April 30, 2010

La reine de Saba

Ever since watching the movie Julie and Julia, I have been on a Julia Child kick. We rented episodes of her old PBS TV show, The French Chef, and I bought her first book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I never saw Julia on TV, but I sure enjoy seeing her cook now. The woman COOKS. So stuff goes flying once in awhile, and not everything turns out picture perfect. No matter. Isn't that the way we all cook?

Reading the book I picked up a number of small hints that have made a difference in my cooking and they all have to do with patience (no surprise here). Dry the meat you want to brown before putting it in the pan; wait until the butter foam subsides before you put the eggs in for an omelet. Julia is solid, down to earth, and cooks simple food that is delicious. She is The Woman.

I enjoy cooking, or rather, I love eating good food. My mother hated cooking, but knew that good food = health, so she cooked. My grandmother liked to cook and always had something special waiting for me when I came to visit (and that was often). I enjoy cooking dessert, or baking, most: those lovely aromas. One of Julia's favorites was the Queen of Sheba cake, and I have made it a couple of times, and they have been devoured. Only one "drawback", it uses ground almonds. That means blanching almonds and peeling them. To me, life's a bit short for that kind of thing. But the cake is worth it.

I went to Tucson yesterday to shop and bought the almonds, and Dan said when he saw them: "Ah, Queen of Sheba! Yum!" I told him that getting the almonds prepared was a pain, so he volunteered (no cook, he). So the almonds were blanched and peeled, yesterday, and today La reine de Saba is in the oven as our weekend treat. Bon appetit!

April 28, 2010

Second hideout

On Monday we took Bueno and Buggsy out on the flats; first of all to make sure that Buggs was sound again, and to add some distance and speed to their usual routine. Everything went great, and it is apparent that we are not stressing these horses at all. I lengthened my stirrups one hole, and that made it a lot easier on my knees. Overall, it was a great ride.

Later today a weather system will be moving in and we are looking forward to a lot of wind the rest of the week, so we decided to take a little conditioning ride into the mountains. Destination: the Second Hideout. (The First Hideout being too close to be any challenge at all). These hideouts are well-known in our riding community, and wild stories abound. We think these holes in the rock were used by miners in days past, rather than being hiding places for the various outlaws, but after all, this is The West...

The Second Hideout is a little over 3 miles from our gate and has an elevation gain of 885 feet, so the boys did get to use their muscles a bit. I think I heard some minor grumbling as it is more fun to run on flat ground apparently. But we had a great ride, and let the horses graze at the destination. The grass is too good and juicy to pass up right now, especially because they are on dry rations at home.

April 27, 2010

Arena work

We have bought some useful tractor tools in the last couple of months. Our friend Phil did not need a disk on his new property in New Mexico, so we were happy to take that off his hands. Dan runs it in the arena to "clean up" and mix in horse manure to improve the footing. This of course brings more rocks to the surface, a never-ending process when you live in the foothills.

So, we purchased a rock rake in hopes of being able to gather most of the large ones and remove them for landscaping purposes. Of course it improves the round pen as well. Some day, years from now, this will be the perfect garden spot: lots of organic matter and no rocks.

The horses looked on with some interest and Bueno made it a point to impede the tractor's progress at every opportunity, as if to say: how about going out for a ride again? Meanwhile, I wonder what's next for these boys. Featherbeds?


The desert is blooming and magnificent, but the backyard is doing well too. Of course, winter rain makes all the plants happy, including the weeds. I once read that a weed is just a plant out of place, and that is probably true. But there are weeds, and there are WEEDS. There are some plants that I cannot abide having around. Russian thistle for one, and spurge for another.

But this year some plants are showing up that I have to look up before I get the weed killer out. To my delight I found 2 Mexican gold poppy plants, and some lovely primroses are trying to gain foothold. My rule is, if you are nice to look at and well-behaved, you may stay. But if you insist on taking over the property, you've gotta go.

And then there are the plants that I put in that have decided to seed out and show up in elsewhere. The desert zinnia is one, and very pretty at that, as is the damianita. I usually do not tolerate plants in the gravel paths, but some of these are left in hopes that they will selfseed somewhere else, and then I can take out the plant in the path. Even the soaptree yucca shows up here and there in our previously razed building site.

Another plant that is nice, but needs a strong hand, is perovskia. It is lovely, with pretty blue flower spikes and a nice fragrance, but after you have planted it once, it shows up everywhere. Our site still needing more greenery, I leave it in some spots, and declined to tackle this seedling which decided that sharing space with a pencil cholla might give it a good chance to survival. It was right.

April 22, 2010

Shoeing pad

Our barn aisle used to be dirt. Packed dirt, but dirt nonetheless, and with our property being on the bajada, there is a slope to everything. The last time that our horses got new shoes, we wondered whether it would be a good idea to level the area between the tackroom and Buggsy's stall and have a concrete pad poured. It would prevent us from stepping into a hole every time we came out of the tackroom, and it would be a good and level place for the farrier (who jokingly said that he expected to have the job finished when he returned for the next visit on May 18).

Having done a number of concrete footing and slab jobs over the years, Dan decided he could level the site and set the forms himself. We would contract out the concrete work and have them finish the surface. Even with our cement mixer (a huge improvement over the wheelbarrow that used to be my mixer, plus hoe, plus elbow grease), it would take about 3 yards of concrete and that's more than I can mix in a day.

It took about a morning to level and set the forms, a day to add gravel and rebar, and yesterday the cement truck arrived to pour the slab. Today the forms came off and Dan added gravel ramps. What an improvement! If we had known how nice it would be to stand on a level surface getting in and out of the tackroom, we would have done this sooner. We will finish it off by adding 2 stall mats for the horses to stand during shoeing, and build a step into the tackroom.

April 20, 2010

Some perspective

Buggsy appears to be healed from his sore knee. He blasts out of his stall in the morning at full gallop, and seems to canter and trot fine in the arena. I have taken him out a couple of times to do some in-hand work as he probably never had the benefit of a "formal education" (aka ground work), to improve his confidence. We have been doing leading exercises, and he learns so quick when you keep him relaxed by making it fun. A carrot treat now and then of course helps too.

But I decided to give Buggs another full week off before we started doing some extended rides again, so Bueno and Cody were tagged this morning. Bueno heard the words "endurance rides", and he has literally been chomping at the bit. He is a horse that is smart and at every opportunity will let you know: "I know how to do that, let me show you". Always eager to go, and best when he is the horse in front.

We had a great ride, longer and faster than our normal ones. I don't think that the horses will have any problem with these longer distance rides: their pulse rates were barely elevated when we got home. Nonetheless, Cody seemed to be whining "I am tired" toward the end, but then he has never been one eager to move. Bueno was ready for more. The one that needs the most training is me: I need more time in the saddle and get my knees used to riding with shorter stirrups. The minute I am off the horse I am fine, so it is a matter of doing it more and longer. Common, body: we are having fun!

April 18, 2010

Blooming desert

Although most of the cacti are still in bud, more and more plants are blooming now, so I thought it would be fun to take a hike "outback", rather than doing our usual Sunday Stronghold hike. The weather is high-overcast, which is great when you walk where there is not a lot of shade.

Some of the blooms are tiny and unobtrusive, others shout it out, like this hedgehog cactus in our yard. But most spectacular are the banana yuccas right now, and there are so many in bloom right now.

We walked the path that we have made ourselves over the years, mostly on horseback, and now being on foot, we were able to move more rocks to smooth the path so we can ask the horses to pick up the speed without having to worry about them twisting an ankle or a knee. Dan, already having been stung once this year when he picked up a rock, was smart enough to see this little scorpion in a moist creek bottom.

One of my objectives was to get a good picture of an ocotillo bloom, as requested by Webb, and although not all the blooms are out, this one is a good representation. I took this on Ocotillo Hill (at least, that's what we call it), where we took a break. I was surprised to see the Indian Paintbrush already blooming too.

On our way back, and within a mile of home, we came upon this Gila monster. This was our first sighting; it made for a special ending to a gorgeous morning in the desert.

April 14, 2010

Greening up

Over the last couple of days, plants have really started to put on leaves, buds and blooms. The magic of water. The grass is sending up new growth, much to the delight of our horses, and the mesquites have started to leaf out. This means that our gray and dusty-green landscape will soon be tender-leaf green. It also means that there will be no more frost (so the old-timers say). It is still fascinating to me that the leaves pop out of these insignificant, dead-looking nodules.

In the forest, the banana yuccas are blooming in profusion. Last year we hardly saw one bloom (it was a very dry winter), and now it seems like all plants have a stalk coming up. Also the ocotillo are in "velvet", with leaves all up and down the stems and a couple of them are already sporting blooms. Oh, happy hummingbirds.

Cacti are budded now, and I am amazed at the number of flowerbuds, in addition to the new pads, on the ficus indica in front of the barn. That is going to be some show!

I saw this Bottle Evening Primrose on my walk this morning, and could not pass it up. Such a gorgeous time of year.

April 12, 2010

Planting time

I was running out of room in the cold frame, so I spent the morning in the garden getting some seedlings in the ground. It is always a scary time: plants are tiny and tender, and the sun is already hot and afternoon winds are often 25 mph.

So, the flowers I started from seed (the ones I got to sprout at least) are in the ground: calendula, bachelor buttons, cosmos, nicotiana, Mexican sunflowers. I also planted 6 tomato plants (all heirloom): Thessaloniki, Zapotec, Paul Robson and Amish Paste. I always have to take a picture of them as they stand so forlorn in their fortresses. It seems like overkill, but if it is like years before, they fill out their cages and then some.

I received the sunflower seeds for the Great Sunflower project, and because I lost many to the various wildlife last year, I am starting all of them in little pots, and Dan has fortification plans for when they go into the ground.

April 11, 2010

What a ham!

Gorgeous weather this morning. I just love being able to have the front door open all night and early in the morning. Frankly, it's open 24 hours a day now. It being Sunday we did our Stronghold "conditioning" hike. Not just endurance for horses, it's for us too. We did the 5.18 miles in 1 hour 42 minutes at an average of 3 mph. Elevation gain 959 feet.

On our way back we drove by a beautiful field of Mexican Gold poppies, which are in bloom everywhere. I could not resist taking a picture, and asked Emma to bring some perspective to the shot. She sat down where asked, and when I started shooting, she gave me every profile possible, about 6 shots worth. That dog is just too much! Here is my favorite, and a close up of those ephemeral little flowers.

April 9, 2010

Perfect training ground

Dan and I have been bitten by the endurance bug. I mean, the bug to do more endurance riding. To me it is the ultimate in horsemanship: you are a team with your horse, you take care of each other, while having fun. It also puts goals to our riding, such as increase distance, or speed. I have been doing some reading on the subject (there is a lot of new stuff to learn (yeah!)), and it was great to find out that we have the perfect environment for endurance riding. We have challenging hills and washes, as well as flat dirt roads, and miles and miles of wilderness to ride and condition ourselves (human and horse).

This week we did our well-known ride to the windmill, out back here in the Coronado National Forest, but rather than doing a mainly walking ride, we trotted where the footing would allow and did the 5.38 miles in 1 hour and 20 minutes. It was fun!

Today, rather than going into the Forest, we headed into the valley (the flats, we call them), where there are dirt roads with excellent footing. My plan was to ride there, head onto Ironwood Road, go through the gate into the cow pasture and end up at Cindy's house.

We started off great, perfect temperature, no wind, and tons of California poppies to enjoy. It is beyond me why the poppies selfseed so well in the wild, but refuse to grow in my yard, or even when I seed them in little pots. Anyway, we were going along great, alternating walking with short periods of trotting when Buggs stumbled. It took me a little while to find out he hurt himself, but when he started to limp we immediately turned for home and walked home (on foot) the last 2 miles. Buggs is in his stall now, and favoring his left front knee, so it will be rest for him for a couple of days.

We did manage to ride 7.78 miles in 1 hour and 52 minutes, for an average speed of 4.1 miles an hour. Isn't a GPS a wonderful tool?

April 8, 2010

Enjoying the weather

It is a perfect spring day today, and we took advantage by getting "stuff" done around the ranch. Barbara and Dan shot elevations in the barn for a new concrete pad between the tackroom and Buggsy's stall to provide level footing for horse shoeing, and a more stable surface for us carrying tack back and forth.

Meanwhile, I did a quick inspection of the landscape and found that our Schott's yucca is putting out two, perhaps three, blooms this year. The senna is blooming, but not all trees have leafed out yet. It was great to see signs of life on the Arizona walnut and also on the newly planted pecan tree by the horse buckets. I know it does not show much, but you quickly forget how small plants started out.

The seedlings are doing well during the day in the coldframe and I may plant the flowers in the garden next week. If the nights get warmer (above 45 degrees), I may put in the tomatoes as well. The soil does heat up during the day, but the night are still very cool, with a skin of ice on the birdbaths, so I want to be careful in not planting too soon.

This is what horses do when humans are busy elsewhere. They'd better get their nap in now: tomorrow they will be called on to work some more. We are planning to add some LSD (long slow distance) to their repertoire.

April 7, 2010

Road trip

During one of our infrequent neighbor get-togethers last fall, Marsha announced that she and Phil would be moving. To Las Cruces, New Mexico! It is not that we saw each other that frequently, though they lived just down the road, but I was upset. I enjoyed their company when we did meet. I decided then and there that Diane, Barbara, Lucy and I should go visit once they were settled in their new house. Just up and back, with enough time for a tour of the house, and lunch out.

Of course, with holidays and all, then with some remodeling on the Las Cruces house, and with all of us being busy with our own lives, time was lapsing rapidly, so I decided we should set a date or we would never go. Today was the day.

Lucy volunteered to drive, and I made muffins, eggs and coffee for an on-the-road breakfast. We left Cochise at 7 for the 3 hour and 15 minutes drive (and one hour time change). There is really not a lot to look at between here and there, but today the poppies were in bloom everywhere along the way. Fields and fields of them. Spectacular, thanks to our wet winter. Obligatory picture at the rest stop.

Phil and Marsha's house is lovely, and has a breathtaking view of the patio right when you come into the door. Their situation is opposite of ours: we are on foothills facing east, they are on foothills facing west. I found that New Mexico had a different feel than Arizona, but it's difficult to put a finger on exactly why.

We had a lovely lunch in Old Mesilla, at La Posta, made another quick tour of the yard and left around 3 so that we would be home before dark. It was great seeing Phil and Marsha again, and next time I will take Dan as he missed out on lunch at one of our all-time favorite Mexican restaurants.

April 3, 2010

Lucky Pup Ranch Ride

To get a better feel for endurance riding I volunteered at a "local" (= 1 hour from the WD) ride. It was being held at the Lucky Pup Ranch, whose owner sold me my new saddle. Rather than being in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains, where we are, this was in the foothills of the Rincons. The weather was absolutely perfect for the event.

I was given the opportunity to be a pulse-checker, of the horse that is, but declined because I am still slow at detecting a horse pulse and did not want to hold up any competitor. This was a 50 mile and a 25 mile ride, with a 15 mile fun ride thrown in for good measure.

So I was stationed in the outback, at a gate with a watertank and my job was to ensure the cows would not get out. I did have the opportunity to see the 50-milers leave and it was interesting to see the different horses, different tack, different ways of dress, and different attitudes toward the horses. Some people are out for the competition, others just to enjoy the scenery and have fun. After all, the motto of the AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) is "the finish is to win".

There was only one snafu at my post, and thankfully I was not involved. A number of the 25-mile riders misread the flags and ended up at the watering hole at the same time as the 50-milers who came from the opposite direction. No harm done, everyone was soon on their way again. It was very nice sitting out there all alone in the quiet and watching the riders come over the horizon.

At lunch time, Heidi recalled me from my post as all the riders had passed by, and I spent the remaining time in base camp, watching the vet checks, the cooling down and the pulse taking. I think I can get the hang of that for next time.

In all, a fun experience. Everyone was very nice, and I got a better feel for what all the endurance riding is about. I was invited to participate in the next local event by Sonoita. They also have a 15 mile fun ride, and perhaps I will get up the nerve if I have enough time to work on Buggsy's and my conditioning.