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.

My body is swollen from the tamoxifen my oncologist prescribed to kinda, sorta prevent cancer of the dry ducts in my teats. My neck has stiffened so tight I cannot look left. I’m not sure the tamoxifen is worth the low grade feeling like crap, the sloppy hot flashes, weight gain. But it’s supposed to give me a 44% chance to avoid cancer, so I try to stand it. What I don’t like is that it feels like a dress rehearsal for cancer because I take blood tests and feel low grade lousy, see an oncologist with an accent that reminds me of Boris on the old cartoon Bullwinkle. (I could listen all day.) I stop myself from saying I have cancer, because I don’t, just cells on their way there, and a very high risk for it.  I swallow the yew tree, a bit every day, that would be poison if my horses nibbled its branches.

Saturday August 9, 2014

IMG_0113Last night, in that slim time between day time and night time, when the Celts used to say the fabric between this world and next thinned, where maybe, just maybe a person could slip over to the one humming behind ours, the sun as big as I have ever seen her settled down to the horizon. She was swollen and orange, huge like she was swelling with fire that might burn us all with something like soap, cleansing. (What would the world be like if we got cleaned up, if we could face God because we too were good, just plain, clean good?)

The moon, was himself swollen with pale light, pot bellied as an old stove. Moon rising. Sun setting. But not balanced on the horizon like I’ve seen farther down the calendar. The moon had climbed higher, was driving the sun down, both just plain fat, like my ponies waiting at home.  I wanted to lean out of the car and take pictures, but the corn flashed up higher than the horizon and my iphone couldn’t show you what I saw. Maybe my words can.

We’d just helped new old friends pack their horse trailer for the state fair in Des Moines. They’d  surprised us by showing up at the Boone county fair with four Belgian draft horses–three aristocratic mares, at least a story high, and one five month old colt. A few were sired by a stallion we remembered, Rocket, who was himself brimming with light. Howard told stories about how people wanted to buy one or other of these horses, as soon as he’d bought them.  I could listen to him all day, even though he’s got an Iowa accent, for the way he uses language. He said starting back driving a six horse hitch was like a dog that sucks eggs in the chicken house. “You can’t stop him,” he said.

IMG_0144Years ago Howard and Mable inspired us to buy Norwegian Fjord ponies as a compromise, because Belgians were too big, too much horse for me, even though Bruce had fallen hard for the big drafters.  Our original dream to drive horses began when we ran their horses in the arena for a judge, when we held them while they hitched, when I wrote an essay about whether a horse can push or pull a wagon. Don’t ask me why, but tears stood in my eyes, as I discovered Mable and Howard hosing off their horses for the show ring. It was like finding that pearl you’d lost behind the sofa, that your dad had given, that you never thought you’d see again. And especially sweet because you had something you were proud to show them.

Sunday, August 12, 2014


I’ve been thinking about the friend thing lately. Another blogger has said she only wants to surround herself with people who support her. I wasn’t sure I agreed, because some of my people don’t build me up, because who does that all the time? Sometimes the best people sharpen us like stone sharpens steel, their rebuke more precious than encouragement. But have been thinking on what she said, how some people told her how she is full of light, how she needs that affirmation in her life.

I am thinking now she might be right, how I have drawn people dear to me who can’t do what Lee Martin says in a recent Facebook post,”I never forgot that when you truly and wholly love someone you forgive them for falling short, forgive them the injuries they bring you, forgive them for being less than what you want them to be.”I think how I’ve stood in the need of this kind of forgiveness and not received it. How I need to offer it back.

When is it time to let those people go, to shake the dust off my feet, like Jesus suggests when  you’re just plain not received? To let go the hurt and just clap those soles together and get walking? It’s a hollow thing when you’ve exchanged stories with people,  you thought you were friends, when they sidle away. I see why God says it’s important to tend the fatherless and the widow. Ever since my parents and brother died, I’ve turned to friends like family but they have moms and dads and brothers and sisters, sons and daughters right there, they are busy making dreams come true, so they’ve turned from me, because I am water, not blood.



Photo by Frankie Benson

Tessie jarred me as she walked fast behind Chris’s Ginger and Denise’s Cody but still  behind. She seemed uneasy to be last and I didn’t want her running up on the copper or brown hindquarters of the two ahead. I looked around at purple cone flowers, bee balm and wild black eyed susans, all in a riot around us, all taller than horse and rider, as we made our way through.

We got talking about empathy, how it’s important for nurses to empathize with their patients because Denise teaches them.
Chris said,  “That’s one thing I like about you, how you listen to my rants and then suggest I see it differently. After I ranted about my son-in-law, you said well maybe he’s afraid of losing my daughter. I’d never thought of that.

“You said the same thing about Ginger when she stopped at the water crossing on the way back to the trailer. I was so angry at her, but you said maybe she sensed some kind of danger. Trust your pony.”

This felt like blessing, that being showered with light we sometimes need. It felt like three women out riding their horses talking about all kinds of things and enjoying the day. Simply that.

I’m linking this to Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms.



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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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Notes on Morgen’s Driving Training

IMG_0050Klaus said that you get what you expect. If you expect nothing to go wrong, it won’t. He so fully believes in the horse and the human, we start to believe it’ll be all right too. He calls Morgen docile. He has said that I did two things right. One was to buy her. The second was to decide not to sell her.  And sell her, well I almost did a year ago.

H142786She and Tessie were fighting to injury. Every time I tried to work with her she hassled me.  Several trainers, a vet, my riding buddies, all confirmed I should sell. Think of the horse. Don’t put any more money into her. Just cut your losses.

But Bruce saw my tears and said, You are not selling her. You can’t bear it. A friend of a friend said don’t you dare sell that horse. She is very bonded to you. She loves you. You don’t get that every day. The old saying, this horse could hurt me, melted because I realized she had not. Our relationship changed. I saw, I saw, I saw that while she seemed unpredictable to me, I’d been unpredictable to her.

We started driving training last fall and picked it up again this spring over in Freeport, with Klaus Biesenthal, who believes in making friends with your horse.  And I am amazed at how she likes this work, how she will throw herself into the harness going up a hill. She has started to swing her hips instead of dogging it. But then again Klaus said I could continue my positive reinforcement work because it’s how I will work with her at home. I have shown him how she will back into the shafts. She has settled enough so her sides have lightened, she has started neighing again, there is bounce in her walk.

Yesterday a kid let lovely German Shepherds loose in our field. They swooped up to us. Though Morgen looked, she kept walking, kept her head. The other day Klaus threw a rock in the weeds and Morgen jumped so hard she lifted the front end of the carriage off the ground. She startled in place and settled back to an ear flopping walk. Klaus says I am a cool customer. But what I like about driving is that she doesn’t smell the fear on my breath. What I like is that I don’t feel her fear shooting up through my body. I can speak peace to her. I can breathe. I can think what to do.

IMG_0001This mare listens so well, she is moving off my voice into a trot and into a whoa. She will turn right and she will turn left when I speak the words. We are good friends, I tell you. If positive reinforcement training did nothing else, it made us friends. It gave us a conversation while she grew up.

Klaus is pleased with my reflexes, but those come with practice from riding Tessie, from flinching when the wind catches a branch. They come from watching the smallest sign of a startle.

We’re teaching Morgen to follow her nose and I’m learning half halts on the outside rein and holding her to the inside rein so she walks straight. I give slack when she walks straight. It’s not often I am this good at something, without hard, tear filled work. I can feel myself relax as I lean back against the seat.

IMG_0059He says she is the perfect horse for me, a horse he would trust with his life. And so I will trust mine to her and hers to me.  I think about the old words that offer ointment for blindness, and how I have begged to see straight. Thank God I waited until my fear cleared and Morgen settled.

She is a whole different horse than last year–calm, happy. I’m told I’ve done something right. Both of us are drawing confidence from Klaus, liking this work, listening to the creak of the carriage like God’s footsteps on wood.


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Fragments about Planting and Harvest and What Comes in Between



I watch the earth boil and break

bright green pushing up

row upon row,

an army risen to stand at attention

until its cut.

Wheat shoots and soybeans

push up clods of dirt,

as much miracle as corpses

shoving back dirt

to haunt the sunlight.

Babies roll over boulders

open tombs where I sit, weep,

wait for the farmer

to tell me what it means.



But then there’s this: IMG_0022The wind shifted and blew chemical into our yard. I felt like I’d been swung out on a ride flipping me up then down, queasy, angry. It burned my face. I could taste it. I watched him spray all the way up to the tree I look to, every morning and evening when I walk out to do chores. The smell hung in our yard the next morning. The clover on the edge of our field wilted. People say it’s great to live out in the country. Well, these days not so much.

I asked about the danger at a party of neighbors. An older woman said, “Everybody does it.” And I clamped my mouth shut and crossed my arms. I don’t want to make trouble. The folks who work the land around here are neighbors (and there is more love, more community here, than you’d think that word represents.)

On the other hand, don’t these women care that it’s estrogenic?  That it can make breast cancer? That it kills the biome? People post their memes on Facebook about bio-engineered food and the evils of Monsanto. I don’t know about that. I’ve heard there is poor science in some. But I do know, how sick I feel when this stuff is laid down. I do know my brain doesn’t work well, when I’m here. Neither does Bruce’s. It’s supposed to be safe. It’s not supposed to make you ill. But I wonder how many diabetic farmers there are. How many wives and daughters have breasts gone sour. When, I wonder, when, will the ground say, “No, no more?”

I stopped over at the other neighbor’s place, since our house sits in the middle of corn and soybeans and we’re due for another dose from his side. He was working on his spray buggy, water dripping down to the gravel driveway. I asked if he could give us a call when he sprays. This is worse than the manure that can be so strong it will ruin a load of laundry hung out to dry. (The EPA will hear my call about the slurry, but I’m not so sure about the chemical. I have not called. These are my neighbors.)

“I’m careful,” he said.

“I know. But I want to put the animals inside, close up our house.” I did not say I’m due for a lumpectomy, that the docs say is pre-cancer, and the docs pat themselves on the back, saying this is why we do mammograms–to catch this early. And I have to stop myself from saying I’ve got cancer because they say it’s not, and I am not so sure.

When the surgeon’s office called for presurgery instructions, they asked me what drugs I’m on. Well, this and that, but really not much more than vitamins. But I should have added glycophosate. Doctors shrug when I ask if there’s an effect. “We don’t know.” But studies are showing there is a link to the breast cancer susceptible to hormones. Maybe I’ll call back and add this to the list. One of my Facebook friends, a neighbor a few roads over, asked me the other day, how I was doing. I said, “Fine. Morgen’s in training. I finished copy editing the book.”

“No I mean your health. I’m praying for you.”

And I breathed in silence, for the care coming my way that I didn’t even know was there.

IMG_0052So let me end with another poem. (The jar of wheat shows up in The River Caught Sunlight.  These two poems are from an unpublished poetry collection, I called The Grieving Dreams, that was the second draft of River and the last time I played with poems before I turned to sentences, because I like them more than lines.)




The first summer Mr. Miller planted winter wheat,

he brought us a jar with a red rose on the lid

full of seeds smooth as fannies. He handed them

to my mother to show her what he would be planting.


She said yes seeds were good as kittens to teach

her children about life. The first day I took

Social Studies, we read about store-bought bread.

I told the teacher I knew about the wheat part.

“Just read the page,” she said.


Before harvest, we drove to church and stopped

past our lawn. In a fog, spiders wove webs

like Queen Anne’s lace as far back as the woods.

I would have begged my parents to stop and watch

until the sun if I’d known the webs would break.

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The Wind Blew So Hard (A Poet’s View on a Biopsy)



The wind blew so hard it sucked my breath and rattled my heart. I pushed hard to walk around the corner of the barn. It was like carrying two buckets of water every time I walked outside. When I finished chores, I watched a turkey buzzard drop off the barn roof and lift high, sketching the currents by how the wind carried her, overhead, over the trees. She was reaching for the oaks. She hovered overhead a long time. An omen? The Holy Spirit using brown feathers to show how she blows where she will, like Jesus said?

Or just a predator fighting the wind, aiming for a new place to settle. The sun stared back, faded behind the all day clouds. We’ve had some hard news here on this farm.

Bruce had picked some daffodils, stuck them in a plastic cup, and set them on the counter. When I came inside, I changed the cup out for a glass vase I remembered while dusting . IMG_0010

Before sleep, I took the dogs out and blessed the closeness of the night, the stillness. The air no longer beat us up. Fog blurred the neighbors’ farm and the moon was a bare shadow of light.


Did you know a woman’s breast looks like a sun rise over earth, what astronauts see when you look at a digital x ray? I wondered about halos and auras and if the machine was showing mine. I sometimes see that silver on wet clover when the sun is behind me. The radiologist said, “Look there. We need to take those out, tiny bits of calcium.” I said, “We’re soaked in Round Up where we live. All our pines have died.”

“I’ll see you next week,” he said.

I wonder if the earth hurts like a woman does, when we make her lie still and drive our wells into her, drawing up water, oil, gas, things we live by, and some we treasure like diamonds. We bruise her I think.

Doc said he got a good sample, of the tiny shells, those calcifications that danced in a circle, close to my chest.

Even though I had to drop my breast through a hole that looked like the seat in the outhouse, the whole thing was an exercise in kindness. I lay facing this marvelous picture of a Japanese garden during autumn. I wanted to look and breathe, while he drove the core, seeking those fossils, but the nurse tried to talk to me about my job and blocked my view. I’d gone deep into myself.

Tessie Crossing Water

Tessie Crossing Water

They asked if I was all right. Well, no, I am sad. This hurts. My war horse, might be crippled, the mare I brought home to ride into spiritual battle, has lost a little sense in her hind legs. I think about the horses buried with their warriors and see the ancients’ sense. Is she going? Am I? So my eyes seeped when Doc came into my line of sight, saying he had to make sure he’d caught the shells, he’d be right back. Yes, he’d gotten a good sample, nearly all of them. “I have to place a sliver of titanium to mark where I’ve been.”  His eyes were kind. “Are you all right?”


The nurse said, “It’s not cancer, but you need surgery because the cells are changing and will become cancer. They need to come out.”

I blinked in the bright white light of the conference room. I thought of my cells auditioning for the lead role of horsing up my life, but we nixed their chances.

“This is why we do mammograms. It’ll take about a month to get the surgery done. It’s not an emergency. We’ll look at the cells even closer.”

“Thank everyone for their kindness.” I mumble something. about the beautiful picture.

IMG_0445I am relieved. I’ve brushed up against tumors a few other times, one in my colon, another in my uterus, some lesions in my brain. I’ve numbered my days, and though it’s supposed to teach wisdom, I’m not sure it’s done much more than depress me. My mother died when she was sixty. How do I live past that number? I’m line bred on cancer and heart trouble and dementia. I wonder if these cells are going awry, what others might? The nurse said this will do it, and I’ll be done. But I wonder if my increasing addiction to Diet Coke, or the Round Up our neighbors spray every year, or sugar have set my body off. I wonder if I need to buckle down and practice thanks, or let the wad of grief unravel into a proper tears instead of chocolate and Diet Coke. Mostly I wonder how long the surgery will hold me back from my summer, riding Tessie, driving Morgen.


I talked to the vet today about Tessie’s illness. She has tested mildly positive for Lyme and he wants to treat her with doxycycline for thirty days. She also has markers for EPM, a protozoa that wrecks horses neurologically. He named her numbers: SAG 1 is 16, SAG 5 is 32 and Sag 6 is 64. Anything over 4 shows her reaction to the protozoa. Her C Reactive Protein is 18. “Something is causing inflammation<” he said. “EPM can be a subclinical disease that horses can have for years. I know one that has had it for fourteen.” It’s not just horses wobbling off their hindquarters. I asked him to check because I’ve noticed her stumbling when I ride and her trot doesn’t feel right. Bruce said it didn’t look right. When the vet set her hind leg down, it stayed crossed behind the other. She was wonky when he pulled her tail. I am left with much hope.

Linking with the Unforced Rhythms Community.




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