Friday, March 30, 2012

The Yellow Ribbon

The trouble with cleaning anything up, any room, house, closet, whatever, is that by beginning to clean something up, it just makes everything else look terrible and also in need of such treatment. Cleaning only begets more cleaning, which is why I usually never start unless absolutely provoked into it.
Cleaning the house exterior was first on the bill last week. With washing it, repairs done as needed to keep it dry and protected, fresh paint, and a healthy dose of vegetation removal, it was looking fairly pristine, sort of, again. It was in admiring the sparkling house in something of it restored glory and then looking around and seeing the barn lurking down at the end of the fence line, that the monster raised its ugly head. I knew what disorder and chaos lay in wait down there. It was time, past time, for a freshening up. A call was made for a dumpster to be brought in.
I  began with the tack room, a place long over due for an over haul. Everything that wasn’t tied down in there came out into the barn aisle way for assessment as to whether the item was needed or not. This assessment process does tend to slow one down. My first stumbling block was my finding the very first ribbon I had ever won. It was won at the very first show that I ever rode in, now many, many moons ago, but in finding this faded ribbon, it connected me to a place and time I had not remembered nor thought about, in a long time.
The place was my dream world as a kid, my Avalon. The place was Spring Valley Stables, the stable where my parents allowed me to take my glorious, once a week lesson. I lived each week for the chance to go ride, smell the horses, touch these amazing animals, groom them, get dirty, and feel the freedom from walls, stale air and parental authority. Spring Valley was the place I wanted to be at, all of the time. 
Once a year the owners, my teachers, Marvin and Pat Hoyle, would host a schooling show. These shows were for the students only of the stable, allowing parents to watch their kids ride and see their progress, and for them to get a grasp of just where they had spent their money over the course of the year. 
I so well remember my deep excitement of being driven out to the stable for my very first competition at one of these little shows, a bit nervous,  and very hopeful about a great outcome. I really had no idea what to expect or what I was supposed to do, but figured they would let me know, and they did. My first ribbon was yellow, a bit of a disappointing third, but that first ribbon and that ride taught me a lot about competing and sportsmanship, and it really stuck with me through the many years ahead that I competed in horse related activities.
The Hoyles had a son, Kenny, who also rode in my weekly class, and who, of course, always got to ride the best horses available there. He also got to ride as much as he wanted to by living there on the farm with his parents. As a result of his time spent on a saddle under his parents’ watchful eyes, he was good and beautiful rider. I envied this and wished I lived in a similar situation.
When we arrived at the grounds that day for my first show and class, I noticed first that my attire was a bit casual compared to some, like Kenny and my friend Weety. They were in serious correct coats with stock ties, formal breeches and boots, and were topped off with black velvet covered hunt caps. I on the other hand wore blue jeans, a red short sleeved shirt, and my rubber boots. I remember my mother fussing at me for not having dressed up, but I had no prior experience and no one had told me to do so, plus I did not have a riding outfit as they did.
Our mounts had been chosen for us, Kenny got to ride the gorgeous Silver Lark, a shiny dark dapple grey with a flax mane and tail. Kenny was dressed to the nines in a color coordinated garb and together, they were lovely picture and certain to win. Weety, who also dressed to the nines by her more knowledgeable in this area mother, was on Topper, a flea bitten grey, and I rode Queenie. My friends Lyn and May, and other fellow students in the class rode horses with names like Ivan, Copper, a buckskin called Hi Hat, and various other placid equine troopers trained to carry the uneducated around the arena in relative safety. Finally it was time for our class and into the ring we proceeded in a line.
We walked first and then were told to trot. Together as a unit we moved around the ring hugging the railing, up down, up down, up down, heels down, heads up we went under the scrutiny of the appraising judge. Then singularly, we were told to canter, the one in front cantering the circumference of the ring to join back with the group at the end of the line. Kenny and Silver Lark went first and were perfect. Then it was my turn to go. 
Queenie was a hot bay boss mare with a star and an attitude, but I loved her fire and enthusiasm. She was fun to ride. On this moment on her canter depart, in her eager anticipation and possibly sharing some of mine, she took off on the wrong leading leg. I brought her back quickly and tried again this time with success on the correct lead and around the ring we cantered until joining the ranks of the back of the line. A mistake made, minor, but a mistake non the less. I had to hope for other areas of my riding prowess to impress the judge for a win, but somehow I had my doubts.
All the others cantered likewise in turn and finally we were told to line up. We stood facing the judge, our parents, and other ringside observers, and waited for our verdicts.
Kenny took the blue, Weety took the red, and I humbly took the yellow. 
The yellow ribbon that still graces my tack room says it was 1966. I was nine. The next year, a little bit better dressed, I rode the wonderful, snow white, Miss A, and this time I happily took a red, second to Kenny, again, of course. These were the beginning of many ribbons and shows to come over the next decades, and what I learned about the attention to detail and grooming for both horse and rider, brought me points in situations that tipped me into the win positions over and over, that and I finally got a horse of my own to ride more that once a week. This faded ribbon I held, was the beginning of the memories of my dream; to be an equestrian, to compete and to win, to learn to overcome a failure and try again until I won. 
As I mulled these memories and their life lessons seen retrospectively, I continued to sort through and throw out the stuff that would serve me no more, like old magazines, and cracked leather of ancient tack.  Then I came across a few dressage test result sheets from what were, ironically, from the very last time I went to ride in a show. Fast forward from the memories of 1966 to 2006. 
I read the judge’s comments on the sheets about my nice prospect who was a bit tense and over eager. De ja vu all over again. I had been aboard Sunset then, at a schooling show in the memory of Col. Morris, another of my former teachers. Despite the schooling definition of being a bit more casual, I did wear my formal coat and white gloves, and my horse and tack were clean as a whistle. We did our best, but lacked the relaxation the judge was seeking that day, but I was okay with taking home a red.
My tack room walls are lined with the decades of ribbons won since that early show at Spring Valley, the majority of which are blues, some reds, an occasional yellow. I look at them and reflect on the time and effort I have spent earning them all and the memories they represent, and ponder their worth. I have to say, they, and specially beginning with that old yellow ribbon, are all, priceless. There is a whole dumpster full of stuff now from the tack room, and the room is cleaner again, but the ribbons and their memories will remain.    

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Taking Back a Grey Garden

“I am sitting in a fish bowl just now. The house is currently subject to the efforts of many merry workers who are trying to save our poor abode from becoming  something of a “Grey Garden”, overgrown with vegetation, mosses and algae, mold, and weathered wood. At each window they toll, one scraping, one painting, one sawing new trim, but all with faces towards the open interior/non-curtained windows of the house, and me......”
The previous paragraph was written this morning. I could take no more of it and headed to the barn, my sanctuary, to ride a horse for a while. So, now that the merry band of workers has gone and quiet has returned for the day, I will continue my thought train...
We intended to have built a no maintenance house when we started this house back in ’94, and to that end we simply didn’t do any. So now, as having been residents of this place for almost twenty years, it finally came to a head that we finally just had to do some clean up work, and, yes, maintenance. The can of worms had to be opened and “Grey Gardens” had to be dealt with. We had to take back the house, or it was going to be at a tipping point of no return, that only a bull dozer would be able to deal with.
Years ago when we were under construction, we lived for that time period, in a mobile home on the property to keep a close look on construction. That, and we had already sold our other farm and needed a place to camp. We bought a very used mobile home, and put most of our possessions into storage until the house was finished. It was a spartan existence, and one I think back on fondly, except for the mice and sugar ants that shared the rolling wonder. 
From our tiny vantage point across the pond from the house site, we could hear when the saws buzzed, the hammers whacked, and also when they didn’t. With a bit of our continual presence the structure grew and grew. During this time we got to know some of the guys who made the house happen, nice folks, good craftsmen all, but a few of them had slight issues with the legal systems we came to find out.
There was Mike, I think his name was now, a wiry fellow of bright red hair and freckles, who had the ability to raise the highest ridge beams by himself to the top of this now very tall structure, clamoring over narrow rafters, and slipping between them with the agility of a cat. He and Shelby, our master carpenter, together framed this house in less than a week, calling in more and more framing lumber and magically getting it vertical in a blink of an eye. Mike, we learned had been in a bit of trouble with the police and was then on parole from a crime that we did not ask what it had been, as it really did not matter, to us anyway. 
There was also one guy who had skipped out of parol from an out of state crime committed, and was being searched for by many.  After finishing his work on the house, thought, he turned himself back in to the law and probably did quite a bit more time in the big house. There were a couple of days missed by one fellow who happened to seem to have a need to spend the night in jail from time to time. Each of them were polite and did their jobs well, and in their stories, it kind of adds to the fabric of the house, and gives it more character and color.  
The beginning of construction is exciting and the flush of something new being built is exhilarating to me. I grew up on construction sites my father was a contractor for and I loved peeking out of my window to watch the carpenters framing in the early morning light. The smell of new wood, sheetrock mud, paint and the sounds of saws buzzing and hammers nailing are deeply satisfying to me. By contrast, the final days, the last month of building a house, though are tough, tedious, and tense. I well remember wanting it to be all over and soon. The honey moon at that point is definitely over until the hammers are put away and those smiling faces that greeted me at dawn during the duration of the project finally pack their pickups and leave for the last time. It’s so nice when they cease and there is an easy settling in the quiet they leave in their wake. 
It has pretty much been like that until this week, quiet and coasting in the bliss of denial of home maintenance. These guys, too have been nice, proficient at their craft, do their job and leave, but it is distracting to say the least. Soon it will be over for a while and the next time I don’t think I will wait until the house is listing before shoring it back up. Sadly, I have learned there is no such thing as a no maintenance house.
Today is the first day of spring on my calendar, but Mom Earth failed to get the memo and it has been spring here for months. It has been warm and humid with strong winds, which have blown every oak flower laden with pollen into the pool, requiring skimming on a regular basis lest it becomes a swamp. The flowers from azaleas and camellia shrubs have been brief but absolutely spectacular.
 We rode out on our bikes this weekend with friends visiting from Boston and found ourselves on a tiny road canopied by tall pines dripping with wisteria. Cascades of pale purple filled the scene all around us from high in the trees to the rusty wire fence line edging the road, and the scent was mesmerizing. We felt as though we were in a Disney animation scene or something, like Thumper and Bambi might just step out from behind a tree. It was lovely and a nice thing to share with our friends. It felt great to outdoors on a lovely day just before the official beginning to spring, breathing fresh air and rolling along the miles of the greening country side.
As to mentioning the waning luster of a honey moon’s end, Gracie, I have found now that my sweet little puppy is not only, will full, opinionated, but down right bad at times. She will steal, shred, destroy, and chew on anything in her path, especially if it’s clearly not hers. I just caught the fluff muffin trying to roll on a dead mole in the grass and then found her sniffing at a wood plank we had cooked a fish on, shades of her predecessor, Jackapotomus. There is a sad boneyard of cat toys, which I have had to remove from her because she had killed them, dead. She is also eyeballing my Apple power cord, giving serious thought to attack. Not.
She is becoming quite bold here in farm world and continues to expand her realm.  She has now joined the pack of two, Heidi and myself, on our twice a day to the barn to feed. She runs a circle around every step we take and seems to never look to be running out of energy, but eventually does. She has bravely defended house and home from the evil workers as they try to take back the house for us, barking at them and their silly ladders with serious conviction. She makes me laugh. It is a good thing to have a new puppy. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Week One with Gracie

This past week with the new puppy, Gracie, has been, as most arrivals and settling in’s of new puppies, or babies, an intense period of figuring out the schedules and rhythms of the needs and wants of the new arrival. With my crate training efforts, most of which have been good, it has taken a serious paying attention and learning on my part to distinguish when Gracie is looking for that “special” place or just burning up some of her ample energy. There have been a few accidents, but I am greatly surprised at how well she has gotten the idea. My timing on taking her out, plus the follow by example thing from her watching what the big dog, Heidi, does has really greatly helped.
The first week has not been without its drama however. Gracie has fallen once, as more or less expected, into the pool. I was right there and immediately fished her wet rat self out and we dried her off with a hair dryer, and she fluffed right back up and learned to stay away from the edge of the water. After she learned to climb the steps to the back porch, once she got quite cocky about it and charged them, made a slight
miscalculation, and tumbled back down to the bottom carport floor. Embarrassed and shaken by the fall a bit, it took some time for her to retry them, but now she takes their potential danger seriously and hops up them carefully and with focus.
And so the learning curve on life on the farm continues, and it is a long curve with much  for a small puppy to learn, especially one so little, and as tenacious as she is. Having the attitude of big dog in a pint size has its inherent dangers, but also amusements. We were in a hardware store on Saturday, along with several locals, one of whom remarked that he had thought I was carrying a pet squirrel. I laughed and said that no, I was carrying my new guard dog in training. Gracie has proven her potential on this field already, by bravely barking at my daughter’s visiting black labs. ( They were safely on the other side of a glass door but the principle was made. She rules, but don’t tell the shepherd that.)
I had just posted the blog from the other day when I heard a slight cough in the small crate behind me. Heidi went over to investigate, sniffed, and laid back down. I heard no more and went about doing something else, figuring that Gracie, was sleeping once again and was fine. After a bit more time had passed I opened the door to her crate and found out just how wrong I was.
Pressed against the back of the crate wobbled a bleary eyed puppy, who only an hour or so ago had been chasing puff balls across the floor and killing them like a velociraptor. Gracie shook  uncontrollably and would not come to the door. Then I noticed that there was a very small bit of upchucked food by the side of the door, the result of the earlier cough, I surmised. Things did not look good, and my guess was based on her signs, that it was a blood sugar issue. It looked like there was a big crash coming.
I grabbed her on out of the crate and went to the pantry to get some Karo syrup to give her a boost of sugar to get the system back up, then got the vet clinic on the phone and said I was coming in with her. Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the clinic where they were ready for me with a heating pad on the exam table and a crew ready to get to work on her.

After drawing blood from her neck which held the only vein large enough to get any from,  my vet sat the pup on the floor and several of his assistants came in to watch and see the puppy. Gracie wobbled and swayed, occasionally taking a step if startled by something, but was otherwise zoned out. I had a real sinking feeling coming on in a “please not again” way. We watched her and waited for the results of the blood work.     
The Karo syrup had done some good by now and her eyes were a bit brighter, but it also messed up the diagnostics of whether she actually was a bit hypoglycemic or not, and the blood work showed her levels to be within the normal ranges. Various other tests were performed and all results said normal, but this was still a very sick puppy. My  vet said she had a case of ANDR, acronym for Animal Not Doing Right. We laughed as only you can do when faced with being basically helpless to diagnose the whys and what for’s of anything, and not to be able to act on it. The only thing for certain was that Gracie was not going to be able tell us why she upchucked and felt so bad. 
Having had a Yorkie before, and having lived through learning how to deal with Jack’s hypoglycemia and diabetes, I had seen the swings of blood sugar levels and how quickly it could affect them, but I was shocked at how quickly this one had come on. One minute I am playing fetch with a rough and tumble little puppy as normal as can be, and the next I am hoping to catch her before the seizures come, and possible death. Winston said, in his older, experienced vet voice, that “bigger dogs get sick, but the little ones just crash.”
He gave her a painful stinging shot to help combat the vomiting, and I was told to go get some Pedialyte, (baby electrolytes), to keep her hydrated, keep her warm, limit activity, no food, and give her some Karo before bed. With this prescription  we headed home. Once home, she slept covered up in her little bed, quietly snoozing. Periodically I tried to get some liquid down her tiny throat, with varied success, but mostly let her rest. 
I kept watch through the evening and at about nine pm, when I heated up a leftover pizza for us to eat, the little runt came back to life and then some, and by golly wanted some pizza too. She was suddenly ravenous and despite my vet’s words on not feeding her, she was not going to take no on this issue and let any one sleep. So I gave her a teaspoon of some canned food he had sent me home with, and she devoured it and was satisfied. The food did not reappear and she seemed to feel oh so much better. So did we.
I have no idea what caused the crash but my guess is that she ate something that made her sick, which caused the blood sugar swing. So now I have added watching what she is chewing on to my vigilance list and, on to my own learning curve. 
Today, the outside yard is filled with curious, new noises and men with machines to clean the house. These intruders into the relative quiet of the farm, I know will cause me no problems, because I know that my Yorkie is en guard and at my defense,  and what a relief that is. That's not to mention my shepherd who has recently been sporting a pink Yorkie bow she borrowed, as her backup.
All in all, the efforts of bringing a new puppy to the farm have been rewarded by smiles from all who get to watch the unbridled flurry of the energy of a puppy at  play. Afternoon playtime by the front porch is the closing of the day as we sit and marvel at this tiny bundle of energy in motion. This is followed by dinner "bites", sweet puppy licks and nibbles on fingers, then quiet and gentle sleep. The cycle of sleep, eat, play, and potty roll in a continual pattern for now, and hopefully without too much more drama for a while. And so closes week one with Gracie.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


If one were from a distant planet and had had the good fortune to have been dropped on this farm on this day, one would think this world a most pleasant of places. It is an early pre-spring, fine, bright blue day with Martins chattering on wing, and the trees have taken on a new aura of pale green of emerging flowers and leaves. The slight cool breeze feels refreshing and the sunshine would make even an alien feel like laying on the grass to bask it all in. What the alien wouldn’t know is that this blithe scene is left in the wake of a devastating storm line that came through over the weekend, leaving many in sad situations. This is typical though, of spring in the south east, a dichotomy of both the blissful and of the violent. Today, here on this farm, it is gorgeous, and I will take it and enjoy.  
I am presently sitting for the moment, at my dining table writing after my morning visit to the barn to feed the horses. While I let them finish their breakfasts, I am newly joined by a small fluffy dog bed at my left hand, just in front of the salt and pepper grinders, which is currently inhabited by a tiny sleeping Yorkie, the newest member of our pack, as of Friday. Her name is Gracie, and she is, of course, totally and absolutely, adorable.
After having waded the intrepid waters of the internet to find a breeder of this breed of dogs, and having survived to find one not too far away, my daughter and I set off on Friday morning to meet up with this breeder and take possession of the wee pup. I had googled a place and had set the time to meet at a half way point for both of us. We arrived at our destination and I called the cell phone of the breeder to let her know of our timely arrival and to see what her time frame was like. She laughed and said that yes she too was there and added that she had been there for an hour, hoping that I would indeed actually show up. I had forgotten there was a time zone difference between us and I was an hour late on her watch. We laughed, and I apologized. We traded papers, funds, instructions, and last but not least, the puppy. Armed with our new dog, homeward bound we went, my daughter driving my massive truck, with me as a passenger holding a tiny, new puppy.
I had recently been giving a whole lot of thought as to the risks and how’s of bringing a new dog into the remains of the old pack, the last survivor being the alpha, and albeit old, a force still to be reckoned with, the German Shepherd, Heidi. I hoped and figured that a puppy would be the easiest way to bring in a new member without a fight, but it would be a challenge and I was nervous about their meeting and learning the outcome. I was prepared to have to have two separate packs in case it didn’t work out, like if the Yorkie was looking more likely to be destined to be a light snack rather than to be accepted. With this trepidation, when I got home, I pulled into the carport and took the crate out of the truck and let Heidi smell the new puppy through the door of the crate I had the puppy in. No growls made me encouraged a bit, and so I got the puppy out and introduced her to the shepherd, and to her new world.
There were licks and smells and all of the usual doggy intro stuff that they do, and all was fine except for the part where the puppy wanted to do what puppies generally do and that was to jump quickly to lick at the mouth of the big dog. This did elicit a curled lip and a growl from the Nazi, and that gesture curtailed that activity very quickly. Good thing, as we are talking about a substantial size differential of major proportions. In fact it’s about a hundred to one, pound wise. Lesson learned for the puppy, the coast seemed clear, and I breathed a relief.
Long ago I had another elderly shepherd, who was also ruler of her kingdom, and who also did not suffer fools or other dogs gladly. One day our daughters had set off for school only to return quickly with a young brown pup they had found sadly sitting in the middle of the road. I told them we absolutely could not risk keeping the pup because I knew the shepherd would make very short work of it, that, and I really did not want a cur brown, little male mutt. I put the puppy in a safe crate and planned to take it to   the animal shelter later.
After a while I had figured I needed to let the pup out to do its business,  and while keeping a close eye on the ever present enormous canines of the watchful shepherd, I let the little guy out. There was a good distance between the two and each were quietly standing their ground. Something forced me to glance away but for a moment, and I turned back quickly to find the pup, not in the mouth of the shepherd, but cuddled in the arms of a surprisingly adoptive big dog. So much for not keeping the mutt. It had been adopted and my plan was foiled. It was in the remembering of this that made me now even venture into a new puppy attempt with this one.
My risk was rewarded this time, not by this shepherd adopting as the other had done, but by accepting and by then beginning to help me teach this new pup about its new home. Life on a farm is fraught with dangers in every direction, especially when one is about a pound in weight and can easily trip over a blade of grass, and the learning curve has either one direction, or not. So we, my shepherd and I, began the introduction to the routines of the day, and to the places to avoid, like getting under horses’ feet and the edge of the swimming pool. Also with that are the places that are very significant, like the most important one, the potty place. So far, Gracie is a star on that issue, which is a very good thing and is hopefully one trend that will continue.
If anyone had told me that somewhere in my life I would have ever voluntarily bought a Yorkshire Terrier, complete with a pink bow, I would have laughed in disdain. My life has been playing with brothers, walking barefoot through neighborhood ditches, riding horses that could carry fully suited knights, owning large powerful dogs, and not caring what color my nails were painted, or not. 
Marley, our former pint sized dog, cured me of this Yorkie phobia. She taught me that a small dog can be as tough as any needs to be and that the smaller package has its own advantages, like being able to put them in a nice fluffy bed next to me while I write. The close companionship is nice and I feel my blood pressure drifting steadily downward when this tiny puppy is close by. And, their bows are removable.
The other night our elder daughter, her husband, and their new daughter came out for dinner and a visit. It had been a while since I had seen little Margaret, awake that is, and she was amazingly taller, stronger, more focused, alert, and much more conversational than last we had been together. I could not keep my eyes off of her and I kept scanning her lovely face, soaking in all of the sheer magic of her being here. 
In our new granddaughter, and now too in this new puppy, there thankfully shines a new future of pleasant memories to be made. Their path’s are unknown at this point, and although surely there will be uh-oh’s and stormy days along the way, with luck they will both enjoy the best of times as they grow and learn.
And so for now, with another potty break for Gracie, and I am off to the barn to work the horses on this, a fine day in early spring.