Monday, February 19, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

After a week of snow and ice and frigid temperatures that kept me from the barn, I have now been back in the saddle again for the past three days. And Speckles and Buckles have not lost anything of their training; our rides have been wonderful.

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Speckles and Buckles this past summer. Look at that grass.

Speckles is a three-year-old Appaloosa. He was born here at home and has been handled (by me) since birth. He is very much a big dog with an teensy ornery streak. When I took him to his winter barn (Jan. 1st) he was quite pudgy. He gains weight too easily; plus, here at home, his companions are the geriatric crew who are not exactly lively. So here, he stood around, ate too much grass, and gained weight. But his training was going well. We spent the summer and fall trail riding all over the place near home, finding good stretches of paths where we could trot and canter. It was just a time of strength training for Speckles.

Since he has been at his winter barn for January and February, he has lost some of his pudginess. He is turned out in a large pasture with half a dozen horses who he won't leave alone. This is not the geriatric crew; these horses run him off, he comes back for more. He is getting more exercise than he ever got at home. Plus, he doesn't really like the change in his hay - he just picks at it. And there hasn't been any grass since November. So he is in great shape - looks like an athlete, moves like an athlete. The difference is striking - we cantered circles today, in the indoor arena. This has been difficult for him - circles require the horse to really use his hind legs up underneath himself. Young horses tire very easily on the circle. Speckles had been unable to keep going more than a circle at a time before he would break back into the trot. But Monday and today, he circled like it was not a big deal at all. This after not having been ridden for well over a week. I couldn't believe how it suddenly seemed easy for him.

I alternate between riding Buckles one day, Speckles the next. When I rode Buckles on Tuesday, he was also in a good place. We struggle with cantering to the right - on this side, he leans heavily on the right rein and is unbalanced and pulling on me. This becomes a Catch-22 - the more unbalanced he feels, the more he leans on the right rein, the heavier he gets in front, the faster he thinks he needs to go to be balanced. The faster he goes, the more he leans on the right rein... So he's rushing around unbalanced and leaning on the rein. It is a horrible feeling - like we are surely going to fall. On the other hand, going to the left, he is a dream. He's off the leg and on the hand and in the bridle and talking to me all relaxed and pleasant. So I know it's not a bad attitude that causes our problems to the right - it's a stiffness and strength issue and we've been working on it. I have been able to get moments where the right lead canter was okay. On Tuesday, we had the best right lead canter that we've ever had. He just didn't lean; he let me play the reins and we had a pleasant conversation, through the reins, about balance and softness. It was so good, I called out to the others in the barn, "Look, quick!" They've seen our struggles so knew right away that this was a Big Deal. Very fun and rewarding.

I use clicker-training on both of these guys and it has been wonderful as far as getting them to work towards something (a reward) instead of away from something (punishment). They are very willing workers because of clicker-training. To find out about it, check out Alexandra Kurland's website, and/or Karen Pryor's website, Read their sites, then read their books. It is all great stuff about really learning to interact positively with any creature. The Science of behavior.

Our dog gets rewarded with turkey pepperoni (very lowfat). She has quite a bag of tricks. I will see if I can learn to post video.

Buckles' and Speckles' favorite rewards are Ginger Snap cookies that I buy at Wal-Mart. For really special treats, I make:

Horse Granola

Mix together 4 cups oatmeal (I use Old-Fashioned, but the Quick kind would be fine, too.), 1/2 cup of honey, 1/2 cup of molasses, 1/2 cup of maple (flavored) syrup, (or any combination of these sweeteners), two big apples, finely chopped. Mix all the ingredients together, spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until it begins to dry into clumps that you can handle. Let cool completely. Put in a bowl with a lid or a zip-lock baggie to take to the barn.

I make this when I am taking the horses to a new place; it is useful in keeping their attention glued to me. Remember, in training, catch your creature doing something good. Reward them for that and they will want to do it again. If they're like Speckles, they'll want to do it again, and again, and again, especially if the reward is Horse Granola. As Alexandra Kurland says, your horse will try to figure out how to train You, the vending machine, to deliver the goodies. Read about clicker-training, and read about the science behind it. It works.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Back on my piddling schedule

First, I took the boys to school. They were on a two-hour delay so we were unhurried which was good because Logan had much stuff to carry - his books, his backpack, his science fair project board, and his now-belated Valentine's Day gift for Sydney. Luke had to help Logan get all of his stuff into school.

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Logan with Sydney's Valentine's Day present.
(It's candy and a bracelet he made.)

When I got home, I turned on The Diane Rehm Show and started piddling around this place. Yesterday I got off my schedule because I took the kids and some of their friends to the bowling alley. While I was in town, I went to the grocery store. It really is amazing how fast things (dishes and laundry) pile up. So I was glad that the kids went to school and I had the day ahead of me to whip things into shape.

I started right in on the laundry and dishes. I was rushing around here like Zippity Rabbit which made me wish that I hadn't broken my pedometer two days ago. So I went on-line and got side-tracked looking for reviews of pedometers, which led me to reviews of the best walking shoes, which led me to "the ten biggest walking mistakes." I made a list of the best pedometers and shoes to take with me next Wednesday when I'll be in Cincinnati for Logan's orthodontist appointment.

Even though I love to cook and eat, I also love to be healthy and in reasonable shape. Luckily, I have four calorie-burning things that I love to do - horse-riding, volleyball (we play almost every evening in the summer), dancing, and walking. Walking is my winter sport. I go down in the basement and tear it up on the treadmill. A pedometer helps me keep track of the walking I do all day, not just the treadmill walking. Wearing a pedometer motivates me to walk even more. So when I say "I did laundry," you have to imagine me rushing around here with stacks of sorted clothes or laundry baskets.

I made some phone calls to bag customers, fixed myself half of a meatloaf sandwich, and listened to the second hour of Diane Rehm. I was feeling a low-blood-sugar feeling and started looking around for something to bake. I had some cranberries in the refrigerator that I've been meaning to use since Christmas; I got them out and they were mostly still good. I picked through them and threw away the mushy ones. The rest I used to make this amazing recipe that comes from Laurie Colwin's book "More Home Cooking." The friend who gave this recipe to Ms. Colwin called it Nantucket Cranberry Pie, which is misleading because this is a cake. A fruity, buttery, walnut-ty concoction that is made to go with a cup of coffee.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie (cake)
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1. Chop enough cranberries to make 2 cups and enough walnuts to make 1/2 cup. (I do this in my blender and usually use extra walnuts because I love them.)
2. In the bottom of a 10-inch pie plate or springform pan, place the chopped cranberries, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 cup sugar.
3. Mix 2 eggs, 3/4 cup melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Stir until smooth.
4. Pour over cranberry-walnut mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When it has been out of the oven for ten minutes, invert onto a plate and let cool completely before covering. I always set the timer for that 10 minutes because things left in the pan longer don't want to come out. (I let a birthday cake sit in the pan overnight one time and had to scrape it out with a knife the next day.)

This is everything you could want in a recipe - it is simple to make and sublime to eat. The cranberries and nuts allow me to convince myself that it even has some nutritional value. So I don't have to worry too much about that broken pedometer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snowy Valentines Day

Snowy Day
Looking across our backyard

I woke up this morning knowing what I was going to cook today. All the stars were aligned for a perfect day of piddling. Another snow day - the kids don't need to be driven anywhere; the house is reasonably clean, can't get to the barn to ride, and it's Valentines Day which calls for special eats.

Last week, as he does before every minor holiday, Tim asked me, "Do we do Valentines Day?"

"Not anymore," I said.

I had been in Wal-Mart the day before and had looked at cards. Jeez, what a bunch of sap. After 18 years of marriage, all the flowery cards "to my wonderful husband" made me want to gag; but the joking cards seemed to say, I don't like you enough to get you a sappy card." So we don't do Valentines day anymore.

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Tim and I on Valentine's Day

Well, we don't do cards. But I knew that today I was going to fix my sweetie his favorite treat - Cheesecake Cupcakes out of the Nestle Recipe Collection book. I also knew that I would be cooking meatloaf and baked mac-and-cheese for a special dinner for all my sweeties. There are very few foods that all four of us relish - meatloaf is one of them.

First, I was fixing breakfast; well, brunch. Last night, before I fell asleep, I picked up one of the books next to the bed, a favorite when it's late and I don't want to read for long - The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis. This is a book about farm cooking - about people who raised their chickens and milked their cows and grew their vegetables. It is a book that makes me hungry for an era as well as for food.

Anyway, I came across a recipe for, get this, Ham in Heavy Cream Sauce, and, amazingly enough, I had both of those things in my refrigerator, left over from a family reunion held here last Sunday. Here is what the wonderful Ms. Lewis says about this concoction: "Ham in heavy cream sauce was the most delicious combination one could ever hope to taste in leftovers." The instructions were ridiculously easy: slice up the good pieces left on the ham (I took care to remove all the fat). Ms. Lewis put the cream in the pan first, then the ham, but I fried the ham in a skillet for a few minutes, removed from heat and added cream (what I had was heavy whipping cream) to almost cover the ham. Ms. Lewis says, "The ham and cream mixture was then set on the back of the stove to heat without even reaching a simmer." I had to keep removing the skillet from the burner to keep it from simmering. Cream can't be boiled. While this was warming, I fried scrambled eggs and made jelly toast. Logan ate with me. He declared brunch "amazing." From now on, when I buy a ham (at Christmas) I'm buying cream. This is decadent but it'll be all right once or twice a year.

Later in the day, I made Cheesecake Cupcakes.
Cheesecake Cupcakes
8 oz. cream cheese (I use low-fat Neufchatel cheese.)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg (I save four grams of fat by using the white only)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (if you have cake flour on hand, use half all purpose flour and half cake flour for a lighter cake.)
1 t. baking soda
dash salt
1/2 cup sugar
5 T. butter or 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I like them better with butter)
1 egg (I use the white only)
1 t. vanilla (please, pure vanilla extract only. It's worth the cost.)
1 cup water

Filling: In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, and egg. Beat until creamy. Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Set aside.

Cake: In large glass bowl, melt together the chocolate chips and the butter; stir until smooth. Add sugar, egg, and vanilla. (Also the vegetable oil if using it instead of butter.) Beat all until smooth. Mix in 1/2 cup flour until smooth; then 1/2 cup water until smooth, then 1/2 cup more of flour, 1/2 cup more of water. End with last 1/2 cup of flour to which you have added the baking soda and dash of salt. Stir until almost smooth but don't overmix or cupcakes will become tough. In paper-lined cupcake pan (this will make about 14 cupcakes), place enough batter to fill about 1/3 full. Add large dollop of the cream cheese mixture over the batter, then spoon remaining batter over the filling. Put water in any empty places in the pan (this will add steam to the over that will make a nice rise and texture). Place in cool oven, turn on to 350 degrees, bake for 20 minutes.

Us eating cupcakes
Lukey and I dig in.

I am being called to watch a movie. The Two Towers and a fire in the fireplace - happy Valentine's Day to me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An oatmeal kind of morning

A day made for piddling around the house.

The boys are on a snow day. Late morning, Logan and I worked on his science fair project. It's about subliminal messages; he inserted messages into music (yel-low, yel-low, yel-low) and tried to influence folks' color choice. But it had no effect - nada - compared to his control group. But his display for the science fair looks great and is full of good info. We even added a subliminal message to the display - some of the stickers are small blue ribbons that say "First Place." There's a sign at the end that asks, "Did you see the subliminal messages in this display?" Tim was the first one who looked at it and he didn't notice the blue ribbons at all. We were happy. We put them there so they stuck out like fireworks to us. (We hope the judges have a sense of humor.)

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Logan with his Science Fair Project

Before the boys got up, my morning went like this:

9:00 ish - Roll out and get started piddling. Mornings are the best piddling time.
9:02 ish - Let Trixie out. She and I are morning bums.
9:03 ish - Let Trixie in. She does not do inclement weather. Fastest pottier in the land.
9:05 - clean the litter box.
9:10 - feed the critters - Trixie and the five cats.
9:12 - fold clothes in dryer. Move clothes from washer to dryer. Start 'nother load of laundry.
9:20 - check e-mail and respond as needed. This morning it was to a bag customer, setting up a meeting for next Wednesday. We will be showing him a mock-up of a new bag.

Also made morning calls to the Bag Co., my faithful employer. I always talk to Tom. I should admit that I'm a sales rep., for said Bag Co. I have these customers, see, mostly feed mills, and they need bags, lots of bags, for horse feed and cattle feed and sheep feed etc. So they call me. And I put their orders in, and I call Tom a dozen times a day and say, Hey, how about that order for so and so....he checks into it, calls me back, then I call them back -"Yeah, Charlie, those horse bags should deliver by Friday."

In between all these calls, I piddle.

I have to get those calls out of the way so that by 10 a.m. I am ready to start in on cleaning the kitchen. The kitchen needs cleaned at 10 a.m. because that is the time that the Diane Rehm show is on my local NPR station. Diane Rehm is my idol. Oh that I could be so wise as her. Her show is my Adult Current Events Education. You can check out the show at

Sometime in between the laundry and Diane Rehm, I fixed myself oatmeal for breakfast. I had heavy cream in the fridge and it was calling my name. The stuff is addictive. Plus it was snowing/sleeting/raining. Cold and icy outside, warm and cozy inside. So it was an oatmeal morning. Oatmeal needs to be the old-fashioned kind. This is what it says right on the round box - "Old-fashioned". What this means is that the oats have not been ground up into little pieces. They are oats, like what a horse eats. And they don't take any longer to cook than the ground up "quick" oats. And they are so much more satisfying (in cookies, too).

Old-fashioned Oatmeal

Take a micro-wave safe bowl, put in about 3/4 cup water (for one serving). Put in microwave for about two minutes until it begins to boil. Use hot pads to remove bowl from microwave to counter. Pour in oats a bit at a time until the water is almost full of oats (they will expand a little to soak up the rest of the water). Loosely cover bowl and place back in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. Remove, stir. Add in, to taste, some brown sugar, a dab of vanilla, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, and if you happen to have it on hand, pour in several glugs of heavy whipping cream. (Or half-&-half or milk.) Stir all, adjust to taste.

It's even better eaten standing at a window of a warm, cozy house watching it snow and blow outside, with a Trixie at your feet.

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The lovely Miss Trixie