Sunday, May 31, 2015

Today, Sunday:

Today is National Women's Ride Day.  I don't know who came up with this.  There are too many "Days" out there, in my opinion. "Eat Green Peas Day"... "Say Good Morning to One Hundred People Day"... "Red-Winged Blackbird Day"...

I am making these up.  (I think.)

But here it is, National Women's Ride Day, and so:

I am the short one towards the left, sporting a teal peacock on my bike jersey.  (Thanks, kids, for my Mother's Day gift some years ago; the gift that keeps me going...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Next Morning

The morning after my rancher neighbor called, I ate a hearty ranch breakfast and got into my rancher duds. It was hot, and I can't do hot, so I donned some capris.  Not kicky capris, just denim "have them in your wardrobe in case you ever get invited to wrangle cows in hot weather" capris.  I also wore a long-sleeved linen shirt.  Not because I thought resort wear was in order, but because I hate sunscreen and sweat does indeed dry on linen really quickly.  And lastly, my three-decades-old Aussie "bush hat".  It is/was guaranteed to be uncrushable for 36 years; I should have taken it back to Queensland this spring to show them that it crushes remarkably well.  Nevertheless, it has stayed in useful employment on hot sunny days on both sides of the equator for 31 years.  And finally, I wore my Aussie Blundstone "Blunnies" boots, which, too, have served me a decade or two.

All-in-all, I was a 55-year-old fashion masterpiece to behold.

I drove down to The Bunkhouse, where I was to meet our rancher neighbor and his ranch herd manager. Both cowboys.  Hats, boots, they drive pickups and ride horses.  I poured coffee into my china cup and walked into the barn, where I thought I might be stationed at a table or desk or something.  That's when Joe said, "We have 60 cow/calf pairs that we will sort, and then this afternoon we will vaccinate both cows and calves, and sort them into which of two pastures we want them to go."

Well, that sounded like an organized plan.  I wasn't aware that it included me until Joe said, "Trish, if you come out here (as he motioned to a big pen full of black cows and calves, all mooing and moving...) we'll get the cows moving along the back side...blah blah blah..." and I found myself following him into the sea of large black animals.  I am not a tall woman.  These gals were as tall as me. And a heck of a lot heavier than me.

I have spent years amongst horses.  The equine population is not predictable, but in that knowledge, one can anticipate the unpredictable.  This cow biz?  I had no idea what to anticipate.  And there I was, in the mix.

Our first task of the morning was to maneuver through the 120 bovine(s) {is that a plural? a singular?} to ascertain which little baby calves were without ear tags.  Those little calves were so darn cute.  Some were only three wobbly days old, some were two weeks old.  Joe or Brock, the herdsman, would grab a tagless calf by a hind leg.  Something like three or four or five mama cows would line up to see what was going to transpire.  The trick was to see which cow - Cow#1, or Cow# 2, or #3, or #4, was the Mama Cow to this calf.  Because they were all curious.  Joe and Brock had a good eye as to which cow went with which calf, but occasionally one of the men would bawl out like a calf in distress, so that the REAL SLIM SHADY cow would please stand up.

After tagging a cute little baby calf, one of the men would spend just a minute before releasing it, scratching the calf, rubbing it down, making the calf calm and helping it see that humans are gentle.

OK! This is where my anticipated job began.  My first job of the day was to record the newly-tagged calves with their mama's ear tag numbers, whether they were heifers or bull calves, or headed to steer world.  This seemed simple.

After tagging calves came the sorting.  This was not as pleasant as the cute calf bit.  This entailed moving cows and calves alongside the perimeter of the pen, with help of two seriously intelligent cattle dogs who did a large part of the work.  As perhaps ten or fifteen cows and calves headed to the NEXT pen...the gate would shut and the sorting of those cows & calves happened.  The cows were herded to one pen, and the calves to another.  This went on all morning, until all the mama cows were in one pen, and just adjacent, their baby calves.

The heat, the dust (hey : it's Kansas), and the wind (hey: it's Kansas) was uncomfortable.  The lowing and mooing had suddenly changed: the cows and calves were not happy and they were BAWLING. BAWLING, I tell you.  It was absolutely deafening.

Well.  How could it possibly be that at the very moment we (they and the dogs?  I was more of a scarecrow in the pen than an active participant) got the cow/calf pairs sorted, but Joe held his fireman's radio up in the air: An emergency call had come through.  Joe and Brock are both first  responders in our part of rural Kansas.  So I was merely lamely lip-reading through the cow cacophony that those two had to be somewhere.  Fast.  So fast, in fact, that I did not get a feel for what would transpire next.  They were off before I even had my manure-covered boots off my feet.

So I took my coffee cup and my boots, and headed home.  I called that Spouse o' Mine and gave him my take on the morning, and asked if he thought I should get cleaned up or should I stay in the cattle attire?  He had no idea.

So...the post script on the house fire was that it lasted well into the late afternoon.  The fire won.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there were calves that needed cows, and cows that certainly wanted calves.  I got a call that evening:  Cow/calf pairs had to be reunited for obvious reasons, (Baby calves need to nurse! Mama cows need that milk expressed!)  Could I possibly help out the following morning, again?

Yes!  Certainly!

(Thinking, I've got this.  I so have got this!)

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ranch Wranglin'

Our dear friends and neighbors to the south of us are cattle ranchers.  Theirs is a huge operation with hundreds of cattle and thousands of acres.  Their lifestyle is about 180* from ours: hundreds of cattle: bulls, steers, cows, and calves.

We have a dog and a cat.

This past season, my dear friend and neighbor was hospitalized for numerous weeks and months.  I sent out the neighborly "Yoo-Hoo!" asking how we could make their lives proceed more smoothly during this trying time.

We two invited their daughters over for weekday dinners when both parents were absent.  Their high school daughters are fun dinner companions.  I sent over a few meals, whenever I ascertained there was a "big-durn-deal" day at the ranch.

This month, May, I got a call from the ranch folks: Could I help the next day in sorting cow/calf pairs?

I assured them that I could.  Yes!  I would be there: in my denim capris and Australian Blundstone boots from horse days of yore.  And a jaunty 36-year-old sun hat from my first visit to Australia. And a china tea cup full of coffee.  Yes!  I was ready for service.  I thought "service" would entail typing numbers into a laptop.

Typing, sipping, going home.

Case closed.



Apparently, there is more to cow/calf biz than typing in little numbers whilst sipping lukewarm Starbucks...

Stay tuned...

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Bull

I have had interesting activity in this, my rural Kansas life, of late.  At some point I will write about it, but for now, I will share my fun artwork.

One day last month I was perusing the Southwest Art magazine (which I love!) and saw an oil painting, a knife painting, of a Hereford bull.  I loved it.  So much so that I called my local rancher (and next-door neighbor/good friend) and asked if she had any bulls (albeit Black Angus) that I could photograph for such purposes as to play with knife and oils?

She indeed took me out to where four of the ranch bulls (500 bovine specimen totaled at this ranch) were currently located. She took me out to the bulls' temporary pen.  I was busy messing with two different camera lenses for my photos, and I asked her to hold the "spare".  (My spare is a little expensive, and I think she realized this.)  The two of us (50+ years old, both of us, but one of us is a marathon runner and one of us is a blog writer) ) climbed over the tall gate into their enclosure.  This is where I asked, "Is this safe?  Are we safe?  Am I safe?"   She smiled and said we were fine.  I replied, "Well, I am behind you.  And I can run backwards FAST. She replied, "And I have your camera lens with which to throw."

I took some photos of two of the bulls, and then asked if we could venture over to where the other two bulls were standing at attention towards us.  "Sure, " she replied.

No sooner than those words were out of her mouth, but the next words, much more urgent, followed:

"No, nope!  Let's back up!"

I turned to see Angus bull #A335 pawing the dirt.  Head down, pawing the dirt.

What the heck?!!  That's something that one sees in bull fight paintings!

I didn't want a photo of a bull fight bull.  I wanted a happy bull.

I immediately walked backwards, as did my rancher neighbor.  I softly reminded her that I was behind her and that I could run backwards really fast.  She immediately reminded me that she could throw my camera lens at the errant bull post haste.

Ha ha!

We both made it back over the gate without incident.  I got some terrific photos, which I will utilize later in a knife oil painting.  As for now?  

I made a fun picture of a fun bull.  I began with Guernica, and finished with Laurel Burch.  Whoa.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Kansas Wind

That Spouse o' Mine is at Cornell University this week.

He called this morning, and during the conversation, queried about the Kansas wind.  He had heard "Wind" in the forecast.

"Well, it's blowing," I replied, "but nothing out of the extraordinary."

That was at 3:00 pm, Central Standard Time.

I called him back at 5:00 pm, CST, with the wind report:  25 mph, and 40 mph wind gusts.

What does this mean, you ask?

Very foul moods and a particularly bad hair day.

Monday, May 04, 2015


Months ago, I took a trip to Australia.  In that time, before, during, or afterward, I received in the mail a slim postcard that exclaimed that my Kansas driver's license was due to expire soon.  I am not sure I ever saw the postcard, pre-Australia.

I took my Aussie trip, returned home, and lived a normal life until weeks later when I prepared to go to Hilton Head Island, our family's annual Springtime haunt.

My flight reservation was made solely on the thought of when my Dad would be taking his tennis lesson, after which he could drive to Savannah, GA to pick me up.  So great in theory...

I glanced at my itinerary on Sunday night.  It said I would leave Kansas City at 8:00 am.


That meant I would have to leave the Flint Hills of Kansas at 4:30 am in order to make it through security on time.  I opted to leave the afternoon before, and spend the night in Kansas City.  This was not a big durn deal; I love spending time in KC.

Ok, ok, Go back to Sunday night, the night BEFORE I was going to KC to spend the night before my Tuesday flight to Savannah, to be picked up by my Dad after his tennis lesson on Hilton Head Island.  I was going through mail and bills and recycling so that everything would be "Ducksinarow" for my absence.

Whoa, there!

My driver's license!  EXPIRED!! NOooooooo!  How could this be?!!!

It was thus, because that thin little yellow postcard settled in quite nicely in-between my recycling of newspapers.  When I returned from Australia, I had a stack of newspapers, the innards of which I LOVE to read (Wall Street Journal).  And so I gleaned my papers and there was my Department of Motor Vehicles note.  Bah!!!

I showed that Spouse o' Mine the card. I said that I would renew it first thing the next morning, before I headed to Kansas City.  The next morning I drove the rural Kansas miles into town to run errands - one of which should have been the DMV.  Sheesh!  I forgot both the thin little yellow postcard AND some proof that I lived where I do.  I drove  the rural Kansas miles back home, mid-afternoon, about two hours before my planned drive the opposite direction, to Kansas City.  This day was already feeling old.

When I neared our home, I observed lots of big machines, Kansas Department of Transportation (K-DOT), very nearly blocking my drive.  Something about re-sealing the road?  I screamed shrilly at one husky driver on one husky machine, "Will I be able to drive back out in twenty minutes??"  And he smiled and smiled and smiled.  Too loud, too much hearing loss from riding loud machines, too much tar-inhaling, whatever.  I ran inside, had a drink (of water, people), took my documents and went out the door.  I had to drive across our front lawn and make a 4-mile detour because the big machines were indeed blocking the drive by then.  I drove back into town, to the DMV parking lot, and that's when I read the sign:

Open T_W_TH.

Huh.  Not Monday afternoon.  After driving 45 miles to be lawful in my driving pursuits...

So you know what I did?  I went on down south to Hilton Head and Savannah and drove all the way back to Oklahoma with my Mom and Dad.  So there.

Well, it just gets worse.  A day after I returned home to rural Kansas, I gathered all things needed to acquire a renewed driver's license.  I even made myself presentable, with manageable hair, and lipstick, even.  I was going to come out on top of this photo opp, because I knew it was going to be with me for six  more years.  Off I went, humming a lilty Cell Block Tango, to the DMV.

I walked into the place, and was dumbfounded.  There were three people working a giant 20-yard desk, and me.  That's all, just me.  No waiting.  Just me and the three of them.  So I walked up to the first guy, and LO AND BEHOLD, it's my son's Scoutmaster from years ago.  He used to be a police officer in the higher levels of the force way back when, and I assume he has retired and is now taking a second job.  I smiled and started to say hello when he barked, YES!! He BARKED at me, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, go back, step back and look at that wall.

What wall?  What the heck?!  I looked at the wall and there was some STUPID screen there asking me what I wanted to do.

I wanted to talk to the man sitting at the desk in front of me.  So I looked at him (again), and he said, "Pick which option you want to do."  I looked from him to the screen and back at him.  I didn't even bother rereading it because I was beginning to think I was on Reno 911. He asked, "What option do you want?"

And I smashed some button and walked right over to him.

"Hi!  I am Trish Armstrong.  Graham's mother.  How are YOU?!!!"

I may have been scowling.

Right after that, the lady (far end of the 20-yard desk, "called my number".  "Number 16."

Seriously?  I am the only one in the office.  Seriously?!

OK, so this is where I lost a little bit of control and did not utter, but DID say really loudly, rather scathingly, that "It would be really GREAT if we could just communicate like humans."

I was really angry. 

Well, BOOM!!!  That former Scoutmaster former cop practically loped the 20 yards down the desk to where I stood fuming.

He smiled and began asking all sorts of "get me up to date on your son, and your family" questions, and then the bombshell of "Do you have any grandkids?" Oh, seriously, this was just getting worse and worse.  I wanted to say "Not that I know of." but I smiled benignly and said, "No."

Just then the lady who called "Number 16" looked at my old license and remarked, "Patricia, I see here that your height is 5'2".  Is that still correct?"

I looked at her dumbly.  I thought to myself fleetingly, "Does she seriously think I would have grown any in the past six years?"

And then, I got it.  Sadly, I got it.  I am 55.  Even though I got up that morning and "spruced" and even put on perfume, I was still 55, and this lady thought I might be shrinking like a pathetic violet.  Then she motioned me over to the square on which I was to stand for my new photo.  She told me to lower my head and look into the camera.  Lower my head.  Lower it more.  A little more...  I didn't want to lower my head because then I have a double chin, lady. 

There was nothing, nothing atall pleasant about ANY of this Department of Motor Vehicles chapter in my life.

When I received my new license in the mail this afternoon, of course I eagerly looked at my photo.  I am frowning.  My eyebrows are greatly raised.  I look like a cross between the SNL Church Lady and my Great Aunt Alpha, who could express her opinion with a glance.

I'll take it.
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