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?

An Interesting 24 Hours

Sometimes being a ranch wife in the winter means its possible to stay put and days unfold within familiar walls and routines. I like that. Today was not one of those days. I would like to record and share the details of this different day, I enjoyed it too.

This 24 hours started last night around 10:30pm when I realized that I had missed the chance to visit with my friend Deb on her birthday. I had been working on writing a sermon and ordering gifts and I was like a dog with a bone with those things, I had neglected my friendship with Deb. Now here is a weird detail of our recent friendship. Deb brought a watermelon when she came for a visit in August. We had been having a really hard summer before her arrival and things got much better after her visit, so I decided that her watermelon, which never did get cut up, was in fact a lucky watermelon and I never could bring myself to throw it out even after its freshness had passed. It changed location eventually, and when it did it gained a costume, a tiger suit. Anyways it was holding strong as of yesterday, hanging out on our porch table. Well, I decided that yesterday night it was time to take it out to the dumpster and incorporate that action into Deb’s birthday celebration. I recorded a voice memo while standing beside the dumpster, sang Happy Birthday to Deb in the blowing blizzardy snow fall, recording the sound of the watermelon going into the dumpster and told Deb, and later Russell, “new year, new memories.” So, regular readers will have heard of the watermelon saga before, and this is the last chapter, it finally went out. I know all of this makes me incredibly weird, I prefer to think of it as quirky but honestly this stupid stuff is what makes life fun.

11pm – On my way out to the dumpster.

After a short night our entire family was up early and on the road to North Portal where I led a 9am worship service. The snow that had fallen overnight made that a hard trip but Russ drove our dually truck and we got there safely. This little town is about 85km to the west and south of us, it is right on the border with the United States. A very memorable embarrassing moment happened there for me that I cannot provide details on but will be part of our family lore for the entire rest of my life. So that was spicy.

As we approached the church we were the first ones to make tracks in the snow. Russ said, “grab a picture of this Kathy, thats a sign of a dedicated minister!”

The service went well, I was a bit flustered and had printed my sermon notes with way too small and crowded a print. I had to really concentrate to speak with my head up and keep my place in the sermon. There was great hospitality, Morgan just loved it that when he arrived he could grab a cup of coffee that had been brewing. It turned out there were people already there, they had made tracks in different snow than we did. As we pulled out of town afterwards it was rather a thrill to be so close to the customs buildings at the border. It has been so long since we have gone through customs. We made the drive from North Portal to Estevan in decent time, the roads were already alot better after snowplows had been down them. Russ dropped me at the church and then took the kids to the mall. We didn’t think it would be fair to ask them to do church twice in one day, the exact same service. Russ whipped back and slipped in a bit late. He was thrilled to be welcomed aloud and by name by several in the congregation. I had mentioned he would be slipping in late and why. I offered a sermon probing the connection between righteousness and compassion. I really enjoyed the preparation of it.

Russ took this picture of me in the pulpit in Estevan. I didn’t realize he had. It was kind’ve cool to see, like “oh, this is what I look like when doing my thing….hmmm.”

A trip to the mall followed where we met the kids at Peavey Mart. I think one of the cardinal rules of being a rancher is you never waste a trip to the big city by only doing one thing. We are in the market for a couple more gate panels so Peavey Mart was a must. Russell has been working on an ambitious re-organizing of our handling system within the pole shed. He really enjoys tinkering with our set-ups and scheming to make jobs go more efficiently and safely.

This was taken last week when Russ was trying to explain to me what his vision was for how these gates could be refigured.

Thinking we had a little more time than we actually did we went for lunch at Russell’s favorite place in Estevan and then hit the road. We had a bull sale to get to.

I was so happy to have the kids along. This shot between Estevan and Carnduff enroute home is pretty white outside the windows. It was snowing again.

The bull sale was held only about 12 miles south of our place so I dropped the boys off late to the sale, then took Jill home, changed my clothes, grabbed a farm cheque, grabbed some beer for the next thing we were heading to and I returned to the bull sale. By the time I got there Russ had bought 3 bulls and we had our quota. I got to watch the rest of the sale unfold. It was incredible how technology was used to make that sale work seamlessly in the midst of a very snowy winter Saskatchewan day. It was nice to see people I knew, including the owner of all the bulls. When we caught each others eyes during the sale we exchanged warm waves and smiles, I had already enjoyed these moments with a couple other people, but this is when Russell said to me, “Kathy, you have to stop waving at people, we are going to buy something we don’t want!” Sometimes I feel like deep down I am always going to be a city girl.

The Bayliss bull shoppers.
The man on the left is watching for bidders, the auctioneer is behind that desk, as is Wes the friend who is hosting the sale. There were several staff on laptops and phones monitoring online and telephone bids. The animal being bid on is seen on the screen, an identical screen is on the other side. We watched short video clips of the bulls and bred heifers filmed on a warmer day. If we had been there earlier we could have walked among the bull pens and had a good look at the animals for ourselves.

Once we paid our bill we headed out because we had a football party to get to. We joined our cousins the Connellys to watch the western final of the Canadian Football League. Our team was playing. We were late for the game but given that we are not huge football fanatics we probably got to see enough. We really enjoyed the relaxed time and the visiting, the only thing that could have made it better is if our team had won. It was very close. Dawson made a crusty cheezy baked dip that was hard to stay away from. All the snacks were good. The food at football parties is definitely a large part of the fun. We came home a couple hours ago and I decided that I would either write about all this or go to bed early. The writing won out. Tomorrow is slated to be a stay in my own four walls kind of day and i think I am going to enjoy that! Isn’t life something though? Every once in a while you get alot to digest, as if it were a six course dinner!

Inside the Head – Nov 19/21

Thursday afternoon, once we were home from selling our steers and Russ had his outside chores done we found ourselves settling into a couple of very comfy chairs in our living room. We each had a mug of tea and a blanket. It was about 4pm. There were a couple things going on. Most immediately, Russ was fighting cold symptoms and was feeling chilled. He wanted this warm up time and invited me to join him. Also we are beginning our transition into winter schedules. This means more down time to catch our breath and do stuff that isn’t urgent. We are both so ready for this. It was interesting for me to note that I was fighting a little fight, or maybe doing a little dance, with the reality of guilt. It was four pm and most of my friends were still at work. But not me. My hubby and I were having precious moments to be still and cozy and to breathe a bit deeper. Its kind’ve weird to catch oneself waging this war with guilt. Where does it come from? Was it justified at all? Did I need to feel guilty? No I don’t think so. So why did I? The answer to that requires some reflection and maybe it is a bit too personal for the blog. But here is where my thinking went next, almost in an effort to defend myself I think, “this is our trade off for the long work days that are part of our summer.” I was referring to the weeks where there are no weekends (all of them), the times when you open facebook to see that it appears that everyone else is having a ball and you are staring at your ringing phone willing it not to be a problem that needs your action or sympathy. The evenings that never seem to end as the haying machines run til the grass gets tough, and I find myself cooking the last meal of the day closer to midnight than the supper hour. As I write this a lot of feeling goes with it, a sense of just how unpredictable and trying a ranching summer is and what a feeling of victory goes with just getting through it. If I am to report back to you who live beyond the ranching community, relaying what it is to be a rancher, what it is to be a ranchers wife, than part of that is to say that we have some different seasons around here. While the darkness and the cold of winter is hard, hard on our animals and hard to work in, when the darkness falls the days work is usuallly mostly done. Meals happen at good times, the light over top of the dining room table sheds a cozy glow against the darkness, time is available for a little bit of our hobbies, maybe a movie together. Its nice. Its really really nice. Its pretty easy. And for some dumb reason, when things are easy, I feel a little bit guilty.

I sense that I am not the only one.

Isn’t it weird to talk about things being so easy that guilt should arise? Life is not easy for anyone right now. Perhaps the feeling of guilt is a flag of sorts, alerting me to the things that feel really good amid the trials of these days. Maybe, just maybe, Russ and I should, with a deep sense of gratitude, bundle up in blankets, with mugs of tea, every day, knowing this is the good stuff, the stuff that translates to ease for our weary bodies and minds.

Thats what lives in the head of this ranch wife this week.

As I wondered if there was a picture to post these summer pictures came to mind. They give a glimpse of the machinery and people power Russ is managing and remind me of the weather worries and pressure we felt to make the feed that will keep our bovine girls going all winter.

A birds eye view of the rake and baler at work in the field. A photo captured by my niece Brodie Sollid, she has an aerial photography business.
Russ on the job running the baling tractor. He broke his own personal record this summer when he baled for 31 hours straight. The weather conditions were right and he was motivated. Part of this summer’s stress was needing to purchase a tractor when one of our trusty good ol ones cratered on us. This used John Deere was a blessing when it came across our path. (Liz Griffin Photograpny)
Taking care. (Liz Griffin Photography)
I wonder what we were discussing. (Liz Griffin Photography)
We are going to get through this together. (Liz Griffin Photography)
Liz Griffin has the ability to make a difficult reality look kind of poetic.

Day 18 – Postcards from the Heart

Its been hot in Saskatchewan for days and days uninterrupted. This made me think its a good time to get back to the postcard series, knowing the next image is a January one. This is a Liz Griffin Photography capture of a day when we were moving cows to standing corn and the air was crisp. Remember what that felt like? This was January 2020, before so many things changed. The image is quite striking when seen across a screen, in the format here the wide angle aspect of it makes it display small, so for the blog, in addition to the original I did some cropping to allow a better view of the people in the picture, to get a better sense of it.

If you are a new reader you might not know of this postcard series. Its a result of a photographer documenting our life for a year. I used some of her images to communicate some matters of the heart when my Mom was sick in the fall of 2020. This one is brief, its about being counted on.

Oct 15, 5:20am

Gina is really proud of this picture. It is cool. There she is at the head of the herd coming up the slope just west of our place. She is in dialogue with Jim Lee, a retired man who sold us haying equipment in recent years. Those are his grand-daughters to Gina’s left. Days like this one have been major confidence boosters for the kids. Gina had an expectation of herself, that her Dad could count on her. With cell phones they would confer, she provided leadership. She achieved her goal. She is missing the experience this year. Thank-you for ALWAYS being someone that I and my family could count on. We feel it deep. ❤ K