Real People and Real Horses: The Adventure Never Ends

I suppose I could say that life itself is an adventure, but that might force me to distinguish between adventure and misadventure, so I’ll just stick to one excerpt from my life. This particular adventure has already gotten so big that I barely have had time to process it all internally, let alone write about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The first thing that you probably want to know is: What adventure? For starters, I stayed within the boundaries of the continental United States this time. There are also horses involved. Need I say more? Well, actually… everything you need to know about the background for this adventure is in my post dated 26 April 2014. The bare minimum is that I went to Woodruff, SC in order to ride and train with Mihran Dülgeroğlu (www.mihranequestrian.com), fevkalade bir antrenör. I would say trainer extraordinaire, but Mihran is Turkish.

An important  freebie is: Yes,  you can travel with a dressage saddle as carry-on luggage. On a big plane anyway. I made all sorts of airport friends because, let’s face it, a saddle is a peculiar looking piece of luggage. One child even found a way to sit in between the flaps and hide from her mother. I flew Southwest because they had the best fares and they only use the bigger jets. That said, the flight crew and some passengers do get huffy if they have to wait for you to cram that saddle into the bins on the smaller jets. The secret: take the saddle out of the carrying bag. It also helps if your ribs aren’t bruised (see below for details).

It fits! It fits!

It fits! It fits!

Now, back to the main plot. I showed up at the Greenville airport with one duffel full of riding clothes, a smaller one filled with the stuff people who don’t ride wear, a saddle, and a backpack- proving once again that I may sometimes over pack, but I always carry my own gear. Furthermore, if you laugh at me, I won’t lend you any of my stuff when you need it- which you will because you didn’t want to pack it in the first place.

Mihran trains mostly Hunters and Jumpers, but he comes from a classical dressage background. All of his horses are well versed in the basics of flexing, bending, and responding to light aids from the rider. Some of our best conversations about dressage took place in the jump arena! Three of the horses that I rode (I had forgotten what fun Thoroughbreds can be!) were quite capable and willing to give honest efforts to move more efficiently and “correctly.” Mihran was equally capable and willing to make sure that my requests were equally honest and efficient (translation: MORE LEG! MORE BEND!)

On Monday morning we headed to the barn. But first, we had to have a meeting.

Not all meetings are evil.

Not all meetings are evil.

This meeting included neither paperwork nor PowerPoint. Just good planning and conversation- and oh yes, coffee!

It’s Wednesday Friday I’m back home now just now getting around to writing. That should give you an idea of how busy (or tired) I have been. Every day I rode three horses and lunged one or two more if necessary. Then I watched Mihran ride and give lessons. On Monday, I rode a few horses while Mihran offered comments and instructions. It was like a day-long lesson! Apparently neither he nor the horses were too offended because he allowed me to tack up and ride again on Tuesday.

All three Tuesday horses were Thoroughbreds who knew how to stretch and work off of light aids. Bending was not something they did very well. During one circle Mihran asked me if I was riding a horse or a motorcycle. It was up to me to decide how to improve what I had to work with. I’ll be the first to admit (or maybe the second since hesitation is one of my weaknesses) that I should have been quicker to diagnose some of the issues. On the other hand, I am now aware of that both in and out of the saddle. No more complacency.

We’re still on Tuesday, right? I started each horse with the idea that I would not begin work until I could clearly articulate what I wanted to address and how I would do it. Sometimes that comes naturally. Sometimes I have to change the plan completely (horses also have plans). On a horse that didn’t belong to me,  it was an intimidating process.

Horse #1, a 7 year old TB, required lots of transitions. Upward. Downward. Within gaits as well. Everywhere in the arena. He knew the hunter routine very well. When he cantered after two walk steps and went “uphill” I knew we had made a real breakthrough. Then the challenge was to either keep him together or trot again before he (or I) lost it.

Horse #2, another 7 year old TB, was a very long-backed fellow who presented another set of issues. He was a bit more advanced in his training than #1, so I decided to ask for more.  He was more willing and able to stretch, and boy did he! I felt like I was sitting on a ball. He gave me a look-at-me big boy trot that was super elastic. So what did I do? I shortened the reins a bit and asked for some leg yield. It wasn’t perfect, but what did you expect? There was some correctness, and his back stayed “up.” Never one to let things alone, I asked for a canter. We turned down the quarter line, and I pushed him over with my inside leg. He went! We did a stretchy circle (sort-of), and I got off. End of lesson. Good boy!

Horse #3. Hmmm… a 16 year old TB with a lot of “go.” He carried himself very well, but in a flat frame with no engagement of his back. He was also experienced enough to know how to avoid any meaningful contact with me and the reins. He got his longer reins, but he also got- you guessed it- more leg! More leg! More leg! He produced a relatively free and swinging trot. I could tell that it was work for him, so we took frequent walk breaks, also on a long contact.

By Wednesday, I was over my first-day jitters and settling into the way Mihran wants his horses ridden when things got out of control. Literally. Mihran has a young Oldenburg who is simultaneously flashy, brilliant, and sensitive. The sensitivity part is what got me.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

I learned (again) the necessity of correcting quickly and effectively (and repeating if necessary- and no that is not an oxymoron) as opposed to one static correction that leaves the horse no options and me on my face in the arena. After emptying the sand from my boots, gloves, and mouth, I did get back on. I also rode one more horse and lunged another. Then I went back to the house to think about what I had learned and try to clean myself up.

I learned Wednesday’s lessons so well that I could not ride on Thursday. The ribs that I bruised are still quite sore even as I type. The colors on my knee and the rest of the left side of my body have faded to icky, pale pastels now. My ego will definitely survive the downsizing. In fact, one of Mihran’s students, a charming young lady dealing with some fear issues, was able to take the fact that I had made a spectacular dismount as evidence that “it really does happen to everybody” and start to get over her own hesitancy to fully engage with her own horse!

By Friday, I was back in the saddle despite Mihran’s better judgment. I was not there long though because I could not post the trot without wanting to scream; however, I couldn’t have screamed because I couldn’t draw enough breath. So, I did some ground work with a few horses and then got ready for the weekend. My horse friends will know what that means. For my friends who do not ride, that does not mean that I tried to decide what to wear and where to go. I was already where I wanted to be- the barn! Mihran and I would soon be joined by a group of teenage girls who preferred to spend their weekends messing about with horses.

The barn aisle was full of giggling, laughing, and a few squeals as well as discussions of the latest tack with bling that they simply had to have for their horses. Two of them were even thrilled that I had been schooling their horses according to the principles of classical dressage and that I had seen some really “cool” possibilities in those beloved steeds. The others were a bit bored with dressage for the reasons that most people are bored with it, but there’s still hope.

On Saturday two of them asked me if I would give them dressage lessons. Yes, that happened. They each rode like the promising hunters that they are, but they also showed the adaptability that comes from being open-minded, athletic, and willing to take instruction. Their questions were intelligent and showed that they were thinking about the process- especially the similarities and differences of hunt seat and dressage seat. They watched each other, and they watched me. We talked. A lot. They still think that dressage is a bit slow compared to jumping  (duh!), but they also gained a new understanding of what dressage riders are really doing in the saddle. And yes, they started to see how dressage would help them and their horses in the hunter ring! Win!

What a soft seat she has!

What a soft seat she has!

By now many of you are probably wondering why I went to study and ride at a (mostly) Hunter/Jumper facility, especially since the only jumping I have ever done has been in a dressage saddle! Back in the day, Gris Gris and I used to hop over whatever we could find out on the trails. But I digress. In my previous entry I mentioned how I found Mihran Equestrian and some of the conversations that I had with Mihran Dülgeroğlu, the owner and head trainer.

Assigned Reading

Assigned Reading

It has been a long time since I had a good discussion about any of the books that have been written about dressage, especially those by the artists of the discipline. Mihran and I both love Charles de Kunffy, especially his emphasis on sensitivity and condemnation of the modern emphasis on competition that imposes artificial, ego-driven deadlines on us and our horses. There is no art in this sort of competition-centered training. “Many outstanding competitors are well skilled sportsmen [and women, I might add]. Fewer are artists, and so it should be” (Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, p. 6). Thinking, feeling, doing, and creating. It’s harder than it sounds, especially if people are watching.

Yeah, it's a nice, soft seat, but it isn't very balanced.

Yeah, it’s a nice, soft seat, but it isn’t very balanced.

Most of us are not artists. Our horses are not Grand Prix horses. We work and train as hard and as often as we can in order to sustain the hope of creating something worthy of being viewed by a critical public who may or may not be as educated in the art of dressage as they are in the USDF Rule book. (Did you see it? My ego just peeked around the page to see if anyone was watching.)

Here is a video of me riding one of my favorite horses in Mihran’s barn, a seven year old Thoroughbred named Denali. In my defense, I was riding with bruised ribs and a knee the size of a large tack sponge. I will also say that the best work came later in the ride, but my camera person was getting bored. Denali needs no defense.  He has had no dressage schooling, but was willing to give it a try. A horse who understands you is more likely to trust you.

Denali

There it was again! You probably saw it this time. My ego just took over the previous paragraph! How many of us have created something beautiful in the arena and then tried to tell someone about it? (For the record, only Mihran saw me fall, but I’m pretty sure everyone heard me yelling.)I showed this video clip to a friend and trainer who said,”It looks like you’re doing a nice job with a horse who doesn’t know anything about dressage.” She pretty much nailed it. Now you have the footage to stack up with the way I remember it!

Trying to describe those sweaty, yet sublime moments of absolute harmony is often misinterpreted by some as bragging. Trying to describe those moments to a fellow sensitive rider, regardless of their ‘show level’, is the next best thing to actually having that moment. It is like a private, exclusive exhibition where the horse is the star and you helped (and were helped!).

During my week in Woodruff I was quite literally (and painfully) jolted out of a sense of complacency that had taken over my riding. I am not suggesting that we all eat sand in order to risk expanding our comfort zones, nor do we all need such a huge slice of humble pie. I even recall saying that it had been three years since I had departed unexpectedly from my saddle. This after my beloved trainer here in Kansas suffered a worse fall than mine. Complacency is not a word that I would ever attach to her though.

I spent seven days watching an excellent trainer work hard to deal with… well, the life and occasional drama of a trainer/manager/owner. Mihran was in the process of hiring barn help during my stay. Nonetheless, he refused to let me even sweep the barn aisle (I will eventually get around to that article or book about Hospitality- Southern, Turkish, and maybe even Afghan. There! I’ve said it, so I have to do it!). Several of you, my friends and readers, are already familiar with this life, but I had never seen it up close and personal, so to speak. I’m not sure that my talents would even be best used in such an endeavor.

I think it’s a good thing to be easily amused, and can find entertainment- even adventure- in all sorts of places. It’s what I do. I also like to ask questions. Most people can teach us something, as can most horses. Now I am ready to get back to the adventure of training my two very real horses.

My gratitude goes to everyone (that includes people and horses!) who has provided me with encouragement, correction, answers, more questions, help, challenges, and- most important- the love of incorporating art and creativity into the training of our horses and ourselves.

 

 

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The Turkish Connection… in South Carolina: Nothing Could be Finer!

While I was surfing the web instead of writing my latest blog post I stumbled into what has turned out to be a very amazing rabbit hole. After a few twists and turns, I found myself in contact with Mihran Dülğeroğlu, a trainer now based in Greenville, S.C. by way of Istanbul, Turkey (www.mihranequestrian.com). One thing led to another, and now I am preparing to head to the region, if not the exact state, of my birth to ride, study, and drink lots of coffee with Mihran and his crew.

What initially struck a harmonious chord with me was a phrase that I found on anther blog: “Honoring where we are with our horses.”  I realized that this point was exactly what was missing in my quest to keep improving as a person and a rider as well as my attempts to describe this quest. So, I did what all writers do when they see a good idea. I stole it (providing a reference, of course!).  While I was talking, texting, and e mailing Mihran, I was telling a few friends about my upcoming adventure. Here is where I point the finger at Margene Swarts and Kathy O’Brien who encouraged me/egged me on to not only blog about my experience, but to share it with the Kansas City Dressage Society (KCDS).

I hope to make the “whys” of my decision to go on this adventure clearer as I write to you during my trip, but for now I encourage you to visit Mihran’s web site and begin thinking about what you read there. I also suggest that you (re) read anything by Charles de Kunffy and Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg plus any other dressage texts that you hold dear.

For this introduction I would like to address another lesson that I seem to keep confronting but not quite learning: that is, to ask! As we become less young, many of us outgrow that ability to simply and honestly ask for something that we want. And yes, this applies to our communication with people as well as horses. Let’s assume that we are happily engaged in a positive discussion with a human or an equine. We want something, but something keeps us from asking (or asking in a way that is understandable). The worst thing that can happen to us is a negative or confusing response, right? And whose fault is that? As long as everybody is being honest and open, then there is no harm done. We move on or repeat the request as the situation dictates, but we must ask!

In this case, my expectations were exceeded beyond what I even dared to ask. Instead of a long weekend with me as a working student (Mihran was having none of that!), I will be in Greenville from May 4 to May 12. With the exception of the evening of my arrival, all of my days will contain time in the saddle (both dressage and jumping) on different horses, as well as study, and lots of discussion! If possible, I will even travel with Mihran to one of his clinics. I hope that I will be able to refine my communications skills enough to be able to share my experiences with you in a meaningful and occasionally humorous way.

 

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Meg Hawthorne has been a member of KCDS for over 15 years. She lives in Overbrook, Kansas where she strives to ride her horses Başka, Sophia, Gris Gris, and sometimes Pilot according to the principles of dressage as a form of art.

Sometimes we work with fat crayons. Other times, rarely, we produce something suitable for public display.

 

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Being Where We are While Trying to Get Somewhere Else

Yeah, I know it’s not the most elegantly phrased title, but it does capture the idea driving this latest example of mental and emotional activity. Yesterday I had one of those lessons with which any thinking and feeling equestrian can identify. I suspect that its applicability goes way beyond the world of the rider.

Despite the absolutely hideous weather at the Overbrook Dressage Society that has persisted since last October, I have been trying to move up a level in dressage. I have shown up at lessons with list of questions for my trainer. Some of them even relate to my attempts to implement instructions from the previous lesson! To her credit, my trainer, Pernille Andree, answers them all.

Back to yesterday. Because of the aforementioned hideous weather, I went two weeks without a lesson. I need frequent supervision. I showed up at the barn with only a few minutes to spare and a filthy horse who had chosen yesterday morning to abandon his usually prissy pasture manners. After removing the top layer of dirt (from both of us), I tacked up and mounted up. I was ready to work, and so was Başka!

Specifically, I was ready to motor around the arena showing how hard I had worked on the issue of engaging Başka’s outside hind leg. We were both quite content to trot or canter around showing how “engaged” we were. Then Pernille did what she always does. She upped the ante. This is hardly a new approach, but it completely blindsided me yesterday. Pernille started asking for prompter, smoother, more refined transitions. All at once. What?

What followed was simultaneously ugly and fantastic. Başka, my trusty steed, is one of the best negotiators ever- equine or human. He opted for prompt, but not smooth. Refined didn’t even make his list. I just floundered around in the saddle wondering what the #@!% had happened to my beautiful lesson. Then, it hit me… right before Pernille should have hit me. I did not come to that lesson ready to learn or be challenged. I wanted to look good because you have to look good in dressage, right?

Well, after a minor temper tantrum (directed at myself, to be sure) and an attitude adjustment, I got serious and did some really ugly, but effective riding- the kind of riding you NEVER see online or on TV. I can hear some of you gasping, but let me be clear. This was not cruel, harsh or mean in any way. This was me taking a deep breath, listening to Pernille, figuring stuff out, and then explaining it to poor Başka who was no longer allowed to treat my requests like a multiple choice question. The answer was, is, and ever more shall be: e. All of the above. Now.

I’ve certainly had better (both pretty and ugly) lessons than the one yesterday, but among other things, I came to a very uncomfortable realization:  Where was I at the beginning of the lesson? Focused only on moving up a level, i.e. the future. I was not there in the lesson. The future was looking good because I looked good, even without lipstick. Once the hard work started, I saw my future as a dressage star (hush now!) crumble into arena dust. Where am I now? I am with Başka. If he isn’t where I want him to be, then I am perfectly capable of showing him where he should be, and he is capable of going there. I think this sums it up quite well- “Honoring Where We Are With Our Horses.”* To honor something, you have to understand it. Here’s the kicker or why yesterday was so different. The answer is also always “e. All of the above. Now.” for me.

Now, just for fun, here is a video from early 2011 of Başka’s first ever show- a schooling show to be sure.

So what did you see? A horse who was misbehaving? A poorly trained horse? An irritated rider? A young horse who had only been in schooling for a few months? A rider making the best of a rainy day that did not meet her expectations of that first show? Did you hear him calling to his girlfriend? If you listen, you can hear her too! Fortunately, the judge saw all of the above, and more. I received what I hope will be the lowest score of my short dressage career- a 58%. Ouch. For those of you who are unfamiliar with dressage scoring, anything under a 60%… you need more work. (I’ve known people to get a score below 60% but win the class and refuse to display their blue ribbon!) I also got some very helpful comments from her as well as Pernille. But since it was a schooling show, and lots of folks were being wimps about the rain, the judge gave me a do-over! That time we were mid-60s. I thought I had learned that the answer is “e” on that day. I guess we all need reminding sometimes.

 

 

 

*https://bramblewoodstables.wordpress.com/tag/equestrian/page/3/

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Looking for the Next Big Thing: Willing to Learn!

I have often heard that one should not post anything in public about one’s (un)employment status. I can think of worse things to post! Those of you who listen in regularly by means other than this blog will already know that I am one of those Americans who has almost stopped looking for the next big thing, i.e. a job. I have turned every stone twice and am now digging holes under those stones.

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This job hunt has been like no other in my life. Fortunately, I haven’t had to go through this soul-crushing process many times in my life. During the past year I have met some interesting and talented folks as well as… some others. I have contacted hundreds (literally) of companies and individuals. I can hear you wondering why I am not gainfully or otherwise employed by now. Well, here is one of the things I have learned: if I believed even half of the reasons that are implied (none are ever given, of course), then I would think myself completely worthless. Instead I cling to the belief that I just didn’t do a good job of “selling myself” to the potential employer.

Someone who does the things that I do can simultaneously have too much and not enough experience. One can also be too young or too old, all the while knowing all the right or wrong people.  Picking up new skills and meeting new people are things that I generally enjoy. As a bonus, I clean up pretty well! Otherwise, I have found that no matter how specific the job notice, the very factors that we do not ask or tell about are the ones that usually get one hired. In fact, they have worked for me in the past. They have also worked against me.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I have also learned that it can be quite difficult to get past the HR departments of many places, but that HR departments will call me and begin to interview me before even telling me the name of their company. I recently overhauled my cv so that now I have both a resume and a cv. I posted both on two well-known sites that I have avoided in the past because they typically do not have the kinds of jobs that interest me. I clearly hit the search word bonus because now my cell phone rings way too much, and these callers do not leave messages. They call, and call, and call- no matter how many times I block their numbers.  Never mind the fact that I clearly indicated that email is my preferred means of contact. These companies hire people to do searches and then call the people whose resumes match the search. For some reason, my name is a big hit in the benefits management and HR departments of the world right now. Why? I have no idea. When I ask these people what made them call me, they all say that they don’t have my resume in front of them! One poor person admitted flat out that she had no idea- her boss just gave her a list and told her to call everyone on it. They promise to send me information, but so far, none have.

Try calling an HR department and asking then where to send your resume. Nope. No way. Not happening. They don’t do that. There are some exceptions to this statement, but just posting a random resume with those exceptions has not been very productive either.

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I have also had a few offers. Sadly, they all fell through due to lack of funding, political unrest, or pay so low that I can’t afford to take the job because it would be a waste of my time. For example, I can’t afford to take an adjunct teaching job that pays $1500 for one semester (16 weeks, 3 classroom hours/week, 3 hours (minimum) office hours, grading/prep/etc- you do the math!).  Ironically, most of the jobs that fail to materialize due to the first two factors would actually provide some relief to the very problems. All three of these circumstances can arise in combinations too. No matter how many times I reinvent myself there is little that I can do to change those factors. Round and round we go.

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Happy face? Well, like I said, I do clean up well. I’m normally pretty “upbeat” to the great irritation of my “cooler” friends. I’m also pretty thick-skinned and, well… direct. Yeah, direct. The most painful lesson of this stretch of being between gigs has been that I should not even be between gigs as evidenced by the strained, embarrassed expressions on some faces when I decline an invitation or don’t make an expected donation because I can’t afford it. It’s worth noting here that directness notwithstanding, I don’t just drop that buzz killer straight into the conversation. Someone usually asks “why?” and then  insists, ignoring my polite but vague refusal. Nothing brings out the lightweights like someone they know having a rough spell. The lightweights flee the crime scene in order to avoid the taint of failure.

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Paradoxically, the light weights are also the first ones to judge me for being… you know… unemployed. I don’t have a writing career, but I do enjoy writing. Somehow I have let the current situation- unemployment! say it with me!- make me feel like I can’t afford (in any sense of the word) to do anything I like because I should be spending all of my waking hours trying to find a job.  One of the lessons that I have learned during the last year is false. Can you guess which one?

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Children: Yours, Mine, and Sometimes Ours

When I went off to college I was secure in the knowledge that I had plenty of spending money. How did I acquire such riches? Babysitting! That’s right. Spending weekend evenings with the offspring of grown ups in our neighborhood in exchange for cash. This doesn’t make me different from thousands of other young girls (and increasing numbers of boys). What makes me different is that I have known since I was a very young child- we’re talking grade school here- that I never wanted to have children. Ever.

No. We can't play Candy Land now. It's already past your bed time.

No. We can’t play Candy Land now. It’s already past your bed time.

Those of you who haven’t just deleted your subscription to this site may be gratified to know that the really interesting part is yet to come. I actually adore most children most of the time. The more startling irony is that children usually seem to like me. This has also been a near constant state in my life.

So, what is this post really about? Well, it’s really a bit of a rant about choices. Here are some examples I’ve created from combining traits of friends and family. Put another way, the events are real, but I’ve played with the identifying features a bit! I have a dear friend who has a career, a husband, and a child. She is devoted to all three. Her child is one of the most charming, precocious little people I have ever met. However, it is next to impossible for me and my friend to get together without the child joining us. There is another couple whom I never see without their small child.I don't remember inviting the children too.

I don’t remember inviting the children.

    To be fair, my friends always ask if it’s ok to bring the children. What am I going to say? I want to see my friends. I even want to see their children- sometimes. Am I allowed to have my feelings hurt if they choose not to attend an outing with me because it isn’t kid friendly?

Cocktails? How lovely! OK if we bring the kids?

Cocktails? How lovely! OK if we bring the kids?

I am one of three sisters, and the only one without children. Both of my sisters have advanced degrees and multiple offspring. One has a career and the other gave up a career to stay at home. All the children in question here are wonderful little people who regard their aunt as a bit odd (doubly so because she has no children!).

No comment.

No comment.

While those children were small, we saw a lot of each other. I spent my vacations and most holidays traveling to visit family. Now we are all less young, and one of those children is even in college now (Honors College! Brilliant! Takes after her aunt!). For the last ten years or so, I have noticed that, sadly, I have seen less and less of my family or of those friends with children because… wait for it… they are too busy or they don’t have the money to travel.  Last week someone even used their children as an excuse not to make a trip, saying that I should go instead because I don’t have children. Really?

Children are not a necessary component of volunteer overload. They just make it worse.

Children are not a necessary component of volunteer overload. They just make it worse.

To state the obvious: A person or couple can decide not to have children.  Last time I checked, however, that same ability to choose applied to those who have children. Societal pressures aside, most people want children and are able to make that wish become a reality. Same for those who choose otherwise. Either way, those choices have consequences.

What a cute little consequence!

What a cute little consequence!

Do people with children envy my childless state? Is that why they insist that I am not busy? Were they never busy before they had children? Did they not know that children cost money? I know they love their children, but why do they make so many comments and jokes about them that are not quite as funny when uttered by a childless woman? Why am I incapable of understanding so many things, including love and sacrifice, because I do not have children? Of course, family comes first, but I don’t think that I should have to pick up the slack here, at least not every time.

It's not funny if I say it.

It’s not funny if I say it.

There is one more question that has lingered with me over the years: Why? That question has followed me around the globe in my travels, as in,”Why don’t you have children?” In Afghanistan, I often received the compliment “You must have many sons.” (I tried to ignore the fact that I am less young enough to have at least several children!) Recently, a male friend of mine from another country shushed his wife when she tried to pursue the issue of me not having children. He was clearly trying to alleviate what he mistakenly thought was great embarrassment on my part.  I assured them that the choice was mine, and we eventually worked it out. She got it. He didn’t.

A few years ago (in my own culture) I began asking the same question back: “Why do you have children?” To this day, no one has ever been able to answer. The responses are always about the wonderful things that have happened after the children were born- never the reasons behind the decision. Furthermore, the reasons I give for my choice, most of which can be collapsed into the lifestyle category, are quickly discounted by parents as either poorly reasoned (Oh! I still do everything I want to!) or even selfish (But don’t you want=love children? How can you not want=love children?). I never said that I don’t love children. I said I don’t want to have children.

 

 

 

 

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The Accidentally Appetizing Series, #1

I guess this continues my love/hate relationship with facebook because I put this on a friend’s page first, adding that I wasn’t in the mood to blog about food.
Here is one of many recipes that I have adapted or destroyed, yet come up with something really edible. And delicious.
I had a basic and boring recipe, and here’s the what I ended up with- another Appetizing Accident! I know you have the world’s best blender (I used a food processor), so make this. You’ll love it. I’m not in the mood to blog about it right now! I basically used what I had in the fridge and herb garden.
GAZPACHO
3 tomatoes
1 large cucumber, seeded but not peeled
1/2 red onion
1 red bell pepper
garlic cloves to taste- I used three big ones
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (b/c that’s what I had)
1/4 cup olive oil
a generous handful of basil and cilantro (50/50- because that’s the
chives- gotta have ‘em 2T?? I did it to taste because that’s the flavor I wanted)
3 cups tomato juice

It's better to wait until you get everything shopped to add salt and pepper. I stopped myself!

It’s better to wait until you get everything shopped to add salt and pepper. I stopped myself!

There was goat cheese in the fridge too, so I crumbled that on top. A good piece of bread is also useful just to make sure you get every drop!

Chop everything in small cubes and throw in a bowl. Blend or process in batches. Pour in another large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Maybe a pepper or three? Substitute some zucchini for some of the cucumber (the cucumber adds a lot). Use V8 for a stronger, saltier soup. I adore yellow tomatoes, but ours aren’t ready yet… The longer you chill this the longer the flavors mix and meld. Either way it is a light, sweet (in the way that only good tomatoes can be), and refreshing treat on those days when even thinking about food makes you hot.

Chill out!

Chill out!

 

  • A facebook comment
  • why in the world do you not just copy and paste that into your blog? there’s no law that says a blog post has to be more than 40 words.
  • My reply
     really? This would count? You mean I don’t have to win a war with every post?
    And just for fun, here is a picture of one of my horses, Sophia. She loves the water, especially when it’s 98 degrees in the shade. She doesn’t care for gazpacho.
    It's good to be me!

    It’s good to be me!

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The Big Bang: A Lot of Noise Goes Ballistic

For the past few months I have really, really wanted to write about several topics which I ultimately deemed too “hot” at the moment and deferred. I have five half-written posts stored in my blog’s folder awaiting a cool spell. Although I have been sitting around not writing, I am still paying attention (sometimes) to things that are going on around me and farther afield. This post will either be my last gasp or just a small “yop” coming from my little corner of the universe. I happen to also believe that this post will articulate, however awkwardly, something that a lot of folks from all over the spectrum have been feeling if not actually saying. We’ll see.

I suppose that everybody has what I will call a tipping point that is reached at some point and causes us to act or react. Usually I just yell about something and move on. This time, however, that didn’t help. Too many other people are involved, and I care deeply about most of them.

It all started on facebook…

Yes, you read that right. I reluctantly joined facebook (fb) at the urging of my students. Now I love it. I really do use it to keep in touch with people from lots of different places. Unfortunately, I have caught myself coming close to engaging in some of the behavior that I most dislike on fb, to wit, posting things that clearly indicate one point of view while nastily condemning those who do not share that perspective. Snarkiness? That’s ok in my unsolicited opinion. Hatefulness? Not.

Not all of my friends share my opinions on things. Some of you may even find it strange that one of my best friends and often a moral compass for me is pretty much 180 degrees apart from me on a lot of issues. I do not find this strange at all, nor does… that person. We find it fascinating! I also have friends who tell me when I am doing something stupid. They do not call me stupid, or offer to pray for me (we’re not done with this one), make predictions about the torture that I will suffer in the afterlife (or this one), or attack me on fb. We talk about it.

A little over a year ago someone posted something on my fb page that offended me. So file a “Hurt Feelings Report,” right? I wouldn’t have cared if they had put it on their own page. It’s their page. This post definitely exceeded the snarkiness requirement and was at the upper end of the nasty spectrum shading into hateful. Because I disagreed with the post (on my page!), I was not only an evil person, but I could not possibly love my country.

Of course, I made a few adjustments in my fb settings, but I was still angry. I wanted to write something really sarcastic to this person and point out not only the flaws in logic, but the many- too many to be typos- errors in both spelling and grammar! HA!I didn’t. What I did was start paying a bit more attention to a lot of the political and religious things that people say, not just on fb, but in the media and in public.

I realized several things that are still a bit crossed up, but that I will try to untangle here. Let’s consider one comment that I hear and read a lot these days: “Pray for this country!” For the record, I have NO problem with prayers. My informal and unscientific observations show, however,  that this statement is usually launched by people who really mean that the president or whoever has done what they don’t like is an idiot. They are hiding behind their piety.

Americans Against __________ (fill in the blank) know all about the stupidity, dishonesty, and downright evilness of ____________ (fill in this blank with whoever the first blank hates). My mama told me not to say anything if I couldn’t say anything nice. Many of the world’s faiths exhort believers to act toward others as they wish to be treated. Sarcasm (and the choice to use it) often keeps me from doing the first one. From sarcasm, it is but one short step into real disdain for those with whom you disagree. Some of the things I read and hear are truly hateful, and I do not understand it. Sarcasm does not help  here.

Things are not exactly rosy in the US right now, but let’s add the word relatively and see how well that holds. It won’t be 100%. (I can hear people coming up with examples of both now!) There are many, many ideas regarding how to make things better. Some make sense. Some don’t. I like some of the ones that make sense as well as some of the ones that don’t. I am human. Do I want to harm or kill those who disagree with me? No. I want them to shut up. Gotcha.

I don’t know many of the people out there saying such hateful things, nor am I likely to meet most of them. Some of them, however, are people with whom I share some important interests. I do not socialize with them on a regular basis, but I like them and am pretty sure that they are fond of me. Do the people who say and write such hateful things REALLY want such extreme consequences to befall those against whom they inveigh? Sometimes I truly believe that they do. They do not know those evil people, but they know all about them. Or do they?

People are still arguing and dying over interpretations of religious tenets all over the world. Here in the USA we just say horrible things about our fellow citizens who do not share our beliefs. Most of us don’t actually do anything constructive to make a positive change.

We seem to have accepted that different people can read the same religious text and understand it differently, so we do not refer to any authority at all. We just know. It’s the same with the United States Constitution (USC). I know (because I ask!) that many (another precise measurement) people have  never read this document. They know their rights. They know what is wrong (as opposed to illegal), but they are completely unable to provide a legitimate source for their arguments. Anecdotal evidence is an excellent bolster, but it will not change the law of the land.

Remember the old bumper stickers that asked if you had read your Bible today? Well, I would suggest that we also ask people if they have read their constitution today. Love it or hate it, it is the law of our land. Your rights and my rights, not to mention our responsibilities, are outlined, not defined therein. Calling each other horrible names and making predictions about what will happen to people after they die is not only mean, it is an exercise in futility.

I love and resort often to sarcasm often to express my views. There is none in this post.  My goal here is not to publicly shred anyone’s pride or argument. Rather, I wish to lead you to water and invite you to drink. Our domestic tranquility depends upon it.

Whew! I got through the whole post without being sarcastic!

Whew! I got through the whole post without being sarcastic!

 

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This Gun for Hire: Thoughts on Becoming Less Young, Being a Girl, and Being Unemployed (Not Necessarily in That Order)

While I was still in Turkey, one of my students asked me in one breath what I do and why I was there. Even as a double, it’s a normal question, but I had been answering it all day, and rather boringly, I might add. So, to this genuinely interested younger person, I replied that I always tried to do interesting things. Sometimes I even succeed. I listed my most recent “jobs” which include a stint in Afghanistan as a cultural researcher and several years as an administrator/professor in a university leadership institute. There were nods and a collective vaaaay. That’s Turkish for wwwoww. I was confused. Up until that point, I have been relatively unimpressed with my interesting, but inconsistent and less than lucrative career history. It certainly doesn’t help me when I apply for other positions (No matter how many times the average person changes jobs. Who wants to be average?)

Before I could say anything (not that I had anything good to say here), another student said, “So, you’re sort of a freelance, yes?” Nods all around. Well, I said, feeling terra firma under me again, “Yes. That’s exactly what I am. A freelance. This gun for hire!” Only a few of them were fans of Westerns, so I had to explain the reference, and we moved on to discuss American movies.

Since that moment I have taken that student’s assessment to heart. Another friend here in the US put it more succinctly when she stated that she had great faith that I would find something “good” soon. “I mean you seem pretty motivated and dedicated to your career and such.” Later in that same conversation she also said that she thinks I am a genius. As is often the case, the truth in both of these instances is somewhere in the middle. I hate to be bored, and I’m no dummy.

There are just so many interesting possibilities (and realities) out there, but sadly, it just isn’t the thing to be seen  gadding about trying them all- even if you end up being good at some of them. I love the word dilettante and use it often when I can’t get the sarcasm font to work. Yet, contrary to standard definitions (look it up!), my dedication to the things that interest me is far from superficial. I even excel at a few things. So, I have decided to be a Freelance Renaissance Person! This talent for hire!

Being a freelance and living in genteel poverty may sound fun and even cool when you are in your late twenties or even early thirties. However, by the time you reach ____ (more than a few birthdays before my most recent one), I can assure you that there is no charm left to that life. My few readers will know that horses and other animals do not care if you are eating soup from a can for the third night in a row. Horses want food, and they want and need it at regular intervals. As for shoes… one of my horses used to require the equivalent of a high-end pair of Nikes every 5 weeks.

In order to really completely embrace the idea of being a freelance, I also had to do some thinking about more superficial things. Like wrinkles. So many of my friends use Botox that it is no longer novel to me when someone else’s frown lines miraculously disappear (I know, First World problems). Because you know what? Secretly, and now semi-publicly, I am jealous. If I had a few hundred spare dollars every six weeks or so, I would have already worn a path to my doctor’s office and erased the visible evidence that I am less young (on the outside anyway).

Instead, I decry the double standard that gives wrinkles to women and character marks to men. And I still would use Botox if I could afford it. I adore being a girl. No sarcasm font there. I just hate some of the expectations. I also hate that I have some pretty serious frown lines. It’s bad enough being unemployed, ahem, being between gigs, but being expected to have flawless skin at ___ (my age) is just too much. Botox seems such an easy fix to a major insecurity of mine. Or is it?

While I was abroad I  met many men and women who, I assumed, were close to my age. I was mistaken. Often I was off by eight to ten years. These people were younger than I am, but life had been much, much harder on them. I have noticed this in many countries, actually. In most places, the ideals of female beauty, and to a lesser extent, male handsomeness,  are artificially inflated (or deflated depending on body part), but fewer people seem able to gain access to the means of “improvement.”  Folks who “look good” and are over the age of about 35 are pretty rare.

No pictures here. I leave this standard to your own subjective standards.

So, what’s a girl to do? By the way, speaking of double standards, I do come close to violence when people of the male persuasion call me a girl. Anyway… where were we? Oh yes. A person who is less young and more experienced (and more expensive) than lots of folks in a variety of fields, and, ahem, between gigs. Again. The answer sounds easy: get a job. How many of you are job hunting right now? The IRS does not care how talented I am. The unemployment folks assume that in 26 weeks one can find a job, or at least that’s the conclusion that I draw from the time limit they put on your payments. I don’t think that they make Botox strong enough to fully erase the signs of worry induced by the combination of boredom and worry that I am experiencing right now.

 

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A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı: The Sequel

When I wrote Part I of this series, I did not have a sequel in mind. Indeed I hoped by writing that post I would somehow get over my intense dislike of public transportation (in any country). Little did I know that the C11G bus would become a metaphor for my time in Çanakkale, Turkey. I will bet your çay money and mine that I spent at least one hour every day waiting for a bus. A Turkish tourist visa is for 90 days max. You do the math.

The View from My Bus Stop

The View from My Bus Stop

Yes, that yellow building is the Kipa. Think small-town Wal Mart (not Target), Turkish style. I sat in “my” bus stop with all sorts of people, many of whom were quite friendly; some of whom were… less than warm. Occasionally, I would look to the left to see if C11G was at the stop light about 200 yards away.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

So, I would look back across at the Kipa, then look to the right where I really wanted to go.

Look Homeward!

Look Homeward!

It is perhaps fitting that on my last day of classes, the city rolled out (haha) a new addition to the C11G fleet: a brand new, wider, Mercedes model with air conditioning, TV, and yes, an air freshener.

As I climbed aboard, nobody caught my eye and nodded. The driver was more secluded/protected behind a waist-high wall. If he had decided to yell at us we wouldn’t have heard him over the music videos. The younger passengers were enjoying the facing seats as were families and friends who were all heading somewhere. I chose one of the single seats on the right side. There was plenty of room for the old ladies to place their numerous grocery bags on the floor. When we careened around the tight corners on the one-lane “road” no one shouted as a result of being thrown onto another passenger. All in all, it was a peaceful, comfortable ride back to Dardanos.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

During the walk from the bus stop to my room, it hit me- not the bus; the idea that things were getting better. At least on the surface. The people on that new bus were the same people I saw on most afternoons if I was lucky enough to catch the express bus. On that afternoon we all knew that we wouldn’t get that new bus every day, so it was best not to expect too much. The sun was shining, and there were signs of spring everywhere.

Whatever I say about having my professional and personal activities regulated by a bus schedule, I enjoyed every single walk home from the bus stop. There was always someone and something to see, and even on the nasty days (nothing compared to those in Kansas, for example) the weather always gave me a break.

My students informed me that they hated the buses. I should mention here that there are no buses after midnight. I can see how parents might like this one. For some reason, adults were not supposed to complain about the bus. It was… well, it was the bus in the room that no one would acknowledge. My students did not have cars. Most adults I knew did. Those who didn’t asked friends to take them places or took the bus to the Kipa and got picked up by friends. I did this many times because gas is terribly expensive in Turkey, and most people did not want to drive the 15 miles out to Dardanos.

Basically, in the little corner of Turkey that I explored, getting there (or anywhere) is no fun at all, but then I was among a minority of folks who expected the trip to actually be fun. I was among an even smaller minority of folks who actually complained about it. There is so much to do once you get wherever you’re going that it really is better to just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Yes, really.

Yes, really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Camel… what?

Camel wrestling!

It usually takes me a while to process things that I put in my personal “adventure” category, and one of my recent outings is no exception. In brief, I went to see camel wrestling. As for writing about it now… it was either camels or a much more serious topic, and I am in no mood for serious right now. I have spent most of today (over)indulging in an activity that seems to be quite popular on a national scale- much more so than watching a bunch of camels push each other around. I am talking about brunch. There is one at every hotel and restaurant. Furthermore, friends invite friends over to their houses to, well… spend most of the day eating, drinking, and talking. I could get used to that, but then I would have to give up other adventures.

Like camel wrestling.

Pre- Game Festivities

Pre- Game Festivities

Before the actual event, there was a parade of sorts. Some, but by no means all, of the competitors were led around town then up the hill to city land-fill/camel wrestling grounds.

Walking up- looking down the hill.

Walking up- looking down the hill.

Notice all those snazzy orange scarves? They are quite the thing at such an event, and each town has these made in their official colors. Çan chose orange. On with the show!

The best spots go early!

The best spots go early!

When we got to the top, we found that we were nowhere near as early as we had previously thought. In fact, we were the end of the first wave! People had already staked out the prime hillside spots and were busy setting up their tables and grills. It was some time after 1:00 p.m.

We set out to explore the setting and see the camels who are tethered anywhere their owners see fit to tie them. Who’s going to tell them to move their camel?!

Camel Parking

Camel Parking

Last-Minute Preparation

Last-Minute Preparation

We were soon spotted by the mayor and some other important folks who insisted that we sit in the VIP tent. Who were we to argue? We took our seats just in time to see the final pre-game parade.

Introduction of the First Competitors

Introduction of the First Competitors

After watching the parade, we watched the first match. Two novice wrestlers came out and pushed each other a few times, then the whistle blew. Game over. I was considering asking,”Is that it?” when my friend explained that those two camels were basically clueless and that Turkish people use the phrase “young camel” to refer to such people also. Since the stars wouldn’t compete until later in the afternoon, we decided to walk around. We were also freezing and needed to move around!

Posing with a Celebrity

Posing with a Celebrity

 

Breaking Up a Match Between Two Youngsters

Breaking Up a Match Between Two Youngsters

Some words about what actually goes on in the ring: Camel wrestling may not be my favorite sporting event, but I am truly glad that I went and will go again if the opportunity presents itself. I must confess that I was a bit concerned about the prospect of watching camels shove each other around. Honestly, it seemed so strange, and maybe even unkind… not like chasing a poor, terrified calf, throwing a rope around its neck, and wrestling it to the ground! (Where is that sarcasm font when I need it?) Anyway, I decided that camel wrestling could have been a lot worse. Most folks were not really waiting as attentively as we were because they were too busy cooking, visiting, betting on the camels, or drinking rakı (and singing), the anise-flavored national drink that is 40-45% alcohol.

The two camels- always males- are led into the ring from opposite sides, preferably at a jog. The don’t really collide; rather, they just seem end up shoulder to shoulder. Like this:

Testing Each Other

Testing Each Other

This testing and tentative pushing can last for quite a while, but if you look away, you will probably miss something! The match in the photos here lasted for about five minutes, and at one point it seemed like it was over because one camel was “down.” We were all waiting for the whistle.

Watch this!

Watch this!

Then the camel on the left did something totally unexpected- to me anyway. Look at his neck. He put his neck and head down and shoved the other camel off-balance!

A Fast Move

A Fast Move

There was some scuffling, and they ended up back in the original shoving posture.

Basic Wrestling Stance

Basic Wrestling Stance

After a few minutes, the whistle blew and the camel with the tricky moves was declared the winner! But wait… the camels didn’t stop pushing! I was told that this is quite common, so men with ropes entered the arena and began to pull. Separating the camels took another five or so minutes.

It ain't over till it's over!

It ain’t over till it’s over!

By the time the match was over we were all cold as well as hungry. We had not planned a picnic, but no matter. There were plenty of options available for hungry fans who preferred to travel light. Most of the options in the meat category involved camel. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only meat there was of the camel variety.

Camel BBQ

Camel BBQ

The sausage is served on delicious, warm, crusty bread with some greens and some spicy sauce. The meat itself is mildly spicy and pretty tasty! See those stacks of green and white plastic tubs that  look like yogurt? Well, it’s ayran- almost yogurt. It’s a drink made of yogurt, water and a bit of salt. Just the thing with many meat dishes over here and quite easy to make yourself.

But wait! The hospitality didn’t end there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there is no end at all to Turkish hospitality, and that, my dear readers, will require at least another whole article!

A Final Gift

A Final Gift

 

 

 

 

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