Living the Dream

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I forgot to step tall over the hot wire.

I felt my rubber muck boot catch the bottom wire of the horse fence.  My ankle caught the strand that I had strung there this summer.  My knees hit the snow.  The five gallon bucket I had been filling at the spigot fell forward out of my hands and spilled into the stark, white snow, soaking my hands through my gloves, emptying in a mockery of the small task I was trying to accomplish.

I was wearing too many layers to injure myself in the fall: my legs were insulated against their snowy landing spot by two pairs of pants and a pair of heavy duty coveralls.  Rather, the -15 degree windchill made the possibility of frostbite through my wet gloves my most pressing concern.  I stood up slowly–the only possible way to stand in coveralls–and, swearing at the wind or the weather or my own clumsiness, began to refill the bucket.  Ponies need water.  It is my job to make sure they have it, whether the process for getting it is pleasant or not.

The spigot in my horse barn has managed to remain unfrozen this year, thanks entirely to my father’s handiwork, wrapping it in heat tape and insulating it against the cold, so I haven’t spent this year’s Polar Vortex hand filling a 100 gallon trough, carrying buckets one by one up my icy lane.  Rather, when the arctic temps settled in over the midwest a few weeks ago, I found myself battling frozen auto waterers on one side of my barn, frozen furnace lines in my barn furnace (the one that heats my feed room and tack room), and frozen pipes in those same rooms.  I’ve been filling water buckets by hand, heating my rooms with space heaters, and hoping for the best.  Winter will move on eventually; it always does.  And when it does I will have a good idea of what will need to be fixed before the cold strikes again.  And something else will break next winter from completely out of left field, because that’s how farms work.

I remember when I was fourteen, walking up the barn lane in the summer, and thinking to myself that “I want a place like this someday.”  I remember that moment clearly, though there was nothing significant about it, walking the same steps on the same path that I took everyday to begin work in the morning, but something about it stuck.

I constantly hear people remark that I’m “living the dream.”  And, honestly, being here, in this place, with these animals is the culmination of years of dreaming.  For so many, myself included, land is “the dream,” horses are “the dream,” eggs from your own hens are “the dream.”

I think about that sometimes when I’m fighting sub-zero temperatures wearing soaked through gloves.  I think about it when the manure in the barn stalls is frozen to the ground and can’t be cleaned up.  I think about it when my hose lines freeze, or an animal gets injured, or a llama chokes and has to be driven to the University Livestock Hospital two hours away on the night that I’m supposed to be at my Nana’s birthday party.

This is just another reality of “the dream.”

And yet, I could take a thousand photographs and never capture the way that the snow glitters out here in the light of the full moon.  I could try to describe the way sunset paints the sky from pink to orange, then to blue and purple fading black, in every post I write from here on out and never do it justice.  I don’t know how to express the calm that settles over the horses when I feed them their evening hay, or the glee that overtakes the alpacas when they decide it’s time to play, prancing from one hill in their front pasture to the next and then erupting into bucks and a mad run.

That’s probably more what people have in mind when they decide that I’m “living the dream” out here.

The beauty.  The calm.

Dreams aren’t usually what we think they’ll be, and I think some people get discouraged when they realize that their dreams aren’t all sunshine and roses.  But, having known any number of people, myself included, who are truly living their dreams, I’m not sure this world ever offers a lifelong dream without difficulty.  It always comes at a cost.

It’s usually worth it anyway.

Right now, even though I’ve just about had enough of the cold and all the problems that accompany it, even though the cost is high, it’s worth it.

With that in mind, I’m going to go slip on boots and wander out into the snow.  I will feed horses and llamas and ponies.  I will brave the cold, again, and try not to slip on the ice.  And I will remember that winter will end soon enough, and that anything worth doing is worth doing even when it’s really, really hard.

After all, I’m still living the dream.

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On Dating.

Swipe Right.

“So, what are you looking for?”

It’s a straightforward enough question really, and one that comes up a lot when you foray into the world of online dating, but it’s one that I sometimes have a hard time answering.

What am I looking for…?

The truth is, it’s hard to know what you’re looking for in a place that you’ve found yourself by accident.

I’m 31, divorced, and dating again for the first time in 7 years.   Honestly, I wasn’t very good at it 7 years ago, and my “time off” hasn’t done me any favors.  It’s real weird.

Swipe Left.

I met my now-ex-husband on match.com when I was 23 years old.  We joked that I bought him online for thirty dollars.  (In retrospect, I might have been better off putting that money towards a new pair of jeans; I have several well made jeans that have generously outlived that relationship.)

At 23, online dating was a lot like a buffet; you might not like everything that’s available, but you’re bound to find something that agrees with you.  At 31, it’s more like a gas station deli counter: pick the least objectionable option, get out quick, and hope to God it doesn’t make you sick.

Swipe Right.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair.  I’ve met some great guys so far.  Just not Mr. Right.  Not even Mr. Right Now.  There was the fantastic guy I connected to emotionally but had no physical chemistry with.  (Proof that the universe is deeply unfair.)  The great guy and amazing kisser that I had physical chemistry with to spare but struggled to emotionally connect to.  (Proof that the universe is still deeply unfair.)  The guy I was sort of into who wasn’t into me.  And then I the guy I was really, really into who wasn’t into cats. (To be precise…he was deathly allergic to cats, and I have six.)

Swipe Left.

But, as a rule, I’m not gaining faith in the male gender through this experience.  There’s the guy I really liked who ghosted and stood me up.  (That’s a real kick to the ego.)  The guy who was 15 years older than me with whom I had very little in common that wouldn’t let up on all the reasons “age doesn’t matter” until I eventually blocked him.  The smattering of inappropriate solicitations. (People are brazen online, hiding behind relative anonymity.)

I don’t have the sort of life where I “get out and meet new people”–my life is really just an endless loop of work, farm, and my yoga studio–so  I find myself mindlessly flipping through dating profiles, swiping left and right with relative abandon.  It feels like window shopping.  It’s light and breezy and easy.

(“He’s cute.”  Swipe Right.  “He’s funny.”  Swipe Right.  “Oh, face tattoo…” To the Left.)

The dating though, the part where you actually meet?  That’s more like the time you spend in the changing room when you pull something off the rack.  Suddenly you aren’t the size you thought you were, you don’t actually look good in orange, and the outfit you pulled from the sales floor looks way the hell better on the mannequin.  Drinks.  Dinner.  Coffee.  But you persist, hoping for that perfect fit.  The dress that makes you feel like royalty.  The jeans that make your ass look amazing.  The guy you actually click with, the one who makes you smile and gives you butterflies.  The dress, the jeans, the guy: those things are out there somewhere; it’s sorting through all the rest of it that can get exhausting.

I’m not good at dating really…and I never have been.  I’m an introvert.  I don’t usually enjoy playing 20 questions with random strangers.  I’m not optimistic that a meaningful relationship is going to be built on swiping right.

Here’s the thing though…While I’m, admittedly, not good at dating, I’m really good at relationships.  I’m good at giving little meaningful gifts, remembering someone’s coffee order and bringing it to them at work, making brownies for birthdays, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, holding hands while road tripping to an out of the way restaurant we both want to try.  The problem is that the the whole relationship part is dependent on getting through the dating mess.  (You can’t take home the outfit until you make it out of the dressing room.)

Swipe Left.  Swipe Left.  Oh!  Cute dog.  Swipe Right.

I really thought I was done with all the dating nonsense, but it turns out I was really, deeply wrong. (Guys, I am learning that I am so good at being wrong.)

So, I find myself bumbling through Bumble at 31, wondering if I accidentally swiped left on my soul mate because of bad lighting.

What am I looking for…

I still don’t really know the answer to that question, but I think it might be something like a really great fitting pair of jeans.  I’ll know it when I find it.

Sitting in the Sacred

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

It’s still warm enough for crickets to chirp their song at the end of the day, but only just.  Our fall colors are still flirting with the green of summer.  Fall happens slowly here.  You almost miss it, sandwiched between our Midwestern summers and winters which compete every year to be fiercer than the other.  Fall is quiet.  Unlike the famous colors out east, our colors don’t come all at once.   We entertain shades of gold and green and red in the same moment.  Oranges like pumpkins.  Scarlet like the lips of emboldened women.  Yellow leaves reminiscent of gold jewelry worn to be noticed and envied.  All of this beside the slow trees that cling to their chlorophyll, still green into November.  Even lovelier for their slow and steady, almost cautious, pace.

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I walked out to the barn this evening wearing a sweatshirt and jeans; it’s not cold enough to break out my winter things yet, but if I know anything about time and seasons and the Midwest and ranch work, I know that those coats and hats and gloves aren’t as far away as they seem right now.  Acorns crunched under each step; in no time their crunch will be replaced by the crunch of snow underfoot.

The barn was quiet.  Most of the animals, especially the llamas, were out in their fields enjoying the green grass.  I walked down the barn aisle attending to those who required a special dinner.  The quiet of my evening interrupted by the occasional impatient whinny or llama hum.

Twice a day, everyday, this is my world.  Llamas.  Alpacas.  Horses.  Chickens.  Silly little ponies.  A random pet turkey hen who doesn’t really like me all that much.  It comes complete with all the dust, and manure, and work I can manage…plus just enough more to remind me that the work will never, ever actually be done.  It is overwhelming sometimes.  Exhausting sometimes.  Heartbreaking sometimes.

It is also beautiful in ways I still struggle to put to words.

I walked down the lane farther and dislodged a hay bale from my stack.  Hooves pounded the ground, and my horses called to me as I carried a bale out into the field.    Some trotted.  A few cantered.  One sprung into a mad gallop that ended in bucks of pure joy.  I watched and listened.  I will never tire of the sound of hoof beats.  Watching my horses gallop in for dinner will never get old.

But I don’t always watch or listen.

I try to practice mindfulness in my life: taking the time to center myself to my breath, notice what is going on around me, and live in the moment.

I have to be honest, I’m really bad at it most of the time.

I’m a very cerebral person in general, and it’s hard for me to let go of what’s going on in my head long enough to notice what’s going on in front of me.  When I finally take a moment to slow down and notice the world around me, I am most often struck by what I miss out on everyday.

Tonight could have passed that way, like so many others.  But for some reason, instead of quickly tossing hay and leaving my horses to their dinner, I walked around checking in with each of them.  I kissed Phoenix on the nose.  I scratched Morana’s neck.  I said hello to each horse.  Then, impulsively when he came up to me and seemed to offer it, I climbed on Jiminy Cricket’s back.

It’s been a while since I climbed on a horse bareback.

I had no intention of asking him for anything.  This wasn’t going to be a battle of wills; I wasn’t a rider, just a passenger.  He had complete say over where we went.  How fast we traveled.  He wasn’t bothered, settling in quietly to eat hay with his pet monkey on his back.

I sat there while the sun set.  The oak leaves ruffled gently in the breeze and the light glittered between them.  The sunlight played in a way that made me understand why the ancients believed in faeries.

Jiminy felt warm and powerful and gentle beneath me.  He took a deep breath in response to my own, and we settled into this moment in the fall, the light like golden glitter between the leaves, and the sweet smell of hay.

I slid off his back as the light I had been watching began to dim.  The horses watched me leave, and I walked back to the house hearing the crunch of acorns.

And I thought about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poet who once wrote that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.”  Most of the time, we miss it, but sometimes?  Sometimes we see the fire.  We recognize the holy.  We sit in the sacred, and we remember, though we will probably soon forget again, that the sacred is always within reach. 

 

 

The Anniversary that Wasn’t: Why I Wish I had just “Thrown Away” my Marriage.

I was scrolling through the calendar on my phone, looking for an appointment I couldn’t remember making, when I scrolled across a repeating reminder.

“Anniversary”


It made my stomach drop to be honest, and I flashed to memories of a lacy white dress, yellow roses on white tablecloths, and promises that were supposed to last forever.

“For better or for worse.”

“For richer or for poorer.”

“Forsaking all others…”

“Anniversary…” plugged in to my phone because I’ve always had a hell of a time with dates, even important ones, and I need reminders.    And there it was, my reminder, set to repeat into infinity, because when you get married you promise each other forever, and you can’t imagine a world where you won’t need a reminder for that date.

I deleted the reminder–I wouldn’t need it anymore–but the word hung like a shadow for the rest of the day.  It would have been seven years this year, and, even though I’ve honestly gotten to the place where I feel pretty damn lucky that the marriage ended, the reminder still tagged along with me for the rest of the day.

It’s funny to me that “divorced” is considered a “relationship status,” as though it were somehow different from single.  Once you are divorced, you are never again just “single”…you are divorced.  Which, as far as I can tell, mostly just means single but with a shit ton of emotional baggage.  I feel like I’m wearing a sticker across my forehead when I say it.  “I’m Divorced” equals “My marriage failed…Try and guess who’s fault it is.”  A scarlet letter.

I remember sitting watching television as a kid, listening to the adults in the next room discuss someone’s divorce, lamenting that “people just throw away their marriages these days.”  Divorce, in the subculture I was raised in, is a character failing.  By that reasoning, I guess I write this with a failed character.

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There’s a meme that pops up on Facebook every few months of an elderly couple who, when asked how they “managed to stay together for so long” respond that “It’s simple really.  We are from a time where if something is broken, we fix it; Not throw it away.”

I have to admit, the first time I saw that meme, I thought it was really cute.

“Yes.” I thought, a touch too self-righteously, “People need to stick together and fix things.”

I was raised in 90s evangelical purity culture, with its message that if you don’t sleep around before marriage, God will bless you with a happy, fulfilling relationship.  In youth groups and Bible studies, marriage was the finish line instead of the starting gate.  Women were framed in relation to their husbands. I was raised to believe that marriage was meant to last forever.  I was raised to believe that wedding vows are sacred.  I was raised to believe that, once you’re married to someone, you will always be married in the eyes of God, no matter what the courts may say.

Later, when I found myself living in what could only be described as a toxic relationship, a toxic marriage complete with abandonment and adultery, those ideas that I no longer entirely subscribe to clanged around in my head like marbles in a tin can, noisy and pointless and undeniable. I thought endlessly on those words: “throw away” and “fix.” I spent two and a half years of my life trying to repair a relationship that was fucked up beyond repair.  I tried to repair it despite what my friends said.  I tried to repair it despite how I was treated.  I tried to repair it despite the warning of a marriage therapist who told both of us that it was obvious to her that he was not invested in repairing the relationship.

I hung on.  I kept trying.

Sometimes, I honestly wish I had just “thrown away my marriage”  In retrospect, it would have been completely reasonable to throw myself into a life boat when the ship started sinking, to get the hell away from something that would only prove to nearly drown me.

I thought back on those vows and wondered how they really worked.  Do they become void once broken?  And, if so, in what order?  Am I off the hook on “for better or for worse” because he broke “in sickness and in health” and “forsaking all others,” or was this just the “for worse” before we swung back around to “for better?”

Ending my marriage was the most difficult decision of my life, but, in the end, it was my decision.  I filed the paperwork.  I made the call.  I “threw away” my marriage.  I dissolved my marriage to save myself.

And when I did it, I didn’t think about the common things that the Bible has to say about marriage.  I mean, I did, but I also oddly thought about Abraham and Issac.

There is a passage in Genesis that recounts a story about Abraham.  He is called upon by God to sacrifice his beloved son on an alter.  In the end, with Issac waiting on the alter for his father to plunge a knife into his chest, God stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram instead.

Biblical scholars tend to agree that this story serves to point out the differentiation between Judaism and the other religions of the time that encouraged human sacrifice.

I don’t know why exactly, but I thought about this story a lot in relationship to my marriage.  In the end, I couldn’t make myself believe that the same God who spared Issac would want me to sacrifice my own life on the alter of marriage, bound and shackled to something that was eating away at my soul.  I couldn’t help but believe that when we become so committed to an institution, like marriage, that we abandon the well-being of the people who belong to it, that is when we lose ourselves and our humanity.

This path has felt nearly impossible at times.  Every step I took away from the man I still loved felt like a self-inflicted torture.  But that didn’t make it less right.

Here’s one of the things I have learned: almost no one just “throws away” a marriage.  No one dissolves the most important relationship in their life on a whim.  Some things just can’t be fixed.  Sometimes it’s better for your soul to let go.  (I probably should have let go a lot sooner, if I’m being honest.)  And sometimes the most important thing you will ever do is decide it’s time to walk away.

 

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

I almost deleted this from my inbox, instead of reading it, because this morning my inbox was just one more thing I had to deal with. But the title piqued my interest, and I’m really glad I opened the link. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

happy face “Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or…

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The Marriage Paradox

I adore this blog, and this post in particular was pretty amazing.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

dead rose by wolfman570 (Image/wolfman570 – Flickr) They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back…

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Trees and Sunsets

I am the sort of person who has favorite trees.  I’ve always found trees to be a little bit magical, a piece of the past that roots into the future.  When I was a little girl, one of my favorite trees was the willow tree in our backyard (the namesake of our lane). Now, though I have many trees that I love, one of my absolute favorites is my backyard western pine.

Very few types of evergreen trees are actually native to Illinois.  If you see them here, it’s usually because they were planted, or perhaps their parent tree was planted.  They grow tall and lovely, and can rival the height of the native oaks and maples, but they don’t reach their true potential they way they would if they had rooted in their native soil.

And yet, they are the monoliths of the ridge line.  Apparently the result of depression era planting, there are rows upon rows of western pines scattered across the farm.  They edge the farm road, they frame the back fields, and one particularly lovely and tall evergreen commands the back yard.  I am the sort of person who has favorite trees, and this particular pine is one of my absolute favorite trees on the property.

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I sat in my sun room on Friday, reflecting on a particularly difficult day, starring out at the backyard and my stalwart pine tree in its field of oaks and maples.  It swayed gently in the wind as the sky faded from blue to pink behind it.

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The sunset was extraordinary; I watched the colors slip from one to the next like the tracks on a well loved CD, so quiet in their transition that before you realize one song has ended, you’re listening to a new one.  I feel like God gave us sunsets to remind us that endings can be beautiful.

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And I think maybe God gave us trees to remind us of our own brevity.  Those trees in the backyard have watched over this place for decades.  To their lifetime, I am a footnote. But not even the trees are permanent.  Everything is both stable and changing, all the time, all around us.

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I’m not sure why, but those ideas comforted me that evening.  Endings can be beautiful.  Nothing lasts forever.

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Pink to orange.  Orange to purple.  Purple back to blue before the night settled in.  The moon like an iridescent white pearl against the black, crushed-velvet sky.  By the time the night settled in, I felt much better. Because sometimes, endings can be beautiful. 

And, regardless, the sun is going to rise over my favorite pinetree in the morning. 

 

 

 

Writing the truth: on Divorce.

I have a bottle of wine chilling in my freezer.  I will need at least a glass of it to make it through this post.

Some of you have reached out to me since my post on depression, asking why I’m not writing much anymore, why I’ve dropped off of the WordPress radar.   I wonder the same thing sometimes.  Honestly?  I’ve wanted to write.  I’ve had words upon words ready.  Ready to talk about the two horses I’ve rescued since my 30th birthday.  Ready to tell you about the duckings that were hatched by a turkey hen then raised in the house, culminating in this little one wandering upstairs on her own in search of the bathtub.
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I’ve wanted to tell you about the creatures I’ve lost.  The ones I’ve found.  The everyday beauty of life in this little corner of the universe.  I’ve considered writing again about the depression that I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my adult life.  Sometimes the words have seemed almost ready to spill out.

But then I would start writing.

And I would stop writing.

Because, deep down, everything I was starting to write felt deeply inauthentic.  What I wanted to say and what I felt I could say, or maybe should say, were two different things.

The most pressing issue in my world wasn’t something that I was ready to talk about, and it seemed wrong to pretend otherwise.  No matter how much I love the horses I rescued, no matter how funny it seemed to be hauling a pet chicken to the vet in a cat carrier in the back seat of my Jetta, no matter how much my llamas made me smile, it all paled in comparison to the fact that my marriage was falling apart.  That things had been crashing down around me for the better part of two years.  That things weren’t ok, and that they hadn’t been for a long time.

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would be authentic, that I wouldn’t just be another voice on social media sharing only the good stuff and none of the bad, a voice making readers feel like everyone else has their shit together while they don’t.  For the most part, I think I’ve succeeded in some level of balance there, but divorce?

I didn’t know where to start.  I didn’t know how to tell my story without telling parts that don’t entirely belong to me.  I didn’t know where authenticity just became whining.  Mostly though?  I really didn’t want to admit that this was happening to me.  I didn’t want to see it in black and white.  I didn’t want it to be real.

But, I guess whether or not it’s what I want, this is what’s real:
Two years ago, almost to the day, the most important relationship in my life started to unravel.
November of 2015 marked the worst month of my life, and I spent the next year and a half fighting to leave that month behind, move past it, and save my marriage to the man I loved more than anything else regardless of how that relationship had hurt me.
Six months ago, Jeremiah moved out.  Not long after that, he sat across the couch from me and told me that he would never “stay here and make himself miserable.”
And now?  Well, he just signed the papers, which I guess is why I’m finally admitting that this is all real.  It’s happening.  There is no magical marriage fairy on her way to wave a wand and fix things.

A little over six years ago, I married one of the best men I had ever met.  Currently, I am divorcing one of the best men I’ve ever met.

That is the truth of my life at the moment.

Meanwhile, the world spins madly on, and I’m still here, still managing 50 something animals every day, working an office job, and trying to remember that “I can do hard things.”

Today, I felt the weight of all of this pressing on me and I changed it to “I can do hard things…for an hour…in my pajamas” before heading out to take care of evening chores.

The ranch is still here.  I am still here.  I am not going anywhere, and neither is this blog.

This isn’t really an announcement to most of those who are close to me.  Most I’ve told.  Many have heard it through the proverbial grapevine, which I realized this Christmas when cards started showing up from family to “Cherity” and not “Cherity and Jeremiah.”  Even some of my readers have hinted at his absence in my posts, or the fact that he seemed to always be gone, but I know this will catch some of you by surprise.  In a weird way, this whole thing caught me by surprise too.

They say that “life happens while you’re planning for it,” and I guess that’s true.  There is no cultural road-map for thirty, childless, divorced, and managing a farm–no psychology textbooks for that life stage—yet, it’s where I find myself.

Life is tricky, and divorce makes it trickier.

So, what now?

I keep asking myself the same thing.

I think, on some level, admitting what’s going on just opens the door for me to write about a hundred other things that touch on this subject without feeling like a fraud.  I think it opens the door for me to be a little more honest and authentic in my writing.  I think, as much as anything, maybe I’m just putting this down in words so that, maybe, someone out there going through the same thing might feel a little less alone.

And I think, for now, that’s all I’m going to say about it.  For now, this is enough.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

As an Almost Farmgirl living in the heart of the Midwest, I spend a lot of time thinking about winter.  Planning for the next round of cold begins almost as soon as things warm up in the Spring.  How much hay did I use last year?  How much hay will I need this year?  How much space will it take up?  Should I put up a lean-to shed this year for the horses or can it wait until next year?  (Note: I decided to wait.  I shouldn’t have.)

When most people are watching fireworks in July, I’m stacking hay to last me through January.

…No. Seriously, my last two Independence Day Celebrations looked something like this:

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July 4, 2016

And when most of you are sighing in relief at the first break in the heat in early September, I’m beginning to wonder how long I have until the ice comes and the water spigot in the horse barn freezes.  Weirdly though?  I don’t hate winter, even with all of it’s extra work and required logistics.

Last week, I woke to our first snow of the season.  It’s usually the first sign that winter has checked in, and with him his ice and white and wonder.  (And freeze your ass off, wear three pairs of pants to prevent frostbite temperatures…it’s a mixed bag).  I woke to snowflakes falling, and I spent my time before morning chores in my sunroom; I drank my coffee, snuggled with the cat who climbed into my lap, and just watched the snow fall.  I’m not a huge fan of the cold, but I adore the snow.  (And I’ve always believe that if it has to be cold outside, it might as well be pretty.)

This year, the winter season came late and quiet.  While my love for the winter season isn’t usually long-lived, I will admit to a predictable infatuation that comes briefly every year when snow first starts to blanket the ground.  Earlier this week, while the snow fell, I fell enamored.

It’s so many little things this time of year.  Maybe it’s the ugliness of the gray brown mud being covered up with something so lovely and unblemished as the snow.  The birds, so hard to spot against the lush green backdrop of the woods in summer suddenly stark and visible against a white, winter canvas.

(I have an arrangement with the wild birds of this place when the temperature plummets: I feed them, and they make me smile when I watch them out of my windows.  Of course, I have no objection if the woodland neighbors stop by for a nibble of corn as well, and this girl was just outside my bedroom window that evening.)

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My dad came to help me with morning chores  while it snowed.  Regular maintenance met seasonal necessity, and we worked for an hour and a half to get the ranch ready for the day and ready for the season. Water heaters were set up.  Heat lamps plugged in.  Round bales set out.

Then, with all of the creatures comfortably tucked in, I did the strangest thing.  I went into the house, took a hot shower, put pajamas back on, and sat on my couch for the rest of the afternoon watching the snow fall, reading a book, and cuddling with a cat.

No projects.

No chores.

Not even laundry.

(I am beginning to be a big believer in occasionally doing nothing…)

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Only after an entire afternoon of blissful nonaccomplishment did I wander out in the dusk to start evening chores.

There is something so complete about the quietness that comes hand in hand with the first snow.  During all of our other seasons even the quiet comes with a subtle cacophony of nature: owls, crickets, frogs, all of them singing their songs as I go about my business.  But in the winter, the quiet takes on an austerity.  It’s the sort of quiet that feels holy: an invitation to notice what stillness feels like, or maybe just an invitation to notice.  The only sound was the crunch of my own footsteps as I walked to the barn, so I stopped walking.

The ground glittered.

The woods were perfectly still.

The world looked like a painting in black and white; the harsh edges softened.  The muck temporarily erased.

The quiet was complete, and for a moment, winter felt utterly magical.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.  May it feel utterly magical.

Depression and Stitching Things Back Together

I spent the other morning holding the lead line of my largest horse, an off the track thoroughbred named Vinny, while our vet quietly sedated him and stitched a gaping dermal laceration on his neck.   It was ugly, probably four inches long, and bloody, a surprise when I went out to check the horses.  It’s his second emergency vet visit this month; a few weeks ago he tore open his shoulder open just about six inches below his current tear.  That, plus another “stitch” visit (for one of my ponies, Slash) has made our vet such a common sight for us this month that I’m beginning to feel like he lives here.

I’m still not entirely sure how he hurt himself. Sometimes with horses it’s like that. You just have to concentrate on fixing the issues even if you don’t understand why there was an issue in the first place.

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Vinny

I watched the vet stretch the broken skin back over the tissue on Vin’s neck.  Vin, whose sedation had him happily enjoying the sound of the color orange, barely seemed to notice the curved needle slowly, methodically, putting him back together where he had torn himself apart.

There’s been a lot of stitching around the farm lately: literal and metaphoric.  

I’ve not made a secret of the fact that this last year and a half have been among the most difficult of my life.  I haven’t been entirely open about the fact that this year threw me into the sort of depression I haven’t seen since college and had hoped to never see again.

The last eighteen months have been difficult for me for a lot of reasons, many of them stories that aren’t entirely mine to tell.  I’ve lost creatures who were dear to me.  I’ve had relationships that I believed to be as steady and dependable as the hills turn upside down.  I’ve lost people I cared for. And, for a little while, it began to feel like I would lose myself.

Depression is a strange thing, and a lot of people just don’t understand it. It isn’t just “sad.”  We all get sad, and we all feel depressed sometimes.  But honest to goodness depression takes up residence, moving in as a second occupant in your life, one that zaps you of all the joy you would normally feel.  Days that should be good feel indifferent, and days that would normally be difficult feel impossible.  It leaves you nearly numb to the best of life while simultaneously leaving you raw and exposed to the worst of it, like nerves that have been left open to the air.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I haven’t had a good day for over a year, but all of the good seemed to belong to a sort of fog that wouldn’t entirely lift.  I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of time talking with friends (while crying), and a really healthy chunk of time talking to a therapist (still crying).

But then, last week, the fog lifted.

I want to be careful here, because a lot of people who are depressed are told to just “get over it” or “think positive,” and I don’t want to contribute to the belief that it’s that simple.  Trust me when I tell you that if a depressed person could just “happy thoughts” their way out of depression, they would.  But I will say that the end of my depression seemed to come from a new understanding of my emotions and thoughts. I began to understand how to not be a slave to them, how to take the negative thoughts off of the endless loop that had been created in my head before they could direct my emotions and thereby control my worldview.  I decided not to give those thoughts the time of day-dismissing them, not repressing them-and with them left the fog.

I cannot explain why it worked this time and didn’t the thousand other times I tried to “be more positive.”  I don’t have a formula.  Despite my Midwestern upbringing with it’s emphasis on hard work and bootstrap success, I would not say that I pulled myself out of this by force of will.

I have never had depression flip like a switch before.  In the past, climbing out of it was slow and difficult, a trail you blaze uphill in a Midwestern heat wave.  

I just know that I was depressed for a really long time and now I’m not.  I know because the numbness is gone.  Food tastes better (or, really, just tastes).  I can see the beauty in small things.  And I can feel things fully, all the way down to my soul.

Guys, today I found myself reflecting on just how stunningly beautiful the color green is and just how delicious raspberry jelly tastes.  It seems ridiculous, but when you’ve been deprived of feeling deeply for this long, when you’ve been numb, you appreciate things that most people would overlook a million times.

This last week has been like waking up, shaking off the dust of a sleep that lasted far too long.  

So why am I telling you this?

We live in an age of Instagram and WordPress and Facebook.  And, because of that, we think we see each other, but most of the time we don’t.  We see the lives of everyone else through a filter, and we see our own lives without one, and we start to think that maybe we are the only ones who don’t have our shit together.  And I don’t want this blog, this space, to be one more place to see through that sort of filter.  Yes, I have a thousand pictures of adorable, fluffy animals.  Yes, I adore this place and this opportunity.  Yes, it’s serene and beautiful and lovely…and a complete and total mess.

I’ve tried to write about all of this a dozen times in the last eighteen months, and I think I’ve touched on it here and there, but I couldn’t really find the words.  Maybe because of the numbness, maybe because of fear.  (If I’m being honest, this is a scary thing to hit the publish button on…)  Likely because it came hand-in-hand with a hefty dose of writer’s block.

But here it is: If you feel like your life is in chaos, I can promise you that you aren’t alone.  If you’re depressed, you’re not alone. If every single day feels like walking through quicksand, I’ve been there. If you’re looking at your life in disbelief, wondering how on earth you got here, I understand.

You are not alone, and it gets better.

I remember having lunch with a dear friend a few months ago and learning about some of the struggles she faced in high school.  I was stunned by what she told me.  Flabbergasted by what she had suffered through alone.  She didn’t have to be alone.  I was only a phone call away the whole time, but she didn’t pick up the phone.

Depression is bad enough all by itself.  It can be isolating, and it does a really good job of making you feel unworthy of love and light.  And the more you pull into yourself, the worse it gets.  It’s not a mood.  It’s a disease.  And isolation and loneliness are symptoms.

If I learned nothing else in the last year and a half, I learned this: Reach out. 

Glennon Melton of Momastery.com (one of my Yodas these days) says this:
“Sometimes life’s load gets too heavy and hard for us to carry alone.  I don’t think the hard is a mistake.  I don’t think the hard means we’ve done anything wrong.  I think the hard is purposeful, so that we’ll need our sisters.”

Sisters, brothers, friends…we need our people.  None of us are without struggle.  None of us can do it alone.  We all need each other.  Especially when it feels like the best course of action is to shut down into yourself.

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Vin’s stiches came together beautifully.  Then he came out of the sedation slowly.  Today, my herd check revealed that his neck is healing well; I’m not sure there will even be a scar from this wound.

It’s amazing, the things that can be stitched back together.