Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I think I'll talk about horses ...

I had my first dressage lesson today in my new Wintec 2000 saddle. I think I rode a lot better today even if a few times I felt really out of whack. Girlfriend actually acted like a dressage trained horse at certain points in my lesson too which was very exciting for me. And I didn't fall off which I was quite afraid of. My instructor once said it's practically impossible to fall out of a Western saddle (if you know how to ride and your horse doesn't flip out on you) but English saddles feel so small and slippery in comparison. Of course, one of the big things I learned today which was kind of a "duh" moment was, it is not the saddle that is keeping me on the horse, it is me that is keeping me on the horse.

I was very nervous about how things would go with this new saddle. Would she flip out and try to throw me? Would I not be able to handle her and fall off? I was trying to be calm about trying out the new saddle and finally had to admit to my instructor that I was feeling anxious. Finally she asked, "So, how many times has your horse taken off on you and you've lost control?" and I had to admit, "Ummm ... never." Then I said, "But she took off with Jessi and threw her," and my instructor asked again, "How many times has she taken off with *you* and tried to throw *you*?" and I said, "Ok ... never." And she said, "And how much have you ridden her?" and I said, "A lot." She reminded me of when I first got Girlfriend (what was I thinking???) and for a couple months I had to just ride her at a walk because she was so hyped up and excited to be ridden in an arena again that if we tried to trot she'd just take off. But she'd always stop when I asked her and I was always in control and she always has listened to me and been attentive to me. So, this fear I have that she'll take off with me is unfounded and I'm starting to maybe believe it!

Last week I was riding in the arena while my instructor was giving a lesson to her friend, Cindy. Cindy asked why I was using a Western saddle but riding English. Sheryl said, "That horse is so hot that if she hasn't been ridden for a couple weeks it's better to ride her in a Western saddle. She's hotter than any horse I've known. She's so hot that if she weren't so well trained she'd be too dangerous to ride." But Kristen, Girlfriend's previous owner who traveled the country competing in team penning says that Girlfriend is a great beginner horse and totally mellow and safe.

So, I finally had to ask my instructor why they had such conflicting views of Girl. My instructor asked if I'd ever been around horses bred to be gaming horses and I said no, and she said for a gaming horse Girlfriend is very easy to handle. She explained that gaming horses are bred to want to race and to be obsessed with racing. They are hot and myopically obsessed with speed and that is what makes them successful. So, for a gaming horse Girlfriend is a great package - crazy hot but well trained and easy to handle (comparitively) . So, that finally made sense. Kristen has spent her life around horses bred and trained completely differently than the horses Sheryl and I have spent our lives around (dressage and eventing trained horses). That makes me feel more confident that when I get another horse I can consider an off-the-track thoroughbred from rescue because I will have so much experience handling hot horses.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


A couple days ago when I went to the stable to see my horse, Cindy, the chicken vet for my instructor was visiting. I told her all about Woodia and his odd issues and asked how I could tell if he was a rooster. She said that with Americauna's it's as simple as "What color is his comb?" I said it is fire engine red and she said, "Yep, he's a rooster. A lame, cross-beak rooster. Sounds like a soup chicken to me!"

Although, honestly, after two rounds of antibiotics and all his health problems I don't even want to feed him to my dog. Plus, I've become kind of attached to him because he is my special needs chicken. I've put effort into keeping him alive for the last few months so it would feel really weird to turn around and kill him. Unless he was unable to survive on his own. Which is is perfectly happy except that he is probably not mating with the hens because he has a bum leg and can't catch them let alone jump on their backs and peck them in the neck with his cross beak.

My daughter had a sleepover last night - or at least half of the night that turned into a fiasco for me so I am exhausted today. Her friend was very scared and didn't really go to bed until 10:30 or 11pm. Then I had trouble sleeping and her friend woke up and wanted to go home at 4:30am. I've been a little out of it all day and luckily had nothing I had to do so there was lots of lounging.

The other day I was bemoaning that I don't see how I will ever get to have a job working with horses. I had applied for a job as a working student for a dressage trainer and had a phone interview then was to go out and meet with her but I decided there was no way I could commute to Monroe every day. And I think it was way out of my league. I was feeling really frustrated that I would never find anything I could do that would be working with horses and my friend Lisa told me about an organization that you can become certified as a riding instructor and that her friend who owns a horse farm where little kids take lessons and go to camp (and my daughter is going to camp there this summer) will be looking for new instructors come fall. So, I'm excited that I now have an actual attainable goal to work toward where not only could I work with horses but also with little kids - another thing I have a lot of experience with and am good at. It is such an awesome idea and I would've thought of it myself if I had the confidence that I could teach beginning riding to young children. We'll see after I look into what it takes to get certified but with my years of English lessons as a kid and my almost two years now as an adult surely I could be certified on a very basic beginner level. So, yay Lisa!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our little queer rooster

Woodia the little cross beak chicken is probably about 8 months old now and is still not laying eggs. She also doesn't do the submissive crouch when you go to pick her up. But we figured both of those things had to do with how deformed her poor little chicken body is - what with a deformed foot, and a completely deformed beak and a reoccurring infection in one of her legs.

Then yesterday I was standing in my neighbor's backyard talking to her and we heard a rooster crow. I said, "That had to be your son, hens don't crow," but my neighbor insisted it was Janey the really big brown hen. I said I'd seen her lay eggs and my neighbor said, "You've actually seen her lay eggs?" and I said, "Well, I didn't actually see it come out of her butt but I've seen her go in the nesting box and then come out and there's a brown egg." We were looking at the three of them when all the sudden Woodia threw back her (his?) head and started crowing again. Good lord. Woodia is apparently a rooster.

My husband doesn't believe it and thinks she's an hermaphrodite and I'm not sure what to think. From what I've read hens will try to crow but it won't come out in that perfect pitch like Woodia has.

So, now I need to figure out where to go from here. If Woodia is a rooster, do I want a bunch of fertilized eggs? Apparently, if you put them in the fridge the day they're laid they won't develop but still. Then, would I want to let them hatch? And if they did would the chicks be deformed like Woodia? And it is actually illegal to own a rooster within the city limits so if a neighbor complains I need to get rid of Woodia and who's going to want a severely deformed rooster? So, this is an interesting new development in my chicken-keeping saga.

I applied yesterday for a job as a barn assistant at a new dressage barn in Monroe and I doubt they're going to call me but I have to admit I have been watching the phone a bit today. I wasn't going to tell my husband unless I actually got an interview but hey, he reads my blog so there ya go. He knows that I know that he does not want to move to Monroe so that would be an issue we'd have to figure out. If only Monroe had a commuter train to downtown Seattle. Or a commuter helicopter. I've heard from a lot of people that "you don't want to work for a show stable" (or any stable really). But how else could I work with horses and learn to be a trainer if I don't apprentice/assist someone who already does that? It's probably a moot point because jobs like that are few and far between and they probably aren't going to hire a woman in her 40's with a family when they could hire a kid right out of college with no other obligations. But still, I keep looking.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

just like riding a bike

This week, EJ's PE teacher has had some after school practice sessions for the little kids to learn how to ride a bike. In EJ's case, she's had it down with training wheels for years now but has been scared to take off the training wheels. Last Tuesday her PE teacher had her riding without the training wheels within a half hour even though it has been really scary for her. I find it interesting that she is far more afraid of riding a bike than a horse - even though the horses she rides (Doc and Oh No) are about five times taller than her bike.

Yesterday there was another practice session with the PE teacher so I took her bike to school. She was getting angry with me because I wasn't pushing her off correctly (apparently, this was happening with all the parents because none of us were pushing off the way the PE teacher does ... ???) So there was a meltdown about that. Then she got going really well on her own but I had told her to peddle backward to brake because she was less likely to tip over than putting her feet on the ground and dragging them to stop. So, she had picked up a fairly decent speed going downhill and panicked and screamed, "Somebody help!" and had that wobbly look like she was going to crash. I turned to run over to help her stop (figuring if she crashed she would never get on her bike again) but before I could get there her boyfriend, Zach came riding up to her on his bike as fast as he could and grabbed her arm to stop her. The bike slid out from under her and she started to fall and Zach steadied her and said, "You're OK," to her. It was just about the cutest thing! I hope that in ten years she will still like nice boys like him. Of course they had the usual 6-year old "You saved my life!" moment. Then she refused to get back on her bike.

We had a brief argument about it with me saying that I didn't want to quit on a bad note and I believed in her and her saying she didn't believe in herself and she would never ride a bike again. Finally she said she wanted some space away from me and went off to cry and Zach and another one of her friends went to talk to her. Then when she'd calmed down she came back and we agreed she would tell the PE teacher she was scared and see if he had a solution.

His solution was the same as mine but she was much more willing to put up with him implementing it than me. He said, "Get back on the bike! You can do it! You're a rider not a quitter! I believe in you!" and she started crying and said she couldn't and he said that she could and told her to get on. She got on the bike crying her head off and the PE teacher told her to pedal and started pushing her, then told her how to push back on the pedals to stop and pushed her legs in the right direction to show her how. All the while she was crying and wailing and saying she couldn't do it. Then he told her she was going to try by herself and pushed her off and she was screaming and wailing (but still riding the bike just fine by herself) and the PE teacher yelled, "Now push back on the pedal to stop!" and she did and the bike stopped and she didn't fall and we all cheered. She instantly stopped crying, looked completely amazed, then her face lit up and she squealed, "I can do it! I can do it!" It was pretty cool! Her friends came over and hugged her and said they knew she could do it then they all ran off to play on the monkey bars.

We stopped on the way home and got donuts to eat while watching a movie as a treat in the evening for going through such a huge thing - not only did she learn how to stop on her bike but she also worked through her fear! I am very proud of her and I'm really impressed with how nice and supportive her friends are. I hope she is always drawn to kids like that and I hope they will be able to hang onto how nice and confident they are as they get older.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

bunnies and well ... chickens

I work a couple days a month still for one of my clients I had before I shut down my freelance business, and he just got a couple bunnies for his daughters recently. They are Holland Lops and they are extremely cute. It was making me want to get bunnies except that our little city home has reached saturation point for pets.

Meanwhile, Woodia the special needs chicken is actually getting better again. A few weeks ago I gave her six days of antibiotics and her swollen leg started to get better, then gradually got worse again. Now that she's in the middle of 10 days of antibiotics she's getting better again. She's gone from not putting any weight on it at all to limping around on it. All around she is looking better so whatever it is is definitely a bacterial infection in the joint. And hopefully it is not contagious - although I think the other chickens would be showing signs of it by now if it was.

We found a house in a neighboring suburb that we like. The suburb is called Lake Forest Park and it really is kind of like living in a forest. We still wouldn't have a farm, but we'd have a much bigger yard (over twice as big) and be surrounded by trees and have access to a private beach in walking distance (easy kayak access!). But we need to research the area more. I wish it was appropriate to go take some donuts to the neighbors on either side of the house and invite ourselves in for coffee and get to know them to know if we want to live next to them.

I'm more interested in Bothell because I know people who live there and I know more about the schools and the area but so far we haven't found the right house there.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let them eat corn

I'm fascinated by the media war over high fructose corn syrup. This is how I basically summarize how the whole thing went down:

Princeton researcher: High fructose corn syrup caused weight gain in rats when used in a blind study. We also found that it metabolizes differently than sugar and turns straight into adipose fat.

Corn industry: High fructose corn syrup is perfectly healthy. That rat study is dumb. Nobody could eat as much high fructose corn syrup as those rats ate.

Princeton researcher: Our research still showed that it does metabolize differently than sugar - and in an unhealthy way.

Corn industry: No it doesn't. It metabolizes the same as sugar cause we say so. So there.

You can read more about the study here and what the corn industry says here .

I went to my riding lesson yesterday morning despite having an arthritis flare-up. I decided that I would go and just do what I could do and I'm glad I did. I was able to do a little over half my lesson before I said I needed to stop because my shoulders were getting so achy. This particular flare-up seems to be hitting me in unusual places including my jaws. I'm trying not to think about it too much so I won't go down some weird scary, fretty road of "what will happen if the arthritis eats away my temporal mandibular joint the way it has my thumbs, wrists, knees and ankles?" Ugh.

Anyway, it was a good lesson despite its short length. We worked on cantering for the first time ever in my lessons which I'd been dreading because Girlfriend's canter is more of a gallop ... as in she wants to go straight from walk to gallop. It is definitely smoother than her trot, but she was trained to take her corners fast and at a sideways slant and it takes a lot of concentration to keep her upright and slow and steady at a canter. And a lot of back muscle to keep my balance right in the center of the saddle. Surprisingly though I really did feel a little better after my lesson. I have no idea why exercise is good for rheumatoid arthritis but my rheumotologist preaches "exercise so you won't be crippled!" so there's something to it. Of course in this case the rx-strength ibuprofen and falling asleep on the heating pad the night before may have helped too.

I had lunch today with my friend, Beth (who is one of my favorite friends - waving to Beth - "Hi!') I told her about how my husband had gone to a discussion group of folks he thought wanted to discuss neurology and neurophysiology but a good portion of them wanted to discuss psuedo-science or "woo-woo science" as we call it. There really are a few woo-woo things I'm into, such as Reiki and acupuncture because I've experienced both of those and they have helped me. But I know that as of yet there are no scientific explanations as to why they have helped me and I don't try to pretend there is. Unlike the standard "The laws of thermodynamics prove there is life after death because energy can not be created or destroyed!" (this argument drives me nuts because they never take into account the transfer of energy through decomposition of the dead body which seems like the obvious example of that particular law of thermodynamics - not the soul ascending to heaven). And once again, the irony here is that I do believe we all have souls that will go to some other reality when we die, I just know that the laws of thermodynamics are not proof of that.

Anyway, we were talking about how psuedo-science is so common and widely accepted, like the whole Jenny McCarthy anti-vaccination kick and how incredibly damaging that could turn out to be if enough people don't get their children vaccinated because of misinformation and then these serious diseases start to come back. That is definitely the reaction of a very very privileged society - a generation that has never actually seen first hand what polio or rubella can do to a person or what an actual epidemic is like. I wonder if lots of people in third world countries who have seen epidemics and serious diseases wipe out friends and family - how many of them worry about unfounded rumors that vaccines will cause autism or that the trace amounts of mercury will damage their children's IQ (based on non-scientific rumors that contradict scientific findings that show current vaccines are safe)? I imagine they are thinking, "I don't want my baby to get polio!" but I could be wrong.

I wonder also about vegans in poorer countries. Are there vegans in third world countries? That also seems to me a philosophy of the comfortable and privileged. If you have access to any food in the world just by walking down the street and pulling out your debit card, then one does have the luxury of philosophizing on what they are going to eat. But if your choice of food is beans, rice, goat, eggs and milk, it seems that it would not be very appealing to choose to be a vegan. I wonder what the rest of the world thinks of our culture with all these rich girls purposely starving themselves to death to be super models and people refusing to eat animal products because of their philosophy that it is cruel?

Then there is also the issue of pernicious anemia from a long term vegan diet but when I brought that up to a vegan once she told me that all the medical research had been backed by the beef and dairy industry and it was all a lie. Ok.

Beth said that her client, Phil Plait is so annoyed by psuedo-science that he has made a career of debunking it. Now I must read some of his writing and keep an eye out on when he lectures again. I wonder if he too is backed by the dairy and beef industry?

This page is a sobering testament to the need for critical thinking in our society.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

hiding in the dinosaur room

Today was my day to attempt to straighten up our house - in one of my many attempts each year to try and organize all of our "stuff" so the house doesn't feel so cluttered. Unfortunately, I am also having an arthritis flare-up on my left side so I felt very gimpy and didn't get as much done as I'd aspired too. Bad arthritis pain feels a lot like a dull ache like the joints affected are broken. It makes me want to whimper.

Speaking of whimpering, I'm as I write this hiding in the dinosaur room listening to Penguin Cafe Orchestra (really loud) so I don't have to listen to my daughter throwing a fit to my husband about how torturous it is to have her hair washed. Sometimes I just can't deal and have to tune out. And yes, we have a room we call the dinosaur room. It is actually a combination family room/dining room off our kitchen. When we built this addition onto our house when my daughter was two years old she was thrilled to stand at her window and watch the backho dig up the ground to put in the foundation of the addition. She called it the dinosaur-digger. After they were done excavating for the foundation she cried because the dinosaur was gone so we explained that he had gone to build other rooms for other little girls like he had come to start the building of our new room ... thus the dinosaur room.

I'm a little concerned that my flare-up may have been brought on by riding my horse yesterday. I haven't ridden much at all in the last month and I knew Girl needed a work-out so I did a lot of trotting work with her and even did a brief canter (once I got on the right lead). But between posting and balancing when she went through a brief period of being pissy and putting her ears back and bucking a little and trying to run off on me I think I may have wretched some muscles in my back a bit which can lead to a flare-up. Blah. I have lesson tomorrow morning in my new Wintec 2000 English saddle and I'm going to have to take a huge amount of ibuprofen and even then I'm not sure I'm going to be up for it.

In the end, once I'd gotten back my riding mojo we did very well together and as always after our ride she gives me snuggles and horse hugs which is one of the things I love the most about her - how affectionate she is. I took her out to the pasture after our ride so she could run with her new friend, Ziggy. Ziggy is about 15 years younger than Doc (her previous pasture mate before he foundered and now can't be out where there's sweet Spring grass to eat). Girlfriend loved Doc, but now she has a buddy that will gallop and play with her in pasture and she really likes that. She still tries to rub up against Doc's stall when I put her in the cross ties outside his stall in the barn, but I can tell she likes having an energetic playmate too.

On my way back to the barn I passed Juan coming out to bring in some horses so I asked if he wanted help. He always shrugs and says sure because he doesn't want to impose but I like getting experience handling other horses and will take any chance I can. I followed him into one of the pasture and he picked up the lead ropes and said, "This is Cody's and this is the wild one's. You take Cody." But the "wild one" is Atlas, Megan's horse that she just adopted from Oregon. Five months ago he was a wild mustang on the BLM lands. So, I said, "I'll take Atlas," and Juan said, "You take Cody," and I said, "You'll be right there if I need you. I'll take Atlas. I'll be fine. Really." Juan gave me that "loco white girl" look and sighed and handed me Atlas's lead rope.

I walked up to Atlas just fine. I was surprised he just stood there, looking at me with a lazy, calm look. I reached up to pet his nose and he tried to nibble at my hand to see if I had treats. But when I reached up to clip the lead rope to his halter his eyes went totally wild and he whipped his head up and off to the side and jumped backwards. He stood like that for a moment with his ears back staring down at me like I was a wolf until I started talking softly to him about how he was just fine and I reached my hand up to his nose. He smelled my hand all over, lowered his head, relaxed, tried to nibble my hand and then was fine. I leaned over and breathed into his nose from my nose and he did that for a good solid minute or two, then his whole body relaxed and he let me put the lead rope on and was fine.

After we got back to the barn Juan went over to get Tyee who is just over two years old and very big for a kid - bigger than my horse(I think they said he's part draft horse) and kind of a pain in the butt. I like him because he's so smart, but he is a handful. He is really smart and very much believes himself the herd leader and he is totally under stimulated right now. I think he needs to be worked every day to get his huge amounts of physical and mental energy out. Anyway, I said I would take him out to the pasture and Juan looked skeptical but handed his lead rope and said, "This horse crazy," and I said, "I know. He's harder than Atlas," and Juan nodded.

He actually is harder than Atlas, partially maybe because he's a couple years younger but also because of his high-strung natural temperament and you constantly have to remind him you're herd leader - not him. And he used to try to bite all the time but luckily he's outgrowing that. Besides being all amped he was doing ok until we went over the land bridge over the creek and his foot slipped a little in the mud and he flipped out and reared a bit, then spun around in a circle so that he was facing the opposite direction on the other side of me. I calmly told him he was fine, but he did a little spooky dance for another few seconds until he decided he'd rather listen to me that he was fine and we should go into the pasture. We walked through the gate into the pasture and I accidentally stepped in a mud puddle up to my shin and my paddock boots are not waterproof so my foot was instantly soaked. I cursed, let Tyee go and went out the gate, pulling at my half chaps and muttering curses. Poor Juan looked horrified for a moment because I think he thought that Tyee had stepped on me! I really need to learn Spanish so we can communicate better. He's an old grandpa and swears he's too old and English is too hard for him. It is a pretty hard language and he doesn't have anyone he has to speak English to on a consistent basis.

So, it helped my confidence that I was able to handle Tyee and his ... Tyee-ness. And it gave me confidence that Atlas was so easy to handle even though a part of me was a little scared to try handling him because he was wild so recently.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Back in the cold Pacific Northwest

It appears that I have used that particular subject heading before. Probably when we came back from New Orleans last fall. It's really not cold - 43 degrees. Just cool. And gray. And windy. I'm glad that our plane landed at 4:30pm yesterday because the big winds really picked up about 5:30pm and I'm not a big fan of turbulence. Ok, it makes me really anxious to be honest.

Both flights were really smooth and uneventful but the flight out was nicer because it was sunny the whole way down. It was sunny over Arizona when we flew out yesterday but clouded up by Utah. As we were flying out of the Phoenix airport my husband pointed to a big brown peak on top of the big brown hills outside of town and announced, "I went to the top of that!" Right next to it was the slightly lower peak that I walked up to and it looked so much bigger when we were flying over it. I think if he had announced as we were flying into town, "Hey - we're going to hike up there this week!" I would've said no way.

I'm glad I did it though because it was a good reminder that I am not "disabled" by my chronic illness (thankfully). And I was surprised how my legs weren't really very sore. I guess all that horseback riding has helped me gain some strength.

I can't help but wonder why I am still living in this gray, cloudy city when there are so many places in our country that are hot and sunny? I definitely feel better when I'm in a sunny, warm environment - both mentally and physically. Rheumatoid arthritis (at least in my case) does not mesh well with cold, wet weather.

I can answer that question pretty easily actually - my husband (and most people I know personally who live here) are convinced that everyone in the Southern states that are off the West Coast are all uneducated rednecks who think Sarah Palin is God's personal gift to our country and that FOX news speaks the Lord's truth. I don't believe that myself but then I could be very naive.

Here's a photo of where I hiked to and where J.P. hiked too. I quit after a mile because my knee and ankle joints were starting to hurt and I'm glad I did because walking down was much harder on my ankles. Luckily, a little boy - maybe 12 years old - adopted me as a hiking partner and we talked about lizards and spiders that we saw a long the trail and I tried to explain to him why adults don't get bored as easily as kids do (without actually saying that kid brains aren't fully developed yet).