Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Best Dog Ever--Motley 2006 to 12-20-13

The UPS man left packages at the door. He has no idea he had to step over my dead dog. Motley is wrapped in my mother’s blue and yellow quilt waiting for Kurt to get home to bury him. My mother would like that I used her quilt. He’s a big dog with a big heart. Kurt’s going to need to dig a hole with the tractor.

I feel guilty even though I knew in my gut the time was right. He was suffering. Not badly yet, but suffering nonetheless and there was no fixing him. It was only going to get worse. He had kidney failure. The vet was never able to figure out what it was from but I remember the vet in Virginia warning me after he survived parvo that he might have organ problems down the road. I also blame other things. I think maybe I gave him too many vaccines. What if it was the Roundup I sprayed on the driveway? It drives me crazy not knowing why. I thought if I knew what caused it, I could save him. The vet said these things happen.

I first noticed something was wrong back in the summer. He was panting heavier than I thought he should be. Everyone said it was pretty hot out. But you know. When you love an animal, just like a child, you don’t even have to be a mother—you just have to love—you know when something’s wrong.

He should have died twice before. When we adopted him, he was the only one in a kennel full of maybe forty dogs at the dog pound who didn’t get put to sleep that week and thrown out on the landfill in back. I was looking for a new dog and hoped to find a brindle since my old dog who had died was a brindle, but I didn’t expect to find one because brindles aren’t common and I only get my dogs from the shelter, narrowing the field even more. But there he was waiting for us when Kelly and I went in there. He was part of a litter of strays, about four months old. The other three looked like Shepherd mixes but Motley had floppy ears and a golden brindle coat. I pointed to him and said, “Can I see that one?” The animal control officer opened up the cage, snapped a leash on him and pulled him out. He promptly flopped down and fell into the cement trough that ran length of the kennel, head first, upside-down. If he could speak, he would have giggled and said, “Oh gosh.” He lay there, belly exposed for rubbing, little pecker out, and tail thumping. I said, “I’ll take him.”

Since he was a stray, I had to leave him at the pound for a few days to make sure his owner didn’t come and claim him. When I went back to pick him up, they told me they’d meet me out in the parking lot with him. I stood outside my truck excitedly waiting. All of a sudden I heard earth shattering yelping. “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” I thought, ut oh, don’t tell me that’s my dog. The animal control officer appeared from around the corner of the building dragging Motley in the dirt. He was scared and didn’t know how to walk on the leash. I ran over and picked him up. He immediately stopped howling.

I drove directly to the vet and got him a check-up and shots. When we got home, I had to carry him into the house even though he was pretty big already at maybe thirty or forty pounds. He didn’t know how to climb the stairs. He had been a stray and didn’t know anything about living with people but he liked being with us right away and padded behind me from room to room. Wherever I went, he quietly followed.

The next morning he was sick. Though I never had a dog with parvo before, I knew right away that’s what it was. I just knew. I brought him right back to the vet’s office and it was confirmed. We thought he was going to die then. Parvo is often a death sentence. But after a hospital stay, IV fluids and a lot of good care, he made it. We didn’t know how lucky we were. This dog was a gift from God. He did nothing wrong. Nothing. He had one accident in the house when we were housebreaking him and never peed in the house again. Even if he had to puke, he’d run to the door to do it outside. He was only a pup when we got him but he never chewed anything, never snuck up on the furniture, jumped on the door, or tore up the garbage; heck, you could leave a steak on the top of the garbage and he wouldn’t touch it.

I didn’t have to tie him up. He stayed right by my side wherever I went, trotting along when I did my chores. I went out, he came out with me. I went in the house, he came in the house with me. He never chased anything. Scratch that. He would chase critters out in the field but the minute I called him back, he’d slam on the brakes and turn around. Even if there was a bunny a few feet away, I’d say, “Motley…. No….” and you could tell he was thinking about it, he wanted that rabbit, oh man, he wanted that rabbit, but he wouldn’t do it. What dog does that?

Sometimes I’d be outside doing something, gardening say, and I’d look up and realize I haven’t seen Motley in a while. I’d stand up and look all around and if I still didn’t see him, I’d get nervous. I’d call him and if he didn’t come, I’d start whistling and screaming, “Motley! Motley!” Then all of a sudden I’d turn around and he was right there, standing quietly behind me the whole time. Just standing there. He never said a word.

He never went near the road so we didn’t have to put in the Invisible Fence we had planned to get. Didn’t even go in that direction because, simply, we told him no, and we could open the door and let him out by himself if it was too cold for us to join him and he’d come right back to the house when he was done going to the bathroom. One time we forgot him out there. He was so quiet, he didn’t let us know that he was ready to come back inside and we forgot him! I found him the next morning all curled up on the welcome mat patiently waiting for us. We cried, “Why didn’t you tell us Dopey?!” (Meaning, at least bark like a regular dog) and he wiggled all around us, happy we finally showed up.

He stopped at the door and waited for me to wipe his feet—actually lifted all four feet up for me, first the front ones, then the back ones. He didn’t jump on guests or on their cars when they came over. They’d get scared because he’d get so excited he’d go barreling out when someone arrived and they’d be like, “Whoa! Whoa!” and put their hands up. I’d say calmly, “Don’t worry, he won’t jump on you.” He’d stop short and stand there, tongue hanging out, tail wagging. He got along with the horses and followed us on rides around the property. He got along with the cats and babies and even the UPS man. Everyone loved him. We could leave him home alone and he wouldn’t do anything wrong and we could take him with us in the truck (Wanna go bye-byes?!) and we’d have to help him up unless he got a good running start because he wasn’t very athletic and he’d sit in the back seat and rest his head on the top of my head, drool, and watch the road.

He was so pretty, whenever we took him out, people stopped us and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” They thought he was some exotic purebred. We’d say, “He’s a Pittsylvania County Dog Pound Dog—this is what you can get when you save a life,” or if we were in a joking mood, we’d make something up. “He’s an Italian Shimalaya Tiger Dog.” They’d say, “Ooh, I never heard of that breed before!” We’d say, “It’s rare. This is the only one.”

When Kelly and I came home from the dog pound that day and told Kurt we picked one, he asked, “Can we return him if we don’t like him?” I said, “Kurt!” I was mad. He wasn’t going to give the new dog a chance because he was still thinking about our other dog who had died and who was a very good dog. But it wasn’t long before I overheard him in the other room talking baby talk to Motley and rubbing his chest. Motley would sit up on his haunches next to Kurt’s desk like a circus poodle waiting for a treat, this big 85 pound galumph, and Kurt would peck on the computer with one hand and rub Motley with the other hand and Motley would balance that way for as long as Kurt kept petting and cooing. Then he’d flop over.

I feel bad because a dog like this should live for a long time.

I also feel bad because he had no say in the matter; in his euthanasia. I had to make the decision for him. What would he have chosen? Animals live in the present. He was still wagging his tail. He wasn’t crying out in pain. But he was distressed. He was shaking, almost convulsing at times, and breathing heavy. His tail would start thumping if you went over to comfort him, but his shaking would actually get worse because his heart beat faster because he was excited we were petting him. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack and in a way, I wished he would have a heart attack so I didn’t have to make the decision. But I could see it in his eyes, the way he looked at me beseechingly, and I knew what I had to do.

I think of euthanasia as the last gift we give our beloved pets. If you don’t use it until it’s too late, what is the point? Still, I felt like a traitor as I told him, “Good boy, good boy,” holding him on my lap, caressing his head, knowing he trusted me, as the doctor put the needle in.

I’d like to end this with one of my clever little reflections, circling back to the tractor perhaps, or something symbolic about the blanket, but I can’t. I can’t stop crying. Because he was the best dog ever.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Heathen in the Parade

I’m pulling a float in the Halloween parade. I was just going to try to make it this year. Not make the float. Just get there this time. It’s something I’ve wanted to go to since I moved here—a small-town parade, my small-town parade, people waving flags, floats decorated with cobwebs and zombies, the high school band and horses with riders dressed as headless horsemen, marching down Main Street, past Bud’s store where you can still get Chiclets and Peanut Chews, the ice cream parlor, the firehouse, the feed store with the pigeon coop outside, the gas station that’s never opened and only takes cash, and a handful of antiques stores.

There used to be a beauty parlor but she moved out. That saved me because, though I liked her, especially since she had a horse, I didn’t like the way she was cutting my hair. I haven’t had a good haircut since my cousin Eric died twenty years ago. It was even worse when I was in Virginia and went to a place called Beulah’s House of Beauty, which was out in the middle of a cornfield and had a deer head mounted over the shampoo station, if that tells you anything.

Beauticians are funny. They’re like blacksmiths. You spend a lot of time with them and if you’ve got a halfway decent personality, you get a good bullshit session going. That’s how I wound up moving to Oklahoma in the first place. I blame it on the blacksmith. My beautician knew about it because she knew all the dirt on me including that I’m an ex-go-go dancer and one time I drank the holy water in church because Susan Donohue and I thought we could get to Heaven faster that way, but it wasn’t her. The blacksmith was the culprit. This was right around the time that the Internet came out. He just let it slip one day that his parents bought eighty acres in Virginia and it was dirt cheap. Eighty acres! You have to be rich to buy eighty acres in New Jersey! He told me to go look at a site called and that’s what we did right after supper that night (we were excited—only having an acre and three-quarters and four horses on it was tight, to put it mildly) and sure enough, he was right. Land was cheap down there. You could buy a few acres down there for the price of a haircut up here.

Right away we knew we were moving. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder if I would miss my family—we were forty-five minutes away, it wasn’t like you could just run over for a cup of coffee, what difference would a few states make?—or to worry about what we would do for work. I never had a problem getting a job before. The only reason I did that go-go dancing gig was for fun. (To be honest, I also bought a new car.) I actually had so many jobs that I won the award at my high school reunion for having the most jobs. They were colorful ones too. I was a dog catcher, a telephone operator, a donut maker, a groom at the racetrack, an editorial assistant; I worked in a health food store, furniture store, mental institution, and I sold vibrators to bored housewives at home demonstrations, kind of like Tupperware parties but dirty and funny... Anyway, you get the picture. Worrying about getting a job made as much sense as worrying I might tumble down a mountain in Nepal while on a hike. It just wasn’t in my reality. Plus, we thought it might be fun to open a tack shop.

But we weren’t going to be stupid and not look at any of the other forty-nine states in America. There were a lot to choose from! We ruled out all the cold states. We ruled out the states with expensive hay. The NFR was on. That gave us some ideas. The cowboys had cool names like Cord and Dusty and Blake. Sometimes the announcers did a little background story on them. They lived on big spreads with the ranch names over the gates—not just a little sign at the end of the driveway—wore cowboy hats even when they weren’t riding, and ate chili and chewed tobacco. Since we wanted to be cowboys, we thought it would be a good idea to move to one of those places where the cowboys were at. Texas and Oklahoma had the most entrants in the NFR, so we picked the one that was the cheapest—Oklahoma—and moved there.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know where Oklahoma was, much less that it was windy and there was nothing to do there except go to church and rodeos. I felt like we were in one of those late-night movies where the family breaks down out in the middle of nowhere but luckily there’s a motel up ahead. This family is really dumb so they are not rattled by the neon sign flickering, the tin can clattering across the parking lot, or the broken soda machine with the bloody handprint on it. The father says, “Hello? Hello?” and the children skip around to the backside of the building where red dirt and tumbleweeds blow, litter is all tangled up in the barbed wire fence, and there’s a fresh cigarette butt crushed on the ground but no one is in sight. You know how this movie ends.

We were out of there before the year was up. Moved in, put up a big sign over the gate at the end of the driveway—Smokin’ Bandits Ranch—unpacked, opened a tack shop, ate a bowl of chili, and then took the sign down, packed up, sold all the tack for half of what we paid, and hightailed it out of there.

Then we went to Virginia. This was where the blacksmith said to go in the first place. This was the place! Virginia was on the East coast. There would be more of a Jersey influence in Virginia. In Oklahoma we weren’t wanted. One time someone told us, “Go home you fucking Yankee,” when we complained about buying a set of bum tires. We didn’t even know we were Yankees until we moved there! The Yankees we knew was a baseball team. We were hurt. We were so excited when we bought those tires….

There would be more of our kind in Virginia. People moved down there from Jersey all the time. Look at the blacksmith’s parents! Plus they had old houses. Old houses with antebellum porches, farmhouses with metal roofs, Victorians and Greek Revivals and cabins and all the antiques to go with them. Right up my alley. And it was pretty. The rolling green hills and red barns and churches with steeples looked fake, they were so pretty.

But a number of factors came into play that made me realize almost right away that this wasn’t the place either, though it took us seven years before we finally gave up. Number one, we were Yankees there too. Number two, we moved next door to the Evils. Number three, there was nothing to do there either except go to church, and since we were broke—no one was hiring telephone operators, dog catchers, or donut makers, or buying flooring (I suspect it was our accents—they didn’t trust us—and then the economy crashed)—we couldn’t even afford to drive to the apple festival.

A couple of times I hitched a ride with one of my few friends to a writers’ thing, but even there, in a room full of big readers who you would think would have open-minds (and maybe they did, I was too scared to find out), I didn’t have fun. It was more of what Virginia is all about—church and old farmhouses, meaning Christian and historical fiction. There was no edgy stuff about bartenders named Chickie who has a Shel Silverstein poem tattooed on her back, eats a macrobiotic diet, and sleeps with the dishwasher when she has a bad night, like what I write about. So I was afraid to be myself. I never brought my good stuff to read. I edited myself too much when I was composing—I’m a heathen! How can I write this stuff?! I should be writing about Margaret Spoonacher who saved the Battle of Whatever when she deflected a bullet off the metal hoop in her skirt! Therefore, no fun.

You’ve got to be yourself if you want to have fun. You also have to be yourself and stand up for what you believe in, if you want to sleep at night. I didn’t like it that I was afraid to say something when someone referred to a black person as “colored,” like this was still 1960, or that I didn’t speak up when the local pastor called gays evil, or that I was scared to say what I really thought when my neighbor bragged about the little puppy mill she had going. Oh, they’re so cute, was all I could muster, feeling like a hypocrite. I didn’t want to rock the boat. Yankees have a bad reputation for moving south and then trying to change the way people do things. I didn’t want them to think I was doing that! I was even afraid of writing a letter-to-the-editor. What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t like what I say? They won’t buy flooring from us and they won’t invite Kelly to Krystal’s birthday party!

I probably would have died from a bleeding ulcer or loneliness if my mother didn’t get sick and make me want to go home. The ironic thing is, just like in The Wizard of Oz, everything I was looking for was right here. There was cheap land in South Jersey the whole time. It’s the country down here with rodeos and red barns and cornfields. There are churches, if you want, but you don’t have to have them, and there are even churches that not only welcome gay people, but don’t pull that “hate the sin, love the sinner” shit, churches that don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with being gay. I go to writers’ groups and apple festivals and Saturday is the Halloween parade and we have money to put gas in the tank so we can pull those goblins and zombies on a float covered with cobwebs.

I always read my stories out loud to Kurt before I put them on my blog. He said, “You’re going to publish that?” He was surprised because he knows that I have been worried about what people might think about me being an ex-go-go dancer. He, himself, doesn’t care. In fact, being a boy, he likes to brag about it. But I’ve always worried about it. Now I’m not. That is the point of the story. I am being myself and I like it. He said, “They’ll still be your friend here.” And then, “And if they’re not, fuck ‘em!” I feel safe here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Surrogate Grandfather

Charlie also sells gravel. He wears plaid flannel shirts and drives a red dump truck filled with gravel—pea gravel, ¾ stone, sand, whatever you want. If you want more than what fits in the dump truck like we did, he can order you a tri-axle load. Those are big trucks almost as long as a tractor trailer. We got two of them. No one had replenished any of the gravel in this driveway probably for as long as the initial gravel was put down when the driveway was first built and it was bare in the middle and had grass poking through like sprouts of hair on a bald head. When it rained, it got muddy. You couldn’t walk on it in a pair of high heels. Heck, you couldn’t walk on it in regular shoes either so forget it if you had to go anywhere and stay clean. You still can’t walk on it in high heels. Gravel is bumpy. Luckily I don’t wear heels too often but if I did, we made a path from the deck to where I park the truck out of 12 X 12 pink patio blocks and I tiptoe from one to the other like I’m playing hopscotch.

I had to shop around for the gravel. I was relieved that Charlie’s price was competitive because I really wanted to buy it from him. I prefer to buy things local, especially really local as in right next door, if at all possible. You should patronize the people where you live, if you want your community to be strong and healthy. It’s the reason why I try to buy American-made products but that is really hard nowadays since our politicians practically sold us to China.

I got a tablet for Christmas. I read books on it. I love it but I feel frustrated because there are things I can’t figure out how to do and the owner’s manual is impossible to understand. It’s in English but it may as well be in Chinese. It is full of typos, slang, bad translations, and the print is too small to read even with my glasses. This is what it says when I get out the magnifying glass:

“If you long time don’t to use this Tablet, ,in order to avoid power consumption caused damage,pls charge/play the battery once a month.”

This is why I still don’t know how to use the thing.

Luckily I don’t have to buy gravel from China. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens soon. We already get our hardwood flooring from China. Get this. We log the trees here. (Lots of logging was going on in Virginia. People who had fallen on hard times when the economy crashed were bulldozing their land left and right in a desperate attempt to try to keep their heads above water a little longer.) We send the trees on a long boat to China where they turn them into hardwood floors. Then China sends the flooring back to us where we sell it in Lowe’s. Why are we allowing China to produce our goods and sell it back to us when we need the jobs? I can’t imagine what it costs to ship something that far, that heavy—trees! It’s cheaper to send trees halfway around the world than to pay someone here, who needs a job, to turn them into floors? Or dressers. Or cabinets. All the stuff that we used to make that China makes now. Oh, that’s right, slave wages over there. And tax breaks. Corporate America needs to get just a little bit richer. Filthy, obscenely rich with not enough time in a thousand lifetimes to spend all the money, is not quite enough. Of course they’re eating themselves alive. If this keeps up, we’re going to be too poor to buy the hardwood floors they send back to us.

But I’m off-topic now.

Between the gravel and the vegetable-buying, Charlie and I have become friends. Kurt says if I can’t find a surrogate grandmother, maybe I can have a grandfather. All these years I’ve been looking for a grandmother to adopt, someone to bring a casserole to and sit on the porch and have a cup of coffee with and talk about the neighbors, the flowers, where to get mulch, gravel, things like that, like I used to do with my nana.

Pearl came close. I thought she was going to be it. But then she got scared letting us ride our horses around their fields because we’re Yankees—I suspect someone down at the church told her we were up to something—and they put up that fence. That hurt my feelings so bad it was like I had a crack in my heart. She realizes now how off track she was. We’re gone now and we didn’t do anything, we were nothing but a plus in that neighborhood, everything is safe and sound, we left everything exactly as we found it. No, scratch that. We left it better. We fixed up that house and we adopted the road and regularly picked up all the litter the Chick-fil-A lady and the chewer and the Old Milwaukee drinker threw out the window on their way home and we even cut the long grass in the ditches in front of the neighbors’ properties and changed Pearl’s light bulbs because we were worried about Eldon falling off the ladder. No, we were nothing but a great addition to that neighborhood and now they are all crying because we are gone.

It makes me kind of sad. I miss them too. But I’ve got Charlie now. I made him that sign that he has on the side of the road to sell his produce.

I noticed that he mowed the long grass around my mailbox the other day. I don’t know if he’s a coffee drinker. But he does know where to get gravel.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not So Crazy



There’s not a lot you can do if you hurt your back. You can’t ride the horses. Well, I could ride the horses if pain was my only concern. I can take pain if I’m motivated enough. I practically dropped my babies in a field when I was giving birth. Not really. But almost. It was at a birthing center. Not in a hospital. It was an actual house that had a kitchen with cupboards and a bedroom with a double bed and a chenille bedspread. There were only midwives. No doctors. I don’t think there was even a Tylenol in the medicine cabinet, never mind any kind of pain drugs.

I once had a colonoscopy while I was awake to save money. If you wanted to get put to sleep, you had to go to the hospital. But if you stayed awake, you could get it done in the doctor’s office and it was a lot cheaper. There was the nurse across the room, uncoiling what looked like a garden hose and passing it to the doctor who was on the other side and who was inserting it inside of me where I watched its travels on a little TV at the foot of the table. I saw the traces of lime green Jell-O in my colon which was my only meal in 24 hours. It looked fluorescent. Let’s put it this way. I haven’t eaten Jell-O since. And I’m not too fond of garden hoses.

If pain was the only factor, I’d be riding these horses. But I know that if the fractures are going to heal properly, I can’t use my back. Especially now that I am in menopause. Women lose bone density on a good day when they’re in menopause. We lose bone, we lose the ability to drop babies in birthing houses and hospitals, and we lose our car keys because we can’t think straight anymore. Sometimes we even lose our minds. You can ask any husband of a menopausal woman if she is still the girl he married or some pear-shaped woman he doesn’t recognize with her head in the freezer who he’s afraid might be searching for her gun in there.

Both my mother and my grandmother had osteoporosis but I’m pretty sure I don’t have it because I hit the ground hard and it was hard ground. It was like cement. Anyone would have broken bones. I think most people would have shattered like a teacup on a tile floor if they hit as hard as I did. So I think I have pretty good bones but I’m not so crazy that I don’t know that if I want to ride again, I have to let it heal.

Therefore I can’t open and close windows. They’re sticky.

This is a big problem in an old farmhouse with no air conditioning and thunderstorms blowing up in 60 seconds flat and then leaving just as fast. Open, close. Open, close. I have to call Kurt or Kelly. You use your back for everything! You don’t realize. Standing up from getting a pot out of the cabinet. Laundry baskets. Climbing in and out of the truck. Bags of groceries, even when they’re filled with cereal boxes and heads of lettuce. A gallon of milk. A pot of water from the sink to the stove. I can’t mow because it’s bumpy. I feel my back muscles strain when I lean down to tuck in the sheets around the bed. Of course there are all the things you expect that I can’t do anymore: emptying a bag of grain into the can, carrying a water bucket, lifting the saddle. Not that I was thinking of saddling up. But these things I was prepared for. I wasn’t prepared for not being able to put my socks on.

Kurt and Kelly help a lot but Kurt is working day and night and Kelly is working too, plus she has her kid things—4-H, FFA, barrel racing, practicing driving for her test, and of course the boyfriend. One of my neighbors asked me if that was Kelly outside painting the deck the other day. It was. She said every time she passes the house, she sees Kelly out there doing something—washing the trucks, digging a ditch in front of the barn, on the tractor, and now painting the deck. How much can I ask the kid to do?

They’re both helping me as much as they can but there’s still so much and I don’t like it when there are weeds in my petunias.

So I got out the weed-whacker. I am the weed-whacking queen and I thank god that at least I can do this because weed-whacking is one of my favorite things. You get a lot of bang for the buck with weed-whacking. When you are done, it really looks like you did something. It looks like you just got your hair cut or you baked a cake. First there’s nothing, then there’s something that you can’t help but notice. Unless, of course, you go to the girl who’s too afraid to take anything off because one time she gave Marion the Avon lady a bad haircut and that got all over town. You don’t think people are still buying Avon but they are. Down here that Skin-So-Soft is still a hot seller because we’ve got a mosquito problem. There’s only so much Deep Woods Off that you can use if you don’t want to worry about getting cancer or something. I can see using it once in a while but when you’re going out on the porch on a regular basis to smoke cigarettes and the mosquitoes are eating you alive, I go for the Skin-So-Soft. (Yes, I am aware of the contradiction of that statement.)

Back at the Amityville Horror House I weed-whacked continuously. I’d start on one end of the property and by the time I got to the other, I’d turn around and there’d be a jungle behind me and I’d have to start all over again. I can’t say weed-whacking there gave me any satisfaction. But I got a lot of experience. So I’m pretty handy with the thing. As long as Kurt starts it for me, I don’t have to use my back at all. I didn’t put the strap around my back, just held it with my arms, and stood straight. I should have done this years ago because stooping while weed-whacking with the strap around my back is probably what contributed to all the disc damage I’ve got. I was surprised at how well it worked—I wasn’t feeling any strain in my back at all. I felt it more when I was making the bed.

I weed-whacked the hell out of the place. I did around the house, the garden, the barn, the fences, the equipment that hasn’t moved in a year, the wood pile. I did all along the road; on both sides, even though one of the neighbors stopped by and said I didn’t have to do that. I let the head rest on the ground without shutting it off (because then I’d need Kurt to restart it), took off my goggles, removed my earplugs and said, “What was that?”

He said, “Let the public works guys do that. They’ll come around and mow.”

“Ah, thanks, but I kind of like doing it,” I said.

He looked at me like I was crazy. He doesn’t know me yet. He doesn’t know that I get colonoscopies while I’m awake. But I swear that I will not get on the horse.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Horse Crazy


The doctor told my friend that if she didn’t stop riding horses, she was going to need a walker.

So she went out and got the Tennessee kind.

That joke, and all of the posts on a medical board by people who fractured their spines in accidents, a shocking number of them from falling off a horse, whose main concern was not whether they would need surgery, or even be in pain for the rest of their lives, and not whether, but when they could ride again, illustrates that we cowgirls are not just tough. Some might say we’re crazy. And perhaps they’d be right, because most of us don’t even wear helmets, never mind protective vests, when we climb onto the backs of thousand pound animals who are unpredictable at best, who really don’t want us there to begin with, no matter how much we like to think they love us, and then perform daredevil acts like race around barrels on said animal at forty miles per hour. That’s a little cra-cra if I do say so myself.

My father said for years that I was going to break my back. He said it like fathers of daughters who hang around with the wrong crowd say, “You are asking for trouble, young lady.” He said it like the mother on “A Christmas Story” said, “You’re gonna shoot your eye out.” I don’t know if he really believed it was going to happen. Not literally. I like to think he is amused by my dedication and passion, how I have to leave every family shindig early because I have to go home and feed the horses, how I have indents in my upper arms from the muscle even though I am 53-years-old, how I report the number of circles I’ve ridden and how heavy my horse was breathing. How I got back on the horse after I fell off that night.

That one through him for a loop. I said, “But Dad! You’re supposed to get back on when you fall off a horse! How was I supposed to know I was hurt that bad?”

He heard enough tales over the years—Kelly falling and getting dragged; a friend whose horse reared up and fell over backwards on top of her, causing her to get half her intestines removed; a friend who lost her ear (the whole ear—they had to scoop it up like a clamshell from the shavings on the floor) when a horse tried to scramble out of the trailer in a panic. He even saw me fall one time. But back then I was still bouncing. I got back on the horse and finished the race. I don’t think I even had a hair out of place, never mind a broken bone. In all honesty, I was kind of happy about it. It was a good story to tell. And then Shada slammed on the brakes and I went over her head and landed in a garbage can (true story) and she stood there looking at me like, what are you doing down there? She’s so good. She didn’t even run off!

I haven’t fallen lately. It’s because I’m very cautious and I don’t even get on my horse if he’s been sitting around for any length of time until I work him in the round pen a few times first. I’m talking I’ll work him for a week, knowing that I’m getting ready to blow off the cobwebs and start riding. Then when I finally get on, I’ll only walk. Another week. Then I’ll start picking up speed. Some nice easy jogs. Another week. I don’t know how long it takes me to lope the first circle.

People laugh at me. And that’s the problem. I succumbed to peer pressure. I heard people’s voices in my head (Kurt), Let him go! I heard snickering from the girl I’m always trying to catch. You know the one. She looks like you, she has a horse the caliber of yours, she’s all decked out, and she puts the pedal to the metal and beats you every time. (She wasn’t really snickering but she was there.) And so I ignored my normal mode of operandi and when I was coming out of the keyhole obstacle, I stood up in the stirrups and gave him his head. The rest is history.

Every time I ignore my gut and listen to someone else, I get into trouble. I might as well be the daughter who’s hanging around with the wrong crowd.

When I got my first pony when I was a teenager, it was what kept me from hanging around with the wrong crowd. While my girlfriends were smoking cigarettes and standing outside Evan’s Liquor store waiting for someone who would buy them a bottle of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine and kissing boys, I was on my pony. I got on that pony first thing in the morning and didn’t come home till it was dark. No saddle, a bridle that hung on by a thread, shorts, bare feet, and of course no helmet. Sometimes I had a stick to make him go because otherwise he wouldn’t. I’d meet the other girls in town who had ponies and we’d ride from Port Monmouth down to Highlands on the dirt trail where the railroad tracks used to be, parallel to Highway 36. We’d race, miles and miles, first one way, then the other, stopping every time we came to a street and then we’d hurry across. Click, click, click, click, click, went the ponies’ feet, then quiet, onto the soft dirt again. People in cars on the highway waved at us. Nowadays it’s a paved “nature trail” and the only running that goes on is by joggers in Spandex shorts and pink t-shirts that say something about breast cancer. I don’t know if anyone waves at them.

Seeing all those posters on the medical board wondering, not when they’d be able to walk again without a walker, but when they would be able to ride, made me think that this is not unlike the trouble the bad girls get into after all. It’s an addiction. They get addicted to drugs and alcohol, pills, piercings, abusive men. We’re addicted to horses. It is crazy. But at least I’m not guzzling Boone’s Farm strawberry wine.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Charlie's Garden

This is the first time I haven’t had a garden since I left New Jersey ten years ago. Even in Ferrum, where we were under attack by the Evils, I had a garden. How could I not? One of the previous owners had put in raised beds and a little picket fence with a gate. You could access it from the porch off the kitchen, handy when you needed another potato for dinner, and see it from the upstairs sleeping porch—square boxes, paths of yellow pebbles, a birdhouse with a copper roof on a post and a bee box in the corner. I sat on a green hickory rocking chair, as old as the house, a ceiling fan above me, an old metal clothesline pulley on one of the posts in front of me and looked down. That is when I wasn’t dodging bullets from the Evils’ direction. But that’s a whole other story.

I put in a garden here last spring; our first year here. It was a good spot and it was a bad spot. When you first move to a place, you never know how things are going to work out, what to put where, what to fix first, and if you need a barn or fencing, or the previous owner hasn’t left you a garden, you have to make a lot of decisions fast. You make these decisions before you’ve had a chance to settle in. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t. As time goes on, you tweak it. You move the pots and pans to the cabinet next to the stove. You repaint the bedroom wall. You find a better spot for the brush pile. Or in the case of permanent changes it’s too late to do anything about, you make a note, the next time you move, you won’t put the barn there, because it was too close to the house. Or not close enough.

I wasn’t even completely unpacked yet when I had to decide where to put the garden. I thought I picked a good spot. It was good because it was convenient, not far from the house, right next to the barn and hydrant. Close, but not in the way. But it was bad too because that part of the yard was in low spot. It would actually make a good volleyball court if I ever played volleyball again (I haven’t played since I was in high school thirty-five years ago but I keep thinking about it) because it’s a perfect square, surrounded by posts we put around the edges of the driveway to keep the gravel where it’s supposed to be; not spilling into the grass. It would also be a good spot to put a wicker chair and read a book under the mulberry tree. But the tree is right near the road and everyone would look at me when they drove by. They would say, “What is she out there reading again? Her husband is working like a dog and she’s reading a book!” I’d rather them see me pulling weeds and picking tomatoes so I crossed my fingers, hoped the low spot was not going to be a problem and I read my books on the deck where they can’t see me.

I did get tomatoes and zucchini but my peppers didn’t grow. This was the first time I planted something and nothing happened. To tell you the truth, I was shocked. Kelly’s boyfriend, who is a farmer, supplied me with plenty of bell peppers when mine failed, but that is not the point. Having a garden is not just about eating the delicious vegetables you’ve grown, but the magic of growing them. Plus, I can’t be dependent on Mario’s good will every time I want to make a salad.

I didn’t try again. What was I out of my mind, putting in a garden the first year I was here? It’s the second year now and we still have tons of work to do. There are still broken windows, stained carpet, and fences half falling down, tangled up in rusty barbed wire and poison ivy. That’s what you get when you buy a fixer-upper. Plus I can’t decide on a new spot.

Then it occurred to me. Why was I doing all that work when I had Charlie right next door? Charlie sells organic vegetables off a picnic table on the side of the road. He has all the important stuff—tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, peppers and they are cheap. Even if my peppers had grown and could win prizes at the county fair, I was actually losing money, if you thought about it, if I didn’t get them from Charlie. It cost me more money to grow my own vegetables when you add up what it costs to buy the plants and the vegetable food and all the other stuff you need every year—it could be bone meal, new tomato cages, twine, gardening gloves because the old ones have holes in the fingers… And I’m not even including the cost of my labor! So why do all that work when Charlie was right next door and all I had to do was walk over? Not to mention the fact that I have a broken back. Which is the same reason I can’t put in a volleyball court. But I can read a book under the mulberry tree. I’ll just put a sign out there, “Not loafing while husband is at work. Back broken. Plus Charlie has corn.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Bull Rider

I’ve got a bull rider coming over here to pick up some rolls of carpet padding. I got all excited when I found out that’s what he did. I told him we were barrel racers. I should have told him I have a broken back from my horse bucking me off. That would have impressed him.

I just checked and he’s the one that won the bull riding Saturday night at Cowtown. Won five hundred-and-something dollars for eight seconds worth of work. Of course it takes more than that to get there. A lot more. He probably has a few broken bones himself.

Turns out, here in Woodstown, New Jersey (this is Jersey I’m talking about), I’m only ten minutes away from the longest continuous running rodeo in America. We even beat out Texas. Oklahoma had rodeos but everything was far. When parcels like my 110 acres out there were considered tiny, you can imagine that just driving over to your neighbor’s house two thousand acres away, is a trip, never mind going down 40 to one of the rodeos. A couple of times we went to Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but they were far. I always wanted to go to the prison rodeo in McAlester, but we moved before we got around to that. Still, it wasn’t as close as Cowtown is to me now. By all rights you can ride your pony over there if you wanted to. And I don’t think any of them ran continuously. Here, every Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Cowtown Rodeo is hopping.

We got lucky when we got this place. Of course every place we house hunted there were horses because that’s what we were looking for—acreage. And when people have acreage, they stick horses on it. But I had no idea this was such a horse community. We not only have the rodeo, but we have a half dozen tack stores, feed stores, trainers, Traffic Supply, the ag center, the fairgrounds where the kids attend their 4-H meetings on horseback, and country-and-western bars where the adults blow off steam. Everyone has horses. Horses even pass by my house on their way to trail rides or the old golf course which is owned by the parks department and which you can ride on.

Truth be told, if I would have known all this was down here, I never would have left New Jersey in the first place. But I had no idea. I assumed that all the land was as expensive as it was in Jackson and when the idea came up to sell our place, take the equity and buy land out in the country, I didn’t even think about South Jersey. It didn’t even enter my head.

Kurt asked me how much padding the bull rider needed. I said, “Uh, I don’t know. But I can tell you that he won the bull riding Saturday night (not that he was bragging—I looked it up) and his name is Mike Adams.”

“Well, what’s he using it for?” he asked.

“Uh, I don’t know.”

“Did you answer the phone?”

“Well, duh. There’s no one else here, is there?”

“We’re in the carpet business and you don’t know how much padding this guy needs but you know he won the bull riding Saturday night?”

Obviously I’m a little more interested in rodeos than nylon berbers and polyester saxonies. One time we sold some carpet to the guy who wrote “Jaws.” Talking about the beach was a lot more fun too, though not as fun as when Max Weinberg’s wife came over to look at a horse. Granted, it wasn’t Bruce. But I did speak to Max himself when he called me on the phone to persuade me to let his wife buy the horse. This was a special horse. You know, the one you shouldn’t have sold. I was deciding between letting her buy him and another lady who was married to a surgeon and spent all her husband’s money rescuing animals. Even squirrels. She was in the market for another horse because all the others she bought to putt-putt around on her manicured property were the kind that break backs, if you get my drift. But she kept them. Once she got a horse, he had a home with her for life, even if he was a bucker or reared or kicked. So now she was on the search again for that perfect horse who this time was well trained and well behaved and would spend the rest of his days moseying down to the end of the driveway to get the mail and being fed apples. So I had to pick her. But it sure was exciting talking to Max.

The bull rider arrived with a fellow bull rider named Billy Love.

Turns out they only needed some padding to pad the cans he and the other bull riders practice on during the week while they’re waiting for the rodeo. He said the cans are hard. We gave him a roll of padding for free. Then I got them to sign Kelly’s hat. Kelly collects rodeo guys’ signatures. I know they thought it was for me. But it’s not. What do I look like some star-struck teenager? I mean, these boys could be my children. I don’t even think they were born by the time I was running my first set of barrels. I just wanted to support the community.

The pictures though. I’ve got to admit. They are mine. I just wish I would have gotten one of Mrs. Weinberg.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Diagnosis

No bumps in this road--this is my street

Another bump in the road besides relapsing on the cigarettes is it turns out my back is broken after all. My girlfriend says to stop talking negatively, it’s not actually broken. She says broken would be like if you had two bones that were completely snapped in half like a wishbone. In that case I think I would be paralyzed because the spine protects the spinal cord and that would be pretty negative but that’s not happening.

I have two fractures (T12 and L3), one “severe”, and a multitude of wear-and-tear issues—degenerative disc disease in many of the discs and some kind of scoliosis thing that’s probably from my bad posture. I’m not too worried about the degenerative disc disease and the scoliosis thing. I expected that. Most of us cowgirls have that. It’s from riding and lifting fifty-pound bags of grain and pushing wheelbarrows. You get that. I also had a feeling about the fractures. This back pain felt different. It is not the worst pain that I’ve had but it’s different. It feels like an accordion collapsing in on itself and when the doctor drew me a picture, that’s exactly what it looked like.

I have to go to the orthopedic doctor. He will probably order an MRI so they can make sure the fractures are stable. If they are stable, it’s just a matter of rest, possibly a brace, and if I could, water therapy might help. (I learned this from the Internet, not from my family doctor who knew squat. I call family doctors “gateway doctors” nowadays. You have to go to them to get referrals to go to the real doctor who will fix you.) If they’re not stable, I would need surgery. They would put something in there to hold it together so that the bones don’t impinge on the spinal cord. Trying to be positive, I assume I’d be in more pain if the fractures weren’t stable so I’m not losing any sleep over it.

But I’m afraid my barrel racing career is over before it even got started. All these years I’ve been trying to do it and one thing or another got in the way, mostly moving. Every time I got my horse ready, we decided to move again and then I had to fix the house and stage the house and sell the house (we always sell it ourselves with no real estate agent so that takes a lot of work) and pack the house (one time I packed the house completely by myself because Kurt was recuperating from double bypass surgery—he didn’t even see the new house when I bought it because he was in the hospital) and then we’d move into a new house and we’d have to build fences and build barns and replace roofs and replace heating systems…. And start our business all over again. That’s like starting a whole new business! I’d get halfway settled in and then start riding my horse again and I’d go to a barrel race or two, and then something else would happen. So all these years I never really got going. And now I don’t know if I will ever be able to get going. Those high speeds and hairpin turns really throw you around in the saddle and I’d be afraid I’d reinjure the healed fractures. I imagine it will always be a weak area and the spine is nothing to mess around with.

I’m not ruling it out though. I am looking into protective vests. The eventers wear them. Jockeys wear them. They protect your ribs and your spleen but I don’t know how well they protect your spine because they don’t stop the spine from compressing. I know of a company that makes a safety vest that blows up like an air mattress when you fall off the horse. It attaches to the horn by a cord and when you fall off, the cord breaks and the vest inflates. We made jokes when we were told how it works by the vendor at Colonial Nationals a couple of years ago. He zeroed right in on us because he thought we were an easy mark since Kelly was one of the only riders wearing a helmet, plus she had emergency-release stirrups, a real rarity in the western world. He probably thought, “Here’s a family that’s safety conscious!” But we laughed. We wanted to know if we’d bounce. We asked if there was a parachute attached to it because when Bullet bucked, Bullet bucked hard and one time Kurt landed up in a tree.

But now I’m thinking it’s not so funny after all. I’m trying to be positive but there’s nothing wrong with taking every safety precaution as possible. Because bumps in the road, or the arena, really hurt.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tough Cowgirls

My friend, who is responsible and sensible, said that I should have gone to the doctor that night when I fell off the horse. Go to the doctor? I got back on the horse, never mind go to the doctor! Of course it hurt so bad that I got right back off again. But that’s what we cowgirls do. That’s what my mother would have done if she rode horses. That’s why her name was Cookie, as in tough cookie. Though I have no idea how her parents could have known she was going to be so tough when she was just a baby because that’s when they started calling her that. It’s right in her baby book. Halfway through her first year, her mother stopped saying, “Frances burped,” and “Frances smiled.” She started saying, “Cookie, as we call her,” and then fill in whatever milestone. But how could they have known? She was just a baby. Maybe she got tough because of the name, not she was given the name because she was tough? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Who knows? At any rate, she would have made a good cowgirl if she rode horses and didn’t dance on bars.

Nothing really bad came of it except I started smoking again because I was so depressed I was blowing up like a big fat cow in one week from not being able to exercise and it looked like my barrel racing career was over before it even began. At least for this season. Maybe even forever. Best case scenario is I need a few weeks of rest. I’m going to lose all the conditioning I worked for in the last six months. At fifty-three-years old, and after not riding regularly for years, it was hard coming back this time. At first, I couldn’t even get on the horse. It took me weeks to be able to lope a circle, I was so weak. But I was making good progress. I was almost ready to get rid of the mounting block when it happened. After this little playday show where I was just going to jog my horse through the obstacles, maybe let him run home if it felt right, I was going to start seeing the barrel racing trainer and by June, I was going to enter some real barrel races. Yee-ha! I was back in the saddle!

And then I was out of the saddle. Full force on my back. Head bounced twice. But I didn’t think I needed to go to the doctor. I was just sore.

After there was no improvement in my back after a full week of rest and I spent Memorial Day weekend all by myself because Kurt was working on a big commercial job, Kelly was in Wildwood, I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t sit so I was unable to go up to my father’s trailer in north Jersey for a barbecue with the rest of the family as planned, and I couldn’t do any projects around the house, which is the other thing I like doing—fixing my house—and I got a good look at my ass in the bathroom mirror, I decided to smoke.

I had no one to call to make me feel better. My mother is dead. It didn’t matter that I kept reminding myself that if the smoking didn’t kill her, it certainly didn’t help. Aunt Junelouise is dead. I have girlfriends who will say, “Why didn’t you call me?” But I was feeling so sorry for myself that I was thinking that if they really cared, they would have called me. Honestly, one or two did. But unless you were a full blown chainsmoker like me and then somehow quit, you couldn’t possibly understand or know what to do. One of my friends advises me to eat pretzels every time I quit smoking and I want to commit suicide or homicide—one of the cides. She quit smoking way back when she was twenty-five years old by eating pretzels. Ha! I’ve been smoking every fifteen minutes for almost forty years. I don’t think a pretzel is going to help. I couldn’t care less about pretzels! Fuck pretzels!

People don’t get it. They think I’m off it for a month, two months and I’m over it. I can’t stand it when people compare it to quitting cake. They say it’s just like how they can’t stop eating cake. Unless they are one of those people on TV who are stuck in the bed with rolls of fat and bedsores and the ambulance guys have to take out the wall to hoist them out of there on a crane, then maybe our addictions might be comparable. But if they simply stuff their faces in front of the TV at night and they have to shop in the big girl’s section at Kohl’s, well, nah, I’m sorry, it’s not really the same. Think about oxygen. Think about suddenly not being able to get any and you’re gulping and turning blue and you will throw yourself in front of a train if there is an oxygen cloud on the tracks. That’s how it feels to want a cigarette. Which is ironic because I won’t have any someday—oxygen—if I keep smoking cigarettes. And I understand that, in effect, it is like I threw myself in front of a train by smoking again.

In the end, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I can’t expect anyone to do it for me. If people can’t even be there for a close relative who is on his deathbed because our lives are so busy—Little League games are still being scheduled, graduations are happening, the grass has to be mowed, we have to go to work—I certainly can’t expect people to hold my hand for months just because I quit smoking. I’m obviously not ready. I’d said that if I didn’t make it this time, if I failed again, that was it. I was never going to try to quit again. I was done.

But I take that back. I will try again. Because I am tough. I am a tough cowgirl. A tough cookie. And this is just a little bump in the road.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Things to Do

In actuality, I am hurt. It’s been over a week and it’s not any better. It’s not like any back pain that I’ve had before. It’s not sore from overuse and some rest will do the trick. It’s not like I tweaked it and if I move a certain way, it’s going to spasm and “go out,” and maybe I need an anti-inflammatory. This is different. This feels like something is wrong. It feels like my spine is collapsing in on itself like an accordion. Like the air was let out of it. It reminds me of what the Twin Towers looked like when they collapsed.

When I first get up in the morning, it feels pretty good. And then as soon as I start bending (and everything you do, whether you realize it or not, requires bending—I empty the coffee filter into the garbage, I bend. I fill the cats’ bowl, I bend. I turn on the faucet in the tub, I bend), it starts hurting. I can’t sit at the computer. I can’t put my socks on. I can’t get up in the truck. The only time it feels better is when I’m straight, standing up, or especially, lying down.

I wish Kurt could give me one of his massages where he gently stretches my spine apart (I swear, he missed his calling—he should have been a chiropractor) but he’s been working day and night. He has worked twenty days straight. He is working today, even though it’s Sunday and it’s Memorial Day weekend. He comes home when it’s dark and all I can see are the whites of his eyes because he is covered with grout or flooring patch or whatever he is using. I can’t ask him for a massage.

I thought it would get better and I’d be back to riding this week but that’s not happening. This is not good when I’m trying not to smoke because one way I stay off the cigarettes is by staying active. I keep busy. I ride my horse, I do projects, I plant flowers. I want a cigarette, I get up and move! It not only distracts me, but it keeps me from blowing like a big fat whale. I think I’ve already gained an extra ten pounds just this week now that I’ve been out of commission. Now I’m craving cigarettes even more because I’m depressed about how fat I am and I can’t do anything about it. There is nothing I can cut out food-wise. I don’t overeat. I never overeat when I quit smoking because I couldn’t care less about food—I want my nicotine! But I have started eating breakfast. I never used to eat breakfast. Suddenly, since quitting smoking, I am hungry in the morning. That’s normal and that’s good. I have a cup of yogurt and a small bowl of granola cereal. That’s all. The only other thing is I’ve been treating myself to half-and-half and flavored creamers in my coffee after supper. But that’s it. I shouldn’t be blowing like a whale! And now I can’t exercise!

I’m insulted. I can’t believe I had the nerve to get hurt. I can’t believe I’m not bouncing right back. I always bounce right back. I’m just like my mother. She bounced back from everything. Her claim to fame was how she gave birth to my sister and that weekend she was dancing on a bar, that’s on the bar, in Hoboken. When she fell and broke her hip (not off the bar; this was thirty-something years later on said sister’s icy porch), she was back on her feet so fast that her doctor called in other doctors and they crowded around her bed and polled her, wanting to know if she was some kind of positive thinker because we all know that attitude is half the battle. What else could it be? They all saw the broken bone on the X-ray and there was no denying it; it was bad. “No. No,” she said, waving a hand. “I just have things to do.”

On a good note, I had been wondering how my bones were going to hold up on the next fall. My mother had osteoporosis and I’m in menopause so I was worried about it. The last time I fell was back in Virginia when I was vacuuming up ladybugs off the ceiling and the stool slipped out from underneath me and I landed full force on my back and nothing happened. Obviously my bones are good because this time I fell even higher. The video shows me up in the air, over his head, before I fell onto the ground. So it was quite a distance. No broken bones. I’m assuming no broken bones because I haven’t seen the doctor yet but like I said in my last post, I don’t think I’d be walking if anything was broke. No, my guess is that I popped a disk.

I see the doctor Tuesday evening. But the way it works nowadays is she won’t be able to tell me squat. She will offer me pain pills which I won’t take because I’m not a pill-taker. She will give me a referral to get some kind of scan thing. Might be a regular X-ray. Might be an ultrasound. Or an MRI. It will take a week before I will be able to get in to see those people, then a few more days before they send the results to my doctor. Then I will have to go back in there so she can tell me what they saw. The whole rigmarole will take so long that I will be all better by that time. That’s my hope. Because I have things to do.

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Helmet Saved My Life

Last night I had a bit of a horse wreck. I’m okay. I’m assuming I’m okay since I’m walking. That must mean there aren’t any broken bones. But it hurt. I hit hard. I hit so hard I peed myself. I landed on my back and slammed my head. Twice. My head actually bounced and I picked up a couple of pounds of dirt in my clothes and my orifices—mouth, nose, ears—while I continued the forward motion and skidded towards home on my back, head first.

Luckily we were already past the timer when Lowdown decided that this was fun and yee-ha, he had a couple of bucks in him. (I got second place.) Unluckily, I wasn’t expecting it and there was no warning or else I think I could have stayed on. But it happened so fast, I didn’t even know what happened. Usually, if a horse starts bucking, I experience a couple of seconds of panic where I’m struggling to maintain my seat and the ground or the sky is flashing by. Sometimes I’m even riding side-saddle for a stride or two. Not real side-saddle but I’m hanging off the side of a saddle by one leg and a prayer, so I call that side-saddle. Then I manage to somehow pull myself back on. The last few times my horse bucked (not always the same horse, just in general—whenever I have been on a bucking horse), I was able to pull myself back on and keep my seat. One time it was pure luck. Harley bucked, I went off, actually went up in the air, and then I fell back down on him in just the right spot, landed smack dab in the middle of my saddle with a big plump! before he took off running. My feet even slipped right back into the stirrups like they’d never been disengaged. That was lucky.

This time I’m lucky I’m not dead. That’s how hard my head hit. I felt it in slow motion—Clunk! Clunk!—and in that split second, my brain, well protected and safe, and therefore still able to do its job, thought Thank god I wear a helmet now!

I never used to wear a helmet. I used to say they were uncomfortable. I used to say it interfered with my vision when I had one on and I couldn’t hear well. Though helmets don’t block your eyes or your ears. I don’t know how I thought anybody would believe that, but that’s what I was shoveling. The real reason is, I was too vain. They look dorky. I’m not going to lie. I still think they are dorky-looking. Even though I wear one now. I look like a big dorky egg-head when I’m wearing my helmet. No more sexy cowgirl galloping across the field of buttercups, long blonde hair flowing in the breeze…. No more cool rodeo chick in fringe shirt, blingy belt, and cowboy hat—black in winter, straw for the summer…. No more of that. The party is over. On top of my figure mysteriously changing shape, thickening around the middle since I’ve gone into menopause like I’m suddenly melting (and maybe I am, if these hot flashes are any indication), I started wearing a dorky helmet. It is not sexy.

I had to do it for the kid. How could I keep making her wear one if I was not? I actually carried on like this for a few years—made her wear one but I didn’t. When she questioned me, I appealed to her sympathy—“I tried but I just could not get used to it! In my day, they didn’t have helmets!”

I urged her to do some critical thinking—“If I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you want to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge too? ”

I used her grandmother—“Nana always said, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’” looked sheepish, and lit up a cigarette. (I don’t smoke anymore either.)

But she never fought me on it. She was never allowed on a horse without a helmet from the time we started leading her around on Minnie when she was three-years-old and so I imagine her helmet is like a headstall to her—a necessary piece of equipment that you don’t think twice about and even if her mother doesn’t wear one, her mother’s stupidity is more of a conundrum than ammunition not to wear her own.

However, my hypocrisy bothered me. Now that she was older and she could look at me with admiration due to my behavior and not simply because I was her mother, or disapproval, I had to behave better. I decided to at least try one. Give it a good try. Not just throw on some extra helmet someone had lying around. Get the right one. Research which ones were comfortable, what would work best for me, and get the proper size. And that’s what I did. (FYI, I got a Tipperary.)

The day I found myself cooling out my horse with my helmet still on because I’d forgotten to take it off because it was so comfortable was the day I knew the bullshit was over and I was a helmet-wearer.

I’m not going to say it looks nice. I am no hot number with my hair blowing in the breeze anymore. But I have a head. And brains can be quite sexy.

Helmets come in many styles. Here is the cowboy hat with helmet built-in (is my head too big?), and my personal favorite, the shark.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The First Thing I Do and the Last Thing I Do

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is stand on my tip-toes and look out the window facing the barn. I see the big barn doors that Kurt made. They have criss-crosses on them just like I wanted. Pretty soon I will paint them, red with white trim. I see the green lawn and green pastures with white mist floating on top like a ghost’s blanket.
I see the horses. Bullet and Lowdown but not Harley because we’ve been keeping him on the other side at night and you can’t see that side from here. I don’t know if I can actually see the lilac bush on the front lawn from this spot or I just know that it’s there, but it’s got big purple blossoms on it shaped like horns of plenty.

When I come downstairs I definitely see the lilac bush that’s by the kitchen window.

Yesterday when we had the window opened because the weather was so nice, you could smell the lilacs in the house. I picked some and put them in a vase.

I was so happy when we got this house and I discovered that I had two old-timey lilac bushes. I texted Kurt, “These lilacs are making me horny.” I knew he’d get a kick out of that, plus it was true, maybe not in a direct way, but indirectly, like how being able to pay bills gets me horny or riding the horse gets me horny—if I feel good, I’m much more likely to want sex. When he came up to the bedroom last night, he brought a lilac with him and dangled it over my nose. Then he gave me a massage because my back hurts and we made love.
That was the last thing I did last night.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Making Miracles Happen

Well… I pulled it off again. If it’s not your taste and you can’t appreciate styles not your own, and especially if you can’t get with funky colors, or something unorthodox, you might disagree. But I like it. I think it looks fabulous.

I was scared for a minute there. I started second-guessing myself after Kelly came in and said, “Hmm.” She’s a kid so I didn’t expect that, kids being open-minded and all. I mean, her room is the color of Pepto Bismol for god’s sake. So I asked Kurt. He must have wanted sex that night because he said, “I know you’ll make miracles happen. You always do.” So I kept painting but then the next day he said, unsolicited, “I’ve got to tell you, it looks hideous.” Hideous! You can read into that whatever you want but it put a real damper on things so I sent pictures to my girlfriends, but only the ones who like funky colors and unorthodox decorating styles because the last thing I wanted to do was repaint.

It’s only paint and it would have required painting two more coats—one to cover the mistake and the topcoat—no big deal really. But I’m on a time-crunch here. It’s March already (yes, I am late posting this) and I’ve got to get riding if I want to barrel race this year. I’m trying to get as many house projects done as possible, especially inside house projects, because come spring, other than the normal stuff like mowing and weeding and planting and a couple of projects I have no choice about, season-wise, like staining the deck and power washing the house—nothing to sneeze at—I’m going to be on my horse. So I have to hurry. I can’t waste time. The last thing I want to happen is that I feel guilty because I’m on my horse and that cabinet is still shockingly white and it’s ruining the whole look of the living room which is what I call 1940s California bungalow slash farmhouse with a dash of cowboy.

Someone came up with the idea of putting all of my accessories on it before I made a decision and see how it looks then. That’s when I discovered that I forgot to paint the shelves, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I like the way they look not being the same color as the rest of it.

I put my blue insulators on one of them and my brown insulators on another one, then I tried leaning a Wallace Nutting picture on it, and that gave me the idea to go get the picture of my mother and her sister getting a pony ride when they were little girls. (That picture is the best of both worlds—it’s retro and it’s western—and I’m not even talking about how cool it is that it’s my mother and you can see her scuffed knees, hence her name Cookie, as in “tough cookie.” She was always proud of that.)

One thing led to another—pinecone basket, metal box with a dragon on it, green art pottery vase that never looked good anywhere else—and once I got all my stuff on the cabinet, I realized I liked it. In fact, I love it! Kurt’s still iffy on it. But of course he didn’t like the Pepto Bismol either.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where is Zenmama From the Tripping Over Cancer Blog?

Does anyone know what happened to Zenmama from the blog Tripping Over Cancer? I'm worried about her. The last time she posted to her blog was November 7, 2011. She was documenting her fight against breast cancer and she was doing so well and then all of a sudden, no more posts. There is no way to reach her. I don't know what her real name is and there is no contact information on her blog. All you can do is comment, which I've done, hoping to hear something, but I haven't. I'm worried about her.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'm Cranky and that's Tough Shit

Smoking stand my nana and I used to use on her front porch. We were big smokers together. Nana died of lung cancer.

I’m not smoking. It’s been two weeks. It’s hard. But I’m doing it. That’s all I feel like saying right now. Wait. I’ll say this. For a while I was pissed because it seemed like all the people who’ve been nagging me and pressuring me and getting on my case and driving me crazy all these years to quit have suddenly dropped off the face of the earth. Dropped off the face of the earth! No calls. No pats on the back. No inquiries about how I am doing other than the perfunctory questions at the beginning of our phone conversations—“So how’s it going?”—followed by obvious disinterest in the details of how it’s going if I actually attempt to get it off my chest. Forget flowers. How come no one sends anyone flowers when they quit smoking? This is big! And we get no flowers.

What are they thinking?! Two weeks have gone by and I’m supposed to be over an addiction I was doing every fifteen minutes for almost forty years?! I never even had a job where I couldn’t smoke freely! It’s like they think, She’s good. It’s been two weeks. And then they tell me about their vacation plans and Girl Scout cookie orders and Brazilian bikini waxes. As if this fight for my life is suddenly over-with because I could actually get out of bed this week and wash my face. Which goes to show that they had no idea what I was grappling with when I was smoking if they think I could function and care about vacation plans, Girl Scout cookies, and Brazilian bikini waxes two weeks after quitting.

Then I thought, fuck ‘em. I didn’t quit for them anyway. I don’t need their approval or their support. I am doing this for me.

As you can see, I’m a bit cranky. One time I lost a friendship when I quit smoking because I was cranky. Well, not only that, but it was morning and everyone knows I’m not a morning person. So what happened was, this girl Sherley and I had an argument about how mules are stubborn. I said it in passing and she took a shit fit. She’d just bought a couple of mules. I had no idea she was going to be so touchy. I didn’t mean anything by it. Mules have a reputation for being stubborn. Everyone knows that. Great jokes have come from it. Plus god knows Sherley freely said many things to Kurt and I that most people would construe as very rude and we didn’t take a shit fit. She’s not exactly the sensitive type. Like one time she asked us what we paid for one of our horses, a horse we were very proud of, and when we told her, she screamed, and I quote, “Are you people f-ing crazy?!” We let that, and all the other obnoxious crap that used to come out of her mouth, go. So I was quite surprised that my comment about mules being stubborn got her so upset. But that’s not why I’m saying I was cranky—because I made the comment. I was cranky because I didn’t have any patience for her reaction to the comment. When she started screaming, I said, “Bye bye,” and haven’t talked to her since.

I’m not saying bye-bye to any of my other friends. They really haven’t been as non-supportive as I made out. I am cranky. But I’m not smoking because when I set my mind to something, I'm as stubborn as a mule.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Things You Need on a Farm

I can’t even imagine how often the heat would be going on if I didn’t have a woodstove. Thank god we got the woodstove. I have the stove going around the clock and still the oil heat kicks on every time I’m in the smoking room, aka, the basement.

I’ve relegated myself to the basement in a desperate attempt to cut down. It’s working pretty well. I’m smoking half as much as I used to smoke. Who wants to go down into the basement every time you want to smoke? It’s not a finished basement. The floor is cement and when there’s a lot of rain, a trickle of water runs down the center of it to a pit where the sump pump is. There are paint cans, buckets of joint compound, and plastic jugs of water in case the electric goes out and it’s not worth pulling out the generator because we think it’s going to come back on again. Like if there was no reason for the electric to go out—no snow, no wind, no rain. Nothing’s happening weather-wise. That means there was probably an accident—someone went into a pole—and as soon as they clean it up, the electric will come back on again. But if there’s a reason, if there’s any kind of precipitation, it could take days.

These are things you need on a farm. A woodstove and a generator.

People don’t realize that, when you’re out in the country and you lose your electric, you not only lose your lights and can’t watch The Bachelor, but you lose your water too because you have a well and the pump runs on electric. My sister thinks I’m out there hand-cranking it, but that’s not the case. For someone who has horses, it’s a disaster since horses drink about a dozen gallons of water per day each and if they don’t have water, they can colic. My first pony died of colic so I’m really paranoid about that. If you have six horses, that’s seventy-two gallons of water a day. That’s a lot of water. It’s not like you could run down to Walmart and get a few jugs off the shelf. Well, you could, but that would be the last thing you’d want to do because it would be really expensive. Like if it was an apocalyptic situation. You know, an end-of-the-world thing and your horses were dying of thirst. Of course if that was happening, even though I love my animals dearly, I think we’d be hoarding the water for ourselves. The horses get their feet done and their teeth floated before I get new shoes or go to the dentist, but you have to draw the line somewhere. So I would go down to Walmart if I had to. It would have to be really bad but not end-of-the-world bad.

Last summer it got really bad. We had a fierce storm that knocked out power for a week. I almost had to resort to Walmart but then Kelly’s boyfriend showed up with a 250-gallon container full of water sloshing around in the back of his truck. He had rustled up the container from his grandfather’s farm, brought it over to a friend’s farm where he rinsed it out (including using bleach because he knows what a fanatic I am about the horses) and filled it up, and then brought it back here for our horses to drink. I felt like the Calvary arrived!

Since then, one of our neighbors who is an electrician, rigged something up on the electrical box so that now all we have to do is plug the generator in and flip a switch if the power goes out and we’ll have water. He didn’t charge us a thing. I tried to pay him, I was so grateful, but he waved his hand and said to just give him a good deal when he needs new carpet someday.

The electric has gone out twice since we got the woodstove put in and the gizmo installed on the box. I dared it to. It was flickering. I said, “Go ahead you sucker! I don’t need no stinkin’ lights!” It came back on so fast I didn’t even have to get a log but I felt very secure knowing that, no matter what, we were going to be warm and the horses were going to have water. Because we have a woodstove and a generator.

And good people around us. That is something you need on a farm.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Girl of Steel

Kelly put up the round pen by herself. She said, “That’s it; I’m not waiting anymore.” We’d been here for two months but hadn’t been able to get to it. We had to put up fences, bulldoze dirt, and find places to put all the stuff sitting in the middle of the barn that we used to keep in the garage because we don’t have a garage here yet. We had to paint, unclog bathtubs, fix windows, change faucets, and put up a mailbox. (The mailbox might have been a bad idea because it was promptly stuffed with bills.) We had to repair the washing machine (washing machines are always broke when I move to new houses, even if they are brand new, which made me madder at Slow Bob for extorting me for mine), install a dishwasher, and change light fixtures and light bulbs high up on the roof of the barn so we could see where we were walking at night.

I’m not even talking about the unpacking. I’m not talking about finding hay, a farrier, a vet, a doctor for the humans, the dump, a new bank, an oil company, and motor vehicle where we went back and forth a half dozen times to change our licenses, registrations, and get the vehicles inspected. Of course the van failed because Kurt didn’t get all dressed up and lead the guy on like I did. So then we had to find a new car mechanic. I still don’t have one of the trailers done. It still has Virginia plates on it and is, in fact, illegal. So the round pen was low priority.

But Kelly was itching to ride because it turns out we’re in a real horse community and she joined the 4-H club and Future Farmers of America and made friends with the other girls in town who wear blinged-out belts, pink camouflage caps, and barrel race like she does.

But I wouldn’t let her get on any of the horses until they’d been worked in the round pen first. They had been sitting around for months twiddling their thumbs while we packed and unpacked and were jumping out of their skin being in a new place and on a busy road where a whooshing car made them all throw up their heads and take off. The perimeter of the property was not fenced in yet so there was no safe place to ride if someone bucked while Kelly was texting and she fell off. Even though she swears she never texts when she rides.

I’m a worrywart mommy. She’s got the helmet and the emergency-release stirrups and I insist on working a horse in the round pen first after he’s been off from work for any length of time. It’s not the same as on a lunge line. In the round pen, they can really blow off steam. At the least, you can see what you’ve got under the hood. Some people might say I’m overprotective. I don’t care. It’s a dangerous sport. She’s lucky she’s riding period.

So she put up a whole sixty-foot, steel round pen by herself. She had to drag it over, panel by panel, from the other side of the yard. I have no idea how she got it started and got the first panel up. You have to hold the first one up so you can attach the next one to it. Then you angle them like a Hallmark card to keep them standing while you get the third one. You can’t angle one panel all by itself so I don’t know how she did it. It’s a job for two men! But it’s up now and she’s been riding. She rides most days, trying to get her horse conditioned so that she’s ready for the barrel racing season.

Now I have to figure out how to get her to put the stall mats down. I’m thinking, how can I link the stall mats to the prom?