I’m sitting in Starbucks with a lengthy to-do list on New Year’s Day. I was going to make resolutions, but I don’t have time for that at the moment. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be back home in Illinois preparing for the year and some big changes. My husband is already there while I remain in Texas at my parents with my son and my two dogs, one of whom is the reason I’m still here and the reason I’m writing this. See, I can’t work. I came here intending to, but instead I’m trying unsuccessfully to distract myself until I just started crying and crying and realized I have to write this first, even though this is unlikely to help either. I’m kinda a wreck, just pretending not to be so I can get through each day.

Casper is on the left, Ghost on the right.

Casper is on the left, Ghost on the right.

See, 2013 started out as a pretty good year. In fact, it’s been a hell of a year. We settled into our new home in Illinois. We bought our first house. I started teaching as a university adjunct professor, as I’d wanted to do for many years. I made a lot of new friends and a lot of new business contacts. I got published in some of the publications I’ve been wanting to write for for quite a while, and my journalism career is starting to take off. My mom/science/health blog has seen great success, including a viral post that broke the site for a while but also put me on a lot of people’s radar. I signed a book deal for a parenting book I’m both excited and nervous to be writing. Meanwhile, our family took our first vacation abroad in a number of years, my son’s first out of the country. I used to travel abroad every year, so skipping it for four years was tough until our nice week in Costa Rica. Shortly after that, I found out I was pregnant, which was planned and a source of stress until it happened. All pretty good stuff, and some significant life milestones.

Then, not too far into the second half of the year, it was as though the universe started making up for all the good stuff. Fortunately, the pregnancy has continued to progress healthily, so I am grateful for that. I have to say that first because I do recognize my fortune in the midst of the list I’m about to run through. Our new home required very expensive but absolutely necessary foundation work that nearly cleared out our emergency savings. I went through some crap at a job that isn’t appropriate (or worthwhile) to go into here but which was traumatic and deeply disheartening. I also experienced some serious prenatal depression and ongoing morning sickness that coincided with those events. The events also led me to set an ambitious and exhausting travel agenda in the fall with four conferences in six weeks. These were tough enough, but on the way home from the fourth, I received news that a close uncle had unexpectedly died following a car accident. Another weekend of travel was tacked on for a difficult event.

Not long after returning from that, just as I was hoping to return to some semblance of “normal,” my son became ill with a fever for several days. Not long after, I became ill. I’ve lost track of the number of times each of us became ill then – fevers, vomiting, pink eye for me and other fun times – but it was sort of a back-and-forth trade off. Then in early December after dropping off my son at daycare, barely a week after I thought I had recovered from what was supposed to be pink eye, I was driving down the highway when my eyes involuntarily closed and stung with pain. I immediately pulled off to the shoulder, but those were the first symptoms of what was diagnosed a day or so later at keratoconjunctivitis. It required several days of sitting in the dark without an ability to work, see light, drive or use any screen-based technology. I couldn’t even read. I couldn’t drive for more than two weeks, and during the second week much of what I saw was distorted by blurriness as my eyes slowly recovered. (I still must rely on outdated glasses instead of my contacts.)

That experience led right up until we headed to Texas for the holidays. The holidays have been nice for the most part, especially the gluttonous gastronomic holiday my husband and I have taken after being deprived of good food while living in Peoria the past year. And that brings us up to now. The past few months have been a blur of travel, illness, tragedy, depression and frustration, and I was so looking forward to the new year, as though the arbitrary change of days from one year to the year might actually hold some significance. Regardless, the universe had another trick up its sleeve.

I’ll just copy and paste this part from my Facebook feed since it’s difficult to write about anyway, and this post is a pathetic attempt at catharsis so I might be able to get some work done. Along with the photo here, I posted the following:

My son holds Casper while Ghost is beside him at the vet.

My son holds Casper with Ghost beside him at the vet.

“At this point (yesterday afternoon), we didn’t know how things would turn out. The vet literally said (twice) it would take a miracle for Ghost to pull through. Our 6.5 lb dog had eaten a full ounce bar of rat poison he’d found, and it was bromethalin, which attacks the central nervous system and kills with brain swelling; there’s no antidote or treatment. It was too late for stomach pumping: he’d eaten it at night without our realizing it and by morning, when we rushed him to the vet, he had unrelenting tremors and couldn’t walk. All we could do was transfer him to the 24 hr hospital for round-the-clock observation and regular doses of a med to help drain the liquid in his brain. Yesterday was really rough for all of us, including Casper, his littermate and companion since birth, who D’s holding. Today we found out Ghost lived through the night and was able to eat a small amount of food. He can’t walk at all or move much, but the worst appears to be over. The brain swelling is on its way down, and the vet is optimistic about his recovery. After he’s released from doggie ICU, we’ll have to syringe-feed him and inject liquids subcutaneously. So I’ll be in Texas a little longer than we planned.” More »

Just about every phase of my has involved a tradeoff somewhere, which is probably true for most people. When I moved to Peoria, I gave up the heat of Texas summers (thank God!) for the cold of Midwest winters (so far I’m fine with that). I also gained the opportunity to really focus on my writing – but at the expense, for various reasons, of my photography. snowflake Tara Haelle Midwest

For now, I’m mostly okay with that too, but I still need my photo fix, including a bit of creativity and exploration. Therefore, when I read on a colleague’s blog post about her attempts to photograph snowflakes using a macro lens on her iPhone, I was intrigued. The photos were pretty cool, and the Easy-Macro lens Karyn mentioned as her favorite was only $15. I figured I’d try it.

The lens arrived late last week, just in time for a snowstorm’s arrival here in Illinois. But the snow started falling too late in the day to have enough outside available light for the iPhone camera. Fortunately, it snowed again yesterday and today, so I had the chance to try out the Easy-Macro lens – basically a lens of about 1 cm in diameter embedded in a blue rubber band that wraps around your mobile device. Real high tech, right? Well, low tech doesn’t mean low quality, it turns out. More »

I took the bus to St. Jude’s Catholic School in first grade, but as happens sometimes, I missed the bus one day. No worries – my dad happened to be off work that day and was able to take me to school. The easiest mode of transportation? I rode in the sidecar of his motorcycle for the brief few miles to the school. This was no big deal to me. I’d ridden in the sidecar and on the back of the bike plenty of times with my little arms wrapped around my dad and my heavy helmet weighing on my head. I’d grown up around Dad’s motorcycle.

Dad and I danced, naturally, at my wedding. Photo by Matt Valentine.

But my classmates? Yea, I guess not too many 6-year-olds get dropped off at Catholic School in the sidecar of a motorcycle. For a week, I was the smallest celebrity in the school. The big, scary and popular EIGHTH-GRADERS were even talking to little first-grade me. The nuns gave me a funny sort of look. I was a good student, but I had, you know, arrived at school… on a MOTORCYCLE. I’m not sure they knew what to think. Other than basking in the sudden popularity that week, I didn’t think much of it. That was Dad.

When I was in Brownie Girl Scouts, our troop “cookie mom” was also Dad. During my elementary school years, Dad took us out on the boat, out fishing and to the deer lease, where he taught my sister and I how to drive a truck and how to shoot – and respect – guns.

As I entered adolescence, friends, school and my own activities took on a bigger role in my life, and I was probably always a little closer to my mom, but there were still activities that were very clearly opportunities for just Dad and me, such as the years he coached my softball team when no one else would step up to bat. Today, I continue to consult Dad on the stuff Dad knows – be it related to long-distance trips, home-buying or – believe it or not – sewing. We have had our clashes (let’s not get into politics), but the early experiences we shared forged an important bond.

Not surprisingly, my experiences are part of a common thread in the lives of young girls. A new qualitative study (pdf) asked 43 daughters and 43 fathers (though not related to one another) to write about the “turning points” in their father-daughter relationships. The authors, Elizabeth Barrett and Mark Morman at Baylor University, asked the study participants specifically to write about the turning points in closeness in their relationship with their father or daughter. More »

So, it’s high time I got this blog rolling. I already blog about health and science news for parents and families over at Red Wine & Apple Sauce, but I am constantly finding there are other things I want to tell people about, whether it’s science-related, political, personal, or it’s just some thoughts or commentary related to the news of the day.

That’s me, in a past “terra incognita,” India. I backpacked there solo for five weeks in 2005, and this town of Bundi was among my favorite places there.

Therefore, welcome to Tara Incognita. The name, an obvious play on “terra incognita,” alludes to the fact that this blog will likely roam all over the place – it’s unknown ground. My greatest strength in life is also my greatest weakness: I’m interested in everything. I actually find it a relief when I stumble upon something about which I can sincerely say, “Meh. Not interested.” That’s a rare occurrence indeed. This curiosity and thirst for information is great as a journalist and a teacher – it’s no surprise that I’m both – but it also means my attention gets split and it’s difficult for me to immerse myself in one thing too deeply for too long. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Along that vein, expect this blog to cover a range of topics, from albatrosses (literal and metaphorical) to zoo excursions with my toddler son. An incomplete list of the stuff I might cover on this blog…

  • Cool science stuff
  • Cool brain stuff
  • Intersections of politics and science or religion and science
  • Political ramblings (with some semblance of a point, though)
  • Children’s and young adult literature
  • Education news and learning theories news
  • Anything related to SHARKS
  • Parenting stories
  • Reviews of great (or crappy) books I read
  • Teaching stories
  • Photography news
  • Travel stories… and so on

It will take a while to build up an audience when I blog about such eclectic stuff, but hopefully people will chime in. It’s much more fun to discuss stuff with others than mumbling out loud to yourself in the corner.