Friday, December 29, 2006

heart's desire

What things soever ye desire,
when ye pray,
believe that ye receive them,
and ye shall have them.

Mark 11:24

You shall receive whatever gift you may name, as far as wind dries, rain wets, sun revolves; as far as sea encircles and earth extends.

Culhwch and Olwen, from The Mabinogian

The true heart's desire is an integral potentiality, a germinated seed waiting to manifest... We must cancel our old and immature wishes by calling them back and revoking them, along with any other idle wishes we may have uttered and since forgotten. Then the way stands clear.

Caitlin Matthews

If you know you want it,
Have it.

Gita Bellin

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

the day after ... and books

Our Christmas was quiet and sweet this year, I think because we kept it simple and I did a good job not taking on more than I could manage. Having the horses has made that job easier: the daily barn routine is unceasing, chores that can't be put off. Yesterday it rained heavily here, and for most of the day the horses were inside. There was something especially sweet about our regular walks to the barn to keep them supplied with hay and water as the day unfolded.

Two books have shepherded me through this holiday and I'd like to talk about them here.

Dot Jackson's Refuge was published this year by North Carolina's Novello Festival Press, "the nation's only public library-sponsored literary publisher. An imprint of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, NFP seeks to enhance awareness of the literary arts and expand opportunities for readers and writers from within our community and beyond it."

I was in Southern Pines doing a feed store run when Dot Jackson was interviewed on NPR. By the time I listened to the interview and the excerpt she read on the air, I turned the car around and headed directly to the Country Bookshop to buy a copy.

Refuge is the story of Mary Seneca Steele, a Charleston woman who flees an unhappy marriage with her two children to find grace and beauty in a mountain cove. Embraced by her father's family, she also finds a fierce and once-in-a-lifetime love with her cousin, Ben Aaron Steele.

The novel is beautifully written, beautifully paced, and offers characters so well-drawn I feel as if they are distant relatives of my own. I haven't yet put the book on a shelf - not quite ready to have it out of arm's reach.

If you like literary fiction, lyrical language, and a wonderful story, support both Ms. Jackson and Novello Festival Press and go buy this book. I love it that Novello is bringing books like this into the world.

The second book needs no introduction. Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons is on the New York Times Bestseller list and has had a tremendous amount of fanfare the past few months.

I loved Cold Mountain and have waited patiently for Frazier's new novel. I bought it the day it came out and hoarded it like a rare bottle of wine until Christmas eve. I admit that I am still reading, and not very far into the book at this writing. But I'm doing the thing I do with books I end up loving -- only allowing myself to read a few pages at a time in order to savor every word and image.

This book is lighter than Cold Mountain but every bit as well written. It makes me want to go on a week-long writing retreat to work on my own books. I highly recommend it.

One of my resolutions for 2007 is to get contracts on my three novels. Another is to get the word out about novels I read and love - the ones that engage and inspire me. I especially want to support "new" writers by getting out to the local bookstores to buy books in hardcover, early on, and make a point to tell folks about the books that move me.

Help me do this by making your own recommendations in comments here, or emailing about books you come across and love.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

the day before the day before

Everything that lives is holy.

William Blake

The only beloved is the living mystery itself.

Kathleen Raine

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

winter solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year. A wonderful chance to consider the long shadow you cast in the sunlight of mid-day. An opportunity to notice the light that might exist in darkness ... and how you will find that light and turn it on.

From today's Writer's Almanac email:

In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

I'd love to make a stone structure to do the very same thing.

We treat our dogs, cats, and horses on the evening of the solstice, and we also gift the wilder animals that share space with us. Deer and the birds, others we rarely see, like opossum and raccoon. Walking the perimeter of our property with candles in the dark of night is one of my favorite walks all year long.

Inside, we enjoy a special meal, open a family gift, and spend time together with music. I often think how affected we are by the shortening of daylight, and how many of our phrases associated with struggle and despair use images of night and morning. The long dark night of the soul. In the light of day. The sun will come up tomorrow. Etc.

Many solstice rituals focus on celebrating the lengthening of the days following the solstice, but I think the longest night is a reason to celebrate all on its own. The longest night is a wonderful time to string lights everywhere, light candles, build a fire, snuggle in with books, music, pets, children, one another. A long quiet night to let all things creative simmer and come to the surface. The perfect time to write down the thing you want to let go of or leave behind as the light of dawn approaches. We write ours down on slips of paper and burn them, and on New Year's Eve we take the christmas tree out, make a bonfire, and do it again, just in case there's something we forgot. :)

Two poems we always read out loud as part of our solstice ritual:

The Shortest Day

So the shortest day came and the year died,
And everywhere, down the centuries of the snow-white world came people
Singing - dancing - to drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees.
They hung their homes with evergreens.
And burned beseeching fires all night long to keep the year alive.

And when the new day sunshine blazed awake,
They shouted "Reveille!"

Through all across the ages you can hear them - echoing behind us.
All the long echoes sing the same delight, this shortest day.

As promise wakens in the sleeping land,
They carol - feast - give thanks and dearly love their friends
And hope for peace.

And so do we - here now - this year - and every year.

Susan Cooper

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

tagged: the five things you don't know about me

Peggy Payne over at her Boldness Blog has tagged me. So here goes, the five things you don't know about me:

1. I am pretty darned clueless about computers and blogging. I had to look up what tagged even meant.

2. I don't know how to make something in this post a link, making it difficult to tag anyone else!

3. My husband is not only a landscape photographer but a brilliant software architect, so he might be able to teach me.

4. This came up the other night while we were eating dinner here at home: I was once a baton twirler who also twirled fire.

5. I once aspired (for a relatively brief period in my life) to become Jon Bon Jovi's hair stylist and go on tour with him.


Time to tag people:

And the SIXTH thing you don't know about me: if I really try, I can figure almost anything out. :)

Monday, December 18, 2006


Recently on another blog, I commented that I have an odd repulsion to the word "bling-bling." I wondered where the word came from, and why everyone seems to be using it. Today the answer found its way to my email inbox:

bling-bling (bling-bling) noun

Expensive, flashy jewelry or other items.

[From hip-hop slang, apparently imitative of the sounds of
the clanging jewelry, or of the light reflecting from them.]

I am not much of a hip-hop fan. I like the idea that the word is imitative of the sound of the jewelry it describes, or the light reflecting. But there are other, better words. Clinquant, for one:

clinquant (KLING-kuhnt) adjective

Glittering, especially with gold or tinsel.


Tinsel; glitter.

[From French, present participle of obsolete clinquer (to clink),
from Dutch klinken (to clink).]

The main place I come face-to-face with "bling-bling" is in the tack shop, where it has latched itself on to halters, bridles, stirrups, stock ties, riding crops and whips, even spurs.

I love sparkly things. I love the way the sun sparkles on still water. The sun glittering through newly green leaves. A horse's coat that shimmers in the sun.

I do NOT, however, want fake jewels on my riding attire, or my tack. Give me good well-oiled leather, plain, and nice fabrics without piping or insignia.

There was a beloved vintage dress once, discovered in the bottom drawer of a dresser in a junk shop, that came from Paris and had tiny mirrors and sequins sewn into the bodice. The skirt was voluminous and made of a rich merlot fabric that was iridescent. The entire dress shimmered. I loved that dress, and wore it for signature occasions through a number of years.

It is gone now, and thank goodness, because if I wore it and anyone said the word "bling-bling" something, although I'm not exactly sure what, would be ruined.

Thought for the day: words have great power.

Friday, December 15, 2006

gifts from above

Yesterday a squirrel fell from the sky and landed quite literally at my feet. (no harm was done, as he took off when Keats the cat came running to check him out)

Then the great runic X appeared.

This morning a mysterious seed fell from nowhere onto the dining room floor. I saw it land and heard the tiny click as it hit the hardwoods. I have soaked and planted it to see what grows.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Today I am sending something out - one of my strange and lovely birds is ready to fly.

If you will, send some energy to help it find its new home.

Quickly, before the cold sets in again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

everything is illuminated

Yesterday's focus was illumination... and I was pleased and surprised when I looked up from my chair to see that the object of the sun's focus through my window was the desk and the work in progress.

Friday, December 08, 2006

pas de deux

in my new training routine with keil bay, I'm on a 3-day work, 1-day off schedule, with some pretty specific exercises that build from one day to the next. tuesday we did lots of walking, very forward and engaged, with crisp halts, a bit of leg-yielding, and various figures. some trotting on a loose rein. wednesday we added trot work, mostly walk-trot-walk transitions, and one bit of canter to stretch things out. turns on the haunches, turns on the forehand.

we have also added some leg and neck stretches for him on the ground, and a tail pull exercise that stretches the muscles along the top of his back.

yesterday, my daughter and her pony joined us for the warm-up and intensive trot work with more canter added in. it was windy and quite blustery at times, so both keil bay and the little man were initially preoccupied with leaves blowing in circles and especially the back field, which they seemed to think might be brewing monsters.

but... no hind issues for keil bay any of these days, and the trot/canter transitions were very good, primarily b/c I am working on how I ask for them.

we ended the work-out on a whim that turned to zen - pas de deux.

we rode side-by-side, keil bay on the rail, and the little man on the quarter line, since his stride is so much smaller.

it took a bit of experimenting to get them matched at the walk and trot and canter, but once we got the hang of it, started clicking. interestingly, keil bay figured out what we were doing and began to collect himself so as not to get ahead of the pony. and the pony extended to keep up with keil bay. what began as work soon turned nearly effortless, and we added changes across the diagonals, which required keil bay to move ahead and the pony to slow and then come up on the inside again - hard to describe but quite beautiful in motion. like a perfectly rendered poem.

in one wonderful moment, keil bay extended into his big trot, and the pony cantered to keep up. while not perfect pas-de-deux, it was perfect in other ways. me showing off keil bay's gorgeous trot, my daughter with her near-perfect position at the very lovely canter this pony has when he turns it on.

after the ride, my daughter and I were remarkably attuned as we moved on through the barn chore routine, without words, mind-reading back and forth as I had a thought of something that needed doing and she did it, and vice versa.

horses have magic in them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

how very apropos

on my way out to the barn I noticed that one of our artists in residence, the ballerina spinners, had gravitated to one of my favorite original paintings in our living room...

ballerina cognoscente!

meant to say...

that in response to my recent post about being the camera due to lack of the actual digital device, someone read that and bought me one - a nice small one I can carry around easily - it arrived late last week and I took yesterday's photo with it.

thanks, matthew..


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

little altars (one of many)

Some things...arrive in their own mysterious hour, on their own terms and not yours, to be seized or relinquished forever.

Gail Godwin

Friday, December 01, 2006

collection at the trot

Keil Bay has been having a right hind glitch this week - a couple of "hitches" at the trot on Sunday and Monday - so our work has been light. I panic a little when he's off, but determined to ride through it, focusing on the things we could do together that would keep him moving and using his back and hind quarters without stress.

Yesterday we were doing lots of walk with intermittent trot transitions. My focus was my own position, keeping him in a very forward gait, and trying to make those transitions smooth and effective.

We came around the short end of the arena at a trot and suddenly something clicked with my seat and his movement. I was sitting the trot about as good as I ever have, and I'm not sure what else I was doing, but suddenly the trot became very very collected, he went on the bit perfectly, and we trotted the entire long side in this amazing symphony of horse and rider at collection. At one point it almost felt like we were slowing to piaffe, nothing I have ever done before. (piaffe is a trot that is virtually in place, the collection is so complete)

I have no idea where this came from. I tried to repeat it again later in the ride, but couldn't get it. It's the first time I've ever ridden that kind of movement on any horse - leave it to Keil Bay to have an off week and yet throw in something so incredible in the midst of it.

It was control and grace and harmony woven into forward motion and balance and stillness. Such a gift in the midst of an otherwise very hectic week.