Monday, July 11, 2016

My Grandma Gilthvedt

Christmas Eve, 1982

A week ago this morning, on the 4th of July, I woke up on the bench beside my grandma's hospital bed, and a few short hours later she went to heaven. Her passing was unexpected, and the events of this last week all seemed to me like they took place in a thick fog; it was a lot of emotion to process in a hurry. My grandma left quite an impression on my life.

It was late last Sunday night, July 3rd, that I was replaying memories of my childhood time spent with her, and something cool came to mind. Awhile back, I had written a little story about one of our trips together, and that trip had taken place 25 years ago to the day - in 1991. This was a  little of it...

My dad's side of the family is from Minnesota; my grandma grew up there as the oldest child with 5 younger brothers, and my grandpa as the only brother with 9 sisters. When I was 15, I travelled with them to their home state, along with my brother Trevor (9) and cousin Shane (11). For the first half of our trip, a doctor and his wife from CA accompanied us on our journey. We must have been a sight...4 adults, 3 kids, and a week's worth of luggage sailing across the Land of 10,000 Lakes in our boat of a rental car, a Mercury Grand Marquis. When I first spotted the car in the rental lot, it was twice the length of any other vehicle in sight; I just knew it had to be 50 feet long, and I was mortified. But I quickly forgot the humiliation of being seen in the land yacht, as the constant arguing of my brother and cousin ensued almost immediately, and didn't let up again until they were separated to their own homes upon our return. And while the fighting of the young cousins was annoying, the sight of thousands of squashed mosquitoes on every interior window of that car did a good job of distracting me too. If you've travelled to northern Minnesota in July, you'll know what I'm talking about. Add the sweat of seven human bodies, excessive carbon dioxide produced in that overstuffed car, and black interior - we were a slow-moving mosquito magnet.  

...Most of the time spent on that trip, I couldn't wait for it to be over.  We were either on the road covering ground at a snail-pace, or stopping at ANOTHER family reunion. At some point, I wondered to myself if we were just making random stops at EVERY reunion we passed, regardless of whether they were our family or not, to grab another plate of macaroni salad because the backseat battling cousins were hungry again. I think there were 2 other stops in total - one at what we quickly named "world's smallest Dairy Queen", and the other in the middle of nowhere so I could make a pit stop in the ditch and welcome another hundred or so mosquitoes into the car in the split second the door was open.


Looking back, I'm so thankful for that trip; for having grandparents who were so excited to share their childhood memories with us - not just by telling stories but taking us there in person. It was important to them that we learn the history of our family. And not long after we arrived home, we began laughing over all the events, and we still do to this day. It was a road trip to be remembered.


That Minnesota trip was one of many for my grandma and I. She took me to many places, and helped fill my childhood with good memories. She wanted to make sure she was the first to buy me a virgin strawberry daiquiri as a little girl, and the first to buy me the real thing on my 21st birthday. Hoping to bring some culture into my life, she took me to plays - where I'd promptly fall asleep and snooze through the whole thing. She introduced me to room service and Bloomingdales, but her stories of life growing up as a poor farm girl were always close at hand. She wrote my first paycheck. She took me to ice cream at Big Scoop, often, and let me pick whatever I wanted.  In junior high, my dad would drop me off at her house in the mornings, and I would visit with her for a half hour until she drove me to school - I can still see her looking into a mirror on her kitchen table and smell the Oil of Olay she'd spread nice and thick before putting on her makeup as we talked. I knew she always wanted to give me the best, but at the same time, I always wanted to give her mine. She was not a soft lady, but I always felt like I understood her - the world saw a tough woman; I saw a loving one, and appreciated her strength.  She nicknamed me Brookeroosky, the source of the ROOSKY license plate that's still with me today. Her Lutheran faith was so very important, and seeing her family at church on Sundays was a big deal. She had high expectations of everyone (most of all, herself), and I always took that to mean she knew I could accomplish anything. She was incredibly proud of her family, and I never realized that more than at her memorial service this weekend when many of her friends that I hadn't seen in years were all up to date on my life.

The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is one of the best things in this life. I've been blessed to have that closeness with all 4 of mine. My grandma will be deeply missed, but the impact of her life forever changed mine, and the joy of my time with her will always outweigh the sadness that it's now come to an end. If heaven didn't have "wine time" before, it does now (this goes without explanation for anyone who knew her), and I'll get to see her there someday. :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ranch Boss vs. Wegener's - Part 2



March 21, 2011 was the first day of Keith's extended stay at Swedish Hospital in Seattle as he was diagnosed with Wegener's and underwent the beginning of what would be a long succession of treatments. On this day, he was down 20-25 pounds since his mastoidectomy at the beginning of the month, and he had lost about 30 pounds to date; his voice was entirely gone; an increasing number of small purple spots were showing up under his fingernails; the left-side facial paralysis had not improved yet; he had extreme pain in both ears that he could not describe; he was severely fatigued all the time; and he had a rash and bumps on his face and neck that kind of resembled razor burn. Despite the long list of things going on with his body, Keith had the best attitude - was hopeful for a diagnosis - and was ready to jump into whatever treatment was needed to get him back on his feet. Without a doubt, his ever-positive attitude made a difference over and over again.

That Monday in the hospital was a busy day. Lots of tests and lots of contact from all our family and friends to show their support. By Tuesday, March 22 I was able to give an e-mail update:

First of all, thank you everyone for your prayers and support…I just can’t say it enough!  I didn’t know it was possible for two people to cry as much as Keith and I have; we are overwhelmingly blessed and humbled by the love you’ve all shown us.  This has been an experience like no other, and we are in constant thanks to God for what He has done and what is to come.

On Sunday (March 20), Keith had his most difficult day so far, in terms of pain.  The doctor and I talked several times that day, and he spoke with other doctors as well, to come up with how they wanted to treat Keith yesterday.  We saw 2 doctors in the morning, and they confirmed it was best to admit him to Swedish Hospital, where they could expedite testing.  They did a cardiac ultrasound, which came back normal; various blood tests, which we’ll see results of starting today; took a chest x-ray, which came back with abnormal results, showing a large mass; and did a CT scan of his chest.  Today we'll hear more about the CT scan, and they’ll also do a bronchoscopy to get a better look at his lungs.  So no definite news yet, just lots of things going on that should provide some answers soon.

In the mean time, Keith is not feeling well, but God is giving him the strength and attitude he needs to keep pressing on.

I’ll continue to send out updates as we know more.  If you’ve called/emailed/texted me and not heard back, please know that we love you all and are thankful for each of you.  It’s been a little overwhelming, and I have not done the best job of getting back to everyone individually, but we greatly appreciate your support.

On a lighter note, in Keith’s absence, I'm realizing all the things that I need to learn to do on my own. I came home late from the hospital tonight and at 2am, the dog started barking wildly.  I opened Clay’s window to find 3 coyotes standing about 10 feet from the house, staring right at me!  I freaked out and tried to shut the window real fast so they wouldn’t attack me (yes, ridiculous, I know), and in the process, I managed to get it stuck in the open position.  After 5 minutes or so of messing with it, I gave up and ran to the garage to get a gun, at which point I realized I don’t know how to load or shoot a gun.  Just great.  So I shined a spotlight in the fields, banged some pots and pans together, and did my best to yell and scare the coyotes, who were out there bugging the mama cows and their babies.  It wasn’t effective; they just ignored me.  Finally I gave up, came in, and said a prayer that the mama cows would protect their babies tonight.  The dog is still barking, and the window is still not shut, but I’m going to go to bed and I'll think about it again in the morning. J

Thank you all again for your prayers and love.  I can't use the word “thankful” enough, but that’s what we are!  I’ll update as I know more.

Brook


As I stop and think back on that time in our lives, it's almost more overwhelming now than it was then. It was like every person we knew rallied to provide help and support in some way. I feel like an outsider looking in as I go back over the hundreds of e-mails from people, and the notes I took of what happened each day. 

Our moms did the best ever job of trying to keep things as normal as possible for the boys in our absence. Being away from them was so hard on us, but at the same time, we wanted to protect them from some of what was going on in the hospital; it seemed like more burden than they should have to carry. Our family and friends stepped up to take care of everything on the ranch, and began to fill our fridge and freezer with meals, expecting that we'd be returning home very soon. I would leave the hospital late each night, usually well after midnight, and return in the morning, bringing a new stack of mail and paperwork for us to tackle each day. 

Something that sticks out in my mind is the presence of our friend and church pastor, Scott Myers, while Keith was in the hospital. Keith didn't want visitors, so aside from family, Scott was the only visitor to spend much time with us. He was there the day Keith was admitted, and many days after that; Scott would come sit and just "be" with us. We didn't have to entertain him or force conversation; he was just there. There to talk when one of us wanted to, there to listen as the doctors and nurses came in and out, there to pray with us as we waited and wondered about what would come next.  And we didn't ask him to be there; he just showed up on his own, and left the same way. I'll always remember that. 

Likewise, Scott's wife Heidi was reaching out to family and friends on our behalf from home. The day Keith went into the hospital, Heidi rounded up a large group of people who would pray for Keith around the clock. We didn't know about it, until receiving an e-mail from my cousin Sara, who was stationed in Iraq. Heidi had not found people to pray from 1am-3am, when a message from Sara came in, saying she would take that time to pray, as it was mid-day in Iraq. To know that people were praying 'round the clock for a diagnosis and healing for Keith was once again, overwhelming. The power of prayer is greater than I think any of us can grasp. 

March 22: Doctors performed a bronchoscopy on Keith; it showed large, bloody cavitations in his lungs. On this day, he was not given any of the prednisone he had been taking and recalls this as being one of his most painful days ever.
March 23: Open lung biopsy; results expected by the end of the week. Good friends whose daughter has a form of vasculitis visited us in the hospital, they asked about the possibility of Keith having vasculitis (in my mind, I was thinking..."no way"); later that night, one doctor came in and suggested the possibility of Wegener's.
March 24: We began hearing more talk of a possible Wegener's diagnosis. Keith got his first of three 1,000mg steroid doses via IV, in anticipation of Wegener's.
March 25: Second 1,000mg steroid dose via IV; results of lung biopsy confirmed 
Wegener's Granulomatosis.
March 26: Last 1,000mg steroid dose.

The end of the 3 large steroid doses felt like a milestone to both of us, and I was glad to have some progress to report to our ever growing e-mail list that night:

Thank you all again for your continued prayers for Keith and our family!  

Today we received the last of the biopsy results, which confirmed that Keith does have Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a form of vasculitis.  We are thankful to have a diagnosis!  The doctors began the first stage of treatment on Thursday because they wanted to get a jump start on it, even without all the results back. Today he had his last of 3 large steroid doses through IV.  We were told there could be some side effects from the steroids, but he hasn’t noticed any; that is great news!

Keith still has a drain tube in from his lung biopsy, and once that is removed, we believe he will be able to go home.  It is possible that he may go home tomorrow, but more likely on Monday.  In the mean time, the nurses here love him because he is their “easy” patient. J

Tonight we met with a rheumatologist - she will be his new disease doctor - and Keith began a high dose oral steroid treatment (60mg per day, which is high, but seems small compared to the 1,000mg he’s had via IV over the past 3 days); he'll be on that for the next 3 to 4 weeks before tapering off.  Tomorrow he will begin on Cytoxan, a chemotherapeutic drug, in a very low dose, which will increase as he goes off the steroids.  The doctor expects that he’ll be on the Cytoxan (a daily pill) for a minimum of 6 months.  Then there are a few other goodies to go along with that…a stomach protectant, an antibiotic, and so on.

After talking with the doctor, we feel better informed as to what we can expect as Keith gets out of the hospital and back to life as usual. He can expect up and down days…the treatment isn’t going to be like flipping a switch back to his all-energetic self.  His symptoms won’t go away right away, and since each patient is different, there’s no general guideline for when, or if, things, such as his voice, facial paralysis, etc., will return to normal.   And as with everything in life, we don’t know what the disease will look like for him in 3 months, 6 months, or a year, but one thing is for sure…God knows, so we don’t have to worry one bit about it.  We trust that it’s in His hands and that’s all we need to know!

Not much more to report at this time.  Keith is feeling pretty good, and looking forward to moving ahead with treatment and getting his strength back.  We are praying that he goes into full remission and doesn’t have to mess with the disease again.  I am also praying that he responds quickly to the treatment and with little or no side effects. 

We are thanking God continually for the peace that He’s given us this entire time.  There hasn’t been a moment where we haven't felt His presence.  And we are grateful for your love, prayers, and support.  It’s just an unexplainable feeling to know how many people are lifting him up in prayer at any given time.  Wow, that can bring tears to a person’s eyes, for sure! 

Our love to you all, 
Brook


So Keith's week in the hospital was coming to an end, and he was very anxious to get home and begin recovery. What we didn't expect was that he wasn't going to be going home quite yet. Swedish would become his home away from home for the next couple of weeks as a variety of things kept him there. My next post (or posts) will cover his remaining 20 days of hanging out in the hospital.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ranch Boss vs. Wegener's - Part 1


The thought of writing out a story about Keith's journey with Wegener's (now also called GPA) has been a bit daunting, but today, I finally convinced myself it's time to start. In 2 days, we'll be hosting a fundraising event for the Vasculitis Foundation in support of Vasculitis Awareness Month, so with my mind on the disease more than usual lately, it's been interesting to dig back into our records and take a look at so many details that have (thankfully) become a distant memory. There was little information available online when Keith was in the hospital and I was searching, so I hope that someone may stumble across this post and those to come, and that they'll be a source of information & encouragement.

NOTE - the dates and information described here are tedious, but for someone looking for answers, or a story they might relate to, details are helpful. I SO wanted to find real life stories as I searched, and that's why all the nuts and bolts are included here.
You've been warned. :)

In October 2010 (photo above), Keith and the boys went on their annual hunting trip with my dad. All was good, although I recall around this time Keith mentioning that he was feeling overburdened by his workload, which was something he hadn't ever felt before. He had always dealt well with pressure, and for some reason, things were getting to him now.

The first week of November 2010, 2 weeks after returning home from hunting, Keith woke up with a plugged right ear. He tolerated it until mid December, thinking it would go away. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. Finally he went to see our naturopath the middle of December.  After a heavy 3 day dose of antibiotics in combination with natural decongestants, nothing had improved and he went to see our ENT. She gave him a steroid shot, and another round of antibiotics. The plugged ear remained, and the last week of December, he had a CT scan; the scan showed a sinus infection. His ENT decided to make a tiny hole in the ear drum, and ear drainage began; that was a relief. Keith wasn't miserable at all during this time; it was just a pretty mild, but annoying, change from his normal good health.

About a week into the New Year, we took a family trip to California (picture below). Keith would mention how strange this thing was... whatever was going on with his ear... but that he just couldn't really describe it. When we returned home mid-January, his ear felt plugged once again so our ENT put another small hole in his ear drum for drainage, and gave him another steroid shot. Relief again. It was during this month that Keith carried a pocket full of Kleenex and Q-tips because his ears were constantly draining (yuck).

Finally Keith had sinus surgery on January 25th, 2011. The morning of his surgery, he woke up to both ears plugged for the first time. Tubes were placed in his ears during surgery, and they repaired a deviated septum & cleaned infection in both sinuses. When he woke up from surgery, he had lost his voice completely. He quickly regained the ability to talk, but his normal voice did not ever return (his changed voice is one permanent result of the disease). He went on steroids and antibiotic pills for the next 2 weeks.



The next month and a half was pretty eventful...

January 28: After a couple days of feeling great post-surgery (we realized later it was the steroids in his system that made him feel GOOD), Keith crashed. Lots of ear pressure and drainage, and a strange pain began in his head and ears that he couldn't describe.
First week of February: Began a Z pack, prednisone, and antibiotic ear drops.
Mid-February: Keith's ENT, a good friend, referred him to another ENT in Seattle. The new ENT ordered a CT scan that showed a bilateral mastoid infection.
Middle to end of February: Continued antibiotics, but the drainage and pain in ears kept getting worse. What had started as a little fatigue over the past couple of weeks became intense, and he began having sleepless nights. We noticed any time he tapered off steroids, he began to feel worse.
February 28: After a very painful night of strange sensations on the left side of his face that also radiated down his neck, Keith woke up early in the morning with left side facial paralysis. He was given a steroid shot, an antibiotic shot, and a new CT scan was done. Results of the CT scan were not consistent with his symptoms. His current prednisone dose of 30mg was doubled to 60mg.
March 2: Left side mastoidectomy was performed (picture below was taken on the morning of that surgery). Post-surgery, the doctor explained that he had expected to find a badly infected area during surgery, and did not.




March 7: MRI results showed Keith's facial paralysis was not consistent with a Bell's Palsy.
March 9: Saw a new naturopath and began on a detox and immune boosting regimen. Dr. believed this mysterious "infection" may be the result of a root canal done several years prior.
March 10: Pain was at its worst yet; Keith could not explain where the pain was coming from, or compare it to anything he'd felt before; fatigue was worse, and it was difficult to do more than lay in bed; skin rash and bumps begin.
March 12: Left index finger became cold and numb; small purple spots began appearing under his fingernails.

To this point, despite all these things, we were trying hard to live life as normal. Keith continued to drag himself into the office each morning and work, heading to jobsites whenever he felt remotely up to it; he coached Cole's rec basketball team; took care of the ranch the best he could (it was calving season, after all); some of our friends will even recall we were in a couples' Bible study at church, and they just looked at us in shock each week as Keith worsened but continued to show up. We truly were just thinking that the simple answer was right around the corner, and he'd be healthy again any day. But many people, not just our Bible study group, were really becoming concerned, and my voicemail and e-mail were filling up with questions from those who cared, so on March 14, I sent out the first of many updates to those who loved Keith:

Hi Everyone, 

I just want to thank all of you for your prayers and concern for Keith and our family as we try to figure out his health problems.  Today we spent from 8am-5pm seeing doctors; it got us a little farther down the road toward his healing, so we’re super thankful for that.

We saw his ear surgeon, who removed the metal tubes in his ears, replaced them with plastic ones, and ordered an MRI.  He went in for the MRI and found out that the results don’t show anything new.  The surgeon is back to thinking the facial nerve is being affected by the infection in an area where he did not operate a week and half ago.  The surgeon will be consulting with colleagues over the next couple of days to talk about Keith’s symptoms…all the ear stuff and related pain, along with facial paralysis, weight loss, a messed up voice, and more.  We have an appointment to see him again this Wednesday.  Both Keith and I are very happy that we are seeing this doctor; he is confident that Keith’s health will be fully restored, and he really is going the extra mile to help us put the pieces of the puzzle together.  So many people don’t get to experience health care that moves as quickly as it should, and we’re thankful that it has moved quickly for Keith.

After the ear surgeon, we saw a new dentist.  This came at the recommendation of the naturopath we saw last week, who suggested Keith may have an infection at the site of a root canal he had done about 3 years ago.  The naturopath felt it was likely that an infection in his mouth could be the source of his sinus problems, which then also turned into ear problems.  The dentist did find not only the site of the root canal to have a massive infection, but also infections in all 4 areas where Keith’s wisdom teeth were removed many years ago.  So, he now has an appointment with an oral surgeon to get those things taken care of this Thursday.  Again, we are thankful that the doctors are working quickly to help him!

After the long day with doctors, we both feel like things are moving in the right direction. Thank you all again for your prayers.  I would love to ask for your continued prayers for Keith’s strength and endurance, as we know the pain he’s in will not be going away real soon (or at least we don’t think it will), and wisdom for the many professionals who are working to get his health restored.

Through all of this, we both have SO many things to be thankful for.  Our God is so good, that He continues to bless us beyond measure, even in the middle of difficult times!

Sincere thanks to you all!
Brook

Over the next days, Keith's health continued to go downhill...
March 15: Saw an infectious disease specialist for testing.
March 16: Started coughing up small amounts of blood
March 17: Oral surgery; the surgeon removed the tooth at the site of the root canal and was surprised to find very little infection. He also opened the sites of all 4 wisdom tooth extractions from many years before.

On March 18th, I sent out another update...
Hi Friends, 

We were feeling pretty positive about how things were progressing on Monday night when I sent out the last update.  I suppose that, for me, it was partially because I knew that only part of our day on Tuesday would be spent “doctoring”, and I was looking forward to the break! J  Well, at our visit to the naturopath Tuesday morning, Keith pointed out that the tip of his left index finger had been losing circulation on and off since Saturday.  Our appointment ended, and the minute we walked in the door at home, the phone rang and it was the naturopath, concerned about Keith’s finger.  So our half day of doctor visits turned into all day again.  Before we knew it, we were headed to Seattle to see an infectious disease specialist.  They did more blood work and found his white blood cell count to be high.  Because of those results, they put him on 2 new antibiotics, which started yesterday.

Wednesday, we met with the ear surgeon and another one of his colleagues.  The blood test results don’t sound like something to be alarmed about…there are lots of variables that fit Keith’s situation which could contribute to that, like the medication he is on, and the stress that his body is under with the infection.  They believe his weight loss may be an effect of his metabolism speeding up in order to fight the infection.  They want to continue to watch the facial paralysis closely, as they think there are minor changes happening, and want to let it come back on its own, if possible.  The voice loss is strange to them, but they’ve now scoped his throat 3 times this week and found nothing to be worried about…just redness and irritation.  There are some other strange, and even gross symptoms, but I’ll spare you the details! J  In all, they still feel that he’s a healthy guy with some strange things going on.  We keep hearing, “You are NOT a textbook case”.  You’re kidding…

So, oral surgery was yesterday and all went well.  Keith had the tooth with the root canal pulled and it was infected, so they cleaned it out.  He also had the 4 sites where his wisdom teeth were pulled cleaned out.  That procedure makes me cringe, but he didn’t even take any pain meds today for it.  He said it wasn’t bad, yikes!

As of now, we have no doctor appointments today.  Then we’ll start up again seeing them on Monday.  I’m praying that a few days of the new antibiotics, along with the mouth surgery done, and all the detox stuff, will make a big difference over the next couple of days.  When I say that Keith has a good day, that pretty much means he can think clearly and walk from room to room in the house.  When I say it’s been a rough day (or night), it means he’s been in so much pain he can’t think straight and can’t function at all.  I’m thankful that today was a “good” day, even after the surgery.  But for Keith, I know the rough days are starting to wear on him and he’s ready to get back to life as normal.

Thank you all again for your prayers.  We are so thankful, and are seeing how God is working in this each step of the way.  Keith is totally at peace with how things are going, despite the pain that is hard to tolerate at times.  And I’m at peace too.  God is giving us patience, and showing us that, when it comes down to it, EVERYTHING else in life can wait.  I believe that soon enough, Keith will be back to good health, and we’ll be off and running again, but this time with a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives.  Yes, He has our attention now, that’s for sure!

Thank you again; I just can’t say it enough!  It is humbling, and has brought many tears when we think of and talk about all the people who are praying on our behalf.  We’re so very grateful.
Brook

And that update would be the last one before Keith was admitted to the hospital. He rapidly declined over the weekend, was unable to get out of bed, and began coughing up large amounts of blood on Sunday, March 20th.

As we would later learn, the diagnosis of Wegener's can often take a very long time. Keith's symptoms lined up well with the disease long before his diagnosis. My next post will begin with the start of his 6 week hospital stay as doctors tried to get the disease under control.





Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day 2016




For many months after we bought the ranch in 2005, I would find coffee cups
all over the property - in every barn and outbuilding, tucked away in the tall grass
in the corner of a pasture, sitting on top of a fence post.
I just didn't understand...maybe because I wasn't a coffee drinker.

When we moved here, we had 2 young boys and 10 cows,
and I didn't think life could get any busier.
I also couldn't figure out how anyone could leave so many coffee cups behind.
Now we have 3 older boys and pastures full of cows.
And I wonder how anyone could possibly remember where they leave their coffee cup?

The life of a mama is a blessed one.
Just about the time you think your plate is full, a little more gets heaped on,
and God proves to you that yes indeed, you can handle it.
Or more like it...He can handle it.
And along the way, you gain strength you didn't think you had,
and a whole lot of humility.

Yesterday morning I was out looking at calves and realized later I had left
my coffee cup behind - sitting on top of a fence post.
I just smiled as I thought back on all those coffee cups left behind years ago.

I realize now that I've added a new list of displaced items to the ranch.
Work gloves, gardening tools, and now coffee cups, too.
If someone new were to move in tomorrow, they'd surely think the woman who
lived here before had lost her mind.
Isn't it funny how life works?

Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there. 
We may lose things along the way,
but all we gain by being "mom" is worth it. :)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Live Your Dream


For two years, I was asked to contribute to a blog site, and for two years I responded like this: "I'd love to, and I will...when I can figure out what to say." But, I never did come up with something to say. To be more accurate, I never really started because I didn't think what I had to share was good enough, and I was a little scared to put something out there that was less than perfect.
.....

A couple of months ago, I started going through journals from the time Rocking Bar H Ranch officially began. Right around this time 10 years ago marked many beginnings. In fact, on this morning, New Year's Day of 2006, Keith and I headed east to Feddes Red Angus in Manhattan, Montana, where we picked up a trailer load of Red Angus mama cows that would become part of our original herd. Back to the journals - do you know what I realized? We had to start somewhere to turn the ranching dream into a reality. And that somewhere was far from the perfect situation.

Are we ever perfectly ready - perfectly prepared - to make our dreams happen? Nope. It's the reason I never did follow through on a simple thing like writing for that blog. And it's the reason those big, exciting plans we make for our lives often fade as we fall back into what's familiar, comfortable and well, kind of boring. We wait for the perfect opportunity, but it rarely comes around.

There's something about the start of a new year that prompts us to make a change.To begin new things. To look at our dreams and goals with fresh motivation. It's why I waited until today for this post. And I just have this to say: Your great big dreams CAN come true.

I didn't imagine when I was attempting to sketch up a brand late one night at the kitchen table that we would soon have "branding day" like a real-life ranch, and pastures full of red cows with a Rocking Bar H emblazoned on their sides. I didn't imagine that our young boys would help bring newborn calves into this world, knowing that those animals' lives depended on them. I didn't imagine that there was time or room for more friendships - and that those people would in turn become who the rest of our lives will be shared with. I didn't imagine that ranch work would be as difficult, never-ending, and rewarding as it is, and that future generations of our family will be different because of it.

The big dreams that God places on our hearts are there for a reason, friends. He wants us to do what we love, what we're good at, and what will best serve this world. Our dreams are no mistake. Our talents are no mistake. The only mistake is when we let them go to waste.  Looking back at quite a few years worth of doing this ranch thing, I can see why God put that desire on Keith's heart. Keith is good at ranching.  Not just good...he's great at it. He loves it. He teaches other people about it. His wife and boys are better off for being part of that journey. What if he had waited for the perfect time? We would have missed out on so much.

I hope on this New Year's Day, you can find a little time to think about your dreams. To know that they're closer to reality than you expect. I hope you'll have the courage to begin making them happen. To start down the adventurous path full of new and exciting things.

Today is the perfect day to start living your dream.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dash Through New England (and more) - The Final Chapter

At this time one year ago, Ranch Boss and I were on our way home from a quick visit to New England and New York.  We hit 8 states on the 5 day adventure, and I was SO excited to share our trip on my blog.  In fact, I ended the second of three planned posts like this:

"Stay tuned...we've still got 2 more days to go!"

And you haven't heard about it since.  Being that I just returned home this week from another east coast trip that's totally worth telling about, the left side of my brain is determined this post still has to happen before I can ramble about the next one.

It's a good thing that "better late than never" is one of my life themes, so here I am a year later, almost like it's on purpose. Sure am glad I saved all those wrinkled up maps and tour books; with their help, I'll tell this little story.  So here goes.  If you need a refresher on the places we've already visited on Days 1-3, here ya go: 
Part 1 and Part 2  


We woke up in the village of Hyannis on Cape Cod on our 4th morning.
Check out this seashore - literally picture perfect. I might add that something monumental
happened on this day: I drank my first cup of coffee EVER. Ranch Boss, who has long
dreamed of the day he would share a morning cup of coffee with his wife, was ecstatic.
And I feel like a grown-up now. :)


Up close, the sandy beach was even better. 
So many perfect seashells in one place.


And it's true...the houses on Cape Cod {one of my favorite American architectural styles} 
look like this in real life.


Being on the east coast makes you feel as if you've stepped into a history book. After leaving Cape Cod, we made the short drive to Newport, Rhode Island and found ourselves looking right at this beautiful old building - the 1739 Old Colony House. The Declaration of Independence was first read from the balcony of this building, 
also the nation's second oldest capitol.


Even the windows are cool.
{Some old window in some old building in Newport, Rhode Island}

What we were about to witness next was the part of the trip that kept Ranch Boss hanging on the previous 3 days when he would have preferred to ship me back home and travel in peace at a MUCH slower pace...

THE NEWPORT MANSIONS

Newport began attracting the nation's wealthiest citizens during the 1800s when they recognized its promise as an ideal vacation spot. Magnificent mansions were built, and today many can be toured. 

These mansions inspired our trip in the first place, and they were better in person than we could have imagined. Add this tour to your bucket list...it is that impressive.


Entry doors of the first house we toured - Rosecliff.
In the early 1900s, the woman who owned this house was known for throwing the best parties in the neighborhood. Her party budget for the 8 weeks of summer vacation spent here was equal to about $3 million today. Can you even imagine being on her guest list??


Just your average ocean view...


The Marble House (seen here from the back yard) - a simple summer cottage - was given to Alva Vanderbilt by her husband William for her 39th birthday.


Marble House from the front.


This is one TINY end of The Breakers, the grandest of all the Newport mansions.
It is 70 rooms of pure awesomeness.

Given more time, we could've spent a few days in Newport, but we managed to cram 5 mansion tours into the afternoon, and hit the road for NYC, traveling across the coastal areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut along the way.


We rolled into the Big Apple late at night, settled into our "slightly-larger-than-a-shoebox" hotel room, and tried to narrow down the list of must-sees for the next day before nodding off. We were amazed to think this view from our window is just a typical view for millions of people. What we see when we look out our windows at home is so incredibly different.


I kicked off the morning of our 5th day with a run in Central Park. 
Sunshine, crunchy fall leaves underfoot...bigger and more beautiful that I could have imagined.
Someone pinch me. :)

After breakfast and coffee (YES...coffee again!), we started wandering the streets and realized in oh, 5 minutes or so, that we weren't going to be able to cover as much ground as we'd hoped. NYC really is that big...people weren't exaggerating. So we followed what I believe is the best advice we were given about the city, and hopped on a double decker bus for a city tour. Those double decker buses are the best thing ever - you ride as long as you like, then get off and walk around whenever you want - and catch the next bus to pick up the tour right where you left off. We saw all the sights we hoped to, and caught the subway back to our starting point, just so we could say we did that, too. :)


This is my fav pic from NYC. 
How on earth people function properly in this sort of chaos is beyond me. 
I stepped out onto the street to snap this, and should probably be thankful that I wasn't run over by one of the many forms of transportation. 
Picture, for a moment, the sounds that match this view. Craziness, right here.


These guys were gracious enough to take our picture at Times Square - 
hopefully they're better cops than they are photographers though. 
I only asked them to re-take the picture twice before deciding that a picture WITH them might be a much better idea.


I also learned who NOT to take a picture with. New York City isn't Disneyland, my friends, and if you stop to take a picture with them (yes...they are on every street corner), expect to pay, or else run away while they chase you down screaming for a tip. Who knew?!?


Safely back on the bus and out of the reach of crazed people in costumes, we saw some cool stuff - like the Rink at Rockefeller Center.


Our final stop -the 911 Memorial.
By far the most sobering part of the trip. 
The emotion that comes with visiting this place in person isn't something you can even prepare for.  And as you stand there, you wish that every American could experience this place. Just an incredibly beautiful tribute to the thousands of precious lives lost on one unspeakably sad day in history.


Just beyond the memorial stands the new World Trade Center - the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere - a symbol of what can rise after destruction. It represents strength and hope to many. What a perfect way to end our NYC tour. 

And just like that...we were back in our car, driving out of the city and on our way to the airport. The dash through New England (and more) was as full a time as it could have been. Was all that a dream, or did it actually happen?



There's one tree at our place that was late in changing color last year, and I noticed it the morning after our return. It was a little tiny reminder of the beauty we had seen on the east coast. And also a reminder that no matter how much we love to visit other places, there is nothing quite as wonderful as coming back home.