This One's For You, Pony Girl

On International Day of the Girl, a brilliant idea was posted by Kristi Faulkner, asking women to share a picture of themselves as a girl, along with advice they’d give to their younger selves. 

I’m a couple days late, but if you ask my 13-year-old daughter (or my inner 10-year-old,) we’re pretty sure every day is the Day of the Girl. After all, the desire to be understood and celebrated is definitely not limited to the second Friday in October.

So, to my 10-year-old self, riding my first, naughty pony on a drizzly May afternoon, here is my advice to you –


Your strength will come from the inside, not the outside. 

When you first start out, you’re going to be awkward, uncertain and sometimes yank around on things you shouldn’t. Over time, you will gain balance, confidence, poise and finesse. This is true of horseback riding, any new job, standing up on a public bus for the first time, and sex.

Approach everything with gratitude. Appreciating every single part of the ride, even when things get really bumpy, will lead you to miracles. 

You will fall off. More often, you will almost fall off, which is just as scary because your mind goes where your body didn’t. Getting back in the saddle, with your head and with your body, will build more courage every time. 

You’re braver than you think you are. 

If you and your pony/friend/spouse/child/coworker/client trust one another, you can go anywhere together.  

It takes two to argue.

Never ride in tennis shoes! It’s not only unsafe, a cool pair of cowboy boots will never go out of style. Same goes for good posture and a strong core. 

Stick with riding, and you will someday have the inner thigh strength to crush a walnut between your knees.  

Always keep your chin up and your eyes in the direction you want to go. 

You are beautiful, inside and out. Everyone is. We all forget sometimes, though, so helping others remember that is one of the biggest gifts you can give.

I know it’s 1982 and head protection wasn’t really a thing, but PUT ON A DAMN HELMET! It’s the only noggin you’ve got. 

I love you. You’ve got a long, amazing ride ahead of you. 


We Never Meant to Stay This Long

We took a break from the crying for one last photo.

We took a break from the crying for one last photo.

As proof, our first mortgage was some 5-1 ARM nonsense. The place was way too big for us then, two early thirty-somethings with mostly hand-me-down furniture and a tiny, white, feral cat. The house was farther out of town than we thought we wanted. And it was a ton of work.

But the space and the fresh air and the blissful silence were too much to resist. We didn’t let the brown shag carpet or stacks of “Bowhunter Magazine” left by the previous owners in the built-ins or the army of dead rats in the crawlspace or the power outlets every eight inches in the family room deter us. IT HAD A FREAKING FAMILY ROOM! It was on a third of an acre! It had an adorable wrap-around porch! And a giant shop! And it was just one house (or as I’ve always joked, 1.5 million dollars) off Beaver Lake! It was within easy walking distance of hundreds of acres of forest and wetland trails, and even better (for us) it was a foreclosure, so it was in our budget. Everywhere outside, it was as if the giant maples, evergreens and cottonwoods that surrounded us sucked anything that wasn’t birds chirping or chipmunks chipmunking right out of the air, leaving just stillness and calm and inspiration.  

And year-round tree shit all over the entire property. But it was worth it.

So we bought our first house. And then we repainted, refinished, remodeled, rearranged, redecorated, re-trimmed and renovated every square inch of it. Sometimes twice.

And now, sixteen years later, it was time to move on.

The details of our move and the new place require another blog post or 27, but the short story is, we’re moving to the horse property where I grew up and into the house my dad built with my mom, who’s now 83. It’s five acres on a river. It’s surrounded by nature. I get misty describing it to people because it’s so magical.  And in the next four-ish months we’ll all move (again) into a rental while we do a big, much-needed remodel and addition.  And then move back into the finished old/new house within the year. It’s a labor of love and it’s gonna be crazy. But incredible in the end.

But back to the house we’re leaving behind.

Sixteen years, three refis (see: 5-1 ARM nonsense) two babies, two cats, one dog and countless goldfish later, we’re saying goodbye. Ready, but not really ready, to move onto our next adventure.

As we organized and purged and packed and moved sixteen years of living, we’ve constantly run across little tokens of our time here. Marks on the wall from the rocking chair where I rocked both kids, their soft baby cheeks and drooly little mouths nestled into my shoulder. A toddler Pull-Up caught behind a dresser drawer. A tiny metal teacup that was part of a tea set, well-used by Cassidy and her doll named Piano. Lots of little notes, scrawled in crayon on pieces of scratch paper, from when Cassidy needed to record the injustices of her life. “Carson poked me with a ball. He is sooo meean.” (He was two.) Or notes of encouragement like, “Good job Carson on the aiming at the pote. Love, Your Admirer.” There were stray black dog hairs from our beloved lab Lucille, who we had to put to sleep two years ago. So many crumbs. So many carpet stains. So many signs of a house well-loved and a well lived-in by a family of two who turned into a family of four, and who apparently forgot to dust in high places or clean out under the refrigerator. Man, that was disgusting.

The whole process was like a midterm life review. Let’s look at what we’ve learned. Let’s look at what we have to be grateful for. (All of it.) Now let’s take all of that and move into our next chapter.

So with that in mind, here are just a few things this house has taught us:

-       When a 100-foot-tall cottonwood falls on your roof, insurance will cover it. But they are not fast.

-       If you leave a window open for a long period of time, forget to set your alarm, and live near a main street, you might get robbed. Insurance will cover that, too. And as upsetting as it is, it’s only stuff. 

-       If the robbers steal your extra car keys, insurance won’t cover having both cars re-keyed. This will forever seem like so much bullshit.

-       You don’t have to use every color of wall paint.

-       A new puppy may chew on the molding next to her bed if you take her crate away before she’s ready.

-       When that puppy becomes an old girl, it will be time to see her to the other side before you’re ready.

-       One day you’re worried your baby will hit her head on the kitchen island. The next day you’re worried she’ll hit her hip bone on it. It happens that fast.

Exhibit A. Doll carrots.

Exhibit A. Doll carrots.

-       If you have a garden area, this spot needs both sunlight and water for anything to grow. If you think this seems obvious, you never saw my full-grown doll carrots.

-       If you replace an old deck and patch of grass with a giant, paver patio to “save work,” you won’t.

-       If you find a lone turd on said patio that’s not from any deer, dog, bear, bobcat, racoon or cat and your 5-year-old is acting suspicious, you know exactly what happened.

-       If you don’t have a chimney, Santa can get in the door on Christmas Eve using a giant gold key that you leave on the front porch. Obviously.

-       No matter what’s happening in life, a Friday family movie night with homemade pizza, a big comfy couch and nothing but togetherness can make everything right with the world.

-    Saturdays, when Dave and I make a nice dinner after the kids are in bed and stay up late at the table, eating, drinking wine and scheming about the future, can make everything right with us.

-       Unless I have more than two glasses of wine, in which case Dave gets in trouble.

-       Thinking Putty does not come out of the carpet.

-       Comfort and love are way more welcoming than perfection.

As I reflect on the four of us huddled in the entryway, hugging and sobbing as we said goodbye to our empty house, the words of two very wise men stand out in my mind.

First, from Dave, (and what got us all blubbering to begin with.) “Home is wherever we’re all together.”

And next from Carson, a few days earlier. “Mama, we shouldn’t be sad about our house, because all our memories are happy.” 

So thank you, yellow house, for all the happy memories. And for keeping us safe and comfortable as we learned how to create a strong family and a loving home.

I sure hope the new owners have a leaf blower.


A Thank You to My Daughter the Week She Turns 13

Dear Sweetpea, 

You’re a teenager now! We’re entering into some uncharted territory for both of us, but I have high hopes it’s going to be mostly wonderful. Everything up to this point, plus my eternal optimism, makes me believe this.  

Photo cred: Desiree Swanson. Cheek cred: 100% Cassidy.

Photo cred: Desiree Swanson. Cheek cred: 100% Cassidy.

Before we jump headfirst into this teen hood thing, though, I just want to thank you for being all the things you are that give me such joy. You may not realize how important your you-ness is to my confidence about your future, and how much I appreciate who you are. So here’s a shot at telling you.

Thank you for making me a mom. For coming into this world a very fashionable week late and impressing the doctors and nurses with your robust size and prompt entry, once you decided it was time to meet the world. At a solid 9 pounds 7 ounces of perfect, round sweetness, you laughed in the face of newborn clothes. And I suddenly felt what it was like to hold the entirety of my heart in my own two hands. And on my forearms. Like I said, you were a hefty chunk of baby.   

Thank you for being patient as we both figured out breast feeding. Those were hard days. You were adamant that the milk that was sustaining your monument to baby cheeks should simply flow into your mouth without any work on your part. Occasionally you bit me. I get it, you were hungry. You cried a lot. I cried more. Daddy ran out to get every possible chair/cushion/music/blanket/ancient talisman possible to make breastfeeding easier for us. He felt helpless and tried so hard. Luckily, we figured it out. And the whole time, you never dropped below the size of most babies at three months old.   

Thank you for being an excellent sleeper, an excellent eater, and endless source of drool. Until the age of three, you had the ability to soak through a waterproof bib, which you wore pretty much round-the-clock to protect your clothes from the geyser of spit inside your mouth. It was adorable.  

When you turned about 18 months old,  you started to cry.  A lot. When you were tired, hungry, frustrated, overwhelmed, surprised, scared, impatient, irritated, or any other emotion beyond pure happiness. Again, that taught me patience. And that I had a long way to go to becoming Mother of the Year when I said things like “I love you all the time, but I love you more when you’re not crying.” 

Thank you for your incredible imagination. Daisy, your imaginary friend who lived in a purple house/sometimes castle, was a constant source of stories and entertainment. She liked purple cake, she wore purple clothes, and had several pet yaks. I don’t believe they were purple. When you were seven, we saw an actual purple house driving in the city one day, and sadly, you rarely talked about the house again. The one in your imagination must have been so much better. Daisy hung around for about a year more, but disappeared too, when Carson was born.  

Thank you for loving horses as much as I always hoped you would. I tried not to push it when you were really little, for fear you’d reject the opportunity that was right in front of you and announce one day that you really just wanted to play basketball. But no, you toddled along to all my riding lessons, petted all the horses on the nose, went for rides with the stirrups taken all the way up to the top, and carried your faithful tiny stuffed horse, Little Sandwich, everywhere with you.  When you got your first pony, I saw that same giddiness, that same connection I’ve always felt with my horses, and I know you’ll have it for the rest of your life. Of all the things I’ve been able to give you, beside my love, that is probably my most precious gift. Because when your life is going crappy, or even when it’s going great, you know that a few, silent moments in the barn and some hot horse breath on your shoulder can make everything right with the world.    

Thank you for your sensitivity. From a very young age you were aware of other kids and their feelings, making sure others always felt included. Your empathy has always been on high alert, which has sometimes been exhausting for you. I’ll admit there was a little girl named Kathy at daycare who made you cry every day for about a month, and when I passed her mom on the sidewalk I really wanted to punch her in the face. So thank you also for giving me the opportunity to practice restraint. And forgiveness, because something was causing Kathy to be mean to you, and maybe her mom wasn’t nice to her, who knows. We’re all the result of something innocent that came before us.  

Thank you for being so loyal. I see the friendships you’ve formed and the kids in your circles who are lucky to know you. With your sweet best friends, the feeling is mutual. Your choice in companions reflects your own kindness and respect for others. I feel so lucky you’ve chosen to surround yourself with such kind, funny, well-intentioned kids.    

Thank you for your courage. I’ve watched you literally get back up on the horse. Specifically, a pony name Biscuit, the little shit, who bucked you off in the warm-up arena and then in the show arena, right in front of the judge. You got back on. You finished the class. You came out with a smile. Your Daddy cried a little, but we were all better for it. You are so brave – don’t ever forget that.  

Thank you for your sense of humor. For making me laugh unintentionally when you were really little, and now, on purpose. Thank you for drawing a face on a plastic lemon, naming it Skippy Dinglechalk and carrying it in your backpack for no other reason than it is ridiculous. You understand at such a young age that different is wonderful and you embrace that in yourself and your friends.

Thank you for your maturity. As much as you love to be silly, you have an innate sense for when to be strong. Or calm. Or a cheerleader. You are sometimes wise beyond your years. When you eat salad with your fingers is not one of those times, but I’ll let that slide.

Thank you for your sense of self. You have embraced being a tween, and now a teen, with the joyful abandon of a bunch of baby goats wearing pajamas, running through a barn. Which you know, of course, is about the best way to approach anything.   

You make me laugh. You make me think. You straighten me out occasionally. You are everything I didn’t know I’d hope you’d be, and every day you surprise me with something that makes me prouder to be your mom. I love spending time with you. I love hearing about how you’ve spent your time when we’re apart. I love who you are now and who you’re becoming.   

Thank you for being you.

Love, Mama