Thursday, June 27, 2013

There Is No Sex In Scouting

I've been thinking this one through for days, weeks, even, so my writing it on the day after the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is purely coincidental.  Happily coincidental, but purely so.

A few weeks or whatever ago, I was walking the dogs back up the hill while perusing the headlines of the local paper (our house is at the top of a hill; our mailbox at the bottom).  A little blurb in the upper right hand corner of the front page read something like, "Scouts Allow Gays."  Well, hooray, I thought.  Finally a bit of common sense.  Then, when I got inside, I opened the paper and read the article, which said not that the Boy Scouts of America were allowing gay troop leaders, but that they were allowing gay scouts.  And I was all, huh?

It never occurred to me that the BSA would have concerned themselves for so much as a single moment about the sexual orientation of their scouts.  I thought it was bad enough they were worried about the orientation of their scout leaders: it seemed to buy into the crazy belief that gay equaled pedophile, which for the life of me I've never understood.  But this--picture a little kindergartner in Cub Scouts, making a car for the Pinewood Derby.  Going camping in a tent.  Having a blast with his friends.  Now picture the same child at age 8-10-12--whatever--suddenly understanding that he doesn't feel about girls the same way his friends do.  At this point the kid has two choices: 1) hide the fact that he's gay, and feel ashamed; 2) tell people, and get kicked out of scouting.  Hello? 

I was a Girl Scout for nine years and we never had this sort of insanity.  I've checked, and the Girl Scouts have never had a rule about any scout or leader's sexuality, because there's no sex in scouting.  We were too young for it, and also, too busy.  We were camping and learning how to start fires and riding horses (oh, how I loved Girl Scouts!) and doing crafts and singing Christmas carols for creepy old people in nursing homes.  I had a very active scout troop in middle school.  It's quite possible some of my fellow scouts or some of the leaders were lesbians.  I'd never know.  (I can't remember the names or faces of any of our assistant leaders, sorry.  Our main leader was Mrs. Schneider.  I didn't love her--she wasn't very approachable--but I really liked how often she took us camping.)  Scouting was about scouting.

Right now I'm troop leader of a pony club--pony club, like scouts, is an international youth organization with lots and lots of rules.  None of them concern sexuality.  Why not?  Because there's no sex in pony club.  We don't have time for that.  I just got back from a rally in which my team finished first in horse management, no small feat.  They worked hard all day, every day, from the barns opening at 6 am til closing at 6 or 7 pm, at which time we'd eat, shower, and fall exhausted into sleep.  In fact, the only time I've ever had the tiniest bit of trouble regarding sex and pony club was on a drive to a rally when one of our college-age heterosexual members decided to discuss her boyfriend.  No one wanted to hear about it, so she shut up.

So, c'mon, Boy Scouts, give it a rest.  Quit looking like fear-mongering bigots.  Teach some kids how to start a fire.  Make them hike uphill a couple miles, pitch their own tents, cook their own meals.  Nobody has to worry about sex.  They'll all be too tired for that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Farewell, Madiba. Godspeed.

I climb into the front seat of a minivan in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  The young black man--Xhosa, he tells us--who will be our guide for the day introduces himself with a flourish.  "I," he says, "am Nelson.  Not the great man.  But it is true I am named for the great man--" and now his voice rises to a shout, and he pounds the roof of the minivan with one fist--"Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela!  Viva, tata, viva!"  Thoroughout the day, while he takes us on a tour of Port Elizabeth, its outlying townships, and the shantytowns that have sprung up in the spaces in between the townships, he evokes Mandela's name frequently.  Always the same:  the shout, the pounding.  "Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela!  Viva, tata, viva!"  He takes us to the school where Mandela voted for the first time, for himself as President, in 1994.  It's January, 2009: a table set up in the parking lot is registering voters for the new upcoming elections. 

I am standing in what was the prison cafeteria on Robben Island.  A large dignified black man, a former inmate turned tour guide, shows us the words written on two decaying wooden boards: the daily food allotments for "Bantus" versus "Other Colored."  Though Robben Island only held non-white political prisoners, even there aparthied divided them.  The guide points out that "Bantus" were giving mealie pap, a sort of grits, instead of bread.  "Your Christian prayer says give us this day our daily bread," he says, "But for seventeen years, the man who became president of our country was not given bread."  My husband leans forward.  "He doesn't want our pity," he says, referring to the guide. "No," I agree, "he wants our witness."

The cell at Robben Island is memorable for what it doesn't contain:   a bed. (Three woven mats, two coarse blankets).  Window glass.  (Only bars; the wind, icy in winter, sweeps through.)  A toilet.  (Small lidded bucket in the corner).  A pillow.  (Nothing.)  It's tiny.  Black inmates wore short pants, no underwear; colored inmates wore long pants and underwear.   They could get one heavily censored letter every six months.  No visitors for years.  Cape Town shimmering on the Northern horizon, shielded by Table Mountain.  So close.  Twenty-seven years away.

In the gift shop at our safari camp, a white South African woman in her mid-50s comes in to sell a line of products to the young black store manager.  I am looking at the store's selection of books, and I pick out one on Mandela.  (I'm already partially through his biography, Long Walk to Freedom, which I bought in Knysna.)  Bringing it to the cash register, I see the two dissimilar women talking together, and I ask, "So, what do most South Africans think of Nelson Mandela?"  They turn to me with identical expressions that clearly indicate they didn't know even white Americans came this stupid.  "He's, he's, a hero," stammers the black woman, while the white woman silently nods.

I'm in a cave near Oosthuizen.  Our guide has taken us into the farthest room, where lights illuminate the stalactites and stalagmites so that they look like an African landscape.  Without preamble, she begins to sing in a clear, beautiful voice.  The words are Xhosa.  "That," she says, when she is finished, "is our National Anthem."  She's not quite right: it's the first verse of the anthem, which features five of South Africa's twelve official languages, and combines aspects of both the apartheid-era Afrikkaner anthem and a popular apartheid protest song.

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is as bleak as one would expect.  Until you turn the final corner.  The last room is nothing but video screens mounted on the walls, and each screen showing, over and over, the sprawling winding enormously long lines of black South Africans voting for the first time.  Over and over--thousands, hundreds of thousands of people.  A miracle.  The knot in the pit of my stomach unclenches; before I am aware, tears start down my cheeks.

He came out of hell free from anger or despair.  Godspeed, Tata.  Go in Peace.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy (nappy) Birthday!

Yesterday was my actual birthday.  I say it that way because my husband persisted in calling it my "fake" birthday, which it was not.  (He's in England golfing and doesn't want to feel guilty.  He phoned me twice and sent flowers, he's got nothing to be guilty about.)  Like the Queen, I am celebrating my Official Birthday on a day unrelated to the anniversary of the actual event.  My Official Birthday is Friday.  My actual birthday was yesterday.

For the record, I am now 46.  I hope this means I'm middle-aged, because I'd like to see the far side of 90 if for no other reason than to admire the view.

One of the things I really LOVE about Facebook is that it tells you whenever one of your friends has a birthday.  Today is my husband's cousin's wife's birthday; I'd never know that without Facebook.  (Happy Birthday, Sarah!)  Tomorrow is my friend Terry's birthday.  She's older than me!  Happy Birthday, Terry!
And, in the true spirit of Facebook love, I got over 70 birthday wishes on my page.  Which makes a girl feel loved.

One of my friends wrote, "Happy wine--I mean, birthday!"  Another wrote, "Nappy Birthday!"  I had to think about that one for a moment to realize it was a typo and not a reflection on my attitude or my hair, but, as a matter of fact, I had a very nappy birthday indeed.

See, my daughter and I got back Sunday night from a long week in Lexington, Kentucky.  After the Monday I already blogged about, in which I did an astonishing amount of work, I woke up Tuesday and did even more.  Early morning chores, a board meeting for Faith in Action, and then hitting the road with two young women, three horses, and, because of the steadily falling rain, no hay.  We preordered hay from the Kentucky Horse Park, where we were headed, by phone.  By late afternoon we'd reached my trainer Betty's place, had some lessons, cleaned off the horses, loaded back up--7 pm now, we got to the horse park to find 1) no shavings and 2) no hay.   We scrambled around and borrowed hay from some nice folks from Memphis, and then we flat-out stole shavings from the company who'd been supposed to leave them in our stalls.  (In the morning, I confessed to the crime.  They didn't blame me.  The KHP stall floors are asphalt.  You can't leave horses unbedded on that.)  Then we went to dinner--crusty with dried sweat, reeking of horse, maniacally hungry but nearly too tired to eat.

Wash, repeat.  The next two days we took lessons at Betty's place and made ourselves useful around the park.  I hitched a flatbed trailer full of bins of artificial flowers to my truck and we drove around decorating the cross-country jumps for five different courses.  The girls were surprisingly artistic.  We got sunburned and fell asleep quickly.  On Thursday night the other two members of their event team arrived, and on Friday morning the pony club rally began, which meant that the girls and their horses and gear were now sequestered away from me.  I took my mare out for a gallop on the farthest-away Rolex cross country field, and she mellowed into the happiest horse in the world, licking her lips and resting her forehead gently on my chest.  I love you, Mom. 

Saturday and Sunday we all competed all day.  My mare was fabulous except that her dressage canter still sucks--nothing but time and work will fix that.  My daughter's little horse was fantastic; she qualified for the East Coast Pony Club Championships, which had been a big goal.  One of her teammates also qualified for championships; another had her horse come up lame, which sucked.  We drove hard the five hours home and unloaded just as twilight was darkening into night.  We were very, very tired.

But.  I'd been reading the most fantastic novel.  (I'm reviewing it, so I can't tell you the name--it's not officially published until September.)  I'd been reading it in bits each night before I fell asleep, and I'd been really frustrated that I hadn't finished it yet.  So I showered, poured some wine, got comfy on the couch with the book in my hand.

I woke at 3 am, lights still on, book unfinished.  Damn.  Turned out the lights. At 5am decided to stumble upstairs to my own bed.  At 6 am, my nose started running like a spring-fed stream.  I got up to blow it, took a roll of toilet paper back to bed with me, and then got up and took an antihistamine.  Fell back asleep.

At 7 am, the alarm clock went off.  It must have been going off every morning while we were gone.  I slammed my hand onto the switch and muttered bad words.

At 8 am, my husband called to wish me Happy Fake Birthday.  We had a lovely chat.  I also talked to my son.  Then I stared at the clock for a few minutes and realized I needed to pick the dogs up before 9 am anyway, to avoid getting stuck with another day's board.  So I did that.  I had some breakfast and looked online at all my birthday wishes, and I was so, so tired.

So I laid back down on the couch, finished my book (STUPENDOUS), took a nap.  Ate some lunch, took a nap.  Received flowers from my husband.  Took care of all animals, took a nap.  Had a very good friend over for a glass of wine--felt embarrassed that I had no cheese to serve her, but she brought a log of chevre with her as a birthday gift--it was awesome.  Ate some on crackers with the wine and then later folded some into the creamy rich garlic sauce I made to go over ravoli from the fridge.  Cuddled with my daughter on the couch.  We ate the last of the Girl Scout cookies while I worked my way through a week's worth of magazines and catalogs and she watched endless reruns of the Big Bang Theory. 

Very happy.  Very nappy.  Happy birthday to me.

PS.  Update on Marian Randall:  She continues to slowly improve; she now can track people with her eyes and has added nods and facial expressions to her repertoire of responses.  Her spinal fracture looks as though it can heal without surgery.  She will probably have a plate put it beneath her left rib cage to support the shattered bones: when they tried to take her off the ventilator last week, the pain from these breaks was too much for her.  She can breathe on her own, but right now it's agonizing.  She will remain in critical care for some time.  Please continue to pray.

Friday, June 21, 2013

all is (reasonably) well

Someone asked me to post an update on Marian Randall.  I'm happy to, but I'm away from my computer and therefore typing on my phone so I'll be brief.  She has had two surgeries, one to stabilize her left femur, right knee and right foot, and one to work on her left elbow.  They hope to take her off the vent tomorrow.  She'll be in critical condition for several weeks no matter what, and the big danger is infection. She is responding to her family. No visitors and no flowers for now, just prayers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Just another typical day...

Today was one of those days when I was really afraid I'd end up with prune boobs.

You know how, when you've been in the bath too long, your fingers turn into prunes?  Today I was  constantly and thoroughly awash with sweat; my bra absorbed liquid until the girls were sitting in their own private little bath.  Fortunately I managed to escape prune boobs, but I have a feeling it won't be for long.

After the fantabulous end to the fabulous pony club camp, in which several of our members distinguished themselves by passing difficult riding and horse care examinations with flying colors, and the rest of the group distinguished themselves by their willingness to do everything possible to help those being examined, I was beat.  My daughter was beat.  We escaped with my darling husband to our house in the North Carolina husbands, where we did as little as possible for 2 and a half days.  We played cards, read, slept, and ate.  I thought about taking a yoga class but had a massage instead.

It was a very deliberate sort of nothingness, because we knew that today, and all the days for the next week, are going to be crammed full of all sorts of things.  Today we emptied the horse trailer tack room, reorganized it, carted a vanload of stuff to the house, washed all that, washed about six other loads of laundry, folded it, packed for a horse trial/rally and a few days with our trainer Betty, printed out a thousand forms needed for the rally, went to a business meeting. went to Wal-Mart, went to the grocery, paid bills, balanced the checkbook, remembered to order more hay, met the darling husband for lunch, rode the horse, cleaned the tack, re-packed the trailer tack room including finding a way to get my new scooter inside, portioned out all the feed for 2 horses for 6 days the labor-intensive Pony Club Way, and got all the rally kits from the camp barn into the trailer.  Then I hung out with my son for the 90 minutes between when he came home from one vacation and left with my husband for another [during that time he did a load of laundry and repacked his bags, I admired videos of his golf swing, and he went online to chose his college classes for freshman year].  Took son and daughter out for a quick burrito, meeting husband, kissing him goodbye, transferring son's gear to his car.  Took out some trash.  Did dishes.  Walked the dogs.  Picked raspberries.  Took a shower (no prune boobs!).  And now, believe it or not, I'm making raspberry jam.  (I'm cheating a little and putting it up in Tupperware.)

And drinking a glass of wine.  A big one.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Quick Update on Marian Randall

Dear friends,

Thank you.  Yesterday was the highest single-day number of views of my blog, ever.  I appreciate your concern over Marian Randall, and figured I owed you an update.

For the severity of her injuries, she's doing very well.  We've learned that she actually suffered a heart attack while driving on the interstate; her car crossed the grass median and hit a semi truck straight on.  Fortunately, the semi driver, though unable to avoid the collision, got his rig stopped, thus greatly lessening the force of the crash.  He was minorly injured.

Marian's bone fractures are even more extensive than initially thought, and it's clear she will need multiple surgeries as soon as she can stand them.  For now, her blood pressure and heart rate have stabilized, her kidneys are still functioning (massive protein leaks from injured muscle tissue can derail the kidneys), and, best of all, while she was briefly under less sedation than usual she was able to wiggle her toes on command.  (I sat next to a neurologist at a dinner last night; she assured me that that was really a good sign.)

It's funny, I can only think of her as "Marian" now, when I've never once called her that in all the years--decades--I've known her.  I suppose praying for her so continually creates that kind of intimacy.  Her name runs through my head all hours of the day.  Marian.  Marian.  Marian.  Meanwhile Sarah is home from Haiti and at her mother's side.  All is as well as it can be.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dear Friends, Please Read This

I've been amazed that anyone reads this blog at all, but apparently quite a few of you do.  Today I have an unusual request.  The mother of one of my best friends was injured in a head-on collision with a semi on I-69 near Fort Wayne last night.  She's in Parkview North hospital with a skull fracture, a C-7 spinal fracture, a fractured femur, and multiple fractures to her left arm and chest.  She's in critical condition but survived the night, and they hope to have her stable enough to take her into surgery today.

I'm asking that you pray for her.  If you don't pray, send kind secular thoughts, or good karma, or whatever you've got.  I'm not picky.  She's 76 years old and this is the sort of situation that could go either way.  I've seen prayer work wonders before.  It's also about the only thing I can do to help right now.

If you grew up in Fort Wayne with me, you might know her.  Marian Randall.  She taught at Canterbury School for years.  Her husband Cory is an Episcopalian priest; he pastored a church in Fort Wayne.  Sarah and Liz graduated from Bishop Dwenger.  (The youngest daughter, Bekah, went to high school in California while the Randalls briefly lived there.)  Sarah's flying back from Haiti tonight and the rest of the family is already in Fort Wayne.

Please pass this along however you can.

Marian Randall.
Marian Randall.
Marian Randall.

Hang in there.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Is My Taco

It's 6:57 am.  In 18 minutes I will go down to my basement and wake up a herd of pony club campers.  Holston Pony Club has had a summer camp nearly every year I've had a child involved.  We used to rent Virginia Intermont's barn and open camp to the public, which meant we raised money doing it (though we also charged our members, and it wasn't cheap).  We would have something like 25 campers, which, when combined with 25 ponies, was a lot.  Multiple instructors, complicated schedules, and usually at least one group of small clueless pony-loving children who needed constant, constant, supervision.

I remember one year agreeing to a single-night sleepover in VI's barn lounge.  My friend and riding instructor Lisa stayed the night too.  In the morning both Lisa and I were nearly hungover from exhaustion, but whereas she was deeply annoyed about how the night had gone (one child cried, the concrete floor was astonishingly uncomfortable, a skunk sprayed the door at 2 am and all the lights in the adjoining indoor arena went on automatically at 4 am and could not be turned off) I was ebullient (no one had vomited, bled, or gone home). 

A few years ago, when I took over the DC position (District Commissioner, a fancy-sounding term that means Troop Leader), our club had gotten pretty small.  A lot of the older kids had aged out.  We're also a very widespread club, geographically speaking, so our members don't get a lot of time to hang out together.  And I have a big barn on my property that sits unused for most of the year.  So I changed camp--just us, just at my barn, and free to members.  At the end of that camp I asked what we should do to make next year better.  "Let us sleep over," one of the members said.

Well, I have a basement.  So we did.  And now we have new members and camp's grown bigger again and I was a little worried, frankly, over how this camp would go.  But it turns out I needn't have been.  The big kids are so good at taking care of the littles, and at leading by example.  When one of the big girls swept the barn aisle yesterday, a new member hurried to get the wheelbarrow and pick up the sweepings.  Our new members are learning the pony club way of taking care of their horses, which is not the only possible way, but is the only possible way that will not get you points deducted at rally.

At lunch we sit in a big circle.  We'll start a question--What kind of riding do you want to be doing in ten years?--and everyone has to answer in turn.  The kids love this.  I don't know why.  It's very simple, and they'd be upset if I forgot.  They'd remind me, write the question themselves, pass it around, expect me to answer in turn.

A few days ago I read a blog essay in which the writer said that she used to be amazed at her police officer husband's powers of multitasking.  He'd be on patrol, actively doing something, while also talking to her on the phone and eating a taco.  And he'd say, "This taco is amazing."  She wondered how he could possibly even taste the taco.  Then one day she got it.  When you're in the midst of doing something you're meant to do, you can do it all, even down to enjoying the taco.

Of course, yesterday, while I sat at the kitchen table getting to know some of the new members over plates of fried chicken, the UPS guy brought me my manuscript back from my editor.  I can see I'm in for another big revision.  I'm ready for it.  Right now it's just nothing but tacos around here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two Women and a Truck

We needed new cross country jumps on the farm.  Some of our old ones have decayed (These were mostly sections of a very large tree that a tornado uprooted, let me see, ten years ago now.  We carved the tree up and scattered it over the farm, and for awhile we had some really big fearsome jumps where now it's mostly mulch piles) and some have just gotten boring: been there, jumped that.  The pony clubbers are coming this week for camp, and some of them were riding in ratings examinations, and they needed some nice jumps, too.

So my daughter and I unhitched the truck.  We went to Lowe's and pondered.  We talked and waved our arms around, and then we bought a bunch of wood.  Did we need help loading that?  No, we did not. 

"I bet the don't expect to see two women and a big truck," my daughter said.

Then we went to the tire store and convinced them to give us 8 old tires.  Tire jumps are easy to make:  set the tires like Oreos, secure the ends.  Done.  Well, done-ish.  We needed some 4 x 4s--the wood kind, not the vehicles--to keep the tires from rolling, but we found those in the hayloft, so that was good.

Then Katie, her friend Kyla (who doesn't know much about horses, but likes power tools) and I built a stair-step jump in the garage.  We built it in two four-foot sections, so that we can jump it either as one standard-width jump (easy) or two skinny jumps (much harder).  We set it in the field and stained it.  We scraped and repainted our coop jump so that it is, once again, the Green Monster.  We built a small lattice gate to add to our repertoire of show jumps.

That's it.  We sweat a lot, and got dirty, and my daughter learned how to use a power drill. 

You can buy cross-country jumps.  But there's something very satisfying about making some with my daughter, about teaching her that with the right truck you can conquer the world.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How will they know?

So yesterday I read a random blog post I found through a Twitter referral and probably couldn't find again if I had to.  It was on the five reasons people struggled to remain Christian.  The first (and I'm not sure they were presented in any sort of order) was the people had been taught the Bible was inerrant and then discovered it to be self-contradictory.  Number Two was they felt scientific reasoning won out over religion.  Number Three was that they didn't understand how God could let bad things happen, and I can't remember Number Five at all.  (Sorry.)

Number Four was that they thought Christians were horrible people.

Now, as a Catholic I've never been taught the Bible is inerrant, and I've always been taught that science teaches us to marvel at the intricacy and wonder of Creation.  So I've never had an issue with #1 or #2.  Number three is a complaint universal to much of humanity.  It's Number four that gets me.

Christians are horrible people.  Christians are bigots.  Christians are homophobes.  Christians are idiots.

No, not all of us.  At least not all of the time.  The problem seems to be not so much a part of Christianity--there's no place in the Bible, inerrant or not, where Jesus is a horrible, bigoted homophobic idiot.  Over and over, Jesus responds to people with love.  The problem is that we all want to be right about our version of Christianity.  We like our rules, whatever they are, and we want everyone else to abide by them, too.

In a recent sermon, Pope Francis called Catholics out on this type of behavior.  He gave the example of a church who refused to baptize a child because it was born to a single mother.  Pope Francis said that here the church had a chance to welcome a child into the faith and show love to a woman who'd bravely chose to carry and keep her child.  Instead, they got caught up in the rules.  They forgot about love.

Which is a tragedy.  A song I learned in childhood--one of those awful praise-and-worship Catholic songs that showed up in the 1970s, when I was in Catholic grade school, so that I only remember it sung with the sort of dirge-like swing we middle schoolers adopted whenever Sister Dominic threatened to smack us with her ruler if we didn't sing a little louder--was "And They Know We Are Christians By Our Love."  The refrain went, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our llooovvvee, yes, they'll know-ow we are Christ--ians by---our----luvvvv."

The question is, will they?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Old Dog Lives

So, I took our ancient incontinent terrier, Under Dog, to the vet yesterday.  (I know I wrote that his appointment was Thursday.  It was Wednesday.  At least I showed up on the correct day.)  I detailed all his symptoms--the insomnia, the barking, the weird erratic cough, the anxiety, the vagueness, and, not the least, the constant peeing wherever, whenever.  (Current score:  Under Dog 6, puppy pads 0).  The vet, whom I've known so long I feel like he's an old friend, said, "You're describing several things that could be wrong."

We drew blood, did x-rays, and tested him for diabetes, which he doesn't have.  The bloodwork comes back Friday: we're most concerned about kidney failure.  The x-ray showed clear lungs, no large masses, and a heart the size of a baseball, which is about twice the size this 20-pound dog should have.  He also has a heart murmur now.

I brought him home with two prescriptions to help his fluid retention, and, therefore, his heart.  They'll make him pee more.  The vet said the house training breakdown was likely the result of doggy dementia, and I was just going to have to live with it.

I saw that they make diapers for dogs.  I might start living with those instead.

Meanwhile, I brought him home, and he sacked out on the couch as though he'd had the longest day ever.  He's not a horrible dog, not in that interesting/awful sort of way I could turn into a bestseller (see: Marley and Me).  Nor is he a heroic dog (see: Lassie).  He's an ordinary little mutt who happened to become the dog of my children's childhoods, the one who shows up in our pictures at Christmas, looking a little dazed by the lights on the tree.  The one that greeted them when they got home from every day of elementary school and every day of middle school and, for my son, every day of high school too.  I don't believe in keeping animals alive when they need to be released from their misery, but I don't think Under's miserable, not yet, and I'm glad.  He's not a great dog, but we still want him here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

6 am on the farm

Fifteen years ago, when our friends and family heard we were moving to east Tennessee, most of them did not understand why.  Sure, my husband had a good offer to practice there.  But he also had offers in Indiana, where we had lived our entire lives.  Eastern Tennessee?  A little-bitty Southern town?  What would we do for entertainment?  Where would we shop?  What were we thinking?

We wanted to live somewhere pretty. 

Pretty?  Bristol?

Walk the dogs with me this morning.  Six am.  The sky's light but the sun isn't really up yet; the mountains just south of us are a silhouette of blue.  Hundreds of birds chorus the dawn.  I know what lives here:  sparrows. robins.  red-winged starlings.  mockingbirds.  yellow finches.  In summer we have dozens of barn swallows.  They circle me when I ride through the fields, swooping up the insects the horse raises from the grass.  In winter a red-tailed hawk lives here, along with a flock of Eastern bluebirds.

The grass, mowed yesterday, is heavy with dew.  The scent of honeysuckle hangs in the air.  It grows wild in the fence rows; it perfumes the entire month of June.  I walk past the trees we planted--columnar oaks, evergreens, a mimosa.  A spring-fed creek runs through our property, and across it, at the top of the hill, are 700 black walnut trees.  When we planted them they were the size of chopsticks.  Now they are thirty and forty feet tall.  They're meant for timber; my husband calls them our "get rich slow" scheme.

Muskrats live in the creek, and snapping turtles, and frogs.  Lately we've been seeing a big brown heron.  Deer live in the copse in front of the walnuts, and for awhile I had a fox den in my coop jump.  I haven't seen the fox in awhile.  We only have fifty acres, and subdivisions border us on two sides, but I hear coyotes in the night sometimes and if I walk to the barn after dark am always careful not to disturb the skunks that might be waddling across the lawn. 

Indiana has its own beauty.  The sky there is so big, and across the farmland you can see forever, farther and farther back to the very limit of your vision.  But here the mountains change color across the span of a day, and the wind blows the hayfield into ripples like the ocean.  We wanted to live somewhere pretty, and so we did.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Best Man in the World

A few years ago, I was talking to an elderly friend of our family's, and I told her that if I ever died there would be a line of women at our house door a quarter-mile long, all holding casseroles and hoping to console the widower.

"Oh, honey," the friend said, laughing, "I know."

"I'm serious," I said.  "I could name names."

"Oh, honey," she said, "so could I."

This morning when my husband's alarm went off at some horrendously early hour, I asked him to just hit snooze once for me.  "Why don't you just sleep," he said.  I protested that no, I just wanted him to hit snooze once.  During the school season we actually all eat breakfast together, as a family--we're cute that way--but it's not remotely worth waking teenagers in the summer, not unless they've got an early tee time.  But I think it completely unfair that my husband should be eating breakfast alone, when he's the one working hard while the rest of us lollygag about.  "Just one snooze," I said, burying my face in my pillow.

Yeah.  If he kissed me goodbye--which he probably did--I wasn't awake enough to know it.  When I finally swam out of a really fantastic dream involving embroidery--awesome embroidery--it was 8:07. 

Last week my husband had a cold.  He mentioned a few times, as he went off to work, that he wasn't feeling very well.  He went to bed early a few days.  Sunday I woke having caught his cold, and I slept on the couch the entire day, while he did laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, and brought me plates of food. 

Did I mention that I was dating my husband before I started riding horses?  And that one day I called him during college, where I learned to ride (we went to schools 800 miles apart--smartest thing we ever did) and said, "I'm really loving riding.  It's even better than I thought it would be," and he said, "it would be nice to live on a farm."  He doesn't like horses himself.  Or rather, he appreciates them as personalities (my mare cracks him up, the way she rolls with enthusiastic abandon in the grass) but he doesn't ever want to ride them, and it scares him that I do.  And then I go and fall in love with what's probably the most dangerous equestrian sport, and I say things like, "But we wear safety equipment!  They've just come out with personal airbags!"  And I know he's thinking that in golf you don't need a personal airbag, and when I point out that a personal airbag very possibly saved one of my friend's lives, he's thinking, in golf nothing needs to save your life, because you are not risking your life by playing golf.  But he doesn't say it. 

Did I mention that I "needed" a new, expensive horse right when it was a particularly awkward time to buy one?  That I am not the only adult in my family to be driving a 9-year-old minivan, in part because of my need for a new horse?  (Although, let's be honest:  the golf trips aren't cheap either.)  That his response was to encourage my daughter to go with me horse-shopping, and then pull her aside and say, "Don't let Mom buy it if it's not really good.  You know how much she wants a new horse.  Don't let her buy a bad one."

In Downton Abbey one of my favorite characters is Branson, the Irish chauffeur who falls in love with one of Lord Grantham's daughters.  In declaring his love for her, he says, "I will devote the rest of my life to making her happy."

That's how cherished I feel.

Meanwhile, the puppy pads are a complete bust.  I don't know why I thought that a dog too addled to know he shouldn't pee on the good rugs should suddenly understand he should pee on a puppy pad, but let's just say that yesterday there were three, count 'em, three, puddles of dog pee within 12 inches of a puppy pad.  I'm thinking of papering the entire house with them.  Meanwhile, I did paper the whole surface of the rug in my office, which seems to be unfortunately ill-placed, at least where the dog is concerned.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Old dogs and new horses

Our ancient terrier, Under Dog, has become increasingly incontinent, aggressive, anxious, and annoying.  On Friday night I was alone in the house, as my daughter's at the beach with a friend, and my husband and son were golfing in Atlanta.  I thought of throwing a wild party, but the idea of getting into my pajamas early, having a glass of wine, and reading a book was too seductive.  I was never much of a party animal anyhow.

Along about 2am, Under Dog began to bark.  He became a canine metronome: 'Arf-ARF! Arf-ARF! Arf-ARF!" until I thought I'd lose my mind.  I know from prior bitter experience that he does not need to be taken outside or given water or anything else except perhaps to have his lips superglued together.  He's in the mudroom, in his crate, next to the crate containing our other housedog, and he's having a full-fledged anxiety attack, and nothing will fix it.  He used to do this every several months or so, but he's panicking a lot more often now.  Sometimes my husband and I will move his crate into the garage to muffle the yelps.  Friday I just put the pillows over my head, and, with the dog, marked off the hours.  3 am.  4.

At 7:45, showered and getting dressed, I stuck my head out the bedroom door and yelled, "Under Dog, shut the ---- up!"  His barking ceased immediately.

I should have yelled that at 2 am.

Meanwhile Under now pees at random in the house repeatedly throughout the day, regardless of how many times I take him outside.  He pees right in front of me, something he's never done before.  I googled "demented dogs" and sure enough, he's likely got canine senility.  I'm taking him to the vet on Thursday in case there's some sort of help for him, but meanwhile, while running errands today, I bought an electroshock bark collar and a pack of puppy pads, because he barked all night Saturday and Sunday, too, and because maybe he'll pee on the pads instead of my good rugs.

Meanwhile, I had gotten up on Saturday to go on one of the hunt's summer trail rides.  This one wasn't far from my house--1000 acres of meadow, forest, and mountain, with a gorgeous view at the summit.  Sarah loves this sort of thing; she was as happy as a horse can get.  At one point we came to a wide meadow with a strip mowed around it, where those of us who wanted to canter could, while the walk/trot group met us farther down the trail.  My friends Judith and Holly promptly asked if they could canter really fast, and I fell in behind them, but then it turned out Holly's idea of "really fast" was considerably slower than Judith's and mine, so we passed her and lit out.  Judith rides a 22-year-old former racehorse named Rick.  Rick can run, but Sarah did her womanly best to keep up with him.  Sarah looks at least half draft, but she's actually 3/4 thoroughbred, and sometimes she lets her inner racehorse have the upper hand.

I was about halfway through the 3 hour ride when it struck me suddenly that a year ago when I'd done the same ride I'd been on Gully, not Sarah.  It was the last difficult thing Gully and I did together--and I certainly kept to the walk/trot group with him.  The part that surprised me was the realization that I felt as comfortable on Sarah's back now as I had on Gully's then--and I'd ridden Gully for 13 years.  Sarah and I are becoming more of a team than I realized.  I'm very glad.