Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I've seen fire and I've seen rain....

Catchy title today, right?
You know James Taylor, yes?
(author of Fire and Rain, his first hit in 1968 )
We saw him this weekend.
In concert!!
I've always wanted to see him.
It sounded just like JT!
Some people came to the concert 
in this fun and funky double-decker VW Van.
Isn't it cool?  And so appropriate for a JT Concert.

 This July has been full of fire for us.
I've seen fire.
Every single cloud that comes over shoots lightning out of it,
and the men have been out fighting fires a lot.
But guess what??
We got RAIN!  Twice.
Wet, delicious, air-freshening, grass-washing, puddle-making
And I've seen rain.

Thank you God.
We can trust YOU.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cranes, cows, calves, bulls, and sage grouse...

 JLynn and the grandies and I went to check cows this morning.
As we drove up to the gate, we saw three Sandhill Cranes.  Two large and one small one, perhaps a baby.  The kids had their binoculars and I had the big camera to zoom in!

 These are the cows and bulls that we went to check on.
If you click on the pic, you'll see the horned bull.

 Cows, calves and another bull.

 Hello Big Fella!

As I was yakking on the phone this afternoon with OnlyDaughter, a Sage Grouse came walking through the front yard.  I snapped this photo through the window.  Isn't she lovely?

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chokecherry jelly...

It's been a few years since I've had any chokecherries left on the branches for a batch or two of jelly.   Every year it's a race with the birds to see who can get to the chokecherries first.  This time I picked my chokecherries a little earlier than I would like, but hey, I have birds to contend with!  The whole time that the grandkids and I were picking, the robins were really giving us the dickens!  They twirted at us quite a bit, telling us to get out of their chokecherry bushes and to leave  their berries alone.  I was so proud of the kids for sticking with our chore.  It takes a long time to pick a single gallon of chokecherries because they are so small.  

After picking the berries, the whole jellying process had only just begun.  We sorted through the chokecherries for stems and leaves and then washed them, picking through them some more.  After the wash, we poured the chokes into a big pot with enough water to just cover them for the boil.  We simmered them to get the cherries to release their juice (maybe a half hour or so).  I like to give them a little squish with a potato masher as they soften.  After juicing comes the Big Squeeze.  I poured the hot chokecherries and juice through a colander lined with a clean tea towel which was placed over a gallon ice cream bucket.  After the berries cool down a little, I wring the tea towel over a bowl to collect every drop of juice I can get.  Then I hang it from the cupboard door to let it drip a little more over the bucket.  The juice goes back into the big pot along with lemon juice and the pectin.  It gets stirred and brought to a boil.  Then the sugar is added and two more minutes of boiling and Viola!  jelly!

The girls were excited to lick every sticky utensil we used.  Then it was time to sample it on bread.  I'm only sorry I didn't have a fresh loaf to smear the jelly on,  but our store-bought bread worked just fine.  It was tasty if I do say so myself.  

If you have chokecherries nearby that you can pick, you might like to try this recipe from a Ranch Mom.  She has some nice step-by-step pictures to walk you through the process on her blog.  I liked this recipe  better than anything I've ever tried before.  I think it's the lemon juice that makes all the difference.   And maybe because she's a ranch mom!  

Choke Cherry Jelly
  • 3.5 cups chokecherry juice
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 1 pkg dry pectin (1.75 oz)
  • 4½ cups of sugar
  1. Pour juices in kettle.
  2. Add pectin, stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, add sugar.
  4. Boil and stir for 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, skim.
  6. Ladle into jars.
  7. Process in hot water bath for 5 minutes.
  8. Cool undisturbed for 24 hours.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nature Notes: little babies, big babies...

Little Babies
Barn swallows


Big Babies
(These two photos courtesy of my DIL, JJo)

It's so exciting to encounter baby birds when you're out on the range or simply doing your chicken chores.  The neighbor grandkids,  JLynn and I were going to the chicken coop to tend to the chicken chores when a barn swallow flew out through the door as we walked in.  A lot of weedling sounds came from the rafters where an old barn swallow nest was.  It had been there since I can remember, but never had babies in it.  The grands were so excited.  We got a 5 gallon bucket and tipped it over to stand on so we could look in the nest and see wide-open  bird mouths begging for a bug or two.  I just love the wonder and thrill in the eyes of children when they see real new-life like that in their everyday lives.

JJo and CarpenterSon and Chief were out checking cows one day when they drove upon a high spot in the North Pasture.  They found this amazing sight!  Furruginous hawks.  JJo said that Mom and Dad Furruginous were flying  high above and screeching while she clicked the photos quickly and jumped back into the pick-up before she got dive-bombed.  Good wildlife capture, isn't it?

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Friday, July 08, 2016

Lamb crop....

Bringing ewes and lambs in to the sheep corrals.

We made the decision to sell the lamb crop early this year.  Normally, we sell them in late August, but this year with the lack of water and grass, and because the lambs appeared to be so big and heavy, we decided to sell.  We sorted the lambs off the ewes and then sorted the wethers from the ewe lambs.   The last sort was for our replacement ewe lambs.  We always keep back about 50 ewe lambs or so to replace any cull ewes that we will remove from the herd in the fall.  This year we sorted off 55 ewe lambs to keep in the herd.  They're sure pretty ewes.

We loaded up 198 lambs to take to the Sheep Yards on Wednesday and yesterday they sold.  They were at the top of the market for weight and price.  The average weight was 110 lbs. which is really good for this time of year (or any time of year).  We think that the reason they gained so well is because we let them in on the alfalfa field early in the spring to graze and now that the prairie grass is dry and hard, it is high in protein and nutrients.  Out here they call our kind of grass "hard grass" because it's very dense, nutritious feed, even if it's dried out.  This is truly good sheep country.

We got our reservoir water samples back yesterday.  All the water except one reservoir were good or acceptable for livestock.  The sons fenced out the one bad reservoir with electric fence to keep the cattle out of it while they are in that pasture.  Otherwise, we're doing OK.  The one big reservoir that we water lots of livestock and our yards and gardens from is pretty high in TDS (total dissolved solids) but still acceptable.  I'm thinking this is one reason my garden is not doing so great.  It's the only water I use on it and we haven't gotten any rain so the water is pretty high in sodium which isn't great for growing plants.  So my new strategy is to keep a wash tub in my kitchen sink and catch all the water to pour over the garden plants.  At least our drinking/washing water is really good so it might maybe hopefully help!  I also have a theory that raised bed gardening might not be the best thing in our arid country.  It seems that the beds dry out so much faster than my ground beds do.  I might have to make some changes in my gardening beds this fall.

The thing about crops is that there are so many variables in nature that you can't always count on a "good crop" every single year.  This year the lamb crop was amazing.  The hay crop was minimal due to lack of rain and lots of heat.  The calf crop is looking good so far.  We'll see how they look by weaning time.  The veggie gardens production is yet to be seen.  There is hope, but I don't think it'll be a great garden year unless we get rain.  There's still time, so we do what we can do and wait to see  how it all shakes out.

The farmer/rancher is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.  ~John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


Gray clouds above with smoky, brown puffs on the horizon tells the story -- clouds with dry lightning and no rain.  After our Independence Day celebrating, we came home, settled in, and then the lightning cracked and fires popped up everywhere around us.  The dispatch fire pager had chatter about fires in every direction.  Lightning struck our land and a fire started in the East Pasture, and as soon as the men had quelled it and were mopping it up with our range fire trucks, another fire started up right next to them just over our fence on the neighbor's place.  After fighting one small fire, they were running out of water and so called me to bring up the tender truck that holds 1000 gallons of water.  It's an old, old antique of a thing, but it still runs and carries water.  It's a manual, stick-shift with a big steering wheel with no power steering.  That's how I learned to drive!  I bumpety-bumped through the pastures and got the truck up to the fire area so the firefighters could refill their rigs.  JJo and Chief came behind me with the Ranger and took us back home to keep watch and to direct any other trucks up to the fire.

1960 Chevrolet Viking Water-Tender truck

Tonight we are expecting more clouds to come over.  We're hoping that there will be rain in them.  It's going to be a long summer if this becomes our nightly job.  I know we aren't alone in this.  Many in the West are fighting fires.  Just today we were bringing the tender truck back to refill it and a long way off I could see smoke.  It was in Wyoming, just over our border.  Too far for the men to go unless they were in great need of trucks.  We're watching the skies tonight and keeping an eye on the horizon all around.  If you think of us, pray for rain.  Thanks.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Farewell fair June...

 Pronghorn (antelope) buck
Lots of new babies on the prairie.

How can it possibly be the last day of June already?  It's been a dozen days since I posted here last, and I can hardly believe how the time has flown by.  We've been busy with cows and calves and bulls.  The men finished AI-ing 200 head of cows and we've worked every single bovine animal on the place these past couple weeks.  All the calvies and yearling heifers got shots of pink-eye vaccine and all the critters got poured with insecticide.  The bulls were turned out with the cows and now every bovine is out on summer range.  It's a good feeling to have all our livestock processed, checked, doctored, vaccinated, and turned out.  Today I spent the morning checking our cow bunches to see that the bulls were still in their proper pastures with them and to take note of any problems.  Thankfully, there were no issues today.

The main issue on the ranch and for many surrounding ranches is water.  We all have some.  Some of us have more than others.  But the water we do have is far from fresh and so it can take on a life of its own and make livestock sick.  Some of our neighbors have been losing cows and calves to polio which comes from water that is high in nitrates, sulfates and TDS (total dissolved solids)  among other stuff.  So far, our stock is faring well, but we did take some water samples of our main reservoirs to the feed store to get them tested.  Our vet recommended we test our water before we have a problem.  Good advice.  We are very lucky (blessed) that we have lots of water tanks that have water piped to them.  Again, the water is pumped from a very large, deep reservoir which we rely on heavily, but I think the fact that it's moving water may help.  That and the fact that it is cold and deep.  I could be very wrong about that, but it's a hunch.

If you look closely at the legs of some of the bulls and cows in the photos, you'll see that they have mud-crusted legs.  They've been wading out into the water for a drink.  It's not the greatest situation since they can get bogged down and not be able to get out of that mucky mud. These cows and bulls DO have water tanks to drink from besides the stock dams, but sometimes they enjoy wading out into the water on these hot, hot days.

I've been dragging the hoses around the yard a lot lately, trying to keep the veggie and flower gardens watered down.  Since water is scarce, we are limiting our watering on the yards so our lawns are really bad.  Each family has a "little patch of green" as my mother-in-law used to say, but the majority of our lawns are brown and dried up.  It's kinda sad, but it's life on the prairie.  Our average annual rainfall here is just 11 inches, so we expect to dry out by mid summer most years.  Fires have been popping up all around our area.  Our two sons here wear pagers for our local fire department.  Whenever clouds come over and lightning starts popping, we all watch the skies for smoke.  But it's not just lightning that's starting fires.  Just yesterday a semi truck was going through our area with a flat tire, driving on just the rim, and he evidently was kicking up sparks as he drove.  The back of his truck caught fire and someone got him stopped.  NumberOneSon went to the fire.  They got the the semi truck unhooked from the trailer just before the fire hit the propane cooling unit and a big-cloud-explosion happened.  Thankfully, just the trailer was lost and the fire didn't spread.  With the combination of heat, dry grass, and the winds, it's rather scary when a spark hits the ground in any form.

July is a month of celebrating in our family.  Several birthdays as well as Independence Day which is a Big Deal in the little cowtown we call our hometown.  The grandkids are looking forward to the Parade and the Carnival and all the rodeo hoopla.  We'll be having a family gathering on the 4th of July at OnlyDaughter's home with everybody bringing something yummy to share.  I'm bringing a new-to-me recipe that we tasted at a wedding last weekend.  It's Frito Corn Salad.  Get the recipe here!  It's not a waist-slimming salad, but it is delicious! 

I hope you've enjoyed June.  I have.  Now on to July!  It's summertime now!  How's your tan?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Nature Notes -- birds 'n' blooms...

This bright fellow is the Evening Grosbeak

God sends love notes to me by way of nature -- 
a beautiful bird, 
a feather,
a swallowtail butterfly,
 a flower I didn't know was planted amongst the others,
unexpected morning rain,
afternoon shade from our trees.

 Moonshine yarrow

 Japanese Iris

 This purple-blue stem is Smooth Blue Beardtongue or Penstemon 
which I haven't seen in my flower beds in a long time.
A happy surprise! 

Clematis on left and Sweet William on the right.  

My geranium pots.  They just seem right on the front porch.                 

Mostly poppies and larkspur here and a pink shrub rose in back.

Homegrown lettuce and spinach is doing very well in the garden.
We are loving the fresh salad greens every day.
I picked up this fizzy mineral water yesterday -- San Pellegrino.
I thought since it was on sale, I'd get a couple bottles.
Little did I know, it's a good-for-you drink!
Click here for the reasons why.
When it says "mineral water" it means there are lots of good minerals in there along with some carbonation that makes it fizzy.  
I added some lemon slices to my water.
So delicious!

One more nature note -- Monday, June 20, is Summer Solstice and the Full Moon.

CarpenterSon was born on June 20th, the first day of summer.  He'll be 28.
Back then it was very hot and dry and the country was on fire.
The night he was born, Uncle Ned's forested ranch was ablaze. 
It was a year of watching the skies for lightning and fire fighting.

The earth, gentle and indulgent,
ever subservient to the wants of man,
spreads his walks with flowers,
and his table with plenty.
~Pliny the Elder

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Haymaker's punch...

Haying has begun.  
A few bales, but bales, nonetheless.
It will feed livestock.

 This is the tractor I drive, and I pull the dual rake behind me to rake up the mowed hay into windrows for the baler to pick up.  As you can see, it's dusty!  I'm covered with dust by the end of my turn on the rake.

We've been in the hay field since Sunday.  It's drying up fast here and so Hub decided we'd better get to it before it is totally burned up.  There are very few bales, but every little bit will help.  We have enough carry-over hay for this coming winter.  We're so thankful for that!  Our haying time will be very brief, but that will give us time for other things.

I spied this sweet bird near my gardens yesterday.  I'm not sure I've seen it here, but I recognized it..  It's a Cedar Waxwing.  I suppose it will want to nibble on my chokecherries and the juniper berries.

One delicious recipe I have been making on these hot, hot days is Switchel.  It's alias name is Haymakers Punch.  It's one of those thirst-quenching drinks that has a little sour, tangy, fermentation-thing happening!  Hubby and I really like it and it's good for us!  Read more about it and get the original recipe on Radiant Life Blog.

This is how I'm making Haymaker's Punch

Quart Jar
1 - half inch slice of fresh ginger*
1/2 a lemon, squeezed (or bottled lemon juice, about 3 T.)
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar (Braggs with the mother)
2-3 T. honey
Pinch of salt, optional (my addition)

In a quart jar, I pour a cup of boiled water over the ginger.  Let it steep for 5 or 10 minutes.  Then add the honey so it will dissolve in the warmish water.  Add the rest of the ingredients and top off the jar with cold, fresh water.  Stir.  Let it stay in the fridge for a couple hours to let the flavors marry and steep together.  Then pour Switchel over ice and drink.  You may adjust any of the ingredients to your liking.  I like to make the punch at night and let it sit overnight in the fridge and drink it the next day.  It's so easy to make and very refreshing.  I think you could also make a "concentrate" of this recipe and store it in the fridge and add water and ice to get the taste/strength you like.

* I learned a great trick for keeping fresh ginger root on hand.  Peel ginger root, then slice it into 1/4 or 1/2" rounds or chunks.  Flash freeze it on a cookie sheet and then store in a ziplock bag so you have ginger anytime. 

It's going to get very hot again tomorrow -- breaking 100.*  More punch please!!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Nature Notes and Eloise Wilkin...

 The "chicks" got out of the coop for the first time this week.
Remember, we have all white pearl leghorn girls this year?
All except one Black Cochin...

I think the Black Chochin may be a rooster.
He's got feathery legs so we call him/her Little Britches.
 It's a great, big world out there!

 Both girl cats had babies at the barn.  As you can see, one set of 5 is a couple weeks old, and the new set of five kittens was just born a couple days ago.  The cats are co-mothering.   I separated the bigs from the littles one night and the moms put them back together.  I hope the big kittens don't get all the milk. 
Have you ever read Eloise Wilkin's books?
They are the sweetest little stories with the dearest illustrations of children and families and nature.  I have my own small collection, and I love to give these books to my grandkids and as baby gifts.    I don't have any of Wilkin's kitten books, but I do have Baby Listens with this picture of a kitten.

 As I was mowing and trimming the yard, I spied this Cecropia moth in the grass.
This is the time of year when we see them.

 Look at the fat, red & white, striped body!  The grands call them candy cane moths.
Eloise Wilkin, my favorite children's author/illustrator, captured the Cecropia moth beautifully in her book,  Wonders of Nature

I've been watching a robin family who nested in my backyard tree and now the babies are out of the nest.  This little fella was in my garden, sitting still as could be.  I've seen several of them about the yard with their parents who are still feeding them.  Whenever I see a baby robin, I think of these two pictures that Eloise created.  The first illustration for Wonders of Nature and the second for  

Do you have a favorite children's author or illustrator who depicts children in nature? 
Do tell!


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