Archive for Personal Stuff

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FollowTheLeaderThank you so much for following this blog about animals and animal communication! I wanted to let you know, however, that I have moved the entire blog to my main website and that is where new posts appear. I hope you will hop on over there to catch up and sign up to follow me at that location. And if you have a blog too, please put that in the comments there so I can check it out. Thanks so much! LetaSignature

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How Training Works – Just Use a Weiner … or not …

Bear

It’s after lunch and I’m trudging out to the barn where my car is parked, Bear and Charlie at my side, the cold wind blowing through our hair, the pocket of my parka stuffed with a package of out-of-date, slimy weiners. My intent is to start training Bear to get in the car, and Charlie is along to play the role of  “I will get that bite of weiner if you don’t hurry!”

The object, again, is to teach Bear to get in the car, something she has not done except under extreme pressure — and then only once — since I brought her home from the animal shelter last July. At that time two friends accompanied me to the car to help me load up Bear, because as a yearling Great Pyrenees she already weighed around 80 lbs. She shocked us all by literally vaulting into the back of the car before I could even get the tailgate all the way down. She threw up on the way home, but she came willingly. I guess she really, really wanted to leave that life behind — forever.

But once home — and she made it hers very quickly — she obviously decided never to leave again. The one time I took her somewhere, only to be evaluated for grooming, it took three of us to lever her up into the back seat of the truck, and she then refused to budge, much less get out, when the groomer came out to inspect her.

Having won a lesson at a highly acclaimed local dog-training school 4 months ago, I am now dealing with how to get Bear there for said lesson. She’s a very big dog and a very protective dog. She needs the work, and I need to trust that she will answer to me. I am assured that weiners are the key to successful training so out we go for our first lesson on “getting in the car.” We did pretty good. After 3 weiner’s worth of “Up!” — with said weinie bits carefully poised on the tailgate just out of reach — Bear finally succeeded in placing the top half of her body into the car in order to reach the prize. I figured that was enough for one day, especially given our numbing temperaturess right now, so we will pursue this again tomorrow. Charlie got his bites too and did his job very well.

I’ll admit. I was impressed. The weiner thing works really well!

But here’s another example of how training works:

Frida, my 5-lb. long-haired Chihuahua, has recently succeeded in RE-training me as to how she gets into my bed every night. She has slept with me, under the covers, since childhood and has her own footstool-leading-to-trunk-leading-to-bed staircase to get up and down with. She can scale this structure in less than the blink of an eye and usually just goes sailing off in a flying leap when she is motivated to get down for whatever reason.

“But no, Mom. I really like it best when you pick me up and PUT me on the bed.”

I feel as dim as a burned-out lightbulb, but I finally got it as I lay there in the dark last night listening to Frida’s pathetic whimperings and wooflings to be picked up and put in bed: “Damn! I’ve been trained!” I thought, as I threw back the covers, reached down, and lifted her tiny body up into our cozy nest.

And she didn’t even have to use weiners. Go figure.

Frida ... guess where?

I’m just a bit embarrassed here ……..

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Where is God?

Isn’t there a saying: “God is in the little things.”? I don’t know where this came from, but I believe it’s true.

I have rethought, rewritten, and edited this post many times because I don’t want to offend anyone. I have friends  who run the gamut from God-fearing fundamentalists to cynical atheists or agnostics, and I respect the opinion and beliefs of each and every one. Who am I to argue? If whatever you believe in, or don’t believe in, makes you happy, then you’re probably way ahead of the pack.

But therein lies the rub. An abundance of people these days don’t seem to be real happy or fulfilled — several of my acquaintances among them — no matter what they believe in or where they think God lives. Could it be that they are not spiritually nourished, regardless of what their beliefs might be? I think so. And might that have something to do with a belief that God lives outside of us and is the producer and director of our lives?

(Okay, here comes the potentially offensive part, but please keep reading.)

I  hate to say it, but here we have the quintessential Western male chauvanistic viewpoint: Some big boss guy in the sky whose name starts with a capital letter runs the world and rules our lives. All we have to do is turn everything over to “Him” because “He” is supposedly benevolent so will make sure everything turns out right. But whoops, when things don’t go so well “He” is not held accountable, or “He” is excused for his misdirection because “there has to be a good reason.” Sometimes at that point we  lose  faith altogether because “God” did not live up to our expectations. How confusing is that?! And how could any god live up to such expectations? Meanwhile, in keeping with that belief we have abdicated all responsibility and given away all our power. And how depressing is that?!

What about a flip side of that God version? Many religious sects throughout time have believed that God is IN everything, not a separate force. I like this idea, and I believe it myself. And yes, it brings with it responsibility for our own actions and their consequences. But it’s a little more complicated than that because obviously, since God is in everything, the god energy extends outside ourselves too, so there is a oneness and partnership going on at all times which certainly influenceS our choices as well.

I think of it this way. If the god force is the ocean, and that ocean contains all knowledge and awareness, then each of us is a drop (or maybe a bucketful, depending) within that ocean. We are made up of the identical god force and wisdom, but our scope of operation and awareness is just not quite so evolved as the entire ocean’s is. That doesn’t mean we can’t draw on its support and input, responding to its ebb and flow. But it does mean that we are not separate from it and totally subject to the buffeting of its waves, much as the cork on a fishing line would be! (Not a great metaphor, but I hope you get my drift [pun intended].)

When I have a friend who is a “believer,” who is down on their luck but  insisting it is God’s will, I’ll admit, I sometimes just want to shake them and yell in their face: “Take back your power! You are not God’s victim! Draw on that god force but don’t play like you have nothing to do with it!!”

I know this spiritual model does not work for everybody, and I really don’t mean to offend anyone, but my answer to the question “Where is God?” is “Everywhere, darn it, just open your eyes and hearts and feel it!” And that means that our fate is more or less a joint project and that we have just as much input in our lives as the big  “God” guy in the sky does.

And by the way, just for those who may think I’m a heathen, I talk to my own god all the time and would be lost without that connection. But I simply cannot pretend that that source exists outside of me and is identified by the pronoun “He.”

I think everyone who believes in any kind of god force agrees that God is love. I just hope we can each find whatever version of this idea makes us happy, loving individuals.  That’s all I’m really trying to say here.

Happy New Year!

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Why Foster? Simple. It’s a Joyous Thing!

A Bedside Table Full of Blessings

When the plea went out from our local shelter recently for help with the dozens of tiny, motherless kittens who needed fostering, I finally ponied up and jumped in full force.

When I went to pick up a few of the babies and saw how many there were (literally dozens), peeping their squeaky little appeals to all who passed, sitting dejectedly in the corner of their cage, or, in the case of the stronger ones, leaping up and hanging from the cage door so you couldn’t miss them, I decided to take as many as I thought I could handle. So nine it was, from three different litters.

These babies weighed between one and 1.5 lbs., mind you, and gaining enough weight to be spayed or neutered and then put up for adoption was the main goal. Socialization the next, almost equal, priority. I thought, “Okay. I can do that. A couple of weeks of a little mayhem but lots of play time with kittens — it’ll be fun!”

Think again, Leta. The day after taking my babies home, ringworm was discovered in the nursery so all in that section had to be isolated and treated. It was decided to keep mine where they were — at my house in my guest bedroom — but a week later one of my tiny tots did glow blue (not good) when the shelter vet scanned him for ringworm with the black light.

Alas.

So it was decided my crew too should receive treatment. This consists of dipping as well as oral medication. Since I had unexpected guests arriving for a long weekend, and the kittens had to go to the shelter for their treatments as well as routine vaccines and deworming, the shelter graciously offered to keep my babies for four nights so my guests could inhabit my guest quarters without having nine kittens scrambling all over them.

I went to retrieve the babies yesterday. Or part of them. I had decided only to bring back four or five of the smallest, as the nine-some had indeed proved to be fairly tricky to handle. The stronger amongst them would attach themselves to me like iron shavings to a magnet when I walked in the guest room door, or several would come pouring out into the hall and land amidst my six dogs who were standing there ever curious about the new occupants. (Fortunately my dogs are cat-friendly, so no mishaps there). But it was hard. Besides, all had gained weight and thrived under my watch so I thought the larger ones would probably do just fine if I left them there. So four or five it would be.

NOT.

When I got to the shelter I was first and foremost totally awed by all the  the folks who work there do for these little guys, every day. They have to do ungodly things to them several times a day (pills, shots, dipping, cleaning up diarrhea, to name a few), keeping decontamination uppermost in mind at all times.  I was so impressed!

But I was also horrified. Every single one of my babies had lost at least 2 or 3 of the hard-earned ounces I had put on them in the ten days they were with me. One was back down to 1 lb. and had horrible diarrhea. Her little face looked like a Biafran orphan, and I could tell she was walking that line between deciding to live or not. They were all depressed and somewhat lifeless. After all, in their circumstance they could not be taken out and handled so they could not receive the oh-so-important cuddling and loving and play time all babies need in order to thrive.

Needless to say I scooped up all nine of my babies again . . . plus one. She too was tiny, tiny, and was isolated in a cage all alone. I could not leave her behind.

I’ve had “my” 10 babies home for 24 hours now, and am as protective of and concerned with their welfare as a mama bear. They are getting top-grade kitten food from the health food store, are eating voraciously 4 or 5 times a day, and some soothing intestinal herbs and powerful micronutrients are already putting a little pizazz back into them. A few are still puny and obviously not feeling well, but several are zooming around the room again turning somersaults together, or sitting in the sun watching the birds outside their large window. And my little Biafran baby, Blue, is beginning to stretch when she wakes up (a good sign) and show a lot more interest in her food.

I don’t plan to adopt any of these wee ones, but yeah, they are starting to take on distinct personalities and names:  Zapata, Sparks, Ochenta and so on, and it will be a red letter day when I can take them back to the shelter fat and happy and well socialized so that they can go to wonderful, caring homes. It’ll be a while — no two-week frolic, for sure — but it’ll be more than worth it.

"Sparks," so named by Ava, a friend's little girl in Boston.

Whether it’s baby kitties, an adult dog or cat, or a rescue horse, I urge you to help out when you can. It is so gratifying and good for your soul, not to mention life-saving for these precious beings.

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What Makes A Good Riding Instructor?

Heels down!!!   Head up!!!  Soft hands!!!!   Toes forward!!!   No, no, NO — MAKE him do what you want, don’t just ASK!!!

This is what you’re hearing and trying to make sense of . . . but meanwhile you’re just going in circles on some horse you don’t know and trying to hang on for dear life!

If you’re a horse lover and a rider, I’m sure this sounds all too familiar. And frankly, it’s the reason I’ve stayed away from formal riding training most of  my life. The militant approach so many instructors seem to take has always felt out of sync with the human-horse bond to me.

Hopefully this technique is a thing of the past. Like those old-school piano teachers who would rap you on the knuckles if you held your hands wrong (my poor mom had to endure this when she was a child …….).

But I digress.

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I’ve been struggling to come back from a fall two years ago and so have been unable to ride consistently or comfortably during that time.

About three months ago I heard about a therapeutic riding instructor in my area and decided to try her out. I already had a great physical therapist, massage therapist, and other good healers on my team, so why not add a good riding instructor to the mix? I really had nothing to lose, and I knew if I didn’t like her . . . well .  . .that would be that.

Imagine my surprise when a young, tall, wisp o’the willow blonde who looked about 15 arrived at my place one Sunday in September, a toddler in tow, and announced that she was my new riding instructor! And did I mention beautiful? (I hope she didn’t notice that my jaw was on the ground.)

Here's Christina & daughter Mesa, so . . . well, you get the picture.

Christina immediately impressed me with her winning smile, her soft spoken demeanor, and her matter-of-fact but loving management of her 16-month-old daughter, who was obviously an appendage no matter what the activity. Her credentials are stunning: not only a related college degree and certification as a therapeutic riding instructor, but 10 years of experience including managing a therapeutic riding program for the disabled, along with years and years of her own horsemanship experience before that. And she’s so young she could be my daughter . . . well maybe even my granddaughter! Egads!

But the proof is in the pudding, right? After thoroughly reviewing my “case” and taking a careful look at my off-kilter back, up I went. Once again, for the first time in months. Maybe this time would be a charm.

Christina & Mesa, carefully and lovingly directing my re-entry into riding.

Christina immediately identified a few things I could do with my posture in the saddle that would ease my back and help me slowly re-accommodate myself to regular riding.  One of these was to shorten my stirrups so much that I looked like an old woman in a rocking chair — but wow, does that take pressure off the lower back. (And now, two months later, I’m proud to say, my stirrups are back down where they should be.)

Me, in that first lesson, feeling mighty awkward and stiff!

There was no yelling. No “correcting.” Just gentle suggesting, praising, encouraging, laughing . . . and above all, cautioning — not to do more than “felt good” on any given day, which at first would turn out to be only five to ten minutes at a time in the saddle.

Two years ago, before my fall, my mare Bella and I went to a group clinic given by a recognized dressage instructor in our area. Bella was the only horse there who was not from the woman’s own stable — all fairly highly trained dressage horses. And Bella could not do straight lateral (sideways) work down the fenceline. The clinician said Bella was just “putting me on,” slapped her hard on the shoulder, and the next day Bella was so lame on that leg she couldn’t put weight on it for days. Bella knew her limits, I knew she wasn’t spoofing me, and the teacher was an idiot. Enough of that! I’m sticking with Christina.

I am making great progress and feel so blessed!

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Check out Christina’s website, Buckaroo Balance. And if you live anywhere nearby, I’d encourage you to attend one of her clinics or indulge yourself in some private lessons. Whether you’re “disabled” or not!

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To Hunt or Not To Hunt — The Battle Rages On!

I was raised in a family of hunters. Mostly we ate what we killed, but there were those requisite trophies hanging on the wall and lying on the floor too. My grandfather had elk and deer heads hanging all over his house and a bear skin rug in front of his fireplace.

My uncle taught me how to shoot early in life, both a pistol and a rifle. But he seemed really shocked when I sauntered off from camp one day with a .22 and came back with a jack rabbit I had popped dead on, on foot. I was just a little girl. He shouldn’t have even let me out of his sight with that gun.

His dogs ate the rabbit so at least it didn’t go to waste, but, even though I’m a meat eater and have eaten animals harvested from my own ranch, that was the only and last time I have ever hunted and killed an animal myself. It’s just not in my nature.

I think back in those days there were so many fewer of us homo sapiens, and wildlife was so abundant, that hunting and fishing — whether for food or trophies — was never questioned at all.

But the world has changed so much. Overpopulation has crowded out the native habitat of many species. Culling and sport hunting has had a disastrous effect upon others.

Although we had our fair share of predators at my ranch in Texas, living in the mountains of Northern New Mexico has brought many of the big animals much closer to my reality. Cougars and bear are fairly abundant — a cougar was recently treed smack dab in the middle of Santa Fe — and coyotes and bobcats are all around us, preying on our small dogs, cats, chickens and anything else they can grab. There are the near-extinct Mexican wolves too, in the southern part of the state, struggling valiantly to survive but slowly losing the battle. I think their numbers are down around 50 now,  and yet they continue to be poached. And that’s not to mention the local bands of wild horses which, though not predators, the BLM is still intent upon dessimating.

Thank God there are very active groups that fight for the rights of all these animals. But I chose the words “the battle rages on” as part of this blog’s title because these issues are still so rank and adversarial that they have become as destructive to the human psyche as to the animals themselves.

There are data and statistics that can be quoted for supporting either side of these causes, but finding a middle ground seems to be almost impossible for most of the individuals I’ve come in contact with because they are so militant and irate about defending their “side.”

How can we stop wars by waging another one? How can we be pro-life if we murder an abortionist?

Causes are good things, whether they are for preserving our wildlife or planting more trees. But when they engender hatred and violence they are self-defeating.

I know people who are so adamant about their stance that they despise and would literally like to kill others who don’t believe the same way they do. I’ve heard them say so. They are carrying hatred in their hearts every day. I can’t imagine what this is doing to their psyches.

I ask you. How does this kind of energy help preserve anyone — our precious wildlife, our forests, or most of all ourselves?

I’m not taking a stance here on hunting or not hunting. I just needed to vent a bit about some of the venom that is whirling around me at this particular time regarding killing cougars.

Thanks for listening.

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At Home – Rockin’ in the Desert

The view out my kitchen window

When I moved from Texas to the high desert of Northern New Mexico two years ago, I never dreamed how truly at home I would feel. Not that I didn’t love my old ranch in the magical Texas Hill Country. I did. To be sure. And there are many aspects of it I miss often.

But living here has brought about all kinds of amazing and synchronistic associations and occurrences. And, as it turns out, not only for me, but for my family: my daughter and her husband who migrated back from England and now inhabit the guest house on my property.

When I decided to move to the Santa Fe area 3 or 4 years ago, my brother, who had lived here for 25 years or so, cautioned me:  “Leta, are you SURE you want to do this? Santa Fe is an odd place.  I’ve seen it chew people up and spit them out. It either loves you or hates you.”

I paid him no heed. I was Santa Fe bound, come hell or high water.

And, sure enough, for me and mine it has been truly magical. Everything from day one has gone perfectly. I am part of a wonderfully close community out in the Galisteo Basin where I live; I’m on the board of the Santa Fe Humane Society, my closest neighbor teaches yoga in the nearby town of Cerrillos, only a mile away (AND does massage), I take weekly Spanish lessons with another neighbor in her home for 3 hours each week, speaking only Spanish . . . muchas gracias muy mucho!

The same has been true for my precious daughter, Hannah, and her husband,

A band pic of my rockin' daughter, Hannah. Yikes! Who woulda ever thought?!

James, who have a rock band called Venus Bogardus that originated in the UK. They have not only been well received here but have gotten rave reviews from every quarter, East Coast to West Coast, with the Glastonbury Festival included.  And besides their band, their businesses have boomed and James now has a book contract on his first novel.

So my brother was right. The Santa Fe area either eats you alive or blesses you and fulfills you. Thank God, me and mine are among the latter. We love it here. I feel I am home at last. Pretty weird, huh, having been a born and bred Texan?

And then there’s something about the Native Americans ……….. maybe it’s just a past life thing for me.

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