The view from my “office” today…

Spring season has (finally) started around here.

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That’s my kid in there.

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And my other kid, riding with her dad.

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The old red barn has a bit of a lean…

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And now I’ve got to get back to my pre-plant scouting reports. (If anyone knows how to get rid of sticky weed* in a hay pasture, let me know…)

*I’ll look up the scientific name when I’m in the real office. ūüėõ

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Recovery and resurrection

Two months ago, I got sick. I assumed it was a reaction to something I ate or drank in Mexico (though I was very, very careful) and figured it would eventually work its way out of my system. Unfortunately, it overwhelmed my system instead, and I ended up bouncing from the clinic to urgent care to the emergency room and back (several times).

And, after weeks of tests and drugs and misery, I was finally told I had a virus and I just needed to wait another couple of months for my body to heal.

I lost over ten pounds in six weeks (and, since I’ve always had a small frame anyway, that ¬†made me feel even worse…), but I’m on a tightly restricted diet (no gluten, no sugar, no caffeine, no eggs, no dairy – other than yogurt – and very little red meat) so I’ve had to put more thought and effort into the food I do eat than I ever have before. It’s frustrating and discouraging, but I am¬†slowly starting to feel better. My weight has stabilized, and now I just need to work on recovering my strength and stamina as I regain¬†what I lost.

But, oh, have I struggled. I’m an active person with no patience for forced rest. I couldn’t ride my horses, couldn’t keep up with my kids’ activities, couldn’t clean the house or participate in the half-dozen community activities I was asked to help with. I was stuck in survival mode for months¬†and it felt miserable.

This is the season for new life, though. For waking up, growing, blooming. I’ve been soaking up the sunshine, spending as much time as I can outside. I’ve started riding again (I’m like a noodle in the saddle, so I’m sticking with my trainer’s lesson horses until I’ve healed a bit more) and I’ve been working with Trinity on the ground. We’ve both been practicing patience – me with my fatigued body, her with everything that requires standing still. ūüėČ She’s shedding – her buttercream winter coat has gone, and the mouse-brown under coat is only left in ragged patches – so her gorgeous grulla coloring is starting to shine. She’s learned to let me braid her hair (sloppily), and today she proved that she can move off from a point of my finger in any direction. We have some other things we can refine while I recover, but I’m really happy with how well we get along.

I have some plans for her and I, as soon as I feel better, so I’ll be writing a lot more about our work and progress in the weeks to come.

I’ve also been writing – the silver lining in the dark cloud of prolonged illness is that I felt no guilt about sitting at my computer for hours – and I’ve taken on a new project I’m really excited about. I may share more about the process here, too. We’ll see.

Anyway! It’s spring, and I’m looking forward to coming back to life.IMG_2528

(This is what she usually does when she sees my camera. :D)

 

 

Books read in March

  • ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis
  • IN CALABRIA by Peter S. Beagle
  • THE SUGAR QUEEN by Sarah Addison Allen
  • JEWELS OF THE SUN by Nora Roberts
  • TEARS OF THE MOON by Nora Roberts
  • HEART OF THE SEA by Nora Roberts
  • THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD by Douglas Preston

Books read in February – catching up

For my own records, and in no particular order:

  • BLACKOUT¬†by Connie Willis
  • THE GRACES by Laura Eve
  • THE LUCKY ONES by Anna Godbersen
  • BEAUTIFUL DAYS by Anna Godbersen
  • VIXEN by Jillian Larkin
  • INGENUE by Jillian Larkin
  • DIVA by Jillian Larkin
  • THE SEA CHILDREN by Jackie Morris
  • EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON by Jackie Morris
  • THE WILD SWANS by Jackie Morris
  • DOLLFACE by Ren√©e Rosen

Young Sassy-britches and the Old War Mare

The best medicine after a long sickness is sunshine and horse hair, I believe. I’m not strong enough to ride yet, but I needed time with my horses. It’s still hard to walk out there and see just two mustangs, but Brisa’s new person is *wonderful* about sending updates and it sounds as if they’re getting along brilliantly. I’d planned on sending Trinity back to the trainer for another 30 day refresher course this month, but the unexpected medical issues and expenses have forced me to put it off a little while. I worry that an entire winter off will make her a difficult ride once I can get back in the saddle again, but her manners on the ground have been excellent and she’s good company when I’m feeling sorry for myself. So, we’ll see what the next couple of weeks bring.

Trinity seems to have taken the lead mare role – she’s faster and bolder than Gypsy, but when it comes to food or water, she yields to the old war mare. They’re getting along really well, though I worry that Gypsy won’t handle being left by herself very well.

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Gypsy looking skeptical.

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This is Trinity’s goofy “Do I get a treat now?” face.

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She’s finally starting to shed out. ūüėÄ Must be spring!

Missouri Writers Guild

Lovely piece of news for a gorgeous pseudo-spring day: I’ve just been accepted as a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild. I was planning to attend the conference this May anyway, but it’s nice to be an official member.

Also, I’ve got several projects in the works and could use some luck, so if you’ve got any to spare, I’d appreciate it.

 

Books read in January

For my own records, and in no particular order:

  • THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge
  • THE SEA, THE SEA¬†by Iris Murdoch
  • THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis
  • THE WHITE FOX¬†by Jackie Morris
  • KRABAT AND THE SORCERER’S MILL¬†by Otfried Preussler
  • HOW TO MANAGE YOUR HOME WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND by Dana K. White
  • A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles
  • JUNGLE OF STONE by William Carlsen
  • LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK¬†by Kathleen Rooney
  • THE GROWNUP¬†by Gillian Flynn
  • SERPENTINE¬†by Cindy Pon
  • SACRIFICE by Cindy Pon
  • BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS by Anna Godbersen

Pondering Mayan History…

We’re back from a week at Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. (Seed companies offer the best customer rewards, in case you were wondering. :))

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My feelings about resort tourism are too complicated and raw for a blog post, but my husband and I¬†try to be respectful of the local culture and the country we’re visiting.

One of the reasons we wanted to go on this trip was to experience the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum for ourselves. It was a rare chance to see ancient history up close and in person, and we were not disappointed.

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Chichen Itza was impressive. The sheer size and scale of the ruins, the detail of the surviving Mayan glyphs ~ there aren’t enough words to convey the sense of¬†time you feel standing at the foot of the main pyramid, or wandering past observatories and temples. I read¬†Jungle of Stone¬†by William Carlsen before we left ~ about John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catharwood and their “discovery” of Mayan ruins in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico ~ so I thought I had some sort of historic context for what I was seeing. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of walking in those shadows myself, hearing the Quetzal bird echoes from our claps and seeing the Mayan faces in the stonework.

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Tulum, though smaller in scope, was so wild and beautiful I could have spent my entire vacation wandering around it. It was the last Mayan city built, and the last abandoned ~ thanks to the coral reef protecting it from the sea and the thick wall protecting it from the land, it was never conquered by the Spanish (a point of obvious pride to the tour guides).

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The Mayans had a sophisticated written language capable of expressing complex ideas about religion, politics, culture, and history centuries before anyone else on the continent did. They recorded their words in books (nearly all of which were destroyed by the Spanish, and the fact that the few surviving books are held in foreign museums was a clear point of anger and frustration to our guides) and developed an astronomical calendar so sophisticated and accurate that NASA recorded a margin of error of only 23 seconds. (Also, just so you know, the Mayans never predicted the world would end in 2012, okay? That marked the end of one calendar cycle, not all of creation.) They built incredible temples, dwellings, and platforms. They built roads, wells, and playing fields for their sacred ball games.

And yet the Mayan civilization could not survive the combined forces of war, invasion, rebellion, disease, and environmental degradation. Today, our guide told us, there are something like 6 million Mayan descendants still living in the Yucatan. They follow the old religion and speak the Mayan language, but so much has been lost to time and the jungle.

It makes me wonder where we’re headed.

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Threads of silver wisdom…

I turn 40 in a couple of months and, yes, I wrote one of those “40 in 40” lists. At the top is something superficial and silly – and deeply significant to me.

I’m letting my hair grow out natural gray.

Now, in case it needs to be said:¬†I’m not saying a woman¬†shouldn’t color her hair. If you enjoy it, then rock on with your colorful self.

But if you don’t, then rock on with your gray self, too.

Here’s the thing: I almost didn’t turn 27. By the time the doctors figured out what was wrong and how to fix it, by the time I’d fought my way back on my feet, I was already finding the first random gray hair here and there.

By the time I turned 30, I was also turning noticeably gray. (Though I realize there’s a genetic component to the process of graying, in my case it was also a side-effect of the stress my body had been under for so long.) I started coloring my hair two years later.

At first, it was kind of fun. A way to pretend the past had never happened so I could move forward. But within months, I started having trouble. I’ve always been sensitive to a cocktail of different chemicals, and it quickly became apparent that do-it-yourself box dyes wouldn’t work for me. I started going to a local salon, but the coloring chemicals¬†used there caused worse reactions. At the suggestion of a friend, I found an Aveda salon using plant-based dyes that were supposed to be better for my body and the environment, and that was important to me.

I went to that salon every six weeks for *years.* But I was never the sort of woman to sit back and enjoy it – for me, going to the salon was never relaxing. When I want to relax, I walk in the woods, ride my horses, read a book, sip a cup of tea, listen to music. I do not go somewhere to get my hair done. (shrug) Not only that, but this place was 40 minutes away, so every appointment took at least two hours (if not three – I have long hair) out of my day. Yes, I could read a¬†book while waiting for my hair to do whatever it is that hair does when it’s being colored, but this place was one of those chatty ones where the entire room engages in casual conversation, so sticking my nose in a book felt sort of rude.

Still, it seemed the sort of thing I was supposed to do, right? A woman my age doesn’t walk around with gray hair. That’s like leaving the house without shoes, or pants, or something.

But then the “gentle, plant-based dyes” started causing irritation to my skin, too. Oh, nothing at all like the boxes! And, honestly, if I wanted to keep coloring my hair we could leave the goop on for less time, rinse it sooner and I’d probably be fine.

It’s just… I’m almost 40. I am¬†tired of pretending my hair isn’t gray. I’m tired of being fake. We live in a culture that idolizes superficiality, shallow egotism, fake illusion. I crave authenticity, respect,¬†substance and meaning. Why is it that so many so-called “celebrities” haven’t actually produced or accomplished anything beyond marketing their bad behavior, poor choices, and personality flaws as some kind of glittering package? Why don’t we celebrate our poets, writers, artists, scientists, innovators, teachers, leaders, and peacemakers the way we do people with painted faces and fake smiles?

Why do we idolize the young and pretend we’ll live forever? Why do we ignore the privilege of wisdom, of life experience?

And the thing I keep circling back to is the fact that I almost didn’t make it this far. Every gray hair I have is a silver banner reminding me of a memory, experience, adventure, challenge, or accomplishment¬†I almost didn’t get to have. I know too many people who have died too young – in car crashes, from cancer. They never even got¬†the opportunity to go gray.

Anyone who knows me also knows I’m passionate about history… which means I know the general average life expectancy in a number of places during a number of periods, and I know that growing old is never guaranteed.

So, I have to say, I’m rather pleased with my gray hair. It’s real, and I’ve earned it.

First book crossed off my challenge list

THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis – winner of the Hugo award (and the Nebula)

I bounced off this book hard the first time I tried to read it, years ago. The beginning is excruciatingly slow and repetitive, but once the story hit its stride I was swept along so fast I hated to put the book down.

Kivrin, a student of history, is sent to a village outside Oxford in 1320 to observe medieval life during the Christmas holiday season. What she doesn’t know is that a latent virus has erupted in modern-day Oxford (in the year 2054) and flared into a potential epidemic, threatening both her mission and the university as a whole.

Sick and disoriented when she arrives in the past, she quickly realizes her¬†mission isn’t going to proceed according to plan at all.¬†For one thing, she’s not in 1320 at all. She’s in 1348 and the Black Plague is sweeping through the region, consuming everyone in its path.

So – this is a time travel book, but with a sense of logic I haven’t seen before. I loved the interplay of academic ambitions, bureaucratic maneuvering, and scientific curiosity. The premise is compelling and completely credible.

What surprised me the most, I think, was the fact that I loved the scenes in real-time as much as I loved the scenes from the past. (Ordinarily I’d be all about the history and impatient with any contemporary bits). The characters are that well¬†written and the sense of impending threat is that strong – I¬†had to know what was going to happen.

It’s a grim book, really – any book about the plague and modern epidemics is going to be, I think – and yet the way Willis handled it was beautiful, too. In the midst of the worst aspects of the human condition – pettiness, hubris, ignorance, selfishness, fear, disease, death – she also shows the very best: compassion, heroism, generosity, faith, and love. A book that should have left me howling with grief was rendered somehow hopeful, too.

I ended up loving it more than I ever expected. Highly recommended.