Sunday, December 30, 2012


2012 is quickly drawing to a close and there are people I want to remember.  Brace yourself for some somber words.

Christmas is an odd time to think about the Grim Reaper but this season I cannot ignore what we all inevitably face.   I am no stranger to Death.  He knocked on my door when I was 7 and took my dad.  7 is too young to know that Daddy isn’t coming home.  He traveled a lot and so I thought one day he would be back.  Or so that is what my second grade teacher told my Mom when I started school again that Fall.

Last March, Death took my mother-in-law.  But unlike my Dad, she went on her own terms.  Kathryn lived with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for 14 years.  When we got the call on February 26 from my Father-in-Law Gerry that Mom isn’t doing well, Eric, who was on a work trip in California at the time, returned home immediately.  I followed two days later after squaring the kids away with my mother and sister.  What I experienced for the next 3 days was Holy.  Kathryn was sick but her spirit was not.  She knew her time was near and so she hung in until she had seen all her children.  During that time, we learned once again that there are so many ways to communicate how we feel when our mouths no longer move.  A look, a smile, says it all. Kathryn died on March 8th in her home with her lover beside her.

What follows is one of my favorite passages from Willa Cather’s book, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”  I turn to it when someone I know has passed away:

“In those days, even in European countries, death had a solemn social importance.  It was not regarded as a moment when certain bodily organs ceased to function, but as a dramatic climax, a moment when the soul made its entrance into the next world, passing in full consciousness through a lowly door to an unimaginable scene.  Among the watchers there was always the hope that the dying man might reveal something of what he alone could see;”

This Christmas season, my thoughts and prayers are with my friend Cathy, whose mother passed away unexpectedly on December 26th.    To Robert Donato Pinto, Kathryn Regina HibbsVoit, Arlene Shaw, may God Bless you and keep you.  You are His now until we all meet again.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The last class I took at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase was Animal Behavior.  The class was taught by Jane Huff, one of my all time favorite teachers.  By all time I mean since elementary school.  Maybe one day I will pay tribute to all the other teachers who touched my life but today I thank Jane.

At the time I took the class, I was going through some personal health issues and was a bit distracted.  It was hard to focus on the material even though what we were talking about is every animal lovers' favorite subject - animals.  And our homework?

Get out there people and observe animals!


Our final project was to report on some animal we watched, notice something about it and give a presentation in front of the class.

I didn't know what to do.  Jane, a horse lover and rider too, suggested some things for me to do at the barn but that didn't work out because I was too new a rider then to have any fun. When the day finally came to give a presentation, I was sick.  Maybe it was performance anxiety, maybe not, but Jane accepted  my YouTube video in my place.  (Commercial Break:  You can still see my final presentation on YouTube called at Feeding Stormy the Cornsnake as long as you don't mind watching a snake eat a live mouse.)

I digress.  The real point I want to make here is that suddenly watching animals do what animals do best wasn't fun anymore.  It was work.  School work.

It  may be hard to imagine but at my age school projects still cause me anxiety.  I might as well be back in HS.  Here's the thing though - that class has stayed with me ever since the way anything can have a lasting impression.  And the mark Jane's class left me with is something I never expected.  I think I am becoming more like the animals I have been watching: quiet.

Weird. I know.  But please bear with me a little longer.

I've told you about over coming fear on horseback and learning to trust  myself.  Here's another thing I have learned since hanging around the stall and riding in the ring.  Horses don't talk. (duh.)  But we human animals talk all the time.  In fact, there is so much talking there's hardly any listening going on at all.

Last Thursday my instructor worked me hard trotting Leroy, the gaited horse with the strange dressage saddle.  I did pretty good up there too if I do say so myself.  Yet I still kept doing it wrong and so my instructor kept yelling at me about what I needed to do right.  During past lessons I yelled right back. I didn't know I could be so agonistic but I figured I needed to stick up for myself and so I did.  But today was different.  Steve was yelling at me while I did my best and I did not yell back. Instead, I shut up.

Listening is an active skill, especially sitting in the saddle.  The horses have taught me that. Listening is also communication.  I am beginning to like not talking.  In fact, being quiet is serving me well.  I trotted longer and harder than I ever have before.

So, to Jane and Steve, thank you... for everything... I'm  listening still.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



There has been a lot said on the subject:

“Face your Fear.”

“Let go of your fear.”

“Fear is letting go.”

Actually, I’m not sure about that last one.  Sometimes I make things up but that is what I am thinking about today because I think I have come a long way with how I handle fear.  For the last 14 months, I have been taking Horse Back Riding lessons.   I have no business taking Horse Back Riding lessons but here’s the thing:  my daughter takes Horse Back Riding lessons and I want to keep up with her.  Then my best friend started taking lessons too, and I wanted to keep up with her!  So if I thought I was too old to get on a horse, I remembered that my best friend is older than me.  And then I got on Cheyenne.

I have put off so much this last year for the sake of Horse Back Riding and I’ve had to ask  myself why numerous times.  Why do I ride?  I am terrified.  Literally.  At first, the simple rocking of the horse unnerved me so you can imagine my “aaahhhh” when it stumbled.  (By the way, I don’t scream.  I “aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh” Lucille Ball style.  I am a red head and Lucy is one of my guiding stars.  I Love Lucy.  But here I digress…)   

Since riding Cheyenne that first day, I have ridden Kitty, Leroy, Radar, Marilyn, Sunny, Rhiannon, Cinnamon, and Starlight.  Starlight is my favorite.  Kitty is not. And I've come a long way too.  I've learned to tell my instructor when I’m not “feeling the love” or better yet, I am more direct and just tell my instructor, “I am having a panic attack,” just as I am putting my foot in the stirrup.  Those six little words work wonders to pull on my instructor’s heart strings because the next thing he always says to me is, “My goal for you is simply to have fun up there.”  FUN? Really?? 

Today, I can honestly say I am having fun.  But a funny thing happened along the way.   I am letting go and it’s not just my fear that is going.   Old notions like “I can’t” are going too.  And I am a lot calmer.  Relationships that used to be so hard are not so hard anymore.  I think it is Horse Back Riding that has given me strength and courage.

I still have days when I am anxious to ride.  It’s probably because I am uncertain who my mount will be.  I trust some horses more than others.  But Steve, my instructor, knows something I don’t.  Trust happens from within.  I thought I had to trust the horse when in fact I am learning to trust myself.  And trust is a feeling just like fear.  So when I let fear go, I make room for trust to grow and it feels great.  In fact, it feels like fun.