This week here at the ranch we started to brand some small groups of calves. We are still planting corn in between the spring showers and the horses made a trip to see the farrier.
Here on the ranch it's been a productive week - we have gotten some much needed rain and the pastures are starting to green up! We are still calving. We've had the guys here from Precision Ag Solutions getting the corn planter ready for the field and had our new sprayer arrive. Ready, set - Farm! #FarmFriday
I’ve never considered myself a vain person. I’ve always been just as comfortable with myself covered in mud and manure as I have been dressed up. But the day my hair started falling out in clumps by the handfuls from the chemo, I became vain. Fortunately, it was also the day that two of my wigs came in the mail, and unfortunately they arrived alongside a copy of the French edition of Marie Claire, that I am featured in.
In June, before my cancer diagnosis, I was interviewed for an article on working cowgirls. Reporter Catherine Castro and photographer Amelie Debray from Marie Claire magazine in Paris, France came to the ranch and spent three days with me. We had 820 head of yearling heifers to work during their visit. The first day it rained all day and I was a drowned rat. The second day I went to work all dolled up, ready to be photographed and my horse and I went down in the feedlot slop five minutes into the day. I was baptized by mud and manure.
I took great pride in not being vain. With that many head of cows to work in two days you don’t go home and clean up, you cowgirl up and get the job done.
The final day I got to truly be a model for a day. I can honestly say I much prefer working cows! I couldn’t believe how self conscious and insecure I became in front of the lens of the camera. I kept thinking to myself that my tall, leggy, golden palomino Dutch Warmblood horse that the photographer choose for the shoot, is much sexier than me and much more of the taste of the Parisian women reading the magazine.
I think we are all a little vain and all struggle with our body image at some point in life. Why else would we worry so much about all our physical imperfections? On some level it’s a measure of self worth to care how I present myself to the rest of the world, but it can become unhealthy when I start comparing myself to Victoria Secret models or the model on the cover of Marie Claire or even the readers of Marie Claire France.
Especially as women it’s impossible in our culture not to learn the lessons beauty teaches us every day. We’ve learned that the most beautiful women in the world are the most successful, they are the best. The images on TV and in print media declare this is the American standard, this is what you should want to look like. This is the ideal, which is why they can appear in public nearly naked, because they have nothing to hide, because their bodies are perfect.
In my naive way, I’ve always thought of vanity as the evil queen in Snow White, gazing into her mirror, desperate and willing to kill to be the most beautiful woman in the land. To me vanity was not hating the cellulite on my ass and thighs or being bald and feeling worthless for being overweight or ugly. Instead it was something sad and/or embarrassing for different reasons, because I couldn’t love and accept myself as I am.
After a long conversation with one of my best friends, I cowgirled up and headed to the bathroom to shave my head. As my long blonde hair fell to the floor, with the magazine in the other room with my photo across from a Prada ad mocking me, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was terrified of how others were going to react, especially terrified of how my fiancée would react. Would he still want to marry me without hair? Would he be so repulsed that he would no longer want to make love to me? I had created a whole scenario in my head that was much worse than reality. I let my mind wander down the path of self-obsession and the results were torturous.
Then the following question popped into my head – Why do we look at ourselves through this distorted lens and focus on things that are truly unimportant, such as hair?
My hair doesn’t define who I am as a person, it does make me any more or any less of a person. But that didn’t help me feel much better. I came to understand the behind out veils of vanity lies fear. The fear of not measuring up to our own or other people’s standards. The fear of when we are completely stripped down to the true essence of who we are as a human being that we may be unlovable.
I then realized that I didn’t feel insecure the first two days of being photographed for the magazine article. I was happily doing the work I love, fully engrossed in my job, concerned more with my horse and the cows and getting to know Catherine and Amelie, who have become my friends, than I was of what anyone else thought of me.
When you are open to truly connecting to those around you (even if it’s a cow or a horse) and making this world better, you worry less about your hair or your cellulite, because you realize that what’s most important is truly seeing another as a human being, how we look or what size we are is truly insignificant. It is from that place that we rise above the gossip, the comparisons and the fear.
Maybe the most important lesson I am learning is that the remedy for insecurity is compassion, not only for others but first and foremost for yourself.
I don’t want to look like a French Marie Claire model, it’s really hard to pull a calf, let alone saddle your own horse when you are rail thin with no muscle tone. And maybe that is vanity, the seed of choice and personal preference. My own stubborn personal preference for myself that gets a little stronger each day as I treat myself with compassion and clear away the self-hatred and self-doubt. If I am vain, I choose this kind of vanity. The kind that involves persistently, looking at myself with love and compassion, selfishly looking into the mirror until I can not only accept but love what I see. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
Nietzsche said vanity is “the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride,
but not necessarily a lack of originality.”
As I headed south last week for my second round of chemo, a strange brew of love and sorrow flowed within me. Love for the rural lifestyle I live and sorrow for the losses left in Atlas’s aftermath. The sunflower fields where I stopped and took photos in early September were absolutely decimated, fields of corn with thousands of dollars of crop sitting in them can’t be combined, yards and shelter belts looked like a tornado hit them; and then I got south of Hoover, SD and my heart truly broke open, tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw dead cows six to seven deep in the ditch, more dead cows than I could count in an icy grave of a stock dam, and then a dump truck pulled out on the highway in front of me full of dead stock and I had to pull over.
We were fortunate and lost only a few head, and were out of power for 11 days, but thankfully had generators to weather the storm, so the true impact on South Dakota ranchers hadn’t really hit me until I saw it with my own eyes.
I pulled into Rapid City, SD feeling emotionally raw like one of the down power lines snapped during the storm, lying exposed on the ground. In town I set out to run some errands. My first stop was the fabric store. I choose several fabrics to make scarves for my now bald head. While at the counter having my fabric cut, I began visiting with the woman cutting my fabric and another customer and her daughter. We talked about what I had seen on my drive down as I tried not to burst into tears in the store and then our conversation turned to the topic of cancer. The woman cutting my fabric shared with me and the other customer that her husband had cancer and he was losing his battle against it and that very soon they would be making a final trip to visit loved ones and say goodbye. The other customer who was there shopping for material to make herself a Wonder Woman Halloween costume, then shared with us the scar across her neck from her battle with thyroid cancer that is non-curable. She truly is a Wonder Woman.
I was immediately touched by their stories and the courage it took them to be vulnerable enough with a complete stranger to share a part of themselves with me. I was also painfully aware of the meagerness of my own perceptions of most people, how little of others souls I normally allow to touch my own, how important it is to see each other as human beings first, and how often I make judgments or assumptions about others that diminish their humanity. I have been asleep to the truth of who others really are, sleepwalking through life in the smug complacency of daily living, dumb to the better dreams and goodwill of each person.
A lot of people are often in pain. When you are healthy, you think cancer is so far away. But when you get sick, you realize that it’s all around, you just have to open your eyes. I think one of the lessons of tragedy is to feel compassion for one another. Tragedy also brings to the forefront what is truly important – how precious your life is, how lucky you are to be alive and how important it is to love one another, because in the end what matters most is how much we loved.
Tragedy also calls each of us to meet the bad in the world with the good in our own hearts. One of the great things about being a part of a ranching community is that helping our neighbor is a way of life. The out pour of support from other ranchers is phenomenal, with ranchers in other states donating heifers and large donations to the Ranchers Relief Fund. It makes me proud to be a part of such an amazing community and I personally hope to be able to find a way to do the same for other cancer patients, because cancer isn’t about a diagnosis; it’s about what you do with it. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
It’s being called one of the worst blizzards in South Dakota’s history. Here at the ranch we received 24 inches of very wet snow, Rapid City, SD got 31 inches and Lead/Deadwood, SD a record 43.5 inches. Here in the northwest corner of the state and other Black Hills communities, the storm caused collapsed roofs, damage to crops and livestock, extended power outages, and damage from felled trees.
South of us in the heart of the storm, lost livestock, drifting with 60 mile per hour wind gusts and blinding snow, were driven with the storm, trailing over buried fence lines. Those that made it through the blizzard, are still lost or stranded. And reports of hundreds of head of livestock that didn’t make it, are being reported.
We are still without power and days away from getting it. There are reports of more than 1500 snapped power poles in our area alone. Fortunately after two days without power we now have a generator.
One of the endearing things about living in rural South Dakota is that in circumstances of extreme stress such as during natural disaster like winter storm Atlas, there are moving accounts of people going out of their way to help others. It’s interesting to me how feeling vulnerable breaks down the walls we put up to keep others from getting too close and leads to greater generosity and helpfulness. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
This is the cow who broke her leg in January. The cast came off today and I am thrilled with the results! The bone has healed and her leg didn’t rot in the cast. She has started to bag up and will soon have her calf! Not only did she survive, she healed! (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
Ranching offers a way of life with a distinct pace, a distinct set of rhythms and priorities. Just as the cows and horses who live according to nature, following the rhythms of the seasons, births, disasters and deaths, I find myself also living within the distinct cycles of my own life and changing with each season.
I have always dreaded winter because of the harsh cold, darkness and ice that seems never ending. Nothing takes your breath away or chills you to the bone like being outside caring for animals when it’s -30 degrees with the wind blowing snow at you sideways at 70 mph.
Within the last week we previously had warmer weather, melting away much of the snow and then the next day a storm front moved in, freezing everything into treacherous sheets of ice and turning the pastures into skating rinks.
While feeding this week we found a cow down with a broken hind leg. Her hoof dangling with nothing but hide and ligaments providing any structure for her to stand on. Her pain was evident when trying to move her back to the barn and she was not opposed to letting us know what she thought of what was being asked of her. Being bred she is due to have her calf in a couple months and so we made every effort to ensure both her and the calf’s survival.
After a quick trip to the vet clinic for supplies, and a brief lunch with my son. I returned to the ranch to cast her leg. We roped her, laid her out on the ground and tied up her other three good legs. Tom, the ranch manager sat on her keeping her down while I went to work setting and casting her leg.
While casting the leg I couldn’t help but think about the parallels in my own life. My only child, Sheridan is Army bound, he leaves in June for Boot Camp and sets off to create a life all his own. While I am very proud of the young man he has grown to be I can’t help be feel like that cow laid out and tied down. Without him near I feel as though a part of me is broken and the events in his life are moving so quickly and I am bound and can’t change them. Not that I would even if I could, knowing that part of his journey into becoming a man is following his own path. But as his mother, with world events continually changing, it’s hard to imagine my son who is very strong, yet incredibly kind and compassionate going to war and how that will change him for both the better and possibly the worse as a person.
Once we have children our lives as adults become all about them. We attend PTA meetings, sporting events, school concerts and activities, we sometimes forget to live our own lives because we are too busy living vicariously through our children and making sure we offer them every opportunity we felt we didn’t have as a child. Being a parent becomes our main identity.
Pretty soon along with the responsibilities of paying bills, raising a family, divorce, hardships and other broken dreams, we as adults deny our passions and find our lives much like the long cold months of winter, dead and dormant; responsibilities seem dreadful and activities feel like obligations, it feels like there is no end. We become cynical forgetting the joy and enthusiasm of things long forgotten.
Yet, Sheridan in his youth is excited about his future and enthusiastic about venturing out into the world on his own. He is teaching me that a new season has also come into my life and I once again have to find within me what makes me so enthusiastically happy to be alive that I just can’t contain myself. His enthusiasm is my cast that gives me the structure to heal and like the cow I too am gestating new life that will soon be brought into the world. (Written Montana Ranch Girl)
Just before the New Year with winter setting in, it was time to gather the herd and put them on winter pasture and bring the bulls in to winter at my house for the season. Bringing the bulls in I was reflecting over the last year, thinking of the strides I’ve made in certain areas of my life and what direction I am heading in the year ahead. I realized that it was high time to call myself on my own bullshit! I had several goals, projects and ideas to pursue last year that I didn’t follow through on. Some of them I have lost interest in, which is alright to let go of and move on; yet others were still really important to me and I still really want to do; some I have even started but haven’t finish.
The human mind is miraculous, it is like a bull on the fight when it is up against evidence that it needs to change. Our psyches are equipped with layer after layer of bullshit defense mechanisms designed to shoot down anything that might keep things from staying exactly the way they are — just ask any addict.
I can come up with all sorts of excuses why I didn’t finish what I started but the bottom line is that I alone must make something of myself and my life.
Calling myself on my own bullshit means taking full responsibility for my own life and killing the excuses before they kill me! Each time I betray myself by not following through on something I promised myself I would do I lose integrity and respect for myself, and it takes a tremendous toll on my belief in myself. When I remember the agreements I have made with myself and follow through on these commitments, being true to myself, that is when I have integrity and feel good about who I am.
We all have the greatest intentions in the world about what we are going to do, but fail to follow through. It’s much easier to break a promise to yourself, than it is to a loved one, friend, client or coworker, but the results are much more harmful.
We use the excuse “as soon as” to mean – as soon as I have the time, as soon as I have the money, as soon as the stars are in perfect alignment and all is exactly right in my little world; then I will take action. Unfortunately, the right circumstances never come and we are left with the ” shoulda, woulda, could have’s” and ultimately regret!
Sometimes we forget our own potential. We become so wrapped up in the muck and manure of living day to day, yet this is just another excuse too. Each day brings new opportunities to perceive our own potential. In any situation there is a myriad of ways to see something. We take responsibility for our lives by taking responsibility for how we see our lives. Each challenge is an opportunity for growth and every situation will give back to you, what you give to it, because you give each situation all the meaning that it has for you.
We spend a lot of our time consuming things others have made (TV, music, Facebook, video games) instead of putting our own unique interest, skills and talents out into the world. Most of which is a waste of time and doesn’t contribute to making us better people nor contribute to the world we live in. Doing so is just another form of procrastination and another excuse to not begin living our own lives fully.
We hold ourselves back because the fear of failure is greater than the desire to succeed and it’s much easier to not create anything in our lives rather than feel like a failure when it doesn’t turn out perfectly. In order to succeed we first have to at least try. It may not turn out perfectly but we will have learned something from the experience.
People who don’t try, don’t fail, but they don’t succeed either. As a society we have come to value comfort over effort. Misery is comfortable, which is why so many people prefer it. Happiness takes effort. Happiness is a choice. It isn’t controlled by others or by outward circumstances, but comes from remaining centered and in integrity.
It takes effort, practice, repetition, and discipline to become good at anything. We quit because in our society of instant gratification it takes too long to see results. What we often fail to understand is that, the process is the result.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” John Ruskin.
My projects may never make me any money or go anywhere, but I will certainly feel better about who I am as a person because I honored myself and followed through on what I said I would do.
I personally have held myself back because I have let the heartbreaks of the past cause me to become cynical, yet again another excuse. Emotional pain doesn’t have to devastate us, we can learn from the experience, and learn from our emotions; but this requires us to sit still and fully feel the uncomfortable emotion in order to move through it. Life requires vulnerability for our own growth and development. Real power comes from being strong enough to be vulnerable; to feel hurt and in knowing we can take care of ourselves when we do feel the pain. Real power also comes when we stop holding others responsible for our pain and we take responsibility for all our feelings.
We all fail at times. Sometimes plans don’t work out, but I can no longer waste any more time using this as an excuse and being upset over it. It’s now time to pull myself up by my boot straps and try again, learn from my mistakes and use them to make a better plan.
We also hold ourselves back because we fear success and lack the courage to put our heart and soul into a project only to have others attack it. Welcome constructive criticism, feedback helps us improve and disregard unconstructive criticism. Those who judge your creation are only expressing their own fears and using it as an excuse to do nothing themselves!
Judgment arises when our expectations are not met, but often our expectations are idealized and unattainable and therefore impossible to meet. When I find myself judging others it’s usually because I’m holding myself or others to a set of impossible standards. We can’t expect unrealistic perfection in far from perfect circumstances or from others who are constantly evolving, maturing and changing.
“Don’t mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it. If it is unfair, keep from irritation. If it is ignorant, smile. If it is justified, learn from it.” -Anonymous
The choice to be bitter vs. motivated largely determines whether or not you will succeed in life! Attitude is everything it helps you push through to succeed or is the hidden obstacle that stops you from achieving the success you desire.
Be honest with yourself, call yourself on your own bullshit, hold yourself accountable and take responsibility for your own amazing life. Live from the heart without hesitation and grateful to have the opportunity. Trust your inner calling, ignore criticism and judgment and show the world who you are! (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
Working in a hard Montana or Dakota wind can be humbling experience. You often have no choice but to surrender to its immensity and force or exhaust yourself fighting it. Strong winds always remind me of major life change and how often we resist it thinking change means failure. Yet in forsaking our ability to change we diminish our capacity for hope. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl - At the time I wrote this little did I know at this point how much change was yet to come and so desperately needed in my own life.)
Winds of Change Poem by Jennifer Garreau
The winds of change batter at my door, exposing the cracks in my life, in my integrity. They dismantle the shelter of my flimsy illusions and lack of self-worth, blowing my ego aside.
Each new bone chilling blast stirs and funnels the biting hurt and confusion in my soul, awakening me to my own ugliness and the unworkable patterns in my life; tearing at my psyche and clearing out the cobwebs in my mind.
Powerful gusts clear the way to expose the truth that lives close to the bone, stripping me bare, naked and vulnerable for the world to see.
The structure I have built for myself trembles and shakes. I quiver in fear; this is out of my control. I don’t know where this wind may blow.
As I brace against each new blast, I become more rigid with fear and hear the creaking warning sounds of a life about to snap.
I am exhausted, so tired of trying and striving to hold on to a life that isn’t even my own. This can’t go on much longer; I don’t have the strength or will to fight.
I am left with no choice but to surrender to a will that is not my own. I quiver in fear; this is out of my control. I don’t know where this wind may blow.
In letting go and accepting I find I can bend instead of break with each new blow.
Powerful gusts clears away the fears that block the love within, exposing the truth that lives close to the bone, stripping me bare, naked and vulnerable for the world to see.
Exposed I am no longer covered by the lies and self deceit.
The winds that previously terrorized me are now my friend. Stripped of the beliefs and behaviors that held me in bondage they call me to become who I fully am and demand that I return to myself.
On the ranch I work on in eastern Montana there are pastures so vast that you can see or ride your horse endlessly for miles without encountering another human being or civilization. The pastures are bountiful in their emptiness, offering the respite of solitude and the space for room to grow; wide open spaces to mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually just be me. I easily find myself forced inward by the sparseness of what is outward and visible in all this land and sky, and once within find an expansiveness and openness that has allowed me to discover gifts in myself and others that are much harder to recognize or find while sitting in front of a computer or TV, shopping at the mall or lost in a crowd at a large event.
We tend to get so caught up in the daily grid that it is easy to lose sight of the big picture of our lives. Here you can see for miles with the freedom of no visible boundaries which inspires me to dream of the endless possibilities in my own life. While it may appear to be empty the land itself shows me that so many possibilities are inherent in the flow of the land from its dramatic draws that can’t be navigated by vehicle or ATV’s, to odd twists and cut banks and proud buttes. There is also a wide variety of plant and animal life. You never know if you will come across a rattlesnake, badger, antelope, hawk or sage grouse, reminding me that the possibilities are truly endless when you can see the emptiness of your own life as full of variety.
This is sacred space that returns me to the center of who I am, even when I myself cannot see the outer boundaries, where I find that what seems harsh at times and almost empty is merely open, a door and an reminder to me to return to a simpler holy state within myself where my heart and mind is just as open and vast. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)