Archive for September, 2011

autumn scene

Posted on September 29th, 2011 by Tonia 6 Comments

The leaves are changing slowly this year thanks to a good amount of rainfall over the summer and a gentle progression of cool-cold-colder days, easing us into the middle of autumn.

Usually when the leaves change slowly like this, it means they’ll last a few weeks before turning brown and dropping off. Something as simple as a drive to the grocery store is suddenly a captivating show of fiery colors zipping by on both sides of the road; A grand-finale of life and color before the long winter sleep under stark white blankets.

Not Just Any Old Horse

Posted on September 27th, 2011 by Tonia 21 Comments

This husband of mine is one cool guy. The surprise he planned turned out to be an AMAZING little road-trip up the north shore of Lake Superior. Mike took us to Grand Marais, MN, a beautiful little town near the Canadian border that prides itself in delicious fresh fish cuisine. As happy as I was about the prospect of a hot bowl of fish chowder for dinner, I was even more excited about a horse.

Yes, a horse. And not just any old horse….LOKI! Loki: A sturdy Norwegian Fjord gelding who was my first horse ever. My parents bought him for me {and I helped, with whatever summer-job money I had} when I was 13 {after approximately 12 years of begging them for a pony, they finally gave in.}

Loki turns one (June 1998). Please disregard the Chicago Bears sweatshirt. I’m NOT a Bears fan!
It was a hand-me-down from my cousins who live in Chicago. GO PACKERS!!


He became mine exactly 10 hours after his mother gave birth to him. My family stood outside the stall and watched her lick the goo off of his tiny body. He was the most beautiful, knobby-kneed creature I’d ever laid eyes on and I couldn’t believe he was mine.

The folks who owned his mother taught me all about raising a foal during the months when he was still nursing. By the time he was finally old enough to be weaned and brought home, I was well prepared to train and raise him.

We had six amazing years together. Loki lived in our back yard with an old Arabian gelding named Shadow who was given to us by some friends to keep Loki company {horses are herd animals and should not live alone}. My little brother and I had a deep bond with them both. We would spray them with the garden hose on hot days and laugh our heads off as they kicked up their heals and dodged around the spray like kids running through a sprinkler.

How cute is it that my brother brought along his stuffed tiger to the group nap? (February 1998)


We would join them in mid-day naps in the sun- the horses spread out on their sides like huge breathing pillows and us laying right on top of them. We rode them through the woods bareback. We braided their manes and tails like they were fancy show horses. We told them things we didn’t even tell our best friends.

I trained Loki to ride and drive {pull a wagon/sled/cart/plow} mostly by myself and with the occasional help of a professional trainer if he was giving me trouble. He went through a couple naughty teenage-angst phases in which he earned his name {“Loki” was the Norse god of mischief and evil…} but for the most part he was a sweet, willing, hard-working, fun boy with a big personality and heart.

Loki’s first driving lesson with trainer Walt Monheim (January 1998).


He pulled the sled for our maple syrup operation like a pro. Fjords are “draft ponies”, meaning they have the strength and functionality of a draft horse and can be used for logging, farming, and other heavy work, but they’re much smaller and more compact than most draft breeds {Shires, Percherons, Clydesdales, Belgians, etc.} Their smaller size makes them easier to ride.

Teaching Loki the basic driving commands (July 1998).


Heading out for a winter trail ride. (January 2000)


In the first year that Loki was with us, my parents began adding onto our house. The construction was going on every day right next to Loki’s paddock. He would watch the workers curiously with his big doe-eyes and wait for them to take their lunch break and come feed him treats and talk to him. One day, we heard some loud clomping noises coming from inside the unfinished addition…

My dad leading Loki out of the house (March 1998).


Apparently Loki had gotten bored with watching from the sidelines. We came upon him, inside the house, calmly checking everything out. To this day I have no idea how he got out of the paddock!

Being an awkward teenager ain’t so bad when you have a best friend like Loki to go through it all with you. We grew, evolved, and learned about life together. I got a glimmer of what a horse’s perspective on the world looks like: mysterious, complex, and beautiful.

My brother with the stuffed tiger again… (July 1998)


And then I graduated high school and got accepted into a college that was six hours from home. It wouldn’t have been fair to the horses to keep them there without their main caretaker around. They would get fat and bored with no one to exercise them. Shadow went home to his family, and Loki was reluctantly put up for sale. It’s the craziest thing, selling an animal who is basically a family member. My heart broke that day when we loaded him into a trailer and watched him drive off to his new life without me. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again.

Fast forward to now. My husband tracked down the woman who owns Loki now. She is a teacher and a farmer in Grand Marais, owns about six Norwegian Fjords, and welcomed us to come and visit Loki!!

You can’t even imagine what I was feeling when I saw my boy again. He looks the same {maybe a little fatter…} and I dare say he maybe even remembered me. As you can see, he took a moment to breath in my scent as we touched for the first time in so, so long.

Dang, I love this horse.


He’s happy and healthy, living with five mares on 100 acres of beautiful rolling pasture. What a lucky guy!

His owner {I’m not sure she wants me to share her name, so we’ll just refer to her as The Wonderful Woman} offered to harness him up so we could take him for a little drive. I was thrilled. It made me so happy that Mike was finally meeting this horse I had told him stories about countless times.

Harnessing him up.


His velvet soft nose.


We hooked him up to a sulky {a small two-wheel cart} and TWW handed me the reins. Holding them in my hands and feeling Loki’s mouth on the other end was exciting. I have continued to ride all these years, but I haven’t driven a horse since I sold Loki. He was patient with me as I tried to remember all the cues.

And Mike got a ride, too. He thought it was pretty dang fun. Perhaps he understands my horse-craziness a little better now?

After Loki had worked up a little sweat, we brushed him out and gave him a couple treats. He closed his eyes and yawned a few times. Clearly, we were starting to cut in on his regular nap-time. I wanted to stay there forever, but it was time to say goodbye.

We thanked TWW profusely, gave Loki a little kiss on that soft nose of his, and headed back from whence we came.

…But not without stopping in the town for a hot bowl of chowder for dinner.

Grand Marais really is a lovely place.

Basically, the best day. Ever.

exclamation points galore!

Posted on September 22nd, 2011 by Tonia 5 Comments

First of all, you guys were super helpful in the emergency-anniversary-gift-for-husband department. Thank you for the ideas! He totally loved the L.L. Bean flannel work shirt I gave him. I know he will get years and years of use out of that thing. He has another present coming his way that I cannot reveal at this point in time because I am not quite done making it.

Unfortunately, due to us both catching that gnarly cold that I already whined about to you, we never had the big elaborate meal and romantic evening that I had schemed. But we will. Next week. Or as soon as I can breathe out of my nose again without sounding like Darth Vader. “Fffffffffft, feeeewwwwwwwt. Ffffffffffft, feeeeeeewwwwt. Baby, I love you. Ffffffffft…..” Yeah, not hot.

In the meantime, though, turns out Mike planned an adventure for us. Only, he’s not telling me what it is. A SURPRISE!! OH GOODY!! WHAT IS IT?? LET ME GUESS! NO WAIT I DON’T WANT TO KNOW, I WANT TO BE SURPRISED! OHMYGOSHSOEXCITEDWHOA.

So tomorrow we’re waking up super early to do………something.

Recipe for awesome day: Coffee, eggs, SURPRISES!!!!

Ok, I’m done eating. Let’s go do the surprise!!!!!!!!

Fall Reading

Posted on September 22nd, 2011 by Tonia 10 Comments

Tea-time, sans crumpets. I prefer homemade bread smeared with dolce de leche.

This book has been on my “Need to Read ASAP!” list for, like, ever. It’s one of my dad’s all-time favorites and I’m a sucker for human-dog-relationship stories, so I knew I would love it. I’m almost done with it and can’t help but slow down my reading pace to try to savor the ending. It’s one of those books that you wish would never end. And it makes you want to name your first-born son “Francois” and your daughter “Nonnie”.

One of my favorite parts of the book is towards the end. Nonnie, a young girl being raised in the middle of no-where in Africa by her stern and widowed British military officer father and her Portuguese nanny, has gone completely horse-crazy {I can relate!}. Her father just upbraided her for wasting precious time and paper sketching horses, and her deeply religious and dramatic nanny goes off on a sullen tangent about girls and horses.

“Dear Mother of Christ, Good blood of the wood, why must it always be like this? I know they all must grow up, but why should they always begin by falling in love with horses? Her sainted mother was exactly the same… “

Hilarious and true.

Fall is the most delicious season for curling up with a good book, no? Maybe with a fire blazing in the woodstove. Maybe with a quilt your Grandma made for you when you graduated high school across your lap. Maybe with a wiener-dog named Charlie curled by your side. And definitely always with tea.

Last time we shared our reading lists, you guys suggested so many good ones! Have I told you all lately how FUN it is to have readers that are into all the same stuff as me?? Gardening, reading, living simply, etc. Could you BE ANY COOLER? No.

So anyway, my “NRASAP!” list is so long right now, I’m not sure how I’ll ever get to all of them! I’m almost scared to ask again, but I really wanna know: What are you reading right now?