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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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”

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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Continue reading “Sitting in the Sacred”

Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.

I pulled the red and white notice off the door of my Heights house with a sigh.  We would be fined within days if the lawn continued un-mowed, if the landscaping wasn’t trimmed back.  Jeremiah and I (mostly Jeremiah) had been in a slow war with the code enforcement officer in the Heights most of the time that we lived there.  Our fence was the first infraction–built on a corner lot and requiring signatures of all the neighbors and a hearing at city hall to build–but from then on the inspector took every opportunity to cite us, and Jeremiah took every opportunity to provoke him.  We learned after the fence incident that bribes were the usual way of dealing with his red and white citations, and it seemed that forcing the issue with the city had been something of an embarrassment to him when all the council members immediately approved our “beautiful fence.”

But this time?  Honestly, I could see his point. Continue reading “Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.”

Falling

 

“Oh, I’ve never fallen off…”

She thinks she’s bragging, but the little girl, or teen, or grown-ass woman (or perhaps man) who utters those words in the horseback riding world has failed to read the room.  We are not impressed.  In fact, the polite among us are trying not to laugh in her face.  She looks with at the other riders with expectation, all of us with muck on our boots, sweat under our helmets and horsehair on our jeans.  We, she implies, have fallen, and she has not; therefore, obviously, her skills are greater.  We should accept the inevitable conclusion that she is the superior rider.

It’s almost cute, really…

But we know something she doesn’t.  We know there are only two types of horseback riders: Those who have fallen off, and those who will. Continue reading “Falling”