Royal Ascot

One of my favorite musicals is “My Fair Lady.” Do you remember the scene where Eliza Doolittle is at her first society event, a big horse race? That, my friends, is the Royal Ascot.

My Fair Lady at Ascot

A long-running British tradition.  A place where ladies dress in fancy clothes and wear over-the-top hats and where men wear tails and top-hats. A venue for people-watching, for seeing and being seen. The horses run their races, but the society action is in the “royal enclosure.” Royalty has been attending this racing event for over 300 years.

Imagine my absolute delight when my sister asked if I would be willing to go with her to Ascot as her guest! We had great fun together, pretending to be “posh.” We studied the official STYLE GUIDE to make sure we would be dressed appropriately. We covered our hats with bright, cheerful flowers (and I included a whimsical turquoise butterfly).

Ascot Sisters

Garden Hats

It is traditional for race-goers to have a pre-meet picnic in the car park. Many of the groups put up fancy marquee tents with wooden tables and chairs, hot food, and magnums of champagne. Ours was much simpler, with folding chairs and a small side table, but we felt fancy, and I bet our food and drink was just as tasty as theirs! (Let’s not talk about the rain, okay? It was a bit squished finishing up our picnic in the car…)

Fancy Picnic

Bubbly Drinks

Posh Picnic

We joined the throngs walking towards the special entrances reserved for those in the Royal Enclosure. Along the way, we walked on a boardwalk across the turf race track. (Just think what it would be like to stand in the middle of the track with horses thundering toward you…)

ascot grounds

turf track

We were still a little nervous that it might be obvious by our dress that we really didn’t belong in the Royal Enclosure. Whew! After doing some people watching, we realized we fit in just fine!

Ascot Hats

Proper Ascot Style

The Day’s events started at 2:00 with a parade, including the arrival of the Royal Family. The QUEEN and Prince Philip were in one of the first carriages. (No, they did not join us in the Royal Enclosure. That was surely too plebian for them…they had their own private Royal Family Box!)


the Queen arrives

Then the races finally began. Besides the wonderful people watching in the Royal Enclosure, and the feeling of being one of the “elite,” it was also a wonderful place to watch the horses. We stood along the rail, right at the finish line. That meant we saw each horse explode out of the tunnel on to the track AND we saw the actual finish of each race.

in the tunnel

entering the track

on the rail

finish line

My sister insisted that if we were at a horse race, we had to “take a flutter on the ponies.” She broke even. Don’t ask me how I did… (yes, the first two races I picked winners…but I wasn’t betting on those races…sigh…) Others could be seen intently studying the race card between races.

breaking even

studying the racing card

With passes for the Royal Enclosure, we also had front row access to the owners ring (where they could watch the race on big screens) and to the winners circle. After each race, the jockeys walked past this area to weigh in. At the same time, there was a media circus while the trophy was presented to the winner of that race.



winners circle

After all 6 races were over, thousands of people crowded around the bandstand behind the grandstand for a singalong. This is apparently a long-standing tradition. Everyone waved British flags, singing and dancing. (Quite obviously many of the prim and proper British upper crust folks had plenty to drink during the races…guess that’s why they had magnums of champagne at their picnics!!) Occasional rainbursts didn’t stop anyone from having fun—they just put up their umbrellas and carried on.

ascot singalong



singing and dancing in the rain

“Singing and Dancing in the Rain”
(This one’s for you, James)

It was an amazing day that ended with a double rainbow. I didn’t have to search for the pot of gold—even though it was a dark, drizzly day, it will always be golden in my memories! Thanks for a wonderful, extra special way to celebrate my 50th Birthday, little sis!

Golden memories

(If you haven’t seen “My Fair Lady,” you can see the opening scene and song of Eliza Doolittle at Royal Ascot HERE. And yes, I managed to restrain myself from yelling “Move yer bloomin’ arse” as the horses neared the finish line…sorry Eliza, I managed to stay in high-society character even though you didn’t!)


10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp

Here is a random list of life lessons I learned while hand-feeding wild horses at Mustang Camp a few weeks ago. Two of my older kids have spent extended time here, helping to tame these recently captured horses so that they can be adopted. My youngest daughter and I recently had the privilege of spending four days at Mustang Camp, helping with record keeping and initial hand feeding of a new group of 24 horses that had just arrived. (See a video of their arrival HERE)

You can learn more about this wonderful place HERE and HERE.

  • When you keep working through a whirling dust storm, you will spend the next few days picking little bits of hay and wind-driven-dust out of every imaginable place—your hair, your ears, your cleavage, your socks, deep inside your boots, and more! LESSON: walking through difficult times doesn’t end when the storm is over—there will be lots of remnants of that experience that will still need to be dealt with.


    Mustangs must be fed, no matter what weather occurs.

  • My job was to spend time with the new arrivals, talking with them, singing to them, and feeding them four times a day. I had to learn that although it didn’t feel significant (and I felt guilty about all the hard work others were doing with watering, feeding, and mucking pens), this really was “the most important job” at the Camp! LESSON: spending time with others and building relationships is more significant than you might think!

    spending time

    Sometimes spending time to build relationships looks like wasting time...

  • Although my kids and I are NOT “morning people,” it is not hard to get up early and work hard all day long when the work is interesting and meaningful. (You can see additional photos of Anna’s work assignments HERE) LESSON: when you hate to get out of bed in the morning, it might not mean that you didn’t get enough sleep…it might mean you need to find more meaningful things to fill your days…

    hard at work

    Early mornings and late nights are no problem when the work is fun!

  • It is important to not get distracted by all the horses eagerly chomping food right in front of you. The fearful ones in the back need fed also, which often takes more creativity. LESSON: see the big picture and don’t let timid, quiet ones around you “fall through the cracks.” Sometimes they need more attention than the ones who are bold, up front, or showing off.

    big picture

    Don't forget to look at (and enjoy) the "big picture."

  • Consistency is KING! The only way to tame wild mustangs effectively is by consistently giving positive reinforcement and by training little-step by little-step. (Jakob is excellent at this which is why he keeps being asked to come back to help with new horses.) LESSON: Although I love to be flexible and enjoy the stimulation of new things and places and people, there is still a need for consistency in my life, especially in dealing with others.

    consistency 1

    Jakob is the king of consistency!

zebra training

Zebra training is even more difficult than Mustang taming...but consistency brings results!

  • It is important to keep long-term goals in mind. No, one must not scritch the PolkaDot King on the nose, no matter how much he nuzzles and snuffs and checks out your hands—scritching might scare him and set back his training. LESSON: sometimes reaching long-term goals means giving up short-term pleasures…


    It is SO hard not to scritch the friendly ones...

  • Aggression might be because one is a bully and has a dominant personality. But aggression can also be the result of being ostracized, picked-on, or isolated by others for too long. It was interesting to watch interaction patterns between horses change over time. LESSON: look behind the bullying to see what might be causing aggression.

    groups dynamics

    ...wish I could have gotten a photo of the biting and kicking that sometimes occur!

  • When a foal is born to a young wild mare who has been starving and who won’t let the baby nurse, the baby has poor odds of survival. Unlike with a tame animal, the mother can not be handled or penned to help the baby nurse. Bottle-feeding colostrum (thawed from a supply bought from the vet) and milk-replacer help, but might not be enough. LESSON: sometimes no matter how much love we give and how hard we work, nature still takes its course.

    wee dibbuns

    We loved and took care of Wee Dibbuns for almost two days...

  • Wild mustangs are often incredibly fearful. Overcoming this fear is a main focus of using positive reinforcement to tame them. LESSON(s): When you run from fear, fear grows. When you face your fears over and over and over, fear gradually dies out. And when you face your fears side-by-side with a buddy, everything feels less scary!


    Life is easier when you've got a friend!

I Am From…

I’ve been reading books about writing recently, for inspiration about what to write on these blogs and for ways to improve my writing. I just finished “Writing to Change the World” by Mary Pipher. On pages 31-32, the author shared a poem she had written, exploring her identity and how she has been influenced by her past. I enjoyed the form so much that I’ve had a few of the Navajo students in my tutoring groups work on writing similar poems. Hopefully, I will be able to share some of those once they finish. For now, here is my version:

I am from Bob and June, Bessie Belle and Stanley, Deane and Grace.
I am from rural Minnesota and River City, Iowa, from slow moving Mississippi water to farm fields deep under snow.
I am from chicken noodle soup eaters and wieners in sauerkraut eaters, from groaning tables and popcorn-and-just-one-juice-glass-of-pop suppers.
I am from quiet civility and alcoholism, from don’t- show-feelings stewers and yellers and screamers.
I am from “SCRUT!” and “because I said so.”
I am from no-dancing-no-cards-but-Rook Methodists and from don’t-miss-church-if-the-doors-are-open conservative Christians,
from farmers, engineers, teachers, and wheeler-dealers.
I am from Schwinn girls’ bike, 1967 VW bug, and Sound of Music.
From guinea pigs, make-believe horses, swimming pool summers, cross-country travels and music-wherever-we-are.
I am from seasons changing along the Scioto River and maybe from the Old-and-Dingy, from maples and mulberries, roses and vegetable gardens.
From Mark Twain and Terry Pratchett, John Denver and Samuel Barber.
My own chaotic symphony playing before an audience of women in aprons and proper men in suits.

Am I a Real Cowgirl Now?

When I was growing up, I had a favorite hat…a black lacquered cowboy hat. You should have seen my trick riding and roping skills from the back of my favorite (and only) black horse. (Can we just not talk about the horse being on springs? It sounds so much better if my readers think I was an excellent cowgirl on a REAL horse…) I spent hours “practicing” to improve my cowgirl skills.

Eventually I grew up. The hat and the horse stayed at my mom’s to become favorite props for my own kids imagination play. They had the added bonus of cowboy boots added to the dress-up bin, fancy stitched bright red boots, at that!

cowgirl celia

Cowgirl Celia

A few of my kids had fun wearing (cheap) cowboy boots from WalMart. The nice thing with a bunch of kids is that it’s easier to justify fun clothes…there are more kids coming along who will enjoy the hand-me-downs.

cowboy roger

Round 'em up, Wild-man Roger!

Every so often I would try on a pair of cowboy boots…but they never fit right. They pinched my toes. They squeezed my calves in a death grip. They were too tight to get my little fat foot all the way into the boots. And if I ever found a pair I could actually get onto my legs and feet, the heels were too high or the soles were too slippery. I walked out of the store, disappointed yet again.

But then…I went looking for a new pair of comfy leather moccasins for Christmas this past year. I couldn’t find any moccasins (other than slippers) even though we live in Navajoland. (They much prefer wearing cowboy boots to leather moccasins since they more closely identify with the cowboys in Western Movies…but that’s another story for another day.) I gave in and hopelessly started trying on boot after boot after boot. The colors were amazing, the fancy stitching was wonderful, the cutouts were cute, and the prices were scarey. As usual, nothing seemed to fit just right.

Until I tried on a pair of Ariat boots. They are plain boring rusty brown. They have a little bit of stitching, but nothing fancy. The toes don’t have any fancy metal trim. BUT…they fit! They are totally comfortable, from the first moment I tried them on. It wasn’t love at first sight…but it might well have been love at first fitting.

my own boots

My very own cowboy boots...alot more scuffed up by now!

Thanks to my in-laws and my husband, I am the proud new owner of a pair of cowboy boots. Finally, I fit in around here in this wild-west world. I never thought I would say this, but I wear those boots far more often than my tennis shoes.

I still get a little thrill when I look down and see the tips of my boot…MY boots…my very own COWBOY boots…peeking out from under my jeans.

I got the boots of my dreams and I don’t much like wearing hats these days. But what about that black horse?!

Flying…or Grounded?

Fly by the seat of one’s pants: 1. to pilot a plane by feel and instinct rather than by instruments 2. to proceed or work by feel or instinct without formal guidelines or experience.

I use this phrase a lot. This is my favored way of moving through life. Make an extensive list, then chuck out the list and “fly by the seat of my pants.” I like the freedom in this. I enjoy the creativity it allows. I thrive on the possibilities in front of me when I live this way.

I love to "FLY"...

Unfortunately, this method of living makes it hard to stick tightly to schedules and routines. Just ask my kids who were all homeschooled. We were NOT a family who were all sitting at our desks by 8:30 am, ready to proceed from subject to subject on regular intervals indicated by a bell.

Eventually, most things on my lists are covered, finished, checked-off. All the “basics” get done along with a million other serendipitous things as well.

I used to beat myself up for not sticking to a schedule. Occasionally I vowed to change. I would buy a day-planner, fill it in, and compulsively stick to the plans…for a few days or a week at most. Then it was back to spontaneous living once again…sigh…

Eventually, I realized there is nothing wrong with this style of living. After all, I DO get everything done that needs to get done. I usually find a decent balance between responsibilities and fun. I don’t get bent out of shape when the unexpected happens—whether good (a friend stops by) or bad (pipes break and we have no water for a few days).

I realized last night that this is a significant reason why I enjoy homeschooling so much. When we educate our children on our own, we are not tied to a school schedule. We are free to follow whatever opportunities appear.

Nettie is currently working as a wild-mustang-taming intern at “Mustang Camp.” There is an unexpectedly large batch of newly caught wild-horses coming in and the owners are short-handed. Jakob will be headed back into the canyon to stay for a few days as another “hired-hand.” He will be hand-feeding a few of the newcomers, getting them comfortable with being near humans. This is time consuming, but not difficult work.

I can't "fly" to Mustang Camp...I've been grounded

I so much wish that I could go back to Mustang Camp for the month. I enjoy being around horses. I know I would be good at the taming and training. I could even take horse-crazy Anna back with me. What an awesome experience it would be!

But…Anna is now in school. Yes, it is going well for her. Yes, it was a good decision to enroll her this year. Yes, it gives me more freedom to work on other projects during school hours. BUT…I can’t fly by the seat of my pants for now. I can’t just move her and I back to Mustang Camp to follow this opportunity. We have a school schedule to follow instead. She is learning to live with regularity and consistency…but we have lost room for much spontaneity, at least for now.

So I will make more lists. And I will go where opportunities lead me. But creativity and spontaneity will have to happen within the confines of an external school-day schedule this year. Right now I’m mourning the limits on freedom…

I’m not currently “flying.” I’ve been “grounded” for now.