Friday Favs – Post Valentines Edition

Happy Friday, friends! The forecast here is calling for freezing rain all day – brr! This has been such a weird winter! It was 60 degrees yesterday! Which means…

 

 

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My Valentine is tall and handsome and was very excited about the candy I brought him. 💕

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1. I got to spend Valentines Day with my main man!

I haven’t ridden Folklore in months! The weather has been icky and cold tends to make him a little stiff (he’s basically retired now), so I’d rather wait for a nice day when we can both enjoy it. He was excited to see me, and especially excited about the peppermint sticks I picked up on clearance after Christmas. The boy loves his peppermints! He’s the only horse I’ve ever known who will pick up his back feet and basically put them in my hands to be cleaned because he knows he gets treats when his hooves are done. It’s so cute!

 

He even put on eye shadow for the occasion. TBH I think he pulls this stuff just because he likes getting his face brushed.

If you’re wondering- yes, I’m very sore today. English riding uses pretty much every leg muscle you never knew you had, and I’m feeling alllll of mine today!

 

 

2. I don’t usually like white chocolate, but for some reason I LOVE white chocolate Lindt truffles. They have these limited edition ones out for Valentine’s Day that are milk chocolate on the outside and soft white chocolate on the inside and… I may have eaten three bags of them.

I regret nothing.

 

3. Y’all know I’m addicted to the Hogwarts Mystery phone game. This week we got a side quest that was just so cute and fun it made my week! Remember the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire? We had a dance that was basically like that – you got to pick your outfit and your date and the whole thing was just such a fun break from the regular storyline:

 

 

 

And yes, I brought the smartest boy in all of Hogwarts as my date:

I’m still mad I couldn’t pick Bill Weasley as my date, but Barnaby is growing on me.

 

Seriously, if you’re a Harry Potter nerd and not already playing this, get on it! It’s free!

 

4. My meowers are currently obsessed with the Tiny Tiger cat food variety pack we received to review for the Chewy Influencer Program this month.

 

Salmon, seafood, and tuna varieties. All three were a hit! My only complaint is wishing that the flavor names were easier to spot on the label.

 

Bear LOVES to help when I’m taking product photos for reviews.

I was a little hesitant to order a brand I’d never heard of, but this has been a hit! My cats devour all three flavors. It’s little chunks of meat with a good amount of gravy, which is always a crowd pleaser.

Chewy currently has an awesome deal on the Tiny Tiger variety pack where you get an extra 50% off your first order, which makes it like $6.50 for 24 cans! Score!

 

5. Best of the internet recently:

 

 

Sad news – I found out this week that my trail ride job won’t be re-opening in March. I’ve been looking forward to going back all winter, so obviously I’m bummed. I’m considering applying at a different place near me that offers horseback riding once they re-open, but it won’t be the same!

That’s it for this week! I’m curled up in bed with the cats, getting ready to get some writing work done. (I may have skipped working last night in favor of going out for dinner and a movie. Sometimes you have to take advantage of that whole “freelance”thing, even when it hurts your wallet.) It’s been a busy week, so I’m totally content to not go anywhere today!

 

May your weekend be lovely and filled with heavily discounted V-day candy!

 

Linking up with Bright on a Budget and A Little Bit of Everything

Trail Riding in Branson, MO at Pot A Gold Stables

In my opinion, almost any beautiful walk can be even better if you’re watching the scenery from horseback. As much as I love hiking, almost every time I’m walking through the woods I think, “This would be so much better if I was riding.”

 

 

Back in July, I was browsing the #explorebranson hashtag on Instagram in search of fun new things to do, and got SUPER excited when a post from Pot A Gold Stables showed up in the feed. I had NO idea there was a new trail riding place near Branson! If you read my blog often, you might remember that I’ve been taking Hunter/Jumper (English) riding lessons for a little over a year, but I haven’t had the chance to go trail riding in a couple of years, so a relaxing trail ride through the Ozarks sounded perfect!

 

 

Pot A Gold Stables is located just across Lake Taneycomo from Downtown Branson on the same property as the Sycamore Creek Family Ranch, which serves as an event and wedding venue. Although the ranch is off the beaten path, it’s easy to find. From the Branson Landing area, you just cross the bridge and only have to make two turns after that – about a ten minute drive. The final road leading up to the stable is gravel, but it’s pretty smooth for a gravel road and my little car had no problem with it. There’s parking just a few steps from the barn, which is super convenient!

 

 

All of THAT said, I was still late getting there for my ride. 😂 I had only glanced at the map and thought I’d be taking a totally different highway to get there, and only discovered when checking directions right before I left that it was a good 15 minutes farther away from my house than I thought. Oops! Thankfully I’d been planning to leave early anyway, so I still arrived well before the actual start time. Most of the other guests were already paired up with horses by that point, though, so I’m glad I wasn’t any later! (You do need to make reservations for your ride so the trail guides know in advance how many people to expect and thus how many horses to have ready. That also means that if you’re running a few minutes late like I was, they know to wait for you. Definitely aim for being early, though. Nobody wants to be the guy who everyone had to wait for. And allow some extra time for traffic if you have to drive through Branson!)

Pot A Gold Western Adventures offers one, two, and three hour trail rides, which I LOVE. It’s so hard to find a barn that offers rides longer than one hour! If this is your first time on a horse, you’ll probably want to stick with an hour, but if it’s something you’ve done before and know you like, definitely go for the two hour ride! For me, an hour on horseback just flies by, so I’m all about the 2 and 3 hour options!

 

Adorable donkeys also live on the ranch

 

They also offer 20-minute lead pony rides, which are great for kids that are too young to join in the regular trail rides but want the chance to try it out. (Kids need to be at least 6 to go on the regular rides, and riding on the same horse as a parent is not allowed for safety reasons.)

On the opposite end of things, they don’t have a weight restriction to ride but you do need to let them know if you’re over 250 lbs when you make the reservation so they can have a horse ready to accommodate you. I know that can be a delicate subject to bring up to a stranger, but both you and the horse will be way more comfortable and safe!

 

 

I got super lucky with weather the morning of my ride! It was overcast and even sprinkling a little on my drive there,  but the rain stopped before it was time to ride and we got to enjoy the cooler temperatures that came with it. It started out at about 72 degrees and hit the upper 70s by the end of my two hour ride. (For the record, rides still go out as long as it’s not raining too badly. They do reschedule if the weather conditions are going to make things unsafe, though.)

 

A few horseback trail riding tips if you haven’t been before:

 

What should you wear for a trail ride, and what should you bring along?

Definitely wear long pants – jeans are probably going to be the most comfortable. I know shorts might seem like a good idea when it’s hot, but trust me, they’re not. Not only do legs rubbing against your saddle get painful, but you’re riding through the woods where branches and bushes can scratch bare skin. Jeans are your friend!

Closed toed shoes are another must. Boots are great, but tennis shoes will work just fine in a pinch. I actually tend to ride in a pair of $30 boots from Target most of the time. Something with about a 1-inch heel is ideal, because that keeps your foot from slipping through the stirrup. Avoid anything with an actual 2+ inch heel, though.

(As a side note, there are several great thrift stores in Branson, so if you’re visiting and want to pack light, you could easily find jeans and boots for a few dollars and then just re-donate them before you leave town.) Depending on the weather, you may also want to bring a hat or sunglasses and a light jacket. Be sure to bring a bottle of water (saddle bags are available so you can bring it with you on the ride), and if it’s a hot day, you might want to bring two! Tips for your trail guides are not required but are definitely appreciated, so you may want to bring some cash as well.

Children are required to wear helmets, but older teens and adults can choose whether they’d like to or not. The horses are very well trained and used to beginners, but even with the best trained animal there’s always a chance something could happen. I always wear a helmet when I’m riding English, but generally don’t for Western. Just go with whatever you’re more comfortable with!

 

Pausing by the lake for photos

 

To be honest, I’m back an forth on the idea of bringing your phone along. One of the guides on my ride was awesome about taking photos for people and texting them to them, and you can always ask to have a photo taken on your horse before you start or end your ride. I did bring my phone along because I’m very comfortable on horses and experienced enough to judge when I feel safe taking it out to snap some photos. In general, though, it’s better to focus on the ride and keep both hands on the wheel, so to speak. Nobody wants to have to drop a billion dollars on a new iPhone because it fell out of your pocket and the horse stepped on it. (Seriously – even with 30+ years under my belt, I’ve dropped my phone on a trail ride before. I’m super lucky I heard it fall or I probably never would have found it!)

 

 

Let’s get back to my actual experience, though! I wound up riding a super sweet little mare named Izzy. I could tell from the beginning that she was super chill and I’d be able to just relax and enjoy my ride, which is exactly what I’d been hoping to do! A funny side note – she was over a foot shorter than the horse I usually ride for jumping, so when it came time to get off her it was like, “WHOA, there’s the ground already!” I gave her lots of love post-ride and asked the guides if it would be ok to give her some of the horse treats I keep in my car (What, everyone does that, right?) as a reward for her hard work. We became instant buddies.

 

 

The trails at the ranch are absolutely beautiful. You get to ride through the woods, along Lake Taneycomo, through big open fields, and even down a path that winds through a patch of bamboo that’s like 12 feet high! Most of the ride is very relaxed and easy, but there are a few challenging parts mixed in for a little excitement. The location also makes it a perfect place to spot wildlife. We saw baby deer on my ride, but bald eagles, herons on the lake, giant groundhogs, an other Missouri wildlife are also common.

 

 

The horses are all very well trained and beginner-friendly. A lot of horses would freak out at things like passing a big tractor or seeing a deer jump out, but nothing bothered these guys. Another common issue with trails horses is being barn sour (not wanting to leave the barn and wanting to run when they’re getting close to home), but the Pot A Gold horses stayed relaxed the whole time. At the same time, if you actually do have riding experience, you’ll notice that they don’t just mindlessly follow the horse in front of them like a lot of trail horses do. I played around with giving Izzy some very subtle cues while we rode, and was pleasantly surprised by how well she listened to me.

 

Pot A Gold’s Branson location is currently closed for the season because riding in 30 degree weather is no fun for anyone, but if you’re planning to visit Branson in 2019, be sure to put it on your list of Missouri adventures, as the current plan is to re-open in March!

 

I need to add an important note here at the end: I received a complimentary trail ride in exchange for sharing my experience with my readers- pretty standard for travel blogging, but I actually started working for this company about a month after my first ride. I wrote most of this post right after the trail ride and before I started working there, so I’m glad I preserved my original opinions fresh after the experience before I started viewing everything through an insider lens! I tried to primarily only use photos from that first ride, too, but I did end up adding in a few photos from later rides just to flesh the post out a bit. I’m working on another post about my experiences during my first season of guiding trail rides, but I wanted to keep this post in the pure, unbiased view of a guest. Hope that makes sense? Either way, feel free to fire away with questions whether they’re about trail riding in Branson or trail riding on vacation in general or working with horses or anything else and I’m happy to answer!

 

 

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(Yes, that’s me “Woo-hoo!”-ing on Polka Dot in the back. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen plenty of Polka Dot!)

 

You can find Pot A Gold Western Adventures on Facebook and Instagram (you’ll spot me in a few pics there!), and learn more on their website!

First February Friday Favs

Happy Friday, friends! I couldn’t resist the post title tongue twister.

WARMER WEATHER IS COMING AND I AM EXCITED.

 

excited kitty gif

It me.

It’s supposed to be in the low 60s all weekend and into the early part of next week and I am so here for it! Since I’m only self employed right now (as opposed to that plus three other jobs like I had been juggling since August), I can take a little bit of a break to hike and hopefully ride and generally just enjoy above freezing temps. I wrote over 1,200 words for work in January (imagine if I wrote for one of those magazines that pays $1/word or more!), so my brain could definitely use a couple of days of rest.

(This post contains affiliate links because coffee and cat food are expensive.)

 

1. I meant to write about this ages ago, but back around October I decided to try out new deodorants. I’ve used a fragrance-free one for AGES, but since my sensitivity to fragrances seems to have let up a bit, I wanted to try something different.

 

After sniffing pretty much everything in the deodorant aisle, the Schmidt’s Rose + Vanilla was definitely my favorite, but I was a little worried that it wouldn’t actually work (I think most of us have had at least one disappointing experience with a natural deodorant!) so I grabbed the Secret Va Va Vanilla, too, as a backup. That turned out to be unnecessary, because I LOVE the natural one. My armpits smell like roses! I haven’t yet put it to the ultimate test of working with horses on a hot summer day, but it has made it through just about everything else.

As a side note, I’ve used the Secret one a few times, too, and it’s fine, just nowhere near as noteworthy as the Schmidt’s one!

It’s available from Target for $4.69, which if you sk me is a total steal for being able to proclaim, “My underarms smell like roses!”

 

2. I quoted the book I’m reading, Shit Your Ego Says, in my last post, but I’m about to do so again because I learned something from it that I keep thinking about and sharing with everyone who will listen.

You know how there are types of light that we can’t see? X-rays, gamma rays, UV rays, etc?

If we were to take the entire light spectrum and condense it to the size of the Mississippi River , which flows 2,340 miles from the top of Minnesota into the Gulf of Mexico, the portion that would be visible to the human eye is merely eight inches.

 

Can you imagine if we could see even 10% of the spectrum of light? And then add in all of the other things buzzing around us that we don’t see – sound waves and radio signals and gases… it’s crazy to think about how unaware we are of much of what’s around us all of the time.

 

3. I stopped at Tractor Supply Company a couple of weeks ago to pick up some cat food (Their store brands are surprisingly good and super cheap) and to stare lovingly at horse stuff, and ended up picking this cat toy on a whim:

 

 

My cats are OBSESSED with this thing. I knew that Scout would claim it, because despite being the smallest she also takes “hunting” the most seriously. (I recently cleaned out under the fridge and chucked cat toys across the room as I got them out. By the time I was done, Scout had collected them all and put them in her box.) It’s especially fun to watch her carry this around because it’s bigger than her head.

 

 

Lin-Meow, my evil genius, figured out on DAY ONE how to pull on the tail to make it vibrate while one of the other cats is holding it.

It’s available on Amazon for $3.95, too – SO WORTH IT!

 

4. I opened Instagram the other day, and then immediately forgot what I had been planning to post there:

 

 

I’ve been following this hot vet for over a year, and he just announced that he’s getting a show on Animal Planet! Do I even need to explain why he’s worth following?

 

5. My last favorite this week is simply the fact that it’s February. That always makes it feel like the end of winter is within sight. My trail ride job is supposed to re-open March 1st, and I can not wait to see my horses again.

Speaking of the end of winter, tomorrow is Groundhog’s Day and that furry little prophesier better say early Spring. Give us a break, little groundhog dude.

 

Have a great weekend!

 

Linking up for Five on Friday and Friday Favorites!

Shedding Skin

I was at PetCo yesterday to pick up cat food and talk to literally every animal in the place like a complete weirdo (please tell me you do that, too?). Although the adoptable cats are always my first stop (Gold Star Cat Lady for life, yo), my other favorites are the chameleons. Have you ever stopped to watch them? Their weird little hands and the way they rock back and forth with each step, and how their eyes can point in different directions? They’re crazy-looking little creatures.

So anyway, yesterday, there was this guy:

 

 

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He wasn’t doing anything particularly interesting, just chilling on his faux branch, but I found  myself staring at him for a few minutes anyway. You can’t see it here (it wasn’t exactly picturesque) but at the bottom of the tank was a little flurry of skin flakes that he’d been losing while shedding his skin. (Those white parts on the photo are about to fall off.) I nerded out over how cool animals are for a minute, and then went to make friends with a rat.

No, really.

 

Today, though, I was writing morning pages (who else loves The Artist’s Way, the book those come from?) and I started thinking about how even though some things have remained, I’m really not the same person I was as a child, or in high school, or even in my 20s.

 

Ok, clearly some aspects of my personality were there from day one.

 

I’m in a time of transitions right now, and I was thinking about how if I’ve changed so much over the years, there’s no reason why I can’t release the parts of myself I don’t currently like and just change again. Just more intentionally this time.

I’m reading a book called Shit Your Ego Says, where the author finds himself on Culebra, “island of the snake”, after a hurricane destroys his home. There’s a passage about all of the snake metaphors in history and mythology, but then he discusses the idea of rebirth.

(Here’s hoping the publisher doesn’t yell at me for copy/pasting a whole paragraph.)

Of all the metaphors represented by the snake, my favorite is rebirth. As the snake ages, its skin wears out and stretches, making it unable to support new growth. But the snake is not finished growing. It is still becoming the snake it wants to be. So the snake grows a new layer of skin under the old layer. When the new skin is ready, the snake sheds the old layer because it is no longer necessary. It holds no attachment or sentimentality to the identity it leaves behind. Humans also shed our skin. Every day one million skin cells turn into dust and are replaced by new cells. Every seven years each cell in our body has died and been replaced. In a physical sense we become new people. All matter is alive, moving from state to state in varying degrees of change. We crawl, we walk, we run, we fly , we crash, and we rise again. We look back and see how our journey defined us. Along the way, part of us must die so that we can continue to grow. Shedding old cells is essential for the growth of our bodies, and shedding old ideas and beliefs is essential for the growth of our consciousness.

 

So I guess that between reading that a few days ago and seeing that little green guy yesterday, it’s not surprising that the concept is on my mind.

In my morning pages notebook, I wrote, “I’m not the same person I was in high school or as a child, or even in my 20’s, so there’s no reason I can’t release this current me and move on. Shed my skin like the chameleon I saw yesterday. And maybe it *is* like that – the chameleon’s skin was coming off in flakes. Some big, some tiny. It wasn’t an all at once thing like a snake. His cage was a mess from it.”

Sometimes we shed our skin in an almost literal way – we get rid of clothing that no longer feels right, we cut our hair, we lose weight. But changes that happen beneath the surface, too. We let go of old habits and beliefs, we stop limiting ourselves, we replace stale ideas about our lives with fresh new ones.

Yes, sometimes we do wake up feeling reborn, as if some big shift has happened overnight. But real change isn’t always smooth and all at once like a snake shedding its skin. Maybe more often, it’s more like the chameleon -shedding little bits of our past selves in a way we barely notice until we look down and see how much has changed. Messy, gradual, uncomfortable, probably downright irritating when you get to those bits that stubbornly refuse to fall away. Both kinds of change lead to growth. We get that feeling that our current skin – our current jobs, homes, relationships, lives, – it’s all just too small for us. It doesn’t fit anymore.

A phoenix being reborn from flames is a hell of a lot more dramatic and impressive, but right now, I think I am chameleoning.

 

Friday Favs – January is Cold

 

Happy Friday, friends! I missed posting last Friday because to be perfectly honest, winter weather sends my anxiety and depression into a tailspin. We got our first snow of the season on Saturday, which is nuts because it was like 55 degrees on Friday! I’m so thankful that it waited until Saturday morning, though, since I worked until 11 p.m. on Friday and it’s a half hour drive home. A quick story before we start this week’s favorites…

I actually thought the snow was going to miss us for a brief, beautiful moment. I woke up around 4 a.m. on Saturday (anxiety = I don’t sleep in the winter.) and glanced at the weather on my phone, and all of the little snow icons had turned to clouds. Yassssssss! But then I looked again around 5 and the snow forecast was back. We only got about 2 inches, but I live in the Ozarks and ice does not mix well with our hilly, twisty roads.

I was supposed to work on Sunday, but my road still didn’t look very good, I’d heard all kinds of reports of accidents nearby, and my driveway was still ice, so I had to call in. Ever since I totaled my Mustang convertible on ice a few years ago, I don’t chance it when the roads are iffy.

Thankfully, I was able to get out on Monday for coffee and cat food- two non-negotiables in this house. My driveway was still somewhat icy and I have front wheel drive, so I had to do my best to watch the road and then back out quickly because if I stopped half way I wasn’t going to be able to get traction to keep going. But I made it! WOOT!

Fast forward to Tuesday when a coworker texts me to ask if I quit. I was supposed to work Thursday, but I was crossed off the schedule. I let her know that I’d been unable to get to work on Sunday (and that I had given the manager a heads up on Saturday that the roads were pretty bad here and there was a chance I wouldn’t make it Sunday so they could have a back-up plan), but that I had no idea why I’d be crossed off of Thursday.

I got a call on Wednesday that I was being laid off until the busier season due to absences. I’ve been wanting to quit for a whole lot of reasons (I’m not going to publicly say anything bad, so let’s leave it as “multiple factors make that job 10x more stressful than it needs to be.” I’ve had anxiety symptoms pop up since I started working there that I haven’t had to deal with in ages.), but I know how much trouble they have finding good help and I really needed to at least hang on to the job until my trail ride job comes back in March, so I kept showing up and doing my best to help guests have a great vacation. That said, getting laid off felt like such a huge relief. I should be able to pick up enough freelance writing work to get by until March – it will be tight financially, but do-able. It also gives me the opportunity to apply for a part time job with a company I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time, so we’ll see how that goes!

Still – how crazy is it that two months ago I had four jobs, and right now I’m down to ONE?

I went to the library to get some writing done yesterday. I used to go almost everyday when I was writing full-ish time, but it’s probably been almost 6 months since I last worked from there! I was instantly reminded of a) how many odd looks I get for having a “Warren 2020” sticker on my laptop in this particularly red corner of a red state and b) how freaking loud the library gets. The librarians are usually the loudest ones there, ironically, but yesterday someone had also brought in a couple of toddlers (which would usually be a great thing!) and then apparently ignored them while they banged toys on things and yelled to each other. Thank goodness for earbuds and Spotify.

Man, that whole tangent went on way longer than planned – probably should have been its own post! But oh well, maybe you just scrolled past that big block of text in hopes there were cat pictures below it, because this is the internet and there should always be cat pictures.

That said, here are this week’s favorites!

 

1. First things first, my boys are perfect:

 

2. I can’t remember if I have posted this before or not, but I just stumbled across it in my files while searching for something else and it feels worth sharing again:

 

 

 

 

3. I discovered that these exist about two weeks ago and I think I’m on my 3rd package.  I regret nothing.

(Seriously, Oreo, please keep these around. The current limited edition flavors are Sweet Tarts and Apple Pie. How are either of those dunkable?? YOU HAVE ONE JOB, OREO.)

 

4. You can’t tell all that much from this photo, but I realized a few weeks ago that Captain Kitten is getting pretty… “rotund”, to put it politely:

 

 

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He’s only 2, only gets fed twice a day, and is super active, so I’m not really sure where his big ol’ belly came from! I was so happy that one of the products that Chewy offered to send me to review for the Chewy Influencer Program this month was Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Weight Management cat food.

 

 

Bear, Remy, and Captain Kitten all eat together and they could all stand to lose a little weight, so they got most of this food, but I ran out of my regular cat food on a snowy day so I ended up letting the other cats try some, too, and everyone liked it! The 24-pack wasn’t really enough to make a noticeable difference in anyone’s appearance (I usually split 2 of the 3-oz cans between the three cats, so it only lasted about a week) so I can’t comment on how effective it is for weight loss. I can say that I didn’t expect my cats to be so enthusiastic about a low calorie food, though!

 

5. Target has actually created a Valentine’s Day decor item that I want to buy:

 

 

I’m on a tight budget right now (see above note about going from 4 jobs to 1) but I also really want these socks:

 

I hope they’re still around in a month or s when I g back to having disposable income!

 

That’s it for this Friday! I’m finishing this post up at the library, which closes at 4 today because I live in the middle of nowhere. Still, I’ve learned from experience that when I’m just freelancing, even getting out of the house for an hour or two goes a long way towards keeping me sane!

It’s supposed to be almost 50 this weekend, so I’m hoping to get a little time outside and a lot done around the house! (My central heat & air don’t work, so I just have a couple of space heaters keeping me from freezing in the huge house. It got down to 13 last night, and when I checked my kitchen at about 5 a.m. it was 39 in there! I can’t wait to be able to afford to move!)

We’ve almost survived January, fellow haters of winter. We’re almost there.

Have a great weekend!

 

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