Meet the Contributor: Shellie Puffer

Shellie on one of her favorite kind of days – the gray, rainy kind.

Family: Well, there’s me (lofty ideas and ideals central, here), there’s my husband (excellent helper in implementing ideas and ideals), our almost 2-year old daughter (ideas and ideals still developing, seems kind of erratic) as well as our gremlin fence-jumping, lightning speed seven-year-old dog (ideas all relate to food, sleep, ball, or stick; affectionately she is called the “cheese monster”). Our cheese drawer is always stocked, and this is a very important thing in our house. I once sent my husband a card (this was over a decade ago) that read “I love you more than cheese”, and after that he said he really understood how much I loved him.

Gremlin dog. Don’t feed her after midnight!
Card that affirms love above cheese.

Career: I am a Wildlife Biologist, and for the past five years I have been working on reptile and amphibian research/conservation here in the desert southwest. I know that these cold-blooded animals are not as cute, cuddly, and relatable as all the fluffy, warm-blooded mammals out there, but I hope that sharing my interest in reptiles and amphibians will build an appreciation in others for some really “neat-o” organisms that also call the southwest their home!

What brought you to Flagstaff: I was a long-time dreamer of moving to the “real” west (I’m from the Midwest), and my husband shared the same idea. I love thunderstorms, rain, washed-out gray skies, and all things green. Naturally, when I said “west”, I thought of the northwest. Then my husband landed a job in Flagstaff, and we were suddenly propelled into the desert with nearly 300 days of sunshine every year. It certainly has given me time to appreciate the beauty of arid places – the ephemeral blooms, perennial hardiness, and wide-open landscapes of the southwest.

Early Bird or Night Owl: The post-sunrise, pre-late morning bird? I suppose the fact that I enjoy getting up early over going to bed late makes me a de facto “early bird”. I am actually quite terrible at staying up late. If I try to do so, it usually just translates to falling asleep on the couch and ends with my husband poking me to go to bed while I make grumpy noises akin to a bear coming out of hibernation.

Hobbies: Enjoying the outdoors (whether it’s hiking and camping or being lazy in a hammock); Reading (now relegated to a brief bedtime ritual since becoming a parent, but oh how I miss weekends of lazy page-turning); Honing my naturalist skills; Being selectively crafty (I like to believe I am crafty, but I have created things that could end up on a “Pinterest Fail” page. This has been going on since I was young and tried to create a “real” rainbow out of old sandwich bags, glue, and some markers.); Testing baking recipes for high-altitude success; Perpetually coming up with madcap ideas

Favorite thing to do with your Family: At risk of sounding repetitive, see above! We really love hiking together, and I spend as much time as I can absorbing the natural world with my family. Nature is such a soul-centering setting for us.

Coffee or Tea: BOTH. Mornings are for coffee. The strong, cold-brewed kind that slaps your brain awake and restores your daily motivation. Afternoons and evenings are for tea – any kind, any flavor, any mix. Tea drinking is downright exciting with all of the options out there.

Favorite/Least Favorite Household Chore: I cannot resist an organization project when I see one (Classic Type A here). I don’t even mind cleaning – it gives a little sense of satisfaction afterward. But if there’s one thing that I don’t enjoy in the cleaning realm, it’s dusting. I kind of loathe my knick-knacks when I have to move them aside to dust, and unless you haven’t dusted for a year, your table looks pretty much the same both before and after dusting. Where is the satisfaction in that?!

Going back in time, one thing you would tell yourself right before you became a mother: I think self-doubt plagued me before I became a parent. How will I know everything before I need to know it? Am I cut out to be a parent? Will I really love this kid as much as people say I will? What I know now, and what I wish I had understood then, is that every parent adapts and learns as they go. My advice would have been to just trust myself.

Something you are looking forward to: Did someone say ice cream? Oh man, I miss going out for ice cream. It’s our family summer ritual, and we’ve had to switch to making our own ice cream for peace of mind during the pandemic (who needs a shake weight when you can shake up your own ice cream?). As soon as I see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I’m getting a delicious hand-dipped cone. Since that might be awhile, my future dreams include any and all kinds of great outdoor adventures with my daughter as she grows older. I hope the adventures end with an ice cream sandwich or a milkshake from Mama Burger.

Favorite Thing to do in Flagstaff with/without kids: We used to greatly enjoy going to the farmer’s market on the weekend, toting our glass jars to trade in for new bouquets of flowers. The pandemic has put that on hold, so now we just enjoy hitting the trails even more. Without kids, what is that? Don’t worry, I’m just “kid”ding (hah… hah…). I love to go to thrift stores (Flagstaff has so many!), and my husband and I always enjoy a night out in downtown Flag.

Best Mom Hack: To this day, the greatest accomplishment in our household was figuring out that if my daughter’s toys and stuffed animals do something first, then she will be more amenable to doing it, too. I have to give kudos to my husband on this one. My daughter hates medicine and we have always had great pains and battles trying to give any meds to her. Then one day, my husband sat down on the couch and gave medicine to her most beloved stuffie. Then all her stuffies got some. Then she wanted some, too. Now anytime we face a toddler that is stonewalling us, we grab her favorite stuffed animals and dolls to show her that if they can do it, she can, too. It works most of the time.

The greatest challenge you’ve faced: Moving through the grieving process the first time one of my close loved ones passed away. After watching them battle cancer and fade away slowly and painfully, I had a very long road to mental recovery and normalcy. I’ll never forget the heartbreak. It still pains me to think about, but I appreciate how that process has changed my perspective on life.

Something you love about yourself: I am a big dreamer. I am constantly dreaming about things – things I want to do, things I want to change, things I want to learn… and those things turn into real plans and real actions. I think it’s something that helps me keep moving forward in life.

Favorite thing about being a Mom: Oh gosh, let’s call a spade a spade and not beat around the bush: here come the clichés. Being a mom has made me a better person. It has expanded my heart and my empathy, and made me more patient and mindful. My daughter, without even knowing it, has made me grow into a more gracious person. She really makes me want to be my best self. There must be truth to these clichés (the proof is in the puddin’) and I’m afraid if I don’t stop here, the next one I write is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back!

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Shellie grew up in the Midwest poking her nose around the local wildlife, collecting rocks, and writing outlandish stories in spiral notebooks. She earned dual undergraduate degrees in Biology and Chemistry, and worked towards a Masters degree in Ecology. After traveling to various corners of the world, she found her greatest adventures hiking around Appalachia and rafting the wild rivers there. When the west started calling, she and her husband made the leap to Flagstaff where their family grew by one energetic dog and one sweet daughter. She now works as a Wildlife Biologist focusing on conservation of reptiles and amphibians in the desert southwest.