Three Rules for Surviving a Creative Life

If you’re a blogger, you should read this.  Here’s how we create and put things out there in front of the world, even when the world isn’t always kind.

I hope you love this as much as I do.Source: Three Rules for Surviving a Creative Life

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The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water

For many of us in the Midwest, El Nino has been a kind and benevolent overlord this winter.  Sure, he brought with him some scary-ass storms and some flooding (more towards St. Louis really, but the Illinois River is pretty freaking high for this time of year), but he has also kept the frigid temperatures away…For the bulk of this season, I’ve been reveling in 40-50 degree days.  With the memory of the Polar Vortex  and it’s negative thirty degree windchills of a few years ago still fresh in my mind, that’s basically t-shirt weather.

(Images from the Polar Vortex)

Until this week.

This week kicked off our first round of single digits and negative numbers, and while no one I know likes those sort of numbers, it’s especially vexing for those of us who take care of livestock.  For me, extreme cold means that I spend about twice as much time outside every day.  My aging herd of llamas is locked in to the barn with their heat lamps.  When they’re locked in, they eat more.  They poop more.  They some how dirty their waterers faster.  Plus, I’m pretty sure they get super bored and annoyed with me.  (How dare I shut them in to prevent frostbite and exposure???  I am SO rude!)

All of the creatures, from the 4 lb chickens to the 1200 lb horses, require more care and more clean up when the weather is this wretched.  I feed more.  I clean more.  I go outside more often, and I stay there longer.

Most of the time, I don’t really mind.  It’s part of this gig, and I usually see it as an unfortunate but fair trade for my wonderful spring, summer, and fall days out here.  But there is one event that can turn it from generally unpleasant to downright nasty: Freezing Water Lines.

Continue reading “The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water”

2016 with Blue Skies Ahead

Happy New Year Everyone!

January 1st of 2016 surprised me with a nearly perfect blue sky.  Having spent weeks overwhelmed by my Season of Gray, the blue sky was the perfect antidote to my melancholy, and, in my own humble opinion, barn chores under the blue sky were the perfect was to start the new year.

First thing, I wandered out to one of the back pasture to check on a tree fall that one of my neighbors reported to me.  Their tree; our fence.

It pretty much destroyed that section of fence, but it’s so big that no one is going anywhere over, around, or through it.  I don’t have to worry for a while.  (I told Jeremiah that we should chainsaw it in interesting ways and leave it as fence…easier than hauling it out.)

Continue reading “2016 with Blue Skies Ahead”

Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.

Dear Readers,

How I’ve missed you.  Last I posted, I wrote about how we can do hard things.  Since then, well, I’ve mostly been doing those hard things.  Under my breath, every day, “I can do hard things…I can do hard things…I can do hard things.”  And guys?  It’s getting easier.  (My mother-in-law bought me a print, just to remind me; I hung it on the wall in my bedroom.  (It’s an Etsy thing; you can find the print here if you like.) It’s one of the first things I see when I wake up and one of the last things I see before I go to bed.  And I think it helps.) Continue reading “Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.”

I can do hard things.

Jeremiah pulled the covers back and kissed me goodbye at about 7:30.  I was still in bed, unmotivated to get up and start my Sunday.

“I put fly masks on the horses and scrubbed the trough.  The stalls are clean, and the water buckets are filled.  The chickens are fed.  The barn cats are let out.  And don’t let our cats convince you to give them second breakfast” [for those of you who haven’t met them, our house cats are basically hobbits…] “because I just fed them too.”

I rolled over to say thank you when a rooster crowed in the distance, as though he knew he’d been left out.

“Oh, right,” Jeremiah continued, “I let the chickens out too.”

Jeremiah is gone a lot for work, especially lately, but when he has time, he does a sweep of the barn before leaving so that I don’t have to worry about such things immediately.  He will be gone for four days, another trip east.  This one is to outfit his shoeing trailer and ride with a fellow farrier for a few days.  The last trip was for three clinics.  The next will be for a clinic and a number of distant consult cases and closer client stops.  While he’s gone I’m here with the creatures, and the property, and my job.  Everyday looks like sixty-two creatures, two barns (eight stalls), one very big chicken coop, and that’s just before I go to work…

Usually, it’s fine.  I love this place and these creatures, and, I’ve said it before, there is a certain zen to cleaning stalls that I have yet to find anywhere else except maybe a yoga studio.  (Like yoga!  But with manure!!!)

But, if I’m telling the truth, the yoke of this place is heavy, heavier to carry alone.  And there is always uncertainty in it.  The skid steer is broken right now.  It needs five-hundred dollars worth of repairs.  And we will get it done.  We always do.  But my car needs tires too, and the house needs a new roof desperately.  And the propane bill is coming due…and, and, and… Continue reading “I can do hard things.”

On German Names and Scavenger Games

So, my friend was proposed to in my front yard with llamas looking on in the distance…and there really was a bonfire later that night.

Also, Kristen, those roses? They’re still hanging up in my breezeway.

theunicorndentist

(Note:  Truly, I am trying from this point forward to post more often than every six months.  In my defense, I’ve been a tid bit busy.  See below…)

This is way overdue, but I have a tale to tell…

Two months ago, my blogger friend almostfarmgirl (Cherity), her cousin (Katie), my three roommates, our mutual friend, several other of my friends, and one brother of mine were all involved in an elaborate scavenger hunt sponsored by Katie’s church.  My therapist-boyfriend was supposed to come, but he cancelled last minute (I let him off easy since he had just gone with me to Arizona and California, where he treated me to the most DELICIOUS. VEGAN. RESTAURANT. EVER. [more on that forever]).  I was invited to this scavenger hunt by Katie, on the basis of it being something to do before Cherity’s bonfire party later that evening.

It’s not a bonfire…

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A Very Merry Un-Bridal Shower

Several months ago, I was asked to host my sister’s bridal shower.  (She’s getting married in August.)  I agreed.  A date was set.  All I had to do then was everything else.

Here’s my confession: Generally speaking, I hate “showers” (the party, not the method of cleaning oneself…just to clarify).  Baby showers. Bridal showers.  Not sure if it’s the cheesy games or the social obligation or just the fact that I’m a raging introvert, and I find such parties (populated largely with people I don’t know) completely exhausting, but I just don’t enjoy them.  I attend them willingly and fairly often, knowing that attendance at such events and the gifts we bring do mean something, but I have never been the sort of person who gets excited about them.

Anyway, when faced with hosting such a party myself, I decided that I wanted it to be different from “normal” bridal showers.  Mostly, I decided, hosting a normal bridal shower would make me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork, and that seemed unpleasant. So, like any good millennial, I went straight to Pinterest. And I typed “bridal shower” into the search bar. And it came back with a million and one possibilities, most of which seemed to involve making “wedding gowns” out of toliet paper…because that’s totally a thing. There were wine tasting bridal showers and coffee shop bridal showers and strawberry field bridal showers…the list of possibilities is endless really.  But none of them seems quite right.  And while it was tempting to throw a bunch of wine at a commonly boring party and see what happened, it also seemed a little dangerous.

“No wine.” I thought, sadly, clicking on yet another list of themes. And so it was that I found our theme, a blip on the radar. Hmmmmm…Alice in Wonderland.  And it all sort of came flooding back.  The trip to Florida where my sister played “Alice” over and over and over in the van’s VCR.  Nothing else allowed.  (As younger sister I didn’t really have a say.)  The “Alice” dress she cherished with the white rabbit on the apron. It was decided.  For better or for worse, my sister’s bridal shower would be “Alice in Wonderland” themed.

Continue reading “A Very Merry Un-Bridal Shower”

The true cost of an egg

Out here on the ranch, we are at the peak of our egg season.  Most of my fully grown hens lay an egg a day during the summer, which equals 5 to 6 eggs per day.  In the fall, my little ones will start laying as well.

In the winter, they lay far fewer eggs.  We have chosen not to artificially light our coop, which means our girls take their natural “break,” molting and slowing down their egg production for the season.

Next summer, I will be swimming in eggs.  With a dozen chickens joining our flock this year, hopefully all hens, I will be getting well over a dozen eggs a day.

Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.
Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.

Many of you know that eggs are at a premium right now, with the avian flu taking out millions of commercial birds at a time.  Additionally, California is finally legislating more humane conditions for laying hens; if you ask me, that’s a step in the right direction, but it will also require an increase in egg prices.  (God willing, other states will follow suit.)

All of this is just to say that, for the first in any sort of recent history, commercial egg prices are starting to creep up close to organic prices.

Continue reading “The true cost of an egg”

A Springtime Walk in the Woods.

So, out here in the Midwest Springtime means a lot of things: Warmer weather.  Longer days.  Allergies (or is that one more just me?).  And… mushroom season.

Morel Mushrooms are wild, and delicious, and native.  Unlike their cousins that you find in supermarkets, they’re almost impossible to cultivate.  If you have a taste for them, you have to search them out in the woods (or pay roughly $50 a pound for them…).

I’m a very casual mushroom hunter.  I’m thrilled when I find them, but I kind of just use them as an excuse to disappear into the woods for an hour or two.  There are other people who nearly make a religion out of the hunt, paying homage to the mushroom god Morel and telling tales of their encounters time and time again.  The pilot lounge at the airport (where I work) has been abuzz with rumors of sightings for the last week.  So I thought I’d check things out.

Jeremiah thinks I’m nuts…or that I’m going to poison myself.  I keep telling him that no other mushroom can be mistaken for a morel, but I’m not sure he believes me.

I changed into long sleeves and threw on a hat.  Jeremiah asked me if it was my mushroom hunting hat; I said that it’s my “I really hate ticks and don’t want them in my hair” hat.  He seemed astonished.

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“Ticks?  In your hair?”

Apparently, with his flat-top haircut, this is unheard of.  But I’m not crazy, right?  Getting ticks in your hair is totally a thing.

I took off down our back road, wandering past the llama barn where the llamas paid me no mind.

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In fact, no one paid me any mind…except my sweet old man, Cinco.

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Cinco followed me along the fence line of the horse pasture, stopping in front of me to request some of the long grass that had grown up along the other side of the fence (where the grass really is greener…).

Then I popped out to look at the site of my future outdoor arena.  I knew I wouldn’t find any mushrooms there, but I like to wander out and stare at it sometimes.  And dream about the day when we can afford to haul in the materials to finish it.

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And dream about all the time I will spend riding my ponies under the pines.

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Isn’t it lovely?

Then, since all quests need a villain, and this mushroom quest is no different, I present to you POISON IVY!

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No!!! The bane of my summers!  Kill it!  Kill it dead!

*Rages incoherently for a moment…*

“Oh, look!  A pretty flower.”

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I’m not sure what these are, but they kind of look like little stars.  And they’re lovely.  And they’re all over this time of year.

And of course, the wild violets are everywhere.  A ground cover in places.

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When I was little, I used to pick bouquets of wild violets for my mom and put them in a tiny vase with dandelions.  The violets I used to pick were purple or lavender or white.

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I didn’t even know they came in yellow until I was older.

The may apples are up as well, covering our trails.

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But they aren’t blooming yet.

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Then I walked under a fallen reminder that we need to clear the trail if we ever want to ride back here with horses

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And I noticed a tree just beside that one that had been down so long it had almost taken care of itself.  Ashes to ashes…to ummm…moss.

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These little flowers are all over.  They remind me of bleeding hearts, but instead of hearts, their tiny flowers look like butterflies.

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Another tree across the trail, this one more recent.  I had to climb through it.  *Mumbles something about needing to clear trail*

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More flowers!  Bluebells!

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Anybody notice what I hadn’t seen yet?  If you’re thinking mushrooms, you’re right.   I kind of think it’s still a little early.  Or maybe I just missed them.

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Here’s the thing about morels: they aren’t very big, and they’re roughly the same color as the forest floor.

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Hey, look!  A Jack-in-the-Pulpit  .

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Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate that this is in my backyard?

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But alas, still no morels.

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So back down the trail to our farm road.  I’ll try again when the may apples bloom.

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Wish me luck!

P.S. – My blogger friend over at The Wicked Chicken takes a weekly walk kind of like this one but with better photos.  If you’re into nature photography, you should check her out.

Utter Nonsense

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I present to you, my husband.

Utter Nonsense

I left for Costa Rica, and my husband went on quests and turned himself into a Legolas (yum) /Gandalf (ummm….) hybrid for the week.  And by quests, I mean taking care of the farm and constructing things (like exceptionally apt signs), and by Legolas/Gandalf hybrid, I mean he did so while carrying a quiver and wearing a wizard’s hat.

(Interesting side note: He took this photo by himself using his skid steer as a tripod.)

This photo pretty much perfectly sums up my life.  Here on the ranch, we live at the intersection of adult responsibilities and utter nonsense.

Just yesterday, someone asked me when I possibly find time to “just relax.”  He was astounded that we both work outside jobs while renovating the house(s) and running the farm.  I sort of laughed because that question has a different answer depending on the day.

On the one hand, sometimes it gets to be a lot, and I really question why I’m not the sort of person who goes to the spa or travels extensively, instead of the sort of person whose horses eat all my spare money in the form of hay…

On the other hand, there is a sort of Zen that comes from cleaning stalls, or grooming horses, or walking my fields.  And very little gives me as much satisfaction as a good training session with one of my critters, or watching the flowers that I plant bloom, or making breakfast with eggs I collected from my own chicken coop the day before.

I mean, really, does life get any better than watching a chicken ride a llama???

Joker and Marilyn
When the coop door blew shut during the day, Miss Marilyn took stock of her options and decided that Joker would make a pleasant roost.
chicken and llama
Joker opened the feed room door to alert Jeremiah that a chicken was roosting on his butt. He required assistance to remove her.

(The llama was less amused than we were…He was very polite to her, but Jeremiah said it was clear he preferred his butt to be chickenless.)

These days, things are greening up, and we are starting to shift focus to a whole new sort of work.  Fences need mending.  Our farm road is in need of repair.  The gardens need weeding.  Shearing is just around the corner for the llamas and alpacas.  New chicks are on order to come in a few weeks.  (Sadly, I’ve lost a few chickens to predators this week…but that’s a different post.)  Horses will be starting back under saddle soon.  And hopefully the ponies will start work towards their eventual jobs as therapy animals this year.  There is so much to do, and we seldom check anything off our to-dos without adding more.  But this place and this work is my “relax.”

Come to think of it though, I wouldn’t say no to a nice massage to wind down from “relaxing”…

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