I am thankful for a supportive, loving, and kind life partner/boyfriend/best friend. We've been through a lot in almost five years together, and I am grateful to have him by my side through storms, rainbows, and sunshine. Love you, Eric.
I am thankful for family, both my own loving and generous family and my wonderful Boyfriend's family. I miss them all and can't wait to see them again for a big hug! I love you! Thank you.
I am thankful for all my friends, both local and too far away. I am so grateful for the love I receive from all of you, and I'm so lucky to count some really amazing, wonderful people as dear friends. Thank you.
I am thankful for the fabulous, peaceful place in which we live. I am grateful for the beauty that surrounds us, whether it be breathtaking views, the wildlife that brings us so much joy, sun shining in my window, or the spider's masterpiece that is recreated every day over my kitchen sink. I am so blessed to learn and grow among supportive teachers and friends in art, yoga, tai chi, healing touch, horses, and well, LIFE.
Especially thankful this year for the gift of health and the freedom from cancer!
One of the first horses I ever rode (got my first blue ribbon on him, actually!) was a little, flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding named Najan. As I little girl, I thought Najan was the fanciest, most beautiful horse I'd ever seen, and I had all the Arabian horse magazines to prove it!
As a riding teacher I see that Najan was one of the great beginner lesson horses: adorable, gentle, arthritic, didn't mind routine. Not that he was a "dead-head" - he was smart and would occasionally provide his own entertainment with the occasional buck or "accidental" canter depart with a student who didn't yet know how to canter. Sometimes at a rider's first horse show: "Blue ribbons are neat, but did I just CANTER?" So, Najan was safe and quiet and wonderful, but not lacking personality.
Shortly after I opened my riding school in Colorado 12 years ago, I began a quest to find the perfect beginner lesson horse. I must have had Najan in my head, because the horse that landed in my lap was as close in physical description as I could have possibly have imagined.
I shared my need for the perfect lesson horse with a friend of mine who was familiar with the local Arabian horse scene and she came back the next day with news of a wonderful 19-year-old Arabian gelding she'd heard needed a home. And a job. His owner felt like he had many years of use left, and that he was probably still many years from retirement.
"The owner is trying to give him away - he's just living in an abandoned building in Colorado Springs, babysitting an even older, blind, Appaloosa gelding." So we borrowed a trailer and drove down to Colorado Springs the very next day to meet him.
As a youngster and newbie in the horse business, I'd already made plenty of mistakes buying horses based on price, color (I've always liked Palominos!), breed, cuteness, and whatever other factors make it really expensive to run a business with horses, so despite the fire-sale factor, I tried to be cautious about the possibility of finding just what I was looking for on the first try. I remembered a long-time horse trainer's wise words, "There is no such thing as a free horse," as I contemplated the odds of this give-away gelding being perfect lesson horse material on my hour-long drive to Colorado Springs. Don't get your hopes up, Lisa.
As soon as we arrived, the owner went to fetch him from the pasture as we waited in the dusty, worn-out building. Stalls empty, it was mostly inhabited by birds and spiders now. Dusty bridles hanging on dusty hooks in a dusty barn aisle. Then, footsteps as they appeared in doorway: she was leading the Arabian gelding, followed closely by his blind friend.
She handed me the Arab's lead rope so she could close the gate between the two horses.
I led him into the light and sized him up. He was flea-bitten grey. He was little, but sturdy; just the right size for a kid's lesson horse. He was quiet, his eyes soft. He was ADORABLE. I shook it off - I hadn't even ridden him.
The little gelding had been shown Western pleasure, but I rode English, so I'd brought my saddle and put it on. I'd brought a bridle, too, just in case, but we threw on the bridle he may or may not have worn last time he'd been ridden. When was that?, I wondered as the owner fumbled with the dusty, cracked leather. I got on and rode him around in the empty end of the barn; he had all the right buttons and knew just what I was asking every step. Not many first rides go like this. But I was a pro, and the friend I'd brought with me was an inexperienced rider. The true test would be with a student. So I stepped off, and put my friend on for a lesson. No problem there, either. All he needed to do was get on the trailer, and I had my very own Najan.
And he did. Followed me right in, put his nose right in the hay I'd brought, and the rest is history. That little flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding is Reggie, the White Horse of my Dreams. Lesson Horse Extraordinaire. Painted Indian Pony. Reluctant Unicorn. Comic Relief. Business Partner. Master Teacher. Healer. Friend.
Preface: I said goodbye to my dear, 29-year old Saddlebred lesson horse, Stevie, last week. I'd known him for over half of his life - I met him at William Woods University in 1996, where I was a student and he was a donated lesson horse.
My dear, brave, sweet Stevie,
It's hard to imagine how reluctant I was to buy you, considering that we've had twelve years together. I still remember the first time I rode you my first semester at William Woods - it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and it happened right in front of world-famous riding instructor Gayle Lampe! We had to canter a figure-eight, my saddle slid sideways, you went hopping around, sporting a trimmed mane and nothing to grab onto, and you weren't interested in helping me one bit! You never did have much interest in figure work - you were a Champion Three Gaited Saddlebred with a mission to take those victory passes on your own terms, often leaving your young riders in the dirt as you trotted out of the ring with your blue ribbon!
You taught me a very important lesson that day - I had a lot to learn and I didn't ever want to ride you again! Your constant antics in the stall, your hunger strikes, your epic victory passes, your habit of eating students - you were a perpetual source of disruption in the William Woods barn, at the horse shows, and in the classroom as we learned that there are exceptions to every rule. Especially with Stevie.
So when Gayle Lampe called me the year after I graduated to ask me if I needed a lesson horse, because you were for sale, I told here that I was not interested in a lesson horse that eats students and bucks people off at horse shows. And she replied, "He doesn't do that anymore - he's older and more mellow now." Or something like that. But I was not a fan of the Getting Even Steven, so I told her, "No, thank you."
But a month later you were for sale again. The phone call went something like this: "Lisa, it's Megan, from William Woods - I bought Stevie, but I need to sell him because I'm taking a job that won't let me have a horse, and Ms. Lampe said you might want to buy him."
Sigh. Who was I to argue with Gayle Lampe? At least not twice, anyway! So I sent Megan a check and she put you on a trailer from Ames, Iowa to Oshkosh, WI.
By the time you stepped off the trailer in Oshkosh, you had taken all of your shoes off and ripped your tail out. You didn't have a mane the last time I'd seen you and it had grown in nicely - on the wrong (left) side. I don't really know what I was expecting.
But hey - I'm a lefty, too, so maybe we had more in common that I'd thought!
I quickly learned that mellow wasn't your style. But I admired your spirit, and thought I could teach you a thing or two, and we'd figure out how to teach lessons together. Ha! Turns out I was the one that had some stuff to learn, didn't I?
You were far more patient with me than I was with you. After all I was just a dumb kid and you already knew EVERYTHING, right? By the end of our first summer together half of my students hated you, and the other half were kind of afraid of you. But I was merely annoyed with you, and didn't figure I could convince anybody to buy you, anyway. So off to Colorado we went...
Where I quickly learned that you already had quite a reputation. When I proudly told the trainer I was going to work for in Denver that I was bringing a horse named Getting Even Steven, she startlingly exclaimed, "You can't bring that horse here! He's completely crazy! I've seen him try to kill people!" Whilst wrapping my head around the fact that you'd already made a name for yourself as an outlaw in the horse community to which I was scheduled to move the following week, I explained, "He doesn't do that any more - he's older and more mellow now." Whoa, channeling Gayle Lampe!
Many students and blue ribbons later, including Arizona State Pleasure Driving Champion, you were a local superstar, and turned that ugly old reputation for being naughty (mostly) on its head! In the eight years we taught lessons together, I had about as many people offer to buy you as ask me, "Is that old horse really worth all the trouble?" "No, he's not for sale," and "Yes, he most certainly is worth it!"
Our adventures were never boring - you had a way of taking any sure thing and adding a Stevie Twist, usually in the final moment! There was a surprise outcome to everything you did - you made me think on my feet! You were still teaching me how to train, teach, trust, and love while giving many young students the ride of a lifetime. You taught me a lot about hard work, determination, and courage. And that you don't do trail rides.
You were the original Energizer Pony - when the going got tough you never, ever quit. You had more try, more heart, and more soul than any horse I've ever known. You were also the sportiest, most athletic horse I've ever known, and I'm including your trail riding gymnastics and carrot-trick yoga games with all of those enthusiastic victory passes. And yours was certainly the proudest blue ribbon I ever received - Open English Pleasure Champion - when you were 20 years old!
I know now that you put up with all the beginner students, summer campers, and Halloween costumes because you liked hanging out with me. I was your mom, your cheerleader, friend, and your human counterpart. And if you behaved, you got to go to horse shows, where everyone could admire you as you trotted out of the arena with another blue ribbon. I remember watching you size up the competition before your classes - you really did know everything, didn't you?
Neither of us handled your retirement very well. Pasture life clearly was not up your alley, but you eventually learned to live outside in a "private" run - it was easier to torment your neighbors when you could actually reach them, anyway! The first time I caught you picking up your rubber feed pan to wallop the horse next to you, I couldn't help but belly-laugh, you were very seriously hilarious in your distate for horses not quite up to "Stevie standards". Which includes most every horse you've ever met. Especially geldings. And horses with spots.
I could write forever about my spunky little white-faced horse and our adventures, but I'm afraid any attempt to summarize your life, a life lived so powerfully, so purposefully, and so profoundly could only fall painfully short of describing the once-in-a-lifetime, larger-than-life, rockstar- superhorse-companion-partner-teacher-healer-and-friend that you were to me. So I'll stop here for now, but I'll write more later, because there's just so, so much more. I am honored to have had the privilege of sharing almost half of your life with you. Thank you for reminding me to laugh at myself, live with relish, love hard, and be myself, no matter what anyone else says or does.
I've written about my friend, fellow brain cancer survivor, and watercolor classmate, Michael Orchowski, in a previous post, but I'm going to do it again. I want you to have an opportunity to participate in the remarkable journey of one of the most fascinating people I've ever met. Are you reading this, Barbara Walters?
"Michael's art is rich with imagery, with each of his paintings detailing his journey through and beyond illness. Michael hopes that others will benefit from his experience, and enjoy this exhibition of his work...
"In the advanced stages of ALS, Michael's wish is to have an exhibition of his work "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity." Paralyzed on his right side, and only able to use his non-dominant left hand, he strives to express himself in "joyful colors, with my right brain and my left hand. The colors which I applied in the various paintings are happy and express my positive outlook towards life."
Nearly every painting Michael has painted in class will be on display and for sale, so there should be a lot of opportunities to obtain some one-of-a-kind holiday gifts! Michael and his equally inspiring wife, Doedy, are generously donating the proceeds from the event to be divided equally between the Dream Foundation and the CCSB Wellness Programs, to increase awareness for both organizations.
Michael is a bright, shining light with an infectious smile, and an inspiration to everyone he meets. But don't just take it from me - I've asked my classmates to contribute their thoughts on our friend Michael, too:
"What a pleasure it is being a painting comrade with Michael. He is an inspiration of love and hope and an artist to boot! His paintings exude joy and life filled with color and brush strokes that define his unique style, absolute "Michaelness". His art is a true expression of his life, his heart and his story, which is compelling and reaches out and touches the viewer. I'm glad that he found his brush." - Libby Whaley
"Michael is the kind of philosopher we need quoted in textbooks. Upbeat, courageous, memorable, he smiles at himself and the capriciousness of life. Michael has a droll sense of humor, and a gentle, loving and sensitive heart. He’s a one-of-a-kind artist, and an inspiring member of our art class. He’s a hero!" - Laurette Valentine
"Michael's art has always expressed to me his love of life in the face of challenges and pain. His good humor and whimsy belies strength founded in humility and kindness." - Michael Taylor
"When I first met Michael I felt an immediate bond with him. I know he felt it, too. It was only after my initial meeting and conversations with him that I was able to step back and appreciate his art. What a treat that was! He can somehow capture what is going on in his body with paint and paper in the most amazing way. His paintings are expressive, organic and extremely captivating. He is a remarkable person in many, many ways and an artist in the BEST sense. I am proud to know him." - Karen Westheimer
"I'm the girl that sat next to you most of the time at class. Your work there has been an authentic journey towards Heaven. Your graceful attitude has inspired many a great deal. I looked forward for Mondays to come. I have enjoyed the comments, the interaction and the encouragement with you. I hope to see you at your coming exhibit. You leave behind you a work of love that I personally appreciate. Your presence will be real to me in my future work, and I hope will reflect what friendship and support can bring to a searching world for true goodness. Your positiveness gave me hope and then some. Ma el salama, my dear friend......" - Natalie Khoury
"Watching Michael paint is an education in itself. Every brush stroke is loaded with meaning and is an integral part of the whole painting. In this way, each of us adds an integral part to the lives of those around us. Michael has shown us by example that, no matter what challenge arises, there is a way to express yourself and create beauty in your very own, wonderful style. Thank you, Michael, for blessing us with so many magical paintings--you can always tell an Orchowski!" - Tessa Flanagan
"Michael is our Archangel." - Rick Stich, Instructor
"The kindest blue eyes. Big blue and filled with love. His art is an extension of his love and the way he lives. Each piece is filled with bright colors, abstract, yes but his message is clear, live each moment in joy and hope. I love you Michael...you know that." - Charlene Hovey
Please join Michael's friends and help Michael fulfill his dream on this very special night.
Location: 33 JEWELS AT EL PASEO, 814 State Street, 805-957-9100
Cancer's a weird thing. For all the pain and distress it brings, I've found that it can bring equal amounts of opportunity, hope, and enlightenment for everyone affected. The avenue to health through cancer can be eye-openingly positive with the right kind of support. And my Yellow-Brick Road to this conclusion went directly through the front doors at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. As I've told so many people, "Santa Barbara is the place to have cancer, if you must, because of the Cancer Center."
The staff and doctors at CCSB took me in for treatment before I was qualified for any financial assistance, because I needed treatment "now, not whenever the state figures out that you qualify." The caring staff felt like a family by the end of my seven weeks of radiation. I was actually sad it was over, because I wouldn't get see them every day!
In addition to offering outstanding medical care, cutting-edge technology, and an ultra-caring staff; CCSB provides a vast array of classes, therapies, and counseling - all free of charge to patients through their CCSB Wellness Programs. I've been taking watercolor and yoga classes, receiving Healing Touch Therapy, and attending support groups at the CCSB Wellness Center for almost a year now. Their Wellness Programs perfectly complement the outstanding medical care provided by top-notch physicans with opportunities to heal mind and spirit while the physical body battles cancer. I can't say enough to express my gratitude for CCSB's emphasis on healing the Whole Person through Whole Wellness.
Through my activities at CCSB I'm learning new skills, keeping myself sane and happy, getting the help and support I need, and meeting lots of interesting new friends. There are a lot of amazing people with whom I may have never come into contact if it weren't for the common thread of cancer and the CCSB. I've met so many people through the CCSB's Wellness Programs: fellow cancer survivors and warriors, amazing staff, volunteers, teachers, and family members of my cancer peers.
One of my new friends is a fellow brain cancer survivor and watercolor student, Michael Orchowski. He is an inspiration: a bright, shining light to everyone he meets, and I'm super-lucky to get to spend time with him every Monday in art class.
Here's his remarkable story: Following brain cancer surgery, Michael embraced painting classes offered by the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Losing strength and control on his right arm and hand, Michael learned to be left-handed. Inspired by his beloved Corgi dog, he began using his left hand to paint particular images and colors without making conscious decisions of what he was painting. Michael's cancer is no longer active thanks to the skills of surgeons and the wonderful medical and spiritual support of many medical staff, friends and family and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.
Michael donates most of his paintings to CCSB, and they've taken five of his doggie paintings and printed them on notecards to sell in 5-card assortment packs for $10 (All 5 cheerful images, shown above, right!). I've bought a pack, my parents have bought a pack, and I'm suggesting that if you like these cards, you do, too. Your purchase will help a tremendous organization continue to help people like me, when they need it the most. The cards will brighten the day of whoever receives them. Just like the smile of my friend Michael brightens everybody's day and lights up every room he enters.
Your $10 donation is tax-deductible and (much-needed) proceeds will be donated to the valuable Wellness Programs at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. To learn more, please email the Wellness Center Coordinator, or call (805) 898-2204. Please tell them that Lisa Tomlin sent you.
I find it perfectly appropriate that Santa Barbara seems to be having the most cleansing powerwash of a Super Rainstorm today on the first day of Spring 2011. Seeing as how there's not much to do outside today, I'll sit inside, cozied up to the fire in my little cabin in the woods, listen to the rain on the roof (in the bucket under the skylight, too) and reflect on the messages of the changing season and cleansing rain.
Such a magnificent metaphor, Spring is, with the cleaning, renewal, rebirth, spring showers nourishing new growth, and fresh starts. I've been having a similar experience within myself, as persistent positivity continues to pay off in the way of increased opportunities thus far in 2011.
I'm preparing for my own rebirth of sorts as I approach my "cancer-versary". April marks two years since my brain cancer diagnosis, and while I continue monthly chemo as a precautionary measure, that nasty old tuber thankfully remains missing, nowhere to be found, in any of my scans since the December 2, 2010 MRI that had us all asking, "Where'd it go?" Best day ever...
So even though the posting has been light here on Girlbert.com, it simply means that I've had other things to do beside dwelling on that silly old tumor that isn't there! I'm finding myself getting wrapped up in other activities, you know, the stuff of life? Finding myself less hindered by health concerns (and the nasty anxiety that comes with them), I'm getting a fresh start with a new version of normal. Opportunities abound in 2011! It goes something like this...
I'm learning new things: taking watercolor and yoga classes at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. So important to keep my brain taking in new information, my mind happy, and my body active; as I continue on my healing journey.
I'm getting back on the horse: riding, teaching, and training. Very important that a horse girl have horses to ride, pamper, and learn from. Many opportunities to do just that have recently presented themselves, making me think I could find work doing what I love, just as soon as I'm ready!
I'm gaining control over my financial situation: tackling my ongoing credit issues and thinking about what kind of work I can do that will supplement our income.
I'm going places: I'm looking forward to my first trip abroad this week - I'll be traveling to England with my Mom to visit my brother for the next two weeks! I'm flying to Chicago first, then Mom and I leave the next day for London. A couple of days there with my bro and then we're taking the train to Paris for the weekend! The second weekend we'll get to see Stonehenge, which has long been on my "Must See Before I Die" list! I'm bursting with excitement about getting spend time my parents and brother, but I'm over-the-top-busting-at-the-seams-giddy about seeing England and Paris! Lifetime opportunity courtesy of my amazing parents. Love you guys!
I'm making more time for social activities: Boyfriend and I are making a point to take ourselves out for "Date Nights" after two years of putting "Us" on the backburner for my physical health. I'm making new friends through all of my classes, support groups and horse activities; and reconnecting with old friends, too. Interacting with people and putting myself out there as a soon-to-be-employable horse girl again has been good for my mind and spirit!
I'm happy: I see everything I've overcome in the last couple of years and I'm smiling. A lot. I'm letting the creative, interested, smart, curious horsegirl out to play! And she's having fun, even in the rain!
I'm grateful: I acknowledge all of the help and support I've received in the last couple of years, and I'm humbled by all the love and kindness that continues to flow in from friends, family, and even strangers. Virtual hugs!
So - the messages of spring are reccurring, universal, and blatantly obvious. My brain tumor is gone, then my car breaks. My car is fixed, turned out not to be a big deal, but I have to file for bankruptcy. But that's life - your very own version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through a series of ups and downs, with the point being there is an up to every down. Realizing that is the biggest hurdle of all, so once you're there, the rest is easier and the lessons, clearer.
So weather the storm, because there's always something good on the other side. Waiting out the rain, no matter how torrential, is the only way to get to the rainbows, the flowers, the sparkling trees, green grass, and singing birds. And the storm passes more quickly if you learn to smile, laugh, and dance in the rain!
The last couple of weeks have been tough. Busy, busy, busy - like a hamster on a wheel. Going nowhere - really fast. Working all the time, feeling like I'll never catch up, and it was really getting me down. Last month I got this tremendously great news about my health, but I've been catching myself in the throes of negativity more often than I'd like to admit. I was certainly off-track of my normally positive outlook. How do you practice what you preach, Girlbert? The answer wasn't coming as quickly as I would have liked, so I wrote this little reminder for myself. Maybe it'll be helpful for some of you, too.
Here some of the tricks I use to stay on track in the practice of a happy, healthy life:
I meditate. Every day - even if it's just for a few minutes. I try to stop and focus on my breathing: Inhale...Exhale. So simple, and does wonders for my stress level!
I journal. I never know when I'll need to jot something down, so I keep a small notebook with me. I tell people that good or bad, it's better to get it out of your head and on paper than let it take over your mind. Then you can look at it on page and determine if it's worth more of your energy.
I stop what I'm doing when I'm hungry and make food for myself. I make a point to consciously feed my body healthy food.
I get outside and enjoy nature. I appreciate all of the earth's creatures and taking the time to admire them renews my sense of wonder and humility.
Find the humor and laugh! There's something funny in every situation (I promise!), and if you can do that, you'll get through anything.
I cry if I need to, then pick myself up and move on. But most importantly, don't bottle it up - let it OUT! It's okay to be angry/sad/whatever, as long as you address it and move on.
I make time for the things I love to do. It's important to have a hobby or creative outlet. I started taking a watercolor class through the Cancer Center this fall, and I'm having a blast learning how to paint! Learning something new is so good for your mind, and being an art student reminds me that we're all students in the lesson that is life! I've also recently begun to take more time for my horse and my horse friends and that's been good for my spirit and to reconnect with the horse girl inside me. Reminds me that I'm still a horse girl, just waiting to get back in the saddle.
I exercise. Okay, not every day, but I try to do something to get my blood pumping at least every other day. Then I yoga or do some pilates at home on days in between. I admit I'm not a big fan of exercising for exercising's sake, but I've seen the results of with vs. without: My blood counts (taken every week) are more stable, my mood is better, and I definitely have more energy with exercise. (Don't they have some research to prove that, somewhere, too?) Not to mention I look better with a little muscle on, and who doesn't like to look good? A shaman once told me, "if you look good, you feel good."
And I have to give credit to so many healers, friends (animals, too!), shamans, energy workers, family members, doctors, holistic practitioners, and some people I've never even met; for inspiring me to be better, learn more, and HEAL. So put yourself out there - you never know who you'll meet, what you'll learn, or what you'll get back. Know that your energy, love, and support will be returned, times ten!
So there's more to the title of that last post - much more - but I opted to quit with just the facts last time. Just get everybody up to speed with the story, while taking a little more time to process and plan Part Two.
As I wrote the previous post, something struck me as I typed the words, "Believe It." They appeared on the screen before me, and I realized I had much more to share than "Just the facts, m'am". One of my mantras over my years of exploration into my own spirituality, my mission in this lifetime, on this planet; has been "If I believe it, well then it must be true," or "If you believe that, that it will be true for you." I'm always telling people: "There is so much power in what you think!" Also, "Write down what you want, and you'll have it."
I was really lucky to have this really great riding instructor, professor, and mentor in college whose mantra was, "There's no sense in practicing at all, if you're going to practice the wrong things. Practice correctly, or don't practice at all." She was, of course, talking about riding horses, but I've carried that mantra with me through all aspects of life. She's also one of the happiest, cheeriest people I know, so I'm pretty sure she applies this statement to her whole life, too.
I didn't realize how to apply it to more than riding then, but I see it so clearly now. I've been working for a long time toward the goal of being happy, and more recently, toward health. Obviously the two go hand in hand! So I practice happiness, instead of sadness. I practice making healthy choices, instead of unhealthy choices. This isn't to say I'm always happy or healthy, or that it's easy. But I make a conscious effort to practice correctly. If I get off course, I make a correction. And I learn from my mistakes. And I believe that I will achieve my goals. I write down what I want. I imagine myself succeeding. And I know anything is possible, as long as I believe it.
I struggle with doubt, sure. I have to fend off plenty of sadness. There will always be obstacles, but the point is to not let my mind be one of them. But I've made a practice of believing everything will work out in a positive way, provided that I stay focused on the positive outcome. I've had plenty of help from healers, shamans, and energy workers to help drive that point home throughout the years, and it's finally starting to stick. I'm still a student and life is one lesson after another, but practice makes perfect.