Friday, December 19, 2014

There Is No Right Way


Despite my best efforts at simplifying, I’m stressing a bit right now. In case you haven’t noticed, Christmas is almost here. And even though we’re having a quiet family dinner, we have a bare minimum of decorations (see last year’s “Link Love: Holiday Edition” for the reason why), and we have what I consider a quite reasonable list of people to exchange gifts and greetings with, I still find myself dashing around—this morning, a trip to Costco is in order and my gas tank is running on empty, so I’ll have to stop and gas up, oh and while I’m out, I think I’ll have one of Chik-fil-A’s holiday peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes (a simple pleasure I missed last year to my great chagrin)… See what I mean?

The problem is, life wants to happen at the same time I’m busy making Christmas plans.

My challenge is to take the pressure off by doing only what is meaningful to our family, not getting caught up in what other people do this time of year (no matter how fun it sounds), and letting some of “life” slide for the time being. Not that this is news to me, of course, but I seem to need to be reminded again and again. There is no “right” way to celebrate the holidays, nor is there a “right” way to be happy. There is only the way that is right for me.

I hope you are having a joyful and stress-free holiday season! If you have time, share some of your favorite holiday traditions in the comments section below.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Smallest Things


Introduction by Ted Kooser: I flunked college physics, and anything smaller than a BB is too small for me to understand. But here’s James Crews, whose home is in St. Louis, “relatively” at ease with the smallest things we’ve been told are all around and in us.

God Particles

I could almost hear their soft collisions
on the cold air today, but when I came in,

shed my layers and stood alone by the fire,
I felt them float toward me like spores

flung far from their source, having crossed
miles of oceans and fields unknown to most

just to keep my body fixed to its place
on the earth. Call them God if you must,

these messengers that bring hard evidence
of what I once was and where I have been—

filling me with bits of stardust, whaleskin,
goosedown from the pillow where Einstein

once slept, tucked in his cottage in New Jersey,
dreaming of things I know I’ll never see.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by James Crews, whose most recent book of poems is The Book of What Stays, University of Nebraska Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from Ruminate Magazine, Issue 29, Autumn 2013, by permission of James Crews and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Announcing the Kathy Book Awards...

Photo courtesy Mocanu Bogdan

Oh, you’ve never heard of the Kathys? That’s because I just invented them. I was planning to do a “10 Favorite Reads of 2014” post, when I realized I had nearly twice that many favorites chosen after a quick pass through the list of books I read this year.  These awards are completely personal and subjective, with the main requirement being that I read and loved each book listed in 2014, regardless of when it was published. Sadly, the authors receive nothing but my undying thanks and admiration, and the likelihood that I will recommend and buy their books in future, even if they, the authors, are dead. (I admit this is a fairly questionable honor.) So without further ado, I give you the Kathy Book Awards:

Fiction: Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. 
Runner up: Kind of Cruel, Sophie Hannah. I was surprised and pleased to find this is one in a series.

This was the hardest category from which to choose a winner. I read a number of really outstanding novels this year. Other favorites included: Old Filth, What Alice Forgot, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and The Little Stranger.

Vintage mystery: The House on the Roof, Mignon G. Eberhart. Great story, and a terrier named Blitz.
Runner up: The Brading Collection, Patricia Wentworth. I figured out whodunit!

Classic: All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque. Surprisingly, All Quiet beat out a horse classic for the honor. The book affected me deeply, and I wrote about it here.
Runner up: My Friend Flicka, Mary O’Hara.

Non-fiction: Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Georgina Howell. Remarkable woman, sometimes called the “female Lawrence of Arabia.”
Runner up: What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Portraits of 80 people from 30 countries with the food they typically eat in one day. Aren’t you curious about how the diet of a Japanese sumo wrestler or a Masai herdswoman compares to your own?

Books on writing: Still Writing, Dani Shapiro. Longer on inspiration than on craft, this book was just what I needed to reignite my love for writing. A favorite among favorites.
Runner up: Around the Writer’s Block, Rosanne Bane. Using brain science to fight resistance—lots of great and practical information.

Reread: How I Got to Be Perfect, Jean Kerr. I adore Jean Kerr’s writing, and a post about her is in the works for the future.
Runner up: It’s Not That I’m Bitter…, Gina Barreca. Read this if you want to laugh out loud.

What were your favorite reads this year? Please share your own version of the Kathys!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Do You Love?



Wouldn't you like to be this happy!

“What you love is as unique to you as your fingerprints. You need to know that because nothing will make you really happy but doing what you love.”
—Barbara Sher

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Saturday's Adventure in Horsemanship

I love how relaxed these two are
When I bought Tank 10 years ago, I had hazy ideas of what we would do together. I knew I would ride, of course, maybe jump some low obstacles, and I wanted just to be able to hang out with him, to be near my very own horse. My lifelong dream. For a while, riding casually and hanging out was enough. Then I saw a demonstration by a group of people who used the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program—the things they could do with their horses, on a lead line, under saddle and at liberty (with no tack)! Both people and horses looked like they were having fun. My curiosity piqued, I started learning about Natural Horsemanship and my relationship with Tank became infinitely better.

But it’s been a couple of years since the last Parelli infusion and we’ve become too set in our ways. When I’m not planning to ride, I’ve gotten into the habit of only hanging out—pleasant, but not the best use of my barn time if I want to strengthen our bond and be able to do more things together. I’ve become lazy about coming up with games to play with him. And playing with Tank is good for his mental and emotional stimulation, as well as cementing my role as leader. I’m pretty sure right now he whinnies when he sees me because he knows he’ll get snacks, not because he can’t wait to see what we do together! (Hey, it’s a start. At least he likes to see me coming.)

So hoping for inspiration, Saturday I attended the first day of Pat and Linda Parelli’s Future of Horsemanship Tour in Tampa. This was my second time at a Parelli event (see “Mind: Blown”). This event was smaller than the one I attended in 2012, and not quite as packed with information. Most of the presentations were different, however, and this year they had a brief demo of Cowboy Mounted Shooting by Jesse Peters—which he performed bridleless—way cool! The photos aren’t very good because he was going so fast, and yet he was able to navigate the course and slide to a stop on a dime. Amazing partnership.



Jesse Peters
I won’t get all technical with you, but I did come away with some new ideas for playing with Tank, and, of course, some other little life lesson-y tidbits!

“When you take off the lead rope and halter, you’re left with the truth.”
When you take away the external controls, will the horse stay with you or wander off? What kind of relationship/partnership do you have? In my horse world, the truth is that sometimes Tank will stay with me and sometimes he won’t. I’m not yet the most interesting thing in his world. Applying this principle to the rest of my life, I ask myself what would I do/say/eat if I didn’t have external controls? If I were trying to please only myself and honor my deepest beliefs and wishes? How would my life be different?

Ernie following Pat and Slider
Use psychology to improve training.
One of my favorite segments was the one on horse personalities—or horsenalities (since horses aren’t people). The Parellis have broken horsenality into four categories: left brain introverts, left brain extroverts, right brain introverts, right brain extroverts. (Tank is a left brain introvert.) This is important because each type of horse needs a slightly different approach in order to learn. This goes for people, too, however you want to divide and categorize them. Communicating with spouses, children, coworkers, family members and friends can be enhanced by understanding their personalities and choosing the communication techniques most likely to get through.

I want to become a better horsewoman, and in order to do that, I need to put a bit more time and thought into my horsey activities. I’ll have to rebalance my other activities, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. (For instance: to go to this event I had to miss my library’s annual holiday book sale!) I believe it will be worth it. And now, to the barn!

What do you want more of in your life? What, if anything, will you have to give up or change?

Linda and Hot Jazz

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wink

Photo courtesy jhusemannde

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I love poems with sudden surprises, and here’s one by Jennifer Gray, a Nebraskan. Will you ever see depressions puddled with rain without thinking of the image at her conclusion?

Horses

The neighbor’s horses idle
under the roof
of their three-sided shelter,
looking out at the rain.

Sometimes
one or another
will fade into the shadows
in the corner, maybe
to eat, or drink.

Still, the others stand,
blowing out their warm
breaths. Rain rattles
on the metal roof.

Their hoof prints
in the corral
open gray eyes to the sky,
and wink each time
another drop falls in.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Gray. Reprinted by permission of Jennifer Gray. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

30 Days of Gratitude Revisited

I did it! I stuck with my 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge, posting a picture and a few sentences about what I’m grateful for every day in November. This is an encouraging first for me!

I enjoyed being able to focus on all the good things I’m grateful for and having them recorded in one place means I can revisit them when I’m unhappy, stressed, or frustrated. In addition to that, I learned that I can, indeed, stick with something for 30 days straight, and that yes, sometimes it is easier to do something every day rather than once in a while. (See Grechen Rubin’s post, “Proposed Resolution: Do Something Every Day.”)

A couple of things made this challenge doable for me. First, there were specific boundaries. I knew how long the challenge would last (30 days), and I knew the theme of each day’s post ahead of time, thanks to Dani’s prompts. While I did have to decide what aspect to write about, having the prompt meant I already had a topic, and that made it a lot easier for me. I mostly posted at night, but I kept the prompt in mind all day. It probably took me about 15 minutes at most to choose the photo, write the post and put them both up. Once I had my post done, I didn’t fret about doing more—I knew I had finished that day’s challenge and could move on to something else.

The second thing that helped was accountability—I announced I was doing this challenge here on the blog, and that I intended to post the photos on Facebook. Even though I doubt that anyone was waiting breathlessly for my next post, I did feel accountable for making sure one made it up there every day.

Speaking of posts, here are four of my favorites:

Day 7 prompt: Attire. I'm grateful for the riding boots my husband gave me for Mother's Day 10 years ago. They help me feel more secure when riding, and help my horse understand my cues better. Plus, I think they're pretty cool looking (though they need to be cleaned and polished)!


Day 8 prompt: Friendship. This should be easy, because friendship is hands down one of the things I'm most grateful for. To the women I've met only virtually through blogging, to my barn buddies, to the far-flung friends I only get to talk to occasionally, and to those special few who have supported and encouraged me through all the highs and lows of life, I say a big THANK YOU! I don't have one photo that can express all that, so I'll go with this one of a little plaque that hangs in my kitchen--given to me by a friend, of course!


Day 21 prompt: Scent. New Orleans is a town full of sights, sounds, and smells--not all of them pretty. There's one scent I absolutely love that you can occasionally get a whiff of as you walk down the street there—Sweet Olive. Today I'm thankful for the Sweet Olive perfume I bought in NOLA. Whenever I open the bottle, I'm whisked back to one of my favorite cities.


Day 28 prompt: Desire. I'm grateful that there are things I desire—things to work and plan for, and look forward to. One of my biggest desires is to have the money and freedom to travel more—hence today's photo.


I am glad the challenge is done, and while I wasn’t exactly getting bored with it, I am ready for a change. So what’s next? Armed with the realization that I can stick to something, I want to choose another thing to do for 30 days, something that will take approximately the same 15 minutes per day. Perhaps sketching—think how much improvement I’d make if I sketched every day for 15 minutes! I know that to be successful, I need boundaries and accountability. I’ll need to find or make up prompts for sketching every day (any suggestions for a book or website that could help me do this?), and I’ll need to have some accountability. I don’t want to post my sketches on Facebook, however, because I want to feel free make mistakes and try new things without being too embarrassed and without inflicting my learning curve on others. Plus, in order to post my sketches, I’d have to scan them into the computer daily, and that might just be the straw that breaks this challenge’s back. Do I have enough gumption to be accountable to myself? I’m not sure. I’m still pondering this. (Plus, I’m not prepared to commit to a 30-day project over the Christmas holidays. This will have to wait until 2015.)

Have you ever participated in some type of 30-day challenge? Would you like to? If so, what would you choose?

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