A Big Day

It has been a weird, really weird set of days. The result of all that weirdness is that I have not been able to blog. Today was a bad day, it was also a good day and it has had the effect of getting me back to the blog, back to saying, “here is what its like to be me, ranching with my family.”

This morning our hired man Ron discovered a fire burning in the wall of our shop. That has completely shaped our experiences today. Can I share with you a bunch of captioned pictures? I think that will help to illustrate how it was a bad day but also a good day.

Russ got up before me this morning and was chatting loudly with the dogs when I rather growled from my pillow, “I was hoping to sleep in today.” That was about 6:30. Russ discovered we had no water supply to the house but found that the kettle was full. He brought me a coffee and started getting dressed to go suss out the water situation. I got my head on straight before our outside guard dog came in to tell me about her night and get some love. She was just so dear that I had to take her picture. This was at 6:59am. Within the minute we would get a phone call from Ron that the shop was on fire. We could see the shop easily from our bedroom window but did not see any evidence of fire. Ron was on his way to the wellhouse when he noticed the smell and then the fire as he passed by the shop. Russ called 911 but passed me the phone, he quickly finished getting dressed. Talking to 911 can be frustrating, you just want them to dispatch help but there are necessary questions to get answered. Its also a call you just never want to be making. My tracker watch tells me my stress shot up to 100 at that point.

This next picture is so random but at 7:17 Jill messaged the family chat wondering if someone could send her the recipe for biscuits. I was thinking, “not right now Jill, the farm is on fire.” But then thought again, I was up, I had nothing I could do, why not pull out my recipe file and get it to her. So I sent this at 7:19 and said nothing about what was going on. Its always tricky to know when and how to share hard news. I wanted a few facts before weighing down my far away girls.

At 7:23 the first fire truck pulled in. That is amazing. We are a 12 minute drive from the firestation in Carnduff. The volunteer firefighters woke up, got to the station, suited up and got to us 23 minutes after we dialled 911. It makes my stomach quiver as I write this. It just reminds me of how incredibly vulnerable we felt in those moments. Russ was out there thinking there is no way we can save the shop, we had acetylene, tractors and a skid steer all in the shop. We had our diesel and gas fuel tanks about 12 feet away from the fire, outside, and we had the heating fuel tank for the shop outside but right where the fire appeared to be. The worst case scenarios were running through Russell’s head. This was the picture I could grab from our front door. This picture was taken at 7:36am.

Russ grabbed this next picture from his perspective on the ground. I am not sure what time it was. The shop was absolutely smoke filled. The firefighters wore breathing tanks, when one got close to empty its alarm went off and the sound of that is something we have discussed a few times today. About these volunteers……Russ says, “when they come, they are your friends, neighbors and family, they come with so much love and respect for those they are helping.” They know their stuff and did amazing work, by 8am everything felt so much better.

Russ took this next picture of the firefighters assessing roof status, and the possibility of any fire remaining in the roof I believe.

I could not watch this action non-stop. Just too much. So I bumbled around the house, it had no power by that point, and put stuff away and kept myself busy. I prayed that the firefighters would have the wisdom, safety and strength that they needed. I kept checking back and at one point saw a truck whiz through the yard that looked just like Laurie’s truck. It was. He had heard from work that the fire department had requested water trucks and he came straight out. He is a person whose presence puts the rest of us at ease. I am sure that is why Russell grabbed this picture of him when everyone could breathe just a little easier.

When the fire department left this was the exterior damage. They were so careful to cause as little damage as they could while still rooting in to the fire itself. That huge smoky scene from the hour before looks unrelated to this patch of damage. There the heating fuel tank is, dangerously close. Russ had snuck in and turned the valve off on this tank before the fire department got there. He found it fairly warm.

A wee story: we had a guest in the house this morning. He had never visited our home before. As he rounded the corner from the hall into the kitchen he let out a small gasp, he admired the house. Russ walked him into the living room. With my back turned as I stood at a counter fussing over some coffee preparations I heard Russell say this, “my wife comes from Saskatoon, when she was a girl her family had a cottage where she spent her summers. Then she went and married a rancher. No time for lake holidays. So when we built this house we made her a room that feels like her cabin. And sometimes we have 30 cowboys home for supper, it all works out really good.” It is hard to describe how I felt as I heard those words of Russell’s. It was warm. It was soothing. It was a gift. What I heard in those sentences was the message, “I see her, I want her to feel good, I want to give her what I can.” I kept at my work, and fought back my tears. It was the best moment of my day.

The picture below is our cabin in the early 80s when it was being finished. It looks like we were having a reading party on the front lawn. The big deal about that space was what those big upper windows did for the space.

Back to 2022………the rest of this day has been spent taking care of business. I called in about insurance. I hate those kinds of jobs. Russ handled all he could relating to the fire and then turned to the reality that we had hungry animals to get fed. It was a huge stressor. A major piece in the day unfolding as well as possible is that our electrician re-arranged his life and was back and forth enabling us to keep going as much as possible by re-working electrical realities so that it was possible and safe to power our well house, fuel pumps and eventually light and some power to the shop. We could therefore keep our watering bowls going and our underground lines from freezing and get some heat in the shop. Major. It was -27 with the windchill today. At one point Russell phoned me and said, “when you see Morgan you gotta brag him up. He has done stellar today. He drove through a quarter section that had not been plowed, and didn’t get stuck, he backed into the chute for the first time in his life and didn’t get stuck there either, he got on his horse, went and found the cow and ran her into the corral and he loaded her into the trailer. Pretty good for a guy with a learners license. He was awesome. ” Later Russ called me and said, “I know its been a stressful day but you gotta go outside and see the sundog, its a double, its a little piece of beauty for us at the end of this hard day.” I was on my way out anyways so I went to the end of the lane to grab the picture. I didn’t catch the fullness of the sundog at all because I spotted Morgan backing into the corral to drop off the cow he had loaded at the calving pasture. Our poor cow Mary is having a tough time. She needs some TLC. Morgan handled getting her home. I was able to catch this picture of him in action with his trusty sidekick Coffee dog at his side.

The amazing sky with the lingering sundogs.

Once I got the sundog pic I went and called to Morgan, who had Mary unloaded in that short time, “Morgan, if I could make you any dessert you wanted tonight, what would it be?” There was a pause. From across the corral he called back, “rice krispie cake with brown sugar icing.” I headed straight in to do that. Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with Russell, I said to him, “I am thinking of making you butter tarts, would that suit you?” He said, “honestly, I don’t even care. I am so grouchy. I just wanna go to bed and I have 12 hours work left to do.” He wasn’t nasty, just honest. So Morgan got first choice on dessert action. He was pretty happy with the cake although this picture is not the best depiction of that.

By the time dessert rolled around Russ was pretty cheered up. Jeremy our electrician had worked his magic, Russ had some very supportive phone calls and our cows were fed. One of our friends had delivered hot pizza to us for supper. It was so delicious. The world felt okay. Russ was a little more interested in dessert. When he heard brown sugar icing was being prepped he suggested throwing some cookie dough slices in the oven (we bought a prepped box from Costco), he thought this was the perfect time to try a combo he had been thinking about….brown sugar icing on macadamia nut cookies, I believe he gives this Russ recipe a 9/10.

There were so many many emotions that were a part of our day. The one that breaks through and colors everything is gratitude. Is gratitude an emotion? Is it a perspetive or an action or is it all three? I am not sure. But this could have turned out so differently, we are reminded that every single day a very large volume of things goes right, today was not a day when every thing worked as it was designed to, something buggered up in our shop, but it happened at a time of day when we were pretty quickly able to notice and get help. We got help. So much help. So much help that came from caring hearts. No-one was hurt. We lost very little. We are so grateful.

Sorry this is so long. Just a bit more…..

Russ tested postive for Covid on Wedneday. I have remained negative despite our decision not to isolate from each other. He has been sick but has kept working almost as much as usual. Today he is five days past the start of symptoms so he can be out and about again. Kindv’e handy with 17 firefighters in our yard.

Jill (moved to Regina) and Gina (moved to Toronto) are both doing great and we are so happy, proud and relieved. However, having them both leave for such permanent destinations within 8 days of each other has been quite a bit harder on me than I thought it would be. I believe Russ has only cried once. Morgan is keeping his opinion about all this close to his chest.

Good night for December 18th, signing off from the Bar MW Ranch.

Chapter 2 – The Tenderlands – I Need Help

A very vivid moment within last months epic storm and power outage happened on Tuesday afternoon. That would be about 70 hours into the 94 hour outage. Here is the context………..things were looking up, things felt under control. I checked in with a neighbor who had just had power restored and as a result was going to head over there for coffee. Then I got real with myself, as much as I longed for what was sure to be a good visit with her, I needed sleep. My exhaustion was profound.

The day before I had gone to Oxbow for two urgent purchases that had me on edge. I needed garden hose, our water line to one cow watering bowl had frozen in the cold and powerless night, we needed to run a hose to a trough to get water to some of our herd. I was anxious about what I would do if there was none available. I also absolutely had to get fuel in our slip tank. Our on site fuel tanks were not usable with out power to pump them. We needed fuel to run our tractors to feed our cows. I have never used a bulk fuel station before and the possible complications of that had me on edge. So as I headed to Oxbow I found myself pondering what I really needed and turning that into a prayer. That meant I was asking God to help me not lose my dignity. There are times when shame and overwhelm have led me to public tears that make no sense to anyone else, I really hate that. So I simply asked God to help me keep my dignity. As it turned out, there was hose in stock and when I got to the bulk fuel station there was Dwayne, a new friend who had joined us on the trail last fall. He helped me. My prayer was answered. Whew. Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon…. Thinking ahead to the evening plan, to be in town attending a Volleyball fundraiser with Morgan, I could not imagine how I would do it in the state I was in. I was setting myself up to lose my dignity. So I cancelled the coffee date and cuddled up in the sun on the bed in the cottage for a nap. I was about fifteen minutes into that nap when Russ called. He had a calf for me and it was going to need alot of work. He and Morgan had found it mired in the mud at the edge of the new dugout, only its nose and mouth sticking out. It was a feat to suck it out of that mud.

This is the calf they brought me. Those muddy boots in the background match the condition of the guys’ muddy pants.

Russ gave me the advice I needed to get this calf going the right direction and I set to work. He hoped I would clean its nose and mouth really well and its naval very very well. He was worried about umbilical infection. It was overwhelming. I had a limited supply of rags, 2/3 roll of paper towel, dwindling water supplies and energy only from the bottom of my tank. Russ says he felt bad asking me to take this on, he knew how tired I was. The thing is he and Morg were more tired than I, they had been wrestling with the mud, the calf, getting up the dugout slope with the energy they had left four days into the marathon and they still had more to check.

The moment I want to speak of was the point when it all just became too much and the thing that pushed me over the edge was that I needed help. I assumed I couldn’t ask Russ because he was already fully occupied. I must have known that Jill and Morgan were busy too. The details of the work and my brain are all kind’ve muddy right now but I hovered over that calf and the needs of the moment just became too much. I needed water. I needed to figure out how to get the supper picked up that Russell’s sister Tammy had prepared for us. I needed more paper towel. There was a war going on inside my head, I knew that helpers were near that would be glad to help, but I wouldn’t let myself ask for various reasons. Like the road between our places was blocked with water and they would have to drive the long way around. Like how could I ask a town person to bounce over a 1/2 mile of pasture to get to me after getting their car dirty on the gravel road? Who was home? These complications, compounded by my weariness and compounded by a very uncomfortable feeling of being a “have-not” when it seemed everyone else around us already had their power returned, meant tears rolled down my face and dripped on the calf. I still had a slight sense of humor and I remember thinking, “great, I am making my muddy calf even muddier.” In the end it all worked out. Russell’s afternoon had eased up after rescuing the calf from the mud, he brought me wash water and paper towel and went to town to pick up our supper which was absolutely delicious. Everyone gathered at the cottage to eat and Jill took Morgan to the volleyball event. I lingered at the cottage, did dishes at the pace of a snail and slipped home just as darkness settled in. The sun had warmed the house through the day making bedtime a comforting moment of grace. The take away I have from the hard moments is that I know more vividly then I ever did before that it is so hard for me to ask for help.

I took this selfie with the calf when progress was evident.
Beside some of the soiled blankets and a mountain of used paper towels Jill grabbed this picture of this exciting moment at supper, when the calf who would become known as “Muckboot” took a bottle for the first time. It took a few days for its Mom to decide she really wanted it but its now in spring pasture doing well. This is very gratifying.

A couple days later I was having a good visit with another friend. She told me about one of her storm experiences where she should have asked for help but wouldn’t let herself. Her insistence on bearing her troubles on her own had a level of danger to it. Significant risk was a part of it. I think it is her story that made me think, there is a blog post in the making here.

Why is it so hard for some of us to ask for help?

I suggested to my friend that maybe she didn’t ask for help because she hadn’t really let herself believe how much other people love her and would want to help, even though it was not going to be easy.

Maybe another thing is that to admit we have need is to put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. In some ways, to intentionally make oneself vulnerable is a bizarre choice to make, doesn’t vulnerability lead to hard things? One of the people I have learned from is Brene Brown, she says that to choose to be vulnerable is an act of courage and leads to authentic living. Its not straightforward or easy, that is for sure, we have to risk entrusting our need to someone we hope will not take advantage of it. However, there are many, many good people in the world with whom it is good to be as real and honest about our situations as we can be.

Maybe another thing about asking for help is the uncomfortable feeling that we are then indebted to others. Its hard if you think you really have nothing to offer in return, no way to “pay back” the favor.

Russ heard this blog and challenged me, “okay, so you have this new awareness, what are you going to do about it?” I am going to try Russ. I am going to try and do better about inviting people in to my place of need and quit being so darn proud. I am going to try.

Superstition

One of my favorite children’s books called “Something from Nothing” uses the repeating phrase “its time to throw it out.”  I am reminded of that as I consider the green fruit on my counter.  However I’m having such a hard time throwing it out.  Through that still good looking watermelon I am being forced to confess to myself that I have a problem and its called superstition.  I am not okay with this, but its real. 

The watermelon came to our home the long weekend in August when my friend Deb visited from Saskatoon.  Laden with treats and supplies she blew in with the summer wind, that watermelon in her hands.  Morgan and I are the only people at our place that really like watermelon, so, I was waiting for the right time to cut it up, until there were a few more watermelon lovers around.  The dumb thing is I didn’t put it in the fridge.  Well, the right time to cut it never came and there it sat.  I didn’t have the resolve to throw it out when 10 days had gone by and its fresh time had passed.  And it sat.  I noticed it was a great place to kill flies, it attracted some and was a firm backdrop for the swatter to do its work.  It was earning its keep.  By the end of August I was ready to say that overall our crew was doing better. We had been able to figure out our feed crisis, there had been some rain, we had some fun.  I couldn’t help but think that it seemed that ever since that watermelon arrived in our life everything felt better.  So I looked at that watermelon and thought, “can I throw it out?”  And my immediate reaction was “no, not going to do that.”  With a few things coming up that I am nervous about I really and truly am having a hard time throwing out that watermelon. That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.  But its not the only thing I am superstitious about.  I have had pedicures on my feet about four times in the last 15 years.  The first and fourth times were followed by events that were extremely hard.  So…………although I have a gift certificate to get a pedicure, I am waiting until I have a window where I can risk whatever may follow.   

These thoughts and actions, or lack of actions, do not line up with what is at my core.  I believe in God.  I believe that no matter what life throws at me, God is with me.  I don’t believe that there is a force for chaos that can be held at bay by the presence of a watermelon or turning down pretty toe nails.  I think that what all this reveals is that I am feeling pretty vulnerable.   I am so incredibly thankful for the events that go right, where hope is allowed to flicker and shine.  I don’t want those moments where things are right and where hope is brewing to come to an end, so, I am turning to the concrete things that are in my power to hold the ship steady.  I mistakenly think that is the presence of a large green mass on my counter, (that is likely rotting on the inside.)   That leads to a good concrete question, what is within my power for holding the ship steady?  For keeping good momentum going?   

My life experience tells me that not much can control the cirumstances so that trouble never comes, but somehow the negative impact of troubling times is reduced by a couple things and these I should stay focused on. One is gratitude and the other is love. There is a part of the Bible that I have found both inspiring and challenging, it advises, “give thanks in all circumstances.” The older I get the more I agree with that. The other thing in the Bible is “love your neighbor”. If I keep showing up and loving as best as I can I will likely have much more influence on my life experiences than I will by making that watermelon on my counter a priority decor item.

Four more sentences that go another level deeper with all this. When Russ and I talked about this post he challenged me, “How important is it to be freed from trouble?” His point, that alot of good things come from hard things and hard times. We appreciate the good times better because of the hard times. I think he is absolutely right, but, still a bit shell shocked from the challenges of the last months and years I will not be looking for any trouble anytime soon. However somehow I have to muster the wisdom and maturity to throw out my watermelon. Maybe tomorrow. Until then I commit to showing up, loving my neighbor and saying thank-you.

A Different Kind of Remembrance Day

I had my Covid vaccine first injection on Thursday.  I was asked to sit for fifteen minutes after the needle to ensure no big reaction.  I was also asked to come for the vaccine holding nothing but my health card, so I didn’t have my phone with me.  I have to say I loved that fifteen minutes and was sad when it was over.  I loved being with other people in a setting where nothing was needed of me and my thoughts could wander freely, but, I wasn’t alone. Maybe it was in those quiet moments that something hatched that I haven’t been able to shake.  

Going from the metaphor of hatching to that of seeding…. earlier in the day seeds of doubt had been planted in my mind about this vaccine, because of things I read on facebook.   They were seeds only but they joined seeds planted by various conversations over the last while.  I am a people pleaser which creates a lot of stress at times.  So it was that I found myself pondering….. if I was to have resisted this vaccine that would put me on board with some people in my world, but what would it cost me?  Its funny, my thoughts didn’t go to the future, my thoughts went to the past.  This startled me in a way, it was unexpected, but it was serious, my guts were hot inside of me, so I knew I had stumbled on something.  You see, I am a privileged person, I have never been let down by the medical system, I know that mistakes get made and people walk away dissapointed from the way their health needs are met, at times, but that has not been my experience in our Canadian setting where health care is a universal right, funded by taxation.   For most of the last day I have used almost every free moment my brain had to think over all that I have seen, that my family has seen and the ways that our moments of deepest vulnerability have been responded to by the health care system in Canada.  

I thought about 1983 for sure.  That’s when I was 15 years old and I needed my jaw operated on to correct my bite, I was slowly grinding down my teeth.  I remember the moment before the anaesthetic put me out, a gas had been administered and it made me loopy, it caused me to think that my doctor had green hair, I remember thinking to myself “oh no, my doctor has green hair, I hope he can do this.”  In fact Dr. Lanigan became a legend in my early story, he walked with me through a process where I started to claim my inner strength. (Five weeks with your jaw wired shut is no cake walk.)  In that pre-surgery moment though I had to let go.  I had to trust him, no matter what color his hair was.  I’d like to think that I based that trust on everything that grounds the medical system, like the Hippocratic oath which is a pledge to do no harm.  But lets face it, at age 15 I trusted Dr. Lanigan because my Mom and Dad seemed to.  This was a time when they were called to do a lot of trusting.  Within a matter of months three big things had our family making heavy use of Canadian healthcare.  My older brother was diagnosed with brain cancer for the first time, I had this situation with my jaw to fix and my younger sister was diagnosed with Scoliosis and fitted with a brace.  I don’t remember much about life at home in that time, but I can only imagine the stress my parents were under and how important it was to them to feel comfortable with the care their children were being given.  How did they decide that they could let my brother be submitted to the harsh reality of radiation therapy, how did they just know that they could trust the working of that burdensome brace my sister endured, how did they come to peace with the pain and struggle they witnessed me live with, for the sake of some promised end goal?  I think the truth is, they just had to.  They did.

1990 rolled around and a second bout of brain cancer took my brother’s life.   While he was battling through some treatment options people in the health community in Saskatoon were thinking through how to better serve people who are dying.  A Palliative Care Unit was opened and Bob spent his last week there, among the first patients to ever use it.   We had cared for him at home as long as we could.  When we couldn’t we opened our hands, it was with profound thanks that we could entrust these people to take everything they knew about end of life care and love my brother into his death. 

Only a couple years later my Dad started the very early stages of a journey with dementia.  I find myself thinking about a time in that where Dad still lived at home, I did too, I was studying theology and Mom and I were primary caregivers.   Every weekday morning a taxi would come pick him up and take him to an adult day centre for people with dementia.  How did we do that?   How did we come to know that he would be okay there, that people would understand his limits, that he would be kept safe, that he would be treated with the dignity he deserved?  We didn’t know for sure.  But we had to trust.  Our trust was well placed.  He always came home content, with an aura of pride, he too had been away for the day and had a life beyond his family.  The principles of practice that informed how that place ran meant contentment for Dad and peace for us.   We were so profoundly needful of them.  In the later stages when Dad was in long term care things were much more complicated in terms of what he needed.  He lived in a place that was not always perfect. The sheer amount of human contact and care combined with what we all know, that no human is perfect, meant that it wasn’t always ideal. However, the standards of care were high and always seeking to do and be better and these standards were like a magnet that drew everything towards a more human, more dignified, and dynamic living environment.  How many times did I give my Dad a kiss on the cheek and walk away with so much hope and need within me? Hope that he be seen for who he really was and treated with kindness.   You don’t live those experiences as family members without being changed.  Maybe a spiritual muscle is getting conditioned, a muscle that is about hoping and letting go, loving and letting go, trusting and letting go.

All this would come into play over and over again.  When we checked ourselves into hospital to deliver a baby two weeks overdue, I was a 34 year old first time Mom, hopeful and trusting in the skill of my doctor.  When I watched the orderly wheel my 7 year old son to surgery for a complicated wrist fracture.  When we participated in many different stages of the health care needs of my mother in law and father in law.  When I watched ambulance attendants inch/shift/lift my 12 year old son onto a stretcher when he was in excruciating pain from a broken leg.  When I checked my husband into day surgery for knee repair years ago, and then recently dropped him off under the cloud of Covid life for lots and lots of tests and doctor visits for recent injury.  When I myself had surgery last March that resulted in a probable cancer diagnosis, a diagnosis reversed after closer examination of the tissues.  When I left my Mom at the Cancer Clinic for her first and only dose of chemotherapy.  When my sister and I checked her into the Palliative Care Unit, into the room right beside what had been my brothers.  All of that. How many diagnositic machines, interventions, lab and xray technicians, doctors, EMTs, anaesthesiologists, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and specialists of one kind or another have I put my trust in?

Why would I become suspicious and act from a place of distrust now?  What has changed?  

I can’t think of a single thing.

Well actually I can. I know that money has corrupted medical research in some cases. I am not naive. How that has played out in this case only time will tell, however the scientific evidence is in telling me that once again medical research has given me an option for addressing my area of vulnerability.

The scientific method that informed the process of developing tools, interventions, programs and education processes that I have relied on is the same method that informed the vaccine development.  That method has made a huge difference in my life.  Maybe that’s why when I think about all this together, it feels like my guts are heating up.  I have felt so vulnerable, I have been so cared for, I must not forget that, in fact I feel I must honor that.

As I sat putting in my 15 minutes at the vaccine clinic, things were hatching, things that were long and took a lot of words, if you got this far, thanks for sticking it out with me.   

(To illumine that I am not going on guts alone I can tell you that I have done some research, not very much, the fact is I am not very interested in science, I do understand the principles of the scientific method.  I have been listening to ZDogg MD, I find him on Youtube, as best as I can tell he can be trusted.  He explains things and hosts guests that can explain their info in a way that I can mostly understand. He has made clear just how extraordinarily safe and effective the vaccines are and he has a rebuttal for every critique levelled at them.)

Here is a link to a really interesting and read-able article introducing us to the long term research and the woman herself who laid the groundwork for the Covid 19 vaccine.

A case study in vulnerability that unfolded on the ranch yesterday…..Russ called asking me “can you mother a calf?” He meant it. The mother was a 1st calf heifer and she had a hard go. She couldn’t care for her calf and it was so cold at 6am when she calved. This was part way through, that’s an odd sock on my hand.
This is how she looked when she was brought in. Her sac stuck to her in places. She was suffering. I had lots of time to think about vulnerability and trust as I worked on her. I called her “Sweetcheeks” in passing and the name stuck.
Mostly dry, head up, perky, trying to stand, having welcomed some colostrum in a bottle, and getting welcomed to the family by Coffee dog. Better moments for sure.
Here is Russ bringing the Mom in after she had some time to recover. This is our heifer named “Epic.”
Russ carrying the calf to the barn to meet up with its Mom. Coffee is still enamored.