Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not exactly a day at the races...

But close. Instead of being at the races, I was with the former racers - horses, that is. And this is the week preceeding the Kentucky Derby, one of the premier social activities, not to mention its status in horse racing circles, in the East in the spring.

Marysville, Washington has an equine (horse to those of you not familiar with their Latin derivation) rescue farm and they advertised that they were looking for volunteers. I did not know until I went out there about the number of racehorses they had rescued, although I know the sad outcome for many of those who are not winners. Living near Alachua, Florida, a winter breeding and training spot for racing, I heard enough of the "boom and bust" dream tales of those who invested with high hopes and ended up unable to support the animal that was carrying their dreams.

But I was remembering what having a couple of horses meant for me. I missed the unique aspects that being around them brings into focus, so I decided to drive out to the farm and see what the 'lay of the land,' was and how much abuse the volunteers have to endure to save abused horses.

For that, overworking, is a reality in any non-profit organization dependent on volunteer assistance. And many groups depend on those of us who have time and energy - and sometimes other resources - to help them do the work they do. And a few do truly important work, great work, and loving work. I needed to assess if this was that kind of operation.

Equine Rescue Alliance (ERA) truly is worthy of any volunteer's time. It is clearly an organization that is focused on the well-being of the horse - with a couple of ponies - and teaching young people to become aware of the beautiful, sentient and very remarkable qualities of these four-legged animals. Probably it was no mistake that I had recently borrowed from our library "Horses with a Mission" by Allen and Linda Anderson and was enjoying reading about several rescue horses and how they ended up having a service beyond their abandonment.

I was toured around the fields and barns and met most of the residents. They are innately curious creatures and wandered up to nuzzle me as we walked through the field, except for a couple which have been so abused they cannot be "in the public fields" yet. Among the social set was Player, the chestnut-colored grandson of Seattle Slew, who had no time for me. He barely sniffed me, took one look, assessed me as unimportant for the time being, and plodded off for greener pastures. That's how it is with rock stars, I guess. (If horses are your interest, click on the link for Seattle Slew and read Wiki's info on him. There are pictures to see here. Some of these characters even have their own Facebook pages!!!)

Several are retired from racing and from being brood mares. This lovely mare to the right was calling out to her friend who was outside the field getting groomed. The race track can be a cruel place and one poor creature lost her eye to a jockey's whip but is finally here in this idyllic pastureland to graze out the rest of her days. The few who are physically and mentally able to be part of the riding lesson schedule for small children or adults are used gently in this regard. Others can still be teachers for those who need to learn the tasks of grooming or saddling or just walking a horse around on a lead line.

In a couple of cases, the horses are young enough and resilient enough to be adopted out to homes away from the facility. And it is possible for individuals or groups to "adopt a horse" and come and feed it, groom it, love on it and ease it through to its elder years while it remains under the watchful eye of the staff.

One story really touched my heart. An older fellow had had two horses most of their lives. Physically he was getting to the point where it was too hard for him to take care of them, so he 'donated' them to ERA, but he comes out several times a week to be with them and helps to provide for their care financially to the best of his ability.

It was delightful to be in a horsey situation again, smelling the smells of hay, the feed, the tack room and yes, even the manure. It was fun to watch the ponies jostle each other to see who could get closest to the tall grass outside the fence line. I came away richer for the tour, and ready to offer some of my time when we are here in the area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just a flesh wound

In a bit of a pickle by not having four wheels to get around, a few weeks ago I found a rather abused, not-too-expensive, 1989 Mercedes Benz 300 SEL. I didn't want to get caught up in a new car loan since we plan to go back to Colombia and will have to leave a car out and in the weather while we are away. We actually do have a truck, but Jey-hu is busy taking care of business with it, so there are days when I don't have the freedom I am accustomed to having. Thus the MB. I didn't have Jey-hu with me when I made the decision to spend "not very much on it," and it was a "taillight guarantee" purchase: "When I see your taillights disappear, so does the guarantee."
I regretted the purchase almost immediately. A really cheap MB? There is a reason. The cost of fixing up the things that are wrong can put one in the poorhouse. Jey-hu agreed, after I cried on his shoulder, (did I say that he was smiling when he agreed?) not to remind me over and over again about my decision. Instead he decided to call the car "Only a Flesh Wound" with no apologies to Monty Python.
Well, my investment in "Only a Flesh Wound" doubled after I took it in to have the brakes checked. Once up on the lift, they showed me why I either had to agree to have it fixed or they would insist that it be towed away as their insurance would not allow them to put it back together and let me drive it off. Groan. I completely understood their reasoning... but...

A few hours later, we got a call from the mechanic saying that the parts he ordered were not the right ones because the car was so old that it didn't stipulate a difference on his computer and he had to order another, different, and YES, more expensive set. Jey-hu said in his most innocent tone of voice, "Was this the arm or the leg?" as he waited for me to report on the increased costs.

"In for a penny, in for a pound," is my motto with this situation. The day I picked it up, it was about to rain, so I stopped (the brakes now work very well) at the auto supply store and bought "Only a Flesh Wound" some new wipers to work on the new windshield - that had to be replaced within hours of the purchase - and I was good to go.

I hope.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Heading for a home

There is a lot of talk these days about "home" and news of foreclosures and people not having homes is distressing, but a call from a very dear friend brought the word "home" into a different perspective of stress. At the other end of a teary phone call was someone I met over a decade ago in Florida, someone who has sheltered me in her home, and who has listened to my tears of rage or anguish or grief just as I was listening to hers today.

"He needs to be supervised, 24 hours a day now," she cried out to me. Her beloved husband has been afflicted with a brain wasting disease similar to Alzheimer's, but still different. Frontotemporal Dementia begins with the loss of being able to identify certain well-known items and gradually the loss extends to all aspects of speech and identification. The ability of each individual so afflicted to manage day-to-day activities varies. At first it was annoying to his wife that he would go to the Dollar Store and buy lots of trashy foods and be proud he was "saving money." Gradually she came to see that it was part of a more serious evolution of his ability to make good decisions. His situation has evolved over at least seven of the ten years we have been friends, and possibly it was beginning its erosion before that, subtly - excused as part of the aging process.

We were able to have some joy together when we visited in Utah last summer because his wife was glad he was able to count the number of deer that visit in a park near their home, he was still able to drive (although sometimes she felt as if she was his hostage as he drove for hours without listening to her pleas to stop) and he enjoyed being able to walk alone to the Church of Latter Day Saints temple nearby. A few months ago he tried to force his way into the Police department to demand that he be given his license back; and his wife's quick thinking diverted him from getting into more trouble with the law.

We cried together today when she said now he cannot be allowed to be off on his own for fear he will get lost "and since no one would suspect his condition, and they will most assuredly be offended by his four-year old behaviors and blunt speech, it's too risky." she worried aloud.

The life she imagined of getting older together as a couple and walking on the beach is over. She knows that in order to get him the full benefits from the VA, she has to become legally separated and commit him to the care of their services. She has to give up her life of full-time caregiving for being a part-time visitor. She has no other choices because there are none. The disease will continue its ravage of his brain and his capability to reason and react. The dangers are many. The expert medical team has cautioned her that there is no more time left and he will have to be sent to a "home."

We wept together today because even seven years ago we both had hopes for the future with no sense of it; how could we imagine this outcome back then? Now today we can see the sad reality. In the beginning when I still lived in Florida, I listened to my friend's complaints of his strange behavior and observations about his language skills; but I didn't know what was troubling him. Five years ago they went to the VA and got the diagnosis which explained many previously "peculiar" things.

Each time I have visited them I have seen the changes... at first he made excuses for not being able to find certain words, then he couldn't remember all the real estate deals we had worked on together, and then he asked me last year, "Do I know you? It feels like I do." I said, "Yes, our boys went to high school together. We used to live in Florida near each other." He smiled, but I could feel that it was confusing for him. He moved over and whispered to his wife, "What is Florida?"

A lovely gentle man who cared deeply for his wife when they married over two decades ago is now more like the child they never had, although she helped to raise several of his children from a former marriage. My friend is in wretched torment on so many levels and I grieve with her for the man I once knew, who did so much to help me, and now I cannot do more than listen.

Disease takes its toll on families and friends. Now the word "home" has lost its appeal; the sense of comfort is gone. The assurance of the vows of commitment have been stripped away by the government' s demand for payment, protection and shelter for a loved one which can only be guaranteed by a legal maneuver - and what about a home for his wife when all his benefits go for his care? Is it any wonder that we wept?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Sunday Walk

Although with the new Daylight Savings Time schedule the sun seems to be up earlier, today it was hidden behind clouds until nearly noon. But I wanted to take a walk and get some pictures of the flowers in bloom around here. Above you can see Mt. Pilchuck with its covering of snow from the storms that came through last week.

It's been chilly, wet and windy, so some of the flowering things took a beating. These magnolias, for example, are for the most part, past their prime and show the impact of being thrown around in 40 mph gusts. But then I saw these lovely apple blossoms, the scent of which was almost overpowering as I walked past, and they are just coming into full bloom. We have a cherry tree nearby which is also about to flower.

My favorite harbinger of spring is the robin, and here he is (below), hop-hop-hoppin' along the grass, listening for the next meal. Right after I took this picture, a large cat began to sneak out from the bushes, watching for his next meal. Mr. Robin left for a safer lawn.

The robins were a featured event in my childhood when my father, my older brother, my younger brother and I would be eating breakfast in what was called a "nook" back in the 50's. It had a nice large window, but the view was hampered by the rhodendrons and the evergreen tree. Invariably my father would start out by remarking on "how delicious the bacon looks this morning." This would cause my older brother to ask me if I had seen the "white robin" outside the window next to where we were eating.

At first, being gullible, I would look outside and in that instant, my bacon would disappear. But experience is a great teacher, and gradually I would resist looking. More and more nefarious tricks were perpetrated to get me to weaken. The event I remember the most is when both my father AND my brother shouted, "Look, there it is - right there on tree limb!"

I succumbed - I looked, and to the man they agreed, "Oh, you just missed it!" and I also missed the bacon.

Now the sun is out and I want to plant something while it's dry enough and warm enough to be doing that. Where have you been walking recently? And have you seen the white robin?

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Easter is a new beginning. Spring offers hope for the summer, fall and winter to follow. All the newness of the time is a reminder of the Redemption bought and paid for by the Christ energy of the past. In the Bible, the Old Testament is a story about a time when mankind had to work and work only to receive a reward after death. The New Testament is a story about one man who worked and worked to give the message that rewards of this life are here and now, if we care to see them. "All this and more can you do," Jesus said. It is true a lot of church messages are that if you are "good" in this life, you will be rewarded by a trip through the pearly gates instead of to some dreary hot place. But forgiveness and being redeemed for the "sin" of _______ (fill in the blank) can and should happen now.

Our power is not in the government, but in ourselves. We are all of one "blood," and whether or not you are a believer of the story of Jesus Christ, it is undeniable that no matter the color of an individual's skin, when pierced, the blood flows red. When we allow the governments to segregate us by color of skin, beliefs, status or other means, we forget who we are and we will lose our 'Redemption.'

In Matthew 22:36 the people ask of Jesus: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

My grandmother, after losing the love of her life during World War I, vowed to fight for peace. What she did not know, and many other still refuse to see, is that the governments of the world make money on wars. We watched what might be determined to be a "silly" movie called "The Men Who Stare at Goats," (2009) (if you click on the link, you can read a review.) with the premise that the government was working on a team of psychic warriors to infiltrate their enemy's minds. But they are already doing that in various ways when people will not think for themselves, and allow the so-called leaders to tell them what is right or wrong.

I do not propose to be a teller, only to suggest that spring is a time to awaken from the slumber of winter and to take a new look around at what is going on and how you may be being tricked into thinking you are not "One"with all others. Just a thought.

Blessings on this Easter morning.