On aging, a missing fallopian tube, a health journey, travel, and joy in 2022.
What a year it has been! I’ve been thinking about the challenges, triumphs, and joys I’ve experienced this year so I decided to share my year in review a little early.
The year started out with a glitch. I found out in January that I would need major surgery (over five hours under anesthesia) for a hysterectomy and partial vulvectomy, and a surprise appendectomy when the surgeon found that the appendix another surgeon supposedly removed in 2015 was still there—and my fallopian tube was missing instead. (Now that’s another story.) In addition to my reproductive parts being removed, a grapefruit-sized fibroid that we had been watching for years finally came out.
It was scary news, but I was thankful to have one of my daughters spend the night with me before and take me to surgery, then one of my sisters came to stay with me for a few days after. It was a blessing to have help from many friends and family throughout this experience.
Two weeks later, at my first checkup, the surgeon saw me sitting up on the exam table (sitting was a challenge) and exclaimed, “You’re doing great!” To which I replied, “You did great!” This is true, and it soothed me through the entire experience by having an all-female medical team.
Days before the surgery, a friend commented that she had a hysterectomy and said she felt better after. I was unsure if the surgery was necessary (there was a cancer concern which turned out negative) and didn’t know if I would regret having everything removed later. While I felt like my friend’s comment was designed to make me feel better about the decision, her words stuck with me and I indeed did feel better after the surgery. So whether it was from getting rid of the fibroid, or even the dislodged appendix that had been hiding in there for years — or from the power of thinking because of my friend’s pre-programmed positive thought — it worked. I truly did feel better after the surgery and a very brief recovery (I was back working on article deadlines within a week).
I think another factor in my quick recovery was my desire to travel. I had a trip to Panama scheduled at the six-week mark after surgery. I couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds for the first five weeks or so, and I worried about lifting my luggage. My surgeon, though, said my only restriction would be to not sit in a hot tub because of infection concerns. That trip was canceled at the last minute (for me) when Kansas City had an unexpected ice storm overnight that canceled my flight.
Still, I was on the road to recovery and ready to travel.
- Ask for—and accept—help when needed.
- Future plans give you a reason to get up in the morning, as well as aid in the healing process. (It’s been said that the act of planning a trip boosts mental health as much as the actual act of taking a trip—so start planning, even if you don’t have the means to travel now.)
- What looks like a negative experience can sometimes bring powerful healing in unexpected ways.
Triumphs—A health journey
After the surgery, awareness about my health was more prominent, and I decided to change my eating patterns and exercise more. I know that it’s hard to “diet” while on a press trip with tasting menus and three meals a day made by top chefs, so I made a plan: I would watch my eating, and subsequently lose weight, while at home, then enjoy the delicious foods on the trips. What I found was I was able to maintain while traveling because they always made the meals from the best ingredients. That, and the trips I took this year involved lots and lots of exercise.
In Montreal, we clocked over 22,000 steps in one day exploring the city. Other days brought nearly as many steps, plus a 27-mile bicycle ride. In Alaska, I spent 10-hour days fishing, our group so sore each morning that we could barely get out of bed. Every trip I took this year had an element of physicality—even two off-road adventures through the deserts in Aruba and Mexico—that I feel helped offset the larger portions than what I was eating at home. Whatever the reason, this relaxed way of dieting has brought a slow but maintained weight loss of 25 pounds (so far).
As far as the “how” of the weight loss (and amazing lipid panel at my last appointment), I try to watch my carbs. It helps me if I start the day with a low-carb breakfast such as eggs or, my favorite, jalapeno poppers. I’m not carb-phobic, but meals that contain anything other than vegetables are slow-acting carbs such as beans or whole grains. Generally, I aim for 50-100 grams of carbs each day. This reduction resulted in a diminished appetite and allowed me to eliminate my two biggest weight-loss inhibitors: alcohol and evening snacking. I found that both alcohol and that late evening Netflix and snacks were simply habits versus true hunger. Once I eliminated those, I realized I was inadvertently intermittent fasting. Now, most nights, I finish dinner at about 6 p.m. and don’t eat again until 8 a.m. or so.
And something happened once I started to lose weight. I felt better, and I wanted to be more physical. Even when not traveling, I spent the summer kayaking with friends. A lot. At a visit to my daughter’s house, it surprised her when I grabbed one of my grandson’s bikes and jumped on it. I just feel more physical—and love it.
- Everything in moderation. Slow weight loss is consistent and maintainable. Find a way that works for you long term.
- Energy begets energy.
- Hunger is sometimes just a habit.
- Actually, good or bad, almost everything is just a habit—choose with intention. (For more on habits, I highly recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits.)
Now eight years into my travel-writing journey, I made a conscious decision to no longer travel just for travel’s sake. What I mean is that I chose to be selective about the trips I accepted this year. Like Marie Kondo’s theory of only keeping items that spark joy, I only wanted to take trips that sparked joy.
I thought this would pare down the number of trips I took, but increase the quality of each. What happened instead? I was offered and took more trips this year than in many years past—10 in all to exotic locations with stunning scenery such as Aruba, Baja California Sur, Cancun, the Florida Keys, and Alaska, and cultural immersions into Oregon, Spanish Peaks, Colorado, Montreal and the Outer Townships of Canada, and North Carolina.
By setting the intention to only take trips to places that were truly unique (and offered many story opportunities to write about), an abundance of opportunities presented themselves. As a result, I have stories in the works of a caliber I haven’t previously experienced. Although roundup travel articles will always be a large part of my income, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and write about an artist’s commune in Colorado, an initiative in Oregon to break the disconnect from local seafood, and a Mexican woman who invites guests into her home and shares meals made from recipes passed down for generations. It’s fulfilling to not only share about the joys of travel but to learn about and tell the important stories of the individuals I meet along the way.
Besides travel writing, I started writing for three senior living magazines in 2021 with a one-year contract. I just renewed the contract for another three years—a vast sigh of relief as a freelance writer.
In addition to writing for the three Erickson Tribune magazines about seniors living their best lives, I’ve had work published regularly in Woman’s World and FIRST for Women, The Expedition, The Kitchn, Insider, Chilled Magazine, Roadtrippers, Shawnee Magazine, American Essence, Virtuoso, Pennsylvania Magazine, and some reprints at Travel Awaits. It has been my most prolific travel and writing year so far.
My plans for this winter are to stay home and work on a food project that has been percolating for months now—but have not had time to pursue. I plan to write a syndicated column, tentatively titled The People We Meet, the Food They Eat, that will explore culture and place through food and storytelling. Plans are for the series to eventually publish as a travel cookbook. Another exciting reason to get up in the morning!
- Don’t keep or plan anything that doesn’t bring you joy.
Thoughts on aging
My father passed away at 57. I’m now older than he was then, but his early death is a constant reminder that I’m not as young as I once was. It’s been said before, but it’s true: you never feel your age on the inside. In my mind, I’m still 30.
Still, I realize the importance of taking care of my mind and body. My mother began writing in her 60s and was an inspiration to help me realize that we can—and must — keep learning and practicing our craft. Even though I’ve worked as a writer for 20+ years, I’ve felt called to expand my skills and branch into new genres such as memoirs and essays. I’ve taken a food memoir class, a metaphor class, read multiple books, and just attended a writing conference.
- You’re never too old to learn new tricks.
This year has brought visible changes to my physical self, my mind, and my spiritual practices. Although I’ve felt isolated in years past with my children grown, and my living/working from home, I’ve fallen in love with people this year and met amazing travelers with whom I still stay in contact, but also started to develop and invest in my relationships at home (one event I’m super excited about is having my 17-year-old granddaughter come stay with me for a few days to cook food, connect, and have her help me get my small space organized—fun!).
I’m calmer now; relationships are more important—and I seek to understand instead of criticize, nurture rather than flee. I feel more gratitude, more presence, less stress. A very good year indeed.