Love like lilacs…on Grandma Alyce and a life well-lived

Everyone and everything I love is holy…

I pause as the sentence pops to mind. It does occasionally, even though it came to me completely by accident at first, the consequence of a mistype and autocorrect.

<<<>>>

A few years ago, a friend and I were chatting about therapy. She was gearing up to go back, but was dreading the work. I was thinking that I probably needed to get back on antidepressants first, because as my depression sat, I didn’t think I would actually get anywhere.

“It would be a fairly nihilistic therapy session,” I began.
“Therapist: so what brings you in today
Me: everyone and everything I love is “

And here’s where I started to write “going to die” and autocorrect changed “going” to “holy.”

I think sometimes the universe interjects itself into our lives, and in this case, I think it was letting me know that I was missing the point.

<<<>>>

Everyone and everything I love is going to die…

My 92 year old grandmother, Alyce, passed away on June 28, leaving behind 9 children, 21 grandchildren, and 26 great grandchildren. Less than a week before, John and I drove up to visit her in the nursing home to which she had recently been moved. We met my cousin Erin there, and the four of us passed the afternoon.

Me, Grandma, Erin, and John

It wouldn’t turn out to be my last visit with her, but the possibility clung to me, a thought I worked to push back. I wanted to enjoy my time with her, and I did. We talked and laughed. Hugged. I turned pages for her while she looked at our wedding album. She told us about the singer who had come to the nursing home the week before. The song she requested. I wish I could remember the name…

Grandma was moved to hospice the next day; it was her choice, and we knew it was coming. She chose to transfer when it became apparent that her congestive heart failure was getting the better of her; she was tired of the doctor visits. Of struggling to breathe.

Maybe, in some ways, she was just tired.

A few days later, I went back to see her again. This time at hospice. She couldn’t speak much, could barely stay awake. The nurses (god bless hospice nurses) kept her comfortable and answered our questions.

Family rotated through. My cousins sat with me. I called my dad and told him to come. I watched several of her sons say their goodbyes. My father audibly. My uncle with a hug.

Her heart was giving out, but her mind was still sharp. She worked to say “I love you” to each of us.

Strange, there was so much sadness in that room, but what struck me over and over was the way love spilled out from every corner. The way it permeated the air.

We stood with her on the edge of death, and it was holy.

<<<>>>

We sat vigil with grandma, no one leaving until the next person had come in. She was never alone.

We talked about her life as we held space for her. Memories each of us had. It’s strange how the people you love, the people who love you, hold different pieces of you. Strange how you can come together and add pieces, one after another, until you paint a vibrant picture.

It’s remarkable how you can come to the end of a 92 year life and leave everyone you know wishing it was longer. I think every single one of us will miss her. And I think the ones who didn’t know her, like my cousins’ children whose memory is still too young, will hear stories that will make them proud of her.

<<<>>>

On July 3, we attended her Celebration of Life.

It’s funny. Knowing her my whole life didn’t quite prepare me for her eulogy. For learning about all of the living she did in the space before me, before my aunts and uncles, before even my grandfather was part of her story.

She had told me about her childhood here and there. I knew that her parents had divorced, in a time when almost no one divorced, and that she had been in the custody of her mother as a young child because her father was willing to take his sons but “didn’t want the girl.” Then she was handed around between caregivers. Her mother. Random relatives. The upstairs neighbor. Her grandparents.

She had a traumatic childhood, one that gave her every excuse in the world to perpetuate the trauma she experienced, but she broke the cycle during a time when people weren’t talking about breaking trauma cycles and mental health resources were far less available. She raised loved and loving children. She was known for welcoming everyone who came through her door (and usually feeding them, even though she actually hated to cook).

I found out that she was a writer, too, in high school. Creative writing. Press club. Even the editor of her high school newspaper. How had that never come up?

I listened to stories about the jobs she held: preschool teacher, Headstart teacher, Meals-on-Wheels deliverer. All jobs that lifted others up. Cared for them.

Hearing new stories from her life felt a little bit magic: a reminder of the depth and breath of nearly a century on this planet. A reminder that we were celebrating a life that had been well lived.

<<<>>>

I asked her what her favorite flower was once. She told me about how her children would bring her lilacs in the spring, and she told me about how she would have liked to have purple roses for her wedding to my grandfather, but that they were poor, so she made her wedding flowers out of tissue. I like that she answered the question with stories.

We had daisies and lily of the valley at her funeral, because I guess those were her favorites, too.

But I think about the tissue roses, and how she made something beautiful with so little. And I think about the lilacs, and how the answer to what she loved wasn’t about the aesthetics. It was about the way her children showed their love. It was about the story.

<<<>>>

Have you ever walked into a grove of blooming lilacs in the evening when the air is heavy? Or walked into a midwestern farmhouse where the cut flowers are sitting in a vase on the table? The scent always registers before the source. It permeates the air.

I think about her final days in hospice, and it occurs to me that grandma spent her final days surrounded by a love like lilacs. A love you felt hanging in the air before you could pin down a source.

<<<>>>

Everyone and everything we love is going to die; everyone and everything we love is holy.

I miss her.

I didn’t see Grandma all that often, but I feel her absence. The planet was better with her on it.

But, also, the planet is better for her having been on it. That, I think, is the most we can wish for anyone in the end.

Well, that, and a holy love.

Like lilacs

Grandma and Grandpa

It’s been a while: Writing, Updates, and the Rule of Three

Hello, lovelies.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Nearly a year since I wrote a blog post from start to finish, more time than I would like to admit. Event after event, thought after thought passed. I made mental notes, sometimes physical notes, drafting out what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t quite get in all down: the right words in the right order to say the right thing. Putting sentences together so that they are good (and not bad), so that they fall almost like a conversation between us sitting at my dining room table.

I had posts I wanted to write about dear creatures I lost, but sometimes it feels like I speak too much of the loss that gets wrapped up in this kind of life and not enough about the beauty, even though so often they feel like one and the same. I wanted to write about some of the goodbyes.

I wanted, too, to write about some of the hellos. The new fur friends out here, who came to us either by chance or breeding. About the joy of watching baby llamas prance in the front pastures. About my infatuation with the trio of potbelly pigs I named after Shakespearean characters. About the foster dogs who have come and gone on their way to their forevers. About the one I kept.

I wanted to tell you that I got engaged. That I got married. That the boyfriend I mentioned from time to time has upgraded to husband.

Engagement photo. With a horse. And a bike.

Every time I sat down to write something new, it felt like I wouldn’t be able to catch you all up. That too much had happened. That I had been too lax in reporting this almost farm life.

Maybe I was right. Maybe I let it go too long. Or, maybe, I need to extend some grace to myself for not doing everything, all the time, during one of the busier seasons of my life. Maybe I need to thank you for the grace you are offering by coming back, by reading, by sitting down for one of these one-sided conversations after all this time.

I’ve missed this. I’ve missed you.

I suppose, now that I’m sitting here again behind this computer, I will have to settle for catching you up in bits and pieces. Fits and spurts. And I’ll start here.

<<<>>>

John and I got engaged and planned our wedding over the course of about 5(ish) months. Engaged in July. Married in December.

Wedding. In San Diego.
Because if you get married in December it’s best not to do it in Central Illinois.

We did it all quickly to squeeze the wedding it in between his last two semesters of college, allowing him, as my spouse, to use some of the free credits I had earned in my years as an adjunct professor at same college. John had planned to propose to me after graduation, but it made sense to move everything forward to put us on slightly better financial footing as we started our lives together.

So I planned a wedding in five months.

In the meantime, I decided to finally take the leap into yoga teacher training, which has been calling me for years.

I guess that’s how I found myself living in one of the busiest times of my life. Farm and work. Wedding planning and yoga teacher training. And while I was living that, John worked through engineering college and held an engineering position as well.

I’m (finally) feeling things slow down.

<<<>>>

A few weeks ago, a dear friend and mentor reached out to me to suggest that I attend a writing workshop she is hosting in the fall. I told her I was interested. That I would need to think on it. Talk to John. Research flights.

She told me, in the most loving way, that she “got this feeling you [I] need to keep writing.”

I sent in a deposit.

I have this theory–I’m not sure I’ve shared with you–that when the same message comes at you from three different directions, it’s a message from the universe. (I’ve had it happen several times, perhaps the most notable when three people asked me, in as many days, if I had considered the possibility that my ex husband was cheating on me. The day after the third repetition of the question, I found his texts to his mistress.)

This time, however, it was a reminder to write, coming from three unconnected people within a week or two.

“Have you been writing?”

“When are you going to finish that book?”

“I’ve got this feeling that you need to keep writing.”

The truth is, I’ve had the same feeling. Not because this blog is wildly popular (it’s not) or because I think what I have to say is a necessity for anyone else (I don’t), but because I feel more “right” in my own skin when writing is part of my routine. It helps me make sense of the stuff in my head, the words I write helping me untangle my thoughts the way you might untangle yarn knotted up by a playful kitten: slowly, methodically, and without judgment.

Plus, the universe told me to do it, so there’s that…

<<<>>>

It’s interesting. All in all, things in my life are good and steady in a way that they weren’t for a long time. I’m grateful.

This is a truth.

Also, it’s easy to let the things we love just…slide.

That is also a truth.

Life gets in the way. Things get busy. God knows the laundry doesn’t stop.

I rationalize: This can wait. That can wait.

Then, suddenly, I realize that it’s been months since I’ve written in anything other than a journal. My riding boots have gotten dusty, sitting unused, while I worried about cleaning stalls. I spent so much time stressing about doing things “right” that I fail to do them at all.

Even in all the good, there is still this search for equilibrium. For balance. For a set of scales that allows me to love and be loved and love myself in equal measure.

Life is tricky that way.

All of this to say, I’m writing again. I’m going to try to keep at it because it is something that I love.

And, I hope, as you read this, you find yourself pulled towards grace and loving yourself…and maybe to that thing that you haven’t picked up in a while.

Maybe the universe is reminding you, too.

Either way, I’m rooting for you.

Plans, Accidents, and a perfect “K”

Kniggett stood perfectly for shearing.

DSC_2276

He always had; every shearing since his first, Kniggett stood rooted more than tied.  He seemed to enjoy having his hot wool stripped off row by row, exposing the skin underneath to the cool breeze.  He made the job easy, which maybe why I chose to shear him in my first group.

He seemed happy with his new haircut when I finished, wandering off to enjoy the pasture with the other llamas immediately afterwords.  I watched him walk away and shook my head.  He had gotten skinny over the winter.  Really skinny.  I knew that he had lost weight, but the depth and breadth of it hadn’t been entirely clear until I removed his wool.

<<<>>>

Kniggett had been a surprise.  His sire decided to jump a fence between himself and the girls, and Kniggett showed up 11 months later with red wool like his mom and an impish face like his dad.  He was named “Kiley’s Kniggett” after his mom, Kiley, and as an homage to Monty Python’s “Silly English Kniggetts” (Knights) from “The Search for the Holy Grail.”  He was one of the sweetest llamas ever born out here: a perpetual favorite, always asking for neck skritches from his people and saying hello to newcomers.

You love them all, of course.  When you do what I do, have creatures like I do, you love them all.  But some, a few, dig their way just a little bit deeper into your heart.  Theirs are the faces you look for in the morning.  The hellos you always say.  The ones you unintentionally spoil just a little bit extra.

Wednesday, when I drove to work, he was in the dust bath in the front pasture, enjoying a good roll.

Wednesday, when I got home from work, he was still there, but now laying at an odd angle, completely unmoving.  I got out of the car as fast as I could and ran into the pasture.  I called for him, even though I could tell that he was already gone.

Sometimes, when those animals who have dug their way just a little bit deeper into your heart leave you, it’s as though they’ve taken a piece of you with them.  

<<<>>>

I don’t cry over all of them at this point.  Maybe it’s just the sheer volume of loss I have felt out here.  Maybe it’s a deeper appreciation that it’s what I do for them while they’re living that matters and that death is just the next part of a life.   Maybe I’m getting hard.

But I don’t cry over all of them.

I cried over Kniggett.

I cried a lot over Kniggett.

<<<>>>

I gave myself a little bit of space the next morning.  My first chore had come at  7AM when I had to meet the companion cremation guy at my barn and load Kniggett into his truck with my skid steer, and it didn’t entirely sit well with me.  I didn’t need the reminder that he was gone before sitting down for coffee. I went back to the house after that; I needed a minute.

When I went back to the barn later to do my usual morning chores, I was feeling a little worn.  All of my llamas were inside, a definite reminder of the one that was not.

Except…

I was cleaning up my main herd’s stall when I realized that I was missing someone.  Not Kniggett, though I missed him terribly, but Reva.

When I first took over the ranch, I was given Reva and her sister, Baby, by some clients of my ex who didn’t want them anymore.   As of Thursday morning, she was still unshorn, and when I realized she was out alone while the entire herd was inside–not normal behavior for most llamas–I panicked.

“No, no, no” I thought, putting down my barn tools and heading out towards the back pastures in search of her.

Visions of her stretched out with heat stress, unable to move and laboring to breathe flashed through me.  I didn’t pause to consider the fact that she was only a medium wooled animal, and that it wasn’t actually that hot out…

I saw her once I walked past the pine trees, she was to my left, munching on some grass and standing in the shade.

I breathed a sigh of relief before doing a double take.

It wasn’t just her.

It took me a moment to realize that she wasn’t alone, that a baby was next to her, alert and watching me back.

img_4100

<<<>>>

After making sure that they were both ok, I walked back to the barn to get a halter for Reva so I could bring the pair in.  As best as I could tell, the little one had been born the afternoon before or very early that morning, coming into the world on the heels of Kniggett leaving it.

His surprise entrace reminded me of Kniggett’s.  He wasn’t unplanned, since I did intentional expose Reva and Baby to our stud last year, but I hadn’t thought Reva caught, and, even to the small degree that I considered it, I had the dates all wrong.

I made them a stall.  I gave Reva a bucket full of grain and corn.  I spent my day assuring myself that the baby, a little boy, was healthy, nursing, and strong.  The pair of them joined back in with the herd that evening, and it became clear that this little guy had an attitude.

What he didn’t have was a name.

Nothing was fitting.  I wanted to play on Sky, his sire’s name, which gave me a number of directions to try out, but nothing clicked.

<<<>>>

Two days later, John and I were texting names back and forth, rapid fire. He eventually commented that the names I came up with sounded like something off of Game of Thrones and responded in kind.

img_4227But then the next one.

“Skye’s Starry Knight…”

It was just one more in the list, but it literally stopped me in my tracks.

Of course he’s a Knight.  Like Kniggett.  Of course he is.

Once I saw it, it was just so obvious.

“That one,” I replied.

“With or without the K?”

The “K” had been a typo, one that stopped me cold and brought tears to my eyes.  A reminder that this little life had been ushered in on the tail end of another. A Starry Knight and a silly English Kniggett.

John was surprised by how well the name landed; he’s still riding the “I named the baby llama” high.

img_4228

<<<>>>

img_4126

I find myself believing more and more that life is just a series of lessons.  That the job of living is to learn and become better.  And this place?  This life I’ve chosen that is so wrapped up in this home I’m living it in?  It seems to be a lesson in planning and unplanning and accidents.

I’ve said before that I’m a planner.  Maybe a little bit of a control freak.  And I chose a life that, maybe even more than others, cannot be controlled.

This life teaches me that plans are fine and so is throwing them out the window. Accidents, like Kniggett, like the K in Starry Knight, are sometimes the very best parts of life.

Or, maybe, accidents, like Kniggett, like the K in Starry Knight, aren’t really accidents at all, just more of the lesson.

 

 

Ice and Bluebells

It’s been one of “those” days.

You know the ones…

It’s the sort of day that feels a bit like three.  Nothing goes catastrophically wrong, but things don’t go quite right either.  Minor inconveniences twang at the edges of your nerves like a curious toddler smacking the strings of a slightly out of tune banjo with their open hand.  There is nothing intentional or melodic about it, but there is a lot of noise.

It’s the sort of day I tend to have out here at the tail-end of winter, when it is just too fucking cold for roughly the millionth day in a row, and all I want to do is shut myself in the house for three or four days with cozy blankets, a warm hot chocolate, a roaring fire, and a great memoir, but I’ve given up sugar (so no hot cocoa), I can’t get a fire to catch without a starter log that I forgot to buy, the horses need round bales put out and the ponies are hungry, so I have to brave the frozen tundra just long enough for my fingers and toes to go numb through my gloves and boots instead.

It’s been that kind of day.

<<<>>>

It’s been a difficult winter.

Cold, snow, and ice have been tracks playing on repeat this season, a symphony Elsa herself would be proud of.  Outside of the polar vortex with it’s -55 wild chills–as though that wasn’t enough all on it’s own–we’ve also had record breaking snowfalls, winter storms gracing the forecast with alarming regularity, and ice.  Lots of ice.

The Midwest is a place that NEEDS its seasons.  The summer is too summery to last forever.  I couldn’t handle the horse flies or poison ivy or 100 degree days with staggering humidity all year long, even in exchange for the fireflies, wildflowers, and warm summer nights.  By August, I’m looking forward to the drop in temperature,  bonfires, and pumpkin everything that are coming around the corner.  Likewise, I start getting stir crazy at the end of winter.  (For the love of all that is good and holy, give me just one day that I don’t wind up feeling cold!)  Right now, I am aching for 45 degrees, chores without a bulky winter coat, and a slow slide into spring.

There are bluebells and daffodils tucked under the frozen dirt somewhere; I just know it.  Gardens to clean up.  Chicks to raise.  Native bee houses, bat houses, and bird houses to put up.  Seeds to sow in ground that needs tilling.  Raised beds I was given for Christmas that are just waiting for me to find them homes.  There are bikes to ride.  Horses to groom.  Ponies to begin socializing.  There are a thousand plans swirling around in my head, more than one summer can possibly contain, but I feel like that’s half the fun.

In the meantime though, my clay rich dirt is as hard as rock.  My full bale hay nets are frozen to the ground and completely unusable.  The chicken coop is desperate for a good cleaning, but I won’t be able to do a thing with it until the thaw.  Until winter begins to release it’s freezing grip, the only thing I can do is continue.

<<<>>>

I was cranky when I met my hay supplier at my horse pasture around 5:15.  I think maybe he was too.  Not at each other, mind you, at the cold weather and the setting sun.

“How are you holding up out here?”

I tried not to look at the hundreds of dollars of hay waste on the ground.  Without my nets to slow them down, the horses have been going through hay like a trust fund baby going through cash on their first trip to Vegas.  This winter is costing more than emotional energy.

“Hanging in,” I replied.  “Sick and tired of the cold.”

Larry looked up, searching the skies for just a moment before replying.

“I saw the geese flying north earlier.”

That’s the sort of thing we look for out here, the same way that we pay attention to the number of woolly worms in the fall to give us a clue about the coming winter.  The geese, I can assure you, know something that Larry and I do not, and the geese are on their way back home.

<<<>>>

The wild things are stirring.  Last night, as I filled the horse trough, hands going slightly numb through my gloves, I heard the barn owls call to one another.  One was behind me in the woods on the creek side.  The other was across the horse pasture in the woods towards the neighbor’s corn fields.  They cut through the silence with their call and reply, a sound I’ve gotten used to in my time out here on the ridge line.  I only occasionally see them, but they’ve been my neighbor’s for years.

I’ve started hearing the chorus of just a few plucky songbirds in the morning when I walk the lane to start my chores.   Most of them are relatively quiet through the winter.  By mid-summer they will make up an orchestra.

For now, I’m only hearing solitary notes, but the song is coming.  The song and the bluebells are on their way.

 

 

Another Trip Around the Sun

2018 rolled into 2019 without fanfare.  I watched the time change from 11:59 to 12:00 on my wristwatch, and John and I wished each other a quiet “Happy New Year.”  That came after chores.  After tucking in for the night to watch “The West Wing” on Netflix.  After remembering that the horses needed a bale of hay that I had forgotten to give to them.  John went back outside in pajamas to take care of it.  Two hours later, we rang in the new year with sleepy eyes.

At this point in my life, I’m not much for “dramatic change” resolutions at the turning of the year.  I know myself better than to think that I will manage to give up sugar, wake up three hours earlier everyday, and hit the gym for an hour before chores.  If I set my sights on that, I will burn out, give up any strides I make due to perceived failure, and end up back where I started.

It’s not a useful cycle.

Instead, I like to take the new year as an opportunity to reflect on the ways I’ve changed over the course of the last 365 days. I like to contemplate the ways life has unexpectedly twisted or turned, what I’ve lost, what I’ve gained, and what I would like to do a little differently on this next trip around the sun.

For me, 2018 was a normalizing year.  After roughly three years of trauma and unhappiness, the events of this year provided some stability and happiness; a few years ago, normalizing was more than I could have possibly hoped for, but, last year, I found my footing again on what had been unstable ground for a very long time.

I found myself in a relationship with someone who treats me well.   (Guys, that’s totally a thing.  In some relationships, you are consistently treated really well, as though the other person really, genuinely likes you.  I had no idea…)

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I traveled.  Domestically and abroad.  Alone and with friends.

I made it to California with John.

I made it to New Jersey to spend time with one of my besties, Lauren, and attend Julie Maloney’s book launch for A Matter of Chance. (If you’re looking for a great mystery to read in 2019, you should pick up a copy; it’s a great read.)

I spent time in Greece with my darling ladies in Women Reading Aloud.  I wrote at the edge of the Aegean, swam in the salt water, and walked ancient streets in Athens.  I watched the sun set in an unfamiliar sky and hiked paths of unfamiliar dirt.

I rounded out the Fall with one of my dearests in Paris and London.  I rode horses through French forests, and we rode bicycles across the grounds of Versailles.  We drank wine and ate way too much cheese.

(I’m still not quite sure how I managed all of that in one year, except that my soul needed it, and the universe opened the door. )

Acquaintances became friends.img_0031

And my people reminded me over and over again how lucky I am to have them.

All the while, I dealt with and mostly managed depression.  I chose to get off antidepressants.  I spent more time in therapy.  I continued to recover from the trauma of my divorce.  Every single smile in these photos was genuine, and the year was good, but that doesn’t mean every moment was suddenly easy.

Five of my deeply beloved creatures passed on, and I felt their lives and the loss of them fold into me like flour folding into dough. More than ever, I am convinced that they never really leave us.  Love is never, ever wasted.

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer.  She’s undergoing chemo now; the woman is a fucking beast, and I can’t wait for all of you to read her blog once it launches.  (Seriously, stay tuned.  She’s hilarious.  I’ve seen the drafts.)

Even the good years remind us that life is brutal.  And life is beautiful.  And this year in particular taught me that no matter how impossible things seem to get, the good stuff comes back around again eventually.  (And then the hard stuff, and then the good stuff.  An object at rest may remain at rest, but our lives are never objects at rest; continually they are moved.)

In my teens and twenties, I was more prone to hard resolutions.  I liked resolutions with numbers.  Number of pounds to lose.  Number of books to read.  Number of miles to run. A number on a paycheck.

I’m more interested in the soft resolutions now.  The sort that move beyond success or failure and simply recognize progress.  The sort that allow me to see that goals are just part of journey.  Treat my body better.  Make more time for the creatures in my care.  Be kinder.  Wander in familiar and unfamiliar places whenever I am given the chance.  Write more.  Read more.  Love more.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that most of our greatest achievements are the result of playing the hand we are dealt in the best way we know how, and, God knows, you can’t pick your own cards.  Over the last four years, life has been teaching me that sometimes the only thing we can do is stay in the game.  Play through.  Let the cards change.  They always change, even when it feels like the same shitty cards are permanently glued to your hands.

2019 is picking up steam.  The semester starts again in a few weeks, and I go back to teaching.  The plans I make are being done and undone, and I’m working on the soft resolutions.  I’m working on the writing and reading and wandering.

The days are getting longer.   They always do.

 

Winter, Christmas Trees, and a Little Bit of Unexpected Magic

There needs to be a setting on my Fitbit for “walking through the snow in coveralls.” Regular steps seem wholly inadequate for the trudge that takes me between the house and the barns each morning and evening. Something between walking and swimming would do nicely I think…

The ranch has been blanketed with snow for the better part of a week.  Everything takes a little extra effort.  Waterers require heaters.  Three of my llamas are wearing coats.  One is being supplemented with grain.  The chickens are being fed black oil sunflower seeds for extra calories in addition to their regular food.  Stalls are getting messier, faster.  And, of course, there’s the two pair of socks and coverall wearing trudge.

This is the time of year that always makes farmers, ranchers, critter enthusiastic hobbyists, and almost farmgirls question our own sanity.

It’s too cold for humans,  we proclaim, tucked safely under our covers, dreading the moment that our feet hit the floor and our day begins in earnest.

It’s too cold for critters, we decide, putting a coat on an animal who, in the wild, definitely wouldn’t be wearing a coat.

It’s too cold for water, we somewhat insanely argue, as we pull a puck-like chunk of ice off the waterer whose heater isn’t keeping up.

Why do I do this?  The question rattles around in the empty spaces created by all of the cold.

Things break. Animals shiver.  Our faces get chapped by the frigid air, and our toes go just a little numb in our boots when we forget to put on two pairs of socks.

The ancients used to bring evergreens into their homes in the winter as an act of sympathetic magic.  (It’s where we get our Christmas trees, actually.)  It was a reminder that spring and summer would come again.    The greenery provided comfort against their stark, harsh world of cold and dark and white.   It was reminder of the renewal that was waiting for them just under the surface of the snow.

I get it.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I decorated my tree.  We chose a little beauty from my hay supplier’s tree lot.  It is on the smaller side, a cute little Fraser fir, but it is full, and well-branched, and lovely.  Everything I look for in a Christmas tree.   My hay guy gave it to me for free, insisting that I paid enough for hay throughout the year to merit a free Christmas tree, and it is standing in my sunroom smelling a little bit like heaven.

sympathetic magic

John strung the lights, and I pulled out my collection of ornaments while we waited on the most recent blizzard.   He built a fire in the fireplace.  We opened a bottle of wine, and I took my yearly walk down memory lane, choosing ornaments from my collection that seemed especially meaningful.  I added a few this year.  I put a few in a donation box whose meaning no longer felt dear to me (several of them commemorating milestones with my ex husband).

We sipped wine and cuddled up with the cats for the rest of the evening, enjoying our little bit of magic with it’s glittering ornaments and fairy lights.  I ventured out in my pajamas and coveralls with a flashlight in hand as the sleet turned to snow to bring the horses in from the field.

As the ice stung my face, I briefly wondered why I feel so pulled to this place and this work.  Then the horses made their way into the barn, bits of snow clinging to their long eyelashes and against their manes and tails.  The ponies nickered from their stall, wondering if perhaps it wasn’t time for second dinner.  The llamas hummed softly from across the aisle, munching hay from the nets I had refilled earlier that day.

I made my way back to the house, back to my boyfriend, back to the dogs and cats I share my home with, back to the warm fire, and the tree that awaited me with it’s sympathetic magic, and I realized that the barn was full of magic of its own. The creatures there reminding me, in their own way, that we are all in this together.  That we are connected to one another and to the seasons as they come and go.  That the snow and the cold and the chill are both temporary and beautiful.

I settled into the couch next to John and sipped my glass of red wine.

It was quiet.  The lights on the tree glittered through and shone against the ornaments.  The fire crackled.  Renewal waits on the other side of this season, on the other side of the snow, and the cold will pass.  For now though, I will steel myself against the cold, enjoy the quiet moments, and try to pay attention to the magic.

Eating the Frog, Christmas Music, and My Three Depression Lists

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This advice is popularly attributed to Mark Twain, the folksy sage of American literature.  Essentially, it’s an argument for getting the most unpleasant part of your day out of the way first thing.  Client you don’t want to talk to?  Eat the frog.  Chore you don’t want to do?  Eat the frog.  Student papers you aren’t excited to grade?  Put the ones you know will be subpar on top.

I laid in bed yesterday thinking about eating the frog.

“Eat the Frog, Cherity.  Just eat the freaking frog.”

Yesterday, though, my first frog was just getting out of bed.  When that happens, it’s a pretty good indicator that my depression is creeping back in. Continue reading “Eating the Frog, Christmas Music, and My Three Depression Lists”

Spring

I just found hay in my hair, a memento from the time I spent in the horse field this afternoon lying on my back in what remained of a round bale. It’s sixty degrees.  Just a few days ago, there was snow on the ground.  Spring is like that here.

Unpredictable.

Fickle.

Unruly.

(Not unlike my hair now that I think about it.) Continue reading “Spring”

Letting “Good Enough” be Good Enough: The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok

I’ve started this blog post three times.  Each time, Amelia, one of my three dogs, shoves her nose under my elbow and nudges my arm, asking for attention.  Each time, my fingers lose their space on the keyboard; I backspace and start over.  One of those times, my puppy, Rose, joins in, but in her poor “puppy” form, she makes the mistake of grabbing my hand in her mouth (albeit gently), resulting in a reprimand.

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They give up, bored, and curl up on their beds across the room.  I’m granted a moment to myself, and I keep typing. Continue reading “Letting “Good Enough” be Good Enough: The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok”

Befores and Afters

I read a book once that pointed out that life tends to divide itself into befores and afters.

It’s true, when you think about it.  Some are obvious milestones: Before high school.  After high school.  Before college.  After college.  Before and after your first job.  Births.  Deaths.  We, all of us, all our lives, are just a mess of befores and afters and how they changed us from one version of ourselves to the next.  We have ceremonies to celebrate or mourn the changes.  Matriculation.  Funerals.  Christenings.

Marriages.

Divorces.

Sometimes, even though one day you’re a person of before and the next day a person of after, it feels like little has changed.  Some befores and afters fade into one another like the colors of the sunset meld from one to the next, and suddenly the sky has gone from blue to orange to purple without you noticing.  The easy changes are like that.  You don’t realize things are changing until they have, and then, before you know it, you’ve made your way from a before to an after.

Other changes fall like a sledgehammer.  No matter the slope into it, no matter the warning or preparation, the change will always be abrupt.

Like death.

Hopefully followed by rebirth. Continue reading “Befores and Afters”