Canning Peaches

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Canning peaches


Certain opportunities give us a chance to step into our parents’ shoes and experience appreciation in a whole new way. My latest opportunity came as I stood face-to-face with 24 boxes of freshly picked peaches and pears waiting to be canned.

I had gone to my parents’ home for my cousin Melva’s funeral earlier this month and saw the peaches and pears in my mother’s basement. Without a shred of experience, I had wonderfully optimistic hopes of canning all that fruit so my mother wouldn’t have to.

At 40 years of age, I had somehow managed to miss any opportunity to help her with the annual ritual of bottling the fruit to store for the winter. I asked her how I missed out on helping her all these years and we finally realized that I was always outside instead – moving cows, farming or participating in school activities.

Canning time coincides with one of the busiest times of the year at the ranch. So while the rest of us were moving cattle, mom was downstairs canning all by herself. Every year, she has bottled more than 200 quarts of peaches and more than 80 quarts of pears, but often, it wasn’t enough to get us through to next canning season. Since fresh fruit is hard to come by on our rural ranch, hot meals at lunchtime for all the family and the ranch hands is always crowned with bottled peaches or pears for dessert accompanied by a cookie or piece of cake or pie.

But this year, I thought I would give her the gift of skipping this laborious chore. So I set myself up in her makeshift kitchen in the basement in a routine that is best described by the word, “precarious.” Not all of the burners work on her stove, so I set up some hot plates on rickety old TV dinner trays and found enough cords to connect to various electrical outlets so I wouldn’t blow a fuse – such are the challenges of living in an older ranch house. The large canner set on two stove burners while the saucepan for warming lids barely fit. I had sugar water heating and I was peeling and pitting peaches as fast as I could. I also couldn’t believe all the time required for preparatory chores like cleaning all the bottles and sanitizing all the lids and rings.

I have to admit, it was a lonely job and several times, I caught myself thinking grateful thoughts for my mother’s dedication to this chore of provident living.

After 10 hours of fast and furious work, I was disheartened to realize I had only made it though 7-and-a-half boxes of peaches. I was disappointed that my dent was so small, but my mom was of course, very grateful.

When it was all said and done, mom sent me a picture of her storage shelves proudly displaying the colorful jars – 207 peaches and 81 quarts of pears. It’s an amazing task that I doubt I’ll ever be able to match. But I’m grateful that I finally gave it a try and learned a few skills in the process.

Melva’s life of goodness

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Melva’s life of goodness


As Americans, our hearts are heavy on this day of remembrance. But mine is especially heavy, not only for those who left this world too soon 14 years ago, but for my cousin Melva Kauer who recently passed away unexpectedly. We celebrated her life last week and I’m so grateful for her example.

At age 80, Melva was one of the last of her generation and lived a full life on the family ranch in the Lemhi Valley. She was the daughter of my dad’s Aunt Lenna and much older than I, but I always felt close to her.

Remembering the tragedy of 9/11 often leads to self-introspection – Are we making the most of our life? Are we showing love to our family? Are we serving our fellow men? Are we grateful for those who sacrifice in our behalf? I feel it’s appropriate to pay tribute to Melva today because she could answer “yes” to all those questions.

She was a happy, service-oriented person. Despite the serious heartache in her life – including losing two of her four children when they were toddlers – Melva was so full of hope. I think she soothed her soul through service and losing herself to help others. She didn’t indulge in psychologists or anti-depressants to fight her pain; she simply found a cure by forgetting about her problems and helping others instead. She was a great example to me.

She had a deep love for her animals and especially the lambs she raised. They knew her voice and would come running at her call.

Just this summer, she put so much time and effort in finding a way to restore my great-grandparents wagon for our Centennial Ranch celebration. Her efforts really made our family reunion so much sweeter, and for many of us, we had no idea that it would be our last chance to be with her.

My children were able to sing a special hymn at her funeral. The words written by Karen Lynn Davidson will always remind me of Melva:


Each life that touches ours for good,

Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;

Thou sendest blessings from above

Thru words and deeds of those who love.


What greater gift dost thou bestow,

What greater goodness can we know

Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways

Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.


When such a friend from us departs,

We hold forever in our hearts

A sweet and hallowed memory,

Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.


For worthy friends whose lives proclaim

Devotion to the Savior’s name,

Who bless our days with peace and love,

We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.


Elephant Ears

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Elephant Ears


Everybody’s summer ends with some singular event. Ours happens to come in the form of elephant ears.

For the last seven years, our oldest daughter has been a member of the Bitterroot Swim Team. Since then, her brother and sister have joined her in the pool and found a talent in competitive swimming across the state of Montana.

The only team fundraiser of the year is a booth at the Ravalli County Fair where swimmers and parents have an envious assembly line producing fluffy, yet crispy scones – fried bread smothered in butter, honey or cinnamon and sugar. It’s a favorite mid-way fare for our friends and neighbors and it’s a busy way to end our summer. The proceeds are used to pay our coaches and rent the swimming pool.

The Ravalli County Fair is always held over Labor Day weekend. Since joining the swim team, our family has also been involved in the booth in some capacity – either cleaning before the fair, cleaning the booth after a week of fast and furious dough stretching and bread frying, or being a part of the mad cooking while lines of patient customers wait their turn for a treat.

The science of thawing the dough, rising the dough, stretching the dough and cooking the dough is a carefully managed system of timing and ingenuity. The method is passed down from one family to the next and we all become closer friends as we work side by side.

This summer was worth celebrating as the Bitterroot Swim Team brought home its third state championship in a row. The kids are excelling and enjoying the experience. I’ll never forget the surprise of watching my 6-year-old figure out his strokes and eventually qualify for state in every event. I’ll always be grateful for the older kids who have set an amazing example of character for our young swimmers to look up to. We cheered each other on as times were shaved and swimmers achieved personal records as well as state records.

We’re grateful to raise our kids in the Bitterroot Valley with such wonderful families and friends. We’re grateful for swim coaches who give of their time and the Bitterroot Aquatic Center where they practice. And we’re grateful for the opportunity to work a booth at the Ravalli County Fair each year so that the organization can continue to support our kids in their pursuits and talents.

We hope to see you all at the fair this week with sticky hands and big smiles enjoying an elephant ear and celebrating our swimmers’ success.









Centennial Ranch

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Centennial Ranch


It’s been 100 years since my Great-Grandfather Whittaker stepped off a train and arrived in Leadore, Idaho, to establish a ranch of his own. He and his young wife loved the area that reminded them of home in Circleville, Utah, with the majestic mountains on either side of a wide valley and plenty of room to farm and graze. They built a cabin and raised 11 children in the Lemhi Valley. My Grandpa Whittaker was No. 3 of 11 and kept up his parent’s tradition of hard work. He really started expanding the ranch when he took over.

Legend has it, that the ranch had its beginnings started with two bum lambs. My grandpa, as a boy, had two lambs to care for and his brother got two as well. They bottle fed the lambs, kept them warm and eventually earned something for their round-the-clock efforts. His brother sold his sheep and bought a saddle. My grandpa took his earnings and invested in more livestock, which led to opportunities to purchase land … and so on and so forth. That decision by a young boy at a fork in the road made all the difference in the path he took and the progress he made.

My grandpa as well as my father became the anchors in the family operation. They both had a vision that guided every decision as more land was acquired; larger herds of livestock were developed and other ranching operations were purchased to add to the main ranch. His home became the epicenter of family activities and especially Fourth of July celebrations.

My father continued in his father’s footsteps and last Fourth of July, we held a Centennial celebration to honor the legacy and sacrifice of the Whittakers. More than 100 relatives from across the country gathered at my parents’ home.

We participated in the hometown activities like the EMT breakfast and the Leadore parade down Main Street. We then gathered at the house for a big meal of pulled pork and barbecue beef sandwiches and of course, a Centennial cake.

Older relatives spent the afternoon telling stories and sharing memories of the ranch. The highlight was bringing out the old wagon used by my great-grandparents. My cousin Melva went to great lengths to have the wagon restored and ready to roll.

The event was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in those relatives who lived fairly close but chose not to attend. Moments like that are few and far between and I firmly believe we have to take advantage of opportunities to honor the past and strengthen family bonds for future generations.

I love the place where I grew up and all the life lessons I learned while working hard for the good of our family operation. I’ve tried to pass on those experiences to my children who are the fifth generation to work on our Centennial Ranch. I hope we all make my great-grandparents proud.



HGTV Results

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After my episode of “Living Big Sky” appeared on HGTV on May 30th, I had some great response. I heard from old friends from my days at Utah State University and from law school at the University of Montana who had seen the show and loved it. But most importantly, our Iten Company office received calls, emails and feedback from potential sellers and buyers. Read More

Filming for "Living Big Sky"


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It’s finally time! I’m so excited to announce that the HGTV episode of “Living Big Sky” featuring the Iten Company will air of May 30th at 9:30 P.M. and again at 12:30 a.m.on May 31st. So set your DVR’s to record and get ready to watch one of my proudest moments of 2014. Read More



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We’ve had some beautiful Spring weather in Montana and there’s no better way to enjoy it than from the air in our Cessna 182. I love where I live and I love my work, so add my awesome husband to the mix and it was the perfect day when we flew together to Horse Prairie, Montana, to meet with a ranch owner.

Driving would have taken me three hours to arrive at my destination, but instead we were there in 40 minutes. Read More


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As the snow begins to melt and flow to our rivers and streams, it’s also time to fill the pool and begin another season for the Bitterroot Swim Team. All three of my children are involved in the competitive team that includes swimmers ages 5 to 18 from Stevensville to Darby. Last year, we boasted 115 swimmers and have earned the Montana State Championship title for two years in a row. I just finished a three-year term as the club’s treasurer and am so happy about what we have accomplished. Read More



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I pulled my kids out of school for a week to work on my family’s ranch for calving season. Being on the ranch during the busiest times of the year is truly an educational experience. The part I love the most is taking each of my three children for one-on-one time. The rotation is not only fun, but functional as I teach new skills and make sure they understand the associated responsibility. My 11-year-old is old enough to drive the tractor that pulls the hay wagon, but I wanted to be sure she clearly understood the responsibility that comes with that chore. Read More



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Recently I made my annual pilgrimage to Leadore, Idaho and the Two Dot Ranch where I was blessed to be raised.  Those who know me, know that I travel to the home ranch every year at this time over my birthday which just so happens to fall during the heaviest time of our calving season. During the month of March, we usually get between 85-90 percent of our entire herd calved out.  It is the time of year that requires the most physically, mentally and even spiritually while at the same time being tremendously rewarding in these same areas as new life is born and treated with the utmost care.  In all my life, I’ve never experienced a calving season quite like this one. Read More



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Has everyone seen the Ravalli Republic today?!  Great article by Michelle McConnaha on some of our favorite people.  Congrats to the Johnsons’ on their new adventure!


The true Montana log cabin experience on a private lake is only a few minutes away from downtown Hamilton.

Angler’s Lodge is a hidden gem, offering many options and amenities for a private getaway or for largegroups – like family reunions and weddings.

Mike and Debbie Johnson lived in a city, and owned a large nursing home with heavy business responsibilities. One visit to Montana and they traded it all in. Read More



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Last weekend was a perfect time for a winter cattle drive. I can’t remember when the weather was this beautiful in February. Last year, I was a popsicle – a solid brick of ice on the back of my horse as we moved cattle 15 miles to the home ranch. I have never been that cold in my life. But this year, our Saturday cattle drive was warm enough for the whole family. Read More

our friend’s father’s yacht


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We love to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day, but now that Brian and I have been married this long, we’ve learned that love is much more than physical attraction. We believe that love has many facets – physical as well as emotional, mental and spiritual. If you don’t work on all four, then you don’t have a strong foundation. Physical love is only 25 percent of the whole picture when it comes to intimacy. Read More



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My husband and I never skied with our parents when we were kids, so that’s one goal we’ve made for our growing family. With Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Resort so close, our goal is attainable.

At the southern end of Ravalli County on the Idaho/Montana border and the Continental Divide, sits Lost Trail Ski Resort. The mountain receives more than 300 inches of fresh snow every season and the family-owned operation provides enough groomed trails to offer both family-friendly as well as extremely challenging adventures. Read More


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When I purchased the Iten Company in 2013, Tasha Nixon was already a part of the company.  She had been an employee of the business and transitioned easily with the new ownership. Now, after more than a year working together, I don’t know what I’d do without her. Read More



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One of the most exciting experiences of 2014 was the opportunity to help create an episode of a new HGTV series, “Living Big Sky.”  A camera crew of five came to Hamilton in December and we spent four days together filming. The producers of the show accepted nominations of Montana realtors to be featured in the reality show airing in early 2015. I didn’t apply, but a friend nominated me and I was certainly surprised when the producer called and said I had been chosen for the show. Read More


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With gas prices falling during December, more people have ventured out for the holidays. As families come and go from the Bitterroot Valley, I hope they make a conscious choice about where they fill up their vehicles. While all gas stations are affiliated with franchised brands, some are locally owned – like Lone Pine Conoco. Read More



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We wish everyone peace, hope and happiness in the coming year and a very Merry Christmas. We are so incredibly grateful for everyone who has supported us in our new business this last year. The year 2014 was my first full year as owner/broker of the Iten Company and it has been incredible. Thank you to all our clients and customers. Thank you to all who have viewed our website and supported the community that is so important to us. Please have a wonderful holiday season with best wishes from our family to yours.



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To encourage my friends and clients to shop for holiday gifts at local Bitterroot businesses, each week in December I’ll share a story about a place you need to stop and visit. Red Rooster is “to die for” anytime, but Ali will be hosting new brunch buffets on the mornings of Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve – a perfect place to stop if you’re in town over the holidays. Also, she takes orders for holiday pies and specialty rolls.

Red Rooster Artisan Bakery Read More