Schnitzel

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We found Schnitzel resting on a bunch of spidergrass in the front yard. Throughout the day there had been a racket of noise coming from that corner of our front porch (there are starling nests all over the place) so I wasn’t surprised to discover our little starling had fallen/jumped/been pushed out. He is at an in-between stage where he’s too young to be on his own but old enough to only need a little more help before he’s flying off into the world.

A friend from Springfield, Missouri was staying over last night on a work trip and has fostered all kinds of  baby birds successfully. She gave us some tips on how to keep him fed and happy, at least until he’s big enough to start hopping around in the grass and getting used to being on his own (remember Mr. Grumpyfeathers?).

Schnitzel is a good sleeper, a very good eater, and a good pooper – all extraordinary traits when dealing with baby anythings. In fact, he’s a better sleeper than my baby human was (and still is, at times). If you’re curious about the name, we collectively decided on Schnitzel because:

a) we’re big fans of the cartoon Chowder

b) we’d just had wiener schnitzel for dinner at Ingrid’s Kitchen

c) Mr. Grumpyfeathers was already taken

Schnitzel’s favorite treats? Softened dog food and hard-boiled eggs. Elle is a bit creeped out by a bird eating eggs, but Schnitzel loves eggs. Seriously, he gobbles them up.

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Wildflowers & Creeks

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Elle's first time in a creek

Believe it or not, this photograph shows Elle experiencing the joys of walking barefoot in a creek for the first time in her life. That sounds a little unreal, doesn’t it? You have to remember, though, that she is Florida-born and bred, with the exception of the last eleven months of her life here in Oklahoma, and little girls from the South, at least mine, just can’t walk around barefoot in creeks and ponds for worry of gators and poisonous watersnakes. There was a single reminder of our Florida days, however, when we came across a mound of miniature seashells. Ah, Oklahoma’s Cretaceous Period?

Oklahoma seashells!

The two of us were attempting to make our walk worth at least a couple of miles but I really underestimated the heat and foolishly left my thermos of ice-cold water in the car. After a short stroll around the creek we crossed an old iron bridge and found ourselves near a field of wildflowers. Elle and I snapped a few photographs while getting eaten up by mosquitos and chased by bees the whole time. All those bug bites were worth it, though, at least to me. I am quite enamored of wildflowers, especially the field of Mexican hats I stumbled upon.

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mexican hats

mexican hats

Sailboats on Lake Hefner

Every day for the past week, while driving Elle to and from her summer camp classes in the far northwest corner the city, I have been able to catch a glimpse of Lake Hefner. It is a busier place in the afternoon filled with bicyclists, joggers, dog-walkers, and general wanderers. On my way to pick her up from camp yesterday, I saw sailboats dotting the water near the lighthouse. Elle is usually too hungry and tired by the end of her camp day to take a walk with me by the lake, but this time I insisted. This Florida girl has been missing that view for quite some time.

Elle and I walked a short while from the parking lot to the lighthouse and met an elderly couple and their dog along the way. They pointed out a snake swimming in the water and we got to talking about Florida. It turns out one of their children lives in Jacksonville, another in the suburbs of Orlando. Our conversation was interrupted by the sounds of splashing and screams. Those sailboats must have been part of a class because I can’t imagine why else there would be so many of them clustered so closely to one another. Most of the time, at least one of them was completely on it side in the water with a few submerged people patiently waiting nearby. There was hardly a breeze yesterday, not even on the lake shore. I’m not entirely sure if this did any favors for those poor people trying to learn how to maneuver a sailboat. It was pretty fun to watch, though.

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Greenleaf

Home away from home #renfaire #greenleaf

This past weekend was a celebratory one for me for three reasons:

1. It was Mother’s Day weekend.
2. I submitted my final research papers early and finished my semester ahead of schedule.
3. Spring is finally here!

The first time I ever traveled on I-40 through eastern Oklahoma was in 2011 when Matt, Elle, and I drove from Florida to Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving. Forgive me when I say Oklahoma is ugly in the winter, but, to be fair, I think almost anywhere is ugly in the winter. Traveling on I-40 again last Friday with the greenery and the wildflowers and the rolling hills made me very happy. It’s a good way to start a vacation and Oklahoma redeemed herself.

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We met with a group of friends at Greenleaf State Park outside of Muskogee (birthplace of my brainiac girl crush, Sarah Vowell) and settled in for a weekend of campfire s’mores, a Renaissance Faire, and the enjoyment of one another’s company. We had cabins this time and an abundance of sunshine and warm weather – my preferred method of camping, even though my husband rolls his eyes at this.

Coming from the land of alligators and swamp rats and where water moccasins fall out of trees, I was horrified, yet totally fascinated, by my first sighting of a tarantula in the wild. It is also possible that I have acclimated to this season called winter which led to me feeling very sick and overheated on Saturday…in 75 degree weather while wearing a flowing skirt and a crop top.

Man, this summer’s heat index in Florida is gonna kill me.

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Wind & Waves

Water-loving people must make do with what they have around them and this was evident to me the first time I saw a surfer in Lake Superior. The kinds of Nor’easters that I am only familiar with on the Florida coast make plenty of large waves on the Great Lakes, too (and are the reason most Lake Superior shipwrecks occurred). Oklahoma doesn’t get these Nor’easters, but she does get her fair share of wind. This, of course, makes windsurfing a pretty popular watersport around here.

washed up and cared for

Lake Hefner

Matt and I sat on a bench near the Lake Hefner lighthouse yesterday as I listened to the waves slapping the shore rocks. A few minutes later we hopped back onto our bicycles and headed into the wind for the 3-mile ride back to the truck. Naturally, we hadn’t noticed the wind during the first short leg of our trek as it was conveniently at our backs helping to move us along. Going into the wind – oh, it hurt and it burned. I even worried I wouldn’t be able to walk for days, but I couldn’t help but love being near the lake. Even one of my dearest cousins in Wisconsin gives her lake house all the credit for helping her get through some kick-in-the-gut life shit right now. Water and waves have some serious healing power, even if it is just to provide encouragement to pedal, pedal, pedal!

wind! of course.

Oklahoma wind. It is windy!

When Matt mentioned that our 6-mile round trip could have taken us almost completely around the lake, I was okay with that. There was no need to finish the entire trail on the first go. Besides, I’ll most definitely go back when the weather warms up again because I think it’s my new favorite nearby happy place.

Open Water | Open Spaces

lake hefner

A few days ago I realized that I have spent my entire pre-Oklahoma life on one peninsula or another. Peninsula – it’s such a romantic word, conjuring up thoughts of being surrounded almost entirely by calming, soothing water. Yes, this Floridian is still missing the water, but I was able to quell some of that homesickness last night at a lakeside restaurant by staring out at the sailboats and windsurfers and imagining the sound of the lapping waves left in their wake.

Oklahoma has a lot of lakes and rivers and they’ve been filling up, for the most part, with plenty of water, thanks to a few good downpours recently. The air has been warm and the sun has been shining and I am almost tempted to toss out my prescription Vitamin D supplements, but no! The forecast for Thursday is calling for a high of 46 degrees with lots of clouds. Because, well…why the *$#% not, right?

It’s been officially decided that I can probably be happy living near the coast, even if the weather isn’t ideal (New England – I’m looking at you!) or someplace with an ample amount of sunshine, but preferably in a sunny and small fishing village anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard.

That’s not happening anytime soon so I am happy to call Oklahoma City home as long as I can see scenes like this more often than not:

sailboat in lake hefner sun

lake hefner lighthouse

lake hefner

The little spit of land on which the Lake Hefner Lighthouse resides could very well be considered a tiny peninsula, a breakwater, or even a jetty, perhaps. There are no oceans or Great Lakes nearby so I have to find familiarity in small-scale ways. But where Oklahoma is lacking in big, open water she more than makes up for in big, open spaces. I’m hoping to get much more of that in the coming months!

Pushing Westward: Red Rock Canyon

top of the canyon on the Rough Horsetail Trail

On the drive out to Red Rock Canyon, Matt asked me, “How far west have you actually gone in your life?” I was born in San Antonio so I figured that counts but we both had a feeling that Hinton, Oklahoma was going to be the winner. I was about to break my own record!

It turns out we were wrong, but only barely.  Here are the official (read: Google) coordinates:

San Antonio, Texas: 29.4239° N, 98.4933° W

Hinton, Oklahoma: 35.4714° N, 98.3553° W

So close!

If I was really into this record-breaking business, I could calculate the depth of Devil’s Millhopper in Gainesville, Florida and compare it to the depth of Red Rock Canyon but, quite frankly, I’ve got a lot of work to do today and I can find peace in knowing that I’ve walked both the floor of a large sinkhole and the floor a small canyon. Besides, my husband is the geographer and I can always ask him to figure it out later (because now I am kind of curious).

Matt had come across Red Rock Canyon sometime last year on his way home from a work-related meeting somewhere out in western Oklahoma. I remember him calling me in Florida and talking about what a cool place it might be to visit one day. So we turned Saturday into that one day and headed out.

There are two short trails – one is a half-mile loop and the other is marked as only two-tenths of a mile. The first trail took us down into the canyon where we walked among stalks of rough horsetail, which I had easily mistaken for leafless bamboo. It was jungle-like and I loved it, especially because there were small ponds of stagnant water surrounded by the kind of foliage you’d find in a swamp. Matt pointed out that I like anything that looks like a swamp and he’s right – it reminds me of home.

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rough horsetail

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The second trail led us up to the top of a small ridge which we followed around past the boundary fence and back down again – more than two-tenths of a mile, that’s for sure. Along the way we encountered wildflowers, cacti, the busy buzzing of bees in the ground cover, and the delicious scent of dirt.

California Trail

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Red Rock Canyon - California Trail

from the top of the California Trail

This whole outdoor adventure may have been what led to me watching the entire first season of Everest: Beyond the Limits on Amazon Prime all day Sunday. I honestly didn’t do much else the entire day besides the laundry and microwaving some leftover pizza. I was exhausted come Sunday night and my thighs and calves were feeling the burn. I fell asleep early and quickly only to end up dreaming that I was climbing Everest with complete strangers who kept pushing past me because…ugh, my legs!

Let’s face it, Everest is not my challenge. Slight inclines are my challenge.

Spring Break. It’s Just Like Every Other Week.

A few weeks ago, I was thrown off by the fact that my university’s spring break wasn’t actually the week I believed it to be. It was made worse when, midway through spring break (not the real one, but the imaginary one I was already celebrating), I realized classes had started two days earlier. Needless to say, I had to work through the real spring break and I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. But when I finally got the chance to share my future career plans with a friend of mine recently, it all seemed worth it. It still does, but I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to recognize the worth of your hard work when it’s coming to an end.

After scrambling to write up four research papers and read hundreds of pages on everything from dark matter and nebulas to Darwin’s finches and Mount Toba (holy shit, y’all – Google it), my brain shut off on Friday when my husband took me out for pizza and shopping for used books…of the fun kind! You know, books about the Mayflower, 1950s race relations in the Deep South, and that asshat King George III. This is fun reading for me and I hope I can put what I read to good use one of these days. Call me, Trebek!

With that, I was able to enjoy this weekend and, dare I say it – I enjoyed Oklahoma. I soaked in my hot tub at night and in the middle of the day and decided both were awesome. My friend and I watched a thunderhead form from nothing in my backyard, far enough away that we stayed dry but close enough to see the towering layers continue building up and up. With drinks in hand, we turned our chairs around to see an incredible lightning show that went on for at least an hour. I was impressed; she told me not to be impressed. Bigger ones, more impressive ones, are on the way.

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My husband, being the more adventurous of the two of us, invited me on a motorcycle ride and I accepted. With conditions, of course, because I’m a pain in the ass that way. Rattling around on the back of a bike is not my idea of a good time, but Matt loves it. Probably the same way I love sitting at the beach. I offered to join him but only if he took me to the nearby gardens. He obliged because he’s a good husband. The best, in fact.

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And so with this Monday begins another round of reading hundreds of pages followed by hours of researching and writing. I don’t mind it, if you can believe it.  Especially because after months and months of searching (actually, I’ve been searching since I moved out here to Oklahoma City), we finally found my perfect desk at a nearby antique shop. Matt and I were able to strike a deal with the seller and brought it home later that afternoon. After moving some furniture around and reorganizing the bookshelves (which, to me, is like reorganizing my brain – I love it!), our office has a bit more color in it.

new office space

Teddy seems to be quite comfortable in the new office, too.

Florida Marches

Spring is slowly, slowly pushing its way through. Strangely, I’m a little hesitant to rush it it only because I know severe storms and tornadoes become the norm this time of year. It snowed in parts of Oklahoma a few days ago and today we were enjoying seventy-degree weather. I’ll probably never stop complaining of the wind, though, which seems to accompany these bursts of warmer weather making it a little more difficult to enjoy the outside world. We’ve been enjoying the hot tub much more lately since night time temps tend to hover around 40 or 50, on a good evening.

I am missing Florida, too. The greenery, the lushness of it all, even the goddamn kudzu. I can’t really say that I wish I was there. According to Sam Champion, my favorite national weatherman, Oklahoma City has been warmer than Jacksonville. One day, we were even warmer than some cities in South Florida. Winter – it’s time for you to go home now.

These photographs are from some of my previous years’ March adventures. Florida usually provides a nice warm spring/summer atmosphere this time of year. Beachworthy, even! Since nobody anywhere in the country seems to be basking in any of that kind of weather, feel free to enjoy these photographs of the botanical gardens in Gainesville and Jacksonville. While there are no photographs of me, I can assure you I was wearing shorts and flip flops on both occasions. My toes, already painted in a deep green polish, are screaming to be released from the confines of socks and shoes. Seriously, Winter – go home already.

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bamboo

daffodils

groud cover

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garden window

Returning to the Outdoors

home for the night

My first camping memory is from Italy’s Bibione Beach on the Adriatic Sea, a small town that rests somewhere between Venice and Trieste, according to Google. The actual location of the place didn’t matter to me then. All that mattered was that I was at the beach and we were camping. My parents took my brother and me there a couple of times, along with other Americans who had become family friends over the years my father was stationed in Italy. It was not unusual for us kids to be surrounded by topless European women sunning on the beach or walking up and down the shore. That’s just not a big deal over there.

There was another overnight trip with my American neighbors somewhere in the mountains. I don’t know which ones, but we lived at the foot of the Dolomites (Italy’s Alps) and the girls and boys had separate tents. Led by my friend’s mom Cleo, we were a bit anxious about being so close to the mountain’s ledge so we pitched our tent closer to the rock wall. Sometime during the night, a storm moved in and the gusty winds shook the boys’ tent so violently it made the boys nervous enough to ask to climb inside our tent. The next morning, their tent was lying at the bottom of the canyon and everything that was inside of it was strewn along the lake.

While the boys cleaned up their mess on the mountain floor, my friend and I had breakfast and splashed around in our swimsuits. I remember having a really good time that day.

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My later childhood was practically spent outdoors in Upper Michigan, even in winter. Summers, though, were especially busy with climbing trees with my friends and building forts in the woods (which we would stock with paperback books and blankets to sit on). I knew what to do in case I was ever approached by a black bear and our camping trips were plentiful. What better way to spend the summer than by having a lakeside sleepover with your best friends, our bellies sick from too many pasties and s’mores, all cooked over the campfire. Sometimes, the kids were responsible for catching all the fish for dinner. To capture lightning bugs, pick berries, and scale and gut the fresh-caught trout – those were our jobs as campers’ kids.

Quanah Parker Lake

Later, my father brought home a small RV. I can’t remember it being entirely more comfortable but my parents enjoyed it. That little RV housed our family of five (and a large dog) on a cross-country road trip from Upper Michigan to South Florida. During that trip, I made a day-long friendship with a girl who lived at our overnight camp in Kentucky. I waved goodbye to her the next morning as she waited at her bus stop for her ride to school and my family headed to my cousin’s wedding in Cape Coral, Florida. On our way back home to K.I. Sawyer, Michigan, we parked our RV in the Fort Wilderness campsite in Disney World and spent a few days with the Big Mouse.

When I was twelve, my family received new military orders and we moved to a Washington, DC suburb completely void of wilderness. The nature parks were filled with homeless people vying for bench space and used hypodermic needles and broken beer bottles littered the grounds. To enjoy the outdoors meant driving for at least an hour or two away from the District and having to bump elbows with all the other people clamoring for fresh air away from the I-95 Beltway traffic and crime of the big city. It made going outside a lot of work. I think it was about this time when I stopped trying to make the outside a fun place and instead filled my bedroom with books and shut myself indoors.

I didn’t go camping again until I was 30. Having been charged with the care of dozens of kindergarten-aged Girl Scout Brownies, one of whom was a sleepwalking terror with a sassy little attitude, it probably wasn’t the best of conditions in which to re-introduce me to my once-favorite pastime. Camping with a gaggle of excitable little girls is a whole different kind of wild and I’ll never do it again.

site 60! It's a good place to camp, if you like wind.

sunset at our campsite

I have a lot of camping memories, good ones, all of which I tried to appreciate while waiting for morning to come as I rested next to the St. Johns River last year and this past week in the Wichita Mountains. The hiking was my favorite part of our most recent trip and I think I’d be willing to put money into acquiring better walking gear (and packing gear) for myself to continue enjoying that aspect of outdoor living. Unfortunately, my husband has confessed to me since returning from Southwest Oklahoma that hiking is not his favorite part of being outdoors – camping is his favorite part.

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It seems we are at an impasse.

While I know how much I used to love camping, I don’t know if I can learn to love it again. I prefer the comforts of home and of being in my own space, although I’ll admit the weather has been uncooperative every time I’ve gone camping as an adult (either ridiculously cold or windy, or sometimes both). To plan a trip outdoors with hiking, picnicking, and breathing in fresh air does not intimidate me, probably because I can freely move throughout the day knowing that I’ll end the day in my own bed.  The confines of a camp, though, leave me feeling restless and agitated.

French Lake

I promised my husband one more attempt at warm-weather camping. Knowing my psychological limitations, we’ll be able to better plan activities to soothe us both. And I will desperately try harder to smile more, participate more, and not be such a grumpy pants. I know attitude affects the experience and I have apologized to my husband more than once!

So, campers – got any advice? What are some ways you have been able to take the good and take the bad, to find comforts in being away from your comfortable home? Have you had to re-introduce yourself to the world of camping after living for so many years indoors? My biggest concern is that I am just not cut out for it anymore but that I’ll keep pushing myself to do it for the sake of wanting  to like it and ultimately end up hating it.