garment?


Warm Bath



I always recommend a warm soak in the tub following an intense massage.  Go ahead and dump in lots of epsom salts.  The warmth enhances your muscles’ new-found relaxation; the salts help leach your body of the toxins that we just released.  Close the door.  Light some candles.  Put on some soft music.  Just enjoy the quiet time to yourself.

Or, better yet,  find the hot pool in the photo above and dive in.

It’s a Sign


I practiced massage therapy in a studio in my home for 15 years.  I called myself “Battenkill Massage” (after the famous stream that flows behind our home) and established myself with a lovely sign by the road. But since I moved my studio office into the village 4 years ago some of my clients have taken to  referring to me as Cambridge’s “best kept secret” because, for one reason or another, I hadn’t arranged to have a new sign created and hung.  Until now, that is.  And I love it.  Some things, inexplicably, just take time.

Dennis Duggan of Custom Crafted Signs, working his magic.

Dennis Duggan of Custom Crafted Signs, working his magic.