Saturday, December 25, 2010

In which I share a story for the season: a tale for cold weather

The Mitten – an old Ukrainian story

It’s been many years since an old grandmother knitted mittens for a little boy. Beautiful mittens they were, made of thick blue wool, and they kept the boy’s hands very warm when he went out into the forest to gather wood for their fire.

Now, how a boy can lose a bright blue mitten in the snow on the coldest day of the year and not notice, I cannot say, but that is how the story is told. And when the boy was gone, who should find that warm woolen mitten but a little mouse, running over the top of the snow and shivering with the cold.

“That mitten is the perfect place for me to sleep through this cold winter day,” said the mouse to herself, and she crawled inside and soon was very snug and warm.

She hadn’t been there very long when a sparrow fluttered down to the ground beside the mitten and poked her head in. “It’s very cold out here,” said the sparrow. “May I come inside your mitten and get warm?”

The mitten was a little crowded with a mouse and a sparrow inside it, but it was cozy for all of that. They were just starting to drift off to sleep when a rabbit ran up to the mitten and called to the mouse and the sparrow, “Oh help me, hide me! A fox is chasing and I fear he will catch me!”

There was nothing for it but to make room for the rabbit inside the mitten. The wool stretched and strained, but it held for it had been well-knitted. When the fox ran by, he saw the bulgy woolen mitten but he never suspected that the rabbit was hidden inside it.

With a rabbit, a sparrow and a mouse inside the mitten, everyone was feeling a little squashed, but at least they were warm. They were unprepared for the surprise of an owl, who stuck his beak into the opening of the mitten and asked for shelter from the cold. Usually an owl will eat mice and sparrows and rabbits, but the day was so cold, and his promise to behave so sincere that they all agreed to make room, and the owl squeezed inside the mitten until everyone was warm, if slightly squashed.

The mitten was absolutely as full of animals as it could possibly be, when the bear lumbered into the clearing and saw the mitten. A bear usually sleeps in the cold of winter, and this bear was tired and looking for a place to hunker down. He didn’t even ask permission to move into the mitten—just started shoving and poking and pushing and jostling and crowding with his nose and then a paw and then a shoulder and another paw until, at last, the whole bear was jammed inside the mitten with all those other animals.

Nobody dared to move, lest the mitten burst, but they were all inside—and best of all, they were all very, very warm.

They rested there for some time, when they heard the voice of a little, tiny, old cricket out in the snow, asking for respite from the cold. Might she come inside the mitten to get warm with everyone else?

Well, if a mouse and a sparrow and a rabbit and an owl and a bear could all fit inside the mitten, surely there was room for a little cricket too?

The cricket crawled into the mitten, and stood shivering on the nose of the bear. It was all fine for a minute or two…until the sensation of a shivering cricket made the bear feel itchy. And scritchy.

And sneezy! The bear breathed in, trying not to sneeze, but it was no use: he gave a gigantic AHHH-CHOOOOOOOO, and at last the stitching on that warm woolen mitten burst, and all of those animals tumbled out onto the snow, laughing and shouting.

They scattered away, those animals, looking for another place to get warm. The story says that they each found a good, snug place, even the cricket.

But as for the little boy, he never did find out what happened to his lost blue woolen mitten.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In which I tell a story I have told before: Storyteller's Gifts!

This is a re-post from last December. We've had enough turnover here in the blogosphere that I think it's okay to post it again.

If you've read it before and don't want to read it again, skip to the end!

The Storyteller's Gift

One night, many years ago, I hated Christmas.

I hated malls, I hated stupid music, I hated colored lights, I hated the mall and I hated presents and I really really really hated the mall.

Oh, yes, and I wasn’t very fond of the fellow that I was divorcing, either.

That fellow celebrated holidays by buying stupid presents at the stupid mall and maxing out MY credit cards, and he had done so for a number of years, until finally I took back my poor cards, pitched the fellow out, and stepped forward on my own.

Divorcing him was a good thing to do…but it didn’t feel that great on that night many years ago.

That night was about a week before Christmas, and I only had one present. I just couldn’t face anything more, so I called my mom, blubbered over the phone that I didn’t want to do anything for the holidays and couldn’t afford anything anyhow.

My mom is blessed with the ability to do the right thing pretty much all the time.

She told me not to worry about the presents, but to come for the holidays anyhow. She promised to make my favorite carrot-cauliflower soup, and promised that they would all be happy to have me there.

She said it would be all right.

The morning of Christmas Eve, I was up early.

I did have one present to wrap: a present I’d found for my brother during the summer, and I’d stashed it away in a closet to save for Christmas. The present was the coolest thing in the world: a Star Trek cookie jar with a picture of the old Enterprise on it. When you lift the lid, it made the transporter sound. My brother and I are both hardcore Trek fans. I knew he’d love it.

I smiled for the first time in days as I wrapped up that cookie jar.

The smile made me stop for a moment. I was happy about giving my brother a present.

Maybe it wasn’t Christmas I hated. I like my family. I like giving them presents.

Maybe I could still participate, but somehow avoid the stupid music and the stupid mall….?

But how?

I hadn’t bought any gifts except for the cookie jar. I had no money. There wasn’t any food in the house. But I wanted to give my family presents.

In a fit of inspiration, I booted up the computer. I went through my gigantic file folder of stories, and printed out a bunch of my favorites on pretty paper. I folded up each story and wrote the name of a family member on it—a story for each person, except for my brother. I already had a gift for him.

That night, my family was kind. They were happy to see me. We ate soup. They gave me presents. I gave them the printed-out stories. Everybody opened their stories and read them, and then read them out loud, and then passed them around.

Then it was my brother’s turn. He opened the box. He loved the picture of the Enterprise on the outside of the cookie jar. He lifted the lid and listened to the transporter sound. Then he looked in the jar again…and then he looked at me.

“Don’t I get a story?” he asked.

I swear, my heart stopped and re-started right then.

Telling stories is the very best thing I do.

Why would I give my family anything other than the very best thing?

I told my brother a story that night.

From that night on, my best presents have always been stories.

Every year in December, I print up a little booklet of my favorite stories, and give them to people—to my friends and family, to coworkers, and also to strangers standing next to me in the grocery line.

This is the single best thing I do all year long.

For more than two years now, I’ve been writing this blog. I consider some of my readers to be friends.

So here are some gifts for you, my friends:

From December 25th to January 1st, I will post a new story or song or poem every day for you.

Some stories are old, and some are new. Some stories you already know, and some of them I just made up this week. If you want to read the stories that I posted last year, they start right here.

Please feel free to give these stories to your friends. Send links to your family, email the stories to your co-workers, tell the stories to people standing next to you in the grocery line.

If you want a copy of this year’s booklet, put your email address in the comments box and I’ll send you an electronic copy of it.

It’s my gift to you, and I invite you to pass it along.

Come back, and I’ll give you a story.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In which I share a song for the season: sing along with it!

The song "Soul Cakes" was originally a song that English children would sing as they went around on All Hallows' Eve (aka Hallowe'en), asking the neighbors to give them sweets. In 1963 musician Noel Paul Stookey, known to the world as the middle guy in the group "Peter, Paul and Mary" was messing around with the tune and realized that it blended well with two other British folk tunes: a wassailing tune and "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen."

There's a link at the bottom of the page to an awesome video of PPM singing the song.

A Soalin'

Hey ho, nobody home
Meat nor drink nor money, have I none
Yet shall we be merry
Hey ho, nobody home

Hey ho, nobody home
(Meat nor drink nor money, have I none)
Yet shall we be merry
Hey ho, nobody home
Hey ho, nobody home

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please, good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all

God bless the master of this house and the mistress also
And all the little children that round your table grow
The cattle in your stable, the dog by your front door
And all that dwell within your gates, we wish you ten times more

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please, good missus a soul cake
Apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all

Go down into the cellar and see what you can find
If the barrels are not empty, we hope you will be kind
We hope you will be kind with your apple and strawber'
For we'll come no more a 'Soalin'' till this time next year

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please, good missus a soul cake
Apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all

The streets are very dirty, my shoes are very thin
I have a little pocket to put a penny in
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do
If you haven't got a ha' penny then God bless you

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please, good missus a soul cake
Apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all

Now to the Lord, sing praises all you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood, each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas of beauty and of grace
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In which a poem is too entirely wonderful not to share

A friend sent me this poem, which I love. But it started me thinking: what would I use to illustrate such a wonderful poem?

What do you want to add to the poem?

I decided to leave it unadorned, and invite readers to illustrate it themselves.

Copy it to your website or blog, and add some pictures. Photos? Drawings?

Let me know!

"Summons" by Robert Francis

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide-awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I am not too hard persuaded.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In which we walk into the light (finally) and find a poem there

I would cheerfully trade all the Christmas holidays I have left for about 3 dozen extra Hallowe'ens and a Thanksgiving or two.

But I would never give away Solstice!

The Swampland sun rose this morning at 7:55. At Haiku Farm, it clears the eastern mountains and shines down on us around 8:40 am. Sunset this evening is 4:20, it will be completely dark by 4:45.

Tomorrow, we get an extra 60 seconds of light!

Here's a poem that I really like, by Oliver Herford.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,"
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Coming soon: holiday stories!

Monday, December 20, 2010

In which we test the Ruby Slippers in mud, the creek, and the Big Thing

The sun was shining. Madeline and I had the entire day available. It was time to go test out those Ruby Slippers!

Mel sent me a link to the "cable adjustment" tutorial. I really appreciate the clear instructions and copious photos on the link, and I sat in front of the computer one night with my boots and a cup of tea and adjusted the heck out of those puppies!

Here's how they look now:

left front (above and below)
right front (wonky foot) below

front feet

both front feet--the "wonky" foot has the little garland stuck in so I could keep track in the photos!left rear (below)rear feet, side view (below)
The straps are much more manageable now, but I suspect that the left front actually needs a slightly smaller size. I will try one of the hind boots on that foot to see if it's an improvement for her.

Fiddle and her Ruby Slippers!Hana was happy to be groomed in the December sunshine.

Even with tons of Cowboy Magic on her mane, Hana gets horrible elflocks. I have to pull them out with my fingers every day or two.
"I'm ready for my saddle now, Madeline!"
Mads carried the camera most of the day, to document the trail conditions.

This trail (below) is a mucky mess, with deep mud on the flat sections and slick mud on the hills. Fiddle was very tidy with her feet, and didn't slip nearly as much as I had expected because she was being so careful. She took some funky steps at first, getting used to the feel of boots instead of steel shoes.
Through the creek. "Hey! Look at my red toes!" Maddy and I practiced the camera-pass midstream so I could get a photo of her and Hana in the pretty winter light.This section of trail has deep, abrasive sand.
And then....SUNSHINE! I love that stuff--it's so rare in the Swamp this time of year!

After about an hour of riding (walk/trot) through mud, sand, and gravel, we stopped to look at the boots.
Everything still stuck on pretty well--I didn't adjust a thing.
Then we did some trot-bys to get some pictures of the boots in action:
(Below) you can see the reason that we've had trouble keeping boots on.
Fee has a GIGANTIC overstride. Last year (wearing EasyBoot Gloves), the back boots would "scoot" off of her feet, and the front boots would get knocked off by her back feet. It was so frustrating!

Here's a video of Fiddle doing the trot that we call "The Big Thing":

Considering all the "action" involved in doing the Big Thing, I am lucky that her steel shoes stay on as well as they do. The video shows her moving out nicely, but this isn't nearly her top speed. She has at least two faster trotting gears, plus a pace and a canter!

(Knock wood), her feet are very strong and steel shoes stay stuck on beautifully. But will boots continue to stay on this mare's feet?

So far: YES!

Hana got to stand by and spectate while we took photos and videos of Fiddle and the boots.
Back at the trailer, the light is beginning to fail (at 4pm! Solstice is almost here!)

Front feet:
Back feet (she's standing like a goofball):

all four boots are in place. No twisted or spun boots either. Compared to the EasyBoots (I tried a couple different styles last year) the Renegade boots are significantly easier to put on, take off, and adjust. And, of course, they stay on.
You can see in the photo (above) that the parking lot is gravel. As soon as the boots were removed, Fiddle complained about the pointy stuff. She was "okay" on the gravel with the boots, but I can see that steel shoes are a more comfortable option on gravel--and we have a lot of gravel logging roads to ride.

This reinforces my observation that Fee is not a good candidate to be barefoot/boots in serious training or competition. I like the idea of a barefoot horse, but when idealism collides with reality, reality is always stronger. I won't choose a nice idea over a pain-free horse.

I know it works for a lot of horses. It would probably be a good choice for Hana, who walks just fine on the gravel with bare feet. Poor tender-toes Gigantor will be returned to shoes when we go back to a regularly conditioning program prior to the ride season.

Initial impression after one good ride:
Ease of application: A+
Ease of adjustment: B+ (wouldn't want to have to adjust the cables in the field because everything would be so muddy and nasty)
Stick-on-itivness: A++
Horse comfort: B+ (still not as much protection as steel shoes, but more protection than EasyBoots)
Attractiveness: C (no purple? srsly??? Maroon isn't purple, just like a Big Mac isn't a hamburger)
Overall score so far: B+ Muddy boots!
Thanks, Mel, for all your help!