So Good, It Should Be Required Reading

LiarTemptressI just finished reading Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, written by Karen Abbott, and feel as if it should be required reading for all history students. The book covers the life of four women–two Confederate and two Union Army spies–who risked their lives for what they believed. Although non-fiction and exhaustively researched, the book reads like a fictional story woven with period detail, human emotion, and suspense. And how is it that I have never heard of these women? Seventeen-ear-old Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army using her feminine appeal and outrageous bravado. Emma Edmonds decided to live as a man to escape persecution from her father, then joined the Union Army, where she served in the bloodiest battles of the civil war before becoming a spy. Can you imagine the irony of her sneaking into enemy territory posing as a man taking on the “disguise” of a woman?  The genteel Southern widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow, along with her young daughter, passed secret messages for the Confederacy and were eventually imprisoned for it, but continued to elude their guards. Elizabeth Van Lew, an abolitionist and Union sympathizer living in Richmond, put together an elaborate espionage ring and hid escaping Union soldiers in her home under the nose of Confederate family members and detectives. Author Karen Abbott breathes life into each of these women as they lived out their lives during some of the bloodiest and most divisive years in U.S. history, brushing elbows with larger-than-life historical figures such as Alan Pinkerton, Mary Todd Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson, and Emperor Napoleon III. If you like espionage thrillers, encrypted complex codes, secret signs, spy networks, hidden rooms, and daring disguises, don’t miss this book. Bestselling NYT author Karen Abbott also wrote Sin in the Second City and American Rose.


Harriet Tubman: Honored at Last

The name Harriet Tubman brings to mind an American legend—a woman who risked death in pursuit of freedom and continued to do so in order to bring others to freedom. She has become a mythic, larger-than-life character on the stage of history, which makes me wonder all the more—who was this woman? Where did she find the courage to do make multiple trips into slave states to free others, knowing there was a price on her head? What prompted her to live in poverty in order to continue to give to others more in need? How did an illiterate and uneducated slave become the voice of civil rights, humanitarianism, suffrage, and champion of basic human values in a time when women, especially black women, were powerless and without voice? I had to find out.

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

The best autobiography I’ve found is one by Catherine Clinton entitled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. In it, Clinton not only provides what scraps of facts we know about the early life of Tubman (not an easy task, separating fact from legend), but also sets these events within the context of the times. Readers, be prepared to learn more about the true nature of slavery and the laws and economic conditions that perpetuated it, than you ever knew before. Tubman was born in my adopted state of Maryland, then a slave state, but also had the largest free black population by 1810. You would think that a good thing, however, it was not. Maryland became a source for slave labor when the import of slaves was halted because those involved in the trade did not care overly much whether you were free or not. Slave merchants raided Maryland’s black population and transported slaves to the south for a hefty profit. Tubman was born into this milieu and saw her sisters torn from the family and sold off into slavery in the far away deep south.

A daring rescue!

A daring rescue!

Clinton’s book should be required reading in all schools. As Annette Gordon-Reed put it, (Clinton) “rescues Harriet Tubman from empty symbolism, restoring her full humanity, while showcasing her incomparable efforts on behalf of enslaved African Americans.”


Tubman freed herself by walking from her home on the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Philadelphia. I cannot imagine that trek. When she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she boasted that she never lost a “passenger.”


She was fearless and filled with a holy spirit, convinced that God would protect her. Dubbed “Moses of her people,” I understand how that moniker came about, not only for her guidance to freedom, but also because of her close relationship with God. Despite her spirituality, she was also a fierce and cunning soldier. Abolitionist John Brown called her General Tubman, and during the civil war she acted for years as a spy, a scout, and in any other number of other roles as needed. Despite her service, sadly, she had to fight for years with the U.S. government to receive any kind of compensation.


I am heartened to learn that a museum in her honor has opened close to her birthplace. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historical Park in Church Creek, Maryland, is a fine museum full of compelling images chronicling her life. Miss Tubman, you were an amazing woman and so ahead of your time.





How Weeding is Like Writing a Novel

weedsWhile kneeling in the sand and weeding by hand my riding arena (yes, I do this because I am obsessive compulsive about weeds) it occurred to me that the task was a lot like writing a novel. How so? I looked at the overgrowth of weeds invading my ring and resolved to do something about it. I had the will. But as soon as the heat and the magnitude of the task pressed down on me, I was compelled to quit. What does this have to do with writing? A lot of times I have a great idea and I sketch out the plan and dive into writing, only to feel that “deer in headlights” immobility when I look at the magnitude of the task ahead of me. Can I really flesh out these characters, spin a compelling plot, unravel the problems, give it a theme and make it marketable to a capricious and demanding readership? No! No, I can’t do it. I want to run away and give up. Like the weeding task, I want to abandon ship and leave it to the professionals. But. Taking a deep breath. I see that when I go out and do a little bit, even a small amount each night, I do make progress. The results are starting to show. If I keep working and don’t lift my eyes to take in the daunting task ahead, I can maintain hope. It is just that simple. Plodding. Don’t look at the bigger task, just the little patch ahead of you. And pull.


Dressed for Tea: The Story of a Mare (A Diagnosis, A Relief?)

TeaHomeEverything was in order and I signed what was for me a huge check and handed it over. We made arrangements for Tea to be delivered to a trainer I had selected who would work with her to bring her back into shape, get her fit, and tune up her dressage education. I planned on having the mare there for a few months, then taking her home as my new partner to continue our mutual education. That was 17 February.

Dressed for Tea was dropped off at the new trainer’s farm with advice/warning (?) from the old trainer that the mare had been ridden as a “crank and spank”, which in dressage terms means she has to be cranked in and held on the bit and “encouraged” to go forward. Tea was a bit underweight, so the new Trainer gave her about a week to settle in. When she finally did get on her, it was quite a shock.

The next day after the trainer’s first ride I was anxious to hear how she went. My trainer softened the report for my sake. She extolled the virtues of Tea’s disposition (ridden in a thunderstorm and didn’t turn a hair), but she was worried about her left stifle, SI joint, loins, and hips, which were so incredibly tight that she could not take long steps in the trot. In fact, she was covering only 2 feet or less. I knew she could start a bit stiff, but had no idea how bad it was until I managed to get on her the following week. To say her steps were short was an understatement. She was like a foot-bound woman in a tight skirt. She did not want to move forward, in fact, even when encouraged she couldn’t. She felt crippled. I jumped off in a panic and ran back to the barn. What had happened to her?

What was wrong? Thus began the months-long journey to find out what exactly was going on to make her so stiff, so sore, so unridable. We took her off grass and put her on a low-carb diet. Muscle enzyme blood test analysis showed that was not the problem. We got an expert saddle fitter, who saw that she preferred a flexible tree so I bought a new, made-to-fit saddle for her. But she was still moving like her back was fused and her legs were sticks without any joints. I had the barn’s vet examine her on March 9th and he said she was not flexing her hocks and had a hip/SI joint problem, “and probably more.” I took his recommendation and had her hocks injected and put her on a muscle relaxer, methocarbamol. There was modest improvement, but her left hind was still weak.

Tea has such a great attitude, even with her physical issues she tries her heart out. Training  continued and she did develop better muscling and more strength, but it was a struggle. There was still something terribly wrong. My vet examined her and noticed a severe dip in her neck where it meets the shoulder on the left side. He was concerned that it might be damaged, adversely affecting the whole apparatus of connective tissue along the shoulder, back, etc. On April 17th he injected her neck with hyaluronic acid (HA) and a cocktail of other things. It didn’t help much. On May 15th he watched her go again. She was doing better, but he could see the problem in her hips/hind end. He gave the same type injection in a triangle of tissue around the SI joint. It helped a little, but only for a while.

I was running out of money. I hadn’t planned on a new saddle and costly veterinary intervention plus a long period with a professional trainer. And then she started to act lame on her left hind. It was time to take more drastic measures.

At the end of May I brought Tea home to my farm until such time as we could find out what was wrong with her. My vet recommended nuclear scintigraphy – otherwise known as a bone scan — to really find out what was going on. I had been down this sad road before with not one but two other horses. The Virigina Equine Imaging facility does a great job, but I wasn’t prepared for this additional expense. I could not believe I was looking at having to do it again. In the meantime, the vet said she would benefit from having the actual SI joint injected. So on June 1st, the vet injected directly into the SI joint on both sides with the assistance of an ultrasound. The examination revealed that Tea has a luxated SI joint (tilted out of place) and so much fibrous tissue on the left side of her hip that he could barely get the needle through it. Something had happened to her.

At least now I know there is something wrong with her and she is not just a lazy or obstinate mare. You see, she wasn’t really a “crank and spank” horse, but rather one who was getting by the best she could with some rather serious physical  limitations. And yet, she still has a willing attitude. Now, I have to see what we can do to help Tea.

(The Story to be Continued)



Dressed for Tea: The Story of a Mare (Fate, Kismet, or What?)

Tea Years Ago

Tea Years Ago

I think Dressed for Tea–Tea or Miss Tea for short–was fated to find me (or the other way around). I was looking for a safe, low-level dressage horse who could carry my middle-aged and out-of-practice self to the shows without major drama or trauma. I had experienced enough of that with a mare I raised, loved deeply, but was, in the end, too much for me. I just wanted to have fun! Tea was that horse. Her advertisement boasted that she had shown or trained up to Second Level and had an unflappable nature. She was safe, safe, safe!

Like all horse people, I spend far too much time trolling the horse adverts on DreamHorse. I had seen her advertised, but she was far away, and a bit more than I could afford. I looked at a lot of horses, but for some reason kept coming back to Tea’s picture. I first went to see her just after Christmas with my husband and daughter who was home from school. Tea had issues–she was out of shape, she didn’t track straight, she was underweight, she didn’t bend… I went home and thought I’d look some more.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I kept going back to the videos I took and to her photo. The winter dragged on and I tried a host of other horses. Eventually, I decided I needed to try her again. This time, I did a lot better riding her and I started thinking, maybe if she went to a good trainer and maybe if she got more fit…The trainer representing her, a reputable Grand Prix rider, said she was just out of shape and needed someone who would work with her. The thing about Miss Tea was she’s so was so darn accommodating. She would try her best no matter what mistakes you made, no matter what situation you put her in. I thought, ‘that is a horse worth taking a chance on.’ It wasn’t long before I called to have her pre-vet work done.

The day of the vetting, I held my breath. I wanted this mare. I so wanted it to work out. It was clear she could start out a bit stiff, especially behind, so I specifically asked the vet about her hind end and pelvis. He did a flex, he felt along her pelvis and back, he watched her go on the lunge…he said he did not see any Red Flags whatsoever for what I wanted to do with her: low level dressage, i.e. First Level and take lessons and do clinics and just have a fun, safe partner. The vet report wrote: “No red flags noted on exam. Should be fine for lower level dressage.”

Red Flags. I wish someone had seen some and warned me.

(The story continues)


Embracing the Dark

Night falls quicker. The days are shorter. I rush to get everything done before dark because I hate to go out in the evening. This is autumn and every year I know it will send me down a dark hole of lethargy, pessimism, and the blues. I hate the darkness (and I’m not crazy about cold, either). It comes every year and it passes every year. Still, I have not taught myself to embrace the dark.

It’s interesting to note that Carl Jung believed we all have a shadow self–a dark side–that holds all the darker, selfish, nasty aspects of our personalities. Of course, in polite society, we aim to keep that side hidden. But like the change of seasons, we can’t keep our nature down permanently. And when it erupts, it sometimes does so with impulsive behavior, destructive judgement, crippling illness, or other harmful expressions.

But some psychologists have pointed out that our shadows are only to be feared if we repress them. Indeed, writers such as Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves maintains that “opening the door to the shadow world” a little bit at a time allows us to relate to the dark, perhaps even find a use for it. It seems she describe it almost like bleeding off the pressure before an eruption. The concept of embracing the dark side of life on a broader scale is fully explored in Barbara Brown Taylor’s NYT bestseller Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is a fascinating work that explores our need to accept the dark in the world at large as well as within ourselves. It recommends we dispel the vilification of darkness and instead walk into it and find out for a change what’s really out there. In her exploration of darkness, the author explores the experience of personal and physical darkness.

On the eve of the Blood Moon last year

On the eve of the Blood Moon 

As the days shorten, the darkness stretches and lengthens the night, and we descend into the mystical times of Halloween and Mid-Winter, I plan to re-read Taylor and other works on a hunt to discover what lives in my darkness. I plan to explore the darkness in the natural world (circadian rhythms, seasonal affective disorder, fears and myths), the symbolic darkness in the world around us (concept of evil, why bad things happen, how to live in the adversity), and the personal darkness within (concept of sin, depression, etc.)

Tomorrow promises a full moon. Come along and let’s see what’s out there.


Solving the Puzzle’s Puzzle

puzzleI finished this puzzle, but for weeks I didn’t think I would. It sat on my dining room table with just its outline and a few areas filled in. Several times, I was ready to break it apart, stuff it back in its box, and forget about it. I guess I’m just no good at jigsaw puzzles, I thought. And it is only a 300 piece one! 

That’s a fixed mindset. I was faced with a hard task. I judged (myself in this case) as not being talented or smart enough to tackle the task, and immediately leapt to quitting. Don’t try and you won’t fail! Wrong. Not trying is failing. Even for little things like putting together a puzzle.

I was overwhelmed by my inability to see where the pieces would fit to make the picture since they were all such uniformly washed out shades of white, yellow, and soft green. The image had few “landmark” images to go by so my usually approach to solving the jigsaw was not working. Instead, I had to find a new approach. Quelling my frustration, I decided to sort the pieces by color, shade, and then by shape. I worked in one, limited area, inching my way along. Using reductionism, limiting the options, I found it easier to select the right pieces until the picture started to appear. When a piece that was the exact color still did not fit, I turned it in all possible directions and more often than not, it worked! The more I succeeded the more confident I became in picking out the right piece.

I learned a great deal about mindset from reading Carol S. Dweck’s bestseller, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. I still have a lot to learn, but now know for sure that a fixed mindset can be debilitating. An open one that accepts challenges and refuses to judge them as failures opens up the world to new experiences. It is hard to change, and not just quit. It is uncomfortable to set aside fear, judgement, and insecurities. It takes practice. Maybe start with solving a jigsaw puzzle 🙂



Judge the Book Cover

I have no idea why the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has stuck around so long. Clearly, that’s exactly what we all do initially. Okay, as a metaphor, you should not similarly judge a person by their outward appearance…but as for books, that is the first thing a potential reader will see and that reader will make any number of snap decisions based on the cover: is it intriguing, attractive, makes you want to know more… But the most important clue the cover imparts is this one: genre.

Let’s agree that there are indeed certain types of covers that grace particular genres. Think for example of the romance novel. Whether historical romance, contemporary, or romantic suspense, they all share common elements. These may be a portrayal of hero/heroine in an embrace, in a pose of longing, or sometimes just in an outfit that suggests steaminess. Often there are lips or certain body parts featured. Enough on that. How about fantasy? I’m sure you are already conjuring up all sorts of starry images or hidden glens or fractured beams of light over a mysterious world. You get the point.

So what does an author do when she’s told her cover (and her title) are not representative of Young Adult literature, her target demographic? That happened to me. I’ve been told the cover does not attract YA readers, it looks more like historical fiction, it is not clear what the story may be about…on and on. So, I decided to give a new cover for the ebook version a try. Now I have a new problem.

The old cover

The old cover

What should that cover look like and can I find a graphic artist who gets horses? Gets the theme of the novel? Gets the mood, branding, look that will represent False Gods and future books in this series? Well, I think the artist struck the right balance between realistic and abstract concept. What do you think? I would LOVE to hear from readers.

The new cover

The new cover



Don’t believe everything people tell you is an old adage. But we often do, don’t we? Especially during the young, impressionable years or when we feel particularly vulnerable. If people tell us something about ourselves then, it often sticks. For a lifetime. When I was a girl, my father laughed at me and said I wasn’t athletic. I believed it. My mind grasped that image of myself and formed a whole script about it so that later during sports events or other athletic challenges, I would quit, hide, or defer to others. When it was my turn at bat, I’d let the next kid in line take my place to avoid the pressure and risk of failure. Any and all things that even hinted at sports were to be avoided, even after I was no longer forced to participate in them in school. That is the fixed mindset. And it has plagued me in other aspects of life, besides sports. (You’re no good at math!)

A fixed mindset does not believe there is any possibility of change or growth. You are either good at something, meaning naturally talented, or not. There is no room for change with practice and fortitude. Moreover, if you are blessed to be good at something, you certainly don’t want to challenge that safe place, either. You remain in your comfort zone and never test the boundaries. And you become stagnant, ever watchful for failure, and miserable.

runningI learned a great deal about mindset by reading Carol S. Dweck’s recent best seller: Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. Everyone should read this book no matter their outlook on life. It describes the fixed and growth mindsets. Guess which one I recognized? The good news is even those of use who have cocooned ourselves in the fixed mindset can change and learn to expand, grow, learn new things without the associated fear. Since reading the book, I’m setting off down that new path. It is rocky and very much all uphill at this point. But if you want, follow me and see where it leads. I’ll give you one hint: I’ve signed up for a 5K race.