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Embrace the Beauty and Let It Embrace You

“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.

My older brother and I along the Tigris River in Baghdad

While teaching physical education in Aylesbury, England, I found secluded paths, waterways, and parks.

A beautiful running path in England

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.

Stratton Lake in Waupaca, WI

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.

My backyard in Minocqua, WI
Lake Superior
(not sure where… but that’s a great fish)
My front yard in Minocqua, WI

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.

Devil’s Lake State Park with one of my classes

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. 

Top Rope Certification
Hiking in the Wind River Range

“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.

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It’s in us…

Do you see it?

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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.

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Take time for yourself. Find the beauty and the grace that exists all around us. Be safe.

Much love,

Laura

Sir Poopsalot

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.

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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.

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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.

And laundry.

Again.

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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motley Family

I had an opportunity to speak in front of 80ish people at the second Waupaca Story Project and tell a 5-minute story about gathering. I chose to speak about my Sister-in-Arms. Particularly about the 13 of us females in 4th platoon.

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I took snippets from my book with the gathering theme embedded throughout. It wasn’t the best presentation I’ve given, but I love my little story. Here are a few photos my husband took.

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And here’s my story:

 

Motley Family

Most of the time the word “gathering” envokes visions of turkey dinners or decorated Christmas trees, of egg hunts or theology, of bonfires and fireworks. Tonight I want to highlight the gathering of my Sisters-in-Arms.

How do traditions begin? How do bonds form? How do 13 motley women, with little in common, become tight as blood? Vulnerability, adversity, and persevering through intense hardships together. Falling and helping each other up. Laughter and joy… and heartache. All of these things forged our never-ending bond.

Our gathering started a few weeks before our deployment kicked off. My platoon of 11 females and 21 males were appointed two new females from―”gasp” Milwaukee―on that February 2003 drill weekend. We encircled Lori and Heather as though they were our prey. We were ready to tear them apart to find their weaknesses. The 11 of us females, who had already formed our bonds and declared each other fit for war, were apprehensive about these newcomers. Were they trustworthy? Were they capable? Were they going to get… us… killed?

It didn’t take long for us to absorb the two foster soldiers. They immediately joined the smoking group and fell right into step. The deployment quickly turned from days to months and our promised six-month deployment ballooned well passed the September date. By Christmas, my company had been ravaged by war. We had acquired purple hearts, broken vehicles, bombed police stations, roadside bombs, grenades thrown at us, gunshots whizzing passed us, and the most oppressive heat on the face of the earth, well at least in my eyes. There were breakups with partners back home, stolen money from fiances, broken hearts, and torn families. There had also been inside joke after inside joke. Best friends and battle buddies became synonymous. On Christmas eve, the girls and I put on our one and only Christmas CD—Destiny’s Child—opened a non-alcoholic bottle of wine, and sat around our three-foot-high Christmas tree with presents from our family and friends piled underneath.

Laughter, smiles, tears, and hugs filled the room while we opened our presents with our new sisters. When the unwrapping was done and the sparkling grape juice was gone, we cuddled together to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We were each other’s new family and we loved Christmas of 2003 and our rather unorthodox tradition. We were content and happy for the first time in a long time.

I’m often asked how we overcame the constant vigilance, fear, and unease. I answer with this story:

We were pounded by mortars and rockets often and on one particular night, our Captain told us to put on our Kevlar and vests at 2130. I was drained and cranky—sleeping would be impossible with curved plates digging into my back. I jumped out of bed and joined the rest of my platoon. Carlye, who’s always up for a good time, put on some dance music and yelled, “Let’s see your moves, Naylor!”

Since I love a challenge, I shook my hips to Sysco’s “Thong Song.” My gear banged around while I tried to ooze sexy. Laughter filled the room and the other females joined me. The joy in the room lasted even after we got the all-clear. Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” brought down the house. By the end, everyone had stripped down to PT shorts and sports bras. 

It was 2300 before we turned off the music. I hadn’t had that much fun since before our deployment. On other nights, the females and I went to the rooftop and talked and laughed and played on the bongo drums. Some nights we cleaned our weapons and watched Sopranos with our knives, pistols, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, and ammo piled high. Our arsenal was on display to emulate and to far exceed the villains on TV. Some nights we swam. Some days we ran and worked out. The fact that we had each other to lean on and cry with made the deployment bearable. 

When we finally returned home after being deployed for 16 months―ten months longer than promised. We had a ceremony at the Minor League baseball stadium in Madison. Our commander concluded the event with a declaration stating, “You are released.”

We were free, but my first instinct was not to run to my parents, not to run away from the company formation, but to go to my fellow females, my new family, my lifeblood. We were overtaken by emotion. We stood in a circle and gave each other a bittersweet hug. Our eyes were blurry with tears. We were all trying to talk at the same time.
“I love you guys.”
“I never would have gotten through this without you.”

“What will we do when we don’t see each other?”

“We better have get-togethers often.”

“Damn, I already miss you so much.” 

“Let’s email phone numbers to each other right away, OK?”
“One last group hug. Love you all!”

It was the end of our adventure together. 

To this day, there are few people that understand my complexities. My sisters-at-war know why I shed tears, the difference between my smiles, they know my happiness based on the glint in my eye. They can comprehend the torment I went through both during and after our deployment. They see through the cracks of my wrinkles and know what caused my premature aging. They know where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. We can cry on each other’s shoulders and not a whisper needs to be spoken because we know. We know that the nightmares, demons, aggression, and anxiety will never end, but the edge softens as time goes by.

We still make it a point to gather. Sometimes war isn’t even brought up, but we know. Our instincts tell us that we are among our chosen. Our beloved. Our kin. We are home.

 

 

 

Book Eve

Tonight, on the eve of my book release, I have so many emotions that I didn’t anticipate. When I started writing my story over a decade ago, I was single, a student at UW-Madison, and trying to recover from the worst stages of PTSD I’ve endured. I never thought about how this might impact my own children. I never anticipated being a principal when this was released. I guess, in some deep, dark place in my brain, I never thought this day would come.

I wrote as therapy, I wrote because, for some unknown reason, I needed to keep those memories close and pen the very pain that I couldn’t articulate in person. It was a humbling, difficult, time-consuming, passion-releasing, tear-jerking, and healing.

Tonight, as I brace for an unknown journey, I feel like a balloon ready to burst confetti comprised of glee img_0931, worryimg_0926, relief img_0930, anticipationimg_0928, and gratitudeimg_0927.

I choked up as I held my book in my hand. How is the world going to take this story? Are they going to learn something from the historical perspective (I hope so), are they going to be bored when I explain the intricacies of working with Iraqis (I hope not!), are they going to judge my past discretions from years ago? Is this book going to be like a fizzling out sparkler? Is it going to go somewhere? Is it going to cause others pain or help others heal? Will Audible ever hire me to read my own story?

img_0925 Huh? Will ya? Audible? Are you out there?

This weekend, my husband asked me what my goals are for the book. It caused me to pause and reflect on the next step of |my publishing journey, something that I hadn’t yet taken the time to do. What are my goals? I smiled at him and said, “Go big or go home. Just like everything else in my life.” And thus, I have over 100 books waiting for their new home.

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I’m not looking to get rich monetarily. That’s not the point. The point is creating awareness around a relatively quiet war, to share the perspective of a female in combat, to discuss the tragedies of PTSD, and of course, to heal. I want to become rich with truth, empathy, integrity, selflessness, vulnerability, kindness, and gratitude. Those are the things that make me happy. But selling a book or two or one hundred or a thousand or a million… why not? (Amazon link)