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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brush with horses...

Living in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky means being surrounded by the horse industry, especially Thoroughbreds. Picturesque farms dot the landscape, and horse barns are brightly lit around the clock in midwinter to encourage early foaling. (All the registered foals born in a season will turn one year old in January, so being born in February instead of April could give a two-year-old a real edge on the racetrack.) I've never been involved with or knowledgeable about the industry though, beyond picking up such tidbits from friends, making an occasional visit to the Kentucky Horse Park, or touring a local farm like the world-renowned Claiborne.

That changed a few years ago when I took a part-time job as a bookkeeper for Ashleigh Stud Farm. Suddenly I had a behind-the-scenes look at a working thoroughbred farm, and was privileged to get to know the farm owners, ex-jockey Frank Ramos and leading consignor Jackie Ward Ramos. Hard work and high risk are balanced, in their case, by a true love of horses and racing. One cold, rainy evening an alarm went off in the office and everyone took off for the foaling barn, including me. What a privilege to witness a new little foal coming into the world! Another foal was lost to a sudden colic that season, underscoring the risky nature of the business. I learned a lot in my two years there, including much about the months-long process of preparing horses for sale, training them for the track, and the myriad details involved with consigning horses for sale at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton.

Yesterday I got a peek at another part of the industry with a brief visit to the Kentucky July Selected Yearlings Sale at Fasig-Tipton in Lexington. The fast-paced chant of the auctioneer was broadcast over the grounds as we walked around the crowded sales pavilions. Serious buyers had already performed close inspections in the long rows of stables. Just before entering the auction ring, each horse was led through several paths and show rings, allowing a final look at their conformation.

My friend and I found a spot on the rail of the final show ring with our "bibles" in hand -- the sales catalog containing details of about 500 horses in the sale. He offered several interesting pointers about what the buyers are looking for in each horse -- but to my untrained eye, they all looked sleek, powerful, and magnificent. Some were fractious, kicking their heels and flinging their heads, excited by the crowd and the noise. Hmmm... this one brought $12,000 under the hammer, but that one brought $80,000... while I'm trying hard not to scratch my suddenly itchy nose or otherwise deliver an unintended signal to the bid spotters! We were "just looking" and managed not to buy anything, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Well, for those who have laid awake nights worrying about finding me pecked to death by birds in my own driveway, the immediate peril seems to have abated. No sign of the attack swallows for a coupla days now. Wonder if that has anything to do with the two stray cats spotted lounging in the front bushes? I'd rather think the babies learned to fly and Mom and Dad are off to a more exotic locale on vacation.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

40 Years Ago

July 1969... I was approaching my 14th birthday, begging to be allowed to stay up late to watch the black-and-white television coverage of Apollo 11. A man on the moon! The ultimate fantasy. Didn't have a clue that my future hubby was there, in the middle of all the excitement, hard at work at NASA in Florida: a "Ground Support Communications Supervisor" during the Apollo missions. That's him on the left in this official NASA picture (from his personal collection). Here are a couple of articles about those computers...

Apollo 11: The Computers That Put Man on the Moon

The Lunar Module Computer

And here is an interesting article that describes "LOL memory" -- rope core memory that was literally assembled by "Little Old Ladies." In a factory outside Boston, they would "weave" the software instructions by threading slender copper wires through and around tiny magnetic cores. Fascinating: Weaving the Way to the Moon

In contrast, my MP3 player today has a tiny micro SD memory card that holds 8 GB of data just for entertainment - music, photos, radio, audio books... Imagine taking off for the moon with less technology than is in the cell phone in your pocket today, by a factor of thousands!

For a detailed list of NASA events that celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, visit:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Swallow Tale...

Sheer terror has hit my suburban driveway... in the form of swooping swallows! For the last couple of days, whenever I get out of the car or come out the front door, one or two birds - barn swallows, judging from the deeply forked tails - swoop down at me in full attack mode - aack!! Very aggressive and fast, coming VERY close, chirping and clicking loudly; then they circle high and come right back. So far there's been no actual contact, but certainly not from lack of trying, ha! Ducking and flailing of arms and running for cover ensues on my part... with a few loud, um, protests thrown in, I admit. Today I resorted to using an umbrella to get from the car to the house, sheesh!

Research online indicates that barn swallows are aerial insectivores; they catch insects in mid-air, and beat their wings about 15 times a second. And this: "Barn Swallows will swoop and attack intruders that venture too close their nest, often coming within inches of the threat." Seems that this behavior could last about two weeks, til the fledglings depart... I found this photo of a barn swallow's nest here, and have searched in vain to find something similar on or around my house. No signs of tell-tale mess on the ground, either. One suggestion is to hose down the nest... but I've gotta find it first, and that seems a little harsh. Maybe they're just feeding on bugs in the air?? And maybe I wouldn't mind so much, if I didn't keep seeing visions of Hitchcock's movie "The Birds"...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

After the rain...

...Asiatic lilies blooming in my front yard.

Huge, beautiful, and the smell is divine!

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