Fall Ranch Giveaway

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

I’ve been in a funk, and one of the best ways I’ve discovered to boost my mood is giving to others. So, let’s celebrate fall on the ranch with a simple giveaway!

First, go to The Writing Rancher on Facebook. Find the post I added on October 1. Love THAT post on Facebook, comment either ‘SD’ or ‘PW’, and tag at least one friend. Then, I’ll enter you in a drawing for either South Dakota Magazine or The Pioneer Woman Magazine.

Plus, you’ll all be entered to win this cute, comfy tee from my friend Calee @Blue Sky Boutique right here in South Dakota! Bring on fall y’all — Love, Comment, and Tag to win! #WeAreRanchers #southdakota #pioneerwoman

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Family Growth

Every day since my last post has presented opportunity to write about something, to share a lesson or glimpse into our lives as parents/partners/ranchers/friends in central South Dakota.

Yet, I held back and decided those lessons and glimpses were not for public viewing. They were moments for our family to process, live, and then to grow. 💞

Then, bam–these pictures from Focus Marketing Group came out, and I felt what was right to share. 💞

I share not for the win but for the look of joy on our oldest son’s face. So often, The Rancher and I still see our son’s tiny 3# face; photos like this remind us our kids are growing up quickly!

Not the wins, not the prizes. These pictures showcase the work, the drive, the frustrations, the maturity, and the value of everything we do. We are not show cattle people. In fact, for all the time show cattle require, that part of our life receives the least attention. However, that part of our life is also what highlights what’s most important to who we are and who we are becoming. 💞

Six years ago, our twins fell in love with Herefords and Simmentals, and my brother devoted himself to guiding them while my parents re-committed themselves to the show circle. Then, South Dakota Jr. Hereford Association and South Dakota Junior Simmental Association friends became family. Combine that with a whole lot of prayers from people who love us, and we fully realize exactly how blessed our life is no matter how overwhelming it can feel.

Without showing cattle as part of our state’s junior breed associations, we wouldn’t have developed “ride or die” relationships with people who not only understand us but also hold us accountable to our values. Showing cattle at state and national events has opened up a new world of friendships and opportunities, the kind that transcend industries and influence lives.

Showing cattle helps us make what can be a lonely, misunderstood ranch life stronger and more fulfilling. 💞 I don’t expect everyone who crosses this post to agree or to understand. I do hope, however, anyone who finds this message also finds inspiration to discover and appreciate life-giving people or activities in their own lives. #WeAreRanchers #grateful 💞

The family that shows together grows together.
This photo represents so much more than the titles won that day. Thanks to showing cattle, we will look back one day and realize some of our best memories really did start in a barn.
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Brave by Reflection

Our hearts grew with worry as the skies grew dark and the weather warnings screeched. We had both prayed and prepared as best we could. As the winds blew, those dark skies opened up. Like tears of gratitude from a weathered heart, nearly two inches of rain poured relief onto the scorched earth. 💞 We are rejoicing in today’s rainfall. We are renewed in our perspective. We are using the past days and those yet to come to increase our focus. Above all, we are giving thanks for strength and perseverance, and we pray those blessings continue to flow for our fellow ranchers. 💞 Your prayers for ranch country continue to be appreciated; many folks received only a little and still more received nothing. Your thoughts as our rural water system shuts down tonight for what we hope is a permanent fix continue to be welcome. Rain doesn’t wash away all challenges, but it does offer a much-needed bath from it all! 💞#WeAreRanchers#drought#rain

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Drought wanes on. Water remains challenging. Fire danger continues to grow. Yet, we look forward, and the world moves on. However you celebrate Independence Day, please celebrate safely, and remember it’s all a choice–happiness, empathy, respect, gratitude. Choose wisely!💞#WeAreRanchers #4thofJuly

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“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” ~Benjamin Franklin 🌧

Our well isn’t dry, but the rural water system we rely on to fill our pasture tanks and homes is offline. Rains have stayed away, so our dams are suffering. We are operating in crisis mode, and we are not alone. Water is out over a frightening large portion ranch country. 🌧 We know the value of water. It is our lifeblood.

If the water system stays off for two weeks like possible … If the rains continue to stay away … If crews can’t find a speedy, efficient fix, our life changes dramatically and quickly. 🙇 Our county also has a burn ban. This Independence Day season, we pray people follow it strictly. When there is no water, there is no way to fight fire. PLEASE pray for common sense. Pray for rain. Pray for perseverance. Pray for safety. Thank you!💞#WeAreRanchers#drought

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Cracked and chipped

Like the wedding vase I found the other day, The Rancher and I have been through some stuff in our 16 years of marriage. We’re a little cracked, even a bit chipped, but dang it, we’re still trying to hold it all together😊

Our 16th anniversary is playing out like many other milestones in this season of our life … No get-aways, no commemorative gifts, no special plans; hell, there have even been a couple disagreements. And guess what? That’s ok! Not everything has to be “Facebook” perfect.

Ranching, self-employment, marriage, kids–it’s all hard, imperfect stuff. There is truth in finding what you seek though, and if you don’t look for something good and worthy every day, all you’ll see is yuck. I think that’s really important to remember. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to look for the good, but the reward is always worth the effort.

Keep looking for the good, folks! It’s out there, even if you’re the one who has to put it there. #WeAreRanchers

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Find Your Focus

The word focus swirled in my head throughout 2020. It was both a cuss word driving me to action and a plea begging me to reconnect with activities that fulfill me. Quite honestly, I was going too many directions most of last year to let the word do anything but swirl.

While lacking focus isn’t ideal, 2020 was a season for which I won’t beat myself up. It’s also a season I’m trying to prevent from playing on repeat!

I love ranching. So much of what we do brings me peace and purpose. For example, in addition to all the office work, kid trailing, and writing, you will generally find me driving truck in silage season, running the combine for corn harvest, and handling the feed wagon from November through May.

That wasn’t the case in 2020 for lots of reasons. I didn’t drive truck at all this silage season. And, though I worked hard to harvest 2019 corn well into 2020, I only ran the combine for two days come fall. Christmas Day was even the first time I fed cattle.

I also love storytelling. It’s what lights my fire and inspires my heart. I’ve even gone so far as to create a business model, develop a website, and dabble in more formal storytelling.

Yet, rather than focus where my heart screams joy—a mix of ranching and storytelling—I found myself scrambling, searching, and adding while clinging to what’s old and familiar. It all ended up being uncomfortable and unproductively stressful.

An acquaintance once shared her philosophy of taking on projects. If her immediate, gut response isn’t an enthusiastic, “hell, yes”; then, it is an immediate, “hell, no”.

I don’t employ her practice well, but I do love it! Saying yes when I really meant no left me disconnected and unfocused. I spent a lot of time doing a lot of things when I could have spent less time while accomplishing far more.

Which brings me right square to a new year.

What is focus, and why does it matter?

The good ole dictionary defines focus as “the center of interest or activity. The state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition.”

Without focus, life and work become a blur, especially when personal and professional lives intertwine like they often do in farming and ranching. Focus brings clarity, and with clarity comes purpose. Focus doesn’t prevent failure. Instead, focus helps give failure purpose.

Makes sense, right? So, am I the only one who finds it more than a little difficult to do?

I could be, but I don’t think so.

As 2021 roars in, I won’t be so bold as to suggest restructuring your entire business model, but I also won’t be so naïve as to think some of us wouldn’t benefit from doing so.

I think more of our businesses—our farms and ranches—could use a healthy dose of focus. I know ours can, and I think it’s rarely too late to give it all a try.

Focus isn’t all or nothing. It isn’t constant. Think of photography.

Sometimes, the best picture for a situation is the one focused on a singular subject closest to the lens. Background and peripheral objects become blurred. Other times, the best pictures focus on the distance, blurring what’s most immediate while bringing clarity to what lies beyond.

The greatest trick lies in recognizing when to focus close and when to look afar.

Bringing focus to our businesses won’t be painless. Focus often requires change, which is scary. Because our brains are wired to protect us from scary situations, even good ones, charging ahead into the change requires courage.

After the year we’ve left, I won’t dare to predict the year we’re entering. Far too much lies outside our control. Maybe that’s all the more reason for 2021 to be the year of focus. Focus on passion, on purpose, on profitability.

I don’t know what that means for you and your business. Quite frankly, my own pastures need too much tending to worry about yours. Maybe that’s another key for all of us. To find our focus from within before looking outside for answers. What ends up working here will likely make you shake your head, and the same can be said in reverse. Remember, that’s okay!

Though I’ve offered far more questions than answers, I hope this finds you entering 2021 with a deep, cleansing breath. The kind that fills your soul and releases the junk many of us store up so well. Although you’re the only one who can determine where you focus, you don’t have to endure the process alone.

I say it frequently, and a new year seems fitting to say it again: Find your people and love them well. The people around you directly determine your ability to focus and succeed.

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Advent Inspiration

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

Phyllis Theroux

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes on and our country’s divisiveness grows, I find myself struggling to maintain a grace-filled, joyful heart. Social media once gave me a feeling of connectedness to those friends and family members living afar. Now, I often find it a combative space of isolation and wasteful comparison.

Fortunately, wide open spaces spanning river breaks and prairie hills offer me ample opportunity for clarity and conversation with God. I’m also quite fortunate for opportunities to see and hear a small circle of uplifting friends.

As someone who fights hard–yet still fails–to keep debilitating, often-unfounded fears at bay, the combination of those life-giving opportunities is priceless.

So today, as I felt the heaviness creeping back into my chest, I called a friend. Then, I stood outside, faced the sun, opened my arms to heaven, and breathed in all the life a crisp South Dakota fall air has to offer. When I finally exhaled, I realized something my hippy heart has always known: Heaviness creeps in and holds me down when I’m not being authentic.

Yes–I’m a rancher. I love the land, the cattle, and all the ideals and traditions wrapped up in a lifestyle running generations deep in my blood.

However, I’m also a writer, an observer. An artist with words as my paint and a keyboard as my brush.

When I let the busy and mundane parts of life outweigh the parts that fill my soul, I get stuck and crabby and uninspired to see or be the good.

All this is a long way around to say, I’ve been a bear for the past three weeks, and today, I’m going to change it!

On Halloween, my sweet friend Delila told me about a card project she and her three kids did one year. Instead of a traditional Advent calendar, they spent the Advent season writing to people in their community who were special or lonesome or in need. Tough, stoic Delila even got choked up recalling all the hugs and return correspondence her family received. She concluded by telling me, “It’s something you should write about.”

So, Delila, here it is!

In this time of divided, unsettling heaviness, consider moving your heart by merely moving your pen.

I’m committed to being online less and in life more. For me, that includes writing. If you would like to join the movement, here’s an Advent Writing Calendar to give you prompts and ideas throughout the Christmas season.

An Advent Writing Calendar from The Writing Rancher.
Letter ideas for the Christmas season. Remember–it’s not about being fancy or acknowledged; it’s about being authentic and connecting with people in a time when doing so is extra challenging!
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Dear Beef Eater

Dear Beef Eater,

In case you’re doubting it, the beef you buy in the grocery store or at the restaurant is safe, nutritious, and worth your investment! Also, while there is no shortage of healthy animals ready to enter the supply chain, the inability of packing plants to run at full capacity might make it appear there’s a shortage in your preferred shopping center. Don’t worry; we’re all working on it.

We U.S. cow/calf ranchers, cattle backgrounders, and feedyard operators need U.S.-based packing plants in order for the majority of our animals to reach you, the mass consumer. We also need affordable, safe lean trimmings in order to provide you the low-priced, versatile, nutritious hamburger you’ve grown to love.

For those of you looking for other options, many of us ranchers specifically raise beef animals to be sold in bulk to you. This niche requires more investment from you up front (i.e. freezer space, bulk payment, etc), but we know you’ll enjoy and find value in this option. Like other big purchases, please make sure you’re dealing with a reputable feeder and asking questions. This method isn’t the most convenient the first time around, but once you’ve done it, planned for it, and developed a relationship with your feeder and butcher, you will likely prefer this option for as long as it exists.

So dear beef eater, please continue to have faith in the beef industry. From the hard-working men and women on the packing plant floor to the hard-working men and women in Midwest pastures, we are committed to providing you a safe, delicious, nutritious, and affordable protein source. And, we are all working to be able to do that while making a living for our families too.

With thanks for your support,
A writing and working SD rancher

#WeAreRanchers #sdbeef #BeefMonth

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Captain’s Log: The Journey Continues

The course remains uncharted, but our destination stays clear. The water cycles between calm, choppy, and never-before-seen. Though tattered, the ship groans on as the beloved crew commits to staying afloat. Our journey continues with full days of completing routine work, defining new business, and creating a new normal.

Thank you for sharing our journey!
~ Amy Blum, The Writing Rancher

April 13, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate “The Day After Easter”: You can thank me for sparing you a close up visual of this ranch experience!

School today was a quick lesson chock full of education for Middle Son. Anatomy, language arts, math, and MUCH more were well covered in our 20 minute socially distant and responsible visit to the vet.

He is now sure of two things: he wants to be a vet as long as he doesn’t have to de-horn critters, and he wants a couple peacocks because the ones at Dr. Joy’s are the coolest thing he’s ever seen! #ranchlife #learningeverywhere

April 14, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97886.72: It’s birthday week for The Rancher, and the kids are especially excited to creatively help him celebrate turning 50 on Friday❤ If you’d like to join the efforts as we encourage him “Not to run out of gas now” and “To live like someone left the gate open”, watch for a Facebook Event tomorrow night where you can share memories, drop him a note, or give a birthday honk if you want to take a drive … There’s even a birthday dropbox at the end of our driveway (thanks to The Rancher’s Sisters for the idea!!)😉 Love you, Babe😘#cheersto50years #virtualbeers

April 15, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97889.67: I read a lot and generally take great effort to prioritize material quality.

Today, however, I got sucked into the other side, so this lesson is courtesy keyboard warriors …

People are like roosters. Sometimes, they’re graceful beauties, and you can enjoy their presence. Other times, they’re rotten peckers, and you run away. And, if ever either becomes more pecker than beauty, it’s perfectly acceptable to bid them adieu (via different methods for humans than roosters, but you get the idea)!😉

Thank God for the amazing people who fill our life; what beauties you are❤#bekind#graceNgratitude

April 16, 2020
Captain’s Log, Ranchdate “Day B4 Dad’s Birthday: Cakes were baked. Cows were fed. Everyone’s tucked sound in bed. And some days, that’s really all that needs said! #graceNgratitude

April 17, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate “The Big Day–Post 1”: Happy 50th Birthday, dear Rancher! The sun is shining. The kids aren’t yet whining. We’ve got cake for days, and you get to grind hays😉 Enjoy your day; we love you every which way❤ #WeAreRanchers

Captain’s Log, Stardate 97894.99: In keeping with tradition, this entry marks my annual day of PDA for The Rancher. After this, it’s back to sarcasm and keeping him on his toes😉

Dear husband, you’re the calm to my chaos and the grounded to my dreamy. I hope you enjoyed a few moments of celebration today and felt all the love and appreciation we have for you. I am so grateful to share this life with you. Cheers to the now, dear😘

April 18, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97897.92: In a touching turn of events, our pre-teen daughter looked at me, studied my face a minute, and said, “Mom, you’re really pretty, and you only look about 27 today.” Aww❤ Of course, before I could even tell her thank you, middle son stated, “She must want something, Mom. No offense or anything but most days you look as old as Dad instead of younger.” Little turd!👵👴 Also today, pre-teen son realized at birth he was the size of a legal-to-keep walleye. Though he was indeed tiny, I can’t recall ever thinking to compare him to a fish🤣#truth

April 19, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97900.48: A full Sunday morning of chores and clear skies led to the kids enjoying a couple afternoon hours of quality time at the river with their dad. And, “what did Mom do?” you might ask. Not a damn thing more than she wanted!🤗 I enjoyed a scoop of ice cream from the container we adults hide in the freezer … I sat outside to soak in the country quiet and to pray–for us, for you, for all who need a break or rest but can’t find it … I cleaned in the garage and worked on the shed. Then, when my little family returned home, I was happy to see them and hear their tales, and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt or “should haves” about any of it.❤ I think this all means I’m growing up, or as middle boy might say, getting old😉#grateful#SayNoToMomGuilt#IntrovertRecharge

April 20, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97903.32: It wasn’t necessarily the greatest day to have a great day, but we did anyway … Take that all the crap that will remain unnamed😛

In heartwarming news, the big boys embraced my simplicity and whipped up a vintage-inspired “fence” to keep the chickens out of my hydrangea.🐔 Like 99% of the DIY projects around here, it isn’t exactly what I pictured, but it is 1000% appreciated and doing the job required of it!

As an added bonus, I barely had to mention the need and the project was started, finished, and cleaned up before I knew what happened. Even more bonus, it didn’t cost Jay a dime, and he didn’t have to help. 😉

In other news, kids are creative, resourceful, and happy with FAR less than we tell ourselves they need … This is evidenced by the makeshift shed two boys constructed from leftover junk and without access to power tools or an adult. It is a FAR cry from the beautiful keepsake shed Boy 3 dearly wants, but he went to bed with a happy heart and visions of all the fun he will have with it. And, no one died or even bled enough to need a bandaid!❤#gratefulhearts#NOT4hire

April 21, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate <Tuesday?🤷🏻🤦>: Our tomboy has officially had her fill of burping, farting, wrestling, rough-housing, stinking boys! Her father hopes it stays that way for many years to come, and I hope she knows they don’t get any better🤣

As of today, she sectioned off her room to create a girl-only sanctuary for reading, drawing, nail painting, day dreaming, and journaling for when she isn’t working outside. She would prefer her father to install one of those “fancy buzzer locks like cool city apartments” have, but she is resigned to accepting permission for use of a standard door lock and to deploy any necessary level of martial art skills as long as the said skill won’t actually kill or permanently disable anyone.🥋 It’s about to get fun up in here!😜#likeaboss#onguard#stillgrateful

April 22, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate Earth Day: There was a lot going on today, and I can’t quite capture it all in words yet. But, what I can capture, I’m not sharing with pride. I’m sharing because it’s real. We are real people working through our own real stuff. Though we are full of gratitude, joy, and optimism, we’re human, and some of us use foul language🙋 So, here it is😳 I was working in the office with the window open. Middle & Youngest Boys ran out to put a couple cows in, and I hear, “You dirty <blippity, bleepity, bleeps> turn your <bleeps> outta these trees!” Um, I think we’ve graduated second grade and gone straight to the dark side🤐 On a positive note, I raised my eyebrow at little one when they came back in, and he got very sheepish and said, “Oops, sorry mom. You weren’t supposed to hear that, and I shouldn’t have said it.” Damn cow talk!🤦#grace#gratitude#momfail

April 23, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97911.56: There are days when the emotional gamut both fuels and exhausts you. Today was one of those for me. Not a bad day, mind you; quite the contrary overall. It was simply a very full day. ❤ I was also reminded, if you find yourself thinking of someone, reach out with a call or a card or a text. You have no idea exactly how much your thoughtfulness might be needed! The person you reach out to might not realize how much the connection is needed too. ❤

And yes, I walked on the treadmill while drinking a beer. Don’t judge–middle son told me it was scientifically backed as a method of relaxation as long as I only drank one, and it is infinitely safer than braving the freeway that is our gravel road😉#gratefulhearts

April 24, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97914.2: Picture it … the day is calm and cool. The sun shines in a beautiful blue sky full of marshmallow clouds. Suddenly, your beloved calls and shouts through the phone, “Rattlesnake! Get down here with a spade.” 🐍

Knowing you chewed on him the day before regarding his poor choice in snake killing paraphernalia (a hammer), you overlook the fact he clearly ignored your strongly-worded suggestion to properly outfit his four-wheeler for snake season. 🔨 Instead, you grab the only tools at your disposal–a shovel and a rake/hoe–because your children are like their father and didn’t return the spades.🤦

You speed down the road, through the pasture, and to your partner’s side where you valiantly proclaim, “I will get him, dear!” 💪

Alas, your lack of coordination makes this a laughable moment. Finally, you behead the calf-killing beast and pull his body from under the tire. Instead of rejoicing, you look at each other with disappointment because you realize you wasted a production worthy the reward of a rattler’s tail on, wait for it … a bull snake.😞

Not to be deterred, you agree it was an honest mistake, wish each other a good day, and go back to work. And that, my friends, is ranching in a nut shell — Valiant and romantic in gesture but often ANTICLIMACTIC in result🤣🤷🏻#WeAreRanchers#graceNgratitude

April 25, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97919.76: I hope my husband remembers this message tomorrow when he goes to unload the truck. Surely, the gratitude he feels for such a lovely wife will resolve any dispute that might arise around exactly how full is “too full”💆Also, I am infinitely grateful for kids who are generally excited to help cover meal prep; Piper’s fresh apple crisp was a delicious late night supper🍎#grateful#testlimits

April 26, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate “Sunday”: Sometimes, the best part of a day is when it ends; yes, there can be beauty in endings too. Our littlest cow checker missed his mama and wanted to cruise pastures together tonight. After a long, dirty day (week) of work, the time spent present in the moment of sunset and calm was a great note on which to end outdoors! #bepresent #graceNgratitude

April 27, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate “Monday”: Life takes fuel. Sometimes, the tank runs low. Power through when you must, but please don’t forget extra grace and prayers when you’re running on fumes. Then, above all else, make time to refuel — be that literally or figuratively — and don’t forget the prayers and grace then either❤#time2refuel#graceNgratitude

April 28, 2020
Captain’s Log, Stardate 97925.09: Today required lots of emotional and mental effort.😴

Our kids cook, clean, and do their own laundry. They drive, work in the fields, and have responsibility for livestock chores. They take on school, 4-H, community service, and extracurricular responsibilities.

They also watch too much TV, would live online if we let them, eat too much junk food, fight like rabid dogs, and challenge us for independence.💞

Do you know what Jay & I often forget in all that? THEY ARE KIDS!💕 We are guiding and encouraging them to function and live and process in a big, scary world full of things their brains aren’t yet capable of understanding. And all that is exactly why I treasure the way they still play together.❤

I go to the basement nightly for visits and prayers; otherwise, it is their domain.

They’ve got a show barn, calving barn, make-shift barn, machine shed, vet clinic, sale barn, implement dealer, and lots more. They spend hours every week moving and changing and trading and improving their operations.🛠

I know they’re “off to a show” when the Bluetooth speaker loudly blares music of various genres up the stairs. I know they’ve developed a new plan when the oldest grabs the mic and starts the auction while the others break out monopoly money. I also know there will come a day sooner than I’m ready when the playing stops, the toys find home in a tote, and these kids fly off to become adults.🐦

Today was not our finest, most calm day. This agricultural climate is a hard one with lots of spillover. But, there is still so much hope with child-like faith and time for play.❤#playmatters#605strong#gracengratitude

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