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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Progress Report

So, how am I doing? Much better than a month ago, actually.

This winter has been tough physically as far as rehab from the hip replacement last March 27th. Since basically December, I haven't been able to go out to walk; I ran out of insurance-paid physical therapy visits so had to do independent workouts when I could get to the facility. Was having continuing pain problems in my left knee, some new ones in the right, and occasional stabbing left hip/groin pain, to the point that sometimes I found myself walking, as my therapist described it, "like someone who needs a hip replacement". Was beginning to wonder if I'd ever really feel good again.

But in the last two weeks or so, things have turned around. I've been able to get out here and there to walk on safe bare ground and not freeze my butt off -- only a quarter mile at a time, far from the one-plus up to two miles I'd been doing regularly before the winter, but I accept that I'm deconditioned and have to work back up to where I'd been. Better yet, I figured out the cause of a lot of my pain -- certain stretches I'd been doing -- and cut them out. Mirabile dictu, within less than a week the hip/groin pain has dwindled to rare and almost nothing. Both knees are doing so much better that I was afraid to even acknowledge the change at first, for fear that the Gods of Hubris-Smiting would come after me.

I saw my therapist yesterday and his assessment was basically "Wow, fantastic!" Did the best I've done since we started working together on the stair climb/descend and other tests. I have certain strength-building exercises to continue doing. Best of all, he said that I still haven't reached an end point; that it's still possible to make further improvements before I arrive at what I have is what I'll have.

Oh, and I've also completely cut out junk food -- no more chips, no more chocolate, my two great weaknesses. If I want a crunchy salty snack, there's cashews. If I want something sweet, there's fresh blueberries in vanilla yogurt. I stick to satisfyingly yummy but healthy meals which don't overload the calories but leave me feeling full, not hungry. Results: I'm sleeping better and have shed a couple of pounds in the last two weeks.

This pleases me. It also makes it much easier to stick to what I'm doing. At a pound a week, it'll take a long time to get where I want to go (20 pounds lighter would be nice), but I'm much more likely to get there and stay there. And who knows? Once I can get back to daily (or nearly so) walks and up the distance, I might dwindle more quickly.


The next morning:

And the Hubris Gods apparently are keeping an eye on me.

This morning the hip is somewhat achy and I had one episode of sharper hip/groin pain -- nowhere near as bad as it had been getting, but a warning shot across the bow: Don't do too much too soon, and I had been doing more than usual over the last two days. It's a lot colder today, too, and I wonder whether that might have a role to play. So, dial it back, take the ibuprofen, and pray for spring.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ben and the Sliding Roof Monsters

Poor Ben. The last few days he hasn't been at the fence to greet me when I drive in; the last couple he hesitated to come get his bucket of mash; today when I finally coaxed him to come get it, he ate about two-thirds, then went back to the far end of the paddock, and wouldn't come to me till I carried his bucket a good two-thirds of the way to the back.


Because there's still bits of snow sliding off the barn roof, and the poor thing is spooked! Monsters are sliding down to eat him up! Aaaiiieeeeee!

There's hardly any snow or ice left on the roof now; should all be gone by tomorrow; but who knows when the Benster (not the sharpest pencil in the box) will figure out it's safe?

This is where he should be:

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Foiled! By Lake Speed Bump!

So this winter has been useless for walking, what with the snow and ice and bitter cold and all that fun stuff that makes a person with a gimpy leg think twice and thrice about trying to go for a walk. But today was different! Today was mild and the pavement was clear and by golly, it was time to get back into it, at least to the end of my little side street and back -- a quarter-mile walk if I go the full length.

So out I went, and it was glorious. I was marching right along, feeling wicked good, and had made it about two-thirds of the way to the far end of Kimball Avenue, when I confronted my "You shall not pass!" obstacle -- a mini-lake of meltwater accumulated on the far side of a large speed bump. Can't go around it on either side; the snowbanks are high and steep enough to block it, and there's no plowed sidewalk beyond them to get to via driveway. The water was deep enough to get up to mesh areas on my walking shoes and soak through. If my leg worked properly I could have taken a large long step and safely gotten to the shallow end. But it doesn't, so I couldn't.

So I was forced to turn back, thwarted. But it was nevertheless a pleasant, if abbreviated, walk, and I plan to do it again tomorrow. Still, spring can't come fast enough!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Defining Oneself

It is never easy, for any of us, to realize we can define ourselves, and then do it, because we all arrive at adulthood encased in layers of Other People's Expectations and we swim in a constant sea of OPEs. It's far easier to just go with the flow, no matter how miserable it makes us. It took me decades to claw my way out of all the OPEs I'd internalized and accept myself for what I was and always would be, what I wasn't and never would be, and what I could and couldn't do about it all. The end result might not appeal to other people, but it works for me, and that's what matters.

Defining oneself photo a8b25ec9-e393-468f-b32e-e115e5c6972c_zpseffd8c83.jpg Words by Jim Wright/Stonekettle Station; artwork by Rynko Brown.


Watch the gimpy old lady dodge a bullet!

My furnace started making weird noises on Saturday, turning itself onnnn... thenoff... onnnnnnn... thenoff... onnnnnnn...but not blowing hot air up to the registers every onnnnnn time. Sunday it was more noticeable, and when I went to bed the onnnnnn sound took on a whiny overtone. "Oh no," I thought, "is the blower motor going?" So I turned the thermostat way way down to put minimal stress on the thing.

This morning as I woke up I heard it come onnnnnnn... thenoff... onnnnn.... a short pathetic attempt to blow air... onnnnnnnnn no air... and when I went downstairs and turned the thermostat up a few degrees it continued to try but got no air coming up at all. So I turned it off and called my furnace guy. Got his answering machine, called the emergency number it offered me, and left a message on that.

GOD BLESS DAVE WILE! He answered within an hour, came within minutes of hearing my woes, checked it out, and proclaimed the problem: condensation water buildup in some piping. He blew out all the pipes, checked it for further problems, and declared it done -- all for a mere service charge.

Dodged a bullet!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yelling his fool head off

When I arrive at the barn and get out of my car, Ben bellows. He's so excited to see me! And the bucket of beet pulp mash I'm bringing him. Mostly the bucket of beet pulp mash he's about to get. Definitely the food. People inside the barn know when I've arrived by the bellow.

Yesterday, after giving him his lunch and doing other stuff, I was inside the barn chatting with Hilly. Apparently Ben had finished his mash, noticed my car was still there, put these two items together and come up with: "Bellow! You're still here, come feed me more!"

Hilly told me this Ben story: When she puts the horses out after their breakfast grain each morning, she takes them in a certain order. Ben stands quietly as horse after horse is led past his stall. Then it's his turn and suddenly it's BELLOW! as the excited TB hovers impatiently by his door.

Ben's not the sharpest crayon in the box, but he knows what he knows.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Go me! (But where?)

So: Today I turn 65. Whoopee me. My body decided arthritic knuckles, a bum knee and sometimes iffy hip weren't sufficient reminders of mortality on this happy occasion; nope, gotta twist that old knife some more. So I awoke for a bathroom run in the wee hours and discovered:

My inner ear vertigo is baaaaaaaack!

Crap. I lurched cautiously to the bathroom, took the Claritin-D my doctor's prescribed for it, and tottered cautiously back to bed. Woke up at the crack of 9:00, got up cautiously, and began my day with still stuffy ears and lingering vertigo. It's diminished to where I can function all right, so long as I make no sudden moves. Now I just have to wait till it decides to go away.

For a while.

But it will return, oh, yes, it will return. And if not that, it'll be something else. The body is crumbling and there's no escaping mortality.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

A Late-Night Run

Now, this is being an obsessive horse-mom, for sure.

I'm just back from driving over to the barn to change Ben out of his midweight into heavyweight blanket because it's supposed to turn colder overnight. Never mind that he likely would have been perfectly fine if I'd waited till tomorrow to do it; never mind that I might have woken up the barn owner coming down the driveway at 9:30 or so (sorry, Annette! But you know me.); never mind all that. Nope, I'd planned to change him out tonight, and would have gone much earlier if I hadn't been stuck at home working on a mega-rush job. So go I did.

The Benster was lying down when I got there, blinking in mild bewilderment when the light came on. The mare across the aisle whickered hopefully; she knows my off-hours arrival means she's going to get at least a handful of hay. Ben got up when it became clear that cookies would be involved, and wasn't too stiff behind when he first moved -- a good sign that his hocks aren't bothering him too much now that he's got the large good-footing paddock and big stall to move around in.

So the blanket got changed, the pitiful remnants of Ben's supper hay (the barn's regular two/three giant flakes plus my own two large additions) got covered with two more fat flakes of my hay (the special stuff from the farm that he really really likes), the mare got a couple of handfuls, Ben got his cookies, and I got to depart feeling a sense of accomplishment after a hectic day.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Clumsy Oaf! Now Look What You've Done!

Ow ow ow! Last night I was slicing up stuff for my supper salad.

Then suddenly I was slicing the top of my left thumb half off. OW! Blood is flying.

I ran the tap over it. It kept bleeding. I wadded a paper towel over it. It kept bleeding. I cursed at it. It kept bleeding.

I lurched upstairs, washed my hands, dabbed Bacitracin onto the wound, wiped the blood spatters out of the sink with a reddening wad of paper towel over the thumb, wrapped the biggest Band-Aid I could find over it, and watched more blood seep out still. Yup, it's not going to stop with home remedies. Time to go visit the friendly folks at the emergency room. And here I am, already in my nightgown and robe for a quiet evening of supper munching and TV watching.

More cursing my clumsy stupidity as I rip off the nightclothes, struggle one-and-a-half-handed into going-to-the-hospital clothes, and stomp back downstairs and into the car. I drive to Beverly Hospital with my paper-towel-wadded left thumb sticking up mournfully from the steering wheel. At the hospital, the Misfortune Gods decide to take pity on me -- there's an open spot on the first level of the parking garage!

Once inside the hospital, things aren't too bad. I get the intake done by the triage nurse reasonably quickly, have time for several pages of reading on my phone's Kindle app back out in the waiting room, then get led off to an exam room where in decently short order a cheerful doctor helps me peel off the layers of protection I'd applied and examines the damaged appendage. By now it's stopped actively bleeding and is contenting itself with the occasional ooze, so after he cleans it he decides not to stitch it. Instead, he applies several coatings of surgical glue. I'm departing, instruction sheet stuffed in my purse and thumb held carefully aside, in about two hours from arrival.

By now it's too late to stop anywhere for something hot to eat (hey, it's 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday out here in the sticks; the few sidewalks are already rolled up for the night) other than a lone McDonald's, so I content myself when I get home with salty snacks and chocolate. I manage to find a gigantic Band-Aid, 3x4-inch, and get it folded over the thumb so that the fold sits just above the top of the digit while the bottom adheres below the first joint. Thumb armor! This makes life marginally more awkward than trying to remember Don't Touch Anything With That Thing, but works better. After a few hours of quietly mindless enjoyment before the TV, it's off to bed.

This morning, the damn thing is still prone to slight oozing if I happen to bump it on something but otherwise seems to be doing well. Looks awful, but I think I'll live. I'm supposed to avoid getting the thumb wet, lest it undo the surgical glue, so for feeding the cats and then cleaning their litter boxes I pulled on a pair of examining gloves. Worked fine. I've currently got a little latex finger cot on over it -- and yes, it does look silly, like I'm wearing the world's smallest Trojan over it, but it's less clumsy than going back to the mega-Band-Aid.

And I'm still pissed at myself. Clumsy oaf!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ha! This morning I was schmoozing with Teddy in his cage through the side door by which I deposit his food dish on the second tier of the tower. Stanley got jealous, made his way onto the tower cage top, and squirmed on his belly toward Ted, trying to dibble his paws through the bars to smite his rival.

I dashed upstairs for the camera, sure that Stanley would have exited by the time I got back. But no! There he still was -- and here he is, with Ted oblivious to the menace above him -- or, more likely, unconcerned because Stanley can't get him, neener neener neener.

First photo I converted to black and white because it was taken without the flash, and upping the exposure enough to make things visible produced a messed-up color balance. Second shot is with the flash. There's no third shot because Stanley got down before I could go around to the side so I could shoot up through the side door to capture his belly fuzz sticking down through the bars.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014


Stopped by the farm where Ben used to board today, to do the away-all-day owners the favor of letting their dogs out for relief and feeding their horses, and I went into the barn, where the calves -- who have grown prodigiously in just a couple of months -- were spending the day inside what used to be Ben's stall.

The place reeked of bull crap. That stuff, it appears, is way more nastily redolent than horse manure.

If I'd had any thought of bringing Ben back for the summer there (which I've already decided isn't going to happen), that would have put the kibosh on it for damn sure. Yuck.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Pluses and Minuses

It's a plus and minus day.

On the minus side, I spent a horrible night in the ravages of a blossoming head cold, unable to sleep as it grew in strength until finally, around 3:00 a.m., I gave up, slithered out of bed, and went downstairs to the reading recliner. With a blanket and Schooner to keep me warm, I started into Antonia Fraser's history of the Gunpowder Plot -- well written but not the kind of exciting read that keeps one eagerly turning pages -- hoping that it would help me drift off to sleep. I did doze a bit, after an hour or two; then around 5:00 a.m. I got up to try taking yet another remedy, said the hell with it, and lurched back upstairs into my bed again. Mirabile dictu! I slept till the alarm woke me at 10:00, and after only a few snooze button punches and multiple Schooner harassments, I got up to feed the cats and start my stuffed-up, sneezing, snivelling day.

Around noon I headed out to the barn to give Ben his mash, not looking forward to seeing what the overnight rain continuing into today had done to the thick fluffy snow cover deposited on us over the weekend. What do I see as I turn down the unpaved driveway? Bare dirt! The whole plowed part of the barnyard is bare dirt! Sure, there's still lots of big snowpiles that will freeze rock-hard tonight when the Arctic front comes through, but the walking surfaces are BARE DIRT. Even Ben's paddock should be safe for him tomorrow, given how much old manure has been surfaced by the snow-melting rain and warmth. So it's a big plus, this rain -- the harsh freeze headed our way won't turn everything at Seven Acres into a bone-breaking skating rink.

And another thing -- yesterday I checked under Ben's blanket and discovered the big lug has gained back pretty much all the weight he'd lost. Now I can taper him off the daily mashes. He won't call that a plus, but I do.


Note from January 8:

Strange: That horrible no-good awful ack cold I started a couple of days ago? It's over already, or just about gone. I don't get colds very often (one benefit of being a semi-hermit), and in the last couple of years it seems that when I do get one, it runs its course in a day or two. I'm probably jinxing myself by saying this, but I can't recall the last time I had one of those drag-on-for-weeks colds. Maybe I've got a kickass immune system? Or I'm really really lucky.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome to 2014

What's up this lovely morning in New England? An incipient blizzard, that's what! Well, maybe the blizzard itself will stay south of Boston, but right now it's 20-something degrees (I refuse to look at the outside thermometer, which isn't that reliable lately anyway, plus it's getting covered with wind-driven snow) here out on Cape Ann, where the slamming together of a gale-force Arctic blast and the storm rushing in from the southeast, sucking up even more power and moisture from the ocean as it (eventually) pulls out to sea, will give my little corner of the world well over a foot of snow before it's done toying with us sometime tomorrow.

We'll be headed into single digits tonight, and probably drop below zero by tomorrow morning.

But I don't have to go out for anything, the horse is safely tucked away in his big stall with lots of food and people to look after him onsite, and I intend to Get Stuff Done over the next couple of days.

Starting with making French toast! With gluten-free bread, Olivio fake butter, and The Amazing Egg egg-white fake batter. But at least the maple syrup will be real.


Sigh. Made the fake French toast and it was just as crappy as I'd expected. But at least the maple syrup was good, and there was plenty. You can drown out a lot of cooking sins with enough maple syrup.

So what do I do now for fun? Why, go over all the Medicare supplement come-ons the insurance companies have been sending me lately and try to figure out what I should do come February when I turn 65. At least, no matter what I pick, it should cost me less than the health insurance I have now.

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