"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Thursday, March 12, 2015

There and Back Again

A few months after we moved to Maryland in 2013, Charles was looking for a used DVD store. He's a big movie buff and one of his things is to buy and trade used movies. In Florida he used to go to Moviestop but there aren't that many of those up here. The closest one was in Baltimore, which was an hour away from us. So he Googled "used movie store" and found Record Xchange, of which there are two: one in Silver Spring, one in Frederick. Traffic to Silver Spring from Rockville, where we lived, was always kind of a bitch and since he'd never been to Frederick and he loves exploring, Charles chose to go check that one out first.

There is a point where I-270 makes a big curve up a hill and as you crest the rise, you suddenly get this astounding view of the Appalachians and a small city nestled against the foothills.


It was the first time Charles truly saw a mountain range since moving to the continental US from the island, other than the infrequent visits to PR and the rare visit to other states (this was before we went to WV for the first time). It was his first time seeing mountains and knowing they were part of his home state in 12 years.

He sent me a photo of it and returned to our apartment so, so excited about showing me Frederick. He took me a couple of weeks after that. It was an overcast cold spring day, but I had the same reaction he did when seeing the city at the base of the mountains for the first time. I gasped.

"Isn't it awesome?!" he exclaimed. 

Weeping willow. I had never seen one in real life until this moment. It reminded me of What Dreams May Come.
We parked on Market Street in downtown, had lunch at Bushwaller's, an Irish pub, and wandered around, exploring. I loved it too. The city had an artsy, grunge-rock vibe to it that struck a chord with both of us. Old Town in Alexandria, VA has a similar vibe, but Old Town is twice as expensive and kind of ritzy. Which makes downtown Frederick feel...authentic by comparison. I felt like the underdressed person at the party when we visited Old Town; we felt right at home in Frederick.

One of the many stone houses near the park. It made us think of Lord of the Rings. A lot about Frederick reminds us of LOTR.
Charles continued going anytime he had movies to trade. We went on special occasions like Fourth of July, and would take guests up to show them the city. My mom especially fell in love with it.

The art district
A man with wings in a window. The window next to it is also painted.
There is a lot of artwork like this throughout the city, which makes for frequent double-takes when you realize that something that appears to be real is in fact, not.
Our lease on the Rockville apartment was going to be up in February 2015. Having lived in MD for 2 years now, we were familiar enough with the different areas to feel confident about moving to a less expensive area. We looked around Germantown, which was about 15 minutes from our jobs and Kathy's. A lot of places looked promising price-wise online but then in person rent was anywhere from $100-$200 more/month than what was advertised online. Or they had a bunch of hidden costs like pet rent and amenity fees. We set our sights on one place but were apprehensive about it because it was even smaller than our current apartment at the time and we were worried about the yearly rising cost of rent: we really wanted to have a place where we could stay at for several years!

Both Charles and I have a lot of coworkers that live in Frederick and Charles had mentioned how much more affordable it is to live there. He was all for moving there, though I wasn't super excited about the longer drive what with winter and all. However, around that time one of my Frederick coworkers listed her townhouse for rent on Facebook...for almost $300 less than what we were paying for our 1-bedroom apartment! Which prompted me to check out the cost of rent at rental communities...and then the price of field board...and my jaw dropped: the cost of living only 30 minutes north was significantly less expensive. Enough to make the longer drive to our jobs worthwhile.

I found a particular rental community with excellent reviews online and we went to check it out. They had an apartment that would be available in February, but we could push the move-in date back to the first weekend of March if we wished. (We wanted to avoid moving in the snowiest coldest month of the year for this region.) This was perfect: none of the other places we'd looked at in Germantown had availabilities for when we needed. We paid the holding fee and set about giving notice.

So then it was time to look at barns. I did some Google searching,  mapped out 3 that were within 30 minutes driving time from the new apartment with decent reviews on COTH, all with board for $250 or less per horse, which to me was astounding. You're lucky if you can find field board for less than $350 in Montgomery County, where we've been living and keeping our horses for the last 2 years. And these weren't the only 3 barns...there were several others within that 30-minute radius at the same price point.

The first place we looked at was a dud. They had a massive indoor and 2 outdoors, and well-kept fields with huge run-in sheds. But field board was the equivalent of self-care at best. They had the capacity to separate the horses for graining (the run-ins had partitions with gates) but the BO wouldn't do it; he was clear about that. He would grain but not close the gates. In the winter the horses were only given hay once a day in winter and when I asked about the water source the BO just said, "We have automatic waterers for the fields. Sometimes they freeze and we'll bring water buckets for them once a day. They do fine; they can eat snow."


At least he was honest? One of the COTH members had warned about this BO's style of horsekeeping, so this wasn't completely unexpected. The funny thing is that I still got the impression that the guy liked us, as he was quite willing to show us the entire property and even offered us a discount on the deposit.

It was a 15 minute drive from the apartment but we would have been sharing the field with 2 other horses. Supplying additional hay would have gone to 4 horses, not just our 2. Adding a water trough with a heating element was impossible without an electrical power source in the fields. There was no hose attachment nearby either for refilling the trough, for that matter. It was close enough for me to do my own graining, but what would happen when it snowed and I couldn't make it? No, it was too much of an enormous hassle. For what the BO was providing, board should have been $100 and no more: you're basically renting a field and doing everything yourself. Not worth it just for an indoor.

On to the next farm.

This one was a family-owned farm on 40 acres. They used to breed Crabbet Arabians; they still have several on the property but they are trying to move more towards boarding. There were 14 horses on the property, 3 of which were owned by boarders who trail rode; they have two trainers that come work with the baby Arabs and are familiar with all of the neighboring riding areas. The horses were all unblanketed and at healthy weights despite it being mid-winter. They had access to a couple of round bales. The BO also breeds goats and they had chickens and geese running around: it was a real backyard farm and it reminded me of our own farm back on the island. I loved the layout of the land: the entire property is on rolling, fairly steep hills and the horses have access to most of the acreage. A creek flows through the fields and the horses had two troughs: one with a heating element, one without. There is a bank barn for shelter and they were willing to split the girls for individual graining. They have a small outdoor sand arena overlooking the fields and a very large covered round pen. I have always wanted access to a covered round pen since seeing the Paso Fino barn in Homestead, FL (the link to that adventure is this one!) No trails per se, but you could ride on miles of gravel roads and some of the neighboring farmers allow riders to go around or sometimes through their land. I really, really liked the BO. And something about this farm just clicked with me. It was strong enough that I didn't really want to look at the third farm; I had already made up my mind, especially after we timed the drive to the apartment: Google Maps said it was 20-25 minutes but it could be done in 15 thanks to almost no traffic lights.

Farm yard and wash stalls. Look at all the guinea hens!
Round pen
Arabs digging into a really nice timothy round bale
Charles was not hugely excited about place because he said the almost grassless hills made it look like Mordor. I had to burst out laughing, "It's WINTER! EVERYTHING looks like Mordor!" It was a 38-degree dreary rainy, cloudy day which added to the gloomy effect of everything we saw that day. But it was a good way to get an idea of mud management at farms! I was happy with what I saw in that respect at the second farm too.

We had an appointment for the third barn so we went.

This farm was the one farthest away at 30 minutes on highways and the driveway to the barn itself was a narrow one-lane road on the side of a forested cliff with a drop-off into the Catoctin River. No guard rail. The driveway made me nervous, especially if driving with a horse trailer or later in the winter when it's icy.

The BO was in our age bracket and had only 7 horses on the property: 2 of her own and 5 belonging to owners that were basically absentee (some of the horses were retired, others had owners who were retired from riding). The BO has over 100 acres, 15 of which are used for the horses. The rest is wooded trails, which is impressive: you have an infinity of trails to ride on right off of the barn. They had a small grass arena which I wasn't too excited about: the one problem I had encountered at Kathy's was not having a sand arena for schooling in the winter when the entire world in the Mid-Atlantic turns to mud. While there I realized that for my own personal horse conditioning goals, I really do need a sand arena as a backup plan: it's the only thing that kept me going last winter while preparing Lily for her first endurance season. Not a fault of Kathy's farm at all as she manages her pastures excellently and I knew there wasn't an arena there when I moved the horses to her property; it's just something I realized I personally need if I want to keep my horses in shape during our area's wet winters. The ground simply isn't frozen often enough to allow for safe riding/ground work/longing in the pastures. So while looking at this particular farm I figured: if we have to move the horses, might as well move them somewhere that has everything I want.

At this property the horses had shelter in the form of both bank barn access and run-in sheds in the fields. There was still grass on the ground and the horses had access to round bales as well. My other concern with this barn was that all of the horses were obese. Lily would have thrived here but Gracie doesn't need extra weight. While they would grain the horses here, they would not separate them.

Small grass arena. The access to the trails is the narrow gravel road you can see going up the hill behind the arena.
Charles fell in love with the river. The water was maybe a foot deep and you could see the smooth sandy bottom: perfect for galloping through the water! He voted for this barn.  While I loved the idea of all of those trails and the river, I was bummed about not having other boarders to ride with and about the lack of a proper arena. The drive didn't excite me either: I could see traffic being a problem during rush hour, and going to the barn to grain and blanket on my work days would be impossible with that long of a drive in addition to the longer commute.

Catoctin River. Note that you can see the bottom!
We ultimately chose the second barn. The BO was lovely, staying in touch throughout the 2 months before the move!

Move-in day was set for Friday February 27th, with our official move-out date from the old apartment being Saturday February 28th, so we'd have a buffer in case the weather was bad. The horses would be moved on Sunday March 1st.

We had such a hard time moving from Alexandria, VA to our third-floor apartment in MD (it involved me getting bronchitis and Charles dealing with an asthma attack while carrying ALL of our belongings down a half mile hallway, driving through rush hour during an impending storm, and then up 4 flights of stairs...) that we swore we wouldn't move out again until we could afford movers.

We kept our promise to ourselves and after looking on Yelp, hired a crew from Universal Movers. A diverse crew of three showed up at 9:00 am sharp on move-in day: a middle-aged man who was a tri-lingual Iranian named Moses along with a father-and-son team of bilingual Salvadoreans. All three spoke English, of course, but I thought it extra-cool that our Iranian team leader was 100% fluent in Spanish. (Mine and Charles's first language is Spanish.) All three men arrived smiling and worked their butts off to get all of our stuff out of the apartment quickly and efficiently. Charles and I have never hired movers before; in FL his parents and brother always helped us with moves or we just did it ourselves. We weren't sure if we were supposed to just stand around and let them do the work but that felt weird so we pitched in and helped. We already had the fragile valuables in our truck prior to the movers arriving, so all they really had to do was move our larger, heavier furniture and boxes.

The trio was amazing. The Salvadorean father had an insane gravity-defying ability for carrying things. He was a lean, wiry guy that was maybe 5' 7", but he carried our 100 lb trunk slung over his shoulder one-handed like it was 10 lbs while balancing my two 7 lb dumbbells with two fingers in the other hand. It was like everything he touched became immune to gravity. Every time he walked by me carrying stuff I couldn't help my jaw dropping. I told Charles later that I was convinced that man had some serious super powers.

Hispanic power, yo!

They had us moved out of the Rockville apartment and into the Frederick apartment in 3.5 hours, including driving time. They were awesome!! I had done some research online about whether you're supposed to tip movers and the general consensus was that yes, you should. These guys weren't expecting the tip, so they were extra-excited when we did. Really, really wonderful crew and service, so it was great to give them a surprise in exchange! 100% recommend them.

Charles and I went to get lunch afterwards at a local BBQ place that Charles's coworkers had told him about and then we went grocery shopping. This might sound silly to some, but we were pretty excited about having both a Walmart Supercenter and a Target close by. We did the brunt of our grocery shopping at Walmart and Target in FL and it saved us so much money in the long run.

The cats were initially confused about the move, especially with the strangers coming and going with our stuff, but once it was just Charles and me in the house, they ran around exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the new apartment, rubbing against boxes that they had already rubbed on while they were at the old apartment, and generally being quite silly. Cats in new spaces are quite entertaining to watch!

They are also quite entertaining when you are in the process of packing. Evidence here:

He would leap out of it at all passers-by...
Cats and boxes, man...
Astarte had to "approve" all new boxes in the house and then Zombie and Aengus warred over who would get the highest spot amongst them. This was one of the few times that Aengus won...Zombie was ultimately the One Cat to Rule Them All. (Yes, we are continuing with LOTR references here...)
Charles said this was a photo of Zombie stew...
He was sitting in our cast-iron skillet.
The skillet is so heavy we couldn't figure out what box to put it in that would make sense. We ultimately ended up not boxing it and just putting it our truck with the fragile stuff!

On Saturday we slept in a bit and drove back to Rockville to finish cleaning out the old apartment. I had checked the weather forecast for Sunday that morning at 10:00 am and they were calling for freezing rain late on Sunday afternoon, which I figured would not be a problem since we were planning on moving the horses earlier in the day.

Around 1:00 pm I got a text from Kathy asking if I had seen the forecast. I checked it...and it had changed dramatically: it was calling for snow AND freezing rain ALL DAY Sunday. Goddamn it! The other option was to move the horses on Monday but Kathy had friends coming over and Verizon was coming to our apartment to set up our internet in the morning. None of us wanted to deal with rush hour on 270 with the horses in the trailer.

So that left...move the horses on Saturday, that same day. Kathy was available that day and willing (for which I am eternally grateful), so I called the new BO and when I explained what was going on with the weather, she said, "Do you want to move the horses today? We have everything ready for them." Relief.

We had dug Kathy's trailer out for this occasion earlier that week.
The chocks were the hardest part to remove: they had been frozen into the ground under a foot of snow!
Charles dropped me off at Kathy's before returning back to the apartment to finish up cleaning. At the barn, I grabbed my tack and enough feed to last a week while Kathy hooked up the trailer. We had a scary moment where we thought her Dodge truck was going to get stuck in the snow, but she managed to maneuver it out after all. Phew! The girls got loaded up uneventfully and we headed off towards the new barn.

The drive was an hour. Kathy helped me unload Lily and Gracie. I initially tied them to the trailer while I pulled all of my tack and grain out, but Lily had a complete meltdown when she saw her first chicken and started dancing around at the end of the lead rope in a panic. I ended up stopping what I was doing, untying her and Gracie, and we put them in the round pen while I finished unloading. The new BO was finishing getting a temporary paddock ready for them, and as soon as that was set, we put them out.

It was a small paddock from where they could see the land and the other horses while they settled a bit. They were in the anxious high spirits that come from arriving at a completely new place full of unknown critters and were prancing around the paddock. Watching them I kept forgetting that Lily at least had never seen a chicken in her life, nor geese, nor guinea hens, nor goats, all of which were in abundance at this farm. Lucero was raised around all of these types of farm animals and didn't care. Gracie was surprised by the goats but seemed unfazed by the birds.

Charles showed up to meet us and we finished getting stuff out of the trailer so Kathy could head back home before dark.

After about 15 minutes, the girls had stopped trotting around the paddock and BO gave us permission to let them out into the field. They would be in a field that was close to 10 acres with 2 other docile mares owned by one of the boarders. BO's husband put up a hay ring and a fresh round bale for them and we let them figure things out. Gracie and Lily dug into the hay right away. The two other mares, a pinto and a palomino, were both very sweet. Lily and Gracie initially pinned their ears at them but they were all sharing the hay happily by the time we left for the night.

"What are those horned things?"
3 days later I stopped by to grain them before work and this is what I found:

Sharing with the goats
"Chickens? What chickens?"
Much better!
We got to put our love of Frederick to the test pretty much immediately in the form of winter storm Thor, which provided us with the most lovely driving conditions:

The highways were much better than the roads. Only a thin layer of snow that was driveable.

Just gonna say: thank God for The Beast and for us having similar schedules at hospitals only 3 miles apart so we were able to just drive back and forth together! My car would have had a hard time with the snow on the back roads.

Neither ER techs nor nurses get snow days. We are expected to show up. Charles can stay at his hospital in one of the on-call rooms if he needs to, and my hospital arranges for hotel rooms for us to stay in so we can work the day of the storm and/or the day after. It was nice to be able to drive back home though. All to the beat of reggaeton!

I find it highly amusing to listen to island music like reggae, ragga-jungle and reggaeton in winter. Reggaeton is Puerto Rico's biggest contribution to the music industry worldwide...our in-laws heard it in Italy on a trip to Europe a few years ago. Italian reggaeton! Sung in Italian!! Go figure. This is a great documentary in English about where it comes from and it's pretty fascinating that a genre that originated exclusively from the drum beat of a children's electronic piano has put us on the map in such a big way. I used to hate reggaeton for all I was worth and island musicians will tell you that it really isn't music, but there are so many wonderful fusions of it now that it's worked its way through to me. One of my favorite songs is Dutty Love by Don Omar.

Don Omar is a year older than me and he started out with some pretty disgusting songs. A lot of reggaeton is about sex, where women are very much objectified in the most vulgar ways, which is why I hated it so much in its original form. But Dutty Love? It's a very sweet song about how he can't stop thinking about a girl he met on the dance floor. The girl echoes his feelings, saying that she can't stop thinking about him either but she is shy and afraid of getting hurt. He reassures her. It's dramatically different from what he used to sing about! A slowed-down version of the original synthetic drum beat is still there.

Most of the big old-time artists like Daddy Yankee, Wisin y Yandel, Don Omar and Tego Calderon have expanded their musical frontiers, mixing reggaeton with other types of music like dance, original reggae, bachata, and American hip-hop. Thankfully their lyrics about women have evolved in the same way too. :)

So the point of all that: yes, you will find me listening to reggaeton in winter. Charles calls me "bayanga." In the warmer months I switch to regular dance music, country rock, and hits of the 90's and early 2000s.

Anyway, back to the subject of the move:
The girls have been adjusting well to the new farm. They have been desensitized to the farm animals simply by exposure and after our second ride they no longer turn into fire-breathing dragons upon seeing the geese or the hens scuttling about when outside of their field. After a move Lily always gets attached to one other horse, usually the most familiar one, so of course she would lose her mind during the first few days if I took Gracie out of the field and left her behind. She is getting better about that now. Lily and I went on a very brief solo ride this past weekend and while it was filled with hesitation on her part, I realized that the last time we went out alone on the trails was before Fort Valley in October. On our second ride with Charles and Gracie at the new farm, Lily refused to lead entirely.

By the third ride she didn't feel the need to be behind Gracie all the time and was okay with either being side-by-side or slightly in front.

Having access to the covered round pen is pretty awesome. I already worked both of them simultaneously in there, which was a first for me: I've never worked two horses at once. It started out pretty well and I figured it would work because they are both pretty solid on their voice commands, but mares being more like cats than like dogs, they both decided to ignore my orders and it took quite a bit of convincing to get them to do stuff like changing directions when I asked. -_-

So ultimately I just worked each of them alone and all was well. They are still getting used to the round pen as they do get a little claustrophobic about the high walls, but the weather has been too nice for limiting ourselves to being indoors at the moment. :) They will get better. For now we mount up in the round pen before heading out and that's it.

The area around the farm is all farmland. This is 30 minutes outside of downtown Frederick in the neighboring town. It's true, true country.

Gravel road towards the farm

There are a couple of grain mills in the vicinity and land for miles and miles on end. The main road simply connects one farm to another, with the occasional houses splattered here or there. This main road is a gravel road that eventually turns to pavement. One section remains paved, as far as we've been able to see so far, but there is a different route that becomes gravel again. The catch is that you have to ride along a fairly busy road to get there. So that adventure is on the backburner for now until the mares get more settled in and confident on these rides. Otherwise these roads are pretty quiet. The only drivers we've come across have had horse sense: they have either slowed down before passing, or slowed down and waited for us to give permission to pass. Most of the drivers have smiled and waved. Big change from road riding in PR: at one time I had access to this awesome river trail over there, similar to the Catoctin river in the photo from the third barn we looked at. And then the owner of the property that had that trail access sold his land and the access was cut off. I never could figure out another way down to the river that didn't involve jumping off a cliff or attempting to ride through someone's backyard. So I took to riding on the streets on the weekends, when our town was quieter. Sundays were especially quiet, as even the big construction Mack trucks took the day off from careening around our narrow winding back roads at 60 mph with gravel and sand flying out behind them. I explored my entire hometown on Lucero. We rode on the grassy side of the road when we could and on the edge of the road itself when the side of the road wasn't safe. Sometimes we'd sneak into construction sites that were closed for the weekend and go on a wild romp across the cleared land. It was my favorite era with him.

So you can understand why, since laying eyes on those roads, I've been dreaming of riding on them.

There are two hay fields that I know of that we can also ride on: the BO's and the neighbor's. I just have to figure out the access trails to them! :)

And there you have it: I think you're all up to speed now on all of the recent changes on this side of the screen!


  1. So happy y'all are so happy =) I'll have to get up to visit sometime when the mud is gone!

  2. Congrats on the new digs, horse and human. I'm glad everyone is settling in, though I bet the kitties are missing all the boxes!

    1. Hahaha totally! Though they are enjoying some of the new furniture, like the dining table they keep using as a launchpad...Cats are such funny creatures.

  3. Sounds like the move went pretty smoothly!! I did undergrad at UMD-College Park so Maryland holds a near and dear place in my heart though I don't miss the snow haha

    1. Small world! But I thought it snows more in NJ? ;) Though I'm sure they're better at the snow removal up there than they are here.

    2. Snow removal is down to a science in NJ, it seems to stick around longer on the roads in Maryland- case in point: I/other students couldn't move out of the dorms during winter break one year because they couldn't mobilize the plows in time for the storm!

  4. Wow! Sounds like a great move! Hope ours goes as well as yours did :)

  5. You guys have been BUSY! Wow...

    1. Yeah, February was kind of hectic! :)

  6. very exciting - you guys are really in an amazing part of the state (have you been to cunningham falls yet?). hope everyone settles in well and that you are happy :)

    1. Thanks Emma! And yes we have gone to Cunningham Falls. :D We went last summer but made the mistake of arriving in the afternoon...there was a LOOONG line to just get into the park! We hiked the falls but want to go back earlier in the day this summer so we can take advantage of the beach. :) We also trailered with Kathy to Catoctin right across the way from Cunningham Falls. They have a 25-mile horse trail there.

    2. oooh nice! i've never ridden out there but i imagine it's beautiful. the camping is really good too, and of course when you're camping it's easier to get to the falls when it's not super crazy out :)

    3. Camping! I hadn't realized it was an option at the falls! Brilliant idea! :D

  7. Wow! What a beautiful town and I'm sooo jealous of the roads and scenery at your new barn! Your cats made me laugh. Ours is the same...the only thing he loves more than boxes are plastic grocery bags lol. And it's funny, I also find myself listening to different types of music in different seasons ...during the summer I am all about country but during the winter I listen to anything but! Anyway, I am looking forward to hearing about your new adventures!

    1. Thanks Pokeylilpony! :D Glad I'm not the only one that listens to different music depending on the season. There's something about country music and summer; they just go together perfectly!

      And cats rock. Aengus loves grocery bags too!