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Home on the Range


Well-behaved women seldom make history—or interesting reality television. But that was before Lisa Cooke (above, in blue dress) of San Ramon took on the role of lady of the house in the new PBS reality series Texas Ranch House.

When casting came a callin’ for participants to travel back in time to run a real cattle ranch, Cooke, a mild-mannered stay-at-home mom, jumped at the chance. Without hesitation, her family of five swapped their plush East Bay home for 47,000 acres of undeveloped Texas land, where they were required to make do without Diabloland luxuries and wrangle with a group of type-A pseudo-cowboys who’d also been plucked from modern life.

“It was brutal at times,” Cooke says of their three-month stay. “We had a fly infestation that was beyond comprehension.” Filming in 110-degree weather, husband Bill herded cattle while she and her daughters Vienna, 20, Lacey, 18, and Hannah, 15, tended the house swathed in seven layers of epoch garb (hello, corset and petticoat).

“We eventually took scissors to our outfits—cut off the sleeves and shortened our skirts—to the horror of the costume designers, no doubt,” Cooke recalls. Their saving grace was a soothing, talcumlike substance affectionately dubbed crotch powder.

“When you’re sweating in your [bulky, knee-length] bloomers and your thighs are chafing from rubbing together, it’s [as] valuable as gold,” Cooke says. The gals were exposed to additional examples of the West’s more appalling rigors, such as washing dishes by hand using pails of water carried from a pump at the bottom of a hill.

The antiquated lifestyle called for some extreme homemaking, and Cooke was quick to deploy her inner Martha Stewart. “It was amazing what my mom would come up with,” says daughter Vienna. “It was a nice taste of home.” (Actually, it was a taste of pizza, which Cooke cooked over a fireplace using cheese that Vienna made from goat’s milk.)

Cooke also improvised with the sparse ranch decor: She stenciled walls, sewed curtains, reupholstered a rocking chair, and built a shower when their little tin tub wouldn’t do. “I hope women are inspired by what we did and take pride in traditionally domestic duties,” she says. “[Ranch women] weren’t documented in history much, but they were amazing. I got a taste of it.”

The Cookes will speak about their experiences on Texas Ranch House on May 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the San Ramon public library, 100 Montgomery St., San Ramon. Texas Ranch House airs May 1–4 at 8 p.m. on PBS. For information, visit www.pbs.org/ranchhouse.

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