Goodbye Grandma

IMG_0351My grandmother was born and raised in a little pioneer town in Nevada. She had three brothers and one sister. She outlived them all. She outlived two husbands. She outlived her daughter/ niece (her sister’s daughter). She outlived her sisters-in-law. In fact, my father is now the oldest living member of the family as far as I know (it is certainly possible that he has older cousins still living).

My grandmother was beautiful and elegant. When I was a child, she had thick, dark, luscious hair. My dad and my sister inherited her beautiful dark locks. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that my mom told me that she had been dying her hair, to keep its dark color, by the time I was around.

My brother tells a story of how my grandparents met. She was riding by on a horse one day when my grandfather saw her. I don’t remember the story. I think that my grandfather made sure to bump into her riding by again. From my perspective, my grandparents loved each other very much. My mom says they did. My mom says they were totally devoted to each other. I love that they loved each other.

My grandmother worked at the telephone company when I was little. She was very efficient. She could type very fast. As a girl, I was always impressed by her typing skill.

We have always been a close-knit family–on both sides of our family. We were taught to be proud of who we were and where we came from. We are a proud people. We are proud of being Welsh and Danish. We are proud of being LDS. We were taught to work hard, study hard, and to be honest and true.

Our name means something. We have a reputation. Our family is well-respected. I am thankful for the upbringing I received–not just from my parents, but from my grandparents as well. I am proud to be descended from honorable people. I am proud to be a granddaughter of great people.

Grandmother

IMG_0349-2It’s been a tough week. My grandmother, my father’s mother, passed away. I suppose it wasn’t unexpected; she was 93 years-old. She lived a good life, and I think she was ready to move on. Still, it hurts. She meant so much to so many of us. She was mother and grandmother, aunt and sister, mentor and friend. We will miss her. My world is a little emptier without her.

My grandmother was a tiny little woman. I always said she was five feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet. She was a quiet woman. Bashful? Maybe. Perhaps she only felt it necessary to say what needed to be said and kept quiet the rest of the time.

She had a passel of grandchildren, more boys than girls. We ran her ragged. When we had her at her wit’s end, she would utter, “Gads!” and follow it with some remark about the havoc we were wreaking.

We loved going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma and Grandpa’s house meant cutting and pasting with mucilage glue. It meant currant jelly, spearmint leaves, pine nuts, and peanut butter and butter sandwiches.

Grandma used to comb my hair so carefully that it never hurt. When my mom combed my hair, I cried and screamed because she pulled the tangles. Grandma started at the very bottom. She combed the ends then moved up little by little. When Grandma combed my hair, it never hurt.

Grandpa died when I was 14. It was unexpected and it shook my world. I couldn’t believe that Grandpa was gone. Later, when I was in college, when I was a young mother, when my children grew into adulthood, Grandma reminded me again and again that Grandpa would be so proud of me. She always told me that she wished he was here to see the things that I had done and who I had become.

My dad taught us to love and respect Grandma. On more than one occasion, he found it necessary to tell me, “She’s your grandmother!” She was worthy of respect. I imagine she is well-respected by all who knew her. She had so many admiral qualities. She was frugal. She was extremely neat and clean. I used to tell my children that she would clean the house from top to bottom just to start over again. She was modest. She was faithful. She was smart. She was honest, hard-working, active, and just plain old good.

I love you, Grandma. I will miss you. I hope that I learn to be even half the woman that you were.

God Speed!

A Mother’s Son

DSC_0826

She cried when she found out she was pregnant for the third time. She barely had a handle on the fussy, crying baby in the other room. How would she ever do two babies in diapers and a kindergartener? She called her mother to break the news. Her mother tried to make her feel better. She told her that the two babies would be close, that she herself was very close to her sister only 14 months the younger. The woman listened to her mother, but really, she refused to be comforted.

Soon, however, she was excited for the babe. She could feel the baby when he moved. Her husband joked that he was not interested in having a boy and would be content with a cheerleading squad, but she knew. She was having a boy. She tried to feign excitement about having a boy, but she would rather have all girls. When people asked her if she wanted a boy, she looked at them incredulously and said, “No, I have brothers.”

He was born just before 10 p.m. He had a full head of dark hair, which would later turn blond, and a happy, easy-going demeanor. He was everything his sister’s were not. He rarely cried. He put himself to bed every night by 7:30. He was playful and a tease. He was much less serious than his sisters, but thoughtful and watchful and sweet in a stinker sort of way.

When his sisters were both in school, he used to beg, “Mommy, will you play with me? Please???” And they played. When it came time for birthdays, he hunted and hunted for the perfect gift. He was a careful shopper. He paid attention to things that people liked and tried hard to find exactly the right gift.

He grew into a thoughtful and sensitive young man. He still chose his presents with care. He was careful, smart, and observant. He was still playful, even naughty; he liked the pot stirred. And yet, he had a soft, sweet side. He was the first to offer help to a stranded motorist, to pay for somebody’s gas, or plow the neighbor’s drive.

He was deliberate. He carefully chose his words. He carefully weighed his decisions before making up his mind. He carefully sought out advice from those he respected. He was becoming everything she had hoped he would be.

She beamed proudly as she watched him carefully plan a first date with the girl who piqued his interest. She grinned as she listened to him reason with his toddling nieces. She said a prayer of thanksgiving for every day that he jumped right in to work with the animals, gather the eggs, clear the drive and porch of snow, and do the feeding.

His dry and sarcastic wit often grated on her nerves, but she loved him in spite of his attitude. She knew that he would make a good husband someday. She was proud of him and very thankful for the man he had become.

It Happened One Summer (Part 2)

The phone rang, bringing me out of my reverie and back to the present. I’d been cleaning 4the house as I did most Saturdays–unless I was at the ranch, of course.

“Honey?” the rancher’s voice whispered through the phone.

“Hi,” I responded, puzzled. “Who’s phone are you using? Where is your phone? Where are you?” I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and imagine the worst. As a result, I ask a string of questions, not pausing enough for an answer.

Finally, he answered me, “I’m at the hospital. I broke my ankle.”

Again, I let off a barrage of questions. “What? Why didn’t you call me? Where is your phone? How did you get there? Who took you? Are you okay? What happened?”

“I think I’ll be fine,” he said and continued to tell me the story.

His phone was dead and hanging on the tractor. It was of no use to him. He’d tried to lift a 500 lb barrel out of the bed of the pickup on his own. The barrel rolled. It hit him before he could move out of the way. It landed on his ankle. He was in immediate serious pain. He laid at the foot of his pickup writhing in pain. Thankfully, a couple driving by saw the accident and pulled over to help. Without question, they gathered him up and rushed him to the hospital. He used their phone to call me.

I quickly drove to the hospital in the neighboring suburb to pick him up. He was in quite a bit of pain, but he had escaped having surgery. Even so, he was laid up for the rest of the summer. He would neither be able to work his day job nor at the ranch. He was in a cast for the next six weeks, then a boot for at least another two weeks.

I took over the running of the ranch. I went out every morning to feed the cows and turn them out to pasture. Sometimes I had the help of one or more of my 3 kids. Other times, I fed completely on my own. In the evenings and on the weekends, I had more help. Friends, boy scouts, and the young men from our church came out as often as possible to help.

They not only helped me feed, they also helped me clean the loafing shed. We had to scrape and shovel out the moist, decaying mixture of feed, hay, and cow poop. It smelled terrible! Nobody complained that summer. They just jumped in to help. In fact, I know some of those boys are still talking about the experience they had working at the ranch. I can’t explain exactly what happens when you work with livestock, but something happens. You learn that hard work is rewarding. Even if those boys hated helping out at the time, I am quite sure that they look back on it now as a special, memorable moment.

It Happened One Summer

imagesWe moved to the place on Parker Road after the water company took over the Hess property. The Hess property is now the site of the Reuter-Hess Reservoir. When we moved, we had about 20 bred heifers. I remember the day we bought our 18 head of black Angus heifers. They were beautiful animals. We drove to a shady pasture and looked over the 600 pound, shiny black beauties. We bought the 18 and added them to the remaining cows we had from our initial purchase at the sale barn.

Cattle are quite beautiful. They have big brown eyes surrounded by thick lashes and big wet noses. Their tongues are rough, but gentle. In my mind, they always smell like fresh grass and figs. When I was a little girl, we lived in California for a few years. Our house was the last on  the block with a cow pasture to the side of us and a fig orchard across the street. We used to feed the cattle figs from the orchard or our yard. They became very tame and would walk right up to the fence searching  out a treat from our hands.

At the new place, our 20 head of cattle could be seen from the road. They grazed in the pasture behind the outbuildings and rested in the shade from the surrounding trees. In those days, we also fed them a bit of corn every day. The cows loved it and it fattened the beef cattle up and gave the meat rich marbling. In those days, we named the heifers and cows. We had Baby and Honey and Charlotte. I can’t remember all of their names.

Baby was our first. She was a red Angus cross. We bought her as a 600 pound yearling. We planned to feed her out, but she started to “bag up.” One day I asked the rancher, “Is she pregnant?” She was. She gave birth to a big bull. We weren’t there when it happened. Whether it was because she was too small or inexperienced, or because the weather was bad, the bull calf didn’t survive. We found it already dead when we went out that morning. It was sad, but we knew we could breed Baby again, and next time we would save her calf. We bred her for several years. She was a good mother–one of the best we had.

 

Honey was our youngest daughter’s cow. She was just a big pig and not a very good mother. She was too interested in food. Our daughter trained her to eat straight from our daughter’s hand. Even though she wasn’t a good mother, she was well-loved by the family and friends. It was hard not to love her when she was so tame.

For some of the early years of our operation, we ground our own feed. It was a mixture of corn and hay and molasses. The rancher bought the various ingredients in bulk, then mixed the feed in the grinder-mixer. It did exactly as its name implied. We actually had two grinder-mixers. I am sure the rancher bought them at a sale. One was in fair condition. The other he used for parts.

I wasn’t much for ranch work back then. I was too busy raising our family and keeping house. I was very cynical; I saw the ranch as the thing that was robbing from our family both in time and money.

So, it is no surprise that the rancher was out working by himself on a particular Saturday afternoon that year. He had made a trip to Calhan and back to buy the feed ingredients. He came home with two barrels (about a ton) of molasses. Rather than insist that I help him, he opted to try to lift the barrels from the pickup on his own.

I don’t know exactly how things unfolded from there. Perhaps I noticed that he had been gone longer than I expected, or maybe the first I knew something was wrong was when I received the phone call.

To be continued…

Warning: Philosophy, Faith, and General Rambling Below

DSC_0334

I’ve been feeling very philosophical recently. We, like any family, have personal and familial challenges; it is in part those challenges that cause me to be introspective. I have also had many opportunities to talk to various friends about life in general and especially my growth as a wife, mother, woman, and rancher. These, too, have caused me to contemplate our current circumstances.

Here is a true story:

It was a bright and sunny day in May. The flowers were in bloom. The sounds of children playing drifted through the open window. Soon, the sun would be sinking on the horizon. The rancher’s wife was standing at the stove, preparing dinner like she did most nights. She looked at the clock, knowing that the rancher would be walking through the door at any minute. As if on cue, the door opened.

“I’ve had it,” he said, “Let’s put the house on the market.”

She looked at him. “Really? Where did this come from?”

“I’m just tired. I’m tired of kids playing in the street. I’m tired of renters. I’m getting too old. I’m ready for some space.” he replied.

“Well, okay then.” She said with smirk. “I’ll call the realtor first thing in the morning.”

They spent the next two weeks prepping the house for sale. They had to install new carpet, but other improvements were pretty minor.

The house didn’t take long to sell and by the time August came around, they were out of a home. Fortunately, friends allowed them to squat in their vacant house about 40 miles south. They took just enough of their belongings to get by and put the rest in storage. Unfortunately, the quest for the right, new home was not as easy as the sale. All of the properties were either too far away from the city (and work), or too rundown. It seemed like they’d never find something. They quickly grew tired of camping in an empty house with no furniture, no place to sit down and eat a meal, and only the basic amenities. They just wanted to have a home again.

One day, by happenstance (or a prompting), the rancher was perusing available properties. There it sat. It looked like the perfect property. The rancher showed his wife the pictures. She said, “Let’s go look at it.” And they did.

“I like it,” she exclaimed. “It’s the right place. I can feel it.”

They called the realtor on the spot to set up a showing. When they went inside, they were shocked and a little dismayed. The house needed work. The exterior was painted no less than five different colors. The carpet would have to be replaced. Every room needed paint. The list seemed to go on and on. However, the unfortunate look of the house was outweighed by the good condition of the outbuildings. They alone made the property worth pursuing.

They put a deposit down on the property and began the five-week tedium of buying their new home. Five weeks, however, stretched into six, then seven, then eight, and finally into eleven weeks.

They experienced one delay after another. They spent many evenings frustrated to the point of tears. Two things helped them to push on. First, withdrawing the contract and seeking a new contract would only reset the five-week clock. Second, the rancher’s wife had a moment of clarity. In that moment, she knew that the Father was sending her a message. The message was this: You can have this–this dream–but know that it will be hard. I’m making it hard now so you will be prepared for the difficulties that lie ahead.

Finally, they closed on their new home. The trials started immediately. Things went wrong with the house. Animals became sick. Animals died. The utilities were far more than they budgeted. Sales fell through. Predators came. Weather happened. Every day was a struggle.

At one time and then another, the rancher would throw his hands up and say, “I’ve had it! Let’s just sell everything.” Whether it was because of her faith or her deep understanding of the rancher, the rancher’s wife would tell him, “No.” The last time he asked her if they should sell, she calmly replied, “We can sell if you promise me that you are done forever and won’t try again.” She was sly, because she knew that he couldn’t make that promise. They would keep plugging along for as long as they were able.

The funny part of the story is that the adventure has been so much more than just living a dream. It has been a spiritual journey. Struggling has grown my testimony of the Father, His Son, and the plan. I have gained such a testimony of joy and the meaning of happiness. My scripture theme seems to be, “Adam fell that men might be. Men are that they might have joy.” I look back on that moment when I told the rancher that I thought Heavenly Father was preparing us for our future–this moment–and I see things with such clarity. Had we not endured those few months prior to our move to the ranch, we would not have been able to endure the past year. Had we not endured the past year, my spirit would not have matured as it has. I don’t just feel joy occasionally. I know joy. And I experience it often. I love my life and I am so thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the opportunity that I have to see the most minuscule things in life as joyful moments to be cherished.

A Year in Review: 2013

We began the year on a strong note. Our first lamb of the season was born on January 1, 2013. We felt so lucky to start the year that way. We had 29 ewes and eventually 34 lambs. Lambs are maybe the cream of the crop when it comes to baby farm animals. They run and frolic and play. They are such a joy to watch.

IMG_2840In March, we drove to the east end of Kansas to pick up our Red Wattle hogs. It was a long drive there and back, but much fun for the Rancher and me to spend the day in each other’s company. We were very pleased with the Red Wattles and the family from whom we made the transaction.

I might as well get vacations out of the way right now. We don’t take vacations to Vegas, Cancun, Disneyland, or other “exotic” places. No, we (meaning he), work and worry too much. If we left the ranch for any length of time, we (still meaning he) would worry that the animals hadn’t been fed properly. Somebody probably didn’t water in one pen or another. Maybe the animals needed heat. Somebody also might have forgotten to lock everything up at bedtime. There are numerous things to worry about when you try.

IMG_2842As a result, the Rancher likes to concoct vacations for us. Our vacations this year consisted of our trip to east Kansas, three trips to the southern tip of Nebraska, as well as a variety of to points in state–Fort Collins, Greeley, Colorado Springs, and so forth. I also visited my grandmother in May for her birthday as I do every year. In October, we (minus the Rancher) headed to Sundance for my sister’s wedding. We had a fabulous time seeing my siblings and parents together for such a beautiful and joyous occasion, and I happen to have the best sister hands down.  Then, the Rancher made his annual trip to Iowa to help with the harvest and in November our son and I visited my dad in my hometown. We live very large here at the ranch.DSC_0960

IMG_3073Two of our trips to Nebraska were to pick up Berkshire pigs. Our Berks are so sweet–definitely the Rancher’s favorite. DSC_0633

We had many blessings during the past year. Two of the highlights were finding a gentleman that allowed us to trade labor for fencing and finding a local source of poultry. In both cases we feel like we’ve made new friends and feel so fortunate to have had our needs met through the hands of others.

I almost forgot–we met a gentleman that came at the drop of a dime to help us shear our sheep. That was a blessing in itself, but then he agreed to teach our kids how to shear this next year. That will be a huge blessing.

Another fun thing that happened (after it finally warmed up a bit) was adding bees to the ranch. The bees are not our endeavor–our friend is raising them on our property–but we all love that we have them. It is always an adventure when our friends come out and we can head over to watch them work with the bees.

DSC_0490

Over the summer, we built and cleaned and cleaned and built. We were very fortunate to avoid the Black Forest Fire and to receive plenty of rain. We ended the summer with a pig roast and celebration: the Farmer Turns Fifty!

 

The fall brought school for me. I picked up another day at my school. I now work 3 days a week. In October, our daughter joined me when she started a preschool program at the school. We were also surprised in October to acquire some turkeys. I love turkeys! I hope that my turkeys grown into an integral part of the ranch. DSC_1084

I would be remiss if I did not mention the younger two ranchers. They are huge help in so many ways. They pick up where we leave off. Even when I try to shoo them away to give them a break, they are right there helping out. DSC_0527DSC_0826

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we are so blessed to have family and friends and our faith to enrich our lives. We are ever thankful for the fabulous full year we’ve had. We look forward to a prosperous 2014.

A Trip to My Hometown

My son and I took a trip to my hometown and birthplace this past weekend. We traveled 1000 miles each way. We left Friday afternoon and drove much of the way at night. We stopped over in Ely, Nevada to get some sleep. I wanted to take a side trip to visit my grandparents’ hometowns–Lund and Preston, Nevada–but, because of time, I didn’t. Now, I regret not taking the little extra time to do it.

Preston and Lund Nevada barely visible in the distance.

Preston and Lund Nevada barely visible in the distance.

We spent Saturday afternoon packing up mementos from my dad’s house. We even took a trip “downtown.” I was surprised to see most of the store fronts open and conducting business.

Tonopah, Nevada November 2013

Tonopah, Nevada
November 2013

 


Tonopah, Nevada November 2013

Tonopah, Nevada November 2013

 

Erie Street, Tonopah, Nevada November 2013

Erie Street, Tonopah, Nevada
November 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad lived near his grandparents when he was very small. They lived off the land as most people did in that era. In 1949, he moved to my Tonopah. They lived there for a few years and then moved out to Peavine, Nevada.

My grandfather had pigs and sheep and chickens just like we do. In fact, it was my grandfather’s hog operation that inspired me to pursue Red Wattle Hogs. I wish I could go back in time as my adult self to visit my grandfather. There are so many questions I want to ask him and things I want to learn from him.

Courthouse, Tonopah, Nevada November 2013

Courthouse, Tonopah, Nevada
November 2013

We headed home Sunday morning. One of the famed “sites” in Nevada is US 50, “The Loneliest Highway in America.” We drove 167 miles, from Tonopah to Ely, without any chance of gas or services. I can only imagine what it was like when the pioneer families and the gold and silver miners headed across Nevada. Although it is sparsely populated and desolate in areas, Nevada has many beautiful landscapes, mountains, and canyons.

Devil's Canyon, Utah

Devil’s Canyon, Utah

 

 

Utah is similar to Nevada. I-70 is the only interstate highway that was not built close to an existing road or old pioneer trail. Like US 50, there is a long stretch of highway without population or services. Also like Nevada, Utah is beautiful. I spent much of the drive pointing out amazing landscapes to my son. We stopped at Devil’s Canyon for a brief break and I snapped a few pictures.

 

 

Devil's Canyon, Utah

Devil’s Canyon, Utah

 

Devil's Canyon, Utah

Devil’s Canyon, Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wanted to drive as long as we could before stopping for the night. We thought we might drive straight through. However, my grandpa’s pickup, which we were bringing home, had different ideas. We had a flat in Gunnison Canyon. It was our second flat and we were without a spare. We clambered into our pickup and drove the 10 miles into Gunnison and stopped for the night. In the morning, we changed the flat and headed the rest of the way home.

Morrow Point Reservoir Gunnison Canyon, Colorado

Morrow Point Reservoir
Gunnison Canyon, Colorado

Morrow Point Reservoir Gunnison Canyon, Colorado

Morrow Point Reservoir
Gunnison Canyon, Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At home, my dad wandered around snapping pictures of all the animals. He and my husband commented to each other that we were ranching as he had ranched as a boy. Of course we knew when we opted to raise animals in a diversified system (sheep with pigs with chickens) that we were doing things as the pioneers did. Still, it is a comfort and an added blessing to think that we are also preserving a piece of our heritage and our family history.

 

 

 

Our Brand

Our brand, JNP, and our name, JNP Ranch have deep roots. Many years ago, at the turn of the last century (1900 not 2000), a young man traveled across the United States and settled in the Nevada desert. Like many others, he made his living ranching in the White Pine Valley. His name was Niels Peter Jensen and his legacy lives on in our brand. While the brand JNP is still owned by his grandsons in Nevada, here it belongs to us. It is very special to us because it signifies not only our attachment to the past and our families (and our great Danish stock), but also our union and commitment as we became Jensen and Penry or JNP Ranch in 1998.

The Farmall H

It probably only took us one season to decide that we needed a tractor. My wife really wanted to resist–I think she equated a tractor with commitment or finality. However, she soon changed her tune after a spring of mud and muck.

I watched for the right auction and one Saturday, we headed down south. We bought our Farmall H for $1500. My wife believes that the tractor was one of the best farm purchases we’ve ever made.

We have lots of memories centered around that tractor. The wife and kids used to sit on the blade as I leveled the muddy corral, many friends and family have enjoyed tractor rides, and my oldest daughter learned how to drive a car by practicing on the tractor (she took out a gate in the process). In fact, all of my children have driven the tractor at one point or another.

It’s been a great machine–practically a member of the family. Unfortunately, we no longer own our tractor. I made the mistake of selling it a few years back.

Man, I miss that machine!