Reflection: My most intimate moment with nature

2014 is right around the corner and I’ve decided to get a head start on one of my goals. I would like to submit more stories to writing contests. I submitted one in April and now with December’s end near, I am submitting a second story.

I am entering the “1000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” writing contest, which is a promo for a new book entitled “1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2.”

I’m excited to share my entry which was inspired by a nature prompt from the contest website. Below you can find the prompt and my story.


Describe the most intimate experience you’ve ever had with nature. Try to remember a time in which you were truly affected by the natural world and it became a major part of who you are. If that’s never happened, make it up.

Tears running down my face, I slammed the front door, running down the steps as fast as humanly possibly while holding a bicycle. I had to get out of my house. I had to escape my frustration, anger, and disappointment.

It had been two years since I had graduated from graduate school and I still was unable to find work. The emotions running through me were slowly boiling over and I was reaching my positive outlook limit.

Just before I stormed out of my house, I had received an email: “Dear Lisa-Marie… While your application was strong, we have decided to hire another candidate… We wish you success in your job search.”

Another generic rejection letter.  I wasn’t generic when I filled out countless applications. I wasn’t generic when I customized my resume and cover letter for each job. Didn’t I deserve the courtesy of just one non-generic sentence to why I was rejected? Just one sentence to let me know what I could improve upon; that was all I asked.

Tears blurred my eyes, as I hopped on my bicycle ready to release all my frustrations on the pavement. I traversed the streets, with each revolution moving more slowly than the last. I was down and not even a bicycle ride was uplifting my spirits. To this day, I do not know if it was the breeze or muscle memory that coaxed me to cross over the bridge into the state park and down the gravelly dirt path.

I entered the park heavy, stiff, and forehead tight with stress. I left changed.

As I road through the park, I muttered furiously to myself. I told myself I had no skills, I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I would never leave my room at home. In that moment, I felt like a failure and nothing could lift my spirits.

From the corner of my eye I saw something yellow. I knew with my luck it was probably a bee, ready with a sting to put an exclamation point on my misery. To my surprise, it was a butterfly.

The state park is a hidden gem on the side of a busy six lane boulevard, but in the midst of the honking and speeding vehicles, there was a yellow butterfly. A yellow butterfly, modest in comparison to the monarch butterfly; lacking intricate lines, spots, and color. Just a bare pale yellow butterfly, living its life unnoticed by most, fluttering from flower to flower, blending into the sky, indiscernible from the sun’s rays.

For five minutes, I road through the woods, butterfly in tow as my companion. A dull unattractive companion that desired my attention, but I determined to deter advances.

Proving to be a companion who knew how to use its charming personality and youthful spirit to win me over, it circled around my head and torso. With each flap of its wings, it seemed to bring a light oak and pine soaked breeze that traveled up and down my body, caressing my soul, calming my anger, and reminding me of the beauty of life, the beauty of my life.

Like a determined love interest, the butterfly followed me up and down the mini hills, whispering encouragement, sharing its natural yellow to brighten my life, and slowly removing the soot covering my soul.

To my surprise the butterfly boldly sat on my bicycle handle as if to give me a pep talk, staring into my eyes, daring me to look away as I pedaled down the dirt path. Silence. I no longer heard the honking, or smelled the trees, or felt the breeze. I just felt my heart beat speeding up and slowing down, compelling me to open my soul to a seemingly dull companion that was proving to be more intriguing with each passing moment.  After 30 seconds of sitting on my bicycle handle and deep spiritual connection, the butterfly flew off never to be seen again, but forever etched into my memory and my soul. The modest yellow butterfly found a way to transform in my eyes to a monarch butterfly.

As it flew off leaving a trail of positive energy, I laughed and I laughed and I laughed, tears dried and happiness filling my body.

The natural world always finds a way of reminding me of the nuances of life. A little over two years ago, I was reminded of the importance of patience. Like the butterfly, I was undergoing a transformation from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.

Life has a funny way of saying ‘I told you so,’ without uttering a word. August 2011, I met the butterfly, the gentle reminder of patience, February 2012 I found employment, the gentle reminder I had skill, and in August 2013, I began my first day in a PhD program, the gentle reminder I would amount to something.

Yellow butterfly in the sky, I thank you.


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Virginia Sanderson

Q&A with Heirport Apparel CCO Dean Moore

Over six years ago, I had a chance encounter with Dean Moore of Heiport Apparel on the streets of New York City. His brother had something stuck on his jacket and I approached him to let him know. From that interaction, we made small talk and realized we both were from Long Island and lived minutes from one another. From that chance encounter, we became great friends and years later, created a mastermind group over our shared interest in the empowerment of young people, entrepreneurship, and personal development.

Over the years, I have gained great respect for Dean and his drive for quality, customer experience, and his genuine concern for the improvement of people’s lives. I have learned to pay close attention to creative details and appearances. There are very few people I know with desire to create such quality products and experiences.

Dean is one of my many friends who have used crowdfunding as a method to achieve their goals. Dean has a clothing line called Heirport Apparel, which is seeking contributions via Kickstarter (Hurry campaign ends tonight!). I decided to interview him to gain more insight into the Heirport Apparel brand and their Kickstarter Campaign.

Below is the interview:

1. Thank you for taking the time to answer questions Dean. Please introduce yourself to the readers.

My name is Dean “DMF’ (K. Moore) I’m from Roosevelt, NY, I’m a visionary entrepreneur and the concept creator and Chief Creative Officer of Heirport. My expertise is creative direction, knowing what I’m not good at, and I also have the uncanny ability to see the good in almost any situation.

2. In the fashion industry there are many options to choose from, how have you used branding to build a following?

“Simplicity is sophistication” It’s human nature to put things into categories or group them for ease of understanding. Designing the criteria for that “group” of ideas that will be associated with your name/ identity is the catch. Our main icon is a helipad which signifies a platform for taking off and touching down, the two most important elements of flight, the same way new fashion emerges using a catwalk/runway as a platform. Our branding is based around this diverse concept and wordplay. Our goal is to be thought provoking and innovative. This also carries through to the styling of our products. People identify with these ideas and appreciate what the brand represents and the attention to detail.

3. Heirport is an international brand, how have you successfully communicated with people from other countries? Are they open to your message and product?

Via candid and honest one on one conversations in culturally enriched areas. Our goal is to travel the globe in its entirety just to get a better idea of how everything works. For right now we do that one city at a time. We are always met with open arms which always results in a valuable exchange of information. Our message and products have been well received thus far.

4. The Heirport mission has some interesting concepts “Life on a Higher Plane”  and  “Our apparel and accessories are all directly inspired by experiences and increasing knowledge of the many ways of the world. Our goal is to simultaneously heighten style and awareness”

What ways will you go beyond fashion and create a movement of change? Are you involved with community development or activism?

We don’t look at it as outreach, we consider it our responsibility to have an active role in the lives of the people closest to us and who we have the most influence on. This directly correlates with the raising of the young in our immediate families and communities by sharing our experiences with them and drawing parallels between us and them so that we are relatable. We also demonstrate how to set clear goals, plan and then see them through.

We moonlight as teachers coaches mentors and pillars in our communities with a full time investment in our families.

5. Why did you decide to utilize the Kickstarter platform?

We wanted to inform and mobilize our current supporters to share our story, be a  part of our advancement, to be proud of what we have created, and the recognize our potential to grow together. It’s an exciting time for us! We’re ready to leave our mark on the world, we want to be displayed prominently everywhere, from bottom of the lowest burrows to the tops of the tallest platforms.

6. Why should people contribute to this campaign?

People should back our project because we’re the badge of excellence that you’d be proud to represent in style and concept. Cool is innate characteristic of ours, and there’s no harm in being cool. As influencers, thought leaders, and content creators, professionally we are first – mentors, teachers, coaches and thought producers you would want defending creative integrity, demonstrating peer to peer, and broadcasting via mass media superior imagery and information to elevate and inspire our current and future generations.

7. Where can people find you on the web? | | |


Thank you Dean for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. Please visit the Heirport Apparel Kickstarter campaign and make a contribution by midnight tonight (12/2/2013).


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Heirport Apparel

Reimagining the suburban front yard

If you live in a suburban neighborhood, you can bet that majority of homeowners have perfectly manicured lawns. In my Long Island town, it is rare that a home does not have low cut grass and landscaping.

A former resident on my block was a gardener and planted native plants and her front yard looked like a meadow filled with wildflowers. I remember a few neighbors complaining that her house stood out and her front yard was not aesthetically pleasing. I never understood the complaints, because I thought her home looked more natural than the rest of the block. When she moved out, the new residents pulled out the wild flowers and landscaped the front yard; all was good and balance was restored on my suburban block.

I always wanted to plant in the front yard of my house, but was always nervous about the neighbors and that I would be going against the unspoken suburban code.

Last week my urban food systems class went on a site visit to Joan Baron’s residential home in Phoenix. It was during this visit, I realized there are people who are brave enough to step out of the norm and explore the various uses of the suburban front yard.
When we first pulled up to her house, I was in awe. It was unlike any suburban home I had ever seen, especially homes in Phoenix.  She pulled out her front lawn and created an inviting space filled with shade(lots of trees), chimes, art, gardens, and more. I can only describe the set up as comforting and inviting. My classmates and I sat around in a circle and talked about design and creative uses of home space.
The things she has created from her front yard and backyard are amazing. She has a garden, chicken coop, fireplace, rain barrels, solar panels, and an alley garden.
What interested me when I moved to the Phoenix area, is that the homes have back alleys where the garbage is picked up. Most of the alleys I have seen are dusty, uninviting, unpaved, and some lightly polluted. Joan took her back space and turned it into an alley garden.
Walking through her outdoor space made me realize how much space and resources we waste. Her backyard is filled with bees and insects and you can just feel that it is a live space versus one that is manicured and looks just like every other home on the block.

I hope her home serves as an example of how homeowners can reimagine the suburban front lawn and perhaps encourage home owner associations and local governments to have relaxed zoning codes.
I could foresee a return to interacting with neighbors and increased community involvement, if more homes were as welcoming as Joan’s.
If you would like to learn more about Joan’s work, check out her website (, watch the video about the alley garden, or view the photos I took from the site visit.
*Note: This blog post was originally written on On the Brink, a blog where I occasionally write about sustainability topics. Check it out sometime!


An urban planning PhD student finding  peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre


The front of the home


One of the rain barrels

When the temperature rises, Joan uses bamboo to create shade for plants
Outdoor fireplace
Shade over the outdoor fireplace
Alley garden
How the alley looks behind other homes
Joan showing the class sugar cane
Front yard seating area
These plants create a barrier from the street, yet the area is open enough
to create a welcoming space.

How to use your syllabus to calculate your final grade

End of the semester is drawing to a quick close. All around campus I see people tight with stress, sleeping in the stairwells, even sleeping in class. Often, time management issues is what causes stress and waiting until the last minute to complete projects. Often, it is at the end of the semester professors pile on all the difficult assignments (why do they do this?).

If you have read my list of 11 things professors wished students knew before finals, you would remember two things that made the list: 1. read the syllabus 2. don’t beg for grades.

You would be surprised how many students fail to read the syllabus. I should know, I used to be one of them.

You can avoid begging your professor for a grade if you use your syllabus to calculate your grade and to see what areas of the class you should spend most of your energy.

Below is an example break down of percentages on a syllabus and the possible grade that could be received in the course.

I am going to use imaginary grades to demonstrate how to calculate your final end of the semester grade.

How to calculate final grade


Calculating the grade

Weekly Presentations (15%) 

95, 95, 97, 90, 88,  87,87, 92, 93, 88

The math: 

95 + 95 + 97 + 90 + 88 + 87 + 87 + 92 + 93 + 88 = 912

912 (sum)/10 (total # of grades) = 91.2 (average)

91.2  x .15 (percentage) = 13.68

Total points: 13.68 out of 15


Participation (15%) 

This category is tough, because how can participation be calculated? If I raise my hand two times a class will I get the full 15%? What if I’m the type that emails interesting articles to the class or goes to all the office hours, am I participating? I don’t like the participation factor of grades because to me it is hard to calculate. I’m not sure if  I think participation is a fair measurement tool – at least not for such a large percentage of a grade.

Enough of my rant.

Lets assume you are an average participator, so you will get an 85

The math

85 x .15 = 12.75

Total points: 12.75 out of 15


Take-Home Mid-Term (20%)


The math

87 x .25 = 17.40

Total points: 17.40 out of 20


Final Presentation (15%)


The math

92 x .15 = 13.80

Total points: 13.80 out of 15


Take- Home Final  (35%)


The math 

90 x .35 = 31.50

Total points: 31.50 out of 35


Final end of the semester grade

The math

Add all the total points from each category

13.68 + 12.75 + 17.40 + 13.80 + 31.50 =  93.48

Final Grade: 89.13 out of 100 or B+ (based on the grading chart in the syllabus)

 (not sure why the picture is so small- click to enlarge) how to calculate final grade 2


So why does this all matter?

1. It saves you the stress of playing the guessing game.

2. It saves you and the professor the awkward conversation about your grades.

3. You can in the beginning of the semester plan on how you will dedicate your time. Maybe a class that has zero class participation, you can not attend as often and just study for exams.

In this class scenario, 70% of your final grade would come from your midterm, final presentation, and final. It would be in your best interest to focus energy on doing well on those three aspects of the course. Not saying you shouldn’t participate, attend class, or work hard on the presentations, but you could plan your semester accordingly based on other classes and what parts of the course will take more attention.

That way when the semester draws to a close, you are not stressed because you anticipated how much time and effort you were going to place in every aspect of a class.

If you are stressing, check out my colleague Dr. Bob Brinkmann’s tips for surviving the stress of November. 



An urban planning PhD student finding  peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre; Sage Ross