Continuing the update on our family and life on the ranch:
DECEMBER 20, 2009 – Last Monday when Lynn went to town to get our mail and groceries, the car wouldn’t start when he came out of the store. He had it towed to the repair shop, and hitched a ride home with Jim--who was staying with Andrea’s kids while she was in Salt Lake for surgery on her arm. Andrea had surgery on Tuesday as planned, but due to a scheduling mix-up at the hospital, the surgeon had to work her in between some other surgeries and didn’t have enough time for the whole repair. He only did 2 of the 4 contracture releases—one on her little finger and one on her upper arm—saving the most serious one (over her shoulder) until later. He checked her arm and rebandaged it the next day and released her to come home.
Lynn and I went to Sammy’s 1st grade Christmas program at school, since Andrea wasn’t home yet from Salt Lake. The kids in Sammy’s class put on a skit and dressed as mice, using mouse faces they made from paper plates.
It’s been cold. Ice build-up in the field where our cows are grazing made it impossible for them to drink at the spring, so we let them into an adjacent pasture where they can go to the creek. Lynn was able to chop an adequate hole in the creek ice.
We plugged in the backhoe so it would start, and Michael used it to fill in the low spot in our corral that floods every spring. Then he took the backhoe to the Maurer place (where he and Carolyn will be calving their cows) to work on a spring and take out an old, leaking water trough that needs to be replaced.
Jim came out to the ranch on Thursday and got a Christmas tree for Andrea’s kids, and Lynn went to town to get our car, which had been repaired. Andrea and her friend drove home from Salt Lake. She has her entire arm bandaged and cannot use it until the stitches are taken out.
The cows have been able to keep grazing, without any hay, but they’ve nearly eaten all the grass. Michael and Carolyn loaned us their old flatbed pickup to feed big round grass bales to the cows, since we use our feed truck to feed big alfalfa bales to our heifers.
DECEMBER 30 – I spent several days before Christmas sorting through piles of papers and magazines in my office, and cleaned out the space in front of the window and the old front door—which no longer opens because the log walls settled. Cold air comes in around the door and window, so I stuffed rags in the cracks and put duct tape over them. During the summer of 2000 I stuffed rags around the door and sealed it with masking tape to keep out the smoke from the forest fires, but the masking tape disintegrated over the past 9 years. Duct tape will work better.
The day before Christmas it got really cold again and we started feeding the cows.
Michael and young Heather stopped by with Christmas gifts and we sent ours home with them. Heather is enjoying her 3-week break between semesters at college, helping her folks with their cattle.
Christmas day we cooked a big dinner and had Andrea and kids here. She likes to cook, but with her arm bandaged it was impossible for her to do much cooking.
After Christmas her kids stay with us when she went back to Salt Lake to have the stitches removed from her arm and finger.
We chopped a new water hole for the cows in the creek below the corrals; they have to come into that little pasture to drink. The brush along the creek had a lot of burdock growing there this year, and we didn’t get it cut down. Several of the cows are now covered with burrs.
The weather has been bad—with snowy roads. Andrea and her friend decided not to try to drive home yesterday evening after her checkup and removal of stitches; there were too many car accidents clogging the streets and freeway. They drove home today, and it took 13 hours (rather than the usual 6 hour drive).
JANUARY 8 – Friends from British Columbia, Pete and Bev Wiebe, stayed with us for 3 days on their way south to New Mexico and California. They spend some time every year working with the Mennonite Disaster Service, rebuilding homes destroyed by fires or hurricanes. Pete is an electrician and does electrical work on these building projects. He and Bev both help with construction. We always enjoy seeing them when they stop here. We became acquainted with Wiebes after Andrea’s burn accident in 2000. Pete is a burn survivor, and he and Bev learned about Andrea’s burns by reading my monthly “Rancher’s Diary” column in Grainews, a Canadian farm newspaper.
On Tuesday we had 3 inches of new snow, and Wednesday 2 more inches. Then the temperature plummeted to 10 below zero. The ice buildup in our lower field and lane is increasing; the cows will soon have difficulty crossing it to go to the creek for water, so we moved them up through the barnyard and to “heifer hill” pasture above our house. We’ll feed them there until we bring them down for calving.
Our good friend and neighbor Emily Binning learned last week that she has a large mass in her abdomen; she went to a specialist in Boise a few days ago, and found she has terminal cancer. She decided to not have surgery or chemo. She wanted to just come home and enjoy whatever time she has left—with friends and family. Our 12-year-old granddaughter Emily was devastated by the news, not wanting to lose “big Emily” who has been a dear friend. So this afternoon Lynn brought young Em out to the ranch, and she and I went up the creek to visit “big Emily” who gently told the child her life story and how much she loves Jesus and that she is ready to go to heaven to be with Him. I am grateful to Emily for sharing her love and faith with us, and for trying to help a child cope with the emotional trauma of losing a beloved friend.
JANUARY 20 – Michael and Carolyn vaccinated their cows (pre-calving shots), doing part of the herd the day before young Heather went back to college after Christmas break, and sorted out the ones that would soon start calving.
A week ago Andrea went back to the burn center in Salt Lake (with a friend) for more surgery on her arm. Em and Dani went with them, and we are keeping Charlie and Samantha here with us. This time the doctor did another release on her hand, and the major repair at her shoulder—which meant a new skin graft over the top of the shoulder and in the armpit. He took a large patch of “good” skin from the top/front of her left thigh, the only area on her body large enough to supply healthy skin--that had not already been grafted or harvested for a graft when she was in the burn ICU 9 years ago.
These past days have been very miserable for Andrea, because the harvest site is very painful until it heals. The doctor checked the graft and changed her bandages yesterday, and didn’t like the looks of the graft. It is still very pale and hasn’t started to turn pink yet. If it doesn’t “take”, she’ll need a new graft—which would mean trying to harvest more skin from somewhere else on her body, and they’re running out of places.
While the kids were staying with us, we celebrated Sammy’s 7th birthday.
The weather warmed up this week, which was nice, because Michael and Carolyn started calving. Their first two babies arrived Saturday, with another one Sunday morning and the fourth one yesterday. The next few weeks will be really busy for them, so we hope the weather stays mild. Our cows won’t start calving until March, so we have a little more time to sleep at nights!
Charlie and Sammy have been enjoying their stay at the ranch, playing with the cats, and helping me do chores—feeding the horses.
JANUARY 28 – It’s been a hectic week. We met with Michael and Carolyn and their banker—who wants them to have more cows (to generate enough money to meet their obligations), so they will be buying a few more cows and heifers from us. After that meeting, Michael and Carolyn hurried home to check on 5 cows that were in labor when they left.
Andrea called us from Salt Lake when we got home, to report that the doctor still didn’t like the looks of her graft and wants to see her again in 2 days. We hope her body isn’t rejecting the graft. She may be staying in Salt Lake awhile longer. We’ve been keeping Charlie and Sam but Emily and little Dani have been in Salt Lake with Andrea and Rick. They already missed a week of school and can’t afford to miss more. Lynn decided to drive to Salt Lake on Friday, to bring them home, but the weather looked really bad.
Andrea and Rick left Salt Lake at 1 pm (the same time Lynn left our place). Lynn met them halfway and got the 2 girls, then drove home and got here late that night. The roads were bad, but not as bad as they were the next two days. We had several inches of new snow. Andrea’s checkup on Saturday was still inconclusive regarding the graft, and the doctor wanted her to stay in Salt Lake.
By Sunday Michael and Carolyn had 36 calves. Even though weather hasn’t been too cold, they had to thaw one calf whose mother calved next to a fence and pushed the calf underneath where she couldn’t lick it. They warmed up the calf and fed it colostrum, then put it back with its mother.
Andrea’s checkup on Monday was still not good, but her body isn’t rejecting the dead-looking graft yet, so the doctors want to give it more time.
Meanwhile, we’re managing with all 4 kids, taking the oldest ones 2 miles to the bus each morning, and little Dani to a neighbor’s place at 8 am to catch a ride to Head Start. Lynn goes to town each day to check on their house and feed the pets. In the afternoons the kids ride the bus or go to boy scouts, dance and gymnastic class—and on those days Lynn makes a later trip to town to pick them up afterward. Little Dani is always tired after school and generally takes a nap.
Today Andrea’s graft finally started getting pink in spots and the doctor let her come home. She and Rick left Salt Lake right after her appointment, and got home this evening. After 15 days in Salt Lake, she is REALLY glad to be home.
FEBRUARY 4 – It took a few days for Lynn and me to catch up on things. We really enjoyed having the grandkids here, but it wore us out more than we care to admit! I’m still catching up on some of my article writing that got neglected while I was helping kids with homework, playing games with them, etc.
On Friday I attended a neighborhood get-together for our friend Emily Binning (who is dying of cancer). It was a nice time of sharing.
The next day I wrote a letter to Emily, trying to express how much her friendship has meant to me. This is what I told her:
Lynn and I have been thinking about you every day for the past several weeks, keeping you in our prayers and in our hearts. Knowing that you are coming to an awesome milestone in your journey gives us pause, as we reflect on the immense significance of this next step, and also on the wonderful friendship we’ve had with you for the past 43 years, and how blessed we have been to know you. We appreciate, admire and delight in your trust and faith in the Lord. Your strength of spirit is a huge inspiration to us, and to all who know you. We thank God for this blessing and for the privilege of having you as our friend.
There are so many ways that people leave this world and enter the presence of the Lord. It’s always hard for the loved ones and friends they leave behind, but there are blessings in having a chance to say good-by. I used to think that when my time came, I wanted to leave this life quickly, with as little pain as possible. Over the past 10 years or so, however, I’ve come to realize that maybe that’s a selfish way to look at death, and that even though some ways are harder, there is more time to say good-by, to tell people we love them, to have some “final moments” together before departure.
I am grateful you took the time to visit with young Emmy and me several weeks ago. It was a beautiful sharing that touched me greatly and I hope it helped comfort young Em as she deals with what she considers the harsh finality of death (taking a person out of her life) and the loss of people she loves.
I also enjoyed seeing you at the get-together at Solaases. That was also a nice time of sharing. You are greatly loved and will be sorely missed, but the empty spot you leave behind will be softened and entwined with wonderful memories and by your gentle but firm assurances of Faith and Love. You have made our world a better place, by your kindness, love and wondrous example of a simple, trusting walk with Jesus. Many of us are more open to His presence and guidance because of your beautiful example.
This note is intended to be a love letter, a statement of appreciation and recognition of all that you have meant to me (and to Lynn) and a simple “thank you” for all the fun times we’ve had together over nearly half a century.
We have wonderful memories of getting to know you when Gordon brought you here after you were married, and the memories of doing many things together when we were young and struggling to get started here on Withington Creek--you two building your house and creating your little place and starting your ministry together, and Lynn and me getting started in ranching. All the times we helped each other—I can’t even remember all the times. Helping you build your house, taking messages up the creek until you eventually had a telephone, Gordon helping Lynn with ranch projects (fencing, plowing, haying) in those early years, you taking care of our little kids when Lynn and I had to ride or work cattle.
We did a lot of fun things together (I have fond memories of the rides you and I made together, on Sedge and Khamette—like the time we rode across the valley to visit Della Soule), and we shared many meals and visits. We remember the times when you and Gordon were building your first little house, that first cold winter, and the two of you would often come down here for a meal or a get-together for popcorn, enjoying the warmth of our heater in the front room.
I remember and putting lots of apples through the old cider press, getting firewood, Lynn and Gordon working on the ditch, etc. We had a lot of fun, a lot of good times. My kids loved you like a second mother, and still do. Thank you, Emily, for “being there” for me, for my family, as a friend and neighbor.
With much love, Heather
* * * *
Lynn picked up some things from Michael and Carolyn to mail that afternoon; they are really busy with calving and don’t have time to go to town. Thursday night they had 7 new calves (more than 70 total). Two young cows calved at the same time and were fighting over their calves, rolling them around in the straw. After Michael got the two pairs separated they mothered the calves fine.
Michael and Carolyn had 2 sets of twins Sunday, born within a couple hours of one another. This makes the 4th set of twins for one of those cows. They took the extra calves (named Thumper and Flower) and made a place for them in the garage until they have cows to graft them onto. They now have 93 calves.
FEBRUARY 12 – Last Friday we brought our cows down from heifer hill and Nick helped us put them through the chute and give them their pre-calving vaccinations and delouse them. Even though we deloused them last fall, they were getting itchy again so it was time for another treatment.
Tuesday night Michael and Carolyn had a tough calving situation. The cow had a uterine torsion and the calf was upside down. Michael got it turned but there was still a partial twist in the neck of the uterus. There was no veterinarian available so Michael and Carolyn pulled the calf, which was difficult because of the constriction caused by the twist. The head wouldn’t come through. It kept deviating off to the side. Finally Carolyn worked the puller while Michael kept his arm in the cow to bring the head through. It was one of the toughest calving situations he’s ever dealt with, but once they got the head through the cervix, the cow started straining, and they were able to get the calf out. Mama and baby are doing fine now. Present calf count is 170 babies.
Andrea went to Salt Lake again to have her graft repair checked, and to be fitted for a pressure glove and a pressure garment to help keep the upper arm graft smoother as it heals and matures—to try to prevent the thickening and contracture that made it necessary for corrective surgery. We kept her 4 kids here for a couple of days, until she got home last night. On a bright note, her graft is FINALLY looking healthy, and beginning to heal.