Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Saying adieu to 2021

Shadow Mountain Farm: A view that we get to wake up to every day!

Normally around New Years (because it is too hectic at the end of a semester and at Christmas), I sit down to write a lengthy end-of-year summary of the previous year, a sort of belated holiday message to family and friends. It is always interesting to scroll back through my Google calendar for the year to see what jumps out at me besides my having attended way too many work-related meetings. Given the various types of losses that so many people experienced in 2021, I was hesitant to craft my typical cheery thorough rundown of the past twelve months. However, I decided that it is worth taking time to reflect on the good things that we were blessed with and to realize, with gratitude, that we have been fairly lucky given the ongoing global pandemic. 
Research shows that positive emotions like gratitude are closely connected to health and wellness. Not only do positive emotions promote happiness; they also create an upward spiral in your life. 
There also is some research that indicates that practicing gratitude during a crisis like COVID-19 is not only important for boosting your mood psychologically, but also helps your physical health in response to illnesses like respiratory infections. 
From: The Importance of Gratitude in the Time of COVID by Sherri Gordon 3/30/21  
A colleague of mine frequently talks about the importance of gratitude. Perhaps she is on to something. 

At the beginning of 2021, we were almost a year into the pandemic and the first vaccines were becoming available. I had taught in-person in fall ’20, and although Dave had been teaching virtually, he was about to teach in-person for the spring ’21 semester. Because I work with many faculty and students who go into healthcare facilities and other clinical settings, I was fortunate to receive an appointment slot for my first shot in January. For other reasons including being in education (we won’t mention his age), Dave also was able to get early access to the vaccine. I remember feeling giddy and a huge sense of relief, especially after the second shot. That second appointment for both of us was postponed due to a snow event, but fortunately rescheduled for the next day. Going to the local casino venue for that second vaccination was a bit surreal. We had never even been there for gambling or a night out! 

I am so grateful for science and this new vaccine technology. And I will never understand the ongoing anti-vaccine sentiments. 

It was strange that different states had different roll-out plans and prioritizations. Being in California, Corey was able to get vaccinated pretty early on. Meanwhile, in Illinois (Chicago), Joren had to wait until late spring/early summer. As mom, I felt a sense of relief knowing that they were protected too.

A view of the Lehigh Gap in winter

In the spring semester, I was asked to chair the conservation science committee for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and I became board president for the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Both are incredible honors. Hawk Mountain was started by a feisty female socialite from New York (Rosalie Edge); it is quite a story. Today, the organization is a global leader in raptor conservation and research. Dave and I (and other authors) continue to work on the book describing the amazing story of restoration at the Lehigh Gap - a Superfund site and contaminated barren landscape converted to a wildlife refuge and nature center. At a time when negative news about our planet are far too common, it is rewarding to be involved with two organizations that represent hope for our environmental future.


Easter was relatively late in 2021 (April 4th) and Dave and I went to a fantastic holiday brunch at a local country inn. It was weird to eat out in a restaurant after not doing so for a long time. Another reason to be grateful for the vaccine. 

Eastern PA had a spectacular spring for flowering trees and shrubs. No late frosts to turn star magnolia blooms brown as too often happens. 

A flower on a star magnolia

A newly planted magnolia in 2021 - I couldn't resist the lemony-colored flower on this variety!
We transplanted this weeping cherry from our old house/property 26 years ago!

By early May, I was brave enough to venture out for a haircut for the first time since the fall before the pandemic hit! And Dave and I went to a farm-team hockey game in a venue that was mostly empty. But it was finally a date night! 

Corey came to visit in May – so we got to bird together at the height of spring migration and for Mother’s Day. Such time together is always special and most certainly something to be grateful for. 

Corey brought me to see these trilliums on a Mother's Day many years ago - we came back in 2022


In June, Joren graduated from the University of Chicago with three majors: physics, math and music composition! At first, this was going to be a virtual only ceremony, but at the last minute, the institution's administration changed their minds. One campus-wide commencement ceremony was held as a virtual event that we watched from home in PA. Then smaller ceremonies were held a few days later and these were open to families and a small number of guests. Even though this was a last minute change, we fortunately found a reasonably priced cute rental near campus to stay at. We were so happy to be able to attend this event on the beautiful U. Chicago campus and celebrate (as very proud parents) Joren’s accomplishments. Over the weekend, we also got to see a little of Chicago, eat some ethnic food, and spend a day together at the Indiana dunes on Lake Michigan. 

Playing in Lake Michigan

Having two sons who have grown into wonderful young men is another thing to be grateful for. Corey is working on his Ph.D. in chemistry at Cal Tech. Joren is working on a masters in Physics at U. Chicago.


The end of June brought a new addition to our household – an adorable and extremely energetic miniature golden-doodle puppy. Friends of ours breed them and they had suggested for some time that we consider getting one after losing Revi, our Flat-coated Retriever, last year. To say the doodle pups are adorable is an understatement. But we certainly forgot how much work puppies can be. Booker has been a lot of fun and he is growing into a very loving companion. He loves to walk in the woods with us and as the breeders noted, these are little dogs with a big dog attitude. 

Booker - on "gotcha day" (June 29th)

Unlike summer 2020 during which I mostly worked remotely and had some extra time to work in the gardens since I wasn't commuting to and from work, this summer, I was on campus most weekdays. The gardens were still wonderful to enjoy when I came home. The Palmerton pool was open again for recreation and exercise, and of course, there were lots of walks with Booker and Dave.

In late July/August, both Dave and I had a chance to go to Costa Rica with friends. Unfortunately, we went at separate times – in part, due to our earlier uncertainty about Joren’s plans after graduation, and in larger part, due to the new puppy. Dave finally got to see Camaquiri – our conservation initiative in the country. It was great to travel again (things seemed very safe), to visit this country I love so much, and to see some Tico friends once again. I had been in Costa Rica with students just as Covid was hitting the U.S. in spring ’20 and just a few days after we returned, things shut down rapidly! 

Just one of the many species of Heliconia in the tropics

The beautiful Mesen family: Israel, baby Gavin, Sophia and Carolina at Camaquiri


In September, I attended the Audubon fall migration camp at Hog Island in Maine – with my “boss” who is retiring at the end of the 2021-22 academic year. The migration was phenomenal, the setting beautiful, and the birding time made extra special as the camp was led by some great friends: Scott Weidensaul, Holly Merker, and Eva Matthews Lark. 

It was so wonderful to return to the beautiful and special place

Holly Merker and me

Sunset from the island


I realized that, in reading this, it probably sounds like I don’t work much. In reality, it was a crazy year of strategic planning, reorganization, accreditation processes for several new programs under my purview, teaching, etc. And Moravian College (established in 1742) became Moravian University! I am grateful to work on a beautiful campus that is thriving at a time when some campuses are not faring nearly as well. Dave also works at a wonderful institution of higher education and enjoys no longer being department chair! Working with students and helping to prepare the next generation of scientists, problem solvers, and leaders is certainly rewarding. 

I also continue my work with the NCAA – running the leadership institute as virtual webinars for 2020-21 (due to Covid) and then holding an in-person session in late September in Indianapolis. Thanks to masks and vaccinated participants, all went smoothly. My idea for these institutes was first kicked around in 2000 and we launched the first one in 2005. It has been quite the honor to organize and facilitate these annually ever since.

The Hall of Champions at the NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis

The 2020-21 Division II FAR Fellows (we briefly demasked for a group photo)


After much deliberation and many delays from the U.N. in terms of planning details, I ended up attending the climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow with my colleague from Moravian, Dr. Hilde Binford. This had been delayed from 2020. Lots of testing (pre-travel each direction and daily while in Scotland), mask wearing, and limited room capacities kept people safe, but hindered civil society participation. It was great to see the U.S. “back in” the Paris Agreement with high profile representatives present in full force making a lot of good pledges that they may or may not be able to deliver. You can read about some of the events and perspectives in our Moravian at the UNFCCC blog.

I didn't have to organize a side event (panel) this year, but helped run daily meetings of the Research and Independent NGOs constituency (RINGOs), worked with the Global Council for Science and the Environment delegation, had a meeting with the UN reps who work with the Technology Executive Committee, and gave a presentation on the TEC task forces (I serve on the Innovation task force). I had a little free time to walk around the city to sightsee.

The lovely view of the River Clyde from our rental

The Glasgow Cathedral

The Climate Action Hub at COP26

Representing RINGOs at a session with the UNFCCC Secretariat and country Parties

I was invited to attend a roundtable discussion with Gina McCarthy - special climate advisor to President Biden

With colleagues from Colorado State and the University of Derby

Due to the Level 4 risk rating of the UK by the State Department, Moravian students weren’t allowed to travel to the COP. I did, however, connect with colleagues and students involved with our multi-institution grant (the YEAH project) and see some Moravian alums who attended. I also reconnected with a high school classmate who works in the climate market world! Our paths have been very different since graduating from Marquette Senior High, but it was fun to compare notes over dinner together in Glasgow!

Moravian alums (Sarabeth Brockley '10 and Chelsea Hill '21)

 My dear friend and colleague Gillian Bowser

Part of the YEAH team!

Two Marquette gals hanging in Glasgow - discussing our climate-related work and catching up on over 40 years of life (with Karen McClelland)


It was a lovely, long fall with lots of walks with Booker, even if the autumn color was slow to emerge and less vibrant than last year. We didn’t have frost until November (which is highly unusual, speaking of climate change)! 

Dave and I had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, wrapped up the fall ’21 semester, and anxiously awaited the arrival of both boys for the Christmas holiday. It was the first time we have all been together in three years. We were all boosted, but because of the Omicron variant of Covid, didn’t venture out much. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to hang out, bake together, have some music playing by the boys, visit Longwood Gardens with Holly, do some winter birding, play Scrabble, snuggle with Booker, and just be together as a family at the farm. That love-filled ending to 2021 is definitely something to be grateful for.

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