Spring

I just found hay in my hair, a memento from the time I spent in the horse field this afternoon lying on my back in what remained of a round bale. It’s sixty degrees.  Just a few days ago, there was snow on the ground.  Spring is like that here.

Unpredictable.

Fickle.

Unruly.

(Not unlike my hair now that I think about it.)

But back to the hay bale.  I buy hay in 1200 lb bales to feed my horses.  The bales are tall and round.  I cover them with impossibly large nets that hold the bale together as horses slowly eat it down.  The bales are made for eating, but sometimes I sit in them instead. Today, home early after having been haunted by the ghost of a migraine, I wandered out in the warm air and and made myself comfortable in the hay.

I am like a barometer, at least according to my chiropractor who has to adjust away the headaches I wake up with every time the barometric pressure swings wildly.  A migraine crept in during the first part of this swing two days ago; I could barely walk without the urge to be sick.  For the past two days, it’s lingered, just at the edge of my awareness, just enough there to make me fearful that it will crash back down on me the moment I feel comfortable.  I wore sunglasses at the office today, and left as soon as I had the opportunity, anxious to be away from the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the glare of my computer screen.  I drove myself home, walked up the lane to the horse field, and laid down in the hay.

I closed my eyes, listening to the breeze and the birds, enveloped in the smell of sweet grass hay, a smell that always seems to bring me back to my childhood.  A few of the horses came up, and I kept a wary eye on them in case they set their mind upon mischief, but instead, they nuzzled and blew their warm breath onto my forehead, checking to see if I had shrunk I suppose, or reassuring themselves that it was me even when I laid down.

There is something about the change of the seasons here on the ranch that always seems to bring me back to myself, reawaken pieces of me that sleep for a time.  In the winter, we rest.  The farm.  The animals.  Me.  Our numbers are fewer from the autumn migrations that call our wild, summer residents away.  I buckle down, bundle up, and steel my mind to keeping all of us alive through the cold.  Water unfrozen.  Animals bundled in blankets or locked into barns as necessary.  Everyone well-fed…maybe even overfed.  And, at the same time, I also relax, putting projects on hold, contenting myself to spend cold nights cuddled up under blankets next to the fire.

When the Spring comes, I watch as all of us wake up.  I’m called to the outside.  I sit and listen to the birds with my morning coffee.  (Sometimes I think that I should learn to identify them by song, a “get to know your neighbors” kind of thing.)  I watch our bluebirds come home, and I wait anxiously for the first butterfly.  There is a gentleness to it, but the to-do list seems to grow daily.  Shearing, hoof trimming, vaccines–not to mention pasture clean-up, barn cleaning, and mowing–are about to be upon me.

From my spot in the hay, I couldn’t help but notice that the horses need a thorough grooming; they are blowing their winter coat, leaving the season behind them.  They remind me that transitions can be messy, but that there’s a loveliness in the mess, if you’re willing to see it.  The mess with always be there somehow; there’s always going to be a new thing to take of, another item on the never ending list.  But sometimes, in the moments between the winter and spring, all you need do is close you eyes, listen, and breathe in the sweet smell that come along as things change.

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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”

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.)

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Have you ever been at a spot in your life where you can literally feel things transition around you?  The winds shift, and things change, and you have to learn to adapt or you get left behind.

In the past few weeks on the ranch, I’ve felt the shift as seasons transition from summer to autumn. A few leaves have already fallen, but most are holding tight, ablaze in a sea of colors that remind us how beautiful transitions can be.  Temperatures are dropping at night, and high and low temps easily vary by more than 20 degrees over the course of the day.  The shift in seasons, slow at first then all at once, seems an apt metaphor for my life right now.  Jeremiah’s business keeps him on the road almost constantly these days as he shoes horses and attends conventions and clinics, sometimes student, sometimes speaker.  He’s gone more than he’s here at the moment, and I’m convinced that isn’t going to change.

Our relationship dynamic is shifting like the seasons, adapting to our new reality.

My relationship with with the farm is changing too.  I’m learning to take care of things, not just the day-in and day-out, but all of it.  This almost farmgirl is taking farmgirl lessons all over again with a long list of things to learn.  Mostly it has to do with equipment, the only area of the farm that was completely Jeremiah’s domain up until this point.  In my husband’s absence, my dad, a former farmboy himself, is teaching me.  A few weeks ago, he taught me to use our zero turn mower, a necessity as every stitch of grass on the property was overgrown. Continue reading “Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.”

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.

Cottage cheese and cheap wine…

For dinner tonight, we ate acorn squash, cottage cheese, and sautéed brussel sprouts.  It was an admittedly unexciting meal, but I was tired, and planning on working through dinner, so I didn’t put too much thought into it.

I sat at my desk eating the brussel sprouts with my fingers and taking bites of squash between thoughts as I drafted an email to a client.  I finished up the correspondence, and then finished off my plate, quickly shoveling the cottage cheese into my mouth, so I could put the plate in the kitchen and clear some desk space.

As I put my plate in the sink, I noticed that Jeremiah had dumped about a third of his meal into the container of scraps for the chickens.  Specifically, all of the cottage cheese along with just a bite of squash and a few brussel sprout leaves.

I called into the living room where Jeremiah was busy painting.

“Not so much on the cottage cheese?”

“Yeah.  Sorry.  I tried.  Just couldn’t do it.”

But more on that later…

A few of you might have noticed that I haven’t written in a little while.  Two weeks ago marked the International Hoof Summit in Cincinnati, OH.  For Jeremiah, that means a week-long farrier Disneyland with exhibits and presentations and farrier toys.  He gets to hang out with colleagues from all over the world and exchange ideas and share insight on particular cases.  He looks forward to it all year.

For me, however, the Summit means a week of tending to things by myself, hopefully still managing a work/life balance.  (I failed miserably by the way.  I’m not entirely sure how I would manage weeks like this one if I didn’t work for my dad.)  This time it meant trying to fix the horse fence in 15 degree weather, falling into the manure pit (at least once) while trying to dump the wheelbarrow, and unfreezing a frozen lock on the chicken coop every day for three days straight.  While he was gone, we had two blizzards and my mom went into the hospital with pneumonia.  (She was finally discharged yesterday.) And, just to top it off, Miss Amelia had to go to a semi-emergency vet visit thanks to a complication from her stick escapade. (She just finished her antibiotics for that today.)

Of course, two days after he got home, he came down with some sort of farrier flu (I’m assuming…) and is only now feeling a tiny bit better.  He’s been stuck inside since and going a little stir crazy.  As soon as he goes outside, it seems he is back at square one.  So, I’ve been doing most of the chores and trying to keep him from trying to help.  It only sort of works.

And then, a few days ago my pet hedgehog died.

I spent the morning paying bills, trying, like everyone, to stretch every dollar just a little farther than it wanted to go.  Since taking over the farm, we’ve stretched things a little farther than we’re used to.  Mostly that’s due to having propane heat and a big old drafty house (as opposed to natural gas and a little bitty old drafty house).  It’s been a lesson in tightening our belts a little, but it’s totally worth it to make this place our own and live this farmhouse dream that we’ve both had since childhood.

Still, with sick husbands and mothers and puppies, and bills to pay, and stalls to clean (and by that I mean all the shit to deal with, whether literal or figurative), and work to do…it can get a little overwhelming, can’t it?

And sometimes we need a reminder that we have it pretty good most of the time.

Back to the cottage cheese and my lazy dinner.

“So, what did cottage cheese ever do to you?”

Jeremiah has some weird food hang ups, including the belief that avocados are actually alien eggs; I expected to hear that cottage cheese was against his religion or something.  But that wasn’t what he said.

“When I was a kid, and we lived in Arizona, there was a stretch when things were really bad.  One week, my parents didn’t have any money for food.  And the food pantry didn’t have anything much either.  Just cottage cheese.  So we took the cottage cheese.  We ate it, just cottage cheese, for about a week. But some of it was bad and it made us sick…really sick I haven’t been able to eat it since.”

That’s one way to put things in perspective.

So, tonight I will enjoy a glass of cheap wine in my way too chilly house.  And I’m going to raise a glass to “pretty good most of the time” because when you think about it, that’s something worth celebrating.

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…