Monday, August 23, 2010

Old Youth

The new student union building on the campus of the University of Akron - not so new anymore, but new to me

This week has been stressful, and exciting, and made me feel old.

Today, I stepped back in time to the campus of the University of Akron for the first time in over seven years.

The campus used to be like a second home to me when I was working on my masters degree and teaching; now, it's changed, and so have I.

Today, I emerged from my home in the sticks to navigate my way around a concrete landscape of unfamiliarities and youth. Clean, fresh, tan youth full of hope and vitality. Flip-flops and supple skin everywhere. And the noises - wow. I forgot how noisy campuses are.

I went into the student union seeking a vanilla latte, but ended up finding a source of much greater energy: youth.

A line of people at Starbucks in the student center

Youth is a drug you don't realize the potency of until you're no longer young.

Youth is a Siren who draws you in with empty promises.

Youth is contagious.

Youth is a dime store cowboy who looks so good sauntering slowly across linoleum in sexy Wranglers, you cannot help but be lured in by his quick-silver elixir.

...but, I digress.

I stood in the middle of the bustle and literally recorded the sounds on the voice recorder on my phone.

So much life is captured in sound.

There were tables set up with recruiters for Greek Rush and various other groups.

The booming bass of rap music vibrated rhythmically, and snippets of conversations flooded my ears as people walked past me. So much laughter and chatter and life. I had to just stand there for a minute and soak it in - like osmosis, I hoped some of that energy and vitality would fill me up. It is good to be back on a college campus.

I wish I could hold that energy in a reserve for those times when my own is depleted.

Ah, but Buddha teaches that our attempt to hold anything is for naught.

So I let go. And I breathe.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dakota Family Photo Session

My friend and fellow photographer, Michael Dakota, recently asked me to shoot some photos of him and his four children. Seven years ago, Michael shot my wedding photos - and did an amazing job. He has recently gone through a divorce and doesn't get to spend as much time with his children as he would like. So he asked me to shoot some special photos of all of them together.

The new Ranch proved to be a gorgeous backdrop for the photos.

There is something about this place that is magical and so peaceful. Granted, the fields surrounding the Ranch are now filled with ragweed - which doesn't prove so peaceful for my allergies! But there seems to be an energy here that is soothing and beautiful.

I wanted to post some of my favorite photos from the Dakota session.

This is my favorite from our photo session. The distinct personalities shine through here, and everyone is relaxed in one of the fields at the Ranch

Avery Dakota is naturally a pensive, quiet 11 year old. She didn't know I was shooting this of her sitting in the loft of our barn. I feel this photo captured her essence beautifully

All five in the loft doorway! The thing I LOVE about this shot is the gentle stream of sunlight coming down from the right top corner

Looking down on the Dakotas from the loft

Devin Dakota: blue shirt in the blue flowers. But what I love about this photo is her little brother, Wyatt, behind her playing on our tire swing

Thanks, Michael, for a wonderful photo shoot! Your family is beautiful!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Coffee and mushing

A whole world of meaning exists around coffee.

The smell of coffee excites me. Its warm, rich aroma invokes memories of cold winter days growing up in my parents' house.

Avid coffee drinkers, my parents' lives are dictated by their coffee rituals. Every night, my mom prepares the morning coffee lovingly, carefully measuring out precisely the right amount of the flavorful brown grounds. Four measuring teaspoons, rounded, not flattened. Not more. Not a dab less. The water sparkles in the impeccably clean 12-cup pot, and as she pours it into the canister for the next morning, her day is complete.

Growing up, the water would begin dripping through the grounds at exactly 5:15 a.m. These days, my parents - slackers that they are - have relaxed into a lazy retirement alarm of 6 a.m. The alarm is still the gentle percolation of rich brown coffee.

The pot gurgles and sputters like its giving birth. By 6:12 a.m., it pops and gasps a final, loud crescendo, as if trying to rouse Egyptian Pharaohs from the dead.

Instead, my mother shuffles into the kitchen in her night shirt, cigarettes in hand. She pours two cups: one for herself, lightened with creamer until its the color of vanilla taffy, and one for my dad who is already downstairs in the "smoking room."

I like coffee - all ways. Black. With cream. With half and half. With non-dairy creamer. I like the frou-frou coffee from coffee shops the best. My brew is a skinny vanilla soy milk latte, please.

I like coffee in the morning. I like coffee at night (I'm sipping some now). I like coffee on hot days and on cool. I especially like coffee in the winter, and with a book next to a fire.

Coffee sometimes means "me time." It means quietly typing away on my laptop in a coffee shop, sipping surreptitiously in a corner in decadent alone-time bliss.

Coffee means a lot in mushing circles. Most mushers I know are avid coffee drinkers.

I am thinking of coffee tonight. And mushing. Fall training starts in T minus 11 days. Do you have your coffee ready?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newest Projects: Functional art from recycled materials

Moving to the new Ranch has given me lots of huge, empty walls to decorate. As a freelance photographer and writer, I'm always looking for fun ways to highlight some of my artwork.

Spawned by a desire to showcase some of my photography pieces, I've started branching out into some new projects lately. They're inexpensive, fun, and best part of all, ecological.

I've been creating functional art from discarded materials.

The new hat rack: provided by Goodwill, $3. Painted and "distressed" by me, priceless. Notice the little dog team

Acrylic paints
found at any art supply store make a great medium for refurbishing discarded materials and breathing new life into them. These fast-drying paints clean up easily, are inexpensive, and the bright colors can also be muted by adding water.

Distressing paint gives pieces a unique and weathered look that I love. Distressing is achieved in different ways, but the easiest for me is using a simple piece of finer grain sandpaper.

One favorite thing I love to pick up at garage sales or at the thrift store are old frames. As a photographer, I'm always thinking of unique ways to showcase my work. These old frames, like the one below, are a perfect way to customize and display a favorite photo.

One of my favorite photos of my daughter, customized with a hand-painted frame picked up at a thrift store for $3. Photo matte frames, like these here (within the wood frame) are available at any art supply store

To find out more about Recycled Art, click here. Visit your nearest thrift store or stop at a neighborhood garage sale and get to work on some recycled art yourself. You never know where the possibilities might lead!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Silence is golden

Sometimes when I walk, and I've been walking awhile, I feel like I can walk forever.

The endorphins kick in - those brain chemicals that cause sensations of happiness and well-being - and my legs move on their own volition and never wanna stop. Just keep moving along...

I walk every evening down this lovely, one-lane tiny country road beside our new place. It has lots of dips and curves to it and is lined with trees, cows, and silence.

One of my favorite roads near the new Ranch. Forgive the photo - it was taken with a cell phone.

Just two months ago, I was a girl trying to pursue this dream living on the outskirts of a city with a dizzying population of 217,074.

Now, I'm transformed by the landscape of a township the size of a shoe box.

The corn fields demand patience. They teach me to stand tall and keep my head held high.

The cows, my nearest neighbors, mooo in response to the silence. The teach me to lay low when the days are long and hot.

Trains part the silence.

There are still lots of very active railroads around the new Ranch. I love hearing them. Heading west. Heading east. Always heading somewhere. The promise of movement, of eagerly turning a corner to watch a bright, new land unfold like the unfurling of a painting. They just keep moving along, not forceful - their own inertia enough.

Some days, I feel an itch in my heart, a restlessness that is unforgiving and relentless. It moves me forward and is propelled by that same inertia - an eager curiosity and a determination not to let go, to keep going, to see what's around the next corner.

I am eager to see what's around the corner for this next season. Stay tuned, and as always, I bow to the infinite that is in you - Namaste

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" *

Warning: the following post is written by Candid Blogger. Read at your own risk.

We drove down the country road toward home. I had Elvis Costello on Pandora Radio on my phone the other day, plugged in my truck. David Bowie's "Let's Dance" came on, and I started dancing and driving (of course, how can you NOT when Bowie comes on?).

My 11 year old daughter, Sophie, looks over at me from the passenger's seat as if I have three heads.

I embarrass her. Then Madness came on, "Our house, in the middle of our street..." and Sophie rolls her eyes and looks at me again above the rim of her glasses with that eyes-in-the-roof-of-her-forehead look so indicative of pre-teens.

"WHY are we listening to EIGHTIES music?" she whines.

I have arrived at this point in life where some days, I am "middle aged." The point where I embarrass my children, where they give me fashion advice. I feel I have "jowls" for the first time in my life. I feel old. I see my skin changing. I wake in the morning and my body hurts in places it never hurt before. Like the Pink Floyd song, some days I am comfortably numb in so many ways.

Is THIS just what HAPPENS????

Personally, most people think my life is fairly exciting. And it is, during any time other than August.

This mood seems to hit to me more during the "dog days of summer." I'm sorry, but it's just dang hot! The hottest summer I can remember in years. Days like this, when it reaches 85 by 10 a.m., I hibernate like a bear in winter. I find comfort in food and shopping.

Please God, just let it be September so I can start fall training and listen to "80's music" on my ipod in peace?

* The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, written by T.S. Eliot, can be read in its entirety here

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are you the weakest link in your pack? Before the sled dogs, train yourself!

Early last fall, after a three week hospital stay and a three month stint on antibiotics for a massive internal infection, I emerged from the hospital anemic, weak and super atrophied. I was shocked the first time I routinely tried to hop up the three front steps to my house only to have my leg almost give out on me on the first hop. I felt defeated, frustrated, and depressed.

Because I wasn't able to even return to normal functioning until late September, I launched right into dog training, worrying more about neglecting my dogs' training - and thereby neglecting to train myself. Determined to race despite physical challenges, I completed my first race in January still winded and coughing, but somehow, thanks to my amazing canine athletes, winning 2nd place in my class. But when I ran the Jack Pine 30 in February, I was admittedly the weakest link on my team. I had spent all fall and winter focusing on training the dogs and not training myself.

Forgetting the integral part we play as team members and leaders of our packs is a crucial mistake mushers often make. Here are some basic fitness steps to get you headed in the right direction for fall training.

1. Start where you are
"Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance." Unknown

Face it: rarely is a person happy with their physique or athletic prowess. Accepting where you are physically and working from that is the first step toward meeting new challenges and goals. I started training for fall two weeks ago with a simple cardio workout and some dietary changes. I walk/jog for 40 minutes, followed by a bicycle ride with my kids or some stretching/Pilates. Riding a bicycle mimics the physical activity of running dogs on a sled with short bursts of muscle use and cardio followed by brief rests, so it's a perfect training exercise for mushers.

2. Be natural
I once attended a step aerobics class with a friend. Even though I took dance as a child and adolescent, I felt uncoordinated with the fast, jerky movements and frankly felt like a dork! Why do something that feels unnatural, is a pain inconvenient? Do exercises that feel natural to you.

3. Have fun!
This follows number 2, but it's worth saying: have fun! When we were kids, we ran, jumped, hopped, biked from sun up til sundown and didn't think twice about it...because it was FUN! Find something you enjoy doing - that way you're more likely to stick with it. Some other activities I love that don't feel like exercise to me are kayaking and hiking.

4. Shake your groove thang!
In other words, get some music to pump up your steps and get you moving. I have not only several playlists on my ipod for running dogs, but also "songs for running." I find upbeat, rhythmic tunes really help me stay focused.

5. Add some strength training
Adding in free weights for a small bit of strength training is as crucial in my opinion as cardio when it comes to running dogs. Surprising muscle groups that feel the brunt of running on sleds are the triceps and biceps; therefore, wise is the musher who invests in even a small set of free weights. Otherwise you may be face down in the snow watching your team leaving you in the dust because you were too weak to hang on!

Personally, in addition to physical training, I have simultaneously cut out anything with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list and all partially hydrogenated oils With a little focus and determination, I hope to have my strongest season yet on the runners this coming winter. I hope you will too!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Simple joys 101: the tire swing

The other day when I was exploring the train tracks, I stumbled on a pile of five used tires dumped in the woods.

How could someone be so irresponsible?

It takes hundreds of years for rubber to break down and decompose naturally. Not only was this person violating a quintessential ecological rule for the environment, they lack an understanding of the simple joys of a tire swing.

Sophie on the tire swing

Elise on the tire swing

One man's trash is another's treasure! Namaste!

Monday, August 2, 2010


Pull up a chair and relax. Let me tell you a story...

It's August in the midwest. The days are hot. Corn is tall and reaches hungrily for the sun.

Train tracks cover the hills that surround my home - reminding me of days gone past.

Trains hold a special place in my heart.

My great grandparents had train tracks in front of their front yard. When I was small, when my family would visit, I'd wake in the middle of the night to the windows rumbling as the trains drove by. The sound of trains has always been soothing to me, reminding me of my grandmother's big old house. I can still smell her house, hear her laugh, see her sipping tea in the kitchen.

One day, my great grandmother led me out in front of her house to the tracks. With great mystery, I watched her lay a bright new penny on the shiny track. Then we would wait for the roar of the horn, and the rumble of the windows.

I ran outside to find Lincoln on my penny smashed flat and smooth, still warm from the weight of countless wheels crossing over it. A special penny. A lucky penny.

Maybe it's no accident that there are train tracks all around the new ranch.

I hear them in the distance now. But they are still soothing to my soul. It feels like I belong here.

Trains are such a cornerstone for the U.S.: from their literal history of transporting goods from one side of the country to the other, to employing hundreds at the turn of the century, and, even today, to the graffiti that tells another story from another side of our society.

And trains are a cornerstone of my childhood.

The hills that surround the new ranch tell many stories.

An old barn a few miles from the new ranch

I can't help but wonder what went on around here. Farms and valleys roll like tapestries in the distance in either direction, telling stories of years of arms hardened from field work.

Wild flowers grow here.

Wild-growing sweet pea near the train tracks by the new ranch

I look forward to writing our own chapter in these hills and valleys.