A wrinkle in time

Standard

I put my foot on the first step of a staircase and reached out to flip a light switch.

A simple gesture. One I had done literally thousands of times before. But, six years had passed since last I flipped this particular light switch.  I stood on the steps feeling as if I was caught in Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time. I had been here; then I was gone; now I was back and it was as if six years of my life never happened. Time had wrinkled and I was back on the staircase leading up to the editorial offices of AntiqueWeek and The Auction Exchange. This had been my home for more than 20 years.

However, I left the job in 2011 to pursue a career in animal welfare as a dog trainer at a humane society. Through a series of unfortunate events (you can read more about that here) I became unemployed in October of 2016. I then started my own dog training business and am doing really well. I was not looking for a new job. I could pay my bills and was able to put money in my savings account.

But, when I got a text message from my previous boss at AntiqueWeek asking if I would be interested in coming back to my old job, I was intrigued. I was also conflicted.

Quite a few people gave me grief when I stopped job hunting and began pursuing my own business as a dog trainer and animal welfare consultant. But, Liam Neeson is not the only person with a very particular set of skills. I had a background in running a small business (antique shop) and I knew lots about marketing from my job at AntiqueWeek. I also had a strong relationship with six years worth of people in animal welfare who were happy to send clients my way. May 28 will mark the six month anniversary of my news business: Connie Swaim Canine Behavior Services.

I love my dog training business. I love the clients (well I love most of them). I leave every consult with the hope that a dog now has a better life because of me. And I’m good at it. I rarely toot my own horn; but it turns out the force is strong with me in terms of canine behavior problem solving.

Ah, but that intriguing text message asking if I wanted my old job back. When I left AntiqueWeek; it had nothing to do with being unhappy with anything specific. It was more of a feeling that after almost 25 years in the same place I felt stuck. I had traveled the world (well at least Canada, Mexico and England); I had hosted a party for the appraisers of the Antiques Roadshow. I lectured at conventions. My job let me travel to countless cities across the U.S. to cover antique shows.

The job was also heavily tied into my feelings about my parents. Mom and Dad were antique dealers when I first went to work for AntiqueWeek. They were ESTATIC when I got the job. Dad especially said he could not imagine a better job in the world. My parents and I went to shows together. Mom sometimes went with me when I traveled out of state to events. For 20 years my parents and their business partners owned an antique mall in which I had a booth. I also helped run the shop a few times a year. My Dad wanted nothing more in life than to retire; get an RV and travel the United States antiquing. When he died suddenly at 62; our antiquing world changed. Mom and I still went antiquing; but it was Dad who really loved it the most. Then when my Mom died; every time I stepped in an antique mall I thought of my parents. Suddenly antiquing wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I would see an antique teddy bear and start to buy it for my Mom. Or I would see an old cast-iron toy and reach for my phone to call my Dad.

I just felt lost.

When I got the opportunity to work in an animal shelter; I decided the time was right for a new adventure. I do not regret it at all. It opened up a new world for me. The culture was as far away as possible from my job at AntiqueWeek. There were no daily reminders of my fun times with my parents. I parted on good terms with the publishers of AntiqueWeek.

When I got the text message I could hear my parents jumping up and down for joy. Which is how I found myself on that stair switching on the light.

I have to say it is the weirdest feeling in the world to go back to someplace after being gone for six years. In a way it is as if I never left. Then, I will find someone new in an office who wasn’t there six years ago. Or I find that I go and look for something and it isn’t in the same spot. However, most people are still in their same offices and there are only about 10 new people who weren’t there when I left. The vending machine has become more progressive and carries iced tea now. But, when I open the computer I still see the same folders I created years ago when we first went digital. Some of the software has changed; but it is basically the same. The instructions I got turned out to the same instructions I had written out six years ago for my replacement. She had kept them and added in changes. She said she hoped I could follow my own directions.

I can wrinkle time and see myself at 26 climbing these same steps (although when I was 26 I could run up the steps, now I slowly pull myself up). I can see myself through the years wherever I go in the offices.

It felt good to be back. I even spent two hours in an antique mall and was happy again rather than feeling nostalgic for all that I had lost.

I am also keeping my dog training business. It turns out I can do both with a little flexibility.

I am truly one of the luckiest people in the world. I have always loved every job I had and now I get to do two things I love.

Time to walk up those steps.

At the stage door

Standard

“Life upon the wicked stage

Ain’t ever what a girl supposes.” – Showboat

 

I have loved musical theater for as long as I can remember. My parents went to a play on their honeymoon in St. Louis in 1959. All of our records were soundtracks from musicals. Yes, I was a very odd child.

My parents were also involved in Parke Players a local theater group. They put on a melodrama each October during the Parke County Covered Bridge festival and a play in February/March during the Maple Fair in Parke County. Dad was always behind the scenes building sets; mom was a great singer and actress and she had many parts through the years.

And there I was, the hopeless romantic who knew every love song from every musical.

I was so excited when I got parts in a play. I was a street urchin in A Christmas Carol. I

GN-11connie

Me in 1979 Gay 90s Review, Parke Players. I  loved this costume. 

got small parts in some of the Melodramas. I laid behind a couch for much of Blythe Spirit so I could make things move for the spirit. I ran lines with my mom. I BEGGED to go to any cast parties (Dad always said NO).

I was in one play in college and I worked with a friend who directed several college plays. I had been to some plays at Starlight Musicals in Indianapolis, which was as close as I had gotten to professional theater. In 1982, I went to a play that took things to a whole new level.

It was in that year I saw a play in Chicago for the first time. I was in college and dating a man in Chicago and he got us tickets to Evita. I knew nothing about Evita. All of my parent’s records were the classic musicals from the 1940s-60s. Looking back I don’t even know how he got tickets. It was the first year Evita played in Chicago and this was only the second national tour of the musical.

Evita was playing at the Shubert Theatre. I was in love the second I stepped through the
door. The Shubert had opened in 1906 as The Majestic. It was a Evita

popular Vaudeville venue. It closed during the Depression and reopened with the Shubert name in 1945. The theater was beautiful. It was majestic. It had a sweeping staircase. It had glittering chandeliers and people in sparkling clothes. For a farm girl like me this was definitely what I imaged theater to be.

So many things I didn’t know. I did not know Evita was based on a real person. I had never heard of Eva Peron. It wasn’t until intermission when I heard people talking that I realized this was a play about a real person. I felt like a hick for sure. However, I had never, ever seen anything so spectacular. This was the first time I saw a stage that moved so it appeared people were moving instead of the set. I had never seen a play where the actors held a position for long periods of time to make it appear as if they were statues. It was the most amazing experience and I will cherish it forever.

I then bought ever y book I could find on both Eva Peron and the making of Evita. Less than a year later I had the opportunity for a one-month internship at the Bronx Zoo in New York. I spent one week living in downtown NYC. The average ticket price in 1983 was $30. I was a poor college student. But, someone (I still don’t know who) sent my professor money and asked it be sent to me and the only instructions were that I had to spend it something fun.

I went to three plays: Evita, Dreamgirls and Merlin. In doing research for this, I learned 1983 was considered the worst year for Broadway in more than a decade. Which probably explains how I was able to get tickets to three plays. Merlin was in pre-production and it only lasted a few months. Dreamgirls was awesome and I loved Evita on Broadway. I really enjoyed Merlin and was sad to that it didn’t last.

I still remember being on an elevator and seeing little girls in Cats makeup. I had no idea you could dress up as a character and go to a play. While it was a bad year on Broadway, Cats was the only big thing going and unfortunately, I was unable to get tickets to it.

Since then I’ve seen Evita at least eight times. It will always hold a place in my heart because it was the first.

Mom had always wanted to go to Broadway and luckily we made it a few years before she died. We had the misfortune of being in New York in August of 2003 when a power surge and a faulty computer program caused all of New York City to lose power (and we got the Tshirts to prove it). Mom and I were on a tour bus returning from Liberty Island when every traffic signal in New York City went out. Thank God the bus driver was able to get us to within two blocks of our hotel. Unfortunately, our room was on the 25th floor and mom had a bad knee. There was no way we could climb 25 flights of steps. Instead of seeing the Great White Way; we saw Times Square when it was absolutely dark. No lights anywhere. We spent the night sleeping on chairs in our hotel’s ballroom (and there was no running water for restroom facilities).

We had tickets to The Producers for the night of the blackout. Bummer. Luckily, the next morning power was restored and we were able to convert our tickets to the following evening. We LOVED The Producers. We also took lots of photos of signs saying “Stage Door.” Unfortunately, we didn’t do any tours of actual stages. One of Mom’s wishes was that her ashes be scattered on a Broadway stage. I still have the ashes. I just need to sneak them onto a theater stage at some point.  The power outage affected airlines and we were able to extend our stay in New York and saw The Phantom of the Opera as well.

Through the years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to see musical theater productions. I got to see Les Miserables in London. (Where they bring a drink cart around prior to the start of the show. I love London).

I found myself back in the old Shubert Theatre the first week of May to see Hamilton. Of course the Shubert is not called that anymore. It has the horrible name of The PrivateBank Theatre. Naming rights; evidently they get the job done.

20170506_131525It amazes me it was 35 years ago when I first found myself in the theater. It seems like only yesterday. I really couldn’t remember anything except I thought the theater seemed smaller. In 1982 I hadn’t been anywhere or seen any other professional theater. And ticket prices have certainly changed in the last 35 years. Tickets to Hamilton in Chicago were $200.

Like Evita, Hamilton is based on real people (although Hamilton is much more historically accurate). And like Evita; I fell in love. I knew the music to Hamilton. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for months. But, seeing it in person was beyond description. It now moves into my top spot as my favorite musical. I can’t wait to go see it again.

It was a bit disconcerting for the first five minutes or so. I knew the Lin-Manuel soundtrack of the original Broadway cast. The Chicago cast obviously sounded different. Soon however I stopped noticing the differences. I actually loved the actors playing Hamilton, Burr and Washington. And the actor playing King George was fantastic.

 

“There’s no business like show business like no business I know

Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow” – From Annie Get Your Gun.

 

 

A road never traveled before

Gallery

I find myself in a position I have never been in during my 56 years on Earth – unemployed.

I have been so lucky in my life that jobs always found me.

A month before I graduated from college the owner of The Daily Clintonian called and said he had an opening and he would hold it for me until I graduated. I had worked at the Clintonian the summer before so they knew me there. Two days after I graduated from college I was in my first real job.

A year later a friend told me of an opening at the Monticello Herald Journal. He worked there and put in a good word for me and I found myself living on my own in a small rented apartment in Monticello. I took a short hiatus when I became engaged and moved from Monticello all the way down to Mount Vernon. My husband worked for the Mount Vernon Democrat. The only other paper in the area was the New Harmony Times. The owner of the Times saw me at a board meeting and offered me a job.

Two years later my husband applied for a job at AntiqueWeek in Knightstown, Ind. We had been antique dealers for a year and my parents had been antique dealers for many years at that point. The only time Don could go for an interview was while we were on our way to a friend’s wedding. I was going to sit in the truck, but Mr. Mayhill (publisher of AntiqueWeek) wouldn’t hear of it and invited me in as well. During our small talk he found out my parents were antique dealers and that I was also a journalist. When we walked out the door, we both had jobs.

For the next 25 years I didn’t move. I had found the perfect home of antiques and journalism. I went from assistant editor of AntiqueWeek’s Eastern Edition to Managing Editor of both editions of AntiqueWeek, The Antiques and Auction Exchange and AntiqueWest. I worked for a family owned paper. Then the paper was sold to dmg World Media; one of the world’s largest media empires. I got to go to England to visit the dmg World Media antiques publications offices. I was the speaker on a seven-day cruise to Bermuda; I traveled to countless states and spoke at auctioneer conventions. I put together a traveling exhibit of reproductions, fakes and fantasies to help people understand what was real and what wasn’t in the antiques industry. I visited thousands of antique shows as a speaker.

I saw the economy change as the Internet turned the antiques industry and journalism upside down. The papers shrank as advertisers explored new ways of reaching clients. Dmg World Media decided to divest itself of our chunk of the business and we went back to being family owned once more. But, through it all I was happy. I made a very good living. I absolutely loved what I did, I had the absolute best co-workers in the world. I ate lunch with my boss just about every day and we argued about whose politics were the best.

Then everything changed when my Dad died suddenly at the age of 62. My Mom died when she was 67. I realized I might not have all the time in the world. I had been in the same job for 25 years. I loved it, I was happy; but what if I never did anything else in my life? Would I regret it?

Running through the background during this time I also became very interested in dog training and behavior. I had been going to seminars on dog behavior; I found a world I didn’t know existed in terms of dog sports and animal welfare. I found out that Indianapolis had a horrible animal welfare situation going on (this was 8 years ago) and I started a blog called Save Indiana Animals. I covered public meetings; I wrote about what was going on; I interviewed the players in the industry. I met a lot of people.

Great change took place during this time in the Indianapolis animal welfare scene. In 2011 I was offered a completely different job. I could be a dog trainer at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I had already been there two years as a part-time employee in the canine behavior department.

Running through the decision was also that I had met someone and moved in with him in Indianapolis, so a job that didn’t involve an hour drive was appealing. I had begun to feel “stuck” at AntiqueWeek. I was comfortable, I could do that job in my sleep. I was affected by the early deaths of my parents. I decided I needed to try something new in my life.

That decision will always weigh heavily on me. The marriage didn’t work out, I ended up being in a position where I was driving an hour to work again (and for a lot less money). I missed traveling. At AntiqueWeek I got to go so many places. But, I also loved what I did at IndyHumane. I actually saved the lives of dogs. I made a real difference for both people and animals.

It is easy to armchair quarterback and tell myself I should never have left AntiqueWeek. I would still be sitting in my wonderful office having coffee with awesome people every morning. But, at least 30 dogs (and some cats) would be dead. I only fostered the hard-to-place dogs. I fostered more than 100 animals in my five years at the shelter.

Bandit, who is currently snoozing on my bed, would certainly be dead as no one else would have taken him. Sir Puff, who escaped IndyHumane the day after transfer from another shelter, is alive because I spent five hours tracking him through a neighborhood. I illegally entered back yards. I got Batman to do a down stay at the entrance to a yard while I got friends from work to help me grab the little guy. There was Louie, the labradoodle, who we transferred to a labradoodle rescue. He escaped one hour after I dropped him off. I spent the next day driving around Bloomington and after walking through a park for more than an hour found Louie laying under my van and eager to get back in.  I fostered a feral mother cat and her kittens. The mama almost took my face off when I had to take the kittens and her back to the shelter for vaccines. She climbed the wall (an actual wall), and jumped at my face. I had to wear bite gloves to retrieve Calvin, a small terrier, from under a sink. I fostered at least two Chihuahuas that bit people before finding their forever homes. Sweet Guinevere is alive because I refused to give up and started a blog for her that ended up raising the $3,000 she needed for medical treatment. I fostered her for six months while she recovered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, for the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do. After 35 years of having jobs come to me, I find myself unemployed. Although to be fair, I have had several truly amazing people reach out with job offers. And if I hadn’t moved to New Castle and if I wasn’t the caretaker of too many pets (meaning it will be difficult to find a place to rent), then I would have definitely taken at least one person up on their offer. However, in order to afford to drive an hour into Indy every day, I need a certain level of income. I put 31,000 miles on my vehicle and I haven’t owned it a year yet. At this rate, I won’t pay it off before it has 300,000 miles on it.

Suddenly I just don’t know what to do after having such clear direction for so long. It is a weird place to be. I’m going to have to hope that any good karma I accumulated from all those animals I saved comes back to help me out.

Planes, Trains or Automobiles

Standard

After taking my first overnight train ride, I have to say I am in love with train travel. I decided to do a comparison on how the trip might have gone had I taken an airplane or driven to Utopia, Texas, from Indianapolis.

For pricing comparison I used a seven-day period in January to make it far enough in advance to get better rates.

Planes

Roundtrip airfare between Indianapolis and San Antonio, Texas, is around $400 for regular seating. The flights ranged from six to eight hours depending on the layover. I could not find a direct flight. If you factor in two hours prior to the flight and an hour getting out, getting your checked luggage and obtaining a rental car, then your day is shot.

Traveling by air is uncomfortable. My hips just don’t fit comfortably in those seats and being in the middle seat of a three-seat row is exceedingly cramped. Then you have security; the rush and hassle of taking off shoes, unpacking electronics, repacking electronics, getting pulled out for a random search, uncomfortable lounge chairs, etc.

The meals (when they do serve them) are not very good. At least I have never had anything very tasty. On most flights I was lucky to get a beverage and a small bag of peanuts. Moving on an airplane is also difficult. Either the seat belt sign is on or there is just nowhere to go. Instead you are sitting in a tiny, cramped seat for five or six hours.

If you have to get somewhere as quickly as possible, then an airplane is the way to go, but it is definitely not the most comfortable choice.

In this scenario I would also need to rent a vehicle for the two-hour drive from San Antonio to Utopia ; a minimum of $222 for a week, plus the gas.

 

Automobile

According to MapQuest it is a 19-hour 30-minute drive between Indianapolis and Utopia, Texas. It is 1,244 miles one way. Even if you only stopped for restroom breaks and to fill up the car you will need to add a couple of more hours in there. I used $2.25 a gallon for my gas cost and came up with $112 or $224 for the roundtrip. Plus, you would need at least one night in a motel each way or two or three very dedicated drivers and the ability to sleep in a car.

So, at minimum $350 for gas and a hotel for the round trip. This does not include meals. Let’s say we add in $60 a day for food and drinks; that brings our round trip total to $470. This does not include wear and tear and adding 2,488 miles to a vehicle.

I do love driving. I enjoy the scenery and I like the ability to control my speed, what I want to stop and see, etc. But, if I was trying to get to Utopia and actually have time to spend in Utopia then I would have to drive without making lots of stops along the way.

I would of course have my own vehicle, so there would be no rental fees involved once I arrived at my destination.

Trains

20160827_092849_1472575372251_resized

This is my seat in the Roomette

If I took the train I could get a round trip ticket between Indianapolis and San Marcos, Texas, for $431 for a roomette.  If I wanted to stay in the coach section, I could get a coach seat roundtrip for $137. The trip is 29 hours. I would need to rent the car to get from San Marcos to Utopia, so I have my $222 for the week’s rental.

If you book a roomette all meals are included.
The only thing you have to pay for is alcohol. All non-alcoholic drinks are included with the meals. I ate nine of

20160820_195240_1472575568861_resized

Steak and potato on the train.

my meals on the train. The food was awesome. I had steak and baked potato one night; scramble
d eggs and bacon for breakfa
st, a hamburger for lunch, etc. The menu isn’t very deep, but there are generally three to seven choices depending on what meal you are eating. Dessert included

20160821_123727_1472575531750_resized

An example of one of the lunches I had on the train

a chocolate torte, cheese cake or ice cream. There were limited vegetarian option. If you had serious dietary restrictions you would probably not be able to enjoy the dining car.

If you travel via coach you could bring your own food or you could eat either in the dining car or in the snack car. If you paid for the meals in the dining car it would get expensive. The steak option was $24. If I had paid for each of my meals on the train they would have ranged from $12 for breakfast up to $30 for dinner. I probably would have spent $150 or more eating during the 29-hour train trip if meals had not been included. That would make about $300 for food for the roundtrip. If I subtract that $300 from my $431, that makes my actual sleeping car only $131 for the round trip. What a deal.

The coach seats on the train are fabulous and exceedingly comfortable.

20160827_092441_1472575402887_resized

These are the coach seats on the train. They are adjustable and have footstools and foot rests. Notice the electric outlooks on the wall.

You could certainly travel that way and sleep. You wouldn’t have any privacy, but because the seating is roomy; it is still far more comfortable than falling asleep on an airplane.

The roomettes are cramped for two people (but perfect for one). If you share a roomette

20160820_142739_resized

This is the observation car. There is a bar on the first floor of the observation car that sells some mixed drinks, beer and wine. It also serves food and snacks.

then you need to enjoy the company of the person with whom you are traveling. There are larger rooms on the train, but I did not price them for this post. For the roomette, you sit facing the other person and there is about one foot of space between your knees. In the evening, a train attendant comes by and shoves the two bottom chairs together to form a bed and then drops a bunk down from the ceiling to form the second bed. Even with a bad knee, I was able to get to the top bunk. I had a hard time maneuvering, but it was doable. I much preferred sleeping in the bottom bunk. There was more room and I could look out the window as I fell asleep.

20160827_092509_1472575388992_resized

This is one of the larger rooms on the train. This forms a bed at night and a second bed can be formed by bringing down the bunk that is attached to the ceiling.  There is also a private restroom in the larger rooms.

While you might be somewhat cramped in the roomette with a friend, there is so much room on the train that you don’t have to be in one place. I spent very little time in my roomette. During part of my trip one of the coach cars was empty. I spent several hours stretched out in the coach car with all of my electronic equipment spread around me and plugged in to various outlets. I also spent hours and hours in the observation car. I had lots of room and electrical outlets. I could look at the passing scenery, listen to my music via headphones or write. If I wanted company, most of the people in the observation car were friendly and open to conversation. Talking to strangers on a train is a tradition after all.

I could walk all over the train if I needed to move around and at least every two hours (and generally more often) the station stop was long enough so you could get off the train and walk around either the station or the immediate area. Station stops ranged from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.

There were no luggage checks on the train. I never had to take off my shoes or unpack my laptop bag. When we got on the train in San Marcos, the attendant asked for one of our party’s driver’s license. That was their random check.

Most people who know me well also know that restrooms are important to me. My rating of the restrooms between the airplane, plane and driving would probably be a wash. The train restrooms may rate a little lower than the airplane and some gas stations. The restrooms on the train are very small. I also think Amtrak may need to invest in more cleaning staff and some air fresheners in the bathrooms. But, overall they were certainly better than a tree in the woods.

20160827_135040_resized

The doorway leading from the coach cars to the private sleeping quarters.

If you travel in the largest rooms you have a private bathroom. The car with the roomettes had one bathroom on the floor of the rooms and then two more bathrooms on the floor below us, which is also where the shower was located.

20160827_135050_1472575332486_resized

This is the connecting doorway between two cars. It take some getting used to going through these doors and keeping your balance.

I would definitely now choose train travel over any other form of travel if it were an option. Obviously, an airplane will get you someplace faster and train travel is not going to be convenient to many locations. But, if it is an option, I highly recommend it.

Snippets

Standard

This is going to be a free-flowing post about random things I remember about the trip so far.

farm house

This is one of the two homes on the ranch. This is the older home

Currently, I am on a train somewhere in the heart of Texas making our way northeast toward Chicago.

I took my first ride in a Tesla. Not that I had to come to Texas to do that, but that’s where I was when I was offered the opportunity. I am now in love. I want a Tesla. We accelerated so fast I was actually pushed back into my seat. I think the astronauts could use the car for basic training. It was fun to see the car plugged into an outdoor ranch outlet. I am sure the outlet was originally installed so people using power tools or wanting to recharge the golf cart would have a place to plug in. Seeing the car plugged into the old outlet was amazing.

I did not see a single scorpion, snake, long horn or wild pig. I spent so much time worrying about scorpions and rattlesnakes that in the end it was somewhat disappointing not to see one. Some of my traveling companions did see a scorpion in the house we were staying in and they promptly squished it, but that was the only sighting. They also saw a small black snake, but again I wasn’t there so I missed it. And everyone was talking about the wild pig problem in Texas. But, do not mistake the wild pigs for the javelinas. Javelinas look like pigs but only weigh in at 60 pounds and are not related to wild boars. They are in the peccary family, a group of hoofed mammals originating from South America. Evidently, the wild pigs are  something to be concerned about as they are destructive and can be dangerous to animals and humans. I read some interesting articles describing the differences between the wild pigs and the javelinas. I would love to have seen a javelina. If you want to see what a javelina looks like, click here.

We lucked out in terms of weather. The area we were in had been through several years of serious drought, but in the months right before we arrived some significant rain had fallen and greened up the land. Also, while it was more than 100 degrees in the week before we arrived, the temperature dropped into the high 80s and low to mid 90s while we were on the ranch. It was not nearly as humid as it is in Indiana.

I hadn’t been swimming in years, but on this trip I was in two different swimming pools and went twice to the swimming hole on the property. Swimming pools definitely make sense in this part of Texas. Indiana only has three months in which a pool is really useful. The places we visited in Texas rarely see snow for local residents cold is if it drops into the 40s. They get a lot more life out of the pool in Texas.

water fall

This waterfall is the perfect spa experience. If you lie right in the middle warm water buffets around you creating a massage effect. 

The swimming hole was awesome. The creek on my family property in Indiana is not clear. It is full of silt and mud so when you swim or wade you can’t really see what you are stepping on. The water in Texas was so clear. If there was a snake or a turtle, we could see it coming from a distance! There were several springs which fed the creek and provided water for the two homes on the ranch. For two days we lost water to one of the homes due to an unfortunate mowing accident. (An outdoor spigot was put in so close to the ground the person mowing didn’t see it). One of our party decided to go pioneer woman and bathed in the spring. We teased her that in the movies a handsome cowboy would have come along while she was bathing. But, she pointed out she did not put her petticoats over the bushes so the cowboy wouldn’t have known she was there.

The swimming hole had an amazing waterfall as well and was just like a high-priced spa. The water coming over the rocks into the swimming hole was really warm due to the sunbaked rocks. The closer you got to the waterfall, the warmer the water. If you laid right in the waterfall it was exactly like getting a deep tissue massage while lying in water. It may be the most relaxing thing I will ever experience in my life. From now on, whenever I am stressed, I am going to remember that feeling of stretching out in the waterfall and letting the water pound around me.

The creek running through the property was wide with deep holes below the springs, but almost dry above the springs. Above the springs we hiked over large slabs of rock (me worrying about rattlesnakes hiding under the rocks). The fossils were numerous. A ranch near where we were staying has dinosaur tracks on its land, which you can pay to go see, but we just didn’t have time to fit it in.

creek stones

In less than one quarter of a mile we went from 15 foot deep water to this. 

The closest town to our ranch was Utopia: home to about 300 people. It had a bank, a Justice of the Peace, café, a few churches, an antique store, gas station, grocery and a thrift store. I loved the grocery. I get overwhelmed in a Super Walmart. In this grocery there were four aisles of food and a small freezer section. If you wanted coffee they had two brands to choose from: Folgers and Maxwell House. When I shop at Kroger I have to look at 37 different types of coffee and ponder my decision. I could learn to love fewer choices.

The nearest Wal-Mart and movie theater were almost an hour away. Living in this area would mean you didn’t just drive out for a quick trip to the store because you forgot something. You would have to be happy working on your own land and doing your own thing. Jimmy Johns is definitely not delivering to this area and if they did, they would need to memorize a lot of gate codes because all the ranches had electronic gates.

While I didn’t see a lot of cattle, I did see pasture after pasture of goats. Thousands of goats. I also saw lots of pens of deer. Not sure if they were venison farms or if they deer were being raised for canned hunts. Texas sadly has a large canned hunting industry. I’m hoping the deer I saw were meat deer.

I did see several deer on the ranch. The property owners maintain feeders for both deer and turkey. The squirrels and the duck also enjoyed the feeders.

barn swallows

A nest of barn swallow babies

I lost count of the number of hummingbirds we saw. Barn swallows were also prevalent.

The part of Texas I was is called the Hill Country due to the many hills. Since this is the only part of Texas I have been in (except for a weekend once at a convention in San Antonio) I don’t have anything to compare with my stay. But, I do love the Hill Country. It was remote and beautiful.

While I will always call my beloved Parke County, Ind., home; spending this week on the ranch in Texas is something I will always remember.

 

 

The Ranch

Standard

We are getting ready to leave the ranch. I didn’t get to post except on the very first morning here because there was simply too much to do and I was exhausted each evening and just fell into bed.

connie hills

You can see the hills of the Hill Country behind me. We are on top of the ranch’s mountain.

Plus, while I am a writer, I feel inadequate to even describe my adventures. I am near a town called Utopia and I guess that is the best description. I am sitting in a chair overlooking a stream. It is so clear you can see almost to the bottom even in the deeper holes which can be up to 15 to 17 feet deep. This morning I watched a fairly large bass swim from one deep hole through some shallows into the next deep hole. I’ve watched a duck who has a predictable morning routine (at least he has the same routine two mornings in a row). And I don’t actually know if it is a he duck or a she duck. But, each morning he goes up the bank, pecks around, then comes back down to the swimming hole and he swims the entire perimeter pecking around and then he goes to the waterfall, spreads his wings out and flings water on himself. He then goes up on the bank and takes a nap.

This ranch isn’t huge by Texas standards. But, it has everything you might want. There is a hill (or as they call it here, the Mountain). The top of the mountain has a structure so people can go up and grill out, sit and watch nature, or lay under the stars.

The STARS. Oh dear. I wish I could describe the stars. Indiana has so much light from cities and towns that it is difficult even when you are in the country to really see the stars. Here there is nothing for miles and miles. I have seen the Milky Way and it was so clear. Everyone has phone apps that show them were the different constellations are located. I just sat down and looked at the sky and marveled at how amazing the stars can be. Then I tried to imagine actually navigating via the stars. Yikes. That might have been difficult.

shell

fossil found on the creek hike

We went on a creek hike, which was amazing. My family has a wonderful little creek through our property and I love creek hiking. This was just like that except the terrain was so different. We found lots of fossils and the rocks are amazing. The creek had spots where it was 15 feet deep and then we hiked to a place where there was no water at all except for what might be in tiny pools.

waterfall

One of the many little waterfalls on the creek.

There was a lot of tension in the 19th century between Native Americans and white settlers in this area because the area has natural water sources and water access was everything. I went to a small museum and read about all of the things farmers did to try and stretch the water farther and farther away from the may water source. In the 1920s this area became famous for onion and spinach production. But then various disasters such as drought, molds and insects came along. Farmers learned that relying on a single crop could be disastrous. Texas also made a series of roads just for farmers to help keep the farmers on the farm and get their crops to railheads or towns.

air plant

Air plant

I wish I could describe how beautiful the live oaks are and they are all covered in air plants. The air plants real name is ball moss or bunch moss. They do not hurt the tree. They take no nutrients from them. While the live oaks in Florida are covered in Spanish moss, the ones here are covered in the ball moss. The fence posts are covered in the ball moss. Everything that doesn’t move is covered.

connie fence

Repairing the cedar fence around one of the homes on the ranch

One of the fun things I did was help repair a rail fence around one of the homes on the ranch. Most of the fencing and any railings are made of cedar rails because there is so much cedar around. I read some interesting articles on the cedar (juniper) trees. They are not invasive as some people think, they just haven’t been as prevalent in the past and fires and changes in environment help them move more into the hill country. They also don’t suck up lots of water as people assume. However, there are people who have terrible allergies to the cedars. But, they smell awesome and make good split rail fences.

I will write more later, but I wanted to do an update before we repack our suitcases (I have to take all of my clothes outside and shake them as I left everything on the floor and everyone is convinced scorpions are now in the clothes). Then I need to take a shower and stuff everything back in the suitcase (along with some books I bought and various and sundry other things).

Day 4: The Creek

Standard

I woke feeling very refreshed and went outside with a cup of coffee. Looking at the

Untitled

My shadow in the  water

 

beautiful creek I made a decision. I wanted to go creek hiking. I put on my creek shoes and set out to explore. The realities of my abilities in my mind are somewhat different than the reality of my current body. I slipped a few times in the water and realized that jumping from stone to stone or climbing up rocks was easier when I was 15 than it is at 55. But, I was determined. Once I got going I regained a lot of my confidence.

I found a rock where I am positive at some point someone put these two rocks together to form a chair. I just can’t believe they would be positioned this way accidently. I spent half an hour sitting on this rocky chair and watching the water and a pair of kingfishers. If I could have bottled the feeling I had sitting on this rock watching nature, I could make a fortune.

People were making their way to the main house for breakfast and I decided to take the

100_2046

A flower with the rushing water in the background

creek route. I walked down the creek taking photos of

catfish

Fish (big catfish) swimming in the swimming hole

waterfalls and little plants. The main house sits above a deep hole in the water that is the “old swimming hole.” It is about 12-15 feet deep and home to many fish. The water is so clear you can see almost to the bottom. The swimming hole is fed by a spring, so even in times of drought (which the area has been going through) there is water in this spot. During a serious drought several years ago, many area farmers were killing their cattle because there was no water for them. The people who own the ranch where I am staying took down their fences so any area ranchers could drive their cattle to the swimming hole to water them. Area residents have told the owners that many generations of residents learned to swim in this swimming hole. I am told we will be trying our hands at swimming in the old swimming hole soon.

100_2084

The swimming hole as seen from the top.