Frozen Nose Hair ..

Yes.  That is how cold it remains.

You know those days, don’t you?  Days where all you have to do is step outside the door and instantaneously, eyelashes have icicles and nose hair is frozen.

If not, I’d say consider yourself lucky.  But, we live where we do because we love weather like this, don’t we?  It’s dinner in the crock pot weather.  Good stout beer weather.  Make a fire weather.  Bundle up on the couch with the kids in a big blanket and watch a movie weather.  Those are good things about it being too cold to do much else.  Either way, as the snow moves in this fine February day, here’s to hoping this is the last day of this bitter cold snap for 2013 .. we’re waiting on spring!

DSC01287

(Thought a shot of Gracie’s whiskers was better any day, than a shot up any of our noses.)

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

 

Holding onto my thumbs, for now .. (catch up post from the weekend)

I love learning something new each day.  I love getting my hands dirty, getting involved, putting myself in situations that challenge me and make me think about who I really am and what I am capable of or able to do.

But there are also many times where I thoroughly appreciate learning something through the eyes of others and sharing their stories.

……………

The owner of the ranch hosting the Cowboy’s roping clinic had this past Sunday asked if I wanted to ride as they were all roping in the arena, and said it’d be a favor to him if I’d run one of his.

So I did.  A little bit.

And it didn’t take long for the Cowboy to ask a question I knew would be coming.

“Want to chase a steer?” he says to me.

He’s been after me to give roping a try .. which I’d love to.  And I’ve tried my hand at it, very meagerly, on the ground, a few times.

But I’m thinking I need like a year or two, where I can take off of work entirely and do nothing more than rope, to have all that much fun with it.  And more importantly, not injure anyone including myself.

It’s an incredibly acquired skill.  And while I consider myself blessed to be able to pick up most things quite easily…

This is one sport where I’m concerned I might lose a thumb.  (Which isn’t all that uncommon, apparently.)  Get completely tossed and break a limb.  Maim or plow over the steer because I didn’t better ‘steer’ my horse.  Or quite possibly, severely injure the person I would otherwise be roping with.  Like throw the rope around them .. and pull.

That .. would .. be .. bad.

“No thanks,” I replied to the Cowboy kind of chuckling under my breath.

The horse I was on would have loved nothing more than to rope that day, too and he was trying to let me know in no uncertain terms he was ancy to get to work doing what all his buddies were.  All he wanted to do is run.  Fast.  And chase more than the air I was giving him up and down the other side of the arena in-between the guys running the steers.

(All my own horse ever wants to do is walk, maybe trot.  She fights me to get her to lope.  But we’re working on that.  It would help if I would get out to ride her more often.  That’s a whole other story.)

“C’mon,” said the Cowboy.  “Just chase one out, see what it feels like, you don’t have to even have a rope” he added, as he walked me over and into the ‘box’.  I tried backing Roper in, kind of.  Didn’t feel good about it.  And walked him out.

“Not ready for that,” I nervously smiled and said to the Cowboy.  He laughed.

…………….

‘What is it, about roping that has so many people seemingly addicted to it,’ I asked the Cowboy Sunday night after we had both returned home, my daughter was asleep in bed and I had originally sat down to write this.

“It’s competitive,” he replied.  “And it’s kind of addicting.  Rodeo is addicting.  The people, the competition.  The gambling.  It’s like gambling, only you have some control over it.”

He laughed.

“Well, in theory you do.  Have control over it.  You put the money up and you win if you do well.  But you have two horses, two cowboys and one steer.  A lot can go wrong with that.  But if it goes right, it’s great.”

The Cowboy used to practice two to three hours a day .. and have a ranking most others strive for, I believe.

While he’s removed himself the past couple years through life changes from the rodeo circuit for the most part .. and says he doesn’t miss the 10 hour drive to get somewhere, the money it takes on gas and to enter, having to win and knowing if he didn’t the truck payment wouldn’t get made that month ..

He still loves the sport.

And says one of his favorite things now, is helping others learn.

Learn how to get along better with their horse .. how to use their rope better .. how to win more when they do enter.

This past weekend must have been a win for everyone .. because there’s already an invite for next year’s clinic.  Same time .. same place ..

Next clinic:  next weekend in Wisconsin.

(And I’m thinking I might put down the camera long enough to try a little ground work with the rope, get going on that yearlong or lifelong project to learn this sport, myself.)

Surprises ..

Anyone need a big black sign that says Happy Birthday You’re 40?

I’m trying to clean up the mess that is my home this morning and I’m not quite sure what to do with the banner I’ve got sitting in a bag filled otherwise with wine, a bottle of locally made fine vodka, a whole slew of cards and a few gifts I have yet to get to on my living room floor.

I’m definitely hanging onto the beverages.  But the sign.  Given I prefer recycling to further contributing to the trash heap outside town where I can…  Anyone… Anyone want it or need it for their own celebration?

…………….

I’ve not given a whole lot of thought (yet) to the fact I’m turning 40 this year.

I figured I’d get around to that .. perhaps the night or the few minutes before the clock strikes twelve on my ‘special day’.

Our family has always celebrated birthdays, but very quietly.  Growing up it was always dinner with my dad, brother, grandmother, perhaps my aunt and uncle.  An angel food cake that my mom would make.  A few gifts.  That’s it.

Because of this, I have never made a big deal out of birthdays that I can remember.  In fact .. when I turned 21, just about everyone in my group that night was three sheets to the wind.  I drove them home.

I am also typically not a big fan of surprises.  So the two, surprises and a big party, combined in any fashion is not something I would ever say I want.

…………….

The Cowboy has been bugging me for awhile about what we’re going to do .. about the ‘special birthday’ I have coming up.

“I don’t know yet,” I keep saying..  “Well, I do want to get a few key family members together because we need to …  But other than that, nothing,”  I tell him.

With a few of those key family members in town, just a fraction of the larger group I would like to have time with … some of us were going to get together this weekend.  For dinner.  A nice, intimate little dinner I thought was a belated Easter get-together.

The Cowboy and I walked in.  I started to look around to see where they might all be.

Quickly a hand went around my waist, steering me left.

“They are over here,” says the Cowboy.

“How do you know where they are sitting,” I asked him.

And before he could answer ..

I see a room full of people.  All of whom I love … family and friends … all from very different parts of my life …

“Happy Birthday!” they shouted.  I think, anyway.  I was so taken back, and quite honestly, shocked .. I really can’t remember what all transpired or what was said.

It was the most wonderful chaos.

One I never would have asked for or thought I wanted.  But one I will forever cherish.

A night the Cowboy had planned for months with the help of a few friends, kept a secret and made special in so many ways, as I head toward a new chapter and decade in my life.

“I just wanted to get everyone together who loves you .. think its important you know how so many feel about you,” the Cowboy told me.

I’m still not sure what to say ..  other than thank you all.  For those who were there that night.

For those who came from far away, who rearranged plans, who lied to me for months out of the goodness of their hearts, who I haven’t seen in forever but who have touched my life far beyond what they will truly ever know.

For those that wanted to be there but couldn’t.   For those who helped the Cowboy pull it off.  For the notes and gifts and well wishes ..  especially the wine.  Please stop by and let’s share.

There are few opportunities we get in life I think, to really look around and realize in one moment, how blessed we are by the people in our lives.

Usually it is at a wedding, or a funeral.

Or .. a birthday celebration.

I am reminded though, after nights like the other night, how important it is we take advantage of every occasion to appreciate those we love and that are around us.  It is something I try to do as often as I can .. but that there never seems enough time to do, as well as I might want or like.  I would assume that is the case for us all.

But even those who stopped by for a few moments, made a statement that to me will last a lifetime.

No soup for you ..

When is the last time you had REALLY good customer service?

I mean, the kind of help or over the counter service that just stopped you in your tracks and had you saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know people/businesses did it like this anymore?’

Perhaps the better question is, how many businesses have you decided to not return to because the service was appalling?

………..

Let me just start with two thoughts:

1.)  I believe we are technically – all in the customer service business .. unless of course, you don’t have a job.  But even job hunting means, essentially, that a potential employer is the customer.  Doesn’t it?  And you had better leave a good impression if you truly want to make the sale/get the job.

2.)  I know there are days when I can do a better job myself of working like whatever I am doing is the only thing that matters on earth.  I know this.  I admit this.  And I continue always to try and do better, keeping others in mind.

Well .. three thoughts.

3.)  I have just returned from a week and a half away.  Which, for those of you who have ever left for that period of time know, most likely there is no good ‘real food’ to eat upon return.  If it was good and fresh when you left, it is now moldy.  I will spare you a photo of what was in my refrigerator that is now thrown out.  Needless to say, Monday, I had not eaten .. really, any breakfast, lunch or dinner (until now, and at 8:00 pm I just wrapped up a run to the grocery store)  other than a packet of oatmeal, two pieces of plain bread and an apple all day.  So I may have been a bit hungry and ornery because of it, as I wrote what follows.

BUT ..

……………

8:28 pm Monday (and I know this because I make a point to look at my watch).  I walk into a local business that I frequent often after a grocery store run.  I am looking for a coffee, bottle of wine to take home to sip on this week and perhaps a cup of soup.  I am famished.  The place closes at 9 pm, something I am keenly aware of. There are 32 minutes to close.

8:31 pm.  I walk up to counter having found a bottle of wine for purchase, order a latte and ask if I might still get a cup of soup, thinking, I know they’re closing soon.  I don’t want to ask for anything that might have them doing a bunch of work.  But soup, soup should be do-able.  That’s what I’m thinking.

Clerk at register asks woman who might usually be helping prep food but who is instead now washing dishes if soup is still available.  Dish washing woman who is cleaning out soup containers says:

“No.  It’s past 8:30 and the kitchen is closed.  We’re done serving.”

She proceeds to say not missing a beat, “Were you going to stay here?  You know we close at 9.”

I smirk, thinking, if I owned this place and knew what just flew out of her mouth, I’d be absolutely appalled.  She is more worried about getting out of there by 9 or as close to it as possible than making sure a customer is happy and satisfied and will care to come back because the experience was just that good.

“Oh yes,” I say.  “I am well aware of what time you close.  I came in thinking there was still enough time I might get a cup of soup.  I haven’t eaten all day.  And I’m hungry.”

She paused.  Stepped back.  And then returned about a minute later after I finished paying for what I could get (wine and coffee), “Well, I guess I could still heat a cup up for you if you’d like.”

“No thank you,” I replied.

At that point there was nothing she could have said to me short of perhaps, ‘I’m sorry’, to get me to even think of staying.

8:32 pm I again look at my watch as I stand, waiting for my latte.

……………

Because I have had many a wonderful experience at this particular establishment, chances are, I will return.  I peripherally know the owners.  I know they run a good business.  And I want to support small local business wherever and whenever I can.  Even if its through a cup of coffee.

But if that’s my first experience in a place, I’m just saying, I may not ever return.

Monday night .. I took my business next door.  My dinner business anyway.  Where I am perhaps all too often a regular as well (because I’m terrible about cooking for myself on nights when its just me.  Plus the margaritas can’t be beat).  Where I have never had anything but the utmost awesome service.  And where I sat down to write .. this post.  Over food.

Which was all I was looking for and hoping for tonight.

Listen.  I’m not trying to be snitty here.  I promise.  I’m just wanting to offer some thoughts .. my own perspective, some of which I hope wear off at some point on my daughter.

I have worked in the service industry since I was about 15.  Actually, before that.  I mowed lawns starting around age 12, had a paper route and babysat all I could to put money in my savings when I was a kid.  But by the time I was 15, I started washing dishes and waitressing.  Back then, it was all about trying to keep coffee cups full on Saturday and Sunday mornings for all the regulars at the Poynette Cafe, how quickly I could remove their plates once their toast was done and hope then that I had served them well enough to earn more than a few quarters per table.  It was tough work, but I realized it couldn’t be about me and what time I hoped to rush out of there to get home or to see my friends.  It was about making sure the customers were happy, that they would come back, bring friends and hopefully tip more next time because I/we took good care of them.  And .. in almost every circumstance, I was also taught that it didn’t really matter what I thought.  About anything.  If I thought their food was done right but they said it wasn’t .. if they ordered one drink but thought they ordered another .. whatever .. the customer is (almost) always right.  And if we didn’t have what they were asking for or when they wanted it, we tried to offer up solutions.  With a smile.  And we stayed late to accommodate.

Sure, it’s not like that in every business.  But, it is in many and unless being rude is your company’s schtick .. what are the consequences?  For the employee or the employer?  Business owners I know say they are having a tough time getting good young help, who most often fill customer service positions.  Among the issues I’m told, too often young workers are so tethered to their iPhones/Android or Facebook they don’t even think to peel their eyes away from a computer screen to acknowledge a customer has even walked through the door.

Has good customer service died?  I don’t think so.  In fact, because we’ve gotten so far away from it, I believe we’re seeing a resurrection of it.  And I know for a fact, this particular place I stopped last night prides itself on it.

However ..

“Some people love to please others and some people love to just be done working and could give an eff (word has been changed to protect my G rating) about you,” says owner of second place, understanding how I came to sit at his table again tonight.

“Can I quote you on that,” I ask.

“Certainly,” he replied.

I can think of shoe departments I won’t purchase from again because nowhere .. anywhere .. was there someone to help, restaurants I won’t return to because the service was as bad as the food, stores I could care less to spend money in and gas stations I can’t stand because pay at the pump should mean pay at the pump, not come inside to pay and we’ll hold extra funds from your debit card for our own use for a couple days and then return it when we feel like it.  Consumers have plenty of options anymore and we need to remember, it pays to vote with our wallets.

Listen .. I don’t consider myself high maintenance.  But I do know common courtesy with me and others would go a long way .. again, a reminder for me to check my own attitude at the door when I head each day into my own job.

Next time if presented with the same scenario, I’m thinking it might be easy for an employee to simply say something to the effect of, “You know what, we just put the soup away, is there anything else we could get you?  A roll?  Anything?”

I might still have said, “No thanks,” knowing they were cleaning up to get out of there and not wanting to inconvenience anyone.  But I would have left feeling much better about the exchange and might have continued to freely tell everyone how much I love your place.

A True Cowgirl …

Let me just start by saying, I will never pretend to be a True Cowgirl.

cow·girl  n.  A hired woman, especially in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of her duties on horseback.

I love the life, the lifestyle and am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to do more things considered Cowgirl since meeting the Cowboy.  But despite the fact I’ve worn cowboy boots since earning enough to buy my first pair as a teen, love country music and all it stands for and have always wanted to live at the end of a dirt road .. I’ve never called myself a cowgirl and know it’ll take awhile to earn the stripes associated with the title, if ever.

Especially after the events of this week.

………..

We have worked a lot around the Cowboy’s ranch this week.

We’ve also ridden each day.  For hours.  Down dirt roads, through fields, in arenas …

Learning the flag race ..

Around barrels.

And unfortunately for me .. I also rode this week, into a barrel.

It’s happened only once out of all the runs we’ve ever taken.  But I took a pretty good chunk of skin out of my shin.

(Apparently real cowgirls, some of them anyway.. the Cowboy says ones who have horses who like to ‘dive at the barrel’ wear shin guards because they have the gift of that experience.  But I’m thinking most don’t, because true cowboys would most likely make fun of a cowgirl who wears shinguards.)

Anyway, days later the leg still smarts.

But not as much as it did before.   Because I now have a few new aches and pains to help take my mind off a sore leg.

………..

We no more than got Ol Joe saddled up yesterday (the Cowboy’s roping horse, who I have been riding all week and every time we’ve been to the ranch), and into the arena with the girls on their horses ..

And he threw me.

It was a valiant effort to stay on, mind you.  I’m sure of it .. (lmao)

But I ended up on the ground.

While I have prepared mentally for that moment for years .. until it happens, I’m pretty sure you can’t really appreciate how little control you have over how you fall.  Unless like bronc riders for instance, you practice .. A LOT.

Regardless, it was the first time I’ve ever been thrown.  And as I lay there in the dirt having hit my tailbone a couple times on the saddle and then my head on the ground after bracing the fall with my arm .. I assessed just what really hurt.

And then the thoughts creeped in .. that a true cowgirl both would know how to ride through something like that .. and that she would also probably get up faster than I was.

I hear crying over to my left ..

I’m still laying there.  “I’m fine,” I say.

The girls, both now standing nearby on their own horses, were upset and worried.

“Are you okay?” says the Cowboys daughter .. mine saying in unison,  “Mom, are you okay?”

I hear more crying.

I start laughing to reassure them that I am, or will be shortly, just fine.

“Really,” I say.  “Just give me a minute.”

I’m still laying in the dirt.  I laugh some more.  And think, that’s about how my own mother would have handled it.  Laugh through the pain.

I got up .. slowly.  Dusted myself off.  And went to help them get Ol Joe back into the arena.

The Cowboy rode him for a few minutes.

And then I got back on.  I wasn’t sure my body was ready for it.  But the Cowboy made me.  Which in hindsight, I appreciate.

…………

“You haven’t ridden enough if you haven’t been bucked off at least once,” the Cowboy tells me.

So .. this was a good thing, I guess.

I may not be a true cowgirl.  But I’m on my way perhaps to better understanding what it takes to be one ..

And as we talk this morning about saddling Joe and the other horses back up ..

I’m enjoying every painful step of walking around, getting ready to head back out again, to ride.

South Dakota Wind …

The mornings have all been fairly different here since we arrived early last Saturday .. sunny skies and warm, partly sunny and cool, cloudy and overcast ..

But the one thing that remains constant it seems here in South Dakota ..

The wind.

I had never thought much about how windy it is until this week, where for starters .. we have had a lot more time to hang out.  Usually we are passing through on our way further west.  Or here for all of about 36 hours, turning around and heading back home.

But each morning, when I look out the window, all I can tell for certain, is that it is windy.

And .. that .. if I leave my clothes on the line .. they may not be there when we I go to check on them again.

………..

It is relatively flat, this side of the state.  So there’s not much to stop the wind from gaining momentum and swirling around every corner, every tree, every building.  Watching the grass on days like today is mesmerizing.  The wind almost appears to make everything dance.  So, it’s beautiful on some respects.

It’s just, so windy.

Windy enough that I had no idea how sunburned I was getting the other day because everything still felt cool.  Until I came in out of the sun ..

And, the Cowboy’s ranch is located in only a Fair to Moderate part of the state where wind is concerned, according to http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/maps_template.asp?stateab=sd.  I can’t imagine if we were in the Excellent, Outstanding or Superb areas of the state.

“Every day in South Dakota is nice .. as long as the wind isn’t blowing,” says the Cowboy.

That has me wondering how many nice days there are here .. but he assures me, most are .. even with the wind howling over the plains.

It also has me thinking .. if the wind one of South Dakota’s biggest crops, is it being harvested to its fullest potential?

Minnesota Public Radio did this piece a few years ago now .. http://tinyurl.com/633srn 

Apparently there are significantly more wind farms in South Dakota today than there were at the time this piece was done.  The Cowboy says one of the biggest wind farms in the state is actually not far north of the ranch.

All I know at the moment .. is that I need to keep my hat cinched tighter when we’re out riding.  That the resistence training on my runs is au natural.  And while it has quickly helped to dry many a load of laundry, saving us from running the dryer .. we need to run the wash again.  Because that white clump out in the middle of the neighbors field indeed is one of my favorite shirts that blew away.

Setting fear aside ..

“I can’t believe she doesn’t know how to ride a bike..”

That is the reaction we would get from just about everyone who happened to come across the little tidbit of information that my 10 year old didn’t know how to ride a bike.  Not only did she not know, but she absolutely refused to learn.

“That’s just crazy,” they would say.  “Why doesn’t she want to learn?”

It’s been this way for years now.

She will go 40 mph down a mountainside on skiis despite having rammed head on into a tree when she was probably 4 years old.  No fear to get back up.  She will ride on a scooter.  A skateboard.  She will get on any horse and enjoys not just a leisurely walk.  But an all out run.

Yet she won’t get on a bike.

I don’t know if it was the 4th of July neighborhood parade incident years ago that scarred her when she fell and the decorative red, white and blue pipecleaner on the handlebar went clear through her hand ..

Or if she .. for some reason .. has just truly not wanted to learn.

“C’mon…” I used to say.  “Everyone knows how to ride a bike.  It’s just something you do.  It will be fun!  We can go together.  You have to learn.”

“Not me,” she would reply.  “Not unless it’s the law.  Is it a law?” she used to ask.

I was getting ready to call the Governor’s office.  Who I knew perpiherally through work and who used to live in our modest little neighborhood. I was certain would help me out.

“It is a law, my law.. ” and would say, laughing.  “Would it help to have a call from the Governor?”

“No.  I’m NOT RIDING A BIKE.

………..

The Cowboy and I were determined with some lovely downtime for us this week .. that she would learn.  And she’s been softening to the idea more and more .. especially since the handsome young boy she often hangs out with now and who lives next door to us rides his bike all the time.

“What do you want to do today,” we asked as she woke on Saturday.

“I want to ride,” she replied.

“Well, if you want to ride the horses later today, you’ve got to first try to ride a bike,” the Cowboy and I said, united.

“Ok.”

………

She didn’t want either of us to help, at least not at first.

The Cowboy tried.

She got off, came back to the porch and said, “I want to do this alone.”

“And two minutes.  I’m only going to try for two minutes.”

We left her alone.  For awhile.  Two minutes came and went and she was down at the end of the Cowboy’s gravel drive still trying.  I went to see if I could help.

We went down the road and back.  A couple times.  The dog in tow ..

“You can do this,” I said.  “You just need some momentum.  It’s hard to start from a dead stop.”

She actually listened.  Didn’t get mad.  Didn’t fuss.  She tried.  And after a few more attempts ..was up and pedaling.

For about 15 feet.

Next try, just a little bit more.  And a little bit more.  By this time, we were coming back up the drive and nearing the porch.

“Ok.”  I tried.  “Can we ride the horses now?”

………

The Cowboy asked if I could see the smile on her face.

I couldn’t.  But knowing that made my heart smile.

So did the fact that Sunday morning, when we came back in the house after returning from town, she wasn’t behind us.  The Cowboy looked out the window …

“She’s on the bike,” he said.