Moving cows on a beautiful May day!

This morning the kids and I decided to take a much-needed break from deep cleaning the house, editing pictures, and cooking for large groups of people.  Handsome Husband had asked me last night if I wanted to come with to move cows from their current pasture over to the Rock House Ranch at the base of Elk Mountain.

At first all I could think about was the things I needed to be doing in the house.. and about how much work it is to get two children under age 3 out the door and on four wheelers.  Exhausting.

But then I decided that the benefits far outweighed the struggles!  We were all in dire need of some fresh air and sunshine and I am SO glad we went!

Scarves, boots, and hats that are too big for their little heads... what a good cattle drive is made of!  Here they are watching Auntie Sophie saddle Stormy.
Scarves, boots, and hats that are too big for their little heads… what a good cattle drive is made of! Here they are watching Auntie Sophie saddle Stormy.
Aw, Stormy!
Aw, Stormy!
This is how the kids and I do moving cows. *thumbs up*
This is how the kids and I do moving cows. *thumbs up*

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I wonder who used to live here?
I wonder who used to live here?
Henry'll tell ya how it's done!
Henry’ll tell ya how it’s done!

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Oh, be still my heart!  The two men in my life.
Oh, be still my heart! The two men in my life.
"Don't take my picture, Mommy!" she said with her cute pudgy little hand hiding a huge grin.
“Don’t take my picture, Mommy!” she said with her cute pudgy little hand hiding a huge grin.
Alana on Maria, Elk Mountain in the background.
Alana on Maria, Elk Mountain in the background.
That Sophie, quite a hand.
That Sophie, quite a hand.
Sometimes I even get on a horse!  It's rare, but it happens!
Sometimes I even get on a horse! It’s rare, but it happens!
Poppy on Chisolm.
Poppy on Chisolm.
Henry REALLY likes cattle drives!
Henry REALLY likes cattle drives!
That there is a herd of cattle!
That there is a herd of cattle!

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Henry loves ice cream! Thanks Nana!
Henry loves ice cream! Thanks Nana!
Ice cream at Nana's was a well deserved treat!
Ice cream at Nana’s was a well deserved treat!

Branding 2015

This last week has been an absolute whirlwind!  The kids and I packed up and flew to Missouri (yes.. by ourselves!) for a week to spend time with friends and family.  I also had some photo shoots lined up, so it was really a business trip. *wink wink*

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We got home around 11:45pm on Wednesday night, spent all day Thursday prepping for… BRANDING DAY on Friday!

We had 31 workers plus their families for a total of somewhere around 52 people at our ranch on Friday.  We branded and vaccinated 320+ calves and had a wonderful time of fellowship!

The menu this year was simpler than last year’s Mexican feast… I borrowed a ginormous grill and made cheeseburgers and hot dogs and grilled pineapple.  We had all of the toppings you could ever hope to have on a burger, as well as: chips, baked beans, pasta salad, deviled eggs, jello salad, and an impressive dessert table.

As always, I made a bunch of my “famous” caramel and cinnamon rolls – a whopping 8 DOZEN this year, 2 dozen of which were made gluten free for my sister.  Here are some photos from the day!

Checking Heifers, Sledding, and Leftovers

12:30pm is lunch time on the ranch.  Well, it didn’t always be, especially not this time of year.  This time of year just happens to be calving season.  Ah, yes, calving season.  That glorious time of the year when ranchers anxiously await the arrival of the first frolicking, healthy, beautiful baby calf.  Like clockwork, a well-seasoned cow in her prime will drop a calf on nice, soft grass on a bright, sunshiny day.  She will lick it dry and the calf will hop right up to its feet and start nursing greedily.

Wait..what’s that?

Ah, yes.  I forgot.  That is the story of calving in my dreams.  Let me tell you how it really is.

There is a week of beautiful, bright, wind-free, sunshiny weather.  The cows all get moved to their proper places and the rancher smiles to himself, “There. I am all prepared.  Just in time for this wonderful weather we are having!  Yay for calves!”

Approximately 18.53 hours later, a snowstorm and giant cold snap happens, plunging the temperatures 60 degrees overnight.  Whether out of stress, spite, or just pure dumb luck, a 2 year old heifer (cow pregnant with her very first calf for those of you wondering) decides that would be the perfect time to give birth to her first calf. In a snowbank.  At the farthest corner of the pasture.

So the rancher spends the next several hours warming the calf and coaxing it to nurse.  Exhausted, he returns home at 3 in the morning to catch a few hours of shut-eye before it’s time to go check heifers again.  This time, to find out a cow in the middle of calving (an upside down calf that ends up needing pulling), has broken down the gate that the rancher closed heading back to the big pasture.  A couple hours later, the calving cow is found, brought in, and the calf is pulled.

Ok, in all honesty, sometimes everything does go picture perfect.  It’s not always 20 below and snowing.  But, sometimes it is, and that’s the thing about ranchers: we don’t take “days off” and we NEVER get “snow days”.  Snow days around here mean pulling all-nighters – after a full day of work.

… but I digress …

What I really came on here to write about was that it warmed up to 24 degrees today and the kids and I took the opportunity (after I made tirumisu for tonight’s dinner party dessert) to bundle up and go outside to enjoy the sunshine!

I pulled the kids around in a calf sled for a while.  I was craving a workout.  Just kidding.

After that, we got my parent’s 6 wheel Ranger out and drove “Down South” to the pasture where we keep our heifers that are waiting to calve to check if there were any getting close that need brought in. (There weren’t.)

We put a purple sled in the back of the Ranger in case we found any good sledding hills along the way (we did).

I don’t have any pictures of this fun outing because: In one arm I was carrying Henry.  The other was going between making sure Millie didn’t fall in the snow or pulling the sled… or both!

Also, if you knew the incredibly small amount of snow that we have on the ground right now, you would probably find this really funny.  It was more like… “Grass sledding”.  But Millie, Henry, and I didn’t care!  At this point in the winter, we are all getting Spring Fever pretty strongly and it was just a blessing to get outside, together, in the sunshine.

It is now 12:37.  Travis should be in any minute for lunch – a lunch of glorious, marvelous, lovely leftovers.  Pizza (from town), meatloaf (from two nights ago), and lasagna (from a friend last week).  YUM.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

 

 

 

 

I lived in the beautiful state of Missouri from 2007-2009, and made many wonderful friends – who are more like family, really.  I worked at a custom wood products shop, Alpine Wood Products, in the office.  I became great friends with my coworker, whose name was also Kendra.  We worked at the same place, at the same desk, with the same name for her uncle – who is pretty much like my uncle, too.

K1 (the “other” Kendra) and I were (and still are) close friends, and even though we saw each other 8 hours a day at work, we usually did things after work… and on most Thursdays we also met for breakfast at her house before work.

This Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe is one that my mother made when I was growing up, and it quickly became an often-requested recipe for “the Kendras” to make for Thursday breakfast.   I think it was K1’s dad who was usually requesting “that one coffee cake”.

It is fluffy, moist, sweet, and has a perfect crunchy, sugary topping all over.  Yum.

Mom’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together 1/2 C. butter, 1 C. sugar, and 1 egg. (You can, of course, make this by hand, too… I just love my KitchenAid)

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Beat until fluffy.

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Add in 1/2 C. sour cream and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Mix well.

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Sift together and then add in 1 C. flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, and 1/8 tsp. salt.

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Mix until all is combined.

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Pour/spread into well greased 8×8 baking dish.

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For the topping, mix together in small bowl 1/8 C. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.

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Sprinkle the mixture generously over the top of the batter.

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Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

 

 

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Yum.  Yum.  YUM.

———

Mom’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake (for 8×8 Pan)

1/2 C. butter

1 C. sugar

1 egg

1 C. Flour

1/2 C. sour cream

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

For the topping: 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 1/8 C. brown sugar

Directions: Cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add sour cream and vanilla and mix well.  Sift together and add in flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix until all is combined.  Pour into well greased 8×8 baking dish. Mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle generously over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

——FOR LARGER PORTIONS——

Mom’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake (for a 9×13 Pan)

1 C. butter

2 C. sugar

2 eggs

2 C. Flour

1 C. sour cream

3/4 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

For the topping: 1 tsp. cinnamon + 1/4 C. brown sugar

Directions: Cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add sour cream and vanilla and mix well.  Sift together and add in flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix until all is combined.  Pour into well greased 9×13 baking dish. Mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle generously over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 – 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

A family trip to Oregon: Part One

My older brother and his wife recently welcomed their first child into the world, a handsome baby boy named Clyde Anders.  (Clyde was our late grandfather’s name on our mother’s side; Anders is to honor a dear friend of theirs, who passed away last summer in a car accident.)

The seven of us (Travis, me, our two children, my parents and little sister), all piled in our Denali and made the 22 hour drive west to Eugene.

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The Wyoming sky was beautiful our first morning on our adventure!

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Henry’s favorite part of the drive was the fact that I let him have his very own mini cinnamon roll for breakfast.  One happy kiddo!

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Another favorite part of the drive (for the kids) was “Roadie the Ranch Dog”, a children’s book by a local Newcastle, WY author that we picked up at the Black Hills Stock Show a couple days earlier.

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Driving into the Tetons.

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That there, is a whole lot of snow. And some very, very tall trees.

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We may or may not have gotten stuck trying to leave here.  It may or may not have involved a very large tractor. Ha!  (In my husband’s defense, the snowmobile trail DID look like an exit.)

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Sophie was glad to be back in the land of snow. She even donned a “Minnesota” sweatshirt for the occasion. 

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We drove through Jackson, WY and enjoyed seeing the tops of the Teton Mountains.  

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Travis and I honeymooned in the Tetons just over five years ago, and it was so fun to stop for a family picture.. five years and two kids later!

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We also wanted our picture taken together under the famous arch in Jackson Hole.  Isn’t the arch awesome? (Yeah, I know you can’t see it.  The photographer – I won’t name any names – forgot to get the arch in the arch picture. But aren’t the kids cute?)

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But, my dear husband took this picture and got the arch in it. :-)

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The last pass we went through before arriving in Eugene.

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So pretty!

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That’s a full sized combine down there for you ranching folks.  For those of you who aren’t.. well.. just know that the grand scale of these mountains was impressive.  We were doubly impressed to come around the bed and see this random field in the bottoms!

We arrived in Eugene on Friday the 6th of February, where we had rented a 3 bedroom house for the next six nights.  Let me tell ya – if you are traveling with a crowd and staying for an extended period of time – a house is the way to go!  In this instance, the house was half the cost of what we would have spent on hotel rooms, plus we could cook all of our own meals at the house which was both easier, cheaper, and more healthy! Win, win, win!  Another added bonus was that our two hooligans had room to run and play.

Friday night, my brother (B) and his wife (K) came over for pizza for supper!  And I know what you’ve all been hoping I would post… we got to meet this handsome little dude.

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Is he perfect, or what?!

….

Well, that’s all for the drive out!  Basically it was a whole lot of driving, watching “Black Beauty” (Or, Black Blooty as Millie calls it) on repeat, and lots of pretty scenery.  Occasionally we would respond to Millie’s requests to “watch a movie” with, “Not right now Millie.  Look outside at the mountains! They are so pretty!  Let’s just enjoy watching the beautiful scenery of the mountains.”  Indignant, she would respond, “I. Do. Not. LIKE. The. Mountains! I just want to watch Black Blooty.”  Poor dear. :-)

Getting back on track… a busy 2014, an exciting 2015

Well, my first year of blogging (2014) started out fabulously.  I wrote a bunch of recipes, and shared lots of day-to-day activities with y’all.  And then April happened, when our baby boy was born!  How wonderful that was (and is)!  I did manage to do one or two more posts about rain and our branding day.. and then summer hit, and the blog was all but forgotten.  This is my attempt to reconvene my blogging life with a brief synopsis of our 2014.  :-)

Sometimes people ask me if I get bored living way out here, half an hour from town.

I’ll let you decide.

January – We continued working on several projects on the ranch, including our new shop/garage at our house.  Kendra started a blog, A Taste of the West, about our ranch happenings and all of the cooking she does.  You can check it out at http://www.atasteofthewest.wordpress.com

February – We enjoyed our annual trip to the Black Hills Stock Show, and Travis traveled to Oregon for a men’s retreat with friends.  We also traveled to Montana where Kendra was privileged to photograph a friend’s winter wedding.  Travis and his dad went to Reno for a National Wildland Firefighters convention. After dropping them off at the Denver airport, Kendra visited family in Colorado Springs until their return.

March – Calving, calving, calving!  ‘Nuf said.

April – April came in with the birth of our baby boy, Harrison John Tucker (or “Henry” for short)!  Millie adores him, and calls him the “big-a-boy-man.”  They are quite a pair!  Travis also spent a lot of time in the tractor tilling up hay ground and planting oats.

May – We branded the first week of May, and we poured a concrete sidewalk in front of our house.  Millie turned two! She keeps us laughing, keeps us guessing, and without a doubt keeps us busy! She lights up our every day.

June – We were blessed to have four of the Robinson kids come to stay with us for two weeks all the way from South Carolina!  It as a blast having a bunch of “big kids” stay with us, and they can come back anytime (Hint, hint).  Kendra’s brother and sister-in-love Kate also visited from Oregon.  Friends from Missouri dropped by as well.  In between all of these wonderful visits, Kendra and the kids made another trip to Montana to photograph another wedding.

Summer came in with a BANG and we had four great workers helping us with fencing, pipeline, and other ranch projects. 

July – We always have a fun Independence Day celebration in Hot Springs at Travis’s grandparents’ place.  This month we were also cutting, raking, and baling hay.  Our cousin, Matthew, came from Colorado Springs and was good help as usual.  We were blessed with a fantastic hay crop this year, for which we are truly grateful.

The biggest event of July was moving a house onto a portion of the Rock House Ranch for Kendra’s family.  Kendra’s parents and sister moved from northern Minnesota onto the Rock House Ranch and we were all excited to help them establish new roots.  It is wonderful to have them nearby!  Millie and Henry agree wholeheartedly.

August – Kendra got to travel to Murdo and Winner, SD to visit some good friends.  Kendra’s younger brother visited from Minnesota, and her grandparents came all the way from Illinois. 

September – Our ranchers turned into roofers as we repaired nearly every roof on the place due to a massive hailstorm in July that produced 2 ½” hailstones.

October – We always gather cattle off of our summer pastures the first and second weeks of October.  This year our good friend and past employee, Sam, came to visit and help.  He brought Charlie along, and he was good help, too.  Hey, Sam, about time for another visit, don’t ya think?

Our nephew, Titus Ethan Lilly was born this month also!  In the words of Millie, “He’s a real cute one, a nice baby.” 

Our friends from Canada (Canada’s Double Portion) and Missouri (Link Union) were up performing for a local event called the Preacher in the Patch, and we had them out for a visit on their day off.  Friends from Minnesota came for a stay and we attempted to go elk hunting with them.  It’s amazing how a herd of 200+ elk can hide out, isn’t it Brad?!

November – An arctic blast from the North jolted us into winter after a wonderful long autumn.  Our temperature dropped about 90 degrees in a 24 hour period…Cutting firewood quickly became a priority.  We were blessed with good cattle prices and sold our steer calves, and are currently making plans for the heifers.

Kendra’s mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November and that has been a journey for us all.  We have been blessed to be surrounded by prayer, and see those prayers answered.  We are glad she is close, and are thankful for good doctors and the advice and wisdom of others to help her on the road to health.

December – We are still in the midst of December as we are making this letter, but so far December hasn’t been any slower than the previous 11 months!  Kendra has been very busy with photography the past few months and has really enjoyed the friendships she has made through her little side business.  We have also had friends from Winner, SD and St. Johns, AZ visit the past couple of weeks.  We are looking forward to Christmas celebrations with friends and family, and excited for what the Lord will do in 2015.

 

Love and best wishes from our family to yours,

                Travis, Kendra, Millicent, Harrison, and Kaiser the Wonderdog

After the rain

We were blessed to receive over an inch of rain this past week. Today was sunny, 60 degrees, and the grass and plants were rejoicing to their GOD with thanksgiving. Tonight our red hills reflected a beautiful South Dakota Sunset and the extra-rich colors are the result of a few days moisture. Thanks, Lord.

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Branding Day 2014!

I am posting this a few days later than I had anticipated.. but after a full day of branding on Friday for which I cooked for approximately 40 people, and a full day following that of doing the dishes for all of that cooking; I am just now getting to it!

The general run-down of Branding Day is that a bunch of friends and neighbors come out (many/most with their horses), and we ride out at 8:00am to go gather the cattle in a nearby pasture.  Once in the pens, the guys sort the babies from their mamas (cows, that is)… and then it’s time for everybody’s favorite part:  Coffee break.

Grandma Ellen started the tradition of making caramel rolls for the whole branding crew.  Alana carried that tradition on.  When I joined the family, I took over the job with joy. :-)

I use Grandma Ellen’s original sweet roll recipe, but I use my own Cream Cheese Icing recipe and my own Caramel recipe for the caramel rolls.  I might share later.  Maybe. ;-)

Following a good half hour or so break of devouring sugary breakfast goodness, the real work begins.  Cowboys/Cowgirls ride into a pen of calves, rope them one by one and drag them out to the wrestlers who hold down the calves while they are branded, vaccinated, and checked over.  Then they are released back with their mamas.

Repeat this process approximately 300 times and you’re done!  Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?!

After all of the calves are done, or 2:00, whichever comes first, Lunch is Served!!  This year we did a Mexican Feast and it was well received by all!

Please enjoy this gallery of images from our branding day!

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Preparing for the biggest ranch holiday of the year… Branding Day!

Every spring we hold a Branding Day for our herd of cattle.  It is a day where friends, neighbors, and family come together to help us gather our cattle, vaccinate, wellness check, and brand all of the baby calves that were born that spring.  We also run the mama cows through the chute and check them over as well.

It is a hard, yet incredibly fun, day of physical work!  We use horses to rope and drag the calves – yes, just like in the movies – and then teams of two on the ground flip and hold the calves while they have their wellness checks, vaccinations, etc.   The whole process only takes a few minutes per calf, and then the calf is released and it trots off happy as you please to find its mama again!

We generally have about 50 or so people here.  A good number of this group are “helpers” – aka working the branding.  The rest are kids and wives (though some of the wives are known to rope or wrestle or vaccinate as well!)  We definitely love making Branding Day a family fun event.  The kids generally play in the “draw” (low spot in the pasture), building forts and pretending to be Cowboys and Indians… or whatever else their creative minds come up with!  As the kids get older, they take on Branding Day responsibilities.

My part?  Well, I love cooking. (Obviously.)  And since I feel rather inadequate at most things “ranching,” I gladly take over the role of the main cook for the Branding Day Feast following the hard day of work!  (My sister in law and mother in law also do some of the cooking, but I try to make it as easy as possible on them.  Alana likes to rope and ride and also takes care of the cattle records; Susan gets to be Grandma – plus her house has the only restroom facilities currently, so I figure she has enough on her hands.)

This year’s menu includes:

Branding Day Cinnamon and Caramel Rolls (For the coffee break after gathering.)

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

Beef Enchiladas with Red Sauce

Mexican Rice

Crock Pot Black Beans

Iceberg Wedge Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing

Banana Cake

Lemon Bars (Alana)

Brownies (Alana)

Jello Salad (Alana)

Carrot Casserole (Susan)

I spent today (the day before branding) doing all of the prep work – I made the cinnamon roll dough (to bake in the morning), baked the banana cake, and made up all of the enchiladas so that all there is left to do is bake them.  The rice will be fast and easy to whip up tomorrow; and I had several big bags of Crockpot Black Beans frozen and I decided to take the easy way out and throw those in the crockpot to reheat tomorrow.  :-)

The salad will also be quick to make.  Plus I have a lovely teenager coming to help me first thing in the morning, which I am certain I will be grateful for with a 2 year old and a newborn “hanging on my apron strings.”

I will post recipes at a later date – along with pictures of this sure-to-be-fabulous Spring Day!

 

Family Time!

On the 19th of April my parents and little sister came for a weeklong visit.  Nana just couldn’t wait to get her hands on that new grandbaby, you know! ;-)  On Easter Sunday evening, we decided to have a campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows.

Easter Candy!
Easter Candy!
Family time around the campfire.
Family time around the campfire.
She could be the poster child for Hebrew National hot dogs (all beef!).  She was so excited to eat one!
She could be the poster child for Hebrew National hot dogs (all beef!). She was so excited to eat one!
Not fancy, but for us it was the perfect Easter celebration meal.  Out in God's creation on a beautiful spring evening!
Not fancy, but for us it was the perfect Easter celebration meal. Out in God’s creation on a beautiful spring evening!
Please note the spectacular fire pit.  My friend Melissa and I with the help of her kiddos built it.  I don't build many things, so I thought it was photo-worthy.
Please note the spectacular fire pit. My friend Melissa and I with the help of her kiddos built it. I don’t build many things, so I thought it was photo-worthy.
 Kaiser. Such a loveable, goofy pup.
Kaiser. Such a loveable, goofy pup.
Even though we had him in a "down/stay" a safe, doggy-drool free distance away from our food, Millie kept him supplied with snacks.
Even though we had him in a “down/stay” a safe, doggy-drool free distance away from our food, Millie kept him supplied with snacks.
10 days old and Henry had his first campfire experience. :-)
10 days old and Henry had his first campfire experience. :-)