Vacation Housesitters

RangerSir and I have returned from vacation and now I feel like I can blog here out in the world of everyone knowing because it is all in the past.  I think the hardest part of planning a vacation was making arrangements for our livestock.  It was much harder than I had imagined, as I had remembered as a young adult, I loved getting away from roommates.  Getting paid was a bonus because it was like having a part-time job that didn’t cramp my lifestyle. We finally make a connection for a house/pet sitter before we left.   It worked out well but oh the journey was an adventure.

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Cora is an easy pet to care for.  She sleeps and wants just a little bit of attention. 

We started by putting out the word to friends and family that we were looking for a house/pet sitter.   We have a small college in town and I was sure that someone would know of a person who was interested in the job.  We got no bites.   We were unsure if it was because we lived out-of-town or it was our menagerie but no one wanted the job.   We were offering to pay the sitter what kenneling would cost.

After a couple of weeks, we got worried and started to make kennel arrangements for the cat and dog.   We watched our neighbor’s horses and barn cats, so we knew that they would open the door for the chickens in the morning and close them up at night.   It was a workable solution, but it wasn’t the best solution because we did not want our house empty for ten days.

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Zip is a people dog and after a day alone needs some serious play time.   He also is a true terrier and can’t be trusted off leash, so walks require a human.   All that said he is still a loveable character. 

We started to tap into websites offering house/pet sitters, talking to folks, trying to figure out our liabilities, and what could go wrong if we were two days away from rescue.  There were so many pros, cons, and unknowns.  You asked everyone you knew if they knew this person on the net wanting to sit for you.

Finally, we made a connection with a young woman who would be in her last two weeks of high school the time we needed her.    Lots of people vouched for her maturity and reliability.   It was unnerving after all she was in high school.  I met her mother and knew her step-father and grandmother.   They were all comfortable with this and supportive of her doing this.  She had an afterschool job but would be home the same hours as we were when working.    We met with her and talked with her and in the end, she would be our house sitter.   RangerSir reminded me in a couple of weeks she could call herself a college freshman, so if she had such good references we should go with it.

In the midst of all of this one late afternoon, three of our chickens flew over the fence in their run attached to their coop.   They came to their favorite dust bath location by the back door at the edge of the foundation of the house and they were prone to do.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fox came right up to our back door and got our girls.    It was unnerving and devastating because this happened just a few feet from our back door that we use as our main entry.  RangerSir and I had decided just this year that we were not going to do baby chicks and the hens we had were likely our last hens.  In retirement we would be in town and chickens would not be part of our lives.  When we were gone so were these hens.    It seemed that fate was telling us that our train was moving much faster than we had thought it was.   We had one chicken left after this unfortunate incident and we called a girlfriend with a flock to see if she would take our last hen.  She took the hen with all the food and supplies we had for our backyard flock. Housesitting at our place just got easier for our young housesitter.

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All that was left of our chickens was a pile of feathers outside the back door.

The first night we were gone and out of cell phone connection most of the day and early evening.   We got back into service at 8pm Montana time to have a message from our housesitter who came home to find that we had no electricity (no water/well either).  When we finally connected up that night she just wanted to know if there was something special she needed to do as she had tried the breakers and no luck; the power company in town couldn’t help her.  I placed calls to her and made sure she knew where the oil lamps and flashlights were (things we had not covered in the walk through before we had left).  We are the next to last house on an electric run connected to a local electric co-op.  We placed calls to the co-op linemen in charge of our area and electricity came back on at 9pm her time.    She was so calm and collected and told us no worries, she was ok and it would be ok.  It was an immediate demonstration to us that we had left our house and critters in good hands and that this young woman may be in high school, but she was ready for heading out into the next step of life and working her way through the what life was going to throw at her.

When we got home our dogs and cats were happy to see us, but a little put out with us as well.  Life had been good for them while we were gone.  The house was clean, the sheets and towels were pulled and washed, though we had not asked her to do so.  We could not tell that she had been there.  The neighbors were impressed with what they had observed she was home with our pets as we had wanted and no crazy visitors.  I’d love to have her again, but she is ready for the world.  She and friend will be visiting NYC before she heads off to Seattle for school.   So as great as this was, if we go on holiday we will once again be looking for a house sitter.

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Kitchen Workhorse

We have a Sunbeam Power Plus stand mixmaster that we got 38 years ago when we got married. It was a big splurge at the time.  Both RangerSir and I enjoyed baking and so we used some of the wedding gift money and got a little crazy.

The Sunbeam has been the workhorse in our kitchen that has outlasted every other kitchen appliance we have owned.   I have occasionally looked at the current Kitchen Aid with some lust, but the price has always made me step back and wonder what could it do, that my trusty old workhorse could not do.   My Sunbeam probably has more metal gears and a more substantial motor than what is found in today’s stand mixers.

I recently used it to make a new dinner roll recipe.   I enjoy making bread by hand and have done so for years.  I decided with this new recipe, that I was going to try using my stand mixer as called for in the recipe.    The directions called for me to knead the dough using hooks/paddle for 20 minutes.   I wasn’t sure that the old girl could handle the length of time and the challenge of a yeast dough.  I marched forward and the old workhorse did not fail me.

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The recipe was for flaky dinner rolls with many layers of butter and dough.  They turned out nicely, though I must admit I missed the process of kneading my dough.  There is something sort of calming and peaceful about it.    Do you have an appliance in your kitchen that keeps on plugging along?

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It is a Sign

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.

Water – Not as simple as it seems

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.

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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.

Joy of Cooking

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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

 

Icon of Agriculture Past

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Acts of Kindness

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.

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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.