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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Mountain Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving was easily one of my most favorite since moving to the US...if not my most favoritest ever.

Puerto Ricans do celebrate Thanksgiving, both on the island and here on the mainland, which is especially ironic because Spanish colonizers literally exterminated the four million Taino Indians of the Caribbean in their entirety by the late 1500s, so if you see it from that standpoint, the island basically ends up celebrating a massive genocide that resulted in the total and absolute extinction of its original inhabitants. It is even more ironic when you take into account that we are celebrating the holiday of the North American colonizers that won the island as a part of war prize in 1898 where Puerto Rico was not even involved.

So why do we celebrate it?

First of all, because Puerto Ricans don't need an excuse to party. ;) We celebrate Spanish, US, and Puerto Rican national holidays, and have attached our own meanings to most of these holidays.

Thanksgiving is special to Puerto Ricans, not because of its origin but because of its meaning: it is a time to gather with friends and family and give thanks for what we have. 

This year Carlos and I were going to celebrate in the Outer Banks on our own, since this is the first time since...before we got married? (over 8 years...) that we get to have the holidays off together. But given the election results, we decided we wanted to stay closer to home and in a familiar area. I had asked Liz what she was up to for the holiday...and she invited us to spend it with her and her family.

We headed for Davis, WV sans horses on Thursday morning, making the drive in just under three hours.

It felt like we were literally disappearing into the mountains for the weekend, given the amount of fog we came across! :)
Once we arrived at The House That Dave Built, we unloaded the truck, changed into party clothes and piled into Liz's Subaru with loads of food and drink to head to the family's cabin about an hour away.

We had not seen the cabin since Liz took us on a tour of The Sinks of Gandy on our very first trip to West Virginia during our first summer in the region!

The cabin is beautiful and ENORMOUS...I had not realized its size from the glimpse of its outside...it is two levels and can easily accommodate 15 people staying overnight.

Outside of cabin (on the right) and wood shed (on the left).
Living room area of cabin, set up with a long dinner table.
Both Carlos and I grinned when we saw this.

We mingled, met Liz's relatives and family friends that we had not yet met (we knew her mom and dad already) and Liz passed around the coquito we had brought. It was a huge success! Coquito is kinda-sorta a Puerto Rican version of eggnog: it has egg yolks, evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream of coconut, vanilla and a hefty dose of white (unspiced!) rum...and mine has an added twist with the brandy I add to it. I love the brandy touch because it adds a smooth, silent wallop, allowing it to secretly be a stronger drink than you would think. Too much rum takes away from the flavor of the drink; brandy simply adds to it. :) It is meant to be served in a shot glass with a dash of cinnamon.

I took three bottles. They were mostly gone within a couple of hours! If anyone is interested in the recipe, comment below or drop me an e-mail!

Liz was explaining that if you stood long enough with your hand held out, the birds would eat from your hand.
This was our view from our seats in the previous photo. The birds at the bird feeder on the left were the ones Liz was talking about.
While dinner was warming up, Liz took us on a hike to a nearby cow pasture...

For a photo shoot by Liz. It was her idea and I had been super excited to see what she came up with. I still have no words for these.

We really did play music so we could dance for this part.

I have the wonderful gift of a friend who has an incredible eye that both sees us and is able to capture it with a camera lens.

And guys, you can hire Liz to do a photoshoot for you. She does this as an occasional side job. ;)

We returned to the cabin just as food was getting ready to be served. There was a variety of turkey, both wild and domestic, typical sides of mashed potatoes, yams, and green beans, and an amazing Waldorf salad by Liz's mom. I had small amounts of everything! I had also brought along some arroz con gandules (aka rice with pigeon peas), a traditional Puerto Rican holiday side dish. You can find a similar recipe to the one I used here. (Differences: I subbed 1/4 of the liquid used in the recipe for chardonnay (I am a huge fan of cooking with wine or beer) and the other 3/4 for ham stock. I subbed chorizo sausage for the ham in the recipe. I also use regular Uncle Ben's rice.)

Just like everyone in Liz's life, her family and family friends are amazing human beings and it was wonderful to get to spend this holiday with them.

Dessert was pumpkin pie, a to-die-for pecan pie by Liz's mom (hands-down the BEST pecan pie I have ever tried), and flan by moi.

Afterwards, Liz took us on a short tour of the property closest to the cabin.

View of the cabin from the woods.

Liz was carefully testing the ice out of curiosity. It was surprisingly thick, but not strong enough to be able to stand on.

Fire pit.

Liz and I catching up.
Everyone started to leave around dusk, and we headed back to Dave's, where we hung out in a conscious food coma until it was a reasonable time to go to bed (as in, not 8:30 pm...haha...it is so hard with night arriving at 4:30 pm!)

Have some House That Dave Built architectural porn. :D
Liz had started editing the photo shoot pics.

And we later geeked out with Practical Horseman.
We didn't have huge plans for the next day. We're all early birds though, including Carlos who is finally working a daytime schedule, which means he is more regularly up around 8:00 am.

Fog over Canaan Mountain the next morning.

The four of us did our Black Friday shopping...from the upstairs futon.

I fell madly in love with this dog. This is Han Solo, an Elkhound mix that Liz was pet sitting. I wanted to steal him. It's been a long time since I've clicked with a dog the way I did with him.
He was very tolerant of being endlessly loved on, even when Kenai was trying to steal the show. Lol  Actually, he would yip at me if I stopped!
Hans begs for treats by sitting up with his front legs curled like a squirrel (I failed to get pics of this!)...when I'd walk into the house, he'd come running up to me and sit up...for pets! 
We met up with Dan for breakfast. He just came back from Standing Rock and had a million stories to tell.

Guys, everything you hear happening at Standing Rock is true. Dan had the opportunity of meeting these people in person and seeing some of the horrors with his own eyes as he was helping the Natives and their supporters. And you know, then this happened the day after Thanksgiving.

The Dakota Access Pipeline will pump thousands of gallons of oil underneath the Missouri River. The white folks in the towns of Bismarck and Mandan, ND, to the north of the Standing Rock Reservation, protested the Pipeline because of the possibility of it contaminating their drinking water supply. So it was decided to re-route the Pipeline through Standing Rock's unceded Sioux lands delimited by the 1891 Treaty of Fort Laramie, without consulting with the tribe FIRST, as stipulated by the federal mandate for meaningful consultation. Tell me: why is this okay?

The tribes are within full right of protesting the Pipeline per the First Amendment. They are protesting peacefully, completely unarmed. They are not instigating. And anyway, why should they have to tolerate the construction of the Pipeline through their sacred lands and deal with the likelihood of it contaminating their drinking water, when it's okay for the white citizens to their north to not have to deal with it polluting their water?

This photo needs to win the Pulitzer prize. Because it says it all.
An activist from New York stands in solidarity. The "white people side" taking the Natives' side.
The Natives are unarmed.
They are being attacked with chemical weapons. Despite being unarmed.

The water protectors are being fired at with water cannons (don't tell me you don't see the irony in that...) in sub-freezing temperatures.
People are going to Standing Rock from all over the world to support the tribes. Including Native peoples from other countries. I have friends and family friends from PR that are there. Despite it not being on national news, Standing Rock and the DAPL is mainstream knowledge on the island because we know exactly what it's like to be drowned by colonialism.

This is Turtle Hill, the tribe's burial site (!!!) and where the police have taken their stand (!!!). (<- That should make you want to scream with rage. This is all they have! Why must it be taken away for a pipeline that the white people of the area don't want either?!) The bridge across the river has been demolished by the police and rebuilt by the water protectors multiple times.

Turtle Hill. Police on the ridgeline.
Barbed wire being placed at the bottom of Turtle Hill.
This isn't just abuse of power, it is serious psychological warfare, guys.
And in case you haven't noticed, this topic is barely touching mainstream media and national news networks. I have been posting and spreading the word on Facebook and it has been truly wonderful to watch the interest spread like wildfire: I have friends and family on social media, both from the US and the island, that have started spreading the word themselves and doing their own investigating. 

This is how social media can be used to make a change. Remember that, guys. 

After breakfast, we ran some errands and crashed back at Dave's house, where Liz made muffins...and then we gathered ammo, Liz's revolver and Dave's rifle, and drove over to the quarry to do target practice. 

I have wanted to learn to use firearms since we lived in South Florida, and thanks to Liz and Dave, finally had the opportunity. Carlos learned to use guns and rifles when he was in the Boy Scouts, so this wasn't completely alien to him. 

My dad had an enormous collection of hunting rifles that he kept in a safe so big, you could walk into it. I was allowed to touch one unloaded (obviously) rifle while my dad was holding it, and only so I could run my fingers down its length. That was it. I was fascinated, but knew that this was not something for children to play with and figured I'd get to learn when I grew up.

30 years later, the opportunity came up. On this trip. :)

Our cardboard target with an empty can on each side. I hit the cardboard on the third try with the rifle. It took much longer to get the hang of the revolver...but once I did, I nailed one of those cans!
Dave instructing me how to use the rifle.

Carlos was a crazy good shot with the rifle.
Dave practiced too!
Afterwards, we returned to the house for chicken chili made by Liz, with a side of tostones by moi. :)

Beer and tostones for the guys.
I made out with Hans.
Luffed him.
Kenai lounging in front of the fireplace.
And then we went to bed: Saturday was going to be an eventful day. :)

Liz and I were up relatively early.

Saturday dawned cold, foggy and snowy.

She made breakfast for the four of us, and then her and I took off towards Elkins in our riding gear (the guys stayed behind to do their own thing): we had to swing by Walmart to pick up some stuff, stop at Liz's apartment to pick up Han Solo's kitty sister, drop off Hans and kitty at their owner's house (she was returning from her trip that afternoon), and then go to the barn to tack up Stan and Griffin for a ride on the rail trail.

We started out with me on Griffin and Liz on Stan. Griffin has matured so much. I already thought he was the bee's knees prior, but he continues to impress me every time I ride him. Liz has installed so many fun buttons in him since the dressage clinic! I had a ball on him heading out on trail. He was a very, very good boy. The weather cooperated: we had a very light, misting drizzle initially that eventually stopped as we warmed up trotting.

At the 6-mile mark, Liz said we should turn around so we wouldn't be out alllll day (there were plans for the evening as well) and so we swapped horses. I got to ride Stan!!! I love tiny Quarter Horse ears and I couldn't help grinning every time I looked down at Stan's chestnut ears.
Liz mentioned that if you play with the reins, Stan tucks his nose and arches his neck prettily. Here I was trying to see if I could get him to do it, and Stan responded with a series of yawns that had us cracking up.
Pretty arched neck, though he is still at the phase where he can only either do this...
...or this, where he is really reaching out with his stride and swinging through his back and shoulders. Everything will come together with more time under saddle as he gets more fit: he had basically been retired for a few years before he came back into Liz's life! He is very much a trier: all I had to do was put my leg on, open up my shoulders and post with more air time and he'd open up his trot stride, lengthening as much as a Quarter Horse that used to do Western Pleasure can. This is pretty impressive right here! Liz had mentioned that he felt a bit stiff and creaky to her, but to me his stride felt nice and even. Shorter in feel than it looks in photos and real life when observing from the ground/another horse, but he is a QH after all. He actually reminded me a lot of Lily in his way of moving, and his current canter also reminded me of hers in the beginning. The longer sweep of stride + suspension will come with time as he continues to get stronger through his body. 
Stan was awesomely fun to ride. I've been listening to Liz telling stories of her OG and I had been eager to finally get to meet him. He is every bit as wonderful as Liz says. Despite having sat in a pasture for so long, he feels agile yet solid: if anything concerned him, he would look at it with his tiny ears pricked way, way forward, but there was no balling-up of worried tension. He just continued on. We rode past a carport and he was intrigued by it. He actually indicated that he would like to go inspect it, but I laughingly told him that he would have to wait until another time. 

We cantered a couple of the longer straightaways of the rail trail. I rose up into a two-point and let Stan coast along. 

Once we were on the trails headed back to the barn, we cantered one last straightaway and I sat back and put my leg on to see if I could get Stan to sit back and collect himself. He sat back, alright...and gave me quite the powerful hand-gallop! It felt like riding a rolling thunderstorm! I half-halted and asked him to come back down to the trot as we made a sharp left to turn into the woods that would take us home. 

Liz and Griffin led us to the hill where she does hill sprints and indicated where I could unleash Stan so I could get a feel for his gallop. 

I was grinning as I set him up for it, because despite this being a familiar routine for him, he was not anticipating the hill sprint at all; he was calmly waiting to see what I was going to ask him to do. I leaned forward, grabbed mane with one hand, and gave him his head. 

"Go, Stan!" I said.

He sat back and bolted up the side of the mountain.

"More!" Liz shouted behind me, as she followed us on Griffin. 

I clucked once at Stan. He flicked his ears and with a grunt leaped forward again, making it seem like he had been at a standstill before! I laughed: Lily does the same grunt! He stretched out into his 5th gear, his speed making tears stream backwards from my eyes. I could not stop laughing as we breasted the top of the hill in what seemed three strides. I sat up and Stan immediately slowed and came to a stop. 

What an awesome horse.

Liz and I both chattered excitedly on our way back down the hill, and I got to see her take Griffin around the course she currently has set up for him. He loves to jump! <3

We walked the rest of the way back to the barn, where we untacked and groomed the boys, and turned them back out before piling into Liz's car again to head back to Davis. 

We showered and changed into nicer clothes, then headed to Stumptown for a round of beers. 

Afterwards we went to Whitegrass, the ski resort, for Sherman's 70th surprise birthday party.

Sherman is one of Canaan's skiing community icons. We had the opportunity of meeting his friends while waiting for him to arrive. One of the magical things about Davis, WV, is that most of its residents come from other places. Most of them come from high-powered careers in other parts of the country, and chose to make Davis their home so they could lead a simpler life closer to nature. I'm happy to just sit down and listen to them talk. It's magical. Davis, and Whitegrass specifically, are hygge. It is what I used to love about rave culture. Except this is an entire community that lives in this way. It is the way the whole world should be. And it is beautiful. 

Carlos and me hanging out.
Waiting for Sherman to arrive. There were appetizers on that table to the right...mostly Greek food, Sherman's favorite. And dolmas, which I tried for the first time. And then I couldn't stop! OMG...

Sherman's lit piece of cake. :) That's him on the far left. Photo by Liz.
The guys hanging out. That's Carlos and Dave in the center, and Mike, Sherman's wife, on the far left.
Carlos and Dave in the center.
Scott, Liz and I.
I was not drunk: that's water in my glass. I was SO FULL: I had eaten what felt like 45 spanakopitas (my fave Greek pastry) and 25 dolmas and I felt like I was going to explode.
You could look at Whitegrass's walls for days and continue to find new things to smile about. I love the tree frog on cross country skis!
I have no idea what Liz and I were watching, that we have matching expressions!
Carlos and me. :)
Whitegrass. <3
I don't even know at what time we left. We returned to Dave's, attempted miserably to hang out for a bit, and then finally gave up and dragged ourselves to our beds. I basically fell unconscious. It had been a very long, very full day!

We woke up at a reasonable time the next morning to pack our belongings and load up the truck. 

Still snowy and foggy. Not complaining!
Liz made an amazing breakfast of pancakes and sausage before Carlos and I headed back to Maryland.

I loved the frost-capped mountains!
We had been expecting holiday traffic returning home, but it wasn't bad at all: we were rolling into the barn to check on the girls only 3.5 hours after leaving Davis.

This was such a beautiful trip. It's always a special thing to get to spend time with Liz in her home state but this time was even better because it was such a welcome respite from reality. <3

Thanks again, Liz!!