The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Nuts n Bolts (page 1 of 3)

Hold Tight! It’s Gonna Be a Crazy Ride!

Welcome to Cancerland, a theme park for the unamused. We wish you a magical stay. Unfortunately, we seem to have misplaced the magic wands so there are no shortcuts to getting through the park quickly. There are so many decisions you must make with an overwhelming number of things to keep track of. Everyone has their own path through Cancerland. Sorry! The general map will not be of much use to you and your loved ones. Eventually you will find a guide who most likely is a real character but who can help you figure out how to survive the rides. Hold tight! It’s gonna be a crazy ride!

crazy ride with flashing lights and whirling fun

Gravitron – Scan Results

Before fully entering this unamusement park, each patient, er, I mean visitor, must regularly take a ride on the Gravitron located by the park entrance. This is where you will be scanned to verify your credentials for being here. The first few times, this feels like a harmless ride, simply spinning you in a whirling circle. Many times, there will be “No Evidence of Disease” and you will be released from Cancerland. Don’t forget to return for your regularly scheduled crazy ride on the Gravitron. Eventually, cancer will show up again. The floor will drop out beneath you and  your mind will be spinning with what-ifs and why-mes. When the ride stops and the doors open, stumble your way further into the park.

ferris wheel gives big picture perspective

Ferris Wheel – Get Your Bearings

It is strongly suggested that guests return to this simple ride any time they feel lost. Although the Ferris Wheel is rarely exciting, it is easily accessed from most of the park. The best thing about this ride is that it gives you and your partner an opportunity to relax for a few minutes. Take this time to look back on where you have been before and after entering this unamusement park. From the top of the wheel, it is possible to see the food booths and most of the other rides. Decide which direction you will explore after you are back down on the ground. Return as often as you lose your bearings and need to reconsider where you are on the map.

Ride a horse, up and down and all around

Carousel – A Whirl of Emotions

Each guest (and their loved ones) who enter Cancerland, initially believe that the carousel is a gentle, relaxing ride. They think they are in full control of their emotions. What they don’t understand is that this crazy ride spins you gently in circles while it lifts you up and down and up and down. Every time you come back to the Carousel, your emotions will take you for another ride of crying, laughing, scowling, exhaustion, ranting, loving, and more.

Bumper Cars – Bumpy Relationships and Expectations

So, you think you know your friends and family well. When you enter Cancerland, you assume they will react with the same patterns they have in the past—and that you will do the same. Some have already disappeared, uncomfortable with this unamusing park, or afraid they will do or say the wrong thing. Getting in bumper cars with the remaining loved ones who are still with you shows you just how wrong you can be. Bump! They say things that irritate you. Crash! They hover as if you were an invalid, or worse, they ignore what you are going through. Smash! You expect them to read your mind and immediately respond to your ever-changing needs. And they expect the same. Take a deep breath! Remember, this crazy ride is not forever. It’s just one part of visiting Cancerland.

Tin Lizzie Kiddie Cars – Round and Round To & From the Cancer Center

We know you might prefer to avoid this slow, putt-putt ride. But you will inevitably come back to the Kiddie Cars over and over. Your calendar will fill with appointments, blood draws, labs, and scans. It will seem, at times, like you are on an endless loop track of going to and from the cancer center, over and over again. Try to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of routine and unavoidable repetition.

River Boat Ride – Floating Along Through Scenes of Danger and of Daily Life

At times you will be exhausted from all the walking, standing in line, trying new rides, and eating greasy fair-food. Sometimes it is nice to go on this simple ride, floating down the peaceful river of daily life. Be alert, however! You never know what’s around the next bend. It might be another peaceful scene. But at any moment, you might face something terrifying—a storm, an attack, a scene of desolation. This crazy ride demonstrates the new reality of being in Cancerland: expect the unexpected!

Log Flume – Intermittent Pain & Fatigue

This ride can be deceptive. There are ups and downs and occasional splashes of pain or fatigue, but, overall, it feels like you are coping just fine with Cancerland. Don’t get complacent! There will likely be steep curves or sudden drops when you feel like you might drown in the flood of pain that covers you. Yes, talk to your guide about changing meds or adjusting your routines, but most likely there is little that can be done to avoid occasional rides on the Log Flume.

Spinning Tea-Cups – Watch Out for Nausea and Other Side Effects

Everyone has heard about this nasty ride! The spinning teacups will swirl you in circles—causing nausea, dizziness, vomiting, hair loss and more ugly side effects of your trip to Cancerland. Perhaps you will be one of the lucky guests who are guided on a different treatment path and you will avoid this ride altogether.

Flying Swings – Watching Life go by When You are On Your Side

This crazy ride is very disorienting. To begin with, it seems like life goes on the same as it was before you entered Cancerland. Sure, there are some swings and dips, but, in general nothing has really changed. You still feel like yourself. Eventually, however, your swing gets pulled higher and higher until you are flying on your side. You don’t have energy to do anything more than just hold on. As you look around at the park, life is still going on below you, but all you can do is just rest until the ride ends and you are back on your feet again.

Pirate Ship – Practical Tension between Planning and Healing

You hear about this ride from many of your friends. They tell you to focus on the positive, on moving forward, on the eventual excitement of an unexpected ending. But once you get on this ride, you discover that reality pulls two different directions. You get jerked back and forth between planning for a possible future when you will be gone and longing for a possible future when you will be fully cancer-free. Sure, the full circle, upside-down, exhilarating end to the ride is delightful. But most likely you will wish you could avoid this ride altogether.

Roller Coaster –Worst News/Best News

Some guests prefer the tower ride. They only want to hear positive news and best-case prognoses. They are willing to take the risk of a huge emotional crash if the worst-case happens instead and they are dropped back to earth. Others prefer the more frequent but gentler direction changes on the roller coaster. They ask their guide to give them a full range of possible outcomes. As they ride, they experience the upward pull—click…click…click—as it seems like good things are happening, with good response to treatments. But then—whoosh!—there is an unexpected drop toward negative outcomes. Up and down and around steep curves! Choosing this ride is closer to experiencing the up and down realities of a trip to Cancerland.

Tunnel of Love – Sometimes there are no words/Just hug each other tightly

There are moments in Cancerland when no words can express the confusion, fear or sadness the guest is experiencing. At those times, the best thing to do is to grab your partner or your close friend and take a ride through the tunnel of love. Hug each other tightly and remember how much you are loved. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop before you leave, to pick up a photo to remind you that you were not alone in the dark!

Once again, we are glad you are here as our guest in Cancerland! We hope your stay is brief and that you will have no need to return at a future date. But if you have an extended stay, please let us know what other crazy rides we should add to make this unamusement park better match your experiences in the real-life world of cancer treatment. We are constantly researching and developing new therapies, I mean, rides!

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Thanks for taking time to read this light-hearted analogy. Please let me know in the comments if there are additional “rides” I should add to this unamusement park! Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

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If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site to see frequent mini-updates or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new blog post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

**Illustrations are royalty free for personal use from Google Images**

Becoming a Cancer Navigator — Part 1

When you are exploring a new place—in the car or on foot—how do you find your way around? You might simply follow a clear path to discover where it leads. But more often, we want precise directions. Take the left fork, turn here, stop there. Do you prefer to follow instructions from someone you trust? Or do you prefer to be the navigator—figuring out where you are, where you want to go, and how to best get to that place? I HATE being passive and definitely prefer to be the decision maker. It’s the same for me on this health adventure. I much prefer to be the Cancer Navigator!

I Prefer to be the Navigator

In the previous post, I explained why I dislike being called a Cancer Survivor, Victim, or Thriver. I told you that I am happy to be called a Cancer Navigator… but what, exactly, do I mean by that? And why do I prefer that title over more common labels?

selfie, middle age woman

To me, becoming a Cancer Navigator implies taking an active role in making decisions. The name has positive vibes which encourages me to stay engaged and involved in my treatment rather than becoming a passive victim or survivor. And the term acknowledges the importance of continued learning and questioning at each stage along this journey.

Youngest daughter and I have backpacked almost 500 miles of the AT (Appalachian Trail). (If you look in the archives, that was why I first started this blog before our first long trek in late summer 2015.) Taking a multi-week hike requires significant amounts of advance planning to choose which section to hike, gather gear, plan when and where to resupply food, and more. On the other hand, because it is so well marked, an adventure on the AT does not really require many navigational skills. We just had to follow the trails and landmarks on the map, look for white blazes which show the way, and read trail signs. The AT is well-traveled enough to generally be easy to follow without getting lost. (Click HERE to read about Getting from Point A to Point B Without Getting Lost on the AT)

backpackers, hikers, fall woods
AT blaze, backpacker on trail

Sometimes, a health adventure is like those trips we made. The patient goes to the doctor, then follows the clear path that is standard protocol for that particular illness or injury. Honestly, most illnesses or injuries do not require navigational skills to help with decision making. Unless something unexpected happens along the way, the patient simply follows the path that is laid out for them by their health care provider.

Call Me a Cancer Navigator

So why would I call myself a Cancer Navigator? Can’t we just follow standard protocols for my treatment? Nope! My cancer journey is not a simple “walk in the woods.” It is more like bushwhacking through unknown territory while trying to keep from getting totally lost! I have an exceedingly rare cancer which means there are few standard treatments available and many of the possibilities have a low success rate for survival. In the past, this diagnosis would have been considered terminal. Research offers new targeted treatments which move this diagnosis from terminal (death in a few months or years) to being an incurable, chronic cancer (something I will hopefully live with for many years to come). In my case, I am clearly not on a well-traveled trail. To keep from getting lost in the deep woods, I must hone my navigational skills and figure out which route is more likely to help me live the longest time possible.

masked patient in pre-op, stuffed sloth

Fortunately, I am not alone on this health adventure. I have a supportive husband who helps me sort through information, think of more questions to ask, and make decisions. I have a medical oncology team who communicate clearly and whom I trust. And I am getting treatment at a cancer center known for its compassionate care and cutting-edge research.

The Basics of Being a Successful Navigator

We rarely stop to think of it this way, but building strong navigational skills is important in many aspects of life. It applies every time we try something new, whether by choice or necessity. Learning how to successfully sort through options and choices applies to concrete activities such as driving, backpacking, and boating/cruising. And it applies to less tangible tasks such as effectively working with the education system, the workplace, and the healthcare system.

homeschooled students at table
We spent many years navigating the home-school world

At its simplest, building effective navigation skills in any setting can be summarized with three simple questions which must be answered:

  • “Where am I currently?”
  • “What location or goal am I aiming for?”
  • “What’s the most effective way to get there?”

It might take awhile to clearly define the answers to each step. In addition, the goals, and methods of reaching them are frequently changing. This requires flexibility on the part of the navigator and his/her team. Finally, the navigator must keep in mind the specific needs and desires of the individuals who are participating in the adventure.

The Basics of Being My Own Cancer Navigator

When I consider these questions as a Cancer Navigator for my own journey, my answers look like this:

  • The chronic cancer I was diagnosed with 2+ years ago, has recurred. This time it is aggressive and growing quickly.
  • Obviously, I would prefer the goal of being completely cured of all cancer. However, we must face the reality that this is a “chronic cancer” and will continue to recur for the rest of my life. So, the current goal is finding a way to live fully for as long as possible while co-existing with this cancer. (I will write another post soon to explore this concept more fully.)
  • My doctor presented several options for treatment this time around. We assumed surgery would be scheduled asap. However, both my doc and the oncology surgeon made it clear that surgery was not a viable option until the current cancer is under control and the multiple tumors are shrinking. We had to consider the pros and cons of each route as we decided which treatment option to pursue first.
masked patient in exam room, stuffed sloth

As you know, if you have been following this most recent health adventure, we chose to participate in a research trial of a new, very targeted medication. By trying this option first, we can easily move to another treatment if this fails to control my cancer. But if we had tried either of the other options first, we could not have gotten into the trial later. I am starting week 3 of an 8-week study. If the medicine is as effective as we hope, the trial sponsor will provide me with these pills for as long as I need them after I finish these closely monitored two months in the study.

Please let me know if there is something you want to know more about from my cancer journey! I’m happy to answer questions… In upcoming posts, I will compare being a Cancer Navigator to being a Navigator on an ocean-going ship. I will describe how this Phase 1 drug trial works. I will  explain how most cancer treatment has moved away from being an all-out “war on cancer.” And I will share a few short, hopefully entertaining stories from this cancer journey path.

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I cannot imagine doing this alone…)

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Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

Nerd Notes from a “Cancer Imposter”

I’m beginning to feel like a Cancer Imposter. Friends and family keep asking me how I’m doing with the nasty side effects of treatment. After all, everyone knows that a cancer patient is exhausted, nauseated, bald or almost bald as all hair falls out, immune compromised, either skeletal or puffy from steroids, and more. That IS an accurate picture for many patients. But only for the ones undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. So far, my cancer journey has not included either of these forms of treatments thus I am not experiencing these side effects. (Whew! That’s one positive thing for me!) If I don’t look or act like a “normal” patient, does that mean I’m a cancer imposter? Of course not! But it’s hard to explain sometimes…

Selfie of woman relaxing

As I described in the back story to this round of cancer (If you missed it, read the summary HERE), previous treatment has been abdominal surgery to cut out the tumors. When quarterly scans in early February of this year showed that the cancer is back and is aggressively expanding, we expected to hear that I would need another operation ASAP. It was a shock to hear that I’m not a good candidate for surgical removal of the tumors this time around. No other cancer treatments can be used during the 6-8 week recovery period because they kill fast growing cells, including those needed for healing. Unlike prior rounds where cancer removal was simply cut-and-go, this time there are so many small tumors that it isn’t possible to eliminate all cancer cells via surgery. And in the 6-8 weeks of recovery from an operation, I would likely be back to the same place I currently am as the tiny cancer cells left behind would aggressively regrow into new tumors.

Why don’t I have the “normal” side effects of cancer treatment? Does Santa know that I’ve been good? Am I just lucky? Is God answering many prayers for me to have an easier time? Or am I a cancer imposter? Actually, NONE of the above reasons are accurate.

Traditional chemotherapy involves using a cocktail of chemicals to poison and kill all fast-growing cells in the body. This is often an effective way to eliminate tumors, but the poison does not pay attention to which cells it attacks. If the cell is fast-growing, it is killed by the chemicals. This includes cancer cells but also hair growth cells, cells in the digestion system, cells in the immune system, and more. This wide-scale chemical warfare results in the well-known side effects.

Radiation kills cells in one specific area of the body rather than killing all fast-growing cells. This means many of the typical side effects of cancer treatment are avoided, but since radiation kills both healthy and cancerous cells in the targeted area, the patient often struggles with painful localized side-effects. These include nasty problems such as difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, damaged skin, stiff joints or infertility.

My oncologist drew out a nifty chart. (Good thing I used to type papers for med students years ago—I can read doctor scribbles just fine. HA!) He gave me three different options for treating cancer this time around. I could choose chemotherapy, which is 40% effective against my type of rare cancer. This would likely be the best option for fully shrinking the current tumors. I might end up on this treatment regime eventually, with all the typical side effects, but it is not a long-term treatment, so it doesn’t seem like the best option to try first. (Besides, I have no possibility of kayaking or backpacking this spring if I have to get chemo infusions every few weeks and am dealing with nasty side effects!)

cancer treatment options

Because I have two DNA mutations in the tumor cells, I am a good candidate for two different very targeted treatments. In both cases, there are limited side effects because these are not blanket-bombing, all-out war on a wide variety of cells. One treatment is already FDA approved, but it is only effective for 50% of patients. This is certainly a viable option. It meets the criteria of using a medication long-term if it is effective, but this option doesn’t actually shrink the tumors, just kills off specific cancer cells.

The third option is part of a Phase 1 clinical trial. (More about what that means in a future post…) There is extremely limited data at this point on how effective this medication will be, but it is described as “very promising.” In addition to killing specific cells that have the targeted DNA mutation, preliminary results show some shrinkage of tumors as well. This option has more uncertainty since rounds of trials are just beginning, but I can stay on it long term if it works well for me. If it doesn’t seem to do anything to fight my particular tumors, we can quickly switch to one of the above options instead. We decided to give this medication a try. Dealing with limited side effects is definitely a positive!

What am I experiencing so far? I have no side effects from treatment. On the other hand, there are challenges caused by the cancer itself. As the tumors continue to grow rapidly, they are putting more and more pressure on my internal organs. At this point, I’m having significant pain rather than just being uncomfortable. I wanna tell that biggest tumor, stop being rude! Figure out how to share the space in there! Keep your hands to yourself. (Oops! That’s what I used to yell at the kids when we were on a road trip. I don’t think the tumor is going to listen to me… Haha!) The pain meds cause some level of unsteadiness, fuzziness and/or sleepiness. But that’s manageable. The largest tumor hides just behind my bladder and is pushing hard on it. This means that in addition to pain, I have limited capacity in my bladder, so I pee small amounts frequently. Finally, because of the pain meds I’m taking, I have to take other meds to prevent constipation. I’m not a fan of taking a zillion pills every day, but if this will stop cancer growth and possibly shrink the tumor, I’m all for it!

diagram of tumor location

My oncologist says that these symptoms caused by the tumors themselves will significantly lessen within a few weeks if this targeted trial medication that I started last week is effective. Please cheer me along and pray with me (in whatever manner you support others) that I will be even more of a “cancer imposter” very soon, with no side effects or difficult symptoms at all! That will be a day to celebrate when we see that tumors are shrinking, and cancer is on the run…

Thanks for taking time to read this nerdy post! I’m learning all sorts of new information about how cancer treatments work. Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

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If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Homeschooling by the Numbers

I’m not a math fan or a statistics geek, but I find it interesting to read summaries of topics, broken down by the numbers. In previous posts, I have explained lessons we learned in 28 years of homeschooling. (HERE and HERE) I also asked my grown kids to share their thoughts looking back on their home education experiences. (HERE) I decided to conclude this series by presenting homeschooling by the numbers for the high school years. As you see the many different ways in which we kept seven children motivated and learning (over 32 years of guiding our children’s education), I hope you will be encouraged to creatively pursue the best schooling options for your family and for your individual children. By the way, unlike some families, we never set out to homeschool our children for most of their education. We kept choosing this option year after year when it seemed to be the best fit for the next school year and the next.

With each transcript written and submitted for college applications, I include an up to date “School Profile.” For high school graduation, each child chooses the name of “their” school, to be used on their diploma, their transcript, and their class ring. Our homeschool has been listed as Maple Ridge Academy, Parkdale Academy, and, most recently, Forest Academy. I pulled the following information from the 2020 School Profile for Forest Academy:

homeschool student, international travel, london

EDUCATIONAL MISSION:

Forest Academy has been educating secondary students since 1996 under the home education regulations of the State of Ohio. This school specializes in coordinating interest led programs and international learning experiences. To date, 6 students have graduated with honors, 2 students were enrolled for 1-3 years only, and 1 student is currently enrolled.

This “Vision Statement” for Forest Academy is “to maximize student potential by providing a challenging learning environment which integrates academic coursework with real-world experience to support students in developing their individual interests and abilities.”

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS:

  • English               4 credits*
  • Math                   3 credits
  • History               3 credits
  • Science               3 credits
  • Health/PE         2 credits
  • Foreign Lang   2 credits
  • Electives            5 credits

To graduate from Forest Academy, a minimum of 22 credits must be completed, including at least one semester of concurrent high school/college courses or enrollment in a career program. A Senior Exit Portfolio is also required for graduation. The portfolio includes a resume; strengths assessment; summaries of career and interest explorations; and examples of academic achievement. (*Credits are awarded based on the ‘Carnegie Credit’ system in which approximately 120 hours of work equals one full course on that subject, signified by a “credit.”)

HOMESCHOOLING BY THE NUMBERS:

infographic, homeschooling by the numbers

15 WAYS TO EDUCATE OUR FAMILY:

We used a wide variety of methods to keep our kids motivated and learning year by year. Occasionally, we made changes between semesters if something was not working effectively. At one point we were preparing to move abroad. If we had done so, our children would have attended boarding school. Our schooling styles have included:

  • Homeschooling, structured curriculum
  • Homeschooling, parent led co-op (each teaches the subjects they are best at)
  • Homeschooling, but kids attend classes with certified teachers twice a week
  • Homeschooling, everyone in the house learns the same topics at the same time (Mayan civilization! The Solar System! Geometry!) with activities scaled to different ages
  • Homeschooling, mom gathers resources/writes curriculum
  • Homeschooling, older children write the curriculum
  • Homeschooling, students teach themselves from videos or from the teacher’s book
  • Public schooling, full-time
  • Public schooling, for select classes or extracurriculars
  • Public schooling, in and out based on a child’s disability
  • Public on-line charter schooling
  • Private schooling
  • Schooling on the road, while traveling across the US or backpacking in the woods
  • Schooling around a child’s training for a national sport
  • Early/concurrent enrollment in college classes or career program
passions,  raptor rehab, yorkshire

CLUBS AND EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES:

One reason we continue to homeschool our children is that it gives our family the freedom to blend education with real world experiences. As I have explained in previous posts, individualized learning takes much less time than large group, mass education. This means more time is available in the day for students to participate in many extra-curricular activities.

In the primary grades, we helped each child explore individual interests. By the time they were in their teen years, we facilitated the pursuit of current passions. Forest Academy has offered a wide range of student activities, utilizing student associations, community organizations, and participation in local public-school programs. Each student is required to participate in at least one community volunteer program as well. As you see by the following list, our children have followed many different interests:

  • Backpacking Club
  • Basketball
  • CATCO is Kids (Theater/Acting)
  • Chess Club
  • Christian Youth Groups
  • Community Sports Leagues
  • COSI Museum Docents
  • COSI Science Academy
  • Falconry Club
  • FIRST Robotics Club
  • 4-H Clubs
  • International Culture Club
  • Interscholastic Women’s Basketball
  • Jr Ranger (National Park Service program)
  • Lake Erie Nature & Science Center (Animal Care Volunteer)
  • Latin Club
  • Literary Magazine
  • Music Club
  • Mustang Camp (training wild horses)
  • National Honor Society
  • Ohio Youth Leadership Forum (delegate/peer mentor)
  • Photography Club
  • Rock Climbing Club
  • Shane Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship (rider/volunteer)
  • Ski Club
  • Strongsville Skating Club (USFSA Competitive Figure Skating)
  • Student Council
  • Summer Camps (Jr & Sr Counselors)
  • Tae-Kwon-Do Club
  • Thespian Society
  • Video Club

SUMMARY:

It is important for each family to choose the best schooling options to meet their own values and needs. If your family is more comfortable following the standard education patterns of our society, wonderful! But if you long for other options, I hope you can see from this homeschooling by the numbers post that there is no need to stay trapped in a box of formal, by-the-book education. With the current chaos in our world because of Covid-19, this might be an ideal year to dabble in something different, knowing you can always return to school-as-normal if that turns out to be best for your family. Whatever you choose, know that I am cheering you on!

Feel free to comment below if you have further questions or if you would like to arrange a way to brainstorm together about options which would work for you and your family situation.

For further reading about our homeschooling journey in the past few years, click HERE. Read the story of my friend’s interest-led learning experiences with her oldest daughter HERE. Read  more about recent graduations in our family HERE (Yes, homeschooling is successful for most students…)

Training Schedule for Forest Therapy Guide Residential Retreat

My residential training has finally started! Wondering what I’m doing each day on this Intensive Retreat? Here is a peek at the Training Schedule for this 8 day course which kicks off the 6 month certification program to become a Forest Therapy Guide. (This week started off with the extra challenge of heavy rains for the first 3 days and 2 nights of training … much of which is outdoors!)

they didn't list dealing with rain in the training schedule!

The Intensive Class is always located close to a Nature area with good trails to experience guided Forest Therapy walks. I chose to apply for the course which is being held at a metro-park in NW Ohio. This is only a few hours’ drive from my home. To save money, I am tent-camping at a nearby campground.

camping for training intensive

Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.

training schedule begins

Days 2-3 (Sun/Mon) – First Experiences

  • Mornings: Teacher led Forest Therapy Walk and Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoons: Debrief the walk experience, using a mapping process
  • After Break: Content Session (Lecture, Q&A, Discussion, Experiential Activities)
  • Evening: More content

training schedule includes walks less by instructors

Days 4-5 (Tues/Wed) – Practicing Skills

  • Mornings: Participants guide each other on a Forest Therapy Walk & Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoon Sessions: Same training schedule as above, learn more “invitations” and guide skills
  • Evening 4: Group campfire to share personal nature stories

training schedule includes a campfire for storytelling

Day 6 (Thurs) – Honing Skills

  • Learn more Forest Therapy techniques and skills
  • Prepare to guide a public FT walk with 1-2 other participants
  • Prepare for our 6-month practicum, completed locally via Skype under the guidance of an instructor/mentor.

many instructional content sessions in the training schedule

Day 7 (Fri) – Put It All Together!

  • Morning: 2-3 Participants work together to lead public Forest Therapy walks (My piece is to make the forest tea and guide the closing Tea Ceremony for our group.)
  • Afternoon Sessions: Debrief and more content sessions

we learn about, practice, and experience closing tea ceremonies

Day 8 (Sat) – Conclusions

  • Morning: Structured solo experience with time to reflect on the week and to consider personal goals
  • Afternoon: Content Session/Q& A time
  • Closing Ceremony (and group photo, of course!)

THANKS SO MUCH TO SUPPORTERS!

I very much appreciate the encouragement and the donations from family and friends to get me to this point. I am excited to finally move forward toward being a certified Forest Therapy Guide and starting a practice of my own to help others connect with Nature.

Don’t worry! I will continue sharing what I learn in future blog posts. You can read more about Nature/Forest Therapy HERE.

10 Things to Do for a Great Vacation

When you go on your next adventure, avoid the” woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets of missed opportunities. Plan ahead to make sure you soak up all the best sounds, sights and activities. If you are like me, take this list along with you so you don’t get too busy and forget these little details that will turn your next trip into a great vacation.

ACTIVITIES:

1 – Say “YES” to unexpected opportunity: Be flexible enough to make a quick change of plans when you find something fun, intriguing, or exciting to do. Make sure you have some extra money in your budget to fund a few extras. On one family trip, we shared the cost of renting jet-skis for an afternoon. On a day in Paris, daughter Andowen and I took a bike taxi ride. Both are memories we still cherish!

unexpected fun, explore, great vacation activities

2 – Talk to a local: Strike up a conversation with a local shopkeeper or another mom at the playground. Folks are often quite proud to be asked for advice. You might find the perfect romantic restaurant or family-friendly café. There is probably a hidden gem of a park or waterfall or swimming hole nearby. (Time in Nature *is* important, ya know… HA!) On our current road trip, I stopped to get a haircut. The barber and his next customer animatedly urged us to explore a nearby nature preserve. We are still talking about the giant eagle nests topping the line of power poles and the great heron spearing his fishy lunch in the marsh.

3 – Find a local market or shop to explore: Avoid chains and big-box stores. It’s far more fun to discover little treasures and one-of-a-kind things at a local emporium. Even better is a store with sky-high prices—an opportunity to window-shop. You can ooh and aah without being tempted to buy anything. Take time to chat with the owner or store-clerk, if possible. They often have interesting stories to tell—about the merchandise, about the local area, or about their own life story. Little details like this can turn a ho-hum trip into a great vacation!

shop local, gift store

4 – Try something outside your comfort zone: Why in the world would I suggest you be uncomfortable (or even terrified) on your next vacation? Because when we are stretched, we learn more about ourselves. So try that zip-line or take a jeep tour. Taste the local food. Hike the mountain above town. Figure out what types of adventures you enjoy and which things you never want to do again!

THINGS:

5 – Find/Buy a meaningful memento: Sure, that stuffed animal is adorable. And that T-shirt has a hilarious saying. But do you really have a place for that quirky candle-holder or colorful poster? Is there empty space in your cupboard for yet one more mug or wine glass? Consider starting a collection of something small instead. Going on a hunt for the perfect spoon or earrings or magnet can become an enjoyable tradition. And each time you glance at your collection back home, you will be reminded of the wonderful adventures you have had.

frig magnets, great vacation mementos

6 – Snap the photos you have missed: Sometimes I remember to make a list of specific photos I don’t want to forget. I know myself—without a reminder, I will take far too many photos of beautiful scenery and architectural details, and far too few pictures of people and quiet moments. Because of my list, on this current trip I have taken more photos of the friends we have visited, the shops we have wandered, and the made-up adventures of the Tiny-Mes (our Lego travelling companions). Snap a quick picture of the sign at a yummy café or a quirky shop. Capture the treasures you find to remember details of your great vacation when you get back home.

7 – Send a postcard to someone special: Grandma would love to hear from you (and so would Mom…trust me!) Share the fun with the person who cheers you on in your adventures. Find a historic photo to send to your favorite history geek. (okay, okay…so I keep these for myself…) Tip: tacky-tourist stores or museum gift shops are often the best places to purchase postcards. Unfortunately, postcards are becoming harder to find!

snail mail, paper ephemera, great vacation memories

MEMORIES:

8 – Savor: Take time to soak in the atmosphere of the place you are visiting. We best remember things associated with strong emotion: excitement is an easy memory trigger. But noticing with our senses also makes deep connections. Notice the changing light on the buildings. Breathe deeply in a garden or near the spices in an open market. (But you might want to use shallow breathing to lessen the stench of an open meat market!) Pay attention to the background noise around you: music, conversations, footsteps, car horns. Feel the warm sunshine or cool wind on your skin. It might seem like you don’t have time to waste on such things. Actually, you are wasting your time if you don’t savor the uniqueness of your great vacation location!

Ocean spray, big waves, Maine coast

9 – Remember your motivation & objectives for this adventure: Why did you take this vacation? Perhaps it was to rest and recharge from a chaotic daily schedule. Maybe it was to add some excitement to your life. You might have wanted to get away from people…or meet new people and hear new stories. As you remind yourself of the purpose(s) for your trip, is there anything you still need to do to fulfill your own expectations?

10 – Take time to reflect: Consider the things you have most enjoyed about this vacation. Make sure you keep these things in mind for your next trip. Ponder the things that frustrated you. How can you lessen those challenges next time? On our first backpacking trip (You can read about the adventure HERE) daughter and I started a daily practice to write down “our three good things.” We allow ourselves to record just one “bad” thing from each day. This helps us notice the things we enjoy, even on hard days. And it makes an excellent reference when planning future trips. We can choose to include more of the things that make our hearts sing! (Read our first post about Three Good Things HERE)

memories, 3 good things, great vacation

Most of us take a trip at least once a year. What things can YOU add to this list to help others turn an annual tradition into a great vacation? I’d love to hear your favorite tip(s) in the comments below…

10 Things to Do Before Leaving on an Adventure

Vacation is about to start and we get weary just looking at all the things we still need to cross off our get-out-of-town To-Do lists. We have to arrange for all of our mundane chores to be covered by someone else while we are gone: feed the dog, water the plants, change the kitty’s litter box, and mow the lawn. Don’t forget to call the bank so they won’t freeze our accounts when we use our cards in new locations. Whew! If you are like me, you can’t imagine adding yet MORE things to that pesky list! But stick with me…taking time to do these 10 simple things will make your adventure much more enjoyable!

  1. Give Yourself SPACE to be Spontaneous – Take another look at your itinerary. Delete a few things (or at least change them to “penciled in,” only-a-possibility status). This allows you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or wander through a store that looks interesting. Who knows? You might be lucky like we were on our Epic Road Trip. I found my long-lost Scandinavian ancestor in one town. Andowen found a dragon to ride in another store-yard!

serendipity, vacation finds

  1. Plan for DELAYS – Leave extra time in your first day and your last day of the trip. This way if there is a traffic jam on the way to the airport, or flights are delayed, or bus drivers are on strike, you have time to make an alternate plan. It helps to avoid planning activities back-to-back for the same reasons. (Besides…you need time to sit back, relax, and just do nothing occasionally…that gives more energy for finding adventure!)
  2. Don’t Leave Your HOBBIES Behind – Bring a few art supplies (warning: not the entire craft room!) or a favorite card game. Do an internet search to see how you can access your favorite activities at your destination. Perhaps there is a game café, or a model rocket club, or a quilt store to explore. Your fitness club or zoo memberships might be reciprocal. Beyond enjoying an afternoon doing your favorite things, this is also a great way to meet local folks with similar interests to your own.

art supplies, drawing, crafts

  1. Make LISTS (and lists of lists…and a master list of lists…oh wait! Nevermind…that’s my own obsession speaking…HA!) – It helps to have your itinerary written out and a packing list so you don’t forget necessities. (Plus, a packing list helps ensure you bring home all the items you left with.) The fewer things you are trying to keep track of in your brain, the more you can relax and actually enjoy the adventure!
  2. Choose Your RESCUER! – It is always wise to leave your expected itinerary with someone back home. This way, when an alligator swallows your cell phone (so you no longer respond to texts) or you quit posting photos on fb because you have been captured by a Yeti, someone will know where to start looking for you! Oh wait! Hopefully, you have a marvelous time on your adventure with the only unexpected events being happy ones. (But leave that itinerary with someone…just in case!)

trip planning, schedule

  1. LIGHTEN Your Load – The less you have to schlepp around with you, the happier you will be. Trust me on this one! Set out all the things you think you might need on your trip…then put half of it back in the cupboards. (Unless you are a travel guru who has already mastered safe travel with the least amount of “stuff”–in which case, I would love to have you write a guest post to share your packing wisdom.)
  2. You Can (probably) BUY IT There – This is a corollary to the previous suggestion. Unless you are going to Outer Mongolia or Antarctica, there will most likely be a way to purchase any items you forget to bring. My husband assures me this also applies to food—there WILL be grocery stores at our destination. (I’m not yet convinced this is always true—thus we travel with bags of extra food, just in case. Unless I’m backpacking…then I’ve mastered the quick resupply in towns near the trail.)
  3. Switch to Your Holiday WALLET – There is no reason to carry the zillion and one things you usually have in your purse or even in your wallet. Grab your medical insurance card, your ID, and a credit card and stuff it into a Ziploc baggie along with some cash. (Or separate these items into a few different bags and hide them in seperate dark recesses of your bags.) You won’t need your library card, your local coffee shop punch-card, or your craft store discount card. Really!

ziploc bag

  1. DETOX the Frig – For years after we were married, I was grumpy with my husband when he insisted we had to sweep the floors, clean the toilets, and empty the trash before we could leave on a trip. But it is certainly enjoyable to walk back into a clean, fresh-smelling house when we get home from a long trip! (Shhh! Don’t tell him I admitted he is right…)
  2. Make a Final LIBRARY Run – Perhaps you don’t have a pile of books to return. Maybe you don’t “need” a few rom-com fluff books for the beach. But there are audio books to be loaded on your phone and ebooks to be added to your kindle. I’ve been told library accounts are free. Now if I could just get organized enough to avoid the fines!

library books, reading list

Make sure your tickets and ID are in hand and there is gas in the car. Lock the doors behind you. And ENJOY your adventure!

(Read about my Wandering Spirit HERE. See my tips for planning your own adventure HERE.)

What trip preparation did I miss? Tell me your best hint in the comments below!

DIY Epic Escape — Plan Your Own Adventure

Are you tired of taking the same vacations year after year—eating the same foods, going the same places, doing the same things? Consider an Epic Escape instead! Not sure where to start? Here’s a glimpse at my process. It’s easier than you might think to Plan Your Own Adventure!

Gather Your TOOLS:

Planning an Epic Escape means charting a new course, not just repeating past travels. This takes a few “specialized” tools: (or at least using your tools  for specific purposes…)

  • Calendar – discover conflicts and juggle schedules
  • Computer – for on-line research, social media recommendations, and eventual reservations
  • Colored pens and LOTS of paper – capture lists, plans, alternate plans, packing lists, and lists of lists
  • Coffee – or chocolate or chips or something else to fuel the frenzy of researching all the possibilities!

adventure planning, journaling, itinerary

 

Determine Your NUTS n BOLTS:

Know what limits you have. Figure out the details for this particular time and trip.

  • Identify preferences (dates, place, activities)
  • Set a budget (then add 50%! Really!)
  • Re-evaluate your priorities to scribble down a final list of details to keep in mind.

Choose Your FLAVOR:

Don’t settle for a plain-jane vanilla vacation, just like all the ones you have taken before. Consider all the possibilities within the parameters of this particular Epic Escape.

  • Carve out some empty space in your schedule/itinerary to be spontaneous
  • Read & Research. Search on-line (or in books) for “Things to Do Near …” “Best Food In …” and “Things to Do With Kids In …” (even if you don’t have kids with you. These are the fun, hands-on activities in any given location.) Don’t forget to check nps.gov to see which national parks you could visit!
  • When you get to your location(s), talk with locals and check the local visitor center for more ideas of unique things to do or see.

colorful, coldstone creamery, ice cream

Be FLEXIBLE:

No matter how well you Plan Your Own Adventure, the unexpected WILL happen! Most of these things will be outside your control: weather, delays, changes, illness, etc.

  • Before you leave, consider potential problems and brainstorm possible responses. This way you won’t be blindsided when the unexpected actually happens.
  • Remember WHY you chose this particular Epic Escape. You were excited about it while you were planning. Focus on your main objectives and let go of the details.
  • Choose your attitude! Often, it is the challenging moments that are the most exciting and thought-provoking later. Once we get back home, those problems frequently become the most entertaining stories.

kenyon college, dancers, statue garden

Read about my Wand’rin’ Spirit HERE. Read about the Research involved in our first AT backpacking trip HERE. If you want some ideas for fun activities to add to your next vacation, drop me a note in the comments. I love to brainstorm adventures!

An Epic Plan for Self-Care

We’ve all heard the list of suggested wellness practices a million times: Maintain proper sleep/nutrition/exercise. Practice self-care. Choose a good attitude/positive thoughts/thankfulness. Pursue a passion. Find life/work balance. Build a spiritual practice. Get outside. Find supportive friends. Challenge oneself.

…an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation.

Check! Check! Check! I’ve generally got the basics down. Isn’t that good enough? And if I wanted to make changes, an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation. Just give me a detailed list with bullet points to follow and I’ll try to implement it all immediately—at least for a day or a week until I slide back into comfortable old routines. Ugh! This large-scale self-improvement thing too often becomes a guilt-producing merry-go-round.

A few years ago, I heard a seemingly simple phrase that changed everything for me. “Just do the next, best thing.” By following these little words, I’m happier and healthier today than I was as a young adult. These words help me filter the large amounts of information swirling in my head from all of the books and blogs and articles I read. This phrase helps me focus on tiny steps that eventually form better habits, without causing the self-care to come to a screeching halt because I’m overwhelmed.

hiking, walking, glacier national park

I try to be aware of decision points throughout the day: what to eat, what to do with my time, what to do with emotions, how to respond to frustrations. I take a moment to ask myself “what is the next best thing in this situation?” Then I do that little thing—no stress, no fuss, no angsty inner debates. Devour a rich piece of chocolate cake? Sure, have one or two bites. Make a difficult phone call or read a junk book? Get the call out of the way, and then savor the story. Need some milk or toilet paper? Forget the car—walk the few blocks to the store. Spend time on creativity or chores? Okay…this one gets messy (pun intended)! My house unfortunately shows that I much prefer enjoyable hobbies to cleaning or organizing. There is freedom in this routine: if I make a bad choice, it is easy to get back on track for self-care with the next decision I make, or the next one after that.

Next Steps, Barefoot, Grass

The point is that improving self-development and personal wellness practices is most effective by focusing on taking small, incremental steps in a few areas at a time. Currently, I try to walk for local errands. I choose to spend time outdoors every day—noticing beauty and savoring the changing seasons. And I focus on looking for God in the mundane details of daily living. Hopefully, as I become more consistent in these small life changes, they will eventually become epic transformations!

(Read about how “Ta-Dah” lists are changing my life HERE. Find 7 suggested ways to add calm to your life HERE.)

Epic Road Trip — By the Numbers

I wonder if you are like me—quickly bored with a blow-by-blow account of someone else’s trip? On the other hand, I like to see quick summaries which often demonstrate just how epic the adventure really was. With this in mind, I’ve put together an infographic which will hopefully give you details about our most recent road trip without boring you! (Making the chart was new territory for me—a mini-adventure in its own way. But that’s a different story…)

 

20 days of travel, trip details

Feel free to ignore the rest of this post if the summary was enough. Just in case you are a detail person, here is a bit more info about our Road Trip. If you want links to specific places, please ask via comments! I’m happy to share more in-depth reviews for those who want them.

PARKS WE VISITED:

8 NATIONAL PARK SITES included Badlands National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, Glacier National Park, Fort Union National Historic Site, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Pipestone National Monument. As usual, daughter added to her collection of Jr. Ranger Badges. Andowen liked Knife River the best because it had an earth lodge to explore instead of tepees.

2 CANADIAN NATIONAL PARKS (adjacent to each other) included lakes, canyons, and mountain views in Banff National Park plus Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park (technically in British Columbia, a second province). I love spending time in mountains anywhere…but the Canadian Rockies are the most stunning with steep mountains reflected in turquoise blue glacial lakes.

2 STATE PARKS included a simple overnight in Stone State Park in Iowa (the stone cabin was cheaper than a hotel) and a few hours exploring Ft. Mandan State Park in ND. Having read many books about the Lewis & Clark expedition, it was interesting to actually walk through the recreation of the fort where they wintered along the Missouri River.

1 WORLD HERITAGE SITE: I had Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump on my don’t-miss-this list years ago when we wandered the West in an RV. But my family rebelled at the thought of yet one more museum. I didn’t allow any arguments on this trip! The site has an excellent museum with a gripping movie to explain what one sees in the outdoor landscape. Yes, it was worth exploring the grounds—even on a cold, windy, rainy day!

TRIP DETAILS: The main goal of this trip was to attend our son’s graduation from Carroll College in Helena, MT. But when someone lets me get behind the wheel, it never remains a simple drive from point A to point B and back again. We ended up taking 20 days to wander a large circle, visiting places, and friends/family along the way. When I added up everything, we drove more than 5,625 miles in 20 days. We visited (or drove through) 10 States in the United States including OH, IN, IL, IA, SD, WY, MT, ND, MN, NE. We spent a few days in Alberta, Canada. (We also entered British Columbia for an hour or so…I didn’t count that in the stats.)

PLACES WE SLEPT: We always enjoy staying with family and friends when that is possible. THANKS for excellent hospitality from those we visited on this trip! We chose to stay in a hotel for the days surrounding son’s graduation. Logistics for a larger group of family was easier that way. In Canada, we stayed at a hotel with an indoor pool to keep daughter entertained (under Grandma’s supervision) while I spent some one-on-one time with a good friend. (Plus, it was COLD at night in Alberta in May…)  I initially planned that on most other nights we would be tent camping. Unfortunately costs ballooned because I wimped-out and paid for extra nights under a roof to avoid freezing temps and heavy rains. On a whim, we spent one night in a stone camping cabin at a state park in IA—great choice! It both saved money and was a pretty place to stay. And, of course, we spent one night in a tepee campground near Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (You can read more about that mini-adventure HERE.)

WHAT WE ATE: We frequently bought food from grocery stores—ready-made wraps and salads, or fixings for sandwiches and snacks. This was both cheaper and healthier than a diet of eating-out. We fed my caffeine addiction at 6 different local coffee shops. Honestly, the drinks are similar everywhere—but seeing the different settings and talking with local folks is always enjoyable. We ate at 3 nice restaurants—a restaurant with unique pizza options to celebrate son’s graduation (MacKenzie River Pizza & Pub) , a fancy restaurant with views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with our good friends in Canmore (Murieta’s), and a simple restaurant with amazing omelets and salads with a cousin in Omaha (Summer Kitchen Café). Of course, we grabbed fast food from gas stations and chains occasionally. And Grandma buys herself a Mocha Frappe from McD’s when she is travelling—being on the road for 20 days caused a dilemma of deciding how often to indulge!

For more photos of our adventure, check out a recent post HERE. Another post about the Epic Road Trip can be found HERE.

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