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!