Saturday, March 17, 2012

Showdown at the OK Corral

It was bound to happen sooner or later in Choteau, Montana, despite all of our cordial ways.

Just for a little back ground. When one grows up in a small town, makes a career in a small town and retires in a small town, much is known about your life. You make friends, enemies, have relatives that fit in both categories and generally all of your political leanings, favorite dessert preferences, and dalliances are well-known. You can fool only the newcomer for so long.

That being said, the round table provides a forum for many long-time residents to gossip, reminisce, make inquires, or, on some days, politely ignore one another, despite being a mere three feet apart on matching chairs. It is amicable in here, most days. People agree to disagree or just sit quietly, thus disagreeing in the most obvious of mannerisms.

A rare treat was had, however when two men, whom have had a long-standing disagreement over whether oil development is good for Choteau, MT, finally let the steam blow. There was not so much as a courteous hello. They came right to succinct verbal blows as soon as their coffee cups were filled.

Left. Right. Left. Right. "Leave." "I will." "Stuff it." "I'll find a place." And so forth.

The irony of the whole thing, as I was discussing over my 5.36pm cold beverage, is that both of these men profit from oil development. One receives royalties and one owns land upon which speculation is occurring. They know this about each other and STILL manage to have an argument.

Ah, small town life. Arguing over nothing. Or the same thing. Whichever.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Light Came On!

Short but useful post for those raising feathered friends in the dark of northern winter. My hens, since October had not laid ONE egg. They had molted, clucked, grown up, grown out. They received lots of feed and love, but nothing was comin' our way. I consulted a local hen-raiser extraordinaire (she actually trains her hens to load up in the truck after a day on the range!) here in the feed store one day.

She asked gently, had I:
-given them plenty of feed full of protein, phosphorus and calcium,
-given them plenty of fresh water daily,
-given them alfalfa hay,
-let them out to graze,
-made sure there were no pests, or sickness...


I was feeling good, but discouraged. What was left? Was I stuck with a bunch of retirees, (we have a no-kill policy at our house, also known affectionately as "Jake's Chicken Spa")? Did I get a bunch of cross-dressing roosters? I needed eggs! I needed the high-standing, deep-colored, tasty eggs!

Then, she asked about a light. Why yes, I have a red light on in the coop.

Ah! White light, she says, you need a white light!

I had I left the red light in the lamp from when they were chicks and it was TOO calming. They needed 12 hours of bright, white light. Within 48 hours, I had six eggs and six eggs a day since!

We are saved! Rather, THEY are saved!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Falling Off the Wagon and Into the Apple Cart

My father used to tell my mother, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." The implied meaning was that often, movers and shakers have disciplined their time to get things done...add another event or project and it will merely be incorporated into the plan of action; no qualms, quivers, or hesitations.

I have two thoughts on this. One, yes. Two, no.

Yes, please give it to them! People who are effective multi-taskers do have systems and schedules, rapidly evolving priority lists and deadlines. For the most part, they deliver the goods as promised. Our society makes champions of these people and builds devices to sell to them to get more and more into their schedule. On the flip side, science is now showing us that such a pace is hard on the brain and body entire and prone to burn out these capabilities over time. They're encouraging us to do less and breathe more...for everyone's sake.

No, please find someone who is less-engaged! People who are effective multi-taskers often take on, or are asked to take on many interesting pursuits. At some point, the house of cards begins to crack under such continuous demands, if even implied. For example, have you ever gone up to a super-capable person and just said, "You do so much, we'd love it if you would just be a bystander for our next event." No! Why waste such talent?! Don't let them leave without signing up to bake cookies, sell tickets, show up for vocal practice, wire the sound system, or set up the gallery for the gala! Soon these cherished citizens make themselves scarce, fearing a commitment-request lurking about every corner and social engagement OR become very actively embittered. And conversely, by relying on few, many are left without meaningful connections or tasks.

We all have choices and the capabilities to say yes and no. In this last quarter of the year, I found myself in a self-induced contradiction. I declined an elected board position, twice. Then promptly signed up to bake brownies for a fundraiser, perform a small skit each Sunday of Advent, cashier at another fundraiser, host a holiday two parties, and then JOIN a new company while keeping my day job. I just can't quit saying yes and no.

What I've discovered is that a diversity of pursuits is what keeps life interesting. Being overwhelmed kills my zest for life and enjoyment of people. Now a year into family life, I have been challenged by my peers and worthy causes, family and myself: What defines a worthy pursuit? Further, what do my pursuits require of those around me?

As a practicing Christian, my life is guided my these two principals: Love God. Love others. Anything that gets in the way of these two things, simply must go. The dilemma I have faced is that worthy causes don't seem to tread here...taking care of others honors God. I can't say no.

In taking care of "others" so much, I have risked neglecting those closest to me. I can't say yes, but moreover, I began to understand a more basic tension I didn't see before.

I am now looking at a collective sum: the things I choose must reflect the priorities and needs of a FAMILY, not just myself. "Of course", you say, but I am late coming to this realization because for 18 years of my life, I only had to reflect upon a SOLO frame of reference. Presently, I have FIVE sets of needs, love languages, wants, talents, priorities, and schedules. How do I model consideration and sacrifice, if I"m still on the solo track? It really is a growing and challenging experience for me, this family life!

As we close this year, I find that I am less on the community "band wagon" and more in my family orchard, gathering life-fruits into our "cart". The gifts I am placing on that cart for my family, as we celebrate things "given" this time of year are:
a stronger focus on hospitality and less on entertaining; more outings and less projects; fewer evening commitments and more snuggling; fewer "things" (yes that means helping me sort!) and more relationships (that means helping me invite people over!), more voicing my desire to have you "join me doing 'x'" and less frustration leaving for an event, solo.

May your cart, dear reader, overflow with true essentials this next year.

Happy Christmas to all and have a healthy new year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Sunday at My House

Many parents approach Sundays with a certain amount of trepidation. It's usually the day that the children drop bombs such as "I need a dozen cookies", "My science project is due", or "I need my uniform". With a few deep breaths, then, we commence gathering resources to save our little charge from whichever impending doom threatens their existence.

For my household, our "bomb" arrived with a twist of delight. Saturday afternoon, just after learning how to make incredible apple pies, I got an excited call from my husband, "our son got his bull elk". We both laughed. It was opening day of rifle season and our eldest son had gone hunting alone in the area from which his father and grandfather had pulled many animals. We were delighted that he had demonstrated great skill and safety and that our freezer would soon be full. We were also anxious about what that meant for our immediate family schedule.

Soon enough it was clear that at least a half of a day needed to be set aside to collect horses, travel to the mountains and ride/hike in to the kill site. Normally, I just pack lunches and make a hearty dinner for the retrievers' return, but on this day, I was asked along.

Four-thirty is an especially early hour for me, a night owl. It was raining lightly besides...all good reasons to politely refuse the journey and crawl deeper under the down comforter. It was his FIRST solo hunt, however, and more hands would make light work, so... I downed my coffee while making breakfast burritos, packing sandwiches, fruit, and water.We drove off into the dark,horses in tow, clouds just lifting to show a blanket of stars and a crescent moon.

Rumbling to the trailhead, we quickly unloaded the horses and put on our bright orange vests. Heading up through aspen groves, over hills, and into the pines, daylight began to break. Our son was on foot, and well-ahead of us with the dog, so full of excitement and adrenaline!

We reached a too-steep point and I agreed to sit with the horses. It had continued to spit rain, so I was glad to have the opportunity to dry out in the new sunlight and to read quietly while they relocated the carcass. An HOUR later, they had looped around and were 100 yards from me! The bad news was that the goose-chase across the mountain had put my husband in a less than pristine mood for butchering. The great news was that we could get the meat loaded right on the horses and wouldn't have to drag anything out.

For the next couple of hours, butchering and loading commenced. As is often the case, spit spat between father and son peppered the activity (as anyone with a nearly 18 year old might appreciate). I am a sensitive soul, so you can imagine the emotional stress I incurred listening to the banter while helping ready the quarters (I am not a hunter, so blood and bone can be intimidating). We managed to take a break to eat our meager pb&j and talk about the landscape and great hunts past.

We led the horses out, a six on six rack proudly atop the load, talking with each hunting party we met. The sun, now having fully chased the clouds away, shone brightly on golden aspen groves, orange birch, and fragrant pine. Footing was slick, so what might have been a quick descent was slow and arduous, but with light hearts, it didn't seem too painful.

We rolled into the check station at four in the afternoon, a MERE 10 hours since we had first passed it in the early hours. As the biologist measured the various characteristics and interviewed our proud hunter, I felt as if I could crawl under the pickup and fall asleep, dead. I was hungry, (we should have packed at least two meals) tired, sore, and needing to get off my feet. I don't think I've seen a wider grin on my son or husband.

Even as I write, I can feel all the major muscle groups in my body. It is that feeling of accomplishment, however that keeps me smiling and not whining. Our son demonstrated that he, however imperfectly, can provide for himself. It is a proud, albeit Sunday, moment.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Happened One Day in Montana: A hunting story.

I had heard this story each fall, but finally had a "from the horse's mouth" retelling this past week.

"One year, not too many years before my dad died, he packed into our usual hunting camp, back in the Rocky mountains. It was a popular area with nice meadows providing shelter and game to private hunters, hunting parties and outfitters.The area looked like a small village at night with all the lanterns and fires politely spaced across the mountain side.

Dad always liked to drink in camp. Most men do and we joined him for beverages and story-telling. Next morning would be opening day for elk season, so everyone turned in for the night.

The next morning, before the sun had cracked the horizon, the whole meadow was suddenly jolted from their beds by the sounds of gunfire going off like mad. Except it wasn't gunfire. It was dad, standing at the edge of camp, lighting off fireworks and having a great, intoxicated chuckle.

Naturally, the elk were gone for the day, thanks to his untimely prank. Nearby hunters and outfitters promptly made it clear, as they showed up in camp, there was to be no more folly. This was serious business (as he well knew).

The day came and went and sure enough, next morning, Bang! Pow! Bang! and everyone knew, it was NOT gunfire claiming the first trophies of the season. Despite his pure thrill, the hunters scrambled up to our camp. They were HOT and news somehow made it to the flats in a hurry. Rumors flew of gunfights and exchanged blows...things were escalating in a hurry.

Later that afternoon, riding up the trail came three law enforcement: the county sheriff, forest service law enforcement, and the game warden. They set up below my dad's camp and called out, 'Herbie, come out with your hands up!'"


That sort of mischief has never visited the mountains since, but every year, it visits our little round table in lore. We remember a former community member and the memories he left for us to enjoy over our morning coffee as we slip on another layer of clothing and greet the new season.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Nicest Compliment

I was speaking to an elite urban gentleman who happened to be drinking our humble feed store coffee. The dredges, really, at four in the afternoon. (He had some class to drink that and not frown!) When I mean elite, I feel qualified to say that a leer jet and personal driver put a person in that category. Further,if that driver and jet land in my tiny-no-where town, it makes it an exceptional occasion, and his being in my store a bit of a curiosity. Starch is not enough to impress me, so I was anxious to see if a conversation would ensue.

He smiled as he poured his coffee. He glanced at the assorted empty chairs around the little table and asked what happened in this place. I talked about the "round table" and it's regulars that appear usually, twice a day.I talked about hot topics at the round table which included predator management. When he pressed further, I gave him a short lecture on wildlife management in relationship to agriculture. He found it hard to believe that wolves roamed the hills and bears wandered through town, but I assured him, it was a real part of our lives.I did not give a speech of note, but it was all clearly, new to him.

He paused a moment and then said, "You're not from a round here are you?"

I laughed and described that most definitely this was my hometown. I had a bit of a leave of absence where I traveled and went to university, completed relief work, and helped farmers on several continents.

His compliment then followed, "You can't hide that."

I laughed and said, "So you weren't fooled by my jeans and work shirt?!"

He then continued to tell me that he works with a lot of rural folks around the country and that it was refreshing to have an articulate conversation in a small town.

I replied, "Well, I'm a credit to my people, then!".

As I thought about the conversation in the days hence, I still feel that way. I feel that my experiences in Choteau, Montana, as a young person, were significant. They have set me on a foundation. Whether someone taught me, gave me some work, bought the goods I was selling on a particular day (FFA fruit sales come to mind!), hired me, entrusted me with their kids, or fixed my bicycle tire for free...all of these things gave me a foundation and framework to build upon for the remainder of my days.

Anything on top of that, no matter how large or fantastic, is really still resting on that base. It's a good reminder of how important my job is as a parent, mentor, and friend to the young people in my life. (Okay, so God thought of the whole foundation thing first, I just extrapolated a bit!)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book #6: Where River Turns to Sky

I was not sure what to think of Gregg Kleiner's novel as the setting opened up in a nursing home. Was this going to be depressing? Dreadful? Guilt-inducing? None of the above, contrary to my first apprehension! A quaint, hilarious and moving novel about aging and dying in "your own way", it was a great way to end my summer reading program.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meandering Thoughts on the Prairie: Weekend in the Mountains

The school year always seems to begin too soon, no matter the date. As our family's last farewell to summer, we headed into the mountains near Glacier Park to camp and work and play.

August is not my favorite time of year in the mountains. I find the heat stifling and the amount of pitch and dirt attached to my body and clothes nearly unbearable. If there's forest fires it seems to intensify all of the above. Add some hard labor,( cutting and loading three cords of firewood), a couple of teen-aged siblings, and some hard ground to sleep upon and you've got a pretty crabby lady. That's the worst of it.

The best parts are unique and varied.There is a mountain spring near the camp, gushing mineral-rich, ice-cold water to pour over my head and into my body. The culverts flowing with spring-water beneath the dirt roads with afternoon coolness let the "boys" slide through and splash into deep water to keep a sense of balance in our days. The campfire roars largely to cook marshmallows and hot dogs, hot chocolate and coffee. The night is Milky Way blanket that tucks us in. It is unusually silent. Deer step quietly through our camp.

My personal delight this year, was in the berry picking. In my 36 years on the planet, I had only ever harvested a few raspberries and strawberries and chokecherries in the mountains. A few, not even a handful, I'd say. On this particular trip, my fancy was struck, not with the huckleberries on low bushes beneath the trees (I picked six exactly), but with two I had never seen before.

The awe in which I looked upon a glorious thimble berry, I have not had since childhood. These berries are a fairy-tale ruby red and plush. They emerge at the tops of their plants, above the plate-sized leaves. Their sweetness is bright, not sugary and has a hint of prunes and cedar. They look like a half-of a raspberry and must be a cousin as I stepped on the canes of last year's growth while grooming the plants. I fell in love with their brilliance both in the ease with which to spot them AND the fact that in each cluster of four or five berries, only one was ripe, therefore leaving a long season of picking for two and four-leggeds alike!

The delight continued when the boys discovered currant bushes burdened with large clusters of perfectly ripe fruits. We even found more on our way home...what a treasure trove!

As Sunday began to leave us, we packed up and headed toward the plains again. A mandatory stop at a tiny grill (which I remember eating at when I was just a wee one) to refresh with burgers and milkshakes gave our bodies some reprieve for their labors.

Summer is drawing to a close, but canning has just begun!

Book 5: Live What You Love, Notes from an Unusual Life

In the midst of reading new books this summer, I had to return to an old favorite. Written by Belinda and Bob Blanchard as a follow-on to their "A Trip to the Beach" best-seller, it is one of my most ragged-eared books.

These daring husband and wife entrepreneurs scare me to bits. They live boldly in the direction of their dreams and make a living at it (or go broke), but never at the same thing twice! In their opening letter to the reader, they write, "This unusual little book is a passionate manifesto: truly living what you love is a revolutionary act, a rebellion against the common and "usual" life."

It is written in small chapter or piece morsels, so the reader can pick it up and read any portion in a short while.If you're more like me...just take the whole thing in large gulps. Unlike some of the other "dreamer" books, I find they are the first to tie everything back to practicality, the "Big 4: passion, people, environment, and money". While it sounds like a buzz-kill, they have practiced their lives in just such ways with amazing results.

If you haven't had an encouraging summer read, pick this one up today! It has large print and pictures, too!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meandering Thoughts on the Prairie: Harvest

It's August in Montana. Translation: it's forest fire and harvest season here in the wild west. Thankfully, due to large precipitation loads in the mountains this year, the fires are not at full rage. We can smell smoke some mornings, but nothing clouds the view to the west, yet.

Harvest, none-the-less, is in full swing. Winter wheat fields, swathed and combined night and day, are just strips of golden stubble. Spring wheat is releasing its last shades of green, and vegetables are piled high at farmers markets. Huckleberries, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, and empty Ball jars crowd household counter tops.

Grain harvesting signals the "frenzy". Under threat of a looming end to summer, children kick into high gear, quickly completing all their summer wish lists. Parents pile up school supplies and look at their summer wish lists that will probably roll over to next year with a sigh. Hornets and horse flies seem to bite and sting with regularity, geese begin to gather, and the blue jays are back for some seeds. Creeks begin to dry up, reservoirs drain their last nourishment into fields of second-cutting hay, and houseflies seem to come out of every surface.

Even under midnight "dry" lightning storms, the ground air thick with chaff like fog, custom cutters move quickly in line to save the grain from moisture. The scene is spectacular: big, bold strobe lights in the black sky over tiny little lights moving through the fields. Everywhere, the smell of hot wheat fills the air.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Meandering Thoughts on the Prairie: Marathon Morning

Rarely do I rise before the sun. On this particular morning, however, I was in charge of Aide Station #7 on the Grizzly Marathon path ( In its 10th anniversary, my team could not be late to set up my sports drinks, water, and Hammer Gel.

Having gulped down an instant breakfast and made coffee, I roused my 13-year-old assistant, fed him an egg sandwich and headed off into the dark. Down a gravel road, across a river, and up onto the plains that lie below the Rocky Mountains we went bumping along in our family special, "the blue corvette" (imagine rather, a Chevrolet caprice station wagon that has been kicked by a horse once, hit by a deer twice and has a raceway rumble to its emissions).

In the dark, mind you, it is very difficult to find your station number, spray-painted on the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a port-a-potty to mark our spot as well. Of course for "safety", it was 100 feet off of the road behind a barbed wire gate, but if we missed that we had two cattle troughs further up the road to help us eyeball our mark.

We drug the gate open and repositioned the car, filled cups and began munching on our prepackaged cinnamon rolls. Within minutes, the first half-marathon runner, just at daybreak, crested the hill. We clumsily handed off water, spilling most of it down our arms. Ah well, it would get better.

We passed most of the time between 6am and 10.30am reorganizing cups, watching a ground squirrel harvest grass, and talking with runners. It was quite extraordinary; the runners would slow down and talk with us while taking refreshment. As we huddled in our sweatshirts, they stripped layers and threw them in the car.

A lot of our time was, however (with less than 200 runners in the race), spent visiting and watching the day open. I cannot deny that a more spectacular view can be had on a summer morning. The towering Rockies keeping vigil over the tumbling foothills that roll onto the lush range is a sight to behold at sunrise, no matter how long you've lived here.

True to the race's name, we had our visitor. At first glance a runner and I spied a four-legged coming across the hill towards our spot. It was facing us, so I thought it looked like a badger. While I probably need to check my eyeglasses prescription, I did not realize that the GRIZZLY bear was just far away, not small!

He was a good bear, probably 3 years old. Running, digging, standing up and looking at us (what creature wouldn't stare at the beholden sight of the blue corvette?!),he made his way across the field and over the race course. Soon the "chasers" arrived, two young men on four-wheelers in charge of course safety, to make sure that the young bear moved along, which he did.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book #4: What the Body Remembers

I knew I was ignorant about a lot of the world's history, but this book blew me away.

Set in pre-partition India (I do NOT remember even being taught about the partition save for Rushdie's Midnight's Children), Shauna Singh Baldwin describes the places, food, ethnic groups, spiritual factions, and politics surrounding two co-wives and their prominent husband, an irrigation specialist in the Punjab region.

The imagery is vivid and the perspectives personal and gripping. The author did well to have the main characters share their own voice, each in time. Faith (I had no idea what a Sikh believed), tradition, modesty, "face", birth order, locale, gender, caste, and British Empire oversight weave a rich tapestry around these characters.

(In an interesting twist of my own opinion, I am now very skeptical of Mr. Ghandi for reasons I hope you'll find intriguing in the book!)

I wish history books were written in similar fashion and I expect in the near future we may read something similar out of Afghanastan.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book #3: LAMB The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend

1. My sister-in-law gave this to me because she didn't get it read for her book club in Reno. 2. It's fiction, so if you think that the Satanic Verses or DaVinci Code or similar works are blasphemy, you will not enjoy this at all. 3. The author, Christopher Moore, did his homework. He doesn't miss an opportunity for imagination or punchline. He developed a very clever character in Biff the best friend, albeit one a bit over-sexed.

I was hooked immediately with the the opening paragraphs describing "Josh" (short for Yeshua) practicing re-animation with a lizard at the water well. Biff describes how Josh's younger brother plays with a lizard, smashes its head until death then hands it to his older brother. Josh puts it in his mouth and viola, it's alive again (to which best friend Biff yells to the inattentive mothers, "unclean! unclean!").

Imagining all the years between 2 and 32 in Jesus' life is not small feat and Moore conjures up an elaborate set of events, primarily surrounding some of the Messiah's first worshippers. My hat is off to him in this respect.

While some parts were tedious, others very witty, and some too graphic for my taste, in the end, it was a touching tale.

If you've got the stomach for it, give it a try!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book #2: The Enlightened Stepmother: Revolutionizing the Role

This 454 page "manual" was recommended to me by a personal friend when I married and joined my very single and independent life to that of a husband and three kids, ages 18, 16, and 12. She said with a smile and a hug, "it will save your life." Quizzically, I took her advice. I didn't think it would help me much as I was marrying a very loving man with very good kids. Good thing friends know enough to see the road ahead. :-)

Written by two stepmothers that conducted 95 personal interviews with other step-mothers, it has a wide based of experience from 20-somethings to retirees sharing their personal experience with blended families of any and all varieties and socio-economic statuses.

I had never envisioned being a "stepmom" in my life, just "mom", so one of the opening paragraphs got my attention directly about what I may not be observing so keenly around me: "We knew about the stepmothers in our books of fairy tales. They were the reason we begged our mothers to leave a night-light on. We knew they were ugly and evil and without feeling for other living things. We knew they had no fashion sense. Few of us probably knew any in real life, and we hoped they would never be any in our own lives."

The book continues on, describing experiences that were anything but unique. That's the terrific part. Many of the development stages in step-family life are predictable, to varying extremes, but predictable. Topics from self-awareness to marriage, current or future children to the wider parenting circle, holidays and weddings, finances and legal items to check, the book is an invaluable tool in thinking through step-family life.

For those of my readers thinking, "so what's the big deal about step-families, families are families!", let me give one example in my life that I also discovered in the book. Someone calls the female head of household for a dinner invite. The female talks to her husband to see when dinner with another family is possible. He gives her a range of dates. The husband then calls his ex-wife to see when the children are available for a free evening. She says she'll get back to him. The husband then calls the children (yea cell phones!), each individually, to check their calendars. He gets three rough dates from which to work, none of which fit his dates of availability. He then calls the ex-wife to see if there are any other dates. She looks ahead 3 weeks, 6 weeks...ah maybe next Wednesday will work if she releases the children from her pending engagement. The husband then calls the children back, individually, to confirm. If everything is a-okay...then I get the message of a date that works. And that's only if it works with my schedule and the family who extended the invite. This may take from 3-5 DAYS to accomplish. No kidding. And that's fast for us.

So, I've had to adjust my time-frame for planning. But what about financial obligations? Holiday priorities? Honeymoon? Date nights? Family traditions? Co-parenting with two other parents, outside your home and influence, most often whom have different life values? What if you have children from a previous marriage or want to conceive, foster, or adopt? What are your legal rights as a person, wage-earner, or survivor? Lots and lots of stuff....that's just great to think about, even if it doesn't fit a particular current situation.

I don't know that it has saved my life, but on tough days, it has saved my perspective. My step-children have been very open-hearted towards me and I have a good relationship with their mother. Their father is a good father and husband and I feel very loved. It is still a very complicated and hard path in each week.

I will be keeping this book in my reference section.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Old Time Remedies #1: Hole in the Radiator

One gentleman was describing his father's technique for plugging holes in a farm pickup radiator. I'm guessing this was pre-1970 at least. His father relayed, "Son, you just find some good, dry horse manure and crumble it in...plugs up right quick!".

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Time at the Feed Store: Priceless.

Chicken layer crumbles, 50 pounds, $15.50.
Black oil sunflower seed, 25 pounds, $18.
Barn cat food, 40 pounds, $25.
Pinlock offset insulators, $15.25/bag.
MuckBoots, $95.
Western Range Mineral, 50 pounds, $27.
Deer Out spray, $15.
Coffee, free.
Time at the feed store, priceless.

As I approach my third anniversary here at the counter of Front Range Supply, I have come to realize that much of my job lies OUTSIDE of retail. Away from ordering, inventory, bean-counting, trouble-shooting, making coffee,dusting shelves, weeding gardens, mopping the floors, loading feedbags, hauling salt, or stacking twine bales, lies my most important job: I am a person in a place that serves as a community conduit.

I am in the place where people pause after breaking news: life, death, and near-misses are all relayed here. Surprisingly candid conversations about marriage, parenting, divorce, separation, custody, finance, and local history are all had here. I am the voice on the phone for directions, wrong numbers, recommendations and quite often, locating a person (most often a husband) who is missing in action at the moment.

I stand near the coffee table, affectionately known as "the round table", where matters of calving illness, cereal crop pests, spirituality, politics, and ALWAYS the weather, are discussed. It is a most cordial environment when two long-opposed individuals, rather than argue, just sit side by side and ignore each other, one quietly taking his leave after a bit.

It is on our front sidewalk that children make chalk drawings and women watch our flower and vegetable plots with anticipation of what colors and foods will emerge this late summer. Dogs on their daily walk stop for a treat and walkers pop in to use the facilities or take a breather.

It is in the creek that runs along side of the property where ducks nest and water-lovers swim, float, fish, wade, and picnic. Truly life flows in this place.

"Clerk" is a word that both over-describes and under-describes my occupation. My job is more than a paycheck and less than a career, but it has been thus far, a wonderful way to use my education, my passion, and to keep my extroverted self, fully satiated.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book #1: Outwitting Squirrels, Second Edition

The sub-title, by Bill Adler, Jr., aptly gives the plot away: "101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Bird feeder by Squirrels." It could, quite aptly, also describe a lot of taxpayer sentiment towards their representation in D.C. THAT book has not hit the bookshelves however, and I shall keep my comments to the former.

Firstly, the book was a freebie at a garage sale here in town. I had nothing to lose on a bad read, so I was pleasantly surprised at my amusement in the reading. I knew nothing of squirrel behavior and probably would classify myself as an amused observer of all squirrel antics. (I have, and there are photos to prove it--gasp--, inadvertently fed a chipmunk in a national park.) Since I live in a home surrounded by fruit and softwood trees, however, I find myself really loving the songs of the day that come from the branches. Additionally, the development of a woodpecker family next just near the front porch had piqued my interest in feed some additional delights to enhance the accommodations of my feathered neighbors.

Secondly, it is equal parts laughter and science. On the laughter side, Chapter 8 lists among the 101 Stratagems, "Dig a moat around your feeder. Fill it with piranha" and conversely, "Employ patent #4637164 for a squirrel guard by inventor Harold O. Brown." On the science side, or rather scientific method side, Chapter 5 rates the top "squirrel proof" feeders on the market.

Filled with anecdotal remedies such as Teflon spray to coat wires and poles to just providing a feeder FOR squirrels as they are just plain lazy and will fall for an easy diversion, it is a good read on man vs. nature.

I will have a 3 star rating for this summer reading program. I give it 2 stars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Challenge: Six Books and Summer Reading

“Studies suggest that children who read as few as six books over the summer maintain the level of reading skills they achieved during the preceding school year. Reading more books leads to even greater success.” - Allington, Richard L. and McGill-Franzen, Anne. “Bridging the Summer Reading Gap,” Scholastic Instructor (2003, May/June)."

Children model what they see, so I am challenging myself and anyone reading this to read SIX books in the next 90 days. They don't have to be classics, 2 inches thick, or an "Oprah" pick. Read something that intrigues you, relaxes you, instructs you, or entertains.

Additionally, I am volunteering to introduce children to West Africa at our local library story hour. I challenge my readers to find a similar outlet. Show kids we're excited about the world of words and what we can learn!

You'll earn bonus points if you get a child in your life,( children, step-children,nieces, nephews, cousins,and neighbors all count), to read six books--hopefully more!

I'll keep you posted on my reading list and I am excited to learn about what you're reading. Remember to use your public libraries and inter-library loans so that it costs you nothing to "see the world". Additionally, you can download, for FREE, audio books and Nook books at most Montana public libraries (Kindle to follow suit later this fall).

Keep me posted!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Week 15: To Infinity and Beyond

Yes, I skipped week 14, mostly because the few hours of sunshine each day between rain showers, has called my name loudly.

We will bring all "official" events to a close this week. Done are lectures, little blue books, and mandatory fitness classes. And just in time...I think I must have a 16 week attention span for this sort of thing, or else university studies warped my attention span to fit in tidy 16 week segments.

Once per month, until November, we'll still gather to weigh and compare notes. This is, after all a lifestyle program...what can we CONTINUE to do from here on out? I was reminded of this when a friend recently told me of his weight loss program. He is very happy with the amount of weight he's lost, but he's hating life. No this. No that. The joy has left him, and I predict, soon this fabulous plan will follow.

It is still hard to listen to "fast loss" programs. I'd love to be in a different jean size in 6 weeks, but I'd also not like to be back to square one in 12 weeks. I'd much rather stay under the blankets, out of the rain, and lacking a few layers of clothing as opposed to hitting the pavement, trail, or pool. But, I'd also rather stay off of blood pressure meds, cholesterol meds, and away from insulin needles.

Instead, I choose moderation. I get moving most days rather than just being a weekend warrior. I cook more vegetables rather than less. I find substitutes so that food keeps its appeal for me and the family. I drink more water and less soda, eat more salads and fewer french fries, read more labels and stopped assuming so much about the food in my world,(the food industry is NOT interested in your health!). I do enjoy eggs and bacon on quiet Sunday mornings, and slice homemade pie smaller but skip the a la mode. Who is to say what's fashionable anyway?

I feel good in my skin and I find I have more energy for the tasks of the day. I've had to retrain my "stress-response" which is usually sleep, or immobility and just walk instead. This has been hard, but I find that I have more company these days: friends, husband, kids, or dog...turns out everyone likes a walk!

The most important aspects of this program for me have been:
--thinking critically and long term about movement,
--thinking critically and holistically about food intake,
--thinking critically about my decisions and how they influence my family,and
--increased my desire for long-term health and vitality.

Thank you for sharing the journey of "beginnings". I hope you've considered making choices that will positively impact the long-term goals of your life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Week 13: Let Them Eat Cake!

We are 2/3 the way through the learning experience of lifestyle change: 12 weeks of class, 8 weeks of intentional movement, 12 weeks of documenting our intake. We have sorted cupboards, taken to writing notes to ourselves when dining out, and in general lost weight, become more flexible, and gained confidence in our new direction.

(A fun fact: for all the people in the cohort, those who have written down every morsel of intake, they have achieved a median weight loss of 10 pounds; for those who have opted out of the food diary, a mere 1.5 pounds.)

In the next 1/3 of our time in class, we are focusing our efforts on life "from here on out". How will we stay motivated? What will be our challenges? Where will we seek support and information?

The question for me is, how will I continue to find creative and flavorful ways to feed my family? This is particularly challenging on the dessert side of life: we really enjoy a sweet treat and we adore the flavor of chocolate!

I have tried many "diet" desserts in life. Many have failed the palatability test, save for whole fruit sorbets. I discovered an online site CookEatShare and decided to give a double chocolate cake recipe a try. I LOVE it! It is chocolate beyond chocolate, moist and beautiful! I share it here with a few of my "tweaks". If prepared in a 9 X 13 pan, cut into 12 pieces for 3-5 GRAMS of fat per serving, depending on how low of a "light" margarine you can find.

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Using nonstick spray, grease the pan, then flour with cocoa powder.

3. Combine dry ingredients:
-1 1/2 cup sugar
-1 3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
-3/4 cocoa powder
-1 1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 1/2 tsp baking powder

4. Add to the dry ingredients, one at a time and mix for 2 minutes:
-3 eggs (they called for 4 egg whites, but we raise our own eggs and I had no plans for the yolks, otherwise)
-1 cup skim milk
-1/2 cup applesauce, no sugar
-2tsp vanilla

5. Add one cup boiling water and mix thoroughly.

6. Pour into pan and bake 45-60 minutes (their recipe said 35-40, but I still had soup), or until knife inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool completely.

7. For the frosting cream together:
-4 TBSP light margarine (I used Brummel and Brown with yogurt)
-2 TBSP plain nonfat yogurt
-Mix together 1/2 cup cocoa and 2 cups powdered sugar and then add slowly to the creamed butter and yogurt ( I use a mixer, so this is easy).
-Add 3 TBSP skim milk and 2 tsp vanilla until reaching desired consistency.

Frost happily. Enjoy the fact that you can have your cake and eat it too with a glass of ice cold fat free soy, milk, coconut, or other choice of "wash it down goodness". Share abundantly! Serves 12.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meanwhile Back In the Garden...An Early Start

Spring is trying to get its engine started here in the north country. The winter wheat has risen a few inches, the rain is puddling and the trees are budding. One small, teensy-weensy complication has arisen is that the temperatures have failed to rise and frost was on my windshield just this morning.

Hence, Plan B. I attended a community gardening clinic in recent weeks. Topics from soil texturing to vegetable cultivars, preservation to planning a plot, composting to making your own soil base were covered. My favorite tidbit involved recycling berry containers: the plastic or paper mache' variety that carry supermarket goodness.

Here in the feed store we have stunning picture windows that face south and east, maximizing daily sunshine exposure. Usually we complain about the heat and brightness, but this year, we decided to make it work for us.

Using the berry containers, I mixed up Mel's Mix, (wetted equal parts compost, vermiculite, and peat moss), and filled the containers. Next we selected vegetables that we knew we'd eat: tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, radishes, onions, and sweet peas for pretty. Each morning we spray them with a spray bottle of water. If we have saved the tops of the berry containers, we put them on for extra heat and water trapping, if not, they have the open air.

We have all plastic containers, but if you are using the paperboard boxes, you have the added bonus of not disturbing the roots when transplanting: just pop the box, plant and all, into the ground. BE SURE TO COVER COMPLETELY with soil, otherwise the cardboard will wick water AWAY from the plant.

To date, we have 12 tomtato sprouts, 6 cucumber, 13 radishes, two sweet peas, and an onion. (With the onions I'm just trying to grow green ones, not full-sized.)

Hoping that gardening will stay on track this year...we'll keep you posted on the "window view".

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week 11: Part Two, The Mother In Law Test

A short but sweet moment this week was when my mother-in-law, offering to cook dinner on Mother's Day, asked if I would please bring the mashed potatoes. As in the mashed potatoes that I had anguished over at Easter, full of good things like salt, and pepper, and low-fat sour cream, sans the stick of yellow-rich butter. Those potatoes.

They were simply delicious, like none other, said she. I felt both honored and relieved. Honored that my food would join hers at the dinner table and relieved that my slight of hand, thought by me to be less than perfect, was now a family preference.

I'll take victories, however small!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Week 11: Re-framing and Breathing

Coming off of the season of Lent in which I had been reflecting on "forgiveness" and "reconciliation", I was none too astonished that the theme would continue from my introspective life and into my health classes. When it rains, it pours, no?

Mind you, it was no sermon, but a practical look at our dynamics, in human bodies and brains, that alternate between rousing the senses and body and restoring the rhythm, flow, and healing.

Most Americans, big surprise, function highly on the sympathetic side. This is the high stress, high movement, lots of worrying, lots of adrenaline side of our lives. All the stimulation leaves us primarily imbalanced, but also prone to cycles of the aforementioned; as in, the more you stress, the more likely you are to stress.

On the parasympathetic side of our system, is the yang to sympathetic's yin. This is the restorative sleep, no panic-attack, good growth and healing side to our lives. This is the "take a deep breath" side. This is where we "let go".

Turns out this yin and yang in our bodies carries over into our emotional lives and gives us choices. If someone cuts us off in traffic, we can REACT (thoughtlessly and instantaneously)by giving a half of a peace sign, swearing under our breath or retaliating with a deft NASCAR crash move. Conversely, we can RESPOND (thoughtfully and with delay)and say, "wow, they must need to be somewhere soon", and carefully brake to avoid an accident, thinking nothing more.

Our choice to respond or react has PROFOUND impact on how we perceive future events. If we were able to respond to an unexpected occasion, the event is here and gone. If we were reactionary, however, our body chemically codes and encapsulates the event, cleverly storing it away for future use. When we then physically have an event in a particular area, say a knee sprain, and there are chemical memories stored there, we relive the feelings of the previous event, even though that event wasn't PRESENTLY occurring. Yikes. Stress upon stress.

This would explain, however, something I had been quietly experiencing in workouts. "Mornings with Syd" cover the gamut: we run/jog/walk, practice interval training, slowly move through Pilates and yoga, do a few XP90 moves, grab weights, use our body mass, or do traditional things like jumping jacks. We also work on balance.

I have a hard time with balance because I have chronically injured my right ankle. Everything on my left side has had to work like a dream to compensate for the less-than-capable right side. While we were (successfully) practicing "tree" in yoga moves, one-legged stork-stands essentially, I would feel very emotional. It was brief but significant each time. Each time that ankle DIDN'T fail me, it was emotional in the same way it was negatively emotional each time I had pain in the past. The stretching of my physical and psychological abilities was producing an event that was releasing that memory of failure and everything I had associated with in through the years.I have been having to choose my RESPONSE to this emotional moment in my workouts.

Reactions cater to the fight/flight sympathetic side. Responses cater to the relax, be well, parasympathetic side. Both are necessary, yet we often fail to "restore" in our hectic days. Often every unexpected, potentially negative event is met with a reaction: "jerk!", "the sky is falling!", "why me?!", etc.

We, have however, a very unique ability to turn a negative event into a non-event through "re-framing". Some people grow up in cultures of re-framing and it comes as second nature. Someone cuts them off in line, and they say, without a hint of sarcasm, "my you must be in a hurry, please go ahead of me." Another eats a whole box of Girl Scout cookies with ice cold milk and after remembering her fat gram goal for the day says, "I'll go for a walk now and do better tomorrow."

How does this fit with forgiveness? For me, a particular series of interpersonal events has really jaded my perception and willingness to do certain tasks. I am experiencing small chemical releases when I go to complete these tasks and the resulting negative reactions to it. I am tired of the same reaction, the negativity, and the lack of "moving beyond". My goal this month is to "re-frame" those events in order to make them both non-events and to let them go.

In the meanwhile, we were taught a very simple exercise to do when our yin and yang were falling out of balance, (also helpful for panic attacks, waking up, going to sleep, etc.), called 4-4-8.

Sit calmly in a chair. Slowly inhale through the nose to a count of four. Hold the breath to a count of four. Release the breath through the mouth to a count of 8. Repeat 4 times and then resume breathing normally for a bit. You can repeat frequently, just be sure to return to normal breathing. It resets your parasympathetic responses and gives your body a wonderful dose of oxygen.

While I'm breathing, I know I'll be re-framing and relaxing and looking forward to better days, no matter what lies in them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Week 10, Part Two: Monkey See

Perhaps the MOST critical part of decision-making while preparing and eating foods, happens long before we ever "think" about anything. Standing on a chair while mom, gramma or auntie made pies, bread, salad, cookies, or carved a turkey was a right of passage. I was absorbing techniques, measurements, and most importantly, ingredient quantities. This had not occurred to me until I was preparing my first holiday meal, solo.

On all other festive family occasions, I would be a part of the process. Perhaps I assembled the relish tray, or warmed the rolls, brought a Greek salad, or cooked a hunk of meat. For this Easter meal, however, it was all mine: meat, potatoes, relish, and punch, coffee and cake.

Being mindful of my new lifestyle choices, I selected a lean ham. I made veggies without dip, omitted crackers and salami, and made punch without sugary soda (juice and soda water worked perfectly!). I mentally divided up every one's plates: half veggies, one quarter starch, one quarter protein. I put unsalted butter on the table (I noticed people use less when it's unsalted). I put a glass of water at everyone's place. I added a few family traditions, one being banana salad and one being the egg hunt,(eat and then get moving!), but an hour before we sat down, I sat looking at my meal-to-be.

As I stood over a steaming pot of potatoes in the mixer, I thought about how the women in all of my families had made mashed potatoes. I had WATCHED them add a full stick of salted butter, salt and pepper, and milk to fluff. I loved these potatoes. These are the potatoes I longed to make, to eat. Yet, as my children were watching me make food, (they're always watching, no?), I knew I wanted to start a new tradition. I wanted delicious potatoes, fluffy, and creamy, but I did not want to clog anyone's arteries. I wanted to give them good things, including a healthy life.

I put the butter back in the fridge and grabbed light sour cream, salt and pepper.In one swift movement, delicious potatoes emerged from the bowl into the serving dish with white gravy with skim milk, on the side.

The day was full of delicacies which I wanted everyone to delight in: deviled eggs, chocolate cream pie, new wine, lemon curd cake, French roasted coffee, the company of one another, and a beautiful day to hunt eggs. Omitting butter from the potatoes was insignificant to everyone but me...I had changed the course of my family in one small, but significant move. I have to admit, it was a quiet, emotional moment.

It has caused me no small amount of thought about what I learned about food growing up. What have I been, if even subconsciously, been communicating to my family that was taught to me? What can I change? What will I keep? What are the goals in the preparation and eating of homemade food?