Motherhood, Ranch Life

Date Mornings

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Fall is officially here. The morning sun is slow to rise and quick to bed and there is a briskness in the air that warns of the impending winter. The alarm went off before the chickens crowed, the house still quiet and sleepy. We dressed the kiddos half asleep and started our day, ready for our date morning.

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We have seemingly abandoned the idea of date nights where it seemed the exhaustion of the day meant just the idea of sitting in a restaurant stuffing our faces  seemed too much to bear. We have embraced “date mornings” that start before the sunrise and end with breakfast and coffee. The morning is fresh and without the irritations and annoyances that build up thru the day otherwise.

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The horses were saddled and in the trailer. The rules for the “date” were pretty simple. Take as many pictures as you want (but don’t expect to stop) but try to be quiet and don’t talk. That would be hard for me but quiet time together is better than no time together. Without the need for forced dialogue, perhaps I could just enjoy my company.

My meteorologist hubby suggested I wear a T-shirt and sweatshirt as it was “warm” this morning but the wind was bitter and fierce so I was forced to dig out an oversized jacket from the backseat. I figured it wouldn’t only provide warmth but perhaps act as cushioned airbag should I hit the ground.  We headed across the National Forest Service Lands in search of deer (preferably a large mule deer buck).

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The morning was almost meditative as the steps of my horse caused a rhythmic rocking and the morning sun cast a golden glow on the fall foliage. My horse huffed and puffed up and down the hillsides in protest of my lacking athleticism and weight, but in truth was more likely a reflection of his own fitness. The peak of color has passed and the hillsides are darkened with bear branches awaiting their snowy winter highlights.

We rode the ridges with no protection of the wind as it swirled and swooshed, acting as an annoying near constant shove against our bodies, determined in its efforts. The juniper stands offered a welcome relief from the wind and a comforting fall smell as my jeans brushed past.

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We saw no deer aboard the horses but the young horse and I gained some much needed confidence and miles under our belts. The conversation was sparse but the memories many.

Times have sure changed since our young love “official dates”.  We don’t frequent fancy restaurants and am not sure the last time we went to the movie theater or bowled together. But I value working along side my hubby and cherish our quiet moments together, no matter the time of day or location. Life is chaotic and messy most days but sometimes it just seems important to carve out a little time together.

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Community, Life Lessons, Motherhood, Ranch Life

I Go To Nature

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“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order”.
~John Burroughs

I love sensory bins and experiences…I have Pinterest boards full of bins with beans and rice or water beads…I follow Instagram slime enthusiasts! I do what today’s modern good mother does and sensitize my kiddos!

Yet, the ultimate sensory experience though remains out our front door…in nature!  A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning, our little family dressed and hit the dirt road before the sun rose in search of deer sightings.

 

The fall brings warm days but brisk nights. The moon was still in the sky and the air cool as we drove thru neighborhood. The dawn is a perfect time to spot wildlife as they are busy feeding and moving before the heat of the day and bright sun drives them to their beds.

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While Hubby and the oldest headed out to scout and glass along the horizon of the Badlands, the Little One and I headed out on a nature walk.

Sharing nature with a child, allows me to see what my eyes and senses have been blinded to.

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The Little One is always searching for birds in the sky or bugs on the ground. Finding the littlest of ants is cause for the biggest of celebrations.  While the eyes are searching, the feet are exploring the terrain. I have seen the uneven plastic stepping stones to encourage balance offered for sale on Amazon. In the cow pasture, dried cow pies serve a similar purpose as the Little One jumped from one to the next as he balanced on top of the irregular circle of undigested fiber.

 

Sticks, moss, and bark stimilate the developing nervous system as we touch and feel. My favorite grass is Little Bluestem and the hill sides come alive in its vibrant red this time of year. As we walk by and rub the sage with our pant legs, our noses are filled with the pungent earthy odor.

We crawl under and over and thru branches and brush. The Little One tests his strength and balance as he finds his limits.

Being in nature truly engages all one’s senses as we listen to birds sing and the hum of the oil pumper melodically pumping up and down, up and down.

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We went to a new location to scout and as we rounded the road tens of butterflies were disturbed from their feeding on golden rod. As we walked amongst them it was like being in our own private butterfly conservatory.

There is so much nature all around us to enjoy. Here are some things we have cultivated amongst our kids.

1) Encourage quiet observation. In our busy world, slow those little minds and have them truly observe their surroundings. Do you see wildlife? How many rocks are on that hillside?

2) Touch it… why not! Unless it is poisonous or going to bite feel the textures of nature.

3) Don’t forget the sounds… animal calls are big in our house. Beyond “what does a cow say?”  we do turkeys, moose, squirrels, etc.

4) Be careful but not too careful! Explore! Test limits but don’t fall down the ravine.

5) Fresh air is good for the body and mind! Get that heart rate up climbing hills or hiking those trails!

“The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.” 
~St. Thomas Aquinas

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Community, Motherhood, Ranch Life

Mud Run Birthday Party

 

 

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Prepare  for a photo overshare! The little wild one turned 2 and we celebrated with a mud run…it was fantastic! Some vowed to stay clean but the temptation of mud was too strong. I was left with a 1″ layer of mud on the bottom of my tub, but priceless memories!

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Homemade ice cream and pizza were on the menu! Thanks to everyone that came and joined the fun. As it turns out many of us grew up in female dominated families but now we are over-run with boys…wild, loud, fun-loving boys!!! Being a boy mom definitely has its perks and mud runs are one of them.

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The obstacles included a rope swing over a pool, pallet climb, tires, spider web…and of course the mud part of the course. I think some of them made a dozen laps around!

The Wild One was a hose spraying maniac. He even got a little glint in his eyes and the entire spectator section also got a little water hose spray down!

 

So. Many. Photos!

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So. Many. Photos!

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“At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling.” – Shanti

Motherhood

Raising Kids and Dogs: The Run-Away

“I was a perfect parent until I had kids” starts many a story in my life. I laughed at the thought of baby harnesses and leashes. What type of parent needs a leash to control their kid when my Labrador can walk on a heel and has a pretty solid recall. Well apparently this parent needs one!

The little one is a runner. To be fair I raise my kids like a raise my cows….free range! The joys of farm life are the freedom to run and explore while still understanding the dangers of animals with hooves, teeth, or beaks and of the risks of large equipment with poor visibility going thru the yard, that balance of promoting exploration while wanting to swarm over them as the anxious helicopter parent.

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I admitted the problem after our family vacation. There are about 10 ways to die for every mile in Yellowstone National Park so we had some serious talks on safety.  That being said the 1 year old was determined to see just how serious we were. Every board walk required he be tightly held for fear he bolt off into certain horror. Every hike he found the “edge” of the trial and if there wasn’t an edge he tried to climb the rock walls. I turned to Amazon for options for safety harness or hand cuffs to force him be by my side…if they can deliver to middle of nowhere ND maybe I could set up a delivery for Old Faithful!

We all survived the trip (even after the little one took off after a rabbit in the camp ground like a frenzied wild hound dog!). But we had a problem.

We had successfully taught the concept of “range” and “recall” to our dogs so how hard can this be right. He is an intelligent, communicative toddler…but with a clear mind of his own desires and ambitions! We worked on emergency stops and recalls as a “game”. Turns out cheese cubes make a nice reward treat for young dogs and kids in training (Mother of the Year I know). We discussed consequences and safety as much as you can to a 1 year old.

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The farm life provides many “live and learn” lessions

Then the other day the little adventurer slipped between two corral panels just 4 inches wide, luckily into an empty corral. I found a cow halter and fashioned a leash…yup I did it! I leashed my child for his own safety! This is a problem.

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A few evenings ago we were enjoying one of those free range evenings when I thought I would test the little one. Maybe he was just testing me so I hid behind a tree while he wandered ahead. He turned his little blond head and uttered a “Mama?” realizing I wasn’t following behind. Then newly aware of his freedom, he promptly found a new gear and headed off with dust rising from his little cowboy boots to the chicken coop. How can something with such little legs be so dang fast?

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Just like we taught the new puppy to enjoy a “collar grab” in the event we need to quickly restrain him maybe we should do the same for the little one and fit him with a baby restraint handle. The final test came when we headed into town.

Town brings its own unique safety dangers…namely cars! The rules are clear…no roads, stay on grass. No bolting and stay with an adult. So of course the little one bolted. I stayed back to see if he was testing and this only resulted in my having a undeniable handicap in our race to freedom. My shoe-less feet hit the steaming hot payment and I envisioned those zen persons walking on hot coals to prove their inner peace and here I was running on hot asphalt to prove my worth or dis-worth as it was as a mother!

I envisioned the road being lined with fresh lined baking sheets and I mind over matter chased “The Bolter”. Then I hit the dry crisp brush and weeds…my feet were screaming at me so I called for help, like there may have been a shoed super hero nearby that would swoop in to collect my unruly toddler. My mind quickly surveyed for danger… a child-hating dog could soon emerge from a home, the black bird flying over was probably a hawk ready to swoop in and carry him off, and of course for CARS! Dangerous speeding cars!

I had failed as a mother as he ran faster and faster while I was perishing on our own version of parental “Survivor”. He was making a large circle and I was rounding the corner. I parked bike caught his attention and I used this distraction to gain some ground, screaming “Stop” and “No”. In hind sight when my dogs had taken off I had most luck running the opposite direction screaming “Who wants a treat?!” so apparently my mind didn’t translate that into a parental version.  Then came the broken glass part of this feet on fire motherhood walk. Why had I not had shoes on?! One must always be prepared for emergencies like a run away.

I finally swooped him up and gathered him in my arms only to have him protest, squirming and fussing. I didn’t know wether to have flames of fiery rise from my head or tears of joy that it ended with no harm. We limped back to the house and I nursed my wounded soles, pulling slivers and scraping the pieces of tar and gravel from my heels.

I had read in our dog training books no off-leash activity until your dog is solidly recalling and can be safely and reliably trusted. So back to “training” we go. My children need to be self-aware of the dangers in their world and learn to take appropriate risks. They may just be doing it with their baby harnesses securely fastened and their long-lines in tow!

Community, Motherhood

Parade Time

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There was no raining on this parade. Though with our recent drought conditions a downpour would have likely been more celebratory than the parade itself. Yesterday we partook in our annual RoughRider Days Parade. Small town life is friendly waves and an enjoyment of days much the same as the last. But every year 4th of July brought a big celebration with rodeos, street dance, 4-H activities, fireworks, and parade.

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As was tradition, every year on that designated Saturday morning in July, we sat street side to see the local businesses parade down Villard, with hopes of filling our pockets with candy. Now I share that same tradition with my own kiddos.

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My sister and nephew. His 1st parade of many.

 

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Aunt Stephie time

 

 

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There is an excitement and nostalgia. No float is really that extravagant. The only requirement it seems is a business banner and maybe some streamers or balloons. If you have a unicycle, old car, or vintage tractor your are welcome too.

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Suckers were his favorite! He picked up each and every one!

 

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Look, more candy!

 

 

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It was quickly overflowing and they moved on to the next container.

 

For years I carried flags horse back in the parade and my sister painted her face and placed on her clown nose to take her part in the parade.  Those traditions continue.

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DSC_3939pIn the past, there was more of a celebration of our agriculture and western edge heritage. With the resurgence of oil in the area, the companies have brought prosperity and wealth to many in the area and they sponsor many local happenings. There addition to the parade demonstrates a changing time.

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It was a great Saturday enjoying our local community and celebrating with family! Happy 4th of July everyone! Anyone else take in a parade this year?

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Motherhood

Top Reasons RVing with Kiddos Rocks!

My RV Cowboys

I had long dreamed of an RV adventure and it remained at the top of my Bucket List. We typically do an annual vacation to the Black Hills but Hubby had suggested we head to Yellowstone. Imagine my joy when he agreed to renting an RV.

Leaving the hotel…final day living out of and hauling luggage

As RV and really any sort of camper virgins, there were some worries but  really this trip has been a dream and here is why:

1. Kitchen and snack drawer on wheels. No one likes a hangry kiddo or adult for that matter. Eating out with kids while pleasant in my imagination usually involves waiting too long to decide to eat, then suffering through the finding of a restaurant and “The Wait”. I really am trying to raise decent human beings but whether it is 30 seconds or 30 minutes until the hangry kids get their food that time is usually among the most stressful of my life with desperate distractions of crackers, color crayons, or people watching. The joy of just pulling over for a snack or meal without worry of destroying someone else’s dinner plans…amazing! One afternoon we had broccoli cheese soup and sandwiches while watching a fox catch mice. Best lunch entertainment around.

2. Immediate bathroom access. The reality hit when I passed a long line of poor full-bladdered people. Do you know how much time is spent finding a rest room, standing impatiently in line, and peeing…. a lot. And one of mine is still in diapers so that is hit or miss if their is a changing area.

3. Keeping a routine.  When staying at single hotel it isn’t so bad but the packing, unpacking, and new sleeping arrangements of hotel room hoping made for some stress in the past. Not in an RV. Unpack once and enjoy a routine of consistency.

4. No need to pack a 72 pound diaper bag anticipating the variety of weather patterns you may encounter and then potential for dirt and spills! Especially in Yellowstone where the weather is variable, it has proved invaluable to have all our clothes within arms reach.

Big Windows. Big Views. Happy Kid. 

 

 

5. Travel entertainment. The kids stayed buckled but bigger windows and a table to sit by meant more opportunity for wildlife viewing and table top activities. RVs mean lots of room to spread out and enjoy some travel games, coloring, and activities.

 

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Completing his Junior Ranger Booklet as we saw wildlife

6. See more. Do more. Especially for a big park like Yellowstone this allowed us to go with less concern of keeping within distance of our hotel. If the kiddos were needing a break we simply pulled over and often enjoyed a great view or short hike for the kiddo still in good spirits.  A cranky kiddo at the museum meant one of us headed out to the RV for a quick nap while the other continued to get some sights in. Historically, with a hotel experience that meant heading back to rest and re-coop, then loosing any motivation to venture out again. With a hotel, we usually  planned a single big daily outing to factor in grumpy or down time.

 

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A suctioned shower container made a great binoculars holder. They were in ready reach and didn’t get lost.

 

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More shower containers held cows, crayons, fruit snacks, and whatever needed to be in easy reach of the kiddos.


CONS

 

1. The biggest con is the RV parks and camping arrangements.  I haven’t had “neighbors” or lived in a “town” in a while.  Due to our shorter notice and Yellowstone’s popularity, the reservable camp sites were full. The RV parks are quite nice but still leave you feeling a little too close to your neighbors and very suburb-y.  I soon realized I can never move back to town with the manicured postage stamp shaped yards and neighbors within view.

My kiddos are semi-feral, free range sorts who spend most days semi-dressed, with no concern of their decibel level, and more awareness of staying out of the corral than a street. So it was a bit of a lesson for my country bumpkins! But riding their bikes on actual paved roads proved novel and fun.

The exception was the Cody WY KOA. While “neighborly” there was some breathing room and it didn’t feel so rectangle lot suburb. Plus there was a ton for the kids to do, including a pool and giant jump thing, so they loved it.
2.  Another con… hot showers. The RV water heater was a waste of propane and only served to heat the water to just above chilled! After our community shower episode where I probably mooned a nice retired couple while struggling to keep the kiddos from reverting to their feral naked states, I thought kiddo camper showers were the answer. Nope!

3. Safety. In my research, many argued traveling with kids in a RV was unsafe due to non-secured items and seat belt arrangements. We had an initial strawberry fiasco where a carton of strawberries shot out of the unsecured refrigerator when the refrigerator wasn’t properly latched on take-off.

Overall, our maiden RV voyage was a wild success and may have sparked the “bug”. The kids loved it and small home living wasn’t all that bad.

Motherhood, Ranch Life

Branding- A Celebration and Call for Community

I wrote this post weeks ago and it just sort of sat here. Now that we have moved into haying, breeding, and another season I figured I would share my branding recap. Time just slips away some times it seems.

The branding season is winding down. This season is marked by weekends spent in the dust and dirt, working cows and calves, prepping them for summer pasture. Branding marks the end of the spring calving season and a celebration of the product of careful attention to matings, nutrition thru pregnancy and lactation, and surviving months of stress and sleeplessness. While calving fills my camera lens with images of cute calves, it also means restless nights forcing tired  and brace against the cold night air to check the herd in the event one of the cows may have calving troubles, emotional fatigue with the loss and struggle with nature’s unkindness, and planning your life events in less than 4 hours chunks of time less we not be available to the needs of the cows and sheep.

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Country kids entertaining themselves

 

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Country kids get dirty

 

Branding as it is so-called is really the opportunity to carefully examine each calve as they come thru the calf cradle (a small chute that allows the calf to be restrained) or via cowboy or cowgirl restraint. Each calve is given vaccinations to protect it against respiratory bugs and other diseases it may encounter later in its life and the bull calves are castrated. Each calf spends about a minute or less for this entire process to reduce stress to the calves and improve efficiency. Most ranches do at least 100 calves, if not hundreds in a day’s work.

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Branding is also a celebration of family, friends, and community. Much like days gone by, branding is done with the help of our neighbors and friends. Many hands make light the work to be done. Neighbors are miles away but in true selflessness they are as available to give a day’s work as a phone call and quick pickup ride down the road. Often more family and friends join for branding day than Thanksgiving or Christmas, and the meals that follow are often as impressive.

There is hierarchy amongst the branding workers, with the job of bringing in the calves and doing the physical restraint job left to the young and fit “whipper-snappers”. The youngsters watch and learn, hoping to gain years and pounds so as to be a calf pusher at the next branding.

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Teaching the next generation proper calf restraint

 

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Much the same today as generations before

 

Not all calves are branded but for those moving to common pastures or where ownership must be proven a hot iron is applied to the tough haired hide, leaving behind a permanent mark of ownership. The brand itself often represents generations of ownership and legacy. My own registered brand once belonged to my grandfather. The mark of a brand must not be “blotched” or “smeared” as it may become unreadable and be a permanent mark of poor workmanship for the life of the animal. So the “brander” position is reserved for the skilled and experienced. The remaining jobs sort of fall in order with those available but often years of experience absolve one of the more physical jobs, leaving vaccinating, re-tagging, or castrating.

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Sometimes even goats take part

 

Working calves may well be a necessary task at a ranch, but more so it is that coming together, sharing of food and stories, struggles and drama, and involving the next generation. More than just a “job” to be done it is a reflection of generations of care and concern for the animals and land in our care. Ranchers strive to raise healthier, improved cattle that meet the needs of the consumer.

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Watching and Learning

 

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“This lifestyle isn’t just about the animals. It is about beliefs and values passed down through the generations. Ensuring things are left better for those yet to come. It is about legacy.”

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