Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santa visits

Cory meets Santa and Cory believes.

Trixie believes in anyone who might pet her.

Cory nearly melts down when his sister tells Santa that he had been naughty.

Chris, Carlena, Cory, Santa, Cameron, Courtney

Cory gives Santa the lowdown on Courtney's naughty behavior.

Our own Christmas Madonna and baby.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Parade

I've been neglecting my blog because I'm working on a book but before the holidays are over, I wanted to post photos from my town's recent Christmas Parade.
From left to right: Shelley, Haley, me.

Left to right: John, Shelley, Veronica, me, Sydney, Haley, and that's Emma in back.

We went from the Christmas parade to the Christmas show and it was a blast all around. The only drawback is feeling like I'm so far behind on my own Christmas stuff and the big day's coming up fast.

But I wouldn't have missed the parade and the show for the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Darby Diaries - Equine WWF

We are having Indian summer in Ohio - perfect clear crisp days with temperatures in the 60s. Every morning, I look out my windows and this is what I see: the Equine World Wrestling Federation.
Gentlemen, take your corner. (It makes me laugh that they hold their games in the little arena instead of in their four acre pasture.)
Ding ding ding!
Rear up, bare your teeth, and look really ferocious but make sure no-one gets hurt.
The referee (Buckles) is forced to break it up before it gets out of hand.
Passage is the only way to express feeling this alive and manly. (Darby)
When the mornings are this lovely, you just gotta gallop. (Darby)

(I took these photos from inside the house. I tried on several mornings to go outside and take photos but the second they heard me coming they went to their stalls for breakfast.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

writing my book

Logan and I are sick today. He's playing his guitar (working on the song Vanilla Twilight) and I am working on my book.

I just told him what it's like to write a book.

I said, "I go back and forth between thinking it's a heartbreaking work of staggering genius to thinking it's the most boring drivel ever put on a page."

He said, "I don't think you're capable of writing the most boring drivel ever put on a page." (Bless you my son.)

Then I said, "I'll be tooling along on a scene, thinking, wow, I'm really developing this character and then my saboteur voice goes, 'Hey, when's something gonna happen here already?" (I don't know why this voice has a Cliffy Claven Boston accent, but it does.)

Logan chuckled at my angst and went back to playing his guitar.

That's what's happening at my house today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lovely October

It has been a fun, eventful month.

Carlena's new baby was born: Cory, Chris, baby Cameron, Carlena, Courtney

Joanie was here to see the new baby. Here she is trying to relax on the couch and talk on the phone but Trixie and Black Jack think she sat down to pet them. Everbody loves Aunt Joanie.

Last night, we went to our local pub's Halloween party. I went as Sarah P. and Tim and our neighbor Paul went as my Secret Service dudes. They played their roles to the hilt. We drove there in Paul's big black SUV, pulled up to the curb beside the bar, Tim and Paul got out and "secured the area" while a crowd of people waiting to go in looked on with interest. Then they opened my door and helped me out and the waiting crowd got it immediately. I pretended they were all there for my fundraiser so I shook a lot of hands.
It was very fun - whether they love Sarah or hate her, everyone wanted to talk to her (me) last night. Oh, and Sarah, I did my best on the dance floor to ruin (or improve?) your reputation in my county.

Security getting friendly with the locals.

Sarah P. meets Octomom (and kisses eight babies).

It was too much fun and a great end to a great month.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Logan and Haley at Homecoming

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Darby Diaries - Life is good

When my neighbor friend, Libby, a horse-crazy twelve-year old, spotted Speckles and I coming home from a trail ride the other day, she trotted (on foot) up behind us. I haven't seen her much since school started and volleyball at our house ended for the season. She had something she wanted to tell me.

She was out of breath. She said hello to Speckles and patted his nose. Speckles likes Libby and he likes any reason to stop, even if we are almost home, so he was happy to stand there on the road.

I said, "How's school?"

"Good," she said. "I had to write an essay on 'Life is Good' so I wrote five paragraphs on Speckles, Buckles, and Darby."

Libby & Speckles
(Libby and Speckles, 2007)

She followed us back to the barn. While I finished up with Speckles, Libby hung around, talking to me and petting Darby, who was hanging his head outside his stall hoping for attention. Libby patted him, talked to me, talked to him, picked up stray bits of hay and gave them to him.

It was only later that I realized how wonderful Darby's behavior had been. There was no fussing - no pushy head nodding, no lips or teeth, nothing. You would have thought she was petting a trustworthy old gelding.

Darby is not gelded. I would like to keep him uncut for at least another year. His dad is being ridden by Courtney King-Dye and she is going to try to qualify him for next summer's World Equestrian Games in Lexington. If his dad would do well in Kentucky, I think his owners will aim him towards the 2012 Olympics. If any of this comes to pass, Darby's value as a stallion could be huge. But I will only keep him a stallion as long as he is safe and pleasant and easy to be around. I'm not brave and I have crappy insurance.

I've been studying on this, trying to figure out which of his behaviors stem from being a colt and which behaviors stem from being a yearling. I have worked with horses for more than twenty years but Darby is the first stallion I have handled and trained alone. (There were a lot of little kids around here when Speckles was born so he was gelded as soon as both testicles dropped.)

Thinking about it though, I remember some two-year-old uncut horses who were in training at a Standardbred barn where I worked. They were handled daily - groomed, tacked up, hooked to a racing cart, exercised, bathed, cooled out, etc. I don't remember ever feeling scared or even uncomfortable around them. But Standardbreds, in my experience (the ones at the two barns I worked at, anyway) are pretty laid back horses. On the other hand, I once worked at a Thoroughbred barn where two-year-olds of all three sexual persuasions were beginning their racing training and they were the scariest horses I have ever been around. This was no slacker barn. The trainer I worked for was, at that time, my state's winningest Thoroughbred trainer. But the horses were nightmares. They had only rudimentary handling and they were fed rations intended to make them, let's say, peppy. To take them out of their stalls required a chain over their noses and you used that chain constantly to pull them down out of their peppy rearing. Constantly. I only lasted at that barn for three months. It was too nerve-wracking.

So I have been studying Darby, trying to assign a cause to his behaviors, most of all his lippiness. I ask myself, does he do this because he's young? Or maybe it's a Warmblood thing (he's my first Warmblood). Or is it a stallion thing? But now I know what it is - or was. It was an untrained thing. Because after three months of daily handling, of clicker-training, (and of twice being shanked with the lead rope when I felt his teeth) it is nearly extinct. I use the modifier nearly because it's too soon to say just extinct.


The other day I was out in the barn after the horses had their dinner. The pen gate was open but the horses hadn't gone out to pasture yet. They were hanging around in their stalls, seeming to want something from me even though they had had their dinner. I petted them and then I began doing 'the claw.' You know, you make your hand into a claw and bring it down on your victim's face while growling "It's the claw!" like in a bad horror movie. I know, I know, but everyone here loves it - the horses, Trixie, even Logan, who at sixteen sometimes will snuggle with me and say, "Do the claw."

So I was doing the claw, grabbing (gently) the horses' muzzles and making horror movie noises. When I started playing with them, Darby was in one of the end stalls. He left his stall and walked into the middle stall with Speckles, putting himself in between Buckles and Speckles where he would, literally, be the center of attention. It was sweet and fun and telling, to me, of the progress Darby and I have made.


Libby was here playing volleyball that evening in July when Darby arrived. He was snorting scared about this new place he found himself in - new people, new barn, new horses to find his place with. That Darby from three months ago is different from the horse Libby petted over the stall gate on Saturday. This older Darby is a confident, maturing horse who is beginning to understand the language of training.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Momma's Soup

One of the things I cooked for Luke when he was down with the Wisdom Teeth Blues was this:

Momma's soup

potatoes (about one per person or a little less)
corn (fresh, canned, frozen, creamed - it doesn't matter)
leftover vegetables - cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, whatever
broth of some sort - canned chicken or beef, the juice off of roasts that you've kept frozen for soup-making, or bouillon. The more broth you have, the more flavorful the soup will be.
diced ham
celery, cut up
onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste

In your soup pot, put on about 1 or 2 cups of water to boil. Peel and dice a couple of potatoes (one per person is a good guess) Then cut up whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator. The ones I like in this are broccoli and cauliflower and corn (and leftover mashed potatoes make a great thickener.) Carrots and peas would be good too. Cut all up and add to the boiling water with the diced potatoes. These need to cook until no longer crunchy as this is the only boiling they will get because you can't boil it after adding the milk and/or cream corn or it will separate.

While saucepan is simmering, heat some oil in a skillet and fry the celery and onions until they are soft (this isn't strictly necessary as they could go straight into the boiling water to soften but frying them adds more flavor). When they are soft and beginning to brown, add them to the simmering saucepan. In same skillet, fry the ham until most of the water cooks off of it. (Or not, if you don't want to.)

Put the ham in with all of the vegetables, add whatever broth you have to cover all the vegetables, and cook for a few minutes until you are sure everything is tender (but not mushy; keep sampling). Then add milk and a can of cream corn (if you want) and cook just until hot but don't let it boil once you have added the milk and corn (or it will separate into two layers - one of which will be watery and unappetizing). If the soup seems too thin, mash some of the vegetables (or puree them in blender) to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You and a couple of grateful roommates can graze off of this for several days.

A Lukey sighting

We had a Lukey sighting last week. He was our prisoner because he had all four of his wisdom teeth cut out and it left him like this:
Luke wisdom teeth

Tim bustled around doing laundry and fussing over medications; Logan was the gopher; I cooked Luke's favorite foods (well, the softest of his favorite foods). It fell to Trixie to be the chief consoler and nurse.

He's back to normal and back to school so there may not be another Lukey sighting until Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Potent carrier of the happiness virus


A recent article in the New York Times' magazine discussed the findings of happiness researchers who report that happiness is contagious. I immediately knew their findings to be true because I live in a house with a creature who spreads happiness like frequent fliers spread swine flu.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Darby Diaries - "Pick me, pick me!"

I hope Darby's yearning intensity comes through in this photo. When I go to the barn at training time (the middle of the afternoon) he leans across the gate with the most earnest expression, saying, "Pick me! Pick me!"


This is the expression of a clicker-trained horse. I'm not dumb or naive; I know he wants the treats. But he knows we're going to play a game in which finding the correct answers to my questions is what gets him the treats. He knows there are treats and he knows there is a game that he always wins; it is a total win/win situation. And for me, in every session, I have an earnest student who is thinking and who is learning to understand what I want from him and who, without realizing it, is building up trust upon trust upon trust in every encounter because they all go well.

Well, almost all. The other day, Darby decided I was no longer allowed to pick up his right hind foot. Which, for the record, I have picked up nearly every day for the past five weeks with no problem. Not only would he not give me his foot, he also did an irritated little cow-kick when I tried. (This needs a post of its own called "Testing Boundaries" or "I Wonder What Happens When I Say No?") Not knowing what else to do, I unhooked the cross ties, put him in his stall, and took a couple of deep breaths while thinking how I should handle this situation. Then I remembered that Darby loves his training sessions. How better to "punish" him than to train someone else?

I got my beloved old Buckles out, put him in cross ties, and began grooming him. Buckles thought he'd died and gone to heaven and I was the Boss Angel in God's Heavenly Stable. I brushed and cooed and clicked loudly and often and made a huge show of giving treats and patting Buckles and telling him what a good boy he was. Now Buckles surely was surprised by this; it's no secret that Darby is the one in training and Buckles is maybe a bit neglected in the grooming department. However, my old guy rose to the occasion like it was his Broadway debut. He gobbled up the treats and the attention - at one point I think he purred - and was the perfect foil to help me bug Darby.

So, was Darby bugged? Well, at first he tugged on the cross tie he could reach from his stall (something he had never done before or since). This cross tie was one of two Buckles was tied to but Buckles and I ignored Darby. Seeing this had no effect, he began banging his water bucket (another thing I'd never seen him do; it was impressively noisy) and then he pawed for awhile. He was throwing a little tantrum; I smiled to myself.

I finished with Buckles, brought Darby back out and hooked him to the cross ties. He resisted my first attempt to pick up his right hind foot. I thought, "Okay, buddy. Last chance." Which must have taken just enough time for a light bulb to go on in his brain because the second try was easy, there was his foot and there were his ears going, "Oh, is this what you wanted?" in the most sweet and innocent way. I clicked, gave him a treat (or two), then finished up the session on a great note.

It is fair, though, and important, I think, to back up here and say, well, what if Darby had not been bugged by my working with Buckles instead of him? Certainly, this could have happened. One of the important things I've learned is to keep stopping and thinking.

If Darby had gone into his stall and started eating hay as if he were relieved to be off the hook, then I would have a lot of thinking to do. In any training situation, ten different trainers might come up with ten different solutions. So how do we know if the solution we have come up with is a good (or even great) solution? Here is what I think is the only criteria that makes sense: If the solution does nothing to destroy the trust, the confidence, and the enthusiasm that has been built up between the trainee and the trainer, it would be a good solution. Furthermore, I say, if the solution strengthens the trust, the confidence, and the enthusiasm between the trainee and trainer, that is a great solution.

I never want to lose that yearning intensity of my horse leaning over the gate, saying, "Pick me."

Seems like old times

Somehow, while Luke was home last weekend, he and Logan started talking about the good old days when they battled each other with their Pokemon cards. A search ensued, the cards were located (in a box in the basement), and the building of killer decks commenced.


In short order, the first battle was under way.


I would like to say I'm posting this here to embarrass them, but the reality is that I like it when my almost-adult sons act like kids again for a little while. It makes me feel not quite so obsolete.

(And Joanie, remember, Barbie and her amazing wardrobe are all mine!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Darby Diaries - Walking on the trailer

Darby rode ten hours on a trailer from North Carolina to Ohio so it's not like he's never been on a trailer before but I want Darby's trailer experiences to be more than a nerve-wracking trip from point A to point B. I want him to walk into a trailer like he walks into or out of his stall. In fact, I want him to consider the trailer his barn away from barn. To get to that point, he has to spend a lot of time in and around the trailer.
loading Darby 1
Ideally, my horses should walk into the trailer without needing me to walk in first. I'm glad Darby is a yearling. Before he is full grown and takes up most of the trailer space, I want him to be comfortable going in and out without me squeezing in there too. I feel unsafe when I am in a trailer with a horse because the space is so crowded.
loading Darby 2
In training, you never start at your goal. You start way before that and you find ways to break the training down into little bits that are easy for the horse to grasp. Darby already targets on my hand and leads well, so I led him, slowly and snorting, up to the scary open trailer door. He stopped at the step so I went in ahead of him and I gave little tugs on the lead rope. When he stuck his head in the door, reaching toward me, I clicked my tongue and gave him a treat. Right then, I could see his focus change from being scared to thinking, "Hey! Peppermint! I want some more." So he sticks his head in a bit further and even picks up a front foot. Click, treat.

He's on to the game now. One foot in the trailer, click, treat. He backs up, puts his foot back on the ground. But I note that he moves his hind legs further underneath his barrel, making it easier for him to lift up his front end. He stands and thinks about it. He sticks his head toward me, I put out my target hand, he leans in even further to touch my fist. There is very little going on, physically, but Darby's mental wheels are churning as he tries to reconcile his unease about the trailer with his strong desire for a treat.
loading Darby 3
The first day I practiced loading Darby, he got on and off the trailer twice in about fifteen minutes. Using clicks and treats, he edged his way into the trailer, stayed in there with me for about twenty seconds, then got scared by the hollow sound his feet made against the floor so he quickly backed out and off the trailer. He stood outside the trailer for a second, collected his cool, and when I resumed my tugs on the lead rope, he came right up into the trailer again. I clicked, he ate his treat, and he backed back off the trailer. Both times he began backing, I said, "back," because I want him to learn to wait for me to tell him to back - but that is the end goal. First he has to learn that the word back in this situation is the same as the word back when he's in his stall or in cross ties.

The other long term goal is to get Darby to be comfortable staying on the trailer. Eventually, he needs to learn that he can't just get on the trailer and back off; he has to stay on the trailer. To do this, once he was loading calmly and reliably, I began putting his jackpot of sweetfeed in the trailer. Since he was now loading so quickly, I didn't need the treats during the loading. The next thing I wanted him to learn was staying in the trailer so I put something in there that made him want to stay.
rewarding Darby
It is so important that anyone training a horse (or a child) remember that in every single thing you teach there is always a background element of self-control. I am so grateful to be working with Darby while he is a yearling because self-control is a subject like math - what you learn today is built upon what you learned yesterday. Self-control has to be built up day by day until you end up with a horse who has learned to control himself. This is the difference between a horse in the wild and a horse who is expected to get along and thrive in a training situation - the horse in training (or the kid in school) will only be successful if they have learned to have control over themselves.

Control imposed from the outside will always show itself - usually in the worst possible time and place. The only reliable control for anyone, human or not, is self-control. When you create situations over a period of time where your "student" has to practice self-control, you will develop a mature partner rather than an underling who requires constant monitoring. This is true of horses or teenagers-- but it's easier with horses.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Catching up with myself

All these photos and things I want to remember that I never get around to posting? Today, I'm throwin'em on here in no particular order. I just gotta do it or give up on it. So I'm doin' it.

Luke's 18th bday
Luke turned 18 in June. Then he left to go to be a camp counselor in Michigan. I haven't disowned him or anything. He's absent from my blog because (sigh) he's absent from my life (except for my lifeline, the cell phone). We picked him up from camp on Sunday and got to see him for a whole seven hours as we drove from his camp to his college and dropped him off in time to meet his roommate, sleep, and start classes the next day. His summer at camp, he says, was "amazing."

Logan YMCA Rockies
In July, Tim and I took Logan and his friend, Burge, on vacation out west. Here we are playing volleyball at YMCA of the Rockies. That's Logan spiking.

Yip-pe-yi-o steakhouse
After Colorado, we drove to the Grand Canyon and met my Danish friend, Janni, who I worked with at Camp Kern twenty years ago. She is married to Chris from India. Here's all of us at the Yip-pee-yi-o Steakhouse near the canyon.

Grand Canyon 09
Me with all the kids; a Grand Canyon sunset.

Janni and family
Chris, Janni, Savanna (10) and Daniel (5).

Logan, Tim, me.

Logan and Daniel
Daniel bought a book at the giftshop; Logan read it to him.

Janni and Savanna
Janni and Savanna.

Cowboy Daniel.

At the end of July, Logan turned sixteen. I did get around to posting about that.


Courtney's b-day
My great-niece, Courtney, turned fourteen. We had to interrupt Monday night volleyball to sing Happy Birthday and eat hot fudge cake.

Tim piggin' out
Some of us really like hot fudge cake.

Logan got his license
Mid-August, Logan passed his driving test and became a licensed driver. Tim is giving last minute instructions before Logan drives off by himself for the first time.

Logan license
Logan being agreeable when what he really wants to do is burn rubber out the driveway.

And then, two days ago, Logan's school started:

Logan sophomore
Obligatory First Day of School Photo under the maple tree.

Logan & Tim
Photo totally just to ogle two of my good looking guys.

Logan driving himself to school for the first time.

Life is good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009