Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Sunday, November 30, 2008

C: A Chili Dog and Country Life

When John Denver wrote/sang, "Life in the farm is kinda laid back..." I'm afraid he did not know what he was talking about. Surely the only person who could intone these lyrics is a singer who can hire stuff done and then lie back around his country home, enjoying only the relaxing part. Believe me, there is another side...

In my own country world, there is always something that has been left undone: fences need mending (or the horses lead one on a harrowing chase), grass needs mowing, and electricity is sometimes missed. But it has its many, many moments of beauty. Just look at my horse, Bill, gazing out over our country place. In this picture, he embodies the nobility and serenity and peace of my life in the country.

And then there is Chili, the Belgian Malinois pictured above. He is my constant companion when I am home. Oh, he can be noble, too. Sometimes. But then there is today. See that picture of him? That little item lying just next to his crumpled rug is a freshly-found deer leg, left for him by a hunter, complete with hoof. Mmmmm, good (to canines, anyway).

I'm not real happy with the picture I took--it does not do this beautiful dog justice, but I had to take it through the glass of the laundry room door so that he wouldn't get up and the picture is a bit angled and narrow because I do not want you to see the absolutely total wreck he has made of this back porch! There was a bag of charcoal stored there (bad mistake), and it is now scattered everywhere amongst the shards of cardboard he dragged up and shredded--just so I'd have something to clean up, I suppose.

I don't mean to complain about Chili. You'll see more about his escapades in other writings because, believe me, there are plenty. He's an escapade kind of dog. Our other dog, Scout, the sheltie, rolls her eyes at his antics then fixes them on me as if to say, "Can you see what he is doing?"

I put this escapade-proneness down to Chili's intelligence, because he is one smart cookie. And he's just now a year old, so he has youthful exuberance that Scout has matured out of. He also has the run of the woods--must be heaven for a dog. We have the good fortune to live far off "real" roads and against acres and acres of woodland full of deer, so at night when he goes out or during the day while his mistress is at work, an exuberant, smart dog is bound to find treasures and trouble in the woods.

But back to the real topic: Country life. For all you city slickers who are sucked in by John Denver's classic fraud, let me give you a peek into my life. Just close your eyes and imagine...
  • Coming out your front door during hunting season and finding at your front door an entire bloody haunch of a deer--not this dainty morsel shown above;
  • Going five full days with no electricity;
  • Having to use a small pick axe to break up the grain in the cold winter time so you can scoop it out to feed (not to mention breaking the ice on the water troughs);
  • Knowing that your cats probably will not last long...except for Sasha, who has now lasted three years longer than her litter mates because she has the good sense to stay on the porch and not venture into coyote territory, which is only yards away.
I could go on about snakes, ticks and chiggers, grand-daddy-long legs; and these are the things that worry my city visitors most. Me, my biggest worries center on being a single woman with limited resources! Other women covet diamonds--I covet truck loads of fence posts I see going down the freeway! I haven't named my little farm, but "Constant Work" might be a contender for that title.

But weigh all that against my wide porches looking out at the woodland edge, hearing whippoorwills and watching grazing deer while I sip tea there. Or put it up against warm spring walks through the fields with ponies trailing along, occasionally tugging at my shirt for attention. Or how about finding a fallen log in "just the right shape" and getting your nieces to help you paint it as a "tree dragon," a little sculpture for visitors to your forest trail to come upon and enjoy.

When I first became single, everyone (including me) assumed I'd sell the place and get a postage stamp lot with house in the city--you know, something easy to maintain. As a matter of fact, for a while "easy to maintain" became a mantra among my family and friends for me. And I must admit that it sounds good to me sometimes, too. But when it is all said and done, I am a "country girl," and, now into my sixth month of singleness, I'm adjusting and learning to stand on my feet and, most of all I'm learning that I am, indeed, a country girl and that, man or no man, I can do this.

Besides, how could I subject Chili to subdivision life! Where would he get his fresh venison?--C 12/2/2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

C: Safari Decorating

I love animals; I love all kinds of animals! If you read this blog long enough, you are sure to see a lot of conversation about my cat, my two dogs and the two horses I have remaining from my herd of seven a year ago.
Besides my domestic menagerie, I have a penchant for African animals. My dream trip would be safari in Africa, seeing the great herds scattered across the savannah. Of course, I want the kind where the white-coated servants have the wine chilled when you return from photographing, and where there is turn-down service and hot water for a shower. Truthfully, any safari for me will likely remain a dream.
I love other wildlife, too. I read about grizzlies, I love tigers, and I think the American Bison is truly magnificent. The many times I visited Yellowstone, I never got jaded about Bison. They thrilled me no end every single time I came across them--which is a lot when you're in the park.

Now, this is going to feel like a change of subject to you, but bear with me: I am not a decorator. My house is usually passably clean (passably), but it will not ever make the pages of House Beautiful or the like. This is not because I don't appreciate beautifully-decorated homes; I do. It is because 1) I just, quite simply, don't have the time for the care required to achieve "the look;" and 2) My decorating is displaying things that are meaningful to me. Rarely (maybe never) will you catch me looking for decorative accessories. Those are compiled from things that my family has collected by hand-me-down or on trips and such; or they are just things I love.

So, back to animals. I have discovered two lines of animal figurines (toys) that just attract me like magnets. The brands are Schleich and Safari. I have a hard time passing them by in the toy store and in one big discount chain. In fact, in moments of high stress I have actually made a special trip a time or two to high-end toy stores just to get a "fix" (last fix consisted of a Baboon and an Okapi).

You know, I'm really too old to actually play with these, which made me think about what I do want to do with them. So, I thought, "You love them; display them!" And so I did, right in my hallway for all to see--as you, too, can see from this photo.

The reaction to my decorating idea has been varied. One of my best friends (not V, of course; she understands these things) was transparently put off by the whole thing: "But, they're toys!" She sniffed. "Are they rubber or what?"

My seven-year-old niece, on the other hand, was ecstatic. She gets them down and plays with them every time she comes over. The beauty of this is that I think of them as art, but they're rugged and practically indestructible (except, maybe for my Malinois' jaws, heaven forbid). My niece and I have worked out a system to soothe her covetness. She gets to take one of her choosing home with her each time, bringing it back to exchange for another. She does not yet know that she's getting her very own collection at Christmas. I cannot let that kind of appreciation go unrecognized.
I know my decorating is unorthodox, but you'd be surprised how much pleasure I get from these inexpensive animals! (See the matted and framed picture displayed with them--scissored out of a National Geographic! I fell in love with the picture of these little elephant baby friends). I have "nice" things, too, which usually translates into "expensive."

I guess you could put this article under our little section on "cheap tricks," and I probably will, now that I think about it. But "cheap" is just the wrong word in my opinion. They don't cost much, true; and the picture cost less than $3.00, including the frame. I just think we need to let the cost and orthodoxy things go by the wayside. My advice: display the things you love seeing when you walk into your home! It works for me! --C 11/29/2008 P.S. - If you love to read about animals, as I do, see my suggestions on our book lists. Also, see information on the animals on our "Cheap Tricks" section! Ungawa!

Friday, November 28, 2008

C: The Day After...Thanksgiving and the Power of Tradition

My son (my conscience) has me working out at the "Y" five days a week. Those of you who know me personally know what an accomplishment this is, as I hate physical exercise! I must admit, however, that it is making me feel better and better both physically and from that emotional lift of accomplishment. With the exercise has come a decreased appetite for junk food and overeating ("they" told me this would happen, although for me it is counterintuitive), and that has felt good too.

Why, oh why, then did I stuff myself crazily yesterday? Can't I enjoy Thanksgiving with family, be thankful and not overeat? Apparently not. After eating turkey, ham and all the trimmings plus two kinds of pie yesterday, my son and I climbed into the car bloated and sluggish as we have not been in months and slunk off from my brother's house. By the time I left the feast scene (leaving every scrap of what I had brought, knowing how dangerous leftovers are), I felt like I was fleeing.

Now I'm feeling set back in the self-righteousness I was achieving by my newfound physical consciousness. It has caused me to reflect on why I would do this when I could not claim to have been all that hungry and had been so proud of myself in my weeks-past diet.

I know why I did it. It isn't as simple as being a glutton who just loves food, although that shoe might fit. My real downfall yesterday was tradition. Almost all of us have traditions that include a Thanksgiving one. I have one friend who prides herself in her non-tradition of having chili every year instead of turkey. Sorry, baby, that's a tradition. Very few escape it, and those few are usually those we pity as lonely; and I think it is true that those who have no family to forge those Thanksgiving traditions are, indeed, the lonely among us. And, you know that it's true that part of Thanksgiving is the tradition of overeating. Every single person at the table where I dined yesterday spoke about how full they were getting, whether they were going "back for seconds," or how many of the desserts they might be having. We were consciously stuffing ourselves; it is part of Thanksgiving, a traditional feast day.

Those traditions are very hard to shake, not that many of us want to shake them. Obviously, I did not shake the feasting aspect in favor of healthful living--it would have been almost rude! And on the way home I had another little reminder of the power of traditions and the longing we have for them.

As we drove through the dark, my cell phone "dinged" and lit up. It was a text message from an old friend. This man and his family go back with ours for at least twenty years. He is someone my estranged husband and I see (separately now) maybe twice or three times a year. He and his family are good friends, but not weekly social friends.

This text was a Thanksgiving greeting but, more important to the sender, it was a message that my husband had called him to wish him happy Thanksgiving. Amazing. I think it was amazing to our friend, too, because it called for a communication with me. His text informed me that hubby had simply called to say "Happy Thanksgiving to your family," and that my friend had returned the sentiment to him. End of story.

I thought how odd this appeared on the surface. I don't remember my husband calling this family on Thanksgiving in the past, although it may be that they have joined us for the holiday once or twice, but not in a long, long time. They just have not been part of our Thanksgiving tradition, and I know from a recent conversation that my husband has not talked to this man in months. I also knew from just having hung up from a holiday conversation with my mother-in-law that he had not called to wish anyone on his side of the family a happy holiday, although he has acted badly toward them, as he has toward me, and those relations are currently strained.

Now, this is speculation on my part because I have realized months ago that I no longer understand anything in my husband's brain, but see if this makes sense to you: This is his first Thanksgiving with his half-his-age-live-in girlfriend. He is starting a brand new tradition. But there is that old one tugging at him, a powerful remembrance; at least it would be for me. It seems to me that reaching out to this friend was his way of touching that past tradition in the safest way he knew.

Why would it be this powerful? I believe it goes back to something about which I have written before: community and connection. Breaking bread together, especially in that spiritual context of giving thanks to God, is a unifying ritual and it is something we all need. We look forward to the feast because of that mystical forging of relationship and family, and it is hard to give up. During the emotional travail of my husband's leaving my family's traditions--such as yesterday's--have stood me in good stead. They have given me something grounded in a time when it seemed that life was reeling. So, from that perspective, I am going to have to come full circle and say that the feasting I did yesterday was, indeed, a healthy thing--notwithstanding the two kinds of pie...

So, today I am still thanking God. I am thanking Him for my plenty, and I am thanking Him for my family and our traditions that give us the sense of belonging and see us through awful times. And I am knowing that, now that the feasting day is over, it is back to the grindstone!! - C, 11/29/2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


First, the disclaimer: The women pictured to the right are not the "us" to whom I refer in this writing; they are professional models. In fact, they don't even remotely resemble most of us, who are life-worn rather than sleek models. But they appear to be girlfriends, and this is what the story is about. And, if I am going to illustrate while you can't really see me, I may as well plant a pleasant picture in your mind. Now, on to my story...

Last weekend on Sunday afternoon I threw what my mother calls a "hen party." This is rather pejorative-sounding, "hen party," but somehow it seems the right thing to call it. It refers to a gathering sans roosters, I suppose; a girlfriend party.

We had a blast. We rimmed our glasses with pink (!) sugar and made Bellinis out of fresh peach puree and champagne--strawberry puree for those who prefer (or want both! Why not?). We ate fancy, calorie-laden food that men eschew (pomegranate seed garnish, brie and artisan bread) and we dished about our lives, the lives of others, whatever came to our minds. The party started at 3 p.m. and the last guests left at 9:30 p.m. It was warm, comforting and laden with all the elements of community. I figure they all felt the same, or they would not have stayed so late! I loved it!

Predictably, and as the alcohol loosened everyone who started out wary around women they did not yet know, talk turned to the very important issue of men. As they talked, I did a quick poll. There were about 15 of us, and here is who was present around the room:

  • Woman No. 1 was on her second marriage, having come out of a first beaten up physically and beaten down emotionally. She walked out of that abusive marriage into a battle with cancer. She loves her kids unconditonally, and she is happy now--a heroine.
  • Woman No. 2 may be my biggest heroine. She was left with three kids and no heat in her home by her no-good husband . One of her children was stricken with cancer, which she had to face with him largely alone.
  • 3 was an innocent young 15-year old when she was seduced by a man ten years her senior. Her pregnancy brought about an unhappy marriage and tons of guilt to get over.
  • No. 4 just finished with her second divorce from a man who threatened to beat her--just as her first husband did. She had the great good sense to leave. Now alone, she concentrates on saving her two kids from the mess that her first husband is.
  • No. 5 is a woman in her mid-fifties, still married but only tentatively happy.
  • 6 is my mother. She was abandoned by my father after twenty years of maltreatment because of alcohol and a diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (his).

I am going to stop the listing here--you've gotten the picture. I did not hand-pick these women for their unhappiness in love life. No, I'm afraid these are representative of a large portion of American womanhood. It struck me--as well as it did V, who was also there--that out of fifteen women, there were only three who were still married to the husbands of their youth. Incredible. This is an amazing illustration to me as to where our society is headed, and I don't think it is good for anything except my business as a divorce attorney.

Another thing this gathering illustrated for me is the steadfastness of motherly love--hardly ever do you see mothers abandon their children; far less so than fathers. Every one of these girls would fight tooth and toenail for any of their kids or their kids' education or their kids' advancement of any kind.

And, maybe most important of all, it illustrated for me how important we women are to each other. We somehow understand each other on a level that cannot be explained. It is, I daresay, the shared wisdom of womanhood gleaned down through the ages. We innately know about each other and what each other is going through and what each other feels.

I'm sure men have their parallel to this comraderie, but I'm thinking it just isn't the same. We women don't seem to be in competition with each other the way I imagine men together are; no tooting of one's own horn. Instead, there is the shared suffering of watching kids screw up; the worry of how to afford the yearbook; and--last, but certainly not the least--the woes of relationships with men.

I recently re-watched the movie Steel Magnolias, which so richly depicts that special relationship among women friends. Warning: I may be about to spoil, here, for those who haven't seen the movie, but I'm on a roll and forging right ahead. At the end of the movie, after the funeral, M'Lynn (the mother) is left standing at graveside, and it's her women friends who remain with her. M'Lynn's husband and two sons love her and are grieving for Shelby, but they have walked off, as if they did not know what else to do and, certainly, they did not know what to say to M'Lynn. It becomes clear that there is a part of M'Lynn's grief that they cannot share and, in fact, a part of Shelby that they never reached. They are, after all, male.

But the women who surrounded M'Lynn and Shelby all their lives understood M'Lynn's grief, and they knew Shelby woman-to-woman, which is a different thing from the man-woman relationship. This is one of those movies that women should have to watch annually or so because it so emphasizes the importance that we women are, one to another.

My little gathering included some of my own "Steel Magnolias," and it lifted me up! Ah, the warm glow of a hen party...it just can't be beat~I must say, I love and cling to my girlfriends. GO, HENS!
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