Today I looked out the window and saw my first bluebird. Before I could pull out my phone and snap a picture he was gone. Disappointed that I missed the photo-op, but thrilled with the sign that the weather is changing. It is a sign that spring in Montana is starting. I am very much ready this year.
This last month in at our home in Montana we have been hit by more spring snow storms than usual. While we sit in what is usually a valley that is most often missed for most precipitation, this year every time the weather forecast said there was a winter advisory or watch that called for snow we got the maximum amount forecasted and a few extra inches for good measure. We were getting snow at least once a week all of February and so far into March. Now mind you, the snow we were getting was nothing like the Nor’Easter that the folks on the east coast have been getting hammered with, but if you live in a high plains semiarid desert like we do, this much snow is very remarkable.
The late-season snow cycle this year has also had a remarkable impact on our road. We usually have a few problems navigating our road as the frost works its way out of the ground lasting less than a week. This year we have had what can only be called as mud bogs on our road. Each morning when the ground is still frozen it is very easily driven on. By the afternoon when the snow melts, only a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle will allow you to get the last 3/4 of a mile from the frontage road to our house. This has been going on nearly a month and so far there is no end in sight. For me, it has meant that that RangerSir has been taking the truck to work and the commuter car has been sitting in the garage. You can read into that statement that I have been unable to leave home during the week to take care of things in town. I like being alone and don’t generally mind the isolation of living in the country, but when you can NOT leave home it gets a little crazy. We have been attached by the truck/ hip each weekend. You will find RangerSir and I in town doing the weekly chores, that I usually try to get taken care of during the week to allow some fun time on Saturday and Sunday. It has added to the aggravation of the back to back snow storms.
So I know that it is only March and it can and will snow again in April and May, but I am ready for the snow falls to be farther apart and the amount less each time. I know this is Montana and what I signed up for moving here, but a girl can be thrilled by the sight of her first bluebird and all that it means. Welcome spring.
As RangerSir and I interview places we are considering for our retirement move, one of the things is on our list is water. I remember the day our dry creek bed first ran with water. Even if it is only a short spell each year I was thrilled to see water run in the small drawl that ran across our property for the first time. I called RangerSir at work with my news. I told him to guess what I had discovered that day on our property. Of course, he asked for a hint. My hint was people fight and get shot over this. His first guess was water. Not sure how that happened but it was one of those moments when we both knew we were on the same page about that resource.
It may seem kind of an odd thought in a country where we seem to have plenty of water that it is a blog-worthy topic. Yet it is not that simple, no matter if you have your own well or are on a “public” system. Here are some things to think about when you talk water.
There are many cities where your water does not come from a city-owned municipal utility. There are cities where you get your water from a publicly-owned for-profit company. Think about that for a minute. You are getting an essential commodity from a company who is charged with making money for the stockholders. The people who own your water don’t live in your community or have any care about your water system other than what economic return there is. There are two communities in Montana that are poster children for the disaster that this can be. Butte’s mining companies owned the water system from the beginning of the town’s history (prior to 1900) and for years they put no money into the system infrastructure. It was in such bad shape that the water was still in most cases flowing through the original redwood pipes. The city had over 800 bursts pipes annually. Splinters, rust and more came through the city water system into homes. Finally, in the 1990’s there was a transfer of ownership of the water company from the mining company to the city. The system was in a bad state. Bonds and mill levies were passed and millions were spent to bring the system back up to snuff. It wasn’t cheap, but the community can once again use the water that comes out of their tap. Another Montana city, Missoula, recently purchased its water system back after being sold and resold by public companies because its aged system was starting to need capital investments. The public companies liked the income but weren’t so crazy about investing in infrastructure. It cost the city a lot of money to buy their system, but they did it saying they wanted to ensure the people of the city had “access to clean, affordable and reliable water.” Similar things have happened elsewhere. It isn’t cheap for a municipality to own and maintain a water system but from what I have seen, the other option isn’t so great either. So as I look at cities one of the questions I ask about is their utilities. I assume nothing.
Here in the country, we have a well. We are lucky in that our well is exceptional. What I mean by that is, water is clean, plentiful, not full of minerals, and it doesn’t have a nasty odor or taste. We have it tested regularly and say a prayer of thanks for our results each time. That said, I think about what will happen if our well runs dry? Just a couple of miles away as the crow flies the houses are on a different aquifer. Those wells don’t supply enough water out of the ground on demand for basic household needs. In order to support their water needs, those folks have large holding tanks in their basement to ensure they have the pressure and quantity of water for a normal household. Pretty strong wake-up call when you know it is just geography and luck that I can turn on my spigot without a worry.
There are other stories around the word about water shortages for people and agriculture. It is something that we don’t often think about until it doesn’t work.
In 2017 it was reported that for the first time Americans spent more money eating out that at home. I am not sure if that means they also eat more meals out or not since dining out can be more expensive. Surveys report that we also eat more meals today somewhere other than at a dinner table than ever before, be it a plate on our lap in front of the TV, or on a breakfast bar reading our emails. I get it because when I worked the corporate life we too ate out or picked up carry out often because it was easier than getting home late and making something to eat. I enjoyed cooking but it was restricted to free time, mostly weekends that I tried to pack everything else into as well. Now that I am retired I find myself discovering once again the joy of cooking.
I love to use the chef’s knife and chop. It is one of those things I find relaxing.
I am experimenting with new and old recipes. I am pulling cards out of the recipe box my grandma wrote for me in her handwriting all those years ago. I am looking at my collection of cookbooks and browsing them for something new to make. Of course, we can not exclude the recipe apps and Google. Some of what I am cooking is Midwestern comfort food, some dishes reflect the different places we have lived, other meals are ethnic foods from around the world, some dishes are healthy, other times what I make is just for special occasion splurging, some are fully from scratch and sometimes it will be a store box or can that I doctor up.
I invite you along on this journey as I share some of what I make. Sometimes it will be a recipe, other times just a photo of the dish, or the dinner table. I hope you enjoy and are inspired.
I like to measure out everything now, as a way to make sure I have all the ingredients before I start. I did not do that before, but now I am not likely to drop everything and run to town to the grocery to get a missing ingredient so has become an important step
When I grew up there was a prosperous agriculture society out there in rural America. There were lots of small and medium-sized towns full of businesses that supported farm families. You could find schools scattered across the countryside to educate the farmer’s children. Each community would have an elevator for the local farmer’s co-op. The farmers used this to store and transport their corn, grain and other commodities.
Abandoned grain elevator in Winnett, Montana
In the years since I was a child we have continued to become more efficient in agriculture as a results there are fewer farms and ranches, and the ones that are out there are larger.
Today producers, ranchers and farmers, are growing more food than their grandfather’s could have imagined. In spite of the changes of time one thing has not changed, the life of a producer is at the mercy of the winds of nature. A farmer works from sun up to sun down and livestock never takes a vacation. Today the economics of being in agriculture are hard and many people not only run their farm operation, they also hold a second job to make ends meet and even up the ups and downs of crop and animal prices, hail, drought, lost livestock and so much more we can’t imagine. Given a choice more and more folks are choosing to move to the city rather take on the challenges of being a producer.
Today with fewer folks choosing the rural life small towns are dying. When a small town dies not only are businesses loss, but many of the local elevators are being abandoned in favor of larger more centralized elevators. Small elevators are an icon of the past; an icon of agriculture. Just like barns, you see fewer of them across the countryside. They are being abandoned and falling into disrepair. Someday like old farm houses and old barns they will fall down and will no longer be there to remind of the all the people who came before and work out there today to feed the world.
This last week RangerSir had surgery and has since been laid up. We have been confined to home while he is healing. It has been difficult for him to be limited in activity while he is in recovery. As anyone who has had a loved one in the household sick or in recovery mode it not only impacts the patient, but everyone in the household.
We were bless by many acts of kindness. Our friends and families called and check on us. It was topped off this week when a friend and her family stopped by with cookies. RangerSir has a sweet tooth and he was thrilled with the gift of food. He was a little tired of the healthy fare I was feeding him. It was wonderful to have someone other than one another to talk to. It came at just the right time as we were both getting a little stir crazy.
Thanks for the peanut butter and oatmeal scotchie cookies.
It was a reminder to us that simple acts can mean so much to others. Sometimes it is a kind word. It can be taking time out of your day or weekend to visit with a friend who you have not seen in awhile or a shut-in. It can be a call to check on and listen to a friend who needs your ear. If you made a batch of cookies for your family, put a dozen on a plate and share it. They are all simple acts of kindness that will likely mean more to another person than you can know. Let’s all pass on a little kindness.
I just finished an entry for a creative challenge. The challenge required me to complete a project that included one number. I pulled together a little mixed media effort for this. While I was working on this, I was thinking about what numbers to include and what they meant to me. This became more than a challenge of paper, paint and ink, it represented questions and things going on in my life.
RangerSir and I are approaching retirement. We constantly find ourselves thinking about what age is the right age for us to move from the current phase of our lives to the next and close the door on this one. We constantly find ourselves playing with the numbers. Age. Health. Life Expectancy. Family History. Money. In each of these there are so many numbers to extrapolate and hypothesize with. We are constantly playing with our numbers and yet we don’t have a single one that is the answer.
Numbers play factors in so many people’s lives young or old when you think about it. Here are some of the easy ones I came up in just a few minutes. Each of them is based on a number.
I want to graduate from college by #
I want to live somewhere where it never gets colder than #
I want to only borrow # to pay for school.
My prescription costs this month were #
If I could save # I could buy a car, house, vacation…..
I’d like to earn #.
I’d like to pay off on my credit card in # months.
I change the oil in my car every # miles.
I’d like # kids.
I would like to marry by #.
I am trying to save #.
I have # dogs and # cats
I would like to get # when I sell my…
I live # miles from work.
Daycare costs #.
My wife, mother, child, spouse/partner, father, brother, sister is # old this year.
It is still winter in Montana and will be at our house for months to come. We have had some serious early thaws recently as we will here every year about this time. Today it had melted enough of the snow away that it was a perfect day to open the chicken run and let the ladies out today for some free-range time.
Though it doesn’t look like much the chickens were out there eating the shoots of new grass that the melted snow provided. My chickens can be an industriousness bunch when it comes to good fresh food after the snow hiding “good eats” and being on commercial chow for a few months.
Let’s hold onto the memory of this day with sunshine and blue skies as we enter a week that is suppose to be full of show again. The snow is happening less frequently and days like this are happening more often. There is hope for spring, no matter how far away.