Useful stuff

Today I employed a useful skill, electrical wiring.  I have a large number of less than useful skills.  Or as I overheard my daughter say to a friend, “Ask my mom, she knows a lot of useless stuff.”  Fine I thought but one day you are going to want to know the number of square feet in an acre or the winter home of sandhill cranes and then who will be the useless one. But, my father taught me to wire.  It is just one of the many useful skills he shared with me.  For him it never seemed like teaching.  It was just doing the things of life together.  In the midst, I learned.  I learned so much more than just how to wire or build something or mix concrete or repair a leak.  I learned that I was capable and was worth spending time with.

So often, that seems to be lost.  Dad always said the best time of his life was raising his family.  It showed.  He wanted to spend time with us and so we did everything together.  We played baseball for hours after supper in the summer and played cards in the winter.  We shot a lot of pool in the basement.  He loved the geometry and physics of the game and so I learned about angles and spin and chain reactions.  But again, I learned I was worth teaching and being together was a goal in itself.  A side benefit was the ability to win a fair amount of cash in college.  The guys always thought they could out shoot and out drink a girl.  My dad taught me how to hold my liquor too.  Alas, a skill less prized in today’s child rearing circles.

In one of our last conversations, dad asked me if I knew why he did some of the less conventional things he did.  I said, “Because someone has to break the chain or the old harms will just continue.”  “Exactly!”, he said.  Thank you Dad.  You encourage me to break the chains of injustice daily by simply being a different presence in the lives of those I am with each day. Now that is something useful.  Happy Birthday, I miss you.

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Broom vs Leaf Blower

My husband says I am a traditionalist.  At times, I take that as a compliment.  At other times, I respectfully disagree.  In some ways, I am quite adventurous.  I have moved quite a few times as an adult and love the potential of a new place.  I am always up to try new foods, wine and beer.  The caveat being when it comes to holidays; I resist the suggestion for turkey enchiladas every Thanksgiving.  But around the barn, I am not one for new fangled things.

Hand grooming is still my preferred way to know your horse and bring out the best in their coat.  I want a brush with natural bristles.  Metal curries turn me off.  I love rubbing down with a soft towel and a natural coat conditioner.  Corn brooms work the best for me.  Ice and cold hosing beat chemical coolers every time.  I know new materials pull out moister better but there is something about wool that gives me comfort when putting a cooler on my horse.  The list could go on but you get the gist.

So, I find myself conflicted about the leaf blower.  It really does do a great job keeping the stall fronts clean and it makes the floors more uniform.  But, I find the process of using it unsettling.  Instead of the rhythmic swish thump swish thump as I move repeatedly down the long aisles, I am assaulted by the whir of the motor.  It is deafening.  I suppose I could use ear protection but I don’t really see the point.  The movement, the noise and the dust are just not the same as my Zen like sweeping activity.

So, I use the brooms each day and save the blower for days when I need an aggressive activity.  I wonder how much of this tendency spills over into the rest of my life.  I love my new square foot gardens and the yield last year was wonderful.  But it is hard not to plant everything in lovely straight rows on Memorial Day weekend.  Decades of planting that way with my father created a pattern and memories that are hard to break.  Last year, I noticed that my compromise position was to plant the squares in rows.  Six squares straight across of basil by the way is a lot of basil.  Twelve tomato plants in a 3 X 4’ space are hard to pick and ripen in the center.  So this year, I am going even more outside my comfort zone – plants are going to be planted in succession and not all in the same place.  I also have given in to the idea of rotating.  The biggest problem of rotating for me is the fact that the perfectly good plan I had last year (with the exception of the tomatoes) isn’t going to be good for three more years.  For a woman who wants to put the Christmas decorations in the same place each year, that one is hard.  It is comforting to have a plan that works and execute it efficiently.

Does this make me a traditionalist?  I think of it as making the most of my time and energy.  But if I don’t want to try a plant in a new place, what else do I keep from moving into a new place in my life and relationships?  Would my efficiency and sense of comfort be disturbed by their changes?  I hope my sense of adventure kicks in when it comes to people as well as food and wine.  Perhaps being a traditionalist around the barn, touching the horses and working in the dirt grounds me enough to experience the newness in the lives of those around me.  I hope at my best that that is true – for the other times, I wonder what I missed.  Perhaps grace will allow me to see the new in the future.  Maybe next year I will say Yes to those enchiladas.  But for now the broom is winning.

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So Much Hair

I don’t know who was covered with more hair yesterday, Alley O’Malley or me.  It seems that each horse has a day when the old winter coat decides it is time to go.  One day you are currying with only a few hairs to shake out and the next you are shaking out a full curry every other stroke.  I was walking by the upper pasture the other day and saw two white patches in the grass.  Apparently, the palomino had decided it was time to change into his beautiful golden coat from his pale winter one.  His owner is in for a treat next time she comes out.  The mule, however, though shiny still is holding the long winter hair.  So, I have another furry round to look forward to. Yeah.

As I was grooming Al, the pile on the floor was growing into enough to knit a small pony.  I actually know people who will wash and spin your old horsehair into yarn.  I readily admit that I don’t get it.  I have smelled wet horse and had their hair down my shirt, etc.  It is not an experience I would want after a shower when I say, “what shall I put on my clean body.”  As I was trying to no avail to keep the hair out of my mouth, Note to self no lip balm before spring grooming, my friend reminded me that once the amount of hair works it way up from the curry to your hand, to your arm, to your neck, and finally to your face you are screwed.  Once this happens, I figure I might as well just buckle down and keep working until I get to the short glowing coat underneath.

Al has one of the most beautiful copper penny coats.  He just glows in the sun.  As I look out at him grazing on this beautiful morning, l am surprised how quickly he has gone from winter dull to summer shiny.  I see it as an overnight thing but of course nothing significant happed that way.  It is true for horses; it is true for me and it is true for the people around me.  Just because I got in on the final stage of the transformation doesn’t mean I was the key to the outcome.  Long before I was spitting hair, the days started getting longer.  When I was changing him from his winter blanket to a rain sheet, the weather was getting warmer.  In fact, just to show how not in charge of this change I was, as much as I groomed when the weather was so unseasonably warm his winter coat stubbornly remained intact.  He was going through his process of getting from point A to point B.

So often, I have had the joy to participate in the movement from one stage of life to another with family, friends or clients.  It is an honor to be present in those moments.  Each one is different and follows the path that is specific for the needs of the individual.  I have to constantly remind myself that although I am needed to roll up my selves, buckle down and keep working, I am not in charge.   Being present and supportive does not mean directing the outcome to what I want when I want it.  We have two daughters and each of them fledged in their own way.  Both are living strong, independent lives but in no way did they get there the same way or on the same timetable.  I love being part of both of the rides.  Just like the horses their shiny coats came out on their own schedule based on what was happening inside long before the transformation.

Each birth and death I have witnessed moved on its own trajectory.  Families have changed in an instant, over a long illness, with the passages of old age, through unexpected complications but each has changed.  There is a necessary messiness I think in being part of a life well lived.  Once I am in the middle of it, why not admit I am screwed (not able to control it) and embrace it.  The shiny result on the other side always takes my breath away.  I gaze around me at the beauty and am glad I am not in charge; I am only a lucky participant in something much larger.

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I Love Tension

It seems a bit like the end of March with the rain and cooler temperatures. But if this month is supposed to go out like a lion, I want to taunt, “Is this the best you got?” I really don’t want to tempt the fates, however, as I have come to accept this warm weather as normal. So, I change my thinking to be glad that I am not experiencing an ice storm or shoveling 18 inches of snow. All those are normal for this time of year in Wisconsin. Instead I look at my blooming daffodil and growing bushes and perennials and am glad I didn’t clean away all the cover. I also wonder what will happen if a hard long freeze hits them. Of course, I do this as I am harvesting lettuce from my cold frames. The sweet fresh taste of these greens is delightful.

If nothing else, this is a time where the tension of what is and what could be is heightened. I certainly am enjoying the benefits of the warm weather but I do so with one eye open to what could be. I don’t want to live in the fear of what may never happen – paralyzed into inactivity. On the other hand, I don’t want to completely throw caution to the wind and cause harm that could have been avoided. In many ways, the tension makes me live more intentionally. It also helps me to appreciate the small things.

This is the same tension that is present when I am at my best working with the horses or others for that matter. What is and what could be do an intricate dance whenever I have interaction with them. Just because the normally spooky horse is dead quiet doesn’t mean he will stay that way. Remembering this keeps me from pushing to a place where the horse could get panicked and hurt. It also makes me appreciate the progress that the horse is making. It is a great opportunity to praise and catch a glimpse of what the end goal is. I think for me that is the key to life. When I have a vision of what is possible, I am not paralyzed by the reality of what could happen. That way I can appreciate the things that are while being careful not to project my fantasy onto someone else to their detriment.

Seeing the horse or another as an extension of my ego is a recipe for disaster. Unrealistic expectations are sure to be followed by disappointment, frustration, hurt and ultimately broken relationships. If I think the horse is trying to make me look bad (they never are but they know that my focus has shifted from them to the person over there which was my first mistake), I respond in shame and misunderstanding. This guarantees that I will not back up to evaluate what I haven’t taught them and rework my training plan. I will probably just push harder screaming the same question over and over in a language they don’t understand. The result is broken trust and reinforcement that I am just another carnivore.

Being intentional makes me more aware of the response I am getting. I am quicker to step back, slow down and look for an alternative to work with what the horse knows instead of what he doesn’t. If I am focused on what isn’t, I am certainly missing the beauty of what is. This switch makes me a partner – one who is more concerned about the other than myself. The tension makes that possible for me. When I am unaware of the tension, I am sloppy. I take things for granted and I forget to appreciate the gift of what is. I also forget that the end goal is not where I am it is something bigger and better, something yet to be attained. It is something I could never accomplish on my own. It is something that requires another. It requires another who I trust and who trusts me. It requires operating out that trust that shares the depth of the soul in a way that we are indistinguishable from one another. Then there is true harmony – the already and the not yet existing perfectly in a single time and space. Tension is a good thing for me.

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An Unusual Day on the Farm

Wednesday was a very unusual day on the farm.  With the unseasonably warm weather, it seems everyday adds to the list of things I have never done in March in Wisconsin.  The temperature was in the seventies and I needed to wash something.  My husband had washed a few of the window over the weekend.  I felt no desire to continue that project.  Besides I didn’t want to ruin his sense of accomplishment when he finished the rest of them.  That is a line that we used often on the children but I don’t think it would work on another member of the adult conspiracy to raise self-sufficient adults.  My focus was on the thoroughbreds or my car.

Little did I know how much joy the activity would give him and me.  When I approached the big red thoroughbred grazing on the newly sprouted grass on the lawn, he looked suspiciously at the halter in my hand.  As a retiree, he is rarely asked to do much more than be a gracious lawn ornament.  Periodically, he is my partner to brush up on groundwork or try something new.  On an even more rare occasion, he goes for a ride.  So why was I interrupting his lazy grazing on this sunny day?

He didn’t balk as we approached the wash rack.  The water must have really felt good.  He leaned into the hose.  He even put his head into the spray, bonus.  Wet the horse, soap the horse, scrub the horse, rinse the horse and rub the horse down.  The old guy met each step with growing excitement.  When I finally slipped off the halter, the running, bucking, farting and rolling began.  He looked like a weanling being turned out for the first time.  This was certainly a first, washing a horse outside on March 14th in Wisconsin.

What followed about an hour later was even more special.  Every time I think I have experienced the best a horse can give me, I am wrong.  After letting Al dry in the sun, I took a jelly curry to him and the long hair that before the bath was still thinking it was winter started coming out in large quantities.  I curried until my arms were tired.  Over my shoulder I could see the other thoroughbred, lying on the lawn grazing.  That is the ultimate picture of a lazy sunny day for me.  He was next on my list to bathe.

At that moment, however, his nap on the lawn was much more appealing.  As I walked over, he didn’t bother to get up so I knelt beside him.  After a nice rub, it was just too tempting to recline with him.  When I put my head on his shoulder, he sighed and flopped the rest of the way down.  His head and neck nestled into the ground and his legs stretching out.  So, with my head on his cheek and neck, my arm over his strong nose and my other hand under his other cheek and ear, we both had a little nap.  Afterward, I rolled on my back and marveled at the beauty of the clear sky and the new level of trust shown me.  The ability of the spirit to risk in spite of past experience moves me.  This horses’ history and current wariness says there is no reason for him to be this vulnerable to a human.

We never did get around to that bath but we did move to a new level of partnership.  That, more then the weather or the exuberance of an early spring, made it a special day on the farm.  The weather was unusual; Gooses’ trust was a gift.  The car is still dirty but my I’ve had a nap.  That is another first, March 14 my first nap on the lawn with a special Thoroughbred.

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New Arrival

There is a new horse in the barn.  I always get excited to welcome a new member to the equine family on the farm.  Maybe it is the potential, maybe it is the unknown, maybe it is just the chance to nest again, but, whatever the reason, I enjoy each new arrival.  I enjoy waiting for them to arrive.  It gives me a chance to anticipate their needs.

I know enough of their story to work on making the transition as easy as possible.  Most serendipitous for me is the review of each of the other horses’ story this causes.  It is one of the wonderfully true things of life that in the listening to the story of another I am able to tell a new part of my own story.  That has been the case in waiting for this horse.  She is for all intents and purposes a rescue horse.  Her weight, coat, distended belly, and hooves tell the all too familiar story of being neglected while in the care of someone who should know better.

This is a small aside but it is hard for me to understand the apparent callousness that gets a horse to this place.  I understand inexperienced owners who get a horse not knowing what they are getting into.  But when they commit them to the care of a “knowledgeable horseperson” and then they are neglected, I am confused.  I was speaking to a friend about this last week.  She has seen this all too often herself.  She wondered how one lives with oneself when they see the result.  Is it a lack of conscious or a business decision or just the ugly side of the human tit-for-tat?  I can’t say.

As a barn owner, I may have been lucky, but still even if the owner doesn’t pay, doesn’t visit and in general doesn’t keep their end of the bargain, letting the horse suffer seems like punishing the wrong party.  The horse doesn’t understand the lack of food as a reflection of the lack of payment from an absent owner.  I can’t imagine walking past a hungry horse with food for the other horses as making me feel any better about the situation.  If everyone was honest, I suspect there would be plenty of blame to go around for the humans involved – the owner who sold the horse people who were not an appropriate match, the new owner who thought it would be fun to bring up a yearling as their first horse project and that it wouldn’t cost anything because a friend would keep it in exchange for work on the farm, and of course the friend who didn’t have a contract or anticipate the lack of commitment of the owner – but the horse wasn’t party to any of this.  So, on what planet does letting a horse stand in crap up to their knees, rocks imbedding in their white line making them lame, seriously underweight, and worm infested make any of the prior bad decisions brilliant.

Okay, end of my tirade.  This is her story and it shapes her needs for her new home.  But for me it is also an opportunity to reflect on the times I have been caught by these or other situations.  What were the second mile steps I have taken to insure they don’t happen in my barn or to the horses in my care?  Are they enough or are new policies and tough discussions needed?  Am I the right person to help this horse at this time?  Will it have a negative impact on the horses already in my care?  Every new horse gives me this opportunity to reflect and respond.

That leads to the fun of recalling the special needs of all the other members of the herd.  The horse currently in the isolation stall will have to be moved as she will need care there until she is bathed, stronger and worm free.  Where to put Norty then?  He is kindly but not overly bright so although a new spot will be confusing at turn in, he can be put next to anyone.  Then, the dominos start to tumble in story land.  Putting him next to Goin’ makes me reflect on her.  Cooper is her best friend maybe he should go next to her.  He does love her but then he wouldn’t be next to Alley O’Malley.  Ever since they returned from Kentucky, they have been very bonded.  Certainly whoever goes next to Al can’t be aggressive as I have an extreme soft spot for this 27-year-old TB.  Goose is too neurotic to be anywhere but where he is in the in and out stall, etc.  After all the possible options, simple and complex, I settle on the least disrupting.

Executing the plan has been even more fun.  Cleaning the empty stall and making it just right for Norty is the first step.  Blowing out the barn including the cobwebs that grew in the beams over winter is not as fun but I love how good the barn looks.  It will make me smile for weeks.  Then, getting everything around for the new horse.  One of the themes on the farm at this stage is using or repurposing things that are already on the farm.  As anyone who has had horses for a long time knows, stuff accumulates.  So finding a grooming bag, a full set of brushes, a wash pail and curries, a baker sheet, a cooler and a blanket for this little girl was possible.  They all got cleaned, mended and ready – what a great feeling to share these ignored items to help out an owner who is trying to help a horse who has not had the selfless kindness of humans for most of her life.  Cleaning her stall, disinfecting her water buckets, feed pail and grain bucket, adding beautiful bedding and setting two flake so nice grass hay made my day.  I couldn’t wait for her arrival.

Now she is here.  The planning has paid off.  It only took six days for Norty to figure out where his new stall is – but not until he has walked over to his old stall now occupied by a new arrival, it is a circuitous route but it works for him.  Remembering where you started helps set the course for where you are going – smart horse.  She has had two baths and looks so much better.  A farrier visit got rid of the embedded rocks and although it will be a year before her hooves are really good she is on the right road.  She is appreciative, has a good head and is very kind.  I am glad to have her on the farm.  More than anything she is perfect for her new owner and her owner is willing, capable and able to move slowly and surely aware of the needs of this young mare.  Seeing them together gives me an awareness of the new and wonderful story unfolding around me.

Perhaps that is why I like getting new horses in the barn.  I am a storyteller at heart.  So, it does my heart good to listen to a new story, to allow it to add a new dimension to the stories around me and to dare to move into a new story myself.  It gets better – I have another new horse coming at the end of month!  Time to start planning.

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Contentment on a dark and dreary day

I wonder if the horses think it is a good day when I have to leave them in?  Do they feel like I do on a dark dreary day like today – glad I don’t have to brave the elements spending hours out in the wind and rain and cold?  I suspect the change in routine may be disconcerting to them but I also suspect that the pile of hay and fresh warm bucket of water placed in their stall overrides their potential concern.  With horses as with many humans, including myself, the immediate gratification of a good meal and drink trumps future what ifs. 

 

I’m also pretty sure that the promise of being back in a few hours with lunch was uttered more for my benefit then theirs.  They were all busy munching their hay not thinking about the next meal.  Although they are vocal when I enter the barn in the morning,, I don’t think they are wondering, “what if she doesn’t come down today to feed us?”  They know the routine are all in good flesh, some in fact could afford to skip a meal or two, and have never missed a meal at least as long as they have been here. 

 

So, I’m pretty certain that they didn’t think Yippee today we get fed three meals instead of two.  They are simply the content creatures they are by nature.  They know they are safe and warm and fed and that is all that matters.  Too bad I forget to follow their example.  I often chase contentment assuming it is just around the corner of the next task or the next meal. 

 

My mother is a little under the weather today and I find that disconcerting.  She fell this morning from being “just a little dizzy but not really because I am just fine.”   My brother was able to go and help her up and get her situated in her recliner.  He will go back and help her with lunch.  My sister will go after school and take her to the doctor.  I will call from a distance and try to be present that way.  But while I am grateful for the presence of my siblings, I will still be somewhat uneasy.  It is hard to keep concern from being unproductive worry.

 

Mom seems less concerned.  Being safe in her home with lunch and the newspaper has put her at ease.  Knowing her daughter will be there to take her to a caring health professional is comforting.  She seems unaware of the potential panic of her children.  We are worried about the “what ifs.”  We are wondering about the growing confusion and unsteadiness.  We are each I suspect in our own way stirring our own pots of discontent.  I know this is unproductive and causes me to focus on what is not yet instead of what is.

 

The “what is” for now is the good conversations I am able to have with her today as I stay more closely in touch.  It is also the thankfulness for my brother and sister and the thankfulness that today is not the day I have to rush off to make other arrangements or deal with dire circumstances.  Today she is home, she is safe, she is cared for and she is content. 

 

So on this dark dreary day, I will spend extra time with the horses – everyone will get three meals plus warm mash plus a brushing plus two stall cleanings.  Maybe in the extra time I spend with them they will show me the way to contentment in the present.  And maybe just maybe I will be able to pass that along to my family and myself on a day when contentment is a bit more illusive.

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