Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Angel of Two Mule Junction, Part 2

Read Part 1 here...

As I walked past the jungle gym that was glinting in the hot sun, I ran over possible solutions in my mind. I honestly couldn't find one viable answer to our problem.

However, we could try and get more transmission fluid and drive the truck until it blew up- leaving us stranded God knows where on the side of the road with horses and kids. Or we could sit tight at Two Mule Junction, which consisted of a parking lot, a rest area and a scorching hot playground, and wait for my parents to figure out that they had 10 missed calls from me and that something might be amiss. But they were still two hours away and the day was quickly turning into night, and my cell phone reception was sketchy at best. Or we could quit on the spot and throw a hissy fit, cussing everything and everyone, a potentially break a toe while kicking the truck. This was tempting. Or we could pull up our britches and try to limp our way to Edgemont, South Dakota- a little town with limited services which was 22 miles away, and pray that we found a better answer there.

As I was mulling over these things, I walked by my new friend- I discovered her name was Ruth- who had taken her place by the cooler full of ice water. She stood by an older man in a three-wheeled motorized scooter and he offered me a cool drink. I responded with, "Thanks, but I have plenty of water... you don't happen to have any transmission fluid in there, do you?"

Taken aback, Ruth asked if we were having truck trouble and I briefly explained our situation. She said, "Give me a minute and I'll see what I can do."

I used the facilities and walked back to the truck and trailer, where I found Brock sitting behind the wheel, staring absently at the transmission gauge. The gravity of the situation had taken hold of both of us. There was no denying it. We were screwed.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, which was broken by Ruth rapping on Brock's window.

He rolled it down and she said, "No one had any transmission fluid but my husband, John, said he would drive to Edgemont to buy some. It's only 22 miles from here."

Brock and I were both stunned. We sat for a moment, mouths agape.

"Your husband would drive all the way to Edgemont for us?" I finally asked.

"Yes! He said he didn't mind. It's only 22 miles."

"Only 22 miles" that seemed impossible to us at the moment. I didn't even know how we had made it to Two Mule Junction. I think my mouth was still hanging open when Brock answered, "Tell him thank you so much but I think we can get there."

Ruth said concretely, "Well, then he'll just follow you in case you have a problem."

I shut my gaping pie hole and exclaimed, "Oh my God, he doesn't have to do that!"

Ruth insisted, "He wants to help! He doesn't mind!"

Two minutes later we were slowly crawling back onto the highway in our roadkill scented truck, pulling four heavy horses at a minimum speed with our flashers blinking methodically. John, apparently the nicest man on the planet, was right behind us in his silver SUV. The knowledge that we had a solution to a potential breakdown was the most comforting thing I have ever experienced. This stranger- this man married to the woman I casually met at a rest stop in the middle of freaking nowhere- just solved our potential no-cell-service-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road problem. Simply with his presence. I was not only overwhelmed with gratitude, I was floored by his over the top act of good humanity and kindness.

After a slow, careful drive, we made it to the tiny town of Edgemont. We pulled over at the first gas station we saw to search for transmission fluid. The biggest pulls of the trip were still ahead of us and the hills were the hardest on the truck. It would take a miracle to make it to horse camp pulling the trailer. There was no way I was banking on that. We needed to find a solution in Edgemont.

Brock put up the hood and walked into the station, John and I sat in the parking lot and made idol chat as we waited for him. When Brock came out empty handed, I wasn't surprised. The three of us talked a bit more as the truck cooled down in the quickly approaching evening air. Just then, a man who introduced himself as Steve pulled up in a little red truck and asked about our situation. We briefly described our problem and he said, "That transmission is shot. Put anything in there to lubricate it. It's not coming back." Then he said, "The fairground is right next door and my sister is on the committee. We are just cleaning up after the local fair- it was over today- and I'm pretty sure you could keep the horses there for the night."

Then Steve said he would go talk to his sister and John followed him. I stayed with the truck and Brock walked to the next door gas station with the boys to search for more transmission fluid. They came back with power steering fluid and popsicles.

Steve and John returned with the good news that we could use the fairgrounds to accommodate the horses for the night. We thanked Steve as he pulled away and John turned to us and said, "I'll take your wife to her parents at horse camp. Then she can ride back with them in their truck to get the trailer and the horses."

Again, this man's generous nature absolutely floored me.

I said, "Oh my gosh! I can't ask you to do that!"

He said, "You didn't, but I want to help."

Brock and I talked briefly and decided that we would take the trailer to the fairgrounds (it was one block away). We would park there and unload the horses and unhitch the trailer, then Brock would try and drive our truck to camp, where he would get my parent's truck. We thought our truck could probably make the trip without the heavy load. We hoped.

When we explained this plan to John, he said, "Then I will follow him in case he has a problem."

At this point, horse camp was about an hour away by car.

Again, we protested John's kindness but he insisted. I truly felt in that moment that John was GOd's answer to our desperate prayer in the truck. He was our guardian angel. I do not know what would have happened without his presence in the situation. Probably a hell of a lot more tension and an argument, to start. Most likely a broken toe.

The boys and I hung out at the fairgrounds, where there was not only a pen to put the horses, but also hay that needed to be cleaned up and a water tank. I went against all my better judgement when I let my horses eat unfamiliar cow hay and drink from a stock tank during a summer when Vesicular Stomatitis was rampant, but I was so tapped, both mentally and physically, that I said a Hail Mary and let that shit go.

Brock and John headed toward The Black Hills. I made the boys sandwiches from the cooler and they pedalled their bikes around the empty fairgrounds. It was a beautiful, cool summer night. A bit later, we rode the horses bareback in the rodeo arena and watched the sun set. I'm pretty sure the boys just thought we were camping and all was fine. In fact, I truly felt that in a situation that had so many opportunities to be terrifying, we were more than fine. We were lucky.

Soon Brock called at the last area of service to tell me he made it and that he was headed the last three miles to horse camp to get the truck. He said that John was driving back and would be stopping by on his way to check on us.

About an hour later, I had the kids tucked into bed in the trailer and John knocked at the door. I stepped outside to greet this kind stranger and tried to express my gratitude for his help.

He shook it off.

I told him how we held hands and prayed for safety and a solution. I told him how we don't usually roll like that. I informed him that I thought that He was listening; I thought that God sent John as our guardian angel.

He said he just wanted to help out a family in need- especially one with young kids.

I thanked him again and asked if he had kids. He told me that he did. Three of them lived all the way in Missouri.  He didn't see them much. He seemed regretful.

We talked about his new family- his wife Ruth and her father, who was in the motorized scooter. He was a minister to the bikers. THE minister to the bikers. He talked about how their view of the world changed him.

We chatted a bit about more- life and being a parent and he said, "I've made some real bad choices in my life that have hurt a lot of people. I'm trying to do my best to make up for that now."

His words hit me in the gut. I wiped a tear from my eye and replied, "I'm pretty sure we could all say that. And I think you earned some major points today."

I thanked him again, then John went on his way from our life, as quickly and quietly as he entered it.

I found myself wondering about his story and his people. I pondered how much a chance meeting with a stranger can so profoundly affect someone. I felt my heart lifted as I thought about all of the people that came to our assistance: Ruth, John, Steve and the people of the Edgemont fairgrounds. I could not imagine our potentially horrible and dangerous situation turning out any better. Our kids were safe, secure and fed. Our horses were safe, secure and fed. I had beer on ice and a place to sleep for the night. Brock was on his way to get us a truck that could pull our trailer to our destination- which was vacation at a camp full of people that we know and love. Lots of familiar help was there, waiting for us in the Black Hills. A magical place that I love like no other.

The sound of a diesel truck pulled me out of my thoughts and into reality. I looked through the window and saw my husband climb out and make his way to our lone horse trailer parked at an empty fairground in the middle of the rolling plains of the west. A place where we both rediscovered our faith in God and humanity. A place where we realized that sometimes the broken parts of life can bring the biggest gifts. A place where we once again found gratitude and the blessing of each other. A good place with good people and cold beer on ice.

The end.




Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Angel of Two Mule Junction

It was a hot day in August when we shoved the last of the camping essentials into the trailer and caught the horses to load them for the trip. The summer had been a bit off kilter. Good times were certainly had, but the stronger theme of the last few months had been ' Crap, it's broken.'

The day after our house went on the market, the refrigerator broke. The sewage line backed up two weeks later. Our youngest child was rushed to the ER, for fear that his appendix was inflamed. The dog was obviously dying. The trailer blew a tire on the interstate, blowing apart the entire wheel well and sounding like a canon (which happened a week after some sick jackhole was randomly shooting people along said interstate). The truck was struggling with overheating and we had recently replaced many expensive parts, including both batteries and the alternator. My shoulder had been out all summer and in an effort to make my oldest child's pony listen, I rode him and whacked out my hip, causing constant pain. That is just a small example of what had been happening. To add insult to injury, our finances proved that we were literally "broke". But we were going on vacation, dammit. This was my kids' opportunity to be in the great outdoors on horseback with their grandma and grandpa. You have to grab those experiences before they flit away.

Right on schedule to hit the road at 10 a.m.,  I pulled up my big buckskin, Gus. He'd been trying hard to be too lame to ride, but I refused to see the beautiful horse go to waste, so I had been working tirelessly with our farriers and veterinarian to find a lasting solution to his laminitis. It turned out the trick was all in the shoeing; full pads with wedge bar shoes every 8 weeks, to be exact. He could not go barefoot on those front feet, that's for certain. When I walked Gus toward the trailer, I noticed he was missing something on his right front. He had thrown a shoe in the 40 acre pasture. A very important and expensive shoe. The location of said shoe remains a mystery to this day. Gus was unrideable in this condition, particularly in the rugged South Dakota terrain where we were headed.

Of course this hot day in August was also a Sunday.

I crossed my fingers and dialed the farrier. My guardian angel hovered over me and I sighed a great sigh as I heard her say that she would head right over to fix my horse's feet. This woman and her partner have not only been reliable and skilled, they have also prolonged my horse's riding career. It certainly pays to be choosey about the people you invite into your life, and I definitely chose well with these two.

Only an hour and a half behind schedule, with four shod horses in the trailer and my heart full of gratitude, we pulled out of the driveway. We were heading to South Dakota by the way of Wyoming! Only six hours to the cool breezes, starry night skies and friendly faces at horse camp! I could almost taste that first ice cold beer from our cooler.

Did we remember to pack the coolers? Check.

It was about an hour north of Cheyenne when we heard the trailer tire blow.

Brock was able to maneuver the rig over to the side of the interstate and we firmly instructed the boys to stay put and not get out of the cab for any reason. The speed limit on I-25 in Wyoming is 80 mph and everyone seemed to be using that as a minimum speed guideline. Brock and I got out of the truck and cautiously walked to the trailer, bracing ourselves to see a repeat of the ripped off wheel well that we experienced in April. It was a great relief to see everything but one shredded tire in tact.

Donning a red shirt and cream-colored topped boots tucked into blue jeans, I stood at the back of the trailer like a patriotic human traffic cone. Using the glowing white flesh of my inner arms, I instructed he speed racer drivers to move into the outer lane while my brave husband worked no more than three feet from the traffic. He used our only spare and replaced the tire in under 15 minutes. There are so many times when I am grateful that I married a 'real man' and this was one of them.

A bit shaken, we pulled back onto the interstate to continue our journey. We were worried about the hot asphalt on the other tires- the two that hadn't yet blown since we acquired the trailer- and set out to buy a new spare for the remainder of our trip.

But we were travelling on a Sunday. In Wyoming. So we had about as much luck finding on open tire shop as we did a pot full of gold next to a unicorn with a rainbow mane and glitter hooves.

I dialed my parent's "travel phone" and informed them of our situation. They were headed to horse camp from the east and were scheduled to arrive a little before us. I asked them to keep their phone near them in case of emergency, then hung up and realized that there is no cell service at camp; which is as it should be, but not at all helpful in our situation.

We crossed our fingers and traded the interstate travel for a slower two-lane road. All was fine for another hour until Brock noticed the temperature gauge for the transmission sneaking up into dangerous territory. Soon after that we stopped in the tiny town of Lusk, Wyoming. We attempted to pull into a fuel station but it was jam-packed full of chrome, tattoos and leather. The bikers were blocking the entire parking lot and all access to the fuel pumps, particularly for 30+ feet of truck and trailer. The 75th annual Sturgis Rally was in full swing and motorcycles were crawling everywhere.

We pulled around the corner, onto a side street, and parked. I opened the truck door and was greeted by the strong stench of rotting carcass. I wondered how people could live in a town that smelled like decomposing meat. Then I realized that the smell was not of the animal variety. It was our truck.

Brock checked our transmission fluid (that he had refilled the day before) and discovered that it was used up- so broken down that it wasn't registering on the stick. He poured in more from his stash in the truck bed, then said that he used everything he brought. We still had three hours to go and some big hills to pull. I felt an inkling of panic in my chest as I limped with my bad hip around the corner to the gas station, weaving through the Harleys and red, chapped faces with my kids in tow. As I stood in front of the rack of fluids, I read every label five times, searching for transmission fluid. It wasn't there. Of course, the automotive store across the street probably had plenty, but it's window was prominently displaying the CLOSED sign. Because Sunday. In Wyoming.

Brock and I stood slack-jawed for a moment, then decided to drive. We made it about 30 minutes north of Lusk before the temperature gauge started creeping up again. Brock slowed down to save the transmission, but his speed was causing bikers to take risks in passing us. We were highly stressed. I looked around for a place to stop with the horses but only saw rolling hills of grassland and not a drop of water or shade.  It was hot, windy and we had two kids and four horses, one of which was 31 years old. Naturally, there was no cell service, nor any towns with services nearby. Plus, it was a Sunday. In Wyoming. All of it was too much. I felt my blood pressure pounding in my ears. I tried to think of something to do and came up with nothing. So we had a Jesus Take the Wheel moment. I instructed everyone to hold hands. Then I said a prayer for our safe arrival to horse camp and for protection for us, our animals and our truck and trailer. Because when all else fails, you can only pray and have faith.





A few agonizing miles later, we pulled into a spot on the map called Two Mule Junction. It was a rest stop at a fork in the road, surrounded by prairie grasses and barbed wire fences. It was full of bikers and had a metal playset reflecting the harsh sun. I had been driving to South Dakota on this route since I was 12 and remember when Two Mule Junction was a gravel parking lot with an outhouse, so the current vault toilets and running water was a vast improvement.

My blood was boiling with stress and rage when we stopped. I called my parent's cell phone for help, but it went straight to voice mail. I left a message, knowing it was futile. I was mad that we were having so many problems. I was mad that we were too poor to properly fix the truck before the trip. I was mad at Brock because somehow it was his fault for not being 'a man'. I was frustrated with my life in general and it was quickly surfacing as barely contained fire hot, rage. The kids asked to play on the metal playset that was glistening in the sun- a beacon of hope for fun. I barked NO. Then immediately apologized and said of course they could play. They ran over to the playset, only to be immediately scorched by the heat of the unforgiving sun on the metal.

So Brock took them to the restroom instead.

I tried to give the horses buckets of water, but they had no interest in drinking. The task soothed me nonetheless. I patted their long noses and looked into their soft brown eyes. For the millionth time in my life, I found some much needed solace in my horses.

While trying to find my complete Zen on the hot, windy prairie in the middle of an impending crisis, a lady appeared and asked if she could pet the horses. I said of course and we fell into an easy conversation. She had rescued a pony from the big flood in 2013. She lived in Cheyenne. She liked dogs. Her husband trains horses that no one else wants. She and her family come to Two Mule Junction- a pit stop literally in the middle of nowhere- every year just to hand out free ice water to the bikers riding to the Sturgis Rally. That blew my mind. Every year for a week, these people volunteer their time to stand on a windy knoll outside of a restroom and give out water? All I could think was, "Wow. There are so many people so much nicer than me in this world".

My new friend walked away and I closed up the bars on the stall windows and decided to hit the restrooms before we attempted any more travel. As I walked toward the door of the women's side, I still didn't know what in the hell we were going to do.

....to be continued







Saturday, December 12, 2015

Pokey days lead to speedy years

In reference to parenting young children, someone once wrote to me, "The days are slow but the years fly by so quickly". It was one of you smart readers of this blog and I couldn't agree more. Where has the time gone? My babies aren't babies anymore. That's as bittersweet as it gets.

I'm screeching around the corner of 40+ and Brock is headed down the 50 hill. Crap! Everyone is aging quickly! MAKE IT STOP. My children, at 5 and 8, aren't quite so young either. As in, I don't feel the obsessive need to stare at them every moment of the day for fear of them ignorantly killing themselves due to the dangerous and ridiculous nature of toddlers.

In fact, my boys are turning into wonderful, caring, responsible young men right before my very eyes and for that I feel extremely blessed and grateful. But it scares the poo our of me how fast they are changing and growing up! That is why I have chosen to be as present as time allows- which is only one of my many super awesome excuses as to why I have neglected my blog. Because blogs, unlike children, marriages, animals, jobs and plants, can exist with little to no care. Yay for blogs! And yes, I have been known to kill plants. They fall pretty far down on my list of priorities. The other stuff I am at about 85%, which obviously means I'm winning at life. Let's all take a moment of silence and say thank you to coffee.

Our summer was a whirlwind of activities- mostly of the equine variety. Having acquired two more full sized horses, one of which was a 31 year old Paint whom was mine as a kid, we found ourselves enjoying multiple horse camping activities; you can read a condensed version here. The boys enjoyed it so much that it was well worth all the slave labor from Brock and myself (hence another reason for not blogging- I'm too busy scooping horse shit!).



The dudes still kept their ponies as well as their new big horses, because PONIES. Also, those little turds are adorable and the boys can saddle them on their own, which fosters confidence, skill and independence. Plus, they are super fluffy and have teeny tiny ears. Have you ever looked hard at pony ears? They're pretty stinking cute.




As far as our pets, we didn't fare as well. We experienced some tragedy as we faced the fact that our beloved Black Dog was dying from intestinal cancer. One particular morning, we talked about our responsibility to gently end her struggle when the time came. Both of us wished she would just close her eyes and quietly go in her sleep, but we knew that probably wouldn't happen because she was a stubborn old broad with a will of steel. Later that same day, my favorite Craigslist pet and spirit animal, Smelly Cat, had a stroke (or something equally terrible) right in front of me. Oddly enough, he was laying on Black Dog's bed- which he never did. I rushed him to the veterinarian where they advised me to say goodbye and ease his pain. It was shocking and terrible. I grieved hard for two days. He was only eight- too young to go- and I felt cheated out of my time with him. Brock and the boys built a wooden box and we laid him to rest under the crabapple tree. We scattered flowers on his grave and read a poem about him. Two months later, we called the veterinarian out to do the same for Black Dog and she claimed another spot in our yard where the dirt is still upturned, just like the fresh wound on our hearts. The passing of those pets still lays heavy on all of us. We were fortunate to have their loyal companionship and miss them both every day.



We eased the pain with a new kitten, because we are clearly ill.

He belongs to Thing 2, who named him Billy so he "could call him HEEEERRRREEE BILLYbillyBILLYbilly!"

It's fun to call Billy. You should try it right now.

Billy chose us when we were visiting my family in Iowa. He is so sweet and calm that we immediately fell in love, then we worried he was sick and dying. Turns out he is actually just sweet. Clearly we aren't used to sweet. Our animals are sassy and sly and cantankerous and serial-killer-esque and funny, but not sweet. My friend an I thanked him for his kindness by neutering him on my kitchen table. Who wants to have dinner at my house? Billy is not only sweet, he was also a bit flea-ridden, which he promptly deposited on my bed and his new best friend, Captain Fluffernutter. Such is life with animals!



The boys are getting big enough where I don't feel that I should share too many details of their lives, because they deserve privacy and respect. I will say that I signed up Thing 1 for basketball to try and create a love of the game as well as a senses of urgency. I thought that a quick-paced team sport was better at fostering awareness of time than the method by which I learned it- which was someone constantly yelling, "GOD DAMMIT JOHI, PAY ATTENTION!"
Whatever.
Anyhoo, it turns out the team needed a coach.

Guess who ended up coaching eight second and third grade boys? You got it. This chica right here.

Soooo, there's a reason that I never went into teaching.... but no one has cried (in front of me) yet and the kids are improving their skills, learning about good sportsmanship, respect and being a team player, and they seem to be having fun, so let's chalk it up as a win! It's honestly been extremely rewarding for me as well. Maybe I like kids after all. I don't know. Jury is still out.

I have much more to share, but I'll leave it for another blog post. I will say that in the past year there have been good days and bad. There have been many moments of 'hell yeah!' and many moments of 'what in the hell?'. Yet, no matter what happens, my life is moving forward in a perfectly imperfect way and I am truly trying to simply be grateful for every day. And days when that doesn't work I pour a glass of wine and watch dramatic television with Brock.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many really spectacular people (and animals) and their impact on my life is profound. I only can hope to be returning some the favor, particularly to those tow-headed treasures of mine.

And Brock too, of course.

Peace, love and all the good stuff,
Johi

















Monday, May 11, 2015

Bob, Gwynnie, and Me

Today, while perusing Facebook, I was presented with a picture of Robert Redford and a wistful, time-gone-by quote about the simple pleasures of a quaint town in Mexico. Charmed and intrigued, I clicked on the link to his most recent Sundance Catalog. The first item displayed was a gauzy, plaid dish towel posing as a shirt on a beautiful, straw-hat clad woman. She looked effortlessly cool in the hot New Mexico sun. I'm not sure if she was actually in New Mexico, but I'm currently obsessing over Santa Fe, so it seemed correct. The shirt came in three colors: money, the view from my private jet, and vagina... I mean green, blue, and pink.

Naturally, I wanted it in pink. I look good in fleshy tones.

The dish towel shirt was $88, which is a bargain for something Robert Redford touches. For a moment, I hovered over the buttons on the page. Instead of "purchase", I clicked "save to favorites". Unfortunately, never having made an actual purchase through Sundance catalog, the site had absolutely no recollection of my existence on this planet, thus rejecting my attempts to save anything.

In the spirit of wealthy people selling overpriced goods, I typed GOOP into my search engine. Instead of being directed to Gywnnie and all her glory, my computer gave me an error code with a sad face that said "No Data Received". GOOP didn't compute. It's like my computer knows.

Defeated, I gathered myself up for a useful activity and untarped the lawn mower from the front of my garage. Obviously, our garage is stuffed full of useless crap and there is no room for said mower.

The beer fridge is in there, so it's not all useless.

I have a horrible habit of not changing my clothes for chores. On any given day, whatever is on my body at the moment something needs to be done is officially that day's "chore clothes." Sometimes I can be seen cleaning horse stalls in my pajamas, and other times I'm in wedges and a dress. I'm very fancy, you know.

Today, I happened to be wearing my black crocodile cowboy boots. The pair that retailed for $1,750.00 fourteen years ago when I served ten years in retail hell. I was a buyer for a small western wear store. Sometimes, I was even the manager and had "extra responsibilities", like firing my good friend or working on holidays, nights, and weekends.  Anyhoo, Nocona was offering a deal to buyers and store employees. For a mere $500.00, we could each have our very own pair of shiny, black crocodile boots!

I made roughly the wage of a part-time school marm in the backwoods of Arkansas during the Great Depression. Those boots would cost me more than a week's paycheck. Financially, it was a very bad decision.

Naturally, I had to have them.

The boots have been with me now for fourteen years. We've gone to concerts together. We've worked 12 hours on our feet on concrete together. We've cleaned toilets and horse pens together. And today, while thinking of Bob and Gywnnie and all their fabulous, overpriced crap that I would love to have in my closet (I would have to put some more crap in the garage to make room), we gassed up the mower and cut some grass together. That is, until I ran over the steaming pile of dog poo and couldn't evict the stench from my nostril hairs. Then I shut the mower off, walked into the garage, and grabbed a cold beer from the fridge.

I'm living the high life. Try not to be jealous.

In my fancy $1750.00 boots- that would go great with the Sundance dish towel shirt in coral- with the simple pleasures of the sharp tang of dog feces attacking my nostrils and the mower parked haphazardly over a half-mown lawn, I've never felt closer to Bob and Gwynnie.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Talented Peeps!

We are all put on this Earth to do our best with this life- part of that process is discovering and nurturing our talents, another part is positively affecting other's lives, and yet another part is bringing joy to my world- obviously. I am very fortunate to know many gifted people who are slaying this whole "good people doing good work and leading good lives" thingy. Today I want to showcase two particularly special and talented peeps, Koda and Rachel, whom I'm blessed to call my friends. Feel free to spread the love through buying and sharing their work!



Koda arrived in my life during a particularly dark time. I was fortunate to work with him; he was my daily ray of sunshine. It's always a treat to be around a fellow creative spirit and Koda is most certainly that. Years passed and I was thrilled to reconnect with Koda on social media, where I discovered that he was a talented writer and poet! His diverse and unbiased perspective on life lends a unique, multifaceted voice which covers a wide range of emotions and subject matter. Check out his wonderful book of poetry, Walking Here and There




Koda's bio:
I'm a poet by nature and aspiring novelist and story-teller. I was born in Colorado in 1984, and raised in central Texas, and have been writing as long as I can remember (around 20 years). I am now back on the western slope of Colorado (and have been since 2002), and live with my roommate, Ashley, and her two children (Ethan and Jane), who I have the esteemed pleasure of getting to help raise as my own. I currently am in the roles of "housewife" and "stay-at-home parent", which has given me the much-needed time to work on my writing passion in between preparing meals and helping with homework.

When I'm not writing and spending time with my family, I spend my time with my many friends, in-person or online, reading books, and enjoying quality television and film. I also have recently become an activist for the end of Cannabis prohibition, focusing mainly on its many medicinal benefits and bad reputation (caused mostly by false propaganda) by sharing opinion-free science-based facts and articles on Facebook, intended to educate (rather than endorse) this mislabeled plant. Find and follow the real me on Facebook as well, where I also run pages for Koda and K. Michael, or find me on Writing.com, where I will occasionally highlight some of my work. Peace and love to all!




Rachel is another one of those special people who spreads goodness and sunshine wherever she goes. She's gifted in almost every area of life- from people skills to dancing. Rachel always brings beauty to her surrounding with her kind spirit and stunning presence. Everyone adores her and I've never met anyone better with children. I'm always a bit surprised that bluebirds aren't constantly following her, tweeting out songs of adoration. Rachel has recently started an Etsy shop, The White Room Boutique, which showcases her many creative talents. Check out her artwork and wares!


Rachel's Bio:
Hello, my name is Rachel and I am originally from beautiful Colorado.  Back in 2010 I decided to turn my love of crafting into a small side business.  I made anything and everything for my friends and family, but I specialized in the skills that my grandma taught me growing up. (Sewing, drawing/painting, paper crafting, and crocheting.)  I did this on the side as a fun way to make a little extra money.  Back then I was working full time as an Exercise Specialist.  In 2013 I got married and due to my husband’s job, we moved to Florida and will continue to move here there and everywhere.  That being the case, it was and is hard for me to find jobs in my field.  I struggled with the fact that I felt like had no true purpose.  What was I supposed to be doing? What did I want to do? Most importantly, what would make me happy?  Naturally, over the years my small side business started to grow and it started to spread via word of mouth and get bigger.  I decided at the beginning of 2015 that my goal was to revamp my little business.  I wanted to make it more professional and see just where I could take it.  I decided then and there that I was going to make that my full time “job.”  That is when “White Room Boutique” was born and in February, I opened my very own online Etsy Shop!  I have had great success thus far due to the support I have received along the way.  I hope it continues to grow and I hope to put smiles on many people’s faces with my creations.  Please visit and like my Facebook page and check out my Etsy shop online.   No matter where I live or how often I move, I can take my “White Room Boutique” with me wherever I go.  



Pay it forward!
Peace, Love and Unicorns,
Johi

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chivalry is not dead.

When I was in my twenties, I dated a boy who insisted on holding doors for me. Admittedly, his noble gestures were lost on this girl, the one who was raised like a farm hand.

I found myself sitting impatient and irritated as he held up a finger-instructing me to stay seated- and walked around the front of the vehicle to open my door. 

I found myself slightly agitated when he abruptly stepped into my path to grab the door handle for which I was reaching.

I found myself ungrateful for his "gallantry"; probably because it didn't feel authentic. It didn't feel at all like it was for me. Instead, it felt like a blatant chivalry display (like something at a museum), one which I was required to admire and enrich with praise and noises of ladylike astonishment. Clearly, that relationship failed to work for either of us.

Through the remainder of my 20's, I didn't have any further struggles with excessive or forced gallantry. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had managed to cut all the gentlemen from my world. Go me. Until I met Brock...


I will never forget the first time Brock heaved my heavy purple Walmart bike into the bed of my pickup truck for me. I was shocked. No one had ever loaded anything heavy for this girl who grew up lifting haybales that equaled her in weight. I wasn't accustomed to people thinking I couldn't do something physical. I mowed a five acre lawn with a push mower when I was 12. I used to challenge myself to load the full grain buckets over the side of the truck bed with ONE ARM. For fun. I was the only girl in my 6th grade class that could climb the peg wall. I could do 10 chin ups (past tense- who do you think I am, Wonder Woman?). I certainly could load a freaking bike in the bed of my own freaking truck! How dare he! So I froze, unsure of what to do. Then I remembered my manners and grunted out an insincere, "Thanks", after which I waited for him to fall into a well-rehearsed diatribe about his mama raising him to be a gentleman or some shit like that. I was poised with my eyeballs ready to roll behind their lids.

Instead, he looked at me in confusion and asked, "For what?"

Suddenly a light dawned upon me. Maybe it wasn't so bad having someone to lift all the heavy things. After all, I did suffer from chronic back pain. Maybe this new way of life would allow a manicure to last more than two hours.

I laughed and realized that this guy was probably honestly courteous. So I married him. From that day forward, he has continued to randomly surprise me with gestures that are authentically for me: throwing my giant man-saddle on my giant man-horse here, crafting a handmade trunk there, delivering a cup of hot coffee to me when I silently prayed for it, and building me a freaking awesome Zen Den.

No, my friends, true chivalry is not dead. I found it! But maybe that's because I married outside of my own generation. Those AARP benefits and early bird specials are pretty sweet, too.

Fast forward to Spring Break 2015. Brock, the boys and I were headed back from Iowa, hauling two horses that we will be using for the summer. After six hours in the vehicle, we stopped for lunch, pulling into a large empty parking lot across a divided road from a busy burger joint. I carried two new five gallon water buckets to the establishment to fetch water for the horses. Once they were filled, they needed to be lugged back across the divided road, which was a 150 meter obstacle course of cars, curbs and slopes.

Brock was at the table with the boys as I  carried the full buckets out the door. He met me outside.

I heard his voice behind me, "You can't do that."

I looked up at my husband's mocking face and said, "What are you talking about? Of course I can."

He clearly had forgotten my entire childhood history.

"I'm not going to let you do that, you silly woman " He said, incredulously. "I'll do it," he insisted.

I raised an eyebrow and calmly suggested, "Let's just leave the buckets here and finish eating. We'll talk about it after lunch."

"Fine."

"Fine."

After the greasy burgers were consumed, I announced, "I'm going to take those buckets. You bring the kids and my purse, mkay?"

Brock started up again, "Oh my Gawd, you cannot carry those buckets! You'll spill it all over everything, then I'll be listening to you whine about me not helping you. You'll soak your jeans and your boots. You'll whine about being wet. You'll never make it all that way. Do you think I would even let you do that?"

"You're mocking me. Now I have to do it," I concluded stubbornly.

I added, "Don't worry about my purse. I'll come back for it."

Then I carried those freaking buckets across that obstacle course and NEVER SPILLED A DROP.

BAM!

Once I arrived at the trailer, I looked up at the horses heads, which were far above my own 5'6" frame and decided that Brock could lift them high to offer the water to the steeds.


I walked back to the restaurant, grabbed my purse and the boys and told Brock that he could come too, if he desired.

I then instructed him to inspect my jeans and boots for water, which there WAS NONE.

HAHA!

I win.

When we got back to the trailer, Brock lifted the buckets as I loaded the kids in their car seats. I sized up the bucket and the window height and decided to take the challenge. I heaved that water up and held it at my nose to let the dun horse drink. 

Naturally, after all that work and strife, both horses declined the water.

I set my bucket down carefully, still never spilling a drop.

But Brock's experience was a little different. You see, Brock's bucket caught on his shirt pocket and he doused himself, from pecs to piggies, in water.

I took pictures, because evidence.










Water buckets of shame. So much well deserved shame.

"You're going to blog about this, aren't you?" he asked.

"Duh," I said.

No friends, chivalry is not dead, but neither is mockery... nor karma.


Peace, Love and Girl Power,
Johi

P.S. Speaking of karma and mockery, a little story I wrote, titled "What You Mock, You Become", which was published in a fun little humor anthology titled, I Just Want to Pee Alone, is now a New York Times Best Seller- making me and 35 of my friends a New York Times Best Selling Author! Hells yeah!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

So This is 40

I woke up this morning, 40 and irritated. I was not bothered to be 40, I was annoyed because I had one of those dreams where my husband was being inappropriate and belligerent. (No one who read my last post will be shocked by this. #10 speaks volumes.)

So of course I told him all about it and said he could make it up to me with a latte from Starbucks. And a pastry. And bacon.

I checked my phone to see a text from my sister.

She wrote:

"It is 40:-) !!! Here comes your first mammogram!"

Wow, this day is getting better by the minute.


While sipping my black coffee that is decidedly not a Starbucks' latte, I reflected on my life and the things I have learned about myself, others and the world in general. While sadly, I still have much to figure out, I have gained some valuable wisdom in my time that I will now share with you.

I sound like I should be wistfully stroking my white beard while smoking a corncob pipe, don't I?

So This is 40 - A list of things I now know from three solid decades of learning (mostly the hard way):

1. I enjoy being waited on.

For me, nothing is more of a killjoy than an 'order your food at the counter' establishment. I want someone to walk up to me while I'm comfortably seated and ask me what I want and need. And then this beautiful thing happens; they bring me what I ordered. That right there is the good stuff, folks.

Clearly I was meant to have servants.


2. My passion for country life, nature and horses is actually a necessity.

I found this out when my horses where gone for three years. I was left with a deep chasm in my soul- one I filled with shoes, scarves and handbags. I need grass, trees, chirping birds and horse slobber; those things all make me a better human.



3. My family means the world to me.

Yes, I realize I wrote about my horses first. Whoops. 

This world means nothing without connection to others. My children, husband and extended family are all shining stars in my life. Our relationships may not be perfect, but they are braided tightly from time, shared experiences and love. I wouldn't trade my people for the world. Not even for an obscenely large sum of money.



4. My close friends are like family.

It's all about the people; it's all about the love. My friends are the bee's knees. They support me, they protect me, they listen to me, they care about me, and those things are reciprocated. They enrich my life in immeasurable ways. Find those people and keep them close. 


5. Wrinkles. So what?

I have them. I like some of them... and others, not so much. In fact, I have gained a variety of things from aging: kids, a husband, a house, successes, failures, a great career, wisdom, life experience and a killer cowboy boot collection. A bit of lined skin doesn't scare me- as Edie Brickell said, "Wear with pride the scars on your skin. They're a map of things you've done and places you've been." She forgot to mention how kids cause wrinkles, but other than that, I like her take on skin marks. I'm kind of proud of my path and therefore, I embrace my wrinkles (except for the really deep ones under my eyes- those could go away.)



6. Living comfortably outside of my comfort zone.

This is a big one and took me years to figure out - in fact, I'm still working on it. But it has been a game changer and I like the direction it's taken me.



7. It is easier to truly see people.

Nothing is more humbling than aging while being a parent. You are challenged- sometimes daily- past your breaking point and pushed beyond reasonable physical and mental limitations. Yet you love those little people beyond measure. You accept them. Then you realize that every person on this planet was once one of them and that their experiences -good and bad- formed them. Then you feel a bit more forgiveness, acceptance and kindness toward people in general. And you embrace them, flaws and all. And you also realize that some of them are so broken that in order to protect yourself and your loved ones, you can't allow them inside your circle, and that's okay too.



8. I know my tastes, style and preferences.

These are great things to have a firm grasp of and - at 40 - I finally do. Hells yeah.




9. Being surrounded by a life I created.

We manifest everything, every experience and everyone around us. It's pretty cool, and also a little scary, if you think about it. So plant those flowers, paint that fence, read that book, engage in that conversation, write that story and spend that time. We're driving the car- let's steer it somewhere amazing.




10. Love.

Isn't love the best? Sure, it's frightening and uncertain, but what isn't? I think that there's no better risk than love. If you don't remove your armour you'll never feel the true agony and delight of love. It's probably like never drinking caffeine, which is sad.





Feel free to celebrate my birthday with me today. Hell, I'll be celebrating for a least two weeks, so join in the fun. There will be cake, wine and laughter. 
So, pretty much the same as every other day.

Bring it, 40.

Peace, Love and Unicorns,
Johi


P.S. I did eventually get my latte and a blueberry muffin. I'm still waiting on the bacon...







Friday, February 13, 2015

Things no one should ever have to say

When I step back from the context of pretty much any given situation in my life, I'm often appalled by what actually fell out of my mouth.

Here is a quick rundown from the past two weeks of things no one should ever have to say- except I said all of them:

1. Stop playing with your brother's buttcheeks.

2. Stop picking at it. What? Fine. If you pick at it, make sure you wash your hands before and afterwards.

3. Who peed on the wall again?

4. Who put their dirty socks on the coffee table again?

5. It's like sleeping next to a rutting hog who's running a chainsaw.

6. Well, at least it isn't measles!

7. She ripped up your Valentine and you are making her another one? Oh honey. Please don't.

8. Are you seriously crying because you're riding a pony?

9. Does anyone in this house know how to flush the toilet?

10. Brock, you cannot watch pirate porn with the babysitter.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Self-promotion is hard, yo

After much contemplation, it has become clear that I need a more "professional" page for marketing myself. As much as I would like to assume that all people want to read stories of PMS, pubic hair, vacation fails and my childhood as an indentured servant, I think assuming that would be incorrect. Except for the crotch carpet, because obviously everyone wants to know all about that.

When I first started blogging, narcissism soon became a concern of mine. Holy moly, does blogging entail a lot of talk of oneself. I quickly swept those concerns under the rug when I realized that I was mostly sharing my complete and utter failures with all of you, to enable you some laughter or commiseration in your day. No narcissist here, thankyouverymuch. Do you like my hair like this?

Anyhoo, I am in the process of creating a website where I talk about all the fabulous things I do with stories, photos and art. So... yeah. It's hard, you guys. I'm so used to being a smart ass that I'm finding "selling myself" difficult.

Here's my site: www.johikokjohnwagner.com

Check it out and let me know what you think. Basically, I'll be sharing things like this:





Instead of things like this:



Isn't Brock the best?

I've been working on the new web page for two days straight. Thing 1 just walked into my office and asked what I was doing.

I said, "I'm building my business so I can take you guys on vacations and maybe buy you some bigger horses and a bigger house with more property."

His eyes lit up and he said, "You're working on your business so you can make money?"

I answered, "Yes, my child."

Then he patted my leg and gravely said, "Keep working, mom."

So there's that.

And here's what I ask of you, my lovely and loyal readers of the Internet, who helped me not only name my husband's business, but also the prestigious and world famous kitteh- Captain Fluffernutter.


Sorry, I got distracted by his cute, wittle paws and pink tongue.

What I need from you are ideas of what to say about myself, as you are the ones who read my stories and are affected by my words. It will be particularly helpful if you have read my work in Chrome magazine and Paint Horse Journal, or if you have ever worked with me on a ranch, around horses, or in a creative capacity.

Wish me luck and follow my new page on facebook (if it suits you).

Peace, Love and Business Building,
Johi


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pony verses Horse: What's better for my child?


Finding a hobby that the entire family enjoys can be difficult.

And no, staring at the television does not count.

Brock would love it if the entire family spent our free time at SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) events. I vetoed that immediately. I don't think spending my Saturdays hanging out with old, handle-bar mustached men dressed in old west garb, shooting guns around my kids sounds like a dreamy day. CALL ME CRAZY. (Sorry to all my SASS readers, I'm sure you're not actually as old as you appear.)

Thing 1 would love it if the entire family traveled by airplane to all of the amusement parks in the U.S. and bought every toy ever made! Sorry buddy. No.

Thing 2 would love our hobby to be playdates, playdates and more playdates with his buddies. So sweet, that one. All I can say is that there is a reason I only had two children and never became a teacher- it's because two children is my maximum for a drug-free existence.

And since no one shares my desire to spend all of their free time sitting quietly, sipping antioxidants and reading, I picked horses.

So we have decided that our family "hobby" is horses!



In all seriousness, Brock and I initially bonded over our mutual love of horses. He owned two spoiled, sour things (one couldn't be bridled and the other couldn't be ridden- SUPER NEAT) and I had a perfect, 3 year old named Gus. Did I mention he was perfect? And handsome.

Gus-being handsome- and me in South Dakota.


Now that the kids are out of diapers and into learning and doing stuff without the need for 435 bulky baby accouterments, we have definitely picked back up on the horses.

Last summer, after riding three times every week, both boys progressed considerably with their horsemanship. We ended the summer by taking a family horse camping vacation in South Dakota. While we all had a really good time, I couldn't help but think that it would have been better (as in, we could have kept up with the group instead of falling behind and keeping pace with snails) if the boys would have been riding full sized horses instead of short-legged ponies. With the next summer coming up, Brock and I need to make some big decisions about what our family hobby looks like. By that, I mean, do we buy the boys horses or keep them on ponies?

What is a better fit for my children?
What is the best fit for our family?




Any horse parent has been confronted with this question. Horses? Or ponies?
When in doubt, make a list. Here are my lists of general* pros and cons for ponies verses horses.

* Of course every animal is unique and different, but I am generalizing for the sake of ease. Plus, stereotyping is fun and a real time-saver! 

PONY PROS:



  1. Considerably cheaper to feed. Horses need to consume 2-5% of their body weight in forage. Our 16hh horses weigh approximately 1,200 pounds, requiring a minimum of 24 pounds of  hay per day, per horse. My horses are not easy keepers and require more than that to look healthy. In essence, we feed 1.5 bales of hay total per day to the two horses (the currents bales we buy weigh approximately 55 pounds and cost $8.50 PER BALE= ~$383/month in hay alone for two horses). This does not include grain, supplements, medicine, veterinary or farrier costs. Ponies weigh half of that, and the feed is substantially less because they are the ultimate "easy keepers"- in fact, we have to be careful not to overfeed our ponies because they both have a history of founder. 
  2. Less expensive to keep in general (vet and farrier expenses- Brock does all their hoof work).
  3. Less manure to clean= less trips I take to the chiropractor!
  4. Lower height puts children closer to the ground when, not if, the child falls.
  5. Ridiculously adorable, can be sweet (DUKE) and easy to groom.
  6. Builds child's confidence with grooming, saddling and mounting. Thing 1 can catch, groom and saddle his pony all by himself.
  7. Fluffy. So very fluffy!
  8. Those tiny ears. Super cute! OMG! THEY'RE SO ITTY BITTY!
  9. Live long time. Very long time. We had two ponies in their 40's. Duke is 28. 
Duke after he rubbed his face into the snow.


PONY CONS:


  1. Slower walk- difficult to keep them paced with horses.
  2. Bumpier trot (Thing 2 always complains of tummy aches when he rides).
  3. Low height puts children at higher risk of being kicked by other horses.
  4. Burro-like stubbornness.
  5. Hard to lead, Hard to rein.
  6. Bad pony-tude (CLYDE).
  7. Can be frustrating for kids.


HORSE PROS:


  1. Often well-mannered.
  2. Easy to rein.
  3. Walks at a pace of other horses.
  4. High off ground, better for trail riding through creeks and over rough terrain.
  5. Smoother gaits.
  6. Safer around other horses.
  7. Can loan out to my adult friends.
  8. Can personally ride and correct attitude, if needed.


HORSE CONS:
  1. Eats more.
  2. Poops more.
  3. Costs more in every way.
  4. Higher off ground, making inevitable falls more dangerous.
  5. Not as adorable as a pony.
  6. Bigger, which can be more dangerous for little people.
  7. Bombproof, proven trustworthy kid horses are often elderly, requiring expensive specialty care and feed.


I think the answer is clear: I still have no freaking idea.

I like to include the kids on our big discussions and decisions, so I asked Thing 2 for his opinion. He said he wants to ride Duke around the backyard and a big horse on the trail. So it seems the solution is clear: HAVE ALL OF THE THINGS!

It's the same answer to all of my problems in life. MORE MONEY. Then we can keep ponies for fun in the backyard and for petting and adoring purposes, and get horses for trail riding. Bam! Thing 2 is so smart. I'm totally letting him do my taxes this year.

What would you do?

Those of you who say "Get a different hobby" are disqualified. Horses are in our blood- there's no changing that fact. It's like me insisting that I'm not a mouthy smartass.

For those of you in the same boat, good luck with your decision!

Peace, Love and Money Trees,
Johi