The horse's pasture to the East...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Here in Kansas, Spring is a time of weather extremes. We swing back and forth from temperatures below freezing and late snows to temperatures the next day that rise into the nineties with high humidity. There's a reason Frank Baum used a tornado as the vehicle to transport Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, to OZ. Tornadoes are a part of our the open sky and rolling land under the prairies. We've had a standing joke in our family for years. "Kansas ain't for sissies." (Well, OK, except for my three terrified, farty dogs all of whom are jammed  up here under my desk. The air can get pretty rich when the weather gets like this!)

My first memory of a tornado was the Ruskin Height's tornado in 1957. 39 people died that night. We lived in one of those brand new sub divisions that were springing up all over the US at that time. It was just a few years after WW2 and people were having babies...lots and lots and lots of babies. Every house on our block had two or three or four kids living there, all of them in my age group. It was never hard to get a pick up baseball game going in my neighborhood. All I had to do was walk out the door with my mitt, a hand me down from my brother, my slightly dented bat (also a hand me down) and a baseball. I'd yell "Ball! Who's up?" and we'd have a tournament going in no time.

At the end of May in 1957 the weather had been perfect for days. School was almost out and we were mostly coasting to the last day. Summer was nearly here. It was hot and muggy with "heat lightening" on the horizon all afternoon. I was just six years old and nearly ready to move on to second grade.

Dinner was light and easy that evening. I think we had baked beans and hotdogs. We ate outside on our brand new patio, watching the lightening display. I was drinking my first iced tea. I felt very grown up. It had a white pile of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass that I couldn't wait to get to! We were between wars and anything was possible.

We had no air conditioning so the windows were open that night and the attic fan was blowing, pulling cool air through the house. It was still so hot and humid that I didn't want a sheet or blanket. My dog, Shotsi, was up on the bed squooshed up next to me and trying to pant the heat away. I wasn't very sleepy. There was a kind of tension in the air and Shotsi kept making these little whimper sounds and getting up and walking around on top of me. I loved her too much to ask her to get down.

The house was dark and everyone had gone to bed when the storms began to roll in. I was sitting in the middle of my bed, holding on to Shotsi, when my Mom came in and swooped me and Shotsi up in her arms. There was no explanation. She just came up to the bed, her face visible in the constant lightning, leaned over and picked me up with surprising strength!  And then she ran!

I remember the white muslin curtains in my bedroom blowing straight out, making these strange high pitched flapping noises. The air was flashing like the strobe lights you would see twenty years later in a Disco. When I looked over my Mom's shoulder, there was my Dad running right along next to my Mom with my brother in his arms. Out the front door we went, not bothering to close it or lock it and across the street to the neighbor's house. They had a basement. We didn't.

It was my first tornado and it was coming straight for us! It looked like a giant white snake crawling across the sky. I was riveted. I didn't know enough to be afraid.

All these years later that's the image that stands out in my mind, even though I've seen two more since and had one rip the siding off of our home and destroy my beloved maple trees. We've always been the lucky ones though. None of us have ever been hurt. I learned very early on that things were just that...things. As much fun as I have making people's homes and businesses look beautiful, selling fine art for other artists or even playing with my own environment, it's all just stuff. It's not a bad lesson to learn.

I've had some requests to write about Newman, our half coyote. I think I'll save that for another story. I can tell you that he's the one who lets us know when the real deal is coming in. When my wild child comes to me and puts his paw on my leg, sitting down in front of me with a direct look, I listen. He's the reason we spent the evening downstairs the night the tornado hit Joplin. There were two coming our way also, but they pulled up and veered around us. Again, we were some of the lucky ones.

My cousin and one of his daughters weren't. They lived in Joplin and both lost their homes. But, I should correct myself here. They WERE the lucky ones. They lived through it with no injuries. Houses, furniture and even photos can be replaced. Stuff is just stuff. Family and friends are everything!

I am, always yours, Nancy...happy to be here!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


May was always my second favorite month. (My first was clothes, supplies, books, teachers, subjects. I love to learn!) It was the last month of school and the first part of Summer...the best of both ends of the spectrum, a beginning and an ending.

I'd sit there in every class, doing a mental countdown and watching the clock. There were tests with all of the usual nightmares the night before. Mine always involved wrong classrooms, being naked and not prepared to take any test! and any other horrible thing that the young mind can concoct when under stress.There were end of school parties, show and tell about where we were all going during the Summer and the anticipation of endless days. I'd plan on stacks of Library books to read, swimming, baseball, freckles on my nose (much to my Mother's consternation!) and laying in the grass watching the clouds drift by. All of that time on my hands to use my imagination, dream, think and just be. Bliss!

The last day was the best. All we did was go to school and put in our time, waiting for the bell to ring. When it went off, everyone...even the teacher...would jump up and GO! The kids weren't really supposed to run down the hallways yelling, but almost all of us would. My trick was to do cartwheels and flips down the hallway and walk out of the doors on my hands. It was expected. If I didn't do that, they'd make me go back inside and come out again. I was a one trick pony and I looked forward to it every year. There would always be a teacher at the door who said " Now Nancy...that's not really a very safe way to leave the school grounds, now is it?" But no one ever stopped me either.

I'd run all the way home, excited because it was here...SUMMER! Sleeping in every morning, breakfast whenever I wanted it, my dog Shotsi at my side and time, all the time in the world. I was a Buddhist and never knew it. I was completely in the "now" past, no future, no clocks or schedules. All I did was breath and follow my heart. It was wonderful!

We had no air conditioning so the sound of the fan running and screen doors slamming were an important part of the background to me. I always had a vegetable garden that my brother and I grew tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce and spinach and, sometimes, even peas in. I loved standing in the garden after watering it and squishing the cold mud up through my toes. It was good dirt because my Grandpa always helped us to get it started. It was mulched with compost from his farm, so the vegies would leap out of the ground. We always had extra to share with the neighbors. Somehow the tomatoes were bigger and sweeter then.

I still love May second best. It's an old habit, and not one I want to change either. Even when the weather is record breaking high the way it has been the past two days (95 yesterday and 96 today and the afternoon's only half over!), it's beautiful. Here in Kansas the average temperature in May is 50. That doesn't mean somewhere between 40 and 60. It's more like an average between  zero and 100! Part of the price we pay to live in some of the prettiest grass lands in the US, or that's what I tell myself when I'm sitting here sweating because I refuse to turn the AC on until July. I still like the sound of screen doors slamming and the birds and wind outside too much, to cut myself off from it.

Our Mockingbird is back too. It sits in the top of the Catalpa tree just outside my bedroom window, singing it's heart out. I start and end my day listening to it sing like a Robin, a Cardinal, a Finch. Who knows what the Mockingbird's real song is? It's so busy singing the chorus to all the other birds, it doesn't really matter. It sings before the sun comes up and after it sets too. Hearing all of the daytime songs at night is another piece of the magic of Summer.

We're working on a new beginning here too. I've never adopted a mostly adult dog before. There are so many unexpected things to work on. Mrs. Miniver is settling in here very nicely, but she is a bit needy too. She was at the Humane Society for six weeks before I found her and put my application in to adopt her. And who knows how long she was on her own, looking for her person and trying to understand what happened to them. She knows she's been saved (although the Humane Society here has a no kill policy) . There were all kinds of small and medium sized dogs flying out of there, but she and most of the other larger dogs were languishing in the cement kennels, waiting.

When we came home, it was obvious that she'd never seen a staircase! She stood at the top of it, looking down at me, with a puzzled look on her face. It took her a good ten minutes or so to come down to me. She's only just started to express herself too. This morning was really the first time she offered to play with me, getting down on her front feet and putting her wagging tail in the air. We're going to have to work through some of her unknown issues as they present themselves. No worries! We'll be in the "now" and deal with them as they come to the surface.

[ "Let me hold that for you John."]

We've had to go back several steps with the horses too. They're more aware of her as a potential predator, so we set up the temporary fence we use when the horses go OUTSIDE (out side the fence to graze) and went back to ground work one at a time. I worked with Mini while John played with Apache and, then, vice versa with me playing with Lucky while he worked with Mini.

It was a bit more intense when I was with Lucky. She came bounding out, barking at Lucky, ready to "save" me. It was a good opportunity for me to do some Approach and Retreat with Lucky and Mini. He was a bit nervous at first and then he lost interest in Mini and paid attention to me. That was a real breakthrough for us too. It was so exciting, that he didn't want to put his head down much at all. Between me keeping him occupied and giving him pauses "between the notes" and John working with Mini to teach her to be polite, it was a very interesting session. I have to admit I really enjoyed the challenge of it too!

Lucky's energy came up and we were able to do some lovely Traveling Circles, Figure Eights and Falling Leaf patterns. He definitely still had his eye on her, but was looking to me to be the leader. I love it when all the arrows in my quiver, all the bits of information I've learned, come together and we're able to deal with an entirely new game plan. One step closer to my goals!

It's going to be a fantastic Summer. But I'm not going to think about that. I'm going back to the Dream Time, back to being here and now and breathing in an out. Our herd and our pack with adjust over the next week and then, who knows where we'll go!

I am, ever yours, Nancy ... in the beginning again and loving it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


When I was a kid, we didn't have a television. My Mom wanted us to be readers and thinkers. (Just between you and me, she was right! TV really does suck the brains right out of your head.) Of course, I thought I was the most deprived little girl on the face of the Earth. On every other house in the neighborhood, there was a TV aerial. If you walked to the top of our block, set on a hill, and turned to look back down the street, it was a forest of aerials one bigger than the other. Except for our house. We lived in the "open meadow", the place where there was no forest.

One of my favorite things to do was to play in the water hose on a hot Saturday afternoon, then go inside one of my friend's houses for cookies and one of those little six ounce cokes in an ice cold bottle. We'd sit down in front of the fan (no one had air conditioning...oh, the horror!) and watch a Saturday afternoon movie on channel 4.

The movies were, every single one, from the thirties and forties. One of my favorites was a movie made right in the thick of things, 1943 I think, titled "Mrs. Miniver" starring Greer Garson. She was beautiful, elegant, brave and the perfect Mother. I always thought of her as the eye in the center of the storm, where the sky clears and the colors are brighter. Since there were only so many movies formatted for TV, it was on fairly often. I loved all the characters, especially the train conductor who named his prize rose after her...the Mrs. Miniver. And when her son would fly over their house and cut the engines so she would know he was safe, I always cried. I wanted to be just like Mrs. Miniver when I grew up!

I never did achieve my goal of being like Mrs. Miniver. I was like most of the Mom's I know...disorganized, worried, tired, proud, happy and worried one more time. Most of the time I wore blue jeans smeared in paint and my hair in a braid or a barret. But I did make a heck of a chocolate chip cookie and I know I loved my sons WAY more than any fictional character ever could have. I never gave up on the idea of Mrs. Miniver though. Today, I came close to achieving my goal by bringing her home to live with us!

That's Mrs. Miniver in the front seat of my truck and Joe (Crazy Joe Cocker) in the back seat. We adopted Mrs. Miniver from the Humane Society in Lawrence. We couldn't really afford to adopt the horse that I wanted so we brought home a 1/2 St. Bernard and a 1/2 Golden Retriever. She's big enough we ALMOST have our "horse"! (And after the healthy deposits she left out in the yard today, it's probably a good thing we already have a poop rake too!)

I met her a week ago. I woke up after having a dream about Gypsy, early on Saturday morning. In the dream Gypsy and my Golden Retriever Lightfoot walked into the bedroom and up to my side of the bed. Both of them stood there next to each other, tails wagging back and forth in unison. They rested theirs heads next to my pillow and smiled at me, waiting for me to pet them. I reached out and rubbed them, one at a time, in their favorite itchy places while they licked me in the face. I can even remember the smell of their breath on me. When I woke up I was crying and laughing. It was like I'd been told it was time. There was someone waiting for me. All I had to do was go find her and bring her home. That was the day I spent more than five hours, meeting one dog after another at the Humane Society.

I was completely impressed with how clean and well run the Humane Society is in Lawrence. If I were someone doing a consumers review, I would give them a 10 out of 10 rating. They were very patient, kind and willing to show me around. The whole place was spit spot and ship shape. It's surrounded by all of these big, fenced in yards for people to take the dogs to so they can be off lead and run around. And there has to be someone who does nothing but clean up the grounds too. No poop anywhere. Blew me away! Everyone there was very nice, very professional and obviously devoted to finding homes for all of the dogs and cats housed there. I was so impressed with the way the place is run that I'm going back for volunteer training. I'd like to be one of the walkers and/or holders (for the cats). If you're looking for a dog to add to your household, I cannot say enough good things about the way the Humane Society in Lawrence is being managed. And there are all kinds of dogs and cats there too. It's definitely worth the time to go out there and look around!

Mini (I know. Can you believe I'm calling the largest dog I've ever had Mini! I crack myself up!) was the last dog I took out. We'd walked into the second building and back into the kennel area where nearly every kennel was full. The noise was deafening! There were big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs and nearly every single one of them was barking for attention...except for Mrs. Miniver. She was sitting at the front of her kennel, tail wagging and a smile on her face. When I leaned down to look at her (didn't have to go too far to do that either), she very politely held her paw up, cocked her head to the side and said "I think we should meet!" Not a bark out of her, not once during all the times I went back to see her last week and not since we've come home.

The young woman helping me took the leash and hooked it onto Mrs. Miniver's collar (her name there at the Humane Society was Olive) and out we walked, into the fresh air and sunshine, across the parking lot with cars coming and going, dogs and people everywhere, doors slamming, engines starting, people talking and laughing and not once did she pull on the lead, try to go ahead of us, barge into anyone's space or bark. When we got to the large fenced yard, I asked how long it had been since she was outside. J said that she hadn't been out since she was brought in more than five weeks ago! I thought "Uh oh. This dog is going to come out of her skin with excitement when we take her off lead."

Nope. Never happened. She was just as polite and calm outside as she was inside. She wanted to stay with us too. And then it happened. She choose me over J, came to me and sat on my foot, leaning into my leg and rested her head there with a sigh. As far as she was concerned, she was home. Every dog I've ever taken home with me has done just that...leaned on me and sat on my foot.

But none of them has ever rested her head on me like that. It wasn't her begging for attention. It was her saying " I choose you. I'm ready to go home now." And that was that.

I went back to see her several times this week while all of the processes were finalized so we could take her home with us. There she was, every time, waiting at the door to her kennel with her tail wagging and her paw lifted, head cocked to the side with a smile on her face. And when we went in to pick her up this afternoon, it was the same again. She knew where she was going and was ready.

We took Joe in with us for a dog meet first. But that was as easy as everything else. They smelled all the things dogs smell to identify each other, jumped into the truck and off we went towards home. It was like they knew each other... like we'd gone on rides together for years! Some things defy explanation, and this was one of those times.

When she met Newman, she was very gentle. He was interested but, even in his final days and as frail as he is, still aloof as is his wild nature. The horses were interesting, but their poop was the star attraction. Willow took one look at her, the first time she's looked a dog directly in the eye since they're nearly the same height, and pretty much made it clear " My side of the fence is mine. No dogs in my paddock. We'll be just fine as long as you remember that." Mini looked at me for conformation of that, so I let her know that I had agreed to Willow's territorial rights long ago.

Lucky and Apache were amazed by her and their reactions were exactly the way I thought they would be. Mini leaned on me, uninterested in touching noses with horses. Lucky hid behind Apache, ready to let him get hurt first if Mini turned out to be related to a Saber Tooth Tiger. And Apache leaned way over the gate, trying to put his nose on Mini. Classic!

Our first day home is done now. Joe is asleep on the floor to one side of the desk, Newman is under the work table and Mini is laying here with her head resting on my feet. The room is redolent with the smells that dogs make in their sleep. I'm sure I don't remember any scenes like that in "Mrs. Miniver", but it's as close a second as I'm ever going to come to.

My sons both called me today, and they sent the perfect gifts, gooey chocolates and a gift certificate for LL Beans, my favorite place to buy my work clothes. The weather has been windy and warm, the frogs are singing and the stars are out. It just doesn't get any better than that!

My dog is home, here with us in OZ, living in the dream time.

I am ever yours, Nancy, smiling at you REALLY big time!

Monday, May 2, 2011


Not so many years ago, at least in Geological terms, Spring was the time for the Grandmothers, Mothers and Aunts to get together for the annual SPRING CLEANING. It was always said in Capital letters too... "SPRING CLEANING", with a kind of an echo behind it and maybe some movie music to bring attention to the fact that all of our houses were appallingly dirty and disorganized. (NOT! Houses were always cleaned every Saturday without fail. All dust, grit and untidiness was AGAINST THE LAW!) Naturally, being the only Niece, Granddaughter and Daughter, I was expected to not only participate, but to remember everything they taught me so I could pass it along to the generations to come. This was their idea, not mine. It was "IMPORTANT!" and I was the Last Historian, there to learn and bare witness to the Sprint time rights and rituals.

We each had our own tools of the "trade", ie. aprons with big pockets, dust clothes made from old PJ's and outgrown work shirts, brooms (I had my very own corn broom that had a shortened handle, my Grandpa had made for me), wax pastes and buckets. We didn't use store bought cleaners. My Mom was a chemist and knew the potential for contamination to the stuff being sold on the shelves of the local grocery stores. Instead, we used vinegar and hot water, baking soda and salt, real paste wax and lots of old fashioned blood, sweat and tears (mostly on my part).

They/we would descend on each house as a group. All males were ushered out the doors with little pats and "There...there." 's. Oh, how I hated my brothers and the other male cousins. I loathed them all with great passion! I wanted to be dispatched too, out the doors and into the freedom of baseball diamonds, hotdogs, hikes and bicycle rides. I wanted to be out there with them, riding on the bench seat of my Grandpa's truck, climbing trees, sliding into base, fishing...anything but trussed up in an apron with a broom and a dust rag in my hands. It was shear torture for me!

They'd laugh and gossip, spend time on me since I was so "cute!" in my new little apron that Nana had made for me, with cross stitching and French smocking on the bodice, no less! They taught me to start in one corner, take everything...EVERYTHING...out and scrub the floor boards, throw away the old and cracked things, polish the china and silver and even the gol-dern light bulbs! AAAaaack! There was no escape. This was all for "my own good" . I was going to learn how to be "the very best wife there is!" And I would do everything I could think of to get out of it. It was going to be days of serious cleaning, the old farm wife, Navy Nurse, Chemist way...spit spot and ship shape.

I would come down with mysterious ailments, easily dismissed by the "Terrible Four" (my nick name for them when it was Spring). They were all way ahead of me when it came to faked illnesses. Then I would, all of a sudden and for no reason at all, sprain my ankle. Nope. Didn't work. An aspirin and a bandage, expertly placed by my Nana, former Navy Officer and Head Nurse at Bethesda. I pleaded homework! I was that desperate. "But Mom, I have to write a story for school!" It was Easter Break (what they called Spring Break then) and there was a week ahead of us. She had me tell her the story while we worked! I COULDN'T GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING! Oh, the horror...the horror! All I wanted to do was go outside with my dog and get dirty, maybe fall down and skin my elbows...anything but clean four houses in a row.

Just between you and me, I would give anything to be "tortured" like that again. I loved those women, even when I was being taught to "be the best wife ever." I miss the noise and laughter, the gossip between the four of them as they caught up on what they'd all been doing that Winter. I miss the Doris Day music in the background and the fact that I was safe. Nothing was getting pass the "Terrible Four" when I was with them.

I also came away with a list of things I was never going to do gossip. I really don't care for it. I'm never comfortable when I'm with a group of women and I listen to them talk about someone who isn't there. It invariably devolves into meanness. I was also never going to clean the baseboards behind the china cabinet again either. Sorry. It's just going to have to be dusty. The dust bunnies can have the wee, tiny dark spaces until I'm ready to paint or to rehang art. And the only time I wear an apron now is in the studio. John says it's taken on a life and personality of it's own, it's so old and crusted with paint. No French smocking on the bodice either.

Instead, that need for order in the Spring has come out in my barn and in my gardens. The cob webs and old wasps nests are all knocked down, the tack and brushes cleaned and oiled, the tools all arranged on the shelves and peg boards, much to my husband's consternation! The gardens are all dressed with new compost and new seeds tamped into the soil and nursed along until I see tiny green sprigs coming up. My hands and knees are dirty and I'm outside, where I belong!

And this year we planted an apple tree too, over Gypsy's heart. And there's another one in reserve for Newman, held at the Green House for us. It's been a year of change for me. That's the only excuse I have for neglecting my BLOG. Sometimes going with the flow and accepting the way the tide rolls in takes me to a place where communication, even one as much fun as this one is, just has to wait.

But there's one thing I haven't stopped doing, and that's playing with my horses. If the wind is blowing us sideways or it isn't hailing on us, we play! It fills me up, these games we play. Lucky loves it too. Some days are better than others, grace wise, but we always laugh.

Lately I've been adding in an occasional Walk About. We go where Lucky suggests we go, although there's still an occasional Driving from Zone 5 game, or a Sideways up the driveway game or Traveling Circles to get there. He really gets into the game too, taking us to the neighbor's house or around the pond, over the berm and up into the far meadows where the grass is already 18 inches tall. We always have to stop and roll there! And, sometimes, we just stand and cock a leg, watching the sky together. He's always so soft when we do something quieter, with less pressure to learn something new.

Well... I tried to delete a failed video upload and it won't come off the page. Sorry about that. Nancy, techless wonder here.

I was trying to do a "Spring Cleaning" on the BLOG too, but that didn't work. Sure was easier when all I had to deal with was a smocked apron and Doris Day! This will either publish with a blank in the center or two videos that don't play.     ... sigh ...   No worries. The sun is out and it's time for afternoon barn chores and Playtime! Horses don't care about failed video uploads. Lucky will ground me in the real reality! Doesn't get any better than that!

More later Gaiters!    Nancy, laughing at the way things unexpectedly go!