Day 56 – Calving Season 2022 – On Location

If you will indulge me I am going to play pretend for a moment or two.  I am in this moment an on location reporter.  “This is Kathy Kyle coming to you from the Cow Dog Lounge at the Bar MW Ranch.”

Laurie had this sign made for us and showed up with it this week. We mounted it with baler twine (a ranchers 2nd best friend after duct tape). The name Laurie came up with is perfect, our dog Knightwing frequently naps in her spot on the couch as in this picture.

While I lounge on a sectional couch in the pole shed our team is right beside me putting a small herd through the chute. 

It is raining outside, it is comfortable (only one layer of clothing is about perfect), the smell of a branding iron lingers in the air.   The fact that I am blogging is a result of the fact that once again our team has been added to by friends.  Carvell is doing my job and I am here with my laptop, close enough to feel connected to the action but free to do one of the things I love, write.

Carvell is in the spot where I often stand, he is ensuring the calf is secured and stays in place while receiving its various treatments. At home Carvell works in the computer programming field, there is no denying that this man has become a cowboy too.

It has been many days since I felt free to linger on the blog.  Here is a quick check-in about how things are going.  The summary word is “well.”  Calving has not been very dramatic since our big blizzards.  Most cows are doing what they are supposed to do.  Russ has been able to manage things so that the troubles that do arise get worked out.  With seven sets of twins born we have been able to offset some of the inevitable losses that happen.   While April was absolutely abuzz with the births happening amid whatever weather was being dished up, it seems May has been consumed by practical jobs that need to happen.    By the end of today we will have about 70% of our cow calf pairs through the chute (tagged, immunized, castrated, branded, etc.) and at their summer pastures.  That is a super big deal.  We had the vet team here yesterday to semen test our bulls.   Our bulls came through winter okay, one failed his test (our bull named Cheeseball), a few need retesting, but overall, we are set for the breeding season.  Two days of the last week have seen parts of our ranch team helping different neighbors with their spring work.  That is important to us.  But the really big deal in our hearts right now is that our ranch family grew in number and depth this week. 

Last Saturday we had a family from Halifax, Nova Scotia pull into our driveway.  They had spent their day getting to the Regina airport and then to the ranch.  We had never laid eyes on each other before.  However, due to the wonder of Facebook and Messenger and this blog, we all had a darn good sense of each other.  So it was that our family looked forward to their visit, despite the fact that strictly speaking we were entertaining strangers. 

We feel very lucky.  Everything we sensed through our social media interactions is true.   Carvell, Lynette and their daughter Izzy were very easily folded into the work and the rhythms of our daily life and have brought much joy our way not to mention an incredible amount of help with getting our spring work done. 

At one point this week Russell offered to share from his Hawaiian shirt collection, something he loves and he got from our friend David Powell. Symbolic of how fun loving our friends are, they accepted Russell’s invitation/challenge and went to the neighbors looking like this!
This is Lynette. When she is at home she is a manager with Workmans Comp, a few years ago she joined her family for riding lessons. She is now a fully capable ranch cowgirl, and that has meant being adventurous with many different jobs. Her job today is tame, she is filling taggers and needles. A nice contrast to Thursday morning when she wowed me as she headed out to help move our herd of bulls down the road.
This is Izzy, she is a grade 8 student at home and the one who urged her parents into learning to ride. I got this picture of her as the computer girl this morning while we were working with the cows. It seems there is no job Izzy isn’t willing to try, she also had incredible stamina, she did early checks with Russ every day.
A fun picture of Jill from the day.
Morgan branding a calf. This is a hard part of our spring work that I often try to say as little about as I can. Here is the deal. We would never impose a brand on our calves if there wasn’t a real risk of theft of our calves. It has happened before. I see this as a vivid example of how sin creates suffering. We take comfort from the fact that the calves are reunited with their Moms right after they are done, the Mom’s feed them and we know this helps the calves begin to settle and heal.
Our man Ron working with the dogs to move the calves into the tub and alleyway.

For me personally a visit like we have had has many dimensions.  Part of it is struggle, only because when people dwell among you for a stretch they get to see you, really see you.  The first few days of the visit seemed chaotic on the ranch.  I was embarrassed at what we were asking our company to go through.  Then we realized they were very tough and definitely up for the challenge.  I felt embarassed by how much I do for my kids that they can do for themselves. Lynette assured me she saw what was at play. I settled down and the feeling of needing to hide a few things passed.

The other thing is that I have found with more hands on deck with ranch work I have been freed to focus on things that I need to do and want to do well as we shared our days.  So, I have been baking a lot, taking good care of my kitchen, getting caught up on laundry and paperwork.  For me, one of the ultimate gifts I can be given in life is being uninterrupted.  Whether that is when I am speaking or getting things done.  Ranch life does not lend itself to being uninterrupted.  Interruption is the name of the game.  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say this impacts my spirit both for good and not.  The freedom to focus in my kitchen was a gift that came from hosting visitors with such a desire to learn, see and work and make sure I felt appreciated for the food I created.

Another great thing about this time shared with new friends is that we have been spreading the goodness around.   Laurie and Dawson were with us a couple times this week and therefore got to meet the Fentons.  It made me very happy. This feeling of happiness made me realize we are really proud of all the people we are sharing our days with and its great to introduce them to one another.  This happened again when the Fentons helped us help our neighbors.  This just means more and more layers of connection and knowing.  When we see these neighbors in the days ahead we might find ourselves talking about how those Fentons are doing and we will all care about who we are talking about.  Another layer of making connections arose from the fact that Morgan has been training a Gilliland family horse. They came riding with us on Wednesday to use the horse and see Morgan’s progress. They met the Fentons. Earlier that day Russ and I had attended the funeral of an amazing woman who is part of our ranch family.  We have rented her pasture for the entirety of Russell’s life.  To honor her we spent the evening of her funeral day riding her beautiful river pasture and we gave thanks for her life as we prayed before enjoying a tailgate picnic supper.   The world feels more stable and secure when the ties that bind us weave in multiple layers. 

That rainbow in the background felt meaningful as we enjoyed Donna’s pasture.
This ride for Donna was a big deal. I was on a horse, but it was actually a mule, for the first time in more than two years.
Jill was one of the riders as well. She too has been avoiding the saddle. We both had a really good ride. Jill even took part in the race.
The race.

I think there are about five calves left to go through the chute, its getting quiet here in the pole shed, the team seems to be doing well and keeping their spirits up.   I don’t know if its just me, but I know I am avoiding the thought that we have to say good-bye tomorrow.  Carvell, Lynette and Izzy feel like family and its hard to think that four and almost five provinces are going to soon separate us.   I am always aware of my losses.  Its just a big part of my story.  I do well to remember that all the hard good-byes can be softened by the truth that there are many wonderful people in the world and it’s a gift when they come your way. We have been blessed.

Day 29 – Calving Season 2022 – Looking Back

Its Sunday morning and I’m hoping to get this all put together before Church. Russ and Morgan are out doing the morning check of the herd. We can’t help but compare how it is this morning to last Sunday when the storm had wreaked the worst of its havoc and we were breathlessly trying to figure out how bad things were. This morning there is some wind, the sky is cloudless, the birds are singing. Russ called to tell me, “do you know that things are just Ducky in the calving pasture?” I was a bit dense at the time, hardly awake, so I didn’t catch on that he was telling me that our cow named “Ducky” had calved. He is not yet done the morning check so this number could grow but in the last 48 hours we have had 52 calves (including a set of twins). Special cows that calved this weekend include Morgan, Tanya, Marion, Fudge and Cowabunga). We are deeply grateful that this is not how it was last weekend. This is as intense as it will get for us.

Earlier in the week, in a quiet few hours at the cottage, while keeping the home fires burning there I got started on this post. It is a glimpse of some of what we saw and experienced calving during a storm and power outage. The pictures span from Saturday until Tuesday and are different than the immediate storm update posts that were offered Saturday and Sunday. There is another couple of stories to tell yet. But this is plenty long.

    There has been so much calf action, bottles fed, rubs done, mercy, I have no idea who this calf was now.  However it was a quick warm up while the crew ate lunch on Saturday, Jill gave it a bit of milk or colostrum and then it was back to the barn to its Mama.  Jill carried it, we giggled a lot because it felt like a bit of a circus as it would start to slip and I did what I could to make it right.
    Saturday –   I took Coffee dog for a walk about 6pm.  When the stakes are high with the work getting done Coffee gets left behind because she is just not a good listener yet.  So….a walk was in order.  This was the view of our place, from the west, it doesn’t look that bad does it?   Within the hour 7 power poles snapped in half 4 miles south of us.  Not a quick fix.
When Coffee and I came across Ron outside he told us he was just going fencing.  This struck us both funny, its not a typical blizzard job.  The building snow in the calving yard was damaging fence and making it possible for cows to get over it. 
Having endured a morning of heavy rain and getting soaked through, then an afternoon with sleet that turned to snow, having done everything they could, including plug in the truck in the hope the power would return by morning, these guys were calling it a day.
Russ stopped me and asked me to take a picture of this new jeep sticker, he brushed the snow away.  A little mid blizzard humor.  Russ is a fan of Sasquatch stuff.
     Saturday night we set up and played a new game while eating cheese ball, crackers and chips for supper.  I had pizza dough rolled out and bun dough ready to shape when the power went out.  Clearly I was way too optimistic.  Russell was so cold and so tired, this game was an act of love, Morgan could hardly wait to try out the game he found in the easter egg hunt.  It was meant for Christmas but was in a box in the office that Morgan peeked into.  Shute. 
The snow on our bathroom window when we went to bed Saturday night. How is a person supposed to sleep picturing this coating your animals and they were wet to start off with?
     When Russ and I got up Sunday morning we wondered how we would handle the sheer number of calves likely to need a warm up in the cottage.  We were picturing six or more calves strewn about.  In the end there was only one in that day.  It took a long time to gather its strength and needed a lot of encouragement, however, when it came time for a bottle it happily gulped back the milk I made so I made more.  Russ thinks it has fluid on its lungs, back with its Mom it has not thrived, despite the meds he gave it, he has decided to leave things to their course.  Now four days later, at the time of posting this the calf, whom we called “Cottage”, is doing alright.
Last summer we added an outhouse to our cowboy cottage set-up.  I was non-committal about the importance of this.  Let me say how thankful I am for it and Russell, “you were dead right!”  Next on the list….a big generator for the ranch.
Just as I was getting in the truck on Monday morning to go to the pasture and get the fire going in the cottage Russ asked me to come help him, we had a heifer calving and its calf was big, it needed to be pulled.  Russ did not expect to find the calf alive but as its head emerged indeed it was breathing.  As Russ started to work on the calf the Mom prolapsed.  After a swear Russell’s first words to me were “call Marcel” and then he pushed that prolapse in as much as he could and using his arm kept the prolapse mostly within the cow.  He remained that way until Marcel got there, which was as fast as he could, but it took a bit of course.  The strain caused numbness and pain for Russ that lingered through the day.  He is very tough.
   When Marcel took over Russ went to the house to take off his goopy clothes.  By this point Morgan was on the scene and he became Marcel’s assistant.  The heifer named “Éclair” had got up just a minute before Marcel walked in and we used the rope I had placed on her like a halter to get her snubbed up to the side wall.  She settled down there and was not willing to move again.  In this less than ideal set-up Marcel persevered and got the surgery done that kept the heifer alive.  He needed Morgan to position himself in a certain spot and with enough force to keep the heifer positioned well enough for the procedure.  When it was done I overheard Marcel speaking to Morgan with all the coaching instinct that lives within him.  He is Morgan’s volleyball coach, his instinct to be a coach is something I love experiencing.  I have seen it many many times.  Here I overheard him praising Morgan for the way he handled his job.  He gave quite particular feedback and it warmed my heart.
Ron and I were in charge of anchoring the rope that snubbed the heifer to the wall.  I stepped away for a minute and got the chance to grab a picture of Ron poised to tighten that rope at the least movement.
Russ – back with dry and clean clothes on, after all he had been through with this cow I caught him petting it, it touched me.
   This is my sister and brother in law.  Over the course of the storm they sent me three pictures of them doing their weekend with one of our Bar MW mugs in hand.  It was such a vivid sign that they were thinking of us and holding us close.  I learned something from this which I will say more about another day maybe.  In the meantime I was very pleased with myself when I texted back a play on words, their last name is Sollid, and I said, “thanks for the Sollid-arity!”  I meant it. 
Just a nice moment.  This calf needed a bottle when Russ was not able to locate its mother.  The mothering up process was definitely impacted by the storm. 
As a result of a really cold night the 2nd night of outage we had a water line freeze to the cows watering bowls and it was not possible to get it thawed.  So we ran hose and put a trough in and Jill spent hours yesterday afternoon supervising the filling of the trough.  From that point she got many pictures. 
Something very beautiful happened that Jill documented for our family.  We have a heifer (a female cow who has never had a calf, yet) that we named Georgie.  That is my Mom’s name.  The previous cows we had named Georgie died.  We love having a cow named Georgie in the herd so we assigned a heifer the name.  While Jill was doing her water job yesterday Georgie began to calf.  Jill caught the whole thing on video which I will share when data service is stronger.  It is fascinating I think.  The beauty here is that the birth went well, Georgie proved to be a great Mom and her calf is a little mini me.  They are just gorgeous together.
One of our cowgirls and her daughter delivered hot casseroles to us for supper Monday night.  This was really appreciated.  The message that came with it touched our hearts so much.  There was a big one for us and a little one I could drop over at Ron’s house.  We all needed that warm food. They brought with them food from one of their relatives, who doesn’t know us, but once cattle ranched, and in sympathy sent us what we needed for a lunch we could reheat on the wood stove the next day. Great biscuits were part of that. How generous and kind.
Grandma Shirley hosted us for tea, cookies, device charging and showers late on Monday.  It felt so good.
I snuck over to Shirley’s in the late afternoon to get things started charging and have my first cup of tea and shower.  Russ and Morgan went in after supper.  Therefore here I am at supper already feeling fresh and flowy. 
Steaming coffee is a wonderful sight. We had filled our thermoses with boiling water at Shirley’s the night before and didn’t need to wait for the stove to heat water.
   On Tuesday morning Russ and I were alone in the cowboy cottage for the first time since the storm started.  It was noticeable to me, and I think Russ always notices, the subtle goodness that comes from a moment of rest, shared together.
If selfies required titles I think I would title this one, “thankful for a pause.”

If you made it this far, good job, it has not been an easy read perhaps.  I have one more thing to share, a set of pictures which is just for fun really, but at the same time it is kind’ve interesting.  There are 8 pictures of total porch chaos as the crew gets ready to head out for Saturday afternoon.  At this point clothes soaked by rain had been almost dried in the dryer, rain had turned to sleet and the nastiest of the weather was approaching.  There were serious layers being pulled on, physical and mental preparations being made for what was ahead I do believe.  Four minutes pass during these 8 pictures while all that happens is people getting dressed and dogs getting excited. 

This is the picture that cracks me up the most….three layers of action, dogs in foreground, crew in the mid and Jill feeding a calf in the back.

Day 22 – Part 2- Calving Season 2022

We have been able to charge our phones enough that I am glad to do an update on this day.

What started off as so scary turned out really quite well. Our herd is doing okay, the shelter in the calving yard worked well enough that the incredibly gusty wind was not able to create the devastation it could of whenn combined with the snow. So….our work was not overwhelming. The sun came out this afternoon changing the day entirely. Our house is currently 73 degrees due to the power of the sun. We are not shivering, 26 hours into this power outage. The wind has finally settled. Jill persevered with emptying the sump hole until the generator got switched from watering the cows and horses to running sewer and septic pumps. We avoided basement disaster so far with that. Things feel ENTIRELY different at 8:30pm than they did at 5:30am. We are all so profoundly grateful. It kindv’e feels Iike a miracle.

Here are a few pictures from our day….

Laurie worked at Russell’s side all day. About 5pm I restoked the fire and got ready to make possibly 3 bottles for calves whose Mama’s had abandoned them or got disoriented or something. After these two were done their last round I needed to make no bottles! Not magic but persistence and cowboy bossiness.
What a different view from the porch of the cowboy cottage at days end.
This was the morning scene.
David got busy making us supper after helping in the morning. This felt like such a loving act. A pretty great generator at his place meant he and Linda had their extended family and us fed. This warm and DELICIOUS food was so needed. Wow!

Day 22 Part 1 – Calving 2022 – Ummmm wow

A quick update. Power went out about 6pm last night. It was a tough night with the wind blowing so hard. I had long stretches of laying and wondering and worrying. It was very hard to keep myself calm. This morning we arose to a view that had Russ cussing immediately. We jumped into gear. I have been transplanted to the cowboy cottage where I have the fire going. Jill is home handling the sump pump hole which is filling as a result of the big rain that started yesterday off. We have some drainage issues to deal with. Jill s on hand to help Morgan with the heifers. Ron is busy doing all the various things he is so good at. Russ and Laurie are here dealing with the big herd. Last night had very few losses. Honestly I was expecting disaster. David is coming out soon and will be helping Ron with some feed and bedding hauling.

I wrote that last paragraph a few hours ago. I have been hosting humans for warm-ups and coffee and only a single calf. He is not doing very well. Russ is going to bring him 4 cc of Nuflor, maybe a touch of pneumonia. I think. We have had many moments that I have tried to grab pictures of. Until we have power restored, which sounds like a long way off yet, poles are broken in many places, I need to stay off my phone as much as possible.

Here are a few pictures of my day so far.

I came to the pasture first. Russ and Laurie were dealing with heifer issues at home. My job was to get the fire going. I was relieved to see the cows looking good. This moment is a “when the doctor is on the horizon” relief moment. Laurie pulling the trailer, Russ behind in the jeep.
Laurie getting the trailer backed up to the loading chute. There were 2 calves in it. Last night they got separated/lost from their Moms. We couldn’t figure it out. They came home and got bottles and shelter.
Russ and Laurie urging the calves towards the herd of Mama’s. I believe they have now both been claimed.
I discovered we had one mug at the cottage. Laurie drank from a cookie container.
Laurie posed for this picture, I told him he is a bigger rock star than Elton John. Amazing support.
David brought thermoses of coffee and Morgan brought cups from home. I was in business.
David got to bond with my calf while in the midst of his delivery of bales job. He cared for us amid the needs of his own family. Much appreciated….
My cold calf upon arrival.
Not perking up really……
Over and out from the cowboy cottage.

Day 15 Calving Season 2022 – Happy Easter 🦋

Happy Easter to you. It’s a different kind of Easter for us due to weather. Things are going well despite the 6″ of predicted snow we are currently receiving. These are unusual days that’s for sure.

In 2020 when Covid was a new reality and I was still actively ministering we hosted a sunrise service at the calving pasture and cowboy cottage. Using Facebook we shared that with the congregations and with our Facebook friends. This picture was taken at that time.

I am a bit sentimental about that day and that experience. It was really special. It was on my mind as this Easter has rolled around. So this morning I headed out to check the heifers with Russell and then went to the calving pasture with him for his first check of the day.

When we walked through the heifers we found that “Grill” had her baby overnight. I gave her some space and have a pretty fuzzy picture as a result.

In going for the check with Russ I think I just wanted to see what it was going to feel like out there. I decided to make a video of our tour through the cows. It is about 12 minutes, I divided it into 3 sections. It is not exciting but like yesterday’s video it is an experience of nature. If you like cows, or you like Russell, or you are a bit curious about ranch stuff we invite you to take an early morning Easter walk with us.

Video #1
Video # 2
Video #3

I think what I noticed at the calving yard was a feeling of joy busting through. Maybe because of Russell’s bond with the cows, my own sense of friendship with the cows and the names that mean alot to us, the people they remind us of. It was cold and snowy but friendship transformed the walk.

When we got back the snow started falling heavier. We had a cow calf mystery to deal with, involving “Maui”, and regular chores to do. It all conspired to make us decide we were not going to Church. Yet another aspect of a different kind of Easter.

Here are a bunch of silly photos that gave us joy today. Our animals are really there for us.

Buster
Coffee
Bingo
Jill and Coffee
When it’s phone time, Coffee dog has her distraction too.
My workshop.
Not sure what to say about those ears!
Maddie
Bingo….the master of side-eye.

We Saskatchewan folks and many everywhere are pretty weary, so many circumstances have been hard for almost everyone for a long time. We need the truth of Easter. The joy that busts through clouds. The life that defeats death and despair. The love that heals hatred and division. The power that banishes fear. I am so very thankful to God for the promise and the delivery of all that. May we all have a blessed Easter.🌤💒🌷🦋🕊

Our Neck of the Woods

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.

At this moment in the arrivals area at the Regina airport I was overcome with pride in Shirley. She has a spirit of adventure and it took her to Red Deer and home again. She did it!
It is so wonderful for my kids to have a Grandma figure in their lives having lost their Nana and Grandma. They are blessed with a few adopted ones.

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.

Jill talked Russ through the process of making a cheeseball and he created a cozy celebration for us all to arrive home to.

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.

Together we made alot of progress!!!!
Deb does alot of Covid testing in her role at Sherbrooke so I was happy for her to give Morgan a test. He was heading to a friends place to sleep over and it seemed wise given everything. Just for the record, the cluttery mess behind has been dealt with.
How lucky to have a friendship that spans almost everything we have been through as women.

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.

Love & Information – Canadian College of Performing Arts (ccpacanada.com)

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.

I make a fairly deadly chicken divine casserole, this night everyone was hoping for the chance to lick out the casserole dish.

Since we are not going to Victoria we are trying to grab some extra ease at home. We lay down this afternoon to listen to an audiobook together, the plan was 30 minutes, I fell asleep. Russ tucked me in with the stuffies we keep in our room. I enjoyed seeing this picture later.
The fact is that we are behind on alot of work because when it was so cold we did the bare minimum outside, so today Russ took advantage of balmy temperatures to bring home the cows who birthed late last year and still have their calves. Morgan, Dawson and Laurie were able to help late in the afternoon. They weaned the calves off of them and we will preg check them soon.

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?

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.

A Memorable Gift

This Christmas had more than the usual amount of gifts that are memorable in some extra way. Gifts that bring extra smiles or memories for one reason or another. I thought blogging about them might be fun. What follows is the first of them, hopefully time will allow me to record more very soon.

Late last week Russ and I spent a few hours delivering some of the Bar MW crew gifts we have ready. It was fun. It was with some surprise that we arrived at the Gilliland’s and found this remarkable pair of natural beauties waiting to be gifted to us.

They were created for us by Jackie and the kids, and meant to symbolize Russ and I, I think.

I enjoy noting how the star Garland has a curly hair effect on the female and how epic that fur is as a topper.

The Russell figure has a buckle of sorts and some of the essential cowboy swag, the hat and kerchief.

In the first 24 hours at home there was some kind of showdown between the figures and we think Coffee dog. There were bark shavings all over the ground at one point, we had not heard a skirmish but Coffee looked guilty. Two episodes of that and then it stopped. We regained hope that the figures would make it to Christmas 2022.

Christmas eve, with everything in place, they stood guard on either side of the tree. In the morning all was well, except the Kathy figure had lost her nose. We think Coffe knows something about that.

I am sitting here wondering just what it is about these wacky characters that makes them feel so special.

Is it that we have so much affection for and enjoyment of these friends and this gift says “we feel the same about you.”

Here is Evan and Russ having a good moment this summer.

Is it that a gift like this says, “We see you. You are a cowboy and that makes a difference to us. You are a pair and that matters.” Feeling seen is such a profound gift.

On a summer evening Russ had the chance to show Marisol a trick for bridling here.

Is it that the gift is creative and unique and playful, and we value this stuff alot. Maybe. That makes sense.

Gifts are one of the things that inspired so much excitement in me when I was a child. The reality of receiving gifts felt wondrous. As an adult that has changed. Without sounding cliche the joy is found in the giving. This gift reminded me of the joy of childhood when we were surprised. Surprised by what we received and reminded that what matters to us is seen by others. I think that is why the birth we celebrate at Christmas is so consequential. It was such a surprise to receive God in human form and everything about the unfolding story that followed said, “I see you, I get it.”

Great gifts.

Lean on Me: Dr. Ruth’s Next Prescription

If you read the post a couple weeks ago about the prescription bottle my brother’s friend gave him in 1990 you will know what is up with this post. If not, here are pictures of the gift of “uppers” given to my brother as he dealt with a cancer diagnosis.

I opened the 2nd capsule a while ago and taped its rolled up paper contents to my desk , I have been pondering it. It says “LEAN ON ME WHEN YOUR’E NOT STRONG. I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND. I’LL HELP YOU CARRY ON.” Ruth paired that with the Scripture reference Psalm 46:1-3.

I’ll be your friend………………….we can get through alot when we have that offer. What has friendship looked like on the ranch lately?

Friendship has looked like “I see you.”

Russell has been talking with a rancher friend. The depth of our hay shortage has been discussed. That friend lives not too far from here and he too is subject to this drought. But when he was offered the chance to bale up some of a farmers crop that had been written off by crop insurance, our friend said to that farmer, “why don’t you call Russell, he needs it worse than we do.” Is that not a heart stopping act of personal sacrifice and demonstrating that he really saw what Russell was working on? Russell then was approached. We went to see the crop. It was a gift beyond measure to be offered the chance to bale it. We will pay a per pound cost and it will not be cheap but it is more than fair. That farm family demonstrated a clear committment to not take advantage of this feed crisis by charging through the roof, even though surely it would have helped their bottom line. Russell shed tears over this and his spirits were boosted enormously by the experience of baling up something that really added up quickly in his baler. We are not out of the woods yet. But it helped.

Morgan and Russell in the field with our farmer friend, having a look at the crop.

Friendship has looked like “can I comfort you just by being near?”

Last Friday, late in the afternoon, Jillian started fussing to get some things clean. I was so pleased to see that. There was a reason, a happy reason. Early in the evening a car came wheeling into the laneway, windows down and Whitney Houston cranked on the stereo. Who was it? It was my friend I have had for 44 years, playing the tunes of our carefree teen days and loaded to the hilt with treats that I never buy my kids, treats for me and basics from Costco that Jill had texted to Deb in the way of a shopping list. Deb brought her own bed and bedding, set herself up in the basement and hung out with me for the weekend. We had such a good visit. She would not accept reimbursement for our shopping list items and it all added up to, “this is hard, how can I comfort you? Why don’t you lean on me a bit?”

My kids love Deb and were so happy to have her join us. Here Morgan and Russell greeted Deb when they arrived home from work to find her in our home.
We put Deb to work using her nursing skills to help with some of Coffee’s care needs. (Coffee had a sore from her splint and it needed hydrotherapy 2x daily, as well as antibiotics, Deb is a pro.)
We got to enjoy some sit down meals together, also a picnic in the broiling sun when we went out to feed the haying crew one day.

In the week since Deb’s departure Russell has again been given a message of “I see you.” Another grain farming friend, reckoning with a crop written off by Crop Insurance due to the devastation of grasshoppers, has approached Russell about baling his crop. The terms of that arrangement are again absolutely fair.

I don’t know alot about how God works, have trouble even beginning to understand most things, but one thing I have flirted with in a solid way, in my thoughts, as life has gone on, is that God is at work in the world and in my life through other humans. That is not cutting edge theology in the least, it would be pretty widely accepted among most followers of Jesus I think. It gets powerful though and maybe a bit heart stopping when you apply it to the particulars we are experiencing. Friendship will be a huge factor in determining just how whole we remain as we face down this drought. Conversations with friends, for advice, support and cameraderie have been our main strategy through all this. There have been important things to come from these talks. They amount to experiences of refuge and strength, and that is what Psalm 46:1-3,( the text Ruth quoted) promises.

That Scripture says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

That Scripture has me moving in two directions. On the one hand reckoning with my need for the assurance and comfort found in the first verse, my need for that is very real. On the other hand my fear about what is happening in the world around me is stoked by the last part, “though the earth give way”, it kind’ve feels thats the way things are going in the midst of drought, forest fire smoke, etc. etc. If Bob (my brother) had opened up this capsule and read this text I wonder what he would have thought, reading it from the point of view of being in for the fight of his life? I find the fact that it seems to affirm that trouble is a normal part of life to be a source of comfort all in itself. I think this text is affirming that trouble is not a sign of God’s absence, it is a sign of life, and God is ever present in the midst. (I maybe should write that on my forehead………I need to hear that over and over.)

There is so much that could be said. One thing is pretty certain to me though. I can’t expect people to read my mind. The needs we have are more likely seen and responded to when we find our way clear to speak of what is really going on. We live in a culture that encourages us, maybe even rewards us for looking put together, shiny, happy, even when we aren’t. But when the circumstances don’t allow that…. then what? Maybe it’s an act of faith to take the risk of letting ourselves be seen, by those who we feel are a good bet to receive kindly what we let be seen.

Sometimes life is alot. We are thankful for all the ways that God moves and touches our lives through friendship.

Just What the “Doctor” Ordered

I am in possession of a prescription bottle that was filled and labeled in the summer of 1990. I am not sure if even one pill was used from it, that is until I opened it up last week. This medicine really took its power from the bottle itself and it served its purposes over the years.

The bottle was part of a gift that a friend of my brothers gave him. Bob was battling brain cancer and his friend gave him this bottle.

Ruth had rolled up pieces of paper with words on them and put them into clear capsules. This looks like it was painstaking work.

She filled the bottle with these capsules and made a label for the outside. She referred to herself as “Dr. Ruth”, and prescribed that Bob take one capsule daily or as needed. She called the capsules “uppers.”

Last fall when I was in Saskatoon with my Mom I found this jar of uppers in my Mom’s pill cupboard. She had kept it for 30 years, but like Bob had never ventured to unravel what was within. As I worked with Mom to get a system for her pills figured out I put the bottle of Ruth’s uppers into the collection of bottles we were working with daily. I put a label on top to distinguish it from everything else, it was cheesy of me, probably touched me more than anyone else but I labeled the top “UPPERS Bob’s Love.” Then after Mom’s passing when we were dealing with unused medicines I ended up taking that bottle of uppers home. Back at the ranch I tucked it into our medicine drawer. A couple weeks ago when the drawer was not closing properly I decided it was time for a good sort, to get rid of the outdated and unused things. The bottle of uppers was moved to my desk and I have looked at it with curiosity since. Last week I opened it up and unrolled the first “gift”, the first “upper”. It struck me. I taped it it to my desk and have looked at it and read it and thought about it quite alot since.

It reads, “AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW DAY, LORD, I SIT IN A CHOICE SEAT. I WAIT EXPECTANTLY FOR THE CURTAIN TO GO UP AND FOR THE DRAMA TO BEGIN ROMANS 12:12”

Yesterday I opened another one, it touched me too. I wondered if this kind and creative effort that Ruth made 31 years ago might come into the light of day through the blog and be a blessing to me and others in this difficult season we are in. I hope to keep looking at these “uppers” one at a time over the next while and using them as a jumping off point to talk about life.

About this first unfolded capsule, I have several thoughts about it. Two things are top of my mind though. If I have a choice seat than that means that this is a very fortunate place to be. This bit of wisdom Ruth planted in that capsule is a reality check. The times are challenging, its still hot and it still has not rained, I just cancelled or had cancelled my third holiday in 12 months, but…………….in fact this is a choice seat. Yes it is. I can make a long list of blessings or ways that my life is easy. How challenging and important to hold the tension within this, on the one hand choice seat and blessings and at the same time and equally true, problems that make our hearts race, our brains scramble and our spirits weary. The other thing I like about this wisdom is that it normalizes drama. I don’t mean the stirred up kind of drama that people create for whatever reason they do…..maybe to feel more alive? I mean the kind of drama that is just part of being human and trying to make a living and a life amid the unknowns of our days. I don’t know why I need that to be normalized, maybe because it seems the ideal all around is to have life under control. But teenagers, weather, animals, health and other humans are not readily within my control, so things get dramatic, and its my job to be faithful in the midst of it all. I am not sure how this prayerful sentence Ruth tucked in that first capsule would have struck my brother, a man fighting for his life, it sure would have been interesting to have talked about this with him.

The Scripture reference that Ruth attached to this prayer sentence is Romans 12:12, that reads “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” I am thankful that affliction is normalized in this verse, it is not a curse, it is life, and in the midst of it we are challenged to be patient. I wonder what Russ thinks about that. I am going to ask him when he gets in tonight. What I want to tell you about this verse from Romans 12 is that I couldn’t help myself and I went ahead and read the next one, verse 13, it is, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Tears came to my eyes when I read those verses. Could it be more clear what life is supposed to look like when we are following as we should? In these confusing times we live in I am very grateful for all sources of clarity that I find in life. These verses, part of a larger section in my Bible titled “Love in Action”, offer me clarity.

There was a more modern prescription that came into play today. Like the prescription of 1990 it was meant to boost morale and made to look very official. Russ phoned me this afternoon so… ….what …..demoralized …dejected …dissapointed ….I am not sure exactly, but big feelings that were hard. He had just finished baling 80 acres that was especially bad for yield. He had taken 1 hour 4 minutes to drive around and scoop up enough hay to make one bale. It was very hard on his morale, he was grumpy, it takes alot to make him grumpy. He asked, “do you think todays batch of iced coffee could include some tippy cow?” I agreed that it could, it should and it would. Tippy cow is a chocolate rum cream.

The bottle in our fridge was part of a gift basket from our veterinarians at Christmas. I believe it was Megan the vet tech who got really creative and put into words what the intent of this gift was, on a prescription label. It gave us smiles many times.

We are all frazzled, so it was that when I made that iced coffee I forgot to put the instant coffee in. I realized it in time, but there was no more space in the blender mug. I had to take a few healthy sips of the creamy cold tippy cow part of the beverage before the 3 tsp of instant coffee that Russell likes could be added. This was my good fortune, I highly recommend this combination! To wrap up this post, in a way that is a 180 degree shift from the start, here is the final “prescription” of the day:

Kathy’s Iced Coffee

In a blender mug combine:

1 cup milk

2 Tbsp. cream (optional)

3 tbsp. chocolate syrup

Instant coffee to your liking

2 ice cubes

2+ tbsp Tippy Cow (Optional)

Blend well until ice is all mulched. Store in freezer for 5-30 minutes

Race to the hayfield for delivery.