‘Can Do’ Tomboy Lessons

“I saw only two vehicles this day – both as I was heading home. Both men with surprised looks on their faces when they saw me.”

Today I am very happy to have Melissa Crytzer Fry as a guest on my blog! Melissa was one of the first writers I connected with in the blogosphere. We became friends over our mutual love of writing, photography, and the natural world around us—even though we see very different parts of the world: she in the middle of the desert and me on the coast of Maine. Her blog, appropriately called What I Saw—helps me really see and think about what I see every day around me. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. It’s an amazing combination of great writing, beautiful photography, and wonderful observations about nature (and life). Please enjoy this small sample from one of my favorite bloggers… 

‘Can Do’ Tomboy Lessons by Melissa Crytzer Fry

My dad wanted boys. But when two pink-bottomed girls were placed gently into his arms two years apart, he did what any good dad would do. He loved us without hesitation.

And he did something else. He taught us that we could do anything that his boys might have done. Was he still pining for the sons he didn’t have? Maybe.

But I wouldn’t change a thing. Because, in our rural corner of Pennsylvania with its cornfields, hay bales and Holsteins, we grew up doing things that most girls wouldn’t dream. We drove tractors, chopped wood, played basketball, shot guns, rode motorcycles and drove go-karts faster than we had a right to. We dug ditches, changed spark plugs, knocked down chimneys with jackhammers and restored vintage cars.

View of Grandpa’s silos from the backyard of my childhood
 home. Grandmother’s (and grandpa’s) house was not over the
 river and through the woods. It was more like “over the
 meadow and through the cornfield.”
I wouldn’t say we were fearless. We were simply beef-fed and garden-raised tomboys, groomed for independence (even though we had boyfriends, went to prom and knew how to apply our makeup). Maybe that independent spirit guided me to Arizona in 1998, while my family remained in PA.
Maybe that same “can do” spirit led to my newest creative outlet: Jeeping. Alone*. In the remote rattlesnake-, bobcat-, scorpion- and mountain-lion-laden Sonoran desert. With my laptop.

My Jeep, Betty, takes me to a nearby natural desert spring.
This aerial view taken from a helicopter on my 40th birthday
shows the remote road I traveled during my first solo
 adventure (see photo above).
This office location in another nearby wash included
serenading by a lovely canyon wren. Betty has
ignited my creativity!
Oh – did I forget to mention that, in between Jeeping, freelancing and blogging, I’m an aspiring novelist, chasing the same publishing dream as so many others? You know: feeling a bit knocked around, bruised and bloodied over the years – but equally hopeful, optimistic and determined. Probably more of the latter. Can anyone say Taurus? Or maybe … maybe it’s that ‘can do’ attitude inadvertently drummed into my thick-skulled tomboy head by my dad?

*Of course, all of this outdoor adventure required
some refresher training at the gun range (thanks, Neighbor Mark).
And I obviously depend on my wonderfully supportive husband
 to help me learn as I go. Yep – I still need to work on tire changing,
using the Jeep winch, and even more practice with 4WD terrain.
What holds you back from reaching for those seemingly impossible dreams? Naysayers? Gender or age stereotypes? Something else? What activities might you try in pursuit of that ‘can do’ attitude?

Melissa Crytzer Fry is a freelance writer and journalist living out her writing dream in southern Arizona, among wildlife ranging from javelina, bobcats and quail to mountain lions, coyotes and Gila Monsters. She pays tribute to Arizona’s natural world on her blog, What I Saw, sharing photography and asking questions that apply to writing in particular, and life in general. Her literary novel-in-progress was named a semi-finalist in the 2011 William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition. Twitter: @CrytzerFry.


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me, Julia. It really struck me – looking at your header and my first image – how VERY different our physical environments are! It’s a pure delight to be featured on a blog with such insightful, well-written posts. I’m so glad we connected on the blogosphere, “cousin.”

    • You’re so welcome — and I thank you for your kind words about my blog! It really is true how very different our physical environments are, I was thinking the same thing as I put the post together. One of these days it will be a real live in person blog tour, not in the blogosphere, then we’ll really appreciate the desert-ocean differences! Thanks again for your lovely post!

  2. I loved reading about your desert adventures, Melissa. How fantastic. I also love that you’ve named your Jeep Betty! If there is a more perfect name for a Jeep, well, I’ve not heard it. I think being alone in nature is one of the most profound ways to connect with our creative selves.

    And thanks to Julia for using your blog space to bring interesting ways to keep that creative spark alive.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Jackie! I agree, Melissa is a wonderful addition to my blog — her nature’s inspiration definitely helps me keep the creative spark going!

    • Thanks, Jackie. Betty is actually named after Betty White (whom I adore)… and let’s face it, Betty White the-flesh-version is one tough old bird (I say this with admiration and respect, of course. I want someone to call me a tough old bird someday). And so is my Jeep. Oh yes, and she’s also white in color ;-).

  3. Oh that looks gorgeous where you grew up, Melissa, how wonderful to be able to see your grandparents house (well, silos) from across the field. Your dad sounds great; I adore men who take their girls everywhere and teach them to be bold and adventuresome!

    Thanks for featuring Melissa, Julia 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Cynthia, and I completely agree — dads are so crucial in helping girls perceive life as an adventure!

    • I think that’s why I fell so deeply in love with the remote part of Arizona we’re in now… It’s not the same green cornfields, but it is wide open, with neighbors few and far between, and with such access to nature. Growing up essentially in the middle of my grandpa’s dairy farm was a treat. Yes, I’m indebted to both my dad and mom for instilling the ‘no boundaries between boys and girls’ mantra when it came to trying new things.

  4. Annie says:

    I totally relate to this. My dad raised me in the same way; I learned all the things my brother learned–and often more, since I’m interested in a lot things he just wasn’t. I know my way around a tool bench, which surprises almost everyone, since I’m also very “girly.” Often, when people see the renovations my husband I have done on our house, they’ll comment on how much work Kyle’s done. They assume that I did the planning and decoration (which I did) and that he did all of the manual labor (which we both did). Little do they know that I brought the tools to our marriage and taught my husband how to use most of them. Everything else we’ve figured out on our own, side by side. =)

    • Oh, I love your story, Annie — that you taught hubby the tools of the home-improvement trade (and about tools in general). My husband is much more mathematically and geometrically inclined than I, so he gets props on the house we’re building. But we ARE building it together. He’s obviously done most — all the icky math planning and numbers, but I have helped with the framing of all the interior walls, insulation duties, taking apart and putting back together WAY TOO MANY windows that my mom and I stained, etc. Fun stuff. I love that your dad raised you the same way!

  5. I love the idea of taking off on your own, no matter if it is to the desert, Europe, or clear on the other side of the country, although I have not done it yet. My kids are getting older, though, so maybe someday…

    • It really has been life-affirming for me. Before I was married, I was ultra independent, and I think that, naturally, you lose a bit of that independence when you become a married team. I can’t wait to hear about your first getaway!

  6. Great to see you at wordsxo, Melissa!

    I love the idea of a solo trek in the back country. I know myself well enough to realize, though, that I wouldn’t actually enjoy the experience. I admire your sense of adventure and often wish I had one. Maybe I’ll just write a character like you so I can live vicariously. 🙂

    • Hi Shary! I think the idea of an adventurous character is perfect. Though I actually wish I were MORE adventurous. In other parts of my life, I’m pretty darn boring (for instance, Julia and I have talked about this before: my inability to pick ‘new’ things from menus. If I find something I like, I will pick the same dish from here to eternity!) And I am NOT adventurous when it comes to technology; I leave that for dearest hubby. So I bet you ARE adventurous about some things and not so much with others?

  7. Great post! Love this allegory for publishing! 😀

  8. Wonderful post Melissa! Sounds like you had a great childhood. The “Can do” spirit is so American. And so empowering. When industrialization lead to specialization, I think too many of us lost a bit of our can do adaptability. Good for you that you keep expanding yours.

    • Thanks, Linda. Happy to see you here! You’re so right that the ‘can do’ attitude is engrained in American culture. Adaptability is so key, isn’t it? It’s something I really, really have to work on. It’s so easy to get into our comfort zones and slide along bump-free. But sometimes we need to shake things up for our own benefit.

  9. What a wonderful way to have grown up, Melissa! Your dad reminds me a lot of my mom; she raised me and my sister to believe that there was nothing we couldn’t do (or figure out how to do if we didn’t know how) whether it was changing our own tire, doing our nails, and of course, chasing our dreams.

    • I love your mom, Natalia. Just the kind of role model all young girls need! I confess: I once knew how to change tires, but it’s been so long, I’m pretty sure I’d have no clue now. Time to get the tire iron and jacks out for some practice ;-).

  10. Nina says:

    Woo-hoo! I love reading about all Betty adventures. So great seeing you two together (Julia and Melissa, I mean, but Melissa and Betty, too!)

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed Melissa’s Betty adventure on my blog, Nina! It was certainly great fun to have one of my favorite writers guest post, and I agree, I love seeing Melissa and Betty together, too 🙂

  11. Erika Marks says:

    Two of my most favorite gals in one place!! And talking about how it rules to be a Tom-Boy? I love it! As the proud mom of two little girls who are always ready for an adventure, I love the sentiments (and pictures!) here, Melissa. And as I’ve said before, your landscape inspires adventure so my only question is: Is there room in Betty for more of us?? 😉

    • I cannot wait to make that cross country trip together, Erika! What an adventure THAT will be. I think we’ll have to limit the number of photos we take of ourselves to make sure it doesn’t take too long to get across the country, though 🙂

  12. If you’re coming out to see me, we’ll MAKE room in Betty – heck, I’ll even have the hubs build a contraption on top so you can feel like you’re riding on a camel (you, too, Julia). What fun it would be. I’m so happy your girls have that same interest in nature and adventure. Go tomboy girls!

  13. Melissa – It’s great to find your guest blog here, and F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C as always!

  14. Aw, fab post, Julia and Melissa. I love the sound of your tomboy childhood. Your dad sounds ace! And I love Betty. Glad to hear she’s getting you out and about with your lappo 🙂

  15. Julie G. says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your background, Melissa! I love how your dad raised you with that “Can do” spirit. I think it makes you a more well rounded person. I was raised in a somewhat sheltered, upper middle class area but my parents instilled in us a love of nature and travel. Here we experienced the more rustic side of life … and I loved every minute of it! Though I have lived in the city (Chicago) for 30 years, I am a nature loving county girl at heart. Currently we are building our dream home out in the country (Indiana) and I’m chomping at the bit to move permanently. Some people laugh when they see photographs of me sitting atop our tractor wearing jeans and boots, but all I know is that it feels sooo right. I hope you continue to have fabulous adventures with your sidekick Betty for years to come. Wonderful post, Melissa!

    • Oh, Julie – I can relate to everything you said above – about it ‘feeling so right.’ When we moved from literally the center of downtown Phoenix to where we currently are, I felt THE same thing. I guess I was never, ever meant to be a city girl. I love that your parents still instilled a love of nature and travel. And what FUN to build your dream home (us, too … it’s been in progress for a few years, due to the economy, but we’re getting closer. Septic going in soon). ANd, as for tractors, we’ve got our own: Big Red!

    • I’m with you and Melissa, Julie — I have always yearned to live in the country, too. One of these days it will come true; right now I can pretend with long walks in the Maine woods and out in the countryside…. sigh. Congrats on your dream home and the tractor! Sounds wonderful! Thank you for your comment and for your visit to my blog!

  16. Lisa Ahn says:

    I always love your photos and insights. Great to see you here. What holds me back? Ugh. Too many things to list! I wish I had more of your fiesty spunk.

  17. Wow, Melissa! You are my hero for so many reasons. Your “can do this” attidue is just one….Thanks for sharing that with all of us, and for helping us keep plugging along. Xx