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That Is Being More Like It!

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I am being a Grumpy Horse lately.

I know what you are saying.  You are saying Huey, you are not needing to tell us that you are a Grumpy Horse.  We already know that!!

But I was being even grumpier than usual.  It is right that I am grumpy because I am all the time having to stand around in my stall.  I am not even being able to go in my private paddock a bunch of the time because I get in trouble if I race the other horses in the ring.  It is not being fair.  Also, the weather is doing that thing and making the Wild Horse Wind and ALL of the other horses, they are getting to race around!!!!  All the horses except me, Huey.  That is why I am being grumpy.

Then I am being even grumpier.  This is because the other day it was nice and warm and I was out in my private paddock and my stall was getting very clean.  And then guess who went into the ring?

Right.  It was Elvis.

Usually I am having to go into my stall when other horses go in the ring especially Elvis.  But this time I was out.  And I looked at Elvis going into that ring for a ride and I said Elvis.  You better get ready for some racing.  I am going to beat you some more!!  And Elvis said You are not, Huey.  And I said Yes I am, Elvis.  And he said No you are not.  And I was going to say Yes I am and I will show you that now!!! Something very bad happened.

Someone spoke.  It was the person who was riding Elvis, and that person said HUEY.  And that person said HUEY in that way that I have to listen to it even if I do not want to.  And I thought How can that person know how to say HUEY like that?  And then I realized who that person was.

Yes.  It was my rider.  And she was riding Elvis righ there in the ring in front of me.   And I rolled my eyes because I wanted to beat Elvis so bad especially since he had the nerve to carry my rider around in front of me.

But my rider who was on Elvis instead saw that and said HUEY.  And then she used some Bad Words.  She said HUEY.  If you try any of your Bad Word with Elvis while I am riding on him, I will Bad Word KILL you.  You will be One Sorry Horse!!!!  I MEAN that Huey.

Well, I do not want to be One Sorry Horse.  And I do not want my rider to Bad Word KILL me either.  So I said OK I will not try to race Elvis.

And Elvis said Hahahaa Huey.  You lazy horse.

That made me mad.  He is carrying my rider and telling me I am a lazy horse.  But I could not do anything about that because I did not want to get Bad Word KILLED by my rider.  So I said That is one funny looking saddle you are wearing Elvis.  It has bumps all over it.  And you are one silly looking horse wearing that lumpy saddle.

But he said You are right and this saddle weighs a ton. And your gigantic rider isn’t helping any either.  Leave me alone because I have to work Huey.

And I had to.  And I could not even go in my stall, or anything.

That is why I was very grumpy, and you can see, I am right to be that grumpy!!

Today my rider came and it was windy and I can tell there is going to be a storm and it makes me fidgety and I did not want to stand around for hours and get my tail combed or something else stupid like that.  But my rider said Huey there is a treat.  I was so grumpy I said I do not want a treat.  I am tired of apples and carrots and hay and grass.  I only want to run.

But then my rider said It is not an eating kind of treat Huey.  It is different.

So I said What is the treat, rider?  and I saw she had something behind her back.  Then she pulled it out, and I jumped up a little because it might be something scary, but it was not.

It was the lunge line.

I said What are you doing with that, rider?

And she said it.  She said We are going to lunge, Huey.

And I said We are going to lunge?  Really?  We are going to lunge??

Now, I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking, but you hate lunging, Huey. You said it is boring.

And you are right.  I do hate lunging and it is boring.  But it is not as boring as standing around in my stall!  And if I am lunging, do you know what that means I get to do?

Yes. I get to run.  I have not gotten to run in months.  Well, I have run a little bit but it always gets me in trouble and I have to stop.  But if I am lunging then I can be a running horse again.

So it made me happy.  I said Let’s go!!  But my rider said Ho, wait, I have to get all this gear together Huey.

I could not wait.  We went in the ring and I was as good and standing still for as long as I could, which was just about long enough for my rider to close the gate.  Then I took off and trotted.

It felt SO good to trot!!  I trotted some more!! And then I trotted lots!!!  My rider was saying something but I could not hear it.  I was looking all over the place and trotting.  Then I looked at my rider and she was making the Evil Look and pointing at my butt.  I said You want to play Hide The Hiney?!?!  NOW????!!??  And she made a noise like a growling bear and put a Stink Eye on top of the Evil Look so I stopped and putt my butt behind me.

She stood there for a minute, not telling me to do anything with her body, but giving me an Extra Strong Stink Eye.  I dropped my head and said What is it?

She said Huey. I was talking to you.

I said I know! But I could not hear what you were saying because of the sound from trotting!!!

And then she gave me a Super Strong Stink Eye and said Huey. I was telling you to WALK.

Walk?!?!  She wants me to WALK?!?!?!  It has been ages since I have gotten to go anywhere and now I am lunging and I am supposed to be WALKING??  What is the point of lunging if I just have to WALK?!?!?

I said But I do not want to walk.  I want to run!!

But she said Huey, you have not been getting to run in a very long time.  I know.  And you can run, but you cannot run if you are going to act like a loony and not listen to me.  You have to warm up first. Or you will hurt yourself some more!  By the way, how is your owie feeling?

I said What owie?

She made that noise like the wind in the leaves and said When we go next, you need to WALK Huey.

I said You are a Party Pooper.

But she just said You are right, and if you don’t start listening to me, I will Poop your Party right back into the stall.  Now.  What do you say.

And I said OK I will walk.  And I did.  I walked, and then she said what I was waiting for which was Trot! And I did.  And it felt SO GOOD that I could not help it.  I made a canter.  And I made one canter and that canter felt SO good that I could not help it either.

I made a buck.  And I made a huge fart too!!!!

But then I realized I was getting the Stink Eye again and my rider was saying Waaaaaalk and I remembered I would have to go back into the stall if I was not a Good Listening Horse so I did.    And then we went in the other way and I snuck in a canter and a buck, but that time I did not fart.  I guess all the farts came out the first time.  And when my rider said WALK I did.  And then it was over.

I said We are not done?  We just got here!

But she said We should not be doing this at all until the vet says OK, but I knew how crazy you were going and I thought it would be all right to try, but I am not going to let you do too much.  I have to go check your owie under those boots and if it is OK and it is still OK later today, maybe we can do this again soon.

That would be very good.  I even got enough of my Grumpy Bad Horse feelings out that I stood totally still while I got my leg hosed.

And then?

I got a PEPPERMINT too!!!

Getting to run AND getting a peppermint? This IS being a good day!! I hope that owie stays OK and I get to do this again soon!

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Bob Vila, Where Are You Now?

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At least I’m not having to do this all with a video camera and microphone in my face.  On the other hand, the This Old House Homeowners don’t seem to be on the spot like this either.  Usually, they don’t seem to be living in the house while it’s being renovated.

When last we talked, Patching Dude was off to the store for more “mud” and was going to check in on the remaining 10% of pointy stucco-style texture on the ceiling.  I was holed up in my study finishing grading and some work for my class.  I did persuade Patching Dude to let me through the elaborate drapery of thin plastic so that I could access the upstairs of the house, which has the advantage of a world that 1) is not coated in a fine white dust, 2) has floors that can be walked up on with bare feet, and 3) does not require maneuvering through a Construction Zone in order to use the bathroom.

So there I was, relaxing alone with a journal article I’m reviewing, and enjoying the sounds of dedicated scraping coming up from the floor below.  And my, what sounds those were.   Virtually indescribable, those sounds.  I’ve just tried three times and haven’t managed to capture them.  If you imagine the sounds of fine porcelain saucers and teacups, with a few dinner plates here and there, being hurled onto a carpeted floor from eight feet in the air, I think you will have some sense for these sounds.  A sort of fragile, shattery, breaking, showering and raining down, sort of noise.

Then they stopped.  Then they started again, more lightly, and in an area that I surmised meant that Yes! The stairwell ceiling WAS going to be affected by this process too!

Then they stopped again.  I considered dozing off, but then I realized I was hearing two voices downstairs, which meant that Painting Guy (my contractor, where Patching Guy is his sub-contractor) must have returned from his other job.

The suspense was oppressive.  Especially because there was no real way for me to safely make my way through the blowing tatters of plastic without creating more of a mess than I already had.  And given how much of a mess there was, that’s a Bold Statement.

Just look:

That’s actually a six-foot tall window there at the end. And the door to my study. And TWO bookcases. And quite a lot of the stucco finish.

My oriental stair rug. I don’t know how the big chunks of finish made it all the way down, especially given the billowing plastic drapery.

 

You’d never know it, but this is ordinarily a spacious hallway with a wooden floor.

Anyway, eventually there came a knock at the door at the bottom of the stairs.

“Aah,” it was Painting Guy, “do yah have a minute?  We needa taahlk.”

What now, I wondered.

“Sure,” I said.

“Aaah, there’s a prahblem.”

Stap my vitals!  Another problem?  It can’t be.  Tell me it isn’t so.  Say it, and I won’t believe it.

“Aaah, yah outta come over here and have a lookathis.”

Sure.  I went over here, and took a look.

Quite a bit more of the, er, ceiling (for lack of a better word) was exposed in the 10% than we’d seen so far.  What we’d seen so far was stuff like this:

Old plaster, covered with a coat of calcimine, and cracked…when I got the bid from Painting Guy last month, I told him I expected that the REASON that half of the rooms have this finish and the others don’t is that the corner-cutting renovators had found Inconvenient Cracks and just plastered right over them instead of dealing with them properly.
Turns out I was right.

 

What Painting Guy had summoned me to inspect was a Whole Different Kettle of Fish.  This is what I saw:

I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but I asked it anyway.

“Good god, is that horsehair?”

“Aah, yah, prahbahbly.”

Back in the dawn of time, “plaster” was made of horsehair mixed with lime and slapped up over lath.  Some other stuff, too, but mostly horsehair.   I thought they’d moved to other things by the time my house was built, but evidently not.

I have the hair of dead horses in my walls.

I’m sure I’ll find that a little creepy, once I get a few minutes.

The contractors, Click and Clack together, chimed in. “Yah, when we scraped the finish off ovah heah, all thaht stuff just fell raht off onna the flahr.  You can see it, it’s a hahlf-inch a stuff that’s been slahpped up on these ceiling fah a hundred-twenty yahs.”

Why so it was.  When I swung around in the other direct, I could see it clearly.  Including the original slick of gypsum to finish it.  It’s about a half-inch of crap that’s been slicked over the original plaster over the last 120 years, and it’s positively geological in terms of identifiable strata.

The history of the world, in half-assed ceiling finishes.

 

“Yaaah.” <sound of throat clearing> “We gotta tahk about what to do nahw.  We can’t do any cheap fix on this cause it’ll just faahll raht apaht.”

“Yes, I understand this.  Half-assed work is what got us all here” and I swept the disaster area with a gesture “and I don’t feel like we should propagate that any further.”

“Ah, that’s good, becahse this is gonna mean cahst ovarruns.”

More cost over-runs?  Say it isn’t so.  Thank the lord this isn’t my first time around the block with this kind of stuff.

“What is it, exactly, that needs to happen now?” I said.

“Yaaah.  We’re gonna hahf to pull down the entiah ceiling here and replace it with drywahl.  We’re gonna hahf to pull dahn the entiah ceiling ovah the stairwell too.  Then we’re gonnah have to hang a new drywall ceiling, and then paint it ahl.”

“I see.” I said. “The whole ceiling here has to go, does it?”

“Yahh, saahry abaht that.  It don’t sound lahk yer too surprahsed though.”

“No, I’m afraid I’m not surprised at all.”

“Aahn theah’s more.”

More?  I can hardly wait to hear this.

“This wahsn’t exahctly in aahr schedule.  I’m not gonna just leave ya hahngin like this, but it’s gonna be a litttle hahd to schedule.  I think we cahn get ovah heah to pull the old ceiling out tomorrah, and then hahng the new one on Wednesday, then paint on Thahsday.  I don’t suppose you know what the paint is.”

“There,” I said, “we are in luck.  Cedar Keys from Benjamin Moore matches this wall color.”

“Ah, great! Lemme go run the numbahs.  Dammit, my battery just died.  I gotta go to thah van. Be right bahck.”

And he was.  The original estimate was about $650.  The new situation added about $1,500 to that amount.  I was right on the money when I developed my Pre-Contracting Estimate of a three-fold increase in scope and price.

Well, it looks like the plastic shrouding is down for the night.  Time to pull down the artwork and move the furniture.

I wonder where the cat is.

This Little Piggy Stayed Home.

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I love my house.  I love it a lot.  And that’s good, because if I didn’t…

It’s probably best to start at the beginning.  In the beginning, there was a mill owner.  And the mill owner decided it was a good idea to construct some dwellings for his management and their families.  And he had built a block of three-story-plus-basement row houses, decked out in the current fashions of 1895.

And it was good.

I know it was good because I am actually in possession of (as the lawyers insist on saying) a photograph of the house taken in 1900.  There’s a proud gent standing on the wooden sidewalk next to the hitching post by the front porch.  The woodwork I know and love is beautifully in evidence, too.

Fast forward sixty years and more and the mills are gone and the mill management is gone, and my adopted town is sliding into decay like so many other New England towns did at the time.

Add another twenty years and my entire street has turned into the town’s last stop on the way to the grave.  The Victorian houses that line both sides of the street are known primarily for 1) being dangerous, and 2) being the best place in town to go buy drugs.  Mine is a crack house that is home to uncounted drug-addled criminals and vagrants.

It’s a flop house.  A squat.

Another 15 years and the town has revitalized due to the vision of several business people with unusually long sight.   It’s now the regional arts, culture, dining, and shopping center with an entirely vibrant downtown…scarred only by the presence of the crack houses on my street.

Some equally long-sighted real estate speculators assess the “bones” of a bunch of the buildings, and find them good, despite decades of neglect and abuse.  And they start buying up the properties and evicting the crack heads, junkies, and letting the leases expire for those who actually possessed a rental contract.  And as the buildings empty of their former tenants, the speculators start systematically fixing up the buildings.

The people that renovated my house did a great job in some important ways (like installing central air and preserving original woodwork and doors) as well as some not-so-great jobs (cheap windows, cheap cosmetic finishes, cut-rate work on the new roof).  All in all, I’m deeply grateful for them, because now I have a Victorian with original features and woodwork AND central air conditioning.  The windows I can live with for a while.  I just enter into all of those drawings you see for “Free Windows!” It means I have to put up with an endless onslaught of commercial sales, but I figure, it’s worth it for the long shot.  In another few years, I’ll take some action.

What’s going on right now, though, is a matter related to the “cheap cosmetic finishes”.  All of the rooms in my house have high ceilings.  On about half of those, the finish is nice and flat and painted white.  On the other half, it’s nasty looking stucco.  Some of it is the blown-popcorn finish.  On others, it’s a layer of plaster that was textured into random little points with a trowel.

A month ago, Roy called me at work to let me know that “the ceiling had fallen in”.  As I later discovered, what really happened was that a piece of the textured finish had dropped off the ceiling.  The day had been extremely humid, and the house opened to the elements, so I assume that moisture had something to do with it.  I rang the painting contract we used a few years ago for some exterior work, and had him out to get a bid.

He looked at the second-floor hall ceiling where the finish had come off.  It was his opinion that some more of the finish was going to come off, but most of it was probably rock hard and melted for eternity with the underlying ceiling plaster.  I’d been kind of hoping we could just strip the lot off, but he felt that No, this wasn’t going to be feasible.  He suggested the Monstrously Expensive Option, which involved joint compound or mud or something slicked on over the textured surface until it was flat, and then paint that flat surface.  Then he suggested the Way Less Expensive Option, which involved pulling down the loose finish and patching it (preparing the surface properly, this time, first) with more textured stuff.

I went with Option 2, and the Painting Guy showed up with his Patching Guy this morning to start work.  Painting Guy’s work shouldn’t be coming in until tomorrow, so he’s off at some other work site.  Patching Guy started with some repairs in the bedroom that – thank heavens – turned out to be minor.

I was surprised by that.  With This Old House, I just assume that any job I get bid out is going to turn out to be 3 times as big once the [contractor type] gets [into or through, or removes some surface element] and sees that [whatever we thought was the problem] is just scratching the surface.

So I was surprised when the bedroom patching job stayed small.  The Patching Guy had pulled down the loose texture in the hallway and had mudded it and was letting it dry in preparation for the surface treatment which I think involves standing there and sucking a trowel onto the surface and then pulling it down so that the surface turns into little points.  And I had to take off for an appointment.

“I’ll be back in about a half hour” I said.

“Yah! No prahblem!” he said.

Now, from here out, it’s going to be helpful to hear this conversation in your head.  And to do that with greatest accuracy and effect, you’re going to have to slap a minor Texas drawl into my words.  And the Patching Guy?  Sounds like Nahm from This Old House.  Or, if you’re more into cars than construction, Click or Clack from Car Talk.  Take your pick.

I came back, happily, with a latte, thinking that this job ought to be done for the day in just an hour or so.  I jingled into the house and put down my things.  I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Ah.” he said.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

“Yep?” I said

“Ah, we’ve got a little bit of a prahblem.” he said.

“Oh?” I said.

“Yah.  It’s a uuuuge mess upstahs.”

“Oh?”

“Yah.  I stahted to put the textuah dahn, but when I stuck the traaawl to thah ceiling and pulled it down, the rest of thah finish stahted to come dahn too.”

“What? You mean the texture that didn’t come down before is coming down now?”

“Yah.  As soon as I get it aah little wet, it’s just faahlin raht daahn.”

“Oh. Let me see.”

Sure enough.  There’s the parts that have been patched, and the rest of it’s just peeling right off.

“Looks to me like you’re going to have to take the rest of it down.”

“Yah.  There’s gonna be cahst ovah-runs, just needed you to know.”

Well, Color Me Surprised.

A cost overrun?  On a repair? For This Old House?  Because someone cut a corner when they renovated?

No. Tell Me It Isn’t So.

So Plaster Guy removed quite a bit of furniture, swathed everything in plastic – which is rustling in the breeze just like a cheap tent in a tropical storm – and has been cheerfully pulling down 90% of the rest of this crappy finish.  The question is whether the other 10% will come down obligingly, or whether I’m going to have to have the entire damned hall ceiling re-textured.

Since my preferred outcome from the start has been “Lose the textured ceiling” (it’s not an Original Detail) I’m not totally unhappy with this evolving circumstance.  I WILL be unhappy if the remaining 10% is glued hard to the substrate.  Plaster Guy is concerned because if he gets in around the top of the stairwell, it might make the textured finish come off the stairwell too.

“Fine” I said.  “If it does, that will just save me some hassle down the road when it starts falling off anyway.”

Plaster Guy has gone off to the hardware store for more supplies.  I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Remaining Ten Percent. In the meantime, here are some pictures from a hiking trip we took at Tyringham Cobble last fall.

Bird House

Leaves

 

Tyringham Valley

Tyringham Valley

It’s hopelessly charming, isn’t it? AND it has horses.

Post-Mortem

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Or, Singing The Praises of the High-Tech Ski Pole, and Other Matters

Re: Apres-Ski.

First, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over”.

Second, in the immortal words of Anonymous, “It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.”

Third, in the immortal words of Lori, “It’s over.”

The hill has melted.  I screamed up to the mountain today in the hopes of a final bluebird day to end the season (and collected my first speeding ticket in over twenty years, courtesy of the Colrain Massachusetts Speed Trap, on the way) and found the hill melted like the Wicked Witch of the West.  Every single run had at least one place where you could either ski directly over the dirt, sticks, and rocks, or pick your way fortunately to the six-foot-wide swath of ice spanning the dirt spots.  Or, in the immortal words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, “Kol ha olam gulo, gesher tzar me’od.” (“The whole world is a narrow bridge…the important thing is not to be afraid”)

I dropped the ball on that, because on my way down the hill today, the thought that seized my entire awareness was “Holy crap, I don’t want to run over a rock and take a core shot, because a big grey patch of p-tex is going to totally ruin the look of my base graphics!”  Does it count as being “afraid” if what I’m primarily concerned about is cosmetic damage to my accessories?  Really, it’s not a lot different from wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes into a cobblestone walkway and having the leather peel up on the spike.  It’s dreadful, but if this is the Worst Thing your life holds, it’s a pretty OK life, eh?

Speaking of “life” I’ve recently – like, in the last week – realized that if there’s a Heaven, I have pretty firm ideas about what it should be like.  I’m kind of hoping that – as in the Discworld – what your afterlife holds has something to do with your expectations about it.  So I’ll commit:  my Heaven has Roy, of course, and it has lots of animals, of course, but otherwise, it’s kind of like Valhalla.  Only, instead of battling and fighting all day and getting drunk every night (with Valkyries),my heaven is skiing and riding horses all day, and quaffing microbrews all night (with good company, Valkyries welcomed).   In fact,my Heaven is sort of a perpetual Apres-Ski, only with lots of skiing thrown in, and horses (maybe combining the two with Ski Joring?!? I may just die in ecstasy on the spot…).

Of the many, many holes in my life that will exist for the next eight (NO. NINE. THANK. YOU. ROY.) months is Apres-Ski.  I’m sure that Apres-Ski has a very different meaning to people who have not already found their Life Partner and Soul Mate (Thank. you. Roy.).  I know this because my wedding ring was in the shop for a month this ski season, and Roy took a relatively constant joy in throwing a cold shower on the Expectations of various and sundry individuals in the bars in the base lodge during that period…just by showing up.  I have to trust him on this, I didn’t think that people were trying to Pick Me Up, I just thought we were having fun Apres-Ski Bonding.  Roy, however, maintains that the “bonding” that various and sundry individuals had in mind was not the “bonding” that I had in mind.  Really.  I’m totally serious, I thought that dude’s ski app on his phone was AWESOME.  And, really, clocking a speed of 48mph on sticks?  Who wouldn’t be impressed with that, I ask you.

I do love Apres-Ski.  You ski until it’s not fun any more (either because the surface is shot, or because it’s gotten too crowded).  Then you go change out of your ski boots and stuff (if you’re smart) and then hit the bar. I should point out, here, that my Ski Hill is in Vermont.  And Vermont?   Not just home to fat, happy, ice-cream cows.  Beer isn’t just for breakfast any  more, kids.  Vermont has more than 2o craft breweries per million people (according to Wikipedia).  Other sources indicate that Vermont ranks first in the whole U.S. for craft breweries per capital. Google it, you’ll see.

What this means for Apres-Ski is that it’s Beer Heaven for Beer-O-Philes like myself.  All three of the bars in the base lodge carry some bundle of microbrews.  The Station Tap (my Pub Away From Home) carries nearly 20 of the suckers.  Vermont invented the Black IPA (if you haven’t tried one yet, DO it).  What I’ve seen lately is RyePA (IPA where rye is substituted for the barley malt).  LOVE this.  Even the “mainstream” apres-ski bar – the one that lets kids in because it serves so much food – still has a “domestic” beer – Mount Snow Ale (available only on the hill).

So Apres-Ski at my ski hill means that any individual, by definition, has two things in common with any other individual:  skiing (or boarding), and beer.  Tell me you can’t make 90 minutes of conversation out of this.  Tell me that, and I’ll tell you something about yourself:  you’re a conversational dud.   I love the bonding that goes on on the bar over really good beer after a hard morning spent out on the hill.  It’s not a lot of bragging and bullshit.  It’s just…a bunch of people, in one place, who love some common things in life.  Skiing (or boarding) and beer.  We have great conversations about the conditions, about the sticks (or boards), about the weather, about other ski areas, about the runs, about neat apps for the smartphone, about how bitchin’ life is in general (because, let me tell you, there is no better sense that Life Is Bitchin’ than there is at a bar stocked with high-end beers at the bottom of a ski hill).  I ski alone, and I spend any amount of time meeting fascinating people on lifts.  In my time, so far, I’ve met a pair of women in their sixties – one of them a snowboarder – who got high on the lift (offered to share, very polite of them) and talked about horses).  I’ve met a regional sales rep for Rossignol (who told me that my Goth Girl Skis are the ultimate in Tree Skiing [heaven forbid I should get the chance]).  I’ve met any number of ski instructors.  I met five guys and one woman who hang out at the Italian joint around the corner of my house.  I’ve met a professional Ski Waxer (not the guy who gets roasted about his “girlfriend” when I bring my Goth Girls in for some Ski Luv, although that dude gave me a big hug this morning when I asked him to put a summer wax on the girls [thus capitulating to the weather in Abject Depression]).  I met a guy who is nearly 90 years old and who has been skiing for the last 70 years.  I meet all manner of utterly fascinating individuals on the lifts.

And in the bars.  The High Point of my Ski Year was meeting the manager of one of the bars in the base lodge, who turned out to be the best friend of a guy my step-daughter went to high school with, and whose mom (the best-friend’s mom) is an Old and Valued Friend of the Family and a co-worker.  Name withheld to protect privacy and all that, but No Shit, There I Was on Christmas Day.  Finished skiing, and checking out the new bar.  Which turned out to carry Blue Point Toasted Lager (a beer from Long Island).  I commented to the bartender (who was also the bar manager) that this was my Absolute Very Favorite Beer to drink whilst eating oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. It  is, too.  If you have the chance to down a pint of this stuff while sampling the Gifts of the Ocean’s Oyster Beds, I strongly recommend it…

“Oh,” he said, “Are you from New York?”

hahahahahahah. Me from New York.  Roy, yes.  Me? In the nightmares of the City.

“Oh, no.” I said. “I’m from Texas.  But I live in Western Massachusetts now.”

By the way, there is a million-mile gap between “I am from” and “I live in”.  If you haven’t ever had to expatriate, or move to a distant locale, you may not really understand this.  But I am no more from Western Massachusetts than I am from the Planet Jupiter.  It doesn’t matter that I speak French – no amount of time living in France will make me French.  And if you’re not in the right head-space, you can live in Texas all your life – or even part of it – and you will never “be” Texan.  This is amply demonstrated by Certain Figures of Significant Political Interest during the early part of this century that lived in Texas but were from Connecticut.

Anyway, Figures of Interest aside, my reply to the bartender led to a five-minute conversation that concluded with the information that there was no more than 2 degrees of separation, as mentioned above.  And the news that my co-worker (and friend of the family) was anticipating the onset of Grandmotherhood in approximately May.

This, by the way, gave me a delightful opportunity.  When school reconvened, I stopped by [coworker’s] office.

“Hey,” I said, “I met a strange man in a bar on Christmas and he told me you were going to be a grandmother!”

She laughed a bit. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I guess you missed that announcement.” (which was made at the annual break-fast)

I paused.

“Ah.” I said. “I didn’t hear this from Roy.” (who had been at the break-fast, while I satisfied another social obligation)

“You didn’t?” she said.

“No.” I said. “I met a strange man in a bar on Christmas and he told me this.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “because it’s entirely true.”

“Who did you hear this from?” she said.

[insert name of bar manager here]

“WHAT?!?!” she said. “How do you know him?!?!”

“I. met. him. in. a. bar. on. Christmas. and. he. told. me.” I said.

Funny.  It made so much sense to me at the time.  But then again, it’s Apres Ski.  Heaven on earth.

One of the Main Topics of conversation at Apres Ski (other than the Conditions, and the Beers) is Gear.  And I made a ripping awesome gear purchase a week ago and I just feel compelled to sing the praises of this stuff.  Why?

Because it’s superior design, of course.

I don’t do ski pole strap.  Ski poles have straps at the top and spikes at the bottom.  In theory, one puts the straps over one’s wrists, and sticks the spikes into the snow (a Pole Plant).

My feeling on that subject is that I am A-OK with the Pole Plant, but I am decidedly lukewarm (or worse) on the topic of the strap.

Why?

Because I’m of the school that says If You Aren’t Falling, You Aren’t Growing.

One takes chances.  And one grows because of that.  But one also falls down once in a while.  And if one falls down (a necessary condition to growing) one does not wish to have a pair of 4-foot long metal poles involved in the process.  It is bad enough that one has 170cm skis attached to one’s feet (or sometimes, not attached to one’s feet) in the process of Wiping Out.  But to add a pair of 4′ long poles into this….calculus….has always seemed to me to be an….unnecessary….complication.  You know, if I’m going to go ass-over-teakettle, I’m grateful as hell that the ginormous slats strapped to my feet are designed to fall off with certain kinds of….physics.  The thought of incorporating a pair of 4-foot long poles into any cartwheeling, spiraling, air-borne wipeout seems to me to be an invitation to orthopedic injuries.

My response to this…concern…has been to hold my poles by the handles and refuse to use the straps.

I can’t tell you how many ski instructors have been….dissatisfied….with this situation.

For one, it virtually guarantees that if I fall down, I have a Yard Sale.  At a minimum, my poles will be left uphill.  Which means that either I have to hike back up to fetch them, or some Kind Skierwithout a Yard Sale brings them down.  For two, it means that I’m not using the poles efficiently.

I appreciate this. But I haven’t had a good way to Manage The Risks. And, as an accounting person, I am all about Risk Management.

Enter some kind of exotic Leki pole system.  I saw these the same day I bought my Kung Fujas. I have a season passholder discount, so I get all slap-happy in the Gear Shop.  On this occasion, I saw a Pole Demo.  This design is unbelievable.  It’s a two-part deal.  Part 1 is a mildly complicated strap arrangement that permanently sits atop your ski gloves, and involves velcro.   It also involves a little high-tech loop located on strapwork atop the webbing between the thumb and forefinger.  Part 2 is the pole, which includes a retractable toggle that fits into the loop.  And, together, it means that you hook the loop onto the pole, which then is held onto your hand without any “holding” activity, but which blows free under certain kinds of torque.

So these pole are attached to my gloves, unless I’m in the middle of the kind of spill where I really do not want the participation of my poles, in which case they blow free and stay up-slope.

It’s genius, I say, pure genius.

So here we are, putting the season to bed.  One final gear review, and a PM on the Apres-Ski.  I’ll miss you all – or, hopefully, not – for the next eight (no, dammit NINE months).

Now, it’s on to horses, all morning, all night.

Silver Linings

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Well, it finally snowed.  And snowed and snowed.  One Snow Day turned into two, and the upshot is that we wound up with 8″ on the roof, a Thoroughly Solid performance on the part of the Weather Fairies who have been AWOL all winter.  The ski hill got nearly 20″.  And, somehow, it managed to be a Mixed Blessing, and the weather is still entirely Psycho.

The part I’m not so keen on:

Huey the Wonder Horse is too bored for words, and he’s got a lot of energy, and he’s smart as a whip, and anyone who’s ever been around a super-bright, highly-active, ultra-bored six year old knows that this combination is a Recipe for Major Trouble.  This took the form of getting mouthy, and being impatient in the ties, and escalating all of that to being nippy which is one step before being bitey.  And a Bitey Horse is a very, very bad thing to be.  The best possible cure for all of this, I suspect, will be to get his big red butt back into work.  This guy needs to be ridden.  Lots.

The problem is that the only other teensy-weensy little storm we had this winter – about eight weeks ago – dropped four or five inches of wet snow on the ground that promptly turned into ice.

The thing that people who do not live in the North do not know about snow is that it lasts forever.  In the South, see, it snows sometimes, and then the sun goes away and all of it melts.  If you’re not a morning person, the entire cycle might complete before you brush your teeth.  So southerners, and Texans, all consider snow to be a breathtakingly ephemeral phenomenon.

It came as a huge shock to me when I moved north, therefore, to find out that snow never goes away.  It falls onto the ground, and the sun hits it, and it just softens up.  It doesn’t melt.  If it’s been pushed up into piles, by a plow, snow shovel, or pack of small snowman-building kids, it can stay, under full sunlight and temperatures approaching summer-like, for months.  Really.  All of the parking lots in the north develop gigantic, ugly, dirty grey mountains somewhere around the third or fourth snowfall of the winter…and they will still be there in May.
In the woods, where it’s shady and undisturbed, could be June before it’s all gone.

Which is why, even though it had been eight weeks and a pishkele snowfall, with many episodes of bizarrely warm weather, the ring was still under a layer of ice and snow.  It’s been melting for weeks of course, but “melting” isn’t the same thing as “melted” when it comes to saddling up a thousand-pound animal with hair-trigger reflexes and four months of excess energy to work off.  For that, we want “melted”.  Preferably “dry” and “soft”.

The thing is, we were almost there.  On Wednesday, when my trainer hit Huey’s reset button with 40 minutes of work in the round pen – turning him not just back into the sweet-natured boy I remember, but into a veritable Pocket Pony, there was only a 6′ x 6′ patch of snowy crusty icy stuff left in the ring.  Enough, really, to think about just shoveling it out and getting to work.

On Wednesday, thirty minutes after my trainer hit Huey’s reset button, it started to snow.  And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed, and now the ring is under a crust of snow and ice that is twice as thick as the first batch ever was, and I’m feeling like it will be June before I can get Huey riding again.  And in the meantime, I’m afraid, he’s going to be bored bored bored bored only with even more energy, it being spring and all. So the snow can’t leave the barn soon enough for my tastes.

The ski hill is another matter.  This nice big late storm gave me an opportunity to score on a long-standing desire: I wanted to learn to Ski Powder.  I have the tools – my Goth Girl skis, the Rossignol S7Ws, were born for riding powder.  People think I’m insane for driving them all over a mountain in New England, because they are so obviously a Powder Ski.  Or, in the words of the guy from the ski shop I met on the lift, “Those things are monsters.  Or, in the words of a different guy from the ski shop I was talking to about emerging technologies in women’s skis, “If you’ve been riding those all winter, on this mountain, you would definitely be able to handle men’s skis.”  He was saying this, by the way, because the men’s skis have better technology (meaning: rocker) than women’s – they tell me it takes a while for New Stuff to get incorporated into women’s gear.  Don’t even get me started on that.  My Plan A for Friday skiing had been to demo some off those other men’s skis, as I’m looking for a heavily rockered, cambered, all-mountain ski.  Because while I adore my Rossis, they are the tiniest bit more challenging to get on edge (it’s that 110 waist, you know) and they are the tiniest bit noodly on longish stretches of hard-pack.  I’d like something built for the tiniest bit more edge and the tiniest bit narrower through the waist.

Plan A got completely turned over when the storm came, because it lasted twice as long and left twice as much snow on the ground as expected.  And in Vermont, it was powder.  The skis were leaping up like a pair of over-excited puppies, what was I going to say?  No, you girls stay home, I’m going to go try some skinner skis?  I don’t think so.  Out we went, and up to the Ski School desk did I go.  Fortune, which was already smiling enough to deliver 20″ of powder to my ski mountain, cracked a broader grin, and supplied an instructor for a private lesson at the last minute.

Life Is Good, I tell you.

So on Friday, I learned to ski powder, at last.  I won’t say I bag Style Points, because I don’t.  But I don’t bag Broken Leg Points, or Torn ACL Points, or Yard Sale Points, because I don’t do that either.  I finished up the experience as a marginally competent powder skier.  I am informed by the many, many people who stopped to chat with my ski instructor, that the process was significantly complicated by the fact that other people had been skiing over this powder for several hours before I got there.  They referred to it as “junk”, “crud”, “oh my god”, and “cut-up powder”.  What I know is that skiing that stuff made me appreciate the wide-planked stability of my sticks at a deep, visceral level.  The experience had a lot more in common with water-skiing an ocean during a tropical storm than it did with snow-skiing a groomer.  Even a crud-covered groomer.  And it’s not just because the Rossis are shaped like water skis – they are, and now I know why.  To say that the snow was throwing me around would be putting the matter very lightly.  And I’m not easy to toss around.  I’m a strapping great lass, as my granny used to say, and I’ve got powerful leg muscles and know how to use them.  Ultimately, I got everything in train and stopped getting tossed around…but it took the better part of two hours.

And by then, I realized, my legs were about to fall off.  I’ve heard people say this about skiing powder, that’s it’s absolutely deadly to the quads.  Quite true, too.  And to the knees.  And to the hip flexors.  And to the shoulders.  I’m used to skiing on hard surfaces of some kind, and didn’t fully grasp the “plant” part of the term “pole plant”.  Pole plants, here, mean that you tap the pole lightly on the hard surface as part of your turn initiation.  On powder, a pole plant means that your pole has been planted, like a charity sapling or a rosebush.  It’s in that stuff, and it requires effort to remove it before it gets skied over.

Oy.  I went home and chewed a stick of ginger the size of my finger in an effort to ward of post-exertional muscle soreness.  It worked, too.

Then it rained, and it got freakishly warm again for a short period, and then the bottom fell out of the thermometer and the entire soft hill froze up hard, so that yesterday, it wasn’t worth taking my Rossis at all.  It was a day for the Tierras, my Ice Skis.  And a jolly good decision that was as well.  The hills was hard as a rock, with a layer of pulverized ice on top.  Not usually my favorite conditions, but I was surprised (and happy) to find that the powder skiing lessons were paying dividends even on this entirely different surface and on these entirely different skis.  In other words, I was skiing the ice like a god.  Or a goddess, I suppose.  Either way, it was bluebird skies, cold air, an empty hill, and skiing right onto the lifts.  Heaven, in short.

Now if I can only keep that snow while getting rid of the stuff in the arena.

Here’s the last run of the day, wherein I was lucky enough to find someone I knew.