ROCKET HORSE

April 10, 2018

Rocket

Once I took over Sugar the Pinto, my big sister, Maureen, lobbied my parents to get another horse so we could ride together. They found a gentle Buckskin mare, and Maureen named her Rocket, though I don’t remember speed as one of her best qualities. What I do remember is how hard she was to catch when she was in the pasture. After a while, we discovered that we’d have better luck catching her if we played “hard to get” ourselves. One of us would act as if she were headed for Sugar, or for an invisible horse if Sugar wasn’t around. Only when we got close enough, would we gently reach for her halter. I used this little “trick” in several Winnie the Horse Gentler books and in the first book of Backyard Horses. That reminds me that I just might use it in Book 3 of the upcoming prequel series: Winnie: The Early Years.

In this photo, Rocket is eating out of her food box in our backyard pen. And it looks like Maureen needs to get out the brushes. Often, we’d bring along the transistor radio and tune to Kansas City’s WHB station to listen to the Top Forty songs of the week while we groomed our Top Two horses.

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My Best Friend–SUGAR

April 6, 2018

Bareback on Sugar

Good ol’ Sugar was my best friend at this age. I told the Pinto everything. She listened to my dreams of becoming a horse trainer (like Winnie the Horse Gentler). She didn’t mind if I griped about a bad day at school or too much homework. She always made me feel like she’d been waiting for me to get home and ride her. Now that’s friendship. If you were a horse, would you want people to sit on your back and tell you where to go? If you were as big as a horse, would you even let a little person sit on you? I think not.

Top Five Lessons I learned from Sugar:  1) Sometimes, the best thing a friend can do is listen. 2) It’s a great gift to let people believe you’re really glad to see them . . . even if you’re not. 3) Love can be sacrificial–like carrying someone to a place she’d like to go. 4) Take the time to really get to know a friend. And be loyal. 5) When you fall off, get right back on. Bonus lesson: God created an amazing animal in the horse. Imagine coming up with a design for such a beautiful creature, one that’s soft, but strong, giving and kind, with a nicker and neigh, two of the best sounds on earth, and the best smell in the entire world! It will be awesome to see Sugar again in heaven.

SUGAR–HORSE #1

April 3, 2018

sugar-3

Yep–this is me at 3 years old, riding Sugar, my first horse, a Pinto of unknown origins. To those who know me, it’s no secret that I like horses. I mean, I love horses and always have. I love to ride. But I also love to simply brush or be with a horse, to feel that fuzzy winter coat, or the sleek summer sheen. I love the smell of horse. Seriously, someone should bottle that scent and sell it as perfume. And I love to write about horses.

Right now I’m working on writing a prequel series to Winnie the Horse Gentler. Writing about this younger character, who understands (and feels understood by) horses, keeps bringing up my own early horse memories. So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of those and introducing you to the horses I’ve loved. Sugar was the nearly perfect first, a bomb-proof horse, just above 14.2 hands, not a pony. My big sister, Maureen, rode her first, until I took over. I remember being confined to ride in our little pen by the house and how awesome it was when I got the freedom to ride Sugar up and down our road, then around the block, then all over Hamilton, Missouri. I got stepped on, and I fell off–always my fault. Once, near Main Street, she slipped on the ice, and I fell directly under her. Sugar stopped and stood still, with me huddled between all four hooves. Then we waited until somebody gave me a lift back up. You never forget your first.

WRITER JOE & COWBOY JOE (sort of)

March 8, 2018

I’ve written a lot about myself, our kids, and our grandkids; but I haven’t given you a good picture of my husband, have I? I am the luckiest (most blessed) woman in the world to be married to this guy, Joe Mackall. And our kids and grandkids would testify that he’s an amazing father and grandfather. He’s an excellent writer, co-founder of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, “where great writing and facts matter.” He’s author of successful books, like The Last Street Before Cleveland and Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish, which the starred Booklist review called “a wonderful and enlightening book. He’s also my first editor.

But he’s much more than his official bio. When Joe and I met, the man wasn’t crazy about horses and hadn’t ridden one since he sat on a pony for a picture-taking opportunity when he was 4 or 5. But he dove right in and learned to ride on Moby, one of our two horses at the time. Since then, we’ve ridden on trails wherever we’ve gone. Horse rides are a major ingredient in all family vacations. Above is one of our best rides, in Monument Valley across Navajo lands, and later to Four Corners, where Montana, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet.

Finally, just look at that face. Can you tell he’s a very witty and funny fellow? We make each other laugh.

HORSES: MORE THAN JUST RIDING

March 6, 2018

I’d love to hear from horselovers. What do you like best about horses? You’re probably convinced by now that I don’t just write about horses, but I actually ride them and always have. I’ve posted pictures with our granddaughters riding too (which is such a grandma-thing to do). But there’s a lot more to horses than riding them. On the right, Granddaughter Ellie is grooming a horse that isn’t even ours. I’ve always loved time spent on the ground with a horse as much as time spent on the horse’s back. It’s grooming a horse and talking to him that develop the bond. The smell of a horse is the best scent God invented. Simply being with a horse can soothe and calm me.

In the other picture, Ellie is petting a colt that isn’t ours. I can’t count the number of times we’ve driven by horses in a field, only to back up, park precariously on the side of the road, pile out of the car, and see if we can get the horses to come over to us. To this day, every time we pass a horse, or an Amish horse and buggy pass us, we all yell, “I will ride it!” because that’s what Ellie started saying when she was 3.

 

HORSES & GRANDKIDS

March 1, 2018

I love that our granddaughters love horses! Can’t imagine where that interest came from . . . .  The two wonderful granddaughters not pictures here have yet to discover the joys of riding, though I’ve promised our almost-two-year-old, Maddie, that she’ll get that first ride this summer (and about time, I’d say!). Harper, barely 2 months old, will have to wait a couple of months, I suppose.

On the left is Cassie, hugging the saddle horn and smiling her joy. On the right is Ellie, riding solo and proud of it. (By the way, I had to post these pictures because the girls found out I’d posted someone else’s granddaughter earlier.)

HORSE-LOVING, READING, & WRITING

February 26, 2018

Cowgirl

Before you jump to conclusions, this isn’t my granddaughter, but a horse-loving reader (like my granddaughters). Her teacher asked students to dress up as their favorite character from a book, and I’m honored to say that this student chose Ellie from my BACKYARD HORSES series. In case you don’t know what a “backyard horse” is, it’s what we called horses that weren’t fancy, would never be show horses, and didn’t belong in a stable. We kept our horses in a pasture, but we also had a small pen and barn in our yard.

A horse book, a pink cowgirl hat, boots, and a stuffed horse–what could be better than that? Answer: All the similarities between this cowgirl, Helen, and my oldest granddaughter, the “star” of the BACKYARD HORSES series. Although we call her “Ellie,” our granddaughter’s real name is “Helen,” named after her great-grandmother, Helen Daley (co-star of WITH LOVE, WHEREVER YOU ARE). Both gals love horses, reading, and writing. It’s amazing how many letters and emails I get from guys and gals who love these three things: horses, reading, and writing. As it happens, I’ve always loved horses, reading, and writing too!

WRITING & BULLYING

February 22, 2018

Lara medium

Tomorrow I’m off to Columbus, OH, for the weekend to speak at a convention of teachers of English and Language Arts–wonderful people who still believe in our kids and want them to love reading and writing and to excel in both in an atmosphere of kindness, compassion, and safety. I’ve never met a teacher–or a student–who hasn’t witnessed bullying. Then one night about 3 AM, all of these concerns came together for me when I woke up and could almost hear this tough girl saying, “This is not about me. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up.” I got up, crossed the hall to my office, and began writing what may be the most surprising (to me) book I’ve ever written. I had no idea where the story was going, and I usually do when I begin writing. In the end, it came to be about the effects of bullying, the promise of returning kindness for meanness, and the possibility of touching and changing lives in school and out. Plus, the book contains, in real time as action proceeds, just about everything I know about writing, with chapter titles like: Character; Villain, Setting, Dialogue, Opposition, Conflict, Details, Rising Action, Climax, Resolution.

If you’ve read about Lara and Laney, I’d love to hear from you. You can learn more about the book at http://www.dandibooks.com.

 

WITH LOVE, ON VALENTINE’S DAY

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I like to imagine that these two photos were snapped on Valentine’s Day, but I really have no idea. At least, thanks in part to the letters they wrote each other during their service in WW2, I know that Helen and Frank were deeply in love when these pictures were taken. They were newlyweds, separated for months at a time, with only their letters and prayers to keep them together and in love. My parents remained deeply in love for the 52 years of their marriage. This is the last day to purchase the e-book of their story, WITH LOVE, WHEREVER YOU ARE, at the sale price, $2.99.  But don’t go away. I have more photos to share.

WITH LOVE, IN FRANK’S UNIT

February 12, 2018

camp visit (2)

Toward the end of the war–and the end of the book, Helen pushed her way onto a bullet-ridden service airplane with 13 French soldiers. Everyone was waiting for the Germans to surrender. And then soldier-doctors and many soldier-nurses would board ships to the Pacific to continue to fight until the Japanese surrendered. Helen determined to see her husband before that happened. Frank had been moved to an outpost in Entzheim, France, and the couple arranged the miracle rendezvous at the eleventh hour through code letters. She spent several days there, even accompanying him on a rebuilt motorcycle to do patient rounds in villages. From later letters, I learned that Helen was quite a hit with Frank’s buddies.