Thursday, June 21, 2018

Find Your Happy Place


Though the weather has been warm (ok, hot) for a while, today I happily celebrate the first day of summer.      
               Of course, each season provides its own unique opportunities and reasons to get outside.  I’ve enjoyed some beautiful fall hikes, spring bike rides, and walked on the Beltline while it was snowing, but I’m a summer girl for sure.  In a perfect world, I’d dedicate one day each weekend to a hike or a bike ride during these great warm weather months. We’re lucky here in Georgia because:  1) At least half the year is dependably warm.  2) From the mountains to the coast, we have tremendous variety in our landscape and places to explore. 
So with weather and an abundance of options in our favor, the only questions are:  How much time do you have? Where to go? 
While once many of us eagerly awaited the postman to bring our latest monthly Brown’s Guide to plan our next hiking or camping excursion, we now have a fantastic web-based resource in AtlantaTrails.com. This is definitely Peach Passion’s go-to source whether we have just a few hours or a weekend to get away.  
The guys behind AtlantaTrails.com have done a terrific job of making it easy to find whatever kind of hike or outdoor experience you’re interested in. They’ve covered Georgia, as well as portions of North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  They’ve got entire sections devoted to hikes with waterfalls, our excellent state parks, the Appalachian Trail, the Chattahoochee River (one of our favorites), and more.  Whether you’re seeking someplace near or far, a walk that’s easy or challenging, short or long, you can easily find a great destination on the site. 
Chattahoochee River, from Jones River Bridge Trail
A team of Ambassadors helps keep the info up to date.  Recently, with the help of AtlantaTrails.com, we found a portion of the Chattahoochee Trail system we hadn’t yet hiked. We read about the Jones Bridge Park Trail, which included the 2018 update that the remaining remnants of this historic bridge apparently collapsed into the river earlier this year.  It was still a great day hike, sans bridge – but at least we knew what to expect.
If you’re not sure where to start, click on their Top Destinations page or click on the Map Search feature. And if you want inspiration and temptation to land in your email box during the week, you’ll definitely want to sign up for their e-newsletter. 
You can still find copies of the Brown’s Guide book at used bookstores or online, along with other excellent guides. Explorers Guide 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains (Johnny Molloy) is a good one. And while The New Georgia Guide is no longer “new” but is still an excellent overall guidebook of the entire state offering suggested day trips and tours of all types and plenty of history for destinations.  I’m sure a visit to your local bookstore (if you can find one anymore) would offer other resources.
But for fast and updated info to help you plan the perfect afternoon hike or weekend adventure, AtlantaTrails.com has got you covered.

Peach Passion blog is written by Fran Putney, writer, editor, storyteller and Principal at Intown Communications.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Enjoying, Protecting our National Parks

Two summers ago, while in Oregon, Taylor and I took a few days away from Portland where we were visiting our daughter to head over to the north coast.

We stayed in Seaside, the town where Lewis and Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean after their landmark trek across the country. Intrigued with that history, we took an afternoon to explore the Lewis & Clark National and State Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon. It was then that we learned about a National Park entrance pass, which is a very fine thing indeed that admits you to all the wonders that the National Park Service (and other federally-managed public areas) has to offer from coast to coast. All of this comes to mind right now because April 21 - 29 is National Park week.

According to the NPS website, the national park system includes 417 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state and American territories and includes parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historic parks and sites, lake and seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails and even the White House.  This link lists them all.

I am sorry to say that I’ve been to relatively few of the national parks.  We’ve discussed, but not yet taken, trips to the big parks like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon. Believe me, they are on my bucket list, and I am envious of the people who are well on their way to achieving the goal of visiting them all. 

But we have a number of wonderful areas and sites in the National Park system right here in Georgia -- including the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, and the southernmost point of the Appalachian (National Scenic) Trail right in, or not far from, the Atlanta area.  Click here to find all that the NPS oversees in Georgia, and get inspired to explore.

From the mountains to the coasts, for those who love the natural and the diverse beauty and history of this country, the work done by the NPS to preserve these treasures is very important. If you care, it’s worth supporting organizations like the National Park Foundation or even volunteering with the NPS or one of its partners. It’s also worth noting that the NPS is a bureau of the Department of the Interior, whose director is appointed by the President of the United States, who may choose to take new directions or introduce new initiatives. Keeping up with and letting your congressperson know how you feel about such things is also a way to support the NPS in its efforts to protect our natural lands.

At Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, NW Oregon coast
Taylor keeps his NPS pass in his wallet. It’s such a deal that it not only admits him, but the both of us! Doubt I’ll ever see all the parks and sites on my list, but I do look forward to continuing to discover and experience many more of the gorgeous, wild, ecological and educational areas that are protected by the National Park Service. 

Peach Passion blog is written by Fran Putney, writer, editor, storyteller and Principal at Intown Communications.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Working to Make Walking Safer

A few weeks ago, I attended the PEDS Golden Shoe Awards, a celebratory event that recognizes people and organizations that are working to make ours a more walk-friendly region.  Co-incidentally, that very morning I had an experience that underscored just how necessary this kind of progress is.  

I’ve written about my love of long neighborhood walks and walking or biking on community trails and paths such as the Silver Comet Trail, South Peachtree Creek path or the Beltline. These are usually very enjoyable walks alone or with friends, taking in the sights, breathing the fresh air, people watching and getting benefit of the exercise.  But on this particular morning, I was footing for transportation. After dropping off my car for service I had no other way to get home.  

The distance wasn’t far, maybe a mile and a half, much less than I typically go for one of the aforementioned pleasure walks, but walking home along Briarcliff starting just north of LaVista would be a much different kind of experience. This busy state road definitely was not a route anyone would walk for pleasure.  In order to walk most safely, I found myself having to cross and re-cross busy Briarcliff several times in order to stay on sidewalks.  Even with crosswalks and signals, the traffic at major intersections like at Briarcliff and LaVista was dangerous and unnerving.  Crossing Briarcliff and Clifton, where Clifton is four lanes and cars are quickly entering and exiting the Emory/CDC corridor, was especially treacherous.  

I finally made it safely across that intersection to the corner at Pig N Chik and passed Sage Hill Shopping Center only to realize that I would soon have to cross Briarcliff yet again in order to find the safety of a sidewalk.  I got across the creek bridge, and before long there was no sidewalk at all on either side. I kept on the west side of Briarcliff since that’s where my street is, but I soon had to dodge a Georgia Power crew with a cherry picker truck working on the lines. They kindly gave me the go-ahead to pass, and I continued my journey home the last several blocks walking through frosty wet grass in ditches until I reached my street.  

As tricky as my relatively short walking trip was, it was nothing compared to people who, on a daily basis, have no choice but to walk in busy, dangerous and inaccessible areas to get to work, school, buy groceries or in order to catch public transportation. I appreciate the work that PEDS does to make our city and state pedestrian friendly for all and salute this year’s Golden Shoe Award winners, who represent a variety of inspiring projects and missions:

Walk-friendly Education: Good Urbanism 101: Ten Lessons for Designing Cities, a joint project of the Georgia Conservancy and Professor Richard Dagenhart of the Georgia Tech College of Design. Together, they’ve provided classes to over 1,700 people throughout Georgia during the past seven years. Topics include street design, land use and architecture.
Walk-friendly Advocacy: Marian Liou, for creating We Love BuHi, which is connecting people to a place and to each other. Marian has helped complete the Buford Highway Master Plan and developed numerous events that celebrate diversity, introduce new people to the community and encourage exploration.
Walk-friendly Journalism: Darin Givens, who is an outstanding storyteller and master of persuasion about urban issues, including land use, affordable housing, and transportation. Darin is co-founder of ThreadAtl and publishes in-depth stories in medium.com.
Walk-friendly Redevelopment: Walgreens, a beautiful restoration of an historic building on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. The new Walgreens creates a sense of place and is a walk-friendly destination that serves downtown residents.
Walk-friendly Suburban Retrofit: City of Sandy Springs, for developing the Next 10 Comprehensive Plan, the new Development Code, and the City Springs mixed-use development project. Together the Next 10 Plan and Development Code are resulting in an urban street grid, high density development, and a true city center and sense of place.

Visit Intown Communications to learn how great communications and storytelling can advance your ideas and goals!




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Nature Pyramid



Much is made of diet and exercise, which are unquestionably essential to good health, but who necessarily thinks of prescribed amounts of nature as part of the better health equation? Remember the old Food Pyramid showing the kinds and amounts of food that were considered healthy? Pretty sure it’s been revised, but the power of an easy-to-digest (pardon the pun) visual is still useful. Now someone has brilliantly come up with a Nature Pyramid.  


I absolutely love this idea because the whole premise validates that nature is in fact valuable to human health and wellbeing. This concept was created by University of Virginia researchers at The Biophilic Cities Project a few years ago, and I originally read about it in Florence Williams’ book published earlier this year, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative, which is an engaging exploration of research in countries all over the world that supports her book title thesis.


As described by Dr. Timothy Beatley, UVA Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities, the Nature Pyramid that he and a colleague created include four components. (To get the entire explanation, read his the full blog about this). Here’s the synopsis of the Nature Pyramid’s recommended “doses” of nature (see Beatley’s graphic below):


________Bottom/Daily: The bottom, largest section, suggests that people need to have environmental experiences on a daily basis, though they need only be simple.  A breath of fresh air, sitting in a park, walking through one’s neighborhood, or even just exposure to houseplant greenery, watching birds or interacting with pets seem to be valuable to overall wellbeing.  


______Weekly: Next up, the pyramid shows the need for deeper immersions to areas like parks or waterways or generally any outdoors destination where one can, for at least an hour per week, escape the sounds and hassles of city life. While relatively brief, these excursions help clear the head and have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.


____Monthly: The next level up calls for even more concentrated doses of nature, about once a month, to enjoy and gain the greater benefits of getaways to destinations such as forests or other natural areas, that provide even more quiet, restful (or active) escapist experiences with even longer lasting effects.   


__Top/Annually or Bi-annually: Finally, at the pinnacle of this Nature Pyramid are the less common, but essential, doses of wilderness experiences that take a person completely away from their usual environments. While excursions like this may only occur once per year or even bi-yearly, these kinds of trips, say researchers, can have profound and transformative effects on our spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing.  


So there you have it. Personally, I think the Nature Pyramid is a cool idea.  And while there is plenty of science behind its intent (Williams’ book is filled with the work of researchers that measure exposure to nature on endorphins, brain scans, and psychological responses), to me, more than anything, it’s a wonderful guide for what most of us probably know intuitively: That connecting to nature in small and big ways -- even if it’s just getting outdoors, going to a park, taking a hike in the woods or a run along the beach -- is not only simply enjoyable, but truly restorative to one’s health and spirit.  So get out there!

A hypothetical depiction of The Nature Pyramid. Graphic by Tim Beatley.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Living Large With Less

It’s an ideal lifestyle that I like to imagine for my home, my mind, and our environment:  uncluttered, leaving space for meaning and creativity, and containing only the stuff that is necessary or “sparks joy,” as Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo would say. Imagine how liberating that would be!
Living simply and with intention isn’t new, but today the idea is being popularized by people like Joshua Becker and Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who call themselves The Minimalists, and whose appropriately short book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, I’ve been reading.
Some involved in advancing this lifestyle encourage followers to reduce their clothing and possessions down to say, 100 items.  I don’t strive for that, but what I love about this philosophy is that it’s not just about owning fewer things, but more importantly it’s also about making deliberate and meaningful choices for all aspects of your life.  Simply put: less is more.
With a recent change in work status -- from full-time employment to full-time self employment, I’ve been using time this summer, as I work to launch my business (Intown Communications), to finally do a deep and thorough house de-clutter. We bought our house, a compact 1850-square foot “mid-century” (1953) ranch before we actually had children. The driving force in our choice was the neighborhood. The boundary criteria for our home search could not go beyond the zip code where we were already living in a townhouse.  
Admittedly, after our two children were born I wished for a larger house for our family to grow in, for when there are kids, there’s so damn much stuff.  The ‘50s and ‘60s era families who lived in the houses in our intown neighborhood originally didn’t need space for computers, and they didn’t have collections of videos, cassettes, or DVDs. (Now thanks to the magic of digitization, much of that older media clutter is going away -- amen to streaming!) Nor did their children have drawers full of happy meal toys. And the closets were small because they simply didn’t own so much of anything. In some ways I get why in more recent years people migrated to the suburbs to afford bigger houses to raise families.
But we never wanted to live in the suburbs, and I have never stopped loving our beautiful, established, historical neighborhood, so here we have remained for two decades, with no plans for change.  Now the kids are more or less out and, guess what, unlike those who bought humongous houses in East Cobb or Alpharetta, we don’t have to downsize! In the end, it all worked out. But back to the present challenge of clearing out to get as close as possible to the ideal state mentioned above.
I won’t lie, it’s not going particularly fast or easy. It’s a struggle to purge the accumulated stuff -- there’s emotional attachment and it takes a lot of time and energy. So I keep myself inspired by books and podcasts, and when I make progress, the feeling itself is a reward. My mom always told my kids that they would be able to think better if they straightened up their rooms.  I believe this.
I have read that Millenials are generally less materialistic and more experience-oriented.  It’s said that they are rejecting big house ownership and some are embracing the opposite extreme via the tiny house movement. They are the driving force behind many of the newer city planning models for live-work-play developments and alternative transportation because they don’t want to spend time in their cars for long work commutes.  If it’s true (and it’s hard to judge by my own Millenial children), it will be interesting to see what happens when they begin having families of their own.  
I hope, whatever the source of its current revival, that the ideas behind this so-called Minimalism movement to reduce excess and focus on a more meaningful and less materialistic lifestyle become a larger trend. Because it’s good for people and certainly better for the planet.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Gratitude

Sometimes the universe gives you what you need in some very unexpected ways.

Last week, I’m still aiming to please and upholding the interests of the organization in what was my second to final week in the job I’ve held for nearly 10 years. So many great things to say about the place, but one of the things that has been a source of the dip in my enthusiasm is the lack of connection I have begun to feel for some time now.  There’s buzz all around me, but no one speaking to me.  People burst into offices interrupting the boss over every type of “crisis,” but this rude and immature behavior disgusts me, and I won’t ask for attention in this way.  Consequently, I rarely get facetime.

With this predictable pattern, I don’t know why I even think twice after responses on my part to fulfill or answer several requests -- albeit simple ones -- go completely unacknowledged.  Really, why would I even notice?  I am sure it is not personal -- this person is clearly too busy even for a quick email reply of appreciation.  Hey, it happens.  Can’t be thin-skinned.  You get over it.  Besides, I’m nearly done there, right?

That evening, I decide I want a spring roll or something else small and tasty to supplement the leftover Thai food I have for dinner.  When I go to pick up the Thai Toast I have ordered from the restaurant around the corner, I am greeted by the owner and his little girl of about six who are behind the table near the cash register.  She has long black hair, is wearing a pretty pink dress and has been busy drawing thank you notes for customers.  When she earnestly compliments my hair and earrings, I thank her and tell her dad that he has a great helper there.  

As I reach for my wallet, she hands me one of the thank you notes she has been cheerfully drawing on full sized pink construction paper with colored markers, complete with hand-drawn hearts and wrapped mints taped to the bottom.  I am truly touched and I thank her -- it’s absolutely adorable. As I take my change, I offer to give it back so she can give the sweet note to someone else later.  Crestfallen, her face begins to crumble, and I know immediately I have made a mistake.  But she knows better and looks back at me with determined sincerity, and says firmly:  “No, I want you to have it.”  And of course, I take it gratefully without hesitation.   And when I do, we both break into huge smiles.  


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Welcoming Spring






                      

April.  Such a beautiful month. Tulips of every hue replace the subtle colors of daffodils, and everywhere the palate of spring unfolds. Redbud trees burst with purple spuds, while dogwoods bring forth their elegant white and pink glory, and the bright yellow goldfinches return to the thistle feeder.  Jordan was born on April 4, and I will always remember with vivid clarity the beauty and wonder that Mother Nature had gifted us with on the drive home a few days later with my new baby.  An exquisite time to be born and for remembrance every year.


Come May.  Now we are really getting serious about summer’s arrival. The natural world has become fully green, bright and fresh, before the heavy heat of summer parches and exhausts. Super long walks, day hikes and bike rides are an absolute must by now.  A must as in I literally cannot stay cooped up anymore, and I cannot wait to get out and feel the warmth of the air and sun envelop me.  I will still happily get out even when the atmosphere is thick with humidity and the temps rise above 90, but May is truly prime time.


The arrival of spring also allows me to enjoy spending long stretches of time in my happiest of living spaces -- the screened in patio/sunroom we set up three years ago.  Here (where I am right now), I will take as many meals as possible, read, nap, watch the birds at the feeder, have long talks with friends and family, meditate and work.  The cats often hang out with me there, sunny or stormy, we don’t care.  Truly, life hardly gets better than that.  


I won’t link to a lot of studies here, but there is plenty of scientific proof and anecdotal evidence that being outdoors, especially in any natural setting -- whether it be your backyard, the beach, the woods, a garden or park -- lifts your spirit and calms your stress.  So set up a chair on your back porch, visit www.AtlantaTrails.com to find beautiful places to take a short walk or long hike, or spend an afternoon at The Atlanta Botanical Garden.  And no matter where you live, state parks are always a good bet for a day outside.

Hoping everyone takes time to enjoy the loveliness and inspiration this season brings.