Like most responsible adults, my husband and work all week, pay our bills on time, and strive to take good take care of our family, pets, car, and house. Although we’re often busy, we’re lucky to have a good life (knock on wood). I’m grateful for everything we have and for all the things we’ve accomplished.

I’m not the type of person who usually complains, but the past couple of months have felt like one long workweek. It’s been nearly impossible for us to get a break from our responsibilities, even on weekends.

Dating back to the middle of February, every time my husband and I made plans to do something we wanted to do, something else would come up, giving us no choice but to cancel and deal with whatever issue had reared its head.

It started with our bathroom renovation. Our contractors wanted to work on weekends in order to get the job done faster. This isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t something we’d anticipated. In order to be home we had to cancel hiking trips we had planned two weeks in a row.

Soon after that, our adult daughter, who is in her early 20s, came home one afternoon and announced that she’d just bought a condo. We were very happy for her, and proud that she’d done it all on her own. Instead of cross country skiing, we spent the following weekend helping her pack up her belongings. The weekend after that, we had planned to snowshoe in the White Mountains. We traded our snowshoes for a rented van and helped her move everything into to her new place.

The weekend after our daughter moved, we had to do our taxes. Because I’m a self-employed writer, this is always an arduous, stressful chore, even with the help of expensive software. Happily, we discovered that we were getting a refund.

We booked a weekend getaway for early April to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

A few days before our trip, a close friend of ours died unexpectedly. Her funeral was planned for the following Saturday. I called the hotel where we had made reservations and asked if we could move our stay up a week. The person I spoke to said we could, but the nightly rate would be more than triple the amount we had originally booked due to it being school vacation week. I cancelled the reservation.

With the exception of 2020, we’ve hosted Easter dinner at our house every year for nearly two decades. We spent the Friday and Saturday before Easter shopping, cleaning the house, planting flowers, coloring eggs, cooking, and driving around to various stores looking for sidewalk chalk to entertain our boredom-prone younger guests.

The day after Easter, I cleaned the house again in between replying to work emails and running errands I didn’t get to on the weekend.

Beginning this Thursday, we have a reservation at a condominium in the Berkshires for four nights. We plan to hike Mount Greylock and the Ice Glen. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner, and cook brunch one day after sleeping in. We might wander around Stockbridge, or visit one of the area’s great museums. And if someone calls, I won’t be answering my phone.


Moving Mountains

Women who are strong and brave enough to challenge convention have always fascinated me. Whatever their motivation in refusing to adhere to the status quo, women like Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Julia Child and Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, an African American physician who was among the scientists to pioneer chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, all helped change the world and the way the world views women.

In honor of March being Women’s History Month and because I love hiking and mountains I wanted to write a post about one of my favorite female pioneers, Miriam O’Brien Underhill.

A New England native, Miriam was born in Lisbon, New Hampshire, in July 1898 and grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. At a time when few women attended college, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1920. She completed graduate work in physics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in 1925. After leaving Johns Hopkins, Miriam began a career in medical research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.

As impressive as this is, it’s not what Miriam is known for. Although she died in 1976, Miriam O’Brien Underhill is still considered by many to be one of the most gifted mountaineers of all time.

Most of Miriam’s early climbs were in the Alps, where she was among the first group of people to climb several challenging peaks beginning in 1926. These include the 11,184-foot Aiguille de Roc in Chamonix, France, and the triple-peaked Torre Grande in the Italian Dolomites, where the route she climbed is named Via Miriam in her honor. She is perhaps best known, though, for being the first woman to climb mountains “manless.”

After several years of climbing with male friends and guides, Miriam decided that in order to truly develop her skills as a climber and leader she would have to undertake some difficult ascents without any men present. She did this beginning in 1929, when she traversed the double peaks of the Aiguille du Grepon in Chamonix with French climber and friend Alice Damesme. Miriam’s other female-only climbs would include the Monch and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps in 1931, and the 14,692 ft. Matterhorn in the Swiss and Italian Alps in 1932.

In 1933, Miriam married fellow mountaineer and Harvard University professor Robert L.M. Underhill, who became her climbing partner for the rest of her life. They raised two sons, Robert and Brian, born in 1936 and 1939, and made several more first ascents, this time of mountains in the American West, including peaks in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range and Montana’s Mission, Beartooth and Swan ranges. Most of these climbs were made without the aid of cut trails, maps, or guides, as there were none.

In addition to climbing, Miriam was also a prolific writer and talented photographer, contributing several articles to National Geographic magazine and serving as editor of Appalachia, the journal of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), for six years. Her autobiography, Give Me the Hills, was published in London in 1956 by Methuen & Co. Publishing, and was released in the U.S. by The Chatham Press in 1971.

A scientist by training, Miriam never lost her curiosity. During her climbs, she discovered numerous new species of alpine wildflowers. Several of her photographs illustrate the AMC Field Guide to Mountain Flowers of New England, published by the AMC in 1964.

When Robert Underhill retired, he and Miriam moved to Randolph, New Hampshire, where they were among the first people to climb all of the White Mountains’ 4,000-footers (46 of them were known at the time). They helped establish the AMC’s Four Thousand Footer Club after reading a 1931 Appalachia article by Dartmouth College librarian Nathaniel Goodrich, who described a similar practice by European climbers in the Alps.

When Robert was in his early 70s and Miriam in her early 60s, they became the first people to climb all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers during the winter, an undertaking that Miriam felt was more “sporting” than climbing them in the summertime due to freezing temperatures and deep snow.

During the late 1950s, when they were making their winter climbs, few roads in the White Mountains were plowed, adding many additional miles to their hikes and often requiring the couple to camp overnight. The Underhills completed the winter 4,000-footers on Mount Jefferson on Dec. 31, 1960. The temperature was minus 18 F and the wind speed was 72 mph.

The next time you’re out on the trail, raise your water bottle in a toast to Miriam.


Note: A version of this essay appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine.

Every Idle Hour

My mother took every opportunity she could to complain about winter. She hated the cold, snow, and the short days we experience here in New England so much that her negativity spilled over into autumn. She could never understand why anyone would get excited about the foliage changing from green to red or would look forward to a crackling fire on a fall evening when these things meant ice and darkness were lurking around the corner.

I’ve always liked winter, though. During the rest of the year, I often long for the stillness the season brings. I love staring out the picture window in our living room when it snows, watching the swirling white flakes pile up and form drifts in the wind.

I never learned how to ski and I’m a subpar ice skater, but my husband and I hike frequently in the wintertime. The first time I remember experiencing complete silence was a few years ago, on a trail coming off of Hedgehog Mountain in New Hampshire. We paused to look at some animal tracks and when the crunching of our snowshoes stopped, we heard nothing but the sound of our own breathing: no cars, no airplanes, no people, no wind. It was one of the best moments of my life.

Nothing makes me feel more alive than the cold air on my face while I’m walking among the bare bones of the trees. I love cuddling up to my husband between our fluffy flannel sheets, cozy and warm as the temperature drops below zero outside. Rarely do I feel more privileged than when I’m the first being to make tracks across a snow-covered landscape. I like wearing sweaters and knit hats and wool long underwear. Few things are more spectacular than the pink-and-orange glow of a winter sunset.

Winter allows me the space and time to think, work, rest, and recharge. As the snow falls, I’m working to finish two book manuscripts that have been sitting on my hard drive since before the COVID-19 pandemic started, when concentrating on anything became nearly impossible.

If you’re anything like my mother, don’t let the cold get you down. If you let it, this enchanted season can warm your heart and bones.


NOTE: If you were a fan of my Living Madly column in Merrimack Valley Magazine, which ceased publication as of December 2021, you’ll be happy to know that I’ll still be writing the column. Beginning on January 20, 2022, Living Madly will be published the third Thursday of each month on

Kill Your Bucket List

American jazz musician and composer, Miles Davis, once said, “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” In a world where many people can’t afford to feed their kids, statements like this used to make my eyes roll. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to agree with him.

Over the past couple of months, two close friends of mine from college have been diagnosed with cancer. Neither of their prognoses are good. Because the three of us are the same age, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I still want to accomplish in my life, as well as about the ways in which I spend my time.

Like many people, for most of my adult life I’ve had a “bucket list” mentality. That is the tendency to divide the things I need or want to do into two categories: “things I have to get done now” and “things I plan to do at some later time.” The former category usually includes tasks like writing magazine articles, grocery shopping, and folding the laundry, while the second encompasses activities like hiking in Scotland, reading the stack of novels on my bedside table, visiting old friends, and finally finishing the three book manuscripts currently living on my hard drive.

I never saw a problem with this until recently. When, after all, is “later?” And what would I have to show for myself, and my life, if I were suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness, unable to walk or talk or write another word? The answer, of course, is not the one I want.

The good news is that I still have time (knock on wood). I’m in the process of trying to figure out what work I can afford to turn down, and what household chores I can put off or delegate in order to make my bucket list my to-do list.

I don’t think it will be easy. It’s difficult to break old habits. And it’s even harder to ignore the voice in my head that tells me I’m being irresponsible if I choose to hike up a mountain instead of mowing the lawn.

Miles Davis died suddenly at the age of 65. It’s something that happens all the time. On an intellectual level, we know we are finite. But ours is a culture that eschews talking or even thinking about death. I think we need to start, though. Admitting to ourselves that we won’t be here forever, on a daily basis if necessary, is the best way I can think of to get the really important stuff done.