Darla Atlas
September 03, 2007 12:00 PM

For Jewel, love means never having to worry about your groceries going bad. “I’m the classic absent-minded professor: I’m very focused on something, and meanwhile, I’ve left the refrigerator door open for hours,” says the Grammy-nominated singer, 33. Thankfully, Ty Murray, her rodeo star boyfriend of nine years, has her back. “That happens on a weekly basis: She’ll open the fridge and just walk off,” explains Murray, 37. “I walk into the kitchen and close it.”

Holding hands on their living room couch in Stephenville, Tex., in front of a glass-topped coffee table displaying Murray’s trophy belt buckles, they playfully tick off other differences. “I’m very messy, and he’s very tidy—you could eat off the floor of his office,” says Jewel. “And anything abstract, he doesn’t get. I’ll read him some of my poems and he’ll say, ‘What do you mean?'” Murray chimes in: “I’m not artistic—I don’t understand anything about it. We write each other letters, and hers will be four pages while mine are four lines.” “He writes really good letters, though. I have big stacks of them.”

So just why are the pop star and the cowboy so crazy about each other? “Ty is a standup guy in world of flakes,” says Jewel, who met Murray at a Denver rodeo in 1999. To a woman who was famously once homeless—living out of her car as a struggling singer at 18—that anchor, and the 2,200-acre Texas ranch where she has lived with Murray for nine years, mean the world. They do have their own lives: She’s recording a country album; he’s hosting his own reality show, Ty Murray’s Celebrity Bull-Riding Challenge, featuring Vanilla Ice and Stephen Baldwin, which premiered on CMT Aug. 10. But their time together is top priority. “It’s like a garden: Whatever you water the most will do the best,” says Jewel. “At some point, you decide whether you’ll water your career or your relationship more.”

In their home, down a gravel road an hour and a half southwest of Dallas, there’s plenty of time to be alone together—if you don’t count their 200 head of cattle and up to 15 ranch hands pitching in when it’s time for branding or going to market. The two “barely go” to town, says Murray, though Jewel buys “tons” of clothes at the local Wal-Mart. “One day we’ll be doctoring a calf, the next day we’ll be at the Oscars,” says the singer, who’s just as comfortable as her boyfriend in the outdoors. While he hails from a long line of Arizona cowboys, she grew up living off the land on an Alaska farm. On their first date, Murray took Jewel camping with his buddies. “He didn’t know how I was raised,” she says, and the guys treated her like a city slicker: “They were like, ‘This is a fire, it’s hot!’ I didn’t tell him until a year later, when I brought him up to Alaska. It was good payback.” Their hobbies now include four-wheeling and flying 3,600-feet above their ranch in a powered parachute (think an airborne, two-seat go-cart). “It’s real safe,” says Jewel. “Then how come you always go, ‘Aaaah!'” teases Murray. “I have control issues,” she says, laughing.

So, do they plan to upgrade from cowbells to wedding bells? “We don’t know if there’s a point—we’ve lapped our friends who’ve gotten married and divorced,” says Jewel. “We probably would if we had kids—we’re just not sure we want them yet. But we’ve had something really special already.”

Anything they’d change about each other? Jewel is still trying to get Murray to enjoy more exotic foods—like sushi. “I eat California rolls,” he says. And him? Well, there’s that pesky fridge door. But to both of them, the secret to being happy together is “to really enjoy ordinary, simple things,” says Jewel. “We have a pretty neat life.”

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