Category Archives: Memoir

For Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

On July 21st, 2007, I read the above sentence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. One of the characters, Albus Dumbledore, had it inscribed on the gravestone of his sister and mother.

I know the date because I bought Deathly Hallows from The Regulator Bookshop (Durham, NC) when the book went on sale at midnight. Like millions of other readers, I finished the 784 page book by that afternoon.

There was so much to process with the last Harry Potter story, that I gave zero consideration to this final epithet that Dumbledore bestowed on his family.

Then a few years later I was sitting in church and heard JK Rowing’s very words read aloud from the lectern.

Wait. WHAT?!?!?

Turns out those words aren’t attributed to JK Rowling at all.

This mind blown feeling reminded me of my freshman year in college when I learned that Aslan the lion from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really a metaphor for Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, I learned in high school. Because whatever the teachers attempted to distill into my brain did not make it very far. Of course, I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy at the time so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

Maybe.

After my visit to Gettysburg National Military Park a few weeks ago, I’m now thoroughly convinced that education is wasted on the young. But I’ll save that topic for another day.

Anyway, guess who else has borrowed from Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s a book where I fall asleep nearly every single time my husband and I start listening to the audiobook version.

That’s right – Moby Dick!

I wonder how I would have reacted if I had never realized for where your treasure is came from the Bible and instead thought JK Rowling stole it from Herman Melville.

Guess we’ll never know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement as of late, especially because Heath and I are back in Norfolk. My reunion with Smudge and Faith had me nearly in tears of joy, as did the first time I went over to see my friend Cecily and walk her dog, Dodger.

Smudge

Cutie Pie Faith

As I walked through the woods with Dodger, I felt a profound sense of gratitude come over me. I am living my dreams – traveling with my husband, taking care of dogs, wandering in the woods, and writing nearly every single day.

Dodger

How did I get so lucky?

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Luck has nothing, yet everything to do with my current life. I made the choice to give up tenure and quit teaching. I knew where my heart was and it wasn’t with being a professor. If I hadn’t made the choice to quit, I wouldn’t have been prepared for the right place/right time opportunities that came my way.

My choice is important for me to recognize because I had an encounter on my road trip where someone showed a lot of skepticism for the life Heath and I are currently leading. When this person asked how we were doing (financially) compared to when I was a professor, I said just fine.

Sure, you are, came this person’s response.

No, really. We are.

Uh-huh. Do you know what it means to be delusional?

I then told this person that maybe I wasn’t earning anything close to what my salary was as a professor. But what I have instead is more joy, happiness, and good health than I’ve ever had. Not to mention the abundant time and freedom to take an 11,500-mile road trip or walk in the woods with a dog nearly every day of my life.

So yes. I am doing just fine. Better than fine actually.

I wish I had also mentioned during this discussion that I haven’t had rent or utility payments in three years. And the houses I’ve lived in — I never could have afforded them on my salary, even as an associate professor. But I didn’t because … you know, emotions. I don’t always have my full wits about me at times like that.

If I thought the person who argued with me would be amenable, I would recommend they read Harry Potter. Or Moby Dick. Or The Bible. But I don’t think they are, so I’m not going to waste my time.

I don’t think they’ll ever realize it’s not about the money.

Instead, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. And that’s just how I like it.

 

HippoCamp Happy – Reflections On My First Creative Nonfiction Writing Conference

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A few months ago, my friend and I came up with what we thought is a brilliant title for a children’s book: I Did My Best – I Made A Friend.

In hindsight, maybe it’s not as brilliant as I originally thought. But, this idea does perfectly sum up my experience at HippoCamp 18, the creative nonfiction writing conference I attended last week in Lancaster, PA.

HippoCamp started four years ago as the first writing conference devoted solely to the craft and publishing of creative nonfiction. For those outside the publishing world, sometimes people think creative nonfiction means taking liberties with true stories to create more drama and suspense.

Creative nonfiction simply means the use of literary techniques to tell a nonfiction story. Remember how I read five books on happiness last year?

All of the above are examples of creative nonfiction, as are memoirs, essays, and blogs. So, right up my alley!

I was also hoping to learn a few more writing skills to improve my craft and let me tell you – HippoCamp 18 delivered.

Joey Garcia wowed me with her Pitch Yourself as a Guest on TV News or Radio Shows presentation. She also had us practice coming up with a pitch.  Here’s what I came up with:

Not sure you’re ready to take the next step with your significant other? Meet our next guest who eloped with her husband three weeks after they met and hear what she has to say about the importance of values in relationships.

Of course, being the Hermione Granger that I am, I volunteered to read mine first.


It turns out I misunderstood the concept of pitching, and what I wrote above would be something a news anchor would say. Joey encouraged me to break it down to the actual pitch, which would be one sentence.

Here’s my second try:

I eloped with a stranger three weeks after we met.

This time, I got it right and it felt doubly good because I always enjoy talking about my incredibly handsome husband.

Our Wedding, February 12th, 2016, Nashville Courthouse

As a fun twist, the woman who went after me, B. Lynn Goodwin, pitched her story as, “it’s never too late,” which referred to meeting her husband. If you’re interested, you can read more about her story Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 here.

I also attended a hilarious presentation, The Humour Makeover: How to Take Your Existing Work and Make It Funny by Amy Fish, author of The Art of Complaining Effectively, and Lara Lillibridge, author of Girlish. They presented six different strategies on how to amp up the humor in your writing.

As I’ve been putting a Writers Digest humor course in my virtual shopping cart every time I get an email advertising it, then ultimately deciding no because of the price tag, I was thoroughly delighted by their offering. I hope they offer a workshop next year.

I also learned some useful presentation skills during Amy Eaton’s Getting Your Words Into the Air session. What I liked most about Amy’s presentation is that she had us stand up and go through a bunch of vocal and space exercises.

“Take up space. You belong here,” she said at one point. I straightened my back by at least two inches after that.

Her presentation ended up being rather timely for me, as I was scheduled to present the next day at the conference. I joined four other writers for the Flash Sessions and we each had 8-9 minutes to give a lightning round talk.

Unfortunately, Margaret Montet couldn’t attend because of a family emergency.

I’ve presented at conferences before, but they were always as an academic,and usually about tobacco prevention or teaching in the social sciences. This presentation was my first time as a writer speaking about my writing process.

My inner Hermione had me practicing well in advance and multiple times, too. I think I practiced at least 10 times on my own, and Heath listened three times. He also helped me get the timing of my slides just right since every slide featured an animated GIF like this one and I wanted people to laugh, but not be distracted.

I still felt nervous, despite all my practicing, and Sunday morning I found myself getting up in the middle of two different presentations to ….

Well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination what I was doing because I’m pretty sure my mom is reading this and she is of the old school mentality to “suffer in silence.”

The whole reason I ended up presenting at HippoCamp 18 in the first place is back when they had their call for submissions, I had been devouring self-help material while procrastinating (one of the talking points in my presentation). I came across the idea to, “do one brave thing every day,” and so submitting a proposal as a presenter fell into the brave category for me.

So there I was standing in front of a room of fellow writers on Sunday morning. The big conference room. I had imagined one of the tinier spaces. I gave myself a pep talk — I could do this.

And I did!


I responded to Dave later that getting positive feedback through animal GIFs is my new metric for achievement.

My favorite part of the weekend, however, was not the chance to present. It was meeting so many new writers and hearing where they are in their writing journeys.

I connected with one woman, in particular, the first night of the conference. It was during the mashed potato martini hour.

Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese, and fried onions

This woman shared something personal with me. I was so moved by what she said that when I was walking around Lancaster’s Central Market the next morning and felt strangely compelled to buy a single sunflower, I realized in my walk back to the conference center that she was the reason. I found her in the breakfast room and gave the flower to her.

We then sat together for breakfast, both Saturday and Sunday, as well as lunch on Sunday. We also ended the conference together sitting next to each other during the closing remarks and door prizes. This time turned out to be one of my favorite conference moments of all-time.

The first door prize was awarded to the person who registered first for the conference. The registration site went live at 12:00am on February 1st and the first registration came in at 12:08am. My new friend leaned over and whispered, “I think it was me.” Sure enough, it was!

This conference was everything I could have hoped for and more. I did my best and I made a friend. How lucky am I?

I’m already looking forward to HippoCamp 19, which will be August 23rd – 25th, again in downtown Lancaster. In the meantime, thank you to Donna Talarico, conference organizer and Founder of Hippocampus Magazine and Books, all the volunteers, attendees, and presenters.

Also, thank you to the Marriott for your delicious food and excellent service. The treats were so scrumptious, I snuck out two whoopie pies to bring home to Heath.

10,000 Miles and The Great White Whale

On August 15th, my husband and I hit 10,000 miles on our summer trip. Our car, which I’ve affectionately nicknamed The Great White Whale, is doing an outstanding job of keeping us going.

Credit also goes to my husband who understands car maintenance. He keeps impeccable service records, is capable of performing repairs, and has ears like a bat when it comes to car sounds.

Heath: Do you hear that?

Me: Hear what?

Heath: That!

Me: No.

Heath: You can’t hear that?

Me: Maybe?

The only time I did hear something on our road trip happened to be my fault. I put two Yeti water bottles on the passenger-side floorboard, which resulted in a scraping sound as if something was hanging down from the bottom of the car.

We didn’t know it was the water bottles until after we had pulled into a parking lot and Heath checked under the car, every tire, and even lifted the hood to investigate. Whoops. My mistake.

Regardless of this one instance, Heath is always taking care of The Great White Whale, whether it’s tightening hubcap rims, changing headlights, or insisting we vacuum every nook and cranny.

If it weren’t for Heath’s skills, knowledge, and attention to detail, I suspect our road trip wouldn’t have been quite so easy.

This past week our 10,000 miles had us driving east from Naperville, IL, to Harrisburg, PA.

During some of that driving, we’ve been listening to the audiobook of Moby Dick.

My husband has already read Moby Dick maybe 5 times. This fact amazes me because Moby Dick is 133 chapters, plus an epilogue. These aren’t short chapters, either. Depending on the edition and publisher, Moby Dick can be a whale of a book coming in at 585 pages.

We started listening back in May.

In 10,000 miles, we should have been able to listen to the whole book. The audiobook is only 23 hours long.

We’re still on chapter 34.

Did you know they talk about whales and sailing a lot in this book?

I’m not sure if it’s having narcolepsy or all the sea talk, but every time we listen to some chapters I doze off.

When we first started listening, I fell asleep for about twenty minutes. When I woke up, I asked my husband, “Is that guy STILL talking about sleeping next to that cannibal?”

Yes. Yes, he was.

And even after I woke up Ishmael still carried on for a bit about sharing a bed with Queegueg.

Moby Dick was published in 1851. Writing styles were different back then, as there was no television, movies, or Internet.

For that time, it made sense that Herman Melville would need to describe boarding houses, daily routines. whales, ships, knots, etc. in minute and excruciating detail. Not everyone would know this information or have seen pictures.

For my 21st century pre-existing knowledge and attention span, Melville carries on a bit much. Until he makes a point so profound and interesting all I can do is say, “Wait. Go back. I want to listen to it again.”

My favorite line so far is this little commentary Melville wrote during the aforementioned scene when Ishmael, a Presbyterian, is debating about having to share a room and bed with Queequeg, a cannibal. Ishmael comes to this conclusion:

Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash

How (sadly) relevant for the times in which we currently live.

While Heath and I were in Naperville, we happened upon a Stand On Every Corner rally. Karen Peck, a Naperville woman, has been standing at the Dandelion Fountain in downtown Naperville from 6-7pm every night for the last 40 days.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

According to the founder of this movement, Bryce Tache, this protest, “isn’t all about politics, it’s certainly not about left versus right, but it is [about] how do we all stand up about policies we believe are harmful, regardless of our political affiliations.”

Karen had several signs with her, such as:

Love Your Neighbor
Love, Kindness, Justice for All
Every Child Returned

Across the street, however, a different story was playing out.

For the first time in the 40 days that Karen had been standing in protest, a counter-protest showed up.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

They had very different signs:
Secure Our Borders
Build the Wall
Keep America Great

When Karen asked us to stand with her for an hour, of course we said yes.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

You know what’s also one of my favorite lines in Moby Dick (so far)? Remember, we’re only up to Chapter 34 and I suspect I’m going to be adding to my list of favorites.

Photo by John Peters on Unsplash

I think I’ve heard that somewhere before…

Well, what do you know? Moby Dick isn’t just about whales after all.

 

Wild Times at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This past week, my husband and I hit our seventh national park since June: Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited, this one wasn’t on our road-trip list of must-see places, nor was it recommended by anyone.

We didn’t even know it existed until I Googled “Map of National Parks,” to see if we could visit any on our drive back East. Our house-sitting job in Connecticut doesn’t start until after Labor Day, and I wanted to make the most of our time on the road.

My husband wasn’t sure he even wanted us to stop. We had just spent 8 very hot days in a not air-conditioned apartment in Dixon, Montana. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but trains also blew by multiple times throughout the day, blaring their horns. Every. Single. Time.

Including five in the morning.

We also knew that temperatures would be soaring close to 100 in Medora and instead of being concerned about bears infiltrating our camp site we would need to worry about rattlesnakes.

Apparently, they are everywhere in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas.

But I had my heart set on visiting the park ever since the internet informed me that wild horses lived there.

I didn’t know wild horses lived anywhere in the United States other than the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia. So, YES! I wanted to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Instead of camping, we decided to stay in a small hotel right outside the park entrance. It was worth every penny! Every morning we got up before the sun and hit the scenic loop in the south end of the park. There was wildlife everywhere.

Bison!

More Bison!

Even More Bison!

Horses!

Bunny!

Prairie Dogs!

I know I used a lot of exclamation points, but in my humble opinion six isn’t nearly enough to express how excited I got with each new animal sighting.

In addition to all the animals, another positive aspect of the park was lack of crowds. For every early morning we went out, Heath and I would be the only ones driving on the loop. We missed the sunrise the first morning by a few minutes (mostly my fault, as I wanted to stop and take pictures of horses and bison), but the second morning did not disappoint.

We also spent time learning about Theodore Roosevelt, the person, and Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States. His connection to Medora, ND, is tragic: At the age of 25, he went there to recover from the deaths of his wife and mother; they both died on the same day – February 14th, 1884.

The Visitor’s Center at the park features a Theodore Roosevelt museum, as well as the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt spent his mourning period.

Historians believe that it was Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota that eventually lead him to become a great conservationist later in life. Earlier, however, he practiced the appalling hunting practices of the time, many of which were cruel and inhumane.

Considering the great work that Roosevelt did for animals and the environment later in his life, I can’t hold his earlier actions against him. I suspect he felt a significant amount of regret for the choices he made earlier, and who am I to judge?

We watched a movie on Roosevelt’s life while at the Visitor Center. Towards the end, the movie featured this Roosevelt quotation, which struck me as being relevant and profound for the world we currently live in:

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

Roosevelt said this on May 13, 1908, as part of his Conservation as a National Duty conference he held at the White House with governors and statemen from across the US. I find it ironic and thoroughly depressing that 100 years later many of the people in charge of our “lavish resources” don’t even seem to care about asking these questions any more, let alone trying to protect them.

Over the next week or so when you are out and about in nature or see a picture of a natural place that touches your heart or soul, please remember the above words of Theodore Roosevelt and ask yourself: What would I do if this place was gone?

Don’t give yourself a free pass by saying that would never happen. Because it could happen. It is happening to some places thanks to our current government.

Just think about the place not being there.

See how you feel.

And then take a moment to say thank you because right there and then, you are still able to appreciate the beauty of God’s green Earth while we still have it.

When You Assume ….

Another One of My Husband’s Cast-Off Photos

A few years ago, I read the book The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. This book is based on wisdom teachings from the Toltecs, an indigenous population native to Mexico about 1000-ish years ago. Follow the four agreements and your life will become infinitely more joyful.

I’ve now given this book to three other people, if that’s any indication of the impact it’s had on me.

Here are the Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Do not make assumptions.
  3. Do not take things personally.
  4. Always do your best.

Simple. Profound. Easy. Well, not quite easy.

I recently read a blog post on a minimalism website that provided an excellent reminder of the importance of the Four Agreements. Especially #2 and #3.

In that blog post, the author detailed how they were sitting in a restaurant with their family. At another table sat a family of four who were completely absorbed by their smartphones. They were together, but not really together at all. “How sad,” commented one of the author’s children.

How sad indeed … except, that’s quite an assumption to make.

The irony is that I’m writing this blog post because I took what that author said personally.

My husband and I have been doing the exact same thing as the family of four every time we’ve been in a restaurant in the past few weeks. Usually, that’s the only time where there’s great wi-fi and we have a few minutes of downtime on our 3.5-month road trip.

If the author of that blog post had been sitting next to us, they would have probably thought the same thing as their child: how sad.

What the author would have had no idea about is everything that my husband and I have been experiencing in these past few months when we’re not phlubbing (phone snubbing) each other at a restaurant. For example:

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Driving through Jasper National Park

Valley of the Five Lakes

Elk Video from Pyramid Island

Mirette Hot Springs, Jasper National Park

Tea House Trail, Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Surprise birthday cake to celebrate my 41st Birthday at Bernice’s Bakery, Missoula, MT

National Bison Range, Dixon, MT

Also, since June 9th, my husband and I have not been apart for more than 20 hours (in my estimation). Not 20 hours consecutively, but 20 hours total out of the 1,368 hours that have elapsed since then.

We have literally been together for 99% of the time in nearly two months.

This road trip and summer has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Every moment of wonder and joy I experience is magnified by the fact that I get to share it with the person I love most in the world.

Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper National Park

So why is it bothering me so much what that author wrote?

After reflecting on this question for a bit, I’ve concluded it’s because I have worried about people thinking exactly what the author wrote about – that my husband and I would be judged about who we are as a couple based on how we were behaving at our restaurant table.

Then the bigger question is – why should I even worry about something like that? One of my favorite quotes from author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer is that, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”

I suppose having a PhD in psychology does come in handy every now and then, because I realized what I’m experiencing is a classic case of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when there’s a disconnect between certain attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, etc., that you have and your corresponding behaviors.

As someone who regularly practices mindfulness, sitting at a restaurant table with my husband while having my phone out is not being present. So, in the case of the aforementioned author, there is something fair about what they’ve written.

This “truth” allows my brain to yell at me things like:

IMPOSTER!

YOU ARE NOT REALLY A MINIMALIST!

SHAME ON YOU!

HOW DARE YOU HAVE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE YOUR INCREDIBLY HANDSOME HUSBAND SITS AT A TABLE WITH YOU! 

Funny how my brain is really quick to discount the 1,348 hours where I’m mindfully enjoying the good life and spending time with my husband.

I’ve begun reminding myself to let these thoughts go. I acknowledge them and then release the hold they have on me. Again, easier said then done. As long as I’m being mindful, though, I will keep fighting the good fight whenever my dissonant brain tries to overthrow my happiness.

Besides, there’s only one month left in our road trip. I simply do not want to waste any more time on a thought process that does not serve me.

I have a lot of the United States to see – with my husband. And I plan on doing my best!

End Note: If you are so inclined, please send thoughts of love to the family whose son died at Glacier National Park last week. It is an awful tragedy that no one should have to experience.

O, Canada!

Photo by Jonathan Denney on Unsplash

My husband and I noticed a trend when we were in Kalispell, MT. A lot of people asked us where we were going next. We would respond, Glacier National Park. They would respond, You really need to go to Banff.

So we added Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada) to our travel plans.

While in Glacier, we got the same question: Where are you going next? We responded, Banff. They would respond, Oh, you really need to go to Jasper.

So now we’re going to Jasper National Park (also Alberta), too.

We hit the road on July 3rd, leaving Kalispell behind. Soon, we crossed the Canadian border.

About 1km after that, we met this brown bear grazing by the road side.


I took it as a good sign that I’m going to love Canada!

We didn’t go Banff/Jasper directly. I felt like I needed a little stability in our 3.5 month road trip.

Thanks to the Internet, I found us a nice, short-term housesitting job in St. Albert, Alberta. St. Albert is a little north of Edmonton.

On the way to St. Albert, we stopped in Pincher Creek to stay at an Air BnB. This place has been my favorite Air BnB place thus far in all my Air BnB stays ever. Here’s a picture of the view from their couch:


This place has gorgeous views, spectacular natural light, and not a speck of dirt to be seen in our suite. Showering there was also a rather spiritual experience filled with abundant gratitude and joy. Being at Glacier, I had not bathed in five full days.

We also met two super sweet dogs, and a giant rooster with the most feathery pantaloons. My husband nicknamed him Bear Chicken, but his real name is Pretty Princess Bracelet (named by two little girls).

We then made our way to St. Albert, after a stop in Calgary. We didn’t have much time there, but we did have enough time to visit #REGRUB and share this milkshake.

What I’m enjoying most about the housesit in St. Albert is Stella the cat. Everything about her is adorable. She also does what I call The Flop when you scratch her butt. (video)

This housesit is the first time we’ve only been responsible for a cat and house. Add cleaners that came to the house on Tuesday, and you’ve got a rather easy experience. It was exactly what I needed.

True confession, though: I thought it was closer to Jasper so we could take day trips. It’s not.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time just to see what really happened because I know I looked at St. Albert and Jasper on a Google Maps.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters. My husband and I have spent our time catching up on activities we haven’t been able to do a lot of while camping. Writing for me and organizing/editing photographs for him.

Catching up means we haven’t taken full advantage of St. Albert or the area. I’m okay with that. We’ve been on the road since May 15th.

I’m considering this our summer staycation.

The few places we have gone are downtown St. Albert (Jack’s Burger Shack is 5 stars in my opinion), strolled along the walking/bike trails in the surrounding parks (we saw a beaver and a muskrat!), visited the West Edmonton Mall (largest mall in North America), and, my personal favorite, went to the St. Albert Farmer’s Market (the largest Farmer’s Market in Western Canada).

West Edmonton Mall Skating Rink

We’ve been here since July 5th. I think the truest testament to how much we haven’t been doing is that I haven’t befriended a single dog while I’ve been here.

I have patted a few here and there. But never long enough where I felt like I established enough rapport with the dog parents to ask details about the dog and if I could take a picture.

Thank goodness for Stella. She’s so adorable, I’ve had no choice but to take 304 photos of her so far. Seriously, I just counted. God bless the invention of digital photos and cloud storage.


I’m going to miss Stella and the consistency of being in one place. But I’m also ready for another adventure. I’m especially eager to sleep again in a tent.

Thanks, Canada! So far, you’ve been nothing but wonderful.

Reflections on Glacier National Park

Something monumental happened in my life during the first week of July — I lived in a tent for almost a week!

After my husband’s photography workshop in Kalispell, we arrived at Glacier National Park  intent on camping. For my husband who grew up camping and brought a tent as part of his marriage dowry, this housing situation was no big deal.

I, however, grew up in a family that considered a three-star hotel roughing it.

Nevertheless, I have changed a lot in my adult life. One of my favorite ways is that I’ve embraced the restorative and healing power of nature. Some of my greatest moments of joy in the last year have occurred simply by walking through the woods with a dog.

So, I approached camping with an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

My husband approached our first camping adventure together with some trepidation.


One of his biggest concerns was that sharing an air mattress would result in poor sleep for both of us. Ironically, he slept great and I slept okay. For someone with narcolepsy, okay sleep is actually quite good.

Case in point: for the first time in years, I averaged more than 8 hours of sleep a night. One night I even slept for a solid 12 hours!

Our trip to Glacier had been planned since December. But I’ve wanted to visit Glacier for years.

Overall, I found the park … meh. The Internet isn’t kidding when it says national parks get crowded in the summer time. More than a few times I had the thought that I was in a more open-air, natural version of Disney World.

If you do not get up early to secure a parking spot at any of the park’s trailheads, which we did not since we were too busy enjoying good sleep, then a good chunk of your day is spent searching for a parking space. Sometimes, you may even have to give up and go home. We heard quite a few people complaining about that in and around the park.

There are also people EVERYWHERE!

The experience reminded me of when I visited Machu Picchu in December 2015. At some points in MP, I literally stood in a line just to walk to the next observation point. That’s the first time I drew a parallel experience from Disney World to an outdoor experience.

Since most of my time prancing around nature in CT is people-less, I had gotten use to the tranquil solitude that comes with those experiences.

I had zero similar experiences in Glacier. That’s not to say there weren’t any moments of wonder or awe for me, because there were actually quite a few. Checkout these views:


At the same time, not everyone experiences awe the same way I do. Take our hike up Avalanche Trail, for example. 

The first time we tried this hike, we got rained out. We went back the next day and trekked up the mountain. The scene at the top took my breath away.


Yet my moments of delight were interrupted by a 20-something year-old, maybe even a late teenager, who stripped down to his shorts and splashed around in the lake. His friends called him crazy, snapped pictures, hooped and hollered it up, and then turned their attention elsewhere after a few moments. This guy then proceeded to yell at them, “I’m peeing in the lake!” Cue giggles and shrieks from his friends.

I can’t really get mad at a kid for acting immature. If he’s been reinforced to act this way by family and friends, he may not know any better and at this point in his life he may not want to know any better. I can only send him a silent prayer of blessing, which I did, and turn my attention to myself. Which I also did.

I sat on a rock watching this chipmunk live his best life (video).

I threw rocks in the lake contemplating the profound nature of the ripple effect (also a video).

I watched my husband take photographs.


And then it started to downpour (it rained all week), so we headed back to the trail. On our way, we met a beautiful tanager.


My Glacier trip ended up being different than I wanted it to be. And that’s okay. Some of it exceeded expectations (YAY camping) and some of it fell below (BOO peeing in a lake). Then there’s the fact that it SNOWED in July. I didn’t even know that should be an expectation! (video)

What truly matters is I had new experiences, learned a few things about myself, spent time with the person I love most in this world, and met several new dogs.


I guess that means it was perfect.

For anyone so inclined, please send love and prayers to Diane and Fred, Tana’s mom and dad. They were our neighbors at the Apgar campground and we’ve stayed in touch. Tana had to be put down last week. Love to them and anyone who is missing a loyal animal companion.

 

The Wild World of Wildlife Photography

I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!

And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?

In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.

All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.

I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.

The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.

I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.

One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).

Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!

Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!

The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, Kathleen Reeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.

Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.

Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.

Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.

Then, I met Bruno.  

You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.

As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.

Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!

Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.

Work it, Bruno. Work it!

What Happens When A Life Dream Comes True

 

It finally happened! After hoping and praying for, well, my whole life to see a bear in the wild, on Tuesday morning while driving through Grand Teton National Park, my husband and I saw a mama bear with her two cubs frolicking in a pasture. I couldn’t stop smiling, and yet…

Just a few days prior, this happened when my husband and I were driving through Custer State Park in the Black Hills, South Dakota.

And the day before while driving through Badlands National Park, we saw our first bison

Which was preceded by bighorn sheep,

prong horn antelope (at least I think that’s what they are),

and the cutest prairie dogs you ever did see!

Then there are ALL THE DOGS, I’ve met so far since leaving Illinois:

Plus, Oompa Loompa!

And one of the cutest kids I’ve ever met in my whole life, who seemed in awe of my husband and his feet.

In all of these situations, I felt feelings of wonder and joy. I laughed a lot and even teared up a little at some of them, especially the bison because of how close they were to us and Lucy the dog because of how much she reminds me of Smudge, one of the dogs that we care for long-term in Norfolk, CT, during the fall and winter. Also, because she carries her blankie with her everywhere and makes the cutest rumbly noises while doing so.

Something, however, felt less than joyful with my bear sighting. Don’t get me wrong – I loved every minute of it and I even put down my phone because I wanted to stay in the moment, and I couldn’t get a good picture, anyway. So, I let myself watch those bears run, and romp, and play.

Then, we drove away and I became aware of a small sense of disappointment that was gnawing at my brain. I couldn’t understand why I had these feelings.

As a psychologist, I know about the pitfalls of having expectations and how the brain can too easily adapt to surroundings so that a novelty wears off quickly, and, in fact, I’m reading a book right now called The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, which explains how our brains can be our own worst enemies on vacation (very useful reading for a three-and-a-half-month road trip.)

Yet, none of those reasons seemed to ring true for what I was experiencing in that moment.

Then, an a-ha moment came out of nowhere! Or, in my case, it poked its head out of the woods and looked right at me as my husband drove us down the road.

“WOLF!” I cried. “HEATH, THERE’S A WOLF!”

We both saw this majestic, white creature with grey trim stare at us as we drove the stretch of road between Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

By the time we turned around, the wolf had disappeared. And, then, I knew.

I knew exactly why my bear experience had felt less spectacular than seeing all the other creatures, great and small, on our road trip so far.

As we drove into Grand Teton, I asked a ranger where to see the best wildlife. “Oh, pretty much anywhere,” she replied. “The North end of the park is especially good. We already had a bear sighting this morning.”

We drove further and further North, until finally we were greeted with a flashing sign: Proceed with caution. Bear with cubs crossing road next 6 miles.

Not three miles later we saw her. Along with maybe a hundred other people and several park rangers checking in to make sure everyone stayed safe, including the bears.

All along the way, I had been told about THIS MOMENT. Then it happened. And then it was over.

There had been no element of surprise whatsoever, no random spotting of a creature in the wild or discovery of a silly characteristic from one of my domesticated friends as I spend time with them.

One of the reasons I love adventure so much is the discovery of the unknown and pretty much everything about my first bear in the wild experience had been made known to me in advance.

But as I type this post, my feelings of disappointment are disappearing. Because, it’s hitting me again. I. Saw. A. Bear. In. The. Wild. That’s a fact, not a feeling. And, I know the difference. Looks like my PhD paid off after all!

Happy Travels, everyone.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.

My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.

When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.

For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.

Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.

I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.

Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.

When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.

I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.

In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.

After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.

I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.

I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.

Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.

Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.

So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.

My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.

That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.

Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.

So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.

Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!