Say Neigh

From the time I was a little girl, I have had a deep affection for horses. The scrapbook my mother dutifully assembled of my childhood mementos includes an astounding number of hand-drawn pictures of horses and horse barns and hay and pastures and horses in barns and baby horses and baby horses eating hay in barns near pastures. I was obsessed from an early age. In fact, I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t love horses. I just always have.

I rode for a couple of years when I was in high school. I think my parents saw it as a needed distraction when I started making some poor life choices. And, since the team sports available through school weren’t my jam, they finally overcame their fear of me being grievously injured and suggested I take riding lessons. They knew it was the only thing I had really ever wanted to do.

Horses made our move here especially serendipitous. They are everywhere. I stroll past grazing horses on my evening walks, drive past rolling pastures and stately barns on my way to the store and, occasionally, watch as horses and riders meander right up our street or through the field behind our house. Horses are within easy reach and I’ve made a goal to get back to riding soon.

All of this to explain that this past weekend was pretty much the best thing ever since I spent it in the company of horses.

Innkeeper, son of Secretariat.

Innkeeper, son of Secretariat.

Every year, the Saturday and Sunday prior to Memorial Day, a local church hosts the Hunt Country Stable Tour. Horse farms around the area open up their properties and barns to visitors. At each stop on the tour, you can walk the grounds, admire the stables, watch riding demonstrations, feed treats to the various animals and repeatedly ask your husband under your breath if he thought anyone would notice if you took a horse home with you.

The farms on the tour were scattered between several towns so you drive from property to property at your leisure. This type of activity meets all of the requirements we hold for a day of family fun. In this case, easy access to bathrooms, the ability to bring our own snacks, lots of open space to run, abundant livestock to pet and, most crucially, the capability to abort the mission when everyone has had enough snacks, open space and livestock.

We had an exceptional time.

Fox Chase Farm.

Fox Chase Farm.

On Saturday, after visiting a couple of smaller stables, we took in a jumping competition and picnicked at Fox Chase Farm. I don’t think the kids knew that horses could jump so high so this was all brand new information. We then spent the afternoon at Virginia Tech’s stop on the tour, their Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MARE). Mostly, because they offered hayrides and someone accompanying us thought that was an exceptionally good idea.

A tractor ride is ALWAYS a good idea.

RIVETED (even though this tractor isn’t a John Deere).

The research center was also home to a colt that was only three days old! He was ADORABLE and still all wobbly and super curious and his mama was so relaxed about everything. Bob quickly declared my idea to kidnap him and give him Millie’s bedroom as non-viable. Bob’s just not a risk taker.

BABY HORSE. I repeat, BABY HORSE.

BABY HORSE. I repeat, BABY HORSE. It is my scrapbook come to life.

Since all of us as a group kind of petered out after a few stops, Charlie and I headed out solo on Sunday to visit the remaining farms on the tour. None of our children seem to get frequent one-on-one time with either Bob or myself so the day was delightful simply for the opportunity to give Charlie my undivided attention.

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Stable Selfie

Charlie brought his wallet with him because he has $25.00 and wanted to buy a horse. Unlike Bob, I wholeheartedly encouraged him to pursue this effort.

Rock Hill Farm, built 1797.

The residence at Rock Hill Farm, built 1797.

We started the day touring the grounds and beautiful barns of historic Rock Hill Farm. Then moved on to the super modern stable at Gap Run Farm where they have successfully and beautifully integrated the barn with the house, connecting the two buildings with a courtyard and breezeway. Bob says our homeowner’s association would frown on such plans when I called to suggest we hire an architect to turn our screened-in porch into a stable.

The modern-design stable at Gap Run Farm.

The barn at Gap Run Farm.

Cutting demonstration at Gap Run Farm.

Cutting demonstration at Gap Run Farm.

We wrapped up our afternoon at Orange Hill where Charlie made some new friends. The horses at this stable were the sweetest of the bunch and kept playfully nudging Charlie’s hat. I could have hung out in their barn for the entire evening but when I called to tell Bob that we were never coming home, he said that would make the owners uncomfortable. Whatever, Bob.

I don't think horses fist bump, Charlie.

I don’t think horses fist bump, Charlie.

The stable at Orange Hill, Marshall, Virginia.

The stable at Orange Hill.

It’s hard to tour these properties and not acknowledge the incredible wealth it takes to run a farm of hundreds of acres, dozens of horses, tremendous homes and countless outbuildings. There is a lot of money in our county for sure however, I’m mostly encouraged to see that so many of these owners are careful stewards of their property. Almost all of the acreage highlighted on the tour has been placed in permanent conservation easements, safeguarding it from development. In addition to protecting the land, the owners are preserving properties of significance that might otherwise meet a terrible fate. Such as the historic lime kiln and residence found at Wind Fields Farm.

The lime kiln master's house at Wind Fields Farm. Dates to the 1790s.

The lime kiln master’s house. Dates to the 1790s.

It’s comforting to know that people are using their resources to ensure the scenery will remain the same for future Hunt Country Stable Tours. Which, by now, I’m assuming you’ll be joining us for next Memorial Day weekend. The barn I’m building in our backyard should be finished by then.

One Year Out

The thing about anniversaries is that some anniversaries are really good and celebratory and involve cake and stuff and some anniversaries are bad and make your heart hurt and your stomach fall and encourage you to crawl under the covers for the entirety of the day. Yesterday’s anniversary was the latter. It has been one year since Bob suffered a stroke.

A few months ago, Bob was formally released by his neurologist with the instruction to please, don’t come back. I believe the doctor’s parting words to Bob were, “You were very, very lucky.” Out of the host of physicians caring for Bob, his brain specialist was probably my favorite. Also, his work was the most critical of any of the doctors those first few days. Bob’s neurologist was handed the tricky task of finding the right level of intravenous blood thinner to administer. The blood thinner was meant to thin Bob’s blood just enough to ease flow while reducing the risk of additional clots forming but the medication couldn’t thin it too much or Bob risked bleeding in his brain at the site of the four existing clots. I remember talking to the neurologist in the ICU and him admitting that it was all a risk versus reward equation. The risk of a brain bleed with the reward of preventing clots. It was a fine line and there were no guarantees. Can you IMAGINE having that job? Being responsible for making the call in such a dicey situation? I can’t, but am exceedingly grateful for people gifted with that level of confidence.

I think I’ve worked to bury some of the more stressful memories of that first stint in the hospital, like the possibility of permanent brain damage. But, that’s the thing about anniversaries. The forgotten details tend to bubble to the surface.

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For someone who suffered a stroke twelve months ago, Bob’s recovery has been remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that we’ve mostly moved past the daily impact his illness had on our lives. For the better part of a year, I’ve asked him several times a day, “How are you feeling?” But, I’ve noticed over the past month or so, that I’ve stopped asking. That’s a tidal shift for me – moving from the assumption that Bob is unwell to the assumption that he is well, unless otherwise informed.

The most lasting impact of Bob’s stroke has been his lingering physical exhaustion. It’s closely tied to the level of chaos and stress surrounding him at home. The part of his brain that was injured seems to be the part that deftly handles noise and mayhem, the type three young children tend to create. Weekends can be exhausting for Bob with the general insanity level of our home, leading to the need to rest at regular intervals. Recently, we ate dinner with dear friends and by the time we arrived at their house, Bob had been subjected to a full day of kids and their incessant demands with no respite. He was mentally taxed and retreated to our host’s basement after we arrived to nap for a bit. (Our friends are awesome and totally understanding and probably wished they could nap at random, too.)

However, even the physical exhaustion seems to be improving recently. One year later and Bob seems to be back running at 100 percent. Well, back to Bob’s version of 100 percent anyway.

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I’m not upset or mad that Bob suffered a stroke. It’s just something that happened to us. I started to move forward almost from the moment it occurred. My goal was to make Bob well, to enact improvement and progress. For everything to be better. To SOLVE THIS PROBLEM. I learned a few lessons along the way, too.

The first being that medical science is inexact. Throughout the past twelve months, I have been consistently surprised at the amount of just… guesswork that goes in to treating sick people. Before Bob’s stroke, I just assumed that, when diagnosed with a problem, for the most part, doctors knew pretty much how to treat that problem. Modern medicine isn’t really like that. There’s still a significant amount of surmising, speculating and theorizing. That’s not a bad thing. It was just unexpected to run into so much shoulder shrugging from so many people with so many advanced degrees. I mistakenly thought doctors had all of the answers. I learned this past year that they don’t, no matter how badly you wish they did.

I also learned that nurses are basically unheralded. We saw nurses more than anyone else during Bob’s hospital stays and almost without exception, they were kind and compassionate. They shared advice and reassurances and anecdotes and survival stories and ensured we had a single room and were just generally really amazing. I ran into Bob’s discharge nurse at Target several months later and although she didn’t remember me when I approached her with words of thanks, she still asked if she could give me a big hug and sent her best wishes to Bob.

This past year proved that while almost everyone knows what to do to help in a crisis, almost no one knows exactly what to say in a crisis. They will undoubtedly say the wrong thing a good percentage of the time. It is inevitable and we should probably accept this as a universal truth and cut everyone some slack. It’s hard to find the right words when someone is suffering and sick. Some people will offer standard platitudes of “everything happens for a reason.” Some people prefer denial and will tell you that “he doesn’t even look sick at all!” Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of… finiteness and will change the subject entirely. Some people don’t know what to say so they won’t say anything at all. This is all okay. Really. WITH ONE EXCEPTION. We need to all agree to ban the practice of telling a sick person a story about this other sick person that they know from work or their cousin’s wedding or their mom’s book club that had a stroke too – “JUST LIKE YOU!” – and was incapacitated for life because of it. Tales of death and despair told to someone facing death and despair is never helpful. We need to work together to knock this off.

While I may have been downtempo and reflective during yesterday’s anniversary, I don’t think Bob was. We didn’t talk about it much actually. He spent the day cleaning up flower beds, giving Cub Cadet rides to the kids and practicing marksmanship with Charlie. Maybe that was Bob’s way of commemorating such a transformative day.

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May happens to also be American Stroke Month. HOW CONVENIENT, people who decide these types of things. Also, I kind of feel like it should be called, “American Stroke Prevention Month,” people who name these types of things. American Stroke Month sounds a little too glamorous. Kind of like something you’d like to catch. Anyway, I had no idea what was happening to Bob the evening he suffered a stroke and described his condition to the 911 operator as a “cardiac event,” since I assumed something in his recovery from the cardiac procedure he had had the day before was causing his problems. She knew better from my description of Bob’s symptoms so the EMTs that responded were therefore ready to treat a stroke victim. Remembering the “FAST” acronym is easy and identifying even MILD symptoms early on can make a huge difference in treatment success.

F.A.S.T.

So, maybe cut this out and paste it to your fridge or something. Do it for Bob and stroke survivors everywhere.

No Thank You

A recent episode of The Moth podcast aired a story told by Elna Baker about her time living in New York City saying “yes” to every opportunity and experience that came her way. Elna is the author of the delightful book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance and her funny address to the audience at The Moth tells of how being amenable to everything led to amazing encounters. (If you haven’t already, definitely add The Moth to your podcast rotation! It’s really good stuff.)

Anyway, Bob and I are just like Elna Baker only the opposite because we’re saying no to all the things. Well, not all the things. Just some of the things. We are strategically saying no to opportunities and activities in an effort to make areas of our family life run a bit smoother. Basically, we’re streamlining.

Here are five things we’ve said no to recently:

1. Cub Scouts. I really, really wanted Cub Scouts to work for the boys. My father was a Boy Scout and points to his experience with scouting as a driving force in his youth. Scouting seems like such a good idea in theory – outdoor adventures, campfires, service to others, learning how to tie complicated knots. That’s what I thought Cub Scouts would be like. However, mostly, we just sold things, like popcorn. I don’t think the scouting of today is like the scouting my father enjoyed.

Our entire fall was seemingly spent selling popcorn and picking up popcorn and delivering popcorn and collecting money for popcorn. Since I had served as the treasurer of Henry’s Cub Scout pack in Richmond, I knew that a large chunk of fundraising efforts goes right back to the local Boy Scouts council. Which, I don’t know. The amount seemed kind of egregious. When we moved up north, we found a much larger pack to join and I thought maybe things would be different. It wasn’t. We just managed the sale and distribution of a lot of popcorn during our precious weekend free time. Bob and I were bummed. Plus, there was a lot of weekly homework with this new pack. Lots of worksheets to complete and pictures to color and the whole thing just seemed like such a drag. We absolutely do not need more busywork in our lives. Henry hadn’t even learned to tie one knot.

So, we quit. Henry wasn’t that into it which sealed the deal. If he were genuinely interested, we would have nurtured that but he was not. I was disappointed to quit something before the year was finished but it was absolutely the right thing to do. We don’t have any regrets. If we were city-bound, I might feel differently. But, we live a couple of miles from the Appalachian Trail, have regular bonfires in our backyard and have to do nightly tick checks so we’re pretty outdoorsy to begin with. (The kids are, not me. Oh, haha, definitely not me. I’m inside on my phone.) And, Bob has promised to teach all of our children how to tie knots.

2. Satellite TV. It’s a little crazy but we haven’t had programmed television up in this joint for about six weeks now. Back in March, our satellite TV provider doubled our rates. That would be just fine if we could ever find anything to watch on our TV ever. We never could. Instead, Bob and I spent hours flipping the remote, past several hundred home shopping channels, just to find HGTV (me) or the History channel (him) or Disney Junior (them). We had made progress in our effort to lessen the amount of television the kids watched but we thought we could do better. The rate jump was merely the final impetus for cutting it out completely.

I’ll admit I was nervous, you guys. The TV is kind of the background noise to my daily tasks. I’ll watch the news while folding laundry or doing the dishes and we would typically plop the kids in front of Disney Junior just to survive the last hour before bedtime. Taking that all away seemed drastic. Especially, since where we live means very limited options when it comes to television. We don’t have cable that runs to our neighborhood, hence the satellite dish, and our internet connection, which is barely a notch above AOL’s dial-up service, means we can’t stream anything, ever. Even a rooftop antenna would only get us one channel out of West Virginia (Ion. I don’t even know what that is.)

So it came as a huge surprise that, since canceling our service, we don’t miss television at all. Not even a little bit. We signed up for Netflix which sends us DVDs in the mail, so antiquated a notion that they should probably be delivered on ponies. And, the kids can rent some familiar titles at the library (Sophia the First, Curious George) so they’re happy. To replace the dearth of news programming, I successfully stay current on world events by reading CNN.com, my Twitter feed and watching clips of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on YouTube.

We’re also doing more – gasp – reading. Instead of plopping the kids in front of the TV after pajamas are donned, we’re diving into chapter books. And, Bob and I are doing more – gasp – talking. Instead of plopping down in front of the TV at night after we’ve plopped the kids in bed after they’ve been plopped in front of the TV, we sit and chat instead. All in all, it was a dramatic change that wasn’t so dramatic after all.

3. Diapers. We’re done with diapers folks. It’s been one tumultuous decade of diapering and wiping the behinds of others but it is all in the rearview mirror. Millie was true to the post-3-years-old tradition around here of learning how to properly use the toilet but once she decided she was Good & Ready, it was all done in only a couple of days. She stays dry at night, too. (I’m so glad I just spent $50.00 on pull-ups.)

All of the kids in this picture can use the toilet independently!

All of the kids in this picture can use the toilet independently!

This has made our life so much easier in so many ways. It’s also entirely weird to walk right past the baby section at Target. I have spent a decade – a DECADE – of my life shopping that area for formula, bottles, toddler snacks, lotion, body wash, pacifiers, wipes, crib sheets, socks and diapers. Now, I have zero reason to go back. It is delightful and a bit disconcerting all at the same time. It’s like I’ve graduated to the other part of the store, the girls section, where all of the glitter and too short shorts are found. I’m ready but I’m not ready but I am so here we go!

4. Tiny youth sports. Charlie, man. Despite saying he wanted to play soccer again this season, he totally didn’t want to play soccer again this season. He is entirely uninterested and watching his lack of enthusiasm from the sidelines, on a Saturday afternoon when I could be doing a million other things, has cemented my feelings that sports are for the older kid set. Henry plays soccer as well and is really pretty committed but he also has over three years of age advantage on Charlie. So, I think we’re pulling the plug on Charlie and team sports after this spring season concludes. (We already quit Cub Scouts so I can’t quit another thing prematurely. It’s goes against my principles. I’m still counting down the Saturdays until it is all gloriously over though.) I know the argument is that youth sports helps teach kids how to be part of a team but Charlie’s one of three kids so he’s basically learning how to be on a team just by waking up in the morning. We’ll reevaluate in another year or two but I’m not really mourning this loss.

5. Volunteering. Between church and school and our community, there is a lot going on and it seems like the need for volunteers to help with this or that is endless. Because I like to be helpful and don’t like awkward silences when no one steps up to fill a need, I have overcommitted myself in the past. One of the things I’ve tried to do recently is really be more strategic about what I say yes to and what I say no to. This is really hard for me because I want to Do! All! The! Things! but what I’ve found is that saying no to the wrong things helps me find and say yes to the right things. By saying no to an intensive volunteer opportunity with the kids’ new school, I’ve been able to say yes to co-chairing my local MOPS group. Trading something that wasn’t a good fit for something that was. Picking and choosing carefully instead of randomly plugging in my efforts has really helped me manage my time more effectively and works much better for our family.

So, let’s compare notes. Tell me, what have you gleefully said no to recently?