Monday, December 19, 2016

Coffee Shop Conversations

After having my hair cut last week, I went next door for a sandwich at Canoe Creek Coffee. It's a small, family-run place and something Ashville has needed for a while. Judging by the number of cars parked there most of the time, I’d say business is good.

I intended to work on some blogs while there. I’m planning one about another road trip by Lucy and Ethel, one about the perfectionism of my handyman, and a third about some people whose Christian mission work is helping local folks with chores and trips to the doctor. Those will have to wait, though, while I extol the virtues of our new coffee shop.

The owners, Mike and Alison Bailey, wanted a place where friends could meet in a casual atmosphere for coffee and a chat. They have achieved that and more. I ran into three different people I know in the first half hour of munching on my turkey-and- cheddar panini. One man I had written a Discover magazine article about brought his three little girls in for hot chocolate. 

A woman with whom I had been on a mission trip was having coffee and a Danish with her daughter. A friend of hers came in, and it turns out she’s the wife of another guy I’ve written an article on. Meanwhile, a woman who goes to my church came in for eggnog and a box of assorted sweets for a party, took one look at the new lunch menu and decided to have a sandwich. 

Canoe Creek’s paninis are to die for, especially those spread with apple butter. They also serve frappes, smoothies and hot tea. Their pastry menu varies from day to day. Alison might make Cheddar Bacon Scones one day, chocolate muffins the next and cookies the next. On this day, they had put out samples of her Luscious Layer Bars. I know they were trying to sell them, but a couple of the bite-size samples seemed plenty for me. Then I felt guilty about having only samples for dessert, so I just had to get a cup of coffee to assuage my guilt. Okay, I admit it, I also bought a layer bar to go with it.

Listening to the women at the next table, I couldn't help but joining into the conversation. That’s what you do in a small town. I learned about one woman's problems finding a doctor in her insurance provider network, about another who wants to go back to work too soon after surgery, and the travails of a teenager who needs a higher grade on her SAT test to get a college scholarship. Fortunately, none of the conversations were what you'd call, "intimate."

I like doing business with local merchants, and I'd really like to see this place succeed. I’m doing my part, at least.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Wind Creek Weekend

Best view of fall foliage is between ears of a horse.
Normally, I keep my grands over the Thanksgiving holidays. But I wanted to go on a weekend trail ride with Outback Saddle Club at Wind Creek State Park. So I kept my grands the weekend before, packed some Thanksgiving leftovers and my riding gear, loaded Mallory and headed for Alexander City Friday morning.

I had called 10 days before to make reservations, but was told Wind Creek doesn't accept reservations. I'm not sure whether that's true throughout the camp or just the horse area, but it only has 16 spots. "They're nearly empty every weekend," the clerk assured me. "And we have an overflow area, too."

My experience with that "overflow" area hadn't been good. There is no "legal" trail between it and the horse camp, so when I was there in February 2015, someone had to trailer my horses to meet our group at the trail head.

I had a bad feeling about the trip while packing. An email to the club newsletter editor about who was going to be there brought up one couple. Perhaps I would be the only one there. I don't know the trails well enough to ride alone, and besides, it's dangerous to ride without a buddy. But I had put so much effort into getting ready, and I was so psyched up to ride, that I ignored my gut and went anyway.

The two-hour drive was uneventful, but when I went to the Wind Creek Welcome Center to register, I almost came unglued. The equine camp was full! "You can camp in the overflow area," the clerk informed me. "There are two horse people there now." I was furious, argued about why they don't take reservations ("That wouldn't be fair," a ranger said. Huh??), stomped and fumed about getting from one camp to the other via horseback, and started to turn around and go home. The clerk told me to drive through the equine camp and see whether I knew someone I could buddy up with. 

The camp was packed, but the trailer doors were open and empty. Almost everyone was out riding. I found one woman named Lauren Ruark from Georgia who listened to me rant and rave while encouraging me not to leave. Then I found someone who was breaking camp, and claimed her site. Whew!

I’m so grateful to Lauren for talking me out of leaving. It turned into a lovely weekend. I saw only two other campers from Outback, and I didn't really know them. I prevailed upon one guy to "help" put up my picket line, which means he did it for me. Lauren waited until I had set up camp and saddled my horse, then we started a two-hour ride. Half an hour into the ride, we ran across some folks she knew, and joined up. However, the few she knew turned into a group of about 45, which is way too many for my tastes. Saturday, I linked up with a horsewoman I knew and three of her friends, and rode four hours. Sunday, I got in another hour. I was a happy camper.

The weather was perfect, the leaves were gorgeous, and we saw several deer, including a buck with at least six points. The drought had dropped the water line so low on Lake Martin that we were able to ride the "beach" for a while, although I'm not sure whether the park officials would have approved. I snapped a photo of a picnic table that used to be high up the bank. It appeared as if the gnarly roots of an old pine tree were the only thing keeping it from sliding down the bank.

What could have been a misadventure turned out great, thanks to some horsey friends old and new.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pithy Proverbs for Modern Living

A friend sent the following modern-day proverbs to me via email, and I thought they were worth sharing. This seems like the perfect place for the above sign that I photographed outside the Silent Brigade Distillery in downtown Paducah, KY, during my trip recent road trip to Chicago. (More on that later.) Perhaps you have a few more words of wisdom you can add. If so, please feel free to share them with me in the comments section.

1.  Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue!
2.  Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
3.  Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.
4.  Drive carefully; It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.
5. If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.
6. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
7.  It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
8. Never buy a car you can't push.
9. Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.
10. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.
11. Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.
12. The second mouse gets the cheese.
13. When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.
14. Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.
15. Some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.
16. We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.
17.  A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.


...18. Save the Earth..... It's the only planet with chocolate!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

12 Signs That You're Getting Old

1. Your new pastor is the same age as your oldest child.

2. Your physician is younger than your oldest child.

3. You discover that you went to high school with your veterinarian’s parents.

4. It takes you all night to do what you used to do all night.

5. "Having a hard time getting it up” describes the difficulty of raising your body off the floor from a criss-cross double-cross position (or any other position, for that matter).

6. Your childhood heroes that aren’t already six feet under have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

7. You can’t remember whether you had a bath or not yesterday.

8. You take so many pills, you can’t remember what maladies they’re for.

9. You call a friend, sibling or cousin and talk for an hour about each other’s ailments and doctors’ visits.

10. You still refer to song compilations as “records” or “LPs.”

11. You’re sure there’s a conspiracy among manufacturers to make it  impossible to open CD  wrappers, the foil covering a wine cork and any package that says, “Tear here.”

12.  I know I said 12 signs, but can’t for the life of me remember what No. 12 was!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Grief: The Price of Caring

I had to put Jazzy down yesterday. She rests in peace next to the other two horses I’ve buried over the past six or eight years. 

Euthanizing her was a difficult decision. Other than her front feet, she seemed so healthy. I could see the strain beginning to show in her eyes, but she hobbled along valiantly until the end.

Jazzy's last meal
She appeared to be doing better the last week of August, so much so that I was letting her graze a few minutes each morning while I cleaned the stalls and enclosure. But she took a turn for the worse while I was out of town the first week of September. She developed an abscess at the hairline of her right foot. It may have been a result of putting so much pressure on that hoof while favoring her left one. My vet  gave her a shot of antibiotics, and instructed me to soak the abscessed hoof in a mixture of Epsom salt and iodine twice a day, and to continue the twice-daily doses of bute. He showed me the outline of the coffin bone, which was pressing on the bottom of the right hoof. He said if there was no improvement in the next few days, we would have some hard decisions to make. 

Four days later, she seemed a wee bit better, so I gave her the second shot of antibiotics. I guess I was just seeing what I wanted to see, because the abscess refused to heal. On Monday (September 26), my farrier showed me the thin bit of tissue remaining between the coffin bones and the bottom of each front hoof. I knew the end was near. I wept bitter tears that tasted of sadness, physical and emotional pain and self-blame. But I knew what had to be done.

I had three appointments on Wednesday, and would be tied up Thursday and Friday, too. So I lined up Dr. Coe and a track hoe for Monday morning, October 3. When one of my Wednesday afternoon appointments was cancelled, I decided that was the day. I knew I’d be a basket case if I waited until Monday. She would have been a mess, too, as it turned out.

With the sound of the track hoe digging in my woods, I fed Jazzy some carrots and hay and gave her two grams of bute to lessen the pain of walking on the hard ground between my barn and what has become my equine cemetery. I let her graze a few minutes on the brown stubble of grass in my pasture. It felt like a Death Row inmate’s last meal.

“I don’t have to ask how you’re doing,” Dr. Jason Coe remarked when he arrived. He took one look at Jazzy’s abscess, which was weeping almost as much as I was, and shook his head. When he picked up her right hoof, he saw blood. “The coffin bone has pushed through,” he said. Ditto on the other foot. It was the sign I had prayed for, the one that told me I was doing the right thing.

We led her to the grave, and Coe gave her the lethal injection. In less than two minutes, she went down. It was that quick. I stroked her, clipped some of her mane and tail, and went back to the house. I had wanted to be with her until the end, but couldn’t watch the burial.

Angie Osborne, one of my horsey friends, came over to my house that night with a bottle of wine. We drank a glass, ate leftovers, and talked about death and grief over a new cocktail I invented. As I told her, death came so swiftly it was eerie, a harsh reminder of how fragile life is. One minute you’re grazing happily, the next minute you’re 10-feet under (the depth for horses). 

This is my second animal loss in two months. I’m so tired of grieving, but it’s the price we pay for caring so much.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sympathy Pains?

The good news is, Jazzy's feet are  improving.

The bad news is, my right foot is killing me.

I'm convinced there is a connection.

About two weeks ago, as I was praying myself to sleep, I asked God to take some of the pain from Jazzy's feet and put it in mine. It was a sincere prayer. I was deeply concerned about her condition. (See recent blog for details.) I was anxious. "Please God, " I begged. "Let me have some of her pain. I can take it. I can pop an Advll or Tylenol. I can prop my feet up. She doesn't understand what's happening to her or why she's in such pain."

The next evening, when I took off my boots after feeding and watering both horses, the bottoms of my feet hurt. It wasn't much, just the feeling that I'd walked on rocks with thin-soled boots. And that's exactly what I had done. Next morning, that pain was gone. 

Two days after my heart-felt prayer, I rolled out of bed and put my feet on the floor. Ouch! A pain shot through the top of my right foot. With every step I took, it hurt.

That morning, when I went out to feed, water and clean the stalls, Jazzy seemed slightly better. Remember, the vet said progress would come in small increments. This was a small one, but a positive step in the right direction. I called him that evening with the news..

My foot keeps getting worse, and Jazzy continues to improve. She's able to graze for half an hour or more in the mornings. I went to the doctor to get mine x-rayed. Normally, I'd just ride this out, but I have a trip to Wichita coming up and didn't want to be hobbling around unnecessarily. The x-rays showed no stress fracture, so the doctor took some blood and is testing me for gout. Really?

I'm reading a book about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Most of them suffered from gout, and some died from it. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in your system, and it goes to your joints, like arthritis. It often settles in your feet. It's associated with eating too much rich food: red meat, organ meats, beer and and high-fat dairy products, according to one web site. I don't eat much red meat, no organ meats, don't drink beer, but I do eat lots of cheese. Gout is treated with medication to eliminate the excess urine.

I probably won't hear back about the lab results until I'm in Wichita. I'm not sure how I would get a prescription filled there, unless my doctor can call one in to a chain pharmacy across state lines. Someone told me cherry juice helps, so I could always buy a bottle of that. But that web site I consulted said certain fruits and vegetables can contribute to gout, including cherries!

Many readers will call my sore foot sympathy pains. But I know better. 

Be careful what you pray for.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Three Strikes Should Be Enough!

If misfortunes come in threes, I’m done for this year.

First, my Walking Horse got caught on my fence, and suffered some scratches that required oral antibiotics, pain shots and daily water therapy for a week. Then my dog died. The third misfortune is the foundering of my paint pony, Jazzy.

Foundering is a very serious problem for horses. It results from a chemical and/or metabolic imbalance in the horse’s body that restricts blood flow to the feet. This can cause the lamina (the white line that attaches the outer hoof wall to the inner hoof capsule) to detach itself from the hoof wall. In severe cases, the coffin bone rotates and starts pushing through the foot.

My vet, Dr. Jason Coe of the Animal Clinic in Oneonta, told me last summer I needed to get some weight off her. How do you put a horse on a diet? I wasn’t feeding much grain, but my horses stay outside day and night, with access to their stalls in case of inclement weather. On his annual farm call in July, he was more specific. He told me to stall her at night, because that’s when the grass has the highest sugar content.

I tried that for a couple of days, then noticed she was walking stiff-legged. Dr. Coe said she was about to founder due to her weight, and instructed me to keep her stalled 24/7 for a week, give her a gram of bute (Phenylbutazone, for pain and inflammation) twice a day, and feed her a small amount of hay. My two horse stalls have no doors, and open into a 22x20-foot covered area that’s enclosed on two sides and has a gate at one end. So it wasn’t as if she were cooped up in a stall.

After a week, I opened the gate to her enclosure and she bolted out. Next morning,  she was in her rubber-matted stall waiting for me. That’s not unusual at feeding time. She was there that night when I went to put her up, though, and I noticed she seemed stiff again. This really worried me. “I can’t lose another animal,” I wailed to my other barn and pasture critters, who looked at me blankly. Coe said to put her up for two more weeks and continue the bute.

She lost about 75 pounds, but she got so bored, she started cribbing (chewing on any wood within reach). Within a couple of days, she had almost chewed her way out of her compound. The farrier took off her shoes and trimmed her hooves. With Coe’s permission, I turned her out in my arena that day to relieve her boredom. It has only a small amount of grass. When I walked her back to her enclosure four hours later, she could barely walk.

That’s normal after a hoof trimming, Coe said. He assured me it would get better. That night, I got a bad scare. I texted Coe at 7:09: “She’s down. Can you come or send someone NOW????”  My phone rang before I could pocket it. “I’ll come if you want me to,” he said, “but there isn’t much I can do.” He told me to double the bute dose that night and the next day, make some Styrofoam “shoes” to cushion her feet, and keep him posted. He also recommended putting coarse masonry sand five inches deep in the covered area outside her stall. 

Dr. Coe called the next morning to check on her. I called him about a week later to come out and x-ray her front feet.  Her coffin bones have rotated about 16 degrees. That’s bad. She has a 50-50 chance of pulling through this. If she doesn’t, she’ll have to be euthanized.

I added the sand, and she seems more comfortable. She stands up a little more. Dr. Coe said that’s good news. Any improvements will come in small increments. It’s going to be a long haul, and even if she recovers, she’ll never be a trail horse again. 

I can live with that. But it’s killing me to see her in pain.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Missing Moses

Moses two days after I got him, 7-8 weeks old.
The first time I brought Moses home was in a small, soft-sided doggie carrier that fit under an airplane seat. In a few days, I’ll be bringing him home for the last time, in a small hardwood box with his nameplate on the side.

He was 22 months old in this photo.

I fell in love with the American Mastiff when I researched large dog breeds on the internet. It was November, 2004, and my 15-year-old Yorkie had just died. Fredericka Wagner of Flying W Farms in Ohio developed the breed by crossing English Mastiffs with Anatolian Shepherds. I loved his black facial mask and the fact that, unlike other Mastiffs, he didn’t  drool. Wagner had a waiting list longer than my leg, so she directed me to a woman in Houston, Texas, who had purchased a male and female from her.

I don’t know how I came up with the name Moses, but it proved appropriate. Crowds parted when he entered a room. Yet the most he ever weighed was 115 pounds, nowhere near the 180- 220 pounds the breed can reach. Perhaps his weight contributed to his longevity.

My research showed that a Mastiff’s life span is 10-12 years, but my vet said it was closer to 10. I praise God for that extra year and a half. He was showing signs of aging, though. His black mask had turned gray, he got winded after short runs, and had some arthritis in his hips. I had to help him up onto my bed, and he’d growl when I lifted his back legs. He started sleeping under my bed. He chased rabbits in his dreams, or perhaps he was simply scratching, but his thumping would wake me. I really missing that thumping.

He was more than just a dog. He was my buddy and my protector. I felt safe with him around. For the first time since I moved here, I feel alone and vulnerable. 

Morning coffee and afternoon wine on the front porch aren’t the same without him lying nearby, his head propped on the bottom rail as if it were a pillow. I used to love coming home to the peace and quiet of my log cabin in the woods. My house seems so empty without him, despite having two other dogs. The silence is deafening.

I miss his exuberant greetings. He reacted the same whether I had been gone a week,  overnight or for a quick trip to the grocery store. He would bare his teeth in a smile that, if you didn’t know him, you would take as a threat. But his tail would be beating the air like grandmother used to beat her quilts on the clothesline. 
January, 2016: You can see how gray his muzzle was.

I miss his smell. Each of my dogs has a different smell, and I loved his best. I used to lie down beside him on the floor and stroke his face and soak in his unique odor. His sleeping blanket retained a faint hint of him for a couple of weeks. At the vet’s, I kept sniffing his paws, trying to get that smell to embed in my sensory memory. The pads of his paws were still soft, even though his body was rigid.

I haven’t had an animal’s death to affect me like this since I was a child. For the first two weeks, waves of intense grief kept rolling over me, and I would sob until my nose stopped up. I fell into a deep depression, and though I’m gradually pulling out, I still see the world in shades of gray.

I look at his feeder and cry. I hear the doggy door flapping and I look for him. I catch a glimpse of Major, my yellow Lab mix, out of the corner of my eye, and for a nano-second I think it’s Moses.

I no longer have to lock him in my office when my grands are here. He had been aggressive with Gabe, and I couldn’t take any chances. I can get new sofa cushions now. He had torn up my old ones, and my office carpet (down to the subfloor), with his “nest building.” I can leave chicken thawing in the sink, bananas and butter on the counter. I remember coming home one night to find an empty crock pot on the floor, the pork chops gone.

I have many precious memories of him. I don’t want to forget them, but I do wish I could remember without hurting.

“His spirit is probably out there running through the woods,” my friend Annette texted me. “He will be near you always.”

Yes, he will. But I just can’t touch him any more.

This is the one I chose for his urn.
December 26, 2010

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Goodbye, Moses

Moses loved to ride to barn with me in my UTV.

It’s the nightmare of every owner of an aged pet. You go away for a trip fearing you’ll find him dead when you return. This time, my nightmare came true.

About 4 p.m. Friday, July 15, I got a call from Jesse, who feeds my barn animals, waters my plants and checks on my dogs when I’m away. Moses, my 11.5-year-old American Mastiff, didn’t come out his doggy door to bark at him. I was at Gulf Shores, taking my chair and umbrella back to the condo after my last day on the beach. My daughters and grands had already left, but I had paid for seven nights and wanted my money’s worth.

Jesse went through the house calling for Moses. He says he checked upstairs and down. He jumped in my UTV and rode my trails, then walked one or two that were impassable by vehicle. After taking his brother home and buying more gas for the UTV, he returned for another trip through the woods. He stayed until sunset, when he couldn’t see to search any longer.

I feared the worst, that Moses had gone off into my woods and died. I texted my daughters and a close friend, Diane, here in Ashville, to pray. Then I packed up and left. I knew I wouldn’t get home until after midnight, but I couldn’t have slept at the condo anyway for worrying. Somehow, I felt that if I were home, he might show up. I was determined to search my property myself, regardless of the hour I got back, if he didn’t.

All the way home I alternately prayed, cried, felt peace, then repeated the cycle. Amanda and Diane tried to reassure me that he probably ran off into the woods chasing a deer or squirrel. “He’ll come back,” they said. It would have been totally uncharacteristic of Moses to stay gone for hours. So I knew he was either dead or dying. I just prayed I would find him before the coyotes did.

Maggie, my mixed-breed rescue, and Major, the lab I share with my next-door-neighbor, greeted me excitedly when I pulled up to my house about 12:45 a.m. Saturday. I called Moses’ name, holding onto a glimmer of hope that he would bound up to my car after all. He didn’t. Once inside, I noticed an unusual odor, not of decay, just something funky. Major pointed his nose toward the loft and sniffed. I knew where Moses was. Sure enough, I found him up there, behind my childhood doll bed and the open wooden crates my daddy built to store my LP albums. How Jesse missed him I’ll never know, because he was only partially hidden. 

After thanking God for closure, I came unglued. I’ve been a basket case ever since. I called Jesse and Diane to help me get him downstairs. We brought him into my office on a sheet, and I covered him with a quilt and locked the doors. Jesse left, but Diane stayed until after 3 a.m.

Before she left, and again after I woke up from a brief two hours of sleep, I kept going into my office and stroking his head and legs. I knew I had to get him out of the house so I wouldn’t keep doing that, but so much of me wanted to keep him here a little longer. I recalled that Roy Rogers had Trigger stuffed, but I couldn’t bear seeing Moses every day without hearing him breathe. It had been a week since I had seen him alive. I kept wishing I had been here, to cuddle him and whisper soothing words to him as he lay dying. 

Jesse and Diane came back at 9 Saturday morning. He helped me load Moses into my car, she accompanied me on Moses’s last ride to the vet’s office. The crematorium will pick him up Monday. I’ll get his ashes back in a week or two, in a box mounted with his name plate and at least one photo frame. The package includes a paw print in plaster and some hair clippings.

I sobbed all over the vet’s assistants. I felt like a blubbering idiot. I know this sounds morbid, but I had them take my picture with him, as I cradled his head one last time.  

The vet will check him over to make sure there are no puncture wounds, because of the snakes in my woods. I didn’t see any wounds, though. He looked as if he had gone to sleep and his heart just stopped beating.

I’m so grief-stricken, I fear mine will do the same.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Horse Calamity

Tuesday night was supposed to be a quiet evening alone with a glass of wine, after having the grands here for five days. My tranquility was shattered by a phone call from my next-door-neighbor, Cameron, around 7 p.m. informing me that my horse had her belly caught on a fence between our pastures.

Fearing the worst, I jumped on my UTV and tore out to the back. It was Mallory, my TWH mare. Her front half was on my side of the fence and her back end on Cameron’s side. She had bent the fence a little trying to get over, but appeared unharmed. She was standing patiently while Cameron was trying to get the fence down in that section so he could free her. Fortunately, I had replaced the barbed wire there with horse fencing several years ago, or we’d have had a mess on our hands.

I went back to the barn for a halter and lead rope. I put them on Mallory, and when Cameron laid the fence down a little, I tried to coax her across. When she stepped forward, she caught a piece of fence wire under the shoe of her left front hoof. Cameron used broken wire cutters to twist and bend the wire enough to free her. Then he spent a few more minutes pulling that piece of wire from between shoe and hoof. I pulled the last two inches out when I got her back to the barn. 

I don’t know how long she had been straddling that fence when Cameron’s son spotted her, or how long Cameron had been out there trying to free her. If they hadn’t seen her when they did, she could have stood there all night and possibly died of dehydration. If she had panicked, instead of remaining cool, calm and collected throughout the ordeal, she could have pulled her shoe and part of her hoof off trying to free herself. The question in my mind, though, was how in the world did she into such a position? 

I know she’s in season, and Cameron’s stud horse is in the pasture next to mine. He was nonchalantly munching grass while we worked on Mallory, as if to say, “Who, me? I had nothing to do with it.” Wednesday morning, when my farrier came for his regular trimming and shoeing visit, he surmised that she had backed up and kicked at that stud, as if to say, "Not today, dear, I have a headache." Then her hind legs came down on the other side of the fence.

Several times that night I thanked God for pulling her through unscathed. Turns out she wasn't unscathed. My farrier pointed out several cuts and scrapes on her hind legs, and the swelling from her hocks (the rear-facing knee-like joints) to her thighs. The vet came out and determined her wounds were in the soft tissues, not the muscle or tendon, and not deep enough to require stitches. He gave her antibiotics and a shot of Banamine for pain.

His prescription included me giving her another pain shot around 7 p.m. that night and one a day for the next three days, putting an antibiotic powder in her feed once a day, and running cool water over her hocks for 10-15 minutes twice a day until the swelling goes down. 

Praise God for a calm horse and a quick-thinking neighbor.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


They’re eating me alive.

It took me a couple of days to figure out it was chiggers. I pulled a seed tick off me. It was in an unmentionable place. I itched in so many places, I thought it was from mosquito bites, or even fleas that my dogs had brought in. Fleas just laugh at the Frontline-Plus I use on them, so I sprinkled  them with Seven Dust, an old remedy that seems to be working.

Then I remembered my first encounter with those tiny red bugs known as chiggers. It was right after I had moved to this rural area. I had trimmed weeds in my front “yard” half a day, and by that evening, my ankles were covered in chigger bites.

I thought I had protected myself against any insect bites this year. I have used Deep Woods Off, then an organic bug repellant that smells heavily of citronella. In this heat, though, I sweat off any protection within an hour, even during early-morning forays.

Chiggers live in the woods, in tall weeds and in tall grasses. Hello, I’m surrounded by all three. Chiggers jump on you and hitch a ride. Only their larvae bite, a fact that offers no comfort at all. Those are microscopic in size. Contrary to folk lore, they don’t burrow into your skin. They don’t have to. They can, however, stay attached and feeding for several days.

Like an other-world creature from a sci-fi movie, their claws help them grab onto your skin. Then a chigger attaches its mouth to the skin and injects saliva. Ugh! The saliva contains an enzyme that breaks skin cells down to liquid form. Your body responds by hardening skin cells around the saliva, creating a tube through which this critter sucks the dissolved skin cells. Double ugh.

What makes them so insidious is that they like to bite in tender, moist places like the folds of your skin and places where clothing fits tightly to the skin. In order words, around the ankles, waist, armpits, crotch or behind the knees, I have bites in all those places except my armpits. So pardon me if I don’t show you a photo of my bites.

Summer and fall are prime time for chigger bites, of course. They aren’t active when the temperature falls below 60 degrees and die off when it drops below 42 degrees. Now you know why I hate summers.

Nothing itches worse than chigger bites. Not mosquito bites. Not even tick bites. The itching they cause is so intense you almost claw your skin off scratching. I’ve tried topical Benadryl gel, spray-on Benadryl, a generic Benadryl capsule, Neosporin cream with a pain-relieving agent, and Ivy-Dry spray. The latter does nothing but burn like hell. 

You aren’t supposed to use oral Benadryl while using the topical. Bummer. But I saw no such warnings against Neosporin with Benadryl capsules. So that’s what I’ve resorted to. That combo brings a little relief, at least for a few hours. Then I repeat the process.

When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask God why in the world he created chiggers. For the life of me, I can’t see what purpose they serve, other than to make people miserable. 

Now excuse me while I scratch.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Schedules vs. Flexibility

Mallory is always a joy to ride.

I’ve never been much of a scheduled person. I can make out schedules with the best of them, but sticking with them, well, that’s another story.

My biggest excuse is that I like flexibility. Trouble is, I’m too darned flexible, so I find that I only accomplish what I have to in order to meet a deadline. Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson calls it, “the tyranny of the urgent.” I tend to see after whatever I feel is urgent, letting other stuff slide. Then I get frustrated because I didn’t do the things I really wanted to do, like ride one of my horses.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some structure in my life. That means scheduling time with my horses and the gym. I want to ride more, and I need to exercise to gain some strength and flexibility. It’s one thing to lack the strength to pull myself up onto a horse without a mounting block or step-stool. I can rationalize that because it’s better for the horse if a rider doesn’t pull on the saddle with her entire body weight. It’s a sad state of affairs, however,  when I have trouble throwing my leg over the saddle.

So, I came up with a simple, flexible schedule that should allow me more time with my horses and the gym. In the mornings, before the summer temperatures and humidity squeeze the breath and electrolytes out of me, I’ll ride and exercise, but on alternate days. Later in the evenings, when it has begun to cool down, I might work on outside projects, like refinishing porch furniture and planting succulents. I’ll stay indoors and write or do other indoor projects when the sun is at its highest. When winter comes, I’ll ride during the middle of the day, and stay indoors when it’s cold.

I got off to a good start this week, and feel so much better emotionally for having done so. Monday I rode my TWH, Mallory. Tuesday I went to the gym, Wednesday I rode my Cobb pony, Jazzy, and Thursday I was at the gym again. Ideally, I should be at the barn or gym by 7 a.m., but that hasn’t worked exactly as planned. Nevertheless, I’ve been back in the house, showered and dressed by 10:30 each morning, which ain’t half bad. The idea is to rotate the horses, so that I ride Mallory twice and Jazzy once the first week, then Jazzy twice and Mallory once the second week, and so on. That way, each horse will get some much-needed exercise at least three times over a two-week period. The benefits for me are psychological and emotional. 

Jazzy isn’t as excited about my plan as I am. Unlike Mallory, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, Jazzy can be ornery when she hasn’t been ridden in a while. That’s especially true when we’re leaving the barn. (It’s called barn sour.) She dumped me off Thursday. After lunging her in the arena for a few laps in each direction, I got back on and rode for half an hour. Thank goodness for Epsom salts and Tylenol, but my left hip hurts as bad as a country singer’s heartache and I’ll have a hitch in my git-along for a few days.

I would ride Mallory again today, but I have a movie date with my grandsons at the Summit. Like I said, it’s a flexible schedule.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ben and George and Me

I have this thing going with two of our country’s Founding Fathers. 

It began when I met Ben Franklin at his gravesite in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia last week.That in itself was rather disconcerting.Then he started getting personal.

“Are you married, madam?” he asked politely. 

“No, I’m a widow,” I replied, still reeling from the shock of seeing him hovering around his own grave.

“I am a widower. I have asked two (or was it three?) women in Paris to marry me, but they turned me down.”

While that wasn’t exactly a proposal, it was the closest I’ve come to in many a year.

He graciously agreed to pose for a photo with me. I must say he’s rather photogenic for a ghost.

Next day, we (Carol Stern and I) moseyed over to the National Constitution Center. We found the “Headed to the White House” exhibit about presidential campaigns too noisy and too busy. We did enjoy pretending to sign legislation in the Oval Office mock-up. 

The most fascinating exhibit, however, was Signers Hall. That’s where I again encountered old Ben, who stiffly agreed to let me sit on his lap for another photo.

George Washington was hovering nearby. I didn’t realize how tall that man was! He posed with me, too. But I read somewhere that he has wooden teeth, so I refused his kiss for fear of splinters.

The foregoing exhibit features 42 life-size bronze models of our Founding Fathers that are amazingly, well, life-like. They are in various poses, some sitting, some standing, many talking together in small groups. The artist(s) who cast them used portraits and descriptions to get their heights, features and clothes as accurate as possible. It was great fun wandering among these guys.

We learned how the term “gerrymandering” came about. Being a wordsmith, I always enjoy learning the origins of words and phrases. While serving as governor of Massachusetts, Eldridge Gerry (a signer of our Declaration of Independence) approved a salamander-shaped district to help his party win seats in the 1812 state senate election. Mapping electoral districts to favor one political part over another quickly came to be known as “gerrymandering.”

I’m not a history buff, but my Philadelphia experience in general, and Signers Hall in particular, piqued my interest to the point that I ordered a book called, Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence. There were 56 of them, by the way.

Can’t wait to read about these "new" men in my life.