Heaven is a place called Helena

We’ve been here for almost two months, and its time to start singing the praises of the local businesses and proprietors that have made our transition, in some cases, possible at all.

Recall, Montana Shed Center and their subcontractor Riverside Cabins built our absolutely beautiful “barndominium.” Every morning I go for my run, and as I crest the hill that my horses graze on, I see the sun coming up over it. I have to pinch myself.

Ljubomir Farms, approximately 6:30 every morning.

I won’t lie and say that there have been zero issues with it, but that is to be expected. A few minor things here and there, and Bill from Riverside had a crew out to address them. They were proud of their work, and you could tell. They even sent a guy out with a drone to take some aerial photos to use in their own promotional stuff.

I bought a vintage tractor, a 1956 Allis-Chalmers WD45  which, to be honest has had some problems from the start. Transmission went out. (Well, actually it was just the linkage). Front tires were cracked pretty bad and I didn’t notice when I bought it. I hauled it to Grizzly Diesel Service and they were a great help. They had never worked on one of these, and were not able to find the parts. So they fabricated them!

From there, the tractor went to MontanaTire Company to replace the cracked tires. And of course, the age of the tractor proved to be an issue again. When the tire came off, all the JB Weld that was holding the rim together over the years disintegrated into crumbling shards of rust. The rim would not hold a tire and tube (yes, it takes tubes). So they turned me on to Helena Farm Supply, in East Helena. They did not have rims for a 70 year old tractor on hand, but they were able to get them in about a week. So the tractor sat at his place all that time, taking up space, waiting for the rims to come in.

Keep in mind, every one of these places “spotted” me the cash in advance. Montana tire ordered the tires for me over the phone–specialty tires that no one would ever likely need–no credit card, just my name and a promise I would come in to pay for them later.

Helena Farm supply actually FORGOT to bill my card for a couple of days after I picked up the rims.

Mark Heimann is a local farmer/rancher who I started buying hay from. Once I got to know him, I just stop by his place, grab the hay I need and either leave the cash there or settle up later.

Picking up hay at Marks place.

We took the kids to get pumpkins at Johnson’s Nursery where they had a blast. It is small and they gave us some pretty cool jelly jarring techniques for next year when we are ready to start that part of business up again.

Murdoch’s is a chain, and I don’t usually mention stuff like that. However, the one here is outstanding. I’ve been in there 50 times already, and I could tell a story about the helpful and friendly folks there each time. The best was the day I went in and had the baby in my arms. I needed to get about a dozen 50lb bags of horse grain onto carts and pushed out to the truck. The lady that found me in the isle was not big enough to help load, but she carried Kathryn for me the entire time, all the way to the check out stand and out the door.

Some other honorable mentions:

Steve’s Cafe.  Two locations, great food.

Parrot Confectionery. No better candy in town.

Bert and Ernies. Great comfort food, accommodating to people with little kids.

The staff at the tag office for getting plates? Totally normal and nice. The guy who helped me change my drivers license to Montana? Friendly, polite, helpful.

Two months in, and the honeymoon is still on. We love it here.



A picture tour of the last few days and travel to Montana.

Retirement party:


All of us

“Attention to orders!”


Kathryn and mommy

Travelling, including the night before with vehicles staged and ready:

Navigator and co-pilot, Faith.

We had to stay in places that accommodate livestock. This was Lubbock, Texas.

Fuel up in Raton, New Mexico.

Blowout number one.

Blowout number two.

And the first couple of weeks. Fencing in several acres for the horses. Building a chicken/duck coop. Purchasing a restored 1956 Allis Chalmers WD45 tractor. Scenes from around the place.

First morning stretch after run.

Fence posts pounded in for pasture.

This is the view from my deck every night.

“New” tractor.

Icon corner

Assembly/install of the new wood burning stove.

Finished chicken run around coop.

There is still so much more to do before the first freeze. There were two blow outs on the trailer. The movers basically dumped all our stuff down in the breezeway of the barndominium. Installing the wood burning stove was weird. It seems like we work 24/7 to get organized and de-cluttered and never get anywhere. The kids have already met their homeschool co-op. Our new church family brought us food before we even met them.

We are safe and sound. I still can’t believe I live here now.

T minus three days…

On Friday, we will put all of our livestock in the stock trailer. We have already conducted a test run, and they all fit. But before that, here is what happened this past week.

My retirement party was a success. The attendance was a little better than expected and the show of support was  overwhelming. I don’t deserve such friends. We had it at the church, and toasted our farewells with Serbian plumb brandy. And at the end of the night, my youngest daughter decided she wanted to gnaw on the various awards and devices on my uniform. I said “knock yourself out, sweetheart. This is the last time I will be wearing this thing, maybe forever.”

Looks like candy, I guess.

The next day, we went out to breakfast with the company that remained from the party, including my friend Rebekah from high school, and my brother Alex. (He’s the one my son Aleksandar is named after). I snapped a shot of them all in deep conversation, with all four of my children at the table at the same time. It was a satisfying moment.

My truck has been in the shop for SIX WEEKS and I just got it back yesterday. Near the end, we were actually considering a last minute trade-in for something else. In fact, I had it hauled from the dealership that was having trouble diagnosing it to a smaller dealership with older, more seasoned diesel mechanics. In the end, it cost me 3200 bucks for something that was truly about a 600 dollar job. The lesson here is, all the sophisticated diagnostics in the world don’t mean crap if you don’t have experienced people to think outside the box of just reading codes and looking in manuals. She is back on the farm and ready for her big livestock pulling trek across country. I even got her washed:

Ljubomir One, prepped for maiden voyage.

It was ALSO Aleksandar’s third birthday, which we might have forgotten, but did not let it slip without a robot birthday cake:

Meanwhile, all the usual mundane and beautiful scenes of life kept on going:

But the big news is all the stuff happening in Montana, while I manage it all from here. The foundation for the barndominium was poured:

The barn pieces were completed and shipped on down the road from Great Falls to Helena:

And assembled yesterday and today:

Those pics were sent to me today from the barn builder.

Oh, and one more thing. The movers came today.

All of that happened in the span of eight days. More to come. Maybe from the road.



Hauler resto-mod complete

Went out to Liberty Hill and picked up my trailer from Larry at Capital Area Pipe and Corral.

And, just like last time, I was not disappointed. Here are the pictures from today, which speak for themselves.

When I got it home today, I did the floor myself:

Which was a cattle floor before. It had planks with hog panels stapled to it like this:

So, for about 1/3 the cost of a used trailer in comparable condition, I got new wiring, new lights (inside and out), new reflectors, new trim, new hinges, latches, vents. DOT stickers. Brakes checked, wheel bearings packed, diamond plate, rock guard around the bottom. Sandblasted, primed and painted. New floor.

Remember, it looked like this a month ago:

I’m not going to lie. It’s still rough. You can’t see it in the pictures. For example, if you look closely–the wheels don’t match. Maybe hubcaps to solve this? Also, the bottom front edge is pitted from rust holes. The fenders a little wonky. But it is sound, the sub floor is strong, and it is road worthy. If you have the patience to wait, and the money, a partial restoration may be a better option than spending fifteen thousand bucks on a new trailer.

Used 27 foot cattle trailer: $1000

Resto-mod by Larry: $3200

Floor materials (DIY): $250

Total: $4450.

Ljubomir Livestock Hauler update

Just got these from Larry, the trailer restoration guy.

The grey I picked is a simple semi-glossy color. It will have diamond plate around the front and black rock guard (basically grip tape) along the bottom. Note the tail lights have been replaced with LED style. All the running lights and interior lights will be the same.

Recall, this is what it looked like the day I bought it:

That’s not burnt orange paint. That’s rust. On every inch of it.

And if you really want to know why I bought a white dually F350 to go with it, and painted the trailer this color, its because my boys have this exact toy in their room somewhere:


This way, we have matching rigs. Just saying.

Things keep moving along, no matter what

Today was a shift day for Mychael at the ER. So I had the kids and stuff to do. Regardless of how much is going on just related to the move, there is the usual list that just keeps everything running.

I am trying to get everything ready for the ADVON trip (thats the trip I need to take BEFORE we move in order to get everything ready in advance). So I am doing stuff like adding a spare tire to my utility trailer:

In about a month I will be hauling the lawn tractor, a bunch of fencing supplies, a fridge, a window AC, and some “assembly required” furniture up there to get the place ready. I don’t want to have a flat tire on the utility trailer be the glitch that kills that trip. I will leave it and the tractor up there and return.

I also bought a “new” truck (although its 5 years older than the previous one) and I have been doing some things to make it “mine.” The sheet metal on Ford trucks doesn’t change much from year to year so many of the plastic pieces are interchangeable. With a 2005-2008 grill and 2009-2015 mirrors, my 2004 F350 could easily be mistaken for something much newer.


The dually should be a more stable towing platform for the huge goosneck trailer we bought.

Of course, when I am outside, the two boys have to join me. They put on their “mechanic clothes” and started working on the mini-gator. The oldest one actually used my floor jack (correctly) and put it on jack stands (correctly) for safety.

I am in the middle of “clearing” post (this is the term we use to describe the process of getting out of the army) and I am short one item for CIF. But have no fear, an Orthodox friend I have never met (from the internet) came through and sent me one! How gracious of him.

Kit, Individual First Aid

All the while, the guys who really make the world go round–the tradesman–have been working hard on Ljubomir–Montana. My only friend who lives up there drove out to the site to find–the septic system is now completely up and running, (including pump, leach lines, leach field, low water warning, and all powered up), both meter boxes lit up, and of course the well produces water without me bringing a generator because Northwest Energy ran the cable from the distro lines. 

The stock trailer is almost done. Larry will be sending me some pics tomorrow. Almost daily we have something we need to address for the move now. I can’t believe we are this close.

Birthday present comes a month early

My birthday isn’t until next month (June 27th) but Mychael picked up my present for me yesterday. His name is Max and he is a 20 year old quarter horse.

The bottom line is, I need something a little more my speed, and that means one that won’t that throw me every time he sees a drainage culvert, or a rock, or a piece of paper…

Readers may recall my love-hate relationship with Joshua the Tennessee Walking Horse.

So we picked this guy up from a friend Mychael works with and hauled him home. Also, since both of my kids are in riding lessons now, they need something they can practice on between visits to the instructor.

I lunged him today and then took a ride in the pasture behind my house.

He also made a new friend in our Arabian, Ginger.

Although, it looks like Ginger will be headed off to a cool new job as a companion horse for an acquaintance of ours with Alzheimer’s. So it may be a short lived love affair.

So, thank you to my wife for the early birthday present. I need to do a little work on him to make him “mine” but he is a good horse. And sturdy enough to be my riding/hunting buddy in Montana.

The Official Ljubomir Farms Livestock Hauler

My son, David and I went out and bought a used, and very rusty 30 foot gooseneck stock trailer today. It will become the official livestock hauler of Ljubomir Farms:

On the way home, we stopped for ice cream and snapped a few more.

Its pretty rough, but I know a guy down in Liberty Hill who brings these old trailers back to life with a little sandblasting, paint and replacing the plastic trim and running lights/lenses. Here are some before and after examples of his work.





A couple of years ago he did an old two horse trailer I had. So I am confident this old thing will look fantastic when I get it back. I am dropping it off after church tomorrow and I will take some more pictures of the finished product. We will be hauling the entire Ljubomir ensemble of creatures all the way to Montana in it at the end of the summer.

Here’s his Craigslist ad for anyone local who wants to restore something:

Larry the guy who sandblasts and repaints trailers

Another step closer

My time on active duty is rapidly coming to a close, so we are having to spend more and more time in Montana managing our project there. So I splurged and bought a set of matching luggage and took off. Mychael says I need to start looking and behaving like a doctor so I am trying to swear less and I guess these bags help. But I still have a pretty rough ranch truck.

Of course, we had to take the littlest one, because she can’t stay home with the MIL yet. She turned out to be a pretty good airplane traveler:

The very first day, I got to be present for the ground breaking on the “barndominium” location. I snapped a shot and got the excavator guy to take one. He was gracious and didn’t tell me how goofy I was being.

Its pretty crazy to watch all this. In the next three months, the power will be turned on, the septic line and leach field will be complete, and the driveway will go in a circle into one side of the barn site, out the other and back to the road.

Of course, we eventually had to leave, which made us sad.

Finally, I know I have mentioned it before but for husbands out there who want to give your wife a little treat–Mychael has been using Rodan and Fields now since her birthday last March, and the results have  been worth the expense. This was yesterday. Remember, she’s, um, 40 something. Not bad, I think.

This was at riding lessons for the two middle kids. They are going to be better in the saddle then dear old dad by the time I actually have time to ride again.

We will be moved into the barndominium in Montana before Halloween. Please wish us luck. It is a very complex project to manage from 1900 miles a way while you are also trying to separate from the army, sell your house, etc.


My brother stood before us, not on a bank of the Big Blackfoot River, but suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art. And I knew just as surely and just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.– Normal Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

I am not sure if it correctly aligns with Orthodox theology, but one of the ways I know God exists, is the fact that perfection exists.

This afternoon was one of those days. We took my daughter to her very first horse riding lesson.

Now, I did not have a rural upbringing. My dad always wanted to have that for us, and for reasons I won’t discuss here, it just never materialized. For the most part, we lived in rented houses, in working class neighborhoods. I had a fine childhood–please don’t misunderstand. But I have been able to provide my own kids with very much the kind of thing he always wanted. And today I took some pictures.

I even spent a few minutes making some new friends.

I can’t go back and have a childhood with tractors, horses, wide open spaces, creeks and mountains right out my back door. So while I am spending so much of my adult life learning about farming and ranching, I don’t really have to. In some ways, being present for these moments is better. And every one of these moments is perfect. Only God could do that.