Confessions of a less than enthusiastic horse show Mom

Confession: I never wanted to be a horse show Mom. Don’t tell my daughter.

I showed horses in 4-H for close to ten years. It was never something I loved but I didn’t hate it either (most the time). 4-H, specifically horses, was just what you did in my family, every summer from the age of nine through eighteen or until you got bored with it.

And it wasn’t bad. Sure show days were long (so so long!), often stressful and always exhausting, horses are hard work, but showing through 4-H taught me a lot about myself and about life. I gained skills and made friendships that are still going strong twenty years later. I built relationships with amazing adults who volunteered their time to keep our county’s 4-H program running. Some of them didn’t even have kids in 4-H. I had the opportunity to learn about work ethic, responsibility, and community in a hands on, concrete way.

Showing horses and being in 4-H was a big and influential part of my childhood. But when my daughter was turning nine and my sister, who never got out of horses and 4-H, asked if my daughter was interested in showing I hesitated. I wanted to say no. I remembered the time and the stress and the cost, the way showing took over our lives from May through August. I thought about the danger, the inherent risk of riding and managing a large beast.

And yet here I am. Five years later sitting in a camper after the first full day of fair. Thirteen straight hours of showing in the heat and the dust and the sun surrounded by cranky younger siblings who have been drug along for ride and a gaggle of stressed and exhausted parents and club leaders. What happened?

I remembered my daughter’s innate love of horses.

I thought about the value of responsibility and community: two things inherent in any 4-H animal project that seem to be disappearing in this crazy, chaotic world where anything goes as long as it makes you “happy”.

I wondered how many other opportunities my daughter would have to set goals and work towards achieving them in a safe, supportive environment.

And I said yes to 4-H and showing horses (okay maybe I said a skeptical “I guess” to 4-H).

I’d be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed every moment of the past five years as a 4-H horse show parent. Of course there have been fun, exciting, and rewarding times. There has also been tension and stress, long days at horse shows when I have five other things I’d rather be doing, and more emotional ups and downs than a TV reality show. In end I consider it an investment and hope that 4-H will help shape my girl, my young woman really, into a responsible, kind and hard working individual.

So when you happen to catch barrel racing on ESPN 15 or whatever or you see Olympic three day eventing or come across a social media post with a video of a high level dressage performance set to music and they all make it look easy, know it’s not. That athlete working with their amazing four-legged partner probably started out as a tiny 4-H kid. Their parent stood ringside and watched with their hearts in their throat as that kid rode a bucking pony across the ring or took on a jump at a seemingly reckless pace. And know that for every elite rider there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, kids who spent their summers at the fairgrounds in show rings and went on to use what they learned there to become a successful adult. So even though I didn’t want to be a horse show Mom, I never planned to come back to this, I’m here. Investing in my kids through 4-H.

Rally the Troops

Sometimes a seemingly random occurrence is actually preparing us for something further down the road. Maybe much further.

This dawned on  me tonight as a large bat was swooping around my workplace. Said workplace is a house but, still, bats = Not Cool! Not cool at all. But luckily I was prepared because I’ve dealt with bats in the house before (my own house that time and it really was not fun). While my coworker was legitimately freaking out I knew exactly what to do. (Open one door, turn off all the lights except by that door, and try to gently direct the bat out if it isn’t finding the exit on its own. In case you were wondering.) And, although it was a terrifying ten to fifteen minutes, we had the bat out in ten to fifteen minutes. Had I not had previous bat encounters this night could have been a lot worse. I’m not sure I could handle a lot worse right now; just being at work is bad enough.

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The giant bat: An interaction with him is NOT my ideal night at work.

This week is one of those off the charts crazy weeks. Really it’s been the last two weeks. Last Wednesday, after furiously studying for way less time than I should have, I took the DAT to complete my dental school application. It went decently well and I was extremely relieved to have that out of the way but I had to hit the ground running with graduation open house planning as soon as the test was over.

My oldest son graduated from high school this spring (on my birthday). At the time he was adamant that he did not want an open house. I told him too bad; the open house isn’t for him, it’s for his family and all the people who have supported and encouraged him over the years to celebrate our  his achievements. He reluctantly conceded to a party. I think he realized that I wasn’t backing down on this and he really didn’t have much choice. After being invited to a few of his friends’ & classmates’ open houses he warmed to the idea…especially after he heard how much his one buddy got at his open house. (Apparently he didn’t believe me when I told him people give you money at these things.)

Because of the aforementioned test and my daughter’s horse shows there weren’t any feasible open house dates in June but my son’s 18th birthday fell on a Friday AND it was not one leading up to a work weekend for me. I pitched the idea of a graduation open house/18th birthday celebration to my son and he actually seemed to like it. Well, that weekend is this weekend. The open house is Saturday (technically tomorrow as it’s 3 a.m. right now) and my son’s birthday is…well, now. Unfortunately this not being a work weekend means I’ve worked the seven, maybe eight, days leading up to the weekend (including tonight, obvs). Not short shifts either, ten to twelve hour night shifts. This schedule is really not conducive to preparing for an open house.

Way back at the launch of the open house planning process I emailed my ex husband asking if we could collaborate on this. Not only would that make it more affordable but we could divide and conquer the work. Plus planning an open house together provided an opportunity for a much needed exercise in cooperation for us. Even though we’ve been divorced for three and a half years and separated for over five, there is only bare minimum communication between us and even that is tense and unpleasant. At some point we’ve got to get past that. Our kids can’t have two of everything. I mean, are they going to have two weddings: once for their dad’s family, once for mine??? NO! Sadly though my ex  did not see things the same way and declared that I could do what I wanted and he’d “Celebrate separately”. This, of course, left me running the graduation party show all on my own.

And once again lessons learned in prior life experiences came back around in a real and useful way.

Implementing a graduation party at my house (which is not typically visitor ready) in ten days or less seemed like No Big Deal…until I was staring down the barrel of those ten days. I got a little overwhelmed, paralyzed by how much work there was to get done in a short week that was already full with work. Holy, holy crap!

Just as I was on the brink of sheer panic my instincts kicked in and I did what I do more and more when I need help. I called my mom.

To be fair, a couple people had already asked what I needed help with but I wasn’t even ready to think about that until the DAT was out of the way. But now, roughly a week before Open House day, I needed the help! I’m insanely lucky (blessed?) to have a large, supportive family. Throughout the stressful, somewhat traumatic process of the dissolution of my almost twelve year marriage and the subsequent divorce and custody hearings I learned just how helpful and supportive my family is. We aren’t touchy-feely people, my family; we don’t verbally express our love and appreciation for each other. Not very often and when it does happen it’s a sign of deep concern. But that doesn’t mean those feelings (or whatever you want to call them…talking about feelings so much is starting to make me a little uncomfortable) don’t exist. It’s just that we’re Do-ers, not say-ers. The things we don’t say we show by doing, by being there when needed.

My mom offered to pick up meat and taco seasoning from me and cook all the taco meat (I’m having a taco bar at the party); my youngest sister spent a day and a half cleaning up my house and hacking away at brush in my yard; one of my brothers-in-law is coming over tomorrow to help set up the yard stuff; other people offered to bring something, to contribute. And suddenly I was not alone in this crazy endeavor.

And that is a thing worth remembering. Sometimes all you have to do is reach out and accept the help you need.

graduation selfie

Awkward graduation selfie because, much like the open house, my son was not entirely on board with this.

 

 

How do I tell my story in 4500 characters or less?

That is the question I’m struggling with this week. How do I take all that I am, all that I am capable of and all that I’ve struggled with to get where I am, and sum it up professionally and concisely? How do I stand out and make them want me in their program? know I’m pretty damn awesome and I’m almost certain that they would too if they just talked with me for a few moments. That’s not how it works though. Those aren’t the hoops and the choice is jump or don’t. Don’t isn’t an option; that’s already been determined. And so the pressure is on as I attempt to put pen to paper (figuratively of course as no one actually writes anymore) and tell my own version of the hero’s journey in 4500 characters, including spaces, or less.

As a side note, on top of the usual craziness of my rock n’roll  single parent lifestyle I’ve been trying to get my dental school application around (including retaking the super stressful and intimidating DAT) to reapply. It’s all coming to a head over the next two weeks. Regular blogging will commence after this ginormous task at hand is complete. (Okay, semi-regular at best.)

A Quick & Dirty Kilt

A few months ago my son, a high school senior, was debating trying out for his school’s production of Macbeth. He wasn’t actually in Shakespeare class but he had an independent​ study block that hour so it would work. I encouraged​ him in this venture as it would be something new and different for him; an experience. And for once he actually listened to me. He did it and got the part he tried out for; I’m still not even sure which. It’s a small one with just a couple lines, something just big enough to say he did it, that he was there, and just big enough to require a costumes. A kilt preferably, my almost man-child informed me over a month ago. Low and behold this week it was time to make the aforementioned kilt. Past time, really, since dress rehearsal/tech week had snuck up on us. It wasn’t just a case of my normal procrastinating ways that pushed the kilt making to the very last minute, this spring has been remarkably busy with multiple graduations in our family (mine, this kid’s, and my daughter’s 8th grade) and my return to working full time mixed in with the usual end of school year chaos and spring activities.

Naturally my first course of action was to Google “How to make a kilt”. As it turns out kilt making is a very specific age-old art. I did not have the time (or the funds for nine yards of plaid) to make an authentic kilt. And thus the Quick & Dirty kilt was hatched.

My Google research lead me to a wikiHow site which had comprehensive instructions on measuring, calculating yardage, and making proper pleats that I skimmed over and proceeded to follow only loosely. For example, instead of measuring my son’s waist and hips and calculating the pleat width to determine how much fabric I’d need to buy I went off my sons pants waist size, asked to see what two yards of the potential kilt fabric looked like and deemed that Good Enough. In retrospect two and a half yards would have been closer to ideal.

In keeping with the theme of in-authenticity I selected a lime green and navy purple-ish shirting flannel. It’s soft but not baby blanket soft. The main criteria was color (not traditional green or dark blue) and price. I didn’t want to break the bank on a one-time quick costume.

The fabric was about the right length straight off the bolt which made my life easier. I kept it folded over at the top (which became the waist) to give it a little more heft and thickness. After cutting a five inch strip off one end of the fabric I set to work making pleats. The instructions recommended a 16-20 inch flat front panel followed by pleats and some excess fabric to wrap under the front.

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I started with 17 inches for the flat front (but ended up pulling one more pleat over) and pinched about an inch of fabric to bring towards the front in a pleat. I think making the plaid look right on the pleats is more important than having a specific measurement for each pleat. For this particular plaid the pleats ended up covering the navy lines in the plaid.

Once the pleats are all folded and securely pinned ironing is a must. Spray starch would have been helpful here too but, alas, I didn’t have any on hand.

With the pleats all pressed in place I straight stitched across the top of the pleats and then down each one ending with a short diagonal that covered the width of each pleat. My original plan was to sew a line across the top parallel to the waist and then another about six inches down and call it good but after running the top line I didn’t think that was going to secure each pleat well enough. I was going for quick & dirty here not super crappy and likely to fall apart.

Now that all the pleats were all sewn down and in place it was time for the waist band. Remember the five inch wide strip I cut from the end of the fabric way back at the beginning? That was to become the waist band.

Basically I laid it out on the emergent kilt to match it’s width and make sure the plaids weren’t totally off before trimming it up to get semi straight lines. Then I employed the fold-press fold-press waist band construction method. What, you haven’t heard of that? Yeah, probably because I just made it up. It’s exactly as it sounds: Fold the band in half (wrong sides together) and press it good and hard. Then fold whatever seam allowance you’re going to use up on one long edge and press that. Repeat with the other long edge and tuck the raw ends of the short edges under. Press those too while you’re at it. And, voila!, a waist band.

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To attach the waistband pin it right side down along the top edge of the skirt part. Sew that down then flip it over, press everything flat, and fold the band over the other side of the top edge of the skirt part. This is wear all that pressing pays off. It should lay nicely with the midline press of the band at top and the pressed under edge over the part you just sewed. Pin it all down, press it (for good measure) and run your stitch across it.

Now all that’s left is the finishing touches. After making a button hole on the edge of the waist band and attaching a couple buckles I had my son try it on to see where the closures needed to be. It turns out the bottom edge of this kilt is a little sparse but he’s planning to wear shorts under. Again, we’re not aiming for authenticity here. Between that and a bit of velcro I think we’ll avoid unintentional flashings.

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kilt finished back

Check out those pleats!

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The Quick & Dirty kilt.

From start to finish this took about two hours to make. As you can see I did not hem the bottom edge. If it’s getting out of control I’ll go back and do that later…or maybe I’ll take the pinking shears to it. We’ll see.

kilt on side 1

It even matches his socks.

kilt on side 2

Apparently the flat front could be more narrow but overall not too shabby!

kilt on back

How sticky are your balls?

I’ve been practicing productive procrastination this week. I’m not sure why I need to practice, I’m already a master at all forms of procrastination but whatever. I’ve been sharpening my skillz anyhow. As usual this involves laundry, a little cleaning, running, and baking. 

Monday was basically a waste (aka spent sleeping) after working until 6am on next to no sleep. It was a struggle just to get myself home after taking the kids to school. Yesterday, Tuesday, I was feeling blergy and down; night shift jet lag was hitting me hard. There were things I really needed to do but they were not happening. I thought chocolate chip cookies might help.

And they did!  Sort of.

I love chocolate chip cookies. I mean, who doesn’t? (My seven year old just informed me  he doesn’t, doesn’t even like them. I think he’s an alien.) Classic chocolate chip cookies are my first love baking-wise too. Starting around age ten I’d make them whenever I was bored which was often. Yesterday it was dreary, cold, and rainy; my head hurt and I was tired. Making cookies was soothing. It was comfort….

But then I ate said cookies and, let’s not lie, excessive amounts of cookie dough. Physically I felt slightly gross. So this morning, after waking up late and getting kids to school almost on time, I had the urge to be super productive and healthy. I made a list of things to accomplish and decided today would be the day I’d start that low carb/high fat diet I’ve been eye balling. This required some Google searching which lead me to recipes for peanut butter chocolate chip protein balls.

Protein balls, or as they should be called power balls, seemed like an adequate replacement for the remaining chocolate chip cookies that were still tempting me. So I found a couple recipes including this one that I intended to follow and began throwing ingredients in a bowl.

I love peanut butter.  Love it! But I hate measuring it out; it’s such a sticky mess. So usually I just eye ball the amount. Really, there’s no way to have too much peanut butter.

The recipe called for 1/2 cup peanut butter but that didn’t sound like nearly enough. I probably used closer to a cup. AND then I added some ambiguous amount of coconut oil  (going for high fat here) and more flax than the recipe demanded because I didn’t feel like putting protein powder in. Oh, and instead of chocolate chips I poured in some cocoa powder. After mixing it all together and tasting the resulting concoction I added a bit more honey and called it good.

It was time to roll these balls!

I’ve never made balls like this before so I have no idea how they’re supposed to feel (insert immature snicker here), but damn! These balls were sticky!!!!

They made a goopy mess. Albeit a tasty goopy mess. 😉

The added cocoa powder gives these guys a…questionable appearance.

All joking aside, are these types of balls usually so sticky? Hopefully the refrigerator will solidify them some. Maybe next time I make them I’ll measure stuff and follow a recipe. Maybe not though. Probably not.

Hey who knows, these might end up being fantastic and delicious magic sticky balls. If they do I’m going to have to write my own protein balls recipe. I think I’ll call it Hippie Poop…for obvious reasons.

(P.S.-The amount the word balls was used in this post is directly proportional to the amount of immature giggles writing the post produced. Maturity is a little overrated anyhow.)

Graduation: It’s kind of a big deal.

Today is my would-be graduation day. Scratch that. Today IS my graduation day. I’m not going to graduation (because it’s too damn expensive and my kids are at their dad’s this weekend anyway) but it is still my graduation day.

College, bitches, I did it!

As of Thursday afternoon when I handed my completed final to the professor and walked out of my last undergraduate class, I have completed my bachelor’s degree. Logistically I may need to check on the status of a form and complete my loan “exit counseling” to actually get the piece of paper but all the real stuff, the classes and course content, that’s done.

I can now say that I’ve got a B.S. in General Biochemistry.

I’m not sure how this changes anything or what it really means for my family and our quality of life but, regardless of what may or may not happen now, I am super fucking proud of myself! I understand that getting my degree is not some magic pass to a better life; I get that nothing changes now unless I work hard to make it change. (I’m a single parent running a one adult household so that’s pretty much the story of my life. The wheels don’t turn themselves, something has to drive them. I get it!) But, still, graduating from college is a big deal. At least for me it is; it’s been a long road and I worked hard for this!

I didn’t realize how I felt about graduating until I was leaving my final on Thursday. All week I was oddly emotional and off kilter. I blamed stress, hormones, and lack of sleep. The usual suspects. But as I walked out of class and down those five flights of stairs I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, a feeling of accomplishment, and a little bit of that “Oh shit what now” fear. Emotions, strong ones but mostly good.  glass case of emotions

As usual they took me by surprise. Before that point I thought that finishing, graduating, was just kind of…meh. I mean, (hopefully) this isn’t the end of my education and I’m not taking part in all the pomp & circumstance, no cap and gown for this girl, so it’s just a box checked off this list of things I need to do to get to the big thing I want to be doing (Hello Dental School!) I’ve been downplaying this and not even realizing I was doing it; I’ve failed to acknowledge that graduating really is an accomplishment. It’s also a big status change for me. I’m no longer a student. I no longer have to check the “some college” box under educational status.

With finishing my bachelor’s degree I accomplished a long term goal and that is something to celebrate. I worked hard to do this thing and I did it well. So while my eyes are still trained on what’s yet to come and there is no time to take a break if I’m going to do the next hard thing and keep propelling my life forward, I’m going to revel in my accomplishments and be unabashedly proud of myself this weekend.

kind of a big deal

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.