I had been planning to write about the Excitement Of It All: A hurricane is pointing itself at us! But then I went for a riding lesson and got great news, and anything with a horse in it automatically trumps anything without. In my world, at least.
My last riding lesson was HORRIBLE. I rode a horse I haven’t ridden in a while, and he’s too smart for his own good, and he’s bratty by nature, and too smart in a lesson horse = bored, and bratty by nature in a lesson horse = normal, but bored and bratty by nature = Riding Hell. He’s like a three year old kid who has missed his nap…it’s not really a question of will he misbehave, it’s when and how will he misbehave. I groomed him out and told him that I Want None Of Your Nonsense Today Mister, and hopped on. And as long as I remembered that it’s not will, it’s when and how, he was fine. The problems started when he’d behaved for just long enough that I thought he was going to keep on keeping on and I let down my guard, and asked the question will he. Of course, the answer was Heck YEAH! and as soon as he sensed that I had dropped my guard, he started up with it. First he stopped listening to my requests for downward transitions. He’d slow down, all right, but he’d keep trotting. At one point, he was trotting more slowly than he walks. I did not know that it was possible for a horse to maintain a trot at that crawling pace. But he found a way, by golly. Next thing, he decided he was tired of listening to my aids. He’d race away from leg yields, he’d pull his head up in the air to avoid the bit, he’d continually attempt to break into a trot if I didn’t constantly keep a ton of pressures on the reins. Then he started running me into the rails (and not listening to leg aids or the bit, right). That was the first time I’d left a riding lesson in tears.
Today, hallelujah, I was back on my favorite horse, a big red chestnut warmblood who had a former career as a Grand Prix show jumper. This guy is ATHLETIC and his movement is HUGE. And he is so freaking sweet that I have to constantly fight the temptation to put little kissies all over his muzzle. Not because I’m worried about cooties or ick – I stuck my fingers in his mouth this morning because he’d stuffed a big wad of chewed up hay and grain into his lip and then couldn’t get it back out – but because horse heads are mostly bone, and they have hair-trigger reflexes, and it seems to me that putting my mouth anywhere near a horse head is a good recipe for getting a busted lip. But I still want to do it anyway, because he is CUTE. He loves to be groomed, and he lets his lower lip hang down and sinks into a cocked-hip stance and closes his eyes. I found a Spot today with the brush that makes him stretch his head way up and curl it over and open his mouth and pull his lips out and apart. It is kind of like finding that Spot that makes dogs wiggle one of their legs.
Anyway, he and I were having a terrific ride, all the better because of how awful the last one on the other horse was, and because it feels like ages since I’ve ridden regularly (in reality: 3 weeks). Then, ooh! ooh! ooh! my teacher offered to let me come ride him an extra time in the week to exercise him! This is AWESOME! For one, it means I get to spend more time with the horse, which I love just all for itself. For two, it means that I’m a good enough rider to ride by myself (well, with someone in the barn in case I get an emergency). This is a really good horse, too, so it means I’m good enough that I’m probably not going to screw him up. I’m so EXCITED!
Naturally, I can’t start this right away because there is a hurricane pointed at me. It’s very interesting to observe people’s behavior around here. In Texas, you seem to get two types: one type thinks the sky is falling and rushes out to the grocery in the middle of the night to buy 50 gallons of water and every C-cell battery in the shop. The other type thinks that the storm will never hit them, and takes absolutely no precautions whatsoever, and scoffs at the first type.
I’ve got to say, I don’t have a lot of respect for either extreme, but if I had to pick one group, I’d pick the group that hits the grocery in the night. Why? The second type (it can’t happen here) tends to cite the large number of times that the forecasters have predicted a storm track and been wrong and they use this as evidence that the forecasters are just wrong, and we don’t need to worry about it.
There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking – first, the forecasts are usually for a spread, because we have a finite amount of data – only several decades, really – and they’re trying to predict the behavior of a very complicated system. This is not a “hey, they do their best” apology – it’s a commentary on the poor grasp that the general population has on statistics. The meterologists have generated some nice graphics to represent the statistical probabilities – you can see the spread in the form of a cone. If you’re on the fringe of the cone you need worry less than if you’re right in the middle of the thing…but because we will need another couple hundred years worth of observational data to get really good models, just because you ain’t in the cone doesn’t mean you don’t have a potential problem. I went through Hurricane Charlie back in the early 2000’s in Orlando, and believe me, Orlando was not in the cone, and it wasn’t anywhere near it. Yet the storm took a bizarre right-hand turn in the gulf and headed straight at us. It was my private opinion that this had something to do with me being in Orlando – I have a long history with storms named Charlie. Anyway, the predictive accuracy of the models aren’t what we’d like to see, but they’re getting better every year. So the fact that a forecaster was wrong last time does not mean that they will be wrong this time. That’s logical problem 1.
The second problem I have with that thinking is that it isn’t very sophisticated. Hurricane preparations aren’t as simple as a will it/won’t it equation. If it will or if it might there is a much more complicated calculus that goes on about when and how to prepare for it, and this calculus has everything to do with a very complex set of risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses (ooh! I am sneaking some ACCOUNTING in here, getting ready for the term that I hope is going to start on Tuesday).
The problem with type 1, above, is that this response also does not take into consideration the various risks, etc. There are a lot of potentially undesirable consequences to going through a hurricane, starting with property damage (roof gets busted, glass gets broken) and moving on to more general issues (power is out, water is not safe to drink), and ultimately, to personal safety issues (minor injuries from glass, disease from water supply, major injury from being hit with something heavy, to death – crushing, drowning, electrocution, etc.). A good decision-making process is going to consider all of these things, evaluate how likely they are to occur, what actions can be taken to avoid/prevent them, how costly those actions are, and whether the costs of the preventive action are less than the benefits of the preventive action.
All the time I am telling my students that – textbook exercises aside – no one has a crystal ball. So I do not know for certain that I will get hit by a hurricane this weekend. However, there is a reasonable probability that this will occur, so I need to go into the risk assessment. I live in a big old house with lots of windows, so I need to be concerned about the potential for damage to those. If the damage just comes from the wind ripping up shingles, I can’t do anything about that other than research roofing contractors. I can do something to limit the chances that some object will damage the roof or the windows…and so tomorrow, I will be scouring the property and bringing in anything that is light enough for me to pick up with one hand.
I’ve got a big juniper tree by my parking spot, so be sure: the cars will get stored in the municipal garage. And I don’t have a saw, let alone a chainsaw, so I’ll just have to pray that none of the branches come down.
If we get nailed, the power will be going out, because we don’t have any underground lines, and history indicates that it’s a challenge for the local authorities to restore power quickly when the outage is in the least bit complicated, and I’m pretty sure that the power would go out to the entire area, so it will be out for a good long while if it does. I can’t prevent that, but I can make sure that the flashlights are easy to access and have fresh batteries – we’ll get a chance to try out our new hand-crank LED light from LL Bean – and I can fill up my car with gas and get some cash from the ATM. People don’t really grasp just how much their lives are governed by the availability of electricity until it’s gone. Gas pumps require electricity. ATM machines and credit card readers do too. And microwave ovens. And cell phones. And computers. So, I’ve got the flashlights ready to go, the car will be tanked up tonight, the wallet will be filled, the phone and computers charged, and tomorrow early will be Cooking Day. The freezer is emptied of anything non-essential. The cat will just have to live without his drinking fountain.
We’re also being warned about the potential for some wicked bad flooding, which will screw up our water supply. Hopefully it will not flood our house. If it does, there isn’t a hell of a lot we can do about that – all of the clothes and perishable items in the basement are already stored in plastic tubs, just because you never know when you’re going to get water in. If the water supply has trouble there won’t be enough water to flush the toilet. Which is why I’m going to be filling the tub with water, because you can usually “force” a flush by pouring a quantity of water into the loo. And it was easy enough to lay in five gallons of drinking water.
My analysis tells me that I’ve covered all of the major bases that I can reasonably expect to be a problem. So, other than the chores above, My Work Here Is Done. I’m just going to sit back and hope that the Magical Spell of Preparedness persuades the storm that it should bugger off and go mess with someone else in a different area.
The only lingering issue I’m facing is the Tomato Question. Obviously, I harvest the ones that are nearly ripe. But do I harvest the green ones and ripen them in the kitchen, like I do before the frost? I would only do that if they’re likely to get blown or beaten off the plant. For all I know, the plant itself is going to have every little leaf stripped off. But if the winds aren’t that bad, I’d rather leave the tomatoes on the bush to ripen properly. And what about the stakes? My Sungold is trying to take over the universe. It’s staked like crazy. I don’t really want these stakes to become javelins hurled through the air by the Wind Gods and puncturing my windows, but I think that they’re pretty firmly anchored into the plant itself, and if the stakes come up they may well pull the plant up too, in which case we’ll have some large bundle of stake and vegetation, which will be less aerodynamically inclined than a stake alone.
These are the philosophical questions that plague me at the present.
There has not been a hurricane in this area in almost thirty years, and the people around here do not know what it means. They are treating it as if it was a big winter storm, which means that – good, they are buying water and batteries – but even the biggest winter storms here do not involve sustained winds of 70 mph. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes – I didn’t think I was going to need to worry about any of these things after moving to New England.
Here’s a great recipe to make for a hurricane. It cooks up fairly quickly and can be served at any darned temperature – it’s great hot, cold, and room temp. And it will keep at room temp for a surprisingly long time. Oh, and it’s also extra delicious and easy. And it can be scaled up easily (increased in size, not upscaled and increased in glamour).
Corn, Scallion, and Potato Frittata
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts sliced separately
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 T olive oil
1 very large russet (baking) potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 sack of corn, minimum 10oz, thawed if frozen
4 large eggs
6 oz shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
Cook white part of scallions and garlic in 2 T oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add potato and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add corn and salt and pepper to taste, then cook, stirring, about 1 minute for thawed corn or 3 minutes for fresh corn.
Whisk together eggs, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in potato mixture and scallion greens.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil in cleaned skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Then cook frittata without stirring, shaking skillet once or twice to loosen frittata, until underside is golden but top is still wet, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat.
If skillet handle is not oven-proof, wrap handle in a double layer of foil. Broil frittata about 3 inches from heat until top is just set and golden, about 2 minutes. Slide onto a plate. Can serve as is, or with sour cream or greek yogurt as a topping.