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I am a Tree

I am a tree.

I am strong.

I am grounded.

I am flexible with branches waving.

I extend from all directions accepting what I need from the universe.

I am a shelter.

I am a protector.

I am beauty.

I am dormant and resting. A shadowy figure on a backdrop of grays. Learning to appreciate the calm.

I am budding and springing forth with all that is fresh and new.

I wear a crown. I soak in the sun.

My leaves flame and then wither. Crunchy when they no longer serve me. Drifting away. Thank-you and goodbye.

I am two.

I am twenty-two.

I am all those other numbers too.

I am a story.

On the inside. Measured by rings of life. Rings of abundance. Rings of drought.

I cannot be what I haven’t been.

Yet.

Rocky Mountain High

Our final national park destination of the trip was Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent a day and a half there. We arrived in the afternoon and scaled the narrow, winding and sometimes shoulder-less Trail Ridge Road which ascended to the Alpine Visitor Center and the highest point in the park. On the trek, we observed sub-alpine and alpine features and saw a few elk through the scopes at the visitor center.

To get to the highest point in the park, it is an uphill hike up this final peak. Due to the “thin” air at this elevation, even though there are stairs, it is definitely a challenge and it is important to take your time and stop and take some cool photos along the way.

Cute photos, like this really cool marmut! But, the very top is the goal and the view is amazing.

The following day we planned to hike at Bear Lake and have a picnic lunch, but the crowded parking lots had other plans. When we arrived at the parking to catch the shuttle to Bear Lake, it was already full. Apparently, it had been full for a couple of hours, so if you plan to go to this popular destination, it’s important to arrive around 7:00 a.m. to make sure you have a parking spot. I will qualify this with mentioning that it was a Saturday on an unseasonably warm day in September, but according to their website, full parking lots are a common occurrence every day in the summer between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at all of the popular stops. While it was possible to park at a nearby lot and catch a shuttle to the Bear Lake lot and catch another shuttle to Bear Lake, it seemed that we would be wasting a lot of our time waiting on shuttles, so we decided to visit Sprague Lake instead and hike in that area. There is a really easy paved trail all the way around the lake and then there are other natural surface hiking trails that wander in the area around the lake. It also was nice that we were never so far from the car that we had to pack our lunch along while we hiked. We could hike for a while and then return to the car any time we wanted. It turned out to be a great day for wildlife viewing and, of course, breathtaking views of the mountains.

So, this was our last destination on a two-week road trip. At the end of the day, what was left were memories, photos and two-day trek home. Across Kansas.

Oh, yeah. And planning for our next adventure.

Bearly made it through the Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons National Park is small when compared to the other parks we visited, but it was tall on beauty.

The mountain range towered over the grasslands, meadows, river, and forested areas below.

The mountains guarded the horses grazing in the fields and provided a gorgeous backdrop to the colorful wildflowers.

This view was entertaining to me as the snow at the top of the mountain looked just like the surrounding sky and it appeared to be a hole through the mountain. (You’re welcome. Now it’s impossible not to think of it that way. Some things cannot be unseen.)

But, the highlight of the Grand Tetons for us was seeing that bear that all the signs had been warning about for miles! Our animal viewing wish list was complete, but the best was yet to come!

Wildlife fun

One of the goals my dad and I had with our national parks visits was to have some “wildlife fun” and by that I mean observing and photographing. We definitely hit that goal during the trip! During the drive we saw antelopes and a wolf. One of our largest and closest encounters was with this bison on the roadway in Yellowstone.

Bison vs. Mustang. Who wins????

Elk were plentiful throughout Yellowstone.

This raven joined us for lunch as the Yellowstone General Store.

Mule deer were a common sight, even in town in Montana!

These are Island Park’s most famous residents, Mama Moose and her babies. When we first arrived, as we crossed the bridge, there were a group of “paparazzi” standing on it, so we figured there must be something up there. Then when we were getting directions to a restaurant, the guy said, you know that bridge you crossed with all the people standing on it? Turn right on the next paved road. Then he told us about Mama Moose and her babies. Then when we got to the restaurant, they were the talk.

This was the guy that all the signs warned about! My dad was happy to have gotten this shot. It was a challenge as the park ranger was shooing everyone to their cars.

I doubt these horses are actually wildlife, but the Grand Tetons in the background made for a beautiful photo.

This busy little guy was not exactly rare or vicious, but he was a little cutie seen while hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park.

This goose was checking out his reflection at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

But…these majestic moose at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Sprague Lake were probably the most enjoyable wildlife encounter.

Yowser! Yellowstone!

Yellowstone may not have won the beauty pageant of national parks I visited, but it certainly won the “oh, wow!” award! It is a thermal wonderland that covers three states. The most famous geyser, Old Faithful, is a must see event. She erupts every hour to hour and half or so give or take ten minutes. The crowd gathered and waited in anticipation as the trickle of steam commenced.

Eventually the exciting event unfolded, just as predicted:

There is much more to see in this steamy, sulfuric adventure.

Mammoth Hot Springs is an interesting area to explore with thermal water escaping from the ground mixing with lime and painting the rocks with icy looking liquids. Boardwalk trails throughout the springs are great for really exploring.

On the third day at the park, it was a beautiful blue-sky, sunny day and perfect for visiting the Paint Pots and seeing some incredible color. This was another favorite part of the visit for me.

Within the Paint Pots, Mustard Springs was bubbly and active.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to America’s first national park and I hope it won’t be my last! It’s a seasonal park with frequent and rapid weather changes. Always check out their website for the current conditions.

Marvelous Montana

Montana is a beautiful state of mountains and rivers. Big Sky Country did not disappoint. We visited the Missoula/Lolo area. The Bitterroot River ran right behind the house of the friends we stayed with and made a beautiful scene for morning yoga.

We took several day trips. We visited the small town of Anaconda, which was originally formed as a copper mining town. The 585 foot smokestack is famous as one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world. It can be seen for miles. It is even taller than the Washington Monument which is only a mere 555 feet.

Fort Missoula was an interesting and beautiful historical site. Of particular interest was the library car, which was a traveling library that arrived by rail. This was my favorite photo of the day. Just for fun, I had submitted several photos to the local TV station and then…this…

I drank the “world’s freshest water” from Spring Hill. It was quite delicious.

My favorite place that we visited while in Montana, was actually just across the border in Idaho, Lolo Pass. When we arrived there it was raining pretty hard, so while drinking hot chocolate and observing the trailhead from the back porch of the visitor’s area, it didn’t seem that a hike was in the cards.

But, the rain turned to drizzle and eventually gave way to blue skies, so it was a perfect time to venture out into the pine forest.

My son had visited Montana several years ago and said that Big Sky Country made him feel like an insect, so small. I had remembered this and wanted to see if I felt that way too. In the midst of the tall trees, I did indeed feel tiny as I breathed in some amazing rain-kissed pine air. Until next time, Montana…

The hills are alive…

If the national parks I visited were a beauty pageant, Glacier would get the crown. Glacier National Park was breathtaking with alpine mountains, grassy meadows, glassy lakes, singing streams, cascading waterfalls and beaches covered with colorful rocks.

The air was refreshing. If it was possible to capture a photo of it the way it looks and feels in real life, it would be one of the definitions of beauty.

What you won’t see too many of, unfortunately is the feature that gives the park its name, glaciers. According to the Glacier National Park Website, there were 35 named glaciers in 1966 and in 2015 there were only 26. The glaciers have reduced by an average of 39 percent. However, some have reduced up to 85%. As global warming continues to increase, the number and size of glaciers is predicted to decrease.

This park is definitely on my return to list. I want to spend several days here hiking, kayaking and simply laying on the rock beach and taking it all in.

No Rush to get to Mount Rushmore…

There’s no rush to get to Mount Rushmore, not because it isn’t worth the visit, it is. It’s pretty amazing to come face to face with four presidents carved in stone. It is hard to imagine how sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, could have envisioned such a masterpiece as he first faced the mountain. The memorial rises up from the Black Hills and breathes in the fresh pine air. It can be seen and photographed for miles away if you are in the right spot.

I had heard from others who had visited that they were disappointed in it, because they imagined it to be much larger than it actually was. Knowing that the root of disappointment is failed expectations, I kept my preconceptions in check and I wasn’t disappointed.

So, why the blog title? The park is currently being renovated and parts of it are not accessible including the Avenue of Flags, which is a walkway lined with the flags of all 50 states that leads to a close-up view of the memorial.

This construction is slated to be completed in early next year. So if you want a 2020 vision of Mount Rushmore without a construction fence in your path, you’ve got to wait. In the meantime, it is possible to take photos that don’t include the fence, so your photographic vacation memories don’t have to be a reminder of everything that was actually there.

P.S. Lesson learned? Always check the national park website for current alerts for the park you plan to visit to avoid the “Clark Griswold arriving to Walley World” feeling.

Not so “Bad”…

The air was fresh and the sun beat down on an early September day at the Badlands National Park. They were named for the rugged conditions, extreme temperatures and lack of water. They were called “les mauvais terres pour traverse” by French trappers in the 1900’s literally meaning “bad lands to travel through.” Despite the name, the Badlands of South Dakota are an amazing expanse of eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires formed by deposition and erosion surrounded by a mixed grass prairie and definitely worth the trip.

The Badlands are home to many animals who take shelter in this unique land. We really didn’t see too many creatures, but I did enjoy watching this butterfly, one of 69 different species that interact with this harsh ecosystem.

As I looked towards the horizon, it almost felt like I was on another planet. When I examined an individual striped formation, it reminded me of a glass bottle with sand of variegated colors layered one on top of the other.

I plan to return to the Badlands someday, with more time to experience them, to hike their trails and take in their unique scenery with all my senses.

Dedicated-Determined-Creative

(Author’s note: It is a common interview question to be asked to describe yourself in three words. My typical response was the title of this post. The balance is tipped toward creativity now, but the other traits will come in handy.)

Nestled under the bluffs that touch the sky and above the maze of underwater boulders and rocky shelves that house the fish with their swishing tails and turtles with bright green iridescent heads in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Missouri flows the Jack’s Fork River. It was the type of place where the muses run free, scampering across my heart and kissing my brain allowing creativity to flow through me like a river of language.

At the Creative Retreat I found an answer to a question that has nagged at me since childhood. Every time I acted on the spark of a creative idea, the kind that made me say, “Yes! That’s it!” and took it all the way to a raging flame that eventually burned out after its purpose was accomplished, I always had a fear that my creativity would “run out.” What if that was the last creative idea and I had none left? But, I was acquainted with the idea that creativity was not in my brain, it came as a flash of inspiration from an external source, but I had to be open to receive it, nurture the smoldering embers and fan the flames for it to become the brightness it was destined to be. The muse visits those who are open to collaborating to create. Creativity begets creativity.

I learned that writing is first to explore and understand myself and then it’s for sharing the message with others. Writing is self-care. When I feel misunderstood, I can write to communicate what is inside, because only then is there any hope of another person truly understanding how I feel. And, maybe if my thoughts resonate, the reader also feels less alone and more understood.

I connected with new friends, all in different places on their creative journeys. The retreat allowed for free time as well. My favorite was exploring the river in a kayak as I enjoyed the view with “new eyes” as our workshop leader, Ibtisan Barakat, delighted in every fish and turtle and beautiful scene along the river, because she had the childlike excitement of seeing it for the first time. Another new friend, Ali, who was an experienced river navigator, guided the canoe to the best spots for viewing optimizing the trip.

All ventures away from reality eventually lead home and the question becomes how to I keep the magic alive? Each of us brought home a souvenir from our retreat host, a tumbled rock from the river. We were given a basket of rocks to choose from. I carefully pulled rocks out that appealed to me, mostly the reddish-purple ones, lining them up and trading them in for newer more attractive ones until I found a cream and tan colored one that was shaped like a moccasin. The moccasin reminded me of a writing exercise we had to learn to be creative with the unexpected (which I was unable to do at that moment because shoes were not important on the Hawaiian beach I was describing in my story). I rolled the rock around in my hand and the coolness and the rhythm felt right. So, I did the unexpected and put back all of the reddish-purple rocks I was considering and chose the meaningful, neutral-colored one. Now it hangs out in my outdoor office where I hear the ripple of my wet weather spring responding to the rain that has soaked into the ground and must find its way out, sharing its music with all who are along its path. The moccasin rock can inspire me daily to dedicate the time to listen for the muses to inspire the next step of expressing the story that lives within me. I am determined to finish.

We’d rather be roadtrippin’

My dad and I had been planning a road trip out west for several months after I chose retirement at the end of the previous school year. I had never visited any of the national parks this direction, nor several of the states we would traverse. He had, but was looking forward to seeing them again and visiting some long-time friends.

We worked on a route and stopping points throughout our two-week trip that took us through Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Wyoming (again), Colorado and Kansas. We took off the day after Labor Day and returned home in the middle of September.

I was fortunate to spend so much time with my dad in this memorable way. Some days were long…driving and driving. Sometimes we chatted and sometimes we were quiet watching the scenery go by. We enjoyed majestic sights and exciting animal encounters throughout the trip. We overcame difficulties and solved problems such as finding a route that included driving 150 miles out of the way due to an unexpected closed highway and obtaining heat in the rented cabin when the unit stopped working.

It was a great time and we are already planning our next trip in the springtime. My dad asked me yesterday if I was glad to be home or would I rather be back out on our trip.

I said that I would rather be out on our trip.

He said, “Me too.”

Goodbye, Summer

I’m holding the hand of Summer as it slips into the starless darkness serenaded by frogs, crickets and cicadas. It has left us for a while. I resist the urge to cling and scream, “Noooooo!” because it is futile. I must let Summer go. It is the natural order of things. The water in my creek tumbles forward into time, not missing a beat, not knowing the seasons have changed. A cool breeze gently chills the night, a harbinger of the cold future that awaits. Yes, fall distracts us from the reality of the frigid future we face with its colorful displays and crunchy carpet, but I am not fooled. Although, truth be known, every season has its beauty, Summer, you’re the best.

Dolphin!

In a previous post, I mentioned that no matter how many times I saw a dolphin in the wild during our trip, I felt an adrenaline rush as I pointed and hollered, “Dolphin!” It was the new “squirrel” as this word and gesture involuntarily interrupted conversations unrelated to dolphins. I can blame this new behavior on our dolphin watching boat excursion from Clearwater Marine Aquarium . The first thing we learned on the research trip where we were counting/identifying dolphins and recording dolphin behaviors was to shout “Dolphin!” and point anytime we saw one.

I was excited to spot the first dolphin of the trip in a nearby harbor area. Her name was Guardian and she was engaging in feeding behaviors. She was chasing a poor little silver fish that tried unsuccessfully to escape from the clutches of Guardians cage-like teeth by jumping forward into the air. After her sparkling body descended into the harbor with a splash, she disappeared behind Guardian’s teeth and presumably slid down her tongue, giving her life for Guardian’s survival. Sad for the fish, but it is the way of nature.

Individual dolphins were identified by their dorsal fins as each is unique, like a fingerprint. Like baby skin, dorsal fins are pristine and free of injury. No scars. Life happens. Humans endure injuries large and small and sport unique scars as souvenirs. So do dolphins, with their histories written in their dorsal fins.

This dolphin’s name is Fray. If the picture was better, you could see how her dorsal fin is fringed. The dolphins are often named by a physical characteristic or a unique behavior, timing or location. The researchers maintain a record of photos of the dorsal fins with the names to identify each one in subsequent sightings.

As the excursion continued, we saw many more dolphins and learned about their various behaviors: feeding, socializing, traveling. Most of the dolphins we saw were solo, which was a surprise to me as I thought they always traveled in pods. Some do, but others will come together in a temporary group for a purpose, such as hunting, where they do work cooperatively. When the goal has been accomplished, these dolphins will go off on their own again. We learned of the importance of not feeding wild dolphins as it disables them. They become “begging dolphins” with teeth worn down to the point it is impossible to capture prey on their own. Dolphins don’t need their teeth to chew, as they swallow their food whole, but they work like bars in a cage, trapping their dinner.

PJ, one of the dolphins in residence at CMA cannot be released to the wild because of this condition. She would starve.

We also learned that they don’t name the dolphins that they are observing until they are two. Two is an important age because that is the point that they have learned enough to be on their own. Dolphins who are rescued prior to age two can never be returned to the wild because they didn’t have the opportunity to learn appropriate survival skills.

Both Winter and Hope were rescued prior to their second birthday, so they would be unable to survive in the open water.

The excursion was exhilarating, breathing in the ocean air and feeling the ocean mist dancing on my face. Dolphins are beautiful and smart. I’m grateful to the dolphins for the never-waning excitement and inspiration they bring to my heart every time I see one.

What do dolphins represent?

Dolphin Spirit Animal

Clicks and whistles…

Ever since I watched the movie, “A Dolphin’s Tale,” I have entertained the idea of visiting Winter, who was the star of the show.

After her amazing rescue and rehabilitation, she became a permanent resident of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium along with her best friend, PJ, and many other terrific sea animals.

When my bestie and I were planning our girl’s trip, I mentioned this desire and we planned our trip around CMA.

So, I had a beautiful experience watching the dolphin besties communicating with their adorable clicks and whistles as they played spontaneously. T and I watched them for over an hour. It was so amazing, that I did find myself moved to tears at one point.

But, you won’t only see Winter. We also enjoyed sea turtles, sharks and stingrays. You will also learn much information about the animals and the rescue efforts.

I completely recommend visiting this place. But, there are some things you should know before you go. It is not Sea World or a commercial aquarium for entertainment. It is a working research, rescue, and rehab facility. If you are expecting Sea World, then go there. At CMA you will be educated and you will be entertained, but the “shows” are more like educational presentations. When the animals are performing, it is their actual training session.

There are areas that are narrow and can feel congested. Bring your patience.

Study their website and download their app. Follow the directions and recommendations.

Consider the weather forecast in your planning, as some activities are weather dependent. If they cancel, you can reschedule, so plan this experience early in your vacation, in case your weather doesn’t cooperate.

Purchase your tickets online, in advance and arrive early in the day. If not, you will find yourself waiting in line.

There are different add-ons to the general admission that include dolphin boat excursions and live animal encounters.

The cafe is good. I was expecting more of a concession stand, but we were able to get a grilled chicken salad that was actually quite good.

If you are into souvenirs, bring plenty of money. This was one way CMA was like other attractions.

They took adorable souvenir photos that we were unable to resist.

The gift shop is well-stocked with a variety of pricey merchandise.

If you love and care about marine animals, you will love your visit to CMA.

Don’t Worry, Beach Happy…

If you’re looking for the compromise between a deserted beach and retail tourist attractions on the Florida Gulf Coast, try Madeira Beach.

We stayed at Madeira Bay Resort, which just across the road, with a sunrise view of Madeira Bay.

The condo was clean and seemed recently remodeled. The less than five minute walk to Madeira Beach led to beautiful views at any time of day.

Our visit coincided with the start of school and was during the rainiest month of the year, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lack of crowd. I greeted the morning with runs on the beach, yoga and beach combing.

Sunsets were gorgeous.

Even a rainy day is better on the beach.

And, we saw beautiful dolphins swimming in the Gulf almost daily. A dolphin sighting never ceased to produce an excited adrenaline rush for me.

There were pelicans and many other sea birds scooping their meals from the sea and poking their beaks along the shore.

There were warnings about stingrays and the recommendation to do the “stingray shuffle” when walking in the ocean to warn them. I did see a small one curl his fins out of the sand in very shallow water and disappear into the sea. It was turtle nesting season, as well.

If you are into the “tourist thing” there are plenty of shops and restaurants on the boardwalk at John’s Pass.

We had good seafood everywhere we went, but the best restaurant was Dockside Dave’s, which was about a mile from where we stayed.

Also, not to be missed was the Candy Kitchen, full of retro sugary memories like Pop Rocks and candy cigarettes and homemade ice cream.

We visited or saw a few other beaches during our stay. Indian Rocks and Redington Beaches we’re both gorgeous and not too “peopley,” but there didn’t seem to be as many stores and restaurants as conveniently located.

St. Pete’s Beach was more commercialized and more crowded than Madeira, but not overly so. It looked like a fun area and would be a place I would choose on a future visit if I wanted to try something different.

When we rode by Clearwater Beach on the city bus, we were unimpressed. It was shoulder-to-shoulder beach chair and cabana rentals and much too “peopley” for my liking. There were many, many commercial amenities nearby, so to each her own, I suppose.

For me, relaxing in the midst of waves, sand, nature, sunrises and sunsets are what a beach vacation is all about.

…The Other is Gold

This post is somewhat of a continuation of the “Heart Prints and Wings” post, but the venue and the focus has changed.

I’ve moved on to the part of the song that goes: “…keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” While I would prefer to change the word “old” to another word to describe my nearly lifelong bestie, T, it does rhyme with “gold” and a lifelong bestie is worth more than gold.

We have maintained our friendship since high school, even as our life paths differed following our days of creating crazy, fun memories of shopping, high school dances, laying out by the pool, and cruising Main St.

My bestie has weathered more than her share of life’s storms , as told in Oprah magazine from October 2013. Back in our high school days while we were creating our fun memories, she beat back cancer, not once, but twice. Now, the once life-saving treatments are causing multiple serious residual health issues.

Despite all this, she is tough and living life to the fullest.

Now that we’re both retired, we’re setting out on our “excellent adventures” following in the footsteps of great female duos: Laverne and Shirley, Thelma and Louise, Oprah and Gayle.

Our first official “excellent adventure” was to Madeira Beach, Fl.

My morning yoga view on August 14 was this! I was supposed to be here!

In true bestie style, when I told her I had to be away from home on August 14, the second anniversary of my husband’s passing AND the first day of school where I wasn’t a part, she was there for me. I didn’t care where we went, just “away.”

Happy First Day of School!

So she planned a beach trip for us. When circumstances prevented the initial plans from going forward, she planned a different beach trip that included an excursion to Clearwater Marine Aquarium which I had wanted to visit since learning the story of Winter the Dolphin several years ago.

Winter and her bestie, PJ playing in the pool.

The trip was great! It was reliving the past only better…

Laying out by a beach instead of an above ground pool, Coppertone instead of baby oil, “80’s on 8” on SiriusXM instead of a radio.

But, what was the same and the best, two friends were sharing life and creating memories again. “Gold” friends are beautiful.

Who ever said principals were boring?

I met a kindred spirit at Anamaya. She was a lovely lady with a quick smile and a patient voice, who quickly became an inspiration to all in our group.

We sat together at dinner one night and through conversation discovered that we were both retired principals. E had been retired for several years and I, less than a month. We shared our joys in making a difference, memorable experiences with kids, challenges of the principalship, and our thoughts about education. I was able to share stories about my school and dealing with this change in my life with someone who understood my intense feelings for this part of my life.

As our conversation deepened, we delved into another commonality. We were both grieving the recent loss of our life partners. We shared more stories from our lives about our husbands and about the challenges of this new season. At one point E thought I might think it was crazy, but every day her husband sent her a heart. One day it was a heart in a cut potato. It could be anywhere, but it was daily. I told her that I understood completely and shared my butterfly experiences with her, knowing she would understand.

A couple of days later a beach trip was offered and E, her daughter and best friend decided not to go.

When we arrived at the beach, I found a coconut shell with a hole in the shape of a heart. I excitedly took several different photos of it.

One of my roommates, J, later found a tiny white shell with a heart-shaped hole and gave it to me. I appreciated it, but then said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I want to give this to E. It’s hers.” I elaborated on the meaning of “found hearts” to E and J agreed.

When we returned from the beach, I found E and told her I had something for her. I produced the shell with the heart and explained the story. She excitedly said that she hadn’t found her heart for that day yet, and threaded the shell through the heart on a fine gold chain.

The gift was from her husband, J and I were merely the messengers. It was a blessing to have the opportunity to bring such joy to a joy-giver.

I mentioned that E became an inspiration to our whole group. She had been at Anamaya before as 2019 rolled over on the calendar, barely able to get around following a bout with cancer. Had she not shared her story, no one observing this energetic, positive soul would have imagined this was possible. E joined us for yoga daily and brought fun energy to our Zumba class. She was so excited one day because she discovered she could jump again, a skill she proudly showed off to our group as we responded with cheers, tears and applause.

On our last night in Costa Rica the group went to a First Friday celebration at a nearby brewery. Dancing was awesome because no partners were required. Everyone who wanted to dance was together on the dance floor. The music was different than I’d heard before, but was easy to move to. As the one song transitioned to another the melody and lyrics changed but the rhythm remained the same. I joined E, other friends and strangers on the dance floor. E emitted a joy that was contagious and seemingly tireless. Eventually our other friends took a break and it was just E and I, the constant rhythm, and some “interesting” lyrics (the kind we would have policed as principals) on the dance floor. As we danced, E said to me, “Who ever said principals were boring?” And then we laughed and kept dancing.

J gave all the ladies in the Casita a rock she had found. She gave me this heart shaped rock. When I arrived home I found it had another tiny treasure.

Dreams with Wings…

Monarch Travels Application Video

Today would have been our 35th wedding anniversary. I celebrated by applying for a scholarship for educators to research Monarch butterflies at their winter roosting site in the forested highlands of Mexico. I figured that submitting the application today would somehow be lucky.

In the application materials, I included a link to my new travel blog, which is one place I can document and share the story of the Monarch butterflies if I am selected to go. You could possibly help my chances of being selected by following my blog. I would think that the more followers I had, the more influential that piece of the application would be. Thank-you!

Heart Prints and Wings…

It was my first trip out of the USA and I was traveling solo. There were many firsts on the trip… Costa Rica…

the smallest airplane I’d ever been on… living in the Casita with three ladies I had never met…

and more. I should have referred to “the three ladies I’ve never met” as “future friends” as that’s how it turned out.

In the Casita, we were all traveling solo and, amazingly, all educators. Teachers. We were all seeking some adventure, learning something new and celebrating a milestone of some sort.

We bonded immediately and with the energy of our group bond, we were all able to reach out in friendship to the others in our larger group at Anamaya.

We were all different, yet had stories in common. We were each a puzzle piece completing a beautiful portrait of friendship. The experience brought out a “realness” in people’s spirits, something that felt child-like, vulnerable and pure. We each brought value to the group and each absorbed what was individually needed from the group.

Our yoga teacher and leader encouraged us to accept and love ourselves, in all of our delicious scrumptiousness, which overflowed into the acceptance, understanding, support and love that was abundant in the collective energy of these new forever friendships.

As we left to return to our “real lives” tears were shed. As we began to go our separate ways, we took with us the heart prints of each new friend.

When I was a Girl Scout, we learned a song that went, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” Each friendship that we are blessed to create enriches our lives in its own way. A beautiful new friendship doesn’t diminish the value of beautiful old friendships. We can have different friendships for different occasions, like a wardrobe. Forever friends, like comfy sweats, are always there, always accepting, always listening, always knowing, but always loving anyway. No words required.

New friends are exciting sparkly event dresses, based on shared interests, circumstances, or ideas. We put them on for a special time that dances it’s way into our memories.

All friendships are nurtured by memories and fueled by laughter and tears. They all are kept as heart prints.

“Remember… no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings…” –It’s a Wonderful Life

Life’s a beach…

Sunset at the beach. What could be more perfect?

While I had already throughly enjoyed many aspects of my trip to Costa Rica, sunset at the beach seemed to be promising as a highlight.

Following a very rough, but scenic ride on dirt paths that serve as roads in the Costa Rican jungle and bisecting tiny towns, we arrived at the beach.

Our group had a great little area in which to hang out with various refreshments available.

The surf was up, rolling over the sand in its predictable way, leaving some treasures like rocks and sand in its wake and sometimes returning to take them back to the sea.

I looked for treasures in the sand. I watched a dog run in and out of the ocean, splashing in the waves, free from the entrapment of a leash, as this is not a requirement in public areas in Costa Rica. I looked down near my feet at the tiny hermit crabs searching for new real estate. I looked out into the ocean about 45 yards away and spotted a whale frolicking in the sea, it’s tail rising majestically from the blue. I took photos of some of my natural discoveries as they were and staged other photos as I had creative ideas.

I posed for pictures taken by friends and reciprocated as my friends posed. We decided to grab refreshments and walk to a rocky area of the beach to look for shells. Here I was, walking along a beach in Costa Rica sipping coconut water through a straw from a young coconut. #LivingTheDream

We scoured the sand for beautiful rocks and shells and picked up the chosen few as our feet were massaged by the small rocks and foaming ocean.

We returned to our area to put down our treasures and then decided to head out into the ocean one last time, so we could get out and dry out as we watched and photographed the sunset. The waves rolled towards us as we jumped to navigate the lapping water without going under. I noticed a slight bit of color developing in the sky, so I hollered to my friends I was going back to get my phone and get ready for the sunset. I walked along the wet side of the sand where the waves crossed and the idea crossed my mind to run, because I hadn’t had a chance to take a run during my trip, especially a beach run with my bare toes gripping the sand and the waves splashing over my feet. My eyes gazed across the ocean as I alternated feet stepping into the sand with the foamy water washing over my toes. #Bliss

Suddenly I heard growling and barking to my left. I turned my head to see an open muzzle with angry teeth that lunged towards me, knocking me to the ground as the flesh ripped on my forearm. The dog bit into my hip as I tried to roll away, protecting my face, only to see a second, smaller dog also barking and attacking. Fortunately one of my friends saw what happened and ran towards the danger, trying to distract the dogs. The owners of the dogs also ran up and worked to get control of the dogs. All I remember is knowing people had arrived and repeatedly yelling, “Get the dogs!” During the incident, the dogs retreated once, but returned while the owners secured them. The owner of the larger dog, a Rottweiler, was mortified and apologetic, trying to help. I asked if the dogs had their shots and she said that yes they had and they were well cared for. She offered ocean water for my bleeding wounds, but I refused (gesturing to our area) saying I needed to go and we had clean water. She offered to pay for a doctor, but I did not want to go, feeling better that the dogs had shots. I just wanted to get the wounds washed out with clean water.

My friend helped me over to our area and the tour guides poured clean water on my wounds, dried them, applied antibiotic cream and wrapped them in gauze.

While I was being taken care of, the sunset was imminent. My new friends were asking if we needed to go so I could get back. I said, “No, it’s almost time for the sunset and that’s why we came.” “You’re more important than any photos we might take,” replied a friend and the group agreed. I said, “I want you to take photos! I can’t right now and I want some!”

The group obliged and began taking photos. After I was bandaged up, I even got a few of my own. The sky darkened and we loaded our stuff and ourselves into the van.

The experience was shear terror. I am not a “dog person” and I particularly don’t like bigger dogs. During the attack my thoughts went to my son who was attacked by a German Shepherd when he was three and suffered bites that required emergency medical attention. As terrified as I was as an adult, I can’t imagine being only three years old and experiencing this. As a mostly solo runner on roads and trails, I am acutely aware of various dangers: cars, muggers, rocks, roots, wild animals, and, yes, dogs. I try not to run in traffic. I really don’t think too much that a “bad person” would know exactly where I will be running and is waiting to attack me and steal my iPhone. I know to stay focused on my surroundings and choose my steps carefully on trails to avoid injury. Wild animals usually are not interested in interacting with humans. But, dogs? They instinctively want to chase. As a runner, they have always felt like my biggest danger. I’d say it’s true.

By the time we returned to the resort after a dark and bumpy ride, my arm was not really hurting anymore, but my more-injured hip was. I ate dinner and then returned to the casita for bed. I left the wounds wrapped and didn’t look at them because I had no more gauze or bandages or antibiotic cream. As I removed my hat for bed I realized that my head was really hurting. That was the first moment I realized I had hit my head. I guess I didn’t notice due to the rest of the injuries. I slept on and off during the night between the injuries and seeing the open muzzle with angry teeth and hearing the barking and growling when I tried to close my eyes. I kept telling myself it was over and wasn’t real right then. The next morning I stepped into the outdoor shower and looked at the wounds. The arm wounds were obviously claw marks, but the hip injury was definitely a bite. Both injuries actually looked better than I imagined with no sign of infection. Several people in the group asked to see it including a nurse and a doctor who both agreed it did not look infected.

Later that day, I hung out over the edge of the saltwater infinity pool watching the butterflies and the ocean, but not feeling the joy they had brought me on the previous days. Silent tears escaped from my eyes and visions of the open muzzle with angry teeth interrupted my thoughts periodically.

Eventually a friend joined me in the pool and our conversation distracted me from my thoughts. Later that afternoon, I was relaxing in the hammock and it occurred to me that the whole incident was only a couple of minutes of ugliness out thousands of minutes of beauty. I decided that the open muzzle with angry teeth would not rob my joy. The dog bite was not going to define my visit to Costa Rica.

It didn’t have to be a perfect trip to be a beautiful trip. #PuraVida