Balance

For all of us, there are those sayings that when we hear them in ‘real life’ (meaning, the reality of what we imagined adult life would be like…) we instantly think of the person who commonly spoke them. In those moments, they offer a unique perspective on not only life, but on living, as they tie together the innocent perspective and cherished memories of our past, with the sometimes harsh realities of our present. My mother-in-law is well known for reminding all of her (many!) little ducklings to ‘trust in providence.’ My father would always say cheesy things like, ‘the family that dines together, shines together,’ when we were busy teenagers, and ‘anybody can kill a bug, but only God can make a bug,‘ as he would carry the offending intruders outside to safety. But the one morsel of wisdom that sticks most in my mind comes from my own mother, who incessantly preached that ‘life is a balance.’ I don’t think I learned the truth to that until much later in life. And if I’m being honest, I’m still learning what it means to balance the hectic Mondays and the Saturdays on the porch, the winning smiles and the lonely tears, the ice cream sundaes and the kale salads. But my favorite quote, for many years, has remained:

“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.”

 

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I’ve been so quiet over here in my little corner of the web for the past few weeks. Thanks for being patient and understanding and allowing me to be quiet. Life has gotten really busy and confusing for me, and I’m still trying to work it all out. Rest assured, all is well with all members of the AFM5 family! But the reality is that in life, you are often influenced and surrounded and pulled and pushed by more than just those whom you care about most, and by more than just those who care about you! The hard part for me, is finding a balance between compliments and criticism, between working for more and being satisfied with what you have, and between being content with who you are and wanting to improve yourself. Life is hard! But it is a good hard when I am surrounded and supported by my pups and my family and my friends (virtual and literal!) and my amazing husband.

I know this is all a bit ambiguous and open-ended, and in some ways that is a deliberate, purposeful choice. Maybe by being vague, you will be more able to apply my struggles to your own life? Nevertheless, one thing I have learned, is that I am not myself without this special space. When I write, as much as the words jumble in my head, the rest of the environment gets kind of quiet. There is no pressure to communicate quickly, no set amount of time in which I have to express myself clearly, and no guidelines that limit my authenticity. I am able to slowly and conscientiously select the unique combination of words that puts genuine color and movement and music and texture to the thoughts and feelings and experiences that jumble inside my head and heart. And if I’m really lucky, it may spark something inside of someone else.

So while the frequency of my posts may diminish for a little while, I’m making a conscious decision to share as I work through this challenge and change. It’s a daily struggle and a daily choice. The format and content of this space may change somewhat, but it will still be here. Stick with me, and I promise that I will be back to your regularly scheduled programming. Quality over quantity, and all of that. It’s so easy to continually push until tomorrow, but I don’t want to look back and see what I’ve missed. I want to enjoy the now… snowflakes and sunshine both included.

With all of that being said, I want some input from my friends and readers. How do you bring balance to your life? Are you able to juggle it all, and if so, please share your secret! If not, how do you decide which balls to drop, and at what point do you remind yourself to restructure and prioritize? Thanks in advance for sharing your wisdom and honesty.

xoxo

S

How is it that my dogs never seem to have an issue with balance in their lives? If only they could share their secrets!

How is it that my dogs never seem to have an issue with balance in their lives? If only they could share their secrets!

Soul Mates

Call me crazy, but I believe, in my heart of hearts, that we meet people for a reason. Some may just be shooting stars; a fleeting glimpse of ideals, meant to remind you of the things you needed to remember. Occasionally, these people may stay for a lifetime, a constant source of inspiration or drive. Rarer still, are the people that are our soul mates. It’s not often that I find people that remind me of myself, while still inspiring me to reach for more. In fact, up until this point, there was like one, one other person in the entire world that reminds me of myself. (She knows who she is!)

Anyways, as crazy as it might seem, I kind of have come to the conclusion that our three dogs are soul mates. We have three pups, whose backgrounds are all a little bit different, and yet they get along perfectly. There’s Tonka, the happy-go-lucky people-pleaser (and they say dogs are like their owners… psh.) Anyways, he was a dog park-dog, one that could make friends with even the most impolite of pups. Then, he was attacked by a male labrador three times in one summer, and he started to be tense and defensive around all dogs. It took us a while to get him to be calm and relaxed around other dogs again. While I know he will never be as carefree as before, I can trust him to be the mediator in dog groups, and know that he loves nothing more than a good romp in the yard with other well-mannered dogs.

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Then came Gaige, who probably had little to no socialization before I found her. She has great manners within the hierarchy of our dogs, but can be a wild-child (read: annoying) when it comes to playing with new dogs. She gets way too wound-up and excitable, and loves to play rough. For those reasons, she typically only gets to play with our dogs, or other dogs that I’ve slowly introduced her to, and that have complimentary play styles. She and Tonka grew into great friends, who were never far from one another.

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Finally there is Georgia. Most of you know her story, but after a troubled past, she was not fond of other dogs. She would wag her tail from afar, seemingly wanting to join in on the fun, but if they came close, she would sometimes snap or growl. Even given perfect opportunities, Georgia never actually tried to bite other dogs, but she was careful to remind them to keep their distance. Everyone told me that she would be best in a home without other dogs, but I just knew that if we could show her that our dogs would not harm her, she might just gain confidence from a relationship with them. After months of slowly reinforcing her positive associations with our dogs, we finally began to see sparks of companionship between the three of them.

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For the longest time, we were most concerned about the females getting along, but it has come about that the two girls are pretty much inseparable. They sleep curled against one another, share toys, and are a speedy team on adventures through the woods in search of moles sticks. I’ve never had a sister, but I am so enjoying watching the bond these two share. For as many times as we have grown frustrated with Gaige, while playing rough or being demanding or getting into everything, she has been a wonderful playmate for Georgia… slowly pulling her out of her shell, all the while reading her body language and responding accordingly. More importantly, even when Georgia occasionally ‘shot her down’ with a growl or snap in the early days, Gaige would respectfully give her some space, only to return a few hours later to delicately try again. I think I have something to learn from her indomitable spirit…

"There is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it is sent away." - Sarah Kay

“There is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it is sent away.” – Sarah Kay

What is one of the most lasting lessons your dog(s) has taught you? Another giveaway is in the works for your response 🙂 Jennifer Jacobs Scarry, please email me at sel1490@gmail.com to claim your prize from the last giveaway! It might look something like this…

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Many thanks to Two Hounds Designs for their generous contributions!

To be Wealthy

What makes you feel like a million bucks? I am so interested in the way people answer this question. It is important to note that ‘a million bucks,’ is not the same thing as ‘beautiful’.

I believe that it is a moment we all search for. A moment when we are the rulers of our world, and in total control. It is a moment that inspires us, carries us, and reminds us of what we are living for. In this moment, we see everything that we can be in this life, and suddenly, we can’t imagine being anything less.

"Dreams are always crushing when they don't come true. But it's the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You're always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it's enough to break your heart."

“Dreams are always crushing when they don’t come true. But it’s the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You’re always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it’s enough to break your heart.”

Every great love starts with a great story. One of my greatest loves in life, was my horse Frosty. He came into my life at a pivotal time, and our adventures cover the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys. His registered name, the name we competed under, was ‘A Dynamic Minute,’ which so perfectly sums up our memories together: a fleeting yet divine moment in time.

Losing Frosty was one of the most painful moments in my life. Painful is probably an understatement, and conversely, one that very few will ever comprehend. Even in every happy moment or good day, something would spark that undercurrent of pain, and the crack in my heart would spread all over again. In time (only recently, 7 years later), the hurt began to lessen, and it was easier to just let go.

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Or at least, I thought it was easier. But in every ride I took over the years, I found myself searching for him. I’d seek the lifting float of his trot, or the rocking gait of his canter. I looked for his clownish personality in the barn, mirrored by his stone cold focus in the show ring. I craved the pride from our successes in the spotlight, and the quiet loyalty of our private moments behind the scenes. I missed him so. I missed hearing his name called along with mine, that sweet sound of success that made all of the sacrifices worthwhile. Even the times when our names weren’t called first… yes, I missed those too. Because, at the end of the day, I knew that I still had his giant heart to depend on. Mostly, I just missed my friend, my partner, my champion. I was looking for him everywhere, and when the feelings got too strong, I’d take a step back from the world that reminded me endlessly of him. I couldn’t continue to drive towards my dreams, for fear of what I needed to face, and what I might ultimately find. I didn’t want to recognize my own inadequacies without him. I wanted to remember us like we were those fleeting years, those exquisite summers. Independent of the world, yet fiercely dependant upon one another. Strong and brave, focused and calm. Grey horse and slight girl, gallant steed and timid princess: a fairytale, a living poem. Undeniable champions, and yet we were eventually torn apart by the very thing that drew us to great heights… ambition, though ultimately not our own.

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Our last moments together…

What I am only now realizing, as I write this, is that Frosty, in himself, was my dream. That’s it. Aside from the glory and success and points. All of that would have meant nothing without him. Every little girl’s fantasy of the beautiful horse with the rocking canter, who galloped into their dreams to carry them away from reality. That’s the gift he gave me. The glaring absence of the light that he once brought into my life, sometimes makes every other beautiful thing so much dimmer by comparison. In his dappled gray glory, Frosty was the silver lining to the clouds in my life, and so sometimes it’s hard to see much more than stormy weather. I don’t know how to conclude this to do justice to this magnificent creature. All I can say is that, in all of his glory and imperfections, Frosty was the best thing that has ever happened to me. And, he truly is ‘A Dynamic Minute’ that will last a lifetime in my heart.

"Wherever I go in life, I take a piece of you with me everywhere."

“Wherever I go in life, I take a piece of you with me everywhere.”

While I have finally come to terms with the fact that he will never again be mine, I still work to uncover the reasons why the pain of our separation was so deep and sharp. Perhaps the reason it hurts so much to have lost him is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and always will be. That gets me through.

It hurts that my dreams seem to be so intertwined with him. To face the ascent to my greatest aspirations, I must also face my life without him. I still want the dream I have put down on paper so many times. The dream that has existed in my heart for years. I preach to others that not a single one of us should feel that our dream, our freedom, or our choice is elusive. It should be ours to attain. And yet, my fear of loss, of failure, of betrayal, cripples me. A paralyzing fear that is only self-fulfilling… my fear of not achieving my dreams, prevents me from actively seeking them, which in turn renders them unachievable.

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For me, riding has always been about passion. What does that mean, you might ask? I believe it is a primal, instinctively vibrant part of ourselves that doesn’t come from social status, a fancy car, or a corner office. Expressing this part of yourself radiates a confidence and glow unattainable through beauty treatments and material possessions. Passion comes from our core; from the deepest part of who we are…that place we pull our last bit of strength from, where our deepest love lives.

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Find your passion. Seize it, and make it your life’s work. You will come alive. Most importantly, no matter how much it sometimes hurts, never give up.

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“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”

– Ayn Rand (Russian-born American author)

 

To You

It is no secret to my friends that I am a people watcher by nature. Take me to a crowded mall or busy street, and I could sit in quiet contentment for hours, lost in my own head. This act of observation never comes from a place of judgement, but rather from a place of curiosity. I watch people because they fascinate me. We are full of layers, of emotions and dreams and thoughts, tucked just beneath the surface; seemingly within reach, but ever so slightly unattainable. I am always taking notes on the little things that make others stand out to me – but most of all, I am interested in their passions, those things that set them apart, and set them on fire. I search to see the good in people, and when possible, I like to share my friendly observations with them. You deserve to appreciate your humor as it lifts up those around you, your quiet depth of spirit, or your passion as it inspires others.

I make an effort, at least once each day, to sit silently and watch the world around me. At my age, I am often surrounded by 20-something year olds, bright young things who are seizing the world, brash and loud and impatient. While there is something to be admired in their voracity and drive, it seems that only those who have garnered wisdom from their elevated years, are able to sit next to one another in quiet, and not feel the need to find words to soften the silences. As much as I crave the companionship of meaningful conversation with those that equal me in depth, I believe that there must be a balance in life. For me, silence is pure and divine. It draws people together as much as speech, because only those who are truly comfortable with each other can sit easily together without words.

I turn to words and writing, to organize my thoughts and the questions that seem to haunt my life. The pursuit of the perfect words to eloquently and concisely sum up my perspective is, to me, a divine process. I love to begin with a jumble of thoughts, and once I’ve arrived at the perfect combination of words, I end with a bit of ‘poetry’ on paper. Yet, amazingly enough, there are days. Days when I just cannot find my words. Days of silence, and of quiet contemplation. They happen for a variety of reasons, but on those days, I prefer to draw inspiration from the words of people, times, and hearts that move me. Collecting quotes is a part of who I am.

This is one reason that I have grown to so love blogging. I feel inspiration and support from this community of people, brought together by interests shared or diverse, the common thread of writing and sharing and caring tying us all together. If I am experiencing something that I cannot seem to put into words, someone somewhere out there in the blogging world probably already has. Thank you all for what you do for me, and for the world around you. I feel parts of myself coming alive more and more each day, as we reach to discover more about ourselves, all the while pushing those around us to deeper levels of self-discovery and understanding. Thanks, friends. I heart you in big ways!

Do Big Things

I had someone share with me recently that while my blog was a ‘nice enough idea,’ it couldn’t possibly apply to enough people to ever really catch on.

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Regardless of their skepticism, it did make me take pause. What with our recent announcement of keeping Miss Gia, some of you may be wondering what this means as far as our blog, and our involvement in rescue. Of course, I have already taken on a more active role within LCPO, on their Leadership Team. I only hope to become more present within their organization (even though I’m at a distance) with time. However, I also don’t want to rule out the possibility of fostering in the future. While we can’t continue to be a permanent foster home at this specific point in our lives, there is no reason to think that we wouldn’t be able to do so someday, when our circumstances change (moving, etc.) I also plan to use this space to continue highlighting adoptable dogs, as well as showcasing all of the wonderful things pit bulls are doing in our communities! Finally, I hope to be a resource for pet owners who are facing challenges with their dogs, of any breed. I have a few other exciting prospects that are in the works, so I don’t anticipate that this space will be terribly boring any time soon!

I don’t know specifically what the future holds for me, and that can be a scary realization for someone who is a Type A planner by nature! I am a person that has always pictured my life with a visible end-point and goal in sight. At the age of 8, I surprised my mother by dragging her into my room, to show her the list of my goals for that year, which I had written and taped up beside my mirror! At any stage in life, if you had asked me what I felt to be my greatest strengths, I would have told you that it was my drive and passion. In the past few years, my life has thrown me some pretty swift curve balls, both good and bad, that have caused my plans and goals to veer drastically off course. Those deviations made it impossible for me to stay on track with my aspirations, which thereby led to feelings of immense inadequacy. If I wasn’t driving toward my passions, then who was I, and what was my purpose?

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It finally seems as though the course is leveling, the seas have calmed, and the storms are at bay. I am able to take a deep breath, and really focus on where I am and what I am meant to do. With all that has happened in my young life, it can be hard for even me to remember that I only just turned 23! (It feels good to say only.) In such a fast-paced world, full of successes and fame, it can be easy to feel like I am already behind in the race. However, I am learning to take the good with the bad, because without the heartbreak of defeat, wouldn’t come the sweetest victory of success. I am realizing what my heart’s passions and strengths are, and also that they have changed in the past few years… and that this is okay!

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I know that this space serves as a place to come and read about dogs, but the reality of it is that it is also a cathartic release for me… a place where the world gets quiet, and I can get my thoughts and feelings out on paper the screen in a way that is (to me, anyway) clear, orderly, and logical. For the first time in my life, I don’t know exactly how to get ‘there’, or even where ‘there’ is… but what is also a first, is that I’m learning to sit back and enjoy the (horseback) ride. Literally.

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I know I’m coming across a little bit scatter-brained today, and I apologize for that. What I am really wanting to get to, is that it is important to do big things. The things that inspire you, but also the things that scare you. What is interesting, is that these things almost always also happen to be good for the people in the world around you. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, you probably have an idea of what makes you smile. I know you are sitting there reading, with this big cRaZy dream in your head, and you’re saying, “But Stephanie, I am so busy, and so stressed, and so tired, and so overwhelmed… there is no way that I have room in my life to do more things. Especially BIG things.”

I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong! Do you think that fostering Georgia was always easy? What about living away from my family at the age of 16, and graduating both high school and college a year early? Nope, not easy. I’ve also maintained a job of some sort since I was 10, while simultaneously competing with horses around the nation. So guess what? I didn’t ever do it perfectly, and I didn’t ever always do it gracefully. But it taught me a heck of a lot more than going through life the old-fashioned way.

My point here is not at all to brag… I want to inspire you to do the things that seem scary and hard. Because in the end, isn’t happiness our ultimate goal? An adult couple I know, spends all of their free hours (when not working at their full-time, corporate jobs) volunteering in soup kitchens and prisons. They love to help others, and they love to share their passion for the power of prayer. My brother, who is a sophomore at UVA, and is a pre-med major, is following his life-long passion by not playing on his school’s team, but volunteering as a children’s soccer coach. Did I mention that he is a stellar student, and also has a job? Soccer has been his constant driving force throughout life, and he wants to share that devotion with kids. I have a friend who believes in combining her love of animals, with children who have come across hard times, and messages from the Bible. So, she is pursuing ways to make this vision into a therapeutic riding facility, with a Christian background. A busy mama that I know, is not only a PHENOMENAL mother, but also works, writes, draws, cooks, and dreams… and she will be doing big things one day. A girl I know who just graduated from college, is an aspiring musician, but also spends tons of time with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program.

I know at least a few of you are (hopefully still) sitting there, reading these words, with one specific thought lingering in your mind. Maybe you have pushed it away for years, into that dark little corner full of cob webs and dust bunnies. What is the worst that could happen? So what if we end up a little bit bruised, with less money in our pockets, and less ‘fans’ than when we began… you only have a short time here to achieve your dreams, friends. And if you are happy, what more could you really ask for? I’m not talking about content-happy. I mean ‘life-is-a-grand-adventure, and-I’m-thankful-for-it-every-day’ kind of happy. The kind of happy that comes from dancing in the sunshine, picking flowers, and cuddling puppies.

What I’m trying to say, is don’t just talk about how much you love animals… get up off your butt and volunteer! Maybe children are your passion; do some research, and find a local organization that helps disadvantaged youth. It could be music or sports or cooking or writing… it doesn’t matter where you choose to concentrate your efforts, or even the amount of time you can devote to it right now, but what does matter is that you do it. Just think of what a different place the world would be, if we all put into action, the thoughts and dreams that were in our hearts. Don’t you think that there is a reason you have these inspirations sitting inside of you? Share them with the world, instead of bottling them up inside. I can promise that you will have at least one fan rooting for you. 😉

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

“What would you dare to do, if you knew that you could not fail?”

-Robert H. Schuller