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Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

A year ago, a rather new friend — Diane — invited me out to the barn to ride her horse. What happened next didn’t surprise the people who knew me back when, but it sure seemed to shock some of my more recently made friends: I fell down the rabbit hole. You know… the big one that ends in a barn. Or a paddock. Or a field.

I fell straight back into the one thing that I truly feel passionate about, the thing that I love most. Directly into pairs of skin-tight breeches and waterproof boots and ball caps. Smack-dab into hoof picks and leather conditioner and fly spray. I tumbled head-first down a barn aisle surrounded by horse girls and their ponies, encouraged by their parents and their trainers, and fueled by the knowledge that horses are a non-negotiable part of life.

Some girls grow up and fall in love with boys. Others, like me, fall in love with horses.

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Back in January of this year I talked about how injecting horses back into my life changed everything, and boy was I not kidding! I stopped spending money on random trips to Target and started spending money on lessons. My weekends began to fill up with horse-related activities and events, and with every experience I learned something: I grew.

We started with off-farm trail rides…

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… cross country (XC) schooling…

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… and the fall Marlborough Horse Trials (MHT) Hunter Pace:

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In January, I competed in a 2’6″ hunter division at BEST. It was a great re-introduction to horse shows (and horse show nerves!), and Lincoln and I actually brought home a few ribbons for our effort!

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At the end of February/early March, I traveled down to Aiken, S.C., to ride in Mogie Bearden-Muller’s winter training program (Foxhill Eventing). For two weeks I took a daily lesson in either jumping or flat work, went cross country schooling and on a trail ride/jump school in Hitchcock Woods, and competed in my first Combined Test in the Beginner Novice division (placing 4th). I learned so much; it was perhaps the best way I’ve ever spent two weeks of vacation leave!

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Once back home in Southern Maryland, I entered the Beginner Novice division of Loch Moy Farm’s Maryland Horse Trials (MDHT) Spring Starter Trial #1. Lincoln and I jumped clear in stadium and cross country, finishing on our dressage score of 26.0 and taking home a blue ribbon!

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We also showed up for MHT’s second Jumper Derby in April, jumping both a 2’6″ (1st place) and a 3′ round (2nd place).

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Sometimes you have to leave the horses at home and go spectate at an international competition, such as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (RK3DE), a 4-star CCI event held at the Kentucky Horse Park in April. Watching the “best of the best” horses and riders compete in your sport is exciting, and getting to see these massive jumps up close sure makes Beginner Novice and Novice fences seem easy!

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Linc and I were signed up to compete in our first recognized event in May, running Novice at Kelly’s Ford, but on our way to the show we got a phone call stating that the entire event was cancelled due to extreme flooding. Disappointed (but glad to get the call before paying the $18 bridge fee!), we went home, had a nice ride out in the front field, and even watched a helicopter land next door!

This past weekend (June 7/8) we drove up to Mogie’s farm in Centreville, Md., for Saturday lessons. Spending the night, we set off in the morning for Plantation Farm in Unionville, Pa., to compete in their unrecognized Sunday starter trial (which uses Saturday’s recognized stadium and XC courses).

Lincoln warmed up for dressage like a pro, thanks to our lesson the day before. It was my first time executing a dressage test on a grass ring “with terrain questions”, but I felt that overall the test went very well… except for a little slip-up at the end. I forgot where I was supposed to do my downward transition from the canter to the trot, making our turn down centerline to finish our test a little awkward.

Our stadium round was one of the best I feel we’ve ever jumped, and running Novice cross country on Lincoln is so much fun! Plantation was a new venue for him, and he really looked at the terrain and the fences. At least three or four times, I felt him back off significantly while approaching a fence. This turned out to be a good thing, because riding forward to a question in XC is actually easier than having to ride the brakes the entire time. We took a slight flier over our last fence and I cantered up the hill and through the finish line smiling.

I heard the Foxhill Eventing crew cheering, and it was after completing the event that Mogie told me our dressage score (34.8) had put Linc and I into a tie for first place! Since cross country isn’t timed during a starter trial, there wasn’t a way to break the tie. Normally, the horse and rider combination that got closest to optimum time would win. But in this case, the other girl and I each took home a blue ribbon and split the prize.

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My desire to be the best I can be at what I love doing has driven me toward great achievements in the past 12 months. I’m focusing my energy, time, money, and patience toward the pursuit of being an equestrian. This doesn’t just mean being a good rider and bringing home ribbons, but rather learning all I can about every aspect of this sport.

To grow in this manner, doing what makes me happiest, is such a privilege. And because I feel that way about it — that it is a privilege — I’m being proactive in other areas of my life in order to support and sustain my need to stay down this rabbit hole. I’m working with a financial advisor to completely overhaul my spending, savings, and investments. Diane and I began following a weight lifting program about seven months ago, supplemented by personal training sessions since last October, and we’re already starting to see some significant returns in muscle mass, strength, and fitness. I got a roommate to help balance out the costs of a half-lease, lessons, and showing. I make time for opportunities that allow me to experience something new, practice, watch, learn, assist, and yes, even fail. I push myself to step outside of my comfort zones, while at the same time keeping tabs on what I must be aware of in order to be successful when I need to be.

 

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I was a different person yesterday, just as I was a different person last year and 10 years ago… But I have been, and always will be, a horse girl.

JenRhineland

 

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Hi there. How are you?

I’m well. Actually, I’m better than well… I’m quite good!

It’s kind of a relief to feel that way, and to have nice things to report. I start a lot of blog posts in my head, but never seem to have the time to type them out… and it’s not because I’m too busy couch surfing or sleeping, it’s because I’m too busy DOING. That, and a large part of my need to organize and document my activity is served through posting status updates and photos to Facebook… which left me unsure as to what I really want the purpose of this blog to be — secondary documentation of my physical wanderings, or more of my thoughts, feelings, and hopes (mental wanderings)?

Work is busy. My boss now telecommutes and I’ve picked up the lion’s share of her team lead responsibilities in her physical absence. My co-worker is pregnant and we’re trying to accomplish as much as we can together on a large project before she goes out on maternity leave. I’m mentoring our summer student, keeping her busy and exercising my editing skills on a weekly basis. Most of us in the area are preparing for an 11-week furlough (a 20% reduction in pay), trying to figure out how to cut costs, to survive without dipping too deep into savings or relying on credit.

I’m more active than ever before. I trained for a 5K on May 4, which I completed faster than my only timed treadmill run of the same distance, and for a 29-mile bike ride on June 1, which left my friend Amanda and I thinking that if we kept riding consistently we could do the 47-miler next year. These two activities are new to me; I was never a runner, and even though I’ve had my bike for three years, this is the first year I’ve actively put  mileage on it. I love what running and cycling are doing to my body though — adding those two disciplines has definitely slimmed me down in a way that my regular gym workouts (cardio & weight lifting) and swimming did not. I’ve lost about 10 pounds in the past couple of months, and am feeling fit and capable!

After my rather severe allergic reaction to mold last year, and subsequent allergy testing, I discovered that I’m allergic to dairy. I was able to pinpoint the issue specifically to casein — a protein found in mammalian milk that happens to make up 80% of cow’s milk. This is good news, because through trial and error I discovered that my body can tolerate sheep and goat cheeses, and water buffalo mozzarella. I don’t have to give up pizza (I just have to make it myself)! Before the knowledge that there were some cheeses out there I could eat, I cut dairy out of my diet completely.

A side effect to not eating as much cheese and sweets, and spending a lot more time cooking for myself, is that I began to eat healthier, stopped craving unhealthy foods (including fried and fast food), and lost some weight. I have to travel over an hour to get to a grocery store with the specialty cheeses, so they’ve become a treat instead of a staple, and I find myself being grateful for my dairy allergy and the change it has made in my eating habits (rather than resenting it).

In June, Diane asked me if I’d like to ride her horse, Lincoln, once a week and I jumped at the chance! I’ve always loved horses and horseback riding, and it’s been about a year and a half since the last time I rode. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I swung up onto Linc’s back and my mind and body responded: Home. Lincoln is a talented draft-cross who can do hunters and eventing (dressage, show jumping, cross country), so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn and grow as a rider, and to have quite a bit of fun horsey time and meet new horsey people.

Lincoln 07.01.2013

The people who make up the Happies group have become an essential component of my personal happiness here in Southern Maryland. Over the past year, I’ve gone from showing up to chit-chat with the group once a week over a beer or two, to spending quality time engaging in all sorts of shenanigans outside of Thursday happy hours.

Liz, Amanda, Richell, and I try to schedule once/month hikes + a homemade lunch. Amanda and I have been cycling together at least once a week since April, and last month we took a “confident city cycling” class and then biked the Mt. Vernon trail together. Diane, Erin, and Julie have welcomed me into the sub-crowd of “horse girls”, and have introduced me to other horsey people. (I may have even found a second horse to ride this summer!) A large sub-group of Happies are kayakers, and on June 9 we participated in the Second Annual S. Wells Memorial Kayak Trip. It’s been raining — thunderstorms — almost every evening since May. If this summer weather would start cooperating, I’m sure we would take advantage of many more opportunities to get out on the water. At least this month a bunch of us are going on the Green Door canoe/kayak trip to paddle down the south fork of the Shenandoah River, a trip that I didn’t get to participate in last year due to being sick from allergies.

Over the past 16 months, I feel like I’ve invested in solid, reciprocal friendships over fun activities like dinners and happy hours, birthday celebrations, holiday parties, movies, River Concerts, pub crawls, live music, cooking dinners, baking cookies, camping, a trip to Portland (OR), races, lots of conversations and much laughter.

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Fireworks 07.04.2013

I enjoyed last year’s 4th of July picnic at the marina so much that I volunteered to organize it again this year. Around 20 of us gathered in the shadow cast by a pop-up tent to hang out, eat good food, play games, and be merry until the sun set and the fireworks started lighting up the sky.

Yep, life is good.

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One of the things I’m always thinking about doing is going outdoors on a nice day for the sole purpose of getting comfortable somewhere and reading for a while. Perhaps taking a little nap, or just listening and watching what’s going on around me. Sometimes I manage to make time for this type of behavior when I’m camping, but it’s something I enjoy doing and would like to build some of that type of entertainment into my local life.

I’ve been sick for two weeks. Today was my last day staying home, and my only goals for the day were to a) walk to the dumpster, b) walk to the mailbox, and c) drive to the library. I succeeded in all three, and after picking up my library books I decided to rip a page out of my sister’s play book: I drove down to historic St. Mary’s City and wandered down to the river, all by myself. I found a picnic table in the weak January sunshine, and spent a half an hour perusing through a book of poetry. I don’t often read poems; I find that I don’t “get” most of them. However, I figure that for me, poetry is kind of like trying foods that you think you don’t like: I have to re-try them every once in a while just to make sure my stance on them hasn’t changed.

So there’s me, sitting quietly and trying to make sense of the not-at-all-concrete imagery, when all of the sudden the sound of the waves breaking on the rocky shore became so loud I couldn’t hear the words in my mind. I looked up — obviously I’d completely missed hearing a boat pass by, but the change in the cadence and pitch of the water smacking the land was something I could not ignore.

“How absurd. I must really be oblivious!” I thought. “I wasn’t that absorbed in the poem, was I?!”

Yet as I watched the shoreline the sound grew and then slaked off, only to grow again. Something about the way that the boat pressed the water into that angle of pebbles and sand had created this noisy, rolling, organic crunch of sound that demanded to be heard.

I reached for my cell phone in order to catch a bit of it on film, but like an actress with stage fright, the drama ceased the minute I pressed RECORD. What I was able to catch to remember this moment — where the earth and sea worked together to demand my attention — was simply a rather benign vignette of nature demonstrating surround sound: waves reaching in from the left and wiping a whoosh of sound over to the right.

Closing the book and placing it in the pocket of my sweatshirt, I answered nature’s call by giving it my full attention. And within my listening, I felt heard.

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When you’re sick, if you care about your friends, family and co-workers at all, you shut yourself and your contagion in your home and promise not to infect everyone you care about with your germs. You cough, hack, sneeze and wheeze, shiver and boil all by yourself, reaching out every now and again via Twitter, Facebook, text or the ancient medium of the telephone to contact people and let them know you’re still alive. And, could someone please deliver Popsicles and orange juice to your doorstep?

One thing being sick gives you, is the uninterrupted time to catch up on certain hobbies and entertainments that usually get pushed into the far corners of your available moments, competing against one another for your attention before you fall asleep, exhausted, at the end of another day: Television. Movies. BOOKS.

Ah, books. Glorious pages of imaginable fantasy, fiction, mystery and horror! I have a thriving “to read” list that exists within my Goodreads account, but at the end of each year I like to peruse the Goodreads Choice Awards, adding anything that sounds promising, interesting, different into my queue. Last year, some of the best books I read were ones that I found through a perusal of the Choice Awards finalists for 2011: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.

Catching a Christmas bug gave me the opportunity to page through the Choice Awards finalists (and winners) for 2012, and to add a number of new books to my “to read” list. After the many successful stolen titles from last year’s awards, I’m very excited and am looking forward to picking through this year’s finds.

First up, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I finished that one in about three hours this morning over a long breakfast-on-the-couch, nursing a glass of orange juice and clutching a box of tissues. It was a great little satire that pays homage to the English language in a unique way. Classified as a young adult book, this volume should not deter adult readers — it’s packed front to back with voluptuous, meaty words that will have you reaching for your dictionary, just as finishing it will make you want to sit down and practice the art of writing a letter again.

Right before Ella Minnow Pea, I spent the day in bed immersed in the Kindle pages of Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, trying to keep my mind occupied between the 4-6 hour time frame in which I could take more Tylenol for the body aches. Swan Song is a big novel about the destruction — and salvation — of the world. McCammon weaves a rich story from the very separate stories of disparate characters, slowly drawing them together in the years after the POTUS gives the word to start World War III, unleashing all of the United States’ nuclear power while the states absorb the missiles and bombs of other nations.

The scene McCammon paints is gruesome: a devastating portrait of a world torn apart at the seams, riddled with radiation poisoning, and the remnants of humanity that struggle on. It is a dark portrait filled with death and evil, but one that finds its own light within a few individuals whose inside faces are good and valiant. Hope does find a foothold within the devastated Earth — it is brought about by a wrestler, a little girl, and a homeless woman. Swan Song is a big book that doesn’t drag an inch. There are enough characters for McCammon to keep moving between, but not so many (Hello, I’m talking to you, Mr. G. R. R. Martin) that you begin to fear keeping their individual stories clear in your mind. Given the opportunity and time to read the whole thing, it goes by pretty quickly; while in bed, I managed to get from 35% to 100% completion in a little less than a day.

I have two more books in hand to hopefully get me through the last remnants of this damned cold. On one hand, I’m enjoying the unfettered reading time. On the other, I’m anxious to spend some of this holiday with my family instead of alone, to hug my sister and my fur-nieces, to have our own little belated Christmas, and to celebrate my Mom’s birthday on January first. To sum up:

Dear Christmas Cold,
Please, pretty please, take these three full days of respite from doing anything at all (save eating, sleeping and reading) and give me back the remaining two days of holiday! What it really comes down to is that I can’t imagine not starting 2013 off by celebrating Mom’s birthday with family and friends.
Thanks for your consideration in this matter.
Your Host, Jennifer

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The reader in me

Solitude-SLawIn April 2011, I was browsing through a few favorite shops on Etsy and I stumbled across an ACEO (which stands for “Art Cards Editions and Originals”) by one of my favorite artists, Stephanie Phi-Mun Law. It was entitled simply, Solitude, and featured a woman reclining against a tree on a grassy hillock, reading a book.

This image resonated with me intellectually and emotionally, and I immediately added it to my cart and purchased it before it could be sold to someone else. Framed, it now resides on a small side table in my living room, next to a comfortable reading chair.

Whenever I glance at this tiny piece of art, I’m reminded of how peaceful, exciting and fulfilling it is to sit down with a good book and let its language drown out everything else. There is nothing I love better than to be immersed in a well-told story, whether it be written on a page or brought to me in two-dimensional color on a screen. I am forever in search of the next tale that will transport me to another world, a different place, a time apart from now.

Not only do I keep track of my Paper Vacations here at OneWandering, but I can also be found over at Goodreads, which is where I archive all of my book reviews. Each year, Goodreads holds a Reading Challenge where you set a goal to read a certain number of books within the calendar year.

In 2011, I set a goal for 80 books and completed it! However, somewhere between the web application and the iPhone app, lost in the dregs of the interwebs, one of the entries for a book read in 2011 got amended right before December 31  — it no longer showed that I had completed reading it. I managed to find the errant entry and fix it, but I never received my Reading Challenge badge. (Boo!)

Finishing 80 books definitely stretched me last year… towards the end I was purposefully choosing books that were less than 400 pages and I was reading at work during my lunch breaks. I knew that in 2012 I wanted to tackle the Game of Thrones series, which would entail subjecting myself to five volumes (each with a significant number of pages), so I set my goal a bit lower: 50 books. Like the reclining woman in Solitude, I wanted to give myself enough time to enjoy every page, rather than to race the calendar with a frantic shuffle of real and electronic pages.

This morning over breakfast I read the first few chapters of book number 61: Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. It’s another “big” book, weighing in at well over 850 pages both in print and on the Kindle. Will I finish it in the next six days so it counts toward my 2012 challenge? I probably won’t even attempt it. 60 is a perfectly respectable number, and I’ve managed to beat my goal by 10 books as well as earn my 2012 Reading Challenge badge.

Now, what goal to set for 2013?!

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Sharing is caring

My friend Sean was good at sharing. He was someone who liked to introduce people to different places, foods, and friends. He’d share his humor, his groceries, and his movie collection, but most of all, Sean would share his time. Before he died, Sean’s open attitude had started to rub off on me. I found myself saying “yes” to more opportunities, which caused me to meet new people, try Ethiopian food, sample different beers, and watch many Coen Brothers’ movies.

One of my responses to not having Sean in my life anymore was to adopt his willing attitude. Invitations to happy hour, kayak trips, a Warrior Dash, impromptu dinners, fireworks, travel… What would Sean do? Check his schedule and then say, “Yes!” So that’s exactly what I started doing.

As someone who teeter totters between shy and social, but who always has a full calendar (which can sometimes stress me out), it was important to me to remind myself of a simple equation: Saying Yes + Family & Friends = Fun. So I purchased a digital photo frame and set it up in my living room. Every time I say “yes” to doing something, I try to make sure there’s a camera around, and I upload pictures from those events to the frame. It’s a constant reminder to live with an open mind and heart toward things, people and opportunities.

Thank you, Sean, for teaching me to be better at sharing, too.

HAPPIES

KAYAKING

TIKI BAR OPENING

BERMUDA CRUISE

NORAH BORN

WARRIOR DASH

KENTUCKY

DINNER ON THE PORCH

1,000-YARD RANGE

MORE HAPPIES

AIMEE’S GRADUATION

MORE KAYAKING

RIVER CONCERT

FIREWORKS

CHEER FOR A MARINE

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE

PORTLAND

DIRT TRACK RACING

TOTEM

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love.
Love risks degenerating into obsession,
friendship is never anything but sharing.”

― Elie Wiesel

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One of my least favorite household chores is also a task that takes about three minutes to complete: taking out the trash.

A constant picker-upper, as part of my normal routine I regularly gather up trash from cans throughout the house and collate the contents into cone bag in the kitchen. It’s the taking of that bag out to the community dumpster that throws a hiccup in my otherwise fine process.

Why?! What’s so difficult about carrying a single trash bag out of my home on a regular basis? You’d think I’d have gotten used to this task by now, and perhaps even have come to terms with it. Like cleaning the toilets. But no — apparently I resent having to take out the trash.

When I was younger, I couldn’t wouldn’t let go of friendships, even when they weren’t mutually beneficial. I held on too long, staring at decomposing friendships and wondering what can I do to fix this one? and maybe just a little bit of extra effort and this one will work again. Now that I’m older, I see the wisdom in letting the bad ones walk out of your life. And, if necessary, some unhealthy friendships need to be physically removed so that you have the resources left to take care of yourself as well as the friends that do give back to you.

I like crossing things off of lists, and sometimes the only way to fall asleep is to make a list of everything that hasn’t yet been accomplished. Without those words knocking on my eyelids, I can go to sleep knowing that they’re safely stowed away on paper for tomorrow, or perhaps the day after that. But when I hang out with my good friend, Procrastination, those to-do lists tend to grow, and grow, and grow. Every person needs to learn how to relish in procrastination just enough to give yourself a break, to rejuvenate — but the flip side is that you also need to learn when to kick your own butt into gear and leave procrastination sitting on the couch (even though it feels like you’re throwing a perfectly good afternoon of relaxing away, when you’ve crossed half a dozen things off of that to-do list you’ll realize it was the right thing to do).

Sometimes, when my calendar gets too full of all of the things I want to do, I find myself overwhelmed and every fun thing becomes something else to complete. This is as dangerous as one of those neglectful friends, and quite possibly just as mentally draining. Who wants to go to an event that you were dying to go to two months ago, only to spend the entire evening thinking, “I should really be having a good time but I’m just so tired and I haven’t had any time to myself in AGES but I signed up for this and I’m with people I like and WHY AM I NOT ENJOYING MYSELF?!”

You don’t need a doctor’s orders to leave a party early or, hey! not go to a party at all. But you do need to be honest with yourself as you add things to your calendar, adding only those events that a) you’ll truly enjoy and b) are spaced out enough to give you time to yourself, time for family, time for pets and time to take out the trash.

Physical and mental housekeeping is important, and it’s something I’ve struggled with doing regularly and without complaint. I find that when my mind and home are organized, when I’m giving time and energy to people who give it back, when I’m constantly checking off a list item every day instead of letting them pile up, when my calendar has just enough white space in it for me, then and only then am I able to enjoy my home, my relationships, and the events I participate in.

I can only assume, then, that I dislike having to take out the trash because it’s not easy. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, to let go of friendships found wanting or walk way from those that are destructive, to say “No, thank you, but I don’t feel like hanging out today” and to deal with the guilt of saying “no” coupled with the thought that you might miss out on something.

Right before Sean died, I thought I had it figured out. I felt like (for the most part) I was starting to understand balance: I was taking out the trash regularly (with just a few grumbles), enjoying myself and my life. Since then I’ve gotten a little off-kilter, added a few too many things to the lists and the calendar to make up for feeling lost, to stop from feeling lonely or alone. But I am figuring it out again — only this time I want to really embrace taking out the trash, to see the act itself as an accomplishment of love and respect.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll discover something really amazing one day while walking out to the dumpster.

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