Get Off the F*ing Horse

Today, I had a random morning conversation with my friends at work. To set the stage for this random conversation, I need to tell you that we typically have random conversations. You know the ones, you can’t really remember how they started and the topic is never too serious. Our conversations of this nature usually end with the realization that is 8:25 and we have actual work to do.

Although no one says it, I think we do this quick little meet-up as a way of grounding ourselves before we get caught up in that rip current of a day of working in a school. This current catches you fast too. You are swimming along looking out at this wonderful horizon. Today is going to be a great day. You tell yourself. Then before you know it, you are swimming parallel to the shore, trying to stay afloat till 3:10. A harsh sounding assessment of working with elementary school children but there you go.  I’m telling you. Check with any adult who works in a school and I’m sure they share some part of my sentiment.

But for a few minutes each day we ground ourselves. This particular morning we were discussing my recent class trip to the circus the day before and they were all preparing for their turn at the circus that day. They asked what I thought of the experience. I rattled on about the cute fluffy white dogs doing tricks and one who did so in a dress. One woman asked, “Wasn’t there any horses?” No, I couldn’t remember any horses until I did recall that’s when I scurried off to the concession stand. By no means did I think, “Yikes, Horses! Run!” but something made me sit glued to my chair for the doggies but bolt for the horses. My friends starting discussing their love of all things equestrian and one said she would buy a horse if she had the money. Then, I spoke up. “I am not a fan of horses. I’m not a horse person.” I think the air shifted a bit in our breakfast club at that moment.

By the way, I don’t hate horses. They are fine and good. They are beautiful creatures. I’m just not that into them.  I think horses are like dolphins (Before the air shifts in your space, I do love dolphins. They are way cool. I would have stayed put if they popped up at the circus.) Everyone seems to talk happily about horses and dolphins. If you reminisce about your favorite animal as a kid, horses and dolphins are like “the top ten answers are on the board.”

I like horses at a distance. This realization came after over a decade of trips to a dude ranch as a sixth grade teacher. Each year, I got up on that horse and rode around with the students and a “handful” of teachers. A very small handful like if you could imagine a baby handful. But you know what wasn’t in short supply? Jittery, city kids! There was a small army of them!

Each year, I dutifully put on my plastic shower cap, helmet and saddled up. I waved goodbye to the chaperones standing along the fence. What follows is a decade-long blur of wiggly jiggly body parts both the horses and mine.  Everything flopping around while I was trying to save face in front of the jittery city youngins. Uncomfortable. The whole thing was uncomfortable from the start. To really make things extra awkward, I would inevitably get separated from my kids, the ones I spent the previous nine months getting to know. The ones I could tell to knock it off without any hesitation but nope I would get stuck right next to a kid I barely knew. Said kid would be the type who would panic at the first sign of Mr. Ed’s free will.

It was also an assault on all my senses. I can’t even describe how much of a horse’s anatomical business I had to endure, stuff just pouring or dropping out of the horse at a moment’s notice. And what could you do but wait till the horse in front of you finished up so you could move on till it happened again. This s@#t wasn’t like my experience with my Barbie horse from my childhood. Real horses smell rough and their bits and pieces dangle around. It’s too much.

It took me YEARS to realize…. I don’t have to do this! I can get off the f*ing horse! I can wave and smile from the fence like the best of them. And that’s what I did. Only for one year, before I got moved to another grade and didn’t go to the dude ranch anymore. Dang it! Why didn’t I come to this epiphany sooner? But alas, at least I did at some point.

But when I reflected on this with my breakfast club, I realized I learned a lot about myself from those experiences and it held deeper meaning for me today. I can say with confidence that no former student remembers me riding the horse from those dude ranch days. Why would they? There was swimming, BBQs, paddle boarding etc. Perhaps, they may recall me in some other way but not for my horseback riding. There is no twenty something out there thinking, “OMG, Ms. Gilligan was so cool! I remember how she rode that horse! What a great teacher!” But here I am remembering the praying that I did on those hot or rainy or chilly days, praying God would get the child to simmer down, praying my horse wouldn’t go buck wild, praying for the end of the ride. When all along, I could have just got off the f*ing horse!

What keeps us attached to unpleasant things? Responsibility? Guilt? What stops us from making small shifts in our lives to let in more happiness? I didn’t run from the dude ranch. I didn’t throw up my hands and say I quit. I just simply, got off the f*ing horse. Small lateral changes in your life can make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be a big drastic change. If you are unhappy in your present situation, perhaps at work or home, then maybe, looking at it in a different way could help. Is there something you are persisting in doing or thinking that you can release? What is “f*ing horse” that are you riding?

All my students ever needed and all your friends and family ever need is for you to be “present.” This can be difficult especially when the rip current is strong and you don’t see the lifelines. But if a small shift in thinking or doing can align with your goals, do it. Don’t wait till too long to start that shift. Don’t stay rooted too long. Get off the f*ing horse.


“She’s In The Lead”

She opened her eyes

And all was bare

For fleeting moments

They weren’t there


But they arrived slowly in time

Uninvited, unwelcomed

Hadn’t in some time


Tiny foot soldiers filing in, taking their place

All the while, expanding into her mind’s space


Willing her to stay down

Tethering her to the shore

Until, she caught a fleeting glimpse of something more


She knew she needed to engage

Before this subtle glimpse began to fade

Enveloped instead by its consuming shade


She knows she must control the pace

And detour this unwelcomed race


At first, they are only steps behind

Undeterred by her rise

Unshakeable in their grasp

Unwavering in their belief


She loses the weakest with the first breath of morning air

The others hold tighter, calling her dare

Channeling their reserves to steer her away from going there


Their dissenting cadence amplified as they trod along

She wills herself on, not at all phased by their doubtful song


Propels herself inside there

At once the ranks are diminished

Realizing that their dismal chant was not to be finished


She knows what’s got to be done

In order, to dwindle their numbers to none


With well-worn motions, she tightens her laces

Readies the chalk between her palms

And steadies herself against what she faces


She feels her lead extending

growing distance with the grasp of her fingers on metal

with each lunge and each breathless count

She feels that she has made their comeback impossible to mount.


More are drowned with each drop of sweat from her brow

With every push and pull, she’s in the lead now.

Buoyed by the others who have joined here there

She is finally cut loose from her mind’s snare.


There is barely an echo left of what she had tried so hard to derail

Replaced instead by the knowledge that she did not fail


Freed up to resume her day

To swim away

From the shore

Always, in search of something more….

What Now?

“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

Excerpt from

Big Magic


Elizabeth Gilbert


So I wrote my little children’s book about the rat that likes to work out. It’s out there in hard cover, in color, with an ISBN and all. Even as I write this, there is a big cut out of this little Jim Rat perched atop my fake fireplace (Yep, I have one and I love its little fake flames). His hands are on his hips while staring me down saying “What now A.M.? I’m here. What now?” (I also think he could be judging me about my cleaning habits but not at the moment.)

A few weeks ago, I was riding the high of reading Jim Rat at a big bookstore. I made the call to order more copies to sell. I had a number in mind– conservative, mild, nothing “crazy”. I’m not a gambler. Not even a slot-machine-at-the-Raceway-kind-of-gambler. However, the eager publishing lady on the other end of the phone had another plan. She gave me a different number – a much higher number. She upped the ante. I could have folded and got up from this publishing card table but then she mentioned, “colored end papers.” I had no idea that those three words, that didn’t have any strong meaning to me prior to this exchange, could make me go all in but there I was throwing more chips at my “dealer.” Colored end papers?! Heck Yeah! So, flash forward, new printings of Jim Rat will have blue colored end papers but only because I upped my conservative number to a very large still-makes-me-nervous-not-to-be-disclosed-number. Any day now, many boxes will be coming to my house, I will have to answer the door and let in the results of my gamble. Boxes and boxes of Jim Rat are coming! I have decided to not let the panic envelop me. Instead, I will fashion tables and chairs from these boxes. Build a fort for my little rat packers and perhaps some big rat packers who like such things. I will sell those books eventually. I will not doubt myself or devote any of my headspace to such doubting voices.

Back in September, I let some of these doubting voices in for a brief visit. I listened to a few people talk about Snap Chat – a platform I admit I know little about. I said that to the people. One of which quickly, without hesitation, told me what great things the other two people in the conversation contribute on Snap Chat – great videos, pics of “hot girlfriends” (This person’s exact words – not mine) and then this person said, “What would Ann Marie contribute? Pictures of workout clothes and cats?” I wanted to punch this person in the face. I still maintain it would have been well deserved and all my time in workout clothes would have helped with the impact. But I didn’t. I couldn’t believe that this is what this person thought of me after several years of knowing me. Forty and unmarried – must have nothing else to contribute. I was upset, grumbled to friends, but ultimately spoke to the person, received an apology and left it behind till now. I include here to say with a capital big bold letter “F the doubters.” Who cares what others think you have to contribute? Do they know the treasure buried inside you? No. More importantly – do you know your own treasure? I don’t have cats like the person so quipped. I have Jim Rat. Borrow my big cut out of little Jim Rat. Put him atop your fake fireplace (I can’t be the only one) and let him work for you. Answer his “What now?” I will make that book gamble work for me. I will live with the boxes for now. Then, I will take a break from the gambling world till the Jim Rat sequel. Till then… What will you do to uncover your buried treasure?

Unicorn Spotted in New York

I am AM. I am 40 years old and I went to sleep away camp this summer for the first time. LEGIT. SLEEP. AWAY. CAMP. Bunks, bonfires, bubbles, bugles (It may have been another horn instrument but in keeping with the B alliteration theme – lets go with bugle).

I signed up for a three-day excursion two hours north of my home called Camp Good Life Project. It is extremely hard to describe and that is why I am going to lasso some friends to join me next summer. Let’s get that out of the way now. You can do it. Make whatever necessary mental adjustments you need to make now and sign up. If I can do it, you can do it! I am by no means a raging extrovert. I literally parked the car and got out to walk to the entrance of the Camp when a man dressed as unicorn drove straight towards me in a golf cart. I swear I thought “I am not in Yonkers anymore.” I wondered if I should sit back in the car. By the way, I have traveled a good bit in my life and I have never tickled so many people when I said “Yonkers.” You forget how odd the word is till you say to people from all over the U.S., Canada, and Australia etc. It is a funny word. I also apparently sound more like a New Yorker than I realized. It was guessed several times after a few words to a conversational partner.

Another random thought ahead, my name is Ann Marie but lots of friends call me “A.M.” so figuring that this was a group of future friends; I had “A.M.” put on my nametag. I always have a little fun with the Starbucks folks who will either wait me out to finish spelling it or as a few fellow campers did call me “am” like the verb to “be.” Although I think that is way cool too. Hence the first line of this article. Acronyms are fun. Anyways, it is a small mission of mine to make “A.M” more widely acceptable like P.J., J.J. and all the other acronym names. I don’t recall hearing a T.J. called Ta-Ja.

Back to the man dressed as a unicorn. This man proceeded to help me with my bags, putting them in the cart and cheerfully welcoming me to Camp. Unicorn Man was to be an integral part of the Camp experience. He is also hard to describe and you will experience him when you join me in Camp. You know when you take that leap. I’ll hold your hand for the leap but you won’t need it for long. You can do it!

Immediately after the encounter with Unicorn Man there was bubbles, introductions, bonfires and s’mores. Yep, bubbles for adults. I went with it. I’m so glad I did. Camp Good Life Project was filled with amazing people from all over the world. Many who are entrepreneurs, soon to be entrepreneurs, people who want to live a happier life, are looking for change and wanting to be surrounded with positivity for a weekend. Camp GLP was a unique place. My first night there, I sat between two Masterminds (I will admit I wasn’t sure what that was but I googled it afterwards and anyway it’s a cool job title). In my cabin, the woman who slept in the bunk next to me helps people in Africa develop sustainable food growing practices. She helps feed people in real need of food! She is the President and CEO of her company! That’s cool! I can’t use enough exclamation marks here! I’m not sure how I refrained from bombarding her with questions and let her sleep. I must have self-control. To be honest, I could have walked into this group of people and declared my ambition was to be an alpaca farmer and that would have been beyond okay. It is rare to be in a place where acceptance is so readily given to others.

I told one of the Masterminds at dinner that I wrote a children’s book. I haven’t told that to many people and reactions have ranged from mild lukewarm interest to wanting to buy an advanced copy sight unseen. This man who never met me before listened to the story, genuinely smiled along and encouraged me to read it at the Talent Show. I did not wind up doing that because I would have to be hopped up a lot more than s’mores to get on stage – maybe next year when you come with me.

During the course of the weekend, I attended so many great workshops given by really knowledgeable people. I listened to keynotes from authors who inspired me. I also had fun. You know the kind you had as a child. I swam in a lake. Those of you who know me that I am real city folk when it comes to lake swimming. But there I was sliding down a large inflatable slide and climbing up on another inflatable with four other ladies only to fall off while laughing real hard with my mouth open. I swallowed some of that lake. I didn’t care. I did stand up paddle boarding (facing the wrong end of the board the whole time). I thanked the lifeguard who said it was great to guard adults instead of the usual children who inhabit the camp the rest of the summer. I wish I knew what was really going on in his mind during the weekend.

I went for a nature walk around the lake, which almost didn’t happen because my city folk danger alert was flashing in my mind when I thought I had ventured into private property but I kept going thanks to three cheerful ladies who came up behind me and led the way. I almost got in a hammock. Almost. I stopped when I thought, “Who knows who put that up?” “I can’t trust that.” I still have some work to do in releasing some of that city folk apprehension but baby steps.

I took part in a morning meditation led by Unicorn Man each morning. I’m home now and I practiced his guided meditation this morning. He charged up the audience during gatherings but also knew how to lead us in reflective peaceful meditation. I am positive he would take no offense to being called Unicorn Man but his name is Kristoffer Carter (“KC”) You can always trust in those acronym names. He was the resident meditation expert and Chief Spirit Officer for Camp GLP. He was one of many unique individuals gathered by Jonathan Fields, the founder of The Good Life Project. People worth googling but also experiencing firsthand when you come next year.

I could fill up many blogs about Camp GLP and perhaps I will but the whole experience made me feel like I have options. I don’t have to be a supporting character in my life. I have options! Pivot points! I am AM. What about you? You coming with me next year?


A Crown of Flowers

“Don’t you find it odd,” she continued, “that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try.”

Ethan Hawke, The Hottest State

I didn’t think I was that much of a “judgy” person but I certainly caught myself right in the act yesterday. I went all sorts of “Judge Judy” on a lady walking along the busy street near where I live. I wasn’t sitting behind a bench wearing a gown with a lacy collar but I may as well have been. I was safely tucked behind the steering wheel of my car driving along hurling “judgy” thoughts at this poor lady. It was a rainy day and she was wearing a myriad of questionable fashion choices (more “judgyness” on my part) but the crown of flowers in her hair was what really made me wonder “Why is she walking along in the rain with all those flowers in her hair? Who does that? Isn’t she a bit too old for that?” Like the raindrops splattering on my windshield, there was a barrage of rapid-fire “judgy” thoughts landing on this lady just walking along the sidewalk.

Then, in an instance, there was a break in my deluge of negative thoughts. Who wears a crown of flowers? She obviously does and good for her! Why not? Flowers are very beautiful so why not beautify your hair with them? I realized at that moment that I had never worn flowers in my hair. This lady was doing it on a random weekday along a busy stretch of road. At that moment, I added, “Wear flowers in my hair” to my list. Not to my bucket list though. I understand bucket lists are very grandiose for some folks: visit the Eiffel Tower, sky dive, take a safari in Africa etc. Many of us have that list of big experiences we want to have before we give the bucket a kick. What I am talking about here is less grandiose. It’s that list that you keep a little closer to the inner layer of your onion. I may be out on a limb but I don’t think I am the only one with such a list.

When I say I added “Wear flowers in my hair,” it wasn’t as though I broke out a notebook and penciled it in. Writing it here seems a bit silly but if I share a few items from my list, you readers can share your-not-exactly-bucket-list list. Who knows but maybe in sharing them we can make them happen or have a good laugh at the quirky “crown of flowers” that we all might be wishing for. Here’s just a few of the items from my growing list of things not quite right for the bucket list and I am sure will stir up some “judgy” thoughts along the lines of “What is she thinking?” and “Isn’t she too old for that?” Or maybe you’ll look past the randomness and you’ll admit to all kinds of experiences yet to be had for you. So here goes.

  • I’d like to be a movie extra. Ideally, a storm trooper type thing. I don’t want lines. I just want to be able to point out to my mom “Look that’s me! The second one from the left in the third row of troopers” or to see myself running through the death star after an alarm has been sounded.
  • I want to memorize and “perform” a rap song (a long one along the lines of “Rapper’s Delight”) and by perform – I mean bust it out at the dinner table when nobody sees it coming. Nobody would ever see that coming.
  • I am hoping someone will let me enter his or her dog in a dog show. I want to run around in a nice dress suit while wearing huge sneakers and probably a knee brace – because that’s what the lady handlers seem to wear.
  • A small physical altercation of some kind. But hear me out! There are a few conditions. Only if I can win it and the person really had it coming like they messed with my mom or made fun of my crown of flowers. I’d like to get in a good punch, slap, or South Pole kick before I am whisked off to safety so I don’t do too much damage.
  • A handstand. I was way too grounded as a child. I need to get some handstands in! I’m working on this!

The list could continue. There is a lot more. I haven’t scratched the surface but now it’s your turn. Maybe you’ve been worried about being judged or you just never thought to say it aloud. What’s on your list? I promise I won’t bust out my “Judge Judy” doily collar on you.





Crossing a Bridge

On the eve of my fortieth birthday, I don’t feel any different than I have on the eve of any other birthday. I don’t feel panicky. There aren’t any cold sweats. No uncontrollable sobbing. Instead, there is contemplation.

A friend of mine asked me the other day, how did I picture my life at forty – married with children? My honest answer was no. I just didn’t picture life at forty. I realize it sounds gloomy at first but it is not to say that I saw myself without a future. It is just that I was always thinking “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” An odd expression for who can really cross a bridge before they get to it? But I think we do sometimes. We think and think about our lives. Who will we marry? How many kids will we have? What will do for our career? What kind of lifestyle will we afford ourselves?

In this thinking, we forget the span of life between the bridges. Who will we meet along the way? What experiences will we gather? How will we make the most of that time? Here I am at that bridge of a new decade and tomorrow I have to cross it. I am not incredibly worried about aging now. When thoughts of old age creep to mind, I think about a friend I lost at a very young age. How her family would have loved the opportunity to watch her travel between the bridges but were denied that experience. As for married with children, I am not but I am blessed in other ways. In my twenties and thirties, I traveled the world. In the last few years, I transformed my body and mind. Not bad for a soon to be forty year old.

I hope the time before the next bridge will be genuinely happy. I started a happiness jar at the beginning of this year, each day I write one thing that has made me happy that day and I place it in the jar to be read at the end of the year. It sounds so easy but I have to say it takes a moment some nights to think of that one little tidbit of happy to put in my jar. That surprises me. It’s not that I am not married, a mother or whatever others may think life at forty should be that concerns me most. My only thoughts tonight is to cross that bridge and pick up as many happy moments as I can before the next bridge.

Baby Steps

“Beginnings can be delicate or explosive. They can start almost invisibly or arrive with a big bang. Beginnings hold the promise of new lessons to be learned, new territory to be explored, and old lessons to be recalled, practiced, and appreciated. Beginnings hold ambiguity, promise, fear, and hope.”

Melody Beattie

Journey to the Heart

 I started the second day of this New Year like I often do most Saturdays – on my yoga mat. I have been taking yoga classes consistently for about four years. Three new yogis attended today’s class. One in particular, a woman in her fifties, smiled at me and told me she was brand new and this was her first class. She unrolled both her yoga mat and her story as she sat down next to me. She explained how she was trying yoga for the first time because she had hurt her shoulder a year ago and her insurance company was no longer paying for physical therapy. She decided to give yoga a try.

Soon, we were joined by a mother and daughter pair who immediately made their newbie status known because they wore their shoes into the studio instead of leaving them in the waiting area. I will admit I was mentally distressed by this shoe debacle. Inwardly, I was flailing my arms and shouting “Your shoes! Your shoes! Take off your shoes!” but, thankfully, I got a grip on myself. Throughout the next hour, the women unintentionally did things to further point out their newbie status. Listing them would only make me look like a crazed yogi drill sergeant and I am not that bad. Unless you walk across my mat with your bare feet – that just sends me into a tail spin.

Today reminded me that we all have to take first steps when we decide to change directions in our journeys. The first week of January is often the time people take these first steps into new life terrain. First steps are not easy. Our own first steps as babies are often a year or so in the making with a lot of falling on our tush and hanging onto pant legs. However not all members of the animal kingdom have the same struggles with their first strides, I just learned that baby giraffes drop six feet from their mother’s womb down to the ground. After an hour (I assume spent thinking “What the heck just happened to me?), they are licked clean by mama giraffe and they take their first steps. They are running when they are just a day old. I also learned that the fall, while sounding just plain harsh at first, actually breaks the amniotic sac, severs the umbilical cord and encourages first breaths. Despite this early foray into walking and running, giraffes take two years to reach their full height and stride.

I realize that first steps toward reaching your goals in 2016 are not as literal as the ones mentioned above but I propose we treat them as such, especially if your goals involve getting into a fitness or nutrition routine. Give yourself a pass when your legs are “wobbly” or you “hit the ground hard.” Making changes in your diet or exercise plan are not easy. You will make mistakes. You may feel awkward at times. You may feel out of step with others around you. When I stopped my inward rant of “Oh my goodness! They are wearing street shoes in the studio! The horror!” I saw those two women for what they really were: very brave.

As a baby, we step forward because that’s what we are meant to do. As adults, we let our past mistakes pile up on us, weighing us down as we attempt our first steps into new territory. We second-guess ourselves. Tell ourselves we can’t do something without ever really giving ourselves the chance to try. The new yogi with the shoulder issue – she adapted to the routine, she did her best despite the limits on her mobility. She was impressive. She leaned on the instructor and her fellow yogis for support and we gave it to her. If you can incorporate a friend into your new routine, I would do it. I offer myself to anybody who wants the support. I’ll be awkward right along side you. Use me as you pull yourself upright and take those first steps. Be patient with yourself as you wait to hit your stride – it’ll come.

“Don’t let the lessons, the experiences of the past, dampen your enthusiasm for beginnings. Just because it’s been hard doesn’t mean it will always be that difficult.”

Melody Beattie

Journey to the Heart