Guest Blog Post: Backyard horse heart lessons for writer Mary Lynne Carpenter

Photo by Tatiana from Pexels.

Horses are wonderful!!! Not that I really know much about them, aside from how beautiful they are, the little I’ve learned from TV — and thanks to fellow bloggers. (Certified self-avowed Horse Addict Anne Leueen is one such blogger.) As far as I’m concerned, Mary Lynne Carpenter (creator of The Backyard Horse Blog: Living The Dream and The Reality of Keeping Horses at Home) has won the lottery — she has backyard horses! The very idea sets my mind reeling at how fun that must be. Surely my doggie would love having a companion and accompanying her people outdoors far more than she gets to these days. Not that I’d be picky, but if I had one, perhaps it would be nice if it were not too big… and if it was black… with a little white!… to go with my existing four-legged sweet family.

Whoa Bessie — again, sure I know nothing about horse husbandry. And yes, I’ve left out that we live in the big city in a) a small house with b) a backyard the size of  — what? — more insignificant than an Olympic-sized swimming pool? No worries — I’m living my vicarious whimsy through Mary Lynne. Home for her is somewhere in the United States, among equestrian pals. She writes about their dreamy as well as sometimes challenging times together for various horse publications and sites, plus her own new blog. Here she shares a sliver of the bitter-sweet heaven-on-earth backyard part of backyard horse ownership…

Mary Lynne with her horse, Pumpkin Spice. Photo by her friend, Nancy.

The Circle of Life By Mary Lynne Carpenter

I first saw the nest out of the corner of my eye. It fell to the ground as I rode my lawnmower past a tree branch. The nest’s appearance stopped me cold on that warm Spring day. The nest’s maker selected chestnut-colored horse’s hair as its main ingredient. I keep my horses at home, so it is not unusual for me to find these horse-hair nests. The birds take discarded strands of mane and tail that they find lying in the pasture or snubbed up on a fence post where a horse scratched an itch. I marveled at how resourceful and industrious the birds are. I never built anything in my life except for building a mess.

At the time I found the nest, I didn’t have any chestnut-colored horses. I puzzled over the situation. Then it hit me. My horse, Pumpkin Spice, was chestnut-colored. Spice was euthanized the year before due to an illness. That means that Spice’s hair had been collected from my pasture while he still lived in it. Unbeknown to me, the nest clung to the tree branches for almost a year after Spice’s death.

Pumpkin Spice’s horsehair reincarnated into a bird’s nest. Photo by Mary Lynne Carpenter.

Happening upon the nest was like running unexpectedly into a friend from the past. A reunion tinged with sadness for all that was lost. Yet a welcomed and treasured event nonetheless. Spice was such as kind horse, so relaxing to be around. I enjoyed his company very much. While I still miss him terribly, I see that parts of him live on not only in my heart. In a practical way, his hair helped house the new life of another even after his own death. How fitting that the nest, in the shape of a circle, also symbolizes the circle of life.

What sort of horse might you keep in your backyard?…

Guest Blog Post: Discovery and Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri

Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere!

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

More about Maria Alfieri here. Her “The Silent Scream Anthology” is available in hardback here and here, in paperback here, and in both here.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Does Your Light Frighten You? by da-AL

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES,”
Marianne Williamson, activist/author of “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES”– Photo by Supearnesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This famous quote — which surely Williamson is proud of however zillion times it’s attributed to Nelson Mandela — reminds me of how sneaky my fear of success can be. As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. My ultimate goal, I was firmly instructed when my imagination soared, was predetermined. Girls must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, I was told, were born to be wives and mothers.

Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…

Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.

Do you ever hold yourself back?

Video: Strength and Compassion in the Worst of Times by da-AL

In the worst situations, strength and compassion shine brightest. Terrible times strip away everything but what’s essential, leaving bare the best in us and those we encounter during our trials. 

The first time I learned the depth of this truth was when I co-produced a video for the Leukemia Society of America (nowadays Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). They’d hired my business partner, David Hunt (who has written for HBT here and here), and me (our non-profit company was called, Vista Educational Media) to encourage therapists, as well as people struggling with leukemia to get involved in the agency’s support groups. Executive Producer was Maureen Nunn. We videotaped at Wellness Community South Bay Cities, which is now Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach. The Los Angeles Times wrote of participant Roger Kahl’s valiant life here.

The way David and I worked was always to let subjects speak their truths, then we’d do our best to edit and narrate accurately. For each project, David and I would alternate who would be in charge and who would assist.

Thank goodness for this one David conducted the interviews, wrote, edited, and narrated. It took all I had not to sob while I stood to videotape behind the tripod. Reviewing it all these many years later, I still cry at the incredible bravery of the interviewees and David’s outstanding storytelling.

On David’s site, he details his experience with this project. Here’s his preliminary description for my site here…

“By the 1990s health educators understood that video-assisted storytelling was an effective way to engage patients and get them involved in their own health care. But many of the nation’s top health organizations, including the Leukemia Society, used actors as stand-ins for actual patients in their health education videos. In 1992 I was part of a documentary team that convinced the organization to trust people with leukemia to share their own stories.”

Video: Dark Waters

Before I was a soon-to-be self-published novelist, I was a radio, print, and cable TV journalist…

da-AL in Dark Waters documentary.
Pre-novelist days, here I am in a documentary I hosted and co-produced, “Dark Waters.”

Here’s a video that by my business partner at the time, David Hunt (who describes the event in additional detail here), and I won a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award for. Adam Yurman composed the haunting music for it. Earth Alert! funded it.

What a find — I thought it was lost!

Interviewees include Heal the Bay founding president/environmentalist Dorothy Green and marine biologist/environmentalist Rim Fay, Jr., along with former California senator Tom Hayden representative Cliff Gladstein and former California supervisor Dean Dana.

Back when it was made, we produced a documentary series, a talk show, and more for the cable TV station located in Hermosa Beach, CA, in addition to videos and commercials for small businesses. Once a show was produced, we’d ‘bicycle’ it, meaning we’d distribute copies of it to outlying cities to air on their channels.

In this episode, off-camera is an audience of passersby. Already nervous, the presence of onlookers made me borrow my partner’s jacket to calm my shivers despite the warm day.

Have you had your 5 minutes of fame yet?…

Happy 2019 New Year from 1919 by da-AL

vintage photo from Argentina of a New Year's celebration
1919 New Year’s, my grandmother celebrating with friends and family. Abuela sits in the middle with flowers in her hair.

A lovely cousin recently gave me a copy of this photo of my grandmother, Julia Vaccaro who was an Italian-Argentine of Buenos Aires — ringing in 1919 with family and friends! Like the United States and so many other places, Argentina is a country of immigrants.

My grandmother's mother, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.
My grandmother’s mother, Rosa, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.

It fascinates me to see such an old photo where everyone appears relaxed and candid. The man who’s wearing pajamas in the tree — did he just wake from a nap in what could be a hammock to his left? Is the woman below worried he’ll fall or does she think he’s crazy? At the bottom, the man toasting looks comfy in his socks. That young boy who seems to have skinned his face is my cousin’s dad. The large woman in the dark dress is my great grandmother. Whatever the woman told the flapper in the middle, it’s given her pause for thought…

Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year's celebration.
Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year’s celebration.

Wishing each of you, dear readers, a New Year filled with joy, vibrancy, love, and good fortune!

With optimism and love,

da-Al

Happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by da-AL

da-AL and her husband in Halloween 1970s disco costumes.

Get out your candy corn and candles and costumes! It’s Halloween and Dia de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead. Do you celebrate them?