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.