Sunday, August 7, 2016

House Post: Back Bedroom Update

When last we left the back bedroom, a whole army of friends had stripped all of the wallpaper.

They were enthusiastic but not very detail-oriented, so there was still a fair bit to do.

Chiefly, I had to remove the little snagged bits of wallpaper left, and wash off the wallpaper glue. This worked much more easily than it had in any other room. I filled a bottle with half vinegar, half water, and a squirt or two of Dawn dish soap. I sprayed that on the wall, let it sit for a few minutes, and then scrubbed with a sponge dipped in hot water. Rinse the sponge, so on and so forth. It took a few days, doing one wall a day after work, but it wasn't hard work. I could have easily done it in a day if I had time.

clean walls!

Next: patching. I get kind of fanatical about patching, and this room in particular had a loooooot of little patching to do. You can see one of the holes in the photo above, leftover from the electrical work. So this took a few more days, because a layer of patching has to dry up to 24 hours before you do the next layer.

Next up: priming. Every wall gets primed with oil-based Kilz primer so that I can be neurotically safe and sure about any wallpaper residue.

Then, color: Sherwin Williams "Sand Dollar" which does not come through in photos but is essentially a warm beige. I kind of wish it had been a shade or two darker, but this is the darkest room in the house, so - it's probably good to stay light.

The last phase was supposed to be pulling up the carpet, but, well...

Oh yes, someone glued down linoleum over the gorgeous maple hardwood floor. Yeah. YEAH.

So I promptly put the carpet back down and set it aside for another day. Well, after yelling a lot and wandering around in a daze of heartbreak.

I am feeling a smidge better because as you can see in that last picture, the glue has dried up quite a bit and it might be possible to take it all up without damaging the floor too much. Before I dig into it, though, I have a call in to get it tested for asbestos. Never dull!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August 10 Questions Blog Hop

From Viva Carlos, of course!

1. What is your biggest source of caffeine that gets you through the day? (drink, not just brand)
Tea, with a little bit of sugar. If I'm drinking coffee something has gone seriously awry. I'll usually drink 2-3 cups of strong black tea in a day. If it's a coffee day: iced coffee, mocha, cream, sugar. I really want to be drinking melted coffee ice cream.

SIDE NOTE: a Facebook meme last week suggested that coffee ice cream might only be a New England thing. Is this true, rest of the country? That would be horrible.

2. Do you honestly think your trainer is the best trainer for you?

I'm not particularly riding with anyone right now, but I have a really terrific selection of trainers to choose from if I do want to take a lesson. I dunno. Is there even such a thing as the best trainer for you? Wouldn't that change all the time anyway? I think the head trainer at my current barn is as close as I've ever come to a trainer who could be a good fit for me across multiple phases of my riding life. That's plenty good enough for me.

3. One token of advice a fellow rider/trainer/horse person told you that you still remember to this day.

Forward feels like you have the next gear waiting for you there in your seat. If you have a forward trot, it feels like the canter is there, ready and waiting for you to just tap into it, smooth and easy.

4. If riding meant costing your family so much money that they’d be basically on poverty line, or making your family terribly unhappy (if they were not supportive or understanding, etc.) would you still do it?
sigh. Probably, yes. But I guess I would draw a distinction between "keeping Tristan healthy and happy" and "riding." Say if there were a way to field board him with good care that would cost less, but meant I could not ride, I would take that compromise.

5. (Girls) would you ride while pregnant?

In the extremely unlikely and undesirable event that I found myself pregnant: hell yes.

6. How do you tell when a horse likes someone/has bonded with you or someone else?

Willingness and eagerness, a certain anticipation in its expression. Even for naturally eager horses, there's an extra spark when they really like the person they're with.

7. Are horses capable of loving, in your opinion?

Absolutely. It might not follow the same outlines as human love but there's no doubt in my mind that they experience what we could call love.

8. If you could have one horse from your past come back for 5 minutes, who would it be, why, and what would you do with them in those 5 minutes?

Oh. Sly. 

Probably I'd cry. Like the whole time.

But after that I'd hug him hard and jump on for one last long bareback canter. (We are assuming a scenario in which he is healthy and happy in his body, which was not the case at the end of his life, sadly.)

9. Should a trainer also be a friend, or should it be a student/teacher relationship?

I've done it both ways. I prefer friendship, but not over-involved friendship. But I totally get why some people prefer a strictly professional relationship.

10. One piece of advice/training you were given by a trainer or mentor that you look back on now and view it as incorrect?

Yeah. A previous trainer told me to sell Tristan and get the horse I deserved. She told me that she had been studying with an animal communicator and that he was telling her that he was miserable and he couldn't be the horse I wanted him to be.

I cried until I threw up.

Within a few days I had recognized it as completely wrong, though. That was years and years ago, and we're still happy together. I made the decision that I would follow him, and not take him where he didn't want to go. That was the horse owner I wanted to be.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Little Snags

Oh, okay, not little snags. I haven't been riding my horse terribly well lately. He hasn't been cooperating either, so there's that.

Right now, here's one of our problems: cantering improves the trot. But he is not quite strong enough to hold himself well in the canter.

So I am left with, after a 15 minute walk warmup, shoving him through the trot, insisting on forward and through while begging for any semblance of softness. He is stiff and sore in his hind end, I know this; I am attempting to remedy this in other ways. But he is not so stiff and sore that he cannot do the things I am asking of him.

(This, I think, is the endless daily compromise of an older horse. He is sore and he is tired. But the ways to fix that involve more basic dressage. There is a lot of working through to get to the other side. He's going to come out of his stall stiff no matter what; but he is a horse, and horses live in the moment, and he doesn't believe me that after warming up his body will feel better, and that the daily work of simple dressage is keeping him healthier and more limber overall.)

Cantering: that helps. A lot. It gets him excited, it breaks up the tension in his back, and it is smoother and easier for him right of the bat.

Best of all is cantering forward on a loose rein, with me out of the saddle.

We cannot do that outside, not yet; though he is way better than he was earlier this summer, when he was bolting hell-bent for leather at the slightest provocation, he is still not what I would call reliable enough for a forward canter in half seat on a long rein. Bolting straight is one thing - bolting sideways is another.

When we are inside, it works, and it helps, but it's summer in Vermont, and we don't want to be inside.

So we canter in a more constrained manner, with a firm hand on the reins, and only occasionally do I feel secure enough to stand in my stirrups. Which lessens the effectiveness of a good long canter. Which in turn makes the trot work that much harder.

I tried to get away with just working up through the trot last night, and it was awful. I spent 40 minutes bullying him into softness, which is really not fun.Or good. Eventually he got there, and he got all the praise, and when he gave me a nice soft 20m circle in the trot we called it quits in the upper ring, and I made the mistake of picking at him a bit more in the lower ring.

But afterwards he was nosy and affectionate and sweet, so there's that, at least.

Monday, July 25, 2016

ISO: Breeches that fit correctly!

I'm calling it. I'm finally giving up on Smartpak's Pipers.

I wanted so badly to like them. I really did. And they are fine in the saddle! But I can't walk 10 feet without them sagging so badly I have to hold them up. Wearing a bet helps. Wearing the long version helps. But nothing fixes it. I walk around the barn with one hand on the waistband and even then have to yank up awkwardly on a regular basis.

I think at least part of it is my build. I am not skinny, and I am built to hold my weight in my hips and ass. I have a very long torso. So though I could take a smaller size based on waist, I am often more comfortable in a 30 or 32. But even the older 26 pairs I pull out occasionally don't sag as badly as the Pipers.

So, Internet, I turn to you.

I did buy a pair of the cheap Horze "Active" breeches through Riding Warehouse a few weeks ago, and they fit like a dream - but have other very undesirable qualities. Namely, Velcro at the ankle and no actual knee patches, just a double layer of fabric.

So I ask you, Internet: please help!

Must have: good fit through the ass, priced $50-$75, sock ankles

Nice to have: euro cut, good colors, sits just below belly button (old surgery scar on my belly button itself hurts if rubbed)

Please help?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

House Post: Raised Bed Construction

Though I have not been blogging, things are still going on. I've wanted to construct raised beds for gardening for some time now; last summer, I stuck to container gardening in Tristan's old supplement buckets on our porch. That worked okay - I got some good tomatoes out of it, but it was less than ideal.

So for this summer, I went off into the deep end, of course.

I started almost everything I grew from seed. I bought High Mowing seeds from the local coop, because Vermont. They're organic and mostly heirloom varieties. I had never started anything from seed before, so it was an adventure. Here they are on the sleeping porch, after spending the colder months (March, April) in the library next to the window. I didn't use a grow lamp, just a little greenhouse thingy with a plastic cover to trap heat and moisture. I was continually surprised by what sprouted when, and how that has not necessarily correlated to what's doing well now. I have absolutely no scientific evaluation of any of this. Just watching them and shrugging a lot.

Two exceptions to starting from seed. First, broccoli, because there was a mixup at High Mowing and what was in the broccoli packet I bought was actually cabbage. To atone for that, the coop gave me another packet of broccoli seeds, a packet of any seeds of my choosing, AND a flat of Cate Farm (also local, also organic, VERMONT) broccoli seedlings. Since it was awfully late to be starting anything, I just planted the broccoli seedlings and set aside the seeds for next year.

The other exception to growing from seeds was peppers. Nothing I could do would make them grow at anything beyond a sluggish rate. They took weeks and weeks to come up, and then they just never thrived. So I bought two pepper plants and put those in the ground instead. They're still not doing great. I'm not entirely sure what's going wrong.

Now to the actual raised bed!

Step 1 was to site the bed: this is at the south end of the house, on a very steep hill, just outside of the sunroom. It gets the most sun exposure - much more than the backyard - and drains well. The grass is crap anyway, and tough to mow. The longterm plan is actually to terrace this entire hill but that's a few years away probably.

So I cut up the sod and dug it out. This was physical labor but not nearly as bad as it could've been. It took maybe an hour to an hour and a half. It was just slow steady work. The sod was of good quality and the soil was too, and I had the right tools.

Yeah, see how steep and awful it is?

Step 2 was to build the raised bed itself, and get it mostly level. I priced out cedar and hemlock, and went with pressure-treated pine instead. These are 2x6" boards, with 2x2" braced posts at the corner, dug 12" deep into the ground. The whole structure was incredibly heavy and pretty darn sturdy. It's not the prettiest, but I'm looking forward to it weathering up (it's already started) and silvering and generally blending in much more to the hillside.

(as seen in pictures I can take little to no credit for the very careful measuring and squaring up of all the parts. that was all my father the engineer. I probably would've just started screwing things together and then despaired when it was too hodgepodge to stay flat or survive the summer.)

Step 3 was the WORST. The ACTUAL WORST. One cubic yard of topsoil, dumped into my truck at the garden yard, and then carted up the hill to fill the bed. 12 wheelbarrows full. I am no stranger to wheelbarrows, ok? No one who has a horse is. But filling and then unfilling that much solid dirt, not to mention getting it up that damn hill, over and over again? My blisters had blisters.

I mixed in 1 cubic foot of compost, but wish I'd done much more. I didn't do anything thoughtful or scientific with the soil. I just bought a bag of local, organic compost and mixed it into the topsoil as best I could. I wish I'd bought more. Maybe next year in preparation I'll get the soil tested and make some actual decisions about the compost I buy and how I mix it in.

And final step! I had more seedlings than space in the bed, and I couldn't bear to ditch them, so I ended up adding in containers anyway. Oh well.

Total cost ran about $100 for everything including the seeds and other supplies. Not half bad, considering $75 of it was for the wood and the topsoil, and so will not need to be repeated in future years - and another $15 was the seeds themselves, of which I only used half, so they'll carry over to next year.

In the final tallying, I got tomatoes (three kinds), broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, sunflowers, and peppers.

After a frustrating hour or two, I discovered that nothing I could do made the faucet nearest to the bed work. I will have to call a plumber to troubleshoot what's wrong and that's not in the budgetary cards right now. So I ran our longest hose from another faucet on another part of the house, and spent a week or two watering by hand with the sprayer, and then bought a soaker hose and pinned it down between the plants. Now I just turn on the water for 15 minutes and then turn it off again and everything is thoroughly watered. I love it, especially since we've had such a dry summer.

Here you can see a picture I took on Friday night, with the soaker system in action. The tomatoes are starting to bud like crazy. The cabbage has been absolutely destroyed by some kind of bug, which is not a terrible loss. I didn't intend to plant it - that's what was in the seed packets that I thought were broccoli. The broccoli is...doing ok. It's getting attacked by some kind of worm. I need to get netting for it to keep them away. I lost all the zucchini in transplant, and the peppers still aren't thriving, but after a tough few weeks the cucumbers and the sunflowers have pulled through very well.

I think we'll build a second raised bed next summer right next to this one and branch out a bit more in types of food grown - this has been really pretty easy and rewarding! Even the weeding has been minimal, I think because of a combination of location and of the brand new soil.