Good Gifts

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The starlings sounded like hard rain coming across the corn. Out here you hear that rain a mile away, sweeping closer, until the drops fall on your head and shoulders. But no, it was birds who’d stepped on our trees, gathering, talking so loud I could hear them in the house. I have seen them do that murmuration thing, where they sweep here, sweep there like a broom clearing dust in the sky, but this day they were landed, chattering.  The cat didn’t know if he wanted to go inside or out. One starling defying him might be all right but not a whole tree full. I didn’t want to walk under those trees either.

IMG_0169This morning I gathered twenty eggs. They clinked together like fine china in the manure bucket. I upended them on the pile, let the heat take them, and felt guilty as hell. I thought of people starving for protein. Thought of that old parental admonition, think about the people starving in India or Africa or South America, if you don’t eat your peas. I thought about Bruce and I, how we might be starving, how we might be sorry for this waste. (There’s a terrifying stretch of verses in Isaiah that pulls me up short, where the prophet talks about people having all the gold they could want, but no food, no none at all. I can feel that prophesy, can feel it coming like so much rain rattling corn I hear a mile away.)

But these eggs are too many for us to eat and we’re not sure how healthy they are to sell or give away because our chickens peck at whitewash that might be lead based. Our neighbor didn’t want them for his pigs. And we’re not sure we want to draw coyotes or racoons by dropping them along the fence line.

We’re saying no to the humility of our chickens, the humility of the gift they are giving, in payment for free range on our yard. (Bruce wants them gone, but I call them–Chickee, Chickaboom, Chickaboom, Boom, Boom. Humble chickens running on two legs, when they want four, from all corners of the yard. The rooster gathers his hens, rapes them, leads them, but for one who stays in the barn that we call Seven. She hides behind plywood when they come in. We empathize with her staying by herself.)

IMG_0171This farm, the horses, are gifts I can’t begin to recieve. Too many days I’ve been stunned into Facebook, scrolling through people’s news, while the sun wheeled overhead and Bruce gives me dirty looks, wondering why I’m wasting the day. But it’s not a waste, it’s marketing my novel. (The more I do this, the more I wonder about how healthy it is to be yanked over to social media, angling up to strangers, commenting, so I can sell the book. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like addiction, like ducking my own thoughts, while others pack theirs in my head. And ducking the brilliance of this beautiful world for the pale screen under my eyes.)

Sunny days are a reproach if I need to stay in and write or edit because they will close down soon, and it cold will bite, darkness is already swarming at the edges of our days. The mares  call from the paddock, wondering where I am. They nicker when I walk into the barn. Tessie’s a mere whisper through her nostrils, Morgen’s a long, rolling call, that reminds me of thunder. Tessie the day after I rode her in the pasture, was all over me like a cat circling my legs, and Morgen lifted off the green grass on the other side of the fence to come when I called her off it.

Even Bruce, for years, it took me years, to accept that he loves me, just plain loves me. Old preacher voices ran through my head: if you don’t make love to him whenever he wants, you’ll lose him. Those voices laced our marriage with fear until women challenged them on the radio and I thought these guys don’t even have an answer. Abandonment terrors that stretch back to the days before I had language rise up, though it took years for them to dull. Thank God his mother’s fear, was worse than mine, thank God she made me seem familiar but not as bad, so he could love me, we could love each other. Any other man would have run.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just this weekend, I read a tribute to Dallas Willard by John Ortberg. The following grabbed me.”God will certainly let everyone into heaven that can possibly stand it.” Yes, that’s how I feel. Everyone is welcome, but there is mercy because not every one can stand it. (I’m not going to answer for the person who might never have heard, or the atheist who left a fundamentalism that was so sick, they had to reject it to live. I’m not going to answer do you think they’re going to hell?)

So how can I stand heaven, the raw presence of the giver of all good things–my husband, Bruce, Tessie, Morgen, the roll of the land, dappled by clouds and colors brighter than I’ve seen, colors calling me to look, really look and remember, the chicken eggs that click together like porcelain? How can I stand it, if I can’t accept these presents, here, now? I think of T.S. Eliot’s lines, “Ecstasy is too much pain” and Gerard Manley Hopkins who says, “each day dies with sleep.”

IMG_0168And then there’s the stillness of clipping pants and shirts to a line in the bright sunlight, a cricket chirping.



My social media guy told me to post a link to my novel so if you’d like to read more of my writing you can find The River Caught Sunlight here:

I’ve linked this to Kelli’s Place.




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The First Week of Class


My classroom. Imagine young people sitting. Imagine their tired energy.

I held their index cards stating their name, phone number, counselor as if I was holding a candle, in a candle light service with everyone holding a candle.  I had to be careful not to spill it or touch it to someone’s dress. I thought about the fire hazard, why  churches don’t burn with so many people holding fire, inside. I didn’t actually think this at the time, I was in a hurry, reading before I went to class, but I am trying to give you a picture of what it’s like reading students’ dreams, simply stated in a one line answer to the question: Why did you come to college?

“To become successful. To be a well rounded adult. To study nursing, or fashion merchandising, or psychology. To graduate. To continue my education,” they said.

I flipped through the brightly colored cards. I grew silent. Here were young men and women hoping to learn how to write, already agreeing that it is a foundation for their work in college and life. Some admitted they hated it because they don’t like writing under a teacher’s deadline. They don’t like writing about something they don’t know anything about, or that they have to research. Well, neither do I. “The trick is to make those assignments your own,” I scrawl in the margins. Like last year’s students, they know how to handle their sentences. Sure there are comma splices and fragments, but they don’t overwhelm the writing. Could it be Race to the Top is doing some good? Or is my university admitting better students?

We sat in computer lab on the second day, doing that old grade school exercise: “Show and Tell.” I wanted students to introduce themselves by sharing something important from their lives. They revealed themselves, more than they knew. We watched some inspiration like Rocky Balboa telling his son that he’s better than being cowed by others’ opinions or Eric Thomas’ saying you’ve got to want success as bad as you want to breathe. One young woman shared “The Gummy Bear” song, light hearted, goofy and irritating enough to become an ear worm, until she shared that she picked this because she had a Teddy bear in her room, that she’d held when she was little, stuck in a hospital, way too long. Another young woman showed “Let’s Go Build a Snowman” a song from the movie Frozen, about friendship and play in the wake of deep sadness. A young man showed the glorious beauty of a body builder, who had shaped his muscles like the round stones shaped by water in a stream. Another showed the beauty in the violence of special effects of the video game Battlefield Four.

As adults we think today’s kids are hard, edged with violence, but they’re not. Even though they are first year students in college, some from difficult neighborhoods, they are children determined to work hard, to make those dreams they wrote on cards come true.

IMG_0164But one young man showed a day in the life of his homies, a video set in California. He said it was funny, about fashion. I thought we’d see something like the sweet Nike commercial where a man gives his girl a pair of Nike’s for her birthday. They linger over the beauty of her feet.  But no. This was a group of boys being boys, chests out, full of themselves, proud, but rough and tough. After the first “fuck” the class turned at me with burning eyes. I’d just said, “no swearing in class” on syllabus day. And then the word “bitches” and finally the “N” word. He skipped through the video.

He didn’t sugar coat his world, but the students’ stares, well I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there, gave him his peace, hoping my face didn’t reveal my discomfort with their stares, hoping they wouldn’t think the video itself made me uncomfortable. Do they think I’ve never seen videos like this? Did they take me seriously when I said no swearing, nothing too graphic? When have students listened to their teacher? (I think, from reading how their papers followed directions, this group.) But this isn’t graphic, just full of slang. (When I think graphic, I think dull knives, throats cut.) Did the women feel disrespected by the use of “bitches”? Other students by the use of the “n” word even though it wasn’t white folks saying it?  Afterwards I said I was honored he showed us his world but I missed the jokes. I asked them do they talk like this? Is this kid language? They said yes they do talk like this. I said I didn’t get the jokes. And then class was done, my day was done.

The next class, I asked, why the violent langauge? Why do they adopt a sexist’s words, a racist’s? And as for “fuck” well, using it every other word, saps the shock from a word that can zing with anger or sexuality or both at once. They told me it was all in tone, that women can call each other the “b word,” that close friends can call each other the “n word” but if a man calls a woman out or a white person, well watch out. They said these can be words of endearment or cursing. It’s all in tone. But still, if I can’t say those words, why should they? And I contradict myself by telling them that yes, they can use these words in their writing, especially in dialogue.

I left the first week of class full of awe and the thrill of fear, like I’ve felt watching the popular video of someone riding a bike down a mountain, on a trail barely wider than the bicycle itself. As a teacher I must keep that sucker balanced, not look over the  drops, ride confidence through the terror, through the responsibility holding their dreams in my hands.




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Story of my novel: When I was “called” to write

August 10, 2014 (A week after my novel officially entered the world)

IMG_0157I just took a nap and woke up wanting to comment on Nadia Bolz Weber’s sermon about the five loaves and two fishes. I wanted to ask could she, would she, possibly read my novel, because I this story was part of my call to write. But when sleep faded, I got reticent, eased away from asking for anything in her thread.

Since The Feeding of the 5,000 was the gospel reading for the week, I’ve been coming across people’s meditations. I suppose “nap” is my mental connector to this because I nap in church and last Saturday evening I closed my eyes to Pastor Kinnear’s voice. In my dream state, my stomach gurgled with chips and salsa were at least an hour away, and my butt was crinkled by grass and the sun was finding the horizon. I wanted to reach up with my hands and hold his words, both Pastor’s and Jesus’.

My phone dinged, and dinged again, a mute sound that I have set for when someone is sending me a message. I reached over and took a look. Rachel Simon wrote that she’d received The River Caught Sunlight and would treasure the signed copy. She had bought her own copy and would find someone talkative to give it to.  I slipped the phone back in my purse to pay attention, pleased Rachel took the time to let me know she’d recieved my book and that she’d even bought a copy. She has been a long time friend and encouragement, since we started corresponding when I taught Riding the Bus with My Sister, which asked what does it mean to live a life? Do we have to live a big one for it to be fulfilling? These are questions I was asking then, that I’m asking now.

River Caught Sunlight at the Sycamore Barnes and Noble

River Caught Sunlight at the Sycamore Barnes and Noble

My pastor’s voice sounded like footsteps on gravel. “Don’t you know, all these parables we’re studying are about God’s extravagance? In the parable of the sower he spreads the seeds everywhere, whether the soil is good soil or barren. In this parable everyone is fed and there are baskets of leftovers. God is a God of abundance.”

Years ago a verse in Isaiah shook me when I first read it, “He longs to bless you” because this was a different view of God than I knew as a kid, where preachers thundered about our lack and dangled us over fire. Guilt was how I connected with God; often I repeated, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Even to people I say,  “I am sorry” when it’s not my fault, when I had nothing to do with their trouble but I drew their guilt to me anyway. Even now the ancient Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” anchors me.

I opened my eyes and felt the pew against my back because I was called to be a poet under this parable of loaves and fish.

My classes spring semester of my freshman year at Wheaton college  seemed to merge into one class about creativity and writing. Dr. McClatchey did a brilliant explication of “The Windover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I can hear his voice now, “Buckle!” The hawk, the lover, Jesus, the poet, must all fall to earth, must all yield their glorious flight to this great fall, this great giving of oneself. He explained how the world turned radiant in that moment “gash gold vermillion..”

The River Caught Sunlight at the Rockford Barnes and Noble.

The River Caught Sunlight at the Rockford Barnes and Noble.

The world turned radiant for me. I was tossed into an exhausting ecstasy where a Rottweiller crossing campus looked like a king and Madeleine L’engle who came to visit, radiated regal glory. (I walked with her back to her guest room and told her I was called to be a poet. I don’t remember what she said but it had to be kind or I would have pushed back some way. I want to remember her response was “and so you are” because I believe anyone who writes as a practice is a writer. In later years L’Engle  did affirm my gift by  saying, “These poems are strong and tender and beautiful. She is a poet.”)

That semester Dr. Lorentzen played a recording where the author quoted Rilke, “Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” I answered, “Yes I must write.”

(An answer I return to, even now, because my thoughts back up like so much water, pushing against me, so I can’t think, if I don’t release them onto the page. This is something I forgot in the relief of not writing anything more than Facebook statuses, since we moved to the farm. )

I worked late into the night on a poem, the lack of sleep an easy sacrifice for my art. Dr. Lorentzen cleared his throat and said, “Your talent is like the loaves and two fishes that the Lord will use.” I could hear in his voice that what I had was pretty humble but I also heard that God would use my gift–something little, broken, to feed a whole hillside full of people. My belly was lit. I had to write, so I designed my life around this desire.

As I walked out of church I shook Pastor’s hand how I wasn’t sure much would come of my novel. (I’d looked at my stats on Author Central.) Pastor Kinnear said, “Remember, what I said, God is a God of abundance.” But that abundance might not mean that The River Caught Sunlight will be a bestseller. We were told at Wheaton to strive to be the best, and for me, that meant publishing in The Atlantic or The New Yorker. It meant hitting the bestseller list hard, otherwise you haven’t served.

It’s taken years to let that go, to bless this small, quiet work. L.L.Barkat in Rumors of Water offers a very wise insight, When she asks “Can you find a small audience?” She notes that many young writers want to be published in a big way before they have written for their grandmother. She says, “I did not realize that these small audiences were preparing me for my professional writing life. It’s probably better that I didn’t. I was free to use the casual, red-checkered cloth of my life and my thoughts without making something ‘important’ happen. “

The River Caught Sunlight at Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT thanks to Tricia Tierney

The River Caught Sunlight at Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT thanks to Tricia Tierney.

God’s idea of abundance reminds me of Annie Dillard writing about the fecundity  of the world in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “If an aphid lays a million eggs, several might survive.” If I spend years writing a book, if I spend money publishing and promoting that book and even more hours trying to find readers, God’s idea of abundance might mean that I only sell a few copies but those copies might find their way to readers who take heart from my words, and that might be all its meant to do. But still, after years of writing for polite rejection slips, the readers I’ve found here and through my novel, are reading my words, well that feels like deep, clean breaths that reach down and satisfy.

This is linked at Kelli Woodford’s place.






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How I Trashed Frank Schaeffer in my Novel as an American Hitler and Why He’s Promoting It: Guest BLOG by the Former Schaeffer Family Crossway Books Publicist

How I Trashed Frank Schaeffer in my Novel as an American Hitler and Why He’s Promoting It: Guest BLOG by the Former Schaeffer Family Crossway Books Publicist


Here’s what Frank says, “Katie sent me this essay about trashing me. It’s good so I’m publishing it as a guest blog here. Also: I come out okay by the end! Back in the early 1980s as a very young woman Katie Andraski worked as a publicist in big time Christian publishing at Crossway Books. She did what few evangelical publicity people ever managed to do: Katie convinced editors at Newsweek, The New York Times, and the NBC “Today Show” to publicize the Schaeffer family as we emerged as leaders in the religious right. In those days we Schaeffers all had books at Crossway. Katie helped make us famous.

“There was only one problem: Katie was very good at what she did but didn’t agree with one word we were saying! We reconnected more than 30 years later… here’s the fascinating result!”

Read more:

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Journal: Super moon, Friendship

IMG_0064Friday, August 8, 2014

I swear this super moon pulled on anybody with water wrapped  in their flesh and it didn’t even need to be full. People wrote on Facebook how they couldn’t sleep. The dog nudged me awake, so I had to put the leash on and walk him around the yard. The moon flirted with low clouds, felt too bright, woke me up as hard as if I’d opened my iphone. And the fireflies lit up low to the ground in concert. It took awhile for sleep to find me.

Continue reading

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The River Caught Sunlight is officially Born today

IMG_0071Well, today is the pub date of The River Caught Sunlight, so it has officially gone from my hands into yours. It no longer is the comfortable school master  I could return to again and again, learning new things each time, I rewrote it. There was real joy in the final editing of the book, where Joe Coccaro knew what to cut to make it read fast and knew what I needed to add to pull my reader in. Thank goodness I had the material already written and could find it in old files. Thank goodness I could do this final revision during spring break.

To celebrate, Bruce and I drove Morgen down the road. She’s doing better because Bruce thought we should keep our drives with as little trauma/drama as possible. So that’s what we’ve been doing. She’s now walking by the neighbor’s two heifers and another neighbor’s dogs calmly enough, and the mules too.

But also in celebration of River Caught Sunlight‘s pub date, I’d like to thank the people who have reviewed it on Amazon and share what they’ve said, so you know it’s not just me saying it’s a good book. C. Mothkovich says, “Using rich prose and striking imagery, the author explores the problems arising from family loyalties and rivalries, unrequited love, and conflicts of conscience…”

The River Caught Sunlight is a vivid, moving and beautifully written story filled with adventure, romance and culture clashes,” says Deborah Rogers, while Noe2rs says, “Katie Andraski is a gentle and not In-Your-Face Christian. In her book, Katie gives a perspective, of the behind the scene story, of the radical, right wing movement, that has come about over the past three decades.”

“I hope many come to find this gem of a story,” says Sheri Potmesil, “It has reminded me what a vacation from everyday stress one can find in a really good story written by a grand storyteller.”

“This book is a treasure!” says Rose Ciacco, “Shows real life in farming area of upstate New York and to anyone who has questioned their faith, God is there for you.”

Finally, Lynda Gorniewicz says, “I highly recommend it for your next book club selection…Katie Andraski is a gifted writer who paints pictures with her words.” And to be honest, I’d love to visit with book clubs about this book. I am so close to it, I’m not sure I know what it’s about any more, so I’d be interested in your insights.

Chris, Deb, Sheri, Carri, Rose, and Lynda, thank you for your kindness, for being mid wives, gentle, encouraging, as the book leaves my hands and goes to yours.

It’s been a difficult month, with the book arriving before I was ready, but it looks like you’ve graciously brought food and drinks and cleared the table of papers, sat yourselves down and enjoyed the story. Thank you. Deeply, I say it again thank you to you and the readers who are finding your way to my words. I’ve been so alone with my words, not knowing if anyone else would hear them. I’ve been afraid of my readers all these years, and here you are, sitting across the table, and we’re swapping stories, eating and drinking.

Blessings and all good things.

This is linked over at Kelli Woodford’s place. (You have got to read the stunning essay she has posted there.)

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Good Things Can Come

Friday July 18, 2014 – Sunday July 20, 2014

IMG_0134It’s been a long summer waiting to drop our hay, waiting for four days straight of dry weather, and every week, the rains have come. Finally, this week, we dropped it, this polar vortex, which isn’t so polar, sank across the midwest, allowing us five days of 0% chance of rain, at least according to the weathermen. Each day clouds have bunched up in the sky, and I am uneasy. A thin film of smoke from the fires in the Northwest has cloaked the drying sun.

We haven’t quite known what to do with harvest around here. Our chickens have laid enough eggs that they clutter our refrigerator and go bad. We don’t pull them off the nests in time to put in boxes and give away. Our neighbor didn’t even want them for his pigs. Bruce would as soon sell the flock, good for nothing, but I tell him they keep the flies down. I picked up a dozen, left in the barn a week, and tossed them in the muck bucket, ashamed of the abundance I’m throwing out.

IMG_0117When the hay comes trundling up the elevator and my arms itch and ache for hauling it into the barn, when I stumble between cracks of bales, as the pile gets higher, I think of Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple Picking:” “For I have had too much/ of apple picking/of the harvest I myself have desired.” Every year I think about Frost’s handling apples as I pick each bale off the elevator and carry it to the back of the barn.

Every year Bruce and I are exhausted, beat up before we even start. We worry about the hay heating up and burning down the barn and leave the doors open for several days. Harvest, bounty. It’s hard, dangerous work. Just standing on the back of the wagon as it rocks over the field, my feet swaying as I reach to pull a bale off the bailer feels shaky. This summer it will be at least a 1,000 bales worth.

This summer two dreams came true. For both my desire had pretty much faded. As with the hay I’ve found it hard, grinding work, things not exactly falling place.

IMG_0140Bruce and I have dreamed of driving our horse around the neighborhood ever since we saw the big drafters at the Boone County Fair, and Morgen is now pulling our carriage down the road, only there’s one hitch, I’m not Klaus or Jake and I’m the one who responds wrong when things go wrong. I know when I stopped her to look at the deer bounding across the road, I taught her to stop instead of to keep moving forward when she’s looking, so now Morgen stops. Bruce has gone to her head and she’s become dependent on Bruce showing her the way, so she stops whenever she might be insecure. She looks back, wondering where he is. Bruce has said he is disappointed we spent all this money, and what do we have?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Today she wove a drunken sailor at the cows, sidestepping to the left and to the right to avoid forward. I tried some things; finally we let her look. Bruce fed her the hay she had been afraid of and she slipped her tongue over the bit. I got out, stuck my finger into her mouth and pulled it right. I told her it was all right. I gave her some grain to show her good things can come in the presence of cows. (This is our language, Morgen’s and mine.) Bruce lead her past finally. We turned around past the tracks because it’s so hot and came back. I made her walk instead of trot. She shook her head, still tense. Since I’d seen Jake take her back to look at the cows several times I thought we might try that. (I was terrified because the combines and semis were running back last fall, so don’t blame her for her fear now, though she’s been afraid of cows ever since they showed up in the pasture across the road, after the crops were picked.)

A trainer friend encouraged me to use Morgen’s desire to get away from the cows to relax her. Go to the other side of the road or reward her relaxation by giving her distance from her fear. (You can’t always power through fear. I think it’s small steps, you take, or you give it more power. Someone told me this when I was afraid of riding Tessie.) If Klaus or Jake came, she’d probably draw on their confidence and behave perfectly. I would draw confidence from them. It’s on me, on my instincts, to sort this out, because I’m here.

“There’s no traffic. Let’s try it,” I said.

So I turned her around and asked her to walk back by, only this time Bruce stayed in the carriage while she and I worked it out. She  took one step, then another and another. We repeated this a couple times until she walked relaxed–going towards home and going away, past cows. She could smell our pleasure.

IMG_0071The other dream, to publish my novel, The River Caught Sunlight, a dream I worked and yearned toward for years, until the desire blew out of me, came true this summer. Oprah has said that you have to let go the desire, for dreams to arrive, but I don’t think she meant as deeply as I let go of writing. (Well, I let go of publishing my novel, living in the country, horses–all of it, and now here–those are all part of my life.)

But when a dream has died that dead, it’s hard to work up enthusiasm. It’s hard to sit down and do the work when you’re frozen, when you just plain don’t want it any more, when all you can think of is the pain and humiliation of workshops, and those polite little slips of paper, “We’re sorry but your piece does not fit our needs at this time” that included that dangly bit of hope, “please try us again.” When all you can think of is the work of it, as Frost said, “I have had too much of…this harvest I have desired.” IMG_0124The work like hay bales trundling up the elevator, bale after bale after bale, the mailing the book, the traveling to readings, the ground down exhaustion of it, along with teaching and driving Morgen and riding Tessie and tending the farm and loving Bruce, who should come first, and loving God before him, and, and…I can feel my life shifting and I don’t want it to shift, though the wise people say that’s the only thing you can expect is that your life will change.

I was most afraid of what my friends would say, stopping, frozen, leaving the box of books by the door, ignoring it. People told me to be happy, enjoy this moment. Nope. My life has shifted and it hurts. I’ve been alone with this novel for years, learning from it, healing–well now I’m not alone with it. It’s not mine any longer. I can’t go back and fix it. Now, it’s my readers’ book. What if they say, “You spent thirty years writing that? Really?”

But my friends posted pictures of the book’s arriving. They were excited for me. I was grateful but not ready for the party.

When Chris turned around on her horse and said, “I read your book.” I swallowed hard, remembering workshops–the subtle, cruel remarks. But she read my book well, telling me it was about my character finding her voice. She gave it a five star rating on Amazon.

IMG_0127I thought about this when we put up the hay, as the wagon rocked under my feet and I pulled hay out of the baler and stacked it onto the wagon. I thought about how dangerous this work really is, how a friend got his hand mangled in a baler. The string jerked up into the machine like thread on a sewing machine, the plungers pumping a beat any rapper could make something of. I thought about how sometimes when harvest comes it’s just plain hard work, and you have to throw yourself into hauling those bales until the field is cleared because rain will come. It’s the same with this book, I need to just get to it–kind of like driving my pony past cows, those terrifying cows, again and again and again, and it doesn’t take long for her see they mean no harm, to relax and walk on by.

This is linked at Kelli Woodford’s Place.

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A Slow Motion Wreck Driving Morgen Toward Dreaded Cows

IMG_0104The first thing Kathryn Barry told me when Morgen and I arrived for training at Klaus’s was to gather a spares kit. She listed zip ties, carabiners, electric tape, hole punch, wrench, halter and lead, knife. I gathered my things, including a fancy dancy hole punch, heavy enough to make holes in biothane. I also thought of adding bolts for hooking the shafts to the carriage.

The day I invited my friend to ride along, we were trotting a good cadence, when a deer jumped out of the corn. He was lovely red, bounding across the road and soybeans into more corn. I brought Morgen to a stop, to let her look. And look she did. Beyond that the dreaded cows. She didn’t want to go forward. And was weaving across the road, back and forth, like I’ve seen her when she’s afraid to pass something.

IMG_0107But it wasn’t her. It was the bolt gone, the shaft pulled away. I got out and stood with her. My friend headed back up the road to find it. We were close to a farm and I figured they might have a bolt we could use to get back home, since my spares were sitting on the chair in the stove room. I walked Morgen to their driveway pulling the wagon by one shaft. By then it had broken completely off.

Yup, my common sense veered straight away. I should have unhitched. Yup I did not see that the bolt gone, because it is well hidden behind the birds eye maple dashboard. And yup I pushed Morgen too hard to walk up to the cows before I asked Gayla to lead her past them. How do you apologize to a horse, especially when they were right and honest and good? And I know darn well she has learned something that isn’t so good for my skill.

There is something to be said for positive reinforcement training, for its focus on what the horse is doing right and the thoughtfulness, giving horses the benefit of the doubt, focusing on reward. But there is also something to be said for being very clear about when the horse is right, with lavish praise, but when they refuse to listen, being clear about that too. The skilled trainers who have worked with her this way have brought Morgen and I to a place where we can have a conversation through driving. But I feel caught in a crevice, holding myself up by my arms outstretched, the rock scraping my sides.  I weave from side to side in my thinking about this, just like Morgen when the bolt broke loose, just like Morgen when she does not want to go forward and the cows are way off in the distance.

Finally, I unhitched. Mind you this mare was in a door yard, with dreaded calves a few yards away, and the farmer’s son grinding feed. I unlatched one shaft but Morgen walked around me. I saw that was a dangerous move, so I asked her to stand. She stood still, while I re-buckled the shafts and undid the harness in proper order. She stood still I tell you, even though she was wound pretty tight. Klaus said later that it’s pretty amazing she tolerated pulling the cart from side to side with one shaft. She is one amazing little horse.

IMG_0108We walked the long walk home, but it was still a beautiful day, the beauty of our humble, neighborhood farms, pleading with me to join the party despite my sore feet and disappointment in myself, at how I’d lost my common sense, at how I’d not been a fair trainer.

Morgen, the mare who bucked in hand, walked quietly beside me. (Klaus suggested we walk up to the cows in hand, that the bucking is no longer true.) When we passed the Peterson’s cows, I could feel her relax with me between them and her. I slipped her a carrot to show her: this, this is what I want.

There’s something about living in a neighborhood where people will help. I saw our neighbors’ teen sons out mowing their lawn and asked if they could help us load the carriage back on the truck at the dairy farm where we left it. It’s a job keeping it straight on the planks, and easier with more people guiding the wheels. The owner of the dairy farm, suggested a fabricator in town who had repaired his combine. He was taken aback by the weakness of the steel, but maybe it’s aluminum. I promised my husband’s homemade pie when I dropped the boys off.

IMG_0100Bruce stopped at a welder’s shop on his way home and we took the cart and shafts over there, when the fabricator didn’t answer the phone. The welder looked at it and said, yes he could fix it right then and there. He welded the barrel back onto the shaft and said the same thing, that the steel seemed awfully flimsy, as well as how small the bolts to hold the horse to the carriage. He reinforced it with a rod inside and suggested nylon threaded bolts.

I said, “I didn’t react very well to this. I didn’t notice it was off. I should have had my friend go up to the farm and ask for a bolt instead of looking for it. I should have carried my spares. Tie wraps might have worked.”

“You don’t always think straight when things go wrong unless you’re highly trained like firefighters or police.” He said it kindly.

This day I had been touched by kindness–the kindness of my friend who didn’t hold this slow motion wreck against Morgen and I, who walked that three miles back to our farm in good spirits and came with me to help me load the carriage, and the kindness of our neighbor’s sons who came along to help, and the farmer who let us park in his yard, and this welder. He offered to make the repair for nothing, but Bruce told me to write a check that I upped by ten dollars.

IMG_0097It’s the kindness of my own husband, stopping by the welder’s shop in the first place that struck me the most, and his willingness to see the shaft repaired. This is just a new conversation between Morgen and I, a mere hobby. But I’ve said before that I brought horses into my life to help me do battle spiritually, and that’s what they’ve done, superbly well. They’ve helped me dig into my own soul, seeing it for what it is, and maybe even welding some broken places.  I carry myself with the confidence. Even hobbies take a community. And I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Bruce is enjoying this conversation because I tell you, the views from our carriage are stunning.

I’ve linked this to Kelli Woodford’s link up. Her blog this week is beautiful, about just plain being in this glorious world of ours.

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Driving Morgen Home


Friday, June 20:

Morgen honored me today, the last day before the world tips as close as she can get to the sun, and then starts swaying away, dropping us towards darkness and winter. I’d taken a week off from training and was worried that she’d go deep inside herself and be hard sided. I wondered if she would go so deep that she would not remember me.

But she came up to the paddock fence when I walked up and then called, when I disappeared around the corner. When she has her voice I know she is closer to the horse I will bring home, because at home she talks all the time, often calling from over the fence.

She has been mostly quiet. I don’t blame her because I feel the same way, settling into a calm, where I don’t need to say much. Neither one of us wants to step wrong, say or do the wrong thing. And she’s not close to any horses like she is to Tessie.

That Friday it was hard getting in the car and driving away from my house that is a mess. I have desks to clear from school, an annual report to write, and a fat inbox to answer before I can lean into promoting my novel.

Klaus said she was very nervous going out on the road. She was looking and tense and heavy in the bridle, not the same horse that was in the field. “I didn’t see that when I drove her last fall,” I said. My heart sank as I thought she’d need many more weeks of road driving before she came home. And the daily hour long drive was wearing me out.

He gave me the reins and we turned left onto the road. We headed towards the busy intersection of Business 20. I felt rusty, driving Morgen like a drunken sailor, turning her left, then right. Klaus has said she is harder to steer the slower she goes. She bowed around a mailbox but stopped and stood as we waited for cars to pass.

When we got to 20, Klaus lead her across the road. When he stopped, he patted her, told her what a good horse she is. She listened carefully, enjoying the praise. We  walked down and up a hill until we got to the bridge over bypass 20, the four lane I speed in on.

He lead her across the bridge over Rte 20, trucks and motorcycles roaring underneath. I’m not sure he did it for her benefit or mine as I have never liked bridges, all that air underneath and rumors of cracked concrete. I think of the mule I rode in the Grand Canyon, how the bottom was worse than the top as we hung out over the Colorado river, the cliff straight up, the water straight down, until we got to the bridge and the terrible feeling the mule might jump. Other riders talked about suicidal mules and I had to wonder if they were telling us something. Morgen, on the other hand, has good instincts, bowing away from deep ditches.

But with me she softened and relaxed. She did not slam hard against the bit. She drove like she drove in the field, listening, attentive. When I asked her to walk on, she stepped more lively. Oh my. She really does trust me. I really do make a difference to this horse. There is hope that maybe I can drive her without Klaus, on my own, because I’m her person, not his.

Klaus told me about a horse he sold that acted fine until several months down the road when he started bucking. The woman sent him back and Klaus sold him to another person. The same thing happened, the horse getting worse, even with other trainers. But when the horse came back to him, he behaved because he knew Klaus and trusted him. He praises the horses so generously, but if they step out of line, he sets the boundary. He says, It works best for horses to be black and white.

Morgen honored me by relaxing, by showing her trust. Sure she looked at things but she wasn’t heavy in the bridle. She wasn’t afraid because I am the person she trusts. It wasn’t Klaus that reassured her, but me. He said he couldn’t think of a saner horse for me. “You made two good decisions. The first to buy her. The second not to sell her.”

June 23

I was running late, shell shocked by the arrival of my novel, my actual novel, on my doorstep, my mind numb. The book had been sent out to anyone who pre-ordered it. It felt like people arriving for dinner and my kitchen was a mess, toilets unflushed, cat box redolent. People said to be happy, but I felt unsettled, deeply unsettled and frozen. It’s a big difference, my book gone from a sheaf of paper in a notebook, to a lines of words between two covers, and beautiful itself.

We were driving Morgen around the field and I asked Morgen to drop from a trot to a walk and she stopped but I didn’t even see it, I was so far away. Klaus said something. He said it again, “Did you hear me? Did you ask her to stop?” My mind was so far gone I barely understood what he was saying. We drove around the field a time or two more and quit for the day.

But the thing is, Morgen took care of me, gave me a good drive, even though I wasn’t much there. I was told last fall that she was dangerous, that she’d take advantage when my mind blanked, and to be honest, I saw that myself, when I trained her, if my mind left, she’d tug on my sleeve, pull me back. I was asked over and over, Do you trust her?

July 2

The clouds congealed into a rain storm so soft, the valleys blurred. Then the rain faded. We drove left towards the Pecatonica River. Morgen picked up her trot, to avoid mosquitoes that clustered on her cheek and hind legs. The air was cool and she moved out, leaning into the harness, especially when we drove in the grass. Her butt bounced up and down, up and down, a lovely cadence.

“She must be getting fitter, that she wants to trot this much,” Klaus said. “You’ve come up in my estimation,” he said to her. I’d told him she was a lot of horse at home. But in training, she’s quiet to the point of lazy. (I think because she’s out all the time, when I bring her in at night, and because she was missing her place. I think horses are rooted to their ground, more than we think. They are creatures of specific pastures, barns, companions. I saw this when Tessie ran up nickering when I brought her home. And Morgen called back to her. She had missed her friend.)

“It’s good I she’s been lazy to build my confidence, for when she is more forward.” (This mare trots or canters from one end of the paddock to another at home.) Because the weather was cooler, her walk was more forward, and she stayed along the right side of the road without me pulling her there. Klaus reminded me to loosen my reins, especially on the right. “If  you keep a tight rein, then their mouth gets harder and you have to increase your strength or make the bit more severe.” I leaned back against the seat and put my hands on my lap, took a very light feel of her mouth. I laughed when she jumped over some mud.

We joked about her going into the trot zone (why they calld her dangerous last fall) because neither one of us saw it. We saw her listening to my voice, even turning without contact when I said left or right.

July 4


When I left, Klaus said not to hitch Morgen if we had a wreck, to call him first. Well, all right. He said to drive her at least two times a week.

We hitched her July 4 morning, my first time driving her without Klaus behind me, lending his confidence to us both, the day glorious with blue sky and clouds that did not congeal into rain.

Ever since we moved here seven years ago, I’ve wanted to drive a horse around the five mile loop, but the dream died. Trainers before this were too harsh and if that’s what it took to drive a horse, I didn’t want it. I sold my  harness and my stock trailer, and gave up the dream, even though I had a vision of driving Morgen out the driveway at sunset, while I lay still, and claustrophobic in an MRI tube. I could hear the carriage creaking, hear her footsteps, see the sun throwing gold light.

Besides there are tough things for my horses–cattle, mules, donkeys, railroad tracks, traffic. I didn’t dare show them to either mare while leading them, afraid I’d be dragged or Morgen’s bucking in hand would nail me.

Somehow this dream found me. I could tell you the details–being at wit’s end with positive reinforcement training, seeing how Morgen was worse off (in some ways) than when I started it two years earlier and calling Bob Long, asking for help, and finding a young trainer, Jake, who built confidence in Morgen and began to show me what a sane, sound mind she does have. And then coming to Klaus Biesenthal where I could take lessons every day because he’s right, it’s my confidence that needed building not hers. I think that’s what Klaus affirmed the most, that I have good instincts and reflexes to know what to do. I’ve learned that I have to trust myself,  to do right by Morgen and if I trust myself, she will draw on my confidence, will move past what frightens her and settle back down.

Since everyone was going to be at the parade I figured we’d have a quiet drive. We pulled out of the driveway and walked on a loose rein down the road. And Morgen met her challenges well. She looked at the neighbors’ cattle, but not much more, crossed the tracks just fine, and didn’t skitter to the side when Jumbo’s mules trotted to the fence.  She got strong in the trot when some dogs barked behind a fence, but I held her, braking the carriage, let the reins out when we were past. She flinched when a guy shot his twenty-two, but that’s all. She got strong when the neighbors’ donkey brayed, but calmed down. (By Jumbo’s farm and Dale’s farm the road becomes a gauntlet for Morgen, but she walks through it, looking, strong in the bridle, but listening.  Most of the time I drove her with my hands in my lap, my back against the seat, the contact light.)

“Well, what do you think?” I asked Bruce.

“It’s enjoyable.”

I sighed with happiness because this is a way he can enjoy the horses; this is something fun we can do together. And it was glorious, the trees bordering the fields, the clouds and sky radiant.

Do you trust her? Yes, I do. Does she trust you? Seems so, yes.


Today I’m linked up at Kelli Woodford’s place.


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Notes on my lumpectomy

The full moon straddling two days, June 12 and Friday the 13, offered enough mystery to spook me as I headed to surgery, well procedure. But oh it was beautiful last night rising over the tree, the clouds buffering it, in pastel grays and purples. I wanted a picture, to look but knew the camera would only show a dot.

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