Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Greetings

My mailbox began filling up with Christmas cards shortly after Thanksgiving. I’ve even received a number of Christmas email greetings on my computer. In North Routt County where I live, Christmas cards have been delivered by rural delivery drivers since the early 20th century. Today, the mail is delivered from Denver to nearby Steamboat Springs. It’s then brought north to our local post office in Clark, Colorado by our mail delivery employee and then he or she heads out in his or her SUV to deliver the mail to the rural residents of the Elk River Valley.

Years ago, the mail was delivered by a Rural Free Delivery (RFD) driver who drove a team of horses with a box sled in the winter and an early model jeep in the summer months. I recently dropped by to see my neighbor, Jo Semotan, who remembers the days of RFD coming to her mail box in a horse drawn box sled. Her father's family homesteaded in Deep Creek, just west of where I live. Her father, Quentin Semotan, was one of the founding father’s of the quarter horse industry. Her mother, Evelyn, and her family lived in Hahn's Peak, Strawberry Park, Steamboat Springs, and Mt. Harris. As rural residents often have, Jo decorated her mail box for the holiday season. Jo’s mailbox was adorned with pine garlands, red bows, a barb wire wreath, and an original mail bag used from the 1930s until the 1950s hanging over her official mailbox.

The RFD driver for Jo’s family was a Scotsman named, Grover Campbell. He would bring the Semotan’s mail from the Clark Post Office in a canvas bag with her father’s name on it. When Grover draped it over the mail post, he’d retrieve a second empty bag to take with him for the next day’s mail. Jo shared with me that residents along Grover’s route would give him a bottle of his favorite drink during the holidays. They’d share a nip with Grover and then send him on his way with wishes for a Merry Christmas. One year, Jo and her mother, Evelyn, spotted Grover’s box sled stopped on the bridge at the end of his route near his homestead. Knowing it was unusual that he would be parked there in the winter, Jo’s mother quickly gathered 4-year-old Jo and went to check things out. Once there, Evelyn found that Grover had suffered from one too many nips of holiday cheer. She lifted Jo into the box sled and drove the horses with Grover in tow back to the barn. Once there, Jo's father, Quentin, and his hired hand, Buck bundled up Grover and got him back home to his wife, Isabel.

As Jo relives Grover's deliveries, I find myself traveling back to her childhood and easily sense the warmth and pleasure in her reminiscing. Whether delivered by hand, by horse drawn box sled, jeep, or modern day SUV rural delivery, the ritual of the delivery of holiday greetings seems to nudge us to remember, to hold onto, and to value the friends and family members who make up our history, our story. Grover Campbell’s story was not only his, but Jo’s as well. His deliveries by horse drawn box sled made up an important part of the fabric of rural living when Jo was growing up. And the stories of Grover sharing a nip at each stop at Christmas time create a touchstone for Jo of not only a time gone by, but a fond memory of both her dear parents, Evelyn and Quentin.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reading at the Bud Werner Memorial Library

I'm looking forward to reading selections from my book tonight, December 15th, at the Bud Memorial Library. In preparing for the evening, I'm wondering which essays attendees would like to hear. I have my favorites, but I know everyone has their own perspective on life and the world. Sharon Carmack, my writing teacher and editor, particularly likes, "A Robin's Nest." An editor with Farm and Ranch Living liked "Gifts of the Harvest" well enough to publish it. Jennifer Lay, the events coordinator at the library likes "The Bull Sale." And one of the first men to read my book after its publication liked reading my essay about my Boston Terrier.

In past readings I've selected "Gifts of the Harvest" not just because of its shorter length, but its illustration of the long-held ranching tradition of hay season. On another occasion I read "Quilting Cattlewomen" at the annual meeting of our Cattlewomen. They were of course interested because they were the focus of the story. Tonight, with an unknown audience, I will have a couple of essays in mind and then check in with my audience to see which one might make a nice fit.

I've appreciated being able to share my essays in this way. I think the reading of the written word, mine or anyone else's, has a way of transforming the story. I wonder if it's not a result of the dearth of live experiences in our modern culture. Our experience today is so confined to a colored monitor, television screen, iPhone, iPad, or gaming screen. Storytelling in person, whether it's around the dinner table, at a Christmas party, or in a library hall, connect us, not only to the story, but to the "teller." And in that connection we come to know something more about ourselves, as well as others and the world in which we live.

I'd like to thank Jenny Lay and all the staff at the library as well as the crew at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore for their support and help in hosting this event.

For more information, visit:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Emma's Cataracts Progress

Last week, Emma and I visited with Dr. Chavkin, a veterinarian opthamologist with the Veterinarian Referral Center of Colorado. Emma has been seen by both Dr. Chavkin and Dr. Nushbaum at VRCC since her cogenital cataracts were diagnosed in 2008.

During this visit Dr. Chavkin continued to assess the progression of the cataracts in both eyes. The cataract in the left eye had matured to 70% and the cataract in right eye had matured to just 20%. While cataract surgery in dogs today has a 90% success rate, the success rate in Boston Terriers is about 70%. Dr. Chavkin said it's not always advisable to go ahead with the surgery. Even if the surgery is succesful, eyes in Boston Terriers have a tendency to develop a variety of conditions including glaucoma, detached retinas, and infection post-surgery.

I told Dr Chavkin I'd always thought if Emma were a lap dog and, or at least ten years old or older, I probably wouldn't commit to the surgery. But I told him my concern was for Emma's safety. She had run into a tree and a manure spreader at full speed this past summer and just about knocked herself out. If her eyesite continues to deteriorate, it may very well put her in more harm's way with her busyness and the coming and goings of large vehicles and livestock on the ranch.

After further evaluations including an ultra-sound of the eye, pressure readings, blood, and urine tests, Dr. Chavkin thought surgery would be advisable for Emma. He also said that the outcome of this surgery will give us a good idea if, when the time comes, it will be necessary to consider surgery on the left eye, too.

I am always impressed with the professionalism of both Dr. Chavkin, Dr. Nushbaum, and the staff at the VRCC. Emma and I will return in early January for her surgery with the hope she will see the world with a wonderful and renewed clarity.
For more information, please visit VRCC at:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday in the Rockies

Tomorrow, December 10th, I'll be participating in the Steamboat Arts Council Holiday in the Rockies Arts and Crafts Show. This annual event has been a tradition in Steamboat Springs for over three decades. I remember making Christmas ornaments with a dear friend when our children were toddlers: planning and toiling away deep into the night finalizing our creations for the well attended community event. Neither my friend nor I made a great deal of money each December, but we obviously relished in participating with other community members in the creating and selling our wares.

As I prepare today for my last holiday show of this season, I feel the same way. Sharing my creations, my book, prints, and note cards, at a community event is not so much a significant money making endeavor, but an opportunity to share with new and old friends tangible evidence of my creative imaginings.

If you're in our beautiful part of the world, please stop by and wander through Library Hall and the Depot Baggage Room from 9-4 PM and enjoy the creative spirit of our community. Live music will be featured throughout the day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Headed to Market

Every late fall I mark the season when I pass livestock trucks on our main county road coming in and out of the valley loaded up with cattle or sheep headed to market. Interspersed in traffic are semis filled with grass hay. Northwest Colorado has always been known as good country for both summer livestock grazing land and high quality hay ground. This year hay headed out of our country in abundance. With our late and wet spring, hay production was the best we've ever had here at the ranch.

Cattle also thrive. Cattle producers have summered cattle in this part of the world for over a century because their animals gain so well. Our small group of heifers gained at a rate of over 300 pounds on average. Pete sold a portion of them last week at Centennial Livestock Auction in Fort Collins and his sales figures reflected the current strength of the cattle market.

I'm happy to say it's been a good year for agricultural producers in north Routt County.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter Slips In

Winter’s quiet settles in among the cottonwoods. An evening snowfall gently lays a fleece over the meadows, frosting fence rails, and building crystal caches in bare aspen crooks.

I look out the window as I huddle over my hot oatmeal and think it will feel right to be inside at my desk today. But Pete looks out and says, “I never quite get all the fire wood cut before the snow falls and then I have to bundle up for the snow.” While we’re not surprised as we look out, we fiddle to reset our seasonal logbook to winter. We ask ourselves, “Is this really it?” And when we come to the realization that it is, we know that the hardest part is not being in it, but simply walking out the door. Once outside, we can be quite comfortable, the brisk air and crunch beneath our boots along the trail to the barn, invigorating.

Aside from the firewood and a project to renovate two manure spreaders, the ranch is fairly well buttoned up this year. The chores, now pared down to feeding the horses and cattle, and plowing snow when needed, feels like a relief. However, for Pete, it also feels as though the outside world has closed in: he can no longer ride and train his horses or work with his hands as he does from April to November.

However, the winter season does bring additional challenges to rural living. In our area of northwestern Colorado, we can see 300-500 inches a year fall in the surrounding mountains and three to four feet on the ground here at our ranch. So, driveways, hay sheds, and barn yards need to be kept plowed and every fence gate has to be kept cleared so it can swing freely. If it snows a foot or more, they have to be cleared either by hand or by the blade on a tractor. And sometimes, later in the winter, when there’s been a thaw and a return of freezing temperatures, the chore is made even more difficult by a mix of ice and hard packed snow.

In the depths of winter, when temperatures can go twenty and thirty below zero, keeping a tractor’s engine heated at night is a necessity and if one forgets, feeding time is delayed in the morning. Freezing temperatures also threaten access to water for our livestock. Waterers near the barn and access to river water must be kept open so the horses and cattle can keep well hydrated. If they don’t, their gut can easily become compacted and the risk of death increases. If they lack fresh water and must resort to eating snow, the energy it takes to warm and turn snowflakes into drinking water unnecessarily drains their energy reserves, as well.

Simply driving to town can quite easily be considered adventure travel. The greatest challenge is watching out for oncoming traffic and fearful drivers who hug the center line. Those of us who live here largely take it in stride. But many newcomers struggle their first winter to master winter mountain driving conditions and some, opt to live in town: the adventure traveling commute too much for their idea of the low stress life they’d expected in the country.

As I type, snow falls mute, the smallest of breezes causing motion in the tips of the aspen branches outside my window. The mares remain huddled around the feeder devouring the hay Pete gave them a short time ago. Griz, our Blue Heeler-Border Collie cross, carries on his love affair with winter and all things crisp and cool. He eats the snow, he rolls in the snow, and he jumps and races as though he’s choreographing a routine of joy.

Winter has surely slipped in and we are trying her on today. We will wiggle a bit, but the fit will settle in around us and we will look out the window again and know that it will comfortable once again, whether we are inside by the fire or outside, bundled up, clearing a spot for the comings and goings of the ranch in wintertime.

*This blog was originally posted in November of 2008.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Weather a Place?

A week ago, after reading a number excerpts from my book to the Steamboat Kiwanis Club, one of the members asked me, “How is it that you thought of weather as a place?” I had just read the following paragraph from my essay on Junior Bedell, a long-time resident of the Elk River Valley:

Weather’s always the first point of contact after hello. Once I thought it was silly, superficial, until I heard someone say, “The subject of weather is a safe common denominator. We all experience weather, so it’s a place we can meet quickly.” And for Junior, me, and other farmers and ranchers, weather is an agricultural heartbeat we hear. We understand its power to create and take away: deep snow pack brings timothy and alfalfa grass to the valley come summer, yet late spring snowstorms endanger newborns.

I have to confess that I hadn’t thought about the fact I’d referred to weather as a place until this gentleman asked me. But after thinking about it, I do experience weather as both a place where I engage with others in regular weather commentary as well as an element of the physical place in which I live day to day.

Snowshoeing to the spring on the TV Tower hill yesterday I thought, although we might think of “place” as a static and physical locale, my sense of place at any given moment on that hillside is in part created by the state of the atmosphere: the calm, the breeze, the gray, the sunlight, the heat, and the chill. The dirt or snowpack beneath my feet, the distant horizon, volcanic peaks, and low-lying hillsides are all transformed at any given moment by the mood of the day.

I often think how I love my place on the hillside, whether it’s running in the heat of a summer day or snowshoeing through a winter storm whistling out of the southwest. It is in fact on those days when the weather is the most present, perhaps the most dramatic, that I love the place, the hillside I call the TV Tower even more.

Watch for the 2011 Steamboat Kiwanis Club Christmas Ornament sales. This year's ornament is graced with the artwork of Jean Perry.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bud Werner Memorial Library Book Club Bash

Tomorrow night, December 1st at 6:30 PM, the Bud Werner Memorial Library will be hosting a book club bash for all local book clubs and individuals interested in new book ideas.

Along with book club members sharing book notes, library staff will be on hand to make recommendations as well as members of the local SHeWrites group who will be offering books by their members, all local authors.

I look forward to joining other SHeWrites members in sharing our books with local readers. A big thank you to the staff of the library for sponsoring and hosting this event!

Friday, November 25, 2011

North Routt County's Version of Shop Small

Cassidy and I will be participating in the annual Moonhill Holiday Bazaar tomorrow at the Moonhill Schoolhouse. Cass will be offering her newly designed custom jewelry with Jewels West and I'll have my books, prints, and note cards.

After listening to a spokesperson for the Shop Small initiative on the news this morning, it occurred to me that the Moonhill Holiday Bazaar is really a mini-shop small initiative of its own in North Routt County.

Cassidy and I enjoyed participating last year in the Holiday Bazaar. We look forward to seeing our friends, neighbors, and all others who stop by the historic Moonhill Schoolhouse searching for just the right item on their Christmas lists.

Wherever you are, I hope you'll consider supporting your local small businesses and entrpreneurs in your community as you prepare for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Power of a Dog's Image

At the recent Northwest Colorado Products Hometown Gala, where I sold my book and note cards to holiday shoppers, I was taken by the response one of my photographic note cards had on those who passed by.

Placed on a carousel rack display, my photo of Brute, my son’s dog, seemingly stopped some individuals in their tracks. Some would step forward and pick the card up to have a closer look: Brute, dressed in an argyle sweater, on a snowy day, stopped still in his tracks. Other shoppers, traveling with a spouse or friend, would say, “Oh, look, look at that. That reminds me of the dog I had as a kid.” At times I thought they were caught by the image but weren’t sure why until they explored it--looking deeper into the photo. Who is that dog? What is he doing? He looks so cute.

As readers will see in the accompanying photo, Brute seems to easily capture one’s heart and attention. As shoppers looked the card over I would share with them the story of Brute’s walk that day. Although Brute looks almost philosophical, he was the furthest from feeling philosophical at that moment as he could have been.

On the back of the card I have recorded the following story about Brute that day, titled “End of a Winter’s Walk.”

“Short-haired dogs in ranch country need protection in the wintertime. One Christmas morning I gave Brute, my son’s Boston Terrier, an argyle sweater. While walking with me down our county road after a lovely winter storm he came to a premature halt. My family speculated that it wasn’t the weather or the walk that displeased Brute but the argyle sweater I thought would suit him so well.”

If Brute could have talked to me that day, I'm sure he would have told me how silly he felt in that sweater.

In some ways it's not surprising that Brute draws this kind of attention. He is probably the most well-liked and famous of all the Kurtz Ranch dogs. No matter where he is he can draw a crowd or find a friend. He was recently, unofficially, declared the mascot of theNational Stock Horse Futurity at Paso Robles simply by traveling through the crowd greeting one and all.

We miss Brute around here but we know he has been enjoying some good weather and good times at the Whitney's Wild Oaks Ranch in Exeter, California where he's been living with Andy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Headed to the NWCP Holiday Gala

Many local artisans and food producers will be headed to the Northwest Colorado Products Holiday Gala this weekend at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. All are members of the NWCP non-profit organization here in Routt County, a group created to support and promote producers of locally made and, or locally grown items.

Thankfully, NWCP offers the creative and entreprenurial spirit a platform to share what they have imagine, crafted, and brought to life. Whether one is shopping for Christmas gifts or looking for products that are produced with thought and care, the NWCP Holiday Shopping Gala is an event not to miss.

I'll be joining over twenty-five other producers at the library on Saturday, November 12, 2011 from 9 AM - 3 PM with my book and photographic note cards.

Join us if you can!

Monday, November 7, 2011

An Entrepreneurial Spirit at Work

We'd like to congratulate Alisha Smith on her recent accomplishments both in and out of the show ring.

A recent APHA News article highlights her journey from junior rider, APHA intern, master's graduate student, to NRHA competitor and small business owner. Quite a list for someone who is just twenty-six years old.

Alisha has been on the road for over two months this fall showing her horse Bullseye in NRHA events qualifying for Rookie of the Year class to be held at the NRHA Futurity in December.

As she travels from show to show Alisha also sets up her Dos Gringas trade booth where she offers "Jewelry, Clothing, and Accessories for the Cowgirl Within."

An ambitious journey, Alisha, and well done. Good luck in December!

For the complete article, go to:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bidding Autumn Adieu

Autumn's Passage

Two small aspen leaves shudder beneath dawn’s breath.
No longer trim, lovely and round.
Alone and dark from autumn’s light
They hang freely, still open to morning’s light.

A yoked twig, young and thin, holds the travelers
One east and one west, as wheat to chaff
Once spring jewels, now dying out
This twig, a mooring for passage on their sojourn.

Alone, the leaves, dark from autumn’s light
Shudder as if the last tickling of summer sun were eternity
And they, mute witness to life’s ebb, autumn’s weeping rain.
Twinkle faithfully, in dawn’s still candlelight.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Next Futurity Prospect

Something funny often happens to the Kurtz family at the Snaffle Bit Futurity once the competition begins to wind down and before the finals on Sunday. We find ourselves at the first of several Snaffle Bit prospect horse sales.

So after Andy finished up his Snaffle Bit runs this past September, we all headed for the first yearling sale. Lo and behold, in the catalog were several lots that caught our eye. And before the afternoon was over we became happy owners of a new futurity prospect. Andy has christened her, "J-LO," and will be working with her through Andy Kurtz Performance Horses.

Enjoy watching our new yearling having some fun in the round pen at Whitney's Wild Oaks Ranch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Women Writing the West Conference: Calling All Readers

If I were to distill my Women Writing the West Conference weekend in Seattle, Washington, I would say I know now more than ever that the world of authors is broken into two parts. The first part is the disciplined and quiet writing life fueled by an introvert. The second part is the necessary and evolving world of marketing requiring the skills of an extrovert.

Among the many wonderful conference panelists in attendance was Amy Weinstein, a member of Amazon’s Kindle team, who spoke to us about the opportunities of publishing e-books and marketing on Amazon. The ability for an author, particularly one who has published independently, to publish an e-book with relative ease certainly makes it easier to reach national reader audience.

Amy also suggested that writers who have books available through Amazon make effective use of their visibility by inviting readers to write reviews of their book. She said when consumers are shopping for books they depend heavily on reviewer information in deciding whether or not to purchase.

Now home, the introvert is back at the writing desk still wishing I had a marketing maven handling my book. But I don’t. So following Amy's lead, the extrovert would like to ask if any of you who have read my book would have a minute or two to write a review on Amazon I would appreciate your support. And I would encourage you, too, to write for other authors whom you’ve enjoyed.

The direct link to my book on is:

I'd like to extend a big thank you to the hard-working WWW conference committee members for an outstanding 2011 conference. I appreciated meeting so many supportive and friendly WWW authors and book industry professionals. See you in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2012!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Buck -- Well Worth Watching

I’d enthusiastically recommend that viewers from any background to be sure and see Buck, the new documentary movie about Buck Brannaman, a long-time horse trainer and clinician from Sheridan, Wyoming. My husband, Pete, and I enjoyed the award winning movie over the weekend and were impressed by both the filming and the storytelling. Awarded the U.S. Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, the story of Buck’s life is one of a man who transcended his up-bringing to create a compassionate understanding of horses.

For more information on Buck, go to:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Women Writing the West Conference - Seattle, Washington

I'm looking forward to attending the 2011 Women Writing the West Conference in Seattle, Washington this weekend, October 14-16. I will join members from around the United States and Canada whose work includes all genres written with a western theme.

Conference highlights include two evenings of honoring the LAURA and WILLA finalists and winners. The LAURA Award is presented to short fiction writers and is named in the memory of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The WILLA Award is presented to those who write about women's and girls' stories set in the West and is named in memory of Willa Cather, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist.

During the day I'll be attending a number of workshops including one on marketing, the art of telling true stories, and alternative publishing. Each late afternoon I will join other published writers in the conference book store for book sales and signings.

While I have my eye on certain experiences during the conference, I know it's often the unexpected that occurs while attending conferences: whether it might be learning about a creative writing tool from another genre or finding something in common with someone beyond my day to day experience. So, whether I'm in a scheduled session or hearing new ideas, I look forward to taking in a fresh perspective on the art of writing and its role in my life.

For more information on Women Writing the West, go to:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pete and Cassidy Compete in the CSU Silver Jubilee

Over the past weekend, Pete and Cassidy joined competitors from around the region to compete in the CSU Silver Jubilee Celebration at the CSU Equine Events Center. Hosted by the students CSU's Equine Sciences program, the annual event drew over seventy-five horse enthusiasts.

Riders had the option of competing in the American Stock Horse Association events or the American Quarter Horse events. Pete and Cassidy rode Annabelle and Riggs in the AQHA Ranch Horse Versatility events held on Sunday. The day's events included Ranch Cutting, Ranch Trail, Ranch Riding, Working Ranch Horse, and Conformation classes.

Pete and Annabelle had a good outing particularly in the Ranch Cutting class. Cassidy and Riggs rode well in the Ranch Riding and Cassidy threw a wicked loop in the Working Ranch Horse class. They both seemed pleased with their work for the day and the enjoyment of watching others show in the ring.

For more information on the ASHA, go to:
For more information on the AQHA, go to:
For more information on versatility ranch horse events, go to:

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Snaffle Bit Futurity 2011

Every year for two weeks in late September and early October, one of the most challenging horse competitions anywhere takes place in Reno, Nevada. For the uninitiated, the Snaffle Bit Futurity is a three event competition for three-year old horses including herd work, rein work, and cow work. The Futurity also offers competitive classes for hackamore and bridle horses. In the Snaffle Bit competition this year over 200 hundred competitors participated in preliminary open events with just 10% of the competitors qualifying for the finals event on Sunday, October 1, 2011.

This year my son, Andy, competed for the second time in Reno on his horse Jane, owned by Dawn Joyce. Although Andy and Jane’s overall performance was not what he’d hoped for, their run in the cow work ended their competition on a pleasingly good note. Each time Andy, competes he appreciates more than ever the experience itself, the realization that the Snaffle Bit Futurity is truly one of the toughest events in any sport without any guarantees for anyone. The smallest of mistakes can cost a competitor an opportunity to move into the final round or to finish well in the final event itself. As Andy has said, “It’s always humbling, no matter whom you are.” He also enjoys being with and among some of the most talented trainers and horses anywhere.

In addition to participating in and watching some of the best horses and riders in any equine event, there are many industry and retail vendors at the show, plus any number of social events held throughout the competition. The event venue offers attendees and competitors a wonderful opportunity to visit and network with friends, professionals, and other industry leaders.

This year Andy had the opportunity of becoming reacquainted with an old family friend, Vern Greco, owner of The New West Country Store in Kamas, Utah. Vern carries Bob’s Saddles and was the sponsor of all award saddles at the Snaffle Bit. While in Reno Andy and Vern negotiated a sponsorship agreement whereby Andy will be proudly representing Vern’s store and the New West brand.

So, if you have any need for one of the best saddles anywhere, be sure to visit Vern at the New West Country Store.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Remembering a Chipmunk's Winter Preparations

Over the weekend, when I was deep in the dirt with a bulging box of bulbs waiting to be planted, I thought of a story I had read as a child of a small chipmunk who was taught to be prepared and self-sufficient for the coming winter. Alongside his mother and father he was taught and encouraged to gather and store all the nuts his family would need for the long season ahead. He completed his work with a finely tuned and peaceful focus on the task at hand. Looking back I remember feeling reassured in the world the chipmunk and his family had ordered.

Although the task of getting the bulbs in the ground in a timely fashion before the snow falls in our part of country is usually a hectic rush to beat the next season, this year the bulb company sent my order earlier than ever before. This was due in part to my request that it be sent, not according to their planting zones, but to the reality that winter comes to northwestern Colorado as early as the third week of October. I have often planted the last bulb the afternoon before winter settled in.

So, with the chipmunk on my mind, a relaxed planting schedule, my notes indexed for each garden and each bag of bulbs, I entered the gardens. However, as careful as I had been taking notes earlier in the summer, not all my notes matched up with what I found in my Breck’s box. I asked myself more than once, “What are these Triumphant Tulips for?” and “Where are the Tip Toe Tulips I ordered? I want Tip Toe not Triumphant.” Then I read in my notes, “mixed tulips, two feet by two feet around St. Francis and at the back of the old tulips.” “What?” I said to myself in a loud whisper, “What does that mean?”

Despite my best intentions, I felt I was missing, in part, the mark of my memory of the small chipmunk and his family's orderly preparations. Even though by dinnertime I had managed to get several hundred bulbs put to bed, a number of bulbs remained a mystery. I really had no idea where they belonged so I planted them in a random fashion. Perhaps when they emerge next spring they will be colorful surprises worth watching. Who knows, they may very well provide a new creative look in the gardens I had never imagined.

Unlike the nut gathering of the small chipmunk, my bulb planting wasn’t going to help me survive the coming winter. But participating in the annual ritual of planting bulbs in the moist earth with the promise of their bloom come spring provided the same kind of peace I remember from reading the small chipmunk's story. As I dug down three, six, and sometimes eight inches and placed the Sunny Girl Daffodils, Angelique Tulips, and Grape Hyacinths I’m acted on a faith in the surety of the seasons. Planting these small tubers provided a feeling of assurance: that after a long winter’s night they will emerge, just as the natural world intended.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Signing at the West Routt Library

I'd like to thank Ana Lash at the West Routt Library for organizing my book signing on Thursday, September 15th. The library, located in the center of Hayden, Colorado, is wonderful community resource complete with easily accessible technology and two inviting sitting areas: a patio for warm weather and a comfortable living room area complete with fireplace.

Ana and her assistant, Karen, offered coffee, tea, and light pastries for those who came to visit with me and discuss my book. Among those who stopped by were old friends Judy and Jerry Green, whom I write about in my book; Christine Epp, a local teacher and world-wide educational volunteer; and Maureen Zehner, who purchased a beautiful palomino horse from Pete a year ago.

I always appreciate the opportunity to share my writing with others as well as understanding how the writing resonated with the reader. It's as though the act of writing is not complete until it touches those who read it. Thank you all for taking time to come by.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Huntin' Woollybears

Fall unfolds with a comforting ease and a pace I wish for every September. The aspens scroll from summer’s life-giving greens to autumn's soulful yellows . With the drawing down of late summer and the rise of cooler days, many citizens in the Elk River Valley and Routt County begin to speculate about the coming winter season, and we do so by sizing up weather-predicting folklore traditions.

I and other local residents may stand next to skunk cabbage to check its height. The height of the skunk will be the height of the winter’s snows. The skunk cabbage is easily 6 ½ feet high this year. We may look for beaver damns. The higher number of beaver damns, the harder the winter ahead and this year there are many. We may refer to the Farmer’s Almanac, or check out how deep the chipmunks bury their nuts, or in my case, hunt down woollybear caterpillars.

Woollybears are a very hairy caterpillar appearing on roadways in mid-September and early October. They are found wandering across byways in search of a rock or log in which to spend the winter in their larval state, sustaining themselves in freezing temperatures by producing their own antifreeze. In the spring, they transform into Tiger Moths, a strikingly artistic black and white insect.

I talk to friends and family every year about the woollybears, how I look for them on the road down by the canyon, half-way to town. This year they’ve been hard to find. There seem to be fewer and I wonder why. In my research, the banded woollybear I search for is less common than the more common species,yellow woollybear and saltmarsh woollybear caterpillars found in Colorado. Maybe that's why it's been harder to find them; or I wonder, perhaps the increase in commuter traffic increases the likelihood they'll be crushed: an untimely end to their purposeful journey.

Folklore suggests that the wider the orange band on the black woolly caterpillar, the harsher the winter ahead. There is however, no scientific evidence to indicate there’s any correlation between the two. The band width is actually a record of when the caterpillar was born: the wider the band, the earlier the spring and shorter the winter; the narrower the band, the later the spring and the longer the winter. With that, my search is actually misguided and futile: a wide band width means a shorter previous winter.

So, the band has nothing to do with the winter ahead. But, I hunt woolly caterpillars anyway, as autumn's brilliance slips into the arms of winter’s embrace. I want to imagine a natural world magical enough to believe in. I want to imagine a natural world filled with a wisdom from which I can hear if I slow down enough to listen.

*This blog was originally posted in October of 2008

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Colorado Independent Publishers Association Visits Steamboat

On September 9th, Dan Miller, President of CIPA, and his wife Joyce, provided a day of information on the process of independent and self-publishing for local authors. The day was organized by Sue Leonard of the local SHe Writes Steamboat writer’s group and the first Affiliate Member of CIPA.

In his morning presentation Dan gave attendees an overview of CIPA, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the work of independent Colorado writers and publishers. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, CIPA provides members with on-going educational opportunities, supportive resources such as editorial, legal, and graphic assistance; and a venue for networking with a wide range of individuals, organizations, and companies involved in all aspects of the book and publishing business.

After lunch, attendees participated in two of those educational classes offered through CIPA’s College: the first was “Comparison of Publishing Options” and the second, “The True Costs of Independent Publishing.” Dan came prepared with an abundance of information for authors who are pursuing their dream of becoming published.

Independent publishing and self-publishing are exciting new avenues for authors to consider, but they also come with the need to be educated and astute about the entire process of writing, publishing, and marketing a book. From my recent experience of self-publishing, At Home in the Elk River Valley, it is not for the faint of heart. But with the book and publishing world ever-evolving and searching for a new norm, the business of self-publishing books, much like independent movie-making, is ripe for the creative and entrepreneurial spirit who finds a certain level of comfort in doing it for him or herself.

Thanks to Dan and Joyce for coming to Steamboat and making our local group, hopefully the first of many new Affiliate Members.

For more information on CIPA, go to:

Andy and Jane Arrive at the Snaffle Bit Futurity

When my children were young there were a couple of holidays that clearly stood out as favorites: Halloween and Christmas were a close one and two on that list. Today, for my son, Andy, the Snaffle Bit Futurity is probably one of those favorite times in his work year that might possibly equate with one of his favorite childhood holidays.

Last evening, he and his horse Jane (Shy and Sly), owned by Dawn Joyce, competed in the herd work: the first of three events at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada. With the help of internet technology, Pete and I were able to watch his run live via a webcast here at the ranch. With a phone call shortly after his run, it was the closest thing to being there.

Andy and Jane have worked hard over the last year in preparation of the Snaffle Bit Futurity and last night they got off to a solid start in their first go. Their next event will be the rein work on Saturday and the cow work on next Wednesday.

We wish Andy and Jane much success in Reno and hope their days of competition and showing at the Snaffle Bit this year are as memorable as any of Andy’s favorite childhood holidays.

For more information on the Snaffle Bit Futurity and the National Reined Cow Horse Association or to watch the live webcast, go to:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Harvest Dinner

Cassidy recently joined Pete and me at the ranch for a lazy weekend. On Saturday afternoon, as we solved the problems of all living things, she suggested we harvest the garden and make dinner. I had been procrastinating over gathering the garden for several days: partly out of guilt that I might find more things overly mature than ripe and partly out of wishing the season weren’t coming to an end. This year’s cooler and more humid summer days had help produce one of my more successful gardens in recent memory.

With the movement only a group can make when all members are in agreement, we headed out to the small vegetable patch with containers in hand. First we hit the cherry and roma tomatoes and then the green peas, green and yellow beans, mixed lettuce greens, baby carrots, and finally a few potatoes.

As we admired the harvest, Griz lay to the side of one of the raised beds as if he’d longed to rest in the activity of our collecting. Perhaps he knew he was in fact the reason we had any harvest at all. When family and guests see my unfenced garden they often ask how it is the deer don’t freely feast on it. And I’ve always wondered why the many birds that calls the ranch home don’t eat every single raspberry the patch grows. My answer is Griz.

Every morning when I let Griz out, he jets out across the deck and flies in the direction of one of three routes around the periphery of our home. One path goes south and out to the western meadows where the mares and babies have grazed overnight; the second route goes down the driveway and north around the big cabin; and the third goes directly around the house, north through the aspen grove, and out to the hay shed. He essentially covers our home borders. I am convinced he deters any wildlife from wandering into the garden beds and enjoying the season’s hard-won fruits and vegetables.

Over fried green tomato appetizers, tomato bread salad, and steamed green beans and potatoes we all agreed our dinner could never have been purchased: the deep and sweet flavors and textures were more than satisfying, thanks to our unusual growing season and the garden’s loyal protector, Griz.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Walking the Dogs

In her book, The Loved Dog, Tamar Geller suggests dogs have seven basic needs. According to her, they include a sense of security, companionship, understanding of the hierarchy, surprises and excitement, food and exercise, mental stimulation, and love and connection.

When I take Emma, Griz, and often Brodie, my daughter’s dog, out for a run or a walk, I have a hunch the outing may meet many of their basic needs; and perhaps that’s why, when I tie up my running shoes, they make such a ruckus.

Emma barks in her bossy, alpha voice; Brodie yips at a high rate of speed while entertaining the idea of actually shepherding me out the door faster than I can go; and Griz, given the opportunity amidst the chaos, will nip at my heels once we round the corner of the garage.

On our way to the pond today, we followed a trail on the north side of the house through a small aspen grove and on out to the county road. In the early few yards of our adventure, Emma always sets the stage with an aggressive style of leadership: growling, attacking, and racing down the road. Brodie attempts to manage the jousting and Griz knows well enough to hang at the back of the pack until she settles down and the journey is underway. I realize I’m already observing their need for and understanding of the hierarchy.

As we entered the trail off the county road I sensed the dogs relax as they joined in comfortable companionship and the security of a beloved routine. Trampling down the trail they turned their attention to exploring recent wildlife activity stopping suddenly to sniff and track new scents. In each discovery I see their need for surprise, excitement, and mental stimulation being satisfied.

Carrying on to the pond we passed through sage brush and oak brush, quite thick at times. Emma ducked under, Brodie and Griz hopped or leaped over depending upon how high the brush. Once there, they welcomed the cool swim in the stock pond. The mom in me cringed at the moss and mud and then Griz sailed by chest deep, swirled around and headed back the other way. I saw bliss in all the dogs and as with my children, I thought to myself, “I’ll just wash them off when we get home.” The dogs obviously reveled in the stimulation, exercise, and camaraderie.

I, too, reveled in the outing, feeling reluctant to turn around and head home. We all, the happy pack, were apparently satisfied with our day when some, if not all, our needs were met and we looked forward to a nice meal once evening drew near.

I believe Geller must have it right.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kitty's Featured Note Card

Kitty basks in the warmth of an August afternoon, watching her kingdom from above; perhaps a blade of grass moves, a mouse sneaks below, and the hunt begins.

This card is one of six in my Ranch Animal Series. To view these and my other note card collections, including Ranch Gardens, Ranch Landscapes, and Winterscapes, go to:

My Street Smart Homebody

Last week Pete and I joined fellow Community Agricutural Alliance members for a summer picnic at the Rockin' Bar Ranch, owned by Doc and Marsha Daughenbagh. Sitting with a young family, new to Routt County, the conversation over our picnic dinner turned to whether or not it was safe for cats to be outdoors in rural areas. The young family had just moved from the city and were now deep into country life with gardens and laying hens. Two women who overheard the converstion quickly jumped in to say that it wasn't a good idea to let cats outside, that there were too many predators: from hawks to coyotes to foxes.

I listened quietly all the while thinking for ten years my Kitty has gone out every night in the good weather months and comes back every morning. Somehow she knows when I arrive in the kitchen and she promptly scratches at the door. Like a dance, I let her in and feed her breakfast.

The conversation did remind me, however, of an essay I wrote several years ago titled, "My Street Smart Homebody," published by Cats and Kittens magazine. In the essay I wrote about Kitty disappearing for a few days and wondering if a coyote had gotten her and had I been an irresponsible owner? The story had a good ending: Kitty returned and promptly went to her cat bed and fell asleep as if nothing were amiss. All her life she's been street smart out on the ranch and a creature of comfort when she's in the house.

I often hear the cautionary statements I heard over our summer picnic and wonder if I would give the same advice. I've decided that I really can't. I may very well have a special forces cat that no predator will mess with. I may also have a cat that has superior intelligence. While I don't know the truth of either of these possibilities, I do know for a fact that Kitty takes great, great joy in being outdoors and I could not in good faith keep her indoors away from her travels, hunts, cool shade, and soothing sunshine. In her eleventh summer she remains my "Street Smart Homebody."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Griz Rides Shotgun

My husband, Pete, often tells me I always write about my dog, Emma, and never about his dog, Griz. He’s right. Although Griz gets a little coverage when I do write about Emma, he’s a little like the good boy who gets overlooked because he’s so darn easy to get along with. But Griz walks through life with as much character as Emma; and we discuss his attributes at length, particularly when Emma or my daughter’s dog, Brodie, test our patience and goodwill.

So, I will share my favorite image of Griz.

Now and then in the evening while I’m fixing dinner, I’ll look out the window and see Pete and Griz headed out to take the mares and geldings to their overnight pastures. As they drive south down the alley-way I see Pete’s head on the left and Griz’s on the right; both appearing to be in equal partnership to the work at hand. While I realize I’m anthropomorphizing Griz, attributing human characteristics to a dog, watching him riding shotgun makes a believer out of me.

When Pete needs Griz’s help moving the horses on these nights or when he needs help with steers in the arena, Griz knows Pete depends upon him for his help and expertise. Griz is ever watchful for Pete’s nod and when it’s given Griz goes to work and is so careful to do it just right. Griz, in my mind, believes he is Pete’s top ranch hand.

I know Griz is not the only ranch dog that has the ability to be such a partner. Stock dogs provide that kind of relationship. And when television commercials advertising medications for our pets say, “They’re more than just pets, they’re family,” they are actually telling the truth. Griz wants nothing more than to love and be loved: he wants to know more than anything else that he is needed and important to Pete and his work. I’ve never been one to romanticize our pets, but I believe Griz feels in his relationship with Pete they are not only working partners but kindred spirits.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pete's Sale Barn

Two Rockin Zannie (Zannie) is a pretty dark red roan two year old filly we have just started. She is very gentle and has been easy to train. With her good mind and sweet disposition, she will make an outstanding all around horse and companion.

For more information, contact Pete at:

Also visit our new website at:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

97th Routt County Fair Begins

Cassidy packed up the live-in horse trailer this weekend and headed down to the fairgrounds in Hayden, Colorado for the start of the 97th Routt County Fair. With starched pants and hangers of dry cleaning tucked away in the closet she's set for a week of work and celebration of the county 4-H youth program as the 4-H Youth Agent.

The fair officially got underway over the weekend with an open horse show and on Monday the 4-H Horse and Dog shows. Wednesday begins weigh-in for livestock animals, the swine show, and check-in for home arts at the Exhibit Hall. Thursday's a day of sheep, rabbit, and poultry shows, and on Friday the beef projects take center stage. Saturday the 4-H kids get ready for the livestock sale and BBQ, the culmination of the 4-H summer season.

Fair time at the Kurtz Ranch was always a high time. After a summer of working with animals and helping with ranch chores, we looked forward to fair as though it were a mid-summer Christmas celebration. Cassidy and her brother, Andy prepared both livestock and non-livestock projects for fair. Andy often completed a leatherwork project in addition to a beef and, or swine project. Cassidy participated in sewing projects, vet science, and beef and horse projects.

From those summers one of my favorite photos accompanies this posting. Livestock animals need to be exercised. In the summer of 1995, Cassidy and Andy got rather creative. You'll see Cassidy driving and Andy leading their steers from the rear of the old jeep we used to plow with. As hard as some of the work was and at times, the struggle to motivate each of them to do the work, the memories remain both rich and fond.

We wish Cassidy and all the 4-H members good luck this week! We here at the Kurtz Ranch know you'll enjoy all the rewards of a hard year of work.

For more information on the fair, visit: