The horse's pasture to the East...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#LittleThingsCount or How to set a positive pattern, a wave ...

I've spent a lot of time this week talking with friends and relatives, reading the news and watching videos. I think our country has hit a tipping point when it comes to domestic violence ie. shooters in schools and at concerts and other public venues. And it should! We should all be shocked, horrified, angry, crying and searching out ways to make a much needed change. 

I've read all of the eliminate guns, bring in more guns for defense and everything in between. But I think it's more complicated than that. We have changes in fundamental ways that are going on in our society that are, I think, part of the root system of the violence that blossoms later. 

One friend said to me, " I just don't watch it. I don't want to know. Don't talk to me about it. " I understand that and I did as asked, but I think that's wrong too. You can't put your head in the sand and act like it's not there. You may have your head hidden but your butt is still up there in the air, a perfect target. Nope. Hiding doesn't work. And it only takes a few good men (or women) standing by quietly and doing nothing to allow bad things to get worse.

Another said, " We'll just have to get used to it. We live in a violent world. People shooting other people just happens. No sense worrying about it because we aren't going to stop it. " Nope. That doesn't work for me either. It's just more of the same 'hide your eyes and sing la-la-la' thing. So I thought about it while I did chores, ran ideas past my inner eye. I day dreamed and night dreamed, cried and worried. I'm not very good at doing nothing. I don't like feeling helpless. It makes me feel trapped and I am claustrophobic by nature. Give me some space and I will find ways to make it change, at least in my home environment.

I spent a good part of the morning sitting here and talking with John, throwing ideas out at him. It's cathartic for me. I let every smart, funny, silly, angry, goofy, undoable thing come out and sooner or later something clicks. This morning the phrase I kept using over and over was, 
" It's the little things that count. " 

I chanted it to myself while I made Sunday morning blueberry and pecan pancakes, made the bed, put the horses out in the pasture, and cleaned. Eventually it turned in to, "Little things count." I chanted it while I threw sticks for Scout, something we do every day. He loves his stick game. "Scout, little things count!" and I would pick up a stick from the beloved stick pile and throw another one. He would bring back his favorite and that becomes the 'stick of the day'. " AH HA! See! I told you. Little things count. " In this case the 'little thing' was the exact right stick, according to Scout, that counted. None of the others would do. It had to be THAT stick. 

'Little things count'. And I started to notice all of the hundred and one 'little things' that we did, the ones that really did make a difference. Timing when playing/working with my horses. The release and it's exact timing is crucial. And when something isn't working, breaking apart because of too many thresholds or too much information too soon or not enough Friendly Game or even acknowledging that there seems to be a tiny hitch in the gitty-up from muscle soreness then stopping and letting the goal go and moving back a square to something easier and more positive and attainable. 'Little things count.'

I saw it in the process of cleaning the counters before I cook and during while mixing things too. It was in choosing pretty napkins and using my favorite Blue Willow plates because I like Sunday breakfast. It was there when I made the bed and stopped to even out the blankets so one or the other of us wouldn't hog them tonight because they're further down one side than the other. LITTLE THINGS COUNT.

And that leaped to what we do while our children are growing up. I didn't think of it in these terms because that was a different era. My children were born in the last quarter of the twentieth century. I was the previous generation, the Boomers born just after WW2, smack dab in the center of the century. I was raised to do little things like making my bed, brushing my teeth, setting the table and eating at the table. Dinner time was dinner time, period. I did my homework. I took care of my dog and cat, put my dirty clothes in the hamper and, later, put them in the washing machine and did my own laundry. I learned how to mow the lawn and dust the furniture. My Grandparents taught me how to gather eggs, clean the hen house (not my favorite job but I did it), scoop poop, pull weeds, can tomatoes. We just did it. And all of those little things counted.

My sons did the same. Breakfast was at the table, beds were made before going off to school. Teeth were brushed morning and evening, toys put up because, quite frankly, Mom did not like stepping on Legos in the middle of the night barefoot! We read a book and told stories before bed time. Homework was done and piano was practiced. They had paper routes and were responsible for collecting money, paying the newspaper, keeping their own books and choosing when to stop delivery because the patron was not paying. They made money with lemonade stands and, later, part time crappy jobs working at gas stations, fast food places, delivering furniture, picking up recyclables. The hours were a grind for them and the pay wasn't much but they did it for spending money, to save for goals in the future and to pay for gas and insurance for their old cars. 

Their hair had to be brushed, they held doors for older people and said please and thank you, yes ma'am and no sir. They knew how to shake a hand and look a person in the eye and smile. For all of us our word was our bond. When I worked as a designer and commercial architectural artist, I worked without contracts because my word was ALWAYS my bond. I did that until a very wealthy man, whom I did a great deal of work for because I was so excited to be included in his collection, and work as a designer to help install other museum quality pieces, tried to cheat me. When I learned how to fight back, using the images and notes from a work journal I kept, and eventually got the money we had agreed upon, I asked him why he did that. He said, "Because most people aren't as tenacious as you are and I get away with it. It's a game."

I want you to look at that last line. "...It's a game." He honestly thought that was OK. People, it's the LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT. When you are that kind of roll model for your children, co workers, grand children and friends, you are creating a small wave of ill feeling that rolls, over the years, in to something much bigger. It's like one of those cartoon bits of snow rolling down the hill that turns in to the giant snow ball that smashes poor Wiley Coyote. It started out tiny, easily overlooked and gathered steam and extra snow. When it hit, it was HUGE. It counted. IT COUNTED.

So you're wondering where I'm going with all of this. I am going to start one of those hashtag thingies (I can say that since I am one of the 'Ancient Ones') and I'm calling it, " #LittleThingsCount " . I'll start posting it to Instagram and Facebook, Pinterest and here. In it I'm going to start putting 'little ideas' about the things anyone can do to set up habits that roll in to good habits later in life. It won't be complicated or weird. Just ideas like how to set a table or make a bed quickly in the morning. Ideas for keeping breakfast simple enough that you and your children can have fifteen or twenty minutes together in the morning before you all jet off to whatever place you all need to be in. Ideas for setting devices aside and playing a board game instead or how to unplug and read a story or, even better, tell your own stories in the evening. 

LITTLE THINGS COUNT. They really do. If you start now, today, even with your teenagers or your spouse, your room mates or just yourself, it really will make a difference. Heck, you start it today by walking next door or across the street and clearing the snow from your neighbor's driveway just to help. Or share some of those tulip bulbs you bought on sale...or take a plate of cookies you made next door JUST BECAUSE. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Smile at the next person you pass. If you're from the Midwest and live in the country, you probably know the wave from your truck. People don't even lift their hands off the steering wheel but we all smile and wave with a few fingers. It's Midwestern friendliness. I grew up doing that. Maybe people should do that when they're trapped in traffic. Instead of getting angry, turn to the people in the car next to you and smile and wave. It will puzzle them but do it anyway.

I think you'd be surprised how much you can brighten someone else's day if you simply smile at them, acknowledge them as you go past. We are an example everywhere we go. Be one of the bits of light for someone else. I promise you, your children will see you do that and will learn from you. 

We have an eye blink of time to have an impact on our children and grandchildren. Give them good memories to draw on as they get older. Create or recreate new patterns that show them how to be people others want to be around. It's really not that hard to do. 

Maybe if we all think in terms of what we can do right here, do the best that we can with what we have where we are to make a positive wave start, maybe it will head off a catastrophe in the future. You never know where the seeds you plant are going to bloom. #LittleThingsCount

I am, ever yours, Nancy, moving forward in little ways

Thursday, February 15, 2018

VIOLENCE IN OUR SCHOOLS and The Questions I have to Ask...

Yesterday, while everyone was sending Valentine's greetings to each other, giving flowers and candy or taking their friends and lovers to dinner, a 19 year old man walked on to a high school campus in Parkland, Florida and shot and killed seventeen people, injuring another 14. While that event happened, I was sitting here at my kitchen table writing about love.

I choose not to post the shooter's name. People like that want to be notorious and I will not enable that kind of a thrill, especially at the expense of people's lives. I spent this morning watching the news on line. I read articles and watched video from eight different news sources while I tried to understand what had happened. I went to both conservative and liberal news sites as well as news sites from two other countries, trying to get a balanced view of the events. My conclusion? There is no balanced point of view, no full explanation for what has happened or why this kind of violence seems to be escalating.

To get some background on school shootings in general, I went to Wikipedia. I decided to condense what I found to the years I was in public school, the years my children were in public school and 2018. There are news accounts of school shootings in the USA going back to 1764 when there was one incident. In the 19th century there were 28 incidents. In the 20th century there were 226 shootings.

From 1956 to 1969 There were 45 deaths in 24 incidents at public schools and universities in the USA. The worst of those events happened at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas on August 1st, 1966 when 17 people were killed and 31 injured when an engineering student shot from a tower, sniper style. From 1980 to 1994 (when my children were in public school) there were 83 people killed in 69 incidents.In this century to date there have been 212. In 2018 alone there have been 20 deaths in 7 incidents. These are death statistics only.  

Obviously there is an escalation over those years. So what is the common denominator. Why? If you want to ask the other questions that journalists used to be taught to ask; Who? What? When? Where? and, again, Why? But it should also be a set of questions that profilers are using to understand the possible reasons behind violence in schools. I don't know that any of these questions can completely stop shootings at school, but if there were more common knowledge maybe psychologists, school counselors, teachers and students could know a little more about what to look for.

I am not sure I condone the 'Just tell the teacher' idea but it does have to start somewhere. With this latest incident, when students were interviewed, they said that 'everyone' had joked about him being the one who would be most likely to shoot up the school. He had posts on social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram were mentioned in the articles) with violent threats and images, showing him with guns. He had been permanently expelled from the campus (there are more than 3000 students at this high school) for his violent behaviors. And he was one of the students who had very few or, possibly, no friends. He was a complete loner. 

According to the articles and interviews I saw this morning, he did have a place to live. He and his younger brother had been taken in by friends of his Mother. She died last November of complications from pneumonia. His father had died several years previous to her death, of a heart attack. Both he and his brother were adopted. There is no information, so far, about his biological parents. The family he was staying with knew about his gun. They had it in a locked gun safe. But he had the key. He had access to the gun as well as ammunition. 

These family friends had helped him to get some counseling. Reports about that were conflicting but he was no longer in counseling as of yesterday. There were security officers on campus although none of them were armed. And there was some camera surveillance. The school had conducted numerous fire drills as well as active shooter drills, trying to keep students and faculty aware of the the possibility of a shooter on campus, a sad affidavit to the present century. Unfortunately the perpetrator of this crime used the fire drill protocols to bring students and faculty out of the class rooms to give him easier to access to possible victims. So far there is no information about whether there was any one person or group he was trying to harm. He was found and taken in to custody about an hour later.

The family he was staying with have been very cooperative with the police, giving full access to their home voluntarily. It is a cordoned off crime scene.

But the questions still remain unanswered. I watched professionals, psychologists, police officers, news broadcasters talking about possible reasons but all of them were vague. Since I'm not a journalist, politician or in any of the above categories of professionals, I have questions that I wish were being explored. 

The type of gun he used was an AR-15. It costs anywhere from about $600 to $2500 depending on the company it's made by. Rounds (bullets) cost $0.50 to $0.25 each or an average of $120 for 500 rounds. In my book that's a lot of money. Even if he bought the lowest end rifle at $600 and spent $120 for 500 rounds (police officers said that there were 'many, many rounds') that means he had to have access to at least $720 plus tax. He also had to pass background inspections. He was 19 years old and legal age is 18 to buy that kind of rifle. 

There was no information about whether he had any kind of job. Living with friends of the family he probably was not paying for rent, food, utilities. He did have access to a car but, again, there is no information about what he was responsible for financially. My first questions would be, "Where did he get the money to buy that kind of gun? Where was he going to practice using it? How much did the possible gun range cost? Who was his instructor? " 

Why did he have access to the gun safe if he was known to have anger management issues to an extent that he was expelled from school? (I have no doubt the family friends who tried to help him are torturing themselves with that question) And why was his violent past not on a registry for the gun shop to see? I know that, presently, there is no list for that. Why not? Shouldn't those questions be raised? If there is a sexual predator list, a convicted felon list, a dishonorable discharge list (from the military) then why isn't there a list of people with violent tendencies? 

Attorneys would argue that is unconstitutional. And, again, I do have reservations about a possible list. But if a person is so violent they are in counseling and have been expelled from school for those reasons, shouldn't the questions be raised? At least there would have been a delay in the purchase of the gun.

I listened to people get angry and rant, add in politics, and post about fear and sadness today. I didn't hear anyone ask the questions I wanted to have answers to. 

Was he on any prescribed medications? Was he taking or using any street drugs? Did he have any addictions? Was he drunk? When he was taken to the hospital they must have taken blood samples. I hope the information from those samples is, at the least, sent to police and federal authorities to begin the process of building a profile and adding to past violent crimes on school grounds. But I would also like to know if anyone is doing a study about the possible 'chemical soup' that we are all exposed to. Is it affecting our behaviors, especially of the males of our species? The vast majority, more than 98% of the shooters, were male. 

I hope that there will be someone delving in to his background as much as possible and that information is added to the vaults of information about people who commit these crimes. Was he abused during his childhood? He obviously was not popular while in school. His peer group rejected him. Was he severely bullied in either real life or on the virtual, social media platforms? And if so, what is the trigger? Why are these events happening more and more frequently? What has changed since 1956, when I added the statistics together? (I choose that as a starting date to compare my school years, my children's school years to this century and the present year) If you go to the Wiki list, there is an increase in the numbers of killing that becomes increasingly evident towards the last ten years of the twentieth century. 

How do statistics of single parent households in 1956 compare to the present numbers? (My questions will make some people angry when they read them but they are relevant if you are looking at statistics and trying to build profiles.) How many of the perpetrators of these crimes were born with fetal alcohol syndrome or addicted to drugs at birth? Did they have any past head injuries? Were any of them diagnosed with any kind of psychological syndrome? And what kind? 

Does location have anything to do with these killings? Do they happen more often in densely populated cities or small country towns? Was there any kind of support system in place to influence the shooter while they grew up? Had they recently lost a job? Were they homeless? 

What was their overall diet? We are what we eat. I know this is an unexpected question but it does affect the outcome of blood tests and what chemistry is going on inside the body and brain of the person with the gun. Was there a tumor in the brain? 

I never see any of these questions addressed publicly. I hope there are medical and coroner personnel looking in to this kind of information. And I wish it were available for people like me, who have a hundred questions. 

Occasionally I will hear a vague mention about the violent video games, TV and movie programs that are so easily accessible to our children. The games you see available for anyone to buy were originally developed to train snipers and other highly specialized soldiers for combat. They are desensitizing people to violent acts. While soldiers were being trained for WWOne they could not bring themselves to actually fire point blank at an 'enemy' soldier. By the Viet Nam war they were able to fire point blank more than 80% of the time without hesitation. What had changed? TV, movies and the shape of the paper targets they were being trained with. 

There is further disconnect being caused by the heavy use of smart phones at earlier and earlier ages with the incidence of suicide and depression increasing in our children's peer groups that coincides with the use of these computers we all carry with us now, in our pockets. If the shooter had a smart phone, I hope the number of hours he spent using it to access the internet and social media platforms is taken note of. Certainly the numbers of school shootings is raising along with the use of these phones in general.

My point to this post is that no one seems to be willing to look in to any of these questions in depth to see if there is any relevance. I know that we all wish it were more difficult to buy weapons. I do know that when I was growing up we were all taught gun safety rules and how to shoot accurately. But that had more to do with hunting which was still part of the traditions of my grandparent's lives. My grandfather hunted and fished to supplement his family's diet especially during the Depression. We all learned to use a rifle and knife, how to dress whatever we had shot or caught on a fishing line. But it was taught to us with great care and respect for the tools and weapons too. It wasn't treated like a toy. And the animals that were taken for the table were also treated with respect. The connection to family, community and nature were still very much in place.

I don't know what the answers are to what is happening in our schools, cities and country. It isn't just happening here in the USA either. Violence seems to be escalating world wide. I am deeply saddened and frightened by all of it. 

Do I have any answers? All I can do is work on myself. I choose to be kind, to help where I can, to see the events in our world from as balanced a perspective as possible. I do believe in the power of language and words, art, music and most of all, love. I'd like to think that when something nice is done somewhere that there is a ripple effect that moves outward, like a rock thrown in to a pond. 

I don't know what the answer to the larger question is, the one that asks how can violence on our school grounds be stopped. I fervently believe in education as a way to improve a student's prospects in life. But I wish there were more information about improving relationships between students and their peers, faculty members. I wish there were more classes in good nutrition, school gardens being grown where children can be part of the process of producing their own food sources as well as how to prepare those foods. I wish plastics were stopped all together, none being used anywhere. I remember no plastics in food production or storage when I was a child. If it worked then, why not now? 

I wish there were warnings on the labels of the violent video games and perhaps even an age limit for buying them, like there is in the movie industry. Why don't games have PG, PG 13 and X ratings? And I wish the background checks to buy guns was deeper and more thorough. Why are any semi automatic rifles for sale? What do we need them for? No one has ever answered that question for me either.

And then there's drugs and the prolific use of them in our children's age groups. Why are they needed? Instead how about giving the children more time outside, in nature. Has anyone thought of a possible school with animal husbandry included in the curriculum? Why not have children help to care for chickens, pigs, cattle, horses, dogs and cats. What would it be like if every class room had it's own 'service' dog or cat? Children who don't have the opportunity to help care for animals at home might benefit from learning how to be empathetic and compassionate with animals. And what about chores? Are teachers still giving children responsibilities in the classroom, like cleaning blackboards, handing out assignments, being responsible for keeping their desks neat and tidy, sweeping the floor? Are there any programs in place to help children understand the harm that is done when mistreatment or bullying of their peers happens? 

My questions range far and wide here. No doubt I will anger some people who read this. But I think creative problem solving is something we all need to use together to, hopefully, help to find solutions to prevention of crimes in our schools. It only takes one or two mentors to make a difference in a student's life. 

I've added links to a couple of TED Talks here. There are more available on Youtube. If nothing else I hope my endless questions here have shaken your 'box' just enough to get you to ask your own questions. We all live inside our own tightly constructed pathways. Maybe I will knock you off your comfort zone just enough to begin the process of serious discussions about the " Who? What? When? Where? Why? " of how this is happening to our schools. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, pondering

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


It's Valentine's Day, a day set aside to celebrate love, my favorite emotion. Love has endless possibilities. It comes in tiny increments when you do things like open doors for people, stop to help someone across the street or to pick up an injured or frightened dog or cat. It's there in the eyes of a baby from the moment it opens it's eyes and looks in to the face of it's Mother.

There's love between a good teacher and their student when they struggle to find a way to help each other learn together. Love happens when two people meet for the first time and some indefinable spark is there that attracts them to each other. It's the stuff of legends and all of our favorite stories. 

Chaucer wrote about love when he said, "For this was on Saint Valentine's Day / When every bird cometh there to choose his mate." Hallmark made the first commercial Valentine's Day cards in 1913. Cadbury's put chocolates in to it's first heart shaped boxes in the 1860's. And my favorite, extremely gross and much too violent, bit of history about Valentine's Day was one of the supposed origins of Valentine's that had been celebrated for untold hundreds, possibly thousands of years by the ancient Romans. It was the Feast of Lupercalia, when men and women were paired in a lottery. The men would sacrifice a dog or goat, skin it and flail the women with the skin, to promote fertility. (Just between you and me I don't think that one would have made me open to the idea of creating a child.) Pope Gelatine I established the Day of St. Valentine's to Christianize the day, hopefully stopping the bloody parts.

                    "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
                     And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. " 
                     William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

More years ago than I want to admit to, when I was a student at University, I volunteered to be in a study for one of my classes in Psychology. It was 1969 and just one year after the 'Summer of Love'. The event was held in one of the lecture halls in the Student Union. It was a group experiment about TRUST, my word for this year (2018). We were instructed to do the usual 'fall backwards in to a group of stranger's arms' thing along with other versions of the same idea with eyes closed, partners (two people only, leaving you vulnerable if the other person did not follow through) and so on. At the end was one last 'hugging in a circle' where we were supposed to walk around the room and, randomly, hug other people we didn't know.

I'm not very comfortable with events like this but we had to 'volunteer' for a certain number of these experiments to pass the course. I was an A student, an honors student. I tried to talk my way out of having to participate. The professor was having none of it. I had to be there. It was part of his curriculum. When he told us to walk around and hug people we didn't know, I was close to tears. I was very aware of my boundaries. I did not like being coerced in to letting someone in to my space for a grade. But I was driven. My education was one of the few parts of my life I had been able to control. I wanted that A. It never occurred to me that saying "No. I will not participate." was a viable part of any experiment. His Doc students would have taken the data down and that was that. 

I was barely 18 and still starry eyed with the whole college experience. I had not learned about how to debate with a professor, to talk back and question their authority. So I walked around and hugged people I didn't know. No one smelled bad. Not one person acted in an offensive way and some were very nice to me. They saw my discomfort and were careful to hug gently, quietly. I even heard one student say to the next, " Be careful. She's fragile. ". I thought that person would probably make a very good counselor someday. 

But what I didn't expect was the last hug with a tall, gangly boy who was standing over in the corner of the room. I don't think he was any more comfortable than I was, with this particular class. I hadn't even noticed him. That's how quiet he was. I walked over to him, smiled and offered to hug him. This time I meant it. He looked like he needed to have someone really see him. I looked right at him, straight on, and waited. He made me think of a cat that was frightened, hiding. You never chase a cat. Always wait for it to come to you. So I waited.

He walked the few steps to me, held his arms out and we hugged. For the only time that day, the hug was real. There was a connection, a spark. I could feel his heart beating right next to mine. When I stepped back, I took the time to look him in the eyes and smile again. It wasn't a 'come on' smile. I was just being me, open and vulnerable. He smiled back. And we never said a word to each other. I never heard his voice. I don't know his name. And I will probably never meet him again. But for just a few seconds there was love. It was real, palpable.For just a few seconds we were suspended in time together. And I left. But I carried that feeling of what real TRUST was with me for the rest of my life, right up to this moment. I still see his watery blue eyes and I remember what it was like to TRUST another soul, whenever I begin to doubt myself or want to hide. That was a moment of love.

I don't know who you are or why you are here, reading this. But today I am standing here, looking right at you. I am offering you a hug and a genuine, heart felt hope that you have moments of love all day long. I wish you love.

                              "Where there is love there is life. "
                               Mahatma Gandhi

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Leadership. The definition in the Oxford Dictionary reads as : 


mass noun
  • 1The action of leading a group of people or an organization.
    ‘different styles of leadership’
    1. 1.1 The state or position of being a leader.
      ‘the party prospered under his leadership’
1.2treated as singular or plural The leaders of an organization, country, etc.
‘the leadership was divided into two camps’

And in the Merriam Webster Dictionary it reads as :
the office or position of a leader 
  • recently assumed the leadership of the company
2capacity to lead  
  • a politician who lacks leadership
3the act or an instance of leading
  • leadership molds individuals into a team
  •  —Harold Koontz & Cyril O'Donnell
  • the party leadership

One of my favorite quotes on 'leadership' is from Roy T. Bennet. It reads :   “Keep your promises and be consistent. Be the kind of person others can trust.” 
― Roy T. Bennett

I've signed up for a second four weeks of coaching with my Parelli Professional, 4 Star Trainer Kristi Smith. I knew the first four weeks would be a challenge for me. I hide out when I am overwhelmed. I've been in that state now for several years. In the process of teaching myself, I lost my way, got stuck, and started to spin my wheels in the dust. 

The first four weeks were a slog for me, not because of my Coach's style or even the subject matter. It's because I've put giant walls around myself to keep from failure. I'm an artist. I blow my projects more often than not. I should have giant calluses by now, right? Intellectually I understand that so called 'failure' is the best place to be when I want to learn. I have to make mud before I get to the garden. 

So I've had to beat on the walls, knock politely, look for a door, try to dig a hole under the wall or even catapult myself over. The solution was actually easier than that. All I ever had to do was remember that I built the 'walls'. I needed to begin the process of disassembling them to move on. I'd like to say I did a Hollywood on those big, ugly, sky high walls. I blew them up with spectacular special effects. But I didn't do that. Instead I'm in the process of carefully taking the rocks down, looking at them and running my hands over them while I get to know what they're made of, and then I'm setting them aside. Later I'll use those same stones to make a new inner landscape. I'm thrifty. I never throw anything out if I can find another use for it.

My first assignment for the next four weeks is discussing what 'leadership' means to me. That moves me in to basic philosophy 101. I looked up classic definitions, talked to friends and my all time BFF, John (my husband) about leadership. I've been thinking about politics, education and what teachers have influenced me, my Mom, my sons. But since the main topic is horses, I also went outside and spent hours, bundled up for the extreme cold, watching my horses. 

In my small herd, Lucky is the alpha. He's an easy on the eyes, sorrel colored Foxtrotter with long legs and a laid back attitude. In Parelli Horsenality terms, you would identify him as a Left Brain Introvert on the cusp with Right Brain Introvert. He isn't high energy unless he has a good reason to be. He's quite comfortable being by himself, is confident in his surroundings. If I don't give him incentive to go, he turns and looks at me and then goes back to grazing or goes to sleep. He doesn't fight. He tunes me out. 

But in every field or group I've seen him in, he is the quiet leader, maybe because of that innate self confidence. He doesn't drive anyone anywhere. He simply goes and they follow. When we've been on trail rides, he always ends up at the front. I thought it was because of his 'more gaits than I can count' he has, that makes him a good horse for riding for hours at a time. Now I think it's because he is self confident and curious. He isn't afraid to seek out whatever the horizon has on the other side. The few times they've made the Great Escape, Lucky has led them deep in to the Preserve we live on, taking the herd he lives with over, under and through obstacles that most domesticated horses would look at and turn back for the barn rather than tackling them. 

That look, right there, is Lucky. I've done my best to enhance that too. I like that kind of confidence. He comes straight to me with a look that clearly says he is ready. He wants to go and if I'm taking him there I had better be up to his standards or he isn't moving for anything. 

And in the beginning that was exactly what it was like for me. My Savvy levels were zero to none. I was in love with his beautiful self and unsatisfactory as a partner, in his estimation, because I couldn't lead with the same confidence he did. So we just did not move. I remember trying to figure out how to get everything I had read and watched over and over again, right, so he would just step backwards. Nope. Wasn't going to happen. Sideways? Ha. Not going there. Circle? Really ? No way. Why go in a Circle if it didn't take you anywhere? 

I, literally, stumbled in to the connection and motivation with him when I was on a nearly disastrous trail ride with children on horses that weren't trained for hacking down country roads when the sun was going down. I went in to 'Mom' mode. My safety was secondary. They were the focus and Lucky was my co-leader. We got them home safely. I didn't think about what I was doing. I did it because it needed to be done and Lucky believed me. I didn't realize it until I got back, but I was riding with no reins. I wasn't using my heels to make him move. We simply went wherever we needed to because there were lives at stake. He was reading my intention. 

I was leading by example, in a 'Mom' and 'Teacher' mode because those children and their inexperienced horses could have been a disaster in the making if I didn't get them off the road. I wasn't thinking in those terms. I did what had to be done with what I had where I was. Lucky believed me and so did the four children and nice but not focused adults (who were not parents. Did not have the connections yet to understand how vulnerable children can be without the person to take them down a safe path.) who were on that ride. I always step up when children are involved. That was my motivation. Lucky's was being given the freedom to become a true partner with me for the first time because he read my need to help children as an alpha behavior. I was leading us to safety. 

So do I have a definition of 'leadership'? That's a philosophical question that I could discuss all day without a clear definition because it can change at any given moment. And it can also pass back and forth, from one time to the next, according to circumstance. Sometimes Apache is the leader because he's the gate crasher, the Houdini if you will. He opens the gate and says, " Hey, guys! It's open. Come on. That grass we've been trying to get to on the other side of the fence is ours for the taking. " And off they go.

Stony sometimes takes it because he is more skeptical. He will notice a change in the environment that Lucky or Apache will not see and react to. Stony's head comes up, he swings to face whatever he perceives as a threat and then finds Willow, his tiny 'mare', and will take her to safety. The others follow every.single.time. And I am fascinated! Stony is on the bottom rung of the herd ladder but they will follow him because he is so certain it's time to leave. 

I had to learn the hard way about boundaries and energy, personal space and 'respect'. I have a tendency to battle over words like 'respect'. I'm an artist and, by my own nature, a lone wolf. I have a bull hockey meter that goes off over words like 'respect' and 'energy' or even 'boundaries'. I love to teach and do demonstrations when it comes to fine art, but mostly I am in "Leave me alone." mode. And when someone asks me questions about why I did this or that in one of my pieces, I am left speechless. It isn't up to me to help you interpret what I did. It's up to you to discover that inside yourself BY YOURSELF. Whew. See what I mean? Hot button topic for me.

Turns out horses are really, really good at being specific and clear about their expectations. And if you don't hear them they will take it up a level and up another until they step on your foot or knock in to you. "THIS is what a personal boundary is, Nancy." For a good long while I was the lower rung member of the herd, the yearling if you will, who needed to be taught proper etiquette. And which ever horse I was with became the LEADER. 

Ahhhh... the plot thickens. They were seeking leadership and I wasn't providing it the way they needed so whomever I was with took over, the same way I did when Lucky and I brought all of those people in from a ride at night on roads where no one could see us and the so called instructor had gone off and left us on our own. 

The revelation from that event was understanding that Lucky gave that 51% because I was the one who said, " I know where we need to go to be safe. " 

Over the years, while I kept trying to learn by myself, I lost sight of that one moment when things changed for us. In fact it took time for me, and learning and making a lot of mistakes along the way, for me to understand how important that ride was. You really don't know what you don't know until you learn and understand how much more there is to know. It's a never ending process, at least for me. And I am fascinated! 

So do I have one definition of LEADERSHIP? No. It changes from one moment to the next, depending on the circumstances, where I am, who I am with. One thing I do know is that a good instructor is also a good student. Leadership is a ZEN thing for me with more facets than I can define at any given moment because the light is constantly changing and highlighting different aspects of the process, or even passing the mantle back and forth from one person to the next.

And I am fascinated!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling and cogitating on the idea of leadership

PS. Lots of licking and chewing going on here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


What would we do without our cats? All of the ranchers and farmers that I know have cats, both inside and out in the barn. They're necessary for keeping the population of mice, rats, moles, gophers and rabbits in check. It's a natural and easy solution. In return for an easier life than living in the wild, affection and appreciation for their prowess as hunters and a fairly safe place to have their kittens, both humans and cats enjoy the relationship. For me, it's an endless source of stories, laughter and love . My cats are all neutered and spayed. I never turn a stray away from my door. And I am fascinated with the relationship that my horses have with them. They are apex predators on a tiny scale and horses are the ultimate prey on a huge scale. Somehow they always get along.

My first cat was an indoor/outdoor intact Tom that belonged to my Grandparents. His name was Smoky. He was a huge, blue grey cat that caught mice and rats like the champion he was, loved all of the 'ladies' in the area and frequently came in with wounds from honorable battles, smelling of piss and blood. He was King of the neighborhood but there was always some new punk who would come along every Spring to challenge him for his territory. But I didn't know that. For me, he was the cat that would show up outside my window at night, climbing up to the window next to my cot on the second floor, from the branches of an old Mimosa in the side yard, who asked me to open the latch on the screen window. 

I knew I wasn't supposed to let him in but I wasn't very good at following instructions. The screens were on tall, thin, farmhouse windows. There were latches on the top and bottom to hold them in place. I'd found out that if I opened the bottom latches, I could swing that screen out far enough to let Smokey inside. I'd rehook the latches, in my six year old wisdom thinking that Grandma would never know how he had gotten in. And Smokey would curl up on the pillow next to me, purring and letting me untangle his long, silky fur.

It was Summer in Kansas and there was no AC back then. Windows were open and the night sounds were like an orchestra to me. I'd lay there and go to sleep listening to crickets, owls, cats and dogs, coyote and frogs. The night winds would make that old Mimosa, Grandpa's favorite carefully tended to tree, creak and groan. I think that was where the stories began for me. I was sure I could hear the night creatures talking, telling tall tales, trying to outdo each other in their claims of valor and battles won. And there was Smokey, laying next to me purring which, to my way of thinking, was the best form of applause.

Grandma would wake up early to cook a farm breakfast. She made biscuits or muffins, pie, oatmeal, bacon and sausage, eggs and whatever fruit or vegetables were growing in the garden. It was a feast. But first she would stop to pick up Smokey from my pillow while I pretended to be asleep, grumbling about a stinky cat being on her grand daughter's pillow and how she would have to change the case again and do more laundry. She'd lean over and say, " No use pretending to sleep. I know you're awake. You might as well get up and come help me. Did you let this beast inside the house last night?" And I would put on my best limpid eyed look and not exactly lie, just shake my head in little circles that I thought could be a yes or no. And she never got angry at either of us, just smiled and pull the covers off so I could get up and tip toe downstairs with her. We didn't want to wake the men folk. They were going to have a long day outside, working.

One of the things we did every morning was to cut up and cook liver for Smokey. He would sit in his place in the kitchen, up where Penny, Grandma's dog, couldn't bother Smokey, and purr in anticipation of his big plate of bloody liver. Grandma would cut it in to tiny pieces for him so he could eat it neatly, without dragging liver all over her clean kitchen. Afterwards Smokey would sit in the window, on the ledge, and groom himself. It was his nap place too. He was an indulged fellow who understood his worth in his kingdom. It was his due.

I would sometimes lay there awake at night, waiting for Smokey. I knew he would show up, wanting to come in and sleep with me. He was my best friend at Grandma and Grandpa's house. We'd spend all day together when Grandma would kick me outside, after chores. " You two go outside and find something to do. "

One night Smokey showed up at the window, wanting in. I leaned over and opened the screen, helping him in. He seemed slow that night. Didn't seem able to make that jump. It never occurred to me that it was dangerous to lean out of a window to pick up a heavy cat. I did what all children did then. I got the job done. 

I closed the screen, latching it, and turned to pet my Smokey. But he was sticky and smelled of copper. He groaned too. I had a flashlight my Grandpa had given me. That was normal. We all had them next to our beds in case of storms and a power outage. When I shown it on Smokey, I could see what had happened. he was terribly injured. Something big had gotten to him. He had lost patches of his glorious fur, was cut and torn up, bleeding and in troubles. I left him on my bed, bleeding, and ran to Grandma's side of the bed. " Grandma. Grandma! Wake up! Smokey is hurt. He's bleeding all over. "

She was up out of the bed and so was Grandpa. There was no hesitation. They were farm people and the animals always came first. It was a covenant I learned from them. She picked up Smokey, who was panting by then. He was in shock. They went downstairs to the kitchen table and checked him over. I learned, years later, that the old kitchen table was where people and animals were always laid out to be cleaned and stitched up. 

My job was to stay with Smokey and comfort him. Grandpa got a basin of clean, boiled water and a bottle of moonshine, some rags and soap. Grandma came back with her sewing kit. I learned a lot about animal husbandry from them, over the years. But this was my first experience with wounds. I was crying but did what she told me to do. It might mean Smokey's life if I didn't.

I held Smokey, crooning to him, trying to keep him still. Grandpa took out the warm water first along with the soap. This was going to hurt and Smokey might scratch me or try to bite me. I was brave though. I loved that fierce battle cat. I would do my part. They'd turned on all the lights in the kitchen and lit a couple of the old kerosene lanterns, to make it bright enough to see what had to be done. I could hear the lanterns hissing, my grandparents discussing what they needed to do and whether it was something they should do or did Grandpa need to get his gun. I was horrified!

"Grandpa, let me ask Smokey what to do. Please Grandpa. Don't take him outside and shoot him!" They waited while I leaned over Smokey and asked him if it was time for him to die. I was crying, hiccuping with tears and snot all over the place. But this was part of life on a farm. Decisions like this were made every day. Smokey 'told' me he would fight if I would help him. I told them and the decision was made. We would clean him up and sew him back together. 

Grandpa shaved some of Smokey's beautiful hair away from the edges of the wounds and gently cleaned them with lye soap and warm water. I know it hurt Smokey. I could feel him flinch and tighten up. But he never scratched or protested. He did hold on tightly, to my arms. I had small wounds later that they cleaned up but I never said anything. I wanted to be strong and brave, like Smokey. 

Then Grandpa took the moonshine and put it on rags, using it to sterilize as much as possible. They needed to get as much of the dirt out as they could, before closing up the wounds. Smokey was going to be scarred from this, if he survived. It was bad. It was the first time I had seen the muscles and membranes under the skin. Poor Smokey. It turned out I had more tears in me than I knew was possible. Grandma reached over and had me blow my nose so I wouldn't get him dirty again after they cleaned him up. No one ever said anything about my crying. That happened too, on a farm. It was part of being alive.

I don't know how long we stood there, me on a chair so I could reach Smokey, all of us hunched over so we could do our parts. Smokey did hiss a few times, it hurt so much, but he never pulled away. He was keeping his word to me. He was going to fight to stay alive the same way he fought to keep his territory. We were there for so long the sun was coming up along the ridge of the sky. But all of his wounds were clean and neatly stitched, with Grandma's tatting and quilting skills. She even knew to leave a small corner open so the wounds could seep while healing. Each stitch was small and perfect. And we all, cat and humans, were exhausted by the time it was over.

Smokey went to sleep. I carefully carried him to the sofa so we could curl up together. Grandma didn't say anything about ruining a pillow. She loved that old cat as much as Grandpa and I did. She pulled a blanket over me and told me I didn't have to help with chores that day. My job was to help Smokey.

It was a hard couple of weeks for Smokey. His wounds were serious. They needed to be cleaned a couple of times a day and he was carried to his place on the counter so he could eat and drink and then it was my job to carry him outside to do his business. I never faltered. I stayed longer that Summer. Grandma had called and talked to my Mom, telling her what happened. Mom came to see me every weekend while I helped Smokey through his laying up, as Grandma called it. And that old cat loved it too. He purred, ate, slept and purred all day and night long. The sofa was our bed and the shade of the Mimosa was where we spent the days, outside in the grass. 

I read him books, told him stories, massaged his muscles because Grandpa told me too. I changed bandages and cleaned wounds, hand fed him tidbits and laid outside under that tree with the fuzzy, pink flowers and watched hummingbirds and clouds. It wasn't ideal. He was hurt and I was afraid. But there was a bond forged that Summer that is still there, between me and cats.

Years later Smokey died of old age. No one told me. I went to spend some weeks with my grandparents, looking forward to helping in the gardens, with the animals and to having Smokey sleeping by me on his pillow. He had always been there to greet me. And that Summer he wasn't. When I asked Grandma where he was, she took me to her prized rose garden. There was a new yellow rose growing there with beautiful, tight rose buds and huge, fragrant flowers. She showed me a stone with his name on it. He had a rose growing from his heart. 

She left me to sit on the ground, crying for my fierce bad cat. It was part of life, grieving for the ones who have passed ahead of us. I lied there with my head on her loomy garden soil, trying to imagine that Smokey was there with me, purring. And I took him dandylions and daisies all that Summer, making sure there were no weeds. Penny and I were bereft. I spent time under the mimosa, laying in the grass and reading to Penny. And I told stories about Smokey, the cat who turned in to a night lion and kept bad guys away. 

I still miss that stinky, old cat. And I can still hear his purr on my pillow at night too. I will always have cats. And, someday, I will leave this place and he will be waiting at the head of the line, ready to take me on to our next adventures together. 

I love you Smokey.

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling and remembering