Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell 2010

It's the eve of a new year and all of the media recaps made me think back on all of the changes this past year have wrought.

I have moved, become engaged, been bucked off my horse, found a horse I can ride, adjusted to having no job(perhaps a little too well), and made new friends. I drove an RV through Yellowstone Park(and camped in it for a week), put my feet in The Great Salt Lake, flew in a Cessna, kissed a dolphin, and flew in a private jet.

All in all, a great year.

Of course on the cusp of 2011, I am looking forward, too. There is a wedding, a honeymoon, and hopefully, lots and lots of riding and writing. The coming year will be when I commit myself to allowing the dream I have fought since graduating from college. I will try not to let my fear of failure overwhelm my desire to create something special.

I hope to reconnect with old friends I have neglected while being swept into my new life. And I hope to help my sister with her noble dream of making a true difference in the lives of those who need help and support.

These are small, personal wishes. And I will try not to plan so much or too far ahead.

It is perhaps an old and tired device, this listing of reminisences and resolutions, but it is what it is. On the last day of the year, there is little time for anything else.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back on Track?

I know, I know. I've been away. I'm such a bad blogger and an undisciplined wannabe writer. I have many excuses, the holidays, the flu, and a trip to Bermuda that lasted longer than expected. At least I wasn't deported.

It's been a wonderful holiday and I am looking forward to the New Year. Of course my resolutions include a major diet, more exercise, and a more rigid writing schedule. I have sent some poems out; I'm waiting excitedly for additions to my rejection file. Hey, it's like the lottery, if you don't buy the ticket/take the chance, then it'll never happen. Yes, I am feeling a bit discouraged, but that has more to do with my insecurities than anything else.

And really, I shouldn't complain. I escaped the blizzard that crippled the Northeast. In fact, it was a blessing, because...

I'll get to that.

I spent Christmas with Mr. W.'s family in Bermuda, where his parents are members of a residence club. It was a bit of irony that the club is called Tucker's Point, since the night before we left, Mr. W. told me my Christmas gift was Tucker, the horse I have been free-leasing.

I'll keep saying it- I'm so lucky*.

*This will be repeated ad nauseum.

Bermuda is different than I expected. It is beautiful and the people are welcoming and friendly. The first thing I noticed (besides the British motor laws) was the water. I am used to seeing the Atlantic ocean from the Jersey Shore. Bermuda's surrounding seas don't have any relation to the sickly greenish-brown of the North Atlantic. The waters surrounding this oddly configured set of small islands is the most brilliant aquamarine, more vivid than the Maui's coasts (though Hawaii is more stuniing overall). Bermuda has a quiet, elegant beauty.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. Gale force winds, rain and cool temperatures drove us toward indoor pursuits. Add to that Mr.W's nephew, who came down with a severe stomach bug (which, I think he played to the hilt after the worst had passed, but...). Still, we were able to swim once, play on the pink beach (it really is pink!), and hit golf balls on the driving range (yeah, I suck at it, but no humans were harmed or windows broken). The aquarium in Flatts village is fantastic. It is also a small zoo and I bonded with the Indonesian bearcat or binturong. Too cute. He meandered down his branches and put his paw against the mesh of the enclosure. I was good. I did not reach out to touch it, but it was tempting.

I also got to relax. I read Cutting for Stone and Dracula (I've never actually read the original. It was interesting). And Mr. W.'s sister introduced me to Every Word, a game on the Kindle. Addictive. It should come with a warning.

So the long lazy days were not all about eating and drinking, though there was plenty of that. We went to the hotel bar so many times, we memorized the menu. In the hotel restaurant, there were murals salvaged from the Pan Am building in Manhattan (it's now the Met Life building). Mr.W.'s grandfather was a VP of Pan Am; the murals were a part of his mother's childhood. These huge canvases show various ports of the world: London, New York, Maui, Constantinople, Hong Kong, and Beirut. Hamilton harbor was added when the restaurant was built. It was wonderful to hear her talk about them; I guess we all cling to those small representations of what has gone before. (I keep fabric, Hummels, Christmas decorations, and kilts as my memories, but who's comparing).

After Mr. W.'s sister and her family left to spend Christmas day at their home, we were left to wander Hamilton and the Dockyard, where we got to play with dolphins. I kissed one and have the photo to prove it! The gale force winds that day were quite an experience- I've never been blown down a hill. In Hamilton, Mr.W. sneakily bought me an enamel box with "I love you more and more each day" scrolled across the top.*(see above)

The only glitch in this idyll was the blizzard. We were scheduled to return the day after Christmas. Of course, our flight was cancelled. "That's ok," we thought, since Christmas day was one of the warmest and prettiest days we'd experiened and Boxing day was almost as nice. We ate lunch, went to the spa for a massage, went to dinner, and hoped for good news the next day.

Monday was blustery and rainy. And our flight was cancelled yet again. We went to the airport to talk to a real, live person, who informed us that our first opportunity to leave would be Wednesday. Oy.

On the amazingly bright side, we were on a lovely island with rain, not snow, and we were able to sleep in divinely comfortable beds, not plastic airport chairs. The packing, unpacking, packing and moving rooms was a bit of a pain. Another delicious meal later, Mr.W. and I retired and exchanged bets on whether or not we would leave before Wednesday.

Lets just say, I lost the bet. We left at 6pm Tuesday evening. On a private jet. Uh huh. I have to pinch myself. Amazing way to end the week, Merry Christmas and all that. And yes, it is an incredible way to travel. The plane was so beautiful. I was fascinated by all of the nooks and hidden compartments. It was like an RV, but infinitely nicer. Ok, it's not remotely like an RV, more like one of those bus-sized luxury motor coaches. In this instance, it is like what they show on TV. i felt like Tony DiNozzo on NCIS if you happened to see the episode when they go to Guantanamo Bay? No. Well, google it. It was just like that!!!! *****

I am back on land now. The critters were so happy to see us. While they were enthusiastically leaping and barking to welcome us home, I noticed the house was a bit cold(61 degrees, not that bad, but chilly). Went into the basement to say hello to the cats and heard the fan in the furnace trying and failing to run. We called the heating people, who came right out to remedy the problem, but it did take until 12:30AM (and the poor technician had another call after ours). Mr. W., who the whole trip denied having a cough, or not feeling well (can you say stubborn ass?) finally gave in to his malaise.

I guess there is always a balance to be maintained. I am back to mucking stalls, snowblowing the five foot drifts in the driveway, unpacking, reorganizing, nursing the patient, and catching up on all I missed while away. *******

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Echoes

I don't feel well today. I'm laying low and trying to relax. The pellet stove is now working- after clearing the auger with my fingers and almost getting my arm stuck-but it is churning away, filling the room with that lovely warmth that a fire provides.

I turned on the television, surfed the channels, and found "House Hunters International." I haven't watched that in a while, but in a lucky turn, the story was about an American looking for a place in Prague, Czech Republic. It's been three years since I was lucky enough to spend a month there.

It's cold outside, I'm tired and don't feel well, my feet are up facing a warm fire, and I'm headed back in time to that incredible adventure. I never got to show my mother the pictures; as she was the one who made the trip happen, it's one of my biggest regrets.

My mother and aunt drove me to the airport; we tried one of my aunt's interesting, smaller-road routes. I was nervous. Did I pack enough? Did I pack the right things? I checked my brand-new passport for the twentieth time. I was almost forty and this was my first passport, my first time out of the country(besides Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, but really, do they count for an International Relations student?), and my first trip entirely solo. I had flown alone many times, but there was always a friendly, familiar face waiting for me upon landing.

Our airport-bound route meandered past Walden Pond. Through the car window I took in the signs, the parked cars, and tried to imagine the wooded beauty that inspired Thoreau. It wasn't what I expected; the passage of time and urban development altered the landscape. My destination was a city that had withstood the ravages of war and the Iron Curtain; I hoped it was better preserved than the small preserve holding the memory of a naturalist's inspiration.

We arrived at the airport, and in a quick, awkward blur, I checked my bags, gathered my passport and organized my carry on. Again. I hugged my mom, my aunt slipped me some extra cash with the admonition to spend it on myself, and off through security I sped.

After a long, crowded, sleepless flight, I switched planes in London, then boarded the Czech Air jet that would take me to the place I had dreamed of for so long. Exhausted, I dozed in my seat until the cabin staff delivered beverages and a snack. I eyed my open-face meat sandwich, nestled beside my coffee, then glanced at my neighbor, who was thoroughly enjoying his beer. It was 10:30 in the morning, though it felt like 10:30 at night to me. Still, beer with breakfast? Welcome to the Czech Repubic.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend, Part Two

There's a Gremlin in the T.V., really.

Friday after the feast, we gathered again, once the young men began to stir, that is. Coffee, bacon, French toast, and real maple syrup for me and Mr. W. My son ate a bacon and cranberry sauce sandwich. The bacon was smoked and cured with black pepper. It had a bit of a kick. And the cranberry sauce was the kind that retains an impression of the can it came in. On Sourdough toast. Yeah.

The others arrived around 11:30 AM, mostly because my sister wanted control of the T.V. from noon to four. It was time for the Backyard Brawl. I am not a fan of football; I don't get it. My sister, however, is an avid fan, especially of her Alma Mater, the University of Pittsburgh. Wait. Avid fan? No she's a rabid fan, known to hang up on innocent, well-meaning callers if they have the unfortunate timing of calling during active play. She has also, with her "enthusiasm" caused enough havoc, that the family dog will skulk from the room and hide at the hint of anything resembling football on the television. She swears she isn't as bad now; she can actually watch in one room, rather than stalking from set to set, all of which are showing the game, commenting loudly on the game. "OH COME ON!"

Outside, the trees sparkled with the frozen remnants of rain, a light breeze sent glimmering drops groundward. It was a perfect day to spend inside surrounded by family. My sister sat in the center of the couch with Mr. W. and I flanking. She vibrated with excitement for the game. It began as she told me her prediction- "Pitt is going to lose, but you never know." And a bunch of other technical football stuff. I did listen to what she explained. Really. I did. The boys and my brother-in-law congregated around the breakfast bar behind us, talking and discussing my son's imminent move (and all the crap he had to do before he actually left).

As soon as the game got underway, the channel changed. I had the only remote, so she accused me of tampering. The channel switched back to the game. I handed her the remote, to prove my innocence. The channel flipped again. I grabbed it back and hit the "last" button on the remote. Back to football. Then "Keeping up Appearances"(an older, British sitcom), even I had to choose football over that. Football, BBC, football, BBC, infomercial, football. At this point, though she had actually seen all of the important stuff, my sister was getting a bit annoyed.

"Am I being punked?" She turned to me. "Has the cable ever done this before?"

"No. Could it be the ice?" I asked my son if he'd ever had this happen, he replied in the negative. The channel flicked again.

"Oh, COME ON!!!" My sister put her head in her hands, composing herself. Football resumed. Another ten minutes passed until the next flicker.

"Why don't we try it on the non-HD channel?" She suggested, putting on her see-how-calm-and-pleasant-I-can-be-when-really-I-am-borderline-homicidal smile. We changed to that. Football. She relaxed. Flicker to "Saved by the Bell."

"Put it back to HD. BBC is better than that." Back to HD programming we went. Football until the commercial. BBC. Infomercial. Football. "Thank God for replays," she muttered. "Maybe, I should go back to the hotel and wrestle the lobby T.V. away from the kids..."

It didn't help that the other team scored a touchdown within the first few minutes; sure, Pitt rallied and scored, but it did not bode well for the rest of the game. By half-time, my sister was frustrated with the game and my anxiety was growing about my son getting to the dump in time, discarding the mountain of garbage with my truck, and returning in a timely manner so Mr. W and I could drive home, and whether or not there would be bloodshed before the end of the weekend. Several times, she suggested shopping at the only, tiny department store within an hour's drive. Desperate times call for desperate measures. At this point, I am sure she could have used some blood-pressure medicine, or a stiff drink, or maybe a strong sedative.

I'm exaggerating. Maybe. Not. It was Pitt football, after all. Honestly, she has made progress; she was willing to watch the game in company on only a single television.

It was during half-time, when I strolled into the kitchen to make up a huge plate of leftovers, that I discovered the existence of a second remote. My brother-in-law had been behind the impromtu channel surfing.

Of course, I said nothing and the game continued for the third quarter, when my sister finally was told. No one was hurt in the aftermath. My sister is still happily married, ok, my sister is still married, not widowed, my son got rid of the trash, Mr. W. headed back home only two hours later than planned with my nephew in tow. This is what makes my holiday's special.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend, Part One

Ah. I can smell the dysfuntion brewing like a fat, buttered fowl after four hours in a 350 degree oven. The annual family gathering has begun.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. My family gathered at our "ancestral farm" in Vermont. Well, that's what our mother called it, but can you really call a property bought within the last fifteen years part of our ancient heritage? Do barely five acres in the middle of a neighborhood qualify as a farm? Sure there is a barn, paddocks, a small riding ring, and a pasture, but...it's Vermont, not the Boston suburbs.

We gathered for both the traditional turkey fixings and to celebrate my son's birthday. He's grown up enough that he is heading out to spend the winter in Colorado. As he is just out of college and contemplating the direction for the next stage of his life, a little living and ski-bumming is definitely in the cards. At least he has a plan. Sort of. He's been talking about this trip for the entire summer, but didn't quite think out his departure. His intention was to leave the Sunday after Thanksgiving, all well and good, barring a few minor details, like a summers worth of garbage and an evil rabbit. (No. I did not offer to take Bunnicula. I have too many animals of my own- yes I just admitted it. That's the first step to recovery, right?)

Mr. W and I drove to the farm the day before T-day, loaded with the dinner makings, including a turkey bought from the local market; the woman there "grew it herself." Yeah. I am a food hypocrite. I try to eat natural, locally grown, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I love to eat meat that I hope is not pumped with steroids and antibiotics or mad-cow disease. BUT, I don't want to know what it's name was before it was handed to me neatly wrapped in plastic. Whatever happens between Bambi running through the woods, or Ferdinand basking in the sun, or Foghorn Leghorn pecking around his free-range, and placing the shrink or paper-wrapped package containing my dinner in the grocery cart, is definitely within the realm of "I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW!"

My sister and her family, minus one (who was back in PA nursing a sick dog. She was missed), arrived on the big day, about 11:00 AM. Anne was providing the roasting pan, so we aimed to eat around 5 PM. Mr. W, living up to his moniker, began the process of preparing the meal. My sister went to her hotel to take a nap (they had been driving since 5AM); the boys did whatever twenty-something boys do; I got in the way and made the stuffing.

The meal was fantastic. The turkey, which we brined overnight (simple salt and water brine), was cooked to brown, crispy-skinned, juicy perfection. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, whole and creamed corn, peas, giblet and plain gravy, cole slaw, and plenty of dinner rolls were set out buffet style. We loaded our plates, squeezed around the long, plastic folding table, lit the candle in a Patron bottle center piece, poured ourselves some wine, sang "Happy Birthday", and dug in.

The mood was fun, despite the fact that my son was anxious about his impending mood, my sister was worried about a sick dog left at home, my nephew was concerned about his allergies (the rabbit was in the corner of the room), Mr. W hoped the meal was perfect, my brother-in-law joked, and I obsessed about what I was going to do with an empty farm. (It's not completely empty, a friend keeps her horse in the barn and checks on everything at least twice a day, but... the future is looming and it may be time to say goodbye to that dream my mother and I shared.)

We glutted, cleaned up, and sprawled on the couches and chairs. My son received his presents, which were mostly monetary in nature. In an ironic, lovely twist, when I was searching through a trunk for a tablecloth, I found the tiny, blue shirt my son was given by the OB group that delivered him. I held it up marvelling at the difference twenty-four years makes. It was a fitting reminder for both of us.

A bit later, a few of his friends came over and the pie was served with ice cream. When we could neither eat nor drink anymore, and we had watched sixteen episodes of "Punkin' Chunkin", my sister and brother-in-law headed to the hotel to sleep it off. I nudged Mr. W, who had shockingly nodded off during the pumpkin carnage, and we retired for the night, leaving the younger set to play video games into the night.

Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude and gluttony. We eat and appreciate. Too often, it turns into arguments and tension, and while my family has had it's dysfunctions and challenges, I'm sure it isn't unique. (Ok. I do think a mother who tells you, "You're not fat, Nancie, you're just chunky" is rare. And that was one of her nicer sentiments. My sister could tell you many more.)

For me, this Thanksgiving was the perfect reminder of all the things I am thankful for. I am a very lucky woman.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Invisible

Have you ever felt invisible? The other day, I had that experience. I was sitting at the dining room table, at the head or foot, depending on perspective; it was the end closest to the sliding glass doors that lead to the patio, so I guess it would be the foot. Irrelevant really.

Anyway, I was comfortably reading my book, the late-day-autumnal sun on my back, and the heater vent blasting warm air at my feet. Lately, I have been easily chilled. The heat and sun was nice after spending most of the day outside.

I must also note that our house is not large. The main floor consists of a kitchen/dining room that opens into the small living room. There is a mud room that leads into the dining area, which we use as our main entrance. Beyond the living room are a small guest bedroom, a full bathroom, and an office. Upstairs is a landing and the master bedroom and bath. I know this is more than you think you need to know, but bear with me, it's relevant.

So here I was, my 800 page tome (almost finished and boy was it good!)laid out on the table in front of me, when I heard the sounds of Mr W. coming up the walk. With four dogs, it is awfully hard to sneak up on us. I was waiting for him since he called me en route, conversely, he knew I was home...

He strolled through the mud room into the dining room, where I sat. I watched as he removed his bluetooth (I think he wants one surgically implanted, but that is a whole 'nother can of worms). His blackberry was gently set next to the bluetooth on the kitchen island. Turning toward me, he removed his coat and laid it on the chair at the other end of the table.

I waited for him to greet me, after all, he was practically staring at me. Nope. He headed for the living room and with a small shake of the head, he headed down the short hall to the office. I was amused. He hadn't seen me. His footsteps returned to the hallway, pausing at the foot of the stairs.

I listened as he removed his boots, spoke to the dogs, and thudded upstairs.
Click. Creak. Step, step. Creak. I could hear his thoughts in the rhythm of his steps- Where the heck is she? It's not a large house.

Click. Thud, thud, thud, back down the steps.

Ok. Now he'll figure it out, I thought with growing hilarity.

He returned to the kitchen, walked by me again.

Really? I was right in front of him!!! But he still did not notice me.

Passing by, he grabbed the knob to the basement door, pulled it open and stuck his head through, searching. At that point, I could not keep quiet. I cracked up. Shocked, he finally saw me.

"Where were you?" He asked.

Umm...I must have spent a few minutes in another dimension, "I was right here."

"You saw me walk by?"

"Yep." At this point I was crying from a huge attack of the giggles.

There are some men who would be hurt or angered at being laughed at or feeling a fool. Not Mr. W., he laughed harder than I, nearly passing out from a lack of oxygen. Luckily, I can be invisible.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Wall

My sister gave me a ticket to a Roger Waters concert, where he performed "The Wall" in its entirety. I went with my brother-in-law, my nephew, and one of his friends. A little surreal, but it was fun.

The show was brilliant. And like so many others, the music and the layers of messages embedded within the spectacle resonated within multiple facets of my life. From the sixth grade classroom, where a record player was smuggled in, the needle laid upon the fifth song of the first side, and the anthem that every hormonal and dissatisfied pre-teen embraced, rang out, to the depression and isolation of disenchanted adulthood, "The Wall" blurred the boundaries between the angst of self and world issues.

Supposedly, when originally conceived, "The Wall" represented the mental and emotional barriers erected by a wounded psyche, simultaneously with physical borders between political entities, most notably the now-defunct Berlin Wall.

A wall is a wall is a wall.

So, on a random Tuesday night, I felt like I was taken back through time, through the autobiographical expressions of Roger Waters's music, as well as through incarnations of my own self. It was a strange situation for me on so many levels. I have gone to a lot of concerts. The memorabilia I collected is stored lovingly in "the Box." I pull it out on random occassions to either impress my son with my past coolness or to remind myself, "Oh, I really did see them. What tour was that?" Consulting the t-shirts and/or tour programs to jog memory.

I spent a great deal of my youth at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I must note that as of last Tuesday, the building was still there, however the previous days had seen a flurry of adoring fans pillaging whatever they could carry out before the demolition of the structure. I remember JFK Field (saw the Gold Cup Grand Prix as well as the Rolling Stones, The Who, and so many other bands- missed Live Aid, damn). I was at Veteran's Stadium watching the Atoms (Yes, there was once pro soccer), the Eagles (freezing my patootie off with my dad), and the Phillies. Those edifices are all gone now, replaced by The "Link", Citizen's Bank Field, and the ever name changing home of the Flyers at the moment sponsored by Wells Fargo.

The venue is different. Out with the old, in with the newer, larger, flashier, state-of-the-art. I am older, Roger Waters is older (I can only hope to have his energy at 67), and yet, the performance was powerful and relevant.

The show itself was newer, flashier, used state-of-the-art technology and effects, and still overwhelmed and awed. As I listened, I remembered how the lyrics moved me as a confused teen, touched nerves I could never express. At the same time, I was constantly dragged back into the reality of now. The visuals flitted back and forth between the cartoon figures that adorned the album's liner notes, old footage, and modern politial imagery. The world is still at war and we are still building walls.

I steeped in a heady tea of memory, flavored with propaganda, with a hint of hard individual truth, and a bitter bite, but the finish was pure fulfillment.

A 35 foot wall was built during the first half of the show. It remained as a tool and backdrop for most of the second half. Of course, at the end, it came down. It would be rebuilt the following night, and the next, for every night of the tour.

For myself, my own walls have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, and torn down over and over. I admit, I still do it, though not as strong or obliterating as my defenses were when I felt the most damaged.

I do believe that Roger Waters touced a universal nerve with this work. It is genius. Seeing it performed live, sharing in his vision "In the Flesh," (I know, I know, but I couldn't resist) in the place I grew up, hearing the music, recalling how it affected my mixed-up, half-insane teenaged self (whose ideal state was to be "Comfortably Numb"- hey, it's an accurate assessment), took me back. And threw me forward into our current mixed-up, half-insane paradoxical world. I continue to examine the resonance of the concert. I feel like a teenager again, filled with conviction born in the combination of loud, live music and poetic metaphor -an almost religious experience; I'm sifting layers and layers, peeling the onion, not entirely sure what I will find or what conclusions I will draw. It's a journey. The more things change...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lovely Weather for a Ride, Part Two

Two days after the first exploration, Anne, Cosmo, Tucker and I, set out again to wander thhe wilds behind my house, determined to find the woods full of baby fences. If possible, the day was even more glorious- warm sun, light breeze and we actually shut up for moments to enjoy the rhythm of leaf-crunching hoofbeats.

We headed along the trails on a mission, our pace was purposeful, my sense of direction, however, was not. I knew where I wanted to be, but it seemed like a typical New England quandry: You can't get there from here.

Our first clue that this was more complicated than it needed to be was a sign: Caution. Shooting Range.

What???

Nevermind the bird hunter's shotguns blasting in the distance, the fact that some of the land we were exploring belonged to a hunting preserve, or that it was bow hunting season. We were travelling in the opposite direction of the shooting. This was someones personal range. I didn't hear gun-like noises or voices. It seemed safe and the trail led right through. Trotting forward, we confirmed that the range was empty and hightailed it away. Well, until Tucker spotted the buck standing smack dab in the center of the path.

We stopped. Everyone stared. The deer sniffed, Tucker pricked his ears. Anne backed Cosmo off Tucker's rear end, muttering about the infinite ways to be kicked and commenting on the boldness of the buck blocking our way. After a few moments of mutual regard, the four-pointer ambled a few steps into the brush.

Our now clear path led us to the back of a barn yard. Not the chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows wandering around kind of barnyard, but the immaculate back side of a pristine indoor arena and horsebarn perfection, complete with a near life-sized sculpture of a running horse.

The choices available were to sully this perfect setting with our passing or head back into the woods and find another way to the road- the road we needed to cross to get to te promised land. I turned Tucker toward the barn. A horse in a nearby paddock began to saunter over. Ok- he galloped over. Tucker grew about six inches with interest. Ahead, another horse was being led toward the barn. I could hear Cosmo blowing behind me.

"What do you want to do?"
"Uh...not sure. I guess we can go through..."

I squeezed Tucker forward. That's when he noticed the sculpture.

Tucker is not overly excitable. But he did NOT like that sculpture. He spun around and started trotting away, blowing and puffing. I turned him around, he spun back. I could tell this was a fight I did not want to have.

"Guess we'll go this way." Back into the woods we went.

We came to a driveway; it was where we had turned back toward home on the last ride, but today we turned toward the road; it was right there!!! We simply couldn't seem to get to it. Another fork. Should we continue down the driveway or explore an inviting grassy lane that seemed to cut directly to where we wanted to go?

The grass was soft and spongy as we meandered...right into someone's backyard. Someone who happened to be puttering in their garden. OOPS!

I turned to Anne.

"Should we turn around? Or ask if we can ride through?" We dickered for a moment. I am not the most decisive person. The road was so close!!! Finally, I took a deep breath.

"Excuse me, I think we're a bit lost."
"I should say so." The woman's British accent conveyed her surprise and annoyance at our intrusion. She was older, dressed in a long skirt, Wellington boots, and a light jacket. It was as if our path had led us somehow into the English countryside. I don't really believe in fairies, regardless of what others might tell you.

"We're trying to get to the road."
"Well, it's right there." Obviously.
"Should we turn around? Is there another path we can take?" At this point the boys were getting restless. Anne was silent. I'm sure she was thinking good thoughts and admiring my ability to handle the situation.
"Well, I suppose, if you stay right to the edge of the lawn, you could come across and go up the driveway." She sounded dubious.
"If it's a problem we can go around."
"No.I think if you stay way over, it will be fine. Where are you coming from?"
I told her where the horses lived and who Mr. Wonderful was. Oh, what a difference a name drop makes.
"Oh. How nice! Just go up the driveway. It's nice to meet you."
I apologized profusely for my mistake, assured her it wouldn't happen again, and skirted the yard.

Cosmo almost took Anne off with a low branch, but we stayed on the edge of the lawn. Once on the driveway and out of sight, I breathed a sigh of relief, while imagining how I was, most likely, going to become gossip fodder. I pictured the woman picking up the phone..."Guess who wandered into my yard, lost???" Ugh.

The upside was the driveway emptied directly across from where we wanted to go. Finally, we got to play around and jump. It was a blast.

The best part was finding our way back- the short way. The very short way. We had wandered for about an hour and a half going out. Coming back took fifteen minutes. It was so worth it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lovely Weather for a Ride, Part One

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. But in a good way.
I've actually been able to get out riding and I have discovered that I really do live in fantasy land.

Tucker and I, along with my friend Anne (not to be confused with my non-equestrian sister) on Cosmo, headed out to explore the woods behind my house. My lingering apprehension, the residue from my fall from Gil is dissipating thanks to Tucker and lessons from another friend;I looked forward to heading into the woods and maybe testing my nerve with some of the jumps scattered throughout the area.

We headed down the leaf layered trail in perfect Autumn weather; a slight breeze and bright sun sifted through tree branches. I'm sure the woods were filled with the calming sounds of creatures getting ready for winter providing counterpoint for the staccato crunch of hooves. Instead, our chatter and laughter echoed between the balding branches.

Our first challenge was the small brook. Tucker balked, planting his feet and snorting at the flowing water. Cosmo is known to contort to avoid putting his feet in a puddle, so there was work to be done. After a few minutes of convincing, Cosmo conceded and led us through. Tucker was more than happy to follow.

Closeby, were the first two hunt fences, one shorter than it's neighbor.
"Shall we?" Anne asked.
I was apprehensive. Tucker is still new enough that I wasn't sure how he would react to a fence so out in the open, with plenty of room to gallop and buck. My body began to lock up with insidious nervousness. My confidence plummeted.
"Not yet, lets see what's up ahead."

We continued on our way, discovering mile upon mile of wide, soft, inviting trails. Second and third fences were two coops-kind of like a roof peak. Cosmo spooked at them the first time we came upon them, by this day, he strolled right by. Tucker never even glanced their way, but they were too big and solid for my whimpy taste. The fourth fence, was a log stretched over a boulder. Nah, there was a bit of a ditch running through it,nevermind the fact that the middle was a large, hard, rock.

Fifth fence- too big.

We were still having fun, laughing and chatting along, wading through streams and large puddles (the water issue was improving), cantering up a hill, making "Man From Snowy River" jokes on the steep downside, kicking Tucker when he wanted to paw and roll in a stream (water aversion solved, new water issue a work in progress). After wandering around for nearly two hours in this horsey paradise, we returned full circle to the first jump.

"Ok. We have to do this."
I agreed. "But I'm going to come at it from the other side." I wanted to head away from the trail home.

Tucker and I trotted a ways up the trail, turned around, then turned again to get more lead up room. Anne and Cosmo followed, waiting for me to take the fence, intending to follow at a safe distance.

I took a deep breath, closed my legs upon Tucker's sides, sending him forward in a brisk trot. I pushed my weight into my heels for security, reminded myself-sit up, shoulders back, eyes up, look past the fence, and smile, as Tucker toted me toward the larger of the fences. I remembered to steer and he angled to the intended jump. (Neither was very big, but...) Trot, trot, trot, jump. No big deal. Calm and comfortable, Tucker gracefully pushed over the bars, took two canter steps, three trot steps and came to a halt, as if to say, "Really? Was that such a big deal?"

Anne's turn. She clucked and Cosmo trotted. Instead of heading to the larger fence, Cosmo tried to aim for the opening next to it. Anne guided him back. He trotted to the fence obediently. He gathered himself to leap into the air.

And changed his mind, sucking all of his forward motion backwards, and stepped over the fence...one...foot...at...a...time.

So much for being nervous and cautious.

We returned to the barn, hysterical, embarrassed for ourselves, a little muscle sore, but overjoyed at the prospect of the next ride.

And someone had told me about more trails a little further away, with "lots of baby fences." The next challenge awaited!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Poems from the Past

The other night, Mr Wonderful and I were dining at his parents house-pasta with cheese and bacon, topped with a potato-chip crust. It was divine, but I digress.

During the meal, his father turned to me and began to recite: Oh Love! Could you and I conspire/ to grasp the Scheme of Things entire..." (It grew from a thread of the general conversation, turning it to a subject less tense than the political subjects we had been discussing).
He asked if I knew this verse. I admit, I had heard it somewhere, and being an English major felt pressure to rise to the occasion. Nodding, I waited for him to continue, however, I was asked to finish the recitation.

Ummm....I had heard it, but had no real idea where or in what context.I certainly couldn't recite it.

My future Father-in-law continued undaunted.

"Oh love! Could you and I conspire
To grasp this Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter them to bits-and then
Re-mold it to our Heart's Desire."

A beautiful verse made richer by his thick Lebanese accent.
He repeated the lines again, so I could learn it.

"Do you know who wrote this?"
"No," I had to confess.
"Omar Khayam. The Rubaiyat. Rubaiyat- for quartets- four." He smiled, repeated the words again.
They stayed with me long after dinner was over and Mr. Wonderful and I returned home.

In my mother's possesions I found some things that puzzled me. One was a poem, by Christina Rosetti written on a 3x5 card in a script much too neat to have come from my mother's hand. Or at least, the mother I knew. But I am sure it was hers, penned carefully and thoughtfully; the similarities to her hurried everyday penmanship were there:
For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
-Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

Another was a tiny book titled, Sprigs of Persian Wisdom.

The third was a small coopy of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayam.

An inscription just inside the cover read,"Aug 12 1965, Honolulu. Birthday greetings in a thought-filled book-May your life be guided by wisdom and a questioning mind. A happy day + life. Snooker"

And there, on the penultimate page, the verse recited at dinner.

My aunt, Snooker, moved to Hawaii in 1964 and stayed there until 1996. In 1965, my sister was six; I would follow three years later.

I guess, until I had found those artifacts, until my mother and aunt were gone, until I wrote pieces of their stories in my college thesis, I never really considered the depth of their relationship. They were seven years apart, my sister and I, nine. I assumed the younger relationship reflected the older. There was an ebb and flow to the sibling regard between my sister and I, so maybe we were following an iherited precedent. My sister and I certainly have come closer with time and semi-maturity (I refuse to grow up!)as did my mother and Snooker (who obviously had trouble with the aging process).

Wait! I take it back! I don't want to be Snooker! It's my sister that is collecting baskets and childrens books, and spending hours in craft stores!! So maybe that analogy doesn't work.

But I could see my sister sending a card to me with the Rossetti poem inside. I can imagine sending her a book of verse for her birthday.

There is pain there. These three objects, perhaps have more meaning in the absence of those that sent or kept them. Perhaps, my mother wrote the poem down in order to memorize it. It is possible to imagine her snickering at it, as if to say yeah, right. Or maybe, Snooker, in her usual last minute, but thoughtful modus operandi, found that book in a shop and thought, OOH! I can send that for Betty's birthday. A little Arabic verse will do her good.

Probably not.

The two Khayam quartets as they appear in my mother's copy of The Rubaiyat:

Would but some wing'ed Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!

Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits-and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!


I wish that were possible.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Difficult Decision

Three years ago, my mother and aunt were killed by a drunk driver. I have written about that event, in poetry, prose, and blog. But I have not written much of the man who pushed his accelerator to the floor, rocketed his girlfriend's car down I-91, weaving around traffic, until, fatefully or not, he said "Fuck it," and slammed his vehicle into the rear end of my aunt's Ford Focus.

I use the term, man, loosley. Luis Medina had turned 21 scant days before that fateful night. He had been drinking, he had marijuana in his possession at the time of the incident. (I can't use the word accident, because in my mind, an accident implies a lack of control over events.) Luis was not known as a pillar of his community; he had drug offenses on his record. But he was young, and a new father.

The day after the incident, while my sister and I were reeling, trying to take in the immensity of what had happened, Luis walked out of the hospital. True, he walked with a limp and the inevitability of an arrest warrent, but he was alive and relatively well. In the months following, he would be arrested three times; for drug possession with intent to sell- in a school zone no less, reckless driving and possession of a concealed weapon- a gun, and for two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

I tried to fathom how this young man, who was nearly the same age as my own son, could have such a lack of... humanity. Or did he?

Could Luis' behavior be attributed to the harsher side of nurture versus a horrible inherent nature? It's true that he grew up in the rougher side of Hartford, CT. Perhaps, Luis never had a chance.

There are those, who believe that there is a cycle of behavior, prison, and recidivism in certain inner city neighborhoods that is nearly impossible to escape. This, I can accept, but there are casualties of this tragedy that stain only the hands that steered the car that night.

We went to the sentencing- my sister, her husband and son, myself, and my son- to confront the monster directly; we went to read a statement of loss to the court. I am not sure what we expected. For my son and me, it was a long drive and a longer wait for our turn in court. As a family, we watched others come and go, waiting for thier turns, each party secluded within a bubble of anticipation and apprehension, just as we huddled within our ballon of grief and anger.

The court advocate came and gave us updates; we were waiting for Luis's council to arrive. We ate lunch on our uncomfortable bench by the main door. We talked, we played games on our cell phones, constantly checking on each other-"you ok? Yeah, you?" over and over-as the time crept by. At long last, we filed into the courtroom. I held the paper on which our statement was printed. I had been elected, or coerced, into reading for the court and I shook with a heady cocktail of conflicting emotions and nerves.

Finally, all were present. Luis was escorted into the courtroom, obvious in his blaze orange jumpsuit. He was tall, dark-haired, left-handed, and so damn young. I held onto my anger, thought of my mother and aunt, remembered the words he had supposedly uttered before slamming into them and his apparent lack of remorse after the fact. I approached the bench when instructed. I read our statement, trying to control the quiver in my voice and slow my words for all to hear. I looked at my son, young and grieving, then looked at the criminal, also young. My son, surrounded by his family, Luis alone, except for an arrogant and uncaring public defender; no one, not a mother, sister, or his girlfriend and his child, came to support him.

He read his own statement, professing his remorse, giving us an apology he admitted was inadequate, admitting his guilt, immaturity, selfihness, and stupidity, none of which, he allowed, would make up for our losses. He was surprisingly articulate and seemed sincere. The judge heard us, then read the sentence.

It has been three years since the incident. My sister and I have gone back and forth between wanting Luis to suffer every single day and wanting to help him make his life better or offering aid for his child. We want Luis to pay dearly. We want something good to come from the tragedy.

He is so damn young. He was so selfish. He stole half of our family, destryoyed our lives. It cannot be undone.

Luis is serving a six year sentence and will be eligible for parole soon.

These days, we are trying to decide whether or not to visit Luis before he gets out of prison. My sister has written him and received an apparently heartfelt reply. If we see him, will we believe anything he has to say, will we accept any apology he offers?

I believe in restorative justice, the idea that through forgiveness we can reduce recidivism, improve lives, and, ultimately make the world a better place; it has to start somewhere. I want so badly to hope that Luis can turn his life around and become a productive and positive member of society. It's a long shot-he is a felon with a history of taking the stereotypical inner-city crime career route. He is a cliche of the times. And I don't want him to be.

There are steps in place before we initiate face-to-face contact, designed to assure the advocates and case-workers, that we are emotionally prepared to meet our offender. We cannot expect much and are left with the reality of a situation that holds scant possibility of hope. Is that not another tragedy? One of failure. We cannot dictate the future for Luis or his child. My sister are no more in control of this outcome than we were of a certain Nissan Maxima on the night of August 25, 2007.

It comes down to accepting a harsh reality or striving to change the future against nearly impossible odds. I guess, for me, it comes down to the attempt: if we try and fail, there will be a cost, another needle in this wound. If we try and fail, Luis will be no better off than he is now, having to succeed or fail on his own with the deck so stacked against his redemption. If we try, and we make a difference, however small, to help Luis become the kind of person that would never have committed this crime, who can make a better life for his small family, then...

I think it might be better to hope.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What Happens When I Listen to Beethoven's Ninth

Is unhappiness a human condition or simply a creation of perception, a foil to help us appreciate communion? Or is it a tool to help us recognize beauty and joy, allowing us to appreciate them through contrast, for even in the desolation of the desert there is splendor, magnificence patiently waiting for moisture and life beneath the shifting, impermanent land, and arid rocks. These are the secrets of the elements. Water, earth, fire, combine to create and destroy. Cosmically balanced in infinite ways. Endless marriages of these forces become myriad potentials. Some leave the paucity of physical limits and become intangible, immeasurable like air, spirit, and consciousness, existing in the space between science and belief, between physical and emotional, between proton and electron, the inexplicable essence of Being.

I search for a truth I can embrace, a wholehearted surrender to faith. I envy those who find comfort in biblical parable and rule. For me it has ever been a fiction, corrupted by the very hand and mind behind the written Word. I have always felt it was extreme hubris to try to know the will of God in whatever form or forms chosen, perceived, or accepted and yet, I long for the peace that others find there. Simplicity of belief is the source of my envy. Religion does not comfort me. It does not offer any answers my mind accepts, only begs for proof that cannot, by the nature of faith be found. Is there a higher purpose in my discontent? Is it possibly universal? Is it some cosmic joke? Are we not alone?

Do we, as humans set ourselves apart or are set apart, for wanting answers to the question of Why? Without access to the inner secrets of any other creature we will never have a satisfactory reply. Do plants and animals feel and think? Is this a purely human condition? Do the inarticulate and inanimate have gods? We developed religion and science to find out, but we are no closer to the truths we seek, only more questions. Perhaps this adversity is the meaning we all seek. The constant friction of enigma and solution motivate us. We have created a universe in our own reflection, molding it physically and perceptively for comfort.

If that is true, is not pain a figment of our own creation? Are hurt and anger narcissistic constructs which allow us to perceive happiness and peace. Agony defines our triumphs, is the cost of achievement, the price of reaching magnificence. It is here, in this synchronicity of pleasure and pain, where peace and epiphany are found. Pain gives realization meaning. Jesus became more divine through sacrifice, torture, and death. Can’t we all? Isn’t everything’s worth measured by the price paid?

Consider Beethoven, for me the embodiment of talent and despair. By all accounts a taciturn, angry man. He alienated his family, used acquaintances selfishly, was demanding and tyrannical. And yet. When you scratch the surface the paradox emerges.
Music defined his being, but he couldn’t hear it. The rage of his father stole the sense needed most for his chosen passion. Frustration at the loss defined the man and his relationships. This man, who could not hear, who could not bear happiness, created out of his own silence, the music of joy- a redemption of pain coalesced into symphonies that are both felt and heard.

This what I desire, to put to words the music I feel. To create, from pain and learning, something of peace, an ode to joy and perhaps some kind of salvation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Perspective

I began my day walking up to the barn, as I usually do, when it's not rainy or cold. As I started up the road, geese, flushed from the fresh-cut corn, erupted, honking and swirling, into the crisp, bright sky. I paused to watch them sort themselves into flocks, falliing into formation, thier vees like compass-points disappearing into the distance.

It is a half-mile stroll to the barn. Uphill.

At that precise moment, there were others, half a world away, gazing with appreciation or wonder or gratitude, at the same sky. Thiry-three miners, trapped beneath rock and earth for an impossibly long time, to them, what could that glimpse of air and atmosphere mean? I cannot imagine.

Years ago, when my mother was living in Arizona, our family visited the copper mine in Bisbee. Tucked between the hills, lorded over by a gleaming, white "B" blazoned on a mountainside, Bisbee bakes beneath the desert sun. Of course, our visit was in August, when the dry heat is not so dry. The copper mine was open for tours. As we awaited our turn to load onto the tram that would pull us deep into the mountain, we picked out well-used sweatshirts and sweaters from a bin. Outside, it was 100 degrees, but in the mine, the temperature could drop to forty. Over our borrowed, slightly moldy and odorific finery, we drew on yellow slickers, and covered our heads with construction helmets fitted with large lights on the brow.

Loaded onto the tram, the descent into the damp dark began. My sister and I pulled our legs in tight- she cringed with a fear of rodents, while I could only dream up the horrible huge insects that would call this place home. Our headlamps were the only illumination, the tunnel narrow as we rolled farther and farther away from the surface. We toured tunnels and caves, turning our lamps of at one point to experience the totality of darkness. Even in the large, carved-out chambers, there was a sense of vulnerability, a hyper-awareness of the immense weight of the mountain above; it was a feeling of isolation, a deep-rooted instincutal fear, being so far from outside.

The tour was an hour at most. Although it was refreshingly cool in the mine, it was an incredible relief to return to the oppressive sunshine.

I cannot imagine spending a work-day in the mine, much less keeping sanity and hope alive for days that turned into weeks. These men were lucky and strong. While those on the surface planned and worked to find a way to free those trapped in the earth, those below had to strive to keep thier sanity and health. Those of us watching from afar, on computer or television screen, who cheer as each man is shuttled to the surface, who watch as the cable winds down and down, preparing to bring up the next, may look to the sky and be thankful for its beauty.

That appreciation, no matter how transitory or short lived-until the bills are due, or it rains for days, or the minutia of civilized life harries or angers us- is an inadvertant gift.

A half-mile. Uphill. On a cool autumn morning, it doesn't seem so far. But it is worlds away.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Secretariat

I saw the movie, Secretariat, the other night. Did I like it? Yes, and no.

If I suspended my disbelief- looked at it for what it was-a Disney version of the truth and mainly about Penny Chenery- then I did enjoy the film. Especially the racing scenes.
To be honest, there was no way the movie could have lived up to my expectations.

To me,the horse, Secretariat is...beyond words.

I was strolling around the Waldenbooks in the mall, wandering up an down the aisles, trying to find something to read, and waiting for my parents to finish browsing-I must have been in elementary school, because it was before I started making others wait for me in a bookstore- when my dad brought over a book for me to look at.

"I think you would like this one."

A simple statement, but not one often made. For some reason, my parents, though proud of my reading accomplishments- reading sentences and simple books at three, writing by kindergarten- they rarely influenced my literary choices.(I do remember my mother saying I probably would not like a book I pulled from our bookshelves titled The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. I slid it back between it,s neighboring novels where it stayed for years, until I read it anyway. Loved it.)

The book my parents bought for me that night was Secretariat by Raymond Woolfe, Jr., a tome full of glorious photos of a pretty horse, a nice gift for a horse-crazy daughter. Or so I thought at the time. I didn't read the book right away, only flipped through the incredible pictures. I had never seen Secretariat run, had never watched the Kentucky Derby or Triple Crown, I didn't understand his greatness. My mother loved the beauty and tragedy of Ruffian, and, though I think she thought Secretariat was incredible, he was much too perfect for her to truly embrace. I think my mother was an unrealized horse-girl, that she felt that giddy swell in her gut whenever she saw a horse galloping. Or she liked Ruffian because she was a tragic female in a male-dominated sport.

That book began an obsession with a horse I had never seen. I wanted to go to Kentucky to visit him, and there was some talk of doing just that, but unfortunately, Secretariat was euthanized before that trip became reality. It was later, on a VHS tape, "Legends of the Triple Crown", that I finally saw excerpts from Secretariat's races, was able to watch him run, though I had seen the photos. I knew the facts, memorized from the Woolfe book and William Nack's version of the Secretariat legend Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. I have collected every other book on the subject including one about Secretariat's groom, Eddie Sweat.

Going into the movie, I repeated a mantra(borrowed from a post on a horsey discussion forum) "This. Is. Not. A. Documentary." I said it quietly when the facts of the movie were skewed, when the rules of space and time were altered to suit a 90 minute running time, and especially when common-sense horse knowledge was thrown out the window (wouldn't every girl or boy with the horse disease love to have that moment when you gaze into your mount's eye and know...everything.) It's Disney. I was mumbling a lot.

Then the horse began to run. In the Derby, the race footage almost made me feel like I was in the race. I added, through my imagination, the feeling of acceleration- Secretariat, in real life, ran every quarter of a mile faster than the last to break the record. The Preakness in the film was the actual television footage of the race. Goosebumps. He circled the field in the first turn like the other horses were standing still- he devoured the ground with his legs. And there is dispute over whether or not he broke the record there, too.

The Belmont. It's a good thing I brought tissues. I knew. After all, I can't watch the YouTube footage of any of these races without tearing up. There is a moment in the movie, during the Belmont, where there is silence. The camera shows the final turn of an empty track- the white rail, and the ridged sand. Suddenly, the horse thunders into the frame. Alone.

I wept.

There are those who believe that racing is evil. They have a point, there are many horrible stories from the nations racetracks. But no one could have ever watched that race, the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and not understood that this horse was running of his own voilition, for the sheer biological instinct to run that inhabits every horse, and, in that moment, he rejoiced in his own perfection.

In the movie there was a soundtrack of gospel music. At first, it annoyed me, but I understand the choice. Penny Chenery was heard humming a spiritual after the Preakness. And if anything could be truly called God's creature, Secretariat was indeed it.

For all of the inaccuracies in the movie- William Nack and Penny Chenery each have cameos in the film and were advisors, so really, who am I to judge?- I was given the opportunity to feel like I was there as Secretariat ran.

For that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

It's been raining for the last few days. One would think that inclement weather outside would encourage me to stay by the computer and write.

Nope.

I've floundered about the house, battling my allergies and a sense of malaise that seems to have no genuine source. Though if I am fair to myself (which I rarely am), an inability to breathe freely did have something to do with my melancholy.

Of course, the constriction in my chest made me think of my father. You see, he had allergies and I had this rabbit...


The year I was nine (around Easter-time-thanks to some sadistic, marketing geniuses), I bought a small albino bunny from the mall pet store. I named him Twiddles. Hey. I was nine. But now you understand why my sister named all of the pets (though, for the record, our dog was named "Spoofer". 'nuff said.) The story is my sister even named me. I was supposed to be Megan, but my sister had a hated schoolmate with that moniker, so they went with what my sister chose- Nancie.

Back to Twiddles. He was a sweet rabbit. But he grew big and fat, as rabbits do. I should note, that the only reason I was allowed to get the rabbit in the first place, was that someone told my father that the pet would last only marginally longer than the string of hamsters I had owned through the years. (And before my sister comments, I take full responsibility for abusing my first hamster. Hamsters are very delicate creatures and they don't fly well or take to being squeezed like putty. I was six. But I still feel guilty.)

Enter Twiddles, the pet that was only supposed to last a few months. A couple of years at most. We set up his cage in the corner of the family room, near the pool-table. Sweet bunny. I would let him hop around the room. He would bounce around happily, thumping and leaping around the room, standing on his back legs, sniffing the air, rubbing his chin on everything. I could hold him, rub his ears, and he would lie on my lap, belly-up like a dog.

I loved that rabbit. My father did not.

Part of the problem was my lack of animal husbandry skills; I was less than diligent about cleaning up the trails of rabbit-raisins after a few hours of bunny freedom; I was a bit lax in the cleaning of the cage, too. A lot of yelling was usually neccessary.

Years passed. Yes, years. Many, many years. Did I mention that my father had allergies- allergies that increased in severity with the passing of time. By the time I was in high-school (I did say many years) and Twiddles was still munching hay and pellets in his corner of the family room, my father was taking oodles of medication to control the histamine levels in his body. And the main culprit? You guessed it- he was allergic to animal hair- particularly rabbit fur. Go figure.

It got so bad that he was rushed to the emergency room of the hospital and put on a nebulizer until he could breathe without distress. My mother went with him, was fairly (for her) sympathetic, I was given a stern lecture about cleaning more regularly and effectively after the animal my dad affectionately called "The Goddamn Rabbit."

And the ER visit was repeated more than once.

His doctor kept increasing his medication and I tried to clean better. My mother did not believe in letting something like an allergy dictate everyone else's life. Sometimes, I think seeing so many sick people in her profession made her less than compassionate toward the ailments of her immediate family. Either way, the status quo remained.

I was nineteen when Twiddles died. I had planned to go to the beach for the Fourth of July, but I just had a feeling. Twiddles had been starting to fail, so I stayed home, watched a movie, checking on him during each commercial(he'd been moved from the family room to the laundry room in an attempt to improve my dad's quality of life). When the movie ended, I checked, he was gasping for air. I picked him up a cuddled him, rocking him as he breathed his last. Even after he was gone, I sat with him on my lap until my dad came home. I was devastated.

We buried Twiddles that night.

I'm pretty sure the quick interrment had to do with my extreme grief and not my father's relief (maybe, glee?) that the G-D-rabbit was finally gone. After TEN years.

That was decades ago.

My son has a rabbit now. Which, though he is a college student, I cared for when he could no longer keep it with him. In the beginning, I called it my Grand-bunny. Except it is not friendly. At all. Now I refer to her as: Bunnicula, the Monty Python rabbit, and, of course, that G-D rabbit. (She attacks and growls. Really growls!)

Furthermore, as I have aged, I have developed allergies. And, yes, asthma. They flare when the seasons change, when there is a lot of moisture and mold, and when I groom the horses in the summer. I use an inhaler. Needless to say, the last few days have been hell. I can only imagine what I put my father through. The man was a saint. I understand that much better now.

Karma's a bitch.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Big Happy Birthday to my Sister

It is my sister's birthday today. I won't divulge how old she is, (yes, I do remember)but she is nine years older than me.

There are very few times I let her know how much she means to me. I regret that. Part of it is our family baggage-my dad was the sensitive one and my mother did not really appreciate that quality much, a piece is age difference- which has declined in significance as we both get older, and then there is my, shall we call it, lack of sensitivity other humans that I mastered at an early age- I'm getting better at it.

Let me tell you why my sister is so special. First, and foremost, I thank her for not letting me die of mysterious causes as an infant. I am sure it was tempting. Let me explain.

Our rooms adjoined; in order to get to hers, she had to walk through mine. And I was not the easiest baby to have next door. OK. It has been said that I was one of the angriest babies people encountered. I cried, no, screamed, a lot. My mother worked nights. My sister was in elementary school. Kids don't learn well when they have not had adequate sleep. My mother always claimed my sister had a comprehensive difficulty in math(that was not how my mother described it, but this is my version. I also think my mother was projecting her own insecurities with mathematical concepts) I believe that any difficulties can be blamed on sleep deprivation, which resulted in learning challenges. And let it be known, that she is better at math than I am.

The point is, at nine years-old, my sister suddenly had to deal with a screeching baby right outside her bedroom door. To say I disrupted her life is a gross understatement.

Despite this imposition, my sister always tried to take care of me when it mattered most. And she still does. Through the past ten years, my sister has gone above and beyond to make my life better. From sticking up for me even when I most certainly did not deserve it, organizing a bridal shower from seven hours away and keeping it a surprise until she ran into traffic(ok she kept the fact that our mom was with her a total surprise- even though I asked, with fear, if Mom was with her), ordering a months worth of food when I was first diagnosed with cancer, driving those same seven hours to go with me to appointments, taking care of me when I hit rock bottom, to shouldering the responsibility of funerals and estate settlement so I could finish school-actually, always being the responsible one (oh, except for that time she stole the car and went truant from school...).

My sister is the person that cured my ticklishness, who made most of my fingers curve in odd directions by bending them back whenever I annoyed her (it was a lot), who drove the 1966 Dodge Dart when I wouldn't (yeah, it's a classic now, but that was the vain eighties and I was sixteen), and most importantly, has always been there when I need her.

I wish I could give her a gift that would show her how much she means to me. I have tried in the past. She liked Carousel horses, so I designed, and was carving a carousel for her. I had one horse and a swan done, but then realized that the final product would have been too huge to display-I still have the unfinished pieces. (I did finally find her a little porcelain carousel horse, but much later.) The best one, for me, was when I was around eight or nine. I had saved up coins in a jar. My dad drove me to this odd little shopping complex, where there was a neat stuffed animal store on the lowest level. My sister had seen a stuffed raccoon there. I went in, dumped out my coins and bought it for her. She named it "Reynolds" and took it off to college.

Reynolds is a little worn and deformed now, but he still lives on the bureau in her bedroom. I am touched every time I see him.

That stuffed raccoon, in many ways describes the relationship that my sister and I share. I give her gifts that are usually late and always too small next to what she deserves. She takes my meager offerings, treasures them, and gives me so much more than I deserve in return.

Happy Birthday, Anne.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sorting Through Stuff

It's raining today, as anyone on the East Coast is well aware, and I am expanding on the project I started yesterday. Said project was so engrossing, that I skipped writing and almost didn't ride! I did squeeze in a short one late in the afternoon- it was glorious.

My big project is sorting and rearranging the closets. I still had numerous boxes to unpack, which were stacked haphazardly in the office. Miscellaneous papers and old magazines had collected on top, gracing the piles with a rickety, mountainous feel-the avalanche was imminent. They overwhelmed the room. It was not condusive to creative thought, thus inhibiting my writing. Bejeweled Blitz and the Chronicle of the Horse Forums had nothing to do with it.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

In order to unload said boxes, I first had to clean out the office closet, which was crammed with more boxes. The boxes contain mostly books that are awaiting bookshelves. I keep planning to go to Pennsylvania, visit my sister, and pay a visit to Ikea...

The top shelf and the floor are where I stuffed Mr.W's things. Essentially I emptied the closet, though that led to the claning and reorganization of two other closets. There is a decieving amount of storage space in this house. Unfortunately, most of the space is unusable for what I want it for. Sigh. At least there is a basement- a little damp and things get covered with cat hair, but it has lots of space- again, shelves are needed.

I turned on Pandora radio and dove in, tackling the floor space first.

There were lots of pictures, most still in their envelopes. After pausing to look at most of them, I organized them into a box. Yes, I know, if I the goal is to empty boxes, why fill another, but it seemed logical at the time. I found a pair of Ugg-like boots, a pair of Docksides, one loafer, and a single sheepskin slipper that the dog promptly stole to use as a chew toy. I also found various blank pistols, a 22gauge rifle, hunting knives, a dog training collar, and a duffle bag with a change of clothes and a full tube of toothpaste that had evidence of a small rodent population- my sister is now cringing and thinking up likely excuses to not visit. I threw the toothpaste out. The clothes went in the laundry and yes, they required the hold-them-with-two-fingers-as-far-away-from-the-body-with-an-eeewwww-face.

Without throwing more than meaningless papers or old magazines away, moving things that belong in the garage(a gallon of driveway sealant in the tiny hall closet. Really?),totally revamping said hall closet into linen storage, rearranging the cabinets in the laundry/mudroom, and reorganizing the cabinet under the fish tank, I was able to fit the contents of the boxes in the office closet.

And I wonder why it took all day.

But it was interesting to see what we keep. The photos are precious and even in this digital age, there is something about holding the past in your hand. When I looked at the pictures from Mr. W's past, I felt like a part of the memory -no synesthesia as when I encounter my own photos, but experiencing a glimpse into the events that made him who he is today. I'm sure the braces and huge glasses were character building.

In my things I found surprises, long forgotten things I carelessly dumped into boxes only six months ago. Embarrassing pictures(the concert shirt phase was perhaps marginally worse than the boys rugby shirt phase) photos full of painful memory(dark cloud, remember?), my great-grandfather's Masonic membership, an album from my dad, cards signed by lost loved ones, a license plate, college notebooks, file upon file filled with papers I don't recall writing, a hospital card from when I was born, and my mom's rolodex.

These are things we hold dear-he has his dog training paraphenalia, a place setting from his favorite restaurant, cards and letters from friends and family, an odd wooden sheep on wheels, and a "Twister" game(not going to ask). I have a license plate, a broken mug full of pens, a letter opener, and a replica of an ink pot. They have little financial value. And I'm sure, in the months to come, I will shuffle and reshuffle these treasures, mingling Mr. W's with mine as I strive to bring some order to the chaos of a house crowded with too much stuff.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing Thoughts

I've been working on a short story. This particular one is a bit difficult for me to write, because even though it is fiction, at it's center are some things that I based on my own experiences.
When I described what it was about to some friends the other night, I got the feeling that, when explained, the story-line seemed convoluted and hard to follow. Well, really I got a sort of "Hmmm...Oh. Huh." Which let me know there was something missing in my recitation- or the idea sucks.

I went back to re-read what I wrote and decided to attack the story differently. And I realized I have a habit of writing too much in the past tense. My characters look back at certain key events and explaining them too literally-there is no sense of discovery, just the character's recollections. Instead I am trying to write more progressively, taking the reader along with the experiences of the characters.

This looking back is a habit I employ in my real life, too.

For me, how people react to situations is dependent upon who they are, their experiences, and how they were raised. All of those emotional and rational attitudes dictate the choices we make and how we deal with stress and challenges. But when you interact with someone, unless you've known them for years or grown up with them, you don't know the reasons behind their behavior.

I like to try to guess the why behind what people do. If someone overreacts, I usually chalk it up to a bad day or week. If someone dismisses me, of course I take it as some sort of failure within myself, but then rationalize it later as insecurity on their part. And believe me, with a little more information, like family members, upbringing, or job, I can dream up a whole slew of justifications for behavior. And just to be clear, so that if we meet in less than great circumstances you don't think I am automatically analyzing you, well, I guess I am- it's a bad habit I have, but, in my defense, I am usually trying to find the silver lining, not vilify.

Unless they are certain people who those close to me know I can't stand- those people are just self-centered and mean.

So in fiction, do we need or want to know all the backstory, the why behind the things the characters do? Or do we want to simply watch the action unfold and infer the rest. I am trying hard to live this way-in the moment, not always looing back, so I should try to write this way. I think it will work much better for this particular story.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Progress

I rode Tucker yesterday, after a spell on the Wonderpony. This time, things were much better. I lunged him, then got on and we took a lovely stroll around the farm. I was still nervous, countering my tension with talking. Tucker looked around a bit, but was obedient and relaxed.

My over-reaction and fear made me think a lot about what has been bugging me lately. Because this fear, while at its height while I am riding, lurks within always. It pervades my social interactions: am I making an ass of myself?(which I probably am, but so are others) or am I offending anyone? (if I am, and they don't tell me, is it my responsibility to read their mind? No.)

I have apprehension about my decisions in life. Not Mr.W., but more about my current jobless state. I have a friend who has repeatedly told me, "If you need a job, go find a job. Even if it is at the local deli." Not really what I want to hear. Where is that brilliant career, that makes lots of money and changes the world for the better? Right.
Ok. I'm a bit delusional.

With riding, the conclusion I have come to is simple. I am afraid of falling. It hurts.

And writing, well, I've been working on it. I have a short story in the works, and some chapter outlines for a memoir. The issue with that is, by definition, a memoir is a narcissitic undertaking, and I dread the day when I write something that reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. Though I guess that fear is unfounded since: A)I wouldn't cheat on my husband then bitch about him contesting the divorce. Oh, but I could write that from the other side... B)I don't meditate. Though Ms. Gilbert wasn't very good at it either. And I think I could learn without going to India. C) Most important, no one is paying me to dump my emotional garbage into thousands of bookstores and, subsequently, movie theaters.

I spew it out there for free.

I admit there is a wee bit of envy here. And, I'll hand it to her, Elizabeth Gilbert doesn't seem to have much fear. Except in committing to a relationship. I have her beat there.

And I still would love to find a small way to change the world. I could always try to write about war victims in the Congo. Except that I don't know any. I'm sure my family and friends would fully support an expedition there. After all, they only kill roughly 45,000 people a month, rape the women, or take them as "wives" if only as a horrid loophole, and force ten-year-old boys to fight for causes they cannot understand.

My sister wants to go to Africa...

Guess I am not that different, from Elizabeth Gilbert. That could be part of my dislike; she represents that part of myself that is white, middle-class, educated, and feels entitled to unadulterated happiness. Not the happiness that comes from new shoes (though I do love shoes), but the kind of fulfillment from being content and comfortable with who you are and the life you lead.

It's about choices. The kind of choices I am afraid to make.

I think, it is at this point that I must remind myself of a woman I graduated with, a woman I am humbled and proud to have called a friend. She has been profiled in Newsweek for the work she has done to educate women in Afghanitan, her home.

Before graduation, she spoke to me and another friend, about her experiences. Of how a small school, really a collection of tents in a remote village, was burned by the Taliban. After the destruction, the girls gathered to learn, salvaging a few chairs and some books, carrying them to a nearby tree, the only available shelter. Beneath this scraggly shade, the girls continued their lessons. The bravery of the students humbled my friend.

Because of her mission to promote female education in the most radical parts of Afghanistan, she is in mortal danger when she returns home. "Aren't you scared?" we asked.

"No." She went on to tell us that her Muslim faith gives her comfort."No one can take my life unless it is God's plan. And if that is what God wants, there is nothing I can do about it."

I'm not there, yet. I doubt I will ever have that much faith and certainty. And I am not sure that I will ever give myself so completely to bettering humanity. I will always be somewhere in between. I'm going to start small, conquering my little fears. But it gives me something to strive for.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear

As you may recall, I was spectacularly bucked off by Gil a few weeks ago, an event that played a large roll in the arrival of Tucker. Now that Tucker is all settled in, I have started riding him. And he is as wonderful as I expected. Barring a few technical issues, like bridle fitting-he has a dainty head- we were off and running, so to speak.

Once we fixed those little details, I headed out to the area that serves as my riding ring. It is unfenced and grassy, though the remnants of footing poke through the weeds. There used to be a fenced round ring there, right next to the indoor arena, which is all gone. No trace remains except the sandy ground. Yeah, I try not to dwell on the fact that there was a beautiful, large indoor ring. Sigh.

Anyway, Tucker and I strolled out to ride. My other boys ran back and forth along the fence, calling out to thier new friend. Tucker looked at them a bit, ears pricked and curious. He then glanced at the neighbor's two driving ponies who had trotted over to their fence to watch.

Tucker and I picked up a trot, did some circles, then walked a bit. He dawdled around on a loose rein. I shifted in the saddle and Tucker picked up speed, breaking into a a trot and acting like he was ready to canter. Now this was not a disobedience, it is usually the normal progression of a ride. You walk a bit, then trot, then move into a canter. He was trying to anticipate what I wanted. When I asked him to stay at the trot, Tucker obliged. He's a good boy.

This is where my problem lies. I was scared. As soon as Tucker began to move underneath me, my whole body tensed. Horses are sensitive creatures. They can feel a fly anywhere on their body. Tucker had to feel the tightness that spread from my arms, to my chest, through my abdomen, seat and legs. His head came up and his stride shortened, a sure sign of tension. But he did nothing. No buck, no stop. He simply did his job.

Today, I got on again, determined to relax and enjoy the ride. Same drill, though this time I took a lunge line and had him work in circles around me before I decided to get on. Tucker was fine. He trotted over poles, walked, cantered. No problem. Until I got on. Again, Tucker did nothing to warrant my fear. He was an angel.

But the fear was there.

So much in fact, that I rode around for a very short bit and dismounted. I was shaking. I cried because it felt like failure. I have been riding regularly since the Gil incident, but I have been riding a pony. And when Jake the Wonderpony does something naughty (and he occassionally does) I tense up, but relax quickly. When I first tried Tucker in Vermont, I was nervous. Not terrified.

This fear with Tucker is devastating. And, of course, I overanalyze it. Part of it is riding in the field alone, part of it is that Tucker is not a pony, and he is a Thoroughbred. He is nothing like Gil. But my body does not seem to accept that fact. It's like being possessed. And it is the reason Tucker is perfect for me right now.

I am determined to conquer it. I understand what happened with Gil; in the big picture it wasn't that bad. My ego and my hip were bruised. It is simply amazing at the fearful resonance that remains. It is unconscious and unexpected.

I have a plan. I am going to make either Mr. W or a friend ride Cosmo. I can take Tucker to ride at my friend's farm, where there are always others around. I got through the other stuff, this should be a cakewalk.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Thundercloud Returns

My sister's first text today was about going to my next melanoma check up. She offered to go with me if I needed her to. The hospital usually sends me a proposed time, but they have not yet. I wasn't sure if that was because I had moved, or that I need to schedule with them from now on. I was going to text her back, but the vet was coming this morning to check out a couple of things with the horses.

I headed to the barn. The vet came and gave Tucker some vaccines to protect him from the nasties here that aren't prevalent in VT. No problem. Next,she checked out Gil, who had been lame for about two weeks. Diagnosis? He has a bruise or abcess. Oh, and he's a whimpy freak. Long story, which I will write about later.

On to Cosmo, my good doober. About two years ago, he had a large lump removed from his tail. It came off easily and when my vet sliced into it, she knew without a doubt that it was melanoma; it was black as tar. After my own experience with skin cancer, it was facinating to see what this disease looked like; its appearance is as evil as the disease. With horses, there aren't many treatment options beyond excision. Cosmo and I went on our merry ways. His tail looked funny, but otherwise he was fine.

About a month ago, I was washing his tail and felt a lump. This one was different from the first; rather than bubbling off the skin, this one was embedded within the muscle of his tail. As I ran my hands up toward the base, I felt another. And another.
There were about four that day. A week later I noticed the one near the top of his tail had grown. Over the next few days, another growth appeared beneath the skin of his haunch.

Then they stopped. For the past few weeks, there have been no changes in the existing growths and no new tumors have appeared. I wanted them looked at when the vet came today, but I almost didn't.

Ignorance is bliss.

Without biopsies, but with some certainty, Cosmo has malignant melanoma. Now, if Cosmo had been a grey horse, the worry would be lessened. Grey horses get melanomas more frequently than horses of other colors. And they are usually benign. In horses of other shades, melanoma is almost always metestatic. Cosmo is chestnut.

Rationally, I know there is nothing I could have done to prevent this; there is nothing I can do to stop it. We cannot predict the progression of the disease. He could be fine for three years or he could be gone in months.

I can't help but think of the horrible irony.

When I was recovering from my melanoma surgery, my horse died of colic. I remember looking out at his body, covered by a horse blanket, laying out in the riding ring where we had him euthanized. I was waiting for a call from the surgeon. They had done a sentinal node biopsy, the results of which would indicate the extent to which my melanoma had spread, if it had at all.

The phone rang. The results were back. My lymph nodes were clear; the melanoma had not spread.

I called my mother and told her the good news, though I was still heartbroken about the loss of Cecil (his show name was "Wonders Never Cease." Hmmm...) Her reply stung. "He saved you. I don't know how else to say it, but he died so you could live."

I was so angry with her; what she had said sounded so religious, but also uncharacteristically hokie coming from my medically clinical mother. So I called my best friend, Melissa, who was suffering from her own form of cancer. I told her my biopsy was clean and that Cecil had died. I hadn't vented about my mom, yet.

"Wow," she said, "he took it for you. I love my dog, but I wish she loved me enough to do that for me."

My sister repeated the sentiments of my mom and Melissa when I texted her about Cosmo.

"These horses keep taking it for you."

I am left wondering. I am five years clean. Any examinations and tests I have in the future are strictly voluntary. And my life is a fairy tale right now.

Without giving into the doom and gloom mentality I used to have- about nothing good happening in my life without horrific consequential echoes-I will accept that these things happen. Cosmo is happy right now. I can still ride him and treat him normally, though I will have to watch for signs that the tumors have spread to vital organs. Who knows? They may slow down or stop. There are no guarantees. And you can't just sit and wait for trouble.

Realistically and rationally, Cosmo's disease has no relation to the good things in my life; I'm not sure karma works that way.

But I will be calling to make an appointment with my oncologist, just in case.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hello, Tucker!

Yesterday, I brought home a horse. No, not the one I wasted hours and hours shopping for, but a very nice free lease. Which means I get to borrow him for a few months. When that time is up, I either need to buy him, send him home, or help the woman who owns him to sell him. For now, he is exactly what I need.

Though I am in love with a beautiful three-year-old stallion who lives in Florida...

Anyway, it was a marathon to bring Tucker home. Got up, let our dogs out, got dressed, fed the dogs, brought them inside, then went out to the garage and fed the dogs I am taking care of for a friend, let them out, then crated them again. After that was done, Mr Wonderful and I walked to the barn, fed my ponies, turned them out, and loaded ourselves into the truck to head North.

Luckily, I was smart enough to hook the truck and trailer up the night before. Sometimes the brain works well.

We drove three hours to my mother's farm in Vermont and loaded up my small collection of homemade and hand-me-down jumps. They did fill the back of the truck and the jump poles (look out Gil I have more! Ha ha ha!) stuck up about eighteen inches over the truck roof making the whole ensemble a bit hillybillyish. Some of those poles are heavy! I'm not sure that was what Mr. W. had in mind for his day off, but, after all, he does want to marry me, shouldn't he know by now what my idea of fun is?

Poor man.

All loaded up, we filled the gas tank, grabbed some snacks and soda, and were on our way back South. Another forty-five minutes later, we pulled into where we were picking up Tucker. His owner was waiting with a mixture of happiness and sorrow. We wrapped Tucker for the ride. He knew something was up, but stood quietly and followed me out to the waiting trailer with his ears pricked. His owner led him onto the trailer. He went on with little fuss and started to paw when we took too long to say goodbye.
While we cooed and put voices to Tucker's antics- "Aw, he really wants to go," or "See, he's really nervous about the trailer," Tucker himself was probably thinking about grass or rolling in the shavings that padded the trailer floor. Who knows?

I think humans try to attach too many of our own feelings to our pets and especially horses. I'm not sure if this is related to the estrogen levels in most horse people, or if it is a wish to relate more closely to such a noble creature. And to a ridiculous degree- I know people that hire "pet psychics' or animal communicators to help them better understand their animals. I've never gone that far, but I've been tempted. Haven't I, Gil??? But guilty as charged on the rest.

The reality is, that Tucker didn't have much of a say in the matter. He was coming home with me, so we loaded him up and away we went. He seemed pretty content for the ride. He didn't paw or jump around- and yes, you can feel it when they do- 1200 pounds can make trailers do some funky things. When I stopped to check on him about halfway home, he was eating hay, looking around, and pretty relaxed. Phew. It may be misguided, but I do want Tucker to like me.

Three hours and change after Tucker placed hoof on trailer ramp, we arrived home. Ahhh...

Oh crap, we didn't do stalls this morning. And we still have to unload, unhitch, and the dogs have been cooped up all day.

Whose bright idea was this? Oh, yeah. Mine.

We got it done. And pretty quickly. Though backing the trailer into its new home was a bit of a chore. I backed it through a gate, past my truck, which I should have moved, tried not to hit the apple tree or take out my buckets of flowers, avoided crashing into the garage or the sheep barn and pushed it around a 90 degree corner into its spot.

Mr. W. tried to offer advice and I tried not to be testy. It's a fault within me that whenever I am concentrating really hard on a task, I hate commentary. Even if it is helpful. If I am backing up the trailer through a maze, unless I am about to crash, silence is golden. Unless, of course, you want to do it yourself. He just laughed at that.

I was more annoyed that I could't get the trailer parked straight. And that I repeatedly claimed that my truck and trailer wouldn't fit in that spot. No way, no how. Right. They fit with room to spare. Again, he laughed.

We got the back of the truck unloaded, put the truck away, gave the horses one last pat, let both sets of dogs out, and finally got to eat dinner. Amazingly, Mr. W. is still speaking to me. In fact, he seemed to have enjoyed the whole expedition.

Now, I have one more stall to do, but I couldn't be happier. I have a horse who is perfect for what I need. No bucking, no breathing issues, no crazy baggage. Tucker is a sweet boy who likes to jump, doesn't spook, and is simply a really nice horse.

The one drawback is that I don't have an excuse to horse-shop. Sigh.

Guess I'll have to move on to wedding dresses...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Of Dreams and Memory

Lately, I've been dreaming about my mother. The dreams revolve around the minutia of my new life, with her presence- a kind of alternative reality, a what if? possibility. Though my relationship with her was challenging, I am comforted by these nocturnal reunions. My father is frequently with her. That is an added relief.

I struggle with what these dreams could mean. Are they a not-so-subconscious wish for those who are gone to share in my current happiness? Could they be a communication from beyond the limits of life? Is it connected to the fact that recently, I have often seen young girls who resemble Melissa? Am I being haunted? Or do I haunt myself?

I don't know, but the issue is more about my mother, who was difficult and forceful, more like the stereotypical male provider than a nurturing homemaker. My father represented hearth and sensitivity to my sister and me. There are wounds there that I will not reopen now.

But back to my mother.

After all the material I included in my thesis profile of her, where I focused on her trials, successes, and overwhelming drive, where I learned more about the woman who ruled my life, the woman whose approval I craved as much as resented turned out to be the victim of hurts and disappointments so much like my own, there are a few things I regret that I left out.

There is one memory I have of her that is special, but like my recent dreams, it is indistinct and probably owes as much to fantasy as fact. It is my most cherished.

I was very young, perhaps four or five. We had gone for a walk in Valley Green, a part of Philadelphia's vast Fairmount Park. (I can almost hear my sister exclaiming, 'What?' at this early point in the story, because it is not something my mother would normally have done.) I distinctly remember walkng along one of the smaller paths, stepping over the rocks that pushed through the hardened dirt, brushing back leaves, and the excitement of finding the reward at the end of the path. Through the distortion of time, it is the details I remember, not the destination or the whim behind this uncharacteristic hike.

The details are precious.

We got lost. Somewhere along the trail we had missed a turn and were far past the unremembered destination. The afternoon was fading into early evening; it must have been mid-summer or late spring, the air had the hint of coming night despite the bright, slowly lowering sun. We kept walking and my mom encouraged me (more likely badgering or sharply demanding) to keep going, but I was young and tired.

At this point I should probably expand on the fact that I was a demanding and boisterous child. Ok. I was a loud and spoiled brat. And my mother was not warm and fuzzy. She was tiny, barely five-foot tall and not more than one hundred pounds. In fact, she would become concerned about her weight if she went over that century mark, she was not anorexic; she never starved herself. And I think, at this point in her life she was heavier than usual, maybe a whopping one-ten.

When I collapsed in a tantrum, declaring that I could not walk one more step, my mother offered something unique. She gave me a piggy-back ride.

We were a long way from the car, but my mother carried me the whole way back.

I remember the sharp feel of her shoulder blades against my face, the smell of her peroxide-blonde hair, the pinch of her long fingernails supporting my thighs, and the uneven rocking of her stride as she carried me along the path.

By the time we got back to the car, the sunlight was slanting sharply toward dark. I don't remember what she said or what happened when we arrived home so much later than expected. Those pieces are lost.

I am not even certain that it ever truly happened. It could very well be a vivid dream transformed into memory. I don't think so, because when, years ago while riding my horse in the Park, I came upon a rock-strewn trail and followed memory to a nearly empty parking lot, or, now, when I smell a certain type of greenness in warm summer air, or when the sunlight slants that certain way, I feel bone beneath my cheek and inhale the scent of old shampoo.

The details are precious.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I am uninspired tonight.
Moments unfold, like atoms unravelling into infinity,
unnoticed, yet irretrievable, expiring as I wait for enlightenment.
In spite of my creative desperation
I continue to move ever forward and deeper into time.
Insensitive to my artistic failures, the seconds relentlessly tick forward
into minutes and hours, long after my uncollected thoughts
dissipate into eternity.