Saturday, July 23, 2016

Adventures in Cookery

My goodness, this is yummy!

So I went to the hardware store the other day, to get some picture hooks; exited with them and a new 1.5-quart slow cooker. Oh, right; like you can go to the hardware store for A and not walk out with B, if not C, D, and E? Then you're a stronger person than I am.

Now, I'm not into cooking; haven't been for years, ever since I discovered the amazing takeout at Ipswich Shellfish Company. But what's not to like about fill it and forget it cooking? So, what the heck.

My first attempt wasn't more then meh. Might have helped if I'd followed the recipe exactly rather than substituting X when I didn't have Y....

But today's effort? Oh, my. I plucked it from Phyllis Good's "Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook, 250 New Delicious Slow Cooker Recipes" -- one of several cookbooks I browsed through at the local library, and one of the few that didn't start most meat recipe instructions with "Take a large skillet...." Listen, folks, if I wanted to be messing about with skillets and browning and sauteing and shit I wouldn't be looking at a slow cooker to begin with, ya know?

Anyway. Today's effort I actually started last night with fixing the marinade and putting the chicken into the fridge overnight. Popped it into the Proctor-Silex this morning, turned it on, and....

Well. I didn't have chicken thighs on hand, just drumsticks, and I was using a 1.5-quart machine rather than the 4-quart one listed (but it all fit!), so I started it on high for an hour plus. I did take the lid off and rearrange the drumsticks a couple of times rather than leaving it alone. I sort of guessed at the remaining cooking time after I turned it to low, let it go a bit longer than the instructions. And I left out the parsley.

But! The aroma that filled the house was wonderful. When I took out the drumsticks the meat was falling off the bones tender. I stripped the bones and packed the meat away in the fridge to microwave with a side dish for supper later -- sampling as I worked, and OMG OMG OMG delicious!

The recipe's on page 22, "Simple Chicken Thighs," and calls for 2 pounds of thighs (I had 1.6 of the drumsticks), a marinade of olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, soy sauce, minced garlic and ground pepper -- oh, and fresh parsley if you've got it. I ladled some of the marinade over the pulled-apart chicken meat and will probably discard the rest (unless it will freeze and be reusable?) but if I had some cornstarch lying around, the recipe says I could whisk some with water and stir it into the marinade to make gravy.

I've already found several other recipes I want to try in this. Imma gonna buy this book.

Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook

Friday, July 22, 2016

Peanut Has A Bad Day

Poor Peanut. This has not been a good day for him.

I've been concerned for a while now about his occasional bursts of irrational hostility toward other of my cats -- even toward his best buddy, Squash, or blameless Sally, though his preferred target has been Stanley. We're talking bottle-tailed, hissing, pinned-eared, screeching rage fits. Peanut could be puttering about, his usual placid self, then start staring at one of the others. His target would freeze in that baleful glare. Hiss. Hiss back. Growls. Then the target would break and flee, pursued furiously, with caterwauls and flying tufts of fur strewn about.

I tried putting a Sentry calming collar on him. This diminished the attacks but didn't eliminate them. So today I took him to the vet to be checked, see if there were some physical reason for this unsettling change in his behavior -- which arose after the bout of constipation that required a trip to the emergency vet several months ago. He's been on a daily laxative since then, and seemed to be doing fine. But he's also lost weight since then (down now to 15.2 solid pounds). Could something serious be brewing?

He was easy to capture, since I'd prestaged the carrier near the feeding area a few days before. I carried him to the box, swooped him in before he knew what was happening, and got the top shut before he could surge out to freedom.

HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Grumble whine mutter. He was quiet in the car, quiet in the waiting room, quiet as I took him out of the carrier and put him on the exam table....

HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS............... A surly, flattened Peanut glared at the tech who took his story, then at the vet who came in to examine him, and spoke his mind. The hissing made it hard to hear his heartbeat (but much easier to check his teeth!), but she persevered and got it. She wanted to vaccinate him and get some blood to test, so carried him away to the back area while I waited in the little exam room.

Waited, and listened to the dire cacophany of hisses and growls coming through the closed door. Poor Peanut! I poked my head in briefly to offer a tidbit of information and there he was, scruffed and pinned on his side by the tech while the vet had at his inner thigh. He lay there, immobilized, furious, helpless to do anything about it, vocalizing bitterly.

Eventually vet and cat returned, with no one damaged despite the dramatic commentary, and Peanut, still complaining, was allowed to slink into the sanctuary of the carrier while we talked about what she found and what to do. Things were pretty much normal except for a good deal of fecal buildup. The vet theorized that the bouts of temper could be from episodes of constipation despite the Lactulose dose he's getting, so the plan is to up the twice-daily dose somewhat, add a quarter teaspoon of unflavored Miralax to his wet food, and see if that helps. Other than that, the current feeding regimen is just right.

Also, the vet suggested trying a Feliway multicat diffuser to lower tension levels through the chemical miracle of maternal facial pheromones. Since the calming collar uses the same sort of approach and has done some good, I'm going to give it a try.

So, Peanut is home, has had his first dose of increased laxative at supper, and appears to have forgiven me for the brutality inflicted on him. I'll be getting the blood results back tomorrow afternoon.

I sure hope all the bellyaching and lashing out is just, well, a backed-up bellyache.


Update on Peanut, next day: Talked to the vet today. Most of the bloodwork was normal, but:

1. His thyroid levels were borderline for hyperthyroid. Could be why he's shed weight recently. Could also explain the aggression. Can put him on meds to adjust that.

2. His calcium levels were high. Could be nothing; a prescription food could take care of that. Could also be an indication of a mass, cancer somewhere. We're going to do fasting blood tests to check that, and go from there.

Obviously I'd prefer Door Number 1. Odds in fact are good that it's the right one, given what I'm finding online, e.g.:

Has Your Cat Become Irritable?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Update on Ben

Yesterday Ben's long-time masseuse, Lael Cook, came to the barn to give him a good going over. She's very familiar with all the aches and pains he's had over the years, and I wanted to see if she'd find any signs that this going back to work is not right for him.

Well, Lael palpated and rubbed and pressed and pushed all up and down the giant bay body, and....

Found nothing. No problems. No spasmed croup, no flinching back, no neck knots. Not even tight hamstrings that she thought likely given his sagging suspensories. Nada. Zilch. He was in fact, she said, the best he's ever been. EVAH.

We speculated it might be that, given his long history of back and hock problems even when in work, it could be something as simple as having more than a year completely off from work, enough time for everything to heal. And certainly that his previous life on the farm, almost always out on heavy clay soil pastures instead of spending nights bedded on shavings on top of mats on top of dirt, could be a big part of it -- I've certainly seen a marked improvement in his arthritis since he came back to Seven Acres.

So he's got her all-clear to keep working, and she'll come back in a couple of months to do him again and see how he is, but she expects he'll do fine. I rode him today, for about ten minutes total, all walk but with some gentle leg-yielding here and there, and he was solid.

This is wonderful.

And from the Wayback Machine, from 2007, here's Lael massaging Ben while fending off his then paddock buddy, who wanted some too:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Reflections on Riding Fear

Something that needs saying about riding Ben: That I owe Friday's and Saturday's rides to Finny, and Royal before him, for their steady calm reliable nursing me through of nerves at getting back on any horse, let alone great big powerful (elderly, yes; out of shape, yes; but still immensely powerful) Ben. And to Hillary Prime's endless patience with my irrational fears and dithering over whether to go ahead and ride one of her patient schoolies.

I've always lived with fear when riding, probably a relic of one or two scary crashes in my late teens/early 20s, coupled with the fact that I didn't have much formal instruction back then, went a couple of decades without riding at all, and took it up again as basically a beginner around age 40. I lucked out in Nick, my first horse, my 43rd birthday present to myself, even though at first he put me on the ground more than once; once I learned to ride better, and discovered the unparalleled security of an Australian stock saddle, our trail riding partnership blossomed. Toward the end of our time together I'd even bareback him.

By the time I met Ben I'd developed (through painfully tedious effort; I'm not a natural) some decent riding skills, and with the aid of Sue Edelen, an excellent dressage instructor, I forged a fine partnership with my great spiderlegged Thoroughbred. It helped that Ben is naturally placid, easygoing, eager to please, and had superb training put into him before I got him. We rode all over the local trails, with much enjoyment.

And yet....

And yet, over all the quarter century of my adult riding career, fear has niggled at the back of my mind, no matter how much I knew and loved and trusted my horse. Irrational, sometimes barely discernible, but never wholly absent. After Nick's death in 2005 at age 23, though Ben was still in his riding prime, just age 13, I found myself riding less and less; somehow there was always some excuse or other not to ride this day or that. For a while, a cruelly short while, I had a marvelous Morgan I'd putter about on, till founder lamed him and finally took him, and sometimes I'd pop on him for a short ride and let Ben continue loafing.

Then, five years ago, before my hip went to hell and needed replacing, before the long layoff from physical activity and slow recovery of whatever strength and agility survived, this happened.

And my riding courage, never sturdy, finally and fully deserted me. The hip surgery a year and a half or so later merely reinforced what was already a painful reality for me. Ben's own physical infirmities have offered a convenient excuse not to ride him, but the truth was, I was just plain afraid. Afraid, once I was back on my feet, to get on any horse at all.

And yet....

And yet I did miss riding. I did think wistfully of all the amazing, exciting, lovely, fulfilling, wonderful rides I'd enjoyed over the years, and wish I could do it again. So finally I decided to start again, start with something safe, safe, safe, dear sensible little Royal. At a walk. Eventually at a trot. For brief ring sessions -- I wasn't fit for more.

Then, after Royal's tragic passing, along came wee red Finny, safe, safe, safe, in the ring and hacking out, and my tiny riding horizons expanded a wee bit.

And I began to think about riding Ben again.

Now, as I've said before, Ben and I will never again go hacking out for hours at all gaits; neither one of us will ever regain that kind of fitness; but if the fates are merciful, we will enjoy a twilight renewal of sedate rides.

And I will not fear.

Or not very much.






Friday, July 1, 2016

So Very Happy

This morning I went to the barn to ride. It’s been a long, hard week of work, lots of rush pages to proofread, lots of long hours and late nights, but this morning would make up for it, I’d decided the night before. Getting on a horse would be my reward.

Boy, was it ever. Because I rode Ben.



Ben, 24 years old, with arthritic hocks, sagging suspensories, kissing spines, hasn’t worked in years. Paddock potato. Honorably retired years ago. That Ben.

But! He putters about his paddock looking completely sound. His back is still unswayed. The last time I had his hock arthritis checked by the vet, he was remarkably comfortable even off his daily dose of bute. What harm could a few minutes of walking around the ring do?

None, as it turns out, judging by his happy ears during and happy face afterwards. He was unfazed by being tacked up and mounted after his long layoff; stepped right out from the mounting block when I asked, cheerfully went wherever I requested, and had that quietly contented look afterwards of a horse who knows his job, likes it, and enjoys having done it.

So I rode my horse. My own horse. My amazingly responsive horse. As much as I adore little red Finny, as much as I adored the late stalwart Royal, they couldn’t give me what Ben can and always has: Near-telepathic lightness to the aids. Just a shift of the hips, a softly laid leg on his side, and Ben glided into a curving turn. Shift again, lay the other leg gently on his flank, and he curved back the other way. Ditto for response to rein aids; just hint and he responded. Egad, but I’d missed that!

And his walk, oh, his walk, oh, his big, swinging, springy walk! Little horses are a helluva lot easier to dismount from, but they just don’t, can’t give you that long swinging gait. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it till this morning.

Now, this does not mean I’ll be taking Ben out for hours-long hacks. (For one thing, the deerflies are out now, sigh.) If he’s to go back into work at all, other than this kind of one-off once in a blue moon, he’ll need to be reconditioned slowly, carefully, inch by watchful inch. I’m thinking five-minute walk rides for a week or two before I even begin to think about upping the time, and forget about trotting at all for the foreseeable future – got to get his back, his muscles, his joints all used to carrying a rider again. I’ll also be talking to his vet, maybe have her come do an exam to tell me what’s safe to try.

But if he can come back into work, if he can get up to, say, half-hour walk rides, that will be enough to make me very, very happy.

Because it’s Ben. Ben, who looked like this back when he was in regular work with me, and perhaps will look like this again: