Sunday, January 28, 2007

Party of Nine

Last night we had dinner with D's brother and his family, which included his niece and her 4 year-old daughter, D's Mom, and his son and 3 year-old grandson. We went to a national steakhouse chain as we needed someplace with decent food that was also kid friendly. It was the re-tying of a knot that got undone a long time ago, and it went very well. This was the first time D's brother and family had seen C in 24 years. The kids were adorable together and we all took pictures of each other, including a very good shot of D's Mom and niece, taken by 3 year-old S.

There were many hugs and kisses at the end of the evening and I was once again so proud of C and S and D. My heart is healed a little more every time we are together.

C and S haven't met D's sister and her family yet, but another four people at this dinner would have been too much. One step at a time.

And now for the horse update! I went down to the farm yesterday and got Mystere out of her stall and tied her up at the washrack to groom her. She was filthy again, as it was after turnout and one of her favorite things to do is roll. It took me a good half hour to get her to the point where I felt she looked respectable, but I didn't mind, every touch is part of the relationship-building process. I made an appointment with the farrier to get new shoes in a couple of weeks. He's a sweet older man with a heart of gold, he congratulated me and told me Miss was a sweet girl and never gave him any trouble, and that she had his favorite trot on the property. It's slowly sinking in that I have a very valuable and enviable horse.

Willow took me to the tack store and I bought brushes, sponges, buckets, a lunge line and whip and ordered a padded bridle. She found a good used Pessoa saddle online for me, we're hoping to negotiate down from the price, but with saddles you really get what you pay for. You can buy a Yugo or you can buy a Ferrari; I'm looking for something in the BMW range. The older Pessoas were made in England and are much better quality then the newer ones, which are made in Venezuela. We put all her new stuff in the tack box and pretty much filled it up. This is all happening so fast, but I'm already thinking how long its going to be before I can actually ride her.

One step at a time. I'm off to see Miss.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

She's mine. I signed the bill of sale today (for $1), the boarding contract and the list of special arrangements we had agreed to. They even threw in free hauling to the vet. They moved her today from her extremely large and expensive stall to a smaller one farther from the office because a new boarder wanted to pay full price. This was part of our arrangement. Miss seemed fine in her new digs and was getting along famously with her new pony neighbors. Willow put a bridle and surcingle on her today and lunged her. At first she wasn't that crazy about having all that tack on but she shrugged her big shoulders and went to work. We'll get a saddle on her this weekend.

Pinch me. I'm a horse owner. I am humbled by the farm's trust and belief in me, this is obviously a very special horse to them. I found out today Miss has a very nice wood tack trunk complete with brass nameplate, although it doesn't have much in it. Willow is taking me to the general tack store after my lesson on Saturday to pick up the few essentials I need right now, and will keep her eye out for a good deal on a saddle.

Here's another shot of Mystere, showing her other good side.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mystery Abounds

If wishes were horses, mine came true today. On the one year anniversary of meeting D's son for the first time, we have added another member to our family: as of today we own a horse! Notice I didn't say we BOUGHT a horse...the farm where I ride gave her to me.

Here's the story: she's the baby sister of the farm owner's thoroughbred. The people who have owned her for the past 5 years moved to LA about a year ago. They haven't been back to see her in all that time and just called to tell the owner that they are giving her back to the farm, they aren't paying one more penny, that the farm could put her to sleep if they wanted, they were done with her. What assholes! That's illegal too, but that's besides the point.

So, they needed someone to take ownership of her. They are willing to do just about anything to keep her at the farm, she was born there and has spent her entire life there (she's 7). So, they aren't charging me for the horse, they will charge me half of what the boarding and food costs would normally be, they are going to comp my lessons until Missy is back in shape so I can ride her (3-6 months, she hasn't been ridden in a year but has been exercised regularly), and they are going to train and/or retrain her for free. Plus teach me all the stuff I need to know to be a horse owner.

It's a deal we couldn't really say no to. If we did say no they would have to sell her off the property and it would break all their hearts to do that. This is happening about a year earlier than I had thought it would, but it's a great opportunity. I was planning on leasing in a few months anyway and now I'll have full access to her plus free lessons, so it will be costing us about $100 more/month that what I am paying now. She is a young horse and has great bloodlines, her big sister is a champion hunter/jumper. She has two full sisters at the farm and the owner of the farm owned both her parents and her grandparents.

As you can see she's a pretty bay mare (chestnut brown with black on her lower legs and a black mane and tail) and she moves very well. Her "barn" name is Missy, I've given her the show name of Mystere, which means mystery in French. She's very sweet and loving, despite not having her own person for a long time. She needed a person, and I guess I needed a horse.

All you horsey types, I'm interesting in your opinion of her movement.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Six Boxes

The other day I went to LSC to pack up my office. Not only because my reign, I mean, my contract there is ending, but because that group is moving to another building on the campus. After four years of work I had four boxes of files for them to keep and two boxes of personal stuff to take home. I know that isn't fair, the vast majority of my work is on the computer, but I'm a tangible kind of a gal. I kept my laptop for now as I haven't got sign-off on the project I've been working on for another department there, and my badge to get into buildings will only work through the end of the month.

I was really sad when I got home and it took me a while to really pinpoint why. Yes, I will miss my friends and my old boss there, as I already spoke of, but it was something else. It occured to me today as I sat at my computer at home: I no longer have an office of my own, anywhere. I am office-less. I had a really nice office at LSC (well, actually a cubicle), it was in a corner so I had a view and windows on both sides. I had Monet prints on the walls and French dessert plates in swirly metal holders on a shelf, a beautiful plant that survived all these years and a good stereo.

The office at my one consistent client is used by somebody else the other 4 days of the week that I'm not there, although I suppose that doesn't mean I can't put up a few things on the walls. Pardon me while I adjust. I'll be back later this weekend with some more horsey stuff. In the meantime, here are two pictures I took on my way home from the farm last weekend.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

History Lesson

I think my trainer Willow understood that I would prefer to ride Angel if it was at all possible, even though we didn’t discuss this after my fall. Yesterday when I got to the barn early and she told me to tack up Angel when I was ready because she was going to need to be longed, I broke into a mile-wide smile. My friend who introduced me to the farm was riding her thoroughbred and I sat and drank my coffee and watched her ride, soaking up as much as I could before I put on my half-chaps and gloves (it’s been record-breakingly chilly here this week) to tack up. Most of the water pipes at the barn were frozen and a couple had burst so everyone was working on a bucket brigade to get water to all the horses. I told you it was cold!

My friend watched my lesson so I was feeling a little pressure to ride well, but felt no trepidation, no concerns, no fear. Even after a long warm-up Angel was still very forward and it was such a joy to have my commands reacted to and to concentrate on my technique. We also talked about leasing her in the spring, so I’m very happy with how things are going.

My work situation is changing and that’s causing me some anxiety (I’ve got to have something to worry about, don’t I?). When I signed up with the financial consulting company in April I elected to be an hourly employee because I didn’t know how many hours I was going to be logging and wanted to continue with the freedom and equality of being paid for the hours I work, which has been the case since February 2003 when I became a consultant.

I have a terrible track record when it comes to the companies I’ve worked for, my friends call me Typhoid Mary because most of them don’t exist anymore. This moniker makes me smile and grimace simultaneously, using my mother’s name in this way.

I’ve recapped this before but I think it bears repeating. In the spring of 1999 the company I worked for, a very famous internet pioneer, was acquired by an internet imposter company I still revile today. After that painful layoff, severance settlement in hand, I decided to try consulting and signed up with an agency that specialized in stock plan administration. After a few days at my first assignment that company offered me a full-time job and I accepted, still unsure and scared of what being a consultant would mean. That turned out to be a very bad decision. By the spring of 2000 I was again laid off and that company died a very slow, painful death. One of my good friends offered me a job helping her at another former high-flyer on the stock market, but by October 2001 she was forced to lay me off in the second “reduction in force” in less than a year. God, I hate that term! Silicon Valley, RIF this.

Within a month I got a job at a nice little software company and things were going along fine until – you guessed it – in May 2002 it was announced that a very large software company was acquiring us. I worked very hard on the conversion of our stock into theirs and by September 2002 had successfully worked myself out of a job, again.

By this time we were embroiled in infertility treatments and things weren’t going well on that front. I left a week earlier than my settlement required because I just could not handle working any longer. Right after the acquisition announcement I started having panic attacks and suffered through the next four months mostly in silence, feeling alone and out of control.

I literally spent the three months after leaving in a prone position, either on the couch or in bed, alternatively nauseous or crying. D convinced me to find a therapist, something I did not want to do, having gone through 4+ years of group therapy in the late 90’s, but I was so debilitated and exhausted I knew I couldn’t get out of this alone.

It became clear after just a couple of sessions that there were a couple of forces at work. The fairly obvious one was my feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me; that I was, in fact, somehow causing these companies to fail by my very presence on their payroll. The infertility was another, deeper layer of failure. All the while my mother’s voice was there in my head, backing up these feelings with the words of disdain and dire predictions I’d heard all my life. I nearly screamed at my doctor, “NO! This cannot be about HER, AGAIN.”

Ahem. Anyway, after many sessions, a Christmas I can’t remember and a very painful six-week adjustment to the Little Blue Pills, I was starting to feel better. I could even drive again without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack and cause a hundred car chain-reaction accident on the freeway.

In February of 2003 my boss at Large Software Company (LSC) called to ask if I could help them out on a consulting basis, and I’ve been there ever since. My boss there is the reason I said earlier that I suffered mostly in silence, she was so kind to me through all kinds of erratic behavior: crying jags, coming in late and leaving early, not eating during the day for days on end…she always had my back, but I was still surprised when she called me to work for her again after five months, I thought for sure she thought I was certifiable.

My point in this long explanation is this: my work at LSC has dwindled to almost nothing in the past year, and the new consulting company has been pushing me to roll over to salary. Last week I met with management there and we are in negotiations to do just that, which will mean giving up my LSC as an independent consultant client. I’ve already told my boss there and, of course, she has been gracious and supportive. I know this is a positive move and I’ve become a luxury item to LSC, but the emotional bond between me and her is a strong one, and I already miss her.

My negotiations to roll over to salary include a 32-hour work week, two people under me and a lot of control over the kind of work I take on. I’m very lucky. I won’t forget my boss or her kindness.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Fall At Your Feet

I fell off a horse yesterday. I guess after nary a mishap in seven months it was due to happen.

I was riding Huey, who is a much larger horse than my usual mount, the little mare Angel. So right off the bat I was feeling like I was much higher off the ground than usual. His stride is also a lot bigger, so I was feeling like I was bouncing around and a little out of control the entire lesson.

I was cantering on the longe line (a line is attached to the bridle and the trainer has the other end), when Cat Dog ran right in front of the horse and spooked him. He was already going pretty fast and he reared up and jerked his whole body to the outside of the circle. Since I was leaning to the inside of the circle, I completely lost my balance and fell off to the side. I managed to get my right foot out of the stirrup right away and kept hold of the reins while my left foot stayed in the stirrup until the last second. It was a sort of slow motion fall, I didn't land hard but it did scare the crap out of me. After we got him calmed down a bit (and the cat got a good scolding) I got back on and finished the lesson.

Last night my back started to hurt and now where I actually landed on my outer thigh is also sore, but I'm more concerned about the mental after-effects. I know I got back on right away, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became. I switched my lessons to Saturdays because my work schedule is too crazy right now to fit one in during the week, which means I'll probably be riding Huey a lot more.

I could really use some words of wisdom from my horse friends here.
UPDATE: My sincere thanks to all of you who left comments. I think what I am most afraid of is, well, being afraid. I had no sense of fear whatsoever before I fell, I would walk right up to a strange horse and start petting it, or feed a strange horse a carrot or whatever. I would jump right in the saddle on any horse my instructor put in front of me with a "I can do this" kind of attitude. I can't honestly say that anything will have changed when I go back next weekend for another lesson, I hope not, I guess all I can do it keep on keeping on.

The horse I was riding, Huey, was trained for Western Pleasure (which sounds like an all-male Vegas revue!), and they've been converting him -- if that's the right terminology -- to English for a few years now. Because of his early training he tends to start out slow. Really slow. On top of that he is a bit lazy so you have to constant urge him forward, which is just a nice horsey way of saying you have to kick him a lot. I even use a crop when I ride him, because he just.won't.go unless you absolutely show him you mean it. He's also used to being ridden with spurs, so just kicking him doesn't do much. I don't like riding him because it's a lot of work just to keep him at a trot, where I spend most of my lessons; I get exhausted mentally and physically and can't concentrate on my technique.

I definitely plan on leasing Angel when I can switch back to lessons during the week, once my work schedule gets back to normal after the year-end rush and the weather gets more predictable. My trainer said something about leasing Huey, but I just can't imagine it. Yes, Angel is an "easier" horse to ride, but so what? She can also jump so I can really stay with her a long while.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Year End Wrap-Up

The holiday season has come and gone and I’m woefully behind in getting the words swirling in my head down on virtual paper and up on my blog.

First a short run-down of recent events. We never did put up a tree or lights or send out cards, but gifts were bought and shipped on time to Canada to my family and bought and wrapped with time to spare for local friends and family. Five years ago I would have been mortified if I had not sent out cards! I don’t know if that’s growth or indifference.

We spent Christmas Eve afternoon with most of D’s family and everyone had a good time trying out Mom’s new Shiat_su massaging cushion. She ended up giving it back to us because it hurt her back too much, we gave her an electric toothbrush instead and now the cushion sits on our loveseat. We all agreed that it did hurt, but it hurt sooooo good.

We opened our gifts to each on Christmas Eve and I got a very lovely white gold ring with diamonds, there are four small bars across the ring and the diamonds are randomly spaced on the bars, so it looks like music. I also got a hand-made wooden bird cage, D said it was for inspiration while I was blogging, isn’t that cute?

Christmas Day was spent with the extended Blond Family; first brunch at one house, complete with assorted small children (5 year-old Wonder Boy, 2 year-old twin girls and an 18-month old Japanese-American baby, all equally adorable) and two Vizslas.

Then to Mom & Dad Blond’s house for the rest of the day, most of which was spent opening the many, many, MANY presents under their tree. So many that breaks are required because everyone has to open gifts individually and it literally takes hours to get through them all. After a nice dinner we went home and unpacked our loot – the dining room and family room are still stewn with gift bags and tissue paper, but hey, that’s what weekends are for.

Then I promptly got sick, catching the combo stomach and regular flu that’s going around the Bay Area. Our power went out early Wednesday morning so we cranked up the generator so we could get ready for work. I am a slave to electricity. My world screeches to a halt without it.

As the day wore on I felt worse and worse, but made it through the Project From Hell and met D for dinner at a local diner (see slave to electricity above). Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke and said, “I have to throw up now”, as I grabbed the flashlight next to the bed and made it to the bathroom in time to lose my dinner of French toast. After several minutes during which I wished I could die, I crawled back into bed and slept the rest of the night. In the morning the power was still out but since I spent the entire day semi-conscious on the couch I didn’t really mind, I was warm in front of the wood stove. The power finally came back on Thursday evening at about 5:30, just before I was starting to figure out where we wanted to go out to eat.

New Year’s Eve afternoon we met the Blonds (sans Wonder Boy) and drove down to Monterey. After checking into our hotel we walked to a delightful restaurant for dinner then came back to change into our fancy duds to attend the “Silver Fishes & New Year’s Wishes” gala at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Our money went to a good cause and it was a great time. One of the cool things was the crowd ranged in age from 20’s to 70’s, as the patrons of the aquarium were there in full force, they were the ones wearing real fur and diamonds. They weren’t afraid to shake their groove thing either! Of course the exhibits are amazing, we especially loved the jellyfish, they are so strange and beautiful.

By the next morning I felt much better and after the best banana walnut pancakes I’ve ever had, drove to the farm for a riding lesson. I couldn’t think of a better way to start a new year than riding Angel. Before we left I had taken my riding stuff out of my trunk and put it on the ground behind D’s Jeep, thinking it was locked. Big mistake. While we were busy getting ready to leave, Lexi the yellow lab puppy from across the street discovered this treasure trove and proceeded to chew up my helmet. Oh well, I got a new helmet out of the deal.

My sister sent me a lot of gifts this year, she always goes out of her way to send me stuff, but this year she really went all out – 3 boxes worth! One of them contained a gorgeous horse statue made out of leather. I know, I had that thought at first too: a cow was sacrificed to make this horse? But it really is beautiful, don't you think?

Another contained an “11 piece porcelain nativity with wood stable” as it says on the box. I opened it enough to ensure that that was really what was inside (I’ve learned to never trust the box) and promptly put it aside. I thought it was exceedingly strange that she would get me something so overtly religious, but I will have to leave it at that, that’s a subject for a long post in the near future.

A lot of folks are recounting their year and for the most part the consensus was that 2006 sucked. Although many of my friends, online and IRL, suffered devastating losses of various kinds, I have to say that for me there were three things that stand out and they are all positive:

1. Meeting D’s son and grandson.

2. Starting a new job in April with my consulting company.

3. Fulfilling a long-time wish to learn to ride.

All of them, works in progress. Not a bad year after all.