Once again our Iowa weather this year is unusual. We had a bitterly cold winter and come spring, multitudes of Iowans discovered lost shrubs, sickly trees and normally hardy Knock-out Roses that were down for the count. Now, in the month of August, that time of year where I am sick to death of all the heat and humidity and weary of the huge water bills we’ve been paying all summer to water our grass (which, for all our efforts, still manages to look brown and spent), our fair state has been deluged with rain, rain and more rain. In just the past week and a half our little rain gauge has measured out more than five inches of precipitation. Our lawn is as lush and green as it was in June and mowing the lawn demands ever more of our time.

At bedtime last night the rains began yet again – an almost nightly exercise now for about two weeks (or so it seems!) — accompanied by fairly strong winds and plenty of thunder and lightning. During the storm flashes I looked out at the fairway the runs alongside our property and yet again it looked like a small river. Today, the sand traps bear witness to the side effects of all that rainfall.

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Knock on wood – our basement remains untouched. Dry as a bone and no sign of runoff leaching its way indoors. Our house is situated on higher ground in relation to the golf course and water in our yard travels toward the fairway. In the nine years we’ve lived here we’ve been lucky but we know there are no guarantees especially not when record rainfall such as what we’ve experienced here this past month continues to inundate us with all this moisture.

While the rain was initially welcome – grass was getting brown and a bit crispy after a hot spell just last month and riverbeds were dry – I think I speak for most Iowans when I say I think we’re good now. Mother Nature, you can take your foot off the accelerator and back off a little. Not everyone, though, is ready for the rains to end I suspect. Flocks of geese seem just fine with all that water, some of it still sitting on the fairway late this afternoon.

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Tinier creatures yet lap up all this excess moisture, making a (very) brief appearance on our wooden deck rail this afternoon. Later in the day, after the sun came out for a bit, they were gone, all shriveled up. Still though I found them both fascinating and beautiful – in their own way.

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After all the rain we’ve gotten this month, one can only wonder what fall and winter will bring. Does this indicate another harsh winter with record snowfall to match the precipitation we have received in August? Or is that old gal simply getting it all out of her system and a mild December through March is in store for us? Makes no difference to speculate one way or the other. She’ll do as she pleases and there’s nothing we can do but sit back and mentally prepare for whatever comes our way.

Wait. Was that thunder I just heard – yet again?

Is there anything more exhilarating than golfing on a beautiful fall day and to then encounter some of the magnificent horses that pasture alongside the golf course where we live? If I ever win big at the lottery, a huge spread with a few horses to call my own (AND a personal riding instructor) will certainly be at the top of the list!

I got out of bed earlier than usual this morning and went for a walk before 5:00 AM, the first time I’d done so in far too many months. I enjoy not only getting my exercise out of the way for the day but the solitude and quiet of walking my normal route before first light and being able to see the stars (Orion was especially vivid this morning) all the while getting serenaded by the symphony of sound made by birds roosting in every tree I pass by.

Because I have been sick much of the summer this particular routine is one I simply was not able to enjoy the way that I did this morning. As I reflected on that while I walked I considered the meaning and significance of the routines and rituals we partake of – and are subjected to as well – in our lives.

Webster defines routine as ‘a regular way of doing things in a particular order’. Many people, myself included, take comfort in the familiarity of following a set pattern of activity or methodology. My husband and I take delight in how nice it feels to share certain routines together, even things as mundane as sitting at Starbucks enjoying our hot beverages or watching our favorite programs on TV and Netflix. There is also the attention to detail (okay, this one is more me than Bill) of how the bed is made or dishes are put away or clothes are folded. I actually find ironing, which many people think of as a chore, to be a relaxing activity, a routine that I don’t mind doing at all. Bill and I also appreciate the visual delight and calming effect of sometimes taking a longer route to work – bypassing additional albeit faster travel on the interstate in exchange for a longer route laden with those pesky stoplights simply because it offers us the opportunity to perhaps catch sight of deer or turkey in the woods and fields on the edge of the city. It’s a pleasant routine we both enjoy.

An alternate definition of routine provides an opposing, somewhat gloomy view of the word: A boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way. Images of being forced to sit through Mass each Sunday when we were growing up or waiting in the car for hours while Dad ‘looked at trees’ for the sawmill or having to do the dishes after the noon meal in the summer – always a major production with six kids at home and hired men to feed. None of these things were particularly difficult or painful. They were just dull and monotonous and these activities were routinely required as part and parcel of being a member of my family. Routine used here takes on a negative connotation. And is perhaps why something being described as a ‘ho-hum routine’ gets a bum rap.

One’s perspective or outlook on life can go a long way in determining whether it be the yin or the yang when it comes to that which is routine.

This afternoon at work I stepped up to one of the two sinks in the restroom to wash my hands. Another woman followed suit and remarked that usually she washed her hands in the sink that I was using and wasn’t it odd how we get used to using one thing instead of another and when forced to use something else it feels so different. It got me thinking further that we often follow a set routine and when we waver from it in any way we may feel anxious or tense, out of our element, maybe even uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassed.

Routines can be cherished or loathed. They can provide warm fuzzies or feelings of dread. They can be reassuring or sleep-inducing.

Are there any routines that you find pleasant, that bring you joy and comfort? Or do your routines cause heartburn and angst or feelings of trepidation? Please – do tell!

tal·ent·ed: having a natural aptitude or skill for something

One of the few TV shows that my husband and I watch each summer is America’s Got Talent. It is incredible – and very entertaining! – watching so many amazing individuals taking the stage and sharing their talents and skills. Some of the acts are simply fantastic, some are just okay and many fall into the what-can-I-do-to-get-myself-on-TV category – some of which are entertaining, others not so much. The season begins with a panel of judges who decide if the act is worthy of moving on to the next stage of competition. If any of the judges dislike what they’re seeing they hit a button and a red ‘X’ lights up above the contestant accompanied by the sound of one very loud (and annoying!) buzzer. If all four judges give them the ‘X’ the act is over and the competition moves on to the next contestant. Later on in the season it’s up to the American people to do the judging and ultimately select a million dollar winner in the fall.

To encourage talented people everywhere to apply for next season the host of the show, Nick Cannon, proclaims that everyone has talent. Everyone? Everyone has talent? Hmm. I’m not so sure about that. I cannot think of a single thing that I’m able to do that even remotely falls into the TALENT bucket especially as defined above. At least nothing of merit that might win me a million dollars let alone get me past the original audition without sending each judge to slap his or her hand on that button to boot me off the stage!

I’ve never been athletic or musical or artistic. While some might say that I have a good sense of humor, showmanship and a solid sense of delivery is not my strong suit. I cannot sing or play a musical instrument. I’ve performed in community theatre but I fear my acting skills tend more toward the melodramatic than anything theatrical.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Something a little less obvious perhaps?

I am double-jointed. Does that count for anything? The middle toe on my right foot is shorter than all the others, prompting my dad to jokingly ask me once ‘what are you – a freak’? I make a mean cheesy potato casserole and my nephew loves my cowboy beans. My ciabatta bread is to die for and my sister Theresa thinks I have great taste in movies as well as music from the 70’s. But can I take any of this to the bank?

I better not quit my day job – at least not yet.

Not unless I can come up with a really killer act where I knead the dough to make ciabatta bread with my fingers bent in the double-jointed position while Pulp Fiction plays on a large screen just over my shoulder in time with Norman Greenbaum singing Spirit in the Sky. Now THAT just might be the ticket!

I’ve been told if you’re planning a trip overseas you should begin preparations a year in advance. Perhaps this is so but in my mother’s case her recently completed trip to Ireland (‘twas “wonderful” she sighed!) was booked barely three months prior. In any case we’re contemplating just such a grand adventure ourselves for 2015.

So. Where to go? For the last several years we’ve had serious discussions about visiting Germany. We even went so far as to contact a travel agent to learn about our options. In the beginning we seriously considered backpacking our way across the region, traversing into neighboring countries via Eurail carrying our travel necessities with us along the way. I still find this hugely appealing but perhaps only after an initial trip or two to the continent are firmly entrenched under our belts.

While Germany is still on our bucket list other countries vie for our attention (and travel dollars!) as well. With ancestral roots in Norway, Ireland and England in addition to the Deutschland we have several options to choose from. Not that lineage will be the final arbitrator in where we might go. Italy, Scotland, France and even Istanbul beckon. Disclaimer: That last option is on my list, not Bill’s. I read a fascinating book a few years ago called The Historian. It is a story rooted in the Slavic region of Europe telling the brutal tale of Vlad the Impaler, the basis of the Dracula character as we know it today. Some of the story’s action takes place in Istanbul and I was curious to learn more. After a little research and seeing some incredible photos Istanbul secured a place on my travel To Do list.

We’ve got our work cut out for us but this is my kind of labor. The planning is half the fun (or half the battle depending on your perspective). Having something to look forward to is, for me, the very spice of life: sage, cinnamon, ginger, anise, basil, coriander, cardamom and nutmeg. I love them all! And, so too, do I enjoy the dreaming, the research, the planning and the anticipation of any kind of travel expedition whether it’s a weekend getaway or a trip half way around the world.

We’ve still got a few years left before our passports expire and the Life Clock is ticking away! Stay tuned for further developments.

What is on your travel To Do list? Where do you want to go? Where have you been that you’d return to in a heartbeat? I’d love to hear from you!

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The world is a bad place, a bad place. A terrible place to live. Oh, but I don’t want to die. ~ Reflections of My Life, Marmalade

The news stories that we have been bombarded with for far too long are sobering indeed. Reminders that there are some very bad things and people and places in this world. Although we’re often told that “life isn’t fair” this little pearl of wisdom sometimes seems to be staggeringly true. I recall being told when I was a kid that despite any hardships or difficulties I may have to encounter there is always someone who has it worse than I do. I suppose the reasoning behind this is so that I might put things into perspective and not complain because somewhere out there is someone who is worse off than me and that I should be grateful for what I have. True, so very true. However, my youthful mind took this rationalization a bit further. If this statement was true and there is a person out there, say Person X, who has more problems than me then you could extrapolate that to say there is someone out there who is worse off than Person X. And then someone who is worse off than that person and so on and so forth.  That means (my youthful – and not so youthful – mind is really humming now) there is that one person, that poor schmuck, that miserable wretch who has it worse than every single gosh darn person in the whole entire world. And that is just too much unfairness for this mind of mine, however old, to take in.

While we acknowledge the brutality and horror and unfairness that does, unfortunately, exist in this world there is also much beauty and goodness and light and majesty as well. My oh-but-I-don’t-want-to-die list looks something like this:

  • Children: Their laughter, their inquisitiveness, their energy, their little hands and feet, the way they run and squeal with delight, the way they react to music even when they’re just toddlers, how they learn to talk and reason and think and mimic what they see around them – basically how they are able to LEARN is utterly amazing.
  • My husband: His smile, his patience, his sense of humor, the way he so fiercely loves and cherishes me, his goodness, his green eyes, the gray in his temples and beard and mustache, his can-do attitude, the way he’s been such a good father figure for my son (who thinks the world of him) and well, just pretty much everything about him!
  • The fresh growth of spring: Green buds on the trees, flowers poking up through the soil (incredible!), the light airiness of it all, the promise in the breeze, the wonder of new life all around us.
  • My son: His creativity, his absolutely unique sense of humor, his dedication and love of science and his motivation to learn more and more including how to be a better teacher, his love of music and the way he’s thrown himself into learning to play the drums (which he didn’t pick up until his early 20’s), the way he has always been able to make new friends even as (especially as!) a child, his way of calling me Mother and how, despite the many mistakes I made in that role as he was growing up, he has always been my ally and most ardent defender.
  • Nature: If ever there was an element of this world for which the adjective majestic was intended, the gifts that Mother Nature has provided for us would be it. The changing of the seasons, awe-inspiring mountains and deserts, glorious rivers and lakes, lush forests and mysterious oceans, all teeming with a diversity of creatures. To be still and silent in the midst of such grandeur is to know what it’s like to really breath, to truly live, to just BE.
  • Kindness: This element of the world, when it makes itself known to you at unexpected moments, is perhaps one of the most beautiful things of all. Whether you are the recipient of any act of caring, generosity or warmth or you are merely an observer, to know or experience the beauty of kindness in any of its many forms can move even the most hardened individuals to tears. The best example of kindness? That which is done anonymously, totally without mention to anyone else – ever – in any way, shape or manner, is true kindness for it comes directly from the heart and as such it reaps its own reward. Or rather it doesn’t require anything for its efforts. The doing of the deed is all that truly matters.

So yes, while there is much to lament and grieve for in our world today, much that causes anxiety, pain and fear there are many more causes for joy and celebration. We, too, must remember that we don’t live in a vacuum. The things that touch us are often the result of our choices even while we are sometimes at odds with the platter that was placed before us by way of where we were born, how we have been raised, our genetics and our heritages. But we can choose, we can do, we can decide.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. ~ Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

What a wonderful treat!  My work day is slightly delayed today – I have a training class offsite that starts later than normal for me – so in addition to getting to sleep in a little we woke up to a smattering of lightning and gloriously loud thunder boomers all around us.  Rain is pouring down at a rapid rate and the fairway that borders our property to the north is a small tributary.

I have always enjoyed thunderstorms but I know they frighten some people.  I recall a childhood friend – always much more rough and tumble than I ever was or hoped to be – who I discovered in high school was terrified of storms.  To say I was surprised to learn this would be an understatement.  I also have a few relatives who dislike thunder and lightning and a recently acquired blogging friend who recently reported her fear of them.

It’s been a little dry lately so the rain is most welcome at this time.  What won’t be so pleasant later in the day is the heat and humidity so much moisture in the air is sure to deliver.  The next few days here in central Iowa look to be upper 80s, low 90’s.  Our local news channel forewarns of ‘big heat’ ahead on their website.

For now though as thunder continues to rumble in the distance I’m enjoying a few moments of calm, dashing off this quick post, before we head into the city to begin our day.  As usual I struggle today trying to figure out what to wear – it will be stifling hot and sticky outside but sure to be frigidly cold indoors (blasted A/C!) – so as always I’ll dress in layers, make sure I have hot tea or chai on hand to keep me warm and hope for the best.

Have a great day everyone!

IMG_0037 I don’t know about other areas of the U.S. (or other countries for that matter) but here in the Midwest bike trails have been developed to run along pathways formerly used by old railway lines. This weekend my husband and I walked one of these bike trails, the High Trestle Trail where we began our brief excursion at the trailhead in the small Iowa town of Woodward.

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The path we travelled was pleasantly wide enough for bikes to pass by easily and was lined on either side with lush green vegetation, wild flowers and ivy climbing over anything in its path. It somewhat reminded us of the kudzu we’d seen once during a visit to North Carolina. Bunnies ran across the trail and into the brush while butterflies and birds swooped in and out of all that beautiful greenery. It was beautiful and peaceful and invigorating all at the same time!

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As the name implies this bike trail makes its way to an old trestle bridge. Unfortunately this particular visit did not allow us time enough to explore and photograph it further on what was turning out to be a very splendid summer day; we did, however, hike this trail on my 55th birthday two years ago in February.

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It was relatively warm for a winter day, sunny and just a little breezy. Bill and I hiked out to the bridge late that afternoon (coming from the opposite direction than we did this past weekend) and since it was our first visit there we didn’t know what to expect. My husband likes to tease me about being ‘high maintenance’ (I’m not. Really. Well, okay. Maybe a little…) but this is my kind of day and my kind of adventure! The fresh air, the open vistas, walking through nature. I love doing this sort of thing. After about a half an hour trek we finally made our way to the bridge itself.

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The view was incredible — all that wide open space — and we were up so high. This was, remember, a former railway line and we were on top of a trestle bridge that, according to their website, is 130 feet high. With such a grand viewing platform it was only a little surprising when we caught sight of several deer running out into the clearing from the woods nearby. It was the highlight of an already wonderful day!

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Readers familiar with the area will be quick to point out that my photos fail to include what is best known, perhaps, about the High Trestle Trail and that is the view after dark. Unfortunately, we have yet to visit the trail for a nocturnal hike (definitely on my Local Bucket List!) and there are no words I can employ to adequately describe the bridge at night. Please check out the website and their photo gallery for a grand array of photos — including those taken in the evening — to get an even better idea of what this wonderful Iowa treasure has to offer!

Some Iowa natives grumble about the weather here (our winters can be brutal and the summers dreadfully hot and humid). Others complain of nothing to do and being stuck in ‘fly over country’. Some young people are often anxious to leave the area for ‘greener pastures’ only to return to the comfort and tranquility of life here in the Midwest after a few years. Count me, however, as one proud Iowan. We may not have grand canyons or great lakes but I think the beauty and peacefulness of places here in Iowa such as the High Trestle Trail have a charm all their own and I am glad to call this place home.