Ranch Wife Musings: Evening

As I tidy up the kitchen as my last home task of the evening, I get a good view of my little flock of chickens down by their coop, chasing a few last bugs. Clearly they aren’t ready to be tucked in just yet. The horses are visible just on the other side of the barn, having been given their freedom for the night, and sometimes Charlie the Calf comes wandering into the barn yard for a drink of water or maybe thinking I’ll give her one more little scoop of calf creep.

The sky turns orange then pink then lavender as the shadow of our little ridge is cast further and further east, until the last little bit of sunlit prairie has been covered in the comfort of evening shadow.

What a peaceful sight.

I love my little jaunt down to the chicken coop to do the very last of my chores for the day. Pearl comes with me, since she takes her chicken chores very seriously, and usually one or more of the cats run down to the coop with me as well. With an actual pounding of little feet, Yellow Cat (who probably slept all day until five minutes ago) races by, then Grey Cat (who probably worked all day), tearing around, then stopping suddenly and staring at absolutely nothing in the uncanny way cats do.

The chickens chatter contentedly amongst themselves and maybe greet me quietly when I come in to make sure everyone is accounted for. Yep, there’s Amelia, and Alice, and Audrey, and Goldie, and Little Red, Little Red, Little Red, and Little Red. And seven black chickens, including Henrietta, the only one who gets a name because she looks like a vulture. I close the coop windows or open them a crack, depending on the evening temps, and scratch one or two of the friendly birds on their backs before collecting my egg basket and closing the girls in for the night.

Pearl reluctantly joins me on the little walk back up to the house. The cats run and pounce on each other, occasionally scrapping and working out a few feminine feline differences. Rocket the Horse says something sarcastic to Jargon the Horse, or maybe that was Chip putting Rocket in his place.

And everything is still. I love an evening on the rim of the prairie. A distant coyote yelps. A nighthawk calls out high up and out of sight. Maybe there’s the soft roar of the nighthawk’s wings as he swoops and dives. The warmth of the last days of summer melts away and cool night breezes shift around gently, resiny, fresh, and sweet.

This is home.

And Then I Became a Ranch Wife

It was seven and a half weeks ago that I said “I do” to my now husband in front of 350 witnesses and under a light rain shower, and then the weeks blinked by. They say rain on your wedding day means good luck. If I believed in luck, I’d agree. But rain on my wedding day was a reminder of all of God’s goodness and faithfulness, providing rain and also providing sunshine, providing both through storms and through breaks in the clouds, providing in each changing season, and in each season of life, providing in ways I couldn’t ever have thought possible.

Our wedding was a beautiful, handmade get-together, literally thanks to our families, our churches, and our ranching community, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. We were blown away by how many people wanted to help, and are so thankful for the people in our lives who bring such richness and meaning.

And then the wedding was over and our life began.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be coming up on two months of being married, I really would have thought you were crazy. I had honestly resigned myself to being a single woman and was throwing myself into a new career as a firefighter-paramedic with a busy urban fire department. That tall, lean rancher who had caught my eye years before on the volunteer fire department had caught my eye again, but I never imagined we’d be husband and wife ten months later. I never imagined that God would so quickly satisfy those longings to be a wife, those longings for companionship, or satisfy that loneliness. I never imagined that the very real contentment God had given me in my singleness would so quickly turn to joy in marriage. So take heart, single friend…Take heart, knowing that there is a God who sees and hears your quietest prayers. He even hears the longings you never had the courage to fully acknowledge.

What a whirlwind of newness and joy and growth and busyness these last almost two months have been, with a husband and partner I don’t deserve and whom I love with all my heart.

Spring and into summer is a busy time on the ranch, and we’ve had a few additional projects in the works as well, keeping us extra busy, but we took some time last weekend to celebrate. We celebrated our “we saw the light” anniversary, the one-year anniversary of our first date. It is absolutely astounding what God can accomplish in the span of what amounts to a few short months. But then again, why should it be surprising? The same God who brought about His Creation plan in six days can accomplish whatever He wills whenever He wills it! But I’m still amazed.

The companionship He can bring to loneliness, the peace He can bring to sorrow, the healing He can bring to hurt.

The dreams He can realize out of the blue.

The amazing answers to prayer He can bring about in the blink of an eye.

So this firefighter-paramedic became a ranch wife. Muck boots have replaced tactical boots. Jeans have replaced Nomex. Leather gloves have replaced nitrile ones. Carhartt replaced 511. Coveralls replaced turnouts. Old dreams have reawakened. Early morning coffee, evening devotions, cow work, building fence, gardening, digging in the dirt, chasing chickens, cutting weeds, keeping house, doing dishes, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. A friend asked me a few days ago if anything has particularly surprised me about marriage. I told her, “How much I absolutely love being a wife.”

Life is sweet.

God is good.

The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!

Recipes | Pear Jam

Although I tend to associate canning and food preservation with the end of the summer and fall, it is a great way to make use of large quantities of fruit any time of the year, and it is so satisfying to be able to serve something completely homemade. I had bought a box of pears from a friend’s daughter for a 4-H fundraiser, and it made a delightful batch (four batches, actually) of sweet, tangy jam. We’ll enjoy some of it, but the majority of it will be set aside for wedding favors!

Simple tends to be how I roll, so I just used a SureJell jam recipe, with excellent results! It is extremely difficult to go wrong with fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. I did two double batches. A double batch is manageable, but I wouldn’t go over that.

Ingredients:

4 cups finely chopped pears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package SureJell pectin (not the low sugar kind)
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine to prevent foaming

Directions:

Prepare jars and lids and set in a clean and accessible place, ready to be filled. Washing the jars is sufficient, but I did pour boiling water over the lids. This jam is processed for 10 minutes (or more depending on altitude), so no need to sterilize the jars. Recipe yields about 6 cups of jam. I used half and quarter pint jars.

Wash and finely chop pears, measuring out 4 cups into a saucepan. No need to peel the fruit. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice early on to prevent browning. Stir in 1 package of SureJell powdered pectin and mix thoroughly. Add the butter or margarine, and heat the mixture on high, stirring constantly until it reaches a full rolling boil (doesn’t stop boiling when stirred). Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat, skim off any foam that forms (it wasn’t necessary with this jam), and ladle immediately into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe of the rims and threads of the jars, and seal with lids and rings, tightening the rings finger tight. Process in a water bath canner, adding enough water to cover the jars by 1-2 inches. Bring water to a boil and process for 10 minutes, or adjust for altitude. Where I live, it is a 20 minute process time. Remove from water bath canner and allow to cool, checking for successful seal as they cool. If the lid doesn’t pop down, the jam didn’t seal. Do this as you go, and you can replace any lids that don’t seal and reprocess the jar as above.

As always happens with jam and jelly, there is just enough left over to make a partial jar, or a couple of jars that didn’t fit with the rest of the jars aren’t worth doing another 20 minute process to finish them. These become refrigerator jams! And I have to say the warm jam was decadent on a piece of homemade bread, toasted with butter!

Enjoy this little taste of summer!




A Merry Little Christmas

This Christmas wasn’t been “as planned” in any way, shape, or form. Initially, I was quite disappointed that I’d be having to work on Christmas Day, especially with a new fiance, a sister about to get married, and almost-inlaws to spend time with. I’ve been feeling pretty worn out and run down with work lately, and I wasn’t looking forward to a holiday week, during which I would be exhaustedly trying to keep up the energy to see people and share in the fun and joy of Christmastime while recovering from 24 hour shifts on an ambulance.

Well, a week ago I started feeling puny and got tested for Covid, at the request of my work. Sure enough, I had Covid and was promptly put on quarantine. My family wanted nothing to do with me, since there’s a wedding in two weeks, but my fiance also came down with Covid, and in God’s graciousness it was mild for both of us. We spent our first Christmas together after all.

We’ve already begun making traditions that we will carry into what we trust and pray will be a Christ-honoring marriage. We have been reading an Advent devotional since December 1, which I’m sure will become a tradition for us. We cut and decorated a beautiful spruce tree. We’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and listened to a radio theatre adaptation of Charles’ Dickens beloved Christmas Carol. We’ve baked, and cooked, and worked on a wintry puzzle, a birthday gift to me from his mom. And our Christmas Day, though not what either of us would have chosen, was likewise delightful.

We made crepes for brunch, with homemade yogurt and the last jar of my homemade plum jam from a few summers ago. We also had homemade ricotta cheese and sausage that my rancher man and his brother-in-law made. It was a lovely start to the day. We finished our puzzle, drank coffee, exchanged gifts, went on a walk, made wedding plans, and ate a wonderful dinner of pork roast, grilled cabbage and sweet potatoes, and rice pilaf. We finished the day watching Murder on the Orient Express, an excellent movie for a winter evening.

This Christmas and holiday season is challenging for a lot of people right now. So many people are sick, and beloved Christmas plans and traditions have gotten sidelined in an effort to keep people as healthy as possible. But if those temporary disturbances distract us from the truth of Christmastime and steal our joy, we have repenting to do. The fact of the matter is that the God of the Universe willingly gave up the comfort and perfection of Heaven to stoop to become a mortal man, for the express purpose of dying a grusome death on our behalf, to give us a salvation we could never earn. Don’t let either the enjoyment of this time of year, or the disappointment either, distract you from that.

In spite of everything, this was indeed a Merry Little Christmas.

A Hand to Hold

My heart has always been drawn to and touched most by those simple things. Those moments of pure sweetness. Those sights of pure beauty. A flower just so in the sunlight. An arrangement of old lanterns and colored glass on an end table. One single brightly-colored autumn tree in a sea of pines. A summer hike. A starlit snowy night. A warm cup of coffee and a cat on my lap. Wild fruit on tangled branches. A shelf lined with bright, sparkling jars of hand-harvested, homemade jam. The smell of sweat or the pages of old books. A well-lived-in home. The comfortable, worn seats of a dusty old work truck. A simple, nourishing, homemade meal.

Sin has complicated our existence. It complicates everything. It complicates love.

Compromise complicates love. Selfishness complicates love. Desperation complicates love. Fear complicates love. Mistrusting God complicates love. We strive and weep and lust and wallow in our loneliness, and think that a relationship born out of those things will bear good fruit.

But this is key: God is a God who loves us. And He is a Father who gives good gifts. He doesn’t always provide what we want or think we need. And He often uses waiting as a tool to cultivate our dependence upon Him and His goodness. He tests us with loneliness, with waiting. Will we thank Him for what He does provide, or will we be angry for what He doesn’t provide? Will we trust Him in joy and not in sorrow?

God is a God who loves us. He is also a God who doesn’t owe us anything. Any good we receive from God is good we haven’t earned, given by a Father who loves us. And any pain we receive from His hand is meant to make us more like Christ, from the hand of a Father who disciplines those whom He loves. And that pain of waiting, the pain of loneliness, the growth and humility and triumph of contentment and Christ-dependence, all serve to make God’s blessings, both the expected and the unexpected, that much sweeter. I wouldn’t know how to truly appreciate the sweetness God’s gifts if I didn’t also experience the bitterness of want. The best things wouldn’t be recognized so clearly if I hadn’t also seen those hard things, loneliness and isolation and disappointment and heartache and loss.

And so when God withholds something, we are to rejoice, and trust that He is withholding the desired object out of love for us. And when He provides, we rejoice…And then marvel at His provision.

My heart is so thankful. I am thankful that God saw fit to replace my loneliness with companionship, and my longing with love. What God provided, He provided in lavish simplicity, in abundant peacefulness. Without confusion, or question, or complication.

And it would make sense, wouldn’t it, that this simple country girl would love a simple country man?

God brought love in those best things, those simple things. Seven gallons of chokecherries picked together. A freshly cemented stock tank and a little sunburn on a hot August afternoon. Countless home-cooked meals on chipped dishes. Laughter over a game of cards. Bushels of apples from my grandpa’s apple trees. Baking pies for a pie auction. Arms wrapped around me and a peck on the cheek while I’m washing dishes. A hasty cup of coffee together out of his battered Stanley thermos, with the sun just cresting the horizon. Lively banter. Tears of sorrow and of joy. Companionable, comfortable silence. Tuneless whistling from under my car as he changes the oil. His smile at me over the backs of a hundred cows. His voice beside me singing hymns in church. The warmth of his strong hand in mine, that calloused, work-weathered hand.

So this simple country girl said Yes.

Yes, to a simple rancher man. Yes, to the best and kindest man I know. Yes, to a strong, gentle man. To a peaceful man. To a Godly man. To a flawed man with a perfect Savior. To a man who offers me his shoulder to cry on, his arms to hold me, his heart to love me, and his wisdom and faith to lead me. To my favorite person. To my best friend. To a hand to hold.

What simple love. What a kind God. What undeserved abundance.