I had already decided to change my attitude and try to meet each and every day wrapped in gratitude (see this post for more on this), but I’m taking it a step further and looking for the good that came out of the challenges of 2014.

Here’s my revised review of 2014 — I call it 2014 2.0.

January –  Version 1.0  – James, Sarah and I lost our jobs. Catastrophe. No income, ( as we weren’t eligible for unemployment), middle of winter, 8 horses living at the site of the former job, not a lot of prospects due to constraints of education/experience/age. Lots of fear and anger.

January – Version 2.0 – The loss of my job forced me to look at being responsible for growth in my life. I decided that the part-time freelance writing I had been doing would need to become my main source of income.

I was now no longer able to hide in a job which was so much in my comfort zone that it was like wearing fuzzy slippers and eating mac and cheese all day. Yes, I loved what I was doing, loved the farm, the horses, the cats, donkeys, the eagles which winged overhead regularly, the deer, turkeys, raccoons – it was (much like Coulson’s Tahiti in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), “a magical place”, but had I stayed, I would have continued to stagnate.

Moral – Losing the job meant gaining my life.

February – Version 1.0 – An ambulance ride to the Emergency Department with crushing chest pains I’d been trying to ignore for the previous 12 hours. Despite searching every possibility on WebMD, I could find no other likely cause for the symptoms than a heart attack. I finally bit the bullet, (and an aspirin), and called 911. I spent the night in observation, panicking about how, in my unemployed and uninsured state, I would pay the hospital bill.

February – Version 2.0 – One of the best parts of this “incident” is the wonderful people with whom I interacted. First my husband, James, and daughter, Sarah. Supportive and helpful and suitably worried throughout.

Next, my neighbor, Buck – who just happens to be a paramedic. When I told Sarah that I needed to call 911, she ran next door and retrieved Buck, who came and sat with me, took my pulse and generally comforted me until the arrival (just a few minutes later) of the ambulance.

The two EMTs on the ambulance. Great guys, Friendly, caring, and very reassuring about the hospital having financial aid for people in difficult situations. Between the nitro and the kind words, they offered the physical and mental comfort I needed.

Probably the most “entertaining” part of this whole scenario was the cardio stress test the hospital performed the morning following my admission to the hospital. Lab results had determined that I had not had a heart attack, and the hospital had ordered the least invasive (and least expensive) test available to check my general heart health.

So, off to the treadmill I go. Now, up until early January, Sarah and I had been training to run a half marathon, and doing 6 miles of running/walking was pretty normal. I’d also been managing a horse farm and puIMG_0472tting in about 5 miles a day just in general chores, so I was reasonably fit. And reasonably un-prepared to run on a treadmill. I mean, when I called 911, I wasn’t exactly thinking about putting on my running shoes. So I had on my Dansko “Paint Splatter” clogs. Cute, but on a treadmill? I joked with the techs about the hospital taking care of the broken ankle which was likely to ensue for no charge, and got going.

It took about 12 – 15 minutes and several increases in degree of incline before I reached my target heart rate, but I sure impressed the heck out of the techs that this overweight, middle aged broad was as fit as I appeared to be.

We never did determine the cause of those chest pains (as I remain uninsured – at least until 1/1/15), but my heart appeared relatively healthy, and it was put down to general stress. (Who, me? Stress?? Why would I be stressed?).

Moral (2 for the price of 1)- It’s not always the worst-case scenario, and humor is everywhere you choose to find it.

The middle months – 1.0 The Animal Kingdom Part time return to the job I had lost – working at, instead of managing, the horse farm. I had been offered 10 hours a week and took it so we could eat and pay a few bills. When the two broodmares showed signs of impending birth, Sarah and I moved in to care for them round the clock (despite Sarah not being paid at all and my being paid for 10 hours per week). It was critical to me that they were cared for. This wasn’t about me or the money, this was about doing the right thing. The first mare ended up having stillborn twins. Not a great experience for any of us. The second mare happily produced a healthy filly. I left the job soon after as I experienced such a huge amount of stress returning to the property after having lost the job in January. But I had done what I needed to do.

Those middle months also saw the passing of my “real dressage horse”, Atlas, at age 14. Chronic ringbone left us no choice. We were unable to make him comfortable, and euthanasia was the only humane option. October saw the passing of my beloved Corgi, Mysti from bladder cancer.

The Middle Months  – 2.0 The Animal Kingdom and Beyond While I returned part time to my previous beloved job and then finally left for good, the most important thing about this was that my horses were allowed to continue to live at the lovely place they had come to know as home. When you’re dealing with a 36 year old blind gelding, his 29 year old pasture buddy (and seeing eye horse), as well as the other waifs and strays I had accumulated over the years, having a safe home for them was paramount to me. Ownership was transferred, but I am still able to go and visit them, and I know they are cared for. Not easy for me to give them up, but this wasn’t about me – this was totally about the horses.

Mysti, although we lost her this year, had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in January of 2013 – and given 3 months. The fact that she remained happy, pain free and energetic until October 2014 was a gift. I learned a lot from her when I received her original diagnosis. I cried and felt sad, but Mysti, not knowing about tests, results, cancer and the like, just continued being Mysti. Just live the life you have and don’t project a whole bunch of unnecessary crap.

The good stuff about the middle months were that I was able to move Accolades, the lovely gelding given to me when Atlas injured himself badly in 2013, close to home. He lives at a neighbor’s just a few minutes away from the house. I even went on a hunter pace with him this year – my second ever. For a 25 year old, he proved he’s still got it by jumping me off over a 3′ coop when he left out the last stride and just “went for it” from waaaay back. The ensuing concussion and trip to the Emergency Department led to filing for financial aid from the hospital again, but the ride was wonderful, and I have the 5th place ribbon hanging over my desk. Ironically, if I hadn’t fallen off, we would not have placed because we would have completed the course too fast.

The middle months also saw my return to Dressage at Devon, where I’m the volunteer coordinator. Sarah was able to come with me and be my assistant this year, so it was even more enjoyable than ever. An exhausting, but incredibly rewarding and fun way to spend 10 days at the end of September.

In September I also attended 2 clinics given by George Williams to get information for an article I wrote for Horse Talk Magazine. Wonderful learning experiences. George is a phenomenal teacher and a genuinely nice individual.

October brought the Virginia Dressage Association’s (VADA) Fall Show, where Sarah once again joined me for volunteering for the duration. Love VADA and the people involved. Even though I hadn’t renewed my membership due to finances in 2014 – I wouldn’t miss volunteering there for anything.

Moral – Animals always leave our lives too soon, so we need to rejoice in the experiences they offer us. Losing them may be hard, but not having them would be inconceivable.

November and December – 1.0 –  The year wrapped up with financial concerns (nothing new there) only exacerbated by my developing a severe kidney infection after having a kidney stone on the way to visit my Mom in CT on December 13. I drove back home to Virginia on the 15th, James drove me straight to the Emergency Department where I was told I’d be admitted overnight due to the high white blood count (18,000 – the normal range is 4,500 to 10,000) and the need for IV antibiotics. A week later, Sunday, December 21, I returned home. The week in the hospital left me tired, relatively weak, and again in need of filling out financial aid forms.

We had a quiet Christmas, and then James was laid off from his job on the 26th. Thinking this was a pretty awful way to end the year and surely things couldn’t get worse, I then put my back out on the 28th, and am heading to my chiropractor this afternoon in hopes he can relieve the low back pain as well as the awful headaches resulting from a neck issue I developed while in the hospital (not used to a week in bed, I guess).

November and December – 2.0 – Tired of ongoing financial issues, I had decided I really needed to ramp up my writing business. I’ve been published pretty regularly this year in some regional magazines, I produce a blog for one of them as well; and I’d been published in Dressage Today, The Chronicle of the Horse and The United States Dressage Federation’s Connection Magazine. All great stuff, but non of them on their own will pay the bills. Marketing has become my new middle name and I’m putting together plans and action items to dramatically increase my income in 2015. Branching out into non-horse markets (which typically pay a bit better) is high on my to-do list. I’ve got three query letters going out next week to non-horse pubs – so wish me luck on that.

In light of getting my writing out there, I entered Jon Morrow’s Serious Bloggers Only Best Post of 2014 Competition, (with this post), and, much to my delight, I earned Highly Commended (3rd place) in the Most Personality Category. This is pretty awesome stuff. I had also been invited to write a guest post for Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing Blog, which I did in September. That was a great confidence builder as well. Nationally recognized blog for writers, and I had been invited to guest post. Maybe it was time to start believing I had what it takes…

During my recuperation from the kidney infection, I’ve been doing some reading, clearing out my inbox, un-subscribing from several email lists, and subscribing to a few new ones – all with a look toward living my life on purpose. Taking control over the things I can control, and developing a grateful and learning attitude toward those things I can’t control.

I can choose. As all of those wonderful wisdom writers tell us, there is a gap between experience and response, in that gap, we get to choose what our response will be. By remembering to be present, we allow ourselves the realization that that gap even exists, therefore making it a whole heck of a lot easier to access our inner wisdom in that one moment. The choice is ours to make – just as the choice to look at 2014 as a terrible series of experiences or simply a series of experiences – neither good nor bad except in my perception.

Moral – Life is what you make it. The choice is always there for us. At times, it may be buried so deep that we doubt its existence at all, but it is there. Change is mandatory, growth is optional — choose wisely.