Monday, January 26, 2015

It's the little things....

Attention to detail. Gotta love it.

As part of having my bathroom repainted, I bought new cover plates for the light switches and electrical outlets. The painter put those on in the course of finishing up the job.

This evening I happened to take a closer look at them and realized that, of the four screws holding on one plate and two screws holding on the other, every single one had its screwdriver slot vertical. Only one was even slightly out of plumb.

Now, that's good workmanship.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Curses! Foiled again!

So I'm peeling and sectioning a blood orange -- my first time trying one, by the way; unfortunate name for a decently tasty fruit -- and Peanut, he of the ever-raging appetite, stands below me in the kitchen, looking hopeful, while Schooner, the cat who does not grasp the concept of boundaries, comes up along the sink to me to see what I'm fixing.

I offer both a whiff of half-peeled orange. They shrink back, wrinkling their whiskery noses in distaste.

I take the bowl to my recliner in the living room, sit down, and begin eating as I proofread. The ever-raging appetite and the boundaryless one observe this and lock radar on the bowl. "Food? You eat, we eat. Yes?"

I hold the bowl down toward them as they close on my chair. They sniff, pull back in dismay, and stare bewildered at me. I'm eating it; it must be good; they should get some; what has gone wrong? Surely if they stare hard enough at me I will relent and produce the good stuff that must be in that bowl?

I offer it again. It is, alas, still not good stuff. They wander away, disconsolate.

I am a hardhearted woman, and not at all a good mom. I chuckle.

Addendum: Every few minutes Peanut comes back to check: "Has the icky stuff turned into FUD? For ME?" Bowl proffered. Cat repelled. Again.


Update on Peanut: Yesterday he was cruelly disappointed when the bowl I was eating from proved to contain icky orange slices rather than FUD! he'd like.

Today, however, his luck had turned. When I'd finished my snack of chips and dip I offered him the dip bowl to see if he'd like the scanty remnants, and he did.

He licked up every minuscule bit of mashed avocado coloring the bowl.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Report

I'm currently racing to the finish of Philippa Gregory's "The Red Queen", set in pre-Tudor England during the War of the Roses, and it's quite the tour de force: Told in the first person by what has to be the most remarkably nasty, bitter, vain, spiteful, envious, self-righteous, cold-hearted, holier-than-thou, hateful protagonist I have ever encountered -- and it's a gripping, engrossing page-turner.

It's chronologically the second book in her Cousins' War historical novel series about the pre-Tudor era, but fortunately I started with "The White Queen" (number 3), then went back to "The Lady of the Rivers" before "The Red Queen" -- these books all overlap a lot, timewise, you're seeing many of the same events from wildly different perspectives, and if I'd read the current novel before "The White Queen" (which in fact was written first) I'd have missed a lot of what makes this one so deliciously enjoyable despite the truly dreadful persona of the protagonist. Next up: "The Kingmaker's Daughter", then "The White Princess", then "The King's Curse".

This is the author of "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Queen's Fool", both part of her series of novels set in the Tudor era, which I'd read some years ago. I'm tempted, when I'm done with the Cousins' War series, to go back to them and wallow in all six books in her Tudor Court series.

Her website, for more info if you're interested:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ben is a bad boy

Caught in the act! And no, Ben, it wasn't Winston who yanked off Dora's halter and then tossed it over the fence; and you aren't merely trying to put it back on her.

You are a very mischievous boy.

A delightful surprise

How wicked cool is this?

I ordered a bunch of stamps from the USPS online and when they arrived, I unsleeved them from their protective wrap and backing. When I got to the sheet of Janis Joplin commemoratives, I got a pleasant surprise!

Online you just see the image of the stamp itself. On the actual sheet, what you'll find is this: on the back, it's all a photo of Janis in full joyous belt against a backdrop of funky psychedelic lettering. On the stamp side, the block on stamps lies on what looks like an album paper jacket, complete with the worn-down outline of the platter within, and with the edge of the record just peeking out of the top.

Well done, USPS!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I would not have expected this

Ben is funny.

A few days ago Hilly happened to be eating a clementine nearby his paddock. He hung at the fence, making his "Please please please" puppy dog face till she handed him a slice, not really expecting him to do anything except lip it and drop it into the mud.

He inhaled it.

So today, just for the heck of it, I offered Ben a kumquat. That's right, one of those silly little grape-sized citrus thingies. He sniffed it, took it tentatively, and chewed it in the front of his mouth, presumably ready to spit it out if it turned out to be icky.

It was, as it turns out, not icky. He swallowed the tiny treat and accepted a second and a third kumquat with cheerful greed, and would have taken more if I'd offered them. I refrained, not wanting to overload his belly with something so outre compared to his usual diet.

Ben is funny.


Update, a few days later: Alas, Ben's brief infatuation with kumquats has ended. First day: intrigue, inhalation. Second day: happy gobbling. Third day: sniffing, ambivalent acceptance. Fourth day: sniffed, slowly taken, chewed once, spat out.

But horse cookies are cheerfully accepted.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Getting an Edge

Status: Exhausted, much depleted of invective inventory, and pleased.

The Gazelle Edge exercise thingie arrived today, yippee! Further yippee: The young delivery man who toted its heavy boxed immensity up my ten front stairs was kind enough to then haul it inside and all the way to its future home in the living room. Where it sat while I got some rush work out of the way.

That done, I set about unboxing and sorting the contents, with a first set of imprecations to warm up for what lay ahead. The picture-and-word instructions were reasonably clear; all parts were present and accounted for; the sequence itself was not too involved; so it only took me about an hour and a few fucktons of curses to get it finished.

The first time mounting the beast was kinda scary; those footrests swing easily and you have GOT to hold the side bars, NOT the handles, to get aboard safely. But I did it!

And by golly, it works. It's easy to master the motion, it's not overly hard to do; yet I could feel enough effort being expended to believe that it will in fact do me some good to work out on it. It does take up some of my limited floor space, but not too much, and it will fold up. Best of all, my wonky joints didn't complain a bit.

The cats, natch, were horrified at the intruder who hauled it in; emerged from hiding to sniff cautiously at the box, then try their claws on it; fled the assembly cursing and played in the cast-aside packaging; and are now clumped around the edges of the Edge, no doubt annoyed because it's sitting right where several of them like to congregate in the hour before supper trying to guilt me into serving an early meal.

I hope I'm around to see it when one of them tries getting on one of the swinging footrests.


Next morning update:

The Gazelle Edge -- so far, so good. I'm so deconditioned that it really does tire me out after a few minutes of not-that-hard work, so I've been using it in short bursts, as frequently as I can find occasions for. I did feel a little bit of "Hey, you've been making us work!" muscle ache this morning when I got up, nothing the usual morning activities couldn't warm me out of.

You do have to pay attention to some degree, as it's possible to get your right-left glides out of sync, or one leg working harder than the other. But you can still watch TV while gliding along.

It's primarily a lower-body exerciser, but it works better to tighten your gut muscles, and there is a small upper-body component that can't hurt, might help.

All in all, I do believe I've made the right choice for a home exercise contraption.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Tiny Triumph

I rode today!

No, not Ben; he's retired for good. Nope, I rode a calm, steady little Haflinger schoolie -- the guy Hilly gives lessons to beginner little girls on, but who's up to my weight, even in my Aussie saddle.

With Hilly offering occasional advice and otherwise chatting with me on this and that, we walked and we trotted, which was fun once I got used to the very different feel of his short stride compared to my spider-legged TB. Royal was in his bitless bridle, the one he wears for beginners, to spare his mouth from unsteady hands hauling on it. This, combined with his somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward leg aids, made him rather less steerable than sensitive Ben, though I was able to send him in circles and across the diagonal without much trouble. Hilly tells me he's more responsive when he's in a bitted bridle -- "Oops, not a beginner I can tune out; I better listen up now" -- and we'll probably put that on him next time.

Yes! Though I only managed 15 minutes today before my body said "That's enough for now, thankyouverymuch," I am greatly encouraged at how I blew past all my fear issues and physical limitations and had FUN. Solid, sensible, lower-to-the-ground Royal was just what I needed to get back into riding. He's such a good doobie.

Of course, we'll see what my body has to say about it after I've sat here and set up for a while, and when I crawl out of bed tomorrow morning. The hip, yes, is sore now; we'll see if an ibuprofen can quiet it down.

Update: I rode Royal again a day or two later, and this time we remembered to take photos! So here we are in all our glory:

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Useful Exercise

The horses are in today, thanks to the rain. I put Ben out just long enough to clean his stall, since it had dwindled to drizzle and light showers by the time I arrived. It took him a while (he's not the sharpest pencil in the box) to realize he was out ALL ALONE and bellow pitifully for rescue.

Meanwhile, I tackled his large stall. His large filthy stall. His large filthy stall where he, a big eater and even bigger drinker, had been free to pee and poop from suppertime yesterday to midday today. I took out three (or was it four?) level wheelbarrow loads, sodden and stinking, and could have taken out more if I'd chosen to be fanatical about it. Then I brought the pathetically relieved big guy back inside.

It was (a) satisfying to give him a clean stall; (b) some useful exercise; and (c) a good reminder of just why I've given up doing rough board.

Now I have to go change. And wash my hands again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oh, right, like I needed this

Well, this sucks.

As if it weren't bad enough that I'm having ongoing lower back pain and stiffness; discomfort I thought was just the passing result of some heavy lifting two weeks ago, except that, instead of getting better, in the last few days it's got markedly worse. So much so that I wake up in the morning with a real problem moving; so much so that last night I had to abandon my bed and sleep in the recliner -- which helped the back but had its own not so great effect on my hips.

Yeh, hips, plural. The replaced one can be mildly achy off and on, though nowhere near as bad as before the operation. But now the right hip is getting grumpy; for the past few months it's been treating me to low-level but frequent hot-feeling discomfort. I'm nowhere near needing to think about getting that one replaced -- yet -- but that's another cloud on my horizon.

The knees, fortunately, while still niggling at me aren't too much of a problem, though they're not normal strength. The right Achilles tendon, for a wonder, is actually getting better though it too still can bother me if I walk too much. But the lower back pain and stiffness have me wondering whether there might be a disc problem. I'll be seeing my physical therapist tomorrow and will see what if anything he can do to help. If the back still sucks next week I'll go see my doctor.

So, anyway, I've been dealing with all this frustrating debility, wondering how much more decrepitude lies ahead, and now? Now, on top of all that?

Another damned tooth just broke while I was eating. Not really surprising, given how generally crappy my fangs are, not to mention the ratio of filling to enamel in the pathetic bit of dentition that I spat into my hand. And at least the remaining stub isn't hurting.


But I did not need this. Especially on my preferred chewing side.

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Friday late-day update:

Some reasonably good news: my physical therapist doesn't believe the back pain's from a disc problem; apparently I'd be having pain radiating down my leg it it were.

So, a strain. He's given me a couple of gentle stretches to help, plus things I can do with pillows to relieve stress on the area while sleeping, since it's worst right out of bed. Or I'll sleep in the recliner for a few nights to given my back some relief from what's bothering it. Also, both heat and ice packs can be useful.

I am now sitting fairly comfortably in my recliner, enveloped in Ben-Gay fumes.


Saturday morning update:

Another night in the recliner, and progress!

It's not the most restful place to sleep; it bothers my bad Achilles tendon, in fact, given where the edge of the footrest lands; but it sure does make my lower back happier. I got up for one of the usual bathroom runs around 6:30 and decided to go upstairs to my bed, see if the therapist-suggested pillow arrangements would work. Turns out sleeping on my side, no matter how I prop myself, makes lumbar-me unhappy, surprisingly quickly. Turning onto my back, with under-knee pillowing, is much better, other than exposing my torso to the crushing weight of a cat or two. Still, it will probably take another night or so in the recliner to settle things down enough for me to resume my bed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wetlands deadwood

The Miles River runs between Hamilton and Ipswich, Massachusetts. Where Gardner Street becomes Sagamore Road a causeway runs across the river's broad wetlands, and from there one has a sweeping view up and down river of the drowned lands. Much of it must have been dry once; in riding my horse on trails nearby I've found traces of old cart paths leading into what's now wetlands, and the skeletal trees sticking up from the reeds bear mute witness to the past.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

W're All Gonna DIE!!!!!!!

Oh, for fuck's sake -- has the world gone mad? Madder even than usual? Behold, the craziness infecting the salt of the earth in Maine: "Maine school board puts teacher on leave after she traveled to Dallas"

That's right, a teacher goes to a conference in Dallas, ten miles from the hospital where Mr. Duncan died, and terrified parents are convinced a wave of The Dread Pirate Ebola is about to sweep through their school. And the school board gives in to the idiocy. My favorite comment on the article by one Andrew Schaefer: "This is like blowing up your house because you saw a cockroach in your kitchen, and then napalming the entire neighborhood just to be sure, and then pouring ten feet of cement over all of it."

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I graduated from college in 1971 and went to England for a week or two that fall, wandering around mostly in the south, traveling by bus. One place I visited was Salisbury, and on a fine fair day I took a local bus out from that town to see the ruins of Old Sarum. I decided to walk from there to Stonehenge. It was a peaceful walk that brought me at last to a hilltop above a vast sweeping plain. But where was the great stone monument? Ah, there it was, remote in the distance, slowly growing in size and power as I walked toward it, as its worshippers must have seen it rise up before them thousands of years ago.

I stopped at the visitor center briefly, then crossed under the highway and walked up to and in among the towering stones. Yes, among them -- this was 1971, as I said, and the henge was not fenced off from the public till 1977. (One lucky enough to score a ticket can still go among the stones -- though not touch them -- during tightly limited special access times.) There weren't a lot of other people there. It was quietly amazing. I explored and marvelled, then went back to the visitor center and caught a bus back to Salisbury.

That was 43 years ago, and I still think about that experience whenever, as happened tonight, I see a TV show about Stonehenge, and I feel fortunate beyond words to have walked there so long ago.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not how I planned to spend my morning

Well, this stinks, not too badly, but I really didn't want to spend a goodly chunk of my morning on phone hold or repeating the same story.

I got a credit card statement via email today and it didn't look right. In fact, it looked about $300 not right. So I went to my account online, and there were three identical transactions, on the same day, 9/21, to an online merchant I hadn't dealt with for years.

Called the credit card, went through menu hoops, finally got a live person. Shuffled to another live person. Reassured that I have zero liability for fraud and should call the merchant.

Called the merchant, went through menu hoops, got a live person, then another, and discovered that someone using my name and credit card but a different address in my town had ordered three game controllers. Not exactly anything I'd ever need even one of. Reassured it was taken care of on their end.

Called the police. Promptly (my town doesn't have much crime) got an officer who took the info including a printout I'd helpfully made of the relevant page from my online statement and promised to have a detective follow up with me later today (if available). Speculated that when they checked the address they were likely to find much more than the three game controllers my credit card had bought.

Called back the credit card company to see what else I needed to do. Hoops, live person, live person, fraud person, who went over everything yet again. Turns out whoever did this also used my card number for an airport transaction on October 4th. We confirmed the two legit transactions on the card, and he said they had what they needed on their end. I'm to trash this card and will be getting a new card, new account, within ten days.

Checked my other credit accounts and none show any suspicious activity.

Ain't modern conveniences wonderful?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ben has a new buddy!

And this time it's a girl.

A new boarder came in recently, a chestnut Arabian mare, who at first joined the mare herd in the large front paddock. Unfortunately, despite her pathetically eager attempts to make friends, she got rejected and got some nasty bites in the process. So poor Dora had to be pulled out and stuck on half-days into a wee onesy paddock, where she tried to make friends with her neighbors despite the electric fence.

Meanwhile, there's Ben in lonely splendor in his large-enough-for-two paddock. Ben, who despite the Ray fiasco likes (most) other horses and would be happy with a congenial buddy. So owners were consulted and agreed; and after her bites had healed up enough, Dora yesterday joined Ben.

I missed the introduction, which was at breakfast turnout. What I saw when I arrived later was a small chestnut where I'd expected to see a large bay. I was told everyone gathered to see how it would go, what excitement there might be -- and there was nothing. Nada. Zip, zilch, zero excitement. They looked, they sniffed, they ate hay from the same pile, and that was that.

This, of course, could change as they get to know each other, and they will have to sort out who's boss -- although this may already have been decided. While Dora was busy nibbling grass under the fenceline. I called Ben over to the gate. We schmoozed; Dora came over to investigate; the two equine noses briefly sniffed; Dora opened her mouth, showed her teeth -- just slightly -- and darted her muzzle maybe an inch at Ben; Ben flinched back.

So I think we know who'll be running the show in this relationship.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Do something!

So, we gotta do something about ISIS! We gotta do something about Syria! We gotta do something about the whole damn Middle East! NOW! Bombs away! Yeh! Let's rush right in and do SOMETHING! Preferably with lots of big BOOMS!

Or maybe we should think about it. Think about who's ginning up the war hysteria -- again -- and why.

Not that we've thought about it for decades of one bloody useless war after another....

Sunday, August 10, 2014

In the meantime....

Not much worthy of blithering on abut, so have a random critterpic:

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

By golly, that steroid shot is working! Today I walked what Google Earth tells me was 8/10 of a mile in one go, without a cane, a good half of it over roughish ground rather than smooth pavement, then trundled around the barn for another half hour doing this and that, groomed Ben, and rode him for ten minutes. Then drove home, cleaned up, sat down to a long meal, and stood up from the table about half an hour ago PAINFREE. And the only ibuprofen I'd had was one pill around 9:30 this morning.

This is very encouraging.

Ben lapped up all the attention, standing in untethered bliss in his paddock as I groomed him, standing untied in the tacking up part of the barn to be saddled and bridled, and trundling cheerfully around the ring with me aboard. He did spook very mildly a couple of times at wet swaths in the ring dirt, but even that was good for me, as I had no trouble handling the spooks and it was reassuring that they were so slow-motion minimalist.

I untacked him in the ring, and he surprised me -- instead of puttering off, he actually whirled away and half-heartedly cavorted for a few strides before digging at the dirt in his favored rolling place, dropping, and filthifying all my hard work of grooming him.

After a bit I walked into the ring and held out his halter. He walked over to me. Just as he reached me, the silly git stuck his nose out and bellowed a "Here I am, where are you?" mighty neigh. Why? Damned if I know. Then he obligingly stuck his head into his halter and got taken back to his paddock and his lunch hay.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

July 19:

I rode Ben today.


Yep. Overcoming the fear issues that sap my will to ride, even at the low levels Ben can offer these days, today I groomed, tacked up, and rode the mighty Benster. Getting on meant a small twinge of hip pain and a larger twinge of panic, especially as (a) he moved off before I was completely in the saddle, and (b) I discovered that the stirrup leathers were about three holes too short, from letting someone else ride him a while ago. Fortunately a bystander took care of the leathers so I didn't have to dismount and get back on, and off we went around the ring.

Walk, walk, walk. It took a bit to get my sulky lower body half settled into comfortable position, and I had to fight a constant urge to curl forward into fetal position, but walk we did. Other than bowing mildly away from damp patches in the ring dirt from water bucket dumpings, Ben was his normal placid self. Big spiderleg-gaited placid self.

I'm afraid we got in the way of a lesson going on once or twice, despite my best efforts to steer clear, but as time passed I got more relaxed and began to actively enjoy it. Towards the end of our ten minutes or so, I even asked for, and got, some easy trot steps in each direction -- notably more comfortable turning to the left, I might add. Not surprising when you consider it's his left hind that's much the worse.

Ben wasn't exactly blowing when we finished (nor was I, amazingly enough), but I'm sure that was plenty for now. He was also quietly pleased with himself, even without my showering him with kisses and praise. We'll have to do this again sometime.


July 21:

Another day, another ride. Ten minutes aboard the Benster, after three or four leading him, tacked up, around the ring to get his back warmed up before mounting. The fear factor has diminished, which is great. The few jog steps in each direction I tried were as much as either one of us needed to do. It was a pleasure to feel how well Ben remembers his job, how easily he turned just off seat and a hint of leg.

No one else was in the ring when I dismounted, so I untacked Ben and turned him loose to putter about. He rolled, puttered, and of course chose the farthest corner from the muck bucket to dump in. I swear he did it just to see me trudge the diagonal length of the ring, to and from, with muck fork. But he did (after a lengthy pause to ponder it) come across the ring to me when I held out his halter, and stick his head into it, when it was time to put him back out in his paddock.

Best of all: Before mounting, my left hip and leg were bothering me. By the time I got off, and walking around afterwards, they felt much better. Could be this riding thing will be therapeutic -- for both of us.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

I Didn't See This Coming

Big shocker in the feline tribe this morning: Stanley offered Sally a headboop! And she didn't rip his face off!

Ever since he arrived as a four-month-old three years ago, Stanley and Sally have been enemies. She tormented him when he was a kitten; he tormented her when he grew big enough to turn the tables. It got bad enough that I had to keep Sally in a separate part of the condo for a while. I also sent Stanley's brother back to the shelter, since (a) he was even more aggressive toward her, and (b) when he couldn't go after Sally he started harassing Pumpkin. (Stan's brother did get adopted again, so it's all good.)

After a few months I tried letting Sally out into the general population again, and it worked. Mostly. There were still episodes of shrieking, chasing, furiously flailing paws, and so forth, but no blood, and the intensity diminished with time. Lately there's been little to no drama each day; the two can warily pass within feet -- then inches -- of each other without one or the other launching an attack; and in the morning, in that drifting stage between awakening and arising, when I turn on the bedside TV to catch the news and weather, I've had them sitting facing each other, perhaps the width of two hands between them, purring as I scratched each head. One sometimes will even tentatively sniff toward the other before pulling back out of pawstrike range.

And this morning? This morning there they were, sitting maybe three inches apart, purring as I scratched their necks, when Stanley cautiously stretched out toward Sally in a slow-motion version of his usual hard-swooping headboop. He paused almost within touching distance; she looked at him but didn't repulse him; he eased back; they both continued purring and contemplating each other for a moment more, then went on their ways.

I was shocked. And pleased. I still don't think they'll ever be friends, but this is a BFD!

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Writing

Writing is not easy.

Writing well is damned hard. Harder than it looks to those who don’t do it, or who equate dashing off an email or a stock-form business letter to writing an essay, or a story, or a book.

Writing that flows well, that uses just the right words in just the right rhythm to capture the thoughts that urged its creation, is an art and a craft. It’s an inborn talent and a skill gained only through long practice and willingness to keep trying through failures and flops. It grows from a lifetime of experience; it blossoms from the inspiration of the moment; it needs both to work.

I just spent a quarter of an hour writing and rewriting the above, what took less than a minute to read. Did I make it look easy? It wasn’t. I’ve been mulling over this topic for a good part of the day, composing and recomposing this essay as I drove, as I tended my horse, as I went about various other mundane tasks. I’ll go back over every sentence in this thing before I hit “Post”, several times more, and still be dissatisfied with patches here and there where I fail to capture exactly what I wanted to express.

Sometimes the things I write burst forth like Athena from Zeus’s forehead – fully formed and alive. Sometimes slicing through my forehead, scooping out slugs of gray matter, and sluicing them onto the page would be easier than struggling through the labor of composition. (I’ve framed and reframed this particular paragraph several times over the course of my mullings; it may well see further tweaks before I’m done.)

The most stream-of-consciousness passage I ever wrote was about the death of my first horse, Nick. It flowed volcanic from me into the email telling our friends of his loss:

I don't know how to write this. We put Nick down today. I went up to be with him whle the vet took blood to test for EPM. The vet was there when I got there. Nick was under the bank barn with the mare Roxy. He was glad to see me and he gobbled the doughnut and horse cookies I'd brought him and he wanted his belly scratched but he was weaker, I could see that, since the Sunday before when I'd last seen him. He was tired, tired of fighting to go on, and so wobbly he almost fell just moving into position to get his belly scratched.

The vet was so kind. Donna told me she'd seen a much younger horse with the same injury who'd never recovered and that I was right to let him go. She showed me the place on his spine where she believed the injury was. We started to lead him -- just with a rope around his neck, Nick's always been such a good guy -- we were taking him up the slight slope to where I'd chosen to bury him if it came to that. He tried to follow me but halfway up he lost his balance backwards and sagged down. He folded rather than slamming down, lay on his side with his feet higher, picked up his head and tried, started to try to get up. I knelt by his head and comforted him and he laid his head back down and trusted me and I stroked his face while the vet gave him the needle and he went so softly so gently he never even drew the harsh agonal last breath. Just... gone.

Anne was at work, distraught because I think she knew what I would decide when I saw Nick. I called her when I made the decision and afterwards. Donna comforted me as best she could, stayed with me for quite a while afterwards talking and helping me deal with it. We covered his body with a dropcloth and I cut strands of his mane and tail and got his tack into the car and drove to Concord where Anne was working and we cried on each other for a bit. And then I drove home.

That was written in 2005, the day of Nick’s death, and it torrented out. I tidied it up a bit before sending, but that was all. In 2010 I wrote a blog entry about euthanasia and reused it – but edited:

A couple of days later I drove up to meet Anne's vet at her farm to discuss what next. I walked down to where Nick was hanging out under the bank barn with Anne's two horses, the vet by his side. And I knew.

He was glad to see me and he gobbled the doughnut and horse cookies I'd brought him and he wanted his belly scratched (oh, how he loved having his belly scratched! He'd follow you around the paddock slinging his flank at you, demanding more) but he was weaker, I could see that, since the Sunday before when I'd last seen him. He was tired, tired of fighting to go on, and so wobbly he almost fell just moving into position to get his belly scratched.

The vet was so kind. Donna told me she'd seen a much younger horse with the same injury who'd never recovered and that I was right to let him go. She showed me the place on his spine where she believed the injury was. We started to lead him -- just with a rope around his neck, Nick was always such a good guy -- we were taking him up the slight slope to where I'd chosen to bury him if it came to that. He tried to follow me but halfway up he lost his balance backwards and sagged down. He folded rather than slamming down, lay on his side with his feet higher, picked up his head and tried, started to try to get up. I knelt by his head and comforted him and told him he didn't have to try any more and told him I loved him and he laid his head back down and trusted me and I stroked his face while the vet gave him the needle and he went so softly so gently he never even drew the harsh agonal last breath. Just... gone.

Anne was at work, distraught because I think she knew what I would decide when I saw Nick. I called her when I made the decision and again afterwards. Donna comforted me as best she could, stayed with me for quite a while afterwards talking and helping me deal with it. We covered his body with a dropcloth and I cut off keepsake strands of his mane and tail. After Donna left I stood leaning on the fence for a while, staring at Nick's body, and cried. Finally I got his tack into the car and drove to Concord where Anne was working and we cried on each other for a bit. And then I drove home.

Which version is truer? The passage written in the moment’s passion, or the reconsidered version? I cried in the rewriting, in the reliving of remembered pain. It was as true for me then as in the original writing. And that moment’s passion? That flowed from 13 years of my life with Nick, from all that we’d been through together, all that we’d meant to each other, all that my life had been and had become because of him. That had to be written when it was first written; that remains the truth for me in a calmer, quieter time of my life.

That is what, for me, writing is, good writing should be – the distillation of one’s life in the medium of the moment’s passion, set down in words that march or leap, or sing or weep, that flow or crash or float or burrow deep into the reader’s soul. Words that take hold of the thought and pin it to paper, enlarge it, color it, find its essence and expand its scope, take it not for granted but for a stepping stone to further understanding. That’s what I strive for, anyway. Do I always succeed? Hell, no. Not even close, sometimes. But I keep trying.

I’ve spent a couple of hours on this so far (make that more like three, now), skipped lunch, dug back into old files and old emotions, rooted around for the right words, edited, added, deleted, rewritten, and now I’m going to post it. Even though I’m not quite satisfied, even though it’s not even mentioning some of what inspired me to begin writing it.

But so it goes.


Further thoughts on what it takes to write well, and the damned impudence of those who'd steal the creative work of others, essays so good I couldn't do them justice without quoting way too much of them to stay within Fair Use guidelines:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Getting Back On Again

Today I rode Ben. We both survived. Here’s how it went down without either of us going down.

I gave him his daily mash and let him snurfle happily away at it while I unloaded the car of all the gear I’d hauled out of storage for the Big Day and got it stowed in the barn or laid out in the tacking-up area. By the time he’d finished eating and I’d finished my various chores, we were alone except for another boarder who’d come in with a trailer to take her mare to another barn for a training session and had her on the cross-ties near us as I prepped Ben.

I got Ben groomed and tacked up without fuss. He appeared to remember the whole routine and didn’t object. I led him into the ring and walked him around for a bit to let his back get used to the feel of a girthed-on saddle again. Then it was time to snug the girth a hole or two tighter, run down the stirrups, lead him over to the mounting block, and get on.

Ulp. Don’t mind admitting I felt a few butterflies flapping in my stomach, even though Ben was quite blase about it all. But I swung aboard without difficulty and picked up my stirrups as if it hadn’t been more than a year since our last – well. To be exact, the last time I got on my fiery steed was October 8, 2012. And that had been my first and only ride since May 2011. Why? A number of reasons, but the bottom line: Fear. And now here I am a few years older, considerably less fit, and still working on recovering from my hip replacement.

But dammit, I want to do this. The vet says Ben will be fine; neither his sagging suspensories nor his arthritic hocks will suffer with some light walk riding. My head says Ben will be fine. It’s just my stupid gut that’s blubbering hysterically that We’re All Gonna Die! So shut up, gut, and please proceed, Ben.

Ben stepped off at a light squeeze into his normal GIANT SPIDER-LEGGED walk. The gut yowled. I throttled back the panic and let him motor on. Well, okay, so I let one hand drop to the grab strap across the front of my Aussie saddle at first. So sue me – or sue my gut, anyway. But we kept going, circling the ring, turning this way and that. I made myself unfurl from an instinctive curl toward the fetal position and sit up straight. Ben took the slightest hint from rein and leg as neatly as if he’d been in work all along. I kept off his mouth, even when he got a bit lookie at a dark patch where a bucketful of water had been tossed – all he needed was a light squeeze and off he went, unperturbed.

We’d been at it for two or three minutes, I think, when the other boarder told me she had to leave. So, not wanting to be aboard without anyone around to call an ambulance, I got off and told Ben what a Good Boy he was. He seemed mildly pleased. I was immensely delighted – even though my hip informed me, as soon as I slid to the ground, that it had had quite enough, thank you, of such unnatural use.

Hoo-eeee. I can see I’ll need to work up gradually to anything longer than a handful of minutes. But I’m going to do it. Even though it’s such a goddamned long way down to the ground from his back.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Ben Gets Blissful

It’s been a flat-out week, workwise; I’ve made it to the barn every day to give Ben his beet pulp mash, set up his overnight hay, and generally check on his welfare, but there’s been no time for anything more.

Today was different. Today I finished the last rush job by a little after 1:00, then headed over to spend some quality time with my old guy. He greeted me with his usual joyful bellow as I carried over the mash bucket. Then, while he gobbled the good stuff, I got to work on Ben, right there in his paddock.

First, a thorough currying, lifting mass quantities of fur-shed off his body. The wind blew a lot of it away for the birds to grab for nest-lining, but there was still plenty left for plastering on me. Then he got a thorough brushing, followed by a final going-over with the FURminator rake. The result was promising: still not wholly shed out, but suggestions of summer sleekness bloomed on his hide.

By that time the mash was gone, and Ben moved over to his lunch hay pile. I moved to his butt and began working on his tail: A tail that hadn’t seen a decent grooming since he went into winter blankets; long, dreadlocked, with a trail of dried crud on the underside left by his habit of not raising it high enough when there’s a blanket tail-flap over it. I picked out segment after segment and began teasing the knots and snarls and shavings out with a big wide-toothed plastic tail comb. It took a good half-hour of patient work – hand cramps towards the end, too – but at last it floated full and free and silky in the small breeze. Hilly told me she’d seen him step on his tail when backing up, so I banged off four or five inches.

Then it was time for the front end. I grabbed a wide-toothed plastic mane brush and began raking through his long forelock and even longer mane – it’s a good eight inches now, despite his last mane trim a month or so ago. I had to pick his head up off the hay to do it, but he didn’t resist – indeed, Ben by now was in a semi-trance, wallowing in the attention. We finished with me going over his face and ears slowly and gently with the soft brush, his nose tucked into my chest, his eyes at half-mast.

When I was done Ben didn’t go back to his hay till it was plain the lovefest was over; no, he stood and gazed mildly at me, willing me to come back and make much of him some more. He looked great (a state that will probably dissipate by the time I see him tomorrow), he was blissed out, and so was I.

I guess Ben likes me for more than the mash after all.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Pluses and Minuses.

Plus: Saw my surgeon on Tuesday, and he was well pleased with how I'm doing. The hip/groin pain are much ameliorated by changing my exercise routines; the knee has been doing really well; the x-rays were solid; everything looks good and I should continue listening to what my body tells me about how far, how fast I can increase activity.

Minus: I've found that trying to muck makes my hip ache. So what have I been doing this week? Why, working on the winter's accumulation of manure and waste hay in Ben's paddock, of course; for Monday through Thursday sticking to raking the dreck into neat little piles for someone else to collect and dispose of. Then today I took the smallest wheelbarrow at the barn -- a shallow thing holding maybe a third of a real grownup wheelbarrow -- and started removing muck piles. Took out maybe half a dozen loads before quitting (and might have gone for one or two more if I hadn't tipped over the last load just inside the disposal container).

Sigh. That was probably dumb. Especially since I've been mildly achey from the preceding days' efforts. But hey! My body didn't start yapping in protest when I got to mucking today, and I was careful not to lift too much, so it must be okay, right? Right?

This evening, my hip still doesn't have much to say, but my knee has informed me that that was GODDAMNED STUPID, YOU TWIT. Oh, well; that's what ibuprofen and the knee brace are for, amirite?

Getting up tomorrow morning should be ... interesting.