Friday, February 27, 2015

Snow-vember Hill

These  photos were taken by my husband and really capture the lovely, quiet, gray day quality of our first snow day this week. It is easy for me to get focused in on the barn side of things, where hoof packs and mud and worry about horses slipping on the ice can ruin the beauty for me. 

We were lucky not to lose power this second and much bigger go-round as so many people in NC did. The day before the bigger and wetter snow rolled in, UPS braved the roads to deliver Keil Bay's gigantic tub of Red Bird soft peppermints. I don't think Keil cared a bit about anything else when I took the tub out and showed it to him, and handed out peppermints to he and his herd. 

Today the sun is out and the melt-down begins. I see that next week we are up to 70 degrees one day. I have to get the Christmas tree down before that happens! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

he dreams of Shetland

It's snowing again here, starting early this morning (as seen below) and continuing all day long. The Little Man dreams of the Shetland Isles, and forages for tender shoots under leaf piles, and lets me know that he can handle himself perfectly well in this weather.

Meanwhile Keil Bay and Cody have been galloping and bucking and doing gorgeous floating power trots in the arena. 

The donkey boys are not as happy but they are braving the huge snowflakes and maybe longing for old age when their woman caves in and brings them in the house.

Supposedly this is the one in the "one-two punch" we're getting weather-wise. Tomorrow night is two. I have a chicken in the oven and a glass of Hoppyum IPA in front of me and some dark chocolate, which I just read is the best thing for a lingering cough after a cold. 

I'm ready for spring but for now, I'm pretending we're on the Isle of Shetland with the Little Man's pony herd.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

bringing the horses in

This was the beginning of the sleet/ice/snow combo we had early this week, and this was the day Cody and Keil Bay started the routine of trying to go in the house with me when I went to the back gate. I wish I'd taken photos of them standing there after I went through the gate, heads hanging over, asking to come in.

What were they thinking? That it was cold and Good Things resided in the big stall with lights in the windows and their humans walking around? That inside the big stall there were endless supplies of apples and carrots and homemade horse cookies and other yummy things?

I don't know, but the thought of bringing the horses in has always been one of my dreams. Not like in silly photos where horses lie on sofas, but in some way bringing their stalls to one wall of our living room where they could come hang out with us when they wanted to do so. 

Sometimes I make sketches of a big connected house and barn, where stalls and our living space share that wall, and where "going out to do barn chores" simply means walking to one end of the house. Where maybe an indoor riding arena is part of the plan, so that on cold icy days horses and pony and donkeys can gallop wildly and safely instead of the wild and ice-crunching galloping they did yesterday afternoon.

So far in my designs I end up with a sort of large rectangular box that isn't very aesthetic from the outside, and I haven't figured out how to incorporate the pastures around it, nor how to open it up so that it feels like a home and not a big dark box. 

Other times, high wind times, I think of converting the garage underneath us to a barn. If I put in a line of fence and put down rubber mats and created four big box stalls (and taught the horses to ignore the garage doors going up and down) I could bring the herd in when the winds kick up and they would be right downstairs, safe and sound. And going out to do the chores would mean walking down the stairs to the garage. 

I'm not sure why I want them even closer. By most home and barn standards, they're amazingly close to me already. Before we found November Hill we looked at a property where the barn had an apartment at one end and you walked through a doorway right into the barn aisle itself. But it was a tiny apartment and we were too many humans to fit into it.

Finally today we get back to the upper 40s and maybe the heavy rain predicted for tomorrow (and a high in the 50s) will melt everything down. Then we'll have a sea of mud instead of ice and snow and I'll want to bring them in to keep them out of that too. 

In 20-some years when it's just two little donkeys here, you might see me posting about little hoof boots to give them traction on hardwood floors and a corner set up with shavings where they (they really would) do their business, or maybe we would install a donkey door so they could go in and out at will. Two little donkeys wouldn't be any different in our living space than, say, two St. Bernards, but I'll always savor the image of Keil Bay standing in the kitchen eating apples out of the fruit bowl. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Putting Yourself Out There

In 2014 I set a writing goal to finish first drafts of a short story and three novels. It was ambitious. I was pushing myself, trying to see if by using a new writing method I could increase my productivity. At the end of the year I had a 12k word short, two full-length novels, and about 2/3 of the third novel. Remember, these were first drafts. But it was a huge increase in my usual writing time.

I used Alan Watt's wonderful book The Ninety-Day Novel ( to make my goal happen. I can't say enough good things about his book. It sounds like a formulaic write from an outline kind of book, but it's nothing like that. For the first 30 days Watt guides you through a series of questions from the points of view of your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). You begin the rough draft on day 60, and you write every day without looking back or editing. His daily entries coach you expertly through the doubts and difficulties you face as you go. 

I couldn't believe how well it worked. I couldn't believe how deeply I delved into the characters and their motives, how little miracles of plot and structure happened along the way as I raced through the first draft. It was my method, the one I have always used, but it was my method distilled to a fine and efficient liquor.

The longish short story that came out of this method came out almost perfectly. I took it to Weymouth Center with the goal of editing and after the first day's read through, asked my fellow writers-in-residence if I could read it out loud during our critique time. When they gave me their feedback it was unanimous: they all felt it was not only ready to go, they encouraged me to send it to literary journals as soon as possible.

The next week I sent it to Paris Review. After about a month, they sent this:

I sent the story on to Granta, who just yesterday said it wasn't right for their publication. So off it has gone to AGNI Magazine. 

My point here is that in life as in writing we have to put ourselves out there over and over again, in little ways, in bigger ways, in order to get results. It's so easy to remain safe and still and maybe stagnant and stuck. It's nice when things work out and we get the result we want, but even when rejection comes, it's a testament to the fact that we put ourselves, our work, our wishes, OUT THERE in the first place. 

I was wondering as I started this post how it would wind its way around to horses. Not that it needs to, but most things here usually do.

This one winds back to a frustrated night searching for a first pony, when I threw my hands up and typed in all the criteria for my ideal horse - and found him. And called the next day and made the appointment to go meet him, even though we weren't looking for a horse for me. And instead of letting reason take over, instead of canceling the appointment, I went, and I met Keil Bay. 

There was a moment when I nearly stopped myself from putting my dream first that day. After I watched him being put through his amazing paces, when it was my turn to get on and ride, I said, no, I'm not a good enough rider for this horse. But his trainer said, come on, you'll be fine, and I got on. What if I hadn't? The idea that I might never have had Keil Bay as my riding teacher, life coach, beloved friend, and handsome companion brings tears to my eyes.

Many of you know the ending to the story. I did get on and I had the best ride of my adult life. And Keil Bay came to live with us and every good riding day I've had since is because of him.

Whether it's books or stories or horses or anything, put yourself out there. Take a chance. The end result is always going to be better than if you didn't.

Friday, February 13, 2015

when it's cold outside even the fluffy Corgi stays in

Yesterday I went out to the barn mid-day to get ready for hoof trims. I had to take my jacket off because I was sweating! Twenty hooves later, I was bundled up tight. The sun was gone, the sky overtaken by clouds, and the wind was blowing hard. Just as the trimmer left a flurry of snowflakes began to fall. Crazy weather here on November Hill.

Today it's sunny but very cold. I removed thick ice from water troughs this morning and again near noon.

Thankfully the wind has quieted but it is too cold out to do anything except count the chores and the minutes until you can come back inside.

And one of us isn't even counting. He's on the sofa on fleece by the woodstove! The Life of Bear. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


That about sums up my day today. 

But I can reframe it like this:


Tooth fixed!



ee cummings poetry.

It's all in how you name the thing. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Playing With the Pony We Have

This week the Little Man initiated some arena ground work when he shoved past me into the back door of his stall at breakfast time. In the moment, I was pretty annoyed with him, but once we got to the arena and worked through a little bit more cheekiness, we each shifted our expectations and what blossomed was an absolutely gorgeous free lunging dance where I asked and he walked, trotted, cantered, and pirouetted with grace and power. 

We had so much fun that when we were done and I brought the donkey boys in for their own play time (they were banging at the gate to come in) the pony tried to climb through the fence to get back inside with me. He actively wanted more.

We've repeated this for three days now (without the need for cheek!) and it has been a wonderful way to give him some exercise, a job, and some attention and fun. 

Yesterday his girl walked out while we were playing and stood there with a big smile on her face. I know my smile was even bigger. 

In hindsight, maybe he was asking the way he knows how to ask for some attention and some fun. It almost always happens that when we accept the present moment and allow for something wonderful, we get it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

squeaky wheels and donkey boys

I was out at the barn this morning pushing the wheelbarrow. The wheel was squeaking loudly and then suddenly there were TWO squeaky wheelbarrows and then THREE. Totally confused, I stopped and listened. Numbers two and three were in fact not wheelbarrows, but donkeys!

I ask you - is the wheelbarrow mimicking donkeys or are donkeys mimicking wheelbarrows?

Something to ponder on this chilly (but sunshiny, oh so happy to type that!) day.