Come to Jesus

Lest you think Willow is a darling girl all the time, I thought I'd post about tonight's ride. Now, thinking back on my last few rides, I see clearly that she was building up to an extreme bout of naughtiness. Tonight when I got on, all she would do is throw up her head and threaten to rear. It got dangerous pretty fast, and I was at the barn alone, so I decided not to engage in the fight from the saddle. I hopped off, hooked up the side reins, and proceeded to lunge the snot out of her instead. I made as big of an oval as I could and galloped her 'til she was pooped. Then I got back on and galloped her for another ten minutes. Then I made her trot really big for another ten minutes. She's not stupid; she realized I was furious and was utterly obedient under saddle the second time around. I praised her up and down and then walked her for twenty minutes until she wasn't blowing. She was a steamy mare.

I gave her some bute, and sore or not, she's getting galloped again tomorrow! I let her build up to thinking she's running the show; time to remind her who's in charge. Alpha mare that she is, she's always testing me. It's actually part of the reason I love mares. You have to earn every inch with them.

Let Them Eat (Chocolate Pumpkin) Cake

Tomorrow is Joan's birthday. I'm a big believer in birthday celebrations. Considering that we so rarely take time to appreciate the gift of life, birthdays remind us to do so, to make much of the people we love (or even just like). Besides, Joan's had a difficult year.

And of course, birthdays are an excellent excuse to eat.

In my office building, birthday celebrations are often fraught with much angst. In the past year, especially, it seemed that some people were being feted, and others were being forgotten. Some people had lots of colleagues who were willing to chip in for party fare, and other celebrations were left to chance. Some people were buying all of the cake all of the time. So just recently, we went back to the "monthly" celebration idea: everyone contributes $10, and we all eat all year long, and there is the usual underground grumbling about the fact that people don't feel like donating to the cause.

In principle, this is a good solution for a building full of complicated relationships. No one is left out, everyone is treated equally, and there is plenty of cake. Except it means that there are no home made birthday cakes (because the default is to get the share of the tiller, pick up grocery store cake, slice, and serve). Which I think is a complete travesty.

So I made a cake anyway.

This one is actually pretty good for you, courtesy of my husband's stepmother, who is a genius of substitutions, and I tweaked it a bit myself. I will likely pick up a second small cake on the way in tomorrow, in case there isn't enough food, but everyone will know which is the better treat.
And I suspect that Joan will appreciate something made with care and thought, something that won't make us all lapse into a sugar coma by mid-afternoon.

Did you know, by the way, that the phrase "let them eat cake" isn't even attributable to Marie Antoinette? Apparently, it was coined by a princess who was oblivious to the plight of French peasants, who had no bread; she thought they could simply nibble brioche, instead. Wouldn't the world be a better place if our world leaders made sure everyone had enough cake? Well, I can start small, I guess.

Glazed Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

1 cup white whole wheat flour

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup good cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

¼ tsp salt

1 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 15 oz can unsweetened pumpkin puree

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup apple butter which is 100% apples ... no sugar or other additives
¾ cup dark brown sugar packed
1 large egg room temperature

1 egg white at room temperature

¼ maple syrup
1 T va
nilla extract
1 t. - 1 T. instant espresso powder (deepens the flavor of the chocolate)

½ cup confectioner's sugar

1 T buttermilk

2 T chocolate chips or nuts for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 and coat 12-cup bundt pan w/cooking spray.

Whisk together flours, cocoa, baking powder and soda, pumpkin spice and salt in bowl.

Blend buttermilk, pumpkin, applesauce, apple butter, brown sugar in a separate bowl at low speed. Blend in eggs. Stir maple syrup, vanilla, and espresso powder.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredient stirring only sufficiently to mix.

Transfer batter to bundt pan and bake 1-1/4 hour. Let cool for 15 minutes and remove from pan. Let cool completely before glazing.


Combine buttermilk and confectioner's sugar by stirring. Drizzle on cake and garnish with chips.

Balance: West African Peanut Stew

This year, during the offering at our church's Christmas service (which is nontraditional, at best, given that we attend a UU fellowship), our minister told us that in the spirit of the season, we were going to get gifts. I was a little surprised, knowing how modest our fellowship budget is, but felt myself getting excited by the thought. When they passed around the "gift" baskets, I was initially disappointed; they were just tea lights. But when I turned mine over, on the bottom was printed a single word: balance.

If there is one thing I need more of in my life, it's balance. No one could have chosen a more appropriate gift for me. And while I can't say that receiving it has instantaneously improved things in my life, I do keep that tea light in my coat pocket, and am reminded about the gift every time I dig my hands in to fish out my gloves, or reach for a tissue, or just warm up. Divine intervention? Maybe. It almost doesn't matter.

There is always too much to do on the weekends; seems we're always running to a birthday party, or going to youth group, or running errands, or doing chores, or making dinners for the week. Even when I'm home, I'm not home; my mind is somewhere else, planning the next thing, worrying about a future that isn't even a certainty. I desperately miss going to yoga class, especially at Yoga Loka with my guru Bonnie Pariser, which seemed to help keep my frenetic pace in check, reminding me gently to be centered, but I just can't figure out where to fit that in any more, without missing precious weekend family time.

Miraculously, this weekend, nothing was on the calendar. And so last night, when I got home from my usual Friday night grocery shopping trip, I chopped vegetables, so I could throw this stew together and make the weekend even less hectic. This worked out well, since we ended up going to New Hope/Lambertville Winter Festival parade today, where they threw more candy at us than we could eat in a month. (Ian is still parading around the house, pretending that we're at a parade, throwing pretend candy at us.)

I confess I've never bought (or eaten, for that matter) okra, so it was an experiment, but everyone (even Ian) gobbled it up, so I think it was a success. The stew itself is a good balance: of sweet and spicy, smooth and chunky, fork and spoon. I served it to the boys with couscous, but ate it plain myself. And there's plenty of leftovers, so that even if I'm not getting myself to yoga class, at least I'll have one less night to worry this week about finding time to make dinner in the midst of everything else.

West African Peanut Stew (with thanks to Kayln's Kitchen for the original)

Ingredients (serves about 6-8):
2 c onions, chopped (used 1 large)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 to 1 tsp cayenne powder (depending on how you like it)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 c cabbage, chopped
1 c green bell pepper, chopped
3 c sweet potato, peeled, cubed
3 c tomato juice
1 c apple juice
2-16 oz cans diced tomatoes in juice
2 c okra, chopped
3/4 c peanut butter (used natural crunchy kind)
Cilantro for garnish

In a large pot, sauté onions in oil for about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne, garlic and ginger and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add cabbage, green pepper and cubed sweet potatoes and then cover for 3-4 minutes. Mix in tomato juice, apple juice, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until sweet potatoes are tender. Stir in okra and peanut butter. Simmer on low-heat until ready to serve. If stew is too thick, add water or more juice if desired. Add more spices or salt to taste if desired. Enjoy!

My Cuddle Bear Turned 5

Yesterday Teddy turned 5. Next Monday she is off to "Big school". My little cuddle bear is growing up so quickly.

Teddy was especially excited about this birthday because she knew she was going to be allowed to have her ears pierced. After opening birthday gifts ... ... we had to take Dragon, Mousie and Ducky to school for their first day of 2010, then the next stop was the Chemist to get Teddy's ears pierced. She knew exactly which kind of earrings she wanted - the blue ones! She waited impatiently for the two assistants to come and get the piercing done. Teddy was all smiles as they cleaned her ears with alcohol swabs and put a little dot on each earlobe. Then they got the piercing guns ready and counted "1 - 2 - {click} 3!"

Teddy's face instantly turned from a huge grin into a look of surprise, shock and pain. One assistant sprayed some antiseptic solution onto the earlobes to cool them down and then showed Teddy her new earrings in the mirror. Teddy's smile returned!During the day Teddy had a lovely treat - all the Birthday cards from cousins, Uncles & Aunties and Grandparents arrived. She had a great time opening them and finding surprises inside! Here she is checking the mailbox with Possum (who didn't go back to school until the following day.)After school we had had a Party Afternoon Tea with chips, lollies and coloured popcorn. Then I set to work to make her requested birthday dinner - pancakes. It may sound like an easy dinner, but I only have a frypan big enough to make 5 or 6 pancakes at a time and I have to make a double-triple batch. The little girls eat more than I do when it comes to pancakes! It takes a long time to cook them all. I served them with maple syrup, cream and strawberries .... not exactly a well balanced meal but it's birthday time!

After dinner it was birthday cake time. Teddy helped make her own cake the previous day and had given me some rather strict guidelines as to how she would like it decorated - purple icing with sprinkles, sparkles, flowers and a teddy bear on the top.I'm pleased to report that she approved! After dinner Teddy drew a picture of her birthday celebrations.Her second favourite gift was a little play makeup set. The girls took turns doing each others eye shadow.When I first saw Kitcat with one blue and one pink eyelid I laughed so much I nearly dropped the camera. (Teddy did it that way at Kitcat's request.)

Happy Birthday to our beautiful big girl Teddy!
We love you and are very proud of you.


Now that I've been nearly three weeks without posting, I'm getting this awkward-silence vibe from the blog.

To break the ice: here's my new haircut.

Apparently, it's been too long since I had one, since I've emailed this picture to probably three people already. Inordinately pleased with this minor change in my appearance. (Same, but a little shorter.) And next time I put a picture of myself on the blog, it'll be one where I'm wearing makeup and therefore actually have features. And maybe I won't use the bathroom mirror and a flash.

* * *

Okay, here's the news.

January 3rd my parents came over and my Dad told me he has been diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. It seemed to be stage 4: a biopsy found 9 of 10 possible sites affected. My Dad is 73, and has no real health problems - Type 2 diabetes, which he manages by walking about 6 hours a day to stabilize his blood sugar.

Heart disease runs in his family, so if you asked me what I feared for my Dad, it would have been that. Cancer wasn't even on my radar.

On January 5th my friend Sandy came over and told me she has been diagnosed with lymphoma, thought to have been caused by the radiation therapy she received for her colorectal cancer of two years ago. The cancer is too diffuse to radiate, so she was waiting on a biopsy to determine a course of treatment.

Hearing about Sandy was bad, but so much of my mental energy was taken up with worrying about Dad, I coped with Sandy's news pretty well. In fact, I told a family member in an email, "if YOU have cancer, now is a great time to tell me. I'm on a roll."

I spent the next two weeks feeling like all my life force had drained away. I stood around, looking out through rain-slicked windows and crying.

We were waiting for a CT scan and a bone scan, scheduled for the 11th and 14th, to tell us how far the cancer had spread. Last Tuesday the results came back in - no metastases. (Excellent.) They offered Dad a choice between radiation and removal: he opted for removal.

Dad's surgery is scheduled for February 1, next Monday. Once the cancer is out, a pathologist will be able to tell what they should do next - whether chemotherapy would be beneficial.

Sandy had a needle biopsy yesterday - through her back to take cells from lymph nodes located behind her sternum. (Ouch...) Now we just wait for a few days until those results are in, and her year will take shape - whether it will be a chemo year, or something else.

* * *

I don't want to bring too much of this onto the blog. Not because I feel private about it (obviously I don't) but because I've been eating, sleeping, and breathing Cancer for nearly three weeks: I want to talk about something else. I won't be posting long cancer updates, though I will put a line or two in a post, if something major happens.

So thank you for all your good wishes on my last post - it was really great to hear from everybody. It was a comfort to know that you care.

* * *

Coming soon: more fun, less cancer. Can I get a "HELL yeah"?

Sam the GSP

I'm Going to Miss My Doggie

I would insert a pic of my dog here, but I drained the battery on my camera and haven't charged it in weeks. Hence the lack of photos and posts recently.

Anyway, we are leaving in two weeks for Arizona! And all I can think of is that I'll miss my little doggie. He is so cute and I love holding him, playing with him and kissing him. I guess that will all have to change when this baby comes along anyway ... The cat I won't miss so much, and she won't miss me.

Wait, did I say we are leaving in two weeks for Arizona?? As in, we are leaving when I am 7 1/2 months pregnant? That's right. And no, we're not coming back empty-handed :) We are going to stay there for three months (!!!) so our little bundle of joy will be born there.

I know, I know, it would've been a cool story to say she was born in Argentina, but she wouldn't be able to have dual citizenship anyway because of the type of visa we have.

So to Arizona we go, and I couldn't be more excited. We'll be in Mesa, so if you are anywhere in a multi-state radius -- or heck, anywhere on the continent -- and want to visit, PLEASE DO!!!!!!!!

I will miss Argentina, but it will be cool to be back in the States and to lounge by a pool all day every day ;) Well, for the first few weeks at least. Then there's that whole giving birth thing and grueling parents-of-a-newborn schedule. Hm.

Christmas Holidays = Swimming at the Beach!

During our week in Newcastle we only got to go swimming three times, due to the rainy weather. We went to Birubi Beach (at Anna Bay, Port Stephens) on New Year's Day. The tide was very low and there was a large sandbar which had created a small lagoon close to shore. The sandbar, we soon discovered, was Hermit Crab Central Station. The little girls had lots of fun collecting hermit crabs, then letting them go and watching their amazing burrowing skills.

Because of the low tide, and the sandbar, there was very little surf. It was beautiful, safe conditions for the little girls although Possum and Dragon were a bit disappointed that they couldn't catch many big waves with their boogie boards.

The next time we went to Birubi Beach it was a higher tide and the surf was big enough to catch some decent waves. And since it had been raining for nearly a week the holidaymakers were out in hordes on this day of perfect beach weather. It was so crowded!
The water was so nice everyone ran straight in ....
.... except Kitcat, who was a little confused as to why this beach looked so different to last time (no sand bar, no lagoon, bigger waves.) She reverted, for a while, to her surfing technique of last year.
Possum and Dragon cooperated to kindly assist Teddy in her new-found love of waves.
Teddy really enjoyed herself, and everyone managed to catch some waves .... even me!!
As mentioned previously, in my post about Depot Beach, a favourite beach activity is to build a large sand fort with walls high and strong enough to keep out the advancing tide. Here's a video of one of these endeavours .... of course we always fail in our attempt to hold back the tide, but it's fun trying. Now I just have to ask - have you ever seen anyone 'bailing out' a sandcastle before? If not, watch carefully ....
I am still learning to use my new video camera, and since the zoom button zooms the opposite way to the one on my other camera I often get mixed up and zoom the wrong way ... hence the unnecessary close-ups of faces and/or feet.

The day before we went home to Canberra we met up with some friends at Lemon Tree Passage swimming enclosure. The weather was humid and overcast again, and the tide was more than halfway out, but the girls didn't mind one little bit. Not even the weed growing on the riverbed worried them.
They swam happily for over an hour under the watchful eye of both myself and a pelican.
When we arrived home in Canberra we intended to go camping in the Kosciusko National Park but we discovered that the weather bureau had predicted a heatwave for that week. (And then the next week it snowed!!) So we spent a lot of time at the pool, and drove to Long Beach for a day trip. It didn't take long for everyone to find something to do ........... Possum, Mousie and Teddy floating away on their boogie boards, HB supervising their flotation, Dragon and Ducky making a sand fort and Kitcat building sandcastles. Here's a close-up of those boogie-board floaters. Lunch time gave everyone a chance to warm up a bit (even on a hot day wet swimmers + wind can make you feel a bit chilly) by sitting in the sun.
"Don't forget the sunscreen and pink zinc!" says Possum, "And remember to drink plenty of water when the weather's hot." Isn't she just gorgeous?
Teddy, Kitcat and Mousie discovered a bonus use for their back-floats .... they made great back rests too! This gives a new twist to the term 'banana lounge'.
While Dragon worked hard on his sand fort, Mousie gave HB some heavy sand boots.
Here's the finished fort. (You can see the tip of one of HB's sand boots at the bottom right corner. He was in no hurry to finish his sun-baking anyway.) At various times during the day this sand fort was a hermit crab resort, a little swimming pool for Kitcat, a bathtub, a shell collection washing station, a mud pit and (of course) a fort for holding back the tide. It did last a lot longer than the Birubi Beach sand fort but, as always, the tide won in the end.

On Saturday 23rd January we decided to escape the inland heat and head to the coast for one last swim before the school holidays finish. We intended to go to either Long Beach or Depot Beach but we didn't quite get there as Dragon gave us all a terrible scare. I hate to even think about it, but Possum has recorded her memory of the event here.

Simple Things: Potato Leek Soup

I'm sort of glad to be back from Washington. My talk is over (until I give the next version in March, anyway) and I can resume worrying about other things, including the steady stream of applications for various programs at work that will be headed my way, starting Friday. But I already miss going out adventuring at mealtimes with my co-presenter, who, it turns out, is as much a foodie as I am. I love eating with people who take a bite and actually exlaim, "mmmm!" We had a particularly memorable dinner at the Lebanese Taverna at the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro stop; I'm still pining away over the lamb, which was (praise be!) humanely raised, and the vegetarian plate of spinach pie and baba ghanoug and beans and falafel and hummus and lentils was one of the most amazing things I think I've ever eaten.

On the other hand, I need to get back to simple things again, things that don't make me feel like I've completely engorged myself when I eat them (like, say, vanilla cupcakes from Starbucks, or vanilla ultimate cake from Wegmans, both of which I ate with great gusto on the train, the former on the way down, and the latter on the way back). I decided to make a batch of potato leek soup this weekend, since I had a leek left over from last week, and it would mean wasting fewer brain cells over grocery shopping and meal planning.

It's not exactly comfort food, but it's close. I remember eating this soup when I was growing up, with leeks from my father's garden; we would always grow too many (of everything, not just leeks), and this was my mother's go-to solution. And I need comfort this week, sustenance to face the office again.

I've been brooding today over the sermon our minister gave, entitled "It's Not About You," on the prevalence of navel gazing in the U.S.. We're definitely looking outward this week, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, and worrying about our own self-actualization seems pretty shallow. I was feeling a bit guilty, listening to him and thinking about just how much navel gazing of my own I've been doing of late, thinking about quitting my job and going to yoga teacher training at my favorite yoga studio in Frenchtown, where I can achieve enlightenment and eat at my favorite cafe, which is moving to Elizabeth Gilbert's storefront.

The thing is, as I confessed to him later, I feel like I need some navel-gazing time. I spend most of my waking hours taking care of other people: at work, at home, even in my extracurricular responsibilities with the youth group, Caring Committee, and various committees at my son's school.

A while ago, my friend Jennifer posted a quote from a Mary Oliver poem: "Tell me, what is is you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?" If that doesn't invite us to a long detour through self-absorption, I don't know what does. If only the answer were as simple as "make soup."

Potato Leek Soup

3-4 slices bacon (of your choice, but if you use veggie bacon, add 1 T. olive oil)
3 leeks, white and light green part, thinly sliced
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled, diced
4 1/2 c. low sodium chicken or vegetable broth/stock
Chives for garnish (optional)

Render the bacon in a large pot. Remove and set aside for crumbling into soup later.

Add leeks; cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add potatoes; cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add broth/stock; cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove soup from heat; puree with a stick blender (or blender of choice). Garnish individual servings with crumbled bacon and chopped chives.

Here comes the sun

Saturday we had an actual sunny day. Not just a few minutes of sun peeking out between showers: sunshine and blue skies all day long. It was glorious.

I took more video of Willow (told you I was addicted). This time I captured a little bit of the very collected canter I've been working on on the lunge. Between 1:29 and 1:31 there's a stride that's approaching the level of collection needed for pirouette. To the right she never reached that level of collection, but I still like how she's working. I also like the collection in the trot on the small circle. It's all good for strengthening her hind end.

She'd had three days off due to me being sick, so she was a little challenging under saddle. But I got some good canter-walk transitions (although I can see I need to half halt again in the walk to keep her from pitching onto her forehand). I also got some good shoulder-in to the left in trot.

Today I worked her in heavy rain and wind with a mondo marathon going on at the nearby shooting range. She was mostly focused and didn't squabble as much as yesterday.

Christmas Holidays = Fun and Adventure

We had lots of fun during our Christmas holiday visit to Newcastle. Grandpap makes the best swings from the tree in the backyard ......
.....and good-naturedly assists with the swinging.

There's usually something interesting to discover at Nano's house, like this honey-eater's nest in the tree, complete with baby honey-eater......
..... or something even more unusual, like Kitcat the Goggle Girl.And Nano's dress up box is always a highly anticipated source of fun!
We had an adventure at Gloucester Tops, part of the World Heritage listed Barrington Tops National Park. It was rather un-summer-like weather right at the top of the mountain. They had already had a lot of rain, and it was misty with occasional light showers while we were there. HB wanted to take the children to the lookout and then on the waterfall loop walk.
Thankfully, we did have raincoats ....
.... but we didn't have gumboots. Luckily it wasn't too cold to get our feet wet. We made it to the lookout but there wasn't much to see.Tramping through the damp forest, scrambling over slippery rocks, discovering beautiful spiderwebs enhanced by water droplets, finding fairy toadstools (red tops with white spots), seeing the flooded waterfall and river was great fun. This is the waterfall - so much water you can barely see the rocks.Trying to stop little girls from slipping down the steep embankment into the river or over the edge of the cliff, and pulling leeches off my toes wasn't so much fun, but we all survived.

The girls thought the biggest adventure of the day was when HB drove through the six flooded river fords, often at high speed, and watching the water spray up along the sides of the car. Listen for their squeals of delight as HB fulfills their request to "...go fast through this one too!"
I am still learning to use my new video camera, and since the zoom button zooms the opposite way to the one on my other camera I often get mixed up and zoom the wrong way ... hence the unnecessary close-ups of faces and/or feet.

Feeding Chickens Mangle Beets

Mangle Beets as chicken feed!!

Hey Everyone! And a happy New year to you all!
Sorry it has been a while since I posted in this blog..we went away to Arizona over the holdiays and have just this past week arrived home.
The GOOD news is..I have found a place that sells Mangle beet seeds!!!

This place is in Saskatchewan..and will deliver in the US also.
For those of you who don't already know...I read from another blog..that Mangle beets can be fed to livestock..INCLUDING chickens!!
So I was DETERMINED to grow some this coming year and test them on my chickens over next fall and winter...Apparently these beets can ( under ideal conditions) reach up to 15 pounds!! And their nick name is Fodder Beets!

"This picture was borrowed from the site the Deliberate Agragarian"

Apparently you just store them for winter..and shred them up the in food processor as needed..feeding them to your chickens! I like the idea of being able to grow food for my chickens..I will still give them grain of course...but supplimenting it with something I have grown just FEELS right!
Wish me luck and I will keep you posted!


Christmas Holidays = Visiting Relatives

It has become a tradition - since we moved to Canberra we have made the trek to Newcastle to visit family at New Year's. Our first port-of-call is usually Grandma's house. Here she is, smothered with Half-dozen cuddles.That afternoon we went to the beach and had dinner at Nelson Bay marnia. Then the next day we visited Nanna and Grandad, and the cousins were there too. Time to open a few more Christmas gifts.When the rain finally stopped we went for a walk. This walk along Wangi Wangi foreshore seems to have become a bit of a tradition too. Here are the cousins, from eldest (left) to youngest.Possum (14), Dragon (12), Cousin E (9), Cousin T (7), Ducky (7), Mousie (5), Teddy (4), Cousin Y (3), Kitcat (3). There is only 2 days difference in age between Cousin T and Ducky, and only 3 months difference between Cousin Y and Kitcat.

The girls had lots of fun running along the jetty. Cousin T looked so pretty in her floral dress.The traditional photo of HB taking photos.High humidity always makes Kitcat's curls more pronounced, and the nearly 100% humidity at the coast sent it crazy-curly .... a look Possum accentuated with a frangipani flower.Kitcat looks up to Uncle R. I love the facial expressions in this photo.Cousin Y and her Daddy share the swing.5 little cousins all in a row.And here's our Half-dozen with Nano and Grandpap, who kindly put up with us taking over their home.

Another Willow video

Here's video from Saturday. Mostly I'm just working on the quality and looseness of the canter, but there are a couple shoulder-ins in trot, and a few canter-walk-canter transitions. At the end there's a shot of Willow's new, improved, foamy mouth.

Lungeing (or longeing, if you must)

Earlier this winter, when Willow was dealing with her ulcer and I was frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with her, I stopped riding and switched to lungeing for about four weeks, because I thought the random stomping might be signaling a lameness issue, and it's easier to see movement on the lunge than feel it under saddle. Of course, it turns out that, happily, a course of ulcer treatment and an ongoing aloe vera supplement fixed Willow right up. An added bonus: Willow really started to get her groove on on the lunge. For most of us, lungeing isn't as fun as riding, but you really can accomplish a ton on the lunge.

For a lungeing-only session, my routine is thus:

I start Willow off with very long, training-level-frame side reins. Always, when we start out, these long side reins don't look very long. Willow wants to keep her neck pretty straight and overbend at the poll. I walk her for a bit, and then when I ask her to move out of walk, she always launches straight into canter. (This has been a good clue for me that perhaps Willow is one of those horses that warms up better in canter.) I have her canter and trot for a few minutes, and then I halt her and shorten the side reins. I've been shortening the side reins very slowly over the past year, and now she can handle them being quite short. (But I don't just suddenly crank her in from training level to short: Depending on how she feels, I usually take her halfway, let her walk a bit, and then shorten all the way. If she resists, we don't shorten all the way that day. I keep an eye on the rubber donuts: if they're really stretched, I know she's leaning and resisting.)

Now I ask for a big trot and canter, to make sure she's stepping through into the new frame. I apply little "bumping" half halts if she tries to drop her head and go behind the vertical. She has mostly figured out what I'm asking for, so this has gotten to be much less of an issue. We do lots of transitions between gaits, and after about five minutes I start bringing her in on a ten meter circle, asking for trot and canter. When she's balanced at ten meters, I bring her in to eight meters. Circles this small are really hard work, so I don't keep her in so tight for very long. I use a release onto the large circle as a reward. To the left, on the very small circle, Willow tends to want to travel haunches-in, so I use little touches with the whip to ask her to move her haunches out. (Of course, you need to be cautious of the horse's reaction when they're this close to you.)

I usually finish up by asking for a medium trot. I walk along with her so she's traveling on more of a very large oval, to give her the room she needs. Then I bring her back to working trot for a bit, halt, and we change directions. (I alternate which direction I start her in with every session.) Lather, rinse, repeat in the new direction.

When we're done, I lengthen the side reins back to training-level-length and have Willow trot for a couple minutes to stretch out. The cool thing is, remember how in the warmup the side reins seemed rather short even at this length? Well, now they seem really long. Willow's withers are up and she's giving through the length of her neck. Now she has to reach a bit to find the contact. It's a pretty good indication she's working correctly, I think. We do a couple minutes of long and low, and then I have her walk for a couple minutes.

The lungeing has been going so well I'm doing an abbreviated version of the above before every ride.

In other news, on Thursday I had a doctor's appointment to establish care with a new doctor and re-up a prescription. She decided I needed vaccinations: H1N1, flu, and pneumonia. I haven't had a vaccination in forever. When I woke up yesterday, I could barely move my left arm. It felt like someone hit my upper arm, hard, with a two by four. It woke me up every couple of hours last night. Next time, I'll start on the ibuprofen immediately following the vaccinations!

Mousie's Birthday

Mousie turned 6 years old today. She had a fun day, except we couldn't go swimming as planned because of thunderstorms this afternoon.

Just before bed I gave Mousie a big hug and said "You are my big 6 year old girl now, aren't you?"

Mousie ran to the full length mirror and looked intently at her reflection before replying, "Yes!! I am bigger now. This morning I was so tiny but now I am definitely bigger."

This is a scrap blog I made of her birthday photos. (use arrows to scroll through pages, instead of 'play' button.)

Since her birthday fell on a Saturday, Mousie was given the freedom to organise the whole day and choose the food she wanted. So we had a few lollies, watermelon and grapes for morning tea. Then she did some racing games on the Wii (MarioKart). She takes these races very seriously, and does extremely well - often coming first! Then it was time for a 'party food' lunch ... party pies, party sausages rolls, cocktail frankfurts, fairy bread, chicken munchies, more watermelon, soft drink (and, yes, we had a spill which always happens when we give the girls fizzy drink) and a few more lollies. All this, of course, followed by the chocolate fudge jelly bean ice cream cake. Seeing as we couldn't go swimming, Possum organised some party games for the afternoon. Here are the girls playing pass the parcel.Teddy was so excited about Mousie's birthday that she drew lots of pictures. This was the one she drew before the birthday celebration .......... and this is the one she drew after we had lunch and party games. Happy Birthday to my gorgeous not-so-little Mousie. We love you very, very much!