48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quite respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Everything Changes

“Mud season” in the mountains — fewer people and an evolving glacial landscape marks time for me.

Some things never change. Not true. Everything changes. Some things just change at a glacial pace. No where helps me grasp this more than my frequent stays in  Breckenridge, Colorado—a town and environment I’ve watched change slowly over my entire life. I’ve watched Uncle Frank’s house turn into the Starbucks on Main Street. I’ve watched ski tickets go from $12 to $120.  I’ve watched restaurants make it and break it. I’ve watched my children turn from toddlers to men.

My sons named this magical place Rock Island more than 15 years ago. It is still the place they run to first when we visit Breckenridge.

Time changes everything. Sometimes we mourn the loss. Other times we rejoice in the new.  As I spent a crepuscular moment this Mother’s Day dawn sitting by a new beaver dam, I was giddy with excitement. I’ve never been able to examine a beaver dam so close before. It was remarkable. Those industrious rodents completely changed the landscape. They made  a whole new environment for a host of other creatures to inhabit. As much as I wanted to see a beaver, I knew my chances were slim, but I was able to watch a muskrat dart happily in and out of his home along the bank.

A stellar crepuscular moment and an amazing change to the stream on the way to Rock Island.

Changes sometimes happen so slowly they are hard to recognize, like the snow eroding away the mountains. Other times they are shockingly quick and life-altering, like this dam. I felt both today, as my feet post-holed into melting snow near Crystal Lake and as I listened to my grown sons now navigate their lives in their own way—a way that will change mine forever. I’m swimming in a new pond. It’s a pond they built for me. It’s different here. Everything changes.

This muskrat (crepuscular) takes advantage of the new pond created by his friend the beaver (nocturnal).

starbucks

It’s still a house, but it’s no longer a home.

 

Six Weeks of Everything

My mom often jokingly tells people I’ve taken “six weeks of everything.” For years I’ve wondered if that was a bad or good thing, like maybe it indicates I can never really work long enough to get good at anything. I’m pretty sure my mom never meant it that way. She likely just thinks it is a funny quirk of my personality that I have an insatiable desire to try things I find intriguing—not necessarily learn them to the point of mastery.

Just a few of the things I can or could get by doing:

  • Sign language
  • Writing children’s books
  • Twirling a baton
  • Speaking German
  • Swing/Salsa/Ballroom dancing
  • Taekwondo
  • Speaking Greek
  • Administering first aid to dogs/cats
  • Archery
  • Juggling
  • Film editing
  • Playing guitar
  • Doing CPR
  • Speaking Spanish
  • Sewing
  • Rock climbing
  • Directing live TV
  • Trapping and stuffing small mammals
  • Playing piano

….and I won’t even bother listing the long list of sports I’ve played or software programs I’ve learned. You get the picture.

Tonight I finished yet another six weeks of something. I can now write code in Ruby, a programming language. Before class, I watched a graduation of students from the coding academy who have spent the last seven grueling months building a marketable skill set. It was inspiring.

I, on the other hand, drove home quietly to no fanfare and without a marketable skill set…just six more weeks of something else behind my yellow Taekwondo belt.

But I’m thrilled.

I love tasting the world and broadening my lens. In fact, I’ve already signed up for my next six weeks…. JavaScript here I come! Then possibly oil painting or scuba diving….hmmmm….there are just so many things to try. I’ve decided that my life anthem must be “Try Everything” by Shikira from the movie Zootopia. It just fits. And it makes me happy when I hear it. It celebrates the trying, not the failing. It celebrates life the way I love to live it.

Seeing Thestrals

candle

Seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

As I’ve watched my friends grieve the death of those closest to them over the last several years, and more recently just this week, the idea of seeing Thestrals (Harry Potter-inspired magical creatures) suddenly became a lot more “real” to me.  According to the “wizarding world,” Thestrals (scary-looking flying horses) can only be seen by those who have been touched by death.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? An honor, a blessing, a badge, or a curse?

Definition of a Thestral, according to J.K. Rowling: Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill-treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Today, a friend of mine preached a sermon on love where he told about the seasons of loss in his life (past, immediate, and future). Those losses were, are, and will be painful, yes, but they can also be an opportunity…an opportunity to give, recognize, and receive love in a deeper way than ever before. The more pain we experience, just maybe, translates to the more love we have the opportunity to experience as well. Strangely true.

Isn’t that just like a Thestral? The fear we have of pain and loss tends to give the pain a bad reputation–a reputation that it has nothing to offer but something evil or scary. Yet something kind and gentle is hidden beneath that scary exterior. And it isn’t until we experience great pain or loss that we are able to see something we’ve never seen before. When we open our eyes and hearts to it, we just might get the opportunity to deeply understand some of the greatest love of all and, in turn, be that kind of love to the world.

Oven-Killing Flaming Meatloaf and Sabbath Mode

oven

This is bad…but not as bad as the meatloaf.

A flaming meatloaf blew up my oven. At least that’s how I like to tell the story. However, the truth is the meatloaf was an innocent bystander and the oven decided to self-destruct all on its own.  Flames grew from the element and when the fire department arrived the oven temperature topped at 1000 degrees.

The electric range/oven now sits alone and sad in my garage and a gaping hole still remains, almost a month later, in my kitchen. Researching ovens has taken a backseat to work travel, work projects, volunteer commitments, and family. But today is the day! I am tired of cooking eggs on my barbecue grill and eating cold pizza.

While researching ovens, I discovered an amazing thing –they come with a Sabbath mode. I never knew appliances had Sabbath modes! I kind of thought that’s the mode I have been in since the fire—a break from my oven and range —Sabbath mode.

Turns out Sabbath mode is a feature in many modern home appliances, which is intended to allow the equipment to be used (subject to various constraints) by Shabbat-observant Jews on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

So how does Sabbath mode work?

Orthodox Jews believe you shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. That includes cooking raw meat by turning on an oven. You can, however, warm up something that is already cooked. In the olden days, starting a fire and doing all the prep for cooking was a lot of work.  So, on the Sabbath, the fire was just kept burning so warming of food could occur without “working” to make a new fire. So, in Sabbath mode on modern ovens, the automatic 12-hour safety shutoff is disabled…thereby keeping the “fire” hot so you don’t have to physically turn the oven on once the Sabbath starts..

So technically (according to Jewish law), I haven’t been working (with my oven) for 25 days. That’s a long Sabbath. Funny thing is…I don’t feel rested. For me modern appliances take away work, not create work. My mom always told me when housework and the world seems overwhelming, start by getting all the machines working for you. It is how I start most weekends. Get something cooking, turn on the washing machine, run the dishwasher and…voila! Within minutes I feel like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with an army of brooms.

I am happy to report the electric range and oven arrives on Monday. I have a new appreciation for this appliance. For me, I’ll now consider EVERY mode it has a Sabbath mode.

Stopping Time…or Not

earth

How on Earth can I get more time?

Today I woke up and wished time would stop. I need more time. Time for important things…like family and friends and healing and hiking and cycling and skiing and fixing things at home and petting puppies. Help! Can’t time just stop for a minute!

That led my mind immediately to the Earth’s rotation. What if the Earth stopped rotating and I, in turn, was gifted with a very, very long day. Wiping the sleep from my eyes I acknowledged this would change how we measure time, but it wouldn’t actually stop time. Darn. Plus I soon realized that if the Earth stopped rotating, I’d be dead. Like really dead. Like immediately dead. Like really immediately dead. Let me explain.

If the Earth suddenly stopped rotating and the day froze in place, everything that was not part of the Earth’s core would go flying off the Earth–trees, dogs, cats, buildings…oh and people. Whoosh! Like when your bicycle hits a curb and the force of the abrupt stop sends you over the handlebars. And that’s not all. Once we were all whisked into the atmosphere, we couldn’t even enjoy the fact that all the water would go toward the poles–two Arctic Oceans and one big swatch of land now ringing the equator like a belt. And just like that we kiss the concept of sea level goodbye.

As I turned off the alarm going off in my ear, I had another foggy thought. What if we just reversed the rotation of the Earth (magically, of course, to avoid the flinging of all things from the surface)? What would happen then? For starters, I guess the sun would set in the East and rise in the West. My back porch would be too hot in the summer. Bummer. And the climate would change. Florida might be more like California and vice versa. And all the storms would reverse direction.  Plus, it wouldn’t really make time go backward. And 99.9% of physicists agree, you can’t unscramble an egg once it is broken. There’s no going back. Darn. Foiled again.

I drug my tired, sore body out of bed and began to plan again how to use what time I have. Time I think I have, that is. We really don’t know the end of our timelines, do we? Time is  something I needed to ponder another day…too complicated. Feels like an infographic I need to create. Maybe tomorrow…if there’s time.

On Cavities and Puppies

teddy

Fluffy filling or cuddly painkiller? Serves both purposes sometimes.

Today my mouth was tainted with the cruel sting of artificial sealant. The dentist filled two cavities—my first two cavities—ever.

noun: cavity; plural noun: cavities

  1. an empty space within a solid object, in particular the human body.

Forty-eight and a half years. A good streak, but it’s over. I’m crushed.

No Novocain for me. I had to feel it physically just as I was feeling it mentally. I don’t have many claims to fame. In fact, now I have none. Having teeth without cavities was as close to amazing as I’ve ever come.

I sat in the chair and heard the shrill of the drill over my head. My eyes darted around the room. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Puppy photo on the front wall. Zzzzzzzzeeeeeeeee. Puppy business card holder on the desk. Zzzzzzzzzrrrrrrrrr. Puppy painting at my right. My feet jumped off the chair as the drill hit a nerve.

Once the torture ceased and the less painful work continued, I relaxed and closed my eyes and thought about puppies. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could have a puppy on your lap during a dentist appointment? You could pet the puppy and it could lick your wounded soul (and maybe even bite the dentist).

Now I’m all set. Good to go. The sealant should fill the empty spaces, but like with most artificial sealants, it never really makes it whole again. I’m different. I’m holey.

I suppose there are other empty spaces inside my human body–now there’s just two more. Maybe the world doesn’t see them—when I fill them with other things, like amalgam and puppies. But they are there. We all have them— cavities. What are you filling yours with?

trishandpuppy

I try to fill my “cavities” with puppies whenever I get a chance.

 

Project Managing Myself

sock

Sometimes big changes start small. This sock drawer will look different tomorrow.

I manage projects every day—my family’s projects, my volunteer projects, and most of the time, work projects. I am a project manager—it’s what I do.

My Keys to Successful Project Management

  1. Prepare well. Understand the needs of the clients and what problem you are solving. Then prepare the requirements and strategy up front so your team can begin well and join you in the quest to solve the problem.
  2. Set deadlines and keep them. Even if your clients don’t give you specific deadlines, make them. And hold people to them. When you relax deadlines, you end up with wasted time, wasted money, and frivolous features on products that don’t need them.
  3. Be nice, but be honest. Deliver praise and feedback to your team with care, but don’t hold back on the truth. Quality and awesome customer service are the measures. Nothing else is acceptable.
  4. Give away the praise. Managing a project is important, but it takes a team to make something great. The skills and talents of your team need to be encouraged and applauded.

What I’ve come to realize this week is that I manage everything and everyone, but myself. And I need to. I need to be one of my projects and give myself the same level of detail, perfectionism, and care I give to every other project in my life. If I can’t do that, I won’t ever be able to achieve my personal goals. Instead I’ll continue to suck what life I can vicariously through the projects I manage for others.

So, I’m going to swipe a chapter from my own rule book and begin by preparing. I have some really big changes in mind and I’ve got some significant preparing to do. It all starts with cleaning out my refrigerator and sock drawer. No, my plans are not to become the Barefoot Contessa…but if those who know me don’t see a pretty big change by June 30, I will not have managed the Trish project well.

Why Should You Care About 2017?

future

What’s out there, 2017? Why should I care?

Happy New Year! 2017. I have no idea why one day makes such a big difference to me, but it does. Yesterday is a closed door–a year I can forget about. There might have been some good or interesting things that happened last year, but I can’t really recall them right now. And why would I want to? I’ve got 365 brand new days staring me in the face. What will I do with them? So exciting!

Just as December makes me crazy, January makes me hopeful. January is a cold, dark month where you can dig your heals in and work really hard. Not hibernate. Work hard. Build something. Do something new. Move in a new direction or in a new way.

I have a “fortune” from a cookie taped to my computer monitor at work. It has been there for about seven years. It says, “It is better to try something great and fail, then to do nothing and succeed.” That’s what January 1 is all about. Heck, that’s what life is about. A new year just helps bring this philosophy into focus.

I love hearing people’s ideas about New Year’s resolutions. I’ve had people tell me resolutions are dumb because it just sets you up for failure. To that I say, see the fortune on my computer monitor above. Others like to make broad sweeping resolutions, like “I’m going to work on being healthier.”  Still others make very specific lists. I’ve done both. And both work as long as the “why” is important enough to you.

So, what are you going to do this year? What are you going to do today? What are you going to change or build? Where are you going to go? And most importantly, WHY?

I have a challenge for you. When you write your resolutions for the New Year, write them in the form of  the “why,” not just the action you are going to take.

Examples of WHY Resolutions

I want to feel better and have more energy to share with my family, so I will eat healthier and lose 20 pounds.

I want to be able to have intellectual conversations with people about world events so we can really process and understand the world better together, so I will read three different sources of news every morning.

I want my free time to be spent doing good for the community and not wasted idly, so I will volunteer my Saturdays at the Rescue Mission.

The problem with not keeping resolutions is not because we fail in the doing, it is because we fail in our hearts. We fail in the “why.” You say you want it. But do you? Do you really? If you do, let that “why” stare you in the face. Let it motivate you and push you.  I think the specifics of resolutions can change over the course of the year. For example you may find another way to accomplish your “why”—a better way.  But the “why” never changes.

So today, as you think along with me about your next 365 days, try not to think as much about how you are going to do things, but think about why you are going to do them. Then join me and let’s go get 2017!

Stuffed Animals: What’s in a Name?

animals

Which one of these guys would you put back on the shelf? Tusky, Snugs, Buster, or Ralph?

When I was in primary school (in the mid-seventies) I had an orange bulletin board in my bedroom. The board matched my yellow and orange shag carpet and orange bedspread.  I used my bulletin board to express my deepest dreams and interests. That meant I combed through my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping magazines for Puppy Chow ads.  I would carefully cut out the puppy pictures and add to the collage of my heart’s desire — being surrounded by cute, fluffy pups.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly told them — a professional puppy petter.

I even hung up pictures of my dog, Patches, on my door and made every member of my family sit through Buddy Holly singing Everyday while looking at a specific picture, which I indicated with my dad’s extendable silver pocket pointer. The pictures told a story in concert with the song. This was before PowerPoint or camcorders (oh, if only I had a iPhone back then). My family endured these musical picture shows, but to me it was so much more.  I could see the feeling in my dog’s eyes and I matched the feeling to the lyrics.

My obsession with animals continued. Like a lot of kids, I collected stuffed animals. I named them all. The name gave them life and personality. The name came from looking into their eyes and into their fluffy little souls. They were my friends. We had adventures and they were part of my Animal Kingdom. My dad built shelves around the top of my room to house them all. By the time I hit high school my collection had reached about 120. Each had a special name cataloged on my roster and sometimes even placed in taxonomic order. And at night, when tucking me in, before my dad was allowed to do his bedtime routine  (quiz me on state or world capitals) I required him to walk around my room and call each animal by name.

Names give life. Knowing a name is powerful. It was true for my stuffed animals and, as I grew, I discovered it is the same for people. When you know someone’s name, a person becomes so much more than “that guy on the street corner” or “my boss” or “that cleaning lady” or “some tax accountant” or “that kid who sits behind me in church.”  The name gives life and personality and when looking into a person’s eyes you can see into his or her fluffy little soul. We all have them, you know, fluffy little souls. And we can share them by first sharing our names with one another.

Yesterday I went shopping for a big fluffy soul to offer comfort to a friend of mine recovering from surgery. I’m not sure if she wants a big fluffy animal, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw her recovering in bed.

At the store I looked into the animals’ eyes. I couldn’t decide. I ended up with four fluffy friends riding in my cart as I continued shopping (pictured above). Just like people they all possessed something special and each of their eyes told a different story.

If my parents are reading this right now, they are not shocked. And neither will they be shocked hearing three of the four were purchased. My shopping companion consoled me as we placed the bear back on its shelf in a prominent place and made up a story of a parent who will come along and be overjoyed to finally find the perfect toy for her toddler. Ralph went home with my friend and Tusky and Buster came home with me.

Oh, and if you are wondering, I did not become a professional puppy petter. I consider myself a hobbyist puppy petter and I only own one dog, Ratchet. Luckily, I didn’t need to become a professional to learn the value of a name.