The right words at the right time

 

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I’m two weeks into the new job and there’s so much running through my weary head, I’m honestly having trouble choosing just one tidbit for this post.

It’s been a fulfilling and busy time couple of weeks. I’m grateful for my family and friends who are making this journey a lot less bumpy for me. A shout out to dear friends, Jill, Susan and Jenny for taking such fabulous care of my kids on short notice during my first days at work. And extra special thanks to my mom for coming to help us navigate my entire first week of work. I found this card to send to her as a thank you and she loved it!

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Best laid plans

Many of you already know that Mom’s Big Year has become bigger than I ever expected in more ways than I ever expected.  But, I’d have to say that this week takes the cake. My Big Year just grew exponentially in some completely new directions.

Big announcement here!

Tomorrow I start a brand. new. job! I’ve been tapped to serve as a biologist for the North America Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Wow!  Not just one, but two jobs literally fell out of the sky into my lap this year. You can probably guess that they were not part of the Big Year plans. But both jobs were too good to pass up. So, Mom’s Big Year is still going strong (and I’m still committed to traveling as much as possible and seeing as many birds as possible before the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31…) with just a few new twists along the way. I’ll still be teaching at University of Maryland in the fall and will be working 3 days at the banding lab and two days at UMBC.

I’m super excited about starting at the lab tomorrow! I’ll be working with several of my mentors in the field of avian research and I know I’m going to learn a TON. I’m ready for that. I am thrilled, honored, and humbled to be working at a place with such a rich history in wildlife research. You can read more Patuxent’s history here. Read more  Did you know that Rachel Carson used Patuxent’s research to develop almost all of the content of her revolutionary book, Silent Spring?

Wow. Just wow.

I’ve been an at-home mom since I left my career as a science teacher and biologist 16 years ago.  So, as you can imagine, this is a huge change for my family and me.  This week, as I prepare the household for my completely new schedule, I’ve TOTALLY been ‘nesting’. (How appropriate!)  I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve taken to the store. I’ve been grocery shopping, back-to-school shopping, cleaning, cooking, freezing make-ahead meals and trying to spend as much time as possible with the hubby and kiddos.  I’ve stocked up on so many staples, you’d think a blizzard was on its way to central Maryland!

I’m not sure anything can prepare you for a change like this.. But I wasn’t going to take any chances and bought plenty of chocolate to help me wade through any unanticipated stress. However, IMG_9756I’m not sure how long the chocolate will last around this house as the kids have found all my hiding places!!

But my family can certainly rest assured…

I’ve bought enough toilet paper to last us through March. 🙂

 

 

Two steps forward…

It had all the elements of a great family trip. There were college visits for my oldest, days at beach, golf outings, tennis matches, chats with locals, shrimp and grits, cooking in, eating out and plenty of ice cream runs. Last week we took a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t strictly a birding trip, but I, of course, had to squeeze in at least a few good-sized dollops of birding. (My chat with some local watermen while out in the field one morning is worth a post all its own, so stay tuned!)  

Now, you may recall that I am trying to nip my issues with bridge/driving anxiety during my Big Year and I am using birding in my attempt to do so.  Well, this entire week I had Charleston’s beautiful Ravenel bridge staring me in the face. I honestly didn’t give it much thought.. but I’ll admit my mind did occasionally wander to images of the day I would sit in the driver’s seat while making my way over that bridge.

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Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge

One afternoon, while perusing the downtown Charleston shopping district, I ran across this book.

IMG_9623I am not lying to you when I say I picked it up and put it down 10 times. I was trying to decide whether I wanted to stop right there and read the whole thing in one sitting or put it down and never ever pick it up again.

I figured Mom’s Big Year is already more than half over and it was time to add a whole new dimension to this Big Year thing!  Gull-billed tern, Sandwich tern and Least Bittern were all seen in the last couple weeks at the Pitt St. Causeway on the OTHER side of the Ravenel Bridge.. so the choice was clear…THIS was my ticket.. These target birds were my carrot to get me over that bridge.

Well, by golly, without giving it much thought, I just buckled down and DID it! I took the helm and sailed my way right over that bridge with my hubby in tow! And we missed our target birds, so I did it AGAIN the next morning at sunrise.. Out and back. ALL. BY. MY. SELF!  I could hardly believe it.  Now, it wasn’t without anxiety, but it was a feeling I hadn’t ever felt before.  I was getting better, I just KNEW it. Eleven years I had been avoiding bridges like this one and I did it!  Two days in a row!  I didn’t care one little bit that I missed my target birds those days (ok, maybe I cared a teeny bit), but birds aside, I drove over that bridge!

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Birding with my honey on the OTHER side of the bridge! (Note the bridge photo-bombing us in the background)
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Tri-colored Heron – Pitt St. Causeway, Mt. Pleasant, SC

After eleven years, the whole experience was less climactic in the actual moment than I expected.  I dropped the family off at the beach in the afternoon, so I could chase a Wilson’s Plover that had been seen recently a few minutes away. Then suddenly, the magnitude of what I had just accomplished finally hit me. As my youngest closed the car door behind him and ran out to the beach, I started to cry.  Mom’s Big Year had yet, once again, gotten bigger… and this time it wasn’t about the birds.

Now, Saturday was travel day back to Maryland and with my newly found ora of confidence I decided to take the wheel and give Rt. 95 a whirl as we made our way home.

How did that go, you ask..?

NOT well.

In complete contrast to my masterful driving the day before, I felt like I was on a roller coaster spinning out of control and dizziness and panic started to show their nasty countenances. My legs and arms started getting numb, and my lips tingly.. After 30 minutes of attempting to power through my driving anxieties like my counselor had taught me, I decided that for everyone’s safety, it was time to pull over.

The tears this time weren’t the happy tears I had cried the day before.  They were tears of frustration and feelings of failure as I hung my head and pounded the steering wheel. I thought my issues were over and that I had entered a completely new era. The reality was there plain and simple… I had not.

Fortunately, my kids and husband quickly reminded me of how far I had come in just a few days and clamored with words of support and comfort from the back seat.

Two steps forward, one step back… These seas are going to be tougher to navigate than I could ever have imagined.

I recall when I first started the Big Year, my very wise and dear friend, Marcia reminded me that I can’t eat the elephant all in one bite.

She was 100% right.

 

 

Beyond birds

I was back birding on my home turf today and while I love love love traveling, it really felt great to be back!  I still have a few relatively easy birds to tick in Maryland and today I added #364 to the list, Least Tern.  The trip this morning would not have been possible without local birding friend, Anthony, to do the drive up north of Baltimore with me. Anthony’s quite impressive and has gone from beginning to advanced birder in the blink of an eye. He has the kindest of hearts and is one AMAZING photographer too! Check out his Flickr site here: Anthony VanSchoor’s Flickr page

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Anthony in action this morning- having a chat with a Common Yellowthroat
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Swan Creek, near Baltimore, MD
With only one target today, the birding this morning was pretty laid back.  And that combined with Anthony’s easy-going, confident and super-supportive attitude allowed me the space to revisit some of the parts of Mom’s Big Year that I had been pushing aside for quite a while now.  Those of you who have been following from the beginning know that I’m ALLLL about the birds, but you also know that Mom’s Big Year is about more than simply the birds.  It’s also a year focused on personal growth and reflection….some of which, frankly, scares me more than I care to admit.

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Jenny, Diana, and Kristy Collentine holding my baby daughter Laura, Summer 2001
After losing three dear family members in a tragic accident, I’m working through post-traumatic stress that’s manifested itself in the form of bridge/tunnel/highway driving anxiety. (More details on my blog homepage: Why a Mom’s Big Year? )That reality for me gets in the way of my birding and in the way of my everyday life at times. And it’s so very frustrating for someone who enjoys skiing black diamonds,  rock climbing and repelling, scuba diving down to 100 feet, swimming with hungry sharks, cuddling with snakes, and is even willing to let tarantula walk on my face. All of the above… NO problem! I’ve tried a variety of methods to address my anxiety through therapy and desensitization and have stared that monster straight in the face.  I’m currently using the mindfulness, peace and clarity that I find in birding as a tool to help me make progress.. but I honestly still have a long way to go. Today’s low-key birding gave me a chance to consider how far I’ve come and also the amount of healing I have ahead of me.

I am indebted and extremely grateful to Anthony as well as to birder friends, Joe, Jeff, Howard, Kurt, Kevin H, Karen, Chuck, Kevin L., Gabriel, Adrian, Erin, Chris, Bill and so many others who have so kindly driven me places to go birding that I currently can’t drive to quite yet. A special note of thanks to Uncle David who drove me across the entire state of Texas!  I look forward to the day when I can return the favor to all of my wonderful and supportive friends and family! 

“All in time.” said Anthony, who is clearly wise beyond his years. As we drove over the Key Bridge near Baltimore this morning, he said with conviction, “You’re going to be driving this bridge all. day. long. with no problem. I know it.”

I’ve heard those same exact words from different folks a whole bunch of times.

But for some reason today, I actually believed it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puffin pie!

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Atlantic Puffin, July 1, 2016 –  Photo courtesy of Chris West

Now, don’t worry..

It’s not a pie made of puffins.. It’s a homemade blueberry pie to celebrate our puffin sightings in Maine on Friday. (Some of you may know, for many birders it’s a tradition to celebrate seeing a new ‘life bird’ or ‘lifer’ they’ve never seen before with a slice of pie or other scrumptious dessert.)

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Homemade Puffin (blueberry) Pie! – Courtesy of Erin & Chris

My dear and incredibly wonderful friends Erin & Chris made the pie from scratch last night- (crust and all!) They did it after a FULL day of bushwhacking, driving and birding. I am indebted to both of them for their generous hospitality during my time in Maine. Erin’s a biologist with Acadia National Park and gave us a full behind-the-scenes look at the research going on there. Super cool for me! (And special thanks to Chris for sharing some of his pics for the blog!)

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Erin’s a Biologist with Acadia National Park 

During my visit, we ticked 12 new species for Mom’s Big Year and had a BLAST doing it! This was a long weekend filled with scrumptious lobster rolls, beautiful black spruce bogs, wild strawberry picking (and eating!), lobster catching, jigsaw puzzles, blueberry pie making, new birds, tide pool ecology, and boat trips. And all the while we sang at the top of our lungs en route to our next destination.

 

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Bass Harbor Light, Mt. Dessert Island – Photo courtesy of Chris West
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Black-throated Green Warbler – Photo Courtesy of Chris West 

How did we fit it all in, you ask?

I have NO idea…. but these two 20-somethings always make me feel like I’m 20-something again and we somehow squeeze every single precious moment out of the days we’re together.

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Nancy, Erin and Chris in search of puffins!

We had a close call on Friday as our Bar Harbor puffin/whale watch boat trip was cancelled due to conditions at sea.  We had to think and act FAST and by some miracle boogied 2.5 hours south just in time to catch another similar boat trip out of Portland.  Unfortunately, we missed several of my target seabirds for Mom’s Big Year.. but that’s nothing that a little blueberry pie can’t fix. 😛

My last night in Acadia, we celebrated with the delicious pasties, blueberry soda, and blueberry pie. Erin is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The pasties are a meat or veggie-filled pastry specialty from the U.P. she brought frozen on dry-ice from home.  Boy, did I feel special!

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Pasties for dinner – a specialty from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

I’m on the train to Boston now and I’m SO sad leave my dear friends and that big bed of spaghnum moss in the boreal forest behind me. But I’m excited to get home to Paul and the kiddos and exchange stories of our weekend adventures.

Mom’s Big Year has some more trips in the works and stuff happening close to home.. Please tune in again soon for details as they evolve!

Erin sent the last slice of blueberry pie home with me. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to dive into it right now. Yummo!

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Nancy lovin’ Maine!

Lemonade 2.0

Wow.

Last week was a doozie for many of us in Western Howard County, Maryland. And that may be an understatement.

At my house we started last Sunday with a visit from a rabid raccoon on our driveway. Tuesday, the tornado hit. (See my last post.) And now this Sunday, a black bear wandered through our yard!

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(Yes. You read that right. A black bear. IN. MY. YARD….. in Maryland.) This is not a typical sighting for our area….and thus VERY exciting for this nature girl! 🙂

I just can’t make this stuff up.

Well, after all the drama and devastation,  this week we’re finding plenty of silver linings…. or rather… They seem to be finding us. 🙂

Some of you who have been following along on the blog may recall a post entitled “Lemonade” that I published during “snowzilla” when I was stuck in Florida in January.  Well, this past week I was given my second BIG opportunity during Mom’s Big Year to exercise my lemonade approach to a not-going-as-planned situation.

 

My post-tornado heavy heart is much lighter and happier this week as I see our wonderful community (and beyond) coming together like never before. At any given time, neighbors, some who haven’t seen each other in months or years, can be seen outside trading their raccoon/tornado/bear stories, shaking their heads in sympathy, hugging, and even sharing laugh or two.

I can’t help but smile.

As for our home, we’re getting things back in place.  But it would have taken us years to do it ourselves. I have to give a shout out to Ben Wolff and his entire crew at Wolff Tree and Landscape (http://wolfftreeandlandscape.com/)  for their professional approach and for the highly-technical work they did to make our home safe for our family again. They went above and beyond and were somehow able to return our entire yard to a new post-storm beauty. As part of the cleanup, they removed 4,  150-foot tall trees that were hanging high and leaning OVER the top of our house. Eeeeek!  Amazing!  Ben even so kindly granted my request to cut some beautiful pieces for me from the fallen trees, so I could set up some unique ‘tree cookie’ tables in our yard. I’ve always wanted to do that, so needless to say, I’m a very happy camper. Thank you, Ben! 

 

Now, after 3 hours of sleep (you just knew that would happen in Mom’s Big Year, didn’t you? 😉 ) , I headed out on an early flight this morning to Boston en route to Bar Harbor to do some ‘guerrilla’ birding with dear friends, Erin and Chris, Thurs-Sat. Wish us luck!

Puffins are on the agenda and I’m just a TAD excited.

And you already know how I feel about combining dear friends and birds.. So this is gonna be GREAT!

When I return home, why don’t you join me in my backyard at my new ‘tree table’ for a nice, tall, cold glass of lemonade…  🙂 

Cheers!

 

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Photo credit: http://www.al.com