Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Astride Abroad: A Guide to Ride While in the Foreign Service

The first time I lived outside the U.S. was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college.  One day the girl down the hall in my dorm asked if I wanted to spend the summer in England in a student work-exchange program and without much thought, I said "Why not?!".   With work permits in our passports, we started looking for jobs in London.  She immediately landed a good job at a French restaurant, but I struggled a bit to find anything I liked and finally ended up moving 90 minutes away into the countryside to Oxford.  With a room in a boarding house to stay in and a rented bike to get me around, I settled into life in the university town.  I found a day job in a pub called "The Grapes" serving Ploughman's lunches to business people and an evening job at a pub called "The Horse and Jockey" serving pints to college kids; it was a nice situation.  

But I soon started to look for something to do in my free time.  It didn't take long before I found a small stable nearby and started riding lessons. The lessons were taught out in a field with no excuses or accommodations made for the rugged terrain or poor weather, and because we were in England - we jumped.  I was still quite nervous about jumping, but this was the British Pony Club way, so this was what we did.  Their method was a practical and direct "off you go now" which was very different from the cautious, explanatory pace I was hoping for, but it opened my eyes to different styles of riding and pushed my comfort zone just enough.

Since that time many years ago, I've ridden in ten other countries.  Some of it has involved proper instruction (Portugal, Germany, Colombia), some has been over hill and dale (South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Faroe Islands, Switzerland) or a mixture of the two (Romania, Ireland).  It seems that those of us with horses in our blood will find a way to swing a leg over a saddle, regardless of where we find ourselves.  This fact became crystal clear to me about a month ago when I posed the question "Where have you ridden?" on a Facebook group geared to Foreign Service families. Within an hour I received dozens of responses and by the end of the weekend - closer to one hundred. Seeing how this topic caught fire, I decided to compile the responses into a list of riding opportunities people have found while posted abroad.  Clearly this is NOT an exhaustive list of all that is available, but my goal is to give folks an idea of what may be possible.  To those who are serious about keeping up with their own or their kids' riding, the topic can be a make-or-break criteria in bidding on a new post, so I want to offer this resource of our collective experiences.

I've grouped the responses by State Department regional bureau. Some bureaus are scant on information and I could use your help. If you'd like to add to this list, please submit a comment with some good details below.  Good pictures, too!

(I apologize for the formatting which went wonky in a few places.  I've tried multiple times to correct it, to no avail.  Sorry!)

So let's go!

Heading out with an Argentinian gaucho 
Bureau: Western Hemisphere (WHA)

My kids ride Western here in Hermosillo, México. They are in lessons at a local ranch/barrel racing school,  SASCH escuela de barriles. 

I rode in Jumpers competitively in Mexico and now in Argentina. In both places I was able to ride six days per week. Both countries have excellent, accessible facilities (for Mexico - GDL, CDMX, and MTY all superb) and offer frequent shows. I leased a horse in Monterrey but it was a constant battle with the horse club commandos. I found that if you're looking to jump 1.20m or greater, it becomes cost effective to buy as leasing anything of quality, if even possible, is obscenely expensive. Riding is an investment: board in Buenos Aires is comparable to a nice barn in the States but showing costs are lower. 

My oldest son took riding lessons in Buenos Aires. Housing in suburbs is near a few equestrian clubs and there is a huge horse culture from casual riding to horse racing to polo.

My daughter learned the basics in Honduras and became a serious competitor in age level jumpers in Brasilia and in Buenos Aires. She had good trainers in both places. We eventually bought horses and even moved one from Brasilia to BA to the US when she went to college. And she still has the horse now as an adult.

La Paz! Two great riding schools and beautiful riding club! It’s possible to compete as well and rent your own horse for 200$ a month and ride as much as you want!

There is a polo pony group here in Merida that teaches children riding and caring for the ponies.

Lots of Embassy folks (my family too) ride here in El Salvador, close to the Embassy/housing and pretty inexpensive.

I rode in Bogota, Colombia at a military stables in group lessons.  The grounds were beautiful, the horses were mostly Argentinian. The lessons were in Spanish, and taught by a high-ranking military man, therefore they were quite structured in a "ride" style (the riders are one after another along the rail and perform simultaneous maneuvers).  It was in the middle of the city and not very expensive. 

My daughter has taken English riding lessons here in Panamá. About $40/private lesson. She just does it as a hobby so we are a bit sporadic. Lessons in English, Spanish and French. She has never had a chance to learn to groom a horse. Someone from the stable does that. 

Every post....except Iraq and Afghanistan. In Benin, my first post, my husband bought me a horse for a wedding present! I focus on dressage. Owned a Mr. Prospector grandson in India. This is my current pal (pictured below), a Kinsky, in Haiti.

Bureau: Europe (EUR)

My son took riding lessons in Florence, just biking distance from the consulate. It was English, he took a group lesson but I believe they also had private lessons and it seemed like older people were practicing on their own in the afternoons. The barns were quite well taken care of and spacious. There were different areas for what I perceived at public and private horses. There were at least 5 practice rings and a beautiful covered competition area. The instructor was a woman who was a tornado of energy. She was tough and I think more patient with my son (language barrier) than with most kids. She moved them into competition after a year or so. I don’t know if that’s typical. It was all in Italian, no English spoken there at all. I do not remember the cost. I think it was reasonable. It was a positive experience for my son who was having a very hard time adjusting to life there and school.

Just outside of Bucharest, I found a nice stable (large indoor and outdoor arenas) with an instructor named Izabela.  She has a number of school horses from beginner to highly advanced in both dressage and show jumping.  I took weekly lessons and she was always encouraging me to ride more often.  Some families leased one of her horses and the lessons were included and she had many teen riders who were competing with her up to at an international level.  Her horses are incredible and she is very low-key, affordable and friendly.  Although we often shared the arena with many other riders, Izabela is NOT a high-pressure, elitist type instructor and is extremely knowledgeable.  She can teach in English, French, Romanian and Hungarian.  Across the highway from her barn is another competitive show jumper place. 

Instructor Izabela and Tabbies In Tow author near Bucharest
My daughter did regular riding lessons (English) in Ankara, Turkey (first at the Germany Embassy and then with a Turkish riding club) and they did everything, including hunt jump.  It is my understanding that the place out by Emir Golu closed, so the German Embassy is still best.  Is the Colonel still there (he was wonderful)?  I know there are a few who are doing it now, at the German Embassy, we loved it. The Turkish riding club was much more permissive in what they allowed (my seven year old was allowed to jump), which was fun, but not particularly ... um, safe or appropriate.  Switch to Tallinn, Estonia and it was a much more regimented, serious endeavor that did not fit our lifestyle as she was not doing to get into the Olympics.  

My daughter had a few lessons in Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou) and now rides here in Dublin at The Paddocks 

I took lessons in London (I’ve ridden sporadically my whole life).  English, obviously, and the barn I used didn’t have a ring or an arena; all of the riding was on Wimbledon Common.  I had several non-consulate expat friends who rode regularly in Milan.  Horseback riding was also offered as an after-school activity for certain grade levels at ASM.

My daughter has been taking lessons here in Istanbul. It has been hit and miss. She has taken lessons mostly in the U.S. at camps, private stables and with Ren Faire jousters (yes, you read that right) but this place has been her least favorite. I know that there is an elite riding team and very posh facilities/owners accommodations but my impression is that it is really beyond our price point and the elite riders (even teens) own elite horses. We currently pay about $40 per hour. My daughter feels that the lesson horses (mostly stallions) are used to a rather firm hand. The instructors always want her to wear spurs and use a crop. This makes her uncomfortable as she has always had instructors in the past encourage students to develop relationships with their mount. Some of her trepidation has to do with the language barrier. They seem to run the lesson program rather loosely. Show up and ride. They have all levels riding at once from first time on a lunge to cantering around the ring. They also just bring her a horse and take it back when she is done. She enjoys grooming so this was a bit of a disappointment, We are looking into other facilities, but it is hard to find something that isn't too far afield. This place is about 2 miles from the Consulate and walkable from several of the residences.

My 10 year old rides (Berlin) but the stable is small and it’s more therapeutic riding, she and I both rode in Brasilia.  (Next commenter: She’s at Onkel Tom’s Hutte, right?) I tried the Grunewald one; the instructor was sweet but the other students were not friendly at all.  Plus the lessons were less rigorous.

In Danes, Romania (near Sighisoara in Transylvania) my husband and I stayed a weekend at a picturesque and very family-oriented inn and riding stable called Domeniul Dracula Danes.  The owner brought a trainer in from Spain and they have an awesome indoor arena.  We went out with a guide and rode deep into the Romanian forests, stopped for a beer in a country inn – it was lovely!

Pristine grounds of Domeniul Dracula, Danes Romania

Transylvania is more than just Dracula!
I ride 5-6 nights a week on a leased horse here in Cyprus and have been able to compete in some lower level jumping competitions (1.10/1.15 meters).  I rode seriously as a junior and had almost 10 years of no riding at all before we came here. It has been absolutely life changing!

We have a few riding camps / lessons here in Sarajevo. They're beautifully located and offer riding for kids and adults. They also have camps (day and overnight) in the summer and winter.

I rode competitively through college (hunter/jumper/eventing). I found a nice barn in Moscow, though location without a car and language proved difficult. I also found solid riding programs for my kids while England and Austria.

Both my kids took riding lessons 5 mins from the American school in Warsaw.  They were also right next to a forest and had trail riding.  Price was extremely reasonable.  This was 10+ years ago, I hope it’s still there.

We rode at the Hippodrome in Serbia and Sophia was her coach. Reasonable, close by and low key.

My daughter competed (dressage) in the Netherlands and now will compete (show jumping) in the Czech Republic. We bought a horse for her here in Prague. There are many stables, but not many nearby that do lessons without your own horse. So her sister and mom are hoping to start riding here soon too, since we found excellent trainers and can keep our own horse more cheaply than in the U.S. Manege de Prinsenstad in the Netherlands and Jezdecké centrum Zájezd in Czech Republic. 

My girls took lessons in Mexico in two different places (English style). There are plenty of opportunities to ride in Mexico. In Madrid they also took riding and jumping lessons and competed. There are some really nice stables in Humera, Pozuelo (Madrid).

My girls are not with me in Rome but there's a riding club near our apartment and another one in Borghese Park.

Bureau: Africa (AF)

My daughter rides competitively here in Lusaka, both show jumping and eventing. She rides three to five times a week but would love to do it every day. Eminently reasonable training prices and livery.

My son (age 5) has been riding here in Yaoundé for the past year and just this month I started as well after not getting on a horse in close to 30 years.

I’ve ridden in Yaoundé, Tallinn, Dublin, Islamabad, and now Beirut (and soon Zagreb). I did eventing as a kid/teenager and them started again in Yaoundé and got interested in dressage. I bought a mare while I was in Tallinn and had her with me in Dublin and then in the US but sadly had to euthanize her this past fall. I agree 100% that the FEI website has been the most useful thing in helping to find good places to ride.

My daughter took riding lessons at her school here in Pretoria, SA. They trailer in horses every Monday for the younger kids.  Therapeutic Horse Riding in Pretoria. 

My son took lessons in Ethiopia in 2014-15 at the stables in Old Airport. It wasn't pricey but the accommodations were basic.

Just rode today at Beka Ferda Ranch outside of Addis Ababa. A bit of a ride to get there, but worth a look.  They have a website.

I don't ride but my daughter grew up riding in Zambia, Madagascar and Kenya--all different experiences with different levels of teaching, horses and competition.

Club Hippique in Bamako was surprisingly nice.

(Riding was) pretty much all my daughter did in Niamey, Niger

My daughter learned to ride in Uganda at Flametree Stables, just outside Kampala.  Great experience and solid foundation.  Then we moved to Senegal where the riding scene is very French and she had a difficult time, but I know someone who leased a horse there and had a great time.  There are two stables in Dakar and they hold regular competitions.

Tsamadhi here in Maputo, Mozambique is very nice, my kids have been riding there 2 years now. They do kids camps, teach horse care as well as riding, host small competitions, and lease horses.

Bureau: East Asia Pacific (EAP)

There is an equestrian center in Chaeng Wattana, Bangkok. But there is also a good school at the Polo Club just blocks from the embassy in town. 

Our daughter is involved in a riding charity called JustWorld. They have projects in Cambodia, Honduras, and Guatemala providing education, nutrition, and other basic needs to impoverished children.

Bureau: Near Eastern (NEA)

I rode at Saife Stables while posted in Amman, Jordan years ago. Rode up until I was 4 months pregnant with my second child: one day I got bucked off but somehow landed on my feet! I promptly did the George Costanza “Thanks, I’m DONE!” and gave it up out of safety concerns until after the kiddo was born. 

Gezira sporting Club in Cairo does horseback riding. I haven't ridden here, sadly, since I just haven't had time to go, but I know a few mission members do go to ride. I have heard nothing but good things.

I rode all the time in Egypt! I loaned out my own horse (actually 4, 2 died and one went lame) all Arabian Stallions. I rode near the pyramids 2-4 times a week.

I rode there (Gezira Sporting Club) when I was in Cairo, and was happy. There are some lovely places to ride in Giza, and some horrible places too; lots of sad, skinny horses.

I rode extensively in Jordan, trained horses and competed. I also started a lesson program while there through a local club. It was easy to get approval- Jordan is a very friendly and fun place to ride. You have to take some things with a grain of salt, but there are several clubs and only a few trainers I’d recommend.

Our daughter took English riding lessons over her summer break in Morocco (Rabat). She was in college at the time (a member of her college riding team) and an accomplished rider. We had to be sponsored by a local national (several local staff at the embassy had horses at the royal stables and were gracious enough to sponsor us). Lessons were purchased in a block and we spoke with the trainer to agree upon a weekly time for our daughter to ride. We insisted on private lessons after watching a few of the group lessons at the stables. Lessons were done in French so we made our daughter a French-English cheat sheet that she kept in her breeches. Also, my husband and I were there and could help translate for our daughter who spoke very little French. It was interesting!

Rabat has the most beautiful riding facility at Complexe Equestre Dar Es Salam. And shockingly cheap too!
I believe there were at least two, possible three or more riding facilities in Kuwait.

You can even ride in Islamabad at the Islamabad Riding Club which is an approved venue to go to.

I’ve enjoyed riding at all of my posts except Baghdad (where I’m sure you can ride but not so much in the Green Zone). Mostly long trail rides but some lessons too. It’s a wonderful way to meet people as well as discover the landscape. I will never forget my weekly sunset Med gallops on the beach in Gammarth, Tunisia!

Bureau: South Central Asia (SCA)

Delhi. I bought a horse right off the track....there is a private stable just next door. Children’s riding stable. There are also horses at the army base.

I’ve done regular lessons (2-3 times per week) in Moscow, Mumbai, Canberra, and Washington, DC (where I had my own chestnut horse).  I’m working on getting lessons set up here in Germany, but haven’t found the right situation yet. I do mostly hunter/jumper, but also dressage.

Yes, there are several stables here in Tashkent. I think only Russian-speaking, but you'll be able to set it up no problem. The zoo also offers pony rides and camel photo ops! 

General references and some VERY dedicated horse people's advice:

The FEI website ( is a good starting point. From there you can find links to National Federation (NF) websites for specific countries. Quality of NF websites are hit or miss (the French site, is quite good, the Horse Association of Kenya, HAK is not as good, but that is also a reflection of resourcing in those two countries). But generally you can find links to riding clubs, information on licensing requirements, safety information and national regulations, and a whole host of other information. 

Also interesting is getting involved as an official. The reason I’m an FEI official today is a “Can’t beat ‘em - join ‘em” story. Not so interesting for me was going to horse shows and watching round after round of horses in the arena. So I got involved, first as a recorder, then as a National Judge, and then convinced the Federation to send me to an FEI course in Jo’burg. Several years later, I’m on “Hey, good to see you again” terms with all the top international riders. 

Riding was a huge part of our FS experience as our daughters grew up overseas. They were competitive riders, jumping in national and even international competitions in several countries. We even shipped a couple of horses here and there. And funny thing -- I was never a rider, in fact, I was actually afraid of horses most of my life. They rode in Turkey, Uruguay, Croatia, El Salvador and Austria.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Life on Four Legs

This was me, maybe nine years old in Sonoma, CA on my sister's horse "Silky Penny." But this isn't where this story starts; it starts as far back as I have memories. I have always loved horses and have been riding since I was about six when a sister popped me up on a cantankerous Shetland Pony named "Whiskey Pete" at the barn where she hung out after school. Despite being on a lunge line, he still managed to bolt away from her, jumping over a fallen-over bicycle to escape the pen we were using. I can't say that was when I learned to ride, per se, but certainly where I learned how to hang on for the ride. In those days, every book I read was horse-themed, every drawing had four legs and hooves and every present on Santa's list made by Breyer.  I wanted to be a jockey when I grew up and at about nine, learned how to muck stalls and roll bandages in the shed rows of Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows when staying with my oldest sister during her years as a race track groom. 

With my beloved "Sparky," a middle sister and her "Ginger", and you already met "Silky."
My father lived in the country with plenty of open land, so the horse collection grew to three. From then on every summer and every-other weekend - regardless of the weather - was spent traversing the hills and town of Sonoma.  As we took off down the drive, Dad shouted that we had to wear our helmets (we did, until out of sight of the house where we promptly ditched them in the bushes) and be home for dinner.  My sisters were four and six and ten years older and eventually grew out of their horse passions to follow other pursuits, but I didn't.  Down the road were good friends with their own horses and those who didn't have their own rode my sisters' horses.  This incredible independence also taught us to be responsible and sharpened our problem-solving skills. Like the time we had to extricate Ginger from a hidden wire fence she'd tangled herself in... miles from home... when we were twelve.

Even moving to Manhattan to study at New York University didn't stop my riding. Weeks after classes started freshman year, I joined the brand-new NYU Equestrian Team and served all four years as the co-captain.  This was the first time I'd had proper, structured lessons and our somewhat less-than-patient French-Israeli coach, when not throwing small objects at us, did his best to shape my bareback wild country style into something called equitation.  He took me from this:

With Ginger. 

Sparky and our back-yard horsemanship were no match for the fancy show barn riders. 

To this...

NYU Intercollegiate Equestrian Team scores blues in a team hunters class. 

At the Intercollegiate National Stock Seat Championship.
A year after NYU found me unenthusiastic about a full-time city girl job. Living in NYC was expensive and I just wasn't ready to put my foot on that first rung of the ladder.  Instead, I got hired long-distance to be a wrangler at a guest ranch in northern Colorado.  I got on the plane with my small collection of western wear and spent the next few years working ranches in the summer and ski resorts in the winter.  Wasn't a bad way to live. 

"Jingling" in the herd each morning at the Home Ranch. 

In front of Mt. Wilson, near Telluride, CO. 
It was here, at the request of the guests who wanted to get more out of their ranch vacations than just holding onto the saddle horn, that I tried my hand at instructing.  The monosyllabic cowboys were happy to have someone else deal with the greenhorns, so I stepped into the middle of the arena and did my best to explain what I'd mostly figured out on my own over the years.  After two summers of this, I decided that if I was going to be telling folks what to do - I'd better know what I was doing. 

Two years and one degree in Equine Studies later - I took the plunge to become a full time riding instructor.  My coursework covered all aspects of barn management, equine health, nutrition, breeding and riding theory and I learned more in those few years than I had in my previous 25 years, and the Dressage-based training changed my riding trajectory forever.  It led to an extremely fulfilling career as a riding instructor lasting 12 years. 

First Dressage show on "Virtues and Vices" in Spokane, WA

My students get rewarded for their efforts.
During this time, I collected my own two horses: Gold Trimmings and Babe.  They were former school horses at the riding academies where I'd worked and became my best friends for many years (besides the cats that is!).

The love of my equine life, Gold, being shown by my teenage student.

My sweet Thoroughbred mare Babe takes good care of my soon-to-be step daughter on her first lesson.

Babe with my little niece and nephew. 

All this time, I saw other professional trainers around me seeking advanced-level, or just plain wealthy, clients who could provide them opportunities to compete at increasingly higher levels and on fancier horses. I'm not a competitive person in that respect, and had no interest in elbowing others to snatch up clients. Instead, I'd always been drawn towards teaching basics and plain good horsemanship to whomever wanted it. For my young students, the riding was as more about life lessons than anything else. The  competitions we took part in were for fun where the goal was the learning and the conversation with between horse and rider. To continue my own education, I took trips to Portugal and Germany to ride with trainers on the types of horses I didn't have access to at home.  

The biggest horse I've ridden, Dayton, near Verden, Germany. 

A quadrille of Lusitano stallions and my first time with the double-bridle.

But after a while, I lifted my head and saw where this road was taking me.  Did I want to be outside in the wet or inside in the dust for another few decades?  What if I got dashed into a wall and couldn't work? What if the economy changed and people cut out the luxury of riding lessons? The greener - and more solid - grass looked like a career where I wore girl clothes, had clean hands and came home before 9 pm each night. My step-father suggested a job with an elevator.  My father said my avocation didn't have to be my vocation. And frankly I was tired of being cold. 

With that, I hung up my helmet and spurs.  

But I didn't stop riding - I kept Gold and Babe through their last days. I just got a job with  carpeting instead.

Now I'm seven years into a career in the Foreign Service: girl clothes - check; elevator - check; home by six - check.  I haven't forgotten about horses, however.  In fact, I've  ridden at each of my posts abroad so far.  In Colombia, I took a handful of lessons at a beautifully manicured military base in Bogota.  The lessons were taught in a rigid line formation in Spanish. As my FSI 2/2 Spanish training didn't include any applicable terminology beyond "left" and "right," the Major stuck me behind an eight-year old local boy and told me to just follow what he did.  Naturally, he was on a quiet old school horse and "with all my experience" they stuck me on the horse that hadn't been out in a few months.  Thanks. Unfortunately, it wasn't much fun. 

In Juarez, the moons and stars came into perfect alignment when I met a coworker eager to ride, and a family in El Paso with a son in med school and not enough time to get on his string of polo ponies.  This wonderful family watched my friend (also a life-long horsewoman) and I ride a time or two and satisfied that we could manage on our own, gave us "free rein" over their horses.  We schooled their lovely Thoroughbreds in the flat pasture behind their house that served as a practice polo field, or took them for long rides along the Rio Grande just a block away.  Such liberty and such kind people - it couldn't have been a nicer situation. 

Who would have guessed I'd find such lovely horses in a pasture in El Paso, TX?

Polo ponies and fun company along the Rio Grande

After Juarez, I figured I'd never have the kind of horse luck I'd found in El Paso.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Over lunch in the Embassy Bucharest cafeteria one day, I listened to an American colleague whose young daughter had been taking lessons at a barn just a short drive away.  As she described the instructor - how she competed internationally in both Dressage and show jumping and her patient teaching and training philosophy - my ears pricked up.  Shortly after that conversation, I took my first lesson with Izabela on her rotund school horse, Madison.  A few lessons later, I came to the barn to find Izabela's tall gelding Bubble Touch waiting for me in the cross-ties instead of the sturdy paint mare.  "You're going to ride the big boy today." she told me.  I was nervous that I'd be discovered as a fraud when put atop such a well-schooled horse, but instead it felt like Bubble and I had studied the same game plan. Wow, it was exhilarating!

Bubble Touch in Bucharest who taught me so much.

And after that, Izabela mixed in lessons on her other beautiful chestnut, Feivel.  

Feivel - such a flirt, such a squirrel, so much fun. 

So far, this reads like a common story of a girl who loves horses, and I suppose you're right. But these stories and photos mean a lot more. This is also a compilation of the horses in my life and what they've brought me. Whether I was racing friends on their ponies through the vineyards, bush-whacking through the Rocky Mountains hoping to find the way back to the barn, showing eight-year-olds how to pick hooves and post the trot, or cantering an FEI-level horse down the long wall of an arena in Romania - it's the horses who have been the teachers this whole time.  Horses not only respond to our physical state, but also reflect their riders' intangible states: consistency, fairness, kindness, clarity and confidence, thus transforming a "simple" one-hour ride into a session of yoga, aerobics, ballet, meditation and psychotherapy.  I chuckle when non-horsey people ask why, after over 40 years in the saddle, I still need to take riding lessons.  
I say, may the lessons never end.

Sometimes it felt like time just stood still on Feivel

Next: Astride Abroad - Your Guide to Ride in the FS

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Urge for Going

Soundtrack:  Joni Mitchell "Urge for Going" 

The new year in my mind is always clear blue and white, fresh, and full of possibility. This image plus my page-a-day calendar reminding me that "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it," and I've decided to find small pleasures in 2018 to chase out the overwhelming noise of 2017.  It's not deep stuff, this quote from my "What We Learn from Cats" calendar, but it offers a recipe to escape a funk and seems fitting for the new year. Therefore, when faced with a dearth of positive, I'm now determined to recognize the sunny side wherever I can.   

On to find it!

Pleasure #1: Analog life. 

My husband and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve on the Delaware coast, in a frigid and nearly-empty tourist town.  We had miles of vacant beach just outside our door, shared only with local residents and their exuberant dogs seasonally freed from the no-dogs-on-the-beach ordinance.  

Dewey Beach, DE in December

On the beach in my eskimokini.

Sand pipers like school kids, dashing in small groups in and out of the frothy surf. 

The boardwalk won't look like this in six months. 

Frozen foam.

Sunset over Rehoboth Bay. 

...and what the sunset does to the sea oats. 

A thinking man's horizon.

During this no-cats-yet time, we're also taking advantage of being able to look at each other and say, "Let's just grab a bag and explore somewhere."  This long MLK, Jr.  holiday weekend felt like the perfect time to do just that so we headed west into hills of north-central Virginia.  There's something so calming about an expanse of empty landscape, whether it's a beach dotted only with sand pipers darting in and out of the sea foam, or farm fields, their crops shaved close to hunker down for winter.  I appreciate the understated beauty of winter's muted colors, the tinkling of icicles along moving water, and the satisfactory crunch of walking over icy crisp fallen leaves. It's far more subtle than the sensational spring or flamboyant fall - their colors screaming for our attention.  

Frozen above, rushing beneath. 

With the backdrop so neutral, the few bright colors shine. 

Icicle glockenspiel.

Strong sunshine leaves strong shadows in the tiny town of Washington, VA.

Farm house with Shenandoah National Park as it's backdrop. 

Almost tall enough to remind us of the Romanian wooden churches. 

Weathered barn in Brandy Station, VA

I'm drawn to timeless landscapes, easy to find in this region's rural colonial towns.  No billboards to sell me things, nothing digital to attract and then distract - just glimpses of times when life seemed a lot less noisy.  I'm certain that these days we could all use a break from the screaming.  Therefore you'll find us pulling off the road to simply survey the horizon, watching the light change or laughing at the squirrels chasing each other barber-pole style around the trees.  

That's my 90% recipe for reacting to life these days.  Give it a try.