Getting My Goat Yoga On

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience with a room full of adorable kittens for cat yoga. But for the last year I have actually been dying to try goat yoga. Nashville, being the hipster metropolis that it is, has at least 2-3 goat yoga companies from which to choose.

I selected Shenanigoats Yoga to get on my nanny goat namaste. Shenanigoats is owned by Jamie (pictured below) and her family and it began as a goat lawn care service. However, that all changed after someone suggested she get into the yoga business. After a post in our local neighborhood Facebook group inquired whether anyone would be interested in local goat yoga classes, and hundreds of excited responses, Shenanigoats Yoga was born.

Shenanigoats hosts yoga sessions a few places around town, but I lucked out that one of those spots happens to be right outside of Bongo East, a coffee shop just a few minutes from my house. The class was led by Janaye Williams from Shakti Yoga.

Fortunately, it was only about 80 degrees outside. Which, for Nashville in August, is basically a cold front. Unfortunately, I still got a good bit of sun because I neglected my sunscreen. Oops!

Enough about me. On to the goats . . . and yoga.

There were a few dozen participants there for my session. Jamie said they sell out every class, which does not surprise me one bit.

We all lined up on either side of the fence, facing the center. I strategically picked a spot near a water bowl in hope that it would increase my goat traffic.

I was right. Several precious goats came by to pay me (ok, the water bowl) a visit.

One friendly little goat even decided to make itself at home on my mat. I, of course, had zero objections to this.

I spent most of my time taking pictures of and petting goats and little time actually doing yoga. But who cares! Goats!

Jamie and her family were also more than willing to assist with the perfect goat yoga poses. It was a little hard to balance on the grass when the sun is in your eyes, but perfect yoga form isn’t why we are there.

At the end of class, we all lined up shoulder to shoulder so the goats could run across our backs. It was adorable.

I had so much fun with Jamie and her goats and I have already promised a friend I’d make a return visit with her.

If you are interested in attending your own goat yoga session, Shenanigoats has all of their upcoming events listed here.

PS: If you want to keep reading about goats, see this post about my experience milking a goat and making goat cheese.

A Day In Amish Country

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is world famous for being Pennsylvania Dutch Country and is the home of the largest Amish community in the world. The Amish’s story began like many of our ancestors. 300 years ago, the Amish left Europe for America to escape religious persecution. I have always been curious about the Amish lifestyle and customs so I was really excited to have a day to learn a bit and even more excited to try all of the the local foods.

It is amazing that just a few hours from New York and Philadelphia an entirely different world exists that rejects cars, electricity, and modernity. Even bicycles are prohibited in some communities.

Amish Farm Tour

The best thing we did during our visit, by far, was visit a working Amish Farm. We went to Old Windmill Farm in Ronks, Pennsylvania. The farm is run by Jesse and Anna and their family.

Our tour was led by Sadie, their 12-year-old daughter. If I could be guaranteed a kid like Sadie, I would have zero hesitation about having kids. She was bright and polite, and probably works harder than half the people I know. She gave us a captivating tour and a detailed explanation of how their farm works.

I got to meet Dancer, a carriage horse. Sadie told use that she had just been out for a run in the buggy with Dancer that morning. Children can start driving buggies at age 12.

My favorite part, hands down, was getting to feed the calves. They were adorable. The one on the left was only a month and a half old and it was already so big! I wanted to take one home with me but I’m not sure how to check a cow at the airport.

The calves were all about their bottle and were not very skilled at sharing. But I tried to make sure everyone got some. After feeding the babies, we got to meet their moms.

I even got to try my hand at milking, which was a lot different than my experience milking a goat. It was hard to make happen, but Bessie (the cows don’t have names, but she looked like a Bessie) was very patient with my inexperience.

We also got to feed their chickens fresh alfalfa. They love the leaves. However, I learned it is a task that is better accomplished with one hand at a time. Chickens do not care if they take your finger along with the alfalfa.

One brilliant feature of the farm is its namesake windmill. The windmill is connected to a well and every time the windmill turns it brings water up for the farm.

The farm was wonderful and made me wish I  had a small one of my own. But maybe just a garden and a few goats . . . milking cows is clearly not my forte.

Amish Buggy Ride

When we first started planning our trip I hoped that we would get to see some Amish buggies in person. But with over 30,000 Amish in Lancaster County, they were easy to spot. There are a few different types, but they are all in the same shade of grey, as dictated by their church.

We took a buggy tour with AAA (Amish All Around) Buggy Rides. Having a late summer ride through Lancaster County was a delightful way to spend a late summer afternoon. The weather was perfect, and at least 20 degrees cooler than what I am used to at home.

The ride went down a back country rode and went past  a few Amish farms and by an Amish schoolhouse. The entire ride was lined with gorgeous scenery.

We learned a lot on the ride about Amish homes and how they incorporate some technology into their lives. For example, the guide said you could tell Amish homes apart because the have green shades on the windows. Also, while the Amish avoid the modernity, they have incorporated some aspects into their farms. For example, they can use mechanical equipment to tend to and harvest their farm, but it has to be pulled by horses (which I knew). But I learned that they have also permitted the use of weed whackers and leaf blowers, which helps explain why their lawns are so perfect.

I definitely plan to take another buggy ride on my next visit. Regardless of the company you use, it is just a lovely way to see the area.

Pennsylvania Dutch Food

Because I don’t eat meat, I don’t often get to sample local fare. However, in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, many of the unique local foods are delicious desserts. I came armed with a hit list of foods I was dying to try.

Birch Beer and Homemade Root Beer

I’d never heard of birch beer before I planned my trip to Lancaster. Birch beer is similar to root beer or sarsaparilla and is a carbonated soda made from birch bark or the sap of a birch tree. Apparently it is very popular in the area. I didn’t find any homemade, but there are several commercial varieties that are from the area. The birch beer I tried was less sweet than most root beers, I which I really liked. I’ll have to track some down at home.

You can actually find homemade root beer at most roadside farm stands. We got a bottle of it from Bluegate Bakery and it was delicious.

Whoopie Pie

My first whoopie pie changed my life. Several states claim to be the home of whoopie pies (including my native Virginia), but regardless of the origin, they are a long lasting Pennsylvania Amish tradition. Whoopie pies consist of two cookie sized (traditionally chocolate) cakes with marshmallow creme in the center. And it is heaven. I only bought one and I am both thankful for and loathe that decision. I would have loved to have a few to devour, but it would have been a terrible dietary decision. And no, a fresh whoopie pie is nothing like a moon pie. That is like trying to compare Alec and Stephen Baldwin.

Shoofly Pie

Shoofly pie sounds like is it from the South, doesn’t it? I mean, it is full of rich molasses, and Southerners love that crap. Nope, it is another native of Lancaster County and was developed by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1880s. It is like if a molasses pie and a crumb cake had a delicious love child. They come in two varieties: dry bottom and wet-bottom. The dry-bottom has a cake-like consistency throughout and the wet-bottom has a stickier, gooier custard-like consistency for the bottom layer. We got to sample the wet bottom variety at Dutch Haven. It was sugary and delicious . . . and we brought back a few pies to give as gifts to our friends.

Wilbur Buds

Wilbur buds are chocolate kiss-shaped chocolates (that pre-date Hershey kisses) made by the Wilbur Chocolate Company in Litiz, Pennsylvania. They are a favorite of the area. Their factory is located in town and you can watch them make their sweets from inside the shop. We got a few bags of the Wilbur buds as well as various other assorted sweets. The chocolate isn’t as sweet as Hershey’s, which is why I am telling myself that makes them better for me.

Julius Sturgis Pretzels

Julius Sturgis Pretzels was established in 1861 and was the first pretzel bakery in the new world. We had a special request to pick up some snacks there from a friend and we gladly obliged. We got some bags of our own and also grabbed a hot and fresh soft pretzel for the road. Yum!

Chow-Chow

Chow-Chow is a Pennsylvania Dutch dish that consists of pickled vegetables served cold and usually as a condiment. We picked up a few jars from a roadside stand (from Bluegate Farm and Annie’s Kitchen in Ronks) and it ended up being quite delicious. We saved one jar for later and I am looking forward to finding interesting ways to serve it.

Additional foods

There were so many other foods we tried, I can’t even keep track of them all. On our buggy tour we stopped for the best fresh made lemonade I’ve ever had (somehow it was simultaneously sweet and not sugary). We also grabbed some fresh homemade cheddar cheese and potato ships from Li’l Country Store next to the Old Windmill Farm. I could not stop eating them.

Even with all of our stops and snacking, I did not get to try apple butter with cottage cheese, cup cheese, fasnachts, jewish apple cake, or teaberry ice cream . . . all local delicacies. But there is always next time (and I ate way too much as it is). 

Things to avoid in Lancaster County

Our day had a few low lights that I would urge every person to avoid. The so-called “Amish Village” in Ronks and the Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse. Both are horrific tourist traps that have absolutely nothing to do with the beauty of Lancaster County or the Amish lifestyle.

The Amish Village was giant waste of time and definitely sold a false bill of goods as far as claiming it was an “authentic 1840’s Amish farmhouse.” (It had electricity, lights, air conditioning, and was basically a house filled with anachronistic Amish props.) We also learned very little on the tour as it covered basics you could get watching any documentary or just by reading Wikipedia. Going there was seriously bad research on my part, which I later regretted.

Kitchen Kettle Village was not an intentional stop for us, as we try to avoid large gatherings of tourists and shopping centers. However, it turned out the buggy tour we selected departed from the village. While the tour itself was nice and relaxing (and I’d still recommend it), the masses of people and the trashy tourist kitsch was a mood killer. 

If you visit Lancaster, stick to the local farms and farm stands for a more authentic experience. The difference is immeasurable and I am sure the farmers will appreciate your business. 

Summation

I loved Lancaster County and I hope to make a return trip next summer and try to cover all the things we missed on this trip due to our short visit, wasted time at the Amish Village, and a lost wallet (ok, mine) that cost us an hour detour. It is a nice escape from the pace of my busy life and was a check on what is really important.

Exploring A Pennsylvania Coal Mine

What do you do when you have a day to kill in Scranton, Pennsylvania? After you visit all of The Office landmarks and try a piece of Old Forge pizza, the best thing to do is take a trip down into the old Lackawanna Coal Mine. It seems like a sleepy little attraction, but over 30,000 people visit the mine each year.

The Lackawanna Coal Mine even made an appearance on the third episode of The Office:

No, Michael, sadly there is no laser tag.

You begin your journey in a mine car (or mantrip car) that takes you 300 feet beneath the Earth through an anthracite coal mine. The ride down the slope takes 3-4 minutes.

As soon as you get out of the mine car you realize it is really freaking cold underground. It stays 53° down there all year long. It is a nice break from the summer heat, but I am definitely glad I brought a jacket. The walking tour covers one-half mile through the mine’s pathways and lasts about an hour.

The tour was very informative and gave us an idea of what it was like to work in a coal mine.

The Lackawanna Coal Mine originally opened in 1860 and operated until November 1966. The mine reopened in 1985 for visitors.

The mine was filled with mannequins that demonstrated the jobs that miners typically had. Of course, the first one I saw scared me to death because I thought it was real and some guy was just lurking in the mine.

Working in a coal mine is no joke. We learned about miners getting blown up, crushed, or suffocated. I feel pretty lucky that I have a cushy office job and the worst thing I have to worry about is a bad day in court.

You can walk through imagining what it was like dealing with poor air quality, ankle-deep water, blasting, dust, and practically zero light. The only light most miners had to work by was a small candle on top of their helmets.

The only requirement for working in the mine was being a man. There were no educational or vocational prerequisites. Boys as young as 7 worked for pennies guiding mules and opening doors for mine cars. Many died because they were more expendable to the coal company than the machinery they operated. It truly was a different time.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work in a mine, this is your chance to find out. The tour is a fun way to spend a hot afternoon and gives you a little taste of the history of the area.

Meowmaste! Cat Yoga is Positively Purrfect

The world of yoga is expanding. You can try beer yoga in London, goat yoga in Vermont, and cat yoga right here in Nashville.

Photo by Keri Newman

Every other month, Metro Nashville Animal Care and Control hosts an hour of zen with cats and kittens in need of homes. The yoga session helps socialize the cats and helps MACC learn about their personalities to help place them with the right families.

Photo by Keri Newman

Our yogi kitties were Storm, Kit, Kaboodle, and Cutie Patootie Pants (yes, you can change their names if you adopt them).

I really don’t know who had more fun, us, or the kitties who had the run of the room.

Rebecca Carey and Keri Newman, from Shakti Yoga, were our instructors for the day.

Photo by Keri Newman

While Keri took pictures, Rebecca guided us through the traditional yoga poses, cat-cow, cat-uranga, and even downward dog (shhh . . . don’t tell the kitties).

Photo by Keri Newman

We also took plenty of kitten breaks to play with our new furry friends.

Photo by Keri Newman

However, I learned that a hanging ponytail will stand in for any cat toy.

Photo by Keri Newman

But when it was all said and done, everyone was ready for a relaxing sunbeam shavasana.

These kitties, as well as many of their dog and cat friends, are looking for homes. If you want a forever yoga partner (or even just a short-term foster), contact Metro Nashville Animal Care and Control to find your purrfect mate. Adopt, don’t shop.

Sound Immersion Meditation

I have never been good at meditation. I have tried it on a few occasions, but I have struggled to steady my mind for more than a moment or two. As soon as I calm my brain it starts making lists of all the things I have to do later, regretting that thing I said to someone 8 years ago, or contemplating what dark matter is actually made of. All things that of course must be resolved immediately.

The only time I’ve actually enjoyed meditation was when I spent 10 minutes overlooking the canyons of Malibu after climbing to the top of a waterfall last week. The serenity of the sound of the falling water against the beautiful backdrop made it easy to let go of everything.

Although I have struggled with meditation in the past, this project is as much about pushing myself to do things that make me uncomfortable as it is about doing things that are exciting.

I was intrigued when I first saw a post advertising sound immersion mediation. The session was held at The Hot Room Yoga and Wellness Studio and was hosted by Massood Taj and Robin Barnes. The description of the event read:

“As the sounds of singing bowls, frame drums, native flutes, gongs, vocal overtoning and other sacred instruments wash over you. It invites you to move into a deep meditative state. Cellular vibrations can unlock unhealthy, stuck emotional tension held within our cellular memory, boost your immune system & cultivate a heightened awareness of your inner world and intuition.”

Here is an example of what it sounded like:

Massood and Robin had a multitude of instruments laid out on blankets surrounded by salt lamps and rope lights, which provided great mood lighting in the dark. They used water drums (a bowl is placed upside down in a larger water-filled bowl and then stuck for a percussive sound), frame drumsTibetan signing bowls, crystal singing bowls, a handpan, energy chimes, a wooden bamboo flute thingy (that was made with bamboo that grows naturally in Tennessee), a Quena (Peruvian wood flute), an african talking drum, a kalimba, and an array of other fascinating instruments.  A nice summer storm added to the soundscape.

The best way to describe it was that it felt like I was being treated to a live version of the music they play while you get a massage. It was extremely relaxing.

I was just as unsuccessful at clearing my mind as my previous meditation attempts, but I did have a few moments of zen when I pictured my view from my Dominican rainforest tree house. The music was beautiful and I loved the experience. If I ever hit the Powerball I plan to hire Massood and Robin to provide the soundtrack to my life.

Climbing Malibu’s Escondido Falls

Some people bring nothing but joy, bliss, and positivity to your life. For me, two of those people are my friends Justin and Samsara, who I met during my stay in a Dominican Republic tree house village. I was lucky enough to reconnect with both of them on a recent trip to LA, despite the fact that neither of them actually live in Los Angeles.

As one of our many adventures, and to offset all the food we gorged ourselves on over the weekend, we decided to go for a hike in the mountains of Malibu. Specifically, Justin took us all to Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls.

This is also known as the “three waterfall hike” because you can hike to all three tiers of Escondido Falls. The Escondido Falls are the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the tiers are 50 feet, 25 feet, and 150 feet, respectively.

The actual hiking portion was simple enough, and stretched 4.2 miles past Malibu mansions and through beautiful flora. I usually hike 10-12 miles every weekend so I thought this would be a leisurely afternoon. But I should have known that a day with Justin and Samsara would be filled with adventure.

The first part of the hike is easy. Just a general stroll through the wild flowers, across riparian canyon terrain, and over several creek crossings that required careful stepping over logs and rocks. But that just led us to the first waterfall. After that, things got interesting.

In order to get to the second and third waterfalls you had to switch to climbing mode over large rocks and muddy hills. This path isn’t very accessible if you have any mobility issues, but with the help of some ropes and large tree roots, you can make your way to the second and third falls. Things get pretty wet and slippery, so be sure to have proper climbing shoes (which I did not have) and prepare to get muddy.

But once you get to the main falls, the climb is totally worth it!

For the last few years Escondido Falls has been relatively dry due to the drought. But thanks to a wet winter and some rainy days leading up to the hike, the falls were flowing while we were there.

Samsara and I spent some time goofing around at the base of the falls, jumping off the rocks, and having fun on a rope swing as Justin took off exploring.

While we were engaged in frivolity, Justin had made his way to the top of the falls and beckoned for us to follow.

Please note that Samara is barefoot for this hike, because she is a badass.

Other than one session of indoor rock climbing a few years ago, this was my first attempt at climbing. It was also my first attempt at bouldering of any sort. The climb was one of the scariest and most dangerous things I have ever done. I do not recommend attempting to take the same route we did unless you are an experienced climber. There were several points along the way that I did not think I was going to make it (I even had to abandon my bag, as you can see above) and had I fallen, it would have been disastrous.

At the top of the most difficult part of the ascent was a small slot we had to climb through. The only way to get up its slick walls was to push your back up against one side and use your feet to climb up the other. Basically I applied the trick I learned watching cartoons as a kid to pull myself up.

Having my own personal cheering squad at the top definitely helped too.

But the view at the top made the climb and the fear completely worth it. We could see the waterfall, the canyon, and of course, the Pacific Ocean.

We all took time to enjoy the view and take our fair share of pictures. Part of me expected to end up in one of those “selfies taken right before disaster” click bait articles.

But instead, we had a lovely time relaxing and meditating at the precipice.

It rained on and off that day, just like it did during our trip to the Dominican rain forrest. That combined with the company and the complete lack of cell service resulted in one of the best and most relaxing days I’ve had since returning from my planned #funemployment.

At one point while admiring the view we heard the sound of what sounded like a team of hikers coming up behind us. It was, however, a small rockslide crashing down the path we’d just climbed up.

I want to reiterate that you should not attempt to replicate my stupidity and that this climb is not meant for novices. My only saving grace was the flexibility gained from doing yoga 5 times a week for the last 4 months.

Of course we had to make our way to the very top of the falls for some photos. The water behind me is what was flowing over the top of the highest part of Escondido Falls.

It began to rain again right before we started our climb down. While the cool rain drops were refreshing, it also make the rocks extremely slippery and the dirt trail slick and muddy. I fell, more than once, and was utterly caked in mud. Fortunately, I only had some muddy clothes and a few scrapes and bruises to show for it.

Overall, we could not have picked a better way to spend our day. It was just the adventure I needed.

The Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls hike is free and the parking area is just off the majestic Pacific Coast Highway (which I hope to drive start to finish one day). If you visit on a Sunday, it is also just down the road from the fabulous Malibu Farmers Market where we got delicious fresh fruit and the best sprouted almonds I’ve ever had.

Going Over The Edge: Rappelling 269 Feet Down a Skyscraper

A few weeks ago my boss called me into his office to ask whether I would be interested in representing our firm at a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. I of course was happy to take part, especially once I learned that it happened to be their annual Over The Edge event in which the participants rappel off of the Omni in downtown Nashville.

I have discussed over and over and over and over that I am afraid of heights. However, I have also discussed my quest to overcome that fear by seeking out situations that make me second guess myself. So far, so good. If flying lessons turned my dread of air travel into love, then eventually, one day, I’ll be able to jump and fall off of things without hesitation (hopefully during some sort of planned excursion).

Before I went over the edge, we got a brief training session on how not to fall to our deaths or get stuck on the side of a building. I appreciated the tips.

I’m joking. I felt safe the entire time. There were lots of ropes and harnesses and gears and double and triple layer safety measures.

Before I could start my rappel, I had to crawl over some scaffolding to get to the edge of the building. This was surprisingly nerve-wracking considering what I was about to do.

However, the worst part was the first steps going down the building. It was a little hard to get started because, well, I weigh as much as a wet chihuahua. You control the rate of your descent with your weight and guiding rope through the belay. So, my size made it difficult to get horizontal with the wall.

When I started my descent, I was hanging from the side of the building, but still had my feet at the top of the ledge. This felt very unsettling. However, I felt completely secure once lowered myself down a bit and got my feet flat on the side of the building.

I fed the rope though the belay and I walked myself down the building, taking time to waive at my supporters below and the hotel guests who gathered at the windows to watch.

It only took a few minutes for me to completely lower myself down the 26 stories, but every second was thrilling.

The event was exactly what I hoped it would be. I had a wonderful time and we helped raise money for a wonderful organization in the process.

Over The Edge helps non-profit organizations throughout the world raise money for important causes like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. If you are interested in a chance to rappel down a building without getting arrested, keep an eye out for Over The Edge when it comes to your city.

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