I love DC

You can take Susanne out of Virginia, but you can’t take Virginia out of Susanne.  I do love traveling, discovering different areas, but it’s nice to go home sometimes too.  Time and time again, I’ve left for various reasons and returned to the DC area for various reasons.

Grew up in northern Virginia from 1972-1986.

Lived in Roanoke and Lexington my first two years of college, 1986-1988. Lived in Virginia Beach summer 1987.  Worked for Greenpeace in DC summer and fall 1988.

Moved to Wyoming to complete Spring Semester in the Rockies (WY, CO, UT) 1989.  Click here to read about it.

Moved away to Colorado in 1989 (Boulder, Telluride, Durango).  Click here to read more about life in beautiful places.

Finished college in Prescott, Arizona 1993.

Moved back to Virginia with my oldest daughter and went through a divorce 1994.

Worked for Greenpeace in DC 1994-1996.

Got my master’s degree 1998.

Moved away to Nevada 1998-2001. Taught sixth grade.  Remarried 1999. Had another daughter 2000 and son 2004.

Moved back 2001-2004 so my husband could attend law school while I taught sixth grade gifted/talented.  Click here to read more about that.

Moved away to Texas in 2006, visited Virginia in 2008 for a high school anniversary reunion, for a short weekend wedding this summer, and again last week to help my mom through a single mastectomy.

Cancer brought me home this time.  It changes everything and puts everything into perspective.  Cancer runs in my family.  My father had kidney cancer and then liver cancer. He died from bleeding complications during surgery.  It was a surprise to all of us because we knew about the previous kidney cancer but did not know that it had spread to his liver.  Knowing my mom was facing it alone, I did what I could to help.

When I go back to visit, it feels like home. The city, the suburbs, the culture and history are all a part of who I’ve become. Landing and taking off over the monuments and seeing Washington, DC by air reminds me of so many parts of my past there. It’s where I grew up, and it’s still intertwined with my life in Texas. Back home in Texas where I am comfortable with my family and it’s another beautiful sunny day, I appreciate both places for what they offer and know that Virginia/DC will always be my home. Texas is my second home, a place where we can spread out and my kids can grow up and call home. This is where I’m growing roots after transplanting from the east coast.


This is a picture of the house where I grew up in Northern Virginia. My mom bought it and we moved in during 1972. She is still there today. There used to be a big pine tree in front of the left side of the house. I used to climb it as a child and sit high up in the branches, sticky with sap, looking over the neighborhood at roof tops and trees. Those moments were times I would steal away, sit back, and observe life around me. I remember doing roundoff-backhandsprings all over the front and back yards and wonder today how I did it when I see how sloped the front yard was. There were birthdays, homecomings, proms, Halloweens and Christmases in this house. Years upon years of memories, both good and bad reside here. What a trip to go back as an adult and re-experience it from another perspective.

This is truly the “house that built me.”


This is where I went to take a walk while my mom saw her lawyer to get her will in place. It’s a familiar park near my house where I used to go all the time when I lived there. It was a heavy day emotionally, writing her advanced medical directive and discussing her wishes just in case anything went wrong in surgery. I lost my dad to complications from his surgery for liver cancer and didn’t know he was having surgery or that he had liver cancer, so this experience with my mom was the exact opposite. I did get to contemplate in advance what would happen if she didn’t come out of surgery ok.

Driving into Lake Accotink Park in Virginia, the road meanders through a secluded forest in the middle of suburbia. Tall trees line the road, and the speed limit slows to a pace where it’s impossible not to appreciate the surroundings. During any season, this is a beautiful drive into a pretty piece of nature where you’d least expect it. It’s a man-made reservoir, but it is a beautiful lake with trails around it. It’s a perfect park for picnics, bike rides, runs along the trail, boating, and parties at the facilities. As a kid, I used to ride my bike all around the park and had fun rope-swinging into the muddy water with friends. I loved getting out in nature. As an adult, I ran the dirt trail around the lake and rode single track mountain bike trails off the beaten path.  One of my favorite mountain biking memories is from riding single track at Accotink in the rain.  The trail was really muddy, and I got soaking wet but it was a fantastic time!


I took a long walk and did some yoga in a secluded flat spot by the lake. Afterwards, I laid down on a bench for a while to let the sun’s rays caress my skin while my body relaxed. Lying in the sun is one of my favorite things to do; plus vitamin d is good for us (the sun is the only natural source of vitamin d).  The fall air was crisp, and the sun was warm, warmer than I expected and warmer that day than the rest of the week. I opened my eyes, looked up and saw this beautiful view of a tree with spectacular fall colors. The striking orange against the clear blue sky reflected a calm yet vibrant spirit within. I truly loved taking in my surroundings at that moment. Pale tree trunks reflected the loveliness of the place with initials inscribed surrounded in hearts with arrows. It was obviously a place where many others sat to enjoy the moment.


In the final moments before my flight back to Texas, this was my view outside the airplane window. It was a beautiful morning at the end of a special week. My mom survived breast cancer surgery and was in good hands with friends, family, and a home health nurse. I was able to support her through a difficult experience. We mended fences and forgave each other for the past, and I focused on a zen mindset of being calm.

Dream Board 2013

Dream Board 2013

I also got a chance to reconnect with old friends and family members I haven’t seen in years. I appreciated my time there despite the circumstances. I felt reconnected with the place I’ve left so many times.

US Capitol Building as we began our ascent out of Reagan National Airport.

Washington Monument, Tidal Basin, and Jefferson Memorial

Washington Monument, National Mall, and US Capitol Building

Lincoln Memorial

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!


25 Things About Me

I’m flashing back today, looking back over some of the old notes I wrote on Facebook before I started blogging.  Found this list of 25 things about me and got a kick out of re-reading it and thought I would share with updates where necessary.

1.  Like my friend Eve who tagged me in this note, I have a genius IQ, but I knew it when I was a kid and resented the pressure to be an overachiever.
2.  I like beans….and I make a yummy bean salad.  Whatever I cook if I can throw in some beans I will. (Update-I no longer eat beans!  I’ve been following a mostly paleo diet since August (no grains, no dairy, no beans/legumes, no refined salt, sugars, or oils). 
3. I like to cook, and I am obsessed with eating healthy food like lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies, and whole grains. (Update-no more whole grains!  Was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity (click here to read the entry I wrote about it) in May and have been off most grains (except a little rice since August).
4.  I always wanted to be a wife and mother and never really knew what career to pursue when I was growing up.  Click here to read why.
5.  Because of #4, I went to three colleges, took two years off (one to work for GP and do a NOLS semester (click here to read about it) and the other to work as a cook and live in Telluride, CO), and changed my major twice (#1 French #2 Philosphy/Religion #3 Environmental Studies)….didn’t graduate until I was 25.

Telluride, CO from a gondola.

Telluride, CO from a gondola. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  My first ‘career’ was an environmental activist for Greenpeace in Washington DC.

Washington DC

Washington DC (Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

7.  I got my master’s degree in Education and became a teacher after my GP job got moved to Amsterdam;  I was a single mom so I didn’t want to go.
8.  When I was a teacher, I discovered a passion for math, and now that I am a stay home mom I love tutoring math because I can help students learn to love math.  Click here to read about my love affair with math.

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9.  I love to sleep and will sleep until noon if nobody wakes me up.  I also love being pampered like getting massages.
10.  I met my husband, Joe, at the gym when he was working there and going to school and I was his 12:30 appointment for personal training.  We started running together and the rest is history.  Even though he is a lawyer now, we still go to the gym every weekend and love exercising together.

11.  I am lactose intolerant (like most Asian Americans).
12.  I am an extrovert and love to get together with friends, pot-luck style, with good food, drinks and conversation.
13. When I go out, my drink of choice is gin and tonic (Bombay Sapphire) and my favorite shots are Jaegermeister and Tequila. (Update-no more gin or jaegermeister due to food allergies.  The only liquor I drink is Patron silver tequila).
14.  I drink wine (chardonnay) when I’m cooking and with dinner.
15. I am kind of a control freak and always am trying to avert danger and/or accidents, especially with my kids. Like we don’t let them play outside in the front yard without an adult and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to have a 15 yr. old who is about to date and drive etc. (Update-since I wrote this post, I wrote nineteen episodes of fiction. I realized this theme came up in my fiction writing. Click here to read my fiction episodes).
16.  I like heights and exposure, hence my affinity for climbing trees as a kid, my love for rock climbing and high mountains where the earth meets the sky.  When I stand on a cliff or overlook I get the urge to fly like a bird, but of course I don’t have wings so maybe I should take up hang gliding or something?


Split Rock, WY 1989

17.  On the flip side, I am claustrophobic and I would really hate to go scuba diving or caving or anything like that.
18.  I am a big flirt, always have been, in fact I won ‘biggest flirt’ in 8th grade with Bill Schraa who ironically was also voted ‘best couple’ with his girlfriend.
19.  When I go shopping I am all about the sales and hardly ever will pay retail price.
20.  I manage all the money in our household and am good about paying our bills on time or early.
21. I correct people when they use bad grammar (I know that is annoying, but I can’t help it).
22.  When I am going through a hard time, I make music mixes full of songs that reflect whatever it is that’s going on.  Before CD‘s I made mixed tapes.
23.  I always try to complement people and tell them what I like about them (something I learned as a teacher when conferencing with parents).  There is always something nice you can say, no matter who it is.
24.  I spend alot of time on the computer.
25.  I give my kids ‘mommy homework’ if they don’t have any from school and make them do reading, writing, and math all summer (for about an hour a day, it’s not so bad) to keep them challenged.  Click here to read about summer learning.

30 Days of Truth: Day 25-The Reason You Believe You’re Still Alive Today

Honestly I have no idea why I’m still alive today. It’s kind of a weird question.  It makes me think about the difference between determinism and free will.  If our lives are pre-determined, I supposed I’m still alive because I haven’t reached the end of my path yet.  If our lives and deaths are created by our free will, then I’m alive because I haven’t killed myself, and so far I’ve been successful in taking the necessary precautions to escape death.

I’m not really sure which theory is the actual truth, and I’m pretty sure nobody else knows either.  I tend not to believe in determinism, but who knows?  If it’s in my power, then I do what I can to avoid death by avoiding disease and unsafe situations.  If it’s not in my power, then I guess my efforts are futile, and whatever will be will be.

Every action we take creates a ripple effect that leads us down another path.  I read a book once that was all about this topic and whether or not it was possible to have parallel realities (each being different depending on the different choices we make and on the paths those choices lead us down).  It’s called One by Richard Bach.

I can only remember one time in my life when I actually thought I was going to die. It was when I hung from the Triboro Bridge in NYC for Greenpeace to protest ocean dumping of toxic sludge. I need to write a separate entry about my experiences while working for Greenpeace. But during that action, we were suspended from climbing ropes above the East River for about nine hours. The police shut down the bridge and there were police cars all over the bridge and police boats in the water. A special operations helicopter flew underneath us with its lights off, which easily could have killed us. That was scary. I also remember when the police at the top of my rope threatened to cut my rope and put frog men in the water to fish me out. I looked up and saw police alongside my support people, and I looked down and saw divers in suits with inflatable boats. I started doing the math in my head, falling close to 150 ft. with climbing rope all around me into “hell’s gate” of the East River. I wondered if I would die on impact or drown in the river coiled up in rope as the current sucked me down and spit me out downstream. The action coordinators on the ground handled things perfectly, communicating over radio that we were receiving live international news coverage, and if they cut our ropes they would be killing up to thirteen activists on live television. The police did the right thing, didn’t cut our ropes, instead they gave us each an extra safety rope! So, in that instance I owe my life to Dave Hollister who coordinated and managed the entire action and to Scott Stoodley who protected my ropes and anchors and dealt with the police. Thank you Dave and Scott! Here is a picture (I’m the climber farthest to the right):

In hindsight, there were other times I was very vulnerable and could have been killed, but wasn’t.  I lived outdoors in Colorado for a year and a half, and when I was in college I camped outdoors all the time.  Luckily, no crazy killers found me.

As an adult, I strive to take care of my health and stay fit to prevent disease. I firmly believe you are what you eat, and I have a weird relationship with foods because of all my allergies/intolerances.  I avoid wheat, corn, sugar, and eggs.  Although it’s difficult to eat so clean in our society, it’s worth it because I feel better and when I go to the doctor they tell me they never see numbers so healthy in my age group.  And then they ask me what’s my secret. And I tell them, I eat right and exercise. Duh!  It seems so simple, but it’s difficult to sustain on a day to day basis.

I believe I’m still alive because I take care of myself and make safe choices in my adult life.  I believe I’m still alive because I’ve gotten lucky in averting death in the past when there was an opportunity.  I hope to live to be one hundred years old, and I hope to have a long healthy live with my family! My kids sure need their mommy, so I’m thankful for having the most important job in the whole world.

Chick Fil A, Same Sex Marriage, and My Position

Today is August 1, 2012.  It’s support Chick Fil A day.  They have recently been featured in the news because they have donated millions of dollars to anti-gay groups.  When the CEO was asked to comment on his donations to anti-gay charities, he said they operate on biblical principles (closed on Sundays) and support the traditional definition of marriage as it’s stated in the bible.  In the bible, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, and it is a sin to be homosexual.

We are all entitled to our opinions and free speech regarding same-sex marriage and everything else under the sun.  People who are eating at Chick Fil A are doing so to make a statement that they support the corporation’s position against same sex marriage, and whether they realize it or not, they are financially supporting the corporation and all the charities they donate to when they purchase from Chick Fil A.  Some people are making it a freedom of speech issue, but what it really boils down to is do you support where they spend their dollars, not freedom of speech.

Chick Fil A is not alone in supporting controversial causes.  For example, KFC supports tiger habitat destruction.  McDonald’s gets beef from the rainforest (where rainforests are cut down to provide land for the cattle to graze).  Tuna fisheries used to kill dolphins in their fishing nets.  If consumers are informed about where the corporations spend their money, they can make informed decisions about whom to support.  When the public became aware of the dolphin kill problem, they along with watchdog groups like Greenpeace put enough pressure on the industry to change their fishing practices and label cans of “dolphin-safe” tuna.

Is it possible to be pro traditional marriage and pro same-sex marriage at the same time?  I say yes it is.  This is where religion and science have some crossover.  I am heterosexual and married to a man.  I support traditional marriage.  But it’s not because of the bible.  It’s because of science.  A species is defined as a group of organisms capable of producing fertile offspring.  It’s not judgemental.  It doesn’t say sex has to be between a man and a woman, but men and women make up the human species because the males and females are capable of breeding and producing viable offspring.  Traditional marriage is scientific marriage.  Men and women make babies and get married to share the workload in raising those babies.  That’s the evolutionary reason for mating for life.

I support homosexuals’ rights to same-sex marriage and I also support traditional, scientific, offspring producing marriage.  Since much of the debate revolves around redefining the word, marriage, perhaps it could be solved by calling same-sex marriage just that, or maybe call it gay marriage, or some other verbage that sets it aside from male-female-offspring-producing marriage.  There is a win-win solution.  I don’t see anything wrong with homosexual people who are committed for life to each other having the same rights as heterosexual couples.  Love is love is love.

Will I support Chick Fil A today? No thanks. Now that I know they funnel millions of dollars to anti-gay groups, I don’t think I will give them any more of my dollars.  But should you eat there? If you support that cause, go for it.  It’s not a free speech issue. It’s an issue about the power of the consumer dollar.


NOLS Spring Semester in the Rockies 1989

     This was the first day of the rest of my life.  I had never gone camping, cross-country skied, or backpacked before.  I had no idea what was in store for me during the next three weeks.  There I was, 21 years old, late January 1989 on skis with a heavy backpack and making tracks into the woods outside of Jackson Hole, WY.  The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), based in Lander, WY,  gave me and 16 other students a ride to this meadow and dropped us off with three instructors to begin our Spring Semester in the Rockies.  It was a 95 day semester broken into five sections:  winter, desert, whitewater, climbing, and horse packing.  I received 16 credits from the University of Utah in biology and natural history.  Winter section lasted approximately 3 weeks.
     Just three years earlier in 1986, I graduated high school with no idea what to do with my life.  My high school counselor saw that I had gotten all As in French (4 years) and suggested that I major in French with the goal of returning to the DC area to work as a translator for the State Department.  I attended Hollins College my freshman year and then did a one year exchange program at Washington & Lee University my sophomore year.
     At W&L, two of my friends (Jack Moore and Chris Walburgh) had already completed NOLS Semesters, and they inspired me to register for a semester outdoors. Chris (RIP Chris Walburgh)  http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?cropsuccess&id=100000216874433#!/groups/19639487026  , also told me about Greenpeace one day while we were studying in the library, so that summer when I returned to DC I responded to an ad in the paper looking for Greenpeace canvassers.  I went door to door raising funds and awareness to aid Greenpeace’s campaigns (oceans, forests, toxics, nukes) and decided to take my junior year off from school and pursue doing a NOLS semester in the spring.  During my sophomore year at W&L, I started rock climbing with Chris and his best friend, Rick, but I had never done any camping or anything else outdoorsy.  There was something about Chris that I wanted to be like too. He was a deep thinker, and I could tell his outdoor adventures had given him something that I didn’t have yet.  I wanted to experience it too.  I worked for Greenpeace until January, then I flew to Lander, WY to start a new adventure (much to my parents’ chagrin).
     We skied during the days through pristine forests and camped in quinzhees at night.  It was tough learning how to cross-country ski while balancing a big backpack.  The instructors dragged sleds behind them full of supplies.  I learned how to stair-step sideways when going up a hill on cross-country skis and when we didn’t have our packs we worked on tele-skiing, carving beautiful curves in the powdery snow.  The forests were lush with fir and spruce and other evergreens.  It was quiet and peaceful.  Just getting from here to there required focus on the moment.  The rhythm of my breath was loud in my head and strenuous tasks took my full attention.  We learned snow science such as avalanche forecasting, types of snow,  and wilderness first aid for hypothermia etc.  We built snow kitchens to cook our camp food and built camaraderie with our quinzhee mates.

To make a quinzhee, it takes lots of snow and lots of hard work.  First, we made a huge mound of snow. Then, we literally climbed on top and stomped down on the snow to pack it down so it was very dense.  Once enough snow was packed in a dome shape, we used shovels to carve out a tunnel, first straight down, then horizontally to the dome, then straight up into the dome.  Then, we carved out the inside of the dome and a floor upon which to sleep.  The temperatures outside were 20-30 degrees below zero at night, and I think about four people could fit in one quinzhee.  Our body heat and subzero sleeping gear got us through the nights, but it sure was cold when we had to get up and night, tunnel outside and go to the bathroom!

Above is a picture of a snow kitchen.  We carefully carved out the snow to create a place to cook and sit.  We always hung up our sleeping bags on our skis at camp so they could dry.

This is a picture of some of the group members piling up snow in a dome. Jon is on top of the dome packing it down. The picture is a little blurry, but he is there.  As you can imagine, this process took some time and it came at the end of a long day of skiing.  Even though we were exhausted, we enjoyed working together to create shelter for our groups.

It’s easy to get a sense of the pristine beauty of the land from looking at this picture.  The snow was waist-high in some places.  We prodded through it, creating corridors to travel from camp to camp.  Every day we came across beautiful vistas and breathtaking imagery in the snowy meadows, forests, and mountains.  My eyes opened up to a brand new world.  Living outdoors for weeks during the winter was hard work, and I will admit I complained a bit.  Not only was I getting used to being away from civilization, but I had never faced such hardships just to exist.  I missed people at home, and I was tired a lot of the time.  I had always been athletic, playing soccer and doing gymnastics and cheerleading, but this kind of physical exertion was something I had never experienced.  I had also never been in such bone-chilling cold conditions.  A highlight of those three weeks was one night when we were sitting around talking and drinking hot chocolate, we got a gorgeous treat – the Northern Lights!   The sky was luminescent, a white/yellow hue, and it danced in streaks across the starry night sky.  We were in awe, looking upon the sky in amazement.  I had never even heard of the Northern Lights before, so it was an incredible learning experience for me. Talk about experiential learning!

Greetings from Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  After re-rationing in Lander, we spent four weeks backpacking and camping in remote canyons for our desert section.  There was a sharp contrast in the weather and landscapes.  It was hot and sunny, and there not a snowflake to be seen.  The landscape was dry and rocky. Shrubs, cacti, and brush grew from cracks in the rocks.  The sandstone canyons carved by erosion over geologic time, leaving contours of the past to be explored.  I traded in my sub-zero gear for t-shirts and shorts, quickly becoming friends with the sturdy hiking boots and gaiters that protected my legs from the desert brush.

After day hikes of around 10 miles through the desert, we stopped and made camp, frequently without tents because the weather was so mild at night.  We spent more than one night at this camp. It was my favorite one because of the beautiful wall curving around my sleeping bag. I felt sheltered and surrounded in beauty.   I wondered how long the rocks had been there and what stories they could tell me about time if they could speak.  It was surreal to sleep in a place that used to be under water, evidenced by artistic curves in the rocks.  It reminded me of the passage from the Tao Te Ching:  “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

I stopped to look back at my friends hiking behind me one day and saw the thunderclouds above them illuminated by the afternoon sun.  We were hiking across high plains with woodlands instead of down low in the sandstone canyons.  I remember my feet and back started hurting all the time during desert section.  The backpack was heavy, and the road ahead and behind stretched as far as the eyes could see.  As I rested and waited for my friends, I contemplated the smell of the sage drifting in the air and electricity brewing above.  I rested my weary muscles and found determination to continue step by step into the future.  What other choice did I have after all?  In these moments, I learned about pushing myself slowly through challenging tasks until completion.

I felt on top of the world in this picture.  We came upon this vista on a pass through the canyons.  The round, pillar type sandstone formations in the foreground are called hoodoos.  The La Sals are the mountain range visible on the horizon.  My attitude shifted during this section. A former climbing instructor and friend advised me to ‘always volunteer and never complain’ while on my NOLS course.  During winter section, it was harder to do for whatever reason.  In the warm sun of the southwest, my mind opened up like a blooming cactus. I started going with the flow and doing whatever it took for the group logistics to run smoothly.  We learned about the flora and the fauna of the desert and explored the ancient Anasazi Indian history of the land.  We were challenged with a day spent in solitude and a four-day small group (student-led) expedition.  I was voted by the group as one of four students who would take a small group from point A to point B where we would meet our instructors four days later.  It was a performance assessment, a perfect chance to show all that we had learned about orienteering, map-reading, travel, and survival in a desert landscape.

We all made it alive, and met up as a group again to wait for the bus to pick us up and take us back to headquarters.  After four weeks, we emerged as a stronger group and stronger individuals.  Our clothes bore the sweat and dust from our travels and labor.  Those four weeks in the desert taught me to open up my senses to my surroundings and to value and respect the fragile environment of which we are all a part.

Rock climbing was the third section. We spent approximately three weeks at Split Rock, WY learning the ropes so to speak.  I had some background experience in this sport, so I was able to take those basic foundations and apply them in my daily practice.  We camped in tents on the granite slabs, did morning yoga, and then after breakfast, we would head up to some top-roping areas for instruction and practice.  We had a variety of practice with cracks, faces, single, and multi-pitch climbs.

This particular problem was difficult for me.  The route traverse slightly to the left and then continues up to the left side up the crack.  The problem is the traverse always resulted in the ‘barn door’ effect and I would fall off the curve in the rock before I could make it up the crack. I tried and tried again but was never successful.

Cenotaph’s corner:  really fun corner route. I did this one repeatedly!

Rappelling class:  The hardest part about rappelling is all in the mind.  It takes confidence to sit back for the first time and give your body weight to the system.  It’s counterintuitive step away from stable footing on the top of a rocky ledge! Once you trust that the system will work, it becomes second nature.  Just lean back like sitting in a chair and slowly walk down the rock using your feet.  The brake hand stays behind and below, and small amount of rope is let out at a time until finally reaching the bottom.  Learning to climb rocks and to rappell down them requires trust.  Trust is another very important life skill.

This is the site of our multi-pitch climbs. We spent many days climbing different routes in scorching sunlight as well as in rain storms.  These routes would take all day to complete as there were three to four pitches to get to the top and then rappelling and hiking a long way down.  I felt invigorated by the heights and exposure.  We had beautiful views of the sage brush plains below, a winding river, and mountain ranges off to the distance in several directions.  The skies were painted with color and with the dark rumbling of frequent afternoon rain showers.

Here we are on the summit of one of my favorite multi-pitch climbing days.  We worked together building anchors and belaying each other. We encouraged each other when we hit difficult positions on the routes.  We believed in each other and ourselves.  These types of activities taught me to focus on the moment at hand and to learn to recognize fear and turn it into a positive power.  I learned to take difficult tasks and break them down into small steps, one move at a time.  I learned to listen to the voice inside that said, ‘I can’ instead of ‘I can’t.’  We smiled with this enthusiasm and confidence as we posed for this picture and then sat down to enjoy a well deserved lunch together on the summit.

Here we are at the bottom after a long hike down.  In one day, we had ascended to the highest heights of our imaginations and then come back down to terra firma to rest and prepare for the next leg of the journey.  I felt so free and so happy, like I could do anything.  After three weeks together on this section, our friendships grew deeper bonds, and we all knew we were sharing special experiences that we would hold forever in our minds and hearts.

The fourth section was two weeks long. We traveled to the Dolores River, CO to learn whitewater kayaking and rafting.  At the beginning of the course, learned how to roll our kayaks in a pool in Grand Junction, CO.  I hurt my neck doing the sideways hip-snapping motion while trying to pull myself up sideways from under water.  Sharp, shooting pain originated at the base of my neck and went down both arms when I tried to move them. I took motrin and sat out from paddling for a while until I felt I could give it a shot.  We were in class 2 and 3 waters, and once I joined the group again, I was able to learn how to maneuver the boat without ever flipping over.

We took classes on river science and how to maneuver the kayaks into and out of eddies. We learned how to avoid snags and how to ride tongues of whitewater rapids.  We learned how one wrong move can get a kayak sucked under water into a hydraulic that will turn a boater over and over like laundry in a dryer.  We learned that if ever thrown from a raft to always point feet down river.  This way, a person can see what is coming and use the feet and legs to try to bounce off rocks instead of crashing into them headfirst!  We took turns being captains and paddlers on the rafts, both giving and following directions and working as a group.

This is a picture of one of my favorite campsites along the Dolores River.  I love the U-shaped river valley and the layers in the canyon walls.  I love the memory of our group camped along the river’s edge, gathered in a circle sharing conversation.  I love the uninterrupted stillness of the scene and the reminder that water brings life to desert areas.  I treasure the remote nature of such an experience, knowing I will never return to that spot again in my life, but thankful for the opportunity to travel at the river’s pace through the land and witness all it had to offer once.

My friends and I soaked up some sun on this rocky slab beside the river as one of our instructors played in the waves.  I can still remember the sound of the white water rushing by and the laughter in the air!

I took this picture of small group in a raft approaching this rapid just upstream of us.  It was a hot sunny day in southwestern Colorado.  The canyons were filled with small trees and brush.  The rapids offered challenge and fun around every corner.  River camping was not as difficult as some of the previous sections, although we did learn a lot about life in and out of boats every day!  We made an assembly line to pass supplies from the boats to and from campsites and worked together as groups to set up and take down camps.  I remember everybody finding lots of humor in the fact we had to transport our solid waste in ammo boxes.  We learned and lived the ‘leave only your footprints’ philosophy of low-impact camping.  We also learned about water conservation issues facing the southwest region.

The fifth and final section was horse-packing.  What a way to end a semester.  This time, we had a horse between every two of us to carry our supplies!  We each rode a horse and took turns trailing the supply horses.  Here is a picture of our group stopping at a watering hole.  We rode along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming.  There were fields of sagebrush interspersed with Aspen groves.

This is my horse, Lil Doc.  She was the smallest horse in the group!  I am only 5’2″ so I needed a petite horse.  She was sweet and mellow.  I picked a wildflower and put it behind her left ear for this picture.

After watering the horses one afternoon, I took this picture of some of my friends and their horses as they walked back to our campsite in the aspen grove  that is barely visible at the bottom of the hill in the distance.  The afternoon sun was getting low in the sky, and we were done riding for the day.  It was a peaceful moment.

This is my friend, Pete, on his horse and holding the pack-horse we were sharing.  We learned how to use the ropes and tie knots to secure the loads on the supply horses.  It was windy, and we wore gloves while riding to protect our hands.

Here we are at one of the campsites surrounded by aspens with their pretty white bark and golden-green leaves.  We were enjoying some laughs as we posed for this picture.  Pete is holding up my book, Illusions by Richard Bach. It was one of my favorites to read on this trip.  It is still one of my favorite books!

This is one of the last pictures I took in the field. It encompasses the beauty of the rugged Wyoming trails we traveled.  The final section gave us a chance to relax a little and reflect on the journey we shared together.  When we finally returned to Lander, we had a celebration and each went our separate ways.  We didn’t know what the future would hold for us, but we completed our goal and 95 days later, we emerged from the field as different people.  I experienced personal growth by entering an unknown world.  I broadened horizons within myself, learning about the diverse world around me and about my place in it.  I pushed myself through uncomfortable and unfamiliar activities and evolved into a stronger, more confident, and adventurous person.  Seeking ways to push myself further and stretch my limits presented opportunities for growth that I never imagined.  I opened up to unimagined and unexpected possibilities and left with the feeling that I could accomplish any task I could dream of.  I felt energized with a fresh view of the world and myself.

Change Happens

How many times have you wanted to freeze time? When you look into your baby’s eyes or when it’s the last day of vacation when life is so sweet you never want it to change, you wish that things could always stay the same so you don’t lose the feeling you have at the moment. But try as you may, time marches on. Babies grow, you always have to go back to work after vacation, summer turns into fall, trees lose their leaves and the landscape becomes barren. Hair turns grey, skin wrinkles, hard bodies turn soft. Waves come in and they go out. Rivers flow. Mountains erode. Animals evolve. People you love die, and life goes on. Change happens.

On the flipside, when life gets hard and things seem as bad as they can get, you wonder if they will ever improve. You wonder if you will ever feel better or if circumstances will ever change. The grass is always greener somewhere else. One of life’s challenges is to learn to go with the flow, to embrace the ever changing nature of the world and our lives. When things are bad, they have to get better, and when they are good, you wonder when something bad will happen. One thing you can be sure of is that tomorrow is a new day. Change will happen.

I’m reflecting on the changes I’ve been through and the changes I’m about to make. I morphed from a high school and college student into an environmental activist working for Greenpeace. I got married and got divorced, becoming a single mom. I got my master’s degree and got remarried and taught school for six years while raising two daughters. When we considered having a third child, I proclaimed I would only agree if I could be a stay home mom. It was already far too stressful working all day and then coming home to two children, a tutoring job, and a house to run. Joe finished law school and scored a great job at a large firm in DC, making it possible for me to stay home. I thought life would be paradise. I remember thinking I could go to Starbucks anytime, go to the gym, go shopping, essentially live like a princess. I envisioned the stereotypical sitting around eating bon bons scenario. When Thomas first arrived, it was wonderful not to have to work. I enjoyed the peace and quiet during the day and was able to nap and be on his schedule. As the years went by however, it started to get old. As Thomas got bigger and more independent, I started to get bored and lonely. I started looking for ways to fill my time since I had some extra time on my hands. I played a season of adult soccer and took a College Algebra class at the local community college. I published my dad’s book. I tutored math part time at home. Much to my surprise, most moms I knew worked, so my days became full of doing dishes and laundry and paying the bills and cleaning the house. Where did my princess paradise go? Thomas and I did some fun things together, but I found more and more I was missing adult relationships and was losing touch with my professional identity. Because I wasn’t getting up and going to work every day, I got used to the sporty look, you know, pulling your hair up in a ponytail and being ready for a workout at the gym. I started getting snide comments from pretentious women about my appearance. They didn’t seem to understand how or why I would be ok being seen in public without makeup and my hair done perfectly wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I’ve always felt pretty strong inside and even though I was taken aback by such rude comments, I tried to remind myself I live in Texas where being pretentious seemed to be in fashion. Besides feeling like a sore thumb surrounded by some rude barbies, I experienced frustration in other areas as well. Joe tried to warn me not to play soccer because I would get hurt, but I didn’t listen. He was right. I got hurt. I rolled my ankle running full speed then reinjured it later doing high kicks with Sierra, tearing a ligament all the way off the bone and tendons on both sides. I had two surgeries to fix my ankle and two more to fix torn cartilege in my knee as a result of the ankle injuries. I also had my appendix removed. That’s four surgeries in the four years we’ve lived in Texas. I passed my College Algebra class with a B after a lot of hard work and met some new friends only to lose one of them in a tragic car accident. My dad’s book was a success as was my tutoring business, but my kids hated it when I tutored. I worked Mon-Thurs after school from 4-6pm, and my kids resented the fact that as soon as they came home I disappeared behind a closed door and told them not to interrupt me. They didn’t care that was the way I made money. They just wanted my time.

Now, Thomas is about to start kindergarten (full day) and I am so thankful I found a job teaching 7th grade math. My life is about to change all over again. I start full time on Wednesday. I know the grass won’t be the greenest and nothing is ever perfect, but I do think it’s time I get back into society and use my education and skills and talents again in a professional setting. I worked really hard to get my master’s degree and am a licensed, experienced teacher who is capable of touching kids’ lives. My kids will be gone all day at school while I’m gone all day teaching, and when I get home I will be available to them. I can help kids learn to love math and still have summers and vacations with my own kids. I’m not sure how I will juggle all the work and responsibilities, but I feel I am making the right move.

There are many moments in my past where I wish I could have frozen time. There are many times I wish I could go back to and change, especially those moments where I lost someone dear to me. But I realize that’s not possible. Life moves on. Things happen, whether for a reason or not. I realize now that all I have is today, this moment. The past is gone and tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so all I can really focus on is now. And what I want to do now is be the best I can be. I want to use every moment from my past to touch the lives of the future. I want to pour my love and energy into the people who matter the most to me, my husband and kids. I know that everything can change in an instant, and for now I should be grateful.

A picture’s worth a thousand words | Greenpeace USA

A picture’s worth a thousand words Greenpeace USA

We didn’t win Greenpeace’s “Save the Whales” photo contest but we were featured on the “Some of Our Favorites” slideshow! Hundreds of photos were submitted from all around the country asking President Obama to keep his promise and vote to keep the ban on commercial whaling when he meets with the International Whaling Commission on June 3.