Impostor Syndrome vs. My First Book Signing

Who was I to call myself an author?

This article was previously published in The Writing Collective.

This is definitely not me. The actual signing was a lot more fraught. Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

After a posting a half-baked selfie with my newly-published nonfiction piano maintenance book on social media, I received a text from an acquaintance.

Did I have any extra copies on hand, and would I be willing to part with one?

Did she even have to ask?

There was a short flurry of “I’ll meet you at such-and-such time” and “Don’t forget to bring the goods” type messages to arrange a transaction at a mutually convenient location.

Next thing I knew, I was in a vacant parking lot under the cover of darkness. I had pulled up alongside a van parked behind the bank for a quick cash exchange with a person I barely knew.

Now that I think about it, the whole thing comes across as more than a little sketchy. But even to the authorities, selling a book isn’t that big a deal.

Not that I wasn’t terrified.

Yikes — this might have better lighting than the real lot. Photo by Brice Cooper on Unsplash

I had met my reader once before for a similar parking lot exchange last summer — she’s a hobby farmer with a bunch of alpacas, I’m a knitter in the market for fiber— and we’ve been Facebook friends slash friendly acquaintances ever since. And the actual transaction was not as sus as it sounds. It was dark because it was 5:15 PM in January, and we were parked behind the bank because her music studio happened to be next door. She was heading home in her minivan after a long day of teaching kids to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

So why was I so scared?

She had a special request that made my blood pressure shoot up.

She asked me to sign the book.

My hyper-analytic brain launched straight into terror mode.

What if I spelled her name wrong? What if I wrote something stupid? What if my signature looked weird? For that matter, should I do my illegible signature, or just print my name?

Worst of all — what if she was only trying to be nice?

I’m no celebrity. I wear the same sweatshirt/ponytail combo every day and I eat chicken nuggets for dinner. 99% of people couldn’t care less what I do for a living. The other 1% is politely interested, but not entirely sure how I can call writing a career. Nobody’s out there collecting my signature for their scrapbook.

But maybe… maybe they should.

Most writers’ journeys begin and end here. gifimage

I wrote an actual, honest-to-god book. With a cover and pages and everything. I worked really hard on this thing and put in hundreds of hours researching, writing, editing, editing, editing, designing, publishing, and shouting into the void. I’m still clocking hours on that last one.

I have put in the work, no doubt. So why shouldn’t I accept a little pat on the back?

Most people say they want to write a book someday, but only around 15% ever start. Less than 3% get around to finishing the damn thing.

And even fewer of those rare birds write humor-tinged beginner’s DIY musical instrument maintenance guides for people who happen to have inherited old pianos.

I think I might be the only one, actually.

So maybe I should accept my tiny flicker of fame.

Probably never going to get anywhere near there, but… you know what they say about self-rejection. Don’t. Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash

After I finally reined in my impostor syndrome enough to put pen to endpaper, I handed over a physical manifestation of, if not my life’s work, then the last year’s, at least.

My first real reader (as in, not my editor or my mom) was thrilled. She was genuinely happy to support a local creative friend-quaintance and said as much.

And since she was a local piano teacher, she was willing to give me a little boost. She said that if the book really resonated and she felt like it was something she could share with a few of the musically inclined parents who sent their grubby-fingered kids for music lessons, she’d stock my book and sell it at her studio.


For one shining moment, my work was valid and appreciated.

I did not cry.

Instead, I rode that high on the short drive back to my house, $18 richer and pricelessly more encouraged.

I’ve been a writer for a long time, but that day, I became an author.

Technically, I was an author while I wrote it, an author during publishing, and an author when my sales were stuck at zero.

But this time, it meant something. Proof positive that I was the kind of person who could put in the work to make something out of nothing. Someone who could rightfully claim that peak status so many of us crave, but so few ever achieve.

I strode into my house a new person.

Then I pulled my hair back into its usual ponytail, slipped on my worn-out sweatshirt, popped some chicken nuggets in the microwave, at sat down at my keyboard to do it all again.

9 Extracurricular Lessons to Get the Most Out of Your English Major

If I had built these skills before graduation, I’d’ve become a much more successful writer

This post was previously published in The Writing Collective.

Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Hello, class! It’s me — well, actually, you — from the future.

Yes, it’s true. Time travel’s been invented, college is in the rear view, and you’ve been a hired pen for a few years. You even wrote a book! Congratulations!

But this praise is only half-deserved because you really could’ve been further along than this. If you’d stepped back from your classwork for a moment to consider what you intended to do with your English major, you could’ve been a household name by now.

So why don’t you set down Catcher in the Rye for a moment.

There are a few things you need to do outside of class if you want to change your future.

Read the NYT bestsellers

You read your books for class, of course (and you’d never dream of skipping straight to the SparkNotes when your essay is due in only 36 hours, right?) but there’s a whole world of literature outside the University. And spoiler alert: it’s required reading.

Browse the bestsellers of the day and ask yourself: Why are these titles successful? What reader’s itch do they scratch? Are the stories truly groundbreaking? Or are they all hype with no substance — just fame begetting fame? There’s a lesson either way.

Don’t turn your nose up at James Patterson. JK Rowling, for better or for worse, is an author billionaire. Those cartoon-covered contemporary romance novels you’re always dunking on? Yeah. That’s what sells.

Not that the classics aren’t great reads, but modern tastes lean less Kerouac and more King. It’s up to you to find out what makes bestsellers so appealing.

Build a thicker skin

You work hard, make a great impression, and reap the rewards in your professor’s gradebook. That’s awesome, but now it’s time for a taste of failure.

If you hope to make it as a professional writer — any kind, ranging from social media person to epic novelist— get ready to be rejected a lot. Like, daily. Your inbox is going to be 95% “no,” 4% “yes, but” and the last 1% will be updates from your mom.

I don’t say that to turn you off from writing. Quite the opposite. Write more. Fail more. Because if you’re not constantly failing and learning from your mistakes, you’re not growing.

Getting comfortable with failure gives you emotional space to try again.

Learn how publishing works

Get familiar with all kinds of publishing. Trad pub, self pub, indie, anthology, literary mag, guest post, copywriting, ghostwriting, journalism, agented, unagented — there is a lot to learn about the publication processes, and very few college courses cover this stuff in detail.

Some writers say the publication part is harder than writing.

You don’t have to know which kind of publication or type of writing you want to do yet; just start googling. You can try them one after another or lean in on a single publication style. You could even be a multi-format writer (like yours truly) to experience a little bit of everything.

Try and keep your thumb on the pulse of the publishing industry, if you can. It changes all the time, but if you get the basics of how and where to submit, and how to query, you’ll do okay.

Learn how to self-promote

I know, I know, you are an artiste and English lit kids like you are very different from the marketing jocks. But that’s where you’re wrong, grasshopper.

Every single author you’re wishing to emulate knew how to hype. They knew the best literary tricks to wow their audience, they knew how to position themselves for success, they networked, and/or they wrote great copy (see: querying).

Yes, one way or another, every successful writer developed a strong personal brand.

Marketing speak, bleah. But get used to it. You want success as a writer? You need to start grinding.

Don’t be the grammar police

You’ll get invited to more parties this way.

But no, seriously, there’s not a soul out there who likes to have their grammar critiqued every time they open their mouth or shoot off a text. You’re not perfect, either. And even if your grammar does happen to be flawless, so what? Who does this impress? Not your friends, not your professors, not your future bosses — just yourself. Nobody cares if you can use a semicolon or if you know the correct usage of who vs. whom. Language is a living thing, so today’s rules might not even apply tomorrow, anyway.

If you want to get into proofreading, yes, become a grammar expert. But honestly. Keep your conversational grammar-correcting instincts in check.

Learn the rules, but bend them often

Start a sentence with a preposition! Make up words! Fragments for emphasis! Use too many exclamation points!

Learn how to color within the lines, but don’t forget the importance artistry.

By playing with words, manipulating sentence structure, and defying all the nitty-gritty rules you had pounded into your head over the years, you become a true creator. This is your voice! It’s your character. Develop it. Explore it. This is the part that makes writing fun.

Words are yours to wield.

Explore different written formats

Your professor wants everything TNR, double-spaced, 1″ margins, with MLA citations. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Only your professor wants it like that. Oh, sure, you’ll have to learn the Shunn manuscript format if you ever decide to submit to a publication (which you should start doing immediately) and all publications have their own guidelines. As a person from the future, though, I can confidently tell you that nobody in the real world cares about MLA format. AP and CMS, though… yeah, you should look into those. Especially if you’re considering any type of journalism.

Take a good look at written structure while you’re at it. Tap into your analytical side and watch for patterns while you read a wide range of formats.

See how writing a book report isn’t the same as writing a book, blog, newspaper article, or short story. Nonfiction reads very different from fiction.

Understand modern formats, learn how to replicate them, and you’ll go far.

Don’t lean on your laurels

The day after graduation, your GPA becomes irrelevant. Nobody ever wonders how famous authors did in their Shakespeare classes. After a certain number of years, your entire college experience is going to become an unimpressive footnote when you’re looking for gigs. Sorry, but it’s true.

The truth is that if you’re a hired pen, your client just wants to see you crank out solid marketable content day after day. Your agent wants you to develop vivid stories and your editor needs it all to make sense. Your readers are hungry and they want you to feed them!

And don’t bother looking back at your old writing too much. It’s going to be cringe. Not that you were a bad writer back in the day — it’s just that your writing has matured. If you’ve been learning and growing, it’s supposed to feel like that.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Above all — never EVER stop writing

It doesn’t matter if you’re still working on your degree, took home a PhD, are switching majors, or are a wistful time traveler holding out hope for success.


I’m not kidding. Rusty writing skills will be your Achilles’ heel.

Just find a topic and start scribbling.

Writer’s block is not an excuse, either. Use prompt generators. Dive down rabbit holes and then blog about it. Work on that novel of yours. Keep a diary. Review that show you binge-watched. If all else fails, post on social media.

Maybe you’re very busy and all you can manage is a single word today — that counts as writing. Or maybe you’ve got a whole book series in you, and that creative spark just turned into a roaring flame. However inspiration strikes, you absolutely must get those fingers on the keyboard or put that pen to paper.

Roll your eyes if you must, but here’s the stone cold truth:

You can’t write if you don’t write.

But for now, get back to Catcher in the Rye. Don’t you have an assignment due tomorrow? Maybe when you’re finished, you should pick up the latest romcom to see what all the fuss is about. Who knows! You might just find your calling — and this time, you’ll be prepared to grasp at success.

10 Animal Volunteer Gigs You’d Quit Your Job to Do Full-Time

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Donating your time to through volunteer work is a fantastic way to be the change you want to see in the world. And if you’re an animal lover, you can use this opportunity to make a tremendous impact in the lives of pets, wild animals, or even the environment as a whole.

Best of all, some animal volunteer opportunities are so extraordinarily awesome, you’ll wish you could do it all the time!

If your idea of volunteering is devoting every Saturday to back-breaking manual labor that doesn’t give you warm fuzzies, you’ll be glad to know there is a whole world of animal-related volunteer options that will warm your heart — and they all come with plenty of fuzzies.

Snuggle with kittens and play with puppies

Animal shelters around the world need compassionate animal lovers (like you!) to socialize their animals. Most of these gigs involve cleaning up after the pets, so if you’re willing to do a little pooper scooping, you can have the cushy job of cuddling with kitties and playing fetch with puppies. Whether you’re doing this for an animal shelter, or your neighbor who doesn’t have the mobility to take his dog for long walks anymore, this one’s a pet-lover’s dream come true.

Photo by Lydia Torrey on Unsplash

Build Parrot Puzzles

Anyone who’s ever met a parrot knows they are way too smart to languish in cages without love. That’s why parrot rescues need creative people like you to assemble toys, build puzzles, and talk to the birds to keep their sharp minds active. But good luck trying to outsmart the macaws — they’re as clever as your average preschooler!

Photo by David Vives on Unsplash

Ride Horses

Ride a horse, do some good. If you’re a skilled equestrian, you can train horses, give riding lessons, rehabilitate abused or neglected horses, or help therapy horses do their jobs. You can even lead trail rides. There’s an endless to-do list for horse-loving volunteers.

Photo by Chris Neumann on Unsplash

Citizen Science

Join the likes of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Florence Nightingale and become a citizen scientist. This one is especially fun, because being a citizen scientist could mean anything from participating in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count to scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef to monitor the fish. Got a telescope? Map the stars. Like bugs? Study spiders. The world is your oyster.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Make your home a butterfly sanctuary

You can turn your yard a pollinator’s paradise. This one is perfect for people who aren’t big on socializing, but still want to make an impact by supporting local wildlife. You can do this in conjunction with your local horticultural club or just wing it (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Fix feral cats

In major cities, over-large feral cat populations can be problematic for wild birds and can spread diseases. Humanely trapping ferals, taking them to a participating veterinarian, and releasing them back to their outdoor home is a great way to keep their populations in check without harming them. Plus, you get to pet all the neighborhood kitties!

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

Wildlife photography

Nothing inspires donors to open their wallets quite like beautiful animal photography and successful projects. Take original photos for wildlife charities or snap a few selfies with your local animal shelter’s kitties for Instagram. Whatever your subject, you’ll love this behind-the-scenes role.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Zoo volunteering

Want to care for big cats or monitor marsupials? At many zoos, teens and adults can get up close and personal with the animals. You can ask your local zoo what needs to be done, so you could be an animal handler, petting zoo coordinator, wildlife champion, mascot, groundskeeper, greeter, and so much more.

Photo by Anthony Yin on Unsplash

Animal blogging

If you’re a writer, you’ll love this one. Support your favorite wildlife conservation projects or animal rescue center without leaving your couch. Use your dual love of animals and creative writing to encourage people to donate, to educate them about upcoming projects, or help them determine whether their neighbor’s fat tabby is a mountain lion or not (it’s not). If you’re an internet-dwelling wordsmith and animal lover, this one’s perfect for you.

Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

Have you caught the animal volunteerism bug? What other dream gigs have you found?

The perfect small pet might be right under your nose

I can’t remember exactly how this pet came into my life, but I distinctly remember it being one of the coolest, most interesting, and easiest critters I’d ever had.

And grew up with a lot of pets.

Dogs and cats, yes. But also chinchillas, cockatiels, hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, fish, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and an assortment of frogs/toads. Oh, and a leopard gecko. And a bunch of hermit crabs. And one impulse-adopted escape-artist shrimp.

(Despite all indications to the contrary, I did not grow up on a farm or a zoo.)

I loved all those pets, in one way or another. Some were friendlier than others, some were challenging to keep, and some became my best friends. No matter the species, all of my many pets had the best home I could give them at the time, and were all special to me.

But one tiny pet made a big mark on my memory.

The stick bug.

aka stick insect, aka walking stick, aka phasmid

Now, I am not a bug lover. Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem, sure, but I wouldn’t be too upset if I never saw another spider in my house ever again. Yuck.

So for me to keep an insect as a pet was a pretty big deal.

The stick bug – which, sadly, I never named – was highly cool. It was about 8 inches long, greenish-brown, skinny, and a dead ringer for an actual stick. When I could spot it, that is.

There’s more than one in here! How many do you see? Image: Phasmid Study Group

There are a lot of ‘pros’ for keeping a walking stick insect as a pet.

  • Walking sticks are surprisingly friendly. When handled slowly and gently, they don’t seem to mind being picked up. It’s hard to tell, but they might even like it, since they’ll crawl onto your hand quite readily. Like any animal, they can bite when handled roughly, but it’s extremely unlikely.
  • They’re super chill. They don’t scurry, dart, scuttle, jump, or fly. All they do is walk slowly in a non-creepy way. They have no interest (or ability) to infest your home if they escape.
  • They eat romaine lettuce. In nature, stick insects eat whatever plants are outside, but in captivity, a leaf of lettuce is all they need. Now, this is species-dependent, so you really must do some googling to make sure you’re feeding yours correctly.
  • They’re silent, odorless, and clean. Your landlord will have nothing to complain about.
  • They’re low maintenance. A stick insect will live quite happily in a well-ventilated 10-15 gallon aquarium decked out with twigs and leaves. Room temperature is just right for them, and a gentle daily misting provides all the water they need. Of course, you’ll need to remember to clean up wilted lettuce and refresh the environments once in awhile, but other than that, there’s not a lot of care. Arguably, walking sticks are the easiest exotic pet there is.
  • They don’t have long lifespans. Time to get real. If you’re not sure how much of a commitment you want to make to small pet ownership, you’re in luck. Stick bugs only live about a year.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) care for a cat, dog, or hamster, walking sticks might be just the ticket.

Best of all, they live wherever you do.

Stick insects live on every continent except Antarctica, and if you have a keen eye, you can probably find one in your backyard right now.

I did once. I have no idea how I managed to see this little fella walking in the grass outside my home, but I did. 

Do you see it?

Sounds awesome right? Read this fine print before you bring one home.

  • Stick insects are just as fragile as they look. Only careful adults should pick them up, and even then only as gently as possible.
  • Make sure there’s enough room for your bug’s environment, because they can get quite large. They like to hang upside down, too, so the top of the aquarium/terrarium should be mesh.
  • Purchase your insect from a reputable company. It’s not nice to take wild animals from their natural environment. On the other hand, non-native stick insects are illegal to keep as pets in the US, so do some research either way.
  • Important: If you have a pet stick bug, do not let it outside. Depending on the species you’ve adopted, it could be an invasive ecological pest.

If you do decide to get a pet walking stick insect, be a responsible pet parent (because it is a pet) and do your homework. There are over 3,000 phasmid species to explore!

But if you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, just take another look in your backyard! You might be in for a surprise.

Harness the power of social media to fight illegal animal trafficking

You love animals. Of course you do! That’s why you love seeing adorable animal pictures on social media.

But if you really truly love animals, you’ll learn the signs of trafficking on social media and use those same tools to fight back.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

I know, baby tigers are cuter than anything, and you’ve always wanted to hug a monkey. Cheetahs riding in the back of Lamborghinis is the stuff of your most envious 1%er dreams.

That’s why Instagram shows it to you.

You can’t help but see perfectly-posed animals sharing our human space, and want to keep one as a pet. It’s science.

So whether it was intentional or not, social media has become the biggest driver for international animal trafficking, abuse, and the illegal wildlife trade.

That’s right. Black market animal trafficking doesn’t just happen on the darkweb anymore. You don’t even need to turn on incognito mode because happens right in front of our eyes.

And we “love” it.

A recent study of YouTube videos showed that when people see human-exotic animal interactions, the reactions are overwhelmingly positive.

Today, there are efforts in place on most social media platforms to slow pet sales. In 2017, Facebook and Instagram banned the sale of all animals: exotic or domestic. Their seemingly-robust algorithms frequently flag harmless products that reference threatened animals in any way. (Try posting an innocuous item on the Facebook marketplace and describe the color as “ivory” or “mink,” I dare you.) This might make you think what you’re seeing has been vetted by the algorithm and isn’t abuse.

But it can be.

Photo by Bisakha Datta on Unsplash

Animal traffickers are smarter than the platforms’ AI. They’ll phrase things a certain way, use specific terms, or use posed photos that don’t tell the whole story. This is how they list wild animals for sale to unsuspecting people like you and me.

You’ve seen this practice, I’m sure. Don’t we all have some relative who talks about the pandemic as “c0v1d” or types “wax seen” instead of vaccine? The idea is to trick the AI into thinking you’re talking about something else. And it often works!

Many of these practices are just as easy to spot. If you see the phrase “baby tiger for sale” along with a WhatsApp number, you can be pretty confident that illegal endangered animal trafficking is going on.

Facebook is one of the biggest drivers for sales, but Instagram is where people get the idea of owning these pets in the first place.

Most of us feel like Instagram is the most picture-perfect aspirational social media platform out there. So when we see our favorite influencer snuggling with their ultra-exotic pet, we want to do that, too.

Instagram knows about this.

If you search a specific hashtag like #slothselfie or #petcheetah, you’ll get a popup telling you that animal exploitation is wrong. But it’s a one-click bypass to see hundreds of jealousy-inducing photos. Try it in another language — particularly Arabic, because the majority of cheetah trafficking takes place in Saudi Arabia — and you’ll see even more posts and NO warning popup.

Photo by Ahmed Galal on Unsplash

Cheetahs are in especially hot water right now. They’ve come to symbolize extreme wealth, so owning one has become the ultimate status symbol, driving demand for this fragile species up. Way up.

In 2018, The Cheetah Conservation Fund found that 1,367 documented cheetahs went up for sale between 2012 and 2018.

That’s 20% of the entire cheetah population. In the world.

One fifth of all cheetahs were for sale, and most of them on social media.

And that’s just the ones that survived trafficking long enough to get posted.


The ACCO found that most wildlife trading takes place in broad daylight for everyone to see. No cloak and dagger, just public social media posts.

So here’s what we need to do.

  • Don’t like, share, or comment on any images that you think portray an illegal exotic pet or trafficked wild animal. Instead, like, share, or comment on images of animals living free in the wild or being cared for by reputable organizations. AZA-accredited zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and reputable wildlife accounts that promote positive conservation and education get the green light.
  • Don’t like, share, or comment on touristy images of people snuggling with wild or endangered animals. It looks like an amazing bucket list experience, but it is abuse. This one can be hard to spot, since some of the hashtags and organizations putting them on look legit. These “encounter” experiences are often billed as humane or even as a conservation project, so many of us have fallen for this trap. But there are loads of humane wildlife tourism alternatives out there — support them instead!
  • Don’t like, share, or comment on anything that makes you think the animal (or a part of it) is for sale. Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes it’s not. Instead, report these crimes whenever you see them. If you think you’ve seen wildlife trafficking — including wild animals for sale, ivory or animal parts for sale, or abusive videos — report it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

But by reporting what we see and refusing to support abuse, we can do our small parts to reduce the demand on trafficked animals.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Make the world your skatepark

For a real challenge, get outside and away from the concrete jungle 

Skateboarding is an urban sport. 


I mean, just look at any city’s downtown scene. Even if there’s nothing built specifically for skateboarders, you’ll see them flocking to stairs, handrails, curbs, and concrete art installations. Anything bolted down or built up, really. The DIY concrete skatepark movement is so ingrained in skate culture, that visiting historic parks has become a rite of passage.

But what if skateboarding didn’t have to have such hard lines?

What if you could take your board into the wilderness for a realer experience?

If you thought cracked concrete was crusty, you’re going to have to get real creative, real fast when you try to boardslide a fallen log. Skating in nature demands innovation. 

It’s imperfect, will definitely mess up your bearings, and requires a level of knowing one’s limits that not every city skater can achieve. Creativity unleashed.

And yeah, not everyone is up for the challenge, just as not everyone has access to choice skateparks and skater-friendly downtown areas.

So some skaters who don’t live in big cities, don’t have access to skate-mecca plazas like Kulturforum, or have done Burnside so many times it’s lost its appeal (heresy, I know!) – they’re forced to head out to the sticks. Literally. 

Others just want to feel that connection between their board and the forest it came from.


The idea of skating in the great outdoors isn’t a new concept. Element’s “Nature Calls” is only the latest installment in the years-long trend of raw nature skating. It’s just that this one’s gained a lot of traction.

In just one month, this video’s had over a quarter million views on YouTube alone. Even more impressively, almost nobody in the comment section can think of anything negative to say about it.

In “Nature Calls,” Jaako Ojanen, Madars Apse, Phil Zwijsen, and other Element Europe skaters brought their boards to the Pyrenees to dig up a whole year’s worth of unconventionally – but undeniably – skateable spots.

They found bike trails. Aqueducts. Mountains. Desolate roads. Fallen logs. I-beam bridges. Breakwaters. Even a cactus patch looked like a good enough spot for these guys. 

The creativity in this film is next-level. Not every trick was one for the record books, but how are you going to skate down a mountain or across a frozen lake and not be considered a badass?

Even if you’re not a skater, “Nature Calls” (and the subsequent extended version) is highly jealousy-inducing. Between shreds, the crew took breaks to go canoeing, swimming, throw rocks, and bother a cow. Like any outdoors adventurer, they couldn’t help but stop in awe and take photos that would never do the real thing justice. 

One viewer said they felt like they were watching Planet Earth, but with skateboarding.

Brand purpose

Like practically all skate brands, most of Element’s vids are city-centric. This time, they’ve released one that embraces their.. ahem.. true nature. And if the rumbles from the skate community mean anything, “Nature Calls” has put them firmly on the cool list. 

Element is not a new company, and it’s had its share of critics. Some snobs who insist on a minimum level of gnar (and a minimum pricetag) will turn up their noses at this affordable, tree-huggingly wholesome brand.

But for those of us who are interested in breathing fresh air while we enjoy outdoor sports, Element is a go-to. They know what’s up.

This brand is doing its best to be ethical, environmentally aware, and nature-promoting. Their sustainability commitments, recycled collections, and partnership with National Geographic have earned them some crunchy brownie points.

As much as Element’s trying to pioneer ethical skateboarding, Cariuma beat them to the B Corp punch. 

It’s the very first certified B Corp skate company, and for good reason. Cariuma has made sustainability and negative carbon impact their priority, been transparent about their impact, and are actually participating in reforestation.

This is a big shift in messaging from the major skate brands.

Most brands have no comment about sustainability. There’s very little supply chain transparency and they have nothing to say about environmental impact. 

And yes, skateboarding does have a significant environmental impact

Deforestation is a serious global problem, and this particular industry is a contributor in a way we can’t ignore. Maple logging for skate decks, specifically, needs to be confronted. That, and fast fashion. Nike SB, the hottest skate shoe brand du jour, is working on lessening their environmental impact, so that’s good. But considering the immense demand for constant wardrobe updates, high rate of consumerism, and the broader community’s “edgy” low opinion of eco-conscious brands, this is more than an uphill battle. It’s a vert ramp.

Find your natural skatepark

Skating in nature isn’t exactly an anomaly, but it’s not easy to find groups willing to get off the streets. The most common idea of a skatepark is decidedly free of vegetation.

Most of the info you can find about off-road, mountain, wilderness, outdoor, nature, or forest skating is almost exclusively geared toward longboarders. Sometimes electric skateboarders. Probably scooterers, too, but by then we’re way off track.

If you want to skate outside, just find a spot and do it.

Urban exploration is wonderful, but there’s something extra special about rural skating. If rural means farmland to you, skate it. If it means deep forests, beaches, deserts, or snow ramps, by all means. Skate it.

Bottom line? You don’t have to be a concrete surfer

But there is a catch.

If you do decide to skate off road, be kind. Ride safely on bike and hike trails, and be respectful of the plants, animals, and geology around you. Don’t trespass, don’t damage fragile ecosystems, and if you’re in a park, don’t stray from the trails. And don’t crash into any pedestrians, either. 

And nature skating has the same rules as hiking. Go with a buddy, tell someone where you’ll be and when you expect to be back, keep track of your location, and bring a first aid kit. You’ll also want a first aid kit for your board because your bearings are going to be toast.

But there’s a lot to be said for nature skating. 

The silence, for one.

The challenge of making the most of the unknown.

The immeasurable, incomparable beauty of an untouched landscape.

Also, no cops. 

For more nature skating inspiration, check out these classic films.

Top 10 Awesome Animals that Inspired Me in 2021

As we finally turn the last page of our 2021 calendars, many of us are making our Top 10 lists to commemorate things we loved this year. Top 10 Best Songs, Top 10 Favorite Books, Top 10 Movies, and so on.

Those are all great, but I like animals. There are some pretty cool ones out there.

But I quickly discovered that I couldn’t simply pick 10 favorites. That’s too big of an ask! So instead, I thought about the animals that have ‘wowed’ me recently. Some have fascinating facts or backstories, others are weirdly wonderful, and some are just plain cute.

Have a look at all these animals that are close to my heart for one reason or another. Be sure to let me know which are your favorites, too!


I love the vicuña conservation story. Once hunted almost to extinction, wild vicuñas are now sustainably herded, shorn, and returned to their homes in the Andes mountains. This process is called chaccu and it involves hundreds of community members literally joining hands to create a human chain. The people slowly close the circle and guide the vicuñas to an enclosure so they can humanely harvest wool. Because this low-impact annual event doesn’t require domesticating vicuñas, the animals are simply released to the wild or dedicated nature preserves. Vicuñas’ extremely valuable wool supports the Peruvian economy and traditions, AND has increased the populations of these adorable little camelids. Everyone benefits!

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar waxwings are sleek (but clumsy) colorful (but drab from a distance) quiet (but incredibly annoying) and widely distributed (but often go unnoticed).

Also, they’re shameless drunks.

Vampire Bat

Yes yes, it drinks blood. Very spooky. But check out that nose! All leaf-nosed bats use their extra-sensitive noses to find their prey with astounding accuracy, and vampire bats use specialized heat sensors in theirs to zero in on blood vessels. Wild, right?

I had a close encounter with a (non-vampire) bat earlier this year which rather forced me to learn more about these amazing animals. I’ve always appreciated bats’ roles in the ecosystem and admired their unique skills, so as unsettling as the encounter was, it was a stroke of luck that led me to learning more about these amazing animals.

Walking Stick Insect

Unless you live in Antarctica, you’ve probably seen a stick bug without even realizing it. Despite its god-tier camouflage, I was lucky enough to spot one in the grass a few years ago! They’re very friendly, as far as bugs go, so the kids and I were able to pick it up and play with it for a moment before returning it to a nearby bush.

I haven’t seen one of these cuties lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been looking!


Until 1901, okapis were cryptids. They have crazy looking bums, yet keep such a low profile that until then, most people considered them mythological creatures. Clearly, they’re real. You can’t help but wonder which other “impossible” creatures are out there just waiting to be discovered. The “jungle horse” is a great reminder to never stop searching.

Woolly Aphid

Woolly aphids are pests to most people, but I like finding these little cuties in my tomato garden. My kids call them fairies.

Okay, I admit it. I do, too.


Bobcats are firecrackers! They’re small, feisty, eat just about anything, live just about everywhere in the US, plus they’re cute and fluffy. What’s not to love?

I recently worked with The Felidae Conservation Fund on a research project to introduce these (and other!) beautiful cats to more readers. It was an absolute pleasure learning more about bobcats and putting them in perspective. Sadly, I found out that they live almost everywhere… except where I am! I’m holding out hope that I’ll see one from a safe distance someday — their numbers are steadily climbing nationwide and there have been recent sightings in my area!


The “leave me alone” fish have surprisingly endearing personalities. Pufferfish are rather intelligent (for a fish) and can be trained to do tricks. How amazing is that!?

Poison Dart Frog

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the rainforest. I still am, but it was My Thing when I was about 9. Poison dart frogs are teeny tiny, ultra toxic, almost supernaturally colorful, amazingly varied, and are essentially the symbol of the Amazon Rainforest, so they’ve always been a favorite of mine. Whenever I visit my local zoo, I never miss the poison dart frog exhibit. No matter how many times I’ve seen them, I am always surprised how adorable they are!

Gray Squirrel

Squirrels. I just like ’em.

If you enjoyed this top 10, I encourage you to make one of your own! I’d love to see which animals inspire you and why, so please feel free to tag me in your post. Have fun and happy new year!

Saving the World One Mail-Order Lordship at a Time

Yes, it’s a lot of fun to run around and insist that people call me Lady Sarah, but it’s also a clever way to conserve the countryside.

That’s because I can’t call myself a Lady without actually owning a piece of land in Scotland.

Highland Titles sells souvenir Lordships, Ladyships, and Lairdships of Glencoe, each associated with a small dedicated plot set aside in the Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Mine’s near Kiel Hill.

And the land that came with my title is mine, mine, all mine. 

Nobody may do anything to it or on it without my express permission. And when I die, that property passes to my heirs. That means my 100 square feet of Scottish wilderness will remain untouched indefinitely.

Except by me, if I want. I can visit my parcel of prairie, set up a tent to camp, or hug my trees in the room-sized plot anytime I wish. As part of the nature preserve, it can’t be paved or built up. No fishing, hunting, or chopping down trees, either.

Scotland boasts some of the most amazing and varied landscapes on the planet. From staggeringly steep cliffs to marshy bogs to dense ancient forests, it’s home to a huge variety of plants and animals.

Watch the trail cams to see animals playing in the reserve. Badgers, red squirrels, roe deer, pine martens, golden eagles, and even wildcats have been spotted in the area.

No doubt they appreciate the space to roam.

Honestly, this is a win-win. I get to demand everyone call me by my rightful title and I do my part in keeping the wild wild. 

And you can lower that skeptical eyebrow when it comes to my ladyship.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually have a claim to peerage. I’m not a noblewoman. True, I have papers proving my landownership, but I’m more of a landlady than a land Lady. 

It’s clearly an honorary title as thanks for purchasing a souvenir piece of land. Not legal admission into the House of Lords, so calm down. 

The title is all in good fun and increases tourism in a positive way.

That’s because Highland Titles Lords, Ladies, and Lairds live all around the world. The nature preserve has seen upwards of 6,000 nature-loving tourists a year, many of whom surely wouldn’t have visited if they didn’t have a claim to it.

The preserve is staffed by volunteers so the maximum amount of profits go toward conservation. They make active efforts to set up the preserves, plant trees, promote rewilding, and stoke curiosity in Scotland’s wildlife. They’ve even set up a hedgehog rescue center!

So if you’re looking for a way to support conservation while poking fun at your snooty friends and family, Highland Titles should be on the top of your gift list.

I was given my ladyship as a tongue-in-cheek gift years ago, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize the true value of my Highland Title.

This article is in no way sponsored. I actually do have a mail-order ladyship and think it’s cute and clever. Whatever gets people to pitch in and fund conservation, know what I mean?

Those Ubiquitous Peruvian Alpaca Hats Interweave Culture with Nature in the Most Beautiful Way

You’ve seen them before. They’re super colorful cone-shaped hats with big earflaps, long ties, and are adorned with intricate geometric knitted designs. They’re a favorite among indigenous Peruvians, tourists, and snowboarders alike.

A must-have souvenir for almost every Machu Picchu tourist, chullos are much more than a fashion accessory. This cold-weather garment evokes the majesty, culture, and natural vibrancy of the Andes Mountains.

Andean culture has brought us some amazing things, not least of which is the chullo. These hats are traditionally handspun, handknitted, and worked on narrow gauge needles for firm fabric, maximum warmth, and space for intricate designs. The earflaps provide full coverage from the elements.

Sure, you can purchase solid-colored machine knit hats made out of synthetic fibers. But you’ll be sorely disappointed on all counts. The patterns are culturally significant, the local artisans who make them are skilled in their crafts, and the real alpaca, llama, or vicuña fibers are as luxurious as they are practical. These eye-catching hats are definitely worth wearing in the Andes.

First and foremost, chullos are comfy. Alpacas have super soft wool that is perfect for insulating against the frigid mountain winds. Because of the structure of alpaca fibers, there are lots of teeny tiny natural air pockets that will keep your head warm. And because it’s so insulating, you can use thinner spun yarn than you could with sheep’s wool or other fibers. This makes alpaca chullos perfect for tucking in your pocket.

Alpacas and llamas are domesticated but native to the Andes, so their wool is truly local. Vicuñas, their wild cousins, are still thriving in the mountains. This national animal of Peru produces eye-wateringly expensive ultra-fine luxury fiber. The price tag is largely due to the fact that most of these animals still live in the wild. Sustainable humane vicuña wool harvesting supports both the local community and species conservation efforts. So if you have the budget, vicuña chullos are a great way to support Peru as a whole.

Whichever natural fiber you choose, forget the plain hats and look for a regionally significant style.

The geometric patterns, exuberant colors, and design of each chullo are unique to the region and the makers. This mark of heritage represents thousands of years of cultural significance. In fact, the acts of spinning wool, weaving, knitting, and producing textiles is as essential to the fabric of South American culture as the Andes themselves. Traditionally, the vibrant colors are made from local plants, insects, minerals, etc. and each color has specific associations. Green represents lush forests, yellow for riches, red for warfare, and so on.

Most chullo designs feature repeated geometric motifs, but many modern styles include images. Jaguars, plants, birds, and of course, the animals who generously gave their wool for the hat. (It doesn’t harm them any more than a haircut, by the way.)

It can be very cold and windy in the higher peaks of the Andes, and tightly-knitted alpaca earflap hats are just the ticket to keep you from catching a chill.

This distinctly mountain-friendly style gained popularity from communities living in the Andes. For the longest time, chullos were nothing more than a functional piece of outerwear. What was once a humble stackable hat has become the most instantly recognizable garment of South America. Tourism has kept this traditional style vibrant and expanding.

It wasn’t always considered fashionable in Peru, but the chullo has taken hold as one of the most popular, iconic garments of the region. Customized to the local climate, knitted from the wool of animals who live there, and covered in unique motifs indicative of local history, chullos are quintessentially Peruvian.

If Lisa Frank was tasked with designing a bird, it’d be the ocellated turkey

Most wild turkeys look something like this…

Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash

Or this…

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

But then there’s this fella.

National Audubon Society

Meet the ocellated turkey — wannabe peacock and birdwatchers’ darling.

And one of the most flamboyant birds I’ve ever seen.

There are six types of wild turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and our prismatic friend. Most turkeys can be found in Canada and the USA, but the ocellated version lives exclusively on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their small region includes only a small part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. 

And yes, if you visit Yucatan ruins like Tikal, you might get a glimpse of these seussical birds. They’re quite comfortable living and nesting near Mayan ruins.

Ocellated Turkeys at Tikal, Guatemala by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Though I’m pretty confident you could identify an ocellated turkey without a description, this bird stands out in more ways than one. This species is small as far as turkeys go, topping out at 12 pounds for males and 7 pounds for females. They have neon-blue heads decorated with garish hot orange warts, but no dangling ‘beards.’ Both sexes are blindingly colorful with females only marginally duller and greener. As a bonus, these turkeys’ voices are slightly less obnoxious than that of their blander cousins.

Ocellated turkeys spend most of their time walking rather than flying and enjoy a buffet of bugs, seeds, and leaves in their rainforest homes. The ‘ocellated’ part of the name refers to eyespots on their peacock-like tail feathers. Considering the brightness of the rest of this bird, you’d be forgiven for missing that detail.

Tim Proffitt-White / Flickr

These vibrant animals are Near Threatened and declining, thanks to overhunting and habitat reduction. But all is not yet lost — the ocellated turkey fanclub is growing, drawing ecotourists and conservationists to the region.

With continued conservation efforts and increased awareness of these eye-popping birds, more and more tourists can hope to spy an ocellated turkey. For some, ocellated turkeys are on the menu, but it’s my humble opinion that they’re better enjoyed visually. Maintaining their habitats and encouraging sustainable tourism to landmarks like Tikal will help get this glorious bird back on track. 

In the meantime, check out this desperate dance our rainbow friend does for a bunch of females who couldn’t care less. At least his fashion sense is on point.