No Looking Back

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“I’m ready for my scolding.” I draped my arm out the SUV window, desperately hoping my half-hearted smile would be enough to melt the ridge-runner’s stiff jaw line.

It wasn’t.

“Was that your trail magic?” He gestured towards the now-vacant trail-head. “I have to tell you, the food you left here was a very poor choice towards preserving our state forest lands. When I arrived there was trash scattered everywhere. An open invitation to bears….” His KTA hat was tilted at a stern angle, nodding its agreement to every parently jerk of his head.

I sighed silently and felt prickles of embarrassment creep up my neck. You deserve this. Just grin and bear it. 

“When I hiked the trail, I loved coming across trail magic. But you’ve got to stay with your coolers. I know it takes a chunk out of your day, but the hikers love meeting you. Then you won’t create a scenario for animals to become accustomed to being fed. I know–” he lifted his hand, “I saw the buckets and your notes about securing trash inside them, but a bucket lid won’t hold up to a raccoon or a bear.”

I started in on my I-Camp-in-Bear-Country-Regularly-and-They’ve-Never-Plundered-My-Food-Buckets speech, and then cut it off. “I know leaving food unattended was a poor life decision, and I am genuinely sorry.” He could tell I felt ashamed. I saw his face soften.

“I never properly introduced myself. I’m Tinker.”

“Nike. Nice to meet you.” I said, and fist-bumped him. “I’d like to see the carnage. Could you send me a picture of it?” I didn’t have to ask if he had taken photographs of the mess. He was a millennial, and that is what millennials do. I tapped my number into his filthy i-phone.

“I’m glad you came along when you did. I was about to post the photos on our page.”

Super! Local dis-fame for my wilderness guide reputation. 

“–But you’ll be happy to know I didn’t remove your coolers immediately. I let the hikers enjoy them. There was a forest fire here. The fire teams wouldn’t let me back in. I had to wait to come again until they had the flames under control….”

I lost track of what Tinker was saying. I wasn’t interested in fire stories. My coolers were nowhere to be seen. I’d combed the area looking for them. There wasn’t so much as a snippet of Coke bottle wrapper. “Could you tell me where to find my things?”

Tinker’s head jerked to attention, and immediately swiveled towards the road. “I had your chairs and coolers stacked right beside that tree. I thought you loaded them up already!”

If I’d have loaded them up already, I’d be GONE right now, brother!

“Go ahead so this guy can drive through, and I’ll see if he saw anything.”

Tinker talked to the forest service man, and I sat on the dashboard and stared at my shriveled-up self on the damp, dirty SUV seat. It was unusual for me to see myself so humiliated. Awkward, always. But shamed, rarely. I wanted to churn the gravel and disappear into the fog, but the thought of replacing $120 worth of camping gear held me back. Tinker darted towards me through the raindrops.

“He hasn’t seen anything. I have your number, and I’ll let you know what the police say after I report this. There have been other petty thefts in the area.”

Police?  No thank you! “I’m not from here…” I started a desperate attempt to remove myself from the scenario.

Sternly. “I will update you. It was your things that were stolen.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it!” I said mechanically. This time I did let my tires eat the gravel. I pulled slowly onto the mountain road. The neatly-stacked pizza in the take-out dish beside me smelled nauseating.

How could I have been so stupid? I KNOW better than to leave food unattended in the wilderness. I’ve given Leave No Trace speeches to my trainees at least a dozen times.

I scowled at the pizza, as if it was to blame. I’d shivered in an air-conditioned pizza shop 30 minutes for it under the slim chance that I’d cross paths with a rain-soaked hiker while collecting my coolers. The pretty little waitress had understood what I wanted when I said it was for a hiker. She’d separated each stacked piece with a square of waxed paper and wrapped the take-out dish in aluminum foil. Tinker had left my things unattended for only 30 minutes. That’s what he had said.

I scowled at the box again.

You know, it’s amazing how much effort a person can spend to escape the fact they were wrong about something.

I heard a faint voice in my head. It came from Zvek, my adventure buddy, and the words had been spoken several months ago. “Do you really believe that? Or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?”

Ah, Zvek, you hit the nail on the head even without being here. I like to feel good–yep, I do say things that I don’t really believe in order to make myself feel better.

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I grabbed my mind by its invisible bootstraps and repeated: “I made a mistake, but I am not stupid. The hikers should have properly disposed their trash, but this is not their fault. There might be bears here. I really don’t know. No one is to blame here but me, and it’s ok. I am not irresponsible. I made a mistake, but I still have a good heart.”

Isn’t it crazy how much time and energy I spend to convince myself and others that I AM OK?

Why try to prove that there is such a thing as wind? Realities do not change. 

No self-blame allowed, Jesus-kiddo. No shifting blame either. Just save time and sift out the truth. Throw away the lies and place the truth on the table. Then move on.

The Lord does not need our help to prove what is true. 

And who knows, maybe the purpose of it all is for you to make friends with a wiry ridge-runner from Florida.

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10 Unexpected Things I Learned on a 2,000-Mile Journey

It’s amazing how much my life has changed since living in a hammock for 6 months. And some of the changes are totally unexpected. I’ve become a freak about turning the lights off. I wear the same sweater for weeks. I drink more water. I love people more than ever before.

When rain spikes the landscape hues from dull greys to red, rust and charcoal, it takes all the effort I have to remain at my desk–to not jump into my running shoes and climb the nearest mountain. It was hard before, but it’s harder now. It’s hard to have your view of the wild places reduced from a panorama to a 4×3′ square.

“Conquer my internal fears. Learn the skill of hammocking. Take a break from mentoring and just spend time alone with God. Gain skills to guide backpacking trips.” Those were my goals when I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Thank Jesus, he taught me them all. But since God is a God of upgrades, my paradigm shifted in dozens of other ways. Here are ten of them.

  1. Good Days Will Always Come Again

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Winter will not last forever. Sunshine ALWAYS follows rain. It may take three weeks, but it will come again. The hardest climbs always bring the best views, and there will always be a valley after the mountain. Nature speaks the language of its Creator. 

2. The Power of Life & Death is in the Tongue

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I used to say, “Sorry I’m so slow.” “I’m not fit.” “We’re weak.” and a dozen other self-slams before my hike and during the beginning of it. When I made the difficult and humbling decision to change my language to speak only what was positive and more deeply true than just surface feelings, my energy level changed as well… drastically and immediately.

3. I Need Far Less Energy than I Consume

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Living without electricity has taught me how valuable…and easy to waste… power really is! It’s also taught me how little energy I actually need to thrive.

4. Being Fit is Addictive

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I’ve always had a high metabolism, and have been slender most of my life. As a teen, I could never convince people that I wasn’t athletic. “Pshh. You’re skinny as a rail.” they’d always scoff, “Of course you’re fit.” It was news to me that rails are muscular, but hey, I just couldn’t win the argument.

This hike gave me my first chance to experience what it’s like to be a for real athlete. Besides the typical changes  such as high energy levels, increased positivity and self-confidence, and a high immune system, I noticed a big change in my lung capacity. I’m no Adele, but it was amazing how much easier it was to sing after climbing a few dozen mountains. And trust me, it feels great to see fat (or, in some cases, nothingness) turn into rock-solid muscle!

For the first time in my life, I can understand why athletes find it addicting to work out. It takes weeks to gain muscle tone, but then you take three days off and feel sluggish and weak as a turtle.

5. Community = Energy

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Interaction is necessary for life. People need people.

6. In the Front-Country, We Eat Far More Food than We Need

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It’s good to enjoy food, and I always have loved to eat. But my front-country lifestyle just does not require that much of it. In the front country, we eat because it’s time. In the backcountry, we eat because we need it to move forward, or in order to stay warm enough to survive the night.

I never understood how much food the body requires until my very survival depended on it. Now, I miss the feeling of being truly, ravenously hungry. Or the energy high you get from a baggie of skittles after having very little sugar for months. Or being able to eat literally any amount of calories and enjoying them because you knew your muscles would perform 50% more powerfully the next day.

7. Clothing has a Mind-Boggling Life Span

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Wearing the same tee for 180 days will quickly teach you to respect its quality. Which brings to mind the question, “If one tee can survive nearly 180 consecutive days of abuse with no obvious side-effects, do I really need 129 additional shirts in my closet? Will I live a lifetime long enough to wear them all to their dying day? Most likely, no.”

If one pair of shoes can travel 900 miles, do I really need 13 pairs for front-country use, where most of my travel takes place by car?

8. Pure Water is a Gift

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First-world citizens have no understanding of the value of pure water until we are forced to purify or find our own… in a different place each day. When the real-feel is 103 degrees and the humidity is at 76%.

9. Less Really is More

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Less possessions=more time. More possessions=more to carry. More physical strain. More stress. The metaphors are strikingly obvious.

10. Americans are Not Lazy at All

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After traveling through dozens of forgotten small towns, I now know it would require a book of encyclopedia magnitude to capture the stories of all the artists, architects and angels my friends and I encountered.

Good people surround us. Maybe we just don’t see them until we realize how much they impact our survival.

Or how they empower us to thrive.

 

 

just call me Moe

You know what’s so weird?

I’m spending this entire year of my life in the wilderness field… well, the rest of my life, hopefully. And it’s the thing I’m the least cut out for.

Seriously though. I’m introverted, preposterous and afraid of heights and drowning. Just the other day, a mother called me to talk about her concerns about adventure programing. It was very uncanny to assure her, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We practice challenge by choice. I’ve never cliff jumped in my life.”

People look at the pictures when I return from a trip, and hear the stories, and think, “Wow! What an adventure! You must be very brave!”

They picture me as this, sometimes.

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But in reality, I’m more like this.

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Just call me Moe.

You know, short for Moses.

I can relate to him a little, in a small way. I often beg Jesus to give someone else the task of prophesying. Embarrassingly, I pretty much don’t give Him an option when it comes to cliff jumping.

I look ahead at my summer that is quickly filling up with mentoring opportunities and think, “Why me?”

FAITH.

That’s why. His spirit, making me unstoppable. Saying what I didn’t think of on my own. Doing what I couldn’t do.

Being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I cannot see. The heritage of being God’s kiddo.

Isn’t it amazing to be able to do things way beyond yourself?

The things you love, even though you’re not good at them?

Isn’t is amazing to be a part of the impossible?

And if He has His way, He’ll get me off that cliff yet.

Another 8 a.m. lesson

My friends and I went camping on Assateague Island for my friend’s 21st birthday.

We camped in the State Park area, which was blooming with dune goldenrod (which is unusual), and teeming with people (as it is all season).

We strolled the beach as the setting sun tainted the cloud-filled sky with a hundred hues, roasted hotdogs over a smoky fire,

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wrapped up in blankets and laid on the beach to star gaze and watch the moon rise orangely over the water, snored all night in the tent like a pile of cats, and woke up with the first bird calls to watch the sunrise on the beach.

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And then….

the ponies came.

It was cute and kind of funny, really, to see 4 little docile frames trotting through a half-asleep campground, nosing at shrubs and tendrils of grass as if they had just been let out to pasture for the day–as if they never even noticed the entourage of 9-year-olds on bikes behind them, or the sleep-disheveled lady on her way to the bathhouse who stopped and ran back to take their picture.

It was funny to see them nose into the doorway of a neighboring camper’s tent and rummage through the contents of a Styrofoam cooler which was too weak to withstand their practiced ransacking.

My friends laughed, and as a joke we took pictures of them in the  background as we settled down to our long-awaited breakfast, prepared to watch the saga continue to unfold.

And then they turned our way.

Noses down, steadily they came towards us, but we knew what was up. My friends and I gazed longingly at our half-eaten breakfasts on the table, knowing we had to follow park rules and give the ponies a 10-foot wake.

“Don’t worry, guys. I got this.” I boldly stated, and walked towards them commandingly, waving and clapping my hands.

Noses down, they steadily advanced past me, eyes zeroed in on our breakfast.

“Never mind. HIDE THE FOOD!” I screeched, desperately swooping up what I could reach. And then I leaned against the car and laughed.

It was chaos.

One of my friends was grabbing the last cinnamon buns out of reach of the hungry jaws, one was taking pictures and one was literally wrestling a hot dog skewer out of a pony’s mouth.

With the innocence of a dove, Assateague’s native ponies had effortlessly taken over our picnic table, where a very pleasant breakfast HAD been taking place not 4 minutes prior.

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What goes around, comes around.” They say.

“Do to others what you would prefer them to do to you.” Those are Jesus’ words.

Both a good thing to remember at 8 a.m.

That is, if you value your breakfast.

 

 

10 Reasons Why YOU Should Take A Canoe Trip This Summer

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1) If you love nature

If you love to explore wild, un-touched parts of God’s creation, if you love to see the sun rise and fall on each new day, if you love the taste of the rain, the smell of the forest, the songs of a feathered choir, the gentle rocking rythm of the current against your canoe, if you want to effortlessly spy on a trout, or an eagle, or a deer or heron or bear quietly going about it’s business from your watery vantage point, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

2)  If you want to get up close and personal with Jesus.

If you’re tired, if you’re wounded, if you’re restless, if you’re running, if you’re seeking, if you’re on fire with a message from the Lord, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

3) If you want some peace and quiet.

If freedom from all schedules and technology, or floating quietly between solemn mountains, or solo time on a rocky beach or dappled forest floor, or worship around a campfire, or staring up at endless stars as you fall asleep sounds revitalizing to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

4) If you love adventure.

If navigating a boiling rapid, or learning to read a river map, or orienteering through the wilderness, or cliff-jumping, or rapelling, or learning how to make your campfire stay alive through a rainstorm sounds like fun to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

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5) If you want long-lasting relationships.

If you want to lay your burdens down and be held up through it all by people who truly care, if you want to have meaningful conversations that do more than just skim the surface of reality, if you want to encourage people, if you want to be encouraged, if you want to be prayed for, if you want to struggle, laugh, cry, rest, pray, eat, sleep, sweat and play with a group of people who start as strangers and end as tight-knit friends, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

6) If you love camping.

If you love the smell of wood smoke, picking out the perfect spot for your tent,

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falling asleep with the cool night air in your lungs, cooking food over a crackling fire, digging and using a latrine… COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

(Ok, I’ll admit, that latrine bit was purely cynical. But if you DO love it, I’d LOVE to have you!!!)

7) If you like to work out.

If you love to paddle, or if you love to hike, or if you love competing to see who can haul in the biggest dead tree for the campfire, and if you want to see how much stronger your muscles are after a week of exercise in the fresh, clean air, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

8) If you like to sport a good tan.

It can’t rain for seven days straight, can it? If you love the way the reflection on sunshine off the water transforms your skin into a deeper shade of brown and fills your body with energizing vitamin D, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

9) If you like swimming.

If the thought of water games like gallumping and splash wars, or the thought of a peaceful late afternoon swim after a day in the hot sun sounds refreshing to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

10) If you want to learn something new.

The wilderness always has a fresh, new metaphor in store for what God wants to say to you and me…. each and every day! If you believe that technology can be distracting and demanding, and want to leave it behind and go to a place where Jesus is the primary teacher….. COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

“The wilderness is God’s place. He can do what He wants there, and no man can mess it up.” Dan Lapp, Trail Blaze Outfitters LLC

This is a statement I firmly believe in, too…. because I’ve experienced God’s transforming power in that setting so many times myself! There’s a reason Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days before starting His ministry… and there’s a reason He often went to a mountain alone to pray.

Being temporarily stripped of cultural noise, time, deadlines and expectations is a powerful experience! Would you like to try it?

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To see a list of available trips, or to schedule a private one for a group of your own, visit TBO’s website. We can’t wait to meet you!

Stick-Hopping {and other winter adventures}

My adventurous friend and I tented out in the snow last night.

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We wore fleece, filled our Nalgene waterbottles with hot water and tucked them at our feet, burrowed under our sleepingbags and fell asleep to the sound of Harley’s snoring

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and the loud whine the neighborhood snowmobilers whizzing through our front yard.

My friend said that her little sister was jealous of our adventure. She said, “When I get older, I hope I can have an adventurous friend!”

When I was younger, I was blessed to have an adventurous friend right within my family. She was Laura, my sister.

Slender and spunky as all get out, she was the one I was most likely to cajole into playing with me. And I was the one she could convince to aide her with her latest brainstorm. Between the two of us, we came up with many grand schemes.

In the winter, we would zip into our neon full-body snowsuits, and swish down the lane with the dog at our heels, all three of us looking for an adventure. One side of our lane sloped into the marsh, and had a steep tree-lined bank.

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We sat down at the top of this bank, and slid bumpily down on our bottoms, right into the marsh. In that frozen marsh, below eye-level of most of our property, we created adventures in our own little world.

Our first step was to each find a strong, tall branch.

This was our “hopping stick” and we used it to swing ourselves across expanses of mud or parts of the stream that were too wide to jump. Pretty impressive, our stick-hopping was, now that I actually think about it. And a pretty funny sight we must have made, two little neon dwarves swinging through the “wilderness”–for that’s what it was to us–on our tall sticks.

We loved to wander across the swamp, exploring the flora and fauna of a world we never ventured into in the summer.

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Tall brown reeds rattled in the wind, teasel swayed against the deep blue of the sky and tiny green things did their best to grow by the gurgling stream.

Dry grasses bent under their weight of snow to make little mouse hide-outs that the dog loved to shove her nose into. She always brought it back out snowy and looking incredibly mischievous, panting with pride because we were laughing at her.

The snow and ice made cool curvy ledges along the stream, and we loved to see how close we could get before the ledge broke, plunged into the water, and swooshed swiftly on, out of our sight.

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We found a clay bank, and took some home, but were too lazy to make anything out of it. Later, I went back to the spot with my neighbor friend, and we painted our faces to look like Indians.

One of our favorite games to play was Snowball Racing. We each made a snowball of the same size, packed it as solidly as we could, and put it in the stream at the same spot. The goal was to see whose snowball would travel the farthest downstream before it melted. We could each poke our snowball 5 times with our trusty stick, if it happened to meet up with a stick, or got stuck, or just needed a helping hand. My sister usually won.

When we got cold and hungry, we clambered back up the path towards home, washing the mud off of our swishy suits with mitten-fulls of snow.

Those were the best of times.

Is there another snow storm headed your way? Don’t despair! Capture winter’s last fling in the most memorable way you can. Live a little!

Drink tea and make plans for spring if you can’t go out. Spring WILL come.

It always does.

If you can go out, DO! Make a desperate snowman. Watch the snowflakes sift over the trees. Actually look at your surroundings. What you find may surprise you.

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Like these frost-flowers I found on one bitter outing this winter. If I’d have come an hour later…..

they’d have been gone.

I’m mature……RACOON!!!!!

One day not so long ago, I received a call from one of my best buddies, who happens to live in the valley right below me. She called to tell me about a creepy raccoon that was parading about on their property at all unrighteous hours of the day.

I mean, it LOOKED innocent enough.

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But raccoons are nocturnal. And they don’t just parade around in front of people and dogs without a second thought…

At least not in my area. It was rabid, I was certain. When I heard that my friend’s neighbor had found the raccoon dead inside her chicken coop (umm, how’s that for weird?) my suspicions were cemented in my mind as truth. A plague of rabies was sweeping our town.

Immediately, every furry creature I saw was a slobbering, blood-thirsty crazy thing.

Despite this fact, my friend and I decided to take an evening stroll down a backroad one gorgeous spring night. We chilled in the pool for a little, and somehow got on the subject of maturity. A person we had both heard recently had said that “A young person does not reach full personal maturity until they reach 25 years of age, sometimes even later.” We both violently disagreed. What right did this person have to toss all teens and young adults in the ‘Pampered American Brat’ boat? Some kids successfully navigate harder issues at 14 and 15 years of age than most adults have to face in their lives! The statement was very unfair, we both agreed, and highly resented it.

We, of all people, had definitely reached full maturity long before we reached this projected age! That agreed upon, we jumped out of the pool, took to the open road and turned our minds toward other things.

We hadn’t gotten very far on our quest of solving the world’s problems when my friend yelped, “Look! A raccoon!”

I turned just in time to see a furry body hop freakishly towards us for a few paces, and then dart into the weeds beside the road.

Time.

Stood.

Still.

For just a second.

And then we both burst into action. There is no time to lose when a 11-inch furry creature threatens your walking safety. “Maybe we should just keep going.” my friend said calmly. “NO! Grab a stick!” I commanded as I dove into the plethora of poison ivy along the side of the road. I emerged instantaneously with two moldy logs, and thrust one towards my friend.

Unfortunately, it fell into about 6 pieces before she could even fully grab it.

My log, however, was hefty enough to hold threateningly in front of me like a proverbial jousting lance. I staunchly dared that unseen raccoon to come closer as my friend and I inched away.

Unfortunately, while inching away, we were also inching away from home. And it was getting dark.

“Maybe we should just have someone from my house come pick us up.”, my friend suggested.

“No way! –Well… ok.”

And so, two mature adults waited nervously by the side of the road while the sun dropped lower and lower below the horizon, and scanned the forest leaves for those blood-shot, crazy eyes that were undoubtedly waiting for us to let down our guard.

Finally, a well-known blue van pulled up and we tossed our protective moldy log into the forest and dove into the van’s safe recesses. And immediately began to howl with laughter. It was all just SO bloomin’ ironic.

I shook my head at myself in pity.

Was this Kara–the same Kara who had just scoffed at the implication that maturity does not blossom until 25–now guilty of calling her friend’s mother to save her from a furry animal? Was this the same Kara who slept under the stars, hiked in the dark, and spent two seasons leading wilderness trips so unsure of her stick-wielding skills that she had to flee the scene even though the supposed enemy was nowhere in sight? It was so plumb ridiculous. We all just sat in that van and laughed. When we got back to my friend’s house, we told the neighbor (who was also present during our previous maturity debate) the story and she laughed too.

We still laugh about it now. And yes, you’ve guessed the brutal truth.

I still have a fear of possibly-rabid creatures. Aaaagh! Does that mean my maturity is forever at stake?

What is your definition of ‘mature’? Do you pin an age on it? When was the last time your foot took an unwanted trip into your mouth? Let me know in the comments below!!