Friday started with Jeremiah and I filing our taxes, then going to get ice cream (you know, to drown our sorrows…)

We made it out to the ranch later, after I took a nap (because sometimes you just need to hit reset on the day).

Days like Friday make every miserable, sub-zero winter day hauling water and hay in carharts totally worth it.  I mean, not to go all country western song on ya’ll, but we’re talking sunny and seventy-five.

Jeremiah decided that he wanted to build our new property sign.  With wood that had been discarded in the hay barn (long before it became our horse barn) and a post hole digger that he bought off of craigslist several years ago (from someone who bought it to prospect for gold in his backyard in central Illinois…not even kidding), he and I drove to the property’s front entrance.

Post hole digger...
Post hole digger…

I helped with the post holes, all the while thinking of advice my grandmother had given me when she realized I was marrying a farm boy: “Don’t do anything on the farm once that you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.”  (She had married a farmer herself; that gem of advice had come from my grandfather’s aunt.)  When I mentioned the advice to Jeremiah, he agreed that she was probably right, and then he reminded me that we would need to dig hundreds of post holes across the property over the next few years.  I’m sunk.

Anyway, after that I wandered off and let him get to building his sign.  I had a wild hare to pull one of the horses out of the pasture and go for a trail ride.

Meet Cinco.


Cinco is a 15…maybe 16… year old Missouri Foxtrotter, Arabian Cross.  He spent years as a lesson horse, is trained to do about anything I could ever think to ask of him, and is my go-to when I have an idea to do something like, I don’t know, ride one of my horses on a trail after they’ve had months off.  He came to us last October from a friend of my husband’s.  I honestly could not ask for a sweeter, better horse than Cinco.  I would have a pasture full of him if I could.

However, even with a horse as wonderful as Cinco, I will not ride any of my horses out of the pasture without a helmet.  And yesterday, I couldn’t find one.  (Brief PSA: Riding without a helmet is a stupid way to get dead.  Horses are sentient creatures with a mind of their own, even on the most dependable horse, unexpected things happen.  End PSA.)

I looked in the horse barn.  I looked in the tack room three times.  I looked in my husband’s truck while he was building his sign.  I even walked down to the guest house and looked in there…

Turns out, it was at my house across the river in the living room…where it’s useful.

Anyway, no ride on Friday.  Instead I settled on grabbing a halter and taking him for a walk.  We went up the lane, back down the lane, and then up the lane and back again and again until he decided to stop yelling at his girlfriend.  (My mare, Morana.  The two are ridiculously herd bound at this point.  More on that later.)

We checked on the status of the sign a few times (it was coming along nicely).  Then, he was good and calm, I let him stand by the fence and graze a bit.

Being away from Morana isn't as bad when there is grass involved...
Being away from Morana isn’t as bad when there is grass involved…

When I put Cinco back, Morana looked like she had just been through an endurance ride.  She had apparently been running the fence line the entire time he had been gone.

Also, Jeremiah had finished building his sign.

A little like Washington Crossing the Delaware, except with a sign.
A little like Washington Crossing the Delaware, except with a sign.

Someone will eventually paint the words “Eagle Ridge” across this.  I also want to add a few grazing horses and llamas (or maybe alpacas) to the bottom.  Of course, since my primary skill with paint involves a solid color and baseboards…maybe we will have to call someone else out.






What a difference 6 weeks can make…

If I’m being completely honest, I have no idea when we will actually manage to move out to the farm 100%.  I do know that Jeremiah said “two weeks” about a week ago, but then he spent nearly a week at his conference, and four days out of the next seven are chock full of shoeing.  I also know that there is still no water to the guest house, and the bathroom isn’t finished even if there were.  I’m beginning to have suspicions that we will finish things up just in time for Katie to move in and for us to start this all over again with the big house.  But who knows for sure.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the four years that Jeremiah and I have been together?  Don’t bet against him.  Not ever.  Somehow he almost always manages to accomplish more in a day than most can do in seven.  He may surprise me yet.

Jeremiah and Minnett.  Jeremiah and I had only just started dating; this is just after I explained that if he wanted me to pick between him and the llama, I was going to choose the llama.
Jeremiah and Minnett at the Ranch. Jeremiah and I had only just started dating; this is just after I explained that if he wanted me to pick between him and the llama, I was going to choose the llama.

In the meantime, I’ve been alternately stressed about moving and excited about this new chapter for us.  (By the way, I packed one box while my guy was gone.  One.  Box.)  I specifically remember a day when I was younger (probably 15), wandering up the drive to the llama barn and thinking that I would really like to own a place just like that one day.  Of course, I mostly dismissed the idea, unable to come up with a future where I’d be able to afford such an amazing place anytime before my retirement.  Now that’s it’s happening, I keep waiting for someone to pinch me awake.

Even so, if you’re no familiar with running a ranch or renovating a house (in our case two), you should know this: the work is infinite.  You can always find something that needs to be done or purchased, and the size of the “To-Do” list is longer than the “Done” list, no matter how many things you check off.  And, of course, this is on top of everything that needs to be done everyday.  (Clean water buckets, feed animals, clean stalls, sweep barn…sleep, eat, work, etc)

And, on top of both of these lists, you can add mine.  I have plans to add chickens to the menagerie (laying hens…in my world, broilers would invariably become useless pets…at least the laying variety will be useful pets).  I plan to have a big, giant vegetable garden.  I plan to add a strawberry patch.  (Side Note: There is LITERALLY nothing on the planet that tastes as good as a homegrown strawberry.  If you don’t have the privilege of growing some yourself, do yourself a favor and buy some from a local farmers’ market.  Trust me. Your taste buds will thank you.)  I have been getting super excited about composting.  I have no idea why.

I keep wondering what it would look like to flash forward about 6 weeks into the future.  By then, we should be living on the ranch.  I will be done teaching. (Huzzah!)  The chicks I plan to order at the end of this month should be in, still little fluffs living in the garage.  The garden will be tilled, possibly sown.  And my sweet, dear husband should be losing his mind over a whole new house full of renovations to start.

What a difference six weeks can make…

Alone time and letting my critters do what they do best.

My guy left for West Virginia yesterday for a farrier clinic on limb length disparity.  He’ll be gone for several days, listening to lectures and…I don’t actually know…but other stuff.

He’s pretty excited about it.  My feelings are somewhat mixed.  I’ll miss him of course.  It’s weird when he’s gone.  It’s especially weird at bedtime when I find myself unsure of where to sleep.  On my side?  On his side?  In the middle?  The bed feels empty, and I always end up staying up too late.  Not sure why…  Also, whenever he goes on long trips like this and doesn’t require the shoeing trailer, he tends to take my fuel-efficient Jetta and leave me the gas guzzling truck.  Totally makes sense, but I will miss my heated seats, fuel efficiency, and ease of parking.

On the other hand, I almost always get more done when he’s not home.  It’s the same for him.  (Last year, I left on business for a week and a half; he had the front of the house completely redone before I got back.)  I have a ton of grading to finish up before student conferences next week.  I suppose I should start packing up the house as well.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate packing.  I hate it even more knowing that I will barely have our things in place in the guest house before needing to do it all again to move into the big house.

Being married to Jeremiah, I have sort of gotten used to being alone a fair amount.  When we were first married, he was a full-time fire officer.  He almost always worked nights and slept days, and, with my job getting me home after 6:00 most days, we would sometimes go nearly a week without seeing each other.

He left the fire service last year to spend more time focusing on his farrier work and go back to school.  I see him more now, but we still have the sort of relationship that has to work around both of us working two jobs (he works part-time as an aircraft broker and near full-time as a farrier; I work near full-time as an aircraft broker and part-time as an adjunct professor…oh, and he’s back in school).  Sometimes I go on shoeing trips with him.  I hold horses or chat with clients…or sometimes I just sit in the rig and read or grade.

Found a helper during a recent shoeing trip.  That little filly has some of the most gorgeous color I've ever seen...and I'm not really a big color person.
Found a helper during a recent shoeing trip. That little filly has some of the most gorgeous color I’ve ever seen…and I’m not really a big color person.

Luckily though, I’m the sort of person who likes being alone occasionally.  When I’m feeling really stressed, which has admittedly been pretty often lately with all that’s going on in our lives, I can usually fix it with a really good book and some time alone.  Llamas help too, as do most of my critters.  The great thing about having animals is that their expectations of you can easily be met.  When I go out in the evenings to take care of the big critters, I walk the pastures, fill water troughs and buckets, throw some hay…and they are content and ask nothing more of me…ok, well, maybe some corn.  Corn is good. 

People aren’t always that simple.

My lovely llamas coming into the barn, hoping for their evening hay.
My lovely llamas hoping for their evening hay.

I’m planning to spend the next few days decompressing.  Maybe I’ll get my horses cleaned up and undirtied (yup, that’s a word…), which should last all of three minutes with the mud we’ve had.  Maybe I’ll play with one of the rescue llamas I hope to show this year (more on that later).  Maybe I’ll run or hike with one of my dogs…or maybe I’ll take the advice of agirlandherchickens and go running with one of my horses.  Either way, I think I’ll let the creatures in my life do what they do best.

Hard to not smile just thinking about it…





Talking about the weather…

I’m beginning to think that Spring in the Midwest is really just a nasty rumor.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I do, after all, live in Central Illinois.  Weather seldom makes a whole lot of sense here, and this year was worse than usual.  Today especially seems to be a regression for us, back into the low forties for most of the day.  It’s a damp cold, and to be honest, all I want to do right now is leave work three hours early (obviously, it’s not busy; I’m blogging from the office…) and curl up under my heated blanket.

But then I remember, it could be so much worse…because, you know, a few months ago it was.

Enter the Arctic Vortex…

A few months ago, it settled directly above us for weeks, bringing record lows and buckets of snow. We were out in the thick of it, braving the sometimes almost impassable roads between our house and the ranch.  (Thank God for our big-ass diesel truck is all I can say.) L and her husband were away on a trip at the time, and we were taking care of the llamas in addition to our own horses.  When you have a wind chill of negative twenty to thirty degrees, it’s difficult to pile on enough layers to ward off frostbite.  My husband, who used to be a professional fireman, went straight for his ARFF gear.

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Our snow covered grasses look like tiny, attacking aliens.
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My hero! Shoer of horses, rescuer of hedgehogs, and cleaner of snow covered car and truck windows.
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Jeremiah approaching Vinny. My OTTB wasn’t even afraid of the silver alien…probably because it brought corn.

The llamas have a heated barn.  They were livin’ it up!  30 degrees!  That fact admittedly made llama-barn chores easier.  The horses were a different matter entirely.  They live in the back pasture with access to a large stall in the hay barn.  At the point of the polar vortex, the three horses regularly refused to go into their stall, so when we got there to take care of them, all three looked kind of like yetis…

If I’m being completely honest, the worst part of it was the water.  Sometime in the middle of all of that cold mess, the waterline to the horse barn froze.  If there is any one thing worse than freezing cold weather, it’s carrying waterbuckets down iced over lanes in said freezing cold weather.  I spent hours out there carrying buckets to fill our 100 gallon trough.

It’s still cold.  The raindrops early sent chills down my spine, and the damp chill refuses to leave the air.  Looking out the window, everything is playing out in shades of gray; if weatherbug is correct, a storm is rolling in.  But it’s not hard to find things to be thankful for, even in this cold, tired blah.  For example, it was rain earlier, not snow.  Also, we have hose lines hooked up to fill the water trough (now that we don’t have to worry that they’ll freeze), so I won’t have to spend my evening hauling water buckets.

I’m almost sure that Spring will make it here eventually.  Nearly positive.  In the meantime, I’ll just act like a crazy Midwesterner and wear sandals in 45 degree weather while pretending that I’m not cold.

So…Why llamas???

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This boy is one of my three. He was the first llama I ever showed. He was eventually sold, but he came back to me years later. He has found a forever home with us

I started working with llamas when I was fourteen years old. I haven’t stopped yet. To most people, it’s one of my defining characteristics. In high school, I was the one who “can’t come because she’s at a llama show.” In college and through graduate school, I was “the one who had llamas” or “the llama trainer.” When I was a camp counselor, I was the “llama mama” or “llama whisperer.”

Ever since that first week working on the farm, I’ve been fielding questions about these critters that I spend so much of my time with.
“Don’t they spit?”
“Can you ride them?”
“Do people eat those?”
“How big are their eggs?” (That particular person had them confused with Emus…)
–And the big one–
“What do you do with llamas?”

I guess its only natural that people are curious about them. Though they don’t seem strange to me, it isn’t like everyone has a llama in their backyard, let alone twenty-five of them. There are a lot of reasons that people keep llamas–they act as everything from wool producers, to herd guards for sheep and goats, to therapy animals–but there’s more to them than that.  I love keeping llamas because they give me a peek into something bigger than myself.

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Scarecrows enjoys the hay I put out especially for him while the other boys eat from a big hay bale.









See the little guy laying down in front?  That’s Scarecrow.

Scarecrow originally came to the farm from Kansas as part of a set of three geldings.  L, his owner, named them Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow.  They weren’t overly young when I started working at the farm in 2001.  At the time the above picture was taken (January of this year on one of the coldest days), he was the last of the original three still alive.  We figured that this would be his last winter.  Nearing twenty years old, he suffered from Alzheimer’s (yes, animals can get that) and some arthritis.  Still, he was sweet as pie and a perennial favorite.  We all knew we would miss him.

For the past week, L and her husband, Jeremiah (my husband), and I have all known that the little guy was going downhill.  We kept him comfortable, and I think he enjoyed his last few days, but what amazed all of us was that we weren’t the only ones keeping vigil.  The other llamas and alpacas in his herd took turns cuddled up to him, staying with him for hours on end and in shifts.

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Midnight Idol, another alpaca, spent hours next to Scarecrow as he made his way across the rainbow bridge.

They didn’t leave his side until he had passed on.

And this is very “llama” behavior.  They have deep relationships and friendships.  They take care of each other.

To my mind, I am really just an observer out here; I have had the privilege of watching how good and kind they are over and over again.

Overwhelming, wonderful insanity… Or, a move of a lifetime.

I had several windows open in Microsoft Word when I got up this morning.  One was a letter I edited for my husband’s business.  (He’s a farrier, among other things.)  The others were grading sheets, my Spring syllabus, and a sign up sheet for grammar presentations that, God willing, my students will pull off Monday without a hitch.  I’ve decided that this is my last semester teaching English 101 at the local University, giving me the chance to focus full time on my job in aircraft sales; in a couple of months, I won’t need those documents anymore.

Other than the immediate area around my desk, which is only sort of organized, the office is complete chaos.  It’s been the catch-all room since we moved into our current house in 2011.  The printer is sitting on a stepladder.  My guitar amp is functioning as a pseudo-shelf for our router and a box of files.  If I try to pull my chair back too far, I hit a pile of airstone boxes, some weird metal conduit, and a bag of mortar mix.  This room serves as a constant reminder of the renovations that haven’t stopped since we bought this place.

We both thought we’d live here for a long time, and we renovated accordingly.  Quartz countertops, expensive tile, landscaping for days…we never meant to flip this house.  But now?  Now we’re preparing for the move of a lifetime, out of the city and onto a working ranch complete with twenty-five llamas.  Our three horses moved onto the property in October; our plan had been to join them in early March, moving into the guest house before our current property went onto the market and living there until the current owners move out of the big house themselves.  The best laid plans of mice and men, right?

Our current house when we moved in:

house move in

Our current house last summer:

Our house last summer

The guest house surprised us, needing all new electrical and plumbing, a new bathroom, and a new kitchen.  I will admit that we budgeted neither time nor money for those repairs to begin with, but now we’re waist deep in a whole new set of renovations.  My husband, God bless him, has spent every spare moment over there since the last tenants moved out.

It’s insane, and overwhelming, and wonderful.  Sometimes all at once.