BONNIE BACK THENů

Born a Leo under the full Cincinnati moon August 9, 1979 I am the oldest of three daughters and a true lioness at heart. I grew up in the private Catholic school system, and yes I wore the plaid skirts and oxford shirts, but no pigtail braids. High school at St. Ursula Academy, too, was single sex, was structured, challenging and taught me many lessons, most being what and whom I do NOT want to make a part of my daily life. To be fair to the institution it fed many hunger pains for enlightenment and watched me stumble along the path to self-actualization. One love that I have cultivated that always reminds me how much I love the life I lead is TRAVEL.

It all began when my family decided to take a month and drive across the country, through most every famous landmark and park, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon to highlight a few. A later summer my family and I hopped the beautiful islands of Hawaii, climbing mountains at dawn amidst the many rainbows and rainbow colored landscape. So many cultures and ways of living I have glimpsed, and this is certainly not limited to the United States. In my less than twenty years I have been to many countries on four continents. At 14 I spent a month parading throughout Australia and New Zealand with People to People Student Ambassadors. At 15 I embarked on a Caribbean cruise with my family and played in the musical-filled streets of Jamaica and pitied the desolate poverty of the Dominican Republic. The following summer, I joined some classmates on an excursion across the northwest end of France, including Paris, Mont St. Michel and the Loire valley. This taste just spurred hunger for more; more culture, more art, more architecture, more glimpses into the mindsets and makings of people from around the world. So at 18 my roommate Laura and I packed our backpacks and flew out to Amsterdam, no itinerary, no reservations, absolutely no planning, just a Let's Go to Europe book and a Euro rail pass. The next ten days we hopped from Amsterdam to Barcelona to Madrid to Nice to Paris. We hit the Grasshopper and walked the Red Light District. We chomped on shellfish on a veranda overlooking Las Ramblas. We couldn't eat after being overwhelmed by the magnificence in the Reina Sofia. We sipped on wine and nibbled fresh bread and cheeses on the seaside of Nice. Finally we strolled down the Champs Elysee and toasted our farewell to Europe at the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower.

So much travel in so little time. Time often seems scarce, time and money, but not for me in high school, anyway. I had it greatest ever high school job. Like many I waited tables, but I waited tables for Skyline Chili. Work was more like play because all of my friends shared my place of employment. Skyline is a Cincinnati favorite family restaurant where food is fast and turnover high. I banked some big bucks (for a high school kid), worked long hours and then played with my co-workers until the wee hours of the morning.

But as the story goes, time moves on and so do we. I graduated high school in 1997 and decided on a change of scenery. I moved to Gainesville, Florida to attend the University of Florida. Why so far all by myself? Was I scared? Well, no I was too stupid and too excited to be scared. I thought life would be the exact same just with sunny weather. Boy was I wrong.

I dormed in a triple in Reid Hall my freshman year, transitioning from my own floor home to my own corner at school. I sold my car, being convinced by the stupid Preview people that a car was "so not necessary living on campus in Gainesville." I guess they didn't understand my NEED for autonomy, including deciding exactly when and where I will go and exactly what I will do with my time and myself. When I felt cramped I could no longer drive out my frustrations. I could only go to the grocery when Suki went (Suki was the one girl we knew with a car and oftentimes you had to sign up in advance for a spot on the grocery store trips.) I had no job, meaning no income, meaning no shopping sprees anyway. And to top it all off I could never close myself in my room alone to pout about it, because I had two roommates living exactly 15 and 52 inches from the head of my bed.

Dorm life was by no means all gloom and doom, however. I loved my roommates and the girls on my hall. So many fun nights were spent dancing at T.J.'s, some I remember clearly and some I just quite don't. But a good time was always to be had. And friends I made that year have had a huge impact on the woman I am today. So hey Laura, Christine, Linda, Andrea, Suki, Anna and D thanks for making such a s***ty situation unforgettably amusing.

Determined to get out of the dorms, I built my first home in 1998. I closed in August, escrowing money pending completion of the house. I don't even know how my general contractor got occupancy permits when he did, but ask no questions and you'll hear no lies. The following months were hectic with moving and finishing punch lists and tying up al the loose ends new construction tends to entail. But what a sense of accomplishment, and ahhh finally space. My own bedroom, bathroom and walk-in closet, oh how quickly you learn to appreciate the luxuries life offers.

In September of 1998 I got my first pet, a wolf! Nero was half artic wolf and half timber wolf and at eight weeks came home as my first bundle of joy. The two of us were like Bonnie and Clyde, inseparable and always getting into trouble. He was the smartest, most loving and protective animal I have known. My running buddy he spurred my interest in distance running. I had to exercise him somehow, the two of us quickly trained ourselves to log four miles per day. He grew to 90 pounds before he was hit by a car and killed in September 1999. This was my first crushing experience with death. It was gut wrenching to accept the finality of the matter. Nothing I did could or will bring him back. I am wholly grateful for everything that Nero has brought to my life, the lessons he has taught me about responsibility, love and devotion. He is forever my beloved first baby.

The summer or 1999 I spent working for Emerald Ventures, Inc. It was a one-woman residential construction company, where my responsibilities included everything from running an apartment complex to dog, house and fish sitting. It was a great way for me to be hands on with the field I love, building construction.

I also paid much TLC time to my own home this summer. With the help of some friends and roommates I repainted the interior, carpeted my back porch and re-wired my Jacuzzi for maximum energy efficiency. My boyfriend, Bradwick Nolan Howdyshell, helps me out with my house all the time. He is the greatest. He put a screen door on my front door so that a nice breeze can blow right through the living room, and he put gutters up so that maybe one day I can muster enough gumption to go and landscape my front yard and it will still look nice after a hard rain.

Brad was one of the last and greatest blessings to enter my life in this past millennium. We met in August and started dating in December. What a great Christmas present for me, huh? I guess it does pay off to be a good girl.

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