Gift giving

You unwrap the thin reindeer-covered box and notice the familiar brown of an Amazon package. After tearing the tape off the corners, you reveal a pair of socks bedecked in a pattern of mini Tabasco bottles. To boot, the size is L. You’re M. Your pal looks at you with expectation as you feign a smile through gritted teeth.

“Thanks, Jimbo,” you say, mustering what little resolve you have left in the tank. A flutter of fear flashes across his face and he knows he goofed.

Finding this scenario relatable? A 2021 survey conducted by The National Retail Federation1 indicates that the rate of gift returns shot up from 10.6% in 2020 to 16.6% in 2021. Seems that many Americans miss the mark on what they think others will like and what they truly enjoy. So, how can we give gifts that last the test of time? Below are a few tips on giving a great gift during the holidays:

  1. It might be a good idea to take time to reflect on the receiver’s personality type. A recent NPR report says that catering your gift to someone who is either into experiences, is practical, sentimental, cozy, or just an enigma to you can go a long way toward getting something that they will enjoy2.
  2. Consider giving an experience rather than a gift. Many times, givers tend to focus on the receiver’s immediate reaction, and more often than not, buy tangible items that can be used or consumed immediately, rather than a gift that takes longer to enjoy. However, a recent study has shown that doing this may be of greater benefit to the receiver in the long run3.
  3. Give a gift that has sentimental value! What experiences have you and the receiver had that you both cherish? Giving a gift that speaks to that relationship may sound risky, but will more than likely result in a better outcome than a gift that just caters to what you think the receiver’s preferences are4.

All this being said, simply showing someone that you care this season goes a long way. Just giving your time to give that call to a distant friend or relative may be the best gift of all.

Wishing you a wonderful Holiday season filled with fun, family, friends, and joy!



A face materializes from the fog within your brain. The features start to sharpen, revealing that auburn hair you remembered from childhood. Just as the nose and eyes begin to come into focus the face vanishes leaving you with nothing but a blank emptiness in the mist.

“Shoot. What was her name again?” You say, scratching your head.

We’ve all been there. Someone recalls a person or an event from long ago, and we delve into the archives in our memory, walking down aisles we haven’t perused in what feels like forever. We finally locate that thought we think will give us the answer, dusting off the cover and popping it open to find the pages blurred and the book thinned since we picked it up last.

This is simply a fact of life that happens to the best of us, so how do we keep those books thick and aisles well cared for? Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Keep a journal. Occasionally write down an exciting event from the day or week. You can look back fondly in a few years and recall those times with ease.
  2. Reconnect with the people you enjoyed in your past. We have so many resources for reaching out these days that it probably won’t be hard to locate or connect with that person.
  3. Spend more time with the people you care about! If you are still graced with living grandparents, spend time with them and ask them to recall times when you were a child (heck, times when they were a child). It will most likely spark some memories you haven’t thought of in a while.

Time waits for no one, but what an amazing gift that we can use our minds to go back to those precious moments, or, with enough time, allow that featured face AND name to emerge from the fog.

Image: The foggy Oregon coastline, taken in October, 2022.

Stay in the arena

Teddy Roosevelt may have been one of the greatest United States presidents to have set foot in the White House.

A leader of humble quality, he was known to remember the names of all his staff, occasionally offering a little gift or spark of insight to each one. He pioneered the conservation movement, played a key role in settling the great Coal Strike of 1902, wrote 35 books throughout his lifetime, and became partially blind in one eye due to a blow he received during a boxing match in the White House. Yes. In the White House.

One of the quotes he is quite famous for has a special place in my heart, and I would like to share it with you. It’s from a speech he gave in 1910 at the University of Paris, just one year after he left the Oval Office.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

Whatever difficult and narrow path you may be on now, and as much criticism as you may be receiving for doing the right thing, stick with it. Keep fighting despite the odds. And don’t allow critics to even partially blind you to the goal you’ve set. Stay in the arena.

Learning the meaning of patience

I moved to Corvallis, Oregon about a week and a half ago. The ocean along the Pacific Northwest coast waved and I had to wave back (I’m studying nearshore oceanography here).

A small, quaint town of just under 59,000, Corvallis boasts a wealth of local coffee shops, breweries, hiking and biking trails, and the winding Willamette River, one of less than 50 rivers in the United States to flow from south to north (to put it into perspective, the U.S. has over 250,000 rivers1&2).

This past week has brought with it plenty of new experiences, from cycling along the sun-dappled roads through OSU to reading in the shade of a berry patch near my new home (I live with three other gents in their 20s on the west side of town), and I’ve been able to enjoy the relaxed nature of the town in summer.

However (and there must be a however given the title of this post), I have found my office space rather empty before the fall semester starts. The roommates also seem quite busy with summer school and fieldwork, and acquaintances I’ve made at church were off on vacation this past weekend. On many occasions, I’ve had to adjust my expectation of instant community at “the snap of the fingers”, like Starbucks instant coffee. It may sound good, but won’t be nearly as savory as taking the time and persistence to develop meaningful relationships. I have to think of this as a stretching experience in learning to enjoy some quality solo time for a bit.

If you’re going through a similar experience in a new social context, whether that be trying a new church, going to a new intramural club, or joining a community engaging in like-minded interests, stick it out! And if you’re on the other side of the coin, and see new faces in a place you call home, reach out!

Making friends who know you well just takes time. Patience is, indubitably, a virtue.

Updates to come on the Oregon front.


You don’t know what you have until it’s gone

I’m sitting in my quiet office on the second floor of Louisiana State University’s Coast and Environment building. The hum of the A/C saturates sound in the background and is only disturbed by the occasional patter of feet along the hallway outside my door.

A quick glance out the window is met with green leafy trees rustling in the wind. Two squirrels chase each other across the branches of a near tree.

The other day I read a book from a hammock strung along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, watching the turbid water lap at the roots of maple, ash, and oak trees.

A friend and I took our bikes down the levee to Baton Rouge’s city center and grabbed some delicious beignets.

A slackline session along the lakes bordering campus brought some great discussion with a close buddy.

To be honest, I’ll miss Baton Rouge.

Inside the old state capitol building

These past six months have been a struggle to stifle the desire to simply move on. I often try fruitlessly to see what lies around the coming corner, rather than absorb the things on my doorstep. Right here. Right now.

Much of my time in Louisiana has been spent missing Colorado. The mountains. The friends. The family. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize I do have family here in Baton Rouge now. I’m just sad it took this long to realize it.

Goofing off with some climbing friends

Take a second and soak in where you are in this moment. You’re better off than you think.

The field outside of the Coast and Environment building

I was the Hare

In the wee days following that famous ball drop in Times Square, a long-time buddy and I, inspired by the prospect of new beginnings, decided to hike up a snowfield in the mountains west of Denver.

The morning of the hike started slowly, and after a tall coffee from McDonald’s (yes, we gave in to the beast), we parked our car and started the ascent. Ice crunched beneath our feet as we trekked through a stunning snow-encrusted forest that gave way to a vast frozen lake. To the left, a large couloir (Fun term: A steep, narrow gully between two mountain faces) separated the forest from a prominent cliff that overhung the lake. We strapped on our shoes, took one step, and were immediately blasted with gale-force winds. I felt like the tortoise in the famous moral tale, and given the rate we were trudging up the snowfield, I knew plans for a summit were slipping from view. We soon found shelter at the base of a rocky outcrop, where we strapped on our heavy skis and began the descent. The wind was at our back now, and all we had to do was stand, put our arms out, and fly like a kite as gravity shot us down the mountain.

Minutes later, our ski tips reached the edge of the familiar lake as we wiped the tears from our faces and stared yet again at that majestic couloir.

“Let’s send it.”

So, we took off our skis, put on our snowshoes, and began another intense effort up the south slope. At this point in the day, the sun’s growing heat was magnified by the reflectance of the snow, and I was burning up. I couldn’t force enough air into my lungs and would take breaks of sucking precious O2 before climbing up the next section of snow. After what seemed like ages, we made it, yet again to a clump of trees and lay in the snow. I looked down. Several tourists (or shall I say fellow hikers) now fringed the lake and I could tell they were staring up at us. I suddenly switched roles in that famous tale and wanted to become the hare. I saw myself flying down the couloir to the oohs and aahs of the growing crowd at the lake. “Let’s take it up a notch”, I thought, and, partly due to the heat, took my shirt off for an even more epic run.

Skis. Check. Stoke. Check.

I pick up my poles and immediately went into hyperdrive. Before I knew it I looked down and saw that my skis had sunk beneath the top layer of snow and were now dragging close to the ground while my body was still picking up speed. Physics works in interesting ways. Before I could blink I faceplanted, rolled, lost a ski, and found myself freezing in a blanket of snow. All my pride leading up to that moment was gone. I’m pretty sure I heard an, “Ooouuuccchhhhhh” from the lake as the shocked faces of the audience winced. GoPros, cameras, and phones were lowered, and I’m pretty sure people were shaking their heads saying what I usually say, “Damn tourist is in above their heads.”

So next time you want to do something crazy, just remember, pride comes before the fall.

A Book and a Puzzle

I got COVID back in February. Two weeks holed up in an apartment for an extrovert can be tough, but hey, given the situation it was the least I could do to help stop the spread.

Day 1 was spent doing schoolwork, cleaning the house, and catching up on the typical things that had slipped through the cracks in previous weeks.

Day 2 shifted to workouts, calling friends, schoolwork, Netflix, and playing the floor is lava… I was getting antsy. At this rate, 12 more days was like gazing up at the summit of Everest from base camp.

On day 3, though, something happened that I didn’t expect. Out of the blue, a friend stopped by and dropped off a book and a puzzle, both of which she knew would ease my boredom. Not only had she taken time out of her day, but she was thoughtful enough to choose gifts she knew I liked. I was shocked!

If you have some free time, think about how you can make someone else’s day today. Thoughtfulness in our modern era goes such a long way. Below are some ideas for you to get started:

  1. Write a friend a birthday card.
  2. If you find something at the store you think a pal would like, spend the extra dollars and buy it for them as a surprise.
  3. If someone you know is going through a tough time, spend some extra time with them to show them you care.
The “Mineralogy” puzzle from Jenna

“There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness, and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.Mother Theresa

Too Close to Home

Friends, I want you to stop for 5 seconds and look around you.

Most likely, you will observe walls, windows, streets, and other man-made developments that comprise your immediate environment.

This is new. This is novel.

As you can guess, the Earth, however, is not new. Cycles of life. Seasons. Natural heating and cooling. These processes churn together in a rhythmic harmony that has kept our world habitable for millennia.

This global ebb and flow is being majorly threatened if not completely disrupted today.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) 2020 “Living Planet Report” found a 68% decline in the 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the globe between 1970 and 20161. Sixty. Eight. Percent. Let that sink in.

And this is just one of a myriad of growing statistics today.

It’s saddening and disheartening. I tear up just writing about it. I am sure you, like me, want your children (or at least the children born today) to experience the same fresh air and witness the same natural world you probably were able to experience to as a child. I doubt, however, this will happen when looking at our current trends.

BUT there is hope. For example, the book “How to Avoid a Climate Crisis” by Bill Gates distills the science and concludes we can still curb this worsening problem, though it will take sacrifice on ALL fronts, both personally and as a global population2. I have hope we can find a way to think about changing our lifestyles now to avoid a problem that will soon be too difficult to fight.

So what can you do?

Below are three ways you can do your part today:

  1. Look at your single-use plastics consumption. Is there a way you can limit the amount of plastics you use? Maybe try going out to eat less, or bring a reusable cup to Starbucks in the mornings.
  2. Limit the amount of new things you buy! You can always purchase used clothes, or sew up a tear. Make things LAST!
  3. Try and limit your vehicle usage! Don’t have a bike? Get one! Close enough to walk? Do it!

I leave you with one of my new favorite quotes:

A special thanks to my dad, Paul Merrill, for the header images! He took these while on the beach in Kenya circa 2006.

To add a little pizzaz to your day, please check out his blog here.



My grandpa is nearing his 90th lap around the sun, and let me tell you, after several laps around the track, let alone the sun, people tend to get rather tired.

My grandfather (second from left) on his wedding day

“Um… Hmmm…”, he’ll sometimes frown as he delves into his memory to collect his thoughts. I don’t blame him. It takes time to recall the name of a friend who shot the head off a poisonous snake at his farm, the night he drove nearly 240 miles for a first date with my grandmother, or standing on a podium to give a speech to his fraternity scolding his fellows for stealing sandwiches from the kitchen.

I remember eating lunch after a round of golf with him last year. As I set down my drink and began to express some of the more intricate details of life in another state, I was abruptly cut off by song.

I know a lassie as fair as can be, and she dwells where the bluebells grooooow…”

G-paw when he was a youngster
G-paw when he was a youngster

Although lately he may launch into melody at inconvenient times, I can’t help but laugh, and love him for tenderly bringing up some experience from his past tied to a tune.

The older people in your life may fall into their idiosyncrasies occasionally, but don’t neglect their wealth of experience and wisdom. You might find some life changing advice behind a note or two.

In the shadow of the factory

The bus slowed, a large yellow fish in a sea of concrete. Shadows dappled the cracked asphalt, lengthening as the sun stretched lazily.

“Driver…. Er…. Mr. Ben, have you had chapati?” The little girl’s wide eyes gleamed with anticipation. “My mom makes the best chapati, just like when we were in Congo.”

“Yes, that is one of my favorite breads. I have had it before too, even when I was your age.”

“How old are you?”


“Wow…” The girl trailed off, looking to her right as the darkness passed over her face, plunging the school bus into a dim world under the shadow of the factory.

“We’re here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ben!”

The girl jumped to the front of the bus and hopped down the steps as the hiss of the doors sounded the freedom of home. Ben smiled nervously and looked at his watch. 20 minutes late. This stop was not on his schedule. He sighed and glanced back out the window. She would most likely be opening her front door and slinging off her backpack, ducking under the TV screen as her parents scolded her for being late. His gaze met something very different.

The girl was running down the street, jumping over the gaps in the asphalt with her eyes fixed straight ahead. She jumped, but did not come down. The giant arms of her father lifted her into space. A pillar. A Rock.

As he rose he looked through the bus window and met Ben’s eyes. He smiled gently. Waved. Satisfaction. His daughter was home.

Ben broke his gaze and put his foot on the gas. These tiny homes could barely be called apartments. How many people lived there? Did the noise keep them up at night? Did the natural darkness of evening never fully exist underneath the glare of the factory? A tear surfaced and he wiped it away. The man and his daughter seemed so happy. Genuinely joyful, with what seemed like so little.

Wealth means many different things. Invest in what matters.

Photo by Alexander Tsang on Unsplash