Saturday, May 31, 2008

How to run a round-up

1. Wake up at 3 AM and worry about late-announced guests for two hours.
2. Greet the volunteers with gallons of your black-tar coffee. Introduce your guests to one another and watch the donuts vanish. Eventually the bananas and yogurt will go too. Enjoy the chatter for a few minutes, then shoo everyone out to catch, saddle, bridle, and load their assigned horses. Try hard not to roll your eyes at that one DC chick who still for the love of God doesn't know knots.
3. At 6 AM, get everyone crammed into the pick-ups for a bumpy ride down to the trailhead. Worry that people not in the truck with you failed to get into the other truck. Radio for confirmation; relax infinitesimally when word comes back that they all got in.
4. Trailhead. Unload horses, riders, and gear. See everyone off into the park, then drive up to the corral five miles ahead. Worry that the volunteers will get lost or get hurt.
5. Promontory. Divvy up the riders into teams of three and send them off to beat the mesquite for your cattle. Worry that they won't find the cows. Send your dad off with a dressage rider. Worry about that.
6. Start looking for cows in your own group. Watch your border collie have the time of her furry life.
7. Two hours later, find all the cows huddled near the fence-line, penned in by your volunteers. Count the people and horses, sigh a bit with relief when the numbers match up. Start worrying about the corraling process.
8. Give a St. Crispin's Day speech to your volunteers regarding the technique and teamwork needed to get the cows into the corral's small gate. Remember Lee Stanislavsky's advice and hit an emotional peak with the line, "Cover your SHIT! Help each other!" Be surprised and pleased when this works and your volunteers get every single cow into the corral within 10 minutes, chasing down the few breakaways with maybe a little more enthusiasm than skill. Grab some water. Try to ignore the inordinate number of expensive cameras pointed in your direction. Why'd they all pick today to come see the herding? Oh right, the long weekend. Holidays are a little abstract at a time like this.
9. Pick four volunteers to help separate cows and calves. Calves stay in the little ring; cows go down the chute for fly spray. Marvel at the flexibility of a cow who manages to do a 180 in a chute the width of her body, but figure that getting sprayed backward still keeps away the bugs. Pull aside the three sick cows. Ignore the plaintive whines of the dogs, who have been locked in the truck and are not allowed to harry the calves.
10. Start roping. You're in a 40-foot pen with 22 panicky calves, a blazing hot propane stove full of branding irons, and twelve volunteers. Look cool doing a hard job: pick a calf, toss a rope around its heel, drag it so that it's going backward, let a pair of hands run down the rope and tackle the calf while you and your horse keep the rope tight, get someone to slip off the rope once the critter is down and secure, make sure that there are enough people around to keep the bigger calves from kicking free, and start looking for the next target while the team behind you works feverishly to get all the vet work done. Keep an ear out for them so you don't run them down or get them in the way of a kicking cow (this is easiest when they're working bull calves, as the effort to get both balls into the bander seems to call for a lot of yelling). Trust that the two men with the branding irons know where your horse is.
11. Admire your wife as she hops into the ring, grabs a tiny calf by the hind leg, and tugs it over to the rail for your kids to pet. You married a great woman, who will by the end of the day have lost two more nails from her manicure and still be grinning. Try not to wonder why she and the other women in the ring bust out laughing from time to time.
12. Only ten calves done? Oh hell. Some of the calves are almost 500 pounds and take a lot of work to pin, and the boys aren't used to working together yet. Your horse is tiring too, so take a break, get some lunch and a beer, and switch your saddle onto another horse. Try not to envy the kids, who have jumped into the water tank and are paddling around yeeping about the cold.
13. See step 10.
14. Finally, the last calf is done. Command that the gates be swung open, then chase the idiot calves back into the cows' pen. Over the din of the mother and child reunions, rally the troops and drive the cows back out to pasture. Leave behind the one cow who gave birth after you drove her into the corral; her calf, still a wet black bawling pile of legs, will be up on his feet by tomorrow.
15. Meet your riders at the trailhead, load the horses back up, pile the riders back into the trucks. When one rider sees you looking for places to stow gear and tells you that there's plenty of room in the back seat where she is, grin and tell her thanks but that you'd probably better just drive. Enjoy the applause for this remark.
16. Home again home again. Turn out the horses, turn out the sick cows, put away the tack, and get ready to visit the stock for the night. It's been fourteen hours since you got up. The kids' dwarf hamster's habitrail has annexed one of the bathtubs, the month-old goats get into everything, the new stray dog now has a name ("GIT down from there, Billy Hobo") and will have to be fixed so that he doesn't drive your blue heeler bitch crazy, your favorite mare refuses to drop her foal and you can't tell how long she's been pregnant, the windstorm last week reminded you that the barn needs to be reinforced, and this is the third time this year that you've had to drive that neighbor's bull off your herd. As the last of your volunteers rattles off down the drive, the wind over the mesquite blows cool and dry, the sun heads west, and the case of beer your Eastern visitors brought is still on ice. Sing as you head for the pens.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This again

My epic helmet hair and I demonstrate the wrong way to set one's legs during a calf branding. Partner-woman up front is in charge of holding down the top leg and making sure that the calf gets both parts of the brand, a vaccine, a band if it's a bull calf (this one isn't), and an ear tag, then she counts us down so that we release and roll away in sync. The person at the back is responsible for not getting seared or pooped on and for making sure the hind legs don't get free. [ETA, because apparently people are worried: I was neither seared nor smeared. Although there were a couple of close calls on both.]

Do not my stylish yaller gloves fit me purty? It's 'cause they's the perfect size.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A squintillion pardons, efendi

No updates for the last few days on account of I have been traipsing all over southern Arizona sans trusty Mac. Three bucks for ten minutes of interwebs? Nein! Full shenaniganal stories TK, but I am pleased to report that I'm unharmed save for some solar toasting and a slight ding inna face because a calf popped me in the jaw, which I might resent had he not just had his ass seared by not one but two hot irons and his voonerables subjected to the process known as banding (if you are male and wincing preemptively...yes, it's just as bad as you suspect). So perhaps it's understandable that he wasn't at his best.

Also, hi, bacanora, where the fuck have you been all my life? Ah: illegal until 1992 and still not available for sale in the EEUU. Now I know where agave goes when it's lived a virtuous life and obeyed all the proper botanical laws, and also why I shouldn't drink it on an empty stomach.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

She saved the world. A lot.

There are still fine geekly people in my life who have never watched "Buffy," and while I love them dearly I cannot pretend to understand this one thing about them. The show kicked so many shapes and forms of ass: It had snarkiness and real story, foreshadowings and haunting consequences, sneaky little moments that incrementally changed how we see the world (back then, nobody but Joss would have made the show's first girl-on-girl kiss part of the background noise), and a lot of really fantastic writing delivered by a cast who clearly loved the job. Once I got past my first "ew, her name is Buffy?" twitch and the memory of the cinematic debacle of the same name, I was hooked but good. "The Body," "Hush," and, of course, "Once More With Feeling" rank as some of the best TV out there.

In NPR's innovative twist on the "Top 100 Importantest Wankers"-type lists, Iraq reporter Jamie Tarabay talks about how BtVS helped her handle life in a war zone. Giles' lie about how adulthood gets easier—"Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after"—has rarely seemed so apt.

Inspired by the story, I have taken up the dark arts for fun and profit. Anya would be very proud.

Thanks to GirlCuz for the pic.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Making lemon-pepper vignettes

Conversation with a neighbor who paved over his two inches of back yard.
"How you call those things, little monkeys in the trees."
"I het."

Conversation on the porch.
"Ooh, croissants! I knew if we sat here long enough someone would come out with food."
"Just for that, you've got to make yourselves useful and put cushions on the chairs."

Conversation with my camera battery.
"Do you need to use the charger?"
"Nope, I'm good."
"Really? You're sure you couldn't use a little extra power?"
"Nope. Totally fine here."
"Because we could bring the charger. It would be easy. Actually, it would be stupid not to."
"Seriously! I'm fine! Leave the stupid charger and let's just go already!"
"Okay, if you say so...Welcome to Noo Yersey! Hey, look, what a great shot! Everyone's gathered around the table and toasting the roller team! Go go gadget camera!"
"Um, is this a good time to mention that I kind of need to use the charger?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

The green fairy

Thoughts from the Christopher Elbow reception at Biagio:
  • The pretty people of DC will come out in furtive hordes for free truffles in a sexily dim back room.
  • Surreptitious cell-phone conversations relaying location and urgent pleas for back-up before the truffles run out: many.
  • Confessions of a chocolatier: yes the spice bar contains ginger, no I will not tell you the recipe.
  • Chocolate-scented candles: better in concept than execution.
  • Banana curry truffles: "Wow, these are very...interesting."
  • Yuzu-laced dark chocolates: I swear, they were just here.
  • Macademia pralines: how many can I fit in one purse? Being a Gedankenexperiment.
  • ABSINTHE TRUFFLES. You, Christopher E, are MY kind of pervert.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Le singe n'est pas dans le chambre

Vacation planning! A summery week of galloping about the Francophone north, hurrah! It'll be interesting to see how well someone whose knowledge of French is drawn mainly from Eddie Izzard routines will negotiate Quebec City and the associated transit network. I anticipate many moments of amusement, bewilderment, and mutual incomprehension, as was the case in Argentina (where I knew the language but not the cultural subtext). Still, if someone's grandmother catches fire while I'm there, I'll be ready.

Between now and then lie the traditional weeks of preemptive worriting, scrambling for equipage, interwebular researching, and packing. Excitement nonetheless. Je vais au Canada!

Desultory review: "The Screwtape Letters" live

I wasn't entirely thrilled with the adaptation of "The Screwtape Letters," partly because the format's a bit limiting—Screwtape gets a letter, he responds to it, his scuttling secretary sends the response, lather rinse repeat—and partly because I quibbled with bits of the production. On balance, though, it was a great if chilly way to spend an evening (the Lansburgh was so cold that the ushers offered blankets; never have I been so glad to have large seatmates).

The set was fantastic: a wedge of distorted tile flooring, a comfortable easy chair and ottoman, and a serpentine ladder leading up into the flies, with a black safe-like mailbox hanging next to it. As the lights changed throughout the production, the back wall gradually became visible, allowing the audience to see that it was tiled like a catacomb's, skulls and the stacked ridges of femurs poking out to echo the tiling of the study's floor. Slowly morbid and creepifyin, nicely done.

Screwtape was impressive; the actor basically carries the dialogue (monologue?) for 90 minutes with very little break. They had an actress in a funky body suit acting as Toadpipe and periodically stepping in to illustrate Screwtape's points (the fierce catwalk she did when Screwtape talked about fashion skewing toward an unrealistically boyish body got the biggest laugh of the night), but I really regretted the director's choice to have her gibber wordlessly at the audience; it seemed like reaching too hard for a laugh. To my immense disappointment, they didn't do the part of the books where Screwtape, in a fit of irritation at his nephew's incompetence, turns into a giant bug. Probably for the best, especially considering that by the end of the night the poor actor was sweating copiously anyway. The first few rows also got the benefit of his plosives. Ick.

The death of Wormwood's patient was done very effectively: a flash of sharp white light, a rumbling noise of walls falling, and then, dead clear, the sound of a single piper playing "Amazing Grace." Dammit, Scotsmen, that's such a cliched piece. So how come every single time it's played I start to sniffle?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who wants to wangst forever

It cannot be that long ago that I was a melodramatic teenling, can it? I mean, the earth's crust wasn't warm, as I recall, although granted back then we had actual winters, winters like today's youth don't get, winters with snow and ice and wind, winters where we had to go to school on sleds drawn by huskies and devil take the hindmost. (As if. Fairfax County's proud heritage of flipping shit and closing at any hint of precip can be connected directly to its one attempt to take weather forecasts with a grain of salt back in 1987, and the resulting Great Veterans Day Afternoon Snowshower Farrago of Infamy is still bright in memory.)

Still and all, back in those dim days of mine and yore, I do know that the teen angst "our love can never be, phewWOE" market was served by solidly cheesy programs like "Dark Shadows" and the Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman "Beauty and the Beast," a show that I can totally think of without getting kind of red in the face and wanting to go back in time just to smack some taste into my 12-year-old self, who had enough to deal with anyway what with a demented civics teacher, "The Day After," and stirrup pants. Oh God, down this route lies post-'80s PTSD that ends with me in the fetal position humming Martika. Let's avoid the discussion, because that is not my point here.

My point is that, by virtue of being an ag├ęd hag, I have totally missed the post-Buffy generation's vampire smolder fodder: the Twilight series. Fortunately, others have taken the bullet and I can critique from behind a cozy protective wall of second-hand pain. It looks like the books are truly hideous tripe, possibly worse prose than that found in my now-regretted collection of early Mercedes Lackey novels. Second, the introduction of a genus of vampires unwilling to go out in the sunlight not for the traditional "I will burst into flame and do a Savini dissolve" reasons but because sunlight makes them glitter is hilariously unforgivable, even if the resulting movie (hahaha, of course there's gonna be a movie) stars the cutie who played Cedric Diggory to such tasty effect. Third, there's a weird stalker/possessive vibe between the nominal protagonist (her name is BELLA SWANN, do you begin to see the problem here?) and the aggravatingly pretty vampire/objet d'crush that is hyped up to a point that is freaky even for adolescent-bait cheese lit.

On the other hand, but, and however, there has been a commendable resurgence of Sparkle Motion references and at least one kick-ass comments thread beginning, "And they unlived in sparkly flowery goodness forever and ever, or until he said 'Fuck it' and drained her like a jug of Thunderbird." To paraphrase Spider Robinson, shared pain is halved, shared snark increased, and thus do we refute entropy.

In passing

Whoever writes the local-feature obits for the Sunday Post had a field day this past week, writing about an elderly widow who had loved her parakeet Snookie so much that she asked that they be buried together. "Her request was to be buried with Snookie. If the bird went first, she wanted him stored in the freezer until she died. She appreciated the family comeback that if Snookie outlived her, a relative would buy a large freezer in which to keep her."

The bird died in September; the widow, in April. Her daughter-in-law notified the rest of the family via e-mail.

Header: "It's time to defrost Snookie."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Keeping the Red Army chorus busy

An uncomfortable number of years ago, I spent a summer at an archaeological field school in remotest taiga-est Alaska, where I learned how to use a transit, fire a shotgun in the approximate direction of menacing wildlife, drink cheap-ass rye whiskey, deploy chemical agents against the local arthropoda, cook a wide variety of packaged foods, and hate, with a fiery unyielding passion, the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. These days I never have to try to level precision equipment in squashy brush, brace against a shoulder-bruising recoil, drink anything inferior to Macallan, check the room for bloodsucking insects, figure out how to make Product of Hungary bacon edible, or listen to shitty music just because someone thought it made our camp seem more like a 1970s Vietnam movie.

I may reconsider my lifelong CCR ban, though, now that Finland has revealed its strategic reserves of AWESOME WTF.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Cathedral of the Claw

Hanging over the city like a flying mountain in a dream was an enormous building—a building with towers and buttresses and an arched roof. Crimson light poured from its windows. I tried to speak, to deny the miracle even as I saw it; but before I could frame a syllable, the building had vanished like a bubble in a fountain, leaving only a cascade of sparks.
—The Shadow of the Torturer

The highfalutin' speech around the Lighting to Unite project sounds a little twee, but the images are staggering. Yow.

[ETA: My Flickr set, and a rather better one. There were lots of people standing in the dark on the lawn around the cathedral, and to my surprise the artist was interacting with people pretty freely when he wasn't actively slotting the glass slides. The audience sighed over new images the way crowds do at fireworks. Shows continue tonight and tomorrow.]

Kidnapped by hill folk

Ah, Western class, you are so much more bearable now that I'm not getting stuck on Heza, bending my not-designed-for-this pelvis in half trying to squeeze him forward like the last squizzle of toothpaste. It's become clear that the issues I have with him are only in part my own; the arthritis in his hocks is the major culprit. MkII is unhappy, to put it mildly, because although she's been given the okay to retire him down to Tennessee when she leaves (which won't be until her husband finishes school...a year, maybe? she's been vague, and I'm not sure she's got any plans to teach or rejoin her EMT crew set up), she doesn't have a facility ready for him. But he needs to be retired sooner rather than later. He moves stiffly and will eventually buck to show his discomfort; that's not a horse that belongs in a teaching barn, and it seems cruel to keep him here.

Simon, however, is in fine fettle and fetlock. He is, as mentioned, a chestnut, about 15 hands, with one white sock and one white stocking on his hind legs. His front hooves look big and ringed to me, like maybe at some point they were allowed to grow out too long, but he picks them up promptly and doesn't pull away, so apparently there's no trauma he's worrying about. His body is pure QH, but his neck is long and goosey, his head is very delicate, and his mane is very wavy, suggesting that there might be a little Morgan or other crossbreeding in his background. His muzzle and mouth are so small, in fact, that the barn's having trouble finding a bit to fit him; they may end up trying him in a hackamore or bitless bridle, although God knows what the insurance would say. Anyway, I volunteer the barn for the hassle of finding proper tack, because his canter makes me want to sing and utter cheerful blasphemies and flee into the hills with him. His walk is fine and forward, his trot not a true Western shuffly jog but also unlikely to bounce a rider out of the saddle, his hand gallop fast but not frightening. But his canter, oh sweet merciful heavens. Surely MkII would say something if he were genuinely gaited, but that's the closest comparison for feel—there's just no impact at all in his canter, as close to floating as any QH I've ever been on. Mwah. Love it.

I learned about his hand gallop by accident, cuing too strongly the first time. It wasn't a problem in my case, but later the other instructor took him out for a lap. She too got the hand gallop at first, and as she was trying to bring him down she encountered the bitting issue just as he encountered an unexpected herd of deer. He went sideways fast, and after a second of fighting for balance she went otherways and down. She popped up with nothing worse than a cracked dignity, some bruising on her ass, and grumpy knowledge that today is likely to involve lots of muscle soreness.* After running around in a panic for a few seconds, Simon calmed down and came over to be reasonable. Once we were sure he was mellow, I got back on and walked him back to where he'd seen the TERRIBLE HORSE-DEVOURIN' MONSTAHS so that he wouldn't end the lesson on a scary note. The deer THDMs were gone and he didn't act spooky at the spot, which is good—some horses will always have the vapors at the place where they saw something narsty, but he's evidently not one of them—and that was the end of the excitement. Well, except for me acting like I just saw a Beatle. New horse! New horse!

* Oh, and she'll have to bake something. The rule here and at several local barns is that anyone who takes a fall during a lesson must bring in homemade baked goods before the next lesson. I think it's meant to displace some embarrassment: If you're on your ass in the dust and everyone is cheering because now you have to bring them sweets, you don't feel so much that they're judging you as a rider. You do, however, feel somewhat persecuted.

PS If anyone's looking for a pony, one of the boarders is selling her QH/TB eventer. FOR FIFTEEN THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS. Not that I'm in shock.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

We may experience some slight turbulence

New pony at the barn! New pony at the barn! More to come on him, but cross your fingers for my renaming to stick (previous efforts to rebaptise Max the Halflinger as Halfpint, in honor of his wee size and resemblance to a draft horse, were sadly unsuccessful). Yesterday's cute little chestnut, who has lovely warm eyes, perfect ground manners, a canter that made me want to stand up in the stirrups and cheer, and a general willingness to please, arrived wearing the ridiculous name of Tank. He's still a little wary, as any horse is in a new place, but while he's always on the watch lest someone near him act unpredictable and wacky, he's trying to do his best. His ring skills and perfect manners have already attracted a coterie of admirers, women with ready smiles and grimy hands. He's in beautiful condition, well muscled and polished of coat. He's here on approval, but given the warmth he's already engendered in many hearts, I suspect he'll be asked to stay. But not as Tank. Tank. Feh.

Hm, what's a name appropriate for someone who's a little nervous but also smart, shiny, buff, and appealing? Funny but not glib, unpretentious but evocative, appropriate for daily use but maybe a bit of an inside joke?

Simon it is.

Desultory review: Territory

It's only fitting that Emma Bull's new Western fantasy Territory starts off with a note of thanks to John M. Ford. Although he gets the nod officially for loaning Bull And Die in the West, the writing seems to be haunted by his ghost. Maybe it's just the clash of genres, which he handled to such sparkling and disconcerting effect in The Last Hot Time, maybe it's an undiagnosed effect of Minneapolis living, maybe it's an intentional homage (and maybe it's just me). The book rambles a bit, in no hurry to tell you who's a good guy and who's a baddie or who wants what, but it's a safe bet that Jesse Fox, the cute horse trainer who wears smoked-glass spectacles at night, and unconventional widow Mildred Benjamin will turn out well. Motives for anyone but the two main characters are satisfyingly murky, and the descriptions of the Western boom town are realistic without turning into Deadwood parody. Highlights include Wyatt Earp's encounters with a woman who, to quote the author, uses etiquette as a martial art; descriptions of Tombstone's thriving Chinese community; and a Doc Holliday who, as usual, steals every scene he's in.

If Territory were meant to be a standalone, I'd downgrade it a bit for its abrupt ending, but apparently Bull's working on a second volume. This version of the West is as rich and strange as the Borderlands, another of Bull's stomping grounds, and I look forward to seeing more of it and of these characters.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


While my body grumblingly deals with the aftereffects of my overestimation of my yogic skillz yesterday, one of my favorite Old English-inspired poems has come to mind. Robert Pinsky, writing for the Post's Poet's Choice a few years ago, introduced me to Steven Cramer's excellent "Singer," a modern interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon "Deor." The poet's resignation and freedom from bitterness are striking. Aches and pains from too much exercise are a flimsy but sufficient excuse for posting it.


I knew trouble and endured it,
grief and desire my companions.
In winter my enemy attacked.
The better of the two, I was bound
in rope made from my own sinew.
All that has passed, and so may this.

There was a man condemned to live
outside the city he loved—even death
meant less in exile—and a woman
who dreaded the child inside her.
Her dreams were dreams of drowning.
All that has passed, and so may this.

If the mind becomes a wolf’s mind,
it will force misery on misery,
make cowards heroes. If courtiers
want the kingdom overthrown, yet fail
to speak, they will remain courtiers.
All that has passed, and so may this.

At first doom sees, wherever it turns,
more doom. Then, in time: joy.
I’ll say this about myself: my name
was a name you knew, and I sang
until another singer took my place.
All that has passed, and so will this.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Crippled by all this inner peace

Lack of fitness embarrassingly obvious again STOP
Yoga 2 class at new gym much harder than expected STOP
Men in class significantly more flexible than I am STOP
"Oh thank God, we're back to push-ups" not a logical thought STOP
Teacher is possible demon disguised by blond ponytail and capri pants STOP
Chances of immobility tomorrow morning v v high STOP
Too tired to type further ST

Will nobody think of the children?

Biagio Chocolate should not have its own storefront. It should, by rights, be stuck behind a grubby curtain in an otherwise family-friendly candy store. The curtain should have a laminated cardstock sign safety-pinned to its folds: "Adults Only Beyond This Point." Those interested in what is on offer beyond the curtain should have to sidle in furtively, looks of mingled desire and guilt on their faces, and slink away with their purchases tucked into bags or pockets. But the world has gone to the dogs, vice holds sway on every corner, and Biagio is out there in front of God and everybody, flaunting their iridescent Christopher Elbow truffles and their Vosges flying pigs and their piles of neatly wrapped bars of chocolate so dark that it approaches the event horizon. So what if you have to descend a rickety set of iron stairs and feint toward the vintage clothing shop to get there; people can still see. Children will still ask questions. They might even want to try what Biagio sells. Oh, it's enough to give a person the swoons just thinking about it.

Ordinarily I'm not the sort of person who lunges for anything theobromic, but once the salespeople started listing all the different chocolate-chili mixes on the shelves, I had to bolt before I signed over my entire paycheck. My wallet sustained minor flesh wounds, but now I have a bar of Coppeneur 72% dark with whiskey and ancho peppers (store rule: if you moan, you must own) and a No. 2 Christopher Elbow chocolate with spice and chilis. Elbow's ingredients list is carefully vague on which spice he uses, but ever since I had a piece my eyes have been Cherenkov blue and I've been just itching to fold space.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Consolatory expedients

I didn't watch the Derby, and events like Eight Belles' death make me never want to see or hear of another horse race ever again. You could argue that every horse ever put under saddle is under some sort of compulsion, that TBs are like sled dogs and have that desire to run bred into their bones, that most racers don't die on the track or suffer major long-term injury or end up sold to butchers, that racing is one of the few ways that most Americans see and support any form of horse industry. I don't care; watching races makes me slightly sick, and I've pretty much given it up. The loss of one non-betting, non-track visiting individual won't bring the industry to a screeching halt, of course, but it will make me feel like less of a voyeur.

Lest all that fumfering sound too noble, in fairness be it spoken that I had forgotten it was Derby day. I was busy making chocolate-chip banana bread of such fearsome deliciousness that it must be gotten out of my hands vitement lest it end up elsewhere on my anatomy with equal vitesse. This recipe is so easy and yet so tasty—and involves no fat beyond that of two egg yolks and the chocolate, which is so full of antioxidants that it's practically a health food, so that's all right—that you'd be tempted to let whole groves of bananas go squishy just to have an excuse to make another batch. Don't resist.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A little knowledge

The last of the mini-med seminars finally came and went. We are now unleashed upon the world as mini-doctors, capable of exposing slightly more advanced ignorance in future conversations with medical professionals.

I was looking forward to the oncology lecture, but it was a bit of a letdown. In retrospect, the topic was maybe a little too broad to fit into two hours—or, actually, an hour forty, since we had a mini-graduation ceremony that was cute but completely unnecessary. The oncological basics were pretty much what most of us already know, although the statistics on diagnosis and remission rates were good wonk fodder. The doc skimmed over conventional chemotherapy and wouldn't have talked about radiation at all had it not been for a question from the audience; instead he focused on explaining how antibody therapy and some of the new small-molecule drugs work. I hadn't heard the stats on Gleevec/STI571 before—90+% remission in CML patients, 75% in gastrointestinal stromal tumors (translation: life for the dying, in Novartis' hands lying)—or understood how long drugs and antibodies stay in the system, nor was I familiar with some of the survival data for other novel therapies. It's sobering to hear that progress in the past 25 years means that expected survival time for patients with colon cancer has two years. Yikes. But cure rates are improving overall, and most neoplasms aren't as resistant as colon or pancreatic cancers. Oh, and he explained how PET scans work. Radioactive sugar uptake! Truly we live in an age of wonders.

The exciting, for very stats-happy values of the term, news was that the school's cancer center is starting a database of molecular information on every patient they treat. Ultimately, they hope to be able to mine the data to develop targeted regimens that will have the best results at the lowest cost (physically, not fiscally, which is another and slimier kettle of fish) to the patient.

It was also a kick to learn that the school's cancer center is going to join the ranks of facilities offering long-term follow-up care. The follow-up issue has finally gotten some attention in the last 15 years or so, as pediatric patients in particular are generally surviving long enough to have their health concerns tracked on a broader scale. Unfortunately, without a coordinated follow-up program, there's no guarantee that they'll hear about what tests they should be getting or what long-term side effects they should look out for. Even those who do hear the news are often stuck being their own advocates for care, dealing with physicians who may not know the likely ramifications of a drug regimen given 20 years ago. (In these cases, a handful of PubMed abstracts is a very useful thing. Snapping, "It's not my fault that you haven't kept up with this research," when confronted with obstruction, however, will not make friends. Not that I would ever do such a thing and find it so cathartic that I practically needed a cigarette afterward. At least not more than once.) Integrated survivorship programs are more likely to know the long-term nasties, understand what's normal for someone who's had their innards irradiated, and keep all the test results in one place. They're also usually more helpful in coordinating schedules for tests, because it's easier for a customer to spend a day or two getting poked and scanned than it is for him or her to schedule five different appointments with various departments over two weeks, only to find that nobody knows to whom the results have gone. CAT scans are unpleasant enough; there's no reason to erect further barriers to compliance.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nobody is to do the Stick and Bucket Dance

The First of May, the First of May,
It is too cold and rainy for the rest of this doggerel to be applicable.
Here, have other verse instead.

The usual post-dressage report: Cappi was in a fantastically cooperative mood last night. I can't get him on the bit consistently, but then I can't do that with any horse, so the pleasure comes from having him successfully do different speeds within a single gait, bend and leg-yield, transition up and down between gaits, ignore spooky things, and stand still without falling asleep. I still can't believe that this is the progress of less than a year, most of it from the last four months; I'm thisclose to filling my wallet with Cappi photos and showing them to people on the Metro out of sheer glee. Pat wants to see about getting him out of his curbed pelham and into a lighter bit; she thinks that he's been allowed to be too forward in jump classes, because it is exciting to have a zippy young horse who loves to fling himself at the poles, but nobody taught him how to be fast and controlled. Now that he's responding to subtler cues and not misbehaving whenever he's confused or thinks he's not going to like whatever is about to be asked, we might be able to switch him into softer gear. Or I might just get a few sessions of pulse-pounding terror out of it—that'd be fun too.