Friday, September 17, 2010

Traveling Away from the Ranch

We're off to Greece for three weeks!  Not the usual goings on at the ranch but a trip of a lifetime.  We'll visit Athens and Delphi and hopefully the Acropolis then off to Crete for a week then onto a cruise of the Greek Islands and a short stop in Turkey, even!  Wow!  We are blessed to be able to take the time, to have our kids to stay at the ranch and look after things and to be traveling with friends we love to travel with.
     We'll finish irrigating before the end of the month and pull the pumps and begin readying things for winter.  Already the mornings are cooler and the vine maple (in the mountain passes) has turned red.  No freeze yet though so my roses continue to bloom.  this is a favorite time of year on the ranch.  We'll be missing a bit of it by being in another country but we always come back energized by the richness of this world and its people.
   I hope your autumn is memorable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Honor Of...

This is the painting that Loeta McElwee painted for me and Jerry. She called it "In Honor of Jane and Jerry and the John Day River" She gave it to us as a ten year celebration for my helping with fund-raising for Albertina Kerr, an organization that serves children and adults with disabilities in Portland, Oregon. Great work of art!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our Cows

Yes, Jerry's brought them back into our lives.  But that's all right.  They'll eat the hay we didn't sell last year and keep the weeds down.  We also found a new home for Stan the goat.  He'll be happier with the neighbor's sheep and horses.  It's the same neighbor who took Henry our pony mule in the day after we got Stan as a pal for him.  Unknown to us, Henry didn't like goats so he traveled seven miles, crossed the river and made his way up the ravines to his new home.  Sometimes the best of plans just don't work out and Henry took things into his own hands and found the neighbor with horses.  This time, the neighbor delivered our cows and they took Stan home with them. I called today and he's happy. A fine outcome indeed. But I miss the old goat.  Who would have thought?  Sometimes getting what we wish for is a surprise.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


   Being away has its charms.  We're away from the hassles of the pump getting flooded and having to drive it two hours for repairs that weren't to be finished before we headed East.  We're away from taking walks that require vigilance looking out for rattlesnakes.  I keep Caesar on a leash when we walk now instead of letting him run so that he doesn't just jump on top of a snake waaaaay ahead of me.  Bo stays a little closer to when I have Caesar on a leash. (the rhythm of that -- Caesar on a leash -- reminds me of the Minnesota State Fair's motto of everything on a stick:  chocolate on a stick, deep fried butter on a stick...ok, maybe it's just me).  We're also away from the routines:  writing, exercising, paying bills, handling maintenance issues of relationships and living.  Being away introduces us to new people, events, listening to others talk about their lives, seeing family, being reminded of my parents and sister no longer on this earth.  And feeling good about cousins telling me I remind them of my mother.  There might have been a time when I resented that but no more.  I loved my mom and all her roles even if she drove me crazy when I was growing up. Away means new routines with Jerry, my brother and his family (walking through cornfields instead of through sagebrush trails) and meeting a cousin I didn't know I had.
     Being away is also sad at times.  I miss the dogs.  I miss knowing where my stuff is (and not having it in a suitcase).  I miss the time I get up early and write even when I'm struggling with a scene or chapter. I miss the smell of pine and juniper and looking out at the deck with flowers I've planted to see if I can keep them alive.
     Today we'll be away from my brothers farm meeting my nephews half way between Red Wing and Mankato where Clayton attends school and is working.  The other nephew (who came to my event in St . Paul, bless him) will meet us too.  That'll be good.
     Being away for today means we will return.  And tomorrow, we'll return to Oregon refreshed I think for having been exposed to the gifts of being away and having time to appreciate what we leave behind in both places when we go away.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Not since 1948 have we seen river flows at this level.  20,000 CFS (cubic feet per second) on Sunday.  It's starting to go down now so we can begin to see the islands that have been underwater.  Fortunately it only seeped against the dikes and wasn't pushing into the fields.  I'm always amazed at the power of water.  I don't even like to take the dogs for a walk when the river is that high for fear they'll decide to jump in after a floating stick and the current will be too strong for them.  So I watch from a distance and am grateful that the flow is slowing.  A very wet spring for us.  But everything is green, green, green!  I don't know what these are but I love the color.  Nice.
     Back to work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

coming to terms with child-less ness

In an earlier post about women in history i mentioned that writing about Jane Sherar (A Sweetness to the Soul) helped me come to terms with my own childless-ness.  Someone commented and asked me to talk about that more.  So here I am, better late than never.
        First, I didn't know that the book would take me there.  Jane Sherar had no children of her own but she'd adopted a girl and taken in another and eventually took in a niece as well.  In the first draft, I remember not being sure whether to write her character as someone who wanted children but couldn't have them; or was she a woman unique for the period of the 1860s and someone who didn't want children in her life.  She'd had a strained relationship with her own mother and three of her siblings had died within a week of each other and she'd seen the grief that a child dying can bring.  My editor said to me at one point "You haven't really decided about the child less issue and I think you need to."  So I went back and in the rewriting, she became a woman who wanted children and couldn't have them.  And suddenly I knew that was true for me too.
   I'd been fearful of being a poor mother; wasn't certain I was self-less enough to give in that way, to put a child's needs above my own which is the absolute requirement for being a good parent i always thought.  When my body presented serious problems and my husband, who had been married before, wanted no more children (he'd had a vasectomy years before) I made the decision to have a hysterectomy at the age of 30.
   But it wasn't until I was nearly 50 before I really dealt with that loss and writing the book helped me go there.
    What I discovered is that we do not always get what we want in life; and that I could still have children in my life if I chose.  They would just be there in a very different way.  For me, it was working in an early childhood center on the reservation, helping families with their kids, letting them open me up as I walked beside them as parents that helped bring children into my life.  I still have some of those kids in my life.  The families too.  Jane Sherar had a relationship with the children of the same tribe I worked for so we walked together in that way.
    Then when the need arose, we took a grandchild in to live with us first when she was seven and then when she was 15.  I discovered that one didn't have to have given birth to a child to fall in love with them, to ache with the smell of their hair after a bath, to hold them in their sorrow.  Jane Sherar adopted a child when she was 13 or so and had to fight her mother over it to do it.  There were custody issues in the care of our grandchild too, all this while I worked on that book.  But Jane's willingness to be happy rather than being right; her willingness to accept what God had given her even though it wasn't all she thought she needed, both those pieces of wisdom entered my blood stream through the writing of that book.  Getting clear about what mattered, identifying what I had control over and what I didn't, that all came through in the writing of that story, too.
    To receive letters from couples and from individual women telling me that reading that book brought them to new places of understanding about their own infertility has been one of the greatest gifts a story can give.  I understand that some have been given the book by their doctors and by their therapists. That the story gives peace where there had been none is a great joy to me.
     That's how writing about Jane Sherar helped me come to terms with my child-less ness.  I'll be forever grateful.  I hope that helps!  Thanks for asking.

Taking Time

Today I never even walked outside.  I opened and closed the door fifty times to let the dogs in and out and each time I inhaled the air, looked at the river deck with the flowers I'd planted, admired the newly mowed lawn and how the green took my eyes to the rose bushes and beyond to the river running through the ranch.  It's high from recent rains.  It's looking bluer than brown though.  And I'm reminded that this is still an amazing place to have put down those "luminous fibers" that Barry Lopez speaks of in Arctic Dreams where he says some of us are not finished at the skin and send out fibers to a soil we've allowed to become a part of us.  I don't have to walk outside to feel the dirt beneath my feet to know I'm connected here.  And yet, all things change.  Even the river.  And our relationships to place.  In the months ahead, there may be new changes to our relationship to this land.  But no matter what happens, we will take with us a few of those luminous fibers with us.  For today, I will let the fibers be my eyes taking in the blessing of a place.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women in History - what they teach us all

This is women in history month.  How could I not blog just a bit about the many women I've been privileged to write about through the years.  You can also visit a number of bloggers connected with women writing the west who are making March a special time to remember women's history.

Jane Herbert Sherar, who with her husband Joseph, and the help of Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute people, helped build a bridge across a remote river to open up settlement into Eastern Oregon.  She also helped build a bridge between cultures as this true story unveils how it is possible to live with integrity with your neighbors even when you don't share the same history or religion or even traditions. Jane lived in Central Oregon in the 1860s through 1906 when she died of an infection that today would be treated with antibiotics.  Times have changed.  This was the story that helped me come to terms with my own childless-ness and taught me that if you pursue your goal with strength, flexibility and faith you will find your sweetness to the soul and may touch the lives of others in the process.

Cassie Hendrick Stearns Simpson.  Here was a woman who in the 1890s headed west with her new husband, her mother and her sister.  What a honeymoon that must have been.  Arriving in Hoquiam, Washington, Cassie soon found herself embroiled in poor decisions.  She acts on some of those desires and has to live with the consequences.  What I loved about discovering her life was how she redeemed herself with her daughter and also how she gave back to the community by working tirelessly to raise funds for the refugees in World War I.  Today, we can all visit Shore Acres state park on the Oregon Coast and see the garden her husband developed for her. Five acres of absolute beauty and respite.  Cassie reminded me that we all make mistakes and it's what we do about them that matters.

Emma Wagner Giesy.  The only woman who with 9 male scouts set out in 1853 to find a new site for their religious colony.  They headed to the northwest, Willapa Bay Washington.  Things didn't go so well but she did deliver a baby in October and a in January of 1856, a baby girl was born.  She had two more children after that and when I included her daughters in the novels a descendant said "I loved the book, but you made up the part about the girls, right?  She didn't have girls, only boys."  I shared the information I'd gotten in my search and she recognized the names.  "We never knew they were related to Emma," she said.  "We only heard about the boys."  Maybe that's why Virginia Woolf wrote that "women's history must be invented, both uncovered and made up."  Emma taught me the importance of being clear about what matters in your life and having the courage to act on that.

My own grandmother is a part of this women in history month too.  She was an early photographer at the turn of the century and eventually owned her own studio in Winona, MN.  She was 20 years old.  The year was 1912.  How she got there and what happened afterwards is the rest of the story but I'm hoping people will find the set, A Flickering Light and An Absence so Great worthy reading time.  I'll be participating in One book One Community reading in Sherman County this month, spending a day at the high school hoping to get kids interested in their own family stories but also in the photographs that frame their lives.  Lots of stories inside a photograph.  If you scroll down, you'll see some photographs of my grandmother, Jessie Ann Gaebele.  I wrote about her in part to discover memory DNA, the things we carry with us from ancestors that are more than what's in physical characteristics.

There'll be more!  But most of all, remember your own women in history and write about them.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Three good things toward finding happiness

I won't apologize.
 It seems I'm always saying I'm sorry and really, how often I post doesn't need to be yet one more thing I tell myself I've failed at.
     So instead I'm going to tell you that I've been watching the PBS series called The Emotional Life and found it fascinating and yes, hopeful especially as Jerry and I think about our future, the sort of "what's next" on this ranch or in our lives as he turns 80 this year and we're no longer farming.
      One suggestion in the PBS section on finding happiness was to list three good things that happened yesterday and then see if one can identify what brought about those three good things, the circumstances.  It's a way of gratitude and a part of my prayer life that  I've skipped over of late (which could explain why I haven't been feeling so happy of late either, you think?).
   So here's my three good things from yesterday:
1) I walked on the treadmill for two miles. What led up to that was getting up and doing it; watching the PBS series while I walked which made the time go quickly and getting a good night's sleep the night before (and copying the series rather than staying up late to watch it.
 2)Work went well on my book, I hit 16,000 words!  What led up to that was just doing it, sitting in front of the computer, allowing myself to enter and live the story. It was staying focused, taking a lunch break that included a shower and connecting with Jerry and Matt then returning to work and not paying attention to emails until later in the day.
3) I got the bed made up and the guest room picked up.  What led up to that was knowing our friend is coming to visit and bringing her dog that is a brother to our cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Jerry has finished the door heads and drawers in that room after all these years so the room for the first time looks completed.  I could appreciate his efforts (I did help hang the doors in there :) and that the room looks inviting which is a nice thing to offer a friend when she visits.  I also liked telling Caesar about his brother coming to stay and petting his little body.
   I think it's possible three good things could snowball into many more if I just pay attention and isn't that part of what makes up happiness, paying attention, being grateful for what is.
   I hope you take the time to find your three best things from yesterday and to remember to thank God for the pleasure.  Jane