Friday, June 23, 2017

Outside From Dawn Til Dusk

That's how my life is this time of year.  Which is why I haven't hardly blogged at all this month (or much in May either).  I love the longer days of sunlight, but they definitely prohibit me from blogging or reading or much of anything that is normally done inside a house and for leisure.

Truthfully, the housework doesn't much get done either.  Last summer DD2 told me I needed to hire a housekeeper in the summer because I have too much outdoor work to do to be able to keep up with the indoor chores too.  Looking around, she's right.  If the floor gets swept once a week, that's good enough (well, DH doesn't think so, but I don't see him getting out the broom either).  Laundry gets washed regularly, and dried on the line, but it doesn't often make it back into dresser drawers or in closets before getting worn again.  Mail is piling up on the counters rather than being sorted on a daily basis.  Let's not talk about the dishes that need hand washing (those items that either don't fit or I don't allow in the dishwasher because I don't want the dishwasher to shorten their lifespan); who wants to wash dishes at ten p.m. when finally coming in the house after working in the garden until dark.

So, don't come in my house in the summer.  Let's just sit and visit outside instead, where there is a nice breeze.  Speaking of which, since we don't have air conditioning in our house, a lot of cooking and eating is done outside (in the breeze) also.  I try not to use the oven much, switching over to the grill for our preferred method of cooking meat.  Plates, forks, and all other dinner time needs are brought down to the patio.  I keep napkins in a small basket on the dining room counter, and it's real handy to pop the salt and pepper shakers into the basket, along with whatever silverware is needed for the night's meal, and carry it all out to the table on our patio (located under the deck, where it's always cool and shady).  Plus, the basket helps keep the napkins from blowing away in the (often strong) breeze!

Or, we could sit on the front porch while we chit chat.  I recently purchased a small metal table and a Boston fern to put on the porch with my two old wooden chairs acquired from Goodwill ages ago.  It's really amazing how that little table and bushy plant create a cozy seating area.

But really, chances of finding me sitting down at all are slim.  It's more realistic to say "here, you sit on the rock wall and talk while I pull weeds in the garden".   That's where most of my day is spent this time of year.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Updates From Peru

This week is the fourth since DD2 arrived in Peru for her Study Abroad program.  Thanks to modern technology that cuts costs, I have been able to 'talk' with her via messaging several times a week for free.  Sure beats paying for international phone calls!

Having her in Peru has been a learning experience for me as well as for her.  She gets all the fun (and headaches) of dealing with a foreign culture, and I get to learn through the photos she sends and the little descriptive comments.  We've talked a lot about food, because I know she was really looking forward to tasting Peruvian cuisine.  She also hoped to be able to help with some of the food prep so that she might learn to make some of the dishes herself.  It doesn't sound like she's had much chance to be hands-on with the food other than by eating it.  But she does have a list of recipes she wants to bring home so she can at least attempt them here.

fresh vegetables galore

The pictures she sends me of the food make me wish that I could eat them!  Lots of fresh vegetables, which is something that I am starving for this time of year in Michigan.  Yes, 'fresh' veggies are available at the grocery store here, but they are not the same taste, texture, or quality as the same veggies picked ripe and in season from Michigan gardens and fields.  For instance, I haven't eaten a 'real' (ie not bought at the store) tomato in about eight months. Just about every meal she has had in Peru, no matter what time of the day, has included fresh tomato!  Many also feature peppers, most of which are varieties unavailable here (because they are native Peruvian kinds), all of which she says are 'tasty without being too hot'. Her favorites so far are aji amarillo and aji de gallina. We've discussed trying to get a hold of some seeds and seeing if they might grow here with help (season extenders such as row covers or cold frames). This had led to a little bit of research on what is and isn't allowed through customs as far as biological matter (such as plants and seeds) is concerned.  Also some looking through the online catalog of Seed Savers Exchange to see if I might simply be able to order seeds for her choice varieties through them.  Apparently there is a very refreshing drink made with purple (dried) corn that she wants me to grow the corn for.

In addition to tomatoes and peppers, she reports that potatoes are plentiful also.  Which makes sense, being as potatoes as we Americans know them, originated in Peru in the Andes Mountains.  They are one of the most important crops in Peru.

potatoes with pan fried (aji amarillo seasoned) chicken

While in Peru, she is taking two classes at the local college.  Most of the other students in her program are taking three, but she had all ready completed the level of language course that they are studying, so she just has two classes.  Both of which deal with history and culture and include a lot of excursions.  So far she has been to a remote village in the Andes, an archaeological site also in the Andes, a school/center for young girls who are at risk of being drafted into the drug and prostitution industries, and to the desert.

in the Andes

a glacial lake


oasis in Huacachina

She says that the excursions have been interesting, but that daily life has been the most educational. Learning her way around a major city, in a foreign country, in a different culture, has been full of stumbling blocks, but has also given her a huge sense of self and empowerment.  Traffic rules are different and looking both ways before crossing the street does not guarantee your safety.  Now she is sure to look all four ways, several times, before stepping into the street!

DD2 said she also learned, one day while ordering lunch at a street food vendor where the orders are taken not by number but by your name, that apparently her first name is hard to pronounce for most Peruvians.  She said it took about five minutes of hearing this progressively louder and more insistent voice calling out a strange word for her to realize that the word was, apparently, her name!  

In just a few more weeks, she will be back home in Michigan.  Time is going quickly, and in our most recent conversation, she said that she is not at all ready to leave Peru.  Of course, the excursion to Machu Picchu is yet to come; next week, I think.  Who would want to spend six weeks in Peru and come home without seeing that?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Big Horse News

I've been sitting on an announcement for a long time.  All year, in fact.  I was approached on January 2nd about the possibility of a new horse coming to the dressage barn.  A horse that is trained higher than any horse I've ever ridden.  A horse that, once moved to the barn, might possibly be in need of someone to ride it and keep it in shape.

I was immediately interested, but didn't want to get my hopes up too much.  For one thing, the barn didn't have any stalls available, so this new horse would have to wait until one or more horses left, making an open stall for him.  None of the other boarders had horses for sale, or plans to move during the winter.  A couple who are college students said they might be moving their horse(s) in the summer, depending on if they got internships or went home once the semester was over.

So I waited, keeping this possibly really cool opportunity a secret.  In a way, I was afraid to talk about it too much, like I might jinx it or something.  I mean, the horse would be coming from the west coast (yes, the west coast of the United States, not just the west side of Michigan), and maybe the owners would decide to find someone there to work this horse for them.  Or maybe they would just decide to sell it, and not worry about board, finding a rider, etc.

In early April, I was approached again, and asked if I was still interested. One of the college aged boarders was leaving for an internship in May and had put her horse up for sale. If her horse didn't sell before she needed to leave, she knew of someone who would let her keep it at their place out in the field with their horse. So there would be a stall open sometime in May.  The west coast horse (who by now DH was starting to refer to as The California Horse because he's the only person--outside of the dressage barn--who I talked [incessantly] to about me maybe being able to work it.) was definitely coming to Michigan. It was definitely coming in May.

Of course I was still interested!  My one caveat was that I reserved my right to change my mind after seeing the horse in person.  If the horse wasn't going to be a good match for me personality-wise, I didn't want to be bound to having to ride it.  Although I was pretty darn sure I would ride just about anything, even if it's personality wasn't on my favorites list.  But, you see, I wasn't totally sure I'd want to take on a fire breathing dragon type of horse of the stature this California Horse was rumored to be.

The barn owner (aka my trainer) assured me that from what she'd been told, he was a mellow horse.  And from the one short video clip that she'd seen, I would have no trouble riding him.  I have the ability, she said.  Don't be afraid of his size.

Because his size is GIGANTIC!  Not very many horses grow this large.  He is one huge chunk of horse flesh.  18 hands.  That's how tall he is.  Now, with a hand being equal to 4 inches, 18 of them total 72 inches.  In other words, this horse's withers are six feet off the ground.  His back is taller than the majority of adult humans!

And I'm wanting to ride this?!?  Yes, yes I am. When it comes to horses I'm possibly certifiably insane.  Not only do I want to ride this, I know I can ride this.  Provided he's not a crazy demon horse from hell (they do exist, ask any long-time horse person). Either way, demon horse or not, he knows 3rd Level and I don't, so he's got stuff to teach me.  Plus, there's the fact that 3rd Level horses are beyond my budget to buy, and I can't make one of my own if I don't know how to do 3rd Level.  So this horse is an awesome learning opportunity and gateway for me.  Once I go through the gate, I will (ideally) have the skills to buy a cheaper untrained horse with talent and train it to 3rd Level. Then I can sell it for much more than I paid for it, buy another untrained horse with even more talent (and a higher price tag) and train that one. All hopefully while I've managed to find an FEI level schoolmaster to take lessons on. . . See where I'm going with this? Grand Prix is my bucket list.  Has been since I was 16 years old.  But it ain't cheap, and so far, nearly 30 years later, I'm still not rich.

I most definitely want to ride the gigantic California Horse.

So he was shipped from the west coast, and arrived in Michigan about two weeks ago.  Let me tell you, he's gorgeous.  Drop dead gorgeous.  For being so huge, he is amazingly well proportioned and almost compact in the body.  Plus, he's got a very handsome face.  And dapples.  Dapples!  Right at eye ball level!  I look at him and see dapples!  And then he looks at me and I see a face  to swoon over.

*sigh* Yes, I'm in love.

So big I can't get all of him in the picture!

What a cutie!

The first few days after his arrival, he was allowed to settle in, and get to know his new barn and meet the other horses across the fence.  His owner (a college student at the barn who also has a younger horse she is training, and not enough time to ride both of them 4 or more times a week) has ridden him about 3-4 times since then.

Last Thursday evening, I got a text asking if I was still interested in riding him (Oh heck yes!!) and if I would like to do that on Monday (Memorial Day).  Monday fit my schedule perfectly, so we made an appointment for late morning.

The plan was for the owner to get on him first, and show me what he could do.  Then my trainer would get on him, so she could feel how he went and test him out a little (to better enable her to teach me how to ride him to the utmost of his abilities).  Lastly, I would get on him and take a test ride. So that I could be 100% sure I wanted to commit to leasing him.

Leasing?  Yep.  Lease him.  Brand new territory for me.  Until this year I wouldn't have considered a lease.  I mean, you have to pay board, and sometimes all the other expenses too, for the horse, but you don't get to sell him when you're done.  So why lease rather than buy?  Because he's a blasted 3rd Level horse, that's why!  Because I have barely $1000 in my horse buying fund (and the sale of the Quarter Horse isn't going to triple that or anything due to his navicular limiting his career and his quirky nature making him unsuitable for beginners. . .), and there is no way in heck DH would spend the kind of coin that a 3rd Level horse cost!  See my line of thought above (8th paragraph from the top of the page), on how I could ever possibly afford to own upper level dressage horses.

Lease details are still in negotiation (since neither the owner nor I have ever leased before, we're trying to gather info on writing a lease contract that is best for both of us).  But I've ridden him twice now--used him for my regular weekly riding lesson last night--and I know without a doubt that I can ride this horse.  He is a gentle giant.  And as huge as his strides are, I don't feel like the corners of the arena are rushing at us.  He moves so deliberately, and picks his feet up so much, that it almost feels like we are moving in slow motion.  The suspension is like nothing I've ridden before, and I'm barely touching on what he's capable of.  This horse can take me far.  So I'm going to lease him, and put off buying myself a new horse for a while.

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)