Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Prettying the Place Up

The best part about having a birthday party for Field Notes the book -- besides the cake -- is getting to clean the house inside and out. We've let things slide so this is a great excuse to wipe down those baseboards and pull weeds out of the rock garden. I might even do some painting. You don't realize how much living marks up the walls until you invite a whole whack of people over.
This gorgeous rooster was a gift from my sister's family so he'll be welcoming guests as part of the fabulous display I'm creating in my head. I do that, you know. I get caught up in the less important things like decorating the entrance and will forget to clean the huge windows out front!
Just ten days until the Field Notes First Birthday Party! 2 to 4 pm on Saturday, October 7. Come see our rooster and have a slice of a very special cake.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Field Notes Is Turning One!

Two weeks today

Everyone welcome! 
Email me if you need more specific directions:
fieldnotescumberland @ 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Barn Thoughts

After I'd finished combing my lesson horse's hair, I made a joke about how much more handsome he is than that other guy with the same coloured hair. All of a sudden, I thought about all the orange jokes, all the name-calling, all the vitriol that is spewed towards that man. So much hate at worst, disdain at best, and most of the time, the attacks are personal.
And I felt with my heart, not just my head, that no matter how much I, or anyone, disagree with his words, his actions, his policies, etc, we simply, collectively, have to stop the name-calling and derogatory comments and the personal putdowns. Even to him. To his supporters. To his detractors. To everyone. No more saying, "He's an asshole." No more saying, "She's just a fat cow." No more sharing a putdown even if it's just to a horse. 

And to make it personal: No more putting yourself down, and no more taking that shit from anyone else. (A friend of mine asked me just today, "Every time I sit down to write, I hear my father's voice in my head asking me why anyone would be interested in what I have to say." I told her, "Your father isn't your target audience." So that's your answer when anyone -- even a parent or a husband puts you down: "You are not my target audience.")
We have careened down a slope so slippery, it's like there's no slope at all; we just plummeted fast into a dark abyss of negativity and verbal free-for-all. What have we accomplished by giving up tact and civility and compassion? We have to find a hand hold and start hauling ourselves out of that abyss. 

Nothing will ever ever ever change if each of us cannot stop with the disrespect, no matter how hard it is, and be kind with our words. It costs nothing to say, "This attitude scares the shit out of me," instead of "He's an asshole who's going to get the world blown up." 
Don't tell me that's true. It doesn't make it right. But if it is true, we need to try and make it better -- we need to try and make him better, and it can only happen if we are stop insulting each other. Because no one listens to insults. No one hears you when the words coming out of your mouth are rude personal attacks.
Let the women make some laws for a bit, 'kay? Because like your mama said, "If you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all," and that should be a law. 
As I brushed my horse's mane, thinking about the joke I made, I thought that if each of us could go ONE DAY without saying something nasty/derogatory/uncomplimentary about anyone, and I mean anyone, not one comment typed online, not one comment flung at the television, not one comment muttered under the breath at the grocery store, we might just bring civility back into our lives. Or at least, wedge our toes back in the door.  Let ONE DAY become another and another. Create a new, universal habit. If everyone -- even the assholes -- could take a day off from saying the worst possible things, we might have a chance to make this world great again.
It's not okay to talk like this and we can't make it the new normal.

[These thoughts were likely brought about by the meditative quality of brushing and combing my horse in the peace and quiet of the barn. They blossomed, however, out of my recent reading of Brene Brown's new book, Braving the Wilderness. She devotes one chapter of the book to our need to maintain civility in all our discussions; I think that's a skill we're not teaching or demonstrating to young people any longer. For these thoughts to bubble up so strongly in me me this morning as I combed Dakota's mane, Brown's book obviously made an impression on me.]

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Flying On Her Own

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, by Sara Jewell

Tracy Swan looks over her Bucket List with trusted sidekick, Milo.

Imagine waking up one morning and not recognizing the person you’ve become. Imagine realizing the downward spiral that resulted from a life-changing event was more of a downward plunge.
And you loved it so much, you want to do it again and again.

For Tracy Swan of Oxford, the sudden end of her 24-year marriage last spring forced her to rebuild her life, so she took a leave of absence from her job as a Grade Two teacher, and laced up a pair of running shoes.
“I did some running two summers ago and I enjoyed it but I got out of it,” she says. “So last April, I decided to try it again. It was a great way to clear my mind. I put my headphones in and I think of nothing but my breathing.”
Two months later, she not only completed the Oxford Strawberry Festival 5K with her older daughter, Maddy, she placed first in her age group. That inspired her to create a Bucket List of things she wants to accomplish so a month later, when Maddy said didn’t know what she wanted for her 23rd birthday, her mother asked, “Want to jump out of a plane?” 
Tracy loved her skydiving experience so much, she wants to do the required number of tandem jumps in order to one day leap out of a plane by herself.

No one is more surprised by this than Tracy. Prior to last spring, Tracy says she was not a risk-taker, but now describes herself as adventurous and open.
“I don’t know if I ever knew this person,” she says with a laugh, explaining that she was married and expecting her first child when she graduated from teachers’ college in 1993. “I just went from my parents’ home to my married home and I don’t think I ever embraced the person I am right now. When I looked at myself at 46 and wondered what I’d done that really stands out, other than having my kids, I couldn’t name anything.”
Her new motto is simple: Eat the cake. Buy the shoes. Life is short.
So why not jump out of a plane?

“I think too much of myself to sit and wallow in self-pity, I guess,” Tracy says of how she chose to respond to the end of her marriage. “It’s part of my personality to be positive, and it’s part of my job as a Grade Two teacher to be happy. I had my two daughters watching my every move and seeing how I would respond.” 
Maddy and her younger sister, Regan, both live in Halifax and Tracy is grateful they have their own lives of work and school. She spent a lot of time visiting them as, back home in Oxford, she adjusted to living alone, paying the bills and taking care of the house.  
“I want to be able to survive on my own, and now I know I can,” says Tracy, who returned to her classroom earlier this month. “I hope watching what I’ve done will help my daughters become stronger women. I want to show them a woman can be independent and her own person even when in a relationship.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mother's Broken Arm

It's been almost a week since Mother fell up the stairs last Friday and broken her upper left arm.
"I caught my toe on the step then I went splat," is her description.
I was sitting in the living room watching the last five minutes of The Young and Restless (don't judge me; it's my lunch break) when I heard her squawk. When I looked up, I saw her fall forward; she stayed on her hands and knees longer than expected, then straightened clutching her left arm.
She kept saying, "I heard a snap, I heard a snap," but it didn't occur to me that she'd actually broken a bone; it was such a low fall, and we all do it, trip up those two steps to the landing. But she was woozy and out of it and sweating. Dwayne took one look at her, recognized shock, and called 9-1-1.
Thank goodness for the Nova Scotia country boy. 

I get so emotional calling 9-1-1. The first time I ever had to do it was during Mother's chemo treatment. I dialled 9-1 then had to hang up and take a deep breath. The second time was just last spring and I was calling for a member of my church congregation who was having trouble breathing. No instance has ever been serious, I haven't been calling in a life-threatening situation, but that act of asking for help and naming the problem makes me choke up.
I am not the person you want to be with during a crisis.

The paramedics called her "dear" in that typical Maritime way. Everyone says it here, even the man holding the door for you at Tim Horton's.
"You're welcome, dear."
We hated it when the nurses caring for Dad in Ontario called him "dear" but it rings true here.

As soon as Mother returned home from the hospital on Friday night, I went into caregiver mode, a role I haven't been in since 2006. Learning from my experience with taking care of a father with Alzheimer's, I've always vowed to do for Mother what I was unable to do for him, but it's easier, I think, when it's mother-and-daughter, and when the person who is sick or injured has her faculties. And can go to the bathroom on her own.
These hangups we have.
It's why I'm a writer and not a nurse.
"Thank you for not having a protruding bone or any blood," I told my mother as I pulled the bed covers over her. "That was a very good thing."
This time, it's not so much 'thinking for two', as it is with dementia, but just a lot more running around and remembering to check on her to see what she needs.
I gave her Dwayne's search-and-rescue whistle but she won't use it.
"It would give Dwayne a heart attack," she said.
"I'd blow it a hundred times a day," I told her.  
"Yes, but you're an asshole," she answered.

So the wit isn't broken. And Mother is fine. Not much pain, only when she moves a certain way or lies down in bed.
"Don't make me laugh," she says. She laughs through the pain. "Laughter is the best medicine."
Considering how hard I stubbed my toe today while cleaning her room, and how long she laughed about it, she'll be knitted up and back to playing the piano in days rather than weeks.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Time to Party!

If you need more precise directions, please email me:
fieldnotescumberland @ gmail dot com

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Summer of the Horse: The Column

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, by Sara Jewell

I'm learning to ride Dakota at Galloway Stables with owner/instructor Dawn Helm.

My seven-year-old self who played “horsies” with her friends in a grassy corner of the school yard at her elementary school in Cobourg, Ontario, would be shocked to see me standing in a barn brushing a horse.
I grew up knowing I could never learn to ride because of my mother’s severe allergies. But last year, I met two women who have been riding for longer than I’ve been alive, one of whom wrote a book about her life with horses, and that’s when I decided Mother’s allergies be damned, I’m learning to ride.  
Do I wish I’d started when I was seven years old! There is so much more to riding than sitting in a saddle and walking around. 

“You’re learning the fundamentals of riding,” my instructor, Dawn Helm of Galloway Stables in Linden, told me. “You’re learning basic English. The only difference between English and Western at the fundamentals level is contact on the reigns, and the saddle. Everything else should be close to the same thing.”

It turns out a lesson begins a half hour before I’m even on the back of Dakota, Galloway’s lesson horse. First, I have to fetch him from the outdoor corral, bring him into the barn to clean his hooves, brush him, and tack him up. All while maintaining control over a 1100-pound horse who, I learned quickly, will test me.
“Riding is an expensive sport but there’s no sport that teaches you both compassion and confidence,” Dawn told me while I brushed Dakota before a lesson. “This is not a basketball that you throw in the closet. You have to make this animal listen to you. Girls, especially, that are meek and quiet have be more confident to get the horse to do what they want it to do.”
I definitely would have benefited from this as a young girl.
Growing up in Fort Lawrence, Dawn started riding when she was five years old.
“My sisters had horses and our neighbours had horses and we just terrorized the neighbourhood on our horses,” she laughed.

After earning a degree in animal science and agricultural business in 1984, Dawn spent the next fourteen years working, raising her son and competing with a horse club. Once she’d earned her instructor’s certificate and her son left for university, Dawn decided she wanted her own facility.
Galloway Stables opened in 1999 as a ten-stall barn with an indoor arena and an outdoor ring. Since then, the stable has grown to a nineteen-stall barn with bathroom facilities, two outdoor rings, the indoor arena, and heated water. Five of the horses stabled there are Dawn’s, including 26-year-old Dino, her first competition horse after university.
Now a certified Competition Coach Specialist with Dressage Designation, Dawn teaches riding lessons to all ages.
“I like teaching because you see someone understand something then they feel it and they get all excited,” Dawn said. “When you can help the rider make the horse more comfortable, and they feel the difference, it’s a great feeling to know the horse is now going to have a better riding experience.”

To my seven-year-old self, I’d like to say: this is a much better way to play “horsies”. 

Dawn keeps Dakota on the lunge line as she teaches me to canter.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Leader of the Pack

Selfie with Dakota after a post-lesson hair brushing. 

After I'd brought Dakota into the barn and clipped him into the crossties to be groomed and tacked for our lesson, he started dancing around. He was agitated, eyes rolling, ears flinging around. In all our lessons together this summer, I'd never seen him act like this so I called to Dawn.
"Something is bothering Dakota. He's really agitated in the crossties," I said.
"No, he's not. He's just acting up. Smack him."
"No, really, I've never seen him like this," I insisted. "Something must be wrong."
"Nope," Dawn insisted right back. "This is what he does. Don't let him get away with it."
She walked up to Dakota and said, in a firm, take-no-crap voice, "Smarten up."
"Why has he not been like this before?" I asked.
She explained that the weather was cooler and the wind was up. "The horses are more docile when it's hot out."
So on the first day of September, this was a whole new Dakota. I hadn't even started on his feet yet so I knew, if he was dancing around, I'd never get them cleaned and might get hurt in the attempt. I had to use that voice and I had to make sure he behaved properly.

Three lessons were underway as a result of this discussion:
1) I knew that by "smack him", Dawn didn't mean beat him with a whip. She meant a solid hand on his flank. A horse is a large, heavily muscled animal; a smack is not going to hurt, it's just going to make a point.
2) Dawn knows horses, and this horse, far better than I do. You can't work with a horse until you understand its temperament, and its quirks.
3) I have to learn to deal with this kind of stuff on my own, by asking questions and paying attention. I already knew that if I wanted Dakota in one spot and he moved out of that spot, it was up to me to immediately put him back in that spot, not let him get away with doing what he wanted. This was an expansion of that.

Now I had to really be the boss.
The average horse, like Dakota, stands 15.0 hands or 60 inches tall, and weighs 1075 pounds. Dakota might be 15.1 or 15.2 and a bit heavier.
I weigh (hopefully) 140 pounds. So who gets to be the boss in this situation? Or rather, who must be the boss?
All summer, Dawn has talked to me about the mindset of a horse, that it will test you and push you. Today she expanded on that, saying that confidence and leadership is what makes a good horse.
"I've seen calm and gentle horses ruined by people who don't assert themselves," she told me. "A horse should not run you out of the pasture. You can't let a horse walk all over you."
Or crush you against the wall or stand where it chooses to despite where you put it or pull its head up when you try to bridle it. Today, with his agitation -- which was just his normal quirkiness -- Dakota needed to be controlled and made to stand still while I cleaned him and tacked him up.
I did the horse whisperer thing: "Dude, I'm new to this so calm down and let me get you brushed." Then every time he shoved over to the wall or walked forward, I did the horse wrangler thing: "Get over." poke poke "Move back, Dakota."
By the time we walked out to the arena, he was his usual lesson-horse-lazy self. And we were both happy with the cooler weather.  

As I brushed him, and settled him, I realized that this "top dog" attitude, the "I'm the boss" energy is something I've always lacked, and that lack has dogged me since I got my first dog at the age of 25. I'm too accommodating, too hesitant to stand up for myself, too high-strung. I've always admired, and attracted into my life, women who have that energy naturally, who are born with it.
Now, I get the chance to learn it from the start of my interactions with horses.
The best advice I had in dog training was "Start as you mean to go on". Thankfully, I haven't developed the bad habit of letting a horse walk all over me so today was a perfectly timed reminder that with a horse, I have to be firm and confident. I have to be -- this isn't a 60-pound dog I'm walking. Bottom line, it's about the safety of the horse and myself, and our enjoyment of our time together. (And boy, do I enjoy my two hours a week at the barn.)
Right from the start, with this big four-legged friend, I'm going to be the boss.