Tuesday, May 25, 2010

my dog is part naked mole rat

Beside not having much fur, my pitbull also likes to burrow under things to sleep; blankets, clothes, couch cushions, my legs. Thus I have decided that no only is she part pachycephalasaurus, she is also part naked mole rat.

I had an ok day today. It could've been better for a couple reasons. The first is that I hurt myself on the steering wheel of my car in a bizarre move. I was parallel parking with a bunch of kids playing basketball in the street, and I was very hungry and tired and worried about running into them, when I took one hand off the steering wheel (to scratch my nose? I can't remember why) and when I went to grab it again for some reason my hand was just off to the side and I slammed my thumb nail into the steering wheel so hard that it ripped off its base a little bit at the top and bent straight up off my thumb. It didn't hurt very much at first, but when I looked at it and saw my thumb nail folded up and sticking straight up off the middle of my thumb I felt a rush of horror and "that is so not right!" and pushed it back down the way it should be. Then it started bleeding and hurting a little bit.

By the time I had the car parked and had walked into my friend's house to pick up my daughter I was jumping up and down in pain and begging for an ice pack. I ended up driving home as best I could with just one hand and had the other hand in my lap in the ice pack.

The irony is I had just come from a riding lesson that you would think would've been more dangerous than parallel parking my car on a residential side street. Sigh.

My mom and I took back to back riding lessons this afternoon which was really run. This was my mom's second lesson ever and I think she did pretty well. She's really enjoying it and I wonder why she didn't take riding lessons too when I was taking them as a kid. She just says "things were different then" or what I interpret it as, "Moms in the 70's were expected not to have fun and just always be taking care of someone."

I rode Sheryl's horse Penny again because I want to work on my posture and position and riding a horse who is not wild like my horse. I get a lot more accomplished in my lessons on horses who are trained in dressage instead of gaming, but then I get on my horse and she does much better as a dressage horse. So, that's cool. We worked on trotting without stirrups and leg yields without stirrups again. We also worked on my cantering on a horse who isn't wild and that's such a learning curve for me. I did better this week getting Penny to canter, but I'm so used to holding Girlfriend back and not using any leg that it's very hard for me to keep Penny cantering. Although, I did better today and kept her going longer than I had before.

I'm actually surprised I did well in my lesson because right before it started three people showed up at the arena door. Sheryl explained that they had called her and asked if they could spend time with some horses - grooming them and just being with them. They were down from Alaska because the youngest daughter was getting chemotherapy for a brain tumor. She was probably mid-teens and the sister was late teens and the mom about my age. Sheryl interrupted our lesson to go talk to them and I rode Penny over to say hi to them. The little girl with cancer had a knit hat on and gloves and a heavy coat and looked frail and had trouble with her balance. I told them a little about Penny and Girlfriend and then Sheryl took them to find a horse to groom and I turned Penny around to do more warm-up riding and all the sudden I thought, "She's going to die soon," and I started crying really hard. She just reminded me so much of Terrill when she was sick and I remember how I did not want to believe that she would die and I held on to such hope that she would beat the cancer. And I could tell that's where the sister and mom were at and I felt totally ripped apart inside because I remember having so much hope and how it was all shattered the day when Terrill said she was going to give up and die and hearing the news a couple weeks later on July 4th of last year that she had died.

Luckily my mom came in while I was sitting on Penny bawling my head off and gave me some kleenex and talked to me for a minute. Then I said I wanted to pull myself back together because I thought sticking to my lesson would be good for me and I didn't want that family to see me crying and think they'd had anything to do with it. And as it was taking my riding lesson did make me feel better.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

urban farming for beginners

Is urban farming such a good idea for beginners? My husband told me about an article he read yesterday that our current mayor wants to make it legal for folks to have up to 8 chickens per home and be able to sell the eggs and food they grow in their garden. That sounds really cool except for a few small problems. Today's city folk tend to not know how to do stuff like grow food and tend chickens and many don't seem particularly interested in learning.

I would definitely be concerned about who I'm buying food from that is grown in their city yard. I've seen people line their raised beds with treated wood, which means every time they water, trace amounts of arsenic leach into the soil. There's plenty of people who still scrape their old houses before repainting and do not pick up all the lead paint chips which decompose in their soil. Cars leak oil, neighbors use all sorts of herbicides and pesticides that leak into the neighbor's yard when it rains because the lots are so close together. Plus, not everyone is responsible about keeping chickens. My three chickens poop all the time and it seems like I'm out there every other day cleaning up chicken poop. I'd have to be out there twice a day with eight chickens in our tiny yard. And let's face it, the average city dweller does not want to pick up chicken poop. Half my neighbors can't even pick up dog poop.

People with an urban mindset are fine. They have plenty of strengths they are just different from me. And the truth it, the typical urban dweller does not want to go to the lengths one needs to have happy, healthy chickens or to make sure they have healthy soil to grow their food in. The majority of my friends don't even want to go out to the stable with me to see my horse because it's "kinda dirty and cold cause everything it outside".

If this were the Great Depression it would make more sense. The majority of people in the 1930's had some experience with farming and livestock at some point in their life because their food sources were so much closer to home. Now there are plenty of people I know who won't even cook a whole chicken because it looks too much like a "real chicken". It's like giving a toddler a baby bunny for Easter. It sounds like a great idea until the reality of taking care of the bunny hits the family and two months later they're letting it loose at Greenlake.

Speaking of bunnies at Greenlake, they were all rounded up and taken away or killed or something a few years ago and I was very sad about that. Then just the other day we were passing Greenlake Park and I saw a wild bunny! Yay! Many years ago before I was a mom and I worked full-time, I would drive by Greenlake on my way to work every morning and if I saw bunnies it was a sign to me that it would be a good day. It was pretty cool to see a bunny again. Although for the sake of the land in that area, it would behoove the city to introduce natural predators to keep the population down. But since having wolves and eagles living at Greenlake is not practical, I think they should have one day a month to shut down the park area except for people who bring their dogs to hunt the bunnies. But well, the majority of Seattle probably would consider that horrifying. Just as eating chicken that looks like a "real chicken" is horrifying.

I'm sounding a little bitter, aren't I? I really don't mean to, it's just frustrating when it seems like our city government doesn't think things out and just makes laws based on blind idealism.

On a happier note I had a good ride on my horse this morning. And I helped Juan turn out some of the horses. My horse's pasture mate Ziggy is sure a handful, and he's really big (over 16h). He's not so bad I can't control him but he gets all riled up and as soon as we turned the corner to cross the bridge over the creek to where the pastures are he started doing his little happy dance and Girlfriend called to him and that just made him more ancy. Oddly, I took Tyee in for Juan and although he warned me (like he does every time) "Be Careful - this one crazy" Tyee was very mellow with me. He even let out a big sigh of relaxation after I put on his lead rope. He did try to bite me when I put him in his stall (as though being good all the way in from the pasture was a mistake and as an afterthought he felt he needed to be pissy) but I just shoved his nose away and said no and he didn't do it again. When he was younger he'd just try over and over again to bite me. I really like him even if he does get bored easily and start misbehaving.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Aaaaah ... jealousy!

One of my friends just informed me over the weekend that she is moving to a 20 acre lot outside of Chelan and will be living in a studio above her horse barn. Aaaargh! I'm so jealous! But she is single and her son is grown up and these are things that you can do when you have gotten to that place in your life. And apparently, have saved up the money to do it. Maybe me and my horse can go visit her.

Now I will have two friends living out in Chelan, which I hear is absolutely wonderful. I haven't been there since I was a little kid but I hear it's wonderful from both tourists and my friend, Jamie who lives there.

I've been walking past a house in my neighborhood that has solar panels on it's roof - fairly new ones - and it is really tempting to go knock on their door and ask about them. I'm hoping one day on one of my walks that I will go by and they will be out working in their garden and I can ask them without looking too much like a weirdo. My friend moving to Chelan pointed out that there is more sun over on that side of the mountains. Sigh. There are also more hate groups and it is closer to the Hanford Nuclear Facility where they have lots of plutonium buried in leaking containers and readioactive hornets flying around making glowing nests that make geigercounters go crazy. Seriously. I'm not making that up. I don't think the hornets are making it all the way to Chelan. Don't mind me - I'm just trying to make myself feel better.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

altnernate forms of energy

I am still stuck on this hope that solar panels would somehow be a viable option for us sometime in the future when we move out of the city. Even if we're just living in a rural-ish suburb area, we could still do a lot of alternative energy stuff. But now as I've been reading more about solar panels as an electrical source, I'm wondering if it would be worth the cost and trouble in this area?

I imagine I should look at the idea of wind energy also. Although, I vaguely remember hearing on some show on NPR that wind energy from an individual home's windmill would not be very effective either.

Meanwhile, I've been going through a kind of "I'm tired of the chickens" phase. Mostly I'm tired of them pooping every two seconds. So, I guess I'm in a tired of the chicken's poop phase. I also don't know if I've just been hungry a lot or what my problem is, but lately I've been looking at really big, pretty chickens (including my own) and thinking, "Yuuuuum!" For the record, I never think that when looking at my dogs, cats or horse.

My plant starts are just pathetic right now. My friend, Beth planted hers at the same time and used a sun lamp and now hers are way healthier than mine and already big enough to transplant outside. I had mine in the window, but I'm thinking now that next Spring I will invest in a sun lamp. My peas are sprouting in the garden though and my strawberries seem to be doing well and are magically not getting eaten by slugs (which could be due to the chickens viewing slugs as a delicacy).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Quiche for dinner again tonight

We have way too many eggs. I never thought that having chickens would result in me feeling overwhelmed with how many eggs we have an trying to round up people to pawn off fresh eggs on. My other quandry is Woodia. His foot was much better while on antibiotics again but now he can't use it at all. He hops around on one foot and tips over a lot. But he doesn't look unhappy to I'm not quite ready to kill him. And I think my husband and I will have to draw straws on who's going to kill him because neither of us wants to. Especially me because I've put so much effort into keeping him alive. And he's so sickly I'm scared to eat him or even feed him to the dog. I do wish I had enough chicken anatomy knowledge to do an autopsy and see what all is going wrong in his poor little messed up body.

I've been listening to What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell - essays on a bunch of different things. Normally, I check out books on cd from the library to listen to when I'm driving to and from the stable, but I actually splurged and paid $24 off iTunes to download this one because I really wanted to listen to it. The book's title is from the essay about Caesar Milan (the dog whisperer). I'll leave it to anyone reading this to go and read the book themselves but it was very interesting and a lot of the stuff that was talked about regarding how dogs see people and how they communicate has had me thinking a lot about dog and horse perceptions and how similar they can be despite one being a predator and one being prey.

One thing in particular that stood out to me is the concept of standing up straight and how dogs see that as a solid, consistent stance. It's the same when riding horses (at least English - obviously not for jockeys). When you lean forward and/or slump in the saddle it says to the horse, "I am weak and don't know what I'm doing up here," which is scary to horses (on various levels depending on the horse). An old lesson horse who has constantly had beginners on his back will just know there is a beginner on his back and quietly do his thing. But a horse like mine who was trained to be ridden professionally and hasn't really had people on her back who don't know how to ride (at least a little) - she finds it terrifying. It means to her that the person on her back is not in control and is therefor a hindrance to her and of no use to her. If a monster popped out from behind that tree, the person on her back would only weight her down. But if the person on her back sits up straight and tall and balanced it takes some pressure off her - this person on her back is in control and she can follow them without worrying so much because they can handle it if a monster jumps out from behind the tree.

One of the things I tell my horse whenever she gets a little ancy is "Don't worry - I won't let anything hurt you." I know she doesn't understand the words I'm saying but it helps me stay in the mindset of "I need to be the strong one and make sure she knows I will protect her," and that energy is translated to her as safety. I have definitely noticed that horses will change their demeanor around me when I'm feeling anxious about whether or not I can control them. They are a lot like little kids. If I keep an attitude of firm, consistent authority then I seem to do better with dogs, kids and horses. If I start thinking, "What if this horse decides to bolt and I can't control him?" or "what if this big dog suddenly attacks me" or "what if this group of kids just decides to go ballistic?" then things start to fall apart. But if I stay in the attitude "I am the alpha. I am in charge," things go better.

I think about this stuff a lot because it seems like it's "energy" the horse is picking up on, but it's not. It's subtle cues that I don't even know I'm doing, like how I stand, how I hold myself, how I move. And since it would be too hard for me to intellectually keep telling myself, "Stand up straight, lean back slightly, move slowly and deliberately" I've found I will naturally do it if I just convince myself, "I am in charge. This horse needs a strong, gentle person to take the lead and I will do that and everything will be fine."

I tried to explain that to one of the teenagers at the stable when we were going out to the pasture to bring in a couple of the horses for the evening. She was saying how scared she was of some of the horses and I was tired and hungry and couldn't explain it very well at the time. But I will try again. When I walk into a pasture to get a horse and bring him in, if I think "the horse will come to me and will be calm and easy on the way in," that seems to happen. If I think, "I'm scared that this horse is unpredictable and I can just see him spooking and rearing and breaking away from me and he'll run off and I'll get in trouble," things go badly. And if I keep the first attitude that the horse will be calm and I will be calm and in control, even if the horse spooks, it de-escalates a lot faster and becomes a non-issue. Because even with the best intentions of the rider, horses do spook, but if the person stays calm, the horse quickly realizes that they can calm down too.

So, I can kind of see how positive attitude can really work. Not in a magical way like new-agers like to say, but in a way in which intentions actually do somewhat control the outcome. At least where horses are involved.