January 01, 2019

Today is a Brand New Day!

I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions.  Never have been and, most likely, never will be.  It’s not that I don’t have goals or habits I’d like to change (I do), but the new year is not a momentous occasion for me.  I tend to set smaller goals throughout the year rather than one or two lofty goals at its beginning.  I work at making good choices on smaller decisions on a more regular basis instead of focusing my efforts on a major goal from which daily life will do its best to sidetrack me.  I’m always working on a goal of some type, but I don’t need or want binoculars to have to see it.

I’m sure that setting annual goals at the start of a new year works for some people, but I’m not one of them.  Maybe I’m too easily distracted.  Maybe I was out to lunch when willpower was being handed out.  Maybe having to direct quite a bit of time to tax prep and business chores during the month of January drains so much mental energy that there’s not enough left for anything else.  Who knows?  I don’t, and I’ve never bothered to figure it out.  What I do know is that focusing on making good choices on all of my everyday decisions seems to work for me and I know it’s something I can stick with all year long. So, rather than making resolutions at the start of a new year, I have a long list of positive affirmations that I read regularly, I keep motivational quotes where they will catch my eye and I choose to display items around our home in a way that reminds me of what I consider important, behaviors I’d like to focus on and the values that our family members share.

In the kitchen, alone, are plaques that read . . .

“All because two people fell in love”

“Gone camping because we are just two tents.”

“Friends are the best collectibles.”

“A home is built on dreams of the future, memories of the past

and the ever-present strength of love.”

“Mom’s Kitchen – Kids Eat Free”

“A successful marriage is not a gift; it is an achievement.”

“The lake is my happy place.”

And the one that is quoted most often . . .

“Don’t start with me.  You know how I get!”

But the plaque that represents so many of our family values in a nutshell is this one.  It’s hanging in a key position in our front hallway and is RIGHT THERE anytime we leave the kitchen.  Every time I pass by, I try to focus on a different phrase - so many life lessons there that we try to live by and have made a valiant effort to pass down to our kids.

That is, obviously, not the front hallway.

What I recently realized though is that the words and phrases on this plaque also apply to our travel adventures.  Allow me to share some examples . . .

“Today is a brand new day.”  Yes it is, and aren’t we blessed?!  It might be a brand new day because we’ve woken up in a State or National Park we’ve never visited before and the day stretches out in front of us chock full of opportunities.  Opportunities to see something we’ve never seen, to hike or bike on a trail we’ve never taken, to share a meal like nothing we’ve ever tasted before.  The following quote from John Wayne graced the closing of our holiday newsletter this year and is always a reminder to me not to squander the time I have on this earth or the opportunities I’ve been given:
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life.
Comes into us at midnight very clean.
It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands.
It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

Every day is, indeed, brand new whether we’re at home or on the road.  And I humbly hope that I do each and every one of them justice.

Madison Campground - Yellowstone National Park

“Aspire for more.”  When I first read that line, I thought, wow, isn’t that being a bit greedy?  But then I looked up the word “aspire” in the dictionary and found the definition to be “to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal.”  Well, that fits right in with New Year’s resolutions, doesn’t it?  But, since I don’t actually make resolutions, I’ll tell you about a goal that Alan and I have shared since we became parents . . . With the exception of the first two years of our marriage, Alan and I have lived, by choice, in a small rural community.  This is definitely life on the quiet side, although we do live just thirty minutes from a small city, a little more than an hour from a larger city and just over twice that from a major city.  So, we definitely have access to the whole gamut of services and entertainment, but our little corner of the world is, well, little.  And when our kids came along, we wanted to be sure that they understood that there was more to life than just our small town.  So, while travel was a passion that Alan and I shared, it also proved to be an excellent avenue of education for teaching Ryan and Kyra that their world was truly an enormous one, and they could become anything they wanted to be, anywhere they wanted to live in that exceptionally amazing world.  It’s too soon to know exactly where life will take our kids since they’re only 19 and 24 right now, but we do know they’re certainly on their way.  They both have jobs they enjoy and are working hard to build solid foundations for themselves as young adults.  When they were little tykes, we couldn’t help but wonder just “who” they would become.  Now, we’re finding out – and so are they.   

North to Alaska!

“Take chances.”  Oh, we’re good at this one.  Regular readers may recall that, in 2017, Alan and I put a deposit down over the phone on a brand new 32’ travel trailer that we had never seen – and then proceeded to drive clear across the country to finalize the purchase, crossing the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterroot and Cascade Ranges in the process.  In March.  With just two weeks to make the trip.  We get an A+ on this one!

Eastbound and down . . . We had a long way to go and a short time to get there.

“Be amazing.”  I was!  When Alan and I were biking on the Erie Canalway Trail in Central New York this fall, I turned around to see if anyone was coming up behind us.  My front wheel clipped Alan’s back wheel and the next thing I knew, I went head over heels, crashing into a fence and ending up with the bike on top me.    Alan, meanwhile, not hearing me behind him, eventually turned around to find that I had disappeared from the trail.  Literally and completely.  He backtracked until he finally found me - well off the trail, wedged between the bike and the fence.  Let me just say that, if there was such a thing as Bicycle Yoga, I’d be credited with creating the “Pretzel Pose.”  Lucky for me, Alan didn’t think to take a photo.

“Pursue your passion.”  Even as young adults, Alan and I knew that travel would be a shared passion that would reinforce the fabric of our life together for as long as we were able to stay on the road.  Working, at first, within the confines of full time employment and then later within those of Ryan’s and Kyra’s school schedules, we carefully planned our outings, vacations and adventures to make the most of the time we had to pursue our passion.  Now that we’re both retired, it seems like the possibilities are endless – and we couldn’t be happier.

Luke mans the map

“Believe.”  When Alan and I first began planning our honeymoon, the fact that we would be beginning to work through the bucket list of National Parks we wanted to visit seemed surreal.  And yet, here we are, nearly 40 years later with four cross country camping trips in our rear view and check marks next to every single Park on that list.  (Let me point out that we have not yet visited every single National Park, but we have visited every National Park or Monument that one or both of us had on our individual bucket list.)  If you had told me, back when we were starting out as newlyweds with a tent, a cooler and a couple of sleeping bags in the trunk of the car, that throughout the first 39 years of marriage we would have seen so many magnificent places with such spectacular scenery, I’m not sure I would have believed it possible.  But, now I believe in the “power of us” to make our dreams come true.

This is my favorite National Park entrance sign, hands down!  (That's artificial snow!)

“Have fun.”  Nobody in our family needs a reminder on this topic.  We are all lucky to possess a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.  Whether we’re all together or it’s just Alan and me, fun is on the agenda and it doesn’t have to be complicated to work for us.  This past summer, while camping at Northampton Beach on Great Lake Sacandaga in New York, Kyra, Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend, Anya, got involved in a game of “Throw a Rock and Hit the Tree Stump Sticking out of the Water” when we were down at the beach one afternoon.  That impromptu game kept us all happily entertained for the fifteen or twenty minutes it took until one of them actually hit the stump.  Since Alan had offered a cash prize to the first one to hit it, Ryan was quick to complain that both his sister and his girlfriend played on a softball team together, but that didn’t stop him from competing.  And, just for the record, it was Anya who walked away from the beach a little bit richer that day.  Like I said, it doesn’t take much for us to have a good time.

Anya, Ryan and Kyra - Northampton Beach Campground

“Be brave.”  It’s hard to be brave when you’re afraid of heights.  But, I swallowed my fear (or, maybe, choked on it would be a better description) on two occasions when the opportunity for an exceptional hike cropped up on our list of possibilities.  One was Whale Rock in Canyonlands National Park; the other was Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park.  The rewards for stepping outside your comfort zone can be exceptionally memorable and, in both of these instances, I can assure you that they were.

Okay, so I admit it . . . the view from the top of Moro Rock was worth the angst.

“Never give up.”  This past fall, Alan and I arrived at tiny Half Moon Pond State Park in Vermont – a lovely and peaceful campground off an unpaved road in the heart of the state.  This was our first visit to Half Moon Pond so we weren’t familiar with the layout.  But the site length on the reservation system indicated that we’d be able to fit in a spot about mid-way down the pond.  Well, although Alan has been towing boats and trailers of all different kinds for more than 40 years, it didn’t look like we were going to be able to maneuver into this gorgeous campsite.  The site itself was plenty long enough, but what we lacked was swing room.  As in, it was nearly non-existent.  I thought for sure that we were going to have to give up the site, but Alan kept at it and, sure enough, he got us in there.  (And got us out, too, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.)  I really didn’t think we’d make it, but he just kept working at it until we did.  So, Alan gets 500 bonus points for his skills, his confidence and his persistence!

Once we got into it, we loved it!

“Make a difference.”  There are so many ways to look at this one but what comes to my mind is taking the time to make someone’s day a little better or a little brighter.  When we travel, I often take the time to pick up remnants of trash from past campers so that future campers won’t have to look at cigarette butts or pop-tops from soda cans.  Alan and I thank Park Rangers and campground staff for their efforts whenever possible and we always try to greet cashiers and wait staff cheerfully, and engage in a little bit of conversation.  None of this takes much effort on our part and we love leaving smiles behind in our wake.  It makes a difference in our day, too.

“Work hard.”  Nobody likes taking care of dump station chores, hauling campfire wood, cleaning the truck windshield or washing the breakfast dishes.  But, when we pitch in, work hard and get the chores done as a team, we move on to the fun parts of the day much more quickly.  That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.  And no, I don’t have any photos of us doing any of these chores, but I’ll bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.

“Embrace kindness.”  Let me tell you, people, that this is a tough one sometimes, especially when you’ve already been on the road for more hours than you slept the night before.  We all know that it’s easy to become a little “prickly,” shall we say, when we’re hungry, tired or not feeling well.  When four people are confined to a single vehicle over the course of many miles and many days or even weeks, it’s natural for tempers to flare occasionally.  Alan and I are fortunate in that our kids rarely argue and both are excellent travelers.  But there were times (and it wasn’t just in reference to the kids!) that a little extra kindness, patience and understanding went a long way.  Sometimes, all it takes is a little extra effort to make the world right again.  (Ice cream never hurts, either.)

Ryan and Kyra - checking out a lake in Minnesota

“Love well.”  Before you “love well,” choose well.  Otherwise every single mile you travel will make you wonder, “What the h*ll was I thinking?!”  Enough said.

“Stay strong.”  On our last cross country National Parks trip, the transmission on our truck failed when we were several hundred miles from home on our way out, AND a bearing on our older travel trailer blew, damaging the axle, with at least three more states to go on the way home.  Do you remember the opening line from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities?”  Sure you do . . . “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”  Well, that pretty much sums up that trip.  Before 2017, the only other mechanical issue we’d had was a flat tire – and we put 40,000 miles on that travel trailer.  Now, here we were, with two incredibly depressing, major issues in the same trip.  We did the only thing we could – we took a deep breath and worked through each problem one step at a time.  Life happens and we learn to deal with it.  Besides, I firmly believe . . . What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The view from our "campsite" at Jerry's Truck & Trailer Repair on I-94 in Roberts, Wisconsin

And last, but certainly not least . . .

“Live your dream.”  Observant readers among you will have noticed that I did move this phrase from close to the end of the plaque to the actual end of the post.  That’s because I wouldn’t want to sign off for the day with you in despair about our awful travel troubles.  Instead, I’d rather you remember this last phrase as you head into not just a brand new day, but a brand new year, as well.  Because Alan and I have always tried to live deliberately with our goals and dreams in mind, I believe we really have been able to make the most of every stage of our lives.  As we move on into the next chapter (2019 will be the first year in which we will both be retired and we won’t have a major construction project looming over our heads), we know that road trips and outdoor experiences, along with camping and boating adventures, will remain on our list of priorities.   I think Oprah Winfrey said it best when she said, “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”  That, to me, is not only life’s challenge but, also, its solution.

A new day dawning on Great Lake Sacandaga

December 7th marked the one year anniversary of Reflections Around the Campfire.  To those of you who have been with me since the beginning and to those of you who have joined us along the way, thank you for making this blog a part of your day.  I sincerely appreciate your interest and comments, and thoroughly enjoy your company.  And I warmly wish each and every one of you all of life’s best in the year ahead.  Go live your dream. 


  1. Wow, that was a wonderful read, Mary! We share many of the same life philosophies, which is likely why we follow each other's blogs, but you are a much better writer than I. I'm more of a lazy blogger these days - life keeps getting in the way, ha!

    Love that you cherish our national parks, as do my husband and I. As a result, we've shared many of the same experiences, and are similarly better off as a result. We're at 41 for national parks currently, leaving 18 still to go. We love our other national properties as well, and visit as many as we can in and amongst our national parks.

    Happy New Year to you and yours!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Tamara! Regarding our writing skills, I think you're selling yourself short. I only follow blogs that interest me if they're well written and "My Retirement Project" fits the bill. So ha, yourself!

      Alan and I are sort of at a pause on our National Parks list. With that 2017 trip, we checked off the last actual Park that was on both of our bucket lists, but we still have a way to go to reach the magic number of 59 - I think we're at 28 down with 31 to go. Now we have to prioritize the next batch, but that's really difficult because we love some of the Parks we've visited so much that we want to go back. To paraphrase a popular quote . . . "So many Parks, so little time." Considering the fact that there are over 400 units of one type or another in the National Park System, I think all four of us will be busy for quite some time!

      By the way, I'm hoping that our paths do cross at some point in the future. While we seem to be completely opposite in some respects, we have so many similar views that I have no doubt we're kindred spirits.

      Best wishes for the New Year to you and your family, as well!

  2. Very inspiring, and I'm looking forward to the 2019 adventures.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Janine. Now that our summers are free and clear, I think Alan's afraid I'm going to overbook our travels. Loved the pics of your grandkids that we received at Christmas!

  3. Mary, so beautiful. Happy New Year to you. My brother sure lucked out when he met you and so did I. xo

    1. That's so sweet, Irene - thank you! Your bro' is one of the good guys. I have not once had to say, "What the h*ll was I thinking!" Happy New Year to you and Tom, as well!

  4. Happy New Year Mary. Look forward to seeing what adventures you have in store for 2019. Loved the mixture of new and old photos. Fun times and words to live by!

    1. Thank you, Ingrid, and a Happy New Year to you and Al, as well! I love going through our old vacation photos but I have to be careful not to post any pics that would embarrass the kids - no matter how tempted I am to do that!

  5. Loved this, Mary! I was also impressed with Alan's trailer-backing skills. Best wishes for 2019. Would love to see you on the road somewhere.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Joe! I, too, am impressed by Alan's trailering skills. In order to get our 32' travel trailer to it's pad, he has to back partially up the driveway (uphill), across the front lawn, around a clump of birch trees, through two gates and past the boat garage (also uphill). I know he has years of experience, but I'm still amazed every time he works his trailering magic. I couldn't do all that going forward, yet he manages to do it in reverse. He's a keeper!

      As far as our connecting with you and Helen, I can promise you that we'll make it happen one way or another!

  6. As always I love reading your thoughts. But since I have known you personally for almost 50 years (OMG), I know your words are true and a reflection of who you are;a kind, creative, funny, organized and wonderful friend to be around! Hope to see you soon.

    1. Awww, Gina, that's so sweet! Thank you! I just try to write like I speak it and be sure it comes from the heart. Maybe we should start another blog about our high school adventures - now THAT would be hilarious! Fifty years? YIKES! How did we get to be so . . . mature?!


Comments are encouraged and appreciated, so please do join the conversation!