Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas. 

An Errand

Ok, ok, but, like, ok, so, the first person who said anything about puppies was the vet, who, holding Eggi at her first exam, and having exclaimed the she was perfect (which she certainly was) went on to ask if we thought we would ever breed her. She was a baby at that point, and the thought had not crossed my mind, but we’d only had her for a few days at that point. Sure, I’d owned vizslas since the early nineties, and now found myself in possession of my first show dog, but it had always seemed to me that there are plenty of dogs in the world (uh, I guess, you know, there are probably more than enough people, too), and I’d never had a bitch I intended to keep intact indefinitely. Anyway, we went on to show Eggi in the conformation ring, and she finished her championship and her grand championship in a timely and orderly progression. As a matter of doing what one does when one is told to do so (whatever that is), we had her eyes checked and then her elbows and hips and thyroid and heart and at the end of all those tests you send the results to a foundation that gives your dog a number and then you have official approval to breed your dog.

Another vizsla person put it this way: the decision to breed a dog really comes down to whether the dog has something the gene pool needs. There are plenty of other considerations that go into the decision, of course, and I am very grateful to have other breeders and trainers in my life. I have plenty of questions, and I’d rather take in the opinions of people I know and trust over random shit I read on the internet. Even when those opinions differ.

Dogs come into season twice a year, and when you own an intact male that you don’t want to breed to, life gets complicated for a few weeks, keeping them separated. My dogs are related through Eggi’s grandmother, who is Fellow’s mother, and this would be a tight line breeding, which is something people do, to maintain the qualities of their line, but for me, the right approach seemed to be maybe breed Eggi to a stud dog out of the line, and if that was successful, maybe breed one of those puppies back to Fellow. But wait, suddenly the possibility of breeding one dog, one time, now also includes breeding another imaginary future bitch another time?

Anyway, dogs go into season twice a year, somewhat but not entirely predictably, and if you are planning to breed to a stud dog that’s far away (or dead), you really need to track not just progesterone, but you need to look for the LH surge.

So the recommended veterinary reproduction specialist (who I chose after attempting to talk to two different ones, but one was so busy I was left on hold too long, and I got bored and hung up) gave me written instructions for bloodwork, every day for about a week. My usual vet could do it during the week, and I was counting on the local vet emergency hospital to fill in on the weekend. The emergency vet is actually the first vet I saw after we moved to New York, in the fall of 2011, when Captain scratched his eye. We have seen them over the years for various other memorable and forgettable things. I tried and failed to speak to someone there on Friday to try to arrange a visit Saturday that maybe worked with everyone’s schedule, rather than being a true emergency, but the first time I called about it the person on the phone said, yeah, sure let me check with someone and call you back, and never did, so when I checked back, I was told that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Anyway, the next day I called and spoke to new staff who could and would fit us in, but, in the end, after lecturing me about how we might have to wait if there was an actual emergency, they failed to follow the written instructions past step #4 and they charged me $300 and gave me an incorrectly handled vial of dog blood. Sunday, I saved myself the frustration of throwing more money at ineptitude. But by the time we did bloodwork on Monday, the LH surge was imminent, and I didn’t know until Tuesday, and then I was told to send all the blood via Fedex to the reproductive specialist who would see them first thing Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday I got up and did pilates with the cat and my phone rang as I got out of the shower. The message was, best days to breed were yesterday and today and I needed to get Eggi to the stud dog by the end of the day.

Of course, because if I’m gonna do this, I want the very best stud dog for Eggi that I can find, the one that is just as perfect as she is, but in his own way, maybe has something she doesn’t have so that the puppies might just be even more perfect than perfect, right? And since she’s a maiden bitch, don’t we want a live breeding? And, of course, there are so many good vizslas, but the stud dog I want is in Georgia.

So when the vet’s assistant on the phone said to do a breeding by the end of the day, I had to get to Georgia, with my dog, as fast as I could.

Oh, it felt a bit like Smoky and the Bandit. My bags were packed; the car had a full tank of gas. I had been anticipating the go signal. I just hoped that it would come Friday, when it was convenient.

Eggi and I hit the road, hoping to make it to Georgia in the middle of the night.

The Bacon Provider had Things Going On that he couldn’t miss, both Wednesday and Thursday, so I was really on my own.

I made a navigation error straight off the bat (never, ever take the George Washington Bridge if you can avoid it), so we spent the first two hours of our drive sitting in stop and go, New York traffic. Then we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and made it to Georgia by the crack of dawn the next day. We stopped for gas and potty breaks, hit multiple hours long traffic slow downs, many construction projects, and a number of heavy rain storms. We checked into our hotel and slept for about 2 hours. 

The stud dog’s owner brought him by our hotel on the way to work. The dog knew just what he was there to do. Eggi was like, hey, ok, but, actually, no, maybe she could rip his face off.

Thanks to an experienced stud dog and stud dog owner, a breeding was accomplished, in the hotel room, with some help. Eggi napped all day and we did it again after dinner. When I checked out the next day, I left a very, very nice tip for housekeeping.

So is she pregnant? We won’t know until 28 days past the LH surge, when we can do an ultrasound. If she isn’t, we can try again in January. If she is, puppies are due 65 days after the LH surge, in the beginning of September.

Pandemic Quilt for March 1, 2021

and, so, like, at some point in February, I was doing my daily “Today is” thing and had the impulse to make the daily data into a quilt.

Here’s what I had in mind: like, you know, where it says “Today is” and then the date, and then the usual data (new U.S. cases, number of dead, number of people vaccinated). I pulled out a bunch of black fabric and a bunch of white fabric and started playing with making letters (which I had never tried), but without planning, or measuring, or consulting advice online, or any other things that might have sucked the fun out of it (or made it better). By the time I had made the words, “Today is Monday,” I was aware that I was not going to be able to lay out the words in lines that would make sense.

So I thought I would also have some room for skulls, which was good.

Anyway, when March 1 rolled around, as we knew it would, pandemic or no, I publicly shared the thought it might take me a few days to finish.

I assume I was being sarcastic.

I finished piecing what I thought of as the quilt top on March 16. It was too large to measure in my sewing room. And it was only vaguely rectangular.

Does a quilt have to be a perfect rectangle? No. Could I have tried harder to make it a perfect rectangle? Yes.

I was a fan of Vine, and I enjoy TikTok. No doubt I will enjoy the next short-form video social media platform, too.

Then I started on the back, for which I had in mind a large skull surrounded by coronaviruses. I did not plan it well, and do not recommend working according to the method that my progress photos, below indicate.

The back of the quilt took up so much of that green fabric (I had many yards of it in my stash), that I had to cut up a pair of unfinished pajamas that I had started to make from it. Every time I start to sew clothing for myself I become so convinced it will be a failure that I never even finish. So cutting up the unfinished pajamas was a typical end for a project of mine.

There are a lot of reasons not to make quilts that are too large. Keeping the top of a small quilt flat is simpler. Small quilts weigh less, and so are easier to move, to measure, and to quilt. Small quilts can be laid out and basted on the floor of a small sewing room. I know; I know. There may be more reasons I don’t even know. My ability to fail to demonstrate my understanding of this lesson is noteworthy. I had to piece together batting to have enough.

I quilted with the green side up because quilting with white thread on a white fabric background is harder to see mistakes. I have a Sweet Sixteen machine for quilting, and I love it. I finished quilting May 4. For the binding I used scraps.

I finished burying thread ends and hand-stitching the binding just after midnight last night, and waited to wash it until this morning. I used five color-catching sheets because if the green fabric ran onto the white during the first washing, I wouldn’t have found that funny at all.

The finished size of the quilt is 87.5” by 102.5” by 83.5” by 97.25.” It’s a quadrilateral. It weighs 8 lbs., 10 oz. It is so big that to take a picture of it, I had to take it outside, lay it in the grass, and set up our tallest ladder.

Sugaring

I dreamed last night that Jimmy Fallon invited me to come on the Tonight Show to tell all of America how I’ve been spending the pandemic. I got all dressed up and had my hair done and sat in a chair for television makeup and they sent me to wait in the green room which turned out to be a lavish Hell-themed basement night club like the one in the TV show, Lucifer. The bartender was my friend J. W., and he was happy to see me and served me a fancy blue cocktail and spent a lot of energy cleaning up after me. I had no purse and therefore no way to tip him, but it was so awkward failing to tip a person I’ve known about twenty years that when it was my turn to walk out and talk to Jimmy in front of a live studio audience I was distracted and slightly agitated and therefore hilarious.

Absolutely no one on camera in the dream was wearing a mask, and absolutely everyone backstage and in the audience was. In my dreams, the pandemic is still raging, and I am participating in the making of “everything is okay” propaganda.

Anyway, so, ok, this one time, a couple of summers ago, when it was hot, I made everyone come with me to the feed store in Connecticut to buy a water trough for the dogs to splash around in. Some water dogs love a plastic kiddie pool, and, but, so, I decided to pop for a galvanized livestock trough, being less of a plastic eyesore. While we were at the feed store we oohed and ahhhhed over fancy chicks and buckets and our son’s girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, found the little metal things that you hammer into maple trees to get sap. It certainly wasn’t sugaring season then, but, yeah, sure, we have maple trees, and, wow, what a great idea, so we bought those, too. And when we got them home, we threw them into that particular drawer in the kitchen with the new batteries, the possibly-dead batteries, the random lengths of twine, zip-ties, the measuring tapes, the third worst pair of scissors in the house, and several kinds of tape (masking, packing, duct). Henceforward, the little bag of metal things for hammering into maple trees were forgotten for several years. 

I found them when we were looking for batteries. In fact, it was just in time to use them.

It was a maple.

Of course, we do have maples. Somewhere in our few acres of wooded wetland, definitely some maples. I mean, some of the trees are oaks (they have acorns), some of the trees are beeches (they are smooth and keep their dead leaves all winter) and, heck, also, I can identify the black birches (a different kind of smooth-ish bark), and, yes, when they have leaves, I know maples (just like the Canadian flag). During a brief but memorable outdoor ed program I did in elementary school (we went spelunking, and rappelling, and learned the major differences in the common trees of Missouri), I learned to tell a maple from an oak based on leaves. Of course, now we have apps for this, don’t we. 

But here we were in late winter and I noticed that someone else in the neighborhood had hung buckets on their maple trees so I realized we could, too. This is one of the recommended ways of knowing when to tap your maples: see if your neighbors are tapping theirs. Ok. So, but, how would we know which of the dozens of trees in our woods were maples?

The Bacon Provider went for tools. My oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, looked up pictures and descriptions of bark. I puttered around the kitchen hoping no one would expect me to be the judge. Some trees were identified. A drill was produced. We had an assortment of buckets, two enormous and three small, and one we borrowed.

Trees were tapped. Buckets hung. We awaited the dripping of sap.

One tree began producing sap immediately. The others did not. We wondered if we’d picked the wrong trees. Some of us had more anxiety about this than I did. I insisted that my oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, probably knew which trees were maples. Certainly they had a better idea which trees were maples than we did. And randomly choosing other trees was not going to improve our odds. Within another day the sap was running from all the trees. They were, in fact, all maples.

It takes many enormous buckets of maple tree sap to boil down to a few tiny bottles of maple syrup, but we had everything we needed. We have an outdoor burner and a huge brewing kettle. You have to boil the saps for hours and hours; we had to go get more propane. The Bacon Provider used various filtering techniques, including using the nylon brew bag we use for beer making as a filter.  You also need a large thermometer (another bit of home brewing equipment),  and an accurate barometer

Our beer brewing kettle, used here to boil down maple sap for syrup.

Sugaring weather happens when the nights are cold and the days are sunny. The sap ran for a number of days. Our syrup has a mild maple flavor, with a hint of vanilla. We had breakfast for dinner to celebrate. Maple syrup from your own trees is improbable. And weirdly easy.

Sourdough waffles with homemade maple syrup

The syrup we made from the first few days ended up boiling down to a light amber; in subsequent days it ended up darker. Yesterday, which was probably the last day of the run, the Bacon Provider was juggling a full day of work calls and supervising the boil. He could have waited, but he didn’t. When I got home from dog classes, the house smelled of burned maple syrup. The Bacon Provider was so sad and frustrated about the burned batch. He did manage to salvage the pot. 

Today he got his first COVID vaccine, so he’s forgotten about the disappointment of burning the last pot of syrup. We will wait a whole year for the next sugaring season. Meanwhile, he can go back to another of his hobbies: making perfectly clear ice.

You might be surprised at how hard it is to make clear ice.

I rode the Robo-Pony



What I did: rode the Robo-Pony (not its trademarked name), a mechanical horse with computerized controls and feedback, available for one-on-one lessons with a professional instructor. 


Who went with me: S. and K., my barn friends. We took turns. 

What I did beforehand: watched the FEI Grand Prix CDI 5* at the AGDF Wellington, Florida 

What I wore: new running bra and breeches, purchased for the experience.  

How I got tickets: we just, like, you know, walked up to this vendor’s tent, and saw a woman having a lesson on the Robo-Pony, stuck our heads in and started asking questions.

Why I tried it: it looked like fun.

Where I sat: slightly left, as I do, according to the sensors, and spent at least five minutes getting used to the terribly uneven feeling of sitting symmetrically in the saddle.  

Things that were sad: someone had yanked the left rein and broken the sensor, so the Robo-Pony was completely dull on the left side of its mouth. Also, I forget its name. Also, we had to pay the full amount, even though the Robo-Pony was kind of busted.


Things that were funny: I clucked at the Robo-Pony to get it to go. K. patted it. 

Things that were not funny: we were not supposed to kick the Robo-Pony to make it go. K. struggled because her long legs were below the sensors on its sides. Both S. and I kicked the Robo-Pony to make it go.

Something I bought: new Pikeur breeches in a lovely shade of French blue

What it is: an opportunity to ride an equine simulator and see on seven sensor screens some feedback about your position when riding, but probably not a substitute for real riding. The Robo-Pony revealed many of my known positional flaws, including my tendency to drop contact with the bit when I ask the horse to go forward; dropping the reins made the Robo-Pony stretch out and down and the computer screens filled with red bars of failure signals. Of the three of us, I am the least experienced dressage rider, and probably the only one interested in trying it again. I thought it was fun.


Who should see it: bored and curious visitors to the 2017 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival 

What I saw after: 2016 Rio Olympic Games bronze medalist Laura Graves riding her 2002 Dutch Warmblood gelding Verdades, in the “Friday Night Stars” FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W, with the winning score of 80.728%.

How I learned to Swim

My favorite swimsuit, a real Speedo
When my mother noticed that I would not tie my own shoes, she attempted to teach me herself, and gave up when I went limp on the floor instead of watching her do it.  At preschool I picked up an over-the-head technique for putting on my winter coat myself, and I thought everything about it was excellent, especially the part where I violently swung my arms trapped in the sleeves up and over my head. My mother hated this.
When my mother noticed that I had not learned to swim naturally and without teaching as all the other children seemed to in the mid-to-late 1960s, she determined that I should be subjected to swimming lessons at the local natatorium.
I am sure I was against swimming lessons before they even began. I had been happy at the outdoor public wading pool in summer, and saw no reason why I, as a very, very small five year old, should give up the warm and shallow area reserved for the preschool set. The water barely got up over my knees! There was no violent splashing! I could crawl in it!
I was removed on a Saturday morning from my hunched spot on the carpet in front of the TV and taken to swimming lessons. The place stank of pool chemicals and especially chlorine, of course, as public pools do, and involved entering a labyrinth of smelly lockers and damp tile and threatening showers. My mother may have attempted to cram my already unbrushable hair into a swimming cap, but I would have squirmed and thrashed away from her.  I steadfastly resisted washing, brushing, and dressing with vigor. In addition to smelling dangerous and wrong, the ceilings were too high, there were too many people, and that pool sounded splashy and sharp, and then, once I was dragged to the edge of the pool, the most profound horror of all was revealed to me: the water was cold.
There was scolding and shouting and I don’t know who was talking to me, but suddenly I was in the water and I was supposed to be jumping up and down, and not screaming or crying. What a perfect misery! Betrayal! Cold water! Strangers! Exhausted and overwhelmed, I relented and allowed the initial purpose of swimming lessons to be revealed: I was meant to put the back of my head into the cold water, followed by my ears.
It was unthinkable.
The swimming teacher wanted, no, needed required me to relax my whole body and let it float on top of the water. The water would hold me up, like magic. All I had to do was let the water hold me up, let the water surround my neck, let the back of my head rest on the water, let the water lap around my ears, let my ears go under the water. It was going to be easy. Ready?
I could take about three seconds of it. One, Mississippi, I was in the water. Two, Mississippi, my head was in the water. Three, Mississippi, I was floating in the water. Four, nope, no way, not doing it. I was standing, gulping, sputtering, and crying.
I did not want to float. The water was too cold. I did not want to learn to swim. I did not listen to the instructor. I screamed and cried until I was allowed to get out of the water. I was happy to sit in the acrid, stinking terror of the freezing cold locker room, shivering until my mother came back to take me home. Anything but swimming in that pool.
There was no second lesson.
By the time I was in the third grade, my mother, had arranged for me to attend a summer camp where I would get particularly well-regarded swimming instruction.   There, we were grouped not by age but by ability, and I, being unable, was grouped with the kindergarteners.  Suddenly, the stakes were very high. They could not have been higher. No, I did not know any of the other kids at this strange new day camp, where the only real highlight of every day was the tiny plastic tub of imitation vanilla ice-cream with ripples of indescribably delicious artificial chocolate given to each camper to eat with a tiny wooden paddle before we boarded the buses home. Even in the presence of strange other children who hadn’t yet learned to make fun of me and all of my obvious flaws, I knew that being in the kindergarteners’ swimming group was social death. I was in the third grade.

And so, dear reader, I put my head in the water. I got water in my ears. I floated on my fucking back. I attempted the crawl with primitive side-breathing. I learned to jump in from the side of the pool and from the diving board. I learned to dive into the water with my hands stacked on top of each other, my upper arms tight over my ears. The next summer I was not required to attend the strange new camp again: I had learned to swim.

Tack

Despite the mounted NYPD officers who house their horses at a facility in Chelsea and the carriage horses in Central Park, there are no horses in Manhattan. As a horse owner, this meant that moving to New York City was a compromise for me. I drive a long way upstate to ride these days, so I ride less, and this is yet another reason to add to my growing list of things I hate about New York.
No doubt the first humans to ride horses did so without much tack, if any at all. I envision a clever tribe of hunter-gatherers realizing that the nearby horse herd had a few slightly more docile individuals, and though delicious to eat, those slightly more docile individuals made suitable mounts, opening up wondrous new hunting possibilities for the primitive people. Once enlisted to carry home huge carcasses, the domesticated horse made the great leap forward from food to engine. Today, modern America has few true working horses, but not none. Most American horses are kept (at great expense) for the pleasure of their owners.
To ride even casually requires an initial investment in a helmet and boots, so many new riders, like me, go to a tack store before they even take their first horseback riding lesson. What this means is that before even going to the barn the new rider goes shopping. In rural areas, you can find a helmet and riding boots at a feed store. But in a fancy suburb, you can go to a real, fancy tack store.
Back in Seattle, this was Olson’s. You walk in and are immersed in the whole horsey lifestyle. They have all the stuff for horse care (from hoof picks and vet-wrap to pitchforks), but also everything for the rider (attire, boots, and saddles).
Olson’s sold us our first helmets and boots.    Within a few weeks we had also bought breeches (riding pants) and half chaps there.   Even before we were known regulars we were greeted enthusiastically. Eventually we found ourselves treated like very important customers.   Everyone knew our names.
When I bought my first horse, I went with my trainer to Olson’s and she showed me everything I needed to buy; it was a long list.  Later, I would go there for a bottle of hoof oil and leave with a bottle of hoof oil and new clogs.  When a store cultivates a relationship with the customer, you go back for little things, and you order special things from them when you could just as easily go online.
One of the surprising things about moving to North Dreadful last year was discovering a large fancy tack store there. Today, on my way back from the barn, I stopped in for a couple of things. I have been to this tack store a few times; I have made major purchases there. I am never greeted by name.  I don’t think they even notice when I walk in; I always have to ask for help. I usually leave without everything I was looking for, and I never, ever buy anything on impulse.  This store makes me very sad, because it isn’t Olson’s. I miss Olson’s.
Because I had stopped at the tack store, I hit rush hour traffic coming into Manhattan and added another hour to my commute. Next time, I’ll buy whatever I need online.

Better Blogging

This is my 200th blog entry. Starting in late August of 2009, I began this blog to document a trip I took to Italy with a group from the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, fulfilling some international electives required for the MBA program. In the 915 days since I started, the longest gap was 139 days, in early 2010, probably due to being busy finishing my degree. Discounting this gap, I am posting at a rate of about once every four days on average.

In which I am handed
a lovely leather case for
my diploma, which arrived
in the mail about 4 months later
My most viewed entry was a post I did last April, about how I learned to ski. It has been found by readers 238 times. Most of my posts are seen by about 20 readers, and Facebook drives most of my traffic (followed by Twitter).
I have written about travel, cooking and eating, pets living and pets dying, growing up in the suburban mid-west, and parenting. The label “dogs” is attached to 22 posts, but a search on my blog attaches it to 39 posts. Most of the expert advice around building a readership of loyal followers encourages a blogger to have a tight focus on one topic (indoor gardening, gluten-free cooking, atheist parenting).  One assumption is that if you’re a blogger you want as many readers as you can get, and if you want to learn about the finer points of using analytics and search-engine optimization, there are folks with lots of advice for you.
As for me, the blog is a place to send friends who want to know what’s up and it is a way to get myself writing while I figure out what I’m doing next. Beyond common sense rules, like “be interesting,” and “respect other people’s privacy,” I only have a few. Rules have to make sense. They have to be enforceable, broad and logical. They should be necessary, and sufficient. You should have as few rules as possible. If you have to break a rule, you should know why you did.
  1. Post a picture, preferably your picture. It anchors the text. No more than three pictures.
  2. Keep it short. If it’s a long story tell it in two parts.
  3. Include a link. It’s the internet. You’re supposed to.
  4. Be regular, but no more than one post a day.
  5. Say something.  Reposting without commentary is what Twitter is for.
200 posts later I’m still not sure why I do it.