Category Archives: Washington

I Feared For My Life & This Is What I Learned

October 2017 will be two years since I lived through Hurricane Joaquin, the historic perfect storm that I remember as the two longest days of my life. I have never known time to stand so still, during which I prayed constantly that my family and friends knew how much I loved them.

Effectively isolated after the storm on a remote island in the Caribbean, it would be eight days before I could hunt down a satellite phone to let the people who mean the most to me know I loved them, I was breathing but far from okay, and please send donations because the island was devastated. I didn’t know when I’d be able to reach my family again.

In the months following Joaquin in which an overseas, across-the-country move took place, I was a mess. Trauma from the storm unlocked trauma from my past until, nearly a year later when I thought I was healed, another window opened that my mind had bolted shut. I started seeing a therapist in the immediate aftermath of the storm who diagnosed me with PTSD on top of PTSD on top of PTSD.

But this post isn’t about fearing for my life. This post isn’t about my PTSD. It isn’t about my past (though that story begs to be told at a later time, when I’m ready).

This post is about my recovery. This post is about me, now.

So, you ask, how am I now?

The short answer: Freaking fantastic.

The long answer: I’m working on it.

My wounds will always be scabs turned scars that make me who I am. I would never in a million years wish any of these hardships upon someone. But I cannot change my past, so instead, I decided to see how my past could shape my future.

Breaking apart the most harrowing experiences of my life, I made a list of what I gained from them.

Here is that list:

  • Empathy & compassion. Sometimes life has to beat you up to give you empathy and compassion you didn’t know you were lacking.
  • Perspective. My eyes were further opened to the existence of poverty and racism in the world today.
  • Strength in vulnerability. Turning to others for help did not make me weak; it takes a great deal of courage to bare one’s heart and mind so openly.
  • Cultural enlightenment. I mean, I did get to live on a remote island in the Bahamas living the real island life and making lifelong friends turned family. So there’s that.
  • Dreams. I needed to start following my dreams NOW, and never ever stop.
  • Relationship knowledge. I learned what I want, need, and deserve in a relationship.
  • Self-awareness. In order to heal, I had to fully know myself. It was an isolating road to travel down, but necessary.
  • Peace within myself. Knowing who I am meant accepting all of me, including my flaws, quirks, and neuroses. Better yet, it meant embracing them.

Despite having just emerged from the darkest period of my life–and, admittedly, still having moments in which I feel like I take a step back–I am the happiest I have ever been.

My path of healing from PTSD threw me under the self-reflection bus, and I am eternally grateful to it for that. But I don’t think you need to claw your way out of the lion’s den in order to begin this journey.

The three experiences that led to my struggle had a common thread: I felt small, helpless, and insignificant. I have spent the last twenty-four months fighting to be strong, confident, and significant. I have worked hard at believing in myself, taking risks and viewing subsequent failures as successes.

Now, most days, I wear that cheesy ear-to-ear grin on my face that everyone who knew me before I moved to Seattle remembers. But I’ve changed. I have so many layers to me now. Good layers. Deep layers. Real layers.

One of my friends from the Florida Keys, who has always praised me for my positive and uninhibited energy, recently told me, “Stacey, you’re not the same person you were when you left here, and I mean that as the highest compliment.”

As I’ve begun reconnecting with college friends, they say the same thing. I still dance my crazy dance moves in the middle of the grocery store, but there’s more than a zest for life behind those crazy legs. There’s understanding. There’s a profound appreciation for it.

 

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My Favorite Part About the Solar Eclipse Wasn’t the Eclipse

Here in Seattle, we skirted the line of totality capturing a 92 percent partial eclipse. It’s nothing like the two-and-a-half minutes of daylight darkness that consumed Madras, Oregon just south of us, but it was enough to warrant stepping outside of the office to look at the sky.

I didn’t have any eclipse glasses of my own, but I stumbled upon a crowd outside the hilltop library just down the street from me. The community had gathered to pass around homemade cereal box viewers and pin hole paper plate designs, as well as the coveted certified eclipse glasses that sold out from stores weeks ago.

I watched shadows get crisper. I marveled at the little crescent moons on the sidewalk from the leafy trees. I saw the orange sun nearly obscured.

Watching this phenomenon was a memorable experience, but it wasn’t this magnificence in nature that astounded me so. It was the people taking it all in.

The crowd was filled with young and old, future budding scientists and grandparents who told of the eclipses they’d seen in their lifetime. It was filled with sharing and small talk and a genuine appreciation for Mother Nature.

Science–my career, my passion–is under so much attack in this country. People are filled with so much rage and hate in this world. But here was a moment where everyone for miles stopped what they were doing and looked toward the sun.

As I rode my bike to work, the sidewalks were still flowing with faces turned upward, brief moments taking in the sun and the moon as time seemed to stand still. As people passed their eclipse glasses from stranger to stranger and explained–educated–to the curious just exactly how this celestial marvel was possible, a sense of unity overwhelmed me.

You’ll notice I didn’t take any photos of the eclipse. Some experiences are meant to only be captured in our hearts and our minds. For me, the calming feeling that surrounded me couldn’t be captured through a lens, yet that is the part I’ll remember most.

Humans + Minds + Mother Nature

mountain hike

My friend Sarah snapped this candid shot last weekend on my birthday hike as four of us caught the last magic of winter before it fades softly into summer. When she got my attention, she asked me what I was thinking about.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I was just listening, to the chirping birds and the rushing waterfalls. I was just existing, a mote of bones and flesh in a breathing cosmic arena.

So much has happened in 29 years. So much has happened since I moved to Seattle. I have met incredible, diverse, and creative friends. I starred in my first film. I wrote a frigging book. I pulled 80-hour weeks. I went to Ikea and Costco for the first time (!). I learned how to wear a sari. And I’ve done it all while being shaken by a past that I knew and a past that my mind had blocked out.

The mind is a powerful tool, a wonderful and equally fascinating and disturbing gift. The human mind is unique.
We will never be as big and vast in our existence as Mother Nature. But we can lead meaningful, significant lives. We can use the power of our minds to create, to engage, to learn, to protect, and to really, truly live.

Sometimes I turn to the beauty of this planet when I am feeling broken. And sometimes I turn to it for no reason at all other than to stop and smell the flowers. But I always appreciate this planet, this life, and my role in it.

Goat Yoga: I Did It & I Loved It

goat yoga

A goat yoga craze is sweeping the country, and I snatched up an opportunity to try it in action.

I participated in Washington state’s only known goat yoga phenomenon on its inaugural weekend debut. Naturally, I wrote an article about it, which included interviews with the 10 curious and rambunctious four-legged animals, all of which were rescued.

goat yoga

The article turned out to be nothing short of adorable, inspiring and entertaining… because, goats.

Read about my goat yoga experience at The Wobbly Ranch here.

Happy Spring!

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” -Anne Bradstreet

Although I do like me my snow.

The sun is shining, cherry blossoms, irises and daffodils are blooming, and tulips are on their way! I don’t know what I would do without my seasons.

Enjoy today, for with spring comes new growth!

 

Beach Essentials: How to Make the Most Out of Your Sandy Relaxation

When I lived the island life, I quickly developed a habit of grabbing the same beach necessities every time I headed to the water.

While the coast of Washington doesn’t see me snorkeling like I did in the Bahamas and Florida Keys, I still pack my beach sack with the same things, excluding snorkel gear.

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Here’s a list of beach essentials that I recommend you carry to make the most of your shoreline adventure:

 1. Travel games

I refuse to go to the beach without Bananagrams and a deck of cards. Even if I’m going solo. Sometimes it’s too windy for cards, so keep that in mind before playing Solitaire or Rummy. And sometimes sea gulls will swoop in and steal the letter tiles for Bananagrams, particularly the coveted vowels. Here’s proof.

 2. Water

It is of course important to stay hydrated while soaking up the sun, but I also never go anywhere without a water bottle. Drinking fountains are just too far away from my beach towel anyway.

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 3. Headphones

I always bring music with me. If it’s a crowded beach, I am most likely going to be plugging in the tunes. If I’m traveling, I play music from my outdated iPod (read: songs from 2000–expect lots of High School Musical).

However, if the sound of nature overpowers the tourists, I forego the headphones. Puget Sound surprised me last summer with a delightfully vocal group of seals and sea lions!

 4. Blanket

In addition to the obvious beach towel, I usually bring along a comfy dedicated beach blanket. My blanket of choice has morphed between various styles over the years as they become soiled with seaweed and saltwater.

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 5. Camera

The best moments in life can’t be relived in a photograph, but nature constantly has beauty to behold. When I lived in Long Island, Bahamas, I kicked myself every time I got to the sea turtle cove and the camera was either forgotten or uncharged. Now I make sure I’ve got a means of snapping a picture if the opportunity presents itself.

 6.Waterproof shoes

Many of my beach adventures turn into hikes along old coral beds, which can’t be done in flip flops. I had to retire my last pair of Scuba booties, but any sort of waterproof shoes will do. (We called them aqua shoes in Ohio, but I’ve been told that is not a universal term. WHAT DO PEOPLE CALL THEM!?) Keens are also great! I wore out my pair in Florida–they’re not made for saltwater.

tidal pool

7. Other games

In addition to handheld games, I like to be active with other games on the beach. (I loooooooooooove games.) Growing up spending the summers on Lake Erie, my sisters and I played a minimum of two board games a day. Game pieces actually got lost in the sand and were recovered in future years during sandcastle building, hole digging and people-burying.

In case you’re feeling a 90s throwback, the beach board games of my youth included:

  • Pizza Party
  • Mall Madness
  • Sorry!
  • Guess Who
  • Ready, Set, Spaghetti!
  • Hi-Ho-Cheerio
  • Clue
  • Scrabble
  • Memory
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Candy Land

In my 20s (ohmygodImalmost30), I tend to bring a volleyball and cornhole to the beach if I can.

crashing wave

 8. Beach snacks

Snacks at the beach get their own term–“beach snacks”–because they tend to be bite-sized foods that we gravitate toward time and again when packing up for the sand. In my Ohio years, we always had Oreos at the beach. We’d freeze them and then let them melt in the sun. (Fun fact: Oreos are vegan.) Chips ‘n salsa was also a must and usually some fruit, veggie and cracker trays thrown in there. Frozen grapes are great!

Nowadays, I tend to bring fruit and trail mix as well as a sandwich. Check out my healthy, allergy-free recipes for some ideas! It is zero fun having to leave the beach because you’re hungry. Prepare ahead of time to prevent this!

 9. Book

Don’t ever go to the beach without a book. Just don’t do it.

Once, I made the mistake of bringing a book I’d read a few months before. I have regretted it every day since.

Kindles are great; just make sure they’re fully charged!

Sometimes, I also bring my animal identification books (birds, shells, etc.) because once a zoologist, always a zoologist.

beach

 10. Beach cover-up

To protect my skin from the sun but avoid overheating, I have a nifty, flowy, breathable button-up I bring. I apologize that I don’t know what material it is made out of, because this fashion piece is dynamite. If someone could help me out, that’d be fantastic.

 11. Sunglasses

Make sure you have good UV sunglasses, and don’t trade fashion for protection. With good research, I promise you can have both. If you have giant white scleras like myself, take extra caution to protect those eyeballs or you’ll get UV damage like I did! 😦

 12. Notebook and pen

Not only does this come in handy for keeping score in card games, but it’s also a necessity if you’re a writer like myself. When that muse hits you, it starts spewing like a jar of marbles. Be prepared to snag those good ideas before they roll too far.

13. Jar for seashells

To be honest, I usually forget this one, but I am a sucker for beachcombing. I’m always collecting shells, seaglass and rocks on the beaches with which to make little seashell creatures. The beach finds end up going in my teeny backpack (which I much prefer to a tote bag) or in whatever container I have leftover from my lunch.

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14. Miscellaneous

I’m limited in how many arms I have, and sometimes I get to the beach on my bike. But when I can carry more items, I’ve also brought or enjoyed the following:

  • Hammock (you’ll need trees for this one)
  • Chair
  • Metal detector (my friend had an underwater one and we found a whole penny!)

boat on beach

Note: This post was inspired by Tripping.com’s Florida Vacation Rentals. If you’re heading to Florida this spring or summer, be sure to visit some of my favorite coastal towns heading south:

  • Anna Maria Island
  • Sarasota
  • Boca Grande
  • Florida Keys (all of em!!!!)

What are your beach essentials? Florida and Bahamas friends, I want to hear from you especially! 🙂 

**Please do your part to protect the environment and avoid taking plastic bags to the beach. They blow away in an instant and are mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles and other animals!**

All photos ©Stacey Venzel, Creative Commons license.

 

50 Things I’ve Learned Since 2015

My life has been a series of catapulting adventures and misadventures since I left the Florida Keys in February 2015. But I’ve never felt more alive.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things I learned in the past two years:

  1. Some people will be there for you; some will not. Always be the one who is, not the one who isn’t.
  2. Dogs cure everything.
  3. Date yourself at least once in this lifetime.
  4. Be real on social media.
  5. Being a member of a community is vital to your own humanity.
  6. Almond butter > peanut butter.
  7. Everyone has a voice, but some voices are stifled. Be a voice for those who want to be heard but aren’t.
  8. It’s okay to be emotional.
  9. Never stop asking questions; it’s how you learn.
  10. Second chances keep you from second guessing.
  11. Not everyone will “get” you. Embrace those who try, forget about those who don’t try.
  12. Laugh at yourself often, a minimum of once a day.
  13. Friendships are just as valuable as blood and boys.
  14. Stopping to smell the flowers is a legitimate excuse for being late.
  15. Modern luxuries numb perspective and gratitude.
  16. More often than not, strangers are beautiful humans trying to get by just like you.
  17. Individual independence is a state too few obtain in life. Seek it.
  18. Change precedes growth precedes fulfillment.
  19. The city can eat you alive, but it also teaches things you can’t learn anywhere else.
  20. Most opportunities you have to make for yourself.
  21. Never take an unhitched breath and a normal heart rate for granted.
  22. No dream is ever too big. Dream and then do and then repeat.
  23. Always flip head over heels for the little things in life.
  24. The harder you work for something, the better it tastes.
  25. Find the equilibrium between listener and advisor.
  26. Self-awareness is a necessary state of living.
  27. Forgiveness is an incredible gift. Give of it freely, and accept of it graciously.
  28. Know when and how to stand up for yourself.
  29. Failure is inevitable. Learn from it.
  30. If you sacrifice until your sacrifice is no longer a sacrifice, you’ll be an expert on compromise.
  31. Happiness is subjective.
  32. Success is subjective.
  33. Beauty is subjective.
  34. Hate begets hate begets hate.
  35. Be funny.
  36. Push yourself, but don’t be hard on yourself.
  37. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if others don’t understand them.
  38. Don’t forget the power of face-to-face conversations.
  39. Trust your gut.
  40. Be an expert problem solver.
  41. Never go anywhere without nail clippers. Hangnails are the devil.
  42. If you’re going to lose yourself in something, Nature is a good option.
  43. Balance the good with the bad and the old with the new.
  44. Believe in something. Be grounded and steadfast in that belief.
  45. Not having a car is one of the quickest ways to learn patience.
  46. You can be informed about lots of things but you don’t need to know about everything.
  47. Cooking over a fire is not the same as cooking over a stove.
  48. Fearing for your life is something you never really get over.
  49. Some people are toxic, and you have to let them go.
  50. Empathy can feel like a curse. See it as an incredible gift.

We only have one life to live. Let’s give it all we’ve got.