Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Red Dresses, Good Books, Better Friends, and Love

   Hearts can fill up with love in so many wonderful ways.

   Through trial and error, with hundreds of dazzlingly positive experiences and some painful ones, our Dinner Club With a Reading Problem is seeing Love revealed in ways we will not soon forget. We are learning lessons and making memories.

Misti, Melissa, Kerri, Margi, Tracy, DeLana, me, Steph, and Amber
at a well earned lunch in midtown OKC's Iguana Cafe.
DELICIOUS. And the friendliest proprietor and most exciting decor in town...

   This past Friday night our famous little Oklahoma Dinner Club With a Reading Problem gathered at the cozy and stylish home of member Stephanie. We were there to discuss our most recent selection, Bonhoeffer, but also to celebrate a sort of anniversary within the group and to shower Steph with our heartfelt love.

Here we have Kerri, Margi, Misti, our hostess for that night Stephanie, Melissa, and Amber's leg.

   It was almost exactly a year ago that we all gathered at Steph's house to discuss Before I Go to Sleep. Those in attendance will never forget Amber's expressive narration of a particularly racy passage... Ahem... The night was as fun and wildly memorable as ever book club is, but none of us had any idea then that it would become a sort of marker in time. Steph wasn't feeling so good, though not for any obvious reason, and we all noticed how exhausted and weak she was.

   Just a few weeks after that early 2012 event, our Stephanie was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that dramatically changed the course of her new year, really the rest of her life. Her heart had contracted a virus that was keeping it from pumping out enough blood and causing her serious health complications. In a brief space of time she had big decisions and big adjustments to make in her life. Oh! And she also turned forty, which she did with enviable grace and laughter.

   DCWRP rallied around our only non-reading member in little ways, keenly aware that our human efforts are just that: Human. Imperfect, desperate, and temporary. But still valuable and needed. We also prayed and sent her as much positive, hopeful energy as we could collect. Then she showed us with her sweet, laugh-out-loud spirit how to face scary things with a smile.

Stephanie and me at Seri's house, December 2012.
Handsome and I have known Stephanie off and on for almost twenty years. 
Reconnecting with her these past few years has been a great joy to us both!
I have all these years looked up to her in a thousand ways 
and without exception always leave her presence feeling better than I did before.

   Steph shared this happy one-year testimonial with friends and family just a couple of weeks ago:

One year ago today I was diagnosed with Viral cardiomyopathy (a virus that attacks your heart) that day my life changed. Living in a storm and not knowing how close to death you are is scaring and reassuring at the same time. I have followed Doctors orders..No alcohol, low sodium diet (it sucks). In June I got a pacemaker/defibrillator luckily I haven't been shocked!! Then I became a patient at the Integris heart failure clinic..I have had conversation about heart transplants and medical devises that I didn't know existed. But I'm alive and learning to live my new life...dealing with fatigue, dizzy spells, and panic attaches to name a few issues. I looked forward to years to come. And I'm thankful for all the help from family and friends. Love you all

   So heart health awareness began to hold special meaning for our kaleidoscope little group of women.
   Then later in the year, thanks to Erica's book choice, DCWRP read the memoir by Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, who also happened to have pioneered a fun little project called the Travelling Red Dress. Have you heard of it? Her message is pretty simple. It's a very straight forward encouragement for women to embrace whatever makes us feel vibrant and alive, indulged and happy, sexy, or even silly. It can be an excuse to wear that over-the-top red cocktail dress, for example, even if you have no special event to match it. It can be any red dress or any dress or article of clothing at all, so long as it helps you express your inner self and allows you to exude joy. It's all about heart.

   So that little red seed was planted, quietly and peripherally.

   Then as Stephanie was enduring heart treatments and surgeries and growing in her knowledge of heart health, she started emailing us about her desire to participate in this Red Dress Project. It seemed perfect! She was also secretly plotting big ideas about starting a foundation to help other people in her position. Fresh in the thick of this new personal challenge, and she was already thinking of others. That is Love, folks. And it caught like wildfire.

   So at an autumn DCWRP gathering we all chatted up the possibilities. Then, at the December cookie-decorating-Little Women-discussing party, we planned it. February, designated as the Heart Health Awareness month, would be our time.

   We fished out from the group's extended family a talented young professional photographer and set a date. Our site? The gorgeous Oklahoma State Capitol. It all felt like a magical intersection of energies and opportunities.

   Which brings us back to present day, this past weekend...

This is the interior view of our Capitol's dome.
I am a native Oklahoman and love this place so much.
But Saturday morning I felt like a total tourist, gazing up and around 
at every beautiful tile, oil painting, and state symbol.
Oklahoma really is something special, you guys. 
I am so proud to call this place my home.

   Saturday morning, then, we all got dolled up and dressed in our personalized bits of red and met at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The group's wardrobe choices ranged from shimmery knee-length cocktail numbers to a gorgeous floral kimono, a sharp red blazer, a pin-up style wrap dress, an adorable flouncy mini skirt, and my goofy altered vintage slip. We all took the advice aiming at personal expression and ran with it! I have to admit, I felt nervous at first, showing up in something I thought only I would like, but that nervousness quickly melted and was replaced by lots and lots of fun.

   Be yourself, ladies, always.

   Some of us carried Starbucks, some of us clutched to bulky coats to hide our tentative glamour, and some of us even brought "touch up" prettifying supplies. It felt almost like a pre-Prom gathering. It was quite chilly,  and we were trembling. Although perhaps the trembling was more from high excitement than low temperatures. Everyone had a camera out or a phone or both, and for the next two hours there was not a dull moment.

Amber in her kimono (which I desperately want to steal) 
and Misti, who helped us coordinate the fun event,
waiting in the hallway and also watching a string of rally attendees walk past.
We happened to be at the Capitol the same morning 
a large group was assembled in support of the Second Amendment.

Tracy with Stephanie
Tracy is secretly my twin spirit in many ways.
She has no idea how often her youthfulness, energy and goals inspire me.

   Stephanie arrived in a floor length ball-gown style red skirt sewn by her very talented Mom, who has been by her daughter's side ever week this past year. We hear of time after time when Steph's mom is shopping, cooking, or cleaning for her. Truly no greater love on Earth.

   Anyway, Stephanie was promptly stopped by Capitol security and "wanded" suspiciously. She told the gentleman it was her first time, and we all got a big laugh! How could he have known how special she was?

How nice of the security guard to walk back for a posed photo!

   So, truly, the next two hours were packed with activity. We all smiled and posed and cooperated as best as a large group can in an echo-y marble building.

We used a few props, circled around Stephanie in different configurations, and eventually grew bold or relaxed enough to take individual photos.

This is DeLana. She is one of the most elegant women I know.
She shared with me a lovely essay she wrote about age appropriate dressing, 
beauty, and how we view ourselves as women.
I have her permission to share it with you, and that will be happening very soon!

My weirdly altered vintage slip-dress had come all but un-assembled 
after the hand-dying process, leaving me a bit more tattered looking than I had intended.
So while I played on Instagram, Seri was sweet enough to tear off some loose threads. 
She is one of our youngest members but still always finds ways to mother us lovingly.

That pretty young woman in black is Ruthie, our photographer. 
She really could not be any sweeter!
She and her husband Andy are expecting their first child this year.
Congratulations you two, and thank you so much for Saturday!
That large painting in the background is of Seqouyah, 
an Oklahoman Native American from the early 1800's
whose work to establish a written language for the Cherokee Nation 
led to skyrocketing literacy and played a key role in Oklahoma history.
Our schools have a Seqouyah Book Award program, among many other honors for this man.
How poetic that our book club event was being overlooked by his gaze.
Kinda chokes me up.

I love the oil painting on the far right, of a classic Oklahoma homestead.
DCWRP read Grapes of Wrath last year, set during the Dust Bowl,
and this year our state is on the verge of recovery from another severe drought.

Our wildly inappropriate use of a brass handrail on the balcony overlooking the chamber.

I fell behind the group frequently, 
because despite living here for most of my thirty nine years,
Saturday was my first visit to the Capitol.
It is breathtaking.
Speaking of breathtaking, look how pretty everyone is!
What a vision of femininity you all are.

Will Rogers, famed humorist and beloved son of our Great State.

   These are all my personal, unskilled, candid shots, folks. I admit to all flaws as a photographer. When the the professional images are shared I will share them, in turn, with you.


   So this is some of the love between us in book club. For two years now we have grown big then squeezed closer, expanded and retreated, reading books and learning about each other and this wide, wonderful universe as friends. We have shared secrets and circled around those of us who hurt, as we did with Stephanie this past weekend. We have pushed beyond our comfort zones and found ways to take up mantles, in this case red ones. We have celebrated life and love.

   Love is so powerful. It feeds us and grows us, breaks us and heals us again, and it brings to our lives a depth and a light that cannot be faked.

   I hope you have Love like this near you. I hope you are a conduit for it, and I hope you are learning from it.

   Steph, thank you once more for bringing us all together for this special event. We love you from the bottom of our paper-lined hearts, and we are all so excited to see what you'll do this year to spread your loving energy!

"If you want to be successful, it is just this simple:
Know what you are doing.
Love what you are doing.
And believe in what you are doing."
~Will Rogers





Monday, February 25, 2013

I Saw You Last Night

   While raking hay today, I suddenly remembered dreaming of you last night. Your large, ebony eyes were sparkling. Your olive skin was so clear I could almost see through it. You smiled at me with a depth of joy I haven't seen in many years.

   I asked you, "You're really coming home?"

   You nodded at me, still smiling, almost giggling, but said nothing. I could hear your heartbeat. I felt a ghost of that old sensation of you moving inside my young belly, although you stood tall and strong in front of me. Only a few years younger now than I was then.

   Your sister came into focus and you hugged each other, still smiling at me, still sending me your electricity.

   I tried so hard to stay asleep and listen for your voice.

   Today, while it rains outside, your bed is covered with fresh sheets and many warm blankets. I am gathering ingredients fro your favorite cookies, just in case. Your place in this house may look different than it used to, but your place in my heart has never changed, nor will it.

   I am so happy for you, and I ache for you all at once. You have all of my heart for as long as I live.

   Seeing you last night was such a wonderful, unexpected gift! Did you see me too?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Earliest Mornings

   For a few weeks now, on as many days as possible, I have been enjoying a lovely little early morning ritual that you might find interesting or useful. By early I mean before Hot Tub Summit, which on office days is before dawn. So on the days I manage to practice this little ritual, it is literally the first thing I do. And on those days my energy levels and outlook on life are noticeably better.

   No, they are amazingly better. The ritual is very simple and takes maybe thirty or forty five minutes. Here it is...

   First, I tiptoe downstairs alone, like an itchy elephant ballerina with a full bladder, trying my best to not wake Handsome. Most times this is only marginally successful. Once downstairs, I switch on only as many lamps as I absolutely need and barely whisper to Pacino (the parrot). I don't want him to wake up my guy either. Then I press the start button on my beloved coffee machine. For the next ten minutes while it is brewing, hissing, and bubbling, gulping out that fragrant steam like the faithful companion that it is, I do some very unprofessional but still infinitely satisfying yoga stretches and deliberately say thanks for as many blessings as I can summon.

breathe in blessings
breathe out peace

   This is easy to do, because my life is sparkling with good things. It really is. So is yours. I believe the good outweighs the difficult every time you pay attention.

the grass is greenest where you water it

   The wannabe yoga stretches warm up my body and loosen my joints and muscles from the tethers of slumber. The gratitude exercise unlocks my heart and quiets any hurts or complaints I might have taken to bed with me the night before. The threshold between my days, then, is a positive one. A dimly lit room seems best for this first part. It's also poetic, allowing an inner light to be the first spark between dark earthly days.

   By the time the coffee is brewed, dark and strong, my body is fairly awake my eyes are almost bright. I follow my nose to the kitchen and dispense a big, perfect, creamy mug of my personal addiction then sit down in my favorite weird green chair to read.

   For this next beautiful little slice of the day I indulge in reading very positive, motivational, inspirational stuff. I save the challenging texts for other times, allowing this first hour of my day to be a tank-filling time, a time for cushioning my heart and fueling my mind with the positivity I'll need the rest of the day.

every action is preceded by a thought

   Sometimes I read from just a creative devotional book, or maybe a bunch of various quotes, or maybe a few chapters from a particular book that just happens to flood me with goodness. No major rules here, just that it's positive.

   Lately, and this is a sign of personal spiritual progress, I've also been reading from the Bible. Our Pastor has been encouraging us to read certain scriptures repeatedly throughout each week, and the timing is funny. Because is the Bonhoeffer biography I just finished, Bonhoeffer spoke about the value of not just reading the scriptures but meditating on them. This is different from vain repetition, too. So I've been doing just that. I choose one or two chapters maybe every week or so, selections that either feel relevant to me or have been assigned at church... and just soak into them day after day. I try to allow them to soak into me, more accurately, and see what changes happen. It has been wonderful.

for the body is not one member, but many*

   That chapter in Corinthians has helped me conquer some plaguing insecurity. If you know me personally, then you know what a big deal that is.

   Then I spend a few minutes writing circular mandalas (more thankfulness) and focusing prayerfully on a special loved one. In the quiet house, with darkness still cloaking the big east window, I write down my hopes and prayers for that person. I imagine those hopes coming to fruition. I visualize those prayers being answered.

   The last thing I do is read and write creatively for a little bit. I finish drinking a cup or two of coffee, check email, and feed and smooch Pacino. This is all such a nourishing start to the day, preparing me for whatever lays ahead. My heart feels full, thrumming, overflowing. My body craves strength and healthy food and water, not junk or inactivity. I almost always go on extra long runs on these days. And my mind is centered and framed with a positive attitude. Sometimes I feel downright giddy at the end of this early morning ritual! The beauty of life becomes so deliciously overwhelming.


   So... there is a dark, quiet house in the earliest possible hour of the day. Yoga and thankfulness. Perfectly fresh coffee. Inspirational reading. Prayers and meditation, asking for blessings on the people I love. And finally more reading and writing, of any variety. What a glorious, lucky way to start any day! Just writing about it tonight makes me look forward to tomorrow.

   What is your earliest morning ritual? How do you insulate and energize yourself for a day of work? If you want to try any of this, I'd love to know about it. I'd like to think that some of my friends and loved ones are also up at that hour, counting their blessings and filling up on love and hope.

"Morning is when the wick is lit. A flame ignited,
the day delighted with heat and light,
we start the fight for something more than before."
~Jeb Dickerson

*I Corinthians 12: 14


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

   I have recently devoured the most fascinating book, you guys. It is the most soul nourishing, intellectually stimulating, and flat out humbling life story that I have ever read, and now I have an aching physical need to discuss it as soon and as thoroughly as possible. Won't you please join me??

 Eric Metaxas has written the ambitious and truly illuminating Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

   The very real trouble, though, is that for a couple of weeks now I've been trying to pin down my thoughts on this eye-opening piece of biographical art, but with limited success. It's honestly been like trying to nail jello to a wall, my own amateurish thoughts are so scattered and varied. I'll try to dive in and and offer you something here, but please just read this book for yourself. It's so good, for so many reasons.

   Okay, here we go. Everybody take a deep breath.

   You are surely familiar with early twentieth century greats like Albert Einstein, C.S. Lewis, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Pablo Picasso. Each in his own way, these brilliant minds were busy nourishing and challenging the world during one of its darkest chapters. But what do you know about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He was a contemporary of those men, too, and a peer in many ways, a German citizen whose contributions to history during these incredible decades have gone largely unnoticed.

   Until now.

   Dietrich Bonhoeffer was everything the book title promises... a brilliant and devoted pastor and a cultural prophet, a spy against his own government, and ultimately a martyr for his cause.
"As the couple took in the hard news that the good man who was their son was now dead, so too, many English took in the hard news that the dead man who was a German was good. Thus did the world again begin to reconcile itself to itself."
   This month, thanks to a bold reading assignment by the lovely Ms. Misti C., our famous little Oklahoma book club is on the verge of discussing this thick, hefty biography. I am so excited. This book produced so much sparkling thought and has generated so much worthwhile conversation here at the farm, that I actually believe it could be used as a solid textbook for either a history class or a theology class or both. At least, I'd very much like to see my daughters and nieces and nephews all read this. That's how much historical perspective and spiritual grit is offered in these 542 pages.

   The blockish paperback copy I purchased covers German and world history, religion, philosophy, culture, family dynamics, romance, politics, and more. It also has at the very back several pages of discussion points and questions for further study. Handsome and I have already spent many hours exchanging ideas on the questions raised, and I can imagine that the book club dinner at the end of this week will be one for the record books!

   Misti suggested posting multiple times on the book, and I just might use the discussion questions to do that.


   This book has really affected me. I have to say that not only is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life story itself fascinating and motivating... moving me to deepen my religious questioning and purify my relationship with God... but the prose is just wonderful. It makes me want to be a better writer. Metaxas manages to inform the reader with thousands of historical facts and foreign names while constantly building heavy drama and spinning the intricate secret tales of World War II. It is a cleanly told story, not over-romanticized in my opinion, but still reverent and humane. The best possible way a story like this can be told.

   Metaxas starts with Bonhoeffer's childhood, providing context of his upbringing and his value system. By learning about his parents' contrasting but complementing personalities and views on the world, the reader can easily follow through this man's personal evolution. It all makes so much sense when you see his adult life as the culmination of his childhood.

   And by learning more about what life and politics were like in defeated Germany at the end of the first World War, the reader gains a fresh perspective on how an evil man like Adolf Hitler was able to rise to such staggering power. Seeing that timeline from an inside, ground-level view puts everything in a different light. The complexities of being German but not Nazi, or of being patriotic but not socialist, all of it is wildly eye opening. Then add the dimension of fundamental changes in the German church during those years, and the stage is set for revolution and revival. Thrilling stuff, you guys. But it all happens with organically valuable, careful methods.


   To me one of the most mesmerizing things about this life story is how Bonhoeffer's strong personal views emerged slowly but vividly over time. How his relationship with God grew against all odds. Employing music, meditation on the scriptures, prayer, and exhaustive reading and writing, he built structure and ritual into his private spiritual walk and saw these efforts flower and fruit into all kinds of beautiful things. He evangelized with his passion as well as his intelligence.

"A truly evangelical sermon must be like offering a child a fine red apple
or offering a thirsty man a cool glass of water then saying 'Do you want it?'"
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

   The human subject of this biography was himself an accomplished author, penning such modern theological classics as The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics. I'd heard of them but never seriously considered reading them. It now occurs to me that by reading Bonhoeffer's biography before reading his published sermons and books, we can gain plenty. We benefit from watching the student evolve into the teacher through earnest seeking and studying, through personal trials of faith and lots of rich life experiences. In short, reading Bonhoeffer's methods of reasoning and his personal journey make me want to read his conclusions.

   Bonhoeffer asked hard questions of himself and the religious community a large:

  • What is the church? 
  • What are the differences between religion and spirituality? 
  • What is the church's role in the war, and in politics, and in ministry to the oppressed? 
  • Is it possible to "sin" while in strict obedience to God? 
  • How does morality intersect with legality, and what is grace?
  • Is just not doing wrong enough, or aren't we called to go out and do good?
  • What is the proper relationship between church and state? 
   These are themes that have been bothering me for a while, since leaving the Catholic church almost twenty years ago and recently having serious troubles with the Protestant church I've been calling home. My book club friend Misti cannot know how incredibly well timed her assignment was.

   Now I am fueled to take responsibility for my own journey of faith and stop blaming the "church," whatever I thought that was. I am excited to see how much can be accomplished in a short length of years, seeing that Bonhoeffer was killed at 39, the age I will reach in a few weeks. I am amazed but not surprised by how much joy can be had in the midst of grief. This happens in my life almost constantly, but I love to see it happen to other people.


   I suppose the religious angles of this book struck me most deeply, but that's just the state of my own being right now. This book offers the reader just as much in every other sphere that it covers, so if you are a World War II history buff or a native German or perhaps a student of sociology or politics, you'll find plenty to keep you interested. And I guarantee you will walk away better informed than you were before, probably with a deeper appreciation for what the German people endured during Hitler's Nazi reign.

   You will learn about the unseen and complicated, gradient resistance against Hitler. You will glimpse the suffering of the many groups he brutalized. You will sense the physical and cultural beauty of that part of the globe then feel the change in its emotional climate as the second World War heats up.

   Metaxas serves so much in this book I have trouble simply telling you about it. It's the story of an exceptional man living in an incredible time, and it is told with great poetry.


   I could talk and talk and talk and write and write and write about this book for hours, but I have many things to do and I know you do as well. Maybe we'll revisit this material again, and I hope you find time to read this book if you haven't already. Before closing please let me share a parting thought... One of Bonhoeffer's friends and colleagues, Martin Niemoller, is credited with writing this poem while imprisoned by Hitler. I think it's telling in so many ways:
First they came for the Socialists,
   and I did not speak out- because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
   and I did not speak out- because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
   and I did not speak out- because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me-
   and there was no one left to speak for me."
   Also, recalling my personal mantra to be thankful for everything and "Redeem the Time," consider this quote from one of Bonhoeffer's morning devotions:

"Make the most of your time! Time belongs to death, or, still more so, to the devil. We must buy it from him and return it to God, to whom it must really belong. If we inquire the will of God, free from all doubt and all mistrust, we shall discover it. Always give thanks for all things  Everything we cannot thank God for, we reproach him for."

   Wow. I will say once more, find this book and make time for it. And please join the conversations here! Your participation means a lot to me.

"There is meaning in every journey
that is unknown to the traveler."
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Twenty Lies and Counting, and a Drawwing

   Good Saturday afternoon, friends and fellow adventurers in life!! How are you? What hot and delicious things do you have simmering on the stove today? Handsome and I are happily perched at the top of a three day weekend. We are working with the animals, preparing for a fun bonfire tonight, and gradually improving the gardens and such.

    Our days and nights have been so full lately. So brimming with activity and love, energy and variety.

   Here is an image of our daily little grain conflict. Although everyone has more than enough, the boys insist on battling. I should post a video of it sometime, because llama noises are so funny.

   Here is Chunk-hi battling in his own way, against a defenseless wheel. He can flip it and spin it with those massive horns, but his sweet little buffalo hooves cannot kick it the way be obviously wishes they could.

   Valentine's Day at the farm was wonderful. This painting was my surprise Valentine gift from you-know-who. I have developed a mild obsession with Mexican sugar skulls lately, and he knows it. He had been working on this in secret for days, and when I first saw it I couldn't breathe. The fact that he painted it on reclaimed wood and not newly purchased canvas shows his love for me even more.

   Handsome's love language is food. Well, that's one of them at least... So for Valentine's Day we stayed home and I surrounded him with appetizers, shrimp scampi and rib eye steak, luxurious breads and salads, and two desserts. It was a lovers' feast for sure.

   I have been substitute teaching some here and there, reading and running when I can, and making improvements upstairs in the Apartment. I also spent some treasured time yesterday with my youngest daughter, which always makes my heart swell. So without a doubt I have had plenty of time for living fully. But not so much with time to sit down and write. Well, I do have at this moment 142 blog posts in draft form. And a spiral notebook two-thirds full of other ideas. And a purse-sized paper book bursting with mandala scribbles and such. Also a laptop heavy with this big fat novel at which I'm still nibbling, paragraph by paragraph.

   But I can't seem to finish any writing lately, because the days just speed by with normal, wonderful life stuff. I want very much to remedy this, but for now all I can produce is a list. A list of lies. Please enjoy, and please add some lies of your own in the comments.

  1. I am completely up to date on my various reading and Bible study projects.
  2. My husband and I agree perfectly on how much perfume women should wear.
  3. We also agree perfectly on how many different seasonings are needed in any given pasta dish.
  4. All of our spare top sheets in the house and crisply pressed at this moment.
  5. My kitchen pantry is enviably tidy and organized.
  6. I have a really good tan right now.
  7. And my nails have never looked better.
  8. Running on a regular basis is laborious and wasteful and not at all profitable to life.
  9. I don't miss Daphne at all. I never walk outside and look for her then suddenly remember she's gone.
  10. We are constantly running out of good coffee and cream. 
  11. My husband never drives too fast.
  12. I never feel jealous or insecure.
  13. My sense of personal style is completely sensible and conservative.
  14. The chickens hardly ever kick up the dirt out of the flower bed because they love a clean sidewalk.
  15. We understand fully why the kids aren't here.
  16. I never, ever commit irritating typos.
  17. I also only use the word "AWESOME" when called for. 
  18. The idea of planting flowers in a few weeks just bores me to tears.
  19. I can't even imagine where else we could fit another garden, anyway.
  20. Obviously we already know everything there is to know in life, and nothing is amazing.

   So there you have it. Twenty lies. I am sure more untruths are lurking in the shadows, so please help me uncover them! Add your own lies in the comments, and I will choose a winner at random to receive a Lazy W Critter Tea Towel.

This is an example of a Critter Tea Towel, sewn with scraps.
You can choose any of our animals, and I'll use his or her silhouette.

   Happy long weekend everyone!! Thanks for stopping in!

"Leisure only means a chance 
to do other jobs that demand attention."
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Senses Inventory: Rattlesnake Edition

   Today I was trapped in the barn... paralyzed... completely unable to move for about seven and a half hours. Helpless and terrified. Because the batteries or something inside our motion detector emergency light sounds EXACTLY like a rattlesnake.

I thought. I was going. To die.

   So, in the spirit of Redeem the Time, since my word of the year Strength had most certainly eluded me, I decided a Senses Inventory was past due. Anyway, the intensity of the situation had my senses all keen and in overdrive. Not writing this would have been a waste of the moment. I mean, it would have been a waste of the hours.

   While standing in the barn like a New Orleans street performer** playing freeze tag, gripping a rake in one hand and an empty rubber bowl in the other, I took inventory. This is what I noticed...

See: Sand, dirt, loose hay, and a little buffalo fluff strewn about the floor. Five chickens seeking shelter behind the machinery. Wet shadows of dirt at the margins of the barn, soaking inward. A pile of colorful beekeeping supplies, waiting for the first tasks of springtime. Dusty four-wheelers. Loft stacked high with a collection of found lumber and other building supply treasures. That purple, black and white horse blanket we bought for the girls at the end of the last summer we spent together as a family.

Smell:  Hay, dirt, llama breath (Romulus had just excused himself from a barn visit), and rain. Glorious, clean, refreshing rain. Motor oil and gasoline. Fear. I smelled my own fear.

Touch: Fast Woman's silky soft coat and round, heavy belly. Her nearly prehensile tail wrapping around my forearm. Horse scissors between my knuckles. Nylon mesh netting peeling like Velcro away from the new round bale of hay. My running clothes pasted against me with sweat. I-pod cord draped around my neck. Cool breeze teasing in from beneath the east doors.

Hear: Chickens pecking and clucking secrets to each other, probably about wherever the heck they are all laying their eggs. Horses just outside the west door crunching their afternoon hay and breathing and snuffling that wonderful way that horses breathe and snuffle. An accelerating tap dance of rain on the metal roof. Rattlesnake.

Taste: The last trace of an orange I ate earlier. And dirt, just barely, probably form kissing the horses. I was a little sad to think that an orange and some dirt might be my last meal.

   What's going on in your world today? What are your senses revealing to you? If you hear a rattlesnake, I hope it's really just a battery.

Soak it All Up

*though obviously (and sadly) I was lacking silver or gold full body paint, a costume AND a devilish puppet...

Rule of Travel: Never, ever, ever waste time or energy sucking in your tummy for photos.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Redeem the Time (Today)

   Last week or so I wrote for Edie my thoughts on time management, just my overall approach to making life count for what you want it to count for. Pardon all of those prepositions. Today I am thinking more in terms of right now, today, Tuesday, just these next eighteen hours or so. Since as all the poets tell us... all we really have is the present moment, it's good once in a while to focus on that.

   Since last week's grief, which kept us not just home but in our cave, Handsome and I have also taken a few days to be really sick. Like... running fevers and sleeping for a thousand hours at a time sick. So work here at the farm has been whittled down to the bare necessities. I am not quite where I should be with the marathon training schedule, nor am I completely caught on on ironing or animal habitat cleaning or even some semblance of order in the kitchen pantry. It's one of those weeks when I feel pretty good just having the shopping and laundry done and the floors swept.

   But today is a good day. I can feel it in my bones. After such an outpouring of love and support from all of you and our family and friends, Handsome and I already feel the sadness lifting. The happy memory making is right around the corner! So no more tears.

   And the groundhog's springtime promises are coming true too! Oklahoma is collecting one spring storm warning after another, and the days are so nice I have not used our house heater since early Sunday. Windows open. It's my favorite.

   With so much catching up to do, I am seeing my time in small increments right now. How can I redeem this little golden chunk of minutes? What results can I squeeze out of this half hour, this jackpot of freedom which in more leisurely weeks might seem like nothing?

   As with any resource, there is a great blessing to being limited. The less you have something (for me, this week, it's time), the more valuable it is. And the smarter you hopefully are in spending it. I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge of capturing pockets of time and finding out what they're worth. Redeeming the hours and the minutes for groomed horses, accomplished writing goals, pressed laundry, shiny rooms, and clean gardens. Yesterday was a great start! And with its momentum I feel like today will be even better. Our errands for the farm are done for at least a week, so any time I can keep to myself will be spent on this castle and its grounds and citizens.

   Do you do this? Do you ever reduce your biggest goals and values down to how they translate to just one day? I believe that if our foundations and pillars are properly set, then our energy will work for us day by day. Late last night I read this in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography currently being devoured by our book club:

"Under the right blessing, life becomes healthy, secure, expectant, active, precisely because it is lived out of the source of life, strength, joy, activity... If human beings have passed on to loved ones and to many the blessing they have themselves received, then they have surely fulfilled the most important thing in life; then they have surely themselves become persons happy in God and have made others happy in God."

   Expectant and active. I just love that. I love the entire passage. And I am so grateful to those of you who constantly share your joy and love, your blessings and wisdom. When it springs from the same source, it binds us all together.

   Thanks again for your generous love, everyone. Daphne's memory post will be up later this week. And may your Tuesday absolutely glitter with new life and satisfying work!

   Take today as it stands and wring out of it everything you want. Rest tonight.

"Anyone can carry his burden however hard, until nightfall.
Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day.
Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, 
   till the sun goes down.
And this is all life really means."
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, February 4, 2013

Losing Daphne

   This past week we suffered a terrible loss at the farm. 
My beautiful black mare, Daphne, displayed some horrible signs of colic and did not survive. 
Our close friends and family already know about this and have mourned with us, 
for which we are deeply grateful. I am sharing the story here now 
because it's an important part of our farm history. 
It may also be helpful to some other horse family down the line.

This photo was taken in 2007, the very day Daphne came to live at the Lazy W.
This is Handsome leading her, surrounded by Jocelyn, Jessica, and our nephew Dante.
This is the view looking downhill, westward. I love the wildness of the farm here.

   In a few days I plan to post about our sweetest and funniest memories 
with this very special horse, and I hope that those of you who knew her 
will take a few minutes to contribute. 
Our plan is to print the whole thing as a family keepsake
and possibly print it for my daughters. Thanks friends!


   On last Tuesday afternoon I arrived home around 4:20 and found Daphne running and playing energetically in the front field. She was jumping high like some kind of a bronco rodeo horse and raced me from the front gate all the way up to the barn. This is the normal "happy Daphne" dance. I searched my car and purse for castoff Sonic peppermints to reward her but found none. This would end up bothering me all week long.

   She stopped running and looked happy. Ears pricked up, snorting, bright eyes, flippy. I did a quick headcount of the animals, parked my car in the garage, and went in to change clothes. The weather that day was even more characteristically Oklahoman than normal. We had heavy rain at the farm, including lots of thunder. We saw temperatures fluctuate about forty degrees, and it was very windy.

First Signs of Trouble

   After about twenty minutes indoors, I went back outside in jeans, boots, and a quilted vest and distributed grain and hay to all the big animals. Upon again reaching the front field, Daphne was down. She wasn't just wallowing in the hilly sand, which both the buffalo and horses are wont to do; she was obviously in pain. I was immediately worried. She made a sort of pleading eye contact with me and strained her neck up. I called Handsome on my cell phone, grabbed a lead rope from the barn, and jogged to clear the cattle gate and reach her. She was beneath that big, blue spruce tree the kids call the "Elevator Tree" because of its low, flexible branches that are so perfect for lowering yourself to the ground. Thankfully Chunk-hi was happily distracted by his afternoon meal and only watched us. He's playful, not aggressive at all, but still powerful. And I couldn't stay safe with him and focus on her needs at the same time.

   At first, with only a little urging, my sweet girl was able to rouse to her feet and walk with me in large, gentle circles. We did this for about half an hour without stopping, cuddling the whole time and breathing pretty calmly, all the while trying to get help on the phone. Colic is serious, often deadly, but I had seen Daphne pull out of it once before and felt confident that with quick attention she would be okay. Handsome was meanwhile racing home from work.

   Soon, though, Daphne's strong legs collapsed beneath her and even being quite rough I was unable to pull her back to her feet. The best I could do was keep her mostly still so she wouldn't flip. She rocked on her side a little and accepted kisses and singing, petting and touching. I tried to listen for bubbles (signs of moving digestion) in the exposed side of her round stomach but heard only her pounding heartbeat. I felt no hot spots anywhere on her beautiful fuzzy body.

Daphne's Condition Worsens

   She was calm, very calm, and while I tried to reach a vet on the phone I thought for a moment she was dying. I was grateful for the sound of her groaning only because it meant she was still fighting. The seriousness of the situation was descending on me and I suddenly had trouble breathing myself. I couldn't believe how quickly her condition had changed. A frantic and tearful phone call to my friend Shawndra, with her equine expertise and calm sense of urgency, is exactly what I needed. She told me what to do while waiting and said she would try to help.

   Sooner than must have been safe for him to drive the interstate, my husband raced up the gravel driveway, threw his car into park, and disappeared inside the house. He emerged less than a minute later in work clothes and flew over the gate. His presence in the front field drew the attention of our little buffalo, so immediately my attention was divided. Until then, Chunk-hi had only watched us.  

Chunk-hi's Vigil

   During one of my husband's cold but sweaty efforts to rouse Daphne, something incredible happened which I will never forget. As I stood against a young oak tree juggling phone calls with Shawndra and three vets' offices (we were now in the slender space of time between office hours and emergency response times) Chunk-hi meandered over to our worried gathering. Constantly in my view, he lowered his behemoth head and started towards Daphne's tail end. I feared some rough playfulness but was amazed by what he actually did.

   Chunk stroked his massive bearded chin in long, slow motions against Daphne's body. He traced every leg, sniffed her tail, kissed her neck with that long purple tongue, and paced delicately around her prone and weakening body for several minutes. Handsome and I both noticed this incredible behavior.

   We  witnessed what could have been the precursor to a goring, or at least a good head butt, turn into a truly affectionate and comforting gesture. From my position about four feet away I could see his big liquid black eyes watch everything we did. I could hear his amplified breath, investigating the scene, cataloging details. Daphne had always held a maternal veil over this little orphaned addition to our farm, and I have no doubt he felt her pain. In retrospect, we believe he was also saying goodbye.

   After a ten or fifteen minute vigil, Chunk-hi suddenly inhaled sharply and started bobbing and wagging his shaggy head in big, dramatic circles. Usually a sure sign of aggression in male buffalo, this had no such feeling. He flung his head around but stood perfectly still then just gazed at her. He looked at me calmly, but not blankly, and I was devastated to have no words for him. This was a buffalo sobbing and crying.
Relocating Her

   Handsome with his brute strength pulled and wrestled Daphne to her feet and convinced her to walk about twenty feet at a time, per everyone's best advice. It became increasingly difficult  though, and foreseeing a long night ahead he very wisely guided her toward the gate so we could work with her nearer the house, isolated and in some light.

   Our little orphaned buff ran ahead of us to the gate, turned back, circled us, and ran the space between us and our destination a few times before Daphne could make it. Both of these animals in our care seemed to understand the plan, and thankfully they both cooperated. I quickly unlatched the gate so Handsome and Daphne could slip through, then locked it again just as Chunk gave it a gentle push. I scruffed his black-brown  face a little before walking away. Gave thanks for his gentleness.

Long, Difficult Evening & Help From Dear Friends

   The next few hours were spent on a series of efforts to keep Daphne moving, comfort her, prevent her wildly strong legs from kicking anyone in the head, and make excruciating decisions. We took turns leading her, walking her, propping her up, and stroking her warm muscular body. I traded texts and phone messages with vets until we found one who could visit our farm that night, and pretty quickly.

   Our good friends Larry and Shawndra stopped everything in their family's evening to drive thirty minutes to our farm. They arrived during the first truly dark hour of the evening and helped administer an IV drug (banamine) to fight inflammation and ease Daphne's pain. This drug, coupled with drinking water and walking, was what had worked a few years ago. At this point I was concerned but still convinced that Daphne would make a good recovery, even if it wasn't as quick and pretty as the first time. Unfortunately, after receiving the banamine, Daphne seized up. Violently. It was probably from the intense pain, and it broke my heart.

   This big, life-giving mare with the black coat and leopard spots that only shine in the sun, this creature who has thrived in extreme heat and frigid ice storms, who has gifted us with two beautiful, healthy, spirited foals, was suffering more than I have ever seen an animal suffer before. Out of seemingly nowhere she was crumbling under the pain of colic, and we were rapidly running out of ways to help her.

   After a little while the banamine must have relaxed her, because we were all able to safely sit on the ground.  Daphne's breathing slowed to a heavy, throaty, meditative beat. One long, deep draw of breath, another short one, and a peaceful release through her lips. Then in again- long, short, then out again... Over and over for about twenty minutes, until the vet arrived.

   We also have Shawndra to thank for helping to expedite contact with the equine vet who helped us that night.

   After the sun failed us, the air did too. The farm grew inky black, leaving us barely illuminated under the pool of light by the car shop, and the wet air went from cool to cold. Someone tried to soothe Daphne with a horse blanket, but it bothered her. We all stood or squatted around her, shivering and talking through the many possibilities. I remember Larry kept telling stories about otherwise healthy horses who were struck with colic and died suddenly. I felt so sorry for them but still had no grip on the possibility that it could happen to us.

   The men fought to keep Daphne still, though she would sporadically pivot her body and kick against the pain. More than a few times everyone was sent flying, stumbling back into the dark. Then back again. It's truly amazing that no one was seriously injured.

Dr. Grace Arrives

   When the vet's SUV trained its headlights on our front gate, my spirits lifted. She drove up the driveway, around the corner by the chicken coop, and straight to our sad little huddle. Shawndra and I met her at her car door. We traded names only (hers is Dr. Grace), then it was all business. She collected the important facts and absolutely understood and relayed that Daphne's limited response to the banamine was serious.  My comforted feeling didn't last long, only because it was replaced with this urgency, this raw awareness that perhaps even the vet couldn't help her. At least not in the way I wanted.

   Dr. Grace administered a sedative to Daphne so she could safely examine her patient. Handsome and Larry did an amazing job keeping this big horse propped up, and Shawndra and I watched and held flashlights, desperate to help. Within a few minutes Dr. Grace began to relay grim news, saying that Daphne's blockage was in the worst possible location. This, coupled with the level of her pain and shock, meant that she was an unlikely candidate for surgery. Dr. Grace efficiently but softly suggested we consider helping take Daphne out of her pain. This hit me like an anvil in the chest.

   Dr. Grace spoke to us as she worked, explaining more about colic and about the cases she had seen that week. She assured us there was nothing else we could have done, that even if she herself had been there at the very first moment the outcome would be no better. She urged us to think about the life we had given Daphne and about how much we love her.

   We knew that weather patterns had a lot to do with colic in horses, but we didn't know the statistics. Apparently it's quite common, so common that we feel fortune to have only dealt with it twice in the six years we've loved all of these beautiful animals. Oklahoma's weather was highly unstable last week. Sadly, our vet call was the eighth one this smart young woman had answered over those couple of days, and she had to euthanize all of those horses. Unbelievable. Heartbreaking. It's not contagious, like a disease, but it felt flatly epidemic. That weather, something wholly uncontrollable, could trigger something so dangerous, was mind boggling. I gave thanks over and over again that our other two horses were healthy.

   Handsome held me for a few minutes and I nearly begged to try surgery anyway, wanted to do anything to save her, but it was clear I was wanting to not lose her, wanting to avoid my own pain, and in fact what she needed was to be out of pain. The mood then was tornadic. We flew through every possible emotion, and I showed very little personal restraint. Having believed all night that we would save this sweet girl, and having worked through so many changes in such a short period of time, I was completely shocked. I wanted to rewind to some other moment, before it started. Wished I was home all day, wished I was stronger or Daphne hadn't given me a bronco rodeo show. Wished I had been praying harder lately so God would be quicker to hear this prayer. So self centered.

Saying Goodbye Suddenly

   When the moment arrived, Handsome gripped me hard and folded his broad, capable shoulders and arms over me as I poured myself over Daphne. Touching her face, every detail, kissing her sandy jaw a thousand feverish times, stroking her long curved ears, combing her black mane and forelock with my fingers. Trying to clean her eyelashes. Shawndra sat next to us, also holding and sheltering and soothing like a mother of a newborn. I could feel Dr. Grace working just inches away from us, at Daphne's thick neck, swiftly finding the right needles and veins and everything she needed to perform this awful and necessary act of mercy.

   Daphne slipped away so silently. We held her elegant head and closed those glistening eyes.

    In the midst of everything our incredible friend Larry had the sensitivity and boldness to do one more thing for us. As Handsome said goodbye and tended to business with Dr. Grace, Larry found a pair of scissors and quietly removed Daphne's long, magnificent tail. In life, her tail would often tip the ground, and she loved to be brushed and braided. After a little while, he approached Handsome and me and gave it to us. I yanked an elastic out my own hair and secured this heavy treasure, and Larry told us how to preserve it for the future.

Her Last Day at the Farm

   The next day we stayed home together, sleeping, crying, and processing reality. We protected Daphne's body and blanketed her face while waiting for the burial service to arrive. Once during that day Handsome saw a large group of guineas circle her. They were chirping an alarm, so he went out to them. He lifted the blanket from her face so they could see, and they all walked in a line, one by one, past her. They did not return after that.

   Daphne's pasture mates had been watching everything, too, since the day before. Chanta especially was attentive, as they were mated to each other for sure. True love. Even Romulus, who had been Daphne's sometime nemesis, stood quietly at the fence and watched.

   We made the decision to have her professionally buried, and I am happy to give an endorsement to the folks who performed this service. They were gentle, respectful, even affectionate. If you are local to us and need contact information for either this or an excellent equine specialist, please let me know.

 More than this happened that night and the next day, I am sure. 
But so much blurred together too. And little memories keep popping up in my head. 
As with all storytelling, this is only my perspective.
Thank you for reading, and if you knew Daphne, thank you for loving her. 
Again, later this week I plan to post more about her life and really hope 
that our friends and family will contribute to the memory collection.
Please say a prayer for my girls. 
They had to hear this news over the phone and did not get to say goodbye like we did.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Thank You Puxatony Phil!!!!!!!!

   Well, friends, it's official! It's almost spring. The wizened groundhog did NOT see his truth telling shadow this morning,

"So ye faithful there is no shadow to see,
an early spring for you and me!"

   So we do NOT have to brace ourselves for six more weeks of winter! We may have as few as two weeks before the cold, dry months are behind us, and this girl could NOT be happier about it!!!

   On that note, by the way, the Farmer's Almanac predicts a drought recovery for our little slice of paradise, so DOUBLE wahoo!!

This year I crave to fill every one of my thousands of weird containers 
with tens of thousands of beautiful plants, careless about formality. 
This year I am embracing Dee's phrase,
"English with an Oklahoma accent!"

   As if to cement the prediction, here is our central Oklahoma forecast for this coming week:

   Gorgeous, right?? Those nighttime temps are barely chilly enough to justify the house heater, so I am looking forward to opening every window, airing out these flu-ish germ clouds, and sanitizing our cave with sunshine. I want to force fruit tree branches indoors, too, being a firm believer that fresh foliage purifies the air and lifts the spirits! Nothing to aid the flu there.

   And the daytime temps??  My goodness... Swoon worthy... I have five dirt manicures scheduled this week, one for every weekday. I'm super excited to finish off the raised vegetable beds with layers of organic matter, excited to scrape up some manure from the middle fields and wait for the rains (this is he recipe for GREEN fields), excited to start seeds in the dining room in anticipation of planting week.

Do you remember last year when we built these garden boxes 
from lumber reclaimed form the kids' playhouse?
They still stand, all four of them, and the fodder from last summer's bounty has been 
melding and leveling all winter long.
Just a few wheelbarrow loads of manure 
and a quick stir with a pitchfork will have them ready to plant!

These colorful zinnias were grown from seed last year, 
and around Thanksgiving I collected THEIR seeds, about tenfold.
The garden this year will be OVERFLOWING with zinnias!
P.S. the chickens love 'em.
I have mixed feelings about this.

   Honestly, this is so flipping exciting, it's like someone called and said, "Hey guess what? Christmas is six weeks early this year, so get ready!!"

   Nope, it's way better than that. It's like someone said, "Hey guess what you get two birthdays this year!! AND vacation is extra long AND Christmas comes early and lasts late!"

   It feels like I won the bowling championship of the UNIVERSE. My cousin Jen knows how this feels.

   Spring is beautiful to me in every sense, from the physical and sensual to the philosophical and spiritual.

   New life, renewal, vibrancy, color, energy, texture, redemption... All this dormancy and waiting is on the verge of paying off. We're all about to redeem our wintry patience for vernal abundance!! Tears sown in grief will soon be blooming.

   I have no doubt.
Just hang on.

   Happy early Spring, you fine people!! Please tell me what yo're planning and planting. This is EASILY the most hardworking and thrilling time of year for me, so I can't wait to shake off this annoying fly and dive in! I even have new rubber boots and canvas gloves. Wahoo!!

"Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear
that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments,
not the composer."
~Geoffrey B. Charlesworth


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...