Truck Engine Or Airplane?

Along with all the other cowboys, my husband has been camped out on the ranch to work cows for several weeks. In his absence, I have contemplated the deeper meaning of life, engaged in daily yet meaningful soul-searching, and set aside time each day to reflect on what family means to me.

Also, I call my mom a lot. Only to tell her really important things, like that my two-year-old son can slap himself on the chest and say “ma!” to indicate himself. And that my four-year-old daughter learned a new knock-knock joke that doesn’t make sense, but I laughed anyway.

When I’m not updating my mom on her grandkids’ antics in real time, (you don’t need Twitter if I have your phone number), I’m making blankets and potholders. I taught my daughter Grace to hand sew little stuffed animals, and together we have been assembling care packages for friends and family both far and near. If we know you, might one day meet you, or have heard about you, it’s reasonable to expect a package from us in the mail. We ship on Wednesdays.

After sewing time, I continue Grace’s education in the womanly arts by teaching her to binge watch Friends while eating chocolate chips straight out of the bag. That last part still happens when Jim is home, but with him gone I actually get to eat some of the chocolate chips.

Don’t you hate it when you get a good burn on your spouse, but it’s kind of a waste because they are camped out far from home, sleeping in a tipi and eating out of a chuckwagon? So aggravating.

Besides hogging all the chocolate, I’m rediscovering other things I used to enjoy before cohabiting with a man, like walking into the kitchen and finding all the cabinet doors closed. The dish rag is always properly draped over the sink divider, and I no longer find a complete set of clothes on the floor in front of the recliner.

Sadly, no one brings me a morning cup of coffee, and the scent of Old Spice deodorant wafts into the air every time I open the medicine cabinet, which makes me miss Jim. I also spend too much time playing “Truck Engine Or Airplane?” every time I hear a rumble in the distance. Worst of all, I had to solve the problem of How Did The Horses Get Out? all by myself.

Because of course the horses got out. It’s an unwritten law of ranch life that the livestock will get out and play when the cowboy husband is away. When I looked out the front window in my pajamas and slippers and saw a buckskin and a roan nibbling grass on the wrong side of the fence, I opened the door and said “Hey, guys! Jim’s been gone 10 days, what took you so long?”

I baited the stray equines back in with a bucketful of grain, then did what any strong-willed, self-sufficient Woman of the West would do. I called my neighbors and asked for help. Pat and Leddy came over and rode the fence line of the horse pasture, then I cooked a chicken pot pie and we visited for a couple hours. When they got up to leave, Grace  threw her body across the door, which was a testament to how much she liked them.

Or maybe it illustrated how long it’s been since we’ve seen other humans. When Jim gets home, I can tell him “Welcome back, honey! We had company over for lunch while you were gone, and I only had to cut one fence to get them to come out here!”

He’ll be thrilled.

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I call this look “Perplexed” and I use it when trying to figure out if the distant sound is a truck engine bringing my husband back to me or an airplane flying overhead. I also use it multiple other times throughout each day, like when I’m trying to figure out why I am sitting by a tree looking through a broken window pane.



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Growling In Public

We went to the Legacy Ranch Horse Sale this past weekend, partly because we live on one of the ranches involved but mostly because my husband bought a new Hawaiian shirt. When you look that good in orange silk, you have to show it off. Between the short-sleeved floral shirt and his baseball cap, all of Jim’s cowboy friends did a double-take before they recognized him.

His plan to dress incognito and blend in with the idle spectators backfired, though, because he spent the afternoon helping me keep track of our two young children, both of whom are genetically similar to wind-up toys.

“Are you ready to go yet, honey?” he asked me with sweat dripping down his sideburns and a desperate look in his eye.

“We’ve only been here ten minutes,” I replied.

“Is that all? I’ve branded calves all day on the desert and not been this exhausted.”

I smiled demurely, then fixed my lipstick while changing a diaper. There’s no way I could flank calves all day and keep up with my husband, but I am in shape and conditioned to keeping up with hyperactive kids.

I followed my kids up, down, through, and back around the grandstands while trying to recognize the handful of locals I’d connected with online by their Facebook profile pictures. I hoped Amy was wearing her nose ring and at least part of her forearm tattoo showing. It would be even better if her face was located in a one-inch square and had her name above it. I was really hoping the editor with whom I had exchanged several emails had a pen behind her ear, stress wrinkles across her forehead and was chain smoking cigarettes. Because that’s how editors are supposed to look, right?

She wasn’t chain smoking, but I ran into Jennifer, a friend and writing mentor who I recognized without the aid of social media interface. I was able to sit down with her for a lengthy chat uninterrupted by my children, since my husband thought I was using the restroom and thus had taken our kids for a walk.

Pro tip: Keep your cell phone in your hand when employing this evasive maneuver. That way, when your frazzled spouse shows up carrying a screaming toddler while dragging a 4-year-old by the hand and asks “Where have you been?” you can reply “I was just about to call you!”

Full disclosure: They won’t believe this line. Because they have kids, too.

Our kids may be rowdy, but I like to think they’re just exhibiting typical kid behavior. Our toddler son only growled at a random stranger once, so we are pleased with how his social skills are developing. He and his sister will stand naked in the front yard and howl at a pack of nearby coyotes until the varmints fall into confused silence, but they are inexperienced in commonplace human social interactions such as – well, not growling at other humans. Our four-year-old, Grace, didn’t growl even once and kept all her clothes on while we were in public. I’m thinking of having a bumper sticker made to commemorate the occasion.

I have no pictures from our family outing at the horse sale, because apparently I am the world’s most unprepared blogger. Many friendly strangers have pictures of my son, because he wore his boots, spurs, Wranglers and hat and charmed the socks off of everybody. So, here’s a picture of a happy buyer and a pretty horse from the sale. Because while my husband and I were chasing our kids, three northern Arizona ranches sold a whole bunch of quality ranch horses. Unlike my children, they are guaranteed to be sound, healthy, and not prone to growling.

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Photo Credit: Legacy Ranch Horse Sale’s Facebook page

And here’s a photo of Milo displaying his “grrr face” at home.

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Wagon Widow

This month brings another fall wagon for my husband and the other cowboys here at the O RO. Around here, the wagon isn’t just for tradition; the country is too rough, rocky, steep, and otherwise unconducive to driving semi trucks – or even horse trailers – to the far reaches of the ranch to work cattle. So, the cowboy crew plus a handful of dayworkers and a cook camp out for about two months, changing locations every couple weeks or so.

During the spring wagon, we were brand-new to the area and I dreaded being left alone on a remote ranch with our two small children. I didn’t write about that wagon, because all that came to mind was “This is stupid and I hate it.”

Over the summer, I have grown more accustomed to the solitude of camp life at the ROs. When Jim left this fall, I smiled and said me and the kids would be cheerful while he was gone.

I tell Jim not to worry about us,
the kids and I will be all right.
But I toss and turn in our big, empty bed,
I can’t fall asleep ’till after midnight.

Thunder booms and I’m wide awake.
A flash of lightning outlines a tree.
Wind drives the rain against the windows hard,
both kids run to jump in bed with me.

I think of Jim in his canvas house,
beneath the quilt I made for him.
I pray he is warm and dry,
although I know chances of that are slim.

The cowboy crew camps out in range tipis for the duration of the fall works. Tipis are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and only super fun when there’s a smaller pair of boots by the door. Jim waterproofs his tipi before each wagon, but even the best-made ones can only take so much abuse during a bad storm.

We pass the next day watching too many movies.
The noise takes the edge off the lonely.
We don’t seem quite so all by ourselves,
with Jim Craig and Jessica for company.

When Jim left for the spring wagon, my biggest concern was how I’d manage the evening routine alone. The children had me outnumbered, and I desperately wanted to shower. Now that I’m a semi-seasoned wagon widow, my biggest concern is falling asleep without Jim’s feet underneath the covers next to my feet. In his absence, I wear his t-shirt for pajamas and drop my socks on the floor beside the laundry basket. It’s like he never left.

Holding down the fort can be lonesome,
but it teaches me to rely on me.
And I know Jim is chasing cows on the desert,
which is a good spot for a cowboy to be.

Every night, I pray that Jim is safe and warm. Grace prays that Daddy’s bedroll doesn’t catch on fire. Her concern stems from an incident on the spring wagon during which Jim fell asleep with his tipi heater too close to his bedroll and woke up to a smoke-filled tipi. He quickly hurled the canvas tarp outside and jumped up and down on it until the flames were extinguished wearing nothing but a pair of tennis shoes.

To say hi and check out the camp’s fire safety procedures, the kids and I drive out to the wagon camp about once a week to visit Jim. Grace always squeals “Daddy!” and wraps herself around Jim’s upper body while Milo grins and lays his fuzzy little head on Daddy’s shoulder. I patiently wait my turn, then stand on my tippy toes for the good kissing.

The wagon only lasts for a season,
even though it rolls around twice each year.
My cowboy knows that when the work is done,
his family will be waiting right here.



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Cherry Chapstick And Drop-Off Cliffs

With the cowboy crew currently camped out on the fall wagon, the kids and I have been commissioned to feed our neighbor’s dogs for two months. The chore takes 10 minutes, but the drive makes it a five-hour trip. We travel on a primitive mountain road filled with steep ascents, plunging descents, rocky creek crossings, and drop-off cliffs.

It’s not too bad, as long as I don’t get a flat tire or forget my Chapstick. Cherry flavor is my favorite, but I am quickly becoming obsessed with Victoria’s Secret lip gloss as well. This makes me super useful in the event of an emergency, because I can lean on the car and look good while someone else changes the tire.

How does one drive five hours round trip every other day with two small kids? First, I head east down the driveway toward headquarters. After cresting the hill, I take an immediate left turn onto Insanity Flat, pause for effect at Don’t Make Me Pull This Car Over Canyon, linger (if possible) at Take A Deep Breath Creek, detour over The Wheels On The Bus Go ‘Round And ‘Round Peak, try not to cry as I cross Yet Another Freaking Creek, then stop for lunch fifteen miles away at Distant Neighbor’s House.

I haven’t actually cried yet, but we’re only one week into this project. Once, I calmly stepped out of my Jeep and yelled loudly at the mountains for the sake of not beating my children. I am usually grateful for the kids’ company, though. Most days, four-year-old Grace is good help. She hands me water, picks up her little brother’s crayons, and says “Wow, that is a LONG way down!” when looking over the side of a steep canyon.

And there are a LOT of steep canyons on the way to Jason’s. I always text my husband when we leave our house, so he can come looking for us if he doesn’t receive a text that we returned safely. That way, no matter where we are, I know we’ll only have to wait about three, maybe four hours until help arrives.

I don’t even want to imagine what dangers could befall us during those long hours alone and helpless in the boonies, baking in the hot sun with only one tube of lip gloss. A bear might find us, or an overprotective mama elk. Or, worse yet, we could run out of Cheetos. My kids get hangry before I can say “Who ate the last graham cracker?” so I don’t even want to imagine their behavior miles from home and hours from a snack. If an elk did charge, I could just tell the kids that its antlers tasted like licorice and he’d be running for the top of the mountain quicker than I could say “Save some for Mama!”

The ranch is filled with an abundance of wildlife besides elk, so I encourage the kids to look for antelope, deer, road runners, and aborigines. I’m 99.99% certain that all the native peoples were located by explorers of European origin by the late 1800s, but if any were left, I’m 100% certain that they’re living in the deep, brush-filled canyons of northern Arizona. We may think we’re the only humans out here, but I just know there is a tribe of wild people waving at the big white birds that never land and spear hunting the smooth-haired bison that all have oddly uniform scars on their left hips.

Regardless of the difficulties and challenges, we have been doing what rural residents have been doing for hundreds of years: helping out our neighbors, taking care of animals, spending quality time with our children, and – ultimately – traveling all day to cover thirty miles.

This smooth-haired bison is wondering what in the world a woman and two kids are doing bumping over this rough ol’ road three times a week.

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Gone Fi$hing

My husband has recently taken up bass fishing as a hobby, and I am encouraging him to go pro after only three months. I’m not motivated by the daydream of being on a magazine cover standing beside a sunburned man wearing a tackle vest and smiling like crazy while holding a fish by the bottom lip, or even the promise of having my laundry room smell even more like a pond. I’d just like to recoup some of the money we’ve spent on fishing lures before we have to start dipping into the kids’ college fund to buy groceries, mostly because the kids don’t have a college fund and I like to eat.

Part of the trouble is that lures must be changed not only annually, but seasonally. Fish eat different baits at different times of the year, so anglers must adjust the contents of their tackle boxes accordingly.

Additionally, fish learn to recognize lures that previously hooked them, and they won’t bite the same bait more than once or twice.

Fish are attracted to realistic lures that resemble their actual food, such as flies and frogs. They are also attracted to unrealistic lures that resemble Christmas tree ornaments. Basically, fish are attracted to everything in the world. Therefore, a fisherman must buy everything in the world. Because if he fails to purchase what the fish want and they cease biting, the world will stop. Or, at least he won’t have any new fish to brag about, which is basically the same thing.

Catering to the whims of the fickle fish, an angler must continually purchase new types of lures. My personal theory is that the fish don’t give two worms about the color or size of the rubber frog on a hook. They just go along with the scheme while stashing kickbacks from the bait companies in the Bank of Creek and smoking Cuban cigars through their gills.

“Summer is almost here. What should we start biting for the new season?” one fish asked his buddy between puffs.

“I’m thinking rubber worms with a small nail in the nose. The anglers will like it because they’ll think it’s a new twist on an old classic. Plus, I own stock in the lead industry. That business could really use a boost – lead sure took a nose dive when humans discovered it was bad for babies.”

Rather than hatching news ways to twist old classics, my personal theory is that fishing lure designers find new materials by getting whiskey drunk and rummaging around on the floor of a Las Vegas showgirl’s dressing room.

“Hey, look a sequin!”

“That’s not a sequin, that’s a beer can tab.”

“We’re not drinking beer.”

“Good point. Okay, I have no idea what that is. Let’s put it on a hook and sell them for $32 apiece.”

The way I see it, we have two options. Either I start stockpiling rice and call it “the kids’ college fund,” or Jim is going to have to take up a less expensive and addictive hobby, like high stakes gambling or money laundering.

fishing cartoon

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On Marriage, Blue Cheese and AA Batteries

To commemorate our fifth wedding anniversary, I thought I’d compile a list of what I’ve learned over the years. But, “he doesn’t like blue cheese” seemed like kind of a short list. So, I grabbed a handful of chocolate chips and glass of iced tea, plunked down on the couch and scribbled the following collection of marital advice.

Spoiler alert: My list reveals the secret to a lasting marriage, which, as it turns out, involves a handheld battery-operated device. You’ve been warned.


1) Never pass up a chance to say “I told you so.”

The bigger his or her mistake, the more your spouse will appreciate hearing you say these four little words. For long-time couples, the same effect can be achieved with a simple eyebrow raise. If time allows, launch into a lengthy monologue detailing the events that led up to your spouse’s being wrong and your being right. The more details, the better. If you find your spouse is no longer in the room, don’t be deterred. Continue lecturing, and they will eventually have to hear you out, especially if you strategically placed yourself in front of the bathroom door.



2) Pray for each other.

At first, you will likely lift up sweet sentiments like “God, please protect my husband while he is at work today and bring him safely back home to me,” or “Lord, thank You so much for my wife. She means everything to me.” As the years, children and facial wrinkles accumulate with alarming rapidity, it’s perfectly normal for those prayers to evolve into “Dear Lord, please help me to not pick up that shovel and use it to test the hardness of my dearly beloved’s skull,” or “If You would only grant me the patience to sit through another lecture on the pros and cons of rubber frogs as they apply to bass fishing, I won’t even complain about the children’s fighting tomorrow. Well, I won’t complain until lunch. How about an hour after breakfast?”

3) Learn how to fight fairly.

Then contact me with details ASAP. While you’re at, what’s the secret to ensuring that every wet towel is picked off of the bathroom floor? What’s the status on that house with the self-cleaning kitchen? Did Porky Pig ever get his jet pack figured out and off the ground?

4) Smile, dammit.

Jim looked at me one evening while I was washing dishes on a July day in a house with no air conditioning and a baby strapped to my back and asked “Why do you have that smirk on your face?”

“I’m not smirking,” I replied. “I’m making myself smile, because I find it makes unpleasant situations better.”

“It’s kinda creepy. Could you stop?”

“So, you’d rather start seeing my real expression every morning while I clean the floor, my own feet and the bottom of a child who didn’t make it to the bathroom in time before I’ve even had a sip of coffee?”

“Point taken. I like the smirk.”

5) Insist on a picture-perfect proposal and wedding.

An over-the-top proposal followed by the most romantic, fairytale-esque wedding that your friends and have family have ever attended is an absolute MUST for a happy, long-lived marriage.

If he isn’t down on one knee offering a diamond ring that seriously jeopardized his ability to feed and house himself for the better part of eight months and she isn’t having heart palpitations as her shaky left-hand ring finger and soon-to-be-married brain connect the dots, then….it doesn’t really matter.

Shhhhh! Don’t tell the diamond companies!

A wedding and the subsequent marriage are about so much more than the perfect dress, fresh flowers and a five-piece band. Marriage is about exploring the deepest parts of your innermost selves together, like discovering that he stops breathing when the TV remote dies, and she plots a course around a grocery store like a drunken primate. The secret to a lasting marriage? Learn to administer CPR while changing AA batteries and practice deep-breathing exercises in preparation for your fourth trip through the produce section.


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Life Lessons From A Cowboy Kid

We human beings typically prefer to learn our life lessons the hard way. In case you’re interested in shortcuts, here’s a cheat sheet straight from the perspective of a cowboy kid.

1)Pants are optional.

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Don’t let society dictate what constitutes acceptable fashion. If you want to hang out in your front yard wearing a cowboy hat, long-sleeve shirt and cowboy boots, whip off those britches and get out the door.

2) Always size up your opponent before entering the arena.

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Never back down. But if there’s an orangutan (big, scary, hairy critter) on the other side of the gate, it might be better to take a good look before jumping in spurs-first. You might want to grab bigger spurs.

3) Don’t be afraid to stick out your belly.

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You work hard at avoiding sit-ups and only running when someone yells “Cake!” Regardless of your physique, you gotta show off that shape. Especially if your older sister is on your side, and she is even bigger and ornerier than you are.

4) Find a worthy role model to follow.

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It doesn’t matter if your role model is the opposite gender or doesn’t believe in wearing shoes. We all need someone to look up to in this world, and not just because they’re taller than us. Once you find that person(s), you better not let them get too far away.

5) Dress for the job you want. DSC_0901 (1024x702)

If you want to be a cowboy, then by gosh you better strap your spurs on each morning and head to the barn. Even if you don’t know exactly how to properly use the gear or fix a wonky item, put it on and hang out with people who know how to use it, and you’ll soon learn their skills.

6) Kick off your boots once in a while.

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Occasionally, we all need to run barefoot and feel the dirt between our toes. It reminds us of our inherent freedom as human beings, our core connection with the natural world, and the primary reason for shoes: protection from sharp rocks and thorny plants.

7)  Stop and figure out why there is poop on your hat.

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Sometimes in life, you’ll discover that everything that was once green, growing and wonderful has turned to poop. Instead of a July hay field bordered by wildlfowers, you’ll discover you are surrounded by bare dirt and dried-up poop. It covers the ground at your feet and even adorns your hat.

Initially, you may become angry and withdrawn, pulling your hat down over your eyes in a futile effort to ignore the poop.

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Then, you may become sullen and distant, pulling your hat up to acknowledge the world but allowing the poop to remain on your hat.

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And then, to your (and your sister’s) dismay, you sometimes discover that YOU are the cause of the poop on your hat.

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At this point, it is generally considered wise to stop putting poop on your hat. Cease your destructive actions, clean up your hat, and continue leading a clean, fulfilling, poop-free life.

8) Develop a Grrr Face for challenging times. DSC_0904 (1024x683)

Next time life throws you a sh!tty situation, you can face it head-on with your hat pushed back and a fearsome grimace on your countenance.

9) Practice your pondering face.

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It is wise to be able to look wise at a moment’s notice. This way, it somebody asks you a tricky question like “What is the meaning of life?” or “How do I cook spaghetti noodles that don’t stick together?” you can instantly switch into Pondering Mode until the inquisitor realizes that you are much too wise to be bothered with such trivial matters and heads off to solve their own problems, or look up the answer on Google.

10) Always bring a hat, because you never know when you might need a place to sit.

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Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. A hat is a hat, unless it’s a seat.

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