Namesake

Lately it feels as if I’m paralleling my namesake, Jamethiel, more than ever, in terms of the level of crazy this year has held.

(For those who don’t know, I’m named for the main character in a beautiful, convoluted, complicated, epic fantasy series The Chronicles of the Kencyrath. The author makes George RR Martin seem a speed writer; my mother first picked up the series as a young girl, and now that I’m raising my son the series still isn’t finished).

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Life is unusually charmed; husband newly hitched, house pretty much ours (signing all the things next week!), a job that suits me pay and temperament wise, steady riding and weight creeping off, no broken bones on the kid yet this year. I’m not yet 30, and in the space of a season I’ve hit a ton of the major life milestones. Marriage, house, career job…I’ve already covered the kid part, though I need to rededicated myself to the raising v. keeping alive and in clean clothes mode we’ve been in as the school year draws to a close.

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But as my namesake does, I must test things, push and prod and question the limits. It’s not a wonder then, that I’ve embraced, made my internal peace and found a smart direction for that testing part of my nature. As I’ve settled ever more seriously into the domestic bliss or at least settled happiness life I’m carving out with my boys, I seek just a piece of release and fun and crazy, those questing things I gave up for Kade when most of my peers were out doing the weird, the stupid or the ill advised.

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That I’m juggling both at once-settled happiness and pushing the details-perhaps suits me more than it should. There are the inevitable doubts, fears, questions and cautions, but so long as I embrace the fun and not the rest of it, I should hope it provides the stress relief I seek, not the drama or complications.

I’m referring, of course, to endurance riding. (You thought I meant gambling or skydiving or something didn’t you?) This was supposed to be my year for my first 50 mile ride; I’ve paid dues to both PNER & AERC; I’ve ridden at least four times a month since January. I’ve got my camping and riding gear organized to the nines, and can toss stuff in the truck and be ready to take off in a half hour flat, kid and dog included!

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Between the new job being temp to hire (no paid vacation time) and buying the house, both my ability to take Friday’s off and the funds for rides has evaporated. My focus is shifting; from endurance as a “get it done now!” activity to horse riding as stress relief, at least until next season. Moving, painting, setting up a pantry,  epoxy for the garage floor, dog door, cleaning out the rental, all the other little projects to make this house into our house will take any spare cent and mental space for the immediate future.

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This is both a little disappointing and also freeing, as was my earlier revelation that horse camping without the endurance ride part is relaxing. Endurance is about miles, yes, but also the details, from tack fit to how many miles to training gaps. Now that my day job and personal life is jam packed and an actual endurance season is off the table, I have more time to use those detail oriented skills on setting myself up better for endurance, rather than “just” chugging through conditioning miles.

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I can focus on riding a good horse, relaxing either in a group of friends or just me, the horse and the dog. I’m building a solid relationship with Ray, who pushes me just enough to be a better rider, while leaving me happy when I’ve put him up with an extra treat for his efforts.  There will always be tack fit, gear and other things to futz with. There’s also other things I can try closer to home, like cattle sorting or Competitive Mounted Orienteering, wine or poker rides.

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“An hour spent in the saddle is never wasted.”

 

Embarressing ride story!

I’m part of many endurance ride related groups on the old Facebook, and in one I mentioned my twin ride goals for the season of completing my first 50 mile ride and not embarrassing myself in ride camp.

I realized that while I wrote up and shared the story of last year’s sad attempt at Grizzly, I’d never shared it wider than the PNER newsletter. So here it is again in all its glory, or don’t follow the Bad Idea Fairy!

I’ve had better weekends. I’ve had worse weekends. Overall, I’m chalking this year’s attempt at the Grizzly Mountain ride up to the as the ever exciting ‘learning experience’.

I first tried to complete Grizzly for the first time a few years ago, on Nicole Miller’s incomparable Arab Cid (who had given me my first ever endurance completion at Home on the Range earlier that year). I ended up pulling out via rider option at the first vet check, as through nearly 18 miles and a 30 degree temperature change, I hadn’t really drunk any water & ended up with heat stroke.

This year, Nicole had the amazing patience and trust to offer me another of her Arabs, this time Reno, to again attempt the LD at the now first ever EDRA ride. I felt quite a bit better about things this time; I’d been riding almost every weekend for months, including solid rides on a beautiful Appy/Arab cross (many of you may know him; Vicki Nelson’s Jokker is a stand out kinda guy!). I had my Camelbak all packed, my riding clothes dialed in, neither too hot nor too cold, I’ve been biking to work for months so I felt stronger than I had in years, & I was familiar with the rhyme and rhythm of Nicole & Jala’s work, if not Reno himself. I’d even brought two friends along, Adriene & Sarah, lifelong horse people but endurance newbies to volunteer, crew & provide what turned out to be critical emotional support.

So it should come as no surprise that Murphy bit my ass hard, in the form of the valuable maxim “Never do anything new on ride day.” I hopped up on a horse I’d never ridden, in a saddle I’d never seen, to do a nice 30 mile ride in the sunshine with friends.

I should take a moment here to fill a gap: I’m a catch rider. I have no horse of my own currently, so I’ve tried my best to build a solid reputation as a good horse person, a decent rider and a trusted friend. I was two of those three things at Grizzly. It’s only due to the open generosity of the endurance community that I have horses to ride at all! I always try to go the extra mile, from cleaning tack, stalls & trailers to working on any training issues as asked. There’s a delicate balance between my desire to ride endurance, the need to put conditioning miles on an ‘extra’ horse, and not straining friendships.

Back to the ride report that turned out not to be: We blitzed out of camp after Reno nicely bucked me off as his test (failed that one but popped right back on), took a wrong turn, futzed with my stirrups while Nicole’s Dancer lived up to her namesake, then crossed the highway & headed up the road for my one sweet spot of the ride, Reno alternating between a Hackney pony trot & a beautiful canter that I loved. As soon as we left the road I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t find the sweet spot of the stirrups; either too short & they popped me up with every stride, or so long I couldn’t sink my weight into them. Reno’s saddle had a tree, but I’d been riding almost exclusively treeless all winter. I felt perched above his movement, & coupled with my shiny but comfortable running tights, I had no grip on the saddle & lost my balance with every shift, unable to sink into the saddle & wrap my legs around him as I normally did.

At the first real downhill at the trot, I did the predictable thing & came off again, this time rolling over his shoulder in painful slow motion. After a stunned moment I collected my glasses & left my pride on the trail. Nicole & Cassie headed on & I took my sweet time hiking back to camp, explaining to every rider who passed that I was an idiot & not to worry about us. Of course the first rider to pass was the woman who got me in to this dang sport in the first place, Brenda Casebeer! I will admit, I didn’t feel so bad about leaving the proper place on Reno’s back when I learned Brenda’s up & coming gaited mare, Grace, had also dumped her a little farther up the trail.

I will be honest, even though only Reno saw, I did cry a bit on that hike back to ride camp. I’d never encountered a saddle I just couldn’t suck up & deal with, at least for a few miles. It was just a bad combination, & an expensive lesson to learn. By the time I handed in my ride card, I’d at least accepted I had made the right choice for the horse. We avoided a sore back by not hauling around an unbalanced rider, & not holding up my friend’s ride. My friends back at camp talked me through from sadness & self-guilt to the mentality of ‘lessons learned, you lived to ride again another day, here’s some things to try’ via a trip to Dairy Queen in Madras.

The main lesson I took from Grizzly is I have to control everything I can, so ride day is as smooth as possible. Things I can’t control are always getting a pre-ride in (due to distance between me & the offered horse), or the saddle (which endurance riders are rightly very specific about). I did go out & find a new pair of actual riding tights (slightly sticky seat Kerrits & half chaps on the way from the UK, the only company to make them in my size), find a seat fleece, & pick up dressage lessons again.

To follow up the ride that wasn’t, I had a fantastic ride the following weekend on Vicki’s Jokker. We managed a nice 13 mile ride at a decent clip, in a saddle I love on a horse I adore, only getting hailed on at the end of the ride. Heading up a long gravel road at a just right trot, just me & the big spotted horse in the woods following Vicki on her mare, was one of those sweet spots which remind me why I’m putting in the work to make myself a better rider.

I strive to keep people trusting me with their amazing horses & the open trail, all in pursuit of a completion & a nice t-shirt. I’ve been biking ten miles round trip to work several times a week since January; riding as often as I can; filling in walks around campus & Wii workouts (Dance games & Biggest Looser) during the worst of the winter weather, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, & wearing my Fitbit & tracking what I eat. These actions have helped me drop 30 pounds & turned my calves into rocks, & I’m hoping adding in dressage lessons will get me closer to this season’s goal of my first fifty mile ride.

From my end, the trickiest part of being a catch rider is the relationship building. I’m lucky enough to ride mostly with people I also consider friends, which makes it a little easier to keep the conversation flowing on long rides & the communication open during trickier moments. I always offer to pay full ride fees & half gas & food for any trips or events, & I fully embrace the “take what you need as it works for your current horse, store the rest for later” policy around any advice I give or receive. I take pains to question & learn as quickly as I can how each owner handles their horses, their setup & routines; the goal is to minimize aggravation on both ends & maximize riding time.

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(Setting the scene: sitting in my beloved Emerald Queen, still at work, waiting for the World’s Best future husband to come rescue me and my non independent woman self from a super flat tire, and a spare tire I can’t get out from under the vehicle cause I’ve never practiced on this truck yet).

After looting the local 4H tack sale with two far fetched friends on Saturday, I put the new to me tack to use on Sunday.

My proudest score of Saturday was a almost brand new Equipedic pad for $100, which is totally worth boasting about and bonus, Ray had no issues with it!

A still relatively new to me riding partner and I headed out for a long slow ride, as we’re aiming to turtle Grizzly together. I have always ridden with others much more experienced than I, both with endurance and the local trails. Yesterday I got to be the ‘senior’ riding partner, and we never once got lost! She mentioned several suggestions I had that I’ve picked up from others (hopping off every 10 miles or so to pee and stretch and adjust tack, letting horses graze for a few minutes every so often, and walking the last bit I to camp/the barn) were super helpful, so thanks to all those who’ve instilled good habits in me!

While it was a good 12 mile ride (no rain!) I was reminded once again that Ray is a different horse than super laid back, goofy Jokker.

Mr. I’m actually a teenager spent a good chunk of the ride just super casually glancing around, going full giraffe at random moments, and not quite fully jumping sideways at Every. Single. Culvert. I rode every moment of the ride, working to not let my emotions rule because Mr. I’m not actually trying to dump you tried to pretend he was a super spooky four year old.

I kept the image of mile 18, trotting easily down trail halfway back to camp and a well earned completion award and roaring bonfire in mind as I again reminded Mr. I go so fast than no, you can’t bolt all the way home, and please don’t tailgate the peeing mare.

Rather than being terrified, I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself to match the horse, and not get sucked into his attempts to weasel out of work. He did eventually accept the notion and we settled down and enjoyed ourselves (minus the redhead eating culverts).

Lessons learned: definitely going to try a Kimberwick or at least a running martingale next time; he has a habit of sticking his nose straight up when he disagrees with the riders chosen speed. “Neener neener, can’t tell me what to do now!” Shortening my stirrups was both good and bad; my seat was much better, but it tired my right ankle our faster and forced me to constantly reset my bad balance (something I’m hoping Celena can help me with at her clinic in two more weeks!)

My proudest moment was also the scariest; we were cantering back home and I could feel myself tipping forward over his neck, reins not short enough to do any good, and if he’s stumbled or shied I would have been dumped, just like I fell off Reno at Grizzly last year. Fortunately this year I heard some old trainer’s loud ass voice shout ‘Sit on your ASS!’ so I did and we came back to a more controlled canter that I cowgirl whooped my way through cause yeah, super badass enough to correct that mistake this time!

The only thing I really need to work with Mr. Fastest Possible Speed is rating, which I know will be worse the first five miles out of ride camp. My twin goals are dialing in his bit/martingale combo and working on my core strength so I can keep with him for those long miles.

We can do this and we can enjoy doing so, even more when the sun decides to shine! Hows everyone else’s conditioning coming?

Joining Up

I’ve been pursuing endurance riding with a more or less singular focus for 5 years now (Thanks Facebook for the reminder!). When I say singular, I mean I have a life and a kid and a fiance, but as far as hobby time goes, I’m undistracted by trail courses or running cows or mounted archery or one of a thousand things one can do with horses. For me, it’s about miles on trail, trotting on down endless logging roads.

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This is the first year that I’m actively working all the scattered pieces into place to have a consistent, goal oriented season (other than: just ride!). Kade is (finally!) (mostly) (in my dreams right?) ready to head to ride camp with me and hang out with any old volunteer while I ride; I’ve dropped a fair bit of weight and started consistently doing floor workouts (plus joined Weight Watchers); I’m getting my own flexible tack in line; part leasing and working weekly with a steady but slightly more challenging for me horse; and signed up for another clinic with Celena Pentrack, who helped me so much last time.

As someone who still considers herself a certified endurance Green Bean, I mostly watched the unfurling of all the drama around the Summers clan, the anger and sadness and hurt and birth of EDRA. In response now that most of the dust has settled, I’ve stepped up a bit in helping PNER, because it’s been PNER members all along who’ve helped me and continue to do so. I’ve paid my dues for the second year in a row, help with the newsletter when needed, and me and the kid will be helping out at future trail work days.

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As another step towards my goal to do endurance long term and invest myself in the sport, I paid AERC dues to join that organization. My reasons are many, but come down mostly to my own belief that if you want to have an opinion, you’ve got to join up and support first. I’m not going to suddenly start spouting my opinions; still a Green Bean, still a lot to learn and miles yet to ride to really figure this sport out. There’s plenty of time; I know endurance riders still going far longer than I can that have grown grandchildren!

Enough with the sometimes hard stuff! I’ve got a tack sale to hit up this weekend and a date with a cute redhead in the sunshine! What’s everyone’s ride plans look like this weekend?

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All of the sunshine!

I can tell I got an absolute, glorious overload of sun yesterday based on how quickly I fell asleep last night and the reddish tinge to my fair Yankee skin today (for the record, I did wear sunscreen!)

Even more remarkable than wearing sunscreen and riding in a T shirt in March is that I rode solo for the first time in…well, years. As a catch rider I’m always riding with the owner of their spare horse I’m riding. Now that I’m part leasing a horse, there’s a possibility I could be out alone at some point, and what better time to practice long lost skills than a perfect spring day?

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Can’t top this shot!

As a bonus, Cyrus got to come along for his first trail ride, proving himself a suburb trail dog…though for walking rides only (as a short nosed Boxer, regulating heat is tough on him).  He stayed out of the horse’s way, stayed close by, didn’t bolt after any furry creatures, drank from any water we crossed (trust me, that’s huge for Mr. Princess Former Show Dog!), and had perfect voice recall. I wouldn’t have taken him out if I’d really worried about his recall, seeing as how people are rightfully super picky about misbehaving dogs wandering around, but it’s nice to be proven right.

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Pics or it didn’t happen right?

Mr. “I Can’t Believe This Is Happening To Me” and I put in some quality time, with short though frequent discussions on the meaning of the words “forward” and “walk.” My only goal for the day was to get to the new crossroads clear cut area (which made for a 6 mile out & back ride) where we walked the whole time. Since last week’s ride was a speed workout at Hardy Creek, on the way back to the barn Mr. “We Go Fast Now?” struggled a bit with this concept. But with plenty of circles, half halts, full halts to contemplate the quiet cows and marching back out onto the trail, no one died and I never came off. I won’t lie, I hopped off voluntarily and walked whenever Mr. “I’m actually a Giraffe”‘s back turned into that upside down U, but this ensured that my anxiety level of going outside my comfort zone never matched Ray’s desire to spook at anything so he could go home, now.

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I can’t match tack or gear, but I can match animals!

That said, I probably could have ridden the entire 6 miles. Mr. “I could spook at that bush, hay bale, mailbox, strange horse” never actually threw anything that frightened me. Whenever he became glacially slow, sidled sideways or tried to turn for home, it just brought out the stubborn “I have a goal and you have a job to do” inner bitch of mine, but man does she get the job done. Once that part of me popped up, I actually enjoyed myself. How could I not, riding in the warm sun on a cute redhead with my handsome dog bopping along behind?

Clearly I still have work to do. I need to be fit enough to ride at Ray’s speed and stay balanced; we need to try a different bit, maybe a running martingale for endurance rides based on what the trainer thinks; and I need new half chaps (I’ve lost so much weight mine can’t stay up anymore!)  The Canby 4-H tack sale is this weekend, so I’ll be looking for a few nice girths, another saddle pad and breast collar to add to my growing tack collection.

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The most relaxed part of the ride!

Things I have figured out include my lovely Barefoot saddle with lovely sheepskin cover and custom stirrups; riding in my new running shoes (so much more comfortable on a hot day than my hiking boots!), not over layering (that’s what killed me my first attempt at Grizzly), what to pack in my pommel bag; and to always, even for short walking rides, wearing my Osprey hydration pack.

Extra shout out: Anyone willing to lend me a camper trailer for said third attempt at Grizzly? See you on the trails!

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Spring prep!

With Grizzly in my sights one way or another and miles under saddle planned, it’s time to look at that aspect of endurance riding I tend to…not give as much attention to: camping comfortably. As a lifelong camper, I’m fairly dialed in on tossing stuff in the car, finding a riverside campsite and settling in.

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Coyote Ridge Ride Camp 2017

But as in everything, an endurance ride camp requires a whole other mindset, even without the child complication. I’m not just taking care of myself and my noble steed for the weekend, as a catch rider I have to be willing and able to lend a dozen extra hands and go the extra mile, earning my keep as well as I can. The more organized, efficient and comfortable I make my set up, the easier it is to help out when I’m tired and sore.

The first few years of rides, I wouldn’t have dreamed of bringing my son, so this process was a little easier. But now that he’s older and a little more savvy and extremely cute and helpful (mostly), I’m trying to set things up so he can come with each time. Toss in a big lovable Boxer too and I’m prepping for camping at ride camp a lot differently this year. Not only do I have more horse gear, I have more stuff to bring and less space in my truck to pack it into.

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Camping Snuggles!

Since we’re aiming for about one ride a month (or so), plus additional camping trips, I’d like to get this all dialed in way ahead of time. I’m planning a test run after a spring cleaning and restocking of gear to the Celena Pentrack clinic over my birthday (so psyched to ride with her again!) However, the added stressors of kid and/or dog have me considering my budget and hitting up Google.

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Happy Place!

For roughly $200-300 a weekend (maybe less, maybe more), on top of my ride entry and gas money budget, I could find a small camper trailer to rent and tow with my sturdy SUV and be 1000 times more comfortable at ride camp. I’d have a place so many things; I can stash kid, dog and person assigned to watch both that’s more conducive to such things than a camp chair; a place to change that’s not the horse trailer; a place to get out of whatever ugly weather may come our way (I’ve seen snow, rain, wind, dust, heat, all of it at camps). I won’t have to worry about making sure everything fits in the truck and still let kid & dog travel in comfort. And, the final bonus, I might even convince the fiance to come to ride camp if he’s got a bed to sleep in!

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Thinks roughing it is a La Quinta

But that extra money can also make a huge difference in a tight budget, so a light bulb went off and I thought, “Endurance riders are a family! But not everyone goes to the same rides at once. Maybe one of them has a trailer I could borrow for a little cheaper?”

Here’s my question to the endurance world (mostly in the Willamette Valley or SW Washington). Is this a workable possibility? Does anyone have a camper trailer (not the pop up kind, those are freezing!), or a smallish RV I could rent from you for a ride weekend? Grizzly & Klickitat are my only two for sure rides planned, although I’m going to do my best to support Nicole & Jala’s new Creek to Peak ride as well. I have a 2003 GMC Envoy XL, can tow up to 5500 pounds so looking for a camper trailer that tops out at 4000 to be on the safe side.

My future post 30 and 50 mile self appreciates you all in advance, and either way I can’t wait to see everyone settled in at the next ride meeting, kvetching about gates and ribbons and water crossings!

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Giggle Attack

I spent my Sunday in the best way possible: Ignoring the bittersweet feeling of being dragged out of bed way too early for a weekend to drop Tom off at the airport, bound for business in South Korea. Instead I headed to the woods and giggled my way through a 12 mile ride in the woods on my favorite spotted pony, the incomparable Jokker.

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With the possibility of the last endurance ride of the season in three weeks, Foothills of the Cascades in our backyard, we focused on elevation and enjoying the single track trails which will be closed to us as soon as the really wet weather arrives to usher in winter. We spent a perfect few hours heading up…up…down up down up switchbacks giant hill lean forward step up walk down aaaaaand back up. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to tack up and just ride; Vicki’s been nice enough to let me leave all my gear on Jokker’s saddle, so I don’t have to fiddle with everything each time I get to ride him.

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During a rest break at the very top of the hills I crinkled open a Rice Krispie treat, a guilty ride day pleasure which Jokker couldn’t help but have a very strong opinion about. His opinion boiled down to the same as a toddler’s, “How DARE you not share woman!” I spent about five minutes laughing so hard I had to actually work to stay in the saddle as he kept tossing his head up for a bite, while Jokker’s dam KC jiggled with her normal Arab mare impatience to be moving forward.

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On the way back down we stuck to the logging road, where I was able to sit deep and really stretch Jokker out as we tried to catch up with KC and Vicki, faster and far in front as usual. If you’ve met him in real life, you’ll first notice the spots, then his size…or vice versa. Either way, the boy has a canter that truly cures all ills…and I feel privileged every time I’m able to ride him. Foothills, give us a dry year, and don’t have any rocks with our names on them!

 

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Shifting skies


Scene set: I’m typing this up on my ‘new’ phone, which in reality is Tom’s old phone, but it’s an iPhone 6 so its one of the newest pieces I’ve had since…my parents were buying my technology probably. I’m at the MAX (Portland’s light rail) station accross from whete my mom now works, under looming grey skies waiting for the train to take me home. 


Plan: Finish this post on the train; finish the drive home in the Emerald Queen (who is in desperate need of a quality detailing), change into workout clothes and put in my second run in months, in my pursuit of my new goal: to ride (to hopefully complete!) a 50 mile endurance ride in 2017. I haven’t even picked a ride yet, but I know it’s the most motivation I have to trick me towards my ultimate goal: regaining the strength & weight of my college days. Or at least much closer than the rounded, easily winded, cubicle dwelling not fit for much beyond a nice Netflix binge version of Jame I currently am. 


Obstacles: The hot water heater is broken (or the breaker is broken) but I have no hot water at home. The piled up dirty dishes will have to be handled the old fashioned way: via boiling water on the stove. How pioneer! It also means hot showers are available at Tom’s sisters house, who thankfully lived three blocks away, but who has a shower which eats Jame’s and makes her fall down and jam her finger. As one does.

Also, all those other things like being a working mother (which carries with it the stress load of work and commute and budgets and mommy guilt), plus I am fatter and slower and the couch is comfy and the boyfriend makes hella good food and I haaaaaate running…but it’s the cheapest way to get fit quickly that I’ve seen, self paced wise.


All I need is a few sets of comfy workout clothes, some decent shoes, my Iphone and an armband and headphones (all of which I have, minus the armband which those nice folks at Amazon are sending me now).


The obstacles which have (mostly) been removed are my prior goals of new house and new job. The house we are mostly settled into (minus minor things like consistant access to hot water) and the job is fantastic, where both my coworkers and my boss are super psyched about me and what I’ve accomplished in my first month. 

Oh, and if I haven’t shouted it across social media enough: TOM IS HOME! 


Bring on the 50, I’ll be ready!….

Now to find a horse…