Thursday, December 30, 2010

Word of the Year


This isn't my word of the year, but it's sure one of my favorites, maybe because it seems to happen so often in the life I'm observing all around. The dictionary, which sometimes has definitions you'd want to quote on Facebook, doesn't quite cut it with this word - "The faculty of making unexpected but desirable discoveries." Ugh, faculty? Boring.

And serendipity is anything but boring. Here's my definition - "An out-of-the blue meeting with someone delightful with a thought or action that can change your life."

I had one of those encounters at the post office in Sisters the other day. I'd been thinking the usual end-of-one-year-beginning-of-another thoughts and was trying to put them into doable words. Lots of words, as is my tendency. My friend, Lynn, listened for a moment, then told me what she does. She chooses one word, get that, one word, to use as a filter through which to gauge her actions and observations of the world.

(To give credit where credit is due, she got the idea from Christine Kane, a song-writer and life coach who writes way more comprehensively than I on the subject. Read her thoughts about the word of the year at )

This seemed a much better way to greet the new year than a laundry list of to-do's. My mind immediately started thinking up words, phrases, whole paragraphs of pithy and helpful filters! Then I actually read Christine Kane's blog.  Ok, back to one word. I've been mulling it over for days; others apparently sit for a moment or two and a word plops into their mind and they're ready to go. Those of us of a more contemplative (read dithery) nature need some prep time.

I want to be more involved, do some stuff instead of just thinking or yabbering about it. Be a fluorescent, long-lasting, energy efficient light. (Although I really like the word "incandescent" much better.) To go beyond curiosity (my first word choice) and past action (second word choice), to this...COMPLETE v. finish, conclude, fulfill, end, realize, wrap up. Oops, it's supposed to be just one word. Well, that's what you get for reading Roget's Thesaurus before breakfast!

"Well done is better than well said." Ben Franklin

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Quiet Christmas

These 50 cent finds at Goodwill restored my Christmas goodwill.

The barn gets a bit of cheer too. Nice when gathering around the water cooler.

My favorite chair for cuddling.

Christmas angels come in all shapes and sizes.

Christmas is here and it's all turned out to be a lovely season.

We had time with Evan and Crystal to do a few things at a slower pace. Crystal and I shopped a little bit while the fellows played a round of golf. We got to meet some of the special people in their lives, the dear souls at their church who will care for them in the coming weeks as they adjust to being new parents. And Evan toured us around his school. It warms a parent's heart to walk in their grown-up child's world, however brief the visit.

When Alyssa, Rowan and Katelyn came, we were in the midst of getting one of the Friesians shipped off to his new home in Kentucky. This gave Alyssa a glimpse into our lives, the part of it that puts on multiple layers of warm clothes quite quickly and dashes out the door, to come back who knows when. A winter visit makes me grateful that I didn't raise three boys in snow country! It takes ages to get one boy into snow gear. I imagine if you had multiples, the first one would be having to whiz right about the time you got the last jacket zipped!

Playing in the snow is so much fun with little ones, once they're finally out the door!

Go, Goddy, go!

Goddy had just been to the dermatologist, hence the bandaids

Finding a Christmas tree has gotten a lot easier since we moved into our house with a really low ceiling. There are lots of 7-foot trees pretty close to the road. Handy for taking helpers along!

Rowan, carefully following Gremmy's footprints.

We introduced Katie to the joys of bone-picking. Lamb, of course. We want her to stay true to her Kiwi roots.

A highlight of the season was awaiting the birth of Evan and Crystal's little girl, Piper. Dec. 22 will be a red-letter day for the family from now on. Goddy and I kept busy during the final hours by cleaning out the hay barn and goats' pen. It's the little things that count...

While waiting for Piper, we were also on tenterhooks with one of the Friesians. Max, long a ranch favorite, ended up spending the week before Christmas at the vets with a mystery disease. We're hopeful he's turned the corner and will come home soon.

Today we're enjoying that special sense of day that is Christmas. There's just something about it, even when the day is quiet. The fire is lit, holiday music is in the background and the day outside is lovely. We talked with the down-under family yesterday and managed to quell the longings for a warm holiday. We'll have fresh air time when we go feed the horses, and there are a few leftover huckleberry biscuits tempting us on the cooling rack.

All things really do work together for good...

Friday, December 3, 2010

No More Pity Parties

After several months of silence, its time to come out of the cocoon. I'll be the first to note that a butterfly hasn't been formed in the ensuing time, but neither has a moth. Just what has is anybody's guess!

I've been the guest of honor at a little pity party the past few weeks, feeling glum that Goddy and I will be Christmas orphans this year. We'll be housesitting too, so there was a dilemma about how much decorating to do in the lead up, do we even get a tree, how will it feel to be somewhere without a tree on Christmas morning, etc. I felt like I wanted to copy all the scrumptious stuff in the holiday issues of the womens magazines but wouldn't have any place to enjoy it. And who'd eat all the baking?

Well, enough is enough!! Inspired by my sister-in-law, Kiley, the pity party is over. Everybody go home. Oh, that would be me. Well, I am home and looking forward to an abbreviated Christmas season. We'll visit Evan and Crystal and enjoy their tree and the anticipation of their soon-to-arrive baby. Alyssa and the kids will be here for 10 days, and so in all, we'll get 14 days of Christmas with family.

And it started last night with a visit from my friend, Havilah. We had dinner, baked cookies and did some decorating. Sometimes I forget that I'm a lover of simple, quiet things and that trying to emulate a magazine mom is a dumb deal. (But I'm still going to read the mags and enjoy the pictures!)

Let the festivities begin...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Round and round we go!

When I was younger and going to the amusement park was an amusement of choice, I skipped right past the roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls and headed for the carousel. Anything to get aboard a horse!
Emily and I on the Spokane carousel

This trip has included two fine carousels, one in Spokane and one in Missoula. Mom had heard about the Missoula one, and we found it quite by accident after driving around looking for a way to get closer to the river. We ended up in the parking lot right next to it! And parking is free in Missoula on weekends, even in the public lots.

Mom and I both took a spin, and it was worth the entire 50 cents it cost for each turn. What a deal! Plus, this carousel has a mule!!! Top that, anywhere! This is my all time favorite merry-go-round.

While we were in Spokane, I spent time with my friend, Jeanie. Her artist husband, Ken Spiering, has several installations in public areas downtown and we took a little walking tour.The famous red wagon at Riverside Park

These folks hang out in City Hall

No visit to downtown Spokane is complete without rubbernecking in the Davenport Hotel. We returned the next afternoon for an early-bird dinner in the lobby area. We felt quite posh, enveloped in the deeply comfortable chairs pulled up to the marble tables.

Jeanie and I enjoying the general splendor at the Davenport

The Hall of Doges at the Davenport

We left Spokane to mosey across the Idaho panhandle, stopping in Kellogg and Mullan. Mom remembers Kellogg as the armpit of Idaho, which it was back when the silver mines were flourishing. Now the claim to fame is a ski resort and the longest gondola ride in the world. It was worth waiting around for a couple of hours to enjoy the views.

Partway up the very long gondola cable (over 36,000 feet of it)

In Mullan, Mom remembered where her grandmother planted irises along an empty field (which is still empty to this day, sans irises.) She also remembered where the nasty Chow dog lived and the house where the drug store owner lived. It's a treat to pass through the childhood of another on the tail of their memories.

We did a gravestone rubbing of Mom's Gremmy, but alas, couldn't find her other grandmother in a different cemetery. It was pleasant wandering through the shaded rows there, although I'm not sure that pleasant is the right way to describe looking for a grave.

When I was doing Gremmy's rubbing, I thought it was a good idea to be laid to rest in one spot. But then when we were fruitlessly searching for Grandma Bauer, the thought of being scattered to the four winds had merit, saving the family the frustration of trying to find an elusive granite marker. (Note to family - if you must bury me somewhere, make my marker purple or something so future generations can find me.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hunting for Heritage

Ramsay gets to go on another trip! This time it's with me and my mom, as we head across Washington and Idaho toward Montana, stopping in Spokane on the way

My mom has a group of friends there, women who've been in the know about each others lives since high school (and maybe even before.) She missed their collective 80th birthdays last year, but she's back in the loop this year.

I also have a long-time friend in Spokane, about the only close friend from my own high school days. We met at Young Life camp, started talking, and the conversation hasn't ended. It's gone through weddings, my life overseas, major life changes and the joys of children and grandchildren. Jeanie was the first person to take me on a road trip, adventuring to Glacier Park after our freshman year at college. Its only fitting to see her on this one.

On our way to Montana, where we'll be visiting some cemeteries and thinking about Mom's grandparents, we'll stop in Mullan, Idaho where she grew up. Evan and I (and Ramsay) visited there on our Epic Journey last year. We called mom from the street where she lived, so it will be extra sweet to be able to take her there too.

Mom and I haven't spent this many hours locked into a car since she drove us to Wyoming in my youth. I hope we still like each other when we get back to Anacortes next week. Only Ramsay will know the truth, and he's not telling.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Dang. I knew this day was coming. I've discovered that the saying "knowledge is power" has no meaning when it comes to matters of the heart and soul. This is a heart that is breaking and a soul that feels wretched. This is my farewell tribute to Misty.

They say that every horse person has one special horse, the animal that becomes the standard by which all others are measured. It's not usually looks or temperament that sets the standard but deeper things. Heart, ability, that thing the old-timers call "sand." I'm not going to try to define it, but Misty has it.

She's 28 years old, the same age as my oldest son. Sometimes I think about them on a similar timeline. Evan at six months, giggling and learning to sit up and interact with his world. Misty, curious and friendly, running around on her sturdy legs. Evan at two, realizing that older humans need to be the boss of his world. Misty discovering the same thing.

She was purchased at age 17 while we were at Long Hollow Ranch, to be my main guide horse. I loved her from the moment she lowered her head into the bridle, mouth open ready for the bit. She excelled at her job, partly because of some fine training, partly because of her unflappable temperament and partly because she was such a snot if she had to go anywhere other than the front of the group.

On a five hour ride around Black Butte, early in our acquaintance, a skilled friend was riding her. They fought a well-mannered but irritating battle for an hour and a half before Misty surrendered and slowed her legs down to keep pace with the other horses.

She's half quarter horse and half Tennessee Walker, with the Walker's single-foot gait that kept her ahead of most other horses. She's done one-day eventing, been trail ridden in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and on the beach and had a stint as a 4-H horse. After the Black Butte ride, we never again asked Misty to be one of the crowd and she happily led the way for many groups of dudes. Riding alone never bothered her either and I spent some therapeutic hours exploring with her. We rarely let beginners ride her - her excellent training made her so sensitive that the slightest movement of legs or hands drew a response. I'd always wanted a push-button horse and certainly got one in Misty!

Misty came to live with me when Long Hollow retired her, about six years ago. The pasture at Camp Sherman welcomed her, as did the fortunate few who learned to ride on her. Her retirement coincided with a mellowing or maybe it was the arthritis beginning its insidious assault on her frame that slowed her down. She became a perfect lesson horse, especially for children. Still responsive, she was content to temper that to the ability of her riders. Many a happy hour was spent viewing the scenery at Camp Sherman while novices gained their equestrian confidence.

When winter proved too tough at the pasture, Misty came to spend that season at the Willows Ranch. She and Judi's old Arabian mare became firm friends. We called them "the Grannies." Misty earned her keep in the spring when the yearling steers arrived. I'd ride her into their midst, where she'd stand unperturbed as they'd alternately skid to a stop inches from her tail then race off en-mass when she'd swish it at them. That quiet and steady demeanor helped as the steers calmed down and learned to stroll from place to place.

She spent the year that my dad was sick living with friends near Bend. Their home was filled with a horse loving family and a progression of small children who whiled away their summer loving on and riding Misty.

But now the arthritis has caught up with her. My vet told me not to ride her any more; she's thin and frail and often stands with her head down. The spark is fading from her eye and she looks resigned. It's time.

Misty's great gifts to me have been in the form of little wishes granted, sweet dreams made reality. A push-button black horse, a good cow pony, calm around, well, anything, and those first rides...
My son's fiancee tamed her fear of horses with Misty's help. My niece Vivi and grandson, Rowan, each were two years old when first lifted onto the saddle in front of me. A sweet young friend came to terms with her diabetes with her arms wrapped around Misty's neck. Andy Misty's final ride, given to two boys visiting the ranch. They had never been near a horse, and the experience was the highlight of his vacation for one of them.

It's been such a sweet ride. Farewell, Misty. You are my wonder pony.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Joys of Getting Sidetracked

I've been working on transferring stuff from my old tiny desk to my new (to me) expansive roll top. As usual, I've gotten sidetracked at each drawer, sifting through old cards, finding a check account register from an address we haven't used in five years, and tossing out notepads with phone numbers of people who needed to be contacted because of ????

The bottom drawer held the notebooks I use for interviews. Among all the working notes, I found a journal I'd used to jot down story ideas and thoughts inspired by the writers magazine I subscribe to. The following is one of those random musings.

The Red Letter Day (a story from a child's point of view)

Today is a, um, what is it Grandpa always says about really good days? Oh, yeah, A Red Letter Day. Today is one of those because we get to see the horses.

Not just any old horses but those big Freezin horses. That's funny, because it's really hot out today. How could they be freezing? Oh, now I remember. We looked on the map to see where they come from - Friesland. I think that's part of Dutchland. Anyway, the horses are Friesians.

Mama said there's a man at the farm who can make them do anything. I wonder what he'll make them do today.

"Daddy, can you make the car go faster? Are we there yet? Ooh, I see one!"

All the people here look so little when they stand next to the horses. The man, his name is Clay, is so funny. He made one horse go while he walked along behind, steering with long ropes. When the horse pranced, so did he. I wonder if he had to do that so the horse would know what to do?

Then he rode another one that had long hair, almost to his knees. I wish my hair was that long. I couldn't even see Clay's hands. He rode it round and round, then it bowed. When it lay down, I thought he'd killed it and I said, "Mama, look!" and she said, "Shh." But then the horse got up, with Clay still on him, so I guess the horse wasn't dead after all.

And then I got to pet them, and they tickled my face with their noses. They smell so good. I wish they made a soap that smelled like that.

It has been one of Grandpa's Red Letter Days. I'm going to remember this day forever, even when I'm as old as Grandpa.

Here's your assignment for today - take a moment to get sidetracked and recall a Red Letter Day of your own. Enjoy the journey.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Wanderer

We spent this afternoon hiking around on the Crooked River National Grassland, on the area that is part of the grazing allotment for the ranch we used to manage. We've done this three years in a row, in the early spring so I guess that makes it a tradition. Other times we've tried to establish traditions they've only lasted a couple of years at most, except for eggnog on Christmas Eve. But that might have more to do with the gentle spiking with Johnny Walker than the actual eggnog. Well, ok, blueberry muffins on Christmas morning happens no matter what, so I guess we've been successful in that tradition.

But this post isn't about traditions, it's about the feeling of homecoming we get whenever we set foot on the Grasslands. No matter where we go or what we do, this area will be special because it was the place we became Americans, again for me and for the first time for the rest of my family. And what better place to do it than an area that was homesteaded in the early part of the 20th century by immigrants.

We marvel that anyone could imagine a permanent life up there. These resourceful folks used the rocks they cleared from the homesteads to create fences, some of which still stand.

I don't suppose they'd be smiling quite this blissfully as they took a moment of leisure.

We're told that back then, there were several years of unusual precipitation and riparian areas formed where there hadn't been any before or since. The area used to monitor the grazing allotment was termed "riparian" but was in actuality a dry strip of sand with one or two lonely sprigs of bunchgrass. Apparently in one of those precipitation years a stream flowed there.

But this post isn't about the strange regulations of the USFS. It's about revisiting an area where we learned to manage a rangeland. Where we could ride for hours without seeing anyone. Where a lone bull elk watched as we gathered cattle. Where we watched the "damage" done by the cattle around their water tanks transform into an area lush with native grasses the next year.

We don't go back up there on horseback any more. We tiptoe through the rocks in our sneakers and boots, making sure Murphy doesn't get misplaced behind a tree or under a rock.

But the feeling of isolation remains, and the sweet sounds of the meadowlarks and the wind filtering through the junipers complements the deep, deep silence. It's the silence of wild places, which the grassland is, early in the spring.
Yes, it's peaceful today, but I'm imagining the violence of the thunderstorm that blew this ancient juniper apart.

Later, when the gate at the bottom of the hill opens, there will be visitors heading to Wychus Creek or Alder Springs. Birders will hike along with their binoculars and late in the season, hunters will set up camp. And for a brief time, the cattle will graze, helping to keep the grasslands a grassland. There won't be any homesteaders and not many wild stories but I hope all the visitors take a moment to listen to the silence. It's a freedom we must cherish.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lonesome Dove

It's just as well I like my own company or I'd be either stir crazy or lonely by now. I'm in Anacortes, looking after my mom who just had a knee replacement. Actually, I'm not really looking after her since she's in a care facility, getting physical therapy, medication and food daily.

My tasks involve visiting a couple times a day, walking the dogs and washing her shirts and undies. Not too time intensive, hence the need to like myself.

It's a strange sensation to be in a place for more than a few days where you're a relative unknown. My mom's friends have become very dear to me, so I know if desperation really set in I'd be looked after. As it is, Betty has had me over to dinner a few times and Ann invited me to celebrate Chinese New Year with them at a Chinese restaurant. And I talk to Goddy daily, usually a few times.

He was up here for a few days early in the month, so we made a few memories even though it was just a mini-vacation.

Still, its not quite like being in my own world, within touching distance of those I love best.

A positive thing has occurred though. I'm so afraid of becoming inert inside the house that I explore daily with the dogs. We've walked by the bay, on the beach and around Washington Park. Poor Murphy hasn't walked this much in years! Either has Henry, come to think of it. The park has become my favorite. There are long views out to the Sound and the Olympic Mountains, and the water sparkles, even in the shadow of the islands. I'm reminded that this is a place of my childhood, of memories and moments that awakened my love of being outside.

The fact that it's nearly 60 degrees here and sunny with spring flowers everywhere doesn't hurt the effect either! I'm thinking I could live here. Oops, forgot - to live someplace you have to work. Hmm...not a lot of sheep, cows or horses in the neighborhood.

I feel a bit silly driving around with the snow tires on the truck; I feel like a big sign "We live in snow country, most years except this one" would be appropriate. I'm glad Mom has a nice car to drive!

And I'm looking forward to Sunday dinner with Betty tonight.