Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blogging St. Lucia

Hard to believe we've already been home for almost a week, I guess that's a good thing, the vacation seemed to go slow and the workweek went quickly. Here is the long-overdue post about our vacation in the West Indies.

The island of St. Lucia sits almost at the bottom of the chain of islands we think of as the Caribbean, third island north of Venezuela, some 1,500 miles south of Miami. It has been independent since 1979, before that it was a British protectorate, but it changed hands 14 times between the British and the French for 150 years. The French named almost everything on the island but it definitely has a British flavor to it. You drive on the left, the British Queen is on the money, all the school children wear uniforms, our resort even served high tea every afternoon. School is taught in English but everyone also speaks Patois, a Creole language. At least 85% of the people at our resort were British, it is heavily marketed to them and Virgin flies direct from London. Surprisingly for a couples-only resort, there were many older couples there, some with their adult children. It was a little strange having an all-white guestlist and an all-black staff, but the staff were amazing, they even put on two variety shows. Between three bars on the property you could get a free drink from 9AM until the "last couple retired". Food was excellent, we ate at our resort exclusively other than the day we drove down to the other end of the island to one of their sister resorts to go snorkeling.

The people are beautiful, especially the young men - dark-skinned, small-waisted, broad-shouldered, washboard abs, either bald or with dreadlocks - you either work in the tourism industry or you do manual labor. As with any third-world country, there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, with very few in between. Most people live in tin or wooden shacks on small parcels of land, but we never saw any evidence that they weren't making a living and weren't reasonably happy.

As far as the island itself, you run out of superlatives. The water begins at the shore with pure white foam, moving backwards from clear to cerulean to teal to royal to cobalt to navy to indigo at the horizon, the perfect temperature above soft white sand. There are lush jungles and mountains, the roads windy, narrow and for the most part, without lines. I've posted a sample of the over 300 pictures we took, these were all taken at our resort. More to come.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Balancing Act

We all juggle far too much in our modern lives, trying to keep our work, our social lives, our relationships, our responsibilities and our minds and bodies running at optimum speed and productivity. I haven't been doing a very good job managing all the segments lately. We leave for St. Lucia this coming Friday and all I can think about is how stressed I am about the cross-country flight and how much work I'll have to catch up on once we get back -- how sad is that? I know once I get there I will relax but I suspect I have a very tense week ahead of me.

My trainer Willow was still very nervous about me riding Miss last weekend, every time she lunged her she'd been crazy, so before my lesson she gave her a weak dose of tranquilizer. This turned out to be a mistake. She was so dead it took all we had to make her canter on the lunge line and I spent the entire time having to push her forward and pick up her head.

I rode her again today without the drugs and she was fine, although her right front was obviously a bit sore. She's due for new shoes tomorrow and it's possible the pad has worn down and is causing the soreness. Let's hope that's all it is anyway. It was such a pleasure to ride a horse that needs hardly any leg to stay at a nice big trot. She's so comfortable at the trot, it's like riding a giant sofa. I hope that I've proven to Willow that I can ride her without being a liability.

I was chatting with another horse owner at the farm about my frustrations and she said she'd gone through the same issues with her young mare and that the farm has to protect itself, plus nobody wants anybody to get hurt. She told me I shouldn't think of myself as a green rider anymore, that she's seen me ride and thinks I'm great, that I have balance. You can't teach balance, she says, you either have it or you don't.

Strange how on my horse, perhaps the most precarious place I could be, is the one place right now where I do feel balanced.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tucker Time

I've mostly pulled myself out of the funk I descended into last week. I suspect that no matter how much time passes, every once in a while that grief will surface and I'll need to deal with it.

Kathy commented on my post about reconnecting with my old friends that she's never been able to explain how big a part her horses play in her life to non-horsey people. That's been true for me in all facets of my life, not just with this group. Not one single person asked me about riding or even said anything about all the pictures I posted. When I asked A what he thought about it when we met for lunch all he said was that he was surprised. One of the ladies has a 12 year-old daughter who rides; I guess it either seems like something a young girl would do or its looked at as an elitist sport or activity, not something they would ever come into contact with.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to finally ride Miss again. Yes, that's right, I still haven't ridden her since she got sick in mid-September. After a month off my trainer started doing ground work again and then eventually started riding her, but she wanted to get in a good half-dozen rides before I got on her again. Due to schedules and the weather, that took longer than expected. I'm more than a little frustrated. I realize I am still considered a novice, but I am beginning to resent the fact that I have to have permission from my trainer before I can ride my own horse. I would be happy just to get on her and walk around, but Willow doesn't seem to think Miss would allow that, even after lunging. To rub salt in that wound, I got a notice from the farm owner that they are increasing my board roughly 12% starting next month, and I am now paying one of the farm hands $40 a month to blanket her. They do comp me a lot of things, including lessons for almost a year, so I can't and won't complain, but I would feel better if I knew I could ride her when I wanted to. She's had no issues with her feet since the farrier put pads on her the last time she was shod, so I'm crossing my fingers that will continue.

Tomorrow is the day we picked as Tucker's birthday, since we don't know the exact date. We adopted him through Northern California Golden Retriever Rescue in November 2000 when he was approximately 1 year old. Happy 8th birthday, our sweet and silly red dog. (Check out Bailey's birthday post from May if you missed it.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007


When someone says the word "family" to me I think of my nuclear family: my parents and siblings. To anyone who has children, "my family" means themselves: their spouse and their child or children. I think of me and D as a couple, a unit, a pair, a partnership...but not a family. Maybe I would feel differently if we never wanted children and never tried to have a baby, but since we did and failed, it doesn't seem to fit.

Yesterday I had lunch with A, my old boyfriend that I've recently reconnected with. He drove down here for some personal business and we spent a few hours together. He has two sons, 17 and 12, and has been married for almost 20 years. I mentioned in my last post that I'm finding it hard to wrap my brain around the fact that all my contemporaries have teenage kids, but that's because I've spent the last 5 years surrounded (somewhat virtually) by women who are infertile. Normal people get married in their 20s and have kids, there's no question, no drama, no tears.

Of all the married couples we know, only one doesn't have any children, and they are the parents of a stillborn son. Many of those infertile women I've met persevered and now have children as well, by some means.

On the long drive home I was unprepared for how sad I got. We'd had some laughs and it had not been a serious afternoon by any stretch. I was so happy that he was so happy, and we'd talked about how my life turned out just fine, but in all that history there was so much wasted time, so much heartache. After spending 5 years getting up the courage to get out of a horrible marriage, while D waited for me, we were so damned happy just to be together we didn't think of anything but ourselves for the next 5 years. Finally at 36 I decided it made sense to marry this wonderful man and, for the first time in my life, I felt safe enough to want to have a baby. You know the rest. As I cried in his arms last night, D whispered, you have a wonderful life, and I whispered back, I know. I wish I had never wanted a child, so I didn't have to carry this grief.

I'll get back to the horsey posts soon, I promise, I've just needed to process some of this by writing it down.
Right after I finished writing this I found out that the wife of one of my old drum corps friends was killed in a car accident a couple of weeks ago. The funeral was today; I suspect they waited until their daughter (who was driving but not at fault) was out of the hospital so she could be there. I've spent the day in a teary daze. I just can't imagine losing my husband. They have three children in their teens, she was only 41. I hope noone reading this takes this the wrong way, but when I heard this news I was happy for my friend that he had children. Please tell someone you love that you love them today.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Life Condensed

If you met up with someone you hadn't seen in XX years, more than 10, and they wanted you to tell them about your life, what would you say? I've had the opportunity to do this more than a few times in the last few weeks, getting caught up with the folks from my old group at home. Everyone says pretty much the same thing -- I got married in (year) to (so-and-so) and we have (more than 1) kids named (thankfully nothing too silly so far). Without exception, everyone I have reconnected with who is married or has been married has kids. It isn't even a question of whether you have them or not, just how many. Their kids range in age from 2 to 18. Remember I haven't seen some of these people in 30 years, so that shouldn't be that difficult to wrap my brain around, but it is. I'm sure its weird for them when they find out I don't have any kids, and so far nobody has been too much of an asshat. Many of them live without spitting distance of where they lived as kids, so again, I am the odd one who lives not only far away, but in another country. Especially now, Canadians are nationalistic and protective of their non-war status, which I totally respect.

But, knowing when and who you married, how many kids you have and maybe even what you do for a living doesn't tell much about who we are, does it? Perhaps I'm in a space right now where I am craving a deeper connection. I'm sure they would all think I was nuts if I started telling them how the smell of the ocean makes me cry, or the touch of a dog's paw in the middle of the night reassures me, or how my husband's voice can still make me giggle like a schoolgirl.

In other news, my usually mostly-well-behaved lesson horse Angel bit me on Saturday. HARD. I tacked her up and got on her, then decided I needed to tighten the girth one more notch, so I jumped off next to the mounting block. She didn't think the girth needed tightening, thank you, and reached around and sunk her teeth into my left outer thigh. The bruise is the size and shape of a decent sized egg, and at first you could see two half moons with a white line down the middle, the demarkation of her upper and lower teeth. Now that it's a few days' old the line is muddled and its starting to get that sickly green color under the purple. I hope it fades before we leave for the Caribbean in a month.

Finally, I called my sister the other day to wish her daughter and her husband happy birthdays and she told me she is having a partial hysterectomy next month. Needless to say this was a surprise, given that she's only 15 months older than me and I had no idea she was having any gynecological problems. Apparently she's been bleeding since January and her GP just last month finally decided to send her to see a "specialist". She lives in a very small, rural town in the interior of BC, but still -- holy shit -- this really pissed me off. She also told me that when she saw the gynecologist he didn't even do an ultrasound, just a pelvic exam and told her she has massive fibroids and recommended they take them out along with her uterus. Is it even possible to detect fibroids from a pelvic exam? There's nothing I can do about this but for once I was happy to have my US health insurance.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Memory Lane Has Potholes

My ex-husband called me last weekend to let me know that a group of people that I marched drum corps with and that he and I taught and taught with had started a group at one of the very popular networking sites. I had never visited this site but found the group very easily, and set up an account for myself complete with photo albums. As I've mentioned here before, I started marching in this group in 1976 when I was 12 and stopped at 18, then took a year off and came back in 1984 to teach for another couple of years, so my entire teenage life was spent with these people. Some of them I hadn't heard from since the late 70s/early 80s, but there they were, right there in the magic box. Its quite jolting to see a picture of someone you knew from 30 years ago then to see a picture from today, especially if, let's say, they've let themselves go just a bit. Wow. Anyone ever been to a hairdresser? I had to really, really look hard at some of the faces to find the teenagers I knew; I'm sure some of them didn't recognize me either, but I'm hoping that's because I've aged rather well.

This photo was posted by someone else in the group, taken in 1979 -- my D is the second drummer from the right. Isn't that cute? I kept telling him that all of us were total groupies of his drum corps, this is proof. (We didn't meet until 1989.)

I don't think I need to tell you what happens when you put 100 or so 12 to 20 year-olds on buses for weeks at a time. It was such a soap opera! People switching partners, hooking up and breaking up several times over the course of a summer. In 1977 I had my first real boyfriend, he was a drummer (natch) and we were together for the entire summer. I even have a very bad picture of the two of us at the back of the bus. God, we were so young! He's a part of the group and we've been swapping stories all week, it's been very fun. The next time I go home there will definitely be a reunion.

Having said all that, looking at these old pictures is dredging up a lot of stuff. First, I see myself in all these pictures and I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of that moment. I see that it is me, and I know all the other people in the picture, but there's nothing about it in my head. I guess that's normal, although it seems like a spark should have been set off by at least one picture. Pretty much everything before the age of 17 or so is just gone. That includes most of school as well. Of course, I remember the horrible stuff, but nothing from day-to-day.

Many of you newer readers don't know my history of sexual abuse, mostly at the hands of my older brother, who was killed in a car accident in April 2005. Before my Dad kicked him out of the house for being high at the dinner table one too many times (saving me unintentionally), the abuse had been elevated to include a good friend of his, who was invited to join us several times. The last time, he raped me while my brother played lookout. This was in the summer of 1975, I was 11 and they were 18.

The following year when I joined the drum corps I could hardly believe my luck -- getting away from my family for weeks on end -- sign me up! That guy from the picture at the back of the bus was my first real experience with what was normal, and he was so sweet and nice to me. All we did was kiss and hold hands the whole summer. He helped me to begin to sort out what was appropriate and what wasn't, and I am deeply grateful. Of course, he had no idea of how damaged I was at the time, but I was very fortunate to hook up with a guy like him. And now we're friends again.

In the same vein, a close friend that I met in 1990 in a therapy group for sexual abuse survivors told me the other day that our therapist committed suicide in 2004. We're both trying to process this information. So much intense work was done there, for several years, and I credit that doctor with helping me to work through a lot. I'm not quite sure what to do with this information; it feels very odd that it happened almost exactly 3 years ago and we've just found out now. We never got the chance to go to her memorial...anyway, I'm just throwing that out there.

I apologize to my horsey readers for this post, but sometimes the dark side does raise it's head around here. It ain't called the Velvet Cage for nothing. Miss is sound and well and Willow will be getting on her this week, which means I should be riding her this coming weekend.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Time Passages

Growing up in the Vancouver BC suburbs, I was used to having four distinct seasons. The first five years in Northern California were difficult, I felt like I was living in perpetual spring and summer and my body clock felt out of whack. Now that I've been here for almost 20 years (which seems impossibly long), I've become more attuned to the more subtle changes in temperature and moisture. We live at 2600 feet above sea level but only about 10 miles from the ocean, so the weather up at the house is often very different than it is "down the hill" at sea level, and almost always different than it is "over the hill" in Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay Area. We get snow a couple of times a year but it doesn't last, which is just fine by me.

Our 2 acre property is all trees, mostly oak trees, which means one thing this time of year: acorns. Some of these trees are 200 feet tall and 8 feet across, so when it gets windy the acorns are falling from a great height, hitting the house in loud barrages that scare the dogs and sometimes even make me duck. They look positively mammillary, don't they?

This lovely birch tree is along the dog-walking route around our neighborhood and is a good arbiter of the seasons.

We took a friend down to the farm yesterday who hadn't been there for a while and he was astonished to see how much the babies (of all species) had grown.

This picture of Piggy Sue was taken October 12, 2006.

This picture was taken yesterday. She's a very friendly and vocal pig, and she loves smoothies, if you ever come to visit. Seeing this pig with her snout all pink from the fruity goodness in the cup is one of the cutest things you'll ever see.

This picture of Ruby (with mama Roxie) was taken the last week of May when she was about a week old.

This was taken yesterday. Now that Ruby is bigger the unusual blaze she shares with her mama is even more amazing. She's grown out of that ugly duckling phase and her winter coat is coming in, making her soft and fuzzy again.

This is Que Sera Sera (Katie) at 1 day old, taken on June 17, she's Missy's niece as her mama Sera is Miss's full sister.

This was also taken yesterday, so she's about 3 1/2 months old. She's a big friendly girl with a lot of personality. What a joy it has been watching these fillies grow, another childhood wish fulfilled.

Damn, now I want a smoothie.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Brand New Day

Sometimes, dreams do come true. Welcome to the world, little one.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

That's Hot

Actually, I'm hot. I'll admit that I'm not bad for a woman who's pushing 45 like a British nanny, but that isn't what I'm talking about -- I'm literally broiling most of the time. At 41 my doctor told me I wasn't ovulating anymore and I got a first-class ticket on the Early Menopause Train. In the last six months my temperature gauge has gone on the fritz, stuck on high. I don't have what I would call hot flashes, they don't come on all of a sudden, it's more of a gradual thing and lasts for an hour or more, then I generally slide headlong right into freezing.

Anyone who says that riding isn't a physical sport has never been on a horse. I was an athlete most of my life and I hardly sweated at all; now I am making up for it. I don't smell bad (thankfully) but the wetness under my arms is quite disgusting, at least to me. Have you seen the commercials for the new "clinical strengh" deodorant for women? The person who wrote the copy for this ad is a fricking genius, the tagline at the end is: Because You're Hot. The best part is that the product actually works. Hallelujah.

Speaking of hot, last week marked the beginning of the new fall TV season. Guilty as charged: I love TV and I don't care who knows how many hours I watch a week. I don't watch soap operas, game shows, talk shows (except my boyfriend Jon Stewart) or reality shows (except The Amazing Race), so I don't feel bad about it at all.

Monday has always had a dearth of good TV, and no, I don't watch Heroes. I caught the series premiere of Journeyman and quite liked it. It takes place in San Francisco and it's always fun to feel connections to the places you see on the Magic Box. The acting was believable as were the special effects, which on a show like this could be a killer. I'll keep watching this one.

The season openers of both NCIS and Bones were good, these are old friends. I taped Reaper but I haven't watched it yet, anybody care to weigh in on that one?

I wasn't crazy about the Private Practice preview last season and the first episode didn't really toast my raisin bread either, but I'll give it a bit longer. Just like Joey outside of the Friends universe, it felt like a bit too much Addison for me to stomach. I somehow screwed up the DVR so I only taped the second half of Criminal Minds, but I think I can figure it out. With Mandy Patinkin leaving the cast I'm not sure I'll continue to watch or not. CSI:NY is also an old friend, but I've taped Bionic Woman and Life, so I may need to cull some Wednesday viewing. Bionic Woman is also being shown on Sci Fi, so that may give me a little breathing room. I'm also going to check out Pushing Daisies.

My other boyfriend Derek Shephard is also back, along with the rest of the docs on Grey's Anatomy. The season opener was a bit ponderous, and Izzie's storyline with the deer was stupid, but it saved itself in the last five minutes; although, seriously? There is no such thing as break up sex. If you break up with someone and the first thing that crosses your mind is you want to have hot sex with them, then you did not just break up with them. Doesn't matter, it's so beautiful when that boy smiles...

The original CSI solved the cliffhanger from last season with Sara. I won't give it away in case you haven't seen it yet and want to, but I was a little disappointed they didn't take the harder route. Does that give too much away? The Without A Trace premiere was also a little slow, but it will get interesting once they divulge that Sam is pregnant.

Big Shots was a nice surprise, I almost didn't tape it but I'm glad I did. Just seeing Dylan McDermott and Michael Vartan back on TV is worth it. Now, that's hot.

In Moonlight we have our first dud of the season, in my opinion. The male lead, a vampire, is charming and good-looking, but that couldn't make up for the bad acting/writing/special effects, I could only watch it for the first 15 minutes. Numb3rs started off with a bang, an enjoyable hour with Val Kilmer guest-starring.

I'm still watching Damages and Mad Men as well, both continue to dish out surprises both in plot line and in how good the acting is. Nip/Tuck starts at the end of October and I cannot wait to see how much they ratchet up the kink factor now that the good doctors are in LA. Speaking of LA, Californication on Showtime is also very good, very funny.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Dear Miss:

Wishing things were different in the past is just a well-dressed regret, but it sounds so much nicer so I'm going to stick with that.

I wish I could have seen you as a baby, those who did say you were adorable. There aren't even any pictures of you before you're full grown, which I can hardly believe, as many pictures as I've taken of you in the past nine months.

I wish I had started riding long ago, but I know it came along at just the right time, when I was listlessly floating in a sea of grief and failure. Thankfully I had some natural talent for it, or at least was told that and believed it, as my fragile state at the time would have cracked and crumbled if I didn't feel some success right away.

I wish your original owner hadn't treated you like a trophy, buying you expensive tack but spending very little time either on the ground or in the saddle.

I wish they hadn't waited 3 years to decide to give you back to the farm, as in that time you were idle and lonely. Yes, you were fed and turned out and shod and vaccinated, but without a job to do and without a special person to bond with.

I wish I had been better prepared at the moment when our lives intertwined. The extent of my riding history was a handful of trail rides in the last 20 years and six months of mostly regular lessons at the farm. I am still completely humbled and flabbergasted at the idea that my name even came up as a potential new owner for you when it became clear it was too expensive for the farm to keep you without any board coming in. You were the last baby of the farm's breeding legacy and it was absolutely out of the question that you leave the property. That day when Willow cautiously told me the story and asked if I wanted you as my own, I turned into an internally squealing 12 year-old -- Look at the pretty horsey! Then I watched you on the lunge line, the big floating trot gliding you around the ring, the correct lead every time on the bright canter and I thought, Jesus, this is a lot of horse for me. When you put green and green together you just get a deeper shade of green. But Willow promised to help us, and she has, she's so patient and I can see that she loves you, which counts for a lot.

I wish you didn't have so much pain; that's what is heartbreaking, to know that there is little I can do to help you other than follow the vet's suggestions.

I wish I could articulate the joy I feel just being near you. That soft nicker you make when I come around the corner of the barn and call your name -- Missy-mare -- and you rush over to the fence to greet me. The simple pleasure of sitting on the grass at your feet while you graze, you stepping carefully around me and nuzzling me gently to move over, as the best grass is always the grass I'm sitting on. The way your thick mane flops over half-way down your neck no matter how much I work on getting it to lay on the right side. The way you pick up your front feet at the walk, prancing proudly next to me even if we're just heading to the wash rack. The way your ears look like a mule's when I'm sitting on your back. How my body seems to fit with your's just right, like you're a shiny brown chesterfield.

While it has been difficult to get started on your back only to have long stretches where you need to rest and heal, I'm not ready to give up on you. We're partners, you and me, and when I look in your deep brown eyes I know you feel the same way.


Epilogue: I am grateful for all the advice that you all gave, and I want to make it clear the giddy 12 year-old did not make this decision. This horse was born and has spent her entire life at this farm, being looked after by the same staff and the same vets, so her entire history is known. There is no reason to believe she has any unknown underlying long-term problems, other than the cracked coffin bone. After 3 years idle, she's been under saddle barely 6 months, and we've done more work with her in that time than the previous owner did in the first 4 years of her life. D and I still want to get a horse more suited to a beginner so he can ride if he wants and I can always be assured of a mount (well, there's no guarantee that you'll always have a horse to ride, no matter how many horses you have, but you know what I mean). We'll keep assessing her as we go along, but we have just begun.

P.S. I made myself cry writing this post!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Sickness and In Health

There is a reason I named my horse Mystere...she is still such a mystery to me. We were letting her rest another day or two last week after her last shoeing, she cracked the left front coffin bone when she was a 2 year-old and it always comes up a bit sore. I've been lunging her lightly and she was fine when I left her Sunday afternoon.

Monday afternoon I get a call from my trainer. Missy wasn't eating (a sure sign something is wrong) so they took her temperature and it was 105! A horse's temperature is normally between 99 and 101, so this was a big red flag. The vet came and checked her and didn't think it was colic, so she gave her a shot of banimine, which is basically horsey Tylenol and said to keep taking her temperature. She took some blood, which came back positive for a viral infection, so antibiotics weren't going to help. Her temperature has been fluctuating, but is still over 102, so we are continuing with the meds and just giving her hay, which is all she seems to want to eat.

When I went to see her she had those sad eyes that animals get when they aren't feeling well, and heat was radiating off of her, poor thing. The vet said she needs a week's recovery for every day she has a temperature. So, at this point, she'll be off for about a month. *sigh*

This happened the same day I found out that the client I had been working all the extra hours for (the home of Mr. Wart Hog), pulled the filing for their IPO. I knew this was going to happen, but still had to put in all those unpaid overtime hours, for nothing. To say I was upset that night was an understatement.

I haven't gone back to actually count, but I think I've ridden Missy 5 times since the first time in May. Every time we get her on schedule something else happens. She's had two major infections, cut herself badly twice (once requiring stiches and staples), and been lame 4 times. I don't want to give her back to the farm -- that was part of the deal we made, if things didn't work out I could give her back -- but I was very frustrated and worried. Worried she's got health issues that will keep cropping up, worried she's too much horse for me, on and on. I just can't imagine giving her up, I love her, but I need a horse that I can ride on a consistent basis as well.

I know this is status quo with horses, shit happens all the time. We even considered buying a cute little Paint mare, but they were asking too much for her. After a very sweet and encouraging email from my trainer in which she told me she would never have suggested I take Miss if she didn't think I could learn to ride her and that I had made great progress considering I started from scratch a little over a year ago, I came down from the ledge and decided to lease the mare I usually ride for lessons, Angel. At least for a little while, until I get more riding time under my belt and Miss has time to get back under saddle. She's young, and maybe being pushed into fairly rigorous training after being off for almost 3 years is still catching up with her.

Feel free to throw words of encouragement my way. Here are two pictures I took of her last weekend.

Looking fat and happy...

and from another angle, looking svelte and fabulous.

Friday, September 7, 2007


As if getting a black belt in Aikido weren't enough of an accomplishment for 2007, last weekend D became a certified advanced scuba diver. The desire to do this was sparked by our planned trip to St. Lucia in December, but it was the worst possible time for me to take the classes, what with working ridiculous hours and being sick the entire month. I'm perfectly fine with snorkeling, frankly, but I may reconsider, I'm not sure about the whole idea yet. I'll post some scuba pictures in another post.

After the final dive in Monterey we went to have a celebratory drink with D's dive partner, B, and one of the instructors. We ordered something to eat but B declined, saying she had "eaten enough cookies earlier to kill a horse". Of course, I couldn't let this go so I replied that it would take an awful lot of cookies to accomplish that, my horse seems to have the ability to put away countless cookies at one sitting. She asked what kind of horse I had. "She's a thoroughbred", I said. She got this look on her face that told me she thought that meant "purebred", so I set her straight on that point. Then she asked what kind of riding I did, Western or English. When I told her English, her got another puzzled look on her face and blurted out, "Who DOES that anymore?"

OK, now I'm confused. Her questions seem intelligent but she has no idea what she is talking about. I glance at D for some help and tell her it's quite popular, actually, especially in the part of the Bay Area where we live. The instructor asks what the difference is. She gives him a pat on the arm as if to say, boy are you dumb, and says with great confidence, "Both legs on one side, silly!"

We couldn't help it, D and I burst out laughing. M says in self-defense, no, that's sidesaddle, and we proceed to explain the difference (ever watched the Olympics?).

I felt a little bad for her, but she dug her own hole. As much of a beginner as I was when I started taking lessons last summer, even I knew more than she did. That's been one of the most surprising things to me, how little the average person knows about horses, or the things they think they know that are flat out wrong. I'm guilty as anyone else, I thought palomino was a breed and not a color, I had no earthly idea what a martingale or a surcingle were and didn't have a clue what the lifespan of a horse is. I have a client who is in his 40s who told me he's never seen a horse in person. How is that even possible? I guess if you lived your entire life in the city...that made me sad.

Anyway, when she said "sidesaddle" it conjured up all kinds of images in my head so I had to do some research and learn a little bit about it. Turns out there is a thriving sidesaddle community, both national and international and there are sidesaddle classes at many elite horse shows. (I've seen it with and without the space in between the two words, I'm not sure which one is correct.)

The image that popped in my head initially was of a woman dressed like this, performing at a renaissance fair.

I found many wonderful paintings and woodcuts of women riding side saddle, here's one of Jane Austen.

Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that..."In Europe, the sidesaddle developed in part because cultural norms for the upper social classes dictated that it was unbecoming for a woman of apparent wealth or high social status to straddle a horse while riding. The practice was reinforced by folk beliefs suggesting that riding astride could destroy a girl's virginity, impair her ability to bear children, or provide a lady with an unnatural sexual stimulation. [Well, goodness we can't have that!] Riding sidesaddle was also practical, since long dresses were the required fashion. The earliest functional "sidesaddle" was credited to Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394). [I wonder if she was considered a Bohemian for doing this?] It was a chair- like affair where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a small footrest. The design made it difficult for a woman to both stay on and use the reins to control the horse, so the animal was usually led by another rider, usually male, and sitting astride. [A good way to keep a wandering woman under control.]

In the 1830s Jules Pellier invented a sidesaddle design with a second, lower pommel to the sidesaddle. In this design, still in use today, one pommel is nearly vertical, mounted approximately 10 degrees left of top dead center and curved gently to the right and up. The rider’s right leg goes around the top, or fixed pommel, which supports the right thigh of the rider when it is lying across the top center of the saddle. The lower right leg rests along the shoulder of the left (near) side of the horse and up against the second pommel (called the leaping head or leaping horn.) lies below the first on the left of the saddle. It is mounted about 20 degrees off the top of the saddle. This pommel is curved gently downward in order to curve over the top of the rider's left thigh, and is attached in a manner so that it could pivot slightly, to adjust to the individual rider. The rider places her left leg beneath this pommel, with the top of the thigh close or lightly touching it, and places her left foot in a single stirrup on that side.

Although that description is wonderful, I still couldn't really grasp what the saddle looked like until I saw this picture. Looks entirely too precarious to me. I have a hard enough time staying on riding "astride".

Then I read on and discovered that people actually JUMP OVER THINGS while riding sidesaddle, they even do cross country eventing. My velvet hat is off to these folks.

I would love to ride in a classic outfit like this some day though, I've always loved the look of formal riding attire.

I absolutely adore this replica Edwardian outfit -- gentile, feminine, classy -- can you see me riding Mystere dressed like this?

Speaking of Miss China, she's finally sound and we've been working hard. That's one of my many nicknames for her, created the day Willow asked her, "Are we going to have to bubble wrap you?" (to keep you from another mishap). I rode her last weekend, then twice during the week, and will be taking another lesson on her tomorrow afternoon. I am still giddy at the idea of riding my own horse.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hat Trick

The Drum Corps International (DCI) championships that we went to in Pasadena earlier this month are on ESPN2 this coming Wednesday, if you want to check it out.

This is a good segueway to a post that I've had brewing for a while now, like a couple of years.

As a bit of history, I can't put it any better than our friend Wikipedia: "Classic drum and bugle corps are North American musical ensembles that descended from military bugle and drum units returning from World War I and succeeding wars. Traditionally, drum and bugle corps served as signaling units as early as before the American Civil War, with these signaling units having descended in some fashion from ancient drum and fife corps. With the advent of the radio, bugle signaling units became obsolete and surplus equipment was sold to veteran organizations (such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, two major organizers for classic drum corps). These organizations formed drum and bugle corps of civilians and veterans, and the corps performed in community events and local celebrations. Over time, rivalries between corps emerged and the competitive drum and bugle corps circuit evolved. Traditional drum and bugle corps consist of bell-front brass horns, field drums, a color guard and an honor guard.

Drum and bugle corps have often been mistaken for marching bands, since there is a similarity to both groups having horns and drums; and they are both essentially bands of musicians that march. The activities are different in organization (marching bands usually associate with high schools and colleges while drum corps are freestanding organizations), competition and performance (marching bands perform in the fall at football games, drum corps usually compete during the summer), and instrumentation (classic drum corps use only brass bugles and drums, marching bands incorporate woodwinds and other alternative instruments)."

My first husband marched in the very first champion of Drum Corps International in 1972, the Kingsmen from Anaheim, California. My current beloved marched in the winningest drum corps in modern history, the Blue Devils from Concord, California. I marched from 1976 to 1982, then taught on and off through 1989, so a good chunk of my formative years was spent in a corps uniform. My corps was small and competitively unsuccessful, but that didn't stop us from travelling thousands of miles each summer to attend the championships, wherever that might have been. My first DCI was in Denver in 1977, so it seemed like 30 years was a good time for some perspective on where things are today.

The bane of my existence during my marching years was the "shako", the traditional hat with a feather plume on the top that everyone, including the color guard, wore back in the old days. I had very long hair and had to wind it on top of my head then put the shako on, which created a sweaty, sticky ball of hair when I took it off. In keeping with their military roots, all modern drum corps to this day have uniforms that have military uniforms as their starting point.

Here is a picture from a site dedicated to European infantry and their attire.

Here's a picture of part of the Blue Devils' snare line in 1979 (my beloved D is the handsome one on the right).

Here is what Blue Devils' snare line looks like, almost 30 years later.

Yeah, not much different than Napolean's army. I think the main culprit is the hat. Some corps wear a hat that looks a bit like what the Three Musketeers wore in the movies, referred to as an "Aussie", but essentially the uniform has remained unchanged save for some minor changes in the cadet jacket.

That's for what is referred to as the corps proper: the drumline and hornline. The color guard, on the other hand, has run off the rails when it comes to their uniform. As I said before, back in the day the guard wore the same hat and cadet jacket as everyone else, and wore a skirt with some variation of a boot for the bottom half.

Here's a picture of the aforementioned Kingsmen from 1977. I was in the rifle line in my drum corps.

Here's a picture of the Cavaliers from last summer, an all-male corps from Illinois that I happen to really like, but seriously, does this make sense? The guard is dressed like Borg and the rest of the corps is dressed like D'Artagnan.

This year there were guards dressed as gypsies, horses (in brown multi-colored jumpsuits with long fake pony-tails), painters, you get the idea. Right now there is such a discrepancy between the two parts of the corps that I find it distracting. From a visual perspective, the corps that I enjoyed the most this year were the ones that had some correlation of their uniforms between the sections.

We can't go backwards, so going forward I think the activity needs to find some middle ground. Pull back with the guard costumes and make some changes to the corps proper uniform. As far as I'm concerned, the horse-related show would have been a lot more fun if the corps had been in cowboy-inspired outfits. At the very least, get rid of those damn shakos.

On My Way

I'm here and (finally) doing fine. Miss is good too, she's sound and full of pep, I'll be riding her tomorrow. I'm working on a real post and will hopefully get it up tomorrow.

Jenna! So glad to see you. I hope you are well.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Same Cough, Different Week

Yes, I'm still sick. And no, I haven't called my doctor. I know that coughing and runny nose can last 3 to 4 weeks, so I'm not worried yet. It was getting a lot better earlier this week so I took a chance and did a riding lesson on Wednesday morning, which turned out to be a mistake -- by that evening I was back to where I was a week before. Last night I took two extreme cold night time liquigels and that knocked me out for most of the night, so today I feel a bit better and the cough is more productive. Unfortunately I haven't been able to let my body rest as I've been working ridiculous hours. I don't get paid for overtime since I'm on salary, but they do take that into account when they pay bonuses, so I will get compensated for it one way or another. If I work on the weekend things will start to slow down next week. I need to clone myself.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Soul Coughing

I've been suffering with a nasty summer cold for going on two weeks now. I've been through the sore throat and stuffy head phase, almost through the nasal congestion phase, but it's this cough that just won't go away. My back hurts, my stomach hurts and my chest hurts. Plus, there is nothing more sexy than coughing. We spent the last five days in Pasadena watching the Drum Corps International championships and my poor husband was stuck in a hotel room with a woman who woke up every two hours coughing and walked around in a daytime cold medicine haze. Sorry honey. The weather was nice, we saw lots of friends and watched from the comfort of a suite at the Rose Bowl, so no complaints on the trip, just could have done without the hacking.

My work schedule this week is hellacious; my newest client was not happy that I was gone for most of last week and is now making up for it by pushing an unattainable deadline on his project. I'd like to believe my consultant mantra in situations like these: Your bad management and planning does not make this my crisis. Unfortunately I think in this situation it does make it my crisis and I am going to be working my ass off for someone who has the personality of a warthog.

So, please send me your empathy, your best cough-stopping tips and maybe a few jabs at Mr. W. Hog. I have several posts for y'all that will just have to wait.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More Songs about Buildings and Food

As promised, here is another in my series of music posts. Kudos to you if you got the Talking Heads reference in the title. I dare say, I bet there's nobody out there reading this over the age of 30 who doesn't know all (or most) the lyrics to at least a couple of these songs. You might not even know you know all the lyrics, yet somehow when you hear it, there they are, saved in your brain for just such an occasion. If you want the download of the entire list, send me an email (link is in the upper left) or leave your email in the comments and I will gladly send you the zip file.

1. Ballroom Blitz by Sweet -- Ready Steve? Andy? Mick? All right fellas, let's go!

2. Bang A Gong (Get It On) by T. Rex -- you're dirty sweet and you're my girl.

3. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison -- this song got a little bit ruined for me when I found out it was Lacy Peterson's favorite and they played it at her memorial service, but I still love it.

4. Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp -- it's hard to pick just one song from Breakfast in America, this is my favorite though.

5. Hooked On A Feeling by Blue Swede -- if you knew the name of the band you get extra bonus points. Ooga chaka, ooga chaka, etc.

6. I'm Not In Love by 10CC -- I probably still have the very first mix tape I ever made (recorded from the radio onto my beloved Panasonic cassette tape player), this was the last song.

7. Love Is Like Oxygen by The Sweet -- yes, it is, isn't it? You get too much you get too high, not enough and you're gonna die. That's deep.

8. Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf -- come on, you gotta admit this is a cool song. Are all these songs about drugs??

9. Magic Man by Heart -- ah, the lovely Wilson sisters. Try to understand, mama.

10. Money Honey by The Bay City Rollers -- I know what you're thinking: that girl has gone off the deep end. Seriously? The Bay City Rollers? Seriously. It's a great song. Short plaid pants for everyone!

11. More Than A Feeling by Boston -- close your eyes and slip away.

12. One Is the Loneliest Number by Three Dog Night -- two can be as bad as one.

13. Sharp Dresssed Man by ZZ Top -- every time I hear this song I see them spinning those fuzzy guitars.

14. She's Come Undone by The Guess Who -- this song is actually called Undun on the album, maybe that's the Canadian spelling? (See, I can make fun, since I'm Canadian.) When I was a young girl I wanted to marry Burton Cummings.

15. Summertime by The Zombies -- a lovely waltz version of the classic.

In my music travels I also make a note of the name of any band that I think is clever, silly or just plain bizarre. Here are my lastest:

Half Man Half Biscuit
Parenthetical Girls
Oxygen Ponies
Peanut Butter Wolf
Young Antiques
Bipolar Bear -- my favorite of this list!
Chainsaw Kittens
Pagan Babies
Chicken on a Raft -- great, now I want chicken.
Ice Cream Socialists -- my second favorite, makes me giggle every.single.time.
Bastard Fairies
Genghis Tron
Get Cape. Wear cape. Fly! -- giggling again.
Two Cow Garage
Chicken Poodle Soup
Bowling for Soup
The Self Righteous Brothers -- brilliant!

I hope this little trip down memory lane makes you smile. Get the zip file now!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mixed Media


I love books. And TV. And music. Here's my take on a few offerings from the first two categories. I'm going to save the music piece for a second post as this is getting quite long.


Synopis from Barnes & On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story that unfolds over a quarter of a century in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night.

[The book]...explores the way life takes unexpected turns, and how the mysterious ties that hold a family together help us survive the heartache that occurs when long-buried secrets burst into the open.

I was fairly disappointed with this novel. It had a lot of elements that interested me, a very big lie and secret that was carried for a long time, a family member with a disability (who was supposed to go to an institution), photography, etc. However, the book is choppy, mostly because the author skips forward in time four or five times and picks up the stories of the characters again. She beats us over the head with the facts over and over, making sure we don't forget that this girl's mother and brother think she died while the husband suffers the consequences of keeping the secret. One huge element missing from the story is the daughter herself -- while crusading for her rights and education, the author missed the boat by not giving her her own voice amidst the others. Two out of five paws from me.

Synopsis: In this follow-up to his popular debut The Kitchen Boy, Alexander again mines the considerable lore of the Russian imperial family. Rasputin, the legendary mad monk, is also a family man raising two daughters in 1916 St. Petersburg. As he ministers to the tsaritsa and her royal brood during the last week of his life, 18-year-old Maria strives to understand the menacing aura surrounding her father. She is both loving and rebellious, but her adventures are limited to a flirtation with a young man who will betray her in a plot against her father. Alexander's wild-eyed romp through a period much studied for its contradictions and cruelties will be a staple of most historical fiction collections.

I knew going in this was a "young adult" book, but I enjoyed it well enough. I've read and seen a lot of documentaries on the fall of the Romanovs, and Rasputin certainly did his part in their fate. The book was compact in size and scope, covering the last week of Rasputin's life, and written convincingly from Maria's perspective. Three out of five paws.

Synopsis: Just as the smell of popcorn and the allure of fiery sword swallowers and exotic animals once drew spectators to the big top, readers will be drawn to this story of life in a traveling circus during the Depression. After Jacob Jankowski's parents die in a tragic car accident, the bank repossesses their home, which had been mortgaged to finance Jacob's veterinary studies. Jacob jumps a train carrying the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth and is hired on because of his veterinary skills. The circus world is not all glamour and glitz, Jacob soon learns, but a hardscrabble life where both animals and workers are exploited and often mistreated. The author brings alive the circus culture with historical details and a wonderful menagerie of characters, including Uncle Al, the unscrupulous business manger; Kinko, a bitter dwarf; Marlena, the beautiful horse-riding star of the show; and Rosie, an elephant with personality and a secret. The story is told in flashback, through the eyes of Jacob, now ninety-three years old and in an assisted-living facility. His memory is jolted by the arrival of a circus in the parking lot nearby and his mind wanders back in time. The book's many complex layers-adventure, love, history, suspense, and a surprise ending-and Gruen's sensual prose are enhanced by period archive circus photographs at the beginning of each chapter.

I really enjoyed this book, in fact, it's the best book I've read in a while. The vocabulary isn't extraordinary, but the writing is solid, the characters are interesting and the period details convincing. Anyone who can write in the first person in the opposite gender to their own has some skills in my opinion. Some reviews have said the ending is contrived, but I disagree -- I loved the ending and felt satisfied as I closed the book on the last page, something I've missed greatly recently. Four out of five paws!

Next on my nightstand is Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I wanted something I could really sink my teeth into. Last year I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, my first Eco read (where have I been?) and I discovered many words I never knew existed, never mind knew the meaning of. I'm thinking this is going to beat the pants off of Dan Brown.

What are you reading?


Besides "So You Can Think You Can Dance", my favorite program with my least favorite name (who's the marketing genius who thought that up?), summer television can be a trying mish-mash of insipid reality shows and re-runs. This summer has been better than most. Here are three new shows, none of which are on the big networks, that I think are worth checking out:

Mad Men
The Setting: In 1960, advertising agencies were an all-powerful influence on the masses. Personal and professional manipulation and sexual exploits defined the workplace and closed the deals. The high profile Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency created advertising campaigns – from cigarettes to political candidates -- better than anyone. It was a time of great ferment. Women had barely begun to come into their own. Librium and birth control were on the move. Ethics in the workplace, smoke-free environments, sexual harassment and ethnic diversity were workshops of the future.

The Premise: The series depicts the sexual exploits and social mores of this most innovative yet ruthless profession, while taking an unflinching look at the ad-men who shaped the hopes and dreams of Americans on a daily basis.

I've seen two episodes now and I am hooked. On, of all things, AMC (American Movie Classics), it isn't surprising this series is great, considering that executive producer and writer of "The Sopranos" Matthew Weiner is behind it. They get everything right here, you are in a totally believable Manhattan in 1960, from the hairstyles and wardrobe to the seatbelt-less cars and the incessant smoking and drinking. New episodes air first on Thursdays at 10, but repeats are on almost every day.

DAMAGES is a legal thriller set in the world of New York City high-stakes litigation. The series, which provides a view into the true nature of power and success, follows the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) the nation's most revered and reviled high-stakes litigator and her bright, ambitious protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) as they become embroiled in a class action lawsuit targeting the allegedly corrupt Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), one of the country’s wealthiest CEOs. As Patty battles with Frobisher and his attorney Ray Fiske (Željko Ivanek) Ellen Parsons will be front and center witnessing just what it takes to win at all costs, as it quickly becomes clear that lives, as well as fortunes, may be at stake.

My friends at FX have come up with another winner! Only the home of Nip/Tuck could come up with a legal thriller with so much bite. Both Glenn Close and Ted Danson are perfectly cast as the opponents on this battlefield. New episodes air on Tuesdays at 10, but again, repeats are on several times during the week.

Saving Grace
In her television series debut, Hunter stars as Grace Hanadarko, a tormented, fast-living Oklahoma City police detective who, despite being at the top of her field, takes self-destruction to new heights. After seeing tremendous tragedy in her life, both professionally and personally, Grace lives life hard and fast. She drinks too much, sleeps with the wrong men and defies authority. Grace has a tender side with her 22 nieces and nephews, but that is a side that most of the world doesn’t get to see. It all catches up with her one night when, as she’s driving too fast after too many drinks, she hits a man who is walking along the road. In an uncharacteristic moment, Grace asks for help, and she gets it – in the form an unconventional angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, Deadwood). Earl tells Grace that she is in trouble and running out of chances, but he wants to help lead her back to the right path. The journey, for both of them, will not be an easy one.

I'm not sure about this one. I am a huge Holly Hunter fan, and her character is so flawed that it's probably almost as much fun to do the part as it is to watch. Being an agnostic threatening to out myself as an atheist, the fact that the "unconventional angel" is a redneck, tobacco-chewing Billy Bob Thornton lookalike gives me a bit of hope I can keep watching. And Grace is, to say the least, initially skeptical, but by the end of the first episode she's already changed her mind about believing in God. The show is a tug of war between good Grace and bad Grace, but I'm not convinced it works fully. Fans of Hunter's gritty performance will roll their eyes at Earl, and viewers who warm to the show's spirituality might be turned off by all of Grace's drinking, cursing and screwing. I'm hoping they can make this work. New episodes air on TNT (which explains a lot) on Mondays at 10.

What are you watching?

Update: I watched the second episode of Saving Grace and I got bored half way through. I even got all the guys she's sleeping with mixed up, and Earl (the angel) just bugged me. I'm gonna stop watching it. But, I watched the second episode of Damages and liked it even more than the first episode. The third episode of Mad Men is on tonight.