We’re Having a Heat Wave!

Miranda, you know her.  That kind, always helpful woman who is encouraging and upbeat.  …  She asked the other day, “So how is the cold?”   …  Funny…  I would love to have a clinic in the dead of winter here just for her, just for that!

 

I am not in Texas, land of the free, home of the warmth.  I am in Indiana, land of the corn and home of the ever-changing-weather.  Furthermore, we live in the belt below Lake Michigan where all the excess moisture gets deposited each winter … Kind of like a landfill for snow and ice. Recently I asked someone in Texas about their winters and with a completely straight face they told me, “Well, it really does get quite cold, it can get to 30!!!”

 

I looked at her like thismonkey2

 

I recognize that for some 30 is really cold.  Technically it is below freezing.  I also realize that up here in the winterwonderland, we prepare for cold in a different manner.  We prep the roads before hand and we have warehouses full of salt and road additive.  We have ice scrapers and chains and some of us give up and drive snow machines instead of vehicles.   And we have the clothing to adequately deal with weather that makes 30 degrees look like a picnic on Mercury.

 

So we are prepared… somewhat.  Frankly there is only preparing and being ready.  You cannot overcome nature and no amount of prep beats ice.  Ice wins.

 

We also have wind chill.  Wind chill is a glorious thing.  Designed by our creator to remind us of our human limitations and frailty it serves quite well as a humbling force all on its own.  The following little example serves as a warning to any who disrespect the cold and windchill (Miranda)… as I did that fateful morning a few years ago.

 

-19 while not unheard of, is still on the basement floor of what we normally expect here in the icebox of America, better known as South Bend, Indiana.   The weatherman, dressed in a bright floral shirt, sipping his morning java, smiling and warm, offhandedly mentioned that the “breeze” outside was reaching 20 mph with gusts to 35 mph.  This pushed the windchill to below -50, dangerous in any state, no matter how used to cold you might be.

 

Like anyone who has livestock or animals, it doesn’t really matter what the weather is, if it’s your birthday, or you aren’t feeling up to snuff, those animals need cared for.  We had planned to put in electric and water to our north field the next summer, but for now the only option we had was to bucket water three times a day out to the stock tank at the gate.  I am a fan of procrastination when it comes to things like, taking the trash out, just mash that thing down with your foot!  But when it comes to doing the chores I am a bit OCD.  So I bundled up in my coveralls, put on all my accessories, hat, mittens (everyone knows mittens are warmer than gloves) and muck boots with two pair of socks.

 

There really isn’t a way to explain the smack you get when you step from 65 to -50.  It will make you gasp and then deeply regret it.  It’s amazing how cold can also be burning, but anyone who has experienced it is nodding right now.  So I was hurrying, as much as my heavily swaddled 5 foot frame could hurry.  I had my two 5 gallon pails of water and had 2 more sitting inside the back door.  One trip to the barn, two trips with the water.  It really wasnt that hard.  But there is always that small moment of worry when you go out each morning in weather so fierce, when you round the corner for the first time each morning and you see them there, healthy, waiting, steam streaming from their noses, hoar frost clinging to their eyelashes and whiskers.  That moment, filled with relief is probably one of the best feelings I can imagine.  But the pent up energy of fighting against weather that would rob you of your warmth can actually make you perspire just a little bit.

 

I threw the hay over the fence and picked up the buckets of water.  The tank was just far enough away from the gate that I had to go inside the field to dump it.  Which meant I had to open the gate.  Might not seem like a huge deal to you….. oh-it-gets-to-30! people.  Let me assure you… it is!  The gate is metal, my hands are little white girl hands.  I am not a weakling, but there is no callous on earth that metal can not match.  Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, mittens are warmer, but they fall real short on manual dexterity.  And while I was hustling back and forth, I built up just a small amount of moisture on my skin.   I also had a lot on my mind and I wasn’t thinking, which changed quickly.  I pulled my mitten off with my teeth and reached out for the gate clasp.  The moment I gripped the gate my mind started a loud beeping of alarm.  Warning, warning!

 

I dont’ precisely remember but i’m pretty sure what came out of my mouth was not edifying!  I had been trying to multitask and was clutching one 5 gallon bucket of steaming water in one hand while my other hand was now stuck to the gate.  I leaned in and breathed on my hand, no luck.  Leaned a little closer to try to melt my hand off the gate with my hot breath and touched my nose to the fence.  In a panic I yanked back.

 

In certain situations there comes a moment of determination where you know what you need to do and you know it’s going to get ugly.  This was one of those situations.  Grit your teeth and yank.  I pulled back and felt a ripping stinging feeling that I walled off in my mind to deal with at a later time.  The problem with multitasking is…. I stink at it.  I forgot about the bucket of water that I was holding and as I pulled away from the gate, I started moving backward at a pretty good rate.  I went to throw my arm behind me to brace for the fall I knew was coming only to remember that I was clutching 5 gallons of quickly chilling water.  I also realized too late that the second bucket of water was directly behind me so that when I took a quick step back I tripped over it.  I sat down hard in the snow and the water sat down with me.  One bucket coated my chest and waist and the bucket on the ground behind me leaked into the legs of my coveralls right at the knee.

 

I remember looking up at the two young steers who stood there looking back at me, expectantly and disapprovingly.  It is a good thing I was not carrying at that moment because they both would have been butchered prematurely!

 

I got myself up off the ground, I was now flying on pure adrenaline.  Part anger at myself and the metal gate, part nagging fear of  how quickly water, thinly dispersed onto fabric, will freeze in -50 temps.  I gathered the buckets and headed for the house.

 

Our field is not awfully far from our house, but in -50 degrees, it is like the journey to Mecca.  My legs started to feel heavy and looking down at them I noticed they were starting to get shiny.  I started to move faster.  But they were starting to feel stiffer and the knees weren’t bending properly.  By the time I got to the house I had to hobble left and right like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz.  I got to the back deck only to realize that I had to go up 3 steps to the back door and the knees of my coveralls were now totally frozen.   It was only 3 steps for pity sake, but at that moment it could have been Mount Everest.  I stood there for a moment, but the clock was ticking.

 

I tried to lean back while at the same time lifting my leg up forward onto the step and leaned a little too far.  I fell backward.  But this time, unlike out at the field, I couldn’t just bend my knees and get up.  I floundered around like a mermaid out of water, freezing fast.  I finally got myself in enough of a splits position to get myself upright and sat down backwards on the steps and pulled myself up the stairs like hauling up frozen logs.  Finally up on top of the deck I was only 3 feet from my destination.  Heaven is surely 65 degrees!  I reached for the doorknob (with mittened hands!) … frozen.  I started laughing.  Are you kidding me?  They will find me in the spring, 6 inches from safety and this face loomed in front of me.the-shining-frozen-jack-nicholson

 

I could go in the back of the garage, attached right next to the house, and into the house through there.  I had to go down three steps on the other side of the deck but I had gravity on my side and at this point I was ok with just throwing myself down and crawling in!

 

But we never use the door into the back of the garage and there was a 2 foot drift, packed by weeks of accumulation and I knew I’d never get in there.  I knew that there was a butane torch in the barn and I thought about melting the door latch but I wasn’t quite sure I could get there in my current board-like state.  I decided that was my best option and managed to hobbled my way there.  I must have looked like a little short Frankenstein and I am pretty sure if someone had video taped it, I would have been sitting pretty on a fat cash prize from America’s Funniest Videos, but there were no other idiots out in this weather… just me.

 

Out of the wind in the barn, I started feeling the stinging burn that precedes the more serious lack of feeling.  I pulled out my Kerosene 125,000 BTU hurricane heater (my pride and joy) and fumbled through the filling, plugging and lighting process.  Anyone who has heard a hurricane heater knows that the sound is a little overwhelming, but I promise you that the London Symphony Orchestra never sounded as good as that heavy whoosh and roar of forced air.  I stood exhausted, pondering my next move on getting the back door open… or should I try for the front door in the hopes that I could ring the doorbell and one of my children would come and open it.  They knew I was outside doing chores.  I had told them to stay inside, it was too cold, I would only be a few minutes….  My youngest was probably still asleep upstairs and the other two were suppose to be starting school.  I had a practice of tricking them sometimes (jokingly) and testing their focus and commitment by suddenly screaming… ice cream truck!!!!  and running out the front door to see if they would fall for it. There are no ice cream trucks where we live and they quickly learned to stick their noses in their books and ignore all outside stimuli.  I had one child who found ironic turn abouts fair play to be a bigger delight than it should have been and I knew she would be the one to break the rules and unlock the door, which they were also never to do if I was not in the house.  But she would have to get past her older, conscientious, brother, who took his job of being “in charge” seriously.

 

I stood there wondering where the butane torch might be.  Where a lighter might be and if torching the door was going to cause me more problems than it solved.  I felt the feeling coming back into my legs but it was the smell that caught my attention more quickly.  Kerosene heaters are incredibly safe.  Lots of people freak out about the use of space heaters and caution and common sense are always the rule of the day, but … not apparently THIS day!  If the line is not clean in your forced air Kerosene heater, you can occasionally get what is called a flame out.  It is just what the name implies.  And when someone who has been frozen solid by Indiana’s finest weather, stands in front of said heater, while their mind wanders to how to tackle the job of getting back inside to the warmth of their home… bad things can happen.  125,000 BTU is a fairly effective heating range to toast the ice off frozen coveralls… and then set them on fire.

 

I looked down just in time to see them start turning black and then start to glow.  I screamed and did the only logical thing available to me.  I stripped… faster than a girl I knew in college …. never mind, different story.  I am not sure at what point my coveralls had been coated in thermite to make them so flammable, but they flamed up faster than I really thought they should!  I might later consider writing a letter to the Carharts company complete with pictures but right now, I was standing in the unheated barn and had gone from inconvenient to precariously dangerous.  I peered out the window.  So close, and yet so far.  Not an hour before I had crawled from my nice warm bed, made coffee and stepped into my coveralls to begin this comedy of errors.  All the layers I pulled on were in the form of mittens, socks and hat.  The rest of my body, swaddled in heavy carharts would not need heavy layers.  Having planned to race back to the house, pour some coffee and curl up under a blanket on the couch, I saw no need for layers of long underwear, pants, shirts, and sweaters…. as such, I had thrown on the coveralls pretty much in the same manner I had exited the bed, which is to say, in no way correct “apparel” for any public weather, let along -50!

 

I started to laugh again, I didn’t have my phone with me, again, I had no plans of this turning into a greek tragedy or epic tale.  And who would I call anyway?  We have no neighbors to speak of, the only friends close enough were a quiet, proper family a few miles away…  He was the pastor of a small conservative church….  I smiled at the thought of that.  Well THAT would get me some prayer I bet!

 

I tested the coveralls for hot spots and redonned them.  They were a lot easier to pull on now, they fit kind of like a dress but at least it provided me some protection from the wind.  I grabbed the only other option I had in the barn, a tarp.  I decided to head straight for the front door and the doorbell.

 

An hour later I had collapsed on the couch, after having made it inside, thanks to my attentive children.  I redressed and watered the calves… more carefully this time.   Propped the door unlatched this time and promised myself that I would shovel the garage entryway the next day…. or the day after that.  I put my fingers in my coffee, smiling.  It was so deliciously hot.  My mind wandered to possibly bathing in hot coffee when I heard the weatherman on the news.  I turned to see his bright face smiling.  The forecast tomorrow… -7…. I smiled, heatwave!

 

Yesterday Miranda posted a picture of Mark riding a pretty mare that is in training with them.  The sun was shining, the grass was green.  Mark appeared to be in a nice shirt… long sleeve, but not insulated!…. comfortable….

I’m pretty sure this was the look  on my face…

 

sneer

 

Stay warm friends!  And good luck to all those competing in the Mustang Magic competition January 20-23.

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Merry Christmas

So little to give to two people for whom I care so deeply.  This is all that I really have, a few small words to give.  Mark and Miranda, may your Christmas be ever filled with this kind of love….

 

“Oh Little town of Bethlehem”…  A favorite among Christmas Carols for its sweet lyrics and simple melody.  Bethlehem itself however, held perhaps less appeal than that Carol.   It was known for little other than its sheep.  The lambs used for temple sacrifices, for the atonement of sins, were born and raised in Bethlehem.  The shepherds who guarded and watched over them, were officially labeled by religious leaders as sinners.  They shared a social caste system with dung sweepers, both ritually and socially unclean; and tax collectors, little more than Roman sanctioned thugs and thieves.

 

While shepherding was an important and necessary job, and had at certain times garnered a modicum of respect, at the time of Christ’s birth, the role had fallen into increasingly ill-repute.  Jewish scholars and historians note that purchasing milk, wool or a lamb directly from a shepherd was illegal as it was assumed that the purchase would almost certainly be stolen merchandise.  In the book of Zephaniah shepherding was paralleled with ostracism and a disconnect from the accepted and valued of society.

 

From the beginning of time, the very first murder occurred because of the rift between a shepherd and a farmer.  That rivalry continued.  Egypt was an agrarian society and they despised the unkempt “hillbilly” sons of Jacob.  Egyptian art and literature refered negatively to shepherds and their hatred peaked when shepherds overran and settled in lower Egypt, their flocks devouring the carefully cultivated crops.

 

The Mishnah, the “Oral Torah” of Jewish traditions, states that you must save a lamb or sheep from a fall in a well or pit, but makes it clear that no one should feel obligated to save a shepherd who had likewise fallen into a pit.  Nothing says, “you have no value” more than the socially sanctioned exculpation of your own demise.  It’s ok, it’s just a shepherd… don’t strain your back.

 

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ starts with his genealogy.  But most people who read this account frequently start at verse 18, skipping over the somewhat tedious list of long, hard to pronounce names.  But that list is important.  There are a lot of lowly shepherds in that list and some other interesting people as well.  Rahab, the harlot.  The role of the harlot in history has always been linked to the fall of a nation, the descent into broken, lewd, failure.  And yet, there she is, her future forever secured not only in her link to Christ, but also through the birth of her son Boaz who married the next odd member of Christ’s line.   Ruth, not an Israelite, but a Moabite and an outsider.   An odd choice, a foreigner with foreign gods, to be related to the King of kings.  Tamar, who took matters into her own hands by disguising herself as a prostitute to sleep with her father-in-law.  Not the tidy heritage we think of in relation to the holy, blemish-free Son of God.  And there hidden in plain sight in Matthew 1:6 that most famous of women, unnamed and yet mentioned. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”  Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  And the list includes other notable mistake-makers, David may have topped the list, but he sure had company!  Amon, Judah, Manasseh and the list goes on.  The perfect Lamb of God was not afraid to hold a heritage of stain.  It was, in fact, not a random downline of simple sex and progeny.  It was designed and chosen.  He chose to claim the outcasts, shepherds, prostitutes and blunderers.

 

Odd choices, lowly they seem.  Insignificant and maybe a bit improper.  He chose some illiterate fishermen, a tax collector, a hot-tempered zealot and a cynical doubter instead of religious men to be his closest friends and confidantes.  He chose a borrowed crib and a borrowed tomb.  He chose a mother and father too poor to present the customary sacrifice for the birth of a first-born son and the ritual cleansing of Mary.  Instead, they brought the lowest acceptable sacrifice, two doves.  He chose the path in Jerusalem to an ugly wooden beam through the gate that all lambs travelled on their way to slaughter in the temple, the Sheep gate. He chose a donkey, a symbol of peaceful trade and lowly station for his first ride through the city.   Interestingly his next return will not be as passive or as peaceful.  The clear juxtaposition of choosing first a donkey and then a horse for his second return to Jerusalem was significant not only to the Jews, but to the ruling Roman body.  Horses were for royalty and for war.  Signs and symbols of power and might, they were used not only as transport, but as intimidation, terror and crowd control.  And his return to Jerusalem will not be through the sheep gate, it will be through the Eastern gate, the Golden gate, the only gate that enters from the outside directly to the temple mount facing the Mount of Olives to the East.  It has been sealed  for over a thousand years despite several plots and violent attempts to open it.  It will indeed be opened one day, only once, by only one King.

 

Memorial hospital, here in South Bend, has a little chime that plays for the birth of each child. It rings throughout the hospital.  It is not long or loud, but at any given moment, the tinkling sound lightens for a moment, that bleak house.  It pierces through the painful prognosis, the mechanical noises of IV pumps and infusion sets, the intimidating whine of the radiation room, the click and hum of a hundred different machines reporting on a hundred different problems.  It is a pause in the pain of a difficult place.  It is heard by the patients in the psych ward, fighting their own little monsters.  It is heard by the homeless addicts in the ER and the educated medical personnel alike.  By the staff as they clean, cook, organize and go about their daily duties.  I asked a nurse once if it became so common place that it almost didn’t register.  Her response, “Oh absolutely not.  It is always there, almost like we are waiting for it.”  She worked on a difficult floor.  Hers was the job of caring for high risk cancer patients.  The ones who were not making it.  She was the witness to stand in the room, quietly during the pronouncement that a person has left this Earth.  How fitting that her ears were ever tuned for the uplifting chime of a life entering it two floors below.

 

God chose a chime to herald the birth of his Son on Earth.  The chime of the host of Heaven.  Most assuredly more impressive than the tinkle of that little hospital bell.  I always smile just a little when I read the account of those shepherds long ago.  Not just a day job shepherding was.  Luke refers to them as living in the fields and watching the flocks at night.  An angel appeared and in my mind I think … his first words were to shout “FEAR NOT!”  scaring the living daylights out of the poor witless shepherds.  God’s unique sense of humor.  I admit that’s probably not how it happened, but I always felt the irony.  I am not sure where the notion emerged that angels are fair-haired, feminine, toga-wearing beings who emanate a soft glow and have beautiful white feathery wings.  Biblically, all references to angels are masculine and frankly a little scary! Their descriptions in Revelation are awe-inspiring, but in no way “gentle and sweet” as we tend to see them hovering over children’s cribs.   Ironic too is their presence and proclamation to a group of people who carried no social weight.  A shepherd’s witness was not admissible in the courts of the day, and they were considered less value than the sheep they were tending.  Yet God chose them.  The foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.

 

We wield logic, we rest in faith.  We use logic as a tool in winning an argument to a provable definable end, but we err greatly if we conversely see faith as the weak and passive opposite to logic.  Faith is not passive, it is living and active and permeates our every fiber.  From infancy we form our faith.  Children are creatures of amazing faith, simple, complete and unassuming.  Faith in fact, precedes logic.   But the two are not mutually exclusive and should work together like a finely tuned machine.  A few years ago a friend and I discussed the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection and the hope and faith in his promised return.  My friend disregarded faith as fallible and faulty, unsubstantiated, unprovable, unfounded.  An exercise for the weak of mind.  I reminded him that scientific method must by definition include human perspective.   Was the world flat until we discovered through astrocartography and circumnavigation, that it was not so?  Did the planets and galaxy clusters outside the Hubble deep space telescope’s ever-increasing view exist prior to their observation?  Did gravity exist before Newton formulated that every mass exerts an attractive force on every other mass?  Certainly.  Truth does not require our admission, it does not need our approval or agreement.  It does not need for us to understand it or recognize it or validate it.  Truth exists as a stand-alone, Pro se entity.   I wrote a chemical equation on a piece of paper, C12H22O….. X .  I asked him to solve for X using Pierre Provost’s theory of exchanges.  Provost’s theory is utilized throughout both applied and theoretical physics and I knew he would understand the reference.  He rolled his eyes and I can hear the haughty sneer of condescension in his voice as he shook his head and said, “That is ridiculous.  You can’t solve a Chemistry equation with a Physics theory.”  I smiled.  “Nor can you answer a Faith based question through logical argument alone.”  God will not be mocked.  God created a Universe more vast than any branch of Science can diminish.  He created a universe so exact in its minutiae as to hold a complete and working biome in a single droplet of water or a speck of dirt.  He will not be confused or concerned by our small disagreements and little logic problems.  (By the way… it’s O11… a disaccharide combination of monosaccharides that we call Sucrose… common table sugar.)

In a Micky Mouse special, Mickey proclaims, “Christmas is found by the way that we live, not what we receive, but what we can give.”

It’s a sweet quote and I am all for giving gifts.  I love it.  But to be completely clear, Christmas is NOT about the way we live.  If that notion were true, Christ’s lineage would be filled with people who could be seen to have backed up that claim.  His first birth announcement would have been at the temple in Jerusalem to the priests and religious elite.  His life would have been dedicated to the proper social strata.


Christmas breaks the rules and shatters propriety.  Christmas fulfills prophesy and promise.  Christmas is not logical.   Christmas is the I Am in the form of a powerless baby.  The I Am who slung the stars into space, more stars than are countable.  In fact, we threw out practical mathematics and developed a whole new theoretical branch of math and STILL can’t number the stars in the sky.  Our futile attempt to understand that which was never ours to comprehend.  And that unnumbered canopy that lights the sky at night, is but a small representation of the vast and pervasive love of a Father for his child.  A love that is without end, without comprehension, without explanation.   It is a relentless love that would command the prophet Hosea to marry the whore Gomer, to demonstrate to a wandering and fickle nation, His undying redemptive love in the face of utter faithlessness.   It is a love that cannot be destroyed, dimmed or denied.  It is not only, the soft gentle response of a mother to her child, but the thundering demand for justice from an entirely holy and completely righteous God.  It is an amazing and wild love, a violent and costly grace.  It is the untamed tidal wave, all-consuming and unfathomable.  Christmas is hope through the birth of a child born to die and through death to save.  Christmas is omnipotence wrapped in strips of cloth, with a dirty feed trough for a bed.  The Alpha and Omega in 7 pounds of wailing helplessness.

 

Christmas is radical.  Never in the history of the world has there been a more loved, more despised man. You cannot sit on the fence.  His very existence requires a radical choice.  He cannot be merely a good man, a clever prophet.  As C.S. Lewis put in his great trilemma, He is either liar, lunatic or Lord.   “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

 

Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve…

 

The baby in the manger who grew, struggled, was tempted, lonely, tired, hurt, tortured, abandoned, bled and died; is no longer the helpless infant in that still and silent town of Bethlehem.  He is very much alive and He is on His throne. He has conquered. The war is won, though the battle is coming.

 

The shepherds response to the angel’s message was as simple as they were.  They held no meeting to discuss the possible meanings and outcomes, they did not vote, they took no gifts, they had nothing of value to offer.  They simply came.  They abandoned the sheep on that hill, the lambs that would provide temporary atonement for sin.  They abandoned the temporary lambs to seek the One eternal Lamb, who could take away the sins of the world once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Make me as simple as those shepherds.  May I ever be willing just to come.  May your Christmas be filled with illogical, radical, life-changing faith in the knowledge of Christ’s deep and indescribable love for you.  His willing sacrifice to save you, not corporeally, but personally, intimately and eternally.  You were bought with a price, redeemed through His righteousness.  You were, are and always will remain loved beyond measure.  The very definition of love, the baby, the King, our Savior Immanuel.

 

To not only Mark and Miranda, but to all of you, each unique, valued, individual and precious…

Merry Christmas.

Please catch me, I’m falling

Greatest game ever developed by childkind… tag!  Whose played it?  Who hasn’t?  I did a little research on the game of tag.  I think it’s really sad that there are whole websites devoted to the rules of tag and how to play it.  Really?  Three year olds can play tag.  If you can toddle you can tag!  And if you need a website to explain it, you might need to play it more and spend less time on the computer.

It has been a while since I posted.  I know that relieves a few people!  This last week has found me running… and falling.  And for some reason this evening I saw this picture of Mark and a little girl in a pink dress (shown below) and this rambling post was born.

Why is the game of tag so fun?  Is it the chasing?  The thrill of running down some poor sucker slower than you?  I mean let’s be perfectly honest…. that’s some good fun right there.  What about being chased?  Feeling your heart pounding as the linebacker who eclipses the sun closes in on you.  Wondering when you will feel that hand on your back.  Wondering if you run toward someone else if he will veer off and chase them instead.  But honestly… you really want to be chased don’t you?  Because for that moment when you are being chased, you are the sole desire of the chaser.  You are their target.  You are the goal, you are the prize.  You are worth it.

What about Hide and seek? Another great game, not created by adults with PhD’s but screaming giggling children.  What is the allure, the universality of that game?  When I played this game as a child (I have played it as an adult, armed with paintball guns and I have to say the adrenaline rush is worth the welts) no one really wanted to seek.   You had to take your turn of course, but what we really wanted was to hide.  We were all in search of the perfect spot, I remember quietly whispered fights over who had the right to climb into the corn crib, who got to hide in the springhouse in the milkroom, how could we get out onto the roof of the haymow, who was gutsy enough to hide in the shed with the hornets nests?  I hold true to the notion, that the ultimate delight in both games… is being found, being caught, being rescued, being saved.

 

There is something special about being caught.  We call it an implication and inference relationship. Today, more and more, we use the word “imply” universally and make no distinction between that word and it’s counterpart, “infer.”  An implication is an indirect statement of intent.  The recipient of that implication, then infers it’s meaning.  In this case, the “it” person makes an implication that, “I’m going to get you.”  The inference on the part of the chasee is, “I am wanted.”  Being the chasee, also requires that we assume a defensive rather than offensive position.  Being in a defensive position is the fine art of managing vulnerability and playing to weakness.   Being completely defenseless is not about handing control to someone else, it is about having no control to give.  Being completely defenseless is never a good feeling.  Falling, is a defenseless position.  Unless you can overcome gravity, you are going to hit the ground.  Or…. you can be caught.  Saved.  Being caught is being saved.  Clearly we aren’t talking here about apprehension of a criminal, though there is some interesting psychology to certain criminals wanting to be caught.

So returning to the game of tag.  There would be little game if there were no adrenaline filled rush away from the chaser.  We run for all we are worth, back arched, heart pounding, panting, arms pumping.  For the fast kids, they make their escape, they evade, dodge and the chaser slows into the distance.  But what is their almost immediate response?  As the “it” person slows and turns to see if there are other closer targets, the person who just spent all that effort to evade capture, turns around and willingly chooses to move back into range, they bait the chaser.  If he really didn’t want to be caught… he would keep running, right?  But we all know the truth.  We all want to be caught.  We want someone to set their focus on us and pursue us.  We want them to not give up.  We want them to be relentless.  In the little room in our mind we are saying, sometimes screaming, “please don’t give up on me.  Please catch me.”

 

Have you ever played hide and seek where the seeker quits?  5 kids hide, 4 are found and the seeker quits.  How does that one, still-hiding kid, feel?

 

Guinea Pigs.  My roommate and I, both early in our undergrad studies, agree to be test subjects for one another.  It ran from the marginally absurd, I made her spend a week speaking and writing in Iambic Hexameter (the meter in which Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey are written).  It was one of the quietest weeks we ever spent together, though it crackled with tension and electricity.  I asked her at the end of the week,  “How then did this, a week of torture, cause you to reflect?”   We were not roommates for longer than a year!  But she was worse!  She had access to a psychology medical lab and made me take the Stanford-Binet and WAIS tests and then made me do it AGAIN while she blared Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Godda Da Vida” as loudly as she could.  She then created some lame excuse to strap an EEG to my head and make me take an Echoic Memory recall test…. twice!  I began calling her Dr. Moreau, she responded by calling me Homer.  She was studying how people perceive, learn and recall.  Our degree paths were not entirely similar, but symbiotic enough that we each gained a degree of benefit.  I enjoyed referring to it as a parasitic relationship, where I provided her a somewhat abnormal memory recall spectrum to study and she provided me amusement and a broadening vocabulary of profanity.  But joking aside, perception was an amazing study.  Perception, at its inception… is objective.  It begins with a distal and neutral stimulus.  But from that moment forward, the observer’s impression of that thing or action begins to change.  Perception, at its cessation, is completely subjective.

 

In this simple game of hide and seek, there are 3 perceptive groups.  The seeker, who in this case has given up, the found kids, and the 5th child, still hiding, still waiting.  The seeker implies that he has exhausted his search of all known hiding spots, the 5th child then makes an inference based on this.  The seeker implies that he is tired, but the hiding child perceives and then infers (incorrectly) that he is unworthy of being found.

 

I don’t think that children consciously go through all the thought process listed above, but we see this theme played out throughout our lives in many different ways and circumstances.

 

I had a friend in the military who trained as a jumper.  I am a bit of a thrill seeker, but the prospect of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane leaves me with clammy hands.  I asked him how it felt and what he thought during the jumps.  He said, that initially the heart pounding is that first step out the door, but rather quickly training and the habituation of repeated ground drills take over and you become automatic, checking your harness, headset and altimeter.  But I found his next words fascinating.  He said, “But you never get over the rush of feeling the whoosh and backward jerk of your chute opening and filling behind you.”  Being caught.  After the big step and the long fall, it is the being caught that remained ever fixed in his memory.

 

mark7

It would be interesting to me to discover how people respond when they see a picture like this.  I find myself smiling, do you?  Not because there is a caption, and there is no animation or joke.  Not because roping is clearly a skill, and one that few possess well enough to create the above picture.  So why do I have such a visceral response to this?  By the way I grit my teeth upon typing “visceral” because it relates to the emotive quality of response minus the intellectual process.  Something that I am entirely uncomfortable with, but it truly is the proper word to use when I saw this picture.  I suppose on some level because I know the man doing the “catching” I am unable to be entirely unbiased.  But I’m sure that part of it is that I relate to that girl’s smile.  This girl may or may not have any notion of the skill and expertise needed for roping and it is likely that she never experienced anyone doing this before, yet she shows no fear or apprehension.  Granted it is also possible that the camera operator just said, “smile!”  I get that, but at its core, this picture says, “I gottcha!” and as well as the “I gottcha” there is an implied, “and you will be ok.”  It is comfort in a coil of rope.

 

mark8

I was not here when this picture was taken.  I stalked Mark and Miranda’s FB pages to find a few of these because I remembered having seen them. From the dates and the general attendance age, I would surmise that this was some sort of class demo, there were some calves and animals present for the kids to pet and I’m sure they got to interact with Mark and Miranda’s horses as well.  But this picture struck me and I can’t really say why.  It is the little boy’s body language.  We can’t see his face, but we could make some educated guesses as to what he might be feeling right at this moment.  Maybe it is wonder or a moment of nervousness, his back is tensed and his arms are closed and his shoulders are tightened up so that he clearly sees the rope coming.  He has maybe played a sufficient amount of dodgeball to be wise enough to hide behind the girl in the front… live to fight another day young man!

mark4

I suppose this picture is not really about being caught, but I think that for most people the word “held” would come to mind and the two are often intertwined.  I find that the only word we can really read on her shirt, “love” somehow adds to the impact of this photo.

miranda46

This picture does not represent  being caught in any way, but there is something about the invisible thread that links these two at this particular frozen moment in time.  It is mostly the body language Miranda is expressing.  She is in no way passive in this picture.  Not a disinterested onlooker.  She is actively engaged, as is the child.  We do not see people in the background, we have no idea what the subject matter is, possibly the girl was asking a question or telling Miranda a great secret.

And why are all these pictures of children?  I am sure that Mark and Miranda have roped a few adults in a demo, but somehow the smallness of children bends our hearts in a different, perhaps more evocative manner.  As adults we often forsake the wild abandon of play for clinical propriety.  We lose the notion that there is joy in being pursued for no better reason than that the pursuit leads to capture.  As adults we need an excuse, we need a reason.  Sometimes desperate need is its own reason.  We need to be caught. What does the game of tag teach us?  What do we get from it?  Well…. nothing!  You run screaming and giggling through the yard and field for no benefit.  You wont make money playing tag.  There are some physics lessons applicable when that bigger kid plows into you but let’s be honest, we aren’t studying rocket science here.  We are playing.

In the late 1800’s a man named Francis Thompson wrote a poem called, “The Hound of Heaven.”  It is lengthy and difficult to follow and requires a bit of back story to wade through effectively.  I was required to read and reform the work as part of class one year and it remains the most troubling struggle I faced in all my classes.  It is Thompson that I credit for my personal discovery of Vodka, which was possibly the only way I could make it through his history and lifework.  It is also the one and only project that I failed… willingly walked out on mentally.  More than any other author, I disliked Francis Thompson.

Thompson was a devout Catholic and ascetic.  He struggled most of his life.  At odds with his father who was a physician, Francis was clearly seen as brilliant and originally studied medicine but had no interest in it.  He quit school to pursue writing, which further estranged him from his father.  After an injury or illness (I don’t recall which) he took opiates for pain and became addicted. He was for a time, homeless and poor.  His efforts to overcome his addiction failed and he attempted suicide.  He ultimately died in his mid 40’s of Tuberculosis.

His poem was clearly reflective of his life.  But the more important figure-head is the Hound, a reference to God, who continually pursued him through his darkness.  The entire poem is a metaphorical reference to a chase.  Continuing throughout are themes of being pursued, followed and hunted.   The hound was clearly not all that was hunting Thompson.  His life was a testament to the monsters of his past stalking him in the dark. We are left somewhat to wonder if Thompson ever allowed himself to be captured… and maybe more importantly…. by whom.

 

Everyone should be chased.  Everyone should fall and feel the safety of arms catching you.  Either literally, figuratively or metaphorically, everyone should be caught.  We all need to be saved from one thing or another.  We could all benefit from a little game of tag.  There is no real winner or loser to the game of tag.  It is a cyclically continuous game.  So don’t run too fast, stay engaged, and get caught.

 

 

No pain, No gain, No train

No pain, no gain

 

We’ve all heard the phrase.  It became more recently popular in the exercise world through the likes of Jane Fonda and her “feel the burn” aerobics routines.  But its origins are somewhat further back and frankly of more intelligent design.

 

Benjamin Franklin, in his persona of Poor Richard wrote this, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains.”  And even further back to Robert Herrick who wrote in “Hesperides” that, “If little labour, little are our gains:  man’s fate is according to his pains.”

 

Both statements were sociologically and politically motivated. Both make some very good references to working hard to receive a reward, or results.  I agree completely with the philosophical notion of working hard to gain a reward.  But I struggle with the theory in practice of “no pain, no gain” when it comes to the training of the mind and body.  Partially because the use of the word “pain” referred to “effort” and not to physical pain or the use of punitive punishment.

 

I will apologize for my references here to the training of canines.  I understand there are numerous and varied differences between the training of an equine and the training of a canine.  Sadly, it is my only frame of reference.  I’m sorry.  Disclaimer duly stated.

 

I trained with a number of great men in the police and SAR world at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Many of them trained with a lot of compulsion, which is simply a nice way of saying that they used force.  Force is a much maligned word and should not be equated with abuse.  They were great trainers and I never saw a dog abused or harmed in one single instance there.  That is also not the same as saying that their canines did not experience stress, because they surely did.  In fact, quite a bit of stress.  They made no apologies for creating stressful situations in which they placed their dogs.  Their dogs lives were on the line, more importantly, the lives of the men and women who were using those canines, were also on the line.

 

But there’s always that one person isn’t there!  In this case, I wont use his name but we’ll call him Jo-bob… because every stereotype that just came into your mind when you read that name…. fit him like a glove!  Jo-bob had about six teeth and it might have been generous to say that he had that many functioning brain cells.  Jo-bob wanted to be a cop.  Well, Jo-bob wanted the perceived power and authority and prestige of being a police officer, without the extreme commitment to maintaining decorum when faced with adversity and often a heaping helping of stupidity.  And this was well before the “black lives matter” nonsense.

 

Jo-bob’s training methods showed his lack of thought and shallow pool of character and his dog suffered for it.  Jo-bob, took literally the notion of “no pain, no gain.”  It’s worth noting that Jo-bob’s dog, a well-balanced, well-bred (possibly better bred than his owner) Belgian Malinois, took the “no pain, no gain” concept seriously as well.  For the next few months Jo-bob put his dog through a rigorous and painful domination routine.  Jo-bob demanded instant acquiescence to his every command and meted out harsh punishments for what he saw as refusals.  But Jo-bob’s powers of perception were at most 15 watt and flickering.  About the umpteenth time that Jo-bob brought his dog to train, there was a collective groan from the club when he swaggered onto the field.  As he began his obedience routine we noticed a marked difference in his dog.  He was stiff and mechanical and lacked the high-wire enthusiasm that almost any Malinois owner knows marks that breed.  The air seemed almost to crackle with electricity.  Jo-bob was blissfully unaware but it was clear to the rest of us that today was going to be memorable.  As Jo-bob rounded the final blind to return down the field he sharply corrected his dog to quicken his pace and pull up beside him.  As the dog tried to round the corner faster and keep pace with his handler, Jo-bob corrected him again… at this point, let me stop and change the wording here.  The dog was already moving to come into a better heel position, so Jo-bob’s punch and jerk was not correction, it was punishment, it was punitive and it was worthless as an informational tool.  Had the dog been dragging, not paying attention or not trying, some form of correction would have been warranted, but the dog was in the process of attempting to comply.  So as Jo-bob punished his dog for trying, the dog anticipated another punch and jerk and decided to take a more proactive approach.  Now, I know some of you wont like what I say next, but you probably needed to be there to see the poetic response of this dog.  Without breaking stride and coming into a beautiful heel position, he reached calmly over and gripped Jo-bob’s left hand.

 

I have put a bite sleeve on and taken a bite by a dog doing protection work.  It is a heavy jute sleeve with a stiff anti-compression device meant to protect the arm of the agitator.  I remember when I took the hit, my concern was being freight trained and knocked off my feet by the dog jumping at me.  But when I felt the full mouth on the sleeve I was instantly humbled by the power, even through the reverse compression sleeve, as it mashed my arm tight.  Respect.

 

When a dog lacks nerve and bites repeatedly over and over, trainers call it “corncobbing.”  It is a bad trait.  It is basically the dog telling you, “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do, so I am going to bite and let go and bite and let go until you make it clear to me what I am suppose to do.”  Jo-bob’s dog showed no such insecurity.  He did not rip at Jo-bob’s hand, snarl or show any other outward aggression.  Had there been people there that did not understand what they were seeing, it might have appeared that J0-bob’s dog was simply gently holding his hand and walking him to the finish line.  I assure you, he was not.

 

Jo-bob swore up and down the field and cursed the dog and his mother.  He railed in rage against the dog’s stubborn stupidity.  One of the men took the dog to a crate at the side of the field.  I found it interesting to note that none of us were really worried about handling his dog.  We understood.  Dog bites are a serious business and should be taken seriously.  I do not make light of dogbites but…  I am human and pretty flawed, and I admit that the words, “nice dog right there, shame about the handler though.”  Might have crossed my mind.

 

The whole point of this story being that Jo-bob’s infliction of pain did not get him the gain that he assumed it might.  I have always strongly held to the notion that if you must inflict pain to coerce your dog (or horse?) to perform, you are doing it wrong and your “training” is faulty!  The problem is almost invariably NOT in the animals unwillingness, but in the humans inability to make it clear to the animal what is wanted and/or expected.

 

In training service dogs we talk about the 4D’s.  Duration, Distance, Distraction and Difficulty.  Many people have a dog that will sit on command or so they think.  But people do not often recognize the subtle cues or in some cases what could be called, “miscues” that they are giving.  Sometimes almost constantly giving.  Nor do we always recognize what is called situational generalization.   I once talked to a woman at the park who had a beautiful Lab.  Nice dog, but a little nutty.  Crazy for anything that moved, including leaves and stray blades of grass.  As our dogs played, she told me that her dog was finely trained and I did not doubt her.  That is, until a squirrel, with an apparent death wish, meandered onto the scene.  Our dogs immediately raced for it.  At almost the same time, we both shouted “down.”  And as luck would have it, my dog came to a grinding halt and while she stayed down, she did turn to look back at me with what could only be described as a withering glare.  Her dog was gone.  The squirrel made a bee-line for, of all places, the road. Fortunately, it wasn’t busy and both squirrel and dog made it safely across!  We eventually got the heaving happy mass back on a leash.  The dog was thrilled, the lady was shaken, they left for home.  I am an average dog trainer, don’t assume that couldn’t have been my dog racing through the countryside.  But early on, I was blessed with the knowledge someone far wiser gave me that I should never assume that my dog was fully trained until I could do every task at a distance, under distraction (including suicidal squirrels), through duration and in difficult circumstances with a high amount of reliability and precision.  From that point on, I trained my dogs to heel in reverse, through obstacles and to mirror my body position from 10 feet away.

 

I had trouble and difficulty.  As I said, I am only an average trainer.  And I suppose you could say I had pain with no gain and I had some pain with gain.  I had dogs that seemed disinterested or unmotivated and one dog in particular that I could have sworn had played too long in the shallow end of the gene pool with Jo-bob.  But at no time during this training did I assume that the dog needed to be blasted if he refused a cue.   What he needed was clear and concise information on what the cue meant and how to go about making the right decision easy for him.   That responsibility, the making it clear, was not his, it was mine.

 

Take the simple cue to “sit.”  I had a room-mate with a dog that would come in obediently and sit after each and every potty break.  But as I watched her interact with the dog I became interested in the “behavior” that surrounded this cue “sit.”  On a walk around the neighborhood one day, my roommate asked her dog to sit.  Her dog, Fluffy (I don’t really remember her name) then behaved as though she had never heard the word before.  Indeed she had never heard the word spoken out of context.  She had never been asked to perform that behavior outside the confines of all her normal and regular surroundings.  To the dog’s way of thinking, she hadn’t gone outside to the bathroom, she hadn’t come inside, there was no refrigerator in front of her.  All of those things were part and parcel of the cue “sit.”  She was lost.  She wasn’t being a jerk, she simply had not learned that “sit”  meant, any time, any place and under any circumstances.  What she did not need though, was pain.  She needed schooling, patience, consistency and proofing.  What she needed was the trainer to understand and take the lead.

 

Now, I have used a prong collar, I have used an electric collar, I have used a herm-sprenger and a choke collar.  They are all tools.  They are all useful tools, when properly understood, fitted and employed.  I am, again, not sure this translates to the training of horses, and forgive me (and please correct me) if that is not so.  But tools themselves are fairly neutral devices.  They do not correct or shape behavior on their own.  They can evince great results…. both good and bad.  They require human hands and hopefully, human understanding and a considered thoughtful plan of action.  Of course a prong collar looks medieval to a human, and herein sometimes lies a problem with the anthropomorphizing of animals.

 

I had a sled dog team when I was younger and crazier.  And of course heard all the stories of “poor dogs left to sleep out in the cold.”  My dogs all had boxes but I did not bring them inside or give them heated blankies.  Why?  Because they didn’t need it.  Their core body temperature is well above humans, they have a metabolic rate that supports thermal conservation, and they have a nifty double coat of fur.  To treat them as human beings, would have been a disservice to them.  They are not human, they are canine.  It is a distinctly different thing to look out for our animals welfare, to be proper stewards of those animals in our care; than to attribute to them human characteristics that they will never possess and are not equipped to deal with or process.

 

One of the things that impressed me about Mark and Miranda and their training, is their ability to understand, assess and utilize.  From the spoken account that the horse owner offers when bringing a horse for training, to their assessment of the horse (which may be vastly different than the owner’s verbal information), to the utilization of tools and techniques to continue forward with training.  I am lucky if I don’t trip over a lunge line, so to watch a fine horseman who knows precisely why they are doing what they are doing, and the how and why of the tools they are using, is part talent, part art form and a lot of experience.

 

Early on when my daughter expressed interest in not just riding, but learning to train a horse, I read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos.  Some were good, some not so much.  I remember distinctly a video by a very prominent trainer showing the how-to’s of a given exercise.  I waited for the why, but it never came.   To my skeptical mind, this made me distrustful.  Either A. you don’t think I’m sharp enough to understand the “why;” or B.  keeping me in the dark by giving me only half the information that I need, keeps me dependant upon you; or C.  YOU don’t understand the “why.”   … None of these options impresses me…. I choose to move along.

 

Recently a question was raised for Miranda about the progression of snaffle to bridle horse.  I am hoping that I can pull it off my ipad, but so far, I have been unable to do so, though I am still trying. I may have to have her re-tell the conversation so that I can place it here, it is well worth listening to.   I recognized that this was someone who not only knew how to do something, she knew precisely why each step needed to be reached, and in what order and progression.  What the signs were that showed her that a horse “got it” and how and when to move on.  The knowledge and use of a tool is very important.  That’s a simple enough concept to understand.  But I believe that equally as important is knowing when NOT to use said tool.  It was clear to me, That I was speaking to someone who fully understood all of that nuance and subtlety.  Furthermore, she was not cagey or withholding in her efforts to make it clear to us.  She wanted us to understand and had the ability to use cogent examples we could relate to, to explain the process.

 

I remember the very first time I met Mark Lyon.  It was in Nebraska, we stopped at their booth. Though he may never have known it, I specifically asked a question that I never got full disclosure on, from the above mentioned big name trainer.  It was not my conscious choice to voir dire Mark, but I had learned my lesson with the big-timey guy who looked a great part but didn’t measure up in the long run.  Mark immediately started telling me what they do in this certain situation and inside my little brain I was saying, “do better.”  And he did.  In fact I have fairly good auditory recall and I can hear his voice when he said, “We want people to understand not only what they are doing, but why they are doing it.”

 

There is always a window, a doorway, an opening.  There is always a way through it.  Sometimes it is as simple as getting connected to the right trainer, who understands that you can get a lot of gain and ditch the pain.

 

For more information please visit their website or FB page.

M & M Horsemanship

 

Elsa Elsa Jirkova Dvora, HRD1, FEMA type I

Giving Thanks

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

These words come from “The Tempest” (actually spoken by Miranda, but not OUR Miranda!) by William Shakespeare and are also the foundational plot line for Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World.”

 

But “beauteous” is not largely the adjective that would best describe our current times.  Though beauty can always be found in the natural world around us or in the eyes of friends and loved ones, the news it seems lately, is filled with ugly strife.  Both far off and at home, we are living an odd parallel of the twisted dystopian society that Huxley created in 1931 and set in the mid 2500 AD.  Huxley, a social satirist, was inspired by H.G. Wells and two of his utopian works, “A Modern Utopia” and “The Sleeper Awakes.”  The latter portrays London on the cusp of martial law and civil war.  Governmental tyranny has dehumanized society which has slumped into base behavior and hopeless squalor.   Huxley referred to his brave new world as a negative-utopian novel.  No offence to Mr. Huxley, but I think the term “negative utopian” is a bit of an oxymoron.  Maybe not.  It is a liberal belief, it seems, that blindly clings to illogical paradox.

 

If you have not read it, you might simply want to stay abreast of current events, the read is not far off our current sociological set of “norms.”   Individual responsibility, thoughts and actions are discouraged.  Historical literature is banned as subversive, children are taught by the state through hypnosis, reproduction is mechanized but sexual expression through perversion and orgies, drug use and movies with added tactile experience are heralded as the new strength and freedom of the ages.  Hedonism is the rule of the day.  Chastity, monogamy, and fidelity are ridiculed as obsolete or religiously oppressive.  (I’m talking about the book synopsis, just in case you might have confused it with 2015).

 

One of the most devastating effects of this brave new world, in the same way that Orwell wrote in “1984” is the judicious, incipient, slow twist and careful revision of history.  “Thought police” and “Think crimes” rule an increasingly socialistic society where you are taught what the answer is, not what to think about it. Questioning is forbidden, disagreement is dangerous. Remembering will get you quietly and permanently removed.

 

In 1947, Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night.”  Largely considered to be a poem in reference to his father’s pending death, the refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,”  has become a much quoted rally cry in the fight against the encroaching passiveness and languor we find ourselves battling as of late.

 

Our history is the shaping feature of our future.  It provides us with a view of the consequences for our actions, not in theory but in historical fact.  It provides both a warning and a hope.  It is our heritage for good and for bad.  It both molds us and allows us the ability to break that mold to throw off the chains of tyranny and with the full knowledge of history, provides us a beacon to guide our way.

 

As certain factions in our government seek to rewrite history for their own political power point, control and manipulation;  it becomes increasingly important to stand up and become the torch bearers.  We uphold the banner, we remember and we will not forget nor will we silently sit passive.

 

Recently we have been told that our founding fathers were not the Christian examples that history set forth.  We are told that they were self-aggrandizing deists who saw a creator that designed the boat but pushed it out to sea, to float and function on its own. Sink or sail.  Disconnected and disinterested.  I see a Creator deeply and intimately involved in the minutia of our everyday lives, both historically and currently.  A Creator who sees when each sparrow falls, notices each tear shed in private, and numbers the hairs on our heads.  He will not sleep, he is not out of touch or behind the times.  Technology does not confuse him, terrorism does not alarm him.  He is I Am, and He is our history, our present and our future.

 

We are then reminded of our founding fathers imperfections; argumentative, uneducated, given to drunkenness, struggling with debt, depression and debauchery… time and technology change, the fallen nature of mankind does not.  This country was not built on perfection, but on perseverance and courage in the face of fear and struggle.  It was built on a firm foundation of faith.  Not on perfection or ability or strength did Peter walk on water, he did so solely and only on faith, with his eyes firmly fixed on the purveyor and author of that faith.  We know what happened when that vision strayed from the mark.

 

I live in the midwest.  I know what it means to be cold.  It is numbing.  That is the problem.  The stinging pain and burn of severe cold reminds us of our small human frail frame.  It keeps us humble in the face of a force greater than ourselves.  The pain of cold is both alarming and invigorating.  It is motivating.  But after too much extreme cold has been repeatedly ignored and overlooked, there creeps a subtle numbing.  The cold becomes less (so it seems but rarely is) it lulls us into a sense of complacent despondency.  It is not then the cold that steals life, it is the choice to accept abject apathy.  Become a helpless victim.  Refuse to accept the warmth and safety just a step away.  This is the numbness that seeps through the message of those who tell us that our “misguided notions” about history are romanticized and overdrawn.  That honor and integrity and character are mere fictionalized projections, a figment of our desire for historical heroes, not factual representations.  That the fulfillment of all we can be, is to get, not give.  That servanthood and sacrifice are synonymous with weakness and should be eradicated at all costs. We are bombarded with the lauding of self-adulation, self-actualization, self-promotion, self-esteem, self-presentation.  But history, the repeated battle cry of our heritage, tolls a different bell.  Self-sacrifice.

 

In a time of gluttonous ungrateful demands for more and more, we have lost the concept that gifts cost the giver.  Illusory superiority, a new term that liberal progressive ideologists have coined in the desperate hope that the term “self entitlement” will die away and slip into obscurity.  It will not.  We will not be fooled by semantics.  We will remember.  Because history teaches us where that slippery road leads.

 

May we always remember the truth of our history.  That as strangers in a strange land, we gave thanks.  We were thankful, not only for the bounty of the harvest, but for the simple warmth of hearth and home.  The comfort of friends and family.  The great gift of shared community.  Not proper high-society community with bone china dinner settings, polished silver cutlery and neatly dressed, finely attended homes.  We were thankful for savages, who bestowed upon strangers a grace uncommon.  We were a people marked by a thankful spirit for the little we had, because we understood the magnitude of those little things.  Stripped bare of the frills of easy living, we valued family, friends, food and home.

 

2015, the season of getting is underway.  I hope that we can pause for a moment to give instead of get.  I am not referring to the giving of tangible things.  I am talking about the extending of grace, the giving of thanks.  I pray that I will be remembered more for what I gave, little though that may be.  Lord, make me like that poor widow, who though only giving two small mites, gave out of a poor purse, but a rich heart.  I pray that our house will always be a home, warmed and lighted with laughter and simple grace, better by far than any amount of finery.  That we will always value simple things.  That we will hold hands when we pray, and hold tightly to each other when we greet and again when we must part.  I pray that I will be thankful for the life given me, the struggles from which I have been allowed to learn and grow,  the path in front of me, wherever it may lead and most importantly, the friends and family who stand ever with me on that path.

 

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  Ephesians 1:16.

 

May that be the touchstone of this season.  “Thanks for you”  not things for me.

 

Thank you, to all who read this post.  For your presence in our lives, for your encouragement and prayers and your light in an often dark place.  Grace and peace to you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

Video submission!

I apologize that this post is both late and brief.  Please forgive me.

 

This post is credited entirely to Miranda and Erin Sisson, who brainstormed at my dining room table over a plate of candied jerky bacon, M&M’s, gummy worms and some sort of chocolate nougat thing.  I don’t know…. there was a lot of sugar and some caffeine and laughter and I think maybe somewhere there was a conversation about horse scented perfume as well!   But in and around the wonderful silliness, there was a conversation about the logistics of clinics.

 

We are entering the season that children describe in terms of excitement and joy and adults describe in terms that I wont publish here.  Winter.  I recently asked a friend  what the temperatures got to in Texas during winter and I felt pretty proud of myself for not snorting outloud.  Let me tell you, it took a bit of control on my part.  But joking aside, winter is an inconvenient time to organize a training event.  The weather, even if it isn’t frigid, may well be unpredictable, or people traveling in from other locales might be dealing with inclement road conditions.  The diminshed daylight also leaves us with less time and sometimes less energy.

 

 

What if you could still gain access to the wisdom of a trainer from the comfort of the couch?  Or at least, a taste of success in the off-season.  A hope for the future.  Hope is an amazing thing.  Everyone should grasp at hope with both hands.  Hope is not a genie in a bottle granting wishes.  Hope is also not the great pinnacle that success is.  Hope is the everpresent pinprick of light that we follow in the dark.  It is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire… it is the still, small voice.  And hope knows no off season.

 

I don’t remember precisely who it was (Erin, I think, she’s clever that way…. mind always working… a little scary sometimes!) that mentioned the idea of having people send in a video clip of their horse, or a problem they are wanting to work on, to have Mark and Miranda look at it and offer advice.

 

So if you have video of you and your horse, or a roadblock you are facing, please send it in and we will try to get you some timely feedback.   If you have a scenario that you have faced or find yourself struggling with, and yet have no video, please send us some detailed info on that too.

 

 

Tell me the Story of You!

I have struggled greatly with the guilt of knowing that this blog is not really a service or benefit to Mark and Miranda as I had hoped it might be.  I intended better but we all know where that road leads.

 

Last week when Miranda and Erin Sisson were visiting, they asked what I’d like to do, and this was first on my list.  I had tried to find a way to record Skype and Facetime calls so I could conveniently interview them but apparently the FBI and CIA take a dim view of that sort of thing and have made it incredibly hard!  I tried contacting Hillary because I was sure if anyone could figure out a way around the system, she would have that in the bag, but apparently she lost both my number and my e-mail.

 

It is no great mystery that Mark and Miranda are talented.  I would go further and say gifted.  Talented implies the ability to learn, retain, and utilize data or a skill to a highly effective level.  Many people have talent, at any number of different things.  Gifted, is somewhat outside the scope of human hands.  That does not mean that gifted people do not also work hard to hone a skill and talent, they surely do or should, but those who are gifted have an almost ethereal ability that is not found in the best of textbooks, the finest institutions, or the most rigorous and exacting training regimen.  It is not just talent, it is a gift.

 

 

So intentions and excuses aside, I wanted to hear how Mark and Miranda started.  Furthermore, I wanted you to be able to hear it. Actually audibly hear their voices.  There is something personal in hearing the style, lilt, and syntax that makes up a person’s voice. The small pauses, the choice of words, the emphasis, all those things bring us closer to the speaker.  It draws you in, in a way that written words cannot.  The following represents an attempt at that personalization.   It was not an entirely successful venture, for which I apologize to you as an audience, and more importantly to Mark and Miranda.

 

I was unaware that I could not post audio in a blog unless it is hosted by a third party.  That made me grumpy.  I have, on occasion, gotten in a LOT of trouble by not taking “no” as an acceptable answer.  So I had to upload the audio to Youtube, where I learned that you cannot upload audio alone…  That made me grumpy.  It was at this point that my kids retreated to the barn to do their schoolwork.  After wanting to pull my hair out …  I downloaded software to merge audio and photo.  After a few hours of talking in vicious undertones to my computer, and a few more hours of clipping and sewing and stitching like Dr. Frankenstein in his lair, I am hoping that the resultant product of Miranda telling her story will help you see and hear her in a new light.  Maybe it will also make you see yourself in a new light as well.  Maybe it will inspire you to record your own history. Perhaps you will grow your story and attend a clinic or blaze your own path in some uncharted adventure.

 

I want to credit the photographers who took such wonderful pictures of such a beautiful woman.  Beauty that, despite the great skill of a photographer, can never be truly captured because it is not born on the skin but deeper in.  I take responsibility for any infringement and will be more than happy to edit or correct the video if necessary or as needed.

I did my best to edit out my own voice, other than a couple questions, but I know very little about proper editing.  The voices you hear in the background are Erin Sisson, who wants to be a food critic, (you’ll have to listen to get the joke!) and myself.

Enjoy.

 

 

I am hoping that Mark will be kind enough to allow me the same pleasure of recording his story and will post it whenever he manages to get off a horse long enough talk…  You might have to wait a bit on that one.

 

 

Why stand we here idle?

If time and distance and death were no hindrance, who is it that you would most like to meet?

I did a little research and looked up a top 10 list of historical figures that people say they would most like to meet.  (This comes from the San Diego library and ranking system, 2013)

  1.  Jesus Christ
  2. Princess Diana
  3. William Shakespeare
  4. Albert Einstein
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Leonardo Da Vinci
  7. Elvis Presley
  8. Roald Dahl
  9. Freddie Mercury
  10. Martin Luther King

Wow.  Whaaat??  You’re joking right?  Freddie Mercury?  Frankly, there is only one person on that list that would have ever made my own!

Whoever you might have on your list, I have advice for you.  Throw it out.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people I admire historically.  One pretty high up for me would be Patrick Henry.  The following is an excerpt from a speech he gave in 1775, St. John’s church, Richmond, Virginia.

 

I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.  The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country.  Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not?  For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

We must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.   The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

Why stand we here idle?  Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

 

This speech was made by Henry to raise up a private militia (times change, needs rarely do, we could use that militia right now!)  This speech makes the blood pound in my ears.  I agree!   But so often we seem to feel that these are the kinds of words that are spoken in a bygone time by long-ago people, with antiquated ideals and past tense issues.  I disagree.  Completely and strongly.  Those words are timeless.  And they are held timeless by brave men and women still today.  They are held by guardians of freedom who refuse to stand idly by.  They resolutely refuse to be silent and helpless, throwing up their hands in apathetic hopelessness.  Strong men and women who wont play the victim, who hold the standard and the banner, not in bitter anger, but in the hope of a future that they are courageous enough to influence.

I am not sure I believe in heros.  We are inundated these days with notions of super-humanity.  Perhaps I have grown jaded, or maybe I have simply refined what I expect of that moniker, hero.  People who can fly, turn green and huge and powerful, spin a web, pick up an impossible hammer, fly and move metal with their minds, or ride on ice… really?  Why we have this need for abilities outside our own is a bit of a mystery to me.   Remember that song…. He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.  He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon and he’s gotta be larger than life.

What is larger than life?  This question has been drilled home to me in recent days.  I admit that this little trained monkey has a bit of a pet peeve and here it is:   “I’m going to give it 110%!”    My teeth grind just a little and I have to quietly remind myself that what is important is more the spirit in which it was said and not the technicality therein.  But… you cannot give more than 100%.  100% is all.  Don’t look to give more, give that.

Hero or Heroine is defined in the dictionary as:  A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.

Nowhere in that definition does it say, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  Why?  Simply unnecessary.

 

I hope someday someone asks me the question, “Who would you most like to meet?”

I am ready with my answer.  I have met them.  They are not people of the past.  They are alive and well.  Though not all of them.

I met a man who struggled daily.  Panic and anger and fear haunted his dreams and many of his waking moments.  He was demoralized by large crowds, his hands would grow clammy and he would back into a corner.  A simple restaraunt meal would find him jockeying into a position to see all entrances.  Easy it would be to relegate him to the slag-heap of cowardice, until you peek behind the curtain.  He had spent months walking a razor wire in Iraq.  He had looked down the scope, sighted in on the moving figure, and pulled the trigger.  He had lost companions and friends and brothers-in-arms.  He had paid, and dearly.  It was to be his habit and life and waking breath to walk the line out on the road, intent for any unturned rock hiding an unseen landmine.  He had spent countless nights huddled in the green claustrophobic haze of night vision goggles, waiting, listening for the click and pop from the shell and his own impending end.  He had lost a leg in his service.   He returned to a largely thankless country, ashamed of his “murders and heinous acts.”  The same acts that allow me to sleep safe in my home, free and able to carry on with only the small worrys of my here and now.  I remain forever in his debt.  Humbled by his life.  And he carries on.  He stands not idly by.

I met a child who died from cancer.  Her death made me see life in a very different way.  She cried when she was stuck, she was angry and expressed it all.  In the end, her cape was pulled quietly over her head.  She fought.  Not with bullets or fists, but she fought none the less.  She did not stand idly by.

This blog is about Mark and Miranda so it doesn’t take much of a roadmap to realize at least part of what I think and how I feel about them.  I am not an easily impressed individual.   I do not trip through the daisies with any person who happens to throw a few nice words my way and I am more likely to remain silent than to offer mindless compliments of my own in return.   I hope though, that at the end of my days, it can be said of me that I encouraged people somehow with something in some small way.   Compliments are nice, and we all appreciate a sincerely given praise.  But we often grow more from kind and honest correction.  Encouragement is an entirely different thing.  It is the practice of emboldening someone.  Producing in that person the courage to move forward, often through  adversity.   It is the ability to revitalize flagging confidence.  To build and grow a person, to motivate and inspire them and their dream.  To plant the seed that will flourish and bloom and produce ten fold.  THAT is what Mark and Miranda have done for me.  And not only me, but countless others.  They have through persistence and patience and encouragement and humor, breathed life into many and certainly me.  They have changed my life.  They have changed the lives of my girls.  They have changed my horses.

When I look to the best of life; things like that empassioned speech that Patrick Henry gave.  The best of our great country, the wildness and spirit of the men and women who shape it.  I do not look backward.  I do not live nostalgically for past leaders.  I look forward to people like Mark and Miranda.  Why?  They do not stand idly by.

If I can encourage, in any way, to any wandering or questioning person, call, go to a clinic, seek, ask.  Help, encouragement and hope are waiting and available.   For me, it started with a simple admission of need.  I need help.  That’s what I said, almost those exact words.  Hard, a bit humiliating when I see myself juxtaposed against a sea of more talented, more experienced and all in all, much better people.  I had little to offer, but “little” was enough.  Little, was enough to change my life.

“We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.”  

Do not stand idly by.

 

M & M Horsemanship

Happy Anniversary Mark and Miranda!

October 2, 2010

 

Falling in love is an amazing thing.  The warmth of romance, how your heart pounds and breath quickens.  How you see them out of  the corner of your eye and something inside you aches a little and you find yourself subtly leaning toward them.  How they make the rough parts of you softer and sharpen the parts that need tuning and honing.  Iron sharpens iron.  Falling in love is an amazing thing.

 

Staying in love…  Is an art form.  Falling is an act of gravity, staying is a practiced skill, a considered decision, a choice.  It is not emotion or feeling.  Waking up next to the person who has stolen every single inch of sheet and cover, who leaves toothpaste in the sink and socks on the floor.  Kissing them when you are angry, hugging them when you are hurt…. because they are the one who hurt you.  That is staying.

 

I read a lot.  And by a lot, I mean that I have on file a saved list of many of the books that I have read and a short few sentences about each book.  It spans 56 pages.  Some of it was written as a compilation during my college years for my degree.  Some of it grew afterwards just because I love to read.  I will read almost anything.  I have read the Bhagavad Gita, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War;”  Sein und Zeit by Martin Heideggar; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales;  on and on.  The one genre I lack on my reading list in almost it’s entirety, unless it is listed as classic literature (and therefore a requirement for my degree)… romance.  I hate them.  I find them cloying and simplistic, rife with over sentimentality.  Lacking in depth.   Feelings, I’m not a great fan of them.  I have them, don’t get me wrong.  But expressing them…. not so good at it.

 

In Linguistic analysis and composition class, we were required to pick the genre that we most disliked.  Being a not entirely stupid person, I saw where this was going, so I lied and said, “historical biography”  my room mate at the time, ratted me out, something I am loathe to forgive her for!  So I was forced to write a 25,000 word essay on romance.  I think it took about 10 years off my life and made me seriously consider life in a convent!  (And I’m not Catholic!).  I did it, I got a passing grade.  I wouldn’t do it again.  I probably made some sort of under-my-breath vow to never write about romance ever again.

 

And yet… here I am…

 

Webster’s dictionary says that romance means:  the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

 

That’s nice.  Kinda bleh in my mind.  It doesn’t move me.  I know, that’s so sad right?  You know what DOES move me?

 

This…

 

Shortly before graduating college the same professor who tortured me with having to write that essay on romance was at the mall one evening.  He had been shopping.  I dont remember what I was there for.  I didn’t go often, I don’t enjoy random shopping.  He was there with his wife, they were elderly, had married very young and been married for 45 years at the time.  His wife’s name was Ruth and she had Alzheimer’s.  They were relaxing at the mall when Dr. Robinson saw something in a store window and stepped briefly inside to take a closer look.  He said he was only gone for a few seconds he thought.  When he came out, Ruth was gone.  I was walking one direction, he was standing talking to a police officer.   I saw him and something inside me tightened.  I went over to him and when he recognized my face, he reached for me and clung to me.  I do not mean that he just held my hand.  He clung to me.  I am not the kind of person that people normally cling to.  I am not blessed with beauty or grace or even great sensitivity.  I am by all purposes and evidences more ordinary than anyone you will ever forget.  Here was a man of great import, in charge of my success in my future degree.  He held the keys to many doors and the attention of college board members, and powerful and wealthy donors to the literary degree program.  He was a force.   And at that very moment he was alone and terrified.  He shook and gripped my arm so much that I remember seeing bruises in the following days.  I wish they had never faded.  I stood with him, leaning into him, at a total loss as to what to do or how to help.

 

From across the mall isle out of another store, Ruth came walking.  She had no idea where she was or that her wandering had caused such immense pain and fear.  Dr. Robinson saw her first and racing up to her he wrapped her in his arms.  I heard him whispering to her and I stepped away from them.  It felt voyeuristic to be there and overhear.  It was a private moment somehow, there in the middle of a throng of passing people.   I heard a part of what he murmured to her and it was so personal, I will not even write it.  I felt somehow like I had been allowed to see something very painful and almost perfect.  You could tell by the look on her face that she had no notion of the turmoil her small momentary absence had caused.  You could see through his tears that this was no small romance, this was an epic love story.  Stolen from her mind, it was now a one-sided courtship, love without acknowledgement or understanding.  Robbed of her remembrance of him, it only deepened his great and overpowering commitment to her.

 

They were no longer the sleek young couple dressed to the nines in tux and gown with perfect makeup and polished nails.  No flowers or streamers.  No batting eye lashes and sly smiles.

 

Every crease, every line in their faces were the shared experiences of 45 years of good times and bad.  Every wrinkle, every arthritic joint, the thinning hair and dentures, the aches and pains and corrective shoes.  None of it would have made a good romance novel.  But all of it made a good life.  A life with a forever friend.  A commitment.  A vow.  A promise.

 

A wedding is a beautiful thing.  A time for celebration and joy.  It is a moment in time.  But a marriage… a marriage is a covenant.  A bond.  An indenture.  A willingness to submit for the betterment of the other.  A marriage is not 50/50.  A marriage is 100/100.

 

In the Jewish tradition the vows during the exchanging of the rings are:  “Behold, you are consecrated to me by this ring.”

 

Consecrated.  To be declared holy and set apart.  Dedicated one to the other.

 

My prayer for you, that God be ever the center pillar of your lives together.  May he grant you just enough troubled water to make you reach for each other in hard times, and to more fully appreciate each other’s unique design in His plan.   To forever rest in the light and joy of seeing love in each other’s eyes in and through the good times and the hard.   May He keep you protected in mind and body and spirit.  May he fill you and use you.  Like the alabaster jar, broken and spilled out, may your lives be the aroma that fills the room around you.

 

Happy Anniversary Mark and Miranda.