Cleaning House

I've been working on finishing up WIPs lately. I finally tracked down a ball of the red Regia 4-ply from my ill-fated Sockapalooooza experience, A YEAR LATER. The dye lot was drastically different, but I didn't care - I plowed through the last half-sock and got 'er done. Here are Cookie A's Gothic Spire socks, finally finished.

Pattern: Gothic Spire, by Cookie A.
Yarn: Regia 4-fadig. 75% superwash wool, 25% Polyamide
Yarn Source: Uptown Yarns, Courtenay, and The Wool Shoppe, Parksville
Yarn Cost: $24
Needles: 2.5mm Susan Bates circular, 100 cm long, for magic loop
Tension: 9.5 sts/inch in stockinette
Cast on: May 2007
Bound off: July 31, 2008
Modifications: None.
Notes: I loved this pattern when I first saw it but I don't know that I care for it as much now. It's complicated to look at and my eye finds it hard to decipher the design. That being said, the socks are nice and long, comfortable, stretchy and warm. I am finding them a bit roomy - I originally cast them on for someone else, so used the largest size. I'd prefer them tighter, but that's what the dryer is for, no?

I must admit I wouldn't make these again. They are impressive and pretty, but the yarn wrapping bit is a bit much. This is what you have to do: slip next four stitches onto cable needle. Wrap working yarn twice [or four times, depending] around the four stitches. Knit the held stitches. It's a right pain. You can't get around the required cable needle - there's no way to do the wrapping without holding the stitches on a separate needle. Very time-consuming.

But it's nice to have another pair of socks in the drawer - and red ones, no less.

So I'll keep 'em.

Off to Nebraska

Saturday I'm off to Nebraska to visit family and friends for five days. Willow gets to be a lady of leisure for a bit. I rode every night this week, so I'm feeling proud of myself.

Recent accomplishments:

  • True canter across the diagonal to counter-canter around the end of the arena back to true canter across the diagonal. For the longest time Willow would get claustrophobic on the short side and drop to trot. I finally convinced her she can do it and now she bops around the end no problem.
  • Really letting my weight drop into my heels in sitting trot, leading to that cool "sticky" feeling in my seat where it not only follows Willow's back but actually asks her to bring it up. Excellent shoulder-ins and mediums ensue.
  • Walk to canter, almost. But we're down to one or two trot steps.
  • Fun, fun, fun collected canter, although she can only maintain it for about eight strides.

I love this sport.

Sing Ho! for Water and Soap

Dave, I should have included washing instructions with my first post. As a person who wears wool and dresses my children in it, I sometimes forget that not everybody is willing, or will remember, to use unusual care in washing.

To answer the question in your comment, BOO is made of wool, silk, and mohair. Though it won't need cleaning often (wool self-cleans) it will be dry clean or "hand wash cold lay flat to dry". If it's put in the washing machine it will felt, which means irreversibly shrinking to doll size.

Here are the washing instructions for each design in the yarn called for:

1. Reid - knit in Patons Grace 100% mercerised cotton, yarn cost approximately $25 Hand wash lukewarm, lay flat to dry.

2. Boo - knit in Noro Silk Garden 45% silk 45% mohair, 10% wool, yarn cost approximately $70 Dry clean, or handwash cold with care, lay flat to dry.

3. Pinwheel - knit in Elann's Peruvian Highland 100% wool, yarn cost $20 Hand wash cold, dry flat. (Note: I found out the yarn cost - not $45, as I had estimated, but around $20.)

4. Drifting - knit in DK weight superwash wool, yarn cost approximately $50 Machine wash cold, lay flat to dry.

5.Secret Garden - knit in Alice Starmore Hebridean 3-ply 100% wool, yarn cost approximately $70 Hand wash, lay flat to dry.

I can substitute washable yarns for the ones given in the patterns, though. BOO is the only design which really couldn't be made in a different yarn while preserving the look of the sweater as given. All of the others can easily be made machine-washable, though they will all still be "dry flat".

So don't let it bring you down - I'll take care of it.

Old Times

Coincidentally, another music post.

Remember this?

And this?

Someone unloaded these in the freebie bin at work today, along with a few other assorted popular mid-'90s albums. I snatched these two up. I used to borrow these from my sister and my Dad, so now I have my own.

"Throwing Copper" is really only good for "Selling the Drama" and "I Alone" (I can't stand "Lightning Crashes"!).

But the entire soundtrack of "The Crow" is SO GOOD. I used to listen to the whole thing on repeat when I was in my room in middle school. Ah, old times.

Right Round Baby

Thanks for your input on the last post, and would you believe we got over 200 votes? I'm shocked, even though it WAS possible to vote twice. That's still a lot of people.

So far Boo is in the lead, but Joe and Dave haven't made a final decision you need more possibilities, guys? Because I can come up with more...and now that I know you want "girly", I can certainly deliver that.

Yesterday I took my sister-in-law and niece to the local Ashford/Louet dealer for a private drop-spinning lesson. We took the camera, but when the rep gave us each a spindle to try, we completely forgot about the camera and didn't take a single picture. I was using a locally-made maple spindle and fell in love with it, but didn't buy it quite yet. I did, though, buy my niece her choice of spindle - an Ashford top-whorl. She also came home with 250 grams of fiber - mostly Corriedale, but with 50 grams of merino in the mix as well. She picked up the knack quickly, and is a fair way to being obsessed with spinning.

For my part, I loved it. I loved the meditative nature of the task, though my results were fairly imperfect:

Today is Messy Tuesday, so here is my laundry pile from camping on the weekend:

but instead of doing it I swatched my handspun:

and enjoyed that very much.

Edit: I forgot to show you a picture of Piper, who has grown a lot in the last few months. Isn't he cute?

Dressage at Devonwood

I spectated at Dressage at Devonwood yesterday, and I thought I'd share some pictures of the partnerships I found to be a joy to watch. Talented riders, happy horses. I didn't have a program, and I'm new to the area, and lazy, so I won't be able to list names.

The Friesian/JYR pair below did a flawless musical freestyle timed perfectly to the music. Fun!

The grey below was absolutely lovely in his I-1 test. Look at the reach in the trot extension!

I do know the pair below: Leslie Chapman and Quantro, from my barn, performing their PSG musical freestyle.

It was a lovely day: partly cloudy with a light breeze, around 80 degrees.

Well, today was supposed to be the day I was going to introduce Willow to the double bridle, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I only got to ride three times this week. I want to get five consistent rides in before the big day. I'm off to Nebraska next Saturday, so it'll probably be mid-August before the stars are in alignment. Good things are worth waiting for!

Awesome Show

Last night, Neil and I went to an awesome show. Iggy came with us, but it was a sold-out show, so she ended up having other adventures.

I got tickets last week when I stopped by Black Cat to pick up tickets to Ratatat, the BOMB-est show there will be all year -- mark your calendar, 10/2/08.

When I got the Ratatat tix, I saw The Ruby Suns were playing this weekend. I'd seen them before at Black Cat and thought they were great. They're from New Zealand and are a lot of fun, and it had been awhile since I'd been to any show, so I got us tix.

Exit Clov, a D.C. group, opened for them, and TRS, who put on a great show, opened for Tilly and The Wall. I'd never heard of TTW, but I had looked them up and liked their sound, too.

TTW ended up being AMAZING. I didn't realize it until I read their bio today that they are on Conor Oberst's (Bright Eyes) label. I like Bright Eyes, so I should have known they'd be good. But they were really great! They were just a lot of fun. Any indie group that plays a mix of songs including "Give it to me" by Jay-Z while they're setting up is pretty sweet. They had great outfits, the two female lead vocalists/guitarists were attractive and EXTREMELY talented -- great voices, PLUS their percussion section consisted of a hipster girl on a little stage in the center of the main stage TAP DANCING. Yes, tap dancing!
Her little stage was rigged so her tapping came through the speakers, and it was pretty much the percussion for every song. One song even had a sort of flamenco feel to it, which was enhanced by the fact she was stomping away to it. Sometimes a guy accompanied her on the trap set, but it was mostly her through the whole show. What a workout! If you listen to their music, you don't really realize it's someone tapping, but she sure was and it was really impressive.

I highly recommend going to see any of the above groups if they come to your neighborhood. Contemplating this whole international move ahead of me, this is the sort of thing I'll miss. I know that's why groups go on int'l tours, but I know I'll also miss D.C.

Happy Birthday, Neil!

My very best friend is 32 today! I hope it's a great day for him. He is my world, and I want all the best things for him -- he deserves it. He is definitely the sweetest guy I've ever met -- he is both kind and he is totally sweet.

Big Decisions

In Tuesday's comments, Uncle Dave asked me whether I would consider knitting something for Ruby for the occasion of her second birthday. I happily accepted, and we thought it might be fun to get your input on a suitable project.

I was going to wait until next week to post, but since I'm going to be away for several days beginning tomorrow, this will give you more time to weigh in.

There are many things I'd like to knit for a small girl, and of course the internet is filthy with ideas, so here are some things to start us off.

Firstly, two designs from Knitty. Reid is a lace-patterned cardigan with a crocheted edge: quite cute I think:

and Boo is absolutely fun and completely gorgeous - I think in real life it would be a WOW piece:

I also quite like the Pinwheel Sweater from Shelley Mackie, winner of the Elann design contest a couple of years ago:

There is Drifting, a beautiful stranded pullover from Inspired Fair Isle Knits:

and lastly, representing texture and quality, Secret Garden from Jade Starmore.

Some stats for your interest...

1. Reid - knit in Patons Grace 100% mercerised cotton, yarn cost approximately $25

2. Boo - knit in Noro Silk Garden 45% silk 45% mohair, 10% wool, yarn cost approximately $70

3. Pinwheel - knit in Elann's Peruvian Highland 100% wool, yarn cost unknown as pattern temporarily unavailable, while does maintenance...I would guess at about $45

4. Drifting - knit in DK weight superwash wool, yarn cost approximately $50

5.Secret Garden - knit in Alice Starmore Hebridean 3-ply 100% wool, yarn cost approximately $70

So - a little poll for your asses? (Thank you Bethro)

The sassy side of Willow

Monday was Willow's day off. Tuesday we had, in the midst of weeks of gorgeous, sunny weather, a chilly, drizzly day. Between the chill and the day off, Willow was feeling sassy! I could tell from the moment I got on that our usual warmup in walk was not what she needed. So I immediately sent her into trot and canter with lots of transitions and changes of bend, to try to get her head on straight. She came back to me after about ten minutes, and then I got some spectacular shoulder-in in trot out of her. Best ever.

I also worked on small circles in canter--trying to get her to turn from my seat and not hang into the outside rein. To the left, she's really getting it. To the right, she still falls over the outside shoulder. But I'm feeling glimmers of understanding from her.

At the end of the ride I did several three-loop canter serpentines with simple change through trot. I'm so pleased with how much more crisp her transitions are, and how her canter stride is no longer 20 feet long!

Saturday I'm off to Devonwood to cheer on some of my barn mates.


I got an e-mail yesterday from (edited) that began with that statement. It went on to invite me to join the September orientation and training class for (edited)!!!! I am SO excited!
I wasn't expecting to begin training until January, at the earliest. I definitely was not expecting to begin training so soon. CRAZY!!! The class begins Sept. 15 and is 6 weeks long, after which I get a couple weeks to tie up loose ends, and then it's off to some country I've chosen. They said I get a list during the first week of training of countries where they need people, I rank order my favorites, and then they let me know if I get one of my top picks. Neil has recommended Argentina or Japan. We'll see. Where would you go? I called (edited) today to ask a few more questions, and they told me they need people everywhere, so I will most likely get to go to my top pick! INCREDIBLE. Life is so funny.


Someone asked me the other day, "Are you still knitting?"

So it's obviously time to do a fibrey post...the last time I talked about knitting was on June 18. The thing is, as Kristine noted not long ago, people are interesting because they grow and change, and converse about more than one subject.

But here's some knitting for Annalea, who bemoaned the lack of knitterly content on the blogs lately.

My cousin had a little girl a while ago, and I knit her a sweater. But I knit the three month size and finished it when she was nine months old.

So I gave that to another, newer baby, and cast on another sweater. This time I knit the 1-2 year size.

And now she is two years old. And here is the sweater:

But it's a drop-sleeve, so I think I can have it finished by the weekend, if I try really hard. It shouldn't take me too long to knit two little drop sleeves - they are pretty short. Then next week I can do seaming and button bands and buttons and weaving in........

I have a feeling it's not going to fit her for long, if at all. Maybe I should start something else.

I like this pattern - it's a Sirdar, from book whose cover has ripped off so I can't tell you the number. This is the fourth sweater I have made from it - two of the others are here and here. The only thing I don't like about the patterns is that they are all written out. No chart in sight. It makes it very hard to keep my place, and very hard to spot a mistake in the pattern. (This sweater had two so far.)

The yarn is also Sirdar - Snuggly DK. I still like it even though it's all synthetic. It's incredibly soft, not too pilly, and washes well. It took me a bit of practice to get the tension right on the stranded bits though - it was quite tricky. By the time I knit this piece it was coming along, though, so it doesn't look too bockety.

I am working on getting my WIPs out of the way so I can knit the Rheingold Wrap. I have been resisting the temptation of swatching this project, but last night I fell and now this is on the needles:

The swatch is half-done - sorry about the unsatisfactory picture. (My tension is apparently unsatisfactory too - I can see white bits through that knitting. I'll have to go down a needle size.)

Can I just say I HATE this method of swatching fair isle? You are supposed to cut the yarn at the end of every row, knitting all the chart rows from right to left. The problem is, I'm such a cheapskate and a yarn-hoarder that I kept trying to find a way around Alice's directions. I tried knitting it in the round (messed with the tension), tried carrying long loose strands across the back so I could rip it out later (kept entangling my fingers) and tried snipping the ends really short (unravelled the knitted edge). In the end, bitterly defeated, I just did it the way she wanted me to. But I hate the trailey ends of yarn and I hate the waste...I have this horrible feeling I'm going to run out of yarn and have to order more, which will of course be a different dye lot. I did order extra yarn (I wanted an additional 30 centimeters) but I've grown pessimistic about my ability to eke out yardage.

Speaking of which, I have run out of yarn on the lace shawl. I am about 45% done the border, and have three inches of yarn left....just enough to spit splice the new ball in. It has arrived at the yarn store, and I just have to drive 40 minutes to get it.

I've read elsewhere that the yardage guidelines in Victorian Lace Today are unreliable, but I didn't know HOW unreliable until I ran out of Zephyr on this project. The book calls for 1700 yards and I bought 1890 yards. I should not have run out.

In other news, the visit with Ox and Ames is going so well. We are having an absolute blast. We are getting a lot of swimming, canoeing, and eating done...luckily the first two are so far balancing out the third. Until they leave for their new home at the end of July, posting here will continue to be spotty and unreliable. Hopefully there are still some readers when I get back...

Of Love and Other Demons

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 4 Number 4

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What an incredibly interesting book. It reads like a fable or a legend - the story of a South American girl, neglected by her noble parents and raised by her own African slaves. She is bitten by a rabid dog, and is subsequently believed to be possessed with a demon. She is taken to a convent for help, and immured in the strange, hostile, Catholic mixture of religion and superstition. The young ascetic priest, sent to the convent to prepare her for exorcism, falls prey to her magnetic beauty. The pair fall in love, and plan to escape together from the convent before the exorcism can take place.

This is a strange story. It's full of the kind of weird, miraculous occurrences that one feels could only take place in South America....or maybe in the Caribbean. There are voodoo rituals, animal sacrifices, plagues, odd languishing fevers, plants behaving in peculiar ways. There is an uneasy sense of wonder, a desire for it to be true and a fear that it might be. The characters are fascinating, but I wasn't sure why I was so attracted to them - was it because they were well-drawn, with a kind of reality that catches the interest? or is it the sensation you feel when you're driving past the scene of an accident and you're pretty sure you just saw a body bag?

There is a lot of cruelty and death in this story. At the same time, it's not horrific - the narrative style is quite distant, lending a kind of farsightedness to the book. Reading it, you don't find yourself wondering what happens next, but instead how does it end?

I won't spoil it for you.

Of Love and Other Demons gets:

Reread: Yes
Given to Others: Yes
Bookplate: Yes


The great outdoors

Today I rode Willow in a temporary outdoor arena that was set up a few days ago so someone could work on her musical freestyle. The regular outdoor arena has been undergoing construction all summer, so Willow hadn't been in an outdoor in over a year.

She was totally awesome! 100% relaxed and on the aids right from the get go. I didn't expect any real trouble from her, but I thought she'd be a looky-loo for a few minutes. Nope. She was ready to work.

The arena is set up on grass and has proven to be rather slippery, so I schooled only first level movements. Everything felt just lovely. The trot lengthenings were floaty, and the canter departs were immediate and obedient. The stretchy circle was steady and rhythmic. We ran through our entire first level repertoire, and I was so pleased I called it a day. Willow hadn't even broken a sweat, but when things feel so good, I like to simply leave the horse with that happy, confident feeling.

Willow, I remember when I couldn't steer or stop you! You've come a long way, baby.

Cocoa Tea Time

The best thing to happen to me all day.

Heard this on the reggae radio station. The song is great and the video editing is better.

"Well, this is not about class
nor color, race, nor creed
Make no mistake, it's the changes
all the people them need.
Them a-shout out,
Barack Obama! Barack Obama! Barack Obama! Woy, woy!"
-- Cocoa Tea, "Barack Obama"

Not Coming At You Live From Des Moines

I'm extremely disappointed. I am not in or on my way to Des Moines at this very moment. I couldn't sleep last night, I kept tossing and turning, thinking maybe I should show up at the airport for the 6:30 a.m. flight and see what happens. Tickets never dropped below $930. I hate the airline industry. I am really annoyed with myself for not having bought tickets earlier -- I don't know what I was thinking -- I seriously just forgot to buy them or something, and suddenly here the weekend is. And I'm annoyed at myself for stupidly using my miles for a fun trip! I don't like to not get my way, and I really thought somehow things would work out and I would make it to the reunion today. Instead, here I am, sitting on the couch at 9:26 a.m. Fri. and I am not on an airplane bound for Iowa. Arrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh.

Something new in canter

Wow. I've had some really great rides the past two nights. What a relief. I should mention that I've been poised to try the double bridle under saddle for the first time, but when Willow started resisting the higher frame to such an extreme, I decided to delay the double until we had worked through the new problems. I don't want the double to mask any throughness issues. My new target date for the double is a week from Sunday, if all continues to go well.

I'm having a bit of puzzlement in the canter--something I've never felt before. Willow is cantering reliably in the new higher frame, and most of the time the canter feels really good. We're reliably achieving 12-meter circles, and half pass is starting to come (Yay! She's really listening to the outside leg!). Sometimes, though, she'll give me a few strides of something that almost feels like a series of little bucks, but not exactly. It's like the canter energy is escaping upwards through her croup, as if sometimes she doesn't know what to do with all her new found springiness, and it escapes before traveling over her back. It's really hard to explain.

It's not a big deal--when I feel it, I just send her forward with a good bump from both legs, and the feeling goes away. But I would like to know exactly what is happening. I'm big on theory! If anyone has felt this and had it explained to them, I'm all ears.


I think I lost a little weight from all the walking around I did on vacation; much more walking than I'm used to with a car at my disposal. It's a wonder I didn't gain a ton of weight from all the ono grinds I enjoyed there. Which reminds me of another pidgin phrase I think is funny: broke da mout'. Like, something tasted so good, it broke (the mouth).

The weird thing about this possible weight loss is that my shoes are loose. What?? Since when are my feet the first things to lose weight? They're already skinny enough. Either I lost weight in my feet or Neil was wearing my shoes while I was gone, which I wouldn't put past him to do.

In related news (Hawaii, eating?), the two geckos we've had for a month seem to be thriving. They no longer come out and crawl the walls and ceilings, which is too bad. I don't know where Nubbins hangs out, but I have seen him scurrying across the wall to hide behind pictures. His tail is also growing back nicely! "The big guy," our unofficial name for the other gecko, has taken up residence in the perfect place: In the kitchen, under the stove and refrigerator. The two appliances face each other, and I have seen him run back and forth from one to the other. This is the perfect place, because that's where the roaches lurk. What a smart gecko! We have supplemented their diet with the occasional mealworm, just in case. But they seem to be fat and happy.

I am still eyeing the faint glimmer of hope that I'll make it to Des Moines on Friday. I never thought I'd be hoping to go back to Iowa!

I feel like I've been picking on Neil a lot lately. I am a horrible person! He is seriously the most patient, kind, understanding person I have ever known, so it is even worse that I am being such a brat. I had the horrifying thought that I am doing the "he squeezes the toothpaste the wrong way" thing that you hear about when going into marriage. I thought we were too old for such nonsense! And too good of friends!! Well, I don't know how many times I have told him to "please don't place flammable things on the stove" and "please don't cover the air conditioning vent with a pillow just because you're cold sitting beside it." Things I think are legitimate now but that don't matter in the long run (like the next week or, you know, the REALLY long (eternal) run). Well, I guess paper towels on the stove could pose an immediate threat, but I'm just being paranoid, because it's not on. Really, I think my problem is ME. He never complains about the fact that I'm totally lazy and I never clean our place and I leave messes everywhere and I do 1/4 of the things he does in 5 times as much time as he has. I mostly sleep in. I'm like a grasshopper to his ant. So I think I am criticizing things in him when I really am just insecure or something and need to turn some harsh criticism back on myself. Phew. I guess I'm the one who has some growing up to do. I like to blame my inadequacies -- well, on anything but myself -- but in these cases, I always tell him it's because he's older than me ;)

BREAKING NEWS: The President does not have a magic wand.
"You know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I'd be waving it, of course."
-- George W. Bush, The Rose Garden, July 15, 2008

One step back, two steps forward

Saturday Willow was one moody mare. She really let me know that this new "up in front" stuff was not to her liking. There was a little bucking, a little cow kicking, and a whole lotta not going forward. I stayed patient, kept my cool, and kept driving her into a steady connection. It took 45 minutes, but after the extended sour period I got five minutes of nice trot and canter, which I gratefully accepted, offering much praise. And we called it quits.

Sunday I was too sick to ride (rotten summer cold), but I thought a lot about Saturday's ride. Was Willow telling me that I was doing something wrong, or that I was doing something right? I finally decided that her behavior was actually an indication that I was on the right track. I think she was hoping she could convince me to let her revert to long and low, wherein I don't bother her, and she doesn't bother me. Who can blame her? But it's up to me to stick to my guns in the face of an extended protest.

So tonight I steeled myself for another battle of wills. Willow was way sucked back in trot at first, so I gave her a smart pop with the whip. She bucked halfway down the long side. I popped her again, and she cow kicked. I popped her a third time and finally got a nice big trot. Praise and pats ensued. And after that, I had a lovely ride in the new, slightly higher frame. Progress! You just gotta be smarter than the horse -- and it ain't always easy.

Third, Taurus.

I did some transplanting last month. My best girl was here from Victoria and I took advantage of her amazing arms (she paddles an ocean kayak for a living) to help me acquire two thirty-year-old rhododendrons. These rhodos belonged to my friend Cameron, whose walkway they have encroached on for the last ten years. She and her husband cut them back ruthlessly a couple of times a year, but these monsters will not be put down. Access to their front door was being seriously impeded by these titanic shrubs, so Cameron offered them to me.

Thing I Learned While Transplanting Magnitudinous Rhododendrons #1:
Be Ruthless.

First you prune. And this is going to take you about 15 minutes. No time at all. Bring a set of 1" branch loppers and a saw. But don't get cocky: you will spend the next 2.5 hours getting to the next stage:

Thing I Learned While Transplanting Magnitudinous Rhododendrons #2:

Just Keep Digging. You're Not Done Yet. Keep Going. No, Not Yet Either. Dig More. Bit More. Little Bit More. Dig More. More. Not Done Yet.

At this point, we could not even rock the plant yet. That's how much this rootball did NOT want to let go of its life-giving Mother Earth. This is also the point at which my friend straightened up, wiped her brow, leaned on her spade, and said "I hate to say it Shan, but...."

"DON'T SAY IT," I warned her sternly.

She said it anyway. "I think we need a man."

"We do NOT need a man," I snapped, not looking up. I redoubled my efforts.

And, I was triumphant and smug when, twenty minutes later, we were here:

Thing I Learned While Transplanting Magnitudinous Rhododendrons #3:
It Is Not Easy To Get A 175-or-so-pound Rootball Into A .8 Meter-high Wheelbarrow.

But, manless, we managed it.

See how teeny my friend Cameron's wheelbarrow looks? It's not teeny, my friends. Neither is Paddlegirl's truck:

Thing I Learned While Transplanting Magnitudinous Rhododendrons #4-5:
Check The Tire Pressure Ahead Of Time and Bring Rope

That sucker was heavy.

When planning this wee bit of gardening, we had the happy delusion that we'd move both plants at once. As it happened, we barely got even ONE of them fit into the back of her truck at a time, and that only because her tailgate was pretty strong and the canopy window goes WAY up. And we had the devil of a time wrassling them onto the truck from the wheelbarrow - if I had had the forethought to take pictures of our arms you would see how much bloodletting this whole exercise involved.

Thing I Learned While Transplanting Magnitudinous Rhododendrons #6:
Have The Hole Dug Way In Advance

Here the lovely rhododendrons, in three years' time, will provide a screen for the less attractive area of our back garden, and will visually anchor that whole area. They are now in dappled shade, with lots of bone meal and peat under their poor traumatised roots, and with a soaker hose running cool soothing water over them.

One last note: it just happened that my friend came over just when the moon was almost perfectly situated for transplanting. It could have been very slightly better: fourth is better than third, and Cancer is better than Taurus, but we only had 24 hours' notice so I'm not complaining. The roots of this plant should do well (that is, if they prove resistant to the juglone from the nearby walnut tree).

I'll Take Iowa, For $1,000

But first: After I got back from Hawaii, I discovered that during my absence Neil's moles met with an unimaginable fate, which he dubbed "molicide," involving safety pins, dental floss and fingernail clippers. TMI? I'm really upset about it, but there's nothing that can be done now; they are definitely long gone.

The college newspaper that first introduced me to the wonderful world of journalism is having a reunion next weekend. The Iowa State Daily was a fun and awesome learning experience and place to work. I really, really want to go to the reunion, but I just started looking for tickets, and they're $980, which is INSANE. I should have thought of that before I sent my frequent flier miles on vacation. Oh well. I am still trying to think of some way to make this work. I would love, love, LOVE to go. We'll see if I can swing it somehow. I even got desperate and looked up Greyhound and trains. Needless to say, those may be more economical but are not at all practical choices.

I came up with an idea, though. With current gas prices, and commercial shipping companies complaining, why not start a "Trucker Tagalong" program, where you can pay to hitch a ride with a trucker? It would be cheaper than air, and truckers are totally focused on getting to their destination with no delays, unlike air travel. Sure, you may have to share some beef jerky and truck stop siestas along the way, but your bags wouldn't get lost.

This solution would be perfect for my (hopefully) upcoming trip, since I want to go to Iowa, otherwise known as the "truckers' crossroads." The world's largest truck stop is, in fact, in Iowa. Believe me, I've been there.

Unfortunately, riding along with a trucker could have its risks. Truckers have developed a certain reputation, possibly deserved, that could pose a hazard to a young woman such as myself. So the idea isn't perfect, but no transportation solution is without its flaws.

Bad habits

I've been training on my own for a year and a half now. It's the first time I've gone so long without lessons, and with a young horse, no less. Every so often I think about participating in a clinic, but then I think, I'll wait until the canter departs are better. Then, I'll wait until the trot lengthening is better. Then, I'll wait until counter canter is in. Then, I'll wait until the changes are in. And then I realize I'm steadily accomplishing these things on my own (well, except for the changes, but they're coming!)

Part of my reluctance to take lessons is financial, but a bigger part is simply that, after fourteen years of training, I was curious to see if I could bring along a young horse on my own. I lucked out with Willow, who is by and large an agreeable girl, and so far I feel like things are going well.

While I was in Texas, I took two short lessons on Sterling with Wolfgang. He pointed out two bad habits I've developed: giving in the canter depart, and letting my left hand cross slightly over the wither when circling to the right. I've ridden Willow twice since getting back, and I really concentrated on fixing these two habits. The canter departs immediately became crisp and uphill, and small circles to the right got much easier. Just goes to show that I can definitely use eyes on the ground every so often!

Wolfgang also watched a video of me on Willow and said, as I knew he would, "It's time to bring her up in front!" So that's the other thing I'm focusing on. Willow's wondering what's going on, but overall she's not protesting too much. She's a little tight in the new frame, but she's always tense about changes. If she's still tight after two weeks I'll re-evaluate, but for now I'm going to stick with the higher frame and work on building the muscles at the base of the neck. The canter feels just super -- collected and adjustable. Ten meter circles, here we come.

Wolfgang and Suzanne gave me a gift: a lovely whip for work in hand. How many of you think TSA will let you bring a four-and-a-half-foot whip through airport security? (Luckily, I expected it might be a problem, so Ted came into the airport with me and took the whip back out with him, to be shipped to me at a later time.)

Back from Hawaii

Aloha! I'm back. It was great to visit Hawaii again, but it's so good to be home. As much as I love it there, I love Arlington way more. I've decided my favorite place in the world is wherever Neil is. Definitely the last separate vacation I'll ever take!

True to form, I don't really have any pictures. I lugged a 20-lb. bag of camera goodies out there and probably took 5 pictures. I'm too lazy to get up and download them, so they will be in a forthcoming post. It's always hard for me to pin down the feel of a place in a photograph. I guess that's what practice is for, but I was nervous to bring the camera around in HI, when I didn't know if we'd be at a beach or some other unsecured place. And when I did carry it around, I felt stupid snapping away. Alas.

On my flight back, they had the weirdest movie/TV programming.

For comparison: On my way out, from Dulles-San Fran, they had a mediocre Michael Caine/Demi Moore movie, "Flawless." Then from San Fran-Honolulu, of course my headphones didn't work, but they had episodes of "The Office."

But on the flight home, the weirdest programming ever: This horrible, horrible movie with Pierce Brosnan and the chick from "The Notebook," all about infidelity and adultery (is there a difference?). I think it was called "Married Life," (which is absurd) but I don't know, and it's not even worth IMDBing. But I thought to myself, "This is quite a provocative topic for this audience. I don't know if other adults are into it, but what kid is going to be into this movie, or even understand it? (And what kind of influence is this having?) What happened to the days of 'The Cutting Edge' (played on my first flight out to Hawaii years ago) and other light, innocuous, in-flight entertainment?"

So after that crappy movie, there was NBC in-flight news or something about the Olympics. OK, I can definitely appreciate Michael Phelps. And the highlights of gymnast Shawn Johnson, some volleyball players and BMX riders was cool.

But after that, they played some BBC program about China. First, they talked about the people and culture, which should have interested me (hellooo, cultural anthropology?) but it didn't. Then the program became more nature show and featured a series of animals native to China, like the panda, Chinese alligator, some sort of crane, a golden mountain goat thing, etc. But the weird part about that, where they again seemed to disregard the audience, was the AWKWARD moments where it got all Discovery Channel and showed each animal mating! It just seemed weird to have five TV screens down the airplane all showing this; there was no way to avoid it. Call me prude, but seriously, didn't they used to show episodes of "Friends" or "Seinfeld" or something? What's going on with the airline industry? Dumb question. After THAT, they showed an episode of the most AWFUL show ever, which makes me very glad I don't own a TV, because of the sorry state of television programming. It was called "Psych," and I'm obviously no TV snob, but this was painful to watch. It was soooooo dumb and the acting and jokes totally forced.

Um, so yes, my point is -- I have no idea what is going through the minds of the folks who select in-flight programming, but they've got to do better than this. But who am I to complain -- with a free ticket, I guess I got what I paid for.

Pretty lame post for just getting back from a great vaca, but there you have it.

Gap Minded, Thank You

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 4, Number 3

Mind the Gap
by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

This is a very peculiar book. I don't know if it's ever happened to me before but when I finished reading this I thought to myself with a frown, "Huh. Am I going to read this again? Did I like this book? Was it any good? Was it bad? I'm......not sure."

The premise is this. Jasmine's mother is gruesomely murdered, leaving a last message for her teenage daughter, written in her own blood:

Jazz hide forever

The girl goes to ground, trying to evade capture by the sinister Uncles, a group of men who have haunted the edges of her life and her mother's. Jazz stumbles into a hidden world beneath the London Underground, taking refuge in forgotten bomb shelters and finding sanctuary with the ghosts that inhabit the deeps.

The book is equal parts mystery, fantasy, and coming-of-age story. This blending of genres felt a little uncomfortable to me - it felt at times like Stephen King trying to write a historical romance, or maybe Judy Blume trying her hand at a comic strip. I couldn't really put my finger on what it was that left me unsatisfied, but I think I like my fantasy to be fantastical, and I like my murder mystery mundane. In this book, worlds collided.

Many things are very well done indeed. The descriptions of the underworld, while not ponderously written, or terribly complicated, do give an impression of weight and claustrophobia to the reader. A lot of the scenes take place in the tunnels, and I could almost hear the water dripping, see the spectral light of a bare bulb, or smell the staleness in the sealed shelters.

Jazz takes up with a band of child thieves, led by a gentlemanly old scoundrel called Fagan......I mean, Fowler. She is mentored by another boy, Cadge, a roguish pickpocket who teaches her the tricks of his trade. The Dodger - oops, I mean Cadge - trains her well, until she is ready to perform the big heist on the Maylie's.....make that Mayor Bromwell's house.

Sure, it was a little derivative. It didn't bother me too much, however: there's nothing new under the sun. What did bother me was a feeling that the motives, the backstory of the novel, when these are finally brought to light, should have been explored more fully. I can't decide if it's a bad thing or a good thing, to be left wanting more at the end of a novel. This book was 400 pages - I wanted it to be 700. The plot, mostly in ghostly flashback form, really goes back to the 1940's, and it would have been great to have presented this backstory in more detail, and possibly even concurrently to the present-day sequences.

I'll tell you something weird. I saw the weaknesses of this book easily, but I couldn't put it down. I stood at the stove, stirring cheese sauce for my kids' lunch, reading. I took it with me when I biked downtown to meet my friend for coffee, on the off-chance that she'd be late and I could get a chapter in. I sat amidst piles of laundry unfolded, stacks of dishes unwashed, and a lace shawl partially knitted, and read this book to the last page.

Mind the Gap - strange book. Quite grisly - I wouldn't hand it to a tween for a bit of summer reading. It starts off with a shudder of revulsion, goes into quite a long, violence-free pause, then suddenly assaults your inner eye again with macabre sequences of appalling brutality. It's a bit unnerving.

Mind the Gap gets:

Reread? Yes
Given to Others? Yes - well, loaned...I don't think I'll buy copies as gifts or anything
Bookplate? No.

So, surprisingly, it ends up with a score of


By the way, I'll be posting sporadically as my long lost brother, Travelling Mack, has arrived with his family from the States. He'll be staying for a few weeks and we're all planning a lot of day trips, several afternoons at the outdoor pool, more than our fair share of barbecuing, and a good many hours of gabbing. It won't leave much time for posting, but that doesn't mean I don't love you.

Dear Mr President

You are a putz.

Did I entitle this post "Yo, Bush"? No, I didn't. And did I say "Hey, Georgie"? No, I didn't.

Because we speak respectfully to people here in THIS THING WE CALL A SOCIETY.

That is all: thank you for your attention.

A Canadian who thinks you are a putz but who still refers to you by your proper title.

All traveled out

I'm tired.

Today I returned home from my travels. My grandmother's funeral in North Dakota was lovely and sad. My mother delivered the eulogy and read some excerpts from some brief autobiographical jottings my grandmother put down a couple years ago. Highlights included descriptions of driving the horses for her father during hay cutting, and bopping a bully on the head with her lunch pail.

Next I was off to San Antonio for a business trip. My coworkers and I put in long hours selling books and ate good food along the riverwalk. I really do like San Antonio.

Then came the purely vacational part of my travels: visiting Wolfgang, Suzanne, and Ted at their new ranch and training facility south of Blanco, Texas. They had literally just moved in, and the house is still undergoing renovations. The property had been vacant for a couple of years, so there's lots of mowing and watering to be done. But it's a really cool place. The Texas hill country is just gorgeous. Go see Devil's Backbone if you're ever in the area.

Ted generously allowed me to ride his draft cross, Sterling, twice. I just adore getting on different horses. I love the first ten minutes--posing a series of questions to the horse and seeing how he answers. Sterling was the first draft I've ever ridden. I expected him to be heavy and stiff, but he was just the opposite: very light to the bridle and amazingly supple and lateral. I overrode him the first day but had a blast on the second day, once I'd figured him out.

Sterling! In all his glory.

Feeling him out. The arena is under construction so we rode in the front yard, among the crepe myrtle.

I hadn't ridden with Wolfgang in almost two years! It's always a privilege to have a lesson with him.

Happy Fourth of July! We are a patriotic duo.

Asking for a bit of lengthening.

Half pass.

Obviously, I had some trouble keeping the connection in the canter.

Good boy, Sterling!

Sterling actually reminded me quite a bit of a Lipizzan stallion I once got to ride (in feel, not in size :) ) He was naturally quite collected, and his canter was very self-contained and lofty.

On my last day, we invited people over to see the place. My friend Kathy, whom I knew from my Lubbock days, came by. I hadn't seen her in almost two years. She, her boyfriend Justin, Ted, and I all trooped down to a couple of the fig trees on the property and picked figs. I'd never had one before. Yummy! I think we picked about five pounds. See the bucket on the table?

Ted, me, Suzanne, and Wolfgang.

I picked up the dogs at the kennel on my way back from the airport. They are happy to be back in the land of sofas.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Wolfgang and Suzanne closed on the ranch! I'm sitting in the living room of their awesome new house. They've got new flooring coming in next week. My friend Ted, who'll be working with them, trailered his two draft crosses, Belle and Sterling, over today and turned them loose on thirty acres. They are in horse heaven. The ranch is near Blanco, Texas, and Wolf and Sue will be ready to start accepting clients sometime this fall.

Tomorrow I get to ride Sterling. I believe he's solid second level and starting to work on changes. Should be fun.

Messy M-F

For Stephanie:

Told ya.

I Severely Underestimated American Consumer Product Development



WEEELLLLLLLlllllllllllllllllll, if you've got a MICROWAVE, WE'VE got JUST the product for YOU!!!!!!
This has got to be the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. It's so bizarre, I didn't even understand what it was until I put it in context with the frozen offerings beside it: Chicken Cordon Bleu; Chicken Stuffed With Broccoli and Cheddar.

Still, I've never seen a concoction intended for U.S. consumers that was so far off the mark. Well, except maybe Crystal Pepsi.