"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016: The Year of Empowerment



This might be my longest year-end review to date...I have been working on it since the end of October! Be warned. :) It is photo-heavy with a million pics that I never posted on the blog. I will be touching on some vet tech matters as well because my job is part of what defines who I am. I'll also be stringing events together: I don't always have time to write about everything I would like to write about when it's happening, so I fill in the gaps as well during these reviews.

And for funsies, a song for each month that was representative of that month, because music is such a heavy player in my daily life. According to Pandora, I listened to 10,319 songs over 660 hours in 2016. That only includes strength training at the gym, riding, cooking, and my time in the OR. I listen to local music radio stations in the car, Soundcloud when I'm doing cardio (I have playlists just for that), and I've played iHeartRadio in the Surgery Prep area as well. I am not kidding: music is all-encompassing around here. :)


January


I love this song. Mike Posner's I Took a Pill in Ibiza, the Seeb remix. It makes me think of South Florida, which we visited this month.

We started 2016 with a bang in the form of a fantastic ride that resulted in these two videos, which were huge hits at the time:



The first real cold of winter hits Maryland the week before Carlos and I are scheduled to go to South Florida to visit the in-laws for a Three Kings Day party. I began this blog when we still lived in South Florida (boy, has it evolved since then!) and this was our second time returning to visit since moving North, but my first time returning where I was actually looking forward to it. We packed SO MUCH into our four-day stay there, and managed to make it to the beach every single day we were there, which was more than we went during our entire last two years living there!


We also danced lots and lots...and realized how much we missed having that option back home in Maryland.


We brought the desire to dance back home with us. Since there were no local clubs in Frederick that played electronic or Latin music on the weekends, we started dancing under the bridge in one of the local parks. I would write about this much later. (See October)


A week later, Maryland was hit by the first real blizzard we've experienced since moving north. It had been a pretty mild winter so far, despite forecasts of above-average snowfall. We got the above-average snowfall all right...all at once (!) in the form of Winter Storm Jonas, aka Snowmaggedon 2016.

Snow drifts on top of car roofs. Our region had anywhere from 36" to 48".
We had tons of fun riding in the deep white stuff afterwards. And also playing in it around town on our own two feet. We're a little crazy like that. :)
Gallops in the snow!

Carlos got hooked on this too. It was his first time riding in real snow!



This was my favorite non-riding winter pic this year! It was taken shortly after Snowmaggedon. I never cease to be fascinated by the ability to see one's breath in the air when it's sufficiently cold. It's one of my lifelong favorite things about Real Winters. Here I was blowing out and Carlos was trying to get a pic of the vapor, which didn't show...so it just looks like I'm blowing a kiss. Haha

I was walking on the back rest of a BENCH. The snow literally came up to my knees!

Two islanders in love with snow.

On the work front, my doctor had been out since December and wouldn't return until February: he was studying for his specialty surgery boards. (In specialty vet med, it is common for residents to take the two months before their board exam off work so they can just focus on studying. Yes, boards are that hard. And they are often out of state as well, which involves travelling.) My direct coworker Alexei and I were working as sort of support surgery techs for the other staff surgeon. I had run a good chunk of Dr. C's more stable surgeries in the month between when I started in the department and he left for boards, but I always had either Alexei or our supervisor Will in the OR as backup to ask questions to/help me find instruments, etc. I got the hang of anesthesia on non-critical cases fairly easily; I just had to learn to read and interpret the wealth of information you get from the many vitals-monitoring devices we use in the ORs of specialty vet med (which aren't always infallible, by the way...you also have to know when the monitor is doing stuff like double-counting on the EKG for x reason or your Doppler blood pressure reading is suddenly low because the cuff slid down the animal's leg), what this interpretation means in terms of what is going on with the patient (the critical care background made this a smooth transition) and how to treat/correct the problem. Once Dr. C was out for boards, I ran a few cases with the other staff surgeon, but she had her own personal techs. So when Alexei and I weren't helping them, we stayed occupied with all sorts of busywork and chores. There is always something to do in a veterinary hospital, especially in its surgery department. But it was my big opportunity for learning, and through a mutual effort of me asking questions and him being willing to reach out and show/teach me everything he did on a normal day, Alexei taught me autoclave and ultrasonic cleaner maintenance, how to set up an OR for just about any kind of surgery (it will vary depending on procedures),  practice running of emergency cases (I had no experience with trainwreck surgeries whatsoever and I needed it before I could be on call), how to set up the ventilator, proper clipping and prepping of the patient for a variety of procedures, positioning for orthopedic x-rays (these can be a bitch to get right, as all the angles of the patient's limb have to be perfect in a specific way depending on the patient's problem), all the instruments you need for every major procedure, how to unwrap a sterile pack and present it to the doctor without breaking sterility, what went into each surgical pack, how to wrap the bigger packs, which instruments were used for which procedures, in which bins they were located so I could find them promptly the day I was running an on-call surgery in the middle of the night by myself...weitlaners, gelpis, satinsky clamps, metzenbaums, periosteal elevators, Jacobs chucks, osteotomes, debakey forceps, the difference between a backhaus towel clamp and a lewin bone forceps (believe me, they look alike if you're not paying attention!)...the list of instruments was endless. Since I was hearing the names said with a heavy Russian accent, I would go home and scour my old vet tech books for the names of these instruments so I could review their purposes again and confirm how their names were written. I knew a lot of this from school, but a lot of it was information I had not used in...8 years?  A lot of it I was re-learning it the way this particular department did it. But a lot of it was brand-new, like the many, many orthopedic instruments.

I lived and breathed everything that had to do with surgery so I could be ready to roll into full action when my doctor returned. It felt very much like Alexei was Mr. Miyagi to me as Daniel-San!

I hope all of you are old enough to understand my "Karate Kid" reference...
This is what good techs do: they read, they learn, they ask way too many questions, they have different people explain the same things so they can get different perspectives, they seek to constantly improve and grow. 

Sadly, not all techs are like this.
----------------------------------------------------

February


Meiko's Leave the Lights On, Crystal Method remix:
"And I don't want to run away anymore. 
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on..."

We started this month with the Fire and Ice Festival in downtown Frederick, which I did not write about here but posted about on Instagram. People come from all over the East Coast for this event the first Saturday in February so we made plans and went...and WOW was the town jam-packed!

Seriously. Our town is NEVER this full!
They weren't kidding about people coming from all over. We saw NY and NC license plates.

Fire pit for s'mores! These were FREE...and they had s'mores stations at three different locations.
Of course we s'mored...
I miss the tri-colored hair I had then!


Ice! So many ice sculptures all over town. These are, of course, made by hand by local artists.
Fire!
This was a booth for local air balloon rides. 
Fire dancers at the end of the evening!
Warming up at one of the fire pits behind Volt, the Voltaggio restaurant. The strings of lights looked like stars.
Just the following day, what was supposed to be a regular dressagey arena ride.. turned into a jump session! It was my first time truly jumping Lily under saddle in an arena in the time I have owned her. And she rocked. I considered doing more jumping as cross-training later on...but as usual, my time got eaten up by other things like dressage and trail conditioning two horses. ;)


Two weekends later, we went down to Davis, WV to visit Liz, for another adventure that I did not write about here. But I'll let some of the pics tell the story. ;) The goal was to spend the weekend playing in the snow while Liz and Dave worked ski patrol, and later catching up with them at night...except we picked the one weekend where temps climbed into the 50s!

Hanging out in the ski patrol aid room at the end of the ski patrollers' shift.
I almost choked on my beer over whatever it was that Liz was showing us on her phone.
Views from The House That Dave Built.
Snow rapidly melting outside our first morning in Davis, WV.
Wandering around Thomas, the town next to Davis, on said morning. 
AMAZING breakfast at The Flying Pig.
We went to Whitegrass, one of the ski resorts in Davis, and attempted to cross country ski on melting slush.

Carlos had snowboarded before in Lake Tahoe and he got the hang of this incredibly quickly.
I had never done any kind of snowsport before, other than walking and riding in it...but I have roller bladed before. This was remarkably similar...I just couldn't make up my mind if in a good or a bad way. I do want to try cross country skiing again, but with real snow. The slush was treacherously slippery and it wasn't long before I stopped having fun.
Cross country skis in the melting slush.
I took a break while Carlos skied on. He snuck up on me and took this pic.
Full moon and mountains later that evening.
Downtown Davis, WV.
Inside Hellbender's for dinner and beer.
Hanging out with Liz at the aid station again.
MY FIRST SNOWMOBILE!!!
Snow is a great way to keep beer cold!
A watery dawn from the deck of The House that Dave Built.
I was really not happy with my weight this month. Riding makes a huge difference in my body composition because we usually ride so long that I automatically eat less. I usually eat healthy to begin with, but beer was a norm with dinner at this point and I was riding a lot less than I normally do in the warmer months. My body composition changed despite still going regularly to the gym, though my focus at the time was strength training. I was doing heavy lifting, which I have done in the past, and always ended up with this same body type: muscular, but covered by a layer of fat. I looked "fluffy" in clothes, and I did NOT like it.

So I started logging every piece of food I put in my mouth on MyFitnessPal, cut out the beers when I realized how many calories were in the varieties that I liked (holy crap...) and whereas before I always backed up on the strength training when my body fluffed up like this...this time I ramped it up and added cardio on top of that. Work was slow so we were getting out early consistently enough that working out twice daily became the norm on work days: I'd strength train in the morning when it was quiet (I walk into the gym at 5:00 am when the doors open), and the in the afternoon I'd hit the treadmill full force.

Slooooow running time, but this was one of my first of many runs of over 4 miles in length.
I also discovered a class called Bang Power Dance which involved aerobic dancing. It was a blast but it was at an odd time in the evening and weekends and I didn't get to go anywhere near as often as I would have liked. On the weekends I would Spin in the morning and ride in the afternoon. If I didn't ride, I would return to the gym in the afternoon and strength train. I preferred to ride than go to the gym twice on my days off, though!

The weather was surprisingly mild for February overall though. I am not kidding about mild...this ride really did take place in February:

I was in A TANK TOP. In 50 degree weather! And comfortable.
I called it my invocation to the Weather Gods for spring. ;)
Carlos and I hauled out with the girls to Little Bennett for the first time in four months and they were saints. I didn't write about it until March! 



The day after that, we hauled out to North Tract, which Carlos had never been to prior. It was in the 60s that day. I also didn't write about it until March. 

She was so good about drinking from puddles! And splashing in them...


At work, Dr. C returned and I attacked my role as trained anesthesia and surgery tech with a vengeance. :) After two months of what was mostly rehearsal, I felt like I was finally unleashed into the Real World of Surgery. I ran Dr. C's appointments with Alexei as my backup for help when I brought patients to the treatment area for exams, and him and I divided up his surgeries equally on cutting days: if I ran anesthesia, Alexei ran instruments and vice-versa. The three of us worked seamlessly together as a separate unit. Our supervisor called us The Dream Team.

I was finally approved to be on call.

----------------------------------------------------

March 


Rihanna's version of Jump was appropriate for this month in more ways than one.
"If you want it, let's do it.
Ride it, my pony.
My saddle is waiting. 
Come on, jump on it!"

No links here, because I actually didn't write a word about the stuff that actually happened *in* March! There was another uneventful haul to North Tract. I think we rode somewhere between 10-12 miles in 1.5 hours that day. We were racing against the sun because the park closed at sundown and it was late in the day when we arrived. If I look thinner, it's because I was: the extra cardio and decreased beer intake was making a huge difference in my appearance, more so than on the scale. (I dropped a couple of pounds, but not significant: I was putting on muscle.) One of my personal lifelong fights with my body is that what I'm eating and drinking will greatly affect the way I look from one day to the other...and also will affect the way I perceive myself: sometimes I will be having a mental "fat day" and then see a photo of that same day and be like, "But I looked fine! What the hell..." Sometimes it's the other way around. Body image is a fickle thing, which is why I try to ignore it unless the way I see myself in my head and the way I look in photos is coinciding.


We also had some lovely rides at the barn. This is around the time that Carlos started going to the gym with me consistently as well, and he was quite surprised over the difference it made in his riding. And his asthma!


And with the days beginning to get longer, I also started to get in the occasional ride on the girls after work. Usually this was Gracie: I was fine-tuning her fitness with a purpose.

The fields already had a significant amount of green on them!
The light on these afternoons was always stunning.
The people that I worked with back then were outrageous party animals for their ages. I liked them enough to want to hang out with them outside of work when invited. One of the big things this year was that I was really feeling the fact that I did not have barn friends: if Carlos was working his crazy ER shifts, I was on my own. So I broke my own rule of hanging out socially with coworkers because at the time I didn't have any other close friends in the immediate region. 

The girls on the Surgery team planned a Saint Patrick's Day outing in D.C. for a bar crawl and Carlos and I went with them. We had a fantastic time; we had never participated in a bar crawl before. I posted about it on Instagram.

Early spring D.C. It was 40 degrees and humid on this day.
Definitely not New York!
His shirt said, "I'm sotally tober"
The purpose for fine-tuning Gracie's fitness? Rabbit Run in New Jersey: it was going to be Gracie's and Carlos's competitive debut. The four of us were signed up for the 25-mile LD. I wrote about it here, also going into details about both Carlos and Gracie's progress overall. This was our first event riding together, and also our first where Liz wasn't there with us. We did get to catch up with Dom, though, who rode in the 50!


Carlos and I had so much fun!!! Rabbit Run is an early-season ride for the region and I would love to return in the future. A lot of people avoid it because of the sandy footing of the trails...and I'mma keep my opinion of that to myself because this isn't a hugely popular ride and that's what made it so enjoyable. ;) 

My fave ride photo of the year, by Dom's Mike. :)







Both mares completed. To my surprise, if it hadn't been for an out-time snafu on Carlos's and my part, we actually might have even Top-Tenned. O_o  

And so began one of my busiest competition seasons since doing the jumper circuit back in PR in 1997.

----------------------------------------------------

April


I fucking LOVE this song and this video is a PERFECT equestrian rendition of it. It goes perfectly with my taking my sport by the horns this month. 
"This is 10% luck, 20% skill,
15% concentrated power of will,
5% pleasure, 50% pain...
And 100% reason to remember the name!"
- Fort Minor, Remember the Name

We started this month with a drive into D.C. on a weekday to go to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms at peak bloom. We had not gone last year and I had been hoping to return this year. It was a warm, violently windy day that created waves on the water and sent the cherry blossom petals flying into the air like snow. It was absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. We went on a Monday to avoid the heavier crowds that go from all over to witness the beauty. If you live in the region and haven't gone, you are seriously missing out. I did not write about it here, but I posted a couple of photos on FB and IG.



See the ground next to the tree? Those are white petals, brought to shore by the waves!
Lines of white petals on the water!

Every year we go see these, I get so overwhelmed by the beauty that I just want to open up my heart and pour the beauty into it so that I can carry it with me wherever I go. I don't know how else to describe it.

I look soooo much like my mom in this picture, it always makes me do a double-take...

The cherry blossoms are especially special because they were my grandfather's favorite tree. It makes me feel a little bit closer to him when we go see them.

There are a million photos like this one on the internet if you Google "Cherry blossom festival DC" or whatever, but this photo is mine. :)
Next up: Foxcatcher, where Carlos and I entered with the girls in the LD. This was two weeks after Rabbit Run. The girls competed, rested for a week, and then got loaded up in the trailer again to go compete again. I was super excited about the idea of riding with Gail, who would be doing the LD as well with the great Nimo, but I was not at ALL thrilled with the forecast: rain, sleet and snow. The closer it got to the day, the worse the forecast got.

We had a lot of fun initially on ride day, but once the temps dropped to the 30s with a deluge of slushy, heavy snow and rain 2/3 of the way into the first loop, the ride ended up being even more miserable than I could have ever dreamed of. The girls were declared fit to continue at the halfway vet check but we pulled (rider option) because both horses were done with the cold and the wet, and Carlos got so chilled he ended up with an asthma attack. Continuing? Uh...NOPE.

"Why are we just standing here in this gosh-awful weather?" -Lily
We were waiting in line for our in-time.
That was Lily's first R/O on her ride record. And Gracie's too, given that this was only her second ride!

We did more exploring of our hometown on the weekends when we were off together.

I love this particular weeping willow.
Some things started changing at the old job, which I cannot discuss. All I'm going to say about what happened at this particular moment is this, because it is part of what changed my entire year...and because it might be relevant to events in this country this year, so I'mma say it:

I have worlds of respect for anyone that takes time out of their life to pray and/or perform a ritual to/for their god, regardless of who/what that god is. As long as you don't try to impose your beliefs on me or willfully do harm to others for your beliefs, I don't care if you pray to the Christian God, to Bondye, Yahweh, Yukiyu, Allah, Gaia, Brahman, or the Queen Spider for that matter. This is the definition of religious freedom. Believing in a higher power, in a greater good, is what gives people hope. But regardless of religion, I don't see how you're supposed to achieve Heaven/godliness/Nirvana/enlightenment/Valhalla/good karma/whatever good you expect in return, if you're cruel to others for the sake of your religion, or because what you choose to do for the sake of your religion makes you so miserable that you must take others down with you. I don't go breaking out my cauldron, herbs and maracas on you, so don't do the equivalent to me.


Religion is cultural to a degree and it is taught/imposed to a degree: by parents, school, colonialists, and in many cases, governments. But to a huge degree in First World 21st century, religion is also a choice. And thus how you celebrate/honor your faith is also a choice

Don't make others (in this case me) pay for what you choose to believe in and how you choose to honor/celebrate your beliefs if it doesn't make you happy. And you know what? While we're at it, don't tell me what I can or can't do based on my gender. 

I will blow your mind.
And that is how, when the deadline for submitting the entries for No Frills approached, I said, "Fuck this shit," and signed Lily and me up for the 55 instead of the LD as originally planned.

I'd been toying with the idea of a 50 on Lily again anyway: we were both more than ready to return to the Big Distances, and this was the final push I needed. My concern had been for Gracie: Carlos and I were supposed to compete together this year, and I didn't think Gracie was up to endurance distances quite yet. I gave Carlos the option of just crewing or taking Gracie on the No Frills LD by himself, but he completely surprised me by saying he would do the 55 with me. I was taken aback...he had always said he would never do endurance distances himself. But he really meant it. I wasn't so sure this was a good idea for G-Mare just yet and told him as much: "If she is having any kind of issue, you will pull, ok? If she is lame, if she is not eating or drinking, she will have to be pulled." Carlos was fine with that. Maybe me being willing to try with a horse is a bad thing. Maybe someone will say I don't take the sport seriously enough. You know what though? It's supposed to be fun first. And how else will you know whether it can be done or not, if you don't try, if from the start you assume you will fail? So we decided to try, with the compromise that Gracie would not be pushed beyond what she could do.

And so Carlos and Gracie were signed up for their first endurance-distance ride.

Both horses got shod all the way around for the first time in preparation for the George Washington National Forest's rocky footing. Hoof protection is mandatory at the Old Dominion rides (No Frills is the first of what is considered the Old Dominion Triple Crown) and there was NO WAY IN HELL I was dealing with hoof boots again, now with two horses. I enlisted Dan's assistance, after seeing how well his shoeing jobs had performed with Q and his own horses at the National Championships the previous October, held over the Old Dominion course, which is among the rockiest in the country.

The mares approved.


Especially Gracie. She ADORES Dan!
I completed with horse and time to spare. And also, I can't even begin to explain the thrill of not having to constantly be checking for and replacing lost boots. If your horse has the hooves for boots, consider yourself fortunate. I will do a correct trim on my horses, but I am not going to trim off a mechanical flare or change the shape of the hooves they need in order to fit said hooves into boots. Not when you can mold a shoe to the shape the horse needs to have on her hooves.

Lily was an absolute ROCKSTAR!!!

Lily at the beginning of No Frills.
Lily at the end of 55 miles: "Are we going back out again?"
I already knew the Old Dominion had added a 75-mile distance in June and from this moment began toying with the idea of attempting it.
Carlos and Gracie were pulled for lameness only 9 miles from the finish. :( It was not a surprise, but the surprise was that it didn't happen sooner: this was a rough, rough trail laden with rocks and mud from the rain we had had all morning. Considering the odds, Gracie did FANTASTIC. The full story is here. Of all the ride stories I've written, that one is my favorite to date.

Carlos and Gracie at No Frills.
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase.
Both horses had the usual vacation I give after a 50-miler: two weeks off. But with Gracie, I did gentle active rest involving light lunging or liberty work in the arena to keep her moving. She had been pulled for what the vets called a left hind lameness, but it was actually her right front, the leg with ringbone. Light movement helped her recover so much quicker.

Tailing up one of the barn hills.
No Frills was the first 50 that Lily and I completed that felt easy for us both. Whereas once it was Lily that went up in the pecking order in the herd...this time it was me that went up in the pecking order at work thanks to the confidence instilled by this ride. I wrote about this in the No Frills review post here

The rise in confidence would make a huge difference in May.

----------------------------------------------------

May

"I live my day as if it was the last, live my day as if there was no past; 
doin' it all night all summer, doin' it the way I wanna. 
Yeah I'mma dance my heart until the dawn, but I won't be done when morning comes..."
- Lush Life by Zara Larsson

I was seriously considering that 75 miler at the Old Dominion as this month ticked by, and with that I ramped up the intensity of Lily's workouts. I wasn't making her do longer rides, but I upped the intensity with hill sprints one to two times/week and a third session a week of gallop sets on the flat that every other week got subbed for a mostly-trot ride of 10+ miles in length. At least one hill sprint session per week was done in the heat of the day for heat training. In the humid East Coast, this is something you do with MUCH more caution than you would on the dry West Coast. I was not putting any additional gear on Lily to make her hot: high humidity (we get anywhere from 60-100% in the summer!) means their sweat doesn't evaporate and thus they don't cool down, so you don't want to do anything that will make them retain even more heat. The only thing I did was add more weight sometimes in the form of the Alta Escuela (35 lbs vs the Wintec's 12 lbs) and did the session during the hottest time of the day. This was good practice for me too, as I have also acclimated to the milder weather in this region and there were a couple of 90+-degree days where I wasn't careful about my hydration that I got borderline heat sickness. This was a first!



We would finish a heat training session with me immediately dismounting, loosening Lily's girth, and hand-walking her back to the barn, where she would be hosed and scraped in the shade with the barn's cool well water until her respiratory rate came down.

Lily's body responded to the hill sprints in an AMAZING way. She always has a butt, but her croup rounded and her coupling (which can look weak if we're not doing the right type of work) filled in with muscle. I was all, "I did that! I put that muscle there!"

My dirty masterpiece.
I was finally fit enough that I was actually starting to get bored in the toughest Spinning class my gym could offer, so I started taking it to the treadmill even more regularly, adding HIIT. I ramped up the intensity of my strength training circuits as well. My body changed even more, and I was positively thrilled. I have NEVER looked like this before!


Lily and I in Beast Mode!
We also made a point of having fun. Every year since we have lived in Maryland had been mostly about riding and working, until now. Since living in this region have gone out more than when we lived in South FL, that's for sure (we were always working in FL; no time) but now went out far more on the weekends, in addition to riding. We love our town, but this was our first year truly taking advantage of all it has to offer.

At our fave Irish bar, watching a surfing competition!
And we discovered brunch. Lots of restaurants in town offer AMAZING brunches on the weekend.
It kind of became our "thing"...
For once, riding wasn't just about endlessly training and conditioning.

I also rode bareback, in shorts & flip-flops, and a hackamore. :)
And in one of the weirdest turns of events ever, my friend Diana came to visit us from South FL for the first time since Carlos and I moved to Maryland, we took her to West Virginia for a ride in the Dolly Sods (thank you Liz and Dan for making this possible!)...and it SNOWED! In MAY!!!

Diana got geared up for winter-worthy weather courtesy of Liz and moi. :)



This was a weather event that at another point in my life, I probably would have said, "Hell no!" at the idea of riding in it. The thought crossed our minds only in the sense of, "There is no way we are cancelling this." Carlos still calls it one of his favorite rides ever. 

But this is what 2016 was for me: I grabbed the bull by the horns every opportunity I had.
And I was rewarded like this.
And then just 24 hours later back in Maryland...

Diana took Gracie for a spin on the barn trails. <3 Temps were in the 70s!
One of the glorious things about living in the Northeast is that this is even a possibility...snow in May in one location, and 75-degree weather just 300 miles away in another! We wouldn't change it for anything. Diana's visit was epic in every way possible.

Work-wise, May marked my coming into my own in the OR as an anesthesia and surgery technician. It felt like I had been scaling this enormous cliff of rock all this time since transitioning from emergency and critical care.


But now suddenly instead of clinging to the face of the cliff with my fingers, I had reached a point where I was merely hiking up steps carved in stone. I can't pinpoint the exact day it happened because it was so gradual. But one day I came to the realization that it wasn't a struggle anymore.


By this point I was mostly running my doctor's appointments singlehandedly and I started consistently stepping up to the plate to take over his more serious, complicated cases in the OR. I rapidly became known for running the disaster trainwreck cases. Not only did I run them well, I used all of the resources available to me at the time: our criticalist, our veterinary anesthesiologist, and Jess, who was the one technician in the entire hospital that was anesthesia-specific trained. I LOVED trainwrecks because, unlike in emergency work where you are running behind the flaming car trying to put out the fire before the car explodes, here I was driving the vehicle before it burst into flames. Every. single. case I ran, lived. They made it out of that OR alive. It was a huge badge of honor for me.

Even with the stable cases, I was having a lot of fun: one of the "tricks", if you will, to doing good anesthesia is finding the patient's "happy place." You want them at a moderate plane of anesthesia where they don't feel pain, but you don't want them so deep that you tank their blood pressure and/or heart rate for extended periods: this is where you'll run into the big anesthetic complications that might affect that patient for the rest of his/her life. And each patient is an individual. Even healthy patients of the same species and same age can have vastly different "preferences" under anesthesia. Some cats, for example, want to have a higher heart rate while anesthetized. If you try to lower the heart rate, you'll drop their blood pressure too much. You make sure they aren't in pain, but once confirmed, you let them dictate to a degree what they need in order to be comfortable while asleep, even if it isn't quite what you would have expected. It is an art for sure that entails a completely different type of "conversation" with your patient, and requires skill and understanding of the fine balance required to keep an animal stable. I fell in love with it, hard.

The problem with being good at something (and this happens in all careers, sports, arts, etc) is that most of the time there will be someone that feels threatened by it. Here is the catch though: I LOVE teaching and have predominantly chosen teaching hospitals to work at throughout my career because I enjoy teaching less-experienced techs and young doctors (our interns!) I have helped train and teach more techs and doctors than I can count. This is another thing I take pride in. And the other reason why I choose teaching hospitals is because I love to LEARN! :) You never stop learning and growing in this field. I'm never going to know it all and that's exactly how I like it!

Now, I have a low tolerance for willful mediocrity. (Lack of talent is a different subject, and lack of talent is actually fixable with drive, dedication and the support of more experienced technicians that believe in you. I have been that supportive tech as well, the one that has helped this type of tech get through the rough patches.) If you don't know something, I am happy to answer any and all questions and teach you; there is no question that is too "stupid" in my book because we all have to start somewhere. I don't care if you don't know basic concepts, I was there too once and I remember how frustrating it was to not know. It is not embarrassing to not know, so long as you want to know. I will happily explain these things to you even on our busiest day, in a way that you can understand, over and over if you need to hear it multiple times. And if I don't know the answer to your question, I will look it up with you because I want to learn too! :D So don't pretend to know more than you do, endanger lives in the process, and then try to turn an entire department against someone that knows more than you do just because you feel bad about your disinterest in learning and growing, because it makes you afraid that others will see through your farce, because you are so embarrassed by what you don't know that you would rather continue to pretend than actually be honest and do something to fix your mediocrity. Because mediocrity IS fixable. I am not going to haughtily flaunt my knowledge in front of you, especially if I know you feel threatened by it, but I am still going to do my job to the best of my abilities because it is in my patient's best interest, which is the entire point of why I am here. I am most certainly not going to pretend to be mediocre just so you feel better about yourself. Mediocrity is your choice, not mine.

Overall, though, May was one of my favorite months this year and it is perfectly summarized in this photo collage:

Our weekends rocked.
----------------------------------------------------

June


"We live where the war is raging
Chasing our crazy dreams
Hoping that the bridge won't cave in
Tonight we let it all go free!" 
- Light It Up, by Major Lazer

June started out with me adding the finishing touches to Lily's conditioning for that 75-mile OD ride. Again, something which I did not write about at all, but I want to go into here for future reference in case this is something I want to attempt again...


I was more concerned about my ability to effectively ride Lily this distance than about Lily's ability to to the distance. So I joined the Endurance Riders 100 Mile group in order to could lurk and read, and learned that I needed to add BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) to my own electrolyting protocol, as well as pre-load with magnesium if possible, which would help prevent leg cramps. I experimented with BCAAs and noticed a significant difference in my energy levels after rides and my own workouts. I didn't feel "buzzed" at all; I just didn't feel tired afterwards, and I realized I could work a LOT harder without feeling sore afterwards. And there is a good reason why this happens, and unlike a lot of the supplements out there, there are scientific studies to back up the benefits of BCAAs. You can read the WebMD article here to see how they are used to aid healing, and the Bodybuilding.com article here for the sports nutrition aspect of them. BCAAs are AMAZING. And there are formulas for our equestrian athletes as well. Of all the nutritional changes I made in 2016, adding BCAAs was one of the most important. You'll see why later.

I did a moderate taper in Lily's activity (you're supposed to slowly decrease the amount of work a horse is doing during the weeks leading up to an endurance-distance ride (50+ miles) to maintain fitness, rest them, and also allow them to peak. It's a tricky combo because it is the addition of rest in the right quantities to a horse that is fitted up properly what will ultimately allow them to peak), with the last week involving two hill sprint sessions, and then a full week off before the ride.

At the beginning of Lily's full week of rest, I received an e-mail from the OD ride manager saying that the 75 was being cancelled because they didn't have enough entries. I was FLOORED. We had to now choose between the 100 and the 50. There was no way I wanted to do the 100 right now. I liked the idea of the 75 because it was literally putting together the 50-mile course and the 25-mile course, both of which I was mostly familiar with. The 75 was supposed to start earlier so we would have been doing the toughest part of the course in the wee hours of the morning. The 50 starts later in the morning, after sunrise, so you are hitting the most difficult section of trail during the hottest part of the day. I didn't really want to do the 50 either because of how much Lily had struggled with the heat during that section last time. But I had already paid my entry fee, so I downgraded to the 50 instead. I was Not Happy At All. This is when I started stressing about the ride: only a week out!

When I didn't get the hint that I just wasn't meant to ride this one, Lily made the call: she came up acutely lame from one day to the next three days before we were supposed to load her up into the trailer to go to Orkney Springs. I couldn't tell if it was her right front or left hind: it was a diagonal lameness. She had blown an enormous abscess on her RF about 2-3 months earlier, which left a huge "V" on the front of her hoof wall as it grew down. It had never bothered her though. Dan had just trimmed her and set her up with a fresh set of Eventer shoes all the way around in preparation for the OD's endless rocks, and he had been concerned about how the bottom of the "V" was now even with the ground, but it had not bothered her...until now. I assumed it was either that, or another abscess brewing. Dan told me to remove her front shoes in case God forbid it was a hot nail (it wasn't), but also if it was an abscess, direct concussion from the ground would allow it to surface faster.

I had never removed shoes before. Dan had left me with an old pair of nippers for this job, in case I ever needed to do this in an emergency (aka twisted shoe), so I set about doing it as he had instructed.

HOLY. MOTHER. OF GOD.

I was really thankful for all of the strength training I was doing. I would never have been able to get those shoes off otherwise. I was dripping in sweat, panting, and about to cry after just the first shoe. Dan does not mess around when he shoes a horse, let me tell you. There is a reason why Liz and I use him to shoe our horses for some of the rockiest rides in this country!

I did succeed at removing both fronts...after close to 45 minutes of struggling.

I then rasped Lily's walls to create a bigger mustang roll to take pressure off of the walls on either side of that "V" (for newer readers: I have been trimming Lily's feet for the last 4 years and Gracie's for the entire three years I have owned her. I do all of my own hoof care except for shoeing. But it's why I'm such an enormous stickler about who I let touch my horse's feet with a rasp.) I slapped a pair of her old Easyboots on her fronts and trotted her out to see if by some miracle she was improved. Not really.

Photo from the internet. The right half of this hoof wall has a mustang roll, the left half does not. Just so you guys can see the difference. :)
I had already called it quits when I made the decision to pull her shoes, even if she had miraculously been sound without them. I texted Liz, who would be doing her first 100 that weekend and was en route to ridecamp that same afternoon to tell her, "Still save that spot for us next to your campsite: Lily stays home but we're coming to crew for you!"

I had the brunt of that OD crewing post written, with all the photos we took of our hurry-up-and-wait already inserted, but I took too long to type it up and then I just didn't have the time to finish it and then I just wasn't feeling it and it had been too long.

In summary: we had a wonderful time crewing for Liz. We got to hang out with Sara and Liz's mom and Dave for almost a full 24-hour period. I had been worried there were going to be too many of us crewing, but it actually worked out perfectly! Since there were 5 of us, it meant two of us could work on Q while two took care of Liz and the fifth person took care of the extras. It meant Liz was able to come into the holds and not have to worry about doing anything other than put food and drink in her mouth. :)

Walking back to our camp area after the ride meeting with Liz the day before the ride.
Liz on the left, me in the center, Sara on the right.
Ride day. Unloading All The Things at Bird Haven, the first vet check and hold.


Waiting at Bird Haven.


Q and Liz arrive in Bird Haven.
Unloading at one of the mountain vet checks (I am lazy and don't want to go looking up the name of it right now)
Both crew vehicles visible in this shot: Liz's mom's SUV and our Beast truck.
Waiting. Kenai enjoying life. :)
Liz's mom unpacking the AMAZING food she brought for all!
Liz cooling off. <3
Liz taking care of herself.
Driving between vet checks. Sometimes it was a 30-minute drive. The OD is point-to-point for the duration of the ride, not looping back into camp until the very end of the ride.
Towards the end of the day, when we gave up on talking and read.
Some of us nursed our beers. :)
And some of us napped: I literally took a towel, lay it on the ground next to that dirt road by our cars, and took an hour-long nap. #survivalskills lol ;)
In-timer in a quiet hold.
The entire crew surrounding Q at one of the evening vet checks.
It was unlike anything Carlos and I had done before, crewing for a 100. We were in fantastic company, which made the day fly by. The moments when Liz and Q rode into the holds/vet checks were always the highlights, being able to see how well they were continuing to do as the hours and miles ticked on.

They made the OD 100 look easy. Liz's story is here and if you didn't read it then, I suggest you do now. :) It is a wonderful write-up.

5:05 am!
We return home and Lily is sound. Yup: I was not meant to ride at the OD this year. The completion rate for the 50 this year was dismal, and most of it was due to problems with riders coming in overtime. I was so glad Lily had made the call.

I also did not write about how Carlos and I rode on the barn trails a lot on the weekends.




We haul out to Little Bennett and discover some new trails. Didn't write about it either, but the pics are on IG.



And I ride Gracie in the afternoons on weekdays I get out of work early. Also didn't write about this. More pics on IG.



I end the month with ever-lengthening outdoor runs around my hometown. I still wake up early on workdays, but now it's to go run downtown instead of to the gym. I am troubled and my long-time cure for a troubled mind is to run, run, run away from it. I can't stand being indoors anymore than I need to, and relish becoming a city runner.

I start a post about these outings and never finish it.

I start at the water. Always the water. My islander genes beg for it, seek it out, wherever I find myself. I ride towards water, and I also run towards water.



My feet pound the pavement, one in front of the other, relentless. My heart pounds hard in my chest as I breathe in air that is thick with evaporated water. Funny that the air will feel so heavy with moisture when you breathe it in, but it does nothing for the thickening blood in your veins from dehydration.

I check the heart rate monitor watch on my wrist: 162 bpm. I slow down to a walk, breathing hard, and take a moment to absorb my surroundings.

This city. This city is so achingly beautiful.



It is the perfect combination of historic and modern, with historic winning the race by a longshot. Every tile, every brick, every wrought-iron gate in this city has a story, its very own story. And I want to know what those stories are, if only these things, these objects, could speak.






A minute has passed. I look down at my heart rate monitor. 148 bpm and still dropping fast. Time to pick up the pace again.

I leap into a run again, my feet hitting the ground to the bass beat of Daddy Yankee's Vaiven playing through my headphones.



My own reflection runs at me as I fly past closed storefronts. It is still too early. My muscles glide over bone, contracting and extending with each stride, effortless. My breathing is controlled. Relentless. I feel like a goddess, gliding across the ground, dodging around people out for a morning stroll on the sidewalks, leaving a wake of quiet stillness behind me.


This is the Dog City.
BANG! My feet pound over a manhole cover. BANG! again as I stomp over a drain grate. Bounce forward. Breathe.

Running makes me feel alive because it is not second nature. There is just something about feeling your body working as a unit to propel you forward as fast as it possibly can, at your own bidding, after months and months of strength training, stretching and cross training in the gym in order to train your muscles to resiliency.




Jesus walks past me. [Frederick has its very own collection of eclectic characters. Jesus, The Pimp, a variety of Mountain Men, the Black Man in Pink...they are many and are what give this town its own unique flavor.] He is dressed in loose white pants and a long-sleeved shirt, a long dark beard, and long wavy hair covered by a cowboy hat. He is wearing Converse sneakers on his feet. I can't help grinning at him, because if Jesus were to return in the 21st century, I'm pretty sure that's how he would look. Of course I would see Jesus in downtown Frederick. He looks back at me in surprise.

One mile in 11:35 minutes. Not bad, considering my average has historically been over 12 minutes.

It is hot and muggy. I feel my heart pounding at the base of my throat and it gets harder to control my breathing. I look at the heart rate monitor. 168 bpm. No wonder. I slow to a walk, breathing hard, and wait for my heart rate to slow before leaping into motion again. 

I meant to finish it. But then July happened and my running came to a grinding halt.

----------------------------------------------------

July


Sia's The Greatest. I didn't really discover this song until the end of the year, but it is representative of everything that happened this month: 
"Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I
Oh I, I got stamina
Uh-oh, running now I close my eyes
Well oh, I got stamina
And uh-oh, I see another mountain to climb
But I, I got stamina!
"Don't give up, I won't give up, don't give up, no, no, no!"

July started out tremendously promising with a glorious first ride at the Point of Rocks section of the C&O Canal. All the train desensitizing had been with the long-term goal of making it to this section of the C&O trail: it is very close to our area and has boat trailer parking that is excellent for horse trailers...but the trail runs parallel to the train tracks.

We had SO MUCH FUN.


Carlos's view of the water on Gracie. We took the horses in the Potomac River to cool off.


The fireflies were out in full force by now, which meant evening walks in the town parks to see them. We had some fireflies in PR but nothing like what you see in this region in the summer. It's my favorite part of summer here!

Fireflies!!!
Downtown
Out and about on the 4th of July.
Honestly, the majority of life was beautiful this summer.

Carlos gaiting away on Gracie.
Dusk and a half moon at the barn.
I had the Ride Between the Rivers ride in my sights at the beginning of August. Originally the in-laws had planned a trip for the entire family to Puerto Rico that same weekend but the trip was cancelled due to half the family starting new jobs and not being able to take the time off, which freed us up for our fourth endurance ride of the season. My goal was to send Gracie and Carlos on the LD with Liz and the group she was riding with, and I would do the 50 on Lily with Dan, who was planning to compete his Arab Butch at the longer distance.

We did some crazy shit this month. Looking back on videos and photos, I'm not sure how we packed so much into the first two weeks of July. Including this crazy below, which I explained here. :) (Not reckless; we had slowly exposed the girls over a loooong period of time prior!)


She is the best.
Work was changing rapidly. With unresolvable issues beyond my control rising, I finally got what the Universe had been trying to tell me. It had started out with a hint, but I was now being bludgeoned with it: "It is time. to. go. It is time to go NOW. This is it."


When one door closes, another opens. And when the time is 200% the right time, I have always found that an entire HALLWAY full of open doors becomes available, thanks to that one door that closed. It's like the Universe goes, "OMG FINALLY! Here, look at EVERYTHING I HAVE COLLECTED FOR YOU while you were dawdling. Why did you take so long?!" It's funny how things work out when the time is right. The Universe conspired yet again.

In the meantime, my birthday on the 15th approached. It was on a Friday, and I worked because I had a three-day weekend immediately after. I woke up early that day and went for a pre-work run, and watched the sun rise over my favorite town before returning home to shower, eat, and drive into the hospital for a full day of surgeries.


I don't remember the day itself, just that Jess brought me coffee from Starbucks in the morning, which made my day, and afterwards Carlos and I went out with her to dinner at a nearby World of Beer.

Carlos had requested the same days off as me so we could have the long weekend together and we had it planned down to the last minute. Liz gifted me my very own Time Turner for the occasion...I have always joked that she has one, and I joked during Diana's trip in May that I had stolen borrowed Liz's to make the trip work.

The Time Turner Liz sent me!
I carried it with me on my birthday.
I had originally wanted to take the horses camping and decided against it because I wanted to do other things as well. We instead planned to return to the Point of Rocks C&O and do a 20-mile ride one day, and spend the second day tubing on the Potomac.

I was really, really looking forward to that weekend.

And then the unthinkable happened during our C&O ride: an encounter with quicksand, which resulted in one of my most catastrophic riding injuries.

The bruises that extended all the way up my right hip, lower back, to my ribcage.
The weird thing about the entire thing, in hindsight, was that a) I had no premonition that it was going to happen, which meant that b) I tolerated the entire fiasco with a million times more grace and optimism than I would have if I had made the decision to go riding on the C&O despite knowing that something horrible was going to happen. (Go figure.)

I had interviews lined up for the following week. I was in excruciating amounts of pain (I could not be on my feet for more than 4 consecutive hours because the swelling and edema around my hip and thigh would get so bad, I then couldn't sit down without being painful too), but I got up and out the door, walked into the hospitals without a limp and nailed those interviews. I made a choice and gave notice at the old job. My timeline of healing is kind of screwed up in my head: Carlos said I would probably be riding again within 3 months. It felt like forever, but I was back in the saddle within 2 weeks. Two weeks! Not on Lily, but on Gracie.

The day I discovered I could ride Gracie with minimal pain. You can still see the bruises on my leg.
Impact (such as from trotting and posting...and running on my own two feet, for that matter) made the bruised tissues on my right thigh, hip and glute feel like the flesh was going to fall off my leg. It didn't matter how smooth I posted or how slow I made Lily's trot: the reverberations of each footfall felt like physical sonar waves moving up my injured side. But Gracie was smooth enough that I could get away with riding her, within reason. I rode her for 15 minutes that first day. The following week (3 weeks post-accident) I did a 7-mile ride on her. I initially had to be very careful about length of rides: more than an hour made it feel, upon dismounting, that the muscles in my thigh were being ripped from the bone. It was an alarming, disturbing feeling. If I overdid it, I'd be sore for a full 5-7 days.

The gym initially was a mission also. I tried returning a week after the accident (which if you read the original post, you'll know that was absolute insanity to even consider), just to do upper body work, but my rib cage was still too bruised: it felt like someone was poking me with a cattle prod in the ribs every time I tried to do any pushing/pulling movements with my arms, even with the lightest resistance. So after experimenting with a few reps of different exercises and realizing most of them were a no-go, I called it quits that first day and took another week off from exercising.

I eventually figured out I could work on the elliptical at a moderate resistance and speed with very little soreness in my injured body. I was able to start doing that consistently by the end of July/beginning of August. It was mind-numbingly boring, but it was better than total inactivity. I insisted on doing something because I knew that movement was important to help the bruising resolve by pumping blood back into the injured muscles, to keep the muscles from developing too much scar tissue (and thus restricting movement later on). I was right: it did help. Once the swelling started to recede, I added long stretching sessions to maintain flexibility. It is crazy how quickly your body loses definition when you stop working out at the intensity I was before the accident, but I didn't care at that point. I just wanted to speed healing without overdoing it, and I think overall I did a fantastic job of listening to my body and my gut. After my third attempted workout, I had the most brilliant idea of all: what if I take BCAAs afterwards? The difference in soreness was monumental, and I was bummed that I hadn't thought to do that immediately. BCAAs became my medicine, along with arnica and BoT.

Carlos was floored by the speed of my recovery given the severity of the injuries.

There was a catch: we were entered for Ride Between the Rivers and it was fast approaching the first weekend in August, and I recruited Jess's help because I did not have a rider for Lily. Jess had been coming out to ride with me on Carlos's work weekends for some time now, basically since the beginning of the year! And she had done a fabulous job with Gracie. Given how similar Jess's personality was to mine and the fact that she had boatloads of experience with hot Thoroughbred mares (she was on her university's polo team and involved with the horses' training and conditioning as well. The girl is a badass.) I figured she would be just the person to try on Lily.

I was right.



The two got along fantastically, and we were able to squeeze a few rides over the next two weeks to make sure they were comfortable with one another. And so Jess got inducted into the wild, crazy world of endurance riding. ;) Lily was downgraded to the LD at RBTR.

As July came to its end, I genuinely thought that I would be able to tolerate 4 hours riding Gracie in the LD at Ride Between the Rivers so I could guide Jess on her first competitive ride with Lily.

My beloved Astarte, whom I never wrote anywhere near enough about on this blog, was not doing well at all by the last week of this month, and we made the decision to let her go. I still can't talk about her much and even now writing about her makes me cry. I could not be with her during her last moments, but Carlos was there to hold her. She adored him. That post is here. And it happened on my last day at my old job.

In Astarte's name, I ran one of the most difficult, most unstable anesthetic cases I have ever run so far. The patient made it.

I left with a bang.


----------------------------------------------------

August

Will you realize when I'm gone
That I dance to a different song
Will you realize when I'm gone
That I dance to a different song?
It's a shame but I've got to go...
This Girl by Kungs vs. Cookin' on  3 Burners

New job, new commute, new state, new world. The joy of living in the VA/MD/DC area as a veterinary professional is that you have access to three different states with different rules on veterinary technician credentialing. Virginia is the only one of the three where licensing is mandatory (aka you HAVE to have a vet tech degree and you have to have passed your board exam. In states where this isn't required, a lot of techs are trained on the job), which means technicians are using their knowledge and degrees to their full extent, as the equivalent of registered nurses in the medical field. (We actually do 5x what an RN is allowed to do, but I could write an entire separate post about that one...) It also means that they are paid accordingly. When we moved to the region and weren't sure where exactly we were going to be settled, I transferred my FL certification to VA's license, since it was the one state in this region where it mattered.

Smart. Because now I was working in Virginia. :)

Gorgeous skies on the way to New Job one morning.
During my first week at the new job, though, I realize I am probably not quite up to riding an LD just yet, even on my gaited creature. We arrive at RBTR that following weekend and decide that it will be Carlos riding Gracie in the LD with Jess on Lily, and they will be in the company of Dan, Liz, Austen and a few other friends.

The combo post about the ride, written by both Carlos and me, is here. Lily had her first lameness pull (due to a lost shoe) and Carlos and Gracie came in overtime. Gracie looked fabulous.

Carlos had so much fun with Dan on trail!
But Lily had not taken care of herself, for reasons that I am still not sure of, despite her elyting and feed protocols being the same they had been at other rides previously. (Doesn't mean anything though: a horse's needs can completely change from one ride to the next.) Jess had done everything right on trail. I chalked it up to excitement over riding with such a large group + a new-to-her rider. And Jess got hooked on the sport!

I doubt we'll return to RBTR. Just pre-riding a short loop on Gracie with Carlos on Lily brought back what amounted to sheer terror over that trail after Griffin and I had a near-miss with one of its cliffs two years ago.


This time it was too soon after July's events and I had way too much time on my hands while crewing to ponder on everything that had happened: I was not in a good place mentally to do small talk so I just hung out in camp alone. The ambulance leaving to pick up my horse and not knowing what the hell had happened was more than I could bear at the time and I spent the longest two hours of my life trying to not turn into a hysterical, blubbering mess. I snapped mentally at this ride just hanging out in camp and nobody noticed. Which was the point, that nobody notice, but it all came out in the write-up.

This ride is at a tricky time of year for us anyway: it is hot for the horses, and I have officially decided that we are not trailering anywhere in July with the girls, which limits conditioning rides for RBTR anyway. This is the third year in a row where something catastrophic happens to one of us in July and I am so done with it. July used to be my favorite month because it's my freaking birthday. I want it to be my favorite month again.

The rest of August was a wonderful blur, that I wrote about here.

Liz came into town for a dressage clinic with Stephen Birchall at Austen's barn.  Liz's post about the clinic is here. My assignment was to get All The Media. :D And absorb information like a sponge: what I learned at this clinic would be applied to Gracie's regimen.
I'm still looking for this grapefruit wine...it was delicious.
Proof that I was there. Austen and I were taking video and photos of Liz's ride with Stephen. Photo by Emma.
Alive @ Five in one of our favorite parks. My bruises were gone: I was back to wearing short-shorts.
Outdoor reggae concert in town.

No filters used on this photo.
Lily gouged her butt in this year's Mystery Wound. It was interesting, to say the least, mainly because she injured herself in the same spot where I was injured. Her and I made an agreement and her healing was a breeze. The rest of my healing was a breeze too. I wrote all about that in detail here.


And I was finally able to ride my mare again with minimal pain.


Which takes us into September.

----------------------------------------------------

September


Cause we all get lost sometimes, you know?
It's how we learn, how we grow. 
Cold Water, by Major Lazer and Justin Beiber
I love Major Lazer. He was one of the big discoveries of the year for Carlos and me. I had this song on repeat on one of my playlists for a good chunk of the summer.

September was hot and Carlos and I kept ourselves entertained, mainly by dancing. Outside. In random spots around town. Because you're not a true Fredneck if you're not weird. ;) (See July.) I posted enough pics of us on IG and FB dancing that I finally wrote this post explaining the backstory of why we dance under the bridge. This is one of my favorite videos of us together to date:




We were also social. 

Out with Jess :)


In the rooftop area of our favorite bar.


And we started Fridays. Fridays are an Event around here most of the time since September: it started out with Shanna and me (we are dead center in this photo, chattering away excitedly), with Carlos when he wasn't working, and soon Jess and Meggan start joining us as well.


This photo would be complete if Shanna was in it...but she is the one that took it!
We were happy and giddy and sweaty from dancing in a hot stifling club for hours.
September was also the month that Carlos and I went to the Outer Banks. There were many favorite parts to this year. This trip was one of them. I wrote all about it here








An islander in her natural habitat.


In September I was also finally able to return to the gym in full force, back to my usual 5-6 day/week routine. Towards the end of the month, I was able to start adding short runs back into my workout schedule.

Gracie had her hocks injected this month in preparation for what was my last competitive goal for this year: to attempt a 50 on her myself. Her hocks were overdue; I had wanted to get this done regardless but the upcoming competition motivated me to put a date to it.

Gracie felt like a million bucks afterwards.

First ride post injections...someone felt so good, she forgot what "walk" meant...
Carlos had proven himself to be perfectly capable of handling Lily now as well, so I basically rode Gracie exclusively, with Jess and Carlos accompanying me on trails on Lily. My goal with the 50 was to have Lily compete as well, with Jess on board, so Lilybird got her conditioning in too.

Jess finishing up one last hill sprint rep on Lily.
Carlos doing gallop sets on Lily. I love the stills and video that correspond to this moment because they looked like such freaking badasses.
Riding a hot, uber-fit gaited locomotive one evening...bareback.
Shanna started coming out to the barn to ride during this time as well.


I finished this month with this post, where I talked about a bunch of really personal stuff that I normally wouldn't have dreamed of discussing on the internet. But this was the year of toeing the line in oh so many ways...and I went "Fuck it" and hit "Publish." I LOVED the comments this post brought about! <3

----------------------------------------------------

October


All heat, no smoke, but she on fire
If they suicide doors, she goin' for a ride..
Millionaire, by Cash Cash & Digital Farm Animals
It is especially appropriate because Gracie's registered name is Millie-On-Aire. And this month was all about her!

October brought with it a short, fairly warm autumn season. My life mainly revolved around fine-tuning Gracie's and my fitness for the Fort Valley 50 at the end of the month. I was able to ramp up my running back up to pre-accident levels as if nothing had ever happened.

Carlos on Lily, on a glorious fall afternoon.

My favorite non-competition ride photo of the year.
I even rode Lily on trail this month for the first time since the accident in July!
My uncle came to visit. He is my mother's brother, and I had not seen him in over 9 years. His visit caused a ripple effect, brought our family even closer together, and earned me another fan in my court. I started the Bloodline series, which is nowhere near as big a hit as the Tales From the Trenches series, but that's okay. My end goal is to put those together into a book someday, maybe, and the blog is a good place to put them in the meantime.

New Job has a handful of offices in the region, with headquarters located right outside of D.C., which is a 50-mile hike for me one way. They were short on staff this month so some of us at my office picked up shifts over there to help out. I was one of those people. It was fun because their way of doing medicine was different from my home base. Not in a good or bad way, just a different way to arrive at the same answers, which is only more tools in the toolbox for any medical professional. I would ask to return to headquarters on a more frequent basis. #neverstoplearning

And finally, at the end of the month, Fort Valley. Jess and I had a ton of fun on trail riding the girls but in the end, Gracie had a metabolic pull for a hanging pulse and Lily had a lameness pull for what ended up being an abscess on the heel of her right hind. The pulls were disappointing, but neither problem was unresolvable, and in Gracie's case I knew exactly where I had gone wrong with her elyting protocol and how to fix it. I am still certain that she would have completed if I had remembered the damn saddle bag with electrolytes for the first loop of the ride. With extra time that afternoon, she recovered fabulously. She lost no weight during the ride and wasn't tired in the least the next day. Despite the pulls, I still consider this ride a success for G-Mare.

Photo by Becky Pearman. I love this photo because she looked SO HAPPY!
Gracie's ride record for her first year competing is literally a sampler of everything that can happen: she has one completion, one R/O (rider option), one lameness pull, one overtime and one metabolic pull. Which is why, in this sport, the motto "To finish is to win," is so appropriate. It isn't easy. And that's how I prefer it.

In attempting Fort Valley on G-Mare, I also discovered that I have not one, but TWO horses that not only enjoy their jobs, but are wonderful company when literally spending the entire day in the saddle. When it comes to this sport, that really is all that you can ask for.

----------------------------------------------------

November


The Hanging Tree, which I kept randomly playing this month.

I'm only going to go into my personal view of this month, but for you to understand my perspective, I'mma tell you a little about how things work where I come from. I am going to say the "p-word" but please read because most people in the US are not familiar with island governments. I suggest grabbing a cup of your beverage of choice before you read on.

I have never really cared much about politics (<- that's the "p-word" I'm referring to), even when living on the island, where politics was a national sport. You think the tension leading up to this year's elections was bad? You don't want to know what it's like on my island: people get divorced over politics over there. Families get split up over the subject! The political parties in PR revolve around whether the island should become a state or remain a commonwealth, with a much, much smaller party (less than 10% of the voting population) that wants Puerto Rico's independence.

The PR statehood party (PNP = Partido Nuevo Progresista, aka "New Progressive Party") is strongly affiliated with the Republican Party on the mainland, and the commonwealth party (PPD = Partido Popular Democratico, aka Popular Democratic Party) is strongly affiliated with the US Democratic Party. You can usually predict which party is going to win in the US or PR based on how trends are moving in one or the other. If the statehood party wins on the island (they declare the win a few hours before the US), you can pretty much bet that the Republican Party is going to win here. It is also why Puerto Ricans are actually taught how each party works both on the mainland and on the island because we have the opportunity of experiencing each party's repercussions with a magnifying glass. This is how we learned that Republican governments on the mainland don't favor the working class "little people" in the US or elsewhere. (Maybe at one point in past history, but this has changed.) Wealth doesn't trickle down. Which is incredibly ironic: the statehood party is affiliated with the one US political party that will never grant the island the statehood! Why? Because Republican governments don't give a hoot about the island. Not at this point in history, when our resources have been sucked dry by the dependency the island has developed for the mainland. A dependency that was created by the mainland.

So what about the PR independence party? They are considered more extreme liberals. They used to be the island's strongest political party back in the early 1900s because Puerto Rico actually did get to be an independent country for all of 5 minutes (okay, it was months...but from a history standpoint, months = minutes.) Those 5 minutes occurred between Spanish colonialism, where there was a HUGE revolt and our tiny island won (against one of that era's international superpowers...we WON...), and the US appropriation, where the island was awarded to the US as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1898 when the US won the Spanish-American War. The independence party was developed over the course of the next couple of decades in response to the new imposed colonialism and later as a form of protest over the draft for World War I, made mandatory by the Jones Act in 1917 when we became US citizens. And so this is how the independence party came to be one of the oldest political parties on the island, but also one whose existence wasn't exactly welcomed by the US because basically its members made everything so much more difficult.

So why does this party barely have any members today? Because they were persecuted. By the US.

In the 1930s, PR governors were North Americans appointed by the US President. Governor Winship was one of these governors and he was the first to start keeping lists of members of the independence party so they could be monitored for being "unloyal citizens." Aka pains in the ass. Up until the 1950s, Puerto Rico's police was headed by officers of US Armed Forces...and usually it was someone that just so happened to be a specialist on military intelligence. And that is how the Puerto Rican independence movement became the second most-important target of the FBI's Counter-Intelligence Programs in 1956. (What was the first target? Communism!)  Yep, PR was that important to the mainland at one time because we used to be one of the largest producers of sugar in the Americas. We were so important to the US that the possibility of us rebelling was second in importance only to eliminating communism!

So anyway, that is how the members of the independence party became actively persecuted, first secretly and later openly in the 1970s. The information on these members was kept in police files, aka carpetas, which in Spanish means "binder." My Aunt Lucy's SO, who was the love of her life and whom she was engaged to marry at the time, was one of the independence party's more revolutionary members and he had a carpeta and a price placed on his head. He fled to the mainland both to keep his life and to protect her, and she could not follow him: this coincided with my grandparents' divorce and she was the main breadwinner of the family. She stayed on the island to take care of the family. (Our family, including my Aunt Lucy, has historically been part of the commonwealth party, including myself.)

People in PR were arrested and murdered. People were threatened. People had to escape to the US. That seems ironic, given that it was the US government that was driving the persecution, but the goal was achieved: the party was disbanded. Once the most influential people of the independence party had left the island, their scope of influence was greatly diminished thanks to an era where social media and the internet didn't exist yet. And that is how my island's most powerful political party was decimated into practical non-existence. In a democracy overseen by the United States, by the United States itself. It's called political surveillance. And if ya think that stuff can't happen in a democracy in modern times, welcome to life in the rest of the Americas, baby.


IN THE SUMMER of 1987 Puerto Rico was shaken by revelations that the island's police was collecting information on so called “political subversives,” and that it was in possession of thousands of extensive carpetas (files) concerning individuals of all social groups and ages.

In the midst of considerable local scandal and under pressure from an inquisitive press, the local legislature approved a petition of information to the police, while both the governor of the island and the secretary of justice characterized the practice of keeping secret files as “unconstitutional.”

Several individuals filed court petitions against the police and against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The courts ruled in favor of the petitioners, instructing the police to return the files to the individuals and to reveal the names of the informants.

Approximately 75,000 persons were listed as under political police surveillance. There were 151,541 entries encompassing individuals (74,412) and organizations, vehicles, boats, and geographic areas (60,776). These 135,188 entries in the central archives of the police were complemented by another 11,353 entries in regional police archives, and approximately 5,000 in the Bureau of Special Investigations of the Justice Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The massive surveillance apparatus uncovered was aimed primarily against Puerto Rico's independence movement. Because the regional and central archives contain duplicates, and the same individuals are listed under personal files and files of organizations, the actual number under surveillance is smaller than the number of files.

Approximately 15,589 different persons had extensive police files for political reasons. This is a significant number in an island with a population of 3.8 million people. An equivalent level of political surveillance in the United States would signify the existence of 10,847,145 entries for organizations, individuals, and property, and 1,115,844 extensive files on “political subversives.”

-Translated excerpt from Las carpetas: persecucion politica y derechos civiles en Puerto Rico by Ramon Bosque-Perez and Jose Javier Colon-Morera, (Rio Piedras: Centro para la Investigacion y Promocion de los Derechos Civiles, 1997)

You can read more on the subject (in English) here. It is a review of the book I'm quoting above, but it is a great overview of what happened and why.

There is much to be learned from the history of other countries, and it is sad that the subject is not really touched upon in US school curriculums unless one is a history major in college or has enlightened teachers and professors that care.

My point here is: the things that a lot of us are afraid of happening here with the new group of people that are being chosen to run this country, that others say is not possible because of the laws and the Constitution, can most certainly happen here. This is not about one candidate losing, it is about the very real possibility of large groups of people losing their civil rights, including women. All it takes is a government that chooses to turn a blind eye to its people and do whatever it wants. If this country is happy to do so with other countries that it calls its territories, what's to stop it from doing it at home? Do you understand my point of view? You don't have to agree with it, but I think it is important to consider the way an outsider sees this. The US aside, this type of scenario can and does happen in countries that call themselves democratic. And some of history's greatest dictators were elected by their people. Example: Hitler. Another example: Fulgencio Batista. He was the president of Cuba before Fidel, and he was elected. He then became a dictator...backed by the US government! Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution with the support of his people to overthrow Batista...and also overthrow the power the US held over the island nation. This is one of the many, many reasons why Fidel hated the United States so much from the get-go. (That he became an iron-fisted controlling egomaniac when he himself was in power to the point of causing a mass exodus, is a separate story.)

The evening of November 8, 2016, my mom texted me, "Ricky Rossello won." My heart dropped to my feet. Ricky Rossello was the candidate for the statehood party. I'm not even going to go into the fact that I was in the same school as him, and can tell you he was a waste of space even as a kid, with a dad that was as corrupt as they come. It's a really small world on the island. Ricky's dad was the one that did the acceptance speech, not his son.

I glanced at my mom's text and then looked up the current tally on the US elections. As if on cue, the orange candidate had just taken the lead. I emptied my wine bottle, took a Benadryl, and tried to go to sleep. I already knew who was going to win on the mainland. It was only 8:00 pm. I slept a grand total of two hours.

It has been frightening watching the people being chosen to run our government for the next four years. It's akin to a bad Tarot card reading, watching each card get laid out on the table one by one. (And no, I've never had the Tarot read because this type of thing freaks me out.)


But something beautiful happened in the process: less than a week after the election, people started voicing their opinions on social media, sharing the news that disturbed them and getting into arguments a lot of the time...but sometimes leading to real conversations from both sides where differences of opinion were calmly discussed in a rational matter. People that agree on what is good and right are bonding tightly together and taking a stand together, regardless of political affiliation.

I've always thought it funny how "I love you" seem to be the three most feared words in the English language. It is not so in Spanish because we have more phrases for expressing love. "Te quiero" means "I love you" in the gentler, rosier form. It is common to say it to friends regardless of gender, to family members, to a potential significant other in the beginning of a relationship before things are "official". We even abbreviate it at ends of texts, messages and e-mails: "TQM!" = "Te quiero mucho!" aka "I love you lots!" "Te amo" also means "I love you," but it is love in its more fiery manifestation. It's akin to passionate love, to LOVE in capital letters, but it is not limited to romantic love. It's what you tell the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and what you tell people that you would die for.

In the wake of the election results, I have never before seen those three words pop up so frequently: "I love you," has come up in the middle of heated discussions, as a way to make peace, as a way of saying "We are in this together!" "I won't abandon you," "You are not alone." I was used to saying it to my Hispanic friends, but it has suddenly become the norm to say it to my North American friends as well.

It is so beautiful it gives me the best kind of goosebumps.

We finished November by celebrating Thanksgiving with Liz and her family.


The post about our Thanksgiving is here. And the photos Liz took of us are amazing.



Can we all just continue loving one another in 2017? Please?

----------------------------------------------------

December

"Hey baby it will all be fine, take a deep breath, let me blow your mind.
Hey baby leave it all behind, show me your love let me show you mine..."
- Hey Baby by Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, featuring Diplo (who is also Major Lazer...)

I didn't write much of substance on the blog in December because I honestly wasn't riding much. I had a bunch of pet portraits that I needed to finish before Christmas and on the days when I would have had time to ride, the weather didn't cooperate. So I went to the gym a lot.

There were more rides with Shanna.


And one ride with Jess where we rode into the nearby Real landfill, galloped all over their fields on a day when they were closed...and got caught! We basically ran hell bent for leather toward the exit of the landfill with the truck of the one person working that day hot on our heels. "We're leaving, we're leaving! We got lost!" (No, not really...) Whoops. We giggled uncontrollably all the way back to the barn. Leave it to Jess and me, the two Good Girls, to get into trouble when they're trying to have fun! It was a great adventure. I didn't write about that...

Jess is Lily's #1 fan after me, seriously.
I think this was the only moment when we walked...

We pretended we were galloping on the Scottish moors. It was the perfect day for this kind of game, with the chilly damp air and overcast skies.

I rode Gracie bareback lots. 

Shown with bareback pad.


One week before the month ended, I was challenged at work with the one procedure that I had always dreaded running anesthesia on: a pericardiectomy, where a window is cut into the pericardium (the outer sac of the patient's heart) to relieve pressure from fluid build-up within the heart. If you don't do the surgery, the patient will die, his heart choked out by the blood that can't escape. If you do the surgery, the patient can die anyway.

I was intimidated by the procedure itself because I had never run one before and as stated above, this is a life-or-death type of surgery that can turn into death-or-death even if everyone does everything right, but the entire team of doctors rallied around me and convinced me I could do it, that I had enough knowledge and experience to pull the patient through (the surgeon operates, but it is my job to keep the patient alive)...and I was victorious. Not only did my patient live, he came out of surgery more stable than he was going in.

I blasted the radio and sang at the top of my lungs all the way home that night.


This scene from The Green Hornet below is a very accurate representation of what it feels like to run an emergent unstable critical case, whether in the OR or the ER, and it applies to the human nursing side as well. The patient's conditions are changing in fractions of a second and when you know what to do, it's like time suddenly slows down. You are hyper-aware of everything that is happening at once and in what order you must do things so you can (hopefully) change what is happening. It feels like slo-mo because every ounce of energy in your body is focused on doing this one thing at a time in the order that it must occur, but you are actually moving really fast; the patient's heart beats on the EKG becoming your metronome, your timer. It's hard to explain, but Kato's point of view in this fight is spot-on. If you only watch the first 30 seconds of it, you'll understand what I'm talking about. :)




On the last day of the year, I rode Lily bareback(ish) again and let go.


The bareback pad + saddle pad underneath resolved the high wither discomfort...



Carlos joined me on Gracie.
I was so excited. Lily was all, "Mom, wtf are you doin? Staaahp."

I love this mare.
That night, we met up with a handful of the people that were most significant this year, and waved 2016 good-bye.

Shanna and me on the way to dinner.
Partying like rock stars at our favorite Irish pub, with Jess and Meggan, who joined us after dinner!
I have never laughed so much on a New Year's Eve. We stayed up well past midnight, walking around town, talking and laughing. The laughter and camaraderie were the best part.
We always spent it alone or with family, dating all the way back to when I was a kid. I got a long-standing wish last night: I had always wanted to spend New Year's with my man and a group of friends with whom I could just be myself. 

The Universe opened her hand and gave me this, too.

2016 was an EPIC year for us in our corner, and one that I will remember for a very long time. 

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The people that were most life-altering this year


Jess
Before I go on, I want to point out something that most people do not know about working in the nursing field (both veterinary and medical): the quality of your relationships with your coworkers is an intrinsic part of being able to successfully do your job. It is hard to have endless compassion and patience with patients when you are monumentally stressed out because there is coworker tension in the hospital. The toughest part of veterinary medicine, specifically, is that you have an entire world of people that choose to work with animals because they love them so...but also because they don't really want to work with people! Most of us don't really want to deal with people at all. But you still have to work with people: you have to work with distraught/concerned/angry/sad pet owners, and you have to do this while working alongside people that might be socially awkward, intense, type-A personalities. Most of us do not take psychology classes in vet tech or vet med school, unless we have previous degrees in other subjects or are able to take Psych courses as electives. (I believe this has changed in more recent years on the vet med side, at least, and Psych classes are being built into the curriculum in some veterinary schools.) And that can and does cause friction, especially if you have one or more coworkers that have toxic personalities, are lazy, uninterested in learning more/changing their methods to better ones simply because "no harm has ever come of doing things this way," that enjoy stirring the pot for the sake of drama, that have conflicting views on what constitutes "good" medicine. Both Carlos and I have dealt with these situations in their full spectrum in our jobs. Bullying, backstabbing, personal vendettas for no good reason, passive aggressiveness, redirected aggression, sabotage for the sake of competitiveness, wilful laziness, all abound in the medical and veterinary fields, and are constant topics on medical and veterinary forums. In fact, toxic work environments are one of the top 4 reasons why veterinary technicians leave the field. Supervisors and HR aren't always equipped to handle these situations and often times would rather let the higher-paid excellent employee get bullied out of the hospital than fire the lower-paid mediocre staff member that has problems with everyone. Excellent medicine is telling, and having a knowledgeable, well-trained staff that cares about their jobs can actually exponentially increase a hospital's revenue. And this isn't a subjective statement: there are tons of articles on this subject on the internet, and this is a particularly excellent one.

This is why, though, it is incredibly valuable and meaningful when you find someone that not only works your same schedule and is as dedicated to the job at hand as you are, but that you also click with. In most instances when working with an animal patient, you need a second person, either a tech or a doctor, to help you: to restrain the pet while you pull blood or place an IV or intubate for anesthesia; to help you position a patient for x-rays; to help you sling walk a post-op large breed dog outside; to help you lift that Golden Retriever out of the client's car and onto the gurney. The examples are endless. It is much safer, for both you and the patient, to have assistance in most scenarios.

This is what Leah was to me when I worked in ER at my old job. Her and I had similar work ethics and similar views on medicine, patient handling, and time management. On top of that, our personalities just locked together seamlessly: we worked as silent extensions of one another when we had a crashing patient on the table or a terrified, aggressive patient that needed every diagnostic under the sun done with minimal restraint because it had a heart issue. There was nothing her and I couldn't handle together with both utmost efficiency and least amount of stress to the patient. Any time the doctors had a cat or dog that no one else could touch, Leah and I would not only be able to touch the patient but also do everything that needed to be done (bloodwork, x-rays, IV catheter placement, etc) without sedation, with minimal restraint, and often times without even needing to muzzle the animal. Technical-skill wise, we completed one another: together we were unstoppable, we were a force. And the best part? When either of us was monumentally stressed out or down in morale, the other knew exactly what to say to cause both of us to erupt in laughter, and the moment of stress/sadness/anger would vanish into thin air.

It was magical.

And then Leah put in her two-weeks' notice. She had a second job that she loved with a passion and she wanted to go into that full-time. I was beyond thrilled for her, but at the same time I was secretly utterly devastated. I pretended to not count down the days until her last one, hoping that maybe it wouldn't be as bad as I thought it would be. In the meantime, I put in my request to be changed to a different department: with Leah leaving, the reality of the levels of my burnout were impossible to ignore. I was offered Surgery and I accepted. The catch: I couldn't switch until my replacement was hired.

And then Leah's last day came, and she was gone.

Despite all my efforts at keeping my chin up, it was bad. The waiting time between when my replacement would be hired, when she would be fully trained, and when I would be able to switch departments seemed like an endless chasm of unknown depths, and I seriously debated continuing as a vet tech at all. Mary, my other coworker, was as stressed as I was with Leah leaving. We banded together, her and I against the world, but we were both grieving for the solid technician and coworker we had lost.

And then Jess was hired. Since she would be my replacement, I was put in charge of training her while also being allowed to work half shifts in Surgery to start my own training in the new department. Jess was 10 years younger than me, with a passion for surgery and anesthesia, a solid working knowledge of advanced veterinary general practice, a biomedics degree, and a shared love of horses.

I spent my last 30 days in ER working directly with her. Jess was not Leah, but she was Jess. She did not have my critical care skill set and knowledge when she first started but by golly, she wasted NO TIME whatsoever in catching up. I don't think I have ever met anyone with that level of drive, determination, and passion for the veterinary field. It was humbling. She rapidly became my protege: when first starting in specialty medicine, new less-experienced techs have to prove themselves repeatedly, over and over again, to both doctors and more experienced technicians. It is a steep, steep learning curve made even steeper when you're moving into a teaching hospital to boot. I went out of my way to highlight her strengths, and I like to think I helped pave the way so as to ensure that her transition into both specialty medicine and critical care was as smooth as possible.

In the process her and I became friends, and I was sad to not be working every shift with her anymore but I was certain that that would change in the future. Her career goals included transitioning into Surgery/Anesthesia herself, and I had my ears pricked so that I could help that happen for her.

I think I had been in Surgery for only two months when a hospital-wide e-mail went out: our new anesthesiologist was looking for her own technician. I looked at the time stamp on the e-mail: it had only gone out an hour before I was reading it. I dropped everything that I was doing and ran into ER to find Jess, where I singled her out. "Did you check your e-mail???" I asked her.

"No..."

"Check it STAT. I found your way into Surgery and the e-mail went out just an hour ago. You MUST apply! NOW."

Jess applied and she got the job. Once a tech was hired to replace her in ER, she started working as full-time anesthesia-only tech under Dr. M's tutelage. And that is how I got swept into the more advanced nuances of anesthesia myself: by following Jess's lead. Her initial focus was more Radiation Oncology (animals have to be anesthetized for radiation therapy), MRI and CT (patients also have to be anesthetized for these), with the occasional swing into Surgery to assist with the more complex anesthetic cases.

Our schedules were finally similar enough that I was able to invite her out to the barn to ride with me. This happened on a very, very, VERY cold day in January, shortly after our epic Snowpocalypse. Temps were hovering around 20 degrees...in the sun. The fact that Jess not only showed up but rode with me for close to two hours without nary a complaint about the temps was proof enough: this girl is as insane as I am, in the best way possible. ;)

The rest is history. In typical vet med role reversal, there were many times from there on where I was the student and she was the teacher. Our friendship strengthened around the ins and outs of perfect anesthesia and riding my horses, that then trickled into endurance.

She is the one friend this year whose presence permeated both my equestrian and work worlds, the one that brought it all together.

Riding into the sunrise at Fort Valley.
I hope her and I get to ride off into more sunrises in the future.


Shanna
I met Shanna briefly when I first started at my old job in the ER. She worked the swing shift and I was just finishing my initial training when we both ended up on the overnight Thanksgiving holiday shift. It was dead quiet, highly unusual for a holiday evening in the veterinary ER, and so we spent the entire 12 hours talking as if we had known one another our entire lives. If you know me in person, you know this is unusual for me! But she was so easy to talk to.

I was sad when she left the hospital to go work full-time as an interpreter for the deaf (how COOL is that??!) but I was glad that she would be happy. She owned a house in Frederick but moved out of state to live with her SO at the time, and it was her "For Rent" ad for her house that prompted me to seek out apartment prices in our current hometown. We ended up in Frederick in large part thanks to Shanna!

So I was hugely surprised when this past summer, a good three years since I had last interacted with her, Shanna suddenly requested to be my friend on Facebook and messaged me, "You live in Frederick now? I'm back and we should get together!" It was as out of the blue as anything can be, but I was eager to reconnect with her. We spent a good two months making plans and always having something happen that caused them to be cancelled. And then we discovered Friday nights, and it became our thing. Neither one of us is into going out on our own, but together we've kind of taken downtown Frederick by storm. :) We go bar hopping, not really to drink (we'll often just sit down at the bar with glasses of water!), but for the joy of walking around a town we love, surrounded by its quirky residents, and talking about anything and everything for hours on end. It was like we had been friends all along, like the three years of no communication had never happened. By our second outing together, I was already considering her among my best friends.

My first best friend when I was a kid was very much like Shanna...we believed in the same things, we were inspired by the same things, we loved doing the same things together. Shanna makes me feel like I am 7 years old again.

Shanna is a free spirit with an awesome gypsy vibe. A fairy turned human being. She feels positive energy coming from someone and she walks right up to them and talks to them. It usually never fails either: she nails that positive energy right on the head and the person in question sends it right back out. It is fascinating to watch. I have never met someone like her, much less had the opportunity of spending significant amounts of time with someone like her. She has shown me a whole other side of humanity that I was aware existed, but was like an elusive mythological creature that I very rarely got to glimpse in person. Every time I'm around Shanna, I feel like I'm walking in a beautiful alternate universe. She has an innocence about her, a joie de vivre, that brings out the best in the people around her. I aspire to be more like her when I grow up!

Shanna on the right, tearing up the dance floor with a girl she had just met at the club (on the left) like they were besties!
I loved our Fridays together so I was tremendously excited when my schedule changed in such a manner that I could give Shanna horses again. She had taken lessons in her 20s and had been wanting to ride again for years. So I took her out to the barn! Her grin every time she rides Gracie is worth all the money in the world. There is nothing quite like being able to provide another person you care about with that level of happiness.

And so our adventures have continued and expanded. On the last night of 2015, I sat by myself at home watching Outlander until midnight while Carlos was working and thought, "I really want more friends. Real friends with whom I can hang out here, at home."

Shanna was the answer to that silent wish, sent by the Universe when I needed her most.

There should be more Shannas in the world. Or at least, everyone should get to have a Shanna in their life. I am incredibly fortunate to have my very own!


I love you Shanna!


Dan
And then there is Dan, our farrier, whom we met during one of the Davis, WV visits. He is a former biologist turned ski patroller, farrier, farm worker, hunter, endurance rider, trail rider, trail guide, honorary member of the Lakota tribe, that crews for a local band, lives off the grid, travels across the country to organize sun dances for his people, and helps run a therapeutic riding program in his hometown to help troubled children. This year, he was helping out with Standing Rock as well.

He is an amazing human being and it is a privilege to not only have him shoe my horses (our rides would have been nowhere near as successful nor as numerous without him) but to consider him one of our close friends. He has a knack for saying exactly what I need to hear at precisely the right time, which in and of itself is priceless.

It is the best thing ever when your farrier is one of your horses' #1 fans. <3 

Alexei
Those of you that know me closely, that know the gist of what happened, will most likely be surprised to see him mentioned here. But I have to, because this man was THE most influential person of my life this year. I don't even know where to start, and it is tricky because he was both a friend and a co-worker and the fact that he was a co-worker means that I cannot say even half of what I wish I could say about him here. The most I can say is that working with him was life-altering. I wish I could write more about him, that I could have written more about him at the time, just like I wish I could share more work stories than I do with you all. I published one post where I talked about him, the one about Reggie the cat (another patient whose details were greatly changed for purposes of the online story) that some of you might have had the opportunity to read before I reverted it to draft form, and if you were able to read it, you probably noticed that this was an unusual coworker relationship.

I have never met someone that caused such extreme and opposite emotions in me all at once. Alexei was both tremendously infuriating and tremendously endearing. I want to write about why this was so, but I can't.
We worked together for over 40 hours a week, side-by-side, for an entire year. For a very long time, I spent more time around this guy than my own husband. We were both equally bullheaded, we argued, we butted heads, we forgave one another, we talked about everything, we bantered, we laughed. We laughed so much. Maxine, our instrument tech, once said to me, "You have a gift for making him laugh. You are the only one on this team with the ability to turn his day around." 

I might have only worked with Alexei for a year, but his presence in my life affected it at every level. Alexei did the majority of my initial training in Surgery. The advanced anesthesia skill set I now have I owe to Jess and Dr. M, the anesthesiologist at that hospital, but when it comes to the surgery side of it: setting up machines, instruments and their names, wrapping packs, checking an OR, which instruments are needed for which procedures, setting up the ventilator, correctly unwrapping packs in a sterile manner for the surgeon, autoclaving, the art of scrubbing in, maintaining sterility when you're the scrub nurse, equipment maintenance, etc, etc, etc...the entire surgical aspect of being a surgery vet tech, I owe to Alexei and his infinite patience in teaching me. 

This was going to be my year of LDs, but it is because of him that I returned to 50s in endurance this year: I wanted to prove to him that I was a bigger badass despite the fact that I am a woman. And I succeeded. (I like to think I flipped every preconceived notion he ever had about what defines a woman and her abilities on its head...But I'll never know the answer to that one.)

My epic return to the gym and the huge results I've gotten this time around, are also because of him: it was him that inspired that. When I first started in that department, he was so chiseled and fit that I thought, "I want to look like the female form of that!" 


That it helped my riding so much was what motivated me to continue.  He taught me to live in the moment. He taught me to not just try, to just do it. He was always telling me that. I realized that I am an empath because of my interactions with him. He was so unapologetically Russian that he inspired me to embrace the Latina side of myself in turn: my accent, my first language, the music of my country, my love of dancing. I used to do my best to hide all of that. You know what? It's me! If you don't like it, you are free to go.

When I was just starting to speak as a toddler, there was a game my mom and grandmother used to play with me.
"What is your name?" they would ask.
"My name is Saiph," I would respond.
"And who is Saiph?" 
"Saiph is Saiph," I would retort in annoyance. Like, "Duh."

I lost that part of myself as a kid when my dad walked out of our lives the first time and nearly destroyed us. I have spent my entire life trying to recapture that part of myself that I lost, that part of me that knew her place in this world. 

I found her this year.


And all because I saw myself as Alexei saw me. 

For the first time since I was a child, I looked in the mirror and what I saw matched the way I envisioned myself. I turned into this whole other person this year: a confident, brave woman that speaks her mind, that is unafraid of having a differing opinion, that stands up for herself when necessary, that makes a point of telling people when they make a difference, that goes out and gets what she wants when she wants it. 

This has been the year where literally, every single thing I have asked for, was given to me. There was one morning at the new job where I woke up thinking, "I love anesthesia, but today, just today, I'd rather be in charge of treatments for a change of pace." And not five minutes later, there was a group text from our team leader, "Would anyone like to volunteer to be treatment tech today?" I laughed and laughed. I volunteered and got my wish.

I got to snuggle with this dude that day. He curled up in my lap and pressed his forehead to my face for kisses.
I had yet to meet a dog that would do that! 
For the first time in my life, I felt I was the person on the outside that I had always felt I was on the inside. I flourished, thanks to Alexei. He gave me the guts to go out and apply for jobs at several different hospitals in their Surgery departments...and I had appointments for interviews with all of them. I received job offers from all of the places I interviewed at as well. I'm doing well at the current job thanks to that same confidence he gave me.

I didn't have friends my own age locally...and now I have this group of girls with whom organize outings on Fridays...also thanks to the confidence he inspired.


Carlos said it right after Fort Valley: "I am so amazed at the person you have become. You rally people around you and inspire others with your confidence. Everyone that went to Fort Valley was there because of you. You made that happen. I couldn't stop watching you; I am so proud of you. And you might still resent Alexei for everything that happened, but the truth is that he changed your life, from your career to the way you see yourself, and for that I am grateful to him. You finally see yourself the way I see you."

Carlos always teased me about looking like Harry Potter with my short dark hair, glasses and the scar on my forehead (which you can't see in this pic; it was caused by a horse's shoe!) and this was my pictorial response:
"Harry Potter wishes he was this hot." Carlos laughed for days. This is SUPER out of what used to be my normal character.
I bawled when he told me that.

The Alexei story had all of the elements of a fantastic story: foreshadowing, joy, confusion, a massive plot twist, an ending that was equal parts sad and happy, and I can't write any of it. All that I can tell you guys is that his presence and the changes he caused opened so many other doors...he pushed me to leave the hospital right before everything I had ever loved about it changed, and in doing so he saved me.

Even the beach, our incredible, magical trip to the Outer Banks, was prompted by my need to escape to the sea so I could let go of everything that had happened. He gave me the ocean back as well.


Your choices, decisions, actions, what you learn from them and how you allow them to change you, are what define your life and who you are as a human being. He taught me that too.

His dragon eyes.
Like I said to him on my last day: he was a pebble tossed in a lake that created ripples that extended for miles. That is why I wanted to give him a special mention here. 

And that is the story of how I found myself this year, mirrored in the green eyes of this foreign man.



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I leave you guys with this stanza. It is the chorus line for a song called "Cada Loco con Su Tema" (To Each Their Own) by the Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat. My Aunt Lucy used to play his records every Sunday, and sometimes when she was driving us to school:

Prefiero querer a poder,
Palpar a pisar,
ganar a perder,
besar a reir,
bailar a desfilar,
y disfrutar a medir.
Prefiero volar a correr, 
hacer a pensar,
amar a querer,
tomar a pedir.
Antes que nada, soy partidario de vivir.

I'd rather 
Touch than stomp,
Win than lose,
Kiss than laugh,
Dance than march,
and enjoy than measure.
I'd rather fly than run,
Do than think,
Love than like,
take than ask.
But more than anything, I am all about living.


As Dan would say, "Rock on."


13 comments:

  1. 1. The NF ride photo is still my favorite of yall <3
    2. Proud of yall transitioning to full blown crazy and riding in the snow with us!
    3. I didn't realize the huge huge transition your body took until seeing all of these photos together!! I really hope you do compete because I think you'd do really well. You're so disciplined and it really shows. Secondarily I'm so happy Carlos finally decided to go with you!!
    4. Thank you so much for not only crewing but documenting my 100 so well. Carlos especially. Thank you to you again for documenting my first clinic. You've been a huge part of me getting to both of those events and I'm grateful I can remember them clearer due to you.
    5. I'm really excited you finally found a group of friends at home to hang out with all the time. Having a strong group of great people around helps through the best and worst times. I always wished you'd find that when you movedo to Frederick and I'm so happy you have it - especially after the drama earlier in the year! Friends are the best.
    6. I still want to squirter lemon juice in his eyes and kick him in the balls.......... I trust you know who I'm talking about lol
    7. I love you :-)

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    1. 1. I too love the NF ride photo.
      2. Couldn't have done it without you! :D
      3. It's in the plans! ;) I haven't taken updated photos...I had to re-vamp what I planned to wear for NYE because I've lost so many INCHES the last two weeks. I weigh the same, but I've dropped a size. The other day Carlos was like, "Damn...your abs!" It's awesome to see Carlos starting to have fun with the gym. I never thought I'd say that particular sentence...hahaha...
      4. It was my pleasure! It was so special to get to be there for OD to both help you out and witness your success! <3 Photos tell such a great story. Even the stupid ones that seem insignificant at the time are valuable later when putting together what happened. You and Griffin did so well at Stephen's clinic...it was so cool to get to film/photograph you two and watch the transformation!
      5. Thank you for wishing that for me. Reading that made me choke up! Thank you.
      6. BAHAHAHAHA...of course I know who you mean! ;D
      7. I love you too!!!!

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  2. I love this post! I am thrilled to hear you fill in the gaps on your year. I knew some of them from seeing you and being on Instagram, but it's nice to see them all in one place. I love the idea of a song of the month.

    I really need to cut beer out of my diet as well. I think if I JUST cut out drinking and snacking, I'd be golden. I have poor impulse control, though. Your dedication and drive is inspiring.

    I love your little town and I'm glad Mike and I got to briefly experience it first hand.

    This entry made me miss WV more than I already do.

    I never thought I would say this, but now I WANT to go to DC. Those cherry blossoms look amazing.

    I 100% agree with you on the religion thing. It's not a topic I ever touch on discussion-wise, but YES to everything you said.

    "And how else will you know whether it can be done or not, if you don't try, if from the start you assume you will fail?" <-- This is my entire view on endurance. And really, life.

    I have seen such a change in your attitude and your confidence on the blog alone this year. It makes me smile and brings my heart joy. You are one of my favorite people, and seeing you recognize your awesomeness makes me so happy.

    I think I need to talk to you about BCAA's. You've obviously done your research and I want to learn...

    I laughed so hard reading your description of pulling shoes. It's a BITCH. Especially if they're on really well (like Dan's jobs).

    The way you write about running makes me think I could almost like it. Almost. I love your way with words.

    I still shudder when I think about your wreck this summer...

    And I remember reading your posts from August and crying about how frustrated and DONE you were, and feeling helpless to do anything about it. :(

    As for the p-word... I am both thrilled to learn some history from this post, and completely dismayed at the world we live in. It makes my stomach turn.

    The US is still just a baby country, and both the government and the people (in general) are so NAIVE. It terrifies me. And it makes me so sad that we don't seem to learn from not-so-distant history. Ugh. I can't even think about it.

    Your blog is amazing to me. It is one of the few that I read every entry. Every word. Often repeatedly. Your growth this year has been incredible and I am so glad you've taken the time to put it so eloquently in your writing.

    I love you.
    I hope to see more of you in 2017
    <3

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    1. I love that you took the time to read the entire thing!

      My secret: sub wine for the beers! The resveratrol in red wine is supposed to help reduce inches in the waistline according to multiple studies now. And two glasses/day is the best way to get that. :) I was shocked to realize how much lower in calories wine is when compared to beer. I feel more energized the next morning, and it doesn't make my belly "fluffy." I have not been able to touch red wine since Fort Valley (the four of us might have downed the five bottles we brought between us...so I stick to whites now) and while white wine doesn't have as high a content of resveratrol, you still get the same health benefits. I will still have a couple of beers on the weekends if we're going out, but I find that I have a lower tolerance for it...beer sometimes upsets my stomach now. So I've been careful with gluten now as a result.

      Talk to me about BCAAs anytime! :D I'm happy to yak your ear off. It was cool to get your perspective on them for horses! I might end up doing a post on the fitness stuff at some point, since it's been such a huge deal this year. It started out with, "Let's do a couple of Spinning classes a week" and has ended up with, "Let's go to the gym at least 40 minutes/day 5-6 days a week!"

      Re: shoes: I'm glad someone got a laugh out of that! I still laugh in hindsight! Poor Lily was like, "You have lost your everloving mind."

      On running: it really is *not* second nature for me. If I could grow to love it, anyone can. I have a congenital heart defect...I've had a murmur all my life. Have never been worked up by a cardiologist because it's still considered minor, but as a kid, I was told to be careful with extreme cardio, which was part of the reason why I was overweight. I seriously could barely run half a lap around the track in PE class without feeling like I was going to die. PE professors were not allowed to push me beyond my limits: there were doctor's notes involved and everything. I've mostly outgrown the murmur, but people with a good ear can still hear it with a stethoscope. It's probably a grade I-II/VI depending on my hydration status. I do get arrhythmias sometimes if I'm stressed out enough. It feels like my heart skips a couple of beats. I HATED running as a kid. HATED. Only took it up in college because one of my classmates was on the track team and I wanted to have a body like hers: she was a sprinter, so she looked like the human equivalent of a QH. I didn't have time to ride, but running was easy enough to do back then (only sneakers, a shirt, and shorts required!), so that's how I started. I was floored when I realized I could actually run *an entire mile*. And then I signed up for a couple of 10ks and realized I could go all the way to 6 miles if I trained appropriately. If I could do it, you can too! :D

      Re: the US: yes, it is still a baby country. I just wish its people were more aware of how other countries have failed, so that it could avoid the same problems in the future.

      I loved your comment, Dom. Like I said before, I read it at least 4 times! <3 Thank you.

      I love you too!!!

      And I hope to see more of you in 2017 as well!

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    2. I have recently started to love wine and HAVE substituted it for most of my beer/hard liquor (and then cut back on the wine too). I have found several wines that really hit the spot for me (and I get buzzed pretty fast off red wine). It also helps me sleep.

      I did not know about your heart! I'm glad you've learned to enjoy running. It gives me (slim) hope. I think once the spinning kicks in and my fitness goes up (and the weather is warmer) I could potentially enjoy running if Mike came with me. He likes running when he's in shape and I suspect he could motivate me.

      I ran one summer. I got into a rhythm with it and it was ok. It didn't last once the weather got cold, though. That burning feeling in your lungs? No thanks!

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  3. It took a while to read through all of it, but it was well worth it. Your year seems to have been very well rounded and full.

    I'm so glad you jumped back into the longer distances and the ride recap from the 55 you did on Lily was one of my favorites all year. The pure joy that came through the tale was invigorating.

    Congrats on achieving the body you wanted. Not many can do that.

    The ice festival looks amazing. I may have to drag Dusty up there one year for it.

    I find Puerto Rico fascinating. We don't learn anything about it in school, or at least I didn't, and yet it is an equally important part of this nation.

    Here's to another great year for you and Carlos!

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    1. I'm happy you enjoyed it!

      The story of the 55 really was my favorite this year. I savored every single mile of that ride unlike any other ride before or after so far.

      You should totally come for the ice festival sometime! I think all three of you (Wyatt too!) would enjoy it very much.

      Yeah, PR isn't part of the history curriculum here. Liz knows so much about it because she had a Puerto Rican Spanish teacher in school that taught her so much about the island's history. It is an exception and not a rule.

      Thank you! :D I can't wait to read about your adventures in having the horses at home!

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  4. Love the fact you included music as part of your 2016 recap! I've been doing something similar for myself since 2012 by creating a on-going playlist. It's been pretty neat to look back on each track and recall what was going on at that point in my life. Here's to 2017, may be it be another year of continued self empowerment <3

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    1. Music is such a multi-sensorial thing for me. :)

      Thanks Grace! I hope 2017 is full of adventures for you and Quest together!

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  5. You're dedication in everything you do is amazing (just writing this post is an impressive feat). I can't wait to read about your adventures in 2017.

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    1. Thank you LoveLaughRide! <3 I can't wait to write about them! ;)

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  6. I am having a very quiet evening at work and truly enjoyed reading about your year! What an amazing journey :)

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