Unbroken Dreams

When I was a young girl, I was what was referred to as “horse-crazy,” meaning I was obsessed with horses.  As a young child, my favorite outing was a trip to the local pony track, where a dime would buy me five laps around a small corral on the back of a Shetland pony.  When I was older, I would nag my parents into taking me to riding stables where I could go for hour-long trail rides through the woods, and also saved my allowance until I had enough money for a few riding lessons.  Growing up in the city in a barely middle-class family, I understood that I couldn’t have my own horse, but reading horse books, collecting china horses and getting to see a real horse only once in a while just wasn’t enough.

And then, wonder of wonders, my family moved to a small town in rural Kansas when I was eleven-years old, and having a horse of my own suddenly became possible.  A few months after the move, a family friend appeared in our driveway, towing a horse trailer behind his pick-up truck.  He told us that he had found me a horse, which he would keep at his farm until we found a place closer to town to board her, and that we could come out that night to meet her.  And just like that, Gypsy was mine.  My dreams had come true: I finally had a horse!

Sadly, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  My first meeting with Gypsy went well, and so did my first ride.  The second time I rode her, she bucked me off and I landed so hard that I was knocked out for a few minutes.  I think we all hoped that was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t.  She threw a fit whenever I didn’t let her have her way when I was riding her, and she had a nasty habit of biting and kicking when I was in her stall.  It wasn’t long before I was both scared of her and ashamed that I couldn’t handle her.  This was not what I had dreamed it would be like to have my very own horse.

Me on TonyThat could easily have been the end of my obsession with horses, but it wasn’t.  The stable owner kindly stepped in, offering to find a more experienced owner for Gypsy and helping me find Tony, a good-natured Welsh pony, to help me regain my confidence.  Later, I got Prince, who was as close to the horse of my dreams as any horse would ever be (you can read his story in A Prince of a Horse), and I was lucky enough to share my life with Prince until he died, almost eighteen years later.

There’s no doubt that I would have been spared a lot of physical and emotional pain if I had never gotten Gypsy, and if either Tony or Prince had been my first horse instead.  But in some ways, I’m glad she was my first horse, because I learned a lot from Gypsy.  I learned that the things we dream of don’t always match reality, and I learned that there are always going to be some situations where my best just isn’t good enough, no matter how hard I try.  I learned that sometimes reaching our goals means being willing to make some necessary adjustments, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting help when it’s needed.   Most of all, I learned not to give up, even in the face of failure and humiliation, when we’re chasing our dreams.

Life, just like Gypsy, is going to knock me down hard some times.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get back up and try again.



Good Enough

IMG_4713I remember clearly how excited and nervous I was when I finally started this blog.  I was excited because I was finally trying out a new writing venue, but at the same time nervous about putting my writing on the internet.  I didn’t know whether to worry more about no one reading it, or lots of people reading it but not liking it, and then saying so.  I had seen links to blogs on Facebook with lots and lots of cruel comments, and I didn’t want to deal with that.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about either of those things.  Enough people read my posts to make me feel that it was worth writing them, and the worst thing that appeared in my comment section was some random spam.  Aside from struggling to figure out all the technological issues and getting over my distrust of all things cyberspace, I managed to launch my blog with no problems.  There was really only one issue that I struggled with a bit, and that was how to deal with friends who made it a point to tell me that they had no intention of reading my new blog.

I’m not going to lie, at first it hurt my feelings.  I thought starting a blog was a very big deal, and I had naively assumed that all of my good friends and close relatives would support me in this venture.  And most of them did, for which I will be forever grateful.  Still, several good friends congratulated me on my new blog, but followed that up by saying they didn’t have time to actually read it.  I smiled and told them that was fine, but that wasn’t true.  I was thinking, “Really?  I write a short post that takes at the most five minutes to read, twice a week, and you don’t have time?  You can’t spare ten minutes a week for something that is clearly so important to me?”

But eventually, I began to understand.  Sure, my blog is important to me, because I’m a writer and therefore, I take writing very seriously.  But the friends who were telling me this weren’t writers, and for the most part, they weren’t people who enjoyed reading a lot either.  To them, my blog was just something I did on the side, like gardening, and while they were pleased I had found a new hobby, they honestly had no idea that I was actually hoping they would read it.  They weren’t trying to hurt my feelings or dismiss my creativity, they were just looking at things from their own, unique point of view.  Which is, of course, what we all do.

I’m sure if I asked every single one of my friends to name a time when I didn’t offer support to them on an issue that they considered important, each of them could offer at least one example, and probably several.  The time I forgot to ask about the new grandson they were so proud of; the time I didn’t recognize a career crisis they were going through, or the time they found the courage to follow a dream and I simply told them, “that’s nice,” and then changed the subject.   Too often, we are so busy dealing with the chaos of our own lives that we don’t always keep up with, or even recognize, what is important to others, no matter how much we care.  It doesn’t mean we don’t want to “be there” for each other, it just means that we don’t always manage to do it.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that good friends aren’t the people who understand everything about us, or who always do what we want them to do, when we want them to do it.  They are just the people who love us, and who really are giving us their best, in their own unique way.  And that’s more than enough for me.



What Am I?

IMG_1080I have gotten to the point where I just hate labels.  Not the kind of labels we find on our groceries, of course…they keep me from eating too much sodium or trans fat, and that’s a good thing.   I mean the labels that we give ourselves, and worse, the labels we assign to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a joiner, and no matter what group of people I’m with, I almost always feel like the “odd one out.”  Or maybe it’s because most of the people I know well are complicated, complex individuals who don’t fit the labels that we toss about so casually.  All I know is that the minute people start assigning labels, to themselves or to others, I get very uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why people like labels so much.  We want to know something about each other, and being able to identify someone as a “Southerner” or a “Liberal” or a “Protestant” seems as if it would help.  We think it gives us a point of reference, of knowing just how much someone is like us, or even whether or not we think the person is worth bothering to get to know.  Sorting everyone neatly into categories seems like an efficient way to deal with all the people who cross our path, and we know right away who’s “in” and who’s “out.”  What could be simpler?

The trouble is, simple isn’t always good, or accurate.  There are tons of different interpretations of just about every label out there, and it’s a mistake to just assume that our interpretation is the same as someone else’s.  (Personally, I am still completely confused on just what exactly is the difference between a “right-wing dictator” and a “left-wing dictator,” yet we hear those terms all the time as if everyone knows.)  It’s sort of like when we talk to someone from another country and they ask, “What do Americans think about that?”  And the only honest answer I can give is, “That depends on which American you ask.”  We may all live in the same country, but we definitely do not all think alike.

And that, I think, is what I find the most offensive about labels:  the assumption that everyone within that label thinks exactly alike and shares exactly the same values. I don’t want to be “assigned” a to a group that I don’t truly fit in with, and I haven’t yet found a group that I always agree with, on everything.  Or even a group I usually agree with, if I’m totally honest.  And I doubt very seriously that I ever will.

I want the freedom to think for myself, and to draw my own conclusions.  I want to be allowed to have a “conservative” opinion on one issue, and a “liberal” opinion on another.  I want to associate with lots of different kinds of people so that I never stop learning, never stop expanding my personal horizons, and, most importantly, never become complacent in the supposed superiority my own beliefs.  I also want the option of changing my mind, either because I’ve learned new facts or because I’ve simply finally figured out that the way I’ve always thought about something is just plain wrong.

But I know that there are always going to be people who prefer labels, and that there are always going to be people who are eager to stick a label on me.  And when that’s the case, the label I’d prefer is simply “human.”  That one fits me like a glove.

Please Enter Your Password

I just got back from my annual doctor’s appointment, where I got some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that they found no health issues, so if all goes well, I don’t have to darken their door for another year.  The bad news is they want me to sign up for their “online patient portal,” which they promise will allow me to access my medical records, ask questions, and make appointments quickly and easily.  Previously, doing any of that meant you had to actually call their office, go through their automated answering system and then be placed on hold until you grew old and died while waiting for an actual human being to come on the line.  I admit that I like the idea of never having to listen to an orchestra play the Rolling Stones’ song “Satisfaction” again, but I doubt that I’m going to sign up for the new system.  Because if I did sign up, I’d have to create yet another password, and I absolutely do not want to do that.

Even though I’ve resisted online banking and am one of the few people in this country who still prefers to go to an actual store to shop rather than sit in my pajamas in front of my computer and simply order stuff that someone else has to deliver to my door, I still have way more passwords than I can handle now.  It would be easy if I could just create one password for everything, but the experts warn against that.  They also warn us not to create passwords based on the names of our pets or children, our birthdays, or something so obvious as “my password.”  Which means that I can’t make a password out of anything I can possibly remember.

IMG_1082I’ve come up with my own system for “remembering” the passwords I have to use when I’m at home on my own computer.  I have a binder that I keep in my desk drawer, right under my computer monitor, clearly labeled, “Important Computer Passwords.”  My son, who does tech auditing for a living, has pointed out that there’s little sense in having passwords if I make it so convenient for everyone to find them.  But I think that if someone has taken the trouble to break into my home with the intention of accessing my computer accounts, the least I could do is make it convenient for them.  That way, they might not be so inclined to mess with my important stuff, like the profile on my Facebook page.

I have heard of online systems for storing and retrieving passwords, on what is called “the cloud.”  But I just don’t see how putting all of my passwords out in cyberspace is a good idea.  Aren’t the people who hack into websites also on cyberspace?  It seems to me that the idea of storing passwords on the cloud is riskier than having them in my notebook.  The chances of a hacker actually showing up at my house to look in my notebook are rather small, but I have already received several of the dreaded “security breach” notices from my credit card company, bank, and insurance company, who all insist on storing important information on the internet.  It seems to me that storing my passwords in cyberspace makes as much sense as me storing my Sunday roast in my dog’s supper dish and expecting her to ignore it.

So, for now, I will decline to join the system that lets me access my doctor’s office via cyberspace, at least until someone comes up with a way to keep that information safe without forcing me to create yet another password I have to worry about.  I know that makes me sound hopelessly old fashioned, and I probably am.  But I’d rather be on hold for thirty minutes than have to admit that, once again, I’ve forgotten my stupid password.

PS:  Many thanks to George, over at the excellent blog called The Off Key of Life, for the inspiration to write this post.

You Can’t Please Everyone…

IMG_0115As we all know, some days are better than others.  Some days flow smoothly, with everything going according to plan, and leaving us feeling competent and content.  Other days are much more trying, hitting us with one unexpected problem after another, each one more urgent and dire than the one before.   We scramble to keep up, to fix everything as quickly as we can, but it feels as if we are trying to bail out a leaking, sinking canoe with nothing more than a thimble.  And just when we think we’ve pulled it off, just when we think we’ve solved all the problems and fixed all the issues, someone is kind enough to point out the one thing we missed, or the one thing we did wrong.   I don’t know about you, but when that happens to me, I don’t handle it well.

My initial reaction is rarely to thank them for pointing out what I missed, or where I messed up.  I’m too busy feeling hurt, angry and defensive.  Don’t they know that I was doing my best?  Don’t they know how hard I was trying to do all that was asked of me, and to make everybody happy?  Why can’t they just say, “Thanks for all you did,” and leave it at that?  Because, darn it all, I really was trying!  And so I rage for a while, thinking of sharp retorts, perhaps venting to a friend or relative, or even (when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable), having a good cry.

Later, when I’ve calmed down, I often wonder why I let myself get so upset by a bit of criticism, especially when I know that it wasn’t intended to be hurtful.  It’s taken more than half of my life, but I think I’ve finally figured out the answer.  I don’t get upset because I think I’m a perfect person who never makes mistakes.  I’m well aware of my lousy memory, how often I make mistakes, and all my other shortcomings.  The reason I get so upset is because I was trying so very hard to please other people, and one of them took the trouble to let me know that I failed.

Which means the real problem isn’t that I make mistakes, or that I can’t fix everything all the time, or that I don’t always reach my goals.  The real problem is that I am putting too much value on what other people think of me and my efforts.  In other words, I’m not focusing on fixing the problems; I’m focusing on pleasing the people who are telling me about the problems instead.  And all too often, that attitude just sets me up for failure.  Seeking validation from others almost always does.

Slowly, very slowly, I’m learning to judge my accomplishments according to my own values, and to stop seeking the constant approval of other people.  Of course it’s nice when someone takes the time to tell me that I’ve done a good job, or to let me know they appreciated my efforts, even when the result was less than what we had hoped for.  But that has got to stop being the measuring stick I use when I determine my own self-worth.

When I know that I have done my best, in any given situation, I need to let that be good enough and be satisfied with my efforts, even when someone else thinks I should have done better.  I am never going to live up to everyone else’s standards, all the time, any more than they are always going to live up to mine. And in the end, it’s what I think of myself that matters the most.


Winter Woes

DSC00118Self pity comes easily to me in the winter.  I don’t like cold weather, and because my volunteer job entails walking shelter dogs three times a week in any and all weather, I spend way more time out in the cold than I want to.  Even when I am inside my warm house, I am constantly plagued with dry skin, chapped lips and random shocks from static electricity.  We have a humidifier, but from what I can tell, its main job is to fog up our windows. Even our wood furniture suffers, drying and cracking unless I’m diligently polishing it with lots and lots of lemon oil.

I hate having to put on a jacket just to take my trash out.  I hate how much longer it takes me to get dressed in the winter, especially if we are going somewhere nice:  slacks, shoes, socks, sweater, scarf, coat and gloves all need to be coordinated, and that’s far too much trouble for someone with my  feeble fashion sense.  Summer is so much easier, because then all I have to do is put on a pair of capris, a nice top, and some sandals, and I’m good to go just about anywhere.

IMG_0945And I especially hate the way I have to constantly supervise my dog whenever I let her out in the winter, because she persists in believing that those frozen treats she keeps finding (and eating) in our back yard are chocolate popsicles.  They aren’t.  More than once our neighbors have been treated to the sight of me charging out the back door late at night, clad only in my flannel pajamas, yelling, “Don’t you dare eat that, you dumb dog!”  Lest you think I’m making too big a deal of this, I’d like to point out that if we do let her have her “snacks,” she eventually throws them up in our house, and always on my good rugs.  So the vigilance continues…..

But then, in the middle of the cold and dark month of January, along comes a beautiful, sunny day with a high of sixty degrees.   A day in which I can take a long walk around our neighborhood wearing only a heavy sweater; a day in which I can climb up the ladder to take down our last Christmas wreath in complete comfort, and a day that reminds me that Spring will, eventually, come and thaw everything out.  I know that today is just a reprieve, and that another cold front is on its way (just in time for the weekend, according to the weather reports), but I’m still deeply grateful.

It doesn’t matter whether we have the relatively mild winter we’ve enjoyed so far this year or the horrible cold, snow and ice we endured last year, winter will always be my least favorite season. So a day such as today is a reminder that, even in the darkest and most difficult times of our lives, there will be welcome reprieves, both small and large, that make it easier for us to believe better times are coming.  It’s often the little things that can give the most hope, I think, if we can just allow ourselves to appreciate them when they come into our lives.  Spring may not be coming for several weeks, but unexpectedly, a spring day is here, right now.  And I intend to enjoy it as much as I can….just as soon as I’m done cleaning the back yard.



Be Beautiful

I really have to get over my habit of reading the comment sections of internet news stories.  It’s sort of like driving by the scene of a car accident:  I know I’m going to be upset by what I see, but I look anyway.  Maybe I’m hoping that for once I will see mostly reasonable comments by people who are expressing their opinion in a civil way, or maybe I’m just morbidly interested in how quickly people turn on anyone who expresses a different point of view.  (I like to think it’s the former.)

Usually, there are three distinct groups of people on any comment feed.  The first, and smallest, group consists of a few twisted souls who seem to be posting the most offensive comments they can think of, just to pick a fight.  They’re easy to ignore, because it’s so obvious that their only goal is to upset other people, and the less attention they get, the better.  The other group is only slightly larger, and those are the people who are the voice of reason, always expressing their views in a civil and respectful way, often trying to find common ground to reconcile the opposing sides.  Their comments are few and far between, but always a welcome reprieve from the vitriol surrounding them.

Sadly, the largest group of comments are from the angry, self-righteous people who are absolutely incensed that anyone, anywhere, does not see the world exactly the same way they do.  They know, without a doubt, that they are absolutely right, on any subject that is being discussed.  This group includes both liberals and conservatives, religious people and atheists, etc.  They aren’t trying to be mean, but in their zeal to prove their point, they are still rather brutal.  Many tend to use a lot of CAPS when typing their comments, just to be sure to drive their point home.

It bothers me to see so many comments from people who truly seem to have lost the ability to listen to, or even tolerate, people who disagree with them.  Every day, it seems to be more socially acceptable to choose to interact only with those who think and act just like us.  The internet may have given us access to people all over the world, but most of us seem to prefer to stay in our tight little circles, populated by our “own kind.”  We  are careful to watch only the news shows that reflect our opinions back at us, join groups consisting only of people who think just like us, and in general make sure we don’t ever have to be challenged to acknowledge the basic worth and dignity of anyone whose views we find offensive.

I get that for most of us, our natural reaction to someone who challenges our basic values is to lash out in self-defense.  I’m guilty of that more than I’d care to admit.  But the reality is that the world is getting smaller, the internet does bring us into regular contact with people who are very different from us, and if we are not all going to drown in a sea of anger, hate and fear, we have got to get our act together.

We need to remember that when we are lashing out or putting someone down, we are only making ourselves ugly.  If you don’t believe that, say something mean and hurtful while looking in a mirror.  No matter how good-looking you usually are, all you will see looking back at you is ugliness.  Then, still looking in that mirror, say something kind and compassionate, and I guarantee you will see nothing but beauty.  I know none of us are, or will ever be, perfect or even nearly as good as we want to be.   But I also know that the time has come when we all need to try our best to be more beautiful, as often as humanly possible.IMG_0716

And Now It’s Over

Now that Epiphany (January 6) has come, it’s time for me to begin one of my least favorite jobs:  putting away all my Christmas decorations.  Since I put up two big trees, one small ornament tree, and cover almost every horizontal space in my house with Christmas-related knick knacks, packing it all away for next year is no small chore.  It takes me a few days, doing a little bit at a time, carefully wrapping all the breakable ornaments and decorations in tissue paper before placing them in one of the many plastic bins I use to store all my Christmas stuff.

IMG_0934I usually have a hard time getting started, because I really like the way my house looks when it’s decorated for Christmas.  I like the way my upstairs tree casts a warm glow over the living room when I turn on its lights.  I like the way the vintage glass ornaments shimmer on the tree, and the way almost every household decoration holds a special meaning or memory.  I have a lovely nativity set that was a joint effort of my father (he made the stable) and my mother-in-law (she made the ceramic figurines).  Both my father and my mother-in-law have been gone for several years, but every time I look at that nativity set, I’m reminded of them.

And I really, really, like the way the outdoor Christmas lights make the long, dark winter nights bright and beautiful.  If I had my way, we’d all come to an agreement to leave the outdoor lights up through the end of February, and everyone would put up a few extra lights, whether they celebrate Christmas or not.IMG_0950

Eventually, I suck it up and get started taking down the decorations, and it always gets easier as I go along.  With each full bin I carry downstairs and place on a basement shelf, I let go of my Christmas nostalgia just a little bit more, and discover that my house doesn’t really look so plain, even without all the extra holiday decorations.  By the time I’ve packed the last of the decorations away, I realize that I’ve finally let go of this Christmas season, and am ready to plunge into the year ahead, with all the possibilities that a new year brings.

I make my usual vows to live a bit healthier this year, to try to be a little kinder and more tolerant towards others, and to find the courage to chase my dreams a little harder.  I look forward to a few nice snowfalls, and then to the warmth of spring and summer that I know will follow.  And because I’m me, a true Christmas nut, I also know that in a mere eleven months, I’ll get to haul all of my Christmas treasures back out and decorate everything all over again….

Dressing Room Depression

You’d think I’d know better by now.  Even before I was middle aged, shopping for a special occasion was something I dreaded, because none of the stores ever seemed to carry exactly what I needed.  If I was looking for a dress to be worn at an outdoor event on a hot summer day, all I found were long-sleeve dresses, usually made out of wool.  Sure, there might have been one or two sleeveless, summery dresses hanging on the clearance rack, but they were always a size two, which I haven’t been since…well, ever.  But now that I am middle-aged, shopping of any kind has become a chore, and shopping for a special event has become almost impossible.

Even so, yesterday I headed off to the nearby mall in high hopes of quickly and easily finding an appropriate outfit to wear to a wedding I’m attending next weekend.  I don’t know why I was so optimistic about the whole thing, but I cheerfully told my husband I’d be back in a couple of hours.  Maybe the problem is my memory seems to be going the way of my eyesight, but for some strange reason, I really thought I’d find something that I’d like without wasting my whole day shopping.

Needless to say, I was wrong.  It took me quite some time to find any dresses that were even worth trying on, but eventually I grabbed a few and ducked into the nearest dressing room to see if they fit.  The less said about what I looked like in those dresses, the better.  I came out of the dressing room without anything I actually wanted to buy, but with the firm belief that I needed three things as quickly as possible:  a new diet, a gym membership, and an appointment with a really good plastic surgeon.

IMG_1057I tried a few other stores with no more success at  finding a dress, but I did spot a nice blue jacket (on sale, thank goodness) that I thought just might work over an eight-year old, sleeveless black dress I already owned.  At that point, I was far too depressed to keep on shopping, so I bought the jacket, went home and tried it on with my black dress, and decided to believe my husband when he told me it looked just fine.  I know he wouldn’t have told me otherwise no matter how bad it looked, but it still helped to hear him actually say the words.

I have no idea why the people who design clothes insist in believing that all women are tall, thin, and twenty-something, but they do. And its more than a little discouraging to keep trying to stuff my not tall, thin and twenty-something body into the available merchandise.  It’s hard enough to have hit the time in my life when everything’s sagging and bagging without having to try on clothes that seemed designed to emphasize each and every single imperfection.

One of my favorite authors is Rick Bragg, and he wrote a very funny essay regarding his hatred for shopping (good to know it’s not just a female thing), stating that he has decided he’s never going to shop for clothes again. After evaluating his wardrobe and his remaining expected life span, he concluded that he can “be dead and naked at about the same time.”  I don’t think I can quite pull that one off, but I have an awful feeling that I will be wearing that black dress of mine to every special event I am invited to for at least another ten years, with our without a new jacket to go with it.