And You May Ask Yourself: How Did I Get Here?

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And you may ask yourself: How do I work this?

And you may tell yourself: That is not my beautiful house!

Once again, I find myself taking Philosophical Inspiration from David Byrne and the Talking Heads, and thus, I suppose, giving away my position as the vanguard for Generation X.

Now, Huey has had a lot of time on the blog, lately, well, because he lives in a world of such Exceptionable Drama we might as well make a soap opera out of it.  Grey’s Anatomy has nothing, I repeat nothing on the naked, thrilling excitement of Life At The Barn.  It is abundantly clear to me, as I develop my relationship with him, that he sees the world in ALL CAPS, italics, and a virtually endless supply of !!!!!.  In fact, I would hazard the guess that every third thought that crosses his brain is comprised entirely of “!!!!”.

Lest anyone get the idea that this is Horses, in general, I assure you that there are many horses in the barn that do not think primarily in ALL CAPS!!!!!!  In fact, the only other horses I can think of at the barn that have a tendency to think in ALL CAPS!!!! are all young mares…and when I say “young” I mean “young enough to be new to that whole ‘saddle’ thing”.  Huey, as we all know, is not “young” by any stretch.

No.  He is Sensitive.  Or, possibly, sensitive. Or, really, he is SENSITIVE!!!!

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore Huey.  It’s not exactly that He Can Do No Wrong In My Eyes, because he does stuff of which I disapprove all the time.  It’s just that I don’t consider that doing that stuff…detracts…from him in any way.  He’s a freaking Drama Queen. No, I don’t mean Drama King.  I don’t even know what a Drama King would be.  He is definitely a Drama Queen.  He shares that with his step-daddy, Roy, by the way.  He is also, I regret to say, a bully.  This, he shares with his step-brother Buster Kitty, also a first-class bully.  He’s excessively Sensitive.  All that stuff about getting shocked by the blanket?  Just so you all know, we’re talking about the tiniest possible transfer of static electricity.  I mean, we’re talking about the kind of static electricity you get when you brush your hair when it’s dry and cold out.  All those little crackles that you can’t really even feel?

That’s what he’s freaking out about when he starts going off about getting ZAPPED (note the Drama!!!!) and blatting through his nose and frowning – my trainer says horses don’t have the muscles to frown, and I believe that, but I really don’t know how else to characterize the puckered look he gets on his face when he’s pissed off that someone has just delivered the tiniest possible static charge to him.  Oh, yeah, I can’t forget:  he is a veritable Master of the Stink Eye.

Some days, I feel like I haven’t really Lived unless I’ve gotten the Stink Eye from Huey.

I prefer not getting the Stink Eye, just like any parent.  It’s one thing to say that if your kids don’t hate you, you’re not doing your job (kind of true); it’s another thing to do stuff knowing that you’re going to be getting some bloody great hissy fit and the Stink Eye, combined with a lot of sulking.

It’s amazing how loud a hairy 1,200lb quadruped can sulk, too.  You parents of human children?  You don’t know sulking until you’ve been subjected to something the approximate size of a Prius sulking. at. you. as. loudly. as. it. can.  Geez.  I can almost – not quite, but almost – understand the (horse) parents who put up with infinitely escalating Bad Behavior on the part of their kids, just because they can’t stand the thought of dealing with Yet Another Epic Sulking Fit.

Almost, I say.  Because with kids, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hormone-charged death machine wanting to borrow the keys of the car, or getting into fights on the playground.

With horses, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hair-trigger stampeding death machine vaulting out from under you as you sit five feet above ground.

Notice, I don’t say “and getting into fights on the playground.”

I speak from Experience.  I donot put up with Bad Behavior from my horse.  Or, not very much, and only until I learn from the Wiser Heads that surround me at the barn how best to Put A Stop To That Nonsense.  Huey, for example, had the extremely bad habit ofcharging into and out of his stall, like he thought that the stall door was a Hell Mouth that was ready and primed to close around his juicy, soft, sweet Horse Belly.  He did this to me twice.  The first time, I was surprised, and green, and didn’t take action on it, because all I could think was “What the heck just happened there?”

Also, he wasn’t mine then, either.

The second time he tried that stuff, he was mine, and I was ready for it.  And Mr. Sensitive (aka Mr. Panicky And Imperious) found himself getting repeatedly backed up the barn aisle until the penny dropped that I Was NOT Going To Stand For That.  And, really, that’s the last time I had that problem.  The only issue I have with My. Imperious coming out of his stall is that there is typically a bale of hay parked in the vicinity for the convenience of the Barn Owner, and he considers that to be his Private Salad Bar.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, my grandma always said, and she was right.  I just assume he’s going to make a bid for the hay, and I make sure to be in the way.  Voila.  No trouble there.  It keeps me on my toes, or whatever the mental equivalent of my toes is, but hey, I’m OK with that.

And the grass, and the carrots, and the fact that he wants to pick fights with every other gelding in the barn, and that whole phase we went through for a month where he didn’t feel like going in the halter, and the way he doesn’t feel like going into the round pen to lunge, and, and, and…

I spend a lot of time with Huey thinking “I can’t believe this is my horse.”

Most of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this awesome horse is my awesome horse.”

But, honestly, some of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this fractious, imperious, demanding, hypersensitive, drama queen of a horse is my horse.”

The accumulated wisdom of the web (which is actually significant, when it comes to the Horse Community) would seem to indicate that the Perfect First Horse is some bombproof, totally seasoned, totally trained, mellow, older horse that has Seen And Done It All.  Some horse that is the next thing to impossible to spook, some horse that alreadyknows all the moves, some horse that is laid back.

While Huey is…seasoned…it’s “seasoned” to very high levels of high-pressure competition.  He’s older, all right, and he’s Seen And Done It All, if by “All” you mean “some serious competition in a rollicking adrenaline-soaked racket over some jumps of a height that any individual with a sense of self-preservation would look at them and head the other direction.”  Bombproof?  As long as he doesn’t get distracted, startled, or have his Competitive Instincts stirred up by the presence of Any Other Horse. Trained? If you want to use him to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  Knows all the moves?  Translation: Requires active higher-reasoning skills in order to stay one step in front of.

In short, he’s not your…typical…first…horse.  He’s more…an Adventure on Four Feet.  A Thrilling Companion.  One that is happy to cede Leadership of the Troupe…as long as the Right to hold that leadership is demonstrated definitively…every five to ten minutes.

I wouldnever have him in my backyard, even if my backyard was bigger than his stall, which it’s not.  This is a horse to have and keep when there are seasoned, wiser, experienced individuals about.

And, speaking of those Seasoned, Wiser, Experienced Individuals, I found out this morning that Huey has been trying his rubbish when I’m not there.  He knows perfectly well that he is not I repeat NOT allowed to run me over or shoulder, intimidate, or otherwise pressure me physically when I am taking him in or out of his stall.  I gather, based on my latest Parent-Teacher Conference, that he is not nearly so confident in his understanding of this matter with regards to other individuals who handle him at the barn. For example, he exercised the Very Poor Judgment this morning of trying that stuff on the Barn Owner.  The Barn Owner is the only individual that is sufficiently significant in Huey’s world to have a Name.  In general, he regards her as being some kind of Supreme Being.  Not so Supreme, I should note, that when she’s doing some training with him in the round pen, that he has both ears plastered to her – he always has one on her, and one on me, as if I’m going to write him some kind of Excuse Note to get him off of his classwork.

So I was very surprised this morning when the Barn Owner mentioned that Huey had been Very Naughty that morning, and that she’d had to spank him (or the Horse Training Equivalent thereof).  I was grooming Himself in the cross ties, and she stopped to chat.  This isn’t uncommon, but this time, it started out “He was really naughty this morning.” and as I said “What did he do!” I noticed that he had craned his head around to fix his eye on both of us, and that eye was…Wild.  It was rolling, and it had a lot of white.

Now, this is very interesting, because he’s used to a lot of chatter – including a lot of chatter about him – going on while I’m grooming him.  But this time, with the whites? I only wish I’d had a camera.

That little bugger knew that 1) we were talking about him, and 2) that it was a Parent-Teacher Conference.  He knew he was getting tattled on.  It was extraordinary, that look.

I wish I could say I was surprised that he was Acting Out around the barn staff, but I’m not that naive.  I was very glad to hear that the Barn Owner had dealt with the situation definitively.  I really do not see that the barn staff should have to put up with anything like that.  Problem is, what Mr. Super Smart Horse learns is not “This behavior is Not OK” what he learns is “I cannot get away with this behavior around X, Y, or Z.”  And anyone else?

Fair Game.

And you may tell yourself: How did I wind up with the kid that beats up the other kids on the playground, and cuts up in the classroom as soon as the teacher’s back is turned, but behaves like an angel at home?

I don’t know.  I am horrified, sometimes, to realize that my kid is the one that beats up all the others.  My kid is the one that mouths off to the teacher.  He doesn’t do that stuff at home, but he’s constantly looking to see who he can get away with that stuff.

And the days go by…let the water hold me down…

I can understand where anyone reading this blog gets the idea that the only thing I ever do is horses.

Not true.

Once in a lifetime…water flowing underground.

I’m almost done with the term.  When I was an undergraduate, I would have lived for the summer break, except that the summer break was when I tended to the businesses I was running in order to round up some cash to go to school.  I didn’t have a lot of “break” when I was a student…working a 40-hour-per-week job while attending night classes at a school 30 miles away doesn’t leave a lot of “break” time.  Basically, my “break” was when I got to just work 40 hours a week like every other person, instead of having to schedule, organize, and plan every freaking second of my (all too short) waking hours.  Graduate school wasn’t any better – we had classes all summer, and more.  Research. Work.

As a Young Faculty member, it hasn’t been much different.  Summer is when you do a lot of research.  Or – for the last five freaking years for me, it’s when you mess with your classes.  Every summer for the last five years has been spent building some class that I was going to teach for the first time, ever, in the coming academic year.

This is a vast amount of work.  Until you’ve done it, you have no idea.  And to those of you who haven’t, I have no way of explaining.  There’s no frame of reference.

A lot of students, I think – and I used to be among them, which is how I know – think that professors work…maybe 9 hours per week teaching, and another 5 hours per week in office hours.  Total of 14 hours per week.

I had the great and rare experience this past week of an advisee dropping by to share some very good news about her progress in a class (which I love to hear) and telling me that “well, there’s all this stuff that goes on behind the scenes! Professors work a TON of hours when school is in session!”

Which is true.  It’s at least a 60 hour per week job, what with course planning, grading, and answering the (to date) 457 e-mails from students (just this term) and the online discussion forum (which has, at this moment, 242 messages, all of which I’ve had to read, many of which I’ve had to respond to.  Oh, yeah, and there’s the administrative stuff. OH YEAH, AND THE RESEARCH.

The thing is, this is the first time in 15 years that I’ve had an undergrad standing in my office going “Yeah, I can’t believe how much work professors have to put in.”

I didn’t ask her – and should have – how many professors she’s got in the family.  Because I can’t think of any other way that she would know.

And you may ask yourself: Where is that large automobile?

As long as I’m feeling like I’m living in a foreign country, what with Being The Mom Of  A Bully and Having Undergrads Who Grasp The Amount Of Work We Professors Put In, I’ll close with some True News of the Weird.

I take my Hometown Paper.  It’s been published, continuously, for over 225 years.  That, alone, is enough to qualify: And you may find yourself, in another part of the world.

There ain’t anything been going on in Texas for 225 years, except maybe a few Indian mounds.  And maybe the evolution of Tex-Mex.  But newspapers? Houses? No. Nothing of that vintage where I come from.

I started taking my Hometown Paper when I became a Property Owner.  My diehard spouse, the Redoubtable Roy, takes the Sunday New York Times.  I, however, felt that the Sunday Times was going to offer little or no insight on stuff that affects my Property Values.  Zoning stuff.  Information about the Paving Backlog.  That kind of Important Thing.  And I’m right, and I do, all the time, find myself in the position of saying to Roy “Oh, yeah, of course [thing is going on], I read about that in the Gazette.”

If the Gazette published a daily listing of Traffic Construction Sites around town, my life would truly be complete.

As it is, I get the General News:  I know, for example, to expect the construction on the Controversial Look Park Roundabout this week – to fix cracks in the brickwork that was installed improperly by State Crews and has been disrupted by the Eighteen-Wheel Crowd – and I also know that the state is footing the bill for this.  It gives me a Warm Feeling in the belly to know this stuff.

But what I wish to close with today is that vision of the Friday Circular, which lists (the actually quite tremendous and impressive) scope of Cultural Activities, and includes, as a Human Interest Feature, the “Style Stop.”  I don’t know where to start with the Style Stop.  It always seems to be photographed in the same place, and my conclusion is that either the Style Stop Editor engages in some recreational drug use behind the city parking garage and then finds someone “funky” to snap…or that this chore is delegated to the city-approved panhandler who flashes his license at you before launching into his Panhandling Pitch.  In any case, this week’s photo features an older guy, wearing a pair of sunglasses, a bandanna wrapped around his head, a pair of faded, stained denim overalls, a wife-beater shirt, and a tattooed arm.  The Style Stop Editor refers to this as a “look” that is “casual, but put together.”

I will reproduce here, the salient features of the ensuing interview.

The Overalls: I wear them so my pants don’t fall down.

Undershirt: Sleeves just kind of get in the way.

Bandanna: So I don’t get sunburned on my bald spot.

It goes on from there.  All I can think is what fun this Style Spot Editor would have with 90% of my Homies from Texas.  Warm it up, crew, and when you visit me next, we’ll loiter, and you can be the next “casual, but put together” style feature in the paper.

And you may tell yourself: My God, What Have I Done?

Woman in Window

I think it's time to go back to Italy. This place is just getting too weird. Only, I don't want to piss off the horse. It's a quandary...

We’re in Fiddlehead, Asparagus, and Morel Season now.  The local morels are way more full of sand than the ones I’m used to from Madison.  It’s nasty.  No matter how long I soak the buggers, they’re still full of grit when I finish cooking them.  Ugh. So here’s a fiddlehead recipe, for those of you lucky enough to be near some place where fiddleheads get wildcrafted:

Fiddlehead Pasta

1 lb capellini
1 lb fiddleheads
2 scallions, sliced thin
olive oil
1 T white truffle oil
quantity of Tony Chachere (if you don’t know what this is, it means you should buy some online)

Wash the fiddleheads, then boil 5 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water.
Boil the pasta 5 minutes, then drain.
Heat the olive oil, saute the fiddleheads and scallions for a couple of minutes.
Toss the pasta with the truffle oil, salt, pepper, and a good shaking of Tony Chachere. Toss the seasoned pasta in with the fiddleheads. Serve with plenty of fresh-grated parmesan. No, really, buy the big block of stuff and grate it in your food process. The previously-grated stuff in the tub or bag just doesn’t do justice to these fiddleheads. They’re only around for three weeks for pete’s sake. Get the good cheese.
Enough for 4.

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About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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