Thursday, July 9, 2015

Come See the New Place

In an effort to better serve this purpose, I have launched a new website at The new site will have all the goodness you have come to expect here, but with a better look and a few surprises.

Please visit the new site and sign up for an email subscription so you don't miss a post. Thank you for being on this journey with me, and I hope you like our new ride.

Vroom, vroom! We're off to the new site!

This page will remain available for viewing, but will effectively be parked. All new posts will be at the new site.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Beauty of the Ozarks at 5,000 Feet

The Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas holds a myriad of beautiful sights and notable locations. One walk along the Buffalo National River will attest to that, and yet so much more is held within the hills of this region. Forests, caverns, creeks, and rivers, all adorned by regal bluff lines towering overhead. Crystal clear waters flow through untouched woodlands where creatures great and small live in protected bliss. A resident of this region for over 30 years, I knew all the beauty this area held at ground level, but nothing could compare to a view I experienced recently.

I luck into things, occasionally.

I have the good fortune of working with someone whose preferred mode of transportation is a small plane, and as this luck of mine would have it, we had a meeting on the west side of the state this week. I've flown with him several times before, but always on clear days with maybe a wispy cloud in the distance. This time, something about the partly cloudy skies changed everything I thought about my Ozark Mountains.

On a clear day, an aerial view shows the vast green forests, with serpentine rivers cutting their paths, and ridges beyond ridges of layered vistas. On a partly cloudy day though, the shadows cast by the clouds on the landscape somehow enhanced the definition of the hills, illustrating the graduated misty colors all the way to the horizon. Through each break in the clouds, the hills put on their best show, but the clouds created their own production right outside my window. The region somehow looked different to me, more beautiful, perhaps because I have never seen it from that view, wearing its best outfit. Until then, I never really knew it.

Flying through clouds on a commercial airliner loses something. The magic is stunted by the sheer size and altitude of it all. Small crafts, however, put you right at eye level to these clouds, close enough to introduce yourself. All the tension I had felt earlier in the day faded away as I watched out my window to see the puff and billow of new clouds forming, while the ever-transforming shapes whooshed past us. This flight was different. This flight showed me the best of Arkansas. This was the day that I saw its truest beauty in all it intoxicating wonder.

Friday, May 22, 2015

100 Days of Purpose

Imagine this:  You are given a chance to have that thing you have always wanted, but it will cost you.  You hem and haw, kick your feet, and finally ask, "How much?" An otherworldly voice says, "Less than $1." Suddenly, you perk up. You stand up straight and yell, "I'm in! Here's my dollar!"

Could it be this easy? Perhaps. Could it be this cheap? Yes. But, you don't pay in cash. You pay in days.

Your mission: Dedicate 100 days to something good for yourself or another.

Here's how: The most valuable commodity you possess is time, so the request to give 100 days to a self-proclaimed purpose might, on the surface, seem like a lot to pay. 100 days? That's, like, all summer! You are right; it is one season of the year, but in the big stash of time the average human has on this earth, it's a slim price to pay. We humans average 80 years walking this planet, or roughly 29,000 days. With all those days to fill, giving 100 days to focus on something of your choosing, something pleasurable, or some improvement - well, what's 100 days out of 29,000? It's way less than 1% of your average time on earth.

Proclaim your mission: Have you wanted to quit a caffeine addiction? Wish you would read more? Want to be more creative? Or train for mini-marathon? Perhaps photography is your passion, so taking photographs of your life for 100 days would enhance your craft. Take a moment to think about that something that has been gnawing at you to do, and do it. Better yet, let's do it together -- all of us.

In America, we are fast approaching Memorial Day (May 25) which serves as a great jumping off point for our 100 day mission. As luck, and the calendar, would have it, American's celebrate Labor Day on September 7. The two holidays fall about 100 days apart on the calendar (105 days this year) and will serve as our official start and finish lines. Other parts of the world are invited to jump in, regardless how we title our holidays, and be part of the project from late May to early September.

Where to start?

State your mission. Here are a few ideas to get your brain cells clicking. I would suggest not making the project so small that you achieve it in a few weeks and lose interest thereafter, while not making the goal so large that the sheer lack of attainability creates frustration and guilt. Select something that is a wee challenge but not a monumental task. (And remember, we are NOT about guilt here.)
Here are a few random ideas to get you thinking:
  • For 100 days, vow to read a few pages everyday in that book that you bought last year and have yet to open.
  • For 100 days, practice the yoga routine you love, just because you know it's good for you.
  • For 100 days, give up sugary snacks (yikes!)
  • For 100 days, dedicate one hour each day to using no technology.
  • For 100 days, write one sentence of gratitude each night.
  • For 100 days, stop some little habit you have.
  • For 100 days, wish on the first star in the night sky.
  • For 100 days, volunteer for a local charity
Last year was the first time I tried this particular project, spanning from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the big picture, 100 days did not seem like much, but about 30 days into it, minor struggles appeared. Doing this as part of a group makes those rough patches so much easier to muster, which is why I'll be using the hashtag #100daysofpurpose on both Twitter and Instagram. When we all meet there, with our hashtags raised, we can encourage one another to see our proclaimed purpose through to the end.

So, are you with me?

Proclaim your 100 Days of Purpose in the comments or using #100daysofpurpose on Twitter or Instagram. Then check back over the next 100 days to see what other are doing, tell of your journey, and (best of all) offer words of applause or encouragement to another.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Secrets of the Everyday Adventure

A road trip across the American West. Exploring Iceland.  Relaxing on Italy's Amalfi Coast. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Each of these are easily classified as adventures, but discovering a lifetime of adventures does not require plane tickets or a passport. The secret to the everyday adventure is to start with your own backyard.

Yes, Dorothy, if you ever go looking for your heart's desire again, you don't have to go further than your own back yard. The Wizard of Oz taught us more than how to escape from vindictive apple trees and flying monkeys. The story shows us that the best things in life are often so close to us we could touch them, if we could only see them.

For as long as I can remember, I have incorporated mini-adventures into my life. I watched people take these grand trips across oceans and continents, while secretly wondering if I would ever be able to live their life. One day, I decided to explore the area close to me rather than envy their explorations of faraway lands. Once I decided that adventure could be found in a local museum or a hike through the woods, adventures showed up in my life every day.

Some of the best days have been spent lost in the wonders of my own backyard. A recent trip to several historic grist mills is a good example. For the cost of a tank of gas and lunch, I gained as much relaxation and inspiration as a week-long vacation. An everyday adventure includes only two things: a willingness to go somewhere new and an open mind to see what it has to offer. Reflecting on that statement for a moment brings many ideas to mind, like:
  1. Perusing the aisles of local junk shops, on the great hunt for a new somethin'-somethin' to add to your home.
  2. A picnic at the local park followed by a walk and a few turns on the swings.
  3. Driving the back roads to work or the market, with eyes wide open to spot unexplored places.
  4. A leisurely afternoon at a museum, reading all the display information at your own pace.
  5. Trying a new restaurant OR going to a familiar restaurant and ordering something other than "your usual."
  6. Finally going to that festival in a nearby town that you have always wanted to attend.
  7. Learn a new skill whether that is at the local college, or an online class, or even by watching YouTube videos!
Most of all, remember to document your adventure so you can refer to it again. That may be by buying a simple souvenir along the way as a memento or taking photos. Perhaps you are one who likes to journal about your adventures or write a blog post (yeah, this is my category). If available, buy a postcard on your adventure and mail it to yourself so days later you can remember how good you felt at that moment.

Document Your Everyday Adventure 

Recently, I discovered a clever tool to motivate, plan, and document those adventures in Sarah Shotts' "Venture Planner." This darling downloadable planner gives the user several options on both size and style, and hell, it's just fun to create!

After purchasing the Venture Planner for $20 US, I was surprised to see all that it included. Honestly, the primary reason I purchased it was to support another's creative endeavor (which is a good habit to cultivate, by the way -- try it!) but was pleasantly surprised by what was included in the package AND the amount of flexibility it offered. Sarah's got it goin' on!

So what's included, you ask? Think of this as an electronically delivered "kit" to build your own personalized planner. Not only does it begin with a lively Welcome Letter and easy instructions, the planner pages themselves are dotted with cheery artwork that bring a smile and streamlined prompts to encourage one to see adventure all around. The package includes four sizes of pages, allowing the user to print their preferred style. Once the size is selected, each size has four different types of pages, including daily, weekly, monthly, and checklist pages. Each of those page types has five themes from which you can choose. See? Flexibility and customization abound! On top of that, Sarah throws in bonuses of printable stickers to embellish your planner, an Adventurer's Handbook to help you find your everyday adventures, and even more inspiration than that.

Several varieties of pages are included -- print one style or print them all!
Several varieties of pages are included -- print one style or print them all!
I chose the Midori size, which has finished measurements of roughly 4.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches long. Other sizes include full page (8.5 x 11), half page (5.5 x 8.5) and personal (3.7 x 6.7). After selecting the size, it's a matter of printing your pages and assembly. This is where your creativity steps into the process. I won't go into great detail with my process, so not to influence your process, but these are just a few photos and tips.

I liked all the themes so I printed several pages of all the themes, utilizing double-sided printing by printing on one side of the page and reloading those pages to print on the other side. Since I chose the Midori size, I trimmed the edges to size, stacked them, and set them aside to work on the cover.

But first, chose your binding and cover style.
But first, chose your binding and cover style.
Booklet covers are easy and fun to make and do not have to be expensive, in fact, they can be made completely out of found materials. Starting with the cardboard of a cereal box, I cut the front and back covers to size and then slathered them with glue, when I adhered pretty scrapbook paper to cover each side (hint: use a scraper to smooth out the paper and prevent bubbles -- an old credit card works great). I cut two pieces, one for the front and one for the back, and connected them with washi tape I had on hand (hint: leave a 1/4 inch gap between the two sides of the cover when connecting them with the washi tape for the binder). No scrapbook paper? Look around the house for wrapping paper, brown paper sacks, newspaper, or magazine pages. OR, cover the cardboard with artist's paper and unleash your inner artist! No washi tape? Use fun duct tape or simple packaging tape.

A pamphlet stitch was just the ticket for binding my planner.
A pamphlet stitch was just the ticket for binding my planner.
Once the cover is ready, position the stacked pages of the planner on top, right where you want them to stay. I used a simple sewn binding, which means the next thing I did was punch five evenly placed holes through all the pages and into the cover. The pointy end of a compass works great, but you can use a large needle, a kitchen skewer, or a nail (just be careful with all pointy things so you don't get blood on your new planner). With a large needle, I chose a heavy string and sewed what is called a pamphlet stitch (I'll let these folks give you the details). Once you do this a time or two, you will make little booklets for everything.
Remember the gap between the front and back cover where we fastened the two side together with washi tape? That became the fold of the cover. The gap between the cardboard, which is covered with the tape, is where the pamphlet stitch will fasten. It's easier to stitch through washi tape than cardboard (trust me on this one).
The gap in the washi tape for the cover allows you to more easily stitch through the pages and secure them to the cover.
The gap in the washi tape for the cover allows
you to more easily stitch through the pages
 and secure them to the cover.
Voila! The clever personalized planner is ready for it's first adventure! Wait, making this planner was an adventure of its own, unleashing the creativity within you and learning along the way.

Where Will You Go?

I would love to hear your ideas about how you incorporate everyday adventures into your life. Whether grand or small, experiencing something new is a great way to enliven the spirit and make your life anything but ordinary. Share your adventures (or ideas for adventures) in the comments or by using the hashtag #myeverydayadventures on Twitter or Instagram.

Let's explore!


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Please Stop Telling Strangers "Happy Mother's Day"

A lot of women would love to hear three little words that would immediately make her heart skip a beat and a flush come to her cheeks. But when that handsome man smiles and says, "Happy Mother's Day," things can get a bit awkward.

Years ago when I worked in a motel, I generally worked the front desk on Sundays when I would see guests off from their weekend stays. One Sunday a year was the worst day for me, perhaps for any woman without children, to work because the Southern hospitality that dictates well-wishes to strangers just becomes too much. That day is Mother's Day.

Well-wishes of the sort are lovely when spoken to a family member or friend, but when spoken to a stranger, the congenial step into awkwardness, and sometimes emotional pain, is a social faux pas of preventable measure. Several reasons exist to support the reasoning of not saying these springtime holiday words to a stranger, of which the following are a few.

1. You don't know her child choices. An amazing thing has happened in the last few decades: women have realized they have choices on whether or not to have children. Rather than follow the road previous generations set out for them, modern women are deciding early on whether they have a passion to be a mother or whether motherhood is not a personal goal. Wishing someone who does not have, nor wants to have, children a "Happy Mother's Day," can turn into a shaky back and forth of, "I don't have children," followed by "Well, when you do," and the internal dialog in her head of, "But I'm not."

2. She may be trying. Some women who are sure to be glorious mothers, for many reasons may have difficulty getting pregnant. She may have an intense desire to be a mother but is struggling with infertility, and your well-meaning expression might strike her more harshly than intended. While you have walked on with your day, she is left with a twinge of heartbreak at the reminder she is does not have the child she so dreams to have.

3. She may be grieving. No greater pain could exist than to lose a child. A woman I know is a mother to three children, all of whom were lost at separate times before the age of 21. She is indeed a mother, but not with children on this earth. How she manages to get out of bed every day and still be one of the most gracious and kind women I know, is beyond me, but she is also fragile. One who does not know her and wishes her a "Happy Mother's Day," may unknowingly open that terrible wound.

4. She may be longing. Unfortunately, having children is not a guaranty that there will be someone there to share your waning years. The older woman you see may be the age of a grandmother, but hasn't seen her children in 20 years due to some rift long before. Those three little words spoken by a stranger may remind her of what is lost.

5. You just plain don't know her. Polite words spoken to the people we pass in our daily lives is a wonderfully fine gesture of good manners, but a moment of thought before speaking those words is necessary. If you were on vacation in Europe, you wouldn't tell people "Happy Fourth of July," because as an American holiday, it does not apply to them. In that example, it would only result in possibly a confused tilt of the head. Something as personal as motherhood should be treated with more thought and not left as a lighthearted greeting to a perfect stranger.

Please stop telling strangers, "Happy Mother's Day." Say it to your mother, your grandmother, favorite aunts, dear friends, but please stop dishing out these words to women you do not know. So much more lives within these beautiful creatures of womanhood that you just do not know how powerful these three little words could be when landing upon her ears. Instead, keep the greetings more generic and just say, "Have a nice day." That sentiment would apply to all women, whoever they are.

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Find Happiness

Finding happiness is not as easy as shopping for a new shirt, but with a few key points, one can create a path toward happiness that, in the end, will make you look better than that shirt ever did.

1.  Find your fuel. Identify an activity that does nothing for you but make you smile or fill you with peacefulness. This may likely be a hobby -- hiking, running, painting, singing, traveling, knitting -- but it is important to make sure it is an activity that you can practice alone. Not that you cannot engage in the activity with someone else, but that you can if you wish. Discovering your fuel will be of great benefit when the inevitable bumps in the highway of life occur (and they will).

2.  Learn to enjoy your own company. Humans are social creatures, but we as evolved creatures in the 21st century should know how to entertain ourselves autonomously. This is not to advocate detaching yourself from society, quite the opposite, but the key to finding true happiness is not depending on someone else to bring it to you. Let's face it: people come and go in your life for many reasons, and if the basis for your happiness in life is placed in another person, then your happiness is at the their control.

3. Be creative.  Social scientist Dr. Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign." She continues by explaining that humans are creative beings, and when creativity is stunted, it manifests itself in rage, grief, sorrow, and judgment. Unlocking your creativity, even if the result is only for yourself (in fact, especially if the result is only for yourself) is important to tapping into your core happiness.

4. Be a friend to yourself. All of us  have those little gremlins in our heads that tell us how we could have done or said something better, and those little creatures need to be given their walking papers. They take up space and offer no resolution, except to be that one catty friend in the group that we wish would just shut up already (and we all secretly dislike that catty friend). Send that gremlin packing; no longer rent space to that negative voice that spends way too much time commenting on your thighs. One moment at time, learn to speak to yourself like a friend, like you would speak to someone you love.

5. Stop pleasing society. This is going to get some backlash, but give me a few moments. Only you can decide what is right for you, what is best for your heart and mind to live contently during your time here on Earth. This may mean bucking the system or going against the wishes of family. For example, if you do not feel a passion to have children, then you should not let your partner or family push (or shame) you into having children. The same can apply to marriage and career choices. When a big part of your life is not in harmony with what fuels your heart, then you have an conflicted situation. Unhappiness breeds in these areas, spreading like mold in a damp basement. Sooner or later, you will burst from this place of conflict, and it won't be pretty.

6.  Give up control. We have all seen them. We call them 'control-freaks,' and we all know them, even when we seem them in the bathroom mirror. People who feel they have lost control in one or more areas of their life will overcompensate in other areas by trying to control every piece of it. The underlying issue is unhappiness. How many control-freaks have you known who have had their lives fall apart anyway, despite their efforts to control every outcome? Come on, let me see those hands. Yep, that's what I thought. Even when a person tries to control everything, $hit will still fall apart. Divorces will happen; cancer will still grow; jobs will be lost; friends will die. Stop trying to control others. Focus on only controlling how you walk through this life, because you are the only one you can control. And let's face it, those controllers are really annoying the hell out of the rest of us.

7. Find your tribe. You may think this is contradictory to #2, but these are two separate and necessary parts which are actually in harmony. Finding your tribe simply means seeking out people who are in balance with your beliefs. These people could be friends you already have or family that you have known since birth. Sometimes, they are respected teachers or new friends discovered in unlikely places. They do not have to do everything together or even live in the same town. These are people with whom you share a mutual respect and support for each other's manner of living, and, through that respect, create mutual inspiration. My tribe is spread across the world and includes people all walks of life. We talk as friends, we support each other's pursuits, and gain inspiration from each other. We are not in competition; we are each other's cheerleaders.

8. Understand your many facets. For American teenagers, much emphasis is placed on choosing a career path that makes one happy. While finding a job that is both emotionally fulfilling and financial sustaining is wonderful when it happens, know that the two points may not always come together, and that is okay. The focus of your happiness should not lie solely on your job. Your employment may be a place that you like and work that you do well, while putting food on the table and a roof over your head. But your fuel (see #1) may be what you do outside of work, and that is okay. Contrary to all the many self-help books out there, sometimes your bliss is not found in your day-job. Sometimes, finding a job that is financially sustaining to your life and 'pleasant-enough' to do each day is all you can expect, while your fuel (again, see #1) can be found outside of your employment. That is okay, and frankly, more common than you think. My own father is a great example, having a day-job in drafting -- at which he was very good -- but his fuel came from his time after work, creating things in his woodworking shop in our garage. By understanding that humans are many faceted creatures, we can understand that happiness may be drawn from the collection of our many areas of interests. Happiness may not come from one interest; it may come from the collection of many interests.

9. Cull the excess. True happiness is not derived from things. It is not dependent on how many shoes you own or how many trips you take a year. It is not determined by your list of friends or the kind of car you drive. It does not have a price tag, and yet it is the most valuable thing in your life. (So, you can stop hanging out with the pompous jerk just because his name on your guest list will somehow impress others.) Learn to live with less because, frankly, stuff happens (see #6) and you really don't want to be the one devastated over the loss of your 50 pair of designer heels. It's just shoes; you'll live.

10. Wipe that goofy smile off your face. Truly happy people don't go around all day grinning like a Cheshire cat or telling people how happy they are. True happiness does not require laughing all day long or skipping to the mailbox. Laughter, smiling, and skipping (if you so choose) are indeed manifestations of happy behavior but should not be forced or expected. You are not advertising for some happiness cult. Truly happy people are content. They do not feel the need to talk about their happiness all the time, but are generally willing to discuss it if someone asks their secret. In my experience, if you have to tell people you are happy, you aren't. True happiness does not need attention.

11. Self-care, self-care, self-care. The airline industry accurately describes what is needed before people can be of service to others. Every pre-flight instruction includes the phrase about oxygen masks, "Secure the mask over your mouth first before helping those traveling with you." This is not heartless to attend to yourself first, in fact, this instruction shows that you can be of no service to others if you are not sufficiently attended. Self-care can manifest itself in many ways, whether that is setting aside time to walk every day or getting a massage every month. It could mean declining that invitation to chair a committee when your schedule is already full. Perhaps it means a long bath or sleeping in on Saturday. Be sure your body and mind have sufficient care so you can then be fully present and fully attentive to those who need you.

Core happiness leans more toward finding the quiet contentment with one's place in the world rather than donning a comedic face and laughing in the face of tragedy. Giddiness is momentary, but true happiness is enduring. Most importantly, remember this is a journey. It is not a race, and it is not a competition. Being mindful of these points during your days will lead you toward being your most contented self, which is right where the happiness lies.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Solo Trippin': An Ozarks Mill Tour

A beautiful day in the Ozark Mountains calls for only one thing: road trip. A lazy Spring day under crystal blue skies is the perfect backdrop for filling the tank, sliding behind the wheel, and driving back in time where waving at each passing car is ritual and cellular reception is non-existent. Ozark County, Missouri, offers all the elements needed to float away from the stresses of the week and remember how it felt to be free.

The Ozark Plateau in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas is rich with the history of pioneers - tough souls who carved out a meager but pleasant existence in the rocky hills and back wood traces somewhere in the middle of the 19th century. Early settlers arrived for the promise of cheap land and little government oversight, and over the years they scraped and cut and built their little corner of paradise on whatever plot of land they called their own. Each hilly tract was, for the owner, a little piece of heaven. To this day, the spirit of these first settlers runs through the veins of those who come to this region, whether by birth or by choice. It is that spirit that can enliven the visitor with a new-found sense of what is important in life. (Here's a hint: it's not your iPhone.)

Several old grist mills still dot the edges of small rivers in this area, hearkening back to a simpler time. Ozark County, Missouri was once home to over 1500 mills lining the edges of these clear waters and bringing commerce to the communities. Today, less than eight remain. In this tour, we'll visit four, but we'll begin with something a little different.

Peel Ferry, Peel, Arkansas (map coordinates 36 29 32 N, 92 47 12 W)

Directions: From Highway 62 between Pyatt and Yellville, Arkansas, turn north on Highway 125. At junction of Highway 14, turn left. After several miles, turn right on Highway 125 and follow to the ferry landing. 

The day's journey began in northwest Arkansas where I drove north on Highway 125 toward the last public ferry in the state of Arkansas. The Peel Ferry carries vehicles across a stretch of Bull Shoals Lake in the northern most part of Marion County. Holding six vehicles, on this sunny Saturday, my car was the only passenger, giving me a chance to visit with the ferry captain and deck hand. Each has worked on the ferry for over a decade.
Arkansas lake ferry boat
The ferry arrives, carrying two cars from the other side.
They were fascinated with my camera at first, and we talked about the advances of technology in the last 20 years, a strange topic perhaps when traversing a small arm of a lake on a ferry, which was installed only when the original highway was submerged by the creation of the lake 60 years before. A bridge would cost too much to build, considering the number of cars that travel that particular road.

The fifteen minute ride across the clear blue water was transcendent. As I stood on the deck, I remembered when I lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, as a teenager and the hundreds of times I must have ridden the ferries across Lake Norfork. Those ferries, one on Highway 62 and one on Highway 101, were replaced by bridges in the late 1980s. The breeze in my hair this day, the lapping of the water against the barge, the beautiful suspension of boat along the water transported me to a time 30 years prior, when life was simpler and the only stress experienced was whether or not you would miss the next ferry run and be late for your appointment. I could have stayed on that ferry all day.

Dawt Mill, Tecumseh, Missouri (map coordinates 36 36 35 N, 92 16 38 W)

Directions: From the Peel Ferry landing, stay on Highway 125 North for 10 miles. Turn right at Highway 160 East and travel about 37 miles. (On this piece, you will drive through the town of Gainesville, and if you need fuel, this will be a good place to stop because there are few choices where we are going.) Turn left on Highway PP and drive about one mile. Turn left the the sign for Dawt Mill, which is County Road 318.

Nearly 20 years since I last saw it, much has changed in the life of Dawt Mill. Originally built in 1897, after replacing a former mill built in 1866, the location along the banks of the North Fork of the White River was ideal for harnessing the power of water to grind corn into meal. Due to the soil conditions, local farmers had more luck with corn than with wheat, which also explains why cornbread is more of a meal-time staple in these parts than wheat breads.
By 1995, the current owner of the property purchased the old mill and the surrounding land but had no immediate plans to refurbish the site. By 2008, the State of Missouri was preparing to condemn the mill and have it demolished from its perch along the river. The owner made a plan to refurbish the structure, using as much of the original materials as possible and preserve this landmark in some new incarnation of its former self.
The entrance to the restaurant and bar at Dawt Mill.
The entrance to the restaurant and bar at Dawt Mill.
It was reborn as the Grist Mill Restaurant and Gravel Bar. Overlooking the river, the setting could not be more peaceful, enhanced by the fact that my cell phone read those magic words "No Service." The restaurant manager, Dallas, gave me a tour of the old mill and explained the restoration process. He took me to an overlook behind the cash register for a view of the dam across the river, which in its day, funneled the water to the mill race and turbines.

"You see that hole in the dam?" he asked. "It used to be about as big as a fist but the water has worn it to where you could drive a bus through it now." He went on to explain that the owner would fix it immediately, if only the state and federal governments could agree on the method of repair. The two offices have argued the issue since 2008, while the hole expands to the point where the mill cannot be used to grind corn anymore.

"With the hole, we can't get enough constant pressure to run the turbines," Dallas explained. "We could fully operate the mill if we could just fix the hole."

For now, the site stands as a restaurant, serving an American fare menu at a reasonable price and in one of the most peaceful locations in the Ozarks. Also included in this bustling wide-spot in the road are several lodging options, where old homes once part of the old mill community have been transformed to overnight lodging, and proudly highlight two amenities in the brochure as no television and no in-room telephones. A hideaway, indeed. Rounding out the community is a general store, ice cream shop, camping area, canoe rental, and fishing guide service. Everything one would need to escape for a weekend is right here, within walking distance.

Hodgson Mill, Sylamore, Missouri (map coordinates 36 42 35 N, 92 16 1 W)

Directions: From Dawt Mill, return on County Road 318 to Highway PP. Turn left on PP and drive 4 miles. Turn left onto Highway H and drive 6 miles. Turn left onto Highway 181 South. After about 4 miles, the mill will be on the left. 

Hodgson Mill may bear a familiar name, as it is indeed the origination of Hodgson Mill  products seen in grocery stores. While the old mill is now closed and for sale, the manufacturing base for the product line is just down the road. The last time I saw this mill was in the mid-1990s when it was home to a gift shop and a proprietor eager to share its history. While still in good shape today, the building seems to whisper a cry for someone to inhabit it again and share its story. Until then, its bright red facade glows from the skirting of spring green at its feet. A picnic area under the trees across the road gives a quiet spot to admire the view.
Hodgson Mill with its trademark red paint, shines from behind the trees on the banks of Bryant Creek.
Hodgson Mill with its trademark red paint, shines amid the trees on the banks of Bryant Creek.
Zanoni Mill, Zanoni, Missouri (map coordinate 36 41 10 N, 92 19 54 W)

Directions: From Hodgson Mill, continue south on Highway 181 about 5 miles when you will see a sign for Zanoni Mill Road on the right. The mill and house sit back from the highway on the right. Just passed Zanoni Mill Road is a gravel road to the right which leads to the mill.

Zanoni Mill harnesses the waters of Pine Creek in a rare function called an overshot mill wheel. The water is channeled to a mill race that drops water from the top onto the mill wheel, rather than traditional wheels where water flows beneath the wheel. The two-story colonial home constructed next to the old mill is a private residence, whose owners own the mill also. Formerly a bed and breakfast, the business has since closed and the owners have reclaimed the home as their private residence. Be respectful of this if you visit since this mill sits on private property. I viewed it from the road on this trip, but in 1996 I spent a night in the house when it was a bed and breakfast, and enjoyed the quiet surroundings.
This photo is from my stay at the mill 20 years ago.
This photo is from my stay at the mill 20 years ago.
Rockbridge Mill, Rockbridge, Missouri (map coordinates 36 47 22 N, 92 24 34 W)

Directions: From Zanoni Mill, continue south on Highway 181 for 2 miles. Turn right on Highway N and drive almost 10 miles. Turn left on County Road 142, at the sign for Rockbridge. The mill and surrounding buildings are about 1.5 miles down the road.

Rockbridge Mill was built at the edge of the Spring River in 1865, and expanded in 1888. By the early 20th century, a small village of buildings surrounded the mill, including a general store, a bank, and several small homes. By the mid-1950s, the collection of buildings, including the mill, was transformed into a private trout hatchery and fishing resort. On this visit, the current location was active with eager fishermen. A restaurant, fishing guide service, and lodging facility rounds out this tranquil patch of Ozark ground.
The old mill now houses a fine restaurant to feed hungry fishermen.
The old mill now houses a fine restaurant to feed hungry fishermen.
After the visit to Rockbridge, it was time to point the car back home. I made my way to Highway 5 South and decided to go through Mountain Home, Arkansas, my old stomping grounds. Just the drive along that highway brought back so many memories. Each curve in the road seemed to have a story, and by this time of the day, my mind was thoroughly free from thoughts of work.

I opened the sunroof, rolled down the windows, and let the spring breeze carry me home.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Live There

Is your home a reflection of you or a reflection of what you believe you are supposed to be? Do you live in a large house that you secretly despise maintaining? Do you live amid a group of people who shape your behavior rather than living in a manner befitting you? Do you sometimes look at your life and not recognize yourself in it?

Dear Reader, I can tell you that I have answered 'yes' to all of those questions. While not all the points are easily changed, if change is what you indeed wish to make, small steps in a direction toward the real you are possible. I am not sure if it is a mid-life crisis or a mid-life realization that I am in the midst of, but I can tell you that changes have occurred in my thinking, and I like it.

A small example is in the yard around my house. After purchasing this house in 2002, I immediately began building flower beds and shrub beds across the entire property. A mere one-third acre, the lot still offered plenty of places to dig and create numerous planting beds which I quickly filled with my latest haul from the garden center. I exhausted myself on the project to make my yard look like every magazine page I had admired over my adult life.

What those magazines do not explain is what happens after the photographs are taken, when the weeds grow and plants must be pruned. Some of the favorite plants die because the neighbor's cat has other ideas for the look of your yard. The magazines do not explain that no matter how well you prepare the soil or place weed barriers, the proximity of your property to an adjacent cattle pasture will render your war against weeds fruitless. This is before the menagerie of nocturnal creatures dig and steal every bulb you ever planted and the grasshoppers eat the center out of your Pampas grass. The once lovely idea of a yard worthy of magazine photographs soon becomes a chore on par with cleaning that tiny crevice around the kitchen sink -- a necessary evil. 

Only after 12 years of this constant battle in my yard I realized: I don't like working in the yard that much. I just don't, never have. While I enjoy mowing, and I certainly enjoy looking at the flowers and shrubs, the ongoing upkeep -- especially on the scale I had created -- was sucking the life out of me. I began to detest the weekly 'to-do' list which stole more and more of my weekend time. Only last autumn did I have a revelation: take it all out. 

Diamond grass, clematis, and thread-leaf
coreopsis emerging for a second
season. The omnipresent weed-generating
cattle pasture is in the background.
After one long arduous weekend in the yard late last autumn, when I prepared the property for winter, I realized I no longer had to impress the neighbors with gardening skills. Nor did I have to impress my friends or try to hold myself to some standard created in a magazine. I boiled down my thoughts to what I truly wanted, what I truly felt I could handle without being overburdened. I like to mow, and a few containers of flowers on the patio would satiate my wish to see pretty plants. The deconstruction began. 

My yard is much more manageable this season than last, after the winter of removing that which no longer worked for me. Let's face it, it never worked for me. What I realized was that in all my years of building up this yard, in all my work to create what I saw in the photographs, I ignored two basic and insurmountable truths: living near a cow pasture will always mean more weeds since wind and birds will distribute the seeds, and I have a limit to how much yard work I like to do. Boom. When I ignored those truths, unhappiness crept in. 

I now have six containers on my patio, filled with small perennial shrubs and flowers. They are manageable. I can pull weeds in about three minutes, giving me oh-so-much-more time to enjoy them and far-better fits my attention span when it comes to weeding. The areas of former planting beds in the yard are now integrated with the lawn, and easily maintained with mowing duties that take one hour a week. Finally, I matched my desire to work in the yard with the level of required work in the yard, a balance too many years unmatched. 

What have I found in all this? Now that the yard is no longer burdensome, I want to spend more time in it, enjoying it, and tending to it. The light shroud of resentment toward it is gone. My yard is beautiful to me again, even though it has far fewer magazine-styled planting beds. It has finally become the peaceful refuge I looked for all those years when I thought that more plants equated to more happiness.

If you dream of living in a loft in the midst of a vibrant city,
with museums and cafes as close as friends,
then by all means, live there.

If you imagine a large house with lots of bedrooms,
with kids, and block parties, and a welcoming neighborhood,
then by all means live there.

If you dream of a little cottage in a quiet place 
surrounded by nature where thoughts have room to run,
then by all means, live there.
--Rita Herrmann, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Digital Maturity


The last two weeks, oh, please do not visit yourself on me again. Ever. Well, not the rough parts, really, the good parts can stay. And the laughs can stay. And the moments when I was presented an opportunity for patience and I took that opportunity. Yeah, that one can stay. But the part where all my digital content -- the entire guts of my laptop, including all photos and writings -- were hanging in the balance while the I.T. guy at work looked puzzled? Uh, no. 

That's never a good sign. Never make the I.T. guy look puzzled. Especially at the moment you are simultaneously wondering when you ran the last backup, while that little voice in your head is whispering, "How could you have been so stupid?" (It's the same voice that tells you not to buy a shirt with a big flower on it, but you do it anyway only to regret it, just like the voice told you in the first place.)

After a battery of tests, the hard drive on my laptop was diagnosed as terminal. Kaput. Toast. Done. Over. And worst of all, inaccessible. All its contents? Irretrievable.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Temporary Glitch

Just a quick note this week because technology is dictating this one. My laptop, from which I write our weekly missives, has decided it needs to retire and parts of it have already quit working. Each keystroke I'm typing right now is likely being checked off some huge laptop scoreboard where the game is measured like golf -- the higher the number, the worse the game. So, bear with me while I take a little break from our weekly gathering while I shop for a new one.

Stick with me -- just because technology has thrown a little roadblock in the way does not mean the ideas are not firing like normal. My ever-present list of ideas keeps growing! Check back soon and we'll catch up like old friends.

Until then, I'll leave you with a few photos of clouds from our Ozark Mountain storms.

Enjoy your week!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Way I Roll

The greatest lessons I have learned have been facilitated by travel. It must be something about being in a place out of my ordinary that allows the mind to relax, becoming more receptive to any teachings the world shows us. While traveling with others is a wonderful time for bonding, laughter, and shared memories, the most inspiring trips I have taken, have been taken solo.

Notice, I didn't say 'alone.'

The word 'alone' is laden with negative connotations, "She travels alone," "She eats alone," and "She is alone." The word generally rolls off people's tongues with sour drippings, indicating no one wants to be with her, when in reality the individuality of her moment is by choice.  Solo has a much more positive vibe to it: "She took a solo flight," "She hiked the Appalachian Trail solo," or "She rebuilt an engine -- solo!" A simple change in terminology can change the perspective. But I digress . . . 

I spoke with my sister yesterday about everything from decorating houses to upcoming vacation plans. She is accustomed to

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Three o'clock in the morning is never a good time to make decisions or to write a post to be seen publicly. I bet you can guess what time it is here. I awoke with too much on my mind to keep it contained my head anymore, so here I sit, in front of a keyboard, clicking out the excess onto the page in a effort to make room in my brain. 

This week has been mentally tough. Far too many thoughts and far too many tasks to complete -- which are yet to be completed -- have hung in the air around me, taunting me at my every turn. "You aren't finished yet," one says. "I still need to be completed," says another. "I'm not going away," says the one I am really avoiding.

Not only have I wrestled with an ever-growing to-do list, but my conscience has felt the burden of weighing who I am against who I want to be. Likely, I am not the only person on this earth who feels that pull between two sides of oneself, but the mind has a clever way of making one feel alone in the thought. What in the world am I talking about? 

I want to read more of the books that keep stacking on my shelves, but I get lost in an online pursuit of how to care for my

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Chaos of Growth

Have you ever looked at a seed? I mean, moved close to it and really studied that little pod of impending life? There it is, completely contained in its safe shell, perfectly shaped and easily hidden out of view. It could remain there, safely tucked in its protective sheath, never changing from its current state. It might even be happy there in the only world it knows, but what if it dares to try for more?

First, it must crack and split apart in what would appear to be a violent burst of energy forthcoming. Then the interior twists and spits itself out of the formerly contained sheath, spilling out to the open where it is exposed to the elements. It is broken, mangled, and nearly unrecognizable. On the minuscule scale of a seed, the undoing is complete and utter chaos as a tiny tendril of life reaches beyond the world it knew, from inside its former place of comfort and protection.

Now it sits in its most vulnerable state. A harsh wind or wayward blow could snuff out any chance this tiny finger of life has at

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Mile in Her Shoes

The Academy Awards were handed out last Sunday, and while the awards show is a highlight for movie lovers, who endure the boring parts to feast on the cinematic nuggets, this year's speeches are worth special mention, if not an award themselves.

Three speeches stood out, all beautifully delivered by actors who were obviously humbled by the honor of holding that little gold statue. All illustrate the need for compassion and perspective for those who experience life from a different seat at the table, and each shone a light on issues that make us different and the same in one breath.

J.K. Simmons heard his name called for Best Supporting Actor but took away the award for Best Supporting Husband, Father, and Son. Not one mention of an agent or manager or director, Simmons chose to thank the people in his life who mean the most to him - his wife, his children, and his parents. He ended on a unique note with instruction to "Call your parents," a lightly veiled indication that he no longer has the opportunity to do so and everyone listening should make that call before their chance disappears.

Common and John Legend heard their names announced as winners of Best Original Song for "Glory" in the movie Selma. The spirit of the song stands for more than the fight for equality of African Americans, but for equality for all. For as long as one person is systematically disenfranchised, for as long as one person is discriminated against, for as long one person is purposely shut out from opportunities, we all suffer. We are all less than we could be if our society works to make one person less than a full member with equal rights. If it can happen to one group, then it can happen to me, and to you, and to another and another and another.

Patricia Arquette had her chance on the stage when her name was called for Best Supporting Actress. This was her first Oscar nomination and last opportunity during this year's award season to take the stage after her multiple wins. She used her time to shine a light on the pervasive issue of wage inequality between men and women. While cheers were heard in the audience, the public reaction was mixed with some applauding her stance and others saying wage inequality is unfounded. Some people vehemently denied that women statistically make, on average, 78% of a man's wages for doing the same job with the same experience. Some said women's child rearing roles, and choices therein, affected the statistics. Others said women were not as assertive as men in asking for higher wages. Still others claimed that since they had never experienced it, the idea of it was bunk.  

Social media lit up with comments from both sides of the aisle, some applauding the sentiments of these speeches, some saying personal, and mostly political, views should be absent from award shows like this.  Admittedly, I was in that camp for many years, chastising actors for making this stage a forum for their own political views. 

But what is art -- what are films -- if not an illustration of society? Art, and movies in particular, reflect society, whether that be struggle or triumph, observation or dreams. Each of these speeches reflected what was real to the speaker -- loss of meaningful communication, racial discrimination, gender inequality. A viewer could easily shake off these words that are uncomfortable, citing the need to be comfortable, the need to be uncontroversial, the need to be vanilla. 

Each of these speeches reflects feelings that are very real to the speaker. To discount the words for being too uncomfortable for a public telecast is to diminish the feelings of the speaker. You don't have to agree with everything they say, but to erase the topic with a broad stroke does not mean it does not exist. It is acceptable to discuss the hard topics. Progress can only be made from discussing, not ignoring. 

And so, I challenge you to discuss the hard topics with those around you. This can be done calmly and rationally, with each side voicing their opinions without diminishing another's view. Listen to an alternative opinion. Listen to those who do not agree with you. Ask questions about how the person feels. Learn why they feel that way. Try, for even a moment, to walk in his or her shoes so you can better understand the point of view. We don't have to agree on everything, but we can respect each other's opinions. Perhaps when we meet in a field of respect, we can actually find resolution.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

You Have a Story to Tell

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church,
Berlin, Germany (photo attributed
to Wikipedia)
On a main thoroughfare in Berlin, Germany, there stands the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (or as the Germans know it, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche). The structure in its Romanesque style was constructed in the 1890s and seated over 2,000 parishioners during its original incarnation. Its spire reached 371 feet (113 meters) into the air and was a fine example of architecture of its day, welcoming worshipers for the next 50 years. As it stands today, however, it is a mere shell of its former self, though not to be mourned.

I thought of this church again while having dinner with a friend earlier this week. We don't get to spend too much time together but on the odd occasion where we share dinner, she is sure to give me a laugh while our conversations move through a myriad of topics. 

We spoke about some difficult times we had each endured, times that had thankfully passed, when she surprised me with a question regarding my choice to endure the difficulty until it improved.

"Why did you stay?" she asked. I was taken aback by the question, not because I did not have a answer but because no one had asked before. The situation I endured was not hidden, and I had commiserated with a few friends on the issue, and yet not one other person had asked me why I stayed. Why didn't I cut and run? Why did I chose to stay in a situation that was so difficult for me?

Without hesitating, I told her my story. This deeply personal reason I endured some miserable conditions in the last few