CLEARWATER — Loni Shelef is on the move, seeking new adventures and experiences.
"I want to fight entropy," the 66-year-old said with a laugh. "I want to keep moving."
A licensed psychologist, Shelef, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, works full time in the Clearwater family therapy practice she opened in 1990. But after work, on weekends and during the summer, Shelef dances, bikes the Pinellas Trail, reads avidly and belongs to numerous groups, including one for international women who share experiences from their homelands. She also visits other countries on a home-exchange program and lives and learns among the locals.
Her life wasn't always this busy or adventure-packed.
"Initially, I spent all my time in libraries," Shelef said of her earlier years as both a student and then a psychologist.
In the television-free home she shares with her equally adventurous partner, Patrick Brophy, thousands of books line shelves. Avid readers, they both belong to a book club. Brophy, who is self-employed, manages companies' accounting programs online. At home, he is busily converting the living room into a library, with shelves reaching from floor to ceiling.
Shelef brought Jewish history and literature to the collection. Brophy added volumes of Irish literature, history and folklore. Law, philosophy, psychology, poetry and lots of cookbooks also come into the mix.
Shelef's first foray into new experiences and adventures started a decade ago, following the death of her husband of 33 years and the graduation of the third of her three sons. To keep her spirits up, she began ballroom dancing.
"I began dancing so I wouldn't come home to a lonely house," she said. "I'd go to work, go dancing, be with people and then come home and go to sleep."
The passion she developed for ballroom dancing long ago has continued. With the same instructor she has had for years, Shelef still dances two or three evenings a week.
Her initial loneliness also took Shelef to an online dating service where she met Brophy shortly after her husband's death. She introduced him to ballroom dancing and he introduced her to the Irish jig.
"I also got her back on her bike," Brophy said. Every Sunday the two participate in a bike and brunch club, biking for 20 miles and then stopping for breakfast.
Their local biking has merged with another favorite activity, overseas home exchanges. The couple has swapped homes with people in Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands. In each country, they rented bicycles to pedal around the countryside.
Only a few souvenirs make it home with them, although photos abound.
"Traveling isn't about purchasing, but about an experience," Shelef said. "I like to master new skills each time."
Before each trip, she tries to learn some of the language, history and customs of a country. Home stays, she said, add to the authenticity of the experience.
"If you stay in a hotel, the experience is predictable," Shelef said. "If you stay in someone's home, shop in local stores and learn local customs you are challenging yourself to master a new situation."
Ireland was the first of the couple's excursions, only months after they met. Brophy, 70, born into a large Irish Catholic family in New York, had visited Ireland once before in search of his family's origins. He wanted to return. Shelef loved Irish poetry, particularly the works of Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, and was anxious to go also.
"I already had an interest in Ireland," said Shelef, now a grandmother of six, "and I was ready for a total adventure — something new and exciting."
That first trip, which included attending a workshop on Irish dance and music, awakened her desire for further travel.
Several years ago Shelef hiked in the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy with friends, and other trips abroad with Brophy soon followed, including a return trip to the Emerald Isle.
The couple is eager for new adventures.
"I like meeting new people every place we travel," Shelef said. "For me, the experiences we create in life are what are most important."
Brophy agreed. "I just want to enjoy my life — as much as I have left," he said.