Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Welding Helmet. And Tomatoes

Alternately titled:  How To Freak Yourself Out

Yesterday was the big day.  The solar eclipse, visible across most of the US.  Here in Michigan we were in the 70-something percent totality zone.

Being frugal, and immune to societal whim, I did not purchase eclipse glasses for viewing the big event.  Oh, I fully intended to take a peek or two at the sun while it was being partially hidden by the moon, but I wasn't going to run to the store and get some darn wear-em-once plastic glasses.  You see, I have a vague memory of being very young, early in my elementary school days, and being ushered outside with a piece of cardboard with a pinhole in it, and viewing another solar eclipse.  So I knew it wasn't necessary to see this one with some store bought glasses.  (Some googling brought me the info that the eclipse I was remembering happened in 1979, when I was a wee 7 year old second grader.  Or maybe third grader, depending on it if was in the Spring or the Fall, since I was a year younger than the majority of my classmates.)

Anyway, the eclipse was just a small part of my itinerary yesterday.  A very large part was canning tomatoes.  Because my tomato plants are now starting to have red ripe 'maters, and it's time to get cranking on my canned tomatoes.

Before I could can them, I needed to pick them.  It just so happened that by the time I got home from work, changed out of my smelly sweaty barn clothes, and had some lunch, it was about time for the eclipse to 'begin'.  So I grabbed some bags to put tomatoes into as I picked, went into the garage and dug out DH's welding helmet (full of cobwebs because he welds so rarely), and headed to the garden.

Well, not straight to the garden.  First I wiped all the cobwebs out of DH's helmet and put it on for a selfie.  Did you know that it's incredibly difficult to take a selfie while wearing a welding helmet?  For one thing, I couldn't see a thing through the dark glass, so I had no idea where my phone was aiming.  For another, I have a fairly small head for an adult, and DH has a kind of large head. So the helmet kept tilting downward, and the glass window ended up about level with the tip of my nose unless I held it in place with one hand.

sorta in the picture

Satisfied I had a decent picture to remember this by, I took off the welding helmet and headed out to the garden.  Once there, I commenced to picking tomatoes.  Every ten minutes or so (I had a lot of tomato plants this year, about 90, and it took a while to work my way through the rows), I would slap the welding helmet on my head and take a peek at the sun.  I could see it, the glass made it glow green--which was really cool since green is my favorite color--and just on one edge I could see where the sun was no longer perfectly round; the moon was moving in.

Now, yesterday's weather here was hot and really humid (if you hadn't guessed, I'm wearing a tank top in the above photo).  I was sweating buckets out there in the garden. I'd pick a few tomatoes, then wipe the sweat away from my eyes with the back of my hand.  It just so happened that I picked tomatoes, wiped sweat, and put that welding helmet on for my first peek at the sun.  I saw that slightly asymmetrical green orb, then looked down and took the welding helmet off.  I wiped the back of my hand across my face again to remove more sweat, and went back to picking tomatoes.

Shortly after, I felt an uncomfortable sensation in my left eye.  And immediately wondered if I'd done a bad thing, looking at the solar eclipse with DH's welding helmet.  Had I burned my eye?  Was that why it did, indeed, feel like it was burning? Oh no!  How long did it take for blurred vision to set in? Slight panic! Other than feeling hot, my eye seemed to work just fine, I could see as well as I normally do.  And why wasn't my right eye feeling the same heat?  I knew I'd had both eyes open as I'd looked through the glass window on the welding helmet.

But then I smelled the unmistakable smell that bruised tomato vines give off.  Whew!  I hadn't permanently damaged my eyeball with the sun's rays.  No, what I had inadvertently done was rub tomato vine residue into my eye area when I used the back of my hand to wipe off sweat. The hand that had been reaching into the tomato plants, brushing up against and slightly bruising the vines and leaves while picking the red fruits.  I know from experience that my skin doesn't play well with tomato vines (I have sensitive skin); just working with the plants to transplant or weed around them often makes me itchy. 

What a relief it was to know that my eye wasn't scorched. Nope, it was just irritated by the tomato plant stuff that the sweat now running down my face had carried into my eye.  

So I slapped that welding helmet on again and took another look at the eclipse.  The moon had moved across more of it, cutting a definite arc out of the right side. 

As I picked tomatoes, I took four or five more looks at the sun through the welding helmet.  At it's most covered point, it looked like a green crescent moon.  I even put my cell phone up into the helmet with me and tried to take pictures through the glass, but all the phone picked up was light streaks, and not the crescent shape.

Still cool, though.  Being my favorite color and all.

Later, after the eclipse was done, and all the ripe tomatoes picked, I put the helmet away, and took the tomatoes into the kitchen.  Where I proceeded to put up 14 pints of canned tomatoes.  And make BLTs for dinner because it was still way too hot and humid to cook.  :0)

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Mayhem is the newest cat at this little place here.  Technically, she belongs to DD1 and Honorary Son, and will be moving out next Spring when they get married.  But, for now, she's making herself at home and earning her official nickname of Mayhem.

Curious about the Yarn Thief's food dish
(this did NOT go over well).

DH's sandals apparently double as a kitten trap.

She's learned (the hard way) that the other side of the shower curtain is very wet, 
but she still can't stay away.

Almost jumped in the washing machine while I was loading blue jeans.

The Yarn Thief doesn't really care for her.  I didn't expect a new kitten to go over well with our nearly 3 year old cat who lacks feline social skills and has managed to run off all my barn cats.  When DD1 informed me she was moving in and bringing a kitten, I was afraid that the Yarn Thief would eat Mayhem alive the very first day.  To everyone's surprise, Mayhem has way more grit than we thought a six week old kitten would have, and she has not once tucked tail and run from the Yarn Thief's growls and hisses.  Even when she gets batted upside the head, Mayhem doesn't run.  Nope, she stands up on her hind legs and bats the Yarn Thief back.  Which, as you can imagine, doesn't endear her to the Yarn Thief any.

They had made a truce last week. Although the Yarn Thief tried to deny it when I snapped this picture.

"I don't like her, don't think that I do.  I'm not playing.  Nope."

 I even caught them napping on the same piece of furniture. But I wasn't fast enough with the camera.

This week, however, Mayhem has decided that her 'friend' should play and wrestle with her.  The Yarn Thief is not taking the pouncing and head-lock position as "hey friend, let's wrestle!"  The Yarn Thief is taking it as total aggression and disrespect by the small, immature cat and is once again sulking around looking pissed.

Maybe they'll eventually learn to co-exist.  For now, though, we have to be on alert for the Yarn Thief trying to coax Mayhem outside and then luring her into the soybean field.  A kitten could easily get lost out there.  Which seems to be the Yarn Thief's intention the two times we've caught her at it so far.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Educating My Ass

Sorry, that's a little crude.  But it seems to be the theme of my riding lessons this year.

Perhaps I should say, Making My Seat More Intelligent.  Learning what I didn't know I didn't know, even with all these years of riding (most of 33 years, less about seven when I was horseless between baby #2 being born and baby #4 hitting preschool age).

What I didn't know #1: that I could ride with pretty much my seat.  Stopping, turning, even increasing the tempo aren't so much functions of the reins or legs as they are of the seat.  The sitting bones, the core, the angle of the pelvis, I've learned to use those more than my hands or legs.  The stronger my core gets, and the more flexible my lower back gets, the more I can lengthen or shorten the horse's stride with just my seat.  No wonder those upper level dressage riders look like they are just sitting there not doing much at all.  It's because their hands and legs aren't doing the lion's share of the work, aren't moving and flapping around for all to see.  No, it's their seat that is working (invisibly) constantly to produce the dance of dressage.

What I didn't know #2: lateral work. I really, really, did not know, or understand lateral work.  This has proven to be the hole in my riding education that I knew existed, in fact when I started riding with my current trainer I flat out told her I knew there were holes because my dressage training had been so sporadic and unstructured (and by and large on green horses I was training myself).  Even though I knew holes existed, I just didn't know what those holes were.  It's come to light that the holes are more like one big hole with title lateral work.  Leg yield, yeah I totally misunderstood how to do that.  No wonder it had never felt quite right or seemed as smooth as when I watched other people ride it. Come to think of it, I'd never really seen, in person, very many people ride leg yield.  Shoulder-in, nope, way off base on that one, which really makes sense to me now that I understand leg yield better.  Haunches in (aka Travers), ha ha ha, such a big no.  Half-pass, well, let's just say the first half-pass I attempted (just a few months ago) was a huge failure and we have since figured out why.  My perception and my aids were all screwed up, that's why.

What I didn't know #3:  How god-awful tense and stiff I am.  I mean, I had an inkling from a few medical experiences in the past such as when I had physical therapy for a knotted muscle in my neck/shoulder area back in 2002 (? maybe it was 2003 or 2004?) in which the therapist barely touched me and told me I really needed to relax, she'd never felt anyone with such tense muscles--and I'd thought I was relaxed!  Also the time an osteopath was going to gently realign a rib that I'd coughed out of place during my horrible awful cold and coughing spell in January 2016, he had to repeatedly tell me to 'give him my arm' that it wasn't loose enough--all while I'd thought I couldn't get any closer to being noodle-like.  Anyway, I knew that in general I'm tense.  But I hadn't thought I was that tense in the saddle. I didn't clench my butt cheeks or pinch the horse with my thighs, and I rode without my legs touching the horse every single second.  I was relaxed, right?   Until I finally understood how to keep my joints elastic and felt a huge difference in the way the horse moved, I definitely was tense.  It's still a struggle, sometimes, to let my body flow instead of trying to push my parts (and my horse) around mechanically.

What I didn't know #4: That riding lessons can be downright fun.  I've always liked having lessons.  When I'm having lessons, I know my potential to make progress is exponentially increased.  But somehow, lessons were always serious occasions and I got a little frustrated with myself if I couldn't meet my trainers requests in that riding session.  With my current trainer, however, I find myself laughing, a lot.  Mostly at myself when I am just twisting myself into a human pretzel and still not getting the desired result from the horse (like that lesson where she tried to teach me the aids for half-pass and I so did not comprehend what body part went where with how much pressure).  Sometimes, though, I'm laughing at her, as she tries to talk me through an exercise or movement by demonstrating, on foot, step by step sequence of aids and how the horse should respond.  As much as I was realizing (and getting frustrated with myself ) that I just wasn't doing things right in the half-pass, it was hilarious to walk (on my horse) behind her as she 'rode' an imaginary horse around the arena, trying to show me by the angle of her hips and shoulders, and placement of her legs and hands, what I should be doing at each point.  Or when I finally have a light-bulb moment, and my aids coordinate, and for a few seconds, I am that lovely dancing dressage rider, and I just laugh from the sheer joy of it.

What I didn't know #5: I really missed the social aspect of riding.  For so long, decades, actually, I'd been in a private barn situation, with one trainer available.  Through the years, the number of other boarders and students dwindled, and there were less and less horse people around me on a daily basis.  At my current barn, there are other active owners, other riders, even other trainers coming in to teach (and welcoming of people who want to sit in on a lesson and watch someone else ride--which by the way, auditing other people's lessons is an excellent way to pick up things and reinforce your own riding skills).  Even though we are from different walks of life, and of different ages, it's nice to chat with other riders on a regular basis.  It has really been since about 1992 that I have felt like part of a family of horse people; and now that I have connected with another 'family' it feels really good to have friends who aren't the wives of DH's friends or coworkers, or friends who aren't the mothers of my children's friends or teammates.  These are my friends, forged by a common bond of horses.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Blessing in Disguise

Injuring my wrist has been frustrating.  It has really limited the sorts of things I can get done around this little place here, just when there are tons of outdoor and indoor tasks needing to be taken care of.  Anything involving pushing or pulling with my right hand is out.  Anything involving carrying more than a few pounds with my right hand is out.   So, no weeding, no scrubbing, no kneading bread, no carrying of furniture or boxes as DD2 packs and leaves for school and DD1 unloads the rest of her boxes and furniture that she is moving in.  No stacking firewood, no carrying rocks from the area by the road that DH is cleaning up of dead trees and brush and discovered a rock pile just under the surface.

But on the other hand, it has been a blessing in disguise.  I have had a lot of downtime since I can't be physically going all out like I normally do when there is so much work to be done.  I've used that downtime for a lot of mental tasks, such as planning and researching.  I've also been able to keep up on the food processing that so far needs to be done.  

Peas have been picked, shelled, blanched, and packaged for the freezer.

Green beans have been picked, topped and tailed, snapped, and canned in the pressure canner. It's been a few years since I actually canned beans, and boy, was I so glad yesterday that I had gotten down to business and processed this current batch.  The kitchen smelled so good, of canning beans, and it took me back to summer days in southeastern Ohio helping my grandmother put up green beans.  Some great memories there.

The handful of ripe cucumbers were caught at the perfect size for making refrigerator pickles, rather than getting overlooked until they are golden yellow because I was too busy weeding and working to do a daily check of the cucumber row.

I've picked my Red Haven peach tree at just the right moment, and been rewarded with delicious, juicy peaches to eat fresh, to can, and even to share with a friend.

Broccoli heads are cut at the right time, instead of several days or a week later, when I have to cut out the open flower buds.

I've 'found' zucchini before it gets to baseball bat size.  We've even eaten small ones in shish kebabs on the grill!

On the planning front, I've spent time with both daughters helping them sort through their things and decide which items they no longer want or need, which items they use regularly, and which items are things they don't use now but will in the future that can be better stored in the attic than in the house.  Slowly, this house is getting a little less cluttered, and I'm feeling a little less anxious.  I feel like, bit by bit, I'm getting things back under control again.

Also on the planning front, I've made a few lists of easy projects DH and I can do to help finish rooms and make them more functional.  It's hard to believe that we've lived here nearly 14 years and still have a woeful lack of storage and use of vertical space.  All those 'little' things that we said we could finish once we moved in, yet life with four kids happened and so we either had no time or no money (or both!) to work on those seemingly inconsequential things like the floor to ceiling bookshelf for the study, or an actual room with walls for the laundry room (instead of a counter held up by 2" x 4"s butted up against the washer and dryer in one corner of the basement).  Even a nice shelf or two in one of the bathrooms would help it operate more easily and look less messy (and keep the floor and counter area empty for quick cleaning and washing on a regular basis).

I've even done a little bit of knitting on the sock I started in Alaska.

When I first injured my wrist, I was really overwhelmed at the thought of how far behind I was going to get in chores.  But, really, while I'm behind in some things, I've gotten ahead in others.  And, since DH feels kind of like he's to blame for my injury (I'd asked him to have DS1 come help instead of me having to lug furniture into the house), he's been helpful on the important tasks, and not complaining about the ones that are being left undone until my wrist is healed.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pop Goes The . . .

. . . Joint capsule in my wrist.  :0(

This past weekend, we had some new furniture arrive.  A new mattress and box springs for the master bedroom (finally!  Ours has been pretty lumpy the past six years or so), and a recliner for DH.  Happy, happy!

I had hoped that DH would ask DS1 to come help him carry those things into the house, especially the mattress since it needed to go upstairs (and I remembered what an ordeal it was trying to squeeze/lug our original king sized mattress up the stairwell when we moved into this little place here).  But, nope, he didn't.  He insisted we could get it ourselves.

And we could.  We did.  It just wasn't as smooth or as easy as if there was a 20-something year old man on one end of the mattress.

After wresting the old mattress out, which was relatively easy since it went down the stairs all on it's own and all we had to do was guide it so it didn't hit anything on the way down the stairs and out the front door, and wrestling the new mattress in, which wasn't nearly so easy as it wanted to hang up going through the doorway and wedge the bottom corner under the edge of the stair tread. . .   Bringing in the recliner sounded like it would be a piece of cake.

After all, it came in two parts, the bottom part and the back/top part.  All we had to do was remove the box, and easily carry between the two of us one part into the house at a time.

Ha ha. Getting it out of the box was easy.  Picking up the bottom (heavier) part wasn't too difficult.  Navigating through the door was a little tricky, as the screen door was nearly ripped off by the wind a few years ago and no longer has that part that you can lock in position to hold the door open while you walk through it with your hands full.

I was the one to walk backwards into the house, with the chair between DH and I.  And just as I was about to say "When our new couch comes (because we'd also ordered a new couch) you definitely need to have one or both of the boys come help bring it in", I had reached about the point in the front entryway where you are almost past the stairs and entering the living room. (The ends of the treads stick out into the hallway for the first half of the staircase and end about where the opposite wall of the hall/entryway stops to open into the living room.)  That's when the overstuffed portion of the chair got a little hung up on the part of the stairs that sticks out and DH gave a little shove to push it through.

Except when he shoved, my wrist also got hung up on the part of the stairs that sticks out, and apparently my wrist was bent just right and DH's shove was just hard enough that the edge of the stair tread pressed just right into my wrist and I felt a POP.  No pain that I was aware of, just a distinct interior pop in my wrist and my eyes immediately filled with tears and I almost dropped the chair.

We quickly got the chair the remaining six feet or so into the living room and set it down.  All ready, my wrist looked like someone had inserted a marble under the skin.  It was swelling quickly.  Still no pain, unless I (or DH!!) touched that bump, but my wrist was definitely getting larger in circumference at a high rate of speed.


I went and made up an ice pack in the kitchen immediately, while checking to see if my fingers still functioned, if my wrist still bent up and down, if I could twist that hand back and forth like normal.  Yes, yes, and yes.  It was fine, worked fine, if you discounted the rapid swelling and the growing feeling of heat right under that marble like bump.

While I was sitting on the couch with the ice pack on my wrist, mentally running through what medical knowledge I had gained through years of raising kids and dealing with their injuries ("sprains swell immediately, breaks don't."  "a hot spot can indicate a break" When DS1 broke his wrist sledding in 2000, he could still move his wrist and fingers normally, but he had pain. The swelling didn't materialize until the next day.) DH brought the other portion of his new recliner in and attached the two pieces together. Then he tested it out, declaring it a great chair (he's been wanting a recliner for a long time.   We used to own a couch that both ends reclined on, but I wasn't comfortable sitting on it, and still do not find reclining furniture to suit my posture.)  Then he was very quiet for a few minutes before he said:

"I feel guilty that your wrist is hurt.  I don't want to ask you to cook now,"  (I was going to start cooking dinner once we'd gotten the new bed and chair brought in). "Do you want to go out to dinner?"

Meanwhile, I'd been thinking that if my wrist was too injured to be able to ride the California Horse, I was going to be devastated and have a really hard time not being grumpy about having gotten injured carrying in furniture.

After I'd applied ice for about 20 minutes, we did go out to dinner.  Nothing spectacular, as I was hungry, and my wrist was starting to feel uncomfortable.  Not pain, exactly, but a weirdness.  A little heat, an almost numbness that went from my index finger, through my wrist and toward my elbow.  I wanted to get dinner out of the way and then possibly go to urgent care to have my wrist looked at.  We probably could have had my wrist x-rayed first, and then gone out to eat, but I knew if I had to wait in a waiting room for hours before getting seen, I was going to be really hungry and possibly have a headache from going too long without eating.  So we went out to eat first.

By the time we were done eating, I decided to just go home, apply more ice, take some Motrin, and see how my wrist felt in the morning.  The swelling had mostly gone down by the time we paid our tab at the restaurant.

The next morning, it was a little sore if I touched the remainder of the bump, or pushed or pulled anything with that hand.  But other than that, it felt and worked like normal.  So I went to the barn, rode--my wrist worked and felt perfectly fine (until I leaned on that hand when I went to dismount)-- and cleaned stalls.  Before cleaning stalls, I had my wrist looked at by one of the other boarders, who happens to be a veterinary pathologist.  Based on examination and my description of what had happened and what it felt like, she diagnosed it as a popped joint capsule in my wrist.  The sudden swelling would have been the synovial fluid that had been released.  In human medicine terms, I have a minor sprain of the wrist, to be treated with ice, rest, anti-inflammatories (Motrin) and support with an elastic bandage if I insist on using it (as in, to clean stalls or other work, which I do to a degree.  Life doesn't stop for a sprained wrist).

Since I didn't relish the thought of wearing the same bandage on my arm to cook with that I wore while cleaning stalls, I brainstormed a way to keep my (one) elastic bandage clean while at the barn.  I wrap it in vetrap, which is a somewhat stretchy, somewhat sticky bandaging tape for horses.  It keeps the dirt and germs off my elastic bandage, and I just peel off the vetrap when I leave the barn. Works like a charm.  :0)

zebra striped vetrap doesn't look like zebra stripes on my arm

And the best part of this:  my wrist doesn't bother me at all when I'm riding.  So my riding schedule hasn't needed to change.  (If you can't tell, riding is very important to me.)

I have had to cut back on chores though, especially things like pulling weeds.  And I'll need help with the canner if I do any canning in the next week or so.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Changes, Changes, Always Changes

Seems like July flew by, but that's probably because it began (for me) in Alaska, and when I got home from Alaska the month was pretty much 1/3 over all ready.  And, once home, I went back to work right away plus had a ton of work at home to catch up on plus did a whole bunch of blog posts about my trip.

There was even more that happened in July than that, like selling The Quarter Horse (who went to a 12 yr old girl who has ridden for years but has never, until now, owned a horse of her very own), and DD1 moving back home (with a kitten!) because she will be living at this little place here while doing her student teaching at a local elementary school this fall, and selling two wagons of hay and putting up another wagonload that was cut and baled (and thankfully stored indoors) while we were all away on our long Alaskan vacation. The owner of the eventing barn I've been doing morning feedings at for over 10 months now very hesitantly told me that with her current lack of boarding horses (several of her clients take their horses home in the summer) she was having a little trouble making ends meet, and did I mind having a month or maybe two off?  Oh, and my lease on the California Horse also officially began in July, so I've been riding him about three or four times a week since I've been back.

Now it's August all ready.  Since I am not heading out to the eventing barn first thing in the mornings Monday through Friday, I've chosen to use the early in the day coolness to ride the California Horse before I get down to the business of cleaning stalls at the dressage barn.  I'm loving beginning my day in the saddle.  He isn't so much.  The first day, he threw a humongous tantrum because I didn't let him go out to the pasture with his buddies, and instead groomed and tacked him up.  Seriously, this was an enormous fit; complete with getting loose when I went to bridle him, then throwing his head all around when I and two other people ushered him into a stall and commenced to attempt to get the bit into his mouth, then about an hour of being a total bulldozer and asshole while I led him around in the indoor arena until he was listening well enough and standing still long enough that I felt somewhat safe putting my foot into the stirrup to mount.

Once I was on his back, he was an angel.  But we've had to run through lessening degrees of this fit every morning this week while he gets over himself and accepts that like it or not, his daily schedule now includes a ride after breakfast instead of in the middle of the day or the late afternoon.  In the few years since putting down my (Holsteiner) mare, I had forgotten how stubborn Holsteiners can be, and how large their egos are. And honestly, if I hadn't had nearly 20 years of working with them I probably would have been totally intimidated when he threw his giant tantrum.  Instead, I recognized that I needed to be firm, and not give in because if I did he would just act worse and worse each time I went to work him.

Honestly, though, after having several years of working with 'little old' 15.3 hand the Quarter Horse (that I could push around pretty much anywhere), having this behemoth 18 hand Holsteiner California Horse hopping around and trying to sling me against the wall so he could get loose did have me shaking and in a sweat.  He had me backed into a corner and we both knew it, and it was only sheer stubbornness and determination on my part that kept me from throwing in the towel, taking off his tack, and putting him outside where he wanted to be.  I guess you could say our 'honeymoon period' in this new partnership was over and now was the time he was going to start showing his true colors and testing me.

I believe that now, at the end of a challenging week, we have come to an agreement and he respects me as much on the ground as he does when I'm in the saddle, and that the weeks to come will be more pleasant for both of us.  Even though he's always been good while I'm on his back (even the one ride, the first time I rode him alone, when he tried to tuck his head to his chest, dip his shoulder and was going to then attempt to buck--which I averted by giving a mighty upcheck with my outside rein while punching him in the barrel with both legs, was as much he's tested me in the saddle); our rides this week have gotten better and better.  He's more energetic and responsive to my aids, and we're doing some really fun lateral work, plus more and longer canter sessions (I could barely get him into a canter at first; he's a lot of horse to collect and motivate).

DD1's arrival back at this little place here with a truckload of stuff from two years of living on her own has brought it's own challenge.  Until DD2 leaves for college (next weekend), the two of them are grudgingly sharing what used to be their bedroom.  It is currently overstuffed and cramped and there are alternate fits on about who is pushing whose stuff around and being rude, and who needs to clean up their 'crap' so the other can walk through the room.  (Oh, how I'm missing my empty nest!)

Plus DD1 brought with her a now 7 week old kitten, and the Yarn Thief is deeply affronted by the little grey female with the bell on it's collar.  Her entire mood changes when she hears the jingle of the bell, and the Yarn Thief has been spending much time outside (her choice) sulking.  I am really amazed she hasn't torn the newcomer to shreds, as she is very territorial and has succeeded in running off both of my barn cats.  The kitten, however, is either very gutsy or very stupid and doesn't run when the Yarn Thief growls or hisses at her.  Instead, she stands on her tiptoes and sidles closer to the Yarn Thief, even getting the multiple times larger older cat to stand down and back away.  These two just might, eventually, figure out how to live together.  Actually, it kind of mirrors the way their owners (as DD2 was, technically, the one who brought the Yarn Thief into our lives) are squabbling over territory in the upstairs bedroom.

The garden is starting to produce in earnest now and every few days I am bringing in ripe veggies.  There haven't yet been enough beans at once to bother getting out the canner, but I've spent several hours shelling and blanching peas for the freezer.  Cucumbers, similarly, aren't enough to fill a quart jar and make pickles, but they are enjoyed fresh, peeled and sliced.  We've had zucchini in our shish kebabs, as well as in bread and a chocolate zucchini cake.  The sweet corn is not quite ready, but most likely this time next week we will be enjoying ears only minutes from the garden and I will be assembling jars to can cream corn and whole kernel corn in.  My tomato plants are heavy with lots of green tomatoes.  DD2 was hoping that she might get to enjoy a vine ripened red one before leaving for school, but so far it has been very warm at night and none of the tomatoes are showing any sign of turning color yet.  Typically it is mid to late August before I have ripe tomatoes, so I might have to find a way to ship a few to her at college.

It is amazing to me, and to her, that she is all ready entering her third year of college.  She's eager to begin the next semester, but she is also freaking out a little with all the things she needs to do this third year.  Like hopefully secure an internship in her field for next summer.  And start looking seriously at where she wants to attend grad school.  It has always been her intent to go right through to a doctorate, so she can do field research, but the college she is at does not offer a masters program in her field.  Which means unless she can find a faculty member to help her write (and get school approval for) her own masters program, she will need to go somewhere else for grad school and then (her desire) return for her PhD.  There are several schools with good masters programs for wildlife ecology, but most are far away.  After visiting Alaska and finding it not too very much different from the U.P. where she now attends college, she is considering going to grad school in Fairbanks.

With so much going on at this little place here, people moving in, people moving out, reorganizing of bedrooms and storage, the garden ramping up into full production mode, and wedding planning needing to be done (we've started dress shopping!!) August is sure to slip by seemingly overnight.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Random Alaska

I know I've spent two full weeks, and a lot of posts talking about Alaska.  And yet, I keep thinking of little tidbits of our trip that I haven't covered yet.  Mostly random, not in order by place or location, some that actually could have been included in one of my posts, and others that seem so unrelated that they almost could have been a post of their own, yet there isn't so much to tell or show to devote a whole post to it.

So, this is going to be the disorganized, random, some photos and a few explanations post to cover all that.  :0)

In the Kenai, we seemed to see eagles everywhere.  Near the river, in particular.  One day when we were driving elsewhere, DH just pulled over into a little parking area that had a small trail for walking to the river.  He was hoping to see a bear fishing for salmon, but apparently the salmon (and the bears) weren't there yet.  Too early in the season, I guess.  What we did see though, was an astounding number of eagles.  It started with two, an adult and a juvenile bald eagle.  Then they flew off to our right, and disappeared behind some tall trees.  A few minutes later, an adult bald came flying toward the river from that direction.  Shortly after came another adult bald eagle.  Then, nearly on it's heels, a juvenile bald.

DH and I were feeling lucky to have seen not one, not two, but three bald eagles in one spot.  Imagine our surprise when, over the course of a few minutes, from the same direction, came several more.  It was like someone behind those tall trees had a pitching machine that was firing out not balls, but eagles at regular intervals!  Not just bald eagles, but also some golden eagles.

Some flew off over the river, toward a mountain in the backdrop.  Two landed in trees and perched there, apparently watching for fish.  Others just soared in circles overhead.  At one time we counted ten different eagles all in our field of vision.  And of course neither of us had brought a phone with which to take pictures of this.

There are many glaciers, and we saw several during our travels. One we got to see closer than the others, and that was Exit Glacier.

I had always just pictured glaciers as big white blobs.  Because they are layer upon layer of packed snow, right?  Well, sort of.  They are layers of snow that has just piled up through the ages without melting away completely.  But they're not bright, pretty white.  From a distance, yes, they look white.  Up close, they look kind of dirty and grimy, like old snowbanks in the early spring that built up on the sides of the road all winter long and collected dirt and salt spray as well as snow.  Glaciers are snow, and ice, and lots of debris that they pick up as they move.  They are a little white, but more streaks of gray, and areas that are blue from the light reflecting on the dense icy layers within.

The meltwater that comes out of the base of a glacier as it recedes is a very opaque gray color.  It reminded me a lot of the color of cement slurry.  In a way, the glacial water is a kind of cement slurry; it contains lots of silt and small stones, as well as water.

As the water flows away from the glacier, the silt and stones are deposited, forming a glacial outwash basin.

outwash basin, looking toward the glacier

outwash basin, looking from the base of the glacier outward

the current base of the glacier
(I wanted to hike all the way to it, but the rest of my fellow travelers didn't like the steep, narrow, rocky path leading from this observation point to the glacier itself, and I was voted out of continuing our hike.)

Once the sediment and rocks have been deposited as the water (known as a braided river because of it's many small intertwining paths in an outwash basin) flows further and further from the glacier, the color of the water changes.  Glacial lakes are a beautiful blue color.

Random Photos:

our home on wheels

a misty morning

Honorary Son and DD1 spent most of their wakeful hours in the RV like this,
 taking pictures out the open window even while rolling down the road

my one moose photo

I think, hopefully, I've reached the end of my show and tell about going to Alaska.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Botany Post

While in Alaska, I learned a few botany related things.  Everywhere I go, my eye is usually drawn to the natural world.  And if I'm on foot, well, I've been known to stop and take pictures of plants and flowers so that later I can look them up and learn what it was that I saw.  I was looking forward to going to Alaska and seeing what flowers I recognized, and also seeing flowers that were new to me.  What I didn't anticipate was 'discovering' other types of plants.

Like the moss I was amazed to see hanging from some spruce trees near Denali.  I knew that was a boreal forest region, but I didn't know that mosses which inhabit trees (envision Spanish moss in wet humid southern areas) lived there.  Upon doing some online searching, I found a really cool PDF of Alaskan mosses and liverworts that helped me to identify this surprising find as cat-tail moss.

While hiking the Bear Mountain Trail that I talked about in this post I saw and photographed what looked like pine cones growing upright out of the ground.  I knew they weren't actual pine cones, but I wasn't sure what they were.  So I took a photo for reference (a typical MO for me) and to help me remember identifying features when I had time to look it up later.  Turns out they are a kind of boschniakia; a parasitic plant that feeds on the root systems of certain trees and shrubs.

boschniakia rossica

I also saw many flowers that were unfamiliar to me.  Flowers such as:

chiming bells

arctic wintergreen

Jacob's ladder

chocolate lily 

snow arnica

fireweed (close up)

a patch of fireweed

There were also some grasses I saw for the first time:

Alaska cotton grass

squirrel tail grass

There were also several wildflowers that I knew.


wild iris aka blue flag

prickly rose

western columbine

wild geranium

No matter where in Alaska I went, no matter what the weather, I was usually commenting on the flora around me.  And, if we were out hiking, I was getting left behind as I stopped to examine the leaves and/or blossoms.  But what's the point of walking around somewhere if you aren't going to look at what's growing there?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Alaska Beer

Let me preface this by saying I am in no way a beer aficionado or even consider myself to be a beer lover.  I'm a picky eater, and an even more picky drinker.  DH says his favorite beer is a free beer, but me, if I don't like the taste you couldn't pay me to drink it.  I tasted many beers while in Alaska, and often I decided I didn't like them enough to actually order a glass and just asked for water instead.

That said, I'm sure many people would love the beer offerings of Alaskan breweries.  DH had no trouble finding an IPA he liked everywhere we went, and he often liked most of the ones that I sampled and turned up my nose at (I felt they were often hoppy, no matter the style.)

Here's where we went or breweries that we tried their beers at a restaurant or in an airport:

Midnight Sun
Mooses Tooth
Bear Tooth
49th State
St. Elias
Kenai River Brewing
Denali Brewing
Last Frontier
Silver Gulch

Most places I didn't take pictures; we were just there for a pint, or we were there for dinner and they were crowded.  I'm really not that into taking pictures of food or beer while sitting at a table in a public place.  So.

49th State, however, had a really neat beer garden, and it was the best weather day of the whole trip.  Plus, we'd gotten a text from DS2 and friends that they were heading toward Denali and wanted to meet up with us at 49th State Brewing, which is in Healy just outside the park entrance.  While their beer wasn't on the top of my list of favorites, I did drink an entire pint of the McCarthy's Stout (layman's beer review: too bland of flavor and 'thin' of mouth-feel to rank high on my list of yummy stouts, but then again it did say traditional dry stout and I'm not a fan of Guiness).  Even better than their beer was their guacamole!  Since we sat a while, waiting for DS2 and crew to arrive, we ordered some guac and chips.  Simple food as it was, it was amazing!

We sat outside in the beer garden, where they played Led Zeppelin over strategically placed speakers, offered disc golf, picnic tables, and other seating arrangements.  There was a signpost that told the mileage to other Alaskan points, plus the "Magic Bus" that was used in the movie Into the Wild.

Denali Brewing is actually outside of Talkeetna. We stopped in their tasting room on our way back to Anchorage after leaving Denali National Park, in the rain.  I recommend the Chuli Stout. I believe it was served on nitro, but honestly, I don't remember for sure.  That 800 mg of Motrin (I took in Denali for my back/shoulder pain) was in full swing and having a beer with it probably wasn't wise. Did make the rainy drive back to Anchorage more enjoyable, though.

Last Frontier in Wasilla was a dinner stop that same night.  Excellent food.  Really, really tasty food in generous proportions.  Beer to me was, well, I sampled two and ended up ordering a glass of water.  DH said it was good IPA, though.

We'd heard that Mooses Tooth, in Anchorage had to die for pizza.  So we went there for our final meal in Alaska.   The rumor wasn't wrong.  The pizza was some of the best I've ever eaten.  Beer, though, was too hoppy for my tastes.  DH and I ordered a sampler with three of the styles I typically drink from: brown ale, porter, stout; and a fourth that was an ESB, because here and there I have found an ESB that suited me.  I had one swallow of most, two of the stout, and DH ended up drinking pretty much the entire sampler because I didn't want any of them.  So, it was water for me again.  But the pizza was awesome.

My favorite brew of the trip was found in the Anchorage airport, while waiting for it to be time to board our plane.  We'd had to turn our RV in before dinner, and DS2's friend who had rented a car for the three of them to drive around in had to return it before 8 p.m.  Our flights didn't board until midnight.  So, we all ended up seeking a place to relax after going through security and before our plane was ready.  We found Silver Gulch.

Silver Gulch had an imperial stout.  I'm a little partial to imperial stouts.  And after almost two weeks and hundreds of miles of brewpubs with (to me) not so appealing beer options, that imperial stout had my name on it.  Actually, it's called 40 Below.  Which, after a few swallows, had me singing the Rodeo Song in my head.  Or, maybe not in my head, at least until DH protested me singing it in the airport lounge.  What can I say; it was the end of a long trip that had fallen way short of what I'd hoped for.  The weather, the extra time at the reunion, the total lack of real hiking. . . and it was pretty close to my bedtime, yet I wouldn't be arriving home for nearly eleven hours and I cannot sleep sitting up so knew I would be up all night because I wouldn't be able to sleep on the plane.  40 Below and the Rodeo Song it was.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Visiting Denali

Denali.  What can I say?  This was a big Must See on our Alaska list.  It was both more, and less, than what we had anticipated.

It was more driving than I'd wanted to do in a day.  From Anchorage to Denali is about a four hour drive.  Maybe a little less in a car, definitely more in an RV.  I had wanted to do four hour hikes, not four hour drives.  To that point, the longest hike I'd been on in Alaska hadn't even reached the two hour mark.

It was more beautiful than we'd anticipated.  The day we drove there was clear, sunny, bright blue skies, and we could see the peak of Denali.  Did we stop to take a picture from any point on the road?  No. We were in a hurry to get there and figured it would be even better up close.

Inside the park, there were less options than we'd thought.  There is one road, and you can only drive on it so far.  After that you have to take either a shuttle bus or a tour bus to designated locations.  I had envisioned something more like Yellowstone, or Glacier (National Park), where you drive yourself around and see things, stopping (and possibly hiking) at will.  There were some hiking trails-- all near the entrance of the park--but up the road was just, well, road for buses only, and wilderness.  There were a few campgrounds, all of which were full for the nights we planned to be in Denali (I don't know why DH persists in trying to play nighttime lodging by ear, especially when it gets really frustrating to not have a reservation when you want to be in a specific location.)

DS2 and his friends had made it from Seward to Denali, where they had a 3-day back-country permit and tickets for the 8 hour bus ride to the end of the road at Kantishna.  From there they would hike and camp until making their way back to Toklat on the third day and taking a shuttle bus back to the park entrance.  We met up with them our first morning at Denali, and since they had about a two hour wait for their bus, we all did a short hike to Horseshoe Lake to pass the time.

That was the only hiking I got to do in Denali.  DH was sure that we'd see more wildlife if we took one of the bus tours, and he really, really wanted to see some bear.  I had my doubts about that, but agreed that we could do a bus ride.  A short bus ride; not the twelve hour one, and not the eight hour one.  The thought of sitting still on a bus full of people for hours and hours, for me, negated any extra wildlife or scenery we had the chance of seeing.

Turned out, since we hadn't bought any tickets in advance (gee, reservations, anyone?!?) we had two choices of buses that day: Toklat River at 6.5 hr round trip ride or Eielson Visitor Center at 8 hour round trip ride.  If we bought shuttle bus tickets, rather than tour bus tickets, we could ask to be dropped off at any point and then later picked up by any shuttle bus, we didn't have to do the entire round trip on the same bus.  Which meant we could do a short hike if we wanted to.  (Remember, my Alaska wish list had included at least one 4+ hour hike, preferably several of that length and we had yet to do any that even lasted two hours.)

Trying to use my best neutral face and voice, I told DH that the 6.5 hr bus ride sounded preferable.  So he bought tickets for that.  Unfortunately, there were only two departure times left: 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.  Since I wasn't particularly wanting to be on a bus instead of in bed in the RV at midnight, we went with the 3:00 bus.  After we were on it, I figured out that hiking wasn't going to be possible.  Not even if I got off that bus.  Because it was the second to last bus going back to the park entrance that evening.  And the last one didn't arrive back until midnight. So if I got off 'my' bus in order to hike for several hours, I had to catch the last bus back--arriving at midnight--or no bus at all. (Imagine me silently swearing while sitting on what was pretty much an old school bus with at least 60 other people, while retaining my neutral face.)

We did see some animals.  The bus stopped for every animal the driver or anyone else saw.  If a squirrel ran across the road, we stopped.  When a ptarmigan was in the road, we stopped.  And waited for it to cross.  Apparently ptarmigan walk slower than turtles.  Slower than snails.  At least the ones we stopped for did.  And every time we stopped, at least half the population of the bus stood up to take pictures out the window.  I think our shortest stop was five minutes in length.  Most were 10 minutes, some a little bit longer.  Ironically the two potty stops on the trip were only 15 minutes in length.

I didn't get any pictures of the arctic squirrels, willow ptarmigan, moose, pika, snowshoe hare or Dall sheep that we stopped for.  Too many people's heads/arms/cameras in the way. Of the three caribou that were spotted, I got pictures of two, but only a few that weren't from far away and kind of blurry.  The best one was in the evening on the way back, when there was a caribou standing in a glacial outwash plain to the side of the road, calmly eating fireweed pretty much right out my window.  Ah, nobody to 'shoot' around for this picture.

What I did get some decent pictures of was the scenery at many of the scenic overlook types of stops the bus made.

at Teklanika  overlooking one of many braided rivers

Polychrome Mountains

the bridge where the road goes to Toklat

 Toklat River

also Toklat

So, the scenery was pretty nice, the bus itself not as uncomfortable as I'd anticipated, but overall not the Denali experience I had desired to have. (Confession:  I had brought a book in my backpack of snacks and drinks, and I did read for roughly half of the return trip portion of our bus ride.) Even DH got a bit bored with it and was more than ready to get off when we finally returned to the park entrance.  We'd spent more than twelve hours in the park at that point, but only less than three (total) actually walking around outdoors.  On a fairly decent weather day, we'd spent a large portion of it 'indoors' (but clouds covered the top of Denali, so again, no picture of the famous mountain!)

I don't want to make the bus experience turn anyone off from going to Denali and seeing/experiencing it for themselves.  It wasn't horrible. If you like to sit and listen to a guide and look out the windows at things, it was really a perfect trip.  Me, I like to move, to walk, to hike, to examine things at my own pace (and preferably close up).  I can't sit still anywhere for 6.5 hours (I was a horrible doodler in school, keeping my hands busy was the only way I could keep my rear in the seat all day), and I would have much more enjoyed being tired and sweaty and using my own feet to transport me for 6.5 hours.  I also like the little view (as DH says, look at the hairs on a bee's legs) versus staring at distant scenery.  So the bus wasn't bad, it just wasn't my kind of adventure.

There were a few more things we wanted to see in the park, like the sled dog demo, the Murie Science center, and try a longer hike than to Horseshoe Lake, so we planned to return the next morning.  We wouldn't be able to spend another entire day, but we could stay until roughly 2:00 or so.

We found a nice overlook pullout about half hour down the road from the park entrance, and parked the RV there for the night.

The next morning didn't go so well.  We did get to see the sled dog demonstration which was cool in many ways.  I was familiar with sled dog training and their wheeled summer 'sled' (cart) as I had grown up across the street from (and babysitting and dogsitting for) a family who raised, showed, and mushed Samoyeds.  So the handling, the harnessing, and even the cart were nothing new to me.  DH and DD2 loved seeing and learning though.

What was most interesting to me was seeing more than a few dogs who looked almost exactly like our own Old Dog, whom we'd had from puppydom to the ripe old age of 12 years 11 months, who was supposedly pure German Shepherd but was built with a flatter more level back and longer legs and larger feet than any shepherd we'd ever seen.  When we'd take him places, people always asked us what he was crossed with.  Now I think I have the answer.  Alaskan Husky.  Those dogs are bred for work, for pulling, for running through deep snow with long legs and large feet.  They aren't the big, fluffy, black and white dogs you think of when you hear Husky. (Your stereotypical Husky is a Siberian Husky.)  Alaskan husky is a type rather than a pure breed.

this (young) dog looks almost identical to our beloved Old Dog in his later years

this dog is the coloration of Old Dog as a youngster

Another part of the sled dog demo that I found entertaining was the park ranger.  We rode shuttle buses from the entrance area to the sled dog area (15 min ride or so).  Upon arrival, this ranger boarded each bus, introduced himself, gave some rules about being in the dog kennel area, and explained to us what the order of our visit would be.  10 min to walk around designated areas, then go to the viewing stands, watch about a 30 minute demo, then 15 more minutes to walk around and see things.

But from the instant he stepped onto the bus I wasn't focusing so much on what he was saying, but how he looked.  His build, his facial expressions, the way his clothes fit. . . if he wasn't a dead ringer for Ranger Tom (from Escanaba in da Moonlight, all you Michiganians).  That was it, my concentration on anything but getting a pic of this guy and texting it to my kids was blown.  (And yes, they agreed he definitely was a twin for Ranger Tom.  Guess that's where he went after the Bearwok scared him out of the U.P.  LOL) 

After the sled dog demo was over, we decided rather than take the shuttle bus back to the visitor center at the entrance, we would take one of the short paths that led in that general direction, and stop at the Murie Science center.  I was anxious to move around.  Except the faint discomfort I'd started having underneath my left shoulder blade while watching the dog sled demo grew into more of an actual pain while we walked.  It was a strange pain I'd never experienced before, like someone was trying to either shove a knife from my spine toward the front of my ribcage and up underneath my shoulder blade, or hit me occasionally in that location with a sledgehammer.  Drawing a deep breath became difficult.  

When we got to the Murie center, I thought maybe sitting down would help.  It didn't. Sitting actually intensified the pain and made breathing in general a struggle.  I'm not one to panic, and I have a pretty high pain tolerance (4 births, all natural, not one single scream!!), but this was pretty intense and worrisome.  Any desire to hike was gone.

No, scratch that. I still wanted to hike.  I just knew that, right then in that condition, I couldn't hike. I wanted to hike, but I didn't want to keel over out on a hiking trail.  Alaska was not supposed to be the final trip on my bucket list. I could barely breathe.  I could barely keep from crying out.  Plus, my mind was going a hundred miles an hour trying to pinpoint and categorize exactly what was going on with my body, then do a memory search on what those things might be symptoms of or caused by. 

 Appendix?  Nope, too high and wrong side (although back at the RV, I did lay on my back and do a quick knees-to-chest check for appendix pain).  Heart?  Hmm, maybe, I have mysteriously had increasing high blood pressure this year and it was really high two weeks prior at the dentist, but an EKG the month before that had come back normal.  Mostly, though, it seemed to be deep muscular pain, especially the way I could definitely feel it near my spine and under my shoulder blade at the same time.  Lungs?  Possibly.  I was diagnosed with two calcified granulomas in my left lung last summer, possibly indicative of a condition known as farmer's lung.  With the location of the pain and the accompanying difficulty breathing, lungs couldn't be ruled out.  So, at least I wasn't having a heart attack, right?

DH and DD2 were getting a bit concerned about me.  They weren't so sure I wasn't having a heart attack.  To be sure, DD2 commanded me to "Cough really hard, that is supposed to restart your heart rhythm."  Not sure where she got that idea, but I did it to humor her.

We ended up cutting our visit to the Murie center short, so that I could go lay down in the RV (which helped ease the pain and make breathing less difficult) and take a shit ton large dose (800 mg worth) of Motrin for the pain.  It wasn't for the pain relief itself that I wanted the Motrin, it was for the muscle relaxing and anti-inflammatory ability of the ibuprofen.  That did the trick, although it took nearly an hour for the pain to go away enough that I could walk or sit comfortably and talk without coughing.

So much for getting to hike in Denali.  It was almost one o'clock by then, so we just hit the road back toward Anchorage. By bedtime that night, I was fine.  I'm thinking it was either my lungs, or I just had my first ever back spasm and it was incredibly nasty.  (DH occasionally has a spasm in his lower back that brings him to the floor; I've just never personally had one.) There had been a little niggling soreness in that area beginning a few days before, and I'd thought I was just uncomfortable from sleeping cramped up on my side in the RV's 'queen' sized bed with DH.  Maybe the (mostly bumpy) bus ride the previous day had inflamed that irritated muscle enough that sleeping on the bed again was just too much and I ended up with spasms?  Who knows.

Before it got difficult to breathe, I had managed to push away the pain enough to get interested in examining a really cool quilt that was hanging in the Murie center. It was a representation of Denali National Park, and it had basically been turned into a GIS map (DD2 was super geeked when she saw this; she had a class on GIS mapping last semester and knows how to take data and create a GIS map with it), then each category on the GIS had been given a fabric color and a quilted map was created. You could 'see' Denali and know what type of tree or terrain or water feature was predominant in a location by what color fabric was sewn there.  The entire border of the quilt was of different trees, animals, etc, that live within Denali.  Some of it featured applique or other special piecing techniques.  The quilting itself gave texture to the quilt and incorporated animal tracks (moose & wolf).  

Looking at it as a quilter, I was totally blown away.  Looking at it from a scientific mindset, the whole design, with the GIS mapping, was brilliant.  As a whole, that quilt is a masterpiece of art and science and a perfect example that they can and do exist together and don't need to be mutually exclusive.

I really wish my mystery back pain/breathing problem had waited long enough for us to get that one last hike in before leaving Denali.  Shortly after we left the park, the weather turned to rain, and the rain continued through the night.  I totally could have been in intense pain laying on the RV's bed, while DH drove in the rain.  If I could have scheduled it, that's the way it would have happened.  As it was, I felt okay and interested in hiking about the same time the weather got crappy.  So even though we'd planned to leave at 2:00 in order to stop on the way to Anchorage and do some hiking, yet be close to Anchorage by dinner time, nobody wanted to hike in the pouring rain.

Including DS2 and his friends, who still had another day and night in Denali's back-country, and ended up having to pack up and lug wet tents and other gear back to the airport.  Apparently we all picked a rainy spell to visit Alaska in.