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.

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The Power of Music

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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.

The return of familiar songs and soaring

Adult male Red-winged Blackbird

There was snow on the ground yesterday morning but today started out warmer than it had been for the last week and it just got better from there! The forecast calls for 50’s and 60’s all week with plenty of sunshine and the occasional rain. Rain is fine because we need it for things to start growing and to wash off the roads that are still white with salt.

When Jaycie and I headed out for the bus this morning there was a hawk soaring in the sky and he glided from west to east upon the breeze as we watched. I told her that I gauge the arrival of spring by when I see the first turkey vulture because they don’t stick around our area all winter. When turkey vultures return and start gliding through the skies on their huge wings searching for roadkill and carcasses, then I believe that spring is truly on its way.

Turkey vulture

A few hours after Jaycie got on the bus, a turkey vulture soared over the trees across the road and I smiled feeling as if the universe had heard my words this morning. Now that I’ve seen those familiar scavengers soaring in the sky I’m certain that spring is coming and that this nice weather isn’t just some cruel trick. I spent the morning working on my writing projects inside but by noon, I couldn’t resist the call of the beautiful outdoors any longer. I got Jazzmin strapped in her backpack, tied up my sneakers and grabbed a light sweatshirt because while it was 53, the wind gusts were making it a bit cool to go without a coat.

As Jazzmin and I walked, I heard the familiar songs of birds that had returned from their winter vacation to the south. I heard the songs of robins, red-winged blackbirds and killdeers. Although the “Winter Wonderland” song states “gone away is the bluebird” a few of my bluebirds never left and I heard their song all winter long. Now that it’s warmer, there will be more bugs around for the bluebirds to eat and they will be more plentiful,  which always makes me happy.

Eastern Bluebird

I feel a special connection to all the birds that frequent my feeders through the winter and into the spring and who make their homes on my property. Just through watching and listening to the birds in my yard an on our walks, I’ve learned to identify various species by their song, size and plumage. Quite often I hear birds but don’t see them and I feel a small surge of satisfaction that I can recognize them just by their song. I’m still not good at identifying the different types of hawks I see around because they’re not really fond of close observation, but eventually I’ll sort them out too.

Northern Goshawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Right now I’m just enjoying the return of the familiar songs and soaring of spring!

The clarity of low visibility

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Low visibility looking down the big hill

The very wintry weather lately has made it difficult to walk Jazzmin but with all the roads plowed today, I decided it was time to set boots and booties to snowy road and take a walk. Once my girls had been picked up, I changed into my walking clothes, got Jazz sweatered, backpacked and bootied up and headed out.

It was lightly snowing as we walked carefully down the driveway to avoid slipping on the ice below the most recent dusting of snow. Once safely on the salted and slightly snowy road, we easily found our pace and the fresh, chilly winter air felt wonderful to breathe in. By the time we reached the end of my road, the light snow had turned into big, heavy flakes and shortly after turning left onto the next road, the snow changed again to a mix of fluffy flakes and tiny snowballs.

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Light snow shortly after we turned onto the second road

I wasn’t sure how long of a walk we were going to take, but I enjoyed the tranquility of the snow and crispness of the air so much, we kept going right up the big hill. The snow got progressively heavier as we walked and the visibility became quite low, but as I was walking, I didn’t mind at all. It would’ve been a different story if I was driving, but when I’m walking I can see exactly where I’m going and don’t have to worry about my car tires slipping or sliding. My boots and Jazz’s booties had no problem keeping traction as the road and our bodies became coated with snow.

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A very snowy Jazzmin

When there weren’t any cars driving by, it was very calming listening to the falling snow. The air was still and the limited visibility from the heavy snowfall helped bring clarity to my mind, heart and spirit. Walking always helps recharge me and quiet my hectic mind as the fresh air fills my lungs and the exercise works my muscles. By the time we reached the top of the big hill my thighs were mostly frozen, my hair was coated with snow, my glasses were wet and foggy and Jazz wasn’t exactly thrilled to be covered in snow, but I was still smiling and she was still trotting along.

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Jazz trotting along

I’ve said this before but it still holds true, taking a walk when you’re down, confused, anxious or worried can do amazing things! It does amazing things when you’re feeling up too, but when your mood really needs a boost, get off your butt and walk! I know I’m glad I did and it helped remind me how resilient, strong, determined and amazing I am. With my pup beside me and a path before me, there’s nothing I can’t handle!

Have pup, must walk!

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When I first adopted Jazzmin four years ago, all I knew was that I wanted a dog. I figured a dog would be good company when I didn’t have my daughters and a dog would motivate me to walk more regularly. I had been walking almost every day that first year in my house until winter set in and I then lost all desire to venture out in the cold. But when I adopted Jazz, I didn’t rescue a dog, I rescued a pup.

I call her a pup because I think it’s as adorable as she is and because she has the seemingly limitless energy of a puppy. She was two (best guess by the shelter) and already well trained when I adopted her and knew sit, stay and shake. She was also crate trained which was perfect because at the time I worked away from home and had to leave for several hours a day.

The first night I had her home it was just me, her and the two cats I had at the time. Not knowing how good she was about letting me know when she needed to go out, I took her out a few times during the night despite the snow and cold of January. I quickly learned that she’s very good about telling me when she needs to answer nature and that she can make it all night without a problem.

It took me a while to figure out the right way to walk Jazzmin, but even as we were figuring that out, I walked her almost every day. It was obvious how much she loved walking and I didn’t want to deny her that pleasure, even in the cold. I bought her a fleece jacket and booties to help keep her warm and dry and we walked the roads around my house quite regularly.

I’ve kept up the regular walking of my pup Jazz for four years now and I don’t intend to stop. I have watched the Dog Whisperer and know that he suggests walking a dog daily to get their energy out. I don’t actually think it’s possible to get all of Jazz’s energy out, but I do at least try.

I think I owe it to Jazzmin and myself to walk as often as we can. It’s good for both of us as it’s great exercise and gets us out in the fresh air, even when that air has a wind chill in the single digits like it did today. There are some days we don’t walk because it’s too cold or too hot or I’m sick but otherwise, if I’ve got at least 15 minutes, I walk my pup. She doesn’t have the best concept of time so she forgets I’ve walked her shortly after we get home, but I know I’ve walked her and that makes me feel like a good pup Mama.

Although I’m not perfect and I don’t always walk Jazz for as long as experts recommend, I know she’s far better off than most of the dogs in my neighborhood. We rarely see other people walking their dogs, but we do hear the dogs barking at us from inside the confines of their home. Having a nice, safe, warm home is a wonderful thing for any dog and I’ve provided that for Jazzmin, but that’s not enough for me or her. When I rescued her, I committed to giving her a full, happy life and the best way to do that is to put paws to pavement and wiggle on down the road!

The first hill is the hardest

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I know the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, but that doesn’t mean I always eagerly look forward to getting off my butt and doing it. What matters though is that I do always eventually get my rear in gear and take my loyal pup Jazzmin for our daily walk.

Some days we take two short walks and some days we take one long walk. The other day we took a shorter walk than expected because of sudden rain and high winds.
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That walk turned into a partial run and if there’s one thing Jazz loves more than walking, it’s running. She may actually rank peanut butter above both those things or at least wish she could eat peanut butter while exercising, but I digress.

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Today was one of those days when I had trouble finding the motivation to exercise. It was somewhat chilly but the sun was out and there was really no reason to stay inside but I just felt kind of meh. I finally decided we would just walk down the road and back once I finished washing the dishes. Then a funny thing happened, when I was done with the dishes I realized that I wanted to take a longer walk and actually challenge myself.

Eager to take what I call the “short hilly walk” which is about 1.5 miles full of several small hills, I suited Jazz up in her backpack, put my sneaks on and off we went!

Now that I’d overcome my resistance to walking, I was faced with the challenge of the first hill of the walk. It isn’t even the biggest or steepest hill, but it’s right there after the first curve and walking up it feels harder than it should. However, I know from experience that once I conquer that first hill then the rest of them will be easier, even the taller ones.

Sure enough, we made it up the hill (it wasn’t a challenge for Jazz, I don’t think a mountain would be) and the rest of the walk felt great! Just like always, I was proud of myself for exercising and felt so much better because of it. Finding the motivation to exercise is just like walking up that first hill, it feels harder than it is but once I conquer it, I feel like I could go on and conquer the world.