I found something I could ride

Something I ate: when, back in April, my husband and I took our trainer to dinner and asked about his ideas for getting a new horse, I think I ordered the fish.  Horse shopping wasn’t a new topic of conversation, as this is something most equestrians have opinions about, so we weren’t surprised to hear him suggest going to Germany. “The main thing,” he said this night, and not for the last time, “Is find something you can ride.”

How do you find a horse to try: while I was able to use my personal connections to find someone to look for a horse for me in Germany, looking closer to home was still easier. And where are the closer-to-home horses advertised? On Facebook, in a large, open group. Facebook has gotten some tough press lately, for its role in interfering with democracy and in facilitating genocide, but until we overthrow our social media overlords, cast off the shackles of our Amazon Prime memberships, and find a way to circumvent the authoritarian monopoly on online search, it’s what there is beyond word of mouth.

What I did beforehand: a day before my flight to Florida, I got a message from the agent who was supposed to show me the horse. She wanted to check if I was still coming. I said I was. She said the horse I had first contacted her about was no longer available, but she had a number of others to show me. There are a lot of reasons I can think of that would make a horse be no longer available, like injury or illness, or if it was already sold, or if the owner changed her mind about selling it. But to be honest I was annoyed. Peeved, even. I thought about cancelling my trip.

Why I went anyway: when I somewhat testily pressed the sales agent, she cheerfully provided me details about four other horses, all theoretically suitable for my purposes. I got over my peeved self.

Things that were not funny: at the sales barn, the fellow showing the horse had a German first name, and everyone knew him by his German first name, and no one said his last name because apparently no one felt they could pronounce it. This feels terribly American to me, as does most mispronunciation of names. Put this on our list of things we should do to be better, America. Let’s all learn to pronounce each other’s names. Starting with me. I can’t pronounce the German guy’s last name.

What I saw: the first horse the fellow with the German name showed me was a little chestnut mare, darker than a penny but a shade brighter than liver chestnut. When I saw her in the cross-ties, I noticed she had an unusual pattern of white on the side of her face, and wasn’t sure I liked it. But there is no such thing as a good horse in a bad color, so I set aside this impression.

She seemed like a quality horse with a professional rider sitting on her, but the reason professional riders exist is because they can ride anything and make it look like a quality horse.

What I wore: riding clothes, but no spurs.

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What it is: riding is expensive and time consuming. Horses are simultaneously fragile and dangerous. I know of nothing more magical than the feeling of riding well, and also nothing more elusive.

Things that were funny: over the course of four trips to barns, I rode about 10 different horses, and it wasn’t until I sat on the little chestnut mare that I felt that I’d found something I could ride. My trainer’s advice, which had seemed at first to be so obvious as to not be important, turned out to be the best signal that I’d found what I was looking for. I tried to suppress the huge grin, but I felt right away that I had found what I was looking for. I just didn’t want to tell anyone yet. I didn’t even know the horse’s name. In fact, we left the barn without me finding out her name. I knew she was six, and what she was like to ride that day, but not much else.

Who went with me: the sales agent who did all the work finding horses for me to try in Florida, who was polite when I abruptly got off another horse I didn’t like, who laughed at my jokes, and who even got me the chance to try the horse I had originally wanted to see.

Why I bought this horse: other than being the one horse I tried that I really felt I could ride, she was the one that was fun without feeling inexplicably intimidating. Sure, they weigh 1300 lbs., but, as my trainer says, either you’re in charge or they’re in charge. And her face? Once I’d ridden her it seemed extraordinarily adorable.

Things that were sad: that other horse, the one I’d wanted to see in the first place? She was really nice, too.

I held the elevator door

What I saw: two guys, Broseph and Chad. Broseph filled the opening of the elevator door like a tank-top-wearing storm cloud, blocking the light from the sun. Chad blew in behind him, dressed in an American flag-striped polo, almost as big but pinker, because of the acne he was too old for.

What I did beforehand: flew to Florida, had dinner alone, wandered the forlorn aisles of the next-door liquor store, ducked a clerk watching a telenovela set in ancient plastic Egypt who called out to me repeatedly asking if I needed help finding anything. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it occurred to me I might have asked her about finding an amateur-friendly horse, under ten years old, nice enough to show in the dressage ring. Or better, why are we here, any of us? I should have asked her that.

IMG_2162What I wore: black suede Pumas, capri-length jeans, black tee shirt, scowl

Where I sat: the exit row

Who went with me: pocket friends

How I got tickets: a couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for a horse and contacted the sales agent about it. Within hours of my booking a trip to try it, I got two messages from friends saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” and suggesting I go try it. It seemed fortuitous.

What it is: dressage horse shopping these days has become like an obscure subculture of internet dating, and is facilitated by an open Facebook group. You read ads, look at videos, show them to your trainer and friends, saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” You talk to people on the phone, and sometimes even fly to other cities on the chance that they’ve got the horse you’re looking for. You wonder if you’re crazy. You hope you’re going to be safe. I tried horses on one previous trip that I couldn’t really steer and on another trip, a horse that wouldn’t stop. The people I’ve met doing this have been extremely pleasant and nice and as open to the weirdness of some random, unknown person showing up to ride their horse as I have had to be to the weirdness of riding some random, unknown horse.

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Things that were not funny: a group of construction workers crossed my path as they passed from the pool deck to the interior of the hotel. I was dressed in riding clothes, and more than one of them felt it would be ok to make “appreciative” hissing noises about me.

Things that were sad: dinner alone next to the mating turtle salt-and-pepper shakers at a strip mall Thai restaurant.

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Things that were funny: trying to convince the owner of the Thai restaurant to make my food spicy enough.

Something I ate: massaman curry that was actually spicy enough

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What about the horse: that story is to come.

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What happened on the elevator: when Broseph and Chad stepped onto the elevator with me, they thought I was holding the door open for them. Really I was pressing the button for my floor. So they thanked me, and I said, “Sure.”

Then the door closed, revealing a big ad for the hotel chain we were in, with the word “selfie” and a dog wearing sunglasses. I said, “You know, a dog can’t really take a selfie. No thumbs.”

Chad agreed. “I know, right?” said he, adding, “It’s like anything can be anything these days.”

As I stepped off the elevator, I threw in, “I mean….Look who’s president.”

I went to the grocery store

What I did: grocery shopping at DeCicco’s in a nearby town.

What I wore: tall boots, black Pikeur full-seat breeches, turquoise polo shirt, blood-stained gray hoodie that I bought last year when I went to Miami without workout clothes, scowl. I don’t know where the blood stains came from.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson.

Who went with me: rambunctious groups of teens from the local high school.

What I needed to buy: powdered sugar, quart-size Ziploc bags, something for dinner.

Why I chose this store: there is an excellent dry cleaner in the same strip mall. The uninspiring dry cleaner we’ve been using in Bedhead Hills has a dirty, disorganized store.

Where I parked: on the second lane from the south edge of the lot, between a Toyota SUV and a Hyundai that had backed in.

Things that were sad: the grocery store always makes me sad.  Our nation’s last telecommunications bill was passed in 1996, before smartphones. Kids are graduating college under staggering amounts of debt and there aren’t any decent jobs. Our elected officials haven’t the courage to enact legislation to limit man-made greenhouse gases. The gun lobby has made even our elementary schools dangerous. Women in rural areas lack access to reproductive health care. Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in American households. I am 53 and can’t get anything but a polite rejection when I apply for jobs. I’ve reached the point in my life when sometimes I feel I have no purpose. My parents died in their early 60s and I’m wasting my 50s feeling sorry for myself.



Things that were funny: at least I didn’t cry today.

Things that were not funny: “The glass ceiling is shattered, girls!” is a lie. You still make a lot less than your male peers. Your success is still mostly determined by how wealthy your parents were. Don’t let your patronizing acquaintances tell you how to feel about yourself.

What it is: where limp hopes and forgotten dreams go to die.

Who should see it: are you hungry, because dinner won’t make its fucking self.


What I saw on the way home: the dead bugs and road grit smeared with the first pass of my windshield wipers as it began to rain. But I summoned my energy after putting the groceries away and walked the dogs in the rain. The woods were very quiet. I was thinking about how different the world still is for women, and I heard a rustling. A big deer sprang away, more frightened of us than we had a right to be frightened of it; I was filled with adrenaline, thinking, “It might have been a coyote, or a golfer looking for a ball, or a varsity swimmer from Stanford, who the media should call a rapist.” 

A New Sewing Machine?

Back in October, about six months ago, I was working on a quilt called “Moby Dick,” and my sewing machine broke. I hadn’t had any problems with it in a couple of years at that point, and felt that the need for repair was understandable, given the punishment it was taking.
I do free-motion machine quilting, where you drop the feed dogs and move the quilt in a meandering pattern as the needle sews. It is a challenge to keep the stitches the same length as you make curves, and it’s tricky to get the thread tension right. Mostly, it’s murder on motors. I waited to hear from the shop, but had to call them after about ten days. They claimed they had tried to reach me, maybe on my other number; I don’t have another number. Anyway, said the grumpy woman, my machine needed a new motor. I ok’d the work and chalked it up to being a quilting bad-ass.
And the thing didn’t still seem right after the motor replacement. It sounded different. There were new tension problems. When it seized up in the middle of quilting Sunday night, I struggled to even get the needle to come up out of the work.
I went to call the grumpy woman at the shop where the repair was done, and the number was no longer in service.
I found another place that services Bernina machines, and despite my car’s navigation system losing me in the worst parts of Poughkeepsie, I got it dropped off without incident. The drive home inspired me to think about finding a new sewing machine with a heavy-duty motor, just for tackling the punishment of free-motion quilting.
I did some research online, but mostly was frustrated. You can read advertisements, or blog posts about very specific models people own, but that high-level question of which machine is going to be able to take it? Not really addressed. And then there is the question of feel. One woman raves about the Janome and the next gave hers away. You have to sit down at a machine, put your hands on a quilt sandwich, and move it under the needle to know.
I found a sewing machine shop in New York City about a 15-minute walk from the apartment and gave them a call. I asked if they sold the Juki TL-2010Q. It seemed like the machine I was looking for. The man on the phone said they did. I asked if they had one in the store that I could try.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “He have a used one, and you can try it, and we can sell you a new one, in the box.”
I canceled my plans for the next day, and called the dog-sitter.
Winter is lingering in New York City. The sky persists in a bright gray-white overcast. The smokers on the street smell especially bad; they dally on the narrow sidewalks of Hell’s Kitchen, carelessly pointing their burning embers out towards other people. Greasy puddles linger where the sidewalks dip to meet the crosswalks, drowning cigarette butts, leaves, and disintegrating food wrappers.
My route to the shop has to avoid all the Lincoln Tunnel crap, and the Port Authority. I’ve forgotten to wear gloves. Block long lines of buses spew diesel exhaust. Concrete dust rises from the jackhammers of a constructions site, flimsily encased by a green painted plywood fence. People are stalking to work, collars up.
The shop is smaller than a residential suburban kitchen. It is crammed with sewing notions. A few new machines are out, but they aren’t plugged in or set up. One is still mummified in plastic. A large machine built into a table sits in front of the counter, taking up about half of the available floor space. The young man behind the counter and another man in a coverall with his name on it are conversing in a language I don’t recognize. This is how it is in New York. I can’t tell if the man in the coverall is a customer or another employee, but they aren’t talking to me until they are finished talking to each other. I wait.
Finally, I am noticed. I explain that I called yesterday, that I came down to the city specially to try a Juki TL-2010Q.
“I don’t think we have one of those.”
“I spoke to someone on the phone yesterday,” I say, peeved. “He told me you have a used one that I can try.”
He finds one on the repair shelf. It belongs to someone else, and has a note on it, describing the needed repair.
Back when my husband owned a Saab, I talked him out of getting a turbo model because whenever we went to the shop it was full of turbos. I assumed they broke a lot. Maybe it was really because they were all turbos. Who knows? They don’t even make Saabs anymore.
“We’re a small shop,” says the guy. Like I don’t know. “We don’t keep things like that in stock,” he admits. “Write down your name and number and I’ll have the owner call you about it when he gets in.”
The owner will never call. I don’t know why I bother to write down my actual name and actual number.  They lie on the phone and they lie to your face. This is what it is like in New York City.
Detail: Moby Dick, the quilt
By midday, the shop hasn’t called. I go to City Quilters and get a gentle salespitch about the full line of Berninas. All the Berninas. The latest Berninas. They have computer screens, and hundreds of decorative stitches. I have a Bernina; it is in the shop. It has some decorative stitches; I rarely use them. If you had a platter with a turkey painted on it, you might get it out once a year for Thanksgiving, but if you didn’t have it, you’d use another, plain platter. Those decorative stitches are, to me, like that decorative turkey platter.
I sit with a woman who is going to give me a demo on a top of the line Bernina. She pushes the buttons on the multiple screens of embroidery features. I am quiet. I do not care about embroidery features.
“What kind of sewing do you do?” she asks, as I drift away.
“Mostly quilts. Lots of free-motion quilting,” I say.
I show her a picture of “Moby Dick.”
She offers to show me the Sweet Sixteen, from Handi Quilter, a sit-down, long-arm free-motion quilting machine. Heavy-duty motor. It’s even American made.
Sweet Sixteen from Handi Quilter
There is a sample piece of a quilt sandwich in the machine, black, with variegated thread running through. With some gentle prompting I try it. It’s exactly like the feel of what I have been doing on my Bernina, but because the machine is set in the table facing me, I can put one hand on each side of the needle and move the quilt. I make a meandering pattern, smaller and smaller. It comes out exactly as I intended. I am very quiet.

It will be delivered in about a week.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of Fresh Direct

People like to say that you can get anything delivered in Manhattan. I think they say this to avoid saying something more important: getting stuff into your apartment is a huge pan in the ass.
My car (beloved replacement of a previous car) lives in a near-ish garage, rides up an elevator to a grubby and cramped parking spot, and costs as much to keep in the city as anyone might pay for an apartment in someplace less ridiculous. Driving anywhere around here is almost always unnecessary, and almost always fraught with peril, so I see my car once a week or less, when I go to the country to ride horses. For the purposes of running errands, I schlepp like other New Yorkers and I buy things and have them delivered.
I can carry four very full bags of groceries if I can pack them myself in canvas bags and use my folding luggage cart. Grocery checkers in New York City realize that those of us who come with bags and carts of our own expect to pack ourselves, so the smart ones stand back and let us do it. The walk home is tricky, though, since there are so many kinds of pavement in my neighborhood (cracked, smooth, asphalt, granite, old granite, cobblestones) and then there are all the manholes. Finally there is a high curb on my block that must be navigated. Usually, I have the whole thing tip over at some point.
One expensive grocery store will deliver everything except the frozen food for a minor fee, though they often have a five hour backlog, which requires planning ahead by half a day. If I can plan ahead by a bit more, I can order my groceries from FreshDirect.com, and they will be delivered to the counter of my kitchen for the same fee and will arrive within a pre-arranged window of my choosing, about 1 ½ hours long.
The good things about Fresh Direct are centered on the convenience of it.  You can work from a list; you can search on an item by name from the comfort of your chair.  They remember that you like Newman’s Own Pink Lemonade and show it to you whenever you ask for lemonade. When eggs arrive broken, you send an email and they give you credit immediately. They have most of the staples you might need, and many of the cleaning supplies.
The bad things about Fresh Direct are many little things.  Because you do not choose your produce, your eight yams may range in size and shape making them hard to peel and handle.  A couple of your pears will be misshapen and unappealing. They choose huge bananas, and you can’t ask for smaller ones.  Since you do not actually see the items you are buying, the packages of bacon may be just the sort of all-white, fatty, broken slices that you would set aside while you looked for pink ones.  Quantities are sometimes not apparent, so when you casually click on four non-fat vanilla yogurts, they might be 32 ounce containers instead of the expected 8 ounce containers.  How many jalapenos is ¼ pound? Fragile things like bananas come carefully wrapped in a layer of plastic foam packing material which was probably never intended for use on food and certainly doesn’t protect from bruising. Once you’ve bought something a couple of times, the site calls it your “fave” and highlights it with a star, even if it really isn’t your “fave.” Eggs are more expensive and often arrive broken.  FreshDirect doesn’t have everything I want (rooibos tea, Shout Color-Catching sheets, organic buttermilk), and while I can request as many items as I want with their handy form, I feel like I’m shouting into a well. Everything comes in cardboard boxes that must be broken down and recycled. 
Things get downright ugly when items are suddenly not available and so are not delivered, leaving you without any Italian sausage when you are making marinara. You do get an email telling you that you will receive credit for the missing items, but at that point you might be so peeved that you have to go out and buy a replacement that you come close to sending an all-caps reply. One night I got an email saying that “due to a power outage your order was cancelled,” and went on to describe the simple steps for placing the same order. As it was, I was leaving town the next day and could not get a new delivery window, so I did fire off an angry email. For my trouble I got a hefty discount.
My biggest problem with shopping for groceries online is that there is no store to walk through, so I consistently forget things I would ordinarily not miss. I want a 3D store, with a tiny 3D shopping-me who can walk the aisles, see the cauliflower and the Rice Chex, and hold the orange juice carton in her hand. 

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.

Barcelona #5: Barcelona 3, Me 0

Finding the zoo was pretty easy. A change of train lines, from the L3 (green) to the L5 (yellow) was required. Emerging from the station we located the Parc de la Ciutadella, where the zoo lives. We found a sign and followed the arrow…to another sign, with an arrow pointing back to the first sign. It was funny. We distracted ourselves by exploring the gorgeous neo-baroque Cascada fountain and laughing at the fact that we could see the fence enclosing the zoo but not the entrance. Settling upon a direction, we circumnavigated the walls of the zoo, emerging at the entrance roughly 100 meters from where we entered the park. When we attempted to buy tickets, we were informed that the “animals are closed at 5,” by a woman who blinked at me furiously, as if to remind me how stupid I am.
My Traveling Companion announced that we needed to go back to the hotel. I insisted on Plan B: we could go to the MUSEU MARÍTIMDE BARCELONA.  One of my books calls it “the most fascinating museum in town.”  Another says, “These royal dry docks are the largest and most complete surviving medieval complex of their kind in the world.”  The third book describes it as “excellent…well worth the visit.”  The fourth, “one of Barcelona’s finest Gothic structures.” Nowhere did it even hint at what we were told when we entered the building, which is that it is closed for renovation for two years.
At this point I had lost all credibility with my Traveling Companion, to the degree that he wanted to take a taxi back to the hotel. I insisted on the subway (having at my advantage the view of the subway station and knowing it was on the L3 (green) line).
I dropped my Traveling Companion at our hotel and told him I was “going shopping” before dinner. Shopping is something I find difficult in all circumstances, and I am no better at it with the anonymity of being a foreigner. I did manage to buy some tights (which I badly need back home but have little need for here), and a pretty lilac linen scarf. I asked clumsily to wear the scarf out of the store despite the fact that linen season is still months away. I had not traveled much more than another block when I realized my mother would have liked it, and it made me sad.
My Traveling Companion suggested dinner in the hotel: a fine idea after a day of failures.  The restaurant is on the roof, with a limited menu and one charming staff member in attendance. I drank local beer and we stuffed ourselves on ham, followed by sandwiches and ice cream. At the end of the meal I asked my Traveling Companion what he thought we should do tomorrow, our second to last day. He suggested the zoo, but with a different Plan B.