The Big Adventures of Little Lump

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I INTERRUPT THIS EPISODE OF MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE TO BRING YOU THIS SPECIAL BULLETIN:

I HAVE CANCER

Whoa baby, what? Me, who travels around the country and the world hiking and enjoying the great outdoors and eating fruit and cheese and taking care of her body and not smoking and…gasp, gasp, gasp.

I HAVE LUNG CANCER

Just got a full diagnosis late last week. It could have been much, much worse. Like if it had spread to other major organs. It was caught quickly enough, but not quickly enough to be easy to get rid of. And so, a new adventure in the life of me begins. A journey I didn’t ask for that started just one month ago will end in a way that I cannot predict, but that I pray I can have some influence over with continuing to fight, be positive, be strong, and do what’s best for me.

The saga begins with Little Lump.

Little Lump appeared in the middle of my neck , near my clavicle, without me even knowing it was there. My first sign that something wasn’t quite right was when I was on my road trip this summer and I felt a strange pulling in my neck and upper chest that I had never felt before. Because I spend so much time with stuff strung and slung across my body, I just figured it was something rubbing against something else. When Little Lump started to show itself to the world I pointed it out to a few friends and family members, but none of them took much notice of it. I even went to the school nurse at the high school I teach at and she thought maybe it was a cyst. On September 12th, I took myself to my primary care doctor. She sent me for an X-ray immediately following my office visit. Two abnormalities showed on my chest x-ray. I was contacted right away and scheduled for a CT scan. Let the hell begin.

Pointer #1: If you find anything on your body that doesn’t belong there or doesn’t feel right to you, do not ignore it, even if someone tells you it’s “normal.”

While I anxiously awaited my CT scan, (and believe me, none of these things are ever scheduled fast enough!) my body started to fall apart. For a couple of days I was in incredible pain radiating from my neck, and had other disturbing symptoms. I was advised to go to the emergency room, where I ended up getting my CT scan, not only of my chest, but of my C spine, too. Compared to the saga of Little Lump, being told that I had arthritis and spine degeneration seemed like a minor inconvenience. And now Little Lump had a partner in crime: Little Lesion. Let the hell continue.

Pointer #2: Get serious when it’s time to get serious. I’m not saying to “prepare for the worst.” But do prepare for news that you don’t want to hear, because it’s a lot easier to deal with when you get it.

With some muscle relaxers and anti inflammatory medication prescriptions in hand, I had a week of relative peace until I followed up with my primary care doctor, who had boldly spearheaded this whole nightmare. She referred me to an oncologist (uh-oh!) not because she thought that I had cancer, but because the next step was to get a biopsy, and oncologists are the experts at that kind of stuff.

Okay. I’m going to an oncologist. Oncologists means cancer. Cancer!

Pointer #3: If you have a lump or abnormality and your care isn’t going similar to this, (x-ray, CT scan, specialist, biopsy) then advocate for yourself or get a new doctor.

Now, I have to take another break here and talk about the things that were going on around me while my life was turning into one big health crisis.

Everyone knew what was wrong with me (except, of course, for my team of doctors!) Everyone had advice. Some people made faces, others couldn’t look me in the eye, the immediate perception was that I had cancer and thus I was going to die. This was a hell of way to feel when I was already doing myself in. I just had to keep asking people to BE POSITIVE. I’m a firm believer in negative vibes causing negative events to happen. And for the record: unless you’re a medical professional with up to the minute knowledge of the world of medicine, you really have no business spouting fancy language. NONE.

Pointer #4: Don’t listen to Google doctors. Politely thank them as well meaning people and wait for opinions from your medical team.

My oncologist was skeptical about a cancer diagnosis, but was more concerned about Little Lesion than Little Lump, so I was scheduled for a biopsy of my lung. September 30th was the big day. After being warned about the possibility of air getting in my lung during the biopsy and having to spend the night in the hospital, my radiologist made the decision that Little Lump had to be biopsied after all, so the day went much easier. But at that point I pretty much knew I had THE BIG C. Believe me, when you hear the term PET SCAN, you can pretty much win any bet that you have cancer. With a cost of $5,000 or more for the ear-to-knee variety of the PET Scan, no insurance company is going to pay for this test without a serious diagnosis, and I’ve heard of people being turned down for them even if they have one. Luckily, I was not one of those people.

My pain-free peace came crashing down a couple of days after my biopsy, and I landed in the ER again. This was probably the worst part of my journey thus far, because I had a CT scan of my brain, and it was believed I had a brain tumor, until an MRI shot that theory down. I think that was the only time I cried since this whole thing started. For the first time since I was five years old and I had my tonsils out, I was admitted to the hospital to have more testing done but not, thankfully, to have emergency brain surgery! My oncologist visited me the following day and wanted me out of that bed immediately, as the PET Scan can only be done on an outpatient basis. Hey, I had to get my steps first!

 

The week between my discharge and having the scan then awaiting my diagnosis and prognosis was horrendous. I lost weight at an alarming rate, had awful nights, was afraid to be alone, couldn’t even drive! Me, of the 10,000 mile road trips! I was convinced I had cancer throughout my entire body, going on its very own horrible road trip.

Meanwhile, two of my sisters were (and are) bringing me everywhere and sleeping on my couch. Friends and coworkers were (and are) visiting, texting, messaging, emailing, supporting me on social media. People I don’t even know and have never heard of were (and are) hoping and wishing and praying for me. The response has been overwhelming, humbling.

Pointer #5: Gather the troops! And make sure every bit of attention and support you’re getting is POSITIVE.

Diagnosis/Prognosis day: October 10th. A real nail biter. The news wasn’t quite as grim as widespread cancer, but it isn’t exactly party central, either. I got the best thing possible: hope for a cure. My cancer has not spread to distant organs, but it has gone to one lymph node and, of course, Little Lump. All on the same side of the body.  Stage 3b lung cancer. Me! Healthy, happy ME!

The statistics are against me. But I’m not dealing in statistics anymore. I refuse to be a statistic. I’m just preparing for a damn good fight.

I’ve gained weight back. Took a leave from school to stay healthier. (Thank you, paid sick time!) Still have fitness goals, but obviously nothing like they were. Finding out everything I can to help me go in the right direction.

That’s all I have for now. Soon, I’ll have more appointments and treatments to write about. Until next time, I’ll leave you with a couple of things. First, the GoFundMe page I set up to help me fight this battle. Every cent of donations will be used accordingly. Second, a few pictures from my adventures this summer, not to be melancholy, but to remind myself (and the world) that I’m going to be this person again when I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Cancer Bitch

Traveling With Mom

 

Jeez, I’m obviously not very good at keeping up with this autobiography stuff. Only two posts all year! Last time I promised that I wasn’t going to take so long to get to the next installment in my life story, a promise that I wasn’t able to keep.  But now that my blog is the focus of my writing life, I may just do better!

At any rate, in case you want to read the first two chapters in the life of me, here’s the story of my first ten years, and here’s the post about my teenage years after losing my beloved Dad.

And now, to continue…

So there I was, with two new loves, writing and maps, but with a family shattered by the death of my dad. My interests didn’t stop me from heading down some wrong paths for a few years, even as I obsessed over road atlases my mom would buy me and created wild stories in my head and on paper about characters who traveled, fell in love, and were a heck of a lot happier than me.  At a very young age I found temporary infatuations with drinking, smoking, and being a pothead. I’m not sorry about doing any of those things, because by the time I was eighteen I didn’t care about any of that anymore, but did care about my stories and my Rand McNally’s. Back then I didn’t think I had any chance to travel or live a life even close to the stories I was writing. As it turns out, I was wrong.

Like a lot of people, my travels started out in the obvious place: Disney World, of course! I was fifteen, it was 1982, and Epcot was just opening. My mom scrounged up enough money for us to go together. It was my first flight, and we also went to Sea World, Cypress Gardens, and Busch Gardens, on a guided tour. The travel bug was planted! I have my mother to thank for that. Here’s a real oldie of me from that trip, at Cypress Gardens. I was really in my Ugly Duckling phase in ’82!

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Florida was a dream, but to me the real prize was getting to California. It didn’t happen for five years after Florida, though we took some smaller trips. Between 1982 and 1992, Mom and I also made it to Amish Country, Washington, DC, New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Nova Scotia, Hawaii, Bermuda, Niagara Falls and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Not a bad take for two ladies who had really never been anywhere! I’ve included a picture from each trip. I have to stress here, too, that this wasn’t all about me, it was about Mom, too. Traveling was a new beginning for her. Not an easy or quick one, but eventually a welcome escape from the black hole her life seemed to be without Dad. She always said that Dad would have been behind her decision to take me places. I’ll just bet he would have been pleased to know that she was finally starting to get some satisfaction out of life again.

Mom never forgot her first and only love. But I fully believe she was finally able to let go of him more after fifteen years, ten years of which we were going places together.

I held down a full-time position in a local factory during most of these years. Our travel schedule wasn’t too wild yet, so I was able to squeeze the trips into paid vacations. That would get trickier as our travels got more sophisticated…and personalized.

While Mom and I were bonding ever closer and getting better at the travel thing, relations in our family were falling apart. Assumptions of favoritism were rampant, resentments cropped up that my sister, who is disabled, had to be taken care of while Mom was gone. Money problems were always at the forefront of every conflict. Things didn’t get any better, though everyone said they wanted Mom to enjoy life. In fact, things got steadily worse. I used to say that we weren’t a dysfunctional family, because that would indicate we were functioning, just not the right way. Hardly the case with us; we weren’t functioning at all. Because of this, Mom and I could never be completely happy traveling. She was filled with guilt for leaving her daughter, who required total care, in the hands of someone else, when she had always provided for her. Being far away from home without the option to get back quickly was tough for her. Sometimes she would cry and worry. My job was to cheer her up. It didn’t always work, but we still had plenty of good times.

We didn’t give up. Soon, traveling would get even more interesting. We’d leave the guided tours behind and start making our own fun.

That’s when I learned how to read those maps I was obsessing over. The United States and Canada were soon to be our oyster!

Eight Things I’ve Learned With Age

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As we get older, the world expects us to look like we’re younger, act like we’re younger, and covet youth. We’re supposed to want to be the Kardashians with their bright orange six-figure cars, or those twentysomethings making fashion statements at Coachella. At 52, I’m all for looking and feeling young. I routinely have others telling me I look at least ten years younger than my actual age. And damn right, I’m going to fight old age every step of the way, like the old Oil of Olay commercials said. But I don’t covet the Kardashians and their ridiculous vehicles and lifestyles, Coachella fashions and the people who wear them, or even youth in and of itself. Truthfully, when I grew up was a much nicer time than now. I know what it’s like to be able to get in a car with a near-stranger and come out alive.

I’ve learned a lot of other things from aging. Here are eight of them.

1. Let Others Have the Last Word

When you’re young and opinionated, you always have to get in the last word, to “make your voice heard.” Getting the final say is gratifying, like “Yeah, I guess I told him/her!” A real adrenaline rush, even. As the years have gone by, I’m so much more likely to give others the last word so they can feel like they told me. I’ve come to understand that last words leave the ball in my court, just where I like it to be, and leave sometimes angry conversations dangling with the other person’s unfortunate or ugly words the last thing said. The ability to do this also says, “You’re right, I’m wrong,” even if you know it isn’t true. We love to be right. Give the other person that pleasure. Maybe you can even say it: “Yeah, you’re right,” with a little knowing smile. Leave them wondering what you really mean. In the end, you’ll feel better, especially when the dust settles and you turn out to be the one in the know. Don’t expect the other person to be able to congratulate you on your know how. Congratulate yourself on giving them the final say.

2. Love Takes Many Forms

I spent a major part of my youth pining “for love,” when the greatest love of my life, my precious mother, was right there with me. (My other great love, my father, passed away when I was ten, so I missed a lot of his wonderful gift.) I don’t regret feeling this way, because even as I pined I got so much from her and didn’t take advantage of it. But what I know now is that I don’t have to be in a committed relationship or be engaged or married to be loved. In fact, I feel like with the lifestyle I lead, not having a steady partner is much better for me. Love comes in many other forms: siblings, more distant family members, friends, students, coworkers, animals. I’ve met people on social media that have become very important to me, even if I may have just seen them face to face a couple of times in my life, or not at all. Once again, it’s our society that makes us believe if you’re not “with” someone, then you aren’t worthy.  Complete nonsense. If I can be forever single and build a wall of love around me, believe me, you can, too.

3. Money is Important, But it’s Not THAT Important

I absolutely was one of those young people that wanted to be “rich” and “famous.” Then I went through a phase that I only wanted those things because I wanted to help others. I landed somewhere in between, just wanting to do what I love and be nice to people and help when I can. You don’t have to have millions to do that. Still, it’s not accurate to say that money isn’t important, because it is, to a certain extent. But it isn’t everything. As the years go by, I’ve come to realize that you don’t really need a huge amount of money to be able to live a good life. And money attained by hard work is much more appreciated than funds handed to you by someone else. Having enough money to pay your bills and have some money left over to enjoy life is the best thing. Not having enough is too stressful to enjoy much of anything, having too much makes you indulgent.  Time is an important commodity in this one, too. Finding a good balance of making enough money to feel good about things without working more than your forty hour work week and cutting into your ability to enjoy it should be the goal.

4. The Lottery is a DUMB Dream

Guilty! I was one of these, too. In fact, I dedicated a whole blog to the stupidity of the lottery For starters, read about what really happens to the average Joe when a whole bunch of free money drops into his lap when he never had any. Secondly, this is not a goal. Have a goal that you have some control over, instead of wasting your time dreaming about something so random. Winning the lottery is not the least bit realistic. It’s not even a dream, it’s a fantasy. Do you really want to live your life around a fantasy? Get a job at Disney World. At least you’ll get a real paycheck. Sure, someone has to win those jackpots. But the probability that it’s going to be you are basically zero, and you could end up spending a lot of money trying to make it happen. Think about this, too: having enough money to buy everything your heart desires is a wonderful thought. But just how long is that list of things you want, and do you really need to win millions to satisfy it? I’ll just bet that unless you’re totally greedy and silly you can satiate your needs by going to work every day. And you’ll appreciate what you get more, too!

5. It’s Okay to Slow Down

I understand the unnecessary aspects of speed now. It doesn’t really get you anywhere faster. It makes you crazy and impatient and it puts other people in danger as well as yourself. I talk a lot about the way some people act in their cars. Wrote a blog about that, too! But that’s not the only way to slow down. Are you highly competitive? If you are, why? Do you have the need to be better than other people? I have a groundbreaking idea to suggest: why don’t you just be better than you? Instead of having to bowl other people down in your path? I have friends that go through life trying to do too much too fast, attempting to stuff too many things into too short of a time. How about prioritizing and leaving something for later or another day? How about taking more time to enjoy what you’re doing, and putting a little less time into things you don’t really want to do but feel like you have to do? Part of slowing down is saying “NO” sometimes. I could write a whole blog about that…but won’t right now! I’ll just say this: it’s okay to say no!

6. You Only Have Control Over You

How many times in your life have you tried to control other people? How many times have people tried to control you? If you don’t have control over yourself, you are, inevitably, going to attempt to control someone else. Everyone needs to control someone. (That’s one of my strongest beliefs in life.) Sometimes the need to control comes from envy, from those who see you living a life better than them. They want to bring you down, and they’re called “haters.” Haters rarely have control over their own lives. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be haters and would have something better to do than control someone else. If there are things in your life that you cannot control that you should be able to control, change them. End relationships. Start relationships. Get a new job. Spend less money. Lose weight. All these things are empowering and will do the double deed of scaring away people who want to feed off you.

7. Some People Do Change!

Yes, this one kind of hurts, but sometimes people do change, and you have to accept that they are different. I know this is a really stupid example, but when Guns N’ Roses started touring again a few years back, I couldn’t wait to get tickets. All I heard from friends when I asked them to go with me was what a jerk Axl Rose was, like, two decades ago or more. It really got me thinking how hard it is to live down a reputation. Yet the same ones who don’t let others turn over a new leaf want everyone to accept them when they try to do something new. Jeez, let’s give each other a break! Sure, plenty of people never change and just keep making the same nonsense mistakes over and over again no matter how many chances they have. But that’s not true of everyone. And by the way, Axl Rose is now a consummate professional. Go, Axl!

8. It’s Not That Hard To Be Nice!

Sometimes you’re nice to others and it isn’t very rewarding. Don’t bother with those folks. Just keep walking. But if you say hello, or meet eyes with someone, or smile at strangers, you’d be surprised just how friendly human beings are, and hey, maybe your smile or your hello is the only good thing that has happened to them all day. We tend to forget that we’re all in this race together, we all have problems, we all have feelings. Treat others how you want to be treated. If someone doesn’t treat you like you want to be treated, keep moving. But don’t be afraid to put some genuine goodness out there. Lead with a smile and hope that it’s contagious.

Getting older isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Not learning from your experiences is.

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Hiking Moab: Outside the National Parks

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You don’t have to know me too well to know that I love hiking, and if I had my choice of doing it anywhere in the world, I’d choose Southern Utah. I’ve been a heck of a lot of places on the globe, but I just can’t get enough of my coveted Promised Land. Most people who’ve been to the vast and exciting area choose to go to what I call “the other side,” meaning Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. I completely understand why: easier access from Vegas, much more well known. Guess I can’t blame them. And hey, less traffic on “my side,” which is the east side of Southern Utah. Moab and I  met way back in 1995, quite by accident, when my beloved Mom and I wanted to see Arches and maybe just a bit of Canyonlands on one of our first road trips. Which we did! Love was born. Love has only grown. In fact, when I buy an RV and head out to live on the road in a few years, guess where I’ll be heading first? Maybe I’ll never leave!

Today, I’ve done so much hiking in Arches and Canyonlands that when I went back this summer I decided to explore outside the parks. Frankly, Arches is wonderful, but it’s so small and there are so many vehicles choking the roads that I take a pass now. I’ve pretty much hiked everything there and with plenty of other wonders to keep me busy, I’m not hankering yet to do them again. On the other hand, I still have not had enough of Canyonlands. It’s much more remote, way bigger, and offers four “districts,” two of which I haven’t even set foot in yet. So, I did spend some time there yet again, repeating hikes I haven’t done in a few years. But here are a couple of treks beyond the famous parks that I’d give about seven hundred stars to. They’ll feed your hunger for the Arches and Canyonlands, with a lot less human traffic.

Fisher Towers

Located on the gorgeous Utah 128, Fisher Towers is an absolute stunner about 20 miles east of Moab. Leave I-70 at exit 214, SR 128 West, not at US 191 the way the interstate signs say, and take this lesser known and used route to Moab. You can thank me after you do it. I’ll talk more about the highway itself below, but for now let’s concentrate on Fisher Towers.

As you near the majestic and castle-like towers, there will be a few pull-offs along SR 128. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any of these are the official parking areas for the Fisher Tower Trail; they aren’t. The actual trail is about a mile down a well-maintained gravel road that is accessible by any vehicle and has its own clearly seen sign. Any of those other lots will have you on horse trails. I made that mistake, though I can’t say I’m at all sorry, as I was hiking surrounded by arguably the most incredible scenery on Earth, and different 360 views than the Fisher Towers Trail. But if you only have a few hours to hike before you continue on to Moab, take the signed dirt road.

Before I did this hike I found some misleading information that designated the trail as easy. Don’t make this mistake, either. Fisher Towers isn’t easy. It’s rocky, the footing is tricky in some places, and there’s 1,800 feet in gain/loss over approximately five miles round trip, including a ladder. I suggest full hiking gear, most importantly sturdy boots and socks high enough to keep you from collecting dirt. There’s also very little shade if you’re hiking in warm weather, not a drop of water, even though the Colorado River is not far away on the opposite side of SR 128, and slippery sand in several places. But make no mistake about it, the payoff is grand. The rusty sandstone towers resemble man made ruins, so much so that when I posted pictures on Facebook I had to explain that the scenery is the handiwork of none other than Mama Nature.

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The entire trail is a spectacle to behold, but the real payoff is the first mile and a half. Expect nothing better than that and you won’t be disappointed when you get to what appears to be the “end” and find many little side trails to views your jaw has already dropped for a thousand times. Find your personal favorite and have lunch before you head back to your car.

Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail

This is one of those trails that I can’t believe I didn’t do the first several times I was in my favorite place. Do yourself a big favor and don’t GPS this one! The route GPS or Google Maps gives you is misleading. The trail is totally simple to get to from Moab. Just head toward Arches National Park on 191 North from town and turn left on SR 279, another beauty, albeit a short one. Drive with your head on a spindle until you come to the well-marked trail parking lot on the right hand side.

The Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail is another hot, dry, sandy one with a big time reward. It’s much flatter than the Fisher Towers hike, with less than 500 feet in gain/loss, a lot of it on the initial climb from the parking lot. If not for some rather tricky cables and a ladder, I’d rate it as easy. The hardware makes it moderate. And yes, you can see the arches without ascending the ladder, but don’t you dare miss a closer look.

I had the whole fabulous area to myself, though All Trails rates it as “heavily trafficked.” It’s fair enough to say that the cables and ladders will keep some people away. Don’t be one of those people; it’s takes about two minutes to do both, and the cables have very good footholds, though I wouldn’t recommend doing it with dogs, children, (including those on your back) or in wet or icy conditions. This trek is real National Geographic stuff and better yet, can be done in a matter of two to three hours, including all the silly selfies you can muster.

Highway 128

Okay, it isn’t really a hike, and if you’ve never been to an area like Southern Utah you probably can’t fathom a highway being a destination, but take my word, SR 128 to Moab is a trip in and of itself. When I go to the area now I’m prone to just parking on the side of the highway, donning my backpack, and setting off to see what I can see. When you leave I-70 it’s going to take an hour or so of driving for SR 128 to “get good,” but when it does, oh, it’s pretty fantastic! The Colorado River will start out to your east, on the left side of the road, but will eventually flow underneath the highway and end up on the right the remainder of the way to Moab. Before long you’ll enter the Colorado Riverway Recreation Area, scene of delight for paddlers and rafters. I had my first trip on the river this summer, but that’s another blog! Soon Fisher Towers come into view on opposite side of the road, with Castleton Towers thrown in for good measure. I’ve always thought that this land of wonder could be a national park. Maybe it will be someday.

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Closer to Moab on 128 are Grandstaff Canyon and Icebox Canyon. I intended to do Grandstaff while I was there this summer, but I ran out of energy! Next time.

My side of Southern Utah offers so much, inside and outside the national parks. This is just a morsel of what the area offers to hiking fans, not to mention mountain bikers, BASE jumpers, and many other adventure seekers. I like to say that if you ain’t been to Moab, you ain’t really been. When are you going?

My New Direction

 

Did you ever do something you’ve always wanted to do and ended up wanting to do something else instead? Well, I did just that!

For decades, I wanted to write and publish books. With the opportunity that self-publishing brought, I went for it and gave birth to seven works of fiction, all of which I love and am very proud of.  Those seven titles came out between January of 2017 and April of 2019. Meanwhile, I started blogging here about a year and a half ago and realized that I also love doing that. As I went along, I noticed that more than anything I was writing, my travel and hiking blogs were attracting attention. Made me wonder if maybe I had to rethink my focus, as there’s only so much time in a day, particularly when you already work a full-time teaching job. Even as I wrote books about rock and roll groupies, it was always on the back burner to align all my writing with the things I do everyday and love to do. Makes perfect sense, right?

Cut to the beginning of this year. I start my 2019 travels. Trips to see my niece in South Carolina. Patagonia. Portugal (again.) Road trips. Sri Lanka. In between, lots of hiking and weekend trips. The book writing starts to slip. And then, it naturally takes a back seat. To the point that I hardly even want to put out that last book, as hard as I worked on it. I did it anyway. Got some blogs out there, too. And wished that I could find time to post more. The outdoor fun continues, and soon, the fiction writing is totally derailed, even though my plan was to have ten books “out there” before I considered a change in focus. Suddenly, traveling, hiking, and blogging about traveling and hiking are the most important things, and what continue to garner me the most attention.

Well! I did revive my fiction pursuits for long enough to edit two more books this summer, and I have two others in pretty good shape, one of which I totally forgot existed! But after an incredible year of travel and adventure (with still more to come!) I had to make a decision. And here’s what just kept coming up: I want to get paid to take road trips. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but that’s what I want, and that’s what I’m pursuing. I plan to take an early retirement from my teaching job in three years and live on the highways of the United States and Canada in an RV (and to further explore Australia, New Zealand, and any other countries that beckon in the same fashion.) Until then, I’m going to learn how to support myself doing what I love to do most. And folks, I loooooove being on the road.

My blog will be the cornerstone and first step toward that dream. Soon, I’ll be monetizing. Yeah, I love looking at my website so pristine and pretty and without all those annoying flashing ads. But if I want to live my dream I have to get going on figuring out how to pay the bills while on the road and to supplement my retirement income.

Some other ideas are to start a YouTube channel, get public speaking gigs, and write how-to books. I’ve already begun a guide to being a pro at road tripping. Click here for a preview. I’m also collecting names for an all-new newsletter with more travel, hiking, and lifestyle advice and information. You can sign up here if you would like to receive it.

Changing directions is so tough, even if you know it’s what you should do. But I feel excited and optimistic about my decision, like everything is aligning just the way I want it to!

Thank you to everyone who has supported my writing career thus far, to everyone who has followed my blog, and to those who have read and enjoyed my work.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Be A Weekend Warrior!

As I head back to my teaching duties after another summer of total freedom, I’m faced with the prospect of not being able to leave town for three whole months. It’s the longest stretch of time of the year for me that I have to be home, playing it cool. Most people have twelve-month jobs with even longer periods between time off. If you’re in a new job, it could take a year or more before you have a paid vacation. Maybe you don’t even get a paid vacation. Does that mean you have to be miserable until you’re cut free for more than a few days in a row? Absolutely not! The answer is to become a Weekend Warrior!

Yeah, we all have to clean our homes, take care of the yard, and pay the bills. But, we have to be careful that those things don’t encroach on our down time. What you NEED to do doesn’t have to always eat up the time that you could be doing what you WANT to do with. Make this your mantra: DO MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND LESS OF WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. That’s the first step in being a Weekend Warrior. Don’t let what you have to do overwhelm you to the point that you can’t find time for fun!

Truth is, I used to be an obsessive cleaner. Cleaning was my thing. Couldn’t see a spot anywhere. Well, not anymore! I still must live in a clean and tidy home. But you won’t catch me pushing a mop any more frequently than every other week.  I’d much rather be hiking. So, that’s what I’m doing instead of cleaning. The real trick is getting your surroundings just the way you want them, so that when things get a little out of sync it’s quick and easy to get them back that way. If you let things go for too long it’s too difficult to remedy them quickly. That’s when we get bogged down, and soon we’re working instead of having fun. Who wants to spend every hour of free time dusting shelves or cutting the grass?

Once you get things behind the scenes the way you want them, you’re ready to be a Weekend Warrior.

The Great Outdoors

My first choice for the weekend is being outdoors. And you can be sure I won’t be sitting still. Do you know how great it is to love doing something that also keeps you healthy? I read a great article years ago about things that are a waste of money. Joining a gym was included on the list. Can’t help but agree with this. Mother Nature has the world’s biggest gym. And it’s free! “The outdoors” can be just about anywhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in the woods. I’m lucky enough to be able to take day trips to New York City or Boston. The next day I can be in the mountains or hiking around a peaceful lake. Maybe you live close to a different city. Take a bus or train and walk the streets for a day. If you’re a foodie, (I’m not!) sample the street cuisine. If you aren’t, pack a couple of meals in a backpack and find the best view possible when it’s time to eat lunch. Are you fortunate enough to live near a National Park? Well first, I’m jealous! Second, how good of a day or overnight trip is that? Unless you live on the moon, I’ll just bet that you live somewhere near a state park or forest. It takes three hours to hike six miles at a normal pace. In the same three hours you can walk nine miles at a normal pace. Maybe you love being on the water instead of walking around it. Renting a boat for a day doesn’t cost much. I know a lot of people, and not just men, who find fishing totally relaxing. You don’t even need a boat to do that. You can do it from the shore and bring a nice picnic lunch for those moments when the fish aren’t biting. Doesn’t that sound better than cleaning?

The Great Indoors

I personally think that eating out a lot is a waste of money, but if it’s your thing and it relaxes you and allows you to escape thoughts of work, then do it! Maybe a morning walk, lunch at your favorite place, then a movie.  You’ll still have time to relax on the couch at home and have a glass of wine after several hours on the town. How about reading? Does anyone besides me take the time to read as a hobby? This is one that I wish I had more time to do. I’d love to just sit around for hours a day and read. But that doesn’t put steps on the pedometer, and there’s no view! Still, having a book on the kitchen table to read while you have coffee or a snack, or in between Weekend Warrior activities can make those pages go by pretty fast and allows you to keep your brain active and entertained.

Sporting Events

I have to give this its own category, since sports are both inside and outside. If spectating is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities to support local or national teams in every sport under the rainbow. Being there is a lot more interesting than watching it on TV!

Craft Shows and Fairs

It’s staggering how many specialty shows and fairs are out there now to enjoy. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a show for you. You just have to find it. Your local AAA chapter can likely help!

And last, but not least…

Meetup

Don’t have anyone to Warrior with? Need some new and fresh ideas? I highly recommend Meetup. Let’s face it: It’s hard to meet people, what with everyone hiding behind a computer or cell phone. Meetup gives you the chance to come face to face with men and women that have the same interests you do. There are groups for just about everything, and the ones I’ve checked out have made me feel very welcome from the first get-together. It’s 100% free to join, create a profile, and search for events, and a lot of the groups strive to schedule low-cost meetups so members can attend frequently.

Listen…no excuses now! Put down that cleaning rag and have fun during your time off instead!

 

 

Four Things You Must Do in Sri Lanka

 

 

When Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the top destination to visit in 2019, tourism boomed. The country had it all: stunning beaches, incredible wildlife viewing, great exchange rate, colorful and friendly locals. Then, April 21st happened. On Easter Sunday, in the capital city of Colombo, three Christian churches and three luxury hotels were targeted by seven suicide bombers, leaving 259 people dead and the world’s trust in Sri Lanka sagging.

I’m not here to write about the minute details of the attack. What I am here to say is that less than three months later, I visited Sri Lanka, and it’s a perfectly safe place to go. All the pluses mentioned above, and more, hold true. Furthermore, Sri Lankans are not in denial about what happened. They know they have to dig the country out of a hole. They wanted to talk about it. It was refreshing.

If you have plans already, don’t cancel them.  If you’ve always wanted to go, I say: go. My travel companion and I went with One and Only Travels and had our own guide/driver, and four and five star hotels. I’m not getting paid to endorse this company and do so only based on the experiences we had. They offer packages that are flexible and can be changed based on your priorities. Leaving group travel behind was a real plus. And the price we paid was almost embarrassing. We spent two weeks in the country for under $3,000, including airfare, which I booked through cheapoair. 

Here are four things to do that shouldn’t be missed.

VISIT BUDDHIST TEMPLES & HISTORICAL SITES

All the other great stuff aside, my first attraction to Sri Lanka was the Buddhist sites. I remember pouring over books about the philosophy long ago and reading that Sri Lanka was one of the best places in the world to explore Buddhism. Back then, I never thought I’d be lucky enough to get there, especially since it wasn’t considered a safe country due to a 25-year civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2009. But lo and behold, I made it! The grand daddy is to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy, which holds a tooth which is said to belong to none other than Sidhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha. Don’t expect to see the actual tooth unless you stand in an extremely long and slow moving line, but you can certainly easily take in the ritual of the opening of the golden doors that hide it and watching devout Buddhists as they worship the sight of the tooth.

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My personal favorites were Dambulla Cave Temple located in the town of the same name and offering five ancient caves filled with Buddhist images and statues, some as old as 2,000 years, and nearby Sigiriya Rock Fortress, which was not only a monastery for many centuries, but was once the residence of a very creative king.

 

The entrance to the Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, was once in the shape of a giant lion. Today, only the paws and claws remain, but it is a fun, unique, and interesting climb that includes viewing some well-preserved frescoes of scantily clad women that may be a sampling of the king’s many concubines. Ruins of the king’s fortress remain at the top, and the view is pretty great, too!

VIEW WILDLIFE

Since I was always so interested in the Buddhist aspects of Sri Lanka, I never really considered it to be a great place to see wildlife. Good thing my travel companion enlightened me. Naturally, the best place to view animals is at national parks, but don’t be surprised if you see some amazing creature lumbering down the side of the road:

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This gorgeous lady was happy to be photographed and videotaped for a few minutes, but chased our vehicle when she’d had enough! Ahh, what a memory!

Want to really see some elephants? We viewed almost two hundred of them in Kaudulla National Park. We also went to Sri Lanka’s most famous park,  the extremely remote Yala, where we were blessed with spotting a leopard coming to a watering hole for a drink.

 

Extra added bonus at Yala: viewing the raging Indian Ocean. Our tour included two other national parks, but we paid what turned out to be very small additional fees for our guide to set us up to go to Kaudulla and Yala instead. Worth it! These safaris were private, like the rest of our trip. Top that.

We also visited an elephant rescue as well as a turtle hatchery, which I’ll talk more about below.

DON’T DARE MISS THOSE GORGEOUS BEACHES

As an island nation, Sri Lanka has beaches on all sides. We hit the coast as our last stop, south of Colombo, in the Beruwala area. Beruwala is lined with private resorts. It’s also home to turtle hatcheries, which buy eggs from locals who intend to eat them. Instead, the hatcheries bury the eggs and raise the turtles for three years before setting them out into the Indian Ocean.

Side note: I didn’t ask to hold this big, flopping boy. The owner just plunked him in my hands and started taking pictures!  I was afraid of dropping him, and he gave me a scratch or two, not unlike a cat, before I lowered him into the safety of his tank.

Beruwala Beach and the roaring India Ocean lie beyond the boundaries of the resorts, which are protected by security guards. Once you leave the confines of your hotel, you are fair game to any and all souvenir merchants. But the further I got down the beach, the less humanity I saw. Even in a heavy tourist area like Beruwala, it is possible to find a slice of privacy. I also found a monitor stalking around! As the self-proclaimed Lizard Whisperer, I was able to get some pretty good shots of him. Not recommended for everyone.

THE MOUNTAINS

The beach was our last stop before heading home, but as a hiker and a lover of solitude, the mountains of Sri Lanka were the best of the best. To be more specific, the area of Ella was without match on our adventure. This was the place I didn’t want to leave.

Back to Lonely Planet one more time. The famed train from Demodara passes through terraced tea plantations en route to Ella. Lonely Planet rated it as one of the top experiences to have in the entire country. This stumps me, because my friend and I thought it was way over-hyped. The windows were dirty, it was uncomfortable and hot, and children were running up and down the aisles the whole time. If that’s your idea of fun, well, you’re going to love it. We thought being in the car and driving through the plantations was much more wonderful. Oh, and Ramboda Falls, with trumpet flowers in bloom, was simply one of the most jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever been lucky enough to take in.

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Ella is a Westernized town with more than enough restaurants and shops to please the most homesick American. We drove right through and ended up in a remote enclave called 98 Acres with a view of Little Adam’s Peak, which we climbed the next day. We loved this area so much, we talked about going back to Sri Lanka just to spend more time there!

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I’ve just scratched the surface of the wonders of Sri Lanka. Easily one of my favorite countries, with something for everyone. A visitor can get a pretty good overview of the island in a couple of weeks.

Are your bags packed?