Talking Story

Mainland Living

Click here to read Part 1: Famous Last Words

Click here to read Part 2: It’s a Date

Horse eating rocks, water crossings, and trees that reach out and snatch you are all perils of mountain trail riding. It always spooks me when the horses’ heads and ears twitch and then they suddenly peer off into the brush. Like them, I’m certain it’s a bear or a cougar with a hankering for horse meat, but more than happy to snack on the stupid human who falls off when the smarter horse bolts. I don’t like long sideways drops off hillsides, either.

Give me sharks and ocean waves any day.

On horseback, my husband Kevin and I forded about six small streams reduced to a ghost of the ripping ice melt they’d been in the spring, passed beaver dams, and nimbly high-stepped over fallen aspens. About four miles and forty-five minutes into the ride my butt ached, the button on my jeans was poking a bruise into my belly, and I had to pee. I knew I shouldn’t have chugged that Diet Coke on the drive up. I rubbed my knee.

“Who rode my saddle?” I asked.

“No one,” Kevin said.

“Are you sure? The stirrups feel short.”

He looked back, considering. “Yeah, maybe they are. I’ll fix ‘em when we get to the campsite.”

“Thanks.”

“Look at the light on the mountains,” he said. “The new green from the rain mixed with the fall colors in the warm afternoon light.”

Kevin’s an engineer by trade and temperament, but like most Celts and Welsh I think he has a warrior poet’s heart. My eyes, previously laser locked on the trail as viewed between Marley’s ears—all the better to eat you with, my dear—looked up.

Oh.

At his chuckle, my eyes snapped to my lover’s face. He was beaming.

“It’s stunning,” I stammered.

“I knew you’d like it,” he said. “It’s good to see you smile.”

A date, I thought. Not a trip to Costco or a quick movie in town, but time with my husband in the mountains and away from computers, television, kids, and books. He knew the mountains would look like this and wanted to share it with me. A horse ride so spontaneous I didn’t have time to create prior plans, but important enough with the coming snow that we had to go. Was his handheld GPS gadget even missing?

A few minutes later past the rocky ridge that always reminded me of a dinosaur’s spine, we turned up the hill and reached the campsite.

“Here,” he said. “Let’s tie the horses over there and walk around.” He dismounted, took two steps, reached down, and picked up the GPS from under a sagebrush.

“You’re kidding me!”

“Nope.” He wiped it off. “Battery’s still good.”

My jaw was still hanging open. “I can’t believe you actually found it.”

“Me, too.” He chuckled and held my horse’s reins so I could dismount.

“So what do want to do now?” I asked.

“Well, I got my girl all alone in the woods…” He reached over and unstrapped a .22 rifle. “Wanna shoot?”

It was my turn to laugh. “You are such a dude!”

“I’ve been married to you for over 26 years. I see the mud and ice patches and didn’t bring a blanket. I got you on up here on a horse. If I can get you to shoot a gun, it’s a banner year.”

I sighed and sighted in a yellow aspen leaf. The things you do for love.

Click here to read Part 1: Famous Last Words

Sunday afternoon, drugged out on ibuprofen and hobbling, Kevin came into the house. “Wanna go on a ride with me? I checked the packs. My GPS must’ve fallen out when Brownie tipped over.”

“You’re kidding me. You lost your GPS? Again?” This was the third handheld unit he’d owned and the seventh or eighth time he’d lost one in the wilderness. I’d told him over and over that obviously God expected him to use an old school compass, not a new-fangled toy. But like a toddler with a blankie he insisted on hauling his toy everywhere. Any trip longer than 20 minutes from home and that stupid thing would be sitting on the dash, calculating speed, distance, and all things who cares engineery and geeky, marking a trail of electronic breadcrumbs we could follow back in case we missed the entire highway and had to blaze a new path back to the homestead through the vast Utah wilderness. It drove me crazy. Knowing I started it all with a Christmas present years ago didn’t make it better.

“The snow’s melted, but it’ll be back this week. I need to go today if I’m going to find it. Come with me,” he asked.

I looked out the window. “It’s cloudy. It’s going to rain.”

“It won’t,” he said.

“It’s late. It’ll be dark before we’re done.”

“We’ll take Marley and Rojo. They’re fast Tennessee Walkers,” he cajoled. “Three hours, tops.”

“More like four or five,” I said.

“Back by seven,” he said.

“More like eight.”

“It’ll be a date,” said our daughter.

“Yeah,” he said.

I looked at him. He seemed so hopeful. “Okay,” I sighed.

I am a reluctant rider. I didn’t grow up around horses. Like Sherlock Holmes, I think you have to be crazy to voluntarily get on something that’s dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle. On tippy-toes as they pandered to an opera house diva, my family has made all kinds of accommodations for me—extra cushy saddle, wide stirrups, easy mountain trails, a mounting block, and no loping, only a slow but ground eating Tennessee Walker gait allowed. My horse Marley is the equivalent of a tricycle with training wheels and eight-wheel drive. She’s surefooted, calm, stable, and big enough to pack me around all day long.

I know she’ll take care of me, but I’m still nervous. I’ve fallen a few times. The most spectacular was when Charlie, a trusted paint I’d ridden a couple of years decided he’d rather be a bucking bronco at the rodeo. I was bruised black and blue and to this day my tailbone hurts if I sit too long. When we couldn’t find a reason for the bucking, I decided I couldn’t trust Charlie (Chucky!). It took Kevin a long time and a lot of test drives before he found Marley for me and longer still until I’d ride her without grinding my teeth the whole time.

I swear when you’re older the ground is farther and harder. A lot.

But when your spouse really really loves something, sometimes you gotta suck it up and get on a horse.

I try not to complain, but it’s hard.

It was four-thirty by the time we’d trailered the horses to the trailhead and saddled them up. In a maroon fleece jacket and hunter’s orange vest, blond hair standing out in tufts under my pink and black riding helmet, I looked like a deranged Bozo the Clown. I know because I saw the iPhone photo my husband posted on Facebook later.

At least no hunter would ever confuse me with a deer or elk. Moose, maybe.

As Kevin limped over to mount Rojo, our son’s big strawberry roan gelding, I asked, “You sure you want to do this? Shouldn’t you be in bed icing that thigh?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“I saw the bruising.”

“I don’t bruise.”

“You did this time, Buckaroo Bonsai. Purple, yellow, and green.”

“I’m fine.”

“It’s still a needle in a haystack.”

“I know exactly where I was when Brownie fell,” he said.

“Okay, Hoss,” I said. “What’re we looking for? What color is the GPS unit?”

He sighed. “Camouflage green.”

We turned and headed up the trail.

Next week Part 3: The Things We Do For Love

gps“I lost the GPS. Come find it with me.”

The whole situation dripped with irony.  My husband Kevin, a former scout master of twenty years and born horseman, had been asked to help wrangle 12 and 13 year old scouts on an overnight camping trip in the mountains above Strawberry Reservoir. It was a trip he’d made many times before and our horses knew the trails well. But this time with more scouts and adults wanting to tag-along than bomb-proof mountain trail horses available, he’d resorted to bringing Brownie, our daughter’s high-test performance horse far more suited for barrel racing and rodeo grand entries than sloughing through alpine streams wearing saddle bags.

Loading up the horses, our daughter frowned. “Dad, don’t take Brownie. She’s not a mountain horse,” she said. “Besides, nobody but you can ride her.”

“I’m bringing her because I need to put kids on our other five. I’m already planning for Trigger and Marley to have double riders in buddy saddles. Peter’s bringing a couple of his horses, too, but we may have to ride out in shifts. Some campers will have to hike part of the way.”

“Brownie’ll be a handful and you’ve got a ton of green riders,” I said.

“Phhhhstt. She’ll be fine. This is not my first rodeo.”

Famous last words.

Brownie was fine until the next morning when the camp was packed up and everybody was saddled and ready to head back down the trail—except for the guy making sure everyone was saddled and ready. Kevin was the last to mount. That’s when Brownie threw a horsey hissy fit and reared.

It could’ve been all of the extras hanging off her sides—saddlebags, hornbags, ropes, rifle, canteens—that wigged her out. Or she could’ve been worried that the other horses were going to leave her. Or the excitement of the boys keyed her up. Or she could’ve simply had enough of gunshots and coyote nights and wanted her familiar corral and hay. Whatever the cause, Brownie decided she’d had enough.

She’s a diva, remember?

Brownie reared, throwing her head and her legs skyward, which to a guy who grew up training horses is merely annoying until the horse slips in the mud and starts the slow train wreck of going over backwards.

At the last moment she turned and landed on her side, pinning Kevin’s leg underneath her.

As bad as this is, it’s much better than going over backward and having the horse break your neck. Or spine. Or—

I don’t like to think about that.

So Kevin’s first thought was, “Sideways. Thank goodness!”

Not really. But I write a PG kind of blog.

The second thought was, “I hope that snapping sound was a twig and not my #^&*@$%^ femur! One broken femur this summer in the family was enough, thank you very much.”

Or thoughts to that effect.

There was a lot of pain, but cowboy tough, Kevin inventoried the damage while Brownie scampered over to one of her horse buddies with an oh, crap, I think I really screwed up sheepish look on her face.

One of Kevin’s cardinal scoutmaster rules is no matter what, everything’s chilly.  Most trouble comes not from the initial incidents themselves, but from people’s reactions. Probably only Peter, another horseman and scoutmaster, had any clue how bad the situation could potentially be.

On horseback, Peter leaned down. “You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.” When Kevin stood and took a step, he realized however bad it was, his leg probably wasn’t broken. “I don’t think it broke my femur or hip.”

“How’re your guts?”

“Fine. I’m fine.” With kids saying, whoa, that was cool, Kevin walked over to Brownie, adjusted the packs, grabbed the reins, and rode on out.

Can you imagine?

Looking back, he says he realizes now he was in shock; the whole ride back he fought passing out and falling off and is eternally grateful to Peter for keeping him engaged in conversation.

Just don’t ask Kevin what they talked about.

The next day was Sunday. At church the scouts kept telling people about how Kevin was bucked off and how it was awesome.

“I wasn’t bucked off,” he sniffed. “The horse went over backwards with me in the saddle. There’s a difference.”

But it wasn’t until he unpacked that afternoon that he discovered his precious handheld GPS was missing.

Next week Part 2: It’s a Date

smurf_footIn Utah, I run around barefoot or in slippahs waaaay too frequently. It’s not unusual to see me scampering to the mailbox, quick stepping through the snow because until that moment when the sub-zero cold hit my tender tootsies I forgot that normal people wear thick socks and boots in December. There’s something to the saying that you can take the tita out of Hawaii, but not the Hawaii out of the tita.

A side effect of my refusal to wear shoes are rough, dry, and cracked heels. Too much desert, not enough humidity, and definitely not enough hours in the ocean and walking along the beach. I’ve tried all kinds of treatments and lotions from snooty spas to good ol’ Vaseline and plastic wrap, but nothing seems to work very well.

So when I saw this new, easy fix on the internet it’s no wonder I gave it a try. It came up on my Pinterest and Facebook feed at least ten times over the summer and was always accompanied by a zillion testimonials of how amazing it was. Maybe you saw this, too:

This is crazy. Mix 1/4 cup Listerine (any kind but I like the blue), 1/4 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Soak feet for 10 minutes and when you take them out the dead skin will practically wipe off.

I know, right?

So I got all the stuff together, mixed quadruple the amounts (I wanted my heels covered) it in a big shallow bowl, plunked the bowl in the tub, perched on the edge, plopped my feet in, and goofed on my iPad for 10 minutes. The results?

Smurf foot.

My skin is blue and no amount of scrubbing with anything short of a sandblaster is going to change it. And of course, the color’s deepest where the skin looks its worst, the exact part I wanted to remove, not highlight like a muffin top over leggings.

My son, the honors chemistry student, laughs and says I should’ve known this would happen and goes through some long-winded explanation about how the acid in vinegar breaks down oils in the foot so the blue dye in the Listerine can penetrate better and then rambled on about quantum mechanics and turning straw into gold—I don’t know, I stopped listening.

Punked.

And no slippahs for at least a week!

 

mountain_lion“There’s a mountain lion near the haystack. It’s a big one.”

Kevin and I had just left the house and were headed to a late night movie when the cell phone rang. Kevin joked, “I bet the kids want us to bring them ice cream.”

“I bet they’re arguing over who has to get the eggs and who has to do the dishes,” I said.

Cougars were not in our top three. I’m not sure they were even on our list of possibilities.

“Dad? When Dylan went out to feed the horses, he saw a mountain lion. There’s a mountain lion near the haystack. It’s a big one. What do we do?” Shelby asked.

“Keep the dogs in the house,” Kevin said. “Don’t worry about the eggs. It’s after the deer that have come down from the hills looking for better forage. It’ll leave soon.”

Time to warn the neighbors and circle the wagons again.

Yep. It’s fall.

 

 

storm_4“It’s comin’ a storm.”

I followed my daughter’s gaze to the horizon and saw the lightning flash. Clouds dark as God’s armageddon gathered force along the distant mountain range. On cue the wind blew a tumbleweed across the highway in front of my car. Despite the summer heat, I shivered as a goose stepped over my grave.

It’s comin’ a storm.

Something about that phrase sparked my imagination, resonating with images of desperate ghost towns and a finality that comes with accepting what you can’t control. A whole world spun out in my imagination, the possibilities tangled like threads in a broken loom.

“It’s  comin’ a storm?” scoffed my son from the backseat. “You sound like Yoda.”

“My words tripped on their way out of my mouth,” my daughter said with a shrug.

“Better not speak like that in school or they’ll kick you out of Honors English,” he said.

“Whatever. It’s still coming,” she said.

I shook my head and swept up the cobwebs of an unborn story, tucking them into bed in a mental incubator. We were running a marathon of  back-to-school shopping and like Robert Frost said, we had miles to go before we sleep.

It’s comin’ a storm–and a story–but not today.

sopranosA major story junkie in any form—books, tv, movies, you name it—it’s been hard to adjust to the idea that I can download and watch an entire series in a few weeks instead of the years it took to produce and air the show originally.

My first experience with tv gluttony was with 24. My husband and I watched the season two opener where Jack says, “I’m gonna need a hacksaw,” and decided we needed to see season one. A trip to the local WalMart later we were watching episodes back to back on DVD.

It set a bad precedent.

Now with video on demand services like Hulu, Netflix, and DirectTv I can easily download and watch entire series without even changing out of my bathrobe.

But like an addict chasing a bigger high, after watching binge watching several tv series I missed the first time around, I’ve come to a disappointing conclusion.

Most of the time, waiting a week for the next episode makes the story better.

Heresy, I know, but it’s true.

Take The Sopranos, for instance. Highly acclaimed, award winning, on most people’s best ever lists, it was a series I didn’t watch when it was airing on HBO because I had young kids in the house and didn’t want random f-bombs landing in Grandma’s living room. Years later the language is still coarse, but the kids no longer care what I’m watching since they’re too busy with their own lives. They are also the kind of kids who cringe when I say hell. They’re far more likely to censor me for watching it than have any interest themselves.

Mom-guilt gone.

So over the last week or so I’ve watched the first season and a couple of episodes of season two. The acting is good, the writing is snappy, production values are high—but my finger is itching on the fast forward button and it’s not just the scenes in the Bada Bing Club that have me speeding through an episode.

I’m bored. I want to get on with the story already. All the lingering conversations over coffee and food are killing me; I don’t care about Tony’s fantasies with women, Christopher’s ambitions as a screenwriter, or Meadow’s teenage angst. With about 86 hours of tv to get through, I want things to move along much faster. It doesn’t help that I know it ends with the screen going blank with Tony Soprano’s implied death. I’m seriously considering abandoning the series in favor of reading episode synopsizes to find out how it gets to the end so I can get back to pretending to clean house and cook. And that’s tragic.

When you have a week to think about what happens next, to wonder what clues are hidden in seemingly random conversations, to shake your head over Livia Soprano’s machinations or Carmela’s no-nonsense approach to life, the pacing’s beautiful.

But instant gratification means no downtime to ponder or reflect because the answers are waiting in your video cue.

To finish the series, I’m going to have to limit myself to an episode every so often. No more marathons of three or four episodes an evening.

And that’s tough when you’re a story junkie.

Wold_tvay back in caveman days when I was a kid, I used to dream about a magical place where you didn’t have to wait a week for the next episode of your favorite tv show. In this fantastical place not only could you see an entire season back to back, but if you missed an episode because the Boss of the TV decided he’d rather watch Let’s Go Fishing or some football game, it was no big deal. You didn’t have to try to catch it on the summer repeats; it was there, waiting for you whenever you were ready.

Of course, some shows never got a summer repeat. I’m still traumatized by missing the series finale of MASH. It took me twenty years to catch it on a rerun. Can you imagine? We’ve come a long way, baby.

Back in college when VCRs became cheap enough for people to own, I thought I’d won the lottery. I had three ratty VHS tapes I rotated through, recording shows over and over until the images were grainy and spotty. It was awesome. I could record shows and fast-forward through the commercials, perfect for my ADD/OCD viewing style.

When DVRs came along, I thought people were finally getting it. No more crappy tapes. I could watch one show live and record another or even record two shows and watch a third from the day before without sparing a single moment on ads for things with wings or class action lawsuits.

Heaven!

But with more channels and content available than ever before, I often had to make hard choices over what got recorded and what didn’t because of scheduling conflicts and limited disc space. I became the Queen of Programming, a.k.a. the DVR Disc Space Nazi to the rest of the family.

You’ve seen it? Delete it!

What do you mean, you were gonna watch it? If you didn’t find time in the last two weeks what makes you think tomorrow’s gonna be any different?

Nobody needs 20 episodes of The Brady Bunch, not even Alice. You get two, tops!

We all have our crosses to bear.

A couple of months ago we upgraded our DVR system with mega storage capacity and the ability to record five programs at once–and that’s just the family room. I doubt I’ll ever have to choose what doesn’t record again.  You wanna store 30 episodes of Shake it Up? Fine. Just don’t expect me watch it with you, especially now when you can watch your show in the family room and I can watch mine everywhere else. Recorded shows now play on my iPad, my laptop, smart phone, and any other computer or tv in the house. Tell me again why I need to get out of bed?

But, wait! There’s more!

With so many shows available to download on demand, I’m going back and watching series that didn’t make the record list the first time around. Not shows. Entire series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, House of Cards, Mad Men, Merlin… It’s a long, long list.

Magical? You bet. But to a story junkie, it’s like an endless supply of Columbia’s finest. It makes downloading books at 2 am via Amazon look like near beer.

Like a Weight Watchers escapee at an all you can eat Vegas buffet, I better pace myself. Maybe waiting a week for the next episode wasn’t so bad after all.

smokin_meat

For Father’s Day my husband bought himself a meat smoker. In the four days since he set it up, he’s cooked a nine pound brisket, eight ears of corn, three pounds of teriyaki beef jerky, and is now smoking a seven pound pork roast, his attempt at replicating kalua pig without the imu.

Did I mention we’re a family of four?

My spices have been confiscated and combined in secret rubs sealed in tightly lidded jars labeled #1 Kansas, #1 Memphis, and #1 Kalua. Spray bottles with suspicious liquids line the refrigerator door. On the dvr new shows are crowding the playlist like BBQ Pit Masters, Epic BBQ Pits, and Steak & Ribs. Pallets of pellets–yes, pallets–of mesquite, applewood, and cherrywood pellets are on order. There’s talk of expanding the deck, adding an outside fridge, a firepit, a sink, and dutch oven cooking table.

I am starting to be afraid. Very afraid.

But nobody, no matter how dedicated to carnivorous delights, can consume that much meat. What he’s really addicted to is family and friends. We’ve hosted more get-togethers and are planning more since the meat smoker arrived than ever before. We’ve enjoyed the easy company and I gotta admit, I’m enjoying letting someone else do most of the cooking. He even cleans up after himself.

I’m starting to think his Father’s Day present was really a Mother’s Day present in disguise.

 

watermelon_dogs

 

About once or twice a week I have to go through the fridge and pantry and weed out the limp celery, wizened apples, and suspiciously fuzzy baked goods. With two ravenous teens in the house it’s hard to strike the right balance between having enough fresh things on hand and schedules that often leave us eating out.

However, with six horses, fifteen chickens, two dogs, and three cats also at home few things go to waste. Peels, stale bagels, and nobody’s-gonna-eat-that leftovers get tossed in a bag or a bucket perched on the edge of the kitchen counter. It’s understood that the next time a kid heads out to gather eggs or toss hay to the horses, the bucket goes along, too. They’re supposed to share the wealth.

But sometimes I can’t wait to get things off the counter. It’s no surprise that like Pavlov’s dogs, all I have to do is step out on the back deck and all the chickens, dogs, and cats come running. They know I’m lazy and will huck things over the railing into a planting area instead of walking out to the corrals. The horses come to the fence line and whinny, but they know it’s unlikely I’ll walk out unless I have shoes on.

I rarely have shoes on. But they never give up hope.

Over the years we’ve learned a few things. If I thought I could get away with it I’d have one of my kids keep track and turn it in as a science fair project. Too bad none of their science teachers have caught the vision or seen the value. For the record:

One horse loves red grapes and will do anything to get them. The others don’t care.

All horses love watermelon and corn tortillas, but not even chickens will eat bell peppers, celery, or fresh pineapple.

If you hold out a stale loaf of French bread like a sword, horses will take bites.

Only dogs like peanut butter-flavored anything.

Cats want their own piece of whatever it is, even if they won’t eat it. Just having their own makes them happy.

Dogs will do tricks all day if you give them a little something. It doesn’t matter if it’s dry dog food from their bowl—if it’s coming from a person it’s a treat.

Chickens get excited over cherry tomatoes until they take a peck. They probably confuse them with strawberries. I’d be sad, too.

Horses really like granola bars unless they’re coated in chocolate. In fact, none of the animals really like chocolate, which proves they’re not as evolved as we thought.

What are some of the memorable things you’ve fed your pets?

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