Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Eggs

Most of my friends know I have issues with eggs. There's just something about them that made me horribly sick when I was pregnant with all my kids, and that distaste has carried over to the rest of my days. I have to be really in the mood for eggs to eat them now. And they can't be runny, or icky, or partially-cooked in any way. I learned to scramble them super-slowly so that they end up fluffy and light instead of cooked hard to death and smelling vaguely of sulphur. But even then, I REALLY have to be in the mood.

And I always hated the hard boiled whites -- eating silicone -- I prefer to lick the deviled yolks out of the whites and give the whites to the dogs.

Egg salad? Uh no. Forget it.

And pickled eggs? NEVER. EW EW EW! Reminds me of other sketchy countertop-of-an-old-corner-store stuff like pickled pigs feet, and pickled sausage, and the like.

However...I realize the significant nutritional value of eggs, especially in these middle-aged days of trying to lower my carbohydrate intake in favor of more protein and less overall body padding. I've been trying to figure out how to eat eggs without grossing myself out. So, Travis hard-boiled a bunch for me and I've been taking two to work every day to eat with my lunch (of mostly vegetables). Turns out, with enough salt and pepper, hard-boiled eggs are not so bad. Filling, tolerable, but...boring.

In browsing Pinterest the other day, though, I found a recipe for hard boiled eggs essentially marinated in a soy sauce based liquid over night. It sounded good, it wasn't purple (see those countertop eggs), and I liked the flavors. So I thought, what the hey, I'll give it a shot. Mixed up the flavors and put four eggs in a pint canning jar. I didn't can them, I don't know how to do that.

But here is the result:

Verdict? OMG. SO GOOD.
Then I was off and running back to Pinterest for more recipes. Different flavors, different methods....and then to pickles of all kinds. I LOVE a vinegar-pickled vegetable, and I have a long history of (being Italian) loving vinegar giardinera, pickled cucumbers, marinated sundried tomatoes, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, pretty much anything (except meat, OMG no).

Now I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to pickled yum. And I've already decided what the next batch of soy sauce eggs will be. I'm going to tweak the ratios so that there is a little less soy sauce (because the flavor is stronger the longer it sits, it can get overly salty), and add some fresh gingerroot and a bit of chili for heat. And I want to try a balsamic vinegar recipe, and one with rosemary, and one with horseradish (I love horseradish!).

SO this is a great development for my work lunches, and for my attempts to eat more protein and fewer carbs. I'll let you know how the rest of the recipes go.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Six Months

I've been at my new job for six months tomorrow. It's been a pretty good experience overall, and I think I have mostly moved beyond the intense perfectionistic stress of the first few post-training months into a place where I know what I'm doing more often than not. I've changed direct supervisors and that person seems much more on my wavelength as far as learning and working styles go, so that helps. Learning software that is NOT intuitive in the *least* is still my hardest task, and I think I'm improving my decision-making skills. I don't require constant review of everything I write anymore, and I've been 'released' to send reviews to doctors without sending to my direct supervisor first. And the Virginia Disability Determination Services as a whole won a national award, so we all got 4 hours of extra leave. Sometimes state jobs are nice.

The things I still don't love are being indoors all. day. long. Sitting for hours. Getting completely sucked into the detail-oriented work and realized three hours have gone by without me leaving my chair. The regular 8 hour day schedule. Making less money than I did previously. Not being in a management position for the first time in ten or more years.

I realized this week that I actually have less money now than when I was working last year. I didn't have to pay for child care last year. I didn't have a new car. I didn't go out for lunch because I was too much of a slacker to make my lunch the night before. And I was, even at my hourly rate, actually making a higher salary. Now it feels like most things are a squeeze. I should get a raise in September, and another one a year later, though. And some expenses, like child care, should fall off next year, along with one of the car payments.

It was, and has been, really tough to give up my working-from-home/stay-at-home-mom gig. Economic necessity (and by that I mean, maintaining the lifestyle we had) required it. I'm not 'brave' or particularly noteworthy for doing it, though. It was just a fact of circumstances, and I would rather struggle personally with my changed circumstances than struggle to provide activities and experiences for the kids, and riding and horses for myself and Wren.

I'm off today, and so I have had the ability to put a kid on the bus, make pizza dough from scratch for tonight's dinner, take care of some details for an upcoming horse show I am the volunteer coordinator for, and, yes, get out to the barn and get a ride in. Then I will make homemade pizza for dinner, and head to the museum to give a tour this evening. If I feel really ambitious, I'll vacuum the floors, maybe. It's nice to get a break in the week, but I will be back at work tomorrow. I'm just glad the time change is this weekend so heading to ride after work doesn't mean an intense race against the sun.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reflections on language

In reflecting on my fabulous ride in my lesson this evening, I realize that the process of coaching a rider develops its own organic language to communicate concepts and ideas and directions, much like all the choreographers I've ever worked with use to explain rhythm and dance steps.

 I have long been used to hearing things like "Ah-ya-da-da, ya-da-da, one, two, turn, stomp" or "reach and... reach and... bum bum bum, kick step flick". In the studio, the rehearsal hall, on the stage in performance preparation, all dancers are familiar with the verbal salad that defines the choreography. So much so, that a specific combination of words and sounds will almost always result in the ability to execute the same set of dance steps, without music, at any time in the future.

 I remember the verbal-visual descriptions I heard throughout my dance training that were designed to help me refine steps or posture. Things like "lift your ribcage out of your hips", or "hold your arms up from your back, not your biceps", or "explode off the floor [in a leap]".

 Now, as a rider learning the ballet-like discipline of dressage, I hear similar types of coaching from my trainers. There's not as much word salad, thank goodness, but the visual descriptions are often so applicable that I can turn the words into action and into a betterment of my posture, riding technique, and Joe's way of going.

 For example, postural corrections I often hear these days include "no chicken wings!" when I need to keep my elbows close to my hips. Sometimes I just get chicken-clucking noises from my coach. I hear "slide your shoulder blades down your back", and "connect your shoulders to his hips", and "move his shoulders over with your knee".

 I also occasionally hear "steer with your boobs!", which is a correction to think of turning my upper body when I turn my horse. Shoulders like a queen, hips like....well, never mind.

 The concept of pushing the girth over with my leg, pushing his withers over, moving his shoulders over has been significantly helpful in getting the correct technique to keep Joe bending and turning through corners and on a circle.

 Tonight, the gem I really needed was " you're a soil scientist, studying the soil right in front of Joe's [inside] foot". It seems an exceedingly odd thing to say, but it made so much sense that whenever my instructor said "soil scientist" for the rest of the lesson, I knew exactly what to do to get Joe down and round and forward. And it worked, nearly every single time!

 And sometimes, I'd hear "lower his neck", and I could apply the half-halt I needed to get him to come more round.

 It was truly fun, physically and mentally demanding lesson. Lots of attention to detail, lots of minute-to-minute learning. I think we did a respectable job, and I feel like I have had a fantastic total-body workout. My brain is filing away all the phrases and concept for our next ride. The challenge is always to be able to repeat it all the next time I am in the saddle.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thoughts on transitions

At the beginning of September, 2016, I went back to work full time. I haven't had a full time, out-of-the-home job in just about ten years -- the entire length of my youngest child's life thus far. Up to that point, I had worked part time from home for a company I had been a part of for the entirety of my time here in Richmond. Fifteen years. But in 2016, due to the aging of the company's owners, and the volatile market for health care provider agencies, the company was sold. My work appealing denials of payment for therapy services was not required by the new company, and I was laid off. The first time ever in my life I was let go from a professional job. By the end of the summer, though, I had found a new job, and began that work with a little bit of trepidation. It was full time, outside of the home. The kids would need before-school care, and the ability to let themselves into the house after school. I would no longer be able to run errands for the family, make daytime appointments easily, take time off without too much consideration, and be able to go to the kids' school for awards ceremonies, lunches, or to pick up a sick kid without a re-arranging of my day. I'd have to switch my volunteer work schedule at the museum to all-evening or weekend work.

And I would no longer have the ability to ride in the mornings, to have most days be available to spend a couple hours at the barn after my work was done, riding, helping out, and frankly, being with my friends. I know that sounds like a total first-world problem, and it is. But it was a life I had finally been able to craft for myself, in which I contributed financially to the family, took care of the kids, some house stuff, and our animals, and left time for me to pursue interests that had been gnawing at me for years.

Now, it's not all bad, and I don't mean to complain too much. I mean to reflect a little, and try to make some decisions about how my life is going to go in this new reality in which most everyone else already participates. I like my job, it suits me, and I like my coworkers, even though I am struggling to learn a new and very complex role in which I am no longer the authority figure. It's a state job, so the benefits are fantastic, and I do have some flexibility for appointments, sick kids, and the like. Also -- state holidays!

I generally am not an afternoon or evening person, though, so it's been very difficult for me to remain motivated by the end of a long sedentary day to get my ass out to the barn. I struggle with guilt over leaving my family to fend for themselves in the evenings I ride, and for Travis to have to deal with kid drama as it arises, or the function as the inevitable kid shuttle service to activities.

I find myself struggling with guilt over work when I take a sick day to be home with a kid who needs me, and the guilt when I notice I am thinking if I can possibly schedule some riding time into the sick day without abandoning my kid. Good Parent Guilt never goes away, no matter how old your kids are.

I'm not riding well consistently enough, and show season is coming up in a month. Joe needs to work consistently in order for me to be able to overcome his innate inflexibility, and my general lack of technique. I have goals I want to achieve this year, as always, but finances are tight and time is even tighter. I'm cramming the same number of activities and obligations into MUCH less time, and frankly, I have not yet found a weekly rhythm that I am comfortable with. To top it all off, it's winter, which means my hibernation instincts are strong on grey days, my mental health takes a hit (seasonal, and because of my 'new' life), and the afternoon/evening post-work window for daylight riding is small.

Things will improve; the days will stay lighter longer soon, it won't always be cold and grey (soon I'll be bitching because it's too fucking hot to ride), my kids will grow and become more independent, obligations may change that will make schedules change, and this dressage journey I am on is a long-haul sort of thing. Having the faith that I just need to keep plugging away and do what I can do each day is tough for me, goal-directed and ambitious as I can be. Nobody's pushing me but me. Well, my trainers push me, and my friends encourage me, but nobody is *pressuring* me, I should say.

I hope I figure this thing out soon. I love my guy Joe, and I love to ride, and the best thing that has happened to me in the last four years outside of family stuff has been finding my tribe at Saddlebrook, along with "my" horse, trainers who suit me perfectly, and the atmosphere for myself and Wren to enjoy riding and learn at our pace. I just feel like most of the time I am giving not enough attention to everything. It's a hard place to be, and I dislike it.

If you've read this far, you're a saint. Mostly I'm talking to myself. It's Saturday, and there's nothing on the agenda, and my coffee cup is empty, so I think it's time to head out to the barn and refresh my soul, and get some air, and love on Joe.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Backwards in time

It should be no kind of secret to anyone who knows me, reads this blog, or follows me on Facebook that I love many things, but I especially love history. Living as I do in central Virginia, I'm pretty much in the cradle of the beginnings of this country. From the Jamestown colony, to Colonial Williamsburg, to the American Revolution, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the White House, the Civil War, and many, many more of the most significant locations, houses, battlefields, and events of American history exist within a day's or less drive of my house. I've been to many of these places, but a significant amount of time that has passed since I have had a chance to visit many of them again.

It's spring break week here, and with three kids, I like to plan at least one structured activity or day trip for the week. We tend not to travel much, so day trips are perfect. The original plan was to go to Washington, DC, about two hours away, and visit a couple of the Smithsonian museums, a place very dear to my heart. Alas, the fickle spring weather in Virginia wasn't conducive to a fun trip. Instead, we opted for a trip closer to home, to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

TJ's place is situated on over 2,000 acres on the top of a small mountain just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. We opted for the guided tour of the house, but toured the grounds and gardens ourselves, maps in hand. Noah was especially enamored of the map and took great care to make sure he knew where we were, and compared it to the illustrations on the map, at each stop we made. He loved it!

The view is stunning, even on a cloudy, cool, and otherwise dreary day. Our guide told us Jefferson had no outbuildings built at Monticello so he would have a completely unobstructed view from the house.

All the dependencies are built into the terraces under the house -- the kitchen. smokehouse, stables and carriage house, house slaves' quarters, and storage rooms are underneath wings of the house. The vegetable garden is immense and beautiful, as well as the vineyard and berry patch. Behind the house, the west lawn is expansive and bordered with tons of flowers -- tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths now in the early spring. The kids were all over the place, loving the peek into the kitchens and other dependencies, especially those with artifacts like dishes and bottles and sewing tools.

Inside the house, no photography (as with most house museums), so I can't share the wonderful things inside the house. Jefferson truly was a genius, in the layout and decoration of his home. Floor to ceiling windows, alcove beds, and huge skylights in octagonal rooms were my favorite. The details are simple and amazing, even down to the molded friezes over the doorways. His dining room is Mars yellow, a shockingly bright color that makes the room just glow,`and the tea room off to the side, surrounded by windows, is where I would spend all day, if I could. Our excellent guide told us that 60% of the furniture and artifacts in the house actually belonged to Jefferson, including some of his books. Oh! The books! Two shelves of his own personal books, plus hundreds of others that were of the era. Shelves and shelves of books in his library. And all I could think as I walked through the house was, Thomas Jefferson actually lived here, walked here, held these books, slept on this bed, wore these riding boots, sat in this chair....

And his books and papers, things he actually touched, silhouettes of family members that are hanging still on the walls in the South Square Room, it makes me want to see everything they have in the collection. I know because I work in a museum that there is so much more not on view to the public that is held by the Monticello Foundation and in the Thomas Jefferson library. Can you imagine? Ledgers for the farm and plantation, recipes, correspondence, sketches...I could sift through the papers and artifacts for days without getting bored. Our tour guide was really good, and I soaked in all the information he was telling us, and his enthusiasm for the place and the stories, and I just felt so happy. One of my favorite things about working at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is getting to tell people who come on my tours all about the history and the stories behind the works of art. I would love to teach in a house museum, too. I think I love material culture and archival 'stuff' -- papers, photos, other ephemera -- as much or more than I love the artworks. It's the stories about people and how they lived and who they were that fascinate me.

Some days I know I really missed my calling. I should have gone to library school, or gotten the history degree I had planned on. I would love nothing more than for my second career to really be about my passion for preservation and history and the stories of the people who came before us.

I hope I at least pass on some of my interest in history to my kids.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Come to Jesus

So, Joe, who I have been riding since right before Christmas, and who I am now leasing for my training and competition mount this year, and who I spoke about in this post, well...he and I have been having a little difficulty seeing eye to eye on this whole work thing.

It's a challenge, sometimes, to handle a BIG guy who doesn't think you've got the stones to make him do the job he is signed up to do in this life. Given that he's rather opinionated as it is, and then he discovers his new regular rider off a bad fall with injury, and trying to get my balance and strength back, and learn the buttons to push to get Joe to work at the level he is capable of, well, sometimes it doesn't go as planned. Like anything with horses, really.

A few weeks ago, he started stating a very strong opinion about actually going forward when asked to do so by his rider. This opinion he made known by kicking out with one hind leg or another, and if the rider were persistent enough, he'd plant his front legs and throw in a huge buck. He declared working as a school horse to be completely out of the question, and then he decided that that short, middle-aged woman with the loud red hair was not possessed of the mettle necessary to convince him he really needed to do his job.

I started to worry maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, after a string of other mounts just didn't work out in a pretty persistent and obvious way. I started to worry that maybe he hated me, or that I was annoying him in some way, or that he was just not for me. Then, worse, I started to think that maybe I *didn't* have the stones necessary to be the pack leader, so to speak. Bucking isn't always a big deal, but it can escalate, and I've been bucked off enough to know how much it hurts, and how easily a horse can throw you off their back if they want to. THEN I started to worry about getting hurt again. Joe is HUGE, well over sixteen hands, and the distance from his back to the ground seems like falling off a building. But I knew that attitude, keeping that fear in my mind, would color every ride I took from here on out, no matter the mount.

And I don't want to be a timid rider. I don't see myself as someone who can or will just get on any horse at all, but neither do I want to be limited by my own brain to horses who don't have at least a little brilliance in them, if that makes any sense. So, with the help of my fabulous trainer, we set out to solve this issue. It took a team on Sunday, people cheering me on, encouraging me, my trainer getting on, a couple people to work with Joe on the longe line, and then me getting back in the saddle and reminding him how this whole situation was going to go. I got off after we did some nice work together, and although my legs were jelly with nerves, I knew I could handle him.

My weekly lesson was today, and my trainer warmed him up for me, through a couple of bucks and a bit of resistance. When I got on, I just grabbed mane and let him know I was running this show. One buck and a little bit of horsey whiny drama, and we were working together beautifully. It was incredible. I felt him just like I did back in December, before I got hurt, all smooth and rhythmic and forward. I could stay with him, sit up tall, hold my position, tell him where to go and how to arrange his feet and it was beyond wonderful. I could feel myself riding, really riding, instead of bracing for drama or getting flopped around like a sack.

My confidence shot up tremendously. I felt like I could ride and ride and ride forever. I can make plans for the show season now, and think about the things we will do together. One good come-to-Jesus meeting in the Church of the Arena, and we are well on our way. It turns out I *do* have the stones, and they are big ones. Today I (re)learned to never underestimate what I am capable of in the right setting.

I love this guy. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Me time

It's a Saturday morning and it's not a horse show day. I'm sitting on the couch, in my pajamas, with my coffee, reading the internet. 'Reading the internet' is my own code for scrolling through my Facebook feed, checking out Pinterest, opening tabs in Chrome for  articles I find I want to read, and doing some Amazon browsing for books and other stuff. It's not necessarily an ideal Saturday morning, but it's fairly peaceful. Nobody else (but myself and Noah) is up yet, so it's quiet. I've fed the dogs and the guinea pigs, and I am intermittently working on some things I need for a meeting this afternoon.

I am a person who highly values my time alone. I have always been this way, but never really realized how important it was, or how much of an impact it had on my well-being until later than I would have liked. 'Know thyself' has always been one of my personal mottoes, but it probably should have been 'Life is a constant state of learning to know thyself', because that is more like what has happened over the years I have spent so far.

My "perfect" Saturday morning would include some solitude. Depending on a number of factors, I would choose to be riding early in the day, or working on some creative project. In the winter, it's easier to want to spend the time at the sewing machine or with paint or clay or glass. I don't like to be interrupted, though, and my best, most favorite times are when I can work alone for a few hours until the creative drive is generally assuaged.

The state of "flow" is one of my most comfortable places to be within myself. I spend a lot of time in my head, so this isn't surprising. I've found this remarkable state while running, riding horses, sewing, and working glass, and for the uninitiated, it's a hard thing to describe. I guess if I had to commit, I'd say my ideal Saturday morning would include time spent in that state. It's an addictive place to be, because it makes me feel powerful in a way my daily life doesn't really allow.

Today, I'm not there. Today, I'm here, on the couch with my coffee. I'm writing, so that's something, but soon I'll have to get up and get started on this day. I think I'll consider a project that I can start tomorrow.