Go On Home

I don't get out much.

I actually like it that way.

Now that I'm "out in the world" again, it's hitting home hard just how much I never get out. I've found myself in some ....um.... strange-for-me situations lately, mostly when dealing with Joe Public.

Like today, for instance. This guy comes in that reminded me of this photo I found awhile ago. You can see just how outrageously ridiculous the guy is, and today, the man that came in was about the same as this guy in the photo - minus the tacky plaid. Instead, he had on a shiny, faux silk shirt.

Yep, I dealt with "Party Marty" today. To give the guy a break, I didn't jump to Party Marty right away. I held off as long as I could on that first impression thing. It was when he told me, "I think you need a nice, warm man to snuggle with" that I had no choice but to slam him into the Party Marty category.

What did I say in response? "Oh, you just go home!"

To give you a little background, I've never been good at knowing if or when someone is flirting with me. Plus, I figured now that I'm old, no one would flirt anyway and I don't even think about it. So, be honest with me: Was that flirting? Who would use such a lame line as that? What would you have said back?

I wish I could've seen the look on my face. Horror, surprise and skepticism, all at once. Then, I felt guilty. Right there before me was a person more a social bumbler than me. I've been outdone. Instead of being humble, I was horrified. Oh, I feel so ashamed!

Sorry, Party Marty. I have a headache.


Watching for Signs

I have a great parking spot at work. It's wider than the rest of the spots, and no one ever parks on the passenger side of my truck. Most of the time, people will choose to squeeze into another spot instead of parking in mine, which makes it easier for me when I come back from lunch and find my spot still open. It bothers me not a bit to park next to the dumpster!

At the far end of the parking lot is the quietest too. During breaks, I will stand out there and listen. This past week has been a noisy one. The huge trees are landing spots for birds galore, and the bare branches will be filled until a sudden whoosh when they all take off at once.

I'm not a bird fan. I don't suppose I'm any different than anyone else who watched The Birds when they were too young to watch a movie like that. Still, I get a kick out of observing bird-brained behavior. Like, one time a huge tree was filled with black birds - and one white one with a different chirp. I've seen robins and blue and red jays, and all sorts of birds I can't identify.

For me, since I grew up in the north east, the bird song means the return of spring. It's a very welcomed sound! But, I live in the south now, and I have no idea what's 'normal' for Arkansas. So, I look for other signs to get a better sense of what is being indicated. Imagine my surprise when I returned from lunch on Friday to see these daffodils (thanks Jude!) that sprouted up, and right under my front bumper! I didn't see them when I arrived in the morning, but there they were when I came back from lunch. Things do tend to grow fast here, but that fast?

I have my eyes pealed for signs, and I'm seeing all sorts of them. Not just with the weather either. My new job is a joy. I work with a genuinely great bunch of people. They work hard and enjoy every minute of it. After a particularly busy week, we ended Friday with tears running down our faces from laughing so hard. It's so energizing.

Not all the happenings are positive. In fact, the negatives are just as intensely bad as the positives are good. It takes more negatives to balance out the huge positive of a great job, and the negatives have piled up. Heh. They haven't won though. Nope. I will not be brought down!

It's all a dance. With eyes wide open (and my camera handy), I'm ready for the next sign to present itself.


Empty Nest Pity Party

You know, maybe I didn't do a good job with The Birds and The Bees talk. Or, maybe I did too well. Who knows?

But, if you're a single parent, then your one and only kid shouldn't grow up so fast and leave the nest so soon, right?

Then again, he was a teenager first, and that tends to cure a lot of the "cute" a kid once was. I mean, the toys left out around the house went from Legos to video games and empty pizza boxes in no time flat. The dishwasher could be empty, and the cupboards bare because a hefty percentage of the available glasses, cups, silverware and plates and bowls are piled up around that teenager's room. And, forget about pitching in on the usual household chores, unless you want to spend weeks harping and bitching and nagging.

I should be happy now. I should be elated. The things that were driving me crazy for the last 20 odd years moved out when my son did. Right?

OK, I'm happy the messes are gone along with all the reasons to harp and complain. Life is quite a bit less stressful. I mean, I can even keep my kitchen clean now. I know where things are since they are still where I put them last. It's a lot less stressful.

Yet, what I'm doing is throwing myself a pity party. I miss that pain in the rump kid of mine. Oh, I have lots of conversation with all my animals, but they didn't take all the history classes I slept through in high school and can't answer my stupid questions about it. My dogs are mouthy, yes, and they really don't listen any better than my kid did, but it's just not the same somehow. My horse is super intelligent, but he doesn't answer questions either. The best he can do is pin his ears and shake his head. Come to think of it, my kid did a lot of that too.

Bring out the violins now... Here I am, half a century old, and I have no idea what to do with myself now that it's just me again.


I think it's time for another childhood. Yeah. I could be onto something here. Maybe a red convertible sports car, leopard patterned, skin-tight tops and leather pants topped off with bleach blond hair. I'll buy new makeup and apply it a few inches thick before I head out for a night on the town. I'll learn to flirt and fall all over men, lie about my age and drink them all under the table.

Um, maybe not. That sounds like it would run past my 9:00 bedtime...

So, what is a girl to do?


The Search for Green

As gorgeous as it looks, it was only in the high 40s today. Still, I threw on a few layers and headed out with my camera. The lack of color has been a bit dampening on the wish to get out there to look for things to take photos of lately. I took a hint from Odin. He will search out and find green, no matter how tiny it is. Good thing he pointed it out to me. I'm well past the point of needing spring to be here!


Understanding Self-Harm

It seems like it's on the rise. Usually, it's well hidden and only seen when a shirt sleeve hikes up a little. One case I dealt with may offer some insight, but as is often the case with friends, family members and professionals alike, it is difficult to understand. It is not easy to comprehend why anyone would choose to inflict serious, traumatic injury to themselves. Called self-harm, self-injury or self-mutilation, the condition is often horrifying to discover in a person close to you.

Self-injury is defined as any sort of injury or pain inflicted on one's own body, and includes behaviors such as hair pulling, picking the skin, excessive or dangerous use of mind-altering substances such as alcohol, and eating disorders along with cutting and burning the skin. Extreme cases include amputation of limbs and genitalia.

The image above illustrates a new dimension to self-mutilating behavior called self-embedding. In this instance, teenage girls "deliberately embedded in their arms, hands, feet, ankles and necks objects such as needles, staples, wood, stone, glass, paper clips, pencil lead and crayons."

I worked with a 15 year old boy that self-mutilated, and by the looks of his arms, it was quite often. He came from a middle-class family, attended one of the best schools, was a football player, had good grades, then suddenly became out of control. His parents filed a PINS petition because he became physically threatening when they did try to control him. After an arrest, they were at their wits' end. The judge put him in a detention home, then allowed me to find an appropriate placement for him. I chose a specialized group home for him.

The boy was soft-spoken, polite and not at all threatening with me when I would visit him at the detention center. I found him very intelligent, creative and artistic, and honest. When I asked him to tell me about his arms, he said that it was his way of feeling, feeling anything, and that it lets him know that he is still alive.

When looking at the clinical cases of self-mutilation, there are two types: nondissociative and dissociative. In nondissociative self-mutilation, a child was "parentified," meaning there was a serious role reversal between the child and parents when the child was quite young. Dependence comes from the parents instead of the child who is then forced to be nurturing and supportive. In this case, the child finds that it is impossible to express anger and rage, and later uses self-mutilation to compensate. In dissociative self-mutilation, the child feels a lack of warmth or cruelty from parents with an overall sense of disconnection. In this case, self-mutilation centers the person and brings a sense of focus.

Most often, people who self-mutilate are between the ages of 15 and 35, and have difficulty expressing anger, rage, pain or sadness and use the sudden physical pain they inflict on themselves as a way of escaping those feelings. When under stress, they can't seem to think and feel overwhelmingly powerless, and turn to physical pain for relief.

Self-mutilating behavior is not an attempt at suicide, nor is it attention-seeking behavior. After an episode of cutting, for instance, the person usually feels better, and most often will cut in private and conceal the wounds.

Take note of the people in your lives, and if you see any clues that self-mutilation is occurring, do your best not to act horrified or stare at the wounds you see. Do not judge. Self-harm is a coping mechanism, and the best treatment is support and understanding and learning other coping mechanisms to take its place. Get professional help.

Note: I'm told that "cutting" is now a fad of sorts among teenagers, along with piercing and tattoos. It is not the same, though it may appear to be just as injurious. With body piercing, tattoos and now "cutting," the end result is the purpose, the trophy. It is not the same as self-harm for the sake of easing emotional pain.


Maybe It's the Rain

I found this photo of a sculpture by Tim Parkinson awhile ago. I think it's cool, and quite a hoot. I also relate to it, though I highly doubt my mouth and foot would ever be in vicinity of each other.

I'm looking at it now, hoping it will raise my spirits. I was just sitting here when a sudden wave of gloom and doom hit me. It has knocked the wind right out of me. I don't know what it means, if anything, but it sure isn't a comfortable feeling. Has that ever happened to you?

I don't know; maybe it's just the rain...


Life as a Carriage Horse

I'd like to introduce you to "Duke." Duke is owned by a friend of mine here in Arkansas, and I know the horse well. It's obvious by all the stuff he has on him that he's a carriage horse, which the lunatics have been making a big noise about being so cruel and inhumane for horses. Let me tell you about Duke, and then you can decide for yourself how horrible his life is. OK?

If a person owns something that makes money, that has value, that person is going to take good care of it so that it can keep making money, right? Even if that thing doesn't make money but serves a big purpose in life, for instance a car, then a person is going to take care of it so that it can keep making those trips between Point A and Point B. It's just common sense.

The second point to make is that the first point is a generalized statement. Is it true in every single case? No, but it's pretty safe to say that, for the most part, it's broadly accepted as the truth. What PETA has done in the case of carriage horses is make such a big noise about those one or two instances that don't fit into the broadly accepted generalized truth to the point where people begin to think of those random instances instead of the broadly accepted generalized truth. Ah, the power of advertising and publicity!

The life of a carriage horse is pretty sedate. In the morning they are fed and watered, then the harness goes on and they are hitched to the carriage. In larger outfits, a horse might 'work' 3 to 4 days a week, then have the rest of the week off. Once hitched, they head out to their work station where they stand, waiting for customers. Once customers decide they want a relaxing tour of the metro area, the horse heads off at a slow, cadenced walk around a block or two. Back at the work station, they lock their knees and promptly fall asleep.

"Oh, but it's so terrible for a horse to be around all that traffic and all those people!" and "All those people in the carriage must be really heavy!" and "That horse has to stand up all day." and "Boy, is that horse sweating!"

If I were a horse, I wouldn't be a carriage horse because I can't stand to be in cities, in traffic or around a lot of people. The horses that can't stand it either aren't chosen to be carriage horses. Plain and simple. A carriage horse is a "dead head" and "bomb proof." They don't react to the things that would cause other horses to turn tail and get the hell out of Dodge. Horses are born with this particular trait, which is why you will see most carriages pulled by large and steady draft breeds.

Oh, that heavy carriage bit really gets me. I am 5 foot 3 inches tall, overweight and way out of shape. The heaviest carriage my friend owns runs around 1,200 pounds, and I've pushed the thing myself quite a few times and quite a distance. No, I couldn't push it up the ramps and into the trailer myself, mostly because I couldn't keep it on the ramps, but my friend has. Trust me, those things roll easy! If they didn't, horse-drawn carriages wouldn't be possible to begin with. A horse will give up if the weight they are trying to pull doesn't move. Once a horse gives up, then you have a ruined carriage horse.

A horse is a prey animal, meaning their biggest form of self-defense, of survival is flight. You can't flee from a mountain lion wanting supper if you're laying down sound asleep. So, a horse sleeps standing up, thanks to the locking mechanism in the front legs. The eyes stay open and the ears stay on alert, and that drooping lower lip is the only thing that lets you know that the horse is asleep. Horses sleep in about 20 minute spans, and only need to go into a full sleep - laying down, stretched out and dreaming away - about once a week, and again, it's not for very long. Because of this, horses prefer to be out in the open. If left to decide for themselves, a horse would not go into a barn!

Horses are also lazy, which is another survival mechanism. They are the master of energy conservation so that they can flee whenever threatened. Horses that are required to work, expending energy to do their task, will fall right asleep to recharge their battery as soon as the opportunity arises. So, when a carriage horse comes back from taking a load of people on a short jaunt, it will cock a hind foot and fall right asleep. Look for that drooping lower lip.

When it's hot out, dogs pant, people pit out their shirts, and horses sweat. A horse sweats for the same reason that you and I sweat. The damp surface area is cooled by evaporation and a breeze. A horse will also breathe a bit harder because it is breathing out hot air and breathing in cool air. It's all built into the horse's physiology, and the same warning signs apply to horses as they do to humans. You look for signs of dehydration and cool skin, and you know you're looking at heat stroke. It's not rocket science!

My friend bought Duke a few years ago, from a trader in New England. Duke is half, if not full, Percheron, one of the draft breeds. He was a former New York City carriage horse, and when he arrived, he had his license number carved into one front hoof. The horse trader didn't know why he was retired, or I don't remember, but said he was also trained to ride.

After a few weeks of giving Duke the time to adjust to his new surroundings, my friend hooked him up to a cart. He's a "push button" horse, very well trained, and he knows his job very well. She's pulled Duke's shoes and he does his jobs wearing boots that look like sneakers made for horses. He now works one or two days a weekend and spends the rest of the time romping in the pasture, getting fat and sassy on good hay and feed.

Back around Thanksgiving, I went out to the pasture to hang out with Duke and Earl, another white carriage horse, once it became too overwhelming for me to be in the house with all the people there. I sat down on the ground, and Duke stood over me and promptly feel asleep. I wiggled over and used his front legs as a back rest and got some shut-eye myself. It's not often you'd find a horse so trusting and trustworthy as that, and I'd have to say he's a danged happy horse.

Just look at that photo and tell me he doesn't know he's awesome to look at and he's proud to do his job! Does he look neglected or mistreated in any way? You can learn more about Duke and Earl at The Princess's Carriage.

Think about this the next time you run into anything from those lunatic PETA people. Here's their attempt to 'prove' their point. I don't get it.


Reasons for Antsy Cabin Fever

The one and only day I ran out of the house without my camera and notepad, my editor asked me to cover a story that evening. So, I've been taking care to bring them with me every day now, and for once, I found a reason today to take my camera out of its bag and take a few shots. You wouldn't have believed me if I didn't  take these photos.

Remember the beginning of last week was that huge ice storm here in Arkansas? That was just two days ago that I wrote about that! A good portion of the people that lost power last week are still without it this week. When I saw this little bugger today, I froze like I usually do when I see a hornet, and then it struck me: It's only February 6! I even have flies in the house already, and I don't even want to talk about the %*&^(&# ants!

I looked up into the trees when motion caught the corner of my eye and I see this little guy twitching his tail like he was snapping a bull whip. Not far in front of him was another squirrel that didn't quite poke its head over in a picturesque way, but this one posed nicely. Look how red the squirrels are here. (I love this camera!) I expected to see buds on that tree after seeing the hornet.

But, the most startling thing to see were these berries. I have no idea what they are, but folks, it's only the beginning of February! Hornets, squirrels playing and berries.

When I came home from work, there's my horse standing beside his round bale, but not eating hay. He was grazing! I went up to him to see what he was picking at, and I'll be darned, there's green grass poking up from the ground. Odin asked me to scratch the top of his rump, and I'll be darned (again) if I didn't get a bunch of loose hairs. He's starting to shed!

I think it's time to get back outside! Hibernation is over!


A Matter of Change

There are so many things taken for granted. Maybe it's because we see them every day and stop taking note, or perhaps it's because it's something that we have no way of making sense of it.

With "change" the catchword of the day, it's worth looking at the word as a concept and seeing just how the word fits in our lives.

We have to change the strings on a guitar, change out a blown light bulb, change a baby's diaper (please do!), change the sheets on the bed, change the water in the fish tank, change clothes when we come home from work, change the oil in the car along with the tire that keeps leaking air, change lanes to pass a slowpoke, change the radio station back to something listen-able after a teenager borrowed the car...

They are the mundane, a matter of rote. Some are irritating, others a sizable inconvenience, and all happen all the time.

Not long ago, I read something that stopped me in my tracks: If you drop a grain of sand in the ocean, each molecule in the ocean has to shift to make room for that grain of sand. Take that a step further and you'll find that not only does each molecule in the ocean have to shift, but so does each molecule in the air.

When you look up at the night sky, you are looking at it at the same time that you are looking through it.

While here on Earth, everything you do effects everything else, and you are much larger than a grain of sand. It's a scientific fact. Look at and through the night sky, at infinity, and you will begin to realize your place, your spot, your purpose in the grand scheme of things.

Now, when you think of change, you will see that you have two options: You can do nothing and be changed by everyone and everything else's changes, or you can do the changing yourself in full awareness of the consequences of your actions.

Arkansas Ice Storm

During the late afternoon of January 26, it began. Arkansas was hit with one of the worst ice storms it had ever experienced. When I left work, I headed south down the highway to go cover a city council meeting in another town, and it had started to rain. I didn't think the roads were all that slick, but the bridges were solid ice. I passed an accident involving six vehicles, one of which was literally bent in half. A Sheriff officer on the way to assist in that accident hit ice and rolled his SUV.

The next day, the storm continued dropping ice across the majority of the state. Ice hung from everything, weighing down tree branches that pulled down power lines. Strangely, the area I live in had no ice at all. Just about two miles west of me, you could see a literal line of ice. I think the only area not affected, the only school system that didn't cancel classes, was the one in my town.

That storm lasted for three days and left over 300,000 without power. Today, more than a week later, half remain without power, and the electric companies anticipate at least another week's worth of work before the power will be restored. The National Guard is working in the northeastern corner of the state going door to door, checking to see if everyone is ok. One soldier found a 93 year old man living in a small shack that had survived the disaster.

These photos were taken by a friend who lives a few miles beyond that ice line. It's shocking to see since the only thing I had here was ice on my fence line and stairs. I'm amazed by how beautiful and how devastating this ice storm was.