I Have Not Been Blogging…

It is fascinating to me how the inner landscape of a persons life can shift. In my case that means I have gone from being a person excited to write or blog about daily life to being someone who feels really private. I can’t quite explain it. It has been about a month or more since I got much published about ranching or our days just being us. I have felt busy and focused elsewhere, that is part of the equation, but I have also been resistant to sitting and writing.

I am doing a lot of wrestling and maybe thats why I can’t put a foot forward into the public forum.

Wrestling. A few areas of my life have called me to wrestle. As a blogger I am wrestling with a notion that to write about what we do as ranchers gives some feeling that we are unique or special when in fact we are doing what many we know do, and having experiences very similar to many others. What I have begun to come to peace with is that in fact and of course we are not much different from the others in this fraternity of ranchers we dwell among, but I like to write and I can get some stuff across. The writing I can do is something that I bring to the mix, others have other gifts that I don’t have, so maybe its okay to express myself and put a foot forward into the public forum with the thoughts and stories that are ours. I have received many messages of encouragement among these lines and that has helped me know its good that I write even if I struggle with feeling weird about it sometimes. Several years ago when I was rather deep into Facebook my Mom would express a bit of chagrin at how much I shared, she herself had a much more private approach to life, she simply couldn’t understand what motivated me. I find it interesting to have spent much of the last month feeling so similiar to what she expressed for herself. The reality of feeling private really did have the effect of bringing the blog to a halt because I don’t really have much material other than what arises from being human and being ranchers in this time.

I am glad to share that the last month has been very good for me. I have been enjoying summer. Unlike many places in the world we have had pretty normal summer weather, unlike many other places on the prairie we have had the right amount of rain. After last summer where tears fell readily in the face of devastating conditions, we breathe deeply at the sight of the bales in our fields. We have had mostly cool nights. I planted some flowers this year and they are currently blooming abundantly and are so pretty. The schedule has been different. We got a little down time before haying started. All this has conspired to have me feeling happier than I have in many summers. I usually struggle in July and August. All of the good stuff could change in an instant, I know that, from experience, but for today I am living in the moment and expressing a deep well of gratitude for the multitude of blessings that I know to be my truth.

Over the last couple of weeks I have taken pictures and been photographed in ways that I found thought provoking. This morning an older picture came to my attention creating this set.

A couple Sundays ago I picked up Russ from the field, he had taken an early shift raking hay, without changing his clothes we headed into church. His hands were clean-ish. I was moved by the sight of these work mans hands ready to worship so I pulled out my camera. I am deeply moved by the wisdom in our church that we are welcomed just as we are.
Later that same day Russ called me needing help with some adjustments to the hitch on his baling tractor and a side door on his baler. I have to admit that I am intrigued with just how many things my hands are capable of and the fact that they can get so dirty.
Yesterday Russ asked me to come out because he needed my long lean fingers. He had been adjusting a hydraulic hose and getting it reconnected meant working in a really tight space. It was not easy getting everything lined up but with some persistence I got the hose end threaded onto the bolt. The hydraulic oil on my hands attracted every piece of dust and grass I came near.
This morning we were showing friends pictures of our Newfoundland trip and this picture came up. I love how the Atlantic Ocean is peeking through between the fence slabs under my arm. I love the contrast of our clean and well dressed hands in contrast to the previous picture.

I have always been fascinated by hands, by all they do in a day, the ways they can become intensely dirty, very soiled by life’s yuck, and then be renewed and ready for the next thing. I have sometimes wondered if I should write a speech about this, title it something like, “Don’t be Afraid to Get Dirty.” My hands have tackled some serious yuck and they have also been to the absolute opposite extreme. The hands pictured here are the same ones that have baptized babies, broken sacred communion bread and rubbed lotion into the skin of my elders. Sometimes I wonder how this vast difference can be my truth. It makes me think of a song we sing that starts with the words, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Its probably true that we should worry less about the dirt under our own and others fingernails, and offer those song lyrics as a prayer alot more. After I hit the publish button I am going to go put a load of laundry in. The last big job of the day for these hands of mine. My head and my heart need to ponder a little more what it means to have a clean heart. That is a speech I am nowhere ready to write tonight but I suspect it has to do with love. Sweet dreams.

Important Day

Its 3:09 on December 29th as I start this blog. I am thinking about what was happening and how I was feeling 21 years ago. Russ and I were married in this beautiful church at 4pm on December 29th, 2000.

It’s the church where I was raised. The bricks, mortar, stained glass and shingles sheltered my family for moments both routine and ultra meaningful, since 1961. It meant so much to be welcomed back there, along with so many friends and Bayliss family from the southeast, to experience the moments that would make official the transition I decided to make. That transition was to leave the city behind to embrace love, rural life and ranching. To embrace Russell, with all he brings to the table.

I think one of the most confounding and at times painful realities of life is how hard being married is and at the same time how much potential there is within marriage.

I would observe that what is hard about being married changes with the seasons and circumstances of life. That makes sense to me. Somehow Russ and I have weathered those cold days and seasons of marriage.

Today is for celebrating. Celebrating the grace that has allowed us to get this far. Celebrating the wisdom we have been able to grasp. This has helped us explore and experience some of the potential of marriage.

Two years ago something shifted for Russ and I. Some key pieces of wisdom seem to have been injected into our life together. There is no real clear explanation for how we landed with the wisdom we needed when we needed it, but we did. So I call that God’s grace. It meant really seeing each other and risking more vulnerability with each other than we had before. It meant that more than ever we found we had a best friend in each other. It has been so comforting. Especially since the last two years have been so difficult, so stretching, so mind boggling, so worrisome, so full of change and loss.

My blog is fundamentally about ranching. Ranches are about four legged creatures and the individuals and families that tend them. Our branch of the Bar MW ranch family story officially began 21 years ago today. It’s an important day.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary in stages over 13 months, due to the pandemic. The last piece of this was in September 2021, we ventured to the most eastern point of North America, wearing our original wedding dress and jacket. We met a photographer at Cape Spear, Newfoundland who captured these moments for us.

It was a huge risk to marry Russell, given that it meant joining a way of life that altered my reality completely. I am glad I did. When I woke up on December 29th, 2000 I lay in bed and counted on my fingers all the reasons I was marrying Russell. I am analytical like that and I needed that. It was a big big deal what was unfolding that day. What I valued then holds true today. We are very grateful for the opportunity to live this life together and to have a shared mission to be like the church we were married in. To be a sheltering presence n the world, offering space for routine life and meaningful moments to be explored and shared. Russ is the perfect person to live that mission with.

An Interesting 24 Hours

Sometimes being a ranch wife in the winter means its possible to stay put and days unfold within familiar walls and routines. I like that. Today was not one of those days. I would like to record and share the details of this different day, I enjoyed it too.

This 24 hours started last night around 10:30pm when I realized that I had missed the chance to visit with my friend Deb on her birthday. I had been working on writing a sermon and ordering gifts and I was like a dog with a bone with those things, I had neglected my friendship with Deb. Now here is a weird detail of our recent friendship. Deb brought a watermelon when she came for a visit in August. We had been having a really hard summer before her arrival and things got much better after her visit, so I decided that her watermelon, which never did get cut up, was in fact a lucky watermelon and I never could bring myself to throw it out even after its freshness had passed. It changed location eventually, and when it did it gained a costume, a tiger suit. Anyways it was holding strong as of yesterday, hanging out on our porch table. Well, I decided that yesterday night it was time to take it out to the dumpster and incorporate that action into Deb’s birthday celebration. I recorded a voice memo while standing beside the dumpster, sang Happy Birthday to Deb in the blowing blizzardy snow fall, recording the sound of the watermelon going into the dumpster and told Deb, and later Russell, “new year, new memories.” So, regular readers will have heard of the watermelon saga before, and this is the last chapter, it finally went out. I know all of this makes me incredibly weird, I prefer to think of it as quirky but honestly this stupid stuff is what makes life fun.

11pm – On my way out to the dumpster.

After a short night our entire family was up early and on the road to North Portal where I led a 9am worship service. The snow that had fallen overnight made that a hard trip but Russ drove our dually truck and we got there safely. This little town is about 85km to the west and south of us, it is right on the border with the United States. A very memorable embarrassing moment happened there for me that I cannot provide details on but will be part of our family lore for the entire rest of my life. So that was spicy.

As we approached the church we were the first ones to make tracks in the snow. Russ said, “grab a picture of this Kathy, thats a sign of a dedicated minister!”

The service went well, I was a bit flustered and had printed my sermon notes with way too small and crowded a print. I had to really concentrate to speak with my head up and keep my place in the sermon. There was great hospitality, Morgan just loved it that when he arrived he could grab a cup of coffee that had been brewing. It turned out there were people already there, they had made tracks in different snow than we did. As we pulled out of town afterwards it was rather a thrill to be so close to the customs buildings at the border. It has been so long since we have gone through customs. We made the drive from North Portal to Estevan in decent time, the roads were already alot better after snowplows had been down them. Russ dropped me at the church and then took the kids to the mall. We didn’t think it would be fair to ask them to do church twice in one day, the exact same service. Russ whipped back and slipped in a bit late. He was thrilled to be welcomed aloud and by name by several in the congregation. I had mentioned he would be slipping in late and why. I offered a sermon probing the connection between righteousness and compassion. I really enjoyed the preparation of it.

Russ took this picture of me in the pulpit in Estevan. I didn’t realize he had. It was kind’ve cool to see, like “oh, this is what I look like when doing my thing….hmmm.”

A trip to the mall followed where we met the kids at Peavey Mart. I think one of the cardinal rules of being a rancher is you never waste a trip to the big city by only doing one thing. We are in the market for a couple more gate panels so Peavey Mart was a must. Russell has been working on an ambitious re-organizing of our handling system within the pole shed. He really enjoys tinkering with our set-ups and scheming to make jobs go more efficiently and safely.

This was taken last week when Russ was trying to explain to me what his vision was for how these gates could be refigured.

Thinking we had a little more time than we actually did we went for lunch at Russell’s favorite place in Estevan and then hit the road. We had a bull sale to get to.

I was so happy to have the kids along. This shot between Estevan and Carnduff enroute home is pretty white outside the windows. It was snowing again.

The bull sale was held only about 12 miles south of our place so I dropped the boys off late to the sale, then took Jill home, changed my clothes, grabbed a farm cheque, grabbed some beer for the next thing we were heading to and I returned to the bull sale. By the time I got there Russ had bought 3 bulls and we had our quota. I got to watch the rest of the sale unfold. It was incredible how technology was used to make that sale work seamlessly in the midst of a very snowy winter Saskatchewan day. It was nice to see people I knew, including the owner of all the bulls. When we caught each others eyes during the sale we exchanged warm waves and smiles, I had already enjoyed these moments with a couple other people, but this is when Russell said to me, “Kathy, you have to stop waving at people, we are going to buy something we don’t want!” Sometimes I feel like deep down I am always going to be a city girl.

The Bayliss bull shoppers.
The man on the left is watching for bidders, the auctioneer is behind that desk, as is Wes the friend who is hosting the sale. There were several staff on laptops and phones monitoring online and telephone bids. The animal being bid on is seen on the screen, an identical screen is on the other side. We watched short video clips of the bulls and bred heifers filmed on a warmer day. If we had been there earlier we could have walked among the bull pens and had a good look at the animals for ourselves.

Once we paid our bill we headed out because we had a football party to get to. We joined our cousins the Connellys to watch the western final of the Canadian Football League. Our team was playing. We were late for the game but given that we are not huge football fanatics we probably got to see enough. We really enjoyed the relaxed time and the visiting, the only thing that could have made it better is if our team had won. It was very close. Dawson made a crusty cheezy baked dip that was hard to stay away from. All the snacks were good. The food at football parties is definitely a large part of the fun. We came home a couple hours ago and I decided that I would either write about all this or go to bed early. The writing won out. Tomorrow is slated to be a stay in my own four walls kind of day and i think I am going to enjoy that! Isn’t life something though? Every once in a while you get alot to digest, as if it were a six course dinner!

Sweet and Salty

I want to tell you about my morning.  I tried to get up extra early to make a batch of fudge for Gina and get a care package ready. 

A friend of mine is driving to Victoria, leaving tomorrow and offered to take a box to Gina.  I was up early but not quite early enough so I landed into church 10 minutes late, however I was really happy with the care package.  Being late I didn’t have time to look over the bulletin to check out what was slated for hymns and stuff.  I really enjoyed the service.   A theme for worship came from the story of Esther, the phrase “for such a time as this” was well explored and I had new resolve to do what I feel called to do in this time.  There was a beautiful piece of music that really brought the message home.  So….I was feeling pretty centred when Susan announced the closing hymn.  At that point I believe my mask had the effect of turning off any censoring I was inclined to do.  I heard her announce it, I looked down at the bulletin to confirm that is what I heard and I said out loud, “well fuck.”  I swear too much.  I do.  I know it and I admit it.  I have not enough resolve to do much about it.  But looking back on this moment I have decided to have compassion on myself.  What information was held in that uttering? Those two words that missed the loop around my brain and came straight from my guts?  I think its something like this…. I am in the provincial territory of grief and I am on a calm lake but there is word of a storm brewing.  That hymn equated to someone rocking my boat.  It was so surprising.  I have decided to talk about it because maybe its valuable for people who find words easy to document the journey of grief.  A friend of mine is in a similar boat, except that having lost a child his lake is hardly ever calm, but from that boat that rocks to and fro and splashes him all the time, he writes back to the rest of us on shore to say, “this is what its like”.  I find him brave.  So, here are some words, maybe sent to those on other lakes in the province of grief, is this what its like for you too?

The hymn was VU #639, it will forever be a legendary number in my mind, because back when I was a brand new minister I would go over to our organist’s house for visits.  We might have been at the care home for a service and land back at her place for tea and some ultra delicious baking.  Her name was Mae and she was a profoundly good musician.  Invariably we would end up in her music room, she would search a song from her memory and see if I could sing it.  She had memorized several of the new hymns in our then new hymn book before macular degeneration affected her. Number 639 was one of them.  She loved it.  It was peppy and she rocked it, every time.  It is called “One More Step Along the World I Go” and the repeating line is “and its from the old I travel to the new, keep me travelling along with you.”    I have always loved being with older people, I love tea and baking, I love music and I needed a Grandma presence in my life.  My times with Mae as co-worship leaders at the care home, with the debrief after, were precious to me.  Mae passed away maybe 10 years ago now.  It was darn hard.  I believe, if I remember right, that I sang that song at her funeral.    I have sung it in church many times since Mae passed.  I ALWAYS think of her but never before have I been prompted to swear. 

Mae, Gina and I at a special occasion.

It turns out my body is pretty smart.  I am most definitely in the territory of grief and there is a storm brewing and I maybe inherently know that I can hardly tolerate any rocking of the boat with that storm on the horizon.   If I had let myself finish the sentence maybe I would have said, “oh fuck, here it comes, I’m going under.”  I think what my heart and guts were keeping track of was what my brain had been working on that morning.  I made fudge today.  I did so knowing it was the exact recipe I made exactly one year ago today when I was helping Mom and she wanted to make a gift for my niece who was being confirmed at Church. 

I documented Mom as the main character in “when you are a Kyle, fudge is a love language” fall episode of 2020 with lots of pictures. This one is delish looking.

I was wearing my Mom’s robe as I cooked, not because I was wallowing in my memories but because I wear it every day, it is so perfectly comfortable.   I have so many pictures of her in it though.

Fudge making for one we love, the fall 2021 episode.

I smelled my Mom’s perfume in the house randomly this week.  So did one of the kids.  Many anniversary days are coming up in the next few weeks.  I think I am working hard in my mind to manage the implications of just everything.  As I headed off to church today I was surprised at how well I was doing.  Then that hymn.  Here is the thing that got me through.  First, I still love the song, so I just threw myself into it.  Second, it was funny.  I am an ordained minister and I was definitely misbehaving by uttering such words in church.  I don’t get rebellious very often so I was enjoying being bad with no chance of being caught.  (Until I made this confession anyways.)  There are some good side effects of masks! 

What do I take from all this?

-I think I understand just a little bit better why it is that people avoid church sometimes.  Some of our big moments happen within those four walls.  Some of the music gets connected to our most joyful and painful times and then random connections happen too and it just gets to be a lot, especially when we don’t know what will trip us up and when.

-The truth is always going to show itself. 

-There are life preservers on board any boat, at least there should be.  Is humor one of them?  I think it was for me today.

-Contrary to what many people have told me, God does not use lightening bolts in church to discipline people.  I said that four letter word and it appears I am okay.  Instead, I was led to be curious about myself and compassionate with myself. If I can keep that up I think I might just get through this.