Friday, September 9, 2011

In which there is extended conversation about a favorite thing


Funder recently posted a list of Science Fiction books (with her charming snarky commentary) on her blog, and I was pleased to see that I'd read most...but that there were some books that she loves that I haven't read yet. 

If there is anything so delightful as discovering a great new book by a favorite author, or a brand new book by a delightful author, I'm not sure what it could be.

Yes, I am horsaii.  But I am also literataii!  And, I suspect, many of my readers are both also. 

Here, then, are some of the books that Sky and I talked about while we sat at the campfire during our recent adventure.  They are pretty much in alphabetical order, but not quite.  I'm organized but not compulsively so.

Blackout and All Clear, by Connie Willis
audiobook read by Katherine Kellgren

Possibly one of the most engrossing books that I've encountered in recent years, this is the story of a group of Oxford historians living in the year 2060 who travel back in time to WWII to study varioius aspects of the war years. 

However, when their mission time is over, the historians discover that something has gone terribly wrong, and they are--for reasons unknown--unable to return to 2060.

Connie Willis originally wrote Blackout  and All Clear as a single book, nearly 2,000 pages long.  Her publisher, however, couldn't bind such a gigantic tome, and so the story was split neatly into two parts...which means that on the last page of Blackout, the bombs are falling on the main characters, and they are still falling on the first page of All Clear.  Be sure to have both books in hand when you begin reading if you aren't good at suspense.

The audiobook is brilliantly read by Katy Kellgren, who also narrated my all-time favorite audio series, the Bloody Jack nautical adventures written by L.A. Meyer.  I suspect she will pick up a bunch of awards for the Willis books at the end of this year, because every minute of it was fabulous.

Can't Wait to Get To Heaven  by Fannie Flagg
audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell
Elderly-but-not-infirm Elner Shimfissel (do you love the name??!!) falls down dead from her fig tree early one morning...and that gets all the adventuring started.  This is typical Fannie Flagg narration:  the ordinary lives of crazy quirky characters.  If you liked Fried Green Tomatoes (the book, not the movie), try this. 
Committed : a skeptic makes peace with marriage  by Elizabeth Gilbert
sequel to the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love
Sky recommended this book because it has an outstanding chapter lauding the necessity of aunties.  As an experienced auntie myself--responsible not only for spoiling my brother's daughters, but also the offspring of friends, as well as spoiling some young friends who are not yet fully-grown--I think that aunties are often undervalued.  Apparently, Elizabeth Gilbert values aunties quite a lot, and I'm looking forward to reading her book.
Garlic and Sapphires : the secret life of a critic in disguise  by Ruth Reichl
Sky recommended this also; considering that we try not to cook a lot of crazy, complicated food in camp (I personally would live on peanut butter and banana sandwiches for weeks at a time if I were camping alone), we certainly talk a lot about food and cooking.
Fall of Giants  by Ken Follett
audiobook read by John Lee
The lives of  Russian aristocrats, British nobility, Welsh miners, American diplomats and morescattered across the globe, intertwine as Europe lurches slowly towards World War I.  John Lee narrates the accents and vocabulary adriotly as the story immerses the reader in events and politics and loves and losses.  I was immersed in the story for a week as I listened to the audiobook during my daily commute; I mourned the last page because Mr Follett hasn't finished writing the sequel yet.

The Graveyard Book  by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean
audiobook read by the author
Gaiman's imaginative re-casting of Kipling's Jungle Book stories--in this case, the child Mowgli is "Nobody Owens" who is raised, not by wolves in the jungle but by the dead in the graveyard.  Sounds creepy?  But it isn't.  It's lovely.  Neil Gaiman has such a fabulous voice that he could read me the phone book and I would listen, but it's even better that he's reading a terrific story like this.
Oh, and the illustrations
are wonderful too.  

Horse Tradin'  by Ben K. Green
Ben Green's collection of stories from the "olden days" of traveling the land and swapping horses is unparalleled fun.  Sometimes Ben gets the best part of his horse trading deals...but mostly, he learns the hard way that he doesn't know everything about horses.  Originally published in 1967, this book is still available on, and I'm going to have to buy myself a copy of it, because the stories will re-read as well as they read the first time.  Highly recommended for horse folks and for people who just like a bunch of really good stories. 
The Oregon Desert  by E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long
Natural science with cowboy humor and scholarly prose and casual meanderings.  Sky was thrilled, thrilled, THRILLED to participate in an endurance ride last month that went right through some of the landmarks described in The Oregon Desert.   She said that the ride managers hadn't mentioned that they would be riding right by the "hole in the ground"....perhaps the ride managers haven't read the book.  But I intend to read it--maybe they can borrow it from me when I'm done.
Sing Them Home  by Stephanie Kallos
I will probably meet Stephanie Kallos in a few weeks--we are both scheduled to appear at Northwest BookFest (I'm on an "author panel" at the festival, she is an AUTHOR in capital letters).  I haven't read Sing Them Home yet, but if it's as good as Broken For You then I will be happy.
Stardust  by Neil Gaiman
It's a book!  It's a graphic novel!  It's a movie!  and's an audiobook, read by the author.  I just love this story.  I also love that Neil Gaiman wrote a chapter about a flying pirate ship just so that Charles Vess (who illustrated the graphic novel) would draw one for him.   CV is one of my fave illustrators
...even when you can tell by the picture that the Unicorn is not necessarily going to win this particular fight for the crown.

The Wee Free Men  by Terry Pratchett
audiobook read by Stephen Briggs
Sky doesn't necessarily know about this one, because I started listening to the audiobook on my drive home from camp.  It is hilarious.   I can't always read Pratchett's books...I think Commander Vimes is usually pretty boring...but the audiobooks seem to bring out the best part of his crackpot humor, and The Wee Free Men is even more crackpot than usual.  If you took The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, crossed it with "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and let it ferment in a very large vat of Special Sheep Liniment for about three years, you would have the degree of lunacy that is The Wee Free Men.  I love it.

So, readers:  if you came to my campfire, what books would you want to tell me about?  I'm always hunting for something new and wonderful.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In which we channel the garden's legumic excess into quart jars

The Haiku Farm garden has, until now, been a bit of a disappointment.  The first year we were here, the garden was, shall we say gently, pathetic.  That year, we had no time to actually make a proper garden because we were so busy building fences and stuff.  So that was our excuse.

Last year, the garden was rampaging fully by mid-August; although the tomato crop was a completely failure, we had plenty of squash and beans to keep us fed.

This year, the tomato plants once again broke our hearts thanks to an extended "sprummer" in which the spring rains didn't stop until late July.  However, as I posted a few weeks ago, the 2011 zucchini harvest has been overwhelming.

Now, finally, we have reached a state of True Gardenhood:
We've grown (more than) enough beans to can some for winter!

I planted three varieties of bean this year:  the Rattlesnake Beans are purple-striped, which is very pretty and also makes the beans easier to find on the plant.  I also planted Blue Lake beans, a green bean staple that my grandfather considered essential to a garden.  I also planted Scarlet Runner Beans, which aren't much good for canning, but are delicious when eaten fresh. 

When the Scarlet Runner beans get too gigantic (2 feet long or longer), we feed them to the chickens. 
Or the dogs!  Mimsy and Luna chew politely on raw beans; Pickles think that overly-large raw green beans make excellent "fetching" toys that she happily chomps when I get tired of throwing them for her.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen:
 Jim was a "chopper" before I reminded him of the noble tradition in my family--and his own--of "snapping" beans to prepare them for canning.  Snapping is easier on the wrists, and we can do it while sitting in comfortable chairs and listening to Garrison Keillor talk about Ball Canning Jars.

(Listen to the entire 1997 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion from Muncie Indiana, home of Ball Canning Jar manufacture by clicking HERE .  If you only want to hear Garrison's bit about how home canning will save civilization, skip to the time marker 1:25:51 Monologue.)

 Jim used his birthday money this year to purchase a pressure canner.  What a guy!
 The result:

16 quarts of Summer Wonderfulness.

Life = Good.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In which we consider crisis preparation, part three: stand and fight!

In part one, I talked about hunkering down against crisis.
In part two, the topic was the process of deciding how and when to run like hell.

Sometimes, however, you gotta Stand Up and Fight Back.
A  little bit of background information:  I studied karate for 13 years, and taught a lot of self-defense classes, mostly to women whom I would normally consider bigger, stronger, and smarter than myself.  And yet, when confronted with a hypothetical scary situation, their brains would chart a course directly into the Shores of Denial.  We could talk forever about plausible crises in the woods
and my students just couldn't settle down and cope with the thought. 

That's when I learned to help people think about crisis in terms of the unlikely.  Apparently, thinking about the Zombie Apocalypse allows people to make better planning decisions.  Who knew?

So, in the interest of rational thinking, let's explore the defense possibilities needed during the ZA.

You need a safe place.  Your house can be it, if you're there when the Bad Stuff begins.  Do you have supplies to ride out a siege?  (see the post about hunkering down)  Food, water, medications, clothing, a good book? 

Now, if the zombies are coming to your safe place, how do you intend to defend it?
Door locks?  Those are good, especially if you actually lock them (we don't, often).

Got a perimeter fence?  Those are also good for keeping your dogs and horses off the road, so if you've got that, give yourself a star.

Got a weapon?
At this point, a lot of people want to get a gun.  My experience is that guns, in the hands of people who don't use them often are more of a liability than an asset. (hunters and soldiers generally practice the use of their guns often; librarians and computer systems administrators, not so much),  You are best off with a weapon that you use all the time, something that your body is completely comfortable with handling.
If you do farm work, a shovel is a good defensive tool.  If you do trail work, I recommend a Pulaski.

If you're more of a homebody, look around at the stuff you use everyday.

I once got into an (absurd) arguement with an employer who was trying to implement an intentionally-vague "no weapons in the workplace" policy.  The employer wanted to make sure I didn't have a weapon in my truck in the parking lot.  I did, of course--you need a tire iron if you get a flat tire, and I was driving on low-budget tires.  I could put a big dent in a zombie with a tire iron, or better yet, a jackstand!  The employer also wanted to make sure that I didn't have a knife in my desk.  I did, of course--a nice sharp 4-inch metal blade embossed with the employer's logo.  This particular blade was designed for opening envelopes, but don't you think I could hack off a nice chunk of zombie with it?

The punchline, of course, is that the workplace--a library--is filled with heavy rectangular items, also known as books.  If you hit a zombie upside the head with a solid hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I guarantee that you'll gain a nice headstart towards the exit before Mr Zombie is ready to shamble forward again.


Now you're at a ridecamp.  What have you got to defend yourself? 
In my camper, the books are all paperbacks--not much good.  I do have a nice #10 iron skillet in the galley, though.  I could surely slow down some undeadness with that.  What else is in there?  Canned food.  Diet soda (shake and spray!).  Ice boots?  Hmmm.

In the horse trailer is a bunch of rope, a pair of scissors, a manure fork, and the trailerhitch spring bar.  Those can all be useful.  Heck, if I look around I can probably find a fair amount of manure--an excellent emergency projectile weapon!  Gravel is also always good.  If you anticipate zombie trouble, why not stash a few rocks in your pockets?

Get the idea? 

Okay.  Now you're out on the trail.  What have you got?
(I'll give you a hint:  four hooves)

I don't mean that you should teach your horse to execute war-manuevers (although it would be cool if you do).
(not my horse, not my photo)
Even if your horse is normally polite to strangers (mine is, barely), you can stay in the saddle and swing MyLittlePony's butt directly into the body of someone who invades your space in a hostile manner.  By doing this or something similar, you can knock a zombie off-balance hard enough to stop the forward lurch for a few vital seconds--enough time for you to leave. 

DO NOT DO THIS TO A BEAR!   Bears have weapons all over their bodies.  Back slowly away from a bear making loud but non-agressive noises (singing is good).  Get well away from a bear before using the spurs on your noble steed--bears will chase if you run.

DO NOT DO THIS TO A COUGAR!  Cougars will mostly leave rather than attack a person on horseback.  Stay mounted, talk loudly, give the cat an escape route while preserving your own escape route. 

If there's a creepy person on the trail
stay mounted, make eye contact, keep your escape route open, use that pony's butt if you need to (but maintain a long distance if you can), communicate with your riding partners, and keep moving. 

BTW: most badguys can't shoot the broadside of a barn from inside the barn, and zombies have notoriously bad aim.

In the "run like hell" post, Endurance Granny posted a comment about an incident where she and her horse met a person on the trail.  EG was feeling small and vulnerable, and wished for a gun to defend herself.   If the incident had ended badly, I would never be so impolite as to second-guess EG's actions; however, since EG obviously survived the encounter, I'm going to play devil's advocate and examine it a bit more closely: 

EG wrote:
I came upon a solitary "man" out there. At five foot two inches, and the cardiovascular fitness of a snail...that is a very BAD feeling. The one time it happened that I was very bugged I was heading towards the person. 

Let's assume for the sake of practice that the "man" was probably a zombie.  EG's gut feeling told her that something was wrong with the situation, and also the guy lurched around a lot, he smelled like rotting meat, and when EG made eye-contact with him and said "Good morning!" in a loud clear voice to allow him to know that she knew he was there, he only responded with the word "bra-a-a-ainnnnnnns." 

EG wrote:
It made me very glad that Phebes was good at leg yielding. I put her up into her power trot, applied some leg and zoomed on past on the other side of the trail. There are times out there that I wish I had a permit to carry (paranoid as that may sound), I'd feel safer.

Without picking on EG, I'd like the class to imagine a similar situation (or remember a similar situation if you've ever been in one), and think about the following:

1.  Is there a reason that you need to risk life and limb by continuing to ride forward into the grab-range of a zombie?  Why not, instead, execute a swift turn on the haunches, and go back the way you came?  Or get off the trail entirely and get far away, quickly?  Not very many humans or zombies can keep up with a horse when you move out across country.  Rather than move closer to a potential threat, turn tail and take a different route!

2.  How would a gun have helped in this situation, unless EG practiced not only carrying her gun but also shooting it with some degree of accuracy at a lurching target from the back of a moving vehicle (in this case, her horse)?   Also, unless EG practiced shooting her gun from Phoebe's back on a regular basis, would she not be risking a major horse spook-and-dump-your-butt-and-leave-you-for-zombiebait manuever?  A gun might be a nice visual deterrent, but if you fall off your horse while waving it around, you won't be happy.

As I said earlier in this post, your best choice of weapons is usually a tool that you can use without thinking about it at all, something that feels comfortable in your hand because it spends a lot of time in your hand under non-emergency circumstances.  If you don't want to use your horse's butt as a weapon, how about your riding crop?  Or your gatorade bottle--you could squirt the contents or throw the bottle--versatility!  Using the bottle has the added advantage of keeping you out of zombie grab-range as well.  What else have you got in your pockets or saddlebags that you can use? 

Be creative and think about it.  Put your best ideas in the comments for others to share.

I've been riding trails for a dozen years and thousands of miles.  Do I stay out of trouble because there is no trouble out there?  Or because I'm ready in advance to avoid it?  

Be ready, stay safe, and ride those ponies!

Monday, September 5, 2011

In which we consider crisis preparation part two: "run like hell"

In part one, I talked about hunkering down as a strategy. 

Staying in place is a sometimes a good way to cope when things go pear-shaped, especially if where you are is safer than any of the other options.  However, it's not the only strategy.
Sometimes, bugging out is a better bet.
There's been a lot of press in recent years about evacuation.  Hurricane Katrina woke us all up to the possibility that sometimes the very best thing you can do is to leave.
I'm pleased to report that FEMA learned a few things from Hurricane Katrina.  The agency now has a very useful website for crisis planning, including a special section for pet-owners and persons with special medical needs.  They recommend that your crisis kit include things like food, water, clothing, a battery-operated radio, and maps.  

Locally, King County Emergency Management has assembled an extremely useful website  focusing on unpredictable events which will probably happen here, like flooding, earthquakes, and landslides.  They also have lists of kit essentials, and remind people to include prescription medicines, pet food, and a good book in their emergency kit.

Several agencies I consulted advocate assembling an emergency backpack for each member of the family, including pets. I consider my truck to be my personal emergency backpack.  My truck is, after all, rarely far away from me.  In my truck is a large rubbermaid box containing canned food (and a can opener), an old campstove (and fuel to run it), a change of clothing (warm weather and cold weather options) a couple of jugs of water, a few old paperbacks, and a flashlight (with extra batteries) and a towel.  I keep a backup stash of medications in my purse along with a pair of reading glasses and a small amount of cash, and my purse is pretty much always stored someplace in my truck.

If I have a dog or two with me for the day, I include the "dog suitcase" in my truck.  This duffel bag includes dog food, leashes, and a brush. 

What if you need to leave home quickly with your horse?  Is your trailer pointed towards the gate and easy to hitch?  Is there some hay and an extra halter or two inside?  Is there water in the watertank? 
Most importantly:  will your horse load quickly and without fussing even if you are freaked out 
One of the hardest parts about "bugging out" is figuring out--quickly, and in a stressful situation--what you will take with you, mentally leaving everything else behind, perhaps forever. 

Today, the sun is shining and the ground is steady under our feet...and therefore, today is a good day to look around you and decide what you want to grab when the time has come to run like hell.

Think about it.
While you're thinking about it, think about what you can do if you need to run like hell when you are away from home...if you are, for example, in ridecamp when things go wrong. 

When we set up camp for a week or more, we often take all the pieces apart--the camper is detached from the truck, the truck is unhitched from the trailer, the corral panels are erected separately from the rest of the rig. 

This means that if the forest should catch fire, we are physically and mentally prepared to leave most of that stuff behind to burn.  We can hitch the trailer in under 3 minutes; we can load both horses in under a minute.  The camper and the corrals takes a long time to load; therefore, if the world goes to hell on short notice, we are prepared to leave without them. The important stuff (like kids, horses, and dogs) can be moved out quickly.  We are prepared to drive away without looking back, with only the thought that perhaps the zombies won't totally trash the rest and we can retrieve it after the crisis has passed.
Okay, one more:  what if you need to leave in a hurry...and you're out on the trail? 

To avoid scaring the parents who read this blog, let me emphasize that I am not talking about "strangers in the woods" as a danger.  The dragon under my saddle is bigger, nastier, and fiercer than any stranger I might meet in the forest...unless we're talking about zombies, and I assure you that Fiddle is faster than almost any zombie.  So that's okay. 
But...what if something is on the trail and you need to leave in a hurry?  Can you do it? 

Can you navigate without getting lost?  If you are freaked out, will your horse freak-the-hell-out and dump your butt in the bushes for the bears or mooses or zombies or whatever?  Do you have your truck keys handy, or will you need to dig them out?  Will your horse load when you are screaming and the monsters are moving in fast?  Is your rig pointed towards the fence, or aimed at the exit?  Did you round out that funky tire before you left home, or did you shrug and figure it could easily make it to the trailhead and back?

Stuff to think about.  I'll be back in a day or two to talk about part three:  "Stand and Fight."