Monday, February 26, 2007

bloodlines on the brain

My friend April and I headed down to the annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show last Friday morning. April's grandparents were well-known Arabian breeders in the Pacific Northwest, so she got to spend her summers on their ranch growing up. She also bought one of our horses last year, so this was a good chance for her to get to see some of his relatives. I haven't been this excited about going to Scottsdale since I showed my gelding Zzari there a decade ago. I was also kid-less back then, so I had no idea how rejuvenating a couple of days of solid "girl time" could be. I think I can speak for April when I say we had a blast.

We got to see a nice Prix St. George dressage performance that first evening. This boy's tempi changes and extended trot were lovely, though I couldn't quite figure out how to get my camera to behave in that night-time, fluorescent Equidome lighting.

On day two, this volunteer from a Phoenix wild animal sanctuary was there in one of the exhibitor tents with her friend:

The outside warm-up arena between the Equidome and Wendell were full of action. It's my favorite place to evaluate the horses and riders because they're not trying to put on a pretty performance for the judges. This stallion really caught my eye (and April's, too). When I asked about his bloodlines, the trainer told me he was Russian and Spanish. It figures. That explains both the substance and the pretty. April's gelding is the product of our *Nariadni daughter (now, sadly, deceased) bred to the great *Muscat son, Mussiah. My husband and I love those Howard Kale/Taylor Ranch Russian bloodlines. I've never owned or bred Spanish lines, but I've long admired them from afar. In my opinion, you can't top mares like Estopa for beauty, or stallions like Gual Kubesi for exotic masculinity. I'd like to get back into the horse-breeding game someday, but not yet.

As the sun was going down, this rider had the covered warm-up practically to himself.

Here's the Wendell in-gate at the start of one of the Western Pleasure semi-finals. You can see the judges standing in the middle, awaiting their victims.

And here's a happy Native Costume champion just after her victory pass.

Don't even get me started on the food at Scottsdale. I meant to have a falafel at some point, but never got around to it. Instead, I had some awesome, spicy Thai noodles with chicken; some Miss Karen's frozen yogurt in a waffle cone (that's a required tradition); and, at the Shada barn party, a reeeeeeaaaaaallllly yummy pork sandwich with Hollandaise sauce, plus sourdough/cream cheese and cucumber/shrimp appetizers. Yeah, I'll add some minutes on to my next prairie run.

Scottsdale is also a great place to find romance. Case in point:

Her name is Marissa, and she's not even a year old yet. She is sired by an up-and-coming *Nariadni son out of a *Muscat daughter. Bred by Taylor Ranch, of course.
Did I mention that I love her?
Now I just need to go dig around under the couch cushions to find that spare $20,000 in change that has no doubt collected there.
As the husband said when I told him about Marissa, "Hey, she costs a lot less than a new F-350 Powerstroke." Oh, had he been with us, he would have been a GONER, I tell ya. It would have taken him only one moment of scritching her behind the ears and seeing her big eyes go all half-closed and dreamy, and that would have been all she wrote. We'd have a new filly in the pasture this morning, and credit card bills out the yazoo. But can you just look at this face for a moment? What's crushing debt compared to something like this? Plus, there's filly breath to take into consideration, which everyone knows is priceless.
And speaking of nice things to look at, where there are cow butts...'ll also find these:

So, while I was capturing the scenery, April was snickering and capturing ME:

Its a good thing I have one of these at home. That's all I'm going to say about THAT.

My overall impressions of the show? It was first-class all the way. The exhibitors and horses seemed happier in general than I've noticed in years past, with very few exceptions. The vendors seemed happy, too, which doesn't surprise me, since the tents were quite packed both days we were down there.
Judging by the "for sale" fliers tacked up on every available wall and bulletin board, the Arabian market looks like it's in a fairly healthy place right now. Nice horses certainly aren't being given away, but you don't see exorbitant price tags on green horses of questionable quality, which has been the case in the not-too-distant past. April was bugged by the greasy shaved faces, especially on the halter horses, but that's been going on for decades now. Overuse of whips in the halter arena and spurs/rein-jerking in the performance arenas was practically non-existent as far as I could see, and that is a wonderful development.
The weather down in the valley was quite blustery the first day, but considering the fact that we drove through a near-blizzard to get down the mountain, it didn't seem that bad. Saturday's weather couldn't have been much more gorgeous, which is another reason it's such a treat for us high-altitude folks to head to Scottsdale in February. I missed having my man there with me, since some of our best times are Scottsdale/Arabian/horse-related, but let me tell ya: There's no WAY he would have wanted to stop and ogle the pretty jewelry and clothes on display the way April and I did. I'm hoping she'll post a comment with some of her impressions, too.

Friday, February 23, 2007

going forth

A friend and I are headed to the land of beautiful horses and big-haired handlers this morning, so this is the last you'll hear from me until my full report on the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.

Until then, here are the answers to Tuesday's quiz:

1. The Buggles big one-hit wonder song that gave them their 15 minutes of fame was "Video Killed the Radio Star," which was correctly answered by Heidi. Go, girl! This was also the first video ever aired on MTV.

2. Nobody guessed the origin of the "manservant" quote which, frankly, shocks me. It's from the BBC's phenomenal 80's t.v. show "Black Adder." This particular quote is spoken by a medieval doctor to Sir Edmund Blackadder, played by Rowan Atkinson. You can get the gist of the whole story here.
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

winged paul reveres of winter

God, I love it here.

And I don't type "God" in a taking-the-Lord's-name in vain sort of way, but in a "Dear God in Heaven, I really, really love it here" sort of way. I was getting stuff ready to make my morning coffee earlier, and happened to look out the kitchen window to see that a small group of antelope were back on the prairie. They're all so well-fed this year that even the bucks look pregnant.

So. Got some Folger's in my system, fired off some Orlando, Johnny and Kiera pics to Miss Hick Chic, and then went outside to feed the horses. I was throwing their hay when I heard the distinct sounds of honking geese. Oh, great, I thought. The neighbors have geese now. These are the neighbors who bought the 3-acre lot next to ours (a lot we actually made an offer on years ago, but we were outbid). They proceeded to build their big, tall, sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb in this subdivision of modest homes mini-McMansion right smack dab in the middle of our view of the San Francisco Peaks. Lovely. Then, of course, they had to get some FARM ANIMALS! So, in went a llama. Then, a few months later, another llama (which I had to watch, from our front window, get repeatedly sodomized by the original llama, which apparently had some territorial issues (as in, "Dare to enter my pen and I will make you my bitch"). Have you ever heard a llama scream? It sounds like ET drowning in a shallow puddle.

Of course, it's not enough to have llamas, so chickens and roosters were next. No biggee. I don't even mind that the flock roams our property much of the time, since they keep the bug larvae down. But do you think the neighbors were going to stop at ruminants and fowl? Of course not! Not when there are dirt-cheap, off-the-track racehorses to be found! One of the cardinal, time-tested, mother-approved rules of horse-ownership is that a green horse and a green rider do not a match in Heaven make. It just can't end well. Sadly, newbies are often lured in all too easily by the "glamour" of an ex-racer (yeah, right) and a price that seems too good to pass up. Two other maxims spring to mind here: 1) You get what you pay for, and 2) Caveat emptor. Suffice it to say that my neighborly emtors didn't caveat nearly as much as they should have, considering the fact that they're now apparently too frightened of their horse to ride it.

I know this all sounds gratuitously mean-spirited, and the truth is that my neighbors are actually very nice people who probably have a long list of complaints about us, too. So, J and B, if you're reading this, please don't decide to retaliate by building an addition onto your house, thereby blocking the remaining 1/16th view of the peaks I'm able to enjoy, okay?

ANYWAY. I was feeding the horses when I heard geese, so naturally I assumed the worst. Geese and I do NOT get along. Come to think of it, I don't think geese get along with anybody. I looked across the pasture at the neighbors' henhouse, but didn't see anything. The geese almost sounded like they were out by the road, so I stood on tiptoe and tried to look over there, too. Nothing. Then they sounded really close. Uh-oh.

And then I realized that they were flying low over our house. They were wild geese (Canadian, maybe? I need to look up their migration patterns) headed straight as arrows toward the bird sanctuary/lake about half a mile west of us. And their honking wasn't threatening at all now. In fact, it was glorious. Those two lone arrivals were like the winged Paul Reveres of this long winter, delighted to be delivering their message: Spring is coming! Spring is coming!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

no deep thoughts, just my scattered day

1. Awesome music for running on the prairie: How cool is Franz Ferdinand (I know this isn't new news)? They've got this whole Dead or Alive-y/U2-y/Buggles-y thing going on. I love Take Me Out. (Quick: What song made The Buggles famous?)

2. What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you? (via It's a Pug's Life (via Heidi's blog). Check 'em both out.

And finally...(drum roll, please)...

3. Whoever correctly identifies the speaker of the following line will be my new kindred spirit of the hour: "Well, don't be embarrassed. If you've got the Pox, just plop your, uh, manservant on the table and we'll take a look at it."

This. Guy. Rocks.

I'm sorry to say I had never even heard of him until today. Click on the "Click here to play" link under his picture. I shall start DVR-ing his show tonight, since I generally find myself unable to stay up late enough to watch late-night t.v.

Monday, February 19, 2007

time to call the audiologist

boy (out of school for Presidents' Day): "Mom, can I please watch Star Wars?"

me: "In a little bit."

boy: "A little bit?"

me: "IN a little bit."

boy: "A little bit, or IN a little bit?"

me: "IN a little bit."

boy: "In a little bit?"

me: "Do I need to get your ears checked?"

boy: "What?"

getting this over with

I've been tagged by the Dysfunctional Housewife. Apparently, it's a big breach of blogging etiquette not to respond to these things, so I will do so (grumbling all the while). I will not pass it on, however (though anyone out there who wants to be tagged can let me know and I'll oblige). Here are the rules: Each player who gets tagged must write in their own blog ten weird things or habits or little known facts about him/herself. (Oh, joy.)

1. Clowns scare me.
2. If an enemy nation ever wanted to get national security secrets from me, all they'd have to do is send in a clown to the interrogation room.
3. As a two-year-old I fell into the deep end of a neighbor's pool and sank like a rock to the bottom. My dad retrieved me.
4. In grade school I owned a pair of Mork & Mindy blue jeans, complete with a cracked-egg logo on one of the rear pockets.
5. I loved those jeans so much that I wore them every day, even after they'd gotten marshmallow creme all over them, which of course attracted dirt, lint, pencil shavings, etc. Still, I didn't want to hand them over to be washed.
6. I wasn't the tidiest little kid.
7. Here are some of the nicknames my older brother gave me when we were growing up: Hippo (even though I wasn't fat); Nixon; BBs on a Breadboard (you can figure that last one out for yourself. Unfortunately, it still applies).
8. When I was almost 16 and taking driving lessons, my instructor once threatened to jump out of the car while it was still moving.
9. I've ridden a camel near the Egyptian pyramids.
10. I can wiggle my ears and flare my nostrils.

I feel so much better now. Don't you?

Friday, February 16, 2007

home on the range

Lest y'all think I was exaggerating about the antelope outside our kitchen window yesterday. They returned in the afternoon - even closer to the house this time - so I grabbed the camera. (I'm jonesing for that 70-200 mm lens I've been eyeballing.) I wonder if we'll get to see any antelope babies soon...or maybe they give birth in the fall. I'm really not sure.

Here's another local photo op that presented itself yesterday in front of the feed store. I like the idea of fall encased in winter (onto which an early spring will hopefully soon open up a can of whupass).

In other news: If you haven't yet wandered over to the dysfunctional housewife's blog to read her harrowing installments of what it means to be a "lost girl" growing up, you're really missing out. How in the world was I to know that such literary talent lived just a stone's throw from my house?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

where no one can hear you scream

Back in December I started writing a series of "Miss Lists" - lists of things I was going to miss when we left California. Well, one of the many things NOT on those lists was the congestion, and I don't mean the nasal kind (Actually, I was plagued much less by sinus issues there than I am here. I'm sure it's humidity-related).

Here on the prairie we live about half a mile from a federally-protected bird sanctuary. We are surrounded by - oh, I don't know how many acres; thousands, I think - of US Forest Service land. Jackie would probably know. You have to drive over four miles of rugged cinder road to get to our house. This morning, my son looked out the kitchen window while eating his oatmeal and spotted a herd of antelope running across the prairie.

So, you would think we'd have a little privacy, no?

You would be wrong.

Last night there was a knock on the door. It was an elderly woman who told me she had enough cooked rice in her car to feed twenty-five people, and she'd gotten lost on her way to the party somewhere in the wilds of our subdivision. I looked outside to make sure that her serial killer accomplice wasn't hiding somewhere with an axe and then invited her in to use our phone. This morning I was on my way out to feed the horses in my pink cherry jammies and pink parka (I look like the Abominable Snowman after he's OD'd on Pepto Bismol in this getup, but it's comfortable). I had to jump back through the front door, however, when I realized that there was a pickup truck in our driveway, out of which had appeared two large, rugged-looking men. They were here from Norton Environmentals to deliver our trash/recycling can. Finally, they left, and I got done feeding. No sooner had I come back into the house and taken off my coat, hat and gloves, than I heard a "beep-beep" out front. It was the FedEx guy. I poked my head out the door as he approached with a promising-looking package. "I'm sorry I can't come out to meet you," I said, "but I'm still in my jammies." Turned out he also had the wrong address.

Last month my husband came home with the new Ruger Vaquero, which is pretty cool. Mama's back in the country and this time she's packin' heat. Unfortunately, all the strangers who show up at our door unannounced keep me way too busy to actually get to where we keep the gun, should one of those visitors turn out to be Freddy Kruger.

I see it's time to start another list of things I miss about California. Number one: the peace and quiet.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

a valentine breakthrough

May we all get plenty of chances to say this today and every day.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

clearing a path

Warning: Literary ramblings ahead.

I've finished Interpreter of Maladies, that Pulitzer-winning sensation that took the literary world by storm not too long ago. Well, I finished all but the last story. And while the stories I did read are good and the characters held my interest, my overall reaction is "meh" with a palms-up shrug. This is not sour-grapes jealousy, trust me. I think it rocks that Lahiri had such success with this book, and at such a young age. Clearly, she's poised for a long, illustrious career, and when one literary author makes her mark so boldly, I believe it bodes well for those of us still in the trenches. But I didn't come away from any of these stories changed. I didn't have to put the book down in the middle of a passage just to take a breath, or to look away from the story so that I could get my bearings, which are just two of the effects that the books I love have on me.

I think immediately of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, a book so completely out-of-line in it's brazen literary greatness that I'm not sure how my basic bodily systems continued to function while I was reading it. I don't think I breathed at all the whole time, and I'm pretty positive that I didn't eat or drink or move anything except for my page-turning arm until I reached the end. Marilynne Robinson's Gilead had a similar effect on me, though more because of the quiet gorgeousness of her prose than because of the blinding intensity, which is how Frazier got to me.

As a reader, being transported like this has something to do with journeying to the heart of a story and then journeying away from it again, having learned something about the world or yourself that you hadn't known before. As a writer, I don't think there's a formula for clearing a path to this heart (so that you can take your readers there, too) in the cleanest, clearest, most-efficient way. Or, if there is, I sure haven't found it yet. The first novel I ever finished writing(over a decade ago - my true "practice book") seems to lack a strong, steady, central heartbeat, which I think is why it just doesn't seem to "work" when I've gone back and taken a look at it. My second novel, though, the one currently making the rounds (thanks to my awesome literary agent), is different. The heart of that book - the event that drives the protagonist to make choices that almost bring her down - came to me in crystal-clear form while I was just sitting around one day doing not much of anything.

And the draft I'm in the thick of now is challenging me in ways that the other two didn't. It's making me work to find its heart, which I know is there and close, just beneath the underbrush. Today I was able to resolve in my head a key scene that has been eluding me, and doing so felt like finally staking down the corner of a big tarp flapping in the wind, driving me nuts.

On the reading front, two books have taken the place left on my nightstand by Interpreter of Maladies. They are Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari Jones (who has an excellent, hype-free blog) and Journal of a Novel, which is a transcription of the journal John Steinbeck kept (a series of letters to his editor and friend, Pascal Covici, actually) while he was writing East of Eden. I've had the latter since studying Steinbeck as an undergraduate, but I haven't taken a serious look at it in years. Now that I'm hot on the trail of my WIP's beating heart seems as good a time as any to re-read the words of yet another master.

I would love to know what books threaten to send you, Dear Readers, into organ failure with their greatness, regardless of genre. What books have stayed with you for years after reading them for the first time, and why?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

here's the thing

Obviously, many people in and out of the blogosphere will be commenting on the death of Anna Nicole Smith in the coming days. Here were my first thoughts when I heard the news via my friend April today:

1) There's one more baby in this world who has lost her mother.

2) Anna Nicole will never get a chance to show her daughter that people can change for the better, that there is hope even in the most devastating of circumstances. And, yes, I really do believe this. When that little girl grows up and becomes a young woman, the photos and video clips she will see of her mother will show her a woman who got rich and famous largely for being a walking train wreck waiting to happen. Anna Nicole was only 40 years old, and who's to say she wouldn't have reached a point in her life when she said, "Enough of this b.s. I need to figure out what it means to be an actual person, rather than a caricature"?

I just find this whole thing really, really sad.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

hanging my tentacles in shame

Saw the news report yesterday about the student attack on military recruiters at UC Santa Cruz, which resulted in the shut down of the job fair.

Am embarrassed to be an alumnus banana slug (the UCSC mascot) today.

The school has long prided itself on its pinnacle-of-liberalism status, and has even managed to hold its own over the years against UC Berkeley to the north. When I was an undergraduate, for example, the E.L.F. folks (who, judging by a quick peek at their website, have clearly toned down their rhetoric substantially since the 90's) were becoming active on campus. Back then, the neo-hippies liked to parade naked past the Bay Tree Bookstore in a protest against clothes, or bathing (or something), and the day Bush 41 was elected, a fellow student walked across the quad of Porter College with a boombox balanced on his shoulder, from which blasted R.E.M's classic "It's the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)." Which is great. I mean, this country was founded on protest and dissent, right?
But slashing the tires of military recruiters who have set up their space at a job fair alongside all the other legitimate and law-abiding entities? Chanting, "Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Hey, recruiters, go away"?
That just causes a massive increase of the awe I feel toward the guys and gals who step up and risk their lives so butthats like those UCSC students can have a voice to spew their idiocy.

I know, I know. Come on, Nicole, tell us how you really feel.


Monday, February 05, 2007

glorying in the glow of rebirth

Does anyone else remember this?

All right, I'll admit it: I'm a big cheezeball. I still get goosebumps during that last part of the song when everyone is clapping. And what ever happened to Irene Cara? What a knockout voice she had.

Basically, I'm just really glad for those Performing Arts School students that they got to have such a great time before their burger-flipping careers started.

it's alive! (or: you might not be a redneck if)

Taking a year off to enjoy the comforts of suburban life in the Bay Area has apparently put a bit of a dent in my country cred. Allow me to explain.

A couple of dear friends were kind enough to keep our horses for us while we took our CA sabbatical, and earlier this week I bought some fence-mending equipment in anticipation of the last two "boys" returning home. We use a heavy-duty electric tape fencing system called Horseguard, with which I've been quite happy for the past few years (yes, even while we were away, because the tape doesn't seem to have degraded at all, despite being subjected to the wild weather of Northern AZ). The task was to get it "hot" again (i.e. to get a current running all the way through the perimeter of the pasture) so that it would serve as an effective fence - otherwise the geldings just stick their pointy little heads/fuzzy little bodies under/over the tape to get to whatever intrigues them on the other side.

On Saturday I replaced all the worn out/broken insulators, and yesterday I worked on splicing the tape in a few places where it was weak, or where I'd done a rush job splicing it over a year ago. It felt good to be out in the pasture, despite the waist-high tumbleweeds and the mud created by all the snow melt-off. I had to be a little careful of the gash I'd put in my hand earlier in the week when trying to cram a trash bag (into which I'd apparently thrown broken glass of some sort) into an overly full trash receptacle without wearing work gloves. But other than that, everything was copacetic. I did have to re-do a corner insulator after I got it screwed into the wood post and then realized that I'd forgotten to insert two necessary bolts beforehand, and I did have to go back and undo a few twists in the tape that somehow snuck in there, but no pain, no gain, right?

Finally, like Dr. Frankenstein, I was ready to test my creation. I'd bought a fancy-schmancy tester at the fencing supply store, but unfortunately its use requires sticking a metal probe into the ground, which was still too frozen to allow any kind of probing. No problem: Over a decade ago my husband showed me how to test an electric fence the Redneck Way (and, no, it does not involve bodily fluid - that's the Idiot Way). So, unable to locate a good-sized piece of wire, I unwound a big paperclip, wrapped it around a little pine stick I found in the snow, and touched both points to the fence.

ZAP! Stick goes flying, Nicole's arm shoots up in the air, and someone says "YIPE!"

Apparently, if you use a damp stick when testing an electric fence the Redneck Way, you're going to know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether or not you've got a successful current.

Well, that was all fine and dandy for THAT section of fence, but how was I going to know if the section farthest from our house, the problematic side where the horses tend to escape with the most frequency, was hot?

Hmmmm. Let's see. If you have some kind of insulating material...Plastic! I have plastic kitchen tools! A few minutes later I emerged from the house with my big slotted pasta spoon, into the grooves of which I had crammed my little damp stick with the paperclip wound around the end of it. There was no way that sucker was going to zap me now. I made my way over to the far fence line and carefully raised the pasta spoon until the paperclip points were touching the tape.


Nicole: Dang, what's wrong with this thing? It's supposed to give a little snap to let me know it's hot. Shoot, this side must not be getting current. Here, let me just grab the stick with my bare hand and try it this way just to be su-

ZAP! "YOW! ($%#@*!#)" Stick goes flying; arm shoots up; neighbors (who are out doing their own yard work) no doubt chuckle.

Well, even though I have very little feeling on the right side of my body at this point, at least the pasture is ready to house our horses again. A few hours later, my husband and brother-in-law pull up with two fuzzy geldings in the trailer. All is well, the equines are reunited, and the three of them get to work reacquainting themselves with their old digs. Oops, I forgot to fill a water trough for them.

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful February afternoon on a pine covered, alpine prairie. A handsome, rugged man stands by a pasture fence gazing upon three serene horses. A warm breeze blows across the melting snow, carrying with it the promise of an early spring. And what's this? Here comes his wife, a country girl once again, a little longer in the tooth than she was back in the day, but still a sight to behold with the metal-handled water bucket she has carried from the round pen, filled to the brim. See how she conserves? She how she works with Mother Nature, not willing to let a single precious drop be wasted? She how she lifts the bucket high and pours the water into the waiting trough on the other side of the fence? See how the water arcs, like liquid crystal, through the air. Hear how the husband wonders aloud, "What are you - " as the water splashes across the electric fence.

ZAP! "HOLY mother of -" Arm goes flying. Bucket goes flying. Husband turns politely away so that he will not be seen trying (unsuccessfully) to contain his laughter.

Husband: "You know, there's a reason for that saying about peeing on an electric fence."

So yeah, that's me: Officially certified practitioner of the Idiot Way. But, hey, the lack of sensation in both arms is worth it, if for no other reason than this: