Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Butterfly




                                                            by Laura Crum

            My life is up and down right now. Ever since my husband died I have struggled so much. But I wouldn’t expect it to be different. I have moments where I feel him guiding and protecting and just being a companion to me, and I am comforted. I have moments where I realize that I am getting everything done and I feel stronger. Our son, our animals, our garden, and our little life here on our property are being taken care of just as Andy would want.  But sometimes I miss his physical presence so much that I can hardly bear the pain. I imagine it is the same for all those who have lost much-loved others to death.
            The other day I had one of those very sad moments. I literally cried out to Andy for help. And then, as I tend to do, I went outside and began doing something “useful.” I pulled some old, aphid-covered kale out of the veggie garden and fed it to the chickens, in preparation for planting new seedlings. While I worked there, a butterfly came and landed right next to me. It was a beautiful black and orange butterfly (I think a Red Admiral, but I am no expert on butterflies), and it was a foot from my hand. I stared at it, unable to resist a smile, feeling sure it had been sent as a messenger by Andy (and yes, this is the sort of fanciful thinking that is automatic to me now—seeing magic in the most every day things). I moved to another part of the garden, and again the butterfly lit on the ground very close to me. I watched it for a minute and then it flew up the hill toward Andy’s greenhouse.
            When I was done in the garden I went to the greenhouse to water the plants. Only to find what seemed to be the same butterfly trapped inside, fluttering against the glass, trying to escape. I can only assume my friend from the garden had flown in the open greenhouse door. I did my best to shoo him back out the door, but the butterfly resisted my efforts, determined to fly out through what appeared to him to be openings, which were in fact unyielding glass. I had to be very gentle in my efforts to coax him toward the doorway for fear of damaging his fragile self. Every time I had almost got him to freedom, by waving my hands…etc, he would fly back towards a pane of glass—away from the open doorway.
            I was almost crying with frustration, saying out loud, “Please let me help you. Please let me save you. Please.”
            And finally I was able to encourage the butterfly out the open door and it flew away into the spring afternoon, free at last.
            I felt so relieved, and I had the momentary thought that I had “saved” Andy. And then suddenly a very powerful thought came rushing in and I stopped dead in my tracks. What if it was the other way around?
            What if I am the butterfly and Andy is “me?” What if I am spending my life, like most humans, moving toward what appear to me to be logical ways to find happiness and freedom, but which are in fact completely unworkable dead ends—unyielding panes of glass. They look like you can go that way—but you actually can’t. It will never work. I am like the butterfly—I can’t see where the way to true freedom lies. Like all of us who are still in our human bodies.
            And perhaps Andy is now “me,” someone who can see the big picture and is trying as hard as he can to guide the butterfly (the still-human me) toward the only doorway to freedom. He can’t push me too hard or he will damage my fragile self—remove my ability to choose. He can only encourage me as much as he can in subtle ways. But he is trying so hard to help me. He is begging me to let him help me. He wants me to find happiness and freedom, and he knows the way.
            As a butterfly, I can’t perceive him as anything other than a big force, like an especially animated tree in the wind. He doesn’t seem like a visible “being” to me. I would only recognize another butterfly (read human being) as a proper being. But in fact he is very much a being, one who sees the big picture much more clearly than I do, and is trying to help me—and CAN help me, much more than another butterfly could. I just have to respond to his guidance.
            This concept hit me so hard I had to stop what I was doing and go lie for awhile in the hammock that hangs in a big oak tree at the top of our property, and think it over. The hammock is a place that is special to Andy—not only did he lie there in life, but he came to me in a dream and invited me to lie in the hammock with him. So now when I really need to feel our connection, I often go lie in the hammock.
            Lying there, looking up at the oak tree branches against the sky, I thought about the notion that I was the butterfly, and that Andy’s presence as he tries to guide me toward freedom and happiness might appear to me as some arbitrary happenings that push me one way or another, or a random force, like wind moving a tree. And as I had this thought, a wind sprang up and began to blow. It blew like crazy for about five minutes, rocking the branch that held the hammock, scattering leaves on me, ruffling my hair. I lay in the swaying hammock, as leaves fluttered down like kisses, somewhat amazed. And as quickly as it sprang up, the wind died away completely.



            When I finally got up and walked back down the hill, I had one simple thought. “Let me be open to this guidance.”
           

            So, anyway, I’m telling this story not to convince anyone of anything. My tendency to find magical guidance in everyday events may be nothing more than my imagination desperately trying to find a “story” to comfort my sense of pain and loss. But I really don’t care if this is so. I’m hoping that perhaps a few others out there (especially those who have lost someone they very much loved) may find that these thoughts resonate for them and perhaps will draw some inspiration for their own lives.  And I would love to hear your own magical stories.
            

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beginnings and Endings by Alison Hart

Since I have been a prolific writer -- over 60 published books since 1987 -- I have had to tackle MANY beginnings and endings of books and beginning and endings of chapters.  Let's face it, life does not have clean plot arcs like the ones in stories.  There are many beginnings -- new jobs, new babies, new horses, new homes -- but few clean endings. And let's doubly face it -- the middles of our lives are a hot, muddled mess, and rarely are there satisfying resolutions to all the loose ends and crazy moments.

I wrestle with all beginnings and endings.  For historical fiction, I want to plunge my readers right into the characters and time period. Take the opening paragraph of Gabriel's Horses.  

"The wrap goes like this, Gabriel," Pa tells me as he tugs the strip of rag around the horse's front leg. Stooped in the straw, I watch with hawk eyes. When Pa shows me something, I  take note. Pa's the best horseman in Kentucky, and I am to follow in his path. Besides, any fool knows that wrapping a racehorse's legs right is almost as important as riding him right. 

And the ending?  If your readers have happily gone with you on the journey of your story, it's important to leave them satisfied.

Happiness fills me. I'm free. Free to be whatever I want and go where ever I choose.  Someday soon I'll ride on a famous racetrack like Saratoga. And one day I'll join Pa and the colored soldiers to fight for freedom for all slaves. But right now, I belong in this barn. With my courageous horses.

Not that I always manage satisfaction.  After Whirlwind came out (the sequel to Shadow Horse) I had many unsatisfied readers email with demands for a third book because I had left too many unanswered questions. Kind of like those messy endings of real life.

Writers also have beginnings and endings to projects, and often they overlap. Currently I have two deadlines (both about the same time). I have to revise Finder Coal Mine Dog and also come up with a finished idea/summary for as yet to be titled book about a sea dog traveling with Magellan.

Both projects require completely different skills.  For Sea Dog I am reading lots of kids books on Magellan before diving into a weighty tome and bouncing my thoughts/ideas in emails with my editor. (Magellan's voyage was a complex, violent trip spanning two years and of course, he was murdered before he made it around the world.)  For Finder I am reading comments and changing/clarifying text, which often requires fact-checking and word wrangling.

Beginnings and endings -- two important skills that an author must master (as best as she/he can!) in order to create great stories.

What beginnings and endings are you tackling?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Growing Up With Horses


                                                            by Laura Crum

            My son has been raised with horses. Ever since he was a baby he rode with me on my horse—first on Flanigan, and then after Flanigan died, on Plumber. I know—no helmet—but we never had one problem.



            When my kid was five years old I bought him a pony and for two years he rode Toby—first on the leadline and then independently. He learned to ride on that pony.


            Toby died when my son was seven and I bought Henry for him. And on this good red horse he rode miles and miles—on the beach, through the hills, gathering cattle, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Those of you who have followed this blog for a few years know about all our many horseback adventures. We never had one wreck or even a bad moment. And my son loved to ride.


            When my boy became a teenager his interest in riding began to lessen. This didn’t surprise me. Horses were my passion, and I was happy to share them with him, but I always thought there would come a day when he might want to find his own interests. And lo and behold he began to devote what free time he had to making music, playing golf, and designing video games. He still rode with me once in awhile, but less and less.
            There was a certain serendipity to this because the year my son began to lose interest (at thirteen), Henry turned 26, and began to have trouble with hill climbs. He was still sound on level ground and free moving, but his hocks/stifles bothered him on steeper hills. The last couple of trail rides we attempted in the hills (last summer) we turned back because Henry was clearly uncomfortable. My son rode him on short gentle trail rides and in the arena, and was getting bored with this.



            I offered to give him my horse or buy him a new horse, but my teenager’s interest in riding just wasn’t there. The last couple of trail rides I went on, my boy opted not to go. I think this photo is of my last ride—in August or September.



            After my husband got sick and died, my own interest in riding disappeared. I just didn’t and don’t have any emotional energy for this pursuit. When I think about it, the words “been there, done that” come to mind. My son wasn’t/isn’t interested. So for now, riding is on the back burner. Perhaps we will go for a ride some day. Or not. Doesn’t really matter. Many lovely rides are part of us forever. And the most important element of owning horses is part of our every day lives.
            What’s that, you say. You don’t ride—what’s the most important part then? That would be living with horses. I have known for a long time that if I had to choose between never riding again but getting to have my horses live with me, and riding all I wanted but having to board, I would choose not riding/horses living with me every time.
            Our horses are part of our life. We feed them three times a day and check their water and sit in the barn and watch them and rub on them and turn them out to graze along the driveway. My son’s favorite spot on our property is a swing in a big oak tree in the barnyard. He spends time there pretty much every day. Sometimes swinging high, sometimes just idly gazing at the horses and chickens and wild birds and all the wild critters that ramble about our place. He’s seen bobcats, coyotes, and every sort of deer from huge bucks to baby fawns up close and personal, as he sat in his swing and they wandered by. And always there are the horses. He spends plenty of time just hanging out with them—and has been doing this all his life.





            My strongest childhood memory of horses isn’t of riding them, though I loved to ride. It is of a swing that hung in my uncle’s barnyard out at the old ranch—in a big cottonwood tree. I spent many long hours there, lazing around on the swing, watching the cottonwood leaves flicker green and silver against the blue sky, and watching the horses idle around their corrals—particularly my favorite—the bright bay gelding named Mr Softime.
            If you had asked me, I would have told you that I was bored and that I wished my uncle would come out to the barn and let me ride. I was very horse obsessed as a young girl and I loved to ride. But though I have many riding memories, none of them are quite as strong as those memories of the swing in the barnyard and those long spacious idle hours just being with horses.
            When my boy was young I asked my husband to hang a swing in the big oak tree in our barnyard—and I was very consciously thinking of that barnyard swing of my childhood. I wanted my son to have that same experience—those quiet empty hours swinging in the green world and watching the horses. Andy, my husband, always said that boredom is the cauldron of creativity and I think that is true. If we schedule our children so that they have no time to be “bored,” we deprive them of the ability to become creative. But more than that, there is a spaciousness, a vastness, a freedom, in those long idle hours spent in nature—and to my mind a swing hung from a big tree in a barnyard where one can watch horses is the best way to spend such hours, bar none (I know, I’m prejudiced). Andy hung that swing over ten years ago and our boy has made good use of it ever after.
            So yes, we don’t ride right now. But horses are part of our life. And I would always choose to have horses here, even if I never do ride again. I truly believe that our horses have been/are/and will always be a great gift to my son. My husband was not a horse person, but he totally agreed with and supported this. Horse therapy is said to be the number one best thing for emotionally/physically impaired kids—so how good must it be for the emotional health of all kids?
            Anyway, I am really glad that my boy grew up with horses and I am grateful for our quiet, horse-filled barnyard and the swing in the oak tree—every single day of my life. Even if neither one of us ever rides a horse again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Magic...and the Pond



                                                by Laura Crum


            This post is for those of you who expressed an interest in my pond/natural swimming pool project that I wrote about last summer. Some people were curious about how the pond would work out over time and how I would cope with algae…etc. So today I am going to give an update on the pond/pool. (Once again, not a horse or writing related post—sorry.)
            When we built the pond, it was pristine and clear, but devoid of life. Over time we planted water plants and various creatures came. I added mosquito fish to eat the mosquito wigglers, a frog showed up, as did water striders, and eventually dragonflies came and laid their eggs, and we got to watch them turn from underwater nymphs into flying dragons—an amazing process. 
            The pond was lovely in different lights—morning and evening. Water lilies bloomed. We floated in the pond and sat by it and jumped and waded in it and enjoyed it very much. 
            Algae did grow. First the pond became pea soup green. That cleared up in a month or so and filament algae began to grow. We coped with the filament algae by scrubbing it off the rocks and weeding it out. We had heard that it took a couple of years for these ponds to get into balance so we tried to be patient.
            Then my husband got sick and through the fall I had little attention to spare for the pond. The filament algae coated the sides like a heavy growth of moss, though the water stayed clear. Andy and I would talk about the pond, and he encouraged me to get it cleaned out and start over and use some products to control the algae—experiment a little. He told me what he used on the drainage ponds at his greenhouses at work—and he pointed out that he had no algae there, but frogs came. And we had read that frogs were the barometer of whether water was healthy.
            After Andy died I determined to follow his advice. I had the pond pumped out and the algae power washed away. Then I refilled it and began to experiment with different algae products. Eventually I settled on the one Andy had used at work—at the lowest possible dose. The fish seemed fine. The water plants seemed fine. And lo and behold, in February, frogs showed up.
            The frogs croaked and sang every evening, and by the end of the month we had tadpoles—lots of tadpoles. And this made me happy because surely the pond was healthy if frogs could produce their young. Birds bathed in the fountain, animals drank from the pond, and I found dragonfly nymphs crawling among the water plants. The water lilies came back from their winter dormancy and put up new leaves. There is some algae but not too much algae. It looks like my grand experiment is working.
            I took a few photos last month, and I will post them here for those who are interested. The pond has been a great comfort to me in this sad time. I sit by it a lot and listen to the gentle trickle sound of the little fountain that Andy designed, I put my feet in the water and float in it on warm days. And I look at every stone with the knowledge that Andy and I picked them out together and set them in their places. The pond is our joint creation—and I am so grateful for that.
            In the evening I make a cocktail—and I make one for Andy. I clink our glasses, just as we used to do, and say, “Here’s to us.” And then I sit by the pool and watch the reflections and ripples and listen to the frogs and the sound of the water. The birds come within a few feet of me and take their baths. Last night a frog appeared near my feet. I talk to Andy as I watch the light change in the evening sky. And there is a part of me that knows that he is there with me—though he doesn’t finish his drink. But that’s no problem, as I do it for him. He doesn’t mind.
            Anyway, for those who aren’t interested in my rambling about spirits and the after life…etc, the pond is undeniably real, and (at least to me) undeniably lovely. The magic that is present in a body of water, even a small body of water, is, I think, the most accessible, ordinary magic that there is in this world. Ordinary magic, yes. But none the less-- magic.

The photos in this post were taken in February of this year.

                         Morning



            Looking down into the deep water.



                             Evening



            The pond has been truly magical for me. It is a project and requires attention and time, just like a horse or a garden or a child or a dog. But it is infinitely worth that effort. There are those who choose a chlorinated pool and a concrete patio surrounded by plastic grass—and I am sure the work involved is much less. However, I have a feeling that the rewards are proportional. Just a guess.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Eyes Are a Window to a Horse's Soul



by Lisa Wysocky

The old saying that the eyes are a window to a person’s soul is so true. It is even truer for when it comes to horses.
            Anyone who has been around a horse for any length of time can tell a horse’s mood, just by looking at her eyes. The glare of a frustrated pony is not soon forgotten, nor is the kind, soft look of a loving mare. But when is comes to horses and humans, the eye is far more than a window.
            The position of the eye on the horse’s head is important. I recently gave a clinic and a very gawky horse came in who constantly turned his head from left to right. And no wonder. Her eyes were set close to her head on a very long, narrow face. She could not see around herself as well as a horse whose eyes were set on the side of a broad face that tapered to a narrow muzzle. Once the horse’s person understood this, and she allowed her horse the liberty to see around her, rather than constantly correct her for moving her head, the dynamic between them improved dramatically.
            Horses also see differently than humans do. Equine vision is complex, just like ours is, but suffice it to say that current school of thought is that horses see fewer colors and those colors are grayer than we see them. Horses also lack depth perception, as they see one image from the left eye and another from the right. Their amazing brain then puts it all together. But, just as a human who sees out of only one eye has trouble seeing how far away things are, so do horses. That’s one reason why the little plastic bag blowing across the neighbor’s field might be scary. Your horse can’t judge how far away it is.
            When I look into a horse’s eye, I see eternity. I see wisdom and hardship and grace, contentment, and sometimes, near feeding time, impatience. What do you see when you look into your horse’s eye?
           


Saturday, March 7, 2015

When the goal is not to win

By Gayle Carline
Horse Owner, Author, and Non-Competitive Competitor

Last weekend, Snoopy and I went to our first horse show of the season. We were not in any shape to go, for many reasons. One is that we haven't shown since August, and neither of us were in shape, mentally or physically, to wind our way around a difficult trail course. The other reason is that Snoopy has been on lay-up since September. 

At first, it seemed that he had tweaked his left hind deep flexor tendon. Walking and meds brought him back to full mobility - briefly. Then we noticed a change. He walked, jogged, and loped to the right like he always has, but his left lead was different. It was like riding a washing machine that's off-kilter. We were worried about his back end, and about doing anything to hurt him, so the vet came back out.

It turns out, Snoopy's front feet are starting to show wear from the way he uses his back end. I guess having a fused joint, metal plate, and six screws, eventually messes with your entire body. He's on some anti-inflammatory meds, Adequan, Cosequin, and prayers, but the vet assured us that we weren't hurting him by taking him over poles, or loping on his left lead.

I wasn't planning to go to this horse show. It was in Del Mar, which is a couple of hours away from me. This meant my trainer and I had to stay in a hotel. At first, a couple of other people were going, too, then they started waffling. In the end, I decided that, expensive as it was, I wanted to go to the damned show. I had no grand illusions about winning. I wanted to go play.

He was actually dancing in the crossties.


Snoopy was as excited as I was. He had a hard time being calm in the wash rack and fairly jumped into the trailer. We ambled our way south, to the Del Mar Horse Park, and schlepped our stuff into the tack room. Niki (my trainer) longed Snoopy almost as soon as we got there. He was crazy-happy-thrilled.

video


We showed on Thursday and Saturday. On Thursday, the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and our course was in the outside arena. On Saturday, rain clouds threatened, so they moved us into the covered arena. Each course had its challenges. Mostly, I was worried about Snoopy's left lead. Would I get what I asked for? Would he keep loping on that lead? When we showed last, in August, he broke on one lead or the other each day. 

My friends think he looks like a Mexican wrestler in his jammies.
(We keep his leg wrapped in the stall because it tends to swell when he stands around too long.)


The short answer is yes, for both courses. My goofy black gelding gave me everything he had, without one argument. It had never been about winning, it had been about fun, and I had a smile on my face every time we hit the show pen. We left before it was over, so I don't even know how I placed. I can be a competitive gal, so enjoying this show for the fun of it, soaking up each moment, trading stress and tension for laughter and lightheartedness, was a new experience for me.

Saturday's course. A lot of transitions - bless his heart, he did them all!


I liked it.

How much pressure do you put on yourself at a show? Or do you always go to have fun first?

Friday, March 6, 2015

New Equestrian Novel, Turning For Home, Now Available!


I'm happy to announce that Turning For Home (Alex and Alexander Book 4) is now available!

This new installment of these "Horse Books for Grown-ups," which began back in 2011 with the publication of The Head and Not The Heart, then continued with the 2014 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award semi-finalist, Other People's Horses and the holiday short Claiming Christmas, returns to the dark bay beauty that Alex fell so hard for at Aqueduct Racetrack, The Tiger Prince.

Because grown-ups deserve pony stories too!
The charismatic Tiger has run his last race, and it wasn't pretty. Alex is faced with an agonizing decision: how can she retire a hot-tempered gelding who has no place on a breeding farm, but is such a pet that he can't be sold or adopted out?

Then, as if life wasn't complicated enough, another scandal is breaking over the racing industry. Racehorses are found abandoned and starving in the Everglades -- and a radical animal rights group pins the blame on Alex. Hate mail and death threats, plus a mysterious new neighbor who is making life downright dangerous, throw Alex's training career into a tailspin.

Stuck on the farm, exiled from the racetrack, angry and shell-shocked,  Alex and Tiger have more in common than ever. When a Thoroughbred Makeover event is announced for late spring, Alexander and Kerri both encourage Alex to seize the opportunity and show everyone that she's fully capable of responsible racehorse retirement. It's a move that could make -- or break -- her training career. 

Turning For Home returns to some of my favorite places: the rolling hills of Ocala, the small-town feel of Tampa Bay Downs. And it takes on one of my favorite subjects, racehorse retirement. That's actually what got me started in this whole writing game, you know -- writing Retired Racehorse Blog back when I had a little Florida farm, some broodmares and foals, and one wonderful gelding that I'd gotten off the track and was training to be an event horse.

I actually trained that horse, in part, to prove to myself that I still could do it. I guess in that way, I'm a lot like Alex in this story. Is retraining a racehorse like riding a bike? At some point, muscle memory kicks in, right? It seemed that way for me, when I was out riding Final Call. I used the memory of those rides to write about Alex as she rides Tiger.

I hope that helps the story ring true for equestrians -- that's always my number one goal as a writer! And according to this review at Amazon, looks like I have...

"I've always known Natalie Keller Reinert is one of the rare authors who truly understands the ways of the Thoroughbred horse (and of the people who love them), but either she has truly outdone herself here, or else I just love this book because it's more about retraining an Off-The-Track Thoroughbred ("OTTB" for short) once its racing days are done, and that end of a Thoroughbred's life is much more familiar to me than the racing side. Ms. Reinert is fortunate enough to have had plenty of experience on both the racing side and the sport horse side, and she brings it ALL to this book. Her writing is confident, her perceptions accurate, and her characters are so alive that I found myself mentally arguing with them over their choices as I read. :-) I really could not recommend this book more highly for horse lovers!"

Enjoy Turning For Home, and be sure to let me know what you think! You can read the first chapter at my website, nataliekreinert.com, or check out the previews available wherever you buy ebooks. The paperback is also available from Amazon.com.

Links:

Amazon