redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
It snows in the morning, and waking up to winter after a few weeks of spring is like finding yourself in a foreign land with no recollection of how you got there. It's jetlag without the travel, and though the thing has passed by afternoon and most of the snow is already gone, it still leaves you disoriented.

There's a woodstove and a warm meal waiting inside, but there are chores to do first, and the low rumble of thunder is like the voice of an old friend, calling for your company. You can't bear to be inside. You check on the dogs, grab your gloves and your book, shut the door behind you and head out to the horses. The gelding and the big mare are in their usual places, waiting expectantly for supper, but your own mare is standing at the peak of the little hill, staring in the opposite direction, neck held high and ears pricked, not her usual self.

That rigid set of her neck always unnerves you a little. She's led a life in the wild, and she's wiser than you. With any other animal, you might dismiss it; with her, you simply wonder what she knows that you don't.

She comes easily at the shaking of the grain pan though, and eats her fill, and only raises her head a few times to listen to the storm that's closing in. She's wary, but she's not afraid. She's even willing to stay under the shelter with the other horses. She turns her nose easily into your hand, then buries it in sweet-smelling hay, seemingly content.

You leave the horses to their supper, tuck your book inside the front pocket of your hoodie, and scale the ladder back into the hay loft. The barn cat is there, and tries to deposit himself in your lap while you're still climbing the ladder; you push him away gently, one-handed, and miraculously you manage not to trip over him as you step deeper into the loft, brush the loose hay from a few bales and sit. You call to the cat, cluck your tongue and murmur to him, expecting to make an easy job of attracting him close enough to pet, but the sound of rain just starting against the roof unnerves him, and he's hungry for his own supper; he disappears down the ladder and leaves you to yourself.

Through the open hatches in the loft floor, you can hear the rustling of hay as the horses eat, but it's soon drowned out by the beginnings of a rain shower, a dainty and uneven scrambling like birds landing on the metal roof. A low bass-line of thunder leads into a long, cacophonous percussion solo, rain pounding the ground slick and hitting the barn roof so fast and hard that it produces one continuous roar of noise.

There's a feeling in your chest that's excitement and fear and joy and the wet air is like something alive, something reaching out. You sigh it in and feel it wind its way around your insides, laying gentle roots.

The book's pages are crisp and dry beneath your fingertips. The temperature is dropping. Bruce Chatwin writes from two decades ago about human ancestors huddled in caves, hiding from long-toothed predators. He writes about Australian Aboriginals singing their world into being, and you sit in the hay loft and listen as the world sings back.

The rain turns to hail, then back to rain, and slows to a gentler tempo, thunder still muttering to itself but further off now. Soon it's too cold for bare fingers. You slip the book back into your pocket and descend the ladder.

Two of the horses are still eating, front feet and muzzles buried happily in hay. Your mare is out in the weather, standing again on her hill, staring fixedly at some monster only she can see. You pull up your hood and slip through the gate, sloshing through the new mud until you're standing next to her, one hand light on her withers; she turns her head to greet you, then attends again to her sentry. You peer together into the gathering gloom, but your human senses detect nothing.

That doesn't mean there's nothing there.

They've been in the dry lot all day, and you're not particularly keen to open the paddock only to have to round the horses back up again to go in for the night, but a closer look might ease your mare's fears and let her get back to her supper, so you open up the paddock gate and walk through. The mare doesn't follow, not until you're nearly out of sight behind the trees, and then she charges in at a canter, unwilling to let you face her nightmares on your own. She comes to a stop at your shoulder, blowing air, brave and alert and ready to face the enemy.

The trees are glistening with tiny drops of water, as if they've put on their own decorations. The only sounds are the mare's breathing and the soft patter of rain. Nothing moves. You warm one hand against the mare's neck. Everything is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. She turns her head and breathes against your knuckles, as if checking you're alright.

You venture into the thicket and she follows you for a short distance, then stops as her pasture-mate comes charging in after you both, late to the battle but ready to wade in, if the threat had been found.

The part of you that Chatwin wrote about -- the lizard-brain that remembers being hunted by giant cats -- tells you not to go further into the thicket. Maybe it's just unfounded paranoia, or the fixed set of your mare's ears, or having watched too many horror movies in your lifetime, but you stop, and you back out of the thicket and back to the relative safety of your "herd." Whether the threat is real or imagined, you'll need to get the mares back into their lot for the night, and if there is something lurking here, you'll hardly help the situation by blundering over it in the dark. It's time to retreat to more certain ground.

You wrap a hand around your mare's lower jaw, fingers burying themselves in the thick winter hair there, the whiskers on her chin tickling your knuckles. You turn away from the thicket, leading her by the jaw, and she follows easily, willingly, with nothing but your fingers pressed lightly to her skin. The big mare comes along too, bringing up the rear, glancing occasionally over her shoulder, unconcerned but curious, as if wondering what all the fuss was about.

You let your mare go when you're nearly inside, so you can close the gate, but she refuses to leave you alone in the pasture, and you have to round her up a few times to send her through ahead of you so you can get the gate shut. She goes along with a lightness you're not accustomed to, putting herself into your hands. When you walk back to the scattered piles of hay, she follows, and for a moment she stands with her head pressed against your arm, eyes drooping shut, just breathing beside you. When you ask her to eat, she eats, her worries seemingly forgotten. She's confident that the predators treading their paths through your shared genetic memory will go hungry tonight.

You run your half-numb fingers through the fair blond hair of her forelock, and step out through the gate, leaving the horses to their hay and walking back over hail-spotted ground toward the house. You're ready now for the woodstove and the warm meal. The morning's snow is gone, along with the sense of displacement it brought. You know where you are.
redroanchronicles: Trudeau is Innocent. Really. (trudeau-innocence)
Don't be fooled by this face.



Look, I understand: he's difficult to resist. I know he looks all innocent and angelic. He's using those eyebrows on you and he's totally working it and all you can think is, "Aw, what a handsome fellow! He's so well-behaved and charming!"

That's what he wants you to think. He wants you to be impressed by his easy-going and affectionate nature. He's trying to draw you in, and when you make the mistake of thinking that "adorable" is the same thing as "trustworthy"... well, then he's got you.

Then when you least expect it, he's gone.

It's not that he's a bad dog, it's just that sometimes the urge to wring his massive neck is overwhelming. )
redroanchronicles: (chronicles-sailaway)
Recently I have been forced to come to a depressing conclusion: my strongest areas as a person are the ones that are the most useless to my survival.

Here's a case in point. Recently I was out to dinner with the girls, and we came upon the subject of a coworker's recent collision with a deer, and I mentioned that he was lucky it wasn't a moose, and then... well, that got me going on the moose thing, you see. I had to tell them about how moose like to get drunk on fermented apples, and how they sometimes get brain parasites that cause them to stagger and run around like crazy until they die (sort of like the moose version of a zombie! But with more sadness). And I didn't even get to the parts about how the Soviet Union tried training them as riding and driving animals, and when that failed, they started in on the idea of dairy moose. Dairy moose.

I am so fun to go to dinner with, you guys. Seriously.

Anyway, while my skills of random ungulate facts are sure to make me the life of any dinner party, I've realized lately that the price to be paid for this cornucopia of amazing and useless facts is that my life is lacking in other areas. Like, say, knowledge that is useful in practical ways. My roommate and I have just moved into a great rental house, and I had to be taught how to build a fire. And I'm not talking how to build a fire in the wilderness using only the lenses of my glasses and a pile of kindling painstaking shaved from the back of a wild marmot. I'm talking about building a fire in a fireplace, with a bunch of kindling and logs already prepared. Oh, and a box of matches. And a lighter. Three lighters.

By not knowing these things, by lacking these essential skills, I'm letting myself down. And worse, I'm letting MacGyver down. MacGyver, who has taught me so much, like how to repair a radiator with an egg and how to escape from East Berlin in a coffin/jet ski!

Actually, now that I think about it, it's entirely possible that my reliance on MacGyver as a role model might be why I don't know how to do anything handy that actually works.

I've been working recently on a new 101 things in 1001 days list, because all of the changes my life has undergone lately have rather invalidated my last one, and as part of that I decided to make a list within a list. One of my 101 goals will be to learn 101 useful things and practical skills in the next 1001 days. I'll be counting both big things and small things, and I'll be making the list up as I go along, but a few of my goals include learning to build some furniture, snowshoe, cross-country ski, train my horse for driving, tie a rope halter, splice yacht rope, correctly trim my horse's feet, drive a manual transmission, use a map and compass, dance, throw pottery, jump start a car, chop firewood, safely handle and shoot a few kinds of guns, change a tire and put on snow chains, camp without being eaten by a bear... or maybe I'll end up learning how to wrestle bears in defense of a chocolate bar. It's hard to say.

As I work my way through the list, I'll be sharing my trials, tribulations and triumphs with you... and hopefully it'll be more of the latter. As you can tell from this list, I've got plenty to learn, and in addition to all the butch and outdoorsy stuff I've listed, I'll also be attempting to master new cooking techniques and recipes, create some new crafts and whatnot, and generally embrace any opportunity that comes up to learn something new. I only have a few requirements: the thing I'm learning has to be something at least moderately useful in my every day life (so I guess I can put off "perfecting impression of moose mating call"), and it has to be relatively cheap and not involve acquiring too much equipment. So while I might, say, be interested in learning to weld, it won't do me a lot of good if I can't afford a bunch of welding equipment to put those skills to use.

So, I'm dying to know, what are the skills you think everyone should learn? What do you wish you'd learned before necessity forced you to sink or swim? What simple things do you feel like everybody else has down pat but you're just mystified? Maybe we can all brush up a bit on our knowledge base, so when the inevitable zombie moose apocalypse arrives, we'll be well-prepared.
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
Autumn is by far my favorite season; the combination of the bright fall color on the trees, the sharp bite in the air, the smell of burning woodstoves, the crunch of walking through fallen leaves, the bare branches of the trees, fogging breath and steam rising off the hot springs... there's no end to the natural wonders of autumn. It's got the best holidays (Thanksgiving: it is all about eating!), and the shops start stocking in the best of all possible foodstuffs, like baked goods with pumpkin in them and chocolate oranges and peppermint cocoa. The photo opportunities are endless and pretty much golden. The only thing that would make autumn better was if it was longer; here in the mountains, it seems to be finished practically in the blink of an eye, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to wake up one day soon and there will be a few feet of snow on the ground.

On the other hand, the fleeting nature of the season is pretty good for prompting me to get out of the house and take some photos, before all the spectacular color vanishes until next year. I've been wanting for years to visit one of those pumpkin patches that also has a horse-drawn cart (I don't really care about pumpkins, if I'm honest, aside from caring about how delicious they are), and when I saw one advertised in the newspaper recently, I just had to go. I made a little time on the last weekend of the Chimney Rock Farm pumpkin patch, and drove out to photograph some harness horses, which as a bonus, turned out to be Suffolks, a breed I'm not I've ever actually seen in person before, and definitely haven't photographed.



Beneath the cut: More draft horse photos, fall scenery, and a trip to Piedra Falls )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
The acreage surrounding our house is beautiful this time of year -- or, I suspect, any time of year. I've taken to sitting on our deck with the dog (we have a deck!) and looking out over the surrounding woodland while I drink my tea or eat my lunch or... whatever. I mostly like to find excuses to sit outside and survey our rental kingdom. Today my roommate and I let our horses out for the first time into one of the pastures, a large-ish stretch of woodland that wraps around and behind our house. It was great to watch them picking their way between the trees and exploring, and they certainly make for attractive scenery; we could sit on the deck and watch them watching us back.



More photos beneath the cut )

Of course, having horses isn't all sublime moments of connection with nature. Today I also got a little adventurous and let my dog Trudeau off his leash a few feet outside the door when we were on our way in, and he took this as an opportunity to chase the horses. And then an unlatched gate led to our horses being discovered out on the road by the neighbors, who shepherded them back inside and closed our front gate; the horses were subsequently discovered by our landlady, who got them put away in their paddock again. After hearing this news, I nearly suffered a massive panic-related coronary. I'm fine now, I just hope that my roommate finds my new intense paranoia bearable. (She probably will. I suspect she shares it.) I'm probably going to have nightmares about horses in the road for the next oh say forever.
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
Recently, my coworker Sharon and I have been looking for new housing, so that we can keep our horses at home. Boarding here is generally either unavailable or extremely expensive in the winter -- most people seem to send their horses to pasture about an hour south to not have to deal at all with horsekeeping in heavy snow -- but neither Sharon nor I were particularly happy with that. Here in horse country, we figured we wouldn't have much of a problem finding a horse property to rent, and in thinking that we were, of course, embracing some sort of optimism-related insanity.

The process has been... well, I don't really have a word for what it's been. I feel like I should see a psychotherapist to start recovering from the trauma. Finding anything in a small town is less about how thoroughly and repeatedly you scour the newspapers and more about who you know, how much they like you, and whether they'd rather see you happy or see you sleeping in the gutter. It just complicates things to be searching with another person, who will inevitably bring their own priorities, preferences and demands to the table.

I won't go into all of the ways in which this process has felt a bit like being repeatedly bludgeoned with a heavy object... I think it's sufficient to say that, after months of searching and undoubtedly the development of some hard-core ulcers, we've finally got a place to live. It's a deeply terrific, just barely on the attainable side of affordable, and has a terrific set-up for horses. There's a hay loft and a garage and a fireplace and just a ridiculous excess of awesome things (can anybody say "bathtub with freaking power jets"? I thought you could). Somewhat ludicrously, one of the things I'm looking forward to most is the barn cat who comes with the property. I don't know what his name was to begin with (it was Smokey or Sooty or something along those lines), but I call him Awesome. And he totally lives up to his name. I would go so far as to say that he is made of 100% pure awesome.

Though I own a dog -- more specifically, a dog who would like to eat cats -- I'm mostly an animal person in general, so the idea of living with cats again is pretty exciting to me. (This is in spite of the fact that my last living-with-a-cat experience was pretty much like this.) Sharon will be bringing with her an indoor cat, in addition to Awesome the barn cat, so I'm sure I'll have my hands full just with preventing Trudeau from eating any of the other animals who will soon be his housemates, but I'm not letting my dog's dickishness dent my optimism.

In honor of the good news, I thought I'd do a little cats photo post today... a retrospective, if you will, on the felines who have deigned to tolerate my presence... these are barn cats and pet cats both. I love barn cats in particular, though, because they tend to be a bit rough around the edges, unpampered and self-possessed... and sometimes just possessed, period.



Oh ye felines we have known... )

I like to think that all people are cat people at heart. (And if they aren't, then the cats somehow know and will attach themselves to those people purely out of spite. So really, it pays to be a cat person.) Care to share a few photos of yours? I promise to ooh and aah over them. It's sort of a knee-jerk reaction anyway.

(And if like me you're enjoying a nice rainy day and would like a little animated cat noir, try the short animated film The Cat Piano, narrated by Nick Cave. Great animation, great filmmaking, and incredible artistry.)
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
There are a lot of things that we can learn about ourselves and our horsemanship just from watching horses together in a herd. There are enough books on the subject to fill a library these days, but sometimes it's the simplest things that impress me the most: the way horses cooperate thoughtlessly and easily, as if there is never a reason for lasting discord.



More photos beneath the cut... )
redroanchronicles: (chronicles-shipsbell)
Over the weekend, I attended my brother's wedding in Wisconsin. This was a momentous occasion for several reasons, first of which being that my brother was getting married, second being that I was traveling to the land of cheese after having only weeks previous finally given up all dairy (KHAAAAAAAAN!), and third being that it was the first time my entire immediate family could be found in one location in about eleven years.

The thing is, when you've hardly seen someone in eleven years, the only frame of reference they have for relating to you and your life is the you of eleven years ago. They will treat you like you're still the teenager you were when you left home, and in your weakest moments around them, you will become that person again, and you will hate yourself for it.

But the point is, you aren't the same person. If you're doing things right, then it's fair to say you've changed, you've grown, maybe you're hardly recognizable as the same person you were last year, much less a decade ago. And it's difficult to go through all of that, all of the struggle and torment and the painful chrysalis that is involved in trying to become a better, fuller, more complete person, only to have the people who are supposed to love you the most come along and turn the clock back on you, as if you'd never won any of those hard-fought battles.

I don't say this to imply that being around my family is a torture, though maybe it sounds that way. In fact, seeing my brother in what you might consider his now-native habitat was a joy. In almost every picture I've ever seen of him, my brother has a kind of painfully restrained smile on his face... like he's dying to grin but admitting it would be a weakness, or maybe he's just embarrassed to the focus of someone's attention. He's always seemed to me to be rather uptight. (Hilariously, this is apparently how he described the rest of his to his wife before she met us.) I didn't quite expect the brother I met when I arrived for the wedding.

He was sort of strangely loose-limbed. And he smiled sometimes without clamping his lips tight like he was afraid some sound of mirth might escape. He was affectionate and easy with the kids in his new family. (In this, my brother clearly has me outpaced.) He was... happy.

I loved my new sister-in-law instantly and intensely, even before I actually met her. It was obvious to me that she'd helped my brother become who he was now, and that she'd loved him because of the person he'd already been becoming, all those years while in his family's heads time had perhaps stood still.

Because that coin turns both ways: much as I chafed under my family's unwitting expectation that I would remain always the same person, I realized I had done much the same to them, recognizing perhaps the small changes but not understanding what new creatures they had become while I wasn't looking.

Though I am told that they do exist in reality, the kind of loving, Monopoly-playing, tight-knit Brady Bunch family that you see in the movies is completely outside the scope of my experience. My family didn't argue or fight (we just had cold wars and armistice agreements), and there's no particular bad blood or trauma that's divided us all these years, just a sort of apathy, and a lack of cultivation that lets relationships wither through neglect.

I've always been a firm believer in the idea that people can choose their own families. They can choose to sever ties with people they don't want in their lives, and they can choose to build bonds with other people they meet along the way. I've done it with a particular fervor since flying the nest, and forged closer relationships with people who were once strangers than I've had with my own family. Those people and the things they've taught me deserve much of the credit for the much more happy, well-adjusted, more emotionally grounded person I am today. I have loved my family, but from a comfortable distance.

The older I get -- and, I like to think, wiser -- the more I realize that we can choose, too, those relationships we've let weaken. We can make that conscious decision to revive the ties that we had neglected and to bring into our self-made families the newer, better, stronger, happier versions of the people whose love we may once have let slip away. We're all building our own families all the time, and in choosing who we will name among them, we must choose those same relationships again and again, in a constant litany of affirmation. People change, and relationships don't remain the same. We can choose to love, or not love, to be passing indifferent or passionately fervent, to nurture ties or let them die. We can let go of the ideas we have about who people are or were, and we can let in the people they've become. We can choose to become better than who we've been.

We can introduce our new selves to the people our loved ones have become, and get that pick-up game of Monopoly started.
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
Juno's eyeTo be completely honest, I've never actually minded much that I can't ride my horse.

I realize that to the average person, that sounds slightly like insanity. Horses can be tremendously expensive animals to keep, and in my experience, most people balk at the idea of holding onto one that doesn't have a use. We're a little less sentimental about them than we are our mostly-useless dogs and cats, and I think most people who own horses want to be able to participate in the full horse-ownership experience -- trail rides, shows, incredible feats of equine athleticism, the works.

So you can probably imagine the kinds of looks I get when, after trying in vain to keep myself to myself, I have to admit that my horse isn't trained to ride. Oh, and also, she's around 16 years old. Surprise! In my defense, she hasn't been sitting around in my backyard, all potential wasted, for all of those years. She was wild until she was around 9, then she was rounded up, then she was starved and needed time to recover, and then I embarked upon the daunting task of turning a wild animal into a willing partner.

The saying in the horse world goes that "green on green equals black and blue." It's not a sentiment I'd disagree with: an experienced horse person can be paired with an inexperienced horse, but an inexperienced person should be teamed with an experienced horse. In whatever situation, one part of that horse and human duo should know what they're doing. But reality has a way of intruding, and sometimes we let our hearts rule over our better sense. Plenty of horse owners get into trouble this way... and plenty of horse owners who make the "right" choices, who buy an experienced horse, still end up in way over their heads. Horses are living creatures with ideas of their own, and some of the most seemingly docile horses only seem quiet because they're quietly planning your demise. (This is particular true of ponies. Evil, evil ponies. ILU, ponies. Call me.)

I would never recommend that others do what I did -- adopting a wild horse as a novice horse owner -- because having worked in rescue, I've seen too many times the end result of that kind of foolishness, and it's usually the horse who suffers because of our ignorance. For me and Juno it's worked out pretty well, but only because I had quite a bit of wild horse experience (just not riding experience) before I took her on. Still, in a way I'm grateful that I set out into horse ownership with an animal that isn't trained to ride: it forced me to spend a lot of time building our relationship, building trust, and perfecting ground skills, instead of just climbing on and riding headlong into anything I wasn't prepared for. For the most part I didn't rush, because I couldn't rush.

Granted, five years or so is a long time to work on ground skills, but at least now Juno and I have reached a point where it's not her lack of knowledge holding us back, it's mine. I'm not qualified to start a horse under saddle, and recognizing that is a pretty big thing for me. (Let us not speak of the long-ago days of yore when I thought that I was perfectly capable of starting Juno under saddle myself. Suffice it to say that were I not a huge advocate of wearing helmets for all equine activities, I would not be here at this moment, typing at you. Aw, bless, Juno, you didn't kill me after all!)

One of the big perks of living in Pagosa Springs and working for Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship is that I'm surrounded by people who share my philosophy on horse training, who I can count on to handle my horse as I would handle her, and for perhaps the first time I have the option to hire a trainer who I would have no reservations about. (Look, I'm really particular about my horse, okay? I won't let just anyone touch her, much less train her. I'm not going to apologize for it, because I think my overprotective mama bear impression is totally awesome.) Of course, I can't afford to pay any of those people to start her for me, and having lived with that state of affairs for years, I had thought I was getting used to it. But now that I'm finally working on my horsemanship in earnest again, and getting instruction from qualified people, and really getting somewhere with my horse, I have become sharply, keenly, pathetically aware of just how much I want to ride her. Oh, Juno, I want to ride you so badly, you poor oblivious creature, and you just have no idea.


This is how our saddle-training sessions usually go (though not usually with a borrowed Aussie saddle).


I put the saddle on and go, "Yay, Juno, you're wearing a saddle! Move around, do a little twirl, let me see how it looks! OMG, so fashionable!"


And Juno says, "Well, okay, um, I wore it for awhile. Like, maybe two whole minutes. So, I'm good. You can take it off now."


"No, really. Off now. Please. Please and thank you."


"It's not my color. Really. It's... I don't want it. Do not want. Remove. Now."


I'm pretty sure she's caught on to the fact that if she's okay with the saddle, I might try climbing into it. So instead she makes sad faces and demands that I rub her forehead to comfort her.


It was one thing when I was living at random locations around the west and watching other boarders in my barns have a series of misadventures: horses that kicked, bolted, ran off with riders aboard, ejected riders before running off, rubbed riders off against fences... the list goes on. (On one particularly memorable occasion, my then-landlord pulled up his shirt to show me the series of purpling bruises on his chest, each perfectly western-saddle-horn-shaped, which had been inflicted as his horse tried -- ultimately successfully -- to buck him off.) I've known some great riders who have great relationships with their horses, but mostly I've known people who are scared and won't admit it, who aren't scared but should be, who get on and ride by the seat of their pants but not necessarily with the input of their self-preservation-oriented hindbrain, and I've wondered what exactly about the horse experience appeals to them at all, because a lot of what I've seen just does not look like fun. It just looks like an emergency room visit waiting to happen.

Watching people play with their horses at the Parelli campus has been a different experience, though. Sure, I see students who aren't as safe or savvy as they seem to think they are, but for the most part, what I see at the Parelli campus is people and horses having a good time together, doing incredible things, and for maybe the first time I've really looked at that, and realized that most of those people haven't had some amazing childhood equine education that I missed out on -- many of their histories are much like my own. And it's made me realize not only how much I want what they have, but that it is attainable. It can be done.

My excellent and talented instructor Chris -- who I have decided is my BFF whether he likes it or not, poor sod -- has been searching for a way to get Juno into a training program, either at the ranch or with a qualified local Parelli instructor. I'm determined to make it happen one way or another. Maybe I'll just show up at the ranch and put her in Pat's barn and hope that nobody notices she doesn't belong there until after they've ridden her for a few months. Maybe I'll spray-paint her a nice chestnut so Pat's proteges will think she came from Atwood Ranch. Maybe I'll launch a Get Juno Started Under Saddle Before She Dies Of Old Age fundraiser and actually get the money together. I'm determined to get there in the end, onto that path toward excellent horsemanship, but hopefully this time doing a little less walking... I'll let my horse carry more of the weight.
redroanchronicles: (chronicles-sailaway)
Citizens of the Internet, do not be alarmed. I know what you're thinking: I haven't blogged lately, and you're missing the random stories about my dog, random stories about science, random photos of horses, and other things that start with "random." You've probably been wondering where I've been, and no doubt you've been entertaining worst-case scenarios: bear attack, shark attack, bear-holding-a-shark attack... the possibilities are endless, and with an adventure-filled life like mine, I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I'd been busy saving the oceans from jellyfish (I'll get you one day, jellyfish!) or fending off a zombie horde (aim for the head! AIM FOR THE HEAD!).

Oh. You hadn't noticed I was gone? Well, fine then. I don't notice you either. (I actually do, though. Your hair looks great like that.) The truth of the matter is, I've just been a little swamped with real life. I have recently scored what could accurately be considered my dream job, doing graphic design work for Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I'm a student of the Parelli system and an admirer of their graphic style, so it's pretty ideal for me; plus I don't know if you'd realized, but I seem to like playing around with pictures of horses. So I think it's going to be a win-win, and I'm extremely excited about it. I've been finishing up my last few weeks at my current job, where we're working away on a deadline and doing a lot of overtime, and in what's left of my time I'm packing up my life into a pitifully small collection of boxes so I can once again move. This time I'm headed for Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and I'm planning for this move to stick. I've finally reached that point in my life where I do not want to move anymore. At all. Ever. (Unless Lee Pace decides to propose to me and we get to run away to Canada together or something. ILU, Lee Pace. Call me.)

Anyway, I just thought I'd share the good news and reassure you that I will, indeed, get back on the ball with this blog. Soon, my pretties. In the meantime, I'm about to throw you some more science links for your entertainment. Stay tuned.
redroanchronicles: Trudeau's Mighty Brow (trudeau-brow)
My dog Trudeau is a mystery. He is a mystery wrapped in an enigma that sort of walks in a circle around a riddle. He bays like a bloodhound, and his color is a little shepherd-y, and his white paws are rather dapper-looking but not particularly helpful in identifying his breed. Taking a walk with him is like taking a game show on the road: random passersby engage in self-styled trivia quizzes to try to discover his heritage. Simply being in Trudeau's presence turns everyone in the world into a dog expert, and they will not only guess what breeds compose his background, but they will tell you, quite emphatically.

[personal profile] malnpudl, drunk with the power of modern science, dropped by my vet's office awhile back and pre-paid for me to have the mutt genetically tested. Yes, that's right. You can DNA test your dog to find out WTF sort of genetic material spawned the mutant beast, and if you're anything like me, you can even have a roommate crazy enough to pony up the cash for it.

Unfortunately, if your dog's heritage is too heavy on mixed breeds -- mutts for generations back -- there isn't much a DNA test will tell you. And even then it's not 100% reliable. My vet had warned me, before we did the test, that the results she'd seen from it to date weren't terribly enlightening. But it wasn't my dime, and apparently Mal had a burning need to know, so I went ahead with the test regardless, and after waiting and waiting very patiently for results that, as it turned out, were mailed directly to my vet and not to me, today I managed to access the company's online system to review Trudeau's test results.

Prepare to have your minds blown, my friends.

Trudeau's lineage is muttly enough that there are no breeds listed as "significant," which means that neither of his parents were purebreds. There are also none listed as "minor" genetic contributors, which would be breeds that had contributed at least 12.5% of the beast's genetic material.

However. There are two breeds listed as "intermediate" breeds, meaning that at least 25% of Trudeau's genetic makeup comes from these breeds, "so you may see some physical and behavioral traits represented in your dog." So what, you may wonder, are his "intermediate" breeds? My bet was on bloodhound and some kind of shepherd dog. My vet was sure it was bloodhound and Anatolian shepherd. The shelter had him listed as a Great Dane cross. But actually, the only two breeds that appear at all in his genetic profile are:

Alaskan Malamute

and......

Basset hound.

Thank you, science. You've just completely blown my mind. I might need to go curl up in a fetal position while all of my ideas about the universe rearrange themselves in my brain.
redroanchronicles: (farmersmarket-corn)
Friends, I come to you today as a neophyte, a humble student, a seeker of knowledge, a person who only recently learned to distinguish between a parsnip and a rutabaga.

There is much work to be done, as you can see.

Part of my Epic Quest for Awesomely Healthy Living (patent pending) is a re-tooling of my diet. To this end, I have tried repeatedly to whittle away at my definitions of "allowed" and "not allowed" sweets, and have finally been forced to conclude that, in order to control my sweet tooth -- which left to its own devices, would eventually destroy Tokyo -- I really need to have a hard and fast rule: no processed sugars. At all. Not even in my tea.

Since my tea was my less-delicious substitute for the delicious sugar-filled soy chai beverages that I decided weren't worth their price (my waistline and $5 a pop), it pains me to limit myself to no sugar in my tea. I am of the opinion that without sugar, tea tastes like warm water. But I am steadfast in my resolve! I am going to kick this thing! I am not going to eat those freaking sugars!

Anyway, I have only come here seeking knowledge (because they would not teach me aaaaall in colllllege). I hoped that you, the people of the Internet, might have recommendations for me of tea flavors or specific brands that, when brewed and consumed with no additional sugar-y deliciousness, actually taste like something. (Teas that taste good sweetened with honey are also allowable. Honey is good, I've just found that it tastes kind of awful in most of the teas I like.) I prefer the spicier teas like chai, ginger, cinnamon, peppermint and whatnot, over the fruity ones, but I'm willing to experiment. ([personal profile] malnpudl, you need not apply. Your favored tea could strip paint, and/or my esophagus. You are clearly made of sterner stuff than I.)

Also, I've been cooking. It would be fair to say that I have been cooking up a storm, in fact. Over the weekend I made chicken curry, parsnip soup and pannekaken with tasty improvised fillings. I felt like a for-real chef. Occasionally. (Except when I was sort of scorching the ginger honey carrots.) They were all delicious and pretty easy, but I have to say that the parsnip soup was my favorite; I think the chicken curry would've been more interesting if I'd been braver with the spices (and not afraid of killing Mal with the spiciness of said spices), but the parsnip soup was just really simple and wholesome and filling. It tasted like autumn.

I'm just curious, for those of you who do cook and who may find my attempts to do so perhaps simultaneously charming and horrifying, what advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to cook and is struggling with all the technique, planning, budgeting and organization that apparently goes into cooking one's own meals? What trick do you wish you'd known when you started? (For me, it is the peel-garlic-by-crushing-it-with-a-knife thing. Time-saver!) What gadget can you not live without? What ingredients do you consider both versatile and indispensable?
redroanchronicles: Lee Pace and his pointer, Carl (leepace-carl)
This is why I run:

It's still daylight -- I got off work on time for once, and the latest crushing deadline is at last behind me -- but in the park under the sequoia canopy it's almost cold. Running is required just to keep my toes warm, and Trudeau won't stand for anything less than a jog, so we trot down the paved road, then off onto a side trail, and then onto another trail and another. I haven't run so long and tirelessly since I was a child, and I can't stop running. The trails are that particular vibrant earthy red that cradles old-growth trees, and a bed of fallen pine needles makes a surprisingly comfortable cushion underfoot. Trudeau splashes into a clear-running stream and gulps down water, and then splashes out again, his tongue lolling; he leaps, twists, grabs the leash in his teeth and tries to tow me along, to keep inertia from slowing our dash through the woods. We scramble up slopes like mountain goats, bound over fallen logs, clatter over bridges and back onto the thoroughfare again, looking for the next side trail to conquer. I'm warm, and I'm not tired, and I feel for the first time like I can run all day and never stop, so when we find ourselves at the park entrance, we turn around and plunge back into the trees, splash in the fountain, dig in our toes, run like some part of us has already flung itself ahead, and there is nothing else for us to do but set off in joyous pursuit of our own happiness.

This is why I run:

The road is suggested more than real, delineated only by the moonlight that pools pale and shimmering in the gutters. I know the route by memory anyway, and I claim the center of the road, because there is hardly ever traffic to yield to. There are lights on in the windows of the houses we pass by, but no sign of the people inside, and it is as if we are the only ones left in the world. I breathe easy for the first time all day.

The air is cool and tastes like rain, though none has fallen since yesterday. I've never appreciated air before the way I do now, but that's just because I've never been quite so desperate for it: I'm pushing myself, maybe a little too hard, but there's little place in my world for a stroll anymore, when a run will get me there just as well. I won't be sore tomorrow, and I feel as if there are only empty spaces now where my limitations used to be; the only trouble with this road, these days, is that it isn't long enough to satisfy us. Trudeau's tags jangle and his LED collar blinks, but he's still just a vague shape in the dark: long legs and swaying tail and rhythmically bobbing ears. Mostly he's content just to trot along; he knows the route as well as I do, but there's nothing boring about it. While this road is nothing terribly special by daylight, it's a whole other beast at night.

The wetlands are picturesque pools of silver water, and they come complete with their own soundtrack: the chorus of frogs is deafeningly loud, and it drowns out the music piping through my headphones. Nothing can make them stop singing, not even the vague shape of a bird drifting overhead, the clacking of Trudeau's claws or the slap of my feet on the pavement. There's a pasture further up the road with its own little pond, and a group of ducks mutter a harmony to the frog song; they don't stir the first time Trudeau and I pass by, but on the return trip, they grow uneasy and take explosive flight. They do that every night, but Trudeau never seems to realize they'll come back again; he watches them go like he's just lost something, though whether he's mourning the loss of potential friends or potential meals, I can never say. I comfort him with an excursion up a side road, where a shape in the dark always leaves him transfixed and fascinated; it could be a horse, but we choose to believe it's something more exotic, the pale shadow of a rare rhinoceros or a graceful oryx. Trudeau whines and yowls, and I have to drag him away before he really embarrasses himself. We run back down the hill again, walk a little while, then get impatient and run the rest of the way back to the main road, around the corner, on past the wetlands and away until the frog song grows fainter and finally disappears.

Trudeau runs like he's never forgotten how: years and obligations and disappointments and a lack of time have never stood between him and his boundless joy for the outdoors, for running, for being what he's made to be. He's the only reason I know these routes, these places, these moments that otherwise would have been lost to me, along with my childish enthusiasm and my remembrance of running barefoot on summer-warm earth. I might have let my happiness just hurtle away, watching it outstrip me each year until I forgot that it was there to be caught. I might have done that, except that Trudeau has a talent for chasing things, and he's a willing teacher.

This is why I run.
redroanchronicles: (chronicles-sailaway)
Okay, so you've seen Master & Commander, right? Think back. I know it's difficult to see past the glory that is Paul Bettany and the even greater glory that is Paul Bettany playing the cello. (It's okay. I'll pause while you enjoy that image for a moment, and in the meantime I'll answer a question that I know you're wondering about: he was pretty much faking it with the cello -- "Our fingers are in the right place, and our bowing is good, but you wouldn't want to hear the sound we were making. You could follow the tune, but it sounds a lot more like you're trying to climb inside a squirrel than I think Mozart had intended." -- but apparently he did learn to play pretty adequately for his later role as Charles Darwin in Creation.)

Damn you, Paul Bettany. You're side-tracking me again, as so often happens when I think about you and your glorious cranium. I came here to talk about ships, which is where I started with the whole Master & Commander thing. So you know those amazing tallships that you see in these "age of sail" sort of films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Horatio Hornblower? Did you know that in many seaports around the globe, you can find these same sorts of ships still sailing? The ones I'm familiar with are replicas, but supposedly there are some originals still floating about, too. That's the word on the street.



If you're me, this is very exciting. If you're me, that means that you could actually climb aboard one of those ships and manfully restrain yourself from making Hornblower references. If you're me, it means that you can finally find fellowship among other people who know sea shanties by heart.



Which is exactly what I did when the Historic Seaport's lovely little topsail ketch, The Hawaiian Chieftain, stopped in Humboldt Bay.



I don't really have any terribly witty and amusing anecdotes to share with you, I'm afraid. I had an excellent time, though it was incredibly, bitterly cold out on the water. The crew, most of whom are volunteers and who joined the crew in much the same way that one might run away and join the circus, were absolutely fantastic and had delightful stories to tell. (I won't even mention their period garb, but suffice it to say that they looked quite dashing.) I was afraid I'd get horribly seasick, but I didn't at all (though on the open sea, I must say, there probably would've been a different outcome). We were out on the Bay for three hours, but it seemed like much less.





The rope-handling skills! The hats! The peacoats! The mast-scaling skills! I tell you, I was this close to attempting to start a spontaneous rendition of "Barrett's Privateers." And they probably would've known the words, too.

OOOOOH THE YEAR WAS 1778 -- HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOOOOOOOOW!

Sorry. I got carried away. That happens with these things. We did sing a few sea shanties and sailor songs together though, and I tried not to be too proud about actually knowing the refrain to "Wild Rover." (I have much to thank you for, Great Big Sea.)



Unfortunately, the Hawaiian Chieftain was sailing solo this trip, as her sister ship the Lady Washington -- which was one of the stars of Pirates of the Caribbean -- is in port to have a new mast, new engine and other updates fitted to help bring her up to California emission standards. (I know. Emissions! On a tallship! But they sort of need an engine these days so they can keep to their schedule and maneuver in busy ports.) Next time they come around though, I'm hoping to embark upon a Battle Sail, which is as bad-ass as its name implies.



This fine gentleman is named Andrew. Captain Andrew. He was kind enough to help me strategize vantage points where I might be able to get some shots of the ship from shore when they set out for another sail the next day. (I ended up running late and suffering foul weather, so unfortunately I didn't get the shots, but I don't even know if they bothered with the trip anyway. I don't know that I'd want to sail in that sort of miserable weather with a group of little kids.) Then I ran into him at the bookstore and gave him a ride further into town where he needed to run an errand. I must be growing as a person, because shy-me would never have talked to the captain of a beautiful, beautiful boat. Shy-me definitely would not have offered a stranger a ride anywhere. I believe shy-me has been dashed upon the rocks of MY NEW AWESOME and swept away to sea, and I can't say that I mind. Andrew and the rest of his crew are awesome people and I'm delighted to have spent a few hours in their company. Their salty, seafaring, bearded company.





More photos from my 3-hour tour (A 3-HOUR TOOOOOUR!) can be found here, with an additional set here. The latter group are photos I took for my fellow trip-goers of their awesomeness in action; one young man helped the captain pilot the ship, and several other adventurous souls paid an additional donation to the Historical Seaport's programs and got to scale the aft mast. (I have no idea what technical terms I am using. I am making them up as I go along. They climbed up some ropes and onto a crow's-nest thingy and it looked both incredible and terrifying. I think I'll do it next time.) I helped haul away ropes a few times and it made me feel both useful and powerful. And, strangely, like I needed to grow a beard.

The Historical Seaport is based in Washington State and does tours all up and down the west coast, more or less year-round. They are essentially a living history program, and trust me when I say that they make learning awesome. They offer free tours of the ship to the public, all sorts of paid sailing trips and transits, and educational programs including sailing trips to schools all along their routes. In large part, these programs are funded by scholarships from the Seaport and donations from the public, and it's really a worthy cause to support. If you live in a coastal area, there just may be tallships near you, too; if you're intrigued, search for them on the interwebz! (Apparently there's a huge one in the San Francisco Bay Area; several members of the Chieftain's crew appeared to be having mental orgasms just thinking about it.) It's an amazing experience. And it'll make you feel closer to Paul Bettany.

I will tell you, from my now-vast stores of experience, the problem with going for a joyride on a beautiful tall ship: it's really difficult to talk yourself out of laying down the shackles of your humdrum existence and picking up a peacoat, instead. Volunteering on these ships can be as easy as stepping aboard and sailing away, and even for someone like me -- afraid of the ocean, prone to motion sickness, and not really known for an adventurous spirit -- it's hard to resist the whispering of the open sea and the snap of wind in the sails.

redroanchronicles: (farmersmarket-corn)
For a few months now, I've been on a bit of a health kick. And I don't mean that I've given up my Twinkie habit -- I mean that I've been changing my life, utterly and completely, into something better.

It all started with a confluence of events. I stepped on a scale and realized that what had been a bit of extra weight had become a weight of over 200 pounds. I needed new jeans and had to face the fact that the only way they were going on was if I bought up a size. I adopted a dog named Trudeau who strongly encourages frequent exercise by begging for walks (and rewards running with an immense, tongue-lolling, joyful stride that is uplifting just to watch). I bought a pair of really crazy-looking shoes -- more on those and my newfound status as a runner in another post later on -- which turned exercise from a chore into a momentary return to youth. I decided that I was tired of being tired, and I was sick of being depressed, and I wasn't going to let my life pass me by thinking about how I wish I looked, the things I wish I could do, the life I'd lead when I found the time for it.

I'd like that life now, please.

One of the most difficult parts of this transition for me has been changing my diet. I never thought it was that bad to begin with; I ate fast food maybe once every few months, tops, and usually only in moments of desperation for sustenance. I'd long since cut out soda, and for a couple years I'd been living with a general rule that if I picked up something off the supermarket shelf that listed any form of corn syrup as an ingredient, I'd put it back down again. But it wasn't really enough. I started logging my meals on SparkPeople and started looking what was really in the food I was eating: it most mostly a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrition. So I started being more careful, buying more produce, trying to teach myself to cook, and here's what I found: in the average neighborhood supermarket, there is hardly anything on those shelves that is good for you. (Michael Pollan, author of such fucking incredible books as The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, puts it even more simply: stick to the edges of the supermarket. Supermarkets put all of the fresh food -- meats, produce, bakeries -- on the outside edges of the store, closest to the loading docs, where it's easiest to rotate in new deliveries.) I've utterly confused and confounded myself with the array of fascinating and opposing ideas of what constitutes healthy eating, but for the most part I've just settled into Michael Pollan's simple advice for a healthy diet: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

A big part of educating myself about food has also meant educating myself about food systems overall, about how we got into this mess and how we can get back out of it again. So in case you're also interested in these topics, I want to recommend a few video resources (I'll have some books to recommend later on):

Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach Every Child About Food
Jamie Oliver (who I have been informed is in fact TV's The Naked Chef) gives an outstanding presentation as part of the TED Talks series about the relationship we have with food, and how we need to change it. You can watch the full presentation online at this link, or just watch the embedded video below (they're the same thing).



I was really struck by the video he shows of a classroom visit where children can't even identify fruits and vegetables -- and we're talking tomatoes here, not anything too exotic. It seems almost too incredible to be true, but having been one of those children (having been one of those children well into my mid-twenties) I can tell you that it is a fact. In fact, it's kind of still my reality. I tried to buy parsnips just a few days ago and walked away with rutabaga, and until you've been there you have no idea quite how horrible it is to realize that you're nearly 30 and you don't have the first idea what a parsnip looks like. Also, it's kind of humiliating when the checkout guy says, "Are these rutabagas?" and you're all, "Er, I think parsnips?" and he's all, "Uh. No. These aren't parsnips."

LOOK, I CAN'T RECOGNIZE A PARSNIP, OKAY? Maybe I should get a smartphone. I'll bet there's an app for that.

In any event, the filmed segments he shows are clips from his new show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, which premieres March 26th on ABC. I'll definitely be tuning in.

We Feed the World

Years back I saw a film called We Feed the World. It's about the globalization of food, the ways in which our food systems have gone absolutely mad, and the brink that all of this is driving us to. This film is one of the most incredible documentaries I've ever seen; all my love to Food, Inc. and every other film on the subject, but We Feed the World is a film that has haunted me since the first time I watched it. There's an image early on in the film that's really stuck with me: a dump truck dumping a load of perfectly good bread -- harvested, baked, and then wasted -- while millions of people across the globe are undernourished or outright starving. This film will educate you not just about the global issues concerning food -- from GM crops to factory fishing to the damages of import/export foods -- but also about what exactly you're putting in your body.

You can watch the documentary in its entirety -- thereby completely blowing your mind -- for free.


Anywho, I'll be posting more about food and fitness and my crazy shoes and all that nonsense as time marches forward. I know there are some fantastic chefs and fitness nuts reading, so hopefully you'll all help me out. We don't want a repeat of the Parsnip Incident.
redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
Last night was, at long last, the first night of basic dog obedience for me and the floppy-eared monstrosity that I call my dog. (Oh, Trudeau. Your ears are so floppy. It's awesome.) I have to admit to being more than a little apprehensive, especially when I saw the size of the room that we'd be working in -- a conference room at the local rec center -- which didn't exactly leave a lot of room for... well, let's just put it out there. It didn't allow a lot of room for me to keep my dog from getting all up in the other dog's faces. As he does. I probably should've called the instructor first and told her that he had a dog aggression issue -- she looked a bit concerned when I said he occasionally likes to make other dogs cry -- but I'd talked to so many dog obedience teachers by then and had all of them hand-wave my concern away, so I guess by the time I got around to the class I actually signed up for, it didn't occur to me that it might be a problem.

And it actually wasn't, much. He started off the evening a little... well, over-enthusiastic might be the word, and I've always suspected with him that a large part of his dog aggression is just that he's the very big kid who never learned how to play nice. He desperately needs to socialize and play with other dogs, but he can't because he's a bastard, and therein lies the problem. (It's doubly unfortunate because there are plenty of off-leash beaches and other doggy paradises in my neighborhood, and I do trust him to come when called, except that if there's another dog and he gets into a fight, all bets are off. I like to think one day he'll be able to do these normal dog things. It's why we've gone to the professional, to get professional help with our issues.)

In any event, we didn't have any sort of unfortunate mishaps, and thanks to the teacher's magic weapon -- an apparently-delicious cocktail of cheese, kibble and hot dog bits -- Trudeau pretty much spent the hour in the throes of ecstacy. Though initially his focus was all over the place, he soon learned that lavishing me with his attention would earn him delicious delights, and he wasn't as hard as I expected to keep under control... though for much of the class we did stay behind a small chair-barrier that the teacher built for us, to give us a little extra separation from the other dogs.

The class has turned out to be perfect; I really like the instructor (Mette Bryan, for any readers who are actually in Humboldt County, and she's teaching the classes through the Adorni Center and Eureka Muni), and the other three dogs in the class are more or less in the same place as Tru -- pretty good on obedience basics like sit, down and stay, but not so much with the focus in new environments. So we should all be able to advance at the same pace and think up new and interesting things to do that aren't necessarily as basic as your standard beginning obedience class.

The highlight of the evening for me was working on our dogs' recall/"come" in the room. Mette worked with the other three dogs first, and I thought for sure she was going to just skip us for the moment, since even I could imagine the carnage that would ensue if I called Trudeau and instead he decided to surge like a bowling ball into the group of other dogs. And anyway, Trudeau and I work on his "come" endlessly; in fact, I've turned it into a wacky after-hours game in the office. My office is laid out as sort of a square of hallways with rooms opening off of it, and I'll often put Trudeau in a stay, go sprint off somewhere else in the building, and then tell him "come" (if I'm in an obvious location where he'll be able to see me) or "search" if he needs to go looking for me. He'll go tearing around the place trying to work out where I am, and he gets lavishly rewarded with food and love when he manages.

Still, I thought for sure he was going to embarrass us both by harassing the swell golden retriever puppy instead of actually coming to me. Mette put a long training lead on him, so she'd at least have some control over him and could try to catch him in time if he veered off, but no; I showed him the delicious treats that awaited, ran across the room and called him, and he came. Boy, did he ever come. You wouldn't have thought there was another dog, person, or possible source of treats in the world. I've never been prouder. And it was nice getting home and discovering that the excitement and mental strain had knocked him out so thoroughly that he went straight to sleep like an exhausted toddler.

I complain sometimes about Trudeau and his dog-hating, cat-chasing, collar-leaning bad behavior, but the fact is that I lucked out to a ridiculous degree. Adopting from a shelter, as much as I support doing so, can be such a game of roulette. I could've ended up with an animal that was completely unsuitable for my life in every way, and even though I trust my instincts when it comes to choosing a companion animal, listening to the gut and the heart don't always help us make rational decisions. Still, I wound up with a dog who is the perfect amount of lazy, the perfect amount of energetic, (definitely the perfect degree of housetrained!) and the one thing I've always been missing in the dogs I've had before: he is absolutely and utterly devoted. He is my dog right down to his bones, and I'm his human right down to my bones, and if we're maybe a little co-dependent, I think I can live with that for the wonder that is this animal bounding toward me, ignoring all other distractions and attractions for the chance to place himself in my hands.

And if my hands happen to be where the hot dogs are, well, that's just a happy coincidence.
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
I'll just say it, and get it right out there; it's best to be up front with these things. I'm in love with Glen Hansard.

Granted, I don't actually know Glen Hansard. I guess it would be more accurate to say I'm in love with his brains. And his voice. But I don't want to go on and on about his, you know... "features." I wouldn't want to objectify. Point is, he's brilliant, and I'm a big enough person to admit to myself that he's more talented than I will ever, ever be. I like it that way; it means I'll always have him to look up to.

If you haven't heard of Glen Hansard, here are the basics: He's been a busker since he dropped out of school to pursue his music in his early teens. He's the frontman of a band called The Frames. He had a supporting role (as the guitar player, natch) in the great film The Commitments. He starred in and composed/performed the music for a little independent film called Once, for which he and co-star/co-singer Marketa Irglova won an Oscar (for the music). (You can pick up this film on Amazon for $8, no kidding. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to do so immediately.) These days, he and Marketa Irglova (along with the occasional addition of the guys from The Frames) are performing as a band called The Swell Season, and their latest album, Strict Joy, just came out a few months ago.

I have trouble describing exactly the effect that Glen's music has on me. I've often heard music that has moved me, but this is the first music that I feel has changed me. Something about the stories that Glen tells with his music and the voice he tells them with makes me want to be a better person, makes me want to know more and experience more and appreciate people more and generally just be more than I am. I'm not quite sure how to describe it to you, which is why I'd like for you to just experience it, which is why I've put together this post. Inside you'll find free downloads (free and legal!), some of my favorite moments as brought to us by YouTube, and my commentary on why I'm so over the moon with it all. Think of it as a musical advent calendar, only you don't have to wait at all between numbers. ;) If you're not in the mood to listen to or read all of these, I do urge you to skip down to #1 on the list and check it out; I guarantee it'll brighten up your day.

Ten Ways To Make Your Heart Beat Out A Melody
An Introduction to The Swell Season


10. 'Fantasy man you are always one step ahead of me...' )

9. 'Well the years they get on top of you; the working load it tallied up, and you went down beneath it all like anybody would...' )

8. 'Everytime I try to fly I fall, without my wings I feel so small' )

7. 'Fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up' )

6. 'The truth has a habit of falling out of your mouth...' )

5. 'I have chose the long road that leads me to to God knows, so I can't stop right now...' )

4. 'We have all the time in the world -- to get it right, to get it right. We have all the love in the world -- to set alight, to set alight...' )

3. 'And so now there's a long list of places I was, I quit my rambling and came home...' )

2. 'The journey between your mind and your tongue can be so short, and yet it's such a long distance when it comes to actually saying something that we're afraid to say to others.' )

1. Moji joins The Swell Season on stage in Houston )

The Internet is a gold mine of Swell Season material, and there's plenty more of it out there if you look; I've got an ever-expanding youtube playlist if you'd like to find more, and I'm sure there's more out there that I haven't discovered yet. Once again the bands' websites -- where you can buy cool swag like t-shirts and the gorgeous posters from The Swell Season's latest tour -- are:

The Swell Season ~ The Frames

And that's my list. It was a labor of love, and I hope you enjoyed it. Though Glen is nearest and dearest to my heart at the moment (you can tell, because of how I call him "Glen" like we're BFFs), I'm always overjoyed to discover new music, so perhaps you'll share a few of your favorite bands in the comments?
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
People often ask me how I wound up with such a robust and vigorous imagination. Okay, nobody's ever asked me that, actually, but if they did, I would tell them that the strength of my mind's eye, as it were, depends at least in part upon the weakness of my actual eyes. I have horrible eyesight, you see. Beyond just making me stumble over things in the morning and contributing to my ability to get hopelessly lost by making it difficult to read those tiny little street-name signs, the general problem with my eyesight is that it turns much of the world into a mystery to which I will never know the answer. Luckily my brain, being accustomed to being constantly deprived of real information, has learned to make up its own.

Take yesterday. I'm driving home through surprisingly thick traffic, and I pull up to a stop light, and the car in front of me has a license plate cover which says, in part, "GOATS & HERBS."



I know, right? "GOATS & HERBS." What a mystery. What could it possibly mean? I'm sure I'd know, if only I had slightly better eyesight, because the license plate cover said something else on the top, no doubt something that would've blown the lid off the whole affair, but the type was smaller. I couldn't read it.

I was left instead to ponder this great question of the universe on the way home: what about the "GOATS & HERBS?" Exactly what idea was that license plate cover meant to advertise? Feeding herbs to goats? Goats marinated in herbs? A program teaching inner-city goats to grow herbs? Or perhaps the owner of that car just likes goats and herbs equally, and though they have nothing to do with each other, he didn't want to give either one preference over his heart. Or license plate. "It's like asking me to choose my favorite child!" he must've wailed, when the kid at the license-plate-cover kiosk in the mall told him that both I have a very high regard for goats and but my love for herbs equals it wouldn't fit.

I don't blame him, honestly, but I don't see what herbs have got on goats. Herbs can be delicious and all, but goats are adorable. Goats like a good scratching and they like a good snack even more. They're easily pleased, and I like that in an animal, because I also have very low standards.



Goats are awesome, even when they smirk at you like they know something you don't. Probably it's something about herbs.

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redroanchronicles

August 2011

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