This blog is devoted to my love of horses & wild birds. It chronicles my journey through grief, healing, personal growth, and moving forward with the adventures of life. Birds, Boots, and Brews is the original work of Eloquent Editing, LLC.
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 is with a happy and grateful heart that I am pleased to provide an update on a horse that several readers have inquired about. I am delighted to report the arrival of Storm to Pass in Colorado!
After having a rather in depth surgery that involved the placement of three screws in her knee and enduring one setback that had everyone involved with her case nervous for the outcome of her situation, Storm to Pass cleared those hurdles and made the journey from Oklahoma to her new home in Colorado to continue her recovery. She stepped off the trailer yesterday in regal fashion and pranced into the barn as she eyed her new surroundings and entered the stall that will serve as her home for the next two to three months.
Considering everything Storm to Pass has been through, she looks amazing. Best of all, her sweet, gentle nature is still intact, and she has been more than patient with my insistence on hugging her every time I see her or even pass by her stall. She is, however, impossible to take a decent selfie with, always moving her head, almost as though she is issuing a challenge. She looks at me as if to say, “I dare you to try to capture both of our faces in this picture.” I am starting to think she is the friend that just flat out refuses to pose – and is determined she won’t.
It is so wonderful to have Storm to Pass home, although her recovery is far from over. Her discharge instructions involve several months of stall rest and then very gradual turn out in small areas. It is important for the bones in her knee to continue to heal and be well healed before she can be turned out and act like a normal horse. How do you tell a horse not to buck and play, and to definitely not run because any further injury could be life threatening? This is the challenge I face in the months ahead.
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
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.
Storm to Pass stood tall and proud in her stall before the
race, her chestnut coat shining and her strawberry blonde mane beautifully
combed. She stood regal and proud, curiously looking me over with kind, gentle
eyes. She carried herself to the paddock and the racetrack with elegance and
grace. I was in awe of her beauty and impressed by how she carried herself. I
was also a bundle of nerves. Not because Storm to Pass was running, but because
my horse, Sizzle Factor, a stablemate of Storm to Pass, was entered to run in
the race following hers, and I was starting to get nervous.
It was pouring rain in Tulsa, Oklahoma that night. Not long
before the races began, the skies opened up and the rain started. The track was
sealed for safety, but the horses would still be splashing home in the water
and mud. The rain continued to get heavier and heavier. It was a steady
downpour when the gates opened and Storm to Pass ran her race. She made a
valiant effort, finishing fourth in her race. The jockey was slowing her down
and easing her up when the unthinkable happened; Storm to Pass slipped a little
and took a bad step. Immediately sensing something was amiss, her jockey got
her stopped and issued the call for help. Storm to Pass was vanned off the
track and taken back to her stall.
A flurry of activity ensued. My trainer was upset because he
didn’t know what exactly had happened to Storm to Pass and he wasn’t allowed to
go with her when she was being vanned to the barn. He did know that the injury
was serious and x-rays would be required to truly assess things. My heart sank.
It didn’t sound good.
After a victorious run from Sizzle Factor, who won a photo finish, I found myself back at the barn. I wanted to celebrate and be happy my horse had won, but the only thing I could focus on was Storm to Pass. She was standing in her stall again, still looking regal and proud, although she was not putting weight on one of her front legs and swelling was visible in the knee area and the ankle was showing some swelling as well. An x-ray revealed that a substantial part of the knee bone was out of place. I asked my trainer what was going to happen next. My heart sank when he said her owner had made the decision to put her down.
Before I knew it, I heard myself crying out. “No!!! Please!
You can’t just put her down. No!!!” I was looking my trainer in the eyes, trying
to hold back tears. I could hear my voice shaking as I told him, “You have to
give her a chance. Isn’t there something that can be done? Please. If she can
be saved, I’m willing to do it.”
He knew I was serious. I could tell he was thinking things
through in his mind, knowing it would take some doing to make arrangements and get
her to a surgeon. There was no guarantee she would survive the surgery or even
be a good candidate for surgery. She was also high risk for developing founder
or laminitis. It was a few moments
before he responded. “Let me talk to her owner and see if he’s agreeable to
A few moments later, I had my answer. And a new horse to love
and care for. My trainer did his best to
make Storm to Pass comfortable in terms of pain and then went about the tedious
process of getting the wheels in motion to get her to a surgeon. We were very
blessed to have one of the best equine surgeons in Oklahoma agree to take her
In the meantime, there was no lack of opinions and criticism from
many people in the barn area. Several people made it known that they thought Storm
to Pass should be put down. My trainer took a lot of criticism for standing by
my decision to try to save her. Two women I have never seen before nor since
walked down our shed row when my trainer wasn’t around, pointed at Storm to
Pass, and said it was a disgrace that she was still standing there and that the
right thing had not been done in putting her down. I started to approach them
and say something, but stopped myself because I was almost in tears. Instead, I
waited for them to leave and entered the stall with Storm to Pass. As I wrapped
my arms around her neck and started to pet her, she laid her head on my
shoulder and sighed. We stood quietly together for a long time. I knew in that moment I had made the right
Storm to Pass underwent knee surgery and made it through with flying colors. She came out of the anesthesia very quietly, which is wonderful. Apparently, a horse can do a lot of damage if it thrashes about upon awakening. She now has three screws in her knee and has made it through the first two weeks post-surgery, which is a very critical time. Her weight distribution is good and the surgical incision has healed. With time and a substantial amount of stall rest, she should be able to get around well enough to enjoy grazing and have a new career as a mother and pasture companion to other horses.
I am always amazed and touched by the life lessons that can be gained through these beautiful beings. Horses can be intimidating because of their size and strength. And yet, I am reminded by Storm to Pass that like people, they can also be fragile and the slightest accident can have a life hanging in the balance. Storm to Pass is not completely out of the woods yet, but I am assured the worst is over. It is going to take a lot of time, healing, and patience in the months ahead. I am inspired by her strength and her will power. She is a tough, amazing horse with an incredible will to go on. It is my hope that she will enjoy her new life and home in Colorado once she can travel here. I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to welcome her here and be part of her healing process. When you stop and think about it, we are all healing from something.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"Birds, Boots, and Brews ~ Volume 1" is now on Amazon! ISBN-13: 978-1799235361. If you like the pictures from this site, visit the artist stores for Sandy Shiner-Swanson on Redbubble and Fineartamerica.com! Dismiss