Sunday, September 27, 2009

Time to get a gun ... that's what I been thinkin'

Many people reading this probably don't realize that is a line from a Fred Eaglesmith song that my friend, Laura and I used to like to sing together. She bought me a Fred Eaglesmith cd many years ago when I went down to a little town outside Centralia to take a weekend course in gun safety. It was kind immersion-gun-safety. Sunday evening my husband noted that there was a lot of testosterone in the room and it was not coming from him.

Anyway, the latest crime trend in our neighborhood is home invasion robberies. Some group of someone are kicking in people's doors in the middle of the night and if the residents get up they get pistol whipped before the robbers take off with their stuff. I'm not so worried about our stuff getting stolen as I am violent people kicking in my door. There have also been a string of arsons. Needless to say, sleeping for me has not been so relaxed. I want to scream, "Isn't this enough? Can't we just leave living in the city now?" but I still have about 22 months left to go. I'd rather have to worry about bears getting into our stuff than having our doors kicked in. At least bears are less likely to be high-out-of-their-mind on crack or whatever the drug-du jour is now. I'm not sure it's crack. Maybe meth but if you can make that at home why steal stuff when you don't need to buy it? I'm a little out of touch with drug culture.

Meanwhile, there are good things like our chicken coop is almost totally secure from raccoons after my husband built a moat and filled it with leftover concrete and bricks we've had lying around for a long time.

Speaking of raccoons, the latest scare in the neighborhood is "rouge, crazed raccoons who are attacking women and children and small pets with no provacation in broad daylight!" I'm not sure if these same raccoons are the same ones who are doing the home invasion robberies.

It turns out what started the fear of attack raccoons is that a family's tiny little 5 pound dog was in the backyard and a raccoon thought it was food and pounced on it. When the dad tried to save his dog from the raccoon, the raccoon turned on him. So, the mom came running out and tried to get the raccoon off the dad and it attacked her. I really feel for the family because I was do the same thing to save my dog and because of getting bit they had to get all those awful shots for rabies. But then they made a statement to the media and sent out flyers saying the raccoon just attacked them without provocation. So I've been seeing lots of chatter on neighborhood newsgroups about how we need to keep our children inside lets these raccoons decide to attack them. Very little discussion on how tragic this was, but it was totally normal that a raccoon would attack someone trying to take their dinner away. I'm hoping that maybe for awhile raccoons will become the scapegoat-animal-of-the-hour and replace pitbulls.

The other thing on my mind lately is figuring out how city sewer systems and septic systems work *exactly*. I know the toilet waste goes to the sewage plant to be processed along with everything that goes down the drain. But how does the septic process it? And if we were to build a house with composting toilets, what else would happen to the rest of the water that went down the drain? How much does it need to be processed if one uses only natural products for washing? Or IS there such a thing as a product for washing that is natural enough not to be bad for the environment? Did lye hurt the environment in the days of settlers and homesteaders when that was a common ingredient in soap? Is lye really that bad if people eat lutefisk that has been soaked in it?

Friday, September 18, 2009

This time a big saddle ooops

I start to feel confident because some riding stuff is coming back to me, then I'm reminded of the simplest thing I didn't remember but was really really important and I feel totally green with horses all over again.

So, I bought my saddle brand new just over a year ago and it really is a lovely and incredibly comfortable saddle. But over the last year the leather has stretched and relaxed and I think Girlfriend's back and gotten just a bit more swayed since she's quite senior now at 25. My client for this morning canceled so I went out to see Girlfriend and my instructor and her student Dorothy said I could join Dorothy in her lesson. Girlfriend was acting up more than usual (I noticed that even now she still acts up a lot more when there's another horse in the arena - I hadn't noticed for awhile because I'd been out at the barn when no one else was out there so much over the summer). And Sheryl (my instructor) kept having to tell me during trotting to pull my saddle more to the left. Girlfriend would break her trot and canter when I hadn't told her to and I'd correct her and instantly Sheryl would yell, "Pull your saddle back to the left!" My back was starting to hurt both from trying to do a posting trot and correcting her without unconsciously pulling the saddle to the right, and from having to post and pull the saddle to the left (and cause I'm not in very good shape).

Finally Sheryl came over to check my girth, which was as tight as I could make it without something to give me extra torque, and she said, "Oh my god! Your saddle doesn't fit!" The tree was flush on Girlfriend's withers and was obviously uncomfortable for her and over time could really injure her. I almost sprang off her like I had a spring under my butt I was so horrified I was accidentally doing something to hurt her. That would explain why she had progressively gotten more and more pissy about having her girth tightened. I feel horribly guilty for not knowing/remembering that from 25 years ago when I used to ride.

Our lesson had just started so Sheryl sent me to go get one of her English saddles, which I have not ridden Girlfriend in yet. In fact, Girlfriend has never even had an English saddle on. Somehow me - an English rider who takes lessons at an English barn, ended up with a Western trained horse so of course a Western saddle and hackamore, but in my lessons I was still learning English technique. But honestly, I was afraid to try riding Girlfriend in an English saddle. I've ridden Sheryl's horses in my lesson in an English saddle, but Girlfriend is so hot and it takes so much effort to control her desire to run that I've been scared to give up my cushy saddle with the big, bulky stirrups and the big saddle horn right there to grab if I lose my balance. Ok, so it's been almost a year since I've had to grab the saddle horn to keep my balance, and I saw that holding onto the saddle horn didn't help Jessie stay on when Girlfriend bolted with her, but it's a psychological crutch more than anything.

After my little freak-out about how I wasn't a good enough rider yet to try Girlfriend in an English saddle Sheryl said, "Oh good god. You know this horse like the back of your hand. Go get the saddle. The black Wintek. The big one, not the kid one." So, I slunk off for the umpteenth time in the last year thinking Sheryl had a foolishly disproportionate confidence in my ability to not really hurt myself and saddled up Girlfriend in an English saddle. When we tightened the girth Girlfriend let out a big, happy sigh and I could tell she was relieved to have a proper fitting saddle on. I was happy to be using a saddle so light compared to mine that I could've juggled about three of them. Ah ... the joys of English saddles.

I used a huge amount of will-power to wipe the vision of Girlfriend bolting the minute my butt hit the alien saddle on her back and mounted. She did her usual little, "Hey! Are you we going to run now?" dance as I settled in and put my leg in the right stirrup. Then my feet slid right through the stirrups up to my heels, I pulled them back out to the correct position and they slid right through again. So, I demanded we just walk for the rest of the lesson. But after five minutes I realized that my posture and form were actually much more natural in this saddle (and my feet stopped slipping in the stirrups). I asked if my stirrups were short enough and Sheryl said, "I won't be able to tell until you trot," to which I said, "Ok fine then! Geez!" and actually tried a trot.

I think you'd have to see my horse in action to understand why I was so worried. It's taken me quite a bit of practice to give her just the right amount of half-halt and the gentlest nudge of leg to get her to trot without immediately breaking into a canter or worse a gallop. And I was really worried my balance would not be good enough to do this on a tiny little English saddle. But I really surprised myself! She did her usual trying to bolt, shaking her head around, after a couple times in the circle trying to buck because she was frustrated, but I held my ground and I stayed balanced in the saddle. Even Sheryl praised me for doing well - better than I'd been doing in the Western saddle, although I wasn't keeping my hands down and elbows ahead of me enough because I was used to having that saddle horn in the way. So, that was cool! I did something I had been unjustifiably afraid to do and I did ok with it!

I even asked Sheryl if I could keep taking lessons in her English saddle on Girlfriend because it felt more natural to me - my body kind of remembers riding as a kid more since the only time I ever rode in a Western saddle was on an occasional trail ride on vacation. My lessons were mostly dressage and jumping in an English saddle. Sheryl said she hadn't expected me to actually want to keep riding in it but that it was fine and if I wanted to use it for practice rides I could too. Yay me! I'm proud of myself for trying!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Big horse ooops

Last Sunday I took my friend, Jessie out to ride my horse, Girlfriend with me. Jess and I haven't seen each other since before my daughter was born and we have a lot in common so I was looking forward to hanging out. We took EJ with us and she stayed entertained taking video with Jessie's digital camera. So, we got my big horse oops on video - kind of.

Jessie used to ride English and worked at horse camps as a teen and seems to understand and be able to talk about how to ride better than I can. But she had never ridden Western and never ridden a horse with a hackamore and hasn't ridden for a few years. Still, whenever someone actually seems to know what they're talking about than me I seem to automatically assume they are better at stuff than me. So, I figured if I could ride Girlfriend then she could (not taking into account I have been riding her consistently for a year and have been taking lessons with her). So, Jessie got up on Girlfriend and I sat down on the mounting block on the far end of the arena. Girlfriend tried to trot a little but Jessie was able to hold her back, but then lots of stuff happened. I feel like narrating it like in the original Curious George book where all he says during a big fiasco was "and then something happened ... this ... and this ... and this ..." Jessie got confused because a hackamore feels a lot different than a bit, she shortened the reins which is what I do to collect Girlfriend right before we run (the shorter the reins, the faster I'm planning to go) Next thing I know, Girlfriend had taken off at a full gallop. I jumped up and tried to run to the other side of the arena to cut her off at the pass, but this is a huge arena and a galloping gaming horse is REALLY fast. Jessie lost her balance and Girlfriend panicked and bucked - which meant "ack! I want her off my back!" So, she went full speed and did a quick turn and threw Jessie right off into the wall with a loud thunk.

I got to the end of the arena just after Jessie got thrown off and Girlfriend was just standing there next to her looking relieved. But I was so upset and angry I looked at Girlfriend and for a split second had a vision in my head of grabbing the reins and beating her. But since I would never do that to a horse and I was more worried about Jessie, I turned around to see if she was ok. Apparently, according to the other girl riding in the arena, Girlfriend ducked her head and just slowly walked over to the arena door and hung her head. The mother of a girl who was in the hallway tacking up her horse came over to the arena door and held onto Girlfriend, although Girl was pretty obviously not going anywhere. Later, the other teenager (who drives me nuts as it is) said she was terrified that Girlfriend was going to turn around and go after her horse. This is a teenager who thinks she knows everything about horses and is always bragging about being the expert on natural horsemanship, but she screams at her horses and beats them and I don't want her anywhere near my horse. Anyway, I just said, "She won't go after your horse," when what I wanted to say was "Do you even know ANYTHING about horses and how they think and react???? Good fucking god." But that is a different subject.

Jessie was rolling back and forth on the floor making this horrible gasping noise and I told her not to move and was sure that she had broken her back. EJ meanwhile was crying and screaming for Jessie outside the arena and I yelled to her that everything was ok and I'd come get her in a minute. Then Jessie sat up and gasped out, "I'm Ok. Do you think EJ managed to get video of that?" At which point I knew she really was ok. So, I went and brought EJ into the arena to give her a hug and see she was ok, then said, "Let's get back on," which induced a "WTF???" look from Jessie before she said, "Oh yeah, that's right. I guess that's what you're supposed to do." This time I walked next to Girlfriend the whole time so that she knew I was the one in control and I could tell her to stop or slow down if need be. Things went fine, within a few minutes Jessie relaxed and then Girlfriend's whole body relaxed and they had made up with each other. Then EJ demanded she get to ride and I led her around the arena on a leadline. But I learned my lesson. First time anyone rides my ex-gaming rodeo champion horse, no matter what they say I am definitely walking next to them the first time they get on her just in case. Eeeeek.

The carnage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

urban archaeology

We're back in the city, home from Guemes Island. I love it out there for one thing because "people are weird like me". I'm not sure how to describe it except that the people I meet prefer to live on an island where there are no businesses except for one general store and there is no government or police department and there is practically no crime. I don't think that lifestyle would work unless one was on a small island with no way to get off except on a small ferry where you would stand out if someone called ahead and said, "My laptop was stolen so keep an eye out on people coming to catch the ferry." Seeing as there are times when there are only six people crossing on the tiny little floating platform they call a ferry. When we got on the ferry EJ asked, "When are we getting on the ferry?"

I actually think governments and police departments are very important, but it's also nice to be so remote that they aren't actually needed. But that is not what appeals to me the most, it is the quiet, so much wild nature (not parks department tended nature) and so many people into environmental conservation without having to defend themselves against all the assertions that global warming is a liberal hoax.

Back in the city this weekend we have been working hard to finish the chicken coop and run which also means getting the area where the coop will go cleaned out and a couple retaining walls built. The chickens have been in the FEMA housing now for about a month and they are getting very tired of it. Plus, it's been pretty stormy at night and they don't have adequate shelter for right now for when it starts to get cold.

Yesterday morning I went out and started chipping away at the mound of dirt where it slopes down from the neighbors yard so that I could get it flat straight up and down to put the stone wall up against it. It started raining after about an hour and I actually enjoyed getting soaking wet and covered in mud, especially after just a month ago when it was freakishly hot here in the land of no air conditioning. But the most interesting aspect of our yard work was finding yet another buried garbage pile from the original owners of the house that is almost 100 years old.

This particular garbage pile had a cute little fully intact blue bromo seltzer bottle from around the 1920's or 1930's, a half of a pretty porcelain plate from 1902-1930ish, and many large mechanical pieces that I think must have come from a tractor. Also, more animal bones. There were some pretty large animal bones on another side of our yard when we put a retaining wall over there but these were a different age. They were brown and kind of squishy and fell apart easily. One almost completely intact vertebrae that I dug up was 5 inches long. I'm guessing it is from a cow. There were some smaller bones in there too, I'm not sure what part of the cow those were but I came out in the late afternoon and JP had one tied to the piece of string he was using to help him level the wall and I pointed out, "You know that's a bone, don't you?" and he said, "It kind of looked like one but was hollow ..." and I said, "Yep. It's a bone." The bones are so old that Willow the pitbull has no interest in them.

I like finding this kind of stuff when we're digging out areas of our yard. It makes me feel like I know a little more about the original owners of our house and it's fascinating to think of what life was like when they lived in this house. It was so different from how it is now: we've remodeled and re-wired and re-plumbed and updated the whole kitchen and brought it into the 21st Century. I'm curious sometimes what the ghosts of Conrad and Maude would think of the changes we made to the home they lived in for 70 years.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

kayaking, kelp beds, creeping crawling things that grab your feet

I haven't been out in a boat (other than a ferry) since I was about ten years old, at least until last June. My friend, Bridget and I took a trip to the San Juans and she convinced me to go kayaking with her in an ocean kayak out on the Puget Sound. An ocean kayak is different from a regular kayak because you just sit on top of it instead of inside of it and it rolls with the waves better and doesn't flip over. Although, it would be fairly easy to roll right out of one if you are a big wiggler or fidgeter.

At first I was a little nervous because there was a jungle of sea grass beneath us and it looked creepy and like a great place for things to hide that want to grab your feet and pull you under to the depth of deep sea horror. Then we went out to a kelp bed and that was even creepier because you could get tangled up in those big long tubes and get pulled under to the depth of deep sea horror. Bridget off-handedly said that anything in the water below us was more worried about us stepping on them than they were dangerous, so that made me feel better. And I started to feel a little more comfortable by the end of our first kayak trip. The second one the next day I felt even more comfortable.

More than just feeling comfortable - I loved it! I loved being right on the water like that, it feels like you are gliding along on your butt right on the surface of the water - it doesn't feel like you're above the water at all, but right in it. It helps that feeling that there is no way to keep water from seeping up into the boat and lots of water splashed in when you're paddling. I wish I had a waterproof camera because I see all sort of cool photo ops but in the three times I've been out I've been soaking wet every time.

I'm back in the San Juans this week and I'm with my mom and EJ so no one is here to go kayaking with, so I took a single ocean kayak by myself to see how I did. It was rougher out in the Sound today than it was the two times I was out in June but it was still really easy to navigate. Going against the waves though was rougher than I had experienced before and with each wave I'd go up and slap down and go up and slap down. It was fun though. There's a vacant island not too far off the coast that has nothing on it - no one lives there or tends it or anything, it's all wild. I don't think I'm in good enough shape to kayak all the way out there yet but when I'm out here again with someone who can go in a double kayak with me I'm psyched to do that.

I'm fascinated by the world underwater. It really seems to me like an alien planet. Someday I really want to learn how to scuba dive. But for now I love kayaking. I wish I could afford the 3 million dollar house on the beach that is for sale down the way from our cabin.