• Cara Van Leuven

The Slowness Antidote

Updated: Mar 17

The great return to Illinois happened two weeks sooner than I was anticipating. I had two shows planned specifically targeting horse-centric communities, but the moment COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic and Disney World locked its doors, myself and the rest of the Florida snowbirds and vacationers decided to flee the state.

Spending close to three months in Florida was a wonderful, eye-opening experience. I learned so much about my audience, where I need and want to be over the winter, the type of shows that work (or don’t). I mean, the weather really was perfect, I loved my little home and roommate and even my pool shed studio rocked.

But look, I gotta be real here — it wasn’t all roses and sunshine and smiles. I wasn’t anticipating the level of homesickness I felt. I thought I’d have all this free time and no matter what I did, it was at a minimum. But the worst was that the first month and a half of shows were not a banging success like I had hoped.

Money was thin at best when my show at Key West was approaching. I’d already pulled Hazel out of her boarding situation to save money and was looking for other ways to save. One plan was to stay in my van during the art show. After all, hotels in Key West start around $250/night. I had a little mattress/cot and a camp potty purchased just for this occasion.

So there I was in beautiful, funky Key West, sleeping in my van and showering with baby wipes. Hold on, it gets even more glamorous. I forgot the camp potty. And I didn’t realize until I walked to the public restrooms in the evening only to find them locked shut for the night. Look, I was in the middle of a park with no trees and a playground. I couldn’t exactly just squat somewhere.

I pouted all the way back to my van wondering how I was going to handle a full bladder with the nearest restaurant a ten minute walk away and an island full of people everywhere. I crawled into my van and that’s when I saw the Starbucks cup. It was one of those reusable cups with a straw for any venti, overpriced purchase. It wasn’t even my cup; I think somebody left it at my house. I should probably apologize to that person now — I am so sorry for what you’re about to read next and the sad state of the reusable venti Starbucks cup.

What choice did I have? Do you really need details other than the fact that reusable venti Starbucks cup and I became very familiar with one another?

Long story short, it ain’t all glamorous.

I’ve found if you listen to your gut it rarely lies. I had a good feeling about Key West. Despite sleeping in a van, bathing with wet wipes and yes, peeing in a reusable venti Starbucks cup, what a great weekend it was. The turn of events — not just financially — but the sales and feedback restored my confidence and my hope that Florida would become the norm over winters.

Live Oak was my first experience being a vendor at a horse event of that size and caliber. It was another huge success. I met so many great people and there’s no place I love more than Ocala. Tom joined me and we rode our bikes at Daytona Bike Week and beyond. Overall Florida was just wonderful and it’s a shame coronavirus madness has caused us all to reshape our lives and plans.

However, as I sit here quarantined on our six acres in southern Illinois, this aint all bad. There’s nothing but time as my next three art shows have been canceled. Time to me is the most valuable gift any of us are given. The slowness of this madness has allowed me to really take my time on paintings, focus on commissions and get my studio re-organized and in shape for the summer months.

Perhaps the best part of this slowness followed my ride on Hazel this morning. As much as I love competing, starting a horse is what makes my heart soar. The process of creating a solid equine citizen takes so much time and it’s time that seems easy to skip. Any horseman knows that feeling of two or three good, better steps that you didn’t have your last ride. They understand that little give, that feeling when your horse is getting it. And they know it means it’s time to swing your leg over your horse, hop to the ground, give a few neck rubs and call it a day.

After all, we have more days.