Monday, December 17, 2012

The Spirit

I was feeling very bah-humbugish coming out of this year’s Thanksgiving weekend and was not thinking pleasant Christmas thoughts about the gift giving guilt trip conspiracy run by the marketing racket, the decorating, and the whole thing in general. Skipping it all together was a dim thought running through my head. But, being the logistical person I am, I figured that last week was the best time to find and raise the Christmas tree so as to avoid rushing it later. Although it did seem that I just put last year's tree out and put away ornaments, already it was time to do it over again.

Last year we had cut our tree from our friend Ray’s acreage by the interstate, an overgrown piece of land with no particular purpose yet, other that growing cedar trees of various sizes and ages. We had cut a huge tree last year, wrestled it into place and decorated it from the balcony above the living room. It was nice but too big really and so we went on our search for this year’s tannenbaum, with that thought in mind. 

We found a nicely shaped one, and Mark got the saw out and cut it down. It was when we put it in the back of the pick up truck that we realized, that once again, we had misjudged our prey, and then some. Mark estimated it to be about sixteen feet tall and maybe six feet in diameter. Oh well. We got it in the house and secured it with fishing line to the railing above it so as not to find it unceremoniously draped across the piano one December morning.

Decorated partly by reaching out from a ladder, it stands now quietly lit up with tiny lights and with ornaments and decorations, some, older than my children, all memory laden from their many years of service on former trees. There is the hand made sequined ball that my grandmother made a half a century or so ago, various dough ornaments (that I made back in the day where I seemed to have had time to do such things) of Big Bird, a rather well endowed curly headed angel, the Count, and several horses and ginger bread guys. 

There are two sterling snow flakes that were given to me when I was nine or so by my aunt’s boss. They are a bit tarnished and dinged from the years but are still holding their places well, and they remind me of the sweet man who gave them to me. There are little picture frames from my daughters’ kindergarten pictures, smiling happy faces from their youth. To say our tree is eclectic in its style is an understatement. In a sort of controlled chaos nothing matches, nothing seems to have any connection, and yet it does.  All of these little treasures tie the memories of Christmases past to the present, and keep the hope of future ones out in front of us. Many an hour have I sat under the lights of our tree, dreaming, wishing, hoping for the things I had asked Santa for, hoping that I had been good enough to get presents and not lumps of coal. I vividly remember asking for one each year, but never got the pony with a big red bow that I wanted. 
I don’t remember my first Christmas, and the memories of my learning to anticipate its arrival is sort of fuzzy, but a few things are indelibly etched. Early memory has me stringing popcorn into endless lines to wrap a tree in, making chains out of construction paper to decorate with, standing in long lines to talk to Santa and not being terribly comfortable sitting in a man’s lap who I didn’t know and who I was suspicious of about his wearing a beard and makeup, my first attempts at buying other family members gifts, learning the songs of the season, being a fly on the wall at my parents’ lavish Christmas parties peeking to see what the grown ups were doing, and trying to find the sleigh and the reindeer in the dark night on the way home from my grandmother’s house after dinner and gifts on Christmas eve. And I very fondly remember my first cowgirl outfit that my grandmother made for me for one Christmas.

In the beginning, we lived in a very small ranch style house, think very early Mad Men, and there was no room for a fireplace and a subsequent chimney to let Santa down to leave those toys and eat his cookies. So my mother found the next best thing, a printed card board one complete with flames, logs, bricks, and a mantle to thumb tack our stockings into. She taped it to the den wall and we, my brothers and I, sat in front of it for our Christmas card. I knew it wasn’t real but at some level I knew that if I played along, so would the magic, and Santa could eat his cookies and all would work out fine, and it did for many years. Eventually we moved to a house with two working fireplaces and two chimneys, which I thought might double the loot dropped off, but my mother explained that by putting the milk and cookies by the living room hearth, he would get the idea to just use that one, which he regrettably did.

I remember too the day that my brother pulled back the curtain and showed me another side of the "magic" of Christmas and in just a few words and seconds that lasted forever, my childhood version of it all was changed and could never come back. Christmas then became like another Thanksgiving with a bit of gifting going in to it, but that was all. A time for seeing how many relatives one could travel to see in the shortest amount of time, and how many mouthfuls of turkey and ham could one person endure in a day. Finally our kids came along and there was a bit more fun, this time being on the other side of the curtain to supply some of the magic and spirit, and then, once they were older and reality had shown its color to them, Christmas faded back into the just-another-holiday-status. Somewhere in between it all, the stresses of carrying the load of making the stuff happen, finding the perfect gifts, making the meals to feed an army, the whole commercialization of it all began to make me a bit jaded about the whole affair.

There are hard, cold, and cruelly sad realities to everyone's life to varying degrees, but for some reason it all gets amplified at this time of year. Suicides, crimes and murders go up while the lady swinging the bell keeps hoping for change to land in her red pot at the stores to help folks who need it. Her incessant "ding, ding ding" reminds me of those less fortunate than I, and I give what I have to give.

This weekend marked yet another of tragedies in which twenty elementary children and several of their teachers were gunned down in their class rooms, possibly while making pretty sparkly presents for their parents with happy thoughts lingering in their heads. Just how are those parents now,ever going to have a very happy christmas with the associated memory of this event? Their lives have been altered and will never be the same, regardless of the season. There are many people who have a hard time with it all and it can be very difficult to fain happiness in the stresses that wrap us up and engulf us.

For those who do have a more comfortable situation, and perhaps less stress, it can still be hard to find the moment of relaxation until one enters the portal of Christmas Eve, or morning depending on the family observes the ritual. No Christmases are alike but they do share one thing to me, and that is even tho I perpetually go into the season with heels dug in, scowl on my face and mind, bah hum bug is my mantra, and running away from it is a considered option, once in it and all the hard part is done, there is a quiet and a peacefulness that makes the flow of the holidays take their uncharted course. It is this uncharted course that is the closest thing to reliving the childhood naivety of it all. A glass of egg nog, chances to chat with family and friends in a relaxed time frame, a walk in the woods with a small flask to keep warm, bird watching, watching an old movie, a carriage ride with all the bells ringing, anything that is out of the ordinary of our daily lives. It is a day of reprieve from reality, and a chance to feel something closer to magic, again.

This year  for us, will be a bit more special with the addition of the now, one year old, Margaret. It is definitely better to have a young child around to celebrate the nonsense of it all. Who doesn’t like toys and the enthusiasm that a child brings to the season. There is still an element of surprise that is contagious. Of course, this particular Christmas I doubt she will have any anticipation of anything crazy happening like a red suited elf and flying reindeer, but so far she has enjoyed the  sparkly trees and lights and bright ribbons and things. The Santa thing is still waiting for her to grow up a bit, but her presence makes it all better for the rest of us. I totally blame our cutting down a honking big, over sized tree thing on her making us temporarily lose our minds in getting one so large. 'Tis the season for such influences and I’ll admit that I am easily swayed. 

Many years back, my then future husband gave me my first Christmas card from him. On the front was a bald eagle on wing and on the inside he had written, “When this Christmas season becomes a memory, may the memory become a treasure.” That one did, as so many after it did as well. I am lucky, to have many such treasures. It can get hard to feel the spirit of Christmas, especially in light of the real life things that are difficult to bear, but I will try to push the bah humbugs out my head and succumb to the flow of the season so that I can once again feel the magic. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Home Again

There is a definite deliciousness to a rainy day. After long periods of time where the sky stays a consistent clear blue with only an occasional puff of a mare’s tail cloud high in the stratosphere, and perhaps marked by a trail of a jet with an unknown destination, a rainy day is a form of peace. A rainy day is gift to be inside and to do the things that get pushed aside when the fair days take one outside to take advantage of nice weather. To be self indulgent, to drink another cup of tea, to draw, to paint, to write, to listen to the patter of the slow drops of rain hitting the newly fallen leaves, to slow time down, these are the things that I like about a rainy day. The kettle is still warm and a quiet steam escapes from its spout, and for a few minutes, I will write.

Last April, I made a very unusual decision for me, and that was to let another person put in time training one of my young horses. With few exceptions over the years, I have started all of my young horses, rarely letting any one even step into the stirrup until I had finished that basics of the training. Sidelined for months with broken and reluctant to heal ribs since October, and watching a young horse sitting idle with no training work to continue her learning, I made the decision to take the mare to someone to do that which I could not be doing.

I chose Laura Sevriens, a woman who I had known through her and her husbands’ affiliation with the Dutch Warmblood inspections, but more recently Laura had come to my attention at what a fabulous job she had done with another horse, one that I had also bred. This other horse, a mare named Avalon, was a beautiful and precocious young thing, had been sold, then had been quickly started and sent to Florida to compete on the dressage circuit there. The stress of it all turned the mare into a basket case, fretful, unsteady, nervous, and not very rider friendly. Finally, once in the hands of Laura, the mare calmed and bloomed into the talent that was hers. I was impressed at the transformation and trusted Laura could do the same with Cistine.

I dropped Cistine off with the idea of possibly not seeing her again as mine, as I had her on the market and planned to sell her. I made an emotional separation of sorts with her and drove my empty trailer home. Then, ironically, only a week later, the dam of this mare, and also of the gorgeous Avalon, tragically died in attempting to foal another sibling of these two. There would be no more foals from the greatest mare I have ever known. Joline’s legacy remained now in her offspring and I still owned Frank, a two year old colt, and Cistine. I had been leaning heavily on the idea of Frank being my future riding horse, with Cistine being the one to go. The under current now rose of the temptation of a long time breeder that says, never sell the gene pool. Cistine is a potential brood mare that carries Joline’s royal line and did I really want to let that go? The memory of Joline’s death was lingering still, and the idea of breeding again was not a thought I could handle, so I kept my emotional distance from Cistine.

I went a few times to watch Laura ride the mare and to see her progress. From right on it was very evident that Laura was again doing such a wonderful job bringing the mare alone with her steady hands, calm and patient demeanor, and a riding style that makes a horse want to do their job. I watched her ride with a strange detachment to this mare, this foal who I had helped into this life and had raised to this point in her life, now in the care and focus of someone else. Laura told me later that the first few days after I had dropped Cistine off that the mare was like a red neck in Manhatten, which was a pretty good analogy, but now the mare was accustomed to life at the big fancy barn, grown up and acting like a working girl.

Laura took Cistine to her first two shows and brought home the blues in each class with scores in the 70’s. The mare was going so well, but a weak market did not produce the buyer I sought and the time finally came to me where the empty pocketbook, and my sort of healed up ribs, said it was time for the mare to come home. I took the trailer and brought my mare back home. Once again in the cross fenced pasture next to her little brother, Frank, and next to the pen where the immortal Tony the pony lives, she took in her former surroundings and began to settle back in.

It had been a full year since I had been on her. We had left off at a point where most green horses get where the worst of the fear on their part was over and the real learning about the communication was beginning. We had been having difficulty here with contact with the bit. She thought the bit sucked and wanted no part of what I was trying to tell her with it, not rude, but just not getting the idea. We basically went around the arena like a wet spaghetti noodle being pushed up hill. That was where Laura took over.

It has been said that if you want to know someone, ride their horse. What training you put on a horse is a signature of you and how you deal with them, and they you. From the ground Laura had turned Cistine into a steady and willing worker, moving with purpose and calmness. What I had not gotten a chance to do was to ride Cistine with Laura on the ground telling me what buttons she had programed in and where. I tacked Cistine for the first time back in her home barn, and hopped on. I came very quickly to the realization that I had no idea how to ride her. What I had watched as a well tuned machine, now was a horse in total no go mode. We were like two left feet dancing with no rhythm and floundered like fish on land together. It was a lesson in frustration for us both.

I pondered this dilemma long and hard over the weekend. How could this obviously well trained horse suddenly be so unrideable for me? It finally dawned on me that this mare is so smart, that she remembered exactly where we had dropped off prior to Laura’s teachings, and was doing her best to do the same things she used to do with me, going back in time, and picking up where we had left off over a year ago. She had thought she was doing what I wanted of her.  

After my light bulb moment, I tacked her again on Monday, and planned a different approach. She had given it some thought as well and as we started I could feel a difference in her. Slowly the two of us began to dance. Her long floating strides were supple and she no longer tried to rip my arms from their sockets with her teeth. Her eye lashes slowly blinked in the calmness of a horse at peace, and we began to get reacquainted in a new light, and riding her was fun, really fun. We ended on a good note  for the day and I am looking forward to our next ride after this passing rainy day.
Having been a breeder for decades I have started many horses, and have parted ways with most of them. It is a very hard choice to make, whether to sell or keep. They become a part of me, my energy, my painting in horse flesh, and they are my friends. I have no idea what Cistine’s future is, whether it be with me or, if a buyer appears will I really want to let her go. Hard call. I will just have to wait on hind sight for that to know what is, or was, the right path. Hind sight is always twenty twenty and things work out how they will. For now, Cistine and I will pick up our relationship, and hopefully press on with success for us both, in whatever path that takes us. She is home again.      

Monday, November 19, 2012

Markers and Clinics

The recently past Veterans’ Day weekend had a few memorable markers, a one year mark since the day my daddy died. 11/11/11 was also was the date our Yorkie Gracie was born making her now one year old, and, there was a big birthday for Heidi, my geriatric German Shepherd, this time her 10th.  Despite the number, Heidi’s attitude is still good even though she aches and can’t move with the lightening strike she used to be able to do. Most of her teeth are broken from years of gnawing on large tree limbs that she used to carry around until it was time to chew them into shreds.

Heidi and Gracie have formed an interesting relationship since Gracie joined the pack with the Shepherd teaching the ways of the farm to the tiny pooch, and together they rule the farm yard. Heidi has taught Gracie about house training, staying on the front porch when the people leave the house, and untold things needed to survive on this farm on the edge of a swamp and, Gracie has victoriously made it to this first year marker. I had my doubts at first whether her size and or her attitude would make her a target for the many dangers out here but their co-allegiance seems to be working, and so far, Gracie has avoided being sat upon by the grand baby Margaret, stepped on by a hoof, picked up by an owl, or swallowed by a snake. These are good things. 

Over her many years Heidi has seen the coming and going of many dogs who have shared the farm, some she has shared with more peacefully than with others, (the very stupid provocateurs were not suffered lightly.) Stoic as a statue she has remained a passive sentry and only once did she act upon feel a need to rise to defend me from a person.

I had driven with her, well after dark, to the airport to pick up my friend and long time dressage instructor, Jeff for the next days’ clinic. Heidi was in the back seat behind the tinted windows, sitting up watching the parade of folks coming and going. I was slowing down to see if I could find Jeff in the crowd, when I noticed the “Barney” airport officer start towards my truck. I had the window partially down and turned to see what he had to say. Instead of quietly telling me that I had to keep moving, which I already knew, he surprisingly blew up in my face and angrily screamed and gestured stuff at me. Suddenly beside my face and reaching out the window from the back seat was a very big set of barking and very angry teeth intent on making that man stop his verbal attack on me.

If the window had been fully open I do think she would have been out of there and would have taken him down. The scared fellow tripped falling backwards and mumbled something about not having seen my dog, like that might have made a difference in his behavior.  I just told him he didn’t need to have been quite so rude, and drove on. Upon my next lap around the airport terminal there were no patrol officers, no guys to get luggage, there was just Jeff standing there without a clue as to what had just happened and why the terminal was now a ghost town.

The past four days have been intense, again another dressage clinic with Jeff. I figured that Heidi has been a witness to these twice a year clinics for all of her ten years, making this past one her twentieth or so and she could probably ride a horse quite nicely by now, if she magically morphed into a human and chose to give it a try. Gracie remained on a leash through the clinic as this was her first and she was very interested in all the nifty smells that rolled in on the trailer tires bringing the visiting horses and their riders. We are still working on that part of survival training.

Anyone who has put on a riding clinic knows the hard work and out on a limb commitment it takes to put one on successfully. The list of things to do before the clinic, seems to be endless, and after all the years of hosting it hasn’t gotten any shorter. The days of the clinic itself, there are so many factors that have to go right. The weather has to be nice, the horses have to behave, the people have to get along or act like it, and fortunately, this one went as well as any could. There was no champagne bought for the group from any rider getting bucked off, we all ate very yummy food that everybody pitched in and brought. Dinners in town were great too. No one cried, and all the horses went so well., oh and we all learned a lot.  All in all well worth the effort.

There have been some special moments in the history of our group of riders. There was one lady who came for a first time to ride with Jeff, who began crying at the beginning of her lesson when he asked her a few questions about her experience. Totally benign in his intent to know more about her level of riding, it must have sparked a nerve, she left the ring weeping with no answer leaving us all sitting there with our mouths open. She also left her traveling companion and her horse behind which was quite an inconvenience for the other stranded lady. 

Many have been bucked off over the years but the most spectacular was not too long ago. A lady on a young recently started horse came in the arena and it was easy to see the horse had an attitude of really not wanting to be there. After a few minutes of tolerating the situation, the horse ducked its head and began a series of bucks that few cowboys could sit. The rider was hanging on until the beast ran away, straight across the arena, and then once close to the fence, at full gallop dropped its shoulder and gave the last heave ho, slinging this person head first towards the wire mesh fencing. 

Jeff, the few riders who were still there, and I were watching this unfolding event like it was going in slow motion, and helpless to help this poor rider avoid what was coming. Her head hit straight into the fence like an arrow shot from a bow, and she then bounced back towards the horse faster than she had gone into it. Finally her body became one with the ground and she lay there while the idiot horse ran over to a corner and stood and cocked a hind leg. 

For some unknown reason, Jeff and I were in uncontrollable giggles, the nervous "know you are not supposed to be laughing" at someone’s bad luck and possible injury, but her hitting that fence the way she did and bouncing back was simply hilarious. It would have made a great YouTube video. The good news was that the fence had been a good catch for the body in motion and the soft sand that she landed on softened her fall and no injury was had. Seeing it was the last day of that clinic she luckily avoided the penalty of  having to buy everyone a round of champagne at dinner since all were heading home, too bad for the rest of us. 

The totally trashed barn has now been cleaned back up, the stalls cleaned and re-fluffed, my horses and I have taken the day off to ponder the teachings of Jeff and enjoy a day of some rest. Worth the effort for sure, I always look forward to the next time, but never know if there will be one. As I watched the last trailer take the last rider home yesterday, I felt my shoulders drop a notch like the weight had lifted and felt the relief of working so hard for something to work out well when so much could have gone wrong. The evening’s martinis went down just fine, and I slept well too, I think. Tomorrow I will ride again and see what I remember of it all.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Weekend With Margaret

A weekend has come, and it has gone, just like a parade of all the others which have taken the same course. It, and they, will not come again. They are gone from this life remaining only in our memories, ephemeral and illusive the older they get. This one was different though as a first, and I photographed so much of it, but sadly missed most of it. Mark said at one point that we should be filming the whole thing. We should have, but didn’t. We were too busy being in it to be simply observers. We were watching the grandkid, and that, took total focus.

After a frantic week of super house cleaning last week in anticipation, the big day finally came on Friday to go to day care to pick up the little Margaret for the first weekend staying with us out here at the farm. I was apprehensive to say the least. I had no idea how to do the car seat, but figured it out eventually after learning that the instructions on the side of it weren’t all in Spanish. Once loaded up, we began our drive, her with a “bahbah” of milk to drink while I drove, her eyes steadily watching me as she gulped, me hyper-paranoid of would be stupid drivers running into us, and my precious cargo.

 When we got home it occurred to me exactly how the logistics of unloading her and her stuff, and my stuff was going to be more complicated than simply unloading a pack of dogs that had gone on a ride with me. I couldn’t just open the door and let her jump out and run around unwatched. It hit me suddenly just how much we were going to have to keep an eye on her while her visit lasted, non-stop supervision. I was out of practice at this.

She came with a set of directions from her mother, as to feeding what and when, but nothing about how to keep up with her constant motion and curiosity. We quickly learned there was about a three second window of her being out of sight that was relatively safe, but even that was a guess. In her eagerness to get to a newly found toy or even to explore a spot on the wood floor, she would try to run faster than her newly walking legs could take her and face plants came regularly, fortunately none too bad and the few tears dried quickly.

We learned about the things that we had overlooked that were not “child proof” and put them away. We learned to follow a new rhythm to the hours, and this was hers alone for us to follow. I had forgotten the joy of a child examining a new thing, the total focus on a page in a book, and the glee of knowing there was another page. Slowing time down, is a phrase my riding instructor has preached for years to me in dealing with training a horse, and it certainly came to mind with Margaret. Forget the thought of planning on getting something done, anything at all, because she, was the guiding force that lead us through the day. One moment might be caught in running back and forth across the room, another toddling down the trail to the barn stopping to look at an ant bed or a leaf. Another, her favorite, was sitting in the hallway heading to the former darkroom, just being there, quietly chirping and gurgling sweet contented noises, looking at the dark knots in the pine floor, sometimes spinning a circle on her diaper padded bum, a buddha of happiness in the moment.

We made our first official visit to the toy mega-heaven, Toys R Us, as grandparents with our grand daughter. We had found ourselves seriously lacking in toys that weren’t dog toys, thought she did show a similar interest in toys as does Gracie the Yorkie. We made it home with a drum for her to bang on, a xylophone, a soft plushy rocking horse, some little balls that rattle when shaken, and a few other various basic things to make us feel like we made her happy.

There was time spent in a slow amble walking around the fields with her sitting on Mark’s shoulders, hearing the crunch of the early fallen sycamore leaves as he stepped carefully not to jostle his load. The small pack of the dogs, the ancient shepherd Heidi, the tiny five pound Yorkie Gracie, and our grand dog Australian terrier Stella who we were also keeping for the weekend, wandered behind us in equal fascination with the day, the scents of fall, the breeze of the wind, and the sounds of being in the country. Time had slowed to a crawl and it was nice.

Later there was a bit of snoozing on the sofa with Mark after this long expedition, topped off with a bahbah, and the sweet deliciousness of total abandonment of expectation of anything, just laying there with a sleeping baby girl. Her cheeks were so plump and her mouth a cupie doll’s soft painted lips, slumbering, totally relaxed, dependent, and content. If there is a moment of pure love, I can think of none more descriptive than this scene. 

It was like a new breath of air had been blown into our lives in this little life, in our taking her for the weekend, having time to really get to know her, watch her learn, and begin to really communicate with her. She is a strong willed little person, not demanding but knows her mind and sticks to it, and very, very sweet. Quite often in the midst of toddling back and forth from one toy pile to the next she would stop in her tracks, grab both hands together and bring them to her chin, kind of bend over and a broad grin would fill her face. Then she would rock her head from side to side in expression of pure delight. I wish I could feel that innocence and sheer joy again, but life and years have jaded me somewhat. In watching her though, I came close.

Her parents picked her and Stella up as planned, and just like that she was gone and the house was quiet again. Margaret adds a new energy to the lives she meets and to the places she goes and there is a void when she is gone. When she looks you in the eyes there is a very real and serious look, but always with a glint of a grin, in the depths of her young eyes. She is teaching me.

Yesterday I stopped at a local farmers market to see the huge chrysanthemums out in front of their store. Varying in colors I stood there and marveled that I had not bought a flower in years. I saw pumpkins of varying shapes and sizes and realized that I had not bought a pumpkin in years as well, and questioned myself as to why. I asked about the name of a particularly attractive pumpkin and was told that it was a “Fairy Tale”. This was truly the perfect name for it and all it needed was a few white mice to complete the ride for Cinderella’s trip to the ball. It occurred to me that in the past few years I had been caught up in being a bit too busy, too grown up, too far from the magic except for rare moments to enjoy the simple things like buying a flower and a big ol‘ pumpkin. So I bought two huge yellow mums and that Fairy Tale pumpkin. Margaret made me do it, and I thank her.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Monday morning this week, I made a mistake, a big one. I went into the guest bath for some totally forgotten purpose, turned on the lights and for some insane reason which also eludes me now, put on my glasses and suddenly I saw the truth. There it lay before me, plain and simple, what I had been in denial about could be put aside no more. My house, this bathroom for starters, was gross.

With the help of my peepers, I could now make out the hideous shapes of the varying parts of bug parts on the floor and mysterious black dog hairs in the sink. I won’t even go into the toilet, no I mean what it looked like. It too was past the point of civilization. It was time for a spot of elbow grease, clorox, paper towel rub down, and a finish with a mop.Two hours later and a vacuum bin full of more black dog hairs, ( we don’t have black dogs but my daughter brings her laundry out and leaves her dogs’ calling cards, lots of it) the room was passable to live in once more. 

I was exhausted, but kind of pumped and ready for more. I turned and looked at the foyer and the living room and felt a bit of a helplessness in its survey. It too was gross, unkempt, disheveled, dirty, and the thought of a college dorm room came to mind, a guy’s dorm room, a freshman. It was daunting in sight, but bravely I began to dig in and began to tackle what Hercules would have turned and runaway away from. Another two hours later and I had done the foyer and half of the living room. I was feeling pretty good about the process and a bit pious at all of this cleanliness thing and sat back to enjoy the novelty of the moment. The air felt cleaner and it even sounded cleaner. I wondered why it took me so long to do this.

There had been a driving motive to my temporary madness and insanity of Sudden House Cleaning Impulsion, or SHCI as its not so well known. We were finally going to be caretakers of the grand kid for the weekend. This was going to be a first time for all. My daughter had asked if we would be up for keeping the kid for a weekend some time back and in the moment of things I had said sure, no problem and it seemed like a great idea at the time. Little Margaret is now ten months old and has never slept a night away from either one or both of her parents, and it seemed a nice time for them to have a break. In the cold light of sober daylight it began to dawn on me that a very mobile, very curious, very precocious little girl was soon going to be prowling around a very non-child proof house, mine, for three days straight. The thought sent me into a small degree of panic and hence the real underlying beginnings of the SHCI episode.

As I cleaned and tidied, I mused at how one comes complacent about why a thing is allowed to remain in a place for decades with no thought about why it got there, how long its going to remain, what purpose did it serve at some time, if any, and if we had to move would I take it with me. Sadly the answer to most of the stuff that needed to be shuffled around to get to the floor, or the walls, or the shelves to be dusted, vacuumed and mopped, was none. It is simply amazing how stuff, junk, unnecessary things slowly infiltrate the house and quietly lay there in stealth mode, cluttering without making noise,  disturbing the fen shui without moving, like the silent fart in a small tightly packed elevator. 
Yup, I was feeling the pain of fifteen years of living in a house in the country where guns are on the coffee table, soiled boots lay by the front door, fishing lures hung by their treble hooks on the shelves. All of these things lay cemented together with gobs of dog hair, dust, dander, and time.

It is an amazing thing that any of us make it to adulthood based on the potential dangers that are inherent in any room, whether Martha Stewart clean or not. For a newly walking child a corner of a table, the brick ledge of the fireplace hearth, uncovered electrical plugs and their cords, the myriad of delights for a child that await it behind every cabinet door especially the cleaning products like clorox and such, it is all a time bomb of potential disasters waiting to happen. The obvious stuff is easy to spot as pitfalls but it is the small things that are the most frightening.

As I methodically made my way around the living room, the guns were put away first, then I began to question and rate the danger of the remaining stuff. No one can perfectly save a child from all of the dangers it will face in its life but the removal of tumble weeds of dog hair, legs of unknown insects, tacks, shirt pins, plastic bags, and the best, a box of razor points for deer hunting was a starting point. 

I can’t help but think back on my own children and their little boo boos along the way, my efforts to child proof the house, and the constant vigilance against their experiencing any pain or suffering. I tried, but failed to keep them unmarred, unbruised, cut, or totally safe. I did my best but yet they still managed to hurt themselves. Quite often their accidents happened because I had not enough imagination ahead of time to tell them not to do something, like the youngest daughter jumping into the pool backwards and not quite getting away from the edge well enough. In the blink of an eye stuff happens and the next thing you know, you are on the way to the emergency room.  

I have lived for the past several decades now with no small children to worry about and I look around at my house and have to shake my head and will simply have to hope for the best. It is certainly not my plan nor wish to be using any band-aids, CPR techniques, or cold compresses over the weekend. I have covered the hearth with a thick blanket and the floor is now clean enough for a child to play on, and the rest will have to sort out as it happens. Fingers will remain crossed until her parents’ return that no booboo’s happens on our watch. They will come, as they always do, but please, not this time and place.

The other night when the kids and the grand kid were all out here for dinner, and to drop off a crib for her, the baby got very interested in a stuffed animal, an otter, and so was Gracie, the terrier. They played a game of tug of war with it  for a while until finally Margaret was determined to not let the little dog take it away. She stood up and with total deliberation sat right down on the toy, pinning it so that Gracie could not budge it, then looked up quite pleased with herself at such a clever way to solve her problem. We were of course doubled over laughing at this scene and she was curious as to our finding humor in the way she had won the battle of the toy. While I do have some concerns at the enormous responsibility of keeping up with her for the next days, the of wonderment  in witnessing the rapid development of this new little person, who walks and makes her own decisions, laughs with delight, and hugs you like she means it will be a treat that I am looking forward to with an unexpected glee. Grandparent hood, yeah it’s all it’s cracked up to be, and more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Memory Lane

I heard a door bell ringing next to my bed. It was pitch black and an unnatural hour to hear anything, let alone a door chiming in the wrong place. Then I remembered that was the ring tone for my alarm meant to wake me, gently, but get me up. I am not an early morning riser but we were heading to Georgia to see my mare, Cistine, being ridden in the Dutch Warmblood Keuring, or inspection, a graduation of sorts. I had higher motivation than usual for this and so the door bell did its job and set me in motion.

Coffee brewed, dogs fed then let out to hang on the front porch ‘til we returned, off we drove into the stillness and dark of the dawn. Slowly we made it out of the tricky turns in our driveway, down the bumpy thing they call our county road, and finally found the interstate heading towards Atlanta and pressed on.

As we drove along I realized that in nearly every inch along that road there is a memory of my having passed there before, and usually it was having gone to a horse show at this exit or that. How many times have I loaded up a horse and gone to shows, driving eastward on this road, like today, in the wee hours of the morning to make an early entry for the day’s show? There is no telling or counting.

My poor kids would get dragged out of their beds at ungodly hours and be put in my truck to finish their slumber while I drove across the time zone to our destination show grounds. They soon learned to be good troopers about the sleep disruption and learned to navigate their way around a horse show. At one show my youngest found that she could make a good day’s profit by selling my carrots to the other riders, and one time actually sold some rocks she had found to some bemused folks. My eldest daughter had her first show aboard Pollyanna the pony, at some small farm along the route. Of all the shows I think I was most stressed about hers, but it was good in the end.

There were shows held along the route at places like Big Bear Farm, Flat Creek, the Gosch’s place, Midland, Chateau Elan, and farms with no officially remembered name but at these places, one show at a time, is where I learned to compete with my horses, and made so many fond memories. 

At the very bottom of the learning curve to my show career was on this road just across the Georgia state line. My friend Cissy and I wanted to do combined training so badly and we both had horses that were not especially well suited for the job, but that was tough and their karma to have come along to us when they did. Chief, her horse was a big burly bay that would not stay in the dressage arena if asked to canter. Wisely we strategized to simply take the zero for not doing the movement instead of instant elimination if he left the scene.

I was on a midget named Nairn, (Scottish for “nothing”), a Quarter Horse crossed with a grade Walking Horse that my grandfather had given me. Less than 14.2hh, I was a bit under mounted but totally undaunted by such details. We were terrible, but we somehow managed to get us some ribbons, and had a blast doing it. I think Cissy broke her arm there too, but that may have been later at the Gosch’s place.  Memories are so much like water colors, constantly all running together. The thing was that we had a great time and we were now really on the circuit. We were true equestrian competitors for real, or so we thought.

Years of weekend journeys on this road continued the learning curve. Cissy eventually gave Chief needed time off, since cantering in the arena was never his thing, and so I went alone or with the kids and Mark.  I think finally at some point, Mark must have gotten embarrassed at my comical horse paring and managed to figure a way for us to afford a little bit nicer, and larger, horse for me. With the purchase of Jason, a former QH racer who was too slow on the sprint but who could fly once he figured out where his legs were, we started going to bigger shows at fancier farms and jumping bigger and better fences. Jason had many things for him, while jumping into water wasn’t one of them, he could make the speeds on cross country and jump the moon and we finally started winning, a lot. 

Jason later gave way to Limerick, my first warmblood. Back in the day, the dark ages, hardly anyone had one and they stood out so blatantly better in quality of the general Thoroughbred mixes that competed then, that winning became a pretty usual thing for whoever rode in on one. They were better suited for an all round sport like combined training with strong dressage scores pushing them to the front. Limerick either won her day, or, bucked my butt into the stratosphere. It was first or last, a blue or nothing.  

 Yes, the memories hang thickly up and down this road. There is the spot near Hogansville where as I was driving alone to a show, in the rain, my left trailer tire comes loose at nearly seventy miles per hour, passes me, and takes a horrifying, huge bounce across the median towards on coming cars. Fortunately no cars were hit and I limped into Newnan where my horse, Kowaliga, and I spent the day waiting on new lug nuts to be shipped in. There was no getting to the show early on that day, and the good thing was that of all the horses to have been hauling, Kowaliga was the best. The boy was totally nonplussed at having to shift over in the trailer out on the interstate to ride on the side that still had two tires, waited patiently for hours for the repair, and finally upon getting to the show grounds straight up went to work. He was a good boy.

There was the show at Midland, no, Flat Creek, where I had my first clean cross country round, still on my midget then, but was throwing up my toenails in the cross country start box having learned I was newly pregnant the day before and was feeling the news pretty heavily in many ways. There was the show that my youngest got herself stuck in a thick mud puddle and quite literally had to be plucked out of it by some nice fellow, while I was off riding a test and was oblivious to it all. Her boots, which had frog faces on the toes, came out separately and were rinsed off for her before she put them back on. Some one pointed out to her that she had them on the wrong foot since the faces were pointing the wrong way. She looked down and appraised the situation and simply crossed her feet. Problem solved. I am sure there were more such occasions that I didn’t learn about, but those are my kids’ stories to tell.

The day’s drive to and fro was spent in pleasant retroflection revisiting these places and times. The reason for the journey, Cistine, was presented well and won a large blue banner to wear around her neck. It was great to see a young horse that I had helped land in this life, grow up and become a lovely, well behaved, and very rideable mount. Gratification comes in many forms and this one is especially nice. She is Joline’s last filly and there will be no more.

Another memory and another ribbon to add to the string....  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Eleven Years On

Everybody remembers where they were when something huge happened, like the first step on the moon, JFK shot, and 9/11, among many. Today is the commemoration day for 9/11, now an amazing eleven years back. That day changed our world, and not for the good in any way that I can see. I do remember that surreal day unfolding, the incredulity of it all. How? How could something so horrific be happening? It did. The amazing bubble of the imaginary safety net surrounding the USA was popped, and there is no going back to such a delusional innocence. 

That day began for me with a phone call  telling me to turn on the tv to see the unfolding news, that the Trade Tower had been hit by the plane. Details were sketchy and the terrorist attack thought was not really jelling by then. It seemed a random plane crash into one of the nation’s most recognizable buildings, and it was now chaos.

I watched the news for a bit then needed to call a company in Pennsylvania that, where a few weeks before, I had placed an order with for my new carriage. There were a few changes that I needed to make on the design and I knew that the family who actually made them at their factory in Poland, was there in the shop in PA for a few days. When I called I talked with the owner of the shop to relay the changes I wanted, the news from there was more chilling.

By this time of the day the airliner that was highjacked and was crashed on purpose to avoid greater loss of life, had crashed very close to their store and things were dicey to say the least. The owner told me they were all scared but that the family from Poland were about to flip totally out. They had lived through the reality of having their country invaded and taken over in a not to distant past, and now here they were in another country right in the middle of it getting attacked. Everyone was scared and confused, but they were terrified. In the craziness of the moment we did get the carriage business done and a few months  later my beautiful carriage arrived from Poland, it having been thoroughly caught up in the new security screenings on imported items and was held for quite some time before I could receive it.

Today seeing the date and remembering that day now eleven years back, gave me a quick reality check on just how fast time has flown since then. For various reasons, like a set of broken ribs, I had not put the harness on my mare in probably over a year and a half, nor hooked her to the carriage. In commemoration, and the fact that it is today a nice day with an easy breeze, I thought I would drive my carriage to acknowledge the memory. Ordinarily I would have used caution and waited for help with hooking and driving her first time back in a long time, but I had conviction that fear/caution would not stop me today. It was time to try. So after wiping the dirt dauber nests off the harness and brushing the spider webs from the carriage I put the harness back on my trusty mare.

She stood as she is supposed to, still and not moving a foot, while I attached the traces and the shafts. I stepped aboard to put on my gloves and she could stand it no more, anxious to hear the command to “walk on” and was shifting around in front of me, wanting to go. I stopped her a time or two but choosing not to pick a fight I let her move on and put on the gloves as we walked the driveway up to the field by the road. There was enthusiasm in her step and I was feeling pretty confident that my decision to drive was a good one, when out of the woods in front of us came two bouncy fawns, bouncing this way then that towards us, then away, undecided and nervous. Their long white tails were perched way high and my mare Sunset was getting a really good look at them but was holding her on. Finally they made their path into the woods again and on we went.

It was a nice drive, the mare was not in shape for it so we walked and trotted a bit, nothing too hard. I took this shot of her, one of my favorite views, the horse out in front, happily doing its job. We headed in and called it a day and I stuffed her full of carrots and gave her a pat, marveling at how just that little bit had her muscles so pumped up. Driving is such a workout compared to riding, well not for me anyway, but for the horse yes. There are many magic moments I remember with horses, riding, training etc, but the best have been in a carriage with a truly working horse.

Later today I was looking in a book for some notes I had written and found this little sketch I had made years ago. I was stunned at the date, 8-23-01. Eleven years ago I had drawn this sketch from seeing this same view/image from the box seat, only weeks before the fateful  9-11.

What an erie coincidence, and what a reminder of what a difference a day can make. The day I drew that sketch the idea of terrorists blowing up buildings on US soil had not entered my brain, and why should it have. I was in a place of bliss that day, new to driving then and having such a pleasant time, oblivious to the future. Today, I do know the past, and I remember the uncertainty of the moment. In truth, though, all moments in the future are uncertain and each could be the last, but each must be lived with a boldness, contrived if necessary, to not let fear and caution win and keep us tied down and cowering. I think,  if I can, I will use a carriage drive on future September 11ths to keep reminded of just this, and just keep “walking on”.   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Second Sunday

It is the second Sunday after the beginning of college football Saturdays. We are all sitting on the front porch, Mark in the swing, me in the white wicker, Gracie in the next chair down, and Heidi on the floor beside her. It is so pleasant to be out here thanks to a cold front that blew in yesterday afternoon, which kindly dropped a good bit of rain, then blew in a heavenly dose of cooler and much drier air in behind it. 

It is amazing to me just how much easier it is to live when the temps give you a break after enduring the misery of summer here. It is as though life has resumed again, and all of those things that I have put off for fear of heat stroke I can now think about getting them done. Maybe, tomorrow. For the rest of this afternoon this is enough, simply sitting and writing and listening to the hummingbirds' chirps and to the shot gun blasts of the near by dove hunters blasting the sky with pellets in an attempt to bring down a small grey bird or two for their dinners. 

Dove are probably the most expensive form of meat there is, between the cost of land to shoot them over, the sometimes outrageously expensive shot guns, equipment to manage the land to grow the grain to attract the birds, and the endless amounts of ammunition it takes if one is not a very good shot at them. The list of other stuff that is largely a matter of choice and is not required, but admired if had. By the time the cleaned bird (assuming one is good enough to hit a few) is thoroughly gone over to make sure all of the pieces of shot left in the breasts is taken out, and then floured and browned, simmered in gravy til they are soft and moist, one has had quite a full day and one has amassed quite an investment in your tiny meal. 

There are infinitely more easier ways to get a meal, but sitting on the edge of a browned field in camouflage on a day like today, maybe with a good retriever next to you waiting with anticipation that you might actually hit something it can go bring back to you, with friends stationed not to close and not to far away around the perimeter of the field can be quite a wonderful experience. Back when my eyes weren’t such an issue and my right shoulder had any hope of not falling off with the recoil of a well aimed gun, I used to enjoy the drama of the day’s hunt and it was a good thing to be a true hunter gatherer and bring a batch of birds home to cook. Today though I am content to just listen to their shots and to the lingering echos as the sound travels across our farm. 

Yesterday amid the preparation for watching our team play its second game, and watching other teams win and lose, I happened to glance out of the window which faces south to the pasture where Frank, Joline’s two year old colt lives now. Since we have lived out here my daily glances out of the window has taught me much about what the horses are normally doing at different times of the day, where they tend to hang out, and such.  Any abnormal behavior is like a red flag to me now. Frank was not acting normal.

 I watched for a few more minutes before heading out to go see what was going on. At the barn I grabbed a halter, and the tube of Bannamine (first line of defense against colic, it is a smooth muscle relaxer and pain reliever), and was saying some hail marys as I walked towards a strangely quiet colt that he was not going to be heading into a full blown colic.

Sometimes it sure would be nice if horses could speak english or that I was better at hearing what they are saying. Frank greeted me with an unenthusiastic sniff of my hand, then resumed his head lowered position ignoring me. That, was way out of character. Ordinarily if I walk to and from the barn Frank gallops to the fence to join me. He also plays with toys and generally amuses himself by staying busy or letting himself out of the field or stall to check out life outside of the fence.

This boy was not right so I began checking other visuals. His breathing was fairly normal for the heat, his pulse was a slow squish through the vein which crosses under his jaw, and he did not look to be in pain, just very very quiet and dull. I kept the medicine in my pocket and chose to give him a bit more time to show something more for me to go on, and turned to walk back to the barn and house. He made a slow few steps to follow but declined and went back to the shade of the persimmon tree.

I came back in and periodically watched for signs of distress, and called my vet who advised to go ahead with the Bannamine just in case. I did, and began to wait, for him and for the game which was about to start about the same time the oncoming front was beginning to loom heavily over the horizon rumbling as it came nearer. The rains came and the medicine must’ve been a good plan, because my repeated trips to the window showed that Frank was hanging out with the mares under the shed, and looked much more lively. That was a good thing too, just in time for the game to start. The game was a shutout for our team as victors, once again, so that also made for a good night.

It has been generally a good week on the farm, heat excluded, especially for Gracie the mighty Yorkie, now referred to as Little Big Dog, or the terror. One day this week she disappeared for a while, longer than usual, so I called her to see where she was. Up she sprang from the edge of the pond carrying an unidentifiable thing which was flapping as she ran. Closer exam of her prize was a slightly stiff but not yet too stinky Bream, a panfish, and she was proud of her find. It took some doing and chasing but I finally convinced her that I really needed it and she let me take it away, in time before she rolled on it. 

Gracie also met up with another fun toy, a Great Blue Herron, who had landed or somehow gotten into our yard and could not get off the ground to fly. This was good chase for the little dog who didn’t come up to the giant bird’s ankles, but who bravely tried to bite the wing feathers and barked viscously at the disabled flying dinosaur. I had to call her off the bird for fear of her being speared by the long rapier beak of the poor bird. Gracie removed, the bird meandered down the path of the pond dam and hopefully  will get over its plight and fly away.

Today was pleasant enough for a good bike ride so we rode our miles in the bright blue sunshine, jumped into the still warm pool afterwards and met the kids in town for brunch at the marina. The grand kid was great and charmed us all of course. Another Sunday almost done I am finding myself looking forward to the many possibilities of stuff to get done with a cool week ahead. It is a long list but, to conquer it, will be great.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August Leaves

The other day I was laying on the warm deck by the pool after a dip in the saving cool water. I looked straight up into the tree tops far above me and beyond them, into the incredible blue sky of a late August afternoon. A southeasterly wind was blowing the trees around and they compliantly moved at its command, to and fro, with a swishing, easy, and quite pleasant sound. I watched a single leaf from a clump of many way above me, suddenly and with out any particular reason, become detached from its branch and it fell prey to the effects of these invisible winds all on its own. It twirled left, then right, then chaotically it continued its fall from the parent tree, slowly downward, drifting, spinning as do most of the white oak tree leaves, until finally it softly and quietly landed, just next to me, and its journey was done. Its travel time was brief, but, the moment was indelible and forever.

It is late August. To a person who lives in the south, this point in time of the year comes as a reprieve. Just to know the end of the intolerable is coming, is pure unbridled relief. I know many people in other parts of the country and the world are affected by heat waves and scorching temps that can cause all types of issues, but, the key word there is “waves”. A temporary shift in the climate does not form a norm of summer. No theirs is just a minor inconvenience and it provides something to chat about and for the weather channel guys to get excited about.

 August usually brings a bit of hope in the form of the changing patterns of the winds that blow across the planet. They bring relief to the stagnant doldrums of July and June by allowing cooler air that comes all the way from Canada via the jet stream to pull winds from the south and the gulf, to stir up the days like a spoon in a mug of coffee. In a premature fall, browned and spent leaves begin their final journeys through the air tossed and twinkling like giant snow flakes until they find their resting spot on the ground below the canopy. Most seem quite determined to find the swimming pool like my single falling leaf had done, where I daily clean them out, only to find them back in the next day.

Ours, being a southern summer, it is unique. It is simply, an unrelenting hell. From mid May until sometimes even as late as the beginning of October it is hot and it is outrageously humid, dangerously so. The oppression of this beast of weather is what we bear as southerners, collectively we endure, we gripe and bemoan, but as stoically as possible, we ride it through with the faith that it will get better, because in truth, it couldn’t get worse. 

We are slower people by design for this reason. We talk slower, move slower, and live life at a slower pace so as not to exert too much energy and suffer a heat stroke or two. There are tall iced drinks to keep us cool, swimming pools, and talcum powder to help  us calmly ride  through these long days of the suffering, sweltering misery. The beaded sweat on the outside of a glass of a Mint Julep mirrors the our plight. But, by sipping the minted, and icy brown elixir  it holds, through a sterling silver straw, it relaxes the tension and makes one slow down even more. Quite often it is enough to force one to come to a halt under a front porch ceiling fan and sit for a spell in an ancient wicker chair next to a pack of resting dogs. I think that’s not too bad of a thing given the circumstances, slowing time down, that is.

We presently wait on more news about a storm that started off the coast of Africa a short while back, made its way across the Atlantic, slipped right between Cuba and the Keys, and has now pushed its way into the waiting warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  What began as an unorganized little group of clouds and rain has melded with the energy of the warmer waters, has barreled across the Gulf and is now a massive slowly moving hurricane. This one they are calling Isaac. 

They predicted the eye would hit New Orleans, an ironic de ja vu of Katrina, which several years ago and to the day, fairly well demolished the town and good portion of the Gulf coast. Armed with new engineering of the levee system surrounding the bowl that New Orleans sits in, it seems to be keeping the tides out and is pumping the rain out to avoid a repeat. In a town where the state beverage is called the “Hurricane” one would give thought as to why one would want to live in such a potential hurricane target, but if you have ever been to the town it is easier to understand. Apparently out lying areas have not been so lucky nor protected and the rain continues. 

Although still many hundreds of miles away, from here in the middle of Alabama, we feel its force. Strong gusts of winds are whipping the green water of the pond into a silver froth and the Spanish moss is gracefully swaying to its rhythm. The wind chimes on the porch softly add to the chorus.  Although a shower or two has passed by in the long outstretched bands that circle the storm, we were hoping for more rain, but are grateful for no damage so far.

The other day Mark and I traveled to Birmingham, about seventy miles north of here, to do a photo shoot for a restaurant that had hired out friend, Master Chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr, as a consultant to help give the place a lift of sorts. We had worked with Joe before and it always amazes me at the level of skill he has in creating such beautiful, and incredibly delicious peasant Italian dishes. We ate, we shot dish after dish, we ate, we shot some more,and finally got in our car to drive home, bellies full, and tired but excited. It was so nice to have once again been able to watch a person do his work with such a strong conviction for perfection in his creations and his art with food.  Mark made some beautiful shots for the restaurant to use and it was great to be around Joe in the process. 

There was no need for supper when we got home. We were satiated in many ways.