Tag Archives: bears

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!

National Park Adventures: Grand Teton and Yellowstone Edition

After lamenting in my last blog post about how my first bear-in-the-wild experience turned out to be less thrilling than I thought it would be, Mother Nature showed up for me big time. It started with an early morning drive through Grand Teton National Park.

We saw gorgeous mountain views,

breakfasting deer,

the most majestic elk I ever did meet,

and then, on the way back through the park, a black bear had the courtesy to climb on top of a tree stump and pose for me. Don’t worry – there were two rangers there keeping the humans and bears safe, so I was not in danger while taking this picture.

Add this wildlife to the dogs I met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you’ve got yourself one delighted animal lover.

 

I met most of these dogs while attending the People’s Market in Jackson Hole. The People’s Market is like a farmer’s market, except it’s for people who don’t necessarily identify as farmers. What’s amazingly progressive about the People’s Market is that it’s zero waste. Everything is reused or recycled.

While at the market, I bought my first non-essential clothing purchase in over 2.5 years. All the clothes I’ve purchased since December 2015 have been to replace something that has completely worn out. This time, however, I jumped the gun on replacing a t-shirt which still has a few washes left, since I wanted to support Bear Root Bitters, a locally-based company that focuses on remixing ancient herbal remedies from locally harvested and all organic ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of supporting local in general, I am especially fond of Bear Root Bitters since two of their proprietors, Katie and Henry, let us stay with them while we were visiting Jackson Hole. My husband and I know Katie and Henry as the sister and brother-in-law of Cody and Xena, the boxers we took care of a few weeks ago. They’re two chill, generous people, and I’m so glad we got the chance to hang out with them.

After a few days in Jackson Hole, we headed north to Montana by way of Yellowstone.

We didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone, except for a few bison here and there.

But, WOW! The geysers here are extraordinary!

I don’t do a lot of research before I visit places, mostly because I don’t want high expectations to be unmet. So I didn’t really know what to expect at Yellowstone other than Old Faithful (which did not disappoint).

As it turns out, there’s a lot more to geysers than just bubbling, gushing water. Check out these colors:

These photos are from Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone, and the only reason we stopped there in the first place is because my husband’s brother (the one who passed away in February) was nicknamed Biscuit. We now chalk up stopping there to divine intervention.

While there, we met the loveliest couple, Ron and Carolyn from Utah, while walking around Biscuit. Carolyn was so enthusiastic about how I quit my job as a college professor to pursue writing, that she insisted Ron take our picture together, so that later when I’m a published author she would be able to say she met me at Yellowstone National Park.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn is a real-life angel. I needed that boost and unwavering belief in my goals as a writer because just a few days prior, my agent and I decided to part ways. Despite liking each other very much and being fans of each other’s professional goals, we just couldn’t seem to connect in a way where we both were on the same page with my manuscripts.

A bummer and disappointment to be sure, but as someone who once sat down next to a complete stranger at a restaurant bar and then eloped with that person three weeks later, I have no doubt that what happened is for the best. I’m already looking forward to the next part of my writing journey.

In the meantime, I have more road tripping to do. Next time I post I’ll tell you all about the supermodel I met in Kalispell, MT. His name is Bruno, and, yes, he’s a bear to work with. Literally.

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.

Minimalism as a Professional Touchstone

TItle

A few days ago, I received an email from one of my incredibly talented and insightful critique partners. She had been listening to a replay of a free webinar on How Picture Books Work and someone on the webinar named Kelly made the comment, “anything with a dog in it has me interested.” She wanted to know if it was me.

OF COURSE IT WAS!

I also made a comment when discussing personal reactions to the opening scenes of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that I could never be too frustrated with Max because kids in wolf costumes are funny.

Where the wild things are Max in wolf costume

This How Picture Books Work webinar was offered by Kids’ Book Revisions and it was taught by Harold Underdown and moderated by Eileen Robinson.

Although I have never had the pleasure of taking a workshop or seminar with Eileen, I attended one of Harold’s presentations at the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley summer conference last year. In addition to learning quite a bit, he also startled the bejeezus out of me at a first pages event when he declared the first 100 words of an author’s picture book manuscript were cute and thoroughly enjoyable, but … “So, what?”

“Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” is the rhetorical question he asked the audience.

I felt like a million light bulbs simultaneously went off, then shattered to pieces in my head because I realized that OH. MY. GOSH. Sometimes, my stories will be good, perhaps even great, but that doesn’t mean they are desirable by industry standards.

It’s always a good day when you have a swift kick of humility straight to your head.

I’ve used Harold’s message to help inform which of my manuscripts to submit to my agent and which should simply be exercises in creativity and imagination. His message has also helped me hone in on what types of stories bring me the most joy throughout the creation process, which ultimately lead to stronger and more engaging manuscripts because I am more passionate and invested in them.

Anyone want to guess what kind of characters I feature in those manuscripts? That’s right! Dogs and bears. I suspect anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will not be surprised.

What was surprising to me, however, was the realization that with this awareness comes a responsibility to stay true to myself. As a minimalist, I enthusiastically proclaim that I don’t want a lot of stuff, and I embrace and even revel in how awesome I find a simple life; yet, how funny that I had ignored how minimalism could improve my approach to writing projects.

Just like the millions of light bulbs going off, then shattering with the “Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” I had the same sort of moment when I realized this insight means letting go of some really great ideas I have for books simply because they don’t align with my personal values that bring me the most joy.

For example, over the winter holidays when I was catching up on my Carolina Alumni Review issues (GO TAR HEELS!),

Carolina AR

I came across a feature article about Zena Cardman ’10, who is the first microbiologist astronaut for NASA and who wants to go to Mars. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?

I underlined the article, made margin notes, and thought to myself: this is a story that needs to be told.

Women in Science is so relevant right now to children’s literature and quite a few editors are specifically looking for stories like Zena’s.

But as a minimalist, I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Doing so makes my life feel unbalanced and anything but simple. I now understand that Zena’s story is not mine to tell. Thinking a story is cool, relevant, and timely is not enough to devote hours and hours to research, writing, and revising, or giving away pieces of my heart, which I feel is necessary for a manuscript to be considered my best work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget that I ever read Zena’s story.

I have a plan for trying to connect her with a rather successful nonfiction kidlit writer who is currently looking for scientists to interview for her e-zine. Also, if you are a kidlit writer reading this blog post, who just happened to be thinking, I wish I had a cool woman in science story to write about, please reach out to me and I’ll send you a copy of Zena’s Carolina Alumni Review article. She’s an outstanding person and a wonderful role model for our future generation of scientists, and even though I will not be writing her story, I can’t wait for it to get told through a children’s book.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on my animal stories because that’s where my heart is. A story about this little girl is still percolating in my mind.

Lelu

And, just yesterday while getting out of the shower, I had an idea for a mashup involving two of my favorite animals. Haha, no¸ this new mashup is not about dogs and bears – I’m already working on that story, thanks to this ball of fluff I got to know in December.

Shiloh

Her name is Shiloh and I’m pretty sure she’s part bear.

This new story is inspired by Smudge and ….

Smudge!

Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have to leave some things left to surprise my readers.

As always, thanks for your encouragement and support. A special shout-out to my new friend Bob, UNC class of ’72, who entertained me yesterday with some fun stories about his and his wife’s life journey to minimalism. I was feeling some bloggy writer’s block earlier and as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I cranked out most of this post. YAY TAR HEELS!

Thinking About Death During the Holidays

Christmas is coming

With Christmas fast approaching and only nine days left in 2017, it’s time for my yearly reflection entitled, “Even Though It’s Christmas, People Still Die.” And yes, I totally stole this idea from the late 1990’s sitcom Friends.

Because I know many of my friends and family who read my blog sometimes worry about me based on what I write, let me clarify that thinking about death during the holidays does not mean I’m depressed. Quite the opposite.

This has been one of the happiest, most joyful years of my life.  2017 also happened to be the year I read five different books on happiness (two of them I re-read for the second time):

ANtidote

Subtle art

Happiness Project

51XWb7K-jHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

joy

I recently told someone about all these books and she joked, “shouldn’t you be happy by now?”  Her point is excellent, except I read these types of books as someone who has a professional interest in psychology, science, and research, more than as an I need these books to improve my life mentality.

Although, I would be lying if I said these books haven’t improved how I live. Each one of them has contributed positively to some aspect of my life, most notably The Sweet Spot because I’m now exercising on a regular basis and it’s become an actual habit.

What I find most interesting about these books is that every single one of them included a chapter on death. They all claimed that to truly experience sustained and long-term joy, you have to keep your own death a central part of your life.

Last Christmas, death ended up being forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we were caring for had been diagnosed with a mass on his spleen. He didn’t have much longer in this world and sure enough, he died within a month.

moon-cropped

I also wrote last Christmas about my 43-year-old cousin Becky, who was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, and succumbed to the disease in April, 2014.

Those losses are still heavy in my heart today, just like all the other people and animals I’ve lost throughout my life. But like these books suggest, I don’t allow the losses to weigh me down.

Instead, I use their heaviness as reminders which ground me to my own life; they’ve become a rock on which I can stand and look around at our wonderful and marvelous world. These losses lift me up into the here and now because all of us could be one hour, one minute, or even one second away from death and I know it.

Our time is so precious and because I still have so much of it right now (God and Kelly willing), I don’t want to waste it. This reason is why death meditations can be so useful. If I knew 2018 would be my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

Based on what I wrote last year – spend more time with family and friends, travel with my husband and/or niece to national parks, pet as many dogs along the way as we could, finish my first novel, publish my picture books, and see a bear in the wild – I’m tearing up with happiness right now because I’ve either done what I set out to do or I took major steps towards making these dreams a reality.

In addition to spending time with my parents in Pennsylvania,

Hawk Mountain

and my husband’s parents in Tennessee,

TN Sunset

we visited with various extended family members in North Carolina,

Kelly with Choco Lab

 

 

 

 

 

 

and my husband got to meet my oldest brother who lives in San Antonio, Texas, when we all met up at my parents’ house in Harrisburg.

Hersheypark

 

 

 

 

 

We brought my niece to visit us in Connecticut for a week in May,

Jori and Smudge

and I spent a few days with her in Washington, DC, this fall. We’ve also had friends come visit us in Connecticut and we’re making plans to see some friends in Illinois again this summer.

This past August, my husband and I visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio on one of our house-sitting road trips,

Cuyahoga Valley

and this coming June we’ll be in Glacier National Park as part 2 of our super secret summer plans (SURPRISE! This is how my husband is finding out about our trip to Glacier. He still doesn’t know part 1).

Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’ve wholeheartedly met my goal of petting as many dogs as I could along the way, and I even managed to befriend some cats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, a goat, and a pig.

And, although I have not yet seen a bear in the wild, this past July I applied to be a volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, for bear season (October and November). I had an interview a few months ago for fall 2018 and my prospects look good for being selected as a volunteer.

As for writing, not only did I finish my first novel, but I wrote another book, started two more, and outlined several more. Those don’t count the picture books I finished. I also submitted two stories to Highlights magazine (no word yet on their submission status) and I submitted a blog post to a major minimalism blog that featured the post in their weekly newsletter sent out to over 24,000 readers. Combined with getting an agent to represent my work, this has been a benchmark year for my writing.

So when I think about my life this past year, I can boil it down to one sentiment. I’m about to break a cardinal rule of writing right now (i.e., avoid clichés), but here goes: WOW! My cup runneth over.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way, most notably God who gives me the courage to live life this way and my husband who is also my best friend.

The question still remains, though: if 2018 were my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

My answer? Nothing. It is with delight and joy that I can say this and feel nothing but enthusiasm and hope for the coming year. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on! And maybe, just maybe, I’m finally going to see a bear in the wild.

119 portrait

Shoulds Versus Values

Zootopia Title

I spent three full days in Washington DC last week and logged nearly 37 miles of walking, which is the equivalent of 87,954 steps.  Most of those steps took me to one place – the National Zoo!

National Zoo

I know there are so many wonderful educational and cultural opportunities available in DC, yet every day I couldn’t bear not seeing the pandas (pun totally intended).  Although, I did experience some angst that first evening as I debated where I should visit the following day.

After “shoulding” on myself for about half an hour (i.e., I should go here,  I should go there), I realized I had a choice to make.  I could visit several museums or monuments that are iconic of DC and have a rich and storied history, or I could go back to the zoo, visit the pandas again and see all the other animals I didn’t get a chance to because I literally spent hours watching Bei Bei sit in a bucket that first day.

Bei Bei in bucket 2

Bei Bei Video #1

Bei Bei Video #2

The choice wasn’t really a choice at all.  I went with my heart and headed to National Zoo again on Tuesday and then Wednesday, as well.

Panda Mom

Beaver

Elephant 2

Lionesses 2

Red Panda

I know what makes me happiest, and even though I value intellectually enriching experiences, at this point learning about art and history is not a priority in my life.

As I wrote about in my blog last week, I feel some sort of shift coming in my life, especially as I relate to the natural world around me.  My few days at the zoo reaffirmed these feelings.

I know some people may think of zoos as an awful place, a jail where animals are held in captivity.  But I like to think of zoos as the proverbial Noah’s Ark of the 21 century.  Some animals will not survive without the work zoos are doing on a daily basis and many zoos are the bridge that first connects people, especially children, to these wonderful animals.  Without these connections, we stand to lose even more animals, habitat, and natural resources that are so precious and necessary for human survival.

Most zoos today are leaders in animal science and conservation. They have accrediting bodies with standards and quality of care for the animals they house and every day they devote time, money, and personnel to scientific advancement and achievement.  I celebrated these facts for three days as I marveled at the animals I observed, loving every minute of it, and smiling along with the other zoo guests.

Seriously, if you’re ever feeling depressed, head to a zoo and listen to people watching the animals.  Their laughter and joy will warm you from the inside out.  I felt nothing but gratitude and inspiration at the chance to experience such exuberant joy

Those three days in DC were a wonderful gift.  I’m so glad I know myself enough to not waste time on anything else that’s not going to fill my heart with joy.  Next time, I hope to completely skip the “shoulding” on myself and head right for those bears.  I sure do miss them.  I wonder if they miss me?

Kelly with Panda 2

After Thanksgiving Reflections

What Comes Next Title

Thanksgiving is now behind us!  I’m delighted to report I’ve kept nearly all my daily habits, including writing, exercise, and mindful eating for the entire time we’ve been at my parents’ house.  Not only does it feel good, but the positive reinforcement motivates me to keep going.

We’ll see what happens when my family and I head to Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane today.  I suspect there may be a peanut butter hot fudge sundae in my future.

One of the best parts of being in Harrisburg is that my 21-year-old niece is also visiting.  She’s a junior Chemistry-Economics double-major at UT-Austin, and the smarty-pants that she is, she’s participating in the Archer Fellowship in Washington DC this semester as a science policy intern.  Note: NOT scientology, which is what my Dad heard her say at the Thanksgiving table.

My niece seems to be fully embracing my anti-consumeristic, eco-justice, pacifist tendencies.  She also seems to be passing me on some levels of intelligence, which is both scary and awesome.  Although, I will never let her live down this sentence that she wrote for a class paper a few summers ago when she was feeling more than a little burnt out: War is wrong and bad.

Someday I hope to have this saying printed on a t-shirt.

But, honestly, how could I not be proud of someone who creates Snapchats like this:

IMG_0766 IMG_0826

My niece and I are going to take a bus back to Washington, DC tomorrow so we can hang out a little bit longer. On our agenda are the National Zoo and a walking tour of the National Monuments.  I can’t wait to see the pandas!  Although I appreciate our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, but you don’t see much representation of them), they aren’t quite so roly-poly:

When I was younger, I used to have a fantasy that I’d be famous enough to be a guest on a talk show that coincidentally happened to be the same day Jack Hanna was also a guest. And he just happened to have brought roly-poly baby animals with him.

Okay, maybe I still have this fantasy, but as an animal lover I just can’t help.  I think this is why my niece and I get along so well.  We both feel a kindred sense of connection with all creatures great and small.

As I get older and become more aware of my place in this world, I’m realizing just how much my love for animals is a major driving force in my life.  Before I developed a host of health issues, I was a vegetarian because I felt hypocritical for loving dogs and eating cows.

Now that I’ve regained good health, I slowly find myself returning to my vegetarian ways.  But because I did have such severe health problems, that return is limping along at a snail’s pace.  I suppose it’s partly fear – I don’t ever want to be that unhealthy again – and partly selfishness – animal meat can taste delicious.

This year I’ve stopped eating pork and next year I plan to stop eating fish.  I suspect giving up fish will be quite easy as most fish now consume so much plastic that’s been dumped in the ocean, it’s found in their bodies in significant quantities.  So gross!  Humans can ruin everything, including the ocean.

Whenever I start feeling depressed over our ravaging of the environment, I remind myself of the incredibly bright and motivated people, like my niece, who are working to protect our planet. Sometimes I’m also one of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I should be doing more.  I feel some sort of positive shift coming with my connection to the natural world.  I don’t know what exactly and I’m feeling excited.  I’ve had a couple of ideas that I’m slowly refining, with some forward progress. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about right now, so I can’t really share more.

In the meantime, I will keep my eyes and heart open to the natural world around me.  Perhaps something will inspire me, or I’ll receive guidance from an unexpected source.  Maybe I’ll get to hold a baby animal at the National Zoo?  Probably not, but I’ll never stop dreaming.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My love, gratitude, and appreciation for your continued support and encouragement.

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016

polar-bears

I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.

ida-always

Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Memoir Monday, October 17th, 2016

bear

The other day I saw something move outside from the upstairs bedroom window.  I called to my husband, “It’s the bear!” and we scrambled to the window to get a better look, but then we didn’t see anything.  We headed downstairs and turned on the outside lights.  I put on my glasses because it was dusk and my vision isn’t too keen in the dark.  And there it was!  No, sadly for me, it was not the bear that’s been spotted around town, but a big, beautiful white-tailed deer.  Exciting to see in the front yard, yes, but not what I wanted.

Apparently black bears wander in and around the town of Norfolk, CT, on a regular basis, and everyone keeps seeing them except for me.  

I find this wholly unfair because I LOVE BEARS! 

When I was three-years old, I fell in love with the polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo and I have never looked back.

When I started working for a research group back in the early 2000s, I was asked by one of my coworkers to name my favorite wild animal.  I said, “POLAR BEAR!” and then she asked me to explain why.  I told her it’s because they are white, adorable, fun, and they like to play in the snow. Turns out that was a “psychological personality test” and I just explained to everyone at work how others see me.

For reference, if you want to play this game at home, you can also ask, “What is your favorite domestic animal and why?”  That answer determines how you see yourself.   My answer to that question was dog, of course, and then I said it’s because dogs are loyal and always happy to see you.

But, I see plenty of dogs every day all day and while this is great fun for me and I would never want to not have a dog to play with, I long to see a bear ambling down the street.  One of my favorite children’s stories I’ve written thus far has to do with a bear breaking into to someone’s house to take a look around and unlike many of my children’s stories, this story was not inspired by observations from my daily life (oh, how I wish!), but it came solely from my love of bears.

It feels like every day someone comes into the café where I work and mentions a bear sighting.  Someone saw them on Route 44!  Another saw one on Maple Ave!  Not just one, but a mama and three babies! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but I’m pretty sure a bear is my spirit animal and it doesn’t seem fair that everyone is seeing them except for me.

To add to my dismay, a regular came into the café just yesterday and complained that someone had let their dog poop in the middle of the walkway.  As a big believer in karma, I felt once I knew about such a crappy situation (HAHA, pun totally intended) it was my job to clean it up.  You can’t just leave a mess for someone else…only, I’m pretty sure it was bear poop once I got out there.  Universe, why must you torment me? 

My husband says I have to stop looking for one.  Only then, will it happen.  I suppose he does have a point, considering that’s kind of how we met.  It was early January and I was thinking about the imminent end of my job as an associate professor.  I had handed in my resignation October 1st, 2015, effective for May 31st, 2016, which may seem like a ridiculously long time but I wanted my university to have plenty of time to find a replacement for me and if you didn’t know, things move at a snail’s pace in academia.

I realized that given the life I was about to start (i.e., writing, wandering, dreaming), I didn’t want to find anyone who was settled with a house and lots of stuff as a potential mate.  I had just spent months getting rid of almost all of my belongings.  I remember thinking very clearly to myself, what I really want is someone who will travel around with me and go from one housesitting job to another, NOT a person with a house and job in IL.  So I immediately stopped looking because I was on my way out of there.

I kid you not, less than one week later I attended a writers group at a local college where the group always goes for a little socialization afterwards at an in-town restaurant.  I walked into the restaurant, sat down at the bar, and on my right-hand side sat my future husband.  He was in town for work and he had asked his colleagues for a recommendation about where to get some good old-fashioned Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

A few weeks later we eloped in Nashville.  So, I think it’s clear I need to do something similar with my bear quest.

I am now putting this out there to all the bears: 

Bears, I love you!  I long to see you from a distance while you romp and play in the wild.  If you could be doing funny antics, that would be awesome, too, and if you give me enough time to get out my phone to take a picture so I can post it in my blog and on social media, I would be ever grateful.  Thanks!  Love, Kelly

Call Me Bear – A Flash Fiction Story in 496 Words

Call Me Bear

“Adorable!” I hear my human squeal from the deck.  She pulls her phone out and snaps a picture of me.  I keep running, but I suppose I can’t blame her.  I am an exceptionally good looking dog.

My official name is Bear; she hardly ever calls me that.  More often than not it’s Big Bear — one of my many nicknames.  Pooty Butt I don’t really care for.  Not only is it unbecoming of a Berner, but my butt is pretty clean as far as dogs go.   But now is not the time to think about my butt.  No, there is something in the yard that shouldn’t be here.

I got the scent of it all the way in the house.  I had to scratch at the door three times before she let me out.  In that time, the interloper absconded.  All that’s left is a faint trace.

I stake out under the deck.  I will stay here for hours if I have to.  I dig a hole, just in case that’s true.  The dirt helps keep me cool in the August heat.  Just as I settle down, I hear a voice above me.  “Num nums,” she calls.  “Big Bear, come and get some num nums.”

I wish she wouldn’t call them that – what am I, a puppy?  I guess she still sees me that way, even though I now weigh 100 lbs.  But she ponies up for the good stuff and I might need my strength later, so I go get my treats.

As she goes back in the house, the unwelcome scent nips my nose.  I leap off the deck and run like a greyhound to the edge of the garden.  Then I freeze.  I see our uninvited guest.  Its black body coiled like rope.  The head raises.  A soft tongue slips out in a hiss.

This creature is not my friend.  Nor is it my enemy.  Still, I know my human would rather it not be here.  I cock my head, trying to get a good measure of it.  Its tongue is still tasting the air, weighing the situation.

I want the snake to retreat back into the woods and find a new home.  But how to convey that without scaring it to attack?

I take a step forward, then another.  I do not bark; I do not growl.  I inch ever so closer.  Another lash of its tongue.  I wait.  Every muscle in my body alert, I am ready.  Yet I do not want to preemptively strike.

The snake uncoils like a ribbon and retreats, slithering away.  I watch until it disappears.  The female calls me again.  “Bear, time to come in.”

“There’s my Pooty Butt,” she says as I run to her.  More like snake whisperer I think as she scratches my head.  But she doesn’t know.  She’ll never know if I have my way.  I love her.  And she loves me.  We just have very different ways of showing it.