In a Blink of an Eye – 2020

Another new year! I’m happy to be here to experience it, but it makes me realize how fast time goes by as we age and how I haven’t done all I thought I’d do by now. Some dreams seem impossible now that I’ve passed the half century mark. Among


 many unaccomplished goals, I haven’t signed into the blog account for two years.  

The last time I wrote I just turned 50. A few weeks after my birthday, my very ill mother passed away. Since her death, I haven’t been able to write. I tried a few times, but it hurt too much to let anything out. I’ve felt uneasy and troubled due to her death, but also because I haven’t been writing. My human existence needs writing. I often encourage others to write to help them work through feelings, issues, life experiences, but I haven’t been following my own advice.  So here I am, writing…healing.

It doesn’t have to be profound or inspirational. It just needs to be. Like each one of us. Being alive is enough. We often want to be exceptional in the world of humans, but just “being” is exceptional.  I forget that. The need to stand out or be relevant holds me back from expressing myself. I often think, “Who cares what I have to say?” I care, so that’s enough. Each of us validating our own thoughts and feelings is important to our healthy existence and to the culture of the world we live in.  Although in the world of billions we may feel like a tiny ant in one of the billions of ant hills, our contribution to the work of the world matters. We all have a part to play which requires self expression in some form or another.  

Through our expression of ourselves, we hope to find connection. During my 52 years I’ve longed for connection. I’ve found it here and there through different life challenges and adventures, but seem to always fall short. Even today, I wondered if I could google something that would help

connectme find someone who understood me and who I could connect with. Other divorcee’s, other adoptive parents, other counselors, writers, people who struggle with their weight, or single parents? I think my perception of others is that they are more connected than I could ever be, but then I wonder if it’s just me comparing my insides to their outsides.  What we perceive isn’t always the truth. Most of the time, there’s much more to the story than the outsides tell. I wonder if others feel alone in this big world, even when they have relationships, family, and friends? Actually, I know others do. Loneliness can happen in a room full of people.



As I age, and more people in my life pass away, the loneliness grows. Holes in my life that can’t be filled. I remember my grandma telling me about how fortunate she felt to live into her 80’s, but how sad she also felt about seeing so many loved ones die. At the time, I didn’t understand because I hadn’t lost anyone other than my other grandma. Now I understand. As the years hopefully continue for me, I will understand more of what she meant, the bitter

sweetness of aging. So many new experiences that none of us believed would happen so fast.  The way time flies, it feels like a whole year is like a month. I will blink and be 80. So many wonderful things will happen during the blink and some hard ones too.

For these first few days of 2020, I have reflected on my life, cherished the many things to be grateful for and made plans for the future. I made resolutions because I need to shoot for improvement always. Last year I did accomplish many of my goals, but not all of them and it’s okay. I wanted to start writing again for the last two years. I finally did it today. It doesn’t seembridge like much, but for me the dam has broken and I can move forward now. I’m reconnecting with myself to heal and to connect with others. Building bridges over the holes. 


Turning Fifty


It’s the eve of my 50th birthday. Fifty years ago back in 1967, my mom was nine months pregnant, ready to burst. Tonight she is in as assisted living facility, wishing to feel better. Her parents, my grandparents, have been gone for years. Her sister, her ex-husband and boyfriends, all gone. Fifty years ago, I was an innocent baby, waiting to begin my life in the crazy era of the Vietnam War. Now, I’m a middle aged, not so innocent, twice divorced, single mom of two, sitting at home alone, wondering how much longer I get to be here. Will I get another five, ten, or fifty years? What is my number? I’d like another fifty. That would be so great. I could see my sons grow older like I am now. God, I hope so.  I could help more teens graduate, write more books, go on more trips, experience more joy, maybe fall in love for real and have it last for the years I have left, learn and read more. There’s so much to do still. Will I get to do it?

Can I slow down the clock please?

The first fifty seemed to fly by.  Seems like yesterday I was pretending to be Wonder Woman in the front yard, spinning around then catching bad guys.  Now there’s an wwactual movie about her. Damn! (That sure took a long time.) Wasn’t it just a few years ago I was in love with my high school boyfriend, hoping we’d get married one day. No, it wasn’t. More like over thirty years ago, but who’s counting? I know it’s been years, but it doesn’t feel like it.  All those memories are alive in me. I can see myself in those moments, being me, living, doing my life. I see the same thing in my mom. She talks about the memories of her youth while she pushes her walker. Her body is old, but her being is not.

Getting older is good, considering the alternative, but it’s also weird and terrifying.

50All these moments of who you are bring you to this big day, your birthday, and take you farther from your youth and closer to the end, but it’s amazing to have another birthday. I’m so lucky. I know it. So many people aren’t having birthdays anymore. My best friend’s last birthday was her thirty-first. I miss her so. She and I would have done something special to celebrate the milestones, but she’s not here. I guess that’s the sad part of birthdays – missing those who aren’t here to celebrate with us. Not only missing those who passed, but those living who have left our lives.  People who we love but aren’t with anymore. Birthdays make me think a lot about those who are not in my world anymore. We are supposed to celebrate and be surrounded by people who love us, but the truth is that doesn’t happen for lots of us. Maybe that is the lingering sadness that haunts me. Or maybe it’s just exhaustion from all the stress that fifty years brings.  Or maybe it’s not being where I think I should be in life. I don’t know.

50pI remember when I was a kid, looking at my aunts and uncles and thinking they were old. They were in their twenties and thirties. To me they seemed old. Now I’m older than they were when I thought they were old. That’s weird. I’m in a new place. I’m the one who should know stuff. Old people should know stuff – have it figured out, right? That’s a lot of pressure. When you reach the other half of your life (you hope you still have half to go), there’s the pressure of reflection on what you’ve accomplished. Is this where the young version of me thought she’d be? I don’t think so, but then again, I don’t remember thinking this far ahead. Regardless, I am where I’m at. I can’t change how my life is when I wake up on my fiftieth. I’ve done my best. I wish somethings were different, but I think we all do.  Being dissatisfied helps motivate us, but it can also be damn depressing.501

I’m turning fifty tomorrow and well, I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t have all that I wanted to have by the time I was fifty.  That’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s my truth. I could list all the things that are not the way I think they should be, but that would be ridiculous because everything is as it should be.  I live and work where I’m supposed to. I weigh and look like I’m supposed to. The relationships that I wanted to last didn’t, like they were supposed to and it’s okay. It all just has to be okay.  I’m turning fifty. Yay, I made it! Oh crap, I hope I still can do all I want to do. Time is ticking.

Intentional Friend

By Darbie Andrews

Making friends came easy until I reached my forties. In my younger years, it happened so effortlessly through work, school, and activities. I always had friends nearby who I’d see sad1on a regular basis. All that changed when I moved away from everyone, divorced, became a single mom, and started a new job. My closest friends lived five hundred miles away during one of the most painful times of my life. Talk about lonely. I desperately needed and wanted to find new friends, but struggled with how to go about it since I never had to make such a conscious effort in my earlier years.

I ventured out to the gym.

The first time I saw her I had no idea we’d become friends. I noticed her for many reasons. Unlike me in the back of the room in all black, she wore all matching, bright colored Zumba clothes and she stood in the front row of class. Her ability to follow all of the Zumba instructor’s choreography with ease impressed me. Many of the people in the class knew her and they hugged before class. This woman had style, friends, courage, and great dance moves. With my self-esteem in the toilet from the battles of divorce, I didn’t see us as potential friends.

A few months after I first began going to Zumba, we ran into each other in the locker room. She complimented me on my dancing. Shocked that she noticed me at all, I felt my face turn five shades of red. That’s the beauty of exercise rooms covered in mirrors, no one can really hide. We had a short conversation about upcoming classes and we introduced ourselves. From that point on, we greeted each other before every class – the beginnings of a friendship with Stephanie.


Then one day she took the stage as a Zumba instructor. Wfullsizerender3ow, I thought to myself, how did she do that? Her courage to move from being a participant to a leader intrigued me. I started moving closer to the front of the class and talking to her more about being an instructor. We seemed so different in many ways, but seeing her make this leap of faith helped my confidence grow enough that I became inspired to become an instructor as well.

We chatted about choreography, songs, class size, mistakes we made while leading dances, and anything Zumba. She became a Zumba friend.  I greatly appreciated what we shared, but we weren’t friends outside of Zumba until one day she did somethin10371341_10205379343183963_2529482028241788670_og that no one else has ever has done. She took out her planner and asked me, “When can we do lunch?”  I stood there staring at her with my mouth open for a while before I grabbed my planner and we found a date to meet.

The first time we had lunch together, I realized how amazing it feels to be in a friendship with someone who intentionally seeks to connect with you.  It felt profoundly different than my friendships of the past because it didn’t step1just happen. She made sure it happened. Her passion for connection made me feel special. I felt honored by her attention to our potential as friends.

We’ve filled our planner with many other lunch dates over the years and become close friends. She has supported me through painful dating fiascos and day to day challenges, but the most beautiful thing she’s done is shown me the power of true friendship and the beautiful heart of a devoted Christian. Stephanie loves deeply and much of that love comes from her devotion to Christ.

Called to teach Zumba for God, Stephanie brings her love for others to every class she leads and the people feel it. The genuineness of her caring for others brings people into her life that want love and acceptance. I’m sure that’s why our paths crossed. I stayed in a bad relationship and she prayed for God to show me what I needed to get out and it happened. She stood by me and helped me stay strong through the break up. Stephanie knows my struggles with the Christian church and she has never preached to me. Her love for God shines through her actions.  She lives in love. step

I could go on and on about the many wonderful things Stephanie has done for me and many other friends, but this one occasion speaks volumes. On one of our recent lunch dates, I told her how all of the people I meet and know are devout Christians. She listened. I told her again how I don’t like church. She listened. I told her how I went to this church coffee shop and felt somewhat comfortable talking to the youth pastor about a mentoring program. She listened. I told her that I might go to a service there someday. She took out her planner and said, “I will go with you. When you want to go?” Again, my mouth dropped open. There she sat, ready to go to a church, other than her own, to help me make that step, that very uncomfortable step. She didn’t want me to go alone. My eyes filled with tears.

I would not have gone to church if Stephanie hadn’t offered to go with me. She did what no other person had ever done…again. People have invited me to their churches a



nd I’ve gone, but Stephanie brought it to another level. She and her husband sat there with me. She’s that friend. She’s the one who will go above and beyond. As I sat there in this church, totally uncomfortable, I looked over at her and my discomfort lifted a little. When the pastor went on about the struggles of dating and how people often short change themselves, tears poured down my face. I looked at Stephanie. I knew she knew that message was meant for me. After the sermon, she said, “God definitely called you here today.”

I’m not sure about what God calls me to do or not, but I am sure that my prayer to find new friends has been answered. To have friends nearby improves my life on so many levels, but what I appreciate more than anything is the lesson of being intentional. Being treated like I’m important and my friendship is important sends a beam of love into my heart and I want to do the same for others. The message of “I want to know you” is powerful. It’s what we all need and deserve to hear because it communicates that we are valuable.


In these times of full schedules, it’s easy to go months or years without making time for those we love or for potential new friends. We are often caught up in stuff and forget to express how much we value the people in our lives, but it’s a simple fix. Be intentional. Pull out your calendar and pick a date. Make it that important. We all deserve to feel that important. Thank you Stephanie for wanting to know me. I’m so happy to know you. We need to get our next date on the planner.

The first Zumbathon we participated in together!

Bragging Rights

Bragging Rights  12961728_605186556312191_2936564873169789097_n

I felt unsure about how it would go, but when I heard they needed a teacher who wanted to work with at-risk students, I decided to give it a shot. Teaching elementary school for twelve years had become isolating and routine. Earning my Master’s degree and my short experience as a high school and middle school counselor created a hungequestion-mark-1026530_960_720r in me for something different. When I walked inside the building, a nervousness that I hadn’t felt since I first started teaching shot through me. I wondered if I’d made the right decision. My new challenge faced me, teaching teenagers at a continuation high school. What was I thinking?

I hate to admit it, but I was a bit terrified. A tumultuous sea of teens surrounded me all day long. Their attitudes, moods, faces, “eff bombs,” gossip, bullying, and occasional laughter pierced into my being. They seemed so foreign to me compared to elementary children who, for the most part, would do anything I asked of them. Teaching young children has its challenges, but they generally love their teachers. Their little faces light up and they want attention so bad it hurts. “Teacher, teacher,” they’d yell out all day long. They’d depression-1250897_960_720sing and dance, read out loud, and do ten jumping jacks enthusiastically if I asked.  I didn’t experience the same types of responses from these teenagers. They did want my attention and just asking them to work could turn into a huge conflict. Their faces didn’t express joy for much of anything they had to do it school.

Many of them had years of tragically challenging experiences at home and in school that left them feeling hopeless and discouraged, but they showed up anyway. Even though they’d failed in the past, they wanted a chance to succeed. Many people, including themselves in some cases, criticized them, put them down, and looked at them as failures because they went to a continuation high school. Although people told them they couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed, they kept trying. Their strength and tenacity inspired me, but I still wasn’t sure how to reach them.

So we danced.


I nervously started a Zumba class for P.E. At first, very few students chose the class, but over the years, the room filled with more new faces. When I lead them in Zumba dances, they became those enthusiastic elementary kids who would do anything I asked. They’d shake, jump, clap, shimmy, you name it. Oh to see them smile, knowing what I knew about their lives, created a happiness in my heart like no other. Pure joy.

I had a crazy idea of asking them if they wanted to perform some of the dances in public at a health fair and fundraiser. Surprisingly, they agreed and even showed up to after school events. They returned to the school they were kicked out of and performed with big smiles on their faces. Their enthusiasm and willingness to perform in front of people shocked me. In class their love for movement and music brought laughter and smiles, but to ta792298_10151429665388707_224105806_oke that outside of our safe haven required another level of courage. These moments of pride lifted their heads and expressed their tenacity. They showed people their unwillingness to be invisible or forgotten. Every year each new Zumba class brought new energy and crossed new boundaries.  Then the big moment came – a chance of a lifetime. For the first time ever, teen students from a continuation high school in little Red Bluff, CA would dance Zumba during halftime at a professional NBA basketball game. For me, a dream come true. 12963436_605186506312196_349463721530923816_n

When the day arrived of our performance at the King’s game half-time, I wished all the previous students who helped build the enthusiasm for Zumba over the last nine years could have been there with us. They graduated long before this opportunity arose, but they were key to making it possible. Their willingness to show off their skills during the earlier years changed my thinking. I realized these teenagers still had that youthful enthusiasm and courage. Even though life had pushed them down and took away their smiles so many times, their smiles could be unburied. Their joyfulness and confidence to take healthy risks could be reignited with the power of dance.

The amazing group that made it to the King’s game practiced relentlessly with me for weeks before the big day. They drove two hours to Sacramento the week before the 12973336_605185846312262_1360726372874898236_operformance to rehearse repeatedly with the hundred other dancers. A few were overcome with anxiety so many times at school that dancing in front of thousands of people in a stadium and for television struck a nerve way down deep, but they committed to performing. Before we made our way down to the floor, a few girls expressed their nervousness and fear to the point of wanting to back out, but they didn’t. We ran out onto the King’s floor full of excitement. I looked at the faces of the nine Salisbury students who stood there with me and knew they’d never forget that moment. Neither would I.12932775_605186679645512_4454442459524173230_n

We looked up into the crowds of hundreds of people and waved at the ones who came along to cheer us on. Giant cameras pointed at us. The announcer yelled out, “Let’s hear it for the Zumba dancers!” The crowd roared. The music blasted. We danced for three glorious minutes. Single, single, double. Step left. Step right. Shimmy. I smiled the biggest smile possible. The pride I felt to be dancing there with these incredible students was one of the best moments of my life. They remembered all the moves and they rocked it! The music ended and the crowd roared louder. People clapped and cheered. We ran off the floor, several of my students said, “That was amazing. When can we do this again?”12938304_605186566312190_3257568871448162589_n1

I don’t know when we will have the chance to do it again, but I am driven to find more opportunities for my students to shine. They deserve it and they need it. Their bravery catapults them and future students onto a new levels of accomplishment. They walked away from that experience with something that very few other people can say they’ve done. Yes, they’ve earned serious bragging rights. After everything each of them has been through, they can still push themselves and be amazing. It takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of people and dance your heart out, especially if you’ve been the person who never did things like that before. I hope they brag to everyone they know and meet that they danced Zumba at a King’s game, but even if they don’t, having those bragging rights in their hearts lifts their heads a little higher. Brag on Salisbury Zumba students, you are spectacular and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!



Many years ago when I did whatever I could to see another Phil Collins concert, I had the surprising experience of hearing him talk about one of his divorces. I just wanted to hear him sing, but being with him and the thousands of other people for his short storytelling about a super painful time in his life made me like him more. I didn’t think that was possible.  philcollinsHe decided to tell us a little story about how people in his life chose to stand in separate corners, like in a boxing ring, during the divorce fallout. He mentioned how people who he thought would always be in his life chose not to be anymore. I remember thinking how mean that was. Poor Phil Collins. He went on to sing “That’s all” which talks about loving someone more than he wanted to.

Back then, in my twenties, I really didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. Then came my forties. friendsI had this friend of twenty-four years. We were college roommates. We religiously watched America’s Funniest Home Videos together every Sunday night. It was our time. We laughed until we peed sometimes. When she went away to the East Coast to study, I sent her care packages and visited her. I was in her wedding; she was in mine. She called me “Darbielou” and kicked my butt at tennis. She encouraged me to move to Redding. So I did. Friends for life…I thought.

divorceThen came my divorce and that same thing that Phil talked about happened to me. I couldn’t believe it. My college friend took my ex’s side. If we could have literally stood iblue-boxing-gloves-1434861_960_720n a boxing ring, my friend and her husband would have been in my ex’s corner coaching him on. Left jab. Right upper cut. They would have been screaming and yelling from the corner. Heck, they might have even jumped in the ring and thrown a few punches themselves. At least that’s how it felt. Talk about being sucker punched. Even though Phil warned me; I never expected it. I wasn’t prepared. How do you prepare for that?

broken-heartThe hurt and betrayal stayed with me for many years. I’ve felt super angry, but mostly hurt. I wanted my friend back and I wanted to know why. I wanted to talk to her, hang out, play tennis, laugh, but that didn’t happen. It was so hard to understand and accept. Eventually I had to accept that she wasn’t my friend. She stood in his corner regardless of our history, but I also stood in mine.

Six years later, I had pushed most of my thoughts of her away so I didn’t hurt anymore. Then one day, I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. It was overwhelming. Initially, I thought maybe the time had come for our reconciliation. Although I had many moments when I just wanted to cuss her out, I mostly wanted our friendship to mend. That hope lived in me. It felt so bad to have someone I loved not love me anymore.sad

Today I don’t know if our friendship will ever be again. I waited too long.  I let her position in my ex’s corner take over. In my mind, that was reason enough to avoid even trying, but it wasn’t. I should have tried harder. When she went to his side, I told her I was mad at her. I’m pretty sure she thought I remained angry, which I did for a long time. I only reached out once. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have made a bigger effort to communicate with her. Things would be different.

My friend was in a terrible car accident and ended up in a coma. I heard she woke up, but that she’s not really okay. There are many secrets surrounding her condition due to the health care privacy act and strange circumstances. I know she’s hurting and I just want to send her my support and love, but I can’t for many reasons that are out of my control. I’ve done as much as the circumstances will allow and it just doesn’t feel like enough.

In real boxing matches, boxers often hug after the fight or at least shake hands. They battle, then it’s over. Taking corners only temporarily. In life, when people take corners they seem to stay there for a long time, depending on the circumstances. The problem is that you just never know when someone won’t be able to hear you anymore. You never know when your last chance to try to fix the situation may be gone.

I wish I had the chance to tell her I forgive her for taking sides, standing in his corner, because I do. I’d like to ask her for forgiveness for my anger and my errors in judgement. The chance to talk it out would be healing. prayI wish for anyone who’s taken a corner in someone else’s divorce to reunite with the person and let the past go. If we stay in our corners, we cannot heal. Corners are meant for enemies, not friends. Harboring negative feelings doesn’t do anyone any good. She and I should have left our corners, fought it out, and hugged. I miss her more than ever and now it’s too late.  I can only pray that she will get her memory back so we can talk again. May I never lose another friend and if I do may we find a way back to what we once had.

Spirit of the Couch

12801250_1168729283138324_3296289806290059021_nSometimes ideas come to me and I don’t know exactly how they will manifest, but they often find a way into my reality in some form or another. As a teacher of teens at a continuation high school, I am challenged to find ways to reach young minds and motivate them to learn. I believe that life experiences teach more than pencil and paper so I try to squeeze in as many field trips as we can afford throughout the year. Other than field trips, this idea has been brewing: create some sort of business that the students can run from the school, like a bakery or producing some sort of craft that can be sold in local stores. They could get hands-on experience marketing, helping customers, dealing with money, making products, etc. I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, but I haven’t been able to make anything happen with it until this last year when someone asked, “Do you think we could have a rummage sale at the school to raise money for the Equine Assisted Learning classes for Red Bluff youth?”

“Sure,” I said, but I wasn’t positive it could really happen since I’m not the ultimate decision maker. The need to help students meet the new graduation requirement of community service made the idea more acceptable so the higher ups approved the event. We were off and running. Our school was going to hold its first fundraising event, a Spring Bazaar for a community organization, Daystar Ranch. Not quite a long term business, like a bakery, but a definite start.aasale

As far as all the planning, Daystar representatives did most of the work of gathering rummage sale items and promotion.  I assisted with asking staff for donations and encouraging students to help out on the day of the event.  I also had students hang up flyers around town, assist with moving rummage sale items into storage on campus, and pricing items. The Daystar representatives, Liz and Joni, were super enthusiastic and motivated. They asked for donations from the community and acquired many raffle prizes, including an ATV four wheeler! They even found entertainment and a food vendor for the event. Their high energy and motivation was what made it happen. While they were literally jumping for joy, I experienced a few moments of panic when I thought we were in over our heads and worried that students might not end up helping as much as we anticipated.

4:30 a.m. on the day of the event, I woke my six year old son and we prepared for the day. I grabbed some food and toys for my son, downed an iced coffee, and headed out with more coffee for the students who I planned to pick up a 5:30 a.m.  While driving to get them, I questioned whether or not they’d actually be there.  I mean, what teenager wakes up that early to go to school on a Saturday? I also questioned whether any of the other students who said they’d show up early would be at the school when I arrived. I didn’t know what I would do if they didn’t show, because there was no way that we could get everything ready in time without their help. Guess what?

Every one of the students showed up! Yep. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw those tired faces staring back at me before the sun had even risen. Not only did they show up; they worked hard. They moved pile after pile after pile of stuff out of the storage room out onto the basketball court. They set up tables, moved furniture, monitored the parking lot, helped customers, hung up clothes, made announcements, took direction from several adults, cleaned up, entertained my son, and a few even danced some Zumba with me to entertain to crowd. Talk about amazing.

So many times during the day, I would look around in awe because I felt so proud of them. I didn’t have to tell them to get to work or to stop messing around. They would ask me what they could do to help or they would just take the initiative and help a customer carry her things to her car. They gave it their all and asked when we’d do it again.

At the end of the event, 4:30 p.m. we were all exhausted. Some of the students had already left, but many stayed the entire day. They gathered together on the only comfortable resting place, the worn out, unsellable couch. That beast of a couch had been moved so many times that it seemed to suck the energy out of us all. We weren’t sure why we accepted it as a donation, but there it was, bringing us together, serving a purpose. We rested, took some pictures, and laughed. One student put a mask that he’d found in the rummage sale on a round pillow from the couch. He raised it in the air and yelled, “Spirit of the couch!” Everyone repeated in unison, “Spirit of the couch!” and laughed. We put a “free” sign on the couch and moved it unto the curb. Someone eventually took it home, but without the masked pillow.

Several months since the huge event that left me so tired I could barely move the next day, a student brought in the masked couch pillow and said, “Spirit of the couch.”  I laughed and repeated the chant. I know this sounds silly, but silently I thanked the couch for what it had taught me. When I saw all those students show up that day and work so hard, I felt a bit ashamed that I thought they wouldn’t show. Based on past experiences, I had reasonable doubts. Sometimes, with all the hard knocks they’ve experienced, the students can lack motivation and don’t want to participate in anything. In the past, they’ve failed in school, been hurt, and lost some of their youthful enthusiasm. Life has worn them out a bit, kind of like that couch has been worn out, but not as much as people might mistakenly think. With enough opportunities and a purpose, they will show their great potential. As worn out as that couch was, it served us well and held us up off the ground. Its potential not lost because of hard times.

My love for teaching grew that day, which I didn’t think was possible. The students inspired me to want to organize more hands-on, real life events where they have the opportunity to shine. The ideas are brewing. Something new and exciting is on the horizon.

Spirit of the Couch!!!


Equine Learning – Overcoming Obstacles

Going For It!

Equine Learning


Sometimes, if we’re lucky or if we ask, the universe brings us people whose arms are open and full of love.

It all began a few months ago when Joni walked into Salisbury High School to talk to me about duplicating an equine learning program that we had several years ago. She had been working together with the woman I used to work with and really wanted teens to come to her ranch like they had before at Day Star Ranch. Excited about the new opportunity, I visited her ranch one Saturday afternoon with my two sons. The minute we arrived, I knew we would be working together in the future. The warmth and positive energy of Joni and her ranch made us want to return soon and that we did.


This week we completed our second adventure with Joni and her three horses, Cali, Dusty, and Regina…

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Equine Learning – Overcoming Obstacles

Equine Learning


Sometimes, if we’re lucky or if we ask, the universe brings us people whose arms are open and full of love.

It all began a few months ago when Joni walked into Salisbury High School to talk to me about duplicating an equine learning program that we had several years ago. She had been working together with the woman I used to work with and really wanted teens to come to her ranch like they had before at Day Star Ranch. Excited about the new opportunity, I visited her ranch one Saturday afternoon with my two sons. The minute we arrived, I knew we would be working together in the future. The warmth and positive energy of Joni and her ranch made us want to return soon and that we did.

This week we completed our second adventure with Joni and her three horses, Cali, Dusty, and Regina. Fifteen students, a colleague, and I arrived at her ranch in Cottonwood, CA and were greeted with enthusiasm, smiles and hugs by Joni, her sister Liz, Jim and two other adult volunteers. It felt like we’d arrived home for the holidays. Their faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to take the group picture and give everyone a name tag so we could start the fun. For three hours we enjoyed an amazing opportunity to bask in the love and support created by a generous human heart, her horses, and equine learning activities.

First, we sat on bales of hay and discussed horse safety. Then, Jim asked the students to consider what obstacles they faced in life. After a short discussion, the students broke up into three groups of five students rotated through three different activities. One group worked on the fence line, boundaries. Another observed the group in the arena that had the task of connecting with the horses, building an obstacle, and moving the horses through the obstacle without talking or touching the horses. They could use anything in the arena to accomplish this goal.


Three horses gave the students the challenge of the day. They moved slowly or not at all as students walked a long side them and tried to get them to move. Sometimes a student would connect with a horse and it would walk a small distance, but not through the obstacle. Sometimes three students would gather around or in front of one horse and try to get it to move while the other two stood near the other horses. All three groups of teens followed the rules of the activity and never gave up. Although they all didn’t manage to move all of the horses through the obstacle that they created, they kept trying. No one stormed out of the arena in frustration. No one sat down in defeat. Every one of them stood by a horse and tried. Their success was in their resiliency; their willingness to keep on keeping on.


In the end, the facilitators coached the last group on how to move the horses and modify the obstacle for greater success. They created a pathway along the fence of the arena that the horses could pass through easily. They moved as a unit behind the horses and clapped their hands and put their arms up in the air to herd all three horses through the path. Success required thinking outside the box, combined energy, and teamwork.

Afterwards, the students had a chance to reflect and share their feelings and thoughts about the experience. Some felt frustration. Some realized that working as a team would have helped. Some had ideas for solving the problem, but didn’t feel confident to try them. They were asked to relate the experience to obstacles in their lives. The activity with the horses was a metaphor for the huge obstacles that life can throw at us. IMG_1627[1]

We discussed how, at times, we need to ask for help to accomplish our goals or resolve a problem and that’s okay. Or maybe we need to step back from the problem and look at it from another angle and approach in in another way. A student shared how the activity was difficult and how things in life can be difficult too. Watching the group move the horses in the end showed us that whatever the problem, we have to exert some energy to challenge the situation. It took combined energy to move the horses. Often it takes the combined energy of friends and family to help us get through challenges. And sometimes obstacles are there for the pure reason of teaching us a lesson. Whatever the obstacle, we can learn. Like one student said, “I learned ten ways not to move a horse.”

A morning at the ranch with three horses and some very loving, thoughtful, and generous adults gave the students so much more than they bargained for. They didn’t just pet horses and fix fence. They challenged themselves in new ways, reflected, grew, and much more. They learned about themselves and their classmates and took away some life lessons that will hopefully help them as they face obstacles in life. When they climbed into the vans and we headed out, several of them asked, “When will we do this again?”

Joni asked me the same thing before we left. The dates are set. No obstacles in the way of making this new equine learning adventure continue!

The Power of Projects

Sondra portrait
Sondra Patton

This summer began with sadness as my family mourned the loss of my Aunt Sondra. My mom came to visit after the memorial service. The regular sound of her crying over the loss of her one and only sister broke my heart. Most days, I had to leave for work or appointments so she had many hours alone on her hands. She read, cooked, watched T.V. and helped around my house to stay busy. We were both just getting through the hard time.

Then there was “The Project.” A project, as defined by is “a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, and equipment.” It’s that and much more. Since I divorced and turned off my cable television, I’ve been obsessed with one project after another.

Truth is, I didn’t really feel like doing any projects this summer. The combination of a family death, injured knee and back, over a hundred degree weather, and a bunch of health issues drained me. I was told to rest, take it easy. I reluctantly did that, but one day while I was laying on the couch icing my knee and back, I mentioned one of my project ideas to my mom. I had a goal to make my backyard into a nicer place to hang out and to eliminate some of the dead grass. The resulting project would be a brick patio. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do it, but also a little relieved. We talked about it how much work it would be and I knew I wasn’t up for it. Apparently, she was.

project 11
The beginning… ugh.

Yep, my 72 year old mom started my project! I came home one day to her shoveling up the dead grass in the backyard. This is no easy task. The ground is an old river bed and it’s as hard as cement and full of rocks, rocks, and more rocks. She dug down four inches too. She is such a studette. Although I was very grateful for her help, I wasn’t quite ready to take on this project. I didn’t want to do it, but there was no turning back. Her desire to accomplish something and help inspired me to do what I could. At first I hired some extra help because I couldn’t stand the physical pain, but over time I started shoveling and the pain subsided. I guessed that moving was the key to healing, not resting anymore.

one project
Not quite half way there. I thought we’d never finish.

My mom would get up at 6am and be out in the backyard with a pickaxe breaking up the ground. One morning she started shoveling part of the two yards of sand into a wheel barrow with the determination to move it all into the backyard BY HERSELF. I couldn’t believe it and wouldn’t let her. I actually told her to stop, but she wouldn’t. So we did it together, all two yards!

Dakota, Mom (Lavonne Rice) and Dominic. The Team

With my mom’s, son’s and a few hired hands’ help, I’ve reached the other side of the project.  As reluctant as I was to do this, I’m happy I did. It brought my mom and I closer together and helped us not wallow in the sadness. It gave my sons memories of working together that they will never forget.

I know that I NEED projects. These endeavors have helped me get through the hard times. They helped me move to the next day with something on my mind other than the suffering. Keeping busy, working on something, forces us to advance, at least on some level. It gives the brain a chance to rest and recover from the negative, and move forward.

If I don’t have a plan to accomplish something new then I feel stagnant and anxious. Although during the overwhelming moments of the projects I may have little meltdowns and say to myself, “What was I thinking?!” I know that when I arrive to the other side, I will be on another level mentally, physically, and spiritually. In the end it will all have been worth it.  It may not be perfect, but it’s mine and it’s good enough. I did the best I could do and doing the project took us all to another place where hard work paid off and made us feel proud. We still miss my aunt, but we continue our lives and honor the time that we still have by being productive.

I wonder what projects other people are up to these days??

project done
The Brick Patios! Wahoo!

Open Wound in Paradise

Just returned from a fun vacation in San Diego with my two boys. Many beautiful memories run through my head of boats, bikes, the beach, Legoland, and the zoo. Special moments with my children inspire me to plan more vacations and outings, but in the midst of all this joy, my heart feels heavy. Not because anything is wrong in my life. It’s something in all of our lives that I haven’t been exposed to on a daily basis since moving to northern California to live in a small rural town. It’s not that this element of life doesn’t exist here, it’s just not as obvious because I don’t live in a place with tons of city streets or big tourist areas.

homeless-man-sleeping-on-sidewalk-in-prado-centro-medellin-colombia2It’s been years since I’ve walked or driven down the streets of a big busy city and I had forgotten about the overwhelming presence of homeless. When I clicked on the little box on the webpage to rent a bike and visit a museum along the shimmering ocean side, I didn’t think about the people who’d be sleeping on the sidewalk along the way. I forgot they’d be there. I wouldn’t have done anything differently in planning my vacation, but I would have prepared myself emotionally and I would have prepared my children better.

I know there are homeless people everywhere, but it’s different in some places. I’ve become used to the man or woman at the street corner with a cardboard sign asking for money, food, etc. They’re not on every corner, but they are present. I’ve been approached by homeless while ordering food at a fast food restaurant and while walking to my car outside of a grocery store. There are many homeless people outside of the public library and near convenience stores and sometimes I feel nervous when entering or leaving those places, but nothing has ever happened. Just the uncomfortable feeling I get when I say “no” to the occasional request for money.

Maybe the presence of homeless shouldn’t affect a vacation, but maybe it should. Forgetting they are there seems to be what I do to cope with the homeless and I feel bad about that. While riding down the sidewalk along the beach in my nice rented bike, enjoying our ice cream cones, we passed by homeless people about every fifteen to twenty feet. I couldn’t believe how many there were. Most were sleeping. Some were asking for money. Some were chatting with other homeless people. One had a sign that said, “Ass, Gas, or Grass”. My ten year old really wanted to know what that one meant. I did my best at explaining.

I tried not to see them and I feel bad admitting that. I have a friend that will approach homeless and start a conversation. I’ve never had the guts or compassion to do that. I feel bad about that too. I have given money out on occasion and I’ve donated to different causes, but nothing seems to feel like enough, especially after this trip. One homeless man who was hunched over on the ground next to his grocery cart had a huge open wound on his leg the size of a large grapefruit. It looked infected. He looked dead. I stopped the bike and walked closer to him to see if his chest was moving. I thought about tapping his shoulder, but I was afraid. His chest moved. I returned to the bike and sat. I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t feel right to just leave, but it didn’t feel right to wake him. So I rode until I found a security guard and I told him about the man. He said there was nothing he could do. He knew about the man and said that he refuses any kind of help. Shocked, I went on my way and tried to forget.

I can’t forget.

I keep wondering if he’s okay and why he won’t get help. I keep thinking I should have given him some water, food, and first aid items. I wish I had.

I recently watched a video on about an experiment with a freezing child on a busy city sidewalk. The young child, who was wearing only jeans, a torn up t-shirt and a trash bag, stood and laid on the sidewalk for over two hours while several people walked by him with their warm jackets, boots and gloves. Not one person stopped to help him. Not one. I cried. I never want to be one of those people who was blind to a suffering human, let alone a child. The only person who came to the child’s aide was a homeless man sitting across from the boy. He gave him his jacket. I cried. Watch the video if you haven’t yet.

The open wound on that man’s leg made me realize that what I do in regards to homeless people leaves me with an open wound in my heart. I want to do more. I’m not sure what exactly, but walking by people who are suffering and in need and trying not to see them is not working. A quote from viral4real, “If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”

I think the blessing bags are a good idea and that’s where I’ll start. It’s not much, but maybe it will heal a few wounds.


Darbie Andrews – Writer | Dance Fitness | Youth Advocate

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