This Old Dog

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Backyard lilacs a couple of weeks ago

You know the old saying about not being able to teach an old dog a new trick.

And yet, you can.

Or an old dog can choose to learn something new if properly motivated.

With her hearing disappearing over the last year, Cleopatra has learned to watch our hands as we gesticulate at her. (This is usually done after calling repeatedly with raised voices that only the neighbors and horses can hear.) But she now follows the direction of where we point, which is usually towards the house to come inside for cuddles, love and play or bedtime, or towards her outdoor kennel for breakfast or supper.

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“What?”

Which is something new for a dog who is at least 13 years old.

And not that I’m calling myself “old” or anything but I’m certainly not a youngster. As I traipse through middle age I realize there are certain things I do that may make me seem “set in my ways.” Much of those behaviors are more to do with liking being organized and perhaps having a slight over-achiever tendency and Type A personality.

Like my color-coordinated closets and alphabetized CDs and spices.

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Its just easier this way, trust me!

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OCD-Spice-Girl

But I can also learn new tricks…

You see, I won an online cooking course through a local grocery chain’s “Monopoly” contest they ran this spring. I get carried away each year collecting game pieces, and choosing items and brands to purchase based on whether or not they could earn me one more chance to win big.

Each game piece can also be an instant-winner, which is why we have a plethora of table salt right now.

 

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There’s even more on the shelf above…

A little bag of flour, several small tubs of sour cream, bagels, a $5 coupon, photo prints and a canvas bag from Shutterfly… these are all the goodies this cheap Doukhobor and the cheap Scotsman she married coveted even though we didn’t win the million bucks or the dream home.

When I peeled back a game piece and saw that I’d won an online cooking class I honestly had no idea I would learning some new tricks this spring.

I looked the school up (Rouxbe.com) and it seemed reputable and professional enough but I still figured I would be watching a 15-minute segment on scrambling eggs. I had to claim the course before the end of May so last month, when Alistair was in Bismarck, I grabbed a pen and small notepad (you never knew, maybe there was an integral part of egg-scrambling that I had missed my entire life) and chose “The Cook’s Roadmap” to watch before whatever golf I had DVR’d was going to start.

 

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My course…

I’ll just say, we aren’t scrambling eggs.

What we are doing is learning! 10 Units, 173 tasks and 224 videos comprise this particular course and I am absolutely loving it! Its not even like I sucked as a cook- I kind of thought I was pretty decent, actually. Nor was I in a rut as I have always experimented with new recipes when Alistair isn’t here, sharing them with him when I figured I had nailed it or it was something I knew he would enjoy.

I had my classic chicken mozzarella, my alfredo, the onion-olive dish, artichoke chicken, spaghetti, honey mustard chicken, stir fries and big Montana breakfasts and generally all the food got eaten when company was here.

But now I’m learning how to create dishes on my own. I’m learning the why’s, the how’s and the not’s about cooking and I’m learning the basic science behind it all.

 

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Tools of the trade.

I’ve learned to embrace stainless steel and how to cook so that food doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. I’m learning about so many different oils, acids and salts and how to combine things to make my own vinaigrettes in used glass jars that I can use for mixing. I’m learning to use my steamer for a variety of different things and that rice can be so much more than a backdrop for other dishes. I spent last night learning a lot about grains, which I had always avoided because I had no clue what to do with them.

For a whopping $6 I roasted a chicken for Alistair and I the last time he was home that was as ridiculously easy as it was flavorful and simple.

The course focuses on health and balance and they offer non-course video segments on plant-based diets for general information.

More learning!

Its the perfect time for this right now because the weather hasn’t been very friendly for my golf habit.

 

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Happening right now.

Its grey, cool, dark and drizzly and while I enjoy suiting up with Alistair when he’s here and pulling the sides down with the heater on in Norman, it isn’t anywhere near as much fun by myself.

I haven’t minded the new Couch Time in the evenings with Sport and Bebe purring away while the instructor’s voice describes how to sweat the veggies (or, mirepoix) versus saut√©ing them. Or how to mix up the rice you’re going to Pilaf and which rice to use along with which aromatics to throw in there. And let the stuff rest for Pete’s sake! (Who knew?) I used to have a fear of rice. Just ask Alistair. Rice has always been his domain but now I’m ready to fight for that honor with a bounty of grains and techniques I’ve yet to perfect.

 

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I love learning. I also love island golf…

Which is another fun part of all of this- the practice. Like anything worthwhile I’ve attempted and tried to learn in life, I have had to practice. I couldn’t heat the pan to the right temp the first few tries any more than I could land the first axel I tried. Or the first suture knots I threw. Certainly not the first golf ball I tried to hit!

My vinaigrettes have been too oily, my steamed potatoes took way too long and my garlic got browned and sour the first time or two I’ve tried new methods so far. Even chopping with the Chef’s knife is an art form to be continually worked on.

I’m even loving the fact that I’m humbled by what I am learning. Not unlike the golf game or surgical techniques, there is always much more out there and my brain wants to grasp it and my body wants to master it.

 

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I didn’t learn how to be this overnight!

So I will happily, eagerly let my perfectionist, Type A self work her butt off to become a damned good chef! Just like I worked to be the skater, the veterinarian, the writer and the golfer. I continue to work at these things because I will never be an expert at any of them. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, especially if its something enjoyable. If its fun, then practicing doesn’t seem like work.

I do believe I’ll sign up to be a Rouxbe student after this free course is over. As long as I’m smiling and having fun and as long as I’m not poisoning Alistair, that is.

And who knows… if the LPGA plans don’t pan out in my future maybe one more hat to wear will be a fluffy white chef’s one. Maybe this old dog has a few more tricks up her sleeves!

 

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More things that took work, perseverance, patience and time…

 

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Celebrating my 3rd book this month with good friends in Seeley Lake!

 

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Another of my skill sets… stay tuned for a summer return to the coaching side of things for me!

 

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Practice, practice, practice back in vet school… ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running to Stand Still

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Gee, I wonder what I’ll be doing today?

The title is a line from an old U2 song.

Its an obscure song with a bit of a dark, haunted sound to it but I absolutely love it. Not that I really know what they’re talking about with some of the imagery but I get the point of running to stand still.

I’ve done this so many times in my life its not even funny. In fact, I kind of live that way.

I work my ass off doing a million-billion things (all with a perfectionist’s attitude, of course) all day or all week or all month long so that I can have that ‘ahhhh’ moment somewhere down the road.

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Enjoying that ‘ahhhh’ moment at our wintery ranch

I sometimes find it difficult to completely relax when there are things that need to be done.

When you live on a ranch¬†in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of animals there are a lot of things that aren’t negotiable.

It doesn’t matter that the snow is up to my mid-thigh this afternoon and that they are calling for another foot or 2 through tomorrow.

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Winter is here!

It doesn’t matter that I shoveled the deck yesterday and that my shoulders are a bit sore because the snow that’s laying on our already-bowed decks is heavy and it needs to come off.

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I swear, I shoveled this baby bare yesterday.

It doesn’t matter that Big Red is buried and that the controls for the blade are getting a bit finicky and that the wipers keep getting¬†iced up and I have to¬†stop to de-ice them and the¬†door isn’t shutting very well and¬†I’m only plowing today to make plowing easier for ltomorrow.

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Big Red. My 1996 companion who saves my ass every winter.

I love that truck.

He got all pimped out a few years ago with a cd-player, stereo and seat covers, the blade and a fix to the power steering.

Sometimes I tune in to Jack Johnson while I plow using Big Red… just for the irony of it all.

Lately, though, its Coldplay and Mylo Xyloto.

Para… para… paradise…

Because this is Paradise.

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One of the peaks of the Swan range just north of us.

And if I want to stand still and take some time to enjoy it, I have to work my ass off now.

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Our annual friend, The Icicle as he is forming. He goes through many adaptations each winter and he’s got a good start already this year.

There is wood to split, wood to haul, fires to keep lit, roads to plow, decks to shovel, roof tops to rake, snow from the roof to shovel, paths to carve out for little blind dogs, paths to carve out to feed horses, and ice to break open so the horses can drink fresh water.

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The path to re-make through the stallion pen to open up the water

Horses don’t get enough water from licking snow. Yes, there are old ranchers who think that’s acceptable but our stallion, Dash is getting older and he gave us a colic scare this year already so I’d like to make sure he has ample access to water.

Or even just a little bit.

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Dash, surveying my work as I take a selfie break from hacking away at the ice and snow.

I’m sure Dash appreciates my effort.

Trudging through the thigh-deep snow with a shovel and a huge mallet in my hands.

Heaving that damned mallet up in the air only to slam it back down again over and over, hoping the entire time that the ice I’m standing on doesn’t give way.

Shoveling an area for him and taking it down bit by bit so that he can actually reach the bubbling, gurgling, fresh open water.

And then feeding him about 20 shovels full of water because he still didn’t want to go to the creek.

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“I think you can take some more of this snow down….”

Its just stuff that needs to be done.

Like the hay in the summer.

All these things must be done and nobody else is going to do it if I don’t.

Unless Alistair is here- he gets a LOT done around this place.

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Alistair likes using the big boy toys!

But he is in Bismarck treating the 100s of sick folks who flock to the Walk-In clinic sneezing and coughing in his face for 14 days straight.

His own version of running to stand still.

He works his own butt off so we can continue to have the wonderful life we have.

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Its the good life!

So we can enjoy the Paradise we call home as well as our other favorite Paradise half-way across the Pacific Ocean now and then.

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November on Hawaii Island

I even feel a teensy bit guilty right now taking time to write this blog when I could be splitting wood.

I have worked on that guilt. I’m sure many writers have it.

I’ve worked on believing that what I write has meaning and that its my contribution to things right now.

Along with plowing, shoveling and clearing piddle zones for blind companions.

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Loki, checking out today’s freshly cleared paths

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not complaining one bit. I love the exercise and being outdoors and the fact that I truly am contributing to our greater good.

And we laugh and joke when we work outside together and I let the big dogs out and they romp and play in the snow and everything gets done and my meal tastes better and my sleep is often deeper because of the hard work.

Because I’ve been running.

Or shoveling, as it were.

To stand still.

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Cleo and Harry helping me shovel.

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“You missed a spot over in the corner, Mummy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Neighborly View

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Making hay

I had the opportunity to revisit what being neighborly is all about again on my most recent trip back to Bismarck.

I’ve had to go back twice within the space of 4 weeks to have 2 crowns created and then placed. One trip was by car. The other was by plane.

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the Bismarck herd

My seat-mate on the United flight out of Missoula was an interesting guy. Initially, I didn’t talk with him, preferring to stick my nose in my Sudoku book and read all about Jane Goodall in the in-flight magazine. Also, his travelling companion had THAT child on her lap.

You know the one.

The 2 year old who screams in the gate area. Then screams as they board the plane. Don’t forget the wailing during takeoff and then the incessant screaming during most of the flight.

It seemed best to let ‘Keith’ help his sister with all of that.

But then the screaming turned into mild burbling and the plane began its initial descent.

I started laughing, which Keith noticed.

“I’m laughing because the last time I was on a United flight headed for Denver we hit some massive turbulence and the drunk lady next to me woke up screaming and grabbing at me,” I said.

And so began a very neighborly discussion.

Keith, it turned out, is an intelligent guy. He studies corn and ways to make stronger crops grow in different climates and soils. He lives in Iowa (go figure) and travels all over to study and share what he learns about corn.

Then we talked corn sex.

Which was interesting. Weird, but interesting.

I blushed when I saw our corn rows in Bismarck… knowing about male parts and all…

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ND garden corn… the male parts aren’t showing

Part of my timing on that trip back was also to help Alistair with the hay.

We generally purchase large round bales to feed the horses but we also have a small 5 acre field that we put up ourselves.

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some of the gang

Haymaking is both science and art.

I knew nothing of this having grown up in an ice rink, living in cities most of my life but I have come to respect the knowledge, patience, timing and work that goes into making good hay.

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good hay on the ground, nice and dry

You watch the weather report for days, knowing you need 4 or 5 days in a row without rain.

You check moisture in the mornings and humidity in the afternoon because you only want dry hay heating up in your hay barn and you don’t want mold.

You cut the hay, letting it lay in parallel long rows of pale green with the occasional fleck of purple alfalfa peeking through.

You check for stems, you twist to see when it breaks and you curse at the rodent mounds that bung up your swather.

When the stars align, its time to bale.

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Alistair. Baling.

Our new neighbor was¬†eager to get on the baling bandwagon this year. They have just moved in this summer and he fully admits he knows nothing about farming but he’s super keen to learn. We told him how the neighbors on his other side all share the equipment and the labor with us- its what we have all done since 1998 and many hands make for light work.

And laughter.

And shared sweat and a common purpose to get the hay from our lands into our barns to feed our horses.

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the ND herd going for a run

New Neighbor’s wife was away but he said he’d be there at 1:30 to help. He said he’s like a machine once he gets going on a task and that he wouldn’t eat or drink until the job was done.

So, 1:30 the next day we got our jeans and sunblock on and Alistair started turning the parallel rows into neat rectangular bundles of dried nutrition. It hadn’t seen a speck of rain. It is good hay.

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One of many loads

I started loading up the trailer by myself because, as it turned out, New Neighbor locked himself out of his house and had to drive all the way back into town for his spare keys.

By the time he got back, the other neighbor had spotted us and joined the team.

Howard is a lifetime farmer who has helped us with our hay just about every year. Alistair helps him, too and we share equipment and labor and that’s just how it is done.

There is nothing like seeing a truck and trailer pull into your field when you are baling. Even if only one man jumps out, it creates within you the happiest of feelings, knowing one more set of hands is there.

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being neighborly

We got into the peaceful routine of lifting, stacking, driving and unloading only to stack again in our hot, dusty barns.

New Neighbor was sort of getting the hang of it.

Sort of.

He whined a bit that Alistair had the easy job of driving the tractor, pulling the baler.

I didn’t tell him that Alistair would have a kink in his neck for 2 days from watching behind him and that he would cough up dust for about a week afterwards.

I didn’t tell him how much our Ford tractor cost, or how fiddly the baler is when he whined some more seeing Howard take a turn.

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Random bale by the road

New Neighbor was no machine.

“I don’t know how old you guys are, but I’m really feeling being 30 years old,”¬† he announced during one of his many sit-down-on-the-bales-and-guzzle-water-that-I-brought-catching-his-breath-breaks.

“I’m 55 and I’m feeling it,” Alistair said.

“I’m 41 and I’m doing okay,” I offered.

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waiting to be picked up

I mean, you are and you aren’t okay.

There are moments when you wonder what a heart attack really feels like.

Moments when you think you kind of might want to die, actually.

But you keep going and you hop out of the truck and you lift another bale while Howard takes a moment to organize and stack what is already on the trailer.

Howard didn’t bother telling New Neighbor that he was in his mid-60s.

Granted, the guys usually let me drive the air conditioned trucks because I am a bit of a little girl but I still got out and hauled bales and stacked and sometimes I just had the windows open because I felt bad the guys didn’t have AC.

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Pretty girl…

Farming is tough work and its usually done on hot, dry days. But you just suck it up and do it.

Because its your land and they’re your horses and its free feed that you don’t have to buy and it hasn’t been rained on and, damnit, it needs to get done.

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Pretty mouths to feed.

We did New Neighbor’s field first and then we started on our field.

Howard’s wife joined the team when she got home from work. She brought lemonade because she’s done this with all of us since 1998 and she is a good woman.

We reminisced about when their daughters and my stepkids and the original neighbors in New Neighbor’s house would all show up with water jugs and bale hooks and goggles and same-old-farm-shirts and gloves and¬†work ethic¬†and we would work each other’s fields for hours and days.

We talked about how the kids are all doing now and how Kathy is looking forward to retirement.

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Happy to smile, even when we’re working our butts off

We stacked. Sweat beaded on our bodies. We unloaded.

We didn’t finish our own field that evening but got going on it in the cool of the morning the next day.

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Early morning before it gets too hot.

New Neighbor had to go to Fargo so it was just Alistair and I.

Howard desperately wanted to help but it was his one day of the week he watches his 18-month old grand-daughter.

He still came over so we could meet the adorable little girl who looks so much like her mother it made my heart break.

Howard’s daughter died a few weeks after she gave birth to the little one, which was the one thing¬†nobody talked about.

It didn’t seem neighborly.

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watching our neighbor

Tears mixed with sweat as I watched this tough farmer and his grand-daughter walk back to his farm in the warm morning sunshine.

There were a lot of unspoken memories shared as we heaved hay bales onto trailers and stacked them high into the barns.

Because that’s how it is on the farm and every year its the same thing.

Even if everything is different.

And we are lucky to have good neighbors, even the keener who struggled to keep up.

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the view down Friendship Trail

Our driveway is honestly called Friendship Trail.

We didn’t name it that.

We were the first New Neighbors on the block way back when.

And so, after two long hot days our barn is once again full of sweet smelling hay and we’ve reconnected with our neighbors and Alistair’s arms were dragging on the ground and we feel good but tired after such hard work.

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My view of my husband for 2 days

Meaningful work.

To quote the Rankin Family, ‘the hay… the hay is finally in.’

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a good exhaustion