Playing in the dirt

pansies in planters by JulieAnn Corbin

Although the weather forecast changed overnight from mostly sunny today to mostly cloudy, the predicted high was a vast improvement over yesterday as was the lack of rain. I know exactly how cold it was to be outside yesterday because I was at Home Depot in the evening looking for pansies, snapdragons and other flowers for what I call my “bird oasis” behind my house. I hadn’t worn a coat because it didn’t feel too cold to me when I left the house, but walking around outside at the store looking at the flowers showed me just how cold it was as my fingers and face froze.

I suppose the chilly weather was a good thing though because I tend to get carried away buying tons of colorful, happy flowers that I’ve browsed through. Browsing happened rather quickly yesterday evening though as I picked out my favorites of pansies and violas along with some new additions of phlox, foxglove and silene (catchfly). Those last three plants are perennials and although I’ve never had much luck with perennials actually coming back, I thought I’d give it a try again.

When I got up this morning and saw my flowers still sitting safely on the deck where I’d placed them last night, I knew I had to get them transferred to my planters today, rain or shine. Usually I get the bird oasis set up and put the flowers in the planters all on the same day, but the bird oasis area needs a bit more work than I realized and the grass was still wet so I decided I’d just deal with the planters today.

I carried all of the planters from the bird oasis in the back yard to my deck walkway by the driveway and brought the flowers down from the top of the deck to begin the transplant process. I opened all the windows in my car and played the music from my phone through the car radio via my FM transmitter so I had a soundtrack to my gardening. It was still overcast out but considering how easily I burn in the sun, that’s probably a good thing.

I had Jazzmin out on her lead with me and she chose to sit in the gravel driveway of all places. There was plenty of soft, green grass for her to lie in, but she preferred to lay behind my car as if she were guarding the driveway from intruders. She did at least keep the squirrels away from my bird feeders by sheer pup intimidation (lying like a lump in the gravel) so that was a nice bonus.

I always get my leather work gloves out when I plan on working with flowers, but I never actually wear them because I prefer getting my hands right in the cool, moist soil to move it around and settle the individual flowers in their spots. As I sat on my walkway with my upbeat music blasting from my car speakers I took my flowers out of their store containers and settled them in the dirt of the planters, feeling immensely happy and at peace. It’s impossible for me not to smile when I see pansies because they have such unique color combinations and are hardy enough to survive my oftentimes brown thumb.

I didn’t know this until a friend pointed it out to me, but apparently playing in the dirt, i.e. gardening, has scientifically proven mood-boosting properties. Antidepressant microbes in the soil stimulate serotonin production, which makes us humans happier and more relaxed, according to the article, “Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy” from Gardening Know How.com.

I’ve experienced this mood boosting effect many times when planting flowers, but I thought it was purely from the fact that I was playing in the dirt just like I used to when I was a kid. I’m not a woman who’s afraid to get her hands dirty and her work jeans too in the process as I used them as towel to wipe the dirt off periodically. As I always say, everything washes and really, the whole point of work jeans is to get them dirty. I had dirt all over my hands and under my fingernails, but I didn’t care.

If I hadn’t run out of flowers, I would’ve kept planting and playing in the dirt for hours and if I had endless money and time, my entire 1.4 acres of property would be covered with flower gardens. Maybe I’ll get it to that point someday, but for now, I’m happy to play in the dirt of my planters as I bring a spot of color and joy to my home and life.

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The Power of Sitting Still

downy woodpecker by JulieAnn Corbin

Yesterday was a bright, beautiful, sunny spring day so I decided to sit out on my deck swing in the afternoon. The swing is rather large and can fold down flat into a bed, something I used to do more often when I wanted to take naps outside on nice days. The swing was a Mother’s Day gift many years ago when I was still married and although it wasn’t easy to relocate from my ex’s house to mine, I wasn’t about to leave it behind.

Due to daily assault from sun, wind, rain and sometimes snow, I’ve already had to replace the seat cushion and the original canopy ripped through a couple years’ ago. The current seat cushion is starting to rip too so I cover it with a bedspread when I sit out there and a few days ago I had the clever idea of using plastic tablecloths as a new canopy. I’ve used a sheet in the past but that doesn’t keep the rain off if it’s sprinkling lightly and I want to stay outside, but the plastic tablecloths offer some protection, come in various colors and patterns and are easy to replace when they wear out. Jordan helped me put on the two new plastic tablecloths I purchased from the dollar store yesterday and I attached them to the canopy frame with some tablecloth clips and duct tape. Never underestimate the power of ingenuity and duct tape!

After placing a nice, thick, seashell-themed bedspread on the slightly ripped seat cover, I sat down on my swing and enjoyed the gentle rocking motion in the warm sunshine. I had a small notebook with me to jot down ideas for my jewelry designs and business plan and so I opened that up and started writing things out in cursive. I usually print my writing, but I periodically write in cursive so I don’t lose a writing ability that schools don’t seem to want to teach anymore. Both my printing and cursive are nearly impossible to read because I’m left handed and my teachers didn’t know how to teach a lefty, but I can usually decipher it or make it more legible when I write slower.

As I was writing, I started hearing little scraping sounds on the deck railing and I looked up to see a downy woodpecker hop-flying from one railing post to the next in an effort to creep closer to the suet feeder without me noticing. I have the frame from a child-size cushioned swing on my deck and although the seat part is gone, I hang bird feeders from the frame so I can see the birds when I looked out the window next to my desk. My cats love sitting on top of the bookshelf by that window to watch “Bird TV” too.

Sitting on the deck mere feet from the feeders, I continued to watch the male downy with his spot of red on the back of his head and I remained very still as I watched. He eventually felt confident enough to fly to the suet and begin eating and I smiled, happy to be able to watch a bird so closely.

A few minutes later Jaycie came outside and wanted to sit in the swing with me. She sat down next to me and I told her that if she sat very still, the woodpecker or other birds might come back and eat. Although Jaycie managed to sit quiet and still for a few minutes, no birds came to the feeders and she eventually grew bored and went down the deck steps to swing on the swing set (her favorite outdoor activity.) I didn’t really expect my 9 year old to be patient enough to wait for birds, but I’m sure someday she’ll appreciate the merit of sitting still.

Eventually Jaycie went back inside the house and I remained on the swing, writing in my little notebook. The longer I sat there, the more comfortable all sorts of birds became with me and within an hour, there were chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, goldfinches, purple finches, blue jays, and downy woodpeckers frequenting the feeders. A pair of cardinals flew into the nearby trees, but they weren’t brave enough to come to the feeders and the male chose to sit in a branch and scold me for daring to sit near his feeders.

Although I wasn’t sitting perfectly motionless because I continued to write in my notebook, the birds were no longer as afraid of me and I could quietly observe them as they came and went from the feeders. Chickadees are by far the bravest birds and a couple of them came to the feeder hanging on the big swing frame within arm’s reach of where I sat. Someday I hope the chickadees trust me enough to eat from my hands, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure with patience and perseverance, it will.

sparrow goldfinch and nuthatch by JulieAnn Corbin

Goldfinch on top left feeder, sparrow on middle blue feeder and nuthatch on deck below feeders.

Sitting still on a swing may seem like a waste of time to some people who feel the need to always be on the go, but to me it’s a necessity. I need my quiet time in nature to recharge my spirit and refocus my energy. Moreover, I was still being productive as I worked on ideas for my jewelry and practiced the dying art of cursive. You don’t always have to be moving and in a rush to accomplish great things, sometimes taking some time to sit still can carry you further on your journey than you imagine.

My shadow has four paws

Jazz in my shadow by JulieAnn Corbin

Even on days when the sun hides behind the clouds, I have a shadow and she has four paws. My shadow is my pup Jazzmin and as I’ve said many times, I can’t imagine my life without her. Inside my house, she’s always nearby. Usually when I get up from my desk, she gets up too and follows me or is the speedbump behind my chair that I almost trip over. Unless she’s snoring happily away in her crate (which she is right now) she keeps her eye on me and is always ready to play and of course, walk.

Along with Jazzmin, I have three cats and while they love me unconditionally just like Jazz, they show it differently. Jazzmin always comes when called while the cats come most of the time unless they’re sleeping or just plain ignoring me. Jazz is always eager to please and expresses happiness when she sees me and her unique doggy “smile” always brightens my day.

As any dog owner knows, having a constant companion that never judges you is a wonderful thing! I can ramble to Jazz about anything and she doesn’t think I’m crazy, odd or weird. Well, she might, but she doesn’t speak human so I don’t really know. I think mostly she’s just happy I’m talking to her and that’s not something that can be said of all the humans I’ve encountered.

Jazzmin doesn’t care that I don’t quite “fit in” with other humans or that my personality doesn’t always sit well with people, all she cares is that her mama loves her, feeds her, plays with her and takes her for walks every day. I can be 100% myself with Jazzmin and my other pets and they still love me. There’s truly something to be said for the unconditional love of animals.

Adventures of The Triumphant Trio!

girls by stream by JulieAnn Corbin

It was another beautiful, spring day yesterday and by the time I picked up my girls, I’d already taken my usual two walks. Even so, there’s never enough time spent outside on such wonderful days so after dinner, the girls and I headed out on a walk.

The girls and I walked down my road and turned onto the next where a small stream and then larger stream run under the road. We stopped at the small stream and I watched as the girls tossed in some rocks and then we continued on to what I call the guardrail stream. I call the stream that because road crews spent several weeks last summer replacing the pipe that went under the road so the stream could pass through. That job required ripping out the entire road and bringing in tons of new fill and the end result is quite impressive. When the job was complete, they finally put up guardrails to help prevent cars from driving off into the ravine, hence the name guardrail stream.

When they redid that section of road and put the new plastic pipe in to replace the rusted metal one, they made a wide path down to the stream with the constant traffic of big machinery. It used to be a rather steep climb down both sides to the stream below but now the western side has a more gradual slope that’s easier to walk down. The area around where I live contains a lot of slate and shale rock and the path is comprised almost entirely of infinite crumbling pieces of shale.

My oldest daughter Jordan and I have no trouble walking down the path, but Jaycie is a bit less certain due to her developmental delays that affect her strength and coordination. I gave her the option of staying up at the top of the trail, but she said she wanted to go down, so we held hands and walked down together. By the time we reached the bottom, Jordan was already standing in the rocks in the middle of the stream and darting about from rock to rock like a forest frog. She’s just like me in that respect, brave and daring, even though she insists she’s a “scaredy cat.”

We spent quite a while down by the stream enjoying the beauty of the ravine. None of the trees have leaves yet, but the pine trees provided some shade and a bit of green amid the brown and gray. It’s also too early for there to be many bugs out, which is a rather nice feature when playing by water. That ravine is another example of how when you venture off the beaten path (in this case off the pave road) you can discover a whole new world you didn’t know existed. Down in that ravine, the road seemed miles away and it was as if we were in a mystical gully full of adventure.

stream and shadows by JulieAnn Corbin

Eventually, we decided to head back as the mosquitoes had noticed our presence and the sun was going down. Jordan walked up the trail ahead of us and I took Jaycie’s hand once more to help her along. As we walked up, she kept saying, “I can do this” to reassure herself despite the unsure footing provided by the shale path. Hearing her believe in herself like that and coach herself along made me smile with pride because she too, is a lot like me. Jaycie has never let her developmental delays dampen her sunny disposition and even though she may tire more easily than other kids her age, she always bounces back.

Both my girls possess various aspects of me, which anyone who meets us will quickly figure out, but they are their own unique and amazing young women that will achieve more than I’ve ever dreamed. Together, the three of us make a triumphant trio, there’s no path we can’t navigate, and no hill we can’t conquer.

Caterpillars, butterflies and frogs

dog gazing across pond

Every morning I wake up with a general plan for what I’m going to accomplish that day and as my life is pretty predictable, things usually go as planned. Yesterday however, that was not the case as my life took a rather unexpected plot twist late morning that had me scrambling to rewrite the next chapter in my life. I’m a resilient, durable, determined and strong woman though and I always land on my feet somehow. I know that even with this new curvy hill in the path of my life, I’ll get my stride back and be just fine eventually.

After several hours of rewriting the outline for the next chapter of my life, I was feeling a bit mentally fried and decided it was time to walk Jazzmin. The temperature had warmed up to a more spring-like 55 degrees finally and my pup and I were quite ready to get out in the sunshine and fresh air. I walked Jazz up the farmer’s access road and into the open farmer’s fields beyond. That is my favorite place to restore inner balance and regain serenity. It’s a different world at the end of that access road as Jazz and I visit a land full of unending skies, clear ponds, rolling hills, sky-reaching trees and a chorus of bird songs.

Jazz loves to put her nose to the grassy ground where deer, turkey, squirrels, birds, raccoons and who knows what else has walked, so I call those walks with her “sniff walks.” When we’re walking the paved roads around my house, I keep us moving and don’t make many stops but “sniff walks” are different as it’s just us in the fields and I’m in no rush to go anywhere.

We walked up to the small pond among the fields and as we walked around its perimeter, I could hear the frogs who had been sunning themselves suddenly jump into the pond. They move so quickly, I rarely see them, but hearing them still makes me smile. I had no idea then that frogs would take on a new meaning by the end of the day.

Jazz and I spent at least a half hour in the fields exploring and enjoying the sights and smells and then it was time to head back home and resume my work.

A few hours later, I was feeling frazzled again and I knew it was time to take my solo walk of the day. The temperature was up to 60 by then so I changed from capris into shorts, got Jazz happily settled in her crate and headed out. With my newly downloaded music pumping into my ears, body and spirit through my earbuds, I set out on what I call the “big hill” walk that’s three miles long and contains the biggest hill near me.

Shortly after heading up the road I live on, I saw my first wooly bear caterpillar of the season moving quickly to cross the road. He was halfway through the oncoming lane but I knew a car could come up at any moment and end his journey so I carefully scooped him up in my hand and carried him safely into the shoulder. I set him down and he crawled quickly into the grass. Immensely pleased that I had finally seen one of my favorite kinds of caterpillars and managed to help it, I was smiling wide as I continued my walk.

I conquered the big hill with my usual determination and with a bit of upbeat tempo motivation from my music and walked 1.5 miles out before turning around toward home. I’m not out to set any time records when I walk but I do move along and my leg muscles were quite warm and already becoming sore from the previous walk with Jazz. I kept my stride though and was rewarded with another welcome, spring sight when I was halfway home.

I caught the sight of motion in the shoulder up ahead and when I focused on it, I saw that it was little white cabbage butterfly. I love butterflies and they have held special meaning for me since my father passed away so I was ecstatic to see the little white butterfly flitting around the dandelions growing in the shoulder. I stopped walking and just watched him fly along the shoulder and down the road until he was out of sight. The rest of the walk home I was so happy, I felt like I was the one who had wings.

I actually wanted to write this blog post last night but I was a bit too mentally and physically exhausted. That fatigue made it tempting to sleep in longer this morning but the sun was already up and shining at 7 a.m. so I did what I didn’t really want to do and got up, dressed, made my morning tea and started writing.

I can’t remember the last time I started my day writing a personal blog post. Usually I get up and take care of everyone else’s needs, whether it be my girls or my work, but today I chose a different path and decided to blog before doing anything else. Kind of like those frogs around the pond on my walk with Jazz, I took the leap into different water and created ripples that are already changing my life in a positive way.

The Power of Music

http://www.houzz.com/photos/8406969/Music-Notes-Heart-Wall-Decal-contemporary-wall-decals

Music is a very powerful force. I’ve been exposed to music my entire life and I consider that a very good thing. I grew up listening to my mom’s records that included artists from the 40’s through the 80’s (I can still remember her repeatedly playing a Pointer Sisters record when she first bought it because we really loved one song on it) and nothing compares to the hiss and pop of vinyl. We had a player piano in our house and even though it wasn’t entirely in tune, it was always fun turning it on and listening to the music as the piano “magically” played itself. My mother would often sing snippets of random show tunes and although the lyrics weren’t always correct, they got stuck in my head anyway and I now do the same thing. I also sing a new generation of random songs and whistle tunes without knowing where they came from and I consider it carrying on a family tradition.

Music can affect me in various ways and I rarely listen to sad songs because I don’t listen to music to be sad. I listen to music to lift my spirit and when I’m on my walks, to keep my feet moving. There are many songs that evoke specific memories when I hear them and those memories are ones I’ve often forgotten until I hear the song. Sometimes I hear a song and remember the book I was reading or writing when I first heard it or I recall a certain event where that song was playing.

The song “No Air” by Jordin Sparks was popular on the radio around the year my father passed away. I remember that I’d burst into tears every time I heard it because the lyrics described exactly how I felt, as if I couldn’t breathe anymore because my father/strongest supporter/closest friend had walked on. I still cry when I hear it actually and sometimes I can’t quite sing along because my throat becomes too tight, but my father’s spirit shows me daily that he’s still with me and I take comfort in that.

Yesterday before my second walk of the day (the one I take sans Jazzmin), I made a point of loading my phone/mp3 player with some of the new music I’ve discovered thanks to Pandora. Finding new music I like via Pandora has become a lot harder than it used to be because they just seem to play whatever they like and it’s rarely in line with my tastes. Regardless, I found a few new-to-me artists and downloaded their music to my phone in preparation for my late afternoon walk.

That first walk with new music is always fun and exciting because hearing new songs or even ones I like that I’ve only listened to in the car, really boosts my spirit and my pace. I got so positively pumped up by the songs that I was smiling happily and even lip syncing along when there were no cars passing by to witness it. A little bit of dance snuck into my walking too as I have great rhythm and love to move along with the beat. I do pass houses on my walks but most of them are set far back from the road and partially blocked by trees. Even so, there’s the chance that people saw me walking while smiling, doing my little dance and lip syncing and they probably thought I was a crazy person. As I love to say, “Being a little crazy has kept me sane all these years.”

How often do you see someone walking, running or riding his or her bike and actually looking happy about it? I rarely do as most of those I pass by in my car look downright miserable or extremely focused. Exercise isn’t always fun and I’ve done plenty of workouts when I’m grumbling at the instructor on my TV, but it’s different when I’m out walking with Jazz or without. I love being out in the fresh air and sunshine and yes, I smile about it and don’t care who sees. Enjoyable exercise is the easiest kind to do for me and when I have the right music pumping through my body, I do more than burn calories, I glow!

Below are videos for some of the songs I’m listening to these days so you can check them out if you’re curious.

Walking Alone

view from top of hill

I’m good at being alone. I didn’t used to be, but I am now. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No, not really. Did I used to think it was a bad thing? Oh yes, of course. However, life has taught me how important it is to be good on my own rather than thinking I’m somehow incomplete because I’m single. I have been an independent woman for several years now and I’ve become quite good at taking care of myself and others and I’m proud of that, but I do not believe that humans are meant to be solitary creatures forever.

It’s important to understand that I’m not always alone. I have my daughters for half the week and my adoring animals at home always. Although I may be physically alone at times when I’m away from home, I am never truly alone as my ancestors and the universe are always with me, watching me, guiding me.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time I started taking walks alone. I had been walking Jazzmin twice a day and that’s great exercise for both of us, but I really needed some “me” time. I love Jazz and she’s a great pup, but she’ll always be on the lookout for squirrels, birds, other dogs, cats, bugs, leaves and anything else that can easily distract her and because of that, I’m always on my toes when I walk her and not entirely relaxed. With the weather turning nicer and the days growing longer, I concluded that it was possible to take Jazz on a nice, long walk and then take myself on a nice, long walk alone and then we would both feel happily fulfilled.

Therefore, on the most recent warm, spring day we had a couple weeks ago, I walked Jazzmin in the late morning and that made her day. Once I finished my work that evening, I then placed Jazz in her crate with her peanut butter filled Kong and radio playing and set out on my own. I don’t listen to music when I’m walking Jazz because I have to listen for critters, but on my own I happily put in my earbuds and let the beat of the music set my pace.

There was a steady breeze that day (as there always seems to be lately) but the sun was shining and it was warm enough for me to wear shorts. As I tend to burn easily, I’d slathered on a fresh coat of SPF protection to prevent the lobster look. My hair was up in a ponytail and it bounced from side to side as I found my stride and took on the walk up the big hill.

me and my shadow

Just me and my shadow

As I walked, I breathed in the fresh, spring air and kept my gaze ever upward at the beautiful sky. Even though I had my earbuds in, I could still hear the familiar songs of birds and I watched them as they happily flew about in their spring mating rituals. While I walked the road alone, I felt my father and ancestors with me, walking with me, lifting my spirit. Shortly after summoning such thoughts to my mind, two hawks emerged from the trees ahead of me and began circling slowly in the sky, rising gracefully toward the clouds. A reminder from the universe that I’m never truly alone and that when I release my stubborn independence long enough to ask for help, I will receive it.

By the end of my four-mile walk, I was both tired and exhilarated as I wore a huge smile and felt as if my entire body was glowing. I’d used those four miles alone to sort through all kinds of thoughts and feelings and re-familiarize myself with how amazing I am, how amazing we all are. I’m not afraid to walk alone and I never will be, but I imagine eventually I’ll want company of the male persuasion that can keep up with all aspects of me and not just the walking pace I set. The thing about that to remember though is that although someone else may walk with you on your path, the journey is yours alone to take.