We survived…20 degrees

11/19/17: Just a quick update (for now), in case you were worried, but we survived a frigid backpacking trip!


Trails were frozen rivers, intersected by mud puddles, navigating this terrain was a very slow challenge. We had to cut short our mapped hike, as we could only cover 1 or 2 miles an hour and at 4 pm the sun was already on her way to the horizon. I’ll share more, stay tuned!

The update (11/20/17)

After a nice (and tasty) stop at the Wardensville (WV) Garden Market, where we first devoured a hearty hot cheese and ham sandwich, before stocking up on some sweet treats for the trail, we finally arrived at the Bear Rock Trailhead parking lot.


For shits and giggles

It was busy with visitors and day hikers, only a few were carrying a huge backpack, a clear sign of an intended overnight stay in the Wilderness. We briefly talked to two “bears” as I called them, nice bearded fellows who had been hiking since 8 am that morning. We spotted a weird stuffed animal type of fabric hanging from the bottom of one of the guys’ backpack. They started laughing and said they had fun with a deer onesie they picked up at the local Walmart and showed us the pictures of him hiking in this suit…boys and toys 😉

dolly sods

bear rock trailhead

After checking the trailhead message board, warning us for bears and bombs, we entered the trail by 1 pm. Just 10 minutes into our hike we realized this was not going to be an easy one! There were no trail blazes and the trail often looked like a creek, a very common dual function at Dolly Sods. We were hopping around, over water, ice, and mud, desperately trying to keep our feet dry and more importantly, warm!


One hour later we realized how slow we were going and as we discussed our goals for the rest of the afternoon during a sweet treat pit stop along the trail, we decided to just go with the flow (pun intended) and start looking for a campsite by 4 pm, leaving us enough time to set up camp, gather firewood and start a fire before dark would set in around 5.


We were constantly crossing little streams, bogs, and mini-ponds, I can’t imagine walking here during Spring when snow is melting. Floaties recommended during that time of the year! We “forded” one larger stream and managed to cross without a splash.


At 4 pm we selected our campsite, after checking two other sites. One site was rather open and exposed to wind, the other site was lacking a good bear bag hanging tree. We quickly set up our tents, hung our bear bag line and gathered wood. It was very hard and cumbersome to get a fire going, everything was so damp! Luckily we both brought different types of firestarters and soon we huddled by a nice fire and started cooking (I should say dehydrating) our dinners.



It was dead silent in our little pinewood forest, and pitch dark. Except for a group of deer I spotted during the sunset, we had not seen or heard any other animals. It remained silent during the whole night, which was nice and provided a restful sleep.

As we retired early to our tents, a funny exchange between tents of our activity status updates took place. We had to put on more warm sleeping layers including neck gaiters and beanies: check. Then stuff our sleeping bags with hand and body warmers; check, move into the sleeping bag liner, followed by the sleeping bag, and cinching the hood of our bag, only keeping a small opening for breathing. Finally, after some adjusting wiggling in the tight mummy bag, we were able to doze off.

Breakfast eggs

Breakfast eggs

I checked the temperature before I went to sleep, around 8:30 pm, it was a balmy 20 degrees…

We woke up late at 8:30 am, probably because we camped under a dense and dark tree canopy. The first chore was to get a fire going, it was just as hard as the night before, but we succeeded! Some coffee and eggs later and we were ready to hit the trail again. Although the day started with a hazy sun, there was (possible) freezing rain in the afternoon forecast, so we decided to make it a shorter hike and get back to the car before we would get drenched in this cold. We looked for a water source and found a nice little stream to filter a few bottles of water.


During an instance of cell phone reception (it was very spotty, don’t count on it!), a weather earning came in and we fearfully watched the sky, pushing on to get to the trailhead as soon as we could. Along the way we bumped into two other hikers with a dog, it was not their dog, but one they found and she’d started following them. She looked exhausted, I could not imagine she’d survived the night in this icy cold without food and cover. We called the number on the collar and left a message for her owner. I tried to give her some water, but she refused to drink. After walking for a for a short while she had to rest and I was worried if she would make it to the car. The guys arrived at the parking lot minutes before us and they fed her beef jerky. They said their car was full and left…


Poor Pepper

I could not leave her alone like that! We got the dog in my car and drove around for a while trying to find a fire station that could perhaps take care of her for the time being. As we drove on a remote road in the mountains a truck behind me signaled and I realized they were probably tracking the dog. After I stopped I walked up to the truck and the guy asked if I had a dog in my car. With her tail between her legs “Pepper” very reluctantly went back to her owners. Poor bear dog, apparently it’s normal to leave your (bear) hunting dog alone in the wilderness?


P.S. I have quite a few videos of this trip, that I’ll eventually edit and have available on my youtube channel MountainMuse.






Stoked! Dolly Sods here we come…

In just a few days, I’ll be backpacking at the famous Dolly Sods area in West Virginia (Monongahela National Forest). It’ll be just me and my friend Rae, without our teenage daughters. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a few more miles than usual, without the “when do we stop for a snack?” or “This is too steep!”, or “I’m tired” captions.

It’s a 3-hour drive from where I live, so, we’ll probably start walking around noon. The past weeks I’ve prepared this trip. I watched many youtube hikes at Dolly Sods and got some great information, for example, one of the trails is extremely boggy, and other parts have no water sources (we rely on filtering water from streams and ponds).

What did I check? Weather (including yearly averages for temperatures), terrain (elevation gain, water etc.), and sundown time, days are getting so short!


The Dolly Sods Wilderness is an interesting area with a rich history. “Dolly Sods is a rocky, high-altitude plateau with sweeping vistas and lifeforms normally found much farther north in Canada. To the north, the distinctive landscape of “the Sods” is characterized by stunted (“flagged”) trees, wind-carved boulders, heath barrens, grassy meadows created in the last century by logging and fires, and sphagnum bogs that are much older. To the south, a dense cove forest occupies the branched canyon excavated by the North Fork of Red Creek. The name derives from an 18th-century German homesteading family — the Dahles — and a local term for an open mountaintop meadow — a “sods”.” (Wikipedia)

Every 20 minutes the landscape changes drastically, one moment you’re on a meadow, and the next moment you walk in a dense forest or valley with a meandering stream.  The most famous viewpoint within the Wilderness is a vista of the entire Red Creek drainage, it is set at the rocky crags known as Lion’s Head Rock.


image by Valerius Tygart

Since we’re camping along the trail, we’ll have to bring most of our backpacking gear including tents, cooking stoves and food. Lately, I’ve been on a quest to pack as light as possible, although I will never be an ultra-light hiker, that’s a little too extreme for my taste. But, as the saying goes: Hike your own hike.

I changed my gas stove, the o.8 ounce BRS for a titanium Esbit stove which only weighs o.4 ounces! It’ll take a little longer to boil some water ( 7 min vs 5 min), but when I’m in nature I’m not in a hurry! I also changed my headlamp and created my own, with a hairband and a small but powerful Thrunite torch, this resulted in a 1.2 oz headlamp, vs my old 3.3 oz one. Yes, we’re counting ounces here, and I’m very proud of my current base weight (packed backpack without water and food) of 16 lbs!



Testing the new stove

Add at least 2 liters of water (2 lbs each) and about 2.5 lbs of food and we’re getting close to 23 lbs. I’ll probably add a few more things like a good knife and bear spray (yes, there are lots of Black Bears in that area!). Of course, I’ll take many pictures and make a few videos (I need to get over my editing fear), so stay tuned for more!

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

Peace, Mo





Central Buddhist Church Van Hanh, Centreville, VA


[med-i-tey-shuh n]
1. the act of meditating.
2. continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation.
4. devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection.

origin meditation

The practice of meditation is much older than the word meditation. It stems from the Latin root meditatum, meaning “to ponder”. According to one source, “in the Old Testament hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה‎), means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, hāgâ became the Greek melete. The Latin Bible then translated hāgâ/melete into meditatio. The use of the term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th century monk Guigo II.”

The earliest written records of the practice of meditation (Dhyana), comes from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BC. The well-known practitioner most of us are familiar with is Buddha. According to wikipedia, “the exact origins of Buddhist meditation are subject to debate among scholars. Early written records of the multiple levels and states of meditation in Buddhism in India are found in the sutras of the Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BC…By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100AD included a number of passages on meditation and enlightened wisdom, clearly pointing to Zen.

In the west, by 20 BC Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of “spiritual exercises” involving attention (prosoche) and concentration and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques, which however did not attract a following among Christian meditators.

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Silk Road caravan

The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other oriental countries. Bodhidharma is traditionally considered the transmitter of the concept of Zen to China…There is evidence that Judaism has inherited meditative practices from its predecessor traditions in Israelite antiquity. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going “lasuach” in the field – a term understood by most commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63). There are indications throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that Judaism always contained a central meditative tradition.”

To provide a complete historical overview of meditation, would require a considerable amount of study and research, which I’d love to do. Just the Buddhist teachings and scriptures by itself are comprehensive and vast and I’ve only lifted a small tip of the veil covering this variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices myself. This post, however, will be brief and hopefully, give you a little more background, and perhaps the inspiration to explore more and eventually start meditating. I’ll focus here on sharing my personal journey with meditation.

Back to Buddha

“Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BC/480 BC – c. 483 BC/400 BC), also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha or simply the Buddha, after the title of Buddha, was an ascetic (śramaṇa) and sage, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of ancient India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.”



Wat Pho, Bangkok


You might be familiar with the story of Buddha (Gautama) famously seated under a Bodhi tree, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”). Buddha came to the realization that meditative “dhyana” was the right path to awakening.

Styles of Meditation

There are many ways to meditate, and many of them are based on Buddhist tradition. These meditation techniques focus on developing mindfulness, concentration, tranquility, and insight. The “Live & Dare” website highlights 23 different “styles” of meditation and Giovanni Dienstmann—a writer and meditation teacher—provides a nice compilation of the different techniques, their origins, and guidance on how to practice them.

The 23 meditation styles described are divided into two groups: General Types and Specific Styles. Under the General types, you’ll find “Focused Attention”, “Open Monitoring”, and “Effortless Presence”. Most specific meditation styles contain one or more aspects of these three general types. Giovanni then groups them into different categories, as described in the brief overview below.

Buddhist Meditation: Zen meditation (Zazen), Vipassana meditation, Mindfulness meditation, and Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta).

Hindu Meditation: Mantra meditation, Transcedental mediation, Yoga meditation, and Self-Enquiry meditation.

Chinese Meditation: Taoist meditations and Qigong.

Christian Meditation: contemplative prayer and reading, and “sitting with God”.

Guided Meditation: Guided imagery, Affirmations, and Binaural beats.



Wat Intharawihan, Bangkok



My meditation journey started around 2002, as I was trying to make sense of my squeaky (for lack of a better word) relationship, experiencing job loss, a pending move abroad, and most importantly, being pregnant during this already challenging time.

I often felt overwhelmed and stressed and was wondering if and how I could learn to better manage my emotions and thoughts. At that time I was predominantly living in my head, a typical pragmatic and “matter of fact” Dutch girl. I’d been exploring the spiritual, mystical, and other “alternative” life approaches and philosophies, but at that point, I realized I really needed to reconnect with my heart and give the brain a break.

I read somewhere that we think about 50,000 thoughts per day and up to 70% of those are believed to be negative. Although my thoughts were not all negative, they were plenty, and I desperately wanted to clear my mind and be more at peace. I quickly found out that to “just sit” with my eyes closed, trying hard to NOT think any thoughts was a tough task. I had no idea what I was doing and I was happy to discover the technique of meditating with the help of so called “Binaural Beats”.

Binaural Beats

I’d obtained a cd from a company called Centerpointe, the founder Bill Harris had developed a product called Holosync. “Holosync is a sophisticated form of neuro-audio technology allowing the listener to easily enter various desirable states, and creating many desirable mental, emotional, and spiritual changes, through entrainment of electrical patterns in the brain. This creates a synchronization, or balance, between brain hemispheres, enhancing mental/emotional health and mental functioning. In the process, new neural connections are created between the right and left brain hemispheres, leading to what is known as “whole brain functioning.” In addition to states such as accelerated learning ability and enhanced creativity, Holosync can help a listener easily enter and benefit from states of deep meditation, until now accessible only to long-time meditators practicing many hours a day for many years.”

For a while I enjoyed listening to the 2 CD’s I acquired as part of the “first level” of meditation, it helped me to relax, but often made me fall asleep. Soon I got pulled into their sophisticated marketing machine, where I was nudged into buying more audio files in order to move to the next level of meditation. I refused to become part of this what seemed like a never ending deal and started to look for other techniques.

Transcendental Meditation

Another (in)famous meditation practice that can become a costly affair is Transcendental Meditation (TM), an “absolutely effortless technique” which is used and promoted by a large and famous crowd. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced the TM technique and TM movement in India, in the mid-1950s. In February 1968, the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh in northern India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their “involvement” contributed to its successful start in the West. This practice uses a personal mantra, which can only be given to you by a trained TM teacher, the beginner/start course—which includes your personal and secret mantra—can cost up to $2500! The TM organization is rumored to be worth between $2 and $3 billion. Meditation can be big business.

Free mind

Soon, the arrival of my baby girl, followed by a pending divorce, and another long distance move, required all my attention. I had enjoyed a taste of meditation, and after this appetizer, I was ready for the main course.

Again, I found myself wondering about the type of meditation that would work best for me and discovered that guided meditation provided me with a little more “structure” so to say, and slowly, day by day, I found more mental space, peace, and silence. I found many (free) guided meditations and enjoyed many of them.

Of course, life staged a few more hurdles on my path, this time as I had just left my husband as a first step in the divorce process, I also lost my job. Here in the US, there’s not much of a safety net, so after depleting all my savings, and fruitless job searches, I entered a dark and scary time.


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Ayutthaya, Thailand


My teachers

My way of dealing with this “demon” was literally, feeding it. “Feeding Your Demons” is the title of a book by Tsultrim Allione. Lama Tsultrim is an author and teacher and has studied in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage. She first traveled to India and Nepal in 1967, and in 1970 she became one of the first American women to be ordained as a Tibetan nun.

The approach of acknowledging the inner (and sometimes outer) demons and feeding them, rather than struggling against them, was originally articulated by an eleventh-century female Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145). The spiritual practice she developed was called Chöd, and it generated such amazing results that it became very popular, spreading widely throughout Tibet and beyond.

Tsultrim provides a glimpse of this process on this site, it helped me with becoming aware of the demons (or challenges), face them, and giving them a place, which often resulted in removing their power or influences on me.

Something similar I found in the book “The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön, also a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher. “We always have a choice, Pema Chödrön teaches: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder.”

The insights from both Tsultrim and Pema I used during meditation, as a focused thought to “ponder” and gain clarity about. I learned a lot from both ladies, above all to not allow fear to rule my life, and be more accepting of what is.


Another form of guided meditation I practiced is called Sahaja meditation. Over the course of a year I joined a group every week and together we would practice the process of awakening our chakras through some silent statements and movements. Sahaja is taught for free via a huge worldwide network of volunteers. Founded by Shri Mataji in the 70-ies, “Sahaja Yoga meditation is the technique she developed to sustain the awakening experienced through self-realization. The word Sahaja means both spontaneous and “born with you”, describing this subtle energy (Kundalini) which exists in every human being. Contrary to popular belief, Yoga does not designate a series of exercises or postures, but in fact means “to join, to unite”…when this union occurs, the integrating force of the Kundalini brings balance and peace both within and between individuals.”

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Although I enjoyed this form of meditation a lot, I no longer practice it. To practice as a group is special and enhances your own meditation, but my busy work schedule as a single mom got in the way.


My personal favorite “way” of meditating is listening to the Moola Mantra (also named The Oneness Mantra). Just listening to this for 30-40 minutes, while silently reciting the mantra has an amazing effect, including peacefulness, acceptance, and…love.

Moola Mantra

Sat Chit Ananda Parabrahma
Purushothama Paramatma
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha
Sri Bhagavathe Namaha

The simplified meaning

  • Om – We are calling on the highest energy, of all there is
  • Sat – The formless
  • Chit – Consciousness of the universe
  • Ananda – Pure love, bliss, and joy
  • Para brahma – The supreme creator
  • Purushothama – Who has incarnated in human form to help guide mankind
  • Paramatma – Who comes to me in my heart, and becomes my inner voice whenever I ask
  • Sri Bhagavati – The divine mother, the power aspect of creation
  • Same tha – Together within
  • Sri Bhagavate -The Father of creation which is unchangeable and permanent
  • Namaha – I thank you and acknowledge this presence in my life. I ask for your guidance at all times

One Breath

As many meditation traditions there are, there are even more teachers. This is just one site where you can explore a few. Studying different practices has connected me with several great teachers. More recently a friend mentioned Sharon Salzberg, who has studied with many great teachers for over 40 years. She spent a significant time together with another famous teacher Ram Dass in India. This website features many of her talks, which she often ends with a guided meditation (check the earliest ones from 2014). In this podcast, she talks with Tara Brach, another great teacher.

While writing this post I realized that most of my teachers are women of different Buddhist schools. I wonder where this “surge” of (mostly Western) females comes from, as the Buddhist tradition is very male oriented. “In Theravada Buddhism, it is impossible for a woman to be a bodhisattva, which is someone on their way to Buddhahood. Bodhisattva can be a human, animal, serpent, or a god, but is never a woman.” However, in the tantric iconography of the Vajrayana practice of Buddhism, female Buddhas do appear. Perhaps this is something to explore for a future post, the role of women in Buddhism.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to meditate and use a mixture of different techniques that fit me personally. Following the breath and the feeling of my breath stays at the heart of my practice. As Sharon said, “The breath is portable”, it can be felt anywhere, standing in line or on the metro. Tip: You can download the mindfulness bell here (provided by Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh), throughout the day it’ll remind you to take a minute and focus on your breathing, a wonderful opportunity to “take a breather” and return to the “now”.

Breathe my dear.



Sparks of Joy

Street cleaning

Street cleaning in Bangkok

Recently I read an interesting article by Elizabeth Knox on applying the “KonMari” method on managing your time and work. The KonMari method is a way to tidy and unclutter your home, developed my organizing consultant Marie Kondo. Marie, a Japanese native, guides you through a process of assessing the things you have, need, and want and finding the clue to let go of some of your belongings.

Marie wants you to hold (touch) an item and feel if it generates a “spark of joy” in you. If it doesn’t you can let it go. Before you let it go, you appreciate you had it and that it has served you for the time it was in your possession.

What do I have?

Many people are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they’ve collected around themselves, often not aware of this invisible stress. Living in a culture that constantly nudges you to get more, different, and bigger, presents a challenge in the form of clutter and distraction. It distracts us from much more important things in life, as we’re more devoted to material and financial possessions than real wellbeing found in spirtiual and human connections.


Asking ourselves why we have and want certain things provides us with much-needed insights and may inspire us to let go of some posessions and the “need” to obtain more. Just as clutter and excess stuff in our house unneccesarry complicates and distracts us, the same holds for our professional career and the workplace.

Why am I constantly checking my email and phone? Why was I invited to this meeting? Why is it important I perform task X, Y, or Z? Asking “Why?” just like small children do, is important, it brings you to the core and essence of things. Most adults find it annoying, and I’ve encountered many times, when people (including collleagues), would just say: “because that’s how it is”, or “because that’s how I want it to be.” Wrapping “Why?” in an attractive package is important, so, these days I ask myself why? and then offer the answers and results as options and suggestions to others, which are usually easier to digest or accept.


Focus and Simplicity

As Elizabeth points out in her article “Without quite realizing how it got this bad, our days are bursting at the seams with emails, meetings, reports, and interruptions, leaving us tired at the end of the day and wondering what we actually accomplished.” it resembles the same distraction and stress we experience when we’re surrounded by too much clutter. Her suggestion to apply the KonMarie method to our work (environment) is brilliant.

Marie invites her clients to focus on the purpose of their belongings and their future. Understanding your professional purpose and role within an organization, and why it matters to you will help you focus on what is really important and what is needed to accomplish your goals.

“Someday” Never Comes

For years I had this habit of keeping things because “you might never know when you need it”. Now, part of this thinking is related to the fact that I think it’s important to re-use and recycle. Going through the KonMarie method, I discovered it had a deeper meaning. I had a hard time to “let go”, and I was afraid that I might not have something when I would need it, or that I would not be able to afford it.

The “aha” moment immediately created a sense of freedom as I started purging like a hoarder in reverse. With this, came an increased appreciation of what I selected to keep and everything I can afford. I live in the “now” more than ever before, another “by-product” of revealing essence and maintaining simplicity.



To help with the selection process the KonMari method works with categories, like books, memorabilia, or “bedroom”. Translating this to work, you’ll get things like emails, meetings, projects, etc. Of course, not all of them spark joy! Perhaps some of them dim your light. Knowing what is essential to accomplish your purpose and role at work will help to prioritize, delegate, and ultimately in being more effective and feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

Deciding what to keep (vs finding the negative to let go), will shift your focus from the less pleasant tasks at hand and sometimes people you’re working with, to appreciating the tools that are available to you, the skills you have acquired, and the relationships with colleagues you have developed. It’s kind of magical to see how much impact this can have on what and how you accomplish your work and how it improves communication and nurtures team work.

Outside the Box

The final stage of the method is to group and put things away neatly and with respect. “Put things back in a way that makes sense, where they are easily reachable, without too many in one place” is Marie’s sage advice. Switching constantly from writing to talking on the phone, to checking email, to attending meetings is not conducive to you enjoying your work and improving your performance.

What would be a storage box in your home can be a focus block of time at work, is Elizabeth’s suggestion. Group tasks each day and carve out time for specific projects and processes. Scheduling and planning will support focus and output, and free up energy, inspiring to think outside the box and tackle the bigger challenges with much more ease.

Change needs time, start small, enjoy the journey, and learn a few (important!) things about yourself along the way.

All is well, Mo




17835040_10213189219511266_1338040479468062793_oThe definition of a woodsman — a person accustomed to life in the woods and skilled in the arts of the woods, as hunting or trapping — apparently has no female counterpart. It’s encouraging to see that this is changing, there are many women now, who are doing just that and filming it. Women like Stephanie Margeth and Survival Lilly.

As I’m practicing more “survival” skills myself, I’ve watched many of their videos, listened to podcasts, and I’m reading books like “How to stay alive in the woods”. While doing research I noticed there are different groups, such as “bushcraft”, “survivalist”, “woodsman”, and on the other end of the spectrum are the “preppers”.



Making fire with a bow drill


A new term that has recently emerged is called: “re-wilding”, Daniel Vitalis, came up with the “ReWild Yourself” concept. “ReWilding is — in its essence — a celebration of our natural selves,” according to Vitalis “It is about living a life aligned with our biology and experiencing the sheer pleasure of fulfilling our biological drives.”wp_20170115_16_23_13_rich

As we were preparing for our first overnight backpacking trip last November, my hiking buddy brought all sorts of gear and items to test during our trip in the Shenandoah mountains. We tested several types of stoves and ways of fire making, trying to figure out which type of tinder would start a fire easily.

Because we were 4 women hiking in the woods, we discussed different emergency scenarios. How well are we prepared? What if…one of us gets hurt? What if the weather turns really bad? What if we encounter a bear or a human being with bad intentions?

We started talking about knives, and my friend mentioned the importance of having a “bug out” bag. I had never thought about that before, but it makes a lot of sense to have one. Here in Virginia, at a stone’s throw of the White House and the Pentagon, there are many scenarios possible (as we’ve witnessed several times), including severe storms and even earthquakes.



Dressing a squirrel


Both my daughter and I now have a backpack filled and ready to go. It’ll carry us through 72 hours of surviving. I also have a fully equipped car, in case we get stranded during severe winter weather. The next level is to practice becoming completely self-reliant, better smart than sorry!

Survivalists, or preppers, are those “who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international…” The word “prepper” is derived from the word prepare. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defence training, stockpile food, and water prepare to become self-sufficient and even build structures (e.g. a survival retreat or an underground shelter) that may help them survive a catastrophe.


monique dicarlo

Fatwood, a great fire starter.


You see, often the hard-core preppers arm themselves with guns and ammunition, but ammunition runs out and guns break, so what then? What uses the least amount of energy hunting or trapping? Can you grow a crop? Do you know how to make tools yourself? What if we run out of medication and we encounter illness? For example, did you know that that “nasty” dandelion in your lawn can actually help with liver problems, upset stomach, and high blood pressure?

I’m not a prepper, but I do like to be informed, organized, and prepared. Just a simple power outage (very common here on the East coast during snow storms and summer storms, lasting sometimes several days, up to over a week!), can completely change life as we know it. Everything in our house is electrical, so how do I cook? How do I heat water or my house? Redundancy is extremely important, Plan B is not enough, better have Plan C, and D as well.

Self-reliance is important to me, I’m a single mom and I need to be able to pull up my own pants, under all circumstances. This is what attracted me to bushcraft, my love and respect for nature, has now gotten a new dimension by adding the survival element. I want to be able to survive and thrive in nature. What can I make out of natural materials? How do I hunt or fish? Which plants (and trees!) are edible, poisonous, and which ones medicinal?


monique dicarlo

Wild onion


Recently we camped for the weekend at the North American Bushcraft School in West Virginia, about 1,5 hours from where we live. Once a year they host the P2P Festival and give demonstrations of all sorts. We learned how to “dress” a squirrel, make fire with a stick and we did a medicinal and edible plant walk. The kids loved bow and arrow and tomahawk throwing (not surprised).

I think it’s very important (perhaps even for our survival as a human being) that we re-connect with nature and learn to work with it, explore it, and feel connected with it. The vision of aligning “with our authentic biological selves” appeals to me, this is what happens in nature as we learn to live in it. Nature humbles me, inspires me, and encourages me to take calculated, bold steps and live more fully.

I look forward to sharing some of my explorations via my youtube channel called MountainMuse. I’m working on my next videos, stay tuned!









Finally! I just posted my 2nd video on my youtube channel MountainMuse. It’s a quick overview of some of the foods we bring during backpacking.

I’ve gained a deep respect for filming and editing, it’s a very comprehensive and time-consuming process. For this video, I used the youtube editor, but I have installed a better program that I’ll use for my next project, our overnight backpacking trip.

First I need to review all the clips and find a storyline that ties it all together. Also working on my next blog post, and I have a photo book in the making as well.

Better get back to work now!


Trail Yum


We are just a couple of days back from our first overnight backpacking trip, so it’s a good time to review the foods and drinks we consumed. Before we start, let me share some important background information: I love cooking and baking, I love a great meal shared with friends, I prefer healthy/organic ingredients. I have car camped since I was a toddler (usually for 3 weeks each summer). My parents would always make great, healthy meals, with fresh local ingredients, on their camping stove, that’s how I roll…What is shared here, is the food we ate during our overnight trip in the Shenandoah’s. We didn’t hike a long distance or with a huge elevation, it was around the 40-ies during the day (low 30-ies at night), with snow in the forecast.

There are many blogs and vlogs about food and cooking while backpacking, but each of them contains a little gem. For example, the video from Wondering Dot, she showed her preferred thru-hiking foods and even though this video was several years old, I got a few great tips from her (especially on small package condiments to enhance flavors).

Each hike filmed by David Gray, he always eats his favorite appetizer, a cheddar cheese spread. I brought it on this trip. I’ll describe it later in this post.

From Jason at Outdoors Adventures, I learned a more organized approach where you pack one day of food in one bag. Since we were just doing a two-day hike, I had all my food in one bag, for more days I can see it’s handy to split it up. This also helps prevent overeating, you don’t want to run out of food! Jason also pointed out to look at the calories per portion. Again, we were not doing high mileage days, but it can become important to keep an eye on this. There needs to be a nice balance between weight, calory density, and of course taste!

It is a little bit of a challenge to find healthy and organic food for backpacking. There are a few organic brands like Mary Jane’s Farm and Backpackers Pantry. This can become expensive, so either I’ll start putting together my own meals and perhaps dehydrate food myself, or I eat a little less healthy while backpacking. I think I’ve found a nice balance between these options. Below is what we consumed during this trip with our 9 and 13-year-old daughters. One vegetarian and a gluten-sensitive included.


I liked Trader Joe’s oatmeal, I added some Butter Buds and Bonne Maman honey. The Bonne Maman packages come in a mixed package with honey, strawberry jam, orange marmalade, and raspberry jam. breakfasttaco_plainThe Tex-Mex breakfast taco from PackitGourmet was good (no meat in it, but instead a few veggies, a good option for vegetarians), however, you need to heat this in a pan, which makes it a messy clean up. We rolled it in our soft tacos from Trader Joe’s. The Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Bacon were tasty, no clean up as you make it in the bag, just make sure to drain the water out well otherwise it may be a little soupy. Next time I’ll add some olive oil to improve the mixture. They do sell a version without bacon, you could add some veggies to it and flavoring to make it more interesting.


We took our time to make lunch on the trail. Our daughters enjoyed finding a good spot with a level area for our stoves, it provided them something to look forward to while hiking (walking is sooooo boring!) LOL. We made instant miso soup from Trader Joe’s, Knorr Cheddar Broccoli Rice (cook for 7 minutes) and tacos with tuna. Great tip from my friend Tessa (the AT thru-hiker): get the flavored tuna, as the regular tuna tastes pretty bland. We added mayonnaise or spicy mustard to the tuna and wrapped it in a taco et voila! We ended our meal with a hot drink of choice.


cheddar_jackAs some meals need time to re-hydrate or boil, it’s great to have some quick appetizers ready while you’re waiting for the main course. We tried the cheese spread from PackitGourmet (I brought Trader Joe’s rice crackers), but maybe due to the low temperatures (40-ies) it didn’t come out as well as I thought. The cheese didn’t become spreadable, it stayed loose and chunky. I’d suggest using lukewarm water when you’re camping in colder temperatures and I also like the idea of adding mayonnaise, or perhaps a small package of cream cheese, to make it more of a spread. Adding some hot sauce is not a bad idea either! It is a high-quality product but needs some (seasonal) tweaking. chorizo_bean_dipFrom the same company we had the Chorizo bean dip, that you make by adding hot water. This was a winner, we all loved it! Just one tiny negative, it comes in a tall bag, even reaching in the bag with our long sporks created messy hands, so we decided to squeeze it out of the bag into a bowl.



Dinner time is certainly a highlight of the day. Once we set up our camp and ate some appetizers, it was time for a hearty main course. My daughter’s favorite meal is the MountainHouse beef stroganoff. Actually, we all like it a lot! I made Trader Joe’s mashed potatoes, added olive oil and butter buds, and we enjoyed a nice warm, filling meal. My friend made a MountainHouse Beef Stew, but this needed more time to “cook” (re-hydrate with hot water), some pieces were still a little hard, but tasty nonetheless! Tip: use an insulated bag to keep your “cooking” foods warm! The warm mulled wine (gluhwein from Trader Joe’s) was a nice touch to this dinner.


We all had some sort of bar in our pack buckle pocket during the day. Trader Joe’s has nice fruit bars, the Nature Valley crispy nutbars are nutty, sweet, and salty. Lärabars are great too (Apple pie is my favorite). I’m not a big fan of large bags with trail mixes and nuts, it can be heavy, bulky and if you don’t put them in small portions, you can easily overeat it. I’ve tried making nut and fruit bars myself and I’ll make them for our next trip. The dried baby bananas and chocolate covered berries from Trader Joe’s are great and I will bring some next time.


Water, water, and more water, we all carried at least 2 Liters. Depending on the weather you adjust your drinks, just like your foods. Water can get a little boring, so I got some Macha tea, flavored packages that you just add to your water bottle, not cheap, but good stuff. There are cheaper flavor packages available or you can make your own with dehydrated fruit powders, sugar, and a tiny salt. I loved my Trader Joe’s instant coffee, I had Starbucks as well, but I’m not a big fan of the Starbucks coffee flavor, I think it’s bitter and acidic (besides very expensive!). Not a bad product, just not my taste. The Starbucks cinnamon hot chocolate is very nice, just needs milk powder or a creamer to make it a little better. I think I got it on sale at Big Lots, a great place to check for food deals! Hot chocolate with marshmallows from Trader Joe’s was our daughter’s favorite drink. I brought tea as well. Adding a teabag to your water bottle providers a nice flavor. We also brought the mulled wine and a flask Captain Morgan rum (after dinner treat).

Would you consider us gourmet ladies? We think that great food and beverages make hiking so much more enjoyable! What do you think?

Next: I’ll talk a bit more about kitchen “appliances” (stove), pots and pans, cups, plates, etc. Check my YouTube channel MountainMuse, as I’ll be posting the next video covering these foods soon.