Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas traditions and I love how every family has different ones. Growing up, there are a few key traditions I cherished the most: opening our very awesome Advent calendar everyday, sleeping by the lighted Christmas tree at least one night in December, occasionally going to see the tree in NYC (moreso when I was a teenager with friends), participating in the church pageant, opening up a new pair of pajamas to wear Christmas Eve and waking up Christmas morning to one single present by our beds from Santa that we could open right away. 
Throwback: 1989 NYC Trip with my family

When Justin and I built our life together, we created our own Christmas traditions. We've had to abandon a few of them due to our nomadic life (i.e., decorating--I have four boxes of Christmas decorations sitting in storage in Virginia and it makes me very sad, but I did steal a set of Christmas lights--circa 1980--from my mom to decorate our cabin in New Mexico this year). 
Throwback: Our heavily decorated New Hampshire apartment in 2007.

Still, there are a few traditions we've kept, mainly involving our nephews and niece. For years and years, Justin called Ryan (now 14) and Sarah (now 11) pretending to be Santa. Then our friends had kids and upon request, he calls them. On this year's phone call, our goddaughter Anna (4) said, "I love you Santa!!" and it just about brought tears to all our eyes. This year, he started calling our nephews, Everett (4) and Owen (2+). J's "Santa Calling Program" stemmed from his time as assistant director of parks and recreation in Danville, VA. If you want the full story of it and hear about the funniest phone call ever, check out this post from 2009
Everett says: "Well Santa, don't make your sled too heavy cause the reindeer can't pull it."

When J's mom lived in New Jersey, we used to be able to easily shuffle around and split our holiday time with both families. But now with all of J's family in Colorado and mine still on the East Coast, we have to choose one side! I mentioned in last year's post that we've switched to spending Christmas with J's family, given the young age of our nephews on that side. Christmas with youngins' draws in the true spirit, although I may have to throw my family a bone one of these years, as sister and niece really miss having us there ... But for now, Colorado it is.

A tradition we've kept over the years--even as nomads--has been the Eve reading of "The Night Before Christmas" to the kiddos. Everett and Owen love it just as much as Ryan and Sarah did all those years. 
New traditions are being kept with J's sisters and Mom. Just like last year, we attended the children's mass on the Eve, followed by dinner hosted by my MIL. Christmas morning, we all convene at my SIL's house as early as we can get our butts over there (the kids are up at 7am, ready to open presents). The 15-minute kid-present-opening is followed by a big brunch. We all disperse for afternoon naps and whatnot, then come back to Russ and Julie's to stuff ourselves with more delicious foods. The adults also participate in a "grab bag" gift exchange. J & I stopped exchanging in our nomadic life, so it's kind of fun to have that to look forward to! 

Hope your holiday season was merry and bright. What traditions have been your favorites? 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress Volume 3: Book Proposal

As I type this, I'm eating Cheerios for breakfast, it is 4 degrees out, and oh, I sent off my book proposal for my Te Araroa travel memoir to the first publisher I am targeting.
Book proposal. Oh boy. If I poured my heart and soul into my book, then I poured someone else's heart and soul into the book proposal.

When I finished writing the book on Dec. 1, I had no idea what I was getting into for this next step.

There is a format for this thing, but it's not as much a paint-by-numbers type of instruction. So of course I overanalyzed every piece of it. Bullets in this section? No bullets? Should this sentence go before this one? Or this one?

Now, 21 pages later, I have a synopsis, competitive market analysis, a marketing platform and chapter outlines.

Along with the book proposal, I sent sample chapters carefully plucked from the book. I read, reread, revised and rewrote these chapters at least 170,000 times. Writer friends (and Justin!) read and gave me feedback--invaluable feedback. I was prepared for a sea of track marks across my pages. But nothing they said stung. In fact, they merely suggested things that I couldn't believe I didn't think of myself.

Writing is such a personal act, especially in works of nonfiction drawn from your own experiences.  During this past month of November, I spent more hours with it than I did with any living soul (unless cats have souls?). And now I've sent my baby off into the publishing world.

Well, only to one publisher so far. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I'm taking a holiday break from my book to be with my husband (yeah!!) and his family. Post-holiday, I have a list of 25 other publishers who will be so excited to receive my book proposal (amiright???). There's still more work to be done, but another step down.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fenton Ranch Visitors

It used to be, no matter where we lived, we would have a revolving door of visitors.

Nowadays, we live even more in the boondocks than ever, and only a few brave souls follow us where we go.

I'm happy to say, we hosted our first Fenton Ranch visitor: Justin's mom!

This visit was extra special, as J is still recovering in the big city of Denver, so he and his mom took a road trip to visit me at Fenton Ranch!
It's been brrrrr cold up in the mountains of New Mexico, so we mainly hung by the fire. We didn't have our go-to board game of Scrabble, but we did have Risk! I was so, so excited to play the game of world domination. I spent the better part of my freshman year of high school playing with my two best friends every weekend (I already admitted I was a nerd in high school!). I thought for sure this was a game I could beat J and his mom ...
But after three full days of playing, Justin proved himself once again as the champion of all games.

We did get outside and go exploring locally! We took J's mom on our snowy trails, down to the famous Jemez Springs Bath House for a soak and out for grub at the eclectic Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon.

We also took a day to explore Santa Fe, which is really quite beautiful in the evenings with all the luminaries and Christmas lights draped on the abode buildings. Mostly this was a walk-around-the-shops trip, but we made sure to enjoy cuisine at the top-rated restaurants--The Shed and Cafe Pasquals--both excellent!
For everyone else, the invite to Fenton Ranch exists! This is not meant to deter you, just meant to be a warning: we are 2 hours from the Albuquerque airport on a mountainous road with no cell service (although my sister likes to remind me this is no different than the last several places we've lived). We already have two friends with their tickets booked in January, so let's see how many others dare to venture into the unplugged territory ...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress Volume 2: Writing Complete!

The last time I worked on my travel memoir was May 30, 2016 and when I left off, I had a grand total of 33,620 words.

Drumroll please ...

I have finished!!!!

But wait! Stop the cheering! While it is certainly a big deal that I finished writing the story of our thru hike on New Zealand's Te Araroa, I am actually FAR from done.

So let's start with what being "finished" means.

*I've spent the last month living in a cabin in the woods on my own. No people, no Justin (sadly), just the cats and myself. Here's the thing I discovered though. As much as I miss my husband terribly, I write better in solitude. There's NO way I could have cranked out 20,000 more words in less than 30 days if Justin were here bugging me to play the Bean Game. (I'd like to point out that there is a writer initiative in November called NaNoWriMo, which basically is a challenge to write 50K words in the month of November. After accomplishing only 20K, I find this cra-cra, but more power to them).
*Further, our cabin in the New Mexico mountains could not have been a more perfect setting for writing a book. Studies show that nature stimulates creativity in the brain. Pretty sure I can vouge for that. My creative juices were flowing like the creek in our backyard. 
This is not the same picture as the one below ... 
My view changed from fall to winter last week!
Closeup of my view ... I spy a deer!

*Every time I read a portion of my book, I find a flaw. I believe this is a good thing, because there's usually a sentence missing comma or a word I know I've used 17,000 times. No matter how many times I've read the first chapter of my book (roughly 20 times), I can always find something to fix! Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
*Revisions are also coming from others, too. Justin read my whole book in one day!! Now of course he is biased, but he still has some surprisingly good feedback! I have a few other writer friends reading specific chapters I plan to submit to publishers. While they will also have the story's best interests at heart, they will be less gentle and complimentary (that's actually what I need).

*The dreaded—yet inevitable—self doubt that comes with the territory of book writing has already begun for me. I've already used that overdramatic adjective 17,000 times. Will readers really know what I mean when I write "flamingo-colored alpenglow" and "mountains looming menacingly like a prehistoric monster?" Or is that overkill? Can someone remind me of the difference between dashes and commas in writing? 

*My book is about 54K words, and I'm aiming for 60K. My writing process was chronological (big surprise given my Type A personality) and I just wanted to get the story down on paper. Now, I'm going back and enhancing certain scenes and details. I am in love with writing this story, so this part is fun.

*You know what's not fun? Putting together a book proposal.

Book Proposal 101
I've said this before, but selling myself makes me break into hives. Justin and I have worked together to create our "brand," at least in that we have been sharing our stories and expertise in the outdoor world and thus building trust. This has taken time and consistency. We continue to partner with several gear companies and Backpacker Magazine because of this. But really, Justin deserves all the credit on this. He's the persistent one who isn't afraid to ask. Don't mind me, I'll just be cowering in the corner while he does that.

Now it's my turn to take the reigns and own my awesomeness (I just cringed writing that phrase).

Back in the day, all a writer really had to worry about was writing a book and writing a query letter to a publisher. Like a cover letter, the query letter brags about you and summarizes your book in the most polished 3-4-sentence elevator pitch you can create.

Nowadays, it is a whole lot more. Querying a publisher (or an agent, who will then find you a publisher) involves research on the book's potential competition, market, and publicity ideas. I've really minimized it, but trust me when I say it's laborious and tedious. I'm writing this blog post as a way to procrastinate working on my book proposal ...

After you pour your blood, sweat and tears into your book, query letter and book proposal, then you can send it out into the big bad world of publishing.

But guess what? It's a long shot. Did you know publishers pursue less than 1% of submitted work.

Also, fun fact: anyone remember the NY Times best-selling book, Chicken Soup for the Soul? The authors of the original book endured 140 submissions before getting picked up by a publisher.

Totally reassuring. I have my work cut out for me!

So that's where I'm at. Hoping to finish the book proposal and revisions by the holidays, then it's send, send, send. And wait, wait, wait.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Opt Outside

Thanksgiving is upon us and while the focus is rightfully on quality time with families and friends, you may have noticed another initiative during the past few years: Opt Outside.
Green is the new black. 
The concept was launched by REI in 2015 when the major outdoor retailer announced they would close all 143 shop doors on Black Friday, paying their 12,000 employees not to work and instead go outside and play, with a nudge for customers to do the same. By the time Nov. 27, 2015, rolled around, approximately 150 other companies charged ahead with the same message to their employees, and dozens of other retailers also closed their doors to shoppers.

This year, REI will again close all shop doors (now 149 stores!) and pay all 12,287 employees to play outside on Black Friday. (I'm certain this is one of the reasons REI has made Fortune's 100 Best Companies To Work For during the past 19 years).

The momentum continues to grow, as other employers have followed suite, certain state parks offer free admission and organizations are leading nationwide outdoor events giving people alternative options and creating a new holiday tradition for Friday.

I once was part of the consumeristic chaos, as I worked at Hallmark for 6 years of my life through high school and college. I loved working retail and at that time in my life, I loved Black Friday shopping.

Obviously, I've changed my tune in the last 20 years.

The "Opt Outside" initiative is not new to Justin nor I, as we've actually spend a few Thanksgivings/Black Fridays (and other holidays) in the wilderness.

Our most memorable was on New Zealand's Te Araroa in 2014. Thanksgiving was our first night on the trail and we were half a world away from home.
Our meal was actually dehydrated chicken and noodles, instead of turkey. 

A close second would be in 2011 when we met up with Misti & Chris and went backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. We summited and slept on top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, for Thanksgiving. Hard to believe that was #18 for our highpointing count, now that we are up to 40. 
There is nothing better than getting to experience both the sunset and sunrise! 

When I was in Denver last week, my sister-in-law asked me if I was enjoying being back in civilization, as opposed to the secluded cabin life I've been living in the mountains of New Mexico. The truth is, no, I don't enjoy it. I understand the allure and importance to MOST people to be among the masses and access. But, Justin and I would much prefer being isolated and remote.

This is why we choose places to live and work that allow us to simultaneously play away from all the hustle and bustle. Our caretaking gig here in New Mexico is not the most remote we've been—given we have road access—but to most people, it is way in the boondocks. (When I described the drive we have to make down the curvy mountain to my sister, she responded, "oh, you mean like every other place you've lived?")

We are also lucky the property has a 2-mile trail leading into the Santa Fe National Forest directly in our backyard. We can—and do—microadventure often because it's there.
The Fenton kids call this place "Rock Tokyo" because of all the holes in the rocks. 
We also have a "Rock City," "Rock New York" and "Rock Heaven" on this trail,

With 125 million acres of public lands, 27,625 miles of mountain bike trails, 10,481 miles of whitewater paddling and 13,917 cliffs and boulders to climb (thanks Outdoor Alliance for the stats!), there's no shortage of options for all of us. Some may just have to venture further off the beaten path. Learn about opportunities for you to Opt Outside wherever you live in the country by going here.

Happy Thanksgiving! And go outside!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Currently: November

Currently living/working in: Property caretaking of Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico through the winter, although J is still tending to his health over the border in Colorado for at least a little while longer. 

Current mood: Still grateful for SO many things, but dang, my emotions have been playing a ping pong match all month. A long time ago, a friend advised me, “sometimes you have to know misery to know happiness.” Things may not be the best of times in the life of the Wandering La Vignes these days, but blue skies will come again. 

Currently excited about: Only 14 more days until I see J again!!!!!! I just went to Denver for a way-too-short visit with him and it is true what they say: absence does make the heart grow fonder. 
Currently not excited about: Another 14 days until I see J again… 

Currently worried about: The aging process. Good grief it sucks getting old and seeing bodies break down because of it. Both Justin and I currently have grandmas in rehab facilities trying to learn to walk again. If I live to 91 and can’t walk, I'm not sure how I'd go on!

Currently thankful for: I will repeat last month’s sentiment: our friends and family! We are so blessed to have such an incredible support system. 

They say laughter is the best medicine anyway. 

Currently proud of: Justin’s attitude through his medical mayhem. Just like with long-distance hiking, the mental battle of recovery is just as tough as the physical battle!  

Currently amazed by: If there is one thing we’ve learned over the years, it is to keep your relationships fresh and never burn any bridges. Time and time again, this has proven to be fruitful for us with the opportunities it affords. Future happenings are most likely going to confirm this again!!!!

Current confession: Justin is a better fire maker than I am. It is getting brrrr here in the mountains of New Mexico. Keeping our wood supply stocked and tending to the wood stove is a full-time job. J typically handles our fires and while I can get the job done, I will gladly hand back over these tasks as soon as I can. FYI, there is backup electric heat in our cabin, so I can and do cheat once in awhile. 

Our Fenton Ranch students would cry if they knew I was dismantling their fort for the sake of kindling. 

Current guilty pleasure: Time to write my book in a beautiful setting.
Currently reading: I finally gave up on Crazy Free: An Epic Spiritual Journey by Melissa Wyld for now. Meanwhile, I flew through My Old Man and the Mountain by Leif Whittaker. It’s a memoir about Leif, who grew up in the shadow of his father, Big Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest. J read it first and was equally impressed. Now, I've moved on to How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal by Stephen Blake Mettee. 

Currently watching on Netflix: I had extra Internet bandwidth this month, so I indulged in streaming a whopping 3 movies. Two worth mentioning. 1)Tracks. I read the book—about a solo woman’s walk across Australia—over the summer, but didn’t love the writing. On the other hand, the movie was pretty fantastic. The scenery alone was worth watching. 2) The Lion in my Living Room - a fascinating documentary about cats! 
The kittens were so curious about the meows coming from the computer screen!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Cat Lady Who Lives In The Woods And Writes

I have officially fallen into a stereotype.

I am the woman who lives in the woods by herself with three female cats and writes all day.
To be honest, that might be a dream come true?

Lemme back this bus up and say Justin is doing a-okay (and I still hope to someday tell his story when it is completely over and less raw). It's just that he is still recovering and has to be near this thing called civilization, therefore he is in Denver. Living here in New Mexico at Fenton Ranch means the closest town with full services is at least 1 hour and 45 minutes away.

So I am flying this property caretaking role at Fenton solo and making very good use of my time working on my book. The cabin is a perfect location with its wood-burning stove and delightful scenery.
But I don't want to talk about the book progress yet. I want to talk about these cats.

Just as a reminder of the backstory, when we returned to Fenton Ranch in August, there was a new cat roaming the property (there always seems to be feral cats coming and going). But she was different than the others. It only took her minutes to warm up to us. She seemed like she was starving, so some of the parents, teachers and us started to feed her leftover taco meat and ham, until we purchased cat food. One of the parents also mentioned she seemed like she had just given birth. But we scoured the property and never found any kittens. So we named her Mrs. Gibbles and continued to feed her (cat food) outside our door. She seemed to stay away more than hang out, although she would show up occasionally during our outdoor lessons with the kids (which they loved).
Right around the time the program was wrapping up, Justin and I were doing some outdoor work on the weekend while the kids were off the property. Mrs. Gibbles comes over to us with a baby kitten in her mouth! Then a second! We introduced ourselves and they were rightfully skittish. We were about to leave for a few days, but we bonded as best we could. Plus, we didn't know how they would fare leaving them to live outside (we have bobcats, owls and many other creatures of prey around).
We returned and Mrs. Gibbles brought the kittens to our door almost immediately! We let them inside (suckers), immediately litter trained them and marveled at their cuteness. We named the grey one Jasper and the tiger print one BJ (after the previous caretaker who lived here for 25 years until her death; it is possible she's been reincarnated given she was an animal lover).

Then we had to leave again for a bit, so everybody had to go back outside and fend for themselves. We set them up with a nice bed and food in the toolshed, but knew Gibbles tends to move them around in hiding (part of her survival strategy, I am presuming).

I returned and low and behold, Gibs brought the kittens back within minutes.

And this is how the nomads ended up with 3 cats! Not sure where these cats will go when we eventually leave Fenton, but I'm not thinking that far ahead (although, I am trying to convince Justin that they would make good van cats). For now, I am welcoming the company.
That doesn't change the fact that these cats are crazy.

These kittens play freakin hard. And get into EVERYTHING. No tissue untouched. No backpack strap unmoved. No wire unbitten. Good gracious, I spend almost just as much time with eyes on them as I do with eyes on my book via the computer screen.

And, the mama is not without her annoyances. Though they now spend most of their time inside our cabin, Gibs still feels the need to go on a mouse hunt and bring back her prize. I am sure she thinks she still needs to provide, and I'm not trying to take that away from her, but heavens to Mrugatroyd. Four was the count for the other day. She will stand at the front door with a mouse in her mouth crying. Her babies will stand on the other side of the door crying in symphony. Everyone is looking at me to reunite them and let them feast, but there is just something disturbing about watching a cat chomping on a mouse, then coming to snuggle in my bed. I heard she may calm after she is spayed, so we shall find out after I take her for the surgery Saturday (two hours away, mind you).

So that is a day in the life of a cat lady who lives in the woods and writes. These 3 may have found us and needed us to save them, but in truth, they saved me just as much.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Former PK

I've been reading a few blog posts about people reflecting about their former selves and how we change (or don't change). While there is no monumental birthday to prompt this, I thought I would reflect on myself!

Let's go back to age 24 (I am now 38). I always say age 24 was pretty awesome. I was living by myself for the first time in a 400-square foot apartment near downtown Phoenix, had just scored the medical writing job of my dreams and met Justin.

A lot has changed since then. Some maybe for the better. Some maybe for the worse. And some I have no opinion.

Then: I used to be extremely type A. I rose early in the morning to get my workout in before starting work at 7am. I had to plan out everything with meticulous detail. I had been doing this for years! When I was 22, I shared a house and one car with five other people. I couldn't deal with being late for anything, so I rode my bike to and from work so I wouldn't have to share the car! (To be fair, my housemates were not late that often; it was mostly in my head. And they certainly helped me to relax on that note).

Now: While I am still very organized and much more of a planner compared with Justin, I have relaxed tremendously. I like myself much better. I don't fret much and I go with the flow. Besides the influence of my nonchalant husband, I truly believe long-distance hiking was the catalyst for change. If you can't be flexible on the trail, then you will never enjoy yourself. Oh, and this is a two-fold change because I no longer get up at 4:45am on a daily basis. Thank God.

Verdict: Better!!!

Then: I used to be a runner. Right around my 24th birthday, I completed my first half marathon and had a second scheduled for later in the year. I always had a 5K waiting in the books. Running was my primary form of exercise until we hit the trail in 2011.
Rock N Roll Marathon - August 2002
Now: When we returned from the Appalachian Trail, I tried running. And I hated it. Every minute of it. I'm not saying running was ever easy for me, but it was terribly difficult post trail. Plus, I no longer enjoyed myself and would much rather walk on a trail for exercise, at least for now. I still have dreams of completing my bucket list item of doing a triathlon, which would involve running, but I'm not holding my breath.

Verdict: Not sure.

Then: I used to be an avid volunteer. At age 24, I was fresh off a year as a full-time volunteer and still very much immersed in that community. I volunteered at my church (youth group leader, catechism teacher, pretty much anything and everything they needed) and for various nonprofit agencies in Phoenix. I would say beside work, most of my time was spent in some sort of volunteer role.

Now: I still enjoy volunteering and tried to keep it up over the years. In New Hampshire, I was J's number one volunteer for his parks and recreation department and I volunteered at the local soup kitchen. When we ran Bear Den Trail Center and Hostel on the Appalachian Trail, J was the only one paid. I dedicated anywhere from 15-25 hours/month doing whatever at Bears Den, plus we fostered kitties. But the more nomadic we become, the harder it is to commit to something. And, we often live in extremely remote places; there aren't too many options when you have nothing around you. J and I are constantly picking up garbage on trails we hike, so there's something. I also like to think the 3 cats I brought inside here at Fenton Ranch is my good samaritan duty.
I would do anything for my husband and his recreation department.
Verdict: Worse, but I am sure volunteering will always be a part of my life and I'll get back into it someday when we live in a place where there is civilization.

Then:  I used to dream about being a writer. When I was 12 years old, I called my local newspaper and begged the editor to give me an assignment. If there was any certainty in my adolescent years, it was that I was a lover of the written word and I knew someday I would be a real writer. At 24, I had finally landed a paying job as a writer. While that was incredible, I knew I wanted a little more. I knew I wanted to write on a freelance basis and not be tied to one job, be published in a magazine and someday write a book.

Now and Verdict: Dreams do come true with persistence and patience.

Friday, October 28, 2016

10 Years

For someone who is a writer, I can't seem to find the words to describe our love, a love that officially turns 10 years old today. To put it simply, this I can say. We are the definition of soulmates, and we bring out the best version of each other.

Happy 10th wedding anniversary to the Wandering La Vignes! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Currently: October

Disclaimer: This post will be a little vague, but someday, I will fill in all the blanks. The ambiguous version is that these past few months, J has had a pretty serious medical issue related to his lifelong Crohn’s disease (yes, even when he was climbing mountains). Part of resolving the issue happened recently. Together we endured quite possibly the hardest week of our lives, but we got through it and are moving forward!!!
Currently living/working in: Finished up teaching kids environmental education at Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and moving into the Fenton Ranch caretaker role. J has to stay in Denver for a few weeks, but I am returning to New Mexico to fill our caretaker role stag for the time being. 

Current mood: Grateful for SO many things. 

Currently excited about: It feels good to be on the other side of this medical issue that has really been looming over our heads since March. The road to recovery for J may be a long, bumpy road, but we are getting there. 

Currently not excited about: While I am thoroughly excited about my solo book-writing time, I am not excited about being apart from J again, especially on our 10th wedding anniversary!!!

Currently worried about: There were a lot of things I could worry about related to the medical stuff. However, my mom taught me to take things one day, or one minute at a time, and worrying is like a being in a rocking chair; you’re going to get nowhere. So I took her advice and didn’t let my head go all the way to that deep dark place of constant worry. 

Currently thankful for:  Our friends (and family!). We needed our friends more than we realized this month and they far exceeded our expectations for being good buds. Also, we had an amazing medical team working on J! 

Currently proud of: My husband. He could write the book on being a rockstar patient. 

Currently regretting: Not enjoying high school more (see my last post about my 20-year high school reunion). What the heck was wrong with me??? 

Currently amazed by: New Mexico’s fall. I am an East Coast gal who grew up loving the fireworks displayed by the fall trees. When we lived in New Hampshire for 4 years, I became spoiled by those fall fireworks exploding just a little more. New England’s fall can never be beat, but I’ve developed a special place in my heart for a West Coast tree—the aspen. Their golden leaves paired with their stark white bark against a blue sky is something magical!

Current confession: Mrs. Gibbles, our New Mexico feral-turned-domestic cat, has 2 kittens!!! We suspected she had just given birth when we got there in August. But we searched and searched and never found any kittens. Right before we left to come back to Denver, she brought them to us. I am hoping they are still around when I return! 
Current guilty pleasure: We’ve been in Denver this week staying with J’s mom, who has TV (with lots of channels, not like our 2-channel antenna we have in New Mexico). In any case, I’ve been binge watching “This Is Us” via On Demand. I love it and it makes me cry every time and I’ve needed a good cry this week! 

Currently reading: Trying to get through Crazy Free: An Epic Spiritual Journey by Melissa Wyld. I think it was a freebie we picked up on the Kindle. It is way hokey, but I am trying to give it a fair shot. I am only at 26 percent. At what point should I give up? 

Currently watching on Netflix: Thanks to snail mail, J and I enjoyed 2 movies/week the first few weeks in October in New Mexico. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Class of 1996

Last Saturday was my 20th high school reunion. 20 years! I graduated high school 20 years ago. Inconceivable.
But I digress.

I didn't love high school. Our nephew just started high school and I worry for him. If I had to repeat high school--especially in this day and age--I would have pigeon-sized butterflies swimming in my stomach.

High school did not offer the best years of my life. I actually think I ran screaming from the double doors on the last day of classes. This was the message I wrote on my class banner. I was as bitter as a crab apple.
"Class of '96, 
I hope you all grow up someday, but I doubt it. Good luck anyway! 
Patrice E. Kopec"

I'm not sure why I disliked high school so much. It was just a weird time for me. I wrote this in my diary 4 months into my freshman year: "I'm finally adjusting to high school, but I hate all the fights, peer pressure and smoke." Sounds like the best of times, huh?

I had a few cards stacked against me when I entered as a freshman. I had braces, four eyes, remnants of a bad perm, I laughed a little too much and I was still waiting for puberty to happen. To give you a better picture of the puberty part, I'll share this gem. The summer prior to starting high school, I gained a nickname because of a hot pink bikini I wore: Pink Floyd's "The Wall." I came from a small Catholic school--very small, as in 6 people in my graduating class--to a large public school (~300 in my class). I had no idea how to effectively change classes or open a locker (something about turning the mini wheel twice past zero??). Instead, I made my scoliosis worse by carrying around five huge textbooks because the thought of trying to get from A to B with a stop at my locker within the 4 minutes allotted between classes seemed superhuman. With my newfound freedom to wear something other than a plaid dress uniform and knee-high blue socks, I had a calendar dedicated to planning out my outfits, down to perfume choice.

I ranked low on the hierarchy built on sports, extra curricular activities, smarts, fashion sense, looks and clowning around. I was bookish, just not in the valedictorian way. I memorized WWII dates, struggled through Calculus and dissected a frog. I ran track and played field hockey, but was often benched. Seriously, my track coach would send my friend Amanda and I out for a long run on our own because he didn't care about fine-tuning our form (for the record, either did we. We would run to a friend's house and hang out, then return to practice claiming we ran 3 miles).

Despite all this, I wasn't entirely unpopular and more importantly, I survived. People told me they remember me as one of the most genuine and thoughtful gals in the class. In fact, my very good male friend, Matt, pulled me aside to tell me just how much he valued my friendship in high school. His kind words almost brought me to tears (J needs to step up his game). In any case, I needed that reassurance after reading what I wrote on my class banner!

You may be asking why in the world I would have wanted to attend my high school reunion if I felt so strongly about those formative years. I was wondering the same thing. Here are 4 reasons why I decided to go:

1) I didn't have the nerve to go to my 10-year reunion, because, well, that's just High School Part 2.  The statue of limitations on harboring ill feelings toward anyone usually expires around 20 years. Truthfully, I have changed dramatically since high school and even in the last 10 years. I feel pretty proud of the life I've built. I knew I could confidently walk the halls (so to speak).

2) Aren't we all curious? The popular people actually live ordinary lives! But they still won't give you the time of day. Oh, and my high school crush lost hair and gained a belly. How's that for retribution? I really need to tell my nephew that whatever you do to be cool in school won't mean jack days after graduation.

3) Facebook allows us all to "keep in touch" pretty well, but status updates are not real conversations. Face time (not the ap) is good for our health and very few events these days allow us the opportunity to really reconnect with people.

4) J and I share everything these days, but it's nice to take a walk down pre-couple memory lane in an effort to learn even more about each other. It only forges a stronger bond.

If you are on the fence about attending your own reunion, I say go. I had fun. There were only a handful of my fellow grads (50/300) who attended, and very few of my friends, but I am still glad I went!

Best friends then, best friends now.