Thursday, December 31, 2009

Celebration of 2009

Wow, what a difference a year makes!

Looking back over the past year, I'm impressed by God's tenacity to keep me right where He wants me, despite my longing to be anywhere else but there in the center of His will. I've battled distrust of my Leader and wanting, at times, to sail out on my own. But I stuck with Him and He with me and here I am today on December 31 in a place I know He's called me and in a place where I am happy.

January came with a flurry with me nestled in my mountain home in Silver City, New Mexico as the bureau chief for the Silver City Sun-News, a job that I loved very much and that I miss, even to this day. It's also the month I received my dream dog of a German Shepherd (Skye) and the month I endured the flu by myself. I also spent a glorious weekend in Albuquerque with my three youngest siblings and we did many things, including a visit to the zoo.

I had major car issues in February and was without a vehicle for nearly three weeks while mine was being fixed. It was torture, I tell you! February was also the month that I chronicled the positive reasons why I loved living in New Mexico, despite the trouble I had some days on keeping that positive attitude.

March started the moments of financial difficulties that led to this post and my subsequent resignation from the Sun-News.

In April, I spent two weeks at Mom's house before I moved to Kentucky. It was there I learned to trust and trust again. It was a process that would inevitably last the entire summer.

May saw no posts from me. Not sure why.

In June I worked at a summer camp for kids and it really impacted me in many ways. The main impact - the desire to work in that capacity with my family, helping people, helping kids. I was in the middle of loving my summer with Josey and wrote this.

I visited the Grand Ole Opry in July and in doing so fulfilled a dream of mine. It was a night to remember for sure! I wrote a lot about "my" kids that month too.

In August I planned and executed Josey's birthday party and typed this in frustration one day when I didn't know what else to do. I was feeling trapped, worthless and desperately wanting to run.

I was on the beach in September for my birthday weekend and enjoyed my first official trip as a beach-er (if that's the word!)

In October, things started to change, for the good of course! I visited Austin the first weekend in October and wrote a blog about the many places I've lived and the way they've affected me.

November, I went on a final adventure with "my" kids and came home.

And here I am. Home on the ranch and loving it.

I'll be ringing in the New Year with some of my family tonight and thanking God for His faithfulness to me in the past 365 days.

I really miss this person...

....and I hear she misses me too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Look at Holly, she's such a rancher-woman"

People who've never known me or my sisters as "farm girls" are surprised, I think, when they see us in that role. Or maybe they're not. Maybe they see us fitting in just fine.

For me, this work is normal. Different, yes, then my jobs as a reporter and in many ways (many!) I'm still learning and get frustrated when there's something I don't know.

But in the day-to-day backbreaking, time-consuming ranch work, I fit in comfortably and with ease.

My days on the ranch vary but always include feeding. Right now we're feeding 17 calves (they'll be shipped out soon), 6 horses, 5 sheep and 15 bulls. It consists of loading six bales of hay in the front-end loader of the tractor and delivering it to the respective pens. I also take my axe along to break the ice (sometimes about 4 inches thick) in all the water troughs.

Then, on days like today, I help drive up to two different pastures and feed cows there and check their waters.

On days like Monday I unload hay.

On days like last Thursday, I saddle up and help Daniel seperate two bulls and two calves off a herd of cattle.

On days like yesterday, I help pull, push and shove a sick bull up and help prop him up to walk him to a sheltered pen where he was injected with antibiotics and given a smorgasboard of food.

On nights like last night, I run down to the barn a couple times to check on him.


It's 11 p.m. and the hostess that I am, I've swept and mopped floors and cleaned the kitchen in my house, where three of our guests are staying. It makes me a bad hostess if I wake up my guests - a good hostess in that they'll wake up to a clean house.

Our family Christmas holiday started Christmas day (naturally) with the surprise-to-Katie arriveal of Lucas. The festivities continued with Emily, Enrique, and Kielea's arrival on Sunday, followed by John's arrival on Monday and our official Christmas gathering on Monday night.

It was pretty great, our whole Christmas Day.

Well, great in some ways. Not so much in others.

For one, I overlooked the leg of lamb in the freezer Sunday night so it wasn't really thawed in time for cooking. But cook it anyway we did! And it was ready 4.5 hours later.

Mom had to leave Sunday night to go get John who's truck was still in the shop. And Daniel left at 5:30 Monday morning to retrieve his major gift for Micah, 2.5 hours away.

So it was me in charge of receiving a semi-load of hay (eight 1-ton bales and 640 small bales) at 10 a.m. Monday.

Unloading it was a 4 hour effort that involved many people and lots of help.

In the middle of the hay, I ran up to the house and found out Mom was going to be 2 hours later getting home then she'd planned. So I made an executive chef's decision and we got the turkey and lamb cooking. Actually, Katie stuffed the turkey and was responsible for all things turkey and stuffing related.

Basically, we saved Christmas dinner.

We ate at 6 and gathered excitedly (adorned in ugly Christmas sweaters!) in the living room for gifts.

It was a perfect evening.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Expensive tie-out

Jada has been with me for four years and remains catastrophe-free.

I cannot say the same thing for Skye who has been with me for a year on January 14.

Katie, Evalyn and I drove up to the house last night about 11 and as soon as the headlights hit the tree where I'd left Skye tied out on her wire cable, I knew something was wrong.

Skye was nowhere to be seen.

Katie was talking about how she was going to take Evalyn inside and then come back for our bags. I had my door opened and was heading to the tree.

"I'm going to check on Skye then I'll be back to help," I was saying while walking.

I'd left the headlights on and after about ten steps, I saw the situation. Skye was hobbling on three legs, trying to come to me and yelping. I could see her right hind leg was bound in the wire cable and all I could see was red.

She was trying to come to me, yelping and screaming. I touched her head. She yelped louder and snapped at my hand.

"Katie!!" I yelled. "I need help!"

Pause the story.

Here's something about me: I don't handle injury well AT ALL. As a matter of fact, I want to run, flee the scene, let somebody else handle it and then tell me when everything is better. I don't want to see blood. I don't want to see flesh. I don't want to hear screaming and crying and yelping that I can't control.

But it was just Katie and I home. And I will say that Katie handles these things much better then I do.

For example, I approached Skye again, talking to her, and she was trying to get to me but every time she moved, it put more pressure on her leg and made her yelp so loud and crazy. I started backing up, waving my hands (because that's going to help?), and yelling at her, "Stop it! Just stop! STOP!"

"Holly," Katie said. "That's not going to help." Right. Of course, that's right. So I stopped yelling and got my head back in the game. I'm retarded sometimes. But I did just tell you that I DON'T handle these things well AT ALL.

She drove the vehicle over so we could see better. Skye had calmed down considerably and was laying down, leaning into me as much as she could. I was sitting beside her, petting her. Every time I moved, she moved and looked at me with her big brown eyes.

The wire cable wasn't just wound around her leg, it was knotted and twisted. Every time we touched it, she started screaming. Her foot was swollen about twice the normal size. We managed to get her unhooked from the cable and unhook the cable from the tree so she was free now, except for the binding on her leg.

Katie brought a pair of wirecutters and tried to cut the cable. Nothing.

We decided to put her in the vehicle and take her to the house. We drove down to the barn to get a bigger pair of wirecutters. We found some and went back to the house.

The big wirecutters?

Katie muttered a couple profanities as she clamped the cutters down the cable and nothing moved.

I was trying to not feel desperate.

I grabbed the phonebook and decided to call the emergency services of this particular vet I'd heard good things about.

The vet answered and told me to bring her in.

Katie said she'd go with me; I said no, stay with Evalyn.

The hour and 15 minute trip was ridiculous. It was 11:30 by the time I left. Every bump (and there are many!) and every crazy turn (again, many!) Skye yelped in the back and readjusted herself to keep her leg as still as possible.

The whole trip there, I saw NO WILDLIFE and that's amazing considering that when Katie and I had just driven the same road an hour earlier, we passed herds of elk, deer, coyotes and rabbits.

The end of this story is rather anticlimatic. I got to the vet at 12:45 (he was SO NICE!!), we got her inside and two wirecutters later for the vet and lots of grunting on his part, the cable was off her leg. She was really pissed that I put a muzzle on her and was very concerned about getting it off.

"She's not aggressive," I said. "But she did try to snap at me earlier."

"She knows she's in trouble," the vet said.

He examined her leg, (there was no exposed skin) said something about how her foot might fall off, and told the tech to take the muzzle off. As soon as the muzzle was off, she was nearly running circles in the room and jumping on me. He retracted his earlier comment about her foot falling off. She was obviously going to be fine.

Twenty minutes after we got there, we left.

And we passed an insane amount of night creatures on the way home. We got home at 2:45 and were safely in bed at 3 (after she ate a hearty dinner.)

This morning, she's fine. Back to her usual "high-strung" (as the vet tech called her) self and never, EVER!!!!, again will I use one of those stupid $20 tie-outs that ended up costing a little more then that by the time it ended up in 30 pieces on the floor of a vet exam room.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Man of the House

He's probably the only dog in New Mexico, maybe the United States, or even the world, who gets an apology whenever someone accidentally hurts him.
He's Zeb. He's old, he sleeps a lot, but he has been a part of our family for almost 11 years and he gets what he wants.
He was very angry and surprised tonight when, as he was sleeping in the living room, Elsie rocked own on his leg with the rocking chair.
He yelped and waddled over to lay in front of the couch, watching Elsie.
"Elsie, you hurt him!"
"I didn't mean to," she said.
"Go tell him you're sorry and make sure he's okay. Make sure you didn't break his leg!" said my little brother.
"You guys...."
"Elsie, you really hurt him and you need to make sure he's okay." That was my voice this time.
So she got up and went over to him, rubbed his head and told him she was sorry. He rested his head on her knee in forgiveness as she rubbed her hands on his legs to make sure he was okay.
Of course, he's fine.
And his trust in her must be restored. He's laying with his neck stuck under the rocking chair Elsie's sitting in again.
"Watch out for Zeb, Elsie," warned Micah. "He's under the rocking chair again."

Friday, December 11, 2009

As written 12/10/09

We lost power again Tuesday morning. Being on top of the mountain, we knew we'd be one of the last concerns of the power company as they scrambled to restore juice to populated areas - towns!

So we fueled up the oil lanterns, hauled in wood for the stove and ate dinner Tuesday night by the glow of the above-mentioned.

There are many conversations around our dinner table I wish we had record of. We cover topics from personality types (and thoroughly disect everyone's!) to dirty jokes to politics to Tiger Woods to the state of the media to sex to relationships to God to our past and on it goes. No topic is off-limits, even the ones I'd like to skirt around, like politics. I don't like discussing politics with my family.

The conversation started out light, each of us fixing our tacos and trying not to burn ourselves on the lamps. Then it seemed, in a matter of minutes, we were on this deep subject of life, of dreams, of past experiences, of places - each of us weighing in passionately with our opinions, the shadows and flames dancing across our faces, highlighting our animation.

We all spoke and we all listened. One person's opinion was not more important then another's thought at times one or two of us had to beg to maintain control of the floor.

"Please. Let me finish."

And we all hushed to let the speaker speak.

Then we all traded opinions and threw in our two-cents.

It went on for two hours. By the time we were finished, naturally ended by someone getting up to start cleaning the table and another moving away to throw wood on the fire, it was 9 p.m. and we all slowly retired to our respective places to sleep.

In the morning, over breakfast, we were still discussing, some of us having spent a portion of the night continuing our discussion in our own thoughts and dreams.

This is our family. We argue, we reason, we defend, we listen, we concede, we disagree, we joke and welaugh.

I wish you could be a fly on our wall at dinner time.

As written 12/10/09

"Mom and I got into a huge argument on our way home," I announced to my brothers and sisters when mom left the room.

Simultaneously, Katie said, "I knew something was up" and Micah said, "It was so stupid - like two little kids fighting."

A definition of cabin fever is irritability so what can I say? She started criticizing my driving, I told her I didn't appreciate it and even veered to the shoulder with a cool, "If you want to drive, drive!"

"It was just like a couple fighting," said one of our witnesses, Micah. "So stupid."

"I just leaned back and went to sleep," said witness #2, Elsie.

Admittedly I was laughing in the drak while we drove in silence post-argument. It was quite silly.

But we're made up now.

We left the mountain yesterday for a trip to Wal-Mart for supplies. Our county is in a state of emergency what with no power and all. School's been out, along with our power, for the last two days.

We have power today but who knows for how long.

As written 12/5/09

I'm trying to be the best ranch woman I can be. Many moments I feel helples and other moments I get pissed off. Then others, I'm just thankful.

I couldn't get the 4-wheeler OR snowmobile started today so I took off walking after I threw out the vengeful words, "WHATEVER. I'm walking to the barn."

That was a moment of being pissed off, because I absolutely despise it when machinery rebels against me. Perhaps because it reveals my true inadequacies at handling those situations.

"Why won't the tractor start?" I groaned yesterday, repeatedly turning the key, to no avail.

"The clutch," said my little sister. "Push it in."

Magic. That's what that clutch is.

I decided this afternoon to start the evening chore process early because I wanted to get it done before my brother came home. As a surprise, you know.

I decided to start with the biggest project, taking feed to cows about 3 miles from the headquarters. I loaded the feed up in the bucket of the tractor and set out, with my little brother following me on a 4-wheeler.

I'm not really sure what happened other then at the pasture on my way up to the troughs, the tractor quit working. Engine running, tires not moving.

We stared into the faces of five hungry bulls.

I dumped the minerals and slashed the bags of feed and left it there in the bucket of the tractor for them to eat.

If you haven't noticed, this is where the surprise starts going south.

For me, being a ranch woman means crying when you find dead livestock. So that's what I did when I discovered a young dead bull in one of the pens while we were feeding.

It was dark and I thought surely the black mound laying just inches from me was not dead - just sleeping.

Please, just be sleeping.

It personally hurts my feelings when the calves try to kick me when I'm trying to feed them. This hurt my feelings worse.

I swung a pick-ax through five inches of ice on a water trough so the bulls could drink. It's like one of the worst jobs ever, mostly because it's so exhausting, at least to me.

For me, being a ranch woman means that my house smells like cow poop because as soon as I come in, I strip my coat, coveralls, jeans, wool socks, boots and lay them all out in front of the stove to dry.

This is work, let me just say.

But at night, when we're all sitting around, eating, laughing, talking about business plans and dreams, playing games, discussing politics or the latest news, or talking about healing and the wounds of our past, I sit back and smile with pride. Really.

Pride because we've worked together to make it through another day. And pride because we never stop moving forward and laughing about it.

I'm the newest member to this team on the Mountain and I'm proud to be a part.

As written 12/3/09

I've been fairly good at keeping my written journal up to date but due to inclement weather and the lack of power for days at a time, I haven't had time to upload the entries...until now. So here it is, written 12/3/09:

I've been here 9 days and it feels like a lifetime. I catch myself sometimes wondering at this life I'm living now - the life of a mountain woman.

There are definite differences like the actual need to carry a knife with me at all times and creating a system where the wet clothes I take off are dry in time for me to put them back on.

I realized something tonight while I was doing the evening chores with my little sister. We had the six horses fed and hayed along with the 15 calves and we were in the process of driving hay to the feeder steer with the tractor when we passed Daniel and Katie on the snowmobile. They were loading the sleigh for their second run up the canyon to feed cows.

I waved and they waved back, our faces invisible thanks to goggles, scarves and hats. And it struck me, in those few moments between waving and me getting the tractor stuck on the fence, that not many siblings are living this life right now.

We made plans in the falling snow and 22 degree weather to watch a movie when we were all finished with the evening chores.

An hour and a half later, we were all safely back at mom's house, pulling off our hats, gloves, scarves, goggles, sweatshirts, undershirts, coveralls, jeans, wool socks and boots till we got to our dry layer of a long sleeved t-shirt and cotton pants tucked into our dry layer of wool socks.

We have this bundling up thing down pretty pat. To the point we're actually sweating in the precipiation and freezing temps.

My only regret is my sometimes lack of strength.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Manual Labor

We have 7 tons of hay stuck in the driveway and that's taken two days of our time and energy. Not to mention we have another winter storm coming tonight that's supposed to bring 3 to 5 more inches of snow, high winds and cold temperatures.

The hay's stuck on a trailer, jackknifed across the driveway about 4 miles from the house. It's been there since Sunday late afternoon. The trailer's stuck, the truck was stuck and so was the tractor but Mom and I managed to get the tractor unstuck when the ice melted. We also unhitched the trailer (with 7 tons of hay!) from the truck and got the truck unstuck too.

Sounds easy but the whole process took about 3 hours.

And, in the meantime, we hauled feed eight miles from the house to a pasture to feed cows at. We also have many, many cows, calves, bulls, horses and sheep at the house to feed and that whole process takes about 2 hours.

Let me just say, I am quite adept now at driving the tractor. And other pieces of equipment such as snowmobiles, four-wheelers, etc.

I have a post that I wrote the other night - I just need to tranpose it on here.

Good news for me - the shock collar I ordered for Skye came in today and I can't wait to shape her up! She ran 5.1 miles today. Bless her.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


She ran about 8 miles yesterday. In the snow. In 35 degrees. Across a (thankfully!) frozen pond (aka dirt tank).

And still today she's as wound up as she was yesterday morning. Will I ever find the end to this dog's energy?

It's irritating me today because I took her for a couple mile run and by run, I mean running between 18 and 21 miles per hour, and then I went down to the barn to let the horses out. I thought that since she'd ran that distance she'd be more tame around the horses and calves, who's she's hopefully learning to tolerate. Not so much.

So that's frustrating because I don't think I'll ever be able to trust her completely.

But then I think it's a matter of that thing exactly. Me trusting her.

Yesterday she ran after some cows. I was instantly sick. I was yelling at her and surprisingly, she came back. But I didn't even notice that - I was so focused on the fact that she'd run after them.

"You called her off," Daniel said. "That's great!"

You're right. I did. So when she ran up to me, very happy, I patted her and congratulated her.

But I still don't completely trust her.

Maybe it's because she ran away from me for 2 hours. I don't know. Maybe it's because I really love her and I don't want to lose her. But I want her to be good.

And she is good. She sits, lays down, stays, knows "get back", "go lay down", fetches like a dream, tracks the ball (and any other thing she wants), she alerts me when I need alerted, she crawls in my lap and bites my hand at night when she wants to be pet, she lays her ears back and looks at me with her big brown eyes and then I can't be mad or irritated anymore.

Yeah, I dedicated a whole blog post to Skye this morning. Significant when you consider everthing else that's been going on - things like being snowed in for a week now, maneuvering a snowmobile, operating a tractor to feed bulls in 6 degree snowy weather ...

Life is good.