Happiness is sunshine, low humidity and 350 bales of hay in your barn by 10:30 AM!
When friends ask me why I like to read memoirs I usually say it’s because I’m the curious sort. Perhaps that’s just another way of saying I’m nosy, but there you have it. I like to read about how other people have navigated the challenges they’ve met in life. Because we all have them, you know. Some memoirs do a great job of telling you about everything that went right or wrong, but fail to really explore the nuts and bolts of the journey. That’s not a criticism; everyone tells their story their own way and for different reasons. But I happen to be most fond of the memoirs that tackle the grittier stuff. The stuff that makes you have to put the book down and really chew on the words for a bit.
Stable Relation is that kind of memoir. A perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, confessional and a heaping dash of salt-of-the-earth common sense. This book not only challenges how you think and feel, but encourages you to become more present and aware of your path in life. Yes, there were several Kleenex moments for me. Actually, I lost count, but I’m a woman of a certain age and I’ve earned the right to lean more toward the sentimental side now. And no, I’m not ashamed. You won’t be either. It’s OK.
This memoir is about Cattle Dogs, Dobies, mutts, ducks, horses, llamas and goats. There are blizzards, bad memories, blistering sun and batty first dates, as well as the occasional flashback about dysfunctional family, distant relatives and old friends. Anna makes it pretty clear from the start that her birthright was an early life chock full of crap and crisis. By the time she hit midlife she was at a crossroad. She wanted to exorcise the crazy and decided to use a career dilemma as her turning point. With little more than burning passion, determination and an abundance of elbow grease, Anna begins to carve out a place of her own on the prairie.
As the story unfolds, Anna talks about becoming temporarily attached to the various assortment of birds and critters that share the daily routine at her farm. I can relate. The first Spring on my farm we were visited nightly by a methodical, comedic female raccoon who not only stopped by to see what we might have to offer, but for several years thereafter brought her entire family along for the ride! (We called her Sport) And I still search the trees by the pond where I once photographed a one-eyed hawk. I have no reason to believe she might still be around, except that I’d like to think she is. Anna writes about her awe for the creatures and the unique environment she shares with them, in spite of life’s ups, downs and (often times) harsh lessons. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows that as beautiful as farm life can be, an unforgiving and harsh reality is always lurking in the shadows. Survival depends on balancing what is perfect and good with the fear of what that can morph into in the blink of an eye. Mention the word colic around any horse person and you’ll see what I mean.
Anna shares several experiences that helped her find the strength to push past a miserable start in life and mature into a woman who, above all, values and models grace, kindness and generosity of heart and spirit. What makes this book so special is the hilarious cast of characters who mentor Anna on this journey and help her build a new trust in the healing balm of love. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humbled by the author’s unfiltered adoration and devotion for her charges and impressed by her intuitive, gentle approach. These gifts seem especially unique given how little love or compassion she was shown as a child. How does one learn to use these tools if they’ve never been taught? Anna shows you how. And if she can do it, so can you.
I started out reading this memoir slowly. I wanted to savor every chapter. But as the story continued I no longer had to force myself to slow down rather, I NEEDED to read islowly.
This book is not just good.
It’s not just a winner.
And if Stable Relation is any indication of what we might be hearing from Anna in the future, I can’t wait for more!
Once you move animals into a new barn it doesn’t take long to know what you’ve gotten right and what you’ve gotten wrong. Some things you can change, like where you put things and how well they work for your routine. Other things you’re stuck with, like the lay of the land and what’s on or under it. Like ledge. Or a high water table. Or trees.
The land around our new barn is much like our property in general, which is to say it’s gently sloping. That’s what I’ll call it for now. But come winter I know it will become ‘that damn hill.’ I’m already worrying about footing and runoff, slipping and sliding. Slopes, ice and horses do not go well together. The fifty or so yards between our house and barn are ledge disguised as a gentle rolling (downhill) grade. Try to stick a spade anywhere in the soil and you’ll quickly discover it’s impossible to dig more than six or seven inches deep without hitting rock ledge. Being an avid gardener, I’ve tried. In light of wanting to run water to our barn, this isn’t good news. And it’s debatable if we can dig deep enough to bury an electrical line. (The trench might end up looking like a mole path!) Worse case scenario we run an aerial line to the barn, but being a photographer I’m not particularly happy about that prospect either.
Both stalls have double Dutch doors that exit into the loafing shed. We’ve been working in and around this barn for two years and it’s only now, after the horses have been moved in, that I realize one stall should have had the doors mounted to swing open from the other side. Every time I go to let Dharla into that stall we bottleneck. It seems totally awkward and I know she feels it too. I’m not sure if it’s annoying enough to re-hang that set of doors. Hell, I’m not even sure if it’s worth mentioning. Yes, it’s been hinted that I’m a bit picky, but in my own defense I’m the one who does 98% of the daily horse care and upkeep.
The vast majority of the things surrounding the move have been an improvement. No daily parade of hikers and bikers yelling at my horses. No strange dogs bounding down the trail embankment into my paddocks. Not having to listen to the constant barrage of verbal diarrhea as I go about my daily chores. But the greatest of all is the hay drop. Who would think such a simple thing would be the winning perk? And the horses seem to like the new setup. At first you could tell they were wondering if it was just temporary, but now they’re starting to settle in. Bully found a new patch of dirt to lay in, Dharla had a few smudges of pine sap on her hip, and this morning Rascal had a few twigs tangled in his mane. Obviously they’re feeling comfortable enough to find places to lay down and take a snooze, which is always a good sign.
It took a little over two years, but yesterday we finally moved our three horses from our “old” barn to our “new” barn. (Insert a huge sigh of satisfaction and relief) It never dawned on me how much finishing work a barn requires before it’s suitable to house horses. And even though the horses have been moved there’s still several projects yet to complete. Like getting an inside wall properly finished off and slapping a coat of polyurethane on all the inside surfaces. We still need to figure out the schematics of the grain and tack room and the stalls need rubber mats that will require some custom fitting. (Insert several curse words here) The barn doesn’t have any electrical power yet and we’ve pretty much decided that getting water from the house to the barn might be impossible. Ledge. Our entire damn property is cursed with ledge and/or water. Yes, that’s a huge disappointment, but I suppose there’s some consolation in the fact that it’s a much shorter distance to run a hose than our old barn.
Yesterday as the humidity and temperature crept higher and higher my husband worked to wire the power box for the electric fence and I took hammer in hand and proceeded to bend the tips of a gazillion nail points. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that horses will find any little thing to get injured on when they are moved to a new location. Then I made countless trips to and from one barn or the other, moving essentials that we’d need once the horses were relocated. It’s kind of like moving into a new house, but not having any of your stuff unpacked. It was mid afternoon before we finally threw halters on all three horses and walked them over. They weren’t as impressed as I’d hoped. There’s a small area of green grass in the new paddock and they all promptly dropped their heads and proceeded to eat. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I guess that’s about as excited as a horse gets over new digs.
I had to make a couple of trips out to the old barn this morning. I was greeted by a strange silence and a feeling of desertion and melancholy. It’s not like the old barn won’t ever get used, but it’s unlikely it will ever house our horses again. And that’s a little sad. My husband built that barn in 1989 and there are lots of memories associated with the structure. Good memories and bad, good times and sad. I’ve been going out to that barn at least three times a day for two and a half decades. I know every nook, cranny and nail of that barn and I could walk there in my sleep. I wonder how many times next week I’ll head out of the basement and get halfway to the old barn before I remember where I’m going.
Goodbye old barn. You’ve earned your rest.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Every fall I get a hankerin’ to go home that makes me melancholy with a lingering homesickness for the farm of my youth. Back in the 80’s my parents decided to sell the farm and it’s contents and move to something a little less demanding. At the time, I was living in another state and the chances of the farm passing into my hands was about as realistic as thinking I could buy the Taj Mahal. None of my three siblings had the desire or opportunity to buy it either and we sadly watched it pass into other hands. In a situation like this you hope the new owners will love and care for the land the way our family did, but sadly that was not the case. The farmland got divvied up and sold to people who (gasp) built houses in the hay fields and pastures and the multiple barns on the original property fell into disrepair.
I’ve never stopped kicking myself for not buying the family farm. A few years after it sold I introduced my husband to horses and we’ve been trying to turn our meager land into an adequate hobby farm ever since. Cutting down trees, moving dirt and gravel around and building not one, but two barns, we’ve probably spent tenfold what we would have spent if we’d only relocated three decades ago. But you can’t cry over spilled milk.
They say you can never go home again, and regrettably, in my case that’s true.
(The farm pictured at the top is not my family farm)
We’ve made progress getting the basics dug out, which is a good thing because today we’re supposed to be hit with round two. Not snow, but rain and freezing rain. I’m not sure where all this participation is supposed to go, but I suspect a good portion of it is going to end up in places it’s not supposed to be. As of this morning we’ve been unable to clear the barn roof … just too much manual labor for two middle-age people to handle in 24 hours. I can only hope the roof holds up under the weight of all the rain and ice we’re supposed to get. If we can hang in there another day or two the temperatures should begin to rise into the 40’s and perhaps some of this mess will begin to abate on it’s own. Here’s to the power staying on and everyone staying safe even if they’re stuck in their own home!
We got snow. And more snow. And even MORE snow!
In the end, we got walloped with about 37-38 inches of snow in 28 hours. It was both exciting and overwhelming. The storm built gradually, going from light flurries at 8 AM to full force gale winds and blizzard conditions by dusk. That evening, horses fed (but outside) dogs content, we hunkered down to watch a movie (Red Dog), totally unaware that the precipitation was falling at an alarming rate. At 10:30 I nudged my snoring husband awake. We decided it was time to get the dogs back out for last call, check on the horses and distribute more hay. There was a good bit of dialogue about whether or not to bring the horses into the barn, but against my better judgement it was decided they were happier outside. After all, they are used to being out and have full use of two covered lean-to sheds.
Aldo went downstairs with the dogs while I puttered around and basically avoided going to help. I didn’t think he needed my assistance, but when it became obvious that there was a problem I poked my head down the cellar stairs to ask what was going on? Apparently, the snow was so deep he couldn’t get the basement door open! Oh boy! In the end, I suited up and I shoveled while he went to fire up the snow blower. We worked for almost two hours, digging our way though almost two feet of snow. We cleared paths for the dogs and dug our way out to the barn. The horses were fine, but welcomed more hay. Again, against my better judgement, we let them stay outside. Exhausted and cold, we finally called it quits and went inside. Meanwhile, the storm raged on.
I awoke sometime around 5 AM and glanced out the front window only to see that it was still snowing as hard as it had been the night before! My first concern was the horses, so we soon suited up and prepared to re-shovel the paths we’d made hours prior. I grabbed a yardstick on my way out the door and we were stunned when we saw that the storm had dumped another 15 inches on us in the last 6 hours … and it was STILL coming down! We got the horses in their stalls and fed. They were toasty dry beneath their blankets, but their tails and manes were heavy with icicles.
It snowed almost until noon, whereupon the wind immediately increased until we could tell viability and wind chill was going to hamper our clean-up progress. We hadn’t seen a town plow go by since the day before and our truck needed to be dug out and moved in order to reach our Kabota tractor. (In hindsight, even if we’d relocated the truck prior and parked the Kabota at the “ready to go” spot, we still would have had to do considerable clearing just to reach the tractor!) It took an hour to snow-blow enough driveway to move the truck, then it took an hour to dig the truck free and move it. Finally, the Kabota (with it’s bucket loader) was ready to tackle the rest of the driveway. The goal was to clear the driveway, then open the lane to the barn and push back as much snow as possible in the horse paddock. But somewhere along the way my husband got distracted. About mid-afternoon I went out to take some pictures and realized he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Worried, I abandoned my camera and went looking for him, hoping I wouldn’t find the tractor upside down in a ditch.
Walking anywhere a path hadn’t been cleared was impossible because the snow was some 3+ feet deep in most places. To give you a little idea of how deep that is in relationship to my size, that meant trying to navigate through snow that was at least crotch-deep. Fun as that was initially … for the challenge certainly kindles the child in me … after about 20 yards you’re just exhausted. So the search for my husband was limited to the small labyrinth of dog paths we’d made and the trails we’d cleared to reach the various key points of necessity on the farm. He was nowhere to be found.
Eventually the husband reappeared on the radar. Apparently he’d driven down the road to plow out an elderly neighbor. Now as much as I commend him for his generosity and kindness, I was a little stumped. I mean, it’s not like our neighbor could go anywhere! (All state and secondary roads were still closed!) Meanwhile, we had animals that needed a cleared place so they could be out and move around safely. Instead, my husband spent the rapidly dwindling daylight clearing someone elses’ driveway. Long story short, the horses spent the night in the barn. Snow is still blocking everything …. and this morning I still don’t have a path to the manure pile. Cleaning stalls is starting to get a little tricky! Hopefully, we’ll do a better job of prioritizing the clean-up process today and get our horses back outside where they belong!
Waiting for hay on a foggy morning.
A bluebird house, vacated for the winter.
We finished staining the outside of the barn. Well, all but a tiny bit of trim around a few of the windows on the main doors. I might get to finish that this morning. The inside still needs to be finished a coat of clear wood protector, but it will have to wait until next spring. It wasn’t our plan to move the horses over to this side of the property until … well, we didn’t really have a time frame in mind. But we’ve been talking about making that a reality much sooner as a result of Dharla’s recent dog and fence incident. In order to make that happen we have to do a bunch of clearing on the opposite side of the new barn and get more fence installed. What was once a fairly easy project some twenty years ago now seems a bit daunting. We’re not spring chickens anymore and the thought of all that hard labor is a little sobering. In addition, the barn will need electricity and water, which means there’s lots to think about this winter while we’re stuck inside doing nothing.
It’s pretty hard to believe the view outside my window can change so much in just a matter of two weeks.
But it did!
A little glimpse inside.
All in all, things turned out pretty well considering the glitches and obstacles we encountered. Like any project, there were bumps in the road and unexpected stuff that cropped up. Like the fact that nobody asked if we wanted a cupola and weather vane. Three days before the building was done I suddenly realized that we should have discussed the possibility of adding a cupola during the planning stage. Unfortunately, I was face down on a massage table recovering from eye surgery when the final plans got reviewed. So I spent the better part of an entire day online trying to track down a cupola and weathervane that I liked (and here is the clincher) that could be delivered in 24 hours. Naturally, since the cupola had not been discussed during the planning stage, there was an extra charge to install it. Turns out, it costs a damn lot to add something on after the fact. I’m not sure how they justify that since they didn’t have to build the cupola, but there you have it. I bought the weathervane from a company in Maine, which is well within a normal, one-day delivery zone. Well apparently Fed-Ex doesn’t think so; it took four days for the weathervane to get here and it didn’t arrive until the morning after the builders were done. Fortunately, I wasn’t charged to have the builder come back and put the weathervane on the cupola. Good thing, because if there had been an extra fee involved I’m pretty damn sure I would have climbed up there and put it on myself.
So is everything else perfect? Not exactly. Given the very bright sunshine the morning the builder installed the weathervane and my lingering bad vision, I didn’t notice the finger prints and smudges on the copper roof of the cupola. But boy oh boy do they show up in the pictures! Should the roof have been wiped down? Yes. But I’ve long since learned this builder wasn’t one to go out of his way to tidy things up.
This (above) is the pile of crap the builder left for us to clean up. Color me stupid, but I thought clean-up was part of HIS job? I’m beyond miffed about this. Had we known he wasn’t going to clean up his mess we would have had a dumpster brought in. The last thing I want to do with my bad back is spend the next few days (in 100 degree heat) picking up and sorting through a pile of wood, plastic, paper and cement scraps. Oh, and bagging all the personal garbage from his work crew: chip bags, Dunkin’ Donut cups, cigarette butts, etc.
Overall, the builder did a good job building our barn, but he has no people skills or customer service. When asked any sort of question he immediately launched into “builder speak” which honestly began to sound to me like he was doing his best to make me feel like an idiot. Another time when I asked about sheer support on main beams he took such offense that he responded by asking me to hold off critiquing his work until he was done. Twice I asked him to call Aldo in the evening so he could ask him about something and both times the builder blew him off. The one time we did call and leave a message on his voice mail, he never bothered to return the call.
But the garbage issue is the most annoying. One of the main reasons we had someone else build the barn was so it would free us up to oncentrate on the work WE need to do. Now we’ll be picking up this mess for weeks. I mean, it’s not like we have someplace to put all the scraps.”You can use the wood as kindling for bonfires,” the builder said as I picked my jaw up off the ground when I saw he was not going to clean up his mess. “Yeah. That would be great IF WE DID BONFIRES!!!!” I thought. So we’re giving away as much of the scrap lumber as we can, but we still have a pile of it to clean up. And a gazillion tarps. (Whoever said, “You can never have too many tarps” was wrong!) And a huge pile of cardboard and insulation scraps. They’re killing the grass on the hill opposite the new barn, this little gift … courtesy of my builder.
The “Inspector” on the second floor.
Yesterday after the builders left the two dogs and I made our daily visual inspection of the barn-building progress. You can see the grates in the front of the stalls and the stairs to the loft are in the far back right corner of the first floor. To get upstairs you go up four stirs, turn on a landing, then ascend several more stairs to the top. However, since I had other stuff to do the dogs and I didn’t go upstairs. Instead, I went back to the other side of the house to water the gardens on the opposite side of the property. When I finished I called both dogs and got ready to go in to start dinner. Nina was with me, but Hazer was nowhere in sight. Not unusual per se, so I called twice more as I put my gardening tools away. When Hazer didn’t come lumbering around the back of the house I started to get a little nervous. Shades of the brush hog episode? I hoped not. Hazer is seldom of out of my sight. I called again, a bit more frantic and I heard a distant yip. Good grief! Where was he now? I hollered again and followed the sound of his voice. When I came around the far side of the house I saw him standing on the second floor of the barn.
Considering this is the dog who launched himself off a two story (plus) rock ledge, I kind of panicked for a second. I kept telling Hazer to lay down. Actually, I was a little nervous to say the word “down” thinking he might just jump, but like a good boy he parked his carcass. Then I decided I wanted to take his picture, so I told him to stay and went back to the house to grab my camera. Needless to say, Hazer has a great “down/stay”! So I took a couple of pictures of him sitting up there, then I went up and showed him the way down. Duh. Neena would have run down the ramp. She’s that kind of girl!
With all the political pressure going on right now it’s kind of nice to know that the only kind of pressure I have to cope with is the animal kind. I like how animals operate; if they want something they figure out a way to let you know what it is. Sometimes you’ll like their methods, sometimes you won’t, but at least they’re honest about their intentions. Which is a lot more than I can say about humans.
Here, Bullet communicates his desire to be fed. Please? OK, pretty please?
An old fave, tone mapped so I don’t forget how to use PS5!
In April of 1989 we built our barn in one month. It rained about half of the thirty days it took to get this project started and finished, but since my husband had just bought a horse and we were paying to board him for a month, we didn’t have the luxury of time. We’d never built a barn from the ground up, but we assembled a crew of family and friends and the guys had at it. I somehow managed to blow out an ovary and required major surgery smack dab in the midst of this lofty endeavor, so I don’t remember most of it. I do know the building inspector was forgiving when he saw the five or six inches of water pooling in the bottom of the post holes and gave us the nod to finish the project.
Our pole barn is built half on ledge and half on water, and that was the best site we could find. We started out with a two stall barn with no running water, a dirt floor and hay storage on pallets. The main barn soon expanded to include a run-in shed off the east side of the barn, and years later when a third horse was added, a second run-in shed off the west side. Overall our barn has sufficed, but it’s a no-frills operation and hay storage has always been a problem. Access to the barn is via a short dirt lane and then we have to drive across the paddock to reach the barn. While that works OK in the summer, it’s not the best situation during the winter, and because our barn is small, we can’t store enough hay to get us through the winter. So that means crossing our fingers and hoping we don’t have to bring in more hay after we’ve had a bunch of new snow. Granted, we can use our tractor to plow a path, but last year we were so inundated with snow that we reached a point where we almost ran out of room to pile it!
We’ve talked about building a new barn for years. I’ve come home from the Equine Affaire toting barn-building literature two years in a row, but we’re finally just now getting around to meeting someone to talk about building a barn. I can tell you that whatever we build, it won’t be fancy. We’re not looking to add more stalls or finish out a stable, we simply want better access to good hay storage. I’m sure if we build a barn with a loft, the floor plan will call for stalls below, but since we don’t have a need for stalls we won’t finish that off now. I would like to have a nice tack room; our basement is crowded with horse gear that would be better stored in the barn. And water. Oh, how I’d like to have running water in my next barn. I think that’s a “must.”
I’ve looked at so many barn-building brochures that my mind is filled with ideas and wishes. But I know we won’t be adding to our cost by putting all those nice finishing touches on this structure. Maybe later, maybe someday, but I won’t hold my breath. For now, just a dry, clean, accessible place to store those ridiculously expensive (and rising) bales of hay will do …. I guess. *Sigh* so much for my dreams of grandeur.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!
I was catching up on a bunch of horsey (mule, etc, etc, etc) blogs when I ran across this amusing entry. Very funny stuff and reading it made me start thinking about making a wish-list of my own. Here are a few of my most recent additions:
Spouse & Animal Mind Meld: The ability to tap into their brains because I have NO CLUE what the heck they’re thinking most the time!
Fingertip Point & Mute: Especially handy for the Cattle Dog Shriek.
Personal Hover Fan: It goes where you go … because menopause sucks. Still.
Cattle Prod Bumpers: Need I explain?
Saddle Horn Delete: Hit the horn cap, it deletes your last miscue.
Call slapping: You can reach through the phone and slap the telemarketer who interrupted your dinner to take a poll.
Chia Groceries: All you do is add water and they magically appear and prepare themselves.
Grocery Cart Horn & Front End Loader: The horn because it’s not common knowledge that isles are traffic lanes, and the front end loader to push all those isle-blocking displays and shoppers elsewhere.
And while I’m on the Grocery Theme List:
Nerf Deli Bats: Because apparently taking a number and waiting your turn isn’t for everyone. Now if we got a bat with that number … ’nuff said!
Fluorescent Exact-O Knives: Some days it takes longer to find the Exact-O knife than it takes to feed the horses. (Most days) I think the FAA would approve!
Vapor Lock Saddle Switch: For those times when your horse is too hot to handle. Mid-buck just flip that switch on and shut ‘er down for a few!
Visor Wikipedia for Rednecks & Cowboys: Wait, I have the answer to that … just let me consult my hat.
Automated Tack Cleaner: Place your dirty tack on the rack and let ‘er rip!
Stupid Vault: Better than a safe room; it’s where all the dumb stuff you’ve ever said and done gets filed.
Universal Sizes for Pet Food: For the mathematically challenged. It’s bad enough that you’re raping us, this shouldn’t have to be rocket science too!
Call Dropping: You can automatically “drop” any phone call mid-sentence. Oh wait, we already have that. It’s called a Cell Phone.
What’s on your Christmas Wish List?
… a little sunshine, a little hay.
Oh, the simple pleasure of
a nice day!
Hope your day is blissful too!
I took this photo one early morning as the sun was starting to cut through the heavy fog. When I first saw this scene all I could think was, “Huh?” There sat this ginormous house right smack dab between two very old tobacco barns. How did that happen? The austere barns and the ornate McMansion are so diametrically opposed in appearance that it’s almost comical. It looks like one of those “what’s wrong with this picture” puzzles.
This is what happens when the wealthy want to live in the country. They have enough money to buy anything they want, but they don’t think about the consequences of plunking their big new house smack dab in the middle of a tobacco field. I wonder how they like it when the dust from plowing and harvesting is wafting through their windows and coating their clapboard? Or at six AM., when they’re awakened by the sound of tractors working in the surrounding fields? How about when they spray pesticides on the tobacco or spread fertilizer in the spring? Do they like it then? Does living in the midst of prime farm land make them feel more “in touch” with the land, or did they just build their house there because they could? I mean nothing says “look at how much money I have” than buying prime farm land (in spitting distance from the Connecticut river, I might add) and raising up a house that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Yeah. I’m impressed …. NOT! But it makes for an interesting photo, don’t you think?