Category: Uncategorized

Closer Than We Think

Church signage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am not sure if schools, churches, and other entities know how incredibly powerful the words they choose to put on their signs and marquees are, but they have a powerful platform. Aside from the hilarious grammar errors they sometimes provide, their messages are potentially life-changing. 

Moncks Corner

It seems like a lifetime ago now, and in a way, it was, but thirty years ago, I was in Moncks Corner visiting relatives, and a church sign read: 

“We Don’t See The World as it is; We See It as We Are.” 

The opposite side of the sign read, 

“The heart would hold no rainbow if the eyes held no tears.” 

I know what the opposite side of the sign said because I insisted that my fellow traveler turn the car around so that I could write the message down. I wanted to ponder it and knew I’d forget it if I didn’t write it down. (Remember, thirty years ago, cell phone cameras were non-existent; we even had to have pictures developed.)

The point, though, is that words matter. Through the years, I have used the first quote in every classroom I have had the privilege of teaching. 

It is hard to determine the originator of the quote. Although Steven Covey is given credit for it, from what I’ve been able to determine, the quote originated with Anias Nin, which is interesting because she was a French/Cuban/America essayist who wrote erotica. How her words ended up on that church sign is food for fodder, but the church’s intent was well-received. The fact that comments were selected from someone other than a Biblical scholar to promote their message is even more enlightening. Regardless, those words changed my view of the world and sent me into a mode of self-reflection that has lasted for thirty years.

Why Can’t They Understand?

My classroom requires critical thinking, and discussions abound. Sources are necessary with controversial topics, and respect is a must. Sometimes I believe the kids think I’m not prepared with a lesson and just want to “talk” to pass the time. While many discussions happen organically, I almost always have a quote, artwork, news article, or novel that prompts discussion, but boy can those topics change on a dime.

The commonality of most discussions is when students disagree on any topic (currently, that list includes vaccines, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, police officers, and anything else they don’t feel safe discussing anywhere else ), the conversation ends with a reminder from me, “We don’t see the world as it is, Class; we see it as we are.”

What They Don’t Know

Although many of my students have no clue who they are or who they want to become, they do not yet realize that if they are blessed with a long life what they believe will change drastically as the world turns. 

When we hold discussions, much of what I am hearing comes from their home environment. The rest comes from their friend groups. Sooner than students know, though, what they believe will come from the very core of their being, and they will understand what it means to see the world as they are, not necessarily as it is. 

I often ask adults if we are sure that we are helping our children become people who can sustain America. Are we helping them become adults who see the world through various experiences, or do we shelter them so that they become stuck in a past that time has left? Please don’t misunderstand; I know that the past influences the present, but the past makes the present better only for those willing to reflect upon it and make changes accordingly. 

How I See The World

A dear friend of mine reminded me just today of how I see the world. She said, “You always consider the humanity of all viewpoints – even wrong ones – and try to love everyone and listen to everyone even if you don’t agree with them.” That’s quite an accolade. (Thank you, my friend.) 

Her view of me will be hard for me to live up to, but she is right in this: I know that people do not come to believe something without having been through experiences that cause them to feel the way they do. Perhaps more importantly, they don’t hold onto “wrong” beliefs without having reinforcements to do so. 

This statement is true regardless of the topic. However, if we could ever learn empathy for the other person and communicate with genuine compassion and curiosity, we would be able to fix a lot that is wrong in America. 

I’ve been stuck in a mode of pondering since I started reading my students’ inquiry projects last week. One student chose Totalitarianism for the semester project. My student had read books like 1984 and The Girl with Seven Names which prompted her to choose this topic. Further, she revealed a suspected connection between America’s current race relations, cancel culture, protests, cell phone usage, cameras, and responses to protests with a turning point in America during our inquiry phase of the project. 

My student fears that turning point may end in Totalitarianism. This fear was not motivated by a political party or a religious belief. It was inspired by similarities found during the research portion of the project.

I did not assign that topic. I did not assign any topic. I gave students parameters, mainly concerning research requirements and documentation format, but they were free to choose anything they’d like to spend the semester learning more about. We spent time learning to “vet” sources and learning how to provide room for counterarguments, but the research topic was theirs to choose.

It was this student’s paper that reminded me of the church sign.

I don’t believe my student wants America to be a Totalitarian government. Quite the contrary. Instead, I see this student as an American who loves America – the good, the bad, and the indifferent — and wants it to remain free.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I came of age during the end of the Cold War. As such, I see conspiracy theories everywhere and have a healthy distrust for authority. But I cannot imagine who I would be today if I came of age during this pandemic, this social unrest, and the “me mentality.” That is what concerns me most about my students. If something doesn’t impact them personally, they see no reason to get involved. 

The problem is that at some point, if we all believe that way, there will be no one left to get involved, which reminds me of Martin Niemöller, the German Protestant preacher who also spoke words that changed my life when he wrote the poem, “First They Came for the Socialists.” 

He had a fascinating life and was the epitome of a “complicated character.” You can read more about why this matters in this Washington Post article, but he is a perfect example of how life changes us – and how we see the world as WE are rather than how it is.

So, where do we go from here? It depends on where we want to end up. We cannot sustain this current environment of discounting anyone who doesn’t look like us, love like us, or believe like us – whether those beliefs are religious or political.

Surely there is something we agree on and can start building towards. If not, the forces that have always wanted to destroy America may be closer than we think. 


Testing Season is Nearly Over

What is Testing Season?

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on

As we enter the last few weeks of school, two things are on pretty much everyone’s mind: testing and summer.

If you are an adult in the school system, you are either preparing students for some sort of exam and likely that exam is of the standardized test variety, or you are letting students know they will do well. So you are either a test proctor, monitor, or covering for someone who is a proctor or a monitor, or you are a student support person.

If you are a parent, you’re likely dealing with an anxious child who somehow believes their entire year comes down to how they score on one test.

If you are a student, you’re between an “I really don’t care,” and an “Oh my God, what if I don’t meet my goal?” mentality.

And to what end?

The Potential Impact

I have a friend whose son is in elementary school, and his school has completed all standardized tests and it awards day is complete. (For 2020-2021, that is an accomplishment it itself!)

This young man earned SEVEN awards – quite an accomplishment by anyone’s standards. School officials called his name and gave him certificates and celebrated him.

But do you know what he will remember? The popsicle party he did not get to attend.

And my friend’s son is not an entitled kid. He’s not upset about what he didn’t “get.” He’s concerned because to his classmates the popsicle party represents who is smart and who is not.

Many students do not know how difficult meeting or achieving a test goal is after a certain point. Even if parents understand that MAP is an adaptive test that gets harder with each correct answer and easier with each incorrect answer, sometimes they don’t recognize the difficulty in achieving a testing goal.

Adaptive testing is brilliant when it is used correctly, but I have not seen it used correctly in many years.

See, kids take this test from 5K – at least through the 8th grade, and they take it so frequently, and under so much pressure, that within a few years the test loses any value it had for the student.

What is worse is that they test so frequently in elementary grades that by the time the kids get to high school, many students see tests as unnecessary punishments, pure and simple. 

Tests feel like punishments because students were conditioned to view them this way in elementary school. 

For example, think of those end-of-the-year MAP score celebrations. I’ve hated them since my children were small, and see even less value in them now, because the kid who did his absolute best on the test and perhaps earned a high score was excluded from the celebration because his goal was not met. That exclusion translates to punishment for most children.

First, the party is really for the school. They want to see kids improve their scores so that they can rest assured that teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators did their jobs effectively, and since the test is ungraded, by itself, it offers no reward for the student. So, schools try to entice the kids to do their best by offering some external reward. And for many students, this method works, or they would not keep doing it.

Second, and more problematic though, is that one adaptive test, given on one day, stands to provide a lot of inaccurate self-judgment on the kid’s part.  They may have scored “off the charts” in many areas, but were one question off from the last time they took the test, and therefore, failed to meet their goals.

One Student’s Story

My friend’s son won seven awards, but what he remembers from that day is that he didn’t get a popsicle, like many of the other students because he didn’t exceed a standardized test score. I am sure he wondered at that point if anything he did that year mattered in light of that test/party.

And what is worse is that I am certain the school knows that there are cases where a student is at the top of the class and has mastered everything for the year, so the adaptive test presented more challenging questions that this student will not even be introduced to until next year, or possibly the next, so there is no way the student should be expected to meet a higher goal.

It is good information to have, no doubt. If he already knows the material, having a test to show that information is highly beneficial. 

However, withholding attendance at an end-of-the-year party, or not allowing him to have a popsicle with all of the other “smart kids,” potentially does more harm than good.

Fortunately, my friend’s son has exceptional parents who know how to turn an unfair situation into a character-building experience, and I can’t praise them enough for that. He also has adults who say, “Skip the popsicle, we’re celebrating you at Pelicans!” So my friend’s son will be no worse for the wear. 

But what about the kids who do not have that type of support? 

It is little wonder that we deal with such apathy by the time the kids get to high school.

The test is not without merit, but there has to be a better way than operating on an exclusion model to motivate students to do their best. 

I’m not saying that everyone needs a “participation trophy.” That’s a subject for another blog, and part of why we find ourselves in a sea of apathy today, but I am saying that elementary students should not be under such pressure. 

So What Did The School Get?

I’m only fifteen years into my career as an educator, but I know that the school lost more than it gained on that day. Sure, data was collected, but what good was the data? Some kids take the test seriously every time because that is just who they are. Others just click their way through the test whether they know the material or not. These actions mean that at best, the data is skewed. 

Schools (and politicians) want to know if the school did its job in preparing students for the next grade, and that is a question they deserve an answer to, but is standardized testing a plausible way to garner that information?

Can they receive accurate information if a group of students takes the test without trying? Can they receive accurate information if students just do not test well? Can they receive that information if the students have their minds on some problem that happened on the bus or at home, and they can’t concentrate on the test?

Until students become intrinsically motivated, and until schools and communities can begin to work harmoniously towards the same goal, kids like my friend’s son will continue to suffer at the hands of a system that desperately wants to help him.

My Idea?

Let kids be kids. 

Reinstate nap time and sensory play in pre-school – kindergarten. 

Work on reading, basic math, social skills, and character-building, but do not give those kids a single test. 

Instead, ask the teacher if the student has accomplished what was necessary, and then accept that answer and help those who need more help and promote those who are ready. I bet there will be greater success for all students if teachers could build a community of learners and then teach them rather than worrying about preparing them for a test that will not matter at the end of the day.

Celebrate what they know and motivate them (without excluding them) to want to learn what they don’t know. 

Test them, if you must, at the end of 2nd or 3rd grade and use that as a benchmark that is revisited once a year. Or operate on a pre/post test model. Test them as the enter and then as they leave the grade, but stop all of these mid-point checks.

If you trust your teachers and give them the tools necessary and the freedom desired to teach, those kids will soar because most teachers are totally invested in their students, not because student success or failure reflects on the teacher, but rather because teachers love their students and they value an educated society. 

Work on mindset and intrinsic motivation from the beginning, and give students (and staff)  the mental health support they need at all levels of school.

Then, follow Finland’s model. Test them once before they leave school and marvel in the outcome.

Can You Keep a Travel Trailer Cool in the South Carolina Heat?

Note: I have upgraded my Amazon account to an affiliate link account, so if you purchase something using any of the following links I may make a small commission.

Austin’s Happy Place

When I was a little girl, I was convinced that there was no place hotter than my daddy’s half-acre garden. As he accumulated more land and begin cleaning it, I knew I’d been wrong. There was no place hotter than land you’re trying to clear. As an adult, I realized that the hottest place in the world has got to be a hay field, but a travel trailer baking in the South Carolina sun has to be a close second to any hayfield, garden, or land clearing.

Cooling a travel trailer is no easy feat, but it can be done using tricks of the trade like camper placement, insulation, and skirting.

Can You Keep a Travel Trailer Cool?

Those who know me avoid me when it is hot. I’m a miserable, sweaty, angry mess when South Carolina turns on the heat and humidity. Those who want to spend time with me during the summer opt for visiting near large bodies of water, swimming pools, or in air conditioning that could make a snowman shiver.

Yet, I go camping – all summer long. (And my husband still enjoys the trips.)

I’ll be the first to admit, cooling a travel trailer is no easy feat. First, you’re dealing with little, if any insulation, the materials manufacturers use beckon the sun, and the air conditioning units are never sufficient. But all is not lost. Here are some things we’ve tried or plan to try this summer.

  1. Be Selective About Where You Park. Wherever your largest windows are, make sure they are facing north, this way, when the sun sets, you are in the shade. Also, request a spot with plenty of shade.
  2. Have Your Windows Tinted – all of them. Travel Trailers come with lots of windows that do not open. They are great for viewing majestic scenery but do nothing for helping you cool your rig. Anyone who tints car windows can tint travel trailer windows. We used Unique Visions in Rock Hill, but any company that tints windows could do the work. This trick alone has provided a measurable difference for us.
  3. Tint the windows Yourself – This is not an option our marriage would have survived, but it seems easy enough to do. You might check out the following Amazon products:
    1. Protint Windows 5% Shade. This product allows you to select between a 5% and 50% visual light transmission, but there are many other products you might choose.
    2. Heat Control Window Film – This option is nice because it offers daytime privacy and there is no glue involved. Static cling is the magic that makes this product work. 
  4. Use a Door Window Shade Amazon has two shades we like. The first is an RV Door Window Cover Reflective shade and the other is the Latch.IT RV Door Window Shade. Both are easily installed in under two minutes and they work equally well.
  5. Cover Your Vents. This was the single greatest investment we made after tinting our windows. The temperature difference in the trailer was noticeable within 5 minutes. It may not seem like it, but the heat coming in through the skylights and bathroom vents is incredible. We bought ours at Camping World, but Amazon sells them cheaper. Try these models: Camco RV Vent Insulator or the VanEssential Magnetic Insulated Roof Vent Cover.
  6. Insulate Your Travel Trailer. Austin was surprised at how easy this task actually was. For underneath the rig, we chose the SilveRboard R-5 from Lowes for the area underneath the bed. Next weekend we will use Amazon’s EZ Cool RV Vehicle Insulation for the area behind the couch. In our trailer this space is a dead area, but boy does it trap the heat.
  7. Use a WindSkirt. We have not tried this idea yet, but will when we retire and can camp for longer periods of time. I’m considering trying this RV WindSkirt available on Amazon.
  8. Invest in Sun Shades. This option is our next big purchase and though we have not decided on which model we’ll use, here is a picture of an Amazon product I’m referring to. It’s the Shade Pro Vista Shade for the awning. I have seen many campers use these shades to create an outdoor room and plan to do the same for our trip to OceanLakes Campground this summer.
  9. Get A Dehumidifier. Space is always at a premium in the travel trailer, and this option is not for every camper, but considering my extreme aversion to heat and humidity, this LONOVE Dehumidifier seems like a worthy contender for space. I’ll let you know if Austin goes for it. 

Why Camp When It’s So Hot?

Some people only camp during Spring and Fall, while others camp year-round. In South Carolina, we are fortunate enough to have mild winters, so we seldom have to winterize the camper and can often take off camping whenever we feel like it, but camping in the heat is HARD.

We do it though, because we love the camping life. Most often our electronics are seldom used and we get to see amazing sights, experience incredible things, and get to know each other better with every trip. Granted, Austin likes me much better in every season except summer, but that’s why I’m writing this blog. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

Lessons Kids Learn From Spectators

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

First Impressions

When I make new acquaintances and they learn that I am a high school teacher, there is always a mixture of awe and a little pity in their responses. Most often I hear, “Bless you, Dear. I don’t know how you deal with all that attitude and disrespect.” 

Years ago I would take up for my students. Today, well, after reflecting upon an incident that happened a few weeks ago, I have more reason to ask myself, “Why are you teaching teenagers?” 

Perhaps it is that I still believe teachers can make a difference. Maybe I believe that coaches can get through where adults and other teachers can’t. Maybe I have seen it work when parents and teachers, staff and coaches work together and a kid many have given up on turns around in a magnificent way, and I’m addicted to that scenario.

Most likely I stick with it because I feel that to quit would be to give up on what could be the greatest, most accepting, and most progressive generation of all time. Lord knows we’ve given them a lot of mistakes to learn from. Whatever the reason, still, I teach.

They Had Help Getting Here

The thing that always confuses me about this disapproval of teenagers is that the kids didn’t get to these levels of attitude and disrespect overnight or by themselves. Somebody has had at least fifteen years of pouring into them (or perhaps not) before they ever reach high school.

Still, somehow, at least much of the time, turning teenagers into respectful, productive members of society falls squarely on the shoulders of teachers. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard adults say, “Well when you look at what they learn in school…” or “That’s what happens when you take prayer out of schools.” Really? Can people really believe first that kids who are taught to pray at home don’t pray in school, or that they learn and adopt their disrespectful behavior in the 180 days a year schools have them?

Sportsmanship and Spectators

I think of those who pour their lives into our kids, and my husband is an excellent example. He has coached YMCA soccer since my oldest daughter was four, and she is twenty-five now. Even when our children aged out of the program, he saw how beneficial Y soccer was, and recruited our youngest daughter to help him coach and referee games. That’s when she “saw the light.”

YMCA soccer is not about winning, or even teaching soccer skills, though both are valuable components of the program. The main benefit to YMCA soccer is that the program focuses on sportsmanship.

For example, today my husband’s team played against a team that has a special needs player who has yet to score a goal.  My husband talked to the child’s coach and to his own team and everyone was excited to make sure this young player scored a goal today. 

No one cared about the score in that game because everyone had already won the moment that ball went into the goal. That act of sportsmanship – of allowing children to see what it feels like to take care of others – was life-changing for some.

How Spectators Teach Life Lessons

Later today though, everyone on the field – parents, coaches, referees, and players –  lost when spectators started arguing with a referee. Through the years there have been spectators, and even coaches, who have taken the program to levels it was never designed for. Still, today was eye-opening for me. 

It Starts with Parking 

The YMCA relies on generous companies to donate fields for children to play soccer on. But drivers must honor the company’s parking rules. The businesses do not stop on Saturdays for soccer, so their employees and delivery personnel must have somewhere to park. This is why there are “No Parking” signs and cones in certain places.

The lessons for our kids begin the moment spectators chose to disregard no parking signs and move cones. Though seemingly harmless, this action actually exposes a blatant disregard for players, other spectators, referees, and for the companies who graciously donate the space.

Then the lessons move to how the spectators treat other teams and adults , most notably referees during the game. 

Now, I’m not saying refs always call it right. Believe me, I have called Austin on a call a time or two myself, but never in anger, and never with disrespect. In fact, grumbling about a call is all in good fun and part of all sports games. Verbally attacking the refs week after week, though, is quite another thing. 

And this type of behavior isn’t an isolated event. Our youngest daughter stopped refereeing, in part, for this unreasonable behavior.  After two seasons of being yelled at by spectators, she opted to spend her free time doing something else.

The Lesson

But what is all of this teaching our kids? You can be sure they are watching.

When drivers get out of their cars to and move the no parking zone cones and children watch adults do this, it teaches a lesson: Rules are to be followed as long as they are not inconvenient. 

When spectators attack coaches and referees, the kids learn that respect is optional…and that is respect for self and others. These spectators can’t respect themselves or their kids and behave in such a manner, and that attitude morphs as the kids get older.

Two things are true when raising kids.

  1. They will find and most often follow the path you thought you covered up.
  2. If it won’t be cute at 12, you’d better not let it happen at 2…so don’t show them how to do it.

The Idea that Respect Is Earned

Respect doesn’t die overnight, and it is not earned overnight, but to live in a productive, safer society where guns are used for recreation rather than settling differences, some things must be agreed upon.

For example, adults do not deserve admiration and respect by virtue of age, but to disrespect someone you do not even know says more about you than it does about the person you are disrespecting. And when kids show disrespect to referees, coaches, teachers, etc., it often says a lot about what they saw while growing up.

I don’t blame the kids. During such a time of life when hormones are changing, responsibilities are more apparent, and realizations about life are being made, who can blame kids for  responding in anger? Most often they are repeating behavior that has been modeled for them, they just do not have the finesse adults have when they do it.

The Solution

Enjoy the moment on the soccer field and realize that no one on that field is out to get your kid. Most are volunteers who see value in community service; they are not there to make sure the other team wins.

But neither are they professional coaches or referees and they will most certainly make bad calls, but that is where you can become the problem, or create a lesson. Imagine a high school where all students there had parents who used bad calls made on the little league field as a way to teach them that sometimes life is unfair; sometimes bad calls get made.

I remember when one of my daughters lost a middle school student body president election to the quarterback of their football team. It was so unfair. It was a bad call on the part of the student body and the adults in charge, but all they could do then was change requirements the next year making attendance and participation in the office for which you are running mandatory.

That year, though, the quarterback never attended even one meeting, but do you know who did? My oldest daughter also did the work that year and that action didn’t pay off for her in any way, at least not immediately. But four years later when she needed letters of recommendation, those teachers remembered my daughter’s character and wrote letters that earned her serious scholarship money. 

When my daughter grappled with the unfairness of it all, I could have raised sand at the school. I could have grumbled at the dinner table every night, and no one would have blamed me. I could have let her quit and move onto something else, and at the time, she would have thanked me. Instead, we took a bad call and used it to build character. I wish other adults would do the same.

Life isn’t easy, but we can make it easier for our kids if we’d just be the adults we want them to grow up to be.

What We Deserve by HM Thomas A Book Review

Picture: Book Cover
Publisher: Champagne Book Group

I absolutely love to read. As an English teacher, some say that’s nothing unusual, but I really love to read. In fact, a dear friend and colleague of mine, Shelley Crawford Love, once joked in a class we were taking saying, “That Carol Dawkins will read ANYTHING.” We laughed because it’s true, but I also read so much that few characters or storylines “stick” with me. In fact, I can’t even remember the title of the book that Shelley was referring to. I remember that the novel was about a woman who was grieving her father, but that storyline seemed minor to the work she was doing with hawks. I read Every.Last.Word. Note I said that I “read” each word; however, I wasn’t particularly enthralled with the work. The important thing is that although I can’t remember the title or even the author’s name, the work certainly revealed something to me about myself through Shelley’s comment. I love to read…and write.

My reading preferences are pretty eclectic, so it’s difficult for me to choose one genre over another, but there are some I only read when they are brought to my attention and though that list is short, romance novels are high on that list. It’s not that I don’t believe in love but rather I’ve never found a love story I enjoy so much as the one I live.

However, I absolutely adore local authors, in part because they show us that we, too, can write that next novel, but also because well, they live “here,” in the place that has nurtured me. So, when HM Thomas released her latest novel, What We Deserve, I was on Amazon’s waiting list. I had enjoyed another of her novels, The Right to Surrender and though it’s been a couple of years since I read it, I still remember Finn and Gretchen and want to see what they are doing now. That is good character development.

Though What We Deserve is quite different from the former title, her character development is the same. I identified with Miranda Lawson and the loss she suffered as I rooted for Logan Pearson to finally get it right — even though his “bad boy” tendencies threatened to ruin things at every turn.

I never like book reviews that give too much away, so I won’t do that here, but I will say that Miranda Lawson is a therapist who truly cares about her patients and the world around her, and it nearly costs her everything – not once, but twice. Her profession and her concern for others drive much of this story, but readers will readily relate to her passion, compassion, and empathy. And although we need more Mirandas in this world, these traits are also the things that frustrated me about her the most — likely because I saw many of those same flaws in myself. The ability to care for others is a gift few possess, and those who have it seldom know how to control it. Miranda Lawson is guilty as charged and at times that is frustrating, but also redemptive, in a way.

The plot in this novel is pretty straightforward, though HM Thomas is always good for a plot twist, which is something that makes her a pretty appealing author. Though an easy read, it’s not one I would teach due to the highly charged sexual encounters, but what’s a romance novel without sex…and lots of it…in full description? You’ll have to read it to see what I mean – this is a “family-friendly” blog. 🙂

HM Thomas will only improve with each novel she writes, and she has raw talent that deserves a chance. Time spent with her characters is productive not only because Thomas allows us an entertaining respite from our own crazy lives, but also because her characters often make us examine parts of ourselves, and that, is always time well spent.

That Last Ride

On December 25, 2015, my beloved horse Dixie died. She was, I fear, that once in a lifetime horse. Almost five months later, I am still grieving her. I have grieved for her longer than I did my first marriage–of course, she was a much better partner, but that’s a “whole nother” story. 🙂

Since she died, I’ve bought and returned two horses and have tried to ride my daughter’s horse Sonny. Breanna’s away at college, and Sonny is a good trail horse; he’s just sour from not being ridden.

My history with Sonny is not that great. He threw me once when one of my dogs was relentlessly barking and nipping at him (dog found a new home). I got a concussion with that fall and to date, that fall goes down as the worst fall in my riding history.  I did get back on him later, but he’s been a stubborn steed ever since – for me, not for my daughter.

The saving grace with Sonny is that he also has a history with Dixie. We’ve shared many trail rides, camping trips, parades, and beach rides together, so needless to say, he has a forever home here. However, I was convinced yesterday  that he was to be a yard ornament, and that I had enjoyed my last ride.  My confidence was gone; he wasn’t listening to a single command, seeking only to ride with other horses at his speed and in his direction, which can be pretty dangerous.

Sonny has wrecked my confidence by stubbornly refusing to move forward and by crow-hopping and spinning or side-passing me into trees and bushes if I insist that he move forward. As we were riding back to the trailer, I decided that I’d have rather loved and lost Dixie than to have never experienced such a partnership at all, but that sadly, my riding days ended on December 25, 2015 – about 30 years earlier than I had planned.

As soon as I made that decision, I ran into an old friend. She didn’t recognize me at first, probably because I wasn’t on Dixie. (That’s how we riding buddies are – we know whose horse belongs to whom–the riders, well, they’re not always as memorable. LOL) Anyway, I believe she sensed my distress and we spoke a bit about Dixie and how I’ve been unable to find my next partner. As we parted, she said, “Don’t stop looking, Carol. Do NOT stop looking.”

As I got into the truck I called Breanna and said I was contemplating selling all of the horse gear and buying a boat. She knows my heart and she knew how I was with Dixie. Now, before I give the impression that Dixie was perfect, let me explain. She was hard as hell to ride at a lope because she was blind in one eye and compensated by running a bit sideways. Breanna hated riding Dixie and many of my friends asked me how I rode her without my back hurting. You see, I had to compensate for her lope too. She would also become very stubborn if a log was on the trail and it was higher than she wanted to cross over. She also liked to go at her speed, which was often faster than I wanted to go. In addition, when I first got her, she nearly backed me off of South Mountain AND she just didn’t know how to carry a rider at a lope. As Breanna would say “We were a hot mess.” We had a lot of work to do, that was for certain, but we did it and bonded as a result.

Breanna reminded me of the times Dixie just “pissed you the hell off ,Mama” and of how I’d handle those situations. She also reminded me that Sonny hasn’t really been ridden to amount to much in four years. Finally, she reminded me that all under saddle work begins with effective ground work.

As soon as I got out of the truck after the Kings Mountain ride yesterday, Sonny and I commenced to working. He was reminded of the power of lungeing, the speed at which he should back up, the distance he needed to stay from me while being led. I then let him rest. This morning, we repeated the same routine and I took him for a ride in the hay fields and woods behind my house. He’s never been really good at these short rides – the barn and all of its feed is just too close – but he did it today. He needed some extra pushing, but did fine…until we got back home. I wanted him to turn from the yard and go back into the hay  field, circle around two hay bales and then call it a day. (Five minutes, tops.) That gelding started bucking (small bucks, but consistent) and was determined to rid himself of his rider. His rider, however, was not to be disrespected.  Not this time.

When he quit his foolishness, I rode him back to the trailer, dismounted and shocked the hell out of him. Rather than letting him go, I lunged him, backed him up, did some lateral work with him and then got right back on him. We rode exactly where I wanted to go the first time plus about 15 more minutes. This time there was no more bucking, no spinning, and only a slight attempt at walking sideways. For the first time since Dixie died, I felt almost like myself in the saddle again.

I can’t bring my Dixie girl back, but today I realized that neither can I stop riding. Somehow, and perhaps it’s from my Rabon side, but horses are in my blood. I decided to take Breanna’s advice. She said, “Mama, use this time when you don’t have your partner to work on your horsmanship. Work Sonny on the ground and earn his respect; work him under saddle and remember that Dixie was the horse she was because of how you worked with her. Have a few successful solo rides and then try to ride with a friend or a small group.” She reminded me that Dixie’s death was sudden and unexpected and that I may never stop grieving her…and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to give up riding just because my confidence is not what it was with Dixie.

After our conversation, I remembered that Dixie could be stubborn as hell with some of my daughters’ friends and boyfriends through the years, but yet never once refused to go forward when I was on her. Finally, Breanna helped me realize that while Dixie and I were a wonderful pair, she was the horse she was because I commanded her respect by working with her.

So, Sonny knows what to do. He’s been trained using natural horsmanship techniques, and he’s old enough to realize when he’s just not going to get his way. My plan is to use him to help me work on me. Who knows, he may become my next partner, or he will make me a great partner for my next horse. Either way, I am thankful that I have not yet seen my last ride.

A Word About Bertha

Perhaps it’s the recent death of actor, Robin Williams or the minor accident my youngest daughter just had, or the 1st week back to school when I always feel beaten up by the “powers that be,” but whatever it is that has caused it, my depression is back and it doesn’t want to let up.

People who have never suffered from clinical depression have no clue how real the sickness is. My youngest daughter recently shared her opinion about Robin Williams’ death in a Facebook post. She was sympathetic, but unforgiving. “Suicide is not the answer; there’s always help” was the theme of her post.

Considering all that she’s been through, I applaud her. She is right. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The issue is, however, when you are in the pits of depression, and you’ve been there so many times before, you don’t see it as a very temporary thing.

I tried to explain to my daughter that no one would judge a person who went into a diabetic coma as “weak.’ They will surely die if they don’t get help, but they can’t ask for that help. It takes people who are around them or people who know of their condition who frequently check on them to get help for them. How is that any different from someone who is suffering from clinical depression? I see the signs and talk to my family and closest friends about what is going on and they check in on me. I see my doctor and we work on this until I’m back to being my old self again, but I can totally understand why some people hide their depression with humor, anger, or anything else they can find to distract people from seeing what is really going on. I know I am guilty of this myself and do it because our society sees any mental illness as something to be frightened of at best, scorned at worst.

It’s not easy to say, “I’m clinically depressed and need some time to get myself together,” because many Americans have this belief that you can just shake it off, or that if you’re depressed you aren’t thankful for your blessings. You are simply weak, lazy, or wanting sympathy. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I have so much to be thankful for and I know it. That knowledge doesn’t stop this pain in the pit of my stomach that is so real that years ago I named it, “Bertha.” It’s another attempt at humor, but it’s also an easy way for me to let my friends and family know what’s going on. “Bertha’s back,” causes them to pause and to understand.

Bertha’s arrival could not have come at a worse time, but she’s here nonetheless and I can’t exercise her away, pray her away, eat or drink her away, or simply count my blessings until she goes away. Nothing really caused her arrival and everything caused her arrival. The only facts worth considering are that she’s here and I’m dealing with it.

So, before judging someone who seems abnormally agitated or sad; before criticizing someone for some minor fault; before being disappointed because someone let you down, remember that those things to a person suffering from clinical depression are the same as too much or too little sugar is to a diabetic. Be a help; don’t cause further damage. People who suffer from clinical depression do come out of it. Make sure you’re someone they want to reconnect with when they do.