heartbakerswtext

This year makes thirty-one years that two friends and I have spent a day in late November or early December baking cookies together. Somewhere early on, we dubbed it “The Cookie Bake” and it has continued for more than a quarter of a century. For weeks prior we search our recipe files, magazines and online recipes to choose the cookies we’ll bring to “The Bake.”

Last year we created a cookbook comprised of our favorite cookie recipes, personal essays, and tons of pictures. It was a big project, but so much fun to look back over our thirty years of baking together.

Now here’s the shameless self-promotion part!

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone who bakes, or loves to eat cookies, you can order a copy of The Heart Bakers. To quote my five year old grandson, “How cool is that?”We’ve received great feedback from last year’s recipients of the cookbook and wanted to share it with a broader audience.

Here’s how you can order one. There’s still time to make it a Christmas gift. Just follow this link.

 

And as a special treat, I’m including one of the essays I wrote for the book. It seemed especially appropriate given the focus of this blog.

Growing Old is Not for Wimps

I’ve been fortunate to know two remarkable women as role models when it comes to aging with grace, dignity and continuing passion for life. My mother, who died over twenty years ago at age 84, and my mother-in-law who is still very much alive and active, are my sheroes. My mother-in-law is fond of saying, “Growing old isn’t for wimps.” Of course when I started participating in the Cookie Bake all those years ago, I had no idea what the words meant. Not really. These days two of us are card carrying members of the Medicare gang, and proud of it. While we’re still in good health and great shape, the way we approach the Cookie Bake has changed.

Early on I was filled with boundless energy. It was easy to pack up the ingredients for the recipes I’d selected, along with the boxes of bowls, mixers, scrapers, cookie sheets and other assorted paraphernalia I’d need to bring my cookies into being. I’d load everything in the car and make the hour-long drive to Rebecca’s house. Neither snow nor cold nor icy roads deterred me. After all, I grew up in Wyoming, where learning to drive in snow is a rite of passage.

We’d stand all day mixing our recipes, portioning them out onto cookie sheets, jockeying for time in the oven, and then piling the finished products on cooling racks, talking and laughing nonstop.

Our tradition is to have nachos and beer somewhere in the middle of the day to give us a break and sustenance to finish. I always used to drink a beer and eat my fair share of nachos. I’m still good with the nachos, but not so much with the beer. Anymore instead of refreshing me, beer just makes me sleepy.

Gradually I began to notice my stamina wasn’t what it used to be. My legs and back grew tired from standing all day. I compensated by making dough for some of the recipes ahead of time. In fact, I think that’s when my affection for refrigerator cookies came into being. Sometimes I’ll even bake a whole batch or two and bring the finished product. Or I’ll bake the cookies and leave the final touches or decorating for the day of the Cookie Bake. Without really thinking about it, I realized I was selecting less complicated recipes.

At the end of the day after we’ve packed up our share of cookie bounty, cleaned the last bowl, loaded our things into the car, and said our goodbyes, we make our way to our respective homes. And because we don’t live in the same town, there is always an hour drive at dusk for someone, depending upon who hosts.

I’ve noticed the biggest change in my energy at the end of the day. I am literally done in. At home, I pile my boxes and bags on the counter, put away anything that must be refrigerated, and collapse into the nearest chair. I often have to close my eyes for a few minutes before summoning enough energy to do another thing. Truth is it’s closer to half an hour!

Perhaps the watchword of aging is change. In the Cookie Bake, as in life, I’ve had to become more flexible and open to adapting how I once did things. I’ve had to adjust my expectations. I wear more supportive shoes and make sure I get a good night’s sleep before the big day. I have to eat some protein to fuel me for the long day. I drink more water (and less beer!) I have to take more frequent breaks and allow myself to sit down. I’ve had to become more mindful about myself in the process, which come to think of it, isn’t such a bad thing at any age.

Chickadee-new-coat

Remember the book/poem by Jenny Joseph, entitled When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple? It has become Chickadee’s new mantra.

Our old girl has a new winter coat.

A bright purple one.

Up to now she’s worn hand me down coats that never quite fit her. But no more.

She is resplendant in purple!

It’s a heavy one to protect her when the temperature plummets – something I am certain will happen this winter.

She and Pepper are ready for anything. Pepper in red and Chickadee in purple.

It’s high fashion in the pasture.

For the horses, that is.

My pasture clothes are old and faded.

I wonder if the girls will let me stand beside them now that they are so fashionable.

I guess as long as I come to them bearing food, they’ll tolerate me!

 

What are you wearing this winter to keep yourself warm?

 

Ojo-heart

It’s the gratitude season.

Thanksgiving (at least here in the U.S.) is a time to remember the many blessings in our lives, and to give thanks for them. I try hard to live in a space of gratitude every day, but I’m not always successful. It’s another one of those things about life that’s simple but not easy. Interesting isn’t it that feeling down, blue, discouraged, and/or stressed are more familiar than feeling good, feeling content, feeling grateful?

Here’s my list of Ten Gratitudes from the Pasture for 2014:

  1. We are healthy – horses and humans. So grateful for this blessing.
  2. The Golden Girls are heading into winter in really good shape.
  3. We have an abundance of kind and caring people in our lives.
  4. Our human family here in Fort Collins has increased – so grateful to have them living here.
  5. There is a brand new shed in the pasture which means more room for everyone to get out of the elements when they need shelter.
  6. The Herd of Oldsters, while down to three members – Pepper, Chickadee and Amigo – is back together. This makes me happy!
  7. Every day when I go out to feed, I get to step away from my computer and be outside. And almost every time, I see or hear or experience something beautiful; something magical that I would otherwise miss.
  8. My son and daughter-in-law took over the feeding responsibilities when Rick and I recently took a little vacation. We didn’t worry for a minute – what a relief to have such good backup. (Heart photo above from Ojo Caliente and that trip.)
  9. I have a community of horses that know and trust me. At least they know I’m the one with treats and they trust that I’m a pushover when it comes to handing them out!
  10. You! Even though my blog posts have slowed, your interest in our little patch of the world keeps me writing. It is an amazing blessing to have you out there, watching and caring about what goes on in the pasture. Thank you from the depths of my heart.

And Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

Hand-of-Kindness

A couple of weeks ago, right before the big chill, Rick and I made a trip to New Mexico. We were sorely in need of a getaway. Usually when we go away, planning for our animals is a big deal. Once you invite those sweet beings into your life, you have to make plans for them.

With horses there is no, “we’ll just leave a big pile of hay out and they’ll nibble a bit of it each day until we return.”

No sir. Like me with candy corn, horses will eat until they are sick.

Until all the hay is gone.

And that’s just the first day.

This time our trip was different because we have family in town. On so many levels it is wonderful.

On the “feeding the horses level” it was a huge relief. We knew the Golden Girls were in good hands, which made our time away all the more relaxing.

It is a palpable reminder of the best that families offer – how we support each other. The feeling of, “I’ve got your back,” is priceless.

And we are so very grateful.

Pepper-chin-hairs

It’s time to wrap my head around winter feeding.

And if I’m being completely honest with you, I’d rather not be plunged into winter. Right now I can’t find my heavy gloves–something to remedy pretty darn quick!

I’ve moved the feeding time back to early afternoon, aiming for the warmest part of the day. By December I’ll be out with the Golden Girls around noon. Amazingly they quickly figure out the schedule and make the necessary adjustments to be at the gate waiting for their grain.

Coats, a little extra feed and a lot of TLC is what I can do for these old sweeties.

Both are heading into winter in good shape, which really helps. But it’s a tough time for old horses. And these frigid record-breaking November temps have been a rude awakening for all of us.

Hello Winter!

Hay-Barn

When you are almost five years old, everything is an adventure.

It’s something we adults often lose sight of. We fidget and check the time, thinking of each item on the long to-do list that cycles through our mind like a CNN news feed. Stop at the grocery store on the way home, get gas, pay a bill, make a phone call, start dinner, rake the leaves, winterize the yard, and on and on.

You know that news feed, right?

Well here’s something to ponder. Five- year- olds do NOT have them.

Not a single ticker tape runs through their sweet little heads. They spend their days living in the moment. They explore, test themselves, laugh, climb, notice, wonder, investigate, question – live. To the fullest.

And sometimes it annoys the heck out of adults.

We have things to do, places to be, tasks to complete. We grind out our lives, one list of tasks after another. We grudgingly allow five more minutes to those eager little faces, sometimes even fudging on the time.

Unless on occasion we toss the list out the window and choose to inhabit the world through a child’s lens.

Then this amazing thing happens. Life gets bigger and interesting and funny and challenging.

And I swear, when I am in that place of child-like exploration/observation of the world, time slows. It expands, stretches out before me like a magical gift. It reminds me of childhood summer evenings when we stayed outside late, playing with our friends, squeezing every bit of fun out of the moment before we all had to go inside.

 

In the last couple of years two friends and I have designated one day a month as retreat days. We spend the entire day, usually 9-4-ish discussing a book or watching something one of us has recorded, working on a project, or just talking and enjoying each other.

It’s the closest thing to being five years old I’ve come up with.

It’s such a luxury to step away from those darn lists, phone calls, work, family commitments, and anything else that keeps our brains spinning, and just be together. It’s taken us a long time to actually give ourselves permission to be so decadent. And now I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

 

There is something quite magical about stepping out of the stream of life, slowing down and remembering what we inherently knew when we were kids. Life is more than crossing tasks off a list.

 

Life is about living.

kittens-1

No this isn’t the title of a hot, new romance novel, though I suppose that holds an interesting thought. Cowboys in tight jeans, the smell of leather and fresh hay….

No wait! It’s about kittens.

Tiny little explorers of the heart with their eyes barely open. Still learning about the world.

These little characters have had a lot of visitors. It’s mostly been young girls, and me.

On many days after I’ve fed the Golden Girls, I’ll swing by the barn to check on the babies.

kittens-2

Oh my goodness, they are cute.

When I pick them up (you know I do!) they latch onto my shirt, sharp little claws inserted into the fabric, holding on for dear life. And when I try to put them back into their little nest behind the hay bales, they hold on even tighter. “Take me with you,” they mew in high pitched, baby cat voices. I’m certain that’s what they’re saying.

So far I’ve resisted their impassioned pleas. They aren’t even ready to go out into the big world. But as they get a little older, I know the pull will be even greater.

 

When our sweet Mija died, we agreed to wait a few months before bringing another animal into our family. I’m trying hard to keep my end of that agreement.

But, I had no idea that kittens would be involved in the “test.”

Every day when my husband leaves for work, he levels his gaze at me. “Do I need to be worried?”

And I look him square in the eye and reply, “No. No need to worry.”

Yeah, right.

It did help to watch as one of the young girls hovered over the kittens yesterday. She’s apparently named them and knows each of their personalitites. Her mother told me they are thinking about adopting one. I felt better about that. Maybe I can let go of the idea of adoption.

Yes, I can. Really.

For now I’ll get my kitten fix with visits to the barn until everyone has been adopted and I can forget about them.

Are you buying any of this?

I’m working hard to!

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Golden-Autumn

We’ve been having the most gorgeous Indian Summer here in northern Colorado.

And hasn’t it been glorious?

Every weed and leaf is sun kissed. I don’t know when I’ve seen the corn stalks seem so beautiful. Each day as I drive down the lane toward our sweet old girls, I usually stop to admire the corn stalks.

And the weeds.

And the leaves.

I agree with Hawthorne in the quote above. I want to be outside and not miss even a minute of this golden October.

Yet again I am grateful for our commitment to the horses. Otherwise I think I would be at risk to miss all this beauty.

And that would be a huge loss.

What gets you way from the computer or the desk or the house or whatever life expects of you that keeps you inside?

Babies

One of the true gifts of being out with the horses is that there is always something going on.

Something to catch my interest.

Something to take me out of my small world and into the wonder of the Big World. It really is the best therapy I can imagine.

So I thought I’d better check in with the two babies, since I hadn’t done so in a while.

Remember June Bug and Larry?

These two foals have touched everyone’s heart.

Miss June Bug has changed color – she’s now growing into her lighter coloring. And Larry is still the goof he always has been.

They race around the paddock, chasing each other, practicing kicking and running. Seriously you cannot be in a bad mood when you are watching these two little beings.

And for that, I am so very grateful.

Maisey

This is Maisey.

She’s been on our radar in the pasture for many years. She’s a shy old girl, always on the skinny side.

Of all the horses in the pasture, she was the least powerful. Everyone picked on her. She was always at the edge of the herd-a loner. She’d hang out with the Golden Girls, but always on the outskirts. She knew us and would come round for hay cubes if she thought it was safe.

I constantly worried about her.

You know how I am!

Then this summer, something wonderful happened.

She found her own herd.

And not just any herd.

She became part of Amigo’s herd. The very same Amigo that was Bud’s best friend. Good old loyal, reliable Amigo. I was thrilled. After all these years, Maisey had a family. A good family. I think she had a great summer. The pasture was greener than I’ve ever seen it. And she wasn’t alone. She had a protector.

A couple of weeks ago we noticed that Maisey wasn’t in Amigo’s little herd. We searched the pasture, but couldn’t see her. I asked Amigo, but he had nothing to say. Later we learned that Maisey had been shipped to the east coast to be with the girl who owned her. Apparently she’d graduated from college and now wanted her horse with her.

That makes me really happy.

Goodby sweet Maisey.

Thank you for letting me get to know you and being part of my herd.

May you live out your last years fat, happy and smothered in love.

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