Monday, December 28, 2015
Cancer took Millie just 2 months later, and a month after that, I got my own cancer diagnosis. Life is very different now at the end of 2015 than it was at the beginning-- not in a significantly better or worse way necessarily, just forever changed.
My photography took a bit of a back seat to the more urgent matters of life this year. Not as much time and energy for tripods, dragging out the best (heavy) lenses and cameras, or enduring long waits or long hikes to get "the shot."
Yet, looking back over all of my 2015 images, I did manage to experience some pretty diverse scenes this year-- so without further adieu, here are my 15 favorites from 2015. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 24, 2015
This New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition began hundreds of years ago with the belief that these pathways of light would help guide the spirit of the Christ child to one's home or church.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
- Trade in my Illinois Driver's License for a new Florida DL
- Title, register, and license both my RV and car to Florida
- Register to vote
- Get a Declaration of Domicile document filled out, notarized, and filed with the County Clerk's office
- And, with a couple minutes to spare, take this cheerful "selfie" of Florida's newest resident!
Thursday, December 3, 2015
As darkness descends on the Chihuahuan desert at our 4500-foot elevation, it can get pretty cold here on a winter night in central New Mexico…especially if the winds are blowing.
Sunny mornings are now starting to show the evidence—frost on my skylight!
Even though I’ve experienced a couple cold nights while traveling (rapidly) from Chicago to warmer destinations in previous years, I’ve never spent an entire winter season in a location that gets below freezing nearly every night. So, I’ve recently had a lot to learn about making my RV comfortable for winter living. Fortunately, fellow volunteers here at the Refuge have provided some excellent tips!
If you might be RVing in some cold and remote places this winter, here are 5 ways to keep your RV home comfy and cozy:
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Whew! What a week it’s been! Over 6,000 visitors, 15,000 birds, and dozens of tired staff members and volunteers who are now thankful for a mini-Thanksgiving break. But, oh what a fun time we all had at the 28th Annual Festival of the Cranes!
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Since the 18 new volunteers arrived 2 weeks ago, it’s been a flurry of activity here at Bosque del Apache NWR. Between training sessions, pot lucks, and preparing for the big Festival of the Cranes (that starts this Tuesday), it’s been an exceptionally busy time. Add to that, a new job for me here on the Refuge, lots of new major personal legal/financial changes to plan (as a result of the new 2016 ACA Healthcare plans), and a little episode of nearly burning down my RV last week….and I’ve felt rather scattered in 101 directions this month!
Sorta like these snow geese. One day they’re enjoying a nice relaxing sunny afternoon resting in one of the ponds…
and the next day they’re buzzing over the tourists’ cars fleeing for their lives!
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
As the first flock of 400 Sandhills rested off the Flight Deck during their first afternoon here, we quickly spotted one bird that had become the “Rock Star of the Refuge” last winter. Can you spot “Lucy”?
Thursday, October 22, 2015
That about sums up my first month here at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. When I arrived in late September, the sunflowers were still in bloom as daytime highs still hovered around 90 degrees. One month later, Autumn is now in full swing as we begin to welcome back our famous winter residents.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
With so much uncertainty to my travel schedule this year, I had just about written off any hope of attending my first Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. I’d always heard you had to book reservations months in advance, especially if wanting to stay at the park in an RV. I also had always thought it was ridiculously expensive.
But after seeing a few posts on the Xscapers Facebook Group that suggested otherwise, and reading the Balloon Fiesta’s FAQ document that mentioned short-term, non-reservation, “Drive-In” camping as being virtually unlimited at their massive Standard RV Parking lot ($30/night boondocking), I decided to pack up the Winnie and head up to Albuquerque to give it a shot.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
I decided to spend my last night and morning in Colorado at a place I’ve wanted to see for a long time but had never managed to get to—Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa. As I descended down from Poncha Springs into the vast San Luis Valley, the storm clouds started building.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
For the final day of September’s Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month and #GynCAN, I thought I’d share some of the most important things I’ve learned from my journey with endometrial (uterine) cancer this year. Share this with the women you love—awareness and early detection are so critical to survivability!
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Before driving cross-country a few weeks ago, I happened to see that Amazon now offers free audio narration with many of their Kindle books that are part of their Kindle Unlimited program. With a 30-day free trial (and only $9.99/mo if I wished to continue), I signed up and have enjoyed listening to books this month as I drive and do my daily walks.
The first book I tried out was simply mind-blowing—Dr. Margaret Cuomo’s 2012 book, A World Without Cancer. Dr. Cuomo is a radiologist, and sister of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Dr. David Chan of Stanford wrote an excellent article (“Where Do the Millions in Cancer Research Dollars Go Every Year?”) summarizing the staggering dilemma highlighted in Dr. Cuomo’s book. Since the start of President Nixon’s “War on Cancer” in the early 1970’s, and despite the billions of dollars spent on researching treatments and cures, the incident and death rates of cancer (per SEER) are slightly higher today than they were in the mid 1970s--
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
I should have known my travel schedule this month would make daily blog posting prohibitive for GynCAN. Well, at least I have managed to keep up with daily posts on the GynCAN Facebook & Twitter pages. Once I get settled in New Mexico, I’ll finish the month with a few more GynCAN posts, but first, I’ll share the highlights of my recent dozen days in Colorado.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
After researching and posting the depressing, infuriating GYN cancer statistics yesterday, I think it’s time for a day off from #GynCAN to get back to happier stuff we’d much rather post and read about…pretty pictures and RV mods!
I’m preparing to shove off today from my summertime roost in Chicago and start my journey West. When fog starts covering the prairie at night, it’s a sure sign that cooler temperatures are on their way.
Monday, September 7, 2015
If you’d like a surefire way to become depressed in a hurry, spend a weekend like I just did pouring over the U.S. statistics for women’s cancers-- their incident and death rates, 5-year survival trends, NCI research funding, and charitable donations.
Apart from a few positive glimmers, the numbers are sobering. And if you happen to be a woman with a “non-pink” GYN cancer, prepare to become absolutely infuriated!
I hope the charts to follow demonstrate why #GynCAN efforts of spreading awareness are so important. U.S. Government research funding, and corporate/individual charitable donations never begin unless public awareness and demand for change exists first.
But let’s first start with the glimmer of good news— after rising to record levels around 1990, the overall cancer incident rate in the U.S. is going down (note the green middle line on the chart below).
Note: All cancer incident, death and 5-year statistics are for the U.S. only and taken from the SEER website -- the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
While cancer rates among males rose and dropped significantly (and are now nearly back to where they were 40 years ago in 1975), cancer rates among women have increased since 1975 (and have essentially plateaued since the late 1980s).
Saturday, September 5, 2015
If you have 15 minutes this weekend, take a look at this great video series that the filmmakers from Spark Media (of the documentary No Evidence of Disease fame) created for gynecologic cancer awareness.
It features survivors and the N.E.D. Band doctors sharing what they’d like every woman to know about ovarian, cervical, uterine/endometrial, and vaginal/vulvar cancers.
Here’s the full 16-minute video:
Friday, September 4, 2015
Do you know the risk factors or early-warning signs for gynecologic cancers? Didn’t think so. Well, fear not! Here are 2 quick-reference charts to share with all the women in your life.
First, this high-level symptoms chart from the CDC.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
I’ve had George Carlin on the brain lately. After finding his classic bit about “too much stuff” on YouTube a couple weeks ago (when I was writing my Year in the Rear-View Mirror post), I was recalling another one of his classic routines today, and yep, it was there on YouTube too—the 7 Words You Can Never Say on Television.
Americans and their euphemisms was a constant treasure trove of great material for Carlin. If a word was too uncomfortable or impolite to say directly on a 1950’s TV show, then gee wiz by golly, we had to come up with a euphemism for it!
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Yesterday not only began the month-long #GynCAN Challenge (to blog/post daily to social media for September’s Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month), it also started the other month-long initiative-- the GynCAN100.
This 100-mile walk/run raises funds for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, the leading non-profit organization dedicated to all (and only) gynecologic cancers (details on how to donate are at the end of this post).
There’s a new purple ribbon displayed on the WinnieViews banner today. Purple is the awareness color for all combined gynecologic cancers, and September is our month to promote Gynecologic Cancer Awareness.
I missed the A-to-Z Blogger Challenge last April due to a cancer diagnosis that turned my world upside down. So, what better way to make up for it than by doing the new #GynCAN Challenge – a post a day during September to raise gynecologic cancer awareness.
Now before faces start to wince, and eyes begin to roll…hear me out on this!
Saturday, August 29, 2015
The colorful flowers are receding and a light chill is in the evening air in these final few days on the prairie.
Most of the kids in Illinois have now headed back to school, and the campgrounds are starting to thin out from their summer peaks. All fine with me….more quiet prairie to enjoy!
Saturday, August 22, 2015
This week I celebrated one year as a full-time RVer—my 1st Full-TimeRVersary! It seems like a lifetime ago that Millie and I were pulling the Winnie out of my empty house’s driveway for the very last time. Has it really just been one single year?
It’s no exaggeration to say that this has been the most monumental year of my life. The steady, predictably flat road my life had been following for the past few decades decidedly met some big curves, peaks, and valleys this year. Life (both the good and the bad) got amplified….loudly.
I set off from Chicago last August with a loose plan to spend the year out West leisurely touring from Baja to the Canadian Rockies. I would never have predicted spending almost half of the year right back here in Chicago where I began.
But still, my first year racked up a respectable 7,000 miles to the bottom of Baja and back—not too shabby!
So what things have I learned from this 1-year roller coaster ride? What 5 pearls of wisdom can I pass on to next year’s crop of full-timers?
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
It’s been 3 weeks since I returned to my little rolling home on the prairie. The gentle rhythmic hum of crickets and cicadas have replaced the harsh, sudden screeches of the Ring-necked Pheasants. Life on the northern Illinois prairie in late July and August is more calm and laid back than the hectic start of the season in May.
In between my weekly radiation treatments, I’ve been staying at my 2 favorite forest preserve campgrounds (Burnidge and Big Rock on the outskirts of Chicago). No better place to heal and get reacquainted with the nature I have so missed these last few months.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
As much as I enjoyed the comforts of my sister and brother-in-law’s house for nearly the past 2 months (and Holley’s delicious dinners), it felt really good to get behind the wheel of the Winnie and head back out to the local campground yesterday. The prairie sure has grown taller with all the rains we’ve had in Chicago this summer!
Holley and Mike didn’t send me away to the same old Winnebago, though. I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of their considerable carpentry and sewing skills for a few desperately desired upgrades to my rolling home—a new bed and new dinette cushions. First up, the new bed!
Sunday, July 12, 2015
A few weeks ago when I heard that the band N.E.D. was coming to the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities in July, I knew I would move heaven and earth to attend. This is no ordinary rock band—the 6 musicians have important day jobs that (rightly) consume most of their time. But a couple weekends a year, these 6 gynecologic oncology surgeons trade their white coats for “RockDoc” attire to perform live together while raising awareness and research funds for GYN cancers.
Their documentary film, No Evidence of Disease, that I watched on PBS back in April, prompted me to pick up the phone the next day and book an appointment with a gynecologist. Plain and simple, had I not seen the movie, I never would have imagined my minor symptoms to be life-threatening, and would likely still be walking around today with a ticking time-bomb in my womb!
So this quick trip to the Quad Cities was my chance to see the band and (hopefully) thank them personally. Little did I know what would be in store for me!
Saturday, July 11, 2015
If you would have told me on June 2nd (the day after my hysterectomy surgery) that in less than 3 weeks I’d be standing at nearly 9,000 feet elevation, a thousand miles from Chicago watching my brother get married in the mountains of Colorado, I likely would have been hanging myself with my hospital gown!
Those first couple of days of post-op were pretty intense, and I started realizing I might just be like many of the women on the Hystersisters forum who reported needing the full 6 weeks to recover.
But incredibly, after just 2 more weeks, there I was on a perfect, sunny afternoon of June 21st in Vail, Colorado with a front row seat to witness my brother marrying the love of his life!
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Other than the quick trip down to Starved Rock State Park for a few days, I spent the month of May living in my 2 suburban Chicago “homes” – Burnidge Forest Preserve (Paul Wolff CG) in Elgin, and Big Rock Forest Preserve just west of Aurora.
Burnidge is the closest campground to my old house (and my family’s houses), so it’s always my first choice park. I love being able to park in one of the big RV sites along the edge of the prairie and watch nature’s show every day.
An early May thunderstorm provided quite a great sunset one night--
Thursday, July 2, 2015
After my hectic first week back in Illinois in early May (which culminated in a insurance fiasco that postponed my cancer surgery until June), I now had 3 extra weeks on my hands. While I still had plenty of “Pre-Op” errands to-do and lots of local friends to visit, I decided that I first and foremost needed a few days of alone time to be still, fully process my new reality of living with cancer, and to get my internal batteries fully charged and ready for the battles ahead.
Every time I return to the Midwest from a winter spent in the desert southwest, I desperately crave what the desert lacks—water, and the color green! A few years ago, the Springtime Ozarks of southern Missouri recharged and refreshed me. But with time so short this year, I had to look for a nearby retreat. Starved Rock State Park, just 100 miles southwest of Chicago on the Illinois river, would do the trick!
Canyon hikes, waterfalls, lush green forests, and this quote by noted naturalist John Burroughs were sure to inspire:
I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
and to have my senses put in order.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
I was born in Missouri, and went to college there too. Growing up, we had countless family trips to the “Show Me” state to visit my grandparents. So, I’ve always felt like I’ve had a pretty good familiarity with the state. But there was still a large swath of northern Missouri I’d never explored, so I took the opportunity with my end of April trip to quickly do so.
Passing through St. Joseph, MO with the highway towering over the Missouri river to the left and historic downtown to the right, I really wished I had allocated more time to explore this storied city, once the last bastion of civilization before pioneer wagon trains and Pony Express riders headed out into the great Wild West.
But the focus of today’s trip was to check out 2 of Missouri’s National Wildlife Refuges – Squaw Creek and Swan Lake. So, St. Joe had to settle for a few quick “windshield shots” and a promise that I’ll explore it more next time.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
After a great late-April morning at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in the dead center of Kansas, I found my way back to pavement and headed east. Many folks have the perception of Kansas being totally flat and boring – miles of endless cornfields. Large swaths of central and western Kansas (particularly along I-70) are indeed just that. But, getting off the Interstate, and exploring eastern Kansas reveals many beautiful vistas and hidden treasures…
Sunday, June 14, 2015
I had just over a week between my last work day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (at the end of April), and the start of my medical appointments in Chicago. After carefully checking Weather.com to ensure no Springtime tornados would be ripping through Kansas for a few days, I decided to take a direct but leisurely drive back to Illinois from New Mexico, and stop in Kansas and Missouri to visit a few National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) along the way.
The clouds started gathering as I stopped for one last photo at the Bosque entrance sign--
Thursday, June 11, 2015
With medical issues now settling into boring old recovery mode (yeah!), it’s now time to catch the blog up on my final month at Bosque del Apache NWR this past April.
The month was off to a great start!
Friday, June 5, 2015
Sunday, May 31, 2015
Thursday, May 28, 2015
UPDATE 6/7/15: Looks like Windows Live Writer is back in business and able to publish to Blogger again! There is a God!
After publishing my last post late Monday night, it appears Google finally turned off their old authentication system (that allowed third-party apps to store your Google login/password and log in automatically on your behalf).
As a result, the blog authoring software I've used to create this blog for the past 9 years (Windows Live Writer, or WLW for short) has now died a sudden, tragic death. It is no longer able to publish to Google's Blogger service, because Microsoft never bothered to update it.
Monday, May 25, 2015
This Monday in May honors all the brave American Armed Forces men and women who sacrificed their lives to provide the freedoms we currently enjoy. A good day to also share my visit to a very thought-provoking military national landmark in central New Mexico this past April.
I began the morning of April 4th at around 5:30 a.m. in the pitch black darkness before sunrise. It was time to witness another burst of orange in the sky-- a lunar eclipse (a.k.a. “blood moon”).
While still somewhat brisk, this New Mexico morning was not as nearly cold as photographing the eclipse a year ago from my snowy backyard in Chicago in the middle of the night! With that “astro-geek” mission accomplished, I returned to the RV for breakfast and to prepare for the real event of the day—a visit to the Trinity Site.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is well-known for its large migratory flocks of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and ducks that call Bosque “home” from mid October to mid February. At peak, there can be over 50,000 of these birds snuggled together on the Refuge, and it is a top destination for photographers, birders, and crane-lovers.
I originally visited Bosque twice during those winter months (take a look here and here) and came away with some nice photos of the signature flocks. But what would there be to see and photograph during a non-prime season at Bosque, specifically in March?
I would soon find out!
Thursday, May 21, 2015
While I wait here in Chicago for my medical fun to begin (June 1st is my new surgery date), I thought I’d start catching the blog up on my time spent in New Mexico volunteering earlier this Spring.
When I arrived to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in mid-March, Spring had yet to arrive to central New Mexico’s elevation of 4,500 feet…and I had yet to learn whether this volunteer RVing lifestyle would be all I had hoped it would be. Would it feel like a J-O-B? Would I get bored? Would I fit in with others working the Refuge? Would I learn the vast amount of necessary information quickly enough to become an effective resource to visitors? Would I want to continue doing volunteer gigs like this in the future?
It didn’t take long for Spring to “spring” or for me to get the answers to all of these burning questions!
Saturday, May 9, 2015
Friday, May 1, 2015
I had intended to now start posting about my wonderful time volunteering at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. To share all the amazing wildlife I’ve been seeing and learning about, and share stories about all the wonderful people I’ve met here in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment (from Refuge staff and volunteers, to visitors and local townspeople).
Most importantly, to share how fulfilled and profoundly “balanced” the call to nature and wildlife volunteer service has made me feel. Infinitely better than the increasing guilt and emptiness I’d been feeling of trying to fit into the rather self-indulgent, self-absorbed “bucket-list tourist” mold of some other retired full-time RVers-- all candy! all the time!
But the road beyond Candyland, it appears, is not always smooth and effortless—it can sometimes be one heck of an off-road, rock-crawling adventure. Last week, my life veered off into one of these new and very unexpected detours. Time to hold on to the handle bars for quite a ride!
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
After 2 months in Mexico, crossing back into the U.S.A. can feel like you’re suddenly living an episode of Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Ursula must have felt the same way as she popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our return to the land of excess and abundance, and our successful completion of 2,000 miles on the infamous Baja Highway 1.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
It was a mere 715 miles from Bahía de Concepción to the U.S. border. An easy 2-day drive on most U.S. roads, but Baja Highway 1 sets its own rules. Hans, Ursula, and I decided we would make the narrow, winding, shoulder-less drive in 6 days rather than 2. After 7 weeks in Baja, we were now moving at the same laid-back pace as most of the locals (rather than that of over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over-stimulated Americans).
Along the way, there would be gray whales to touch, French baguettes to savor, cactus trails to hike, and plenty of serene beachfront sunrises and sunsets to enjoy.
There’d also be a few moments of terror and mishap too…no journey that includes climbing “the Grade of Hell” past 3 volcanoes would be complete without a bit of terror and mishap!
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Our winter in Baja had so many magical moments on or in the water-- kayaking the gorgeous Bahía de Concepción and Balandra Bay, snorkeling Cabo Pulmo, swimming with sea lions at Isla Espiritu Santo, and touring Land’s End at Cabo San Lucas.
As special as each of these experiences were, they could not come close to our final , incredible day on the water-- when we would each get to touch (and be touched by) the gray whales of Laguna Ojo de Liebre just south of Guerrero Negro, on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Before I start today’s post, I’d like to express my sincere thanks for the kindness you all have shared with me this past week since the passing of Millie. I knew she was one well-loved dog out there in blog-land, but honestly was amazed and touched by the outpouring of comments, emails, and phone calls. It seems she left a hole not only in my heart, but in many of yours as well.
I spent last week mostly consuming myself with work. I’m currently volunteering at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico for a few months, and it’s been a perfect place to begin healing—surrounded by caring fellow volunteers and lots of amazing wildlife to watch and learn about. I’ll start posting more about this place soon, but first wanted to finish up and share the final few posts of our winter Baja trip, as our last week there was pretty amazing!