3 Happiness Boosts, Let There Be Thorns

This week I was transported to a secret garden that is both very public and very accessible. So what is this secret? It carries the answer to happiness in three easy answers so this magical reveal of a magical man will begin with some no-nonsense secrets about joy.

ANSWER #1 – Look outward. While self-reflection is valuable, often the bigger picture seems overlooked. Somewhere, out there – within walking distance most often – is a need. Reach out and connect. There is little – to no – monetary cost and the reward is great.

ANSWER #2 – Do it now. Today. Don’t wait for some perfect scenario to appear. Take your beautiful, imperfect self and make a connection today. If a true commitment seems overwhelming, start by picking up trash in your neighborhood or take a basket of your old postcards to a senior citizens center or donate clothes to a battered women’s shelter and then – go ahead – sign on to volunteer.

ANSWER #3 – Passion. Take something you love and see if there is a way to make it a giving experience. Call the library and ask if you can offer to host workshops, connect with a friend who gardens or a gardening club and pick a blighted spot to beautify, crochet hats for homeless children. Grow your passion into something that is shared.


The cacti photos featured today are an example of one man’s talent for giving and for doing it on a dime.


A decade ago, my community was graced with a  wealthy individual’s decision to landscape a big swath of city property for no apparent reason other than the fact that the public property was adjacent to his. The stunning and very professionally landscaped garden turned out magnificent and the entire population benefited but it was another – more humble undertaking – that caught and held my attention.

One day, several blocks away,  I came upon a weed-filled easement and happened to catch a glimpse of a gentleman holding a shovel and squinting at the gravely lot. Clad in a plaid shirt, straw hat perched on his head; he went about placing a couple of thorny cacti cuttings in the ground. These cacti had not been sourced from a garden center; they actually looked like cuttings from perhaps one of the man’s plants. I remember thinking to myself, “hmm… isn’t that sweet, hope the thorns are worth the trouble”. I envisioned the plants dying as many of mine had when I haphazardly dropped them in the ground.

Over the next few months I would see the man continuing his seemingly random placing of little cacti cuttings here and there. He’d be out in the blazing heat with a watering can, which looked truly grueling, however, it seemed there was no other way to water the dry, rocky lot. And this went on and on, little by little. Months passed with a few cacti, appearing here and there, sitting askew. Numerous times I would admire the professionally landscaped plot with glorious plants rising and flowering effortlessly and then come upon the man with what looked like his orphaned cacti struggling to take hold.

A few years elapsed with the landscaped garden growing lush enough that the city allowed two additional patches of land to be planted to match the original. Through all of this, the little garden that could was also hanging in there, the cacti defying the elements and multiplying, gradually morphing from very iffy to something out of Where The Wild Things Are. I would’ve sworn this metamorphosis happened overnight but more likely I simply had not been paying attention.

Cacti shift

The garden was now large and no longer a question mark – this harum-scarum place was making its own statement. I could not remember how long it had been unfolding. How often had I passed and seen the man out there? Had it been five years or a decade? I did know that several times I’d been embarrassed by my earlier judgment and considered getting out of my car and approaching him. I thought I’d make amends by thanking him for his creation but I drove on, always in a hurry to get from point A to point B.

And then suddenly he was no longer there. It flitted across my brain that perhaps he’d moved but I shrugged it aside until time wore on and life rearranged my priorities. I thought about the man and his garden more often and came to feel I’d missed something important so one day I pulled the car over and got out. I climbed the thorny little hill and walked through the maze of assorted cacti. I was struck by the fact that it was entirely anonymous. No sign or plaque with the name of the man or maybe someone he’d been honoring while putting in the work. There was no agenda, no title, no community development action committee or house of worship. There had simply been this quiet little man working away for… a nondescript period of time until he seemed to disappear.

I felt a little silly choking up over such obvious poetry as thorns and blossoms but the simplicity of the garden was good for my ego. It had no interest in whether I was intellectually absorbing it in a “correct” manner, it just was. And that was perfect.

The only imperfection I wrestled with was that I’d never thanked the man. I hoped others had but then I wondered if that would have been important to him. And in that thought came an idea. I realized that possibly what would have mattered most would have been that the garden be cared for. So one night I found myself, kitchen tongs in hand, reaching into the tenacious thorns to retrieve wind-scattered trash caught in the plants. I filled a trash bag and started back to the car only to stop and stare at a sunny yellow house that was landscaped liberally with cacti.

On a whim, I decided to see if the current owners would know anything about the man who’d lived there previously so I knocked. The door swung open and to my surprise, there he was, the cactus man. I stammered out an explanation as to what I was doing, standing on his porch with a bag and kitchen tongs in hand, and he smiled, a little perplexed, and introduced himself. He confirmed he’d planted all of the cacti from his own cuttings including the many that now reached in excess of ten feet. He had planted them twice, once twenty-five years previous only to have the city tear them out and then he planted again about eight years ago and this time, they remained.

At eighty-nine years of age, Harold Vanger, a retired school teacher, relies on his own labor to maintain the garden and spends about a hundred dollars a year on weed control.


Harold w: cacti

When I asked why he’d done it, he simply smiled and said because the lot had been an eyesore and he just wanted to make it better. A number of items that I discovered about Harold’s life seem heroic, the fact that he is a veteran of World War Two, that he started an ongoing used book sale at a local hospital that raised two hundred thousand dollars, and that he – ever so serenely – takes small cuttings and teeny-tiny seeds and creates a mosaic of unbelievable beauty. For Harold, a life of contribution is a life well-lived. Where the rest of us might see blight, Harold sees possibility.

The previous eyesore is now a magical garden – Harold’s garden, to me – and it represents life’s thorny moments as well as life’s blossoming ones but perhaps most importantly it represents the knowledge that life is completely available if you just walk across the street. One man and one little garden that could, let there be thorns.

*Please share to Facebook and/or Tweet if you wish.  <3

*Harold’s garden is located in the city of Woodland Hills, on Mulholland Drive, between Canoga and Topanga. Grab some gloves and pull some weeds, he’d be most appreciative. 🙂

$1 Books And A Little Red Shack

If you are ever in Livingston, New York and driving lazily along route #9, watch for a little red shack. When you spot it, park on the grass and get the heck out of the car because you are in for the finest adventure on a dime there ever was. Melanie Nelson, a passionate bibliophile, has converted a gorgeous property that originally included an old inn, into the permanent site of possibly the biggest-little country book sale ever.

Melanie’s little book sale includes multiple buildings and 20,000+ books. Even more amazing is the fact that all hardcover books are one dollar and paperbacks fifty cents. The books are meticulously arranged according to topic and in great condition. True to her assertion that her inventory is not stocked with unappealing cast-offs, we found a wealth of desirable reading material and everything from Harry Potter and kids books to classics, philosophy, plays, biography, history, fiction, military, current popular titles, and beautiful art, music, and poetry selections.

Front porch

Kids shed

Stopping off along the road had never proven so magical and in addition to the quaint buildings overflowing with books was a tag sale that offered antique china teacups for twenty-five cents. The deals don’t end with teacups. If you are a record collector, be prepared to suffer serious danger of nostalgia overload upon perusing the thousands upon thousands of records stocked in the music building. A step back in time might just be a step forward for your psyche.

There was a palpable sense of yesteryear as Melanie sat on her porch, nibbling on a sandwich and chatting about her cats. When I purchased a hand-woven bag for two dollars and two Christmas ornaments at a nickel total, this timeless entrepreneur shook out change from an old jar. And something tells me that if – in the future – you purchase a teacup, it just may include chamomile steeping away.

tea cups

Sometimes it seems that people like Melanie are perhaps mystical beings placed on the planet to spread joy just because “why not?” Her complete fascination with all literature was contagious but what was most engaging was her obvious generosity and desire to make the books available on a dime.  As if the invitation to shop the always-open red shack and just leave your payment in the slot wasn’t enough, she also encourages patrons to bring a lunch and make themselves at home on the grounds.


If you cannot get to New York, visit her online and even if you don’t make a purchase, please give her a thank you. In a world filled with big box consumption, this woman is a reminder that life can be elusive in the self-check line of an overly air conditioned cavern, while it is easily accessible – courtesy of a genuine woman offering heartfelt, face-to-face moments – along a sunny country road.


About the Book Shack —-  the original LITTLE RED BOOK SHACK,  and  the WHITE COTTAGE ANNEX  a few steps away (in the photo), and the BIOGRAPHY SHED.  And opening 2013 The Kids Shed – AND starting September 2013 a 5th building for vinyl.   The important facts are — 20,000 used books for sale in the 3 room shack and  3 rooms annex, and the large Biography Shed, and now the Kids Shed.   And the vinyl collection.   ALL adult paperbacks 50 cents, ALL hardcovers $1.00.  Good clean used books of value, no junk. The books are clean and in very good condition, no exlibrary books,  shelved by topic– maps of buildings and topics are posted..  

           Also –A NEW ACQUIITION OF 6000 CLASSIAL VINYL LP RECORDS, from one collector, added to our current stock of vinyl- LPs priced at 1.00 each  ( boxed sets slightly cheaper), and Videos and DVDs, and CDs priced at 50 cents including foreign language videos— and cassetts and audio books 25 cents.    A building of thousands of clean children’s books priced at 25 cents each  ( 6  $1.00 ).   Also ephemera,  maps, postcards, and pictures.    Also available, a section of vintage magazines, including collection of National Geographic (pre-1945 only).. ALL  magazines are 25 cents each.    Also old newspapers 50 cents. The buildings are restocked weekly, all books shelved by subject.

ALSO NEW– SHOP ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANY MONTH if you are passing by —- Self Service Shelves- Outside, on the roadside of the Book Shack- easily visible from the road invite you to stop and shop– Open the glass doors on the shelves and select your books–ALWAYS OPEN – 24 / 7 – year round.  Shop anytime and leave your payment in the mail slot in the door of the Little Red Book Shack 

Park right up on the grass near the Book Shack when you visit us.

Please share on Facebook and/or Tweet, if you desire.

1,2,3… GO! Summertime Freebies!

The ONE, TWO, THREES of freebie joyfulness.

Summer is on the way and free is on the agenda. Free to eat a slice of watermelon while watching fireflies work their magic, free to picnic during concerts in the park, and free to explore some low-cost and no-cost activities. The following three ideas are designed to encourage those pinching pennies to not also pinch rest and relaxation.

1) FREE ACTIVITIES – Concerts in the park, potlucks with friends or neighbors, weekly spirited walkabouts or runabouts for the kids (have everyone bring their own drink and take a group walk through the neighborhood). Consider a neighborhood garage sale day and use your profits for leisure. If the creation of a more cohesive community appeals, have a neighborhood potluck after the garage sale. Provide name tags and have everyone write, in addition to their name, something they’d like to share about themselves to spark conversations.


Other free ideas are blanket stargazing, farmers’ market visits, bonfire in your fire pit, group dog walking, library speakers and free classes, book signings, poetry, and art. Many communities offer enrichment days with sidewalk chalk art, chili cook-offs, and activities in local parks.


2) HOBBY – Just one. That’s all you need. Brainstorm up a free or nearly free hobby and try it out. Here are a few suggestions from the most kickback to a couple of adrenaline boosters. If they seem a bit daunting, pack up a picnic and enjoy watching the daredevils go after it. Biking, dirt biking, skateboarding, photography (Instagram is free), and gardening – we planted kale and sunflowers last summer for under $10. Or as one artist recently shared on Facebook, make a natural teepee vine trellis with inexpensive bamboo poles from your local garden center and pick the beans as they appear.


What about surfing, kayaking, hiking, bowling (an excellent one for hot days), juggling, magic, camping, and the obvious – water-play? The soaker balls are very inexpensive and a blast to dunk in even a bucket and toss at one another. We’re not just talking for kids on this one; adults can recreate childhood silliness and find that this is a guaranteed stress reliever.


Short on adventure-loving friends? No problem. Check out Meet Up, an online forum that brings people together to participate in hobbies. There is no charge for joining in and using the service. We once happened upon and took a, donation only, meditation cruise on a sailboat via this site.

3) HOME TURF – It’s your state, explore it. Mended Wheels is a phenomenal website that shares freebies throughout the country’s entire 50 states.

Don’t wait until August and then say, “sure wish we would have…”. Your rearview mirror can reflect a summer that was a perfect blend of inexpensive relaxation and celebration.


We are awarded a finite number of summers and, at the very maximum, it usually tops out at 80-100. How many do you have left and what do you want to do with them? We know money can be an issue and we here at On A Dime are hoping that this article offered hard-working dreamers some ideas for much deserved and less expensive respite.

Feel free to share via Facebook and/or Tweet the article. And thanks a bunch!

8+ Links To Free & Almost Free Getaways

Teri Clifton’s collection of essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon!

Update! Check this link from Sunset for last minute, no reservation, campgrounds!

If you are dreaming of grabbing some time away but the hot water heater just malfunctioned and the orthodontist said Jr.’s braces will be on through his MBA, we’re sending relief your way.

You deserve a break from the daily grind that doesn’t break your bank also. Pack up a bag and choose from this list to help get you on your way.

1) FREE – Camp for free or darn near free. Yes, anyone can do it and generally there’s no real competition to get the sites. Here’s your link with sites available throughout the United States as well as a few photos of sites where we’ve stayed. http://freecampsites.net/

2) PETS – Bring your dog along for the vacation? Yep, here’s your link and a darn cute photo of a stellar camper by the name of Bean. http://www.bringfido.com/lodging/campgrounds/region/united_states/

Have dog, will travel

3) LITTLE KIDS – Need to save money but also want to keep little ones entertained? This should help. And be sure to stop off along the way for unexpected fun.


The middle of nowhere on the way up and through Jerome, AZ
The middle of nowhere on the way up and through Jerome, AZ

4) ROMANCE – Pining for some romance? Camping relieves the money stress and enhances the sappiness. http://www.romanticcamping.com/romantic-ideas.html

5) HONEYMOON – Share the love on honeymoons, anniversaries etc. http://www.essortment.com/top-ten-camping-honeymoons-31409.html Yosemite? You betcha’ http://www.mywedding.com/articles/honeymoon-camping-yosemite-national-park/

tealights = ambiance
tealights = ambiance

6) ROAD TRIPS – The price of gas is non-negotiable, however, no restrictions on throwing extra people in. Double date if you’re a couple or make it a friends weekend. Here’s the top 100 choices. http://www.bestroadtripplanner.com/best/index.php?s=2


7) POTLUCK – Can’t say enough about this. Recently, I was a guest at a wine or appetizer potluck and the birthday gal specified “no gifts”. Great night, minimal expense. Get a vacation going this way also. We’re including our $40 weekend link and our potluck one too.

Crepes goat cheese

8) STAY-CATION – Yes, we are all familiar with the stay at home vacation and here are a few ideas that make it work. Fib. Yep, that’s right. Tell everyone (co-workers, mom, your best friend) you are going to be unreachable. Next, turn off the phone. And then read these ideas and embark upon your journey. http://www.wisebread.com/47-cheap-fun-things-to-do-this-weekend


Tweet and/or share to your Facebook. Our gratitude cup runneth over.  <3

Truth, Overachieving Underachiever

On A Dime’s mission to pass along money-saving adventures has been the greatest fun, however, there is also a dicey part of this undertaking. How do we promote gorgeous moments yet also share the truth of the journey? The truth being that this is On A Dime Adventure/Life not On a Dime Perfection. So, here we go and our goal today is to hopefully have you thinking, “good grief, the only thing she overachieves at is underachieving so if she can do it, anyone can”. Because that is the truth behind the gorgeous moments.

At the current moment, this overachieving underachiever – a description only a mother could love – is working part-time after having recently listened to her soul (note to self -if lost again – do not search for soul). The transition from full-time to part-time job brought no second thoughts (common for overachieving underachievers) but there was an idea that as long as life was rocking and rolling, why not step a little farther out of the box or maybe into the box? A rolling box to go with a rolling life.

The – already in existence – dream to build a teeny-tiny house on wheels (less than 150 square feet) was further ignited by the release of THE BIG TINY by Dee Williams. The book-signing was a turning point that had my guy shaking his head and lining up his power tools for my endeavor. As supportive partners do, he promptly ordered a first aid kit and – I am fairly certain – hid his high-end circular saw.

But I have my own tools. “What tools?” – my guy asked in a slightly alarmed tone, while inventorying, to make certain none of his were missing.

The tools in question require no batteries and were given freely by a few people who guided me to some simple realizations. Like screwdrivers and those little ratchet thingamabobs, these tools each have a specific function and aid in running a RACE. My guy smiles sweetly at this hobby mash-up and suggests I limit my consumption of coffee but I am confident that some of you might enjoy these tools and I promise to not hide them because this race is a run toward many more joyful moments.


*REMOVE – Remove the muck. Facebook will be our example. There is an icon at the top right of every post that comes across your news feed and it offers, “I don’t want to see this”. Use it liberally. It unsubscribes you from the individual post, not all of the friend’s posts, just the umpteenth snippet of wisdom that they’d never say to anyone’s face in casual conversation. Full-on unsubscribing is also a good idea if you feel the posts are impacting you negatively. Also apply this to anything else distracting you from the life you envision. TV? Use it constructively or for programs that bring enjoyment into your life. If you love the news, cool but if it has you mired in unpleasantness, turn it off. Even music. Try to seek out what will aid in making a life that is fulfilling and skip tunes that send your mood to the dark side.

*ADD – Easy-peasy and opposite of remove. Add or “like” Facebook pages that imbue you with joy, enthusiasm, and happiness. “Like” the things you like 🙂 The possibilities are endless, photography, gardening, bird watching, boating, movies, and opera (not for overachieving underachievers). Join groups that involve you in fun activities. Find a book club, sell your pearls and start sailing or meet up with a group of hikers/cyclists/tennis players. Put uplifting or encouraging music on your playlist. Choose how much and what you watch on TV or, as wild as it may seem, do away with it. I have not been in possession of a TV for 3 years and survived it.

*CHOICE – Stock your life with healthy choices. Everyone relates this to food and fitness but it’s broader than that. Take an honest look around and ask yourself if your social life enhances your life or if it drains it. Do you spend time with friends complaining and stuck in emotional upheaval or in a more balanced manner? Finding/offering support within a peer group is different than just raking the muck. It is perfectly ok to shake it up a bit and seek out new friendships that support building a joyful, healthy life.

*ENERGY – Energy is finite, we only have so much. We can’t be up and “living” 24/7. Our awake-hours are limited so any time/energy that is spent embroiled in junk is never reclaimed. If you adore the way you spend your leisure hours then you’ve no need to grab tools and race toward a life-reconstruction but for anyone desirous of change, it can be done. Take whatever amount of energy you are currently working with and invest it in building a life that you cherish. Grab a sunset or a sunrise, we are gifted with only one each day.

On a final note, often people who’ve had financial challenges tell me “but I was used to things a certain way” and I get that. Before age 40, I camped very little, I did not pile into a car with 4 other ladies and embark on a $40 weekend and I would not have considered hiking alone, much less in the dark. I was not used to any of these things but a slice of supreme luck was born out of an otherwise devastating life implosion. My luck came in the form of people who challenged the things I was previously “used to” like my in the moment Achilles heel. I was encouraged to live into a bigger picture of how I’d like my life to be and – along the way – what I was not used to, became what I loved and reveled in.

The best part of embarking on an adventure, into a land of the unknown, is the discovery of so many people who’ve taken off on treks that are full-out inspirational . They convey that what is not familiar might be the very thing that brings the most unexpected joy and wonder.


5 (removable) Obstacles To Becoming An Adventurer

The definition of adventurer gave me a much needed little laughing fit.

Adventurera person who seeks adventures – ok, that’s pretty simple – and then a seeker of fortune in daring enterprises; soldier of fortune – giggling.

On A Dime Adventure does not plan on gearing you up with guns and ammo, we’re thinking more a tent or directions to a hostel. And this article is especially geared toward those with a wish to strike out but feeling overwhelmed at the actual execution. Honestly, we still stumble around and make excuses when considering a getaway so it seems best to segue right into number one on the list.

1) APPREHENSION – Break apart the idea that you can’t go. Write out your list of the reasons standing in the way and then solve them one by one. Hang the list on your fridge and, piece by piece, tackle it.  Debunk the most common fear head on, “I am nervous about camping, it feels unsafe.” Between 500-5,000 people worldwide die each year “camping”. 600,000 people every year die from heart disease so why are we more afraid of sleeping in a tent than fast food? It seems the biggest fear is often bears and yes, we’ve had them outside our tent in the middle of the night and handled the situation like the superheroes we are, exactly as the rangers directed us to, we yelled, “Bears! Go away!” If you are really nervous about this, bear repel is about $50. Fast food repel is much more costly. 😉

2) MONEY – Five star is not financially smart for this On A Dime traveler so walking a money-saving walk is our only option. Here’s a simple cash strategy formula; look at how much money you have and then work from there. See our Forty Dollar weekend post. It is not a pie in the sky idea. It can be done. And we will give a financial breakdown of an 18-day trip we are embarking on in June to Tahoe, Oregon, and Washington in order to further the belief that adventure can be cost-efficient.  Borrow or buy  used gear.

$40 weekend

3) TIME – This one is evil and sneaky. It implies that you are a lazy cuss if you forego fertilizing the lawn, washing the windows, and cleaning the self-cleaning oven and instead, walk out the door and spend two nights staring dreamily across a lake at the reflection of the sunset. Do it. Drop the dust cloth and load the car and get out of town. This time business is pure silliness. Everyone can get away for one or two nights and we hope you start making a habit of it.

June Lake, CA
Time laughing is time well spent

4) DIFFICULTY – We “get” this so here ya go: 1 tent, sleeping bag for each camper or bedding from home, foam mat, ice chest w/ easy pre-packaged food if this is all you want to tackle, charcoal if you want to grill, firewood, camp chairs, deck of cards, headlamp. Less than 10 items to put on a list plus your food. Gear, keep it simple.

$30 tent, goes up in 5 minutes

5) PERFECTION – Now this is an odd one, don’t you think? It refers to the Facebook portrayal of vacations and how that jacks us up. On A Dime is as guilty of this as anyone and fully admit we have yet to post photos of bathroom awkwardness on the trail, terrible food choices (often the precursor for the bathroom issues), really hideous morning photos of which one cousin particularly loves to collect, and a whole host of other not-so-photogenic moments. And, as we write this, an idea is blooming. Painful as it will be, we’re declaring that we will start grabbing and sharing some “real-life” photos of our adventures. Please know that we’ve had many mishaps and embarrassing moments and the vast majority have been laughed about repeatedly when some time elapsed.

HE forgot to pack HER boots while she was at work and they are now getting married. Perfection

Adventures are in the eye of the beholder so all we’re hoping for is that you claim yours more often. Whether it’s fishing in the quiet of the morning, sitting around a campfire and laughing until you cry, or simply day-hiking your wilderness area with a pack full of apples and fresh juice, the time is yours for the taking. Take it. These moments are finite – life is finite – and our memories are ours to create.

Life Is In Session.

Feel free to share on FB and/or Tweet. Grateful. <3

100+ Hikes: The Best Of The Best

Hiking (the physical act) is at times imperfect, complete with blisters and coffee withdrawals, as opposed to a  hike (the physical place, the new terrain) which is nearly always perfect and that is, very simply, because the availability of locations is stunningly endless. For this post we’re sharing a link to the 100 best hiking trails here in the US, however,  the word “best” is subjective so we want you to be the judge.

Now if you are a fan of getting high – we know of two people you might want to connect with. The good news is this kind of “high” won’t have you doing time anywhere other than on top of mountain and that is exactly where you’ll find these two elevation experts.

The high-flying, trekking adventurers we lucked into this past week are joyfully sharing their journey and we are loving it! Jimmy Michaels and Rene Woodhead (aka Jimmy Rivers and IAmRWood) are two travelers that decided that their  future trips should all be high points, literally. These endorsers of heading off the grid have set their sites on hiking the highest point in each of the contiguous 48 states with Hawaii and Alaska also on their list. They’ve blogged about, and beautifully photographed, the places across the US that they’ve visited. Following their undertaking is wonderful for anyone with a desire to slip away from civilization and move on down a dirt trail. Jimmy and Rene show that it is doable and it is mighty fulfilling, whether you choose to bite off a big piece of Mother Nature, as they are, or simply hanker to take a weekend stroll along a butterfly-filled path.


The best places in each state to hike can be pretty subjective so we’ve compiled a few lists and links in order to get you started. Your experience will be yours and yours alone and we’d love to hear if you discover some magical place that the world has been missing.

Top 100 Hiking Trails at Triple Blaze is a list that ranks hikes by hikers reported favorites along with the trails people would most like to visit. All trails listed are in the US. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC has a US Park top ten list for kid-friendly hiking destinations that proves helpful for those with wee ones but keep in mind that the popular sites usually require advance planning especially in peak months. If you are looking for hikes near your home, ask your local outdoor adventure store for recommendations.

Hike 10
Day hike 6 miles round trip

In our home state (California), tons of hikes exist and here’s our humble but absolutely irrefutable 😉 opinion on a few of the best.

*Mount Whitney for sheer accomplishment and stunning beauty and yes, Jimmy and Rene have marked it off their list. We too have been up Whitney and found it a soul-rocking climb. Horseshoe Meadows, 10,000 feet and about 1/2 hour from Whitney with stunning forest hiking and camping. For anyone considering a back-side approach to Whitney, Cali Trails will knock your socks off.

*Rock Creek Canyon with its casual (under 5 mile) hike that ponied up multiple lakes and resembled an alpine wonderland. Very kid and dog friendly.

*Mono Lake at sunrise or sunset will take your breath away. Easy path a short distance from the car.

S. California beach hikes – Point Dume, Leo Carrillo, and El Matador are nirvana. All offer fee or free parking depending on distance you are willing to walk.

California offers something for everyone and you call your own shots.

1/4 mile from the car

Another example of subjective beauty is the great state of Oklahoma. Jimmy and Rene hit the high point at Black Mesa (4,972.97 feet) and the USA TODAY list includes Robbers Cave and a number of other hiking areas but misses On A Dime’s favorite, Wichita Wildlife Refuge.

We’ve hiked truly amazing places, some obvious as in the Grand Canyon and Half Dome but others that were off the radar like Horseshoe Meadows and Onion Valley. What we know for sure is that the hunt for unexplored dirt trail will take us a lifetime and we are so very lucky for that. One of the best perks about On A Dime Adventure is when readers turn us onto little known gems that are waiting to be enjoyed. Please leave your favorites in the comments below or connect with us via email and/or Facebook and share your secret trails.

*On a final note we are leaving you with a link to TRAILS.COM’s top 100 hikes. This list is one that caught our attention as it was compiled based on 10 million reader/hiker votes. Rock on and hope we see you on the trail!

We’d be grateful if you have a favorite hike in your area, if you would include it along with a link if available in the comments sections below!

5 Sassy Benefits To Hikers

Does hiking offer some sassy benefits? Yes. It does. And how do we know?

Because several years ago, I arrived in my doctor’s office with a serious sass deficiency, difficult to treat, and complicated by my self-diagnosis – via the Internet. I announced that I could not stop crying but that I didn’t want any intervention unless it was non-traditional, free of free-radicals, and not approved by the FDA. The response the doctor gave was, “well, I’m not sure why you are here then so, walk”. Thankfully she stopped me as I stood to leave and added, “No, I mean walk 20 minutes every single day, it should reduce the crying.”

And she was right, the crying diminished in exchange for the griping and complaining  about walking. That is until I happened upon hiking. I mean the word hiking. It had a much nicer ring to it and I liked the boots better than tennis shoes. For anyone who questions this reasoning, the definition of hiking is to go on an extended walk for pleasure. Extended, I figured, was in the eye of the beholder.

What began as a lengthier walk, morphed into discovering the trail and a realization that – according to the experts – some sassy benefits were mine for the taking, benefits like:

1) A SHARPER MIND – Now this one gives me a giggle because the prevailing wisdom is that cardio improves concentration, however, I am known far and wide for hiking into the backcountry and right off the trail. I like to think it is time spent in this very “zone” (zoned out) state that creates the sharper mind.

2) A HEALTHIER BODY – Yes, your blood pressure goes down as does the desire to strangle the person who would NOT turn right on red when you were in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere. The rest of the health-package has been widely touted as encouraging increased respiration, weight loss, muscle gain, blood circulation, and stamina. We know that hiking is good for our bodies and that translates into good for our emotional state.

3) A SOLID SPIRIT – The misconception here is that “spirit” is purely internal or attached to personal self-realization. To be outdoors and present to nature-made as opposed to man-made has an ability to reduce us individually and expand us collectively. We go from mindless singular consumers to a group of trekkers responsible enough to leave no trace.

4) A SENSE OF COMMUNITY – This is powerful so I hope you seize it if it fits. Find some kindred spirits, a pal or two, that want to join you. Walking/hiking with a friend can save you money, rock your entire experience, and friendships blossom on the trail in a manner that no happy hour can equal. Bonding – over 2 for 1 margaritas – pales next to a sunset on the trail and yes, you can bring your own spirits.

5) INCREASED SELF-CONFIDENCE – Taking on a dirt trail and hiking into the wild, for even a mile or two, reaffirms that we used to be self-sufficient. Our forefathers drank water from rushing creeks and picked wild mustard for dinner. The child in us is familiar with the joys of roughing it and knows that the stomach ache from eating crab apples is not lethal. The adult in us is aware that this stomach ache is actually far less harmful than blood pressure spikes from road rage in work traffic.

So let’s park the car, load the backpack with apples, and head out of cell range. This we can do, it is in our DNA. It’s called sass.

*Please know that I do not mean to make light of depression or suggest that cardio is a singular fix. I incorporated a number of tools on the road back to emotional health and hiking was key for me. It still is. If you are struggling with depression, please seek medical help.



Whoa! Regroup

“Regroup”, the most dreaded comment on a vacation next to “Who had the ATM card last?” And yet there is power in the great getaway-regroup. For that matter, there is power in the life-regroup and this week we happened upon an amazing adventurer who not only accepts the power in regrouping, she celebrates it. For any of you who’ve ever wondered about climbing a 14,000+ foot mountain, hiking rim to rim in the Grand Canyon or any other trek that could be defined as “epic”, Shelli Johnson of Epic Life is your answer.

In 2009, Shelli, founder and CEO of Yellowstone Journal Corporation, sold to Active Interest Media (owner of Backpacker, Yoga Journal, and Climber magazines) and began a gradual transition from promoting America’s famed parks to lacing up her boots and trekking them full time. The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, and the Rocky Mountain National Parks became Shelli’s playing field for taking individuals and groups on trips that empowered them and altered their lives in a multitude of beautiful ways. Having embarked upon a health makeover, and navigated depression and a general discontent, Shelli relates to those seeking a reconnect to a quality of life that sometimes proves elusive. Her Epic Life Coaching was born out of her own turnaround. The Epic trips she guides offer more than conquering an exterior mountain; the experience also encourages interior (emotional) mountain climbing and provides the tools to bring this to fruition.

Epic was what a trip last weekend to the Mount Whitney area was supposed to be for this On A Dimer and my little guy (age 15). An anticipated agenda of mystical sunrises and dispersed (free) camping in the Alabama Hills was on slate when gale force winds kicked up and tossed 3 semi trucks off the highway, sobering us into the image of our tent aloft with us inside. Upon this complication, we lowered our sails and coasted into the Dow Villa Motel parking lot . Rocking a migraine and a tent in 50 mph gusts was never even a consideration. The campfire we coveted was doused in favor of the boy hot-tubbing and swimming in his jeans while the fearless leader chugged coffee and Excedrin in a cushy bed and watched Mean Girls and the louder the wind howled – the louder it was proclaimed that “regroup” was the way to go.

Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills at the base of Mt. Whitney

There have been a number of regroups in my life but it is backpacking that made me hyper-aware of the seriousness of shifting the plan. When Shelli and I talked about “plan As” gone awry, we agreed wholeheartedly on one profound thing. Frequently, glorious, stunning moments and significant life-changes result from a whomp of unexpectedness. Nothing is clearer – when miles from help – than the fact that food, water, and shelter are the only things necessary to survival. Last fall, my guy and I sat on a bus bound for our Yosemite trailhead as snow and sleet quickly turned us from swaggering Half Dome hikers into lily-livered, cry-babies. When the bus driver announced that the road had been closed and we’d have to spend the night in a hotel, we threw ourselves in each other’s arms and sobbed with relief or at least half of us reacted this way.

A shift in plan is unsettling initially but it is what transpires afterward that can elevate us into a realm we did not anticipate. When in the backcountry, we are at the mercy of the elements and strategizing, in the face of adversity, exercises our courage and tenacity muscles of which mine are the consistency of jelly.

A solo trip up Mt. Whitney strengthened my tenacity muscle and brought respect for the wrath Mother Nature wields when I found myself racing a lightning storm to get below the tree line. I won and as silly as it may sound, I grew from the face-off with electricity in the raw. I had planned carefully, consulted the Rangers about weather, and adjusted by starting my climb at 11:30pm (cough, cough, permit allowed for midnight entry). I hiked all night through the dark rather than at sunrise and this had me staring down imaginary bears and serial killers most of the night. I was alone until 6am when I came across a 65-year-old hiker who literally was the reason I was able to summit. He asked how my head felt and I replied that it hurt. He then instructed me to “HURRY!” as the current altitude of 12,000 was just an appetizer for the pain my head would encounter at 14,508 and I would have to outrun the oncoming altitude sickness or turn back. He was right. I made the summit with a naughty headache and upset stomach and hurried down in an attempt to alleviate nausea and beat the approaching storm.

Highest point in the lower 48
Highest point in the lower 48

At the bottom, I felt empowered but I also felt humbled. My new respect for the mountain and the possibility of shift was something I carried with me the next two times I climbed Mt. Whitney as I had learned that multi-day, as opposed to 24-hour trek, was the way to manage altitude sickness. A later summit with a cousin and two teens was dramatically different, gifting me with a clear head, settled stomach, and glorious weather.

Glorious weather was not to be for Shelli and her group and their Mt. Whitney adventure (see blog here) was tricky with the addition of a snowstorm and regroup. The photos of the fairytale snow on the following day had me smiling and remembering last weekend when the boy and I left the Dow Villa Motel and headed up to Horseshoe Meadows. After sharing one of the Whitney Portal’s ENORMOUS pancakes and, friends, this is very much on a dime – we headed up the recently opened road. Horseshoe Meadows sits at 10,000 feet and it is beyond stunning. If there was a North Pole heaven, this would be it. Our regroup proved magical despite the boy having terribly ineffective shoes on his tiny (size 11) feet and the clean air and breathtaking scenery made “Plan B” an A+.

Teri trail2

Tree sculpture

If magic is what you are dreaming of, the list of possibilities is endless. If pulling off an adventure has you dreaming but nervous, call Shelli. And if it seems I am selling her services, it’s because I am. For free. I get no commission beyond the satisfaction that you are in good hands. Hands that will work with yours when it’s regroup time and clap loudly when you forge ahead and rock your regroup with some hard-earned sass and a saucy wink.

Please keep us in the loop on your adventures if you Tweet, Instagram and/or Facebook, we’re regrouping all the time in those arenas as well.

Rock on! Life Is In Session.