Sunday, August 28, 2016

Horse Walks and Dancing

When I first arrived at the Big Purple Barn I immediately glommed onto Aspen as the horse I wanted to hang out with the most and try to become friends with. I'm not totally sure why it was Aspen. Maybe because he's a beautiful grey thoroughbred, maybe because he was shy and unsure of things and I identified with that, having just started learning about horses. In any case, he's the horse I like brushing for long periods of time and taking for walks. 

Aspen enjoying one of his favorite activities: Eating.

Recently his neighbor in the next stall over, Nadiya, had some friends leave who had her as their favorite Big Purple Barn horse. (We all love all of the horses equally, but also tend to play favorites. Shhhh.) They moved recently and for a little while she didn't want anyone to brush her or interact with her, but she's gotten less aloof recently and I decided to start taking her for walks as well, alternating with Aspen. This is partially because I would like to practice things like going around cones and backing up and moving forward and Aspen can't do those ground exercises because of tendon troubles. So, I will do all of the me-training with Nadiya and save my laid-back just chillin' with a horse walks for Aspen. I think it's sort of funny that I'm slowly working my way up through the herd hierarchy in terms of my comfort with walking them. Haha.

Nadiya and her friend Wyatt who recently moved. 

Let me tell you, Nadiya steers like a dream. She tends to be hyper-aware of the humans she's around, which is bad if you are nervous or unsure (hence why she wouldn't have been a good horse to start out walking), but SUPER cool if you're trying to direct her movement because she picks up on it immediately. I don't know if that's training or personality or a combination of the two, but it's neat.

Barbara let me do some round pen work with her the other day, having Nadiya trot around one direction, then turn her and trot in another direction, all without a lead line. I've only done it two times before (neither with Nadiya), but it went really well! Nadiya even followed me around the round pen for a lap afterwards without any lead rope or anything! I still don't quite understand how that works but it is really neat to experience. The next day she was also a lot calmer with me and actually let me scratch her around the ears and chin for a good five minutes. Like, leaning into the scratch enjoying it. Before she'd tolerate it for a second or two and then move off. I made sure to give Aspen some ear scratches too just to make sure he didn't feel left out! Then I also ended up giving Chuck ear scratches because he looked like he needed some too. Lol. I am an ear-scratching expert.

Chuck has always been up for ear scritches.
Or peppermints if you have them.

It turns out that walking horses and riding horses, from the few rides I've experienced, is a lot like swing dancing. (Maybe swing dancing will be another post! I haven't gone in forever, but really do need to get back to Glen Echo and swing dance again...) Each partner you dance with has the same approximate cues for swing moves, but each is different enough to require an adjustment period while you learn how to follow the new changes. Some have tiny cues that you have to weed out from the general background noise of movement, some have cues so clear that you find yourself following the dance steps almost without knowing the exact move. Some don't really know what they're doing yet so the cues and moves are muddled and you get confused, and some have been dancing forever so even if you make a mistake they make you look good. Everyone has a few swing dance partners that they really click with and dance well with but everyone benefits from the variety of dance partners there, as you only learn how to swing dance well by practice and diversity. No matter what you have to pay attention to your dance partner and what they're doing, otherwise you get stepped on! haha. Luckily there are plenty of dance, er, walking partners to practice with at the barn.

This dude has stepped on me a few times.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Attack of the (Plant) Clones

I'm not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing when I realized it was possible to grow plants from pieces of other plants. On the plus side I can make more plants for free. On the downside every time I prune a plant I have an internal debate about whether I should throw the cuttings away or not. You know those horrible pet owners who just let their animals propagate freely until they have like a hundred of them because they don't want to get them neutered?
Yeah. Yeah, I'm that person but with plants.
If I run out of dirt and starter pots maybe I'll stop. Maybe.
Not every plant is a good prospect for cloning. I tried propagating the African Daisy before it died, and unfortunately it just didn't take. However, it's nearly impossible to NOT propagate a Pothos plant. I think you could probably just throw a stem on the ground and it'd somehow take root. Some plants naturally seem more able to form roots off of a cut stem than others.

To determine whether a plant could potentially be cloned I look for the following things:

Segmented stems: Segments mean that a stem comes in sections. These sections can usually sprout either leaves or roots depending on whether the segment is above or below the soil. 

Angel Wing begonia with segmented stems
Wandering Jew plant, with a new leaf bud growing from a  stem segment

 Root buds along the stem: These usually pop up when the plant is getting low on resources. If it's in a pot it may be getting root-bound or it could be running low on nutrients. It's common on runner vines like the Pothos, but other plants like tomatoes or this basil plant can also grow roots along the stem. I haven't tried re-rooting basil or tomato, but I've read that it's possible with root growing hormone. (A powder or liquid you can find in garden centers. It's an acid though, so apparently it should be treated like any household chemical. Wear gloves.) Putting a stem with a root node in the soil will result in the root node growing into a full root.
Basil plant with root buds on stem
Pothos plant with root bud

Pups or suckers: Plants such as aloes, hen-and-chick plants, spider plants, and iris grow tiny versions of themselves when they get big enough. These mini-me's can then be separated from the main plant and planted to form an entirely new plant! I've done this with several aloes and with spider plants but have only observed others doing it with other plants. Succulents (plants that grow well in dry conditions) work because their leaves store energy well, allowing time for the roots to grow. It appears to also work with plants that have rhizomes- energy storing roots which sprout tiny plant pups along the length of the root. 

Baby aloe that came off of a big aloe!

Sometimes plants surprise me with their cloning abilities. I should probably have guessed that Portulaca plants would clone well because they are a type of succulent. However, I was very surprised to find out that not only does it root well from a cutting, it will actually flower while still forming roots!
Literally planted this yesterday, not blooming.
This plant is crazy.
So uh....anyone need some free plants?
Portulacas winning at life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Becoming Holtzmann: A Halloween costume obsession

If you didn't know already, I'm a little obsessed with the character Holtzmann from the new Ghostbusters movie. Not only is she a super cool nuclear engineer, she also has killer awesome fashion sense, a kooky personality, and specializes in spectral containment. What's not to like?!

So obviously I need to be Holtzmann for Halloween. Here's what I've got planned so far:
Exhibit A: A pair of Holtzmann-approved eyewear.
Ironically enough, probably not OSHA approved,
 so don't do real science in them.

Da goggles: I actually have the pair from the final ghost battle on the way and am TRYIIIIING to figure out how to get my grubby little hands on a pair that look like her Spectres, the ones she wears for a majority of the movie. However, even if plan A falls through I have this pair of pretty sweet goggles to fall back on. They weren't expensive either! The pair pictured was like $10 total, shipping included. I'm cheap which is part of the problem with finding the Spectre-like goggles. The movie goggles are modeled off of old 50's and 60's safety goggles and finding JUST the right pair (not even counting yellow lenses) for a price that doesn't make me feel like a bad person is tough. I'll keep searching...

Exhibit B: Standard Holtzmann attire,
including long vest, high waisted pants and snazzy boots.

Da outfit: I think muted colors of loose clothing and/or vests is the answer here. I have a green jacket that might work for the outer layer and I can wear my barn boots, but everything else is going to require some Goodwill shopping. I'm undecided as to which outfit I'll go for because I'm not sure if all of them will go well with my height. Kate McKinnon is tiny! I am like if Holtzmann and Patty swapped heights. Still, I should be able to find and use rough approximations of her style. The other option is to get a flight suit and put reflective tape on it for a classic "Ghostbusters" look but again- I'm cheap. Well, cheap but trying to make the outfit look not-cheap. Sometimes the suits in the costume shops are paper thin cotton and you can tell.

Exhibit C: The "Screw U" necklace
Honestly I didn't get the reference until I started searching "Holtzmann Necklace" online.

Da Jewelry: Holtzmann has a "Screw U" necklace that she wears pretty much all the time and it'll add to the costume if I can make one. I'm thinking its about shower ring size and I have plenty of screws left over from making the Catlas 5 tower, so if I cut out and spray paint a U and put a chain on it I think it's a done deal. Another option is the weird cow skull necklace she wears in one scene but it's less iconic. It is, however, available on Amazon. ;) I'm also kinda digging the swipe-button that's linked to her proton pack weapons but unless I get an Iphone sometime soon that will be hard to replicate. I'm sure SOME crazed fan has already made an app that duplicates the effect.

Da Makeup: Kate McKinnon does wear a significant amount of stage makeup to become Holtzmann. I'm not sure I'm going to go with complete shadowing and highlighting and all that because I don't use it often enough to do the make up well. However, I think I should at least do eyeliner to help bring out my eyes behind yellow lenses and try out whatever color lipstick she has! Thankfully I have about the same skin tone that she does so it'll look really similar if I can only find what color she's using. Baaah.

Holtz Hair

Da Hair: This is the scariest part! :O I am pretty sure I can pull the hairstyle off. Judging from all of the different camera angles and different days of shooting, Holtzmann's hair is a little shorter than chin length for the top layer and gets longer further down so she can put it back into a tiny bun from the sides. Dyeing in the highlights will be more scary than the cut itself as I've never gotten my hair dyed before (Well, except for some bright red tips a few days before I got my hair trimmed in college.) I'm definitely getting it professionally done though. That'll be the expensive part of my costume just because it won't be a costume, it'll last a decent amount of months afterwards too.

Da Equipment: Sadly I don't have time to make a full-up proton pack before Halloween. Maybe if I really stressed about it but I've been there and it's no fun stressing about a costume. However! I can definitely do the ghost trap. I'm planning on retrofitting our vacuum's dirt "bag" (aka: hardshell plastic container) because it looks pretty close shape-wise. It just needs some sheet metal-looking exterior work done to it and I miiiiiight end up putting some glowing LED's in it. We'll see how far it goes. If I have extra time I'll also add movement with the stomp-pedal attachment. That'll make it really fun. Then I can run around work yelling "we put a ghost in a box!" It'll be great.

PS: I also learned about this SWEEEEET easter egg found in the opening scene of the movie: a link to the website containing cool schematics for all of the ghost-busting equipment.
*The nerdiest squee*
Nerdy awesomeness
Well, that's the extent of my costume idea. I hope it turns out really well! :D I'm super excited about it and can't wait to dress up for Halloween. Only two and a half months left!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Let's Talk Pruning!

Pruning has to be one of the weirdest things we do for plants. It makes sense that a plant needs food, water, sunlight, and an appropriate temperature to be happy and healthy, but cutting a plant's extremities off in order to make it healthier?! That seems like madness! 

The tomato plants were being smashed up under
the porch railing containers, so they got pruned!
The truth is, plants (especially plants grown in pots) need pruning in order to stay healthy. It keeps them from turning "leggy," where the bottom foliage dies off and only the tips are left. It makes them squat and compact to keep the wind and rain from breaking the stems off haphazardly or knocking the pot over. Pruning flowers off after they've passed peak bloom can help a plant conserve energy if you don't want it growing too many seeds. It can also be used to save a plant that has diseased or insect-infested leaves and force the plant to grow new, healthy leaves instead!

Before trimming mint: Leggy and bare.
A week or so after trimming mint: New growth!
To prune plants you can either use your fingers or preferably some sort of shears or scissors. The sharper the cutting tool the better the plant will heal over, especially if it's a particularly large stem. Stems can get infected from bacteria or fungus in the environment, so a clean cut is going to produce the least amount of surface area for gross stuff to get into the nooks and crannies. To keep diseases from spreading, dip your shears in isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) after cutting from a plant that's been infected with something. (Generally the advice is to dip it between cuttings from EVERY plant, but I'm lazy and unless I spent a crap-ton of money on a plant or am really in love with it I'll take the risk of sharing shears between healthy plants.)

Shears for trimming tiny stems. For larger stems I use kitchen shears.

When making a cut, try your best to always trim from the top of the plant, getting rid of the newest leaves first. The exception in this case is if the leaves lower down are infected or dead already, in which case you can cut off those individual leaves further down. Cut the stem between two leaf layers, just above the leaf level where you want new leaves to grow. This will encourage the leaf layer below to bush out and make more foliage. Sometimes you'll get new leaves all the way down the stem once you cut the top leaves off. There's more sunlight getting to the stem area below, and the plant also sends out signals: "Grow more leaves! We're being eaten!" Leaving a bit of stem above the leaf layer you want will allow you some room to cut it back further if the stem gets infected. If you have an infected stem it'll start getting mushy and brown, spreading down the stem. Cut it below where it's mushy and dab some isopropyl on the cut. It'll help it dry out faster and kill the nasty germs!

Pruning the catnip between leaf layers

For a diseased or leggy plant it depends on the type of plant how much you can trim off. If you know from prior trimmings that the plant rapidly bounces back from trimming (like my Columbine and mint plants), go ahead and trim off as much as you need to. For plants that you're unsure about the general rule is to only cut off a max of 1/3 of the leaves at a time. Let the plant start new growth before cutting off more leaves.

Diseased leaves all over the Columbine plant, pre-trim
(I trimmed these back to the ground)
Columbine plant post-trim, about a month later.
New leaves don't have any mildew, leaf miners, or mites!
For flower blooms, it's best to "deadhead" the flowers before they start forming seeds. That way the plant conserves energy and flowers more. Seed-making is hard work! It's also good to take the flowers off of plants even if they're the "non-seeding" hybrid varieties because a) it looks prettier not to have dead flowers all over the plant and b) dead flowers can rot and lay on the leaves, causing molds, fungi, and gnats to colonize the plant. To deadhead a flower, pinch or cut the stem just below where the flower was.
Deadheading the begonia flowers after the bloom has wilted.
I hope this has been useful! It's hard at first to know when and how much to prune, but try looking online for pruning advice for the plant you have. The internet has helped my plants a lot, especially looking up plant diseases and tips for getting rid of them! Everything else I'm learning the hard way. Haha.