Thursday, May 27, 2010

For the love of gummer mouth cows

Today was one of those days that things went great, I was able to really appreciate my life, I had some fun, yet it was difficult to deal with reality.

I started the day changing two hand lines and one wheeline which normally is a pain but knowing I would spend the rest of the day being a cowman made the time fly and my attitude have a positive outlook. Once I had the water changed I headed to the corrals to load the cows I planned to sell today.

I had 8 cows to sell today for various reasons. Two were spring calvers that were going to calve soon but too late to fit my spring program. These were both old cows and fairly easy to part ways with. Four other cows were fall calvers that I had recently preg (pregnancy) checked. Two of these were middle aged, average producing cows that were going to be on the late end of calving and two others were older cows that just needed to go because of old age and mediocre production. Again these cows were parted with in relative ease.

The last two cows were the ones that tugged at my heart strings. Both of these ladies were pregnant and on schedule to calve between mid August and mid October which is just as I want my fall calvers to be. Both of them had raised good calves last year and other than the fact that one was 17 years old and one 16 years old they had not done anything wrong in their lifetime as far as I was concerned. Many people are afraid to own old or older cows. I prefer to look at old cows the way my father did when he would say, “a beef cow does not get old by being a poor calf raiser!” Most cows are sold at an age where their teeth cannot support them or because they have not raised a good calf. We have a fairly abundant supply of soft green grass on the ranch so we can use a cow longer than most.

Cow number 3109y was born here on the ranch in the fall of 1993. Dad had chosen to keep her and only 3 other fall heifers that year. I was a bit skeptical at the time because her mother was on the small side and she looked as if she would be a little cow herself. She did turn out to be on the smaller side as she sold today at 1090 pounds which is fairly small for a commercial beef cow but only slightly below average for the type of cows we like to own. This cow, 3109y had her first calf unassisted on August 17th 1995. She had her 15th and 16th (yes twins) on August 20th 2009. From what I can decipher from my sometimes incomplete records she never missed having a calf. This is pretty amazing in the commercial beef cow world. For those of you that attended the Benton Franklin County fair last year you may have saw her twin bull calf in the beef barn. At that time he was an orphan that the beef barn kids named “Booger” that we bottle fed throughout the fair. His sister “Snot” stayed out on dry range with their mother. (Very difficult for a commercial beef cow to properly raise twin calves in dry range conditions) Booger ended up with a surrogate mom shortly after the fair and is a healthy weaned calf as is his sister today. I watched this old cow struggle a bit this winter and with her age and the cull cow market at a high level I decided to sell her today. Thank you 3109y for always being a good mother, a good producer and an easy going cow. I promise you that the fact that your facial features were terribly unattractive (even ask Dakota) did not enter into the decision.

The second cow was 4069yt, a black cow that body wise in human terms I would relate to a woman that is 6 foot 6 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. “Racehorsey” as we refer to those types of cows. 4969yt arrived here in December of 2006 in a group of fall calving pairs I purchased. She was already 12 years old which is 1-4 years past when many ranchers get rid of cows. With our soft valley grass we can keep cows longer than average. She was part of a group of 21 cow calf pairs I bought that day and really the only cow I was not too excited about at the time. She had a good calf but damn was she skinny! Over the years I realized that was just how she was. I think this cow could have been given free choice grain daily and never gotten fat. As skinny as she looked that day off the truck she certainly overcame the odds. She was the last of those 21 particular cows still here on the ranch and weaned off an awesome steer calf this year. To be honest the only reason I sold her was because of a slight limp and the fact that I did not want the skinny thing to have to face another potentially difficult winter. If every cow were like these two I would be a millionaire by now and so selling them was difficult. Luckily I have been able to own a few disaster cows in my lifetime so here I am continuing to try and make a living raising and finding cows like 3109y and 4969yt. Thank you ladies for all you gave our family.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Canada thistle aka Cirsium arvense.

Today’s picture is cow 4069yt back in January with her last calf 9069y.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good to go

Where oh where does the time go? I swear almost everyday I say I am going to make it here to post something and yet so many nights I am so tired and feeling like I do not have the time. Things have actually been going pretty well but I just seem to never run out of things that need to be done.

We have been having excellent grass growing weather but I am glad I am not trying to get hay put up this year with the cool and showery weather. I am friends with many hay growers so I try to balance my thoughts between hoping for cheap rained on feeder hay and at the same time rooting for anyone that is involved with agriculture to have a good year. The cattle market has seemed to have topped out but the current level is great compared to the last few years.

I need to start making a point to take my camera with me during the day. I have missed so many great nature shots lately. I watched a pelican wrestle with a large carp yesterday and the pelican won. The camera always seems to be in another pickup or at home. I am going to try and gather the late calving, open (not pregnant) and old fall calving cows tomorrow. This time of year cash flow is always an issue and the bills seem to not really care as they continue to roll in. I have one irrigation pump that is giving me fits and I am at the point of calling a professional. Oh well, another bill to make sure the bank account does not get too fat.

All I really do these days is change irrigation water and fix some fence just to break the monotony. The weather is nice and the long days help to keep a positive attitude. I keep dreaming of little improvement projects but even with long daylight hours they seem to fade away because of things that HAVE to be done each day. The saving grace is I am feeling well, the family is healthy and happy, the grass keeps growing, the cows are slick and fat and the calves are growing.

I guess sometimes life is just about appreciating the little things and not getting caught up in the “extras” that are nice but not necessary to living a full life. I heard a song today that I guess has been out for awhile but I had somehow not heard it before. After hearing it I took some time and talked with Dad because it reminded me so much of him. The man really had life figured out and as I strive to get to that place I sure think about him a lot. If you are interested here is a youtube link to the song……

Today’s real environmentalist species is the ladybug aka ladybird aka Coccinella septempunctada.

Today’s picture is of two yearling heifers that apparently did not have time to look up for the camera.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hen squids for sale

A productive Monday was all I really wanted today. Luckily I got my wish, no massive projects completed of any kind but several small things that I had been putting off got done. I almost feel as if I am within reach of being caught up on work. Tomorrow I have to travel to Ellensburg for our WCA monthly meeting and that will fill most of the day so I will quickly get right back to where I usually am…behind. We have had some really great and warm weather the last few days. The corn has popped out of the ground for the most part and I noticed today enough had come up that you could see the rows clearly.

The cows and calves look excellent. In fact the cows are probably fatter than they need to be but this time of year that is not really a bad thing. The grass still looks pretty good but the cheat grass in the dry range areas is headed out and now turning brown. Having the spring calving cows on the triticale and giving the home and Dixon place pasture an extra month of growth this spring really made a difference in total feed resources. The fall pairs and spring yearling heifers look good and so does their respective grass. All I need to do now is keep irrigation water moving the rest of the summer and life will be rainbows and unicorns.

Being that all I have to do these days is change water, watch cows, change water, do irrigation maintenance, change water, do some office work, change water and change water it gives me lots of time to think. Somehow the thoughts of unhook pipe, lift pipe, walk 60 feet with pipe, re-hook pipe is not enough to fill ones mind. Actually that is not nearly as boring as the other condition which entails, go back and do over. Anyway, giving me time to think is not always good. My mind jumps freely from one subject to another with about the same level of commonality as the Pope has with Christy Canyon. If you do not know who Christy Canyon is you can Google her but you probably wont find much if your search setting is “safe”.

The reason I bring her up is because this morning I had a mainline riser blow off and soak me with water which reminded me of one of her films, well one of her films I heard about anyway. From there my mind jumped to wondering if porn stars have to have money deducted from their checks for labor and industries insurance. If they do is the rate high or low? For that matter does a nun have to have unemployment insurance deducted from her check? Has there ever actually been a nun that filed for unemployment benefits? Was there anything in the stimulus package that directly benefited nuns or porn stars?

That pretty much filled my mind for the first hand line. Driving to the second hand line I heard on the radio that Ronnie Dio died today. Then I wondered how many fellow cowmen even know who Ronnie even was. Back in my high school and college days I was a bit of a “metal head” and quite possibly was the first person in a cowboy hat that was not a University of Texas graduate at a concert to flash the “devil horns” that Ronnie made famous. My next thought was if Black Sabbath had been called Almond Friday if it would have been as popular.

At the next hand line I found a bull snake which made me wonder what the correct term for a female bull snake is. Can there be a heifer bull snake or if she has had babies is she a cow bull snake? I actually found out there is no specific name for male or female snakes and in addition I found out that a female squid is a hen and a male squid is a cock. Now I am set for the next hand line. Is an octopus able to pray 4 times faster than a human?

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the tick aka Ioxdes sp., many species in eastern Washington.

Today’s picture is fat cow number 2928g with her growing steer calf 0928g.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the no ride list

I spent Friday and Saturday doing youth community service once again. I am hoping that someday those hours will be able to be applied to my sentence for whatever law I get crossways with. Friday I traveled to Pullman to Washington State University to be a judge of a contest. The Washington State Future Farmers of America was having their annual state convention and needed judges for many of their contests. Dakota is a first year FFA member and in support of the program I volunteered to be a judge for the Agriculture Sales contest. Basically the contestants have a product that they are trying to sell you in a mock interview type exercise.

I was offered items including artificial breeding services, horse boarding and training, and many animal pharmaceutical products. A few other interesting items were a special mix of rabbit feed that included freeze dried carrots and also a variety of Alpaca wool products. I was impressed at the level of salesmanship by many of the contestants. One thing I noticed was how the gender balance has changed in FFA. When I was in school it seemed about 80% male. I would guess that today the majority of the members are female. Dakota enjoyed her first convention and I enjoyed judging on Friday.

Yesterday was spent weighing, tagging and registering sheep, goats and hogs for our August fair. Many of my fellow Market Stock committee members help with out steer tag day in March so in return I help out with the three inferior species in May. Seeing these kids with their 4H and FFA projects makes me see a bright future for agriculture in this country. Like I previously mentioned this is volunteer time that I feel gives back for all the people who helped with these programs when I was a kid.

Both days involved fairly long drives which gave me time to listen to lots of radio and ruminate on some of the news I heard. One news station on Friday afternoon was talking about how the FBI, CIA, state and local law enforcement agencies are dealing with terrorism. The information was pretty in depth and caused quite a bit of concern for me in relation to making sure I am not put on some “no fly” list. I would however gladly be put on a list that bars me from public transit. I rode a city bus once in a major city and still have nightmares.

Anyway, when I got home I thought about the terrorism program and some of the items that “tip off” authorities. I was driving the gray Dodge while changing some irrigation water and as I took an inventory it added to my worries. Let’s just say you were with law enforcement, had no idea about agriculture and pulled me over and did a search. I am sure the many syringes, hypodermic needles and various animal drugs in the vehicle would not bode well for me. An electric cattle prod, various chains, ropes, scalpels and shoulder length plastic gloves certainly would add to your suspicions. Explaining what an emasculator is and what it is used for would probably add to my criminal profile. Those items are found just by searching the cab, dash and under the floor mats and seat.

Looking in the back of the pickup would do nothing to help my situation. A gallon of gasoline in a Tide detergent bottle for wheeline engines would be a big no no I am guessing. A five gallon bucket that is labeled 80W gear oil but actually filled with red Diesel would not be the end of the world except that it is riding next to a 50 pound bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The “strike anywhere” matches that are on the dash would really arouse suspicion now. Explaining that the matches were only for burning weeds and for starting the benzene, propane and acetylene torches in the back of the pickup would get some attention.

I am sure by this time I would be on my way to Guantanamo. Telling the officer that Stetson does not make turbans and asking if I can take along the .22 pistol in the glovebox or the SKS with the 30 shot clip behind the seat would be answered with a resounding NO is my guess!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Red milkweed beetle aka Tetraopes tetraophthalmus.

Today’s picture is four of the spring yearling heifers on grass.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Too tired

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day here in the Columbia Basin. I spent most of the day with irrigating and irrigation system issues. I did catch a few steers that are being sold to a friend who is picking them up tomorrow. I also got a haircut (yes finally) and attended a county cattlemen’s meeting tonight. I am really tired and can’t think of anything to exciting to post about. See ya all tomorrow.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the American Avocet aka Recurvirostra Americana.

Today’s picture is cow number 0042y and her big fall steer calf 9042y that is leaving tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Water, water, water

Oh how I wish everyday could be as productive as today was. Even with two trips to Connell and one trip to Othello today was a productive day. I am to the point in the year where I am just hoping, praying and waiting for spring calves to grow to saleable weight. Right now the grass looks great and so do the cows but summer looms large. From this point forward any rain that happens to fall between now and mid September will be sparse and will do little to keep any grass growing here in the eastern Washington desert.

For the rest of the summer most of the water applied to crops and grass will be artificial. That is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is we are in an irrigation district that has a good supply of water. The curse is that water has to be artificially applied and thus moved daily. The irrigation system on this ranch has always been about 3 generations behind the rest of the world. The system would be fine if labor was free or if I could move pipe 13 hours a day and never get tired.

Now is the time of year when I try and keep water moving and balance that with having some semblance of a life. The longer time passes the better I am getting with knowing little shortcuts that make life somewhat easier. Today was totally spent changing irrigation water and working on the irrigation system. The day was broken up by two trips to Connell (14miles) and one trip to Othello (11miles) for parts and supplies.

This evening a storm front passed through and I hoped there would be some rain with it. There was about 3 drops of rain and strong winds for about 3 hours which is typical for this area. I was able to spend some time this evening riding through the spring pairs which was enjoyable. To be honest after the 3 trips to town today, and seeing a few other cattlemen’s calf crops I really needed to confirm that my calves are competing with the Jones’. So far so good.

I am pretty beat and am hoping tomorrow is another good day. Oh yeah, yesterday I went to Warden to watch Dakotas softball game. Warden was the first team that gave the Connell girls some competition this year. In the end though Dakotas’s team prevailed 13-4. Dakota hit a rocket for a bases loaded triple and walked twice besides striking out once. Eye on the top of the ball, head down, watch it hit the bat, I’ve been telling ya Gus. Nice job.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Scotch thistle aka Onopordum acanthium which lost a few members today to my shovel as I waited for irrigation to pressure up.

Today’s picture is cow number 3921g with her heifer calf 0921g enjoying the sunshine and green grass.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers day

Happy Mothers day to all the mothers of the world and especially to my own mom. There are many things in the world that irk me a little but few things that just flat piss me off. One of those things that piss me off is when I see someone who is not a good mother to her children. I was and still am very close to my dad and I often mention him here and he is someone who had great influence on my life. I know I mention my mother on this blog less often although she has been and is a great mother and also been a great influence on my life.

One reason I think I don’t mention my mom as much is because she is such a good mother. I find that so non extraordinary given the care and guidance I have watched mothers in nature give their offspring. I guess in today’s world it seems like a dad that is close to his children and a loving father seems to be kind of the exception rather than the norm. There are some bad mothers out there but I see the bad mothers as much more of an exception than a rule. I have been lucky because I have been surrounded by lots of relatives and friends that are great moms as well as my own mother and all she has done for me over the years.

I sometimes spend too much time around momma cows and so I try and relate things I see with them to the human nature. Sometimes things are glaringly different but many things are the same. Easy now ladies I am not saying human mothers are cows! I guess what I am getting at is having a good father is important and helpful but I have seen many humans and bovines excel at life without the benefit of a good father. Rarely, and I mean very rarely does a human or bovine achieve a very high level without the benefit of a good mother.

Being a good mother has to be a very difficult job. It seems to me to be an exercise in contrasts with a delicate balance. On one hand you want to let your kids explore, spread their wings and learn about life. On the other hand you are scared to death that they might get hurt and your protective nature kicks in. I see this every spring and fall in the cows. Some ranchers won’t keep a cow if she is too protective of a calf because of safety issues. I love a cow that is protective of her calf. Many people are afraid of working around bulls, granted you have to be careful but I would rather go ten rounds with most any bull than two rounds with many cows with newborn calves at their side.

Being a mother has to be difficult given all the things a woman needs to know and does as a mother. Being MY mother has a whole new level of difficulty especially when I was a teen. Johnny Paycheck has a song “I’m the only hell my momma ever raised” Well, that is certainly fitting in my life. Being the oldest child and the only boy I always found new ways to test just how deep a mom’s love could run. I always knew that her love was a constant though. I also always knew that even though mom would be upset at something stupid I had done, she also would be the person that would keep dad from implementing capital punishment for misdeeds.

Here are just a few things I put my mom through growing up. I think I was about 4 when I somehow managed to crack my head open (which kinda explains many things). I was 6 years old when I ate some treated (poison) seed wheat. I remember how scared my mom was when I puked pink wheat across the dinner table and was then rushed to the emergency room. I was in 1st grade when my mom got her first call from the school. I was caught (and subsequently slapped) by my teacher for looking up her miniskirt! I think poor mom thought there was not enough psychiatry in the world to save me. My mom was who I went to after my first brush with the law. I had gotten my drivers license on the morning of my 16th birthday. By 10 p.m. that night I had my first speeding ticket for driving 103 in a 35 m.p.h. zone. I think the worst was when I was a sophomore and had a girlfriend that was not only a senior but a cheerleader. I showed up at the breakfast table shirtless one Sunday morning unknowingly covered in hickeys. Oh my poor mother! In my early teens I even wrecked my motorcycle racing on Mother’s day. A torn lower lip for me and a trip to the emergency room for her, dad and I was what mom got on her special day.

Through all those tests mom has never wavered in her love for me. Never once did I lack for baked goods, potato salad, fried beef heart or beef stew with dumplings. I can’t ever remember not having clean clothes for school or a sporting event as I grew up. She is a wonderful grandmother to my kids as well as all my nieces and nephews. Mom has been most impressive to me the last few years. With all the shock of losing dad and all of the sudden life changes for us all she has been solid as a rock. She has trusted me and my decisions regarding the ranch even when I am less than appreciative of that trust. I know I do not say it enough but I love you mom and thank you for everything you have given me in life. Happy Mothers Day!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Slender phlox aka Microsteris gracilis.

Today’s picture is a fall calving cow 7491w with her first calf 9491w which is a steer calf that she is doing an extremely great job of raising. Watching this cow groom her calf today reminded me of many trips to church as a kid and my mother. Almost as a rule mom would lick her hand or a kleenex and either wipe my dirty face off or pat down an errant hair on my head before we walked through the door. I love you mom.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey

Well this is not my normal time to post but it is out of necessity that I am doing this now. I really am going to try and post something here daily and here it is the 7th of May and for Larry Mahans sake this is only my second post. I am going to give just a quick update on the last two days and why I am posting in the early evening.

You know how a good saddle horse senses things from his or her observations? They see you putting fuel in the pickup, hooking up the stock trailer, grabbing saddles and putting spurs on and they immediately know it is going to be a long day for them. I am experiencing something like that tonight. We do not have any kids at home tonight; Christine opened a beer as soon as she got home and jumped in the shower. Now as a seasoned saddle horse (husband) I know that means I am in for a longgggggg night. If she puts her spurs on I will likely be plumb tuckered out by the time I am brushed down for the night. Anyway…..

Yesterday I took a few butcher cows to the auction. The cattle market for most all classes is pretty nice right now. Especially butcher cows which are as high as I recall them being in my lifetime. Now for those not understanding the cattle business do not get any wild ideas. These high prices means bills are paid on time, you try and upgrade at least one item that has been on its last legs for years and you finally buy your wife that new ring, necklace or spurs as the moment may dictate.

While I was at the auction yesterday I had a pleasant surprise. My “fair wife” (more on that later) Debby and another mutual friend Shelly stopped by the auction for other business. I would like to personally thank them both for coming into the actual sale ring and sitting next to me and talking to me. I was given a totally new level of respect among the regular auction attendees just because two unknown pretty ladies talked to me. You two also helped the butcher cow market for the time that you were there because no cow buyers were focused on weights or body condition scores while you were there. Shelly, the high heels and open toes really were a treat for all the auction participants. After you both left everyone was asking who you two ladies were. I assured them that you two were cattle truck drivers that were employed by me and that I had given you the day off. Thanks again for stopping in and chatting. ; )

I was able to leave the auction early enough yesterday to make it to Connell to watch Dakotas’s softball game. It was a real nail biter. I am not sure of the final score but it was something like 20-6 in Connells favor. Nice job girls and nice job on your third at bat Gus. Keep your head down like Dad tells you and that is how the hits will be! I also know you laughed a bit when that girl face planted at home plate. That’s ok, your Dad did too.

Today I spent the morning changing water and the afternoon moving any bovine that was not in the right place to the right place. Other than one spring yearling heifer in the fall calving pairs and one fall pair in with the spring pairs life is total perfection or at least as close to perfection as it gets. For you religious types please pray for me. Barring any injuries tonight I will be back tomorrow.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Killdeer aka Charadrius vociverous.

Today’s picture is a video tribute to my uncles. Do you two remember when we went from 4 rows of corn planting to 6 rows? Remember how exciting that was for us, Dad and Grandpa? Here are 16 rows of corn being planted at almost 5 m.p.h. on unit 63B.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Branding time

Wow, not a good month for blog posts. A measly 11 posts for the whole month of April. Here we are already 4 days into May and I am just now posting for the first time. This month things will be a bit different. Some days all that will be here is a picture for the day, a real environmentalist species and maybe a quick note. Those days that I have more time and feel more inspired I will try and do better. Thanks for all the comments both good (from men) and negative (from women) on the Goin postal blog post.

Friday the 30th was gathering day, I was more worried about bringing the main group of cows off the hill to the corrals than gathering the home pasture group. The cows on the triticale circle had little reason to leave with all the green feed and one of the first things they encounter is a bridge. Usually if one cow will start across the rest will follow. We left one cow behind that had just calved (one of 3 late calvers) but the rest followed the pickup and hay out onto the road, across the bridge and to the corrals without incidence.

The gathering of the home place cows and yearling heifers was a bit more of a challenge. We did however avert a major train wreck when a gate popped open and the cows we had moved down the road almost escaped into the home place pasture. By late afternoon Scott and my brother in law Andy and I had everything caught and all the equipment set up for Saturdays working and branding.

Saturday mornings sorting went well and when the crew arrived we were ready to go. On one end of the working barn was a crew giving two vaccinations, one internal and external parasite shot and one nasal mist vaccination. The calves also were branded and the bull calves were castrated. Thanks to all who helped at that end make the day successful and fun.

At the other end of the barn we vaccinated and gave injectable internal and external parasite shots to the cows and yearling heifers. Things went smoothly for the most part on that end of the barn too. We once again averted disaster when one of the kids noticed a cow out by the hay barn. On closer inspection about 50 cows were out of the corral and hiding behind the hay barn. Luckily they were still enclosed by 4 string barb wire and the whole crew did a great job of helping get them back in.

With so many friends and relatives to help it really made the day enjoyable. Everyone pitches in and I cannot thank everyone enough. Spring branding day is a huge job and a huge relief to have finished. There are so many different things that people do to make the day a success. Gathering, sorting, bringing up cows and calves, running the chutes, branding, vaccinating, filling syringes, castrating, running gates, food prep, barbequing, watching kids the list is virtually endless. Not only is it a great family event it also has a long history in our family. Thanks again to all the adults who helped in so many ways.

One of the main reasons I like it as a family event is the kids. Granted most of these kids will end up far away from a farm or ranch life as an adult. My hope is that at least they will have knowledge and respect for those who work to feed America and fondly remember the first or second Saturday in May as they grow up. A few adults and kids were unable to attend because of previous commitments and I want you to know you were not forgotten and we all will be glad to see you at the next branding. We had a whole group of fourth generation kids with us Saturday and I am going to name them all just because it is my blog and I can.

Amanda,Dakota,Alex,Brandon,Sallirose,Jake,Ty,Trey,Jack,Max,Estella,Brooks,Gates,Gus,Sophia,Donuelson,Julia,Kyra and Shelby. Samantha, Chase, Josephine and Jake D had other places to be but were with us just the same. Your Grandpa and uncle Larry was watching you all and I am sure he was very proud to see all you young cowboys and cowgirls helping.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Triticale (wheat x Rye hybrid) aka Triticum Secale.

Today’s picture is Estella getting some rabbit ears courtesy of her cousins Trey (in blue) Ty (in black) with cousin Alex with her back to the camera.