A Divine Gift

The sight before me took my breath away, as shiny things tend to do. Sleek, regal, tall, and stunningly beautiful. She was dark bay – almost black – with a beautiful face accentuated by a long white stripe down her nose and big kind eyes with long eyelashes. A magnificent thoroughbred, Holdmesara (as it is officially written on her jockey club papers. I call her “Sara”) was a sight to behold as she walked in the post parade past the crowd of spectators at Arapahoe Park. It was the Kent Swanson memorial race, and Sara was a live contender.

As the race unfolded, Sara started to make her move on the turn for home. Her strides seemed to get bigger and bigger as she gained momentum. One by one, she passed her rivals in the stretch as she rallied to the finish line to win the race.

Over a year later, I found myself haggling with her owner while I was at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. I couldn’t help it. As usual, my heart got the best of me and I wanted the winner of Kent’s Memorial Race in my barn. It was time for Sara to retire from racing and have a new career. Her owner eventually relented, and Sara came to live at my ranch in Colorado.

In 2019, I ended up breeding Sara to a beautiful stallion named Trojan Nation. Something about the word Trojan makes a person think of condoms. So, with a name like that, you can imagine the baby names my girlfriends and I have come up with when we are having a cold brew or a glass of wine. But I digress…

Horses are pregnant an agonizing 11 months. It’s common in the thoroughbred industry to breed mares in the early months of the year. However, previous experience had helped me decide that foaling babies in the cold and snow wasn’t my cup of tea, so I bred Sara in June. While other owners were complaining about foaling in the cold and snow, I was counting down to May.

May arrived and with it some turmoil and sadness surrounding what would have been my 26th wedding anniversary with Kent. However, the day of our anniversary was absolutely lovely – sunny with a nice, gentle breeze. It was the perfect day for horse related activity, so I had my veterinarian come out for spring vaccinations and a check of the pregnant mares, Hold Me Sara and Northern Rock.

“An anniversary baby isn’t out of the realm of possibility,” my vet stated rather matter of fact as she looked Sara over.

“Yeah, right,” I replied.

We continued to visit for a few minutes then said our goodbyes. My veterinarian’s parting comment was, “I’ll be seeing you very soon.”

I laughed and waived goodbye as she drove away. Yes, there would be foals in the barn soon, but I truly doubted it would be that night. I went about the rest of my afternoon and didn’t think much more about it.

About 10:30 pm, Sara was restless. She was pacing in her stall and whinnying occasionally. While it wasn’t unusual for Sara to move about, the pacing was different and so was her breathing. I knew something was up. I continued to watch the barn monitor and saw her lay down. I could hear her groaning and her breathing was heavier than before. I quickly texted my resident friend here on the ranch, Lisa, and told her I thought that Sara might be having her baby. A few minutes later, we were entering the barn together and approached the stall at the same time. Sara had just stood up. Before I could say a word, Lisa beat me to the punch. “She’s already had her baby! We missed it!”

Sure enough, there was a foal the color of dark chocolate laying on the ground. Sara immediately attended to her motherly duties and started to groom the baby, licking her foal everywhere and stimulating it to move. Lisa and I watched in awe as the foal took its first breath and slowly started to move about. And I couldn’t help but note the time – 11:25. It was still our wedding anniversary!

For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t angry or filled with resentment and chaos. I didn’t think about the injustice of Kent’s killer being unjustly released from prison. My mind had a new focus. Life. Love. Both took over as I concentrated on the little horse in front of me and the beautiful mother Sara was showing herself to be as she tended to her baby.

I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. In fact, I didn’t sleep. It was a busy, fulfilling night. There’s something magical about watching a newborn foal take its first breath, seeing it find the strength to stand up and take its first shaky steps, and witnessing both mother and baby as they work to sustain that life. It struck me that what is instinctual to horses seems to come harder for people.  As people, we often forget to simply stop and breathe. We find ourselves being afraid to take first steps because we feel we’re on shaky ground and don’t want to fail. And sometimes, we forget that we are resilient and can rise above challenges that are thrown our way. We can sustain.

I cannot help but think that Kent was behind the scenes, orchestrating this timing so that I didn’t have to spend our anniversary dwelling on chaos and negative circumstances. Instead, I was able to spend it focusing on life, love, and the incredible anniversary gift of a big, beautiful colt that I know was sent by divine intervention.

Is there timing beyond our conscious comprehension? You better believe it.

Anniversary of Injustice

On May 13, 2019, I was flooded with tears of happiness as my husband’s namesake, Kent’s Bet, a beautiful bay thoroughbred, crossed the finish line first at Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Oklahoma. That moment was the first time in several years that I had genuine happiness in my heart and felt as though it was okay to finally celebrate an anniversary that usually causes tremendous sadness and incomprehensible feelings of loss – our wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but feel that this victory was a gift from Kent, and I knew for the first time in a very long time that he was sending me a clear message of love from the great beyond.

Kent’s Bet

This year, my heartbreak and grief are at an all-time high. I am flooded with emotions I cannot even begin to describe and the tears flow freely at any given moment. As much as I am trying to focus on my husband’s smile, his infectious laugh, and the many good times we shared, there is a giant cloud casting a dark, ominous shadow over everything and I cannot help but feel incredible devastation and depression because of it. If you read my previous blog post entitled “Poor Decisions,” you know what I am referring to. The dark cloud raining on everything is the injustice happening with Kent’s case.

It’s unfathomable to me that the Board of Corrections in Adams County, Colorado, would release Kent’s killer to a half-way house when he has not even served 2 and a half years of the 10-year sentence he was given.  What I find truly puzzling is the fact that in February, a hearing on this same matter was heard by the Community Corrections Board in Denver and the vote was unanimous to keep the killer of Kent Swanson in prison. Why was the perpetrator allowed to have a second hearing in a different venue? Why Adams County? And why was their vote so dramatically different? 

It’s a sad state of affairs when a Community Corrections Board cares more about a budget, overcrowding, or Covid-19 concerns. Whatever happened to justice and holding a criminal accountable for their actions?

This ruling has minimized a horrendous crime. The first responders on the scene, the accident investigators, the District Attorney’s office, and the judge that presided over the case have had their hard work, time, and dedication to the case thrown in their faces and devalued, and it’s an absolute shame considering how hard these people work to serve the community and provide justice.

It’s incomprehensible to have a Board of Corrections send the message – and set a dangerous precedent for future cases – that driving impaired and killing someone is a crime to be minimalized and perpetrators will not serve their full prison sentences because of leniency in Adams County. Do the crime and you won’t serve the time.

If it was your loved one killed in this horrendous, egregious manner and other people were trying to sell you that this is justice, would you buy it? I’m not, and neither is our family or friends.

I learned that the Community Corrections Board of Adams County is appointed by the County Commissioners, so I have written to all of the Adams County Commissioners. I also reached out to local news media outlets to express my thoughts on this matter. I have yet to receive a single response. Not one. Actions and silence truly speak louder than words sometimes; this message is deafening.

It’s hard to accept that there are things in this world I cannot control or change. It’s hard to accept that some people find this matter to be trivial and truly don’t care, not even elected officials that are supposed to represent people like you and I. It’s even harder to accept that I will never hear my husband’s voice again and that I am sentenced to life without him. And now it’s our wedding anniversary, and I am forced to accept that we have been robbed of the gift of justice.

I am trying to focus on the positive things in my life – my family, my friends, my dogs, my cats, and my beautiful horses. I am truly blessed and grateful to be surrounded by such loving, beautiful beings. It is my hope that I will find a way to accept and live peacefully with the injustice of this situation since it is something I cannot control or change.  So far, it’s not proving to be an easy endeavor. It’s frustrating to cry out in anguish and have no one hear it.

I am doing my best to hold on to the many wonderful memories of my marriage and the beautiful person that Kent was. Every time Kent’s Bet steps onto the racetrack, I am reminded that Kent and his legacy lives on. I see Kent’s amazing spirit and determination in every stride that his namesake takes. He may not be perfect or win every race, but he truly tries and he has tremendous heart. Kent’s Bet has given me a sense of hope that there is still some good in the world and there are some beings that hear us.

Kent’s Bet heading to the track to run in the Route 66 Stakes in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I am also pleased to announce that Kent has a second namesake – a yearling colt affectionately named “Chaotic Kent,” also known as CK. I find it fitting considering the crazy state of our world right now and the unbelievable events surrounding Kent’s case. And, quite frankly, the little guy reminds me of Kent. He is handsome, smart, and likes to cause a little trouble in the name of fun! I cannot help but smile and feel joy in my heart when he is bucking and playing in his paddock or when he drops his head in my hands and insists that I scratch the top of his head and behind his ears. CK may well be the one thing that has kept me from drowning in a sea of anger and despair over the injustice of Kent’s case.

Chaotic Kent “CK” with his girlfriend, Take Note.

In my mind, Kent’s passing and the circumstances surrounding it have been trivialized and dismissed by Adams County officials – people we elect and pay to care – something I find completely unacceptable. May the injustice of Kent’s case and how poorly it has been handled never be forgotten. It’s an injustice that deserves to be remembered and acknowledged.

I have been told that special dates without your loved one get easier with time. Sadly, this is not one of them. This is by far the hardest Wedding Anniversary yet.

Happy Anniversary, Kent. Your legacy lives on. I will love you always.

The Steadfast Bald Eagle

As I was looking out at the vast countryside of dull brown wheat fields and dead sunflowers covered in snow and fog, I thought of my late husband and contemplated what would have been his 52nd birthday the day before. The dreary landscape fit my mood perfectly. Only one thing changed when he died – EVERYTHING. I wondered what we would have done to celebrate his birthday if he was still alive, and I thought about how different my life is now and found myself wondering if I am going the direction that I should be or if I have veered off course and should be doing something else. I am often plagued by uncertainty and life seems to be an endless search for answers.

Life seemed so much more certain when Kent was by my side and we were working towards our plans. It seemed to be that life was more about living and less about survival then. I am told that I tend to overthink things, and perhaps I do. I like the comfort of certainty. Unfortunately, as I have been told many times, there are only two certainties in life – taxes and death.

My thoughts were interrupted by movement in the air and the realization that a Bald Eagle had quietly entered my space and was flying low overhead. It was magnificent! Its dark brown wings filled the sky around me, spread out wide as it smoothly glided over the ground below, sharply watching for its prey. This particular Bald Eagle was larger than others I have seen in the area. I watched it maneuver over the fields, flying high then swooping low, always prepared to dive for its meal.

As I watched the Bald Eagle go about its business, one word came to mind. Steadfast. The Bald Eagle is always steadfast in its quest for existence. It knows what it has to do and goes about its business for daily life. I sincerely doubt the Bald Eagle overthinks what it has to do and questions every aspect of its life. It knows, instinctively, what to do and why and remains steadfast in the task of doing so.

Why do I struggle to do this in my own life? I often question my instincts and it leads to disastrous results. It is often said that a person should listen to their gut and trust their own intuition. When you stop and think about it, self-trust is a must. I know that part of this is not having my husband here to help guide me and be the voice of reason when it is needed. But the biggest factor is that I tend to get in my own way, not trusting my own ability to be steadfast.

I found myself thinking about the Bald Eagle long after it had flown away and was no longer in sight. The Bald Eagle was going about its life, knowing what it had to do, trusting the instincts given to it by nature.

It’s time to listen to the steadfast Bald Eagle.

~ Sandy

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An Eagle Flies Alone

It used to be that there was a beautiful pair of bald eagles nearby that I would often observe. I loved watching them together, soaring in the breeze, playfully crossing paths with one another, swooping down on their prey with mighty force. The pair was truly something to behold – a force to be reckoned with.

Sadly, as of late, I have seen only one eagle where there used to be two, flying high in the sky above, issuing a loud, piercing cry as it soars the skies alone.

The fact that it flies alone is not lost on me. Its partner is no-where to be seen, and its loud, screeching cry reminds me of the sound my heart made in the days and weeks after my husband first passed away. My heart still cries out, but time has taught me acceptance, which has changed the tone and volume of the piercing cry.

Like the Eagle, I am very much alone. Every time I think I have found someone great to share my time with, it’s as though a vulture swoops down from the sky and snatches my prize away, flying off with my love and hope in the process. There is nothing as deflating as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the war of loneliness and self-existence.

Eagles mate for life. When one eagle passes on, the other continues to survive on its own. Point taken, universe. I will continue to chart out my own path and work towards my goals and dreams, regardless of how crazy other people find them to be. My time and attention will no longer be wasted on people that fail to see my value or offer respect.

Like the eagle, I will be flying alone for a long time.

Out of Place

Greetings from Beautiful Colorado!

You have probably noticed a tremendous silence on this blog during the summer months. I like to think that summer is a crazy, busy time for everyone. It always is for me. In addition to the usual activities summer brings, it is also a time of sadness and reflection for me. June 8 marked the three-year anniversary of my husband’s passing. It hit me very hard this year, and although I am blessed to have an amazing family, wonderful friends, and am surrounded by some very therapeutic dogs, horses, and 3 new kittens, I still find myself grieving the loss of my husband and wondering about what might have been.

I started to write a poem about it back in June but could never finish it. Most likely it’s because I have never been accused of being a great poet. In fact, poetry was the one aspect of my writing that my many English teachers used to frown upon over the years. I have no sense of timing, rhyming, or rhythm, which probably explains why I wasn’t great at reading sheet music either.  I am simply hoping for a passing grade with this effort! It feels good to finally finish it.

For my husband, Kent. You are loved and missed every day.

Out of Place

Leaving me wasn’t your choice;

Oh, how I long to hear your voice!

But silence is the only sound,

for you are no longer to be found.

I still wait for you to come home

but each day I am alone.

Tears still stream down my face,

For without you, I feel out of place.

Only your memories are here;

monuments of what will never be abound.

Items we used to share

are all that can be found.

The day you were taken from me,

My heart shattered on the ground.

My love for you is so profound;

I wish to God you were still around.

What Am I Doing?

What am I doing?

I tend to ask this question of myself daily, usually when I walk into a room to complete a task only to realize I have completely forgotten what I even went in there to do. It happens. Other times, I ask this question when thinking about my life.

I wonder sometimes if I am doing what I am meant to be doing with my life or if I have veered off the correct path of destiny somehow and lost my way. Will I find my way again, or I am just randomly spinning out of control into the great beyond, never to find my way back to what is or was meant to be? Am I on the right course? More importantly, what is the right course? Where am I supposed to go from here? What am I doing?!

It seems as though I find myself asking these questions more and more often of late. When my husband was alive, we had a plan. We knew what we were working towards and why, and although we occasionally got off track, our goals and dreams were intact and we knew what we wanted long term. We had a plan for our retirement and things were in place to make our plan a reality. My life was set, so to speak.

When my husband passed away unexpectedly, my life was turned upside down and the path set for two no longer made sense. It wasn’t attainable on my own. Even worse, I had no contingency plan. I didn’t have a plan for being on my own, because honestly, I thought my husband would outlive me. Instead, the universe threw me a curve ball and I was forced to move forward with a life I never expected, and in turn, forced to reinvent myself, an ongoing process that has proved to be exceptionally challenging. No one prepared me for this, and there is no manual for the path of my life. Like this story, I am still attempting to write it.

I was contemplating the many questions of life one day in a rather in-depth and enlightening conversation with my best friend, Raina. As usual, we found ourselves analyzing our lives over a glass of good Pinot Noir. We had been “wine-ing.” This is not to be confused with traditional whining. “Wine-ing” is a term I have created that means “drinking and enjoying wine in good company.” Traditional “whining” is not allowed to take place over a bottle of good Pinot Noir. Save the whining and crying for beer. Pinot is sacred.

Raina and I tend to discuss everything. On this particular day, we talked about our lives and the different paths we have taken over the years, our successes and failures, the people that have influenced us, and the roads we see ahead of us.  It’s interesting to stop and look back at our many life choices and wonder what could have happened with different choices and why we have ended up where we are. It’s also interesting to think about the life experiences that have shaped who we are and why we view and do things a certain way. At the moment, we are both on a quest for success, something everyone views differently but longs for all the same. I left our conversation with the realization that success has more than one definition. I need to be more open to receiving success, as well as expanding my horizons in terms of what is and isn’t success.  

The day after my conversation with Raina, I was taking a much-needed walk and enjoying nature at a small lake located near my place. As usual, I had my camera with me, hoping to see some of the many birds of prey that frequent the area. It had been a slow day in the bird watching department, but it still felt good to be out and about for a few minutes, enjoying a little fresh air before my nightly barn chores.  

I was contemplating my life and some difficult choices I need to make in order to continue moving forward and find both happiness and success in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Lately, for whatever reason, things have been harder than they need to be and every challenge is a bigger battle than anticipated. We all go through these times in our lives and they often pass after some difficulty. This, however, doesn’t seem to be passing. As I was lost in thought and contemplating some of the more difficult questions of my life, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and noticed a small, colorful bird in the trees above me. I quickly snapped a couple of shots with my camera before it flew off to a much higher venue where it could barely be seen by my eyes as I squinted into the sunlight. I had no idea what I had just witnessed in terms of a bird sighting, but I intended to find out.

An American Kestrel Falcon in Keenesburg, CO

I was intrigued by the beautiful little bird. Somehow, I knew its sighting had some spiritual meaning. It was unlike any bird I have seen before. To call it unique was an understatement. Its head was slate blue and its wings were a rust colored brown with some black accents. It had a sharp look to it and obviously preferred to be very high up in the trees, unlike the little blackbirds and chickadees fluttering about.  It seemed to have the qualities of a bird of prey, but it was rather small.

Upon returning home, horse duties called and by the end of the evening, exhaustion took over. I’m not a bird nerd or member of the Audubon society, so searching for a bird species on the internet can be tedious and time consuming for me, especially when I have no idea where to start looking or what bird species I may have encountered. My quest for figuring out the type of bird I had witnessed would have to wait. As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long.

The following day, the universe answered my curiosity for me. I was watching the morning news when a segment came on featuring a wildlife bird expert. He had several birds of prey with him, the second of which happened to be a carbon copy of the colorful little bird I had photographed on my walk. I couldn’t believe my luck. The morning news had just saved me several hours of searching and potential frustration. I learned that the little bird is an American Kestrel, the smallest member of the Falcon family. A small bird of prey, the American Kestrel is the smallest, most common Falcon in North America.  

Those of you that know me realize I find birds and their sightings inspirational and meaningful, so my next endeavor was to determine the spiritual meaning behind seeing this particular bird. What I discovered resonated and hit home. From what I was able to gather, the Kestrel Falcon usually appears when you are trying to figure out what your life goal is or when you are struggling to understand and decide on your life direction. I had just had this very conversation with Raina! How incredible that this bird was presented to me twice – first on my walk, then inadvertently on the newscast I happened to see.

The Kestrel Falcon tends to perch in the trees high above other birds, giving itself an advantageous view of its world. From a spiritual perspective, it is thought that when you see a Kestrel Falcon, it is a sign that you need to analyze things from a higher perspective and be in a place where you can have a clearer, more enlightened view of your world. In other words, find a view that gives you a clear perspective on the end result you desire. The Kestrel Falcon tends to present itself when you need to plan well, have a clearer understanding of yourself, and have a better perspective of what is happening around you. It’s crazy, but my conversation with Raina had hit on all of these things. Having nature drive the point home has made it even more profound.

It may sound strange, but seeing the Kestrel Falcon and thinking about its spiritual meaning has provided me with comfort. I have been asking myself “What am I doing?” for a long, long time now. As simple as it is, it’s actually a very challenging question. I do not have the answer(s) yet. I have not exactly found the place that will give me the enlightened view of the Kestrel Falcon. I am still defining success and the result(s) I desire, but I believe I can figure it all out with time.

It is reassuring to know that once again, love and guidance was offered to me via wings from the sky above.

~ Sandy

Struggling to Stay in the Present

For once, I am at a loss for words. I have spent endless days and nights struggling to put into words what I want and need to say, and yet inspiration has eluded me and continues to do so to a certain degree. This is unusual for me and typically occurs when sadness and grief have taken over.

Recently, during an extremely cold and miserable night, my big gray mare, Snow Bunny, went into labor. I have been anticipating the birth of her foal for months, excited to see a little “Bunny of Joy” arrive and hit the ground running. I had been remembering to breathe and stay calm as I awaited the arrival of the little one. I was, however, on high alert, checking on her every few hours throughout the night via video surveillance.

The night she went into labor, I remember telling her to please not have her baby that evening since it was going to be -10 below zero. Famous last words. She went into labor shortly after 2 am. I called the vet immediately and my best friend, Raina, and her husband, Adrian, were kind enough to come over and offer assistance. That’s true friendship!  

Unfortunately, it was a very hard birth for Snow Bunny, and sadly, her foal was still born. Snow Bunny went into shock and it was a very long process of getting her to a point that she was stable and on the road to recovery. At the advice of both the Veterinarian and Raina, I left the deceased foal in with Snow Bunny so that she could spend time with her and come to the realization on her own that her baby was gone. Snow Bunny licked her foal and pushed her around her stall, encouraging her to get up and move, but it never happened. Watching this broke my heart, but I could also see the realization slowly setting in for Snow Bunny.  

When it was time to remove the deceased foal from her stall, Snow Bunny let out a very loud, shrill whinny; the high pitch hurt my ears. It was the loudest I have ever heard her whinny. It was the sound of a broken heart. I recognized it immediately because my heart made the same sound the night the sheriff deputies arrived on my doorstep to tell me my husband was gone. Once the baby was out of sight, Snow Bunny settled down and, in true horse form, started eating hay. I am always amazed at the ability animals have to stay in the present. They don’t dwell on the promise of what might have been or relive the past. There is definitely a lesson to be learned there.

Why is it so difficult to stay in the present? I am filled with tremendous grief.  There are no words to describe the sadness I felt that night or in the days following. This incident made me think about my late husband and his tragic passing more than usual, and I started to feel like I did in the immediate days and weeks after the crash that took his life. I couldn’t stop crying, and the only thing getting me out of bed was my horses and providing Snow Bunny with the best care possible. Grief is a powerful entity once it firmly has you in its grasp.

Once again, I find myself trying to rise from the ashes of death and move forward. Although Snow Bunny’s baby is gone, I am reminded that life is beautiful and not everything is meant to be. I have been told that nature has a way of correcting itself and taking care of its own, even if we, as human beings, cannot see or understand why.

I was also reminded of the wisdom shared by the Pastor that resided over my husband’s funeral service. He spoke about how there are certain things that will happen in our lives that we are just not meant to understand, but to have faith that there is a purpose behind everything.  

As for Snow Bunny, she is currently on a course of antibiotics and a special feed program while she heals. I am pleased to report that she acts better with each passing day, and it is a wonderful sight to see. There are brighter days ahead.

Birthday Remembrance

Deadlines.  We all have them, and for one reason or another, we have all missed at least one. Life happens. It can get in the way with overwhelming obligations and expectations placed upon us by other people. This week has been no exception for me. I try to have a new blog post every Tuesday, but for whatever reason, life got in the way this week.

This is a very hard week for me, and the weekend ahead will be challenging too. More snow and frigid temperatures are scheduled to hit my home state of Colorado, and I am dreading that. I have a mare that could give birth at any time, and as any horse owner will tell you, things like a full moon or bad weather will bring about the blessed event with the force of a freight train that has lost its brakes going downhill. But I digress. While the weather may create challenges for my weekend, something else is weighing heavily on my mind. Friday, March 1, is my late husband’s 51st birthday.

As my husband’s best friend has said numerous times, “We are the ones serving a life sentence because we have to live without him.” Those words ring true in my heart and my mind as I write this. I find myself bursting into tears at random times, and I keep hearing some of his favorite songs in my head. This is the third birthday of his I have had to celebrate – and I use that term loosely – without him, and it is not getting easier. If anything, this birthday is bothering me worse than the others, and I am not sure why. I cannot get him off my mind, and I cannot help but wonder what we would be doing to celebrate his birthday if he was still here. Not that we always had extravagant birthday celebrations, but we did try to do something special for one another.

As I was watching one of our horses buck and play in his paddock this morning, a horse that my husband was particularly fond of, Ichabod, I was reminded of one of the last trips we were able to take together on his birthday several years ago. We only had the weekend for a getaway, so we were pressed for time, which ruled out going anywhere extravagant or warm, like Hawaii, and we had a limited budget. We did agree that we wanted to get out of Colorado if it was possible, so we started looking online. After a quick search, we found affordable tickets to fly to Kentucky and boarded a plane shortly after work on a Thursday night.

You are probably asking yourself, “why in the world would anyone choose Kentucky the first of March?!” We chose it because it was an opportunity to take in live horse racing at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, a track we had never been to before. We had made a pact a few months before to try to visit as many tracks in North America as we could, and this was as good of a place as any to start.

While Florence, Kentucky, may not be everyone’s idea of a dream weekend getaway, it was for us. The hospitality at our modest hotel exceeded our expectations. The kind people at the hotel had their shuttle take us to and from the track so we didn’t have to worry about driving, and the hotel manager was kind enough to help me surprise my husband with a bottle of champagne and some birthday carrot cake cupcakes in our room when we returned from the races.

We were able to take in one evening of races – something that was foreign to us since none of the tracks we go to offer racing at night – and 2 days of afternoon racing. Thanks to a wonderful family friend, we had a nice table in the horse owners’ section with seats near the finish line. It turned out to be an incredible experience. My husband was amazing at handicapping races, and this trip was no exception. His long shots were coming in, and we basically ended up eating and drinking at the races all weekend on his winnings. We shared so many laughs that my sides hurt, and I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of the best trips we ever had, and quite frankly, it was one of the simplest and most relaxing.  

We returned to Colorado after our weekend feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. Our only regret was that we couldn’t stay in Kentucky longer, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. We were both back at work on Tuesday morning and normal life resumed.

I never dreamed I would be celebrating his birthday by myself. I wish I could go back in time to that particular birthday in Kentucky, as well as a few others, and enjoy our adventures again a second time. I would hold my husband tighter and laugh even more during our escapades. Those are the moments I miss the most.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. There is no going back in time. Instead of enjoying life and celebrating, I find myself overwhelmed with grief and sadness, longing to hear his laugh again. Words cannot describe how much I miss him.

As I was walking from the barn to the house this morning, my heart was heavy and I had tears in my eyes as I thought of my husband. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a bald eagle, sitting in the field in the snow, its sharp eyes surveying its surroundings. I stopped and watched the magnificent bird for several minutes until it flew away, tears streaming down my cheeks. Hello, my husband! I immediately thought about how he used to tease me about my struggles to photograph bald eagles, and I found myself laughing through my tears.

I believe my husband is still with me. Like an eagle, he is watching from above.

Happy Birthday, My Love.

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Finding Home

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Fresh air and a change of scenery was calling out to us. I was longing to look to the sky and see a hawk or an eagle overhead, while my dad just wanted to be outside. There had been far too much “together” time in the confined spaces of my house, and although it was rather blustery outside and the cold air felt like it might snow, me and my dad loaded up in his truck – a loud, white dodge diesel pick-up that he has named “Bob” – and headed down the road. Dad turned right as we left the neighborhood, so I knew we were not going to town. He was heading out to the countryside to enjoy the sight of farmland and small, rolling hills. We had no destination in mind. For several minutes, there was nothing but the sound of Bob’s loud engine as we drove away from the house. Eventually, we found ourselves bouncing along on a dirt road.

As we rambled down the dirt road, the scenery was changing, and I loved it. I felt myself relaxing as we drove along, something that was much needed. I had just survived the holiday season, something that has been challenging since the passing of my husband. Although it was winter, you could tell we were driving through farmland. We were surrounded by fields planted for winter wheat and a few fields with the remnants of sunflowers. Although they were dark, slumped over, and starting to crumble, a far cry from their bright yellow glory months before, they still held an allure that kept me looking at them.  I really liked the area. Something about it felt like home to me. I had spotted a few Harris Hawks overhead, flying free, their sharp, watchful eyes on the lookout for prey below.

I finally broke the silence with my dad. “You know, there are a few nice-looking horse properties for sale out this way.” I had casually started looking on the internet at new places to live and had been doing so for a few weeks. With my husband gone, I simply couldn’t afford the house we were living in, and it was too large and difficult for me to maintain by myself. I also wanted something with more acreage for the horses and far fewer neighbors. And the house was filled with my husband. Endless memories of him, our marriage, and everything we had shared. It was also a painful reminder of everything I had lost. Not that memories shouldn’t be present in a home, but having a memory around every corner and in every room was proving difficult to handle emotionally and it wasn’t helping me move forward. There were also some very traumatizing memories related to his passing and his funeral service in the house that I wanted – and needed – to stop reliving.

Dad responded to my comment with, “Get some addresses and we’ll do a drive by on a few.” I took out my phone and did as he instructed. A few minutes later, we were driving by a place that had potential, but something about it didn’t feel right. We drove on to another place a few miles away. A nice place, but the barn area looked run-down and the fencing was dreadful. I could envision my horses running through the fencing and being loose on the prairie there. Nothing like trying to run after a champion thoroughbred sprinter in a wide-open space. No! Running along behind has never been my thing. Not my future home. Moments later, we were driving on to the next one. It was a new build. The house looked wonderful from the outside, but there were neighbors close by and no fencing. The place across the street had pigeons sitting on the fence posts and the yard looked like it should be on an episode of the tv show “Hoarders.” Dad vetoed it immediately.

We continued down the road. As we were driving along, a large bird with a wide, dark brown wing span swooped directly in front of the truck then veered off to the right. Another bird swooped in behind it, and the pair flew together, just ahead of the truck. “Dad, look at the eagles!” I exclaimed. It was a pair of big, beautiful bald eagles, and they looked magnificent. They flew alongside the road, gliding through the air in front of us as if they were guiding us to our destination. We watched them in awe as we drove along, marveling at their size and beauty. The pair eventually flew upward and landed on a power pole. Below the power pole was a real estate sign for a property that was for sale.

Eagles have tremendous significance for me. If you read one of my first blog posts, you know that the Bald Eagle was my unicorn, the elusive creature that cannot be captured. For the longest time, it was the one bird that was too elusive for me to photograph. I could never take a decent picture, and it was a source of amusement for me and my late husband. He teased me endlessly about my quest to take a good photograph of a Bald Eagle. I took out my cell phone and snapped a picture. Although it was starting to snow lightly, the picture turned out perfectly. I couldn’t believe it. I finally captured a Bald Eagle – and it was with my cell phone! I looked to the sky and told my husband thank you. I cannot explain what I felt at that moment, but I knew my husband was with me.

My thoughts were interrupted by my dad. “Let’s check out this place for sale.” He turned the truck onto a small dirt road directly in front of the power pole the eagles had landed on, and we headed towards the place for sale. We had to drive about a quarter of a mile to get to the house. I couldn’t stop thinking about the eagles and how they had guided us. I knew in that moment my husband was with us, and I couldn’t help but feel he was behind the steering wheel of this journey, especially when the eagles followed us to the house and circled overhead as we drove around.

As we pulled up to the house, my heart sped up. It was perfect! It was a quaint, lovely ranch house with columns on the porch and a beautiful wood front door. It fit the picture I had always had in my mind of a perfect “ranch” house. The place was lovely. It even had a wheat field! There was plenty of space for the horses. I would have to build the appropriate fencing, but I could see me and my herd living there. I loved it, and I had not even seen the inside of the house yet.

We called the numbers of the real estate agent on the sign and left messages. Since we couldn’t get a hold of the agent to see the house, we decided to go grab a much-needed late lunch. We had been driving for hours at this point, and we were both ready to eat. We weren’t far from the town of Hudson and one of our favorite restaurants, so we headed that direction. The eagles were still there as we drove away, circling overhead as if to guard and watch over the property. We also noticed a herd of mule deer in one of the nearby wheat fields. This area was definitely feeling like home!

Not long after we ordered lunch, I received a call. It was from a real estate agent who works for the agent that had the house listed. The listing agent was out of town, so this agent was filling in for her. We made plans to meet the agent and see the house in 2 hours. Another showing was scheduled right before ours, so we had to wait. I was nervous because a snow storm was moving in and I hate being out and about on snowy roads, but my desire to see the house far outweighed my desire to be off the roads and out of the snow. The eagles were calling me.

After our late lunch, we slowly headed towards the property. As we drove there, we observed the herd of deer not far from where we had left them. The Bald Eagles greeted us again near the power pole, flying next to the truck, almost as though they were welcoming us and guiding us back in. We stopped at the corner near the power pole and waited a few minutes, as we could see the other people still had not finished their showing. The eagles swooped and flew around, surveying one of the wheat fields for prey. I was struck by their raw power and incredible beauty as they flew in the lightly falling snow. Darkness was setting in.

At last, we saw a vehicle leaving the property and my phone rang. It was the real estate agent telling us we could head to the house for the showing. As we pulled in the driveway of the house, I could hardly contain my excitement. The house was even better than I had remembered.

Walking up to the beautiful front door, I couldn’t help but think I was home. As the door opened and I walked in, I knew instantly I was in my future home. It was perfect!  The living room, dining area, and kitchen had a warm, inviting, open feel and it suited me. Everything about the house was exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t have designed it better myself. I made an offer that night and the rest is history. It is my home.

One of the Bald Eagles I have been blessed to see and photograph in my yard

In addition to the beautiful home, I was struck by the women I met there that night. The owner of the property was present, and as it turned out, she was also at a crossroads in her life where she had to make changes and move forward somehow. Selling the place was part of moving on for her, although it was very hard for her to do. Hopefully she has been able to move forward in a positive light and find the happiness she deserves.

The real estate agent, Tabatha, became one of my very best friends. In conversation that night, I poured out my heart to her about the tragic crash that had taken my husband’s life and my need to move forward in a different environment and start anew. Tabatha told me about the passing of her sister years before, also at the hands of an impaired driver. We had an immediate bond, and to this day, I am blessed to call her a best friend and confidant. It is amazing how alike we are and how much we have in common. I am so grateful I have her and her family in my life now. I cannot help but think that my husband and the eagles guided me to a friendship I know I will have for the rest of my life.

When I stop to think about that day, I find it amazing that a simple drive changed my life. It led me to new friends, a new version of home, and a new path in life. When I see eagles now, I think of my husband and wonder what he is trying to show me or where he is trying to guide me. I often see the Bald Eagles in my yard or flying overhead, and I am thankful to them for showing me that I am, indeed, being watched over from above. And as with most eagles, they have proven challenging to photograph, although I have gotten lucky a few times.

Most of all, I am grateful to my late husband and the Bald Eagles for showing me the way home.

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Pigeons

Generally, I love birds and find them fascinating. While it is true that I can spend hours searching for and watching hawks or eagles, there is one bird I am not so fond of. The Pigeon. In fact, most horse owners will tell you they hate these birds. Believe me when I tell you that there is nothing worse than having Pigeons try to set up shop in your barn or outbuildings.

Pigeon Pic

Why do I hate Pigeons? Because Pigeons fly in, shit every where, make a huge mess while trying to nest in your space, and are extremely complicated to eradicate. Once they are in, they are nearly impossible to get rid of and cause a type of frustration that is beyond measure. Pigeons, like some people, can be a real bitch. And just as with people, it is against the law in most states to kill them.

Unfortunately, we all have “Pigeons” in our lives. They come to us in many forms daily: the annoying co-worker, the “contribute nothing, complain about everything” in-laws, the guy that has the rest of his life to be in front of you on a two-lane road that you can never get around, and the uninspired restaurant employee that makes dining out miserable instead of a pleasure. This list could go on for days. We all know who these people are. “Pigeons” show up daily in many forms because like the birds themselves, they tend to multiply with ease and rapid speed.

A few weeks before my husband passed away, several pigeons had started to nest in the barn. This was a direct result of the absence of our barn cat, Sheldon. Don’t worry, this is not a tale of how tragedy struck our barn cat. It is actually a tale of how “local barn cat makes good” and becomes a house cat. In other words, Sheldon wandered off one day, charmed a neighbor lady, and moved in with her. He upgraded his status from barn cat to house cat, and good for him. He was able to live out his final years living the dream life he always wanted. His departure, on the other hand, created a problem for my barn because his absence allowed a small flock of Pigeons to move in, and move in they did, lock, stock, and barrel, as the old saying goes.

One morning, less than a month after my husband passed away, I was trying to clean the barn through my tears. The funeral was long over and only a handful of people were still around. I was suffering from a form of PTSD and my grief was at an all time high that day. I was also being hassled by “Pigeons” disguised as my husband’s loved ones, and I had reached a breaking point. I was spending time in the barn to clear my head and to try to find a moment of peace. It was not meant to be. I was sweeping the barn floor when I heard and felt the “whoosh!” of wings over my head and immediately felt something wet on my arm. It was a Pigeon airstrike, and I had been hit!

I looked up and Pigeons were everywhere. I felt as though I was being swarmed in a vicious bird attack. My instinct took over and I started swinging the broom wildly in the air, screaming at the pigeons to get out. Feathers and pigeon shit filled the air in the chaos. I was angry now, and I just wanted the Pigeons out. All of them! Finally, after several frantic moments of swinging the broom wildly and yelling like a mad woman, the broom left my hand and flew out the door, hitting the ground with a loud thud. The Pigeons had finally flown outside. Tears streamed down my face and I started to sob. The Pigeons had to leave. All of them. Permanently. But how does one get rid of Pigeons?

It was in this moment that I knew I needed to talk to someone and seek counseling from an unbiased source. Friends had been encouraging me to go to counseling, but I was too absorbed in my grief to see the value in it. As it turned out, counseling was the best decision I ever made. Initially, I didn’t feel it was helping because I would leave some sessions and cry uncontrollably in my car. I would feel completely spent by the end of the session, and I didn’t see the value in that. Not at first, anyway. However, I stuck with it, because I honestly didn’t know of any other way to get rid of the “Pigeons,” and I needed answers. Something had to give.

It took nearly two years of grief counseling for me to come to some very important realizations. The first one is something that sounds simplistic when I see it written out or say it out loud, yet it was something I didn’t grasp because I had allowed the “Pigeons” of my life to rent entirely too much space, “nesting” in my mind for far too long. Here’s the earth-shattering revelation – I am not responsible for the dysfunctional behavior of other people. I do not own the behavior of other people, and I should not ever hold myself accountable for the actions of others. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, when the dysfunctional behavior comes from people you once loved, respected, and considered loved ones, it is hard to comprehend and accept.

To take it a step further, I also learned that it is human nature to question yourself and think that perhaps you did something wrong to deserve being treated that way. No. Odds are, you did nothing wrong and it’s their issue, not yours. In my case, the dysfunction had always been there, my husband and I had just found a way to put a bandage on it and live with it. Unfortunately, the bandage was ripped off with a vengeance when my husband died, and there was simply no adhesive left to put it back in place.

Finally, allow yourself to move on and remove yourself from a situation that has become toxic. It’s okay to let go of people that are going to do nothing but crap in your barn. There are times that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is move forward in a manner that is best for you and leave the “Pigeons” behind. Let them crap elsewhere! Perhaps the “Pigeons” will acknowledge their behavior was wrong and take responsibility for the mess they created and clean up their shit. And perhaps not. That may well be wishful thinking! If they can never see or acknowledge that what they did was wrong, remember that it falls on them, not you. You don’t own their behavior, nor are you responsible for their actions. Not your nest, not your “Pigeons.”

Circumstances and life events can change people, and unfortunately, those changes may not always be positive. Death can bring out the very best in people, and it can bring out the very worst. I saw both sides of this very clearly when I lost my husband. Right now, the goal of my journey is to move forward in a positive light. The “Pigeons” are gone from the recesses of my mind and my life, and hopefully it stays that way. It feels good to let go.

As for the barn itself, spikes were placed in the rafters to prevent the Pigeons from being able to nest there. I placed large plastic owls in the rafters and completely closed the barn as often as possible, so as not to allow the Pigeons back inside. I also moved.

Sandy

P.S. The stress and anxiety caused by grief can be overwhelming to the point that you may feel as though you are having a heart attack. An anxiety attack is nothing to take lightly. I suffered from anxiety attacks endlessly the first year after my husband passed away. Trying to find a way to calm down, relax, and manage your anxiety is important. There are a lot of tips and tricks for alleviating anxiety and stress. I found the following blog excerpt from Greg Thurston to have some valuable insight. http://bbbblog19.7minutem.hop.clickbank.net?type=blog3&tid=TRACKINGID