Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Lowly Frijole

Pinto beans. My life would be empty and incomplete without them.  They are little tiny morsels of perfection.  Not a day goes by in which I don't think about their deliciousness.  My husband fully understands my love affair with the pinto, and he uses it to his advantage.  He often offers to take me out for Mexican food because he knows that I'm a cheap date.  Bean and cheese burritos are my weakness.  Some girls order flaming fajitas, still sizzling when they come to the table.  You pay extra for that sizzle.  Why waste the money for flashy food like this when all I really desire can be found on the "Ala Carte" menu for $2.49?  I hate to order a combo meal.  I don't want two enchiladas with a "side" of rice and beans.  I want Beans with a side of rice and enchiladas. 

I'm a bit of a bean connoisseur..... an expert if you will,  in frijole flavoring.  I analyze beans the way that wine snobs talk about their favorite Chardonnay.  My husband amuses me by playing along.

ME: "These beans have a smoky flavor with a hint of jalapeno in them. Do you think they used garlic too?"

HIM: "Sure."

ME: "I'm positive they used some onion, and I bet they fire roasted chilies before they added them. What do you think?"

HIM :"I don't know."

ME: "These pintos taste hammy with a hint of black pepper. Do you think they used bacon, ham hocks, or salt pork?"

HIM: "Tough to say."

We both agree that beans vary by geography, and frankly, a pinto in Illinois isn't as tasty as a bean in Arizona.  The closer beans are to their mother land, the more decadent they become. My husband located the world's best beans while working in the border town of  Nogales, AZ.  They are from a restaurant so close to the Mexican border, that you could spit across the line.  In fact, my husband's been working there all week, and when he calls home, he tells me the Mexican food is so good down there that it feels like he's cheating on me when he partakes of it without me sitting by his side.  It makes me want to cry.  But then he brings me home 4 quarts of refried beans, and 6 dozen fresh tortillas to eat them with, and I fall in love with that man all over again.

My lover knows the fastest way to my heart is through the pinto.  That's why he proposed marriage over a meal of bean burritos.  I'll save that post for another day, but let's just say that it worked like a charm.  Many things change in life....hairstyles, truck models, wall colors, and jean sizes..... but there is one thing that always stays the same, one thing that will never go out of style, and that is my undying devotion to the lowly frijole.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Walk with Mom

It was another gorgeous day on the mountain. My mom came up for a visit, and I feel so blessed every time we get to take a walk in the woods. There's something  so special about getting to share a day together.  I treasure our talks, and although we speak on the phone every day, walking side by side and sharing in the beauty of God's creation does a daughter's heart good. 

Walking along the lake's edge at sunset, and seeing the spring run-off is always beautiful.

This goose was very friendly to us.

Can you spot the squirrel that jumped out in front of us?

There were tulips blooming at the base of plum trees in all their splendor. The combination of the two was breath-taking.

Taking in the sights and sounds of spring with good conversation and fresh air made for the perfect end to a wonderful day with Mom.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Day to Honor my Mother- in-Love

Today, I'd like to honor a very special woman in my life.  The woman who's genetics created my irresistibly handsome husband.  The woman who birthed him, fed him, and put her blood, sweat and tears into him.  This woman...this selfless and sacrificial woman, is none other than my very own Mother-in-Love.  In case you didn't know it, my Mom-in-Love and I have a bond, a connection that transcends our  many differences.  We've been in the trenches together.  She's seen things.  She knows my secrets.  We're past the formal greetings.  We keep it real. 

She's been there for me in my hour of need, requiring great sacrifice on her part.  And I do mean G-R-E-A-T sacrifice.  When I was three weeks away from my due date with our second child, I got a horrible case of the stomach flu. I vomited so forcefully, that my water broke, and I went into labor immediately.  My parents were 4 hours away by car, and my husband took me to the hospital.  Minutes after we arrived, he turned a vile shade of grayish green, and then began puking too.  He was so violently ill, that he had to go home.  Not to worry though, Mother- in-Love to the rescue!!! That saintly woman sat by my side the entire time.  She wheeled my I.V. to the bathroom and held my hair as I simultaneously puked and had contractions for hours on end. She didn't even flinch.  She brought me ice chips and rubbed my back. She held my hand and did all the things my husband couldn't do because he was at home, hugging the toilet.  My husband came back just in time to watch the birth, and partake in the merriment.  But it was my Mother-in-Love that was in the trenches with me.  And what reward did she get for all of her self-less duty? She got the same stomach flu less than 48 hours later.  That's love.

We have adventures together.  Real, dangerous, adrenaline pumping adventures.  On one occasion, I was evacuated from my home with the threat of a forest fire overtaking my town.  I drove to my In- Laws, baby in tow, pulling a trailer with all my worldly possessions in it.  My husband and my father-in-law were off fighting the fire.  My Mother-in- Love had an entire town of people to care for.  I was pregnant, hormonal, worried about my favorite cow left laboring in the pasture, and I needed to irrigate.  The roads were all closed, and the entire mountain was in chaos.  I was busy plotting my  route back to the pasture.  She tried to talk me out of all this wreckless behavior, but my mind was made up.  She wasn't going to let me be in danger alone, so she reluctantly hopped in the truck with me.  I drove like a maniac.  We flew down  unfamiliar back roads to avoid the barricades and law enforcement.  I drove 55 miles an hour on a dirt road with hair- pin turns, and she pleaded with me to slow down as she held on to the door handle with white knuckles.  We arrived to the pasture and put on bandannas to breath through the smoke and ash.  Like two bandits, we walked through the pasture, checking to see that my favorite cow had made it through her labor, and her calf was alive and nursing well.   We opened the irrigation ditch and let the water flow.   After I was satisfied that all was well with my livestock, we walked back to the truck. We were exhausted and  layered with mud, smoke and falling ash.  By cover of darkness we slowly made our way back to safety.   Enough time has passed that we can laugh about this now, but I'm pretty sure that I shaved a few moments off her life, or at the very least, gave her a few grey hairs.

My Mother- in- Love once washed my laundry, including a load of my under things. And she's never told a soul what they look like.  She's shown up at my house and unloaded a trunk full of groceries when it was three days until payday and I was making sandwiches with two heels of bread.  She just "knows" things.   That's why we've bonded.  That's why we can agree to disagree about the little things.  That's why we can be honest.  Because she's got my back when it matters most.  She's built up the trust that only comes with time spent being "real" with each other. That's devotion.....and that's my Mother-In-Love. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Infamous "Chicky"

Thousands of cattle have come in and out of my life. Most are just a number to me.  Some hold a special place in my heart. A few have become steaks in my freezer, and one or two have irritated me to the point of cussing.  But none have been as near and dear to me as "Chicky".

It was my Junior year of college.  I was living and working on a large ranch.  It was the tail end of calving season, and a first-calf heifer was paralyzed while giving birth to her calf.  After quite an ordeal with the vet, we had no other option but to put the mother down. Her calf, a stubborn little thing from the day she was born, flat out refused to be bottle-fed.  Because I had raised calves on a dairy for a number of years, and because the men I worked with were too chicken to tube feed her, the responsibility fell on me.  My boss told me I could have the calf if I could keep her alive. No big deal. Lots of dairy calves, especially Brown Swiss, would rather starve than take a bottle the first few days of their lives.  They just don't all possess that hybrid-vigor and instinctive drive to get up and nurse like beef cattle do.  Because I'd dealt with this scenario on a daily basis in my old job, I felt that I was getting a huge bargain.  Just a little work, and I'd have another heifer for my own growing herd. Twice a day, I'd go up to the corrals, and give milk to my new calf.  Her momma was a Hereford, and her daddy was a Charolais. She was yellow and looked a little like a banana, so naturally, I named her Chiquita Banana, but I called her "Chicky" for short. 
She was a pathetic little thing, all knobby kneed, and unloved.  She'd bawl to me whenever I passed by, and soon, I moved her to a pen near my house so she could get a little more attention.  After I weaned her, I gave her good hay and "Calf Manna" every day.  "Calf Manna" is similar to a pelleted form of milk replacer that smells a little like black liquorice.  She was really diggin' that stuff.   Soon she started to fill out and grow.  A few months later, I had to return to school to finish up my senior year, and I took her along with me.  She was too small to put out to pasture with my other heifers, so I had to find a place near the University to keep her.  I ended up feeding her in a make-shift pen at a roping arena near by.  She was the only bovine among lots of quarter- horses, and the threat of getting used for roping practice thoroughly irritated her.  But she was getting pleasantly plump on her diet of hay and all the mesquite beans she could find in her pen.

After I graduated, it was time to initiate her into the herd.  I was nervous.  She had lived a life of luxury and pampering up to this point, and I wasn't sure how she was going to fit in with the other girls.  Plus, having nothing but quarter horses to compare her to, I thought she looked a little on the small side.  WRONG.  The day we put her in with the herd, was the day I realized that Chicky was a little bit chunky.  I  blame the mesquite beans.  My husband blames me. Either way, it was evident that she was gonna hold her own just fine.  We put her out on lush thick pasture, and her little weight issue turned into a nightmare. She was quickly packing on pounds in the rump.  Frankly, she was fat.  And she was friendly.  This caused problems.  Whenever we'd enter the pasture to irrigate, fix fence, or check the cows, she'd come for a visit. Picture an 1800 pound (yes, you read that right) animal charging at full speed to come and greet you. Her friendliness scared away more than one innocent by-stander admiring the cows in the pasture.  She'd come full speed, and stop on a dime right in front of you. Then she'd head-butt you until you scratched her behind the ears.  This was all cute when she was a calf, but not so much when she was full grown.  It came time to breed the heifers, and I had the toughest time deciding what to do with her. The logical and business side of me said we shouldn't breed her because the narrow pelvis that caused her mom to have calving trouble, would most likely be passed down to her.  But the alternative was to sell her.  There's no free ride for our cattle. If they aren't producing babies, then they have to be sold.  Nothing eats grass for free.  I couldn't bear the thought of not having her around.  She wasn't like all the others. She was my pet.  I decided to breed her to a bull that sired small calves.  It was my only chance of keeping her.   By the end of her pregnancy, she was so huge that even the most experienced cattlemen took a second look.  "By God, if she doesn't have triplets in her, I don't know what to think!" they'd say. I'd chuckle nervously, and say, she's just a "big" girl.

It was the beginning of summer, and her calving date was looming now.  Anytime. I kept a close eye on her, knowing that she might need a little help. I checked her several times a day, and then the unthinkable happened.  Our whole community was evacuated for a horrible forest fire. I had no choice but to leave.  And wouldn't you know it, she chose to have that calf right in the middle of a natural disaster with ash and soot falling all around her.  She had a little trouble, and needed some assistance in calving, but mom and calf were doing well, all things considered. It was so typical of that stubborn cow.
After we weaned her first calf, we decided not to breed her anymore.  I told my husband that she had earned her keep, and deserved a retirement of lush grass. There was only one problem.  She just couldn't seem to control her weight.  She was quickly becoming a Large Marge, and she was developing quite an appetite for grass on the other side of the fence.  All the other cows were content with our grass, and had a healthy respect for fences. Not Chicky.  With her, fences were merely suggestions.  She used her bull- dozer body to gently plow over any fence she wanted to cross.  The dreaded calls started pouring in on a weekly basis. "Your cow's out". "Your cow's in the road".  "Your cow's eating my putting green."   No matter what we did to that cantankerous cow, she would not stay in her pasture.  She was ultra- friendly when she would go for a visit to the neighbor's, and always came right up to them for a little head scratch, but somehow they weren't amused by her charm.  The final straw came  with the putting green incident.  She broke through, walked through two fences, and a fancy white picket fence to snack on a retired guy's putting green in his back yard.  The phone call was not a pleasant one, and the damage was extensive.  Chicky had gone through one too many fences.  She was no longer manageable.  She loved people, and loved exotic grasses even more.  She had to go.  I cried.  We pulled the stock trailer up to the corrals, to load her.  She wouldn't budge.  Most cattle have a healthy fear of humans, and load right up when you put the pressure on them.  Not her.  She just looked at the opening, looked at us, and began to chew her cud. We poked her. We prodded her.We twisted her tail.  No luck. She was going to be stubborn to the very end.  Finally, I threw some hay in the trailer, and she walked right in.  It was a long ride to the sale barn. My heart was heavy. When we got there, she had to be preg-checked by the vet, but she was so fat that she couldn't fit into the squeeze chute.  So he gloved up and palpated her right there in the alley-way, and she didn't move an inch.  Then the jokes started flying among the pen riders.  I couldn't bear to watch her go through the sale ring, but my husband came outside laughing.  She weighed in at nearly a ton.  She was larger than any bull that went through the sale ring that day, and when she entered in, the auctioneer said, "Pull up some chairs boys, and we can play a round of cards on her back!" She was the talk of the sale barn that day, and the highest selling cow of the afternoon.

Chicky was a legendary cow.  We still talk about her from time to time, and remember her "larger than life" personality.  I've never loved a cow so much, and at the same time felt so much disdain for her behavior.  Her tender heart, and her sheer volume will both go down in the record books.  One thing's for certain, she really was a FAT cow!!!

An Evening at the Pond

Guess Who? Harry and Mildred were at the water hole and the sunlight on Harry's feathers made him look ready for his close-up.  Don't tell Mildred I took a picture of her rear-end. It might ruffle her tail feathers.

Look what else we spotted.  A gaggle of geese. The babies were out for a swimming lesson, and we just happened to be there for it.  It was nearly sunset and quite a distance for my lens, so this picture is the best I could do.  We love seeing new life swimming on the pond!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Lord's Day to you.

Normally our family would be preparing to go to church at this time, however, 3 out of the 5 of us are feeling under the weather this morning. Not to worry though, we will still be able to join together to worship in our very own living room.  Our little church has a big radio ministry outreach that broadcasts our church service live every Sunday morning all over the mountain.  Because there are many tiny little communities that stretch for nearly 100 miles, the broadcast signal can be heard from well over an hour away in some places.  It's a wonderful ministry for our elderly shut-ins who cannot attend church for health reasons, as well as us young moms caring for sick children.
I always feel right at home as I hear my husband's sweet voice in song, or a dear friend reading scriptures over the air waves.  It's a bit of a mixed blessing though when you're attending.  More than once when our children were young toddlers, they would decide to say something very loudly during a quiet moment, and  we'd get teased about it from friends who heard it from their car.  Even more embarrassing is the two year old's tantrum heard over the entire mountain.  It's just proof that it's not a "studio" recording.

Whether we're driving back from a weekend in the big city, or out camping  high up on our mountain, we flip on our radios promptly at 11:00am and pull out our bibles to hear a word from the Lord.  It's certainly not a good substitute or as wonderful as gathering together in person to fellowship with friends, but it's nice to know that we can still feel connected even when we've got the flu.

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25

Friday, April 23, 2010

1001 Reasons I love living in Rural America (Part I)

When I drive around my neck of the woods, all is right with the world. My truck looks like every other vehicle on the highway.  In winter, it's brilliant silver luster is covered with a layer of  the white salt and cinders used to melt the ice and give tires traction on the road. It's bed is filled with snow, and a layer of hay encrusted ice.  It's 4 wheel drive hubs are nearly always locked in.  In spring my truck is caked in a layer of mud from driving the dirt roads around my house. The chrome on the front bumper is a grave yard for a million bugs who's lives have ended abruptly.  With summer rains, the truck stays perpetually muddy.  In fall, it's usually got a load of firewood in the back.  What I'm really trying to say here, is that our truck is rarely clean.

Oh sure, we wash it on a weekly basis when the hose thaws out, but the truck is inevitably dirty three days later.  It's no big deal. Everyone's truck looks like this............ until you take a trip to the city. That horrible place filled with freeways of shiny cars.   Cars that live in garages.  Cars that get "detailed" at a car wash for $19.99 every Saturday morning.  Cars that have tires with "Wet Look Shine" sprayed on them. I once sprayed "Wet Look Shine" on my tires. Then I drove down a dirt road that afternoon, and the dust stuck to it and made my wheels look brown for two weeks.

Whenever my family hops in the truck to make the nearly 4 hour drive to the city (potty breaks included), we tarp down our luggage, put the dogs in the back so they can feel the wind on their tongues, and throw in an ice chest or two so we can load up on groceries at Sam's Club.  We usually listen to a "Hank the Cowdog" audio book, and enjoy the countryside.  Then we hit the edge of the city, and the congestion starts to worsen. We merge on to the freeway and we start to feel uneasy. Everyone seems to be staring at our muddy, bug encrusted truck.  Now I'm feeling like the Clampett's with our tarped down luggage.  We exit the freeway and drive the side streets.  Our dogs start to bark at a man on a ten speed wearing biker shorts and a tank top. They lunge at him from the back of the truck as my husband speeds by.  Startled, the biker almost wrecks, but makes a nice recovery. I duck instinctively, and tell my husband to "gun it".  The kids are laughing hysterically in the back seat.  Since the weather is 40 degrees warmer than at home, my kids unroll the back windows.  They squeal with delight at the warm air blowing their hair around.  At a red light, my 8 year old son puts on his dad's sun glasses and flashes a peace sign at a guy sitting on a Harley. I'm afraid we're gonna get shot.  By this time the man on the bicycle has caught up to us waiting for the light to change.   It's green.  We step on the gas to put some distance between us and the Harley man  that we shared an awkward moment with.  Our big diesel engine sends out a cloud of black smoke through the tail pipe aimed directly at the bicyclist on the right. I see him choking in the rear view mirror. This is just a small glimpse of the embarrassment we endure.  Every parking space at the mall is  made for a  "compact car" so we take up three of them for our 4 door, long bed truck.  People flip us off and circle the parking lot.  If anyone is brave enough to park next to us, the dogs bark at them, and they are afraid to get out of their car.  They back out and find another location. 

After half a day, we drop the dogs off at my parent's house, and my husband makes a bee-line for the car wash.  But you know what? Having a shiny clean truck somehow doesn't make us feel any better. If it's not our truck, than it's our other differences that stick out. My kids realize that city kids don't wear Wranglers, and suddenly my Wal-mart sunglasses aren't cool.  Everyone is staring at my rhinestone and cowhide purse, and my husband's camouflage Cabela's cap is no longer as stylish.  We're ready to go home.

As we travel back up the mountain, our truck gets loaded with splattered bugs. Once again, our tires kick up mud on the doors, and we start to feel at ease.  We get home, start a fire in the wood stove, unload the dogs and groceries, and rest our weary bones from the hectic pace of a weekend in the city.  The next day, we throw on our Carhartts, take a trip to Wal-mart, park beside the dozens of other trucks that look just like ours, say hello to at least 10 people we know, and I squeeze my husband's hand. "It's good to be home", I say. It's good to be home, indeed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Every man has a trait that is uniquely his.  A special quality that makes him stand out among his peers.  I'm particularly blessed because my Dad has not one, but many giftings to share.  Yet the one that I find most intriguing is his meticulous nature.  My dad is a man of precision.  Every task he does in life is done thoroughly with accuracy, thought, and attention to detail. Whether the job is complex, or mundane, he holds himself to the very highest of standards.  He's the man you want to have around when you've got a tough job that requires ingenuity.  His rigorous standards make him indispensable.  Yet with this gifting, there does come a few side effects.  Like all things, you must take the good with bad.  When you have a dad with a meticulous nature, you must be prepared for detailed conversations. Here's a small snippet of a conversation I've had with my dad at least a hundred times on the phone:

ME: "Hey Dad, how are you?"

DAD: " I'm exhausted.  The dog woke me up this morning at 2:36.  I rolled over. He woke me up again at 3:29. Finally, I got up and let him out. Then I sat around waiting for the newspaper until 4:17.  I called you at 10:55 this morning, but you never answer your phone."

My dad does NOT have the ability to round numbers off.  Whether it's telling time, or recounting something he made, he ALWAYS relays the exact information. He has a memory like an elephant and feels the need to portray the event as accurately as possible.  I remember the time when my dad got his first GPS unit.  Having a plethora of data to process makes a man like him VERY happy.  He'd come up with my mom for a visit, and as soon as he got out of the truck he'd say something like, " It's 158 miles to your house on the highway, but only 122 miles as the crow flies."   I went scouting for elk with him once and he programmed the truck location into the GPS.  After a few hours of walking, we stopped for a break on top of a ridge.  He immediately pulled out his GPS.  "We're 3.26 miles to the truck, and only 37.9 miles from your house as the crow flies."  I don't know about you, but I personally never wondered how many miles it takes for a crow to fly somewhere. Yet it IS  a bit interesting once someone points it out to you.  When he totes along all of his instruments of accuracy, it makes his hunting pack weigh at least 50 pounds.

Yet this detailed nature is what makes him an amazing craftsman.  He's spent weeks making bunk beds for my children. First he draws out rough plans on paper. Then he spends hours at Home Depot  going through the lumber piles, carefully choosing only the most flawless pieces of wood.  Finally, he measures each piece multiple times before cutting it to his exact specifications.  The end result is a gorgeous piece of furniture that is so solidly constructed that I'd feel perfectly at ease sleeping on the bottom bunk with an elephant resting on the top level.

When the goal is to just slap something together, my dad starts to twitch a little.  It bothers him on a deep level to see shoddy work.  He can't be a part of it.  He helped my husband to build the outside pen for our chicken coop.  I thought it would take a few hours. Wrong. Two days later, every post was squared and level on approximately 18 dimensions.  The fence was rolled out so that every rectangle lined up, and every wire was positioned perfectly on the post.  I'm certain that a Tyrannosaurus Rex couldn't escape that pen, let alone a four pound chicken. Was it over-kill? Absolutely. But one thing's for sure, it's a thing of beauty to look at.

I have no doubt that everything my Dad has ever done for me has had an amazing amount of thought and effort put into it.  No one ever expects this from him, yet he consistently goes the extra mile for people.  That's just who he is.  And that's just one of the million reasons I love him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Potato Bread

As promised, here is my standard alternative to wheat bread, and a very good sandwich loaf.

Today I made a delicious loaf of Potato Bread to make sandwiches with at lunch time. My kids salivate over this loaf when I use it for Peanut Butter and Jelly. I slice it warm, and the peanut butter sort of melts on the bread, and then we add several spoonfuls of our favorite strawberry freezer jam. There's nothing like it.

If you've never made strawberry freezer jam, I highly recommend trying it. One of my dearest friends and mentors gifted my family with a jar of it several years ago and we ate the whole darn thing in one sitting. It's like eating fresh strawberries, and tastes so much better than the cooked jam. We were instantly hooked. I can't imagine life without it now. You can get the recipe right off the back of a box of Sure Jell.
Here's the recipe for the bread:

Potato Bread
1 to 1 1/4 cups really warm water (I start with 1 cup and add more as needed)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBS butter
2 1/2 TBS Instant mashed potato Flakes
1 1/2 TBS sugar
3 Cups Bread Flour
3/4 TBS Dough Enhancer
1 1/2 tsp yeast

Mix and knead. Let rise for about 1 hour. Punch down, put in a greased loaf pan, cover and let rise again for 30-45 minutes, and bake for 33 minutes @350 degrees. (Baking and rising times may vary... I live at high elevation.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Harry and Mildred

As we pulled in the driveway from church this morning, we were excited to see two old friends of ours waiting for us in the front yard. Harry and Mildred decided to pay us a visit. Like many people in our mountain community, they're an old married couple who winter in warmer climates, and only grace us with their presence when things thaw out up here. We never know when they're gonna drop by, but we anticipate their visits all spring.

Harry and Mildred came to reside at their "summer home" across the road about four years ago. We have a large lake that we can see from our home, and a good sized pond that's filled from the over-flow of the lake. But Harry and Mildred don't like to flash their money around. They were looking for a much more quaint address....something more "cabin- like" with privacy and views of the countryside. Our water well has a valve that releases water several times a day. This water flows through a culvert under the road and fills a tiny little watering hole. When the watering hole overflows, it acts as a natural irrigation system for the pasture. This watering hole looked like the perfect place for Harry and Mildred to invest their nest eggs, so they bought it. They fly in every Spring and make themselves cozy.

Wanting to meet the new neighbors, Harry and Mildred crossed the street into our yard. There they found that we have a continuous source of gourmet delights beneath our bird feeders. Wheat, Milo, and Millet mixed with the occasional sunflower seed are all just there for the taking. We soon became fast friends, and Harry and Mildred come by for a snack almost every day. Our kids are VERY attached to them. In fact, one day two years ago, we were heading home from shopping, and right in front of our driveway......I almost can't say it.........Harry was lying D.E.A.D. with feathers all over the road. The shock and horror of it all was almost too much to bear. My children screamed, and I wanted to shield their little hearts from this tragedy. I wanted to back the truck up and pretend we never saw the "Hit and Run" incident. I wanted to turn back time and tell our feathered friends about looking both ways before crossing the street. There was so much sadness. For days, Mildred swam in the watering hole all alone, and every time I passed her, I wanted to cry, thinking about her devastating loss, and life without her Beloved. Then on the sixth day, I drove by, and low and behold... another duck was swimming beside her in the watering hole. I backed the truck up. I know that time heals all wounds, but SIX DAYS? I don't think she even had time to come to terms with her loss. I mean, I was still numb, and it wasn't even my spouse. The girl needed more time to heal! I couldn't believe the nerve of that new male duck, making a move on this vulnerable woman in her fragile state. He had no right! Harry's feathers were still on the road, for goodness sake! What about the proper mourning period? Evidently ducks have an amazing ability to cope with traumatic life events much better than humans, because they were an "item" immediately. It took me a good two months before I could even acknowledge this new man in Mildred's life. But over the years, he's began to prove to me that he's a pretty good guy.

The new Harry treats Mildred as if she's the Queen of England. He leads the way to the feeder, and then, like a perfect gentlemen, he stands guard, looking for signs of danger while she gets her fill of seed. Then, and only then, does he scarf down a few bites. He never leaves her side. And when she lays her eggs near the watering hole, Harry calmly sits on her nest to give her a break so she can get a bite to eat, and go for a swim. A good man's hard to find, but Mildred's been blessed to have loved twice, and been loved in return. I'm glad that after all these years, Harry and Mildred still come to visit us each spring. Their visits are always delightful, and we treasure our fine feathered friends.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I know it's not polite to brag, but this mama's got to boast just a little bit about my girl.  Today she was in a softball clinic. Her Daddy signed her up for a clinic for 8-14 year old girls, and she's a teeny little 7 year old.  She's not even old enough to play softball yet.In fact, she's still playing on her Daddy's coach-pitch Little League team this year.  But I mean to tell ya, she held her own on that field.  She's at least a foot shorter than the next shortest girl, and it didn't even phase her. (She's the one in the pink hat.)
She swung her little heart out with her tiny little bat, and smacked the snot out of that ball.
She hustled out on that field and did everything the big girls did.

Then at the end of the clinic, the girls got to hit against our local highschool team.  Three pitches, three hits!!!! She smoked around those bases leaving a trail of dust behind her.  I'm so proud of her! Way to go baby!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Daddy's Boots

There's just something about a pair of Daddy's work boots that makes a kid want to try them on.  Each of our three kids have gone through the phase.  Like a moth to a flame, they're drawn to the leather. First they stick their noses in the top to smell that lovely cowhide.  No matter how old a good pair of boots get, they'll always smell like a broke-in saddle. Next, our kids balance themselves against a wall to slip their tiny little toes into the enormous openings. At first they're in awe of the hugeness of Daddy, and can't possibly fathom the day when they'll ever be big enough to fill his shoes.  Then they grin from ear to ear as they take wobbly steps to try to dance with them on in the kitchen.  After a spin around the yard, or a game of Cowboys and Indians, they'll retire the boots next to the door, where they sit waiting for the next adventure.

Spring on the Mountain

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars. "  -Martin Luther

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sweets for my Sweet

     I love people with food. It's one of my tragic flaws. Whenever someone is mourning, celebrating, ill, or moving, I instantly think of some type of food to give them to show my love and support. I'm sure there are other, more appropriate ways to express love, I just have a hard time getting past the edible options. This becomes a sticky situation when someone close to me is trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Carrot sticks and salads are no fun to give. If it doesn't involve butter and sugar, than it's not gift worthy.
     Yesterday my Lover was working close to home. Whenever he's within a 20 mile radius, I like to do something special for him. He works outside all day, with his crew, in blinding snow, blistering heat, and gusty winds so that I can stay home and tend to our family. I feel so blessed to have this life, that I like to show him my appreciation every now and then. So I baked a double batch of chocolate chip cookies and dropped them off at his job site. I had my son deliver them from the truck, and we left with a wave. I don't want to disturb him, or take time away from the task at hand, so I do a "drive by" delivery. I figure that hard working men need a little re-fueling every now and then, and with plenty of cookies to share, I don't have to worry about my Lover hoarding them in his lunch box. I don't always bake cookies... sometimes I bring Thirst Busters or Blizzards if it's really hot; muffins or a hot lunch if it's cold. Anything unexpected will do the trick. I truly believe the old saying, "The fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
So I'd encourage you to do a little something special for someone you love. It will do your heart good!

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Sunday Morning Circus

Yesterday morning I woke up to perform my weekly duty as Ring Master of our Sunday Morning Circus. I'm sure we've all heard of accounts of the terrors of preparing the family for church, but I can assure you, everything I'm about to tell you is real.

It starts when the alarm goes off at 6 am. We have T-minus 90 minutes to prepare for take off. Because we are fighting the forces of evil on Sunday mornings, my Beloved wakes up and turns on some variety of uplifting Christian music...bluegrass gospel, hymns, or contemporary praise music in an attempt to wake everyone up in a worshipful mood. Instead of rising out of bed with a spring in their step, my children decide to put their grouchy face on. They wake up with their hair sticking up, covered in knots, with sleepy eyes and grumbly tummies.

This is the point where I was abandoned yesterday. My husband had to flee the house early to prepare to lead worship at church. I was left on a solo mission with a brood of three little vipers. I take a deep breath and enter the ring.

Crisis #1- My four year old doesn't want to wear the dress I laid out for her. She wants to wear a "twirly" summer dress. It's 39 degrees out. I bargain with her. "You can wear the sleeveless "twirly" summer dress if you wear a sweater over it." Done. Crisis averted.

Crisis#2- My 7 year old can only find one church shoe. We begin a tactical maneuver called,"Operation Sunday Search". No toy box is left untouched, every bed is searched under, and the dirty clothes hamper is dumped out "just in case". The shoe is found by mom in the shoe basket where it belonged. It only took 6 minutes of searching. Mission accomplished.

Crisis#3- I ask my 8 year old if he's ready for church. He comes into my room wearing a dress shirt with camo shorts. A protest ensues. "Go put on pants. You cannot wear shorts to church. You know better." He balks. Then he pulls the God card. "God doesn't care what we wear." "God may not care, but your mother DOES! Change now." 5 minutes of pouting occurs, then the outfit is changed. The crisis is mediated with only minor voice raising. I consider it a small victory.

I move into ring two of my three ring circus: hair dressing.

I quickly curl my own hair and then call the kids in one by one according to the complexity of the hair. My 7 year old is first up. I start to curl her hair. She whines. "Mom, I want it put in a sideways Princess Leia Bun with a flower." OK. That's a tall order, but I think I can manage. Then it's on to my four year old. She doesn't like the ribbon I put in her hair. She wants a flower. Tough Luck. She's getting a ribbon. Done. On to the last kid. He's tricky. He likes to comb his hair all by himself, and ordinarily I'm grateful for this type of independence, but today it looks as though he spit on his hand, rubbed his hair straight forward, and made a small ramp in the front. Trying not to be too critical, I ask him if I can tweak the doo"just a little". He rolls his eyes, and says it looks cool the way it is. I manage to wrangle two quick swipes with the brush and hope for the best.

We now move into ring 3 of the circus. Feeding time. I run out to feed the chickens in my dress. They proceed to peck at the nail polish on my freshly painted toes. Nice. I ask the kids to feed the cat, and the dogs. Done. Now I feed the kids. They want scrambled eggs, bacon, and cinnamon rolls. We're at T-minus 10 minutes 'til take-off. Not going to happen. One discovers a single cup of yogurt in the refrigerator. They all start to fight over it. I take the yogurt away and tell them their choices. They all choose cereal, but of course, 3 different types.

I run out to start up my big diesel truck, then come back inside to do the final inspection. No milk mustaches, no toys in the pockets, everyone has a Bible. Check. Out to the truck we march. Everyone gets in and I realize I forgot MY Bible. I run back to the house. When I return 30 seconds later, all three kids were crying and screaming, hair was misplaced, and three kids were all pointing fingers at each other. I can't believe it. I was sooooo close to leaving without any major disruptions. I pull out the big-guns punishment.

"You and your sister must hold hands for the 20 minute ride to church." I say eerily calm-like.
"If you let go once, you will have to continue to hold hands during the entire church service too."

Even the mere mention of holding hands with a sibling in front of church friends was enough to send shivers down their backs. They quietly held hands the whole way.

I walked through the double doors of our church and transformed my mind from ringmaster to worshipper as best as I could, trying not to let Satan get the best of my morning. There, my precious husband swooped up the girls, gave me a kiss, and all the horrors of the morning melted away. Another Sunday battle was over, and it made me appreciate all the help my husband provides when we all get to leave in the same vehicle. Jesus calms the sea, but I'm convinced He gave me my husband to tame the Sunday morning circus.

The Culprit

Remember a few weeks ago when I found this in my yard? Well, I finally spotted the culprit in the light of day. Now I understand why she was grazing on my grass. The poor dear was in the last weeks of pregnancy. Being a woman who's given birth three times myself, I can identify with the insatiable urge to eat EVERYTHING in sight during the last weeks of gestation. She has a beautiful day-old foal resting peacefully across the street. How Precious. Way to go Momma, you did a fine job!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Apple Praline Pie

Last month I was approached about baking one of my favorite recipes for a charity pie auction. Because I love to bake pies, and because it was for a good cause, I agreed. Today was the big day. I wanted to make a family favorite, and I did a step-by-step Apple Praline Pie tutorial for all of you. First I peel, core and slice 8 cups of Granny Smith Apples. Luckily I own this handy dandy contraption to make quick work of it.

When I make a pie in my house, EVERYONE gets to partake in some way. Here are my scraps from the apples, minus the apple cores.
After the peeling work is done, I have my kids feed the scraps to the chickens. They gobble them right up! They can eat everything but the seeds. The hens love a tasty treat every now and then!

After I've got my apples in a bowl, I mix 1 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup flour and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in a bowl.

I pour it over my apples, mix, and set the bowl aside so my apples can begin to make delicious juices while I work on my crust.

Next, I make a double pie crust recipe, divide the dough in half, and roll out the bottom crust.

Then I carefully arrange all the apple filling into the crust. It should look heaping, because the apples will shrink during baking.

Next, I roll out the top crust, put it on the filling, trim, and pinch the edges. The power's in the pinch. You've got to develop your own technique with pie pinching. My mom passed down her pinching technique to me. Because this pie is going to be covered in gooey toppings, I make sure to make the crust a little higher than usual so the deliciousness won't drip off of the edges.

I put a pie shield on the crust and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1/2 an hour. Then I take the shield off and let it bake for another 3o minutes. During it's last 5 minutes of baking I make the praline topping. It consists of butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 and 1/2. When it comes to a boil, I remove it from the heat and add 1/2 cup of pecans. (Walnuts are delicious too!)

I take the pie out of the oven, pour the praline caramel topping on and put it back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

Voila! A delicious pie from scratch! There is nothing better than warm apple pie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream beside it! I'd show you pictures, but I'm afraid this pie won't be devoured by my family. It's off to the pie auction in a few hours! A homemade pie made with love for the highest bidder!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Diggin' Ditch

With the arrival of spring, and all it's budding beauty, comes the beginning of our irrigation season. But before we can quench the earth with a much needed drink, we have the dreaded task of preparing the ditches. Rushing water, cattle, weeds, and winter snow all contribute to the demise of our waterways, and every year we (and by we, I mean mostly my husband) must renew the path for water to flow, so we can irrigate.
On the other side of our fence we have a large concrete ditch where we take our irrigation water from. This ditch runs for miles along the countryside, serving the water needs of many ranchers. At our scheduled time, we open our head-gate and the water flows from the "big" ditch into our pasture's small ditch. From here we control what sections of the pasture receive water by blocking off small culverts on the sides of our ditch. Irrigation is more of an art than a science. It's all about gauging the water, and guessing when to stop the flow. If the grass is tall, it takes longer for the water to run it's course, if it's rained recently and the earth is saturated, it spreads quickly.
I personally have a love/hate relationship with irrigation. I love how water can transform this wintry dead looking pasture into a lush green oasis in a short period of time. I love irrigating during hot summer days, when standing in the cool refreshing water makes wearing my hot black rubber irrigation boots more bearable. I love watching my dogs, and my children frolic through the pasture, soaking wet, having the time of their lives. And I love the peacefulness of the water as the sun reflects it's beauty at sunset.

I hate irrigating at 2am when I have church the next morning at 8am. I hate irrigating during a pitch black, thumbnail moon. The kind of night that you can't see an inch in front of your face. I hate night irrigation when I encounter skunks and wild dogs in the pasture, and all I can see is sets of glowing eyes all around me when I shine my flashlight. I hate walking through the ditch and coming face to face with a water snake. And I hate sleeping in the truck during our 8 hour watering.
But I love irrigation during a full moon when it's so bright, I don't need a flashlight to see. I love the brilliant stars in the night sky, and the soft rustling noise of cattle bedded down. And I love the exhaustion that comes from a full day of hard, physical labor. It's a gratifying task when you drive away and see a field completely covered in water. There's just something about working with earth, and water, and cattle that makes me feel alive and free.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Consider the Woodpecker

Have you ever thought about the complexity of God's creation and been in awe? I was reminded of the Lord's attention to detail, and intricate design the other day when I took the kids for a walk down the road. Take a close look at the tree below. Do you see anything different about it?

Here's a closer view. Do you see the thousands of tiny holes in it? That, my friend, is the work of a woodpecker. This tree is quite literally filled from top to bottom with these holes. The woodpecker pecks the hole into the tree, and makes it the exact size it needs so that it can fit an acorn in the hole.

Sometimes several generations of birds use the same tree as sort of a "cache" to store the seeds in. And they fill up every hole, one by one, with acorns.

By late fall, nearly every hole is stashed. Below is a close up view of some of the holes. If you look carefully, you can see that many of them still contain the fruit of the woodpecker's labor. Many times the woodpeckers must fend off predators who desire a piece of the loot.

There is something even more important than their amazing ability to drill a perfect hole for an acorn. Have you ever considered the way that God designed these wonderful birds? Beyond the fact that God gave them stiff tail feathers and two backward facing toes so that they can grip trees while they work, there is unbelievable speed and force with which Woodpeckers drill holes into trees. A woodpecker hammers at a rate of 15-16 times per second. One article said that this was twice as fast as a sub machine gun!!! The woodpecker's head is brought to a stiff halt during each peck that can result in a stress equivalent to 1,000 times the force of gravity!
So with all that force, how does the woodpecker not sustain brain damage, or a broken beak? The answer is simple. God thought of every small detail. The woodpecker is fitted with an amazingly strong and specialized beak that creates sawdust as the bird hammers. And the cranium and beak are separated by a spongy tissue that acts as a shock absorber every time the bird strikes it's beak against a tree. Man has never invented such an effective way of absorbing shock. Imagine that.
I could go on about the Woodpecker's unique tongue, and neck muscles, but I think you get the picture. If God, who is all knowing and all powerful, could design this fascinating bird with every precise detail in place, then how much more thought and intricate design is put into the creation of man? I'm truly blown away. Looking at life on the molecular and cellular level is mind boggling, but it doesn't take a microscope to get a glimpse of the greatness of the All-mighty God. His handiwork is displayed throughout all of nature. And even a child, on a walk with mom, can look up in a tree, and say WOW! God is AWESOME!