Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Nova

Dear Nova,

Today's the first day that you're gone.  Today is hard.  We miss you.

When you came to live with my parents, you were just twelve days old.  When we saw your pictures, T and I both felt something strong.  I fell in love with you then.  We wanted to bring you home, to have you in our family.  We waited and hoped and finally, just before you turned six weeks old, it became official that you'd become a McGill.  The day before you turned eight weeks old, you had your spay and your scar adhesion removal surgeries, and we brought you home to Tucson.  That was a special day.  December 2nd.

Over the next weeks, you grew and you ate and you loved and you chased and you dug holes in the yard.  You ran and played and snuggled and grew some more.  We started leash training and went on daily walks.  We began working on basic commands - you loved to learn new things!  By the time Christmas arrived, you knew come, sit, up, down, crawl, and we were working hard on stay.  You were so quick, so intelligent, so curious.

You loved your little girl, E.  You were so gentle with her.  I really appreciate you being careful with our toddler, even when she tried to sit on your head or hug you too tightly.  She loved taking you outside and praising your potty training efforts.  "Good girl!" quickly became her phrase of choice. She loved you from the start.  You two were supposed to grow up together; we'd hoped you would sleep in her room and be her champion.

Christmas morning arrived, and you happily pulled your new quacky duck toy from your stocking and ran around stealing wrapping paper and ribbon.  You got your very own tag for your collar - it had just arrived two days earlier in the mail.  We took Christmas photos and hugged your silvery body and kissed your wet black nose.  You went to bed a happy pup.

But the morning after Christmas, you weren't feeling well.  You scarfed down your breakfast as usual, but then you threw it back up.  You wanted to go lay down.  That was already the beginning of the end, but nobody knew how seriously sick you were.  I'm so sorry, Nova.  I'm so sorry I didn't know.  I wish I'd taken you sooner to the vet, maybe that would have made a difference.  But you were so damn strong, you were acting just like your normal self until you could not do it any longer.

You laid on your little dog bed, your blanket tucked around you, all morning.  All morning we watched and worried.  I tried to get you to drink water, but you didn't want any.  I syringed water into your mouth and you swallowed it.  I listened to your lungs, they sounded clear.  Your heart rate was getting higher and higher and you started working hard at breathing.  We grew more concerned.  We called the vet and were referred to the local emergency hospital.  My dad started his car and drove us.  You sat curled up in my lap, shivering and breathing hard.

The vet did some x-rays.  You had pretty bad pneumonia in both lungs.  Even when the vet listened to your lungs he'd said they sounded clear, so everyone was surprised.  He also found that your belly was full of gas from you swallowing air while trying to breathe more oxygen in.  Your intestines were inflamed, he said from a "dietary indescretion".  We'll never know what had your intestines so upset, but our guess was that you had too many different new kinds of treats and maybe you'd eaten some plants in the yard.

Dad and I left you in the vet hospital's ICU, in the oxygen box to help you breathe.  They hooked you up with IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-vomiting meds, antacids, and some pain control.  Your oxygen saturation was at 97 percent.  We had to open a Care Credit account to pay for your hospitalization, but I was just focused on getting you home healthy.

After dinner a few hours later, my phone rang.  I recognized the emergency hospital's phone number and my heart began to deflate.  It was your doctor.  He said that despite all the treatment and being in an oxygen saturated environment, you were looking worse and your oxygen saturation was down to only 91 percent.  He suggested that we come back to see you and make a decision about your continued care.

We packed up the family and drove to the hospital.  You lay in the oxygen box on your side, belly clenched tight, head up on a folded brown towel.  You had an IV in your leg, a temp probe and an oxygen sensor attached to your lip, and you were shaking with the effort to breathe.  Your eyes were open, but not focused.  I put my hand in through the small opening in the plexiglas door and touched your velvet nose, rubbed that soft little hollow between your eyes, and then I held your paw while the vet talked.  He left T and I with you to make a decision.  I took my hand out after we'd talked, and went to go get the doctor.  T said to wait, that you were upset I was leaving.  She said you tried to get up, you lifted your head and looked for me.  I came right back, but my hand through the opening and held your sweet face.  You looked into my eyes.  At that moment, I thought you were asking me to not to give up on you.  I think that's what I wanted to believe.  We decided to give you a few more hours to fight.

We let my parents come in to visit you while we played in the lobby with E.  A few minutes later, the next shift vet came running out to get us - you'd begun trembling violently and barking out.  We rushed back in and I again placed my hand on your head.  You stopped barking, but I could feel the vibrations through your skull of you groaning and growling as your eyes rolled halfway under your silver lids.  I knew that you were done.  I knew I couldn't bear to watch you suffer a moment longer.

Gently, the vet asked me if this changed my decision.  Tears spilling down my cheeks, I nodded and croaked, "I can't ask her to fight like this anymore." He touched my shoulder before going and getting the meds he would need to help you go to sleep. A tech gently lifted you out of the oxygen box and placed you on a table, leaned up against my body.  Your little girl came in and she wrapped her arms around your neck and hugged you one last time.  She touched her forehead to your head, and then she waved at you and said, "Bye!" so brightly that it cut me down deep.  T carried her back out to my parents while you and I waited for the end.

I curled my arms around you, I kissed your soft head and I whispered how much I loved you and how wonderful you were into your ears.  T came back and held us both as the vet injected an overdose of anesthesia into your little body, and I felt all your weight slump into my arms.  He listened to your chest with his stethoscope and said quietly that your heart had stopped.  It felt like mine had, too.  Tears upon tears slid down my cheeks as I hugged you again and kissed you and stroked your wonderful face one last time.  I laid you gently on the table and left as quickly as I could after shaking the vet's hand.

The feeling of your warm body in my arms is all too real.  The scent of your puppy breath, of fresh dirt in your fur, they are stuck in my nostrils.  The memory of you doesn't even feel like a memory yet; 'It can't be true! She can't be gone!' my arms cry out.  I cried off and on the whole drive home from Phoenix.  I cried myself to sleep.  I woke several times during the night, convinced I heard your little voice again.  I cried myself awake.

Your toys were still strewn about the house this morning.  Your pen is still set up by the table.  E is still carrying around your dog bowl and pointing at the backyard, asking me, "Good girl?"  And I have to say, "No baby, Nova isn't here anymore."  And I cry.

I've gathered up your things.  They're in a pile.  I think I'll donate your blankets and puppy pads to a rescue group, and your puppy toys if the rescue will take them.  I don't know if I could bear to see them around the house for Manni to play with.  Your collar with your brand new tag sits on top of the pile.  Those I'll keep, though I don't know where.  You looked so beautiful with your periwinkle collar and your copper tag with stars stamped into it.  You only got to wear your tag for two days.  It should have been a lifetime.

I miss you so much it hurts.  But I thought you should know how very much you were loved.  I wanted so badly to do right by you, and I hope upon hope that I made the right choice.  And I hope that one day, I'll find you again, my Little Grey Dog.  You were a wonderful piece of our lives; you touched hearts and you will be remembered.

Goodbye, SuperNova.

Love always,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas

I got up this morning before the world turned to see the sun.  For the first time in years, I am awake almost as early as I used to be as an excited kid.  Granted, this morning I was up early to start breakfast instead of anxiously awaiting the appointed hour at which time it was acceptable to wake my parents, but it has been a nice reminiscence.

It reminds me of everything I love about Christmas.  Many of my favorite parts are likely borne of all the years my brother and I would spend almost the entirety of Christmas Eve decidedly NOT sleeping, but waiting for Santa to arrive and taking turns slowly creeping out into the living room to look at the Christmas tree and its bounty.

I absolutely love looking at a softly lit Christmas tree while the rest of the house is shrouded in darkness. Even moreso once some gifts begin to accumulate beneath its branches.  I gaze upon each ornament, trying to remember when and where it came from. The glow from a Christmas tree in the night is what fills my soul with fond memories and love from a time past.

The meaning of Christmas is debatable, and I know there are plenty of "reasons for the season", but a warm Christmas tree in a cold room helps me try to live each year like the child I once was: full of hope and excitement.  I don't truthfully wish to live Christmas as an adult, because it is full of stress and deadlines and complications and arguments over which family gets which piece of Christmas. Like a pack of coyotes fighting over flesh. Without the childlike wonder... Christmastime is not all that pleasant.

And now I am a mom. This is E's second Christmas, though she still doesn't understand about Santa and she doesn't yet expect gifts, it is still full of more magic than all my other adult Christmases combined. I look forward to all the years to come with my children, but I especially look forward to seeing my kids' tired faces on Christmas morning, knowing that they'd been up all night, huddled together in bed, wondering what was waiting in the living room.

Yes, I think Christmas should be about family and togetherness and kindness and love.

But it should be first about magic.

Something us adults could stand to remember.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 18th

A young woman, belly swollen tight with a full-term baby, feels the beginning of her labor begin.  It hurts her body; it hurts her heart.  She fights against the contractions, willing her body to hold tight onto that infant for just a bit more.  Not yet.  Don't take her yet. 

December 18th is the day of your birth.

Heralded into this world a week before Christmas, enveloped in sorrow and love and regret, you were born and became your own person.  You were given a name that nobody alive knows (or will admit they know).  You were cradled in the arms of a young woman who loved you desperately, though she couldn't keep you for her own daughter.  

Placed into the arms of another mother, you were left with a new family to grow up and discover yourself.  

Still, after all these years, you aren't much for celebrating your own birthday.  I cannot imagine how this day makes you feel.  When I was younger, I wondered how you managed to shrink away from a day that is, by definition, a celebration of YOU.  Now I realize that you don't see it as a celebration of you - not the whole day, at least.  In part, it's the day that changed the path of your life.  It's the day that you were given up by the person who is supposed to love you unconditionally.  It's a reminder of how many questions there still are, a memo that there's a whole other family out there who share genetics with you - a family that we have yet to find.  How could you celebrate yourself on such a day? 

But if you can't celebrate this day, know that I can and I do.  

I'm grateful for my biological grandmother.  I'm grateful for all the love and sadness she had in her heart for you.  I think that even as you grew inside her, you were already becoming part light and part darkness.  

You are the golden light that bathes the world as the sun sinks below the mountain tops. You see the good in all people, even when it's a single grain in a sea of rice.  

You are the blackness that shrouds the earth while she sleeps.  You hold your loved ones close and safe, while you shield us from the storm.  

You feel deeply; emotion flows thickly through your veins.  Your highs are higher, and your lows sometimes lower, than most. 

On this day, this 18th of December, I want to honor the person you've become.  I will think about the forty eight other December 18ths you've already lived, and wonder about who you were on each of those days.  I will hold your birth mother close, and offer that young woman in my mind a fierce hug.  Her story grips me; the idea of giving up a child breaks my heart and knowing that baby was you crushes me.  She had to be strong.  She had to be courageous.

And she imparted those qualities to her firstborn daughter.

You are kind.  You are generous.  You are loving.  You are empathetic.  You are passionate.  You are supportive. You are questioning.  You are enthusiastic.  You are interested.  You are selfless.

I admire you, Mom.  I love you dearly, and with each passing year I learn more about the depth of your personhood - and the more I learn, the more awe and respect I have.

Happy Birthday, mother of mine.  You are very special, and very important to me.  I hope you know that although this day is full of both darkness and light, I will always think of it as the day the world changed.  And I will always celebrate you.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Imado (what I wanna do)

When I was pregnant, everyone wanted to know if it was a girl or boy, and then the name.

After she was born everyone wanted to know if I made through it without an epidural.

Once she was a few months old everyone wanted to know if she was sleeping through the night.

Now that she's over a year old, the question is "How much longer are you going to breastfeed?"

Do you want the short answer or the long answer?  I usually start with the short answer: I don't know. After an awkward pause I start rambling the long answer. It usually includes something about pumping and my work schedule, something else about sleeping through the night and teething. Sometimes I even go into the WHO recommendations and anthropological evidence that says "extended" breastfeeding is biologically normal. 

I'm not sure if it's there or if it is my own insecurities, but every time someone asks, I feel like the implied question is "Why haven't you weaned?" I feel defensive and judged. I have to convince them that I have actual reasons to continue breastfeeding and I'm not just lazy or "soft".

Part of it is that I'm not a pull-the-band-aide-off-quickly kind of mom. I don't like drastic changes, I'd rather do things slowly. That being said, the only change that I've made since she turned the magic age of one is that I don't stress about is anymore, or rather, I try not to. Most of my stress surround pumping and supply. I have a hard time keeping up with her when I work long hours, so we're introducing cow and goat's milk since we're quickly running out of frozen milk. I have to put in a lot of effort to not worry so much, and its really helping. I'm able to focus on work more and I don't threaten to throw my pump off the building anymore.

We've had an interesting journey to get here. It's been full of ups and downs, tears and smiles. Lately the smiles have vastly out numbered the tears and we are both happy with how our nursing relationship is. And its just that: OURS.

So whether or not you are judging me for nursing my one year old at the park/restaurant/work, it really doesn't matter.  The answer to the question is "When it seems right for us" and I don't know when that will be because it hasn't happened yet.

Having a milk break during her 1-year-old photo shoot

Monday, September 23, 2013

Babies are people, too.

Many of us are familiar with the all-encompassing urges that our hormones put us through during our reproductive years.  That desire, that urgency to "have a baby".  Come on, you know what I'm talking about.  Grinning stupidly at any baby in your vicinity, glancing fondly at those big beautiful pregnant bellies that just seem to be everywhere during these hormonal times, feeling jealousy when friends or family announce new additions.

I've noticed though, that the urge to have a baby is not always connected to the desire to raise a child.  Sometimes it's just our bodies wanting to do what they're built to do.  Bring new blood to your family, continue the next generation, propagate mankind.  Sometimes we desperately want to get pregnant/have a baby, but aren't really interested in raising any more kids.  That's okay; it's completely normal.

Another observation I've made is that most of the time, parents who do want babies and who do want kids forget that children become adults.  Not logically - logically we all understand that as our bodies and minds age, we become adults and we leave our families of origin and we create a family of our own.  But emotionally, we think only of that baby growing in our womb, of what that newborn will look like, of what color his eyes will be, and maybe about what we'll do for her first birthday party.  At the beginning of childbearing, most people rarely consider further than that, other than to occasionally fantasize about vacations or holidays.  We don't think about what'll happen when our babies turn eighteen or twenty five or forty.

Our babies are real people.  With real, separate, individual personalities.  And if we are fortunate, we will get to raise them and watch them grow.  But we have to realize that some of the choices we made for them when they were small are choices that they will have to live with.  We make choices that affect the rest of their lives, and some choices follow them even past their own lifetimes - the choices we make about our conceptions and pregnancies and babies today can live on for generations and affect our children's children and their kids after that and after that.  It's so important to educate ourselves, and to choose carefully.

Specifically, the biggest decision I feel we made for our E was regarding her biological father; her sperm donor.  The color of his eyes or his hair don't matter to me in the long run - but his openness to a relationship with her meant everything.  We knew from the very earliest stages of preparing for conception that we wanted a donor who was willing to be known to our children, no matter in what capacity.  This was not a decision we took lightly; indeed, we feel like choosing such a donor was the best gift we could give to our daughter, since we couldn't give her both sides of her biology from the two of us.

We felt that this was the only possible decision to make for E.  Yes, we created her life, and yes it was done in an atypical fashion, but it's her life.  I wouldn't want to cut her off at the knees before she's even born - I want her to have every possible option when she's grown.  If she is interested in knowing her donor, then I'll be at her side.  If she doesn't feel the need to find him just yet, I will help her to truly understand what that choice will mean for her but ultimately, I respect whatever decision she makes.

I strive, as E's parent, to consider her as a separate entity from myself or T.  Her feelings are her own, her opinions are her own.  She is an individual and she deserves every ounce of consideration that I can muster.  My biggest hope in this regard is that one day, she will see the lengths we've gone to in order to give her as many choices as we were able to.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I can't wait... or can I?

Yesterday (well, two days ago, since its taken me so long to write this) I was writing in E's journal and was struck by a seemingly innocent idiom that I almost used. I wrote to her about growing up too fast. I remember being told as a child that I was growing up too fast, and I always hated it. I was getting older at exactly the same rate as everyone else, so it really didn't make sense that I was growing up too fast. Now I get it. As a child, or even young adult, everything seemed to be a count down to the next holiday or event. 113 days until Christmas!  Until your birthday! Until the last day of school! As the days get closer, the excitement builds. Months and years just seem too big to worry about, too abstract. I'm not sure when the transition happened, but now days are just too short to count. I count in weeks, or months. Sometimes even years. In 12 years, I will be the parent of a teenager. That's a scary thought... However, nothing seems to show the passage of time like a baby growing into a toddler, into a child, into a... well you get the point. The changes in our daughter over the last 12 months have been monumental.

As I finished writing about time slipping through our fingers, I started to close the journal entry. I told her how great the last year has been and then stopped myself before writing what I have seen written so many times before (and we even wrote on the slideshow!): "I can't wait to see what the next year brings." Yes, I am looking forward to getting to know my daughter as a toddler, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to be done with her babyhood. If I feel like she's growing up "too fast," then I need to stop focusing on what's next and enjoy what is RIGHT NOW!

For E's birthday party we chose a luau theme. In Hawai'i it is customary to throw luau for a child's first birthday, as much for the parent's survival and the kids! I have a co-worker from Hawai'i who said it is the biggest birthday party you every have, and you don't even remember it. We thought this was a great idea, but decided not to embrace the HUGE party idea, it would just be too much work and too overwhelming for a one year old. We stuck to just family and that was quite enough excitement!
Sharing her cupcake!


A and her mom

What luau is complete without a grass skirt!?

E with her Poppa

Sitting on her new reading chair playing with her favorite toy- the bow!

I have spent a lot of time over the last few days remembering what we were doing exactly a year ago.  It was interesting to be able to put actual times to things.  As time has gone by, my body has forgotten just how miserable I was the last few weeks of being pregnant. It has forgotten how hard labor was.  I find myself thinking about our next child in terms of ME being pregnant, even though that's not the plan.  For some reason, this weekend I had a much easier time remembering what it felt like and why I was glad it is A's turn next. 

It's interesting switching gears to being the non-gestational parent, even in this early planning stage.  There's a certain invisibility that I'm simultaneously sad and excited about.  On one hand, there was a certain level of camaraderie with other pregnant women, and it made small talk a little easier.  But there was a point where I got tired of correcting people when they asked about my husband. And awkward moments that followed. Although with further thought, people will probably be more likely to ask questions when they find out I'm on maternity leave but wasn't pregnant. I guess you never really finish coming out; it's not a singular event.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

One Year

I believed that nothing showed the passage of time more acutely than a pregnancy.  Then our daughter was born, and I learned the truth - NOTHING shows the passage of time more acutely than a baby's first year.

It's been said before, and it'll be said again, but I am in a constant state of disbelief that E is a year old, but also that she's ONLY a year old.  I feel like she has been a part of us for as long as I can remember.  And in many ways, she has.

In 2005, I met and fell madly in love with T.
In 2008, we set ourselves a five-year timeframe for having our first child.  A few months later, we got married.
In 2009, we bought our home.  Though we didn't know it at the time, this would be our last year as a childless couple (though our "accident" baby, a colt named Remi, was born this year!).
In 2010, we became a licensed foster home, and over the span of 2 years cared for three children.
In 2011, during our final foster care placement, we decided that having our own children couldn't possibly be as difficult and heartwrenching as having foster children.  We started trying to get T pregnant that summer, and E was conceived in December, days before our foster children went home to their birthmother.
In 2012, our charming daughter was born.  We had a year to spare before our pre-determined five year timeframe elapsed!

Before I even met T, I'd dreamed about having children.  I'd known that I wanted kids since I was a kid, myself.  I wondered who they would be, what they would look like, how many I would have.  I envisioned all the things I would teach them, and wondered what they would teach me.  I daydreamed about taking them on vacations and letting them wake me on Christmas morning.

I didn't always know that my first daughter wouldn't be born of my genes, or of my body.  Once it was obvious this was to be the case, I allowed myself a period of acknowledging a sense of loss, of sadness that I wasn't going to experience pregnancy the way I'd originally wanted.  I had baby fever for years prior to E's conception, so convincing my hormones to wait for my own pregnancy has been a difficult road at times.  However, I wouldn't change anything, even if I could.

I loved every moment (okay, MOST moments) of T's pregnancy.  I experienced it in a secondhand way, a way that I believe has made me more appreciative of my relationship and of our child.  I felt privileged to be able to care for T and ease any amount of her anxiety or discomfort that I could.  I felt intensely protective in a way I had never before - I still feel that way.

And now here we are, a year of E's presence on Earth!  365 rotations.  1 revolution around the sun.  T's pregnancy already feels far away, and our baby is a bonafide kid.

In the last year, I've learned a little something about the depth of love - and how it doesn't have a measurable depth, after all.  I've learned a lot about mothering, but also about being mothered.  I've learned more about my own parents in the last year than ever - my biggest realization is that there was so much about them that I didn't already know.  I wonder how much more they have to teach me.  I wonder how much more I don't know.

And so, here's to you EJ:
You came into this world on your own terms, in your own time.  You blew all our expectations out of the water from the first moment we set eyes on your tiny face.
You have taught us about love and patience.  You've taught us about the magical value of seeing the world through eyes that are experiencing everything for the first time.
You are opinionated, kind, gentle, sweet, sensitive, and hilarious.  You're so clever, it's amazing.
You love food!  Especially risotto with peas. Actually, anything with peas.  You enjoy enchiladas, steak, baked sweet potatoes, blackberries, bananas, blueberries, oranges and lemons, and (admittedly) chocolate ice cream.  You're pretty game to try anything, but if you don't like it you don't hesitate to make that known.
You are a chatty little thing.  Dancing is one of your very favorite activities - I hope it's not terribly embarrassing to you as you get older that neither of your moms can dance at all.  You are a masterful crawler, and you enjoy pulling yourself up to stand and then letting go.  Sometimes, you're a bit of a daredevil, and sometimes you have a flair for the dramatic.
Your once-tiny body used to curl into the crook of my arm, now your lanky limbs spill out of my arms as I carry your sleeping form to bed.
Being your Mama is an incredible honor and I fall in love with you all over again every day.  Watching you grow and learn and change has been so much fun - and I look forward to all the future brings us.
This year has been the most amazing year I've ever lived.

Happy Birthday, wonderful child.

And I want to wish my amazing wife a happy birthing day, as well.  One year ago exactly, she was in labor in our living room.  I had woken my parents in the middle of the night and they'd driven the two hours to us - all of us thinking that the baby would be arriving soon.  Little did we all know that we'd have quite the wait in front of us, and T would have a lot of hard work to get through before E could make her grand entrance at 7:37pm.  You were a warrior; you were nothing short of phenomenal.  I am thankful for you.  Thankful for being able to watch your body do one of the most awesome things a body can do.  Thankful to know this child, who is of your genes, and is of your body.  Without you, there would be no E.  I love you.

Monday, August 12, 2013


The first time A and I went camping together was four years ago for wedding. They rented an awesome group site on Mt. Lemmon and a great time was had by all. 
Our first camping trip, June 2009

Every year as it gets to be sweltering in the desert, we long to head up the mountain and camp. But camping alone isn't good enough, we want lots of company.  Every summer, we want to go back to THAT camp ground. They book up early, so you have to plan ahead which we just aren't good at doing.  This year, however, I did it!

This year's camping trip story actually starts a week earlier.  There wasn't anything going on at work, so I took 2 1/2 weeks of vacation (I really should have taken a longer maternity leave...). A few days in we went down to Madera Canyon to find the perfect spot for a 1-year-old photo shoot later in the week. We found a great little amphitheater and bridge and took some test shots of E and headed back home. 
She's so adorable, I can hardly stand it!
On the way back I sat in the back of our SUV with E to keep her entertained, but as we got back to Tucson she fell asleep. We got off the interstate, but were still on a road that had a fairly high speed limit that people usually ignore. All of a sudden, A says something that gets my attention (neither of us remember what) and slams on the breaks. I look up just in time to see the back of a gravel truck (a FULL-size gravel truck, mind you) slam into the front of our Honda. I immediately look to E, she rocks back and forth a little while we get pushed into the median, but stays asleep. 

By the time we realize what has happened, the semi-truck has driven away and we can't see the plates. There is also a cop car stopped in the right hand lane (the reason the truck changed lanes, although he changed one more than was necessary), but the cop drives away, too, evidently unaware of what happened in his blind spot. I look behind us (A can't since we no longer have a side mirror) and see that we are in the middle of a break in traffic, but cars are starting to come around the corner.  She carefully maneuvers down the rocky median and into the right hand lane.  The car still seems to be drivable, but we want to find somewhere to pull over, and there isn't an emergency shoulder here. I'm on the phone with police dispatch when we find somewhere to turn off, as we turn, we see the truck turning the other way and give them as many details as possible, but still can't see the license.

We pull over and do a quick inventory of the damage. The mirror is gone, and the door is scratched and dented, as is the front fender. The drivers side front tire shows a lot of damage from hitting the curb and rocks, but is still holding air. We are deciding what to do next (replace the tire, put on the spare, just go home) when dispatch calls me back.  Evidently they are looking for us instead of the truck, so we just stay put. 

The cop that comes was actually the one who was in the road.  They saw us on the median, but not that the truck hit us. We answer a bunch of questions and dispatch is able to find a company name on the truck, but no one answers the phone.  They give us the address (which turns out to be a residential address) and send us on our not-so-merry-way. 

This is part of the camping trip story because now we are left with one vehicle while the SUV gets repaired.  Our second vehicle is a MazdaSpeed3. This complicates things since we were going to be hard pressed to fit everything (mainly, the dog) in the SUV. Luckily my parents come to the rescue and offer to bring him up and back down for us. 

Its finally time for the big trip!  We only leave an hour later than we planned.  When we get up there, it is spinkling lightly, but the forecast has more rain, so we decided to quickly set up our tent.  It is a tent my aunt gave my parents, and none of us have ever used it and there are no instructions. Eventually we get it upright, although it seems like something is just not quite right.  We start setting up our air mattress and realize it is leaking. We hang a tarp over the leaking area and cross our fingers.

By then more people have arrived, and the camping trip really gets started. We had potluck meals planned for most of the lunches and dinners.  The campsite had a ramada with picnic tables and grills and a big fire pit. There was lots of good food, lazy mornings, nice hikes, and s'mores!  E did fantastic!  She slept better than she does at home and loved being outside all day.  

E tries to help her friend put on his jacket during their time in "Baby Jail"

A was sick of me rolling my eyes for pictures.

E and I roast marshmallows

A and E sleeping

mmmm.... tacos!

We're swinging in my hammock

nap time with her bunny-friend on the slowly deflating air mattress

In the forest with her forest book!

We decided up have baby races.  Parents of the year.

There was a deer with BIG ears!

Our last morning...
The last morning we wake up to lots of puddles.  Its been raining most of the night and we realized just how not-water-tight the tent is. Our bed is wet, our clothes are wet, the dog is wet. It is still drizzling and the rain doesn't show any signs of stopping. We meet with everyone in the ramada and formulate a game plan. My mom comes back up to entertain the babies while we tear down our damp camp.  We pack everything up and head back home to the heat.

Monday, July 15, 2013


As I rocked my daughter back to sleep after the 3rd failed attempt of transferring her to her crib, it struck me just how much she has grown. I was holding her like I used to when she was brand new- her head on my chest, her feet that were tucked up under her. She rarely sleeps this way anymore, only when she's completely exhausted.

10 days old
Ahh... sometimes I miss our little fluffy haired newborn. It is all flying by so quickly, I knew it would.  She has grown into such a fantastic little person! I love how funny she can be, but then quickly switch into her serious, studying mood.  Lately she's been very into copying us.  We've been reading more, so she pulls down books and looks through them.  She only wants to eat the food we're eating.  She's trying SO hard to copy words we're saying, the other day A got her to say paper! I love watching her learn and grow, I just wish time would slow down a little bit, so we can keep up with her.
10 months old

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Merry Go Round

Everyone aboard on the merry-go-round
Some things will rise up so that others come down
If the devil don't dance, heaven won't shine
It's a mighty thick haze and it's a pretty thin line
If the faucet is tightened up the love won't flow
If the love isn't bright enough the corn won't grow
If the night isn't dark enough the moon won't glow

Our little family has been waiting on bated breath to hear the Supreme Court's decision on Prop 8 and DOMA.  Of course it seems like they are saving the best for last when issuing rulings. I'm guessing if you're reading our blog, you don't need me to go into the specifics, so I'm not going to, but if you've been living under a rock: here you go.

Its hard to describe the emotions filling me right now, but it is definitely nausea-inducing. Tomorrow when I wake up, their decision may already have been announced. But now that I've had that realization, I will probably be glued to from 7am on. It's sort of like Christmas Eve, but you're afraid Santa is only going to bring you coal.

Tomorrow will be a very emotional day.  Hopefully good emotions.

Our Wedding 8.22.08

Someone is tossing petals in a stream
Somewhere someone is standing at the foothills of their dreams
Someone got a paintbrush, is painting over doubts
Someone opened up his eyes and saw the sun coming out
Someone was captive and found the courage to get off
From a boulder in the well, somewhere the rain has stopped
Someone is finding the place where they belong


Everyday is summer somewhere in the world
And the summer boys are headed for the falls to kiss the girls
With their impatient hands groping honey breasts and curls
They are filled with desire
And high in the hills there's a baby being born
As forgiveness and peace wash over bruises and sores
People bridging the distance over nettles and thorns

Everyone aboard on the merry-go-round
Some things will rise up so that others come down
If the devil don't dance, heaven won't shine
It's a mighty thick haze and it's a pretty thin line
If the faucet is tightened up the love won't flow
If the love isn't bright enough the corn won't grow
If the night isn't dark enough the moon won't glow

A rich man counting money, a tired man counting sheep
While the safe man counts his blessings, the hungry man has beans
There's a million people praying, raising up their eyes
To what turns out to be the same god, the same sky
We are slightly scared of death, a little bit afraid
So we celebrate everything we can think to celebrate
We shall sing out loud to keep the hounds away

Everyone aboard on the merry-go-round
Some things will rise up so that others come down
If the devil don't dance, heaven won't shine
It's a mighty thick haze and it's a pretty thin line
If the faucet is tightened up the love won't flow
If the love isn't bright enough the corn won't grow
If the night isn't dark enough the moon won't glow

Prisons will crumble and governments will fall
It's the order of freedom to be preceded by walls
Cause the truth would be worthless if no one ever lied
So we carry our shame in the interest of pride
And we have all these questions to make us go roam
And we've got all this distance to make us come home
As the sun burns, a child learns, the tide churns, the world turns

Everyone aboard on the merry-go-round
Some things will rise up so that others come down
If the devil don't dance, heaven won't shine
It's a mighty thick haze and it's a pretty thin line
If the faucet is tightened up the love won't flow
If the love isn't bright enough the corn won't grow
If the night isn't dark enough the moon won't glow

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Horse Training Log

Ahh, another horsey post!  Avert your eyes, if ye be disinterested, because this post contains no photos of our darling baby.

So, the horses.

First, there's an Arabian gelding I've been working with named Ben.  Ben is a special character, even for an Arabian.  (Traditionally, I do not like Arabians but this one is ... unique.)  Ben is eight years old and had never been saddled, much less ridden.  His owner is an older woman who bought Ben as a ripe three year old and then decided to put off starting him under saddle.  She kept putting it off and putting it off, likely because she was intimidated by him, and now it's been five years and he's just a chubby pet.

Ben has always enjoyed getting out and learning new things.  He seems to like having a new person to get to know, and enjoys certain challenges.  Other challenges however... he'd prefer I'd just not throw at him.  For instance, he did amazingly well with his first saddling!  Better than almost any other horse I've started.  No blowups, no being crazy, no bucking even.  He just walked off like he'd been wearing that saddle his whole life.

But you want to put a bridle on him?  Oh heck no.  Ben panics at the sheer thought of ANYTHING being above his scaredy Arabian ears.  You can barely get your hand up there.

So Ben needs some work.  But he also has a flair for the dramatic, and tends to overreact to everything.  We've learned that Ben just needs a little bit of bullying, and he'll huff and puff about it but then allow you to do what you want.  Oh, except the "things above his head" issue.  We're working on it.

The other location has several (and by several I mean a lot) horses who need some work.  The Paint stallion Abe is doing well, coming along nicely.  He had his long hooves trimmed last week and he's still a little tender on his toes, but that'll fade with some more time.  Today Abe was being more ornery than usual, but it's been a week since he's been worked so that isn't unexpected.  Abe enjoys seeing how much trouble he can get into without getting into REAL trouble, you know what I mean?  For instance, I've been working and riding this horse for awhile now and he is excellent under saddle.  No mean bone in this horse's body, and he's certainly not afraid of anything.  But today, I saddle him and send him around the round pen and he rears and plunges and hops around like a giant copper bunny rabbit.  All the while, looking at me like, "See?  I'm a big bad stallion.  I don't HAVE to wear this saddle.  I do what I want."

No, son.  You do what *I* want.  I picked up the lunge whip and encouraged him to move out, which typically stops bucking and rearing because it's harder to do those things while you're running around.  He sees that whip in my hand and immediately took off around the pen, all the bravado and buck was gone.  What a turkey.  It wasn't long before he was feeling pretty sorry for himself, as it was hot out and he'd been working for awhile and was sweating up a lather.  I bridled him and stepped up into the saddle and he plodded around the round pen like a kid whose toy had been taken away.  You might have thought he was eighty years old, the way he moped around after I'd beaten him at his own game.

Abe cracks me up.  He is very much like a young child, and I cannot help but be charmed by his ornery, naughty ways.  He's going to be a very good riding horse, indeed.  I'm hopeful he'll find a good home where he'll get a partner and good, regular exercise and a job to do.

The chestnut mare Jane that I mentioned last time has been coming along, too.  My friend Kate has been coming with me to help with the horses, and Kate has taken over working Jane.  Kate has been teaching her to lead nicely without running you over or stepping on your feet, as well as to lunge correctly.  Jane's feet are in pretty ugly shape and badly need some attention from a farrier, so we're hoping that'll happen soon.  She'll be a much happier horse when her feet are taken care of.

I started "refreshing" a horse for the son of the owners of this property.  She's a gorgeous buckskin mare named Shakti (I didn't pick her name.) and she was started under saddle by some cowboy horse trainer, but it was at least eight or nine months ago.  She's been sitting in her stall, doing nothing, since she was started.  Shakti is an extremely nervous, jumpy, scared horse.  She also doesn't like new people and takes awhile to trust them.  Needless to say, she's been a challenge.  The second time I worked with her, she seemed to possess much more of her brain than the first time, so I figured it'd be okay to get on her back.  She was skeptical but allowed it.  She walked around and stopped and turned for me, and was fine with it, so I asked her to trot.  She was trotting along confidently, when for no reason that I could discern, skidded to a stop.  Since she'd stopped so suddenly, I was thrust forward in the saddle and instinctively my calves gripped her sides.  This was a motion that Shakti was NOT expecting, and she blew up like a firecracker.  I got left in the dirt as she flew around the round pen.  I got back up on her, but she was noticeably more nervous about everything.  Today she did well with being saddled and bridled and exercised, but I did not ride her as my back isn't quite 100% yet and I'm just not THAT stupid.

I think Shakti just needs plenty of time and reassurance.  She's so nervous and requires constant encouragement.  Honestly, I don't think this is the right horse for the owner's son, because I doubt he is able and willing to come out and work with her every single day.  She needs a confident person who can devote a good amount of time to her.  She's not a horse that you ride a couple times a month and call it good.  I hope that I can develop a good enough relationship with her that she'll trust me, but time will tell.

And finally, sweet Luna.  I noticed today that she looks to be gaining a bit of weight, and I felt a good amount of relief seeing that she wasn't as skinny as when I first laid eyes on her.  Her hooves were supposed to be trimmed last weekend, but they weren't done for whatever reason.  I'm starting to see a crack develop in one hoof and I hope that her extra long toes get trimmed soon.  I myself tried to trim some of the length off her toes, but her hoof wall has grown so thick and strong that I couldn't nip any of the extra hoof off.  I'm hopeful that the farrier's well-practiced and stronger arms can do the job.

I have not worked Luna yet, and I'm not even eager to do so until her feet have been worked on.  I fear that working her in the round pen would further encourage the crack in her hoof and I certainly don't want her going lame.  Though I am really interested to see what this little mare is made of.

Today, as we walked up to Luna's stall, she turned around to see who was coming and upon noticing who it was, she called out a greeting.  That was the first time I've heard her utter a sound, and it was a sweet throaty little nicker.  I stood in her stall with her and we chatted for awhile with Kate and Yvonne, the owner.  Luna was her charming, affectionate self at first, loving all the scratches I was giving her.  She also thought Kate's phone was terribly interesting and wanted to bite it.  After a few minutes, Luna pulled out all the stops and was even cuter than she'd been before.

She stood behind me, chest pressed into my back, and arched her neck high over my shoulder so she could nuzzle at the screenprinted heart on my tshirt.  The sound that the printed part of the shirt made against her lips must have amused her, because she did it several times.  She craned her neck around to sniff my ears and my face and then she turned her long head sideways and stuck it through the fence panels to thoroughly sniff Kate, as well.  She just wanted to be there with us, and kept wiggling her lip against my face and whuffing warm air into my ears and nose.  Finally, she decided that she was very interested in my visor.  She lifted her head up and carefully took the brim of my visor between her teeth and just tugged a little bit before letting go.  Luna did seem terribly pleased that we were letting her explore us, and that we were loving on her.  I combed through her uneven and tangled blonde mane with my fingers while Kate tickled her soft muzzle and she just seemed so relaxed.

I can't wait to see what Luna has in store for us.  She's a sweet girl.  Yvonne even commented on how much she seemed to like us.  Amazing, what caring a little and giving a creature a chance will do for their affection towards humans.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Our growing E is nearly nine months old!  She's everything I ever dreamed of and more.  Every day, she blows my expectations out of the water.

She's become quite quick at crawling, and isn't shy about where she goes.  She loves the kitchen and the bathroom in particular.  She's been pulling herself up to stand for more than a month, and now she pulls up on pretty much any surface - even against flat walls, or the dishwasher.  She enjoys "helping" to load the dishwasher.

Recently, we've taken her swimming for the first and second time in a big pool, and she is a HUGE pool enthusiast!  What a blast we're having - this summer is going to be an amazing time with her, I just know it.  E adores splashing, kicking, squealing, and talking to the water.  She likes any body of water, truthfully.  She drinks water from a cup very well, but sometimes she wants to put her hands in it first.  I've given her a shallow tupperware dish with water in the bottom to play with and she loves that, too.  I think she must be part fish.

She is still a cuddly sleeper; I cherish those moments.  I catch myself staring at her while she snoozes, smiling like an idiot.  I catch T doing it, too, so I know I'm not alone.

I love the way her face lights up when T comes home.  I love the way she squeals with delight and kicks and flails when our dog comes up to see her.  I love the low chuckle she gives out when she thinks something is amusing.  I love the sweet belly laughs she lets out when she's tickled or pleased about something.

E signs 'milk', she waves, she says "Mama" and "Mom" - though not reliably, ha, and the other day she waved at the dog and exclaimed, "Dod!".

Last week, a large UPS truck drove by and E happened to babble "Da Da" as it passed.  T smiled and commented, "Hey, the sperm that makes up half your genetics was delivered in a big truck like that, so you're pretty close!"  We got a good laugh out of that one.

Pretty much, we think she's brilliant and perfect and curious and precocious and sweet and smart and the most amazing child.  I think everyone should feel that way about their babies.

In adult news, T and I have been looking at buying another house.  The housing market is finally on the upswing, but the prices are low enough that we can still get a lot of house for our money.  The home we own currently is right about at the point where we might be able to sell it for how much we owe, but with home values projected to increase 50% in the next five years, we figure it'd be wiser to hold onto it as an investment property and rent it out while living in whatever house we buy now.

Last week, T and I were having lunch with two good friends.  One friend just rented her house out and moved, and the other is in the process of buying a home.  All our babies are close in age.  We spent a good portion of our lunch date discussing interest rates and down payment assistance programs and the local economy.  I had to sit back and laugh.  Although I'm 26 this year, it still feels like being a real adult is a fairly new experience, and the idea of spending lunch talking about such grown-up (read: boring) topics is funny.  I suppose I make up for all the maturity and wisdom I sometimes display by still loving animated movies and ice cream for dinner and fart jokes.

On the opposite side of the same coin, it feels really good and really mature that we're financially able to own two homes at once.  We may become landlords in the near future.  How intense and incredible to be able to have this potential for building wealth in the next few years!

Today, I'm wondering how I am so lucky to have this wonderful family.  A kind and loving wife, an amazing and amusing daughter, and both sets of our parents and siblings who are always there for us.

As with all things, this too shall pass.  Tomorrow may not be an easy or good day.  But today is, and I'm still learning to live in the moment.

At 8 months

Water baby

E loves quinoa!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bella Luna

Recently, I've been blessed with a combination of good fortunes.  My lovely wife saw that, after all our horse photography lately, I've been struggling with not having horses in my life.  She sagely suggested that I try and find a way to ride someone else's horse for free, since we can't afford to lease one.  I posted an ad on good ol' craigslist, offering to train a young horse how to carry a saddle and rider.  I wasn't sure if I'd even get any interest, since often people are suspicious of allowing perfect strangers to come handle their horses.

Boy, I did not realize how many people WOULD be interested.  I had to take the ad down after just one day because I had several emails and more horses than I could have hoped to ride in a year.

The first email was from an older woman who, along with her husband, owns a Quarter Horse and Paint Horse breeding ranch.  Typically, they sell the foals after they wean from their mothers and are not accustomed to having multiple older horses around to train to take a saddle and rider.  In the past few years, with the economy breaking down, they ended up with several foals left over on the property long after they should've been sold.  The woman has a bad hip and a bad back, and her husband has a back injury.  They couldn't train the young horses any more because they were too concerned about getting thrown off and seriously injuring themselves.  This is where I come in.

Naturally, *I* think - this is a fantastic opportunity!  All these well-bred horses to start right and train and who knows, maybe she'll throw me some training business down the line!  Most people probably think I have some kind of mental disorder, volunteering to do so much work so this woman can get more money for her horses.

But truthfully, I enjoy being around and working with horses so much that it's like a second Christmas, an opportunity like this.

I spoke to the woman on the phone first, and asked a bit about the horses and her facility, etc.  She was telling me about the horses she wanted me to work with - seven, in all.  She said that six of the seven were wonderful, should be easy to work with, handled often.  I said, "And the seventh?"

She paused.  "That filly... I don't trust her.  She's always been different.  You'll have to see what you think."

I pressed her, asking why she didn't trust her.  She explained that she wasn't handled like the rest of them as a baby and that she's always been more standoffish and she just can't get a handle on what she's really like.  She asked, "Have you ever had a horse whose personality just rubbed you the wrong way?"  I replied that I had, and she commented that both their personalities seemed to rub the other one the wrong way.  I accepted that, but was already curious about this "different" horse.

The first time I visited the ranch, the woman took me on a slow and limping tour of the property, showing me each horse and telling me what work had been done on it thus far.  After the first horse (a gorgeous Paint stallion the color of a freshly minted penny), I asked what his name was, to try and attempt keeping all the horses separate in my mind.  She replied that she didn't know his registered name off the top of her head, and that she didn't give any of these young horses names, because as a breeder she couldn't get attached to the babies.  She told me she just called him, "The Paint stud".  Funny, since she has six breeding stallions on the property and several of them are Paints.  I knew better than to ask about the rest of the horses' names.

After she showed me the six, we ambled towards the very back of the property and she began telling me the story of "the rogue filly" at the back.  Reportedly, when this little chestnut filly was born, the farm had between 15 and 20 foals on the ground.  The owner's husband was on a long trip to New Mexico, and she was single-handedly gentling and working with all the babies.  She simply didn't have the time or resources to work with all of them in addition to feeding, cleaning, and exercising the older horses, so the young filly who wasn't interested in human contact didn't get handled.

Once the filly was weaned from her mother, she was placed in a turnout by herself - as all the weanlings are. Being isolated forces the young horses to come to the humans for companionship and comfort, rather than bonding with other weanlings and avoiding people.  However, since this filly wasn't handled as a nursling, she was disinterested in the little human contact she was offered.  She kept her own company, lived on her own for awhile.

When the time came to catch her and start teaching her the necessary skills she'd need to be sold, the filly wouldn't allow herself to be caught.  She evaded the breeders, running wild in her turnout.  The breeders couldn't see any way to catch her, so they hired a cowboy to come out and rope her.  They put her in a stall and worked with her, got her accustomed to being haltered and led and having her feet picked up.  But she never really bonded with them, not in the way the other babies all had.  She didn't trust them, and they wouldn't trust her, either.

The economy bottomed out, and even this breeding operation's fine young horses weren't selling.  Including the young, disenchanted filly.  The time passed, months at first, then years.  Before long, the horse was full-grown and ready to be taught to accept saddle and rider.  But the breeders didn't have a good relationship with the horse; didn't trust her to not hurt them.

They opted to send her to a cowboy who would saddle-break her and teach her to be ridden.  She was to be there for 30 days.

Halfway through, the cowboy called to report that it wasn't going well - the filly refused to stop bucking once he saddled her, and he hadn't yet been on her back.  The cowboy was notorious for his use of a rear cinch, which is a wide strap of leather that circles a horse's lower abdomen and keeps the rear of the saddle from popping up on the horse's back (during competition or during a naughty bucking session).  It is not considered one of the mandatory pieces of a saddle, though many find it helpful.  The breeder asked if the cowboy had considered taking his rear cinch off, that perhaps the cinch was causing the filly's bucking.  He refused to try, insisting that she get used to it.  At the end of the 30 days, the cowboy asked for more time and the breeders told him no, they were coming to pick her up.  As they pulled onto his property, they found him riding the chestnut filly and looking pretty nervous about it.  They noticed that she'd lost weight while in his riding program.

I am unsure how long ago this happened to her, but it's safe to say that she has not been worked with since then.

So when the breeder walked me out to her pen, I was unsure of what to expect out of her.  The mare watched us approaching, ears forward and brown eyes bright.  I noted that she was in a pen at the back of the property, separated from any other horses and farthest away from the main house.  She was underweight.  She still had some of her winter coat along her back and withers and hindquarters.  Her tail had been chewed off while at the cowboy's place, according to the breeder.  It was in mats, tangled into dreadlocks.  Her mane had been rubbed or chewed off in places.  Her hair was a beautiful mixture of reds and golds, platinum blonde in places.

Between her eyes rests a small crescent moon of pale hairs - this is the only white marking on her whole body.  Her hooves have grown too long and begun to flare out and curl to one side.

The woman unhooked the chain around her pen gate and motioned for me to go inside.  As soon as I stepped foot into the pen, the mare turned away and walked to the back of the stall, putting her head low in the corner and refusing to acknowledge me.  I guess it shouldn't have been surprising, since most, if not all, the people in her life had let her down in some way.

I stood in the center of the pen and kept chatting with the breeder in a low, calm voice.  I turned my back to the mare and held a few grooming supplies I'd brought with me in my hand - a body brush, rubber curry, and a lead rope.

It wasn't even a minute before I sensed movement behind me.  I admit, I tensed a little, wondering if the horse was going to rush me or bite me, but before I could worry too much I felt her soft nose blowing warm air into my empty hand from behind.  I stood and just let her examine me.  She sniffed the grooming tools and lead rope, she smelled my pants and my ponytail and whuffed her breath into my ear.  I quietly stepped backwards, closer to her.  She didn't move away, but rather kept exploring me.  I scratched her chest and between her front legs.  I stroked her nose and rubbed her chin and jaw.  She let me step to her side and scratch along her mane and withers.  I switched to using the curry instead of my fingers and she stretched her head out and curled her upper lip when I hit a really good spot on her belly.  As I slowly worked all over her body, she would rest her chin on my shoulder or nose my back, sniff my arm, and rub her itchy face on my side.  She took the opportunity at one point to lift her head and breathe directly into my nose.  I took the opportunity to show her my trust in her, and breathed back into her nostrils.  This kind of exchange is vital in horse language - it's a way of gathering information, of learning to differentiate me from other humans; a greeting of sorts.  She gobbled up every kind word, every low croon I uttered.  She relished in every gentle touch.  As she relaxed and closed her eyes, standing comfortably with one hind foot cocked, I realized I had already decided that I loved her.

I barely know the horse, but I know enough to be certain that she's somebody special.

I'm feeling in awe of the way I came across this horse.  It just seems like I'm supposed to know her.

I drove home that day with visions of that mare's eyes watching me leave in my head.  Her crescent moon marking stuck out - I knew I had to come up with something to call this girl.  Later that night, I decided that Luna was the perfect name for her.

The following photos are of Luna, and because I was by myself, I could only take photos of her from outside her pen.  Because of this, these photos may be some of the worst quality pictures I've taken in a long time, and mostly just illustrate her coloring, markings, skinny body, and sad hooves.  Please forgive me.  I hope to take much, MUCH better photos of her soon.

She's thin, but some calories and muscling out will make her beautiful, I'm certain of it!

I love the color of her mane.

"Whatcha doin' with that thing?"

Pretty girl. 

 It's a little hard to see in this photo, but her hooves both flare and are beginning to curl to her right.  A trim will rectify this. 

Hi, sweet Luna. 

Silly horse wanted to examine the camera more than she cared if I got photos of her nice and straight legs. 

Bye, Luna!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's nearly Mothers' Day again!

Yep.  It's time again for THAT post.

I know Mothers' Day isn't until Sunday, but it's on my mind this morning.  This year will be our 3rd Mothers' Day, and the first with a forever-baby in our arms.

2011 found us mothering 2 children who already had a mother.  2011 surrounded us with people reaffirming our first Mothers' Day, even if the kids weren't forever.  Even if we loved those kids deeply, despite spending the week beforehand creating Mother's Day gifts for their "real" mom.  Even if we felt cheapened by letting strangers assume they belonged to us.

2012 found us childless.  T was growing a small belly, a visible reminder of the baby we'd have by the next Mothers' Day.  2012 surrounded us with people congratulating us on our first real Mothers' Day, happy for us that our real kid was on her way.  My insides cringed, and the mother I was in 2011 felt invalidated.  I'd already been several kids' mother in prior years, why was this year the one I should celebrate as my first Mothers' Day?  Read about it here.

I'm not sure what 2013's Mothers' Day will bring.  I know the mama I am to E is different than the mother I've been before.  In small ways, every year it'll be a "First Mothers' Day" of sorts I suppose.

The woman I am today tells the small, petty parts of me to forgive easier.  To give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  To accept the heartfelt sentiment from someone's comment instead of criticizing their word choice or allowing what they say to offend me.

I am a mama.  Mothers' Day is coming up, a day to celebrate all mothers.  I will celebrate myself and my achievements on Sunday, as well as feeling intensely thankful for my own mother, and the multitude of mothers I have in my life.

And maybe... just maybe, people might consider thinking their words through a touch more.  Quantifying what makes things "real" versus false is the biggest faux pas here, I think.

Genuineness and sincerity may speak quietly, but the way they make us feel is everlasting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Horses and nostalgia

As many of you know, T and I started a photography (and other artsy things) business in February.  We've done a lot of baby and kid photos, as well as family sessions.  Directly following the start-up and the Facebook page launch, I contacted a local saddle club that always hosts an annual state-wide gymkhana to see if they had a show photographer lined up yet.  They didn't, and were thrilled that someone wanted to come and do it.  

A gymkhana, for horses and their riders, is a competition typically comprised of 4-5 events designed to test the speed, agility, and teamwork of the horse and rider pair.  They are all timed speed events and vary in their design and pattern to be run.

This gymkhana that we signed on to photograph is one of the biggest gymkhanas in the state.  It's a 2-day competition and its winners are the very best of the best in Arizona.

In high school, I competed in gymkhanas regularly and worked hard at it.  I ran at this state gymkhana for 3 years and loved it every single time.  I looked forward to it for months; my horse and I and trained and prepared.  The last time I ran in this gymkhana was almost 10 years ago.

Rocky and A, all decked out for a drill team performance - 2003

I very much was looking forward to getting to photograph this gymkhana!  That being said, I also knew that it had the potential to be brutal on us.  Taking photos of every single rider, every event - it takes over the whole day.  The weather was forecast to be be clear and warm with a breeze.  Ninety four degrees isn't all that hot for southern Arizona, but it is pretty warm to be out in the sun from 7am to 7pm, holding perfectly still while taking pictures.  On top of that, we of course have a baby with us.  We'd hoped to both be photographing certain events, so we needed to make arrangements for E.  Saturday, we brought the teenaged daughter of a friend of ours to hang out with her and Sunday my parents and sister came to be with her.  It mostly worked pretty well, considering that she's only eight months old as of today.  E spent the whole time in the shade and slathered in sunscreen, so she really just got bored.  And kind of warm at times.

I arrived early Saturday morning by myself to start setting up our table and canopy.  There is simply nothing like the crisp dawn air, the smell of fresh hay and desert springtime, warm dirt and horsehair.  The younger riders were being boosted onto the backs of their horses and ponies by their parents.  Many of the teens had hopped onto their horses bareback and were walking from their overnight stall spaces to their trailers, where their tack was stored.  The adults scrambled around with last-minute preparations, final instructions to their kids, organizing coolers and tents and trying to slap some sunscreen on the toddlers running around before going to retrieve their own horses.

I don't think there is actually any way to describe to you how I felt that morning, but I'll try.

My heart beat a little faster.  My lungs swelled in my chest, trying to take in all the scents of my teenage years.  Scents that have been missing from my life for awhile.  A smile stretched my lips as I watched little girls trot past on their carefully color-coordinated horses, giggling at some inside joke between them.  Pink reins and pink saddle pads matched the pink boots their horses wore.  Others chose lime green, turquoise, purple, blue.  Horses were bathed and groomed for the occasion, saddles had been cleaned and oiled.

Reminded me of the evening prior to the gymkhana, when a 16 year old me would spend two hours lovingly going over every inch of her saddle and tack, making sure it shone richly in the amber lamplight after the rest of her friends had all left the barn.  I'd wash my saddle pad and my horse's support boots in the washer in my house, and my mom would remind me to wipe out all the clumps of horsehair after I was finished.  I would go to Michael's and buy blank tshirts and iron-on letters and decals.  I made myself a custom shirt for each day of the competition, different ones every year.

April 2002

Friday, my whole family would pack up and we'd go pick up the trailer and my horse and head the 2 hours south to the fairgrounds.  I'd settle my horse into his stall, we'd park the trailer, and then we would go check into our hotel.  I always meant for Friday night to be an early night, but with entry to the gymkhana came entry into the county fair, so we'd ride rides and eat fair food before heading back to the hotel, where I was usually too excited to sleep very well.

Competition day started early, as the horses needed to eat before we could get going.  I loved rising with the sun (just on gymkhana days!) and greeting my horse, Rocky, as he woke.  I'd give him a good, thorough grooming as he munched his breakfast.

Gymkhana days were filled with anticipation, anxiety, adrenaline.  I loved them; I worried about doing poorly.  The state gymkhana... all the emotions ran hotter than usual.

Watching all the riders direct their leaping and jigging horses through the gate gave me fond memories of Rocky, dancing sideways along the fenceline, waiting for me to give him the go-ahead.

A and Rocky in 2002

I saw the horses charge, hooves cleaving dirt, nostrils flared, and I remembered when that was me.  Men and women alike calling out commands and encouragement to their mounts as they rounded barrels or darted between poles.

It might seem like they're running along the surface of the earth, but that's just a trick our minds play.

In truth, these horses fly.  And in riding them, we borrow wings.

If I could go back, I would remind myself every day, every competition, to savor every bit of it I could.  To just be present as much as possible.  At 16 years old though, I don't know that I would have known what that actually meant.

I know that one day, my family will be a gymkhana family again.  I don't know when that'll be, or what it'll look like, but there is no doubt in my mind that we'll have horses.  But I do know that it won't be what it was before.  And it's not supposed to be - I've lived that part of my life already, it would be stupid to want to live it again.  I look forward to seeing what horses are in my family's future.

But for now, I'll take photos of other people's horses, with their rippling muscles and gleaming coats.  And I'll wish I could go up to every single one of their riders and whisper quietly, "Don't let today get away.  You don't know where tomorrow is going to take you.  And buy some damned photos, because we're really good and I wish I had more photos of me and my horses."

A professional photo of me and Rocky that my parents bought in 2003

A photo T took at the state gymkhana - April 27, 2013
A photo T took at the state gymkhana - April 27, 2013

*a special note: Horses have been one of the most enriching parts of my life, 
and there isn't any way I would have gotten to participate if it weren't for my 
amazing, loving, encouraging, supportive family.  Mom and Dad, thanks for 
giving me an incredible, irreplaceable gift.  I am eternally grateful for it, and you.