Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why It's Dangerous For Me To Be Home Alone (for an extended period of time)

DH has been out of town for two days.  He went up north to help his mom with a project, and I (not having paid vacation days or anyone to do my work at this little place here in my absence) stayed home.  Alone.

That tends to be a bit dangerous.  Not because I am in any physical danger without DH.  Our neighborhood is so safe I've never been worried about being 'just a woman alone' no matter if its day or night.  This is a sleep-with-your-windows-open kind of place.  Anyone out wandering the neighborhood at night is either shining deer or hunting raccoons.

Me being home alone is dangerous because I have time to think!  No one else's schedule to work around, no one else dirtying the house or dishes (yay, less time spent cleaning!!), no one else interrupting my train of thought.

Of course, this also means there's no one around to split the heavy chores with, like getting the entire garden planted this week (since it stopped raining and the weather warmed up enough to safely put out delicate plants like tomatoes and peppers).  And that's where the dangerous part starts to happen.

Because, while I was digging shallow trenches to (finally) plant the potatoes in at 3" below the surface of the garden, I realized there has got to be a better way of doing this.  Back when the kids were younger and living at home, I had slave child laborers to assist in the planting.  I wasn't digging over 500 row feet of trench--and then putting the potatoes in every 12" and shoveling the dirt back over them--all by myself.  Surely there is a better way to do this next year, and avoid the aching back I am now experiencing (with still about 100' of potatoes to plant tomorrow).

Some of the ideas I came up with:

  • declare a garden planting weekend and require my kids to come home to help (surely I'm old enough for them to come help with big projects, right?  DH and his siblings were going back to their childhood home to help their mom with stuff as far back as when he and I were in our mid-20s).
  • get DH to do the trench digging.
  • rent or otherwise get a hold of a trencher when it's time to plant potatoes.  I'll be checking in to how much it costs to rent a Ditch Witch from the local rental place.  A couple hours with that baby and I could have trenches galore!
I'm betting that DH isn't going to go for any of those ideas.  But they're out there.  And now they are recorded, so I'll remember and come back to them.

Other dangerous thoughts I've had the past two days:
  • We've lived in this house nearly 14 years and DH still hasn't finished putting up the trim work.  Even though he cut all the wood (oak!!) for the window trim nearly 10 years ago. . .  Obviously we need to schedule staining and installing the trim work this summer and Just Get It Done.
  • I still want a hanging porch swing for the wraparound portion of our front porch (porch swing being one of the reasons I insisted on having a covered wraparound porch when we built the house at this little place here).  We have a wedding anniversary coming up.  A porch swing would make a great anniversary present.
  • I really, really hate the piece of old vinyl flooring DH put at the landing of the basement stairs/in front of the cellar door eons ago.  A largish rug or mat would look much nicer there and make me happier (instead of seeing that curling-edged asymmetrical flooring scrap every time I step off the basement stairs or go in or out of the cellar).
  • If DH doesn't realize that he's gained enough weight that a decent portion of his shirts make him look like a stuffed sausage and that he shouldn't wear them to work anymore, I'll just remove those shirts from his closet and his clothing options will be things that fit better and therefore make him look a little less slobby.  (This is a good thing for his career, right?)
  • Does DH (or, to be honest, I) need 15 shirt options that are low-end and kind of cheaply made (and not that great fitting)?  Wouldn't 5-7 high quality shirts be a better investment?  It's not like doing laundry more than once a week is a change in our lifestyle; the washer is right there in the basement and I regularly wash clothes twice a week anyway.  It's just that I don't iron nearly as often, which is how he ended up with so darn many shirts in the first place.
  • If he's going to continue to work 50-60 hours a week, I really need to hire someone to help keep up with the outdoor work.  Or, conversely, I need to quit my job so that I have 15-20 more hours a week in the summer/growing season to keep up with weeding, watering, mowing, weed whipping. . .  The problem with that is my job pays the horse expenses, and I'm not ready to give up horses; plus just because he's working more hours doesn't mean he gets more pay.  Being salaried, he hasn't gotten paid overtime in nearly two decades.  Supposedly he's allowed to take paid personal days to equal his hours over 40, but it never quite works out like that.  If his programs were slow enough he could take time off regularly, he wouldn't be putting in 10-12 (or more!)  hour days to begin with.
  • On a similar note, if he's too busy to have time to finish some of the indoor stuff we've had on hold for years, I'd like to hire someone to get those projects done. It really wears on me to live in/deal with a house that is still in flux.  I've had plans and even materials for window treatments (roman shades, curtains, etc) since as long ago as 2003, but have been waiting for the trim work to be put on so I had actual and precise window dimensions to work with when creating the window treatments. Not to mention how difficult it is to have the home function optimally while still in development as it were.  The study, for instance, was to have floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves on one entire wall.  That's whole lot of vertical storage space that three random sized bookshelves crammed into the room (along with the file cabinet and DH's late father's humongous steel desk) just doesn't equal.
  • My barn was built 10 years ago.  At least, the shell was.  Then the recession started to impact the auto industry, and we decided to hold off on finishing it so that I could use it for horse boarding.  In the ensuing 10 years, DH has gotten less interested in me having a horse business at home, and rather likes having my barn to store a bunch of crap in.  (Ok, not crap, but stuff that really is totally unrelated to horses.  Like tree stands when it's not hunting season.  And the tractor, implements, and log splitter.)  I'm getting tired of working at other people's barns and would just like to be able to open my own, even if it's not quite as impressive as what DH and I had envisioned 10 years ago.  Water, electricity, and stalls would be nice.  Doesn't have to have a cement aisle way, matted floors in the stalls, and heated tack room with a tack cleaning area and a couch/couple of chairs to sit on).  Electric fence will do, I guess I can get along without the 5 foot high no-climb mesh fencing.
  • I'm getting grumpy in my old age and less willing to wait for stuff than I was 10 years ago!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Test Riding

Last week, when it was time for my weekly riding lesson, I was having one of those days when you just don't feel enthusiastic about anything.  I was tired, and I had a lot on my mind.  To be honest, I thought about canceling my lesson.  But that would be rather rude, and flaky, and I knew deep down that a lesson was really the best thing I could do for myself that day.  A lesson would take my mind temporarily off all that was weighing on it, give me some exercise, and most likely improve my mood.

I did, however, warn my trainer that I was feeling rather uncoordinated and blah that day.  She kindly asked if I would like to skip my lesson.  I relayed to her that although I didn't think I was going to be a particularly good rider that evening, I did still want my lesson.

Like a good teacher, she didn't want to over face me, yet she didn't let me slack at all. She suggested we 'do something different' that lesson.  I thought that 'something different' might be just the perfect thing that night.

What we did was hard.  And fun.  Challenging, yet enjoyable.  I rode really hard.  I sweated, a lot.  And I laughed a lot.  I felt totally uncoordinated most of the time, but there were some fleeting moments of "Wow, I did that really well!"

So what was it that we did different for that lesson?  We took most everything I've been learning and working on with T during my weekly lesson for the past four months, and we tested it.  My trainer got out her book of current USDF tests, and she had me ride the first three: Intro A, Intro B, and Intro C.  First she read the test through, we discussed it, and then she was my reader while I rode the test.

That was the hard part--the riding of the test.  Even though we've worked on and are competent in each part of the test individually, riding them one movement after the other, at the correct spot in the arena, with the correct timing was really challenging.  It's been literally 25 years since I've actually ridden a dressage test.

I made lots of timing mistakes.  We overshot the halt by a step or two every single time. The halts were square, but not in the right spot.  Who would have thought coming to a stop could be so hard?

I wasn't the only one who made a mistake.  In the midst of Intro C, my trainer looked up from her test booklet to watch me do the required movement at B.  Then, when she looked back down, she looked at the wrong test.  Since I had only heard the test read once, and haven't actually seen it with my own eyes, I did exactly what she read.  It was only several movements later when I said "Um, didn't we just do this?  What happened to the 20m canter circle at A?"  She quickly improvised a couple of movements to get me back to A at the trot, and we carried on with Intro C from there, both of us laughing.

Rather than being a stressful experience, (like showing can be), riding the tests was fun. It was a good change of pace, and at the same time it showed us both where I need to do more work. For instance, stringing together several movements in a row, and also being more aware of where I am in the arena spatially so I am prepared to change movements at exactly the right spot.  It also showed us that we've maybe been doing all our canter on 20m circles after a session of trotting, because in every test, as soon as I hit a 20m circle at the trot, T tried to jump up into third gear (the canter) without me telling him to.

It was a great lesson.  I sure felt enthusiastic about life by the time I got off the horse, hosed him down, and put him away.

This week, for my lesson, we didn't ride any tests.  Typically you don't ride the test when doing your at home training, just when you are prepping to show.  Instead, we worked on transition after transition after transition, changing at particular spots in the arena, and lots of 20m circles where T was not allowed to canter.  Instead, we did canter out of corners and out of 10m circles when returning to the long wall.  I think we had the best canter so far; he was obedient yet forward, and really listening for my aids.

DH calls dressage "riding in circles" and doesn't see the appeal.  He thinks it would be boring.  I can attest that it is not boring in the least.  Especially when you are doing 20m circles in which you trot the first 1/4, walk the second 1/4, turn down the center line, halt and salute at X, trot from center line back to the arc of the circle, change rein, walk a 1/4, trot a 1/4, etc.  That's not a whole lot of steps in any one gait, and you have to constantly be adjusting and getting ready for the next thing, be it a transition or a turn.  In addition to changing gaits, keeping the bend, and making tight turns, contact with the bit needs to be maintained, and so does the rhythm of each gait.

For me, the challenge, both mentally and physically, is what makes riding in circles so fun.  Test riding, falls into the same category.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May Is When Things Change

I was downloading pictures from my phone, most of which are of K3 and Toad from recent Fridays, and I was struck by the clothing changes from one week to the next.  It kind of points out how May weather in Michigan can vary widely from week to week (or even day to day).  Today, for instance, it is very sunny, a tad humid, rained overnight but is all dry by noon, and the temperature is already near 80 degrees Fahrenheit shortly after lunch. It's a rather warm day for May; very summer-like.

This is part of a warm spell that moved in late last week.  Pictures from this past weekend show the grandkids in shirt sleeves.  Pictures from the week before show clouds and winter coats (albeit unzipped) because the high temperature was in the low 50s and the wind was chilly.

Despite the coolness, clouds, and coats, K3 and Toad had fun climbing on and jumping off the pile of straw bales near the garden, and picking enough dandelions to fill the pockets of my chore jacket.




This past weekend, the temps were around 70 degrees, and they enjoyed exploring the mostly dried up mud spots in the field, finding animal tracks (deer, raccoon, turkey), and even finding a whole bunch of tadpoles.  They had never seen tadpoles before, and we spent some time trying to catch them while I explained that they were baby frogs and toads even though right now they kind of look like fish.  We did manage to catch a few in our cupped hands, but the water ran out our fingers, so we quickly put the infant amphibians back before they dried out.  Hopefully we'll get enough rain to keep those the mud spots wet this week, and when the grandkids come back to visit this Friday we can check to see if the tadpoles have grown legs yet.





This weekend also found us saying goodbye to DD2 for the next six weeks as she began her Peru adventure.  I have to admit, it was kind of strange seeing my youngest child standing in line at the airport, waiting to go through security.  She's never flown alone before, in fact, she was only ten years old the last time she was on an airplane.


But she's not so very young anymore.  In fact, she's nearly the same age I was when DH and I moved away together and I suddenly had my own home to care for.  Time flies.

While she is gone, there will be much here for me to do.  It's time to get the garden planted in earnest.  And grandkids to spend time with on Fridays.  And, possibly, a new horse to get to know.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Peru Socks Are Finished!

I have finished the surprise gift socks for DD2 to take with her on her study abroad trip to Peru.  And I hate to say it, but they are ugly buggers.  I hope she likes them better than I do.  Not that the yarn itself isn't attractive, but I think the combo of this yarn and the pattern (Tendril Die Socke) just doesn't work.  The bottoms of the feet, where everything is stockinette looks more appealing than the legs or the tops of the feet, which are done in the spiraling rib pattern.

Oh well.  What they lack in aesthetic value, they will make up for in comfort while she is hiking Machu Picchu and other sites that she plans to go to on days when she isn't in class.

Her info packet about the host family she will live with during the six weeks of her trip arrived yesterday. Reading about them and their neighborhood has really heightened her excitement about going.  It is nearly time to pack; all too soon DH and I will be driving her to the airport and seeing her off on this great international adventure.  (An adventure in which she will complete her minor in International Spanish, leaving her two full years of college to concentrate solely on classes in her major.)



Those of you who are so inclined to pray, this mama would really appreciate your prayers for her safety while she is out of the U.S.  Not that there is any great unrest where she is heading, it's just that, well, she's 19 and obviously a young American female, if you get my drift. At least I talked DH out of booking her on the cheaper flight to Peru, which would have had her doing a long layover in Bogota.  (After I explained to him *where* Bogota is, he understood why I vehemently said "NO!" to sending her on that flight.)  Sometimes, being a big burly guy (and former football player), he just doesn't think about personal safety issues the same way a woman does.  ;0)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Clutter Has Eaten My Brain

(and because it's great and very relevant theme music for this post, I provide this link for your listening pleasure.  "And the worms ate into his brain.")

DD2 has come home from college.  Her dorm room is now spread between the basement, the upstairs hallway (hopefully cleaned up by this weekend), and the bedroom both daughters shared while growing up.  The same bedroom where K3 and Toad now sleep when they spend Friday nights with us, since it is the only room with two beds.

Meanwhile, DD1's lease on her apartment where she's lived for the past two school years is up.  She is staying in Grand Rapids this summer to work,  and also take a couple final classes so she will be qualified to do her student teaching this Fall and graduate in December.  She found a sub-lease for May through the beginning of August, and rather than move her belongings twice in four months she decided to live rather minimalist over the summer, and brought most of her apartment home to me and DH. (She will most likely be living at this little place here while doing her student teaching as it is unpaid as well as more than full time work, and she will not have any income to pay a lease with, let alone buy groceries or put gas into her car to get to school/teaching and back daily).  Her love seat takes up most of the area in my living room where the toy box and buckets of Duplos for the grandkids to play with have been located since last fall.  The rest of the contents of her former apartment are in the basement (with DD2's stuff) and in their former bedroom (with DD2's stuff, and where the grandkids bunk on Fridays).

I've been trying to reorganize the necessities (a large portion of the grandkid entertainment items have moved into the dining room) so that we can all operate somewhat enjoyably on a day to day basis with all this stuff packed into my house.  But I don't think I can make it work.  Everywhere I look is stuff!  Stuff and stuff and stuff and stuff. . . Even in a tidy arrangement, it's just too much in this living space.  Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, there's more stuff!  I can't even enjoy my own stuff (books, sewing, knitting, the computer)! My ability to operate, to think clearly, to remain sane, has gone out the window. I have no brain cells left to function.

The clutter has eaten my brain.  (Envision me singing that line like Pink Floyd.  Because yes, that's exactly what it sounded like when I said it out loud).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Informal Learning

Life teaches us a lot.  More than we are aware we are even learning.  This becomes evident to me again and again while interacting with K3 and Toad, and seeing the knowledge they pick up without even trying.

Last weekend, when they were here, we planted those oak saplings that DH had brought home.  K3 and Toad helped us, somewhat, until they got tired of helping to unwrap wet newspaper from the carefully bound roots and gently putting dirt around those tender roots once I had put the trees into their respective holes.  DH and I continued to plant trees, and the kids just ran around near us, where ever on the property we were at that moment.  From time to time they would call out to us to see something they had found, such as a deer track in the mud.

What amazed me wasn't that K3, at about to turn 5 years old (her birthday was Sunday), could recognized the footprint of a deer, but that once she had located it, she could tell what direction the deer was traveling in.  She knew the toe from the heel, and with that knowledge, was able to find several more prints in series, ranging as far as twenty feet from the print she had first seen.  When she lost the trail in the (rapidly growing) grass of the hayfield, she pointed across the field at the same angle that the subsequent tracks had been from the initial one and told me "It went that way."

Not bad.  Actually, quite impressive tracking skills for a child her age.  Perhaps when deer hunting season comes this fall, I'll take her out to help track when we have a harvested deer to recover.  She's all ready good at following footprints and still young enough not to be disgusted by a blood trail.  Plus, her eyes are much closer to the ground than mine, and maybe my back won't get so sore bending over to find that next little spot of blood in the leaves or grass when the trail grows thin.

Toad had his own knowledge to share.  When we would get to a new location for our saplings, he would make sure to take the hammer off the trailer we were using to transport the trees, stakes, and shovel needed for planting.  He would hand DH the hammer as soon as the first tree had been planted, telling DH "Now you pound it" and gesturing to the stake that awaited being driven in to mark the hard to see tree.

On Saturday, once all the trees had been planted, and it was nearly time for DS1 to come pick up Toad and K3, DH took the blades off of the lawn mower so he could sharpen them up for this season's grass cutting.  The grandkids paid no attention, until DH put the first edge of the first blade against his grinder and sparks flew.


Then they were totally enthralled in what he was doing.  So much so that they set up chairs so that we could sit and watch.  At a safe distance, of course, as they were rather concerned about how hot the 'fire' was that was shooting out of Papa's bench grinder.


Since they were so interested, DH showed them the 'dirty, dull' blades from the mower and let them touch the chipped and rounded edge of one.  Then he sharpened a spot on it and showed them how clean, smooth and shiny it was. He tilted it so they could see it was no longer rounded, but angular. He told them it was now sharp 'like a knife' and they decided it was best not to touch the shiny part.  They were mainly interested in the sparks, really, and without realizing it or intending to, they learned how dull metal can be put against stone and made clean and sharp.



Monday, May 1, 2017

90 Trees. . . and Poison Ivy

This past week, DH and I added 90 new trees to our property. Yes, ninety.  Nine, zero.  Ten times nine.  That's a lot of little seedling/sapling trees to plant by hand. And, since we wanted them not as nursery trees, but as specimen trees in the yard, screen trees along the road and the south property line, deer cover behind the marsh, mast trees to draw deer in the future, shade trees near the lawn, and a visual boundary line between future horse pasture and future hay field, that meant we were all over the entire property (several times, actually) planting certain trees here and other trees there and also keeping in mind mature size (and nutrient needs) of those trees as well as not blocking off the sites of future structures (such as hay barn, riding arena, DH's storage barn/wood shop/butcher shop/brew haus).

It started back in early April, when we heard that (through K3's preschool) the local garden club was offering white pine and/or Norway spruce seedlings for fifty cents each in observance of Earth Day.  You had to order and pay by April 12th, and the trees would be delivered on April 24th.  DH and I had been discussing for a while now our desire to acquire more conifers.  So, at 50 cents each, we couldn't resist ordering 25 of each variety.

I picked them up at the delivery site on the afternoon of April 24th.  We planted half of them that night.  The next night, both DH and I had obligations away from home, so the remaining 25 had to wait until April 26th to be planted.  On the 27th (Thursday), I noticed an extremely itchy spot on my left ankle that looked suspiciously like poison ivy.

Also on the 27th, DH commented that he would be bringing home an oak sapling the next day.  His employer had purchased a sapling for each employee at that location (in observance of Earth Day, I guess); so we would have another tree to plant on Friday the 28th.

On Friday I decided that the itchy spot on my ankle was definitely poison ivy.  It was blistered up and driving me mad.  I doused in it cortisone cream and stuck a band-aid over it in attempt to ease the itch, keep my fingers off of it, and hopefully prevent it's spread.  I'm not sure exactly where I contacted the poison ivy vine, as I'm typically really careful to not touch it.  The only thing I can think of is perhaps I brushed against a root or dormant vine without realizing it when planting some of the spruce near the ditch.  Many years ago, when we were cleaning out vines and scrubby stuff from the road frontage of our property I'd gotten a raging case of poison ivy.  So, even though we've been very proactive at eradicating poison ivy from this little place here, perhaps I'd brushed up against some down by the road.

Friday afternoon, DH texted that he had gotten 'his' oak sapling, plus "a few" more.  Because of course not every employee owned their own home or had space to plant an oak tree.  He'd been given his at the appointed pick-up time, and told if he was interested in more, to go to a particular conference room in the mid-afternoon to see if there were any left unclaimed.  When he went to see if he might be able to bring home a couple more, and answered the question "Do you have room to plant a few?" with "I own 40 acres", he was given an entire sack of 50 red oak saplings!

Between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, we planted 40 of those 50.  At which point we offered the remaining 10 to a couple of DH's friends.  I'm really glad they took those last ten, because believe it or not, I was tired of planting trees.  And I had more poison ivy blisters popping out on my right hand and arm.

So, now we have 90 young trees to keep watered, weeded, and protected from the browsing teeth of the local deer population.  And I'm trying desperately to stop these itchy spots from weeping and spreading even further.  I don't want to end up having to go to the doctor for a cortisone shot like the last time I had poison ivy.