Quality Time With Notch

Someone was very happy I was sitting in the driveway last night

Stressful day? Locked out of the house? Good thing you can always rely on your friends to lend a listening ear.


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Cat Knowledge Quiz

Find out what kind of cat owner you are! Take the following quiz:

Your 20-lb. longhaired cat shows up next your face at 2 a.m. Cat is wet and muddy. This means:

  • a. You must have spent all day washing the bedding.
  • b. It’s raining.
  • c. Cat has been playing in water dish and various houseplants.
  • d. All of the above.

Answer: d.

Since you don’t want the wet cat in your bed (even though he is clearly desperate for attention) you:

  • a. Try throwing him off the bed 7-8 times in an effort to blow-dry him and get most of the mud from his paws onto the carpet instead of the clean bedding.
  • b. Try moving to another bed, only to have cat wander through the house miaowing loudly because he’s too stupid to figure out where you went.
  • c. Try moving cat to “his” bed (currently unoccupied by oldest son, who’s away at college) only to have cat show right back up in your face five minutes later.
  • d. Consider putting cat outside.
  • e. Give up and pet the cat until he falls asleep (of course you’ll still be awake, since cat will have taken over the primo spot in bed, but oh well).


a. Why bother? You know the sheets were ruined the first time he jumped up.
b. Yeah, like that’s gonna work.
c. Close. This might work if the cat wasn’t seeking extra body heat to dry off in the first place.
d. What kind of cruel person are you, anyway?
e. Correct. Remember, animal ownership requires constant low-grade suffering.

Next up…a best practices post on how to deal with your favorite feline’s springtime “catch and release” program. Our article will show you how to capture snakes, field mice, and birds ranging from tiny terrified finches to indignant California quail. We’ll also teach you how to capitalize on your misfortune by taking thrilling nature videos in your own home.




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How to Bend a Brick Part II (with an actual post this time)

OK, WordPress…let’s try this again, shall we? Not sure what went wrong the first time.

I’m posting to ask for some advice re my five yo Walker mare, who needs to be taught that her torso is not an oak plank.

She knows how to yield on front and back, but when she gets nervous, she tends to want to hold her midsection really rigid.

Part of this may be due to her heavy-boned Walker construction, but Dove doesn’t really “think in curves” anyway. Once she gets an idea in her head, she can get kind of stuck.

She’s always been a bit gangly and awkward. At five, I think she’s mostly grown into herself–but she’s a big mare (probably close to 16 hands) and I have some work to do.

Chunky, hairy, and loveable.

Dove happens to have a semi-famous dad, Chief Chautauqua, who sired the fellow below.  Quite the comparison to my scruffy furball above.

Any ideas on how to bend a brick?


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Humanity and Horses

Bloggers are generous people.

One of the things that never fails to kick my blood pressure through the ceiling is reading a “comment”  that complains that the blogger’s new post isn’t quite what the reader “wanted.”

A lot of horse people write about our happy experiences with our horses right along with the not-so-happy. We talk about problems with equipment, we bitch about the weather, we whine about how hard it is to keep the Russian olives in the pasture, we wonder for the 3,000th time whether we should even have horses at all.

We wear our hearts on our proverbial sleeves, and we let you take a peek for free. Call it stupid, call it what you will–but the one thing you can’t call it is selfish. I think one could make the case that all horse owners are generous people–we certainly don’t keep horses around because they’re a good financial investment. Ahem.

Mugwump’s been posting about Natural Horsemanship lately, and some of the comments on her blog have been jaw-droppingly rude…everything from complaining about the topic du jour to more personal attacks.(Fortunately, Mugs is quite capable of coming up with amazing coffee-snorted-out-the-nose troll retorts.)

Anyway, she brought up something this week that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read her post. She noted that back in her day, everyone knew someone who had a horse who was willing to share a little expertise with the noob rider. She mentioned how everyone from the vet to her farrier to people she rode with helped her learn what she needed to know to become a better rider and keep better care of her horse.

Now, it seems, the world is full of people who have to pay clinicians and trainers in order to get that advice. I have absolutely no problem with people who are in the horse business to make money–more power to ’em. But I think the lack of community spirit–a willingness to help out our fellow woman–applies to a lot more than the horse world.

Back when I was a kid, the neighborhood parents weren’t afraid of hollering at the kids on the street if they saw we were doing something dangerous or stupid. My parents knew that the Reiners two doors down wouldn’t be allowing us to watch R-rated horror movies in their rec room on Saturday afternoon, and they trusted the other parents to tattle on us if we’d really screwed up.Our families swapped plates of Christmas cookies and garden produce. We stopped to talk if we ran into each other on walks.

Once when I was a newly-licensed driver, my accelerator got stuck (which, needless to say, scared the holy Moses out of me). I had to stomp on the brakes to prevent the car from lurching out into an intersection, and (with surprising presence of mind) I brutally threw the gearshift into park. Someone immediately stopped to help me–even though the guy had no idea who I was, he was able to calm me down (over the screaming engine) and fix the problem.

We call helping at accidents “being a good Samaritan,” but accidents (fortunately) aren’t a daily occurrence. Isn’t sharing our knowledge also being a good Samaritan? What about taking the time to offer someone the gift of a kind word?

Late last quarter, I was making my usual pit stop before the 75-mile slog home. I always use the same bathroom on campus at the same time, so I wind up seeing a lot of the same faces. On this particular day, I could hear someone in the stall next to mine. It took a minute for me to figure out that the weird noises I was hearing were muffled sobs.

The sobs continued while I washed my hands. I debated. Had I seen this girl before? I couldn’t see anything but her shoes.

I thought about how much I had been looking forward to getting to the barn early to feed the horses–the weather was windy and cold, and I hate feeding in the dark.

I told myself that it was probably just a student who hadn’t done well on a final. Then I thought about the students I’ve had who’ve had problems a zillion times worse than a bad grade. I thought about what it would be like to try to console someone who was crying because they didn’t want to go home to an abusive boyfriend, or what it would be like to try to comfort someone who was crying because she’d lost her best friend to a drug habit.

I ended up telling myself that the sobbing girl wanted privacy, or she wouldn’t be locked in the bathroom in the first place. And so I dried my hands and left.

The truth is that what I really wanted to do was clear my throat and say, “Hey, are you OK…?” But I was too embarrassed to break through that invisible wall that seems to have sprung up around all of us these days.

I ask my mass media students if they’re comfortable with the idea of living life in the virtual world–sitting in a box in front of another box (just like I’m doing right now, in fact). The classroom is always full of head-shaking when I ask that question, but I know that in a couple of minutes I’ll see another five kids sneaking looks at their smartphones.

If we don’t break through those walls–if we don’t take the time to be generous–won’t we be leaving some of our humanity behind? I can’t help but wonder what that is going to mean for our horses, too.


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I Only Made One Person Cry Today

Being a teacher is really, really tough. It’s not hard to fail the students who don’t do the work and don’t care about the class. But these days, I have more and more good students who show up and hang on my every word. They do all the reading and do all the work. The problem is that they just can’t write.

Today I told a single mother who’s a second-language speaker that she should really think about taking the class again. She couldn’t stop crying, even though I hugged her and told her that I wasn’t trying to tell her she was a bad student. She’s going to pass the class, but she can’t turn an essay in on time to save her life. That is not going to fly at the next level.

By the end of the quarter, about all a community college teacher is doing is fielding panicked requests/excuses from students, and dreading the moment we have to sit down in front of the gradebook and figure out whose Christmas we are going to ruin.

I did get my evals today, though, and I did receive some super nice comments from students. (“You are one of my all-time favorite teachers!” I’ll take that any day!) I sure wish I could make those nice comments erase the crummy feelings I’m left with whenever I have to crush someone’s expectations, though.

We had a beautiful freezing-fog day today–even dead weeds look Christmasy with a layer of glimmering frosting, and ice crystals are sifting right out of the very air. Of course it’s beautiful mainly because it’s the first truly foggy day so far this year. (I will go slightly insane as soon as we have one of our three-weeks-without-the-sun stretches–hopefully this is not the start of one.) I bought myself a little blue therapy light that I have next to my laptop, and I think it really does help.

My poor duck will have to wait until we get one of those famous pineapple express fronts and her pond thaws out–she was standing on the ice and looking at me beseechingly today. She did allow me to pet her, but I could tell what she really wanted was for me to turn the hose on. Sorry, sweetie.

The mares were nickering loud enough this afternoon that I got the hint–tomorrow I will start feeding twice daily. I have never had them wait this long for 2x feedings, but all three of them are on the overweight side (still are) and I know they haven’t been hurting with nine acres to forage all day.

Olive is tossing around a fake mouse under my chair. She’s hoping I’ll notice and throw it across the room for her. She and Scout are trying to work out a successful play style–difficult since he’s about five times her size, and he’s also pretty aggressive. Just like horses who are gelded late, I think tomcats tend to retain some of their “stud” behavior if they’re neutered after they mature.

Anyway, I’d like to share  a Joseph Campbell quote that Kathleen posted on her page today:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” ~The Power of Myth

Being an English teacher surely does make one feel alive. A little too much alive at times, thank you, but I don’t think I’ll ever be bored doing this.

More as it happens.


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Nervous Weather and a Bird in Hand

Beautiful and sunny here again today–definitely NOT the norm for early December here. We’ve had some of the highest pressures ever recorded in Washington State this week, and I’ve noticed everything from an increase in my stress-related headaches to people on the road driving more erratically than usual.

The animals, however, all seem extraordinarily happy. The hens have been taking regular dirt baths, the cats are off hunting in the sunshine all day, and I’m still letting horses forage nine acres during the day and feeding only once in the late afternoon. That’s been a real boon for me so far this year, as feeding once daily this fall has saved me a ton of time (that will change, of course, as soon as we have snow cover).  Although it’s been cold at night, the days have been quite pleasant.

Makes a person  nervous. Our nastiest weather (hurricane-force winds, blizzards, arctic fronts) almost always occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, so we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My first quarter working as a full-time prof (and driving 600 miles a week) is finally coming to a close. I don’t feel like I’ve handled the stress particularly well–and that has caused plenty of problems in my personal life as well as my work with the horses. But the great thing about horses is that good things seem to happen just when you’re at your most frustrated and exasperated.

Yesterday after reading Kate’s post about her ground work with her independent-minded horse Drift I was inspired to do some work with my like-minded young mare Friday. A week or so ago she tried to take off on me when we were on a walk across a field–I was leading her. She wasn’t spooking–she’d apparently just decided she’d had enough of leading. She’s not a big horse, but I nearly got yanked off my feet, and I got a rope burn on one hand.  She tried this same exact thing once last spring. I don’t know how, but each time I’ve been lucky enough to hang on and yank her back around. I marched at her while swinging the lead rope (thank heavens for my 14′ leads!), and asked her quickly back away from me until I felt she’d adequately acknowledged my displeasure.

As Kate says, staying mentally ahead of your horse is really, really important. A lot of intelligent and independent horses don’t have much patience with humans who aren’t reading their signals correctly. But even though I know where this behavior is coming from, it can be really hard not to take this personally.  I know it’s an awesome thing for one’s horsemanship to have the opportunity to work with a horse like this, but this kind of constant testing behavior sometimes really gets me down–I feel like a failure, and worse, sometimes I wind up feeling like my mare just doesn’t like me.  I try not to feel this way, because I know I’ll wind up with a feedback loop of unpleasantness rather than just a matter-of-fact examination-work-toward-solution sort of dynamic–but sometimes it’s really difficult to leave my feelings out of it.

Friday was more pleasant than usual yesterday, although she immediately walked off when she saw I had a halter and lead rope in hand. One of my favorite tactics when she does that is to stand and wait until my other mare Dove comes up to me and then I lavishly praise Dove, give her a treat, and work with Dove instead. The look on Friday’s face when she sees Dove being rewarded is always priceless–(“Uh, wait…I WAS actually going to let you catch me, you know!”) I actually think that doing this sometimes hurts F’s feelings a little bit, but that’s OK. If there is anything I need to get across to this mare, it’s that good things happen if you have a good attitude.

I’ve written a little bit about how birds and horses are alike, and one of the ways you can catch a pet bird that’s escaped (if you happen to have another bird) is to take the caged bird outside and lavish attention on your “bird in hand.” The theory is that the escapee will get so jealous they’ll fly down to you. Horses are just as observant as birds are, and I like using this “bird in hand” technique with Friday whenever I can to make a point. Dr. Pepperberg (the scientist who famously studied Alex the African Grey parrot) would also use this “jealousy” technique with Alex–she’d often “teach” things to Alex and a human assistant at the same time. The human assistant would also get a reward for answering questions correctly, which spurred Alex to pay attention and try to get things right.

One of the things that really seems to ramp Fry up is trotting next to me–I want her to be able to trot with me without waves of crabbiness emanating off of her, and I want her to slow to a walk when I slow my own speed. We managed to get that once yesterday, and I immediately rewarded her and took the halter off. I had the feeling she was disappointed that we were done for the day–and that was exactly what I wanted to leave her with. Good times all around.

BTW, we decided to name the new kitty Olive. She’s got her butt wedged up against the laptop keyboard as I write this…just saw a hilarious LOL cat the other day of a sad-looking kitten sitting on a laptop. “If not for sits, then why made of warm?”






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Animals and Play

Spent a lot of this holiday trying to find some new cat configuration that works in the household–nothing like a new feline to completely throw the established crew for a loop.

New kitten (still haven’t named her–the boys and I can’t agree on a name) is finally starting to get muscle tone back in her hind legs. I don’t know what the heck happened to the little muffin–if it was just starvation or if she had to hide for prolonged periods of time. Our idiot neighbors alternate between over-kenneling/neglecting their dogs and letting them run amok, and an abandoned eight-week-old kitten in this neighborhood would likely have to hide to survive.

I’ve spent some time playing with her the past few days in ways that encourage her to use her hind end, and I was struck once again by what a bonding experience play is. I’ve been playing with cats for most of my life–I can even remember my dad (typical engineer) giving me pointers on how to best play with cats when I was really little.  One of Dad’s favorite tactics was to cut the corners off a paper grocery sack and tip it on its side. Then all you need is a pencil or a ruler to wiggle in the holes. Guaranteed fun for cat and human alike–there is nothing like the adrenaline rush of not knowing where the cat is going to strike next.

I was shocked last night to realize that this little 9-10 week old kitten has already figured out that I am responsible for making interesting things happen. She hopped up on me and meowed, but after a couple of minutes it was clear she didn’t want to be petted, and I knew she’d just been fed. Finally I figured out she wanted me to play with her.  Smart little muffin indeed.

It’s also been very interesting to see the way my horses have matured as they’ve grown older, and I was thinking about the mental leaps that animals make while growing up that we either don’t notice or take for granted. I’ve written before about how I can sense the young mares are starting to feel responsible and protective of me in a way they haven’t been before. That’s a really nice feeling. Horses  enjoy play, too, and most horses seem to love having new and interesting things to do.  I’ve started to turn over some of the responsibility to them to see what they’d like to do when we’re together, now that we have good ground manners established. Sometimes their responses have been quite illuminating, like Friday trying to “open” the gate with her nose (after making sure I was watching what she was doing).

One of my biggest challenges the past few years has been to learn how to have a good time again. I had to be so directed and “on” all the time when I was raising the boys and running the newspaper that I forgot what it was like to have fun.  When I’d finally get the chance to have some time off,  I’d often feel like I was stuck in some kind of an unpleasant physical therapy session. “Having fun” had become a completely foreign concept to me. It was exactly like trying to lift something heavy with atrophied muscles.

Much has been written about the importance of play in brain development (I love Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human), but I’m not sure how much research has been conducted about how important play is for mental health.  Those of us who have had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet and/or who have been out of work know how awful it feels to not have time for play (or worse, how it feels to feel guilty about the fun we do manage to have).

And what is “play,” exactly? Well, for me, it’s doing something that enables me to completely forget about myself for a little while. Something that makes me forget my worries and feelings of inadequacy. Something that makes me live in the moment–when I am so completely absorbed that I don’t notice time passing.

I wonder how some of you other folks would define “fun” or “play” and what part you think it plays in your lives.  I’d be interested to hear what you think.





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