Friday, January 30, 2009

Watch It Grow

I'm so excited, as usual. It's amaryllis time!

This year I followed the rules of Beth Phelps, who was a great source for me when I used to write for the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. We did a story on forcing bulbs and she gave great instructions, apparently, because it's working!

I decided I wanted to dig my bulbs up and plant them separately so I could take one to my office, and enjoy them inside. That required me to bring them indoors the end of September, and put them in a dark closet. The critical phase of forcing dormancy is removal of both light and water.

I'm not sure exactly when I got them out - mid-December or early January - but I re-potted, started watering, and voila!, we're heading to Bloomsville. I actually have 6 bulbs now, contained in 4 pots. 2 are sending up blooms. It's really fun stuff ... I think it might fulfill in me a need to give life to something.

(Let's not talk about the baby I sometimes think I should have. I don't think anything could bring out my McCrazy like having a little one to care for. And yet I ponder it.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hanging Gardens Of Babylon

The only thing I want more in life than a.) world peace b.) laser liposuction and c.) the ability to physically transport is a really robust herb garden. And I shall have my herb garden. Oh I shall have it.

Because I'm 37 and such a winner that I live in an apartment (actually, I'm OK with it - it's a strategic thing) I don't have the accessible dirt which I so enjoyed when I owned a home, and when I lived in the residence at my friend's barn. But I do have this little porch thingy which I never utilize. And as part of my Stress Free 2009, I'm going to enjoy more.

MSJ and I are co-horting on Project Herb but that's all we can say about it. So I was mad excited when I found these little doo-dads which would essentially allow me to hang my clay pots from the rafter on the porch. They were cheap, and I couldn't place the order fast enough. Well, lo and behold, the company sent me a letter apologizing for not being able to obtain the product and fulfill the order. So now I'm back to shopping for something like this again. Not to worry, I think I already have a solution in mind. I just need to get busy with it.

While I'm not in any danger of missing my planting opportunity for the bulk of the seeds I've purchased, I do need to sow the lavender and rosemary indoors this weekend. And if you think I just used the word "sow" because I wanted to burst into Tears For Fears song, "Sowing The Seeds Of Love" and have a little 80's get-down, you're right!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oatmeal and Omega-3

Sometimes when people say, "My God, are you starving to death?" I say, "No, I eat oatmeal."

It's scientifically proven that oatmeal reduces your cholesterol, and contributes much-needed fiber to your diet. I like to pimp my oatmeal with fresh fruit and ground flax seeds, which add valuable Omega-3 fatty acids to my daily intake. I suffer from dry-eye syndrome and my contacts really give me a bad case of Tales From The Crypt by 6:00 p.m. I do find, however, that when I'm consistent with the flax seeds that problem is greatly diminished.

The other value-add, for me, is that I don't have that 10 p.m. sugar-drop where I feel like I could eat a small child.

Eat some oatmeal, y'all. Feel better! Live longer!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quilts: Why They're Awesome

Last summer I got off my duff and sent the ribbons I amassed over my 10-year adult amateur eventing career to a very talented "ribbon quilter" for a creative display alternative.

Most of my good ribbons I received with my mare Willow Bay are included in a shadow box I had created after she died suddenly in 2002. The bulk in this quilt, however, are the result of my partnership with Rhodes Point, a Thoroughbred gelding I purchased off the racetrack in Pennsylvania in 2002.

In the world of competitive equestrian sport, the adult amateur almost always competes for ribbons only. Seldom do you earn more, and when you do, you feel as if you've hit a lottery jackpot. Case in point: I won a competition with my horse Rhodes Point and received not only a blue ribbon for winning the dressage phase, but also a big blue ribbon for winning the overall division. But the crown jewel was this gorgeous blue tartan waffle-weave Irish knit sheet with the competition name embroidered on the side. All total we might be talking $100 worth of materials and products - and that's not even equivalent to the stabling fee one normally pays for 2 nights of accommodation at an event.

Still, my Irish knit has never been on a horse and is prominently folded and displayed on the wall of my horse trailer dressing room. Why? Because it's symbolic. It represents a weekend in my life when everything came together the way I had dreamed and planned, and reminds me that plotting a course is only part of the process: my grandmother always said, "Pray for the harvest but keep on hoeing," and I think that's maybe appropriate here.

I look at my resulting ribbon quilt wall hanging as I might a mosaic. When they were individual ribbons hanging in the back of the closet, I would occasionally regard them and think specifically about the competition and circumstances that surrounded it. But when I see this display I see a more comprehensive snapshot, and it's not so much about the competition or the horses as it is the process of getting there - the human side of it.

I see my friends in my quilt. Horse people are cut from a different fabric and we're tightly bonded over a passion that consumes us. We stay in roach motels and buy a lot of our apparel at the feed store. I might gag changing a baby's diaper, but I'm rock solid when a horse comes in from the turnout with a ripped off eyelid or I drive up to meet the farrier and a 7-month pregnant mare has aborted in the pasture. (OK, I lie a little ... that one did get to me just from the emotional side of lost opportunity, but I had no problem hefting it all into a trash bag so it could be sent to the state lab for analysis.)

There's a green ribbon included in the quilt which I won at Las Colinas Horse Trials in Dallas just 2 weeks after I found myself single, very suddenly, in 2005. I'd already entered the competition of course 4 weeks prior and found refuge from that trauma in my horse. In fact, I was sitting on his back less than an hour after things came to an end and I had never felt such an overwhelming sense of relief and promise-of-the-future as I did then. I see my friend Shannon in that ribbon, who went with me to hold my hand and help me out. It was hot that early June weekend, and we never left Las Colinas - choosing to eat at Olive Garden and other chain restaurants near the show grounds, and drank Corona Lights as we sat in the barn aisle soaking it all up. The horse show experience is pretty decadent, if you're a horse person.

I remember that being the first cross-country trip I'd had on Rhodey where he grabbed the bit a little and took me on a magic carpet ride. I think he sensed that I needed him to be there for me and the way he stepped up was truly amazing. Shannon was there when I finished, grabbed the reins, and we laughed the entire way back to the barn as she said, "God, you've got the biggest shit-eating grin on your face!" Shared elation is a good thing.

The big blue rosette in the center came off the neck sash we won in Kentucky a few months later. I spent the summer focused like a laser on the team competition I'd entered with some wonderful friends from all over the country - one from Missouri and two from Virginia. That meant saying "no" on more than a few occassions when it would've been great fun to stay out late drinking with my friends. Instead, I had to moderate because I knew it was so hot and my horse had to be ridden early the next morning so as to remain on schedule. Moderation and selflessness are not always my thing, so I take great pride when I see that lesson in my quilt.

My wonderful friend Sue and I made the long journey from Arkansas to Kentucky - she on a new horse - and had our 2nd flat tire in her rig just "this side" of Nashville. We laughed as she timed me changing the tire - 8 minutes - as years earlier when it happened the first time, I surprised both her and Christie when I emerged from my anxiety-ridden shell to model a skill many wouldn't immediately associate with me. It helps when you have a Trailer-Aid.

Sadly Sue's horse was dying to eat when we got to Kentucky and had a bout with "choke," so in addition to the beaucoup she'd laid out to enter and travel to the competition, Sue had to step up to an emergency vet bill within, no lie, 20 minutes of arrival. Again, that's part of the game, and it's what makes the ribbons mean so much.

That weekend could not have turned out more perfect. I took second place in my division (that's the red ribbon!) on my dressage score, and have never been more proud or filled with a sense of "I could die happy today" as I was when my team took our victory gallop around the ring. Even though Rhodey was a little racetrack high, I will never forget looking over at my friend Lisa - shortly after she'd lost her father very quickly to cancer - and hearing her say, "This is the best victory gallop ever." I see that in my quilt so I know that Lisa and her daddy live inside it. And that makes me happy at a time in life when everyone is scared and prone to missing some of the big picture things that matter.

If you're interested, visit and speak directly with Sarah Boudreau. She did an amazing job of giving "life" to a pile of nylon and I will be eternally grateful to her for sharing this light with me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Know When To Fold Em ...

Nothing could be bigger than today's inauguration of Barack Obama, so I'm not even going to try. I'm crossing my fingers for positive change. Oddly enough, I dreamt last night that all of the Bush's had transformational cosmetic surgery so they'd not be recognizable to the public. I was at the hospital when they were released and their new looks were revealed. Laura Bush - who I am convinced is an alien, no really, I think she is - had like a gray roller set and had gotten her nose widened and her skin was really old, but Barbara had a ridiculously over-stretched facelift.

I'm not sure I can analyze that so I'll just say Happy Inauguration Day!

Monday, January 19, 2009

More Jane

I love my friend Jane. She has been awesome on a million different levels and today is her feliz cumpleanos. Our very first interaction was in 2006, when I was in Tuscaloosa doing a second interview with the company for which I now work. I'd forgotten my then RAZR telephone was in my pocket and was even more horrified when, in a one-on-one meeting with the CEO it rang. And not just rang, totally Madonna "Get Together" ringtone rang.

The saving grace was that there was a 205 area code and the last 4 numbers were 5000; ironically the same as my company. Because I hadn't memorized the number I thought perhaps it was someone with the company calling to reference my 8-hour day of 2nd interviews, and so we collectively agreed I should answer the telephone.

What I got was, "Robby? This is Jane, OMG, you're going to love living here."

And thusly we became insta-BFF.

Now Jane is a dressage queen, but the good kind, so don't judge. She loves her horse and takes stellar care of not only him, but also half of the other barn including my own horse. It's very selfless and I am routinely humbled and eternally grateful. But, like many dressage queens, she can be quick to cheat on pulling manes.

If you've ever braided for a dressage show, or hung out with DQ's, you will learn they have 1 million and 1 tips on how to groom a mane to make it look like it's been pulled even though it hasn't so a.) your braids are impossible and b.) you wind up having to pull anyway and c.) it's not that big of a deal. There is a reason people will pay you for professional grooming services, however, and that's something I've learned through osmosis.

As such I feel it's my duty to share tips and secrets with people, and a few months ago Jane and I tackled her pony's beautiful mane and within 20 minutes it was gorgeous and even more important SHE DID IT! That's my Jane - an evolver who isn't scared to get her hands dirty.

For friends like this, I like to give them little grooming buckets for gifts that include some of my basic tips and tricks - most of which can be obtained at a local grocery or discount store. Since Jane competes her horse, I got this big idea that I would pre-cut braiding yarn for her and decorate her bucket with it. There are 12 braids on the handle, each with 12 yarns, and probably 60 more for the "tail."

I also included:

  • White vinegar. It's amazing for taking out soap suds and residue and putting a shine on your freshly-bathed horse.
  • Micro-fiber towels. Love them for last minute dust-removal before you go into the ring.
  • A big chenille sponge which is kind on the pony while you scrub him down.
  • Olive Oil conditioner which is fantastic for keeping manes and tails in show-shape.
  • Rubber-palmed gardening gloves which make mane and tail pulling a virtual cinch.
I loved the bucket itself too. Flat-backed, it will fit nicely alongside the trailer wall or inside a tack trunk.

It's always fun to do something creative, but especially for a friend you love and respect.

Happy Birthday Jane!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gym Injuries

(Note: This image isn't mine, nor is it intended to illustrate poor exercise form ... I just needed something that wasn't an amateur picture used to promote a gym!)

From my perch on the treadmill at the gym, I have reached a point where I nearly cannot watch people exercising in the weight area - particularly where those abdominal benches are concerned.

Today there was a kid, probably 17 or so, just going to town on his abdominals. I could tell he was probably a full-on doughboy a year ago, but looked like he was progressing toward a more athletic frame. With that said, his form was so scary I nearly got off the treadmill and said something to him. I am not sure what this exercise is called - but it's a stand in which you work the obliques by hooking the feet beneath a platform and arching over and back up. We do a similar exercise in pilates on the short box; it's called Bow and Arrow and it's one of my favorites. But the idea is that you stabilize the shoulder girdle and pelvis as you're arching over. This kid was a big Gumby mess and I wondered if he actually hurt more after leaving the gym?

A lot of people have this expectation of "no pain no gain." Unless you're on a mission to build unfunctionally large muscles, this is inaccurate; and unless you want to herniate a disk or pull a muscle you DON'T want to use your arms/legs ("levers") past the point of stability of the torso. That will likely mean a smaller range of movement, and that's OK. You cannot safely challenge your development until you're stabilized. Small movements done correctly will strengthen you much faster than the BIG SWEEPS.

Rant off.

Friday, January 16, 2009

For The Record ...

Robby Johnson does NOT like being cold. And 18 degrees is Too. Damned. Cold. When it gets this cold I start thinking of words like "abomination, retribution, blasphemy, etc.," and it reminds me to get right because weather can cut you. It also reminds me of St. Thomas in January which, I will just say, is stellar. Moisturize your skin and wrap your head up. This too shall pass!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

American Goldfinch: A Love Story

I won't even pretend to be anything of a birder, because I'm not. I know the basic garden variety songbirds and what not, and by default I will figure out a bird if it's, say, flying into my bedroom window for 3 days straight Summer Tanager circa 1991 (and you know you did that at a time in my life when I could've easily been convinced it was "The Birds" and you were coming to cut me ... don't think I don't remember), but I got all excited after my summer of hummingbird success and some influence from my cousin who is a much more accomplished birder. Mostly because I saw a really vivid American Goldfinch at her property this summer and, per norm, was consumed by his bling. I love me some color but thought my life in the South was pretty much relegated to blue jays, cardinals, and maybe Eastern bluebirds.

And so I got all giddy at the prospect of a Goldfinch when she said, "Fool, they all over the place, put a ring on it, some seeds out" and, lo and behold, two days ago I looked out the window at work and there, getting its seed on, was a goldfinch! (Aside: does the word "Goldfinch" make you start singing songs by Goldfrapp? "I need a oooh lalalala ..." Yeah, me too.) Right now they're in winter plumage (who isn't?) but it's my deepest bird hope that they stick around for summer when they're, rockin' the VVS stones in full plumage.

I think I know what book I'm going to get the next time I hit up Barnes & Noble: a birding guide to keep at my desk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kimmie More

This is completely gratuitous on a Humpy Humpy day. My computer is being a little bitch so I didn't have time to get all jiggy with the post I was hoping to make so you know what that means ... tomorrow, haterz! Charge into the Arctic blast y'all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We have been getting some rock star sunsets here in Alabama. I took this last week to document the rising water from the Black Warrior River, right outside my apartment, but thought it was pretty cool to share just from an "it's perty" perspective too.

I had a fun weekend hanging out with some great people. It definitely dovetailed with my new year's resolution to spend more time with people I enjoy, doing things that feed the spirit. That doesn't always have to be a rock star glam vacation (even though we lovez them). It can quite easily be 3 hours at a table at Applebee's laughing hysterically while you dissect life and plot schemes to overtake the world.

This week's things to do:

  • Go pick up my contacts.
  • Get a new clay pot for one of my bulbs.
It's the little things like this that I'm trying to address so as not to get overwhelmed. I mean, they're easy things to do, right? But when they're layered atop 37 other things, they can seem impossible to achieve. My solution? Remove the 37 other things.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reality Check

In this most wonderful time of the year when everyone is relatively sure they can change their bodies and lives in 10 days, spurred on by RIDICULOUS statements by Gwyneth Paltrow, Faith Hill, and Kate Winslet. It is painful for me to bust on Kate because I think she's magnificent and looks spectacular. Faith, much as I love me a Mississippi Girl, you don't count because you lost all credibility when your Photoshopped mag cover broke last year. Plus you hated on Carrie Underwood that time when she beat your ass and I thought that was just really uncool. You got yours, Faith. Why you gotta hate on an up-and-comer? It's her time! There's enough love to go around. It's just music, for God's sake. Music you don't even write or produce - just sing and present. I remember you before you got those ears pinned back. I am pretty sure others do too.

But here's the reality: the images these people present aren't entirely the result of exercise efforts. They're the result of serious dieting and nutritional extremes, lots of external preparation (skin and hair) by major professionals, and a really healthy dose of radical crazy. We see a commercial product that walks and talks and speaks from carefully prepared talking points. This is not your next door neighbor or co-worker or even that chick you covet at the gym.

Slow and steady wins the race. Make daily changes you can commit to. Start small and prepare for a long haul adaptation. If that means you go for a walk for 5 minutes and say no to dessert 2 times a week instead of 5, that's fantastic! Build on it through the year so you can do it through your life. Don't strive to look like someone else, strive to look like you. In fact, don't focus on the physical aesthetic, focus on the inner strength and health you are building by making wise choices. So what if you have a little fat deposit on your belly (like me). I could be a lot fatter, right? I don't have the luxury of walking around Photoshopped! But am I stronger and capable of standing for long periods of time with no backaches? Yes. I think that's progress.

Personal health and fitness tends to live in Polarville - you're either Hot or Not, right? But that's not very fair to anyone. There's a ton of range in between, and personally I think being kinder to yourself will only permeate your actions and allow you to be kinder to others so that eventually we all sit around, bellies hanging a little, and sing kumbaya and burn photographs of Faith, Gwnyeth (but not Kate) in our campfire.

And just so you know, this rant was begun because I taught a client on Monday night - my normal night off - who was all caustic Type-A and accustomed to training in the gym and just couldn't slow her head down enough to recognize the benefits of the work. You don't lose 40 pounds overnight, client. And while my feelings are hurt because you don't get it, I will be willing to teach you when you drag your damaged sciatic back into the studio with your tail between your legs. And when that happens, go ahead and prepare for the fitness circle which I will use to beat you into submission.

The End.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Red Lentils, yes, again ...

If, like me, your goal is sustainable starvation (tm), or even if you just want to be a little bit healthier, you should eat red lentils. 5 years ago I might've said they were the Heather Locklear of legumes. And by that I mean, if your nutritional intake program - note, I did not say "diet" because I don't believe in that word - is suffering, just add red lentils. Like Heather Locklear pre-DUI, just one special guest appearance and HUZZAH! your ratings increase 10 points.

And here's a blog I found with a really interesting red lentil salad recipe. Check it out!

And now let's talk about Heather Locklear and her decline. I am sure it has everything to do with Denise Richards pushin' up on Richie Sambora (why, God why? Oh God make it stop my eyes are bleeding!). And for that, Denise Richards must be punished. I'm reading "The Pillars of the Earth" because it's 2006, so I'm really into casting medieval spells and thusly I begin, "By the light of the moon ..."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sleeping Around

Little Maddie is my homegirl. I must say she's the best dog ever and am relatively sure she speaks English. Once, when we lived in Arkansas (she is totally from there ... Hot Springs y'all!) she ran away from home when we moved into the barn. It was a total after school special and we searched for her all afternoon and night. Of course it was the hottest day of July that led into the most massive overnight thunderstorm of the year. She turned up the next day at the Marina a few miles away, hip fractured from a dog attack, dehydrated, some drunk people feeding her Mighty Dog food out of a can. She was a changed woman, and proceeded to lay on the sofa for a week staring into space, not talking to me at all, and only allowing me to take her down the spiral stairs to do business then she had to return to her convalescence. Eventually she got over it, and from that point she was a lot more keen to stay near to me. So I have no problem letting her sleep with me. She turned 9 in August and I've had her since she was 8 weeks old. Yeah, I'm whipped.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Raccoon Racket

Dear Squirrel,

I have wronged you, my brethren. I am but a humble servant of God and beg your forgiveness. Cast me into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, or might I suggest directing your ire toward your fellow woodsman, Raccoon?

Because that's who climbed up on my dogwood branch and figured out how to lift the cylinder, undo the hook, and knock the birdseed to the ground. And that caused me to talk so much smack about you.

I know it must be hard to co-exist with such a cunning, shady sort of character. Ideally your kinsman would take ownership for his indiscretion but instead, he was fine to send you walking down the plank.

In an effort to make right with you, Squirrel, I have taken a few steps which we'll call "Coup de Coon" and should restore your honor and good name amongst the forest creatures (most notably the groundhog who is really judgy-judgy and ready to see you fry in the chair). Firstly, I have now rigged the hook with a rubberband which seems to've capped his dexterous prowess. As I write this note, you should know I also am prepared to establish a camera to actually capture Raccoon in his attempts to unseat the seeds. You see, he only left behind his tracks and muddy paw prints during the last crashing of the feeder.

Finally, if you look under the lichen-covered rock you will find a small dagger which I recommend you use as a shank when night falls. Make yourself flat against the retaining wall like a good ninja and when he ambles down the flagstones use the light of the moon to swiftly, sharply, restore justice to the kingdom.

I'm here for you if you need any other guidance, and again, please accept my most humble apologies for my false accusation.

Yours truly,


Friday, January 02, 2009

Then Butthead said, "Fire Fire Fire!"

If it weren't for MSJ, who has guided me through life with sage, pragmatic advice, sometimes I am sure I would make even bigger mistakes than I normally do. Like vacuum cleaner fires. Didn't know they routinely caught fire? Me either!

I was all proud of myself for doing a serious unclogging of my Eureka Uno, and mentioned it to MSJ yesterday morning during a power chat, I was even more alarmed when she said, "It's a good thing it didn't catch on fire." Of course she deduced this risk when I said, "Yeah, I noticed it wasn't like picking anything up and then there was this burning smell."

So while I have many really keen perceptive skills - preternatural even - like being able to spot a boob job from 100 feet out, or being able to sniff out a potential divorce just by looking into the eyes of the unhappily-married, I am not as adept with obvious signs of danger right below my nose.

Addendum to Things To Do In 2009: Sniff Out and Recognize The Obvious.