Once Upon A Day In Montana


July 17, 2011
Morro Bay, California

I’m supposed to be writing stories for the sci-fi editor in the next few days. He said I can write anything I want…just as long as I write something. He wants me to write something. That’s like a dream come true, but I’ve let everything else…anything else…take priority. Which doesn’t make much sense…because I love to write. And I have two story ideas in mind for him. But neither are sci-fi. I hate sci-fi. After feeding the horses, I went to the coffee shop where Glen and I always have breakfast, figuring I’d write after glancing through the Bay News and The New Times…I have a soft spot for the New Times after all the filming we did there. I feel connected to the New Times…even last week’s issue, which is all this coffee shop keeps stocked…always last week’s issue.

Finally it was time to write and this coffee shop is good for that kind of thing, because it’s not very inspiring here. It was re-painted a few weeks ago and it only made the situation worse. So without any outside inspiration or distraction, there’s nothing to do but look within and turn inside inspiration into a story…right? That was my theory.

Unfortunately, this coffee shop has windows and I happened to glance out just before I began to write the sci-fi I didn’t want to write, and I was literally stopped in my tracks. Stopped in thought…time…everything stopped. For there, on a yellow hill with a big blue sky…was Montana. I mean, cows. There, on a yellow hill with a big blue sky…were cows. Big beautiful black ones resting in the sun. Moving ever so slightly, but my horse eye doesn’t let any slight go without longing and appreciation.

I don’t know how long I was drawn into that mirage of Montana. It’s a phenomenon, the way memories and dreams and time and recall intertwine. Or maybe they don’t, and that’s the true phenomenon. There is one day in particular at the ranch in Montana that will forever be with me and it all came rushing back just now. I knew Montana would stay with me on that very day, so I tried not to think too much…and just let the raw mountains, land, sky, cows, and air imprint away. Just as they are. The day was well into September and it was the first time it felt like fall. It was the day fall arrived. The sense of fall is never so acute as it is on its first day. When summer is only a lingering feeling from yesterday—a long time past. Fall might be the greatest sense in the world. And this day was full of it. The sky was dark and made the yellow hills glow. The air was crisp and cool and crept under my Carhartt and long sleeved flannel shirt, creating an interface between me and the magic of the day. It was all the same. My horse glowed beneath me, too, and we kept each other warm. It was like the saddle wasn’t there. I couldn’t tell where I stopped and he began. We were all the same. We walked and long trotted and loped all around that day, brushing pastures for strays, climbing peaks to survey, racing…flying over the grass to head off a few disgruntled head. I hardly said a word all day and either did my horse…our thoughts were the same…we had a job to do, for in a few short days would be shipping day and four feet of snow. Somehow we knew that this was only one of four days of fall, and so, we worked with purpose, as if it was any other day.

The glowing yellow hills just kept glowing and rolling. Sometimes the grass got long and swayed like waves in the wind. Sometimes it was short and crackled under the stride of this steady, hearty horse. Whose great grand sire walked these same lands underneath real cowboys, and together they only feared bears and rustlers and blizzards and there was no other way to live. There was nothing more worthy to live for. Just like today.

We moved hundreds, maybe thousands of cows that day. And my horse and I passed plenty of other cowboys. Sometimes we were one of twenty pairs, for the entire county had showed up to help, and sometimes it was just us and one other. I started the morning, when it was still dark and cold, riding next to Sam. We rode in focused silence, though it was not really silent, for cowboys on horses on a cold morning with cows to tend make their own quiet sounds as they traverse frosted terrain. Sam and I did not know each other well, and that was mostly my fault. There was enough gossip on that ranch to haunt a ghost. I wanted no part in any of it, so I learned pretty early on to keep my head down and to focus on the dust in front of my boots. I learned too late that Sam was not like the others, and I could have trusted him.

But I finished the day with Sam, too…at twilight at a long trot back to the corrals. He talked to me and I felt my cheeks warm, though the temperature had dropped considerably. A smile came light and easy, and we covered Cornell (me), Yale (him), and a cowboy’s life, in five sentences. That’s just the right amount of talk at twilight. Sam and I knew each other after that, and I liked him an awful lot, but when the cows were shipped, I never saw him in Montana again.

Sometime earlier that afternoon, a big strange corporate fellow who sat exactly on his horse like he most certainly sits at his desk called my horse and I over to talk about Africa and politics because he had heard I had some connection to Africa. He was of little use on his horse, and I could not figure out why he was there. I’d never seen him before and he didn’t seem to associate with anyone there on the ranch, yet he had an air of authority and ownership, and I was afraid that if I didn’t at least approach him at his request, I’d later find out he was part of the corporation or something and I’d be kicked off the ranch for being rude or refusing orders. That’s how it worked out there.

He wasn’t a city slicker, but he certainly wasn’t a horseman. And he obviously had no appreciation for the sacred land or beast he rode upon, for all that was on his mind was opinionated, elite views on third world countries and a political agenda I knew he had no firsthand experience with. He wasn’t trying to impress anyone because I think he already assumed he was impressive, but he was desperate for someone to agree with him, and I could not. I felt trapped riding next to him, tangled in his gutless, pointless theories of the world, but until I knew who he was and if it was okay to excuse myself, I stayed focused on my horse’s ears. He had one on me, and one on this man. My horse didn’t seem to understand the man any better than I did, and I took comfort in that, but the ear on me told that me that he especially didn’t understand why we were meandering alongside this fellow when I was obviously so restless to be anywhere else. I could feel him slow up a bit as he rocked back on his haunches, ready to gallop forward at the slightest indication the restlessness won out. I let my body go limp in response, mostly to tell my horse I felt as forced as he did but partly because it was getting harder to pretend this man’s conversation was captivating and sit up straight at the same time. I was done with pleasantries by that point. Some guests would come through that ranch as wonderful as human beings can possibly be. Others would come and let you groom their horses and cook their meals before the sun was up and then ask you to eat on the cold dark porch because they preferred the hired hands out of their sight during mealtime. The best people were the ones that had never been around horses before (or at least, regularly), and the worst were usually the ones that lived with horses, back wherever they came from, but never noticed a saddle rub or a foxtail or could even see their own child filled with grief and loneliness and no desire to be around horses whatsoever.

Truly, this particular man (I never found out who he was) was nice enough, but I wished for a stray cow that needed to be galloped after or new orders or a glimpse from Sam or Brett that said he needed help—anything to escape—for nothing but Montana exists in Montana and its ridiculous to talk about a bigger world out there. New orders finally did come and sent me to a far corner of the ranch. I savored the escape and gulped in the crisp air and all the flavors of fall, as my horse and I followed a new path to freedom, and the sky warmly darkened into purples and blues, gently pressing and swirling around anything that wasn’t earth, imparting a feeling of heaven and peace. The day seemed to last forever, and for that, I will forever be grateful. The sun hung low in the sky, and the land reflected golden yellows of honey and cornflower. My horse and I went on for miles and hours, as did everyone else, but it never felt so. I can’t imagine riding a cloud would feel any smoother than the back of my horse, and I knew dying would no longer be something to fear, for God had given me a feel for Heaven.

There’s always a touch of melancholy in fall, and on this particular season it was that the horse, the old saddle, and the land underneath and all around me…would never be mine. It’s not that I wanted ownership, I just wanted a tie. I couldn’t think of any thing better to be than…Montana. A Montana cowboy that couldn’t separate herself from her or horse or the mountains or the tall grass. I didn’t want to lose who I was or where I belonged that day. Memories fade. But I guess imprints don’t. I knew the day and the magic would forever be with me…but I was afraid the restlessness of a civilized, noisy world might swallow me up before I could return to this life for good. Everything about that day was so crisp and beautiful and rugged. But today, this day in California, upon a glance at a yellow hill dotted with cows, it all came rushing back, and I feel what it’s like to be a Montana cowboy who can’t separate herself from her horse or the mountains or the tall grass. It’s a connection that feels far from human and so it sits just right.

The Assumption

n626775205_5227919_414I wish I could write about ponies and rainbows and Christmas miracles all day and that’s usually my intention when I wake up in the morning, but then I come across stuff like this http://www.returnofkings.com/author/tuthmosis and I can’t focus because my blood is boiling.

I was at a school recently, talking to kids about bullying, while my mind drifted back to my own experiences as a kid. As I’m talking, it’s simultaneously dawning on me that it was my teachers who were just as problematic as the bullies. I suddenly felt compelled to change my presentation, and since I was workin’ for free, no one could stop me. I virtually stopped mid–“don’t bully each other, kids”–sentence and started explaining to the teachers (who were there with their students) how my grade-school teachers never stepped in to help me, even when I was being bullied right in front of them. The teachers would see me cry and pull ME aside to say that I shouldn’t let the boys get to me. They said I was in the wrong for letting them make me cry. I worked up the courage once to ask if they would help me…or at least let me change seats so I didn’t have to sit between the boys who teased me incessantly. They’d always kick my backpack and flick wads of paper on my desk with threats and diagrams as to how they were going to find my horses and kill them in the middle of the night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much compared to the way kids treat other kids today (the number of “go kill yourself” remarks on Instagram and Vine are truly horrifying), but at the time, I still found it pretty traumatizing.

And you know what the teachers told me? “This is a matter between you and them. You need to learn how to deal with it.”

I was ten…and then eleven and twelve and thirteen. I asked the teachers for help because I DIDN’T know how to deal with it. Someone with disciplinary authority should have stepped in. And I wonder how many suicides, eating disorders, self-mutilations, teenage drug overdoses, rapes, and **school shootings** would be prevented around the country if more teachers and parents DID step in the moment signs of bullying or trouble arise among the bullies and the bullied.

I respect kids more than I respect most adults, but kids ARE kids, and until they aren’t, the adults in their life have the right and responsibility to teach, guide, manage, and intervene. But as soon as those words came out of my mouth in front of all those teachers, I realized that I had a part in this, too. When I see or hear trouble, I need to act, too. Maybe I’m just one voice, but it counts, if only to stick up for the one in trouble and let he or she know, “you’re worth it.”

And maybe my voice counts more today, than ever before.

I find this Tuthmosis insulting and dangerous on so many levels. First of all, he’s a complete contradiction. “Damaged women” who cut their hair are a red flag, but based on his definition, women with eating disorders are also “damaged,” but he likes those girls because they make him feel like a man and fit his cheap-wad, ego-centric dating criteria. As an aspiring writer, I appreciate the ability to write freely through blogs without being required to be a famous author first, because heaven knows, this has yet to happen. But I find it terrible that this guy is not only blogging, but websites and magazines feature his trash. His articles cover everything from why all girls are spoiled to why you should never work for a female boss to why women ask to be raped and why girls with eating disorders are prime dating material. There’s plenty more where that came from, but I was going to go into cardiac arrest if I read any more.

His most recent article is the one about how women with short hair are broken, and that’s when I realized what his problem is…what most men’s problem is. Men assume that what women do and live for is to attract THEM, and when women do something that they do not find *sexually* appealing…it means those women have lost all meaning and purpose to their life, and are therefore, broken or damaged.

Let me explain, I DO like my long hair, and I’ve always had long hair, though I used to cut it all the time to donate to Locks of Love. I haven’t done that for awhile, and now that I can’t give blood because I travel to Africa all the time and no longer qualify with the Red Cross, I’ve been feeling guilty about my recent lull in giving back/paying it forward.

But now that I’ve been sick with mono and can’t physically get up to do much (like shower) and sleeping can be painful and involve lots of tossing and turning (which creates a lovely tangled mess of hair), I’ve often thought about just cutting my hair ALL off, donating it to Locks of Love, and having short hair with no maintenance, which would instantly make me feel better. It’s a win-win. That’s what Shelby did in Steel Magnolias—she cut her hair before major surgery—and it always made perfect sense to me. And M’Lynn was right…it turned out looking “real sweet.” Also, I would like to point out that Shelby never asked her husband what he thought. She just ducks back into the house to tell him where she’s headed, which is to the beauty shop. Now that’s a healthy relationship. Independence, but courtesy.

Anyway, NEVER once has it crossed my mind as to what a man might think…never once have I weighed the option, “what if a man no longer finds me attractive with short hair?”

Men are a LOT of work (of course, they are completely oblivious to this). In my opinion, they don’t earn their keep, so you really have to LOVE one in order to put up with him. It takes a lot of giving, and they do a lot of taking. My dad is 58 years old, and without meaning to, he STILL wears my mother out. My grandfather is 80, and it seems like that’s the age when men finally have it together. I have no trouble waiting until I’m 80 to get married. That’s what my grandmother did (the second time around), and she’s the happiest married person I know.

Unlike Tuthmosis (who likes to count both his actual dates and call-girl experiences as relationships), I have very limited experience with men and relationships. But I would also like to point out that this has been ON PURPOSE. I’ve had 5 marriage proposals to date…and none of them came from a boyfriend. They were from guys I just thought were friends. If I wanted to be married right now, I could be.

My first real relationship ended up being with a guy I DID think I was going to marry. I was ready to marry him. I loved him and I loved making him happy…until he confessed what that really meant.

No more school. No talk of Kenya. No more acting. No CELL PHONE.

I broke up with him almost immediately after that, once I got over the shock of his selfishness, insecurity, and control issues. Somehow, I had managed to love and support the most selfish man alive. He was equally shocked because he ASSUMED that my life goal was to do whatever he wanted. Never once did he think about what I wanted. I’d rather live alone and free than under his terms. He wasn’t offering me a life or a happily ever after…he was offering me a contract as an indentured servant, while assuming his mere presence (including his womanizing on the side) was more than worth it.

Now, not ALL men are THAT selfish (and stupid). But they still make selfish, egocentric assumptions. For a good couple years, I had a close guy friend whom I absolutely, hands-down adored. I could tell him anything and I know he’d respect my opinion and he’d listen to me and he’d always be there for me. And I’d do the same for him. The important thing about all this is that he was beginning to change the way I thought about men…for the better.

…but then he wanted to date, and I knew right then and there a time would come when he’d condemn me to hell no matter what I said, and sure enough, it came in a ranting, lethal email. Yet, he still took me by surprise.

He wrote the email as IF I was in love with him (for the record, I never once told him any variation of “I love you,” “I’m in love with you,” and we never DATED) and I was condemned because, from his perspective, I led him on and that kind of deception means I am dead to him because it must also mean I am a deceptive person in general and I lie to the world and I have everyone tricked into thinking I’m a good person. All while being presumably in love with him.


For real.

I learned that night that I did, in fact, love him. Because only the people you love can hurt you to the degree he hurt me. I was cut to the core. It still hurts.

But I’m not IN love with him, and there’s a big difference. I DID give it a chance when he brought the idea of dating to the table. I was open to the idea. But I wasn’t going to say yes until I knew I was or could be in love with him. Because I didn’t think there was any point in being with him, otherwise, and I was afraid that just jumping into a relationship would lead him to believe that I was in love because he was in love. I was hoping with time, I’d feel differently and could whole-heartedly go there with him. But he was emotional and impatient, so instead of giving me the time I kept asking for, he hurt me instead.

His words still haunt me. I’ve had a broken heart before…maybe I broke his and for that I will always be sorry and therefore probably deserve the condemnation I got….because he IS decent…but words like his cut me straight to my soul. He knew exactly how to hurt me and he went for it. I wasn’t the one who asked for his attention or his advances in the first place. I always kept my distance. I didn’t say “I love you.” He did.

Until now, I’ve never really fought back, either. Because you can mess with me all you want. But after reading Mummy Man’s (his Twitter picture is of a mummy) stuff, it’s not just about me anymore. This is something all women are up against.

Now, perhaps Tuthmosis just picks (pays) the wrong girls, and this is what has left him so terribly confused. He accuses girls for having issues related to problems with their fathers (or a lack of a father all together), yet those are the women he likes best (especially ones with eating disorders) because they are drawn to him. But other types of issues cause women to cut their hair off, and those are the issues and the women you want to avoid.

First of all, who DOESN’T have issues?

Besides his assumption, he has also mistaken all women for “his” women. He’s the one who has chosen “broken/damaged” women…and taken advantage of them. He says he’s been encouraged to rape his woman by his woman (and therefore, all women ask to be raped) and that dating women with eating disorders is a real win because they’re cheap (in many ways) and they’re vulnerable and fragile which gives him the fantasy of being a real man.

How, in any way, shape, or form, do his preferences benefit HER? A Tuthmosis sort of man will only kill her in the end.

NEWSFLASH, Tuthmosis. EVERY WOMAN HAS ISSUES. Just like every man has issues. But a real man wants his woman healthy and happy, so he’ll help her through any issues preventing her from being that way. And a real woman should do the same for her man. Real humans with HUMANITY do not monopolize or prey upon other people’s poor physical or mental state for their own gain, especially when that means sex.

And issues do NOT mean damaged or broken. They mean wisdom, maturity, depth, and character. And sometimes acquiring those precious qualities require transition and change, which might involve a hair cut or letting bangs grow out. Men make decisions with their facial hair for the same reasons.

I think what makes this even MORE dangerous is that this guy is an ADULT. He’s influencing young men and boys to think and act like cave men; he’s telling young women and girls that if they want to be loved, they must comply to be treated like a slave or an object; he’s encouraging GROWN men to mistreat the women in their life; and what’s worse, he’s bullied and taken advantage of every single woman he’s been with. And they’ve let him.

Some of my best and closest friends are victims of rape or molestation they experienced as kids. I can guarantee they never asked for or encouraged it. Were they affected by what happened? Absolutely. Will it be an issue they’ll carry with them? Of course. And WHO caused it? MEN. MEN did this stuff to them. But guess what? They aren’t defined by those issues. They haven’t given up on life or themselves or other men. They wear their physical and emotional scars in various ways (none of which involve short hair, by the way), but it’s their right…and if any man DARES to tell them it’s not to his liking, I will personally throw him in the stall with my wild zebra for he will be shown less mercy than if it were a lion.

Tuthmosis claims his theory about short hair is sound because he once asked a girl with short hair if she gets hit on less since her haircut and she said, “yes.” We won’t get into the fact that she was younger when she had longer hair, was living in a different country, and could have undergone countless behavioral, personality, and life changes since then, nor is her reply relevant if she was drunk, became involved in a relationship and changed her social patterns, or became surrounded by a different group of friends or social settings.

The IMPORTANT point is that I, as most women, do not measure my worth by the number of times I’ve been hit on. But it does make sense that the few women that do measure their worth in that way would be the kind of women to also voluntarily accept Tuthmosis’ advances.

Maybe it IS true that women cut all their hair off during a crisis. They may also re-arrange the living room or start Zumba or join a book club or get a makeover.

You know what men do during a crisis? They go sleep with their secretaries. Or buy a sports car. Or go see a specialist to reverse balding and hair loss. OR they go to Bible study or hang out in a bookstore looking at self-help books or sign up for online dating. Or take their wives to couples therapy.

It’s called wanting/taking control over the situation, if only indirectly. It’s called change, and everyone does it and they do it differently. It’s called re-invention. It’s called individuality. Sometimes it involves being superficial and sometimes it doesn’t.

Tuthmosis, it’s called LIVE AND LET LIVE and stop wondering what’s in it for YOU.

Of course, women want to be attractive and beautiful and wanted by the people we LOVE. Everyone wants that. But, if you couldn’t already tell, I do NOT love most men. The ones I do love, including my dad and my grandfather…it is MORE important to me that they think I am smart than beautiful. I would rather know that my opinion matters to them and holds merit in some way…because it’s something that came from me. From WITHIN. This actually all began with my dad. I was all set to start first grade at a local Lutheran school, but when he found out that school policy required teachers to call on the boys first and only let the girls answer if the boys failed to provide a response, he pulled me out and gladly lost his tuition deposit. Sometimes, I fear my dad regrets his decision, because now I’m not only an opinionated, outspoken (obviously) PhD student who doesn’t even wait to be called on to state her point, but I also never fail to correct him in his own house. He’s not the smartest person in the room anymore, and his “because I said so,” no longer flies unless he has the facts to back it up.

Deep down, though, I know he’s proud.

However, I would like to make one important clarification.

There ARE decent men out there. I know some. But most men are jerks. There are plenty of women who are jerks, too, and have their own set of terrible, horrible sexist ways they take advantage of men.

The difference is…a woman doesn’t assume every man she comes across WANTS HER. I mean, we all know a man’s life doesn’t revolve around female love and admiration because they don’t make daily life choices based on what we want or prefer. They show up in gym clothes for dinner and sport mangy beards that look unsanitary and they have beer bellies and they don’t look you in the eye when they ask you out and they write blogs about how dating women with eating disorders is where it’s at.

I doubt this guy will ever change. Most guys will never change. But we also know how karma works, so I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us. I’m worried about women.

But there is something we, as women, can do.

We can take better care of each other. We can stand up for each other (and not emulate Desperate Housewives behavior). We can raise daughters who know better. And we can raise sons, students, nephews, and little brothers to know that love and the desire for affection and approval is something they must first earn and then respect and appreciate. That the only woman they should assume loves them unconditionally is their mother, though Tuthmosis’ mother may qualify for immunity on that one.

And another thing: I love my mom (she has short hair by the way and gets regular complements on how beautiful she is, “even at 58 years old”), and I respect her profoundly. But she is not a fan of my blogs. She doesn’t like hearing about bad stuff in the world, and I get it, but I’m just not the best at holding my tongue. I read her some of the blog titles from Tuthmosis, and she asked me to stop, halfway through. She said she couldn’t “take that $***.”

I countered with, “someone needs to do something.”

She asked if that meant I was writing a blog…

Touché, Mom.

…but then she said that anyone who is someone wouldn’t take this guy seriously, as in, no real woman is going to starve herself or keep her hair long just because this guy says that’s the ideal woman.

But this is where it all comes back to what I was trying to tell those teachers. And maybe this is where I have a unique perspective, because I’m still stuck somewhere between a kid and an adult. Adults need to step IN, even if it’s against other adults when kids are affected. Because this IS about kids. Teenagers. Young women. And my own commitment to stand between them and the line of fire.

My mom is right. No real, grown, self-respecting, independent woman is going to take this guy seriously. But a 16 year old girl or an 11 year old boy might.

A 14 year old girl is NOT someone yet. She’s not a real woman yet. She’s still a kid. Every kid wants love and approval and they look for ways the cool, hip, adult world gives and receives it. Girls want to be women as soon as they can, so they search for the quick ways to make that happen. Boys want to score the girls. The more this guy gets featured and the less counter information there is out there (that isn’t featured), the more kids that will walk away with his impression, and his impression alone.

I can’t sleep at night under those pretenses.

So I say, Hail to the QUEENS. Let’s make sure women, especially, know this filth is, indeed, filth.

And before I get accused of preaching to the choir…let me say that I’m okay with that. Because I want women to know that we are brave, we are beautiful, and we do have issues, but by OWNING them, with a shaved head or a new tattoo or whatever else we do to be ourselves, we are just helping men like Tuthmosis realize the world does not revolve around them or their sex drive. REAL men support real beauty and independence and they get rewarded for it. Because nothing beat’s a real woman’s love, trust, and loyalty. Everyone who lacks it will just be left blogging…and lonely.

So what I’m trying to say is be yourself. Stand up for others. Parent your kids, specifically the boys and the bullies. Cut your hair. Or don’t.

‘Tis Still The Season



This is a story about a Christmas Miracle.

I don’t know if many people believe in Christmas Miracles.  But I’m writing to tell you that they exist.  Like all my stories, my Christmas Miracle is a long tale to tell—perhaps the longest yet.  I know it’s been almost a month since Christmas, but I read on my friend Sally Price’s Facebook wall that Episcopalians celebrate Christmas even after Christmas is over.  Since my Christmas Miracle didn’t happen exactly on Christmas, this made sense to me, and I wonder if God’s trying to tell me I should be Episcopalian.  I’ve been without a church for awhile.  Last year, I got kicked out of the one I grew up in.  They called me an idealist and said my ideas condone sin.

What does a Christian fight for if not for idealism?  I don’t know.

But I think that’s where I went “wrong.”  I fought.

There’s a kid’s church song that was always taught in Sunday school:

“Lord I want to be a sheep, bah bah bah bah….”

Sheep get lost a lot.  And they’re not very smart.  They never seem to know who they are or where they are going.  Their keepers are dogs.  DOGS.  Not even real shepherd men.  The shepherd men (and women) manage the dogs who manage the sheep.  Kimberlee Jacobs, one of the best people I know, she takes the most beautiful pictures of this life.

Sheep, as sheep, have their place, but I don’t think God wants for US to be sheep, too.  They seem like a real headache, but sheep are probably a lot easier for a church to handle than…I don’t know…a room full of idealists.  So I fought because I didn’t like being treated like I was lost and oblivious to what was going on, and they kicked me out.

Maybe I’m nothing more than the proverbial black sheep.

Anyway, I like the idea of being an Episcopalian, and I don’t think it’s too late to be telling this story because it’s still the Christmas season, in my opinion.  Plus, my grandfather says it’s never too late to tell a story especially if it’s true.


It all started a long time ago, when my parents decided I was old enough and serious enough about horses to have one of my own.  I imagined finding a beautifully colored paint or a pinto or a white horse with a black mane and tail (my dream horse), but as soon as I set my eyes on a gangly, awkward, unwanted gelding, I knew he was the one.

His name was Ozzie, but I had already decided that I was going to call him Oz-Man.  His coat was the color of the sweet potato casserole my grandmother made for Easter.  Ozzie was not a chestnut, but truly, almost orange, flecked with white.  Like a tabby cat or the inside of a pumpkin.  And he was so big.  Divinely big.  Almost 18 hands.  A giant.  He was so gentle and friendly, but he scared most people, just from his sheer size, and I think that’s what I loved most about him.

Oh, how I loved him.

I loved that he was different…because I was different.

I was in love with him after the first ride, but I rode him four or five more times before my trainer and my mom agreed that we could proceed with a vet check and finalize the sale.

I went to bed dreaming about him every night.  In school, I’d doodle his name all over my notebooks.  I could never decide if his name looked better in cursive or print.  If I closed my eyes, I could picture the two of us together and how it would feel galloping under his great stride into the show ring, as confident and regal as Alec and The Black Stallion.  I could even hear the announcer from the judges stand, “Ladies and Gentleman, in the grand prix ring, we are pleased to welcome Jennifer Sulkowski riding Oz-Man…”

Of course, Ozzie wasn’t a grand prix horse (he was barely a “C” circuit children’s hunter), and I wasn’t jumping more than 3 feet at the time, but hey, we had our whole lives ahead of us.

Or so I thought.  I never actually had the privilege of calling Ozzie my first horse.

A profound wave of sorrow washed over me when my mother told me the vet had found something wrong in Ozzie’s hip.  There was some sort of mass that had accumulated from a fever he had when he was a foal, and within a matter of months or a year, his working career would be over.

None of it made sense.  I hated the vet for ruining my life.  I despised my mother.  I pleaded and cried for three straight weeks, offering to give up everything….showing, riding lessons, and even my life savings of $175.20 if only I could still call Ozzie mine.  I vowed to take care of him, even when he went lame, and I promised I’d never complain when I couldn’t ride him anymore.

But no one would listen.  My mother would not relent.  And I never saw Ozzie again.

I’ve never forgotten about him, though, and the older I get, the more I realize what a saint he was, packing me around over fences like that, with some poor mass on his hip, never complaining and always just happy to go and have a job and take care of some ten or eleven year old kid he only met four times.  He probably treated everyone like that.  But when I was little, I only knew him as the greatest horse in the world…and it only took a single ride before I was swept off my feet, certain that we were destined to be together forever.  I will never forget him as long as I live.  Nothing and no one has ever made such a profound impact on me as that poor, forgotten, gallant gelding.

I still kept up with my training after that, but it was awhile before I was ready to start looking at horses again.  I kept hoping that we’d get a phone call from the vet saying he’d mixed up the x-rays and that Ozzie was really as healthy as…a horse…should be…and then this nightmare would be over.  For a good few months, I always kept the house phone within an arm’s distance.  Eleven-year-olds didn’t have cell phones back then.

But that miracle, soap opera phone call never came.  And I was always riding an ornery old lesson horse that bolted during lead changes and bucked me off over fences and although that’s funny looking back and I sure did learn a lot (for both a good laugh and perspective, watch “Ed Being Naughty” on Youtube), it sure wasn’t much fun at the time.  After riding my Ozzie, who would walk through fire before letting harm come to me, I had finally had enough of riding an old sour grump.

On one very cold winter day in January, I remember driving for what seemed like a long, long time to a faraway barn made entirely of brick.  I was excited to meet new horses, but the sadness I experienced with Ozzie had turned me into a realist, and I told myself not to expect anything.  I remember standing in that cold barn, feeling a dark cloud hanging over me and being very uncomfortable with the harsh reality of the adult world.

The trainer of that barn brought me out of my gloom when she asked me, straight and square, as if I was an adult, which of two sale horses I wanted to see.

“Boomer or Phantom?”

Neither of those names sounded promising.

…But I did have to admit that it was pretty hard to beat a name like Ozzie, so I tried to keep an open mind.  I had read a lot of “Goosebumps” and watched plenty of episodes of “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” to know that phantoms were always personified as headless horsemen, and that just seemed like bad news.

“Boomer, please,” I said, feeling pretty proud of my rock-solid deduction regarding the unknown.  Maybe I’d be okay in the adult world, after all.

An older lady soon emerged from the cold barn shadows with the horse called Boomer.  I don’t remember much about our first encounter.  I don’t remember what he did while we were getting him ready, but I imagine he probably tried to get at the crossties with his lips.  When it was time to bridle him, he probably looked for a treat after dramatically taking the bit into his mouth, checking to see how pleased everyone was with him about that.

Because that’s what he’s done for as long as I can remember.

There was nothing push-button or fancy about him, but I knew from the second I got up onto his back that he wouldn’t buck or bolt or even refuse a fence, if he could help it.  And he didn’t.  He seemed to love to jump as much as I did, and when I made a mistake, he didn’t seem to mind, which was good, because I’d always beat myself up for a mistake over fences (sometimes, for days), and the fact that he wasn’t bothered made me a little less hard on myself.

I remember his owner looking a little sad when I got off.  She was one of the oldest riders I had ever seen—she was at least 50, which was pretty old to me then—and her wrinkles from years of riding in harsh weather really stood out as we put Boomer away.  She called her dog, a loyal golden retriever, and she handed him Boomer’s leadline, and that dog led Boomer to his stall.

As you can imagine…I was pretty impressed with that.

My mom and my trainer asked me what I thought, and before I could answer, his owner said, “You’re welcome to take him on trial for a week.”

Surprisingly, the thought of getting to ride Boomer again made me pretty happy, and I told his owner so.  She had raised him from a baby, so I understood why she said what she said, and that it was important for her to know I’d look out for him.

A few days later, Boomer arrived, and I rode him for as long as I was allowed to stay at the barn after school.  A week after that, Boomer had passed the vet check and he was officially mine.  It only took a couple rides before I realized that I could love another horse besides Ozzie.  Boomer and Ozzie were nothing alike, so I think that’s why.

I was over the moon to finally have a horse, and it’s something I had been waiting for my whole life.  Having your own horse does something to you…it makes you…stronger and braver and bolder in all aspects of your life.  Life suddenly has meaning and purpose.  Home becomes the barn because that’s where your horse lives.

Truth be told, Boomer was a half-breed.  Half thoroughbred, half appaloosa.  Given the world we were headed into, that’s like going to the shelter, picking out a mutt, and parading him around Westminster, certain you’re best in show.

But for me, the appaloosa in Boomer is where all the magic was.  Appaloosas originated from the Indians, and that breed is not common in the English world (ironic, I know).  My grandmother (my mom’s mom) was an Indian, so I was virtually half Indian, too.  For Boomer and I…it was like fate.  I imagined that my great-great-grandfather was a chief and Boomer’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand sire was his horse…and here were our spirits….reunited once again.

Like me, though, Boomer didn’t look much like an appaloosa.  He was a dark bay, with a full mane and an uncharacteristically long, thick tail.  He had strong hooves, and only a few white spots (three of which I think originated from an ill-fitting saddle before I got him).  What I mean is, I don’t look much like an Indian.

But our Indian blood ran through both of us hot and strong.  And that’s how we found each other.  Plus, he could jump anything.  He could gallop fast.  He was incredibly friendly and personable.  He was handsome.  He was young.  He didn’t crib.  There was a striking resemblance to The Black Stallion and the Piebald from National Velvet.  And he was half Indian pony.

So basically, I thought he was the $***.

I don’t normally swear, but I can’t think of a better word or way to describe the way I felt about him.  I do know there wasn’t anything I was more sure about in my entire life, and that was my new horse.

But there was just one problem.

The name Boomer just didn’t fit him.  His sire was called “Barn Burner,” which to me, was just asking for bad things to happen, so I wasn’t about to follow tradition and re-name Boomer after his sire.  Slightly less appalling was Boomer’s show name: “Roll The Dice.”

Being a very solemn student at Plymouth Christian Academy (a Baptist school) where gambling, dancing, and Harry Potter were strictly forbidden, “Roll The Dice” wasn’t going to be something I could bring up in my “What I did over winter break” essay, so that was out, too.

I have no idea why I settled on the name “Charlie,” but that’s what I named him, and I remember it coming to me pretty quickly.  And because Charlie had a white spot on the end of his nose, which very much resembled a fingerprint (even to this day), I just KNEW his show name had to be “Private Eye.”  Like, I thought that was SO brilliant.

And THEN, as if the stars didn’t line up straight enough, during an indoor winter show, my mother forced me to read my social studies book because I had a test coming up, and there was a section on the magnificent leader named Charlemagne.  According to the book, “Charlemagne” means “Charles the Great” and that was just fate all over again.  I knew, right then and there, that when I grew up, my farm would be called, “Charlemagne Farm.”  After my Charlie.  Because he was a GREAT horse.

Charlie.  Private Eye.  Charlemagne Farm.

I was just like, “OMG, we ARE the $***.”

Thankfully, I was SO awkwardly different I didn’t know it and everyone was nice enough not to tell me, because in the horse show world, kids under twelve are supposed to ride horses or ponies called “Daddy Said No” or “My First Smooch” or “Yum Yum Bubblegum” because judges like cute, corny names like that.  Judges especially like cute, naughty ponies because I guess it’s funny to see ponies go around—with cutsy names and cutsy kids on their back—while they have their ears pinned the whole time.  Truth be told, it IS pretty funny (seriously, watch “Ed Being Naughty” on Youtube) so long as you’re not the kid trying to keep your naughty pony from bolting out of the arena before he tricks you and slides to a purposeful stop in an attempt to throw you off.

Little girls are also supposed to wear their hair in long braids tied with oversized bows and little cutie riding jackets and little jodpurs with garter straps.

But not me.  My mom sewed my show coat from a pattern from 1972 and I insisted on wearing traditional riding boots, with my hair hidden in my helmet.  Basically, I looked like a boy, but that is exactly what I was going for because I wasn’t riding a pony or any old horse.  I was riding my bad-@$$ Indian pony, named “Private Eye”…all because he had a spot on his nose that looked like a fingerprint…and also I was totally into Sherlock Holmes (the books…not the show), and as we all know, Sherlock Holmes is BAD-@$$.

We stuck out like a sore thumb.

But you know what?  Judges like underdogs, too.  Because we won.  A lot.

But Charlie helped me with a lot of other things.  He saved my life on countless occasions.  He saved me over so many fences, and when other horses would have thrown their riders right off, Charlie nobly and gracefully did the best he could to save the fence and my pride, too.

Charlie helped me make friends.  Human friends.  Keriann Griffin was one of the first.  Our moms were the best horse show moms there ever were.  Keriann and I both had dark bay horses, and it rained a lot in the Midwest, especially on horse show weekends, so we called ourselves, “Bays in the Mist.”  And Keriann’s mom would take off our martingales for the flat classes and put them back on for over fences and my mom would wipe the slobber from our horses’ mouths and check our boots for splattered mud.

I wore a bikini for the first time riding Charlie, which was (and still is) very risqué for me, and I put a beach towel over his back, which I just thought was so clever because we were competing in a fun “beach” themed bareback class at the end of a show.  Charlie also got a snorkel and mask stuck to his head.  He tolerated that like a champ.  I still have the towel, and I think of him every time I pull it out.

Charlie and I didn’t win that class.  We didn’t even place.  Because the cutie thing to do was to put floaties on your horse’s legs and buy buoys to swing over your horse’s back and get a custom life ring made to fit around your horse’s neck, complete with a horse sized lifeguard whistle and a bubble machine which spat out real bubbles, while you held a squirt gun so you could playfully squirt the judge every time you passed by at the sitting trot.

Pony kids go all out.  You have to when your pony’s show name is “Yum Yum Bubblegum.”

Charlie was my whole world, though, and if it wasn’t for him, I think I would have turned out a lot differently.  I got pushed around a lot in school, and I never knew what to do about it, so I just waited for the bullies to show up and then I cried.  I hated school.  I dreaded going, but I always knew I had a horse to come home to, and that made all the difference.  I belonged to a horse and a horse belonged to me, and that’s all I needed to be okay.  I know a lot of kids don’t have that, and I can understand why things turn out very sadly and very differently, and that’s not fair.  It’s a tough, lonely world out there, in school, and I think it’s even harder now than it was then.  I can see it when I visit schools to read the book.  You can see it on every kid’s face, even the bullies.  It’s not easy being a kid.  I worry I’ll forget that one day.

Eventually, I began to outgrow Charlie.  I had another horse at that point, and I was learning how to jump bigger, more complicated courses.  I was ready to start showing more seriously…more professionally, and Charlie didn’t have the ability to come with me and do that.

My mom sat me down and laid out the options.  1)  Sell Charlie.  2) Find someone to lease him and pay his bills.

I hated both options, but I chose the latter because I could not bear to let Charlie go and I DID understand horses were expensive and money was tight.

Beyond obvious twelve-year-old reasons, I did not like the family that leased him.  The little girls were silly and immature, and their step-mother introduced them to riding for looks, and not for sport or passion.  I didn’t trust their trainer, and I had no say in any of it.  As we packed up the trailer and prepared for five months of straight showing across the United States, I said goodbye to my beloved Charlie knowing something was very amiss…and knowing no matter what I said (and did say), I’d be treated very much like a twelve year old and told to be quiet because I didn’t pay the bills and I was not a horse expert.

Five months later, I came home to a horse that was so lame he could barely stand on his own.  I didn’t recognize him.  Charlie looked completely broken.  After a series of vets and a dreadful trip to Michigan State, we found out Charlie had EPM, which is a neurological disease caused by a protozoa that slowly eats away at the nerves in a horse’s spinal cord.  The disease can be terminated with treatment, but the damage cannot be undone once incurred.  With clueless leasers who took no interest in the horse they were riding and a trainer that did not want to lose money on a horse that was laid up for treatment, no one said a word or bothered to call.  So Charlie continued to deteriorate until he couldn’t be ridden by the girls anymore, and he got to the point where he could barely walk.  He was then left in his stall to rot until we returned, and by that time, he didn’t know where all his legs were.

We started treatment immediately, but the vet wasn’t sure if it was too late.  He wanted to do a spinal tap to confirm his assessment, but he said there was a chance Charlie might not be able to get up after the anesthesia.  However, if he was able to rise, then he would be coordinated enough to roll in the pasture and lay down like a normal horse, which meant he would still have a quality of life, and he could live humanely.

I think my mother felt her own share of guilt for what happened, but she also knew I would not make it through the loss of a horse.  At least, not under those circumstances.  She agreed we would keep Charlie if he could get up, even though the vet still recommended putting him down because he wasn’t of any use.  He said he’d never be able to be ridden again.  He didn’t even know if it was safe for a farrier to trim his feet.

Being sent to school on the day Charlie was taken off the anesthesia and offered the chance to get up was the worst day of my life.  Thirteen year olds did not have cell phones back then, either, so I had to wait until 2:30pm to find out the fate of my horse.

My mom pulled up in our red minivan…twenty agonizing minutes late… and as I ran to her, she rolled down the window and yelled that he was standing in his stall and we could bring him home that weekend.

When I knew Charlie was safe and that his life would be preserved, I couldn’t bear to be near him.

To this day, I will never forgive myself for just abandoning him.  For years, I just left him alone at the farm with his pasture buddies.  I never knew that the worst things can happen to the most giving, honest, kindest, innocent creatures, even when they are wholly, fully loved.  I thought bad things only happened to the people and creatures that were bad or were forgotten about.  It seemed like that’s how it should have been.  I thought loving something was enough to keep it alive and well and perfect.

It was my first encounter with injustice.  And every time I looked at my dear Charlie, I was reminded of it.  I was reminded that I was just a powerless, insignificant kid that was not able to keep the most precious thing in her world safe.  I felt like I let him down.

And so, I left him to his pasture and our life together.  I tried to forget about it.  All of it.  And in many ways, I did.  I grew up on the show circuit and my life was consumed with training and competing and trying hard not to make my trainer angry because he had an awful temper.  I learned that most girls just sell/give-away/put down their horses for reasons way less significant that what happened to Charlie.  I knew Charlie was living a good life…a retired life.  I was lucky enough to have other horses to ride, so the fact that he could never be ridden again…well, I just tried to forget.  And I assumed he’d forget me.

Many, many years passed.  Twelve, in fact.  Twelve years passed.

At twenty-five years old, I reclaimed the family farm with my other horses and the zebra.  And I was in charge of them, plus Elvis (my mom’s horse), Charlie, and the pony, all on my own.  This meant I was around Charlie again.  Every day.  I fed him and watered him and groomed him and led him to and from his pasture.  He was as wobbly as I remembered, and it was hard to remember.  But, of course, he captured my heart all over again.

Twelve years is a long time for a horse.  It’s a long time for a 13 year old girl, too.  But it was like nothing had changed, at least, not for Charlie.  He’d walk me to and from the barn every morning and every night, for as far as his pasture would allow him to go.

With the zebra to account for, I had to switch up the herd, and I ended up putting most of the horses together because the zebra did better in a bigger group.  I noticed that Charlie seemed happier and livelier after that.  He’d canter around sometimes…and even buck and play, but I tried not to notice.  Without really deliberately realizing it, I still kept my emotional distance.

But one day last summer, a family friend came out to fix the drain in my bath tub which is actually a horse trough, and he brought his twenty-two year old son with him.  Twenty-two year old boys are an interesting sort, I have found—very cocky, even when they are self-proclaimed gentlemen (never a good sign) and they often mistake wit for stupid in an attempt to impress girls.

As he was looking out the farmhouse window, this chap’s line was, “I see you have a pasture ornament out there.”

“What?  Where?” I asked, frantically looking for a rusty bird feeder or some other piece of junk hanging from a tree that perhaps I had missed, for the previous owners of the farm were peddlers, and trinkets often annoyingly appear after a good rain or seemingly out of thin air, in the garden or sticking out of a bush.

“That black horse out there.  It doesn’t really look like he does anything.”

He was referring to Charlie.

“Well, he’s retired,” I said.  “He got hurt a long time ago.”

“So basically he’s useless,” this boy replied, with a smirk on his ugly face, and clearly feeling ridiculously proud of himself for such a keen observation.

I thought about punching him (I’m not proud of that).

“Useless?  No.  He’s not useless,” I said (hollered).  The anger I had for this ignorant punk just filled me right up.  “First of all, that horse took VERY good care of me when I was little.  Second, he HAS a job…it’s…babysitting.  He babysits the zebra and the other horses.  THIRD, it’s not his fault he got hurt.  It doesn’t mean he’s useless.  He’s happy.  He lives a very happy life.  He makes other people happy.”

I always feel better when I count during an argument, but I was surprised at how quickly I had become defensive.  And yes, I WAS aware at how *slightly* irrational I was being.

I ignored that kid for the rest of the day (and every day since), even though he did fix my drain…and the washing machine.  And the porch light.  But he called my horse useless, so I’m not sorry.

But he did make me realize what a horse Charlie truly was…and still is.  Charlie IS the $***.  He’s still got it.  And I started spending a lot more time with him after that.  I guess my heart could finally accept what happened.  Besides my parents and the farrier, hardly anyone I know has known me since eleven years old.  And here I am, now twenty-six, lucky enough to still have my first horse.  He probably knows me better than anyone, and when we are together, it is as if no time has passed at all.  We forgot nothing about each other, and I was relieved to discover nothing had changed.  He even accompanied me on a few photo shoots when I needed a dependable horse I didn’t have to worry about keeping tame or stampeding the photographer.

But that not the Christmas Miracle.  That’s just the back-story.

Christmas really brings out the dysfunction in the Sulkowski household, so Christmas never feels like Christmas, unless Christmas is supposed to feel like a disaster and all the black-and-white Christmas movies just play it up.  This past Christmas was also around the time I started to feel a bit unsteady (mono hit 10 days later), but I was still okay.  As I trudged through the snow banks and down to the barn on the next dark cold night to look in on the horses, it started to snow again.  It was just a little bit before midnight on the night after Christmas.

“I need to ride,” I thought to myself.  “This is too beautiful.  I need to ride.”

I walked into the barn and tossed hay to the horses in a hurry.  I HAD to ride.  I quickly went through the string: “Le isn’t into rule breaking, Safari doesn’t like snow, Rivaldo’s hungry, Elvis is keeping the zebra company, my feet will drag in the snow if I ride the pony…so… I guess I can’t….”



I whirled around and looked at Charlie, who was completely ignoring his hay (unusual) and looking at me straight in the eye.  His head titled again as if to say, “yes, you got it.”

I quickly calculated my options.  Either I don’t ride…or I take Charlie.  Nevermind that he hasn’t been ridden in over twelve years and I would be taking him out on a cold, dark night…bareback…but is he really coordinated enough for that?  Can he hold my weight?  What if I hurt him?  Am I pushing him?  I looked outside as the snow continued to fall.

I decided that if we fell, we’d just be falling into the snow, so we’d be fine.

But did I even have a bridle for Charlie?  I took a mental tally of all my tack and where it was.  Charlie’s petite Indian pony head was not going to fit in the huge warmblood bridles….BUT I did have an old hackamore (a basic and bitless bridle) that was too small for everyone. I’d only kept it because it was $5 and it would’ve cost double just to send it back.

So basically, I was planning to get on Charlie bareback and without a bit.  I’d never ever advise anyone to do something like this.  It wasn’t smart.  Or safe.

I literally feel like I need to say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME OR WITH AN EPM HORSE.

But I could feel the Christmas spirit, so I felt this was an exception.

I excitedly grabbed the hackamore and it fit him with just a few slight adjustments.  It was impossible to ignore his ever-brightening eyes, and it just sent me into a bigger hurry.

I put on my helmet (always wear a helmet), and out the barn doors we went.  I brought him up to the mounting block and heard my mother’s voice telling me I was crazy for getting on a horse bareback that hasn’t been ridden in twelve years, but I wasn’t scared, I was just trying to figure out how I’d get on him and compensate for the fact that he’d probably bolt from excitement but potentially be very unsteady, and therefore, unable to keep his balance.

I decided I’d just go for it.  I swung on his back, and like the olden days, I could not have been any more awkward because Charlie did not bolt, but instead, just stood there, as patient as if I was eleven, and waited for me to sit on him like a normal person.  I had severely overcompensated my swing.

And then…oh my goodness….I was sitting on him.  Like a normal person.

I hesitantly allowed him to walk forward, still completely unsure as to whether or not he could bear my weight and still feel his legs.

But he navigated through the deep snow just fine.  His footsteps were as sure and steady as could be.


He felt exactly as I remembered…and before I knew it….we were trotting.  Charlie was TROTTING.  Gliding, really.   He felt perfect.  So smooth.  My body just wrapped around him instinctively.  Muscle memory, even after twelve years, is extraordinary.

Those moments on his back, riding through the snow, soaked into my soul, and I thought my heart might burst.  Gabriel trotted faithfully behind us, just happy to see me happy, and I couldn’t be sure if I’d ever been happier.

Then, Gabriel decided the snow was a little too exciting and he started hopping and jumping all around.  He was being completely naughty, darting in and out of the woods, and I was afraid to wake the neighbors calling for him like a banshee because at that point, it was almost 2am.  With a zebra virtually in their backyards, we tend to cause enough commotion as it is.

Charlie would have had every right to bolt/spook/rear and this story would have a very different and probably tragic ending….but no.  He just kept right along, as steady and careful and right as rain.  I could feel his heart beating, and I could feel that this meant as much to him as it did to me.  I could tell he’d been waiting on this for twelve years.  Just patiently waiting.  Never once feeling sorry for himself.  And knowing that one day, I’d come back to him.

Because Charlie is the $***.

After a few times around the track, I decided that we’d better head back in.  He was starting to get a bit wobbly, and I knew it was because he was getting tired.

I’ve had a lot of amazing rides in my life.  Fast and furious jumping courses, long gallops in the field, cattle drives, deep river crossings, and quiet trails through the mountains and the woods, but this ride on Charlie was one of the most glorious moments of my life.  And all we did was trot in the backyard.

Looking back, it’s interesting that I never questioned the vet, but I guess I was better behaved back then.  Or, perhaps, I figured retirement was a small price to pay for my horse’s life.  Maybe it takes twelve years for spinal cord nerves to restore themselves, but perhaps EPM horses are never given the chance to live that long to find out.  I’m not sure.

But that ride was truly a Christmas Miracle.  And sometimes, dreams come true before you even dream about them.

I just thought more people should know about that.

Christmas Miracles do exist.  And magic is still alive and well.

Wild Winter


Sura playing in the first big snow.

The farm has always been my refuge.  This I know.  2013 was an exciting year–full of adventures–which always made them bittersweet because as fun and exciting as they were, they took me away from the farm.  A lot.  I finally got home around Christmastime, and I couldn’t wait to relish in the quiet and solitude of the farm, the cozy barn, and just be among the animals.  But I found that after months and months of working in warmer climates, my body betrayed my excitement to be home, and it was painfully slow to adjust to the cold.  Looking back, maybe I was just tired.  To my delight, there was a big snow right before Christmas, and no matter what my body said, I knew the zebra needed out.  I guess I needed out, too.  One last time.

Now, I have mono.  I only get to enjoy outside from a window in a house that is not on the farm, and I sleep more than I am awake.  My only friends are my dog, Gabriel, faithfully at my side, though the culture shock of living in a suburban house with my parents is starting to wear on him, and a falcon, that sweeps past my window, perhaps all day, but he seems to know when I’m awake, and he comes to say hi.

I never expected to spend the first few weeks of the New Year in bed.  Since November in Kenya, I’ve learned that hot water and electricity is not to be taken for granted, but on January 1st, I couldn’t even walk.  Hot water means nothing if you can’t stand.  A whole new wave of humility has washed over me, and yes, I’m supposed to be resting….I’m not even supposed to be in school, but I am.  I’ve started this new website to promote my book and the school, and I’m working on another.  I’ve pulled up my novel (which has been sitting unfinished for longer than I care to admit), and I’ve get a new exciting project in the works.

Simultaneously fantastic and terrible is that I’ve managed to do all of this from a couch.  I am stuck on a couch.  A couch has never been my style.  Indoors is not my style.  Looking out a window, instead of just being out, is not my style.  I feel so out of my element.  I miss the farm.  But I am thankful 2014 is already full of change, as that is what life is meant to do…change.  I look forward to one day soon, when I’ll be back with the animals, and can soak in the familiar scent of the horses, who smell just like home, and can breathe in the wild, vibrant energy of the zebra, which tastes just like freedom, adventure, and mystery.  I long for the unknown.  I long for the wilds of the farm.  Normally, I’d long for Kenya, too, except, as I mentioned, I sleep for longer than I am awake, and so, my dreams carry me to Kenya, and that is where I’ve been suspended, spending most of my time thinking, planning, worrying in my sleep.  Waking up, then, even off the farm, isn’t so hard, because at least I can actually do something about it…Kenya, if only from a couch.