Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I'm always optimistic about camping.  I love the idea of disconnecting for the weekend.  I love the thought of slowing down, enjoying nature, exploring the outdoors.  Mostly I love the fire.  The satisfaction of building it, of stoking it, bringing it to life and watching it consume log after log.  Cooking over it is fun too.  It makes me nostalgic for my days in the Girl Scouts.  We camped a lot and I always loved the romance of it.  Sleeping outside (sort of), foraging for wood (in addition to what we brought with us), being one with nature (ok, not really, but you get the idea).

The girls love it too and for all of the same reasons (maybe not so much the fire or the being disconnected).  We camped a few times in Phoenix and had many disasters, including Iris's first camping trip which ended maybe six hours after it started but that's for another post.  It was harder there because you couldn't reserve a space and the drive to where the cooler weather was made it an all or nothing attempt.  We turned back more than once because there were no vacancies.  Pennsylvania's numerous state parks fortunately are not first come first serve and we've found a few favorite places among the camp sites.

This past weekend, we went with a family cabin.  This was our second cabin camping in the last three years and I'd forgotten just how perfect these cabins were for our family.  They're spacious--two bedrooms a kitchen/living room and a full bath.  Porch, fire ring, driveway and TONS of space to explore.  The only downside (and I do mean the only one) is that the beds are horribly uncomfortable.  But it's camping, right?  You're not supposed to expect luxury.

I was especially excited to go this weekend to get some serious reading in.  I've been behind in my reading and wanted to catch up.  But my Friday afternoon changed that plan, much to my dismay.  We'd been working on a big grant proposal to a big foundation--big.  BIG!  One of the largest we've asked for.  It was a huge feather in our cap just to be invited to submit.  I got the draft on Friday and it just wasn't ready.  It wasn't compelling.  It didn't tell the story.  It wasn't "wow!".  And if we were going to get this funding, I knew it needed to be all of those things.  But it was due Monday.  And I was camping this weekend. 

The option not to camp simply wasn't there.  We were going.  It was paid for.  I certainly wasn't going to ask Nick to go alone with the girls.  No, I'd simply have to carve out some of that coveted reading time and set it aside for serious grant proposal writing.  Ugh.  I hate grants.  HATE them.  The only fundraising I hate more than grants is events.  It's strange, I realize that someone like me who loves to write hates grant proposal writing.  But I do.  I think it's because they ask deep questions and give you ridiculously limited space in which to answer.  Tell me your entire life story in one tweet.  GO! 

On top of that, I didn't really feel especially qualified to write this grant--I still feel new here and haven't been exposed to all of our programs.  Plus, I really don't want to be a bull in a china shop and re-write the things that have been working just fine and risk funding just because I think I could write things better.

But this proposal seriously needed some help.  So, I would camp and I would write.  Humph.

Our drive to the park on Friday evening took longer than we expected (as usual) and when we got there, it was dark and cold so we opted for hot dogs cooked inside.  Sacrilege, I know but everyone was exhausted and excited to be in the cabin.  We had an energetic Olson family dance party after dinner and then it was off to bed for one and all. 

Those beds. They really are awful.  Being a queen size was bad enough (Nick and I are used to the California king, not to mention most nights we sleep in different states) but it was just hard.  No pillow top.  No mattress pad.  Again, camping, I get it but I did not have a restful sleep.  I woke up at 2am hoping it was 5am.  That never happens. 

I forced myself to stay in bed until 4.  I dozed off a few more times but not wanting to toss and turn, I got up, closed the bedroom doors for everyone and headed to the kitchen to rummage through the camping food bin in search of my brand new camping French press.  What's a morning without coffee?

As I waited for the water to boil I pulled out my bag of projects and spread out on the kitchen table.  I had my notebooks, my planner, my Storytelling for Grant Writers book and the dreaded proposal.  I picked it up and read the first question:

"Describe the youth development program—connect design and impact (qualifications of staff; structure; youth leadership; impact)"

I didn't read the draft answer, but instead thought.  And then, the words came.  (I'm gonna get metaphorical here, so just bear with me.)  They flowed like a gurgling creek and then rushed like raging river.  They poured out in abundance like an Arizona monsoon.  Word after word, sentence after sentence. 

I was interrupted by the sound of the boiling water in my coffee pot and stopped to reflect.  It was better.  It was good.  It was fundable!  I brewed a cup of coffee and read the next question, again, not reading the drafted answer.  As I continued to write well into the 6:00 hour I realized I did know our programs.  I was qualified to write this.  And write it I did!  I was on FIRE!  I wrote and wrote and wrote until the children woke up and destroyed all peace and serenity but by then I had gotten through most of the questions.  And it was only Saturday morning! 

I put the proposal aside for the rest of the weekend, feeling accomplished and satisfied with my work.  I still had plenty of time for reading and plenty of coffee to get me through the rough nights of sleeping.  When we left on Sunday, I decided that I should be allowed to write this trip off as an unreimbursed business expense and declared that whenever I have a proposal to write, I shall retreat to the wilderness and once again find my muse in the nearby streams and trees, which will no doubt be waiting for me when next we return.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018




Another year.  Another fresh start.  I really love New Year’s.  I love the purge.  I love the beginning.  What I don’t love is January.  


It’s awful.  Especially in Philadelphia.  It’s like a Phoenix April—not the worst month but rather, a painful, depressing reminder that things will get worse.  It’s cold.  Frigid in fact.  The temperature has dipped below 30 degrees and promises to remain there for at least a week, hovering occasionally in the 40s and then back down.  We did get one day of 60 but it was just a tease.  There’s more snow than I’d care for in the forecast and that’s just the next fifteen days.  And then, comes February.  The shortest long month in the calendar.

I’ve become a weather wimp.  The dessert and the west coast have made me soft.  I may have never acclimated to the Arizona heat but I have most definitely not acclimated to the depressing east coast winters.  They are horrid. 

I want to live in a place that’s perpetually fall.  Autumn—now, there’s a season!  Everyone looks forward to it.  Everyone—it brings cool, temperate weather.  Pretty landscapes and of course, the fall holidays.  I’ve lived in perpetual spring (San Diego).  But where is perpetual fall?  When that place shows up, I’ll be home. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Madrid Starbucks

March 13, 2017
9:45 PM
I was on my own for dinner tonight.  Our Business Policy paper is due Friday and I have been tasked with the final edits.  We leave for Germany tomorrow and I am hoping to get some time with the team on the plane so we can tie up loose ends, make final edits and still have time to finish up our individual papers.
I went to The Good Burger when I was FINALLY hungry again.  After our insane lunch, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.  It was definitely a step up from Burger King that first night, but I’ve had enough authentic food that I don’t feel guilty just getting something quick.  It saved me from yet another night of shopping of places that could be found in the King of Prussia Mall and I easily avoided the drunk fest that I’m convinced is happening with some of my classmates—it’s just not my thing.  I told myself I’d go to bed early, but here it is just after 10 and I’m still wide awake. 
We leave for Germany tomorrow and I’m sad to leave Spain.  I’ve always looked forward to this part of the trip more than Germany, though I’m not sure why other than maybe the weather.  It’s been crazy windy here lately but still very warm.  Hopefully the wind will die down enough for a nice run tomorrow morning.

March 14, 2017
7:15 AM
I was able to get in a brief run this morning—just to the Starbucks (that opens earlier) and then a walk back to the hotel.  This wind is absolutely NUTS.  It kept me awake last night.  I’ve been taking a Tylenol PM just to help me fall and say asleep, hoping to get on the right time zone.  It will probably happen just as we’re heading home. 

When I walked into the Starbucks, I was greeted by the same barista that I saw yesterday as she was cleaning the glass on the front door.  I greeted her with the customary “hola!” and she smiled and then said something to the barista behind the counter.  He said hello to me and then repeated my drink back to me. 

“Venti cafĂ© mocha with skinny milk?”  I’d never heard of skinny milk before, but assuming it meant non-fat, I smiled and said yes.  I was absolutely thrilled that they knew my order.  Thinking back on my study of Starbucks last semester, though, I shouldn’t be shocked at all.  This was, after all, the Starbuck’s Experience. 

“You want soft coffee?”  he asked me.  I had no idea what soft coffee was and I gave him a quizzical look.  He paused for a moment.  “Um, soft coffee, strong coffee.”  His last words were robust.  Now I get it.

“Oh, strong coffee, definitely.”  He made my drink and I walked back to the hotel.  I think that was my favorite Spain moment, maybe because it felt so much like home.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sunday Morning

March 12, 2017
7:25 AM, Madrid

After a fairly restful night, I’m up and ready for coffee.  I’m going for a short run to the Starbucks…except it doesn’t open for another hour!  What’s a gal gotta do to get a cup of coffee in the AM around here?  This is the first hotel since the Waldorf where I haven’t had a coffee pot in my room.  Hopefully the hotel breakfast will do, though those tiny cups are never enough.

Breakfast did not disappoint.  It was a buffet, but none like I’d ever seen.  Meats and cheeses, fruits and some kind of yogurt-like substance, pastries, bread and fresh eggs if you wanted them.  And the coffee!  I have decided that I do like Spanish coffee!  It’s thick and rich but not bitter.  I’m re-thinking my earlier impressions of Spain.  We’ll see how long it lasts.  Off to Mass—I haven’t been in years but the words and the ritual never really leave you.

Church today was beautiful.  The shortest Mass I’ve ever been to but still beautiful.  It’s been decades since I’ve attended Mass as a Catholic, though, every Mass since then has been easy to follow along as the perfect impostor.  Today, however, I felt quite lost.  I had no idea what was happening.  I could pick out words here and there and at one point, I thought I recognized The Lord’s Prayer but then, later in the Mass, I realized it was too early and felt slightly foolish for reciting it in English anyway. 
I tried to use the time to pray and reflect.  It occurred to me, as I sat staring at the face of God, that over here, all the way in Spain, He still hears me.  I was also struck by the visual implication of seeing the body of Christ on the cross.  In my own faith, we do not display the body—only the cross, because we celebrate the risen Lord.  But I thought that the Catholic faith had done something profound when displaying the body of Christ.  How differently would I feel about my sins if I had to face Christ every Sunday?  To see him there, dying for me every Sunday.  I must see it more and appreciate it more.  If I did, I might remember better the sacrifice made and come to terms with the fact that He loved us more than anyone else ever could and He so cared for my soul that He died for it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


As part of my EMBA, our cohort went on an international residency to Madrid and Munich.  It was such an adventure.  As part of my assignment and course requirements, I kept a journal.  Some of it is dreadfully boring but I did want to share a few snippets.  I hope you enjoy.

March 11, 2016
8:46 PM, Madrid

I’m certain I could never live in Spain.  At least not in Madrid.  I’m lying in bed, fighting to stay awake to adjust my body clock after a very long two days of travel and touring.  I’m not the only member of the team who opted to spend the evening alone but we are few.  I’m not one for late nights.  Always a morning person, I hope to be up tomorrow by 6am—and that’s sleeping in!
What threw me most today was the lateness to which people start an evening.  Restaurants aren’t open until 8pm.  Most of the group went to a bar and then out to dinner.  After these long days, I knew I wouldn’t last and would be looking for an excuse to leave and come back to the hotel.  I’d only be a downer for the rest of the group and would end up walking back to the hotel alone, which isn’t safe.  I opted for fast food—shameless for my first night in Europe.  There was a Burger King just a few blocks from the hotel.  I walked over and noticed a Starbucks very close by.  On my way back, burger and Coke in hand, I checked to see what time they opened.  8:30am!  This is not good. 

As I turn in and hope for a good night’s sleep, I’m missing home and my family.  Leaving on an adventure is easy, but going home will be too.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Nick and I have started watching a show on Netflix called Life Below Zero.  It’s about people who live a subsistence lifestyle in remote areas of Alaska.  It something we like to watch while we’re enjoying a luxurious, civilized, lifestyle—cozied up on our couch, soaking in our hot tub, curled up in our California King sized bed.  It reminds us of how good we have it, how amazing our life is. 
That, and we’ve always toyed with the idea of moving to Alaska.  We’re not social people.  We kind of like each other and that’s it.  We joke all the time about how we’d really rather not have to deal with anyone but each other (ok, the kids too).  It’s a little strange given the line of work we’re in.  He deals directly with customers (passengers) and my job is all about relationship building.  Maybe that’s why, when we’re home, we just don’t want people around. 

There are usually four people/couples/family in a given episode (they rotate a bit so you get a full story on everyone)—the Hailstones (family), Glen (lives alone and REALLY off the land), Eric (a trapper who lives with his wife and makes a living taking people on hunting tours), Andy (kind of a jerk but he has a team of dogs that he uses to get around) and my FAVORITE, Sue.  She’s a tough old gal who, as she says, is so far north there’s no more “up” on the map.  She runs Kavic River Camp which, as far as I can tell, is an oasis in an incredibly remote area of Alaska.  I think Anchorage is something like 500 miles away and it’s the closes big city.  Sue is amazing.  She’s a “I’ll just have to figure this out” kind of person who admittedly doesn’t really like being around civilization.  But she wears these silly winter hats and braids her long hair in pigtails sometimes which tells me she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  She does what she needs to do to maintain her position and really seems to love what she does.  She’s made friends with a local fox and truly respects the wilderness around her.  She’s taken a few spills and gotten hurt (and attacked by a bear) a few times but she just keeps going and going and going.  I love her resilience. 

As you watch these people go through life with few links to civilization, you realize, they’re always working.  It kind of reminds me of Little House on the Prairie.  You build your house, plant your farm and are forever maintaining it.  The work is never done.  It’s like perpetual chores!  There’s never a moments’ rest!  You spend the summer hunting and storing up supplies for the winter and you spend the winter surviving until summer.  It’s awful! 

And yet, sometimes I wonder if I could ever what it takes to survive as they do.  Could I survive even a few months with no electricity or access to a store?  Could I shoot and clean animals and then eat them?  I suppose I could if I had to.  But most days, I’m really glad I don’t have to.  And I say that sitting in my house, sipping gourmet coffee with my Netflix streaming and my dishwasher humming in the kitchen.  I don’t mind watching someone else live like that but it is NOT the life for me.

Monday, July 31, 2017


I really love books.  It's actually kind of ridiculous.  I don't buy a lot of them (well, sometimes I do).  Other people give them as gifts but I get a lot from the library.  It's caused a bit of strife in my marriage because they're just...EVERYWHERE!  I generally read three or four at a time and try to finish at least two books a week.  But I have sort of strange requirements when it comes to books.  I like to have hard cover books for the treadmill.  It's easier to prop them open while I run.  I use binder clips and rubberbands to hold my pages.  I like to have a large paperback up in my room because I like to read while I'm drying my hair in the morning (it's a lot of hair).  A big enough paperback will hold itself open and I don't have to resort to a balancing act with my phone or the nearby candle.  I'm not above doing this but it has resulted in at least one broken candle and near misses with my phone in the toilet.  I listen to audio books in the car but in the smaller car, it has to be a book on CD.  In the van I can use one of those mp3 players that the library sometimes has or if I have an audio book on my phone, I can plug that into the car.  I carry six or seven books with me to work and then back home at the end of the day because I read on my lunch hour (when I take one) or if its a book on fundraising (I have lots of those), I might read it here and there during the work day.

I used to go to the library once a week when I lived in Kansas.  I'd check out as many as I could carry and my goal was always to return more than I checked out the next week.  It didn't always work...  Sometimes I go to the bookstore to browse, write down all of the books I'd buy if I had more money (and more shelving) then request them from the library.  I try to space the requests out so that I don't end up with all of them at once but everytime I go to pick up a requested book, I end up browsing a bit and find 10 more that I just HAVE to have.  I've gotten better about giving up on books that aren't interesting or entertaining.  Most recently I got almost to the end of Brad Thor's The Inner Circle and the mp3 player kept shutting off.  I finally decided that it wasn't interesting enough to keep messing with the thing and I have no idea how it ended.

There used to be a library between my old office and home, so frequently, I would stop by on my way to/from work and put things in the overnight drop or run in and pick up something I'd reserved.  My new office is close enough to a library to visit on a lunch break but it's not conveniently located along my route.  While it has resulted in fewer trips, I can't say that it's resulted in fewer books.  In an attempt to organize my book clutter, Nick bought me a new iPod, a Kindle and a subscription to Audible for Christmas a few years ago.  All it really did was feed the frenzy.  Now I can use my Kindle while I run and a lot of the classics that I don't have are in the free section so I'm working my way through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which I read in college but barely remember except that I really liked it.  But I like to save it for morning runs so I always have something that works on the treadmill.

I've taken all of my "fundraising" books and my EMBA books into my office to reduce the shelf space I require at home and just last week I decided to donate a book.  Still, it's a drop in the proverbial ocean.  But hey, I could collect something silly like old stamps or handbags or something useless.  I've decided this is something I like about me.  I know it's crazy to carry so many books with me all the time but reading is so much fun!  I'm going to do it as often as I can and continue to hide piles of books in my office, next to my bed and on my treadmill.  There's never one out of reach, so it doesn't matter where I am.  At any point in time, I can pick up whatever's nearby and dive right in.