A Totally Sick Trip

Our recent three-week trip to California was fun, but it would have been a whole lot more fun if we could have stayed healthier for longer than 10 minutes. Basically, I paid hundreds of dollars to clean up my kids’ puke in another state.

I planned a long trip to my hometown to visit family and friends since my husband would be camped out on the spring wagon for 10 weeks. He left for the wagon the first of May, and after three weeks of living one hour from the nearest human with only my two small children and a windmill for company, I was pretty excited to visit the home folks and have someone besides the windmill to talk to. I wasn’t too worried about my habit of talking to the windmill, but I got a little concerned for myself when it began answering back.

Due to our extremely isolated living conditions, our kids have developed the immune systems of a piece of sterile gauze. They can’t fight off the common cold with a bottle of bleach and a face mask. If they see a cartoon germ in a TV commercial for Mucinex, they immediately start sneezing and spike a fever. So, it was no surprise that they picked up a virus during the airplane trip north.

On our second day at my dad’s house, Grace ran a temperature and threw up. I treated her virus with my standard Mom Cure For Everything: an unlimited supply of popsicles, a reasonable dose of Tylenol, and a heaping helping of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

“Well, at least this is just the beginning of our trip, so she still has plenty of time to recover and visit,” I told my dad.

A week later, her one-year-old brother came down with the same virus. He napped in the bedroom and his sister watched cartoons while I scrubbed the house with bleach in an effort to kill the virus and salvage our trip. Before too long, I’d be back in northern Arizona talking to my windmill, so I desperately wanted to take full advantage of visiting and talking to actual real, live human beings while I could.

Apparently, my kids completely missed this memo. On the last week of our trip, I called a longtime friend I had been planning to stay with for a few days and said “Does pinkeye freak you out? Because I think Milo has it.”

I completely gave up trying to visit anyone besides my dad when Grace woke up with severe conjunctivitis in both eyes. Our new plan was to limp home to Arizona and call, text or write the friends we didn’t get to see.

The journey home proved more terrifying than any of the previous illnesses, though. There was a dramatic and terrifying moment when the flight attendant got on the intercom and asked the passengers “Is there a doctor or nurse on board? We have a passenger who needs medical attention.” Unfortunately, Grace was the star of that scene; she had an allergic reaction to the prescription eye drops I had been giving her for three days. The evil drops waited for us to leave my dad’s home located 20 minutes from a hospital and board an airplane before they swelled up Grace’s face and partially closed her airways.

Thankfully, there was a doctor on board (hi, Karen! We love you! You were an unexpected angel in the skies!). Grace’s swelling went down during the remainder of the flight, but her eyes were really infected from the drops. Karen told me to give her Benadryl at the hotel room and take her to a doctor the next morning. Done and done; Grace recovered completely in a couple days with oral antibiotics.

We three travelers are now back home, safe and sound at the Triangle N with Jim. If you’d like to visit, please drive out whenever you can. Because we are never leaving the ranch again.

Grace

Photo of Grace by Grandma Two Dogs (my mom, who is not native)

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Ranch Wives’ Suggestion Box

Remote ranch wives from across the generations and regions of the Western United States all have stories about sketchy houses, social isolation (the windmill is my only friend! No, seriously, it talks to me. Please don’t take away my kids), and the beyond long road to town that we rarely travel because most days it is just too darn long.

As we glean experience over the years, we all have a few comments, concerns and questions that we sometimes wish would be addressed. We could certainly fill up a suggestion box, especially if it was located at a central place often frequented by remote ranch wives, such as the family bathroom at Walmart or the boxed wine aisle at any grocery store.

But, ranch life hasn’t changed that much over the last several decades, which proves that we don’t actually have a suggestion box. If we did, here’s what some of the cards might read:

“I’m a brand-new ranch wife, so please forgive my audacity in bringing up an issue that may be deemed petty by the higher-ups.
There is a hole in my roof. The five-gallon bucket that covered it when we moved in kept out the snow for a while – about 7 minutes, as I recall. Unfortunately, the bucket falls off when the wind blows, and apparently the wind blows a lot in Wyoming.
I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate solution would be – perhaps fix the hole in the roof? At any rate, my husband has grown weary of my voicing this concern, and he politely suggested I notify the appropriate authority.”

“I know that production agriculture is a 24/7 industry and that cowboys must work long hours, but is it possible that the crew’s workload could be lightened just a smidge? I’m not suggesting anything radical like lunch breaks or Sundays off; I’d just like our kids to recognize their dad as more than a pair of dirty Levi’s on the laundry room floor or the smell of coffee in the kitchen before the rest of us awaken. I mean, if he unexpectedly picked them up from a homeschool co-op field trip, I don’t want them to scream ‘Stranger danger!’ and dial 911.”

“While I appreciate the complimentary housing, is there any way my family could move into a unit where the ground is NOT visible through cracks in the floor? That is all. Thank you.”

“I’d like to suggest some type of regularly scheduled ranch wives’ social gathering. We often live at least one hour from the nearest human not related to us by choice or by birth, and it gets more than a bit lonesome. It would be nice if we ladies could get together and chat, or at least look at one another long enough to convince ourselves we aren’t the only people still currently residing at the ranch.
If no such meetings can be arranged, I’d like to request a painted rock collection, please. I need something with a name that I can talk to every day and bond with, and the kids just aren’t cutting it anymore.”

“Dirt is a fact of ranch life, but could some sort of minimum cleanliness standards be imposed prior to move-in day for newly hired cowboys? I know the cowboys themselves don’t mind as much, but let me tell ya, their wives are sure tired of cutting dog poop out of the carpet and hauling a truckload of trash out of the kitchen cupboards before they can cook a meal. I’m not asking for the trailer house to pass a white-glove inspection; just a basic overall sense of household hygiene that reassures we womenfolk that our babies won’t catch a virus from crawling on the floor and puke for a week immediately upon arrival.”

“Since we live over two hours from the nearest town and one hour from mail delivery, Amazon Prime doesn’t apply to our lives. But, we still run out of diapers and misplace our toddler’s favorite sippy cup like other modern American parents. What are the chances of using drone technology to deliver packages to remote cow camps? If that isn’t cost-effective, could someone bring back the pack mule system to cut through the mountains and circumvent the long, rutted ranch road? I’m not sure about the other wives, but there are days that I would pay a LOT of money for someone to deliver toilet paper and dish soap to my house rather than drive five hours in one day, plus time spent shopping/eating fast food/changing diapers/managing temper tantrums with two small children.
I can even provide the pack mule. Her name is Alexa.”

“I have a question, not a suggestion. We recently moved into a mobile home that predates the Nixon administration, and I noticed a couple of signatures on the bathroom wall. One name, a woman’s, has a heart drawn around it.
My question is: Do I sign my name? Should I draw a cute shape – maybe a star – around it? Is this some type of tradition unique unto this particular ranch, or is it more common in ranch housing than a person realizes?
My other question is: Why in the hell do I live in a home with people’s names written on the bathroom wall?
Please send help. Or at least an eraser and a box of wine.”

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Downsizing: Keep Mine, Toss His

“Honey, start packin’.”

When my husband called me on his way home from work and said those words, I immediately died. Then I came back to life and had the presence of mind to say “Wha…?”

“The boss said we could go to Elko tomorrow and get the rest of our stuff,” he replied.

“Oh, good,” I said. “You really had me scared for a second!”

Cowboys will quit or get fired for any reason or no reason, so it took me a few minutes to recover from the initial misunderstanding from my husband’s phone call.

When we moved from Elko, Nevada to Prescott, Arizona last fall, we left most of our furniture and belongings in a storage unit up north. Once we were more settled in at the O RO, though, I wanted to finish furnishing our home.

Our new home is a tiny 2-bedroom cow camp house, so we had some downsizing to do. While deciding what to keep and what to donate to a thrift store, I realized all my stuff was precious and valuable, and all of my spouse’s stuff wasn’t. I didn’t mention this revelation prior to departing on our trip, though. I figured I would save it for the end, when we had exhausted our supply of road trip stress triggers and needed a fresh spark to ignite an argument.

Once we arrived in Elko and stood face-to-storage-unit with all our worldly possessions, we began unpacking boxes and sorting things into “donate” and “keep” piles.

“Do you really need this box marked ‘extra silver conchos’?” I asked my husband. “Don’t you have enough silver bits and bridle outfits?”

“Where’s our marriage certificate?” he replied. “I’m beginning to question its validity.”

I have been keeping a journal since I was 9 nine years old, and I keep most of these handwritten volumes in a plastic tub. Even though the name of my BFF’s fourth-grade crush is no longer relevant to my daily life, I refuse to get rid of my diaries, because they are part of my history. On the other hand, Jim’s history began when he met me. Every time we move, I ask him if we really need to keep his childhood baseball card collection.

“Yes, those might be really valuable someday.”

“So, I should stop handing them to the baby to shred into confetti and throw out the window when he’s fussy?”

Jim turned away and resumed his search for our marriage certificate. Instead, he found the waffle iron.

“I don’t even like waffles. Can we get rid of this thing?” he asked.

“No, I really like waffles, and so do your children.”

He tossed it into the donation pile.

In the end, we kept the silver and the waffle iron, but we got rid of a big tub of broken tack, a custom pool cue with a mother-of-pearl inlaid handle that has never left its case in 10 years, clothes the kids have outgrown and the entire contents of six boxes we never unpacked at our last two houses.

We had whittled our worldly possessions down to only the ones that served a practical purpose, brought us joy, reminded us of loved ones, and could comfortably fit into a twenty-foot stock trailer.

“I’m proud of us, we got rid of a lot of stuff,” Jim said as he surveyed our work.

“Yes, and I realized some of your stuff is precious and valuable after all,” I replied. “I mean, some of your stuff was originally gifts from me.”

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Confused And Slightly Caffeinated

Last Friday, I sat in the truck in front of my house at 6:25 a.m. with a blanket, a cup of coffee and my cell phone. I was hiding from my noisy children and awaiting a phone call from the Horses In The Morning podcast. I was nervous, and not just because it was spitting snow and I wanted to haul a couch home from town after the interview.

In 5 years of working as a journalist, I had interviewed a couple hundred people. But this was my first experience being the interviewee. I hoped the hosts wouldn’t ask any hard questions like “What’s your middle name?” because I wasn’t sure I could answer that under pressure.

Going into the interview, I had no idea what to expect. The show was about horses, so maybe were they going to ask me how many bones are in the equine skeleton and to define “cremello.” I wasn’t up on all the proper equine terms – would they make fun of me if I said “ankle” instead of “fetlock”?

Then I was live on the air. I was confused, slightly caffeinated, and talking up a storm. In case you don’t have time to listen to my full 20-minute interview, here’s a recap.

-Glenn, one of the two co-hosts, was flabbergasted by how far we live from town. We recently moved to the Triangle N camp of the O RO Ranch, so now we are 2 1/2 hours from Prescott. This location would not work for Glenn, because he apparently goes to the grocery store 57 times a week.

-Glenn’s co-host Jamie jokingly suggested a movie or reality show could be in our future, but I’m not sure if anyone except the grandparents would tune in on a regular basis to watch me yell “Milo, quit playing on the anthill!” and teach Grace how to sing “Five Little Ducks.” Besides, if a TV production crew followed me around all day, I’d be like, “Put that camera down, grab a load of laundry and start hanging it on the clothesline. Ranch life is a participation activity, not a spectator event.”

-I only cussed once. It was just a li’l ole h-bomb, so I was pretty proud of myself. Fact: Mommy has a potty mouth. It’s something to work on, like cleaning my bath tub and flossing on a regular basis.

-Jamie said that from looking at my website, it was clear that I had an “amazing husband and family.” Of all the interview’s 20 minutes, Jim is of course pretty hung up on that one line. It’s like he didn’t even hear all my witty remarks and snappy retorts.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the podcast here. Go to 31:30 if you want to skip to my part, but feel free to listen to the other interviews as well. You’ll learn a little more about what it’s like living down this long, long dirt road.

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Desolate Ranch Wife Profile

Name: Jolyn Ann Young

Alias: Mom (As in “Mom, I always call you Mom, huh, Mom?”)

Location: Over 50 miles past the pavement, one hour past mail delivery, and 10 miles past the headquarters of the O RO Ranch at the Triangle N camp in northern Arizona.

Age: (15 + 7 – 2 + 10) x (1 + 1 – 1)    Hint: I’m 30.

Height: I always say I’m 5’5″, but I’m actually 5′ 4 3/4″. My husband says I’m 5’2″. I round up, and he’s just plain wrong.

Weight: Are we measuring with or without a small child or children’s shoe/jacket/doll/truck/snack/sippy cup in my arms? I have no idea what I weigh these days when unencumbered by proof of motherhood. Hey, that’s what we can start calling those extra pounds: “proof of motherhood.”

Marital status: Still with my first husband, whether he likes it or not.

Children: 2 children; 1 boy and 1 girl. I think anymore than two kids would be too much for me. I often think two kids are too much for me, then I look around and think “Oh, crap.”

Occupation: Baby slave. I mean, stay-at-home-mom.

Hobbies: Lactating and cleaning my kitchen.

Motto: Figure it the f*ck out and make it work. Telling myself this has helped me get through five years of making a 6-article deadline each month while simultaneously raising two kids without a babysitter and feed my family balanced meals while in the midst of running out of groceries due to an impassable road to town during the winter. I’m not sure why my personal pep talk involves the F=bomb. But it works, so I ain’t f-in’ with it.

Personal style: Country casual with sticky food smear shoulder accents and sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen. I don’t want to have a wrinkly neck when I’m 40. Especially because that’s only in 10 years, and 40 is still super young.

Religion: Attempting to follow Jesus Christ, but I fail daily. One of the greatest joys of my life thus far has been teaching my daughter to pray. Side effect: whenever I curse, she instantly asks God to forgive me.

Nylon or poly: Whatever my husband ties on my saddle. I’m just so excited to be on a horse and wearing a roping glove that I’d throw a piece of baling twine at a cow if that’s all that was available. But given the choice, I prefer a 3/8″ scant, extra soft lay 40′ green Open Range nylon. Or a piece of twine. Whatever.

Most embarrassing moment: Um, there are definitely too many to choose from. Maybe the time I walked into a closed sliding glass door in a custom hat shop in Abilene, Texas, or the time my friend Theo and I walked into the wrong house for a college graduation party and announced “We’re here!” only to find a strange man and his little dog sitting on the couch in his underwear watching TV. The man was wearing underwear, not the little dog. Had the dog been wearing underwear, I think that would have counted as the dog’s most embarrassing moment.

Favorite drink: Pink lemonade. If you come hang out with me, we’ll stay sober and make some bad decisions.

Biggest insecurity: My crooked teeth. I freaking hate them and am super self conscious about them. So, naturally, I chose to post a picture emphasizing them on the Internet for others to see. Because that’s what I do.

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The Home Haircut

“Oh, shoot,” I said, except I didn’t say shoot.

Considering that I was holding a pair of clippers and standing behind my husband, these words were especially foreboding. It’s never good when the hairdresser curses while working. It’s even worse when the hairdresser is barely qualified to plug in the clippers, much less select and change the blade guard.

Even though I have no formal or informal training regarding how to administer men’s haircuts, I have been roped into doing them for the last several years. When a woman shows up on a remote ranch, someone immediately hands her a pair of clippers and all the cowboys line up. It’s weird.

Cowboys live a long ways from town and a barbershop, and I guess they figure women have a knack for cutting hair.

Ha.

I’ll take full credit for single-handedly proving them wrong.

The worst haircut I have given to date happened a few days ago in my kitchen. My husband wanted me to try giving him a high and tight, so he handed me his phone to watch a YouTube video. After 18 minutes, I said “She makes it look easy, but I’m not fooled. I will probably screw this up.”

“You told me to watch a YouTube video and install your car stereo, so get the scissors and give it a try,” Jim replied.

You’d think someone would be more interested in their hairdresser’s proper training and education. But, you’d be wrong, if that someone was a cowboy with extremely limited barbering options.

While the kids were occupied in the bath, I used the bare clippers on the base of Jim’s head. I carefully took them straight up, not following the curve of his head. So far, so good. Just like the woman in the video. I grabbed the scissors that once upon a time came in a haircut kit but have since been used to open bags of goldfish crackers, cut through cardboard boxes, and slice through string. Once snip of the hair revealed they were way too dull for the task at hand.

So, I grabbed a number two blade guard and took the low-skill approach to finishing the haircut. By now, the kids were out of the bath and the little one was angry. I held him with one arm and ran the clippers with my non-dominant hand.

I have no idea why I do the things I do sometimes.

I tried to smoothly blend the short back with the slightly longer top, but the toddler’s spastic reaching for the clippers caused me to equally spastically jerk him away from his dad’s head. Naturally, this affected my ability to run the clippers in a controlled manner.

The haircut quickly acquired a variety of straight lines, sharp corners, and indentations.

“This looks like shit,” I dejectedly told Jim.

“It’s okay, you’re doing good, just keep blending.”

God bless that man for being so helpful and encouraging, even as his wife was butchering his hair.

I grabbed the number zero blade guard, because I’d never seen one before and I thought it might help blend the short area into the too-short area. One buzz in proved that theory wrong.

That’s when I cussed again and said there was no hope. He would just have to wear a hat 24/7 until his hair grew out. Possibly longer, to prevent me from trying to give him another home haircut.

Can you guess where I experimented with the number zero blade guard? If you think this looks bad, you should see what I did to his sideburns. I miss Nevada, where I could just take a number two blade guard to the whole thing, leave a forelock, and call it good.

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These Things I Know For Certain

I don’t claim to know very much,
but these things I know for certain.
Hymns sound best when sang outdoors,
and old bed sheets make the best curtains.

Coffee tastes best from a percolator,
with canned milk, rich and creamy.
Fresh bread smells like heaven,
sliced thick with butter, hot and steamy.

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The eggs and tortillas kind of take center stage here, but note the enamel percolator on the warmer. Side note: everything tastes better when cooked on a wood stove.

Sheets feel delicious when dried outside,
they capture the smell of the wind.
While on the line they make a great tent
for kids who are playing pretend.

Lipstick and dresses look good on the ranch,
although practical, they really are not.
Neither are flowers, but yet they still bloom
atop my fridge in a hand-painted pot.

Soft dirt belongs between my toes
when the air warms up in the spring.
Lilacs make the sweetest perfume,
better than a sample in any magazine.

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Yes, I realize the blooms pictured above are wildflowers, not lilacs, but I thought they were so pretty and wild and wonderful that they deserved a photographic representation in this poem.

My cheek rests on my husband’s chest,
when I lean into his strong embrace.
I can smell dirt and sweat from his work,
and feel his shirt snaps press into my face.

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It has been pointed out to me, more than once and usually by my husband, that I am short. When I disagree, Jim says “You think you’re big? Good for you.” And he means it. He’s supportive like that.
Freedom lies just beyond my front door,
when I step out into God’s open country.
No locked gates, crowds or traffic,
just the cactus, cedar trees and me.

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This is where I live. What a great backyard, right?

 

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