Thursday, November 26, 2009


I am so fortunate to have all of you wonderful friends around the world, and on this Thanksgiving, I would like to send you an Irish blessing that we share in our house:

May you have
lucky stars above you,
sunshine on your way,
many friends to love you,
joy in work and play,
laughter to outweigh each care,
in your heart a song,
and gladness waiting everywhere,
all your whole life long.

Wishing you a relaxing, happy and peaceful day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Day Before

I was late getting out to the barn this morning, distracted by my to-do list of remaining shopping for Thanksgiving dinner and by the muffins in the oven. My daughter made a request for them last night as she crawled into her bed. Since she doesn’t have school today, I decided to give her a treat and start the holiday baking early. I’m always double-parked these days, racing from one task to the next while my mind is full of all the things that I still need to do and won’t get to in these 24 hours.

So, I was expecting to find grumpy, hungry horses. Instead, two sweet faces eagerly greeted me as I dumped the feed in their buckets. It made me stop and realize that during the past month, when I’ve been too busy to give my girls the attention that they need, they’ve been so good. They don’t act bored or naughty. They haven’t injured themselves or gotten sick. They brighten my stressed-out, over burdened, weary brain every time I take a moment to be with them. Looking back on this challenging year, I am so grateful that we all are still here, doing what we did last November.

There are some differences. For the first time, we won’t be having any visiting family or friends at our table tomorrow. Some friends who have become like family and live around the corner will stop by after dinner. Part of me will miss the festivities of a larger crowd, but it’s also a relief not to have to deal with all the temperaments and quirks that often accompany Thanksgiving guests. We will still have the battles of will that accompany any holiday meal in my house since my mother, at age 95, grows more and more insistent that she must have her way. Her nickname is “the General”, and she’s used to being the one in charge. It’s interesting that this year, I have had so many people tell me that they re finding it hard to face the drama and the emotional turmoil that can make Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day a long, bumpy ride.

Who would think that arguments over how to make the cranberry sauce and snide remarks about how much weight someone has gained carry so much deeper meaning? One resolution I set this morning, as I drank my coffee while Silk and Siete munched their hay. was to curb any judgments I might be tempted to make tomorrow. I will remind myself that when someone says something to provoke or dig or pick, I will notice the frightened, lost soul who is hiding behind those remarks. I will make light of it or ignore their efforts to spoil a good time. Fortunately, I can always escape to the barn. Two good horses will be glad to see me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Think Before You Eat

You haven’t heard from me for a while because I’ve been deeply immersed in the complicated world of food distribution and how to change the food system. Through making videos for a non-profit organization called Red Tomato that helps family farms get their produce to market, I've been spending a lot of time these days thinking about what we eat.

One of the impressive things that I’ve learned is that we have incredible power as consumers. I’ve heard produce supervisors at big grocery chains say that the reason they carry more local and organic food is because people like you and me prefer to buy it. They aren’t concerned with whether it’s healthier or better for the environment, they’re looking at their profits. In the last ten years, there’s been a growing awareness about the problems with what we eat and how we eat it. Filling ourselves with processed food, as well as whole foods that are full of pesticides and antibiotics, has any number of scary effects on our bodies. People are gradually beginning to wise up to what we're being sold and demand something better.

When I moved here five years ago, one of my neighbors used to make no bones about it that she thought that I was an elite food snob, being extravagant and downright crazy to buy organic whole foods. The other day, she stopped me to say that since her mom and nephew were put on a gluten-free diet to try to solve their health problems, they have felt great and stopped taking all the medication they had previously been given. She told me that she’s sorry she thought I was nuts for being so particular about what I fed my family and has really begun to buy different types of food when she shops.

As I started my shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner this year, I noticed a change in what was piled up at the ends of the aisles in the grocery store. I found cans of organic pumpkin on sale. I saw more free range turkeys next to the hormone and antibiotic filled ones. I began to really think about what some of the great, sentimental recipes that I cook each Thanksgiving contain that might be harmful. I realized that I could substitute other healthier ingredients and not lose the taste or the tradition that everyone at my table loves.

So, there is something that we can do every day to improve the food system and our own well-being. We can think before we eat. We can buy items in the store that aren’t shipped across the country or from overseas and eat food that is grown in season and locally. We can choose what is grown without chemicals and hormones and antibiotics. We can look on the labels to see if there is MSG hidden in our cans of soup or trans fats in our bakery goods. We can make healthier choices. It might taste different, but it also tastes better. There’s incredible flavor and real enjoyment in every bite.

“Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. “
Wendell Berry

If you'd like to see the video that we just finished for Red Tomato, please go to and enter The Red Tomato Story in the search box. It should get you there.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Early Dark

When I went out to the barn last night at 6 pm, it was pitch black. There’s something about feeding the horses in the dark that is always unsettling. Now that it’s light in the morning, the dread I feel has shifted with the time change to their dinner hour. Once I’ve turned on the lights and started bustling around in the barn, I don’t mind it. The fear is in that moment of leaving the warm glow of my house and heading out into the total darkness. I sometimes feel like a little kid who is afraid something is going to jump out and get me. I know that’s ridiculous, so recently I’ve been exploring what makes me react this way.

It was probably no coincidence that a friend of mine lent me one of her favorite books this week. It’s called “True Nature” by Barbara Bash, and it’s really a gem. Barbara records, in beautiful drawings and watercolors and handwritten pages, four retreats that she goes on alone at a cabin in the Adirondacks. She is there for one week during each season of the year. It is such an honest and thought-provoking book. One of the big issues that she confronts is her fear of going into the dark woods at night.

“Being here by myself feels like a pause, a break in a pattern. The habitual knitting together of schedules and demands is beginning to unravel. The tight secure knots of my life loosening, relaxing. And then, that raw aloneness rushes in, and with it, the impulse to turn away, run back home.”

I was thinking about the years that I spent living alone, and the nights I woke up, scared by who knows what. When I lived in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes the police helicopters would suddenly erupt through the black silence with the beams of their searchlights and the sharp noise of their blades. It was impossible to settle back into a relaxed sleep after that, and I’d sit up running through all the problems and worst-case scenarios in my life until the sun came up. When I got my big yellow dog, Cosmo, back in those lonely LA days, I re-discovered the great consolation I find in the presence of animals, and I continue to appreciate their ability to calm me.

So, I should have guessed that Silk would be sending me a message about my anxiety. As I turned on the lights in the barn and opened her stall door last night, in my head, I heard this very clear voice telling me, “When you take care of your horses, you are taking care of yourself.” I realized that last winter, this same lack of being able to see clearly in the night had felt soft and mysteriously re-assuring to me. The silence, the stars and the moon and the sounds of the horses were all gifts that I looked forward to since my life back then was on more settled ground. Right now, in so many aspects of my day-to-day existence, I feel like I’m never sure what’s going to happen next.

In Barbara Bash’s book, she quotes Pema Chodron: “Exercise your willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment over and over again.” Going into the dark each night is a concrete way for me to do that. The point at which I am able to welcome the uncertainty instead of fear it will be a big step towards taking better care of myself. I joke that feeding the horses is a sacred ritual for me, but in fact, it might also be the path that leads me through these un-nerving times.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

For the Sake of the Horse

I wonder if you’ve been following the excellent posts from Billie at Camera Obscura about the Rollkur issue and a video that was shot by Epona TV of dressage rider Patrik Kittel. If you haven’t, please check out Billie’s thorough, thoughtful coverage of this tragic situation that is occurring in the dressage world and follow the links to sign the petitions to the FEI to stop this inhumane treatment of horses. Thank you, Billie, for providing us with all the information we need to make an educated effort to try to help right a serious wrong.

Briefly, Rollkur is a training technique used by some dressage riders that creates hyper-flexion of the horse’s neck. It is supposed to teach the horse to lower its head and round its neck as it works. In some cases, the horse’s mouth touches the middle of its chest, and this state of hyper-flexion is held for over ten minutes. The video shows the horse that Kittel is riding sticking out its tongue, which has turned blue, an indication that the blood flow has been cut off. The Federation Equestre Internationale is the sole controlling authority for all international events governing Dressage, Driving, Endurance, Eventing, Jumping, Reining, and Vaulting. It establishes the rules for the Olympics, as well as Championships, Regional and Continental Games. In 2006, the FEI decided that it would allow the use of hyper-flexion by experienced riders. Now, they are reconsidering their position. Anything that we can do to convince them that Rollkur should be banned is needed at this critical moment.

I realized that I am quite sensitive to this issue because of the abuse Silk suffered before I bought her. This kind of extreme treatment exists in many disciplines of riding. As a Western Pleasure horse, Silk had the misfortune to be ridden by a man who was relentlessly aggressive in training her to bend her neck and put extreme pressure on her mouth with the bit. It is amazing to me that she forgave humans for what they did to her, and that she is my loving and willing partner today.

I went out to the barn after reading the links that Billie posted and watching the video. If the neighbors had heard me, they would have thought that I was crazy, but I told Silk the whole sad story. She just kept eating her hay, with one ear turned in my direction. I said that we would keep trying to make life better for horses, and that over 4000 people had already signed petitions protesting to the FEI. Years ago, I promised Silk that no one would ever hurt her again, and I am sorry that so many other horses continue to be abused by people under the guise of “training”. I know she listened to me.

Billie quoted Paul Belasik's “A Search for Collection - Science and Art in Riding”, and what he said had such an impact on me that I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel compelled to quote it again here:

"The reason why you can’t pull a horse’s head down to his knees and hold it there day after day, hour after hour, is the same reason why you can’t pull a man’s head down to his knees and hold it there. The reason is that it is demeaning to the ...dignity of the horse or man. It is an ethical, philosophical problem, as well as a scientific one. When you act this way toward a horse with this unprovoked, irrational and unrelenting constant aggression, you demean everything: the horse, nature, yourself, the art and the observer. In the wild, no horse would accept this demonic control. Leaders lead because they prove they have the capacity to lead, and they are good at it. The whole herd has a better life. If the leaders choose badly… they will be replaced."