Step by Step

IMG_3182

I woke before dawn, an eagerness spilling over me to greet the day, see what it holds. Before the recurrence of Lyme symptoms, I woke like this every morning for six weeks in a row, maybe more. I’d slip out from the covers, pull my clothes on and set out with Sunny for a walk to the end of the road. Those mornings were delicious…quiet, light splashed, cool, damp, grey-filled…always different, but always a gift.

IMG_3183

For a few mornings this week, I stayed in bed after the sun crept over the horizon and wondered if last-year’s fatigue would take over and keep me from celebrating each morning’s blessing. Today, I hoped when I got out of bed, I’d have the same energy to walk and enjoy the beginning of my day. It was not a miraculous healing…but it was a positive step. I had some energy and was able to walk. Not all the way to the end of the road. But partway. And maybe I pushed myself a little. But it was worth it…to see the pale peach sky behind the barn, to hear the twitter of birds, to see the world waking. Yes, I felt the drag on my right side as I continued. But my pride or my stubbornness kept me going. And I was rewarded.

IMG_3184

It would be easy to get discouraged and compare my present state with my recent great health. But I remember the days where I dragged myself around a short route for five minutes, once, twice, eventually three times a day, then slowly increased my time. My body responded…gradually.

IMG_3185

And even when my body didn’t respond, I learned how quickly we adjust and gain perspective. When my legs no longer worked, I was reminded that I still had my hands. When my hands no longer worked, I rejoiced that I could still think. Not that it was easy. No. There was mourning too. But appreciation somehow flowers when we lose things.

IMG_3189

Today, I remembered to thank God for each step, even the draggy ones. I was awake and moving. The sun will shine today and beauty abounds.

IMG_3195


Happy Birthday, Sunny!

IMG_3203

Our sweet golden retriever turned four years old today! Happy birthday, Sunny! She has been a constant presence in our lives since the day she arrived. Over four years ago, we knew we wanted to get a puppy, but we had no idea how to go about it and what would be involved. We did some research and decided on the breed, and a little while later, my friend Lynn (who trailered the horses to our property) told me that her vet bred goldens. She gave me his name and number, and I realized it was the same vet who cared for Crimson at the end of his life. But I hadn’t been in touch with him since that time. When I called him in January, he said he was expecting a new litter in the spring, and that one of the puppies could be ours. We were elated! I think we’ll always remember getting the email that said the mama dog was going into labor on Easter, April 24, 2011. Sunny and several of her siblings were born late that night.

004

We got to visit Sunny about a week after she was born, and a few more times before we brought her home. It was so fun to see her little round body.

001

003

In June, we brought Sunny home. We set up a schedule for potty training — Sydney took the morning shift, we shared the day shifts, Joel took the late shift and I took the graveyard shift (I woke up in the middle of the night anyway, so why not?) Life was never the same. 🙂

001

003

005

008

Once the horses arrived, Sunny became a constant presence at the barn, although until recently she escaped most of the photo ops. Either she scampered away as we brought the horses into the aisle or we were simply focused on them instead of her. But no one has been more excited about the barn having new occupants than our sweet, somewhat crazy golden retriever.

Every morning, Sunny waits patiently on the back step for us to make our short trek down to the barn. Cinder, our outside cat, waits with her, but he’s happy to keep snoozing.

IMG_3118

The first few days at the barn, Sunny tried to steal anything that wasn’t too high for her to reach — a brush, a curry comb, a hoof pick, a spray bottle — anything she could get her mouth on. She also loved to sneak into the stalls for a bite of manure. I know — yuck!

Thankfully, my friend Karen has been training her to “leave it.” Turns out that Sunny is the easy one to train. The rest of our family (including me) struggle to be consistent. But we’re working on it.

IMG_3172

Sunny has no common sense whatsoever around horses. She walks directly behind them, likes to sniff their hooves and often runs into their stalls when they’re eating. Not smart. And I’m worried she’ll learn a very hard lesson one day.

But in the meantime, she’s enjoying getting to know Smokey and Foxie. And they are tolerating her.

IMG_3168

IMG_3164

IMG_3163

IMG_3162

IMG_3161

IMG_3160

IMG_3159

IMG_3156

IMG_3155

IMG_3154

IMG_3153

IMG_3201

We’re so glad that Sunny is a part of our family! We look forward to many more animal-filled days.

 

 

 


Horse-filled Days

IMG_2925

IMG_3056

Good morning, Foxie!

 

IMG_3071

When the rain finally stopped, Lauren-Kate and Sydney got to work filling the stalls with fresh bedding.

IMG_3068

Sydney brushing Smokey

IMG_3137

Sydney riding Foxie

Saturday morning, my friend Traci came over with her daughters Lauren and Erica. Sydney and I showed the girls our feeding and stall cleaning routine and they jumped in to help. Afterwards, the three girls brushed Foxie.

IMG_3123

Foxie enjoying the attention of three girls.

IMG_3128

The girls braided Smokey’s mane and tail.

 

IMG_3145

Sydney taking a short “pony ride” on Smokey

 

IMG_3129

Sydney took over and gave Erica a “pony ride”

IMG_3133

Lauren got a turn too

IMG_3134

And a closer view

IMG_3135

Afterwards, everyone was happy.

 


Cold Rain

 

IMG_3151

Foxie and Smokey staying dry under the eaves of the barn during the rain.

 

Less than a week into having the horses here, and I feel a sharp burning below my right armpit. I first noticed it when I was lunging Foxie, thought that maybe I was using my arm in way that my muscles had long forgotten or my bra strap was a little too tight. The next two nights I felt around the area with my fingers, noticing a tenderness that had never been there before. A blocked gland or lymph node? Maybe.

Around the same time, I noticed a slight looseness in my gait. I had been walking over 10,000 steps every day for the past six weeks, and feeling great. The last time I had been aware of how my legs and feet were moving was back in December, after having the flu and a mini relapse of my Lyme symptoms. Suddenly, during the Christmas season, I had no stamina and my left foot felt wobbly as I walked. I would collapse on the couch after a quarter mile hike to the mailbox.

Today, it was my right side (the same side as the burning sensation under my armpit) that felt a little unstable. I walked to the end of the road, as I usually do, with my husband, but felt less and less control of my right leg as I went. I was able to complete the walk, but felt my right foot lightly slapping the ground near the end.

Am I scared?

Yes. But it’s not the all-consuming fear I experienced back in January of 2014 when my left leg and arm,  had gone numb, along with my spine and backside, and I could barely drag my body from one side of the room to the other. It took an act of enormous will to get myself up the one flight of stairs to my bedroom. And once I made it there, the mind-numbing fatigue kept me resting for a few hours before I could attempt the return trip down. Routine chores and errands suddenly became overwhelming. Life narrowed to a thin line of two or three small accomplishments each day: making breakfast, doing laundry and planning dinner. My feet felt like blocks of ice, my fingers like sausages. I stopped sending emails because I could no longer strike the correct keys.

Back then, I couldn’t help imagining the possibility of life in a wheelchair. Not that it would be the end of the world, but certainly a sea change for someone like me, who loved the outdoors, who refreshed myself on quiet walks with the dog, who drank in the beauty of the country, the mountains and the ocean as I walked for miles each and every day. I vowed then and there that I would appreciate every step I took if I were given the ability to walk again.

Just a few short days ago, I couldn’t wait until morning so my daughter and I could walk down to the barn. After feeding the horses and cleaning stalls, I looked forward to lunging Smokie, giving Sydney a riding lesson and then hopping on Foxie for a little training session. It was all so easy, so natural, so wonderful. The days were too short for all our plans.

IMG_3063

My fear is tempered this time around with hope. There is something going on on my right side, and perhaps that is causing the weakness in my right leg. When I had the flu, it drained my body, leaving me vulnerable to old symptoms. Perhaps the same things is happening…maybe it’s an infection, a clogged duct, a red flag – maybe, a concern – yes, something to tend to, a reminder to go slowly and treat my body with gentleness and care.

I have been moving fast this past month, in preparation for horses. Now they are here. As I told my husband, I’m so thankful this didn’t happen before now. How would I have had the energy to clean out the barn, go through the process of trying out Foxie, spend an afternoon trailering two horses home, etc., etc.?

Cold rain has moved into our area for the past two days. Despite our desire for sunshine and spring temperatures, this weather has allowed me to slow down and rest my body. I will continue the alternative treatments that have provided healing over the past sixteen months. I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow, but I trust that my strength will return, that my right leg will feel normal again, that the sun will shine again and that I will have many wonderful days ahead with Sydney and our horses.

IMG_2985


Friendship

 

IMG_2871

My friend Jo lives above a barn in what has always seemed to me to be a storybook setting. She is an artist and a lover of all animals. But Jo has a special connection with horses and an exquisite ability to capture their beauty and majesty through her artwork and animal portraits.

IMG_2870

I first met Jo many years ago, after she stopped by my barn and left a note. Later, she told me that she had been looking for a friend who might share her passion for horses, and she felt that God had led her to me. At one time, Jo kept her white Arabian named Pride at our barn. We rode together, attended clinics and she cared for the horses at our barn when I was out of town.

IMG_2889

Jo eventually bought her own small farm, and I remember being thrilled that it was 3.5 miles away. I could drive there in about 5 minutes. As the barn and her living space above it were being built, Jo painted this lovely signpost of places that were important to her or places she dreamed of going. I was so honored to be on it! I remember us discussing how horses keep a person tied down, but she hoped that this sign would bring travel into her life.

IMG_2888

Perhaps it did. Jo traveled to Panama a few years ago on a mission trip. I had lived there for five years during my growing up years. It’s the place where I was first introduced to horses.

I’ve had the privilege of sharing more than horses with Jo. In addition to her amazing artwork, she is also a poet and writer. Several years ago, Jo tentatively shared with me a beautiful poem that she had written and illustrated, that I hope will one day be a child’s picture book. We have wonderful conversations about creativity, and being with her inspires me.

Jo also knows my history. She listened and cared for me and my animals as my mother slowly descended into Alzheimer’s. She knew about my many miscarriages. And she was there to celebrate with me when Sydney was born, bearing a gift of artwork…a beautiful collage of fabric made into a bucking bronco. I had seen it before and loved the energy it exuded. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the perfect metaphor for a 40-year-old woman learning to embrace motherhood.

IMG_3119

Once I became a mother, I didn’t see Jo as often as I would have liked. But we continued to stay in touch. When another horse friend and I put together a collection of work called, Riding Out: Poems of Grief and Redemption, Jo allowed us to use her beautiful painting of Pride as the cover, and she displayed this amazing piece and other horse artwork during a series of readings we did.

_MG_4169 70

“The King’s Horse” painted by Jo Rissanen

 

When Crimson died, Jo came over and said a prayer at his grave. When she was considering buying or selling a horse, she would give me a call to talk things over. When I saw on Facebook that her beloved Pride had died suddenly, I picked up the phone.

We sought out opportunities to stay connected. Over the years, Jo became an art teacher for Sydney and a succession of her homeschooled friends. During art class, I took walks down her dirt road, often with one of her dogs, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone. There was always a special peace during those walks.

IMG_2872

 

IMG_2885

 

IMG_2875

IMG_2886

Jo helped both Sydney and Lauren-Kate create covers for their books. Under Jo’s warm and inspiring tutelage, Sydney, in fact, just finished painting the artwork that will grace her third book cover. (for more information on these books, go to www.thebridgebooks.com)

Before I began this journey back into the horse world, I talked with Jo. She knew my fears and desires: that I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, that I wanted to move slowly and that it was important to me to be in touch with the Spirit. Each step of the way Jo has supported me and offered help. Her gentle listening ear heard each of my concerns.

About six weeks ago, Jo and I had a rare chance to visit and share our hopes and dreams with each other for the future. We both seemed to be on the brink of something new (with horses) in our lives, and we were both unsure of how to proceed. Jo became a prayer warrior for me, and I have tried to keep her covered in prayer also. This is one of the rare gifts that a long and special friendship provides. It also provides perspective. And hope.

Knowing that Jo has been praying for my dreams has helped me to embrace expectancy. I am able to connect the dots, trace the path that is being laid down before me. And believe that all will be well.

IMG_2986

Note: I have been blessed with many special friends and family members. Each one is different and unique. I am filled with gratitude for these dear people who play such an important role in my life.  


Two More Poems…Actually Three

I read two more poems and had them videoed for April Anarchy. The first one was “Horse” by Louise Glück. Click here to watch the video. You’ll get a live view of Foxie and Smokey in the pasture.

The second poem was “Morning Swim” by Maxine Kumin, my horse-loving friend. Click here to view that video. Sorry, there’s no horses in that video, but I did have wet hair. 🙂

And for good measure…here’s a poem of my own, written a few weeks ago, before the horses came:

 

I Hear It In The Wind

 

A barn that has stood empty far too long

calls my name. I hear it as the wind fingers

new leaves and fescue rises green

in the pasture. I throw open

stall doors, sweep debris from the aisle

as my daughter brushes cobwebs

from oak boards. We dream together

of horses trotting in from the field,

forelocks flung across wide blazes,

ears pricked in our direction.

I feel new life in my fifty-four-year-old

bones this spring. She is ready

to toss her mane against a crystal blue sky,

prance with joy.

IMG_2855

The barn, before the horses arrived.

 


Where Horses and Poetry Intersect

I mentioned in a previous post that a friend of mine asked me to video myself reading a poem written by Maxine Kumin, who was a wonderful poet and horse enthusiast, for April Anarchy, a fun Facebook event designed to introduce people to all kinds of poetry during the National Poetry Month. Here’s a glimpse of the bracket:

Upon hearing that we had horses back in our barn, my friend, Suzanne Baldwin Leitner, asked if I would like to read a couple of other horse-themed poems. For fun, I asked my daughter to actually video these poems at the barn. I thought I’d share these videos on the blog as I just love it when my passions collide!

To view a reading at the barn of “The Ride” by Richard Wilbur, click on the title of the poem.

April Anarchy is just beginning, so if you’d like to get in on the fun, look for Suzanne Baldwin Leitner’s Facebook page or click here. You’ll find videos of all the poems in the bracket. The first round has just started, so vote for your favorite poems.

I’ll post my other readings as the April Anarchy Poetry Tournament continues!