Did you enjoy the holiday? Or did you get bogged down by the pressure to be happy, to serve delicious meals on sparkling table settings? Did you feel sad and disconnected even though you were surrounded by people? Or were you alone and wished you had a tribe to spend your time with?
The reason I ask is because our lives must be conscious decisions, choices we make and steps we take on purpose. Otherwise, we end up slipping into our most comfortable routines, which can be masquerading as Pinterest-level entertainers, keeping relationships alive that are draining, or even holding people apart from ourselves to the point that we end up with no friends at all.
You might be surprised to learn that even though I give up my inner-most thoughts, doubts and desires on my blog, I can be hard to get to know in real life. I am what I like to call slow-to-warm. Also known as cold. Which is a word that’s been used to describe me on more than one occasion. Earlier this year I looked around at my friends and realized the majority them were people I knew because of my husband. I pretty much made zero effort building my own gang and relied on the built-in spousal friendships of my husband’s coworkers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some amazing friends that way. Friends who have become family.
But I also felt bad. Because I knew part of the reason my friend set was made up of women I’d known for 10+ years or through my husband was because somewhere along the way I stopped trying to make new friends. I got burned a couple times by girls (and I am using the word ‘girls’ here on purpose) and lost faith in the possibility to have healthy female friendships. When I met new women I’d be polite (probably they’d say cold, ha) and then go on about my life. Building new friendships requires vulnerability. Even before honesty (which is what you need for an actual healthy friendship), you need to be vulnerable enough to let someone get to know you, to let them know some of your secrets (fun and painful) and to show them they can be vulnerable too, that you can be trusted with their feelings.
In her book she talks about to have a friend, be a friend. I had a revelation. I have a friend who’ve I always felt held me at arms-length, that I never got the chance to really be a true friend. After reading Jen’s book, I wondered if in actuality, she only reflected what I’d demonstrated, I held her at a distance so she would do the same. Unfortunately this isn’t someone I’ve had the chance to explore this with, and I may never. But that’s okay, because the wish for what that friendship could be caused a new wish to bloom: to be a better friend to those I already have, and to be a better friend to the women I haven’t yet met.
I made three new friends this year. Not just casual talk-about-the-weather and what’d-you-on-Saturday friends. Friends with depth, friends who talked to me about their spirituality, their desire (or not) for children, hurts and triumphs. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
I can’t tell you if I did any better at being a friend. It’s not for me to say. But I can tell you that on my husband’s 40th birthday, and on the days leading up to Christmas, I looked around and felt so much love. Have you ever been in a room filled with people and felt like the walls were fogging up with the volume of love in the room? I didn’t tell my friends I loved them, I’m not much for the L word. I didn’t grow up saying it or having it said. Love came in the form of food and hugs and good-natured ribbings. But I did hug my friends, and told them Merry Christmas, and how happy I was to have them in my life.
So what does this all have to do with feeling pressured to be Martha Stewart or feeling disconnected or lonely? Because you get to decide what kind of life you want to live. You get to decide what kind of day you want to have. What kind of year you have. You can’t control the bad shit that rolls your way, the bad people who’ll cross your path or the misfortune that might befall you. But you do decide how you’re going to respond to it, how you’re going to let it shape your tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that.
I would never let a horse throw me and then give up on riding. But for some reason a couple friendships knocked me back and I decided I didn’t need to make new friends. That’s the easy way out. Giving up and turning away is the protected path that ensures no pain. But that’s not the way life is supposed to be lived. Loving people is hard. We do shitty things to each other. We lie and falter and say unkind things when we’re hungry or hurting. But loving people is what makes life full. Loving people is always the harder choice, but it’s the bolder way to live.
Whatever you want to be for 2018, be a good one. (Which is my take on old Abe Lincoln’s quote).
Last week my husband and I scared the, uh, well, shit, out of our neighbor with a five and a half foot tall rooster. Giving obnoxious gifts to friends has been a goal for us for a while. We’ve just never had the personal funds to execute the dream. Back in our Arizona days, I recall a 10 foot tall giraffe that we wished we could have delivered to a friend’s front door. Not for any other reason than the sheer ridiculousness (and uselessness) of a 10 foot tall giraffe. But Mr. Giraffe had a tall price tag. And thus a decade-long fantasy was born. I know there were other peculiar art pieces along the way we dreamed of buying, but the Giraffe is what stands out to me.
Two weeks ago I made a trip the feed store and came upon the aforementioned metal rooster. I was surprised to see such an oversized lawn ornament in the same store where I shell out half my paychecks to feed Gangster. I took a picture of the ponderous poultry and sent it off to my husband. Mr. Rooster was not on clearance, but he was a hell of a lot cheaper than Mr. Giraffe was. I received an immediate response to buy the bird!
So the metal cock made his way to our garage and we hatched a plan of attack, waiting until our neighbors went out of town to land the thing in their backyard. We carried the barnyard fowl under cover of darkness (albeit a faint glow from a cell phone lit our path). We set the rooster up so he peered in their sliding-glass back door. Then we snuck out and waited .
I so wish I could have been there at the moment of surprise. If I was more savvy I would have set up a camera. Instead I got the narrated version of events, which included a scream, some expletives, then the rest of the family being advised to go check out the backyard.
Our friend posted on Facebook that the battle was on to identify the cock caper culprits, and that there would be retribution.
My husband and I have a bit of a reputation for being mischievous (among other things) so our names were at the top of a short list of possible culprits. Honestly, my husband was in first place. I’m apparently the seemingly more innocent one. That fact has been filed away for future use.
For now, Richard the cock (as he has been named by the neighbors) is standing watch over their fire pit. I have a sneaking suspicion though there will be some kind of joke that runs a-fowl (see what I did there??) and we’ll be seeing of yard invasion by chicken.
We were also introduced to the blog post by The Bloggess about her giant chicken story. I’m thinking some of those embroidered towels she speaks of might be a nice gift for the neighbors at Christmas.
When I was 20 years old a friend of mine killed his best friend, seriously injured his ex-girlfriend and then shot and killed himself. This was not a casual acquaintance. This was a man who took me to my very first prom when I was in 10th grade when going to prom as a 10th grader with a senior was the most exciting thing going on. This was someone who I took martial arts with. Someone I shared my heartaches with, someone I flirted with and danced with and loved. And then he wasn’t. In a matter of seconds he became someone I didn’t know. How could he do such a thing? What had driven him to such a place of madness?
I also had taken martial arts with his father. I went to my old dojo and sat with my former classmates as we listened to our sensei talk about the loss. I don’t remember a word he said. What I remember is the way my friend’s father looked. If you could let the air out of someone’s life that’s how he looked.
Last week the son of my husband’s coworker took his life. He was 18 years old. I didn’t know the coworker or the child. Eighteen years old is still a child. I cried. It brought me back to the loss of my friend. It even took me to my own dark places where thoughts of suicide blew like grey curtains over a dim life. Yes. I have thought about suicide before. I bet if you gently and honestly asked some of your close friends they might reveal that they too had let the thought linger in their mind. Explored it’s hard and finite edges.
I never had a plan. I never wanted to die. But I wanted to escape my pain. My life. My parents and I went through some rocky times. Times where we didn’t speak because not speaking was preferable for me than the absolute anger and frustration that I felt. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that is my journey. And it led me to Arizona and my husband and a road back to a relationship with my parents.
But I don’t want this post to be about me. I want this post to be for you. Or for your child. Or teen. Or young adult. I stumbled into someone’s wounded heart recently when I asked a friend how his family was doing. He revealed to me that his family was struggling and that his daughter was going through a tough time.
I know that I’m not 20 anymore and that my teen years weren’t just a brief time ago. I feel like they were. But my neighbor’s daughter made that abundantly clear when she made fun of how much time I was on Facebook and said Facebook was for middle aged women. But even so, I distinctly remember those awkward and torturous years. And I especially remember the difficulty I had my senior year when I knew that the life I had known for the past 15 years, going to school every day, summers off, doing homework, hanging out with friends and dreaming of the future, was ending. The transition into adulthood is not an easy one and I wouldn’t relive it for anything.
If you are in the middle of this angst-filled time, struggling to be an adult under the supervision of your parents, please know that whatever you feel today, is not how you will feel tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. There is so much possibility in this world. You just have to give it a little time. I know that teenagers can be terrible to each other. That parents can be assholes and that no one seems to get what you’re going through. But please just remember that there is a MASSIVE world out there just waiting for you to arrive.
Parents are people and screw up all the time. Your friends might be jerks to you because they are just as conflicted and confused and frustrated as you are and don’t know how to say just that. I promise you though that everyone is going through something and that you can come out the other side. And you might be able to help someone to the other side as well. Just please don’t take your life and all of your special talents and light and love. You were made for this world and your friends and family want you to remain part of the world for as long as possible.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide and you are looking for someone to talk to, you can reach out to the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or check out their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Family is the thing that gets your blood pumping, in anger or in splendid, blissful love. I’m sure everyone can tell stories on both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps it’s my Irish-Scottish heritage, but there have been plenty of days when I wanted to trade in my family. And there was even a period of time when I did not speak to members of my family. Not for weeks. Not for months. But for years. In my case, that wasn’t maybe the most productive use of my time on earth. But it’s part of my path.
Christmastime can really drive home some of the desperate nostalgia we feel for a more cohesive, happier, functional, attractive family. The kind that they show on loop on the Hallmark channel. One of my favorite Christmas movies of all time is The Family Stone. There are some scenes so thick with awkward tension that it still makes me squirm after ten years of watching it. And yet, this is the movie that I come back to every year because it’s real. The subject of discord may be different for each family, but the feelings of dysfunction and frustration are universal. I’ve written before about the 5 different personality types (and their quirks) you can find at family functions if you need a funny refresher on how trying they can be.
It was during that period of time in my life where I was at odds with my parents that I first saw the Family Stone. I saw it in the movie theatre with my now-husband who was not even my then-boyfriend yet. And I balled at the end of the movie. Like wiping my face with falling-apart napkins level crying. My sweet date sat with me until the theatre cleared out so I could try to collect myself. A man and young girl remained in the row behind me. He stood and handed me napkins and said, “Did you lose someone too? I’m so sorry, so did I.” What could I say to that? I felt even worse that I was crying my 23 year old eyes out for my estrangement and this kind man and his daughter were offering me a gesture of comfort in their own time of grief. I just nodded my head.
I promise I’m getting to a point.
Family is not a Hallmark channel movie. The whole reason those movies do so well is because viewers want to escape into a world in which they have gloriously functional relationships with their moms, kind and loving fathers, or gorgeous and successful children who come home every year for Christmas. But sometimes those damn Hallmark movies make you cry your damn eyes out and feel depressed because your family looks nothing like that. Fret not. Your family situation is probably far more common than the myth playing on TV. Embrace your family’s awkward and infuriating and laughable dynamics. You sure as hell aren’t going to change them.
What I have learned over the years is that even if you make friends who become family, there should always be room for your blood family. I mean, what the hell would you complain to your friends about if your family was perfect? I’m not saying they aren’t going to piss you off, or hurt you. But family members are also purveyors of great love and family history and your own personal history. They may not say they love you, you may have to read between the lines, but they do.
Probably one of the greatest tasks of a child is to grow up and transition from being someone’s child, to being an adult who accepts their parents as fellow flawed adults who try and fail at many activities, parenting included.
If you are feeling low that your family doesn’t look like a sappy holiday movie, take heart. Your story is more genuine and hilarious and full of life than any of those movies anyway.
The story that I heard this year that really drove home how long lasting the effects of family love can be comes from a friend of mine. His uncle died 6 years ago. This uncle, Uncle Oly, bought him his first shotgun and taught him how to duck hunt. They did not sit and talk about how much they appreciated each other. They did not discuss the uncle’s indulgence in drink. They did not discuss the family discord of the month. They hunted ducks together using his uncle’s decoys, my friend’s gifted gun and a love for the outdoors together. And as time does, it passed, and so did the uncle. Sadly, at a relatively young age.
That young boy graduated high school, graduated college and moved 3 hours away from his hometown of Eugene to start his first career job. His days no longer absorbed with studying, and with a little extra money in his pocket, he decided to pick up his duck hunting again, still with the original gun his uncle had given him all those years ago.
He found some used decoys posted for sale online and arranged to meet the seller and purchase the decoys. He met with the stranger, looked over the decoys and paid the man. They all had the name “Olson” written on the bottom of them. He asked the seller if his last name was Olson.
The guy told him no, that had been the name of the guy he had purchased the decoys from down in Eugene ten years earlier. Mike Olson was the guy’s name, though he hadn’t gone by that. He had gone by something weird.
“Was it Oly?” My friend asked.
“Yeah, that was his name. How did you know?”
“He was my uncle.”
Those decoys, that made their way to the northern most coast of Oregon and originally belonged to the uncle all those duck hunting years before, were now back in the possession of the boy who learned to hunt with them.
I don’t know any other name for this series of events than divine intervention.
And I don’t know a stronger pull than love.
And in families, there is great love.
Great pain, and frustration and dysfunction. But also great love.
I hope your holiday season is filled with great love. And family. Those are my Christmas wishes for you.
Want to expand your online family? Follow me on Facebook. I promise to never ask for money, or ask why you aren’t married yet, or don’t have kids….
I can hear the collective gasp, “Oh no. She’s going there?”
Yes. We’re going there. And you’re coming with me. So go get your popcorn, because I’m feeling feisty. And my post is accompanied by a pictorial guide of animal puns, how could you resist?
Anytime you put two or more human beings in close quarters you are going to have conflict. Now, add the dynamic, bold, and strong personalities of horsewomen, and you can have epic battles of personal will. No one is impervious to the possibility of conflict at the barn. Even if you are non-confrontational, you still may end up on the receiving end of someone’s feelings of frustration.
Here are my thoughts on how to navigate the delicate balance of personal preference in a very public space. We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our responses, and thereby can guide the situation into something more cohesive or more explosive.
I’ll share a personal example for reference. I’ll even point out what I could have done better. Fear not, the identities of the innocent (or not-so-innocent, depending on your view) will be protected. Quirky Cathy is a fellow boarder. She has a horse that is what I would consider more of a pet and less of a working horse. We’ll call Quirky Cathy’s horse, Brownie. Brownie doesn’t get ridden very much and spends most of his days turned out in the large gelding pasture. Recently I turned my own horse out in the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall and she asked me if I would let her know when I was ready to retrieve my horse, because they were the only two horses turned out and according to her, her horse would freak out if left alone. I agreed to let her know. We retrieved our horses from the pasture at the same time. Once back in the barn, she disclosed to me that she was worried about how she would get Brownie exercised during the winter, when the large pasture would be dismantled. I told her she would have to spend a lot of time lunging. Quirky Cathy then let me know she was stressed about the availability of round pens, as they might be unavailable during shows and events.
Fast forward to the next day, when I’m going about my usual routine of barn chores. I again turned Gangster out into the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall. Then I went to retrieve him. When I got out to the field I saw that it was only my horse and Brownie turned out. Anticipating some issues getting out the gate with what Quirky Cathy had told me the day before about Brownie, I held Gangster by the halter and took off his lead rope, swinging it in my left hand to communicate to Brownie to give us some space. Unfortunately, this tactic was insufficient and Brownie pushed between Gangster and the gate twice, pushing Gangster into me and me slipping in the mud and cussing. I then tried smacking Brownie in the chest with the lead rope and yelling at him to get back. This only caused him to pop up a little. He then turned his rump around to us, and so I gave him a pretty good smack with the lead rope. To that, he kicked out a little. Realizing I was not getting my horse out of the pasture without issue, I turned to go out the gate on my own and retrieve Brownie’s owner. She was already headed our way. Extremely frustrated by my interaction with her horse, when she got to the pasture, I advised her that one of two things was going to eventually happen with her horse, either someone was going to get kicked, or her horse was going to push his way out of the pasture. Quirky Cathy advised me that all the horses were like that and that’s why she always brings a whip to the pasture. I then tried to exit the pasture and Quirky Cathy asked me to wait because she wasn’t finished putting on Brownie’s halter. She apparently thought he would disregard her as well and still charge out the gate.
I was quite livid at this point. Quirky Cathy had told me the day before that Brownie would freak out if left alone, I was witness to this when I was unable to get my horse safely out of the pasture. She admitted that she could not control his behavior by asking me to wait to open the gate. Her admission that she needed a round pen in which to lunge him, also indicated she was unable to control Brownie. A horse with no respect for people, and in particular his owner, is dangerous.
I took a fellow boarder aside and we went for a quick walk as I briefed her on what happened and how furious I was. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it was not any other boarder’s responsibility to let her know they were ready to retrieve their horse. Brownie shouldn’t be left in the pasture with only one other horse. I strode into the barn and told Quirky Cathy this. She immediately interrupted me and said that’s why I needed to bring a whip to the pasture and that all the horses crowd the gate. I told her no, all the horses do not do that, and Brownie was the worst one. And then I turned and walked out. She told me I should work on being a nicer person. I then called the barn office. And then I wrote a letter.
What I could have done better:
I should not have processed the argument with a fellow boarder. It puts her in a weird spot, because she may feel she has to take sides. And then if she takes my side, that’s unfair to the other individual, who may feel ganged up on.
I should have taken more than five minutes to process the situation. I should have gone home, talked to my husband, talked to a friend, had a glass of wine, and then planned a response. Instead, I reacted.
While I did not raise my voice or swear at Quirky Cathy, we are both adults. I don’t have a right to tell another adult how to conduct themselves in a public space that doesn’t belong to me. You may disagree with me on this, but I’m not the boss of anyone but myself. I can’t tell someone how to act. I should have invited discussion about what I think would be a good resolution to the situation
What I did great:
I didn’t yell or swear or cause a scene. Although I thought my head was going to explode, I remained focused on the issues.
I didn’t respond to being told to be a nicer person. I just focused on the real issue: her horse’s unsafe behavior and her lack of responsibility for it.
I haven’t complained to the barn manager incessantly about every little nit-picky detail of daily barn life. I can’t tell you how many people complain about the most benign of issues. Is it annoying that someone always sets baling twine on your hay? Sure. Is it worth complaining to the office about? No. I beg you, don’t do this. Complaining about the silly things undermines your credibility when you really do have a legitimate issue.
I didn’t post on social media to get people on my side! Soooo important! Even though it seems to be our go-to move when something exciting/fun/infuriating/depressing happens, it can create an irreparable wedge to publicly chastise someone’s behavior and rouse the social media angry villagers. Regardless of if you’re friends with the person or not, the message will inevitably make it back to the person you’re socially roasting.
So why am I sharing this? Because maybe you can take some pointers from this and make sure that despite all of the competing interests, preferences and personalities at the barn, peace can be maintained. No one wants to go to the barn with a rock in their stomach worrying about that bad interaction they had with a fellow boarder. We have a responsibility to our fellow boarders to see that we treat them with as much respect as we expect. And if you find yourself dealing with a nit-picky complainer or someone who is unreasonable, I would encourage you to ask the barn manager to mediate a conversation between the two disagreeing parties. Having a third party to help keep people focused on the issue should deter attacks of character or brining up petty frustrations.
When people ask me for barn recommendations, they ask for barns with “no drama.” While I don’t think zero drama is possible, I do think we all have the ability to keep little flares from blowing up into 5 alarm fires.
What have been some issues you’ve experienced and how did you handle them? Anything you wish you would have done differently?
Come follow me on Facebook, I’m low drama… most of the time.
You know that Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers?” If you haven’t heard of it, I’m going to assume you’re not a country music fan. Which is fine. Except that Garth Brooks is an amazing musical talent everyone should recognize regardless of their preferred genre, but I digress. The essence of the song is that something that was so desperately wished and prayed for in the past, which did not come to fruition, turned out to be a blessing not to have happened.
There is something in my life that for a long time I’ve considered a failure. I went to school for Human Physiology, always with the intention of doing something in medicine. The plan was initially to become a physician assistant (PA), then I set my sights on medical school to become an MD, then returned to the idea of becoming a PA. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I returned to school for more courses to meet all of the pre-requisites to apply to graduate programs. At the time I applied to PA programs, the recession was in full downturn and masses of talented but jobless people returned to academia. I was applying to programs with only 35 available spots alongside 2000 other applicants. When you have that many applicants, the weed-out process becomes about the numbers. And my numbers weren’t that impressive. My GPA was good, but not impressive. My work and volunteer experiences were good, but again, not impressive. I was not accepted.
Adding to the disappointment, the human anatomy and physiology classes I took were now “expired” as I needed to have attended them within 5 years of getting into a program. I had just passed the 5 year mark. Meaning that if I wanted to re-apply to programs the next year, I would need to retake the equivalent of 4 classes for two terms each and pay cold, hard, cash (no loans). I didn’t have the money. And even more importantly, I didn’t have the drive. I was tired. I was disappointed. I felt terrible that I hadn’t been accepted to a program. The only thing that softened the blow of repeat rejection letters was that I had a little health-scare at the exact same time. The health-scare ended up being nothing and I was thankful to be healthy. If I had to pick between getting into a PA program or being healthy, I knew healthy was the way to go. Every time.
But for years I felt bad about this chapter. I said I would consider re-applying, but I wanted time to rest. It’s been 5 years and I never reapplied. I work in healthcare, I make less money than I would as a brand new PA grad coming out of school. But I also don’t have another $100K of student loan debt. My view of that “failure” has also shifted in the last few years. For a long time I was embarrassed that I didn’t get in. I didn’t even tell people I applied and that had been my life plan. I came up with a quick and positive answer when people who did know inquired about school, in order to answer their question and move the conversation along. Lest I reveal how disappointed I really felt.
But now, I look back, and I am so thankful that my path took the unexpected turn it did. I am not where I thought I would be, but I’m going somewhere that I want to go. Had I gone to PA school, it is unlikely I would be editing my book. There likely wouldn’t even be a book. And the blog would for sure not exist. I probably wouldn’t even own a horse. That is how massive a shift in my path I believe not attending a graduate program had on my life. I might have owned a horse someday, but seeing how much medical providers work, and the emotional toll their work takes, it’s unlikely that even if I had the money to buy a horse, that I would have had the emotional energy to own and care for one.
I probably won’t work in healthcare forever. Especially if you all buy my book and I become a best-selling author. (Seriously though, you’re going to buy it right? Just out of sheer, blind support?) Joking aside, my writing, the blogging, has reminded me of just how many possibilities exist in the world. There’s no reason that I couldn’t continue to use my knowledge and love for physiology in assisting riders, or equine wellness, or any number of avenues.
Life isn’t a Pinterest quote. Sometimes the goals you set turn out to be the catalyst for a journey, and the destination is far different than you originally understood. The changes in the journey don’t have to mean failure. As long as you’re working toward something that you love, you’re on the right path. Allow the universe, God, whatever your belief, to expand your creativity.
I distinctly remember that at the same time I was applying for PA programs, there was an opportunity for me to manage a clinical research department. I immediately dismissed the idea when a few people came to me to discuss it. The joke was on me. Eighteen months later, I had all my rejection letters stuffed in a drawer and a corner office managing the clinical research department. I can’t explain it, that’s just the way it was meant to unfold. And I recall marveling at the time at who incredibly close-minded I had been about the whole thing.
No excuses. Goals, ambitions, dreams, they all take work. One setback, even ten setbacks, is not a reason to give up and say “it wasn’t meant to be”. But those challenges are points at which you should look at where you’re headed, the feasibility of what you’re doing, and if the things that are out of your control are guiding you in a different direction.
Surely there’s at least one other person out there like me, who looks back at a little painful point and thinks they could have (should have!) done better/worked harder/muscled through. If you’re still beating yourself up, stop. The work to be done is in the future. Like the Pinterest quote says “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”
What “failure” have you endured that you’re now so thankful happened?
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I’ve never been invited to give a commencement speech. Not like I have any tremendous life accomplishment to warrant such a grandiose invite. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’d have a kick-ass speech. I mean, I would give it in my usual awkward style, probably make some joke at my expense in the beginning to lighten the mood. But then I would get to my message. And it would go a little something like this:
There are things that adults say that are well intentioned but said from a place of fear and you should not listen to those things. The item in particular I’m thinking of is taking a break from school. It’s true, if you take a break from school, you can slow the inertia it takes to complete a degree. But if you truly want a degree, if that is a long term goal of yours, a year or two year break from school will not be the limiting factor. It is your determination that is the limiting factor. School is always there, school is always an option. Even as a 34 year old, or 46 year old or 55 year old, school is always available. I have the option to re-route my career if I so choose and go back to school. Sure it would be uncomfortable and I’d be broke for a little while, but educational institutions will always be in existence. What’s not always an option is the chance to chase an adventure. Adventures are not as easily pursued the older you get. The further you get along in your life, the more established you become, the harder it is to get away. Believe me when I say that the good job, the house, the dog, they will always be waiting. But the adventures find someone else to entice if you don’t follow their temptation.
My own adventure was a little bit of running away, a little bit of ego and bravado. I was hungry for something that I could not name and that I did not even know I wanted. But I knew enough to follow my gut. I stumbled upon www.coolworks.com and found some ranch jobs over the winter. Actually, let me back up for a second. I had a friend at the time who was volunteering in Guatemala at a children’s orphanage. My plan for the spring was to purchase a ticket to fly down and see her and spend some time traveling with her. The day before I was going to purchase my airline ticket, her mom emailed me to let me know that she was miserable and coming home early. For my own selfish reasons, I was crushed. I was desperate to have an adventure and there was no way that Guatemala was now an option without a trusted tour guide. I was a little impulsive, but I knew better than to travel as a single woman to a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language and expect nothing bad to happen. So it was that derailment that got me thinking of getting a job somewhere outside of Oregon. That’s when I stumbled upon Coolworks.
Coolworks is a site devoted to job postings for seasonal service industry positions. The majority of the winter season places were ski resorts in the mountains. As much as the idea of working at a ski resort in some chic part of the Rockies appealed to my vanity, I am not, have never been, will never be, a skier. I have very clear memories as a child of being miserable and cold and falling down a lot while skiing. I tried again as a teenager and found I got the same result. So I went with what I knew I loved and would love doing: horseback riding. I actually applied as a wrangler to one of the guest ranches. They called me and said that I didn’t have enough experience to be a wrangler (which my ego took a real disliking to). But they asked if I would be interested in working as part of operations staff. I would be cleaning rooms and serving meals 5 ½ days per week. I said yes. I actually didn’t even wait for the other ranches to contact me or weigh the pros and cons of working there versus another ranch. I just took the first offer that came to me.
When I look back at this period of time in my life, sometimes I am absolutely shocked at the fact that I did this. I had bills that would not go away just because I took a job out of state, like my phone bill and credit cards and a car payment. But I took the job anyway. I had a cat that I couldn’t bring with me and who I cared enough for that I was unwilling to dump at the humane society. An angel I worked with in retail at the time agreed to take her for me for while I was in Arizona.
So I gave notice at my two jobs, moved some big things into a storage unit, and handed my cat off to the cat-angel. I packed up my Honda civic, mostly with clothes and one pair of used cowboy boots from 70’s and started down the freeway toward a life that I had no expectations for. I had never driven for longer than 2 hours by myself at this point, and here I was, driving 23 hours to Wickenburg, Arizona.
The first night I stopped in Reno at a Motel 6 right off the freeway. I promptly left my debit card in an ATM the next morning right before I rolled out of town. I don’t remember being scared to travel alone, I was so high on the adrenaline of what I was doing that I had no fear. I was aware that I was alone and I was estranged from my parents and so I didn’t have much of a safety net, but I had no fear.
The road between Reno and Las Vegas is a road that seems to travel toward absolute nothingness. There is nothing but barren desert on both sides of the straight road. Not even the interesting kind of desert with Saguaro cacti and purple sunsets. It’s just sand and scrub over and over until you have highway hypnosis and almost kill yourself driving off the damn road before your adventure has even begun.
The next night I stopped in Las Vegas and stayed at the since-demolished Imperial Palace. As most things in Vegas, it aged out of relevancy and was torn down, now the site of a giant Ferris wheel. I checked in and changed out of my road trip clothes and walked the strip alone. I sat at The Carnival bar and watched people dancing and laughing, enjoying the warm night and party atmosphere. But I could not partake. I had miles left to drive.
The next day, in Kingman, Arizona, and just two hours from my destination, I stopped for gas. This gas station was attached to a tire shop and mechanic for some reason. I’ve never been anywhere like it again. The gas attendant (who apparently just watched me get gas, because he certainly didn’t pump it for me) was a mid-50s man with a pot belly and clad in overalls, asked me where I was from and where I was going. I told him. He told me Wickenburg was real green, that I’d like it down there. I guess Wickenburg could be considered green if you’re used to the dry sandy stretch of land between Reno and Las Vegas. But for an Oregonian who grew up in the grass-seed capital of the world, the lush Willamette Valley, Wickenburg did not turn out to be green. It’s brown and tan with shades of sage mixed in. Attractive and striking in its own desert way, absolutely. But green? Absolutely not.
I filled up my car and then the man told me I needed new tires. I looked at him incredulously. I specifically had my tires checked at our local trusty tire center before I rolled out of town. He told me my tires had rubber rot or dry rot. To demonstrate he jammed a long screw driver between the tread of my tires and twisted to show me all the little lines hidden within my tires. At the time smart phones did not exist, and even if they had, I wouldn’t have had one. So I had no way to Google if what he was telling me what was right or just a way to take advantage of a young woman travelling alone. I had zero dollars to spend on a new set of tires, but I figured I’d split the difference and get two new front tires, entirely on credit. I actually had no idea until this day if that old guy was just taking me for a ride. As I was writing this I looked it up on Google, and wouldn’t you know, those tires of mine way back when did look like they had tire dry rot. So I have to think I had a tire-angel shining down me as well, who kept me from getting a blow-out and which if I had, I would have been royally screwed.
Two hours later, I safely rolled into Wickenburg and promptly buried my car in a wash, which I already told you about here. But I made it. And then, despite the ranch being actually a very stressful environment in which to work, I had my own adventures. And my restlessness settled, and I found that I had been in control the entire time of how my life could be. If I was honest and brave about what I wanted for myself. Before my husband became my husband, he used to joke with one of the other women who worked at the ranch that she should be more like me, that I had balls. That I just picked up my life and moved. At the time it stoked my ego. In retrospect, I wasn’t really all that brave, I just wanted the hell out of my hometown and the trajectory I was on. I only had to be brave for a few moments, to apply, to accept the job, to make the plans. I know I had anxiety about leaving, I was not without self-doubt. But I just had to have a little courage to set the plan in motion and not back out.
And so I wish for you, that you dig deep for a little bravery at just the right moments, and take on that adventure that seems a little scary, a little intimidating, maybe a lot uncomfortable. Trust me when I say there is a whole lifetime to live in comfort. You only get a few times when adventure comes calling, whispering really, and you just have to whisper “yes” back. And you’ll get a sense of how much is out there, just beyond your own horizon. You won’t regret it. It might be stressful, it might be a terrible experience that makes you write a book and curse this random woman on a blog who told you to go for it. But I swear, at some point, you’ll be really glad you did it. And then you can get on with school, or go back to school, or keep following those whispers for more adventure down canyons, and beaches and wherever else your courage leads you.
Congratulations on your graduation. Or on your child’s graduation. Now the real fun can begin.
I’m not in a great place right now. I’m not in a bad place, but I’m still kind of sad about my dog and perhaps a little sensitive. My drum of creative writing nectar is empty and there’s just a little pebble of sadness rattling around in there. So it’s from this emotional place, this sensitive place, that I am looking around on various horse forums (I belong to several) and wondering when we all got so damn rude and why?
I’m not sure I would ever ask for advice on horse forums for fear of the backlash I’d get for my stupidity, ignorance, or fill-in-any-derogatory-noun. Take for example the mom of a toddler who shared a photo of her kid on a horse standing still. I don’t even remember what her question was, because the overwhelming response to her was what an absolute horrid mother she was for allowing her child to be on a horse without a helmet. The level of vitriol that people were slinging was disgusting. To the level of calling into question her ability to properly care for her child.
Then there was the poor woman who posted a cautionary tale about protecting the pads of your dog’s feet. She shared her learning experience when her own dog ran on sand all day and wound up with burned and bleeding paws. Someone was so incensed by her “stupidity” that they went to another forum to publicly chastise her ignorance. That takes a lot of bad energy to take time out of your day, to invest yourself emotionally in shaming someone, for sharing their experience in an effort to HELP someone else avoid the same pain.
“No rude comments please.”
I’m not above having an opinion, obviously, see current blog post riffing on people and their opinions on other’s lives. However, having an opinion doesn’t make me an expert. Just because I have an opinion doesn’t make it a fact. People shouldn’t have to put the disclaimer “No rude comments please,” at the beginning of their posted question. The fact that people even ask questions is a testament to their willingness to admit they might not have the right answer and are looking for feedback from those who may know better. I’ve seen many a post in which someone shares a photo of a swollen bump on their horse, a relatively minor injury, or asks about an odd behavior and suddenly the angry mob shows up carrying their proverbial pitchforks and calls for the original poster to CONTACT THE VET IMMEDIATELY, WHY ARE YOU EVEN ASKING???
Sorry, but as a gal on a budget, if my horse isn’t spurting blood or writhing around in pain, I’m usually going to take the watch-and-wait approach because, well, have you seen a vet bill? Again, the fact that someone is asking means they care and are looking for information, let’s not chase them off with our strong reactions to their question.
I’m assuming the people with the strong opinions and brash way of communicating said opinions must care deeply for the welfare of the animal and want to convey the importance of their opinion on what’s best for the animal. But there is a nice way to be impactful. I don’t think mocking or chastising someone inspires them to better believe what’s being advised.
But what about the fierce opinions on how you ride, what equipment you use? Say, … a helmet? Oh my. See what I did there? Some of you I bet just got hot in the face at the mention of the dreaded helmet debate.
I just finished a helmet review article for Northwest Horse Source and included a whole grip of facts about traumatic brain injuries in equestrians (it’s a lot!). But do you think I have started riding with a helmet? No I have not. It’s my personal choice, I’ve made an educated decision about my riding and risks and lifestyle and choose not to wear one. Yet. I might change my mind at some point. But someone railing on me about it, telling me what an idiot I am and how other people shouldn’t have to deal with the fallout of my poor decision (yep, that is an actual comment I saw on a recent thread debating the topic of helmet use), is definitely not going to inspire me to wear one. Have I mentioned I can be a stubborn ass? Well I think I can put some real-live donkeys to shame in the tenacious refusal to do something for the sheer delight of irritating someone else. Sorry, mom. And my husband. And all my friends. Okay, anyway, we are off topic!
Back to the helmet debate and the bitterness around that, there is a horse subreddit and the actual rules for the forum specify not to debate the topic of people not wearing helmets because “It is a dangerous thing to do and they know it. They’re taking their own risk by not doing it.” Well, well, well, good to see the rules are impartial from personal opinion, oh wait. Oops, never mind. That’s their prerogative, but I think it’s a reflection of the times we live in on social media.
But I have to ask at this point, do you drive your car over the speed limit? Do you smoke cigarettes? Do you drink alcohol? No, no, no? Okay, well you’re a saint, but if you are a normal person you’ve done at least one of those things at some point in your life, maybe you still do, maybe you do all three (Gasp!). Wouldn’t it be real shitty to hear all the time about what an idiot you are for engaging in those activities because they are dangerous? Yes it would. We all do things that jeopardize our health, but that is what’s great about having free choice. We get to make decisions, good, bad or uninformed. It’s not my responsibility to teach every person I run into, in real life or on social media, a lesson. And if someone is asking for advice, I know there is a way that I can offer what knowledge I have in a respectful way. It’s their right to take it to heart or ignore me completely.
Right about now you might be thinking, “Well she’s kind of a hypocrite because here she’s complaining about all these people, why doesn’t she just keep scrolling and not take time out of her life to write a whole damn blog post about it?”
I do keep scrolling. I promise I do. I don’t engage in debating people on Facebook. I don’t rail on them for some perceived idiot move on their part. Not like I’m some Facebook saint, but I just think we could be a little nicer to each other. Yeah, yeah, the old “Can’t we all just get along?” shtick. But I mean it. In my sensitive, grieving, tender heart (mark the date on the calendar, before you know it the sarcastic stubborn ass will be back) we would benefit so much more from lifting each other up. If people don’t want to take our advice, we don’t need to start shouting in all caps because we are annoyed they didn’t take our expert opinion. I’ve done lots of stupid things with my horse, I thank god the people around me were so knowledgeable and willing to help and kind in their guidance.
And if you don’t like this post, you don’t have to tell me. My blue heart can’t really handle rejection right now.
Ride on my beautiful people. And go hug your dogs. Oh and your kids if you have those. Or your cat. Whatever animal you have, give hugs.
Follow me on Facebook, if you ask me a question I promise to always be kind in my response. And possibly sarcastic. Kindly sarcastic.
There is a new song out by Frankie Ballard called It All Started With A Beer. It’s weird when a song tells you a story that you already know, essentially recounts your own story to you. My husband and I have a couple songs that we consider “our” song. There’s Zac Brown Band’s Free, which we played during our first dance as husband and wife. There’s also Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline which my husband used to sing during karaoke when we first met and then sang to me, changing the words to Sweet Theresa Rice, right before we said our wedding vows. But this Frankie Ballard song is probably the nearest reflection of our story in a song.
It all started with a beer.
You might have gathered from some of my other posts that I married the head wrangler from the Arizona ranch. And I can recall the very first time we met as clearly as if watching it on a reel-to-reel. Picture me standing on my adobe-looking apartment porch, surveying my surroundings: cactus, orange glow of the evening sun, sand filled front yard. Coming down the road is a flatbed truck and a smiling man waving out the passenger side window. I waved back. Not because I was particularly friendly or knew who it was but because I was in a small town and I thought that’s what folks did in small towns. Also, folks, not people, live in small towns.
The waving man lived down the street a block in the guys’ apartment for the ranch. A few of us lived in town because there was no room on the ranch. The waving man walked down the street to our apartment. He introduced himself as the head wrangler for the ranch and said that me and the other operations girl should come back to their apartment to share a beer and then we’d all ride to the ranch together for dinner.
My new roomie and I agreed and walked down to their bachelor pad. The head wrangler handed me a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I had only just started liking beer that summer. Light beer. Beer only one step above water. And I only started drinking it because they didn’t serve hard alcohol at baseball games and I needed something to wash down my nachos and peanuts.
But I took the beer he handed me and put it to my lips. The horrendous atrocity that exploded in my mouth on that first sip was pretty memorable. It was so aggressive on my tongue. I tried another sip, hoping I would warm to the flavor with more exposure. T’was not to be. With each drink it seemed to get hoppier and dryer. I looked at the bottle. I hadn’t even put a dent in it, the beer remained almost full, but I couldn’t bring myself to drink the rest of it.
I held it out to my future husband (which I had absolutely zero inkling of at this point). “Umm, I’m sorry. I don’t like this beer.”
Always jovial and friendly, he took it back from me, more than happy to drink the rest of it for me. Didn’t want to see a perfectly good beer go to waste. This first little interaction also planted the seed for my nickname for the season. He started calling me HM, for high maintenance. He wasn’t wrong.
I never did develop a taste for anything much beyond ciders and light beer. But man, am I so thankful for that first funny little interaction. So the song “It All Started With A Beer” Reminds us both of that warm evening 10 years ago, when our own story started with a beer and led us on a journey we never could have expected.
I would absolutely love to hear some of your “It all started with a beer” stories! Please share! And I hope, just like the song says, you have more highs than lows, more smiles than tears.
I tried and tried to pull a post onto the page that was horse-oriented and funny and informative. And while I did get some words down, it was missing heart. So instead, I felt compelled to share with you a little event that is very dear to my heart: my town’s pro rodeo.
I have been going to this rodeo since I was 11 years old. I went there as a 4H-er and participated in the calf scramble. In the calf scramble, they let about 50 4H kids loose in the arena with 20 calves. The kids have 3 minutes to corral a calf and coax/pull/push it into the middle of a chalked circle. If you are one of the kids that wrangled a calf into the circle, then you received a free steer to use in the 4H fair and sell at auction. As a consolation prize for not getting a calf into the circle, kids would receive a $100 gift certificate to use at the local western clothing store.
Now, I had lambs in 4H and had absolutely zero interest in competing with a steer, but damn if I didn’t want a new pair of lace up Justin boots and being the youngest of 5 kids they were not going to just drop in my lap. So I went out there and ran my ass off with gusto “trying” to drag a calf into the middle of that chalked circle. But, wouldn’t you know it, I just couldn’t quite get one of those slippery buggers into the circle, so I got my consolation prize. Three years in a row the Eugene Pro Rodeo supplied my growing feet with new Justins. I apologize if this seems shady for a tween, but I think we can all agree a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do for new boots.
Even after I left 4H, I still made it to the rodeo every year through high school and into my early twenties. I am a people watcher, and there is never a shortage of things to feast your eyes upon at a rodeo. Obviously there are plenty of cowboys, and the queens with their blinding-white smiles, red lips and fast wave. And then there’s the ever-present pick-up men in the arena, who make riding next to a bucking bronc look easy, hauling cowboys off those bucking broncs is just part of the job. I’d like to meet those men up close, I bet they have some damn good stories to tell.
There are all walks of life who attend rodeos, from families, to old timers reliving their glory days to lots of single twenty-somethings. For many years I was in the twenty-something category, although I never sported the American flag bikini top and cut-off shorts outfit that I spied on a girl one year. The saying that less is more (as in, less skin showing) is true. There’s even a term for the young women pining for the competitors’ attention: buckle bunnies. I was never a buckle bunny, more of the desperate-to-be-a-cowgirl genre (see my move to an Arizona guest ranch). At one of the rodeos in those years I even participated in an amateur bull riding competition, I paid $50 bucks to ride a young steer for, oh, about 3 seconds before he writhed and kicked and got me off his back. Eight seconds is a long time to stay on when you’re an unwelcome passenger.
By chance, I ended up meeting the daughter of this rodeo enterprise through work and began volunteering with her at Tough Enough To Wear Pink events. My coworker became a very dear friend and I became even more connected to the rodeo. I watched her for several years, years when we didn’t even know each other yet, carry the American flag around the arena during the national anthem. If ever there’s a time to get choked up at a rodeo, it’s during the national anthem. There were years after 9/11 that the dedication leading up to the anthem would bring you to tears. The fact that my brother was serving in the Marine Corp at the same time, only made the dedications more profound.
My dear friend, who has been carrying that large American Flag (largest in the area I’m told) for years, has recently passed the torch. The job has become too much to manage while juggling toddler twins. This year she invited me to carry that red white and blue flag on one of the nights. With much trepidation, I said yes. I’m thrilled, honored, excited and terrified. I am now 33 years old, I’ve been going to the rodeo for 22 years, only missing a few years when I was working in Alaska, or chasing other adventures. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this Rodeo, this hallmark of my childhood, my teen years, and my connection to horses through years when there was no room or money for them. I am truly blessed to have been given this extraordinary opportunity. Now please, let’s all join our hands in prayer that I’m not going to be the woman who drops Old Glory during the 25th anniversary rodeo. Amen.
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If you have any interest in volunteering as part of the rodeo, they always appreciate the help, you can contact the Oregon Horse Center.