Grad student.

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That is part of my identity now, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. After one attempt at a master’s degree from 2001-2003 that didn’t end well, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about a do-over. Not in English, as I originally attempted, but in something else. One time, I was considering library science. Another time, it was instructional design. Then law (but only because I earned a paralegal certificate).

Thankfully, I kept putting it off. Maybe I wasn’t ready, despite feeling like it was unfinished business I needed to attend to. It never felt like the right time.

Early in June, I was at a banquet for the OSU Alumni Club of Franklin County. I was talking to an older woman sitting at my table who already had one master’s degree and was about to go back for another in a completely different field. That was the moment I decided it was time for me.

I’m in my 40s now. What am I waiting for?

I reached my one-year anniversary at my job later that month, which made me eligible for tuition assistance. I was already casually looking at master’s programs in marketing, which is my current field (and one I’ve been interested in all along, but it took a long time to wedge my foot in the door). Then I found out the Columbus chapter of the American Marketing Association (of which I’m a member through work) had a partnership with Franklin University for a 20% tuition discount on the Marketing & Communication program.

Things clicked.

Without second-guessing myself, without overthinking, I applied. I figured I’ve already been thinking about getting a master’s degree for 18 years. Any barriers to doing so were being created in my own mind. I jumped through the hoops at Franklin University and at work, getting everything squared away to make this happen. Again, just doing it. Not wondering if I’m being ridiculous. Not questioning if this was worth my time.

So, here I am. The second week of classes is coming to an end. So far, so good. It’s a vastly different experience than I had the last time, but that’s for the best. I’m older now and wiser.

My expected completion date is August 2021. I take a moment each day to envision walking onstage at graduation to get that diploma and hood.

I will do this. I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life dreaming about it. It’s time to make it a reality.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 3

Please read parts 1 and 2 before reading this.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 3

I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep in on Sunday morning. Breakfast was at 8. I made some coffee in my room to tide me over (powdered creamer, though, ugh) and grabbed my lens ball out of my camera bag to get some shots of the lake.

I took the same trail from the previous morning, and I saw three deer. One stopped to check me out for a bit.

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The morning buffet was fixings for breakfast burritos. This was the last meal included in our weekend, so I ate well. I had some time before my final session – nature photography – and it was held onsite. No bus to catch anywhere. I finished packing up my stuff and taking it out to the car so I could check out before my session started.

My session started at 10. The instructor went over some photography fundamentals with DSLR and cellphone cameras (since not all of us had camera gear). He said we would focus on aperture priority mode so we could get some close-up shots of flowers – at least as close to macro as we could get without a macro lens. And still get that nice blur/bokeh in the background.

When we were ready, we went outside photograph the flower beds and containers outside the lodge. I took two shots that were kind of neat. The rest weren’t very interesting.

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Since I have photography experience, the instructor focused most of his energy on some of the other participants. I was fine with that. I just loved seeing his photographs and getting inspired.

Things wrapped up at noon. But before I headed home, I stopped in Loudonville to see the Wolf Creek Grist Mill. All the times I’ve been in the area, and I never stopped there. It was worth a brief visit (and the $1 entry fee) for some nice landscape photos.

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I was sad when the weekend ended. I had the chance to experience some new things and challenge myself in an encouraging and relaxed environment. I hope I can go again next year, but understandably, priority is given to first-timers. Still, ODNR offers programs to OWOA alumni, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they offer.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, click here.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 2

I am up on Saturday morning before dawn, as I am most mornings. Breakfast isn’t until 7:00, so I wander around the lodge grounds, hoping to catch the sunrise. From the terrace behind the lodge, I can see the harvest moon setting over Pleasant Hill Lake. I take the trail at the lodge back into the woods, to a different spot with a better view of where the sun is rising over the lake. By then, it’s just after 7:00.

 

Once the sun is up, I join the other early risers in the ballroom for our breakfast buffet. We have a bus to catch out to the marina at 8:30. I eat a good breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries, potatoes. I need a lot of energy for two+ hours of kayaking. I have enough time once I’m finished to go back to my room and change into a swimsuit and some quick-dry shorts. And I needed to grab my life vest.

I was back in the ballroom before 8:00, when they had a presentation and gave out some door prizes. (I didn’t win anything.) It was a bit chilly when we left for the marina, but I didn’t exactly want to wear layers under a life vest. Once we got our brief instruction on kayaking and got out on the water, the exertion of paddling warmed me up. This was my first time in a kayak. I’ve always canoed in the past (and tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time a week prior).

 

It was a beautiful morning. Even though it was a bit chilly at first and the paddle constantly dripped water all over me, I wasn’t really bothered by it much. The kayaking instructors pointed out things of interest. We saw two green herons, a kingfisher, several cormorants, an osprey, and countless seagulls. My shoulders started to ache after a while (and I have arthritis in my neck and chronically stiff shoulder muscles, which doesn’t help), but I took frequent breaks. It was a great time.

We had a little time to kill after we finished our session. I wandered around the marina to see what some of the other OWOA groups were doing. Some women were fly fishing on the beach. Others were stand-up paddle boarding. Others were learning jug fishing. The bus was waiting for us in the parking lot, so I finally just got on and waited to be taken back to the lodge.

It was lunchtime when I got back. They had boxed lunches sitting out on tables for us – a grab and go situation. I just took mine and went back to my room. It was noon and I had a couple hours until my next session, which was archery. So, I was able to eat and watch a bit of the Ohio State game against Indiana.

By the time 2:00 rolled around and the archery session was starting, my shoulders and back ached pretty significantly. And I was just so tired. I listened to the archery instructor and practiced the shooting position he taught us, but then it was time to actually do it. With the other women in the group watching.

I was the second person to go. My target was a foam deer. I hit it in the neck. The next arrow went into its heart. I basically only missed twice during my practice round. Once everyone had a turn, we were free to shoot at will. The instructor told us that we could come and go as we pleased, so I shot off maybe another 10 arrows (my practice round was better), and I just couldn’t keep going.

Thankfully, we were at the lodge for our archery session, so it was a short walk back to my room. I crashed hard for almost two hours. I guess I needed the sleep.

I woke up at 5:15 or so, and dinner was at 6. We had an Italian buffet at dinner, and more door prizes were given away. I WON!!! It’s a great prize, too – a $50 gift certificate for camping at either Charles Mill Park or Pleasant Hill Park (Pleasant Hill being the marina where I kayaked that morning). Looking forward to using it, though it probably won’t be until next spring or summer.

We capped off dinner with a sundae bar, then the evening activities began. The lodge had a community bonfire with games like giant Jenga and cornhole. Our group also had the option of participating in axe throwing, which was set up by the front entrance. We had to wear wristbands, since it was limited only to OWOA. (I didn’t axe throw – not with my shoulders aching the way they did – but I watched for a bit.)

It was a wonderful evening. We watched the sun set.

 

We roasted marshmallows over the fire, talking and laughing like old friends.

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I had only met these women the day before, but we were already bonding over this shared experience. Some ordered drinks from the bar. I had a bottle of wine in my room, so I just smuggled some out to the firepit. It was a great way to end day 2.

Continue to part 3.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 1

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Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 1

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a weekend program every year called Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure (OWOA). Women from all walks of life spend the weekend at a state park lodge learning outdoor skills. Activities include fishing, boating, shooting, archery, Dutch oven cooking, orienteering, geocaching … the list goes on and on.

I wanted to sign up last year – the first year I heard about it. I had a scheduling conflict, but at least it was on my radar.

This year, I was lucky enough to be on Facebook at almost the precise moment the ODNR posted that registration was now open for this event. Better yet, they were holding it at Mohican State Park, which is my favorite place in Ohio. For $320, you get a two-night stay at Mohican State Park Lodge and Resort (with all the amenities offered), five meals, snacks, a t-shirt, four activity sessions, a field trip to Malabar Farm State Park, and the use of equipment.

I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Take my money.

I eagerly anticipated this weekend for three whole months. Finally, it was time! Last Friday, I took the day off work and drove to the lodge, arriving late in the morning. Registration was quick and efficient. I signed in, got my swag bag (we got some free goodies courtesy of some of the sponsors), got fitted for a life vest, and got checked into my room. This was all before lunch, and the event didn’t start until 1 p.m.

I got lunch at the onsite restaurant and was ready and waiting in the ballroom for the opening presentation. It gave me a chance to meet some of the other participants and chat about our expectations for the weekend.

After the short ceremony, we all went to our activities. Mine was hiking, so I got in the passenger van taking us to Lyons Falls Trail. (The sign pictured below is actually incorrect. It is Lyons, not Lyon.)

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This is my favorite trail at Mohican, one I’ve walked many times. But this time we had a naturalist leading us, and she gave us all sorts of fascinating information about the geologic history of the area, as well as flora and fauna. We also hiked further on this trail than I ever had previously. It’s two miles to Big Lyons Falls (the first of two), and I always turned around at that point and hiked back.

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Not this time. Our group went on to Little Lyons Falls and then to Pleasant Hill Dam, which is at the three-mile point.

The driver met us at the dam, in case some of us wanted to go back. I could have kept hiking, but I was also eager to get the early bus out to Malabar Farm State Park. It was already going on 4 p.m., and the first bus for Malabar was scheduled for 5. It was also hot and humid, so I was drenched in sweat and in need of a shower.

So, I grabbed the ride back to the lodge at that point and freshened up.

At this point, I should say that I was expecting a roommate. I had her name, but at that point, I hadn’t met her yet. Nor was there any evidence that she had made it to the room.

Anyway, I grabbed a spot on the 5:00 coach to Malabar. A woman asked if she could sit next to me. We started chatting, and that’s when we realized we were supposed to be roommates. We were given keys to different rooms, so we each had rooms of our own. Sweet! I got to know her better than anyone else over the weekend, and she’s really cool. She also lives near me!

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I had never been to Malabar Farm before. It’s one of those places I wish I had visited sooner. It’s still a working farm (and it’s allegedly haunted), but its claim to fame is that it was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, and the wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was held there in 1945. The grounds are beautiful, and the main house is a time capsule of 1940’s life. We had a barbecue buffet on the grounds before the tours started.

 

 

I was on the 8:00 bus back to the lodge, and I just hung out in my room for the rest of the night. A thunderstorm rolled in after 9:00, and it was nice to sit on the balcony (first floor, HAHA) and watch the storm.

That’s the end of day one. OWOA was off to a great start!

Continue on to part 2.

Island Weekend

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We just got back from a long weekend in Put-in-Bay. It was my husband’s first time visiting Lake Erie, and he loved it. I haven’t been to Put-in-Bay in more than 20 years, so it was nice to go back.

We decided to take the Casita and camp at South Bass Island State Park. In hindsight, it would have been easier and far less expensive to camp at East Harbor State Park (on the mainland) because the ferry can be expensive. Plus, we had to rent a golf cart for three days. But we had a great time regardless.

It was shortly after noon when we got to Port Clinton, where the ferry terminal is located. I knew we’d pass Cheese Haven, which was a place I always visited when I was in the area. But it wasn’t nearly as great as I remembered it. I remember there being a lot more samples. They only had some cheese dips to taste (one sample per customer), and I tried one marked “bacon” that evidently had ghost pepper in it. I prayed for death for probably a good 10 minutes until the burning stopped.

So yes, I’m probably done with Cheese Haven for life. We bought a couple cheeses and some fudge, but I have no desire to go back.

Surprisingly enough, there was not a long wait at the ferry terminal. A ferry was leaving just as we got there, but we got on the next one.

And then …

SURPRISE CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER.

Kid Rock performed the night before on Put-in-Bay at their annual Bay Bash. He apparently took the ferry we were about to get on. He walked past our truck (on the driver’s side), putting us between him and the line of walk-on passengers, many of whom clearly recognized him and started taking pictures. I couldn’t even believe it was him at first because why on Earth would he take the ferry? Put-in-Bay has an airport, or he could have taken a private boat. To see him get off the Miller Ferry was unexpected.

Anyway, I am not a fan of Kid Rock, but it’s now a story I can tell people.

So, the ferry ride was easy. We were the second vehicle to get off, and we found the campground easily. In no time, we were set up.

It was very woody and buggy. We are covered in the mosquito bites to prove it. (Yes, we have insect repellent. No, we didn’t use it. I don’t know why.)

Rather than bore you with the details, I’ll give some highlights:

  • Breakfast at Pasquale’s Café. We did this twice. Highly recommended.
  • Pizza at Frosty Bar. Yes, yes, yes!
  • Tasting at Put-in-Bay Winery.
  • Visit to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. We could see mainland Canada from the top. (I’ve visited at least twice before, but we have an America the Beautiful Pass, so it’s free and the views are great.)

It’s a party island basically (and we’re not partiers), so you have your pick of bars. We mostly took drives around the island in the golf cart to explore the natural beauty, people watch a little, and look at real estate. (We’re not buying, just curious.)

Oh, and if you go on a holiday weekend, RESERVE A GOLF CART IN ADVANCE! We did (you can reserve online), and everywhere was sold out. We saw many tourists walking around the island because they couldn’t get a golf cart. There are also bikes for rent, and mopeds, too, I think. We had someone ask us for a ride, in fact, but we had a two-seater, so we couldn’t help out.

Our island weekend is now over. We’re home and we have the dogs, and we are trying to ease back into our routine and get ready for the work week. Sad that it ended, but we’ll be back.

Tomatoes, Cheese, and Memories

It’s finally tomato season. This year, I’m growing a variety called Cherokee Purple, which become a deep rose color when ripe. They are glorious. Juicy and delicious. (They have also been resistant to pests and rot, unlike the Better Boys I grew for the past two summers.)

I’m eating a lot of tomato and cheese sandwiches. It’s one of my favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes.

I usually only have the standard sandwich loaf for bread, but I think a sandwich like this probably needs some really good quality bread to be phenomenal. I love to use Cheddar cheese. And a grainy mustard preferably, though Dijon works in a pinch. And that’s it. Just layer a couple thick tomato slices and your cheese between slices of bread (one slice spread with mustard) and consume. Easy and delicious.

Every time I eat one of these sandwiches, I think of a camping trip I took in August 2006 with friends in England. We were staying at a campground in North Yorkshire, near Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, etc. We had an RV and a tent set up on our site. I was staying in the tent. The RV belonged to the parents of a friend of my friends’, who was also with us. In fact, her parents were staying in it up until the day we arrived.

I remember it well. We showed up at the campsite, and immediately, her mum put on a kettle for tea. She made us sandwiches. She made me a cheese and tomato sandwich, and she kept calling me “Petal.”

Every time I eat a tomato and cheese sandwich, I can almost envision sitting in that little camper, drinking that cup of hot tea, and enjoying the mothering from this total stranger who called me “Petal” as she made me a sandwich.

My First Summer as a Grown-up

 

Twenty years ago at this time, I was in England, studying abroad for the summer in Bath. It was my first time outside the U.S. My flight from Columbus to St. Louis (and then to London) was the first time in my life I’d even flown on a plane. (TWA, and that airline hasn’t been around for how long now?)

A lifetime ago, and yet it also seems like only yesterday.

For me, this study abroad experience was an adventure of a lifetime. We visited London, Glastonbury Abbey, Stonehenge, Stratford-upon-Avon; saw Shakespeare plays at the Globe and Royal Shakespeare Theatre; spent a weekend in Dublin, Ireland. I had no idea that four years later, I’d move to Germany to live for four years – an even bigger adventure.

The trip was life-changing, as any study abroad trip should be. Not only because I was living and studying in a different country and experiencing another culture, but because I proved to myself that I could actually make my dreams come true. Until that point in time, I doubted myself constantly. I had poor self-esteem, and this went a long way toward changing that.

I was the one who applied for the program and somehow found the funds to pay for it, once I was accepted. I went through all the steps to get the travel arrangements made, get my international student ID card (which I still have), my passport, and all the other things required for this trip. I needed to prove to myself I was capable of making this happen. There was always that voice of doubt in my mind telling me this wouldn’t work out, that something would go wrong. I ignored it.

Another reason this trip was life-changing: My beloved Grandpa died less than two weeks after my arrival in England (that anniversary is coming in a couple days). I had to quickly shift gears and make arrangements to get home for the funeral and back to England afterwards to finish the program. I had a lot of help from my classmates, professors, and an English friend to get me through that time, and I am tremendously grateful, still, for their support.

(Aside: Tea really is a tremendous comfort in a time of sorrow, so the English definitely are on to something here.)

I came back after a week or so, incredibly sad, exhausted and with food poisoning. I spent nearly the entire flight from Cleveland to London so sick I wanted to die. (No hyperbole here – there are few things worse than having food poisoning on an international flight, I think.) And yet when I arrived at Gatwick in a weakened state (but no longer throwing up), I managed to find my way to the right train. I had enough presence of mind to switch trains at the right station. And I made it back to Bath. I got a cab at the train station and collapsed in a heap when I finally got back to my dorm.

The remainder of that summer helped me overcome my grief, probably more so than if I had stayed in Ohio. Grandpa was never far from my thoughts (I lit a candle for him in every cathedral we visited), but I was distracted enough by everything I was experiencing that it lessened my sadness significantly. He would have wanted me to enjoy it, so I did.

It was both the best and worst summer of my life up to that point. (That sounds a bit Dickensian, but it’s true.)

My takeaway from that experience was that I had way more mental fortitude than I ever gave myself credit for. I think that summer, 20 years ago, was the first time I felt like an actual grown-up.

Grit and Determination: On Ultrarunning and Life

My brother, Marcus, is an ultrarunner. He has finished (and not finished) several long-distance trail runs over the past decade or so, with the maximum distance being 100 miles.

Two weeks ago, he came back to Ohio to run the Mohican Trail 100. Mohican is a special place for us. We went there frequently as kids. So, I understood why this run was important to him. He attempted it in 2015 and didn’t finish. The weather conditions made the trails treacherous, and he was concerned about injuring himself and being unable to do another 100-mile race later the summer.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, it has some applications to life outside of running.

I was part of his crew for this most recent run. It was me, our mom, our aunt, and my husband. I have never crewed before. None of us had, except my Mom (Mohican 2015). My sister-in-law, Marcus’ wife, was also on the crew during the daytime hours, but she paced him at night during the worst part of things. Just calling her crew really does her a disservice, but she was there. And she is experienced at crewing, which helped us a lot.

Let me tell you, it’s WORK. If you have never crewed an ultrarunner, well, here’s a brief summary of how that works:

You haul the runner’s gear to every aid station you have access to. This means a cooler filled with whatever they choose for nourishment, and a bag filled with extra shoes, clothes, anti-chafe products, etc. You do this AROUND THE CLOCK. The runners don’t stop, so neither do you. You check at each aid station to see what food they have available there, in case your runner wants pizza or a cup of hot broth.

There is a lot of waiting at the aid stations. You watch runners get medical treatment (and sometimes leave in ambulances). You cheer for other runners as they come in. And when your runner comes in, you get them whatever they need to keep going – a bottle of Ensure, a grilled cheese sandwich, a leg massage. And above all, you stay positive and encouraging. It’s a mental game even more than a physical one.

And because things aren’t hard enough, we got torrential rain overnight. Bad for the runners. Bad for the crew (because parking wasn’t always right by the aid station, flooding was widespread, and keeping his gear dry was a challenge). Bad for everyone.

To make a long story short, he finished. The rain made the trails slick and muddy. There was poor visibility throughout the night. He told us that he could hear trees falling somewhere in the forest during the night, so conditions were even dangerous. His clothes and shoes were soaked through. Hypothermia was a very real possibility. The conditions slowed him down enough to where we were concerned he wouldn’t finish by the cut-off time (32 hours). But he pushed through, and he picked up the pace when daylight came. He needed that finish.

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Pure grit and determination.

That’s the takeaway from this.

I’m not a runner. I couldn’t even run around the block unless I was being chased by a machete-wielding maniac. But watching him finish was a victory for us, his crew, as much as it was for him. We were all invested.

And now I have my own long-distance run (metaphorically speaking) to finish. I’m starting grad school in the fall. This is my second attempt at grad school. I didn’t finish the first. I’m not going to get into the reasons for that – a lot of it was beyond my control.

But this time, I will finish. And I have a support system to cheer me on and push me forward. I can even visualize my graduation day. I need to keep that vision in my head. Eyes on the prize.

I wonder, at this point in my life, if I’m too tired to do this. If I’m too busy to do this. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time with adult responsibilities, and now I’m piling on another one.

Grit and determination. If ultrarunners can get through what seem like insurmountable obstacles to get to the finish line, I can surely do this.

Meet The Eggscape Pod!

We picked it up Monday morning in Texas and spent three days/two nights driving it back to Ohio.

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The first night was at Sunrise RV Park in Texarkana, Arkansas. It’s next to  a truck stop and literally right off the freeway, so it’s a great place to spend a night. We had full hook-up and it was a pull-through site.

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Our second night was at Spring Creek Campground in Clarksville, Tennessee.  We had electric and water, but no sewer (though there was a dump station). Also a pull-through site.

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We’ll be spending this weekend making mods to it. First official camping trip is next weekend!

The Nest

For me, one of the great joys of spring is when birds choose to nest in my yard. We had robins and mourning doves last year, and we did again this year.

The robins decided to nest in my weeping cherry tree, low enough that I could photograph it fairly easily. The babies just left the nest earlier this week (bittersweet!), but it was a fun two weeks watching them.

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The dove nest appears to only have one baby. Got my first glimpse of it today.

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