Saturday, February 26, 2011

I forgot

what it feels like when it's below zero.


This was entirely unexpected. The forecast low was in the high teens, and we usually run up to 10 degrees colder out here in the valley, so I was expecting low teens. Not -1 at 7:30. My poor critters - I'd have thrown them an extra flake last night, and I'd have gotten up and fed them when I first woke up at 5:30.

It was really luxurious to sleep in this morning :)

I have lost all sense of what temperature it is in the house. I guess it's because of the wood stove - the den is hot, and the other rooms are usually cold. It doesn't feel like it's in the 50s in the den right now, as I try to get the fire roaring again.

I did have one story I wanted to tell yall. You know I'm big on clicker training - I don't see any negative aspects to working a little clicker training in to your ground work. (Unless you inadvertently teach the horse to paw. Don't do that. It gets old fast.) One of the really neat things about c/t is that you don't have to have clicker sessions with the animal very frequently - they never seem to forget this stuff. You have to be consistent while you've got the clicker and the treats, but it doesn't matter if you train once a day or once a month.

Wednesday I wanted to touch up Dixie's feet before the weekend snowstorm. I clipped her haybag to the feeding area to give her something to munch on, and I got three feet rolled. Then she acted like a cow about her right rear - yanked it out of my hands, sidepassed as far away from me as possible. I moved her back into place, told her to quit being a fool, and asked her to pick it up again. She sidepassed away again so I yanked the lead untied, backed her up about 5 steps, and made her move her butt away from me. Then I decided we should go get the mail. We walked down the driveway, got the mail (hello Schneider's!) and I noticed the trash bin. The garbage had run that day and I needed to wheel the bin back to the house.

Dixie used to flee in terror from big green wheelie bins. The first time I tried to ride her past one, she backed up a 100' driveway in a panic. Eventually we got over the fear of that bin, but all other bins on the road were met with equal suspicion. She'd skitter wildly across the road to get away from one. So I clicker trained her. I'd hand-walk her to the trash bin and c/t for thinking about touching it. Then I'd make her touch the bin with her nose - I think wheelie bins are the first thing I taught her to "touch it!" with. It's also one of the few things I c/t for under saddle - Wednesdays in the fall of '09 we'd work our way down a mile of country road, zigzagging along touching every trash bin on the street.

So she's had a dramatic relationship with trash bins. I had absolutely nothing to use as a treat with me. I decided to pretend like this was no big deal and we did it all the time. I grabbed the bin and tipped it back onto its wheels, paused just a second so she could see it moving, and dragged it up the gravel driveway to the house. Dixie alternated between skittering at the end of her lead, rolling her eyes at it, and coming up and touching it with her "curious" ears on. When we got the bin back to the house, I told her she was a good horse, thumped her on the neck, and led her back to her feeding area. She ate some more hay and held up that last foot like a perfect angel.

The point of this story is that clicker training "sticks" as well as conventional training. She hasn't gotten a c/t for touching a trash bin in months, and we haven't done a real session re: trash bins in over a year. In the past, I had flapped the lids on them and made her touch them, but I'd never shown her that they move.

Yes, it went so well partially because we have a good relationship now. But it's also proof that clicker training sticks with them. I didn't ask Dixie to interact with the trash bin, just to stay with me as I dragged the bin up the driveway. On her own, she kept "touching it" because she remembers she sometimes gets a treat for touching big scary noisy trash bins.

One of the things I was scared of when I started clicker training was that I'd end up with a spoiled horse who would only perform if she knew I had treats. (Honestly, that's one of the reasons I don't do very much clicker under saddle. That, and poor coordination.) You really do need to reinforce a behavior with a lot of treats at first, but once you get a behavior down, you don't have to have treats.

I haven't had enough coffee yet. I had this written out better in my head yesterday, but of course it didn't come out as smoothly as I'd like this morning. Cheyenne was the first to comment, and I started to write this as a comment but decided to just add it to the main post instead.

Chey, my problem with c/t is that a lot of people seem to treat it like it's a goal unto itself. Kinda like a lot of natural horsemanship people end up just perfecting their NH games and never actually riding the horse? But my point is that it is a good adjunct to your normal horse activities, too. If you want to do lots of clicker training, more power to you - but if you just want to c/t that one tiny problem you have and then go back to your normal pressure/release training, it still works just fine. Can't get the horse to back up smoothly? Or maybe she rushes through a dressage cue? Or you want him to stand up perfectly square for a show but he likes to cock a back leg? Stuff like that is where clicker training really shines.

And it makes you a better trainer, too. You will get, errr, unexpected results if your timing isn't absolutely perfect. Clicker training definitely made me a better "regular" trainer - I am much sharper at rewarding the try now.

I also wanted to point yall to Aarene's old post about Story and the helicopter. When Dixie boldly planted her nose on the bin as I was dragging it over the rocks and stared at me, I thought of Aarene's story. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The hardest test I've ever seen

I'm pretty smart. I have a pretty broad and deep base of useless trivia. I am a big-league history nerd. And I'd totally fail this test. Go have a look!

I could partially answer 29 of the 50 questions. Most of them are Googleable. Some of them would require a librarian (hi AareneX!)

This was an eighth grade test. Even accounting for the differences in what knowledge we teach kids today, I don't think I knew that much stuff in the 8th grade.

Now! For the one I think I'd nail:

A cite to a website will probably give you a failing grade. A happy dog is a sight for sore eyes. I think "fain" means something like "want," but I'm not sure. I could feign a definition for fane, but it'd be a lie. Nevada breezes would blow away a cheap weathervane. As you get older the veins on your hands start to stand out. Loggers who clearcut raze forests. Who wouldn't like a pay raise? The rays of the sun were really lovely the other day.

And the one I'm most intrigued by right now - why is the Atlantic so much colder than the Pacific at the same latitude? My completely uneducated guess is "something to do with the Gulf Stream." Anybody know the answer... or any of the answers? No cheating til you guess here!

edit: dammit, snopes! Oh well, it's still a cool test. Siiigh.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wood you?

(God, I'm sorry, I just had to.)

Hey woodburning friends, let's talk! I got another cord of mixed almond and black walnut delivered this morning, and I just got in from stacking it. Last time I got wood, it was a cord or two of hard and a cord of soft, and I segregated the hard from the soft but other than that I just stacked things as I picked them up. It worked out ok - over the course of a day, I'd bring in a couple loads of wood and end up with some small limbs and some medium splits and one or two absolutely huge monster logs. Sometimes I use a medium log and some little pieces to cram the stove full at night, or sometimes I use a monster log - just depends on what I have in the house and how big my bed of ash and coals is.

This time, I tried something different. All the thin splits and limbs are in one stack of their own - I can grab small pieces from one area of the pile and big pieces from another. I hope this doesn't turn out to be a huge PITA when the pile is tarped and bungee'd town and covered in snow. We'll see.

Anyway, it's 35 degrees and everything's slowly melting. Of course I scraped all the snow off the pallets before I stacked the new wood, but the wood got dumped in the snow and it's damp. I figure I will leave it untarped as long as I can - til the next possible storm comes in at the end of the week. And if I pull snowy wood, I leave it by the fire to dry out before I burn it, that seems to work well. Any other words of wisdom?

Part of me really likes the idea of being self-sufficient. It's awesome having my own egg supply, and one day I'll breed the lil goats and have fantastically good milk, and I'm looking forward to trying a garden this summer. But part of me really loves capitalism. I could get a (very inexpensive) BLM permit, a chainsaw, and a flatbed trailer and go cut my own wood, then saw it, split it, and season it... or I could just give some cash to a nice professional. I still get the "fun" of stacking it and splitting kindling :)

Speaking of "fun" - there is nothing more deeply satisfying than stacking wood or hay. If you don't have livestock or a woodstove (and I think those two categories cover 95% of my readers), you probably think it sounds awful - but it's really deeply satisfying to make a giant stack of consumables. I suppose more normal people hoard toilet paper or something, but I sure like having a woodpile.

The wood didn't take all day so I suppose I'll go work on the bathroom some more.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's melting!

You will note in the following pictures that I am still a lazy southerner. I had to shovel the gate to the paddock, but other than that, I firmly believe snow will melt faster than I can shovel it.

Look at how beautiful this place is when it's not actively snowing!

And how gloomy it is when it's overcast at dawn :(

Some little critter lives under my deck
Critter under the deck

Maybe a rabbit? I'm not good with snow prints.
Maybe a rabbit?

Cersei thinks snow is awesome. She lives her life in all caps with three exclamation marks.
Looking for the ball!

WHERE'S THE BALL!!! The camera couldn't handle all the white - the sky is actually bright blue.
Where is the ball!

A ball dog!

Here's a snow dog video :)

Snow dog! from Funder on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

All woah, no go

This morning I decided it'd be a great time to go to town. It snowed yesterday, and today was supposed to be pretty clear til the afternoon, then more snow was coming. I wanted some paint, some primer, and better caulk. And then the truck wouldn't start. FUCK!

I will admit that I texted G to see WTF to do. When the brakes went out, I snapped into my "what's the next rational step" crisis mode, but today? WAAAAHHHH. Hands flapping in the air, totally helpless. G was like "call the dealership and they'll send a tow truck" and I got back on track.

I thought maybe it was the battery, but that truck was dead like a dead thing. The window I'd left half-down two days ago wouldn't roll up, the doors wouldn't lock or unlock, and it was clicking. There was a strange clicking noise coming from behind the freakin' glove box when the key was not being turned. As soon as I turned the key, the truck got quiet as a grave.

Anyway, it was weird. I so desperately wish this was a "hahah Funder is bad at trucks" story, but it's not. I called the dealership, who gave me the number for Ford Roadside Assistance. Once I got through the "are you in danger do you want us to call 911!" voice tree, a pleasant dispatcher confirmed all my info and gave me a 45 minute estimate. I ate some scrambled eggs, sulked briefly, and packed the iPad and some crap in a bag.

The tow truck showed up in 30 minutes. The truck was so dead he couldn't get it out of park, so he had to disconnect the linkage (?) to yank the truck out of the garage, but he was pretty pro. We rolled out through the snow (yes, it was snowing) and headed to the dealership. The service guy at the dealership is from Middle Tennessee so we got along great, and he thought maybe the alternator had died. He plopped me down in the waiting room and I reread most of the latest Dresden Files novel.

About 3 the service guy came and got me. There is something worse wrong with the truck - they can't get it out of park. They hooked the linkage thing back up, and got power to it to crank it, but it's stuck in park. WTF. Truck. I had your woah fixed less than a week ago. You are two years old, which is entirely too young even in planned-obsolecence 21st century America for you to die. You have not even reached 27,000 miles (as far as I remember, because you wouldn't light up at all this morning.) I'd like for you to both go forward and stop, when I ask, within the laws of physics.

Anyway, Middle Tennessee gave me a loaner car. Hah! Stupid Future Ford gave me a lame Yaris rental; this dealership gave me one of their very own Fusions. At least the turn signals and stuff are in the right place, but it's still a car and I don't like it. It's like a foot off the ground with tiny windows and front wheel drive and I bet it won't tow more than 1500 lbs and it sucks.

Still, I was so grateful to have wheels again that I went straight to my favorite pizza place and bought a pepperoni and pancetta pizza, then stopped at a grocery store for a bottle of bourbon. Then I drove home in my tiny perilous car and had pizza and a drink and life is not so frustrating or bad right now. :)

They've changed the forecast every 30 minutes since I got home. It looks like tonight's forecast is "a hell of a lot" south of Reno and "quite a bit" up here north of Reno. They won't get my precious truck fixed before the roads get plowed, but it's still pretty annoying.

A note on the difficulty of moving around the US and buying liquor:

So I'm from Mississippi, which has some of the most regressive liquor laws that I'm aware of. You can get beer anywhere (unless it's a dry county), but wine and liquor have to come from package stores (see above re: dry counties) - and package stores only sold liquor, no mixers or cups or ice. I lived in Virginia, which had state-owned ABC (alcoholic beverage c-something) stores - same idea. Tennessee was downright progressive - the liquor stores also sold "big" beers, and, IIRC, grocery stores sold wine. When we moved to Ohio we were hysterically amused by the shockingly liberal liquor laws - Kroger had a liquor aisle! And you could buy liquor on Sundays! So we were kind of expecting it when we headed west to Nevada - you can buy any kind of drink you want, any time of any day, from any store at all here. I used to go a hairdresser who'd offer me beer or wine while she cut my hair!

So after years of "if you want to drink, you have to go to the package store for the liquor and then next door to the grocery store for the mixers," you'd think it'd be really easy to pick up some whiskey in Reno. It's technically simpler, but there's a whole new level of complexity - if everyone sells everything, you're basing your decision primarily on price and quantity. I could get airline bottles of Maker's Mark for $7 a pop at the gas station, or I could get a 1.75 liter at Costco for $35, or I could find a grocery store and get something in between for an in-between value. I ended up stopping at a grocery store and paying $45 for a 1.75. It was worth it to get home quicker in the snow - everybody else had the same idea, and 395 was horribly backed up and slushy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I won a thing! plus snow and cat

I got a package today!


Look at this cool stuff I won! Girls with Guns went to a gun convention and had a giveaway and I actually won swag! The bumper sticker will go on my crew box - I have some nerdy stickers earmarked for it too. Now I just need to decide which size box I want for my crew box. Eek! Endurance buddies, I've got two sizes: ones that will hold one 50 lb bag of grain, and ones that are about twice that big. I could go measure, but yall know how much space 50 lbs of grain occupies :) I suspect the larger one would be annoyingly big and hard to pack and tote around.

So there's a tiny keychain, the big shopping bag, the sticker, and bullet-shaped earplugs on a string. The earplugs are the most useful, followed closely by the tote - I have a refrigerated one I use, but not a small size.

I missed GWG in the great sidebar revamping of 2011, but I went in today and added them. Guns are not scary evil death machines, any more than horses are evil broncos who will stomp your head in. GWG says it much better than I do, with more words and stuff :)

It kinda blizzarded overnight. The weak section of the backyard fence blew further over. :( I really need to fix that as soon as it warms up again.

It snowed off and on all day, but it was also pretty warm, so most of the snow on the roof melted. Icicles are pretty - all snow is pretty if you know it's going to melt soon!

Banders claimed the new Costco box. Can you see the total lack of sanity in those eyes?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It's day two of the insane windstorm. At this point in my Nevada residency, I could pretend to be blase about the weather, and in fact I'm often unsurprised by the extremes out here. But this wind is something else!

Crazy wind from Funder on Vimeo.

The power keeps flickering, because trucks are blowing over onto power lines and the lines themselves are just blowing down. It's 50 and sunny, at least - it's quite nice. Aside from the whole house shaking and the wind howling and doors being impossible to open and close! Also, I've got to put the trash bin out tonight, but the damn thing keeps blowing over and skidding around out there. Maybe I'll wake up really early and run it out.

It'll stay warm and windy tonight, then tomorrow it'll be slightly less windy and turn colder and start to snow. 3-6" possible up here. It'll be a baby blizzard! It'll stay cold and gross for the forecastable future. I probably need another cord of wood.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Horse torture, goats, and tasty food

You gonna act like a terror, Dixie? Oh I'll get you. I'll get you GOOD.

Today was one of the most amusing days I've had in a long time. I tortured my horse but good.

I bought some applesauce and made a big syringe of it. Then I went to catch my horse to offer her dinner. Remember how I told you she's been objecting to being haltered?

I put her grain in her bucket and got the halter. She was standing at the gate staring at the bucket 20' away. I went in the gate and offered her the halter. She dithered around for a while - she'd stick her nose real near the nosepiece, then yank it away and either step toward the gate or drop her head a lot. If she stepped toward the gate, I backed her up - no crowding, thank you. If she dropped her head, I ignored it.

(Head-dropping was, deliberately, the first trick I taught her when I started clicker training. For some reason the first trick is the one animals always go back to, so you want it to be something completely innocuous. If God forbid I ever sell Dixie to someone who hasn't read this blog, they'll be puzzled but not threatened by her head-dropping routine. My Percheron Poppy - I messed up bad with him. His default behavior was pawing. I highly encourage you to play with clicker training, but I strenuously encourage you to teach head-down first!!)

She got mad and chased the goats, then came back. The Imp of the Perverse* had me, so I got bored. I shooed her away, hung the halter on the gate post, and left. I walked to the barn, glanced back at the paddock, and somehow managed to keep moving when I wanted to fall over laughing. I did not think a horse could actually look appalled - I didn't think they had the right facial muscles. She was frozen in disbelief that I had done such a thing to her.

I grabbed the hose and went back in the paddock. Dumped the trough, hooked up the hose, sprayed it out, tipped it back over, and set it to fill up. Then I grabbed the halter. Dixie had been hovering near me but not in my space, so she immediately stuck her nose in the halter and yanked it out again. A couple of repetitions and she stuck her nose in and stood very still for me to tie the halter on.

I let her eat her ration balancer in peace while the tank filled up, then Phase Two Horse Torture commenced.

I whipped out the syringe of applesauce. I squirted a bit on my palm and offered it to her. She dropped her head to sniff it, got applesauce on her lip, yanked her head up and licked her lips, and flapped her head up and down while she tried to decide if she should be mad. When she settled down, I grabbed the halter and went to shove the syringe in her mouth. Of course she tossed her head a few times, then she stopped and started making the spitting-out face, so I stuck the syringe in and gave her a tiny taste of applesauce on her tongue.

Then I stepped back.

She made the headslinging DO NOT LIKE face while she tried to spit out the applesauce, but gradually realized it didn't taste disgusting. It slowly turned into that "I am not sure what I'm tasting" headslinging. She glared at me. How dare I treat her this way.

I squirted some more applesauce on my hand and offered it to her. She went in for it, got it on her lip, and the entire scene started over again, exactly like before. I repeated the process again - that's three times she got DO NOT LIKE oh wait maybe I do applesauce. Then I took pity on the poor creature and turned her back out with her goats and her hay.

I have heard about giving your horses syringes of applesauce. It's a great (mean) trick to convince them that you're not always squirting gross things in their mouth. I have often thought about applesauceing my horses, but never have. I deeply regret that! It's a good training trick, plus it's absolutely hysterical - please, please, torment your horses with applesauce.

Here is a video, for DiJ and my lurker goat fans! This is right after the Great Applesauce Caper. Dixie is mad, you'll see her glaring. The two little ones are Nigerians, and the big one is a grade wether.

Outside critters from Funder on Vimeo.

I read a lot of food blogs to get ideas for what to cook. One Hungry Chef is a real chef, from America, in Australia. He posts very cheffy dishes, but I am looking for inspiration more than an exact recipe to copy, so I got excited about the "Roast Chicken" post. What I had for lunch was completely inspired by Jerad, but didn't look at all like his dish. Last week I turned two chicken legs into rillettes as per the OHC recipe... kinda. I didn't have a shallot, or fresh thyme (just dried) or lemon zest, or 2 kilos of legs - just two leg-and-thighs and some stock and some duck fat. I shredded it up, checked for salt, and sealed it in a little Glasslock container to mellow.

A major drawback of the primal diet is the shocking lack of crackers. Some things just need crackers. Rillettes without crackers sounded pretty awful, actually. Even the thought of making quenelles out of the rillettes wasn't that tasty. I could a) cheat b) make crackers from seeds or c) try the parnsip chips my friend swore by.

Remember when I posted about turnips? My blog posts go up on Facebook, and one of my non-horsey friends said that parsnip chips are like crack. Wash a parsnip. Peel it, unless you can't find your damn peeler. Slice it very thin on your mandoline, unless you don't have a mandoline because you know you will slice off your fingertip. In that case use your sharpest knife and strive to make even slices. Decide that if it's worth trying it's worth trying right and repeat with a second parsnip. Toss them in olive oil and salt. Lay them on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and bake til they're crispy.**

Once they cool a bit, put a gob of chicken rillette on each parsnip slice and eat and be entranced. It was phenomenal. The parsnips are slightly sweet and crunchy and the chicken is unctuous and delicious. All the ingredients are really cheap, too. For bonus points (i.e. what I didn't do) remember to take the rillettes out of the fridge an hour earlier so they're not really cold, and remember to oversalt the rillette when you make them. Hot food needs less salt than cold food.

It was really good. When I run out of food, I am totally buying a whole chicken and rilletting the breasts and legs. I have a porchetta-type roast and a small ribeye roast to eat first, though. Yall do know to buy whole chickens and make stock from the carcass, right? Because that's dead easy and so good for you. I will tell you how to do it Funder-style if you don't know.

*Any Neal Stephenson fans out there?

** I dunno, I was making a pork roast so the oven was on 350 convection and I didn't set a timer. Maybe 15 minutes? Less if you slice thinner. Longer if you slice thicker. You will know. Don't get distracted.

The enemy of the good

Yesterday's ride got me thinking about how awful this all is. Actually, I don't mean how awful Dixie behaves sometimes - I mean how awful it is to try to learn to do endurance, on a suitability-challenged horse, and to try to do it perfectly.

I am not a traditional perfectionist. I don't really care if I get a 100 or a 90. An A- would be fine thanks. I've bought in to "to finish is to win" and as long as I finish I'll be happy. I just want to be somewhere above reproach. Somewhere where I can say, in that aw-shucks tone, well I could've done better here and here. But not somewhere where other people can say, reproachfully, well if you'd done a better job preparing for X you could've been ok. I've gotten better over the years, thanks mainly to my husband, but I'm still pretty high-strung on the inside.

Endurance is driving me slightly insane. There's so much in this sport that you cannot adequately understand ahead of time, no matter how much you read about it, how much you talk to your infinitely patient mentors, how much you analyze your horse and the terrain and the previous years' numbers. The first time is still a really scary leap of faith. (Especially, I think, with a TWH - there's fewer stats to analyze, more contentious debate about what gait is best, and that feeling that you're asking something extraordinary from what might really be an ordinary horse.)

A dog blog (with occasional other critters) that I really enjoy did the Stylish Blogger thing. If you like dogs and pretty pictures, you'll like her blog. Here's her post. The relevant bit to this post is #3: "I am an RP – a Recovering Perfectionist. After years and years of having to do something perfectly or not do it at all, I now subscribe to the philosophy of “Good Enough”.... A counselor I was seeing said to me, “Jean, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be Good Enough”. They were life-changing words."

I've been mulling that over for a couple of days. At first I thought "hahah, me too," but I think I've put Good Enough on its own pedestal. If you make Being Good Enough its own 100%-or-bust goal, it's exactly the same as Doing It Perfectly. So I hereby declare that I am just trying. No capital letters. We're going to sign up for the 50 at Rides of March, and as long as I don't break my horse trying, it will be ok. I will not die of shame if it all goes awry.

I have exactly five weekends before Rides of March. There's some easy stuff to accomplish:
  • I'm going to start doing trot-outs again. I should have plenty of time to get her going 6 mph in a straight line beside me for 50 feet. Dr. McCartney has seen Dixie trot out and pace out and doesn't mark her down for pacing, so it doesn't even have to be a trot - just something faster than a walk, without the vet scribe waving her arms behind us.
  • I am goo-ing her heel bulbs and we'll see if her heels open up. Too soon to say yet.
  • I have some syringes. Now I need to buy some applesauce and start catching her and squirting applesauce in her mouth. Maybe she'll stop flinging her head and doing her giraffe impersonation.
  • We'll see how much hair falls out in the next couple of weeks, but I'm probably going to end up clipping her. (Me! The anti-interventionist! I'm going to clip my horse! It feels like clipping is one slippery-slope step from just-in-case egg-bar shoes and polo wraps.)

And then there's some stuff that I really don't know the answers to, that I might have to just guess about. I welcome any input from yall. As always I'll just make up my own mind at the last possible minute, but talking about it definitely helps with that last minute gut-check decision.
  • Should I find my kimberwicke (or maybe buy a new bit) and bit her up? I instinctively think it won't help, because that horse has greater powers of ignoring than any creature I've ever met. If I get a curb and crank her head in she's just going to charge forward even though she can't see very well. If I get something that's "not smooth" to "get her attention" - dude, I can tell you right now, she used to completely ignore a twisted wire curb. All it does is piss her off. The only surefire attention getter I have is hauling her head around in a one-rein stop, and that doesn't guarantee she'll focus on me. Just that she'll stop moving for a second.
  • Oh god, how do I pace my horse? We can do an easy sustained 5-6 mph average by trotting at 6.5 or 7 and taking walk breaks. This kinda sucks though because her 6.5 mph gear is always a trot. If I let her zip along at 10-11 mph she just rolls between trot, pace, rack, and canter, and it seems effortless, but of course that's Too Fast for a Newbie Horse so I haven't done many training miles at that speed. What if I tried to get a 6 mph average out of the 11 mph gears with walk breaks? Is that still too fast?
  • Why can't I make her drink!! You can kill your horse by a) not electrolyting or b) electrolyting when they won't drink. The info on the internet always falls into two categories: scholarly articles about mg/dl sodium concentrations and blood serum levels, and anecdotal reports which boil down to "know your horse." How do you come to know your horse without killing it?

I really don't want to be a campfire story told in ridecamps across the west about How Not To Do It. But I've got to try, at some point, and Rides of March is pretty easy and it's familiar to us.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dear horse

I suppose I still love you, but I wish you wouldn't act like a psycho after I tell the whole Internet how awesome you've become.

Thanks, your adoring human

I really didn't feel like doing the enormous ride I should've done. I dawdled around grooming piles and piles of hair off of her. Then once I finally dragged my butt in the saddle I realized I didn't even put on her breastcollar or crupper, so no hills for us. I thought "well let's just do a peaceful short ride in the flat part of the valley. It'll be fun. It'll be a bonding experience."

Dixie was a total terror. We had a huge fight for 2 miles - she wouldn't walk anywhere, she wouldn't trot anywhere, she wouldn't even rack anywhere. She was constantly trying to bolt and she didn't care whether we were pointing towards home or away from it. She was ready to explode. I'd get maybe two strides of trot and then she'd leap off into a wild canter.

Finally I said fine, be that way, and we cantered off toward the arena. She got a little sticky at the entrance to Hungry Valley - she wanted to go investigate the parked trucks and dirt bikes, then came completely unglued when she saw the back of a sign that she's only ever seen from the front before. Really. Horse. You live in a three dimensional world. Things have fronts and backs. You have ridden past that sign hundreds of times. Get a grip.

I coaxed her past that and we headed out at a surgey trot/halt-and-stare/trot/halt-and-stare. Eventually she leveled out and started steadily trotting for me, so we turned for home. We roared along for three more miles at 11 mph. She just rolled along between a race-pace, a rack, and a canter, with a few trot breaks. Just so we weren't "running straight home" I took a different path - looped down almost to LV Drive, then cut across to the bottom of Matterhorn.

I didn't dare unbridge my reins long enough to drink, much less eat anything. That horse is fit. I wonder how long you have to leave an endurance horse in the pasture before it loses conditioning, and I wonder why humans are such wusses in comparison. I have to ride more often - her head is better if I ride more.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Update on the Riding Solo Dilemma

(That's my euphemism for "my loved ones worry I'll be unhorsed and coyotes will eat me." Isn't it nice? The Riding Solo Dilemma.)

This is still an iPhone centric post. You know you want one. Even Verizon has iPhones! Go get one!

Last time, I recommended installing Find My Phone. It's free, and it serves multiple purposes (in case somebody steals your phone or you lose it), so I still recommend installing it. But Chris Martin (MONK's owner) has a couple other recommendations. He uses JourneyCast, which has some different strengths.

I am not going to tell all yall my login for FMP, but if I used JC, I could just link you to the private website for that particular ride. That way my out of town hubby AND my local friends could check in on where I am (or where my phone stopped moving!) I don't think JC gives GPS coords, but as Dom found out GPS coords don't always help your rescuers. I think locals would be ok with "she's just east of Highway 178 and south of that ridge of hills."

Chris also recommended the Digifit app. I don't think it resolves the Riding Solo Dilemma, but it might be a great HRM solution for me - I'm still thinking about buying it + a HRM and trying it out. If I do, I'll let you know.

In actual horse news: I bought some athlete's foot cream and antibiotic ointment today and mixed them into Pete's Goo. I'm going to treat those little crevices in her frogs maybe 3x a week between now and ROM and see how her heels look then.

Dixie has also decided that she's headshy and hates her halter, but I have her number. I halter her every day and lead her out to eat her 1 lb of ration balancer. If she doesn't want to stick her head nicely in the halter, she doesn't get her delicious grain. She sees me dump the grain in the bucket, so she knows what the reward is. I push her back when she crowds me or tries to slip by, and I offer the nosepiece of the halter for her to stick her precious angel (rolleyes) nose in. I am treating this like extended clicker training - I pull the halter off her nose well before she yanks her nose back on her own, and I never try to tie the halter before she's totally resigned to me doing so.

I am pretty sure this cropped up because my housesitter just feeds her in the pasture. I don't blame M, if I didn't own her I wouldn't want to halter Dixie either, and sometimes even I feed her in the pasture. But sometimes the goats launch a concerted attack on the grain bucket and it's hard to run all three off without spooking Dixie from her grain. Plus I think it's good for her to get haltered and led and groomed once a day.

I don't blog everything in excruciating detail like I used to, but sometimes I feel like I should mention my tactics - that's how I learned them, after all, reading other people's travails with their horses. Dixie usually leads very well, follows behind my shoulder on whatever side I'm holding the rope, and stops when I stop. If she doesn't, I spin her around in a small circle or two and remind her that I am leading her and she settles back down. She pushes me (crowding or something) about once a week - that's just the kind of horse she is. She's always had good ground manners, but she's always a little pushy too - she would turn into a monster very quickly with the wrong person.

For Jane

Jane at TLH is doing that incredibly ambitious post-a-day thing, and she's got a good question for us. Why did you fall in love with your horse? What a good Valentine's question!

I didn't fall in love with Dixie when I bought her. Which is funny, because I don't have a good explanation for why I bought her. I already had three horses, and Dixie cost more than the other three put together. It's not like I'm helpless around horses for sale, but she gave me this Look, just begging me to change her life. So I did.

She was totally brain-fried, kept in a stall, unbelievably awful feet, scared of the world. It took three people to get on her - one to hold her head, one to drop the mounting block near her, and me to scramble up on top real quick. Her mane was about as long as it is now, but it was a pretty tangled cloud of hair, and she was about an inch shorter. You could hardly tell she's a roan.

She didn't want to be touched, ever. She had good manners about it, but she never enjoyed being groomed or scratched or fussed over.

Remember when camera phones were just awful? Well, here's Dixie, the week I got her. This was as close as she'd willingly come to a human. Curious, but very wary.

Look at those awful feet. The entire hoof capsule was tilted.
Dixie front left

Her frogs were about an inch wide and rotten with thrush. I guess they hurt, or she was expecting me to hurt them worse like her first owners had done, because she'd fall over on me when I picked them up. I got about 5 seconds per hoof before I had to set the foot down again or leap out of the way of the horse. All I did for months was pick them out and rasp that toe back, a couple swipes at a time.

Still, she didn't limp or shy away from any kind of terrain at all, so I rode her. She was headshy - you'd better not move your hands from the pommel of the saddle or she'd leap out from under you. I can't tell you how many times I almost came off just from scratching my nose. She thought any leg anywhere meant "go forward faster." She hated the curb and braced her whole body against it, but she didn't steer worth a damn. There was no woah. If you wanted to stop you pointed her at something solid. She was utterly terrifying. It was like mountain climbing - pure adrenaline kept me coming back for more.

But you know what? She was never mean. It brought tears to my eyes to think of what she'd been through to make her like she was, and she wasn't mean. Stubborn as a mule, scared, but not mean. Didn't trust me, not one bit, but she was curious about me.

She pulled out vast chunks of her mane sticking her head through the fence, so I (shudder!) had to cut it pretty short to hide the damage.

It was absolutely the blind leading the blind. I didn't wear a helmet back then. As soon as I bought her, I swapped her from her double twisted wire curb to a solid low-port curb, but she didn't like that much better. So I tossed a single jointed snaffle in her mouth and climbed on. She had no idea what was going on so we ended up cantering in circles, in the dark, in the deep mud of the dirt arena, til she got tired. After that first night, she was much better about the snaffle, so I kept using it. I am almost as stubborn as she is - she wins sometimes (straight load trailers) but I can wear her down to a lot of my crazy ideas.

Before we moved to Ohio, I sold the Percheron and put the retired old mare down. In Ohio, my good gelding Champ died and all of a sudden I was stuck with this insane horse that totally needed more help than I could give her. But our finances were precarious, and I couldn't find a trainer I trusted to not screw her up worse, so I just kept on keeping on. Two of my very good friends began a nonstop campaign of yelling at me for referring to her as my "crazy horse," so I changed my language and expectations for her. (And I started wearing a helmet, due to those same friends.)

She started bolting unpredictably, so I couldn't ride her with anyone else in the arena. I rode her anyway - it was an indoor, so there were plenty of walls, and I just knew she had the sense to stop before we pancaked into the wall if I steered her at it. She scared me to death, but she was my only horse and everything else sucked pretty hard and riding my crazy emotionally challenged monster mare kept me sane. Or gave me something else to worry about.

Nice solid walls:
3-29-09 (b)

On days I couldn't convince myself to ride, I worked on clicker training. I got her to line up to a mounting block, either side, and stand still for at least 5 seconds once I got on.

Then we moved to Nevada, and I had no more comforting arena walls. I'd always wanted to try endurance, and I was pretty sure that was the only thing she's really suited for - she wants to go forward now more than anything, so fine, we'll play to her strengths. She still bolted, but we did a lot of one-rein stops. She still felt like she was going to freak out so bad she would just explode most of the time. I kept riding, grimly. Sometimes she'd spazz so badly I'd get off, but it's not like I could get back on without a big boulder, so mainly I stayed on no matter what. Our only companions out there rode the slowest damn WP QH/APHA horses I've ever met - 2.5 mph was a good average for them - so mostly we rode alone, in the terrifying wind and sagebrush and boulders and rabbits. Everything was so scary to her that I quit trying to get gait and settled for forward into the face of danger. We learned to trot. We learned to canter, together, finally. I had a nice long uphill stretch with moderately deep sand, and I'd let her open up. I got one stride of canter then a wild gallop and I'd shut her down. Then a week later I got two strides of nice canter. Then three, then four, then we could canter nicely up that hill til she got tired and asked to slow down.

Some time last year it really started coming together. I was so proud of her when she completed the 30 mile LD at Rides of March - and still came up to me the next day in the pasture. She finally started moving past scary stuff on her own - a little sidepass, a wary eye on that deadly boulder, but forward march instead of spin-and-bolt. She's finally decided it's ok if I scratch her itchy spots. She still yanks her feet away when she's bored with me meddling with them, but she doesn't try to fall over on me. She is braver than other horses, sometimes. I can ride on a loose rein or I can ride with light contact, and she doesn't fuss or take advantage.

Disgusting monster at RoM:
Mud horse!

But for some reason, despite all of this, I've been ashamed of us. I've always felt like I wrecked her somehow - she doesn't have that pretty TWH headset, she won't do gaits on command, I let her trot or pace when she wants to - so we're failures as gaited horses. And I let her canter, which is a contentious no-no with young endurance horses. She's too tall and too hairy and won't drink on the trail. I don't know how to properly ride so I'm probably destroying her body flopping around on her. She still doesn't like to be groomed, which clearly proves that she's in agony or she hates me.

You know what? Fuck that. We're fine. We've done ok. We trust each other. If she gets thirsty, she'll drink. We canter, but just a little - our average MPH is pretty low. She can't decide what gait to do, but that just means she's resting certain muscle groups while using others. I stay on one diagonal too much, but I'm not that bad of a rider because I don't fall off when she slams on the brakes or teleports sideways. She's opinionated, which just makes it even more heartbreakingly sweet when she does flop her lip when I scratch her withers. She's my horse, and I wouldn't trade her for any Arab, any endurance-bred TWH, any racking STB anywhere in the world. We have stuck together and become much, much better beings because of it.

I still don't know when I went from scared and determined to madly in love with that horse, but that's why I love her.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Home again!, or, I like parentheses

Sorry for the slow update! I got home yesterday evening. Had a horrible trip out of SF in the rental. Did you know the radio sucks when you usually listen to your iPod? And did you know that you can't even see the bay from the Bay Bridge going eastbound in a car? (Of course you didn't know that - I am of the few, the proud, the absolutely insane who has driven a pickup into SF.)

Somehow I made it to beautiful Concord, CA and got my truck from the lying jerks at the dealership. The brakes do work now, and they didn't try to charge me anything, so I can't be too mad. I got in my absolutely wonderful truck at 3 and made Reno right before 7. Right as I hit the Sierras, I passed a flatbed pickup with crates and crates and crates of bees strapped down - I'm trying to figure out where he was headed. Does alfalfa need honeybees? When do they plant those melons in Fallon? You'd think if the bees were going much further than Nevada, they'd be on a semi, but what in Nevada needs February pollination?

When I got home, it was too late to pick up Cersei, so I had a very cold and lonely night. The kitten usually sleeps on my ankles, which sounds sweet but actually gets really painful after a while - but she usurped the dog's spot on the other side of the bed. Banders sat on the dresser and stared at me as I fell asleep. Stupid cats, I need warmth!

Today I restocked, like, everything. I deliberately ran out of some stuff (no sense in buying cream that's gonna be iffy by the time you get home) and just cut it real close on some other stuff. I picked up Cersei and reassured her that I'm really home, then parked her on the couch and got gas, food, ration balancer, layer pellets, oyster shell, and drugs. (Flonase is the bomb if you're allergic to everything.) After I got home, I realized I forgot the propane for the gas grill, so I ran up to the grocery store and swapped that out. While I was gone, the propane guy came and filled up the big propane tank for the house. Told you - everything got restocked!

I had one of those "I live in the future!!" moments with the little propane tank - there was a self-serve kiosk, so I just put in my debit card and activated the giant robotic vending machine and got a tank swap with no human interaction. I was kind of surprised it worked, but it did.

It seemed pretty thawed out, so I picked up a few wheelbarrows of manure. Here is my dirty secret: I haven't picked the paddock in like two months. It's unbelievably easy to pick manure off of sand, but it's almost impossible if the sand is frozen. I know, I am a terrible horse owner. Oh well. Anyway, the top layer of sand in the sunniest spots was thawed, so I made a little progress.

I'm really worried about my chances of becoming a high desert gardener this year. I was counting on turning horse poop into beautiful compost, but the damn compost pile froze in November and it's still frozen. It's huge - 4' x 4' x 6' - and solid as a rock. Very depressing.

I found another freakin hidden pile of banty eggs. 7 more. They all sank, so Cersei and the cats got an eggy feast. Cersei is right now rewarding me with egg farts. I can hardly wait to snuggle up in bed with my sulfurous dog. :rolleyes:

Dixie, in her infinite wisdom, has decided that early February is the correct time for her to blow her entire winter coat. I suppose she's afraid I really will clip her for Rides of March? I took pictures of the huge piles of white I curried off of her - it was at least a half a cat. (The proper measurement for shedded horse hair is in units of cat - how many cats can one form from the hair one groomed off?) I will post them tomorrow. Too much effort tonight :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Extended vacation

It took three calls - one of them having (faked) anger-hysterics at the receptionist - to talk to my service advisor today. He says the Google Voice phone number I gave him doesn't work. Oddly, it works for the kennel where Cersei's at and for my husband. ANYWAY. Today's story is that there is a bad brake line to the rear brakes and they had to order a part from Detroit and it was shipped overnight. I don't know if this is in addition to the purported cracked master cylinder or not. It didn't show up today but hopefully will tomorrow.

Poor M has to fill up the tank this evening. At least it hasn't been cold - it's extremely unlikely that the hose is frozen. She is fabulous. I miss my critters! I also miss Homer Skelton Ford, the only really good Ford dealership in the world, where the service advisors actually call you and almost always tell you the truth. What a fuckin nightmare.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stuck inside of SF with the Reno blues again

Went to SF for the weekend. Had a great time. Ate and drank vast quantities of interesting things. Basked in the seventy degree balmy February weather. Left this morning - brakes seemed mushy. Got out of the city and realized they were unacceptably bad. Somebody cut me off and the pedal went to the floor. I'd just passed one of those car dealership ghettos, so I turned around and went back. No Ford dealership. GPS'd for one - 13 miles away in Concord, CA. So I carefully and nerve-wrackingly drove back there.

I spent two hours at the dealership getting the problem dx'd. Cracked master cylinder. Needs a part, so of course it'll be tomorrow. But thank you EJ, we have the super duper platinum rockstar warranty, so the repair should be free and I even got a free rental. (Lest you think we are nubs, we got the rockstar warranty for free - long nerdy story.)

But here's the really shitty part: I was stuck in that waiting room for 2 hours with Food TV on. I ate two bags of dealership popcorn, then I ate a whole freakin' box of cookies that G foisted off on me. By the time the service dude came out and told me the master cylinder was shot and would I like a free rental? I was totally twitchy from sugar. I gnawed on my fingertips waiting for the rental, then I had to drive an awful little Yaris back into the city in early rush hour with no soothing tunes from my iPod.

But I'm here now, and the animals will be ok til tomorrow. I talked to M and the dog boarding place. And I even scored free street parking in front of G's work! It'll all be ok, if I can just stop twitching.

PS I don't think I can update the sidebar from this app- I haven't forgotten about it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, February 4, 2011

My sidebar is passe

I have been meaning to update my sidebar for a while, but I've got a lot of people who are de-lurking to comment here and I don't want to miss anyone. If you don't see your blog on the right and you'd like to see it there, just comment here please and I'll get you added.* I usually do that automatic rotation thing where it just shows the top 10 most recent posts - it's a good balance between fairness and usability (i.e. I don't want the main page to be infinitely long.)

*Sometime this weekend. You know I am the queen of the short attention span.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

52 TB horses need homes!!

This is not what you think.

We've all seen the notice spammed everywhere on the internet. "52 tb horses need homes. Will go to Sugarcreek this Sat for slaughter. Gentleman died and his son wants nothing to do with them. Most broodmares are broke and some are in foal weanling, yearlings, 2 yrs and 3 yrs old most are gelded. FREE and papered. Friend of the deceased is trying to find homes 440-xxx-xxx or 440-xxx-xxxx Barnesville, OH."

There's several issues I want to talk about here.

First, why are the people who are posting this not posting the followup info - that they have homes now, and if you call there's a message about how they've been placed. It's stupid and irresponsible to just blindly forward stuff, especially if someone's home phone number is in it. Do some research, act like a damn grownup, and post the followup info.

Second, there's a good chance the son isn't the villain here. A quick google gives me a cost per day ranging between $2-4, depending on boarding vs. home care and grain/hay prices. 52 horses is at least $100 a day. Every single day. $700 a week. How long can you pay your parents' $700 a week hobby? And at that number, Dad probably had barn help too - they also like to be paid for their work. I don't know anything at all about the circumstances of Dad's death, but no matter how you slice it he wasn't being responsible toward those horses. Why does the non-horsey son have to step up to the plate and get rid of fifty-two freakin' horses asap? I'll bet you $50 it's because he's going broke feeding the damn things. The only reason this is getting so much press is because there are so many horses and they are (were) in urgent danger - this kind of thing happens every day on a small scale.

Let's talk about us and how we can prevent this tragedy in our own lives. Every year, G and I talk about what he should do with my animals in the event of my untimely demise. He hates this conversation, but it's really important to me to know that they'll go to good homes and not be a huge "what do I do!" burden on him. First, and most importantly, he knows the value of my horse. She is a hell of a good horse - young, sound, flashy, papered. It would take several months for him to sell her for the $3500 I paid for her in '07. If she wasn't a rare breed out here, if she wasn't papered, if she was lame, he'd be lucky to give her away. If he needed the money, he could get her gone for $1500-2000 pretty quick.

Luckily, he won't have to sell her on Craigslist. He knows she's not exceptionally valuable, and he knows I have Death Pacts with several people - three right now. One friend in town and two across the country. Make several people swear on a stack of bibles to take and keep or place your horse if you die! Make sure they have the money for shipping if they're not in town! And make sure your next of kin knows that your friends are doing you a favor, not trying to rip you off! All three of my friends are also goat people, and they'd help him dispose of the goats. I have a hard time worrying about the fate of the chickens, and I know he'll take care of the cats and dog.

What if you have more than a couple of horses? You should really start a bank account just for the horses. Make it a POD (payable on death) to your next of kin. Yeah, your next of kin will eventually get all your money and stuff, but probate takes years. A POD account avoids probate and gives your kin immediate money to care for your animals. Again, make sure he or she knows the reasonable value of the animals and has a knowledgeable friend to help sell or place them. Save up enough money in that account to feed and care for the horses for a reasonable amount of time - a month, two months, something. Don't leave your family bereaved and overwhelmed by your horses.

If your horses are at home, does your next of kin know how to care for them? Even if your husband, like mine, doesn't even want to pet their velvety noses, he should know that a horse needs X flakes of hay per day, stuck in that feeder like so, and you have to check water every day, and keep an eye on the salt block. If my local friend and I got struck by lightning, G could keep Dixie healthy til he shipped her to a cross-country friend.

Note: If you don't trust your next of kin, get a lawyer. Get a POD to someone you trust, write a will, and ask a lawyer how to insure that the trusted friend can immediately care for the animals. Most importantly, talk to your family! They need to know how sucky the horse market is, and they need to know that you're doing them a favor, not denying them your most valuable possessions.

There's another herd dispersal going on in a much more reasonable fashion on a mailing list I'm on. The guy was a big Paso breeder in the northern plains states. He started placing them when he found out he had cancer, and he handed over placement duties to a family friend before he died. It's still a burden on everybody to try to find homes for that many horses, but it's vastly preferable to "fuck I can't buy hay for these stupid things, they gotta go to the auction tomorrow."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Look, Ma, no bit!

Today was trimming day, and I tried something new. Dixie has been such a horrible beast about trims at the house, when she was actually pretty good when we boarded at M's. M only lives 5 blocks away, and she was getting her horses trimmed today too, so I decided to ride Dixie over and see how she does there.

It was 8 when I got up - that's 8 degrees, not 8 am. By the time we were ready to ride, it had skyrocketed all the way to 15. I know that no one east of me has any sympathy at all, but the point isn't that it was cold and cold sucks, the point is that I decided it was too cold to put a bit in her mouth. She's not crazy about being ridden in the rope halter sidepull, but anything is better than a piece of 15 degree metal. Plus we were going in a direction we both agreed on - no need to fight about where to turn. She loves to go to M's and visit M's horses.

Dixie was initially pretty annoyed about the halter, but she got over it remarkably well. I gave her good clear leg cues before I'd pull on the reins and meddle with her head, and she probably appreciated that. Plus we only had to make a couple of turns to get down to M's. I did chicken out and hop off when we got to M's intersection - the garbage truck was coming down one street, there were dogs on both sides of the other street barking at Cersei, and there was an excitable young horse galloping a fenceline beside us. Discretion seemed the better part of valor.

Dixie stood just fine for the trimmer. Her bars were pretty long, and he smoothed out her squared-off toes in front. Her next trim is March 14, the Monday before Rides of March, so that works out well.

Getting back home wasn't bad. She wanted to rush more, but she'd slow down when I asked. That is probably my biggest fear about riding without a bit - it's so much harder to one-rein stop a horse with a rope halter. But we've done a lot of work re: rushing, and I guess it's paid off. Traffic was light on both trips, and I worried more about my little yellow idiot dog running in front of a vehicle than Dixie freaking out about it. One jerk roared past us way too fast, but most people in my neighborhood are polite to riders.

I am taking a break from the floor today. My trimmer is awesome but visiting with him is really time-consuming. And I need to hit the grocery today. I should be able to finish the floor tomorrow, yippie!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Turnips. Who knew?

(New readers: I have been eating mostly primal for about 8 months.)

I have been stoked for weeks to come tell you how I've lost 45 lbs, but then I got stuck at 43-44 down and then I had a frustrating weekend and ate a huge plate of nachos and, well, let's just say I'm still down 40+ lbs. But anyway, I'm back on track - not particularly to reach a magic number, but because I feel better when I don't eat grains and starchy stuff.

Dinner without bread, potatoes, or beans gets pretty dull, though. I bought some turnips, parsnips, and beets and I've been trying to figure out GOOD ways to cook them. I know you can do faux mashed potatoes with most root veggies, but I rarely crave mashed potatoes. What I crave is crispy starchy salty goodness like hash browns and diced potatoes tossed in olive oil and roasted.

I spent a couple days, off and on, googling for the perfect crispy starchy salty turnip/beet/parsnip recipe, while the roots glared at me from the crisper drawer. I did not find one - the closest I found was this Mario recipe, which I discovered after I had already invented the same thing.

Anyway, a recipe. I have been working really hard on that damn floor, so I need lots of fat and some carbs. Yesterday I salted a piece of pork belly and left it in the fridge overnight. Today I rinsed and dried it, seared it, and braised it in some duck stock at 250 for, I dunno, four hours or so. After the whole house smelled good I'd periodically poke it with a fork, and when it was pretty tender I called it done.

I dismembered a turnip and chopped up some mushrooms, then tossed them in some pan juices with extra salt and pepper and roasted them in a hot oven for a while. When the turnips were almost tender, I cut the pork belly into bite sized cubes and threw it on top to crisp up further. While I was at it, I roasted the rest of the mushrooms in olive oil - they were getting a little slimy and needed to be cooked.

You know, it was really good. And really easy - dicing the veggies probably took the longest. It's hard to go wrong with roasted veggies, and it's really hard to go wrong with a braise. I have half a turnip and half a pound of pork belly for dinner tomorrow night, and like 2 lbs of mushrooms for the Inevitable Omelette.

Now, what do I do with beets and parsnips?

Another thing I've tried when I really want some damn hash browns is latkes. Peel and grate a turnip (or whatever, I think any root would work), then squeeze out all the juice by twisting it in some cheesecloth. Beat up an egg (you knew this had eggs in it) and salt and pepper, then pan fry them. They are not quite as mealy as real latkes, but they're quite acceptable.

And you know what's really weird? All this weight gone and I'm still a damn size 12. I went from squeezing in to 14s all the way down to ... comfortable in 12s. WTF, dude. Ahhh well, at least I don't have to spend a fortune on new clothes.