Thursday, January 31, 2013

Running on emotion

My usual running days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays or Sundays. This over-40 body just can't take the pounding of a daily run, and I respect my temple enough to pay attention to what's it's telling me, usually. The exchange for being able to run at all, I feel, is that I cannot run every day.

As much as I prefer to run in the cooler to cold weather of fall and winter and very early spring, I admit it is extremely difficult to maintain my schedule when all I really want to do is install myself on the couch with some hot tea and a good book and forget I ever thought of myself as an athlete.

Bad idea. I've worked too hard to let it go in a few moments of chilly weakness.

So, after whining and complaining to myself about it, I went out for my regular run -- four miles -- on Tuesday  It wasn't terribly cold, just cool enough for long sleeves, and the mercury in the thermometer (do they even still put mercury in thermometers??) was on it's way up. I forced myself out the door right after I dropped Noah off at preschool, so I wouldn't back out, and so I wouldn't decide I had something else more important to do.

Right before I went out, I though, huh, maybe I could use the extra motivation of one of my race playlists. I never run with music unless I am racing, mostly because I run on neighborhood streets without sidewalks, and I don';t want to get surprised by a car. But I took my iPod Nano, and set the 8K playlist to run on shuffle.

That was the best decision I could have made.

While I prefer to work out and run to music so loud I can't hear myself think, I opted for slightly less volume so I wouldn't have trouble hearing the traffic. I loved being in my own little bubble, and after a few minutes of The Wallflowers' 'Reboot The Mission', I was totally jazzed and moving out in my warmup mile.

From there, the shuffle moved on to the rest of the list, heavy on 90's dance pop and various other songs with heavy bass and beat. What can I say, I'm a former dancer.

My dissociative behavior for this run included my favorite head game -- choreographing dances to whatever music was playing. I did some of that, and then I shifted to choreographing musical kur rides . I have always fantasized about riding at the highest levels of the sport of dressage, on a big, powerful horse -- always black -- and performing an out of this world tough ride set to some piece of unexpected and powerful music. In my mind, I was a rebel, performing the kur to popular dance music, electronica, or some rap/hip-hop, or pop song. Something totally unexpected and out of character for the sport. I don't know why, maybe just for the performance art aspect of it. Maybe for flipping the elite level the symbolic bird. Heh.

Anyway, I got so deep into my choreography on one really tough hill on my route that not only did I miss the fact that I climbed the hill, but also I could feel the horse I was mentally riding. I could feel the one-tempi changes at the canter, and the piaffe and passage, and tight canter circles. of course, I was in near-perfect form -- this was MY imagining, after all -- and I could imagine the huge movement of the horse underneath me. This is a testament to the power of the mind. I could feel that horse underneath me. That horse I have never owned, nor ridden, nor even sat on. That horse that does not exist to my knowledge. At one point, the vision became so strong, I felt tears briefly well up in my eyes. It was so perfect -- the loud music, the motion of the horse, my physical effort, my imagination of what the scene would be like.

I didn't actually cry, but it was one of those moments I recognize from performing. When the dance and the dancer literally become the same. It was beyond powerful. It reminded me that I need to harness this power more often, especially when I finished my run and came home to enter my time into my DailyMile page so it would calculate my pace.

Tuesday, I ran a 10:26 mile. That's a minute and a half faster than my usual mile pace.

Music makes me do anything.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Making stuff

Let's start this blog post with a gratuitous picture of Champ:

I love the PicMonkey photo editor. It makes my pictures look like I know what I am doing when I take them. Travis is taking a photography class this semester, so maybe between the two of us, our family snapshots will be significantly better.

In other news, poor Kira is suffering through the loss of her wonderful canine companion that her father owned. Bear was unfortunately hit by a car and killed last Saturday. She is struggling with this loss, and we are doing our best to help her process her grief. Sometimes it's hard to remember that we willingly choose to accept companion animals into our hearts and lives, knowing their own lives are much shorter than ours. I hope for her for an easy path through her pain.

Since Kira got me started with needle felting, I have been thinking about what else I can turn my hands to and make. The creative juices are flowing, but I am having a hard time getting projects moving. I did get started on a mixed-media box project that I have a cool box for and an unfinished idea about:

I've gotten to the gesso stage, but that's as far as I've gone at this point. Of course, since my sewing/craft/art/project space looks like this, it's tough to get moving and stay creatively engaged.

Way back in October, we honestly thought the farm of our dreams was within our grasp. So much so that I started to consider the state of our current house and getting it ready for the market. that meant tidying up all of the interior spaces. THAT meant the only solution I could see was to pack up most of my art and sewing supplies. They were stuffed into a too-small space to begin with -- the office of our house -- because the fourth bedroom became Noah's back in 2007.

We have so completely outgrown this house. Or at least, I have. I need a room of my own, and so does Travis.

Anyway, the result of all this upswing in creative activity is this scene on my nightstand.

I usually have a ton of books there, but yesterday the kids and I went to the library, and I came home with books on bookbinding, in addition to two more Rita Mae Brown foxhunt mysteries. I think I want to try some bookbinding, particularly Coptic stitched bindings, and investigate some other medieval and earlier period books. It's all so fascinating to me, and as usual, I want to try some of everything!

I did finally make the earring holder for my room. It was simple, since I already had the empty frame in my garage attic. Some screen material, a staple gun, and one of those 3M Command adhesive hooks ( I LOVE those things!), and there ya go. Good thing, too. I have a ton of earrings and no good way to keep track of them.

I have nothing good to keep my art jewelry necklaces in or on, so I opted for more Command hooks. I hate for the work I've made to languish in a drawer, where I can't see it to wear it. Usually, I'm wearing this necklace, though, a Christmas gift from my husband. I've always loved the horse triskele, and this design matches my tattoo AND my new mug!

One beautiful horse for each beautiful child in my family. Like a Celtic equestrian mother's necklace. 

Anyway, I think I am going to try to make some more progress on that box project I started. Not sure exactly where it is going yet, but hopefully I will know when I've gotten 'there'.

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sundays at the Barn

Sundays are barn days.

 I brought Champ in for Wren, while she got out all the equipment.

 Champ is especially ticklish and Wren is rightly concerned about his reaction to being brushed, so we reviewed the do's and don't's again. A crop is always a decent deterrent for Champ, plus it's handy in case he decides to get froggy.

I love how bendy his neck is. All the better to reach into your pockets for treats!

 Travis even went out and brought in Turkey all by himself! I was so proud! I was helping Wren get tacked up, and I looked down the barn aisle and saw Travis in the doorway, holding on to Turkey's lead. So cool!
 Noah was adamant that he groom Turkey, too, so I gave him a brush and let him go at it.
 Turkey's got MASSIVE feet (that really need a trim).

Noah insisted that he get to pick out Turkey's feet, so I helped him. Good grief, those legs are heavy.
 Personally, I think this should be Travis' new profile picture on Facebook.
 Actually, I really like this picture, too. Buddies.
 Up at the riding ring, the parents' gallery was in full attendance. It was definitely a "Dad's day" at the barn this afternoon.

Wren got up on Champ and they were ready to go. More or less. Wren did not like how crowded the ring was, and Champ just didn't feel like packing around a beginner today. It was a slow ride.

But, they got some work done. Any time in the saddle at Wren's age is a good thing, even if the lesson wasn't particularly spectacular.

Champ knows how to operate the ring gate, so he tried to, several times. Unsuccessfully.

 Then, at the end of the lesson, emergency dismount.....
 ....reins over the head.....
....and off we go.

Champ loves, loves, loves his treats. he also loves salt, so maybe I will bring him a bag of pretzels this week.

He does make some seriously funny faces when you play with his nose and lips.

All in all, a good lesson for Wren, and a fun time at the barn for the whole family. It's so good to see Travis working with Turkey, and being more at ease around these wonderful animals. It warms my heart to see Noah want to take an active part in this work, and I hope that he will want to ride like his sisters and mom when he gets a little older.

Every time we are at the barn, I wish we could be there more, and I wish I could ride more. It's a relentless desire.

 “You cannot remain unmoved by the gentleness and conformation of well-bred and well-trained horse – more than a thousand pounds of big-boned, well-muscled animal, slick of coat and sweet of smell, obedient and mannerly, and yet forever a menace with its innocent power and ineradicable inclination to seek refuge in flight, and always a burden with its need to be fed, wormed and shod, and its liability to cuts and infections, to laming and heaves.  But when it greets you with a nicker, nuzzles your chest, and regards you with a large and liquid eye, the question of where you want to be and what you want to do has been answered.” 
                                                          -- Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide, 1992

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How To Spend A Snowy Saturday

First, breakfast. With lots of coffee. And surveying of the wintry scene.

Two views of our front yard and road outside our house. About 2-3 inches of snow fell last night. I think we got at least an inch in the first hour of the storm. It was pretty fast, and covered the freezing cold roads pretty quickly.

Then there has to be some beagles, and maybe a cat. Just because.

Of course, there has to be some reading, while wearing wool socks, all cozied up on my favorite chair.

This is after a morning of errand-running, which included a trip to my least-favorite tack shop in the world, only because they had a dressage whip in stock for cheap, and my other, more favored shop did not.

And a trip to the fabric store for supplies for my newest obsession:


Kira taught me the basics on Friday afternoon, and I've been working on a small sculpture of Champ for the last two days. I needed more needles, and some wool roving in primary colors, so a trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics was necessary.

On a snowy day, it's also a good idea to have some hot tea with you as you read, or needle-felt.

Snowy days are also really good for playing the Wii.

And for memorizing your dressage test.

It's also a good time to give the guinea pigs some love. They need love, too.

That's Phineas. He's MUCH bigger than our new guy, Cyril, who is much more social than Phineas is, but Wren tries to love on them both so nobody feels left out.

Snow is no deterrent to grilling hot dogs for dinner, especially if it isn't actively snowing.

We had a pretty great day, snow and all. And no, I did not go for a run this time. I just didn't feel up to it.
I'm really glad the barn horse show is rescheduled from tomorrow to next week, though. It's still really cold outside!
 And the best thing to do at the end of a snowy day is...sleep.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Today was my regular riding lesson, but the other woman who rides with me opted not to subject herself to the below-freezing temps, and bailed. I gave my trainer the option to cancel, but she told me it was fine, to come on down to the barn and we'd ride in the little indoor ring.

It's not always warmer in the indoor ring, just less windy. Usually. And more dusty.

I put on a couple layers of shirts and my winter parka, made sure I had plenty of glove and earband options, and an extra fleece jacket, just in case, and off I went. We had a two hour delay of school because of snow this morning, so once everyone had gone off to school, I was on my way.

I chalk quite a lot of my orientation to work and to passions and dedication up to my long early training as a dancer. I'm sure it bores the hell out of you for me to always bring it up, but it was formative in a way I only just now realize as an adult with the ability to make my own choices.

It was time for my riding lesson, and below-freezing, bitter cold or not, I was going. It's what you do. You suck it up and deal.

Holy moly. It was COLD.

I am afraid of riding in small, enclosed spaces. I always feel like I don't have enough room, or like the horse is going to run into something, or try to scrape me off on the wall. My trainer's indoor ring is quite tiny. I doubt you could set up a small dressage arena in there.

Champ was behaving like a champ today, though, that's for sure.

Every time I ride him, I feel like another piece of the puzzle just clicks into place. My trainer tells me he is like a foster child. You know he came from someplace less than ideal, he may have been yelled at a lot, or beaten, or told he wasn't good enough. He surely wasn't groomed or loved on a whole lot. He wants to do the right thing, but he is afraid, or nervous, or just generally anxious. Sometimes, he is just mad, especially if he thinks it's time to eat and I want him to do something else.

I ply him with treats, and soft talk, and hugs, and praise. I don't allow him to push me around, or kick out when he is being groomed, or paw the ground while cross-tied. I push him to work for me, and do the job he really can do, and in return, I love him, and tell him he's a good boy, and treat him respectfully and kindly. I want him to trust me.

Today, in that teeny ring I am scared to ride in, we worked on lots of bending, and stretching at the free walk, and we trotted circles, and generally got moving forward with something that resembled rhythm.

I managed to get him to do a passable turn on the forehand. Then we spent some time working on leg yield, in both directions. I had a hard time getting him to stay bent to the right to move left, so we'll be working more on that. It wasn't perfect by any means, nor was it especially beautiful, but we did it.

And we jumped. A cross-rail set up off center, about 18"-24" at it's middle, and we went both ways, trotting to it and working on timing. I have to learn to stop flapping my elbows over and after the fence. I'm not even sure why that is happening. But it's a minor issue in the scheme of things because I only got slightly left behind once, and only jumped ahead slightly once. The rest of the time -- great timing on the release, something I have struggled mightily with in the past. I even managed to get him to land with the correct canter lead once!

I don't think I can express just how monumental all this is. To use Noah's new word which he learned in preschool last week, I am positively jubilant about my riding these days. I didn't even get unseated when Champ shied at the pickup truck that lumbered unexpectedly by outside the barn.

Next time I ride in this kind of cold, I will NOT fail to put chemical heaters in my boots, though. I only had to stop because my toes were completely numb.

It took me several hours, a BIG bowl of soup and a cup of hot tea before I felt like I had warmed up, and even now I am exhausted.

But oh, so jubilant!

Feeding the soul

It's been months since I last lit my glass torch and spent any significant time working with it. I almost hate to say this out loud, because I don't want to jinx it, but my schedule has been pretty lightly scheduled this week and next, and it being unbelievably cold today, I thought, hey, I should go make some beads. Nothing better than sitting in front of a six-inch torch flame, next to a 900*F kiln on a 25*F day.

But first I did get some day-job work done.

Then I went rummaging through all of my glass research books, papers, and magazines to find images of ancient beads form all the cultures I could find. Islamic, Viking, African, Roman, Byzantine....I had pictures of all kinds of stuff. So, I set up the fuel hose, flipped on the kiln, dipped a bunch of mandrels, and got out some glass. An hour and a half later, I had made these:

Not a great picture, but hey, it's early. I'm particularly proud of the black, white, and red ones and I may make them into a bracelet or something. The rest, I need to make more of before I do something with them. The translucent green and blue ones are copies of Roman-era beads, intended to look like semiprecious stones. The Romans figured out they could make glass look like other things, like expensive stones. That way, the lower classes of people could have what the more affluent people had -- expensive-looking jewelry. The world's first costume jewelry! Those Romans were pretty forward-thinking.

I'm getting the urge to go back to Corning to do some more research. Especially with no academic library privileges of my own, I have to visit there to get my hands on the materials I want.

I wish I had more time in my week to spend making beads and doing the research I want to do. But, there are horses to ride, and good restaurants to visit, and tickets to experiences to purchase, so I guess I will stick with the day job I already have. :)

Anyway. Schools are on a 2 hour delay here this morning for snow. We didn't get much at all, and my friends in upstate NY will laugh, but this is the road outside my house at 7:00am this morning:

We're supposed to get more, but I don't know what that will really look like. So, for now, the kids will all be at school by 11:00am. Unfortunately, that means I will probably miss my riding lesson today, which makes me sad. Noah has to get picked up by 2pm, and I don't know if I can make it out to the barn, groom, tack, ride, groom, put away, and make it back to the preschool by 2pm. I also don't know if the footing is at all good in the ring at the barn, either.

I love riding in the snow. This snow is perfect for it, too, because it's so cold, the snow is dry and light and fluffy. If I could, I'd probably be out riding in it right now.

....oh please, about three years, please finally lead me to the farm and horses I have wanted for so long...and please let me not be too old or broken to enjoy the lifestyle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chihuly at the VMFA

Most of you know that I am a docent (a fancy word for 'tour guide') at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I've been doing this for a year so far, and I LOVE it. It's my most favorite thing I have ever done, I think. I only wish they paid me to do it.

One of the benefits is getting to see the traveling, banner exhibitions for free. I spent a bunch of time in the Egyptian mummy exhibit last fall, and I've seen the beautiful, breathtaking display of items from the period of Indian maharajas. This season, our museum has put on a huge exhibit of the work of Dale Chihuly. As an amateur glass artist, I adore any kind of glasswork, but especially glassblowing. Chihuly's work is stunning, bright, colorful, and imaginative, and this exhibit is a wonderful showcase. I especially love that he created a couple of works especially for installation at the VMFA -- the 'Blue Ridge Chandelier', and 'Red Reeds'. Really, I hope the museum purchases the chandelier, but I don't think there are any plans to do that, unfortunately.

My oldest daughter has wanted to see the exhibition since it opened last fall. Noah has been studying the artist and his colorful works in preschool over the past few weeks, and he was all excited about it. having been to the exhibit myself, I knew all three kids would love it, but what gave me serious pause was the fact that most of the works are easily within the grasp of the attendees, literally. You can get right up close and personal with his pieces. The thought of my young, active kids in a room with pretty-much-priceless glass art was a little unnerving.

But, I've had worse ideas. So I arranged tickets for yesterday, a school holiday.

The museum was PACKED. I guess everyone else had the same idea, because there was nothing in particular on the schedule that I could tell, besides a couple of tour groups. When I got the tickets last week, they said the options for tickets were wide open. This exhibit has timed-entrance tickets so there wouldn't be too many people in the gallery at one time, so I had to choose a time. I'm glad I picked 10:30, because by the time we left at noon, it was jammed!

This is what you see when you walk into the exhibit space:

And this:

My rudimentary photography skills aren't terrible, and my point and shoot camera is decent, but I could not even do justice the the depth and range of COLOR in this room. It was unbelievable.

On the wall opposite all of the magnificence was a collection of his paintings. They were much more muted in color, but full of shape and interesting texture. The kids pointed out their favorites. Wren chose "all of them" as her favorites.

After this part of the exhibit, you walked under one of his best works, as far as I'm concerned. It is the 'Persian Ceiling', and there is a HUGE one in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. I've never been there, so I don't know what it looks like, beyond the photographs I've seen, but even the truncated version we have is stunning.

It's really cool to walk underneath all those pieces of glass, with the light pouring through them. It's kind of like being in a kaleidoscope!

We spotted a whole bunch of marine animals made in glass, like this starfish in the center of the photo:

More starfish, some urchins, and some squiggly cool-looking things:

And an octopus!

The light was just incredible in there!

We are so lucky to have this beautiful collection of artwork right here in our city. I could stand under that ceiling for hours -- in fact, I was thinking how cool it would be to lay down on the floor and look up at it all, and try to see the patterns, shapes, and objects he placed in there.

I think this is my favorite thing of all the pieces on exhibit.

After the Persian Ceiling, there was another huge room with his 'garden' of glass. His mother was a master horticulturist, and he did a lot of work inspired by her gardens. Another absolutely breathtaking display in here. There's just SO much to look at!

And a favorite of Kira's....the neon tumbleweed! This is an earlier work for Chihuly, and there is only the one in our exhibition, but it's still cool!

After we were done gazing at glass, I took the kids around to their favorite galleries -- the Gans silver collection, Africa, the Mellon Sporting Art collection, and ancient Egypt. Riding in the glass elevators is a particular source of joy for these guys!

On our way home, we stopped outside the cafe to see Chihuly's 'Red Reeds', the other installation he created specifically for the VMFA.

It was a terrific morning out with my kids, and I am so happy they could come and enjoy the artworks with me. Even better, I am so incredibly lucky to be able to be a part of all this fabulousness that is the VMFA. Becoming a docent there is about the best non-family related thing to happen to me in forever.

BTW, museum admission is free to the permanent collection, and the museum is open 365 days a year, from 10am to 5pm -- til 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays. The Chihuly exhibition closes on February 10th, so get your tickets and go see it!