Have you ever looked around a room of familiar faces and felt genuine gratitude? Have you felt like those relationship were gifts to you? Genuine gifts. Like the ones you open up on your birthday. They are wrapped with pretty paper, a matching bow, and held together with clear tape. These gifts, however, keep on giving. They accept you for who you are. They make you a better person. They highlight your strengths and help you surpass your weaknesses. What if you could look at all humans with that lens. What if everyone who crosses our path hands you a little gift of knowledge, growth, and an opportunity to become a better version of yourself.
One of my past students is in Africa and is teaching the young men about AIDS. I asked him, “But what are they teaching you?” My hope is that he walks away with more understanding of cultures, more respect for humanity, and a wiser soul.
On another note, I once had a student who didn’t think she could learn anything from her peers who weren’t as smart as her. My plea should have been: Please don’t look at this as an academic opportunity, but rather a soft skill (or “high human skill” as my friend and colleague John O’Grady calls them) opportunity. You have the ability to improve your communication, empathy, compassion, your understanding of what others are going through, and you can, in turn, teach them about yourself. I promise you this, the students she thought she couldn’t relate to have had life experiences that will set them up for success at some point and we can all learn something from them.
Who are your greatest gifts? How have you shown appreciation for those around you? Let’s move forward in gratitude for those in our lives and for those we have yet to encounter. How amazing it is to live in such a diverse and fulfilling world!?
“If we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about needing to be heard.” Dr. Harriet Lerner
“I’ve never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time.” – anonymous
Parents’ arms offer comfort, love, and respite from life’s pain. Just as our parents provide shelter, mother earth envelops us with her warm embrace and shows us the true nature (pun intended) of humanity. Having lived in multiple states and countries, the one common denominator included nature of some kind. I ran along the Tigris river while deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. The lush, yet limited vegetation lined its banks.
While teaching physical education in Aylesbury, England, I found secluded paths, waterways, and parks.
Eventually, I couldn’t resist the undeniable call back to my hometown to raise my own children among crystal-clear, spring-fed lakes and rivers and to venture into the local state park and the lengthy ice age trail that snakes through the state.
Nature calls. The yearning to soothe my anxiety in her calm and compassionate disposition keeps bringing me back.
As a child, I explored every nook and cranny of our land. I made make-believe chicken out of rotten trees, I pulled moss off the ground in such large clumps that we could encircle the bones of a TP, I looked for otters and foxes next to a pond, I created my own secret Narnia with my twin brother, we biked on such dangerous routes that we named one “suicide.” I swam so often that I grew scales on my legs. My most vivid childhood memories were indeed those of the great outdoors. Even that camping trip that included―and this is no joke―poison ivy, stinging nettles, swimmer’s itch, and the loss of my beautiful 80’s, pink-rimmed glasses that I watched drift down into the 20+ feet of water. None of those things deterred me from loving almost every other moment of that trip. This set the foundation for many wonderful adventures to come.
In college, I almost immediately shifted my major from micro-biology―cells are so cool!―to physical education teacher when I realized that I might have to work in a windowless lab for hours on end. I asked myself, “What could I do that would allow me to go outside as often as weather allowed?” Ding, ding, ding! A Physical Education teacher! Seeing as how I was an athletic person who always wanted to teach, it fit the bill. As luck would have it, I student-taught with a teacher who led the adventure ed program at Memorial High School. I was hooked!―rock climbing, ropes courses, camping, spelunking (although my claustrophobia ranked this activity slightly lower than the rest). My time at Memorial sealed my fate for the next decade where I eventually took the lead as the adventure ed teacher at West High School in Madison, WI. I showed students how awesome it was to eat a burned hotdog and marshmallow, how a group of heterogeneous students could become a family in a short semester with the help of good-old mother nature and thoughtful community building.
My adventures continued when I received my Masters in Experiential Education. Through that degree, I obtained a First Aid Wilderness certification, a top-rope certification, and went on a ten-day voyage in the Wind River Range in Wyoming.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey
I found the spirit Edward Abbey referred to. The 70-pound pack floated as if a feather and my body became one with nature. Life’s necessities melted away until I was left with only the possessions I could carry. That moment when time becomes a man-made concept and unimportant when you meld with the cycle of the rising and setting suns. The world news becomes a distant thought and the only important thing was putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying God’s green earth for everything it has to offer. The joy of first hearing and then spotting a babbling brook or watching the rainbows cascade down a beautiful waterfall or seeing your first Moose in person. Nature inspires, builds character, tames a wild heart, and priorities our busy brains. It is focused, direct, forgiving, open, and brutally honest.
In a time when, for some reason, we have politicized whether or not to keep our earth clean, let’s celebrate all that it has given us and remember to be kind and give back. Only take what you brought in, don’t leave a trail behind you, and enjoy every aesthetic morsel she has to offer.
When you return to civilization, embrace that same mentality. Live simply, find your own rhythm, find your own paths and trails and enjoy every nook and cranny that life has to offer. And, as always, be kind by leaving places and people better than when you found them.
These are the values I try to uphold as I now navigate the world of being a Middle School Principal, a mother of three, and a wife. I take time to get on calm waters and fly fish, paddle, or swim―one luxurious stroke after another.
Life is a fleeting moment in this grand and beautiful universe. If you find yourself in a rut, go back to your roots. The roots that brought civilization into this world. The roots of our ancestors that discovered America, the roots that we’ll return to someday soon. Nature has a way of showing us that there’s more to life than the daily grind that can wear us down.
In the end, mother nature has everything we need to live a high-quality and meaningful life. Go get it!
To all of you strong and amazing women, want help connecting or reconnecting with nature? Whether you are a novice or a pro outdoor enthusiast―get inspired by Solstice Adventure Company.
Do you see the sturdy, strong rocks peeking through the decaying leaves?
Do you see the shape emerging from the rocks?
It’s a heart. It’s love, faith, and compassion.
These rocks will be here long after the leaves are gone. Just like humanity’s love, faith, and compassion has shown through the turmoil our world is enduring. It will remain. It is our foundation. It’s in us and it’s shining brighter than ever.
Do you watch the news? Do you see the amazing things that are happening underneath the tumultuous state of the pandemic? It exists and it’s beautiful —the selfless acts, the community sing-alongs, Wisconsin “jumping around,” to name a few.
I took a break from work today. I stepped away from my computer screen and onto our dock. When I looked through our crystal clear water, I saw the heart and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t help but think about this as a hopeful omen, a message from God, a sign that we were going to get through this.
The next photo shows you the bigger picture.
Take time for yourself. Find the beauty and the grace that exists all around us. Be safe.
My family and I road tripped from central Wisconsin to Atlanta, Georgia for Thanksgiving this year. My biggest fear was hearing the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” or “I’m hungry!” but lo-and-behold, the kids were surprisingly mellow. They dominated the trip like little Jedis. They hunkered down, read, drew, watched a few movies, slept, and giggled with each other.
Our littlest dude’s bodily functions had other plans, however.
It all started the second morning. Our road trip had begun after school/work on Tuesday night. We arrived at Champaign, Illinois at bedtime. The next morning we leisurely stirred and meandered down to the continental breakfast. Easton showed his appreciation by “making room” for more food. In the process, he leaked out of his pants and onto the booth’s seat. We rushed to the hotel room and changed him into his second outfit of the day. Thinking we had dealt with the worst of it, we hopped in the car and continued our journey south.
The next leg of the trip took us to windswept, southern Illinois where the trees are scarce and the empty semi-trucks swayed in the wind so precariously they skittered into the left lane as the 40 mph wind gusts slammed into their sides. We sped up when we passed to decrease our likelihood of a crushing tip-over. Through the wind drafts, the truck drafts, and the random bridge wind-blocks, Easton must have gotten car sick. The next thing we knew is that his whole breakfast was all over him, the floor, and his car seat. We pulled over on the busy highway, vacuumed up what we could, changed his clothes a third time, and gave him and his car seat a wet-wipe bath.
A few hours later, Lily is shouting, “I smell cow poop.” Lincoln added to the mix, “Ewww… I smell dog poop.” A split second later, the overwhelming odor of toddler #2 wafted my direction. I turned around and inquired if Easton had pooped. He nodded. We pulled over once again. Yup, outfit change #4.
A few hours later, this sweet doll face got sick on the Tennessee back roads. Luckily, we had a garbage bag at the ready.
Ok, let’s recap. We are up to the fourth set of clothes. I feel good. I feel like the worst is behind us…
Fast forward to Thursday morning. We’re taking a leisurely walk to a nice playground a half-mile away or so. I pick Easton up for a photo and what do I smell? Yup, another diaper filler. I set him down, notice it got on his sweatshirt… and that we don’t have our diaper bag. Like any seasoned parent… I use as much of the already saturated diaper as I can to wipe him clean and put his jeans on so he can play commando style. I say to my beloved friend, Hannah, “Wow, this never happens. It’s been months since he’s gone through his diaper.”
We jump onto the playground set and monkey our way through the various features until I see poor little Easton pause for a moment longer than comfortable. It takes me a split second to wonder what he’s thinking about, looking at, contemplating… … and then I realize he’s… POOPING… AGAIN… with no diaper, no wipes, no additional clothes. I run over to him, confirm through inquiry, snatch him off the bridge and hoist him under a tree. I painstakingly peel his browned pants off his body, use them to “wipe” him, wrap his lower half in my sweatshirt and carry his 35-pound body back to Hannah’s house. Where we proceeded to have a fun round of baths.
Fast forward to Friday. We adventured to the Atlanta Aquarium. The kids were in their glory seeing all the animals they’ve watched on TV and read about in books. We had just sat down for the Sea Lion Show… …in the back row. I leaned over to hug Easton and catch the faint odor that has now been infused into my nostrils. I asked the dreaded question and received the dreaded nod. As I picked him up, my husband pointed out that he’s leaking through. Seriously. Again.
I lobbed him over my shoulder, ask the staff if we can get back in once we leave. His paternal(less), apathetic answer told me that we couldn’t get back in once the show started. I rushed Easton to the bathroom with his leaking backside leading the way like a blinking siren saying, “do you see this? do you really want to slow me down?” The jam-packed bathroom left no room for my son and I except for an empty spot on the floor by the sinks. I laid his sweet head on a clean diaper and changed him right then and there. We hurried back to the show only to pass my husband and our middle child on the way to alleviate his bladder.
Saturday: Our ambitious selves drove straight from Atlanta to home. Once again, Easton didn’t disappoint. I was optimist this time. I thought it was my husband’s burp, but when I rolled down the window, the smell didn’t go away, it only intensified. We pulled off the highway and changed his diaper, his clothes, and took the top layer off his car seat to wash upon our return home.
In the end, that 15-hour trip home far surpassed the drive down. I’ll take one mishap over four any day.
Here’s to moving up one diaper size and chalking our road trip up as a success. I hope you all had as memorable a thanksgiving as I did! Cheers!