Monday, February 29, 2016

We Are The Poor

The other day I reposted on Facebook a rant that I did not write but completely agreed with. You can read it here. I just re-read it, and yup, I still agree with it. A friend of mine, someone I completely like and respect, read it and posted an opposing rant. She didn't agree with it. That's okay with me. I'm actually cool about everyone getting their own opinion on everything, although I say that with the caveat that if you refuse to vaccinate your children I will privately think you're ignorant to the point of being dangerous.

I've been mulling over the original rant. Here are the lines I like best:

Poor people need help. If you’re not helping them but complaining about how the government helps them with your money you are not a nice person.

and this:

We are the United States of America and we can afford to house every homeless veteran, feed every child, and take in every refugee and still have money left over for Starbucks and a bucket of KFC.

And I know, I know, that some of you are going to be thinking, possibly even saying, "But I know this woman who refuses to work and gets disability..." or "I saw a fat person buying Doritos and Coke with food stamps..." or "All those people on welfare need to get a job." And I'd like you to think about those thoughts. Really think about them, and evaluate how well you understand poverty, and mental illness, and homelessness, and desperation.

I don't understand them well enough, but I'm working on that. 

Here is the truth as I understand it: there is no such thing as The Poor. We are all in this together. All of us. We came into the world with different abilities and disabilities, every last one of us, in a completely random fashion that we can no more take credit for than we can the size of our feet. We were born in a prosperous country, not a famine-ridden one. Can you really say you'd be able to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and achieve everything you've got, if you'd been born in a steaming slum in Calcutta? Can you say that you'd make the same fantastic choices that you did if you'd been born with mental illness, or an inability to read, or without family who loved you? 

I know that every one of my friends--and, by extension, everyone--has faced hardship somewhere. I know every one of us has struggled. But I also know we are not born to an equal playing field, not by a long shot, and I know that we need a net to catch those who fall. 

There really isn't such a thing as "welfare" anymore. There are a lot of government assistance programs. They are of varying efficiency. They are keeping a lot of people in this country alive. Some people take advantage of these programs. Most of the people who use them don't.

You can disagree with me about how we should help our neighbors. Please don't disagree with me that we should. We are all in the same soup. We are all the poor.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Cake Fit For a Queen

I have so many things I could write about today.

Last night my husband's fifth-grade basketball team ended their season by beating their cross-town rivals 14-12. It was a makeup game, late at night for kids this young, and the lead changed hands again and again. My husband rejoiced in the effort and progress his team showed. I could write all sorts of things about the game and the season, but I'll just add this quote from Tuesday's team banquet, at which my husband awarded one of the boys the season MVP. Another kid said, "I'm going to win that next year." The kid sitting next to him said, "Really? You want to win a bedazzled basketball glued to a plaque?" and the first kid said, "If it says MVP on it, yes, I do." (It's even funnier if you know the kids involved. Funnier, and touching, because the first kid now has BASKETBALL GOALS which, trust me, he didn't have at the start of the year.)

I could write about tomorrow's pony club quiz rally. My daughter's now a senior in high school, and will therefore be competing for her last time. (Most pony clubbers don't stick with quiz rally into high school--at that age, many of them are running the competition stations for the youngest participants--but my daughter and her friend S. have always loved quiz; they planned to try for an international competition until it was postponed away from this summer. I originally let my daughter join pony club at age 5 (pony club age 4) because her brother belonged, and was competing in quiz, and I could either let her compete also or I could haul her to Virginia Beach, where the rally was that year, and back, whining and hanging on my leg the whole time. So I let a child who could read but not yet write participate.  (My son slid out of Megaroom, laughing hysterically. "Guess who had the high score in that room?" he gasped. It was my daughter. Later I got to walk through Megaroom. "How did you know all that?" I asked her. "How did you know 'flannel wraps?'" (I was certain she'd never seen them.) My daughter rolled her eyes. "They were made of flannel," she said. (What barely five-year-old can identify flannel?) Anyhow, a run of fourteen straight quiz rallies is pretty epic too. I'm proud of her.

However, I mostly want to write about my brother-in-law, Mike Ries. Today's his birthday. My sister is a whole bunch younger than me. I was in college when she was born, and I got married straight out of college, so we almost never lived in the same house or even city, certainly not when she could remember it. I moved to Tennessee when she was only ten years old. Lauren met Mike when she was doing a summer internship at a golf resort in Wisconsin, while she was a student at Florida State. I didn't know Mike well before they were married. Now they have two small children, my adorable nephews Louie and Fred. They have a happy, balanced life. They have fun together. They love being parents. They love each other. As I've gotten to know Mike I've come to appreciate what a good man he is--good in all the right ways, good in ways that last. He's also happy to wear striped red-and-white overalls to Wisconsin football games, and redneck shorts at Fourth of July parties here in east Tennessee. He's got a super sense of humor. And that's good, because yesterday my sister texted me a photo of the birthday cake their three-year-old son, Louie, lovingly chose for his daddy. The bakery called my sister to say, "'Happy Birthday Daddy'? On this cake? Are you sure?"

My sister was sure. Louie chose it--shrieking with delight--which is how Louie approaches the world--he said it was the most beautiful cake he'd ever seen--and Lauren went right along with Louie's happiness, and Mike will think it's the Best Cake Ever, and it will be. I hope they all have a very happy day.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Emergency Root Canal

Yesterday I had a root canal. I'm calling it an emergency root canal, because on Tuesday morning the ache in one of my front teeth had become a stabbing pain. I took a sip of hot coffee and doubled over, it hurt so bad. I hadn't been ignoring the problem--I'd had some sensitivity in that tooth for a few months, but we couldn't find anything structurally wrong with it at my last cleaning, and it wasn't actually hurting yet. Then while I was in Florida it started to occasionally ache, then to ache quite often, then, on Thursday night, to be a real problem, but my dentist's office is closed Friday, so I couldn't make an appointment until Monday, and couldn't actually come in until Tuesday, when I was home.

On Tuesday my dentist started me on antibiotics and a whopping dose of ibuprofen. Yesterday he drilled a little hole in the back of my tooth, ground out the decaying root and whatever else is inside a tooth, filled it up with something, then sealed the hole. It's hard for me to believe it, but apparently I now have a dead tooth that is just fine, and will carry on with its regular job as though it were still alive. It aches a bit today but nothing like it did.

I asked my dentist what would have happened if I hadn't gotten the root canal. He told me my face would have swollen up until the infection burst itself loose from the bone. Nice. I don't love dentists, but I think I'm starting to appreciate them.

Eighteen months ago I fell off my horse head-first, landing partially on my face. My now-dead tooth was loose for a few days--I could wiggle it, the way children wiggle loose baby teeth, though I mostly tried not to as I really didn't want it to come out. It went back to being firmly rooted but apparently enough damage was done that the tooth died a slow lingering death. I'm curious to see if the tooth next to it, which was also knocked wiggly, will follow suit.

Now I'm off to start yet another revision of the sequel to TWTSML (now officially titled The War I Finally Won). However that goes, it's likely to be better than a root canal.

Friday, February 19, 2016

My Awesome Husband, and My Horses

Here's something you should know about my husband: we started dating before I started riding horses.

When I started riding, in college, and called him (my steady boyfriend, my best friend) and said, haltingly, "I'm really loving this horse stuff. I love it even more than I thought I would," he said, "I'd be happy to live on a farm."

I always wanted to ride. I can not remember not wanting to ride, can't remember a time when horses weren't important to me. I didn't get a chance to ride as a child because it simply wasn't something I knew how to do--I took ballet and drama class and piano, but there wasn't a lesson barn near me. None of my friends rode except one that went out to dude ranches on summer vacations. Nobody I knew did horses.

When I went to a college with its own barn, with a solid lesson program and an IHSA team, that was heaven. I learned as much as I possibly could. I pushed myself ahead, skipping steps so that even now I sometimes run up against things I should have been taught years ago yet still don't know. My trainer Angelica once stared open-mouthed at my ignorance. I shrugged. "I was raised by wolves," I said, and she nodded.

It didn't matter. I've always tended to throw myself headlong into things. I threw myself headlong into horses. Bought my first horse when my husband and I were first married, fairly broke--he won an award in medical school, brought home a check, and said, "Can you get a horse and tack for that?" I said, "Oh, yes," and bought a two-hundred dollar saddle, with bridle and fittings included, (even then, that was so cheap as to be nearly dangerous, though I did replace the stirrup leathers and girth immediately) and a chestnut Thoroughbred mare so recently off the race track that she still wore racing shoes. And three months later rode her in the hunt field. If that sounds stupid, you've no idea. It was crazy.

(If you've read The War That Saved My Life, you may have questioned some of the horse stuff, particularly Ada jumping Jonathan's horse out of the field. Nah. It's solid. I have personally done much stupider stuff.)

My husband doesn't like to ride. He's uncomfortable atop a thousand-pound animal with a healthy prey response and a very small brain. He watches me cry over lame horses and be frustrated by misbehaving ones; he hears about my friends getting hurt, gets a phone call that I'm being taken away from the show via ambulance. This is not what he'd prefer.

Yet here I am, in Florida, loving this part of my life. He's home and he's lonely and he understands. It means the world to me, that he gets this part of me, and supports it, and always has.

We were at karoke night at Blanca's on Wednesday, a big group of us. Someone mentioned my husband. My trainer Betty grinned. "Kim's husband is awesome," she said.

He is. Always has been. Don't think I don't appreciate it. I do.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Stop Talking, You're In Church

"Kim. Stop talking."

You'd be surprised by how often my trainers Betty and Angelica say this to me.

"Kim. You're overanalyzing."
"Kim. Be quiet and ride"
"Kim. Shhh. Go home and sleep." (This last was after I unloaded the horse from the trailer after our 12-hour-drive. I was running on fumes, and consequently running my mouth.)

I process most things through words. I talk a lot. I especially tend to talk when I'm learning something new--I want to get it all into words so that I can remember it, so it can stay in my brain. This drives Angelica and Betty nuts. Angelica once put me on a strict limit of ten questions per hour. She wasn't kidding. We kept track. It was a hard day.

On the other hand, I'm slowly coming around to their point (all along I assumed they had one; they're the best teachers I've ever had). This week, as I've said, has been a breakthrough, and it was one that involved no words at all, mostly because Angelica wouldn't allow me to say anything.

"Shush," she said, at the start, the very start, of our breakthrough. "No talking. You're in church, you don't talk in church." After that, whenever I started to say anything, she'd say, "You're in church!" and I'd stop.

And then I learned to listen, not just with my ears, but with my hands, balance, elbows (oh Lord, especially my elbows). I listened with my body instead of my brain.

This is a huge change. I've spent my whole life being mostly inside my brain, and only vaguely aware of what was happening with my body. Trust me, it was safer that way. A year and a half of yoga has gotten me a lot more aware of my physical self, and a lot more comfortable about it, and although I've always tried hard to master the physical act of riding I'm beginning to think that I approached it way too much from an intellectual side. Which would be like me.

Today I went cross country schooling. Today I was not practicing my churchy dressage moves. However, it turned out I was still better tuned in. When Sarah (that's my horse) stalled coming out of the water, I got her moving forward again faster and more easily than I would have done before this week. I'm not talking. I'm being.

I'm in church.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Where Have I Been?

Florida. Ocala, Florida, to be precise. Also I'm still there--still here?--until Monday. I drove down last Wednesday, a week ago, and it was a very fast week.

I come here because my two professional rider friends, who I have always called on this blog Angelica and Betty, come here for large chunks of the winter. I come down with my horse, and ride with them. This is the ninth year I've come to ride in Florida. Many years I came for a week, or slightly less; this year I got more than a little ambitious, way back when I was planning things, and decided to come not only for 12 days, but to leave the horse here in my friend's care, and come back for another five days in March before driving the horse home.

My wonderful aunt came with me, since this is the first time I've driven the trailer all this way myself. She stayed five days. She loves horses, too, and got to have her first-ever dressage lessons while she was here, and videotaped my lessons, and cleaned my revolting tack, and it turns out we have exactly the same ideas of what to do with our evenings, which is, eat, go back to the hotel, shower, and read books.

I have yet to turn on the television in my hotel room.

I have had remarkable riding lessons.

Non-riders sometimes question why I or anyone else takes riding lessons. The answer is that riding is a  whole lot more than just not falling off the horse. My beloved sport, eventing, is three separate kinds of riding rolled into one competition, and it's hard, and the hard is part of what makes it excellent. You can't buy yourself a ribbon in eventing. You can buy an excellent horse, but you've still got to ride it, and one of the major truths with horses is that the more talented ones are often more difficult to deal with.

Anyhow, I divvy up my riding time between Angelica and Betty. I'm very lucky in that they are very old friends who also understand me and my situation well, and they work very well together, and understand that I love working with them both. Some years I've stabled at Angelica's barn, some years with Betty. I'm with Betty this year. On Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday I had jump schools with Betty. On Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, and today I had dressage lessons with Angelica. Tomorrow I'm schooling cross-country with Betty, and perhaps throwing in a flat lesson.

Saturday I had an epiphany. Angelica told me to start out by showing her where I was with my flat work (flat work and dressage aren't exactly the same thing, but close enough for this blog). I did. She asked what I needed to be different. I told her, and I was right. She asked what I needed to do to make that happen. I told her I had no idea.

I told her I knew that what I was doing wasn't working, but I didn't know what to replace it with. "Okay," she said. So we started at the halt. Then, eventually, the walk. Then at one point Angelica, from the ground, holding the reins, jogging alongside my horse while I rested my hands lightly on the reins to feel what she was doing. Then my hands took the reins. Then, eventually, we trotted--and I was trotting all wrong. But then I got better.

The next day I did some flatwork on my own before my jump school, and I was still better, on my own, than I had been before that first lesson. Then the next day, back at Angelica's, I improved further.

It was like learning to walk all over again. It was absolutely excellent. I told Angelica that I thought my horse was singing Halleujahs. She said, "The reason for that should be sufficiently obvious."

Hoo-eee. I miss my family. I miss my husband, my daughter, my son, my dog. I've got plenty of work to do, and I'm doing some of it here, but mostly, mostly I'm getting steadily better at something I love, that I do only for the love of doing it. It's amazing. It's why I'm here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Salute to my Son's Childhood Star

Last night we were flying home from the Dominican Republic during the first half of the Super Bowl. No sooner had we landed at our home airport ("Tri-Cities," as it's shared by the cities of Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol) then my husband's phone went off with text updates from our son, who was watching the game at his university flat in London.

Where it was two in the morning on a school night.

I texted back, "Why are you still awake? This is Mom." (Because his father would not ask that question.)

He replied, "Because I cheered for Peyton Manning for my entire childhood and this may be my last chance."

I replied, "Good reason."

Usually we have a little family Super Bowl party, just the four of us, with extra-special "Super Bowl drinks." From our children's earliest childhood we've gone to Wal-Mart on Super Bowl Saturday and perused their weird collection of offbeat sodas. Cheerwine. Cherry Cream. Ginger Beer.Everyone gets to make their own selection, just for the Super Bowl. My own personal Super Bowl drink was usually a nice New Zealand sauvingnon blanc. We'd buy weird frozen snacks, too, mozzarella cheese sticks or potato skins, something like that, and dinner would be snacks and soda.

We put the kids to bed at halftime back then, which eliminated any need to pay attention to the half time show.

My daughter, like me, was mostly in it for the party, but my son has been passionate about football since he's been old enough to be passionate about anything. When we lived in Indianapolis, we were just down the street from the Colts's practice facility, which we passed every day. After Super Bowl 31, when my son was just 2 years old, I couldn't drive him past the place without hearing him say, from his car seat, "Mommy? The Packers won the Super Bowl."

"Packers won," I'd say.

My son loved the Colts best, naturally. A year later we moved to east Tennessee, where the local college hero was some fresh-faced kid named Peyton Manning. Peyton graduated and got drafted by the Colts--my son was four or five--he was in heaven. The best player on the best team.

For his birthday when he was six he got a little Peyton Manning jersey. He wore it to his birthday party. The cake was shaped like a football, and my son had me add the Colts's symbol in blue icing.

If you're going to have a sports hero, you might as well have one as classy as Peyton Manning. No arrests, no drugs, no violence. A few years ago, Peyton Manning actually came to play golf at one of our local clubs for a weekend. One of my son's best friends was working there as a cart boy. Thunderstruck at seeing Peyton, my son's friend held out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm S--." Peyton shook it and said, "Nice to meet you. I'm Peyton."

I hope he retires, because it's good to end on a high note. Glad my son could cheer for him for all these years.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Show jumping Frank in the DR

My husband, daughter, and I are spending a few days in the Dominican Republic. My daughter had a four-day weekend and my husband had a yearning to play a specific couple of golf courses down here, and it seemed like an excellent place to be in February, and it is.

Our resort is enormous--only partially hotel rooms, mostly private homes--literally miles from one end to the other. They issue all hotel guests golf carts, and it takes 15 minutes by golf cart to get to the beach, 20 minutes to the tennis courts or Marina. But only 5 minutes to the stables.

Polo is the thing here. My daughter and I are taking a polo lesson this afternoon, just for grins. Yesterday, however, we opted for showjumping lessons. Between the bad weather and my recent illness I've barely been riding, let alone jumping, and I missed it, body and soul.

My only previous experiences with horses in the Carribean have been entirely sketchy. This place, though--not fancy, but so well done. Over 300 horses, all fit, all well-shod, all happy. They're predominantly a local breed described as a Thoroughbred/Morgan cross, and they're small, well-built, and athletic. Yesterday's mount was a chestnut gelding named Armani, who I immediately and  privately rechristened Frank. Frank like to hang out with all his weight on his right shoulder, but he as a sweet guy, and he clearly knew and liked his job. The instructor, a black man named Jose, was a horseman through and through--he watched my daughter and I warm up, told her to get out of her chair seat, and told me to quit flapping my elbows. The first time we went through some ground poles Frank barged through his shoulder, I overcorrected, and we went through diagonally. Jose said nothing. The second time I straightened Frank in the corner, and we were fine."Better," said Jose.

Better. Brilliant. Loads of fun. Thanks, Frank!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How To Write a Book

1. Sit down at the computer, paper, whatever.
2. Write.

That's it. That's all there is.

I get asked a fair amount these days, how to get started writing. Most people really mean, how can they get published? Those are not the same thing. It's pretty easy to self-research how to get published, so whenever anyone asks me the question I'm always a bit skeptical about their future. Not because I know anything about their level of talent, but because they haven't looked into the issue themselves. This speaks of a certain lack of dedication. Writing is mostly dedication.

When I talk to school groups I try to make them understand just how bad most of my initial drafts are, and just how much I change them. It's hard for readers to understand, because they've only ever read the final draft. I know this.

Still, this is how you do it:

Sit down.

Tell the truth. That's the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ruta Sepetys is a Genius

I've been away from the blog finishing another draft of the sequel to The War That Saved My Life. It's done now, printed out, sent off to New York, and I'm really happy with it. I know from past experience that I'll be really happy with it for about another week, and then, picking it up again, will begin to see all sorts of flaws, both real and imaginary, but for now--for now it's good. My brilliant editor suggested a fairly large change right at the beginning--please understand "fairly large" to mean "dump these 100 pages in the trashcan, start again" and it helped, though it means I had to get rid of a first line that I really loved. You'll have that.

It's been a difficult week from a physical sense. My daughter had been sick during our snowstorm, and didn't seem to be getting better, and then I started coughing too. We went in to the doctor a week ago and both ended up on prednisone and antibiotics--being stubborn, I refused to take the antibiotics prescribed to me until Friday, when it was clear I really, really needed them. Prednisone is a miracle drug so far as breathing goes, but it messes with you in a multitude of other ways. If you're wide awake at 3 in the morning and contemplating cleaning out your refrigerator, just for fun, you're probably taking prednisone.

So Friday was interesting. I had too much prednisone, cold medicine, and caffeine, I felt like a wreck, and I worked non-stop on my book with great glee. Yesterday I messed with it just a bit more. Tomorrow (not making this up) I'm going to a beach for a few days.

Meanwhile, yesterday evening I started Ruta Sepetys's new book, Salt to the Sea. Her debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, (NOT to be confused with Fifty Shades of Gray. For heaven's sake.) was and is a masterpiece, and I gave my copy away when I was finished because I knew I'd never be able to bear to read that story again. It was so beautiful, and so truthful, and so bleak.

Lately I've developed the odd habit of marking up my books. I never did this before and it seems late in life to start, but there you are. I dog-ear pages and underline bits. Yesterday I had to get up from the couch and go in search of a pencil, because I was so mesmerized by one line in Salt to the Sea.

When I was a candystriper, in high school, I did several months in cardiac ICU. One day a patient there was dying in a mess of blood. They kept the curtains pulled around his or her bed, and I never knew the details, but the person was vomiting so much blood that the entire ICU reeked of it. That's the day I discovered that blood tastes like metal. Like iron. The odd metallic tang hung in the ICU.

So here's Ruta Sepetys. One of the characters, a teenage refugee from war-torn Prussia, is contemplating the senses of another refugee, who is blind. "Did she taste coins in her mouth when she walked over the fresh blood in the snow?"

That is some damn gorgeous writing. To go from blood tastes like metal, to "did she taste coins in her mouth," with "coins in her mouth" so perfect for the situation of a refugee. It's page 13. I'm in love.