How to be happy in January

I’ve been thinking about selecting a good topic to discuss this January, but the grey sky, wind chills, and snow are like a blizzard in my brain, obscuring creativity.  Some days, when the sun shines on new snow, however,  my mind clears and I appreciate that nature is  beautiful.

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Many other days are gloomy when the sky is grey, the fields are grey, and even the trees’ brown bark looks grey.  On those days, just a smidge of sunshine through the clouds pinpointing a building is charming. The scene visually and emotionally brightens the day.

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I don’t want to wish away a quarter of my year hiding from cold and waiting for spring.  I venture outside at least twice a day to feed horses, barn cats, and check other critters. The sound of horses snorting as they munch prairie hay improves my mood.

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Sometimes, the very act of walking in crisp January air is invigorating in unexpected ways.  It’s possible to experience beauty in a brief glimmer of the sun at a particular time of day at a specific location. For example,  indoor Christmas lights reflected on this wishing well in late afternoon to create an unusual effect.  I would have missed this moment if I stayed indoors.

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Sunrise is often inspirational in winter, just as finding the photos to create this blog inspires me to spend more time outdoors today, and in the days ahead.  These unexpectedly beautiful moments help me be less worried about cold weather.  Happy January everyone!

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Animal Friends

We make commitments to each other in our marriage vows, to our children when we decide to become parents, and to the animals that share our lives.   Dogs and cats sometimes live 15 years, but horses can live 25 or 30 years.  Marriages end through death or divorce, as mine did.  Commitment to my animal friends has been more enduring.

Today’s blog is about the horses that have “peopled” my life.  My husband loves horses. He was the driving force to buy our first horse.  The Appaloosa mare was pregnant.  She gave birth to a big spotted foal.  We provided a home for Jody and Cheyenne until they passed about twenty years later.

Our next horses were another mare for him named Rose, and an old gelding for me named Blue.  Blue was old when we bought him, but he was just right for me.  He was tough to catch, but very gentle to ride.  My kids and many friends enjoyed riding Blue. He lived until he was over thirty-years-old

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Rose gave birth to six babies over the years; two fillies and four colts.  One of the foals died after a few weeks, but the rest grew into big beautiful mares and geldings.  The last addition to the group was an Appaloosa gelding for my son.  My son was 13 years-old, named his new horse Apache (even though the Appaloosa breed is associated with the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, it seemed right to name him for a brave Native American nation) and broke him to ride.  https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/appaloosa_horse_breed/#.W46IqPZFyUk

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When my husband and I divorced, we divided the horses.  He took four and I kept three. Apache, one of those three, belonged to my son.  Apache was the “go-to-horse” for new and inexperienced riders.  Like Blue before him, Apache taught many people to ride.  In the drought year of 2012, grass was sparse and dry.  The horses pushed their noses under trees and bushes searching for fresh greens.  Apache punctured both eyes on sharp grasses or tree branches.  We treated his wounds as much as he would allow (a month in the barn alone,  inserting lotions in both eyes is a challenge when the horse patient doesn’t cooperate). We finally turned him back to pasture with the other horses.  He adapted wonderfully, even running blind across the hills with his mates.  He came to the feed bunk when I called him, walking carefully till he first touched the bunk with his nose.  [Apache is the mostly-white Appaloosa in the center of the photo below]

Apache & Jody 2013

This summer has been a tough one for Apache.  He lost weight, became  unsteady on his feet, and as Labor Day approached, went down and couldn’t labor to right himself.  The wonderful veterinarian (the same one that treated his eyes six years ago) said his heart was barely beating.  She gave him something to peacefully end his life .  We said goodbye to this faithful friend of twenty-five years this weekend and buried him on a grassy knoll.

Hail Storm to Heat Wave

A severe thunderstorm with hail swept though eastern Nebraska  and into Iowa on Father’s Day.  I drove from a family reunion 70 miles west of my house, back toward home late afternoon.  It was sunny and 75 degrees at the family gathering.  As I drove east, the temperature dropped and a rain front became visible on the eastern horizon.  The storm was moving east.  I followed it, believing the edge of the front was far ahead, but as I neared the last turn east toward  home, I caught up with the storm.  There was heavy rain intermixed with hail, beating a tattoo on the car’s roof, hood and  trunk.  At times I could not see to drive and pulled to the side of the road until it cleared a bit.  There was no place to pull completely off the highway as there are no shoulders.  I was a bit shook up after the drive, but neither the car or me suffered any serious damage.

My dog was home alone. She hates thunder and was happy to see me return.

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A week later, another big storm swept the area, dropping five inches of rain in one day, but no hail this time. It’s a wet year here, but I am fortunate to live on a hill and don’t have to worry about floods, unlike many people who live along the swollen creeks and rivers that feed the Missouri.

The low pressure systems behind all the rain storms turned into a high pressure front that ushered in, and continues to bring, excessive heat and humidity.  I’m not a fan of this part of summer, but my plants and flowers are thriving as well as all the area crops.

As summer marches on, I’m taking steps toward the goal of retiring this fall, along with baby-steps toward beginning a part-time business.  It feels good to see the end of the road.

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Rush Before Leaving

Spring is out there somewhere south of Nebraska.  I’m going in search of that elusive season on March 1st.  There has been and continues to be a flurry of events to organize and/or attend, appointments to keep, and chores to do before I leave.

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I like to keep early morning set aside to work on poems and short stories, but today, find my  head full of lists to be checked, bags to pack, and arrangements to make  before I leave. The trip will give me a chance to recharge and reflect.

Pickles the sheepdog will stay in town with family, the house and barn cats will rely on kindness of others to come by and feed them regularly.  Horses will get their hay and oats while I’m away.  The automatic waterer is a wonder for all.

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If planning for a week’s vacation is a major undertaking, I’m trying to imagine how to plan for retirement.  How do I capture all of the details in my head and transfer them to paper for the next person, or will it matter?  Will supervisors re-write my job description?  Will the organization decide not to replace my position?  How will I manage my time without a daily schedule?  Many questions, but few answers.

The closer it comes to my self-imposed decision time, the more difficult it feels to know what to do.  After a successful student-planned dinner last weekend, the club officers have selected dates for the next three years of dinners.  This group of students are a lot of fun.  I will miss them.  However, I can’t base my retirement decision on them alone.

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A week away will help me review my options.

Yellow Gold Has Fur

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Yellow cats have been part of my life for forty years. One escorted me across half the country three times.  Colonel Mustard (pictured) is the latest bit of sunshine in my life.  His yellow fur flies in tiny helicopters when he shakes, covers chairs and tabletops. He offers kitty kisses to the tip my nose if he thinks I need cheering.

Yellow cat number one pressed his nose against the bars of a Syracuse, NY shelter in 1974.  He purred when I stroked his fur though the cage. He came home with us that day.  We called him Morris after a cat food commercial on TV that featured a golden kitty. We thought Morris was too ordinary a handle, too common, so his name evolved to Moshe, and finally to Mos. He lived with a houseful of adolescent boys in a Syracuse group home with us, moved from New York state to Nebraska three times, and settled in to help parent when our kids arrived.

Mos greeted a cadre of international students when they picnicked on the ranch in the early 1980’s.  He treated students from Japan, China, Finland, Malaysia, and Iran all the same.  He allowed each student a chance to give him one stroke, before he moved on the next, taking his ambassadorial duty very seriously.

Col. Mustard cheers me on to help the latest group of students from Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and the Island of Curacao.  He’s a bit shy and doesn’t want to meet any of them, prefers me to see the students at the office, but not bring them home to disrupt our golden naps.