Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Tomorrow, Friday September 19th, is my one year anniversary for completing chemo.

I know- yay!

It is, obviously, a cause for reflection as well as celebration.  Two of my sillier work mates gave me hand drawn cards today, basically celebrating the fact that I am not dead and emphasizing how I kicked cancer's ass...  I would post a picture of them... however, they are not, well, let's say appropriate. :)

I adore silliness- anyone who knows me knows that, it keeps me from taking myself (and the world) too seriously.  But, this, this is amazing.

Made for me by one of my co workers - beautiful
So, lots of celebration!  and it's not even until tomorrow.

The reflection part is oddly difficult for me.  I feel like I should be "changed" in some way.  More profound or wise or something...  but no.  Still me.  Which is A-OK, I love me, and think I am pretty great, but profound and wise?  Not so much.

Probably, the biggest change for me is not putting off things I want to do.  And trying new things that are scary but fun.  Like going to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD (way, way more fun than I could have imagined!), driving the truck and horse trailer by myself (oh! the freedom!).  Going to horse camp, going back country horse packing in the Bob Marshall wilderness, riding on the back of my husband's motorcycle-all of it.  All the wonderful, glorious fun-filled adventures that are out there, just waiting to be enjoyed! I encourage you to go and do it, whatever it is.  The dishes, the dust, the laundry... all of that crap will be there tomorrow- Don't forget to live this life you have!!

I try to enjoy (really, truly, deeply enjoy) every little joy that comes my way.  Magpie, our border collie, wagging her tail and licking my face. My horse nickering at me. Our cat stretching up on his hind legs, begging me to pick him up. The deep, deep pinky oranges of the sunset. My husband hugging me for no particular reason and telling me I am his favorite. My life... 
My life kicks ass.

I try not to worry at all.  I don't mean not care, or not be careful or thoughtful.  I mean worry- like "what if this?" "what if that?"  "what if the whole world exploded???"   Key word being try... I still find myself obsessing about money (or really lack there of) and being grumpy about last minute changes.  But I can put it in perspective pretty quickly.  Having survived a "life-threatening illness" gives you a different perspective. 

I put "life-threatening illness" in quotes because it never really felt like that.  It felt like a big time suck and a pain in the ass and, yes I felt like the bottom of a cowboy boot fresh off the cow pasture some days, but I never (never-ever) felt like this is it, I am dying...  Maybe no one ever does.  Who knows?

The thing is, one year later, all I can remember is how much love and care I received from my friends and my family.  How they made me laugh and kept me strong and told me how beautiful I was, even when I knew I looked like crap.  I love each and every one of you and plan to stay around for as long as possible, making you laugh and giving you strength when you need it and maybe, once in a while, saying something wise or profound...

Live it- It's all you have!

Me, at Mt. Rushmore (I am the colorful one!)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Livin' Life

Well, oh my gosh... I have been shaking and jiving and running amok!  My fellow co-workers are unsure if I am still employed here full time.  I've been out rocking and rolling more than I have been sitting at this desk.  It's good. No, it's great!  Here is the quick run down:

The Babies!!  One of the few photos from Madras 2014...
 When I wrote last we were on our way to Madras, OR for the annual Small Farmers Journal Auction.  The auction was fair to middling, but the experience was just not the same.  This year they did not have any informational seminars, demonstrations, round tables, not even any horses (no, not one- our camping neighbor had to keep his horse in the trailer while on the fairgrounds, as stock was strictly prohibited this year).  It was a little depressing to travel that far to look at rusty junk, but the B-man and I have a good time anywhere we go, so it was still fun.  I did however, write a letter of complaint.  Well, not complaint so much as a plea to bring back all the cool stuff.
A big highlight of the trip was getting to meet a HorseBook friend of mine that lives down by Bend. (HorseBook is the Steve Rother version of FaceBook- you can check it out here: Excel with Horses club)
The internet is such an amazing thing... I have digitally interacted with Jen for more than a year.  It was so fun to meet her in 3D and have dinner together (extra bonus- it was the man's birthday and he got to wear an enormous sombrero and eat flan!!)  Unfortunately, I am a big loser, so no photos...

From there I had a couple of uninteresting weeks of work (JK- my dear boss reads this, so I want to let her know that I love my job :) ) and then... drum roll please...

The Cabin

YAY!  I am completely addicted to Rother Horsemanship Horse Camps.  This was my third time and I just can't say enough good about it.  The setting is so beautiful, the weather was outrageous- we had a few thunder showers, but they never lasted more than 20 minutes or so and then RAINBOWS! The food is awesome and the company is always great.  And all of that is just a backdrop to five days of intensive, top notch teaching and learning about horses and communication and timing and commitment... There is dust and sweat.  There are tears of frustration and joy.  There is laughter and camaraderie and rooting for each other and big hoots of hurrays when someone finally gets that thing they have been working at so hard.

 It is truly the highlight of my horse year.

The Rig

The Boy
The boy (Cheyenne is his name :) ) was very good this year.  No pitching a fit and flopping down and bruising his ribs like last year.  Here he is practicing being tied.  Well, actually he is practicing being patient.

See, I am a good boy!
 I practiced tying.  A knot to be specific.  A Bowline Knot to be even more specific:

Francesca loaned me this book to practice!
I used the Steve Rother method of 5-10-15.  5 minutes of absolute crap, 10 minutes of hit and miss and the 15 minutes of doing it correctly.  It works (for horses too!) and here is the proof:

Yes, successfully tied to the high line!
We (Cheyenne and I) are getting much better together- My horsemanship skills, and therefore confidence and leadership, are rapidly improving lately.  Steve, Francesca and my hometown friend Lynn are to thank for that.  I can't express enough gratitude for patient, knowledgeable instructors!

Here we are in a beautiful spot (one of many at Horse Creek Ranch)

What a nice boy...
And here are some of my new friends on a trail ride there:

Well I am off for another adventure filled weekend... This time with my delightful husband!
We will spend our 11th wedding anniversary riding some new trails!  My heart overflows...

I wish you a joy filled solstice!  We made it another 1/2 a year already!!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cultivating Compassion

I've not felt very bloggy lately... I am not sure why.  It may have something to do with an office full of teenagers every work day.  Or the sunnyish spring time weather which makes me lust for outside and fresh air and horse hair.  Or perhaps the fact that, beginning with this month, we are trying to cram in every activity that chemotherapy prevented us from doing last year.

On that note, it was almost exactly one year ago that I started my cancer treatment journey.  I remember this not because I am good with dates, but because every year at the end of April we go to Madras Oregon for the Small Farmers Journal Auction.  And last year we took the "big rig" right into downtown Spokane to meet our surgical oncologist for the first time.  Of course, we had made the appointment to coincide with our already scheduled trip!

Imagine negotiating this bad boy down the narrow one way streets of Spokane!  Luckily my husband is a professional.
Time is very interesting to me.  Cancer, cancer treatment, surgery and recovery seem like a lifetime ago and just yesterday.  Now that my body is all healed and recovered, I have been trying to deal with the emotional trauma.  I have always believed that pent up emotion leads to physical ailment.  That was a hard pill to swallow (no pun about illness intended!) when I was diagnosed with cancer.  It became apparent to me that some emotional work needed to be done.  After surrendering to the idea that I could no longer depend on my body to ward off every illness, I also had to surrender to the idea that I couldn't just tough out any emotional situation with good thoughts and a smile.  Stuffing down one's emotion is not a permanent solution... 

I have always been a weeper- ask my husband.  I cry at Kleenex commercials.  But I became increasingly irritated with my inability to talk about anything I was passionate about without bursting into tears.  So I began counseling.  And luckily my therapist uses EMDR.  You should click the link and read about it.  Really, I'll wait.

Isn't it fascinating?  It is like magic.  Even though she explained it, I don't really understand how it works.  I just know that it does.  And to be clear- I don't have anything I would call severe trauma (even though my therapist told me that comparing traumas is like trying to compare apples and boxer shorts :) ) just things that have happened throughout my life that have left me with feelings of being worthless, unlovable, powerless.  She and I go back and revisit these incidents and then process through them with my adult eyes and wisdom.  It is incredibly powerful.  And freeing.  I can't overemphasize that part. At the end of each session, I feel so light and full of joy it is kind of hard to describe.

Anyway, I tell you all of this because yesterday I came up with a pretty big breakthrough.  It is really a game changer, if I can keep hold of it.  Hang onto your hats, because I am going to share it with you:

I feel better when I treat other people in my life with compassion rather than judgement.

There it is.  That's it.  I have to say it feels more impressive than it looks.

Here's the thing- My first reaction is to judge.  It is easy and makes me feel oh so superior.  Well, fleetingly superior.  But it doesn't help me to learn or grow.  When I judge, what I am saying is "I have the corner market on the truth." But really, do I?  Who am I to say that my truth is the only truth.  If I interact with compassion, with empathy, knowing that everyone is struggling with something, I can come away with a soft and open heart, a prerequisite for growth and learning.  Isn't that awesome?

Since my cancer treatment and the resulting changes to my physical body, I have become keenly aware that the person I am is more important that how I look.  In that vein, I am Cultivating Compassion.  Oh, and setting boundaries.  Just because I understand your struggle doesn't mean I am jumping into the swill with you.  However, I will stand on the bank and cheer!

And since this has been a pretty photo-deficient post, I will leave you with this super cute photo of my horse and me at a Rother Horsemanship clinic!!  

Happy Weekend!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hyperactive Hair...

I see you there, in the shadow on the bathroom stall wall. Sticking up off the top of my head like a cockatiel's crest. 

My Hair.

oh my.

Look in the mirror and just burst into laughter.  I accept. But it is still funny.  This crazy ass hair that won't sit down... maybe my hair has ADHD.  Perhaps it needs more exercise and less sugar.  All I know is that it WILL NOT BEHAVE.

I have tried gel, brushing when wet, not brushing when wet, scrunching, blow drying (this was a big YIKES!!) resorted to scarves, hats, hairbands.  It is officially out of control.

I know now why I have always enjoyed my long hair- it was so much more manageable.  If it started acting up, a brush and a pony tail holder were all I needed to whip it into submission.  It was like having a good, old dog that understands how things work- we don't bark at everyone and everything, we don't jump up on people (especially sleeping people...), we don't beg at the table, we come when called.  This new hair, this short, curly wild hair, is like having a puppy- no manners and everywhere at once.

If only my hair was this cute...
I suppose, like a puppy, this hair will grow up and settle down.  The problem is this: we tolerate puppies' crazy behavior because they are so cute.  My hair? not so much.  I guess I will just have to tolerate it because it is attached to my head.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Journey

Do you see the upside down heart?  My sweet cousin Lisa pointed it out to me!

It was about this time last year that I started my journey with breast cancer. I could no longer ignore the lump I kept feeling in my right breast.  Could no longer push it off as swelling associated with my period or maybe a bump or bruise.  I went to my doctor, assuming I would get the exams, tests, etc. and be told- “oh, it is just a little, benign mass.  You have nothing to worry about.”  Of course, that is not what I heard.  I heard the dreaded words carcinoma and invasive.

You can read about my experience here: The Saga, The Saga Part 2, and Chemo Sucks

I am thinking about it now, not necessarily because of the anniversary, but because another one of my friends has recently been diagnosed.  She started her chemotherapy this week.  And then the clerk at the local convenience store,  who is also a friend and knows my story, told me that one of her customers had also just been diagnosed and did I know of a support group.  “I don’t know of a support group, but I am willing to be a support, here is my phone number, please share it with her.”

When I was first diagnosed, I was amazed at the number of women (that I knew-personally) that told me that they had either had or were very close to someone who had breast cancer.  The press calls breast cancer an epidemic.  Hearing that and knowing that are two different things.  An epidemic seems impersonal.  and "over there" not raging through my small town community.

In light of this epidemic, here are some things that I have learned on my journey.

Blame is useless.

I have blamed myself for my cancer.  I must have done/ not done, eaten/ not eaten, drunk/not drunk something wrong. 

I have blamed my environment. I must have been exposed to, involuntarily ingested, breathed in some toxin.

I have blamed my genetic makeup.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Whatever made the cancer grow, made it grow.  That revelation doesn’t mean that I will throw up my hands and just do whatever I want now- I will continue to eat a healthy diet, keep my weight down, keep my alcohol consumption under control.  What it means is that life is a crap shoot.  We try as hard as we can, do our best and “bad” things can still happen.

Pain is pain.  And pain is universal.

Although I am supremely grateful for the ease of my treatment and the quick return of good health, I still struggle with what this disease has stolen from me.  It stole my unwavering belief in my strong healthy body.  It stole my complacence that death is far away and abstract.  It stole my shaky, yet emerging, sense of confidence in my physical appearance. 

Most literally, most immediately, it stole my breasts and my hair. My hair is returning, slowly, slowly.  Currently I am stuck as the 1980’s version of Pat Benatar, but boobless and not as badass.  It’s hard, although not as hard as the 2 weeks ago Mon Chi Chi look. 
Mon chi chi, Mon chi chi...

 It whittles away at my self esteem, which is already sort of a meringue and toothpick sort of affair.  It makes me face up to how vain I am and have always been.  I didn’t feel vain, but the Universe apparently felt I was and sought to help straighten that out. 

My boobs. My boobs are gone and they ain’t coming back.  I am okay with it. and I’m not.  It depends on the day minute.  Physically it feels fine.  When I am walking around, I feel thin and strong- powerful even.  If only mirrors could reflect back how we feel instead of what we actually look like…

So here I am. Struggling.  Struggling and feeling small about it.  Is it really appropriate for me to struggle with my outward appearance when I could have died?  Can I really feel “less than” and boyish and not good enough when I kicked cancer ass last year?

Apparently, the answer to all those questions is yes.

It is uncomfortable for me to write about this and share that my armor of self-confidence and good spirits and happy-happy may have a pretty big chink in it.  But I am doing it.  I am doing it because it is okay.  And it is important to share that it is okay.

We all walk around with our game face on.  Showing that we are invincible.  Taking life’s knocks and keeping a smile.  I applaud this- it is important not to fold up and blow away with every little ripple. 

Equally important, and I am just beginning to fully realize this, is to recognize that sometimes you need to embrace your frailty.  And that there is no reason to try and quantify that frailty, if that were even possible.  Pain is pain, ours is not to judge, but to be kind and learn.  To hold ourselves, as we would our lover or our child, and let ourselves hurt. 

Because ultimately, it will be okay and the sun will shine again.

Be well my blog readers.  I hope that your sun is shining this week!

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Poem

You can blame it on Anna, my poem minstrel friend.

or on the fact that I have to move work spaces, so I have to clean out my desk.

or this weird bout of "spring cleaning" that I have been experiencing.

But, whatever the reason, I have come up with a poem.  That I wrote.  It was buried under some work related papers in my paper sorter.

and, since I never, ever throw anything away, ever- I even had an electronic version saved, so I don't even have to re-type it.

It was a response to some type of writing prompt, which I can no longer remember, so I can't take the credit for being super creative.  However, it is still a poem and a super feat for a linear, science brain!

Behold, the poem: (it's about me)


Joyful, playful, healthy, fun
daughter of stoic, driven European immigrants

lover of………       riding horses through green mountain meadows
                     bright yellow sunflowers in dark blue vases…
                           brilliant full moons peeking in my nighttime window

Who feels grateful to be here, overwhelmed by the bounty of a joyous life and also deeply sorrowful over the suburbanization of our world.

Who finds happiness in spending time with her one true love,
working, laughing, loving.

Who needs big open spaces filled with animals and flowers.

Who gives her heart, and
Who fears it won’t be returned.

Who would like to see society valuing the earth over profit.

Who enjoys porter style beers that taste like chocolate milk…

Who likes to wear her hair down, held back from her face by a small, sparkly dragonfly comb- that used to be mom’s.

Resident of the Big Sky country, Hartsong Ranch

 So there it is.  A poem.
and a photo of my cute horse from August!

Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


My friend Anna, who is uber-awesome, is writing a poem a day as her 2014 challenge.  That is 365 poems, for any of my numerically challenged readers, and that is a shit-pile of poems.  Here is the link to her blog, in case you are a poemaholic. Ingenious Torture (cool name, no?)

I am not a poemaholic and I have confessed to dear Anna that I prefer her prose on each blog post to her poems.  That does not mean her poetry is bad or that poetry in anyway is inferior to prose, my mind just works better in straight lines. No jazz, no abstract paintings, no chaotic juxtaposition of words or images for this linear, science brain.  It may be why I love weaving with its straight, logical sequence of events.

This?  YES

This? Not so much. (Rod Seeley)

This logical, sequential way of experiencing the world definitely has its advantages- project follow through, detail oriented task mongering, solving math problems...  it does, however, have its drawbacks- free flowing creativity is not my strong suit, I don't get to hang out in dark, smoke-filled rooms talking philosophy with beautiful, long haired, flowing shirt beatniks because jazz music makes my head want to explode.  All in all, having a linear brain is not nearly as cool as having a poem brain... although, I do appreciate my way of being and tax time doesn't really stress me out, so that's a bonus.  It also means, however, that I have to strike while the iron is hot- if I get an inspiration, I need to go with it immediately or it gets left in the stream- BACK THERE.

I had not intended to write about my linear way of being, I intended to write about angst (thus the title).  The idea came to me from reading Anna's poem Incantation - well, let's be honest, from reading her prose surrounding the poem.  So to come full circle (which is still linear, if you go slow enough) here are my thoughts about her thoughts.

 Anna writes about stress.  How ubiquitous it is and how we use that word to describe every feeling we have that we don't like.  I agree.  And I love her description of our students' relationship with it.  She  discusses how stress evolved to keep our bodies safe, but has turned on us in modern life and started attacking us, much like a feral dog that bites you because you have trapped it in a corner.  I believe we have trapped our stress response in a figurative corner and this is causing a lot of modern day issues, health and mental.  One most pressing and obvious- Angst.

Angst- (From the online version of the Merriam Webster dictionary): a strong feeling of being worried or nervous : a feeling of anxiety about your life or situation.

Anna's musings about stress made me think about angst.  Anxiety.  Worry, nerves, fear. My husband and I have ongoing discussions about this.  It seems to be an ever increasing issue.  Not so much for us.  I mean we have the regular worries about money, our animals, our health, but nothing overwhelming.  Nothing that stops our lives.  Yet, we hear others talking about this debilitating level of anxiousness. About having to take medication for anxiety.  While I have no problem with people taking the medication they need to live their lives to the fullest, I do wonder where all this anxiety is coming from.

I blame modern society.

OH! that is a broad, sweeping accusation, is it not?  But look at it this way: our nervous system evolved to deal with a certain amount of struggle (avoiding saber-toothed tigers and finding food and shelter).  We are chemically primed for fight or flight.  What happens to those chemicals when your biggest daily struggle is picking out which shoes to wear?  They are still there, ready to do their job, but without real, physical struggle all they manifest is worry and anxiety. 

If one had to spend all day physically working to get fuel for a fire, meat to cook, hauling water (you get the picture) one would not have a lot of energy left to worry about, let's say... whether your mother in law thinks you keep the house clean enough.  Which causes you stress, which causes your body to secrete the fight or flight chemicals which you can't really use, because honestly you can't out run or fight a thought.  Now you have this chemical storm going on and no real resolution (if you were trying to out run that tiger, you either would or you would get eaten.  Either way- situation resolved.  With thoughts, not so much.)

Modern society has made our lives so ultra convenient that instead of burning up physical energy doing something productive and useful, instead of building confidence and strength with struggle, we are left watching TV and worrying whether our electronic device is as good as the one in the commercial.

What's the solution?  Obviously, physical struggle.  And I am not joking about that.  I feel pretty well grounded, grateful, mostly balanced, happy.  I believe that is because I work hard, physically, when I am able.  I tote hay and water, shovel shit, dig in the dirt, ride horses - all these sorts of primitive things. Because the reward is in the struggle.

Sweat is good!

I believe if, as a society, we moved back towards doing things with our hands and bodies, as much as we are able, a lot of the angst would fade away.  We could un-corner our stress, let the feral dog run free.  Use our stress hormones to produce something useful, instead of slowly killing us.

I dare you to try it.  When you are feeling stressed or anxious do something physical- walk around the block, jump rope, wrestle with your dog (or kid if you have one), dance till you are gasping.  Do enough physical activity to make you tired, panting for breath tired, and see what happens with your anxiety.  I bet that saber-toothed tiger can't catch you.