"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TA & WFTJ Blog Hop: Winter Woes

This winter has been a tough one for equestrians. We have seen torrential rains, deep mud, unending snow, bitter winds and record lows. Words like "The Pineapple Express", "The Siberian Express", "Polar Vortex" and "El Nino" have meant less riding time and more time staring out the window at the weather. This winter has left barns devastated by collapsing roofs, trucks stranded in hub deep mud and frostbitten fingers and toes. All of this has led to our first blog hop. Thee Ashke and Wait for the Jump have teamed up to ask:

1. What has been the worst (and/or best?) of this winter so far?
2. What is the worst storm/winter you've ever experienced? Did you dig your way out of your house through feet of snow after an epic blizzard? Did you survive a tornado? Have you lived through a hurricane? Tell us!
3. What is the best winter you've ever had? What made it so special?

You don't necessarily have to talk about snow. This is a hop for equestrian bloggers to vent about the weather as much as they want, and to help those that are tired of winter to not feel alone! "Winter" is not limited to amounts of snow or cold temperatures. In the West Coast, winter involves torrential rains and green things. In the South, it means ice storms. In Florida, it is synonymous with the most beautiful time of the year. In Australia and Argentina, winter is all about summer heat. Everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of climate!

1. What has been the worst (and/or best?) of this winter so far?
I have spent a large chunk of this winter indoors, mainly because of outdoor footing issues (mud mud mud), heinous frigid wind, or recovering from one thing or another: a concussion, bronchitis. It has not helped that winter storms have managed to time themselves to arrive over one or more of my 4 days off almost every week since December, which has made it difficult to just get to the barn sometimes. So that answers everything I've disliked about this winter. ;) My worst moment this winter was the night Charles and I ended up driving home in whiteout conditions over 2" of snow on the roads, completely unable to see the road in front of us in my 2WD Toyota Corolla that is starting to need new tires.

What have I liked? I'm gonna say it: I like when things are frozen! Why? Because I can actually ride my horses! Neither of mine are shod and I don't boot in the winter so they have maximum traction. You would be surprised by how well a barefoot horse can handle themselves over frozen footing. Except for ice of course. I'm not a fan of driving through snow, but I'm VERY much a fan of riding in it!

Galloping over new powder this winter

2. What is the worst storm/winter you've ever experienced?
I haven't lived through the worst of the worst in terms of winter storms and I hope to keep things that way. I find it funny that what they call a "blizzard" here in MD, DC and VA is not a blizzard. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Snow falling from the sky in a straight line is just precipitation in the form of snow. It would be like saying a downpour is a hurricane. They are not the same thing.

Per the National Weather Service:
A blizzard is a storm with "considerable falling or blowing snow" and winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for at least 3 hours.

Snow fall
So even that 30 minute whiteout we drove through on Valentine's was not a blizzard either. 

To the people up in the true Northeast, parts of the Midwest, some parts of the Northwest, and in Canada, who have been receiving feet and feet and feet of snow this season: Respect. *chest thump*

This leads me to the worst storms I have ever experienced. They happened while living in the tropics. In "paradise." During summer.

Hurricane Hugo, September 19, 1989

I was 10 years old and in fourth grade. September is the hottest, most humid month of the year on the island. Heat indexes can reach 100 degrees during that month. The ocean breezes come to a stop, allowing the tropical sun to bake everything underneath its rays. It's like existing in a constant oven. We don't have central AC on the island: homes are made of concrete to withstand the Great Storms, and thus tend to grow black mold when central AC is factored in because of the condensation and humidity. We either have large one-room units or window units in bedrooms that get turned on at night. Most homes have lots and lots of windows in all directions to collect as much of the ocean breezes as possible. Fans allow the air to circulate. However, in September turning a fan on is useless: it just moves the hot air around. Going into the ocean in September is not refreshing because you are just immersing yourself in tepid warm water. Yes, that is how that humidity in the air concentrates the heat from the sun: it even heats up the ocean.

Which leads to the formation of some of the most formidable and destructive storms of all: hurricanes. The hotter the ocean surface, the stronger the hurricanes will be. Wind shear and barometric pressure changes are other big factors in their formation, but warm winters in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean are usually a promise of a very busy hurricane season to come. When we lived in South FL, I stressed every time we had a warm winter where temps didn't go below 70 because it never boded well for summer.

In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo barreled across the Atlantic Ocean as a very, very powerful category 5 hurricane. Category 5 is the highest category a hurricane can go, with winds exceeding 155 mph. For perspective, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hit New Orleans as a Category 3.

This one shows the storm surges that accompany each category of hurricane. They're not making that shit up.
Unlike in Florida, in Puerto Rico we take these things seriously. At the first sign of a Hurricane Watch, people flock to the grocery stores to buy water, ice to stock up in their freezers so they can keep food in coolers later, canned food, bread, powdered milk, Sternos, batteries, flashlights, and gear for gas cooking, just to name a few. When the Hurricane Warning comes up, the entire island shuts down. 24 hours prior to the expected arrival of the storm, people are given time off from work and school so they can literally batten down the hatches in preparation for the storm's arrival.

We lived in a sprawling 4-bedroom, 2 story concrete house with a huge swimming pool, a patio, a basketball court, a concrete deck with tile floors, and a balcony that went around 2 sides of the front of the house, with another balcony on the back of it. The house was probably around 4,000 square feet, if not more, set on 2.5 acres on the top of a hill that sprang from the earth at a 75 degree angle. The first half of the 1/2 mile road up to the house was heavily forested with palm and fruit trees, the death-defying angle of said road with its 3' ditches on each side challenging even the bravest of our driving friends.

Imagine that huge house overseeing all of that land. All of the walls of the house were glass windows. 

Me, my brother, and my best friend's boyfriend Tito jamming in the outdoor corridor by the swimming pool.
This is just one set of windows looking into the living room.

My brother and I getting ready to rock it.
View from inside the living room. Here you can kind of see all of the windows.
Huge amounts of natural light in this house.
Standing outside of our front door. More windows. I was 20 when this photo was taken. You can see here just two of the many many many potted plants that had to go into the house when it stormed. And 4 of our 6 dogs. :) That's Amareto in the front, Fierita is the brindle behind him, Negro Mateo is the black dog with the curly tail, and Chai is the red dog next to me playing with Negro.
Ananda, my Dalmatian mix who showed up at our doorstep as a scrawny pup when I was 18 and insisted that she was my dog. Here she was posing on our swimming pool's trampoline. This was the deep end of the pool: 12' deep. You could truly dive in.
The view of the mountains from the 2nd floor balcony that wrapped around 2 sides of the house. It overlooked the pool; the pink slide was next to the trampoline.
My grandfather and my uncle would meet us at the house to screw wooden boards onto the sides of all of the windows so that then we could nail wood planks over the windows themselves. This process usually took a day and a half alone. My aunt Mary and I usually helped my grandfather and uncle while the rest of the family moved lawn furniture and my grandmother's 8 million potted plants into the house. By the time the winds started to pick up, the inside of the house both looked and felt like a jungle. Because no central AC + all those windows closed and boarded shut, + 8 people + 6 dogs crammed into the bottom living area of the house. Mattresses got dragged downstairs so we could sleep in the least exposed area of the house: the top floor received the winds in full force.

Hurricane Hugo tore through Guadalupe and St. Croix, flattening them in its path but weakening as it made its way across land. It cut across PR as a Category 3 hurricane, entering through its southeast corner and exiting through the northwest in a diagonal line. There is nowhere to escape to when you are surrounded by water and the airports and ports are closed.

This option does not exist when you live on a tiny island.
The ENTIRE 110.5 mile x 40.3 mile island was destroyed. People lost homes. Roofs were torn away by 120 mph winds or caved in from the deluge of water that poured sideways from the sky. Houses were swept away into the sea or were destroyed by trees falling on them. Some high rises stood for years with demolished windows.

Hurricane Hugo storm surge.
That's what getting pummeled by 12 feet of angry hurricane ocean looks like.
Apartment building with missing windows after Hugo.
House and cars destroyed by fallen trees during Hugo.

The Caribbean National Forest is also known as El Yunque National Rainforest.
(FYI: it is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Parks system)
This is the way it's supposed to look. It took 2 decades for it to return to this lushness.
It took the storm 24 hours to make its way across our tiny island. Hurricanes are gigantic monsters of cyclonic wind and rain that can move at an average forward speed of anywhere from 10 to 30 mph, which gives them plenty of time to shred every last bit of human and natural existence in their path. Their forward speed will depend on latitude and accompanying winds. God help you if you end up with a hurricane that stalls out over you at 0 mph, like hurricane Mitch did in 1998 in Honduras. A very large and very slow-moving storm could take up to 3 days to make it all the way across our 110-mile long island. And what could you do about it? Just hunker down at home listening to the weather report on your battery-operated radio while the winds try to claw their way in through your walls, and hope and pray to whatever gods you believe in that your house will  be one of the lucky ones that is spared.

Hurricane Mitch hit Central America as a Cat 5 the same year that Hurricane Georges swept over our island.
Hugo ripped some of the wooden panels off of the windows upstairs, but somehow both our house and my grandfather's (also on the property) were completely unscathed. We didn't even get water in through the closed but unprotected windows. We were incredibly lucky.

My grandfather, looking fierce.
I adored this man with all of my heart. He was the pillar of our family, always doing everything in his power to make even our wildest dreams come true.
My grandfather was a civil engineer. Long before I was born, he designed and built both the big house and the smaller 1-bedroom cottage he lived in that overlooked our barnyard. The gods made sure that the odds were forever in our favor. Our house could not be broken into, not by man and not by the most powerful winds Nature could throw at us.

One of my beloved guaraguaos (the Taino Indian name for redtailed hawks), as seen from our house.
We lost power though. The damage to the entire island was so bad that it was 2 months before we had electricity again. 2 MONTHS without ANY electricity. During the hottest, muggiest time of the year. You think it's muggy before a hurricane? Try the 72 hours afterwards when all of that water that's been dumped from the sky starts to evaporate. And not even a fan to cool off with. We immediately removed the panels from the windows and cranked them all open, but that didn't help much. I don't sleep well when I'm hot. I never have. And at the time I was an obese child with waist-long hair.

Our 1/2 mile long, 75-degree-angle driveway was completely blocked by trees. Every tree that could have fallen across the driveway, had. My mom has a photo of the damage somewhere but we can't find it at the moment. It was daunting to see. It took us 3 days to axe and chainsaw our way out. But that wasn't the end of it.

You see, we lived on a back country road that was also heavily forested.

Trees had fallen across the road in both directions as far as the eye could see. On a regular day, it was a 15-minute drive through some residential areas in one direction into town, 15 minutes towards the city in the other, through the woods. That's several miles of downed trees in each direction, and many, many miles of downed power lines.

It was 2 weeks before we could actually get anywhere, before we could return to school and work. That's how long it took our city's government workers to clear the roads. That's how bad it was. Some workers died electrocuted due to the trees that had taken the power lines down with them. The workers sometimes couldn't see the power lines until it was too late, the trees had such dense foliage. There weren't that many Energia Electrica workers and they started by restoring light to the more urban areas. People living near the big cities of San Juan and Ponce had their electric back within a couple of weeks. 

We were very close to an urban area but the damage done by the fallen trees was so extensive across the island that it still took forever for it to be repaired in the tougher, more remote areas. We were just not priority. There were people in the central mountain range who were without power for much longer.

We ate a lot of soup and cereal and ordered pizza. I was so sick of soup and cereal after 2 months of it. Soup and other canned foods because they were easy to prepare on the Sterno during the week. On the weekends my grandmother would go out and buy fresh meat or chicken and cook them on our outdoor chimney. (Yes, we had an outdoor chimney on our back deck. It was awesome!) We couldn't refrigerate food because no electricity. We had a cooler, but it was 3 weeks before we could get more ice to put in it. Because it took 2 weeks before we could actually GET to a grocery store, and then another week before ice was back in stock at the grocery store: they kept running out! Homework was done by candlelight or flashlight.

A generator large enough to power our house would have been prohibitive. Yes, they jacked up the prices on things after this kind of storm, but in general generators were considered a major luxury item at the time and their cost reflected it. We were always very, very fortunate in that we never lost water. Because yeah: you also lose water with hurricanes. FYI. Oh, and phones. Phone lines were down too. This was before cell phones. So we had no phone communication either. I think our phone was working again after a month or so. Fun times.

Our electricity would return the day before Thanksgiving. At the end of freaking November!!! I just remember the shock and the sheer joy of FINALLY HAVING ELECTRICITY AGAIN! And life returned to normal as if nothing had ever happened. It was like flipping a switch. But never wished again for a hurricane so I could have time off from school. And to this day I still want to shake people that wish for that kind of event so they can miss work or school. Those people haven't the slightest clue what they're asking for.

My flamboyan. I got this tree when it was 2' tall when I was 10, the same year Hugo hit us. It was brought into the house in its pot with all of our other potted plants. I planted it on our hill later that year.
25 years later, it is still standing, taller than all of the other trees currently on the property, blooming a fiery red every summer.

Hurricane Georges, September 21, 1998

Are you noticing a pattern here in the dates? September was our worst hurricane month. (It tells you something about FL that August is their most active hurricane month: yes, FL is actually hotter and more humid than PR.) Every year after Hugo I would count the days through September and breathe a sigh of relief once we were into October. We had storms come through during other months, but they were never as bad as the ones that hit us in September.

In 1998 I was 19 years old, in my first year of university. At the time, Hurricane Georges was one of the largest storms to have ever formed in the Atlantic, with hurricane force winds that extended 150 miles from the storm's eye, and a more than 300-mile wide tropical storm force field around that.

Remember our island is only 110.5 miles long?
Like Hugo, it hit us as Category 3.

Hurricane Georges
The eye of the storm crossed the island lengthwise, from east to west, tearing its way right through the middle, as you can see in the photo above.

Preparations for this one were the same as for Hugo, except for the fact that I now had Lucero: hurricanes decimated the hay crops on the island each time, so my grandfather and I went out to buy as much hay as we could fit in the spare stall that we used for storage. Plus shavings and grain.

This time we had a real gas stove that my mom placed outside on the deck after the storm, where she was able to cook regular meals for the family. We had cell phones so we only lost communication with the outside world for a few days. Hurricane Georges cost the island $2 BILLION in damages between the high winds and the 25 to 30 INCHES OF RAIN that we received over 24 HOURS.

To put that in perspective for you, Seattle's YEARLY average of rain is 30 inches. We received that in 24 HOURS. And the rain doesn't necessarily stop after the storm has passed through...

Landslide on the southern side of the La Cordillera Central mountain range, caused by the epic rains brought on by Georges
But for us in our little universe, it was not as bad as Hugo because Hugo had already decimated most of the trees on our property. So there wasn't much left to knock down. Georges took care of some of the few that remained standing. Sidenote: our avocado tree still grows sideways and gives huge mutant avocados after being knocked over by Hugo 25 years ago. It didn't give us any avocados at all until AFTER Hugo. It had been a mature tree since way before that. And interestingly, the greater the number of avocados it gives, the more active the hurricane season is going to be. True story. This is the crazy shit you notice about nature when you actually have to live through these things. We preferred when our tree didn't give us avocados, honestly, but were grateful for the avocados when recovering from storms. It was like the tree was trying to feed us during the worst of times. Sideways on the ground and all, you know. Black beans + rice + a large slice of avocado cut into the mix = amazing!!

Our mango tree in the backyard, however, gave us the most mangos during less active hurricane years. Lots of mangos = no hurricanes! Our basketball court would be covered in bright yellow, orange and green mangos fallen from the tree in celebration of a hurricane-free season.

Fresh mangos from our tree.
Magic realism does exist, people.

After Georges, it was easy for us to get out by comparison: since there were only a handful of fallen trees to cut through, it only took us one day to axe and chainsaw our way down the driveway this time.  Same thing with our street: a lot less trees than 9 years prior. As soon as we could get out through our front gate, I hopped on Lucero and rode him up and down the street in both directions to survey the damage: it was so much easier to turn around on a 1.5 lane road on a horse than in a car. Within 3 days, I was able to ride all the way into town: the brigades had been able to clear the road in both directions.

Prior to the storm, we boarded up Lucero's stall, I tossed a whole bale of hay in with him, gave him two huge buckets of water, told him good-bye for the next 24 hours, and ordered the tree behind his stall to not fall. I was still keeping him at home, yes, but I was not walking 1/4 of a mile to get to his stall to feed him in 120 mph winds and driving rain. He did perfectly fine. As soon as the winds stopped, I went to check on him. The tree had obeyed my command and yes, it got thanked. Water had flooded his stall but that was easily resolved and no lasting damage was done because the stall had a concrete floor. He was dry, happy to see me, still had water and hay left. I turned him out, mucked his stall, squeegeed the water out, let it air out, dumped fresh shavings on the dry floor, and he had a field day in the fresh bedding.

The National Rainforest after Georges. This is what 120 mph winds do to trees.
At home we were still without power for a month and a half. However, this time I was much thinner (less natural insulation) and had my hair cut super-short in a pixie cut. I had my own bedroom, so sleeping only in underwear when it was roasting hot at night was actually doable. I was more comfortable but I was still hot. I'd wake up during the night to spray water on my hair and go to bed with my hair wet. The evaporating water from my 1" long hair helped cool me down. No, we could not find battery-operated fans to save our lives: they were hard to find in anything larger than a hand-held to begin with, but all the stores had gone out of stock before the storm, and internet ordering from the phone was not a technology that existed yet. And this is why I hate the heat so much: because you can strip yourself naked and still be hot. Whereas in winter you can bundle up and do something about the cold. I realize that being in sub-freezing temps with no electricity is a different matter altogether. That's why you get one of these babies.

It was tough with college classes though: my grandmother ruled the house and she had some very strict rules, like curfew. She expected us to be home before nightfall when we had no electricity. Her reasons were very valid: we had an electric security gate which was down without power. So we had to push the electric gate open, and open and close our regular back-up gate instead. This was a huge-ass 9' gate made of steel pipe and cyclone fence, with barbed wire around the top. It looked like something you would find in a prison, but it was deliberately made to look that threatening. "Arriving home at night without power" thus involved getting out of the car, undoing the padlock and 20 lb steel chain, letting the gate swing open, getting back in the car, driving past the gate, getting back out of the car and closing the gate, securing the heavy chain and padlock. This could be challenging when you had an assortment of your own dogs happy to see you, trying to run out of the gate into the pitch darkness. Our street was normally pretty well lit, actually MUCH better lit than any country road I've encountered in the US so far across 3 different states, but no power = no light in the back roads of the Puerto Rican country. There was a pack of feral dogs that lived further down our street in one of the more heavily wooded areas, and sometimes you'd come across very weird people that weren't from our neighborhood just strolling through on foot, which was beyond creepy. We knew our neighbors and their dogs. The whole manual opening-and-closing of the gate was a pretty stressful ordeal to do by yourself, which I often was when returning home from the university after dark. I wasn't very social during this time so I literally went home right after class in my attempt to minimize this ordeal but some classes didn't finish until after 6:00 pm. With rush hour that usually meant arriving home around 7:00 pm, when darkness had already fallen in September/October on the island.

Georges was better than Hugo in that both my brother and I were older and much more creative. I was able to appreciate the fact that you could see EVERY.SINGLE.STAR at night when there was no power in our neck of the woods. We were so close to the city that on a regular night when everyone had electricity, you could only see Orion and the Dippers. Without power on a moonless night, the Milky Way looked like a giant path of glittery brilliance lighting the way across the sky. There were so many nights when I just lay on the pool trampoline looking up at the beauty of it all, making wishes on the shooting stars. A lot of nights we simply put on our bathing suits and plunged into the pool. We blasted music on our little battery-operated radio and sat on the trampoline eating cereal while playing chess by the light of a flashlight. My brother and I got very, very good at playing chess. We were both good enough at it that a game could last hours.

In writing this, I realize that part of my bad associations with the time change and Daylight Savings comes from having spent such long periods of my life trying to do normal people things in darkness. I actually have something to blame for that: the hurricanes.

Overall we did great on the island when it came to hurricanes thanks to the solid construction of the houses, especially our house on top of the hill. I wasn't afraid of the hurricanes because we were always safe; I just dreaded the power outages that were inevitable. Now Florida? That's another matter altogether.

Homes in FL are made of wood, plaster and gypsum board. They can't be made from concrete because they will literally sink into the swamp. So they make them light so that they'll blow away in high winds. And we lived in rentals, so doing stuff like screwing on boards to protect windows was just something nobody did. Plus it meant that if the power went out, you were really in trouble until you could unscrew those panels: far less windows than in PR homes to begin with. And then no one took hurricanes seriously in FL: you were expected to work through storm warnings, and I was still expected to go to work in tropical storms and Cat 1 hurricanes. Everything closed in PR for this kind of natural event, even tropical storms. It was so, so freaking STUPID and dangerous to force people to go to work anyway. During Isaac, I had to drive an hour to go to Boynton Beach through rain coming down so hard and thick that I had to pull over because I couldn't see crap through the windshield even with the wipers set at the fastest speed. The wind was pushing my car back and forth across the highway, which was covered in 3" of rainwater that was flowing like a river. You know what happens when you drive a car through that much constant water? Your brakes stop working. Ask me how I know. I did make it to work safe and sound, but it was a nerve-wracking experience: having lost control of the car would have meant ending up in a ditch on the side of the road several feet deep in water and possibly drowning in the car and having my dead carcass eaten by an alligator later (even they were smart enough to hide during these storms.) And all for what? All so I could work at the veterinary ER, a veterinary building which was NOT hurricane safe. They had threatened to fire us if we didn't show. Needless to say, we didn't have a SINGLE emergency that night and I was LIVID to have had to drive in such unsafe conditions. The only reason why I was working at that particular place was to save up for the move that would get us the hell out of crazy town.

And these are some of the many, many reasons why I'm THRILLED to deal with 20 degree weather for one month out of the year, just to NOT have to deal with 5 months of bullcrap hurricane season and the accompanying sweltering unrelenting heat 10 months out of the year.

I'm happy I get to have real winters without having to deal with this, which is why we live where we do:
Prince Edward Island's snow last weekend. I can't even.
There is such a thing as too much snow, and it looks like this.
I admire these people with all my heart for continuing to function and enjoy life in situations like this.

3. What is the best winter you've ever had?
The most memorable winter from my childhood was December 1984. I was 5 years old and we were living in San Antonio, TX on the outskirts of Fort Sam Houston. We were stationed because my dad was in the Army working on his residency as an oral surgeon. My whole family came to visit: my grandparents on my father's side, my grandmother and aunts on my mom's side. I got my first dog, a tiny tiny newborn Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix that was only a couple of weeks old. My grandmother had smuggled her on the plane. That is how I learned to bottle feed a pup. I had Pichi until she died early of cancer at age 10.

The best part of that winter, though, was the snow. It NEVER snowed in TX, especially not in San Antonio. My mom and my dad were huge snow lovers and their inside secret was that they could get it to snow in the most unusual places. The winter they were stationed in FL, it snowed too. San Antonio was just another notch on their belt.

I went to bed on Christmas Eve wishing with all of my might for snow.

I woke up on Christmas morning to a good 6" of the glorious white stuff on the ground. My mom and the aunts bundled me up, laughing, and unleashed me into the whiteness. I ran out into it, shouting, "THANK YOU GOD! THANK YOU!!!"

It's a story that gets re-told at family gatherings. We had snow on the ground for a solid two weeks. It was a true gift from the gods for 5-year-old me.

Winters in Puerto Rico are a balmy 70-75 degrees, with nights going down into the 60's and sometimes all the way into the 40's in the central mountain range. It's common to go out with a hoodie at night, when the ocean breezes pick up. I wasn't a fan of them though because to me they didn't count. I read all of the articles in Equus and Practical Horseman about winter horsekeeping and thought, "I'd love to live that one day." I hated the heat because it was a year-round thing. I yearned to live in a place with distinct seasons, where time was marked by the changes in nature, each season completely different from the next, none of them long-lasting. I didn't want to be married to any one season.

When I moved to Tampa to live with Charles, I moved in winter. I loved Tampa because it provided winters that required jackets and gloves and hats. You get about a month with temperatures in the 50s during the day and nights cold enough for frost, sometimes well into the 20s. One of our favorite things to do in the winter was to go to Clearwater Beach to sit on the snow-white sand to watch the sun set behind the ocean. It was an oxymoron of sorts: we actually went to the beach more often in the winter than in summer.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach, FL
When we had frost warnings, I got a huge kick out of bringing my potted plants indoors for the night to protect them from the cold, and I would then proceed to wake up at 4:00 am so I could run outside and kneel by the grass to look at the frost crystals. I loved being able to see the vapor of my breath in the cold air.

We struggled terribly at the financial level but we were so very happy in Tampa. I would have gladly stayed there. But the in-laws wanted us to move to South FL to be closer to them. They promised a better life and an easier time getting into nursing school for Charles (his mother worked at the school where we enrolled.) In many ways, South FL was a huge mistake and I regret a lot of the major decisions that we made while there, including the choice of school for Charles, which is what put us into the current student loan bind. We can't change that now though, and if it hadn't been for South FL, I wouldn't have gotten into veterinary medicine, I wouldn't have Lily, and I wouldn't have met some of the wonderful people who are now among my best friends. I might not even have started this blog...it was started with the original goal of providing me a way to vent about all of the South FL craziness.

I hated so many things about that place though. For our first 6 months there, I cried every single day. I hated the people, the commutes, the drivers, the cost of living, the flatness, the constant heat. It was so much hotter there than on the island. I hated that it was still hot in January. My logic was that for that kind of climate, it was just better to stay on the island and you at least had access to mountains and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I ached for my mountains, my ocean breezes, my mom, my dogs, my horse whom I had had to leave behind. Charles was incredibly supportive but he was in school full time and I had a 1.5 hr commute one-way to a job I absolutely hated at the time. But things eventually started falling into place and got better. Without South FL, we wouldn't be here now.

My favorite winter in South FL was January 2009 where it dropped into the 50's on Three Kings' Day. I was wearing a tank top on New Year's Eve and bundled up in layers 6 days later.

2008-2009 New Year's Eve with the in-laws.
I was volunteering at the equine rescue where I would meet Cloud and we actually had to blanket the horses at night. It was AWESOME. I worked overnights at the time and one night it dropped into the upper 20s, an absolute anomaly for the area. One of my coworkers finished her shift at 5:00 am that evening. She went out and ran back into the hospital: there was a sheet of ice over her windshield and she didn't know what to do! I ran outside to get photos of my Mini Cooper covered in ice and frost, sparkling.

The cold weather lasted all the way into March. BEST. SOUTH FL WINTER. EVER.

BUT. I would say last winter was one of my most favoritest winters. I blogged about it ad nauseum. I actually blogged almost every day in February last year because I was having such a blast with all of the snow we received. Temps were record-breaking lows for this region pretty much from November through February last year, with polar vortex after polar vortex. Old time Marylanders said that it was the coldest winter in 20 years. The worst snowfall we've had since moving to a place with seasons was last year's 3' in mid-February thanks to the winter storm Pax. I got out of work early that night but Charles was working the full overnight. The next morning he had to park at the grocery store a mile away because our apartment complex's parking lot's empty parking spaces had not been plowed. They plow the streets and the lots themselves, but all that excess snow gets piled up in the empty parking spaces (because that makes sense...) and behind any cars that are already parked. We didn't have a snow shovel yet. Charles had to walk all the way home, which is when he took this pic:

I had to work again that night, so in the afternoon we walked the mile to the grocery store to get the truck so we could drive to Home Depot, where we bought like the last snow shovel in stock so we could dig MY car out of the snow, which was one of the ones that had been plowed in with 5' of snow. It took us 45 minutes to have the car uncovered enough for me to be able to drive to work. It was the loose powdery stuff that I love too. We got to walk through a winter wonderland and we got our workout in. And you know what? We didn't even lose power during the storm.

You know what I did? I went out and rode. Most of the time, storms timed themselves to days I was working, which meant I could actually get to the barn on my days off. I averaged anywhere from 20-30 miles a week on Lily, often riding with Kathy, who was the only other person crazy enough to ride out during the temps we were having. We did a lot of long slow distance, walking mostly, with rides up to 11 miles in length, and that's how I did my initial fitness prep for Lily's first endurance season ahead. I was experimenting with tack, winter clothes, my snacks, hydration, Lily's mashes, and exploring so many new trails, both solo and with company. It was a really, really awesome winter. I didn't mind shoveling my car out when snow storms passed through because it meant some of the most beautiful riding I have ever experienced:

Riding around the snow-covered soybean fields.
Riding the back woods loop at the previous barn.
Returning from another long trail ride.
First time riding while snow was actively coming down. It looked like stardust.
Kathy and Queenie leading the way home after an 8 mile trail ride. The winter sunsets I witnessed while out riding last year rivaled the Tampa sunsets.
Lily and I leading the way on another trail ride.
As I've mentioned before, for me snow is a much greater incentive for riding than mud. We get a lot of precipitation in MD during the winter. If I have to choose between rain and snow, I'd rather deal with snow. I can ride while it's snowing and it's far less likely to drench my clothes or ruin my tack. Rain, on the other hand, is a miserable thing to ride in. I've done it plenty and I don't care for it, especially because I can't see crap when my glasses are wet. Rain + our typical 40 degree winter temps in this region is just NOPE. Especially given how slick the footing here gets when it's muddy. I'll take the colder temps just so that the precipitation we're going to get one way or another comes down as snow. I'll also take the colder temps with no precipitation because it means the footing is hard and my horses won't be slipping and sliding all over it.

So I guess last winter was the worst ever for many long-term locals but for me it was the best ever. I won't deny that by the end of February, after 4 months of extreme cold, I was more than tired of needing 30 minutes to don 5 layers before I could leave the house, and just wanted to skip straight into summer so I wouldn't have to think about my clothes anymore!

However, I will say that dealing with constant temps ranging from the 20s to single digits last winter really helped me get my act together when it came to acquiring the perfect clothes for layering. I have some quality layering options now and finally figured out what works best to keep my hands warm when it's cold. My #1 recommendation for people who have issues with cold weather is: take a look at your clothes. Cotton is one of the worst things you can wear because if it gets wet or you sweat in it, you will get chilled. Try wool or any of the vast number of winter synthetics currently available. I'm a gear snob but why spend hundreds of dollars on new gear when there's eBay? I check out what hard-core winter bloggers like Jenn, Hannah and Liz wear (those links will take you to some of the posts where they wrote specifically about their winter wear choices), then go to places like Dick's Sporting Goods or REI so I can try on gear and figure out what sizes I need. I then look on eBay for similar clothes in the correct sizes. I'm also signed up for notifications on REI's and Dick's sales and take advantage of them. Dick's Sporting Goods does have some amazing seasonal sales, and if you have the REI membership card you get a membership dividend once a year, which is typically 10% of what you have spent in the store throughout the year. At the time members are due to receive their dividends, REI holds huge sales so you can get more bang for you buck. You don't have to go to a physical store; you can take advantage of all of this online. And no, I do not get paid for promoting these stores. :P I just really like their selections and I'm trying to pass on the knowledge. If I can acclimate to real winters after living 33 years of my life in hot tropical climates thanks to having the correct gear for the weather, I'm happy to pass that knowledge on! :)

From last January's first polar vortex.
Windchills were -20 during the day. I was toasty.
Not a single layer of cotton under all that.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

FOR SALE! Tack and riding clothes!

Ok guys, I have all of this stuff for sale! Will mark as "Sold" when items are bought. Paypal only, please! Prices include USPS shipping within the continental US. 
Will continue adding stuff as I dig more up!

1. PRI Prix sheepskin dressage half pad
- Paid $130 for it new; asking for $70 shipped (shipping is pricey on items this awkwardly shaped)
- White cotton with off-white sheepskin trim and sheepskin lining
- Velcro billet straps
- Spine channel and high wither cut, similar to Mattes
- Size large: spine length is 19" long without trim (will accommodate a saddle up to 19" long); 23.5" with trim
- Gently used condition. Was used for one dressage show and a few lessons over a cotton pad; light staining on sheepskin underneath the pad on back edge, where it was longer than the cotton pads used underneath. Sheepskin of trim is pristine. Some light scuff marks on the cotton but they are not visible when saddle is on top. Sheepskin is still soft and fluffy.

Note spine channel

2. Smith Worthington Wexford monocrown dressage bridle SOLD
- Paid $75 for it new; asking $30 for it shipped
- Cob size
- Black leather with gray padding; reflective piping
- Crank noseband; padding under crank chinstrap can be removed
- Stainless steel hardware
Smith Worthington is a family-owned US business that has been making quality tack since 1794.
The Wexford line is their more inexpensive line; at the time I was looking for a dressage-legal bridle to use as a show bridle without a flash attachment and a crank noseband seemed to be the only non-flash option available at the time. The company claims their Wexford bridle line is made from aniline leather, made to take oil well. The black leather is dyed; the gray padding on this bridle is painted leather but it will not flake off; this bridle ultimately was used as a schooling bridle: it was used frequently and conditioned liberally over the course of a year and the paint is intact. I would say the leather quality of this bridle is similar to that of Smartpak's Plymouth dressage bridles (I own one of those as well). Bridle is in good used condition. Some wear on the reflective piping. It has been cleaned and conditioned and stored indoors.

Normal lighting.
Taken with flash to show off the reflective piping.
Reflective piping on browband and monocrown
Detailed of padded browband and monocrown.
Detail of padding on cavesson.
Padding on chinstrap can be removed altogether.

3. The Distance Depot Beta biothane English breastcollar
- Paid $67 for it new; asking for $45 shipped
- Cob size; very very adjustable!
- 3/4" black beta biothane underlay with 1/2" pale blue beta overlay; brass hardware
- Nifty clip on wither strap for effortless placing and removing; no need to put on/take off over the horse's head
- Clip for attachment to girth; removable clips for attaching to saddle. Smaller clips ideal for English saddle but will work just fine on a Western saddle as well. Will not rub or make your horse's shoulders stiff/sore; it is designed to stay in place and be worn for hundreds of miles at a time.
The Distance Depot's biothane tack is very high quality. I have tried synthetic tack from other manufacturers and I just keep coming back to them. I absolutely love their stuff. Beta has a similar feel to leather; it is matte-colored, very soft and flexible. I have biothane tack that has lasted over 15 years. It doesn't fade and is so easy to take care of: just hose off and put away! Selling this breastcollar because I'm looking to change Gracie's tack colors. You can read more about The Distance Depot's Traditional English breast collar here. 

Showing all the clips. Note strap that goes over withers that clips to ring on opposite side.
Breastplate detail

4. Tuffrider Piaffe full seat breeches SOLD
- Paid $79.95 for them new; asking for $35 shipped
- Size 28
- Fawn color with contrast coffee-colored full seat
- Cotton twill material with soft synthetic SILX full seat. Material minimizes flaws.
- Lower rise with wide waistband; slash pockets
- Velcro bottoms
These are basically new pants; I only wore them a handful of times. Washed with Woolite and line-dried; no fading/pilling/signs of wear at all. This is the link to the pants description on the JPC website.  There is nothing wrong with them; they are perfect for dressage schooling, lessons and clinics. I've just moved on in discipline choice and I have yet to meet a full seat that is comfortable for hours and hours in the saddle. :)

5. StickySeat Performance knee patch tights
- Paid $75 for them new; asking for $35 shipped
- Size medium (fits 8/10; waist is 30" unstretched). Long inseam
- Taupe color
- Made of a high compression, moisture-wicking 4-way stretch cotton/nylon/spandex blend
- Regular rise, slightly lower in front than in back
- Has belt loops with interior key pocket
- StickySeat is basically a rubberized pebble grip on the seat of these pants. You don't feel it at all when sitting down but these things grip much better than your regular suede seat. They are excellent pants for wearing on the trails when you might encounter unpredictable situations, riding young horses, breaking in a slick new saddle, or schooling dressage.
I wore them over a humid MD summer while rehabbing one stall-bound bonkers mare and they live up to their claims. All of them, even the flaw-hiding one. The pants are super soft, like cotton, but they don't retain moisture like cotton tights will. Very cool for hot, muggy weather. Only selling because they are a little too big in the waist. You can read more about these fabulous tights here.

Back, showing StickySeat

StickySeat detail.

The pants on me. Photo taken in the most unflattering noon-time light. I haven't had flawless thighs since I was 16. These pants work.

These are also listed on English Tack Trader or on Endurance Tack & Horse Swap. First come first serve!