book reviews, nostalgia

Happy Christmas Eve, 2021! A look at the magical world of Stephen Cosgrove…

After a couple of really frigid days in Germany, it suddenly warmed up today. I didn’t have to break the ice in Noyzi’s water bowl, as I have for most of this week. Our back yard is a mud pit, thanks to weeks of rain. Curiously, the rose bush in the backyard still has two blooms on it. It’s kind of poignant to look at it… those resilient crimson blooms are hanging on for dear life, even as New Year’s approaches. Maybe it’s a sign of hope.

It kind of reminds me of a book I loved when I was a horse crazy girl in Virginia. It’s probably no surprise that I loved reading, so the school book fairs were a big hit, as far as I was concerned. Sometime in fourth grade, I got hooked on children’s author, Stephen Cosgrove’s, books. I especially loved the ones he wrote about horses, and there were a lot of them. He also wrote books with other animals as the protagonists. I didn’t read as many of those books, because when I was a child, horses were my passion. I would probably love his other books.

I would definitely choose Stephen Cosgrove over Dr. Seuss. I guess that’s another way Ex and I are very different.

Cosgrove would marry animal characters with beautiful illustrations by his colleague, Robin James. The stories always had a winning combination of magic, royalty, fantasy, and morals. Since, as far as I was concerned, horses were the most beautiful animals, I was especially enchanted by his books about them in any incarnation.

One of my favorite stories by Stephen Cosgrove was his book, Shimmeree, which was about a majestic winged mare– a lightosaur– who lived in a crystal water droplet. The only colors in Shimmeree’s crystalized world were blue, gold, and silver. One day, Shimmeree discovered a speck of dust lands in a crack the droplet. Shimmeree and her friends had never seen dust before, and it scared them. They shied away from the dust, thinking it was dangerous, because it was a color they had never seen before– grayish-brown.

Some time passes, and Shimmeree and her friends continue to be worried about the dust and the strange pearl shaped seed within it. What was it? Was it dangerous? The leader of the lightosaurs wanted to destroy the seed before it harmed them.

Shimmeree stood up for the seed. She pleaded with her friends not to destroy the seed, just because it was different. Shimmeree offered to watch the seed, promising that if it turned out to be dangerous, they could destroy it.

One day, the seed broke open, and Shimmeree saw the color green for the first time. She went to tell the others, and they all rushed back to the seed. The green color casted by the light on the others, and they became truly frightened. They were going to destroy the plant, but Shimmeree talked them out of it. Then, while everyone slept, she moved the plant to another place.

When the creatures came back to destroy the plant, they realized it was gone. The group was thrilled that it was gone, but just then, it bloomed and cast the most beautiful shade of red, which was reflected on everyone. The group went to where Shimmeree had moved the plant, which had bloomed into a beautiful rose.

So pretty!

And Shimmeree and her friends learned that they had nothing to fear but fear itself… Below is a video reading of this story.

I loved this book when I was a kid!

I did love Shimmeree, but I don’t think it was my favorite Stephen Cosgrove book. I was just reminded of that story because of the tenacious roses in our yard. Usually, by this time of year, the roses are long gone. Given how challenging the COVID times have been, I think it’s kind of cool that the roses are still hanging on… or, it could just be another sign of global warming and climate change. This cynical side I have is one reason why I don’t think I would make a very good children’s author, as much as I loved to read children’s books.

I think my favorite book by Stephen Cosgrove might be Morgan & Me. I identified with the protagonist, although I don’t tend to “live in the land of Later”… I’m just not so good about cleaning up my room. I don’t procrastinate, though. I think I was just taken by the little princess and her trip through the enchanting forest, where she met Morgan, a unicorn whose horn was stuck in branches.

I miss some things about being a child.
Blessed are children’s authors who can come up with magical stories…

True to her nature, the princess promised to help the unicorn named Morgan. But just a little later…

She finally helped Morgan when she became bored. Once she freed Morgan, he followed her, until she fell into a lily pond. She asked Morgan for help, and he promised he would… but just a little later. The princess begged for help, since she knew she’d catch cold sitting on a lily pad. Then she realized why Morgan was doing what he was doing and apologized for making him wait. He lowered his horn and rescued the princess. She learned a lesson, and they became the best of friends!

Stephen Cosgrove wrote so many other awesome books for children that were easy to read, beautifully illustrated, and enchanting. I probably should order some of them to read on the days when I’m feeling especially cranky. Based on the YouTube videos people have made, reading Stephen Cosgrove’s books, he was very popular among people my age… especially the girls. I think a lot of my friends liked his book, Flutterby Fly. As you can see, Cosgrove would probably be inspired by Germany… many times, I have seen forests and meadows like the ones illustrated in his books.

I suddenly have an image of Vanessa Redgrave reading this… wouldn’t that be interesting?

Or Nitter Pitter, a story about a narcissistic stallion… I used to have a beagle like Nitter Pitter. He was gorgeous, and definitely knew it!

I loved this book, probably because it was about a regular horse…
And maybe because of this illustration, which inspired a lot of horsey dreams.

I often think about how much I would love to have horses in my life again, even though they are very expensive and require a lot of work. Some of my best friends in life were four legged… and the one who got me through high school was a very special Appaloosa named Rusty. He was my dearest confidant, and we made a great team. But real life was calling, so I left that world behind… Maybe someday, I can revisit it, although without as much intensity as I once had.

Last night, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog came into our bedroom and watched fox hunting videos with us. A year ago, he was terrified by the TV, especially when men were on the screen. But now he is fascinated by television, especially when there are dogs baying, as they do in fox hunts. I got a kick out of watching Noyzi react to the horses and dogs of Ireland. I used to fox hunt myself, back in the day, but fox hunting in Virginia isn’t quite as intense as it is in Ireland. Noyzi was very impressed by the show and even joined in with the barking. I always knew he was a hound at heart, even if he’s really a shepherd of some sort. I got three videos of Noyzi last night… below is the last one I took. Arran also got into it.

Anyway… I guess it’s time I got on with the day. I hope, if you’re celebrating, you have an excellent holiday– Christmas or whatever– and there’s no drama or strife. And if there is, I recommend watching a few videos of people reading Stephen Cosgrove books. They’ll take you away from the ugliness of this world for a few moments.

memories, nostalgia

Repost: My brush with the rich and famous in rural Gloucester, Virginia…

I’ve been a little bit homesick, lately. It’s been years since I was last “home”. So, as I think about what fresh content I want to write today, here’s a repost from 2018. The featured photo is of me, running in my first race in April 1982. I won first place for my age and sex– which, at that time, was nine. It was a four mile race. My, how times have changed. Now, I feel great when I manage to walk a mile.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s.  We moved there in June 1980, the day after I turned eight.  I remember very clearly that in those days, Gloucester was very rural.  I seem to remember just a few stoplights in the entire county and maybe a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. 

Decades later, I see that it’s a lot more cosmopolitan than it was in my day.  Areas that used to be nothing but trees are now home to big box stores and chain restaurants.  Both the Pizza Hut and the McDonald’s that were there in 1980 have been torn down and moved.  And there are now many stoplights in Gloucester and there have been for probably thirty years or more.

I didn’t appreciate Gloucester when I was young.  In fact, I hated living there for most of my youth.  When we first moved there, I was mercilessly bullied by a group of my classmates– the smart, “preppie” kids whose families had lived in Gloucester forever.  Many of those kids rode the same bus I did and made my life a living hell.  I didn’t get along with most of the kids who lived on my dirt road, either.  They were a different group of kids.  They weren’t necessarily smart.  What most of them were was very “redneck”.  We didn’t mesh.  They probably thought I was too highfalutin’ and snobby.  There’s no telling.   

The one thing that saved me from succumbing to despair was my love for horses.  I wasn’t especially horsey when we lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which was where we spent the first two years after my dad retired from the Air Force our of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  My sister had taken riding lessons in England, but I wasn’t necessarily into horses myself…  but then we moved to rural, country Gloucester, where many people owned horses.  My neighbor, mother to one of the hoodlums who used to harass me, used to let me ride her horse every once in awhile.  I will never forget the intoxicating aroma of the horses and the thrill of sitting on one for the first time.  I fell deeply in love.

Within a couple of years after we moved to Gloucester, I started taking formal riding lessons.  I continued riding throughout high school, finally giving it up in 1990, the year I graduated.  Although Gloucester was, and probably still is, a rather provincial place, there were actually some interesting people living there.  In fact, there’s a lot of old money in Gloucester and many historic plantations are located there.  You could spend all day driving around the county looking at them if you wanted to.

Little me on Rusty, the pony who got me through high school still innocent.  I think I was about twelve in this photo.  The year was 1984.

In the 80s, the Sadovic family from France owned a big fancy plantation called Eagle Point.  I don’t know what their business was, but they were very French and apparently very wealthy.  Their son, Greg, was about my age.  He showed horses.  I believe he and the rest of his family now live in Palm Beach, Florida and he now shows horses professionally.  In the 80s, he was involved in 4H, like I was, and he sometimes rode in the small shows, like I did.  But his family owned beautiful horses and were very serious about the sport. 

For several years in the 1980s, the Sadovics employed an expert French horseman named Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  Francois was a bit of a “rock star” in the horse world.  He first trained and graduated from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe.  During his six years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three-day eventing and steeplechase.  He was awarded the title of Master Instructor of the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1996.  Given that he was born in 1944, Francois has been in the horse business for many years.  But I knew him during his prime.  In fact, I distinctly remember falling off my horse, Rusty, right in front of him back in the 80s.

In those days, Francois was in his 40s and he lived in Gloucester.  He’d give riding clinics at Eagle Point.  I know I attended at least one or two of them.  In those days, Eagle Point had a number of events that we’d attend– horse shows, competitive trail rides, and fox hunts.  It wasn’t located far from where I took lessons.  My riding coach took lessons from Francois and passed on some of his techniques to us when she taught us.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was actually really cool that she was able to do that, especially in a place like Gloucester.

In 1988, right after Rusty and I won first place in a huge Hunter Pleasure Pony class in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1984, Francois published his first book, Handbook of Riding Essentials.  It made quite a splash locally, but I believe it also sold well internationally.  I see that Francois is still in business, too, giving riding clinics in places like Vermont.  I see on an old Facebook page that someone who worked with Francois in the 80s mentions having known him in Virginia.  He evidently also worked at Beau Shane, which was a beautiful farm in next door Mathews County (which I think is now defunct).  I knew it because the woman who used to run our 4H horse judging group was a horse trainer there and we used to visit Beau Shane to study conformation.  They had beautiful Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County is even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses there.

This topic comes up because last night, I was noticing all the boat pictures and videos posted by some of my Gloucester friends and I felt a little bit homesick.  Gloucester is also home to several rivers and many people who live there own boats.  I joked that maybe it was time to move back to Gloucester.  My old riding coach mentioned that mosquitos are a thing there and maybe I’d forgotten that.  I was being a bit facetious.  I can’t see myself moving to Gloucester again.  It wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was growing up.  But another friend, a guy who lived there in the 70s, started talking about the plantations and mentioned Warner Hall…  He said it’s for sale.

Warner Hall is located right next to Eagle Point and, in the 80s, one could board their horses there.  It is now a five star B&B, but in the 80s, we rode our horses through the property while participating in events put on by Eagle Point.  I didn’t know it back in the 80s, but George Washington’s grandparents lived there.  Actually, Gloucester is a very historic place.  It’s also where Pocahontas was born.  And Dr. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician who led the team that postulated and confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a particular mosquito species, rather than by direct contact, was also born in Gloucester, Virginia.  Gloucester was also used in a couple of films, notably Zelly & Me starring Isabella Rosselini, and Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.  And John Lennon once owned a plantation in neighboring Mathews County called Poplar Grove.

When I was about eleven, I also used to occasionally visit Lisburne, another plantation that was restored by the Peebles family.  Their daughter, Laurie, showed horses on the A rated circuit and a church friend, also wealthy, hooked me up with her.  I remember I used to visit this marvelous home in Ordinary and play with Laurie’s horses.  This was before my mom got me into lessons with the woman who taught me all through high school. 

I think about all the places I could have grown up… places not as interesting or historic as Gloucester County is.  When I was a child, I thought it was a boring place.  Now I realize that Gloucester is pretty fascinating.  I still don’t know that I want to move back there, but it was a cool place to grow up.  There’s an interesting mix of old money, old redneck, and military transients in that county.  I still have a lot of friends there, although my family has moved on.  If it weren’t for horses, I don’t know that I would have had so many opportunities to see some of these wonderful old homes. 

Of course, I also got to see a few of them thanks to being a Presbyterian.  I think in Gloucester, a lot of Presbyterians were somewhat well-heeled and connected to old money.  But I see now, even the church I grew up in has changed.  I remember when that sanctuary was built, back in 1980, 100 years after the church was founded.  And now, it’s no longer First Presbyterian Church.  Now it’s Grace Covenant Church, affiliated with the new ECO branch of Presbyterianism because apparently, the minister didn’t want to have to marry gay couples, and disagreed with some of the other changing views of the PCUSA branch.

Anyway… I just heard the chimes go off, signifying that it’s time to move the laundry to the dryer.  I guess I’ve rambled on long enough this morning.

Here’s a link to Francois’ book…  I see it’s significantly more expensive these days!  But it is very well-regarded… Maybe I should buy a copy for old time’s sake.

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true crime

True crime in my world…

Some of you who are still reading this blog after this year’s upheaval may remember that I sometimes like to write about true crime. Every once in awhile, I write about something that hits close to home for me, or for other people. I’ve gotten comments from people who are actually involved in some of the situations I’ve written about or true crime books I’ve reviewed.

True crime has struck eerily close to home for me this week. This isn’t to mean it’s touched me personally, only that a crime occurred in Germany and it caused a blip in our routine. Of course, for the people involved, it definitely wasn’t just a “blip”.

My dog, Zane, has been kind of off his food this week. He has a slightly swollen lymph node under his jaw. At first, I was worried about cancer, because I ALWAYS worry about cancer when it comes to my dogs. But then I noticed that he otherwise looks bright and perky, and he does want to eat. In fact, last night, we were eating duck and he was loudly demanding that we share it with him. But he doesn’t want to finish his own food, especially the dry pellets he gets. He will eventually eat it, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Edited to add: Looks like my initial hunch was right and Zane probably does have cancer. 🙁

I took a look in his mouth and he is definitely due for a dental cleaning. He’s got lots of tartar build up and his gum line is red. Last year, our vet near Stuttgart removed a small tumor from his mouth. It’s possible he has a new one. So I asked Bill to stop by our vet to make an appointment for Zane to be seen. If the vet agrees with me that it’s time for a dental, we’ll try to get both dogs done, but after the first, because August has been a very expensive month! I’m sure the vet will agree, because Zane obviously could use a cleaning. Hopefully, that’s the only thing troubling him.

Anyway, on Wednesday, Bill stopped by our vet’s office and found a long note posted on the door. Naturally, it was in German. Bill does speak some basic German, but he’s nowhere near fluent. He took a photo of the note on the door, getting the gist that they were making some policy changes, mainly due to the huge number of clients they have. He says they will offer Sunday hours and won’t take on any new clients. He also got the gist that there had been a death at the practice, so that was why they were closed Wednesday night.

My German friend, Susanne, then shared with me a news story about a 22 year old woman who was found lying in a pool of blood near a horse paddock. The woman, who wasn’t named in the original post, had been riding her horse and had only just moved to Hofheim within the past few weeks.

The next day, Susanne shared another article. In that article, the woman was identified as Lea S., and she worked at our vet’s office. Her murder was the reason the practice was closed on Wednesday, as she was killed on Tuesday night. It says on the vet’s page that she had been working there since 2017, but I guess she only just moved to Wiesbaden… or, more specifically, the area where we live, which is on the outskirts of Wiesbaden proper. Lea loved horses and spent her free time with them. I grew up with horses myself, so I understand the love very well.

On a different note, I think it’s interesting that the German press doesn’t identify people like the American press does. Even people who are accused of crimes don’t get identified by their full names. They are usually photographed holding up a folder over their faces and their last names are usually not revealed.

In the next article about the murder, we learned that the perpetrator is a 55 year old man. He has already lawyered up and turned himself in to the police. Supposedly, he and Lea were romantically involved, and perhaps she tried to break up with him. He responded by shooting her.

Violent crime is not that common in Germany. It does happen here, but not like it does in the United States. It’s much more difficult for private citizens to have access to weapons here than it is in the United States. Frankly, I like that about Germany. I think it’s sensible. But just because there aren’t as many guns here, that doesn’t mean violent crime doesn’t happen. And even without weapons, people do get murdered here… but by less violent methods. For example, a few months ago, I wrote about a man who had killed people by poisoning their food, and another man who had passively aggressively booby trapped the homes of people he didn’t like.

I am not that familiar with our new vets because I haven’t been the one taking the dogs to them. When we lived near Stuttgart, I got to know our old vets very well, because I took Zane in monthly for allergy shots. Our new vets have a much bigger and busier practice, and we have only visited them a few times. Most of the time, Bill has gone alone. I can’t even imagine how our old vets would have reacted if one of their staff members had been murdered. They’d probably shut down for a week.

I think Lea’s story is very sad. She was a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her. She obviously had passions in life, and so many more things to do before she made her untimely exit. My heart goes out to her family, friends, and co-workers who had experienced such a tremendous loss. I’m sure we would have gotten to know and like her, if we’d had the opportunity.

Hopefully, we’ll get to the bottom of Zane’s issues soon. He just begged me for his morning treat, but still doesn’t want to finish his breakfast.

Edited to add: Since I wrote this post, more information has come out. The ex lover who turned himself in is claiming innocence and says he only turned himself in because he knew the police would confront him. Also, witnesses have said they saw a young man, and the ex lover is 55 years old. However, the prosecutor doesn’t believe that the ex lover had nothing to do with the crime. Perhaps it was murder for hire?


Things you shouldn’t do while barefoot…

I love going barefoot. I always have. Although I will sometimes wear socks when my feet get cold, I inevitably shed them because I don’t like the feel of anything on my feet. However, there are certain things I don’t do while barefoot.

This morning, in the Life is Not All Pickles and Hairspray group, someone shared a photo of Joy Anna Forsyth. She looks beautiful in a very flattering floral print dress. Her face is made up; she’s slimmed down; and she wears a beatific smile. But then, when you cast your eyes downward, you see she has bare feet. This would not be a big deal, except she’s also standing next to a horse.

I grew up riding horses. It’s been a long time since I was last in the saddle, although I took lessons for years and went to many horse shows. One lesson I did take from those years around horses is that you really should wear good shoes when you’re working with them. It’s not just because horses take enormous dumps, either. Horses are bigger than most people are, and their behavior can be unpredictable. The horse Joy is standing to looks pretty calm in the picture, but what if he or she spooked for some reason? Joy would have to jump out of the way, which is not so easy to do when you have tender feet.

If Joy walks around barefoot a lot, she may very well have hard, tough calluses on her feet. But I doubt even the toughest callus can stand up to a horse’s hoof, particularly if the horse is shod. She really could get hurt, which would not be a good thing. I remember when I was a teenager, coming home from a horse show. We had to stop on the side of the road and unload one of the horses for some reason. A small pony jumped off the trailer and landed on my big toe. It hurt like hell. Luckily, my toe was just smashed and bruised, not broken. I did lose the toenail, though. Thank God I was wearing shoes.

As I write this, I remember quite clearly on an old episode of 19 Kids and Counting another time when Joy went barefoot. It was right after Josie was born, and the whole family was temporarily living at a historic house in Little Rock. Joy and her brothers were in the yard and the lawn needed to be mowed. Joy did it barefoot in her skirt, claiming that she enjoys cutting the grass. I suppose if you keep your feet away from the mower, you might be safe enough. But it really isn’t a good idea. On the other hand, at least Joy isn’t a drinker. Plenty of people would drink beer and cut the grass, perhaps barefoot. It doesn’t seem like the smartest idea.

In Touch Weekly has an article about this Duggar phenomenon. Joy isn’t the only one who does this, although she appears to be the worst offender. There is a picture of her at age 12, starting up the lawnmower with shoeless feet, along with lots of other pictures of the Duggar women (I see none of the guys doing this) with no shoes on. I’m of a mixed mind about it myself, since I don’t like wearing shoes and have been known to step outside without them. But I do wear them if I’m in public or in a place where going barefoot would be dangerous. I would say hanging out with equines and cutting the grass definitely qualify.