What I’m doing now

(This is a NOW page, as proposed by Derek Sivers, and if you have your own site, Sivers suggests that you should make one, too.)

Sharing What Works

I’m Robin Van Auken, and I’m a professional researcher, writer, and educator, specializing in heritage projects.

Robin Van Auken with Hands-on Heritage

I’ve been writing for decades, working first as a journalist and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania. I’m now an author (and co-author) of regional history books, including “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball.

I’m thrilled to announce that “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball” is now in its 2nd edition, and we’re working with an amazing new publisher, Wendy Butler Dean of The Omnibus Publishing. Enjoy!

Play Ball! is a delightful walk down the storied history of Little League Baseball. For those of us who played the dreams of your youth, it brings back mighty memories. For those of us reluctant adults who still dream, it’s a wonderful reminder of what might have been.

John Grisham, Bestselling Author

Do you know that George W. was a Little Leaguer? More to the point, humorist Dave Barry is also a graduate of Little League, and he writes an amusing introduction to a solid book about this American institution. Little League has now been around for more than half a century, and this new history fills a gap in library collections that often focus solely on major league baseball history. This well-illustrated, popularly written account should be on the shelves of every library that serves a community with a Little League team.

It is a story of devoted parents and dedicated leaders who chose this unusual way to teach children some of the most important lessons of life, lessons in loyalty, devotion, skill, teamwork, competition, losing, winning and persistence. Since baseball requires only short bursts of energy rather than endurance, it is well suited for younger children.  It is an inspiring story.

Robert C. Frank, Author of Christ's Team
Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball by Lance and Robin Van Auken

Now available at all major booksellers!

Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball

by Lance and Robin Van Auken

Projects I’m Working on NOW!

As an independent researcher and writer, I can live and work anywhere. So now I’m settled on a quiet island in Florida with no traffic lights. It’s bliss.

Standard Issue Cat

Standard Issue Cat

I’ve adopted a feral cat, and we enjoy a contemplative coffee break on the poolside lanai each morning. Okay, the cat chases lizards while I sip coffee.

Behind my house is a pond where I watch the animals gobble each other at a tranquil pace. Snakes gulp frogs, herons snatch minnows, and red-shouldered hawks carry off ducklings. The mangrove forest that rings the pond is full of life and heart-breaking yet beautiful death.

My work keeps me busy, and it’s fulfilling. So I have no complaints except that I’m too good at it, so it keeps getting piled onto my shoulders. I need to build more boundaries to spend more time watching the wildlife.

I’ve also started painting with watercolors. With no expectations of producing quality, I can paint freely. No one is judging my art; it’s simply an expression of how I feel when I look at a subject. I’m mesmerized by how pigment and water combine on rough watercolor paper.

I aim to keep Mahatma Gandhi’s message in mind: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

I’ve been busy with my business, Hands-on Heritage, working as a researcher and writer helping clients to develop museum content.

Ebers Papyrus

Ebers Papyrus — only one ancient manuscript I’ve been researching recently.

It’s fascinating work, allowing me to do my favorite activity — read!

I’ve become a better researcher as I learn better methods for locating historical and obscure manuscripts, illustrations, journal articles, artifacts, graphics, and more.

A recent project enabled me to expanded my knowledge in the field of medicine and science, and it’s helped me answer a lot of Jeopardy questions.

One of the aspects of working as a contractor is the latency between invoicing (yes, every freelancer and self-employed business owner experiences this!), and the unpredictability of contract length.

Contracts can be long coming, and there can be much time spent waiting for contracts to be awarded/accepted, but my most recent contract has been unusual in that it keeps getting extended. A project that began in Fall 2019 was scheduled to be completed in June 2020, has been extended through January June 2021.

I’m grateful because this provides me with even more opportunities to research, read, and learn. I can only keep contributing the information I find, and develop orderly ways to share this information, however, I’ve accumulated more information that my client can use.

Perhaps I’ll use this excess research in some creative ways in the future. I love to research and hoard information, but content this wonderful should come to life, possibly as blog posts, social media shares, and even books.

Stay safe!

NCC8 Lab Work

It’s been a busy end-of-the-summer for Northcentral Chapter 8 and Intern Ben Conrad (left), as they finish washing artifacts from the Glunk Site (36LY0345) and start the process of cataloging thousands (and thousands) of pieces of pottery and chert. The prehistoric Indian site is one of several in a greater complex in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, and is the latest site excavated by the amateur archaeology group.

What this means for me is I finally have all of the artifacts moved from my office at Lycoming College. Unfortunately they all moved to my house, and are sprawled in my husband’s office as we move slowly through 29 excavation units.

I’m trying to raise funds on Facebook for a stipend for our intern since it’s in my best interest to get the artifacts accessioned soon. I have other projects on the horizon and they may have me considering a relocation. More on that later!

Pigeon Point Lighthouse - Hands on Heritage

Pigeon Point Light Station, visited by Hands on Heritage, is a stately 115-foot structure, the tallest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was originally called Whale Point, inspired by by the gray whales that migrate past the point. It protects ships from the coastal rocks and fog of the Pacific.

I’m wrapping up a month in California, where I’ve been working on an historic project that is moving my career, and company, Hands on Heritage, in a new direction. We’ve been part of a design team that is basically building a small museum in a multipurpose senior center facility that combines a Veterans Memorial and an NFL Alumni chapter in a unique building. It also will house the new YMCA with year-round swimming pools.

This is an active center, with more than 200 volunteers working day and night. Many Veterans organizations meet here, as well as community clubs. There’s a Fun After Fifty group that’s been going since the late 1950s, and it’s only going stronger. While I sit in the lobby interviewing Veterans about their Vietnam experiences, or looking at World War II photos in an album, there’s a senior dance class going on in the gym, a Native Daughters of the Golden State chapter meeting in the next room, a film showing in the auditorium, and clanks and bangs and enticing aromas emanating from the kitchen. It’s a wonderful, homey place and I hope it continues for generations to come. The new building should help guarantee that.

While in California, I’ve had a chance to visit Monterey Bay and the Aquarium there, I also visited the Santa Cruz Pier and the Winchester House, and on a recent stormy day, Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Half Moon Bay.

I have to admit, I love the coast. The interior of California leaves much to be desired. The infrastructure is decidedly industrial and the haphazard mixture of residential with retail and industrial is not lovely. But the Pacific Coast – now that’s gorgeous!

I will return in March 2019 for a week to accession and catalog more artifacts for the project, and at that time I hope to return to Pigeon Point and catch a glimpse of migrating whales.

I was born in San Diego, but have lived on the East Coast from the age of 1. Seeing the West Coast has been an adventure. Some parts are beautiful and stir the imagination. Looking through the community’s historic gallery has been a great deal of fun, and it makes me nostalgic for the days of the “Old West,” however, not the prices! A stagecoach journey from San Francisco to Redwood City in the 1850s could cost you two nuggets of gold, or $32. Considering many people lived on less than $100 per year, that’s a fortune!

My flight back East tomorrow was only 10 times that amount, and will take a fraction of the time. Imagine, for less than $300 I can travel nearly 3,000 miles in under six hours. Nostalgia is grand, but I love living in the future.

I’m taking Hands on Heritage to a new level in 2019, reorganizing my company as a partnership with Lance and accepting national projects.

The opportunities are interesting and we enjoy the travel that they bring.

Currently, I’m in Redwood City, California, working with an architect that’s designed and is building a multi-use facility, the first of its kind. It’s exciting to be helping with the research and writing that’s needed for creating unique displays and exhibits.

The focus is Veterans as well as NFL Alumni, so one day I’ll be immersed in Civil War research, the next day, it will be scanning old newspapers for World War I and II references, then hanging out with NFL alumni who are holding charity events to raise awareness and funds for at-risk children.

Throughout it all, my goal is to find, and share, the best stories that speak to this community.

I’ve accepted a gig with a travel writing company, and I’ve been keeping pretty busy, learning about construction projects in West Africa, child care in Vietnam, marine conservation in Belize, and Spanish language lessons Peru. I’m enjoying this work and, of course, the result is it’s making me want to travel more.

The travel opportunities I write about aren’t simply sightseeing trips abroad. They’re about volunteer opportunities for people of all ages, in all areas of interest, throughout the entire world, with the exception of Antartica. It’s a bit more difficult to volunteer there.

I’ll be sharing my freelance work on this site, also, which means I’ll be deviating from my work with writers. Still, I hope that you’ll learn from my example, and try something new, learn while you are doing it, and share what works.

You can see some of my most recent travel articles on my Articles page. Enjoy, and if you’re interested in volunteering abroad, simply follow the links in the articles to learn more and start your own journey.

Maximo Nivel and Volunteer Forever

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala needs volunteers to help it recover from pollution and tourist impact. Join Maximo Nivel on a volunteer opportunity that let’s you perform hands-on work, and educate the community, to preserve this amazing natural landmark.

My brother-in-law died on Friday.

Only for a minute or two, and then, the hospital’s doctors and nurses revived him.

Seconds before he died, he told his wife, Susan, “Oh, oh, I’m getting that funny feeling again.” Then, she said, his eyes rolled back, and he was gone.

“There was no more David,” she said.

The machine attached to his body, monitoring his vital signs because he had passed out an hour before in a parking lot and decided a trip to the Emergency Room was in order, started spitting out reams of paper and beeping. Susan called out to the ER team that David was “coding,” and they brought in the defibrillator, did chest compressions, and revived him.

When he was back, alert and able to speak, he continued the previous conversation as if nothing had happened. Susan said he explained the episode as euphoric, that he felt warm, happy, and safe in a dark place.

He’d died, and it wasn’t horrible for him. He isn’t afraid for it to happen again.

For the first time since the late-night calls on Friday, I was excited for David. Not concerned. Not afraid. Not worried. I was fascinated that he had experienced something few people do.

This phenomenon fascinates me. What happens at the moment of death? What is the afterlife, if it even exists for some people?

According to Dr. Thomas Fleischmann, an emergency physician since 1982, and who has seen 2,000 people die, David’s experience is not that unusual. Resurrected people generally report having one of several different experiences. David is lucky; he is one of 98 percent of the near-death population who experiences Phase 3, a feeling of being in a dark, comforting place. The other 2 percent who classify themselves in Phase 3 report they are afraid, and that it’s dark, and there are terrible noises, smells, and horrifying creatures.

People describe this hellish place to Dr. Fleischmann as similar to “The Harrowing of Hell,” a painting by medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516).

Other phases of near-death experiences include reports of bright lights, a tunnel, hovering above the scene, music, warmth, and comfort.

Some scientists hypothesize that this feeling of euphoria and concept of heaven is related to the pineal gland, a tiny organ deep in your brain. The primary function of the pineal gland is to produce melatonin. Melatonin has various roles in the central nervous system, the most important of which is to help modulate sleep patterns. The pineal gland is deep within the corpus callosum, safe from injury, we hope.

Jesse Davis, Jr., researched the topic for the Wondergressive blog, and writes, “This minute spec, roughly the size of a grain of rice, is more heavily protected than even the heart with its literal cage of protection, because if something happens to your heart you die, but if something happens to your pineal, you can’t go to heaven.”

The pineal gland also produces dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, which is linked to the foundation of sentience. We are capable of abstract thought and speech, possibly because of the pineal gland’s production of DMT.

More than that, DMT is a narcotic, and it’s one of the most potent and powerful psychedelic drugs known. It’s a hallucinogen that produces dreams when we sleep and is called, by some, the “Spirit Molecule.”

In addition to trickling out at night when we’re experiencing REM and providing us with amazing dreams, DMT is released as a massive flood into our bloodstreams at the moment of death.

The release of DMT distorts a person’s perception of reality, and where someone may be dead for a few minutes, they view it as a lifetime or even eternity. For some people, those with an inclination to be religious, this eternity could be spent in a dream that is their version of heaven. If someone is living in guilt and regret, then perhaps their version of eternity could be hell.

The thing is, the brain continues to function after death, so resurrected people can recall what they felt.

Nearly 20 percent of the people who are brought back to life retained consciousness even during the near-death experience.

Dr. Sam Parnia conducted a study of 1,500 patients who survived cardiac arrest (like my brother-in-law David did) at 25 major medical centers, and the results have left him humbled and amazed.

He said in an interview, “When your heart stops beating, there is no blood getting to your brain. And so what happens is that within about ten sec., brain activity ceases—as you would imagine. Paradoxically, 10 percent or 20 percent of people who are then brought back to life from that period, which may be a few minutes or over an hour, will report having consciousness. So the key thing here is, Are these real, or is it some sort of illusion?”

Parnia is still researching the topic, and has released several books on the subject, including his most recent, “Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death.”

In this book, Parnia contents that, “death is not a moment in time. Death, instead, is a process—a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Innovative techniques have proven to be effective in revitalizing both the body and mind.

Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on the scientific study of cardiac arrest, death, and near-death experiences. He is the director of resuscitation research at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, and an honorary fellow at Southampton University Hospital in the UK, where he received a Ph.D. in cell biology. He is a former fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York and Hammersmith Hospital in London.

As I, and my siblings, get older, death is more and more on my mind. I don’t want to fear it, but I do. There’s so much more to do, to see, to feel, to create here.

But, the very fact it doesn’t last forever is what makes life special.

And with that said, here’s an interesting TED talk by Dr. Christopher Kerr about “Dreams and visions of dying people”:

And here is Dr. Thomas Fleischmann’s TED talk about “From life to death, beyond and back”:

We’re visiting our daughter, and our son’s girlfriend, in Virginia this week, and we’re exhausted. We’re keeping up with younger people, and it’s pretty obvious we just don’t have the stamina. We can’t stay up drinking all night, we can’t go marathon shopping, and we can’t sleep without our fan and its white noise.

Man, we’re definitely old fogeys.

Our son is still “studying abroad,” and won’t be home until later this spring, so we’re getting to know his new sweetheart. Things have certainly changed here, at the bachelor pad. The front room, which used to be filled with various go-bags for extreme sports — snowboards propped against the way, ropes and carabiners and climbing shoes in one pile, scuba gear in another, sky diving chute and helmet in yet another — is now filled with dainty white furniture and a white L-shaped sectional. The X-box was disconnected from the big-screen TV in the front room, making way for the new Christmas tree’s lights. There’s even talk of holding garage sales and getting a new puppy.

Life goes on, and civilization will demand domestication.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, spent jockeying between teaching, writing, and social media promotion. I interviewed an interesting young author with a solid work ethic. I enjoy meeting young people who stay focused, create good work and act responsibly. It’s a contrast to the young people I too often meet who simply take the gift (scholarships and more) for granted.

Sound like an old fogey, don’t I?

I revamped the graphic elements of my podcast. Using the divine geometric artwork and space background was untenable.  Instead, I asked myself, “What would Pat Flynn do?” and purchased a few set of icons with various color backgrounds, spent a day creating a library, and updated my previous podcast posts. So, Bob’s your uncle, and it’s done.

By the way, “Bob’s your uncle”  is a strange Canadian way of saying, “There you are. Well done. Finished it. That’s the way it’s done. Whatever.” Who knows? I’m not Canadian.

Robin Van Auken's stone heartI have an excellent photo to share today. This stone is one I pulled from Tonya’s stocking during a women’s retreat, before all the women arrived. It’s a woo-woo thing, where people are intuitively and blindly selecting a rock that means something to them. Yeah, yeah, sure. Only it really did work for me.

When you look at this rock, you see it is a heart. It has a rough, scared, expanded half, and a pristine, new and young half. I placed it on my desk to take a photo, and the funny thing is, the striations in the stone match the wood grain of the desk below, so it looks translucent. So, pretty, pretty, pretty cool. Don’t you think?

I’ve started working on the great, secret Hands on Heritage project I’ve been dreaming about for years. It’s been niggling away in my brain, and finally I spoke it aloud to my friend Nancy Baumgartner. Things fell somewhat into place when I inherited my friend Rosemary Neidig’s notes on South Williamsport, notes she had dreamed of turning into a book. Instead of a book, we’re creating a community wiki site. We have an informal business plan outlined, and we have the first group of volunteers in place, ready to start their work on the project. I created the website as a testing platform and a tangible item for the proposal.

Also, in other news, I’ve been working with my daughter via her business, Vandenberg DC, and expect some writing work to come my way soon. She landed a massive advertising contract for her largest client/partner, and there’s work to be done. I’m crossing my fingers that the bulk of it comes my way. The difficulty is, even though my work is excellent and I’m very fast, I’m also more expensive than the usual contractors she hires. See the note that says I’m excellent and fast — so where is the problem? If my work is better and quicker, then the company saves in the long run. That’s a mental obstacle she needs to hurdle.

Lonely mourning doveIt snowed again this morning, and the poor hungry birds are scrounging at the feeder. I need to go outside and fill it. We have one lonely mourning dove who visits daily. It’s mate was killed by a hawk in September, so it’s been visiting alone, or tagging along with another dove pair. It’s a bit sad.

In other news, classes have begun at Lycoming College, and my poor Event Planning class is crammed into a classroom that’s too small, and they struggle using the iPads, which don’t all have the proper software installed. To make up for the inconvenience, the IT department has us shuffling between four different locations, three of which are computer labs spread across the campus. So, each Tuesday and Thursday, it’s a scavenger hunt to find the classroom.

Of course, I posted the classroom location on both the academic calendar and the shared Google calendar, and I shared a Google Drive Doc with the students, but I’m sure I’ll have a continual parade of students who “can’t find the class” and use it as an excuse to be late or absent. It happens.

Great news! Working with a wonderful publisher to reprint “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball,” and I’m thinking this will be the year to try to reach the Bestseller’s List.

Wendy Dean of The Omnibus Publishing is a young, energetic and brilliant woman with great ideas for marketing the book.

I’ve been busy this week, converting the old PageMaker files into Adobe InDesign CC, with a short run through Adobe InDesign 6.0 first, and there’s not too much to do except create a final chapter, update the Appendix, and make some edits. Lance spent the weekend re-reading the book and making some changes to the copy, since it’s been more than 17 years since we wrote it.

I interviewed a source for a new sidebar on the Major League Baseball Little League Classic, and I’m trying to convince Lance to add another sidebar about Cuba and its interest in LLB.

I’ve also been working on my podcast, getting more familiar with the process of interviewing writers and using the tools and software to edit the audio. I have to admit, I love to learn new things. The first few podcasts were conducted live, from my home office. I’ve done my last two interviews using Skype with the eCamm addon, and it’s pretty slick. The cost to call a landline is cheap, too. It was less than 15 cents to chat for 20 minutes.

Since the second interview was for the Play Ball sidebar, I took notes in a Google Doc, and I’m using oTranscribe to complete the transcript process. I can keep up with most of the notes, probably catching about 80 percent of the quotes verbatim, but the recorded audio makes it 100 percent.

I’ve also got another awesome project on the horizon with Hands on Heritage, but more about that later. For now. I’m content to focus on “Play Ball!” and my podcast.

Bald eagle on Bokeelia, Pine Island, Florida,

From our back yard in Bokeelia on Pine Island, Fla.: A juvenile Bald Eagle (very large, so likely a female) was surveying our pond this foggy morning while we were having coffee on the lanai. Beautiful way to start the day.

It’s the final day of 2017, and soon we’ll embark upon a fantastical human construct: the New Year.

It’s cold here in the Highlands of Pennsylvania. It was 9 this morning, and in a couple of days, we’re forecast for a low of 0 F.

Yes, Zero.

Coronita by the pool

I’m trying hard not to think about the sunny, halcyon days of our vacation last week, spent at our house on Pine Island, Florida. The temperatures ranged from 68-80 F, and we sat on the patio by the pool, sipping Coronitas with lime. During the day, we relaxed around the house, went on a boat cruise, played golf and ate fabulous meals. At night, we sat in the spa and enjoyed wine coolers while we listened to peepers and crickets.

We spent a bit more than a week at the house, and it was heavenly.

I left the premises only twice, for groceries and the boat ride, and I read a novel. Even the chores were fun.

I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but having a luxury house in a temperate, beautiful locale is so much nicer than facing the bitter cold and the snow that awaited us at home.

We’ve overfilled the bird feeder, and as we while away the rest of the winter holiday at home, we’re alternating between watching football and birds outside. I’ve got some tasks I need to complete for my business, and I’ve been working freelance with Vandenberg DC, performing SEO and writing blog posts. Not bad work, and easy to accomplish,  considering I have to wear fingerless gloves to type.

We have electric heat so we keep the thermostats around 62ish during the day, and colder at night. We bundle up in layers, with sweaters and thick socks. I keep the Vitamin D coming, since I tend to experience the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the long, dark winter months.

Take heart, my husband says, the days are getting longer. We’re already on our way to summer.

Despite the cold winter days (and nights), I’m counting my blessings. I have great, interesting work to do, two beautiful homes on water and surrounded by wildlife, a loving and successful family, and I’m healthy. It truly will be a wonderful, new year.

“Schools Out!”  is probably one of my favorite sayings. It’s the end of the semester, and I’ve weaseled work out of several sluggish students, pushing them to improve from Cs to Bs, from Bs to As, and now we’re all off to enjoy our winter break.

I’m heading to Florida tomorrow with Lance, and we’re taking the Wonder Dog, Chubbers, with us. She’s an Australian Shepherd and Husky mix, so she’ll most likely be distressed that the temperatures are above 60.

Speaking of temperatures, it was 12 Flipping Degrees this morning! Crikey. The river is icing over, and the birds are huddling on our deck, swarming the bird feeders for extra energy. And with the birds come the hawks, so every once in awhile the smaller birds (Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, House Finch) scatter, while the large mourning doves crouch beneath the rail and silently watch. We have three mourning doves that are overwintering here. The fourth was attacked by a hawk in September, and we averted our eyes each time we walked past the explosion of gray feathers in the gravel driveway.

We’re abandoning Miles, the cat. He’ll have to fend for himself while we’re away. I have friends who will stay the night and hangout with him throughout the week, but for the most part, he’ll hunker down and nap on the window seat, the warmest spot in the house during the day. At night, his 25-pound bulk will leave an indentation filled with black fur on my side of the bed. That’s how he rolls.

I’m excited to get to Florida, where we’ll celebrate Christmas with family. The kids (hah, no longer kids – they’re in their 30s) are abroad, so we won’t see them this year. We’ll catch up when everyone is on the same continent. Thank goodness we have Google Hangout. It’s a great way to chat and share photos.

We’re taking our scuba gear to Florida, and hopefully we’ll get wet. At the least, I’d like to snorkel. I’m looking forward to a sloppy burger and a cold beer at Capt’n Cons, the local dive bar. We’ll catch some of the locals at Karaoke and smile at their talent. I swear, Pine Island is where lounge singers go to retire.

I plan on writing while I’m away, maybe push out some chapters in my latest novel, Dead Line. No more writer’s block excuses; just need to do it.

So, that’s what I’m doing NOW. Happy holidays, everyone!

It’s been a busy month filled with tutorials as I’ve learned about and launched my podcast, Let’s Talk Books.

I’m lucky to live in a small town because my podcast has been picked up by a local public radio show, spreading the love.

I interviewed three gregarious  women during my first few episodes, then I interviewed a reticent man. In the past, I asked a few questions, sat back, and listened, and my guests did all the work. Not so with Mike. I should have remembered he’s humble, quiet, thoughtful. It kept me on my toes, asking a variety of questions and sharing a bit of my own backstory.

I’m learning a great deal about podcasts and the technology behind the platform. I hope it’s something I continue to enjoy. As a former journalist, I enjoy talking to people and discovering their stories. I hope my audience enjoys the topics they share.

I find myself listening to other podcasters more frequently, now that I am developing my own show. I enjoy experimenting with technology and researching new topics. It’s my favorite thing to do.

If I could translate it into income, it would a perfect occupation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s a been a year since I began my NOW page, and it’s interesting to review my journey.  This was a difficult year for conquering fear, in the face of cancer threats and surgeries. All is well, and I’m happy, happy, happy.

I’m spending Thanksgiving at my son’s house, as he and my daughter prep for their latest trips abroad. She’s going to Europe, and he’s heading for, well, never mind.

They’re both brilliant with their work, and their career choices means they go to absolutely amazing, if sometimes desolate and dangerous, places.

They’re alive, living large and brave in the moment.

That’s the beauty of youth and singularity, not fearing for another person’s safety.

I once was fearless. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted, and I asked no one for permission. The arrogance of youth, unafraid of poverty, people and places. Then I grew up and got married, and things changed.

I can recall the first moment I felt intense fear.

It was the moment I held my son in my arms, after a difficult and long delivery, and listened to the doctor talking about a problem that was “as rare as hen’s teeth.” I can’t recall the problem, but there was a bout of jaundice accompanying it, so his stay in intensive care was short.  I had sleepless nights of worry for the next few years, as he grew into a toddler, and then a big boy.

My next moment of intense fear was the birth of my daughter.  This time, normal delivery was averted, and I arrived at the hospital on my appointed date. What followed was harrowing, and my tiny daughter spent the next 30 days in the neonatal critical care ward. A “blue baby,” she was rushed through an adjoining tunnel to the children’s hospital next door, and was given a 10 percent chance to live.

“We’ll take it,” my determined husband said.

We kept vigil at her incubator, not allowed to touch her, only watch. She had a persistent fetal syndrome, so she was kept on oxygen, which blew out her tiny lungs. She had surgery to repair the pneumothorax, without anesthesia. She developed a blood clot in her aorta, that the doctors speculated would travel to her leg, requiring amputation. She had 60 X Rays in 20 days.

The clot didn’t go into her leg. It went into her kidney, destroying that organ, and causing hypertension. The doctors placed her on Lasix.

Eventually, her 10 percent survival rate climbed, and her bed slowly moved from one end of the horseshoe configured ward to the other, and finally out the door.

For years, every morning and every evening, we gave her medication and took her blood pressure, until she “grew” into a normal range.

Since the birth of my children, I’ve lived in a state of perpetual fear. I admit it. As long as I’m alive, I’ll be hyperaware of them and their safety. It’s what mothers do, I guess.

That’s where fear lives — in the moments where we watch our children’s tiny chests rise and fall, and rise and fall, and pray that this will continue. When they go outside to play and cross the street. When they ride their bikes or walk to school. When they get their driver’s license and go into traffic. When they leave home to go to college. When they fall in love and then their hearts break. When they embark on careers that take them far, far away.

That’s also where love and pride lives.

I encourage my children to live every moment, alive in the moment, even if it’s an extreme moment, and I give thanks every day for their presence in my world.

I’m studying The Power of Habit, an awesome book by Charles Duhigg, that explains why I do what I do, instead of what I want to do.

I’ve been thinking about this problem I have with time wasting, and how I can forge a new pattern of work. I’m hoping that spending a few hours everyday reading about ways to quit wasting time and get to work will help me stop spending a few hours reading.


That’s the solution. I need to quit worrying about trying to stop wasting time and instead enjoy the fact that I’m spending my time reading. How can reading be a waste?

Tomorrow, bright and early, I’ll head out to Muncy, PA, with a small crew of volunteers to survey a wood for a significant historical site: the homestead of Capt. John Brady (1733-1779) and his family.

A Colonial hero, Brady fought in the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s War, and every battle during the first two years of the American Revolution.

Brady made his way to the Highlands of Pennsylvania after receiving a land grant for service during the Bouquet Expedition (Pontiac’s War) and built a private stockade on his land in 1776, which he called “Fort Brady.”

According to historians, Brady’s house was large for its day: “He dug a 4-foot-deep (1.2 m) trench around it and emplaced upright logs in that trench side by side all the way around. He filled the trench with dirt and packed the dirt against the logs to hold the log wall solidly in place. This log wall ran about twelve feet high from the ground. He then held this wall in place upright by pinning smaller logs across its top, to keep the wall face steady and solid.”

The fort also served as a trading post, and provided refuge to settlers beleaguered by raiding Indians. It held strong for more than two years, until Brady was assassinated on April 11, 1779. Initial reports were that Brady had been killed by Native Americans, but recent research presents strong evidence that the deed was arranged by local landowner Samuel Wallis, who was, in fact, loyal to the British and not a Patriot, as he lead his neighbors to believe.

Read more about Wallis and his machinations here >>>

In July 1779, warring Native Americans burned homesteads in the valley, including Fort Brady.

Now an overgrown, wooded site along Glade Run in Muncy, the location that once served as Fort Brady has been lost to time. It was researched in 1936 by a Works Progress Administration-appointed archaeologist, Harry Schoff, and also by a local amateur archaeologist, Clark Kahler.

The two disagreed about their findings. Kahler claimed he located the fort, while Schoff did not. Instead, Schoff focused on excavating large trenches in search of Native American artifacts, and reports he discovered a “Thunderbird Effigy” made of cobblestones. Kahler pooh-poohed the report, saying the cobblestones were actually part of Fort Brady, and that Schoff was inept.

Working with Muncy Historical Society and Museum of History, my task is to locate the lost fort. Using Kahler’s records, my husband, Lance, has a theory about the location. We will head out this weekend and conduct a Phase I archaeological survey in the area, digging a series of test pits, to see if we can discover traces of Fort Brady, or previous archaeological work at the site.

If I find artifactual remains, historic or prehistoric, I’ll register the archaeology site with the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission. That is the first step in protecting and conserving the site.

If granted, I’ll continue to work at the site, holding a Public Archaeology Dig to educate people about the area’s history, and to win hearts and minds for the Historical Society. The site will evolve into a permanent component of the proposed Capt. John Brady Heritage Park in Muncy.

Should be a fun Saturday.

On a whim, my sisters and I drove to Canada the other day. It’s about four or five hours, depending upon traffic, to Niagara Falls from my house, and I convinced my sisters that the view of the falls from the Canadian side is superior.

So, we made an outing of it, heading through Buffalo and stopping at Schawbl’s for authentic Roast Beef on Hummelweck, also know as Beef on ‘Weck. Schawbl’s has been in business since 1837, serving German-American food and capturing the hearts of locals and the reservation of Anthony Bourdain. We wrapped up lunch, tossed back a locally made Ginger Ale soda, and headed for the Rainbow Bridge.

When asked at the border our intentions, I told the young man I craved a Tim Horton’s maple donut and coffee. He asked if we’d bring a box back for him.  Canada has a few cliches, and Tim Horton donuts is up there.

The falls were, as promised, breath taking. We each took an assortment of photos, walked from American Falls to Horseshoe, then headed to the American side for a view of the rapids. Niagara River is about 12,000 years old, and flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms part of the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and New York in the United States. The steady flow and steep gradient combine to make it one of the best sources of hydroelectric power in North America. But most of us visit for the impressive flow of water over the falls.

Our trip home took considerably longer. We decided to stop at Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park, named for a large stand of Black Cherry trees. The park is at the top of the Allegheny Plateau, at an elevation of 2,300 feet. Cherry Springs is popular with astronomers and known for having some of the darkest night skies on the East Coast.

We wanted to stargaze. My sisters, traveling from Florida specifically to visit Cherry Springs, were prepared. We were in a convertible, so we popped the top and cuddled under blankets, staring at the night sky. My sister, Susan, had purchased a special lens for her camera to shoot the Milky Way, visible (along with billions and billions of stars).

I admit, as impressive as Niagara Falls is, the night sky atop Cherry Springs mount is more spectacular. We caught part of the Orionid meteor shower as the bright particles hit the Earth  almost head on. These meteors are part of Halley’s Comet. I find it amazing that we were able to witness a geologic wonder in the afternoon, and a universal miracle that night.

The trip was an outstanding way to spend the day with my sisters, however, the trip home was nerve wracking. The single-lane road down the pitch-black mountains and into town was a series of switchbacks with a steep grade. We crept along at 35 mph, watching out for the numerous deer along the road, and those crossing in front of the car. We must have seen around 50 deer on the road home, and for every deer we didn’t see, there were more in the dark woods.

I perched in the backseat, telling my sister how to drive the winding mountain roads, warning her of the steep ravines to the side, and the glowing eyes along the roadside, since she’s a Flatlander from Florida.

She must have appreciated it, despite barking at me, “Shut up! I know how to drive,” because we’re still talking. I told her if she didn’t want me to nag while she drives, she shouldn’t have enabled me. The fact that we made it home alive, without a single incident, simply supports my belief that back-seat driving must help.

It’s Friday the 13th, and so far the only bad thing that’s happened is my cat, Miles, ate my research.

Well, just the edges. He appeared to be frustrated, having to share my windowseat with piles of books and paper-clipped printouts. I shuttled him to his cat bed to preserve my notes.

Fall is under way here in the Highlands of Pennsylvania, with leaves changing color and falling to the ground with a hushed rattle, and the skies are filled with puffy, low-hanging gray clouds. It’s been drizzling on-and-off for a few days. The temperatures are hugging the mid-50s, which suppresses the stink bug invasion. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop with the annual ladybug invasion.

That’s one aspect of living of living riverside that’s difficult to appreciate: the bug du jour.

There’s always something hatching and swarming and mating and dying, and to prevent the latter, trying to squeeze in cracks around doors and windows and air conditioners to overwinter inside.

Still, living on a cliff along the West Branch of the Susquehanna affords me daily views of birds, including eagles, great blue herons, white herons, merganser ducks, regular ol’ ducks, Canada geese, swallows, kingfishers, tundra swans and more, as they fish the skies above and the waters below the river.

We put out a bird feeder this year, the first one in a decade, because Miles, the cat, is getting older and slower and not hunting as often or well.

It’s such a pleasure to watch the birds feed, and the variety has been intriguing. We keep a copy of a bird identification guide handy, looking up each new visitor and learning about its characteristics and seed preference.

It’s the predators along the river that fascinate me the most. Eagles will perch, nearly invisible, on small logs or rocks in the shallows, and wait for fish to swim by. They’ll wait for what seems hours, but is most likely 30 minutes or so, before pouncing on a trout and then hopping, with it in their talons, to the shore. There, they’ll tear pieces off and feast, for most likely another 30 minutes or so. Then, they’ll bathe, wading into the water and flapping their wings into the water. It reminds me of myself, in the morning, splashing cool water on my face, washing away the night’s sleep.

It’s such a pleasure to live near water and wildlife, even if the bug du jour drives us a bit insane. Without the darkness, there is no light.

(This page was updated October 13, 2017)

Hurricane Irma has caused a bit of upheaval in my life, especially since our new retirement home sits near Naples, FL, where Irma made landfall. The category 5 storm devastated the islands of the Atlantic and Caribbean, wreaked havoc on the Florida Keys and the east coast with storm surge, but the west coast suffered minimal damage compared with expectations.

Our house came through safely, except for debris from trees and plants blown about by the winds, which gusted to 130 mph.

I sat glued to the television, watching the Weather Channel crew foretell death and gloom. I shook my head at the stupidity of the reporters who spread their legs in a determined stance, one hand holding a microphone while the other clamped their raincoat to the top of their heads, and braved the eye wall, outside, for all to see. They were pelted with wind and rain and flying branches, and they staggered and squinted in the melee, but they stood and reported.

I was reminded of the goat tied up in the T-Rex enclosure, an offering to the God of Dinosaurs, the King, in the movie “Jurassic Park.”

When I was a child, probably around six or seven years old, we lived in Miami, FL, and we came outside during the eye of a hurricane. I have a black-and-white snapshot of myself and my brothers, grinning sleepily as we pick our way through a tangle of rubber trees, banyan trees, hibiscus trees, and flattened grass.

I lived in Florida nearly half of my life, and my family never evacuated. We always hunkered down, with plywood over windows, Coleman lanterns at the ready, bread and peanut butter on the counter, water jugs filled, along with the bathtub. A long time ago, we didn’t expect the government to swoop in and save us from the world. We knew a natural catastrophe was shared by all, the fault of none. When it was over, we cleaned up the yard, patched the broken jalousie windows, packed away the plywood, and felt alive, alive, alive.

Yes, I know why the Weather Channel reporters want to stand outside during a hurricane. It’s that moment when they really feel alive, that they have a purpose, even if that purpose is stupid.

We’re humans and we’re stupid, and we have a contract with stupid. Let us be thrilled and narrowly escape death, and we’ll try not to be stupid next time. Until next time, when we re-negotiate that contract. Like I said, we’re stupid.

(This page was updated September 15, 2017)

I live with the fear that all raccoons have rabies. Or distemper. Or cooties and other germs. They’re cute, but I avoid them.

This despite having a childhood friend who had one as a pet. I used to cuddle “Ricky,” until he hit raccoon puberty. One day, Ricky left and he didn’t come back, listening to the call of the wild, instead of my friend at the back door.

Then I grew up and fear set in.

It is just one of many fears I’ve accumulated since I became a parent. Another item on the list: Don’t cross the street, Don’t talk to strangers, Don’t stay out after dark.

This morning, I’m on Facebook and I see a photo of my nephew and he’s hand-feeding wild raccoons that have been foraging in his garbage.

My nephew’s young family looks on in wonder as the tiny paw reaches out to accept the treat. His wife squats and gives the thirsty raccoon a drink from a water bottle.

They call their visitors “Trash Pandas.”

My nephew is trying to break the bonds of fear, encouraging his children to push limits, find their own boundaries, despite the warnings of a worried grandmother and aunties.

Is he brave? Is he foolish?

Probably a bit of both, but at least he’s not allowing fear and anxiety paralyze him.

Why did I allow myself to fear raccoons, worried that they all have rabies?

When did I stop wanting to be with the strange and wild things?

I want a future where fear doesn’t stop me from being brave. From being foolish. It may be a short future, but it will be more exciting.

Are you afraid?

Were you once a brave and foolish child, staying outside after dark, running in the night with your new friends, crossing the streets without looking during a game of freeze tag?

Are you still frozen?

(This page was updated September 4, 2017)

You’re asking yourself, “Where did Robin go for a month?”

Yes, a month. I’ve been off the grid for a month, and it’s been a fairly amazing journey.

First, I drove to Virginia to visit my son, then I hopped aboard the Amtrak Autotrain and headed to Florida. I spent a few days in the St. Pete/Tampa Bay area, before heading to our new, second home on Pine Island.

Yep, we bought a home that’s simply amazing. With an open-floorplan, vaulted ceilings, two ensuite master bedrooms, a pool and spill-over spa, the new home is more than amazing. It’s on a golf course, with its own pond and barely 1,000 yards to Pine Island Sound.

I should be daydreaming about spending my future there. Watching sunsets on the golf course, identifying new birds, fishing, kayaking, lazing about in the pool.

So, why am I still flinching when I think about it?

Because for the past few weeks I’ve been on marathon shopping trips for household furniture and decorations, building cabinets, removing hair clogs out of drains, up to my elbows cleaning toilets, pressure washing the exterior, sweeping, mopping, making beds, and more. I’ve had blisters, burns, cuts, bruises. I’ve fallen down, tripped, lifted and pushed. I’ve spent sleepless nights on thin mattresses and even no mattresses, all in a flurry of activity.

All of this effort for someone else. For the “Renters” of our new home in the South, because we’re not ready to retire. It will be a few years before that happens, and until then, someone will else will watch the brand-new televisions, relax in the spa, adjust the LED dimmers, listen to the peeps and watch the great white heron fish for her dinner by the pond.

Maybe then I’ll be over this conditioned reflex that associates our new home, Otter South, with pain and exhaustion.

I hope so.

(This page was updated August 24, 2017)

It’s been a busier summer than I expected. I envisioned long days spent writing on my novels, reading new selections from the Book of the Month Club, and chilling at the Crosscutters Baseball games.

Instead, I’ve spent most of my time preparing for the annual Lycoming College for Kids & Teens youth program. Last week, I embedded myself at the camp and (literally) put out fires as more than 200 children and 40 teachers and assistants participated in hands-on science, art and engineering classes.

It’s an exhausting experience, but it’s rewarding. I try to be the first face the parents see when they deliver their child to the program, and the last. If someone has a question, a complaint or a compliment, I want to hear it. I try to make a connection with each person attending or working for me, during the week.

As an introvert, it takes its toll on me. It’s an ordeal to speak with so many people.

As a lazy writer, it’s harrowing, because I walked 50+ miles around the campus, checking on classes, solving problems, troubleshooting situations, fixing computers, delivering supplies and ushering children. I enjoy being the director, but it’s the most difficult job I do. That makes the rewards all the sweeter.

(This page was updated July 24, 2017)

There’s been a huge change in our lives: we’ve purchased a second home in Florida, making my husband’s dream of retirement to a golf community a reality.

He’s been fantasizing about a lovely home on Pine Island for a while, and during our recent vacation home, we ventured to the island for a few days. With our iPads in hand, the Zillow app open, we toured many neighborhoods that interested us. These forays into sideroads confirmed two concepts: We wanted to live on Pine Island, and the best neighborhood for us is the Alden Pines Golf Community.

Lance’s brother, Calvin, is a realtor in Florida, so he and his wife, Pam, jumped into their car and took a spontaneous trip to join us on Pine Island. Using his realtor wiles, he contacted the agent for our favorite house, and we toured it.

From that moment on, Calvin paved the way to becoming second-home owners, and it’s been a smooth transition.

We’re still in the paperwork process, but it’s going well and we have a date for the closing. Our plan is to rent the house to “snowbirds” until we’re ready to retire. The plan is a little risky, but all investments are, so while we’re excited, we’re also a little worried. But, we can’t let fear rule our actions. We have to leap with hope and love and optimism.

(This page was updated June 12, 2017)

I’ve been absent for awhile, but with good reason: I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist, and I’m pecking at the keyboard, slowly, with my left hand.

It’s been an opportunity to explore the concept of being ambidextrous. Using the mouse left-handed has also been a challenge.

I’ve been diligent with the hand exercises, setting a timer for every 15 minutes, thanks to a mobile app on my phone.

I need the left-hand corrected, also, so this will not only interrupt my writing, but delay my scuba diving this summer.

Here’s a couple of photos to document this correction, which I’ve needed for 35 years. Carpal tunnel first developed in my wrists when I was carrying my first child. A second child, an auto accident and decades of being a writer contributed to a diagnosis of severe CTS.

I decided to stop avoiding unpleasant experiences because of my fear of suffering, and instead relish the challenge that leads to improvement.

What are you avoiding?

What will it take for you to make the first step?

(This page was updated April 28, 2017)

I read a lot, and one book I’ve been meaning to read is “H Is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald. This massively popular memoir is stunning readers worldwide.

I, too, was affected by Macdonald’s prose. It’s as if she wrote each sentence with care, searching through her Thesaurus for the most lyrical words possible.

As a writer, I sometimes feel a tinge of jealousy when I read a great book. “I wish I could write like this!” is my common thought. I didn’t feel this way with “H Is for Hawk.”

I rejoiced in being a reader, instead.  I read an amazing book and instead of feeling inadequate or resentful because I’m not comparable to Macdonald, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I won’t compare the book’s quality to my favorite, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but I can compare the feeling of contentment I had upon reading it.

If you haven’t read this outstanding book, order your copy today. I’m sorry I waited.

(This page was updated March 28, 2017)

We were supposed to be in Florida this week, checking out Pine Island and enjoying Spring Break (POUT).

Instead, Lance decided we should go in May, and therefore he was in town and able to attend a company staff meeting, a situation he’s using as an excuse to justify his decision. Circuitous logic, for sure.

Now, instead of being in sunny Florida, enjoying warm weather, we’re prepping for Winter Storm Stella (must be yelled like in “Streetcar Named Desire.”) This storm threatens the entire Mid-Atlantic region, and we’re looking at anywhere from 6-inches to a foot and a half of snow. Blizzard conditions and winds up to 50 knots are predicted.


Men need to start listening to women. We could have been sailing on the Gulf of Mexico today. Instead, we’re gathering supplies in case the power goes out and praying it doesn’t since not only will we freeze, but Chubbers and Miles will be most uncomfortable. They have fur coats, sure, but they still will suffer.

I repeat, dagnabbit!

(This page was updated March 13, 2017)

I spent the morning at a workshop with the Heart of Williamsport, and one of our team members brought up that today is March 4th, and we should “March Forth” with our project.


(This page was updated March 4, 2017)

Trying to get back into research mode, but I’m out of phase.

Since slowing down to focus all of my energy on healing, I haven’t been able to catch back up to rest of the world.

I spent weeks resting, reading, meditating, and it paid off. Now I’m ready to get back to work, and it seems like the rest of the world is moving much faster than I am, speaking faster, performing faster.

It’s strange; I feel like I’ve slipped into a different dimension, and I don’t know how to get back in phase.

When I listen to recordings and meditations, the narrator seems to be speaking faster, and I find it hard to focus on what is being said.

Is this an after-effect of anesthesia? I hoped caffeine would help, and it did the first day back on regular coffee.

(This page was updated February 15, 2017)

My philosophy of life centers on “Character.”

I often tell my students, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.” What I mean is, we often try to behave, be our best, when people are watching. But what about those moments when we are alone and nobody is monitoring us? Are we still being the best person we can be? Are we still generous and kind and honest?

It’s a goal I strive for, and most days I reach it, even though my dog, Chubbers, may be the only one witnessing it.

I wasn’t reared in a family with religious beliefs. I think my Mother lost her faith after I was born. She never took us to church; never introduced us to the concept of a God.

For my 7th birthday, a family friend gave me a large, encyclopedic book about the prehistory and history of humans, from Cro Magnon to John F. Kennedy. I adored the book and read it numerous times. It is probably the reason I became an Anthropologist.

It became my Bible.

When I was 8, I went to church with my Catholic neighbor, Donna Ryan. Her family gave me a real Bible, evangelizing. It’s a thick red Bible, but instead of reading it, I stashed mementos in it, like flowers and photos and obituaries. I still have it, and occasionally I look in it at my vintage treasures. The Bible is my treasure box, literally.

Later, when I was 12, I noticed a set of Christian books at the doctor’s office once, and they piqued my interest. It was a 10-volume set called “The Bible Story” by Arthur S. Maxwell. I asked my Mother for the set, and she complied. I read all of them, but with a scientific and historic fascination.

For the next few years, I also read every fairy tale and mythology book I could get my hands on. I don’t recall many lessons, with the exception of one, that stand out in the Bible Story, but I recall many of Aesop’s Fables.

When the popular musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar” hit Broadway, I enjoyed the music and picked up a T-shirt with the logo on it, and for a summer I declared myself a Jesus Freak, but I think I really just enjoyed the music. Jesus didn’t last.

Jesus didn’t last despite multiple attempts by family and friends and visitors knocking on my front door to introduce me to Christianity.

I respect the fact that others have Faith, and that it carries them through difficult times, but because I strive to maintain an honest, kind and generous character at all times, I cannot rely upon Faith when times are tough.

I cannot pray to a spiritual master only when I’m in trouble. And if I can’t pray when I’m not in trouble, it would be disingenuous of me to try it when I’m doing well. This is Cradle Fear, and I cannot allow it in my life.

I married a Christian. Many of my dearest friends are Christians.

This means religion is important to the people in my life, and as a consequence, to me, but I consider it from a respectful distance. I’m curious, but I do not have an emotional connection. Unlike  my family and friends, my heart has never filled with Faith in a religious deity. I wish it could, sometimes, because I wonder what it would feel like.

I may not have faith in the spiritual sense, but I have faith in science and a reciprocal relationship between myself and others that involves both sides equally and in a mutual fashion. In other words, I have faith in the Golden Rule, the one lesson I did take from The Bible Story: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

(This page was updated February 2, 2017)

It’s a snowy morning, the end of January, and it’s my first day back at work. For now, I’m tucked on my window seat with a jar of green (okay, brown) juice for breakfast.

I feel happy and positive, despite overdoing it yesterday. Too much physical work and outings (Doc and grocery store) and I crashed. That means I didn’t have energy to cook, so we ordered out and I succumbed to the God of Gluten. Not a great idea, so we will call it an experiment. Today, I am back on the wagon.

Looking forward to getting into the new semester with my students, and maybe rearranging the syllabus. Shake things up a bit. Get more creative.

I wasn’t sure how long I would be out, so I recorded a month of online tutorials. I can still use them, with lectures and labs.

Again, it was an experiment. We will see how the students felt about the hybrid teaching style. If they liked it, I may use it more often.

(This page was updated January 31, 2017)

January has been a challenge, more so than November and December, for my health, so I’ve been focusing on improving it and healing.

Healing, I’ve discovered, takes intense hours of focus and concentration as I research, and then many languid hours of meditation and contemplation as I rest.

Above all, it takes patience, discipline and delayed gratification. Discipline, I can handle, but the other two personality traits are not my forte.

I’ve been in “healing mode” for more than a month now, which means for the past few months, I’ve also been experiencing a great deal of fear. Taking time to learn about serious health issues and how to tackle them, come out the other side smarter and stronger, has been my goal.

It’s working.

In a previous post, I wrote that I had developed Shingles, caused by the Chickenpox virus. I still have some lingering effects — sensitive skin where the blisters were, and mild vertigo.

I reckon the Shingles were caused by my fear, which kicked up the stress hormone (Cortisol), and diving off the deep end with chocolate to console myself (high arginine food).

Not sure if I mentioned it before, but my fear stemmed from a tumor on my appendix that the Doc found during a routine colonoscopy. It’s the kind of tumor you can’t ignore, and it couldn’t be removed endoscopically. Large and a threat, it needed surgery, and to be D-Double-Dang sure there were no other tumors in the adjacent area, the surgeon recommended a Laparoscopic Hand-Assisted Ileocecectomy. Basically, the Surgeon wanted to remove my appendix, a few extra inches of my right colon, severing my small intestine and reattaching it higher.

I had expected a simple appendectomy, and mentally prepared for it. Crikey, kids get their appendixes out. I wasn’t afraid of that surgery.

But a life-altering reconfiguration of my digestive system, with a couple of important pieces removed? That frightened me.

There was a laundry list of “Things that can go wrong” during and after this type of surgery. That frightened me, as well.

So, after meditation and counseling by my good friend Tonya Anderson of An Exquisite Life, and encouragement and support from my husband, Lance, I soldiered up. I assumed  a calm, curious and brave attitude and checked into the hospital. I stayed “Mindful” and did not react negatively to anything that happened. I kept positive and cheerful, even when I didn’t really feel that way, and I focused on resting and healing and doing exactly what needed to be done.

I entered the hospital on a Wednesday afternoon, and exited it on Monday morning. One day spent in the surgical process and four more days spent in quiet, secluded contemplation and meditation, trying to rest. I was a model patient, always being helpful and cheerful and positive with the team of caregivers, because I couldn’t afford to waste one minute on negativity.

The result? No side effects, no problems and rapid healing.

It comes down to chemistry, I believe, all of my biological woes. And chemistry, I believe, is the answer, along with  the spiritual communion with my body and the universe in which I dwell. My prime directive for two years has been to build my immune system and reduce inflammation. I wasn’t sure how successful I had been until these health issues emerged. Both, I have to say, were the results of my previous, unhealthy lifestyle.

My journey to good health began with my acceptance of the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, and the discipline to adhere to it.

I am a scientist, but I have to acknowledge that Mindful Meditation, along with my insistence to eat organic, whole foods and use healing essential oils, has helped me tremendously. My husband is astounded that I was able to take control of my healing, both with Shingles and with bowel surgery, and recover quickly and be positive.

I’m a long way from being abundantly healthy, but the Docs and Nurses at the hospital told me I was the most healthy of their normal patients, despite my age, my weight and my illness. Walking out of the hospital in record time, feeling well and empowered, confirms this for me.

My challenge now is to learn how to survive with an altered body, and continue to improve, staying Paleo/Primal. I do believe there’s a book in here somewhere. I’ll keep notes and see where it goes.

Another year, and a new set of goals set by everyone. I have to admit, even though I try not to set new goals, I have to work on improving my health and writing more books. The other day, I wrote 3,500 words on my novel Dead Line. I felt inspired to work, then overdid it. On the health side, I’ve been using the stand-up desk my husband gave me as a Christmas present. It’s pretty cool, but it tires me after a few hours, and my recent bout with Shingles has left lingering pain.

Enough kvetching; what is great? I’m thrilled to be working, spending my days as a writer and researcher, and as a instructor. The new semester is starting mid-January, so I have to re-check my syllabus and update it. Technology changes so quickly, and I want to make sure I’m not teaching outdated material. I’m also going to created a few “canned” courses to help my undergraduate students when I’m not available.

I plan to experiment with the Teachable platform, making the course private and free. It’s an experiment, and if I like the way it works, perhaps I’ll try it for a professional course. I did demo the Course Cats theme, and it is lovely, but I’m not ready to use it yet on Self-Sufficient Author.

(This page was updated January 05, 2017)

I’m feeling better after my bout with Shingles. I know because I woke up around 1 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours, tossing and turning and thinking about all of the things I want to do NEXT.

I curtailed bad thoughts by mapping out the next few months, interviews I want to conduct, books I want to read, course modules I want to create and manuscripts that need researching. I forced myself to stay in bed, which was a waste of time. I should have made myself a cup of tea, snuggled on my office window seat and read for awhile. It would have quieted the brain.

The brain has been low-functioning lately as I tackled the Shingle Shenanigans,  curing myself of this malady in about a week’s time. Cranial inflammation meant severe headaches for several days. There is lingering pain, called Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can become a chronic condition because of nerve damage. Following my friend Tonya’s advice, I’ve been visualizing a golden “honey” warmth during short meditations to try to combat this problem.

So, when my normally overactive brain began kicking into high gear in the middle of the night, I let it. I rejoiced in the myriad thoughts and tried to keep pushing them into a forward, positive direction, since they signal a return to good health. So, that being said, I’ll take a short break from working, drink a heaping mug of kefir, and listen to a meditation.

See ya!

(This page was updated December 30, 2016)

Shingle Bells, Shingle Bells, Shingles all the way!

Christmas was canceled because I’ve developed a case of shingles, and my son-in-law has not had Chicken Pox. Rather than risk an event, we suggested the family stay put and we’ll get together after the New Year, maybe for a Super Bowl party, in D.C.

So, I’ve been learning a lot of lysine-rich foods, and that gorging on walnuts and chocolate and chia seeds, in retrospect, was a bad idea. It’s a painful setback, but I’ve been tackling it head on (since the outbreak is on the back of my head). My hippy, errr, alternate medicine-inclined friends, will be proud of the methods I’ve employed, and I have to admit, so far they seem to be doing the trick. I’ve been trying them all, so I’m not sure what’s working, so here’s a list:

  • Valtrex (“real medicine” [according to my family] prescribed by Doc Chang)
  • Vitamin E, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Eucalyptus Oil and Peppermint Oil applied 4x daily
  • Teas (Lemon Balm, Echinacea, Dandelion) drunken and applied 2x daily
  • Assorted supplements: Olive Leaf Extract, Lysine, Vitamin C, Folic Acid, Zinc, Probiotic, Multi Complex, Vitamin E
  • Apple Cider Vinegar, calamine lotion, aspirin
  • Kefir, Kombucha, Yogurt, apples bananas, pineapple, greens
  • Meditation and the massage chair
  • Binge watching sailing videos on YouTube and Sherlock on Netflix


(This page was updated December 25, 2016)

I’m on the verge of being free!

You know how you always have tasks that need to be done RIGHT NOW and IMMEDIATELY?

I’m almost at the point where I can ignore everything and leap into the brilliant idea I had yesterday. The idea that is the culmination of the past few months spent thinking, ruminating, exploring and searching for the answer. Yes, THE ANSWER.

Sorry for the all caps. I’m a bit excited.

So, anyway, that one thing I have to wrap up is a pesky IRS form for my newly formed LLC and I wouldn’t have even known it existed or needed to be completed if it hadn’t been for my wonderful neighbor, Poincia, a professional accountant with her own business. We were sitting on my window seat, enjoying a cup of coffee and catching up a  few weeks ago, when she mentioned the RCT101. Uggh. She offered to help me with it, but I’m still dragging my feet, looking at the Schedule L balance sheet. The truth is, it’s a new LLC, I don’t make much money (yet!) and it’s still intertwined with my personal accounting system, which is, “How much money is left in the shared bank account that I can tap with my connected Paypal credit card?”

I need to learn how to operate a business, instead of keeping my head in the sand.

That means this morning, I’m sitting here looking at the balance sheet, “Googling” all the questions, and basically entering a lot of zeros (no money, remember?), so I can send it to Poincia and get it filed before a whopping fee is incurred.

So, one more task to go, then I can be brilliant and write on the magical White Board all of my plans for my next book and online course.


(This page was updated December 20, 2016)

The semester has wound down, and it’s finals week. I’m spending my time grading students’ work and entering grades for the 2016 Fall Semester. I have a few weeks before the spring semester starts, and I have plans to spend my time immersed in several online courses.

If I’m not teaching, I want to be learning. And if I’m not doing either of those, I want to be doing.

It can be a rabbit hole, the constant spiral of learning and then learning more. There’s a bit of obsession that goes along with it. I read blogs, sign up for newsletters, download free guides, listen to podcasts, watch video tutorials, on and on all day long.

I stash notes in Google Drive, stack printouts on my desk, and I begin to feel like a squirrel ready for a long winter’s rest, goodies piled up in my office nest.

This isn’t a new habit. Recently, a friend asked me for PDFs of a couple of books I wrote (freebies since they’re out of print). I spent hours looking through my old collection of CDs and DVDs, and came across a lot of saved content from the past 15-20 years of my digital life. Some of that content made its way into my Google Drive, making it more accessible to me and others. Some content was shared with others, like a Throwback Thursday.

It can be fun, revisiting old content, but it makes my current habit of collecting seem a bit pointless, if all I’m doing is reading and curating for myself.

That’s why I decided to create Self-Sufficient Author, a learning platform for other writers. This way, my research and ideas can be useful for many, and we can all benefit from my investment.

(This page was updated December 12, 2016)

I had an exciting adventure this past week with my friend Tonya. Well, the adventure was mostly her’s, but I was the hero. Lemme tell you all about it.

Tonya was preparing to come to my office to work on Friday. She woke up early, packed her books and papers and laptop, and even her bathing suit for our mid-day “Hot Tub Talks.” She headed to her own office to get some work wrapped up before focusing on our current project (planning her upcoming Bali Bliss Retreat). She’s still on “Bali Time,” so she go to work around 5 a.m., scurrying from the dark parking lot to her office. Somewhere along the way, from the remote lot to her office, her car key fell off the ring. She didn’t notice until around 9 a.m., when she started wrapping up her tasks and re-packing.

Tonya frantically searched her office, then the parking lot route to her car and back. She later said she felt uncomfortable, a black woman on her knees looking underneath cars in the parking lot, because another woman noticed her awkward position and “scurried away.” Tonya called out, “I’m looking for my car key, if you see it …” but by then the woman has closed the door to her shop. Tonya half-expected the police to arrive and ask her uncomfortable questions because we live in a small, mostly white, rural area of Pennsylvania.

Tonya called another friend to help her. Together, they went back to her house to search for her spare key, but to no avail. She then called the dealership and purchased a new key, which had to “learn” her ignition. See, car keys today have computer chips in them and if you try to use the wrong key, the auto-theft setting kicks in and disables the engine from starting. So, she tried to teach the key, and it didn’t work.

Around 3 p.m., she asked me for help. I came to her office and I searched the parking lot, knocked on nearby business doors and explained the situation.  Tonya told me to stop trying, that we had to have faith in the new key, and use all of our powers of positive thinking to help the new key “learn” the car’s settings and work.

Well, I wasn’t comfortable with that route, since I’m not a spiritual person like Tonya. I’m an archaeologist with a scientific inclination. I knew that the key had to be there, somewhere, and if it wasn’t, then someone had picked up it. We just needed to find that person and we’d find the key.

Still, we sat in her car, in the cold, for an hour, going through the key-learning process, which requires us to turn the new key in the car ignition to on (without starting it) and wait 10 minutes. Turn it off for 5 seconds, then turn it back on for another 10 minutes. Then do it again.

The process did not work. We called the dealership, and they said it would have to be towed into the shop if it wouldn’t work, to “wipe the car’s memory.”

Meanwhile, my phone battery was getting low and Tonya’s battery was starting to weaken, also.  Maybe the key was ready to work, but her battery was too low to start the engine? We tried to jump her car, using cables attached to my truck. It didn’t work.

We called for roadside assistance, and while we waited another hour in the car, I wanted to look outside for the key. It was now dark and raining. Tonya was firm. “This is the new key, Robin. We have to make this one work. The old one is gone. Let it go.”

I texted my husband to join us, since he has a better phone battery and could lend a hand. He joined us, and we tried to jump Tonya’s car again, this time with his truck battery. Still didn’t work.

As a single woman, Tonya has to do many things alone, and it’s difficult. She has to fight the frustration that comes not only with being single, but also not having family in the local area, and being a black woman in the United States. These are all obstacles when problems arise, because who do you turn to for help? I wanted to hug her.

When the tow truck driver arrived, he determined that her battery was fine, and the key most likely was the problem. He started to load her car onto the flatbed of the truck. Meanwhile, it had been four hours of trying to get her car going, and I had to pee. So did Tonya. We walked back to her office and while I waited in the hallway, I turned on the light and looked again for the key.

I could hear Tonya yelling from behind the bathroom door to “let it go” but I couldn’t.

And you know the rest of the story, don’t you? Because I already said I was the hero.

That’s right I turned around and looked and there, but the front door, sitting next to the fire extinguisher on the window sill of the lobby, was a black car key. Someone (the true hero) must have found the key earlier in the morning, perhaps before 9 a.m., and picked it up for safekeeping. Perhaps it was a delivery driver for the company next door, where I had asked earlier and they said they would check with their employees. Maybe someone came back to the shop to “clock out” and return the delivery van, and found out about the woman next door who lost a key. That person must have come into the lobby and saw all the locked doors, and left the key.

We ran back to the tow truck, calling out, “Wait, wait! We found the key!” and when Tonya sat behind the wheel, slipped it into the ignition and it cranked the engine, I whooped with joy, nearly splitting everyone’s ears.

The moral, of course, is to “Never give up.” I can’t give up. You can’t give up. When times are bleak and against you, when it’s cold, and dark and rainy, even when it’s bright and sunny, never give up. Keep looking, keep trying, and keep hoping.  And love your friends, especially the ones who need more help than others. Be there for them and encourage them to, never give up.

(This page was updated December 4, 2016)

Most people are prepping for the holidays here in the Pennsylvania Highlands, but I’ve kept myself occupied with creating resources and taking online courses as I develop Self-Sufficient Author. If it weren’t for the hives I get every year after gorging on egg nog, I would barely notice the impending celebration. I think I’ll take a walk downtown and see how the shops are decorating their windows. That should get me in the mood.

The elections are finally over, and some people are happy, some are depressed. I still love everyone, despite who you voted for, and I’m positive we’ll be fine. I’m moving forward, except for the fact that most shows on our DVR are circa October, so we’re still zipping through political campaign ads. It’s like living the horror over and over again.

We spent the weekend in Washington, D.C. visiting with our family and attending a Redskins NFL game. That was a blast, and it was excellent to catch up with loved ones. I have to remember to keep my Metro Card in my wallet. It’s a small frustration, because I have to buy new ones every time I visit. There goes $2.

The fall college semester is winding down, and I have a lot of student work to read, edit and grade, so I may disappear from the Internet for a couple of weeks. It’s great to be busy, and I’m happy and hopeful.

Have a wonderful Festivus!

(This page was updated November 22, 2016)