Friday, May 29, 2009

But some of them had got the luck

Summer scheduling hurrah! Not content with allowing us the freedom of casual togs during the warm months, my office has added swing-time hours, so half a Friday every other week is available for personal skidding doorwards at 12:30 (work permitting). Wine with lunch? Don't mind if we do.

I took my first afternoon for purely selfish purposes: some catching up on BSG 4.5 (mutiny! Felix, you eedjit!) via Hulu and thence to the gym for off-hour treadmilling, since the DC humidity is in force and so are the regular afternoon gullywashers. My gym is almost abandoned during the workday, permitting freedom from the whiteboard reservations system and the opportunity, in my case, to go spectacularly purple about the neck and face without having many witnesses.

I had only begun to warm up, however, when one of the training staff paused in front of my machine and waited for me to pull out my earbuds. "Hey," quoth'a cheerily, "I'll be setting up a chair in a few minutes and offering free ten-minute massages. If you're interested, let me know and I'll put you first on the list." TANSTAAFL: "What, free? Like, not free-if-I-buy-stuff, but free?" "Yep. Wanna?" "Um. Even if I'm kind of sweaty?" "Even then."

Well hell y'all. Come the chance to live off ill-gotten gains, I would definitely add a masseuse to my retinue, and it's not like I couldn't run afterward. Justification in order to my own satisfaction, I moseyed over casual-like. It's so unbecoming to rush for freebies, my deahs. Had I known, I'd have sprinted, because dear God. "You should spend some time on the table," said my new BFF, working at the knots in my erector spinae. "Let me do some myofascial work. It's all tension along here." First of all, who has sales resistance when you're massaging their aching bits; second, this is a predictable but effective way to make your case; third, no kidding: riding and a tweaky hip take a toll. "You're riding? Girl, in a saddle, all that shock goes straight into your back; make sure you get some core work in." Turns out that he rode as a kid, mostly hunters, so we neeped about horses as 10 minutes turned into 20. Bliss. BLISS. I'm sold on the idea that this guy could make a real difference in my back and my worldview, and if I can also get a biweekly freebie, well, so much the better.

The C25K proceedeth apace. Over drinks at the Gibson last night, Mizerock (who knows I'm neurotically self-conscious about my level of running fail, and who himself runs for the sheer joy of it) pointed out that a friend of his just did her first 5k at a 17-minute-mile pace. My challenge is simply sustaining running; I can walk a 15-minute mile easily, but running that distance is another kettle of fish. Ah well, my foot is on the path and all that. Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Martial arse

Manny hasn't bitten anyone lately, but don't tell him that; boy was a sharky beast last night, with the fangs and the gnashing. His niptiousness is manageable on cross-ties, but when we got down to the ring and I went to check his girth, he tried Grayson-hard to make his opinion known. I knew what was going to happen when I started to tighten the cinch, but I misjudged it a little: Instead of seeing my flat hand right near his eye as he whipped his head around, he came around faster than I could get it out and and smacked cheek first into my outgoing fist. Oops. At least there wasn't a gap between action and consequence, which might've made him think we were playing a game. He seemed to get the message, and tightening the second strap was uneventful.

Once I was in the saddle, all my love for him came back. Not only has Manny almost entirely stopped rooting, between last week and this he figured out that I'll give him breaks and that he's allowed to reach down during the stretchy trot, so we bumped along comfortable with his nose in the dirt and his back relaxed for a good five minutes. Manny is the first barn horse I've been genuinely tempted to buy: He's young, he's getting fit, he's smart, his conformation is (I'm told) excellent, and if he can get past his worries on the ground he'll be entirely swoon-worthy. Pat and I are trying to schedule round-pen sessions to teach him that people are the boss of him all the time, every time; if we can get that into his head, he'll turn into one of the most popular horses in the school. Hm. On second thought, maybe we should leave him troublesome.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mysterious creatures

I am celebrating the long weekend by decking my kitchen with spatters of flour and bowls of shoggoths yeast sponges for various attempts at not-so-quick breads. The tasty results conflict with my continued efforts to stay with the Couch to 5K (hah, typed "Couth to 5K," which is like the running except in white gloves) but are good with strawberry-rhubarb jam.

Today, fortified with barbecue, La Mère and I popped over to a NoVa Chinese supermarket, Great Wall, to see about getting supplies for tea eggs. Somehow, the place stocks everything you could possibly want except whole star anise in something other than a one-pound jar ("Son, your great-grandmother bought these spices back in 2009. And unless you squander this patrimony, your great-grandchildren will have enough left for them. It is one of the treasures of our family"). Tea for the tonsils? Chicken extract with ginseng rhizomes? Big crystal chunks that look like rock candy, carefully labeled "alum"? Mysterious cuts of beef marked "meat department"? Yes, yes, and oh yes. Durian, whole, or as ice cream, or in moon cakes. Glistening bins of live snails. Masses of frozen dumplings: cabbage, mixed vegetable, pork, seafood, red bean, or lotus. An entire aisle of sriracha and suchlike heating delights, including bottles of "chily oil," ginger oil, and tiny whole fish in pepper oil. Huge jars of dried scallops, with big warning signs: "Do not sample or eat!" Inscrutable vitamins: "Sheep placenta—with RNA/DNA! From 100% healthy sheep!" The aisle labeled "American foods" started off with white bread and peanut butter, but by halfway down gave up and segued into mochi, bao, yucca extract, and pickled galangal; another aisle, more confusing labeled "Asian foods," mixed Thai, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese junk food with abandon. "Hardly worth going to China," murmured my mother. "This is stuff I haven't seen since Beijing."

Not wanting to tip off Il Padre, a reliable overshopper who tends to lose control in good ethnic supermarkets, and disappointed in our hopes for a reasonable amount of spices, we escaped with just my personal indulgence, a couple of red-bean mochi. At $1.29 each, they're a fiendish bargain.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Side effects may include Barry Manilow

Back to the barn after a week off, hurrah. I was one of only two students who showed up, so I smothered a flicker of guilt and picked Manny out of the line-up. He's been nasty this week, and probably due to his starveling history is very defensive about his food, so getting him out of his stall took two alfalfa cubes and a gentle poke with a spare longe whip to get his haunches pointing away from my various vital parts. Almost the literal carrot and stick there.

He made such horrible faces and threatening gestures while he was cross-tied that Pat came to help out, using her powerful horse-fu to get him to stand calmly, eyes half-closed, with his forehead firmly buried in her chest as she stroked his ears and told him what a handsome boy he is. That put the kibosh on his fussing; he bloated a bit for the girth, and he still takes a minute to relax about having his hind feet lifted, but he didn't try for mayhem.

And oh do I love riding him. We took advantage of the two-person class to do a lot of cantering, both in circles and around the entire ring, because both El Bandito and I need to get our legs under us better when things speed up. This morning my lower back is all hinked up from working hard at keeping my seat down in the saddle, doing lengths of sitting trot, and coping with Manny's intermittent attempts to yank his rider into the pommel groin-first; time for further abs work y/y? Y.

Manny is starting to figure out that his violent head-ducks are not acceptable, so when we did the stretchy trot, where you try to get the horse to reach down for the bit and stretch out its topline, he would do it for about two strides and then jerk his head up guiltily. Oh Manny. (See? SEE? Manilow everywhere. Ghastly. My boy's full name is Downtown Man, and as long as I can hum "Downtown Train" while thinking of the Tom Waits original, we're borderline okay. Barry M. is beyond the pale and into the infrablack.) You poor confused beautiful little creature. Stop trying to bite everyone and your life can be so much better.

There was one bit of Lear news that gave me an illicit frisson of glee. The newest student in our class, a German girl who puts me eeeever so slightly on edge with her attitude about the standard of riding in our class and in America overall, tried out the big galoot while I was off tucking into crab salad and caramel/chocolate decadence last week. Oh sweet angel of revenge: Although she's a strong rider, she found him difficult to handle. Ahem. Excuse me. Hee. Not to gank the quote from Elizabeth Bear or anything, but Philo of Alexandria put it well: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle." And that goes double for anyone on Lear.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Inconstant craving

Ordinarily, I can reassure myself that whatever I'm yearning toward, I want because it provides some vital nutrient of which I'm running short. Steak? Iron. Eggs? Vitamin A. Beer? Vitamin Ah. But nutritional science sheds no light on why I woke up on Monday with a profound jones for pancakes. My workday morning ritual being one that runs on split-second timing to accommodate the maximum number of whacks at the snooze button, I couldn't get around to dealing with this pressing breakfast situation until today.

As is so often the case, the web proved a boon ("The internet isn't for porn," Gee-Clef commented the other day: "It's really for whatever obsessive people want. Granted, what they usually want is porn, but that's not what it's for"). Behold the glory that is the cinnamon sour cream pancake recipe over at culinary blog Whipped.

Granted, busting out the mixer just for egg whites seems like needless hassle—so much effort on a Saturday morning, isn't that contra some ley naturam?—but it pays off in pancakes so delicately fluffy that they practically float up to your mouth without the intervention of fork or fingers. I halved the recipe, since this was for my own solitary consumption, and can say with reasonable assurance that had I made the original quantity, I'd have et the lot. These are the perfect match for red currant or lingonberry jam, something that doesn't overwhelm their natural sourness with too much sweetness (I used maple syrup this time, but next time, red fruit all the way). Not a recipe for every day, at least not if your ambition doesn't involve outgrowing successive pairs of pants, but for the occasional random craving, I'll subscribe to the Nanny Ogg school of nutritional medicine: "A bit of what you fancy does you good."

Stupid allergies

President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
First there's the laughing. And then there's the big-time sniffling. (Fortunately, there is also more giggling. Pirates!)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oh but of course

It's Police Week. This explains why my train ride home yesterday was briefly enlivened by the sight of fully uniformed police-types who bore a striking resemblance to Mounties standing clustered on the Judiciary Square platform. I figured they'd been bused in to help counsel all the downcast Capitals fans streaming homeward, Ovechkin jerseys drenched with tears.

Of a usual Wednesday night, I'd've been at the barn and remained ignorant of the whole Caps/Pens farrago until WTOP woke me this morning with the soothing sounds of half-hourly sports and traffic and weather on the 8s. Instead, I spent the evening doing an amateur anthropological observation at one of DC's formal events,wherein "formal" meant that the dress code was listed as "business," and the resulting sartorial confusion led to a variety of peculiar outfits and a remarkable (for DC) lack of flip-flops. There was wining and dining, there was heavily funded schmoozing, there was the requisite Obama shout-out, there was a very random celebrity guest and whoa-hey-hi also her bosoms, there was a clip of Harry Connick, Jr., playing the physician in charge of the Herceptin trials (me, privately, to fellow survivor and seatmate E: "Did any of your docs look like that?" E: "Um, no." "Mine either. Rip-off!"), and then there was shuffling off to scrum for taxis. My new black heels, though remarkably cute and comfortable for the first few hours, left me with monster blisters that I'm having to baby today.

Speaking of de feet, how much do I love my new running socks? SO MUCH. So much love! They've helped minimize the agony that has been taking my couch-to-5K slacker self out on the hills of 16th Street, far from the madding treadmill. I may be sucking wind and moving at an arthritic shuffle by the end of each session, which Robert Ullrey still tells me is fine, the lying sadist, but thanks to magical seamless-sock technology at least my toes are comfortable.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More legs = less cuteness (no kittens here)

Yours truly is not genius material, as proved by the fact that I cheerily slung my bag of Metro essentials (book, keys, iPod) into the trunk of Iosif's car with the camera still in it before heading down to Hungry for Music's crawfish festival. Not to fret, there is no theft in this story, only the sad song of lost opportunities and the lament that I can only tell you about the fun of crawdad munching, at least until Iosif comes through with his pics [ETA: the harrah, the harrah! no, honestly, what the hell is to be done with my hair?].

Crayfish! Arthropodically delicious! Much less work than crabs and much more tastiness than lobster. Grip the head and tail, wrench the body torsionally, scrape off any offensively ooky innards, suck de head, peel a segment or two off the abdomen, and bite out the pinky-size bit of tasty tail meat. Repeat. Break for beer or corn or bread. Shove away from the table, grab a snow cone, stroll around, and back for more. I got enthusiastically into the crowd-jostling scene around the crayfish trough, where everyone positioned themselves, paper plates at the ready, waiting for the large aproned men who entered yelling, "Hot hot hot, make a lane, make a lane!" and slung steaming potsful of scarlet critters down the length of the table. Frantic scrabbling with plates (pah), shovels (bah), and bare asbestos fingers (yay!) ensued, everyone piling bugs onto their platters and eventually triumphantly breaking free to look for seats and wet wipes.

Two observations. First, it was odd but flattering—and amusing—that the guy at the check-in thought I was eight years younger than I for trulio am, though that's still old enough to get a beer bracelet and therefore no problem atall atall. Second, okay, there is absolutely nothing wrong with piling your crawdad heads in neat rows around your plate. Crawhenge! Tamercraw! Stop taking pictures!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Like kittens through the hourglass...

Serialkarma says she called in kitten emergency today, and first let's give a brief bow to her employer for recognizing this priority. Te salutamos!

Unfortunately, KE is not as whimsically fun as it sounds. If anyone of an engineering mind has suggestions for how to rescue a small kitten that has fallen to the bottom of a six-foot-tall fence post made of PVC pipe, head on over and let her know. So far, suggestions have included some variant on giant chopsticks, flooding the pipe and hoping the kitten floats (if it doesn't, of course, its problems are over), drilling a hole near the bottom of the pipe and trying to scoop the delicious kitten marrow out of this tube without having said tube fall on anyone important, fishing the cat out by getting it to cling to something, and, perhaps most sensibly, leaving a length of matting hanging into the tube so that the kitten can climb out on its own (which SK has done). It's all Perils of Pauline-meets-Acme Products over there in Brooklyn. Animal services is there but stymied.

On the up side, SK has gotten suggestions from as far away as Bangkok. Go help, if it's in your power.

[ETA: Kitty rescued yay!]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh do I have a new sweetie

Lear is back from vacation! He celebrated by promptly tossing a shoe. The perversity that surrounds that horse's every move approaches fractal levels.

After a little meebling over the Learless horse list, I decided to take a new chance, which paid off. I rode Manny, the barn's newish still-too-skinny TB, and now that there's all this stuff about Manny Rodriguez in the news talking about how bad he is, I keep thinking, "No! It turns out that his ground manners are getting better and he's lovely under saddle!" Which is all sorts of entertainingly wrong as soon as the "oooh, riiiight" moment sets in a picosecond later.

Nobody else showed up for class, so Pat (riding the pinto pony) worked with me and Manny until I was sweating profusely and Manny spontaneously shed half his coat. He's got the willingness of a good TB without having any of Lear's squirreliness; we did canters and circles with no objection, and he even bends and yields pretty well, if without Lear's bouncy esprit or strength, which'll maybe come when he's got some more muscle on. His one bad habit, probably born of his lack of fitness, is to lunge down for the bit, pulling me out of the saddle (how have the boys been managing to ride him? he yanks his rider right into the pommel), so today I am a mass of achy pains due to the Venning of that and my own lack of fitness. Bridging the reins helped somewhat, because it limited how far he could pull, as did pushing him forward whenever he rooted, but it was exhausting work. Still, I was surprised and pleased at how much fun he was, and Pat's emphasis on teaching him proper ground manners so that he can stay in the barn has paid off.

Simply because Lear isn't a push-button pony, I'm likely to keep riding him; he needs to work, and there aren't many students in our class who would feel comfortable with him. But I told Pat that I'd happy to work with Manny in the future, toaster-rack ribs or no, my sore bits or no. Here's to a time when we can work together without one of us feeling pummeled the next day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

But the red mare played with the snaffle bars as a lady plays with a glove

"So is that Zeus you're on?"
"Nope, this is Bill."
"It's not Zeus?"
"Er, no. It's Bill."
"But you rode Zeus last week. Isn't that Zeus?"
OH MY WANING PATIENCE. "No, it is not Zeus. It is still Bill."
"Oh. Well, I thought it was Zeus."

As may be surmisable, Teddy Bear Bill, my partner for the week, and Zeus, from last week, are both smallish copper horses, but they are by no means twins, and also I was not in the most patient mood. Bill and I got off to a zippy start: I got on carrying my crop, at which point he started running swiftly along the walls, refusing to stop or even slow down until I dropped it. He stayed quick for most of the hour, and, as usual with school horses who are new to dressage under a beginning rider, any leg pressure translated to fast-go-fast, as did the presence of another horse's butt in front of him or any insecurity in my seat. Riding horses like this has the virtue of showing me how much progress Lear has made in the last year. We did better at the sitting trot, though my erector spinae muscles went plink a few times (aging sucks), and it turns out that Bill's got a fantastic canter, an easy fast rocking gait that's both exhilirating and relaxing. "Too much fun!" yelled Pat. "You are having too much fun!" Guilty, guilty, guilty. Bill's another pony who could do with less grain, but while his small barrel makes him a challenge for the long-legged among us, he's not a chore as a partner.

Pat contributed to the gaiety of nations by riding the entire class on a boarder's paint pony, who careful study shows is short in the legs and chubby in the body. Her flash colors and perfectly trimmed mane and tail (there is no equivalent to the love a thirteen-year-old girl will lavish on a horse of her very own, even if sometimes that means a horse has to wear a pink halter with green Izod gators on it) hide the disproportion pretty well until you see her in motion. Having Pat on horseback meant keeping track of another set of hooves and personalities, but it's always instructive to watch a good rider, even when she's on an undertrained horse.

Lear continues to be de vacaciones, and with luck he'll come back next week without further disorder to his his tendons. Life caught me up and I didn't mention it at the time, but during our last session together two weeks ago, he started stumbling in an odd way: We'd be going along smooth as paint, and suddenly his left hind would fail and it would feel as though his rear end had dropped out from under me. It got worse as class went on, especially at the trot; the idea of it happening at the canter brought me out in a fine sweat. Toward the end of class, after a particularly bad slip, we just went into the center and watched everyone else work. I couldn't find heat or swelling in his legs afterward, which is not to say it wasn't there, and we referred it to the front desk for vet follow-up. According to them, some swelling did show up the next day, but they're not sure what the injury was. Yeesh, horses are fragile things.

Speaking of fragile ponies, though, the Post reports that I Want Revenge's trainer is apparently an unrepentant doper. Count down another year when I skip the Crown.

TALert! TALert!

Be sure to check out this week's "This American Life." It's the episode that was recorded on stage and broadcast live to movie theaters all over the country last week (and you can see it again on May 7, if watching a radio show tickles your fancy...and it should, because there's visual stuff too, and Ira Glass put in a joke for you, just for you!).

IE and I caught the show at Mazza and adored it: funny, sad, strange, funny again. I was glad that the theater was dark, because Dan Savage, of all people, had me in tears. It's easy to lose track of what a good writer he is, what with the deliciously scandalsome topics he usually covers; his essay in "Return to the Scene of the Crime" is an excellent reminder. Sniff. Stupid allergies. Anyway, Mike Brubiglia's great, and Joss Whedon did a song from the "Dr. Horrible" companion show, "Commentary: The Musical!" and while he's no Denyce Graves, he's singing about zombies and meta and the nature of fame, so much is forgiven.

Oh, and it's the First of May, so if your local meteorological conditions and legislation permit, you know what to do.