Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dear Trustees of Smith College: Please Don't Close The Barn

Dear Trustees of Smith College:

When I was a little girl, every morning, while I brushed my teeth, I looked out our bathroom window into the backyard and checked to see if a pony had showed up overnight. My backyard was surrounded by a chain-link fence and a suburban Indiana subdivision: not only was there never a pony, there was never going to be a pony. I didn't know any ponies. It didn't matter. I checked every morning anyhow, and I let myself dream. "what if there was a pony? What if I woke up one morning to a pony?"

I had a difficult, traumatic childhood, and I escaped into books from an early age. My local library put horse stickers on the spines of any books about horses. I used to run my finger down the rows of books, checking only for that sticker. I physically sat on a horse perhaps half a dozen times, growing up. Most of those times were at the pony ride at the zoo, but in my mind I galloped.

I was the first person from my family to graduate college. My parents opened the world to me: any college I could gain admission to they promised to send me to. Even better, they insisted I consider schools I never would have thought of on my own--places like Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, and Smith. They drove me from Indiana to look at all of these East coast schools girls from my hometown never heard of, much less attended.

I loved Smith from the start, all of it, but I especially loved Smith's barn. I toured it as an admitted student, met the team coach, Sue Payne, and met the captain of the riding team. I would love to be on the riding team, I said to my father on the drive home. He smiled but shook his head at me. This man who encouraged every one of my childhood ambitions told me regretfully that the riding team at a place like Smith would be limited to people who had grown up differently from me, who had ridden all their lives. He was sure I could take lessons, but the team was out of the question.

Undaunted, I wrote a letter to Sue. (I was class of '89; this is long before email.) She wrote back immediately, a letter I not only still have, but can lay my hands on instantly, as I immediately put it into my box of treasures (my acceptance to Smith is in there also, along with my grades from each semester, the tassel from my graduation cap, and the astonishing letter that reads, "Dear Kim, Congratulations! You have made the riding team--") Sue assured me that due to the IHSA's unique structure, I absolutely had a chance at making the riding team after taking lessons for a year.

There was a place for me at Smith, and I took it.

Freshmen who had never taken riding lessons were supposed to sign up for beginner lessons. Duh. But if you had ridden before, you were supposed to ride in front of the instructors as a sort of placement test. It didn't take a genius to understand that the placement test was a free opportunity to ride (I would pay for every one of my lessons myself, as my parents were more than tapped out with tuition) so I headed down to the barn in a soaking rain wearing my best jeans and my L.L. Bean Boots. The groom made me change out the Bean boots for paddock boots she unearthed somewhere, but no one could give me actual skills--I'd really only ever read about riding. I fell off Tara, the steadiest, oldest pony in the barn. And then I got back on. Honestly, that day was magic--I was riding, I was so happy.

I could tell you story after story. I remember every moment at the barn. I could tell you how it felt when I couldn't hear my name called the first time I won a class, because my teammates cheered so hard when the announcer called my number. I could tell you about the long ride I took the morning of my graduation. I could tell you about doing night checks at the barn, about how we saved a horse named Cocoa from dying of colic, how my teammates lifted me and taught me and changed me from a frightened asthmatic bookworm into someone who called herself an athlete, because she was one. I could show you my desk today, where, on the left, my Eastern College Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete Award sits beside the small brass Pegasus that Molly Keenan, the captain who took me to the barn as an admitted prospective, gave me when she graduated, for luck.

I never stopped riding. I compete in the Olympic sport of eventing, as does my daughter. My current bathroom window faces our orchard, but when I look out my bedroom window every morning I see our horses in their field. And if you want to understand how horses can heal a traumatized child, all you have to do is read my latest novel, The War That Saved My Life. If you've heard of it it's because it won a Newbery Honor award in 2016 and spent half the year on the New York Times bestseller list.

My name is on two of the trophies in the Smith Barn: most improved my sophomore year, best sportsmanship as a senior. 

The barn is important, and the team is important, to ever so many students like me. Please don't continue your plans to shut them down.

Yours sincerely,

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Smith Class of 1989

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holy Days

At first the huntsman thought I'd blown an aneurysm. That's what he said, afterwards. He said, "You went down without a sound."

I know I did. We were cantering across a mown hay field, the mare still a little rambunctious (all this down time from the wildfires, she was bored, bored, bored) after 90 minutes hunting but essentially obedient. I skirted left to give her room to stretch where we wouldn't trample hounds--I was riding in the huntsman's pocket, as, on a ridiculously cold day two days before the big Christmas Hunt and Breakfast, the entire hunt consisted of the huntsman, one whip, fourteen couple of hounds, and me--and the mare stumbled, lurching hard to the right. I found out later she'd clipped the back of her front right shoe with her hind right foot, and pulled it off--anyway, momentum carried me forward, over her left shoulder. There's always that oh shit moment when you can no longer save yourself but have not yet hit the ground. I remember it. It's the last thing I remember, until the ambulance arrived.

Our huntsman was born out of time; he belongs to the eighteenth century. I loved hunting so close behind him, listening to him work the hounds, watching them work in harmony. It was so cold my knees hurt--I had several layers on my upper body, and good warm socks, but only regular breeches covering my legs--but my asthmatic lungs were doing just fine, and it was a bright clear morning, and I was so glad to be out. "I'm fieldmaster," I said, laughing. "It's my first time."

I was in charge of the field because I was the field. And then I was laying in a field, unconscious, and our anachronistic huntsman was calling 911 on his thoroughly modern cell phone, and the ambulance wouldn't come without a proper street address. "I know exactly where we are," the huntsman protested, "just listen," but the ambulance wouldn't budge, so he rode out to the nearest mailbox and read them that address.

Eventually I started to come to. I was cold, and the whip took off her own coat and draped it over my legs. When the ambulance showed up it was an hour since I'd fallen. They couldn't pull the ambulance into the soggy field, and they didn't have a stretcher, so I walked across the field and climbed inside. The ambulance men weren't sure I needed to go to the hospital. The whip and the huntsman were insistent. I would have been insistent, if I hadn't been concentrating so hard on walking. I was chilled through. Across the field, the huntsman's horse waited patiently in a puddle of hounds. "Where's Sarah?" Sarah is my mare.

"We've got her," the huntsman said. "She's fine."

The ambulance men may have been more or less useless but they drove me to the hospital in my hometown, an hour from the hunt, down the road from my husband's office. I called my husband on the way. He arrived just as I was coming back from my CT scan--no brain bleeds--shivering, and he got more blankets out of the cupboard and tucked them around me.

It's not good. It's my third concussion, second loss of consciousness, in less than three years. My husband said we'll never know exactly how hard I hit the ground, but I know it wasn't a very severe fall. (And of course I was wearing a helmet. I always ride in a helmet.) I should have bounced. It seems ominous to me that I did not.

My children came home from college that night, watched me snore on the couch. The next morning they drove back to the hunt kennels, and my daughter drove my rig and horse home. I went along, but the effort of being awake wore me out; I napped the afternoon away. It's been like that. This is the first long thing I've typed, nearly a week later, and it's with the brightness down and the font size increased on my computer, and it's tiring.

I can't ride for a month and I won't go to Florida this year. I can't do strenuous yoga; can't exercise at all until I can go about a normal day without needing several naps. Reading is challenging.

"How do you feel about not going to Florida?" my husband asked last night.

"Sad," I said. "I'll miss it." There are worse things than not riding. Taking away reading and writing would be like taking away breathing--I can't imagine. I've got a million places I want to go, a million things I haven't done--

Offers of help pour in, but I don't need them right now. My children are home, my husband is home, and all is as well as it can be. I'm writing this. The mare waits in the field. It's nearly Christmas. These are holy days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Charming Redneck Life

Yesterday, Mack, the guy who mows my farm and repairs fence and cleans out the patch of pines will die before he gets to the pines, because no matter what I say or do cleaning out the pines is somewhere on his priority list down below dying--anyway, Mack offered me a slab of deer meat and a taser. I took the deer meat. I declined the taser. It was a thick short black stick, like a police baton, and Mack showed me how it functioned as a flashlight. "And then when you click this button over--" He hit the switch again, and blue and silver sparks crackled insanely around the rim of the thing. I jumped three feet. Mack looked disappointed. "I thought you might be afraid of it," he said.

"I am afraid of it," I said. "Furthermore if I stuck that thing in my purse I'd hit the switch by accident and tase myself." Furthermore--though I didn't say this to Mack--I've caught hold of electric fence enough times to know that I hate being electrocuted.

"Well, I worry about you, Miss Kim, I do," Mack said, sadly tucking the taser away. Mack is always after me to learn to shoot his 22, but he knows as well as I do that even if I learned to shoot a gun I wouldn't actually own one, much less keep one on my person. Not that Bristol's a dangerous place. If you're not shot by a blood relative or someone you are sleeping with, you are pretty much not going to be shot.

"Somebody comes after me, I'll just kick him in the nuts," I said, and went to put the deer meat in the freezer.

We had some fresh deer meat on our farm recently, enjoyed by the pack of coyotes I suspect have taken up residence in the woods between my fields and my neighbor's. I hear the coyotes at night, sometimes right up around the house, and I've seen them in my fields in daylight, which is rare. I don't begrudge them their deer, but I wish they wouldn't have scattered the bones of it all throughout my fields. "Is that a LEG?" asked Caroline, my young friend, when we were out riding the other day.

It was a leg, with a tiny split hoof attached. I suggested to Mack that it might be time to do something about the coyotes. He promised to shoot them. Stanley, another old friend who is repainting my barn, overheard. "Can I have the pelt?" he asked.

"Stanley, he shoots it, you can have the whole damn thing," I said. "Don't you go skinning it in my driveway."

Stanley nodded and grinned but I knew for sure that Mack would never shoot the coyotes. Despite carrying an arsenal in his pickup, Mack never shoots anything. I've seen him miss groundhogs on purpose. Only thing Mack ever shot, in fifteen years on my farm, was the wasps' nest growing on the back side of one of my cross-country jumps last summer. By the time we noticed it, that sucker was as big as a beach ball, and impervious to normal means of control. Mack drove out to the field and emptied four cans of wasp spray onto the nest with no apparent result. So he drove out with his 22 and blasted the thing to pieces. Skunks came at night and ate up the wasps.

It was a historic win until the jump collapsed right where it was shot. Though as my daughter says, she and I built it ourselves, so maybe it wasn't all that sturdy to begin with.

I've been casting about for more coyote-killers, with surprisingly bad luck. Usually people around here are just lining up to shoot at things. Every week or so security at the local regional airport posts a photo of a GUN they prevented from being taken on an AIRPLANE, but we all know it's not terrorists, it's just another woman who forgot to empty her purse before she got in the security line.

I discussed this problem with Mike, who boards a horse with me. Mike is my more usual source for deer meat and I figured he probably keeps a gun or two in his truck himself. "I'm not sure you want to kill the coyotes," Mike said. "Haven't you noticed? We ain't had any problem at all with skunks this year. I believe the coyotes are eating all the skunks."

This is a strong point. I'm still considering it.

Monday, December 12, 2016


One of the things I love about my Catholic church is that we celebrate Advent before Christmas. So many of the other churches around here are having their Christmas concerts, cantatas, living Christmas trees, pageants, etc., in the early part of December, when it isn't Christmas yet. Catholics celebrate Christmas from Christmas Eve evening until the Feast of the Holy Family, which is somewhere after January 6th. We don't sing Christmas carols before Christmas Eve. Instead we sing Advent songs, in minor key. We sing of longing and of waiting.

I love this because it reminds me to slow down.To actually savor the shopping, the wrapping, the preparing. To go to yoga and find stillness and prepare for some small difference in the new year.

I also love it this year because I'm waiting in a very practical sense. My children come home on Thursday. They're taking finals right now, and they call us briefly, popping with stress but also preparing, finishing up their first and seventh semesters, respectively, and coming home to sing some carols on Christmas Eve and celebrate, as a family, together.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Another Word for Gratitude

I was enormously thankful yesterday that my cleaning people came that day instead of their usual Monday, because they always vacuum the basement and therefore saw that the septic tank had backed up and overflowed out the basement toilet and bathtub sooner than I would have noticed it myself.

I was also enormously thankful that my publisher uses such thick strong sturdy boxes to ship my books in, because I had a stock of books, in their boxes, stacked against the wall of the basement storage room that is shared with the basement bathroom. The backed-up sewage soaked the boxes, but mostly not the books themselves--I'll only have to throw away a dozen or so. Trust me, it could have been so much worse.

I was beyond thankful that my contractor, who built the house in the first place and whose crew is currently painting and renovating the barn, could get here with a backhoe yesterday and unplug the sewer line, so that I could use my house again. Then, while I was chaperoning basketball practice, he and his crew cleaned up the mess in the toilet and the tub, washed the carpet, and put big blowers in the basement so everything would dry. I can't even begin to express my appreciation for that. My husband and I sat on our couch last night, shaking our heads, wondering how to properly thank him. We can't.

That's a whole bunch of gratitude I wouldn't have been able to express if the sewer hadn't blocked up. Pretty lucky, aren't I?

But you wouldn't necessarily know it from the message I sent my daughter, a few hours into the sewer mess. The slop was contained, the contractor called, the books mostly rescued, etc. I went out to move one of our horses, Pal, from the field where he was turned out with Sarah, my bossy mare, and Silver, my friend's mare, and into the field with Syd, another friend's horse, and Shakey, our ancient pony. As I was leading Pal through the gate between the fields, Sarah barged into him, on purpose. He jumped backward, and she ran into the new field, because she's like that. She ran over to Shakey and tried to claim him as her own ("Pony! Pony!" Sarah loves ponies.) but Syd knows Shakey belongs to him (Syd also loves ponies) so he chased Sarah away. They proceeded to act like complete and utter morons for the next 15 minutes, galloping, snorting, bucking, trying to kick each other, etc. Meanwhile Silver went nuts in the adjoining field because she was missing out on all the fun, and Pal trotted along gamely because that's what he does.

In complete exasperation I phoned my daughter at her college and when she didn't pick up I left a rant. My daughter hit the turn-voice-message-to-text button on her phone, and the results were so hilarious she sent me a copy. Here it is, with one pertinent word in the middle semi-redacted. I'm pretty sure some of the "said"s are supposed to be "Syd"s.

"Hi, it's your mother _______ standing in the middle of the field having a difficult morning because I want to move pal was _____shaky Sarah ran into I know she's trying to take the pony from said and said just tell me not to let her________all just being m@therf#ck!ng _______ all alone in the past you're running around going to come back so I want to also the septic _____ overflowed_______ the basement tub and toilet and into the storage room and ____ some of my books but not too many but everything ___that should look at is _____water so I'm ______ be love you bye."

As my daughter commented, it missed a lot of the details but it did get one word perfectly right.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Here I Am Again. Also, Kelly Clarkson

So what happened was I ran headlong into another novel deadline. It was my eighth draft of The War I Finally Won (publication date October 3, 2017). Eight drafts ought to be enough for anyone, but we'll see--I've given up making predictions on this book. I will say that every time through it I change more than I expected to. I will also say that I think it's getting pretty good.

Meanwhile, I had a nice chat with Kelly Clarkson, the singing sensation (have you heard her version of "It's Quiet Uptown" from the Hamilton Mixtape yet? That'll have you in tears), in Nashville on Saturday. We were in Nashville to celebrate my sister's birthday--my sister and her husband, me and mine, and four of my sister's friends. I go to Nashville often on business and usually get in and out as fast as possible, with only a brief stop at my hometown bookstore, Parnassus. (Nashville is nearly five hours away from Bristol, but Parnassus embraces me and I embrace them.) My sister had never been there, and she had the place sussed out. We did a grown-up tour of Nashville's finest, and it was brilliant.

So Saturday we had brunch and bowling at Pinewood Social. Pinewood Social is a great big open restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and brunch on weekends. They do fancy coffee drinks and a full bar service and in the back they have six vintage bowling lanes. Each pair of lanes faces a U-shaped couch and a big table, and you can eat brunch and drink mimosas and bowl all at the same time, so we did. Lots of fun. We were there first, but pretty soon another group of eight people sat down on our right, and a second group on our left. The group on the right was actually nine people-four young adult couples, and a beautiful little toddler girl.

The girl walked in wearing a red fleece swing coat with fleece flowers down the front. My daughter at that age wore a very similar coat, albeit pink. The little girl wore boots and a dress with matching leggings, and that's pretty much what my daughter wore at the same age, and so of course I was feeling tremendously nostalgic, because I used to have a bright, bold, toddler girl, and now I have a 5'10" armed warrior who goes to school a long way away, and I miss her.

The little girl loved bowling and was enormously cheerful. Eventually I asked her mom, "How old is she?" The mom said, "Two." Then the girl said, "Hi. HI!" and laughed and told me her name, which I couldn't understand, and then said "TWO!" because the two thing was pretty new and fabulous. It was super sweet.

I got up to go to the bathroom as that group was getting ready to leave. As I was coming back I noticed my sister and her neighbor getting a photo of themselves with the little girl's mom. After the woman left I asked my sister what on earth. She said, "Kim, did you really not know who you were talking to?"

So that was Kelly Clarkson. She seemed like a normal human, even though she sings so well, and I like how she dresses her kid.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The wildfires are better now, though not entirely gone. Yesterday's local Air Quality Rating, mid-afternoon, was 18, and I celebrated by riding my horse and then going to yoga. For the past two weeks, due to wildfires in the nearby mountains, we've had terrible air quality--I'm not exactly sure what the scale is based upon, but 1-50 is "good," 51-100, "moderate," 101-150, "unhealthy for sensitive groups," and anything above that unhealthy for everyone.

I'm a canary in a coal mine; I'm affected by poor air quality fast. I've proven this over and over in my lifetime, never more drastically than the past few weeks. Anything over "good" air just flattens me, lays me out with my asthma, and according to the information I read, being inside a sealed house cuts the pollutants in half, which meant, on the day our AQI hit 180, that being inside my house still made it hard to breathe.

So I did nothing to make my breathing more difficult. I stayed inside. I didn't ride, do yoga, do any sort of exercise at all. It was weird and a little crazy-making at first. I also fought feeling like a wimp. I mean, wouldn't a person with a stronger personal drive just not HAVE asthma? (Wouldn't a person with a stronger personal drive just not GET cancer? No, I know it's nuts to feel ashamed. I'm working on it.)

What I did mostly, was learn to be still. I hung out with my novel. I hung out with books I read. I took medicine and I was careful, and I avoided the ER and survived NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English conference, which was in Atlanta, which was also affected by the fires. So overall it was weird, and I did well.

I'm sure there's some sort of personal lesson in all this, but I can't find it right now. If you see it, let me know. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Acting Like An Ally (When Safety Pins Aren't Enough)

Over the weekend a whole wave of safety-pin advocacy swelled and burst within my kidlit community. First came some blog posts about "allies" of marginalized people wearing safety pins on the outside of their clothing, to identify them as "safe" to the marginalized. Then came a whole bunch of really lovely illustrations from prominent children's book illustrators, incorporating safety pins with well-known book characters. I retweeted some of these images without thinking too hard about the whole idea.

Then Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer I greatly esteem, shared a post that said, basically, white people, stop it. It pointed out that perhaps teaching children they could trust any stranger who stuck a safety pin on his or her clothes was ludicrous, and that also the safety pins were mostly just a tool to make the wearer of them feel a little bit better about him or herself.

You know, I'm not a racist/misogynist/homophobe. I'm an ALLY. 

The problem is, we don't get to label ourselves allies. That term is something other people grant us, once we've earned it. When the whole VOYA magazine thing blew up (go here if you don't know what I'm talking about), one of the VOYA editors defended her discriminatory actions by saying, "But I'm an ally!" and pretty much the whole LGBTQ teen lit community called her out. Saying "I'm an ally!" while acting solely from a place of privilege is pretty much like saying, "Some of my best friends are black!" when you've never once invited those black friends into your home.

What we can do is act like allies. We can aspire to become allies. And here, from the Reading While White kid lit diversity blog, is how to do it.

Safety pins are easy. Dismantling oppression is hard. Do the hard thing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

There is No Them.

So this morning my Facebook page is busy having all the feelings. All of them at once.

Also there are wildfires here in east Tennessee, and while they're not threatening any property that I know of, they're making the air quality so poor that today I won't dare ride my horse or do yoga, because my asthma's acting up, and I have to say, it's pretty bad timing on behalf of the wildfires.

What I would like--this may be wishful thinking--is for everyone in America today to realize that both sides of this political divide are partially right. Both represent a legitimate point of view.

I know, I know, YOUR side is right. Of course it is. The other side are all ignorant sticks. Racist, deplorable, whatever words you want to use.

Except that they aren't. They're our neighbors. They're our friends. And in this incredibly ugly election both sides had big issues neither candidate could fully resolve.

Last night my husband kept pulling up maps of the states divided into counties, with the counties colored red or blue as election results came in. It was astonishing: over and over, the population centers went to Clinton, the rural areas went to Trump. I live in a rural area myself, in Appalachia in fact, and I went to Smith, for heaven's sake, so I actually understand both sides of this divide pretty well. The people who voted for Trump don't all love Trump. The people who voted for Clinton don't all love Clinton. In the end, a slim majority of the American people wanted things to be different than they are, and Clinton looked like more of the same. So now things will be different. It's up to us to figure out how.

Our country did not change overnight. Our perceptions may have changed. Our perceptions right now may be correct or incorrect, who knows? We are all in this soup together. We need to take a big deep breath (indoors, away from the wildfires), and think about the kind of country we really want, and then love each other, and listen to each other and do our best from here forward. Just like we tried to do yesterday.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Voted

I voted. Then I posted a voting selfie, because that's a thing. It's as somber as my selfies usually are--somehow I can not take a selfie and smile at the same time--but honestly, this time it mostly reflects my feelings. I'm a little anxious today.

In Tennessee we were lucky; the only positions open were president, a state rep with a decent and strong incumbent, and two uncontested local positions. The rest of my family, in Indiana and Tennessee, gets to vote for some particularly unsavory governor and senate candidates. Though it's hard to be less savory than our presidential candidates this year.

I don't care who you voted for. I don't care how passionately you did or did not support them, or with what reluctanceor eagerness you cast your ballot. This election cycle was a hot mess and I hope we can do better in the future.

Here's what made me happy about voting: when I went to the polls, I signed my name in the local registered voters log. Above my name was my daughter's name. Below my name was my son's. Both had the signature lines blocked with VOTED EARLY, because they both did.

I may not like the candidates and it remains to see how well I or any of us will like the results. But I voted, and I raised two children who voted too. That's what we've got for now.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs win!

I have a bit of a Cubs hangover this morning. It's not because I was drinking while watching the game--I wasn't, because I was desperately, futilely, trying to stay up for the end of it.

I am not a night person. I am very much a morning person, and I do love my sleep. I usually head to bed around 10, or, in baseball parlance, about the bottom of the fifth.

Sheesh those games were going on forever. All of them. The Cubs were the last holdout against stadium lights--I remember watching the first Night Game at Wrigley from the living room of my college dorm--and that's because God ordained that baseball should be played in the day. Or at least early evening, for the love.

Still. This was the first time the Cubs played in a World Series in not only my lifetime, but my mother's lifetime. It was historic. How could I miss it?

"I can't marry you," I said to my fiance, "until I've seen a game at Wrigley."

He knew I meant it. We spent the night in my grandparents' apartment on the outskirts of Chicago, him in the tiny guest bedroom, me on the hard black couch, and then we sat in the outfield and watched the world's most boring baseball game. The second guy up for the other team hit a solo homer and the final score was 1-0. But I watched it from the bleachers, which rocked.

Last night's game was not nearly boring enough. Started off well, but then suddenly, eighth inning (ok, not suddenly--approaching midnight, eighth inning) it was tied 6-6. You could see the Curse of the Cubs climbing the outfield wall.

We took our children to Wrigley when they were very small. Day game. A very nice usher brought them Cubs coloring books and crayons. I remember my son staring at her in amazement--did she HONESTLY think he wanted a COLORING BOOK at a BASEBALL GAME?

All tied up through the 9th. My husband, who had to wake at 5:30 to put knives in peoples' eyeballs (true story) had gone to bed long before. He loves the Cubs but he cares about his patients more. I was fighting sleep, wondering if I should set my phone to ring every three minutes or something. I thought about calling our son, who was watching the game at school in Indiana.

Rain delay. I couldn't do it anymore. I went upstairs and crawled into bed. My phone beeped. It was a text from my son. Still watching? No. Soft, he wrote. I turned the volume off and slept.

I woke to exclamations of joy ricocheting all over the internet. My son posted a Facebook photo of himself at around age 5--even younger than when he made his first trip to Wrigley--a baseball bat on his shoulder, wearing a Cubs hat and a huge grin. My sister posted a photo of herself and my son at Wrigley perhaps ten years ago. They're both wearing Cubs shirts and hats.

Man, oh man, am I tired today. I slept in and I'm still worn out. Oh, am I happy.
Cubs win, Cubs win, Cubs win!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Smallest World

Sometimes the craziest things happen.

For example, last week I got asked to do a Skype visit with the International School of Ulaanbaatar. That's in Mongolia.

In Mongolia schoolchildren are reading something I wrote.

(Of course I'm going to Skype with them. Although if they wanted to pay for me to visit them, I'd be up for that too.)

Then Saturday an even cooler thing happened.

Years ago, when my husband was a medical resident, my son was a baby, and we lived in Indianapolis, I had a friend named Jane. Jane and her husband were physicians from New Zealand; they lived in Indianapolis for two years while Jane's husband did a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology. Jane was a radiologist, but INS screwed up and gave the work permit to their 12-month-old son Richard, so Jane had way more time on her hands in America than she expected, which worked out happily for me.  I taught Jane the American traditions of iced tea and chicken salad; she taught me proper scones and to always twirl a teapot three times before pouring. Our sons were each other's first friends. Twenty years ago today they went trick-or-treating in matching Puff the Magic Dragon costumes that Jane and I made from felt, sequins, and hooded sweatshirts we bought at the dollar store.

Jane and her family left Indianapolis to return to New Zealand the same weekend that I and my family left to move to Tennessee. We both had baby girls.  We both tried to stay in touch--it sounds odd, but  it wasn't really possible to email New Zealand back then. I blame myself for not communicating better; she blames herself. At any rate, twenty years passed, even though I can remember days spent with Jane as though they were yesterday. (Standing on a New York City subway platform eating apple strudel with bare hands. We went to New York for a weekend, just the two of us, right before we moved away. I went into a fancy chocolate store and asked for free samples and we got some and Jane nearly died. We spent hours on Ellis Island.)

Anyhow. Jane's son came home from the bookstore last Friday with several books--a John Grisham, a Robert Balducci, and The War That Saved My Life. He didn't know I'd written i--had no idea his mother knew me--until Jane saw my name on the cover.

 My book in the hands of an old dear friend. In New Zealand. As far away as Ulaanbaatar.

We live in the coolest world.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Orange is the New Grey

I'm having my barn thoroughly repainted and repaired, dicey boards fixed, the whole bit. Yesterday when I went there, early in the morning, one of the work crew asked if I could move the horse that was standing next to the Dutch doors on the pasture side. "I'm going to start power-washing that side," he said.

The horse in question was Pal, our 29-year-old Quarterhorse; my mare Sarah was in the same field, father down and out of sight. I yelled, "SARAH!" which startled the workman--should have given him warning--and Sarah came galloping up, eyes bright. Sarah can be annoying in a hundred different ways, but she always looks happy to see me.

I moved Pal and Sarah into the small field behind the barn. We call it the pony paddock, but it's really a sacrifice lot, which is to say a plot of land so small that the horses will completely destroy the grass and make it look like heck. On the other hand, they've got room to move and they can't eat so much that they make themselves sick. Gully and Hot Wheels are very, very good at overeating, and the grass this time of year is super-sweet, so they were already in the pony paddock.

Pal was happy enough to move, because he's always happy enough. Sarah was DELIGHTED, because Hot Wheels, our red pony, is her special friend. She loves being around him; she moves him, she shares her hay with him, and she just generally enjoys his company. For a long time I felt rather sorry for Hot Wheels, being on the receiving end of so much affection, but gradually I could see that it was not unrequited. Hot Wheels also likes Sarah.

I went off and did my things, which mostly consisted of brooding about the fact that it was Wednesday, and my editor had promised to get back to me about my book on Wednesday, and she hadn't yet--maybe I'd better check my email again--and in late afternoon went out to feed the horses and check on the work and take the garbage down to the curb. The workmen had made big strides on the barn, repainting the repaired front, powerwashing the side, and replacing the section of wood fence between the two fields. It's next to the water pump, and the water troughs, one for the big field and one for the pony paddock, sit on both sides of it.

"Thanks," I said, pointing to the fence. "Sarah keeps knocking the top boards down. Whichever field she's in, she wants to drink out of the water in the other."

"That the big grey horse?" the man asked. I nodded. "Man," he said, "that horse is crazy. She got her feet in the water trough and was splashing and kicking."

I sighed. "She does that. It's why I've got the trough in the big field up on blocks, so she can't get her feet in it. The other horses don't like drinking muddy water."

"I tried to run her off," the workman said, "but she just ignored me. She got herself as wet as she possibly could, and then she laid down in that orange dirt and rolled."

Of course she did. "Sarah!" I yelled. She yanked her head up from the far corner of the paddock and came flying toward me, streaked with orange clay, her friend the red pony at her heels. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Understanding Our Differences

One of the very great joys of my recent trip to Boston was seeing old friends, some that I hadn't seen in years. I loved it. From the first words they said, I remembered why we were friends--remembered why I was drawn to them in the first place. I could be fully honest with them in a way that's sometimes not easy for me, and I relished it. I felt full and thankful.

I also had a lovely evening at an event sponsored by Understanding Our Differences, a group dedicated to increasing awareness and communication between disabled and non-disabled schoolchildren. I got to try a Brailler, which is essentially a Braille typewriter--it's not easy, there are only 6 buttons, but you have to push up to four simultaneously. I got to try to button a shirt one-handed using a button puller. But I also got to speak: I was, in fact, the main show. My book TWTSML won the Schneider Family Book Award for disability representation (actually I co-won with Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish In A Tree--and she was UOD's speaker last year) this year, though I've never known precisely why, because my main character has two disabilities, one physical, and one mental. She was born with a clubfoot that went untreated (clubfoot should be a birth defect but not a disability) and she's been abused to the point of suffering from PTSD.

I have chronic PTSD myself, and I tend to think of Ada's problems as more mental than physical, though the physical issues are what most people concentrate on. I also think we don't talk nearly enough about mental health issues, especially in children. As I told the UOD crowd, the second-highest cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 is suicide. We need to be aware of that; we need to work like hell to lower in. We need to pay attention to children who are suffering. They're not necessarily just shy. They won't necessarily grow out of it.

Yesterday I got a heartfelt email from a young reader. The child wanted to know, essentially, if I had suffered too. If it was okay to be inspired by my character, if I was telling the truth because I knew it fundamentally. If I was trustworthy. Because if I was, then maybe the message of hope in my book could be trusted too.

Absolutely, I said. Absolutely to all of that.

This is why we write: to know we are not alone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On the Plus Side

I have so many things I should be doing right now.

--reading the book I've been asked to blurb
--reading the books I've been assigned to review
--reading the many, many books nominated for the Golden Kite award (I'm judging)
--reading the many, many books I've assigned myself for the Egypt book (turns out there's a lot to know!)
--reading my library books before they're overdue

Anyone notice a theme? But then it continues:

--re-reading my book club book as I'm hosting book club tonight (Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys.)
--clearing the living room of book piles, as I'm hosting book club tonight
--cleaning the bathroom and making a schmancy dessert, as I'm hosting book club tonight

And then:
--riding my horse, who is lonely
--doing the barn chores
--doing any of several projects awaiting me at the barn (moving the pony club kits to storage, cleaning tack, resetting the jumps in the field, moving the portable xc jump back to the lower field, doing something about that sand ring, getting the bot fly eggs off Pal, etc etc)

Or back at the house:
--the whole entire mess that is my bedroom closet
--the whole entire mess that is my office
--the whole entire mess that is the refrigerator

Or on the creative side:
--the Christmas projects
--the Christmas gifts bought in Boston, that are all currently stuffed in the bedroom closet, but need to be taken out, sorted, organized, and properly hidden
--the knittng
--the weaving
--the laundry (just threw that in to see if you were paying attention. It's not creative. It does need doing.)


On the plus side
this is writing, so it counts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Which I get a Little Upgrade

By the time I met Luis, I was feeling pretty cranky.

Luis, age approximately 25, hairstyle man bun, sat behind the Avis counter at Boston Logan airport. It was Sunday, late afternoon--yesterday, though it seems longer ago than that. I'd had four hours' sleep between the end of the pathetic Notre Dame/Stanford football game and getting up to drive to Midway airport, and I didn't use them well. Then I flew to Detroit, said goodbye to my darling daughter much faster than I'd planned (I'd already said goodbye to darling husband and darling son). Then, inexplicably, I forgot to eat lunch, so that by the time I landed in Boston, retrieved my luggage, navigated the complex overcrowded shuttle to the rental station and encountered Luis, I  was in a crummy mood.

"We got you down for a mid-size," Luis said. "You want something bigger than that?"

I said,"No."

Luis said, "You wanna drive a Mustang?"


"You wanna drive an SUV?"


Luis sighed. "You WANNA drive a Toyota Corolla?"

"Look," I said. "I'm going to be driving in Boston. Last time I was driving here it didn't go well. I want something as small as possible." (Though the instant I said that, I realized I last drove in Boston thirty years ago, when I didn't have glasses, depth perception, a map, or a GPS. And I was driving a full-size van. So maybe things are different now.)

Luis got on the phone with someone and discussed cars for a few minutes. He said things like, "Nah, man, that's what she wants," and then he hung up and said to me, "They're trying to find you a Corolla.  He's gonna call me back." Then he said, "You want the insurance coverage?"


"You want to prepay for gas?"


"You want to rent a GPS?"

"No." (I'd brought one with me.)

Luis fiddled with his phone. I fiddled with mine. Minutes passed. I said, "Look, this is ridiculous. Do you have a car for me or not? I never had to wait for a car before. And I know all that made me sound like a princess, but I'm hungry."

Luis said, "Why don't you just take the Mustang?"

I said, "Isn't that some kind of fancy sports car? The last thing I need is to drive a shift."

"No, no," Luis said. "It's fully automatic. It's just a little upgrade. For free."

"Okay," I said.

"What color you want?"

Was he kidding me? "Luis, I don't care."

I schlepped my bags out to the lot and there it was, a shiny, unbelievably flashy, cherry-red sports car.  Mine. I started to laugh. Never in life have I driven such a thing. I drove it up to the checkout guy, squealing the brakes just a little.

"Man," the guy said, "the only thing better than a lovely young woman such as yourself driving a lovely car like this one is if you were going to take it to the beach."

"I AM going to take it to the beach," I said. "On Tuesday. I'm driving to the beach with my friend, and she's a nun."

"Nuns on the beach!" The man said.

I peeled out of the lot and wheedled my way through downtown Boston. The previous occupant of the car had left the radio set on the classical music channel, so I lowered the windows, cranked the volume, and blared Handel's Water Music so loud it made the windshield vibrate. And it was fine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Outside the Dursleys' House

I thought I'd write about something else today. I had in mind a funny post about how I totally screwed up dinner last night: how, even though I'm a good cook, the meatloaf was inexplicably far too salty and the cauliflower still tasted like cauliflower despite my schmancy sauce, and I even screwed up the sliced apples, for Heaven's sake--but the stories keep coming in, and my heart is breaking.

One friend asked on Facebook for women to comment if they'd been groped in public by strangers. In 57 minutes she got 25 positive responses.

"All that ever happened to me was that someone stuck a hand up my skirt on the subway."

I think about all the work I've done to make sure my children grow up strong and safe. I taught my son to be respectful and honest and kind. I taught my daughter to be respectful and honest and kind, too--and I taught her to defend herself, be loud, and carry a pocketknife. I kid you not.

When we were in the Dominican Republic last year, my husband stepped into the airport restroom and my daughter and I were immediately surrounded by men trying to sell us cab rides that we didn't need. They weren't intimidating, but they were persistent, despite my repeated insistence that we did not need their help. There were getting to be more of them, not less. Then my daughter drew herself up, squared her shoulders, and roared something in Spanish, and the men absolutely melted away. And I thought, good. And yet what's to stop some creep from sticking a hand up her skirt? I hope she'll roar at him, embarrass the shit out of him right there on the train.

But mostly I hope it never happens.

A friend wrote to me that she feels like she grew up in the Dursley's house. You know, like Harry Potter. Not so much stuffed into a room beneath the stairs, but abused in a way no one ever saw. To the Dursleys' neighbors, it was the Dursleys' who were normal, and decent, and good, and Harry Potter was the kid with all the problems. The truth was the other way around.

One More Ting:

I don't care who you vote for, you can still be my friend and I hope I can still be yours. I mean it. I may disagree--at this point I probably disagree with everyone somewhere--but this election in particular is a hot mess and anyway, we're all mostly doing the best we can. Just vote. That part's important.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time for This to End

The stories come at me from all directions.

The girl who is tortured throughout middle school by boys offering to show her their genitals, every day, day after day. When she gets upset the school punishes her. Eventually her parents switch to homeschooling.

The writer who posts a photograph of a bouquet of flowers on Facebook, as a comfort. She says she knows that so many women have had it worse than she has. All that's happened to her is that an elderly neighbor grabbed her and forcibly French-kissed her in their apartment's elevator.

The elderly woman who bursts into tears as I fill out a paper for her at Faith in Action. She went to school, she said, but what her daddy did to her in the night was so upsetting that her mind was always blank. She didn't know how to make it un-blank. She didn't learn to read.

The six-year-old who wandered away from her family at the mall, was taken out to the parking lot by a stranger and raped, then went back inside and found her family again--and they never noticed she'd been missing.

The rapist given three months' probation. The rapist let off because the 12-year-old victim must have been asking for it.

The girls told that it's their job to keep boys from hurt them.

Every single one of us who was afraid to tell.

It happens over and over and over.

It's time for this to end.

If you want to, tell me your story. Or put it on Facebook. Or tell one person who's safe. Talk about how wrong it was. Talk about how it made you feel. Talk about how it wasn't your fault. Believe that. Talk about how you're going to get loud and aggressive, and make noise and be strong for yourself and your daughters and their daughters, so that someday this shit will end.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Debating that Debate

"I was going to vote for Trump," my esteemed colleague said, "until he said he grabbed women's pussies. You can't do that."

Recently I've noticed with a hint of amusement that friends I have who are planning to vote for Hillary Clinton assume that of course I am as well, and friends I have who are planning to vote for Donald Trump--well, until Saturday, I'm not sure I have friends still planning to vote for Trump--assumed that of course I was too.

Right now all bets are off. I'm having a terrible time here. I believe it is my civic duty, my duty and my obligation, to cast my vote, if only in honor of all those denied the right to vote throughout history, who fought that I should be able to do so. And I am completely repulsed by both choices.

I've never liked politics or politicians. I've said often that my last whole-hearted endorsement went to Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the last truly ethical person to occupy the Presidency.

I am socially liberal and financially conservative. I believe passionately that we need a social safety net--I care very much about the marginalized in our world--and I hate big government and can assure you I pay plenty in taxes. So there's never been a political home for me.

But now: Hillary Clinton has done horrible things in Haiti, a country I care about. Her Foundation seems incredibly corrupt; her deleted emails and her lifelong pattern of dishonesty really bother me.

And yet Trump. For awhile I thought maybe, for the sake of the Supreme Court nominees and my general feeling on the role of government. But I'm a sexual assault survivor. After what Trump said in those recordings, I can't possibly vote for him.

I'd like to throw them both out in the desert and start again. Can't we have a do-over every century or so? Barring that, looks like I'll be voting for the pothead Libertarian who doesn't know the capital of Syria. Either him or Ken Bone.

Friday, October 7, 2016


I'm hanging out at the Baltimore airport. I got here very early this morning, because I didn't know how far I really was from the airport, or what Baltimore morning traffic is like, or how well this Uber thing was going to work out (splendidly; we live in an age of marvels) and I'd been warned that BWI airport security could be awful, and it wasn't, but all that just means I had a nice chance to sit with coffee and the paper, and now to get out my iPad and write this, and it occurs to me, I'm really happy.

I'm on my way to Raleigh, where I'll spend the weekend with good friends and be able to be with my husband and both my lovely children. I spent yesterday talking to interesting, engaged schoolchildren and then having dinner with a fellow writer and new friend, and then I went to bed really early, because extroverting wears me out, and I slept well.

I'm wearing my favorite hand-knit socks and my new favorite sweatshirt. I'm even comfortable, for heaven's sake.

Last night my new friend, who's name I'm not going to give because I don't know her well enough yet to know if she'd like that, described the process of writing one of her books as "pulling wet Kleenex through a coin slot," and that's one of the best descriptions of painful writing I've ever heard. I'll remember it forever.

Also we went to a French bistro and shared a perfectly roast chicken, and that was just the most amazing food. And the night before I had a fabulous crab cake the size of a softball, and I love crab cakes. From a culinary standpoint Baltimore is the bomb.

Also I'm feeling completely wildly happy with the new book I'm working on . The Egypt book. Yes, I know, I've discussed it forever. I've written a dozen pages half a dozen times. But it wasn't coming out right, and, worse, it was actually coming out wrong. And now I've had time enough to think it through, and it's going to be good. It's going to be a ton of work and it'll probably take a long time, and it'll be a hot mess at several points, but it's going to be good.

I am actually entirely happy right now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Louie is Four!

Today is my beautiful nephew Louie's fourth birthday. This morning my Facebook page popped up a memory from two years ago, which was not only Louie's 2nd birthday, but the day I met his brother Fred for the first time. It's a great memory but an awkward-ass photo--proof that, unreasonable as it seems, my selfie game has actually improved with time--and it might frighten Louie if I re-posted it now, so I won't. But I wish him all the best, all my love. I just attempted a FaceTime (let no one say that Uncle Kim isn't up to all the modern technologies) but Fred didn't answer, probably because his Momma's already at work. I was running errand and driving to the airport in the best window of time between waking up my sister too early to say Happy Birthday to Louie, and catching my sister before she left. I'll try later today.

I'm on my way to Baltimore to speak at a school, and then do a public reading at the Ivy Bookstore, tomorrow at 4 pm. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by. I'd love to meet you. Friday I'm continuing on to where the hurricane is, obstensibly to watch a football game that they're threatening to reschedule, due to the weather, although that's probably better than playing in a hurricane. Whichever it is I'll be spending the weekend with family and friends, and that's lovely.  I'll be with my children, who I miss very much.

Happy Birthday, dearest Louie. You make our family brighter every day; you've been a blessing for four whole years.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Learning to Say No

A few minutes after the Newbery Honor for The War That Saved My Life was announced, I got a kind congratulatory email from a quite well-known children's author, who had herself won a Newbery Honor.

I emailed back. "Thank you. What do I do now?"

She emailed back. "Buy a fancy dress and learn to say no."

Buying the fancy dress was a saga for the ages. I hope I win some big award again so I can wear it some more. I love that dress.

Learning to say no was harder. A lot more opportunities came my way once TWTSML won all the things, and hung out on the NYT bestseller list (#9 on the paperback list next week, thank you very much!) and is getting translated into different languages, none of which had happened for my books before. I love these opportunities. I've had a blast speaking at conferences and schools, and I love the enthusiasm for my books, and I love meeting readers and writers. I've got some events coming up that I am hugely looking forward to.


I'm a writer first, and I need to preserve my writing time. So I'm taking a step back from my speaking schedule. If you're a school, and you'd like me to visit, I'll be opening my 2017-2018 school year schedule in April, 2017. I'll accept a limited number of engagements at that time.

I'm continuing my policy of  a limited number of free 15-minute Q&A Skype visits to student groups who've read The War That Saved My Life or Jefferson's Sons. I still have a few slots left in March, April, and May. I'll open the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year in April, 2017.

I'm no longer going to be doing longer paid Skype visits.

And now, back to writing! I keep circling what I call my Egypt book--I've been threatening to write it for years. The time is now!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gully Puts His Shoes Back On

Three months ago I said to my farrier (the man who shoes my horses), Tom: "Gully needs hind shoes again, and I need you to separate out the bill for his shoeing from the rest. He's being leased."

Tom stared. "Gully's being leased?"

Me: "Yep."

Tom: "Uhh--how's he feel about that?"

Me: "He's in heaven."

Tom stared harder. "You're kidding. That horse hates everyone."

Everyone but me. For years, everyone but me.

Gully, Gully, my lovely first event horse, my partner, my funny finicky very smart boy. I hardly knew how lucky I was. I wanted to learn to event, and I understood Connemara ponies (Gully is pony bred but just barely horse height; you can call him either) made awesome eventers, so I bought a barely-broke Western-started not-quite-four-year-old Connemara gelding unseen and untried from a thousand miles away. We learned to event together, and we were awesome, which is not what I deserved for being so ignorant. Gully and I had so much fun together that it took me a long time to believe it when something went fundamentally wrong with him--you look back over our last two years of competition and it's a string of withdrawals, he'd get through one or two phases and then go lame. I hauled him up to a very good equine lameness vet in Kentucky and got the devastating news that Gully would never be sound again.

We tried a few things anyhow. They didn't work. Gully was 16, young to be retired, but he limped. He  wanted to work, but he limped at anything faster than a walk, and it broke my heart to know I was hurting him. I could give him a good life on our farm, and I did. He hung out, his hind shoes off, his front shoes padded to give him all the protection I could. We were both sad.

I bought a new horse, Sarah. Gully hated her on principle and perhaps also for personal reasons. Gully is the herd leader, but he doesn't like many horses (he adored my dear departed Trapper) and he dislikes all people except me. He loves me.

Until his new girl.

What happened a year ago still doesn't make sense. I've explained the details to other vets, other farriers, and a wide variety of experienced horsepeople, and none of them understand. Basically, an abnormality of unknown origin, cause, whatever, grew out of Gully's front feet over the course of 2 1/2 years, and, suddenly, immediately, he was sound again. I didn't believe it, but I started riding him again, occasionally, very lightly--and he was sound. A bit more work--still sound.

I really don't have time to keep two horses in work. Also Gully is twenty years old now, and even if he stays sound I will not ask him to compete at the level we used to do. But I knew a girl who needed a horse to ride--inexperienced but a good rider, a quiet rider. She came out and tried him, and Gully talked to her, the way he talks to me, and she understood him. So she rode him a bit more. And then this summer she rode him at pony club camp, under the gimlet eye of the coach who taught Gully and me for years. "One bad step," I said, "one hint of lameness, we pull him."

After the first lesson we bumped Gully and his new girl up to the more advanced group. They jumped the snot out of everything on the farm--Gully with his old light in his eyes. They understood each other. It was an astonishing, beautiful, incredible thing.

"Keep it up, and you could compete at a recognized event this fall," I said. So Gully put his shoes back on, and they did. The look of joy on that horse's face when he realized he was back at the Kentucky Horse Park, where we competed so many times, is one I'll always remember. The photos of their jumping rounds are all over the girl's Facebook page now. My favorite is the one where both of them are smiling.

This week they're headed to eventing rally, at the Virginia Horse Park. It's hilly there, and Gully's new girl suggested he might want to wear studded shoes. I agreed; Gully always liked the security of studs.

"Hey, Tom," I said to the farrier, "Gully needs drilled shoes. He's back in business."

Tom grinned. "All right."

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Weapon In Her Hand

At least I have a weapon in my hand
a command
and my men with me.    -Hamilton

I'm sharing this story with permission.

So my daughter has long had a fascination for old weapons. When we go to historical places, which is often, I can't drag her away from the armoury. Especially the swords. This summer in Switzerland, at Chillon Castle, she was cooing over a sword for sale in the gift shop with such enthusiasm that we considered buying it for her, and mostly only didn't because we could not figure out how one would get such a thing through airport security.

So I wasn't surprised that for her college PE class she chose fencing. She has to take PE for six out of the first 8 quarters of her college career.  She liked fencing immediately even though they started with footwork, no weapons. I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice.

Now my son's college has a Division 1 varsity women's fencing team that recruits world-wide. It's a place for serious hardcore fencers; they have former and future Olympians on their team. My daughter, on the other hand, goes to a small school with Division III teams--no athletic scholarships. Which turns out to be cool for her because on her fourth day of fencing class she was invited to join the varsity team.

My daughter is already engaged in a few extracurricular activities. Fencing practice will add upwards of 10 hours per week to her schedule, plus she'll be expected to work out on weekends. She wants to get good grades. She's trying to figure out college. And she thought fencing sounded fun, but course she hasn't actually fenced yet, just learned how to move her feet and wave a sword around.

I'm all about trying out weird things in college, because it's such an opportunity for adventure. My son took painting and a class on the anthropology of sports. My husband excelled at pottery. I was a chemistry major who ended up in a children's lit class that changed my life, plus I learned to ride horses in college and have ridden from then on.

My daughter went to the fencing coach and said she was interested, but also a little concerned about keeping all her life together. He said he understood. He said if she joined the team he expected at least a full semester commitment--no backing out next week. Then he said, "I know right now as a freshman it feels like you're lost in a scary forest. And now I'm showing you a doorway in the middle of the forest that's filled with weird blue light. And I'm telling you to walk into the light even though you can't see what's on the other side. But on the other hand, I can promise you that you'll come out with a weapon in your hand and you'll have been trained to use it. So that's cool."

As my daughter said, it was the perfect answer to get her on the team.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Tale of Two FaceTimes

This morning as soon as I was awake and dressed, I FaceTimed my small nephew Fred. Today is his second birthday, which is of course the first birthday he actually understands at all, and he's both delighted and delightful. He held onto his Mama's iPad and beamed at me, and blew kisses, and told me he was going to have birthday cake. I'm also fairly sure he tried to say my name--that's Uncle Kim, and Kim is not an easy word for toddlers. I love technology when it connects me with a special person who's a little too small to enjoy and participate in an audio-only call, but whose face lights up when he sees me.

It's hard to believe we've had two years of Fred. I got to visit when he was only a few weeks old, and it was his older brother who'd just turned two. I've been lamenting all year about the acceleration of time and here is further proof. Fred! Talking and laughing and singing whole songs, already!

Oddly enough, I also FaceTimed my daughter this morning, not because it pleases me to get a glimpse of her lovely self, though it does, but because her horse was having an anxiety attack and needed her desperately.

Mickey was actually about to get onto a commercial trailer to be shipped to a barn near Katie's school. She'll have him with her for at least the rest of this semester. We used to have a dog that was afraid of suitcases--when we got ours out, he'd panic, convinced for the fifteen years we had him that we were just about to abandon him forever every time we went anywhere with our suitcases. Mickey must have similar associations. My daughter is his second girl, not his first, and he forms very strong specific bonds with people. (Many horses do; you'd be surprised.) So he's not done well in general with her not being here for four weeks, and today, when I put on his shipping boots, he just about lost his gourd. He paced back and forth on the crossties. He pooped. Four times. He peed in the barn aisle, which he'd never done before, and he flinched away from me and broke into a sweat (it was 63 degrees out) and in general was in full meltdown mode. And this really didn't bode well for putting him on a truck for 10 hours.

I took a photo of him and texted it to my daughter. "He's so anxious!" she texted back, and then we FaceTimed. I held the phone so Mickey could see her on the screen, and she talked to him. He doesn't understand phones, but he knows his girl: he leaned forward, stuck his tongue between his teeth, and clenched his molars, hard, until his whole jaw relaxed. Then he licked his lips, over and over. This is actually how horses express submission and relaxation. He quit sweating and when the truck showed up he stepped onto it calmly.

We live in a wonderful world.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The World Turned Right-Way-Round

Yesterday I rode my daughter's horse instead of my own. It did not go well. It did not go disastrously--my daughter's horse is well-trained and in general an amiable if excitable guy--but Mickey was angry that it was me, not my daughter, riding him, and also had I noticed that she seemed to have disappeared? Where was she? Did she not love him anymore? He hoped I wasn't getting any idea that I might be HIS horse, because no. Just no.

I was only riding him in the first place because he's getting on a trailer Thursday morning to go join my daughter at college, and it seemed reasonable to be sure he in good shape for the trip.

Meanwhile, Sarah, my mare, and Gully, my old gelding, were both annoyed that I was riding someone other than them. Gully has a new person--I'll tell that story soon--but she wasn't present and Gully would like some attention, too.

Sarah sulked. She's large and sulks exceptionally well. They all three went back out to the field in bad moods, and Gully--it had to be him, Sarah wears a grazing muzzle--bit Mickey on the ass.

Today was different.

First thing, of course, I gave the Ancient Toothless pony his afternoon soup. He's recently gotten to the point where he can't even manage soaked chopped hay, but he dives into a soup of pelleted feed with such enthusiasm I figure he'll live another decade, just to spite me. Then I fed everyone else. Then I attempted to scrape some of the hundreds of bot fly eggs Mickey's managed to pick up since Saturday off his hide, but he hates the bot-fly knife even when it's wielded by my daughter. He didn't bite me, but he made faces at me with his teeth exposed, to tell me that he would certainly bite me if he weren't so extraordinarily well-behaved. He also danced around me in circles. I gave it up. He'll arrive at a fancy event barn in eastern Pennsylvania covered in bot fly eggs. It won't be any worse than the time he arrived at the U.S. Eventing national barn with his winter coat half-clipped, in patches.

Then I took Sarah out of her stall. Her expression went from petulant to bliss. I brushed her, and she got happier still--all relaxed and cuddly. Gully, meanwhile, had gotten ridden by his new person earlier in the day, and he was content.

I saddled Sarah and we went for a long hack on the farm. The hay fields have just been cut; we rode through them, admiring the view. The heat's finally down a bit, and the humidity is gone; the mountains are dark green and blue beneath a pale blue sky. We went out to the seven-acre field for a good trot, and I could tell Sarah felt the change in the weather. She stepped right into her foxhunting trot, a long, loose, swinging stride she can maintain for miles. Sarah loves riding to hounds, and she's right, the season has started. We'll probably hunt for the first time this Monday. I had no way to tell her that, of course, but she'll know soon enough.

We made loops of the field until I thought my ankles were bleeding. I'm breaking in a new pair of riding boots, the first in eight years. People all told me that boots were more comfortable these days but it's bunk.

I pulled Sarah back to a walk. We said hello to the neighbor's goats, then went out to the jump field. Sarah was keen, so I let her gallop a couple of laps of the jump field and then one more lap of the seven-acre field. When I pulled her up she was hardly blowing. She'd have been glad for more.

Back at the barn the old pony had finished his soup. I rinsed Sarah, cleaned the old pony's stall, and let the riding horses back out to pasture. Mickey stood, wanting my attention. He's a very communicative horse; he generally has a lot to say, and he tries hard to talk to humans when something is upsetting him. Now he looked at me earnestly, eye to eye, widening his eyes a bit and leaning forward.

Where is she? Why isn't she here?

It's okay, I tell him. She misses you as much as you miss her. You'll see her Thursday.

But I didn't have a way to explain it. I scratched his neck, and he sighed and stepped past me into the field. Where Gully tried to bite his butt again, just on principle.

Monday, September 19, 2016


Today, having acquired printer cartridges and a day without an impending deadline, I am finally printing a full copy of the most recent version of The War I Finally Won. I'm also doing laundry, putting my suitcases away, and--gasp!--organizing my office. You can now reach my desk chair without climbing over stacks of books or tripping over the printer. There is, in fact, a wide stretch of open floor. There are also several square feet of visible desktop, and that hasn't been true for a good long time.

The to-read piles still exist, but they've been moved and consolidated and they're really not nearly as obtrusive, at least from the point of view of my chair, as they used to be. Books for specific projects (TWIFW, the King Tut book, review books, and Golden Kite books) are in separate stacks on my counter. I can actually use my loom again, having moved the books impeding its operation, and I've even straightened up some of my knitting. My hopes are that sometime this week I might tackle both my hand-wash and my mending piles. Ambitious, I know, but I'm like that.

Today is a big deep breath of air. This weekend was another.

I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Mid-South regional conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I gave the opening keynote speech on Saturday morning and taught a session on writing historical fiction on Sunday. I left the conference feeling like I'd rejoined my tribe.

Now, I've been an SCBWI member for something rapidly approaching 30 years. I value what I learned in the organization, both as a beginning writer and a blossoming one. I've been to conferences in Massachusetts and Indiana as an attendee, and in Indiana and North Carolina as faculty. But I live five hours from Nashville, the heart of the writing community in Tennessee, and for the last several years haven't made the effort to connect with my fellow writers there. I have now, and I'm so glad I did. I'm reminded how much fun it is to swap stories of the Worst School Visit Ever, or the craziest thing an editor ever said to you. I'm reminded how good it feels to share what I've learned; I'm also reminded how much I still have to learn.  I wore my cowboy boots and I spent three days with my people. It was brilliant. I'll be back.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A quick trip to LA

Los Angeles was really fun. The Judy Lopez dinner was lovely, I thought my speech went fine, and I got to meet Kelly Jones, author of Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. I told her that I lived on a farm but my husband drew the line at chickens. She said her husband was fine with chickens but drew the line at goats. I've had goats; they're not as much fun as you'd think they'd be.

Los Angeles is crazy-busy, at least to someone from the sticks like me. Heading out of the airport in a taxi, going the 12 miles to my friend Holly's house, on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in seven lanes of highway traffic each direction, going 25 mph. Fourteen lanes of traffic! It was unreal.

Holly Goldberg Sloan, on the other hand, was entirely real, as was all of her family. One of her sons was so like my own that every time he spoke I started laughing. Her husband was lovely; her mother was lovely. Her friends--we went to a birthday party down the street--lovely. I got to know Holly over the 2 1/2 days of the Anderson Bookstore YA Conference 2 years ago. There were 40 authors there, and I came away feeling like I had made two good friends among them. This weekend, I felt like Holly had already become an old friend, someone I could fall in and out of conversation with easily.

It was also brilliant to talk with other writers. They're thin on the ground in Bristol, but I'm telling you, Los Angeles is chock full of 'em. I couldn't live there--those highways! and no room for horses--but it was brilliant to be there for a few days.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

City Possum, Country Possum

I'm in the Bristol airport right now, typing this on my phone, which is not an efficient way to write. I'm headed for Los Angeles, where tomorrow I will accept the Judy Lopez award for TWTSML.

This will be an adventure. I love traveling and can be at home in many disparate places, but I suspect L.A. Will be right out of my league. I'm staying with a friend, Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of the amazing novel Counting By Sevens and also of my son's favorite childhood movie, Angels in the Outfield.

I truly love Holly, but here is the difference between her life and
mine: to publicize her book Appleblossum Possum, she did a photo shoot of Dustin Hoffman--yep, you read that right--reading the book to a trained Hollywood possum, who sat on Dustin's lap, clean and fluffy, wearing a sunbonnet and an expression of interest. Whereas the last time I saw a possum that wasn't roadkill was in a torrential rainstorm last spring. The critter must have gotten flushed out of his burrow by the rain and he was high tailing it across my lawn.

Flight's boarding. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Fork In the Road

Well, just a moment ago I mailed yet another version of The War I Finally Won (sequel to The War That Saved My Life) off to my people, and I thought, I've been down this road before. Several times.

But yesterday when I was talking to my college-freshman daughter, I thought, I've never been in this situation before. 

I've been a mother nearly twenty-two years. Until two weeks ago (two weeks ago yesterday, but who's counting?) I always had children at home. Ok, once in a very great while they'd go off to their grandparents without me, but not often. I remember when my son was a newborn, and I was starting the ritual of bath and changing him into pajamas and reading him a story before bed, and it was such a departure from my usual after dinner routine (do dishes, read or write), and it was sort of a shock to think that my routine was going to be changed FOREVER, every night for the rest of my life, only it wasn't really, I just didn't know it then.

I've been a writer longer than I've been a mother. I've had this sweet end-of-the-manuscript feeling many times before. Heck, I've had it seven times on this novel so far alone. It's a really good familiar feeling.

So everything's a little swirly right now. I didn't blog right when I dropped my daughter off, because it didn't feel right, and then I didn't blog since then because I really really needed to get the revision finished before I hop a plane to Los Angeles (that's true!) and now I'll be back blogging regularly because I've got lots of stories. I've got another pass or two on this novel, too, and I've got phone calls to make to my beautiful children, and I'm hanging out at the fork in my road, one path well-travelled, the other new, only I'll be walking them both at the same time. It's good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

So Much for My Day Planner

So, we've ratcheted up the crazy another level here at Chez Bradley. BOTH my darling children are in college, which is frankly impossible, and yet exists as fact. They're doing well. My husband is off golfing--he seems concerned that this Won't Be Fine but it Is Fine. He's doing well. I am so busy I recently bought the first planner I've owned since the days when I was a research chemist and everyone in our company was required to use the damn things. It's been going splendidly. I make myself little notes of everything I need to do, and I'm being super-organized, and it's keeping the speeding train that is my life right now from coming off the rails.


It is nearly seven o'clock at night as I type this. I did get some very nice writing done this early this morning, and I've got a load of laundry in the washer, and I'm clean and fed myself, but other than that--looking down at my list, written in pen under today's date, I've accomplished nothing. Zilch. Zero. None of that. And yet, today was a very good day. Today I helped keep a lovely horse alive.

The horse in question belongs to a friend. He's lived on my farm for--shoot, something like ten years now. My friend zips in and out each morning and evening, caring for the horse, and my basic responsibility is to scratch the horse's head where he likes it and, sometimes, like when a blizzard has shut down Bristol, toss this horse hay along with my own.

Today one of the first things on my list was to ride in the company of another friend, a teenager who's recently taken over one of my horses. (That's a story in itself, and a good one. I'll tell it soon.) She and I plus her mother are heading to Kentucky for a horse trial, leaving tomorrow, and so we'd planned to practice our dressage tests today. We'd just gone into the barn when my young friend pointed to my other friend's horse and said, He doesn't look right.

I investigated. She was right. The horse looked quite wrong. I tried to measure his heart rate but I couldn't find my stethoscope, I'm crap at finding a pulse on a horse, and every time I did find it the horse shook his head and neck hard enough to dislodge my fingers. But he was breathing too hard, which is another indication that he was in pain, and he was pawing and biting his belly and in general it looked like colic, which is an equine emergency. I called my friend--didn't get him. Called his vet--left a message. Called my own vet, was told all vets were busy, got a touch snarky. Called my friend's dad, told him what was happening. Got the horse out of his stall and started walking him, in the grass not the driveway in case he went down.

He went down. We got him back up. I called another vet I know. She was in surgery, actually scrubbed in, but she's a friend and she talked to me on speaker phone, affirming that the horse was in trouble and that absent a vet there was not much to do. My friend's vet called back--he was on his way, but two hours away.

Walked the horse. Walked the horse.

Two hours later, the vet and my friend the horse's owner show up simultaneously, my friend in wool dress pants and a crisply ironed business shirt. We commenced medical treatment of various sorts, for a few hours, and for a long time it looked like things were going very poorly.

And then suddenly they looked better.

And then not as good. And then better again. And then we all started to breath a little bit easier.

"Hey," I said to my friend, "In the book I'm working on right now there's a scene where a horse colics. However this turns out I want you to know I wrote that scene before today, not after."

We still had no idea how it would turn out.

Eventually the vet left on another call, leaving us with some drugs and instructions on when to call him immediately. I hung out at the barn while my friend ran home to change out of his business attire.

A few hours later-now--and the horse is not only still alive, he looks good. He may have quite literally dodged a bullet.

I came back to the house in my filthy riding clothes, soaked in sweat, having not ridden at all. I showered and ate and drank a beer, and now I'm sitting at my desk, looking at my list, realizing that I did not accomplish one single thing that was written on it. And yet, I'm so happy with all we accomplished today.

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Last Night

Right at this very moment, my daughter is 95% packed for college.  She's off running a few last-minute errands and I'm taking some time to write. (Our son left for his school--his senior year!--very early yesterday morning. It's quiet here today.)

She's going to Haverford College, near Philadelphia. It's a small college not well-known to the people around here, and so for weeks now my daughter has been fielding the sort of questions people once asked me, when I was heading toward Smith College, in Massachusetts, from northeastern Indiana. Where are you going? Haverford. Have-a-what? Haverford. Where is that? outside Philadelphia. Huh. Never heard of it.  (obviously) It's a great school for her and I'm excited about the opportunities she'll have there.

We're leaving tonight, once my husband gets off work, so that we can get a few hours of the long drive out of the way. Last night when we went to sleep my husband said, "This is her last night in her own bed."

It wasn't, of course. In a few days our daughter will be sleeping in her own bed at college, and she'll come home for vacations and things and her own bed will be waiting, just like always, only perhaps a little more neatly made up than usual. But it was her last night Home Before College, and it made me remember my last night at home.

I remember it because of a book. Dicey's Song, by Cynthia Voigt. It won the Newbery Medal in 1983. I'd gone to the library one last time before I left, to return my books, and saw the paperback and checked it out, even though I'd be leaving the next day. I figured I'd read it on the trip to Massachusetts, then hand it back to my mother to return. I found the story compelling--I still do, it's excellent--and I stayed up late at night to finish it.

My room in my parent's old house was never quite in sync with the heating or air conditioning. In winter my room was cold; in summer it was hot. Always. The walls of my bedroom were painted peach, and the light from my bedside lamp shone rosily off them. My coverlet was white, but I'd peeled it back because I was so warm and lay on the peach sheets, reading, the whole room soft and orange.

I read past midnight. I finished the book. I'd never read anything by Cynthia Voigt before. On the very last page of the paperback edition was a one-paragraph biography. Cynthia Voigt, it said, was a graduate of Smith College.

Where I was heading.

Now it turns out Smith is chock-a-block with famous children's book authors, but I didn't know that at the time. I'd never heard of a writer who went to Smith before. I, of course, was going there to study science and eventually become a physician, even though I was still passionately and voraciously reading children's novels. (I did study science at Smith; I also ended up studying children's literature and writing and emerging with an ambition that had nothing at all to do with medicine and everything to do with being just like Cynthia Voigt someday.)

I stared at that bio page for a full minute before I put the book down. Then I reached to turn off my light. Maybe it's a good sign, I thought, and it was.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hilpin Adventures

So we are finally starting to be at a really good place with The War I Finally Won, which is the sequel to The War That Saved My Life, which I fondly hoped some time ago would be published by now, but eh, at least it'll be worthwhile when it does come out. I'm still shifting scenes around, so yesterday I got out some blank paper and wrote out notes by hand, chapter by chapter. I felt like I'd made excellent progress, so you can imagine my dismay when I looked the notes over this morning and read:

Add hilpin. Or maybe hatpin. Or something.

I tried copying my own scrawl to see if the letters would somehow form real words if I tried to write them over, but no, I only got variations on hilpin. Or hatpin. For the record, the last time a hatpin featured in a plot was in the Borrowers series.

Anyway most of the rest of it makes some sense, and that's good, because all sorts of mechanical things are frankly falling apart right now. Last week I took some frozen bratwurst out of the freezer and they weren't. Weren't frozen. They were still cold, and since their package had been stuck on the freezer door they were the warmest thing in the freezer, which means I didn't lose a whole ton of frozen meat, but it was a close-run thing there. We have an auxiliary freezer in the basement and we moved everything down there fast. Then we monitored the refrigerator side--for a bit I thought it was still cooling, but nope. Emptied that. We have a dorm-room sized refrigerator ready for my daughter to take to college; right now it's keeping our milk and cheese from spoiling, while a refrigerator's worth of beer and pickles hangs out on the kitchen island, and has been since last Wednesday. The first day the repairman could come is tomorrow. I wish I were making that up.

Meanwhile there have been here a series of other small disasters, and a whole bunch of college preparation--not the academic kind, more the I-need-XL twin sheets-kind. I've got to tell you, the big superstores have turned this college thing into a giant marketing scheme. They've got flyers saying What You Need for Your Dorm Room and most of it is completely superfluous. Ironing board, iron, ironing board cover? Uh, right. Cause that's going to happen.

I felt like my mother was right about college: you need bedding, towels, and at least two weeks' worth of underwear.

My mother was right about a lot of things. She has always been very very good at not giving out extra parenting advice. She never tried to tell me how to discipline my children or feed them or when or how to put them to bed. She mostly loved them, played cards with them, and made them cookies. But very early onto my own journey into motherhood she spoke sharply to me about parenting for the only time. I was talking to her about my weeks-old son. "I can't wait for him to start smiling and reacting to me," I said. "I can't wait for him to get a little older."

"Don't say that," she said. "Never wish for your time with him to go faster. Enjoy every day. It will all go by too fast."

That's why, instead of worrying over what I meant by hilpin, I'm heading out to the barn with my daughter. Then I'm having lunch downtown with my son. Then I'm getting a massage.

Then I'm disinfecting the refrigerator. I mean, come on, life's still real.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bliss. The Olympics.

Her middle name is Bliss. It's the best middle name ever; if I'd known her before I had children I might have borrowed Bliss for my daughter's middle name.

Lauren Bliss Kieffer. Olympic eventer.

 I promised not to blog about her until the Olympic eventing competition was finished. Lauren rode for the U.S. Team.

She was 17 when I first met her. She's 29 now, grown up entirely, with strength and poise and self-control. I was thrilled when she made the team for Rio. I wanted to blog about her right away, but my husband said, "She's superstitious, she won't like that." He and Lauren have never actually met, so I wasn't sure why he felt that way, but I asked Lauren and she agreed. Olympians in general and eventers in particular are a superstitious bunch. A thousand things can go wrong between being named to a team and finishing a competition, and often many of them do.  This year one of the horses had to be scratched because the day before the first horse inspection in Rio it cut its face on a pipe in the stabling, and the cut got infected. Horse flew all the way to Rio and got hurt there. Happens all the time.

Eventing is a triathlon: dressage, cross country, show jumping. Lauren and her horse Veronica had their dressage test on Sunday. It was solid. Monday was the real test: cross country, which separates eventing from every other sport. At yoga Monday morning I asked my class to set as their intention the safety of all the horses and riders. "It's the most dangerous day of the most dangerous sport in the Olympics," I said, which is true.

My daughter and I watched the first section of riders in our family room via the live internet feed. The course was considered hard, and it rode very hard: in the end, only 40% of the riders completed it without major jumping faults; only 70% completed it at all. Every team of four riders drops the lowest score. The first rider for the U.S., Boyd Martin, did well, but second rider Clark Montgomery's horse stopped at several fences and was eliminated.

Lauren was scheduled to ride at 12:27. My daughter had a doctor's appointment at 1:00 a half hour's drive from our house. She and I packed up her laptop and drove to a Panera Bread right next to the doctor's office, where we connected to wifi and ate soup, waiting.

Lauren's face at the start was calm and intense. Her horse was so eager that the tips of her ears, pricked forward, nearly touched. They began.

Eventing is a tiny sport in the US. I actually know several of our Olympians. Most people who event do. I've competed against Olympians. Boyd Martin complemented my mare in warm-up once, then trounced me on a very classy young horse of his own. Once at a horse trial that went very badly for me, I was stalking around the showgrounds trying to regain my temper when I ran into a Very Famous American Olympic Rider. "Hey, Kim, how's it going?" the VFAOR said.

"Terrible," I said. "I just got thrown over the first fence in showjumping." Hit the ground and you're eliminated. That's the rules.

The VFAOR laughed. "You asshole," she said, "that was really stupid."

I've given up telling this story to non-horse people, or even to people who are horsey but not eventers, because they get all horrified and feel indignant and sorry for me, that an icon of the sport would call me an asshole. Even the VFAOR worried for a microsecond that maybe I wouldn't take her words as she intended them--I saw a spasm of concern cross her face. She stammered and started to say something else. I held up my hand.

"That," I said, "is the only thing you could have said that wouldn't have made me more angry than I already am." Because at its bedrock eventing is a sport of honesty. Things go well, or poorly, but they go how they go. You don't make excuses. You say, wow, that sucked, and you move on.

So my daughter and I are in Panera, holding our breaths because Lauren's on course. She looks so, so good. Controlled and athletic and thinking hard. They're nearly halfway through, going the straight route through a difficult combination, and Veronica catches a hoof on a fence and falls. She lands on her knees, sliding. Lauren shoots off over Veronica's shoulder.

Neither one of them is much hurt, but just like that, they're done. Eliminated. The United States will have two riders in the top six after cross country day, Boyd and Philip Dutton, who rides last, and Philip will showjump brilliantly to win the individual bronze, but the US will not get a team score.

Lauren gets up. She goes to Veronica and untangles the reins from the horse's feet. Veronica stands. Lauren pats her, briefly, runs the stirrups up on the saddle and starts the long walk back to the stabling. In the Panera Bread in east Tennessee I put my head in my hands. My heart aches for her. I'm sure she's saying you asshole in her head--all eventers do--sure she's replaying over and over the last few strides before the fall.

Eventing is a tough sport. It is so, so hard to make it to the top, and even then sometimes things go badly no matter what you do. It sucks and we move on.

Lauren Bliss Kieffer still got to ride in the Olympics. She still represented us well.

Lauren Bliss Kieffer, Olympian. You can never take that title away.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Coyotes on Euclid

So I'm here at Bristol Faith in Action, as it's Wednesday, and it's another weird day. Our building is on Euclid Avenue, just down from the new Food City and across from the ball fields where our sub-A baseball team plays. We've got two big picture windows from the main office fronting the street. For the past half hour, we've been watching a large shaggy dog, collarless, skitter back and forth across Euclid, which is a busy four-lane road. The animal kept barely not getting hit, loping back and forth.

Eventually we in the office grew concerned. We are all friends of dogs in general. I went out to see if I couldn't grab the dog and bring him in to safety--we could at least shut him up in the storeroom, and then one of us (to my husband: probably not me) would take him home.

I went outside and for a moment didn't see the dog. A car was parked in front of our building windows down, with a dad and a small girl inside it. An older boy was standing on the sidewalk.

"Did you see where that dog went?" I asked the boy.

"Wasn't a dog," the boy said. "That's a coyote."

Just then the dog coyote trotted back across the street. The boy was right: it was a coyote. A pair of coyotes used to den two fields over from where I kept my horse in Indiana, and I saw them all the time. Now, I've never known coyotes to be aggressive, but I wasn't about to grab one by the neck and haul him into the office. I took myself back inside and called city animal control.

"There's a coyote--" I began.

"The one on Euclid?" the officer asked, sounding bored.

There are moments when my lesser angel tries to take over. I was this close to saying, "No, this is the one on State Street." But I didn't. I said, "Yep," and the animal control promised that someone was on the way.

I don't know what happened after that. It was a fine-looking coyote, as coyotes go. That's all I've got today.