A workation’s symbol of freedom

horses back yard

The view out the back window of my camper.

Horses have been something of a theme on this workation I’ve been experiencing since mid-June.

Yes, I’ve been traveling, thus the spotty schedule of blog posts which I hope you’ll forgive. Our camper has made a cozy home in six different locations the past three weeks which means three laundromats and six sewer hose hook-ups (lest you think a workation is all fun and games, though it’s been that, too, what with a Fourth of July parade (how much fun is a parade!) and a Twins baseball game in Kaufman Stadium (when they say “not a bad seat in the house,” they’re not kidding)).

The trip began in Kentucky, and what’s Kentucky known for? Bourbon, fried chicken and the Kentucky Derby, right? Miles of white fencing line the pastures of Kentucky’s rolling landscape, and behind those fences beautiful horses graze on what I can only imagine is Kentucky bluegrass.

Then, quite by chance, we had the opportunity to witness a horse finding a home in a new Iowa pasture when we arrived a bit early at a colleague’s house for a dinner party. His son’s girlfriend trucked her new thoroughbred to his house to be stabled with his 22-year-old horse who, our colleague insisted, still mourned her stablemate who died five years ago.

horses free

Though you can barely see the equine beasts in this shot, their appreciation of the meadow at sunset was breathtaking.

We expected fireworks of the snorting and whinnying variety, hoping there wouldn’t be biting and kicking (I had, heretofore, been unaware that horses can be mean biters). Instead, the two horses took to each other like best friends. After a few hours of get-to-know-you sniffing and nickering, the horses were freed into the pasture together. To see those beautiful animals galloping after each other in the meadow was a beautiful sight.

During one of our stops in Minnesota, I had the opportunity to run (twice!) on trails marked as “shared use,” where I was instructed to announce my presence upon encountering riders on horseback. I only imagined giving such a beast a wide berth, not actually seeing any on my early morning jaunts.

Arriving in Wisconsin, we made camp at a site only 30 yards from a pasture where two chestnut beauties spend their days munching on grass made lush by lots of rain. My 8-pound miniature schnauzer spends her days on the back of the couch growling warnings through the camper window.

And the book I’m reading now? Well, among the characters in Jonathan Kirsch’s The History of the End of the World are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

What meaning should I draw from this strange repeating coincidence?

Well, based on a quick Google search (what better place to find meaning nowadays than Google, right?), horses symbolize power, grace, beauty, nobility, strength and freedom (WhatsYourSign.com). My journeys have taken me through the heart of the Midwest, so perhaps I should draw on the beliefs of the original residents: “The horse has long been honored as helper, messenger and harbinger of spirit knowledge to the Native American.”

Beauty? Nobility? Freedom? Harbinger of knowledge? Sounds like a message to which I ought to be listening.

Ball of canine 

 
It never fails when I’m walking my 8-pound miniature schnauzer in a new place but someone will ask, “Is that a puppy?”

When she sleeps, she curls up like a cat and could fit on a dinner plate, good enough to eat.

My little runt of the litter is as playful as a puppy (and sometimes as misbehaving as one), but she’s getting to be an old lady like her owner (complete with gray hair and a beard). She turns 8 this month. That’s 56 in dog years, ya know. I can’t remember her exact date of birth, and we don’t celebrate it with anything like dog food cake (blech!), but are grateful for her unconditional love and joie de vivre.

Happy birthday, little bundle of canine!

Beauty everywhere, if you stop to notice

 
Slow down and smell the lilies.

   

One word to ‘solving virtually all our problems’: Mindfulness

Ellen J. Langer’s Mindfulness makes a compelling argument for being mindful — that is, actively noticing new things — in a way that makes me want to be one of those 3-year-olds who’s constantly asking “why?”

mindfulness with frameMindfulness is one of those heavy thinkers. It’s got 20 pages of footnotes in the back, for example. But Langer attempts to strip the jargon and the statistics of more than 50 scientific experiments to reveal greater psychological truths regarding aging, creativity, work, prejudice and health.

I’m always looking for ways to be more present in my life. Since I’ve left corporate America, I’ve learned to slow down and smell the roses so to speak. This blog is one way I try to notice and savor life as it is instead of life as I wish it to be. My email has “mindful” in it to constantly remind me to be present. That’s why I picked up this book (and also because it fulfills the requirement to read a book with a one-word title in the 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge).

Mindfulness first came out in 1989 and is considered a psychology classic. The edition I read is the 25th anniversary edition, fully updated with a new foreword by Langer. If you like Malcolm Gadwall’s more modern works, you’ll like Langer’s.

To be clear, Langer’s definition of mindfulness is not Eastern meditation in which one breathes and empties one’s mind. The mindfulness that Langer is talking about is being more conscious of what we see and hear and feel. For example, the doctor is not always right and assuming they are can have dire consequences. Nursing homes with too many safety features do not make residents happy, only safe. Disabled people are not disabled in every circumstance (a blind child, for example, might be really good at hitting a piñata).

My takeaway from this book is to wake up and notice what’s really going on — with my body, with my friends, with society. To notice those “hidden” cues that trigger my emotions rather than simply being a slave to them. A good read, even 25 years after it was the first time.

Blessings of liberty

sparkler

I celebrate this Independence Day for the following reasons:

  • Because the government–not the guy living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not the Congress, not the Supreme Court and certainly not the disagreeable leaders ruling my state of residence in Springfield–can’t tell me what to believe.
  • Because people–even the stupid ones and the ones I disagree with–have the freedom to criticize their government.
  • Because I can drive across this great country of ours on an interstate highway system that, though it is rife with road construction in the hot months of summer and most of the rest of the time, does a fine job of getting me there, wherever there is.
  • Because no matter how many men and women throw their hats into the ring to run for president of the United States (what are we up to now? 28 declared Republicans, 15 Democrats–yes, 15! look it up! and you thought there was just one–and a slew of third-party candidates), I have no fear that any of them (even Donald Trump) will take the post by force and violence. I–a woman! imagine that!–will get to vote, and they will abide by the vote of the people.
  • Because, in most circumstances Guantanamo Bay notwithstanding, evildoers will be tried by juries of their peers (even some who would have preferred to have been excused rather than sitting in court observing bickering attorneys), not judged and executed amid a shroud of secrecy.
  • Because sane, law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms, and the crazy ones will be tried by those aforementioned juries.
  • Because young men and women willingly go to war to protect these freedoms.

A lot of things seem like they are broken in our system of government and our society today, but I remain grateful for a system that aims for “a more perfect Union,” [emphasis mine] one that gives me the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Here’s to pursuing happiness! Happy Fourth of July!

Good books never go out of style

Bad books are like skim milk. Thin. Forgettable. Sometimes regrettable.

Good books are like the fabled cream–they rise to the top.

Thank goodness for good books (and, for that matter, cream).

ShafferMany years ago (don’t we all marvel sometimes at how time flies) after reading a memoir set about the same time, my friends Courtney and Lorna recommended I read the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Well, I started it. Twice. And though I’ve culled my collection of books at least four times since 2011, I still had my unfinished copy of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ novel about the writer Juliet in my library.

So, by directive of the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge, which required me to read “a book you started but never finished,” I pulled out the story of a fictional literary society on the island of Guernsey south of England. And finished it. And I liked it very much.

The story is told almost entirely in the form of letters to and from Juliet, which is quite clever. It’s set post-World War II, when Europe is still remembering and recovering from the terrible atrocities of the war (including tragic descriptions of meager meals required to accommodate the island’s occupation of German soldiers–which will make you crave a swig of stomach-filling milk). So despite being fictional, it is quite illuminating. There’s humor. And an orphan. Don’t forget the tonic-pushing witch. There’s a love story, too. And a message about the underlying redemptive value of books (which, for a person who’s pledged to read 63 books this year and is currently four books behind being “on track,” is message I can appreciate).

There’s pretty much a little of everything to appeal to everyone (except a recipe for Potato Peel Pie, which is excusable, given its description), and I can’t believe it took me four years to finish it. Quite a shame. Because it’s a delightful book (and there’s just no other word for it). So if you haven’t read your copy, pick it up right now and force yourself to get past page 67, and you’ll be hooked.

Yum.

Worth the drive: Red River Gorge

When I hear “Red River,” I think of the north-flowing river running from south of Fargo, North Dakota, to Canada that periodically overflows its banks.

But I’m from northern Minnesota.

That Red River runs through the wide former lake bed of a glacial lake, and there’s not a gorge to be found. In fact, when the river is running normally, acres of flat, flat farmland for miles are brewing abundant crops like sugar beets.

I discovered another Red River not long ago that carved a stunning gorge through Daniel Boone National Forest in central Kentucky. The geography couldn’t be more different from the geography in northwestern Minnesota. In fact, I’d compare the gorge to the Grand Canyon, except with trees. Lots and lots of towering trees — every kind you can think of (except palm trees — didn’t see any of those).

Red River Gorge 2

Can you see the river in this shot? WAYYY down there in the bottom half of the photo, towards the left side? That little sliver of muddy water barely visible through the trees?

The can’t-miss, most stunning view, according the helpful park ranger we quizzed, is at Chimney Top Rock, where you can get a near 360-view of the gorge that goes for probably 40 miles. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but let me tell you, it was harrowing up there looking over the edge and catching glimpses of … well, it was so far down, you couldn’t see the ground.

The reason you might not have heard of Red River Gorge in Kentucky is because it’s not easy to get to. The roads going into in Daniel Boone National Forest are twisty-turny things clearly designed without any regard to a grid (like you’d find in my native land of Minnesota), and then the roads inside the forest are twisty-turny and narrow — scarily narrow when you’re driving a great big pick-up truck, as we were. Once inside the gorge’s geological area, one had to take a 4- or 5-mile gravel road (also twisty-turny and narrow) to Chimney Top Rock, then walk a quarter-mile out to the look-out point.

But the trek is worth the effort. The vista is truly amazing.

The Red River Gorge geological area also features 100 natural arches, pass-throughs in solid rock worn away by the elements (also very dramatic, especially walking over them). There are also nearly 70 miles of hiking trails and lots of opportunities for canoeing and kayaking.

Worth a visit, says a girl from the flatlands.