Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unexpected Company

It was close to midnight, with no moon. The temperature gauge read 21 degrees and winds were steady at 20 mph, making it seem much colder. My husband and I were sleeping.

RAP-rap-rap RAP RAP! Someone insistently knocked at the door. I startled out of bed, threw on my robe, and raced to the front door.

“Yes? Hello?” I was puzzled to see the deputy sheriff standing on the porch with a large flashlight.

“Sorry to bother you,” he began, “but there are five horses running loose a way down the street. Are you missing any horses?”

I asked him to shine his flashlight toward the round hay bale in the pasture, and there were Tango and Jack, seemingly oblivious to the wind-chill factor and time of night, munching contentedly.

I wondered if they belonged to the neighbors down the street who also own horses, and the deputy left in his Suburban to ask them the same question.

After he left, I got my flashlight and saw the loose horses walk across the street and into the field next to our pasture. Tango and Jack, friendly beasts, sauntered to the fence and apparently invited the guest horses for a chat, so all seven stood near the pasture gate, sizing each other up in the starlight. I put my jacket on over my robe, having decided to secure the horses in our pasture for the night, and headed out into the cold.

As I walked toward the gate, the deputy returned and helped me begin herding the horses through the gate. Along came the neighbors, who didn’t know who owned the horses, but brought a bucket of grain to help catch them. We got all five into our pasture where they safely passed the night.

At dawn I awoke to the sound of galloping. All seven horses raced around the pasture with massive Tango in the lead, Jack at his flank, and the five rescues close behind. Perhaps Tango and Jack were running away from the new pasture pals, for the Alpha-Mare of this small herd has turned out to be a demanding guest. She has hogged the feed, kicked at her friends, and nagged her hosts until nimble Jack jumped the fence to flee her pestering; Tango simply retreated and stood with his back to her.

They’re not exactly the kind of guests you can politely ask to “Move along, now.” Nor can we reason with the Alpha-Mare that she should try to get along with her hosts. So for now, we have separated Jack and Tango to our fenced back yard and have contacted local veterinarians about the runaways. The Sheriff’s Department suggested I call the Humane Society, and a local Internet “Lost and Found” announcement garnered several offers of help.  

Some have suggested that their owner may have turned them out intentionally, but I hope that is not true.  Until we are sure of what to do if no owner appears, our unexpected guests get to enjoy plenty of water, good food, and a safe place to rest.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Gentle Giant

Meet Tango.

He is the new horse in our pasture.

Tango is a Shire, and colossal.

Our paint yearling, Jack, is “clacking” -- a behavior in which a baby horse sidles up to an older horse and clacks his teeth or tongue. In essence, Jack is saying to Tango, “Please. Give me a break. I’m just a baby. Don’t hurt me even though I am probably annoying you.”

(“Give me a break, even if I’m annoying.” I think I recall clacking this to my parents when I was a teenager.)

Tango accepted Jack and has shown him mercy.

Tango, bless his big heart, has done the same for us.

He’s calm when we bridle him.

(GAACKK! Not so tight!)

He’s tolerant when we saddle him up.

He’s gracious when the neighbors ride him.

He’s sweet when the kids ride him.

He’s a dream when the grandsons ride him.

He’s gentle when the granddaughters ride him.

He’s accommodating when Jack butts in.

He’s a good natured,



big boy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Bad Case of EVB

My husband and I just returned from a cruise around the Western Caribbean. It was his first cruise, and he is hooked. But now we’ve got EVB; we’ve got it bad. EVB:  that’s “End of Vacation Blues.” It began incubating toward the very end of our trip and blew into a full-blown textbook case the day after we arrived home.

Our cruise was supposed to include stops at Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. But we sailed into a cycle of tropical storms that created 10’ Gulf swells, rain, and 50-knot winds.

But we were not discouraged.  

We had a great room.

With a balcony.

When it wasn’t raining, we spent a lot of time out there.

 We enjoyed delicious food. Lots of it.

We entertained ourselves quite nicely during four days without internet, cell phones, or obligations.

Somewhere, out in the distance, is Jamaica. We didn’t get to stop there and do the zip line over the tree canopy outside of Montego Bay. So long, Jamaica.

We saw flying fish, though, from the balcony during a break in the weather.

And that island over there? That’s Grand Cayman. That’s as close as we got; strong winds prohibited us from tendering, so the port was closed. We didn’t get to snorkel, swim, or take the Atlantis submarine to see life under the sea.

So long, Georgetown. Maybe next time.

The fifth day of our cruise, though, the seas calmed, the sun shone, and we were able to stop at the La Isla de Cozumel.

 We saw Mayan ruins at Tulum.

 We had some beach time.

 Not nearly enough beach time.

So long, Cozumel. Until next time.

So now we’re home. With EVB. Where’s our cabin steward? I have to make my own bed now, and vacuum. And there is no turn-down service. And where’s our chef, and our entertainment director?

And how about the nice young man who brought the tray of Fun Drinks even when we just thought about it? Sigh.

My husband thinks the only cure for our EVB is to move to Playa del Carmen, a beautiful seaside village in Yucatan that captured our fancies.

We still wouldn’t have a chef, a cabin steward, or a Fun Drink Man. But I’m willing to race for that cure.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Moments in Marriage: Thirty-Six Years

It was love for the grandchildren that made us return from our 5-day anniversary getaway.  Pure, sacrificial love. If we hadn’t come home, I can just imagine all our young granddaughters asking, “Why didn’t Mimi and Papi come home? Don’t they miss us?” And yes, we would have missed them, and the grandsons, too.

But our 36th wedding anniversary celebration was indeed a celebration. A private celebration of us.  And we didn’t want it to end.

We had taken our hiking gear because Arkansas has some great trails.

But the cabin we had chosen for our getaway was so secluded we felt the entire world was our own. Think Adam and Eve.

So once we got settled in, we didn’t leave it until check-out time.

The weather was so pleasant we kept the doors open to hear the sounds of the woods and enjoy the soft breezes that blew through the valley.

We enjoyed sunrises.

And moonrises.

And views from the hot tub.

In a long-term marriage, you have to nurture the magic that brought you together in the first place. You have to put some personal work into being fascinated with your partner and being fascinating to your partner. Emotionally. Physically. Intellectually. Spiritually.

But the pay-off is a rare depth that many have not or will not experience. A long-term marriage gives you the opportunity to appreciate how far your partner has come, the entire person he is, and who he is becoming. Developing an openness together to dynamic change and growth is both inspiring and comforting.

In thirty-six years, our shoulders together have borne burdens, and I expect that labor is not done. But our lives are still open to small, calm pleasures that are not rare, and our hearts continue to dance in the joy of being together.

We continue to enjoy a celebration of us.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It Starts with a Dream

“Horses,” said The Voice. I immediately knew it was the answer to a question I had been asking.

I had known the answer wouldn’t have been “money” and probably wouldn’t have been “links to fame” or “travel opportunities”; after all, it’s us I was asking about: my husband and me, just two regular, middle-class human beings.

My question had been:  What can I offer my grandchildren? I knew I would love them and try to be a good example to them. But I wanted to give them something more (ha, like links to fame, money, or travel opportunities) that would potentially be a special advantage and also provide great memories. Horses. It immediately felt right to me. I settled into this new idea comfortably and naturally, as if it were a cozy, overstuffed chair. My dream began.

I told my husband about it. I could tell by his slow nod that he needed more time to process this idea. At that time, we were living in a small home in a depreciating neighborhood. We had intended for it to be our “starter” home, and frequently said, “In a couple of years, we’re going to move,” but for twenty-nine years, we stayed put. Though he nodded his assent, he was thinking about the obstacles of financing, of leaving the known, of moving twenty-nine years of accumulated stuff.

I told my mother. She sent me the book Horses for Dummies with the inscription, “2005. Dear Doris, I hope your dream comes true! Love, Mother.”

We listed the house that had been our home for almost three decades. Eight days later it was sold. We found a VA Repo home in a lovely neighborhood, bought it, improved it, and moved in as an investment property. Two years later we found a HUD home in a rural area on three acres, all pasture. “Perfect for horses,” I thought. We won the HUD bid and began the refurbishing/remodeling process all over again before we moved in.

The dream moved us forward. We called it “The Horse Property.”

Last July, I bought a two-horse bumper pull trailer. The seller asked me about my horses. “Oh, I don’t have any horses yet,” I said, “But I will pretty soon.”

In May, a former client from my KPMG days contacted me because she had too many horses. She wanted to give the youngest two to a good home, and wondered if I would be interested.  I hesitated. Though the owner said they were good-natured, these two were young and unbroken, not even halter trained. I had imagined getting a 10-12 year old kid-broke gelding that we novices could all just jump on and ride. I expressed my concerns to my dad, who exclaimed, “Well of course you’ll take them! You prayed for horses and the Lord is just dropping them right into your pasture! They’re the horses for you!” So two weeks ago, my husband and I loaded up two young paints into our trailer, drove home, and introduced them to our sweet grass.

I remember a conversation with my parents when they were in their late 50s. They were planning construction of a new and bigger building to expand their business. I asked my mother, “Do you really want to build that now, when you and Daddy could be looking toward retirement?” Mama replied thoughtfully, “Oh, well, you always have to be building and dreaming something.” 

Time will tell if we are able to train these two and later ride them. But if not, and we acquire other horses for ourselves and the grandkids to enjoy, that’s okay. Having these two in our pasture has propelled us forward light years with new experiences and pleasures. The dream continues.

Having horses for my grandkids is only one of my dreams. Other dreams seem impossible. But five years ago in 2005, when this idea first washed warmly over me, having horses seemed pretty darn impossible.  Just goes to show you:  new possibilities start with a dream.

What's your dream? You should have one, because, you know, you always have to be building and dreaming something.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nursing Home for Dogs: In Loving Memory of Buster Brown

Buster Black is still curled up in his bed, even though it is late morning for us and I have been up for a while. I stooped down to touch him a moment ago, wondering if he was alive and breathing. He lifted his head and rolled into my stroking, then curled back up again. I wonder if he is depressed.

I know how he feels.

Yesterday, he wandered outdoors and inside, from room to room, sniffing, looking. Then he laid down on the floor with his head between his front paws, eyes looking around before they settled on me. He was looking for Buster Brown, I think; but he would not find him, for Buster Brown died yesterday, and is gone.

I will miss, oh how much I missed this morning, Buster’s massive head and chest lowered to meet me in our morning greeting, snuggle, and settle.

He could be counted on to give a morning greeting. Always.

He could be counted on to greet everyone who came into our home. He would predictably waggle his back end in excitement, sniff his hello, raise his left paw to “shake,” lick his slobbery acceptance, and then assert his massive body into the middle of his “pack,” settling contentedly at our feet.

He could be counted on to have a good nature with children. No one ever worried that Buster would snap at the granddaughters as they practiced newfound motor skills by crawling over his body or pulling at the pink tongue that hung from his crooked jaw.

He could be counted on to come for an ice cube every time we engaged the refrigerator ice dispenser, to love rides in the car, to bark at the deer in the front yard, to follow me everywhere.

Buster could just be counted on.

Goodbye Faithful, Constant Companion.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chief Block Hauler and Mortar Mixer

On Friday night as I cleared the supper dishes from the table, Daddy said, “When you’re finished in the kitchen, I need to talk to you.” I wondered if I was in trouble. I stacked the last dish on the counter and followed him into the den. He faced me and said with a business-like tone of voice that he had a job to offer me. He wanted to hire me as his helper for a weekend project. He would pay me $25 at the end of the job if I did good work. Would I accept the position?

I was nine. And a girl.

My little nine-year-old girl heart swelled with importance. A job! My first job! TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS! A fortune.

The weekend project was to build a concrete masonry block office inside a large metal building. I don’t know how Daddy learned to do this type of work. His regular job was electrical maintenance at a large chemical plant. But my dad can do anything.

Mama packed us a lunch early Saturday morning and we drove to the work site.

“What am I going to do, Daddy?” I asked eagerly.

“You’re going to be the Block Hauler and the Mortar Mixer,” he replied. “I’ll show you exactly what to do.” As we got out of his pick up truck, he handed me a new pair of gray leather gloves with blue and red striped canvas cuffs. “Here,” he said, “You’ll need these.” The adult sized gloves swallowed my little hands, but I put them on proudly.

“Look, Daddy,” I waved my hands at him and smiled. “I’m a real worker.” I hadn’t yet spied the stacks of 16” concrete blocks.

“Yes, you are!” He smiled back at me confidently. “And it’s time for us to get after it.”

“I’m going to start in this corner,” he said. “You bring the blocks to this spot, so when I need one, there will always be at least one block right behind me.”

Throughout the next two days, I lugged each twenty-pound block, one at a time, to a spot near him as he spread mortar and lay the blocks along a run to meet the leveling string. I watched the walls get higher and higher. About every two hours, Daddy poured another heavy bag of cement into a mixing trough while I hauled buckets of water to add to the dry concrete. He taught me to use a long garden hoe to mix it until it was “about like pudding.”

It was August in South Texas with no air conditioning. I was only a little girl. I could have been playing jacks with my next-door neighbor, Debbie. I wanted to tell my dad, “I can’t! It’s too hard!” Even my fingertips ached.

I wanted to quit.

A Culture of Quitters
At a young age we become experts at justifying our reasons for quitting. But we must be honest:  sometimes it’s just hard to keep going. Sometimes it’s not fun. There is a part of us that wants, all the time, ease and amusement.

In a recent Time Magazine essay, Andres Martinez lamented the pervasive lack of discipline in our nation. “Americans, in short, have forgotten how to do the hard stuff,” he said. (Volume 175, No. 11, March 2010, p. 42)

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, examines persistence as an indicator of success in reaching a goal, stating that we must persevere through about ten thousand hours of concentrated work in a field before we can master it. He referenced a study measuring cultural persistence in mathematics. He found that Japanese children continued working on solving math problems about 40 percent longer than American children. In our culture, quitting is an attractive and popular option.

Persistence Has a Reward
By Sunday evening the office was completed, and we drove home. Before I went to bed that night, Daddy gave me $30. “You did a very good job;  you earned it,” he said, as he placed the bills in my palm.

I had earned it. The demand of being Block Hauler and Mortar Mixer pushed me to my physical limit, but my dad's confidence and trust in my capability to stick with it made me keep going that weekend. Though a nine-year-old doesn’t have a highly developed consciousness of “defining moments,” I was hyper-aware that my father was proud of me for each block I carried, proud that I did not quit even when the work was very hard.

It was an experience that shaped my approach to work, problem solving, goal-reaching, and even endurance of pain.

Daddy remembers that weekend with feelings of guilt, he says, because he made me work so hard. But I don’t know. I’m wondering if he should resurrect the position and create a Concrete Block Boot Camp for Kids. 

Not only would we see some solid walls, but solid character, too.