Chit Chat Over Coffee

There is a little tiny joke in this picture. Can you see it?

Its 9:36am on September 1st.  I am writing to you live from the Chopper K Auction Mart.  Russ, Gina, Jill and I are here to watch our grassers sell.  These are calves we kept many extra months to grow up a bit.  We got here early after dropping Morgan off for his first day of grade 10. 

The sale hasn’t started yet, so we have been privy to the auction mart waking up and people getting in position for the work before them.  I just learned that it’s the first sale since June, so we are really witnessing the very beginning of a new season.  I have always enjoyed “good morning” type chit chat so its good to be here.  Gina reports that the action at this point reminds her of behind the scenes when the curtain is about to open in shows she has been in.  That is kind’ve fun to think about. 

The four of us free to hang out while others buzz about. The auction mart dog “Tina” came and wedged in between Russ and I. She is quite dear.

There have been a few things to check in about.

Gina is home!  Our girl who completed her musical theatre diploma in May and then extra training in stage combat since, finished up her lease in Victoria and moved home for a bit before carrying on to Toronto.  She has shown a lot of bravery this summer, going to big cities to study and learning subway systems and new people.  It has been awesome to see.  The big deal this week is that she loaded her car and drove home, boarding a ferry at 5:30am and driving til 10:30 that night, she spent some hours sleeping in her car in Strathmore, Alberta before heading on and getting home by 3:30pm the next day.  She really enjoyed the mountain driving.  What a monkey though, she wanted to surprise me so she didn’t give me accurate info about her location. So….she got home and I wasn’t there. I had been called to town and decided to have tea with Grandma Shirley while I was there, I thought I had time.  So, when I wandered into the house with my arms full of groceries, there she was sitting at our kitchen counter sipping a cold drink and video taping my reaction. Honestly. She hid her car behind the barn and had way too much fun catching me off guard! It was my joy to soon see all my kids sitting down for supper.

Yesterday we unloaded her car and I have to say it was impressive how much she had stashed in it!

How the car looked in the driveway the first night. Russ was impressed that Gina packed alot of stuff and kept her sight lines all around.
Gina’s pal Ernie spent the last two years in Victoria and accompanied her in the front seat on the way home. He told me not to tell Gina but he is glad to be back on the prairies.
All of this was in that little car!

Backtracking a bit…..My friend Deb and her girls visited over the weekend.  We enjoyed the visits, the storytelling, the wisdom shared, the laughs, there were some great hours spent together. 

A fun idea was hatched during our last breakfast, that idea is a cookbook.  We are both good cooks and we have been friends for 45 years.  I have a vivid memory of walking down the street together when we were about 11, talking about what we thought about becoming women.  We have talked about almost every dimension of womanhood that has unfolded since then.  It seems like maybe we could make some fun title out of that and create something, even if its a cookbook just for our kids.  It was fun to dream about it at the table and brainstorm what recipes would need to be included.  It was the cinnamon buns we were eating that …..


Our calves are coming into the ring to sell.  Time to close the laptop.

Here are our observers. Jill with calculator in hand, this is her job for us every sale.

Here is a minute of what that kind of action looks like.

9 hours later…..

Well the selling phase of the day was good but certainly anxiety producing.  The prices we received are quite improved over recent years and that is well timed.  The drought and storms of recent memory have been so hard.  Cattle prices have not kept pace with expenses. We are thankful for this morning.

Our John Deere tractor is in the hospital.  It has been a hard reality to work around, slowing our progress with baling, but just one of those things.  A significant problem started last Friday making it not driveable.  Russ called our family at Fast Trucking and there was a truck in the yard within half an hour to pick up the tractor and take it to Oxbow.   We are extremely blessed.

Loading the tractor with its problems was very nerve wracking for Russ.

Further problems have arisen, so the tractor is still in Oxbow, Russ is getting familiar with the staff at the John Deere hospital and things are going well between them. 

About baling………we have all the bales we need for feed and are so close to being done we can just about say we are done.   This is a relief.   We will now begin baling some straw (likely once the tractor is out of the hospital) but that is less of a stressful thing, usually.  It is such a relief to head into winter feeling only minimally concerned about feed and water.  We know that a year like this is a total blessing.

To make a morning like the one we had today happen there are many steps. First we have to get the animals in from pasture and ready to load onto transport. I was able to take a good video of the grassers coming into the yard yesterday morning.  Our friends Jackie and Marisol joined Russ, Gina and Morgan to move them down the road and also helped with getting them sorted and prepped to load.  Here is the video, they move in quickly and it makes for an action packed minute.

Last Friday night we joined a crowd in Oxbow to see the province wide touring group Saskatchewan Express.  It was a really entertaining production and we had a special interest in it.  One of Gina’s friends from college was a performer.  Liz was the understudy that portrayed Shrek to Gina’s Fiona in all the performances we saw.  We hosted her for supper while we were in Victoria.  It was pretty nice to have a familiar face on the stage in Oxbow.  She was excellent.  There are some people in our small communities who work really hard to make our life together warmer, more interesting, and more connected.   Concerts like this one are a result of their efforts, it is a very good thing.

Maybe that’s enough of a check in.  I hope this finds you well and ready to face what this new season holds.

Oh wait….the joke……

Some of the people in this house love cats. We have cat mugs. I picked one by chance tonight, to hold my decaf coffee. Then I took a picture of the mug to use as a lead image for this blog. But wouldn’t you know it, right beside those cats was a mouse. A computer mouse. My fairly stressed brain was quite amused by the cat and mouse story going on on my desk. You got the joke right off the top didn’t you? I probably didn’t even need to explain. Sweet dreams!

Sunday morning Coffee

Good morning,

Come on in and have a seat, its been a whirlwind around here so if we sit at the table I will have to shake the crumbs off the tablecloth and if we sit at the counter there will be some clearing to be done before I can relax. But come on in. There is lots to tell you, but before I start, how are you?

Exciting news around here is that we got wifi hooked up this week. The Bayliss ranch is on the information superhighway at long last and it feels good. Russell loves not waiting for facebook comments to load, I love youtube videos loading with out lagging, I think the kids are enjoying some streaming shows. The best though………the day it was installed Gina phoned from Montreal. She was checking in and as has happened so much lately, our cell phone signal faltered and the inevitable started, “Mom, I didn’t catch that…..Mom, I can’t hear you…..Mom?” Then we clued in, we have wifi we could have a Messenger Video call!!!! It worked, we chatted while seeing each other’s faces and expressions, I worked in the kitchen the whole time, Gina got a glimpse of home and then Russ came in and he finished the call. It made me miss her more to see her face but at the same time, the seamless call was so very enjoyable and heartwarming. Thanks to all the facebook comments on my post a couple weeks ago that led to us learning that DMS would be able to serve us.

I had a really interesting week but it was hard too. I got to be a minister again, the dates and events kind’ve piled up on each other and it meant I was in get ready and then lead mode many times. It was practically a bit frazzling and emotionally there was a drain too, as always there were rewards.

I was asked to conduct the wedding of my singing partner’s sister which happened last Saturday. It occurred on the side of a lake in Manitoba and required special permission and arrangements with church and government in Manitoba. I am only licensed to preside in Saskatchewan. Official processes like that make me nervous, but you take the steps and do it. Now that its over its easy to discern some beautiful gifts of the whole experience. The church people in Manitoba were super easy to work with and did the hard stuff with government, the local church at Killarney was kind. That went smooth as silk, no need to be nervous. Working with the bride and groom was a total treat. There was so little anxiety about details it meant we were focused on the heart of the matter. As an added bonus Caley was one of those people with an over the top sense of humor and I basked in her presence, she brings out the goof in me. Humor like hers is a serious gift to experience. Russ and I were enfolded in the family there like we were their own. For a variety of reasons we have not had time with our families lately. It felt wonderful to be so welcomed, but more than that, to be enfolded. You don’t expect that when you say yes to doing a wedding. The way Bill and Caley had everything set up I didn’t just conduct a wedding but Russ and I had a summer experience. We slept in an air bnb beside the lake, we danced under the night sky, we went on a boat ride and enjoyed an amazing meal. Our hay situation was delayed due to a breakdown so the 24 hours that Russ stole away didn’t even cause any guilt. It was a lovely break.

By the time I got home I had 24 hours to prepare a funeral for a beautiful 101 year old woman. That created focus and pressure of course, but it was a heartwarming experience too. The highlight of that, besides dwelling with such a rich story as 101 years of love and kindness, was the teamwork. I love teamwork but I am terrible at initiating it. The accompanist, funeral director and UCW crew and I have alot of history. The work had a definite feel of “we like each other and together we got this.”

I had a couple of days off before the next funeral. Our minister was on her summer holiday and I had agreed to fill in for these. That one felt scary at times during the preparation. That funeral had been scheduled for a while and the planning meeting was 8 days before the service. With so much happening inbetween the vividness of what I had learned at the meeting was not top of mind like it usually is, so I procrastinated and felt dull. At times like that I can only find the courage I need through prayer. I feel that my prayers were answered, when I woke up on Thursday morning I had a sermon theme present itself and I had time to write it up. The woman we remembered on Thursday had a remarkable life. Her courage was crucial to her success. I had this phrase come to me in preparation, “its like she knew that what she had within her was greater than the challenge that was before her.” The sermon probed what was in her. It ended up being one of those sermons that I need for myself and I have found myself thinking back to the points within it for my own benefit.

The experience of being in front of others was not over. Russ and I joined Erin’s family for a second weekend in a row when Erin, Russ and I ventured to Kenton, Manitoba yesterday to sing at Erin’s cousin’s wedding. I should clarify, Erin and I sang, Russ shared his muscles and himself. Erin has an impressive amount of sound gear that Russell really hefted for us, Erin and I are both dealing with lifting limits. It has not been a good week for getting hay cut so it was another day when Russ was free to roam without guilt.

Its always fun to sing, Erin and I have a good harmony thing, but added to that was the goodness of being welcomed by strangers and getting to meet kind and interesting people and seeing Erin’s family again so soon. We discovered something at the wedding. There was the most amazing display of donuts, under a caption “Holy Matrimony”….it took me a while to get the connection between the sign and the donuts. The wedded couple apparently love donuts and puns. Well. People. The donuts were to die for and were made in Souris, Manitoba. Russell and I are considering a roadtrip there today just to buy some. Wait, Russ is in the hayfield again now and its Sunday, but seriously, I have never in my life eaten an apple fritter like I was gifted with last night. Just this week I learned that a friend from my Up With People cast has lived in Brandon for years and I didn’t know it. Now I find out about these donuts in Souris. I will be in Brandon, via Souris, before long, count on it!

Well, my goodness, this is long enough it seems. However, a quick check in about the ranch. Its a pretty darn good summer here so far. The only serious stress we have been reckoning with is equipment breakdown. That is hard for a variety of reasons. We are pleased with our yield, and more than that feel grateful beyond measure for the rebound we are seeing from last year. Jill and I have been making some miles as we have each driven to Redvers and Oxbow for parts several times this week. Jill has also been in charge of tending to a wound on a horse, a daily flushing treatment is her job, as well as checking the last of the calving cows, we have just one left, when William calves we are done! Morgan is not getting much of a break, he is hard at it raking hay and training horses. He is doing well. Gina is part way through her intermediate level certification in stage combat in Montreal. She is doing well.

One of the parts trips I made this week I asked Grandma Shirley if she wanted to hop in. Off to Redvers we went and got a visit in and a look at the crops. It was fun. Grandma Shirley is incredibly special to me, I was therefore excited to see her making her way to the funeral on Monday. I parked, hopped out and hurried to catch up with her. I was so moved by the sight of her being her that I grabbed this picture. I showed it to her a few days later and just called her to ask her permission to use it here. I don’t think she really gets the idea of a blog but did agree to me sharing it. The picture is a good conclusion to the blog and its threads of upholding older women, celebrating life and love and being embraced by family, even when they aren’t your own. Grandma Shirley adopted us and we her and we are thankful.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Saturday evening – Jill is in Carievale right now and Gina is in Carnduff, they both posted to the family chat pictures of the rain coming down in each place. For the second time this week rain has fallen unbelievably close to us but stopped short of reaching us. That is not to say that we won’t benefit from some of those rains, we have pasture and hayland that likely caught some of it. However, I said to Russell yesterday, “a person almost feels cursed”, he immediately cautioned me not to think or talk in the direction of cursedness. He is wise. Digging into the hearts doing the ranching around here we are dealing with so much hard stuff right now. A blog that invites the reader to experience life on a Canadian ranch would be misleading if it glossed over these days we are having. I just don’t want to do that. What do I tell you? How do I write about this so that you don’t shut it down and close the page because its depressing? Can I lure you into reading more by promising that I will counter every tough paragraph with something positive, hopeful or possibly funny? I think that is what Russell would want. The problem with thinking along lines of being cursed is that it sucks you in and makes you lose sight of the broader reality, which in our case is that we have true blessings that we experience every day.

So…………the big big deal…………our hay yield sucks. What this means……we do not have the feed we need to make it through the winter and especially if it is a tough winter. We have no way of knowing about that. We are not alone. There are few ranchers within hundreds of miles of here untouched by the drought we are in and some much worse than we are, we can be thankful that we have some hay. Right now that means some lost sleep, lots of mental scrambling to figure out options, and flirting with the awful thought that we might have to sell some of our cows. The hard part of that is that everyone will be selling some and the market will be glutted, which means a low price will be paid. The terrible part is that we sell our cows, our beautiful creatures with names and histories and places in our heart. That sense of connection is hard to explain, they can be mean and threatening, they can be gross and stinky, but we journey with them and we are theirs and they are ours.

This cow is a big part of Russell’s sense of cow history. He remembers milking her grandma, a retired purebred holstein named “Pokey.” After he had broken both his arms in 1979 this milking job was part of his physiotherapy. Mozza Stick is the daughter of Wilbur, who was one of Pokey’s last calves. This makes Russell 3 generations of cows old.

Okay, I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. When I said I would alternate the hard with maybe something funny I wasn’t sure what that funny would be, but it presented itself. Just after I wrote that heartfelt line about our journey with the cows Russ phoned. He said he had a story for me but it really ended up being a job. He could hardly tell me the story for the laughter it caused him. Morgan was checking the calving herd, now down to a dozen, he found a situation which required him to load up a calf in the truck and drive it over to its Mama. The calf pooped, right on the drivers seat, why the calf was in the drivers seat I will never know. Morgan was therefore stranded in the calving pasture. He called Russ to come get him, the way that call started Russ figured he must have totalled the truck or something. Russ was relieved to be able to stay in the hayfield and call me for back-up. Morgan asked for paper towel and garbage bags plural. I thought that must have been one heckuva mess. On my way over I decided that this was not the time to push Morgan’s adult skill building, he has had a rough couple days with helping with repairs in high heat and not much satisfaction of getting work done, so, I was going to do the clean-up. I got Morgan to take my picture as I approached the job decked out with a pail of bleachey water, paper towel, two sizes of garbage bags and disposable gloves. I said, “Morgan, Super Pooper has arrived.” He said, “Mobile Super Pooper”, I have never taken my skills on the road before! (If you don’t count summer camp.) Anyways, for those who don’t know, I have an alter ego, a super hero identity, I am “Super Pooper” because no matter how gross the job I can usually handle it. Life on a ranch and with kids has given me many opportunities to strengthen the skills I began working on when as a 17 year old I was a nurses aide. Morgan has literally no tolerance for this part of life yet. He would have walked home if I had not come. The job was not hard and before too long Morg was rolling. In fact he was done for the day at that point. When he got home he said he would wait to eat, he needed some down time. I said, “do me a favor and wash your face.” He said, “how about you do me a favor and wash it for me.” He sat down on the toilet seat and I got to wash his face, like the good old days, it did this Mama’s heart good.

“Super Pooper” in her new service option….going mobile.

Ranching from the heart………..I hate haying season. With three tractors and three implements in the field every day the possibility of mechanical issues seems high. We have newer implements but two very old tractors, our newer tractor doesn’t seem too hardy. I am always so relieved when I pick up the phone to find Russ sounding chipper on the other end, he usually is, but sometimes he is just exasperated. He has a gift for staying up when the conditions are trying but the way things mount up is getting to even him. Having said that we can see our blessings. For some reason last night the monitor in the baler was completely wonky. Russ thought it through and this morning realized this was a tractor battery issue. Our local shops are closed on Saturday but that didn’t stop Erin from coming in from her farm, opening up her shop and selling us a battery. Russ got up and running feeling infinitely grateful for Erin’s generosity of spirit. However, then the fan on the air conditioner went. By shortly after lunch Brock was in the field doing mobile service on that problem. I had delivered Russ a stellar lunch. So shortly after Brock left, with the ac running, I got a text from Russ that said, “U R married to the happiest man in the world.” See what I mean? He finds every reason to claim the good. My afternoon included delivering buns for my bakery project and when I got back Jim Lee from Lee’s Service was in the yard trying to fix a very weird hydraulic problem we are having with the hay rake and a weird glitchy thing on the PTO shaft on the tractor. So…………after a first week of haying with no breakdown delays, today was the mother of all service days, and I guess I topped it off with my mobile super pooper call to the calving pasture!!!

Something positive………….Serious excitement is brewing around here about the fact that we are officially in book writing mode. All those times that Liz Griffin came to take pictures at our place were part of personal need for documenting our life just before Gina graduated and moved but also were research…..did we have the material to create a book about ranch life? We had a creative meeting this week and decided that yes, we are moving on to the next step. There are beautiful images that Liz has taken that are just too good to not offer in large format. However, we are short on summer scenes and summer work. So…………Liz came and documented our work moving cows to alternate pasture on Thursday night. Afterwards she shared 2 sneaks peeks on Facebook. They are here. She captured beauty and joy, for me these pictures are like a mirror that reflects back that alongside the struggles of today we are immersed in beauty and we feel joy.

A little more about the shape of this drought. Our hay is poor but our pasture is decent. Our water is low but not gone yet. The poor hay can be explained by the dry summer, fall and then winter that we had, no water in place to get the hay started in a meaningful way. The fact that we have any yield is due to the rains that I commented on previously in the blog. Thats how I understand this. So when you look at pictures you might see green grass, you see water in a dugout, it doesn’t look like a drought, you might think I am not being accurate, and for truth, it could be much worse. That is a very scary thought. The signs of vitality you see are a result of timely rains in certain spots, we continue to hold our breath. In my dark moments I wonder, “am I going to be holding my breath for the rest of my life?”

Something positive………Gina got a call from one of our local superheros. Her name is Jean and she runs an ice cream shop in town, out of a structure she had built onto her house. She was going on a holiday and rather than shut the ice cream shop down she wondered if Gina would come and run it. She went for training and then took over. Our girl is having quite the experience and it is fun to hear her stories and who she gets to see. I think she is doing a good job and mostly its pretty fun for her. I call Jean a superhero because her creative approach to offering this business has meant a great drop in spot in Carnduff for awesome ice cream, she is a special person in alot of people’s eyes, for those of us who love ice cream her work is heroic! However, we are missing Gina on the ranch crew and Morgan and Jill are picking up the slack. I think Gina has plumped up their cones when we have gone in for a “visit” with her.

Gina serving Grandma Shirley on her 1st day on the job.
After our cow move Thursday night Kent picked up his kids and the whole crew went for a visit with Gina.

Ranching from the heart………I didn’t have it in me this year to plant flowers. My planters are empty. That probably sounds depressing to some but to me it represents freedom. For some reason the work of keeping myself and Russ, three kids, four dogs, five cats, for a time a bottle fed calf, 17 horses and hundreds of cows and calves alive is just enough for me. (Only a fraction of this is my responsibility but I am involved in every issue at some level.) I can’t muster an ounce of interest in watering and fertilizing flowers. I truly hope I don’t need that freedom next year and I will be back to it.

In the meantime, Russ has been picking me bouquets from the pastures. The wildflowers are beautiful.

Another thing positive……….my kids all got their second vaccine this week. Gina had to shut down the ice cream shop for a day afterwards due to a rapid series of symptoms, fever, headache, exhaustion, but she bounced back and is doing great.

Another thing positive…..our province felt it was timely to remove all Covid restrictions. Life is feeling more normal again. I cannot imagine what would be unfolding if the vaccines were not working to protect us as pretty nasty variants make their way around. So, so, so, thankful!!!

Another thing positive……….Coffee dog is doing great with her broken leg and getting great care from the vets. This week she needed some extra TLC at her splint check. Jenna had her just about purring.

Another thing positive……..I am married to the best friend I ever had. As hard as a day gets I know it is a privilege to get to lie beside him every night and talk over anything and everything that I am thinking about.

The drought is horrible and we have had some pretty searching conversations about prayer around here this week. Way too deep to work on in this already lengthy post. Maybe another time. In the meantime I had a grace this week, I had a day when I had this recurring thought and feeling come bubbling up, “everything is going to be okay.” It felt like a total blessing.