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?

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.

November 20 2021 Ranch News

We are celebrating with Russell today.  He had a big job on his hands and its done.  In July we contracted with a farm family in the Alameda area.  They had a winter crop that was very compromised by last winters unusual conditions, crop insurance was writing it off, would we like to come bale it?  The answer was yes.  The offer was an answer to prayer.  I don’t like bossing God around with my prayers but I do think I am invited to be deeply real with God about what I want and need.  So I had been praying like this, “God, I want to feed and water these cows.”  The feed part of it, thanks to two grain farm families and drought relief support from the provincial government has been addressed for now.  The water part…..well it remains to be seen how that will all pan out.   We move forward.  Anyways…………today Russell hauled the last of the bales home.  We baled 687 bales in early August and they sat until three weeks ago when Russ began bringing them home.   Under normal road conditions it was about a 50 minute trip to get to the field.  He could bring home 18 at a time.  Needless to say he has spent a lot of time on the road!  I have made a few of those trips with him, to keep him company and have some pal time.  Today Jill and I both went, we stopped for brunch in Oxbow, had a coffee with Foster, paid him for the bales and then went and loaded the last load.  Jill then drove the tractor home and I took the victorious last run with Russ.

Russ driving the last load of bales home.
Jill hopping out of the tractor after arriving home, greeted by our pup “Coffee.”

There are a few threads of this story that could be teased out a little bit.  How do you bring home 18 bales at one time when each bale weighs about 1245lbs?  With a flat deck trailer.  We have always had one of these however ours only held 12 bales.  After we made the bale deal with the Warriners Russell did serious pondering about the logistics of getting these bales home.  We began to talk about a bigger flat deck.  A friend of ours scouted out a used one in Estevan, it would be $8000 to bring home.   Jill and I had to be in the city so we got designated as the shoppers for this trailer.  I have to tell you, this ticked me off.  We were so devastated by the drought conditions, we didn’t know how we were going to manage everything, we didn’t yet have word of the support from the government and I was being asked to get used to the idea of spending another 8000 bucks for the privilege of continuing to ranch.  It was with some relief that I had a good look at the trailer and decided it was too rusty for my liking. 

Jill grabbed this picture of me doing that shopping back in the summer.

Whew, 8000 bucks saved, except, we still had that hay to get home.    I am an intensely practical person.  As much as having to shell out more dollars was disturbing me it was also disturbing me to think about the time and gas wasted making one third more trips over that 60 km span.  So…….I percolated as I sometimes do.  Russ gently needled me to do some shopping online.  Before I knew it I was making phone calls and learning the specs of flat deck trailers.   Here is where the sadness of my year of being an orphan gets transformed a tiny bit (I know orphan talk is dramatic and truly inaccurate, but I am giving myself permission to be this way.)  Being an orphan sucks, but my Mom’s estate was dispersed and I had some money to work with.  My Mom loved Russell and found her way clear to celebrate and support the work that we do.   My Mom was also a very practical person.   I came to terms with the possibility that it would make my Mom happy to be able to step in and do something so concrete to lower our stress and increase our efficiency.    So, Mom provided us with a 34 foot flat deck trailer.  In a million years I can’t imagine that she would have predicted part of her legacy on this earth would be a flat deck trailer, but there it is.   So that’s one part of the living through a drought story. 

Home with our new trailer and I got a free hat out of the deal. Russ says these hats and bonus things we get with big purchases are some of the most expensive clothing we have.

I am thinking about another dimension to this.   To give credit where it is due.  I feel like we have a good news story to tell.   That crop we baled was one that when assessed by Crop Insurance was considered borderline. It could have been written off but it was also just about good enough to be considered worth harvesting.  However, the adjuster was encouraged to make his decision about the crop through the lens of this drought and the ranchers in need.  Given that direction from his boss the adjuster wrote it off and gave Foster the go ahead to find a rancher who needed it and then sell it. Receiving the phone call where the offer was made was a game changer. The shift in morale was unmistakable and Russ is not ashamed that he needed to wipe away tears more than once. The hard thing is that all this crop we bought to bale, from two different families, is extra cost. More expense than we already have, and we already have enough. It was therefore rather stunning to learn that all cattle farmers would be given a per cow benefit through government crop insurance to help them make it through the year. One hundred dollars per cow doesn’t sound like much but it does add up and paid a part of our extra feed bill this year. All of this reminds me of my blog name, about being seen. Maybe I am too easily soothed but it means alot to me that our role feeding the world, the vulnerability we face and the sustainability we hope to secure are all things that seem to be seen and honored. I am feeling really thankful for this. So is Russ. Its another thing that brings tears.

So that was today on the ranch. A huge job checked off the to do list, a big bill paid, good coffee and wow Foster makes amazing biscuits.

“B.A.I.T. Out!”

“BAIT Out!” Seth shouted from the car as it reached the end of the driveway, slowing to turn onto the main gravel road.  “Did he just shout ‘Peace Out’?” I asked Russ and the kids.  Russ said, “I think he said “BAIT Out.”  Yes, that is what he said and it was a perfect conclusion to the time we had spent together. 

It all started Tuesday night around 8pm when I was working in my kitchen.  Russ and Morgan were sitting at the dining room table with two guests.  I could hear some commotion at the garden doors off the dining room and looked up to see people at my door.   There was that split second where my brain was sorting out what I was seeing and what I was hearing, was I hearing my daughters at the door?  No.  That was???????……….seriously!!!??!!?? I shouted out loud enough for the girls in the basement to hear “is that my sister?”  They came racing up.  It was my sister.  What followed was alot of hugging, some tears and laughter. 

Earlier in the week I had sent a message to our family chat to say that the kids and I were not going to be able to make it to our regular family time at the Kyle Family Cottage.  With things being as hard as they are on the ranch I just cannot leave Russell with the work here and take his crew and be eight hours away and feel at peace.   My sister decided if she was going to see us she would need to claim the time this week.  She worried that I would fuss if I knew they were coming, hence, the surprise arrival.  She came laden with a care package so large that I am tempted to believe it was divine intervention that I was moved to clean my fridges the evening before.  That care package was the result of the baking, cooking and purchasing of all three of my sisters and my cousin.  They were sending love and comfort and some ready to go meals.  It was unbelievably exciting and overwhelming. 

I think this visit and the family care that was a part of it is a really good illustration of the concept my blog is centred on, the power of really being seen and really seeing one another, I see you, you see me.  I sent that message to the family chat and soon after heard back the concern for the ranch, for each of us, and the regret that we couldn’t be part of things this summer.   What I didn’t expect is that my message, perhaps alongside the info in recent blogs, would result in such concrete action.    Words go a long, long way in providing comfort, encouragement and understanding, but when the words are backed up by action there couldn’t be a more solid way of saying “I see you.”   Its a short trip from that clear message “I see you” to the lived feeling that we are loved.   It is unbelievable how valuable these messages of understanding and love are.  I asked Russ what is behind this for him, what makes being seen so significant.  He said, “because it tells me that we are not alone.”    That is major.  (We have good support here, we definitely know we are not alone, but I think there are times when you get so deep into the trenches that you start to forget.)

Margie and her kids Seth and Brodie arrived with great sensitivity about imposing on us (so they had a booking at the hotel), they were clear that they were here to help in whatever way they could.   I knew that what I longed for was both practical and emotional.   This team was well suited.   Margie is a great listener, funny, wise and MY SISTER.  Seth is both interested and capable with mechanical and construction stuff, Brodie has her own drone photography business.  We put them to work.  They helped us move some cows, Margie tackled a pile of dishes that had grown overnight it seemed, Seth fixed doorknobs and cupboard hinges, Brodie photographed our yard and hayfields, Seth mowed the lawn, Margie talked with me about losing our Mom and we all worked together on a couple of special meals.   All of this is where Seth’s proclamation at the end of the driveway comes into play.  On the way down from Saskatoon they had read my blog post highlighting my “bad ass” self.  They got joking that they were “B.A.I.T”  the bad ass intervention team.  Indeed they were and as Seth offered his parting words it seemed like a celebration of their “mission accomplished!”  Indeed it was.  We were seen and supported, we were enabled to carry on being our bad ass ranching selves for a little while longer. 

A few pictures…………

Brodie took this picture with her drone.  This is our house yard.  I can’t help but think that this perspective brings a whole new set of possibilities to the notion of “I see you.”    What I see here is Margie’s car in the driveway and people near it, very similiar to how it looked as she slipped into our driveway the evening before.
The excitement and the unpacking.  See that huge multi-pack of Cheezies (36 bags!)?  I took a package from them out to Russell in the field at lunch today, he said, “how did Janet know that Hawkins Cheezies are our love language?”   Janet knows.
Cheezies in their natural habitat. That is iced coffee on the dash, a summer time staple in the hayfield.
Brodie baked us a batch of her famous Chipit Squares.  Back when I started my bakery project Margie was very moved by the idea of creating a Saskatoon branch of “Broken Bread Bakery” and wondered if I would mind.  I didn’t.  Margie shares her homebaked goods with anyone who she senses needs a little extra something, care or strength, or appreciation.  She has created a beautiful tag here.
Margie is funny.  Thinking about the Super Pooper work that was part of my week she packed me the Lysol.  Kleenex for the stress tears.  Chewy candies are always a hit.  Given how the sh*t hits the fan around here many days, that toilet paper was a funny way of saying, “I see you.”  There were other nummy things on top and around these items.
Rhubarb Strawberry jam holds a really special place in our family story, because of my Mom. It was one of her specialties and part of her love language. Linda cooked up a batch and sent me four containers and many other things to make life easier and nummy.
Margie tackling those dishes while on the other side of the pass thru, Jill at her baking desk is making some of her Harry Potter sorting hat cookies. At this point I think I was just finishing up eating one of my cousin Jodi’s beyond delicious ginger cookies. On this morning I had two for breakfast and spread butter on them. Incredible. Jodi sent a pail of them, I am set for a long time!
Visiting time.
Another perspective on the ranch scene. 
Ron pulling the discbine which cuts the hay.

Jill was at the wheel of the tractor pulling the rake when this picture was taken.  I love the angle that Brodie’s drone captures.
A moment in the hayfield.  Alot of people on the ground in this moment.  I am not sure what was going on.  We have had alot of troubles this week, this could have been anything.
Visiting over a cup of coffee.  Kind’ve perfect.