Life in the Country

Elfed Again in 2014: Sparkles Returns

As fall winds down and Christmas edges ever closer to the horizon, the kids in the Desperate Household have been getting increasingly excited about all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the holiday season.

Yesterday morning I was signing Batman’s reading log for school and he squinted at my writing in puzzlement.  “What’s the date, mom?”  I told him December 1, and he shrieked with glee.  “That means it’s almost Christmas!!”  Yes, I told him.  Nearly.  We had a brief conversation about how long, exactly, it was until Christmas.

When we got to the number of weeks, Batman’s eyes got big.  He looked at his sister and said “Sissie!! We only have three and half weeks before Santa comes. We better hurry and be good!!”

I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

Annabelle and Batman are at the age now where they have each, independently, heard rumors at school and in various places that there is, in fact, no Santa Claus (shudder).  They have made the (I think wise) decision to continue to Believe.  As my astute little Annabelle put it “I think, Mom, that if you don’t believe in Santa then he won’t come see you. If you do believe in him, he will.”  She backed up this analysis with the fact that the kids at school who believed there was a Santa always got presents from him.  Those who didn’t, never did.

It makes perfect sense.

In conjunction with the visit by the fat man in the red suit, the kids have been overjoyed with anticipation over the impending arrival of Sparkles the Elf.  Sparkles has come to spy on our family for the past two years, and performed such a number of exciting escapades during her visits that I am honestly not sure what she can do to continue, let alone top them, this season.

Really, I mean I have no freakin’ idea.

Anyway, arrive Sparkles did, yesterday while the kids were at school.  Her manifestation this year looked like this.

Shes back

I thought she was fairly clever to spell out “Be Good” with the M&Ms, and she had written a well-worded letter telling the kids that basically they’d better stop fighting or Santa was cutting them off, for reals this time.  She said how she hated to have to give Santa a bad report on a family, then, for good measure, she added a paragraph about how tired she was from making toys and how the kids SHOULD NOT FREAK OUT if for some reason she did not return to the “shop” (Sparkles has gotten pretty casual with us by now) one night, because it did not mean she was sick or dead or paralyzed or anything at all really, she was probably just resting.

She brought her now-traditional Christmas mugs and a brand new can of hot cocoa mix, along with two stuffed reindeer and a Christmas Countdown calendar for each child.  I thought she was pretty generous.

The questions started just as soon as the kids approached me in the pickup line at school.  “Had I left the house?” (Sparkles has a history of only showing up when no one is home) and “Had Sparkles come?”  (I said I couldn’t answer that question), and so on and so forth, over and over again at an increasingly higher pitch for the whole five-minute drive home.

I had not shut off the engine in the truck before my excited progeny were out and bounding toward the house.  They whooped with excitement when they spied Sparkles at the top of the little tree.

Then they settled in to read the note.

Reading Note

Annabelle read the whole thing out loud, carefully sounding out any words that were somewhat unfamiliar.  Apparently Sparkles and I share the same propensity for using expansive and unwieldy language, preferring two or three words where one would do nicely.

The reading took her a bit.

Reading from the Back

When she was finished reading the note, the kids summarily destroyed the carefully designed M&M message that it had probably taken Sparkles at least fifteen minutes to design, stuffing as many of the red and green candies in their mouths as possible.

They opened their individual Christmas Countdown calendars and devoured the little chocolate snowmen hidden under the flap marked #1.  Batman expressed his delight over the calendar, but his sister was less than impressed.

“She brought us this same thing last year,” Annabelle said matter of factly.  She started to walk away, then stopped and turned, briefly.  “I’ll bet Sparkles was tired from all the flying to get here.  That’s why she didn’t do much when she got here this time.”  Then she continued on to her room.

Huh.

I guess Miss Sparkles the Elf had better get her game on.

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Saturday Morning Run

I love the fall.  I love everything about it, from the cool, crisp mornings to the warm sunny afternoons.  I particularly love to run in the fall, when it is still light early enough for me to get out and back before my kids wake up, the dogs racing joyfully around my feet and bounding through the dewy alfalfa like deer until I leash them at the road to finish my loop through the nearby suburbia. The chill in the air makes my slow pace seem like flying (well, that’s a big exaggeration) but it is exhilarating.

I don’t run every day, nearly, but I do most weekends unless there is a horse show.

I always run alone.  I enjoy the solitude of it.

Today was different though.  For some reason when Batman heard me open the front door to leave, he ran out of his room and begged to go with me.  It was not the first time he had asked, but it was the first time I said yes.

You see, running’s my thing.  It’s one of the few things I do just for me, like yoga, and I cherish the solitude of my thoughts accompanied only by the slow steady pounding of my Asic-clad feet.  I usually take one or both of the dogs with me, but this was the first time in recent memory I was accompanied by one of the kids on my solitary pursuit.

After ten minutes of preparation which included changing his basketball shorts for sweat pants, adding a fleece jacket and, at the last minute, switching his cowboy boots out for a pair of running shoes, Batman and I headed out.

We jogged a ways down the gravel road that fronts our house, past the first hay field, then walked a ways through a muddy access road and through another hay field to the canal bank that runs east of our house.

Batman loves to go down the canal bank, even though I’m always harping at him to stay on the far track away from the water’s edge. You can see how well he listens to me.

We're Off

Canals are really, really dangerous.

Unless you’re Winston, that is.  Then they’re just a big ol’ swimming pool.

Winston Swims

Milo tried and tried to talk himself into jumping into the big ditch.  But he couldn’t get it done.  He just stood on the edge and looked wistfully at the cold, cold water.

Hey Milo – it is only 45 degrees outside right now. Maybe you didn’t make a bad choice.

Can't Talk Himself into it

After a half mile or so down the canal bank we made a turn onto the sidewalk to continue our circle.  Batman is fascinated by sidewalks, since there are none of them directly around our rural homestead.  When we started walking on the sidewalk he said incredulously  “Wow!  So we get to walk through a NEIGHBORHOOD?”

Yep.  Lots of them.

sidewalk

We walked and jogged, walked and jogged.  It wasn’t long before Batman was pretty tired, and we walked more than jogged.  He talked the whole time, about things at school, his hamster, what we were going to do for the rest of the day, like that.

After another mile or so we turned a corner down another street.  When we turned, Batman said “Mom, have you been down this street before when you ran?”  Yes, I answered.  Lots of times.  “How many times do you think?  Twenty?”  Yeah, probably twenty or so, I said.

“Hmmm.  So everything on this street must look really familiar to you, huh?”

Well, that stopped me in my tracks for a minute.

Actually it didn’t.

Usually when I am out for a run I am thinking of a million things other than what I am doing.  I find it enjoyable and cathartic to just pound along, but I am obviously not being very mindful of the moment.  As I gazed around at the some of the tidy houses  we strolled past I saw new things, through the observant eyes of my six-year-old.

There were a handful of purple flowers growing right out of the grass of a nearby lawn.

Purple Flowers

There were mud puddles here and there along the gutter, and he was pretty fascinated when I told him it was from the runoff of sprinklers in the yards along the street.

Oops

He wondered if people had mail in their mailboxes, why did their dogs bark so much, why did that man honk his horn at the other man washing his truck in the driveway, what if we turned down that road by accident and then had to walk all the way back to where we were supposed to be?

The innocent observations of my first grader were pretty refreshing.  I laughed and talked and answered the multitude of questions as best I could.

He got tired when we were about a quarter-mile from home.  But that didn’t bother him.  He just sat down and rested.

Kids are so smart.

Time for a Rest

We completed the loop that usually takes me about 35 minutes in a little over an hour.  But it was time well spent.  It was all new through the eyes of a child.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Batman and the Gym Not-So-Dandy

When the recreation department flyer came home in the kids’ school backpacks a couple of weeks ago my progeny was all atwitter with the possibilities.  I told them they could sign up for one class each, as long as there was not a conflict in schedule.

It didn’t take them long to choose.  Batman, of course, chose karate, and I blogged about his first class last week.  Annabelle decided she wanted to do gymnastics, for the simple (and I thought perfectly acceptable) reason that she was intent to master the art of the cart-wheel.

When Annabelle wanted to add karate after watching part of Batman’s first class I was all for it.  As I mentioned in my post, I was impressed by the discipline and sheer physicality of the program, and I knew she was going to be bored sitting there twice a week just watching.

What I didn’t think all the way through was what would happen next.  Once we got in the car to drive home Batman announced that we was going to take gymnastics with his sister.  It was only fair, after all, since she gotten to add karate.  Mind you Batman had never seen a gymnastics performance of any kind and certainly had no idea what gymnastics entailed.  I mentioned to him that he would probably be the only boy in the class, to which he shrugged and said “So what?  I’m used to girls.”

OK then.  When I logged onto the rec department website to pay for Annabelle’s karate, I signed Batman up for one month of gymnastics at the same time.

Last night was the first class.  Annabelle hurriedly did her homework after school and I told the kids to change clothes.  Annabelle put on a tank top and her new yoga pants that I had purchased so she wouldn’t get so many mat burns during karate.  Batman dressed himself in a snappy ensemble comprised of a blue hand-me-down ninja turtle shirt and flannel pajama bottoms that ended about two inches above his ankles.  I told him he’d probably be more comfortable in shorts, but he dug his heels in and said he was already comfortable, so off we went.

As soon as we walked into the rec room, which coincidentally was the same room used for karate, I had a feeling there might be a problem.  Most of the kids were already there, and each and every one of them were girls.  There was an abundance of long blonde ponytails, and almost everyone was wearing a leotard.  Batman took one look at his classmates and shrank behind me, his dusty cowboy boots kicking me in the back of my legs and he shifted frantically to stay out of the teacher’s sight.

I walked forward and greeted the instructor and told her the kid’s names.  Annabelle kicked her flip-flops off and headed straight to the mat.  Batman clung to my waist like a drowning swimmer in a lake, and no matter how hard I tried I could not get him to come forward.

The instructor immediately recognized my plight, and I’m sure she was trying to be helpful when she said “If he would feel more comfortable you could change to the 6:15 class.  It has four boys in it.”  She obviously had mistaken my son’s competitive drive to not let his sister have the privilege of more class time than he for any spark of desire that he might have to actually do gymnastics.

After several minutes of whispered discussion and a few wrestling moves on my part, it was apparent that I was not going to get Batman out on that mat.  The little girls all performed a warm up sequence fairly similar to that in karate, and then they lined up to begin practicing maneuvers.

Backward

Batman climbed onto a chair in front of me and sat miserably, kicking his boots back and forth and plucking at this camouflage pajamas.

Baleful Batman

We watched as Annabelle learned move after move, a delighted smile on her face the entire time.  The girls laughed and played and danced around.  They were all really enjoying themselves.

Batman watched balefully, pulling me forward once to tell me that he had expected to be training on the tall balance beam on the other side of the room, not the tiny one that the coach had dragged out and placed on the karate mat.  He didn’t want to do baby gymnastics.

When class was over, the coach gave every girl a sucker.  I am quite certain that was the only moment of remorse that Batman had over the demise of his gymnastics career.

Now shes got it

When we got in the car to go home Annabelle announced that she LOVED gymnastics and hated karate.  I told her that she could stop karate if she wished; just as soon as this month’s lessons were complete.  As for Batman’s tuition, well, I guess I’ll just chalk it up to mommy malpractice.

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Karate Kids

Our family embarked on a whole new adventure this week:  Batman and Annabelle have started karate.  It seems like a natural extension of their ongoing desire to bludgeon each other with their hands, a dog toy, a stick, or perhaps a Barbie doll artfully swung by the hair, on a daily basis, only now I’m hoping they will gain a little restraint and finesse from their formal training.

Originally, only Batman was signed up for the class, but the whole family was in attendance for the first assembly, which was held at the YMCA just a mile from our home.  It’s not that we’re the type of family who has to do everything together; quite the contrary actually, with Annabelle and I going one direction to a horse show many weekends while Batman and Daddy head out to fly the plane or play golf at a local course.

For this occasion, though, we were all in attendance, mainly because Batman refused to go without me, Desperate Hubby really wanted to be there to watch, and Annabelle couldn’t stay home alone, much less would she consent to missing a chance to see her little brother get pummeled by someone other than herself for a change.

We arrived a few minutes early for the practice to find most of the class already  warming up.  The gi clad group was busy running lines, hopping like frogs and doing push ups.  Batman was the only one in street clothes, since the nice lady at the recreation department had recommended waiting for a month or two to make sure he liked the training before investing in the outfit.

My son joined the group shyly, but within a few minutes was hopping along just like all the other kids.  I could tell Annabelle was very interested in the process, and shortly after our arrival she pulled me close to her face to whisper “Could I do this too, mom?”

That sounded like a perfect idea.  The rigorous exercise and strict discipline that I had witnessed in only the first ten minutes of class had already won me over.  Like I always say, a tired dog and a tired kid are the best in breed.

I walked over to the instructor and asked him politely if Annabelle could join in, promising I would stop by the city rec office the next day and pay her fee.  He generously welcomed her to the class, and we were officially a two-karate family.

First off, the kids had to learn how to fall. While the other class participants practiced higher level skills as a group, Batman and Annabelle were taken to the far side of the mat along with a few of the more advanced kids and an assistant instructor.

Annabelle squealed with glee and she fell down over and over again.

Backwards.

Falling Back

Frontwards.  Backwards again.

I was thinking that all of the experience she had falling off of Reno was coming in pretty handy.

Practice Falling

Batman had to practice falling correctly, too.  He picked it up a little quicker than his sister, probably since she has been pushing him to the ground since he was old enough to talk back to her and steal her toys.

Falling Down

After they had mastered the falling technique, they went with the other kids to get suited up for some sparring.

The instructors painstakingly explained where the “hit zone” was on the opponent.  Which was a good thing, because my two little angels sure don’t observe such niceties when they are hitting each other at home.

The First Match

Annabelle approached her opponent cautiously at first, probably because it felt weird to be hitting someone who wasn’t her own flesh and blood, but eventually she got into the whole swing of things (har har).

Karate Girls

And then it was Batman’s turn.  In contrast to his sister, he didn’t waste any time going after his opponent, with more enthusiasm than style at first.

Go Batman (2)

After all the kids had sparred a couple of times they got a little breather to get a drink and remove their gloves.

When the line at the drinking fountain had dwindled, the class got into formation to practice a new technique.  I didn’t catch what this technique was called, but it basically entailed pushing your opponent to the ground (no hitting was allowed in this encounter) and trying to pin him, sort of like in wrestling.

I immediately dubbed this exercise “My Living Room.”

Ah, my kids were right at home with this one.

Looks Normal

You might even say they were naturals.

Looks Like Home

Once they were done wrestling each other around they each got a chance to practice on a new opponent.  Batman drew up his best friend from kindergarten.  But that didn’t slow him down.

Serious Action

Annabelle was slightly more restrained.  She told me later “Mom, I was afraid I was going to HURT her.”  She is used to Batman’s screaming and faked injures to try to get her in trouble, I guess.

After she “My Living Room”ed one of the other girls, she got to participate in an exercise that involved three kids taking on one kid, with the goal of pinning the single opponent.

It reminded me quite a bit of the pig mud wrestling the kids did at the fair this year.

I immediately dubbed that exercise “Play Date.”

Three on One

After everyone participated in “Play Date” there was a short ceremony awarding one of the boys in class his yellow belt, which he earned in a test that went on simultaneously to the other kids’ practicing.  It was pretty cool.

After the awards ceremony the kids all had to participate in a hand-shaking line, going from highest skill level to lowest skill level, with each child required to shake the hand of each and every other in the class.  I’m not proud to say it, but this exercise was halted briefly near the end because my lovely daughter passed right by her brother and refused to honor him by shaking his hand.  Go figure.

When we got back home the kids went right outside to “practice.”  The beauty of this was that although they didn’t treat each other with any more restraint and respect than they ever did, and threw each other on the ground mercilessly (just like usual) for about an hour, there was no crying and not even a little tattling.

You see, now they’re not fighting – they’re doing karate.

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School, Sweet School……

Ah, we’ve completed another rite of passage here in the Desperate Household.  Today is the first day of school, and my babies are enjoying the kickoff of first and second grades, respectively.

My kids have been literally counting the days until school started, and the send-offs this morning were both quicker and less emotional than last year (at least for the children).  They were terribly excited to see old friends, and with a year of kindergarten behind him Batman had none of the uncertainty facing him that he experienced last year.

I walked the kids to their classrooms to deliver the giant bags of supplies, then it was time for them to go on outside and get in line with their classes.  Batman took off down the hall with nary a glance back; Annabelle hesitated in just a moment of uncertainty, then headed off after him.

Just like that they were gone, my last “I love you…” fading into the echoing laughter and excited squeals that comprise the flurry of activity signifying the first day of school.

We have all enjoyed our summer, I think.  It has been filled with swimming and horseback riding, vacations away and friends here, county fairs and sleepovers.  It has been a busy, but for us, relatively unscheduled summer.  I had said we would cut down on our horse showing this year, (not really meaning it, I don’t think) but the way things worked out we did show quite a bit less than last year, and that freed up multiple weekends to do other stuff.

This was also the first summer that I didn’t put the kids in a regular summer program, so they were hanging around the house with me most of the time and while that was fun, toward the end of summer it was clear that we all needed some routine back in our lives.  I embraced the idea of returning to school reluctantly, but I knew it was for the best.

For one thing, Batman got waaaaaay too comfortable sitting around in his underwear watching Paw Patrol (and occasionally Spongebob, don’t judge me) until noon every day, and for the past couple of weeks Annabelle mysteriously started sleeping in until 9:30, 10…even 11:00 one day, until I woke her in alarm to make sure she hadn’t slipped into a coma overnight.

I also let myself become a little….lax, I guess, in my daily production.  I still got up at a reasonable hour, but usually at 6 or 6:30 instead of 5:30 like normal, and spent a leisurely hour or so taking the dog for a run or working out.  Then I’d have breakfast and drink coffee, watching the news with Desperate Hubby until he left for work and I waited for the kids to get up.

Our days at home were filled with visitors this summer, which kept us busy and entertained.  Our company always seemed to be interested in horseback riding – and even Batman decided he liked to ride towards the end of summer, when he started loping Freckles around the arena as fast as he could get her going (which fortunately wasn’t very fast).

We had some trips away – a pleasant week in McCall with my in-laws and the extended family, a couple of traveling horse shows, and a last-hurrah-of-summer trip to beautiful Garden Valley, where we stayed in a cabin on the river and spent the days hiking, swimming, fishing and (the boys) golfing.

The one thing I didn’t do much of this summer was write.  I worked on a few pieces, and managed to get one complete story written for my Writer’s Group meeting this month, but all-in-all I’ve not been very diligent in that endeavor.  For the few of you who read my blog you probably noticed that my posts have been non-existent since before school got out.

With a more regular schedule I plan to remedy that; I’ve started a brand new writing project that I am excited about, and I need to capture some of our summer memories on my blog, before they fade away like my pronouncement of love this morning in the crowded hallway.

School is back; like it or not.  I might as well as embrace it.

1st Day School 2014

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Piñatas, Persistence And A Whole Lotta Glue

Last Friday I got to spend the day at school with Batman.  This was a special day, since while I spend most of every Monday helping Annabelle’s two first grade teachers, I rarely get the opportunity to spend time in Zach’s classroom.

The first occasion of the day was assisting in helping thirty kindergarteners each assemble a hand-made piñata.  This was accomplished by blowing up a balloon for each child, then basically watching helplessly as they coated the balloon, the table, the coats on the back of their chairs, and each other with a mixture of flour and water, also known as piñata glue.

It was a sight to see.

This picture was taken of the afternoon class making their piñatas. While overseeing the morning class in their construction efforts,  I’d come up with the idea of covering the next round of munchkins in garbage bags as a sort of smock, to prevent them from being covered in the very sticky white glue substance.  The morning class, who were mostly in their formal navy blue polo shirts, was covered in glue from top to bottom by the time they were finished.  And white glue shows up nicely on navy blue. That rhymes. How clever.  Or lucky.

Glue Everywhere

Anyway, I must admit that my interest was mostly selfish.

You see, Batman is in the afternoon class.

Paper Mache

And I wanted him clean.

Because he was receiving an award that afternoon.

Yes, that’s right. I was so proud of my baby boy.  Each month the school gives an award to a couple of kids from each class who best exhibit the monthly “Core Characteristic,” and for the month of April Batman was chosen for his mastery of the characteristic “Persistence.”

He didn’t know that he was receiving the award, but it was well deserved.

You see, Kindergarten started out as a bit of a challenge for him.  He is an active boy, not accustomed to sitting still for long periods of time, though his attention to detail and focus are commendable on any project that he chooses.  He has had to work hard to get used to the structure and seven-hour days that kindergarten entails at our school, and he’s made great strides.

I was so happy for him.

And look how clean!

Zachs Award

Categories: Cast of Characters, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | 1 Comment

Hoppy Trails, Snowfluff

We had to say goodbye to another beloved family pet yesterday.

Annabelle’s little bunny, Snowfluff, began exhibiting some unusual symptoms on Saturday afternoon.  She had her little head turned slightly to the side, like our dog Toby used to do when he got an ear infection.  As the weekend went on the tiny bunny got progressively worse, to the point where her furry head was turned almost upside down on her body.  In just a few short hours she was so unbalanced that she couldn’t eat pellets out of the purple dish she shared with Batman’s bunny, Princess, and she hopped in dizzying circles around the cage trying to eat her hay.

Yesterday morning I searched for a veterinarian to take a look at the bunny, starting with our usual small animal vet and progressing through the three other valley clinics they referred me to.  Each of the four phone calls went the same; they did not have an exotic animal vet available until later in the week.  For some reason I got an inspiration, and remembered reading a newspaper article about a small veterinary office right near us, with a single practitioner who treated all sorts of small animals.  I looked her up and with one phone call we had an appointment for right after school.

The kids and I rushed home after class to get the bunny, and Annabelle held her wrapped in a towel in a little plastic drawer on the drive to the vet, talking to her and trying to calm her down.   She sat on the wooden bench in the small office and answered the questions asked by the receptionist bravely, but I could tell she was really worried about her bunny.

Poor little Snowfluff was so disoriented that she would occasionally just start spinning in the towel, her entire body thrashing in an effort to right herself.  It was heart wrenching to watch.

Waiting for Doctor

The veterinarian was very kind, and it didn’t take her more than a minute or two to diagnose the problem.  Snowfluff had a grievous infectious disease that causes lesions of infection inside a bunny’s head.  Because the infection was deep in the skull it was impossible to treat effectively, and the only kind thing would be to put the bunny to sleep.  Many bunnies from pet stores (like Zamzow’s, where we got ours) are carriers of the disease, the vet told us.  Some bunnies develop the lesions and some do not.

Soft-hearted Batman was inconsolable at the news, and the vet gave Snowfluff a sedative to quiet her (which got Batman’s attention, as he asked in a snuffling voice “Is that the killing shot?”), then left us alone in the examining room for a few minutes to say goodbye.  After only a few minutes more the vet walked out and handed us a small cardboard box with Snowfluff’s body inside.  Batman insisted on opening the box and stroking the bunny, tears falling on her soft fur as he reached inside and kissed her one last time.

We’ll bury Snowfluff outside, next to Batman’s departed bunny this afternoon once the ground dries up a bit.  The vet told us that we should not acquire another bunny as a pet while  Princess is still alive, since while she might never develop the disease herself she was surely a carrier of it after living with Snowfluff for the past few months.

We talked a lot about Snowfluff after we got home, and about what happens when you die.

Batman said he prefers to think that Snowfluff is a wild bunny now, living in heaven with Batman/Blackie, the bunny that Winston the Maniac Dog dispatched last fall.

As for Miss Annabelle, she is using the opportunity to lobby for another hamster.

Sep Bunny Dress Up

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Batman Learns to Ride A Bike

Last Thursday I was working hard on a business project for Desperate Hubby.  When I picked the kids up from school that day I pretty much went straight into my office at home and stayed there until chore time.   I took a break to feed the horses and dogs in the drizzling rain, then was right back in my chair at about 5:30.  If I focused I could probably get my spreadsheets done that night.

At about 5:31 Batman presented himself at my office door.   He wanted to go outside and ride his bike.

Batman owns two bikes.  Both are cute little red machines, one has training wheels and he has ridden it for the last year and a half or so, very sporadically.  The other is slightly larger, with no training wheels, and he got that one from his cousin a year ago for his birthday.  He has never even tried to ride it.

I said no.  Daddy would be home any minute and he was going to make dinner.  I was busy, and there was no one to watch him outside.

Batman didn’t care.

“Why can’t I just go outside?”

I explained about the rain.  I explained about the ensuing darkness.  I explained about the mud.

Batman didn’t care.

He said he was going to just ride on the concrete not the mud.  He would wear his helmet and his pads.

He was going to teach himself to ride without training wheels.

Ah, I thought, this shouldn’t last long.  So I said fine, go outside and ride your bike.

I called in faithful Annabelle and asked her to please go out to the garage and watch her brother while he rode on the concrete parking pad, and to report if anything serious went wrong.  They headed outside.

At about 6:15 I decided I had worked so hard on my project that I should probably have a glass of wine.  When I walked into the kitchen I could see Batman outside the open garage door.  He had fallen on the ground; he was not crying, but he was not riding either.  Since it was nearly dark and raining harder than before I convinced him to come in the house and put off his self-taught riding lesson until the next afternoon.

Annabelle was very kind and promised him that as soon as they got home from school the next day she would go outside with him and help him.  Annabelle, incidentally, rides with training wheels too.

Friday was a lovely day, and I had a fun and productive riding lesson with my two beloved mares at the trainer’s in Kuna. I was driving home, pulling the horse trailer (in DH’s truck) when I learned this little life detail:  you can’t trust the computer on the truck to tell you when you are about to run out of diesel.    ‘41 Miles to Empty’ apparently can also mean ‘Forty-one Feet to Empty.’  My drive home subsequently took far longer than I had planned, and by the time I pulled into the driveway at about 3:30 DH had already picked the kids up from their 3:00 school release and they were outside playing.

I immediately spied Batman’s shiny red and black helmet, bobbing quickly down the dirt road.  How cute! was my first thought.  My second thought was, Why didn’t his dad make him change out of his school uniform?

A moment later I realized something else.  Batman was riding merrily along with no training wheels.

Look at Him Go

I unloaded the horses and put them away as my son rode in circles around me.

“I got it, mom!  I got it!!”  Clearly he did.  In less than two hours practice, with no adult supervision, my five-year old boy child had taught himself to ride a bike.

Amazing.

Especially since this is the same kid who regularly refuses to get himself dressed in the morning because he says he doesn’t know how, and who often forgoes an afternoon snack because he is too lazy to wash his hands.

I watched him ride for another half hour or so.  He crashed hard once, but shook it off as though it was nothing.  This is from the kid who puts half a box of band aids over a hang nail and refuses to bathe because there’s a chance they might fall off in the water.

The Crash

He kept on riding well into the evening, coming in the house only when it got dark.  Saturday morning he was up and ready to go out to ride at 6:00 am (this from the kid who kicks and screams every single morning when he has to be at school by 8:00).  I forced him to wait until it was fully light, at about 7:30, and he spent much of the rest of the day cruising happily around the property.

I have no idea where the child got the balance or the fortitude to learn what I think is a fairly complex skill all by himself.  Anyone who has ever seen me run or ski or even walk for that matter knows it wasn’t from me.  DH admits that it took him days if not weeks of help from his dad and older brother to learn to ride a bike.

I guess he’s a happy freak of nature.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

January 2014: Our Family Grows

No, I’m not pregnant!

I hope. Just kidding. I hope.

Nonetheless, our little family has grown over the past month. One would think that four horses, two dogs, four cats, two bunnies and a hamster (not to mention two children and two sometimes-childish adults) would be enough to fulfill us, but apparently that is not true.

It was actually the last day of 2013 when we were blessed with the best addition to our family since my own beloved children arrived, but forgive me because I have to backtrack a bit here.

Annabelle had been asking for puppy for Christmas since approximately last April. She wrote to Santa regularly, and we talked at length about her requirements for a dog. My daughter is a practical sort, and she wanted a dog that would not only be a good companion, but one that would also be fun to take to horse shows. That, in her (and my) mind, had its own set of requirements, which included:

  • Able to jump into the truck without help, but small enough to qualify for any hotel room.
  • Non-shedding.
  • Quiet.

I had casually looked for a dog for most of the last few months, especially after the kids had been so saddened by the loss of our old friend Toby in August. We had seen a couple of dogs that might work, but my slow (to Annabelle’s mind) reaction time had caused us to miss out, and in each case the dog had already been spoken for by the time we called about it.

It was the snowy morning of New Year’s Eve, and I was working in my home office. I casually clicked on to our local Craigslist Pet category, and saw a brand new (within 15 minutes or so) post. It was the cutest little dog, described as “Milo”, who was a schnauzer, poodle, yorkie type mix. He weighed nine pounds, according to the ad, was house trained and neutered, and came with his crate and supplies. He was free.

Just as I read the post, Annabelle popped into the room. She saw the picture. She requested that I read the ad out loud. Then she did the smartest thing ever – she demanded I call RIGHT THAT MINUTE. She reminded me that we had missed out on other dogs by waiting to call. So I did. Call. Right that minute.

And to my enduring wonder and joy, that afternoon we picked up our first new family member of 2014.

Milo The Coolest Dog In The World

Meet Milo the Monkey Dog. He isn’t really a monkey, obviously, but his round furry face punctuated with the most intelligent eyes I have ever seen on a dog do give him a particularly simian look.

I have been blessed with some pretty cool dogs in my life, but I have to say that Milo has to be in the top, well, two (it is hard to compete with Bette, the belgian malinois I owned when I moved back to Idaho some fifteen years ago).

Milo is a wonder.

He loves everyone.

He has boundless energy, and plays with Winston for hours of each day, barking and growling like a lion as he zooms around like a Ferrari playing tag with a cement truck. In fact, despite that fact that he tips the scales at less than 10% of Winston’s hefty 100 pounds, Milo runs the show.


The monkey dog is an amazing blend of rambunctious energy and lap dog, who will play with the kids until they quit in exhaustion, and steal Winston’s chew toy in the back yard and run around and around the big tree until Winston just gives up and lets him have it. Then he comes into the house and jumps on the first available lap and goes right to sleep. He spends his nights in one bed or another, he is not picky. He is equally happy to sleep with Batman in his camo-draped twin, share Annabelle’s queen-size bunk with her and old-lady-dog Maddie, or try to crowd me and Desperate Hubby out of our king-size mattress.
Milo travels with me everywhere in the truck. He waits patiently for me outside the barn while I ride my horse or when I’m in the grocery store, not sleeping or even relaxing on the seat while he waits, but maintaining a strict vigil with front feet on the dashboard and a focused squint in his bushy eyebrows. He is a gem in public, walking happily on his leash and greeting every passerby as a long-lost friend. He really shines at the Parent Pick-Up Line at the kids’ school, graciously accepting every hug and pat and squeeze from the throngs of kids wanting to meet him.
I really can’t imagine our lives without him. He was the perfect completion to our already pretty complete family.

Until he wasn’t.

 

You see, we weren’t long into the New Year when Batman started lobbying for a snake. Yep, you read that right. A snake. Of the slithering, mouse-eating, escape-from-the-cage-and-crawl-in-bed-with-mommy variety.

I have no idea where Batman got the hankering for a reptilian friend, but true to form, Desperate Hubby promised my boy a snake when they were canoodling after I went to bed one night.

I’m not sure how the conversation started, but I can tell you how it stopped, and that would be the instant that I found out that snakes don’t eat snake food. Well, I guess that’s wrong, they DO eat snake food. It’s just that snake food is mice. All snakes, apparently, eat mice. Either live (gross) or frozen (almost as gross). To my youngest child’s immense disappointment, I put my foot down.

No. Snakes. Period,

But the problem was that Batman really wanted to have a pet to live in his room like his sissy has Copper the Hamster. And daddy had promised, after all. I tried to float the idea of Batman getting his own hamster, but nothing doing. He didn’t want any pet that bit him. No negotiation.

We had a problem.

So I did what I normally do when faced with a difficult situation.

I called Grandpa Vernon.

Grandpa Vernon’s (real) grandkids have a pet gecko, and they love it. He told me all about the pet. It was tame. Easy to care for. Eats crickets and mealworms. Easy to handle and enjoys being carried around. That sounded perfect!

Off to the pet store we went.

Enter JoJo the Gecko

(See how that rhymes?)

JoJo is a charming little guy. He eats crickets. He is quiet and quite clean. He requires little care at all, really, compared to some of the other high maintenance members of our extended family.

Unfortunately, he also hides under his fake rock whenever you enter the room, and arches his back and hisses quite loudly when you try to pick him up.

Batman is terrified of him.

I do think our family is complete now,

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | 1 Comment

Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag Her Away

I am not a fan of reality television.

In fact, with the exception of a passing glimpse of the evening news and a few favorites on the cooking channel, I don’t actually watch a whole lot of tv.

A recent find on the National Geo Wild channel changed all that.

One cold weekend in December we happened upon the first of a three-part series called “Mustang Millionaire.”  The basic premise of the show was to follow the adventures of five horse trainers as they bought a wild mustang from one of several approved government sales early in 2013 and trained it for 120 days.  After the training period was finished, the trainers would show the horse in a big horse show, competing for $1 million in total prize money.  The first place prize alone paid a whopping $200,000 cash plus a brand new Dodge Ram pickup.

This program fascinated me on a couple of different levels.  First of all, how does one take a creature that has lived as a wild animal for its entire life and in only four months be performing reining patterns and tricks on it in the middle of the jam-packed Fort Worth stock show arena? Topping that was the surprising realization that these mustang trainers were competing for more than twice the purse of the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, where trainers show horses that they have been riding and preparing for almost two years, and which cost tens and sometimes of hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy as a young prospect.  It didn’t seem right somehow.

Nonetheless, we were all pretty intrigued by the program, none more than Annabelle, who declared that someday she, too, would be competing in the Mustang Million competition.  We looked up the data and requirements on the mustang shows and found that they did in fact offer an opportunity for youngsters to show a mustang, allowing trainers as young as eight years old to gentle and exhibit a yearling filly.  That really got Annabelle going.

Thank god she is only seven.

Anyway, since that day we have had much discussion amongst the household about mustangs.  In an amazing display of coincidence, when we took our horses last Saturday over to the Lucky Run arena in Kuna to ride, we got into a discussion with a fellow rider who had just ridden out at the Wilson Creek BLM Management area the previous weekend.  She told us of the excitement of spotting and observing a herd of wild horses right near the trailer parking area.  The Wilson Creek area is home to the Hardtrigger BLM Herd Management Area, which is the range for to up to 160 wild horses at a time according to the BLM website.

We have ridden at Wilson Creek before, a couple of times.  In fact, during one momentous ride last spring, I was privy to the sight of not one but two separate bands of mustangs, which I photographed copiously to share with my horse crazy progeny, who was in school that day.  Annabelle and I rode together at Wilson Creek after that, in the hopes that she could see the horses for herself, but the last time we rode there we famously became a little lost and worried for a while that we might have to eat Winston to survive the night.

Well, we actually didn’t think we’d have to eat Winston, but nonetheless Annabelle lost all navigational trust in me that day and has subsequently refused to even consider returning to Wilson Creek to ride while under my direction.

I don’t really blame her.

Anyway, after talking to Katie about the wild horses for awhile I sensed that my little girl’s mental wheels were turning.  We were driving to our friend Christine’s house for dinner that night when she got an inspiration.  “Mom, do you think we could see if Christine wants to go with us to Wilson Creek tomorrow to see the wild horses?  I’ll ride Reno and she can ride Grumpy.”  We have ridden with Christine quite a few times in the past, and Annabelle trusts her implicitly not to get us lost, and takes comfort in the fact that she knows how to operate her GPS effectively.  As well as the 9mm sidearm she never leaves home without.

I agreed that we should invite Christine out, since I love to ride with her and I was also pretty sure she hadn’t been on a long trail ride since her return from her family’s year long sailing excursion last fall (www.truansea.com), if you’d like to read their awesome blog about it), though I warned Annabelle our friend might not be able to go on such short notice.

We hadn’t been in the door of Christine’s house two minutes before my ultra-focused daughter inquired about her riding availability.  To all of our mutual delight, she reported that she was available to go out the next day and would love to join us.  That settled it.

Annabelle was up early on Sunday preparing. She cleaned out the horse trailer and filled it with a fresh bag of shavings.  She filled the hay bags with feed for the trip and somehow managed to hoist them over her head to clip them in place for each horse in the trailer.  Then she caught the horses and insisted on loading them all herself while Christine and I watched on.

She is a bit of a show-off, that kid.

We made the thirty-minute drive to Wilson Creek in good spirits.  Christine said it had been at least twenty years since she had ridden that area, and Annabelle told her all about the time I had gotten us lost there.

When we got to the parking lot we unloaded and started saddling up.  Christine had her own saddle and packs for Grumpy, and Annabelle directed her as to the proper grooming techniques and bridle to be used for her horse.  Bossy little thing.

Given that it was a cold afternoon (the temperature gauge on my truck said 27 when we arrived) with remnants of snow covering the rocky ground, we were surprised that there were a few fellow riders in the parking area getting ready to hit the trails.  Just as we were about ready to head out ourselves, we were joined by one more truck and trailer.  It parked right beside us, and the two gentlemen got out of the vehicle and headed right over to where we stood.

They wanted to talk about Reno, who was looking quite sporty with his pink vet-wrapped front legs, which perfectly matched his rider’s winter coat and stocking hat. The conversation sort of took off from there, and we learned our new friends names (Jim and Bob) and that it was Bob’s birthday that day.  Jim and Bob were frequent riders at Wilson Creek, and told us that they had just spotted the wild horses the previous weekend.

They went back to their trailer and started saddling their own mounts, and in a few minutes called over to us.  They were inviting us to ride along with them.  They thought they just might be able to find the wild horses for Annabelle.

Now normally I am a pretty cautious rider, and I certainly would not have ridden off into the back country with a couple of strange men, especially with my seven-year old daughter along.  But we were with Christine.  And Christine’s gun.  And they looked like really nice guys.

See?

our guides

Annabelle was vocally eager to throw our lot in with them, and after little hesitation we all headed out together, Reno trotting along to keep up with the faster pace of Lightning and Dakota, Bob and Jim’s experienced trail horses.

Up the Trail

Despite the cold, it was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining and there was no wind.  That was why it was easy to get lulled into a sense of ease and tranquility.

Which didn’t last forever.

We headed off pretty much due south, and started climbing right away.  After about an hour the path became icy and narrow.  This was no problem for Lightning and Dakota, nor for Reno, who has done many a back country mile on his stubby black legs.

Icy Little Path

But Christine and I were riding arena horses.  Show horses.  Horses that were wearing metal shoes that slipped on the icy frozen snow.  I was getting nervous.

Up the Icy Trail

I told myself not to be a baby.  And then I heard Christine, who was riding behind me call out.  “Are you comfortable on this trail, Paula?”  My reply was swift.  “Not really,” I answered.  “Grumpy is struggling a bit on the ice,” she reported back.

After a brief discussion we decided to get off and lead the horses for a bit, and our guides promised to divert shortly over to a trail that would not be so slick.  For her part Annabelle was pretty disgusted with us older ladies, opting to stay on her horse instead of walking.

After of course she made sure we understood that this did not mean we were turning around.  After a bit we did get off the ice.  Mostly. But we kept on climbing.

Single Track

And climbing.

Up the Steep Hill

Annabelle kept right up with Lightning.  Christine and I plugged along as best we could.  Our horses were out of shape, and unaccustomed to the steep terrain.  We were afraid to push them too hard.

We stopped here and there for pictures of each other.  I still looked pretty happy here.

Mama and Freckles

Christine loved riding Grumpy.  Of course.  He is a gem.

She didn’t even mind the pink polo wraps that Annabelle had carefully wrapped around Grumpy’s front legs before we left.  Even though they totally didn’t match her orange saddle bags and holster.

Christine on Grumpy

All along, whenever the front riders waited for us to catch up and we got to chat for a bit, Annabelle kept up a running commentary.  The commentary varied somewhat along the way but it had one common theme.  Something along the lines of “It is SO NICE to ride with people who know what they are doing for a change.”

Huh.

We rode and we rode.  There was no sign of the wild horses.  Well, except for the giant “stallion piles” that sporadically littered the trail we followed.

Pretty Girl

We circled around and finally we came to the top of the mesa, looking out over the entire valley below in a view I never get tired of.

View of the World

From the vantage point on top of our trusty steeds we saw the valley below.  We saw the massive feedlot that held thousands of cows.  We saw the clear blue sky crisscrossed by fluffy white airplane vapor trails.

We saw the road.  The road that would take us RIGHT BACK TO THE TRAILER. The road was RIGHT THERE.  So close I could almost touch it.

What we didn’t see were any wild horses.

I was cold.  Freckles was tired.  Grumpy was sweaty.  We had been riding for almost three hours.   Tomorrow was Monday, a school day.  I was ready to be done.

Annabelle was not.

Jim and Bob said we could turn east and expand our loop a little. It would increase our riding time, but there was one more draw where the horses might be.

I wanted to say no.  The road back to the trailer was RIGHT THERE.

But Annabelle answered for us.  “YES!  I am riding until we find the horses! You can go back to the truck and wait for me if you want mom, but I am not giving up!”  As unlikely as it sounds, I think she actually meant that…..she would totally have gone on without me.  As if I’d have let her.

I sighed.  Freckles sighed.  Grumpy sighed.  Christine smiled indulgently.

And we set off.  Annabelle rode further in front of us than ever, Reno trotting along tirelessly to keep up with the quick strides of Bob’s blazer, Lightning.  We rode through one draw and over the top of the next.  Inside I was bemoaning our decision to ride with strangers.  My legs hurt and I was worried I would cripple my irreplaceable show horse on this wild goose chase.

130

Suddenly, as the tiny-appearing riders crested a ridge in front of us Annabelle stopped.  She and Bob both pointed.  Then she looked down at where Christine and I slowly approached, Freckles and Grumpy picking carefully along the lava covered hillside.

And she raised her finger to her lips in the age-old symbol for quiet.  She waved her arms again to make sure we were looking, and said “quiet” again in sign language.

They had seen the horses.

As I crested the hill, I saw what they were looking at.  At first I saw only one horse.

First Horse

Then a few more sauntered over the far away ridge.

Pretty Blazes

We sat quietly, taking turns passing around field glasses for a closer look.  Well, actually Annabelle kept them the whole time.

Through the Glasses

The band of horses continued to grow, filing over the hill one-by-one, until they trailed across the hillside in a long line of mares and nearly-grown foals, followed at a watchful distance by the solid colored bay stallion.

Spread Out Herd

When they were all over the ridge, they stopped to look at us.

Hardtrigger Gang

We rode a little closer, but of course as we approached they moved further away.  Freckles and all the other horses were fascinated by the sight of them.

Herd Through Ears

All sense of being tired and cold left me as I marveled at the privileged site in front of us.  They were just brumbies, I knew, but there was something majestic about them too.

I just loved all those big white blazes.

All the White Faces (2)

After we watched the band for twenty minutes or so it was time to head back down toward the trucks.  We had almost an hour ride left to get back, and the darkness was inching toward us.

We peeled Annabelle away from the horses with some difficulty, and headed back down the hill.

The Long Way Down

A brisk breeze had picked up as the sun lowered in the sky, and it was getting really cold as we rode along.

But it had been worth it.

We pulled into home just as darkness fell.  Christine insisted on helping us to unload the horses and get them settled in before she left for her house.  We both had to sit and watch as Annabelle unloaded the horses from the trailer one-by-one, all by herself.

She is a goer, that one.

When we finally made it inside Desperate Hubby and Batman had prepared a feast of beef and elk tacos with rice-a-roni for dinner and had a big fire going in the fireplace.  It was heaven on earth.

The perfect end to a perfect day.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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