Monday, December 27, 2010


We had our last Christmas party today. I’m glad it’s over. I’m a bit of a Scrooge and am campaigning for the Holiday to come every third year from now on. Still . . . reflecting over the last few weeks, I recall some lessons, some moments that stand out to hoard in my memory bank.

Anna decorating the house when I was spending the night with Dad in the hospital. Then receiving her text along with a photo of the tree with this message: “Christmas is officially at the Pratt household!  And it’ll be here when you get home :)  good night love you”

Finding out that grown up kids, 17, 19, and 24, still like hearing their Dad read a story to them on Christmas Eve.

Opening a replacement diamond for the one I lost when we were first married, and appreciating the extravagance after twenty years of investment on the ranch and in the marriage. 

Being terribly disappointed when Mark had to go get the feed wagon unstuck when we were starting to open presents – and finding out it didn’t spoil Christmas morning after all.

Receiving a favorite gift from my Manhattan daughter, a used book by Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life and savoring the anticipation of evenings by the woodstove with it in hand.

Finding quiche a fine breakfast for cowboys.

Agonizing over the prime rib, then serving a perfect piece of meat to the family.

Dad, unwilling to navigate to the head table for Christmas dinner with his oxygen tube, sitting with the grandkids instead. Then him, at 91, calling out answers to a rousing game of “catch phrase.”

Christmas is like life, we live it the best we can. Find the joy. Keep it simple. Make it about moments.  

my childhood home - one more Christmas celebration

Monday, December 20, 2010

Back Home

Dad’s caregiver, my oldest sister, went home for Christmas, so I took my turn with Dad this past weekend. The pace is slow there. I took my sewing basket and made some real progress on the dishtowels I’ve been embroidering for years. And I finally got some wreaths made. When I am an old woman, I will still gather branches and create a wreath for the door.

I had a heyday prowling Mom’s lovely yard for evergreen boughs. The arborvitae cuttings from under the eaves were deep green and supple. The junipers in the corner had branches loaded with purple berries. Spruce, and of course feathery cedar, are abundant. For accent, I gathered pine cones and a few tenacious clusters of crab apples. 

I stood at the table where Dad could see me and anchored the greenery to lariat circles. The same table where Mom labored over a million creative projects - cutting out dresses for her six daughters, wrapping gifts, and of course painting watercolors. The holiday season would find the table covered with fondant centers for dipping her famous chocolates. And later in life, research materials were strewn about when she tackled her most ambitious project, a western history book.

And so I felt very much at home working on the wreaths, and took them one at a time over to Dad for his approval. 

Mom has only been gone 3 months, so of course her presence is everywhere. It was comforting to fry chops in her old cast iron skillet, drape her original beaded garland on the tree, and sleep under one of her handmade woolen quilts.   

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another Move

I helped Jesse and Mark move the heifers again. The constant pursuit of feed and water for the herd  is what ranching is all about, not ropin’ and ridin’ as some would think. Those abilities come in handy, but pale compared to the skills required of a cowman who can find and/or create affordable feed.

We’re trying to stretch our grazing season further into the winter months and get away from the expensive habit of harvesting, and then feeding out alfalfa. So this year we left the second cutting of our grass and alfalfa fields  “on the stump.” This should not only save costs, but allow the roots to store energy and the plants to have a jump start next spring. We are aided by the thaw that followed the big snowstorm we had in November.

We took the heifers to “Frank’s,”  a chunk of sandhills along the Blackfoot River previously owned by grandpa’s cousin. We think the reason Frank’s daughter agreed to sell it to us was precisely because we would keep it the way her Dad would want it - in its natural state. Most of the ground around us has been leveled and put under center pivot irrigation for potatoes. While we don’t get the big money spuds can sometimes return, we seem to keep ahold of the land through the generations.

We think Frank would approve.

sand cherries and buffalo berries in the windbreak

First the feed, then the water

picture perfect

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Circle of Stories

I got back from our marketing co-op meeting just in time to go see Dad in the hospital. He’s 91 and needing some propping up. Hopefully he comes home today.

The co-op meeting was as always, a real opportunity for self-growth. Country Natural Beef is very participatory. We sit in a circle and each member takes a turn at receiving the microphone and voicing their opinion on the decision at hand. As is written in our operating principles, we strive to “listen with respect, speak with respect and communicate openly and honestly.” We welcome our retail partners to the circle as well. One of them commented on the “directness” of our conversations. It can get heated at times, but straightforward communication is one of our hallmarks, and an integral part of the success of the 25-year-old cooperative.

Transparency is also a foundation value of the co-op. We talk openly with our retailers about the costs back at the ranch and how the carcass comes apart, each cut returning its share to the return needed to ensure sustainability of our 100+ family ranches.

Mark hated to miss the meeting. He would have enjoyed the camaraderie, the arguments, the numbers discussions. We’ve spent the last two days trying to catch him up. I told him about Jimmy who runs a ranch in Hawaii, and with all the challenges of ranching on the islands, looks and acts just like the weathered Idaho cowboys I know so well. I told him about my discussion with Pam, and how the “every voice in the room” aspect of Country Natural Beef is so intoxicating to us traditional ranch wives. I told him about Becky from Whole Foods, and Aaron from The Wedge, and how we all, ranchers and retailers alike, share the same passion for connecting consumers with ranching families.

Their stories inspire me, humble me, and make winter just a little bit warmer here in Idaho.  

Rancher/Member Maureen takes her turn in the Circle