Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crashing through the snow

Pacific Northwest, I do love you.  I have made you my home here for nearly ten years.  I learned to drive on Northeast roads.  Naturally, I’m a speeder (Massachusetts leads the country in speeding tickets).  I am also, ::buffs knuckles on shirt:: a pretty decent driver in snowy conditions thanks to my time driving the roads in the two-season wonder of New England.

This year, I just reached wit’s end with PNW drivers and I believe I am going to have to say it...  Oregonians... Washingtonians... You really suck at driving in winter conditions. As I said on Facebook yesterday morning; when there’s snow in Oregon, it’s like the streets are paved with Stupid.  When there are ‘conditions’ on the road; it’s like I’m watching slack-jawed dimwits chasing a laser-pointer-light.  Seriously guys... Get a grip. Get a clue. Or stay home. 

I have never in my days lived anywhere where I’ve seen so many god-damned four-wheel drive vehicles upside down or smashed on the side of the road during what to me are completely manageable conditions.  I’ve never seen more people get stuck going up hills with front wheel drive and freakin’ studded tires!  I’ve never seen so many people sliding uncontrollably down hills, steering and braking themselves into a smashup with some poor dimwit’s parked car. I’ve never seen more large SUVs careening off the road because they think they’re invincible and are speeding. It’s embarrassing.

Seriously... I’m sorry to say it, but PNWers are snow-driving morons.  

So now I am going to clue my fellow PNWers in on some basic things about driving in snow and ice that you need to learn from the rest of the states where snow falls; where when faced with a snow-event, national emergencies are not declared for two inches of snow. Where they do not equip their vehicles with tires that destroy the roads for six months just for the sake of feeling ‘secure’ for the four days out of the whole year the road-conditions might even moderately justify the use of studded tires (if at all).


Sometime during junior high-school, you probably sat in a classroom, barely cognizant of the teacher; who was likely the kind of guy that wore his pants pulled up to his nipples and his pastel-colored shirts buttoned to the top.  You can probably recall that he droned on and on about things like momentum, velocity and friction; some of those words might have somehow survived the pot-induced haze and clung to one of your few remaining undamaged neurons. These might possibly be somewhat familiar concepts to you.

If you’re still cloudy on this subject, it might explain why you have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re doing when you get behind the wheel when there’s a forecast of half-an-inch of snow in the Portland Metro area.

Here’s the gist of how Momentum and Speed might affect whether or not your beloved Subaru acquires a nice new set of dents or creates dents on someone else’s beloved Subaru:

1)      If you are going up a slippery hill, the worst thing you can do is slow down or stop in the middle of it.  Yesterday, I watched a woman with a front-wheel drive car get stuck on soft incline in Damascus after she slowed down to a crawl when she started going uphill. She caused two other cars to lose traction.  As I drove by them all at a moderate speed in my stud-tire-free front-wheel-drive Toyota, I wanted to pull over and punch her in the head.  MORON.  If you are moving and if you can avoid stopping, then don’t stop. Ramping up your speed a bit before you hit the hill is also good. Do not turn your tires any more than you need to, keep your momentum moving forward and supplement it lightly using your accelerator. Do not gun your engine or think you can race up the hill. Go steady, go gently.  If you brake, if you drop the acceleration while climbing, you’re going to be screwed.  Gravity will start pulling your car backwards.  If you’re in a rear-wheel drive vehicle, where the power has to push the bulk of your car up that hill, you’re doubly screwed, so you have to learn the advantages of gathering and using momentum even more than everyone else. Do not stop or slow down until you reach the crest of that hill.  Once you get there, the rules change.

2)      Going down a slippery hill is the complete opposite.  Your speed going downhill is going to determine how hard you will have to work to stop.  Slippage will happen if you are going too fast.  Your ability to steer will decrease the more your speed increases.  Braking hard (see traction, lesson 2) is not going to help all; it will only guarantee that you will continue to slide.  The trick is to approach a super slippery hill at a crawl.  Ignore all the yahoos behind you having aneurysms and careening off the side of the road and trying to accelerate in the opposite direction of their slide; they’re d-bags who deserve their fate. Natural selection. Concentrate on keeping your tires turning slowly, VERY slowly, grandma-with-a-walker-slow. Keep your tires as straight as possible, and do not tempt gravity to grab you and take you for a spin; once gravity’s got you, there’s not a lot you can do except hope that your ROLLING tires will find something to grab.  If you fall into an uncontrolled slide, let go of the brake, let your tires roll and try to straighten your car. If you get it straight you will have to brake, but not locking your wheels.  To brake, just as I will elaborate in lesson 2, you need to brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll < -- are you getting my point here? DO NOT LOCK YOUR BRAKES. EVER. PERIOD. Do not let your tires lock in place . If you do, you should be slapped.  If you have to make a turn while rolling down hill, you should slow down to a complete stop before you effect your turn or you might end up swinging your ass out into a spin like a cat in heat.

3)      Momentum also means that as you’re about to enter traffic onto an icy road, that you need to make sure you merge into traffic when there’s a nice big gap between you and the next oncoming car (refer to Lesson 4 for details).  They’re going at a certain speed. They will be moving forward.  No matter how they cut their tires or brake on an icy road, they’re still going to be moving forward, albeit most likely now in an uncontrolled death-spin if they’re forced to brake for your sorry sake—so keep that in mind when you join a busy road of traffic. Don’t be a colossal hairy d*ck and just pull on the road expecting other people to slow down for you; ESPECIALLY in questionable road conditions where they need more distance to come to a safe stop if they are forced to brake because you’re a self-absorbed douche-bag.

4)      Momentum means look up the road.  If you’re cruising along at a nice, safe clip, you should be looking at the road ahead, watching for those dipsh*ts who like to brake for no reason except because they’re d-bags, or those real losers I describe in Lesson 4, who think pulling out into traffic whenever is perfectly fine.  Be vigilant, or you will not be able to stop in time.  This morning, a woman decided to brake hard because the light turned amber when she had plenty of time to roll through before it turned red.  She hit the brakes and slid into the middle of the intersection anyway, I luckily veered to the right onto the shoulder, and two other cars behind her almost rear-ended one another; the only reason it didn’t happen is that my car had veered out of the way before the guy behind me could hit me, and he would have been rear-ended in turn.  That incident inspired this whole post, because that woman was such a colossal moron, her stupidity could probably be seen from space if it weren't overcast. You do not BRAKE hard or suddenly in wet or icy conditions… period. Watch the lights from afar and understand your ‘point of no return’. If the light turns amber after that, you’ll have to keep going or you will slide into the intersection like moron-woman from this morning, and cause a conga-line of rear-endings.

Lesson 2: TRACTION

First rule of thumb of maintaining traction while moving; your tires need to roll.  Ice and snow have a nasty habit of caking onto your tire and once a tire loses traction, you need to get off that caked icy spot and onto a nice new non-cakey spot on your tire so your car’s wheels can grab something.  That is why locking your brakes (braking hard) is the most moronic thing you can do driving in winter conditions. You might as well be stopping to install four skis on the bottom of your tires because you want to play vehicular-air-hockey. Yet, being a resident of the Mount Hood area, I see it with astonishing frequency.  Every winter, during the few days of snowy fun on the Mount Hood highway, I see SUVs and cars litter up the side of the road like flotsam—products of insanely STUPID driving.  At least they keep our volunteer fire department and the ONE POLICE OFFICER* in the region busy. (*may be a slight exaggeration)

People think that having four-wheel drive or studded tires gives them some sort of immunity to ice and snow. ::scoff:: “Dude, they showed the make of car that I have in a commercial cutting through three feet of snow like a freakin’ icebreaker!”  If any of you ski, you know the difference between skiing hard-packed ice vs. dry, powdery snow and tell me which one is easier to navigate on skis.  One doesn’t require a degree in particle physics to understand marketing vs. real life. 

Les Schwab markets its ass off every winter to insure idiots are all duly instilled with the fear of an icy death. They are constantly sponsoring the Northwest’s TV news weather-reports, where reporters stand in falling snow and spin a forecast of 3 inches of snow into the equivalent of the arrival of an Category 5 Tornado that’s about to send the Northwest states back into the middle ages.  They want you to freak out and then go scurrying to their stores (between your trips to the grocery stores to stock up on survival supplies) with a fist full of cash so you can buy their studded tax-dollar-eater-tires. NEWSFLASH: You do not need studded tires.  In New England, where snow comes down in much greater volume and frequency than it does here, studded tires are ILLEGAL. So are chains.  You can go to pretty much any car-parts place and they’ll laugh at you if you ask for chains. Ask my husband. In ’04 when he went to get some cheap chains for the u-haul for crossing the rockies, they told him laughingly: “Gaah, whaddyah need chains foah? Ye don’t need tiah chains for a liddle snow! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” There had been 11” of snow that night... to them, in late December, that’s ‘a little snow’.

Studded tires are unnecessary and destructive. They cost the state millions of dollars in damage and repairs every year (not to mention private damages of people whose cars are scratched and windshields are cracked by the debris created from these tires).  If I ever hear one of you SOBs complaining about paying too many state taxes while driving a car with wheels that clickety-click, I am going to follow you home and break my foot off in your ass. Sorry, but you deserve it.

All you ever need to drive safely in snow and ice (unless it’s so deep you can’t do sh*t) is a front-wheel-drive car, common sense and the ability to look up the road a distance. 

Many times with rear-wheel drive, even with some 4WD systems, one tire loses traction and the other is still powered, you can start fish-tailing.  The PNW reaction to this is to usually start braking and over-steering and accelerating away from the direction you’re sliding... hence the winter-roadside-junkyard-art decorating our fine roadways.

When your vehicle begins to slide and fishtail, the first thing you do DON’T FREAK OUT AND PANIC (Lesson 3) LIKE A MORON!  Then you lift your goddamned foot off the accelerator.  DO.  NOT.  BRAKE. Braking will spin you. Period. The third thing you do is to carefully counter-steer your tires as fluidly as possible against your fishtail. What does that mean? Steer your tires to counteract the direction your ass is sliding. If you turn your tires into your slide, naturally, you will spin.  Don’t turn the steering wheel hard, just straighten your back, and bite your tongue and concentrate. Keep your tires rolling, but remember that whole ‘brake-roll- brake-roll’ thing I mentioned a little while ago? As you regain control of your steering, start your braking. You might have to steer left and right a few times, but your fishtail will shallow itself and straighten and your car will slow down (you know, because you stopped accelerating and have been pumping your brake).  People with 4WD seem to fall victim to this a lot around here.  People with 4WD are cocky... (Lesson 5)

Lesson 3: PANIC

Seriously.  There’s this video on YouTube of some Portland drivers in the city just winging around on the icy streets like a pinball, smashing into one car after the next; it’s the funniest god damned thing I’ve ever seen in my life. You can see the solid, hot red lights of the brakes on as the momentum just pings and pongs them down the street. The drivers are in full-panic.  The car is sliding in one direction, so their solution is to gun the engine and turn the tires in the opposite direction.  The car is sliding and the stand on their brakes. Surprise, you can’t stop physics, only your f*cking tires!

Panic is your downfall. If you submit to it, you’re going to get hurt.  I saw a bottle-blonde idiot in a Land-Rover last year driving from the mountain to Sandy on a packed-snow road.  I was coming towards her.  She was moving pretty fast, probably about 50mph just before Shorty’s Corner.  Her car started to fish tail and she yanked her steering wheel into her slide and her brake lights went hot and she spun out, ending up facing traffic on the side of the road.  I laughed all the way to Cherryville because the image I glimpsed of her face was frozen in my mind.  It looked like this:

[kom-uhn]  [kuhn-sid-uh-rey-shuhn] and [pey-shuhns]

I understand this lesson may prove to be the most challenging for PNWers, considering that most of them have hardly any grasp of these concepts on a daily basis, even in dry and normal conditions.

For instance, turning into traffic for most people in the civilized world isn't really a difficult concept. You stop where the street meets the road upon which you are merging, you wait patiently for traffic to pass by until there is a gap that is sufficiently wide for you to pull in safely, without disrupting the flow of traffic and causing anyone to veer, slam on their brakes, change lanes, or eat steering wheel.  On a busy highway, this might require you to wait a several seconds. 

In the Pacific Northwest, this is much too long to wait; so drivers here, after implementing the patented California Rolling Stop, just turn at their leisure onto a busy street without the slightest thought.  “Gap schmap; they’ll slow down for me!”  As the driver thinks about possibly attempting to get up to speed while they sip their coffee, cars are violently veering around him like he’s a boulder in a river, middle fingers flying, horns blaring.  This is typical PNW behaviour.  What’s even worse, it is acted out with impunity during wet conditions, which as we all know, is not exactly the rarest road condition around these parts. Thinking that perhaps oncoming drivers might need a few more yards of slow-down time in order to avoid hitting your ass because of possible hydroplaning—are we getting where I’m going here?  Are we?

I would not be even marginally surprised to find out that auto-collisions involving cars entering traffic is higher here than is in other places.  I am always astounded by how many cars are T-boned on Hwy 26 every year.  But what trumps it all, people pull this sh*t when roads are packed in snow and icy.   They just pull right in.  The concept of momentum (which we discussed in lesson 1) is so alien to them that they have no idea how a vehicle might possibly be unable to veer away in time... or have enough lead space to actually effectively stop their vehicle. I suspect they think nothing of it at all. Their thoughts are probably on more pressing matters, like that strange rash on their butt, or what chairs would look like if peoples' knees bent the other way.  Oncoming cars would likely have to slam on their brakes (traction, lesson 2) in a panicked but probably fruitless attempt not to plow right into your car.  They might end up spinning out into oncoming traffic. But hey, as long as *they* die and not you right? < -- sarcasm, FYI.

COMMON CONSIDERATION AND PATIENCE are concepts that can save lives if you bother to learn and understand them.  Waiting patiently for a better time to pull in, where you are not causing the flow of traffic to be disrupted; be considerate that you are entering traffic and it is your responsibility to fall into the flow of it, not disrupt it.  Be considerate that there are other people on the road besides you, you selfish moron.  This concept works especially well during wintertime, when the roads sometimes require a little special care when driving.


Yeah. Don’t. They will not make you invincible. Your car will not be dancing gracefully through the snow like a porpoise.  Life is not a Subaru commercial. Tires still get caked even with studs.  4WD and traction control are not infallible.  You cannot drive in winter conditions like you drive in dry conditions, it’s as simple as that. If you think I’m wrong, then you are a douche-bag and deserve to go careening off the road and to have your piece of sh*t car totaled.


Being a good snow driver doesn’t mean you drive like one of those 4WD car commercials, sailing over the stuff like it’s water and your car is Jesus.  Being a good snow driver means knowing your limitations and being smart enough to know when you should or should not drive, when you should or should not slow the f*ck down, or when you should or should not pull into traffic. Sometimes, even I, the smuggest of snow-drivers, am not too proud to get up in the morning, look out the window and say; “Wow, maybe I should stay off the damned roads today.” I often recuse myself from driving in bad conditions because I don’t have a lot of faith in the ignorant idiots on the road rather than in any direct concern for the ice or snow.  I know that’s mean, but again... I know when to lift my hands up and back off.  Especially on the road to Mount Hood; where cars-full of knuckle-dragger snowboarders marinating in pot-smoke think the studded tires on their 1999 4Runner is enough to go speeding along (Lesson 7) at or above the posted speed limits. Those are posted for NORMAL, dry conditions, folks.

No further elaboration required.

Okay, just an anecdote from yesterday’s drive home in the evening.  I left work and discovered that the wet roads that had caused such panic and shut down schools in Portland were turning into iced oil-sheen-flavoured slushie on Hwy 26 a bit past Sandy, so as any responsible person would do, I took my Massachusetts-trained lead-foot off the accelerator and moseyed my way home, watching way ahead for the dipsh*ts who might be (not) waiting to get onto the road from side-roads, just in case.  As I was driving, a 4WD SUV went screaming by me at mach-7, snow and slush flying off the tires.  I rolled my eyes and kept driving.  A few mileposts later, that very SUV was spun out on the side of the road and another car was also taking a nature hike.  Slow the f*ck down you idiots.  Your Navigators and Yukons are not tanks. :::shakes head::: Total. F*cking. Morons.  Lots of emergency vehicle activity last night...  I wonder why. ::hmmm:: The sad thing is, the amount of snow and ice on the ground was really negligible. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s snow was a joke.  The way people were driving in it, was not.  It was just stupid. Really, really stupid.

Oh, and PNW television stations, newsflash… three to five inches of snow in the forecast does not constitute a WINTER STORM! It’s just precipitation.  It doesn’t require special coverage of wild-eyed reporters bundled up like Nanook of the North, standing on a street corner, pointing out the moderate accumulation of snow as if each flake is composed of acid with a pH of -4. Sheep and humans share 96% of the same DNA. Just saying. Stop listening to these idiots.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Under the knife... again.

Yeah, I've been pretty quiet in blogsville lately. Mostly because I've been stressed out a bit with work and such. I've also been doing a number of tests and such in preparation for the surgery I had on Friday.  I am currently horizontal on the sofa, with my laptop balanced on my chest. Dogs are wedged at my side... nobody dares approach my abdomen, where I feel like I've gotten multiple gunshot wounds.  I'm on Percocet, which puts me to sleep.  Surgery was a search and destroy mission to remove scar-tissue, a dye test to see if my fallopian tubes were open, and a biopsy of my cervix... I had some abnormal cells detected recently.  So I'm pretty grumped out.

I've been sleeping most of the weekend, and walk around hunched over like an old woman. It isn't as terrible as it was last time, when the doctor sliced me open completely. I had a laparoscopy this time. But it's still hideous-painful and I'm completely useless. I'm trying to work on editing a book for someone and working on one of my own books while I'm down ... but I keep drifting off, and sometimes the pain makes it too hard to concentrate on reading.  I have some better moments, but they're up and down.

My birthday is coming up.  Dan got me the most beautiful cover for my nook by a company named "Oberon".  This is the design he got me:

I got my present early, obviously. Probably because it was the night before my surgery and I had seen the box. But my hubby is really bad at keeping secrets; but that's okay. :) He scored twice this year with presents, and I love that about him.  He has really been amazing these past few days. He has cooked, provided me medicine, helped me get around, doted and been attentive.  I totally broke down the other night (probably because of medication) but I realized that the's the only person in my life who is there for me like that.  I love him so much.

Last weekend, I was sick, and he told me on Saturday that I should not bother planning anything for dinner and that I should be ready to go out at six thirty.  Now this is huge, because my hubby is really bad at keeping secrets. He always has been. When there's a surprise in store, he just cannot keep it inside.  He proposed to me in the parking lot at my old job because he couldn't wait until dinner to do it.  That's how terrible he is at it. But he had me totally bamboozled last Saturday. He did it early because he knew the surgery would make celebrating the weekend closest to my birthday impossible.

He arranged to meet a bunch of friends at a restaurant called Benihana's. I've never been, and it was a fun place ... but what made it great was that he went around on FB and invited some of my friends.  It was cute and stealthy and sweet. It's the first complete surprise party I've ever had.  Steph II was there of course, what would life be without a BFF nearby?  ::sighs:: It was fun.  The funny part is, I told him about a place that does Habachi food before, and he'd planned this party around that discussion, but a week before, he was off work early enough to meet me for dinner and I suggested the local habachi place (Fuji's) and we went there.  He was having an internal steam because we did that and he'd arranged a whole party for that weekend doing the same thing! LOL.

Yeah... it was fun.  I was a bit sick, and dizzy, but I still managed to have the best laugh I'd had in months, thanks to my hubby and my BFF Stephie-II.  She's such a great friend.   I'm sorry if my writing isn't very coherent, I'm pretty sure it's erratic.  The medication is making me loopy.  Next week I have to get back on the horse--including getting back on Tag, poor guy, I've been neglecting him so badly.

Anyway... Since I'm laid up and grumpy and watching DVRed shows, I'm going to post a bunch of cute baby animal pictures just because it's just the thing a person needs to recover. Cuteness. :)

Baby bulldogs for all!
Ice-crusted cuteness

Baby otter needs to be mine. 
Cuteness overload
Adorable baby chickies

I want a baby pangolin!

The baby Belgian draft I want to steal.
Just to add one last off-the-charts-cute picture to
give you an cute-induced aneurysm...
Chat soon. Promise. ::urgh::

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blog Award! Wee!

I have received a new blog award compliments of the Miss Georgiane from 'Letters from a Lady'. I thank Miss Georgiane for her thoughtful gift.

I've been described as a lot of things.. but stylish?
Hey, I take the compliments where I can get 'em. ;)
This blog award comes with a set of rules, as some do. They are: Post seven random facts about yourself and then pass this award onto 15 other bloggers. I have chosen to award only five other bloggers, I think awarding too many dilutes the meaning of the award.

I can't imagine I can come up with seven random facts about me that I haven't already posted twice about on this blog; LOL... I talk about me way too much. But, I'll just wing it--sorry if they might be repetitive.

1). The four languages I can speak in order of fluency are: English, French, Dutch, Spanish.
2). I have been known to build dollhouses and sculpt miniatures on occasion (escapism... I'm good at it).
3). I own twelve web domains.
4). I recently swallowed my pride and read the Twilight series.. I know, I know, please don't think less of me. And yes, they *were* utterly ridiculous. But I read them anyway. Harry Potter is next... but only when that stupid woman decides to release them in e-book format.
5). I had an imaginary friend when I was a child named "Esmeralda" and she was a Roma Gyspy and looked just like me. I would 'switch places' with her sometimes, and travel with her gypsy family, and she would stay home and put up with my family's BS--which I imagined much worse than living in a caravan of swarthy, often frightening-looking people. Yep... weird kid.
6). I have chronic insomnia. Despite having a job that starts at 7:30 AM (with an hour commute), I am rarely asleep before 1 AM. So I am often grumpy and sleep-deprived. But anyone who follows this blog has already figured that out.
7). My favourite activity on this planet is to lie down on the sofa with a floofy blanket, a cup of tea, with my dogs and cat piled up on me like remoras on a Cetacean. Add a book & classical music to that quotient, a good movie or a Jane Austen, Star Trek or Whedon marathon, and I am in heaven.

I now pass this award onto (not in any particular order):
1). The Lady of Portland House.
- One of the loveliest members of the ORS, and an inspiration in the world of hand-sewn costumes of great historic accuracy, the Lady of Portland House's blog is a wonderful resource for anyone who takes interest in early Regency and Georgian costume. The Lady takes tremendous pains in making sure that all her costuming work is as accurate as possible to the historic version of the garment and she hand-stitches everything (I know, seriously! She's crazy... good crazy though). Her costumes are always absolutely beautiful, her hair pieces and hats are divine. Anyone who loves costuming would enjoy this blog.  It is costume porn at its best.

2).World of Higlet's "Last Geek Bus Home".
- Yes, I've crossed the spectrum here to embrace the other geeky things I like, and this site always keeps me on top of the geeky goings on in entertainment and more. A fellow Whedon addict, this blog is a delight for anyone who loves fantasy, sci-fi and anything Whedon. Enjoy!

3). Around Britain with a Paunch (and sometimes around other places in Europe)
- I don't get back to Europe much these days. It's a bummer. But I do follow this blog and I LOVE it. It's a dining diary that will have your mouth watering.

4). Clothes closet of a 21st century Empress
-More ridiculous wonderful costume porn.

5). Just Beautiful Things
- Just because it is what it claims to be; a blog of beautiful, wonderful things.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pleasant things... Not.

I have managed to claw my way through the lousiest weekend on record relaxation-wise. Even though I spent 90% of each day in the horizontal position, I was far from comfortable or happy by any means. In fact, this morning, I’m trying to leave the house and function on less than 3.5 hours of solid sleep last night. It was SO hard to drag myself out of bed.

It started when two of my coworkers came down with hideous colds. Because they wanted to be heroes (I’m just a bit bitter about it), they decided to be the ‘I’m on my deathbed but I’m going to work anyway!’ people—bringing with them their seething disease. So inevitably, no matter how much Purell and hand-washing and hiding from the snogs, sneezes, coughs and snot-rags, no thanks to my over-achiever co-workers (love them, but still wanna kill them) I got sick last week. Probably the worst case of sinusitis and coughing I’ve had in a long time. It started as just a minor sinus issue, and then as the week wore on, I remained in steady denial as the pressure and pain and grossness of my sinus escalated, until the evening of Thursday, when I had to stay late to give training, and I could barely speak to the class and started feeling dizzy and nauseous.

I drove home seeing little fuzzy swirls, and spent the whole night choking on the effluvia of my infected sinus. I know, gross right? So Friday, I ended up taking a sick-day, and spent the whole day in abject misery, snorting and blowing my nose, taking over-the-counter drugs, piling up the Kleenex into germ pyramids, coughing and being all around grumpy and miserable. And the rest of the weekend was an exercise in disgustingness; my throat raw from coughing, nights of choking on the aspirated loveliness of my sinuses, getting no more than two or three hours of sleep at best, and spending the daytime being miserable and exhausted, dozing in and out of sleep. Saturday night into Sunday was probably the worst, and I ended up staying home Monday because I got zero sleep, and was still hideous all of Monday. I’m fine when I’m vertical (in so much as not coughing and choking as much) but I am still a smidge dizzy when I'm up and about, but as soon as I lie down, the party begins. I’m SO tired!

I did not leave the house at all from Friday to today. Sunday night, I went on this ‘all you can eat-a-thon’ and pigged out on pickles and anything else I could get my hands on. Poor hubby has oddly not come down with anything. Probably because he was smart enough to keep a safe distance. But he did take very good care of me—but he was careful to spend most of the weekend outdoors digging post-holes rather than hang out with me and my green cloud of infectiousness. I hope I make it through this day... I’m so tired. ::yawn:: I am also hoping that tonight will be a night free of waking up every thirty minutes in a coughing fit. I am so done with this.

I know it's not *really* a Monday, but it feels like one. Blargh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Memories of home.


When I was young, my family (namely my mother) bought a riding stable. Riding stables in Belgium are different than they are here. In the US, the barn is just usually a barn, there're little structured activities around it, people come and go rather quickly and it's not really a social center (from my experience so far here). Our stable included a bar and restauarant with windows looking out into the arena, and those who boarded their horses there, and most of the folks who came for lessons paid a membership fee to participate. For members, the lessons were cheaper, and we had lessons going all week and weekend, sometimes I taught, sometimes our hired instructors taught.

People would come and stay most of the day. They'd come with the family, and while little Billy took lessons, mom and dad sat down and drank a beer, they all had dinner, dad would take a lesson while kids ran around the place, and they'd all go several hours later. It was a social center, and a lot like a country-club in many ways. Most stables in Belgium are like that. They have club names, colours, flags and they compete as a club in the riding guilds. It's a horse-friendly culture there. Nobody bats an eye if you ride up to a store or pub, get off the horse, and go and buy yourself something refreshing. People ride up and down country roads constantly.

The stable my mother bought was the same one where I first learned to ride. So I already had an emotional connection to the place. It was really old, the building made of stone masonry, and it had once had a life as a cow-farm, so the banquette seats in the bar and restaurant were actually the feeding troughs. There was a fireplace with a central witch-hat cone flue which we would encircle on the benches after a cold ride, and drink cocoa or lipton soup and reek of horse and nobody cared. Our covered arena was old but was fine, we had about forty-five stalls, and about twelve lessons horses and ponies.

In summer, mom hosted a group of American kids from the embassy for 'Pony Camp', where I would teach them the pony-essentials. They'd learn about grooming first thing, then tack, and before they ever set bottom on any of our lesson ponies, they would have to know how to tack up and prepare their mount for lessons. I remember many a balmy afternoon outside in the outdoor arena, a file of kids on tired ponies languidly trotting and crossing at the diagonal at my command while early arriving parents would lean on the fence and watch them. We did therapeutic riding for disabled children. We hosted Ponyclub. We competed in vast farm-fields with other clubs, and spent all day there drinking beer and watching our club-members ride and win.

Oh what good days those were. I miss the birthday parties, the special gatherings, the camraderie, the competitions... I miss the kids from the surrounding neighbourhood that inevitably ended up at our door and being part of our daily activities. Boyfriends came and went... parties and celebrations occurred, I even hosted the After-Prom party for the kids from the American School there, where they all drank themselves blind, passed out cold on the benches, and ate a hearty breakfast the next day before their parents came to get them.

My last years in Belgium were my wildest and the very best. I was over the alcohol thing before I was eighteen, I'd partied like a rock star with my clutch of close friends from fourteen on. The stable was always a wonderful thing for me. I was loathe to leave that world behind, but I was given no choice by the parental units. My heart broke a million times that day, I remember sitting on the stone stoop at the gate of the stable and wondering what was going to happen to the place. Mom came and picked me up and offered no explanation, only an admonishment of my misery and sorrow. As the plane took off... I cried. And I cried for the eight hours of travel to follow. That whole time in my life is preserved in my cerebral-formaldehyde... unchanged, just hanging there suspended in time and memory. My friends never age, the horses I loved are still there, gazing out over the half-doors of their stalls, the ponyclub is still trotting around the arena in a neat line on a crisp Saturday morning, steam puffing out from small fuzzy muzzles.

The culture shock took months to wane. The loss of everything familiar to me... the complete sense of groundlessness and isolation took years for me to cope with. I gained weight immediately upon my arrival in the US, and haven't been able to conquer it since. Every single day, I miss that time. Every single day.


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