Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Our family Christmas in Montana was amazing.  As one of my daughters said, “The best thing about this trip is the isolation. If we were in Napa everyone would be off in different directions, spending time with friends, eating at restaurants, going to clubs… We’d be scattered. But here we’re all together, cooking together, working together, playing together. It’s perfect!”

Cows gotta be fed.  Horses gotta be watered.  Dolly, the milk cow, has gotta be milked, sick heifers gotta be doctored.  Christmas gifts gotta be delivered in an all-wheel drive trunk.  Wine and whiskey gotta be drunk.  If you want fresh crusty bread you bake it.  If you want a hot pizza you make it and you make the sauce from home-canned tomatoes too. Everybody works to keep the wood stove fired up.  There’s no slacking off when you live on a ranch.  Blizzard or no blizzard.  Well, especially during a blizzard.

Don’t laugh, but this is my idea of heaven.  I’ll take Big Sky Country any day.

Sledding on a crisp clear cold day.

Oscar and Julia sledding on a crisp clear cold day.

And ‘Oscar’ (with help from our girls) gave me the best Christmas present ever:

A New Coat!

A New Coat!

I hope your Christmas was bright and shiny.  After a challenging 2013 I’m wishing you all a better 2014.  (Please let us all have a better 2014!)

For the Love of Montana.

You know how the Montana license plates say– Big Sky Country?  It’s true.  Big.  Sky.  Impressive big sky.  I’ve never seen such a big sky in all my life.

license plateSo my daughter and son in law live on 8000 acres stretching from the foothills right up the sides of the Crazies.  (The Crazies are so named because of the legend of a crazy woman living there all alone.)

The Crazies.

The Crazies.

One might think 8000 acres can support a herd of Angus cows 8000 strong.  Not so.  8000 acres can support a herd of 200-300 heifers and their calves, plus the bulls and horses.  Everything depends upon grass.  Green grass and plenty of it.  At least the area finally got some rain.

But it’s not just the cattle and the horses I love, it’s the wildlife.  You see, ranchers in Montana share their land with many other inhabitants.  A lone wolf was spotted just a month ago, although I didn’t see him while I was there.  Badgers dig holes that can break a horse’s leg and kill an unsuspecting rider.  Badgers are cranky.  I avoid them.  Golden eagles fly alongside pickup trucks.  A fox raises her four kits not 200 yards from the back door of the ranch house.  Watching those kits cavort at sunrise and sunset is pure delight.

The kits.

The kits.

Antelope, white-tailed deer and mule deer graze alongside the cattle.  Elk bugle all day long– there are massive elk herds just above the foothills.  The ranch is part of a reserve where the male elk are enormous and carry enormous racks. And yes, there are bears.  Black bears and grizzly.  My second day there I had to drive my rented Jeep waaaaay up into the mountains to pick up the fencing party after their vehicle broke down.  When I reached the end of the passable trail and climbed out of the Jeep to search for them, the first thing I noticed were huge bear tracks.  The second thing was a female elk with her calf standing not a hundred feet from me.

elk

Bull Elk.

Yellowstone is a scant 165 miles from the ranch but who needs to visit Yellowstone when you are living in the midst of such wilderness?

 

Thursdays with Jake- The Miracle.

Those of you who know me best know the main reason I spend time in Montana.  A little over a year ago my older daughter married a Montana rancher– and there’s a larger story behind that which will have to wait for another time.

Ranching is, well, it’s a way of life, it’s a religion, it’s a passion, it’s a labor of love and devotion and sacrifice, and it’s also dangerous.

Yesterday our beloved and adored son in law was in an accident.  He and our daughter had been on horseback, working cows, for twelve hours.  They put up the horses and she headed back to the house in the truck, he headed up to a pasture a mile beyond their house to check on some fences.  He took the four-wheeler because the horses were tired, he needed to carry tools and the ‘mule’ is too slow.

He wasn’t doing anything unusual, as in he wasn’t driving in a reckless manner.  As he headed up the rutted dirt road, a cow and calf darted in front of him.  (Normally cows and calves move away from the four-wheeler so you can pretty much ignore them.) Our son in law tried to brake and he swerved, hit a rut, and the four-wheeler flipped. As he says, he went ass over teakettle.

His guardian angel was watching out for him because he landed in a shallow drainage ditch beside the road with the four-wheeler on top of him.  If he hadn’t landed in the drainage ditch he would very likely be dead. He managed to crawl out from under the four-wheeler and reach his cell phone so he could call our daughter.  She’s not exactly cool in an emergency… she sort of goes into shock, but she hauled ass down the road.  She says he looked pretty bad.

This is a ranch.  Eight thousand acres in the middle of nowhere – forty miles from the nearest tiny town.  Our daughter didn’t want to move him so she called a friend– twenty miles away– an EMT.  He drove like a bat out of hell to get there.  He determined our son in law probably did not have a broken neck or a broken back.  Between the two of them, they stabilized him and lifted him into the rescue vehicle.  My daughter followed them into town to the small hospital where they evaluated him and sent him by ambulance to the closest large hospital.

Thanks to his guardian angel, he suffered nothing worse than a badly broken shoulder, humerus and scapula. He has torn ligaments and muscles pulled away from the bone. A specialist has been called in to perform surgery on Friday, to stabilize his shoulder and repair the torn ligaments and muscles.

My son in law will be fine, he’s pissed off as hell, but he’ll be fine.  This is the busiest time of year on the ranch.  There are babies to care for, fences to mend before the cattle are moved up into the mountain pastures– which entails a four day cattle drive on horseback– bulls to move after the cows, hay to plant and harvest, in the meantime all the livestock needs feeding.  At least they’ve already finished branding, vaccines and castration.

I know everyone, all their neighbors, will pull together and help out– ‘Oscar’, our youngest daughter, (even Jake) and I will head up there whenever they need us, if it’s only to cook and clean and feed and support the riders.  I’ll even rake hay… I don’t care.  Whatever they need we’ll do.

Life is messy, folks.  This could have been so much worse.

From my personal wedding album.  The ceremony and reception were held on their ranch, and that’s their truck, not a prop.  Yeah, we hauled in a full bar.:

wedding 2

wedding 4

wedding 3

Monday Morning Update!

All the news…

So while I was in Montana I read three books – two new and one old fave I keep in my suitcase for emergencies.

World War ZWorld War Z, An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks – I’d been avoiding this book, worried it would be your standard post-apocalyptic zombie fare ala The Walking Dead.  Not so!  World War Z is a fantastic work.  The story unfolds via first person interviews with survivors ten years after victory has been declared.  Loved it, especially the inclusion of the Five C’s– kind of an inside joke.  (The chapter on North Korea will send chills up your spine it’s so scary prescient.)  I was determined to read the book before the movie is released.  To my great disappointment rumor has it that for the sake of political correctness the location of Patient Zero has been changed.  Too bad.  Max Brooks is also the author of The Zombie Survival Guide.

Gifted HandsGifted Hands, the Ben Carson Story, by Ben Carson and Cecil Murphey.  I finished this autobiography in a few hours.  I’d been wanting to read the book for years.  Only laziness kept me from buying it.  All the recent publicity surrounding Dr. Carson forced me to finally get my ass in gear and buy the book.  Gifted Hands is the inspiring story of a poor black kid from a single parent home in Detroit who grows up to become the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon in the entire world.  Dr. Carson is an impressive man.  The challenges he’s met and the standards he’s set for himself throughout his entire life are equally impressive.  Good stuff.

After the NightAfter the Night, by Linda Howard.  This book travels with me.  If I run out of reading material, why, viola!  There it is!  The hero, Gray Roulliard, may be a beast, but he’s one sexy beast.

So long, Andrea!

So long, Andrea!

You’ll never believe it but thanks to my daughter’s insistence I watched the season finale of The Walking Dead.  I swear it was so much like a soap opera I didn’t have to have seen a single episode of Season Three to pick up right where I’d left off.  What did I think?  Meh.  Wasn’t horrible.  Wasn’t stellar.  Not much in the way of forward movement.  Quite a few TSTL moments and of course we were treated to the de rigueur demise of a member of the original group.  Next season I’ll probably watch the first episode and the last.  And yeah, I’m still mad as hell about Shane.

Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister

Ah… On the other hand A Game of Thrones opened on a high note–  So much talent, so much potential, so many fabulous stories to tell.  I’m super excited about this season.  A Game of Thrones promises great things.

Vikings- Ragnar Lothbrokson

Vikings- Ragnar Lothbrokson

Sundays are tough for me.  All my television viewing, except for The Big Bang Theory and Person of Interest, is condensed into a single night:  A Game of Thrones, Vikings, (The Walking Dead), and Downton Abbey.  Fortunately each show follows it’s own timetable so I won’t be forced to choose.  If I had to choose I’d choose Vikings.  If you’re not watching Vikings, man oh man are you missing something special.  Watching Rollo, Ragnar’s brother, bury an ax in Svein’s chest was practically orgasmic.  Payback’s a bitch, honey.

In other news I’ve been traveling lots– and that’s sort of an understatement.  Two weeks ago I was in Oregon for my father’s birthday.  As you know this was an important birthday, most notably because he nearly died of a ruptured mitral valve last November.  After a couple setbacks he’s great, amazing.  Aging in reverse.  I like to keep my family life private but here are a few picks of our small birthday gathering–

My mom and dad

My mom and dad

Our little family - my parents, my sisters, my cousin, me.

Our little family – my parents, my sisters, my cousin, me.

My dad goofing around

My dad goofing around

My dad and his nephew

My dad and his nephew

Here’s a totally cool photo of my daughter taken during a hike on her ranch.  She’s standing with her short-haired St. Bernard who thinks she’s a cow dog–

My amazing older daughter

My amazing older daughter

They need rain/snow… bad.

Last but not least my new cowboy boots!  I mean if you fly all the way to Montana on a little plane what’s the first thing you do?  Go shopping at Murdoch’s.  Bought two shirts and a new pair of cowboy boots.

Ariat boots

Ariat boots

Oh, almost forgot… My birthday is Saturday.  I’m not big on celebrations and I hear tell hubby has something special planned.  I think he’s whisking me away.  Oughta be interesting!

 

 

Back from Big Sky Country!

Close to fifty calves were born while I was there.  We tagged, vaccinated, fed, paired ‘em up, babied the yearling heifers, rode the colts, exercised the experienced horses, cooked, cleaned and even managed a Passover Seder.  There’s little downtime during calving and I cherished every single minute of it.

(Pray for rain, they are in desperate need of it in order to keep their herd.)

Oh, and I bought new cowboy boots at Murdoch’s.  Nice!

Today is the first day I’ve opened my computer in over a week.  It’s been a welcome break.

I’ll begin my new schedule on Monday.  In the meantime enjoy the pics.  I miss my foster calf, Delilah.  She’s a sweetie-pie.  I thought of bringing her home on the plane but alas… This is not City Slickers.

My welcoming committee - the 'girls', yearling heifers.

My welcoming committee – the ‘girls’, yearling heifers.

First morning - Denny and Bo with the 'girls'.

First morning from my window – Denny and Bo, the colts, with the ‘girls’.

Feeding Delilah - this year's only orphan calf.

Feeding Delilah – this year’s only orphan calf.

My daughter and son in law riding Bo and Denny in the dusk.

My daughter and son in law riding Bo and Denny in the dusk.

Sunset behind the Crazies.

Sunset behind the Crazies.

Sunset behind the buttes.

Sunset behind the buttes.

The 'girls' bidding me farewell after breaking into the yard. I had to chase them out.

The ‘girls’ bidding me farewell after breaking into the yard. I had to chase them out.