Herd Health and the To-Do Lists that Will Never End

“Oooph…Her teeth are a mess.”

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Doc shone her headlight into Violetta’s jaw and gestured for me to take a look.  Pronounced under-bite aside, she had jagged edges, uneven wear, and several sharp points that painted a pretty clear picture of why she dropped weight this winter.

Tuesday was herd health day; all ten of my horses (six full size and four minis) had their yearly shots and dental work done.  Of the ten, only two were complicated.  Violetta was one.  Cinco, my old man horse whose teeth have mostly stopped growing, was the other.

Many non-horsey people don’t realize that a horse’s teeth continually grow as they age.   Yearly floating (grinding down of the teeth) is in order to level out the rough edges that form as the teeth wear against each other.  In some horses, like Violetta, the wear pattern isn’t consistent, and sharp, painful points can form inside the mouth.  She will need a follow up in six months to try and level out her lower front teeth that are being worn down by the upper fronts in a undesirable fashion due to the underbite, but, for now, we sorted the issue as much as it can be sorted.

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Last year, yearly shots and teeth floating got away from me.   I just didn’t manage to make the appointment. To be honest, plenty of horse owners don’t have teeth done every year, and lots of people don’t vaccinate animals who never leave home, but on Tuesday, when I learned that Violet was having issues due to my forgetfulness, I felt the guilt pour in.  (Guys, I should probably add “feeling guilty” to the special skills section of my resume.  I am SO good at it.)

My to-do lists out here are miles long; it can be a little too easy to miss something, even something important.  I have lists for both houses, both barns, the pastures, the woods, the gardens, the driveway, and for all of the animals.  I have lists restricted by time, lists restricted by money, and lists restricted by motivation or skill.  I have lists of long-term goals.  Lists for the spring.  Lists for the summer.  A list for today.  Some of the lists are yearly.  Some are seasonal.  Some are weekly or monthly.  A few are pie-in-the-sky wish lists that I may or may not ever find time or money for.  Despite the fact that I,  my boyfriend, and my dad regularly work to tackle items on the lists, they never seem to get much shorter.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it, to look at this place through the lens of everything that needs to be done and feel only heaviness.    That’s how my ex saw the ranch at the end, and on my bad days, when I’m dealing with my anxiety, or depression, or when I’m reckoning with something I left undone for a little too long, it’s hard to see it any other way.

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I think this tendency to only see what is undone is natural programming.  It’s natural to be concerned with our next meal, to concern ourselves with the next season.  Humans have learned to survive by anticipating future needs rather than just immediate ones.

I also think that this normal, natural behavior can run amok and cause us to live in a state of striving, never being satisfied with where we are right now, with what we’ve accomplished, with the items on the to-do list that we manage to check off.

We so seldom give ourselves credit for what we actually do.

The other day, I was complaining to my boyfriend about the fact that I couldn’t muster any extra energy to work on any of the big lists that day.  I was racked with exhaustion and also guilty about feeling exhausted.  I couldn’t relax completely because I felt guilty about needing to do nothing for a while.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I think you completely underestimate the amount of energy it takes to accomplish the day to day out here.   You do a lot.  Everyday.  Feeling tired after all the regular stuff is done is completely understandable.”

I don’t know why his response struck such a deep chord, but it did.  Maybe it was that his response rang of “you are enough” when it used to be that I only got choruses of “you need to do more,” but I think I could have cried with relief.   I was content, for a little while, to rest.

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Most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit.  We forget to count the things we accomplish, the hard work of simply living, and focus unendingly on the to-do list.

I have a friend who works full-time as a teacher, runs a horse ranch full of mostly rescued critters, and is currently renovating a property.  As often as not, when we chat, she laments the laundry that she hasn’t gotten to.

One of my dearest friends, who works full-time almost an hour from her home and is in the middle of raising two wonderful little boys, tends to mention the floors she hasn’t quite gotten around to cleaning this week.

My close friend who is currently working full-time THROUGH CHEMOTHERAPY (CAN WE REPEAT THAT ONE FOR THE FOLKS IN THE BACK???) mentioned to me the last time that I saw her that she wishes she ordered less take-out and managed to cook more.

I could go on and on, listing all the people I know who accomplish way more than they give themselves credit for, but then this post would damn near go on forever, and I think you get the idea.  Life, as it turns out, takes a lot of effort, and you’re probably doing more than you think.

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After John’s comment, I took a moment to catalog everything that I had already done that day, and, later, I took a moment to appreciate just how far the ranch has come since changing hands.  The list is growing, always, but it’s also changing.  It’s not stagnant.  Slowly but surely, the things that need to be done are getting done.  Slowly but surely, I’m getting better at prioritizing and better at recognizing that things are moving in the right direction.

My herd health day moved off the list.  A recheck for Violet and Cinco in September got penciled in in its place.  So did booster shots for Cody and Gem in a month.  So did a new course of treatment for my two horses with heaves.

The list is actually longer now with herd health done–funny how that happens–but life is more than a series of to-do lists.

The ranch is more than a series of to-do lists.

I am more than a series of to-do lists.

And so are you.

 

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Another Trip Around the Sun

2018 rolled into 2019 without fanfare.  I watched the time change from 11:59 to 12:00 on my wristwatch, and John and I wished each other a quiet “Happy New Year.”  That came after chores.  After tucking in for the night to watch “The West Wing” on Netflix.  After remembering that the horses needed a bale of hay that I had forgotten to give to them.  John went back outside in pajamas to take care of it.  Two hours later, we rang in the new year with sleepy eyes.

At this point in my life, I’m not much for “dramatic change” resolutions at the turning of the year.  I know myself better than to think that I will manage to give up sugar, wake up three hours earlier everyday, and hit the gym for an hour before chores.  If I set my sights on that, I will burn out, give up any strides I make due to perceived failure, and end up back where I started.

It’s not a useful cycle.

Instead, I like to take the new year as an opportunity to reflect on the ways I’ve changed over the course of the last 365 days. I like to contemplate the ways life has unexpectedly twisted or turned, what I’ve lost, what I’ve gained, and what I would like to do a little differently on this next trip around the sun.

For me, 2018 was a normalizing year.  After roughly three years of trauma and unhappiness, the events of this year provided some stability and happiness; a few years ago, normalizing was more than I could have possibly hoped for, but, last year, I found my footing again on what had been unstable ground for a very long time.

I found myself in a relationship with someone who treats me well.   (Guys, that’s totally a thing.  In some relationships, you are consistently treated really well, as though the other person really, genuinely likes you.  I had no idea…)

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I traveled.  Domestically and abroad.  Alone and with friends.

I made it to California with John.

I made it to New Jersey to spend time with one of my besties, Lauren, and attend Julie Maloney’s book launch for A Matter of Chance. (If you’re looking for a great mystery to read in 2019, you should pick up a copy; it’s a great read.)

I spent time in Greece with my darling ladies in Women Reading Aloud.  I wrote at the edge of the Aegean, swam in the salt water, and walked ancient streets in Athens.  I watched the sun set in an unfamiliar sky and hiked paths of unfamiliar dirt.

I rounded out the Fall with one of my dearests in Paris and London.  I rode horses through French forests, and we rode bicycles across the grounds of Versailles.  We drank wine and ate way too much cheese.

(I’m still not quite sure how I managed all of that in one year, except that my soul needed it, and the universe opened the door. )

Acquaintances became friends.img_0031

And my people reminded me over and over again how lucky I am to have them.

All the while, I dealt with and mostly managed depression.  I chose to get off antidepressants.  I spent more time in therapy.  I continued to recover from the trauma of my divorce.  Every single smile in these photos was genuine, and the year was good, but that doesn’t mean every moment was suddenly easy.

Five of my deeply beloved creatures passed on, and I felt their lives and the loss of them fold into me like flour folding into dough. More than ever, I am convinced that they never really leave us.  Love is never, ever wasted.

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer.  She’s undergoing chemo now; the woman is a fucking beast, and I can’t wait for all of you to read her blog once it launches.  (Seriously, stay tuned.  She’s hilarious.  I’ve seen the drafts.)

Even the good years remind us that life is brutal.  And life is beautiful.  And this year in particular taught me that no matter how impossible things seem to get, the good stuff comes back around again eventually.  (And then the hard stuff, and then the good stuff.  An object at rest may remain at rest, but our lives are never objects at rest; continually they are moved.)

In my teens and twenties, I was more prone to hard resolutions.  I liked resolutions with numbers.  Number of pounds to lose.  Number of books to read.  Number of miles to run. A number on a paycheck.

I’m more interested in the soft resolutions now.  The sort that move beyond success or failure and simply recognize progress.  The sort that allow me to see that goals are just part of journey.  Treat my body better.  Make more time for the creatures in my care.  Be kinder.  Wander in familiar and unfamiliar places whenever I am given the chance.  Write more.  Read more.  Love more.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that most of our greatest achievements are the result of playing the hand we are dealt in the best way we know how, and, God knows, you can’t pick your own cards.  Over the last four years, life has been teaching me that sometimes the only thing we can do is stay in the game.  Play through.  Let the cards change.  They always change, even when it feels like the same shitty cards are permanently glued to your hands.

2019 is picking up steam.  The semester starts again in a few weeks, and I go back to teaching.  The plans I make are being done and undone, and I’m working on the soft resolutions.  I’m working on the writing and reading and wandering.

The days are getting longer.   They always do.

 

Winter, Christmas Trees, and a Little Bit of Unexpected Magic

There needs to be a setting on my Fitbit for “walking through the snow in coveralls.” Regular steps seem wholly inadequate for the trudge that takes me between the house and the barns each morning and evening. Something between walking and swimming would do nicely I think…

The ranch has been blanketed with snow for the better part of a week.  Everything takes a little extra effort.  Waterers require heaters.  Three of my llamas are wearing coats.  One is being supplemented with grain.  The chickens are being fed black oil sunflower seeds for extra calories in addition to their regular food.  Stalls are getting messier, faster.  And, of course, there’s the two pair of socks and coverall wearing trudge.

This is the time of year that always makes farmers, ranchers, critter enthusiastic hobbyists, and almost farmgirls question our own sanity.

It’s too cold for humans,  we proclaim, tucked safely under our covers, dreading the moment that our feet hit the floor and our day begins in earnest.

It’s too cold for critters, we decide, putting a coat on an animal who, in the wild, definitely wouldn’t be wearing a coat.

It’s too cold for water, we somewhat insanely argue, as we pull a puck-like chunk of ice off the waterer whose heater isn’t keeping up.

Why do I do this?  The question rattles around in the empty spaces created by all of the cold.

Things break. Animals shiver.  Our faces get chapped by the frigid air, and our toes go just a little numb in our boots when we forget to put on two pairs of socks.

The ancients used to bring evergreens into their homes in the winter as an act of sympathetic magic.  (It’s where we get our Christmas trees, actually.)  It was a reminder that spring and summer would come again.    The greenery provided comfort against their stark, harsh world of cold and dark and white.   It was reminder of the renewal that was waiting for them just under the surface of the snow.

I get it.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I decorated my tree.  We chose a little beauty from my hay supplier’s tree lot.  It is on the smaller side, a cute little Fraser fir, but it is full, and well-branched, and lovely.  Everything I look for in a Christmas tree.   My hay guy gave it to me for free, insisting that I paid enough for hay throughout the year to merit a free Christmas tree, and it is standing in my sunroom smelling a little bit like heaven.

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John strung the lights, and I pulled out my collection of ornaments while we waited on the most recent blizzard.   He built a fire in the fireplace.  We opened a bottle of wine, and I took my yearly walk down memory lane, choosing ornaments from my collection that seemed especially meaningful.  I added a few this year.  I put a few in a donation box whose meaning no longer felt dear to me (several of them commemorating milestones with my ex husband).

We sipped wine and cuddled up with the cats for the rest of the evening, enjoying our little bit of magic with it’s glittering ornaments and fairy lights.  I ventured out in my pajamas and coveralls with a flashlight in hand as the sleet turned to snow to bring the horses in from the field.

As the ice stung my face, I briefly wondered why I feel so pulled to this place and this work.  Then the horses made their way into the barn, bits of snow clinging to their long eyelashes and against their manes and tails.  The ponies nickered from their stall, wondering if perhaps it wasn’t time for second dinner.  The llamas hummed softly from across the aisle, munching hay from the nets I had refilled earlier that day.

I made my way back to the house, back to my boyfriend, back to the dogs and cats I share my home with, back to the warm fire, and the tree that awaited me with it’s sympathetic magic, and I realized that the barn was full of magic of its own. The creatures there reminding me, in their own way, that we are all in this together.  That we are connected to one another and to the seasons as they come and go.  That the snow and the cold and the chill are both temporary and beautiful.

I settled into the couch next to John and sipped my glass of red wine.

It was quiet.  The lights on the tree glittered through and shone against the ornaments.  The fire crackled.  Renewal waits on the other side of this season, on the other side of the snow, and the cold will pass.  For now though, I will steel myself against the cold, enjoy the quiet moments, and try to pay attention to the magic.

On Shearing and Doing Hard Things

This is me.

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This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.

This is me sweaty and exhausted.  Covered in tiny bits of wool.  Thoroughly uncomfortable

And thrilled that my animals were cool again. Continue reading “On Shearing and Doing Hard Things”

Befores and Afters

I read a book once that pointed out that life tends to divide itself into befores and afters.

It’s true, when you think about it.  Some are obvious milestones: Before high school.  After high school.  Before college.  After college.  Before and after your first job.  Births.  Deaths.  We, all of us, all our lives, are just a mess of befores and afters and how they changed us from one version of ourselves to the next.  We have ceremonies to celebrate or mourn the changes.  Matriculation.  Funerals.  Christenings.

Marriages.

Divorces.

Sometimes, even though one day you’re a person of before and the next day a person of after, it feels like little has changed.  Some befores and afters fade into one another like the colors of the sunset meld from one to the next, and suddenly the sky has gone from blue to orange to purple without you noticing.  The easy changes are like that.  You don’t realize things are changing until they have, and then, before you know it, you’ve made your way from a before to an after.

Other changes fall like a sledgehammer.  No matter the slope into it, no matter the warning or preparation, the change will always be abrupt.

Like death.

Hopefully followed by rebirth. Continue reading “Befores and Afters”

I get by with a little help from my friends.

My ex didn’t want the farm.

Actually, he did, until he didn’t anymore, but that’s a little beside the point.

That day last summer, the day that he yelled over the phone that the farm would kill me, that it was too much for me to do on my own, he was pretty clear on not wanting the farm.

I stood between my barns, acutely aware of everything that was broken or undone.  Everything that required my time and my energy and my money.  Everything that needed to be done that I didn’t know how to do.  Tears ran down my cheeks, because his words left me with no future. Continue reading “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.

I pulled the red and white notice off the door of my Heights house with a sigh.  We would be fined within days if the lawn continued un-mowed, if the landscaping wasn’t trimmed back.  Jeremiah and I (mostly Jeremiah) had been in a slow war with the code enforcement officer in the Heights most of the time that we lived there.  Our fence was the first infraction–built on a corner lot and requiring signatures of all the neighbors and a hearing at city hall to build–but from then on the inspector took every opportunity to cite us, and Jeremiah took every opportunity to provoke him.  We learned after the fence incident that bribes were the usual way of dealing with his red and white citations, and it seemed that forcing the issue with the city had been something of an embarrassment to him when all the council members immediately approved our “beautiful fence.”

But this time?  Honestly, I could see his point. Continue reading “Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.”

The other side: More on Divorce

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become.  No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell.  There are no maps of the change.  You just come out the other side.  Or you don’t.”
~ Stephen King

My divorce, so long in the making, was final at the end of March.  My cousin, Erin, came down for a long weekend and stayed to hold my hand in a mostly empty courtroom on a Monday morning while I answered questions from a bored-looking judge for five minutes so that he could declare my marriage dissolved.   My ex didn’t come; in Illinois you don’t have to have both parties present to finalize a divorce, and I had decided that the whole thing would probably be easier if I didn’t have to face him.

Divorce is strange.  It can be equal parts terrifying and debilitating and liberating.  Even world-ending.  It’s unexpected for some.  It feels inevitable for others.  The cutting of a cord. The removing of a limb.  A decision that you make, but that feels as though it had been made without you.  One that somehow feels equal parts devastating and hopeful.

It’s the end of something you never thought would end, and the beginning of something you never prepared for.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

Divorces seem to be like couples; each one of them is different. Continue reading “The other side: More on Divorce”

Cooking as an Act of Love

Recipes are coming down the line on Almost Farmgirl.  I thought I would let you know why…

I never thought I’d be the sort of person who cooks.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, back in college, I could microwave an INSANE cup of Ramen, but something about cooking, actually cooking, rubbed me the wrong way.  Continue reading “Cooking as an Act of Love”