Just Two More Months

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While she awaits word yet on who her new roommate will be at school, our oldest keeps getting notifications about upcoming important dates and reminders. School starts in September. Her first year away from home. College. It’s exciting, but scary, she says.

We toasted our last official ‘family vacation’ together last night at dinner, at least in regard to time spent together in this stage of life for the kids. The house is going to be quiet without her. Graduation ceremonies didn’t make me sad. The goodbye, the 18 hours that will soon lie between us, will. She’s been thinking a lot about it lately and isn’t sure how all this will go. Last night she cried as she was packing up her things to get ready to head for home again today, because the move is coming sooner than later. I’ll cry when she packs up her things to go. And I’m certain when I get home and listen for her to come and go and just be present like she always has been.

The last time I really tried this journaling thing in earnest, it was to chronicle some important changes in her life and ours. I’m going to try this again. The days go by so fast.

Just two more months.

Just call

“Just call,” the Cowboy and I told a friend of ours the other day. She was sad, lonely and wasn’t sure what she could do about it.

“If you want company, if you want to go somewhere, if you want to go visit your kids,” I asked her, “Do they know? You’ve got to let them or us or someone know. And, if you need anything, you need to call us, we’re happy to come by and we want to help.”

That was one of the days we had gone by with a home cooked meal over the holidays. This morning, we were thinking we should go check on her, wish her a happy new year and had planned to make her cookies. Ironically, she called before we even got the cookies in the oven today to check on us and just talk.

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This friend of ours.. she is 94-years-old and still lives alone. It’s where she wants to be – still living in the house where she was born in, that has been in her family for generations. But she is limited as to who she sees and what she is able to do, without the help of family or a friend. And few apparently came to visit with her or take her anywhere around the holidays. She was absolutely depressed about it.

She reminds me of one of my neighbors back in Madison. And of my grandmother a bit. And I hate more than anything that anyone ever feel alone and helpless to do anything about it. I know I certainly don’t want to be if I reach a ripe old age and still have my health and wits about me.

I may be off here – but based on the experiences I’ve had being very close to my own grandmother, making sure she and I did something every week when she was still alive and seeing some of the same sadness in her over the years as well as in countless neighbors, friends and even in my own family, some advice for those feeling alone:

  • If you’re lonely, call someone and tell them.
  • If you want to go somewhere, make plans to go.
  • If you need something, ask.
  • Don’t feel like a burden doing any of these things. Most likely you never are. But if you ever sincerely feel that way after being clear having others around would mean  a lot to you, chances are someone else who might like your company more than the person you’re seeking it from.
  • Enjoy public transit. Make plans to go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. What are you waiting for?
  • Get yourself a laptop. Have someone tutor you in a few basics of something like Facebook and link up with your kids and grandkids who are miles and states away. They may want to talk with you but you have to be willing to learn their lingo as much as they need to remember how to use yours – picking up a phone, dialing and actually talking ‘in person’ isn’t as common anymore as one might think. Have someone tutor you as well in what online scams look like so that you don’t fall prey to anything that’ll hurt you financially or otherwise while you’re at it.
  • Take an art class.
  • Learn a foreign language and travel.
  • Plan a gathering at your home and invite your neighbors, allow them into your life, don’t just assume no one cares because they don’t automatically stop by.
  • Try and remember what it was like to have a young family. Everyone is always going somewhere and has something to do, someone to take care of. They’re busy. And they usually think of you late at night after the hustle and bustle has died down in their homes when it’s too late to call. While they may email, you don’t have a computer. Communication fails. But not because they’re not thinking of you.

If I’m totally off track on any of the above, forgive me. I’m not an expert. I just have a heart and hate to see you sit home alone talking to no one but a tv all day when someone would love to get your call.

Call. Get out. Ask. Enjoy life while you can and invite others along for the ride.

For the rest of us, perhaps we might all do a better job to think more often about our family and neighbors. I know I need to. I’m as guilty as anyone of letting too many days go by without a call to my dad or other family. (Dad and I are way better now that he’s got a cell phone and has learned to text!) There’s a lot to learn from spending time with someone who’s lived a long, good life. We should consider ourselves the lucky ones.

Off to deliver cookies.

Mind your own business

Have you ever lost someone so close to you, you feel like a part of you died as well? A loss so profound it has you realizing each and every day how lucky you are – to have what you do – the people around you, your health and the gift of more time with them? A loss that in many ways, also becomes a gift because it helps you realize you shouldn’t take a moment in this life for granted?

My mom passed away 13 years ago. She was just 56 years old. She died of lung cancer. I miss her terribly.

My mom

My mom

SO .. every year, on this day, I feel a bit of frustration. Not over her death. But over how apathetic we’ve grown to a day designed to do so much good for other families that could prevent the same fate my mother had, despite the fact my mother wasn’t a smoker.

Today is the Great American Smokeout. Did you even know that?

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Usually the response from anyone who still smokes to anyone expressing concern is often something along the lines of, “Mind your own damn business.” That’s a comment I’ve heard time and again – not necessarily to me but to others on countless occasions, especially as a reporter trying to do any sort of news coverage on this day.

So.. I’m not going to talk about smoking or quitting smoking. What you want to do to your own body is your own business. I get it. But seeing the meager news coverage today on the event, I feel compelled to say something. Because I miss my mom. And because lung cancer sucks. And because smokers, I want to remind you, if you’re blessed at all to have people around you that love you, it’s that you’re not the only one who gets sick, if and when you get sick. From smoking.

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Please do me a favor and if not for me, for those who love you: 

  • Smoker or not, know the signs, symptoms and risk factors for lung cancer.
  • Go to the doctor if you do smoke, have high radon levels in your home or if you’ve been taking in secondhand smoke much of your life.
  • What are the radon levels in your home? It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. The test is cheap and easy, test your home.
  • Know that if you’ve quit smoking, even upwards of 20 years ago, you are still at risk. Those statistics that say you’ve magically recovered somehow from all of the damage done – throw them out the window when it comes to your lungs.
  • Get screened if possible for this disease if you know you’re at risk. Screenings are more available than they’ve ever been. Call the NCI designated cancer center nearest you and ask.
  • If you’re lucky enough to catch the disease early, don’t expect it to be as treatable as every other cancer having success right now. It’s a tough diagnosis. And while advancements are being made by some very caring, hard-working and dedicated researchers and physicians, there are few treatment options available that work for advanced stages of this disease.
  • Donate to lung cancer research. Any cancer research, actually, because advancements in one area are often translate anymore to other cancers. Just donate, to a reputable organization. And if you want it to go to research, do you homework. Ask how much of it goes to research. Because I bet if you started asking if what your donations are going to, they are often steered elsewhere unless you know to ask. If you want to be lung specific, two great options include the lung cancer program at the Carbone Cancer Center and the National Lung Cancer Partnership. I’ve worked with and for both organizations. They steward your dollars well.
  • If you’re a lung cancer survivor, share your story. Don’t hide in the shadows worrying if someone will ask you if you got it from smoking. Because, people just will. And then you ask them in return, “Why do you ask?” Think about the position that puts someone in then, to have to explain why they’re asking. No one deserves this disease. Would they do that to someone with heart disease? Type 2 diabetes? Not so much, I’m thinking. Stand up for yourself, talk about what is happening. You’d be amazed at how much support there is for you if only others knew.
  • If you’ve lost a loved one to lung cancer, become their voice. Nothing will change where the course of this disease or the prognosis until we unite our voices and the research dollars.
  • If you have the guts to confront what is before you, smokers, if you really want to quit – which statistics show many of you do – try this. Go fishing. Catch a live fish and watch it as it struggles to breathe until it dies. Understand that this is the position you’re putting your family in. Know that doesn’t have to be you. Or them. I’d never wish what my mother went through on anyone. Not that she could do a thing about it. She was among those that just got the disease, because. And she handled her life, disease and death with as much grace as one possibly can.

If you decide you ever want someone to butt in, to help you quit, there is help. There are resources. It doesn’t have to be today you take that first step. Any day is a good day to try.

Return of the Sun Dogs

Another frigid day on the plains of South Dakota brought a return of the Sun Dogs.

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We had only started to drive away from the house this morning on our way to school, when I started searching for my sunglasses.  While I hate to ever complain about the sun, it was incredibly bright.  It took me a moment to realize why.

Turning onto our dirt road, I glanced toward the sky and startled our 11 year old when I shouted, “The Sun Dogs are back!”

Incredible Morning Sky

Incredible Morning Sky

While admiring the glow and the beautiful drive into town, I called the Cowboy and asked him to grab the camera and snap a few shots back at the ranch.  He claims to not really know what he’s doing with the lens, but I love this image from today in particular.

Cowboy's shot

Cowboy’s shot

The Dogs: Indoor vs Outdoor

I might have sat down to write last night ..

Pasture Run

But the mess we came home to after a couple of birthday parties for family and friends kept me busy for far too long.  There will be no photos of it.

“I’ve said this before.  The dogs need to be outside,” says the Cowboy.  “Dogs belong outside.”

He went to bed.  I, for over an hour, cleaned up a trail of foul smelling excrement throughout the house.  Our four kids all huddled in the one bedroom upstairs that didn’t need cleaning and fell asleep.

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“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”
― Roger Caras

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How many ranches have indoor dogs?  Not many, I believe.

Yellow on the Bench

The Cowboy has never had an indoor dog, hates the hair in the house, can’t stand that one of my dog sneaks as often as it can onto the bed to nap and hates coming home to a mess (one of our pups can not leave anything alone that might be left on the kitchen counter, including butter, which in turn makes her sick.  Have you ever smelled dog vomit after they’ve downed a stick of butter?  Not cool.  I still don’t know what caused last nights unbelievable mess.)

I can’t say that I blame him.  I’m not a fan of it either.

But I’m used to it, I guess.  I have had indoor dogs all my life and don’t see where there are issues that can’t easily be overlooked or overcome.  I’ve cleaned up accidents and illnesses since I was old enough to take on the responsibility and .. I have until now, always lived within city limits and not wanted a dog to bug the neighbors with its barking.  Plus people that live in towns/cities tend to think if you leave your dog out for any length of time or take your dog anywhere in the car with you it’s their job to call Animal Control.  Somehow that dog is being abused or abandoned, I’m thinking is their typical most educated guess on the subject.  I have to say, my dogs would any day, rather go with me and sit in the car for hours on end than stay home if I give her the choice.  They otherwise just appreciate being around people.  To a fault, I guess.

Our Old Gal

I’m getting off topic.

Indoors or send them outside?  I feel the need at this point, mid-winter, to wean.  Which isn’t fast enough it appears, for the Cowboy.  Especially after last nights mess.  I don’t think they’re ready for it, my very small opinion as the smaller of our two labs comes in shaking from 15 minutes in the cold on days like we’ve had recently.

But girls, know it is coming.  Faster than you or I might like if we continue to have any more nights like this last ..

Pork, Sauerkraut and Potatoes.

Dinner had been done for over an hour.  I love that we were still tonight, seated around the kitchen table ..

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As a child .. almost every night was spent at the dining room table, together.  Family meals were our norm.  Most often, my dad would be at the stove already hard at work on some never measured out concoction that would taste fantastic when all was said and done, before our mother would ever get home.

We would all then sit down to eat.  And talk.

In our various family forms since my daughter came along, we have done the same.  But the time I currently have at the ranch has allowed me a lot more time to cook, think about meal planning and to stay seated at the table well past dinner being done to hang out, talk, enjoy each others company.

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Tonight, it was a dish dad used to make all the time.  My first attempt.

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Pork chops, potatoes and sauerkraut.  Dad would usually throw it all in the pressure cooker.  (“Don’t touch it, it can explode,” dad would say of the pressure cooker.  I have been afraid of them since.)  I threw tonight’s meal in the oven.

An hour and a half later .. it was done.  The Cowboy had just come back in from working with one of the horses.  Our 11 year old was shortly behind him after spending time on her favorite horse as well, despite the frigid temperatures.

They both were cold.

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The food was hot.

“That was really good,” said the Cowboy.

My daughter simply cleaned her plate (minus most of her sauerkraut) and then asked for more.

Diesel.

I’ve driven a hybrid car .. oh, probably 6 years now.

It takes regular unleaded, like every other car I’ve ever driven.  While it gets great mileage and has been a wonderful car for us, the Prius doesn’t do all that great on ice.  And the warmer temperatures, melting snow, sleet and heavy fog recently have made for some slick rural roads.

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So I’ve been taking the truck.

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“Hey,” I said to the Cowboy over the phone .. “Diesel 1 or Diesel 2.  I can’t remember.”

“Make sure you’re not at the pumps for farm fuel!” said the Cowboy, somewhat in a panic I was at the wrong pump and may have already started putting gas in the truck.

“Don’t worry, I’m not,” I replied to him over the phone, not knowing what difference that would make.  (I filed the question in the back of my mind for later)

The Pumps

I had called to ask again, which Diesel for the Dodge.  Usually the Cowboy makes sure there is enough gas in it.  But as I have been the one to use the truck versus my Prius the past couple of days, I wanted to be sure to return the favor and fill it up.  Only the second time doing so on my own, I knew there was a method as to what went into the tank and why, I just couldn’t remember what it was.

What’s the weather supposed to be like, he said to himself out loud.

“I think it’s supposed to be nice,” the Cowboy continued.  “I guess you can go with Diesel 2 for now.  It’s not all that cold out so you shouldn’t need number one.”

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Diesel 2, he explains to me as I sit down to write for the first time in a very long time, apparently gels up if it gets too cold.  He let me know, I would most likely get stranded alongside the road if the wrong diesel is in the tank and the temperatures plummet.

Sincerely good to know.

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Also good to know why it mattered if I was at the Farm Diesel pump:

– Farm fuel is good for tractors and other farm related equipment.

– It is the same diesel, it just isn’t taxed.

– The Cowboy says there is about a $ .50 tax on every gallon of gas we buy.  I ask, are you sure it’s $ .50 and he says, pretty close.  (May differ by state.)  I don’t feel like fact checking this morning so I’m going with it.

– There is a dye in farm fuel and if you get picked up, police can check your tank.  If you have farm fuel in your truck, it is at the very least, a $1000 fine.

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The things we’re learning .. living on a dirt road.