Wrangler Dani

Writer, editor, marketer and communication strategist. I'm also a wife, mama, hiker, cowgirl and experimental cook living in beautiful Central Oregon.

Archive for the ‘Great Outdoors’ Category

August 29th, 2017 by Dani

Stammering toward Gratitude

Yesterday, as I was making plans with someone for the fall, she said to me, “You must be over the moon about your baby boy.”

I stammered a lame response. I am! Of course I am. I’m thrilled and honored and excited and full of love for this tiny person.

But lately my dominant emotion has been discouragement, not gratitude or excitement. I’ve bitten my nails about looming expenses and what-ifs. I’ve wondered if I’m tough enough for the process, if I can push through the uncertainty long enough to keep loving when I want to scream.

Adam and II was still thinking about my stuttering response to my friend when last night, about midnight, we discovered that a pack rat had eaten one of my saddles. Not just any saddle, one I was planning to sell to raise money for our adoption. I cried, shoulder-shaking, throat-opening, guttural tears. Adam wanted to comfort me, and I wanted to punch something. I wanted to scream that I’m doing my best here, give me a break! I can’t be loving and hopeful and peppy anymore, I just can’t!

I know. It’s embarrassing.

Do you know what I did next? If you think I realized I was being immature and dramatic and came to my senses, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Instead, I made a list of discouragements, all the ways I am failing. I looked at it with anger and fear and tear-filled eyes. It was helpful. Do you know what Adam did? He started listing all the ways that God has been faithful to us. The miracles we’ve seen unfold before our eyes, the gifts we’ve been given, the things we didn’t even know to ask for that dropped in our laps like so many golden eggs. Guess who’s list was longer and more helpful?

Adam helped me see that gratitude has to be worked for. Wallowing is easy and even perversely pleasant, the long woe-be-gone country song. But it’s not true. The truth is that God is ever-so-faithful and we are completely blessed. Every need we have has been met, even though I am not very tough I am married to the toughest of them all, and we have a redeeming God who is even tougher.

So today: gratitude. Disappointments are real, and fear will knock on my door again, probably before today is over. But gratitude is worth working for. It’s worth fighting for. It is the gift of clear eyes and real perspective, the thing that lets me get excited about tiny newborn outfits and new adventures and grace every morning. Without gratitude, I’m just killing time, waiting for the other shoe to drop or mourning the one that already has. I’m locked in a spinning top of frustration and angst, teaching my daughter how to see struggle instead of joy, dead-ends instead of new directions.

Anne Lamott said recently that every day she asks God for forgiveness and help, both because she’s sorry she’s such a big whiny baby and because she doesn’t want to be one any more. Of course I can’t say it any better than that.

This morning, I wipe my eyes and begin again, in gratitude.

December 14th, 2016 by Dani

Snow Day

family hike in the snowIf you know me, you know I love Christmas. I love the whole season – I play carols and bake cookies and pull out the candles that smell like fir trees. I love to savor Christmas – I like to pick a particularly cozy Christmassy book to read every year, and no Christmas is complete without a reading of A Christmas Carol, like a predictable conversation with an elderly friend, one that somehow manages to surprise and delight even when you know exactly what will be said.

This year, Christmas has felt less like a quiet, sanctified season of traditions and more like a flurry of activity. I haven’t even met up with Marley’s Ghost yet and Christmas is a week away! I am running, keeping up with my toddler, my growing business, my personal projects, my list of responsibilities. I am on the edge – I might burst into laughter or tears, I might make a lovely braised beef shank for dinner or I might leave it on the heat too long and make a charred doggie treat for Guinness. Adam took us out for a lovely weekend getaway for my birthday, and I let myself fall into relaxation like a giant snowbank, only to find myself back in the frenzy within moments of returning home.

And then, today, like a miracle, like a kiss – we get a snow day. Just like that, all is calm. School is canceled, the barn is closed. Meetings begin to drop off the calendar and I hear the fire calling me, asking me to slow down and sit a while. I heat up a cup of coffee and watch the snow fall. Unlike rain, which either patters drearily or beats down with fury, snow just falls. Whether heavy or light, the first or the last snow of the year, it’s all the same in its perfection. It covers up ugliness, it silences the rattle and bang of a storm. Old cars and new alike look quaint when covered in snow, wipers propped up by wise owners. Christmas lights glow cheerily, tree branches hang down, heavy with beautiful white blankets. You can’t drive fast in the snow. Stores close early, hand-written signs grace small restaurant windows: “Snow Day”. You text your friends with cheery words of wisdom: “Drive safe! Stay warm.” I’m reminded of how blessed we are to have a warm fireplace and a full pantry on a day like today.”Though our sins were as scarlet, we are washed white as snow.” Snow hearkens of Christmas, because we need grace at Christmas. I need to be reminded that as much as I love the parties and presents and traditions, grace is what matters. Grace for today – snow on my roof, on my old car, over the places in my life that I’m not proud of and the things that I’ve tried so hard to make beautiful. Snow covers it all with the same grace and peace. Thank you, God, for snow days.

October 18th, 2016 by Dani

Not Good, But Right. (My Goodbye to Major)

majorI’ve been thinking about doing right and feeling good. Yesterday, Adam said to me that it doesn’t feel good, but you know it’s right. He was right, too, of course. Yesterday, I had to put down my horse, Major. He’s only been here for a couple of months, but I’ve loved him for a couple of years, ever since Kathryn, the lead instructor at Healing Reins, asked me to ride him twice a week.

In the months before we had Addy, when I felt like my heart was going to be crushed under the weight of its own longing, I would go to the barn and spend time with him. He was an old Belgian, and had done everything, been everywhere, seen it all. He was slow-moving and long-legged, with large kind eyes and big ears that followed my voice. When I needed a confidante I had his big strong neck to bury my face in, and he was exactly the kind of horse I needed in a tumultuous time in my life, when all I wanted was something solid. He was solid as a rock.

majorSo when he retired, I brought him home and dreamed of giving Addy the kind of four-legged friend I’d grown up with – wise, kind horses who knew how to comfort a child, an emotional teenage girl and a grieving soon-to-be mother alike. I haven’t outgrown the need for a quiet nicker and the feeling of horsehair under my fingers to help me cope with loss or heartbreak, and now he’s gone – I had to say good-bye to my gentle therapist and he’s not here any more to make me feel alright about it.

I won’t go in to why we had to make this heart-breaking decision but I know that it was right, even though it does not feel good in any way. I asked him if he was ready, when I was agonizing over the decision, and he laid his head against my back, in a gentle gesture of understanding. He knew, and he was ready, but it doesn’t make me ready to let him go.

majoraddyIt was a beautiful day yesterday and we spent our last couple of hours soaking up the sunshine in a close-cropped fall pasture. I told him about the fields of long grass that I hoped awaited him, the endless gardens of carrots and apple trees, ripe for the taking. I told him I would miss him terribly and I would never forget him, that I would always tell Addy about her first horse, the first horse I let myself love completely since my wrangler days, more than 10 years ago.

He laid down peacefully, like the wonderful big man he was. Kathryn came and hugged me because she loved him, too – he’s been a confidante, friend and joy-bringer to a lot of people over his long life. I sat next to him in the gathering dark until they came to take him away, running my fingers over his neck as though willing myself to never forget what he felt like. I knew he was already gone, though, running through his green pasture like a colt again. I can still hear his gentle nicker in my head, and I just wish I could bury my head in his neck one more time, so he could tell me, in his horsey way, that it doesn’t feel good, but it’s right.

March 4th, 2016 by Dani

A memory of water, sand and Dad

I was all knees and elbows, with big feet and hands that grabbed, felt and explored everything. Now they were digging themselves into sand, which was strangely hard from recent saltwater, in the way that only beach sand can be. My wavy hair was barely contained in a thick braid, which hung down the middle of my back and smacked my bony spine with a thick plastic band at the bottom.

My dad said we were going in the water. I looked out at the waves and down at my long toes in the sand. There was nothing out there that looked fun to me. The waves were scary, bigger than me. I didn’t know anything about sharks or animal life really, but it only makes sense that something that dark and ominous must hold a terrifying creature, much like my closet at home.

But he said we were going. I got my lanky stature from my dad, but what I had awkwardly he had regally, at least in my observation. He was tan and muscular and he picked me up against his broad chest as we waded into the water.

It was cold. Icy, even. I whimpered and he held me close, telling me about beautiful fish and singing mermaids. Before I knew it that long braid of mine was heavy with saltwater, and my shoulders were also in the water, even as my hands clung to his neck.

“We’re going in, Dani,” he said with excitement. “Hold your breath! One, two, three!”

We ducked under the water. I opened my eyes to see the blue green wash over me and his tan arm still wrapped around me. We emerged into sunshine and I laughed. It wasn’t so scary. Not anymore.

May 29th, 2015 by Dani

Obeying the Long Way

Eugene Peterson wrote a book called “The Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. While I’ve never read it, I admire him and I’ve always loved that title. So often we want the stories about calling and purpose but we are not as moved by the long trudge we must make in order to be truly called. As a writer, I identify with this keenly – most creatives are messes of nueroses, after all, and our work is uniquely designed to make us question our value – we stick our hearts out on a plate and we don’t even get a retweet out of the deal. How crushing to be either too boring or too mediocre to be of any consequence, we think to ourselves in the middle of the night.

Yet there’s something in this long obedience that makes it encouraging and lovely, isn’t there? Because I am not writing for critical acclaim, or because a publisher has expectations, or because I’m “building a platform” (oh horrible term of the publishing industry and killer of dreams!). I’m writing because I must, because I have something to say, because God has given me friends who have been encouraged by something I’ve said here or because I must remember what today feels like, what God’s grace looks like, at unique points in my life, and I want to share that with you. I may indeed be mediocre (if you think so, please don’t tell me, ha!) but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t obey, after all.

Of course, this also is true of adoption. I wrote a few months ago about the “drip, drip, drip of unmet expectations” and I am reminding myself that even the smallest rocks must be dripped on for years before they turn to sand, and that I am not there yet. Recently, we’ve had more disappointments and more close calls – many more than I have shared here. Sometimes my heart feels expansive and hopeful but usually I just feel tired and maybe a little crazy – like I packed up for this expedition and am now wondering if there might be a bus stop out here in the wilderness – I’ll pay you anything, just take me somewhere warm and give me a shower.

But there are no bus stops out here, so I am in the place of the Long Obedience. Not the longest, not by far. Not a hopeless or joyless obedience, just one that forces me to keep my eyes on the trail and my thoughts on where I’ll camp tonight and not “are we there yet?”. For now I know that my responsibility to keep walking and write this down – to share it with you in hopes that we can obey together, whether in adoption or motherhood or singleness or marriage or calling – and that our long obedience will be rewarded with a glimpse at the Promised Land.

I don’t know when the trail will level or when I will feel exuberant at how far we’ve come rather than exhausted by how far there is to go. But I know that day is coming. In the meantime, I’ll be here; obeying the long way.

May 11th, 2015 by Dani

Riding test

The other day, I had to perform a riding test at my new barn. Now, let me tell you right up front: I am not a sophisticated rider, y’all. I learned to ride from scruffy, fearless cowboys who told me encouraging things like, “don’t come off” and “that horse knows more cow than you do, darlin’, so let ‘im loose”. Over the years of teaching therapeutic horseback riding and watching others teach, I’ve picked up on more thorough riding techniques, but at the end of the day, I’m just a self-taught cowgirl, and I deeply feel my inadequacy in the presence of formally trained, sophisticated horse-folk.

Long story short, the test was actually really fun. My fellow instructors (intimidating though they may seem) were kind and helpful, and I felt like I actually got my very first riding lesson out of the deal. I walked into the barn feeling insecure, gangly and awkward, but I walked out hopeful and happy, excited for a new chapter in my wrangling life.

I tell you this story because I know that this will also happen with adoption and motherhood. One of these Mother’s Days I won’t find myself in tears alone in my car because I passed a florist. One of these days I will get to walk in the park with my own kids, and not just smile at everyone else’s kids as I walk my dog.

I don’t have a neat bow to wrap up here. I’m trying to see the hope and the bigger perspective, and I know it’s there. My head knows that all I have to do is sit back in my saddle and relax my elbows. My head knows that in order to move well, my horse has to bend and collect himself, and it’s my job to help him do that. My head knows that I have ridden hundreds of horses and have worked everywhere from cattle ranches to trail rides to therapeutic riding centers, that despite my lack of formal training, I know how horses work and I can do this. My heart says that I’m afraid of failure, that I feel lonely and altogether incapable of these big things. I feel small and silly and scared.

Maybe it’s OK to not have a bow to tie on this story. Maybe it’s OK to admit that maybe I am a little small, silly and scared, but that I don’t have to be anything else right now. Maybe it’s OK to just keep moving and hoping, and letting Somebody else handle the rest. Maybe I’ll just go for a ride, and let my horse remind me that I know more about all of this than I think I do.

March 25th, 2015 by Dani

“Just” a mom, wife, friend…

Yesterday I got to spend three hours at my new therapeutic riding barn with a big black Percheron mare. Apparently I was given her as a bit of a “test” from my fellow instructors, just to see how I’d handle her quirks (when a 6-foot tall, 3,000 lb critter has a quirk – well, let’s just say it can be a little exciting). After a few minutes it was clear we would get along fine, however, as she happily responded to my cues and blinked her big brown eyes at me when we stopped.

During the class, my phone buzzed. It was the latest adoptive parent social worker, telling us (again) that we hadn’t been matched with an expectant mom. I got a little teary and was grateful that I had a big black mane to hide behind and the kindly presence of a horse to distract me. The next thought I had was, “well, good thing I’m working on other hobbies, since I won’t be a mom anytime soon.”

As soon as I thought that, I realized that’s exactly what I’ve been missing in all of this. I’ve been so focused on the big stuff of adoption, and becoming a mom, that I’ve missed the essential fact that my kids will not want just a mom. They’ll want to know that I was a swimmer, wrangler, writer, small-business owner and therapeutic horseback-riding instructor. They’ll want to see me try new things and take care of myself and dream big dreams, because that’s how they’ll learn to do so.

I think it’s common for women to see ourselves as the sum total of our relationships – wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister – and when one of those is out of balance we tend to feel either recklessly free or fearfully unmoored. We are relational beings, and this is good – this is what makes us fearless protectors, courageous lovers and passionate caretakers of our families and friends. But when we are completely defined by these relationships, we can start to feel a little stir-crazy. When a husband or friend or relative questions us or doesn’t see us as we want to be seen, or when we want a relationship we can’t have – we lurch into a desperate search for meaning and definition, one that leaves us feeling questioned, vulnerable and, at the same time, completely invisible.

I was created to be much more than I believe, sometimes. I am not defined by the friends I have or their opinion of me, the professional relationships I create or even the level of intimacy I have with my husband. Those are all important things, but they do not make me worthy or valued. I will not become a more valuable person once another little person calls me “mom”. I am not more valuable when other people say kind things about me or respect my views. I am only valuable because I am a child of God, a dearly-loved piece of Creation. As such, I am supposed to live into the fullness of who God has made me to be and the season he has me living in – as a wife, friend, sister, daughter, writer, business-owner, therapeutic horse-back riding instructor, daydreamer, cook, introvert, home-owner, communicator, hostess, long-walk-taker, story-teller, Adam-kisser and puppy-snuggler. This is a beautiful season, one of many beautiful seasons of a beautiful life. I don’t want to miss my life because I was constantly looking over my shoulder or straining to see around the bend. This life is uniquely mine, with gifts and relationships God has given me – not to define me, but to make me whole.

February 23rd, 2015 by Dani

Central Oregon Staycation – recharge edition

It’s no surprise that Adam and I are a little worn out as we walk through a tough season. Emotionally, spiritually and relationally we are burning the proverbial candle at both ends, and it started to become quite clear that we needed a Sabbath, staycation weekend to reconnect and regroup. (We like to staycation, and we have done it to great effect a few times. If you’re bored or need staycation inspiration, check here and here.)

Guinness and I in John Day.

Guinness and I in John Day.


Adam and Guinness.

So, we started with a massage Thursday night – woo! Then took Friday off and staycationed the heck out of Central Oregon. We breakfasted at a local joint (The Victorian Cafe), then took the puppy for a hike up Black Butte and went for a personalized tour and tasting of Bendistillery with our buddy Joe, who is lucky enough to work there. Came home for some mac and cheese and went out on the town with friends, even stopping at the illustrious Stihl Whisk(e)y Bar, a place Adam has long wanted to visit and which did not disappoint.

Saturday was cold and rainy, so we made brunch at home, and then spent a few hours at the Des Chutes Historical Society museum. We got coffee at Palate, even though we’re not nearly cool enough for a hipster joint like that, poked into an antique store and did a little downtown window-shopping. That evening, Adam and some dudes lit a bonfire in our pasture and I cozied up in my office with a good book, a little work and warm kitty on my lap, which was about perfect.

(null)_3Sunday we took off for the John Day Fossil Beds with Guinness and a packed lunch in tow. We hiked through the painted hills and rambled all over the awe-inspiring rangeland of Eastern Oregon, absolutely blown away by the beauty of it. Guinness loved the hikes,  long car ride and bits of summer sausage she wheedled out of Adam’s hand, and we loved a long day of talking, reconnecting and hiking in God’s beautiful creation. We came home and braised a London Broil and watched a movie together on the couch after dinner. It was perfect.

You know what, though? Staycation doesn’t come easy, just like Sabbath doesn’t come easy. We have to take the time to hear each other, see each other, to talk about unpleasant things like budgets and expenses (yes, these conversations are what staycations are for!), to rekindle curiosity about one another and our surroundings. It takes work to get to fits of giggles at each other, when you feel like you’ve talked out the tough stuff and you’re ready for a hearty laugh. It takes work to suggest a new breakfast place, a new hike, a new topic of conversation or a even just a new inspiration. Sometimes we get stuck in either the old or the new – either an unhealthy desire for everything new, constant change and unwillingness to sit still with ourselves; or a bloated ennui and a feckless unwillingness to dive into the deep end of one another.

(null)_1But this weekend we walked the line of both old and new. We didn’t demand change but we didn’t sit stubbornly in our comfort, coldly asserting dominance over each other. We relished our long friendship and sweet romance while acknowledging that it’s not a fairy tale, that weekends like this one are what keep us pressed against each other and falling ever more in love even in the tough seasons, because we are willing to take the opportunities given.

Today I’m recharged and hopeful, thankful and happy. It’s amazing what a little staycation can do.

February 12th, 2015 by Dani

Celebrating Adam

Adam and I are celebrators. We love birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weddings and parties of any kind.  These are chances to reflect on what’s been and look forward to the future with hope, a time to celebrate and cheer for each other, to enjoy a good meal and relish a long laugh.

In the last nine months or so, we’ve missed our usual celebratory fervor, and as is this year’s strange way, suddenly Adam is 33 today! What happened to the streamers?

The truth is that we got busy with home-ownership and adoption stuff and work and life, and we’ve wandered from our usual kazoo-blowing celebratory selves. But we are still laughing with, at and for one another, and recognizing that celebration is not something we did when we had time, or something that we can ignore if we get busy. Celebration is essential. Celebration reminds us that our lives are not a long trudge, they are a skipping, singing, humbling, staggering work of beauty. Celebrations make us stop and take stock – did I do the thing I said I would? Have I been obedient in my long walk? They also give us chances to look forward and rejoice that we have road ahead and time to finish the mountain-climbing, wildflower-admiring hike we’re on.

At a wedding of a dear friend in December (thank you Jeanna for the picture!). Easy laugher, outrageous dancer, warm-hearted friend - this is Adam.

At a wedding of a dear friend in December (thank you Jeanna for the picture!). Easy laugher, outrageous dancer, warm-hearted friend – this is Adam. (Photo cred: Kamee June Photography)

So, today I am celebrating Adam. Because let me tell you guys, I thought I was in love with this man when he asked me to marry him seven-ish years ago – but he is even cooler now than he was then. He is the hardest worker I know, and the best puppy trainer. He gets tickled by the same things that tickle me, and his laugh makes any day better. He is a Craigslist and garage sale ninja. He is a team player and he loves people whole-heartedly. He is an adventurer, and he gets me out of my comfort zone with epic snowshoe hikes and fly-fishing excursions. He loves to eat as much as I do, and has never once grumbled about going gluten-free. He is a logical, methodical thinker, an easy friend, a patient, excellence-focused woodworker. He loves Guinness and Bandit and they love him. He’s a baby whisperer and has officially been crowned the Selfie King. He listens well and talks with intention, he does not bluster or fruitlessly complain. He makes coffee every morning and he kisses me good-night every night.

Happy Birthday Adam Nichols. I’m so thankful you’re mine.

February 10th, 2015 by Dani

Today is a gift

Adam and Guinness by the Deschutes River on our rainy Sabbath hike last weekend.

Adam and Guinness by the Deschutes River on our rainy Sabbath hike last weekend.

Today, our sunrise was pink, orange and yellow, like a morning mai tai. I heard a flock of Canadian geese flying and honking over brown fields, which still lie in wait for Spring, despite our unusually rainy and warm February. I’m drinking a hot cup of coffee from a John Deere mug, today I will drive toward snowy mountains on my way to meetings.

It’s easy to get caught up in the disappointments or daily inconveniences that wear us down. Did you pay the water bill? We need to do our taxes. Maybe next weekend we can build that shelf/fix that fence/clean that room.

Then I have a morning like this, in which each moment shocks me with its profundity. I am sitting at a table in a little country house we longed to buy for so long, that’s now ours in all the best ways. Geese are flying over, our puppy is playing in the yard. We are soon-to-be parents through adoption, and even though it’s unyielding and discouraging in all kinds of ways, it is not over, the story is not done, God is not through with us yet. Today, there are birds chirping in our blue spruce.

Today, there are pasta carbonaras to be made and coffee to be guzzled. Today, we have the gift of each other, of good books and long walks and a lovely candle to burn in the evenings. Today is a gift. Let’s unwrap it.