Friday, September 30, 2016

Random Friday

1.  Last weekend started out comfortable -- in the mid-70s.  Then it transitioned to hot on Sunday/Monday (mid-90s); before getting cool by the end of this week. I am hoping that we stay cool until next summer.  I'm done with summer.

2.  The oaks are starting to drop acorns.  I'm finding them on the porch, the driveway, and in the pastures.  They aren't ripe yet -- still green -- and they are the exception, laying amongst the golden leaves.  In a few weeks, the acorns will be nutty brown and abundant.

3.  Brett's sister and brother came to visit, with their spouses, last weekend. Brett's sister, Dana, lives in San Diego and Brett's brother, Kurt, lives in Arizona.
Wine tasting: Krista (Kurt's wife), yours truly, Kurt (standing), Doug (Dana's husband), Dana, and Brett

We had a weekend full of shared meals seasoned with childhood stories and liberal amounts of laughter.  They helped with the chores and lounged on the front porch; coffee in the morning, wine or beer in the afternoon.

4.  The animals loved our visitors.  Kersey thinks everyone comes to visit so they can be with her.  Brett comes from a family of dog lovers -- and lab lovers in particular -- so she wasn't far wrong.
Brett and Kurt

5.  My sister-in-law, who lives outside of Phoenix, is a natural with the horses.  She's also very good with a muck rake.  And, Lucy, thought she was great too.  I caught them snuggling over the fence, Lucy was sniffing Krista's hair and shirt, and drinking in the attention she was getting.  I walked over to show Krista the funny faces Lucy makes when you scratch her just right.  But, instead of making faces, Lucy proceeded to groom Krista; tickling her wrist with her wiggly nose.  Lucy will groom me, but I've never seen her do it with anyone else before.  Lucy clearly gave Krista her stamp of approval.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sidebar: A Word about Coloring

I'm addicted to a few activities -- riding (dressage in particular), gardening, cooking and, now, coloring.  And bizarre as this may seem, I think there are a lot of parallels between coloring and dressage.  Let me explain.

1.  It's about the journey.  I'm never going to be an FEI rider and I'm never going to be an artist.  I'm okay with that.  What I enjoy is the process of improvement; the incremental advances and successes; the emergence of beauty along the way.
I colored this one after watching a tutorial on using solvents to blend your colors together.  It's a fast, easy way to get smooth results.

2.  It's not about talent.  I am not naturally flexible, and no amount of yoga has ever changed that.  But, I still love riding despite knowing I will never have the elegant seat of a professional.  I took a drawing elective in college and enjoyed it despite being an epic failure.  My professor said that my drawing of a foot looked like a cartoon, and it was supposed to be serious.  Um, it was serious.  Towards the end of the semester, she would stand behind me while I worked and say under her breath (kindly), "this picture is out to lunch" -- and then reach over my shoulder with her pencil and fix it.  She gave me a B in the class because, she said, I tried so hard.  The work itself was not B quality.  My feelings weren't hurt; it was the truth; and I was thankful for her kindness and patience.  I've had dressage trainers who fall into the same category as that professor.
I used a picture of this one that I found on a website to do the shading on the compass.

3.  I've always admired art -- paintings in particular.  And I've seen colored pencil work that looks like water color.  It intrigued me.  So, when adult coloring books hit the market in a big way I was more than a little curious.  I unwrapped a couple coloring books on Christmas morning and ordered myself a set of pencils on Amazon.  And I got to work.

4.  Other than that drawing class in college, I haven't ever taken an art class.  So, I did what I always do when I need an expert's help: I googled.  After looking at a number of videos on how to use color pencils, I settled on two and watched many of their tutorials.

5.  The first was helpful in the early stages of my coloring.  Peta Hewitt lives in Australia and posts very straightforward and helpful videos.  Her style of coloring gives fast and satisfying results.

6.  And, then, somehow I stumbled across Henny de Snoo, an artist in the Netherlands.  She has a website and posts tutorials under the moniker Passion for Pencils.  Fortunately for me, Henny posts her tutorials in English (impressive vocabulary, I must say).  Her approach is conversational and encouraging.  Her method is not fast.  Henny layers color over color over color.  She tells us to enjoy the process, to find joy in every stroke of the pencil; not to focus on the end result but on the journey.  I've become braver with my pencils and better, as she guides and encourages us in her videos.
This is a picture in process.  Henny's tutorials last 30-40 minutes, in real time, so I can color along with her.  This one isn't done, but the background is getting close.  I think she is up to video #24 in this tutorial series.  It's a slow process, but so satisfying.
7.  Layering color isn't for everyone; just as dressage isn't for all equestrians.  Some people love to jump or fly around barrels or chase cattle.  It's all good.  I happen to love this method.  It calms my brain while allowing me an opportunity to be creative, in my own limited way.
In this tutorial, Henny is teaching how to color stone and wood.  The door is almost done, the rest needs a lot more work.

8.  As you can see, I have a number of pictures going at the same time.  The two last ones are dependent on when Henny posts the next video in the series, as much as they are about my mood.  I have the night scene I posted a few days ago that I work on when I want something mindless; something I can lose myself in.  And I've done a few other pages completely on my own, like the Alaska scene with the wolves.  Give it a try if you are at all interested.  If I can do this, anyone can.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesdays with Tex

Its been a quiet few weeks with Tex.  First we were gone to Alaska and then, upon our return, we all came down with what I'm calling the "Alaska Crud."  It hit all of us a bit differently, but with the same basic set of symptoms.  I managed to avoid most of the fever and other "typical" flu symptoms that involve running to the bathroom or a barf bucket, but I was incredibly fatigued.  Yesterday, I managed to work a half-day and that was quite an accomplishment.

Brett rode Flash on Sunday while I sat in the garden, in the sun, with my colored pencils.  After watching a YouTube tutorial on how to color fur, I took a deep breath and colored the wolves in the coloring book our friends gave me in Alaska.

Tex was not happy about being left all alone in the pasture while Brett took Flash up to the dressage court to ride.  The goats were with Tex, and he could see Lucy and Jackson across the driveway but he was still very anxious.  When Brett came into the garden after putting Flash back in the pasture, he told me that Tex had developed some serious dreadlocks in his mane.  I made a mental note but didn't have the energy to do more than that.

Monday, I worked from home.  We got a call from our contractor's drywall guy saying he could come out that afternoon and patch the hole in our ceiling.  The guy showed up mid-afternoon and got to work.  At 5:00, I noticed him sitting on the front porch, eating and staring off at the pasture.  Soon a small truck, dusty and dented, pulled up the driveway and three additional workers settled on the porch with their dinners.  I smiled as I watched them looking out at Tex and Flash.  I could tell by the way that they were quietly chewing and gazing, that they were soaking up the peaceful evening. When I looked over again, three of them had moved over to the pasture fence.  Flash immediately came over and hung his head over the fence.  Tex followed and stood close, but out of arm's reach.

Later, Brett started making rounds with the hay cart.  I went into the pasture to work on Tex's mane.  Other than sharing apples with him, I hadn't worked with him at all since our return.  He stood quietly while I worked my fingers through the tangles and stroked his neck.  As I turned to leave, I noticed a white plastic grocery bag blowing across the driveway, towards the pasture.  Flash and Tex noticed it too but neither was worried.

I latched the pasture gate behind me and walked over to where the bag was blowing and skipping along.  I picked it up and gave it a shake.  Flash looked at me like "whatever."  Tex didn't move, but he lifted his head high and gave the bag a good stare.  I walked towards the pasture, still snapping the bag, and Tex backed up.  Flash continued to look unimpressed.  I stopped and turned around, taking the bag to the trashcan, waving it around as I went.  As soon as I turned and stopped moving towards Tex, he stopped backing up.  Horses are much braver if they are going towards a scary object, rather than it coming towards them.  Overall, I was pleased at Tex's response.  He didn't run away; stepping backwards while assessing the situation is perfectly acceptable.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Friday

1.  The plumber came out earlier this week and fixed the pipe that was leaking onto the kitchen table. There is still a big hole in the ceiling waiting for our contractor to get back from vacation and patch it up.  But, we can use our bathroom sink again and that is the main thing.
Tex and Flash (with Thistle and Bear in the background)

2.  We're still recovering from the flu bug that decided to hitch a ride home with us from Alaska.  It's a doozy; we've both been out of commission all week.  Our friends, that traveled with us, are suffering as well.
Jackson and Lucy -- watching Brett (and the hay cart)

I spent most of today in my garden, convalescing.  My mom always told us kids to go outside and lay in the sun when we were sick; the fresh air and vitamin D would help us heal.  I did some coloring, and thought about garden projects; although, I had no energy to do any of them.

3.  The chick continues to thrive.  It is interesting to me how strong this chick is; how fat and fluffy and active.  Mother Nature (and Mama Hen) do a much better job of raising chicks than we do with our brooders and warming lights and hovering care.
The chick doesn't even look like a chick anymore, right?

4.  Our chickens love canteloupe.  They don't share with the chick.

5.  Kersey is very busy at chore time.  She watches us work from the front porch.

And sometimes she even moves to different spot on the porch, so she can see us better.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Coming home from our Alaska trip has been a mixed bag.

Our neighbors dropped us off at home Friday, close to midnight.  We stashed our bags inside the back door, hopped in the truck, and followed them up the dirt road.  Kersey spent the ten days we were gone at their house, with their house sitter and their two dogs.  When we walked into the house, she burst out of her crate and slid to a stop in front of Brett; tail thumping the floor as she tried to roll on his feet and lick his arm and talk -- all at the same time.  She came to me next, rolling onto her back for a belly rub and squirming with joy.

As we pulled back in the front gate, Pistol nickered a welcome.  Jackson stood at the pasture fence, closest to the front gate, and watched us pull in.

Saturday morning we were up early to feed.  The animals didn't care that we had gotten in late; they expected breakfast on time.  Chris, who takes care of the horses, donkeys and goats, while we are gone, had the place in tip-top shape.  It was like we had never left; the barn was swept, the pastures cleaned and everybody looking well fed. Chris, I know, wishes we would just spread our horses' manure like other folk, but my garden loves the composted manure so we pick it up everyday and put it in the compost bins.  And we REALLY appreciate that she does the same while we are gone.

After chores, Brett decided to run down the road to our local market and pick up some milk and mushrooms.  I had completely emptied the fridge before we left and he was craving his favorite breakfast -- scrambled eggs: made with lots of milk, butter and mushrooms.  (Brett makes the best scrambled eggs; the BEST).  I heard the mud room door close behind him, and then I heard profanity.  The car wouldn't start.  It's back in the shop.  He had the same problem right before we left and had the battery replaced.

Later, Brett noticed a puddle of water on the floor next to the breakfast table.  Neither of us had water with our breakfast.  The ceiling was damp.  Great.

Brett tore out the ceiling drywall, above the puddle, and felt around.  The wood and insulation above the ceiling felt dry.  He shook his head, put away his tools, took his tarp outside, and vacuumed the floor.

After evening chores, I came in the house to start dinner while Brett closed up the barn.  I immediately noticed a big wet spot on the kitchen tablecloth.  We had moved the kitchen table back to its usual spot, after he cleaned up.  I quickly grabbed a bowl and set it under the drip.  The drip was right underneath our bathroom -- the one we had remodeled a year ago to fix a different leak.

Brett started feeling crummy Saturday.  We were both kind of sneezy the last day of our trip but didn't think much about it since we both have seasonal allergies.  Today, Sunday, Brett is sick as a dog with a fever, chills and a bone rattling cough.  I don't have a fever but I'm operating at 20% of normal, with fatigue, a scratchy throat and a cough.

Despite feeling like crap, Brett pulled out all the insulation out of the ceiling hole and looked at the exposed pipes.  There is a definite leak in the pipe (old, not part of the remodel) going from our sink to the septic.

I know I've said it before but I swear we are going to totally rebuild this house before we are done.  Even so, I continue to as much in love with this little ranch as ever.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Postcard from Alaska: Chena Hot Springs

The last few days of our trip were spent at Chena (CHEE-na) Hot Springs, located north of Fairbanks.  It is a popular destination for viewing the Northern Lights because it is out in the wilderness, so it is very dark, yet close enough for a day (or night) visit from Fairbanks.

We were there during their off season so the place was pretty quiet.  Winter, when the Northern Lights are most active, is their busy season.  We bundled up in our jackets and ventured out the first night to see the lights but, despite hanging around until 1:30 am, they didn't do much of anything.  Fortunately, we did see a decent show when we were in Denali so we yawned and trudged back to our warm room.

The next morning we woke to heavy frost everywhere.  It had dipped into the mid-20s overnight and the frost pretty much killed all the flower beds.  The flowers in the back of an old truck were still okay though.

Rather than soak in the hot springs, Brett and I went for a couple hikes.  We walked up the side of the hill to an aurora viewing area.  I was impressed with the fall color.

Brett was quite taken with the outhouse.  I have no idea why.

We also took a pretty trail that followed a gurgling creek.

Brett visited with one of the rental horses.

We visited the goats, and the chickens and the reindeer.  Reindeer, in the US, is the name for domesticated caribou.  In the rest of the world, both domestic and wild are called reindeer.  Reindeer sausage is big in Alaska, appearing on every breakfast menu.  It looks, and tastes, like a hot dog; not bad, just not very interesting.

After our restful time in Chena Hot Springs, we headed home.  It was a wonderful trip, but it's also wonderful to be back home.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Postcard from Alaska: Inside the Arctic Circle

Tuesday morning I put a teeshirt on under my hoodie sweatshirt and wore my faded red barn jacket as we headed out into the cold drizzle of dawn to catch our plane.  At home, a sweatshirt and this jacket keep me comfortable working outside in the winter, down to the 40s.  In the low 30s or high 20s, I switch to a heavier, fleece lined jacket.  I left that one at home because the weather forcast, at the time we packed, called for temperatures in the mid-60s.

A week after our arrival, a cold front moved in.  It dropped rain over Denali and Fairbanks.  When our small plane landed in Bettles, it was 42F with a stiff wind.

We ducked inside the lodge, had hot coffee, eggs and bacon -- and then bought more sweatshirts.  Brett pulled his over his teeshirt, under his lightweight wind breaker. I added my sweatshirt over the top of the other, struggled into the jacket, which now fit so tight that I looked like the Michelin tire man, and put up the hoods from both hoodie sweatshirts.  I was ready.

The rain had coated the mountains with snow, and they looked stunning.  The owner of the lodge gave us a tour of Bettles, population 12, located inside the Arctic Circle.  It is only accessible by plane in the summer.  In the winter, there is a road across the ice that connects the town with Fairbanks.

In the summer, when the tundra isn't frozen, the land is a soggy, sodden, squishy, marsh.  Bettles is 250 miles north of Fairbanks, with a single gravel runway, a pond for sea planes, a gas pump for planes, and the Arctic Circle National Park Visitor Center.  The community peaked at 65 residents a number of years ago and a large, beautiful school was built for the 16 or so kids that lived there.  There have not been any kids in town for many years now, and birch trees have reclaimed the playground.  We walked on the tundra, eating the wild blueberries and cranberries that ripen in the fall.

Walking on the tundra was strange, it felt like walking on a sponge, with our feet sinking with the tufts of plants, and then springing back as we walked on.  In the winter the sponge is frozen solid; in the summer it's like the sponge in your kitchen sink, while you're using it, full of water when squeezed.  Hiking is impossible; well, maybe not impossible, but certainly not easy.  The animals traverse the land by following the gravel bars left behind by glaciers.  They also have big wide feet; their very own snowshoes.

After our tour, we clambered into a raft for a three hour float down the river.

We pulled ashore at the original site of Bettles and explored the town.

There were a number of log cabins, originally built in 1890 when the town was founded.  Many of them were sinking into the tundra, with the windows at ground level and the front doors half buried.  It was hard to imagine life in these cabins, with no electricity, no plumbing and no running water.  In the winter the temperatures routinely reach -50F.  The record low is -73F.  For the two weeks on either side of the winter solstice, the sun never comes up over the horizon.  There is some pre-dawn, grey light for a few hours; but no sunshine.  It's a harsh, but beautiful, life.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Postcard from Alaska: Denali National Park

Sunday morning we boarded a green school bus in Denali National Park for an eight hour tour.  Unlike Yellowstone and Yosemite, which are jam-backed with cars and people, Denali has very strict access rules.  You cannot drive your own vehicle through the park.  You must ride one of the shuttle buses, you cannot hang out of the window and call to the animals, and you cannot go off chasing bear and moose ( don't laugh, people do it in Yellowstone and they don't often live to talk about it).  We loved how wild the wilderness remains.  Our shuttle bus stopped a few times to pick up hikers, backpackers and campers on their way in or out of the park.  You can do all those things in the park.

Clouds increased during the day as we rolled along the gravel road.  Eight hours, on a gravel road, in a school bus wore us all out.  If I had it to do again, I would take a shorter shuttle tour and spend the rest of the time hiking.

The fall colors are about over, snow is expected tonight and tomorrow.  But, the the birch trees are brilliant yellow against the dark green spruce.

And the tundra is a carpet of orange, yellow and red.  I loved the tundra.

Denali was shrouded in clouds all day so we didn't get another view of it.  We did, however, see some wildlife.  The caribou are migrating to the west for the winter and we saw a couple small groups, picking their way across the gravel glacier beds.  They were too far away for a picture; binoculars were required to see them well.  We also saw Dall sheep up on the steep sides of the mountains, they looked like little white bits of cotton on a field of brown.  On the way out, we saw a grizzly bear in the distance.  On the way back in, we saw another.  The grizzly bear like the tundra, where the landscape is wide open and the berry bushes plentiful.  They are busy filling their bellies and building their fat reserves before retreating into their dens for the winter.

The closest animal we saw (other than the Arctic ground squirrels that ran in front of the bus) was a moose that was making its way through the forest.  Moose don't like the open tundra and prefer to be in the forest and shrubby areas where they can eat their fill of willow.  I wasn't quick enough to get a picture though.

Today, we woke to rain.  We put on our rain jackets and went for a long walk -- I was determined to get in my "hike" in Denali.  This afternoon, we board the train again and head further north to Fairbanks.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Postcard from Alaska: Talkeetna

Friday morning we boarded the train and headed north.  The train wound through thick groves of birch and spruce trees.  We also passed by stumpy black spruce trees -- looking like a Christmas tree farm gone bad -- and learned that the trees, although short and sparse, were very old.  Their stunted growth was the result of growing in the shallow layer of crushed stone that covers the permafrost.

After three hours we arrived in Talkeetna, a small town of a couple hundred people.  It was established during the Alaskan gold rush but now serves tourists and mountaineers.  Small planes fly mountain climbers to the base camp, for the climb up Denali.

We have been traveling with our friends, George and Nancy.  They lost their son, Brian, in an avalanche up on the mountain almost ten years ago.  They wanted to take a ride in one of those small planes, and see the spot where searchers found his last foot prints.  And they wanted us to join them on the flight.

Brian was a geologist, a licensed pilot, and a mountaineer.  He trained people to mountain climb and was a careful, cautious climber.  When he and a friend came to Denali, they delayed their climb up Barrell mountain by a few days because they were concerned about an avalanche. Sure enough, one did occur, as they expected, and then, after it was over, they started their ascent.  Unfortunately, there was an unstable area that they couldn't see; it broke loose; and carried them both about 3,000 down the side of the rock, to their death.  Our friends have pictures from Brian's camera, which was recovered with his body, but they wanted to see the mountain for themselves.  Barrell is one of the many peaks jutting up around Denali.

We were fortunate to have an absolutely clear day, no clouds, and no wind.  Denali is only visible 30% of the time; it is usually shrouded in clouds.  George settled into the co-pilot seat, Nancy climbed in the back, and Brett and I settled in the middle.  Our pilot pulled a sweatshirt over his head, started the prop engine, and took us up the mountain.  He followed the path of the glaciers that flow from the snow covered crags, then turned up the steep granite canyons, their rugged sides topped with snow.

It felt like I could reach out and touch the side of the mountain as we banked and climbed.  After circling Denali, we dropped down to Barrell.  There we circled the peak twice, and the pilot tipped the wing so George could get an unobstructed picture of the mountain.  Denali and its surrounding peaks were an awe inspiring mix of rock, whipped cream snow frosting above, blue glacial ice and tumbled piles of snow below.  I could feel the power and pull of the mountain, and understood why it draws so many mountain climbers.  I also felt awe, looking down into the deep fissures, and was thankful to be in a plane and not climbing below.  Nancy was quiet behind me, while George peppered our pilot with questions.

George needed to know and understand; Nancy needed to quietly bear witness.  And I sat between them, with tears in my eyes, thankful for God granting us a brilliant day and praying that it brought them some measure of peace and comfort.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Postcard from Alaska: Prince William Sound

We arrived in Anchorage Wednesday afternoon, got settled into our hotel, and walked around town a bit.  Anchorage is a big city and, well, big cities aren't my thing.  The city has a lot of big square buildings, noisy traffic, and tourists from cruise ships crowding the restaurants and gift shops.

Thursday morning we got out of town, going an hour or more south and then taking a cruise around Prince William Sound on a small catamaran.  There were 40 people on board, with a an open deck on the second story outside the cabin where we sat.  It was warm in Anchorage, guys were wearing teeshirts and shorts and girls were in sleeveless tops as they drove around town with their elbows sticking out of the windows of their jeeps.

The temperature dropped as we drove south, and when we emerged from a single lane, two-mile long tunnel with a railroad track down the middle it was cool enough to need a sweatshirt.  Once on the boat, we headed around the fjords in Prince William Sound.  We were out all day, a day with brilliant sunshine after a month of rain.

As we neared the glaciers, we zipped up our jackets and I put up my hood.  People donned ski hats and shivered in the stiff wind.  We drifted for awhile in front of Surprise Glacier and were rewarded with a huge calving -- pieces of the glacier breaking loose and crashing into the sea.

We saw salmon swimming, churning the water as they followed the tide.

Otters floated on their backs in the water, then turned and dove as we came close.  Seals slept on ice burgs.  Bald eagles watched us from the tops of trees.  And whales dove in the distance.

It was a magical day.