Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Beloved Horse, Flirt

Every horsewoman has that one horse in her life with whom she was completely in sync, the horse that was absolutely perfect for her.  When I was a teenager, I had a beautiful Paint horse named Tewanna.  I loved her dearly and felt completely at peace when I rode her.  Tewanna lived to the very ripe old age for a horse of 36 years.  When she passed onward, I was sure I would never again find a horse who suited me so perfectly.  I am blessed to say I was wrong, as Flirt the Horse was the perfect horse for me in my thirties, just as Tewanna was in my teenage years.

Flirt was buried last week, and my heart remains sad at her loss.  Despite this, the joy she brought to my life was so significant that my abundant tears still cannot wash away  the happiness that thoughts of her bring to me.  There is a unique symmetry that Flirt entered my world on the day that I first was given a piece of Chimeara crystal . . . And in the week after I purchased the Chimeara Crystal business, Flirt completed her time on this earth.  

In my last blog post, I wrote about the day that my friend Angie brought Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner.  Flirt had been a brood mare, and had much success as a mother.  Unfortunately, as she aged she developed cysts that prevented her from continuing her maternal role.  Flirt's owners loved her, and did not intend to sell her -- but they told Angie they would happily give Flirt to someone who would love her forever.  I was blessed to get to be that someone.  Flirt had a generous, patient nature.  It took her about a year to completely trust me, but our bond was very strong.  I spent time with Flirt almost every morning and every evening.  Just as she was calm and patient with the baby goats who ran under her and all around her, she was also calm with me.  In the last year as my life was a struggle, I always knew that if I needed to cheer myself that time with Flirt would do the trick.  I would wrap my arm around her, lay my head against her neck, and feel my heart rate steady as my emotions calmed.  Whenever I had a difficult day, time with Flirt would heal me.  I have had many friends who helped me to navigate the turmoil of the last year of my life, and chief amongst these was my horse friend.

Just as Angie was with me on the day that Flirt came to Harrison Farm, she was with me as I said goodbye to Flirt.  Colic is a terrible, awful thing.  A horse can colic for any number of reasons -- most of which are never fully known.  When a horse gets a twisted gut, the illness proceeds rapidly and rarely has a good ending.  Flirt was in good spirits that morning when we visited, but when I checked her at night she was very, very ill.  I am grateful that Angie was with me that night.  It is one hell of a good friend who will get out of her bed and drive an hour to your farm to do everything she can to help you care for your sick horse in the middle of the night.  Unfortunately, Flirt could not recover, and so we made the decision that she needed to be put down.  

One of the most difficult parts of owning animals is the recognition that at times we have to put aside our own emotions to make the best decision for the animal.  I wanted to lay on the ground next to Flirt and hold her for as long as I could, but Flirt was telling us that she was ready for her journey to end.  The State of Ohio has provisions for acceptable means of euthanasia for animals, and for horses the quickest way in the face of such an issue is to put them down with a bullet.  I am not a fan of guns (I have always been much more comfortable with a knife), but I recognize that guns are necessary tools for the world in which I live.  Responsible animal ownership and responsible gun ownership both involve maturity and analytical decision making.  I am grateful my horse had a good life, I am grateful I had the privilege of being her human, and I am especially grateful that I had my best friend by my side to counsel me through this difficult situation.

The night that Flirt passed onward, it was 3am by the time I went to sleep.  The next morning I was physically exhausted, emotionally stressed, and mentally worn out -- and I then had to face the problem of a large deceased animal in my barn!  I am grateful for the good neighbors that we have at Harrison Farm.  My neighbor James took time out of his busy day to help lay Flirt to rest.  I am grateful that I have such an amazing farm family.  So many of my interns & student assistants reached out to offer sympathy.  This was a testament to the beautiful spirit that Flirt possessed.  After Flirt was buried, we held a benediction for her the next Friday.  The goats joined us as we stood at her grave, which was rightly fitting.  

My student assistant Kaity shared these thoughts about Flirt . . .

"All that I can say about Flirt is that she was and is truly special. She was one of my favorite parts about Harrison Farm. I am grateful that I got the chance to become friends with her. I am even more grateful that she helped me convince Cecelia that I am not too bad of a human. I always gave her a hug when I went to the West End. Now I will just have to give Cecelia two, whether she wants them or not :)"

My intern Elizabeth shared this story about Flirt . . .

"Flirt is a very gentle and lovable horse. My moment with Flirt began during the time I was assigned morning duties one weekend. After I was done checking on the goat population, I saw Flirt calmly standing around the corner. Flirt and I locked eyes as I slowly began to approach her. Once I reached out to her, she then began to move against the palm of my hand as if she wanted me to continue touching her. I began to adore her greatly after this moment. It was later on Facebook that I saw a post on the Harrison Farm page that Flirt had passed. It was very sudden to me, and I started to regret how I was unable to share more moments with Flirt since I only knew her for a short period of time. Overall, Flirt is such a wonderful horse, and it saddens me to know that she is no longer with us; however, when looking at the situation in a positive light, I am happy to know that Flirt is no longer in pain, and I believe that she is now in a better place."

My lasting memories of Flirt involve so much joy & gratitude.  She brought intense happiness to my heart, and her story reminds me of how much I have in my life for which I should be grateful.  I know there will eventually be another horse for me to love, but Flirt will always hold a special place in my heart.  I hope she is at peace.  I hope perhaps she is in a place where she gets to graze with Tewanna.  As my mother Rebecca was wont to say, God forbid I should go to a heaven without any horses.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life-Changing Opportunities; Amazing Friends

Like all truly great stories, this one begins with a goat.  In January of 2009, a woman named Angela placed a cold call to the butcher shop to ask about butchering a goat.  After speaking with me, she decided she would probably dislike me.  Once she met me in person, though, her opinion changed.  I must have done a decent job of butchering that goat, because she rapidly progressed from my customer to my friend to my adopted sister.  Apparently the mental image that was formed of me from the original phone call was that of an over-educated, possibly prissy woman who had married a farmer and was now doing the administration end of a business.  That image was blown out of the water by the reality of Katherine Harrison working a kill floor in a big yellow butcher apron.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

As time went on, we butchered more goats, we butchered pigs, we drank red wine, we shot guns, we shared our sorrows & our joys, and a deep kinship between us was formed.  On Christmas Eve 2010, Angie provided the transportation to bring my beautiful new horse Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner, and this amazing horse brought so much joy to my heart.  On the day that Angie delivered Flirt to the farm, she also gave me as a Christmas gift several horse-related items: a new halter, grooming equipment, treats for Flirt.  Amongst these items, there was also a beautiful etched crystal prism with an image of a goat.  Angie explained to me that this was a Chimeara crystal etching piece which was done by the couple who owned the booth for which she had worked at Quarter Horse Congress that year.  The prism was lovely, but I will admit that I was so fixated with joy at the arrival of my beautiful new horse, that I could never have dreamed that some day far in the future I would be the owner of that very etching business.

But the summer of 2012, Angie's friendship & loyalty had helped to see me through many life transitions.  She suggested that I consider working at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress that year.  This event is held every October at the Ohio Expo Center, and along with the horse shows & competitions, there is a large merchant fair.  I had many happy memories of Quarter Horse Congress from my youth.  Since it fell during my birthday month, my mother & I had a tradition that we would spend a day at Congress and I would get to pick out a birthday present.  Angie connected me with the couple for whom she had worked at the crystal etching business.  I showed up on my first day completely unsure of this endeavor to which I had committed myself for the next three weeks.  It took very little time for me to recognize that Kathy & Carl, the owners of Wilkinson Enterprises, were people of great integrity.  They were kind and caring and generous.  They set high expectations for their employees -- but it was always obvious that they themselves worked twice as hard as they expected of their employees.  Just as my acquaintance with Angie had quickly progressed, so my relationship with Kathy & Carl moved very quickly from seeing them as bosses, to seeing them as mentors, to seeing them as adopted parents.

By the time Quarter Horse Congress had ended in 2012, I had an offer to work for Wilkinson Enterprises the following January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  That was a true test of my endurance and abilities, and I loved it.  My vast respect and loyalty to the Wilkinsons was such that even once I had a new full-time job in 2013, I continued to work every day that I could at their booth at Quarter Horse Congress in 2013 and 2014.  I returned to Denver for the National Western, and even got to help with tear down for their booth at the National Finals Rodeo vendor show in Las Vegas.

Large scale events that go on for multiple weeks are exhausting.  I got to see the Wilkinsons in stressful situations -- dealing with difficult customers, managing employee issues, and working to keep up morale during long, tiring days.  My respect for them grew each and every day.  Kathy is the woman that I hope to grow up to be.  She is strong, and beautiful, and hard working.  She is completely dedicated to those she loves.  In her late 60s, she can still outwork me and look far better doing it!  Carl has given me paternal love & guidance that has shaped me in my adult life, as my grandfather's love & guidance shaped my youth.  Carl treats his wife with love, his employees with respect, and his customers as valued individuals.  I never saw him actively try to sell someone on a product; instead I saw a man who believed in his work and approached every customer as a possible new friend.  From how he carried himself to how he spoke, I learned the valuable lesson that if you act with integrity and carry a product in which you believe, you will be a very successful businessman.

During long hours working in their booth, we shared conversations that are dear to me.  We talked about our faith, we talked about politics, we talked about our families.  I learned big lessons and small ones.  Carl taught me how to size a ring, how to properly use a Swiffer, and how to use a business opportunity to support causes in which one believes.  Kathy patiently showed me how to make jewelry sets, and taught me that patience is a virtue that can improve almost any situation.  They both taught me that chocolate doughnuts are the most important for an event booth, that you should have fun even when you are working hard, that loyalty to your employees and to your customers is an important part of business, and that a business built on integrity & doing the right thing can be successful.  Most of all, they showed me that being a parent has much more to do with acting like a parent, than it does with either biology or marriage.  This lesson has resonated with me as I have worked with the young people in my world.  I may never be blessed with biological children of my own, but I have vast opportunities to use my skills & my guidance to assist the young people around me to grow into strong, successful individuals -- just as Kathy & Carl have done with me.

In the last year, as I have experienced even more transitions in my life, three of the people who stood by me resolutely every step of the way were Angie and Kathy and Carl.  I remember a particular phone conversation a year ago, when Carl had called me out of the blue saying he just felt that he needed to talk to me.  It happened to be during a very tough time for me, and he patiently let me tell him every detail of every tragedy in between my abundant tears.  It was humbling to have a wise gentleman listen to me, counsel me, and make it clear that he thought I was amazing -- and anyone who did not think so was obviously an idiot.  Shortly after that conversation, Kathy & Carl headed to Alaska for a long-planned amazing adventure.  Not long after their return home, Carl became ill, and it was discovered that he had a brain tumor.  The example of Kathy & Carl has shown me over the years what a loving partnership truly means, and their actions since Carl's diagnosis have shown me the strength & grace that is possible in the face of such an illness.

As I analyzed my next steps in life after the struggles of 2015, I knew that I wanted to work for myself.  I am a hard worker, I know how to build a business, and I know that I never want to work at a business without integrity as the founding principle to all business transactions.  In conversations with Kathy & Carl, they provided me with a truly life-changing opportunity: I could take over the Chimeara etching business.  The more I thought about it, the more I knew this was absolutely right for me.  And so I took a huge leap of faith, cleared out my retirement account, flew to their home in Nebraska, received a 48 hour crash course in everything Kathy had learned in 30 years, rented a U-Haul, and drove an etching business home to Harrison Farm.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  I have been touched and humbled by the support I have received from my friends who keep volunteering to help me along the way.  It is inspiring to realize that I am never alone in my struggles or my challenges, with such good friends around me.  And none more so than my amazing friend Angie who took her vacation days, flew out to meet me in Nebraska, and rode 1100 miles home with me in a 26' U-Haul.

This opportunity will allow me to diversify the income stream at Harrison Farm.  It will allow me to set my own schedule.  It will allow me to develop my abilities to create animal-inspired jewelry and etchings.  I have a huge challenge ahead of me to master the skills that Carl & Kathy spent a lifetime mastering.  With their support -- and the support of all my friends -- I know this will be a great success.  I recognize that I am a caretaker for this business, and I will look after it with the same standard of integrity that Kathy & Carl have always used in their dealings.  I will make sure to honor their work, and teach my future employees based on the same standards for excellence that they set.  I recognize that I have been given an opportunity that is life-changing.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  This is going to be a very fun adventure . . . And it all started with a goat!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Deo non Fortuna

On Memorial Day 2016, for the first time in my life, I built a fire at my farm and enjoyed it with some of my very favorite people.  As minor as such an experience might seem, for me it crystallized a recognition of how much my life has changed in the last eighteen months.  I remember Memorial Day weekend of 2015 clearly.  It was such a hot weekend, and I had a migraine that lasted for three days.  It seemed as though everyone at Jorgensen Farms was stressed: the brides were uncomfortable with the heat, the groomsmen drank too much, the mothers were on edge, and the vendors were a struggle to manage.  My boss was always agitated, and my boyfriend was always yelling.  As I write these words, I recognize that such conditions essentially applied to most weddings at Jorgensen Farms -- so perhaps it was only the painful migraine that makes that weekend stand out in particular.  I built many fires for the clients during weddings at Jorgensen Farms. There was something cathartic this Memorial Day about building a fire to enjoy at my own home with my own friends, and it put into perspective just how much my life has changed.

I have not written much about the end of my relationship with Matt, nor the conclusion of my time in the employment of Val.  By my nature, I like to share with others the joys of my life, and thus I limited what I wrote/said about what became the most painful year of my life.  As time moves on, I have reached many conclusions on my relationships with Matt and with his mother to understand the impact they had on me.  I have been blessed to have a select group of friends who have allowed me to cry and to talk as I needed while I tried to heal.  As time has moved on, I have gained the perspective to recognize that I need not be embarrassed by my own behavior.  I loved sincerely, I worked hard, I was loyal.  Unfortunately, those traits put me in a position that made me vulnerable.  Beyond the immense heartbreak I experienced through a crisis that was both personal & professional, I had such a sense of embarrassment at what had played out in my life.  I realize now that I should not have felt this way -- but Matt and Val trained me very well that it was my own fault that they had to treat me so poorly, and this left me broken.

It was a great surprise and a huge honor to me to be awarded the recognition of Woman of the Year by the Franklin County Farm Bureau.  How funny to be recognized in such a way for 2015, a year which I barely survived.  My mother was a previous honoree for this award, and to be grouped in a realm of achievement with her was profoundly touching.  The members of the committee who selected me are three women who inspire me.  I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have these amazing individuals as my friends, and it humbled me completely that women whom I admire would want to honor me.  Beyond this, Farm Bureau has provided me with so many opportunities -- AgriPower leadership training, the McCloy Fellowship in Germany, trips to learn about agriculture, opportunities to meet political leaders.  The greatest opportunity it has given me is the chance to meet others in the farm community, and through this I have found many dear friends.  As involved as I am in Farm Bureau, I was baffled that such a surprise could be pulled off without me knowing.  Many people have asked me the question of whether I had any idea this award was happening.  I truly did not, but I have hesitated to share the real reason why I never even considered it: Matt and Val trained me very well that I was worthless.  Thus, I did not have in my schemata that I could be worthy of any honor.

Healing is a difficult process.  I found myself in a situation where my relationship ended with someone who I loved dearly, which then put my professional world in jeopardy.  Against this backdrop, I had many other struggles.  My home was robbed, my mentor was diagnosed with a brain tumor, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and passed onward, my relationships with extended family members suffered, and my neurological condition worsened precipitously.  My whole world seemed to change.  It has taken me a long time -- and oceans of tears -- to be able to now look back on what evolved.  I hate that all this happened.  But it happened.  Writing helps me to process, so my failure to write about the end of my relationship likely hindered my ability to process and to heal.  I was deeply, deeply in love with Matt, and I could not give up the hope that things could get better.  

Two of the good changes to my life in 2015 were the addition of Bonnie Blue Pooch and Demelza Kitten.  Demelza usually sleeps beside me at night.  When I start to rouse in the morning, Bonnie jumps up on the bed and wags her tail.  My first sight when I open my eyes is an adorable, handicapped kitten and a beautiful rescue dog.  These two give me strength.  I often reflect on their stories.  Bonnie had to be scared when she ended up at a shelter, but she made it into a rescue program that eventually brought us together.  When Demelza was abandoned on the side of a road -- young, handicapped, alone -- she had to have been terrified.  These are two of the most loving companion animals ever . . . And they were rejected by people in their lives, putting them into difficult situations.  They were rejected, they struggled, and then we found each other.  Now they have very good lives.  They make me believe that better days can come, no matter how awful a situation may seem.

When Matt & I were first together, he seemed to deeply appreciate my love of animals.  Because I adore the story of the Island of the Misfit Toys, he would joke with me about Katherine Harrison's Island of Misfit Animals.  As time went on, the jokes were less loving and more critical, until any reference to misfit toys was his way of belittling my life.  It was portrayed to me that the things that were important to me made me particularly unloveable.  As time has gone on, I have learned to embrace the things that make me the person I am -- particularly my love of animals.  Yes, my animals are misfit toys, and so am I.  But anyone who knows the story of the Island of Misfit Toys, knows that it is the misfits who love the strongest and are the most resilient.  

My life has changed dramatically in eighteen months.  I have learned to appreciate even more the people who have supported me and loved me and never wavered in their loyalty during this time.  I have learned that those who did not support me -- who found it easy to blame me because they were actually mad at other people -- who only valued me when I conformed to their expectations -- do not deserve me.  I am finally comfortable with letting people leave my life, when they do not wish to make it better.  I miss the connections that I previously had with many of my own extended family members, but I have come to accept that if they judged me so harshly, they neither knew me nor valued me.  I know that I am loyal, I know that I am honest, and I know I work very, very hard.  I trust myself much more now.

I do not write this to complain or to accuse.  Someday I will write more about my experiences at Jorgensen Farms and at Blystone Farm, and how both places grieved my heart.  Someday I may be ready to say more about why I fell so deeply in love with Matt, how he made me laugh, what our dreams were for the future.  Someday I may be able to share what Val said to me on the last night I saw her, which made it so painfully clear how little I was valued.  Any of those stories would take much more healing to be able to put them into words.  What I write now is because I have become so deeply aware that everyone has a story, that our experiences & our emotions matter, that we must support each other.  Life has given me challenges I did not want -- challenges I could barely handle and hardly bear.  I know keenly how precious life is, how precious love is.  I want to use any time that I have in this world to help those around me.  

My blog has always been an opportunity for me to share the truth of my life as a farmer.   Part of the truth of life is the heartbreak, as well as the joy.  If you are taking the time to read this, you are likely one of the very important people in my world.  I want you to know that I care about you, and that I will stand by you.  I want you to know that I did not give up, because of the good people in my life.  I promise I will grow stronger from everything I have learned, and I will use my resources to make the world a better place.  I promise that Harrison Farm will be a place of integrity and honesty and loyalty -- a place that makes lives better.  We will live as if the world were what it should be, to show it what it can be.