Tuesday, February 27, 2018

30 Things About Me

Thanks May As Well Event for this great idea! I've loved reading everyone's replies so far and had to jump in with a list of my own.

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1. I have a lot of house plants. Like...around four dozen right now. Many are spider plants and many are succulents and I'm working on getting more philodendrons because my house has a lot of exposed beams and a tree to train them to grow up/on/around.

2. And because I imagine the mention of "tree" in my house is going to raise some eyebrows, I'll address that... Dave built our home by himself - though many friends assisted for parts along the way. It's a white oak timberframe house, hence the exposed beams. In lieu of a central beam in the house, he used a tree. The tree wasn't easy to find - he and the friend who helped him the most throughout the process were sharing beers at the local brewery (which this friend founded/owns) bemoaning a particularly frustrating day of work on the house due to a rainstorm. While they were there, a local gentleman walked in, got a beer, and proceeded to complain about a large shagbark hickory tree that had fallen in the storm and was blocking a road on his property. The more he described the tree, the more Dave and his buddy's ears perked up. Finally they engaged in conversation with the man and agreed to help him move this tree, hoping that it would meet the specs for the house. Lo and behold, it did! We only have a portion of the tree (it was very, very tall) in our home, but it's almost as if it was made for the house.

The tree and the philodendron I'm training to climb and wrap around it; my loft surrounded by plants.
You can't tell in the photo, but there are four spider plants hanging along the right and 5-6 potted plants beneath - it's a wall of plants!

3. Of my many sports, the only one I have done as long as horseback riding is skiing. I began both riding lessons and ski lessons when I was 5 years old. Most of my school snow days as a kid were spent at one of three local resorts skiing with my family and friends because the resorts would give us a steeply discounted rate ($15-$25) on snow days. The local school systems also incentivized good grades with free ski passes, so that facilitated my skiing habit as a kid.

4. In the winter months, I am a professional ski patroller for two downhill resorts where I live. I've been patrolling since the winter of 2011-12 and really enjoy it. I come from a family of many medical professionals and really enjoy practicing first responder/first aid duties. Free skiing...well, paid skiing is a huge perk. Free lessons from some of the best of the nation is also a huge perk.

5. I never played with dolls as a child. Stuffed animals were much more my jam. I had dozens upon dozens of them. Hell, I still do...they're bagged and in my parents attic. I can guarantee you that I could pull them out and tell you every one of their names to this day. Horses, huskies, dolphins, and orcas were my favorite animals.

6. When I'm stressed, I will clean and reorganize. It's a pretty nice coping mechanism lol

7. As a kid, I was not an adventurous eater and was very content with typical meat 'n potatoes fare. As an adult, I love nearly every ethnic food I've met. Spicy foods are a struggle for me still because I didn't grow up eating them and my tolerance is low, but I keep trying them and can tolerate more spice in my food every year. Sushi is my absolute most favorite food.

I made this! Also, wow, look at that old slider cell phone in the background! Man have phones come a long way...

8. I am a biologist for the Federal government. I work with threatened and endangered species, primarily sit at a desk to achieve my work, and do a lot of technical ghost writing for the government. I don't like being inside so much, but my work makes a huge difference and that's what matters to me.

9. I swam competitively for 10 years and despite multiple college scholarship offers, ceased swimming after HS to focus on my academics/have a personal life. Similar to Amanda, I still love swimming and very much enjoy it, but simply do not have time for it. I dream of getting myself an endless pool one day when I retire...if I ever get to retire.

10. I grew up in 4-H and absolutely loved it. 4-H in West Virginia is unlike 4-H in any other state. We have project books and livestock projects like other states, but we also have a huge emphasis on volunteering within the community, implementing service projects, and pursuing self-discovery/self-awareness. Our summer camps are out of this world, the state camps in particular. The lessons, friends, and mentors I gained through 4-H made me who I am today.

Being a complete and total dork without any regard to how silly I was - THAT was what 4-H  was about. Being yourself with no reservations and not worrying about judgement. We couldn't do that in school (because preteens and teenagers are the worst kind of judgemental humans), but at camp everyone was so inclusive and welcoming of everyone.

11. My favorite activity as a kid was playing in the woods behind my house. I built multiple forts, loved climbing trees, and generally running amok like a fool as my neighbor and I imagined ourselves as characters from Brian Jacques books (she a badger, me an otter).

12. I was salutatorian of my high school class. I had NO idea I was even in the running for it at the time and was actually upset when I learned about it! I was terrified to have to deliver a speech to a crowd of 500+. In hindsight, I'm grateful I was because giving that speech absolved me of the irrational fear I had of public speaking. I still don't like public speaking, but I can and will do it - and often volunteer myself for public speaking as a part of my job.

13. On the same public speaking track, I was asked a few years ago to give a speech on behalf of my agency to another state agency. At the time, I was led to believe I'd be speaking to 30-40 people solely within that agency. In reality, I was speaking to [yet another] crowd of 500+, spoke from a stage and podium complete with three projector screens. I'm kind of glad I didn't know what I was getting into before hand or I probably would have begged out of it!

14. My undergraduate thesis was on black bear denning habits and den characteristics in one county of West Virginia. I utilized a spatial mapping program and a modeling program to input variables and produce a map showing the probability distribution for black bear denning within that county. As a part of this research, I got to crawl into dens with black bears and help take morphological measurements of the cubs. It was pretty sweet.

Year old cub. Cubs spend the year they're born in hibernation with their mom and the following winter. Then they get kicked out on their own the second summer so the mother can breed again. This cub was one of siblings spending the second and final winter with it's mother.

15. I learned what the word "deciduous" meant in fifth grade science. To help us learn it, my teacher first asked us to fall out of our chairs onto the floor (deciduous trees lose their leaves - they fall). We thought this was great fun. For the rest of the year we would fall out of our chairs whenever she said "deciduous".

16. I played violin as a wee kid, then piano for the middle school years, and the alto sax from 5th-10th grade. Thanks to piano, I learned to read music, but I loved the saxophone the most. Jazz band was my absolute favorite, although concert was a close second. I quit after 10th grade because the teacher who made it so awesome for me went on to bigger and better things. I eventually sold my saxophone (to a program who would sell it at a very, very reduced price to another school kid) so I could buy a mandolin. I've got 4 chords down on my mandolin and can play simple scales, but really haven't advanced further due to lack of time. I dream of devoting enough time to it to understand it well and prove to myself that I'm committed enough to music to justify buying a fiddle one day (which is the same as the mandolin sans frets and double strings).

17. I have been a brand ambassador for Mountain Khakis since 2009. The company has grown SO much in that time and I have truly loved being an ambassador for them and have enjoyed the opportunities it has opened for me that I wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

18. I went to five proms during high school and only purchased a dress for two of them. #winning

Actually NOT a HS prom but a 4-H function the following year that involved prom dresses. God I loved that blue dress. I still fit into it my some miracle of miracles...

19. While I majored in biology in college (and loved it), I was also very drawn to social psychology. Ultimately, the job prospects in biology interested me more than social psych, but I still hold a huge interest in the latter. What makes people tick and why fascinates me to no end.

20. The coolest, most fun, and most bizarre course I took in college was Human Sexuality. I took the honors version of the course in which we did all of the book work through eCampus and the classroom time was spent solely on group discussions. We tackled hard hitting questions, shared our most embarrassing sexual encounters, discussed the finer points of how-to perform certain acts, watched porn for a grade, sketched our favorite sex positions on the chalkboard, and had an end-of-semester party where we all cooked/baked sexually-suggestive (well, okay, not suggestive, just plain obvious) foods. It was a freaking BLAST.

21. Shockingly, I still haven't had a jumping lesson in my life from a professional. I'm very grateful for wonderful, helpful friends, the internet, and books.

22. I used to whitewater kayak and raft a fair bit as a teenager and in college. After my college boyfriend - a creek boater - lost 5 friends to whitewater accidents in a two year span I developed a healthy respect and fear of whitewater. Now, I experience a lot of anxiety if I raft on technical class V whitewater and pretty much avoid it at all costs.

Guiding us along a flatwater section of the New River. This was a spring break trip with the whitewater club. The water rose 11 feet overnight, nearly swamping our camp that had been set back >100 feet from the edge of the river the night before. We woke up and it was about 6 feet from the tents! I've never run a river at flood stage before or after this. It was pretty epic.

23. I refuse to get a fitbit or any other type of fitness tracker for myself because I know I will become obsessed with the data and let it rule my life. I know myself well enough to know I'd become obsessive about it and stress myself out if I didn't meet my own imaginary goals.

24. I have never colored or highlighted my hair. Old women still stop me about once a year demanding to know what color combination I use to "make it that way". They don't believe me when I tell them it's natural.

Yep, had that red hair since I was wee. And have dressed as redheaded characters since a young age. Here, I'm Raggedy Ann and my brother is "a bug". I've also been Pippi Longstocking, Mrs. Frizzle (the space version), and Princess Merida.

25. The freakiest horse accident I've ever had was when a horse I was cantering on a back mountain road slipped and fell off the road and down the mountainside. I felt him going and bailed off onto the road, rolling. To my surprise, the horse caught himself before he fell far and scrambled back onto the road, stepping squarely on my chest in the process to stand up. Fortunately, his hoof was centered over my sternum which saved me from broken ribs, punctured lungs, or other internal organ damage.

26. My office is very dog-friendly. Taiga has come to work with me nearly every day since I brought her home. Kenai comes rather often, as well, especially if Dave will be gone for most of the day.

Office dog! Kenai comes a few times a week, too, if the weather is conducive to riding after work. The dogs love running around the farm as I do horse things.

27. I have an irrational fear of fire and have since I was a kid. I can still remember a series of recurring nightmares I had as a child where I was told to put my most cherished belongings in a small box, walk outside with my family, and turn and watch as my house was burned to the ground. I would later have other dreams of the woods behind my house burning down and then catching my house on fire. Then, as a fifth grader, my neighborhood friend, a pyromaniac, ironic I know, started a fire in one of my forts that resulted in a half-acre of woods going up in flame. I was briefly trapped in the middle of a wall of flames. 911 was called and everything was okay in the end. Ultimately, I wouldn't light a match until I was 12 and wouldn't light a lighter until I was in high school. My fear of fire is a big contributing factor to my decision to remain on the east coast where wildfires are much more rare.

28. I have one brother who is 18-months younger. We fought a lot as kids but are really good friends as adults.

Brother and I at a wedding last summer. ....and that would be Dave photobombing. Thanks, dear.

29. My dad is a doctor; when I cut my knee from a fall in the yard as a kid, he took me inside and stitched me up on the bathroom counter. #thanksdad

30. One of the coolest things I got to do as a part of 4-H growing up was learn a lot of different heritage and folk dances: square, line, contra, swing, folk, eastern European, Russian, Morris, Irish, shag, spaghetti rag, waltz, and polka. Beyond these experiences (usually 1 concentrated weekend/year), I haven't had any dance training. I'd really love to find the time to learn ballroom dancing and ballet one day though!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Who Is This Mare?!

I noticed a few weeks ago that I was nearing 1,000 published posts for this blog. I hoped the 1,000th post would be something meaningful, but knew I wouldn't force it into something special if there wasn't anything. Fortunately, there is. 

So, happy 1,000, little blog. I never dreamed we'd make it here.

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This past weekend was my birthday. Every year I try to go on some kind of ride to celebrate. This year, I decided come hell or high water I was going trail riding on some of my old trails; I recently learned I could park on property on the far side of the tract of land we are now banned from traveling.

Early in the planning, I enlisted Lauren to come with me, knowing she'd ride Griffin thus giving me the option to get Q and Grif exercised at the same time, which is always a great thing.

Fortune of fortunes though, a former colleague's daughter was visiting a friend in WV from DC this past weekend and boldly reached out to me (we've never met) about "meeting the horses". Knowing Grace is in a regular riding program and has jumped things I'll never have the balls to jump (4½-foot verticals and 5½-foot-wide oxers), I threw her a curveball inquiring about riding instead of just meeting because I knew she had more than enough riding ability to tag along. As I knew she would (because what horse crazy 14-year old wouldn't!), she jumped on the offer and boom, Stan was included in the fray. (Sorry, Stan, vacation is over.)

Thanks for making my day so awesome, ladies!
And yep, my horses are filthy #sorrynotsorry #fieldboard4lyfe #nohotwater

Sunday morning I picked up two eager teenage riding partners and headed to the barn where we tacked up my horses and tossed them in the trailer. We then trailered 5 minutes to a location where I had permission to park and gain access to my favorite old trails.

As we began, I remarked to Grace multiple times about how Q and I probably wouldn't lead much, how were working on confidence issues, and how she'd probably spook and be a mess at times. I guess Q didn't like me highlighting her weaknesses because she made a royal liar out of me on every. single. one.

And you know what? I'm so okay with that. Liar, liar, pants on fire - that's me!


As we set out, I attempted to get either girl to lead on Griffin or Stan. However, not wholly familiar with their mounts, the terrain, or endurance conditioning, they simply couldn't keep them moving forward at a fair pace in the beginning (Stan obligated himself to a western pleasure jog and refused whole heartedly to move out of it, testing Grace, while Griffin was simply NOPEing Lauren - ah, my boys lol).

Fortunately, Q was on the same page as me regarding what was a "fair" pace and powered forward of her own accord, leading for awhile. (Of late, I let her push forward when she offers it as long as her body language is communicating that she is confident.) But then she started hesitating in the tiniest fashion, so I pulled her back and set one of the girls in the lead again. ....until Q once again, in rather short order, powered forward to lead us up the first mountain. Giggling at her insistence, I allowed her to once again motor to the front.

Hardly perceptible in this photo, but the mountain tops are snow and rime frosted

Q then proceeded to lead the entire way up the mountain, breaking into a canter multiple times throughout. I laughed and brought her back to a trot the first several times. However, she continued to want to press forward into a canter! Each time she remained confident and sure of herself, so as we reached the halfway point of the climb, I acquiesced her request and let her canter - and eventually hand gallop! - the rest of the way.

As we approached the end of the climb, I smiled and laughed. I called out to the girls, Lauren in particular who is very familiar with my Q struggles, "Who is this mare?! I'm keeping her!"

What a great rider - Stan realized in this moment that he wasn't getting away with laziness on this day!

The rest of the ride continued much as the beginning with the girls leading through areas I worried Q couldn't handle confidently. Oddly enough, these areas were very few!

Q and I led for nearly every segment except the few miles we spent galloping where I held her back, refusing to push the envelope. Regardless, she did surge forward on the last gallop set, passing Stan and getting a nose in front of Griffin before I really lay down the law and set us back to my intended pace. (Though I'll admit to absolutely loving that she offered all of that power and speed while keeping the hamsters in her head where they belonged.)

Sweaty ponies after multiple mountain climbs

Part of my love of trail riding is exploring and finding new ways to connect trails. I've got an absolutely uncanny sense of direction that has very rarely failed me in these quests. I spent years as teenager galloping willy nilly through the mountains in an attempt to get lost and never once did. For a chunk of time near the tail-end of our Sunday ride, we traversed through totally new-to-me terrain. It turns out that one of the landowners logged a few hundred acres last summer and now I've got oodles of new trails to explore. #winning

Q had been so good to this point that any concerns I had about her spooking at the beginning of the ride were totally gone, and I didn't even hesitate to strike off in the lead for this section. She struck off confidently into new territory and didn't balk once! We traveled down steep, rocky, unpredictable terrain, bushwacked a bit, climbed an equally steep and treacherous slope on the opposite side, and bushwacked one more time before connecting to a trail I knew - right where I expected we'd emerge! Boy is that ever the best feeling!

"Ha! I win. I know where I am," I remarked aloud to assuage the concerned looks I'd noticed on Lauren and Grace's faces as we trekked deeper into the new territory. They looked at one another with confusion as I said this, clearly not believing me and/or not understanding the thrill I get from connecting paths across the landscape. I shrugged, grinning, and trotted forward.

After another half-mile where Q trotted with very minimal hesitation past things that have caused her great alarm in the past, and then cantered up one more short, steep slope, we arrived back to the only section of trail we'd have to travel on twice that day. "Grace," I said turning in the saddle so my voice would carry better, "up there," I pointed up hill, "is where you jumped Stan earlier!" Wide eyes and a look of shocked recognition crossed her face as she replied, "Wow!"

From this point, we had a long downhill trot off the mountain followed by a jaunt on gravel before we arrived back at the trailer. Q led the entire way down the hill, happy ears and confident footsteps the entire way. Lauren and Grif struck out once we reached the road to lead us on home. As I felt Q deserved a leading break whether she wanted it or not! What a great problem to have, haha.


In case you didn't notice, the section above used the word "confident/confidence" five times. To describe Q!!  I know. I'm as shocked as you are!

But honestly, she was amazing. She struck off forward multiple times with relaxation so evident through her body. I think her lesser fitness definitely facilitated staying calm in a few situations because she was working too hard to care about much else, but still! I'll take what I can get.

So happy with this little mare...though she clearly wishes she was NOT in the photo lol

I praised her lavishly throughout the ride. Any time she walked by something that would have previously caused her alarm, I praised. Any time she gave a hairy eye to something but didn't spook at, I praised. Any time she maintained forward motion despite being hesitant about something, I praised. Every time she tensed up and quickly relaxed afterward, I praised. I didn't want her to have any doubt that she was being a good girl.

I tend to be a quiet rider, so praising and vocalizing so much to my horse is new for me, but I'm really trying! And I think she really benefits from it, which doesn't surprise me because all creatures tend enjoy the affection that comes from kindness be it spoken or physical.

I think taking it slow and putting a stop to things before she has a chance to get super nervous has also helped Q tons. She's learning that she can rely on me to be a good advocate and partner. The real test will come when she's a fussbucket about something inane that I then push her through, will she rise to the challenge or devolve? Time will tell. Hopefully she'll rise to the challenge if I keep up what we're doing now!


9½ miles with >1,500 feet of climbing throughout and a solid mile or so on terrain we'd never covered before. How many times did she spook? Not once.

*ear flick* Me? Spook? Never. - Q, probably

She was in the lead, and despite that, was a good girl. She was relaxed and confident 95% of the time. The work we've been doing lent itself beautifully toward this success, but there were absolutely other contributing factors.

Contributing factor #1: We hauled away from home. Granted, we literally bopped just over the hill, but still. It wasn't home. All three horses identified quickly that they knew where home was in relation to the trails, but the act of hauling "away from home" still worked its magic. Q has historically been much easier to ride away from home, and this was not an exception to that. I'll take it!

Rockin' the S-hack

Contributing factor #2: Q was in her S-hack instead of a bit. She's much happier in her hackamore than a bit. Always has been. She goes well enough in a bit, but there is an almost imperceptible shift in her when she's in the hackamore. I only notice it because I know her so well after 6 years together. For lack of a better way to describe it, I think she feels a little claustrophobic with the bit. I'm definitely not taking it away from our toolbox - especially for work at home - but I will continue to be mindful about my decision to have her in her hack or a bit when we're on trail.

Contributing factor #3: Buddies. She had friends on this ride who were SUPER chill throughout. She was never rewarded for being nervous because neither Grif nor Stan rose to the occasion when she tried to fuss. "DANGER!" Q tried to squeak out. *blank stare, ear flick* Grif and Stan replied each time. Can't argue much with that, haha.

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The whole ride was AMAZING. The weather was beautiful, the horses were very well behaved, and the girls had a freaking blast. I was on Cloud 9 from the get-go at the opportunity to be back on my trails! Q's behavior was the icing on the cake to a really wonderful day.

I still don't have any plans for Q and I competition-wise for the year, but damn am I excited to see where life takes us!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winter at Home + Snow Dog Bliss

I feel like I blinked and suddenly we went from December to halfway through February! I know winter seems to drag on and on for most folks, and it used to for me, too. But in an effort to make the most of winter and have a reason to enjoy it, I joined ski patrol 7 years ago. Winter has flown by for me ever since!

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I feel like when I left off posting photos of Taiga, she was about this big

This year's winter has been the most winter-y we've had in the past 7 years. The temperatures were finally seasonal, even if the snowfall was sub-par. The snow we received from December to the present would last and remain and build up for weeks before a warm spell would melt it all.

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Snow dog in a snow storm

Taiga has been LOVING it. It's been so fun watching her grow up in a real winter wonderland the majority of the time.

"Mouse?!" Taiga, probably

It seems we're back to unseasonably warm weather for the foreseeable future though. Our mountain top has no snow on it for the first time in months!

Nice shot for size comparison back in December at the vet's. Kenai was cocking his head because there
was a pig out of his line of sight

Taiga is adjusting just fine to this though, fully accepting her new role of digging-dog instead of snow-playing dog.

The flat ridge along the right fading to center of the photo is where I live! My house is out of view though.

All the same, I thought it would be fun to share a huge dump of winter photos of Taiga, Kenai, and our winter wonderland. I've been wanting to share some of these for ages, but - beyond Instagram - I've been pretty lazy with all things social media. #sorrynotsorry

Bold as brass on the ski lift...back before we had snow lol

Enjoy a peak into our little slice of paradise.

Getting some spring water as we climb 3-mile to Bald Knob
Smiles for days with this guy <3
Dave shredding it up coming down Weiss Knob
As Jan's husband noted, it looks like someone erased half of my dog
The detail a cell phone camera can capture these days amazes me
NYE with these ladies! Lyra and her mini me. Austen and I pre-margaritas, post-egg nog
Kenai and Lyra do not want to be associate with us. Taiga is too young to know better...
But the older dogs are much happier when the young one is being embarrassed!
Lyra would. not. look. at. me. Cheeky bitch.
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But like. Seriously. This. This is my backyard.
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It was SO cold the morning we went to take these. I think it was -8°F before windchill...
and that was warm!
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The happiest guy <3
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So casual
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Queen of her kingdom - her breeder LOVED this photo
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Wandering back to the house because we couldn't feel our fingers any more
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This is what it looks like after your brother mauls you into a snow bank
Temperature? -3°F Windchill? -29°F Balmy!
Hikes up the mountain
He was posed so perfectly FACING me between these birches, but no, couldn't hold that pose
Dave sent me this one morning <3
Mount Porte Crayon vista from our ridgetop
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My redbud tree in her winter best
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Rime ice is my favorite <3
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The side eye is strong with this one
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So demure
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Kenai surveying his kingdom (and Taiga, he doesn't have two tails lol)
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The number of photos I'll have of this field by the time I die will be infinite. I just love it.
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Playing. Forever playing.
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She is beauty!
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She is grace?
This sunset was freaking phenomenal.
Training weekend #1
A coworker's shot of the training - I'm the one with the blue hood turned facing the camera.
My endurance mentor's friends came to ski for a weekend, so I showed them around all day on their second day of skiing
Taiga helping me close the mountain one evening
"Can we run more now?"
Kenai had a lot of fungal baths during the month of January to help us try to
figure out what is going on with his hair. Taiga stood by as moral support.
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Still the most handsome
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And he knows it
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Bounding after big brother
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Like so.
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On a mission.
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A serious mission
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I love these big maple trees <3
The wreath I made at the end of November is hanging in there!
"Woman, let me in." Kenai, definitely.
A Taiga Loaf!
Her favorite thing to do at the barn is root around in the mud.
Training weekend #2 with my favorite patrol mentor. He's in front in these shots and I'm behind.
We had so much fun
Look at those smiles. Even if I couldn't see a damn thing (fogged up goggles on my forehead and eyes closed in this shot)
Tongue out happiness
In her kingdom
More rime ice
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One of the hawthorne groves
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In amongst the hawthornes
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Spy Taiga?
My favorite shot of them this winter <3
Pastels thrown by the light of the setting sun
Purple mountain's majesty.
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Home <3 If you look closely you can see big snowflakes in the winter my mom made us a couple years ago!
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The field. And rime ice trees. Again.
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Back porch view
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Beautiful golden hour lighting. Everything turns a beautiful peachy shade.