Monday, November 30, 2009

pics from PA trip

Hi again! We made it to Gatlinburg Tennessee this evening, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yesterday we left Doug's mom's place around 3pm and went to our friend April's parents log cabin in Hollidaysburg, PA where we stayed overnight. Her mom served a delicious venison stew, and then we watched the Ravens-Steelers game. I was rooting for the Ravens because that's the team that (left guard)Michael Oher plays for. He's the player the movie Blind Side (currently in theaters) is based on, and his life is such an amazing story! And they won in overtime which was very exciting. We were exhausted by the time that ended.

Got up around 7am, and hit the road from PA, through Maryland, then West Virginia, then Virginia, then Tennessee. It was relaly cool driving through Pigeon Forge and then Gatlinburg as it became dark as it looks like a Christmas wonderland with all the lights up. Gatlinburg's lights are all LEED and the area is really developing in a sustainable direction which is interesting. Pigeon Forge looks like a fantastic and fun place to take kids for a vacation! We arrived at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn (a LEED Certified hotel) around 6pm and then had dinner at the restaurant, then back to the room where Doug's watching the Saints-Patriots game and I'm updating the blog :) Doug is teaching me about football (I'm totally clueless, or was until recently!).

Tomorrow we're going to drive through the national park and try to see some black bears. :) I'll take some pics and try to upload... have a happy day!!

This is a pic of Doug's grandma and I on Thanksgiving. You can see the food on my plate, rapidly disappearing! We arrived around 3pm and had a delicious meal. Doug's 92-year old grandma is amazing! She is sharp as a tack and still walking and getting around great! On our second day there Doug and I went for a couple mile walk through Mechanicsburg (a suburb of the capitol city of Harrisburg)., and this is a self-portrait from our walk :)
One of the old buildings in Mechanicsburg.

Another historic building, this one says the Orris House.

Doug gave his grandma a pink Snuggie for Christmas! We had to restage the event and we think she looks scared of the Snuggie! I think we chose a good color for it though don't you?
Grandma, Doug, and Mom. Doug's grandma does her hair in rollers every day and always fluffs her curls with her hand, which is so adorable.

Another photo of me and Doug's grandma
We went out to eat with Doug's aunt and uncle, Pat and Marvin, on the left behind Doug. On the right is Doug's grandma and mom.

This is our room, with fireplace even, at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg. Nice place!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

hello from PA!

I'm sitting at Smoothie Joe's Juice & Java in Mechanicsburg, PA - the town my boyfriend Doug grew up in - drinking a Milky Way frappucino. Mmm. It's not a chain but a locally owned cafe, and it's very good! I had a grilled veggie sandwich too. Mmm.

We flew out Thanksgiving morning from Houston at 6am (meaning, we woke at 345am, caught a cab at 430am). Our flight to Newark was uneventful, where we had a 2 hour layover, then we got on a puddle jumper to the Harrisburg airport. Dougs lifelong friend Al picked us up from the airport, and brought us to his mom and grandma's house where we had a yummy Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the fixins! It was so nice to meet his family.

Yesterday we just hung out at the house, went for along walk, and then in the eveing we went out to downtown Harrisburg with Doug's childhood friend Lance. They've been friends since like 3rd grade. Harrisburg is about 20 minutes from Mechanicsburg and is the capital of PA if you forgot that little fact since 5th grade when everyone had to memorize all that info... We went first to the Brick Haus, an upstairs pub, and then to this Ceoltas Irish Pub/Restaurant that was really cool looking. Then we ended up home by about 10pm. You know you're getting old when you're home by 10! :)

Today we picked up the rental car (a nice trusy Toyota Corolla) which we'll use to drive home starting tomorrow. Well technically the long drive starts Monday. Tomorrow we're leaving in the afternoon to go visit Doug's friend April who lives outside Hollidaysburg. We're staying the night there with her and her family, maybe doing a bonfire, and then leaving about 8am the next day for Gatlinburg, TN where we'll stay at the brand new>LEED certified Hilton Garden Inn for 2 nights, guests of the town. Gatlinburg is right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The next day we'll explore the national park! Hopefully the weather isn't rainy like I think it might be...

Sorry I can't leave you with any photos yet - I am using the wifi at Juice & Java and haven't downloaded any pics from the camera! :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

a deep breath

Two hoatzins (Opisthocomus hoazin) on Cocha Blanco (White Lake) in the Peruvian Amazon near Blanquillo. See my other Peru photos!
Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp

Well hello!

It has been a crazy last few months, I tell ya. I am finally starting to breathe a long sigh of relief (though the final sigh to end all sighs will come after my book is fully approved and edited!). Writing that book, the draft that is, has taken me - from proposal to now - five years!!! At times I didn't think I'd finish, I didn't know if I wanted to, I thought I didn't have anything new to say, I questioned who was I to write a book on this topic, no one would listen, no one would care, it sucked, and on and on and on. But I felt some relief in hearing at least two writers say that they had very similar feelings. One was Liz Gilbert, the author of the amazing runaway besteller Eat, Pray, Love. She wrote about her feelings of the book's inadequacy (ie it sucked) on her website's Thoughts on Writing page. Another was Rachel Held Evans, who I met online because of her book on a similar topic - Evolving in Monkey Town - which is due out by Zondervan Press soon. I know that such thoughts are held by many writers in the long process of writing their books. And another thing, I've long since let go of the thought that if it didn't become a critically acclaimed bestseller, I was a massive failure. I can almost guarantee you, it won't. And I'm ok with that. At this point I just want it published!! Of course I'd be thrilled with wonderful sales and good reviews, but with the topic being so controversial (evolution and Christianity) I have no doubt there will be some authors on various sides of the fence slamming it. We'll see.

Regardless of all that, I feel a sense of freedom that I haven't felt in a long time because having the book incomplete felt like a huge weight on my shoulders. On top of having the book to write, I had tons of other writing to do in order to pay bills, plus my kids, my boyfriend, and the stress of life in general kept me so busy I hardly had time to write the book in the way that would serve it best - start on it and focus on it and finish it. That's why I went to Montana, and that turned out to be a huge blessing! Then as soon as I turned in the draft, I had a nearly 3,000 word feature due a couple weeks later, and now I have to write several blogs for my Animal Planet blog post to line up for when I'm out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday and my drive home from Pennsylvania to Texas. But I feel a whole lot lighter in my load right now!

In the past few months, Doug and I attended a 7-week Couplehood as a Spiritual Path workshop, a Christian-based workshop based on author and psychologist Harville Hendrix's bestselling book Getting the Love You Want (which is secular). Reading that book changed my life, and I tried to apply the techniques within my marriage many years ago, but the hard thing is if you don't practice it regularly, it doesn't become second nature. Then you don't end up using it when it counts, when you're upset. I wanted to introduce Doug to the concept now rather than later, even though every other couple in the class was married (and the fact that he will attend a class like this says so much to my heart about him!). I missed two of the sessions because I was in Montana but the ones we attended truly helped communication in our relationship. It can be so difficult to overcome some of those behaviors that we bring from our childhoods, the fears that prevent us from doing things or lowering our walls, or the triggers (buttons) that get pushed and make us over-react. But I believe self-awareness is the first step, and then the committment to start to change, to move in the direction of greater love and greater empathy for one another.

The final day we got a "Roadmap to Change" that includes the following advice:

Do this daily for the rest of your life:

  • Spend a few minutes a day praying for your relationship
  • Do at least one caring behavior for your partner
  • Send your partner an appreciation (ie say one thing you appreciate about your partner)

Do this weekly for the rest of your life:

  • Visualize and review your Relationship Vision (something we created in the workshop)
  • Engage in a shower of blessings (this is where one partner sits on a chair and the other person walks around them saying praises about that person - first physical attributes, then behaviors, then character traits then general affirmations - in an increasingly loud voice so you end up yelling loving things by the end! It counteracts the negative stigma we have with raised voices and replaces it with loving affirmations). I can say when Doug did this for me, it truly made an impact on both of us. It was a transformative moment.
  • Take turns planning at least one high-energy fun activity per week
  • Create new gifts of change (ie decide one small, measurable behavior you will change for your partner and then tell them you want to do it as a gift to them).

A central part of this is the concept of mirroring, which is a pretty standard technique in psychology circles. You repeat back what your partner says verbatim, or as close as possible, to make sure you got it right. And then you go through the steps of validating it and empathizing with them. It's a lot harder to do than it sounds!

If I don't get a chance to post again before Thanksgiving, have a very blessed Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Caught in a Bad Romance...

Had to share this video - I Love it - so hot! I didn't really care much about Lady GaGa before - just thought she was very odd with all those outfits, but I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, and having read about her interest in fashion and that she has a lot of input into the creative aspect of her music and videos and strange fetishistic (is that a word?!) clothing I am loving her - very avant garde and original. Check it out!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

finished a draft of my first book!

My kids Sam and Savannah being silly - as usual - in Mount Field National Park in Tasmania, Australia. This was near a stream where Sam spotted a platypus. Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp

I am excited to report that I finished the first full draft of my book on making peace between evolution and Christianity! It's in my editors' hands, and I'm waiting for news, and we'll start editing for publication in - if all goes as planned - Fall 2010. It's been a long journey for this book. I started writing the book proposal in New Mexico which I blogged about toward the beginning days of this very blog in November 2005, and I also published an essay in E/The Environmental Magazine about that great solo adventure in Back to Nature: What is it about simplicity and solitude that inspires writers?. The book goes as far back as 2003 when I testified at the Texas State Board of Education hearings over biology textbooks, but really goes all the way back to my childhood and my own spiritual formation. I'm very excited about the book and though it took way longer to write than I ever imagined, and was more challenging, I am finally over the hump and super excited about refining it and presenting it to the world. A bit scared too! It's my baby!

In other news, my next big adventure: I plan to fly to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with Doug, and then we'll drive back! We will go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - my furst time there - and to Louisiana's Northshore for some R&R. It's going to be a long drive but I'm excited to visit some states I've never visited before. I have been to every state out west, and only a few on the east coast but will get to see Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for the first time, and maybe North Carolina (The national park is in both Tennessee and North Carolina, so if we drive through the whole thing, I'll see both states. I've been to TN before though). I'll get home just in time for my lovely daughter's 15th birthday! She is very excited about getting her driver's permit. Me, not so much...

On a personal level, despite some ups and downs in figuring out communication in relationships, my spirits have improved dramatically from a few months back. There are a couple reasons. I am convinced that a main reason is that I hadn't been on any big trips for the year and a half prior... except for the one to Portland, Oregon during December when I got snowed in! Taking another trip to Oregon and Washington in August so rejuvenated my spirit! I love traveling so much. But also, though I am a person who has long been adamantly opposed to antidepressants, I started taking a very low dose a few months back, but then got off of them a month ago and I feel great! I believe that they helped me through a rough patch, and my body and mind, perhaps has fixed itself, who knows. Though I'm not sure what my future holds on many levels, I am feeling great and excited about the possibilities!

Now that the draft of my book is complete, I have started to ponder the many things I've long put off that I have passion for. Should I produce and star in a documentary on sand mining on the San Jacinto River, raising some funds through the nonprofit organize I run (though it's been on hiatus for a while) - the San Jacinto Conservation Coalition? Should I turn my material from my online writing green class into an e-book? Should I start a local natural foods co-op? That last one is a recent passion of mine, and the biggest and most challenging idea but I'm pondering it. I'm considering starting a book club geared towards socially conscious books and documentaries, and I've run the idea by several of my conscientious friends in the area and we're going to get that started soon. The first book? Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, which has gotten a lot of attention so far. His article, The Fruits of Family Trees, in New York Times Magazine based on the book wowed me.