The good with the bad and into the New Year

The sky is blue fading black. Snow blankets the ground. Not deep snow, but enough to cover the mud and the muck and the browned out remnants of fall and summer. It’s unmolested, still a perfect shimmering white reflecting the brightest stars, the ones that manage to shine out between the wispy clouds. The light of the moon is mirrored by the snow covered earth, giving the entire outdoors an other-earthly feel. It’s stunning beyond the ability of pictures to capture.

… And it’s so damn cold your boogers will freeze right on your face.

Weather in the Midwest is notoriously unstable. Lately, we’ve had swings of 40 degrees or so several times a week. Most of the animals are handling it fairly well, but the older among them are having some difficultly with the extremes. Couple that with a string of bad luck, and it’s been a weird couple of weeks seemingly living in reaction to the realities of the ranch.

Since just before Christmas, I’ve had three sick llamas (two with infections and one with an upset tummy), one lame llama (who stood up when her foot was asleep and pulled a muscle), two lame horses (stone bruising due to the quick deep freeze), two lame cats, a lacerated dog requiring stitches, and an injured husband.  I just came inside from the barn a few moments ago, sick myself with a nasty cough, after dealing with a llama who somehow managed to choke on crumbled grain…(Don’t ask; I have no idea.)

It was while I was walking toward the barn, mostly preoccupied with helping the choking animal Jeremiah had called to report, that I noticed the wild and untamable winter beauty of the place. It was on the way back from the other barn, with thirty mile an hour winds and a temperature of seven degrees, that I realized, pretty or not, the cold will cut through you like a knife and freeze exposed skin with a chill that somehow burns. (And your boogers, as mentioned, it will also freeze your boogers.)

This ranch is a lot like the cold, beautiful and harsh, sometimes in almost equal measure.

Llamas are usually a pretty hearty bunch, but our herd is aging. Nearly all of them are north of ten years old; several are flirting with twenty. In the past couple of weeks, mostly right around the holidays, we’ve had three vet visits to deal with the issues of various critters (one cat, one dog, one llama).

We sometimes jokingly refer to the ranch as the llama nursing home. It’s one of those jokes that’s only funny because it’s true. This summer, we had a bout of strange behavior that led both Jeremiah and I to believe that several animals were heading downhill, that they wouldn’t be with us much longer. We watched them closely and changed their diet. We put in a superbly expensive water filtration system (that eliminated the heavy metals that were disturbingly prevalent in the well). And they bounced back, but we continue to watch.

I don’t think it’s the trials themselves that make ranch life harsh, or the work. I am no stranger to hard work, nor is my husband. I think it’s the knowledge that whatever you do, out here you will eventually lose the fight. After all, as often as not, the fight is against time itself.

It’s a common saying amongst ranch people: “If you’re gunna have livestock, you’re gunna have deadstock.” My cousin and uncle who run a dairy farm and have lost far too many calves this year have muttered that adage the same way I do when one of our critters gets sick, the way I did last year when we lost two alpacas to the cold and the damp. I’ve been saying it since I was fourteen years old.

But the saying is just a saying when you watch animals you care about get sick. Last week, the three sick llamas were three of my favorites. Even though I know I will lose animals, that these creatures won’t be around forever, I was ready to raze hell for those three. Fortunately, all but one has fully recovered, and I think the last will be all better in a few days. Still, for a little while there, I felt like Molly Weasley taking on Bellatrix Lastrange in the last Harry Potter book, screaming “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Except in my case I wasn’t facing a Death Eater, just time and illness, screaming “Not my pets, you bitch!”

I know for a lot of you it probably seems strange to be so attached to such creatures; even I would have found myself less upset by everything if it had only been one, but three of my favorite animals in as many days was rough even by my standards.

However, for now, all is well. The llamas and alpacas and ponies are tucked in snug in their stalls with blankets and heat lamps as necessary. The barn doors and stall doors are shut tight against the wind and the chill. They have more hay to munch than they probably need for the night. The chickens are likewise warm in their coop, the barn cats in their tack room, even the feral kitty is tucked into the hayloft. The big horses in the back field are fluffed up with their winter coats (all four of them resembling equine Yetis). Jeremiah and I are in the house with the house pets, the dogs curled up in front of the hearth. Most everyone is well, or on the way to being well.

I know that this place with always have the bitter mixed with the sweet, that it will likely always be beautiful and harsh in equal measure, but I also know that it’s worth it. The land is worth it, the house is worth it, and, more than anything else, the animals are worth every bit of heartbreak that I will ever feel on their behalf.

So it is with that thought that I look forward, into next year, into the next stage of things.

In a place like this, in a life like mine, you must learn to take the bad with the good. But guys? There is so much good to go around.

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The bitty babies!
The bitty babies!

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A week at the ranch.

It’s been an eventful week at the ranch. Despite not living there, we’ve been busy!

For example, I pulled in yesterday morning and found this.  He started with power washing and proceeded to paint by the end of the day.

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Not sure if you can really tell, but by evening most of the front of the house was done.

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Fall has officially made it’s way to Central Illinois.  The weather yesterday was perfect: sunny, no hotter than 70 with a beautiful breeze.  We’re doubling down on outdoor efforts.  Lady Fall is enticing and beautiful, but she’s followed quickly by Old Man Winter, and, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, he’s going to be a doozy.  It won’t be terribly long before we get weathered out of the outdoor work, and neither of us want a half painted house all winter.

We also bought the most perfect dining room table last week.  Jeremiah and I found it in an antique store a few towns away. (In addition to all of his other wonderful qualities, Jeremiah actually enjoys going to antique stores on occasion.  I’m a very lucky girl…)  It’s a farmhouse table, new construction, but made out of 100+ year old barn wood.  I’m a little bit smitten with it.

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Jeremiah and his little brother bringing it in. Apparently it’s absurdly heavy.
The table, moved into our dining room.
The table, moved into our dining room. (The middle piece of wood you see is actually a table runner made of a 200+ year old barnwood beam.)

One of our friendly neighborhood hummers got caught in our mudroom while it was opened up to dry.  Jeremiah eventually got it to go outside.  The little bird was not overly grateful.  (If you’re not familiar with hummers, they are very cheeky little things.  We love them anyway.)

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This one may gross some of you out, but I think it’s funny.

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The chickens have been thoroughly enjoying their free range time, and a few of them discovered the manure pit.  I know the phrase is usually “happier than a pig in poop,” but as I understand it, pigs actually prefer to be clean.  The chickens, however?  They think it’s pretty great.

Also, see below for the inherent hazard of letting your chickens free range:

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They are pretty darn thrilled with their discovery of the hay stall.  It has excellent dust for dust baths, AND there’s a nifty, secluded corner to build a nest.  Now I have to check for eggs there every time I let them out.  But c’mon, how cute is the little nest with the colored eggs?

And finally, we took out Vinny’s stiches yesterday.  I expected a total freak out, as Jeremiah wanted to try it without sedation first, but we were pleasantly surprised when Vin stood like a champ.  He’s come so far since he came home with us!  This horse used to run away like a maniac anytime we came in the pasture, and now, this.

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He stood and chomped down grain the whole time.  God love him.

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All done!  He’ll probably always have a scar, but this one ended up way better than it might have.  It healed up very well.  Thank God for great vets and good horses.

Over the next few days, we’re hoping to move back in.  (We’re both losing patience with the constant driving back and forth.)  The house is vented with airmovers exchanging air in the basement 10 times per house.  The vents were cleaned earlier this week…  Hopefully, that will be enough to make the place livable again.  Fingers crossed.  If not, the movers are hopefully coming at the end of the month to clear out the basement, and then we will be free and clear to get the mothballs and the mold professionally mitigated.

Endings and new beginnings.

I turned my office key into the University yesterday.  Final grades are posted.  Final papers and exams are stored in the adjunct office in case someone needs to see them.  I’m done teaching.

For the past few days, I’ve had to remind myself that there is no grading looming over my head.  My time is mostly my own again…I find I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.  So far today, I’ve caught up on work emails, cleaned up the house, sorted through (some of) the papers on my desk, and made arrangements to haul scrap metal to the scrapyard.  Oh, and I jumped back on here.

Yesterday was also my birthday.  The big two eight (28).  I broke down and gave myself an early birthday gift.  (Picked them up on Monday)

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Meet the newest additions to the Eagle Ridge family.  Reeva and Baby.

These two are now officially the youngest animals on the ranch.  At 2 and a half and one and a half respectively, these two full-sisters have long lives ahead of them with us.  Most of L’s animals who are staying with us are ten or above…some of them are A LOT above (closing in on twenty).  I guess I wanted just a few animals who weren’t simply living out their retirement with me.  These two definitely fit the bill.  Plus, along with a few of the geldings, they could be excellent show animals.  I might even breed them to our stud in a few years.  They are lovely and sweet, and I was very happy to bring them home.

Are you wondering what else I got for my birthday?  No?  Well, I’m going to tell you a few things anyway. 🙂

From my lovely husband, flowers!

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Every year, I go crazy with potted plants.  I love them.  So he went crazy at the nursery and brought these home to me.  I will be planting up a storm for the next few days.  (I’ll post photos when I finish.) Can’t wait.  My sister also wants to buy me plants.  She and I will go shopping later in the week.

From my parents, a Metro Painting!  If you haven’t heard of Metro Meteor, the painting off the track racehorse, you should read up via his webpage (http://paintedbymetro.com/).  A rescued former racer, Metro now spends his spare time painting with his owner.  I have coveted those paintings for a while, and now I have one!  I can’t wait to get it framed for the new house.

And with that, I shall leave all of you lovely people.  I’m planning to post more as the gardens go in at the new place.  Also, I was contemplating a regular weekly post introducing my critters one by one.  Is that something you guys would be interested in reading?

Wait…What? An award…? I would like to thank the Academy…

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Thank you motherhendiaries for nominating me for a Liebster Award for new bloggers!  I knew the Master’s degree in English would pay off someday!  Wait until I tell my dad!   Actually, kidding aside, it is a really nice gesture that I truly appreciate.  It’s nice to have readers, even if it is only a few of you.

This award is a bit like a chain letter.  Best part is that I get to pass it on and nominate others.  With that in mind, here are a few blogs I read that all of you should check out.

1. Bethany Suckrow – this girl is one of my favorite bloggers to read.  Writing about life and spirituality, Bethany touches upon some very serious issues in a very accessible way.  She and I went to college together and were casually acquainted.  I wish we had known each other better back then.

2. Agirlandherchickens – Ok – Motherhendiaries nominated her too, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also, does it?  Either way, this blog about farm life and chickens is a fun, often informative read.  I really enjoy it.

3. Fullcirclefarm – Writing about and photographing farm life, Full Circle Farm is a lot of fun to follow, especially if you like beautiful photos of cows and chickens and produce.  (I really do…)

4. BeeHavenAcres – The Bee Maven has a lot of followers, but it doesn’t look like she’s broken 1000, so this still counts.  Farm life blog with lovely photos and adventures in turkeys and chickens and everything!

Technically, this is supposed to be an award for blogs with under 1000 followers, but while I’m linking to wonderful blogs, consider checking out this one as well.

 DIYDiva -I LOVE this blog.  It has a strong female, powertools, a place in the country, and farm animals.  And, unlike many of us “farmbloggers” this girl isn’t originally from the country.  It’s fantastic.

So there’s my list.   And below are the questions Motherhen sent me, along with my answers.  Enjoy!

1. Why did you start your blog, and why did you choose this name?

I started my blog for several reasons.  One, having decided that I won’t be teaching after the completion of this semester, I knew that I would soon be missing my creative outlet.  (And when I don’t have one, I get cranky.) Two, I have people ask me all the time “are you writing this down?” when my husband or I tell stories about our lives.  That led me to believe that at least a few people might be interested in our little corner of creation.  Three, so much is going on in my life right now.  It’s insane, but it’s also wonderful.  I’m a little afraid that I will forget some of the special parts.  Now I have a record.

As for the name “almostfarmgirl,” it’s actually the remnant of an argument that my husband and I had maybe a year or two ago.  We were on the way home from a particularly rough day of shoeing.  I had tagged along to help him, but we had encountered horses crazy enough to make me uncomfortable.  The thing is, most of his past relationships involved other equine professionals, and when I couldn’t handle the especially naughty horses (rearing, charging, attempting to run us over, etc), he was frustrated.  As we drove home, he informed me that he considered me an “almost farm girl”; a real farm girl would have had a better handle on the insane horses.

I was livid with him at the time.  The expectations seemed pretty unfair, and I also felt as though the name completely dismissed my 15+ years (now more like 20) with livestock.  (I have spent way too much time getting up early to clean stalls to be an almost anything!) However, after a while, I guess embraced the name (even though he never called me that again and now claims to have no memory of the whole incident).  Honestly, with a background in llamas, I’m used to people thinking I deal with “pretend livestock.”  In a way, I’ve been an almost farm girl most of my life.

(Side note: I almost named this blog “Confessions of an Almost Farm Girl.”  I always figured that if I ever wrote a book about this crazy life of llamas and horses and…insanity, that’s what I would name the book. (Kind of catchy, right?)  I still might write that book one day I guess, but I more and more feel like this insanity is better suited for the anecdotal nature of a blog. Also, “confessions” seems a little dramatic…my biggest confession right now is that I sometimes teach class at one of the top rated universities in the Midwest wearing barn shoes…and sometimes I track llama poop into the classroom.   Also, I realized that Confessions of an Almost Farm Girl loses something in translation when it becomes confessionsofanalmostfarmgirl.com because the words can also be split up as confessions of anal most farmgirl…which I’m thinking is a different subject matter entirely.  Though, come to think of it, I would probably get more search hits…)

2. What is your idea of the perfect night out?

Wine.  Stars.  Good company.  No mosquitos (or, alternately, enough wine that I don’t care about them).

That covers the basics, but, if you’re asking…and you’re not…my favorite date night event is our annual (or biannual) moonlight cruise on the huge, authentic paddlewheel ship that is docked nearby.

3. What is your favorite article of clothing and why?

So, I have this black tank top from Wal-Mart, and it’s pretty much the best piece of clothing I own.  It looks good from all angles; it fits perfectly, and it doesn’t change size in the wash.  I think it cost $5…

4. If you were a pizza, which one would you be?

Is there one that doesn’t go straight to the hips?  I want to be that one.

5. Name your top 5 all time favorite guilty-pleasure songs.

Can I be honest and admit that I really like the song “Bad Touch” by the Bloodhound Gang?  It’s kind of hilarious.  After that “guilty pleasure” song, trust me when I tell you I don’t need more…

*COUGH* 2. Backstreet’s Back (Backstreet Boys) 3. Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy (Big and Rich). 4. Mama’s Broken Heart (Miranda Lambert…also almost anything by her or the Pistol Annies)  5. Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood).

6. If you could choose to live on any island, which would it be and why?

I haven’t been to many islands.  I’d name some random tropical one, but hurricane’s freak me out.  Prince Edward Island is too cold…  Can I go with England?  Or is it weird to call that an island?  I was a fan of several of the Greek islands I visited…

This question has generated far more questions than answers…

7. What is the farthest you have travelled? What brought you there?

I’d have to look at a map, but I’m pretty sure the farthest was Athens.  I studied abroad in Europe during my junior year of college.  I made it as far as Greece during a break from classes.

8. Beatles or Stones?

Beatles.  No question.

9. If you could be any breed of chicken, which one would it be? Why?

Gold Laced Cochin – Because if you’re not going to be smart, you had best be pretty.

10. Who do you want to be when you grow up?

Trick question.  I don’t want to grow up.

11. How much wood does a woodchuck actually chuck? (It’s one of the burning issues of our time…I can’t believe no one has ever properly answered it, but go on… have at it!)

Sadly, the woodchuck no longer chucks wood.  We had to shoot him last fall…

(Little bastard wouldn’t stop digging “leg breaking” holes in the horse pasture.)