Tag Archives: Travel

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!

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.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Now that we’re settling back into our Connecticut life, I’ve been considering another goal of mine: get all my belongings down to just one backpack.  Yes, this is a lofty goal, and if I’m being honest with myself I’m not entirely sure why I want to take my minimalism to such an extreme point.  I think what it boils down to is I like the freedom and mobility that comes with being able to pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

I’ve done a decent job of whittling away at my belongings.  It was fairly easy to do, what with moving eight times in the last ten years (not counting a few short-term housesitting stints).  When you don’t unpack boxes from one move to the next, that’s a good indicator you do not need those items, whatever they are.

What I’m having the most trouble with at this point is the amount of clothes I have.  For anyone who knows me personally, this may make you laugh, because I pretty much wear the same thing every day: yoga pants/leggings (usually in a fun pattern or bright color) under a black skirt and a t-shirt of some sort.

My Uniform

For curiosity’s sake, I just took stock of my closest and checked my laundry.  Here’s what I own:

  • 13 pairs of yoga pants/leggings
  • 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants (I’ll come back to why these pants are in a separate category later)
  • 3 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 7 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 10 tank tops
  • 3 skirts
  • 2 dresses (including the dress I wore when we eloped)
  • 3 sets of long underwear
  • 2 pair regular underwear
  • 6 bras
  • 13 pairs of socks (3 athletic; 8 wool for hiking; 2 fleece for warmth)
  • 1 pair jammy pants
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 quilted flannel shirt
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 bathing suit, plus swim bra
  • 1 rash guard
  • 1 all-around scarf
  • 2 winter scarves
  • 2 pair fingerless gloves (including the pair I wore when we eloped)
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 ear warmers (one handmade by my niece)
  • 1 pair heated gloves
  • 1 pair arm warmers
  • 1 pair leg warmers (a gift from friends when they went to Peru)
  • 1 winter coat
  • 1 up-cycled sweater coat (which I also wore when I eloped and I wear until I need my winter coat)
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair “dress” boots I bought in Peru
  • 1 pair Uggs I now mostly wear around the house to keep my feet warm (but I also wore them when we eloped)

Here’s what 95% of the clothes look like all together:

all my clothes text

And in case you’re interested, here’s my full wedding ensemble:

Wedding

Yes, these are all the clothes I own in the world.  For the record, my mom still has some of my clothes from my teenage years and a few fancy dresses stored at the house I grew up in.  I have cheerfully encouraged her to PLEASE DONATE/GET RID OF all of them as I do not want any of it.  She claims she has a plan to do so.  If I didn’t question the ownership of whether those clothes really belong to me at this point, I would haul them all off to the Shining Light Thrift shop first chance I got.

But I digress.  When I looked at my list of clothes, first I felt a moment of disgust.  How can I be a minimalist and own so many t-shirts! You thought I was going to say yoga pants, didn’t you? I promise, I’m getting to that.

I let those feelings of disgust sink in and then realized that while I could cut down a few t-shirts and tank tops, I reminded myself that I only own one sweater.  I use that sweater and my three long-sleeved t-shirts to get me through the winter.  Plus, I like to layer a short-sleeved shirt or tank top over the long-sleeves, just so I have some variety to my wardrobe and then I get to use those shirts year round.

I do admit that 13 pairs of socks are excessive.  That count increased recently by three because I only brought a few pairs of socks with me the two months we were on the road housesitting.  I ended up wearing my hiking boots more than my sandals, which turned out to be not so good for walking long distances, unlike what the Zappos reviews claimed.  After wearing the same pair of socks for an entire week, I finally broke down when my Mom and I were at Costco and she offered to buy me some more.

But now on to those yoga pants. Yes, it is ridiculous for me to have so many.  There are two reasons why I do. First, yoga pants are my underwear since for the most part I treat them like tights.  And although I may wear the same socks for an entire week, that doesn’t seem nearly as gross to me as wearing the same “tights” two days in a row. So, clean yoga pants every day!

Realistically, I know I could halve the number of legging-like yoga pants I have.  At least three pairs are starting to wear out, so I’m hoping I can lessen this number simply by wearing them more.

The second reason I have so many yoga pants is one that I frankly don’t know what to do about.  The 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants I have were made by a company that went out of business over two years ago.  I LOVE everything about these pants – they’re comfortable, loose, flexible, made-in-the-USA, and the material has a patented breath-weave technology so they dry super quick.  Plus, I have them in some really great colors.  They also are virtually indestructible, as I’ve had most of them for more than 7 years.

Yoga Pants with Smudge

Here’s the problem – they make excellent summer clothes, but during the cold, windy Connecticut winters I almost never wear them.  With my minimalist mentality, this should mean I donate them somewhere because I can wear my other clothes during the summer anyway.

Except…once the Be Present pants are gone, I can never get them back.  I have a profound sense of fear that if I give them away, I will someday regret it.

Have I ever donated/sold/trashed anything that I then regretted?  Just once.  Last summer, when a huge snake took up residence in the compost bin where we were housesitting, I wished I still had my rubber rain boots.  But I knew that once we left that house in August, I wouldn’t have a need for them.  So I sucked up my fear and instead wore my hiking boots outside in the yard.  That snake never did end up slithering across my feet (THANK GOD).

And I have lost a pair of my Be Present yoga pants – a bright and shimmery pink pair – that several times over the past year I wished I still had because I wanted to wear them.

This situation is quite the spiritual conflict for me.  If I truly believe in the spiritual law of circulation (that whatever you give, you receive back), then I should be able to let go of some of these pants.  Yet, for some reason I can’t let go of my attachment.

Thankfully, this is not a choice I have to decide RIGHT NOW.  We’ll be in Norfolk until May, 2018, and I won’t have to pack any bags until then.  Also, anything and everything could be different with our life at that point in time and there’s a good chance I will have worn through several items of clothing on my above list.  Still, I think it’s good to know how I’m holding myself back on my spiritual journey.  In the coming weeks, I will certainly reflect on what these yoga pants mean to me and try to gain some insight.  If I come up with anything, I will let you know.  Until then…peace, love, and yoga pants!

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Title

On our way back to Connecticut, my husband and I stopped off in Pennsylvania to spend a week with my parents.  To add to the mix, my oldest brother, who lives in Texas, is also visiting.  This time he’s not in PA because of a funeral (as he was the last two times he was here) so our time is being filled with all kinds of activities.

One of the activities is eating since my Mom, like many moms out there, shows love with food.  Since we’ve been here, there’s been a cake from Costco, two dozen cookies from Costco, an apple pie from Costco, and two gallons of Turkey Hill ice cream (all of which I said NO to), lots of sweet potato tater tots (which I said YES to), and some delicious grass-fed NY Strip Steaks (also a big YES).

We’ve gone to Hersheypark a few times

Hershey Park

and even though I was tempted with lots of chocolate goodies, I managed to say NO to everything except a hand-dipped milkshake.  My oldest brother, on the other hand, said YES to everything he could, in part to reap the benefits of an all-you-can-eat meal pass, with one of the stipulations being you must wait 90 minutes between meals.  Here’s his status report throughout the day:

Cropped 1

Cropped 2

Cropped Food 3

I wasn’t at the park with them, so this way I could live vicariously through their eating.  I’d had enough Hersheypark Happy by that point and, truthfully, the park is expensive.  Since my favorite parts on my visits there were attending the Sea Lion show

Sea lion

and walking through Zoo America,

Porcupine ZA

I didn’t think it a worthwhile use of money for me to go back to the park one more time.

We had also planned to go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and since they offered a substantial Labor Day discount, we took advantage of it.  The Faire is expansive and there’s always a historically-based storyline that is woven throughout the entertainment, including a human chess match in the afternoon and a live-action joust at the end of the day, so it’s a pretty fancy affair.

Ren Faire

But for some reason, I just wasn’t into it this year.

I did, however, get a kick out of seeing all the dogs at the faire.  This past weekend was one of their “Royal Hound Weekends,” where dogs are encouraged to attend.  I saw this royal pupper

Royal Doggo

A fluffy unicorn

Unicorn

And a service dog who had to wear dog muffs during the Royal Chess Match so as not to become agitated by the whips used during some of the combat scenes,

Dog muffs

in addition to many other dogs that I did not manage to get a photo of because I felt a little self-conscious sneaking around trying to take pictures of people’s dogs.

These dog experiences remind of the time I was sorely disappointed with how commercialized the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is and instead found absolute delight with a service puppy I met there.

Service Puppy

And as I’m typing this, my family is discussing visiting the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  In response to finding out the admission price is $22, I asked, “Will there be dogs there?”  When my mom laughed, “no,” I replied, “then I probably shouldn’t go.

We say good-bye to Pennsylvania tomorrow and then we’ll be back in Norfolk.  There, I’ll be reunited with three dogs whom I’m absolutely crazy about.

Three dogs

I haven’t seen them since July 1st and even though I sing Somewhere Out There to them at night while staring at the moon (seriously), it’s not the same as being around them.

I know some people still think it’s crazy that I quit my job as an associate professor to write children’s stories and play with dogs all day long, but as I reflect on how I’ve spent my time this past week, my only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner.