Thursday…..This morning Russ and I headed off super early. I was booked for an emergency ultrasound in Regina. It turns out I am fine. My bakers cyst is creating symptoms that resemble a blood clot. We had to rule a clot out. The test showed no clot.
As the sun peeked over the horizon and we headed west from the ranch the seat belt alarm persistently rang out. I looked over to see that Russ was not buckled in. Many rural people will relate to the slapdash approach to seltbelts that Russ has. A couple kilometers down the road, with the chime continuing to ring, I found myself saying, “were you waiting for a particular spot to apply your seatbelt?” What was really within me was, “put your damn seatbelt on already!” Russ got down to the business of that moment, it didn’t seem too hard on him. As he did, something got me wondering, what led me to the lighthearted approach for getting my need met versus the sweary one? It was pretty clear to me right away. 36 years ago I took driving lessons. Having failed high school drivers ed and dealing with much road anxiety, private lessons were my best option. One particular lesson found me sitting stopped at a green light, until my teacher said, “were you waiting for some particular shade of green?” I recall him lengthening out that word shhhade. After my lesson I told my Dad about that moment. He laughed and laughed. He would go on to use that phrase many times over the years, as it was or revised for another kind of situation. I think what he and I shared was quite a bit of gladness at the potential to get a point across without shaming and by using humor. Today as we headed west those moments of long ago made me smile again.
My ultrasound tech told me more than I expected her to. No clot detected. That meant I could quickly relieve any anxiety the kids might be feeling. Jill was with us but a message to Morg and Gina went out on the family chat. Morgan has a very good sense of humor. When I typed that I didn’t know what needed to happen next his response was “amputate?” Gina dove into the moment, responding to Morgan’s comment with a saw emoji. Mercy. I enjoyed that banter a great deal.
We invited Jill to hang out with us in Regina, she had the day off as luck would have it. We had decided to bring the old collies with us. They got very grouchy while we were in Toronto and we thought we were pushing our luck to leave them again. It warmed our hearts immensely to see Bingo and Maddie recognize Jill as soon as she came out of her apartment building. As she got closer they wagged their tails faster and faster, clunking me in the head. I think for them it must have felt like a miracle. Here was one of their people, appearing out of nowhere! It was a beautiful moment in the day.
While I was in the lengthy ultrasound (it was very thorough), Russ and Jill did a couple things and then waited for me in the parking lot. When I came out of the appointment I came right up beside the truck and they didn’t notice. I realized they were completely engrossed in a little photo shoot. Russ was taking pictures of Jill. I stood at the truck window, directly behind Jill, like a ghost, until someone noticed me. I found it hilarious. What I later learned is that Jill had helped Russ to sign up for the “BeReal” app and he was taking his first ever picture for posting on it. Russ saw me right off but he didn’t want to interrupt the picture. It was Jill who was shocked to see me in the picture when Russ showed it to her. They later shared this BeReal screenshot with me.
Before we left Regina my cousin David hosted us for coffee. He is more of a Barista than Jill and that is saying alot. He had just read my blog about our trip to Toronto so he said, “I’m the last stop on your trail of hugs” and Russell caught this moment. I love it!
It’s now Saturday morning. A fun thing has brought spark to our last 18 hours. Russ tells me that he usually gives the cows a pep talk as calving draws near, a reminder of what they need to know. Yesterday he decided to film it to share with friends he was thinking about. We stay in close touch with them about the day to day here on the ranch. When he got through the talk, in which he was not trying to be funny, he decided on a whim to share it on Facebook. It stunned him how warmly it was received. People have shared it and last I saw it had over 1300 views. Russ has received some nice compliments in comments left. Who doesn’t love a compliment?!?! The part that enthralls me is just how closely the cows seem to listen to him. If you are on our Facebook profiles you will perhaps have seen this. If not, I have included a link here. It gives you a little sense of what the ranch is gearing up for.
Russ and I are just home from a great getaway to Toronto. We had many experiences that helped me remember what makes life good. As a result I feel more rested, more loved and more thankful. We took pictures, these ones I have included will help you know what I am talking about.
We flew out of Regina, a non stop flight to Toronto, it flew on time and our baggage arrived with us. That’s a triple pile up of good things. We got to have lunch with Jill before we flew. We are loving having her in a city where it is so easy to get together. This time with Jill meant we had a hat-trick hug day. A good-bye hug with Morgan in the morning, hello and goodbye hugs with Jill mid-day and “ohhhh it’s you” hugs with Gina on a dark Toronto street standing beside a Lyft driver. All our kids on the same day. A day to savor.
When sitting in the departure lounge in Regina we had one of those “I know you!” conversations, started by the lady beside us. It turns out I conducted her father’s burial and she is first cousin to our buddy Miles. We had a big visit. The world is small.
Our plane was full, we chose seats near the back. As far as we are concerned, bathroom proximity is important on a flight. It turns out we were in the party section. An extended multi generation family group was enroute to Pakistan. There were children, there was visiting, and happiness in the air…..there was life! I usually find flights quiet and depressing. All us humans packed in together and ignoring each other. This was a fun flight, I felt lucky.
We used Lyft and arrived at our Air bnb to find Gina waiting for us. We had a late visit, our Air bnb hosts supplied milk, eggs and bread so Gina got right into a mug of milk and the chocolate chip cookies Grandma Shirley sent for her. That was pretty precious cargo Air Canada successfully carried! (The cookies I mean.)
The next day found us heading west to meet family. How did we get to Etobicoke? Moe gave us a ride. Who is Moe? A taxi driver we absolutely needed to know, according to our friend Crystal, who is one of our people in Nova Scotia. “You will love him!” she said before regaling us with stories about their times with Moe driving them at the Toronto Royal Fair. She gave us his cell number. It was a great contact to have, Moe was good to us. We enjoyed our cab visits and the feeling that we were in very good hands, especially on that first morning when it meant so much to me to get where we were going on time and I knew so little about transit. Once Moe dropped us off at the restaurant I had that surreal feeling that comes from anticipating the arrival of people very loved and rarely seen. It was great when we all gor there and found ourselves gathered at a circular table in a very busy and loud restaurant. It meant alot that my Uncle Ted could meet Gina again, this time as an adult. Gina’s affection for him rose fast. He has that effect on people. My cousin Lori was one of my heroes when I was a little girl, she joined us from St. Catharines. She still has a way of blessing me with her attention. Not in these pictures, having left for an appointment, is Susan, Uncle Ted’s partner. I am thankful for her and the visit we got to have.
After lunch we got on the subway and headed to “The Dog Lounge” a pet supply store and dog daycare where Gina works part time. She sold us a portable water dish and introduced us to her co-workers. I like being able to picture the spaces where my kids are. We also met some adorable dogs.
In a short time in Toronto Gina has become so good with public transit. She had us on the busses and subway and made it seem easy. After seeing the Dog Lounge we headed downtown.
Our minister Susan checked in via text just as we headed into a Subway station, so we took a selfie to send back to her. Just as we got that picture a stranger walked by, she turned and asked, “am I in your picture?” We said “no, but do you want to be?” She pulled off her Covid mask and we got this picture. I think she is beautiful. After the picture she talked until the subway came and later when she left the subway car she caught our eye and waved goodbye. We all loved these moments.
We saw some classic Toronto sites and ate delicious ice cream before settling into a lively pub to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
I made a mistake at this point. I ordered a green Caesar. It was terrible. Just nothing good going for it. I tried to get used to it. I switched to water and stole sips of Russell’s beer.
Gina had to work at her main job on Saturday so Russell and I took the day off. It was fabulous. We watched Seinfeld on Netflix, Russell cooked us bacon and eggs, we lingered, we rested….. I highly recommend hiding in an Air Bnb when you can. Gina was done work at 3 and joined us. We all got gussied up and headed out to see Gina’s roommate at work, (Evelyn is a friend from school in Victoria), then altogether we headed for the dinner show at Medieval Times.
Medieval Times is where Gina works, at this point about 3/4 time. It was great to see her in her element. Her role now is to care for the horses, she hopes to do more. She has worked there a month and is really really enjoying it.
Having been spotted in the crowd by her co-workers, Gina was crowned “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the end of the show. It was a super fun moment!
The whole experience was great, it was entertaining and the food was delicious! Russ, our family horse expert was impressed with the training, condition and disposition of the horses. Gina has grown to love them as if they are her own. She was proud to watch them doing their work and wooing the crowd. Following the show Gina got permission to show us around the stables. We were the first strangers to tour the barn since Covid. We met some of her co-workers and her boss. We got close to those beautiful horses. We felt really lucky. Again, I am appreciating picturing where Gina spends her days.
Sunday morning at 7 Gina was back at work and by 9:30 Russ and I were back on the couch and into Seinfeld. More rest. Our joy this trip came not from the tourist sights but the people and the rest. Gina came over after work and we headed to my friend Tanya’s for supper. Moe was on duty for the ride. It was his day off but he worked us into his personal schedule. We didn’t expect such service, we didn’t know his schedule until he told us he was dashing off to watch soccer with buddies after delivering us to Tanya’s.
Our visit at Tanya’s included our friend Sharon and Tanya’s family. It was fun. Special for me in a way that is deep. 32 years ago we spent a year together traveling with “Up With People.” Years have passed but the bond and the love is still there. Seeing the faces, feeling the hugs, hearing the voices….32 years vanished and I feel a little more whole. Tanya has an unforgettable sense of humor. One of my favorite moments of the night was when Tanya spoke of her menu planning. She casually said that she was considering making a turkey and cauliflower casserole with banana sauce. It took a moment for Russ to realize that she was mocking him out, her delivery was flawless, the man who cannot stand turkey, cauliflower or bananas was given the message, “I see you” and he loved it. The menu turned out to be many of my favorite things. We contributed a hillbilly 1/2 gallon jug of wine, one of our favorites bottled here in Saskatchewan at Minhas. I had packed it in bubble wrap before stowing it in my suitcase. Air Canada delivered those cookies AND the wine all in one piece. That was a relief!
When we couldn’t plan ahead to use Moe we used Lyft alot. We would have walked more but my darn knee problem seems complicated, and I had to limit walking. We had good conversations with most of our Lyft drivers. All of them were immigrants. I found the rides very interesting, at times sobering and sometimes really fun. One of our drivers told us life in Toronto is torture. Another shared very logically and aso vividly what he thinks when he sees “F*ck Trudeau” flags, (he is not on board, especially given what he knows from his home country about freedom and government). That same man was filled with joy and delighted us with his prediction of just how it will look when he walks down the streets of Toronto after his family joins him in Canada. They have been apart for four years. He could barely keep his hands on the wheel as he predicted how he would walk. It was awesome. Most of our drivers talked about the ridiculous cost of living in Toronto.
Monday we limited our Seinfeld episodes. My friend Patty had an opening in her busy life and met us for lunch. Patty is another person I traveled with in Up With People. My sense of connection to her arises from the years since we traveled, thanks to Facebook. Russell has a connection too. He watchd her on TV in a time in his life when he was struggling and had only the CBC channel on his television. Patty’s morning kid’s program brightened those days. He was happy to meet her. Time flew, it was a three hour lunch. Thinking back on our conversation, with our vastly different life circumstances, it was heartwarming to see how much we have in common. Another encounter that reminds me that I am not alone.
After lunch we hoped to take in a museum but my knee acted up. We decided Seinfeld was waiting for us.
Our last evening found us with my cousin Susan and part of her family. I am profoundly touched by what the bonds of family add to my life. Last night it was a deep seated feeling of contentment. A sense of wonder about my Grandma being Susan’s Grandma too. Delight in enjoying each other’s family. And a sense of awe at the ways that affection and genetics and loyalty bind us together and compel us. It all serves to make me feel more whole.
This morning our plans got a bit complicated at first. We hopped a bus with suitcases in hand when Lyft let us down enroute to breakfast (heading to a restaurant we then found closed). The bus trip created a thrilling moment for Russ, his first time on a “bendy bus.” Russ is proud that he stood in the bend the whole time. Later Moe picked us up for the trip to the airport and very quickly all felt right in the world. He left us both with a souvenir from Egypt.
How does a rancher leave behind his operation, all those creatures that depend on him? Partly by grabbing the right dates, when disruption is less, and mostly by leaving things in good hands. Ron and Morgan were the hands and feet on the job. Our good friend Sharon came and filled in much of what I do. We are blessed to have Morgan’s reliable attention to and passion for the ranch and Ron’s deep rooted ability and effort and Sharon’s generous and capable heart available to us. We are very very blessed.
As I wrap this up the lights of our place are almost in sight. We have turned onto our gravel road. We woke up in the midst of a city of millions. We will fall asleep with our pups and our son close by, under a big sky, sounds of coyotes are likely. We return to our normal. Our thoughts will be turning back to these vivid days of moments shared with special people. That was a really great trip.
A P.S…..added Thursday…. This post began noting a hat trick hug day. We had one on the way home too and made sure we got pictures. Many of them were posed but still the real deal.
Saturday March 11, 2023 – This morning I sent a text to the United Church in Estevan. I had decided that given the raging blizzard we are in the midst of I needed to make it clear that I was not going to be able to get there to lead worship tomorrow. I wouldn’t usually decide that a full 24 hours in advance, but a one hour drive can easily become two or more when the roads are bad, as so many of you know. Until the wind stops it will be hard to get any clean-up done, and Russ tells me there is a prediction that the wind direction will shift three times before it dies down. So I am storm stayed at home.
The guys are working through various troubles. Our calves are not due to start arriving for a few more weeks, so that stress is very different from the two blizzards of last year. However we are having some water pressure system and watering bowl troubles for the cows water source. It is a pretty tricky day on the prairies. I can’t think that there is anyone that isn’t just a little more vulnerable than usual on this day.
I have been thinking about vulnerability a fair bit lately.
One of the things I find hardest about ranching is the vulnerability that is part of it. We are vulnerable to so many things that are out of our control. However I am pretty certain that in this life everyone is very vulnerable to things out of their control. I suspect that alot of the ways we act and the choices we make are really an effort to reduce how vulnerable we feel, to reduce the impact of all the things that wrench control and order and safety and hope out of our lives. As ranchers we spend an enormous amount of money on insurance. We insure our vehicles and trailers of course. We insure our buildings and equipment, of course. We insure our animals. We buy calf price insurance (hard to explain but a way to buy some peace of mind). We have life insurance. We even bought grass insurance one year, which didn’t work out for us at all. We have supplemental health insurance. It is clear that deep down we are well aware that our lives are surrounded by risk and we have hope that maybe we can soften the blow of bad things that happen. We will spend more on insurance this year than our kids will earn in their full time entry level jobs. I am not kidding. Our vulnerability is a big deal.
Last night we met friends for supper. We love the restaurant in Alameda and so we met there, about a 25 minute drive from the ranch. As we landed in things were blustery but we were pretty hopeful that the blizzard was a few hours off yet. In fact, when we left we had a tough drive on our hands. Russ steered us down the back road with skill, I used the Google Maps function on my phone to track our progress and to give us a sense that intersections or curves were coming up. We took it slow. Making our way in the dark, the wind, the cold, the snow was a vivid reveal of just how vulnerable our human lives are. In those moments one small mistake on Russell’s part and he could have steered us into the ditch. At the speed we were going we would not have been hurt but we would have needed help to get pulled out. How awkward to have to ask anyone to make an extra mile in those conditions to rescue us from a mistake, as understandable as it would have been. As we drove down the road, with vulnerability already on my mind, I was quite aware that life is very very tricky. There was an extra level of tricky though. Our son Morgan was attending a theatre production thirteen miles north of the ranch. Our understanding of the arrangements were that he was driving himself up there. This meant that the young man who has had his drivers license for 15 days was going to be driving home in conditions likely worse than ours, after the play finished later in the evening. We were both quite sick with worry. Here is where we are experiencing a growing edge in our lives, all of our kids are living lives far far from our control, and that is good I guess. Its how it should be at 16, 19 and 20. But its hard. We have near zero control. Gina often speaks of her late night walks to and from the bus after work in Toronto, Jill is frequently in and out of her apartment in Regina in the dark, Morgan works with machinery and animals every day that involve some risk. I can’t control any of it. We can’t control it. We worry, at least a bit, sometimes alot. Last night it was alot. It was such a relief when we realized that in fact Morgan did not drive himself and had a ride from someone going past our place, but still he was on the road, would we need to go do a rescue from the ditch at some point? He got in about 11pm and the whole world felt better. At that point our next worry was losing power, but we had water set aside in case of that and had a pretty good feeling about it. We slept surprisingly well given the wind that whipped around us. The bottom line is that there is so much that is outside our control that we care about and it makes us vulnerable to struggle and heartache and pain.
Why was vulnerability on my mind? Because I was getting ready to lead worship. The scheduled gospel reading for the day is the story of Jesus having a very taboo conversation with a woman and her response to that. Many know this reading as “The Woman at the Well,” found at John 4:5-42.
-That writing got interrupted for a request for a TV date from Russell…..it was time to watch Seinfeld.-
Sunday March 12, 2023 – As I made preparations for the service during the week I came across a really interesting article written by Karoline Lewis, it was called “Holy Conversations.” She really focused on the fact that what happened between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was conversation. She noted how that conversation unfolded in a way that made it transformative and she left me pondering something. In a world that is filled with people that can’t see eye to eye, that take comfort from taking sides and leaning on the walls that have been built, could what Jesus and the woman modelled in their conversation offer a way through? In her exploration of this Karoline Lewis noted where the conversation started, and it was with vulnerability. Both Jesus and the woman started off from a place of not doing okay, of needing something, this was not hidden but clear. As a result these two strangers as they encountered each other began with much more of a sense of mutality than if one, Jesus, had accentuated his power and superiority as a Jew and a man. Lewis said it like this……”First, note that the conversation begins with mutual vulnerability. Jesus is thirsty and she needs the water that only Jesus can provide. That is where truthful conversations must start — from a place of reciprocal vulnerability, from a space that recognizes that each party risks being known and being seen. I suspect that very few conversations begin with the expectation of vulnerability, yet theological conversations have to start there because this is a fundamental characteristic of God.” Lewis went on to explore how the use of questions, a committment of time and readiness to be surprised all are part of healthy conversation. As I read this article I knew that this was what I wanted to work from for the sermon (which should be happening exactly right now, if church were not cancelled.) Why? Because people are thirsty for real connection and we fall into conflict so easily and we need help to make things better. I knew that vulnerability was a good thing to explore, prompted by the vivid story of the woman at the well.
I am not super familiar with the background and production information about this video link. We have the first season of “The Chosen” on DVD but have just started it. Somehow we got sidetracked by Seinfeld on Netflix and the Jesus story got pushed to the backburner. (Insert sheepish emoji here.) I have no hesitation in asking/inviting you to watch this, I found it very compelling for many reasons, part of it would be that this is my religious background, so there is a click, for others of other backgrounds I am not sure how it lands for you, but I would be curious to know. Its about eight minutes. Click on the arrow in the center of the screen to watch it.
How am I going to pull all this together? Talk of blizzards, scary roads, faltering water systems, emptying nest anxiety, tools for important conversation and ancient Bible stories about water and sin.
Humility…..is that the thread? In reckoning with all the things that are not in our control in this life the only honest posture is one of humility. As much as we try, we are not the boss, we are not in control of the multiple variables that affect almost every aspect of our lives. We never will be. There is nothing that we can do to ensure ease in our lives. That should encourage humility right? What will save us? That is, what will enable us to feel whole amid all the uncertainty? Could it be the conversations? Ones like Jesus and the woman had, where humility means neither is superior, both are asking questions, time is taken and surprises are embraced. What about the relationships that come from such conversations? Do they become in our lives like human insurance policies, ensuring that when we hit the ditch, whether literally or metaphorically, there are people who care and can help us. Is humility a key part of the foundation of our relationships? The wholeness we seek, amid vulnerability, comes also from the spiritual dimension. I speak to this as someone who follows the way of Christ, many of the readers have other ways they have found their way to spiritual wholeness, I see that. For myself, conversations like the one the woman at the well had are a means for me to stay pointed towards wholeness. I love that she claimed her anger, her dissapointment, her story, that she slowed enough to listen, that she posed her questions and let herself be delighted in being known, in being accepted and being encountered by the God she had always heard about but felt abandoned by. She came to the well very humbled by life’s circumstances and the society she lived in, in various ways she received a message of her deep worth and her calling. This resulted in her joy and readiness to share all that she had been told. There is a transformation of sorts. The humility with which she had encountered life, born of her shame, became humility born of knowing her worth.
Thats about all I’ve got. It is alot. Its been one of those serious blogs and one that I think I needed to think through for my own sake more than anything else. I have pictures though, some that will hopefully lighten the mood.
If you have a little more time or interest, you can find the Karoline Lewis article at this link:
As March begins our ranch has completed three months of our easier days. Problems and challenges definitely arise in winter, and this winter has been no different, but since New Years the weather has been gentler than normal and mechanical and animal problems that have arisen have been possible to handle without too much stress. That has meant some easier days for Russ and I both. I am not feeling restored exactly, but some things are shifting and that is good.
This morning I pored over our phones for pictures that might remind me of what we have been up to. There are definite themes that emerge. Around Valentines Day there were many experiences that connect to “love.”
An amazing fundraiser was held in our community last month, with a Valentines Day theme. It was to support a family who are dealing with a really tricky health problem. The fundraiser was put on by a team of extended family and friends and their effort was incredible. They created a real party and raised a huge amount of money. We had so much fun. As I visited with a friend who is originally from Ontario, she told me, “this would never happen where I grew up.” Her observations made me ponder just how significant our small town loyalty and love to each other is. There is so much history, shared experience, family connection and shared vulnerability (I mean none of us live close to advanced health care, it could be any one of us needing help tomorrow), and so we pull together and an event like we attended happens. Large sums of energy and money were flowing, it was sacrificial, that is love in action.
The first 5 weeks of our winter rest time held hard stuff. The fire in our shop on December 18th has played havoc with my sense of security. Many mornings since that scary day I have risen and the first thing I do is look out the window to look for any fire. It is not rational but its real. The fundraiser I referred to above involves a family we have connection to in multiple ways, the struggles they hold affect our hearts too. Also, a young woman from our community was involved in a crazy injury while away on her honeymoon, the random-ness of that, picturing her so debilitated, and knowing her husband and family were faced with so much, has felt like a blow. Cory is a very special person. At a young age she already has a reputation for her loving care of the elders in our community as an RN. She makes a big difference. Her injury has been unsettling for our whole community. Remarkably, her recovery is going incredibly well, a testament to the inner strength she is known for and the love and prayers of the many. I think the fire, illness and injury have had a de-stabilizing effect on me, reminders that things can “go south” very quickly. Against that troubling backdrop a vivid good thing happened. Very early in February I said to Russell, “are we going to do a Valentines card this year?” Last year we had experimented with that and had fun. We don’t do so well at Christmas cards. Russ was certain that we needed to do that. With some hesitation in me I brought my laptop to bed, went on the Mixbook site and with a cup of coffee at my side I got to creating a card. I took the morning to do it. It felt like a really creative act and allowed me to think about love and what I believe and how it plays out in our family. The process I worked through and the thought of sharing the card with people had me feeling something I realized I had not felt in a long time. I felt happy. Its sad to say that someone as blessed as I am was not really feeling happy, but there were clouds for me to reckon with that were very real. In the creation of the card, the sun shone through brightly. The first day I dumped a bunch in the box at the post office I felt like I had a miracle in my hands, our efforts were going forth and would be literally touched by people we love in many different places. How could I not smile? Canada Post was part of our team and working its magic again.
The day after Valentines our neighbor Steven suffered a serious heart attack. After a few days of intensive intervention he passed. This is a shocking and deeply saddening event. He was just 60 and very beloved. I was asked to conduct the funeral. The preparations for that, the anxieties I hold about such things, dealing with the sadness in our own household, all of this…..it really shaped last week. The funeral was held in the same hall that we were in two weeks prior for the fundraiser. Steven was at that fundraiser. It is his grand-daughter that is so sick. This family is holding so much right now. The ties that bind us mean we are all holding many thoughts, feelings and prayers and the community spaces where we gather hold so many stories and so many memories.
Russ and I headed to Brandon this week to pick up springs for our jeep. Russ is getting ready for calving season. The routines of that make his jeep one of his best friends. Also, he has been asking Jill and I to help him make his chaps more workable. They were made with solid leather to the bottom and with age were getting increasingly stiff and messing with his boots. We took heavy scissors and those chaps with us on our parts run to Brandon, I used much of my passenger time making the bottoms into fringe, which will work much better for Russ. I got a blister from my efforts. Is that not love? Meanwhile he drove terrible ice covered roads most of the way home, he kept us out of the ditch but barely. It was one of those warm and windy days where loose snow catches and freezes on the highway and we weren’t expecting it. Russ was thrilled with the chaps renovation.
As I finish up this post I am struck by a couple things. This is a heavy post and it contains more info about other people’s stories than I am used to sharing. Maybe that is the truth about this theme, love, it is a heavy matter. We all need it. Its easy and its hard. Its costly. And how do we talk about love without realizing our connection to one another? Other people’s stories are a part of our stories when love is in the mix. (About that……I don’t believe I have shared anything about others struggles that was not already publicly shared, respecting people’s privacy is important to me.)
I have one final image to tie this up, it is one of Sarah’s pictures. Perhaps Sarah’s alertness to heart shapes in nature can be a reminder and an invitation to me, and to all of us, to be alert, on the look-out, for signs of love where they are found, sometimes in surprising places. As we capture them in our minds, our memories, clouds get pushed aside I think. As plentiful as these rocks of infinite shapes are on the beach, there is evidence of love everywhere.
Roy Ayers said “the true beauty of music is that it connects people.” At the Bar MW Ranch we have our own version of that today. Our version is that moo-sic connected people.
We spent a good amount of time this weekend working with our heifer calves. Yesterday Russell, Morgan, Jordanna and Laurie worked together to critically assess these calves and decide which we would keep back to add to our breeding herd.
The work involved sorting the total group two different ways, potential keepers and those sent to be sold. The potential keepers were then sorted again and then again to ensure we had our best 70 to add to the cow herd. Those keepers were then put through the chute today, their calf tag was removed and their cow tag was installed.
My job in all of this was fairly easy. I have been laid up with a bad leg, which the doctor believes is the result of a bakers cyst. It has been painful and has meant that I was best suited to creating the tags we needed and prepping food for the crew.
Friday at lunch Russell sat and made a list of the names I should put on the tags. His list was based on some family brainstorming. Gina and Jill were a good part of this. We all love this years theme and have had something to add. Our 2023 breeding heifers are named after our favorite musicians and music groups.
The work of getting them installed was slow to start as we continue to figure out how to function without Jill here to run the cow computer. It turns out Morgan was the guy with the right answers to get us into business.
The highlight of the day was exactly what the opening quote suggested. Working with our moo-sic cows connected us to others. It meant we were blessed by Jordanna’s sunny spirit yesterday. It meant we had the chance to spend more time with cousin Laurie, we all value that. A few times over the weekend Russ has said to me, “aren’t we lucky to have cousin Laurie in our lives?” I couldn’t agree more. But the clincher today was that Laurie’s grandson Lennox joined us and was an enthusiastic worker from start to finish. It is always a joy to have kids join us. We gave him the jobs he could handle, he took them seriously and it made meal times more fun having him.
I am now sitting at the kitchen counter, Russ is sitting beside me making a playlist on Youtube music, it will comprise one song from each of the artists we added to our herd today. Its just for fun but maybe will keep their names in front of us. We have been texting a few friends to get reccomendations for which song to include and so a little more connecting has arisen from these heifers.
In fact as I write this Russ is trying to find a Milli Vanilli song to add to the list. It turns out we don’t know Milli’s work very well. Not sure we like much of what he has. If any reader has a suggestion for a Milli Vanilli song send it our way. I just asked Russ why he added it to our name list, he said he enjoyed hear Stompin’ Tom say at a concert, “no Milli Vanilli here boys!” at the point that he forgot words and had no track to cover up for him. Russ liked the way the Milli Vanilli name sounds. Its catchy? Well, by now, Russ has found Milli’s “Blame it on the Rain” song. Might work. I will add a link to the playlist in a future blog once Russ has it finished.
We are looking forward to calving season in 2024 when these heifers will deliver their first calves. The phone calls from the pasture will include news that The Beatles have calved, or maybe that Zach Bryan looks to be looking for a spot to calve, or maybe we will be congratulating Bonnie Tyler for delivering a backwards calf. There is bound to be hard stuff too but for years to come the names of musicians we know well and not so well will be rolling off our tongues and keeping life a little more interesting.
Continuing in exploring what got added into 2022 that made a difference I want to note that 2022 was the year that I became a big user of Youtube. I added “Youtube Music” to my life a couple years ago and found that to be amazing. At that time I occasionally watched/listened to a youtube video, but this year the videos really became a part of my tool kit. What do I mean when I say that?
I have three definite and practical needs in my life, I need help getting to sleep after episodes of being awake in the night, I need interesting things to occupy my mind, I need to be exposed to stuff that touches my heart. Listening (not watching) to Youtube videos has been a tool I have become used to using in my daily life to meet these three needs.
Last night I woke up at about 2am, some discomfort nudged me from sleep. My brain switched on. I am not done reckoning with the impact of a very random fire starting in our yard a couple weeks ago. Anxiety that is out of proportion to the risk at hand is my companion in the dark. I could not settle my thoughts. So I opened my phone, turned to Youtube and began listening to a podcast about intermittent fasting. Dr. Jason Fung does videos that are calm in their presentation, they give me stuff to tune into that has no emotional impact for me, no confusion and no worry. That seems to be the recipe for helping me let go of my thoughts and drift off into another world. At one time I might have been awake for a couple hours, dancing with my thoughts, but this tool of using youtube, and especially Dr. Fung, seems to be the recipe I need. Youtube really helped me sleep alot better in 2022.
When I was a kid a man named Peter Gzowski had a morning radio program. The warm and inviting nature of it I remember. When the program was no longer offered, due to Gzowski’s health I think, there were tribute programs aired. I have not forgotten hearing housewives across Canada talk about how much it meant to them to have Peter Gzowski be their radio companion as they tackled their morning routines in their homes. I was jealous of that when being a woman with morning routines became my destiny. We have never had good radio reception where we live. I never had a consistent reliable thing I could listen to, and especially something as engaging as “This Country in the Morning.” I remember buying a Sirius Satellite Radio about ten years ago and just about crying as I scanned the lineup, wondrous that I might have access to interesting programming. I didn’t end up hooking it up. I sold it eventually. I think the installation was too much for me to get my head around and Russ was always busy back then and not tech-y either. I would end up with a different Sirius radio a few years ago, which we managed to install pretty easily. I didn’t use it much though, beyond music. Then Youtube came into my world. I was stunned by the content options. I could listen to interviews with my favorite actors and actresses. I discovered a love for people I had only ever heard of, like Maya Angelou. I could stretch my heart and mind. Now every single day I turn on a youtube video and learn something new while doing laundry and dishes. My bluetooth headphones and I roam the house and with the help of our new Wifi (another gift of 2022) I have almost seamless access to stuff that stretches my brain. For example, this afternoon I was listening to a podcast about gut health, the microbiome and how important that is for longevity. It gave me more food for thought. I found myself thinking lately that I am the modern version of those women of the 1970s and 80s who found their lives made more interesting by the chance to listen to Peter Gzowski’s programs. That made me happy.
I guard my heart pretty closely. It has been through alot of tumult in recent years and I think twice before turning on content that might unsettle me. For example, although Brene Brown is an amazing speaker with very grounding content, I could not listen to her for the longest time. Too much truth maybe? However, over time I have found myself tuning into more and more that might touch my heart. One thing leads to another. I noticed a path when I stopped to think about how I became the youtube user that I am.
-My Mom loved Stephen Colbert. When I stayed with her we usually watched him. I came to know that I liked him. I knew I could take in his stuff and feel good. So when Youtube became a thing for me, I always looked up Stephen Colbert.
-After enjoying Colbert I found myself curious. What else is out there? I tuned into Jimmy Kimmel and I liked him too. Who was this Trevor Noah guy that came up in my feed after that? I listened to him. I started to really really appreciate Trevor Noah. I looked up his stuff that wasn’t part of his late night show. It turns out he is a comedian with a serious gift and a bright mind. Making buns is a lot more fun when it can be done while listening to insightful humor. One thing led to another and recently I got to hear Trevor Noah interviewed by some thoughtful people. I learned about his Mom and her habit of using her Bible every day. That inspired me to do better with that. I learned about a different key lesson that his Mom taught him that I think about every day. I was offered the chance to listen to him being interviewed on a podcast called “Diary of a CEO”. It was another exceptional, thoughtful conversation. That led me to listen to more “Diary of a CEO” episodes and listen to other conversations that touch my heart and inform my thinking. A man named Gabor Mate has been in my Youtube feed on and off for months. From my previous schooling I knew that his stuff was deep and addressed struggle head on. I avoided his videos. Last week I clicked on one for the first time. I think this might represent some healing in my own heart. It was good for me. It is all good for Russ too. Almost every day Russell comes home and I have some interesting tidbit to tell him about. I think he appreciates what I share with him.
2022 was plenty hard however the addition of all this video content to my life has been a gift. Maybe it has helped me cope. It all makes me wonder, what filled the thoughts of Ma Ingalls and many of my ancestors like her. How strong they must have been to have thrived amid the isolation of early days on the prairie.
I have included links to some of the videos my thoughts return to again and again.
As 2022 was winding down I found myself aware that despite the numerous things that were hard about the year that has passed, there were several things that got added into our year that were a bonus. I made a list and hope to do some writing over the next several days just to explore the good a little bit.
I have been aware of this “added bonus” reality for the last few years, at the end of recent years there has always been one or more things to say, “wow, I didn’t expect to have that or appreciate it like I do!”
One of my added bonus items for this year is vinegar.
Please hear me out.
In 2020 when I spent days living with my Mom I was exposed to how she would add a healthy splash of vinegar to her dishwasher just before she ran it. I have to admit that when I first witnessed this, and received her instruction that when I was running her dishwasher, I too should do the vinegar treatment, I wanted to roll my eyes. My Mom had things she was a bit fanatical about, like she recycled every imaginable thing she could, those in her circle had to figure out how to stay on board with her strategy. She regularly urged us to sleep better by blocking out blue light and she sat down and had a big talk with us some years ago about the challenge to control weight during menopause, a talk which I was quite offended by. I have no good reason to have been offended, but I was. Sometimes its hard to have your Mom acting like your Mom. Yet, I was blessed by her wisdom, over and over again throughout my whole life, and this vinegar trick is likely the last concrete tip she passed on to me.
When I returned home I started following her example, and it seemed that there was positive effect. My dishes did look a little better. However, I have never really been able to feel proud of the dishes I put on the table, a light film has always been present, more or less. As problems go, this is not a problem, but then again, it was bugging me.
About a month ago I got serious about the vinegar situation. I decided that I was leaving too much to chance and not getting the benefit of that vinegar. That generous splash that my Mom used was more like a half cup in our house and it still didn’t have the effect I wanted. I got tricky and I got strategic. I took the spray bottle I used for wetting down hair and I filled it with vinegar. Then I gave each glass a spritz or two on the inside as I put it in the dishwasher. (It has helped that my girls have both moved away in the last month and I am usually the only one loading the machine. This added step is one only I have to contend with.) Then I give several spritz over each level of the dishwasher, put in the soap and hit the start button.
My dishes have been verging on beautiful.
I am thrilled.
Who cares right? Its not life or death. But here is the thing………..
Sometimes I feel sorry for myself being a ranch wife. Housekeeping is an uphill climb. The dogs, the dirt, the grease, the grass, the melting snow, the mud, the calves in the house in spring, the dust generated by the gravel road nearby…..its a bit complex to keep this place looking even half decent. Having crappy looking dishes due to hard well water is a part of that scenario. But……something has been figured out to make it slightly better. I literally feel thrilled to pull the smooth, clear and shiny glasses from the dishwasher. When I pass them to my guys or to company, I feel a bit of quiet pride. I feel less sorry for myself.
Most of the time I don’t feel sorry for myself, I have a good life. A moment today…..Russ got my attention to stop and watch the dogs. Knightwing and Coffee were wrestling on the floor right in front of the kitchen sink. They were completely self absorbed, oblivious to the fact that they were in busy space not designated for dog action. It was a bit wild. I thought to myself, “this is not normal.” And I also loved it. It is quite intrigueing how they play together and fight and protect each other at the same time. Life is spicy.
And…..life is sharp, like the smell of vinegar hanging in the air as I get those glasses loaded.
I am thrilled that I figured this something out. That wisdom that Mom started in me got strategic and one of my life problems is figured out. I’ll count that as a win and count spritzed vinegar as one of the gifts of 2022.
The support we received after our fire through the blog posting on facebook was really heartwarming. Tonight after supper Russell asked me to read to him all the comments. He found it all very encouraging, we both did. He is still talking about the phone calls and offers of help that were a big part of Sunday. Thank you for all this support.
I have a few tidbits that are leftovers and also follow-up to share.
We really really value humor in our house. It has helped us cope with alot and Sunday was no different. Morgan has made us laugh many times with his imitation of me waking him up on the morning of the fire. Here is the way it really went down…….I thought I should go outside to the fire and hang out with Russell, be available, be seen, I don’t know what my real goal was, but at one point I had every intention of going out. Morgan was still sleeping. It struck me that it could be quite upsetting to wake and find the house empty and the world in chaos so I figured I better wake him up and give him the lowdown before going out. So that is what I did. Here is how he tells it, picture this with him speaking in a sweet toned kind’ve hushed falsetto voice, “good morning honey, are you awake, yeah, well, I just wanted to let you know that we like, uh, don’t have any water in the house and, also, like, the whole farm is on fire and I am going to go outside and I think you might want to get up and I can’t find Dad or Ron.” That is how he tells and retells it. After the crisis had passed it was pretty powerful how funny his imitation was. He had exaggerated, as comics often do, I knew where Russ and Ron were and it was just the shop not the whole farm, but perhaps Morgan’s imitation illumines a bit about what my words meant to his ears.
The follow-up after the fire has gone better than I could have hoped. Our insurance people have been good to work with and kind. Close to home that has been the story too. Our friend Shawn at the lumber yard went in on Sunday afternoon and opened up the shop for us to get supplies we needed. Through consulting with him we got the ball rolling with finding a contractor to repair the hole and by Monday at lunch one of the reccomended people was on site to assess. He returned this morning, a day so cold the school buses were canceled, and he set to work to close in the shop. Dalton gave me permission to use this picture I took of him here in the blog. He was unbelievably positive and capably addressed the first phase of the repairs. This is a blessing that brings us closer to feeling and functioning normally. There is a long way to go yet. There are some complicated aspects of the repair ahead.
One of the tricky parts about experiencing things like this is the after effects. It feels like we have had many difficult things to contend with over the last few years, fire and injuries and intense weather, it definitely leaves me feeling like, excuse the expression, “shit happens.” I am not able to write too much more about it right now, but I am naming it. Many many people have lived it, they know of this. I do find myself wondering, “how do I manage this so that going into the future I don’t let fear have its way with me.” Right now I think Russ and I both feel it is better if we don’t ever leave the ranch again so that we can be here for whatever arises. That is silly. We have to live. We have to contend with our utter vulnerability at all times, we have so many things that could go wrong and mostly go very right. Perhaps the prayer that flows from this is, “God, give me the strength to handle things when they go wrong and keep me ever mindful of the multitude of things that go right, very right every day.”
Today, on the coldest day of the year so far, the power was on, the house was warm, the well worked perfectly, we had one sick calf that Russ spotted and was able to treat, one of my friends got fantastic news and passed it on to us right away, Dalton was here for repairs and so easy going amid the cold, the machinery worked well enough that we got our cows fed, I tested negative for Covid again, Russell’s worst symptoms of Covid are loosening and Jill and Gina both worked today with no troubles to report with health or vehicles. If any one of those things had been different it would have been hard, quite hard in some cases. So…………I need to remind myself of all this.
When I sat down to write I had four things on my mind, three have stayed with me, and that is probably enough.
It has been a weird, really weird set of days. The result of all that weirdness is that I have not been able to blog. Today was a bad day, it was also a good day and it has had the effect of getting me back to the blog, back to saying, “here is what its like to be me, ranching with my family.”
This morning our hired man Ron discovered a fire burning in the wall of our shop. That has completely shaped our experiences today. Can I share with you a bunch of captioned pictures? I think that will help to illustrate how it was a bad day but also a good day.
Russ got up before me this morning and was chatting loudly with the dogs when I rather growled from my pillow, “I was hoping to sleep in today.” That was about 6:30. Russ discovered we had no water supply to the house but found that the kettle was full. He brought me a coffee and started getting dressed to go suss out the water situation. I got my head on straight before our outside guard dog came in to tell me about her night and get some love. She was just so dear that I had to take her picture. This was at 6:59am. Within the minute we would get a phone call from Ron that the shop was on fire. We could see the shop easily from our bedroom window but did not see any evidence of fire. Ron was on his way to the wellhouse when he noticed the smell and then the fire as he passed by the shop. Russ called 911 but passed me the phone, he quickly finished getting dressed. Talking to 911 can be frustrating, you just want them to dispatch help but there are necessary questions to get answered. Its also a call you just never want to be making. My tracker watch tells me my stress shot up to 100 at that point.
This next picture is so random but at 7:17 Jill messaged the family chat wondering if someone could send her the recipe for biscuits. I was thinking, “not right now Jill, the farm is on fire.” But then thought again, I was up, I had nothing I could do, why not pull out my recipe file and get it to her. So I sent this at 7:19 and said nothing about what was going on. Its always tricky to know when and how to share hard news. I wanted a few facts before weighing down my far away girls.
At 7:23 the first fire truck pulled in. That is amazing. We are a 12 minute drive from the firestation in Carnduff. The volunteer firefighters woke up, got to the station, suited up and got to us 23 minutes after we dialled 911. It makes my stomach quiver as I write this. It just reminds me of how incredibly vulnerable we felt in those moments. Russ was out there thinking there is no way we can save the shop, we had acetylene, tractors and a skid steer all in the shop. We had our diesel and gas fuel tanks about 12 feet away from the fire, outside, and we had the heating fuel tank for the shop outside but right where the fire appeared to be. The worst case scenarios were running through Russell’s head. This was the picture I could grab from our front door. This picture was taken at 7:36am.
Russ grabbed this next picture from his perspective on the ground. I am not sure what time it was. The shop was absolutely smoke filled. The firefighters wore breathing tanks, when one got close to empty its alarm went off and the sound of that is something we have discussed a few times today. About these volunteers……Russ says, “when they come, they are your friends, neighbors and family, they come with so much love and respect for those they are helping.” They know their stuff and did amazing work, by 8am everything felt so much better.
Russ took this next picture of the firefighters assessing roof status, and the possibility of any fire remaining in the roof I believe.
I could not watch this action non-stop. Just too much. So I bumbled around the house, it had no power by that point, and put stuff away and kept myself busy. I prayed that the firefighters would have the wisdom, safety and strength that they needed. I kept checking back and at one point saw a truck whiz through the yard that looked just like Laurie’s truck. It was. He had heard from work that the fire department had requested water trucks and he came straight out. He is a person whose presence puts the rest of us at ease. I am sure that is why Russell grabbed this picture of him when everyone could breathe just a little easier.
When the fire department left this was the exterior damage. They were so careful to cause as little damage as they could while still rooting in to the fire itself. That huge smoky scene from the hour before looks unrelated to this patch of damage. There the heating fuel tank is, dangerously close. Russ had snuck in and turned the valve off on this tank before the fire department got there. He found it fairly warm.
A wee story: we had a guest in the house this morning. He had never visited our home before. As he rounded the corner from the hall into the kitchen he let out a small gasp, he admired the house. Russ walked him into the living room. With my back turned as I stood at a counter fussing over some coffee preparations I heard Russell say this, “my wife comes from Saskatoon, when she was a girl her family had a cottage where she spent her summers. Then she went and married a rancher. No time for lake holidays. So when we built this house we made her a room that feels like her cabin. And sometimes we have 30 cowboys home for supper, it all works out really good.” It is hard to describe how I felt as I heard those words of Russell’s. It was warm. It was soothing. It was a gift. What I heard in those sentences was the message, “I see her, I want her to feel good, I want to give her what I can.” I kept at my work, and fought back my tears. It was the best moment of my day.
The picture below is our cabin in the early 80s when it was being finished. It looks like we were having a reading party on the front lawn. The big deal about that space was what those big upper windows did for the space.
Back to 2022………the rest of this day has been spent taking care of business. I called in about insurance. I hate those kinds of jobs. Russ handled all he could relating to the fire and then turned to the reality that we had hungry animals to get fed. It was a huge stressor. A major piece in the day unfolding as well as possible is that our electrician re-arranged his life and was back and forth enabling us to keep going as much as possible by re-working electrical realities so that it was possible and safe to power our well house, fuel pumps and eventually light and some power to the shop. We could therefore keep our watering bowls going and our underground lines from freezing and get some heat in the shop. Major. It was -27 with the windchill today. At one point Russell phoned me and said, “when you see Morgan you gotta brag him up. He has done stellar today. He drove through a quarter section that had not been plowed, and didn’t get stuck, he backed into the chute for the first time in his life and didn’t get stuck there either, he got on his horse, went and found the cow and ran her into the corral and he loaded her into the trailer. Pretty good for a guy with a learners license. He was awesome. ” Later Russ called me and said, “I know its been a stressful day but you gotta go outside and see the sundog, its a double, its a little piece of beauty for us at the end of this hard day.” I was on my way out anyways so I went to the end of the lane to grab the picture. I didn’t catch the fullness of the sundog at all because I spotted Morgan backing into the corral to drop off the cow he had loaded at the calving pasture. Our poor cow Mary is having a tough time. She needs some TLC. Morgan handled getting her home. I was able to catch this picture of him in action with his trusty sidekick Coffee dog at his side.
The amazing sky with the lingering sundogs.
Once I got the sundog pic I went and called to Morgan, who had Mary unloaded in that short time, “Morgan, if I could make you any dessert you wanted tonight, what would it be?” There was a pause. From across the corral he called back, “rice krispie cake with brown sugar icing.” I headed straight in to do that. Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with Russell, I said to him, “I am thinking of making you butter tarts, would that suit you?” He said, “honestly, I don’t even care. I am so grouchy. I just wanna go to bed and I have 12 hours work left to do.” He wasn’t nasty, just honest. So Morgan got first choice on dessert action. He was pretty happy with the cake although this picture is not the best depiction of that.
By the time dessert rolled around Russ was pretty cheered up. Jeremy our electrician had worked his magic, Russ had some very supportive phone calls and our cows were fed. One of our friends had delivered hot pizza to us for supper. It was so delicious. The world felt okay. Russ was a little more interested in dessert. When he heard brown sugar icing was being prepped he suggested throwing some cookie dough slices in the oven (we bought a prepped box from Costco), he thought this was the perfect time to try a combo he had been thinking about….brown sugar icing on macadamia nut cookies, I believe he gives this Russ recipe a 9/10.
There were so many many emotions that were a part of our day. The one that breaks through and colors everything is gratitude. Is gratitude an emotion? Is it a perspetive or an action or is it all three? I am not sure. But this could have turned out so differently, we are reminded that every single day a very large volume of things goes right, today was not a day when every thing worked as it was designed to, something buggered up in our shop, but it happened at a time of day when we were pretty quickly able to notice and get help. We got help. So much help. So much help that came from caring hearts. No-one was hurt. We lost very little. We are so grateful.
Sorry this is so long. Just a bit more…..
Russ tested postive for Covid on Wedneday. I have remained negative despite our decision not to isolate from each other. He has been sick but has kept working almost as much as usual. Today he is five days past the start of symptoms so he can be out and about again. Kindv’e handy with 17 firefighters in our yard.
Jill (moved to Regina) and Gina (moved to Toronto) are both doing great and we are so happy, proud and relieved. However, having them both leave for such permanent destinations within 8 days of each other has been quite a bit harder on me than I thought it would be. I believe Russ has only cried once. Morgan is keeping his opinion about all this close to his chest.
Good night for December 18th, signing off from the Bar MW Ranch.
I just overheard a video being replayed that Russell made this morning. It was for our friends in Nova Scotia. Clear as a bell his morning weather report rang out in the house. His four words seemed like a good title for this blog, as good as any. It was frickin cold out today. We had a job to do and it could not be delayed. We all had to find our strength to confront that cold.
It was weaning day. Thats the point in the year when we separate the calves from their Mamas. We do that in preparation to send the steer calves to the Auction Mart. (The heifer calves go onto feed and stay with us for another six weeks or so before being sold). The sale of the steers creates one of the big paydays of our year. It has been an expensive year. We are thankful that payday is almost here. At the same time, as much as we look forward to the sale our anxiety level is high. Many things could go wrong in the varied steps leading up to it.
As I sit writing this now Russ and Morgan have gone to roping lessons, I am alone in our house, it is warm at my desk and we are feeling grateful for an excellent day, despite that frickin cold. I am actually really feeling short on words. That is not my usual. I think the pictures we were able to manage to grab will tell the tale better than I could.