Tag Archives: Travel

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!

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.

What No One Tells You About Going on Adventures

We’re three weeks into our summer road trip. The experience so far has been a mix of emotions, mostly because I’ve grown attached to Norfolk.

I suppose it’s ridiculous to think I wouldn’t become attached since Norfolk is the type of place where you can be driving to a friend’s house and sheep cross the driveway.

Norfolk is also the type of place where you might find a peacock on a roof.

Of course, I miss being there!

I miss walking to the library, chatting with the librarians, and perusing their wonderful collection of books. They’re so supportive of my writing and my ideas. On Saturdays during April and May, they let me hold my Love Letters Writing Group at the library, whereby anyone who was interested could show up and write a thank you letter, or a thinking of you letter, or a support letter to people in the military.

The program was sparsely attended, but it didn’t matter because I used that time to write my own letters to people. As an added bonus, I became friends with an incredibly talented watercolor artist in town, Leslie Watkins, who read about my Love Letters Writing Group in the Norfolk Now town newspaper and loved the idea. Not only did she donate high quality cards to use, she also attended most every week, and gave me art lessons along the way. It was because of her great teaching skills, that I was able to make these cards:

I also miss walking to the Congregational Church every Wednesday morning to attend a Creative Writers’ Group, sharing my stories, and listening to the stories, poetry, and wisdom that my fellow writers share. The oldest person in the group is a 91-year-old spitfire of a woman who inspires me in so many ways and the youngest is a mid-30s man who has a good heart and believes in the saving power of grace. Every week when I leave the group, I have the biggest smile on my face.

One of the places that I don’t usually walk to, but I still miss nevertheless, is Botelle Elementary. I started volunteering there this past winter as a literacy and math volunteer in the kindergarten/first grade and second grade classroom.s Honestly, one of my favorite parts is hanging out with the kindergarten/first grade students during their snack time. We act quite silly and laugh a lot.

One day I happened to be sitting next to a little girl whose grandparents I know. The topic of conversation turned to fortune telling and making predictions. I announced to the table that I could read palms and I turned to the girl, picked up her palm, looked at it, and said: Your family loves you very much and you love them. Oh, and you love dogs, too.

The girl’s mouth dropped open. Before I knew it, every single student in the classroom wanted me to read their palms. This memory is one I will keep in my heart forever, and I suspect some of the students will, too, because when they threw me a surprise going away party (yes, I did tear up), several of the students made me cards that featured palms.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a minimalist and it’s my goal to get all my belongings down to one backpack. But for this summer, I’m not yet ready to give up these cards and they will be making the trek with me across the country.

Since I’m already getting a little teary-eyed writing this post, I might as well go down the rabbit hole.

I miss the dogs of Norfolk SO MUCH! With humans, you can say, “I’ll see you soon,” and they understand that you’re coming back. I like to think Smudge, Faith, and Dodger could understand me the same way, but I can’t be sure.

Sometimes at night I’ll sing Somewhere Out There to Smudge. He really is the silliest, most mischievous dog I’ve ever known.

Then there’s Faith, who when I saw her standing among her three brothers in a picture posted on TrustedHousesitters.com, I told my husband she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and we had to apply for that housesitting job. She really is an extra cute pupper!

I can’t forget Dodger dog. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the Barbour Woods, and every single time I feel profound spiritual experiences of gratitude, love, peace, and joy.

For anyone who is feeling anxious, sad, stressed, or any other emotion that hurts their bodies, minds, or spirits, I encourage you to find a dog and let them romp around the woods in wild abandon. You will feel like a new person by the end of the walk.

For all these reasons, and more, I miss Norfolk. Yet, with leaving Norfolk behind, there are new adventures to go on, new relationships to make, and new dogs to meet.

We spent last week with the adorable Gretchen and Sebastian in Manhattan, IL:

As my husband likes to say, Manhattan, IL, is the opposite of Manhattan, NY. It’s incredibly flat, sparsely populated, and rural. The house that we sat is a typical suburban house. I love it, though, because the owners love living there and take such pride and ownership in their little piece of Manhattan heaven. The house is a typical, suburban IL house, but the little things like the raised herb garden outside, the ocean-scene tiled mosaic in the bathroom, and, the brightly-colored wood-carved picture than hangs on the front porch, make it spectacular.

And, let’s be serious here. Wiener dogs are as cute as you can get. Gretchen and Sebastian are also especially cute because they get tucked into a doggy bed at night and then greet the day first thing in the morning with exuberance.

While in Manhattan, we also got to visit a couple and their fur family who we housesat for last summer. When I first got the idea of pet/housesitting as a way to make a living after I quit teaching, it was motivated by my love of dogs, the lure of travel, and the desire to have a relaxed schedule so I could devote a lot more time to writing. Little did I know getting to know and becoming friends with the people we housesit for would be one of the best parts.

We spent a delightful evening at their house, catching up, and enjoying our time with their animals:

Triferos

Phyllos

Rafiki

Lilu

And the chickens

It’s experiences like these that give me the strength and motivation to leave Norfolk. When my husband and I embarked on our housesitting journey together, our plan all along was to keep moving. So I’m grateful that’s what we’re doing. I’m also equally grateful that we already know we’ll be back in Norfolk come September for another long-term housesit. We love it there and I miss ya’ll so much. See you soon!

Passport to Connecticut Libraries Part II

Forty-seven libraries in 30 days; what an experience!

In case you didn’t read my last blog post, my husband and I spent the month of April taking part in the Passport to Connecticut Libraries program. In this program, you visit as many participating libraries in CT as you can, gaining a stamp from each one on your “passport.” Being HUGE fans of libraries, we were game to hit as many libraries as we could.

We also wanted to do the program right and that meant spending time checking out (haha) each one. Only on a few occasions did we pop in and out, and for those instances it was because we tried to squeeze in one more library before their closing time.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t provide an exhaustive list of every library we visited and what is truly awesome about each one.* But make no mistake, every library was, in fact, awesome, and I continue to be blown away by all the different types of resources libraries have available, such as:

Fitbits and Binge Boxes at the Brookfield Library

Seeds at the Harwinton Library

Cake Pans at the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown

Rokus at the Minor Memorial Library in Roxbury

Fairies at the Thomaston Library

The librarians we met made this program even more worthwhile. If I ever have to get a “real” job again, librarian is definitely in the running. Everyone welcomed us into their libraries with smiles, enthusiastically stamped our passports, and told us what they loved most about their libraries with a strong sense of ownership and pride. Including, Stella from the Minor Memorial Library in Roxbury, whose additional librarian duties involved being cute, wagging her tail, and making me realize every library should have an animal librarian.

A special shout out goes to Jay, who is not technically a librarian, but who curates the Bristol History Room at the Bristol Public Library. If you want to meet someone who absolutely loves what they do, find Jay. He’ll regale you with his favorite stories about the history of Bristol, including the first yellow taxi cab, the great blizzard of 1888, and Lake Compounce, the oldest amusement park in the United States. And, if you tell him you’re writing a blog post about your library visits, he’ll let you try out the old-fashioned Bristol Library embosser and play around on their old-timey typewriter.

This program has been such a wonder and treat during our last few weeks of housesitting in Norfolk. This coming Tuesday, my husband and I will be heading out for four-months on the road and we won’t be back in Norfolk until the beginning of September. I am so incredibly grateful to the Connecticut Libraries who participated, every single librarian we met on the way, and The Library Hop for their Connecticut Libraries Map. Thank you for making this program so wonderful and we’ll see you soon!

*If anyone would like to chat more about my library experiences or ask for recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact me at genesispotentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. I promise to do my best to control my excitement, but WOW! I love libraries!

Passport to Connecticut Libraries

SQUEEEEEEEEEE! That sound you heard is me finding out the libraries in Connecticut have joined together for a Passport to Connecticut Libraries program for the month of April. It’s a true testament to how much my husband and I are suited for one another that he forwarded me the Norfolk Library’s Night Owl newsletter on March 23rd with a message at the top of his email that read, “Check out the passport to Connecticut Libraries.”

Here’s the description of the passport program, as printed in the Night Owl:

During the month of April, libraries all over Connecticut are participating in this exciting program to make people of all ages aware of the power of their library card.  Ask for your passport at the Norfolk Library circulation desk as well as a list of participating libraries. Then take your library card and passport to at least five libraries on the list to be eligible to win a $150 gift card for adults or a $100 gift card for children. Get your passport stamped and perhaps pick up some free gifts from libraries along the way!

This program couldn’t come at a better time because despite being April, winter in Norfolk still continues. Last Monday we had an additional six inches of snow, Friday brought 2-3 more inches, and Saturday we woke up to another dusting. At this point in April the snow pretty much melts by the end of the day, but still. It’s a little much, even for me and I love winter.

My husband and I picked up our passports from the Norfolk Library on Thursday, April 5th. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for the awesomeness of the Norfolk Library, our home base. On that Thursday we chatted with one of our favorite librarians (okay, yes, they’re all pretty much our favorite), marveled at the latest art exhibit (stunning mobiles by biologist Bradford Robinson), and checked out books and ukulele. Yes, a ukulele! How cool is that?!

On Saturday, my husband and I hit five different libraries. The sun happened to be gracing us with her presence, blue skies abounded, and even the temperatures started creeping up.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day and OH. MY. GOSH. We had fun!

We started at the Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury, CT.

WOW! This library is stunning, inside and out. They underwent a renovation in 2016 designed by Bristow | Proffitt (formerly Poesis Design) and rightly so, they were named one of five finalists for libraries in Interior Design magazine’s international Best of Year Awards.

What I loved most about this library is their sunlit reading room, complete with comfy chairs and window seat overlooking a backyard that features a labyrinth and the Wachocastinook Creek, which happened to be babbling with excitement over the spring day, too.  I wish I had a picture to share, but my phone was acting weird at that point, and so I can only encourage you to go in person and see how wonderful the reading room is for yourself.

Next up, we hit the Douglas Library in North Canaan. Norma, the librarian we spoke with there, delighted us her enthusiasm over the program and pointed out many wonderful features of the library, such as the museum upstairs and their collection of book sale items, of which my husband and I were each allowed to select a DVD or CD as a gift for participating in the Passport Program.

Since we are heading out to Illinois and then Montana this summer (still looking for roadtrip recommendations, by the way), we opted to take CDs. My husband selected An Anthology of Big Band Swing 1930-1955 and I selected 1 2 3 con Andrés, a bilingual music cd for families, so we can practice our Spanish.

Other than Norma, the best part about the Douglas Library is learning they have Scrabble night every Monday evening from 6:15-8:00pm. If anyone is looking for me on Monday nights in the near future, you’ll know where to find me!

While at Douglas we also met Irene, a lovely woman, who already had 2.5 pages of library passport stamps! Talk about a woman on a mission. And in a fun coincidence, Irene had been to the Norfolk Library earlier on Saturday and talked with our librarian, Chaya, about starting a blog. Chaya recommended my blog to her as an example of someone who has a nice personal blog and, without knowing about this conversation, Irene and I exchanged contact information at the Douglas Library which included my blog URL.

In the afternoon, we headed south and hit four additional libraries: Goshen Public Library, Cornwall Library, Kent Memorial Library, and Torrington Library.

The Goshen Library greeted us with a gift bag of goodies, including locally produced coffee, hot chocolate, and caramels from Milk House Chocolates. We got sucked into their puzzle table, and I think we successfully places 6 pieces into the puzzle before we had to head off to the next library. But not before I discovered their children’s room where I found a service project asking for children to write letters or draw pictures for people in the army, as well as free Star Wars bookmarks promoted with a fabulous pun.

At the Cornwall Library, we found a 3-D printer, stunning artwork, and a surprise connection as we flipped through the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation’s Community Crossroads: Northwest Connecticut report and found that the cover photo was taken by a good friend.

Also at the Cornwall Library, I discovered The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep a picture book written by local author Caroline Nastro and illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva. Since picture books, sleeping, and bears are three of my favorite things in this world, of course I had to read the book right there in the library.

The story is adorable, surprising, and satisfying, and the illustrations charming. When you see a little bear wandering around the forest in a Statue of Liberty foam tourist hat, you know you have a fun book in your hands.

In Kent, we took a little break. Well, my husband did. I re-enacted our first date at the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago with a mini-puppet show in the Kent Memorial Library’s children’s room.

At that point, we only had 45 minutes to drive to the Torrington Library before they closed so we couldn’t dawdle. We arrived in Torrington with only 10 minutes to spare.

Of all the libraries we visited on Saturday, the Torrington Library looked most like a traditional library with its design and layout. The exception is their front entryway which has astounding acoustics thanks to the dome ceiling. I tried recording how it sounded, but this video does not do the acoustics justice at all.

On our drive back to Norfolk, my husband and I decided to head out for our next round of library visits on Tuesday. There are 147 libraries listed on our Passport to CT Libraries list. I suspect we’re not going to be able to visit every one in the month of April, but I am so excited to see how far we get. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted. See you at the library!