Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Very Cool Horse

Today, as I was unsaddling Speckles after a trail ride, Tim walked into the barn and told me a story that warmed the cockles of my heart.

"That stupid horse," he began, with a nod toward Speckles so I would know which stupid horse he was referring to this time. He continued, "I was out here in the barn yesterday and Speckles came running in to his stall, backed up to the muck bucket, and pooped in it."

Well, glory be.

My decidedly not stupid Speckles:
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To take this photo, I stood in the doorway at the front of his stall. Behind him is the gate into the pasture. (It's all dirt out there because we're in the process of building an outdoor riding arena.) The red thing in the corner is the muck bucket.

Since he was born, Speckles has always chosen his pooping spots carefully. He backs up to things to do his business - the fence, a tree, the corner of his stall. This made a lightbulb go off over my head. Perhaps, I thought, I can take this tendency of his and teach him to do his business in the muck bucket. A very cool behavior and one less chore for me.

Training commenced. At first I put the muck bucket in his stall and watched to see what happened. He was masterful at pooping to either side of it. But, because I had begun paying attention, I began to notice when he pooped. He often went as soon as he entered the stall in the morning to be fed. Or, if not when he first entered the stall, then it would be about twenty minutes after he ate. More often than not, I missed it when he pooped. He would do it when I was dishing out grain or while I was next door feeding my neighbor girl's horses.

But a couple of times, I was ready. I would see him take the turn around the stall to put his butt in the corner. He already knew how to "target" on my hand, to follow it, so I used this skill to back him up so he was lined up with the bucket. And he'd stand there wondering what I wanted, trying to figure it out. While he stood there, I "clicked" occasionally and gave him a treat just for standing lined up with the bucket. Some days he moved just enough to miss the bucket, then pooped real fast. Other days, he just decided to hold it until I grew tired of the game. Then I'd open his gate and he'd go outside and poop.

But then one day, he pooped and it landed in the muck bucket. Ding, ding, I chimed. Speckles knows what this means. It means he did something really good, something that earned him a jackpot - a half cup of sweet feed. (His regular food is a pellet. More nutritious but not as tasty as oats and corn covered with molasses.) Wow, I could hear him thinking. A jackpot for pooping?

Then it happened a second time. Maybe it was a week or ten days later. By now, Speckles knew what I wanted had something to do with the bucket and something to do with pooping but he hadn't put it all together. I could see his brain spinning as he began experimenting to see what kind of poop earned a jackpot. Poop to the left. Nothing. Poop to the right, ditto. Poop in the middle. Ding, ding. At this point, he began pooping all the time as soon as he entered the stall. It was now a game we were playing. He knew there was a jackpot in it for him if I saw him poop in the bucket.

Eventually, it happened that I would come out in the morning and find fresh poop in the bucket. Speckles and Mr. B come up and stand in their stalls to sleep so I figured he was up there napping then took a little poo before he went back out to graze.

He got rewarded more and more often. He got used to the particular position he needed to be in in order for the manure to land in the bucket. He got used to the feel of his tail brushing against the bucket (something he did not like in the beginning).

So I knew he was getting good at this.

However, I never expected that he would be out lolly-gagging around the pasture with Mr. B, munching on some good green grass, and he would feel a little poopy urge and a lightbulb would go off in his head that said, ooo, I should run up to the barn and go in the muck bucket.

Is that too cool or what?

I hope this little story warmed the cockles of your heart, too.
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My sweet Speckles

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My Very Cool Horse

His registered name is Doctor Buckles but he answers to Mr. B. He is a nineteen-year-old Thoroughbred ex-racehorse; I bought him when he was twelve. At that time, he still thought he was a race horse. I have been riding him four or five times a week for the past six and a half years. We are finally figuring things out.
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Me and The Amazing Mr. B.

Funny thing, every time my riding got better my horse got better, too. And now this old guy (and old gal) are able to canter like this.

For those of you unfamiliar with horses/riding, let me point out what's good here. See how far his hind legs are under his body? See how carrying himself with his hind legs under him allows him to be up and free in his shoulders? See how his head is flexed (nose kind of tucked in, not out or up and pulling), this means he is right in my hands and we are very quietly communicating through the reins. Note also the "listening" position of his ears.

Last but not least, see how upright my position is? If you took Buckles out from underneath me, I would land standing on my feet. It took me forever to be able to get and keep this position in motion, but without me in this balanced, controlled position, Buckles would not be able to do the neat things he is doing.

We have come a long way in the six years we've been together. He used to lean on the reins so hard my shoulders ached. The correction for a leaning horse is to put your legs on and try to push the hind legs under his body. Back then, if I put my legs on, Buckles became electrified with the thought that I was asking him to RACE! And we would be off, pounding over uneven ground with him leaning on the bit for all he was worth.

One day, at our old house, I was riding Buckles through several inches of snow next to the road. I thought, well, if I'm going to fall off, I might as well fall off in snow. So I asked for the canter. About this time our neighbor, also a horseman, drove up behind us and began keeping pace with us. He later reported to the other horsemen in the community that he clocked us at 40 mph. I was mildly famous in that neighborhood because of this.

Through it all, I could see Buckles had great natural ability to do dressage movements. He did them not under saddle, but when he was free in the pasture. The flying lead changes, the piaffe, the passage were all in there; I just had to become a good enough rider to get them out.

We're getting there.

Look for me and my buddy in the 2012 Olympics.
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Friday, April 27, 2007

National Honor Society inductee

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Luke and his mentor/theatre teacher after the ceremony.

Luke was inducted into his high school's chapter of the National Honor Society this week.

I have this thought going through my head of something I read once, advising mothers to forgive themselves for mistakes their children make. The author's reasoning was that, as mothers, we don't have to take the blame when they're bad because we don't take the credit when they're good. When, for instance, they get good grades or are accidentally nice to siblings.

The thing is, if one of my kids ever did something really bad, there would be no end to me blaming myself. So I feel entirely justified in taking the credit when one of them does something good.

Not only did I carry him in my belly for nine months - nay, forty weeks which by my reckoning is ten months - I sang to him, read to him, played music for him while he was in there. I ate healthy foods, gave up alcohol (easy)and caffeine (not so easy).

I endured labor. Medals should be awarded.

At each stage of his life, in-utero and ex-utero, I read books and magazines and anything I could get my hands on to make sure he was keeping up and growing up and reaching all the milestones experts said he should reach.

And he's so much like me: he's curious, he reads, he thinks.

The credit is mine! All mine!

(Maniacal mommy laughter...)

And if one of my boys ever does do something bad, it'll be because of that unfortunate gene they got from their father, of course.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I thought I began this blog as a place to finally record all the recipes I've said for years I was going to write down. But I'm a Piddler; by definition I lack focus. I have been off on all kinds of tangents and began to think the recipes slowed the blog down. But I still want them recorded so I'm starting a new blog--The Piddler's Recipes or something (anyone have a better name? Please?)where, when I mention food here, I will link it to the recipe blog. I hope it will be a good compromise and not too much extra work. An experiment in blogging. Naw, not an experiment, an adventure.

Environmental Goddess

Yep. That's me.

I spent the day recuperating from the weekend. I rode Buckles, piddled around doing housework, made chicken salad (which is the first thing I crave when the weather turns hot), and baked lemon bars.

While the lemon bars baked, I went to No Impact Man's blog and, as I've been promising myself, started at the beginning. It was slow going because I kept stopping to do the things he suggests. So far today I removed myself and Tim from junk mail lists here (at a cost of $1 each name and about 1 minute).

I removed us from credit card mailing lists by calling 888-567-8688.

And I replaced twelve regular light bulbs with the compact florescent bulbs I bought a month ago but never got around to actually installing.

The title Environmental Goddess is very tongue in cheek. That's what I'd like to be but, so far, all I've done is the easy stuff. I recycle. I reduce and re-use but that might be more because I'm cheap than because of the environment. I turn off lights, do errands when I'm already in town, run the laundry and the dishwasher only when they're full. Again, maybe because I'm more cheap than green.

Even now, I have mixed motives for my renewed green-ness. I have stuck in my head a statement from a New York Times article where a general (I think) said something to the effect that buying oil from the Middle East is funding the rope to hang ourselves. In my heart of hearts, I know this is true.

As I know that billions of humans on our little planet hurtling through space cannot help but have some kind of effect--on climate, on air quality, on water, on resources. Frankly, I'm tired of the debate. I read somewhere else (don't remember where) if a doctor told me my kid was sick and there was a ninety-percent chance his illness was caused by eating too much peanut butter, then I'd get him off the peanut butter. I have to wonder, at what percentage of certainty will I think I should do more for my planet?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Best Day of the Year

The day the volleyball net goes up is the best day of the year.

Today, the court was already crowded and waiting while Tim did the deed. In the middle of it, his phone rang but he worked on.
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Finally, the games began.

Luke and Logan played doubles against some friends. Here's Logan going up for the big spike.
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(Tim still has phone to ear.)

Luke sets Logan up for another kill:
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(Tim still on phone, talking to his dad but itching to get off the phone and play ball.)

A shot of Luke and Logan and my yard-anal neighbor's park-like grounds.
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Tim and I met in a volleyball league more than twenty years ago. Now, sand volleyball is our family sport. For sure, this is the best day of the year around here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Heart sore

Better are the days when the New York Times' headlines are lame. Today they are anything but...

Iran Exonerates Six Who Killed in Islam's Name - one engaged couple was killed for being "immoral" because they walked together in public.

Bombs Rip Through Baghdad, Killing 171 - "five horrific explosions aimed mainly at Shiite crowds"

And then the news and video from Virginia Tech.

Trying to write about it seems to trivialize it.

Trying to understand it...impossible.

Here's one thing I'd like to know: When do these people have time for this stuff? I am so busy living and trying to keep my own nose - not to mention my house - clean. How do these people have time to obsess so much about what others are doing? Do they eat? Do laundry? Study? Work?

A question: Do I really want to know how killers think?

A thought: Maybe it's a mistake to think all killers think alike.

Final question: What would the world be like if every person focused on cleaning up his or her own act?

(Question to self: Where to start?)

I won't take it for granted anymore when the headlines are lame. That's a good news day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Road Trip

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Been gone to Pennslyvania to look at a college for Luke. I just wrote about adjusting to the thought of him driving; compound that with the fact that he'll be a senior next year and then leave me to go to college. I can't breathe when I think about it.

When they were little it seemed we had all the time in the world....

I wish you all knew Luke; if you did, you'd have renewed faith in the next generation.

When Luke goes off to college, it will be as if Logan is an only child. That makes me sad for Logan. Who's gonna teach a kid hard lessons better than a sibling?

Luke fell in love with the college we visited, the Robert E. Cook Honors College at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Luke was in geek heaven; he met a bunch of kids who think like him which is to say so brilliant it's freaky. I was impressed with the Honors College more than I was with the university overall.

The big downer is that it takes five hours to drive there. That means I won't be able to pop over for a music recital or a marching band performance or a play; it means I'll have to pick and choose one thing or another. With Logan still in school, I'll end up missing most of the things Luke will be in.

How do mothers survive this stuff? Is there a support group for Mothers Whose Firstborn Is Moving Away?

I think I need a hug...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Busy Patting Myself on the Back

I finally sat down and e-mailed all the companies who send me catalogs and other mail and asked to be removed from their mailing list. I'm totally inspired by No Impact Man. This is one of those things I've meant to do for a long time but never got around to doing. It was easier than I thought and took less time than I expected.

I even made suggestions to my favorite (horse catalog) companies. Instead of sending me a catalog, they should send me an e-mail inviting me to their web-site. Maybe they could even put my name in a drawing for ten dollars (or something) off my next purchase if I visit the website. It seems like a win-win-win situation to me - less mail for me to wade through, less cost to the company, less impact on the environment.

Yep. Feeling pretty good here. Excuse me for a moment while I pat myself on the back.

In other news
Kamikaze Kardinal is back. Well, actually he never left the yard; I have heard him and seen him in the trees around the house. I now realize he has been flying around studying the guards posted at the windows and has deduced that they never move. Therefore, he reasoned, all is safe to renew his assault.
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He is lovely and vigorous but he ain't right in the head. I'm not sure it's a good thing if this guy breeds. Any birders out there have any advice or opinion on this matter?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Feeling Random

Now eating a bowl of ice cream called Death by Chocolate. That's how I want to go.

Speaking of going, at our next big family get-together, we are having a Living Will Festival. I will provide the necessary paperwork; those who wish to join in the festivities and ensure their future death and burial wishes are carried out can fill out the appropriate forms and have other family members sign as witnesses. Even take home copies as keepsakes. Woo-hoo.

I've been using Tim's manly man deodorant and it works better than my girlie girl stuff. Smells okay, too.

The National Debt Clock shows that our nation's debt is nearing 9 trillion dollars; it increases by nearly 2 billion dollars every day. To pay it off, it would cost every US citizen nearly $30 thousand dollars. How did this happen? It makes me sad to think of my beloved country in this quandary.

Logan has been reading the Margaret Peterson Haddix books about the Shadow Children and he's loving them. At his insistence, Tim and I are reading them too. We have had some great conversations about the "Population Police." Logan was bowled over to learn that in China couples are only allowed to have one child. He couldn't believe that his books could be true. Or that, in real life, governments could/would regulate the number of children folks could have. I love books for kids that make kids think.

I feel sad today about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners holding a hunger strike. I feel sad that they have been in prison for five years without a trial (without charges pressed against them, even). Isn't a fair and speedy trial one of our basic tenets? I used to write messages for Luke and Logan, posted where they'd see 'em every time they pooped, that said, Being nice when it's easy to be nice doesn't count near as much as being nice when it's hard to be nice and Giving folks a fair and speedy trial when it's easy to give a fair and speedy trial doesn't illuminate democracy near as much as giving folks a fair and speedy trial when they might be enemy combatants. Or something like that. Does anyone have access to bathrooms in the capital so I could post my mom notes there?

Oh, and am I the only one who thinks it mighty strange that Guantanamo Bay is in Cuba? Fidel Castro land? Sometimes I feel as if I've fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice. The landscape has shifted 'til I can't make out what's strange, what's normal.

I'm feeling very random today but expect to feel better tomorrow cause the weather report says: "The sun'll come out tomorrow, tomorrow."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter Snow

We are fighting the winter blahs.

Spring was just flirting with us; she has not committed. We are forcing ourselves to keep going while the easy chair and blankets sing their siren song: "Come hibernate; rest yourself until winter is really over."

The resistance goes weakly on.

Today we resisted by washing sheets!
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Tim pausing to flex for the photographer.
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Got to love a guy who washes sheets and has something that flexes when he does.

We had an on-going game of Scrabble all day. It's the best way to play: Tim takes a turn, goes and washes sheets. I finish what I'm doing then take a turn. I get lots of time to try to come up with words that use all my letters without Tim sitting there huffing and sighing because I take too long.

Here's Tim cheating when he thinks I'm not looking.
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The boys were off in different directions all day. We didn't get around to coloring eggs until 9 p.m.

A portrait of the artist currently known as Logan:
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Lukey's default position:
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My bunny eggs singing "Little Rabbit Foo-Foo:
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(Logan did not think I would post that photo.)

I heard Tim say this to Logan today: "You kids'll be digging Easter eggs out with a snow shovel tomorrow."

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I don't know if I can stand it. The easy chairs need to shut up already.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Vehicular Shopicide

Luke's upcoming 16th birthday in June has me in a tizzy for more reasons than I can count.

First of all, how is it possible he is turning 16? He was just born, oh, three years ago....wasn't he?

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Lukey, the day before yesterday.

How is it he will be driving? Driving himself to all the things he now needs me to drive him to? Who will sing Broadway tunes with him at top of lungs until our destination is reached? Who will sing with me?

(Pause for panic attack. Can't breathe, can't breathe.)


However, my most impending problem right now is finding a vehicle. Not for Luke; for me. Luke will inherit my mini-van. It's reliable And it's not the smallest vehicle on the road. Luke will have Visibility.

So I am shopping for a vehicle.

I like to think of myself as a person who considers vehicles purely as instruments for getting from point A to point B. No status symbols for me. No Mercedes. No Beamer. No Jag.

What I say I want is the most fuel-efficient vehicle I can find that will get me where I'm going and have room for groceries or the occasional saddle or two. So basically I'm looking for the most fuel-efficient hatchback out there. That's what I say. That's what I like to believe I believe.

So far, I've found three vehicles that meet my criteria:

Ford Focus Hatchback. I e-mailed Ford to ask about a fuel-efficient hatchback and they got right back with me about the Focus. It gets 27 mpg city/37 mpg highway. That's pretty good mileage. Plus, Ford gets points for having a place on their web-site where I could contact them. They get points for getting right back with me. They get little bitty extra points for still being, in my mind, an American Company.

Chevy Malibu Hatchback. This is a car I have noticed on the road. It's actually kind of cute. The Chevy web-site doesn't give much info, but I parked next to a guy in Lowe's parking lot last week and accosted him as he was getting out of his Malibu hatchback. Did he like it? Yes, very much. Gas mileage? About 30 mpg. I tried to contact Chevy from their website; if there is a way to e-mail them, I couldn't find it. They lost points for that. The gas mileage is okay but nothing spectacular. Like Ford, they get the "American Company" extra credit.

Here is the vehicle I am trying to love: Volkswagen Golf. It gets forty-four miles per gallon on the highway. Forty. Four. And it looks...okay. Volkswagen gets big points for truth in advertising. Volkswagen Golf., it does resemble a golf cart.

Could I learn to love it?

I am humbled to admit that maybe I want a vehicle that gets great mileage and is a little bit cool. Or great mileage and cute. I'd settle for cute.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

War is Over?

It's quiet here today.

Strangely quiet.

Too quiet.

I'm waiting; listening. Surely I can't have won this easily.

Who would have thought I'd miss the challenge of outwitting my foe?

I've seen him in the trees today, where he always hangs out when he's pretending not to be the crazed bird banging on the windows.

Is that it? The war is over?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A War of Will

We are under seige.

Kamikaze Kardinal is winning.

He has found the two windows in our house that don't have screens and he throws himself against one or the other of these windows relentlessly.

I worry that he will either hurt himself or be shot by my husband. His incessant banging against the windows is making us crazy.

For a couple of days, I snuck up on him as he banged away and I jumped at the window like a madman and scared him. He's savvy, though, and began to sit innocently singing in the tree whenever he saw me skulking about. As soon as I gave up, he was back at the windows.

Plan B: A guard was posted at one of the windows:
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That's Mister Big Bird to you, buddy.

Mr. Big Bird was effective. See Mr. Innocent sitting in the tree trying to look nonchalant? However, it didn't take him long to think, hey, I'll go check the front window.

Picture this: bird frantically flinging himself against window; human frantically cutting black construction paper and taping human silhouette to said window.

Bird not slowing for a second.
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Bird singing mockingly on windowsill:
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Human pondering further. Thinking okay, Big Bird was effective. Why? Because he's a bird? Because, unlike the paper silhouette, he's three dimensional? Because he's bright yellow and has big eyes?

Hhhhmmmmm.....what else might we have here?

Guard number two:
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Garfield on duty.

Very effective. So far.

The war goes on. Kazi is an unknowing participant in my behavior experiments.

Or perhaps I'm an unknowing participant in his behavior experiments.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The World's Most Spoiled Person:

Is me.

Today's my 46th birthday. I am the world's most spoiled person.

Last night, my boys took me to LaComedia dinner/theatre to eat good food and see Oklahoma! the musical. It was a fun time.
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This morning, my actual birthday, while still lying abed I heard busy-ness in the kitchen. I was offered the choice between breakfast in bed or breakfast at the table with everyone else. I chose breakfast with everyone else. I got up in time to catch the cooks in action:
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Luke serenaded breakfast, playing songs he knows I like.
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Then I went out to feed the animals, clean the barn, and ride Speckles. We had a long, fun trail ride. Logan took photos for me as we were leaving.
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Tim made me a masterpiece:
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He asked, "Does it matter if you use corn syrup instead of the vegetable oil that the recipe on the box calls for?" I thought, oh no. But it turns out it doesn't matter. The texture was a little different but if you didn't know he substituted corn syrup for the oil, you'd never have known.

Then, joy, joy, joy, mom and Poppy got here. They've been in Florida for three months and just got home yesterday. It was great to see them. Especially my mom - she is especially special to me.
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They brought Kentucky Fried Chicken for a late lunch and another cake. Mom made what we call Grandma Rose's Special Cake.

(Is anyone keeping a tally of how much food so far?)

Me and my boys:
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Getting ready to blow out the candles:
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Riding my New Bike:
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(Got to get some sun on those legs.)

Then at dark, the chorus of spring peepers started up in my neighbor's ponds. We got our flashlights and camera and went to see nature's version of a Roman bath house. Logan took these photos:
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Hear spring peepers calling here.

One last photo. This is what 46 looks like (on me).
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The World's Most Spoiled Person signing off.