The men of this ranch are watching “City Slickers”. It’s a fun movie. I am hunkered down beside them, fighting a cold, not in the mood for a movie, so maybe a quick blog is in order. Things are a little lighter around here lately. We have been looking up literally and in our spirits. Some pictures tell the story.
Sitting among the spectators in the Carnduff school gym on Tuesday night it was incredibly obvious that something very special was happening. Three strands of story were coming together to create a sturdy net, catching our community in its fold. It was the “Feel the Heat” challenge, the Carnduff Fire Department playing against the CEC Sr. Boys basketball team, as the evening unfolded it became clear that we all won just by having the chance to be there.
The home team has a short history. For the first time in 20 years the Carnduff school has put together a seniors boys basketball team. With little experience, aside from a few members who have played with other teams, they came in as the underdogs in every league game. With unswerving enthusiasm, growing skill and good sportsmanship they tackled each game, however there was not a game victory to be had. This was the backstory for the home team part of the net being woven this night.
The guests on the court were men aged 19 to fifty something and one female firefighter. They are the men and woman we call in some of our most vulnerable moments, and they rise to the task with resolve and skill every time. They are a group who bring out deep feelings of gratitude and admiration from the community. On this night they rose to the challenge put before them and showed up to the game with smiles, easy going spirits, hard running efforts and a few unforgettable fashion statements.
The third strand of the story was this moment in time we are living. A community that has not had many opportunities to gather for fun in a long time was more than ready for what this night held. A hearty mix of things that are good for the soul was being caught up in that net. There was much laughter, delight, awe, and cheering that crossed team lines, all through the game. It felt good……very good, with the only obvious downside being the possibility of some sore muscles come morning. The audience that filled nearly every spare and safe spot in the gym had a great time.
So what happened? The boys basketball team ended their season with the taste of victory. They beat the firefighters, in a match that was never considered close in terms of score, but in terms of effort, the firemen really outdid themselves.
There were so many things that people might be talking about or posting to social media as they do the replay of what we saw and heard at this inaugural “feel the heat” challenge.
There will be much amusement in recollecting the uniform of fire chief Clint Paton. Decked out in a neon orange headband, black tights of some kind with knee length shorts overtop, neon orange socks and last but not least croc sandals, (in sports mode), he made a statement as soon as he entered the gym. We all cheered when Clint sunk a basket.
Those who love to see good basketball form will be delighting over the magic as Raf dribbled the ball, as if he was an elusive fly, always close but not stoppable, encountering every member of the firemans team within seconds it seemed, and moving right past them to get that ball one way or another into the key for CEC or the hands of a teammate .
In the crowd it was a remarkable night for a few reasons. Its not very often that spectators in the stands at CEC are heard yelling out, “you got this Dad!” That was the nature of much of the cheering and the signs seen. Before the game one of the CEC basketball team was told by his father “pay attention, cause when the ol’ guys get tired they are going to start playing dirty and rough.” It wasn’t far from the truth. It was a more aggressive game than usual and rules became quite flexible as time went on. In the last minute of the game the firemen had eight players on the court to CEC’s traditional 5. No one was offended. It was funny and seemed symbolic of their all in spirit for this game. The crowd was privy to a very relaxed approach to the art of basketball.
Here a few other great moments caught on film…..
Thinking back over what we experienced in the CEC gym on Tuesday night, it just doesn’t seem possible to say that anyone walked away having lost anything, we were all winners.
Something I think about often enough is how powerful it is, how good it is, when you experience people being themselves, even when and maybe especially when they are quite unique. Being at the Elton John concert brought that to my mind again for a couple reasons. One of the obvious reasons would be Elton John’s flamboyant ways. I don’t need to spend words evoking what I mean, the glasses, the feathers, the shoes, the sparkles, the crazy antics at the piano…………greatly subdued as they were in this concert, it was still a force somehow. Anyhow, what a gift to the world that he did not tie himself in knots trying to fit into the box that society would have deemed appopriate for him. Our lives are better because he had the courage to be himself.
The thing that dawned on me through the concert was the delight created by the antics of one of the drummers. He was seated at the highest point of the stage, wearing a bright white shirt. He often played a tambourine and it was really awesome to see how he let the music flow through him, he moved his arms in big and rhythmic ways creating a side show to Elton’s main act. It could be seen from a distance but with the benefit of the camerawork we had closeups of this action and the joy that sourced it. It was great. We all went home talking about that guy. I believe he is one of the band members that has been with Elton since the 70s. I wonder if he let himself be so expressive in the early years. I am not sure what the journey has been for this guy but at this stage he served as another example to me of “be yourself Kathy.”
There is a bit of a tension within me, you cannot even imagine how much I long to be seen as an appropriate member of society. I am a people pleaser and I want to be seen as normal. There are decisions I have made and actions I have taken that are a little bit on the edge, those were very hard for me. The most obvious one was the decision to not be a career girl based on the education I had acquired and instead to live the rural life. Smaller decisions about being “out there” or sheltering myself happen regularly.
A recent example of this is something I was holding onto as a fun and important conversation with Russell but I wasn’t sure where to put it. Elton and the drummer set the stage for real.
A few months ago I started using Facebook differently. Following more groups and doing less with my newsfeed. One odd thing led to another. Liking a post about pyrex bowls somehow led me, click by click, to be a part of a group that likes mid century modern architecture. I can waste alot of time looking at shared real estate listings for these homes built in the 1950s and 60s, with lots of windows, stone, woodwork and built-in cabinetry. I am very very drawn to the varied ways this style works itself out. I am also drawn to the comments section where people ooh and aahh over the decor of that time, especially pink tiled bathrooms. I don’t share that particular excitement but its fun to read about.
One day I was pondering why I like these posts so much, why I am drawn to this style. It clicked. Growing up we visited my Aunt and Uncle in their home which is mid century modern architecture. I enjoyed these visits. As a young adult I was welcomed by them and later when I brought kids along we were kindly entertained amid the generous amount of light and warm wood accents that were a part of their home. The magic quality of the space of my childhood was still present decades later.
I thought this connection I had made in my brain was kindv’e important. I wondered, “should I put this into a note and send it to my uncle and aunt?” Why shouldn’t I? Well, my aunt and uncle are very classy people, they have spent their lives committed to matters of substance, committed to understanding depths of politics and history, appreciating classical music, art and literature, appreciating beauty. How would some silly anecdote from their niece land in the midst of all that fills their world? I decided to do it. Perhaps because I have lost both my parents I need my aunt and uncle more than I used to. I still need elders. It wasn’t a risk to send the note, not really, but it wasn’t exactly normal either, some note out of the blue saying, “I just realized I have always loved your house.” I sent it. A month later Russ and I were in the city for appointments and we stopped in for coffee. Due to Covid it had been a long time since we had been there. It was wonderful to be in their midst again. As we settled in my uncle pulled out his ipad, he had something to show me. It was an advertisement for the floor plan they had selected for the construction of their home, all those years ago. That in itself was interesting and led to more conversation about their home and homes like it. I received the message, unspoken, “I am glad you sent that note.”
After we left I said to Russ, “That was great! My favorite part was that picture, it was cued up, ready to show me, that note I sent meant something, I’m glad I sent it, as weird as I thought it was.” Russell’s response was immediate, it struck me so much I tapped it into my phone and texted it back to him, he said, “do you wanna be a stranger or do you want to let people know how kooky you are about certain things.” I don’t want to be a stranger, especially to my people, my aunt and uncle are my people and I am thankful for that. I took Russell’s shared wisdom as another anecdote to strengthen the message, “be yourself Kathy, don’t worry about seeming different, let what is within you flow.” I need to make this decision almost every day, to just be myself, even if I appear different.
A long time ago I was going through some tough times, I went to see a priest. His job was to listen to me. He heard what I had to say and delivered this nugget of wisdom that I think about so often, he said, “our hope lies in being who we are.” As every year passes I get what he was saying more and more. The world is especially beautiful, interesting and whole when people are free to be themselves, their quirky selves. I am thankful to Elton, that man on drums and to Russ for giving me more vivid ways to image and embrace this fact.
When I was about 11 years old our family went on a holiday. Everyone but my brother Bob was on the trip, he was older and working a summer job so stayed home. One of the very memorable things about Bob was his great stereo and big album collection, he loved music. It was not a surprise then that as we walked in the door after being away for a couple weeks there was music blaring from the basement. I remember hearing it from the front door, noting the lyrics and feeling very amused. Bob was playing one of his Elton John albums and the song blaring was “The Bitch is Back”. No one ever referred to my Mom as a bitch, nor can I imagine that any of us ever seemed to think it. Mom was never mean. So these lyrics didn’t have any accuracy but to my 11 year old brain the fact that these lyrics were belting as we returned home was hilarious. These moments are my first crisp memory of Elton John.
On Saturday night I was 53 years old, 1200 km from that front door that opened onto Bob’s awesome stereo, and one of thousands at the Fargodome in North Dakota. I was in the same room as Elton John, this man whose music has colored so much of my life. I was thrilled.
I like the story of how we ended up being there, singing along to Crocodile Rock with a very happy crowd.
Late last November I was scrambling for what Christmas gift to get for Jill. She just didn’t need or seem to want much stuff. I began to wonder what experience we could gift her with. I let my mind wander. I remembered that when Elton John performed in Saskatoon, (my hometown), almost 3 years ago Jill was very disappointed that we could could just not get there. At the time we thought that was our last chance to see him and it was a serious disappointment for Jill to reckon with. I can’t remember why she liked Elton John so much, but she did. I knew that Covid had changed his schedule so I googled concert options, you can probably imagine my joy to discover that he was scheduled to be in Fargo, about a six hour drive from our home. Russ and I talked. He thought everyone would want to go, not just Jill and I. So, 4 tickets were purchased, one for a Christmas present and 3 for upcoming birthday presents.
Then Omicron hit.
How was this going to work?
Christmas morning dawned. I had taped Jill’s ticket to one of my brothers old Elton albums, wrapped it and put it under the tree. She was happy when she discovered the contents of that gift, but she was not thrilled it seemed. I wondered if the years that had passed had changed her interests a bit. We put the date on the calendar and held our breath to see what would happen with Covid.
In January Elton himself got Covid. However his symptoms were mild, he had to change his Dallas concerts and that was it. Full steam ahead.
I am happy to report that nothing hindered our plans. So Saturday night was alright for a concert and at 6:40pm we were part of a long line snaking our way off the interstate, past the airport in Fargo, towards the Fargodome. It was very fun to be part of a happy caravan.
The concert was great. How long would a 74 year old man sing for? That question left me with a sense of trepidation every time he got off the piano bench. Is he done? No. No he was far from done. This is his farewell tour and he treated his fans to the full meal deal. Over two hours of singing before an encore. It was almost 2.5 hours before we were among the many waiting to climb the stairs to get to the exit. His voice was strong, not perfect but when he hit those characteristic mellow sounds it just made you say, “oh yeah!”.
The stage show part of it was memorable for a few reasons. There was a huge screen behind the stage that allowed us to see close ups of Elton at work.
It allowed me a greater appreciation of his musicality than I have ever had before. I found it hilarious that many times his tongue could be seen slipping out, as if he was concentrating. Last week I did a video challenge with our extended family, as I concentrated on getting my fingers to move to the pattern of the challenge I was seen sticking my tongue out, I didn’t know I did that. So when Elton stuck out his tongue while he worked away at the piano I was amused by what we had in common.
The screen was used to project videos. Some of them were deeply meaningful backgrounds to his songs. Border Song was my favorite of these. The lyric from that song flaming to life so easily in the mind is, “Holy Moses, can we live in peace?”. It was beautifully done.
There were a few songs where the screen hosted a compilation of images and video clips from his lifework, and from the movie “Rocketman” a recent re-telling of his life. Elton really did not chat much from the stage, he didn’t let us in like we might have hoped, but these visuals made up for it. One of our favorites was a quick glimpse of Elton singing on the Muppets, our dvd with those same moments was probably Jill’s first vivid exposure to Elton John.
When the concert was over we were very emotionally satisfied. We had been with Elton John. As we made our way out Jill turned to me and said, “when you gave me my ticket Mom I thought it was really nice, but I thought, ‘it will never happen,’ but it did, thank you so much.” We are slowly claiming back a bit of normal.
In those same moments I was processing how deeply touched I had been by the music and I said to her, “when we get to the parking lot I am going to need a hug.” That was a super satisfying hug, sealing the emotional impact of the night we had shared.
Morgan loved the concert and so did Russell. But it was because of Jill and I that we were there so my storytelling has focused on us.
Elton’s story is full of suffering amid the victories. He persevered, claimed his own unique way, found sobriety and has kept going to reach his goal of love and family. Perhaps our recent story has similar elements. Pandemic realities have been a big deal. Looking back after two years it feels clear that cancelled plans have taken their toll. Does Jill’s memory of Christmas morning illumine something bigger, that we have become a people that don’t get our hopes up because it hurts too much to have plans dashed? We suffer when we live without hope. Being super corny I find myself wanting to add here…… I guess that’s why they call it the blues.
But………Saturday night reflected the fight. Elton’s fight to be whole and well and our decision to keep fighting the blues and risk getting our hopes up.
Perhaps our big hug was also a celebration, that after all the emotional realities stirring within each of us in those hours and in these two years…. grief, worry, joy, despair and so much more we could sing along with Elton, “I’m still Standing.”
I was the first customer into the Flying M diner in Carnduff this morning. After dropping Morgan off at the school to meet his team for a basketball tournament I found the doors open and the coffee brewing ahead of schedule. It is now 7:55am and I am content. When I was a city girl it was one of my favorite things to do, grab my journal and head to a coffee shop where I could work through what was brewing in my head.
I have been wanting to blog all week but just couldn’t give myself permission to make it top priority. Its not that my week was full of big and urgent things, but just the regular stuff of life can take up time.
Something interesting happened last weekend. I was leading worship at our Church, our minister is on sabbatical and we laypeople have handled her absence by filling in. I was a bit overwhelmed by the reality of being the first to lead after Russia invaded Ukraine. As I sat at my computer outlining the service I had an idea come to me. I wanted to do the “Passing of the Peace” in a way that reflected this unusual Sunday. We have always used this part of the service to communicate peace between the people in the pews, but this Sunday pulled something different from me. I decided I would take our globe to church and I would offer everyone a chance to bless the world with peace by simply placing their hands on either side of the globe without touching it. As I sat at my computer I liked the idea. However, as Sunday morning drew nearer I found myself doubting, wondering, “is this stupid and cheesy?” Something compelled me to go with the plan. When the time came in the service I picked up the globe and I went to everyone where they were seated, everyone took the chance to do the blessing of the globe. I was still unsure of the plan, but I believe you could say “I went with God.” I started with those at the front which was Russell and Morgan. Russell whispered to me, “good idea” and that gave me some ease as I went to everyone else. I sensed it was well received, but after the service I received a couple of messages telling me how much it meant.
When we got home Russell was looking for an update on the war as I was making lunch. He went to BBC and found an article detailing the civilian lives lost already. He is tenderhearted so it was a double whammy to read about children who died after their kindergartens were bombed and find with that story this image.
It was a mirroring of what we had been doing in Church that morning. It was kind’ve mystical to see this. It was an affirmation of what we had been doing but also very much forged a sense of connection, the exact same action which had been enacted over and over in our pews that morning matched what a Ukranian person created as artwork and what was being used as comfort in announcing horrifying news.
Its 11:20am and I am now in D’Barrios in Oxbow, the first game is done. It didn’t go so well from a points point of view but as the coach said to me, “for some of these guys that was only their 3rd game ever!” My boy is one of those boys. From an experience point of view, it was major.
There is perhaps no significance at all to the similarity of this picture to the previous one. Similarity you say? What similarity? Well…. hands are poised to hold a globe, there is a visual similarity. There is something else here…..eagerness. There is an eagerness to keep that globe (ball) from slipping through the players hands, to catch it. I see that eagerness in the response of people around here, as we lament the violence, suffering and harm we are seeing on the news and find our way clear to do something about it. We want to catch the earth from a free fall towards chaos and those of us who don’t remember WW2 perhaps feel like the guys who have only played 3 basketball games in their lives. We don’t yet know what we need to know. How do we catch the earth?
I saw a poster in the post office this week. I scanned this code. The link looks legitimate. As we think about “catching the earth” I think this looks like a good option. There is a fund to support the military effort and a fund to support the humanitarian work.
As I watched the game I found myself quite aware of one of the team members. Ivan came from Ukraine about five years ago I think, maybe more. He is in Jill’s class. I wondered to myself what he would be doing if he still lived in Ukraine, what would these exact moments in time hold for him as night falls there? The opportunity to share these moments with him feels like a vivid reminder that as humans on this earth we have so much in common.
Well….its back to the tournament as well as a trip to the Co-op to pick up supplies for a cherry cake . Jill turns 18 tomorrow and we have some celebrating to do!
This morning I was drinking coffee and scrolling Facebook. We were up a bit early so that Russ could get some chores done before we headed to Estevan. Russ, Morgan and I were registered to attend a Beef Summit hosted by Co-op Agro. We were heading in to learn more about forage, about what we grow to feed our cows. But first, I had a warm cup of coffee to sip, a creamy one with a whipped up surface, thanks to Russ and his special recipe. He makes me a coffee and delivers it to our room every morning and it allows me a very gentle start to the day. I appreciate it alot. While sipping away I read a story that came across my newsfeed, posted in a group I belong to, there are 324,000 members of this group and on its pages I found a story featuring my home city and a man I had gone to school with. It was quite the thing to stumble across. My newsfeed also alerted me to the invasion of the Ukraine and very quickly the morning felt far beyond the ordinary.
We were late leaving after chores didn’t go perfectly, (I mean they rarely do when its -30 out), we had a good visit in the car. We talked about things we had seen on Facebook in the last day or so. Russell had seen a post by a friend defending the use of picture filters that allow us to look different than we are in person. He asked me what I think. That was an interesting conversation. The thing about the filters is that they allow a more polished or perfect image, but in the end you still have to go out in the world as you are. I have never really understood it. They make me kind’ve sad, because while I celebrate the chance for people to play with their image and perk up their look, I think the absolute ideal scenario would be to experience self acceptance and have peace with where you are at. If you use filters to make yourself more acceptable to yourself, don’t you deep down know that it isn’t the truth? Doesn’t that just give the voices in our heads fuel to say “you aren’t really pretty.” I find the self critical voice in my head needs no extra ammunition. The comments I made reminded Russell of a movie he loves. He said, “Kathy, you need to watch a movie for the ultimate monologue that sounds like what you just said. Kevin Costner, in The Guardian, is a coast guard rescue guy and he goes into a bar and the woman bartending is awesome, she tells him about how she got all her wrinkles, you gotta hear it.” Then he pulled off the highway for a minute, before he got out I picked up my phone. He could tell what I was up to. “Don’t start playing the clip if you find it before I get back,” he said. I couldn’t find the clip but I found the quote and here it goes
“Hell, I’ve always been old, Ben. You know what though? I don’t mind. I mean, if my muscles ache it’s cause I’ve used ’em. It’s hard for me to walk up them steps now cause I walked up ’em every night to lay next to a man who loved me. I got a few wrinkles here and there, but I’ve laid under a thousand skies on sunny days. I look and feel this way, well, cause I drank and I smoked, I lived and I loved, danced, sang, sweat and screwed my way through a pretty damn good life. Gettin old ain’t bad man; gettting old – that’s earned”
The conversation made me feel a little bit better. I posted a picture of Morgan and I earlier this week, when he was a baby, it was so obvious that I have aged in the fifteen years since it was taken. After this conversation with Russ I had a fresh take on how to feel about the difference the years have brought. I thought to myself, if this is the price I pay for the experience of raising these kids and living my unique life, I will pay it. We are here to live, not play a game about tricking time.
We kept rolling down the highway. I got to tell Russ about the post I had discovered earlier in the morning. How it led me to look up the profile of the woman who wrote the story, how I had read another story on her post that I found touching. A woman teaching at a school in the far north received terrible news moments before her students arrived for the day. When they arrived they surrounded her in a circle as she told of her loss. The cultural differences, the fact of suicide, the fact she was still a new teacher to them did not deter them from drawing near. Their culture and their values meant a response of care and compassion. Russ fought back his tears as we approached our turn off to get to our seminars. We needed to hear about cultural divides being bridged for the sake of compassion. We needed to hear about solidarity in the face of suffering.
We found our way to the conference room at the Days Inn where we would spend the day. We were late and that meant the only empty table was front and center. The presenters could see every line on my face! Not that the lines mattered, just drawing the earlier story into the current one! The distance mattered. I was not super keen about attending the event, they can get boring and often there is much discussed that I just can’t get a hold on. My background in agriculture is very sketchy and that means a million facts swim around and I get overwhelmed. So in my head I was thinking, “when it gets to be too much I can zone out, I will work on the sermon for Sunday.” However, when you are 12 feet from the presenter zoning out is not an option. I felt guilty for answering text messages let alone writing a sermon, in my head or otherwise. I was on. I was listening. I took notes to keep myself engaged. And I learned! I learned fact stuff like our next planting of forage seed might best be accompanied by a rye grass called “Big Bang” versus the oats we have planted for cover crop before. Exciting right!?!? But I also learned in a bigger way that alot of the professionals working in the industry really want to help us producers. Russ and I both went away saying, “we will call that guy Ken anytime, he was so approachable.”
At one point I caught myself being a big faker. A man from Brett Young Forage was speaking, he was really easy to listen to and follow along with and I was with him. He made comment about clover that went something like this, “you want to be really careful, sweet clover and white clover are different” and he looked to us listeners to affirm that with him, or so it seemed to me. There I was, wanting to give the message that I was following, and I found myself nodding my head like a true believer. That was immediately followed by a sharp awareness that I was faking it and I am not sure why. I don’t know a ding dang thing about clover, I had no business nodding about anything. I caught myself with a question I will never know the answer to, “who would I be if I actually knew this?” Who are the women that sit around conference tables well versed in the details of forage? What impression was I giving this man about who I am and what my story might hold? Why is it so hard to let yourself be known as a beginner?
At some point in the day I noted how natural it felt for the three of us to roll into the seminar. In fact, it was a first. Russ loves going to education events and has taken me to many, so truly, I am less of a beginner than I used to be. But this was the first time that Morgan joined us. With school on break for a week it was an option that he seemed happy to agree to. So the number of brains mulling over the details of ranching at the Bar MW is definitely expanding. Today was a first.
As the day winds down, with knowledge that so much is wrong in the Ukraine and that could spread, I find myself thinking about what I know and what I don’t know. I told the family at supper, I think I maybe know about .4% of the situation in Ukraine, if that. I don’t know about clover. I do know that I am loved even though my hair is more grey every day and my wrinkles very real. I know that listening is powerful and it may be one of my superpowers. I don’t know how to stop a war, but I think listening would help. I know it can be scary to be in the backseat going 100km/hr down a winter highway. I know it feels scary to not be in control. I know we all have felt out of control for almost two years. I know I need alot more courage. I know I need to pray. I don’t know how to pray, or that is how it feels. I know that the Bible says that when we don’t have the words to pray, the spirit helps us, and can translate our groans, our sighs and our weeping into prayers. I know I am going to be counting on that. After texts and calls with friends today I know that what makes us rich and powerful is not dollars and force but relationship and wisdom. I know its bedtime and this is enough.
My Dad was a memorable character in Saskatoon. He was 6’6″, a school teacher and administrator, he had a beautiful bass singing voice and a heart for underdogs. He acted in summer musicals. He served on alot of boards and committees. He was well known. I was proud to be his daughter but as a young adult making my way in life I reckoned with living within the shadow of his identity.
I was reminded of living within his shadow after I posted a video on Facebook last weekend. It was of my daughter Jillian singing “O Canada” for the opening of two big hockey games. She did a really nice job and I was proud of her.
The responses to the posted video were overwhelming to her and I. She received plentiful and beautiful affirmation. The most common refrain was “you sound so much like your Mom!”
The feedback is a wonderful thing and especially for a young woman on the verge of launching into the world. She is blessed by such supportive people. However, I found myself saying to her, “oh I’m sorry Jill.”
That’s a curious reply isn’t it? Weird. Out of place.
Here is the background. At exactly this time of year in 1994 the winter Olympics were happening. Some of you will remember the figure skater named Nancy Kerrigan. Events of those Olympics have given her name long lasting recognition in addition to the fact that she represented the U.S. as one of their top skaters.
Back to Saskatoon…..
In winter 1994 I was 25 years old and in my first year at Seminary. I was shopping at the Safeway (in Cumberland Square….if you want to picture this vividly and you are a Saskatonian). I was wearing a full length navy blue wool coat, quite a sleek look, and my hair was pulled back, also quite a sleek look. I was shopping for bananas when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman moving towards me and settling in right beside me. She had moved with purpose. I was curious but didn’t need to be for long, she began to speak, “you must be….” In my head I finished the sentence for her “You must be….Wayne Kyle’s daughter.” But that is not what she said, instead I heard, “you must be Nancy Kerrigan’s sister!” I assured her I was not, but I am sure I remember her saying “really!?!”
That was one of the weird, random and hilarious moments of my life. I wonder if that lady had considered the likelihood of a U.S. figure skater’s family member hanging out in Saskatoon during the Olympics or whether she had just turned off her tv and whipped in for some groceries with Nancy Kerrigan’s face fresh in her mind.
Whether we even look much alike or not I took from that moment a realization. The way I finished that ladies sentence for her allowed me to see clearly that I was used to being known for who I was related to not for who I was, and I was 25 years old.
That is why I said sorry to Jill. I know what work it is to carve out your own identity, and moreso when your parents are well known. Between Russell’s history here and generous personality and my ministry and music, in this small area we have become known. I think as humans we delight in finding the connections between people, the similarities in look, mannerism or talent that move through the generations. Is it reassurance that things we value live on? It has seemed delightful for people to make the connection between my voice and Jill’s, so Jill will work out her own unique presence with this as a part of the background. It’s something to reckon with. I think maybe thats why my unthinking response was, “I’m sorry.”
How do any of us establish an identity that arises from our own unique selves and experiences? It strikes me that it starts to emerge and grow as we throw ourselves into the life that we seek and the opportunities we are able to embrace. Decision by decision, effort by effort, success by success (hopefully) we become known for that unique presence we bring to the world.
Perhaps that whole process has been turned on its head by social media, giving people a chance to be recognized far and wide for the public persona we choose to put forward. But do our ventures with social media allow us to feel truly seen and known?
Back to the Carnduff rink….
Jill was asked to sing again this past Sunday, she said yes, so for the 3rd time in 8 days she put herself out there (for a game that our Red Devils went on to win 10-1, taking the series!) Perhaps there is a shortage of willing singers that has created this set of openings for Jill. However her willingness and strong voice are giving her opportunity, the building blocks of her own identity. It won’t be easy separating herself around here from the connection of being “Russell and Kathy’s daughter.” But on the other hand it honestly feels like only a matter of time before we are known somewhere else in the world as “Jill’s parents”.
Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe we are strongest when our identity is a mixture of what we can do and who we belong to, and it seems amazing when those strands of belonging come from our past and extend into the future as we become a part of new generations.
Today in the background I am always Wayne and Georgie’s daughter. However, as I stand at the fruit counter at the Co-op, making my choices, it is very likely my status as Russell Bayliss’s wife that will cause someone to draw close to me out of the blue, but instead of telling me I look like an Oympian I will hear, “how are those cows doing?” I will sit in an audience soon, perhaps with tears in my eyes, absorbed with being “Gina Bayliss’s Mom”, she is thriving at theater school. I will fluff a skirt and scramble to oversee a graduation celebratory meal as my beautiful anthem singer graduates in a few months. I am watching in awe as I see in my son, Morgan Kyle Rain Bayliss, the genetic threads of two family trees come together and I know my miraculous body has allowed this opportunity. I live all this within the shelter and the challenge of knowing life as a follower of Jesus Christ. That opportunity ties all the pieces together for me, I have one job, to love and be loved.
It has been a long time since I wrote anything on the blog. I have no way of explaining that except maybe I am a little more private than I thought I was.
Without a doubt life has been ticking along here at the ranch. Our crew and our cows have persevered through some devastatingly cold conditions. Having called them devastating conditions it seems important to affirm that in fact we had no losses from the cold, except that our cows had trouble keeping weight on. We believed that we were giving them good quality feed but still they were dropping pounds. We tested for worms. That wasn’t the problem. It was just the cold and as soon as the weather shifted upwards the cows started to bounce back. There is a significant amount of stress that goes with this. One of the worries is whether feed supplies will hold out. We budgeted our bale supply for a typical winter but this winter has required more food than average due to the cold. When its cold the cows eat more to keep their inner furnace producing heat.
We got into something new this week, in response to this worry about feed lasting through the winter. We got the chance to do a little alchemy. That is a word I connect to the Muppets. When the kids were little we had a VHS tape of the Muppets recreating classic fairytales. It was really memorable when Gonzo did his thing as Rumpelstiltskin and turned straw into gold to rescue Miss Piggy, for a fee. I really loved that VHS tape back when being Gina and Jill’s Mom gave me permission to be a kid again. Anyways, the alchemy we were a part of was turning straw bales into nourishing food. If you have not had time on a farm you might not know that straw is usually used for bedding and hay is used for food. Straw is the stalks that grain grows on and hay may be comprised of a variety of grasses. Straw has bulk and roughage but not much nutrition. However, we had the chance to have a man come with a fancy machine and inject a nutritious mixture into 100 straw bales. The mixture was mostly molasses and offers 14% protein content, making them edible and somewhat nourishing. We have started introducing these bales into our feed rotation. At this point they are not a favorite item on the menu but are getting eaten and allowing the feed to last just a little longer. Surprisingly this process was not that expensive, as farm expenses go. There are years when having feed for cows is like possessing gold, this year with our severe drought its one of them, so making straw viable as a food source is a little like the fairytale alchemy I remember.
Another way we have extended our feed supply is by purchasing grain pellets for the cows. We were able to find a source for these, which was not straightforward. The place that was reccomended to us flat out refused to talk to us because we are not already customers. We did get lined up with a good option though and the price was better than we thought it might be. A load cost us $12,500 and Monday a 2nd load is being delivered. Those kinds of figures amaze me. How does a ranch sustain these kinds of extra costs? Well……part of it is strategic decision making. Like this……..We usually buy oats for our calves and get them ready for market by supplementing their feed this way. This year the price per bushel of oats has about tripled. We made a strategic decision not to feed them oats, to do some leftover grain and some barley for supplemental feed and see how they would fare on that with hay. They were not as bulked up as usual but did okay. The term that goes with this is that it didn’t “pencil out” to feed them 9$/bushel oats. So perhaps we saved a bit there. The true saving grace when having extra feed expenses is that our provincial government offered ranchers drought relief. There is lots of talk about how terrible government is. I don’t negate anyone’s position, there is a reason for everything everyone says. However our experience is that in this terribly scary and hard time of maintaining a herd of cows we have felt seen by our government. Our work creating food feels valued and our need to have sustainability affirmed. There is support that will make it possible to carry on. We are incredibly grateful.
One other big part of this season of ranch life is snow. Wow we have had snow and our entire province seems to have been blanketed with it. It has meant so much extra work but it has also translated to hope. The extra work comes from managing the snow, moving it to create paths to get feed to animals and keep yards clear. Then moving it again when the wind rearranges it. We seem to have had lots of wind. The hope comes from the knowledge that this spring there should be some run-off, we begin to envision dugouts with some water in them. This is so major. We need the hope as much as we need the water.
The deep snow and deep cold have made life hard on the nature that surrounds us. We have found ourselves hosting some species that are having a hard time getting by. Prairie Chickens, partridges and pheasants are birds that have been taking food and shelter with us. Deer are everywhere. The picture below is typical lately, I counted 35 deer in this picture, Russ says there are 160 within a mile of home, all grazing where any food source remains accessible. The coyotes have been bedding down with the cows, using their bedding and eating their manure as a food source. It seems there are many species including our own that are doing their best to survive in trying times.
When the air is deadly cold, the worries real and big and we are surrounded by snow and tricky roads what sustains us? What sustains you?
I answer my question with the word love. I think about it, in one way or another, all the time. My experiences with it help me live these days. Here are some pictures.
That’s our check in. We are still here!
Thursday evening Russ got a message. It was from a woman sitting in the front row in the theatre at the Canadian College of Performing Arts. She was awaiting the start of “Love and Information” on its opening night. Meanwhile our girl Gina was backstage, ready and waiting for her cue to enter. The message sent was a picture of a foot nearing the stage and just two words, “front seat”. At intermission we received an asssessment of the first half. The woman is Tammy Shaw, she was raised in the same small town near here that Gina called home for the first 3 months of her life. Tammy lives in Victoria and has been generous and kind towards Gina, very mindful of the connections we share. The connection is pretty solid. When I pulled into Gainsborough, Saskatchewan on June 28th, 1999 as the brand new minister who had never met a soul out here, my assignment was to go to Tammy’s Mom’s insurance business, meet Cheryl-Anne and get the keys to my new home, the United Church manse. Cheryl-Anne gave a wonderful warm welcome, I could not have imagined then that her daughter and my daughter would be sharing the moments they did this past weekend.
This picture is part of the first scene that Gina was in, that is Gina on the left side. It was a scene where she needed to make eye contact with an audience member. It was Tammy who was in the right spot to be that person. That really pleased Gina and she made sure to tell us about this.
When the show was over Tammy and her daughter waited to talk with Gina and they presented her with flowers. This impressed me so much, it was just so thoughtful.
The thing is that Russell and I had planned to be in Victoria and to attend the show. We thought we had a window where we could make it happen. Covid and cold weather conspired against us. I am beyond thrilled that on opening night Gina had fans in the crowd. We made sure to be in touch with Tammy afterwards so that she could know how much her support meant to us. Tammy relayed that she wasn’t doing a big thing, because for her it was a connection to home, and she needed that too. So Tammy, this next picture is for you. This is young Gina, on the back step at the manse in Gainsborough, taking in the summer sun from that particular corner of the world. You know all about it.
The next night Gina had a triple whammy of support. Her Aunt Janet and Uncle Ray were watching the livestream in Vancouver, we were watching the livestream with the Connelly’s, and in person in the theatre were Miles and Shelley Vass. They are friends we worship with here in Carnduff and our connections of friend, family, and ranching go way back. Shelley’s Dad Jack was the first person I told in the church community about dating Russell. I remember saying to him, “Jack, I have something to tell you, (he was a member of the Ministry & Personnell Committee) I have been spending time with Russell Bayliss, it maybe doesn’t make sense but…..” he cut me off, “it makes perfect sense to me!” I needed to hear that. Jack was among my circle of support for the rest of his years.
It was great to hear from Shelley after the show that they had loved it and were so glad they were there. She reported back “we had a hug and a chat with your star!” Oh that does a Mama good to think about her girl getting that warmth and adoration from home. Shelley sent this picture of the program.
Saturday evening, closing night, my sister Margie and her family were watching from their home just outside of Saskatoon. I know that Gina was encouraged by the simple knowledge that people are with her in this big journey she is on.
My appreciation for the support that Gina received is the reason “super-thankful” appears in the title of this blog. It really is the heart of this blog entry. I want to celebrate that the ties that connect us to each other are so life-giving. Especially in these times of increased isolation I feel like we should take note every time they show up and reveal to us the importance they really do carry. The ties that connect us are maybe the binding that allows us to keep well amid very trying or new or discouraging or big developments. They are the ties that bind. They are the ties that keep us from becoming frayed. They are sometimes not obvious until they are. I am thankful, so thankful for them.
There are other words in the blog title……..sentimental being one of them. Gina and I had a pretty big visit on the phone this weekend, I was puttering and talking, putting away Christmas decor (not the tree, Jill wants that up til April at least…..), but shelf ornaments were getting wrapped and boxed. Long ago I started keeping some of the favorite clothes of the kids’ childhood to use as protective wrap for our special Christmas things. As Gina and I reviewed the highs and lows of the show experiences I was pulling these very small and very memorable clothes from a box and getting the job done. I broke into the conversation, “oh Gina, I just pulled your striped pants out, you know I have a memory of a picture of you wearing these pants and looking in that full length mirror that was in the hallway. You were really checking yourself out, getting very aware of your own physicality. I don’t think I could have imagined this moment now back then.” It was a really poignant moment in the conversation for me. As I handled those old pants, remembering the little girl who once wore them it felt like a celebration of growth and giftedness. I couldn’t find that picture but I found this one. These are the striped pants that will protect my favorite nativity figurine all year long.
As I looked for the striped pants picture I had in mind I came across a few other noteable ones. When Gina was 2 we took her and baby Jill to see Sesame Street Live. This picture represents her first encounter with a stage. The shirt she is wearing here is one of our favorites from the olden days. It has a story that goes with it, we call it her “troubles Daddy!” shirt. Last week the cat wore it.
Sometimes I enjoy puzzling over how things come to be. I do that alot actually. I was struck looking at pictures today, of how at a very young age Gina was surrounded by somewhat unusual action. Here at the age of almost 4 months she finds herself in the midst of lunch on a horse chase. I wonder what went through her head as Blaine peeked at her with that big horse looming so near.
These horses were milling in the ditch beside her. What leads a country girl to have strength and fearlessness on stage? Do moments like these contribute? I don’t know but its interesting to think about.
Pictures of livestock help to transition to the last word in the title of the blog……snassy. This also is a pivot from dwelling on Gina’s experiences and turns us to Morgan for a bit of humor. Morgan loves to use the word “sassy” and he pronounces it with zest. In itself it is not a funny word really, but the way Morgan brings it into use it just has a humorous tone to it, all the time. Well on Saturday we took advantage of mild temperatures and being home and we got a big job done. With the help of Laurie and Dawson we put our heifers and late calves through the chute and gave them a treatment to prevent parasites and skin bugs. It was an all afternoon job and held both monotony and rodeo type excitement at times. At one point I looked at Morgan and noted that it seemed he was wearing his good jeans. I hassled him about this. He assured me these looked like good jeans but in fact had very inconvenient “air conditioning” (a bad and not stylish hole). Then it was his turn to hassle me, he told me I was being snippy, I said, “yeah especially because it seems I am wearing my good jeans!” “Well Mom!” Morgan said, “you are being snippy and sassy!” And there and then in the midst of that monotonous work a new word was born, “snassy” and it gave us something to smile about then and since.
This was a long blog. If you got this far, thank you for your endurance. I just couldn’t leave any part out. I think for me being sentimental is one of the ways I nourish the ties that exist between me and the people and things of the past. I seem to need that. Expressing gratitude is how I nurture the ties that bind in the current moment. Its a big part of my faith. When people say thank you to me I notice it, I feel it, I know it has nourishing power. I try to offer it back as much as possible. I could do better with that though. And how could I leave out snassy? If we didn’t get to celebrate humor I am not sure we could carry on around here.
Super thankful, sentimental and snassy……..thats me.
P.S. The new characters on the blog tonight gave their permission to me to use their names here.
It has been a couple of weeks since a blog post happened. Those kinds of gaps happen for a few reasons, one is being busy, another is a lack of much of interest happening to write about, and sometimes it is that life is complex and the question exists, how do I even start? Alongside that I am new to blogging still and I wonder, what do people want to hear about? So I decided that I would write this for a particular friend, when she sent me a Christmas card this year she told me how much she loves my blog, that it makes her feel closer to me. So, I am picturing having coffee with her as a way to get a little focus to my writing.
The year started very harshly in terms of weather. The main implications of this for us were travel and cows. The kids and I were in Saskatoon for the last days of December, celebrating with my family, it was too cold for Russell to leave the ranch for the couple days he had hoped for. The horrible cold conditions made me anxious about being on the highway but I had the car checked out before we left and then we just did our best and we were fine. This prompted some deep gratitude. It was very important for us to be with the Kyles for a few days of whirlwind visiting, we made some memories. One of the memories of that time that speaks deeply to me happened on the way home. We drove from Saskatoon to Regina with Gina, but in Regina we arrived at the airport just in time to meet Grandma Shirley coming home from her daughters. We lingered in the airport so that Gina and Shirley could visit and then left Gina there to catch her flight home to Victoria. We left Regina about 7pm knowing Gina had a wait. It turned out her plane was very late departing and she celebrated New Years in the Regina airport, doing a countdown among strangers. We drove home in -35 temps with the wind at our back. The windows in the car were not able to stay clear with all the breathing going on and that extreme air on the outside. I was a bit whooped and pretty quiet but as we headed through Bienfait I asked Grandma Shirley a question, “whatcha thinking about Shirley?” She replied, “well I don’t really know, well I guess I’m thinking about just how good you are doing!” She melted my heart. I am 53 years old and I am very well supported in this life, but there perhaps will always be a little girl in me that needs her elder to see her managing something hard and say, “I see that this isn’t easy and I see you and I see that you are doing good.” The comment had more impact than it might have usually because we were surrounded by darkness, Shirley was in the back seat in a cave created by icy windows and out of that darkness her sweet tone of voice carried that message that touched my heart.
Coming home we settled in to a news year party that Russell created for us. We got home with less than an hour to go before the new year.
Then it was back to ranching. The weather was so cold and harsh and our cows struggled. We try to provide shelter for them but there is only so much you can do. They lost weight despite being fed good feed and it was disheartening to say the least. The cold lasted for about 10 more days, just breaking this week. I intend to do a more detailed blog post about being a rancher in these conditions.
In the midst of that need met need. My oldest friend in the world works in leadership in long term care in Saskatoon, her time off is hard to keep as time off. So she jumped in her car and came to see me for a few days. She was away and I had someone who could just roll with whatever the day held. Our time together held some memorable moments, like in the first hour when she presented me with a t shirt to match hers, honoring our favorite singer from our teen years, Whitney Houston.
After a day of coffee, visiting and I will admit some vodka, and visiting, and cooking and kibbutzing with the family who all love her, well we decided to get down to business. Deb has laundry secret skills that gave her the confidence to tackle my laundry room with me. I made her pose with this piece of decor which I purchased long ago when I was optimistic about how effective I could be in there. Deb is in fact the queen of the laundry, so this shot is very apropos.
Despite Deb’s good listening ear and her gracious heart towards me I am not all good. Despite living with a very accepting and loving husband, I am not all good. I have made a couple of mistakes in the last month that have me reckoning with my feckin humanity. And……….I feel sooooo weird, like the whole world is turned upside down. And……. I think I am coming to terms with a piece of my grief after losing my Mom, that is, that its not like any grief that I have ever experienced before. It sits real deep inside me and from that point shapes my experiences and it is weird. And I am slightly frustrated that it seems to take a long time for me to understand anything about it.
And at the same time babies…………human babies……..a baby born in our family this week. News from school today about teachers that are expecting. And I find myself thrilled that the world is carrying on and people are betting on better days ahead. And best of all, a baby to visit us. Our friends came over this week and during lunch I caught this picture. But later I got to hold that baby, and read to that baby and play a game with that baby. It was so good for my heart. I have never met a baby with such a sense of humor. She laughed so much, it was incredible. We were blessed by her.
A hard thing about this week is that we were to have gone to Victoria today to see Gina in her 2nd year play. We have cancelled our trip. I want to be big and brave and not live in fear but the bottom line is the world is complicated right now and if we are going to spend vacation time and money we want to feel relaxed while doing it. I could say more about Covid, cows, weather, stress, Westjet flight delays and baggage losses we have known, but I’ll just say, we could cancel so we did. We will be watching online tomorrow night. Here is a link if you might like to see what our girl is up to.
Back at home…………Jill, Morgan, the dogs and Russ are keeping life very interesting. And its snowing again. Its a pain in the rear but boy oh boy it puts hope in the heart about spring and dugouts and pastures and hayfields.
Thanks for following along through the first couple of weeks of 2022. I think we all know that these are very odd days and it is hard to navigate. I have been writing a blog post in my head about hope, that will come soon, I hope. I need to write that for myself. In the meantime I am holding onto every shred of wisdom that I have and that I come upon. A big one is from Father Gregory Boyle who I listen to on Youtube. He is certain that our purpose, our healing and our wholeness all relate to building connection with each other. He calls it kinship. That is part of the reason I write to my friend tonight, to say thank you for the Christmas card, and here is what its like to be human in my neck of the woods. How is it to be human where you live?