Brave

Hey friends! Here’s a link to a reading of my book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” that I hope your kiddos / students at home may enjoy while at home. I am in complete awe of how teachers, librarians, parents, and all y’all educators have come together to literally change the educational landscape overnight so that kiddos can continue to learn, feel connected, and grow in this unprecedented time. This is all y’all. This wasn’t any fat-cat politician with no educational experience touting orders from an uninformed bubble….no….this was Y’ALL! Please know how appreciated each and everyone of y’all are!

And to the kiddos — I am so proud of all of y’all for how you’re adjusting to this crazy time. I hope that each and every one of y’all knows that you are so brave (just like Tink!) Hee-Haw!

We’re all in this together, friends. Keep taking care of yourselves and each other. Parents, if you or your kiddos have any questions, please feel free to comment here or on any of my various social media accounts!

 

Much love to all, Jess

Will You Be My Val-Equine?

Hey y’all!

For anyone who’s got kiddos at home, I made a little recording of me reading my book, “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” with two of my donkeys (and of course, they steal the show ❤ ) I hope that y’all enjoy & if your kids have any questions / comments, just leave them in the comment section here on my blog!

 

Please also remember that 100% of the proceeds from this book go to the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (donkeyrescue.org) so that thousands (yes, thousands!) of donkeys can receive the care they need and deserve.

Much love,
Jess

The Second!

Greetings and happy completed rotation around the sun! As we start the next lap of this bizarre, aging, linear (but also cyclical?) journey called life, I’d like to take a moment to say how deeply grateful I am to still be on this wild ride even if there have been scary, upside-down loops, the kind of drops where your stomach lurches into your chest, and some kid who barfed along the way in just the right spot so that it landed on you in that spiraly section that was previously the one stretch of the dumb coaster you actually enjoyed. God I loathe roller-coasters, but I agreed to go because according to my friends and family, I should “try new things and quit being such a grouch about activities that involve bright colors and loud noises.” Fine fine fine…

It’s been a tough year in many ways for all of us, it seems. But hey, this rotation is a new beginning, right? Right? I don’t know. I don’t like to buy into the “New Year, New You!” commercialism campaign that suggests that you’re not good enough so let’s set a date to make you better by buying protein powder and lotion that claims to eliminate cellulite. Of course, if there are things you’re working on to better yourself, your health, your well-being, your ability to connect, your climbing out of the dank, muddy hole that you keep slipping down into, well, hop up on that horse and ride into the new year with great ambition! This blue marble is your oyster, as they say. Giddy-up! Slurp down that raw mollusc and conquer!

I finally caught an oyster that I’ve been searching for for a long time. As y’all know, my first children’s book came out last year and it’s been a hit! I’ve sold more copies than I ever imagined I would and as promised, every bit of profit from those sales has gone to saving donkeys. Like, real life donkeys that need it. Real life donkeys that, no dramatics here, would’ve otherwise died. So thank you. Thank you for your support. Thank you for sharing in my excitement. It means more to me than darn near anything.

But back to that oyster. That beautiful, sparking oyster that has stayed a step (slide? slither? dragged motion?) ahead of me is finally in my hands and I am so proud and excited to announce that my second children’s book is officially on sale! “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” is a children’s book geared towards a little younger of a crowd, ages 2 – 5. It’s a story about a donkey who, in search of someone to be his Valentine, meets many new friends along the way that, although all different on the outside, are strikingly similar on the inside! I am lucky enough to have had the same illustrator, Andy Griffiths, attached to this project who once again, brought this story to life better than I could’ve imagined!

Y’all know I’m a self-admitted Holiday Curmudgeon, but I saw an opportunity to show that yes, we are all different on the outside with our own pasts, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and histories, but we’re also very similar when you think about it. And just like “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” this book will have 100% of the proceeds go to the non-profit Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (recently featured on CNN Heroes!) Right now, we’re running a deal in our whole gift shop where you get 20% off your entire order when you use the promo code 2020. So if you have a Valentine, kiddo, cousin, niece, nephew, grandkid, person you’re trying to impress, or just want to contribute to a great cause with a cute, cute book about oneness, then hop on over to donkeyrescue.com to get your copy!

I appreciate all of y’all. I appreciate all of y’all so, so much. If you find yourself feeling lonely either in life or just in your mind, try to remember that you’re not. We’re all on team Earth which keeps going, even if she’s feeling tired, sick, or under-appreciated. Happy New Year. Let’s keep making it better.

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‘Twas the Night Before Donkmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Some small creature was stirring; could it be a mouse?
There weren’t any stockings because I don’t care:
Festive decor is not quite my affair.

Two dogs were sprawled out all across the big couch
While I couldn’t sleep, which made me a grouch.
I wandered the room in my oversized pants
Quite pleased with the growth of my little houseplants.

When out towards the barn there arose such a clatter,
No doubt, all my critters just wanting to chatter.
Though quite cold out there, I can never resist
Three fuzzy snouts that might need to be kissed.

I pulled on my boots and my rainbow knit hat
(‘Cause really I love a midnight donkey chat.)
When what to my wondering eyes should appear:
But a burst of bright feathers with squawking and fear.

On no! A trash panda with scurrying legs,
I knew in a moment, he’s after them eggs.
More rapid than eagles I flew ‘cross the grass,
“Git git, you racoon, and your big furry @$$!”

He scrambled then two more ran into the woods
As I ran to check on my avian’s goods.
“Now ParmParm, now Gene, and Ron Swanson, you too,
And Dorothy and Pat: thank God you all flew.”

I checked in the box and thank goodness still there:
Were two tiny eggs leaned together with care.
I shuffled the birds right back into their coop
And sang them a song to help them regroup.

Of course all the noise would wake up my three donks,
For just then I heard a loud chorus of honks.
I bid sweet goodnight to my wee sleepy flock
And walked to the barn saying, “yoo-hoo, knock knock!”

Their eyes – how they twinkled! Their ears oh-so merry,
Such kissable noses (despite being hairy.)
They spoke not a word, my darling donks, three:
Bodhi and Bunny and last, Little Tee.

My face super cold, and nose surely rosy,
I stepped in the stall where it was real cozy.
There in that space, being watched by the moon
I (per my usual) hummed them a tune.

I s’posed it was time to try for some sleep,
So I whispered, “Y’all are each other’s to keep–
‘Till later when it’s just a little bit bright.
Merry Christmas to y’all, and to y’all a good night.”

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Whatever this season means for you, I hope it brings you peace. Take care, y’all. – Jess

Donkeys Deserve Recognition (and so do Those who work Tirelessly to Save and Care for Them)

Greetings all,

It’s been a busy, busy season full of donkeys, chickens, ducks, dogs, travel, and stifling heat. There are so many stories I want to share that I’ve been trying to make sense of so that they’re not just clouds of dust flying behind runaway trains….but for now, I must take pause to proudly and humbly report that the founder and Executive Director of the organization I work for, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, Mr. Mark Meyers, has been nominated for a CNN Heroes Award for his decades long endeavor to improve the plight of the American Donkey. I am just over the moon that he would be considered especially because donkeys (and mules) are so overwhelmingly forgotten and misunderstood. If you believe in the cause, in the future and well being of these most amazing creatures, please take a moment to watch & share the following video to try and open the world’s eyes to finally see how amazing donkeys are and how the over 13,000 donkeys that PVDR has rescued found better lives because of the BurroMan himself, Mark Meyers.

You can view the video here: CNN Hero Mark Meyers

“Either all doneys matter or none of them do.” – Mark Meyers

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(photo by Mark Meyers)

 

Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

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Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

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Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

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Scatterbrained Showers

Finally, my favorite days. I’ve written about them before: the days where it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade. On and off I take my flannel shirt as I move across the yard beneath spotted shadows of spring-heavy trees. The ground went from washed out to tangled jungle in a mere handful of days, so I’m tending to her with my myriad of second-hand tools that clink and clank with rusted age. Yard work is my favorite work, especially on temperately blissful days like this one. Like the eager plants around me, I could swear every cell in my body is reaching for the sun.

Bodhi and Tee are playing donkey games in the yard while Bunny stands at the fence  grooming the neighbor’s horse with her teeth. Around my legs, Ron Swanson the Rooster and Trixie the dog chase each other endlessly. This unlikely friendship is one that even the grumpiest of curmudgeons can’t help but smile about. I post about them often on my Instagram, if you’re a ‘grammer.



My last post was a dreary one in which I swore the storms were never going to end. It’s difficult to feel optimistic when the ground is continually washed away along with any real hope for stability and growth while the world around is a blur of colors that you can’t see through clearly even though you want to so badly. And indeed there is more rain in the forecast in the coming week.

But as I stand outside among my funny family of seemingly sunshine-drunk animals and leaves that are practically unfolding before my eyes, I’m reminded that all of this is just an infinite series of small moments. One after another they come, an endless film strip that moves so quickly sometimes, it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at until it’s passed—images already fading softly in your memory.

The sun has dropped behind the trees now with only small bits of light shining through the holes between the leaves as a chill crawls along my arms. I untie the flannel shirt from around my waist and head towards the barn where the donkeys bray because sunset means dinner time and they know I’ll be there with their hay. I always will. I suppose those routines are roots in their own way.

As light slips down the barn walls, I take pause with my donkeys, stretching the fleeting moment as long as I can because with them, I am present. I am here. I am rooted so firmly that no amount of scatterbrained showers can wash me away. Day after day, the donkeys remind me of this. They hold down my kite string when the wind turns wild.

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Like pulling eggs delicately from the chicken coop, I think the best we can do sometimes is pick up one moment at a time as they come, examine them, and tuck them carefully into our apron. Some of the eggs might be bad—it happens—but typically, as long as you’re handling them the right way, they’re going to be just fine.