What I Did Last Year: Understanding the Noise, 2014

    In 1992, while still recovering from illness, Queen Elizabeth II gave the following speech:

She didn’t go into a lot of detail. She didn’t have to. The paparazzi had taken care of that for her. The sometimes unfortunate perspective of hindsight shows us that things got even worse for her and her family. Yet, one would never know it just to look at- or listen to- her. The only hint of anything amiss is her still-weak voice. She carried on because one does. With deference to my friend who never shoulds on others,  you might oughtta give Her Majesty another listen before continuing.

<pause to (re)play video>

For several weeks Facebook(FB) has been  showing me a montage of  pictures that I posted throughout 2014 and offering me the opportunity to share it with my FB friends. They have even provided me with a header: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” As an aside, I think that the gratitude statement to friends should also receive an exclamation mark. Here  ya go: !

Among the items I would like to borrow from Her Majesty is the phrase annus horribilis to sum up 2014.

The “undiluted joy” in the pictures FB chose to include in this collection scarcely even begins to resemble my recollection of 2014. Not blaming FB here- with few exceptions, who posts “bad” pictures of themselves? I mean the really, genuinely ugly ones? I don’t. Once upon a time I shared a video of my young horse’s first dressage test. It was real, and parts of it were “real ugly.” For every person who laughed with me, there was another who laughed at me (and poor Başka).

Photos from May 17, 2012

There were also some FANTASTIC moments in that dressage test (I thought I had put the video here on this site, but I can’t find it now.) The point here is that I focused on the fantastic moments, including the fact that the judge gave us a do-over because she knew as well as I did that  we  could do better!

Flops are a part of life's menu, and I've never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses. - Rosalind Russell

Flops are a part of life’s menu, and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.
– Rosalind Russell, photo from Auntie Mame

(There hasn’t been any Noise from me since May. WARNING: If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to adjust the volume on your device. Things may get a bit loud!)

Since last summer, I’ve carried on, but not quite with the Queen’s dignity, humor, or modulated tones. If explanation of my actions is required, I will provide one that has “some precedent in truth.”¹ If I catch on in time, I will also apologize for negative consequences that my choices may cause. Otherwise, just take my word for it that I really haven’t been doing much that is worth rehashing in the blogosphere. You may also rest assured that I will rehash those things which merit closer scrutiny.

Never apologize. Never explain.

Never apologize. Never explain.

I lost my voice for a while- in the figurative sense.  I just didn’t feel like saying anything. Then I started to think about my silence. I thought about it for several months. I also tried, and failed, to ignore the silence. During that time, people started to wonder what I was up to. Lots of people had ideas about what I should or should not be doing. Very few had any idea of how or how not to do what they thought I should or should not do.

...or something like that.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. … or something like that.

 

 

Some people (the ones who receive my eternal gratitude plus the exclamation mark) began to worry a bit. You see, I generally make a lot of noise, much of it joyful. I love to talk. I love to sing. When irritated or even slightly upset, noise- spoken or sung-  is also how I get over the irritant and myself. When I’m quiet… well, I think you see where this is going. The Good Idea Fairy and I get together a lot. I also love to share my ideas with others, and I’m willing take the credit for brilliant successes as well as flaming failures. Sometimes there is only a match stick separating the two!

<pause to watch and listen to Queen Elizabeth again>

 Auntie Mame, as portrayed by Rosalind Russell, had more fun that I would think possible losing husbands, lovers, and money. She also had a enviable knack for putting things right for those whom she loved as well as herself. Queen Elizabeth bowed to her subjects and now pays taxes on her income. She bowed her head as her daughter-in-law’s casket passed in front of her. She has lost her mother and a daughter.Precedents of truth and (or?) fiction not withstanding, both women withstood scrutiny while offering observations to others with a “touch of gentleness, good humor, and understanding” in order to guide the “engine of change”³ toward their preferred form of resolution and justice.

Issues of volume aside, the public voices of Queen Elizabeth II and Russell’s Auntie Mame are two of my favorite noises, although I would prefer the latter’s wardrobe.

"Life is a banquet," and I can't eat any of it if I want to wear this outfit!  -(phrase in quotation and photo from Auntie Mame)

“Life is a banquet,” and I can’t eat any of it if I want to wear this outfit!
-(phrase in quotation and photo from Auntie Mame)

That is all. For now.

Carry on. You never know who may be listening!

 

¹Ian Fleming.

²Two irritants that I am unable to overcome: the absence of any means to indent my paragraphs on this web site as well as the failure to provide any instructions that make sense to me. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it done.

³Pay attention when the Queen speaks!

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.

 

 

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.

 

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/

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?

A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı

Going to a new place in which you know no one and only enough of the language to realize that you really can’t communicate beyond the basics may not be your idea of a fun time, but sometimes we have to take our fun where we find it. Like on buses in Turkey.

There’s still something in me that rebels at the loss of independence that comes with having to come and go according to a bus schedule, but such limited freedom of mobility can also provide an excellent reason to not do some things. Of course I have used public transportation before, but I would prefer to walk if I have the choice. I this particular case, I do not have the choice since my accommodations are within walking distance of nothing except the bus stop.

So, off I went. People said, “Don’t worry about it!” So, I didn’t. Actually, that’s not true. I am a fretter. I worry about things over which I have absolutely no control. Like the bus schedule. Too many ‘what ifs’ for my liking.

The Kindness of Strangers

Since my arrival in Çanakkale, Turkey, daily life has been a constant test of my ability to live by the venerable motto Semper Gumby. After getting settled in my new digs, I was taken, pretty passively, to get a bus pass and charge it with Turkish liras. Most news stands can charge your card for you. When I asked if there were other places to recharge my card… you guessed it. No worry!

My Bus Pass

My Bus Pass

A rough translation of the text at the bottom is: ” ‘Turkish Youth’ Your first duty is to preserve and defend Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic forever.” With such an exhortation always in my pocket, how can I not venture forth somewhere every day?

Whenever I want to get somewhere (which is every day)- mostly to and from town or campus- I walk up to the bus stop, smile, and state the name of the place I want to go. Actually I intone the name of my destination as a question. Then the fun starts! People hear me utter a few words of Turkish with a decent accent and proceed to tell me about everything from the bus I need to the dog lying under the bench (He is a nice dog. He does not like the rain.). Somewhere in there I get the number of the bus that make my wishes become reality. Occasionally I get sent to the other side of the street, sunny or otherwise.

A trip to the grocery store for a few basics: çay (tea), milk, and some fruit, is a 35 minute trip, each way. There’s a bus every hour, so if there’s a line in the store, or you have a longer list, or the bus is full… what ifs. There is no such thing as a quick run to the store here if you don’t have a car, and many people only have one or none at all.

KIPA- the Local Super Target

KIPA- the Local Super Target

Riding home on the bus after shopping is… well, it’s a pain. Don’t plan on buying a lot of anything because even if you can carry it (I use my back pack), you are expected to keep it all in your lap or under your feet on the bus. Seems only fair.

I learned something else on the bus last week. It was raining, and the bus was packed with hot (buses and buildings are always HOT), wet people all trying to get home for the weekend. One last man managed to squeeze himself through the front door, but when he swiped his card, the reader said something to him that I can only guess meant, “Today is not your day.” He stood there a moment and stared at his card in disbelief. Several of us held out our cards to him for him to use. It just seemed like the thing to do- it’s only a 1.5 L ride (about 85¢). My friends in Ankara said that it’s pretty much the custom everywhere to share your card and let the person pay you since the buses don’t take money. I never saw that happen in Europe. I have been lucky enough to not have to use buses in the US.

Turkish bus drivers like to drive fast. Very fast. Curves are not a good reason to slow down. Remember my comments about keeping your things in your lap or under your feet? On the ride home today, the driver was quite irritated because someone’s water bottle had rolled down the aisle and was going from side to side as he careened around the curves along the coastal road. By the way, as is the case in many countries, pedestrians decidedly do not have the right of way in Turkey! You cross streets at your own risk- sometimes even when you use the crossing lights.

Motor bikes and scooters are very popular here, except to go up the hill to campus, but that’s another discussion. For now, let’s just see where I end up, so to speak. My Turkish classes begin tomorrow, so soon, hopefully, wherever I go on the bus, it will be of my own choosing. This will just be one of those entries with no real point, but that is mildly interesting. To get to the camel wrestling this weekend we will not take the bus. Several of us will rent a car. (If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will!)

 

 

 

 

 

What I Did Instead of Starting the New Year with a Post (or, Well I Never!: The Sequel)

Happy 2013!

    The above purple text is supposed to be a video. Perhaps I should wish for more computer savvy,  because I’m told the link doesn’t work. I wish it did, but I’ve tried everything in my limited bag of tricks. In the meantime, here is a still shot from 1 January 2013. You will have to imagine the jingle bells!

Have some fun!

Have some fun!

Here’s to everybody out there who makes wishes!  One of my wishes has always been to go riding in the snow and for my horse to wear bells. Since moving to the mid-west, the chances of that happening have been in my favor for several years now.

Here’s the real biggie for 2013: a trip to Turkey. I’ll be at a university teaching, lecturing, and of course, traveling. Turkey has always been high on my list pf places I want to visit, but I never really thought it would happen. Nevertheless, I never moved it to the bottom of the ever-growing list. You should know that this “well, I never!” list is one that is fun to make. It is also unimaginably  exciting (for me, anyway) to get to check off an item.

Now I would like to talk (vent) about getting ready for such a trip. I will be abroad for 90 days! WOOHOO! Right? Eventually, that will be the case… case being the operative word here. I am limited to two bags no bigger than 62″ however you add up the dimensions to get that ridiculous limit. Also- 50 pounds per bag. And of course, I will have to pay $60.00 for these two bags. FAIL, American Airlines. FAIL!! There is no charge on Turkish Air, but the same limits apply.

Were I to travel without luggage, I would be suspected as a terrorist. I looked into sending myself a box of stuff, but Turkey charges a 20% customs fee on “stuff.” So, I’m back to playing mix and match with two skirts, two pairs of jeans, two dress pants and however many shirts I can cram in. Where am I supposed to pack my shoes???

 

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I am actually good at packing. I do tend to over pack a little for those “just in case” things that always become reality when traveling, but I also carry my own gear. As it should be. I take names when people laugh at me because there is another constant in my semi-well-traveled life: The people who laugh at your luggage are the same ones who want to borrow some of whatever it is that you brought just in case. Who remembers “The Little Red Hen”?

For now, the entire guest bedroom is filled with piles of items that I want to take with me. Every few hours I go in and put a few more things in the “reject” pile.

Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Maybe a few more items for the REJECT pile?

 

Busy! Busy! Busy!

“How busy?” you ask. Well, I am so busy that I can’t possibly find the time to do something like keep a blog. NOT! Actually the preceding exchange was constructed to illustrate the paradox that is my life right now. I do not have an income-producing job; however, I am quite busy. I am so unaccustomed to being in (almost) complete control of my time that my brain simply can’t accept it. Even writing it doesn’t make it any more real. Certain family members, however, are convinced that am decidedly not busy and should be on some sort of grand tour of relatives (see #1 below).

The compulsion to be productive has taken over my life! It has displaced the desire to be in control of my own time, so much so that I have settled into a daily routine. I get quite irritated if anyone or anything upsets it. I think I am in control, but I am being very productive for most of the day. I am my own intern. This isn’t quite a case of “be careful what you ask for” because what I want is to be financially independent and in control of my own time. Hey! A person can dream.

So, what do I do with all this time?

1.) I look for a job that will take up a lot of my time, but bring me an income so that I can cram everything else I like to do into what time remains. I have lost count of how many versions of my c.v. are in my computer c.v. folder. If I am not job hunting, I feel guilty. Some day I will write more about the Southern version(s) of guilt.

Nope. No jobs here.

2.) Those of you who are devoted listeners to my noise (out of guilt or other reasons) know a bit about my horses. To their dismay, the training has been turned up a few notches. My Spanish horse still hates my Quarter Horse, but we are working on it. That’s all I can say about that. You’re going to have to trust me here: if you click on the IMG 1732 below, you can see 22 seconds of a warm up session.

IMG_1732

If the video doesn’t work, here is a picture of El Bastardo, the Spanish Snob, hard at work with Gris Gris in what used to be our pond.

You come get me!

3.) And of course Gris Gris gets his own picture because he has, I think, reached the maintenance stage of our rehab plan. He must be lunged a few times a week just to burn calories. His feelings get hurt when I take “the other guy” out instead of him! We had our first trail ride recently. It was really just a few miles through the fields. All went well!

It doesn’t get much better!

4.) I’ve been cooking a lot. I’ve always done that, so maybe we don’t need pictures or details here. The next big thing will be a birthday cake for a friend. Her only request- something with white chocolate and raspberries. I can work with that!!

5.) Studying Turkish. Yes, Turkish. If I remember correctly, Benim hoverkraft yılan dolu means: My hovercraft is full of eels. I don’t know which I find more amusing; the fact that I know this or the fact that someone thinks I need to know this. On the other hand, some of you have seen my posts on baklava. Next time you hover out my way…

6.) Reading. Everything.

7.) And finally, I have NOT been doing housework. But then I never did. Housework makes me a mess. I have been entertaining quite a lot. That’s my excuse to clean up. It has always been acceptable to those who show up.

I have no immediate plans for the future except to not feel guilty about not having plans and continue with 1-7 as listed above. Too bad horses have to eat, or I would delete #1.

Dressage #1 (and it is #1)

There are so many things that I want to say about dressage that I am having a hard time organizing this post. Whenever I find myself in such a predicament, I find that getting some of the silliness out of the way can help find a real direction. So without further ado, I give you some of my observations about those of us who are to deep in to get out- not that we would ever ponder such an option.

I couldn’t help myself.

You may have noticed what appears to be a lock of hair in the picture above. It is a lock of hair. It is from my horse’s first haircut- when I trimmed his mane for what is known as the bridle path. I’ve saved this lock from every horse I’ve ever owned and am considering having a bracelet made from this one! It’s not a dressage thing; it’s just the sort of behavior exhibited by horse nuts in general.

Ann Romney jokes aside, the atmosphere surrounding dressage is a bit rarified for some. Images like the one here do not help.

I believe he will also be able to stand up on this trip.

My horse came over from Spain on a plane, and it cost me a pretty penny plus years of planning and saving to be able to afford it. Like most of my dressage friends, I clean stalls, carry water buckets, and even vaccinate or give other shots when necessary. I do not fly out to sunny California when I feel like riding. Rather, I hope that the weather is decent so that I can ride (when don’t I feel like riding?) in my outdoor sand box. Indoor arenas are for sissies (sez me because I do not have one).

I do not buy into the myth that the most expensive stuff is the best stuff. Dressage is expensive enough as it is. For those of you who know gear (for anything), you know that it can literally make the difference between life and death. Does paying over $200 for a pair of breeches make me ride better? On the other hand, paying a bit more for a helmet does have an appealing sort of logic to it. Or even boots… to a point. I know children who are trotting around in $500 boots.

Dressage riders who choose to compete participate in a sport that requires us to wear white spandex pants. Really? Whoever thought that one up definitely had a host of minions to do all the dirty work for them. Here I am in my tidy whities at a show.

White gloves too!

White saddle pads are preferred, though black or navy are acceptable and look especially good on a grey. The only thing harder to keep clean than yourself  wearing white while grooming and tacking up is a white saddle pad. I have some friends who even school in them. Tradition  is great and serves a valid purpose (hey, I think I just found focus for my next post), but in the schooling arena wardrobe? I think not.

On the subject of “bling” dressage riders are nuts. Did you notice the bling on my tie (yes, my tie!)? Subtle, yes? It matches that on my boy’s bridle! I have a friend who makes them if you’re interested. I have to get my color fix outside the show arena because more than what you see above is way beyond tacky. Despite our desire to stand out a little, it really is about how well our horses are schooled. On the other hand, something shiny does give one a bit of a boost…

Our rigs are another source of humor for me. Since I was knee high to a pony I’ve been fascinated by trailers (for both people and horses). Imagine my ecstasy when I discovered that you can get a 2H StL LQ (a two horse straigh- load with living quarters)! I only have a 2HStL w/TR (tack room). Life is tough. Here is what they use in Afghanistan.

Getting there is part of the adventure, yes?

You will notice that the horse above is wearing a blanket. I have heard certain members of my household mumble that my horses have a larger winter wardrobe than most humans. Well that may be true, but we insist on shaving off the horses’ winter coats so they won’t sweat when we school indoors all winter. We even blanket in the fall to prevent the growth of a winter coat! And as for shoes, the same grumbler has pointed out that one horse gets the equivalent of a high-end pair of Nikes every six weeks while he only gets two pairs per year. For the record, the youngster above had such fantastic feet that he is shoeless. My farrier (and he is MINE!!) does not charge an month’s worth of hay to take care of my herd. He is a saint.

Actually, most things can be sources of humor for me- even a spectacular dismount that results in bruised ribs that still trouble me as of this post. See my post entitled “Well I Never!” for the full story on that one. The biggest source of happy amusement right now comes from schooling my young horse (the one in the picture) and myself. His antics make me laugh, and sometimes I swear he is laughing at me too!!

Of Parties and Secrets

A little while ago, I had a party at my house. It was originally supposed to be a farewell party for myself- so I could see all the folks I would really miss before I headed back to Afghanistan again. Well, most of you know what happened with that, but I’ve never let a little thing like impending unemployment stand in the way of a good party. So, on with the show!

Parties always provide an excuse for me to clean house. Clean stalls in August heat? No problem. I have been known to lose my vacuum. Parties also give me a chance to break one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: never try a new recipe for guests. I cleaned my house (sort of), and concentrated on what matters- the menu! Here’s what we ate: prize-winning country ribs (they actually did win the People’s Choice Award at a rib cook-off in Athens, GA, corn and black bean salsa, roasted potato salad with rosemary and balsamic dressing, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil leaves, mixed berry salad. And that’s just what we made! Friends also brought some yummy concoctions and potables!

If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin!

”But, what about dessert?” you ask. That’s where we get to the secrets and entertainment rules part. I made one old standby, my baklava. The rule breaker was a white chocolate cheesecake, doubly so, because I made a huge departure from the recipe. I’ve been making baklava and cheesecakes of all kinds since I was in high school, so I’m fairly conversant in phyllo pastry and cream cheese.

Whenever there’s a do, folks ask if I will bring baklava or a cheesecake, or both (really good friends can ask that). Folks also always ask for the recipes, but until now, I have never shared. Here’s why. I can’t stand it when people claim that they invented or thought of something that has been around since before they discovered thinking. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but it’s extremely bad form to take someone’s recipe ( not to mention other things) and pass it off as your own. It’s culinary plagiarism, and if one gets caught, there is a heavy penalty.

Chances are that some of you will recognize parts of my recipes. If you recognize all of it, I will be very surprised, but pleased… great minds and all. My baklava recipe is a combination of recipes from one of those cookbooks that is so well loved that it is in need of replacement.

Culinary credit- a secondary source.

I also do a lot of measuring “to taste” and will advise you to do the same. So without further ado, I give you…

Yours should look something like this.

My Baclava (it really is easy. I promise!!)

5 cups of nuts, very finely chopped- I like a mixture of pecans, almonds and walnuts

1 cup sugar

2 t cinnamon

1 box phyllo pastry

1 stick butter, melted

½ cup olive oil

For the syrup you will need:

 Syrup

1 ½ c water

2 ½ c sugar

6 cloves (or to taste)

2 sticks or 1 t cinnamon (or to taste)

1/8 t salt

zest of one lemon and one orange (you can use dried here, also to taste)

1 c honey

Preheat oven to 325.

Instead of messing about brushing every delicate sheet with butter (been there, done that), lift 5-6 sheets of pastry and place on bottom of pan. (The ideal pan is the same dimensions as your pastry, but then again, I love the edge pieces with all the extra pastry, so you decide here.) Spread about 1 cup of the nut mixture on the pastry. Add more sheets of pastry. Add more nuts. You get the picture.

Work quickly. You’ll get faster as you develop your own methods. Keeping a damp cloth over the pastry will help keep it from drying out.

With a very sharp, serrated knife, slice the baklava- diamonds, squares, whatever. Combine the melted butter and olive oil. Pour over the baklava. Make sure you coat every piece.

Place on middle rack in oven and bake until golden brown.

Make the syrup while the baklava is baking.

Place all ingredients except honey in a saucepan. Dissolve the sugar by stirring. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add honey. Set aside and check the baklava. The recipes I have used all say it takes an hour to an hour and a half to cook this stuff. Not so in my oven. More like 30-40 minutes.

When the baklava is a nice golden brown, take it out of the oven. Pour about a cup (+/-) over the pastry. Let it soak. Keep pouring syrup in intervals until it reaches top of baklava. You will probably have some syrup left over (you should). Keep this because the baklava will soak up everything you have just poured on, and you may want/need to add more!

Let the baklava cool. Refrigeration tends to make it soggy. Cover and let it continue to soak. When presenting, you can leave in pan (not traditional, but practical at larger parties) or, if practical, remove and separate each piece. Place on a dish. There will be syrup running everywhere. That’s a good thing!!

Make some good coffee and enjoy!! Btw- the leftover syrup is good on all sorts of things!

Oh! I nearly forgot! Some people think the edge pieces are too untidy to share with guests. That’s up to you, but I happen to think they are the tastiest. Just sayin’.

So… I have now bared a small corner of my inner cookbook. I am still too insecure to share the rib recipe though.

 

Turkish Coffee- another thing that shrouded in a myth of difficulty