Monday, November 19, 2012

A new home...

My blog has officially grown up and is now living over at wordpress.com.

Here's the new link: http://everythingandaracehorse.wordpress.com/

Please consider heading over there and follow me via email if you've enjoyed reading here!  Thanks for your support and catch you on the flip side.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

WTF, Thursday????

I have said it before, but it bears repeating - I don't know how you moms do it.   I don't know how you keep it together when you have more than yourself and a canine to worry about.

Days like today humble me.

I was supposed to get up at 6:45.  Around 7:05 I roll my ass out of bed, let the dog out, use up all the hot water while pondering what outfit I can scrape together from my sorry, sad, boring fall wardrobe.  It needs to be a good one, since I'll be speaking to a Jr. Auxiliary Board at 9am (this is code for well-coiffed, well-dressed, impressively put-together community activist-type women).

Around 7:15 I climb out of the shower and begin my morning ablutions, which include facial moisturizer.  I realize I can rely on an old standard for clothes - a cute brown skirt, with a black shirt and some boots.  After getting dressed, I apply a second coat of moisturizer (since in the last 5 minutes, I'd forgotten about the first application) and wonder of wonders, I'm almost out of the house on time.  I grab a piece of toast, my phone, my laptop, and jump into my car.

Then I look down, and notice that I've spilled BUTTER on my go-to brown skirt.  Crap.

I rush back into the house, find another skirt, find shoes (fun patent leather heels, more on those later), change my jewelry and head out to the office.  Once there, I reach for my phone to send a text...no phone.  I search my purse, my pockets...CRAP!  So I resort to an old-school text (a post-it note) and rush to my 8am radio interview.  In the parking lot, I FIND my phone (fallen between the seat and the console), and head into the studio. Unlike most mornings, I'm wired and hyper because of all I have to do in the next hour.  During the interview, my cell phone text notification goes off (classy), I mangle a few days and names (professional), and then I'm done (thank god).  I race back to the office, pick up my stuff and zoom up to Rogers for my presentation.

While stuck in traffic, I wonder if I have my Walton Arts Center name badge.  I root around in my purse, find it, and put it in a special place for safekeeping.

Then I arrive at the place where I'm speaking (after getting off one exit too early), and for the life of me, I can't find the name badge.  I turn out my pockets, I search my purse.  No badge.  What the hell?  Giving up, I head into the building, badgeless but on time for once in my life.  

About 4 slides into the presentation, I realize I have no idea what slide is coming next (this is because I only got assigned to this speaking engagement about 12 hours prior and I'm using someone else's slides).  That was a good laugh, inside my head.  I winged it (as I often do), got through it, and soon I was headed back to Fayetteville.

I couldn't really tell you what happened in the next few hours, except that I discovered that the cute black patent leather shoes were the kind that DON'T get more comfortable the more you wear them.

Around 4:30pm, the wardrobe issue rears it's head again.  Crap.  I have a gala to go to tonight, and there is NOTHING in my closet that is suitable.  So I race to the mall, grab 4 dresses off the rack, and begin the fastest trying-on session ever.  There was one dress that looked really quite hot from the front (hey, where did those hips come from?), but alas, the side view...not so much.  But luckily, there was a suitable basic black dress (with sleeves, essential for me) and a whole big, colorful, beautiful display of pashminas.  One dress and two pashminas later, I'm headed home.

Once home, my dog greets me with joy for about 5 seconds before she realizes that my distracted air and determined stride mean I am leaving her alone (again), and she retires to the guest room to leave me to my frantic efforts to get dressed.  Three layers of spanx, stockings and slips later (seriously, my midsection is bruised) I'm ready to go.

I open the car door, and look what I find.

Yup.  That's my name badge.  In the car door.  Where I'd apparently put it for safekeeping.   And yes, my car needs a serious cleaning.  You wanna make somethin' of it?

Anyway, after that, the day evened out a bit; I attended a fundraising gala and spent some time with good people, and my friend won a really kick-ass raffle prize.  I'm really happy for her.  Not jealous at all.  No way, not me.

And now I'm home, and so tired that I've retyped this sentence three times.

The only other life form needing something from me at the moment is my dog, who is still harboring a faint hope that we might go for a walk (silly pooch).  I can't imagine what I would do if there were kids or husbands needing attention right now.  Again, moms who do this every day, I salute you, and I sincerely hope you have more fall wardrobe options than I do.  Because with the two skirts I wore today, I've exhausted mine.

PS: I demurred from participating in Day 4 of Arkansas Women Bloggers ThanksBlogging challenge, as I don't have a Facebook fan page for this blog, and at the moment, I can't fathom having another social media channel to obsess over.  Tomorrow is Foodie Friday, so we'll see if I can conjure up some kind of contribution. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm thankful for...

Contact lenses.

The unwavering loyalty (mostly undeserved) of my dog.

The ability to have heat when it gets cold.

Bagels.

Progress, the kind that means I can be single at 36 and no one dares use the word "spinster" in my presence. 

My family.  Always, ever, forever, my family.

My education and all the places that it's taken me.

Snow days.

That I can still play volleyball, even 15 years out of college and several (ok, many) pounds later. 

Did I mention contact lenses?


In case you haven't guessed it, today is "I'm Thankful for..." day in the Arkansas Women Bloggers ThanksBlogging challenge.  There are some fun blogging ladies over there - head on over and check them out.  

Now, since we've being thankful, let's get serious for a moment.  This past Sunday, at work, I watched a theatrical play called Letters Home, created by the Griffen Theatre in Chicago - a simple and beautifully constructed piece of theater that, unlike a lot of what we present, had no song, no dance, no sequins, no jazz hands, no beer sales and very little pretense.  It was created from real letters...from real soldiers.

There were too many touching and emotional stories in the play for me to recount.  But there was one, about midway through the show, that took my heart and tore a piece off that I won't get back.  It was a thoughtful, intelligent, profound example of a human being, Mark Daily, trying to make sense of war.  Moments after the actor finished speaking, and turned on his heel to leave the light, words flashed on the screen telling us that Mark Daily was killed by an IED on January 7, 2007, in Iraq.

I'd been teary for most of the play; I always am when soldiers are involved.  But after that, I was a wet-faced, sniveling mess. 

I'm thankful for Mark Daily, and his thoughts, and the impact he's made - this article about him is well worth the read if you have a few minutes.

I'm thankful for theater that is brave and noble and so very difficult to sell.

I'm thankful for my colleagues at work, who were given ample chances to cancel this show because it wasn't selling, and because we would (and did) lose money on it; every single one of them said "I want us to do this show.  I don't care if the house is small.  I want us to do it."

I'm thankful for my sister-in-law, deployed on a Navy frigate as I write this, and my brother who sent her on her way even though they'd been married less than a year.   They are in my heart every day, and there are thousands of families like them out there that I am grateful for.

I'm thankful for a comfortable, safe, blessed life.

I guess I'm just...thankful.  And trying to remember to stay that way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ewoks, family and college roommates

This is day two of the Arkansas Women Bloggers ThanksBlogging challenge.  Today's topic - Thanksgiving memories.

Oh, there are so many Thanksgiving memories.  Some good, some not so much.

In the not so much category I give you the Thanksgiving where I broke down crying over a political disagreement with my parents; after that we don't don't talk politics much in my family anymore.  Then there was the year that I was going to meet my brother's girlfriend and on our way to dinner, her cat died.  ***sad face***  Luckily, we survived that traumatic introduction and she and my bro are now happily married.

Then there are the great memories, which thankfully far outweigh the bad.  There was the year in my youth when it snowed nearly two feet and all us cousins spent the night playing Ewoks on the hill in the backyard.   That hill was huge back then, and dangerously steep.  A couple of summers ago I realized it was only about 15-20 feet long, and gently sloping.

There was Thanksgiving in Geneva, and that year when I learned the delights of Miller Lite and cheese curds at a cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin during grad school (the first time I've ever had someone say they thought I was fooling around with a married man - that's a long and funny story that will stay untold).

And there was that year in college when my roommates came home with me and we explored lovely NH (I had to take a picture of these glossy pictures which I extracted from my actual physical photo album):


Yes, that's me in the top photo with long, long curly hair.  In fact, the three of us pictured above were probably 90% of the curly-haired population at Colby.

Anyway, I love these memories, and all the years of just eating, watching football, playing football and being together.  The thing I love most about Thanksgiving, overall, is how it's always been a hodge-podge of people - either friends or family, or a mix of the two.

Plus, there's always Stove Top stuffing (don't judge).  Some turkey, too, and some potatoes and stuff, but really, it's all about the stuffing. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful for two feet, two eyes, and an IPhone.

I'll be honest, y'all.  The last Arkansas Women Bloggers challenge almost tipped me over the edge.  I did it, but my posts suffered from that week being one of my busiest ever, and while I enjoyed it, it definitely added a layer of stress.

So it's with a sigh of relief that I arrived home today and realized that I actually have time to fully participate in this month's "ThanksBlogging" challenge

So let's begin!
Clockwise L to R; Portland, OR (2), Fayetteville, La Jolla
Challenge One is to share some photos of things we're thankful for, and try to "spice up" those photos with free online tools like PicMonkey.  For the record, I played with PicMonkey, and the collages in this post came from it, but I'm not sure I'll use it again.  The issues I had with it are more about me than the program.  They definitely taught me something about myself; it seems I really, really like the composition of my own photos.  Lest you think I'm a total jackass, let me clarify.

I love photography.  In high school, one of my favorite places was the darkroom, where I learned the now old school art of mixing chemicals, burning and dodging, and using wooden pins to hang photos on the drying line.  My teacher, Mr. Swedberg, said I had a good eye.

Fast forward to now, and to my trusty IPhone, which has chronicled my life in the recent past.  I've lost all formal photography skills, and while I'm considering getting a DSLR camera and getting back into a little more "real" photography, I'm generally content to snap photos of my life and then edit them using a combination of my IPhone, a fun free ap called Camera Bag, another called Simply HDR ($.99) and my MacBook's built in IPhoto program (I have turned terrible photos into decent ones with these basic tools). I may be one of the only people in the world who doesn't use instagram.  :)

Anyway, the collages featured here are some of my favorite shots of the last few years.
Clockwise L to R: San Antonio, Fayetteville, Los Angeles, Rocky Mountain National Park, La Jolla

That said, PicMonkey (in the few moments I had to play with it) automatically cropped my photos, and boy, did that not go over well with control freak me.  I could probably have spent more time playing with it, but patience is not one of my virtues today, apparently. So I'll probably stick to my own brand of editing, but I can see how collage creating would be really fun for someone with fewer issues than yours truly. (And I do wish I'd played with the watermark feature a bit more)

Anyway, now that I've blathered on about me, let's get back to the point of this post, which is to share what I'm thankful for.  You'll gather from the photos above that I've had the travel bug lately, and I am so very grateful to have the health and means to travel, either by foot or by plane, to a beautiful scene, stand tall (or crouch down) and take a photo.  It was Veterans Day yesterday, and I've been thinking  about people who have lost their innocence, time, sanity, limbs, life or, heaven forbid, their family and friends to war, and it makes me so incredibly aware of all that I am blessed with.  That I have the luxury to critique photo aps is quite remarkable, when you really think about it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Adventures at Lake Sequoyah: A relaxing hike that wasn't

Ah, November.  


Blessed are those days when the election is over, the weekend is here, and there's a new trail to be discovered in my own personal Ozark backyard.  I've been looking forward to finding a new lake to explore, and a facebook post from a friend this morning tipped me to Lake Sequoyah. The trail is called the King Fisher Trail.  It's 3.2 miles out and back.  

Faithful readers of this blog will remember my Lake Wilson adventure last December, where I narrowly escaped being stuck in the woods thanks to a river that was supposed to be a creek.

This adventure began much the same, with me delighting at being in nature, Sadie at my heels, enjoying the incredible fall foliage.  I headed out just before 3:30 pm, thinking that 3.2 miles of a "nature trail" should be achievable before sunset at 5:16 (I checked).  And when I started out, the trail looked like this:


Piece of cake, right? 

Not so much.  About 7 minutes in the trail turned, well, trail-ish, becoming narrower and flanked by thorny plants.  Then it started to get rocky and a bit hilly.  This photo doesn't really show it, but much of the trail is along a ledge looking down at a looooong, steep slope that dead-ends in the water.  When you have a vivid imagination, it isn't too tough to picture yourself tumbling head-over-arse down a hill like this one, never to be seen again. 


And here's the thing about hiking in the fall.  There are leaves EVERYWHERE.  The trail doesn't vanish, but each step is a little adventure in and of itself, because you don't know what's underneath it.  Rock?  Tree root?  Chipmunk? For a gal with a bum left ankle, this creates a need to be ruthlessly focused on my footing.  So I don't spend a lot of time looking at the pretty leaves that are still on the trees.  The dead ones are the ones I care about.

The end result of all of this is that my pace got slower, and around the time I took the picture below, I was starting to think that I might not make it back to the car before the sun went down. 


Remember when I said that you can still see the trail even when the leaves cover it?  I lied.  At what I think was the farthest point in the trail, supposedly a big loop that would head up the hill and then down, I stood in a glen of trees and looked at a forest floor completely blanketed by leaves.  The trail was gone.  I spotted a trail marker way up the hill, headed to it, found another, headed further up, then stopped and looked for another.  By this time, it was 4:16.  And a little bit of fear was starting to kick in. 

I had water.  I had layers.  I had my cell phone, and my dog.  But the idea of navigating this trail (or lack thereof) in the dusk/dark got my heart rate going.  So I struck out down the hill, knowing that the trail was down there and I'd find it eventually.

I found it, and we headed back at a pace that, frankly, risked ankle-rolling. The shadows got longer, the dappled sunlight hitting the ground with less frequency.  Sadie didn't have time to sniff every rock and tree; we were on a mission.  I started to wonder if the flashlight ap on my phone would work if I needed to find my way out in the dark. 

And then, suddenly, civilization appeared.  A farm house, a county road, a car.  The trail widened out and we were within sight of the trailhead.

It was 4:47pm.  A whole 29 minutes before sunset. 

Cue a giant sigh of relief, followed by a rush of feeling like an idiot. I could have absolutely taken more time to enjoy the trail, to have found those other trail markings, taken a few more pictures, and reduced my risk of ankle-rolling.  Sigh.  

As Sadie and I strolled back to the car, I tried to find the bright side to my paranoia.  And I decided that that little edge of fear made me move faster, which got my heart rate up, which burned more calories. 

Yeah.  That's right.  I did it all on purpose to get a better workout. 

Next time, I might just bring a flashlight.  Or hike in the morning.  :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The post-election utopia

There are only two more days until the presidential election of 2012 will be history.  I categorically (and probably naively) refuse to believe we will caught up in another legal challenge that will drag things out for a few more months.  We're done on Tuesday.  Stick a fork in us, and give us a day or two before you start campaigning for 2014 and 16, okay, political folks?  We've got some healing to do.

What a grand and glorious day it will be when the election is over.  Just imagine what will happen.

Neighbors will speak to one another again, while sharing tasty s'mores melted over the community bonfire fueled by their competing campaign signs.

A flood of talking heads will suddenly need jobs, but they will be snapped up by the growing pychological community hired to try to repair marriages and friendships torn apart by email and social media.

Twitter's servers will get some downtime, and all those programmers will decide it's time to have a meal in a local restaurant with a human being, boosting the economy.

Fewer trees will be killed by political direct mail.  Or, at the very least, only the liberal or conservative trees will be killed, depending on the outcome.

Half the country will seriously consider moving to another country, which will alleviate strains on our roads and other infrastructure, meaning we have to repair potholes less frequently.

All in all, it's going to be awesome.  Unless, of course, your candidate loses.  And then you'll be forced to swallow your anguish as the other side gloats and proclaims that "happy times are here again."

PS: Get out and vote!!  Remember, no matter what color or gender you are, a bunch of people not too long ago fought and died for your right to cast that ballot.

Friday, November 2, 2012

What is this blogging thing you speak of?

Well, hello to my few dozen readers!  I've missed you.  Seriously, it feels like weeks since I last blogged.  But it's been only 8 days.   Zoinks!

A friend just blogged about how this is the time of year when she gets most creative and prolific.  If these words are turning green, it's because I envy her. 

For me, this time of year is when all my routines fall apart.   I experience a brand of busy like none other; the things that keep me sane - swimming, volleyball, walking the dog and blogging - start to feel like onerous tasks that are getting in the way of work.  Yes, I'm aware that this is a bas-ackwards way of looking at things, but it's happens.  Every October.

October is when, on the work front, sales take a dive, and it seems to take everyone by surprise. We refuse to learn from history.  A little gloom cloud settles and makes it harder to keep up the good spirits on my team.

October is when everyone and their uncle is hosting an event that I should be going to.  

October is when I have to make a trip to Madison at what seems to be the worst possible time (though it's always great when I get there).

October is when I realize my life would be simpler if I had a craft: something I could make people for Christmas gifts.   (Like my aforementioned super bloggy and creative friend.  You should go check out her blog and buy her stuff.  It's great).

And October is when it gets gorgeous outside, so all I want to be doing is walking or hiking in those last few glorious evenings before Daylight Savings turns the world dark right after lunch. 

Instead, I bounce from meeting to meeting to event, cram in a 15 minute dog walk, race off to another meeting/event, come home, play with the dog for ten minutes, lament the nasty state of my house, and go to sleep. 

Cooking, you say?  That's funny.  I eat out too much, and get that nasty, if-I'm-not-careful-I'll-gain-10-pounds-BEFORE-the-holidays feeling. 

(Yes, I know, poor me.  At least I have a bed to sleep on, food to eat, electricity to power this computer.  I can assure you, I feel duly shallow as I type this.)

Yet on the flip side, because so much is going on, lots of good things happen, and I have to remind myself that it's important to pay attention to them, too.

Like, for example, the fact that my blog boot giveaway winner decided to give her boot gift card away.  Seriously, how sweet is that?

Or that my coworkers staged probably the most impressive Halloween ever on Wednesday.  There was dry ice, as you can see.  Enough said.



Or that this godforsaken, soul-killing slog of a presidential campaign is just a few days from over, and we can go back to not talking about politics on social media, like we do everywhere else. 

Or that I'm not traveling again until Thanksgiving, and that I'm planning the most exciting Christmas trip EVER with two friends.   And that this planning required me to order 4 pairs of shoes to try on, only one of which I will keep (thanks for the idea, Sarah, and the free return shipping, Zappos).

Or that this tree is outside my window at work.



Or that this truck did not fall apart and empty it's cargo onto the street in front of me today, as the dangerously tilted right side would seem wont to do.



Or that despite the fact that I've been a terrible dog mom this month, my dog still loves me. 

Or that it's now November, a great month full of baking, visiting and selling tickets for holiday outings and presents! 

Good and not-so-good, there's been a lot of fodder for blogging in the past 7 days.  More to come, and I probably won't be able to resist a political post or two, so stick with me.  It won't last.  I'll go back to blogging about inanities soon enough. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The boot giveaway winner is...

Sometimes the universe just aligns.

The winner of my blog boot giveaway is the fabulous Beth Bobbitt, whom I still call Beth Goodwin when I forget that she just got married.

Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography
This will probably embarrass Beth, but I've decided to use this entry to love on her a little bit.  She is, hands down, one of the kindest and sweetest people I know.  She has a great smile and laugh, and always tries to make people feel important.  She also happens to be a very valued member of my staff, and in fact, sits just two doors down from me in my office.  She was a blogger long before I was (I'm not sure if she still blogs), is a talented artist, and is also lovely and stylish.  I mean, check out the shoes she wore for her wedding.  Seriously adorable. 

If you recall, my boot giveaway entry focused on articles of clothing that make us feel kick ass.  Beth's comment on my blog was anonymous, but I could tell by what she listed that it was her.  She loves tights, and she has all kinds of them, in bright, bold colors that make me positively green with envy of her style (and how great the tights look on her).  New Country Outfitter boots will go very, very well with many a Beth ensemble. 

So congrats, Beth, on your win.  For all the others who entered to win the giveaway, thank you for sharing your kick ass clothing stories.  Here's to us all having more moments of feeling kick ass.  I hope you'll come back and read my blog from time to time.  You could even sign up to receive my posts via email (at right). Who knows, maybe I'll stumble on some other booty (pun intended) to give away in the future. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

BLOGtober Fest Day 5: Foodie Friday

I'm traveling this week.  I pre-scheduled some of my posts for the Arkansas Women Bloggers blogging challenge, but couldn't for the life of me figure out what to write about on Foodie Friday, since I'm most decidedly not a foodie.   And I confess that, with all the arts administration talk and email checking and spending time with friends I don't see often, my heart just isn't in recipe sharing at the moment. 

So in the spirit of being in Wisconsin, I give you my idea of a perfect Friday food line up.

BRATS

FRIED CHEESE CURDS

BEER

ICE CREAM

Let the clogging of the arteries begin.  Have a great weekend, y'all.

BLOGtober Fest Day 4: Promote a post from the past

Well, this title is self-evident.  This is day 4 of our BLOGtober Fest challenge from Arkansas Women Bloggers, and I'm in Madison at a conference.  So here's a post from last fall about fall in Madison - seems appropriate.   What makes me laugh is that the post (from last fall), references an earlier post about the PREVIOUS fall.  Seems like I have a habit of being in Madison in the fall and trying to write the awesomeness in my blog.

The photo below was from the driving art tour I did that is referenced in the post - there's no art in it, but it is such a gorgeous and accidentally well composed shot that I wanted to include it.  We'll hopefully be doing the tour again tomorrow, so maybe I'll have some comparative photos...oooh...that sounds like fun.



From Farm Art to Football - Fall 2011

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BLOGtober Fest Day 3: Fall Traditions

Tradition.  Tradition!

If you know me at all, you know that I just went off on a little Fiddler on the Roof riff.  I'm done now.  Thanks for being patient.

Anyway, this is my 3rd post in the Arkansas Women Bloggers BLOGtober Fest blogging challenge.  And it's meant to be about "Fall Traditions."

Being a single gal who's lived in a bunch of places, having a fall tradition that stands the test of time isn't something I can claim.  So here are a few of my favorites.


The High School Fall Tradition I remember most
Having a booth at the Sandwich Fair - selling corn chowder, usually in the rain. And for those who are wondering - the Sandwich Fair is not a fair about sandwiches (though how awesome would that be?). Sandwich is a town, next to my hometown, and they have a fair every Columbus Day weekend. 

The Fall Tradition I want and can't make happen
Apple picking.  Seriously, why is it so damn difficult to find an apple orchard in Arkansas?

The Colby College Fall Tradition I love remembering
Walking home after volleyball practice and having dinner with the team in Roberts Union.  (However, the tradition that MY CLASS started - swimming in Johnson pond on the last day of classes - is the best, but that's in the spring.  Still, I think it's worth of an honorable mention here.)

The Madison Fall Tradition I miss the most
Badger football - tailgating, student section cheers, the 5th Quarter.  And with apologies to my adopted hometown, a sea of red that made sense. Let's go BUCKY!

The Arkansas Fall Tradition I just revived
The Fayetteville Fire Department Pancake Breakfast.  We went this year, and realized the last time we went was FIVE YEARS AGO.  Good grief, I can't believe I've been here that long.

***
Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed re-remembering all these traditions.  Traditions are fun.  They root us to our friends and family and location in a way that sticks with us as time goes by.  I'm thankful to Arkansas Women Bloggers for this challenge, which will hopefully become a tradition of it's own. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BLOGtober Fest Day 2: Halloween Memories


Growing up in rural NH, Halloween was about driving.

It wasn't like the fun Halloweens I've had since I lived in Madison and Arkansas, where we all dress up our kids and dogs and walk around in strange things called "neighborhoods."  In my hometown, the neighborhood was an 8-mile road that dead-ended in a lake.

I don't remember a lot of Halloweens, but I know they always involved a car.

Except one year, we had a van.

I think it was my sophomore or junior year...maybe senior.  I don't remember my costume (it might have been "mad scientist" year).  All I remember is a bunch of us taking my friend trick-or-treating...for the first time.  He had to be at least 14 or 15 years old.   Let me say that again.  For one reason or another, this guy had Never. Been. Trick. Or. Treating.  As far as I'm concerned, that's blasphemy.  (Well, I guess technically celebrating the pagan All Hallows Eve might be more blasphemous, but who's counting?)

So we all dressed up and piled into the van, a bunch of high schoolers acting like little kids. I couldn't tell you where we went, what we wore, or who was in the van other than the trick-or-treating virgin.  We drove around on a perfectly windy, creepy New England night, accompanied by the perfectly spooky rattle of branches and rustle of leaves.  Adults looked at us with varying degrees of indulgence or skepticism as we rang their doorbells, but we didn't care.

I remember laughing.  A lot.  And though visiting Eureka Springs' White Street on Halloween a couple of years ago ran a close second, I think this night back in the '90s wins for "Best Halloween Ever."

***
This post is the 2nd a series I've written as part of Arkansas Women Bloggers BLOGtober Fest Blogging Challenge.  Lots of bloggers are writing posts on pre-selected topics - and you can view them all at Arkansas Women Bloggers.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BLOGtober Fest Day 1: About fashion/decor I have nothing to add

Happy fall, y'all.  This week, I'm participating in BLOGtober Fest, a fun and delightful challenge from Arkansas Women Bloggers. We must write something each day from October 15-19.  They even give us the topics, which this working gal loves; a few decisions I don't have to make.

And our first topic is...fashion and decorating. I'm being perfectly honest; when I saw this topic, I thought...le sigh.

I'm aware that there are many, many blogs that are full of good writing about such things.  But I don't read a lot of them, and mine isn't one of them.

Here's the thing.  I'm not crafty or decorative.  My halloween/fall decor consists of a sparkly cat my dad bought me at Lowe's and a silver pumpkin candle my mom bought me two years ago.  I love this new little silver leaf knicknack my friend got me as a present last week, and the OTHER pumpkin candle another friend gave me (both pictured at left), but that's about as far as it goes.

On the fashion front, yes, I've become obsessed with boots lately (and through 10/23 you can still enter to win a pair of kick-ass boots here), but aside from wishing I was more fashionable (or at least skinny enough to wear more fashionable clothes), I don't have much to contribute to the dicussion.

And at this particular moment in time, when so much of such importance is going on in the world, I wish that we could have supportive, civilized discussion (like we do about fashion, decor and cooking) about politics, world events and social issues.

But I know that's a pipe dream.  So instead, I'll link you off to a few of my fellow bloggers who are talking about fashion and decor, with so much more skill and passion than I have.  

Approaching Joy - the lovely, sweet and talented Paige can give you all kind of fashion inspiration, and plus, she's just a really nice gal, so go check her out.

In the "not a blog" category I give you: There are about about a million boot giveaways happening via Country Outfitter right now, so check out this pinterest page or just go like Country Outfitter on facebook.

You'll also see some pins about cool fashion/refashion tips on ohbygollyblog.com.

Catalog Living - ok, this is a humor site, but it's one of my favorites because it takes pictures from catalogs and creates stories about the people who live there. Their names are Gary & Elaine.

The Inspired Room - I found this blog on a google search for "decor" - such pretty pictures.  I want to live in those pictures.

Happy fashioning and decoring.  Until tomorrow, when I will hopefully have something more interesting to say.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blogging 'bout buddies & boots (featuring a boot giveaway!)

Buddy is a strange word.  I mostly hear guys use it to describe what we ladies would call our girlfriends.  However, buddy starts with a B, and I love alliteration, so there it is.

This past weekend, my buddy from college came to visit.  Living in here in the 479, it's safe to say most of my friends from other lives have NOT visited me.  But with Adella's visit, I've now had two of my college roommates make the trip.  Very exciting.  As usual, she fell in love with this little corner of the world, which all of us who live here already know is awesome.  We explored Fayetteville, Eureka Springs and Bentonville, we experienced 80 degree weather that changed to a freeze warning in 24 hours, we took in some art, did some shopping...and we ate.  Boy, did we eat. 

But by far the most unusual part of our visit involved boots.

Many of you know that I went to the Arkansas Women's Bloggers Unplugged (AWBU) conference back in August, and came away with a sweet new pair of Tony Lama Golden Tan Navajo boots.  I have really enjoyed learning to wear them, and lest you think I'm being silly, I mean it; you do have to learn to wear them.  In my case, I had to learn the right socks to wear, the right outfits to pair them with, and also how to get over a little bit of irrational fear of shoes that are hard to get off (yes, I know, I'm weird, and I have high arches).  I've also had to learn to walk in them: to slow down, saunter a bit, tilt the hips forward.  These are not easy things for a fashion-challenged Yankee to learn, but I've found that once I have my boots on, they contribute to a general feeling of...well...being kind of kick ass.

Anyway, as part of the conference, I got these boots, and I also get a chance to give some away!  So it seemed appropriate that, while my Yankee buddy was in town, we would go explore the boots at the Country Outfitter store in town, and preview a few of the kinds you could buy with your $150 gift card.  Little did I know that my buddy would walk away with TWO pairs of boots.  But more on that later.

First, we browsed.  And for the record, my apologies for the quality of these photos - the light in the store wasn't great for IPhone photography.

Disclaimer: The Country Outfitter store in Fayetteville has a limited selection; if you don't find the size you want on the floor the super-nice staff will order it for you. So it's best to come in without any expectations of what boots you want.


Then, we started to pull all of the size 9 boots from the shelf, and Adella went on a little trying-on binge. If you recognize the boots below, you either went to AWBU or you read my friend Jody's blog (she's also doing a boot giveaway), since they are the ones she got at the conference.  I figured it wasn't cool to have two Jody/Jodi's in town with the same boots, so I hoped Adella would buy them (they were on sale).


Next up: Tony Lama's Tan Saigets Worn Goat boots, with pink detailing.  Sturdy looking, casual, rounded toe.


Then we found the Ariat Women's Legend boots, in Distressed Brown.  These quickly rose to the top of the list for their comfort and pretty blue/green details.


After that, it was mostly trying boots on just for the sake of trying them on.  Like these bad-ass Corral Women's Distressed Black Winged Cross boots, which we felt we'd need to accessorize with a motorcycle.


Anyway, Adella wound up buying TWO fabulous pairs of boots and wearing one out of the store:


Then, of course, we had to show them off, so we walked around in downtown Fayetteville for a bit, and every few minutes, Adella would look down at her feet and giggle "I LOVE THESE!"  We discussed that we felt...well...kind of kick ass in our new boots (because I was wearing mine, of course).

It got me thinking about articles of clothing that make us feel this way.  For me, there's not many, but my boots are defintiely one.  And now we arrive at the real reason you've read this far in the post.  Your chance to win some boots to increase the feeling of being...well...kick ass.  Because let's face it; you are kick ass, but sometimes we all need a little reminder. 

Country Outfitter is giving you a chance to win a $150 gift certificate to go shopping on them!  They have men's, women's and kids boots of all styles and colors.  There are JUST TWO STEPS.

1. Click here & submit your email address to Country Outfitter (you may receive occassional emails from them).

2. Leave a comment below letting me know you submitted your email to Country Outfitter and if you'd like, tell me about a piece of clothing or accessory that makes you feel...well...kick ass.

A random winner will be selected Tuesday, October 23rd.

And finally, there are bunch of boot giveaways out there in the Arkansas women bloggers network.  If you check out this board on Pinterest, you can enter for more chances to win!

That's it!  Thanks for reading my blog, y'all.  And here's the requisite DISCLOSURE: CountryOutfitter, a retailer of Tony Lama boots, gave me these Women's Golden Tan Navajo boots to review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Still a Mama (and Daddy)'s girl at 36

***NOTE: My Country Outfitter boot giveaway will start October 9th!  You still have time to subscribe to this blog so my witty and profound musings (and giveaway announcements) find their way to your inbox.***

The other night at volleyball, I realized I'd been playing that sport for 25 years.  A quarter of a century.

I never get carded anymore.

My parents are trying to decide when to take social security.  How did I get old enough to have parents who are even thinking of social security?

These, plus the occasional grey hair I find, are simply indications of the passage of time. I'm getting older. Not old, mind you, but old enough that no one says "oh, you're just a baby!" when I tell them how old I am. They used to.

It's for these and many other reasons that I take such pleasure in the fact that, when I get together with my parents (who live a good distance away at Camp Grown Ups, aka retired Florida), I retreat to the version of myself that reminds me of my youth.

It's the version that just loves when mom cooks for us (even while feeling guilty at the hundreds of meals she's cooked while we sat around being lazy).  This version of me never fails to let dad get under my skin with some comment/feedback about something, only to realize later he's 100% right (but not about politics.  Sorry, Dad.  It's your fault for sending me to a liberal arts college.  :)  )  And I confess; I love that my parents always bring me presents and/or take me shopping.

This year, there was some serious imported booty being delivered.  Mom brought me this bright, cheerful new quilt for my guest room.


Dad went a little nuts with the Halloween decor for my office, and also got me this pretty little thing from Alaska.  Note that the "raven" is a symbol of intelligence and wit.  Dad is clearly not biased.


However, that was just the beginning.  As per usual, Mom and I had to go shopping for supplies, since I inevitably have nothing but two bottles of cider and a four Laughing Cow cheese wedges in my fridge.  We generally end up with food and, of course a "few little items" for the house.  This trip included a coffee table-turned-luggage rack for my guest closet, as well as a new rug for the hallway.

And then, tradition follows that we all go shopping together and Dad gets me something, usually something whimsical.  This time, it was a pretty/colorful doormat (I wasn't aware I needed a new one, but Dad was determined) and flowers for my front stoop.  He even swept the grass cuttings for me.  And I managed to wheedle my way to this spiffy new lamp for my bedroom.

Guess where that painting is from?  It's where
I'll be spending Christmas this year!
It's comforting that even after 36 years, my parents still want to "buy me stuff."  It wouldn't bother me if they stopped, but I won't protest too much either, methinks.  We all get too much pleasure from the rituals of shopping and gift-giving, both spontaneous and planned.  I don't take it for granted.  It's another sign of just how lucky I am to have their everlasting support.

I drew the line at the Romney/Ryan bumper sticker, though.  That one went back to Florida.  But the goofy sparkly cat for Halloween...he stayed.  :)

Sadie the superdog is unimpressed with my new decor.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Musical motivation, or blogging about cleaning when I actually should be cleaning

Special people are coming to town next weekend, and the weekend after that.  So that means Operation Deep Clean of the Pine Cone Inn (aka my house) must begin.

I've gotta hand it to Mrs.
Meyers; they have some
pretty packaging.
Thanks to my attendance at the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference last month, I have coupons for some Mrs. Meyers cleaning products, which twitter tells me might actually make cleaning fun, or at least aroma-therapeutically soothing.  For the record, I'm skeptical, but I will dutifully use my coupons tomorrow to give it a try.

Before I clean, though, I have to fulfill a facebook promise.

Back in the spring, I participated in a 24-hour play festival produced by TheatreSquared and Ceramic Cow Productions, which my fabulous team didn't win (we're not bitter).  We did, however, walk away with a consolatory bag of crap, which included a CD complilation entitled:

Party Fun-Fun CD of Music So There
"get your dance on..."

I forgot about it in a pile somewhere, until I found it a few weeks back when, coincidentally, I was cleaning.  Intrigued by the title, I popped it in.

Disclaimer:  For the rest of this post to make sense, I'd recommend you visit this post about my musical idiocy.  

The first song was Adele, whom I've heard of, and even have on my IPod/Phone.   Thumbs up so far.

Next up was that song about "running faster than my bullet."  That's a song I've heard of...enough to know that I should know it.

The fifth song was Katy Perry's Carlie Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."  It was then I knew that this CD was made to educate me on the songs I should know, either because they are awesome or because I need to summon the proper cultural disdain for them while secretly grooving like hell to their beats.

Obviously, the songs were all danceable, thus making them prime cleaning song candidates.  A new world of cleaning productivity opened up to me that day, and the Pine Cone Inn sparkled. 

Inspired, I turned to facebook to find out what you all out there in my little circle like to listen to when you clean.  I got some great answers, several of which were "when I what?"  Love you, ladies!

First off, since this is my field, let's discuss the Broadway show tunes. Soundtracks from Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia, Leap of Faith (the movie, not the show, but hey, I need to categorize for the sake of your time) and Hairspray were thrown out there.  Personally, I've done laundry with the support of "Supertrooper" in the background to great success, but for me, there's nothing like cleaning the kitchen while belting a little "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.

Apparently some of you like to be mellow while cleaning (Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday or even classical music/NPR).   I respect that.

However, it's in the more energetic songs of Motown, selections from Reservoir Dogs and a new love for the Foo Fighters that I've found some cleaning mojo.

So over the next two days, I'll be testing out some new tuneage while I divest the house of dog hair, clean the baseboards, scrub some grout and generally make my house tolerable for honored guests.  Not that all of y'all who visit regularly aren't honored, but let's face it; you're not my mom, nor are you my former college roommate who probably remembers what a slob I can be and is crossing her fingers that I follow through on my cleaning plan.

It's gonna take some work.  So share your own cleaning (or other chore) inspirational music below!  Comments make me feel good, and I need all the inspiration I can get. There's a lot of dog hair in this house.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

From bad mood to good - a tale of printers & earrings

I have a short neck.

This will become relevant in a moment, I promise.

But before we get there, I have to confess - I have been in a serious funk these last couple of days.  It's been the kind of funk that hangs around; even when I shake it off for an hour or two, it comes back.  The kind of funk that makes me see meanness in the laughter of others, even when it's not there, or the kind that means I get pissed off when someone enters my office without knocking.  Ridiculous stuff.  The kind of stuff I KNOW is unreasonable, yet I can't stop myself from feeling it.

So back to my short neck.  We've established that I have one, and also have a habit of leaning my elbows on a desk/table and scrunching up my shoulders, which pushes the earrings out of my ears.  It happens mostly on my right side, which has led to a plethora of lost single earrings in my life (and a lot of cute wine glass tags, for all you crafty types).  So recently, I've taken to wearing those clear plastic tab-thingies that keep earrings in your ears.  Sexy.

Anyway, this morning I put on a pair of earrings and briefly contemplated wearing the plastic tabs.  Then I said no.  No plastic tabs.  I want freedom.  And off I went to work.

The funk continued through the morning.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Until...

Just before lunch, a colleague was in the hallway at the printer outside my office, printing things.  I wasn't paying any attention to him. Then, he poked his head in my door and asked, "Jodi, do you want me to close your door?  I know how loud this printer can be."

Folks, I've gotta tell you, I almost teared up.  The printer IS loud (especially when it breaks and the only way to fix it is to slam the doors multiple times), but I've gotten to the point where I tune it out.  That's not the point.  He thought to ask.  Without anything to gain from it.  I felt like I needed to buy him flowers or something. 

That simple little act of courtesy flipped a switch in my head, and my bad mood was GONE.  Poof.  Just like that.

I sailed down to a meeting, then jumped in the car to drive to another one.  A quick glance in the mirror revealed that I'd lost one of my earrings, a pretty pair that my parents got me for Christmas.  I groaned, but before my grumpy side could say "I told you so", I thought, "Whatever. I'll find it.  It's gotta be around somehwere."  Optimism?  From grumpy-pants me?  What the?

Back from the meeting, I learned more good news about work, and Facebook revealed some really great news from a friend (he got a $100,000 grant for his organization - that is frickin huge!!!!), and then I started to pack up to go home.

I glanced down to pick up my purse.

Right there, shiny and gleaming on the carpet, waiting to be noticed, was my missing earring.

Thanks, universe.  And thanks to my colleague.  I like this mood much better.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Things I need to say on the eve of 9/11

I've been thinking about this entry for a while.

Well, for about 10 minutes anyway. 

Last night I found myself at a local professional theater's production of Noises Off, and as I was telling my date (my colleague from work, don't get excited) how many times I'd seen it, I realized the last time was at Northern Stage in Vermont.  It was the show on our stage on the morning of 9/11/01. 

That morning is etched into my memory; the blue of the sky as my friend Colleen and I drove around town hanging posters, the haze of the air in the senior center where we first saw the TV footage, the texture of the couch I sat on when I realized a friend of mine had worked in the Towers and was traveling on business that week, the exact angle of my desk which allowed me to obsessively refresh my web browser while watching as people on phones paced anxiously, trying to track down loved ones.  I have other memories, too, but I'd forgotten that Noises Off was the play.  Now, looking back, I remember a tough conversation about whether we should continue with the run.  It felt wrong, somehow, to perform a farce after what had happened. But it also felt right.  In the end, we put on the show.  I think it was the right decision. 

Anyway, there are a lot of thoughts in my head right now.  I feel some despair at where my country is, so divided by politics.  But I also feel full of life and blessed to be where I am, enjoying the refreshing cool of autumn, the fun of my friends and the antics of my silly pooch.

Mostly, I just wish we could all make like the dogs at the park - sniff a few butts, pee on a few trees, and then run and romp about, just getting along and helping each other enjoy life.

To that end, I thought I'd share two very different posts that have given me faith that maybe the pundits and PACs that are trying to drive us apart won't win in the end.  Here they are:
  • This post has spread like wildfire via facebook and the interwebs.   I love it, because it expresses what I've been trying to articulate to myself and to others for a while.  I'm not going to tell you what it says, cause I'd like you to read it.  :)
  • StoryCorps has always been one of my favorite NPR features.  I routinely have to sit in my car until I stop crying after many of the features.  This one, about an 11 year old boy who remembers his grandmother (she died on 9/11 in the Towers' collapse) thanks to his mom's stories, was no exception.
Oh, and PS.  You should go see TheatreSquared's Noises Off.  It's damn funny.  We need some laughter, don't you think?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dog's Night Out

You know how first birthday parties are really for parents?

Well, dog parties are the same.

I attended a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the Ozarks last night at Dog Party USA, a fabulous (and highly recommended) doggie day care facility.

Though it was supposedly an event for the dogs, it was mostly for the humans to watch their dogs.  And keep them from freaking out with all of the stimulation and smells.

Anyway, I get a huge kick out of this little photo sequence taken by my friend, Jennifer.  Her dog is the grey schnauzer.  Enjoy!

Sadie's paying attention.  Spot is not.


Aaaand...vice versa.



At this point, we gave up.  There were clearly more
exciting things going on elsewhere.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Missing home, thanks to the Hudson River School

It's safe to say that I've been working pretty hard at falling in love with my adopted hometown here in the Ozarks recently.  I've been hiking all over, exploring some really beautiful areas, visiting cool places like the Ozark Folk Center and spending time with my super-cool Arkansan friends.  And of course, I see all kinds of amazing art thanks to my job.

However, there are moments when I just miss home. Home, though I haven't lived there full time since 1994, is New England.  New Hampshire, to be specific.

I haven't missed home for a while.  Until today, when I went to see the The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  It was a collection of paintings by artists from the "Hudson River School" that depict (mostly) American landscapes in a highly romanticized manner designed to highlight the grandness of the American identity.

I love the work of the Hudson River School mostly for how it depicts light: my favorite painting in the museum is from that era. 

I also love it because some of the scenes depicted are representations of my home state.  Like this one:
Thomas Cole, Autumn Twilight, View of Corway Peak
[Mount Chocorua], New Hampshire, 1834.
Source: http://www.nyhistory.org/node/25104
I've hiked that mountain.  And we all grew up wide-eyed at the legend of the Indian chief who leapt from the summit rather than be captured by whites.  It's one of the few mountains in the region that isn't named after an American President.

But here's an interesting thing.  While they made me nostalgic, these paintings don't look like the New England of my upbringing.  They are hazy, muted, and though the landscapes are largely untamed, they seem...well...gentle. They're appear soft to me, though they weren't intended to be. 

I remember New England like this: 
Photo credit: Me, Summer 2011
Or this: 
Source:
http://www.visitwhitemountains.com/
media-room/photo-gallery.aspx

Deep blues and greens, or, in autumn, glorious flaming yellow and red.  Nothing subtle.  All boldness.  I mean, our motto is "Live Free or Die", after all.

At any rate, I suppose it's only natural that I'd start to feel a little homesick for New England at this time of year.  It's getting to be fall, and with apologies to my fellow Arkansans, there is no place like New England in the fall. 

Still, it surprised me how much I enjoyed simply seeing the name of my state and familiar landmarks up on the gallery labels all the way out here in Arkansas.  As much as I love it here, there are still moments when I feel like I live on another planet, and I find myself missing fleece vests, cold mornings, maple syrup, New England accents and the Sandwich Fair.  So when I can get a taste of home, I'll take it. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Storytelling in the Ozarks

It's a familiar feeling for me.

I'm in a store, chatting amiably about nothing much with the checkout clerk.  And then I feel it.  That antsy, gotta get-away-feeling.  That sense of "ok, I don't have anything else to say, can I leave now?"

Maybe it's my Yankee upbringing.  Maybe I'm impatient, or even a little rude.  Or maybe I'm just not interesting enough to keep spontaneous conversation going for that amount of time.  I'm much better with a script, or a story with an ending I know by heart. 

At some point in my past, I remember being dubbed "the storyteller."  It might have been college, or late high school.  Regardless, it was not entirely a compliment.  There was a bit of eye-rolling inherent in that nickname, a bit of "oh, lord, here she goes again."  If you're stuck on a road trip with me, for example, you are guaranteed to hear your share of "hey, so a few years back, when I was...".  It's just a given. 

So it was with great anticipation that I learned we were going to have a session at the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference about storytelling. The AWBU, for those who don't know, was a gathering of about 70 women in Mountain View Arkansas last weekend.  You can read more about my adventures at AWBU here.

Mary, the park interpreter at the Ozark Folk Center, told us stories for at least 30 minutes.  She did two stories, one in traditional dress and the other, after a slow transformation, in modern-day fishing gear.  She definitely hit her stride during the fish story, but her first story, about "collecting" the stories of women who used music to get through their lives, was the most poignant. For many of my fellow bloggers, including this one, it conjured memories of the strong women of their pasts.

For me, the storytelling started off as a typical artistic experience; I was examining and parsing Mary's technique, comparing it to the hundreds of stories I've seen presented live.  Like most live experiences, it took the audience (myself included) a while to settle down and really listen. But that's not the fault of the storyteller.  My mom once remarked, after going to a piano concert, that you really have to give your brain time to settle in to the focused, quiet activity of watching live performance, especially since it's so rare in our lives these days.  Mary, I noticed, gave us that time, starting her tale slowly, not revealing the meat of it until we'd stopped gabbing and really tuned in.

Mary's stories had the wandering, non-linear messiness of what I'm coming to discover is the storytelling style of these parts.  If the stories were people on a stroll, they would start on the main road, then stop for tea on a front porch, head back to the road, then veer off for an over-the-fence chat with a neighbor.  They zig-zag across the map, veering off for a side trip here, or a tangent there, until we often can't remember where they started.  But inevitably, they come back to the road and finish up, leaving us a little wiser than we were before.

My beautiful new handmade broom. I will
probably never sweep anything with it.
On Saturday, we had free time to explore the craft village at the Ozark Folk Center.  It was a charming place; I could have spent hours milling about marveling at the artistry of the crafters. In my short time there, I saw pottery, jewelry, printing, baskets and brooms being made.  In the print shop, the delightful volunteer managed to keep me in the store for quite some time, telling me about the presses and how she would drive hours every weekend to volunteer there.  In the broom shop, I learned that the broommaker likes to mess with telemarketers who try to help him "get more business" by telling them "I don't want any more business."  He also confessed that he manages 30 websites, and gave me recommendations on what blogging platform to use.

But it was Sherman, the spinning top maker, who brought it all full circle for me.

Sherman and I were walking down the same path, he in one direction, I in the other.  He gave me a cordial smile, I said hello, and he asked me how the blogging conference was going.  We stopped and began to chat.

I can't recall everything we talked about, but I wish I had recorded our conversation so I could share the marvelous, convoluted path we traveled. Of course, after just a few minutes, I started to get that antsy feeling.  I made subtle attempts to move on, but Sherman was having none of it; he kept asking me about me, my blog, my life (somehow we got to talking about how many languages the Swiss speak, prompted by a conversation about how I studied abroad in Geneva.  Don't ask me how we got there.  I have no clue.).  I discovered that he orders parts for his tops from Taiwan, that he has a relative (or maybe a relative-in-law) who is working for a choreographer in New York, and that his sister (or sister-in-law) has beat cancer three times, bless her heart. He told me his sales were good, and when I exclaimed, "That's great!" he replied, "Yes it is.  But for every top I sell, I have to make another one."

At some point in this dialogue, as I was shifting from foot to foot and eying the next shop as my escape route, something happened.  I stopped, mentally smacked myself and said "Jodi, you jerk. You have nowhere to go.  There's no reason you shouldn't stay and talk to this interesting man for as long as you can.  What's wrong with you?  Listen, really listen, and maybe you'll learn something." It wasn't easy for me to stay tuned in, but I did it, and I'm so glad I did.

Sherman, his fellow shop owners, and Mary the park interpreter did indeed teach me something.  They taught me that at some point in an interaction with a stranger, we will tip from small talk to storytelling.  I don't usually get there.  I usually run off and breathe a sigh of relief that I'm on my own again, or I head for a familiar face and we share our usual, safe conversation.   But if we get there, we will hear something we haven't heard before, or say something we've never said before.

I also learned that it's ok to be a storyteller.  It's ok if our stories wander; we'll bring them back eventually, and even if we don't, we'll have some fun along the way.  If our stories are too long, many in our audience will just leave, and that's fine.  Let them.  The ones who stick around, who hear it all the way through, will be the interesting ones.  They'll be the ones to tell us their own stories, the interesting ones, and we'll learn something from them. 

I'm not saying I'm going to magically become great at small talk.  But I think, thanks to this experience, I'll become more aware of when we cross that invisible line, and hopefully I'll pay more attention to what we discover out on that winding, meandering road. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A blogging conference that wasn't really about blogging

CAUTION:  Introspection ahead. 

Now then, before the incredible ladies who put together the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged (AWBU) conference get too upset, let me clarify.  This most certainly was a conference about blogging.  There were sessions on blogging and dozens of bloggers hanging out talking non-stop about blogging (among other things).  Heck, even the servers at the restaurant knew to ask us "are you the bloggers?"

For me, though, this experience wasn't about my blog, or the blogs of others.

In the beginning, it was about boots.

Free cowgirl boots from Country Outfitter to be exact.  I really am ashamed that I'd given fleeting thought to attending AWBU for a while, but until I heard about the boots, I wasn't sold.  How shallow.  ***hangs head in shame***

Beyond the boots, the experience was about identity.

The whole conference centered around identity, in my view.  Are we food bloggers, mommy bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, writers, women...those were the questions. Many AWBU recap posts I've read in the last days said some variation of "I was really afraid I wouldn't fit in."  That is also about identity.  That is about wanting to be an interesting enough version of ourselves to merit new friends and acquaintances.  It's always a strange dichotomy - we want to fit in, but we also want our individuality.  It was obvious that the conference achieved that for many of the attendees. It was great to watch. For me, though, I'm not sure.

If I'm honest with myself, I wasn't worried too much about fitting in at AWBU; I knew I wouldn't.  Most of the categories listed above (except for the "women" one) don't apply to me.  Plus, I'm not generally the type to form instant connections; it takes me some time.  I had a couple of great gals to share the roadtrip with, and we stuck together most of the conference.  Surprisingly, I knew several people there, and so we all got to spend some time around tables and between sessions chatting.  I loved that, especially since there seemed to be a silent pact among us that we wouldn't pull out our phones.  I have a bunch of new twitter friends, and some fun blogs to follow.  But I'm not sure I made new lifelong friends to help me on my blogging way.

This isn't a reflection on the conference, but on me.

See, on paper I am a blogger, but I wouldn't say I'm an actual "blogger."  Not like some of the women I encountered at AWBU.  Though I like to dream that my writing could one day be interesting enough to inspire someone to pay me money for it, I haven't trained or worked at it, and I don't spend much time trying to improve it.  I just like to write.  I've always been ok with that, and even after AWBU, I still am. 

In this blog space, I like to tell myself I have the freedom to write about whatever strikes my fancy.  In reality, I write about a small piece of what goes on in my brain, with a pretty hefty filter to keep me from delving too much into politics or workplace woes.  And there's a big old lid on my snarky side (though I'm sure it leaks out from time to time).  Within those boundaries, this blog has been about my search for identity.

How does a perpetually single working gal from New England make a life for herself in Arkansas?  Check that...how does she make a meaningful life? 

I discovered that last question at AWBU, during one of the "content" sessions.  I figured out the answer later, during another session.  It will fuel some changes and focus to this space in the future.  That made the whole trip worthwhile.

Still, I regret, just a little, that I didn't branch out and meet more new people.  Maybe, if I attend next year, that's what the conference will be about for me.   We'll see. 

Or maybe it will be about the swag.


Yeah, that's right. Enough of this introspection crap.  Let's have some fun. Grab a beer and join me on a journey through the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged swag bag.

1.  The Boots, from Country Outfitter.
You've heard about these already.  Mine were the Tony Lama's Golden Tan Navajo type.  They are cute as can be.  However, the acrobatics I had to do to get them off after a night of jig-dancing will make me reconsider my sock choice next time.  Stay tuned, because you might be able to win a pair in an upcoming giveaway (probably in October).

2.  The storage, from Ziploc
I swear, I have never seen more plastic containers in my life.  A few glass ones were thrown in there too, and some even had ice cream from Yarnell's in them.  At one point in the weekend, I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't win a bag of Ziploc products, because I'd already been given enough to replace my whole cupboard-full.  One good side effect of this might be that I can use my spiffy new glass containers to make packing lunches more fun.  Clearly I lead an exciting life.

3.  The boot polish, from Kiwi
Anyone know how to polish brown suede-ish boots? I would guess one doesn't use the black boot polish.

4.  Mrs. Meyers cleaning products & coupons
Whooee, that company is sure trying to make cleaning stuff a therapeutic process.  I'm not sure I buy it, but I will gamely go wash a pile of dishes in my sink that I left there before AWBU (quit judging).

5.  The Healthy Families bag
I tried, I really did.  But I wasn't able to muster the proper enthusiasm for the baby books and swag designed to help raise healthy kids.  So I gave the whole shebang to a friend who's expecting.  And wouldn't you know it?  This normally no-nonsense gal got all smiley and giggly.  Excellent swag relocation.

6.  Arkansas Farm Bureau - magazines and a sunglasses strap
I love farmers.  I also love their markets.  But I can guarantee you I won't be raising my next Thanksgiving dinner in my suburban backyard.  I will, however, enjoy reading about those who do.  And I will try to do so in a setting where I fear losing my sunglasses.  

7.  All You magazine
Brutal honestly here - there are too many magazines in the world.  I know, because I work in marketing, and I'm "offered the opportunity" to advertise in all of them.  However, I can't wait to read All You, especially since they claim I can walk off my midsection with their special workouts.

8.  Coupons from Petit Jean Meats
I was really, really hoping there would be bacon in the bag.  There was not. 

9.  Crayon white board from Crayola
I'm officially 5 years old anytime I see anything Crayola.  Where's my 96-count crayon box with the built-in sharpener?

10.  Zebra Duck tape from Acumen brands.
I don't know what I'm going to do with this tape, but it's definitely not going to be used for any typical duct tape tasks.

Plus, we had pens and notepads from nwamotherlode.com, thank you cards from one of our printing partners, and enough brochures and flyers to keep us busy for a while.  And the mason jar from Ball/Jarden Corporation, of course. 

So, if you want to tape something up while washing your new storage containers with lavender soap while wearing cowboy boots, come see me.  And if you doubt the validity of this swag haul, which was actually far too significant for one bag, I submit to you exhibit A:


Phew.  Ok, I'm done.  I have once again whiled away my evening blogging about blogging.  Next up, an exploration of "slow stories" encountered at the Ozark Folk Center.