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.

Diary of a Ranch Wife – July 12, 2021

We had a call this morning that a neighbor’s herd of heifer cows had broken in with one of our herds. We know this could cause trouble because if our big bull breeds his heifers (young and inexperienced cows) he will have calving troubles next spring. So, Russ has been assembling a cowboy crew to head down there and fix the troubles by sorting out Corey’s heifers from our cows and bulls. Without the benefit of a gate/corral system it is extra tricky to sort cows on the open range. Russ wants me to come with them and act like a human gate. I am not very interested. I am in a super homebody mode these days. I am soon going to be changing into my work clothes though and heading out. Its 4:32pm. I have to go clean out my vehicle. I will have passengers because the crew Russ gathered is large and that bodes well for our success, but the truck is in an embarrassing state.

5:58pm We are at the pasture and all the cowboys and girls have saddled up and headed off. Here is what some of that action looked like.

Cowboy David riding his horse Sadie
Cowboy Dawson riding Spirit
Cowboy Evan riding Dick
Cowboy Kent riding Lady Penelope
Cowgirl Briella getting ready to jump onto Jane.
Cowgirl Marisol riding Thunderbird
Cowgirl Jackie on her horse Roscoe.
The crew pulls away.
Morgan, Russ and Bingo at the head of the group.
As woman on the ground, I was needed to hold horses while things got sorted out. This selfie kind’ve cracks me up. It looks like I am having a decent hair day, but Sundance, not so much!!!

In the end I didn’t have to drive, instead another truck and trailer went to accommodate all the horses and I got to be a passenger with Jackie. That gave us time to talk about how it is that I became a minister and she became a nurse. Now I am waiting for the crew to go round up the herd. We have set up trucks and trailers to act as wings in a corner of the pasture and with those cowboys hope to hold the herd while we sort out those heifers and the bull they are meant to be hanging out with. Russ figures it will take them 45 minutes or more to get the herd and move them back to this corner. The pasture is absolutely beautiful, rolling hills, coulees, trees, wild flowers and just out of sight the Souris river. There is a good breeze and it has started to cool down. I am not hard done by sitting here with my laptop.

I had a little Kathy victory moment before we left the yard. I noticed a low tire, by the time Russ came around to see what was up I had found the air hose, attached it to the outside air spigot, found the airchuk inside the shop, got it attached and was getting the tire aired up. For many that would be no big deal, but that represents a bit of competence that I didn’t used to have and I was glad for Russ to find me taking care of business.

Tuesday, 10:09am Not long after I wrote that last bit I could hear mooing in the distance, the crew was closer than I thought so I shut my laptop and hopped out of the truck. In fact they had yet to get across a coulee before they topped a hill, so I took time for some selfies, had a real portrait session of it actually, burned up alot of power on my low power phone and never did capture a sharp one. Anyways……..the thing about being a ranch wife is that you get to save all your old favorite clothes for work days. You have an excuse to hang on to stuff that normally should have been pitched. This is a bonus for sentimental people like me. For the work of this day I was happily wearing jeans that I remember first wearing on a family vacation in Cody, Wyoming in 2008, my t-shirt is a souvenir of my year in Up With People (1991).

Russ let me use his shepherd’s crook, its kindv’e mysterious, holds alot of power. I tried to do right by it. (We build it up like that to bolster our confidence….its maybe just a long cane….maybe.)

Once the cows got near it didn’t take long for the real action to begin. At first, standing in the gate watching things I wondered if it could be done. The large group of cowboys and cowgirls was very much needed. We had many at the back holding the cow herd into the corner and then several in and around the front of the herd to sort out the heifers. Luckily they were a different breed than most of ours and easy to keep sight of once contact was made. It was a good feeling to see the crew get the first heifer out, I did my job at the gate to get it to leave our pasture and enter Corey’s. Part of my job was to be still as a statue to not frighten the heifer away as it approached. At one point when it seemed I had done that quite well and the critical moment had passed David shouted over “hey is that the Mona Lisa over there?!?” I appreciated the recognition, David got his message across by comparing me to a beautiful painting when my job was to be a statue, as far as I’m concerned its all art and through that first piece of art that came to mind he gave me the message, “I see you over there trying hard!” I appreciated it. Once the heifer advanced past where sight of me was a problem I became a human fence with my shepherds crook held wide and moving up quickly from behind. It was pretty impressive to see the crew and watch their bravery, the sorters had to be up close and personal and give the heifers a sense of space and permission to move towards the gate while keeping our cows back.

Corey, David and Laurie wading through a small sea of cows.
Russ, Corey, David, Morgan and Laurie running that red heifer up the fence. The tricky part here was to keep our calves back. It was quite a feat to get to get the heifer this far up and away from the rest of the herd.
The entrance back into Corey’s pasture. It was a 90 degree angle from the gate out of our pasture. Early on I had to keep one eye on it to make sure these girls didn’t come wandering back out. Once the bull joined them they were all off and gone like a party had been called!

We had to find, sort out and move away 17 heifers and one bull from our herd of 120 cow calf pairs and 6 big Simmental bulls. One of those bulls created an exciting and memorable moment. He started to charge the gate, Russ said, “stop that bull!”, whether I was stupid, obedient or brave I don’t know but I just became warrior Kathy, ran straight at him with that powerful crook in both my hands and I roared, “Noooooooooo!!!!!!.” That 2200 pound bull skidded to a stop right at the gate and turned back to the herd. I found out later that I yelled so loud that I frightened most of the cowboys. Morgan said he was watching the whole thing and knew why I was yelling but still got scared. Russ says he was very proud of me.

Russ was crew chief, we certainly count on his incredible cowboy skills and his people skills.

A good picture of Russell with his pal Evan just behind.

Partway through the process he said, “I think wer’e starting to feel grouchy, lets take a break!” Corey had brought all manner of cold refreshments and lots of them and we did get a benefit from stopping to rest. Russ and a few others stayed at the back and held the herd, others of us were able to visit.

Corey handing out drinks on the break.

After that we had more challenging moments, I think a few swear words were heard, several times a heifer would get so close to the gate and then change its mind and turn 180 degrees at high speed, a wee bit of rodeo was part of these moments.

An example of the challenge….cows, calves and a heifer all together coming up the fence…we need to work some cowboy magic to get the heifer alone.

It was a great feeling when we were down to one to go and then we were done! Corey pulled out delicious snacks and another round of cold drinks, we had a more relaxed visit now.

Evan always has a good story for Russell.
One of our neighbors came down the road in time to enjoy this part of the evening. Charlie enjoyed Evan’s jokes as much as we did I think.
It’s the hang loose cowpokes in the back and the setting sun that make this pic seem a bit epic to me.
Before the day was over Russ took the chance to show Marisol how to bridle a horse with a sore ear.
All loaded back up…..that’s a wrap!

Come for Coffee

Yesterday contained no big story to ponder, just a bunch of little things, like a lot of days are.  I have found myself thinking, if you, the reader, were to come to our house for coffee (the time will come again I am sure!), what might I tell you about the day here at the ranch?

First I would offer you a drink, which would mean consulting what you want and then standing at my cupboard and carefully picking a mug for you that I think you would like.  

My friend Suelynn asked for an update on Pray and Little Prayer, the bovine subjects of yesterday morning’s post.  Before I offer that, Suelynn here is the cup I would select for you.  Its “Chip” from Beauty and the Beast, I picked it because I thought you would appreciate how fun it is and it reminds me of your support of the kids when they acted in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Things are very well for Pray and her calf “Little Prayer”, it seems that they just needed a little settling down time to get their thoughts and emotions straight.  When Russ checked the pasture early yesterday they were together and “Little Prayer” looked well, like she had been getting the milk she needed.  By mid morning Russ was bringing several pairs up out of the heifer pasture into the corral so that he could truck them a little further away to our heifer pair pasture.  From the kitchen I happened to see this process start and I was able to go out on the deck and get this picture.

I caught sight of Pray as she went by but didn’t get her in this picture, it was quite the transformation from the last time I had seen her.

If Lindsay were to come for coffee we might talk about this blog.  She has been super supportive of it.  Here is the mug for you Lindsay, with your sense of humor I think you would enjoy this!  It was a gift from Jill to Russell.

Its been exciting to be a blogger, the stats page tells me that people are reading it and in the last few days even someone from Ecuador has been checking it out.   Lindsay told me in a message that I could describe paint drying and make it captivating.  I wonder if she was here with a mug in her hand whether I would tell her about my Sudoku habit and the fact that I finished a super difficult puzzle yesterday.  Sudoku is not fun to talk about really, it’s a solitary game with lots of work to it but it is a regular part of my life, and if you drink 8 cups of water in 8 hours you get to visit your book pretty often if you know what I mean!  How might I make Sudoku interesting?  Maybe by talking about what makes it meaningful to me.  Surely that is a big part of making any boring reality less boring.  Find the meaning and find the humor.    The thing about Sudoku is that there are rules that are always in place, numbers 1-9 in a 9 block square, and in a 9 block row both vertically and horizontally.  Always.  Nothing will change that.  I grew up kind’ve like that, with always kind of rules. Always tell the truth.  Never call people names.  Be caring.  When the world got kinda crazy, when these rules didn’t seem to matter anymore, I needed Sudoku, the rules always are in play and when you follow them everything falls into place eventually. And that ladies and gentlemen is what Sudoku means to me, very tangible order in a disorderly world and therefore stress relief.

If Keith came for coffee I for sure would have to tell him about an episode with Coffee that happened yesterday.   I only know this should be visited about because he made an observant comment about that dog of ours sometime in the last week and it stuck in my head.  I’m gonna assume he is interested.  These moments with Coffee are what got this whole particular post rolling.  I had the words “come for coffee” roll through my brain while in a state of amused disgust at what I had just dealt with.  What I meant was, someone come and get this dog…….anyone…..anyone?!?!?    Its not that bad really…..I made buns yesterday, I had 40 of them cooling on the counter after lunch.  I was resting in our room when I heard a funny clatter.  It was kindv’e an isolated noise, I thought something must have fallen off a shelf or something.  Nope.  I rounded the corner and found a cooling rack and 20 buns upside down on the floor.  Coffee was backing into the living room and looking truly alarmed.  I removed her to the dog room (I was brusk and I had a few words for her) and then assessed the situation.  She had eaten a pretty good amount out of two buns.  I think she must have hopped on a stool and started while they were still on the counter then accidentally pulled them onto the floor.  You probably don’t want to know what I did with the rest of the buns.  I can tell you I learned a lesson.   Part of that lesson…..its not only humans that like my buns. (Insert sheepish grin at using the corniest and oldest dumb joke that exists in our family.)

Here is the cup I would choose for Keith.

Russ would like to point out Keith that the cow we have named after you is looking ready to calve but has a lingering aura of anger about her after the fight she had with Russ last calving season.  He is staying on his toes!  Stay tuned.

I need my friend Deb to come for coffee.  The friend who has known me since I was 9 has walked with me through everything life has thrown at me.  Last night, while just about to get supper on the table, a call from the school informed me that Jillian has been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid 19.   She is now self isolating in her room in the basement.  My thoughts are all over the place.   It sure makes me appreciate better what people much closer to the action for the whole course of this have been reckoning with.  I am second guessing myself and my practices and doing lots of mental gymnastics …. why might she have it, why might she be okay?  Based on what she knows she is concerned about where she was sitting in class on Wednesday.  I am thankful she is good about wearing her mask.  She is such a beauty of a girl, so wise.   We found the news hard, it turns your life upside down. We finished supper late, had beer and chips for dessert and went straight to bed.

Liz Griffin took this picture on Oct 31.  We had returned from Saskatoon the evening before after my Mom’s funeral on the 29th.  We had planned our biggest cow chase of the year for this day. We carried on and with help and strategy we got our crew fed.  Having been in many different city locales in the days prior Jill felt certain a mask during food prep was wise. 
Out in the fierce wind I took my mask off but Jill was insistent she use hers. This committment of hers is helping me now, giving hope that she will be fine.

My friend Deb has been part of a leadership team guiding a long term care home in Saskatoon through this pandemic.  She has maintained a calm and reasonable presence through all that has happened. Deb and I used to drink wickedly strong coffee together but I think herbal tea seems to be more our beverage of choice as we do middle age.  Here is a mug for Deb. She loves animals.

I am not sure who wants to hear about the cows. As I write this last bit it’s now May 1st, yesterday we had a humdinger of a day, 25 cows calved. Only two had really special names, Bea and Linda. Bea after my supervisor when I was a student minister and Linda after my sister and 3 other friends. With summer like weather it’s a good time for record setting calving days. We have a big 4 day stretch ahead of us. We are working with our yearlings today, giving them Vit A&D. Tomorrow we start putting cows and calves through to install tags, give vitamin and vaccine needles, castrate bull calves, and brand the calves. This is hard and time consuming work and we will be sorely missing Gina and Jill. Monday we will continue. Tuesday we are starting to truck pairs to their permanent summer pastures. Russ is using his incredible skills with strategy to manage alot of variables. Its dry, it’s been cold, grass is not growing yet, hay supply is getting low, dugouts are extremely low and new cow calf pairs are coming quickly and need a place to go when done in the calving pasture (like a maternity unit). We are hoping to have 120 pairs moved by bedtime Tuesday. I am not sure what will happen with the blog over these days.

Now regarding coming for coffee at our house.  Russell would like you to know that if he is in charge in the kitchen when you come you can expect to be served instant coffee. That is his hot beverage passion.  I serve pressed coffee from ground beans.  We have at least 12 kinds of tea and hot chocolate.   We do aim to please so don’t be scared to come if you hate instant coffee.

You have stories too. What are you seeing? How are you feeling? What are you grateful for? What is hard? What made you laugh lately? The best coffee dates go back and forth, I see you, you see me. Blogging means you basically hear my stories. Your stories matter alot and I promise that on that great day when we easily travel and gather again I will listen (once our mugs are full and in our hands).

Keeping House with the Shepherd

Today was Good Shepherd Sunday at Church. Worship revolved around the image of God as a shepherd and the 23rd Psalm was a real focus text. That is the one that starts, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..” I was the vocalist for three of the hymns and I read the Gospel lesson. A few things really jumped out at me through the service. The first came early on when Susan our minister used a Children’s Bible to explore the 23rd Psalm. The translation included the phrase, “I love being part of God’s flock.” I am not sure why that jumped out at me, except maybe that it resonated inside of me. I do love being part of God’s flock and if I wasn’t part of it I am not sure what flock I would want to be with. Where else would I be invited to see and know myself as beloved, where else would I be challenged to live for others as well as myself, where else could I wrestle with my demons and find new beginnings, all with a promise of living water which to me means that mercy and compassion and unconditional love is running through my veins, and I don’t have to whip it up, its simply offered by the Good Shepherd. I do love being part of this flock.

Another thing that jumped out at me was an observation Susan offered. It was that the 23rd Psalm is to the Christian what a paring knife is to a cook or a …..what was the other illustration…..hmmmm……I can’t remember but it was something like, a rope to a cowboy. You can do the job without it but why would you want to? To anyone who takes it in their toolkit this psalm can provide both comfort “he leads me beside still waters” and challenge “The Lord is my Shepherd….I shall not want”……but oh my do we ever want for many things in this life!!! …… when we already have so much. I really enjoyed the mental imagery of tucking a copy of the 23rd Psalm into the kit of favourite tools in this house, which includes many great cooking/baking tools and much cowboy paraphernalia.

One other major thing was just how much the contents of the service today match my own life. I found myself thinking, “of all the people who hear this text today, all over the world, how many are living it in their everyday experience?” (I don’t think this makes me better than others, its more like a “wow, today its my turn to really see myself in this story!” kind of moment). A picture popped into my head that Liz Griffin took, of Russell, with his shepherds crook, my husband the herdsman. Russell gave me an illustration of what it might mean that God is the Good Shepherd just about as soon as I got home. He was telling me about interacting with the cows and that he came up to a cow with certain markings and he said to himself, “Oh there’s Costco” (a few years ago we did a set of replacement tags with names of food brands we enjoy, like Dare, Co-op Gold, Kraft) (replacement tags are necessary because cows can rub their tags out if they scratch up against trees and bushes). When he drew near he read the tag and found out that it was “Gilligan” (we did some replacement tags with names from “Gilligan’s Island” and while we are talking about that group, currently the cow ‘Minnow” (remember their boat?) has mastitis and is causing Russ some extra work…..). Russ had not wrongly identified the cow, in fact Costco had lost her tag and Gilligan was her replacement. I said, “Wow Russ, you remembered Costco’s markings that well?” “Oh yeah” he said, like it was no big deal. I think one of the most remarkable things we are asked to have faith in and take comfort in is that God knows us through and through. Russell’s easygoing knowledge of our cows strengthens my faith that this just might be so.

I used the idea of keeping house in the title for a couple reasons. I wanted to do some “housekeeping” with you who read the blog. I had someone tell me today that they wanted to share a previous blog on social media but didn’t think they should. My feeling about that is that I have chosen a public venue for my writing, it is accessible to anyone who would look for it, if there are things I don’t want the general public to see I won’t share about them here. If you feel like sharing something that is fine. Having the chance to have writing more broadly shared is kind’ve cool actually. WordPress keeps detailed stats about numbers of visitors and views of each post, it is a really nice feature because even if comments or likes are not happening in a big way it is easy to see that readership is steady.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, they are really special to us. Thanks to Liz Griffin who took them all!

A picture we love because it is both artistic and reveals Russ’s comfort level with his cows.
This almost identical picture is more of an action picture in the same set of moments. The Shepherds crook in action.
The gospel text for today (John 10:11-18) makes reference to a hired man, and says that at the sight of a wolf the hired man abandons the sheep (but the good shepherd doesn’t because the sheep are his.) I didn’t like reading that aloud because “hired man” is part of my daily life and our hired man Ron puts himself into dangerous situations all the time. Here he is running the cow gate, Laurie is letting a steer in the gate behind Ron’s and it looks like I have a calf in front of me maybe destined for Laurie’s gate too. Its an action packed moment. I love this picture. It is on display on my desk. This is teamwork. I love teamwork.
That Shepherd’s cane is handy for creating a visual block, signalling the calf in the back to stay back. It looks like I was moving a heifer forward and keeping a steer back.
Walking the steer up to his gate. A great shot of Maddie on the move.
There is a thoughtfulness to this picture, who knows what was on Russell’s mind but work days like this when we have the whole herd in, his family in the corral and many friends on horseback and at the gates involve a lot of worry and care for him. The fact that he was injured at this time led to more distraction and struggle. This modern day herdsman illumines some of God’s character for me.
This was a summer work day, we had a group of cows with newer calves in. Time for tags and vitamins and vaccines. I love the feeling in this picture, for me it arises from what looks like a tender and guiding hand on that calves butt and a sense of relationship.
Russ describes this as a moment when he had to get into the direct middle of the action to avoid a total mess. Cows were turning around on us getting into the gate. Maybe the take away here is that the Good Shepherd is willing to get into the middle of the mess. Sounds very faithful to me.
Russ was up ahead at the trouble at the gate but he was not alone. His team had his back. This strikes me as such a solid picture of steadfast supporters standing at attention. Russ says, “we get by with ALOT of help from our friends.”

Liz and Lisa

Yesterday I had the chance to tell you about how it came to be that we have heifers with names like Listen and Support. Today seems to be the day to tell you about how our herd of cows came to be so international.

What do I mean? Well we have a cow named “A”, that’s in honour of a woman from Thailand whose full name is Apiradee. We have “Fredy” in honour of a man from Switzerland. We have “Klaus” in honour of a man from Germany. We have “Louise” in honour of a woman from Denmark. We have “Antonio” in honour of a man from Mexico. We have “Tara” in honour of a woman from Colorado, “Liz” in honour of a woman from Maine, “Lisa” in honour of a woman from Sweden, “Sharon” in honour of a woman from Manitoba and about 40 more names that all arise from real people I know that live in so many different places. “Ernest” from the U.S A. really made us feel amused when we saw that he used a picture of the cow Ernest, with the the clearly visible, as his facebook profile picture!

You might think it weird that female cows get male names. I did too at first. But somehow the bond of friendship just rises above the particulars. Maybe its because of the source of all of these names. All of the people I referred to were a family of sorts, back in 1991, we were all part of a cast of young adults travelling the world and singing, there were more than 100 of us. We were part of “Up With People.” We came from different backgrounds, different religions, different politics. We had a purpose to build bridges of understanding. It was a really cool experience. I lived with 66 host families in 7 countries in one year.

A couple years ago we had a lot of cows whose tags had fallen out through the year and I needed to make them new tags. I put out a request on Facebook for ideas. Liz from Maine said, “how about these tags are all people from our cast?” We needed a lot, like 40 or so, her idea worked. I selected names that were easy to put on a tag, “A” and “Mo” made it for sure, I selected names that reminded me of shared experiences, so “Antonio” made it, even though his name was darn tricky to fit on that tag. Some of the names on the tags could represent many different people in our lives. Names like Lisa and Liz are common and invite us to think about a few special people in our world. Thats why todays post is about Up With People, because as the day wound down both Liz and Lisa had calves, at the same time. Although there is absolutely zero concrete connection to my friends, those names elicit feelings and memories that equal connection. As long as I am not overwhelmed by other stuff I really get excited when I see the Up With People cows and my family have learned their names and are sure to report back when they calve. It has built a lot of connection. So when Russell sent me texts with pictures today I was just so happy to see those calves and know that those cows had that shared experience. Its nothing. It is not connection to reality. But it touches me. Maybe I am weird. The Liz and Lisa connection goes deeper though. Besides representing my travel friends, I have a cousin named Lisa. Her Dad and my Mom were first cousins. Her Mom was named Liz, she lost her Mom quite recently too. It gave me a lot of joy to be able to send her texts and pictures saying “look what just happened!” It just seemed meaningful that Lisa and Liz calved at the same time. The Liz connection is bigger than that though, in a big way. We have had a photographer named Liz documenting the work of ranching for the last year or so. We are completely blessed by her talent and what she has captured of our lives. I have said it before and I will say it here, her photographs have illumined the meaning in the work we do. So our photographer friend Liz also got a text today, because that name Liz will always remind us with such a sense of gratitude what she has captured for us. I also think it is Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. So that is a nice connection to this birth story too.

Here are some pictures relevant to this day and to the story above.

Thats me holding the microphone, in the midst of our Up With People stage show in 1991, I am not sure where we were performing at this point.
Liz Griffin captured this beautiful picture of Ursula and her baby last summer. Ursula is named after a friend from Germany.
One of a few pictures I took of the UWP tags in production. Maren made a really great impression on Russell when they met at a wedding we all attended, I am sure that is why she got the extra heart, to make Russell smile.
The words heard at our lunch table today…..”now I have seen everything.” For a random reason the highchair (my Dads old one, used only for antique type decor really)was at the table. Jill popped Buster in, put a few nibbles on the tray, Buster handled it like a pro.
The cow “Liz” with her baby.
Here is Lisa with her fresh calf.

Day 5 and All is Well!

Russ and I had a funny experience yesterday that I think will go down in our family lore. We had a remarkably easier day with the cattle which was good because our new truck was booked for a repair and we needed to get it to Carlyle, about 50 minutes from here. We headed up in two vehicles and dropped it off and then decided a visit to the Dairy Queen drive thru was in order before heading back to the ranch. As we pulled up to the payment window I totally forgot about my mask, again. The lady at the window was a bit off which is when I, within a millisecond of asking myself “what’s wrong?”, realized that I was without my mask. I quickly grabbed it off the signal light lever and in something straight out of “that will never happen in a million years” managed to not apply it to my face but turn it into a slingshot, that I lost grip of. In .5 seconds I went from being the person not wearing a mask, to being the person who shoots masks at fast food servers. It landed right on the hand of the attendant as she extended the payment machine out to us. I felt like a complete and total jerk. I was unbelievably flustered. The attendant went from being “off” to being “offended” to being “angry” and then she softened, as I apologized all over myself. I was so embarrassed. Russ came to this situation as a guy who has been completely absorbed with a tricky situation for days, he had been living within an uphill battle and his brain was shaped by this. Therefore his reaction to this situation was to burst out into that Russell laugh that somehow sounds like a large animal, maybe a hyena, gasping for air. His laughter was well received by the server and the one who brought our Blizzards and everything seemed forgiven. In the midst of the worst of it I said to the attendant, “I am so sorry, it was the wind,” but when we pulled into the lot to enjoy our ice cream I pointed out to Russ that the flags in Carlyle were sitting absolutely still. It wasn’t the wind. He laughed again. Lying in bed last night he said, “can I just laugh about that mask thing one more time?” Then he explained to me that it was such a relief to not be the one getting themselves in hot water, but to watch me, who usually is so composed, make such a huge gaff in such incredibly tricky times, and feel so flustered. I get it. I love seeing Russell get flustered for the exact same reason. Maybe it really really reminds us of how human we are. I looked up the definition of flustered afterwards and looked for any interesting quotes about it, there were none to see. The definition said “to feel irritated or confused.” That is not how I see it at all. Flustered, defined by Kathy Kyle, “how one feels when understandable things happen by surprise and responding appropriately feels almost impossible for the human involved.” It was my most embarrassing moment for a long long time.

A couple things happened yesterday that heightened my appreciation for technology. One is that we got to watch Gina perform in a “Festival of New Works” at her school. In a normal year I would have likely travelled to Victoria and been in the audience, with that not being possible a good quality version was available for us to watch on our computer at home. The four us huddled there and watched Gina open the whole show as she emerged on stage in a raincoat and umbrella tapping away to “Singing in the Rain”. It was part of a song medley created by a 2nd year student, she was using it to explore how tap might be more fully integrated into modern musical theatre, so the number ended with a segment from Hamilton the Musical. It was cool. I took a pic of the screen. Thats Gina with the red hair. We really enjoyed it but as the proud Mama I could have watched Gina tap a lot more than this!

The other thing that happened yesterday is that Russell noticed that our cow “Antonio” was looking good. That cow was named after a friend of mine who lives in Mexico City. Recently Russ and Antonio became Facebook friends so Russ took a picture of the cow and sent it to Antonio. There was dialogue back and forth that happened right away. That made me so happy. With the help of technology two humans were allowed to connect from the heart of the 2nd largest city in the world to a snowy pasture almost exactly 40 hours drive directly north. Celebrating the good stuff friends!