Ride Your Road Trip, I’ll Be Fine at Home

How I hate a road trip. They all sound fun in theory, but I’ve been on enough adventures by automobile to know that the fun only lasts for a few miles and mostly occurs during the planning stage.

I come from the fly over states (and you can just keep on flyin’ over ’em, in my opinion) where the corn and soybeans grow and “good values” are treasured above all. Good values must be practiced, but that is another discussion that I won’t partake in for now. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Midwest.

I’ve traveled all over it; from the tippy top of Illinois to the tip-toe bottom of it. I have been to the Dells (not as lively as it once was) and lived in Minnesota for a few years (hell yes it’s cold. Why do you think I left?). We lived in Ohio for a short time when I was young but we didn’t fit in there. Indiana is a strange place where, only an hour or two from Chicago, they speak with a Southern accent. Iowans are somewhat ostracized from their neighbors, partly due to a perceived air of authority (don’t “come for me” over this, it’s really not worth arguing about).

There are huge differences in each of the states: what they believe in, what they eat, see, feel. I have traveled the South, too, where I often feel a sense of distrust and a fog of racism or racist ideology that is so thick a knife could cut it (again, don’t come for me. This is my thought process and some of my ideas that I’ve grown after my life experience and listening.) I don’t contend to know any answers. All I’m saying is, I’ve come to find that I’m always good where I’m at (Drake, are you influencing my writing?) and I don’t do road trips for fun anymore.

Illinois has its problems; I’ve read a lot about them. Indeed, I’m a hermit, so it wouldn’t really matter where I was. I try to find beauty in any land, in any people, in any word. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what Invent a Place might mean, what it means to me anyway. I literally (there’s that white girl in me!) try to see my own place as beautiful, so that I don’t have to hop in the car and road trip to anywhere else.

Some Pages From Some Books

I said that I would dive into my pile of new books by reading The Green Witch. I did glance at a few pages. But other books were calling my name with much more urgency. After settling the children for a nap, I found a place to read and decided to browse a few, rather than working to finish one. Some of the books I chose were new to me, some were comfortable members of my library. These are the pages I was able to read and the bits of information I was able to skim off the top.

First, I read a page on kudzu, from Leaves in Myth, Magic & Medicine by Alice Thoms Vitale. This book has always belonged to my grandmother and, not per her death (she is very much alive), has come to reside at my house, on my coffee table. I have loved (and envied the owner of) this book almost before I was sure of what a book even was.

Kudzu caught my eye in the index. I have always been intrigued by kudzu. Mostly for its name, but also for its reputation. I am from the North, so have never seen, touched, or pondered on the leaf of the invasive, fast-growing vine of the South in person. I have heard many times of kudzu, however, and am sure I have seen it draped along fences and small trees from the passenger seat as we travel the highways of Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas.

I discovered that there are many people, throughout the world, working to use the ‘mile-a-minute’ plant in innovative ways. The leaves are interesting, calming in a way. Now that I know its leaf, I think I would be able to identify it among many others (a personal goal of mine is to be able to identify many plants and trees by the leaf or stem or bark. My great grandmother was able to do this and, though I never met her, I want to know her by learning what she knew).

After the page on kudzu, I picked up the third edition of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. Maria Montessori is another idol of mine so I read anything with her name attached. I attended a private (pretty much the only kind) Montessori school ages 4 to 6 and during that time fell in love with learning and discovery. Montessori developed her own method, materials, and curricula after extensive research, observation, and work in various fields. She was a physician, a feminist, a speaker, a teacher, a writer. She was an incredible woman and I owe my outlook on learning to her hard work and brilliance.

Traditional public schools have many faults, as Lillard argues. The biggest being in their design and overarching view of children and how they learn. I do not agree with their style and have always felt pushed, roped in, or quieted in conventional American schools. My goal for the future is to teach Maria’s way, but I have much to learn. For now, I will simply gather the information that I need and prepare my casa for the bambini to learn in.

But to go to school in a summer morn,

O, it drives all joy away!

Under a cruel eye outworn,

The little ones spend the day

In sighing and dismay

Schoolboy by William Blake

On one of the first pages of Lillard’s book, I encountered this poem that embodies how I came to view school, after being introduced to the public school system in fourth grade (I skipped third grade and I make no motions to brag here. I usually forget this fact of my life and owe it to being taught to love learning, rather than an extraordinary intelligence).

Figure 1.1 The Casa dei Bambini today at the original location, at 58 Via dei Marsi near the University of Rome. Photograph by the author. (page 17 Lillard)

I also found this photo in that book, and was immediately charmed upon finding it. I would love to walk down this street and see where Montessori’s first experiment in teaching her methods took place.

Finally, when I had tired of educating myself, I pulled out a pen and circled (with many wobbly lines) some words in a book of word-finds with the theme of inspirational quotes. My second puzzle was a quote I thought I might share.

He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us,

but simply suggest it with a brief gesture,

a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air

along which we glide until we find ourselves

at the feet of the new truth.

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

I believe it is important to take a break often while studying (I have kids so there’s always a reason to stop) and think about other things. I like to use my hands while I think, and puzzle books always come in handy for decompressing. How strange that the words I circled were so meaningful (at least to me, at that time).

So, I will take Ortega Y Gasset’s advice and leave you on your trajectory. May it lead you to a pile of new books and some kind of new truth.

A Haul of Books

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

This past weekend was an especially relaxing time for me. I visited with family that I have not seen in years. We talked about old memories and did a lot of Saturday Things. Before parting, we exchanged gifts that we had been saving for each other. I was given some books that were sent to me by my younger sister from Minnesota (unfortunately, she stayed behind in the land of lakes).

Everyone that knows me knows that I am a writer. As a writer, I read. I read everything, from every source, good or bad. It hones my craft and I do enjoy it. My dear sister knows just what I like.

If you would like to follow along with me (we don’t actually have to read together, but each of these books are on interesting topics and might interest you as well) try Audible or pick up a hard copy from Amazon.

The book that I am most excited to peruse is The Green Witch. It contains chapters such as “Embrace Your Own Power”, “Attune Yourself to Nature”, and “Become a Natural Healer.” Make what you will of the “Witch” part; I can’t wait to practice.

You can find this hardcover here on Amazon. It’s quite a beautiful book and includes many “exercises” and “blessings.” I hope to share what I learn from this and the other books pictured above. I will have to carve out some time. If I can get a break from playing with the kids, weeding in the garden, putting books away, serving lunch and dinner, catching a TV show, listening to stories from my mother and grandmother, writing a few thoughts….

P.S. If you read, or have read, any of the above, let me know what you think! I get tired of talking to myself. 🙂

Trashy TV is the TV for Me

I don’t often watch television. Every few years the cable goes off for a year or two because it’s not a necessity for us. I am rarely interested in weekly drama or comedy shows. I prefer to watch reality TV. From documentaries such as DiCaprio’s Before The Flood, or The Great British Baking Show, to MTV’s The Challenge and an old favorite, Forensic Files. While watching other fiction TV shows (and I realize there are scripts in all of the above shows), I often lose myself in my analyses of the writers’ dialogue and plots. I find that life has a way with words that cannot be emulated.

When I am not feeling my best, mentally or physically, I like to turn on a “trashy TV show,” as my mother calls them. I like to watch others struggle to find answers or cooperate with people that are different from them. I like to think that I can learn a lot from the mistakes or triumphs of the people on these TV shows.

Whether I am absorbing valuable information or not, I relax when I watch reality TV. Sometimes I get up from the couch feeling refreshed, knowing more about myself than I did when I sat down. There is value in forgetting what you know and watching others display their mental and physical talents.

From The Great British Bake-off I have learned that competition can be friendly, and a soggy bottom is enemy number one in the kitchen. From Before the Flood I learned that there is reason to be optimistic, but solutions must be worked out now. From MTV’s The Challenge, I have learned a lot about team-building and how difficult running through a desert can be. And of course, you can pick up a lot from Forensic Files, one tip being to lock your doors at all times.

Whatever you learn, it’s okay to watch reality TV. Some may call it “trashy,” or “depressing” in the case of climate change documentaries, but I find a value in this kind of entertainment. Often, I simply zone out for a little bit, but once in a while I pick up a gem.

Saturday Things

Hopefully you don’t work on Saturday, but we don’t all have that luxury. If you don’t have Saturdays, pick another day when you’re free and do one of these things alone or with your family. I like to save money, and use my creativity when thinking of fun things to do on the weekends.

Now, there are tons of girly things to do on Saturdays, but I rarely get a pedicure or manicure. I don’t have my hair done or anything of the sorts. That’s just me. I’m a very cheap person and don’t particularly like to do those things. If pampering is your go-to Saturday thing, who am I to judge? There is a value in taking care of yourself this way. I prefer to do the following things on Saturdays.

Sleep in a little bit. I just can’t help it. My husband is home on Saturday mornings and is an early riser. He and the kids let me sleep a little later on Saturdays.

Bird watch! Even today I have seen a blue bird (a very different bird than the blue jay, and much more difficult to find) and two hummingbirds fighting over territory. Birds are all around us and are surprisingly entertaining to watch. Many predatory birds also live in my area and I have several great stories about these bird sightings.

Talk to some pretty flowers

Take an easy walk around the neighborhood. I would avoid doing this midday, as it can be hot and uncomfortable at this time. The morning is the best time, but not always achievable. If you are a late riser, take your walk at dusk but don’t forget bug spray or light colored clothing. Don’t leave pups at home, they deserve a nice Saturday, too.

Listen to the radio. I love listening to NPR on Saturday mornings.

Paint something with your little ones, or by yourself.

Have a pic-nic in your backyard, or pack up the family and head to a National Park. Don’t forget to include water, supplies for babies if you have them, sunscreen, and a thick blanket for sitting on. Bug spray will probably be necessary here, too. Get creative in what lunches you pack.

My kids are too small, so we don’t go to the pool or lake. We play in the hose, which my garden loves.

Another thing I like to do on a Saturday is go through my paper bills. They pile up inside of an antique secretary’s desk in my living room. I shred old bills myself and take them to the compost pile. I doubt many people would be willing to dig through rotten food to see my statements from the electric company. I even remove the plastic windows from envelopes and shred those, too. This might not sound fun to you, but if you’re getting behind on things during the week, Saturdays are great for catching up on seemingly small, irritating chores.

Visit the farmer’s market! Here, the farmer’s market meets on Saturday mornings and is a fun place to visit. There are always a lot of people and things to look at, and you can stock up on some organic vegetables, pretty flowers, or interesting, handmade goods at the farmer’s market. Different vendors come on different Saturdays, so it’s good to make this a part of your routine.

Cook something, of course, but keep it light. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen on Saturdays wears me down. An easy sandwich or salad can do the trick. Don’t forget the lemonade if it’s hot out.

Knock out old projects. I always have pictures to hang or compost to turn and Saturdays are a good day to work on these tasks.

Read a book with your family. Start your own book club and meet with your children on Saturday afternoons around snacks to discuss their books.

Saturdays can be anything you make them, with lots of fun things to do. The things that I do on Saturday don’t cost much, if anything. Shopping, brunch, or the movies are fun ways to spend the weekend also, but can cost more than we would like. Alternate your weekends, spending money this Saturday, and staying at home the next. Whatever you decide to do, invite your family or friends and be as creative as you can.

The Conversion of A Night Owl

The night, la nuit, la noche. It is one of the best times to be alive. Ask any nocturnal creature and you will be told that the night is a special time. La luna, my son’s favorite spectacle, appears in the night, to quiet us all with her loving glow. I, being a night owl from birth, love to stay awake with the moon, and the beasts of the dark, and my solitude. But life has a way of making small changes in our lives without notice. I am no longer a creature of the night. I have been converted.

Indeed, all of the hours have their merits. 9:00 a.m. is a wonderfully productive time, while 9:00 p.m. is a stern, but understanding hour. The ten’o’clock hours are equally cheerful, while noon and midnight are mischievous. I like to be awake all of the time, and usually wake from a nap feeling as though I have missed something. You might call it a joie de vivre; I call it the luck of the twenties mixed in with the screams of young children. In any case, I don’t sleep very much and my affections for the later hours are waning.

Now I wake with the birds and the sun. It is an optimal time to water flowers and vegetables, and coffee has an especially enticing smell at 6:00 in the morning. All is quiet, bathed in soft blue light, patiently waiting for sleepers to rise. I don’t usually beat both kids out of bed, but it is still a peaceful time. I am not exactly sure how this transition began but I have a few ideas on what has happened.

Obviously, having kids doesn’t give me much lazing about time but in the beginning, I found myself staying up way too late and dreading getting up for the baby. This wasn’t fair to either of us, but it continued for a while. Kids will wake you up, however, so I haven’t slept until noon since before my first pregnancy (this doesn’t count mid-morning naps, which I have succumbed to from utter lack of energy). Having two children has been the biggest factor in my conversion from night owl to earliest bird.

It is an ongoing process, however, because a love for the night is a personality trait of mine. I have found a few things that help me to rise earlier, including making my bed, cleaning the kitchen before bed, and eating throughout the day rather than before sleep (a terrible habit of my husband’s. He often eats another helping right before bed and later complains of an uncomfortable “full” feeling.)

I am a reluctant cook, and no expert on nutrition, but I have strong opinions on what I eat and what I feed the people in my house. Breakfast requires coffee (more than two cups), cereal, nuts, and other grains should be snacked on throughout the day, fruit and sugars are delicious, dairy is dangerous but heart-warming, chicken is okay, and red meats or seafood are to be avoided.

I’m not a vegetarian or vegan (by any means!), but I carry with me many videos of animal abuse at the hands of the farmers that feed us. I no longer eat pork, and don’t choose beef on my own. I can’t change my husband’s tastes (or yours), so beef is often a main course when he is home. I also love a perfectly seared, slightly pink steak, but abuse is not appetizing, so red meat turns my stomach. I must add here that I do (rarely) purchase nitrate-free bacon from the co-op. I have talked to the farmer though, and am confident that she cares for the pigs properly and with dignity.

My opinion on seafood is this: it is disgusting. The ocean is littered, full of who-knows-what, and I am not interested in chewing on shrimp. The textures of the ocean appall me and I don’t think it’s healthy (shrimp has a ton of cholesterol). I would never eat anything that slithers on my plate or is cut from a helpless animal, no matter how worthless they may seem (shark-fin soup you disgust me!). But my point in talking about my views on food is this: it matters what you eat and I feel less weighted when I stick to things that come from the ground. Jumping up in the morning is easier when your stomach is not focused on the tacos, pizza, or hamburgers you ate at 11:30 p.m. I have no designs for a new diet plan, I only caution that you pay attention to yourself.

This brings me to alcohol. Skip it if you want to get up early. I drink occasionally, but it’s just not fun anymore. I have my own kids so I won’t parent you, but I’ve learned from experience that hangovers are not conducive to being my best in the morning.

These days, I’m trying to make my bed more often (there’s more of a finality to it when you climb into a made bed at the end of the day), and clean up my kitchen before heading off to sleep. The day has been reset when I close up my kitchen for the night and I feel ready for an early morning.

If you need to leave quickly the next day, make your coffee the night before (don’t turn the pot on obviously, just get it ready), organize your papers, and try to fix your hair. I have a big issue with my hair so it’s something I attend to the night before for days that require a decent appearance (I’m practically a hermit). If you have kids, don’t even think about going to bed until you have their things ready.

If you really want to change your schedule, change your outlook on time. Instead of damning the hour, appreciate what it brings. Each hour goes by quicker than the one before it, so find something in each to love. Whether you watch shadows with the owls or smile at the morning dew with robins, sleep when you can, enjoy the time we have, and wake up to live it.

The Luckiest Dog: A Fortuna Update

Lucky indeed, was the female German Shepherd we surrendered earlier this year. I recently received word of her progress and am pleased to report that she has improved greatly, with the help of Maddy Holden, her new foster mom. Fortuna has been attending training sessions with Maddy, hiking on trails, and meeting new people with a newfound, canine friend.

Her reactive episodes of barking and growling are over and she can walk calmly on the lead beside other dogs. She can perform a multitude of obedience tasks including heal, stay, down stay, and sit stay.

Fortuna is just as pretty as ever and her true curiosity is shining through. One day she will be leaving Maddy, to find a forever home. For now, she’s gaining important skills and becoming more comfortable with herself and the world we live in.

All photo and video credit goes to Maddy Holden. Thank you again for all of your hard work.

The Story About a Dog Named Fortuna

In February of 2018, I lost my beloved Bull Terrier named Isabella. She had come into my life when I was thirteen and left me when I was twenty-five, married with two kids. She had seen me through all of my milestones, had followed me to every new apartment in Minnesota, to the motel in Arkansas. She helped me welcome my firstborn. We were so close we breathed in sync sometimes. But at 12 years of age, tumors in her mammary glands were destroying her and she no longer had much will to continue living. We hired a local vet to come to our house and euthanize her. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life and some days I still don’t feel whole. I have her ashes now in a box in my closet. I am looking for the perfect urn for her. But that’s not my story today. This story is about the lucky dog that came after her. The lucky dog named Fortuna.

Bella was not my first dog, though she was the first dog that I handled and finished in conformation dog shows. I trained her with the help of several mentors in the dog world and she became Champion Crescent Silmaril’s Quixotic. As a small girl, I helped my mother raise and sell two litters of American Bulldogs. Right before I got Bella, as proof of my responsibility and resolve, I helped rehab a Cocker Spaniel, obedience and house training her so that she was able to move to a forever home. I have some experience with dogs. In fact, I’ve never lived without one. My mother’s Westie, Bella’s oldest friend, is sitting at my feet as I type. Working with dogs, I learned some important life skills: responsibility, professionalism, loyalty, compassion. But Fortuna taught me more than the rest of our old companions combined.

After Bella was gone, I grieved in a strange way. I drank a little too much, argued with my father, and gave up on my studies. Then, I convinced my husband and mother (she lives with us) to cough up money for a German Shepherd puppy that we’d spotted in the newspaper. “We need a new puppy in the house,” I claimed. “It will help me remember Bella.” Though my husband was not ready for another dog, he was enchanted by the idea of owning a German Shepherd. He likes the breed but has little knowledge of it. I thought I knew enough. So we got the puppy. We named her Fortuna.

She was a beautiful dog but was under socialized and awfully scared. We thought we could easily build her confidence by taking her to the dog park, travelling to see family with her, etc. Joey, the Westie, seemed to help her settle in. Everything was more difficult than we anticipated, however. Fortuna, named after the little girl from Spirit: Riding Free on Netflix, was acting very aggressive and scaring everyone in our neighborhood with her barking. I was terrified she would hurt someone. I soon found out I was pregnant with our second child. My son was only two years old. Fortuna made me nervous but I thought it was due to my own shortcomings.

This is Fortuna as a young dog, sitting in one of my garden boxes. She had to be chained because she would leap over and out of the yard to run after squirrels.
This is Fortuna as a young dog, sitting in one of my garden boxes. She had to be chained because she would leap over and out of the yard to run after squirrels.

Indeed, I was not doing my best for Fortuna. I was tired in my first trimester. Extremely so. I didn’t walk her like I should have. I didn’t get the training done. This is not to say that Fortuna was not well cared for. We loved her and wanted her to be a part of the family. So we contacted some training professionals and sought their help. They explained that she was fearful and possessive; not a good combo. We started working on some small obedience tasks. I had the baby and Fortuna seemed to improve. I was feeling pretty good.

Fortuna soon decided her own fortune.

As I was standing in my laundry room, sorting laundry, my son talking a mix of Spanish and English to me at my side, Fortuna sidled in. Now in my house, for a time, there was a rule about being in the laundry room with Fortuna at the same time. The door could not be closed, the baby could not be in the room, and food could not be out. Fortuna would freak out in that room, we don’t know why. I broke my own damn rule. Fortuna freaked out. At my son. She growled and snapped at him. I grabbed her throat and shoved her backward out of the room. I walked her right to the kennel and slammed the door behind her. My baby was crying. I chalked it up to my irresponsibility and tried to be more vigilant until I could speak to my mother face to face. I knew we had a problem. My mother arrived back home some days later.

The night my mother arrived at my house, we sat on the porch, catching up. We talked about the dogs, the kids, and the garden. I held Fortuna’s leash firmly at my side, occasionally correcting her with her pincher collar. Suddenly, the French door swung open upon my dining room and Sergio burst out onto the porch. Before he could shout “¡Abue!” Fortuna leaped into the air growling towards my son. If she had been loose….well, I try not to think “What if?”.

I kept Fortuna in the kennel for a while thereafter except for walks or feeding times. When she was outside, no one else was allowed outside. I called the professionals the next day. They offered me a few names of shelters but all were full. I called the Humane Society and they said I could bring her in. I wanted rid of her. I couldn’t look at her the same and it was beyond irresponsible to keep her at this point. She was dangerous.

When I took her to the Humane Society I was turned away. She scared the volunteers working that day and I would have to wait until someone with more experience was there to bring her in. They didn’t have high hopes for her and I was sobbing when I left. I called another number they gave me. A voicemail was all I got.

I felt like a failure when I brought that dog home. I had failed my children by having a dangerous dog in the house. I had failed the dog by letting her confidence issues get out of control. And I had literally failed at getting rid of her. So I would wait another two days, I thought. I walked Fortuna and put her in the kennel for the night. She looked at me like I was a traitor.

The next morning went as usual. Everyone was kept at a safe distance from each other. I was on high alert. Until I received a text from a girl that said she worked at the professional boarding and training facility that I had sought advice from. She wanted to give Fortuna a chance but already owned a male dog. I said I would give her some money towards the spaying. We agreed to meet at 3:00 p.m. that day. I readied Fortuna’s things and her food. The girl arrived.

“Thank you so much. I’m so glad she’s going to someone who will know exactly what she needs,” I said after we had talked about Fortuna and she had introduced herself (with some barking and growling on the part of the German Shepherd) to the dog. She was not afraid and knew what she was doing. She took control immediately of Fortuna and led her to her car where she left her in her kennel with the car’s hatch open. We stood and talked some more.

“Do you want to know the main reason I was so interested in Fortuna?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, do you know what Fortuna means?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied and explained that we speak Spanish at home and that my son loved the show on Netflix about the girl and her horse.

“Well, one side of my family is Italian. And in Italian Fortuna means lucky too. That part of my family also raised German Shepherds and the craziest part is their last name is Fortuna!”

I couldn’t believe it. But it saved her life. And it taught me to follow your rules. “No big dogs around little faces,” my mother says. It also taught me to do your due diligence but know when to throw in the towel. I thought I knew enough but you can never know enough.

This experience even taught me the importance of properly grieving for someone you’ve lost. I never should have tried to replace Isabella because she is irreplaceable. Each dog is unique in personality and needs. I’ve also learned that dogs are great but kids ALWAYS come first.

Ironically, I learned, above all, the power of a good, lucky name.