Japanese beetles…

…are the bane of my existence.

They started moving into our area two years ago, but were a minor, mild annoyance at worst. We saw a few in our fields when we crop scouted, maybe one or two in the yard. No big deal.

But THIS summer, the little f***ers are EVERYWHERE. They’ve demolished the leaves on both my apple trees, one of my oaks, my witch hazels, and my grape vines. When we walk through our fields, CLOUDS of them buzz around our faces.

It is the beetlepocalypse around here, friends.

I’ve currently got four of those little beetle traps set up around my yard and I won’t even tell you how many POUNDS of beetles I’ve disposed of. (Yes, we’re talking POUNDS. Every day. I wish I was exaggerating.)

Ordinarily I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person regarding bugs outside, but Japanese beetles are an invasive, highly destructive species and I feel no shame or regret at bagging them up.

But, oh, I am wishing for a hard, long frost this winter. Maybe it will kill some of these bug spawn.

*shudders*

*shudders some more*

(If you live in an area with Japanese beetle infestations, HOW THE HELL DO YOU GET RID OF THEM?????)

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Pen and Paper Plans

When my grandmother passed away, I became the de facto family genealogist and record-keeper. I inherited a box of her papers, including a stack of desk calendars she’d kept for decades.

They were nothing special – just the cheap sort of thing a bank or insurance company would have given away free. And she didn’t do anything special with them – she just scrawled her appointments in pen or pencil.

But, oh, to me they are a treasure.

Reading things like “Lunch with Rita” or “David’s first day of work” or “Library fundraiser” in her familiar handwriting is almost like sitting down to tea with her spirit. It gives me a glimpse into her ordinary, daily life – and lets me see hints of the woman she was before she became my grandmother.

That stack of dusty, fading planners inspired me to be a little more organized with my own daily planning. Instead of scribbling things on scraps of paper, I bought a spiral-bound planner and spent the next few years trying to figure out a system that would be functional, efficient, and happy for me.

And I’ve finally done it.

So – because this is a topic that often comes up in conversation with other writers – here is how I manage my time, track project targets and hours, note appointments, and cross things off my (many) lists.

(Warning: there will be a lot of pictures!)

First, I keep an Erin Condren Life Planner. (Yes, they’re expensive – but you can get $10 off with a referral code, and you can earn loyalty points which offer fantastic discounts. Also, the paper quality is AMAZING and you can switch covers on and off, which is SO fun.)

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It includes a monthly view where I write all family appointments, events, birthdays, meetings, etc. as well as a weekly view where I keep track of tasks, bills, etc. I like having monthly and weekly overviews, but…

really like crossing things off a daily to-do list because after a day of tedium it’s nice to feel like I’ve actually, y’know, accomplished something. The Erin Condren Life Planner doesn’t offer enough room for all the stuff I need to do in a day, but a straight-up bullet journal didn’t offer me quite enough structure (I hate drawing my own calendex). Problem solved: I now keep a Leuchtturm 1917 (in this adorable Woodland Cottage Farms cover) just for daily to-do lists and habit trackers.

 

But after trying to juggle three professional projects, one personal project, and two horses in training along with a farm, a family, and all the usual household stuff I realized that my daily to-do lists were getting ridiculous. I wanted a way to track project-specific tasks and timelines. Even though a lot of people handle this by color-coding and so forth in their bullet journals, it just wasn’t working for me.

So I ordered the Erin Condren Teacher Lesson Planner and modified it to work as a Project Planner. I have to say, it’s become one of my favorite things EVER.

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First of all, it’s a larger size than the regular Life Planner. It’s 8.5″ x 11″ and FULL of useful pages. I made some minor modifications by covering up school-related things with washi tape, but this book is PERFECT for balancing multiple long-term projects.

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It’s easy to cover up school/grade blanks.
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I turned a communication log into a book log.
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The months went from January to December, but my planner goes July-June so I used stickers to change the labels.

There are four pages of graph paper which said something about classroom organization and seating charts, so I just covered it up with washi. I’ll use mine for wordcount trackers.

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There is a notebook spread before each month which is PERFECT for laying out monthly goals. The section near the bottom for “dates to remember” is where I write appointments or events from my family calendar – these don’t go in the monthly view of this particular book, but because they impact how much work I can get done on those days I like to have a place to keep track of them.

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The monthly view of this book is a great size and perfect for writing down project deadlines, milestones, and any related meetings. (Note: my book runs July-June, but I’m showing August because I’ve already filled in July. You can also choose a regular calendar timeline from January-December.)

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Next you get a week view, with six spaces and a long sidebar. It’s dated Monday-Friday, but if you work on weekends you can easily use the sidebar for your weekend tasks. I choose to focus my project work during the week, so I use the sidebar for an overview of my weekly goals. I use three columns for professional projects, one for my personal project, and the last two for my horses in training.

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The lined space under each date is where I write my inspiration for the day. (I use a deck of inspirational cards and draw one every morning, and I love having a spot to make note of it.)

At the end of the month is a two-page lined spread that is perfect for my “review and reflection” section. This is where I analyze my month: what worked, what went wrong, what do I need to adjust, what did I accomplish, etc.

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That should be enough planners for anybody, right? Well…

…maybe. But I’ve found that one of the most irritating and needlessly stressful parts of my day is preparing supper. By the time I’m done with the rest of my work, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to cook. And given the food allergies I’ve suffered for the past year, it’s not like I can just yank something from the freezer or run to a fast-food drive-through.

I decided that my life would go much smoother if I invested a little energy into planning meals ahead of time. So, I ordered the Erin Condren Deluxe Monthly planner just for meals, grocery lists, and recipes.

It’s gorgeous!

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This one goes from August-July because I was anxious to get started (I knew it wouldn’t arrive by the start of July) but you can choose another starting month until December and then it will just be available as a regular calendar: January-December.

It includes a page before the monthly view which I’ll use as a shopping list for monthly staples and household items.

 

The monthly view is where I’ll list meal ideas for each day – but I’ll cross-reference with my family and work calendars so that I’m not trying to prepare a slow, complicated meal on a day when we’re running around.

There are four lined pages after each month that are perfect for weekly grocery lists, and you have the option to include additional lined pages at the back which I intend to use for recipes. (Yes, I look up recipes on the internet. But when I find one I love, I like having it on paper so I always know where it is. Also, we live in a rural area and internet access is occasionally unreliable. Flipping open a notebook, however, always works. :))

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So, I know I sound like an Erin Condren commercial (I’m not getting paid, I promise!) but I LOVE these notebooks and I’m so excited about having a fun system that keeps me organized and productive.

I know a lot of people keep all their planning/organizing/scheduling stuff on their phones and computers, but I think better with pen and paper. Something about seeing it all laid out, being able to flip from page to page… well, that helps me feel more organized. And, at the end of the year, it is SO satisfying to look back on everything I’ve done over the year. Sure, it’s a lot of ordinary stuff, like “Crop reports due” and “Pay tuition” but it offers a real look at who I am and what I do and how my life is shaped. I like to imagine having a granddaughter someday who might find it interesting. 🙂

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How do you like to plan? Are you a paper nerd like me?

 

 

 

Twelve Classics

I read a lot – usually between 120 and 150 books a year, though this year the total may be closer to 100 because I’ve been working on so many professional projects. I read widely and across pretty much all genres, though historical fiction and fantasy are my favorites. But I also like to set myself reading challenges, and this year I decided to read twelve classics – one per month. (I’ve done this challenge once before, several years ago, and decided I needed to revisit it.)

I am halfway* through the challenge and have so far read:

  1. WIVES AND DAUGHTERS by Elizabeth Gaskell (a charming English pastoral examining the private lives of women and their role in “proper” society, and a book I thoroughly enjoyed)
  2. DR. ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak (about love and war and revolution in Russia, between 1905 and WWII. Honestly, I despised the main characters and found the history of the book more interesting than the story itself, though there were utterly gorgeous descriptions of rural scenes, and I loved the symbolism of the candle in the frosty glass.)
  3. MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot (another English pastoral, though this one focused more on community and the intertwined lives of people)
  4. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton (I enjoyed the setting and the sharp, feminist observations of hypocrisy, but the tone is rather bleak and cynical and I did not find the main characters all that sympathetic.)
  5. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD by Thomas Hardy* (another English pastoral, with strong female characters and a romance I heartily enjoyed)
  6. THE SELECTED WORKS OF CESARE PAVESE translated by R. W. Flint (I chose this because I can’t recall reading any Italian writers and wanted to rectify the omission, and because the collected novellas sounded interesting. Alas, this was the WORST book I’ve read yet this year and I can’t recommend it. The stories are slow, vague, and depressing and the prose – in this translation, at least – is so spare as to feel insubstantial and weak. The only redeeming quality is the fact that it provides an interesting glimpse of Turin during the wars.)
  7. MOBY DICK by Herman Melville (I tried this during my last Classics Challenge and bogged down – but I was reading it after wading through Wings of the Dove by Henry James, which is a miserable slog, and didn’t have enough patience. This time around I found it slightly more interesting. Though the graphic depictions of whaling are disturbing, I appreciated the historical context of the industry and the attempt at scientific description of ocean ecology/cetology. Still, I would have liked more character interactions and less rambling, expository discourse.)

Next up is THE VOYAGE OUT by Virginia Woolf. August is NIGHT AND DAY by Virginia Woolf, then THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES by Nathaniel Hawthorne in October. DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes is my November book, and DANCE TO THE PIPER by Agnes de Mille is my December book.

* I am actually more than halfway through the challenge because I decided to read my September book – FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – early, since I was already on an English pastoral kick and it seemed to follow naturally.

If anyone has read these or is interested in reading along, I’d love a discussion!

Summer on the farm…

Summer on the farm means the sweet musk of corn pollen and clover, cut grass and new hay. It means turtles in the pond and fireflies at dusk. It means blue herons on the lake and owls in the barn, foxes in the culvert and coyotes in the back woods. It means bright mornings, long sunsets, and the silver mist of the Milky Way stretching across the sky at night.

I was born near the northern California coast and there are days my spirit longs for the sea. The scent of pine and eucalyptus and salt means home in a way that my landlocked family can’t fully understand.

But I love our farm, too, and I’ve planted deep roots in our (regrettably clay-based) soil. Every season brings new beauty, and I love watching the wheel of the year turn out here.

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Happiest mail…

My contributor copies of CRICKET magazine (*) arrived today and they are gorgeous. The illustrator, Kathryn A. Finney, got my horse exactly right and I’m just thrilled.

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(Art copyright 2018 by Kathryn A. Finney)

(*) No, this is not where Cricket got her name, though the coincidence tickles me. 🙂

Horses, Trainers, and Not Dying

When I first began working with wild mustangs, I did everything by myself. Oh, I had some experience with colts in college and I watched the videos and read the books, but I was working entirely alone. My goals, at the time, were basic: 1. I didn’t want to die. 2. I didn’t want my horses to die. 3. I wanted us to have fun together not dying.

Gypsy, my war mare, had specific and narrow definitions of not dying. She taught me a lifetime of knowledge about handling deep-rooted fear and resistance, but the fun we could have together was limited.

Ranger’s seizures, unfortunately, meant that for him not dying was a moving target and when my own safety became problematic I quit working with him and let him live out his days as a pasture ornament.

And then there was Brisa – my sweet, gentle, mostly willing, mostly patient mare with a floating trot and kind eye. It became apparent that not dying wasn’t really enough of a goal. She had potential I didn’t know how to develop by myself.

Around the same time, I adopted Trinity. Though she was a yearling when I brought her home, she was so bold and confident and athletic that she had absolutely no fear of dying. Which… made me worry about not dying quite a bit.

That’s when I decided to find a trainer, and I was lucky enough to discover someone I immediately connected with. For around three years I took weekly lessons, watched her put 30 or 60 or 90 days on Brisa and Trinity, and soaked in as much wisdom as I possibly could. Those days at the barn remain some of my favorites ever.

But life happened and I had to cut my training time short. Though I hope to return, it’s just not in the cards right now. So… I’m back to working my horses by myself.

This time I have bigger goals than simply not dying. But I also have years of experience behind me. I have renewed confidence and greater strength. And though there are days – when my wild mares are being particularly wild or particularly mareish, or when it’s raining and I’m slogging through clay mud because I don’t have an indoor – that I desperately wish I could just move in to her barn and never leave, there are gifts to keeping horses at home and doing the work yourself.

Like today, when Cricket was trying to learn to yield her hindquarters over a stick on the ground. She can yield and she can step over sticks, but she had no freaking clue why I would ask her to do both at once. No matter how patiently I waited for her to understand, no matter how carefully I tried to communicate the idea, she just couldn’t get it. We both got frustrated and hot and tired. Her face said she thought I was stupid and I’m sure my face said the same of her.

And then I saw the exact instant it suddenly clicked. Her eyes lit up, her ears pricked, and she yielded over the stick as smoothly as if she’d been doing it all along. I was so proud of her. We did it five more times on both sides just to prove we could. It’s a small thing, certainly, and I’m sure my trainer could have done it in twelve seconds rather than the twelve and a half minutes it took me. But Cricket and I shared the success together, and that’s something special.

Sometimes we get so focused on big goals that we forget to celebrate the small victories, but that’s my victory for the day. Here’s to your own small victories – enjoy them on the way to bigger successes!

 

 

Kittens!!

So, last winter I adopted two young cats – they needed a home, and I needed mousers. (This farm once boasted as many as two dozen sleek and well-fed cats, but coyotes and dogs have killed or chased them off, and now we’re desperate. Our barns are being over-run by mice so building a cat population once more has become a priority.)

One of the cats is a yellow male tabby named Mogwai, and the other is a cream colored female named Taiga. After a frank discussion with my vet, I decided to let nature run her course and see what happened.

And last week, nature gave us a litter of kittens. 😀

(Note: I do not condone the irresponsible breeding of any animal and believe that in most cases pets should be spayed and neutered. But my cats are in good health and I intend to keep all but one of the kittens – that one has been promised to my brother. This will likely be Taiga’s only litter, though I have said I would be happy to take in another queen or litter of kittens next year.)

Taiga gave birth right beside me, so I was allowed to observe every moment of her labor and delivery – a privilege I was profoundly grateful for. And Mogwai has been a gentle and attentive father, which is so touching.

My house is taken over by blankets and towels and soft beds and the tiny cries of hungry mouths, but we are all charmed.

There are five dark gray/brown tabbies, and one yellow tabby. We love each one already and can’t wait to see them grow.

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Mogwai observing the newborn kittens taking their first feedings of milk.

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Kitten pile! This was taken at two days old.

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Mogwai and Taiga cuddling sleepy kittens.

Starting Cricket

First of all, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, father figures, men wishing they could be fathers, and men missing their own fathers. Raising/mentoring children in today’s world is a difficult task, and I honor all of you trying your best to guide, guard, and love your kids.

Father’s Day is still a working day here on the farm, so while my husband worked on his truck I put Cricket in the round pen and officially started her Real Training.

Because she was barely a yearling when I got her, and because she’d spent a tough winter in Nebraska (the Elm Creek facility takes excellent care of the mustangs, but wintering a baby fresh off the range is hard on them), her first year with me was mostly just… preschool. It took some time to get her dewormed and sleeked up, so that was my first priority.

She’s always been friendly and curious, so the next piece was fairly easy: just teaching her the basics of living in a human world. She learned:

  1. to lead functionally in and out of the pasture. By “functionally” I mean being easy to catch, leading politely without yanking or jigging on the line, and navigating past basic scary things. (In other words, leading past our fuel tanks, tractors, sheds, and grain bins.)
  2. to pick up her feet when asked. My mustangs have always had tough-as-nails feet that wear pretty evenly without much care, so she hasn’t had official farrier work done yet. But I have rasped off her ragged toes a couple of times and she’ll get her first proper trim in the next couple of weeks. She’ll be barefoot so shoes aren’t a concern right now.
  3. to stand still for brushing and fly spray. I confess, the fly spray is still an issue, but she’s getting better about it. She likes being brushed far more than Trinity does, so that’s no big deal.
  4. to accept deworming paste without throwing her head and being a brat. This is hit or miss, to be frank. I always chase the paste with a bit of applesauce, but until recently she wasn’t a fan of apples, so. (shrug) At least she’ll swallow it… eventually. Hopefully the next round goes smoothly, since she’ll now chomp apple slices with evident enjoyment.

She has let me swing a saddle blanket over her back, but I did it just to see her reaction so I’m not counting it as an actual lesson learned.

Cricket is now a two year old so my expectations are higher this year. Our focus now will be:

  1. leading impeccably. I need her to go anywhere I ask, over trail obstacles and around scary things, without bumping or brushing me when she gets nervous. I need her comfortable walking before, beside, and behind me when asked and I need to be able to point her over creeks and through narrow spaces. I’ll also introduce free lunging over (very low) rails because she LOVES to jump.
  2. standing still for farrier and vet work.
  3. standing tied without pawing the ground or fidgeting, for as long as I ask. (It took Trinity two years to get this. :P)
  4. self-loading in the trailer and standing without pawing.
  5. standing still for more intense grooming, including bathing as well as letting me braid her mane. (Trinity STILL hates having her mane messed with, but she’s better than she used to be.)
  6. accepting a saddle pad, saddle, and bridle.
  7. lunging smoothly at all gaits with a saddle pad, saddle, and bridle.
  8. wearing hoofboots and leg boots when asked without flinging herself around or bucking.
  9. wearing a quarter sheet or cooler without spooking.
  10. ponying off Trinity around the farm*

* This is a stretch goal, because it also depends on how well Trinity handles having a youngster beside her on the trail. She is not the most patient mare, so… we’ll see.

First step this morning was a quick refresher in the round pen, reminding Cricket to move her feet when I tell her to and to go at whatever speed I choose. It’s beastly hot so we didn’t do much, and she already knows the important things anyway. The biggest adjustment for her will be the fact that she’s now in the paddocks by herself – I turned Trinity loose in the big pasture. It will be the first time Cricket has ever been by herself and even though she’s not strongly attached to Trinity, being alone will be a change. It won’t be forever – just for the next few weeks so she can really concentrate on what I’m asking her to do. Trinity won’t be keen on isolation, either, but it will probably be good for her, too.

So! Here’s to the next stage of our adventure. I love this part: watching a baby horse learn and grow and figure things out. It’s the best. ❤IMG_2801

Cricket the day we brought her home.

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Cricket in the mist this winter.

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Cricket mostly ready to work. 😀

 

A Year Ago Today

One year ago today, we brought home a scrawny, shaggy gray pony with a white star and a clever eye. I always said I didn’t want a gray (because of the melanoma risk – ironically enough, given my husband’s condition!) – but I also say you shouldn’t pick a horse for color, so.

I chose her out of a group of more than twenty one- and two-year-old mustangs held at Elm Creek, Nebraska. (Which is a WONDERFUL facility, just so you know.) I knew going in that I wanted a friendly, curious horse. An eager, slightly bold temperament makes gentling and training much easier for me, I’ve discovered, and it’s more fun to work with a horse who wants to work with you, too. But I also wanted a horse with decent conformation and a body type that might be more suitable for the sorts of things I like to do. (One lovely horse, for example, was utterly sweet but so tiny she’d probably only mature to 13 hands. I have long legs and like to jump, so… not a good candidate for me.) Another – a friendly black with a curly mane – had such a long back and awkward hock angles that I was afraid she wouldn’t hold up to any kind of rigorous riding.

As soon as I walked into the pen, this gray walked right up to me and rubbed her nose on my hand. She followed me around, snuffled my hair, let me stroke her neck and shoulder. She was small and rough around the edges, but her legs were correct and well-proportioned, I liked her hip and shoulder angles, and she seemed to have a good back. She loaded like a pro and rode quietly all the way home.

It took me several weeks to name her – but when she jumped out of the pasture (never mind the 6′ fence) I decided Cricket suited her.

Her training this past year has really just been gentling and basic Manners 101, but she has proven eager, willing, and friendly. She is super athletic (we had to build a 7′ steel pipe fence to keep her in) and smart, and I am having such fun with her. Now that she is two, her proper training will begin – though she won’t be started under saddle for another year at least.

Anyway! Here’s Cricket on her One-Year-Gotchaversary. I expect you’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

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(She’s eating soaked alfalfa, which is why her face is a mess!)

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(Here she’s giving one of the dogs the stink-eye.)

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