Lightening the Load

Sometimes life seems to be burying us alive.  So cliché, but kind of true.  I haven’t been posting for a couple of months.  It just seemed like there was no time.  I have felt life weighing me down.  I have a friend who fell ill over a year and a half ago, and living two doors down, a lot of the burden has fallen on me to “arrange” things.  Without close family, children, or living parents, she is virtually on her own. A few close friends (along with a brother who lives up north who is fifteen years her senior) and I have managed to help her finalize a divorce, close down a business, take her on four over-night trips to Mayo Clinic, get court orders for guardianship, sell two beach condos and her home, and get her moved into a temporary home until permanent choices can be realized.  She has zero short term memory from brain damage due to Autoimmune Encephalitis. 

The emotional “toll” it has taken helping her through this process, and being the “go-to” friend due to my close proximity, has been profound.  I was expecting when we finally reached the closing date of her home on May 5th, after completion of packing, storing, having an estate sale, etc., that I would feel a huge relief.  What came instead was a feeling of intense sadness, allowing myself to now dwell on the fact that my friend’s life as she knew it, was over.  I had to keep those thoughts somewhat at bay to get through the process of taking care of the “business” of her life.   Now I can move back to being a good friend, and not “running her life”, but having to accept what it must be like for her to wake up everyday and not realize what has happened to her is almost physically painful.

Trying to improve my sense of gloom, I dove into a project of my own…cleaning out my office and dressing area.  I like things fairly neat, and when disorganization creeps in, it starts depressing me.  I needed a “feel good” fast.  Within four days, I had removed everything out of my office area and dressers, sent three pieces of furniture to auction, taken out bags of items to donate or throw away, and called in my painter.  The result was a sparkling new canvas to set up my office and have the new dressers and dressing table delivered.

Cleaned out office/dressing area… too bad it can’t stay just like this!.Dressing Room 

New  dressing table                                                             Dressing Table

It has also motivated to go through my entire house, room by room, and unburden myself of unnecessary “stuff”.  After the past five years of dealing with closing down my mother-in-law’s house to move her into assisted living, packing and moving my mother’s house into a senior living  apartment, and now packing and moving my friend, I want my house to be simplified.  I know it’s old news that relieving yourself of extra “stuff” is liberating, but I am here to testify that it is so.

My mood lightened considerably with just that one area of improvement…therefore I need to keep going.  So tomorrow I have a professional organizer going through my entire house and we are going to prioritize areas that need purging.  (I have one of those houses that looks perfectly neat, but just don’t open drawers, closets, or look in the garage!).  I feel better just knowing what’s ahead and that one day my children will be thankful!  Here’s to “lightening the load”!


Horse Gals

Last May I went to a horse clinic in Colorado, put on by Julie Goodnight, who is a “rock star” in the horse clinician world.  The clinic was at the C U Lazy Ranch in Granby, Colorado.  I tried to get a few of my local friends to accompany me, but having no takers, decided to go it alone.  I had read about how awesome this clinic was, so somewhat hesitantly, I flew out to meet up with 35 women I did not know from all across the country, ranging in ages from 40 and up.

Julie Goodnight

Julie Goodnight

The C U Lazy Ranch is a “dude ranch” established in 1919.  The accommodations and food are fabulous, and the scenery is spectacular.  That alone would be worth the trip, but on top of all that I got to meet 35 total strangers who are women like me that have a passion for horses.  Not to mention we got to schmooze with THE Julie Goodnight, and have her critique our riding and help us with issues we might be having.

Upon landing in Denver, I found myself in a late snow storm driving through the mountains of Winter Park on my way to Granby.  It would have been a lot scarier if I had been able to “see” what I was driving through, but I was literally almost blinded, so inched along until just outside of Granby. There the sky cleared to blue.  As I turned into the C U Lazy, the herd of almost 200 horses was being turned out for the evening.  I stopped the car and watched what they call the daily “jingle”.  Quite an impressive sight to see that many horses galloping by in front of you (click here to see galloping horses)!

The clinic included sessions with Julie, and trail riding to your heart’s content. Polite and extremely helpful “wranglers” would greet you with your saddled horse, and take him from you at the end of your ride.  This is quite a luxury for those of us who take care of those chores at our barns at home.  When not riding, there were wonderful yoga classes to stretch out our tired and aching muscles.  My cabin had a fireplace and jetted tub.  How perfect was that?!  Not to mention the amazing spa accommodations in tents by the river.


Now, about those 35 women.  What a perfect mixture of personalities and riding skills.  I found each of them delightful.  On the first night we were to appear in the lodge area for meet and greet cocktails.  I wandered into the bar, and there were two ladies that looked very approachable, so I introduced myself and we started up the beginning of many conversations over the next 4 days.  The three of us joined up with a larger group who ended up riding together and eating together over the course of the clinic.  Those two at the bar, Jackie and Joanne, were especially fun and had come together, friends originally from New York and now living the “horse life” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  I have never been, but pictures I’ve seen of that area are stunning. So here I am with my new “horsewomen” buddies (I’m second from the right in the back, Jackie and Joanne are on either side of me).


The long weekend ended too soon.  I had met some incredible and interesting new friends, got to hang with THE Julie Goodnight, who I found out is originally from my hometown of Orlando (what??!!!), enjoyed about five hours a day  of trail riding in the mountains of Colorado, worked in some yoga, and basically had the time of my life.

The sequel to this story is almost a year later,  Jackie and Joanne are flying down to Florida on Friday to spend 4 days in the warmer weather, riding with me at my place!    Can’t wait to pick up where we left off!

Riding the trails at C U Lazy Ranch

Riding the trails at C U Lazy

Giving the horses a break

Giving the horses a break

Julie's Horses

Julie’s Horses

Happy Birthday Dear Friend!

Last Saturday I attended a gathering of about 40 folks who were invited to a surprise 60th birthday party for my longtime friend, Margie.  Her husband had pulled off the nearly impossible feat of actually surprising her with this lovely dinner, where her immediate family and her closest friends with their significant others, lied in wait for her arrival.

I met Margie on the first day of 5th grade when I moved to a new neighborhood and was attending a new school.  She was that angel who welcomed me and we became best friends.  For the next two years we rode bikes or walked to school together, had sleep overs, cheered peewee football, and had the carefree childhood you could have back then.

When we went to Junior High (the Baby Boomers equivalent of Middle School) we merged with the other elementary schools in our area and I learned to “share” Margie with the new girls.  We became this great group of friends who stayed close through high school, college, and were in each other’s wedding.  Almost 50 years later, here we are.

Quite a few of us, including Margie, went out-of-state to college and worked elsewhere for a time, but eventually returned to Florida and this same community. The husbands are mostly from other towns and states, and were brought into this circle through marriages and children, many who have grown up together.  These special guys have formed long-time friendships as well.

The dinner party was pretty boisterous and then the toasts began.  Her sister, children, and their spouses all were charming with their expressions of true love and appreciation for this gift of a “Gigi” they were blessed to have.  Her husband choked up recounting how they met and when she agreed to “have him”  (set up by a friend and her husband who was this ex-football player’s roommate at Florida). Her “newer” friends told of how she had nurtured and inspired them. Then it was our turn.  There was our gifted one-woman of a show, who was her college roommate.  Wearing one of their sorority jerseys (a little tight she proclaimed but she could still get it on!), she read a hilarious poem depicting their escapades in high school and college at Clemson University.  I got to toast her and claim the “official longest friendship in the room”.  Seven of us performed a song and dance tribute to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t she lovely”  changing the words to describe our friend. Yep.  Sixty year-old women sporting wigs (brunette in her honor) and performing a show that took multiple rehearsals to get it right.  Now you see the “love” required to participate in this kind of behavior!

So who is this person that has generated such love and devotion (and she was horrified, by the way because she is usually the “giver”).  My friend, Margie, is the most unselfish, and truly genuine person I know.  She is the one we all have called on for help and advice.  She is the organizer of food and duties when we lose a loved one. She is the one you can laugh with until your sides hurt horribly or you wet your pants.  She  is the devoted daughter, wife, friend, mother and grandmother we all strive to be.  This is just second nature to her, without any hint or expectation of acknowledgment .  She is genuinely that good.

One of the husbands,  who was sitting at our table, leaned over to me with huge tears in his eyes and told me this.  He said he had watched our group’s friendship through the years with utter amazement.  He grew up in the military and moved seven times during his school years.  The fact that this group of friends has such history and loves each other to this day, still amazes him.

Thank you Margie for the gift of friendship you have given to me all these years.  I am a better person for knowing you.



In the South we take our “traditions” seriously, and that comes through loud and clear in regards to our football teams.  Rivalry runs deep down here.  After Auburn won the SEC Championship in 2010 (they went on to win the National Championship), needless to say there were some folks who weren’t happy, and unfortunately an Alabama fan (no offense to actual Alabama grads, this guy was not one) decided the ultimate revenge would be to poison the “Auburn Oaks”.  These trees had become part of one of Auburn’s most cherished traditions.  After every victory, fans go to what is called “Toomer’s Corner” and TP the trees (throw rolls of toilet paper to decorate the limbs for those of you have never participated in such behavior).  This has become a beloved tradition following an Auburn victory.



So this guy, Harvey Updyke, is so furious, he travels to Auburn and poisons the trees. What a guy.  But wait it gets better.  He then calls up the Paul Fienbaum show (a radio show in Birmingham that is now broadcast daily on the SEC TV Network) and proceeds to spew venom about how horrible Auburn is to have “stolen” the championship from Alabama.  He then proceeds to brag to Mr. Finebaum (on a national radio show mind you) that he has just poisoned Auburn’s precious oak trees.  The story unfolded from there and you can go online and watch an actual ESPN special about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry where you can see this guy, who went to prison for a while for this by the way.  Really, could I make this stuff up?

Auburn tried to save the trees (they have an outstanding Horticulture program) but announce that they are indeed, poisoned to the extent that they will die…and they ultimately did.

The story does have a happy ending…on February 14th Auburn replanted their beloved oaks and the tradition lives on!

Toomers Protect

I Want to “Just Look”

I follow a hysterical blogger named Victoria Elizabeth Barnes who is always on the hunt for treasures and is redoing her house.  She reminds me so much of my younger self when my husband and I were buying old houses and had a great time (ha!) doing renovations.  I look back at one particular year spent without a kitchen, with two small children, washing dishes in the bathtub and it is hard to imagine how I juggled things.  Youth and the excitement of gutting your house must have made me oblivious to things that would be not so great now.  I also made some wild purchases, like when I bought a huge mirror (and not inexpensive), from a “Rocky” in Syracuse New York on Ebay!   He had purchased an old Victorian mansion and needed cash so was selling off some of the original pieces from the home.  I had to walk him through how to pack and ship it, and eventually it arrived safely.  Whew.


We still like projects,  like the new barn we just built.  These projects give me an excuse to seek out treasures to use in the design/build.  It satisfies the urge to hunt for treasures.  But honestly, that urge has died down tremendously over the last decade.  This is due largely in part to the emptying of both my mother-in-law’s and my parents’ home.  That is enough to keep you from ever wanting to buy anything. Ever. Again.

This weekend is the Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza  that happens three times a year in Mt. Dora, Florida.  There are over 1500 dealers from across the country who spread their wares under acres and acres of live oak trees.  Over the years I have found some great stuff at this event.  Eventually you have enough stuff, but that doesn’t quench the antiquing thirst.  Therefore the inspiration to open a shop.   After giving up my full-time career of 20+ years to be home more with my family, I still needed a working/creative outlet.  I had purchased a small commercial building that my husband and I renovated with build-to-suit tenants…and I just happened to have 800 empty square feet with a huge display window.  I convinced my husband that I wanted to do a great display and help entice more retail to that end of the shopping community where we were located.  My initial plans were to recycle some of my antique finds and “fill in” with trips to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta.  I was also only going to  have select days/hours, so that I could do the kid’s carpools for sports, etc..  I think we all know here what the reality was.  I got to go shop for really cool stuff that I liked, attend The Market twice a year, and fulfill a common dream of owning your own place.  The shop kind of took off, and with that came pressure to have more normal hours and so I had help come in the afternoon to spell me for after school duties.  I soon was immersed into the retail world of holidays and weekends. One of our tenants moved out so I expanded and had even more room for really great stuff. Things were sweet for about 5 years, and then the real estate bust hit Central Florida.  People stopped buying houses and accessories for them.  When one of my other tenants needed more office space, I quickly made the decision to shut down.  So we had the going out of business sale, paid off the bills, and that was that.  People still tell me they miss my shop and ask if I miss it as well.  I miss purchasing and staging the shop, but not competing with the internet and having no control over the economy.  At this stage,  I much more enjoy being the landlord and collecting rent.

Back to Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza this weekend.  Last year I found some great stuff to use in the new barn we were building.  I found tables and an unusual sink piece for my tackroom, and some great signage.  I found a really cool horse head out of teak that was way too expensive for me, but at this January’s Extravaganza I found one just like it for 1/3 of the price!  It now lives on our property on a tree stump and looks like it was carved there.

FarmSign         Horsehead

This past year we cleared out my mother’s home when she moved to a senior housing high rise.  She was on the verge of becoming a hoarder (without the dead animals and her house was clean).  She would tell you she is a “collector”. ( I must come by this hunting gene naturally).  Anyway, after dealing with all of her “stuff” and the extensive estate sale, it made me want less stuff of my own.  So when I called my antiquing buddy to see if she wanted to go to Renninger’s with me on Friday, she informed me that after spending the last month clearing out her now deceased parent’s home, she never wants to lay eyes on another old piece of anything.   I told her I was going to get in my steps on my new FitBit, by walking all of those acres and “just looking”. Right .

Southern Football and Crazy Competitiveness

There is so much material I could go into on this topic but maybe I’d better give the skeptics (usually male) some background on my wealth of knowledge about college football in the South. My father was all SEC-tackle at the University of Florida (Gainesville…The Gators) in 1949. He also holds one of the records for most playing time on the field because he started every game and played both offensive and tackle and they stopped doing that the year after he graduated.



I grew up a huge Gator fan, but chose to go out of state to Auburn because I wanted to do something “different”. My husband graduated from Florida, my son graduated from Auburn (we attended the national championship game together when Auburn beat Oregon in 2010 and he was a sophomore) and my daughter is currently a student at Florida. I am addicted to the new SEC network, especially the Paul Fienbaum show, which I record everyday during football season. (Listening to that show would give you insight into the depths of how serious we can take our college football down here in the South!).  We still have, and pay handsomely for, the original Gator Booster season tickets/seats my dad secured as a player in the 40’s.  My uncle Ted (my Mom’s brother) was the radio color commentator with Otis Boggs for almost 40 Gator football seasons. I have read and love the book “God and Football”, which explains every SEC school’s traditions. Paul Fienbaum has a good book too. There. That, my friends, should qualify me as somewhat of an expert on Southern football, especially the SEC.image image

This love of SEC football and competition bleeds off into other areas. There is that other non-SEC powerhouse, FSU. You may have heard of them.  You may have heard of their most recent and notorious quarterback, who got away with despicable behavior. If you are an Auburn fan (FSU beat Auburn in the 2013 national championship game in the last 13 seconds) and especially a Gator fan, you most likely do not like FSU and thoroughly enjoyed their thrashing by Oregon in the first national playoffs this past season.

Auburn’s nemesis is the powerhouse, Alabama. Both are state schools, but Alabama’s fan base is largely composed of non-graduates who merely reside in Alabama. Auburn’s fanbase is largely composed of actual Auburn graduates. At this time I would like to inform you that Auburn has the largest number of astronaut alumni and the new CEO of Apple is an Auburn alum.  Just thought I’d mention this.  In the same vein I would like to mention the University of Florida has an outstanding reputation in the academic world, now commonly being referred to as “The Harvard of the South”, and is known to be extremely competitive in their admissions process.  I hope you are getting the picture I am trying to paint here….these competitions run deep and not just on the playing field.


This leads me to a recent little incident I am happy to share.  I may not have mentioned that my daughter’s boyfriend is graduating this spring from FSU.  This is particularly annoying because he is a great young man and we really like him.  We all civilly survived football season this fall due largely in part to the fact that none of our teams advanced to, or particpated in, the national championship game (don’t you just love college football?!).  But seriously, my story has nothing to do with football.

Here goes…early in November my daughter was visiting the FSU campus and (of course) got a $30 parking ticket.  Several days later my husband gets a bill in the mail (the car is registered in his name) for the ticket, and FSU has assigned him a student number and threatens to not let him register for classes if this ticket is not paid.  It also says you may go online to pay the bill, but when I try to do this, I discover you need a student login.  I give up and write a check and mail it.  The check is processed and clears mid-November. On December 23rd, I get a second bill with a $10 late fee.  I then make copies of said bill with a lengthy explanation of how it has already been paid, explain my husband is not a student and his car was merely visiting their campus, and then attach a copy of the cleared check made out to the FSU billing department as instructed.  Because I am annoyed, I use a University of Florida return address label, just for spite.  Mid-January the third bill arrives. Trying again, I call the number as instructed on the bill for “help”.  I timed the call.  I am placed on hold for over 32 minutes. The first 15 minutes involve listening to classical music with repeated messages of “Welcome to FSU, please hold and someone will be with you shortly”. After about 20 minutes a lovely recorded speech comes on telling me how outstanding FSU is in multiple areas…how many special scholars…how many special awards, etc.  This continues adnauseum for at least ten more minutes…and then a dailtone. Yep. They hung up on me. I was not happy.

My last ditch effort is to email them.  The help section with the phone number also gives an email address. It is literally my last option. I go over step by step what has transpired, scan and attach all previous correspondence and include a copy of the processed payment.  I explain that when trying to reach them by phone, I was kept on hold over 30 minutes and forced to listen to how outstanding their University is. I tell them “That’s just great but how about let’s start convincing me with attempting to clear up this little parking fine”.  Two days later I get a return email saying all has been forgiven, the fine has been noted as paid, and the  student hold has been lifted.  Do I need to say more?  Go Gators and War Eagle!!!

Isn’t Business Traveling a Blast?

Working toward full retirement, I am hanging on to a part-time consulting job.  I really don’t make enough income with this to justify working, but I tell myself it is something that is “mine”.  Allows me to buy things like horse stuff!   So a few times a month I get to travel to wherever the need arises for what I do.  This keeps me “connected” to the work force and gives me some “down time” from my daily routine and obligations.

Horse Quote

When my kids were little, my husband was traveling for his business at least once a week.  I would often tell him I was jealous of that “alone” time…you know, where he got to stay in a hotel room and have a bathroom and TV all to himself.  He would tell me I was nuts, that business travel was anything but relaxing and basically stunk.  I didn’t believe him and was convinced he was just feeling guilty because I KNEW he had to enjoy the “down” time from early parenting.

Last week I had a “short notice” trip, that required me flying out at 6:30 on Monday evening, to return 48 hours later.  Upon boarding, I got to my seat (I always pick isle seats for ease of escaping if necessary) and there was a women sitting in my seat.  Her large coat was happily occupying the middle seat, and her husband was at the window. I politely tried to  explain that I think she has my seat.  She gives me the death stare. Luckily a flight attendant is behind me and tells her she needs to move, and I didn’t have to sit on her.  Buckled in, she proceeds to fold her hands in her lap, with her elbows extending over the arm rests by several inches.  She literally is digging her elbows in to my arm (and I am practically leaning into the isle)  the entire trip.  They also were speaking in French and I am sure discussing what an inconvenience I was to be sharing “their” row, but who knows.   This trip to Myrtle Beach required a change of planes in Atlanta.  If you’ve connected a flight in Atlanta I really don’t need to explain further but changing flights in Atlanta usually involves racing to several concourses away.  Fun times.

The next flight was a quick 45 minutes and just before taking off an interesting looking couple joins me on my row.  Nothing wrong with a few tattoos but I am always fascinated by the total arm tattooed up thing, so I tried not to notice…too much.  Once my seatmates were buckled in, the gentlemen who is seated next to me plugs in his earphones and then proceeds to turn up his volume so loud that I can hear his entire lovely selection of rap music.  Plus he was doing some major gyrations and in-seat dancing.  Now I’m really having fun.

Having landed, after getting my baggage (yes I am one of those who pays to check their luggage and does not try to stuff everything I need in a carry-on bag that the flight attendant has to wrench out her back cramming in the already full overhead bin)  and rental car, I arrive at my hotel after 11 pm.  There is no desk clerk and the only people I see are two loud men in the lounge area watching a game.   After waiting several long minutes, I decide to call the front desk from my cell phone.  Timing it, the phone (right in front of me by the way) rings for over 15 minutes before I give up  and hang up.  I have just decided that I will need to leave and find another hotel, when  the door behind the front desk opens and a very sleepy (or something more exciting) young man appears.  He apologizes and checks me in.  Great.

In the elevator heading up to my floor there is a sign saying the carpets will soon be replaced so please excuse the mess during that process.  Upon entering my room I cannot believe the stains I am seeing all over the carpet. There has been either some major partying or illness in this room…or perhaps both. The whole room is somewhat shabby and in desperate need of renovation.  This is a name brand hotel mind you, but I guess spring breaks and the summer have taken it’s toll.  Too tired to leave, I inspect the bed for signs of bugs and all looks safe.  I keep a pair of socks on until I can get off that carpet!  The next morning I have to pack up early to find another hotel before my first meeting.   I find one close to the second day’s work location.  It is the same brand and a perfectly lovely room.  Go figure.

The work goes smoothly and I fly out  Wednesday at 6:30pm.  Flights to Orlando are always full with families traveling to Disney World, and my seat is literally on the last row and not on the isle.  Deplaning takes forever from that vantage point.  I arrive in my bed by 12:30 am.

Short business trips are not so great.  I hate when my husband is right.  The good news?  The hotel brand sent me an online survey….

Enjoy the View

Growing up in Florida, I spent a lot of time outdoors.  Like all day.  Outdoors.  Our parents didn’t worry about us back then.  We were gone all day, traveling miles on our bicycles or horses, unsupervised and without cellphones.  We were blissfully independent and oblivious to the perils of the evil world.  Our world was safe and pristine.  It gave me a love of the outdoors because that was our playground.

As an adult when I began to afford property, the most important thing was the backyard or view.  In Central Florida, my backyard is a lake.  I may be only minutes from a large metropolitan area and it’s international airport, but in my backyard I have otters, owls, bald eagles and all kinds of “tree creatures” like raccoons and possums.  When you have spent an hour battling traffic after a long day, looking out onto the lake does make it all better.

Orlando Backyard

Orlando Backyard

Ten years ago we found a small cabin on a huge lake in Maine.  I love Maine.  They have very few people, but they do have moose, bears, beavers, and lots of fish.  This summer I stumbled upon a black mink lingering along the shoreline.  The views and cries of the Loons can make me emotional.  If you want to get away from any hustle and bustle, Maine is the place to be.

Maine Backyard

Maine Backyard

Belgrade Lakes Maine Backyard

Belgrade Lakes Maine Backyard

Our latest land purchase was 200 acres in North Florida.  When you exit off I-75 onto I-10 heading west, you can feel your blood pressure lowering.  Gone are the billboards, and thousands of acres of agricultural land spreads out in either direction.  Just a few miles after crossing the Suwanee River, you exit onto our county road.  The views there are very different. Deer, fox squirrels and turkeys are in abundance.  Occasionally you see a black bear.  There is even a now rare covey of quail.   In one direction you have acres of pasture, turn and you see rows and rows of timber pines, turn again and you see the live oaks and dogwoods.  Springtime is heavenly when they bloom along with the wildflowers in the pasture.

I’m officially a “view snob” who is growing increasingly disgruntled with city life.

Pond at Farm

Pond at Farm






TrailridePasture flowers

Trying to Keep the Glass Half Full

I have always considered myself “happy”…as in I tend to see the glass half full, not half empty.  I’m not saying I have had a perfect life, and I have my “sob” stories…but all in all, I tend to feel happy!  I loved my childhood, my family, and my life in general.  I have been blessed to not have a tendency to dwell on the unpleasant stuff.  I guess I have been able to see the “big picture” and all in all, it’s been a great ride.  I had a great career for 20+ years (then had an opportunity to enjoy a “second” career), I’ve been married over 27 years (after an early divorce…see not perfect), and I have two great young adult kids (drove me nuts at times, but don’t they all).  I also have had the ability to “go for it” when I want to pursue something new.  Now I could go and dissect each of these areas and find plenty of not so great issues, but that’s not my inclination.  I basically, feel blessed.

But… and here it comes, I have to admit…my happiness is being challenged. I read recently where someone mentioned a “sadness” had crept into their life.  All the family and friend’s difficulties and illnesses…the declining health of an aging parent bringing home the inevitableness of it all.  I had to admit, I feel “sadness” more often, and it is not that familiar to me.

There comes a time in life, I am learning, that things begin to “pile up”.  Here I am, at the Baby Boomer cusp of turning 60, and I am living out a dream of owning property where I can have horses in my life again.  I have born and raised my children. My oldest (son) has graduated with a viable degree and is working and supporting himself.  My daughter is thriving and making straight A’s at a competitive University, and is in a great relationship with a guy we love.  I am grateful and have much to be thankful for.  The counter balance, however, is that simultaneously I am witnessing the reality of evolving life.

There is the beautiful long-time acquaintance gracefully battling lung cancer, that has recurred and spread.  There is my sister-in-law (she lives on the opposite side of the country) who is juggling my failing mother-in-law (we moved her from assisted living here to where my sister-in-law lives so they could spend some last years together) and her husband who is now battling a difficult cancer. My 87 year-old mother needs increasing attention.  After my Dad’s death in 2012, we got her house sold and she moved to an independent senior high rise that she is enjoying, but she gets lonely.  On top of these scenarios, I have been watching my close friend of 30+ years, lose the life as she knew it, over the past year and a half.

In September of 2013, I noticed my friend Debbie was “forgetting” things. Every recent thing. She is newly divorced, has no adult children or living parents.  It would be her close friends and far away siblings (who live in the Northeast and are decades older) who would be trying to navigate this crisis.  After many hospital stays, and insistence on our part (after researching and forcing the doctors here to “hear” us), she was finally diagnosed with a rare form of Auto-immune encephalitis. (Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis). Her antibodies had attacked the two frontal lobes of her brain.  By a miracle, we found information on the internet, and a book  just published in 2012 chronicling the experience of a young New York Post Journalist, Susannah Cahalan, who had experienced this nightmare.  The book,  entitled “Brain on Fire” takes you through her journey.  She, with the determination of her wonderful doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar, eventually recovered.  Dr. Najjar has been trying to help spread the word of this rare and often misdiagnosed disease.

Through the help of a newly formed advocate group out of North Carolina, The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, started by families and patients affected by autoimmune encephalitis,  we got Debbie admitted into a treatment program through Mayo Clinic.  After four, two-day trips to Mayo clinic with her, and treatment carried out here at home, her prognosis came back bleak.  Her treatment stopped the anti-body attack, but her brain’s two frontal lobes (responsible for short-term memory) would be permanently damaged by the brain swelling from the encephalitis. My friend’s Debbie’s life as she knew it is over.  Her new life consists of waking up every day with her intelligence and long-term memory intact, but “feeling fuzzy”, having to relearn through detailed notes, what has happened to her.  If you have watched the movie, 51st Dates, you get the picture.

Debbie had a successful business.  She was a youthful 62 year-old who water skied on our lake every day.  As I live two doors down, I have taken on a lot of the responsibility of helping with the  “managing” of her life. We have been unsuccessful with her allowing anyone to live with her permanently.  She is fiercely independent, she runs off any of her siblings attempts to stay with her, or have her with them.   I get a lot of the “panicky” phone calls when she forgets where her keys are, her house alarm gets set off, or she is reading her notes on her new reality.  My frequent weekend trips to the farm and horses help me to maintain a balance.  But the texts and sobbing phone calls are always within reach.

Her beach condo has been sold to give her funds to live on, as she has been unable to work for the past year and a half.  The business is now shut down.  Her house is on the market, and the courts have had to establish rules for guardianship.  Through all of this, I have had to walk her through this nightmare almost daily, and help her understand why this has happened to her.  She is a fighter, and every day wills herself to “beat” this thing.  Remember, her most recent memory is about two years ago, when she was vibrant and working.  She has to relearn every day this nightmare that has become her new life.  How this will all end up, and where she will live next is still unknown.  The saddest part for me is that she always believes, after relearning of her condition, that she will recover.

I am trying to accept the things I cannot change, be grateful for all the good stuff.  Trying to keep that glass half full.


Bet You Can’t Just Have One!


So just how does one end up with a herd of four horses when you start out saying “I’m getting a horse!”  Maybe I should start from the beginning…before we owned 200 acres in North Florida.  In the aftermath of the real estate downturn around 2010, I decided it would be an excellent investment to buy a lakefront property near my alma mater, Auburn University.  There were deals to be had on Lake Martin, and I was headed up to “shop”.  With an appointment with a broker scheduled for the following Friday, I get a phone call from my then 83-year-old father.  “I need you to go with me to Madison this week…what day can you go?”  Now this was an unusual request, as my father had been leasing a hunting camp up there in North Florida for about 15 years.  Women had not been encouraged or invited to go to this hunting camp.  So why now?  I told him I was busy this week…traveling up to Auburn and all, so how about next week?  No, he wouldn’t hear me, and insisted I was needed in Madison BEFORE I left for Auburn.  It’s your 83-year-old father…so you go.  I tell my husband, Matt, “I have to go to Madison on Wednesday this week with Dad.”  “Really? he asked.  Think I’ll go with you guys”. Hmmm.  On the three-hour trip up, they were like kids in a candy shop.  Something was definitely up.  Long story short, they had already picked out a 200 acre neglected farm, and I was just along to write and sign a contract, BEFORE I could find a property on Lake Martin.   I got hoodwinked.

The property consisted of 80 acres of timber, 80 acres of pasture, and 40 acres of live oaks and woods with an old house on it. The next two years were a lot of clearing and house cleanup.  It was a “guy’s” project.   The gift was that it gave my Dad, a retired orange grove and land owner, a chance to again be on a tractor and enjoy watching the land transform and come to life again.  Huge live oaks that were barely visible began to emerge as 25 years of neglect was cleared away from them.  That was worth the “bait and switch” right there…watching my Dad enjoy the property.  Within two years my Dad’s health began to fail, and he passed away after heart surgery and a brutally long period, in which he never recovered.  After his funeral in January 2013, just over two years after purchasing the property, I was up for the weekend with my family and was standing at the kitchen window gazing out at the 80 acres of beautiful Coastal Bermuda pasture and really missing my Dad.  Matt asked me if I was going to start coming up for some of the weekends now that the house was livable and our youngest would be going off to college in the fall.  I turned to him and said, “Yes…because I’m getting a horse.”  Not knowing anything about horses, he thought this was a fantastic idea!  Would give me a reason to come and something to do at the farm!  Poor guy, he had no idea what this meant.  I felt a tad guilty, knowing what he was unknowingly walking in to, but then remembered how we had come to own this property.  All guilt vanished and the journey began.

So the first horse shopping yielded two fine creatures, Pretty Boy and Dizzy.  I had to explain to the husband about horses being herd animals and shouldn’t be kept alone, so we were getting two horses, not just one.  “Oh,” he says, and looks somewhat concerned, which I just chose to ignore.   There was a lot to learn with those two, and I came to realize that they were not quite the horses I would want to put inexperienced riders on.  Oops.  So I started the search for the third “babysitter” horse.  Now I did try to explain all of this to my husband, but he just didn’t see the “need” for a third horse and would change the subject and say something like “maybe later”.

Of course, I found the perfect horse, Ernie.  Ernie lived in Tennessee and was to be delivered in a few weeks.  Plenty of time to break the news to the husband…until the transporter called and said he was making a delivery in  South Florida the coming weekend and could have Ernie there on Sunday.  This was Wednesday and we were driving up Friday.  Plenty of time to explain.  Somehow it just never seemed to be the right time.

Saturday yields tons of rain. Tons.  This is a problem as I need our caretaker Joey to mow the second pasture so I can keep Ernie separately from the herd across the fence until they are acclimated to one another.   I ask Joey on Friday, without any further explanation of course,  if he can get the second pasture mowed by Sunday.  He agrees to do so as soon as the rain lets up.  The rain does not let up.  Early Saturday morning I am over at my neighbor (and horse trainer) Barbara’s house.  She is conducting a small horse clinic for a few of her students and has invited me to come and observe.  As it is pouring rain, we are gathered at her kitchen table drinking coffee.  I am thoroughly enjoying her students who are ladies my age and have gotten back in to horse ownership later in life like me.  We are laughing about our horse escapades and I confide in them that I have a horse coming tomorrow, and I haven’t told my husband yet.  They immediately burst into laughter and tell me to join the club!  Apparently most husbands of horse gals just don’t quite get the need for multiple horses and it is commonly necessary to have them just show up.  This made me feel so much better…for  a while.

Throughout Saturday and early Sunday I am receiving text messages and pictures from Rodney the Horse Transporter’s wife, showing me how well Ernie is traveling and updating me on their arrival time.  The rain finally turns to a drizzle, and at my constant nagging, Joey gets the second pasture mowed.  We are standing under a shed and he asks what was the big deal of getting the pasture mowed?  I tell him it’s because of the third horse who will be here in about 30 minutes.  “THIRD HORSE?!” he exclaims, and quickly announces that he is getting out of there before Matt finds out.  I grab him by the collar and tell him he is not going anywhere because I need him to be there so Matt doesn’t kill me.  With that we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Just then my husband comes over and says what are you two up to anyway?  “Well”, I say, I was just telling Joey here that I needed the second pasture mowed so we can put Ernie the new horse there when he arrives…in about ten minutes.”  At that very moment a huge semi-horse transport is pulling into the front gate.  I run over to greet Rodney, who immediately unloads Ernie and asks where to put him.  I point to the second pasture and Rodney, not missing a beat, jumps into my golf cart and ponies Ernie to the pasture gate.  I pay him and he is off.  Horse transporters are on a deadline and don’t mess around.  I like Rodney.  No time for lengthy discussions.  Matt comes up to me and is basically speechless.  Here’s the best part.  Ernie is a beautiful Buckskin and the friendliest horse on the planet.  We drive into the pasture and Ernie comes galloping across the pasture to greet us and sticks his head into the cart right at Matt’s chest.  Guys love Ernie.  I think it’s the “John Wayne had a Buckskin horse” thing.  Thank goodness.  My husband didn’t say a whole lot until he said, “That’s a nice horse”.  I got real lucky.

Oh yeah, horse number four, Bear.  You see, in my world, four horses is the perfect number.  You ride off on two and the two left behind are content because they have each other.  It’s a herd thing.  Not to mention I needed another “babysitter” horse, or that he looks just like my first horse, Little Man.  You understand…and this time I told my husband in plenty of time.  The week before.  And that is how I ended up with a herd of four horses.

The Buckskin

The Buckskin

The Herd

The Herd