Baby steps

Fun at Fannin Hill Farm

March 30, 2012

A couple weeks ago, my trainer took a small group of us to Fannin Hill Farm where we schooled our horses over cross country jumps, or in my case, practiced trotting over and jumping small obstacles. (Baby steps!) I’ve been to Fannin Hill several times before, and Tank and I always have a blast there—I don’t know if it’s the change of scenery or what, but we usually wind up riding at a higher level than we do at home. Like people, horses like a change of pace, so usually we all—horses and humans—have a terrific time. This day was no different. (Special thanks to Holly Bryan for sharing her photos from the day.)

Me and Tank

 For me, Fannin Hill is the perfect combination of challenge and safety. Each section of the farm has a number of jumps of various sizes and styles and plenty of room for each rider to jump or not as she sees fit. If you’re not jumping, you can trot or canter on the flat, or simply hang out and watch the others. You’re never too far away from “the herd” so your horse doesn’t get anxious about being left behind, as he might on a trail ride. There are also hills to walk up and down (good conditioning for the horse). At Fannin Hill, I’m more easily able to step outside my comfort zone—maybe because of the extra adrenaline or the element of trying to keep up with girls who could be my daughters!

Doesn't Tank have a beautiful face?
My lesson buddy Emily, with Jessie:

All dressed up to go home (in protective shipping boots and helmet):

The positive effects of a visit to Fannin Hill carry over into my riding at home—I have more confidence in myself and my horse and we usually take a step forward in our work together. And what could be more fun than spending time with my horse and some of my horsey friends? As Gayle, our trainer said, “Aren’t horses the best hobby ever?!”

What have you done just for fun lately? Did you step outside your comfort zone? What did you learn?


Bless Their Hearts

March 28, 2012

My mother and her sisters were experts at using faint praise, and “Bless her heart” was a very useful tool for them. Richard Newman, of St. Louis, does a great job here of showing us how far that praise can be stretched. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Bless Their Hearts

At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Richard Newman from his most recent book of poetry, Domestic Fugues, Steel Toe Books, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Richard Newman. Introduction copyright © 2012 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.


Happy Little Changes

March 26, 2012

I’ve written here before about my dislike of change. However, in smaller matters, I do seem to like change, even seek it out. I’m frequently reading about ways to better organize my life, get more done and bring in more happiness.  

Recently, I’ve made several little changes that have made a happy difference in my life, and I thought you might be interested in them:

I began to actively manage my email. I have several email accounts for various reasons.  After reading the suggestion to “zero out your inbox,” I did just that with the one that gets the most messages. I read and discarded or printed emails, made email folders for some of the regular newsletters I receive and so on. Now, instead of being bombarded with 25 messages every time I open this account, I usually only have a few to deal with. I can easily see anything new or urgent. If I can’t deal with it immediately, I put it in the applicable folder and voila! Empty inbox. (And what a nice feeling that is.) I plan to do this with my other accounts, too.

I reorganized my recipes. Even though I’m not wild about cooking, my family has this pesky habit of wanting dinner every night. Despite the fact that I tend to make the same things over and over again, I had a huge collection of untried recipes as well as a big three-ring binder full of recipes we’ve tried and liked. My binder was old and tattered, and our tastes have changed, and clearly it was time to do something with this mess. I could never seem to find that new recipe I wanted to try when dinnertime rolled around. After seeing a couple of versions of recipe organization systems, I took an afternoon and evening to go through all my loose recipes, keeping the ones we either already like or definitely want to try, and throwing away all the rest.  Family favorites either went into page protectors or photo sleeves (depending on their size) and the untried recipes got tucked into a pocket divider at the beginning of the appropriate section of the new binder I found. I typed a master list of our favorite recipes and slipped it into the front of the binder as well.

Even though I don’t like cooking any better with this new system, at least I can find the recipes I want when it comes time to make them. (One thing I didn’t do that I wanted to was put the date on the untried recipes, and after six months or a year if I haven’t tried them, out they go. I’ll incorporate this with any new recipes I add.)


I stopped writing “Morning Pages”…and started writing them again. Ever since I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I’ve been writing “Morning Pages” every day (well, M-Fri.) Some days, that was the only actual writing I did. Day in, day out, three pages in long hand would pour (or dribble, depending on the day) into my composition notebooks. Every day began to sound the same (what I did yesterday, what I will do today…). I bored myself. I wasn’t getting the bubbling up of ideas I got when I first started writing Morning Pages, and frankly I was a little sick of them. So I quit writing them. Surprisingly, the Creative Police did not come and arrest me, and after a week or two, I found I missed them. I was at a loose end in the morning, drifting without anchor. One day I picked up my composition book again, and words poured forth. Now I’m back to writing Morning Pages most mornings, if not all.

I began Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Yoga Challenge, beginner level. Each day, I get an email with a link to a yoga routine and meditation, a challenge tip and a recipe (and yes, the Yoga Challenge has its own email folder). I’ve dabbled in yoga off and on for years, and wanted to add more yoga to my exercise routine because it makes me feel good. The longest video so far has been 35 minutes, so I’ve been able to fit them into my days fairly easily. Every morning I check the daily video to see how long it is and what time of day it would be best to do it—some of the routines are relaxing and some are invigorating. I’ve been surprised at exactly how difficult some of the poses and routines can be, even though they are labeled for beginners.

Finding a way to fit in an extra 15 to 30 minutes of exercise doesn’t seem like it would be too hard—but sometimes it is. I’ve figured out, though, that because it’s a “challenge,” I’ve taken it on as such, and really make an effort to do it every day. When I focus on getting it done, I find a way. (I’ve missed two days in the past two weeks.) I’m wondering what else I could “challenge” myself to do—maybe 15-30 minutes of extra writing every day? I think that’s doable!

None of these changes is anything very flashy or earth-shattering, but taken together, they’ve made my day-to-day life a little more pleasant.

What happy little changes have you made lately?


I Saw the Signs

March 23, 2012

Saw this sign on the back of a van when I was driving to the library (click to enlarge photos):

What, exactly, is the cargo, I wonder?
And this sign on the road leading to the barn:

Now that is something I'd like to see walking down the side of the road.
And this one on the back of a stroller at the mall:

Apparently there are there people who need this instruction.
The world is full of funny signs. Just type “funny signs” into your search engine if you want a good laugh.

What signs have you seen lately?


Time to Wake Up

March 21, 2012

“The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”
—Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


All You Ever Wanted to Know About Me--And More

March 19, 2012

I enjoyed this post by Crazy Aunt Purl (Laurie Perry) from several years ago, and since she did tag “everyone on the planet,” here goes:

TEN random things you might not know about me:
  1. I taught myself to eat with my left hand when I was a teenager and still find myself doing so sometimes.
  2. I never met a scone I didn’t like.
  3. I know how to give intramuscular injections to a horse.
  4. I no longer have a gall bladder. (Too much information?)
  5. I was very into acting in high school and was the president of the Thespian Club. (One of my specialties was imitating Lily Tomlin’s character, Edith Ann.)
  6. I learned to drive in my mom’s electric blue Camaro (much to the envy of my son, who learned to drive in a Honda Accord).
  7. I write poetry.
  8. I love flea markets and antique stores.
  9. I’m hopelessly un-athletic.
  10. But I try anyway. Sometimes. If I feel like it. 
NINE places I’ve visited:
  1. New Orleans
  2. France
  3. Greece
  4. Yellowstone National Park
  5. Israel
  6. England
  7. Italy
  8. Alaska
  9. Washington, D.C.
 EIGHT ways to win my heart:
  1. Be kind.
  2. Feed me chocolate.
  3. Make me laugh.
  4. Be Hugh Jackman.
  5. Cook for me.
  6. Even better, clean for me!
  7. Talk to me, listen to me—connect with me.
  8. Did I mention chocolate?
 SEVEN things I want to do before I die:
  1. Visit Prince Edward Island.
  2. Read all the books on my to-be-read list. (I’d better live forever.)
  3. Learn another language.
  4. Write a book.
  5. Live for a few months in several different cities.
  6. Love my body.
  7. Find out where the moths in my pantry are coming from!
 SIX things I’m afraid of:
  1. Lightning.
  2. Losing the people I love.
  3. Wasting my opportunities.
  4. Contracting a debilitating disease.
  5. Pennsylvania sports fans.
  6. That the Hokey-Pokey is what it’s all about.
 FIVE things I don’t like:
  1. Uncomfortable shoes
  2. Bloviators (it’s a very descriptive word!)
  3. Talk radio (see “Bloviators”)
  4. White chocolate (come on, people, it’s not even chocolate!)
  5. Humidity
 FOUR ways to turn me off:
  1. Be cruel to a person or to an animal.
  2. Try to convince me that your opinion is right and mine is wrong.
  3. Try to manipulate me or make me feel guilty.
  4. Fail to understand my absolute and uncontrollable need to browse in every used book store I see.
 THREE things I do every day:
  1. Read.
  2. Laugh.
  3. Brush my teeth.
 TWO things that make me happy (only two?!):
  1. Solitude.
  2. Cuddling with my dog.
 ONE thing on my mind right now:
  1. Tablets vs. Netbooks vs. “Ultrabooks”—and do I really need any more technology!
Tag—you’re it! How are we the same? How are we different? What’s on your mind right now?


I Blame It On Nancy

March 16, 2012

My favorite reading genre is the mystery. This is my mom’s favorite genre also, and while I could blame my literary predilection on her, I choose to blame Nancy Drew.

Nancy came into my life as soon as I could read well enough to tackle her books. I don’t remember who introduced me to my first Nancy Drew book; perhaps my mom, or maybe a sympathetic teacher or librarian. No matter, I devoured as many of the books in the series as I could get my hands on, spending many happy hours following clues with Nancy and her friends.

As a quiet and shy child, I deeply admired Nancy, and would have loved to be more like her. Nancy, the motherless daughter of an attorney named Carson Drew, was spunky, fearless, intelligent and compassionate—a fine, and somewhat unusual role model for girls at the time the books first came out (see below). She solved mysteries in her fictional hometown of River Heights with the help of her friends, cousins Bess and George (a girl).

The story of Nancy Drew is an interesting one. She first made her appearance in 1930 in The Secret of the Old Clock. The first 34 volumes were published between 1930 and 1956. Eventually, 175 volumes were published in the “classic” Nancy Drew series (there are several “spin-off” series that bear her name). Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, created Nancy, wrote many of the plotlines and hired ghostwriters to complete the books. All the Nancy Drew mysteries have been published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, but were ghostwritten by a number of different people, including Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the original 30 mysteries. Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet Adams, edited and wrote many of the Nancy Drews until her death in 1982. She also revised the original 34 stories beginning in 1959, to eliminate racist stereotypes. In the process, she also shortened the books slightly and toned down Nancy’s independent personality.

Beautiful endpapers
According to Wikipedia, more than 80 million copies of the various Nancy Drew series’ books have been sold. The books have been translated into 45 languages and Nancy has been featured in five movies, two TV shows and numerous computer games.

One of my happiest childhood memories revolves around Nancy. When I was about 8 or 9, one morning when I came to the breakfast table, there was a pile of books sitting next to my place. While I ate my cereal, I cast wondering glances at the stack of perhaps 10 to 15 Nancy Drew books. Where did they come from? We didn’t have the money to buy many books, certainly not this many at one time. My mom was rushing around getting ready for work so it took me a few moments to get her attention to find out what this unlooked for treasure was all about. She found the books, she said, when she went to the apartment complex’s dumpster to throw out our trash. The books, though not brand new, were in good condition, though most were missing their dust jackets, exposing their tweedy blue covers.

A windfall of books like this seemed like a miracle to me. I still remember the amazed reverence I felt when those books appeared on the breakfast table. Through many years and many moves, I’ve managed to keep a small selection of these treasured books, and I have them displayed in my office. After researching Nancy for this blog post, I pulled down several of my remaining volumes. To my delight, most are the original, unrevised copies from the 1930s. Only one still has a dust cover. The rest retain their tweedy blue glory.

Through the years I moved on to other authors—Erle Stanley Gardner and his Perry Mason mysteries, everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, and eventually many, many more mystery authors like Patricia Wentworth, Rex Stout, and Marjory Allingham. (I do read more “modern” mysteries, but they aren’t quite as cozy and comforting as the vintage authors I keep returning to.) But my heart will always have a special soft spot for Nancy, the teenage girl who chased villains in her blue roadster.

What were your favorite books from childhood?

My proudly scrawled name
For more information on Nancy Drew, click here.


The Art of Being

March 14, 2012

Anne Coray is an Alaskan, and in this beautiful meditation on the stillness of nature she shows us how closely she’s studied something that others might simply step over. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Art of Being

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Anne Coray from her most recent book of poetry, A Measure’s Hush, Boreal Books, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Anne Coray and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 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.


In Hiding

March 13, 2012

“We are so accustomed to disguising our true nature from others, that we end up disguising it from ourselves.”

La Rochefoucauld

For a long time, I’ve known that I reveal different aspects of myself to different people. There are certain acceptable activities and topics of conversation with each group of friends and family, certain facets of my personality, likes and dislikes, that appear and disappear as needed. Like a chameleon changing colors to blend into her surroundings, I’ve become good at fitting in. Only a very few get to see most of me, and possibly no one has ever seen all of me, even my husband of 24 years. I don’t go so far as to do or say things I don’t believe in, but I keep in hiding aspects of myself I feel either would not be interesting to the other person or that might make them think less of me—not because I think whatever-it-is is boring or unacceptable, but because I think the other person does.

There are times when this is acceptable social behavior. Every single person does not need to know every single thing about me. But what if I’m only hiding myself because I want people to like me? How can people like me if they don’t know me? I have to accept that if I allow others to see me, all of me, some of them won’t like me. But some of them will, and it’s much better to have people like you for who you are than to try to change who you are so they will like you. This sounds to me like a lesson I should have learned long ago—but somehow it has escaped my notice until now.  Why now? Because of something that “asked” to be put on my vision board for 2012:

 I’m not sure yet what this will mean for me. I think it might mean taking more chances in my writing life, figuring out what I want and asking for it instead of just making do, not waiting for something to happen but taking charge and making it happen. Guarding my inner life a little less closely.

All my chameleon-like behavior sometimes leaves me wondering what, exactly, I do want or believe. Like La Rochefoucauld says, too much disguising can cut me off from an understanding of my true self. In some ways, I am still figuring out who I am. There are many things I’m still learning, many points of view I’d like to understand. 

Writing for this blog has helped me expose more of myself to the world than I would have felt comfortable doing in the past, even though, of course, it doesn’t express all of me, either. It has helped me think through and express some of my beliefs and opinions—sometimes opinions I didn’t know I had or had not yet put into words. I expect I’ll continue to write my way out of hiding because that’s just something that I do. (Thank you for coming along on the journey!)

Do you hide parts of yourself? What is the cost and what are the benefits of hiding?



March 09, 2012

I’ve been wanting to take a walk on the nature trail in my neighborhood with my camera for a long time. Usually when I’m on this trail, which winds for about four miles around my subdivision, I’m walking briskly for exercise and I don’t have the camera with me when something appealing comes into view. Yesterday, in the spirit of nurturing myself, I took half an hour to wander the trail near my house.

 A little breeze kept it from being too warm for comfort, but it was definitely warm enough for the shorts I was wearing. So much for winter. I turned right out of my back gate, and came to a large retention pond, now dry because of an ongoing drought, and the architectural skeleton of a tree. Every time I walk past this tree I think it would make a good line drawing. I took its picture, and maybe next time I’ll bring my sketchbook out instead. New growth has appeared on the branches—I’m not sure what kind of tree this is. Anyone know?

 Next, I snapped a shot of a neighbor’s purple martin house. Purple martins are murder on mosquitoes, something we have quite a lot of in Florida.

 The large oak tree and bench near a second retention pond, deserted today, but usually a good place to see birds:

 A four-legged neighbor:

Another tree dressing itself for spring:

I wish I was here:

…but I think the neighbors might object to my taking a nap in their back yard.

I turned around and explored the trail on the other side of our house, looking for signs of a return of the wild hogs (there was plenty of old churned-up earth where they foraged, but nothing new) when—surprise! I found this guy/girl sunning itself on the bank of a third small pond.

 As I walked home, I listened to the bird songs and the little rustlings of lizards in the dry leaves. The sun shone, the breeze blew and all was right with my world, at least for a little while. I’ll have to remember to wander with the camera or my sketchbook the next time I want to soothe an anxious soul.

Where do you wander to soothe your soul?

I think this is a little blue heron--he/she is keeping an eye on that gator!


Well, What Did You Expect?

March 05, 2012

Saturday afternoon, my husband and I were in a minor fender bender. We weren’t hurt, the damage to our car is minimal, and the other driver’s insurance should cover the repair. While we waited for the police to arrive, my thoughts took the following turn: “Great. Here’s one more poopy thing happening to me this year. 2012 is shaping up just as poorly as 2011. What is going to happen next?”

I sat in my car, unhurt, watching the breeze blow Spanish moss on the oak trees while white fluffy clouds scudded across a blue sky, thinking poor, pitiful me thoughts. That was bad enough, but what bothered me most was the mindset I seem to have fallen into: being on the lookout for catastrophe. I don’t deny that bad things do happen, but this expecting catastrophe mindset is draining happiness out of my life, making me cringe and cower as I face each day, as if waiting for blows to fall. That’s not how I want to live!

A friend and I have an ongoing joke about “fresh hells”—as in “What fresh hell is this?”  At least, it started as a joke, a way to lighten up when something bad happened, as bad things do from time to time. We use the image and the phrase to help us laugh when we want to cry, and as a shorthand for some unwanted and un-looked for experiences. I don’t want necessarily to give up this joke, but maybe it’s time to add a positive version? Fresh heaven, perhaps?

Really, I’m grateful for my life, and the many beautiful things in it. Perhaps it’s time to go back to making lists of things I’m grateful for and things that make me happy. I believe we mostly find what we’re looking for, what we expect, and if my expectations are that things will be happy and good, they will be more likely to end up that way.

I’m expecting better things of 2012. How about you? How have your expectations affected your life?

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