I went to bed last night with the windows open in the loft where we built our master bedroom. It was our first night in our room we’ve been working for months to complete and when I returned home from a night away on a singing job I found that my bed was moved upstairs,  made and waiting for us to snuggle down and reap the benefits of another step almost complete.

I don’t know how Husband got it up there without the help of my giant muscles, but he did. And I was glad.

And exhausted.

When we were making plans for this house two years ago my idea was that when it was all said and done we would feel like we were living in a tree house and with the installation of the railing a few weeks ago I felt like our vision was finally coming together.

It made me feel like all that time spent looking at Better Homes and Gardens magazines and Googling things like “rustic railings” and “vintage lighting” and “log cabins” and “how to get wood glue and green paint out of my favorite Steve Earl t-shirt” was finally paying off.

I snuggled down next to Husband up there in our bedroom and made note of  how we were a little closer to the stars and I liked it that way, up there among the oak tree tops.

This morning I woke up to Husband sneaking out to work. I rolled over to catch a few more blinks, noticing how the sky was beginning to turn pink with the touch of the first moments of sun. I thought I should get up, rise with it, drink my coffee and start on my writing project, but I slipped back to sleep for a moment while the world lit up.

And I woke again to the sound of a pissed off squirrel in the tree tops next to my head reading another critter its rights over something like trespassing on his side of oak or a stolen acorn.

At least that’s what I imagined as I woke from a dream about nothing in particular that I can remember.

I laid on my back and listened to that squirrel chatter, his obnoxious, angry squawk rising above the hundreds of bird species singing their morning song, the breeze rustling the full grown leaves and a truck kicking up dust on the pink road.

And although I couldn’t hear it, I thought about the swish of the horses’ tails in the pasture, the buzz the flies make around their ears and the soft nicker in their throats when I approach with a grain bucket.

I thought about the cattle pulling dew covered green grass from the ground, munching and chewing and bellowing low for their calves.

I thought about the croak of the frogs in the dam, the familiar sound I fall asleep to each night we let the windows open and the air in.

I thought about the plop of the turtle leaving his rock for a swim in that dam. I thought about the howl of the coyote and the sound of the dogs crying back.

I thought about my fingers squeaking across the strings of my guitar, sitting out on the chair under the small oaks, working to make a melody.

I thought about the sound of my husband’s breathing and the words he says out loud at night when the world is sleeping and so is he. I thought about what he might dream about.

And then I thought about the silence in this house as I lie listening to the world I was letting in through open windows. Silence between walls that have absorbed the noise of saw blades spinning, voices discussing dinner, crying over tiling projects and laughing at the memory of the stupid kids we used to be. It will be quiet in here today with the exception of my fingers moving over the computer keys, the coffee pot beep and the ice cubes dropping in the refrigerator. I will run the shower and get ready for a trip to sing outside in a different town this evening.

When I get home it will be late and Husband will be sleeping on the couch, the television reflecting the light of other peoples’ stories off his scruffy face. I will switch it off and walk up the steps to our bedroom to get closer to the stars and fall asleep to the sound of the frogs, thinking about the mornings to come in this house, the sounds of Christmases and birthday parties, failed dinners and dancing in the living room, conversations with friends, fights about bills and schedules and time, sobs about missing someone and laughter about having just what we need in a tree house with the windows open to the sounds of our wild world.

A neighborhood tradition.

We helped our neighbors brand  calves this Sunday. The sun was finally shining enough to give us hope the corrals might dry up by the time the day was over, so it seemed like the perfect day to get some work done.

Branding calves is a traditional chore that happens once a year. And whether your herd is 50 or 500, branding is always a great and necessary excuse to get neighbors, friends and family together to get some work done under the big prairie sky.

Branding, for those of you who are not familiar with ranching operations, is what cowboys do to identify their calves a month or two after they are born in the spring. Each ranch has a certain symbol associated with its operation and that symbol is placed on the cattle by using grey-hot irons that have been heated up in a fire and placing those irons momentarily on the calf’s hide.

At one time cowboys ran their cattle in open range on land not divided or sectioned off by fences. Branding your cattle meant that each ranches’ herd could graze freely on the open range and could easily be identified come roundup time when the calves were taken to market. Today in Western North Dakota ranch land is split up and sectioned off into pastures. If a neighbor’s cattle break down a fence and get into a field or an adjacent pasture, they are easily identified. In addition, branding cattle has traditionally been a way to deter cattle thieves, as brands are registered and inspected when taken to market.

With most calves born in March and April, ideally a rancher would want to get their branding done in May, but with the snowy and wet weather that occurred during calving and on into the late spring, things have been delayed a bit this year.

Now every operation has their own traditions and ways they like to work their calves. Around here a typical branding day would start early in the morning with a ride out into the pastures to roundup all of the mommas and babies and gather them into a corral where the crew then sorts the calves off from the cows into a smaller pen.

There’s a lot of mooing at this point, which will not cease until the mommas are back with their babies, the end goal the crew will work to accomplish as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

Once the calves are sorted the real work begins.  Typically, if the calves were younger, a crew of able bodied cowboys and cowgirls would work to catch and “wrestle,” or hold the calves in place on the ground while another crew works quickly to vaccinate, fly tag, brand and, if it’s a bull calf, castrate.  If all goes well the calf is only down for a few short minutes before the crew releases the baby back into the pen to find his momma.

At the neighbor’s last weekend the process was the same, but because the calves were a little older and a little bigger, Cowboy Kelly decided it would be easier on all of us, calves included, if we used the chute.

And because, as I have mentioned earlier, I was out a little late the night before, drinking some adult beverages, I was ok with missing the opportunity to brush up on my calf wrestling skills. But my desire to be involved was completely selfish anyway, because around this neighborhood it seems you always find you have plenty of help.

And so was the case on Sunday as one by one under a sun that turned my fair skinned friend’s skin pink, even under her cowboy hat, the crew pushed the babies through the chute and Cowboy Kelly marked them with a brand that has been attached to his family’s ranch and cattle for over 100 years.

I stood by Kelly’s daughter, my best friend and neighbor when we were growing up, as she tagged the calves to help keep the summer flies away and counted and inspected each and every one for her father.

My best friend is a mother now. I watched her carry one of her babies piggyback as she trudged through the mud to shut the gate and I wondered when it was exactly that we grew up.

She just had her first son, her third child, a little red headed boy, a few months ago. He was likely sleeping in his great grandmother’s arms in the house as his grandma set out the dishes, turned on the oven and put ice in the cooler for the crew.

His two blonde and freckled sisters were hanging on the fence in their pink boots and ponytails, watching the action, counting the calves and asking questions next to their cousins and aunts who stood just close enough to make sure they didn’t fall and hurt themselves.

I look at those girls and it’s like I’m looking at my friend, new freckles appearing with each hour those little noses see the sun. I used to stand next to her on that very fence, watching our dads, asking questions, wearing holes in the toes of our red boots, happy with the business of being friends.

And so I stood next to her again on Sunday and we were ourselves, older versions of the children who used to ride their bikes up on the highway between our two ranches, weaving in and out of the yellow center line, our feet off the pedals, the wind tossing our hair, making plans to grow up and get married and work and be cowgirls and mommas out here on our ranches, the only place we knew, the only place on earth for us.

So I guess we are grown up now. And so are those boys we brought home to help with branding back when we were sixteen or seventeen and hoping they could pull it off.

Hoping our dads approved.

When the last calf got his brand, the crew gathered for a Bud and to  lean on fences and find some shade. I snapped a few more pictures as my friend tallied up the ratio of bull calves to heifers.

She’s always been good with numbers.

I’ve always liked words.

And so I’ll tell you the most important part about branding. Everyone will agree.

While we were standing in the sun and the smoke of the branding irons, inside the house our mothers were cuddling the babies and cooking up a casserole meant to stick to a hungry man’s ribs.

Because the number one promise after a successful day of work in this neighborhood is a hearty meal and the chance to catch up, to visit a bit after a busy calving season.  It’s why you can always get a crew, because the work load is eased by friendship and comradery and the spirit that still lives out here on 100 year old ranches, the spirt that holds hope that it could carry on like this through the generations in the faces of the children we used to be.

How spring is springing. Contest Alert!

It seems I woke up today to find that my positive attitude about all of this snow storm bullshit has melted away.

Unlike the snow itself.

No, that snow is not melting any time soon. In fact, it’s settled in nice and compact and crusty on the top of my car, which I attempted to dig out of the icy, hard snow this morning on my quest to get to town.

But, as most simple tasks go around here, it didn’t happen without a fight. Nope. Even after letting the defrost do its thing for a good twenty-five minutes I had to attack the three foot snow drift on my windshield with the power and might of Wonder Woman if Wonder Woman’s weapon of choice was an ice scraper.

Which it is not. I guess I’m not sure what Wonder Woman uses to combat evil, but it has to be something besides her leotard…wait…I’m  Googling it…

Oh, look at that, it’s the Lasso of Truth.
And indestructible bracelets.
And, of course, her tiara.

But since the snowdrift wasn’t lying about making my morning difficult and beating the car or throwing a fancy but dangerous  piece of jewelry at the thing wasn’t going to help me with the task at hand, I summoned, unsuccessfully, the aid of the Hulk instead.

But he must have been busy trying to control his uncontrollable rage, something that coincidentally I was practicing at the moment as well, so I was on my own.

On my own with the windshield wipers and my ice scraper as I freed myself from the drift and headed up the icy hills sending snow chunks flinging off my car in every direction, just rolling down the highway like Cruella DeVille.

And then I heard on the radio that it’s supposed to snow this weekend.

And then I screamed: Waaaahhhhhh!!!!!

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 4.14.12 PM

So, to make myself feel better I decided it’s time for another contest ya’ll (Yes, I’m bringing ya’ll to the North Country…maybe it will make us warmer).

I know there are a few of you out there who are living in much warmer climates. Climates that are actually accommodating and welcoming green things by now.

I want to see them.

But most of all, I want to see what spring is doing in other parts of the world.

So whether it’s blossoming or blowing snow,  whether you live in the North Pole or down in the heated heart of Texas where, unlike me, they actually pull the whole “ya’ll” thing off, I want to see your photos!

Here’s how it works. 

  • Visit Meanwhile’s Facebook Page and share your Spring 2013 photo on my wall. (you may also shoot me an email at
  • Tell me where you live and how your spring is shaping up and Husband and I will take a look and pick a winner.
  • I will share all of your spring photos on Monday’s blog and our favorite submission will win a copy of my CD, “Nothing’s Forever” and a matted print of my favorite spring photo. 

Let the games begin!

Peace, love and  lilacs already!


10 Painting Tips from a Woman who always learns everything the hard way and should have never picked up a paint brush in the first place…

So I spent the weekend elbows-deep in the never ending, house finishing project. Funny how a task with the word “finish” in the title has become never-ending.

But we have a deadline, and deadlines have endings don’t they? Please, someone tell me this will end.

For those of you just joining us here at the ranch, (and there are a quite a few these days, thankyouverymuchforstoppingby!) Husband and I have been working on finishing a house that was delivered to us here in a little oak grove at the ranch last December.

We’re nearing the finish line, and if I wasn’t insane before, after fifty-five trips to the Menards 150 miles away to pick up things like doors, toilets, floors, lights, vents, electrical wires, cement, tile, nails, glue, the weird and delicious peanut-butter stuffed pretzels they have in the checkout aisle and the dreadful and marriage-testing trip for plumbing parts in torrential rains, lightning storms, forty-mile-an-hour winds, blinding blizzards and the most recent ice-covered roads


I am definitely, fully, insane now.

Horse frustration

And insane is not the best quality to have when your house is covered in sheet rock dust, there’s an air compressor hose dangling from the loft right next to the 12 foot cedar boards leaned up your wall cutting your living space in half and you decide that while husband is working on building you a giant closet to make up for the months of chaos his handyman ideals have created,  you are quickly going to paint the laundry room/entry way.


It shouldn’t take too long. It’s a small space. You’ll just need a little assistance in moving that washer and dryer full of clothes you forgot about out of the way…


Now, I could tell you how the painting project went and you could draw your own lessons and conclusions from the series of events that unfolded, but I think I will save you the analyzation and just cut to the chase. Because I figure I have enough home improvement under my belt to offer some tips to those of you who are confident and delusional enough to think that putting new knobs on your cabinets, tiling the bathroom, or painting a damn wall for crying out loud is, like, just going to take a day or two.

“We’ll get this done in no time!” we tell ourselves…

Yes, I could write a book on the many reasons not to wear short-shorts while attempting a tiling project, how to get out of helping to lay a hardwood floor by hammering your thumbprint off and what not to say to your husband as he’s dangling off a ladder twenty feet in the air.

It would be a best seller for sure, but I don’t have the time today. Because today I have to finish the damn painting project I was supposed to finish yesterday afternoon.

So in an attempt to stay focused, I give you:

10 Painting Tips from a Woman who always learns everything the hard way and should have never picked up a paint brush in the first place:


Tip #1: Finish your house before you move you, your husband, your two dogs and all your shit into it. And don’t add a cat to the mix.  But if you do, definitely don’t let that barn cat in too.

Tip #2: 7.5 minutes.

This is the time you will spend on your project before you convince yourself you need a Cheeto break.

Tip #3: You can try to fool yourself into thinking that painting a laundry room/entry way will be a quick and painless project, despite the thirty-seven angles, outlets, doorways, cabinets, utility sink with exposed plumbing, trim boards and mud splatters you have to work around. Approach the task with confidence, but assume it’s going to suck. This will save you the shock of postponing breakfast, lunch, dinner and the shower you meant to take before  meeting up with friends for a drink. Speaking of drinks…

Tip #4: Pour yourself one. And then put alcohol in it. Oh, and if you don’t particularly enjoy the taste of paint, use a cup with a lid.

Tip #5: Don’t wear your favorite Steve Earl t-shirt. No matter how carefully and quickly you think this project is going to go, you will get paint on that t-shirt you forgot you were wearing. You will grow tired and careless as you reach the end of your rope and you will let your guard down. You will lean into the wall while reaching for a final touch and you will get paint in places that will amuse your husband.

And your husband will express his amusement by pointing and laughing and shaking his head.

You too will shake your head while your entire body droops at the thought of throwing your favorite Steve Earl t-shirt into the pile with the other cute and innocent garments inadvertently turned into construction day clothes.

Tip #6: Make enough weird and agonizing noises (aka: grunting, moaning, saying “ohnoohnoohno” or “shit,” really loud, whining, weeping, or all around screeching) loud enough to catch the attention of your husband working with power tools on the second floor.

Follow those sounds with well-timed moments of silence and he will eventually find an excuse to come down stairs to see if you’re still alive…which brings me to what I think should be the next tip…

Tip #7: While he’s downstairs and you’re standing on the washing machine leaned over with your head dangerously close to getting stuck in that small gap between the cabinet and the wall, kindly ask him to re-dip your paintbrush and while he’s at it, refill your paint tray. If you’ve picked out the right painting pants and lean over at the right angle, your husband might suddenly become invested in the project, offering to pick up a paint brush to help go over the spots you’ve missed and, well, now you’ve got help.


Tip #8: Be prepared to hate the color you chose. You will never want to see it again for as long as you live but you will vow that you will just close your eyes when you attempt to do laundry or put on your boots to walk out the door because no matter how much you hate this color and the fact that it is now likely going to be in your hair and on the back part of your elbow you can’t see or reach for a few days, you sure as hell are not going to paint this damn room again. Ever.


And when your husband informs you that it will likely need another coat, take off that paint covered Steve Earl shirt before taking a running face plant to cry on the bed.

Tip #9: Sell your prized collection of Troll Dolls or Precious Moments collection, the pug or the cat or whatever it takes to be able to hire someone to paint whatever else needs to be painted for the rest of your life. But for the love of Lucchese, never, never, never sell your boot collection. If you remember anything, remember this.

Tip #10: Now, I’m not sure because I’ve never birthed anything, but I think painting and other home improvement projects might be like childbirth. Like, you might forget how painful it was while you happily thumb through Better Homes and Gardens and find that Martha Stewart has a really pretty shade of lavender that would look stunning in the sun room that you’ve been suggesting your husband build for you this summer.

I’ll tell you agin, if you really need a  sun room, sell your car so you can pay someone else to do it.

If you really like that lavender color, call me. I’ll read my tips out loud and with a stern and convincing tone that will help you with the whole clarity thing.

If you’ll excuse me, now that I’ve finished this, I’ve got to go and find about two or three other tasks to occupy my time while I procrastinate that second coat.

Happy Home Improving you crazies…

Snow on the backs of horses.

This is what it looks like when you put a house cat out in the snow for the first time in its life.

Coincidently this is also the face that was staring back at her after I peeled her out of my arms like a piece of velcro with really strong legs ..and then again off my head…and then again off of my boots.

We’re in a fight, but don’t feel bad for her, the weather is warming up and I think it’s time she gets acclimated to this wild place.

Yes, tomorrow it will be March and my longing for green grass, crocuses and creek beds overflowing with melted snow will summon me to pull on my muck boots and go exploring for the slightest change in scenery.

It will be March tomorrow, and I feel the chilled surrender that January brings start to break up and separate inside of me, even as I stand under a gray sky that blends into the horizon as if it weren’t a sky at all but a continuation of the snowy landscape…below us, above us…surrounding us.

Flakes fell from that sky yesterday afternoon, big and soft and gentle they drifted down to the icy earth and summoned me from behind my windows to come outside and stick out my tongue.

When the snow falls like this, not sideways or blowing or whipping at our faces, but peaceful and steady and quiet, it’s a small gift. I feel like I’m tucked into the mountains instead of exposed and vulnerable on the prairie. I feel like, even in the final days before March, that someone has shaken the snow globe just the right amount to calm me down and get me out of my head.

When the snow falls like this I go look for the horses. I want to see what those flakes look like as they settle on their warm backs, on their soft muzzles and furry ears. I trudge to the barnyard or to the fields and wait for them to spot me, watching as they move toward that figure in a knit cap and boots to her knees, an irregular dot on a landscape they know by heart.

I know what they want as they stick their noses in my pockets, sniff at my camera and fight for the first spot in line next to me. I know they want a scratch between their ears.

I know they want a bite of grain.

They know I can get it for them.

Our horses in the winter take on a completely different persona. The extra layer of fur they grow to protect them from the weather makes them appear less regal and more approachable.


I like to take off my mitten and run my fingers through that wool, rubbing them down to the skin underneath where they keep the smell of clover and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I like to put my face up to their velvet noses and look into those eyes and wonder if they miss the green grass as much as I do.

On this snowy, gray, almost March afternoon the horses are my closest link to an inevitable summer that doesn’t seem so inevitable under this knit hat, under this colorless sky.

I lead them to the grain bin and open the door, shoveling out scoops of grain onto the frozen ground. They argue over whose pile is whose, nipping a bit and moving from spot to spot like a living carrousel. I talk to the them, “whoah boys, easy” and walk away from the herd with an extra scoop for the new bay, his head bobbing and snorting behind me.

In a month or so the ground will thaw and the fur on the back of these animals will let loose and shake off, revealing the slick and silky coat of chestnut, white, deep brown, gold and black underneath. We will brush them off, untangle their manes, check their feet and climb on their backs and those four legs will carry us over the hills and down in the draws and to the fields where we will watch for elk or deer or stray cattle as the sun sinks below the horizon.

I move my hand across the bay’s back, clearing away the snowflakes that have settled in his long hair and I rest my cheek there, breathing in the scent of hay and dust and warmer days.

He’s settled into chewing now, his head low and hovering above the pile of grain I placed before him. He’s calm and steady so I can linger there for a moment and wonder if he tastes summer in the grain the same way I smell it in his skin.

My farewell to winter is long, lingering and ceremonious.

But it has begun. At last, it has begun.

Farmers at the Super Bowl.

So you watched the Super Bowl. You saw the game, you saw Beyonce shake it, you saw the lights go out and, among the flashy messages, the advertisements for M&Ms and beer and phones and underwear and cologne, you saw this:

Another ad for another product, yes. But one that had a message attached to it that has sent my world into a humming since it aired.

Now it’s possible you missed it. It’s possible you didn’t hear it tucked in there among the baby Clydesdale and the elderly escaping the nursing home for a night at Taco Bell.  It didn’t make the top ten commercials and didn’t get nearly as much buzz in other parts of the country, but it sure is buzzing here.

I don’t usually comment on pop culture or what ‘s happening on T.V. or in sports here because I’ve made it my mission to talk about different things: the way the sun shines on the back of a horse, how the wind blows snow across the prairie and what it’s like to be a woman connected to a place, but as a girl who grew up feeding cattle alongside her father in the coldest winter nights, someone who watched him doctor horses, bring new-born and frozen calves into the basement of the house and nurse them back to life, as a former FFA president and the 4th generation on my family’s ranch, I have to talk about this.

I have to tell you why people like me have been so inclined to share this advertisement, to watch it over and over again, to shout its praises from the rooftops and, well, post it on every social media networking site they can link up to out here in the boonies.

Because finally, among the hype of sports, the glitzy glam of pop culture, the humor and the ruckus and the fight to be the winner, right there in the most prime real-estate of prime-time television someone out there felt it might be important enough to slow it down and tell our story.

Now, I wasn’t at every Super Bowl party in middle America during the 2.5 minutes Paul Harvey’s message was pumped into millions of homes across the country, but I was at one, and as soon as that familiar voice spoke the first word, the room fell silent.

We held our breath in that moment we were certain we were looking at an image from our backyards: a black baldie cow near a barbed wire fence in a barren, snow-covered prairie.

We were quiet because we saw our church standing tall and worn beside a country road,

we saw our grandfather with callused hands and a face wrinkled and weathered from the long days spent in the elements.

We shushed our voices and choked back a tear for the colt our father couldn’t save, laughed a little because we’ve ridden a horse using a head stall made out of hay wire and smiled at the memory of our father’s stopping the tractor to move a nest of newborn rabbits out of harm’s way.

We saw ourselves standing in those fields, our grandmother’s eyes under that hat, our mother holding our hand, our father holding on hope.

We saw our children in the steady cadence of comforting words and a familiar voice that we’ve heard coming through the static on our old tractor radio for years.

The rest of the story.

Our story.

Some days I feel like we’re moving further and further from our connection to the land and the understanding of the dirt from which that potato was plowed. Farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists are not known to stand at the pulpit and tell their stories to the masses. No. Many spend long days working alone in the combine, on the back of a horse checking cattle or working fencing pliers in the deep brush.We share our stories by living them alongside our elders, hoping to learn something, dreaming that one day we might be fortunate enough to try our hand at tending the land.

I know my grandfather’s story. I see the old equipment that couldn’t be repaired breaking the wind from the hilltops on this place. I find little pieces of wire, old engines, scraps of leather, worn coveralls and other little pieces of a life spent scraping and saving and getting by in the old out buildings, in the 100 year old barn, in the fences that need to be repaired. My father keeps the same collection, adding to it at will in case he might need to patch something up.

I know my father’ s story. I know that on Sunday mornings he will knock on the door of my house like he does every weekend for a cup of coffee and a chat between chores.  I know he will take off his boots, un-do his silk scarf and leave his wool cap on his head. I know he will keep his Carhart jacket on because he won’t stay long, just long enough to wonder out loud what might be wrong with the old tractor this time and discuss some plans about buying cattle, fixing the corrals in the spring and making things work better out here.

I know that tractor’s story. It’s been on this place for decades, bought used when my father left for college in the 70s. I know the only thing wrong with that tractor is that you can’t stop time, and we could not afford to buy a new one.

Each day my father has been the caretaker of the family’s ranch it has been an adventure to get that tractor up and running.

Every day it has been worth it.

Somewhere along the line a company like Dodge took notice of the kinds of people buying those trucks they were selling, not for the paint job or the heated seat, but for the horsepower and the muscle that it takes to haul a trailer full of bulls to the sale barn, a couple of priceless horses and a teenage daughter to her first high school rodeo, or through a snowy trail as your grandfather scoops grain for the cattle in the winter.

Somewhere in their marketing plan Dodge thought it  might be a good idea to mention those farmers and ranchers out there throwing bales and feeding the country, because quite frankly, they have helped keep them in business.

So they declared it the “Year of the Farmer” and are working their marketing plan so that spreading the word means supporting the FFA.

That moment a company like Dodge took to tell our story while they had the world’s attention gave us–the farmers, the ranchers, the corn growers, bottle feeders, chicken-coop cleaners, post-hole-diggers, pig-sloppers, 5 a.m. cow milkers, –a little reminder that ours might not be a glamorous story, but it is one worth living.

Click here to watch an interview with the Montana ranchers featured in the commercial.

The littlest cow dog.

Meet Juno, Pops’ new cow dog.

Aren’t you just dying. She’s so fllllufffffaaaayyyyaaaa!!!


Ok, look beyond her absolute cuteness and you will see one of the most important elements in our ranching operation when spring comes. Every rancher has to have a good dog made to help get cattle out of a brush patch, move them through a gate or push them along to different pastures and Juno is a little mix of some of the best cattle breeds out there.

Take a look at the white markings around her neck and you will see a bit of border collie.  Her little brown eyebrows and fluffy fur is the Australian Shepherd in her.  Mix that with the speckled feet she got from blue heeler blood and it looks like Juno has all the makings of a great ranch hand.

Errrr, she’s so darn cute!

When I was growing up we always had a female border collie ranch dog. Usually we would have that female bred and keep one of her pups to learn from her momma so that when the momma was too old to work, the pup was at her prime.

Pops’ current working dog, Pudge, was a hand-me-down dog looking for a good home. She is one of the best dogs we’ve ever had on the place;  loyal, sweet and always willing to go along on the longest and most grueling of rides. Her only weakness is a thunderstorm.

And time.

See, we’re not sure how old this lady is, but she’s definitely slowing down. We needed to bring Juno home so that Pudge had a chance to teach her some things about life on the Veeder Ranch come spring.

I’m a little concerned that Pudge may not make it that long, but she’s got a lot of spirit and a heated bed, so the chances are good.

In the meantime we will just love on them this winter, feed them up, scratch their bellies and let them know that this ranch is a good place for a dog.

Even worthless pugs who pee on your Uggs.

Yeah, that’s right, I know what you did…

Ah, Juno, you don’t know what you’ve got ahead of you little girl. It’s a good thing you have big paws and a fluffy coat, because there are going to be adventures, cows for you to chase, mud to slop in, grass to roll in and poop to sniff.

It looks a little cold out there now, but trust me, you were made for this stuff.

Welcome to your new life little girl!

And whatever you do, don’t listen to that one…

How to warm up.

It’s no secret, winters in North Dakota are long and cold. We always know they’re coming, but still they surprise us as we lean into November with brave faces and feed our bodies with soup and turkey and hot dishes (that’s Lutheran for casserole). We wait for the snow as we prepare our Thanksgiving meals and watch it fall as we wrap up presents, bring in Christmas trees, snuggle our families and ring in the New Year with champaign and a bit of dread, not necessarily about the year ahead, but the month we’re staring down.

No, the initial blast of holiday cheer can’t trick North Dakotans into thinking that winter is a party.

Oh no.


Because we still have January. And January is just the beginning really, marching in on us promising unpredictable, below zero temperatures, blinding blizzards, snow drifts, icy roads, and then usually a nice little thaw to tease us before it starts all over again.

January scares me. It always has. And I know it’s coming, I do, but for some reason I find myself worrying that I might not come out of the deep freeze with the rest of the furry animals tucked away tight for the winter.

I worry I’ll start eating hot dishes (Lutheran for casserole) and never stop.

I worry I’ll grow too comfortable with the extra padding on my rear-end and the bulky sweaters and the scarves that hug me and hide me from the elements and I will decide not to emerge with the warm sun.

I worry I might just turn into a hibernating bear-like creature who never shaves her legs or takes off her beanie and walks all hunched over and shivery if she ever decides to move at all.

This kind of paranoia is not healthy. Fear is not a good place to be. So this January, instead of bidding farewell to the holidays, packing out the gigantic Christmas tree and pulling on the wool socks with no intentions of removal, we decided to keep the party going.

We decided to leave the Christmas tree up. We decided to buy more groceries, turn on the oven, pull out the crock pots and paper plates and keep on eating.

We decided to dig out the schnapps.

And the snow pants.

We decided to call our friends and neighbors to see if they’d like to join us as we flung our bodies down the giant hill outside our window.

We decided to clear off the stock dam and turn it into a curling rink.

We decided to use icicles as stir sticks,

drink hot chocolate, sit close together on the couch,

play some games, tell some stories and sing a little.

I decided to make a chocolate cake.

From scratch.

We decided to build a fire and stand around it and then head inside to eat some more.

We decided to laugh in winter’s face.

Take that winter.

And that.

And this.

And this.

And that.





I think winter won there.

But I’m not scared anymore.

I just forgot for a moment what it is that really gets us through life in one piece. And it’s not just the special occasions that are put on a calendar reminding us to love one another, to be thankful and to celebrate.

No, it’s the every day and the way we chose to live it.

It’s the phone calls that we make that turn into plans to sit next to one another and eat dip and chocolate cake. It’s the way we bundle up against the cold and scream as we push each other down hills, remembering what it’s like to forget everything but the world you just climbed to the top of and flew down.

It’s remembering that sometimes we need someone to pull us up there.

It’s clearing a space for games and music.

It’s the invitation into one another’s homes, into our lives, to sleep on the couch or on the air mattress in the next bedroom and wake up for bacon and coffee and a recap of how someone nearly killed the pug in a sledding rollover.

Because we are made for so many things–work and worry, fear and bravery, singing and listening. Our lungs are made for breathing, yes, but they also work for screaming as snow sprays you in the face while you fly 25 miles per hour down a hill in a sled with your father and your friend.

How else would you find out a brain freeze can start on the outside of your head?

And our fingers are made for working and typing and pointing out things that are wrong with the world, but they also fit really nicely in mittens, as you pull each other up.

I mean, sure, it’s damn cold out there, but our legs are made for walking, hiking, climbing, jumping and standing on the top of things, we might as well use them properly.

See that’s the thing about us northerners. It’s not that we have found a spot in our hearts for the blinding snows of winters, the icy wind or temperatures that dip so far below zero that I don’t even want to mention it. It’s not that we ever get used to the deep freeze.

It’s just that we know, in the deepest of winters, on the coldest of January days, what to do to warm up.

Note: Only four sleds and two skinny little butts were injured in the making of this blog post. 

Next Year.

It’s been a hell of a year at the Veeder Ranch and it looks like it’s going to go out with quite the chill in the air. I’ll tell you in advance, if you can’t find me after midnight tonight it’s because I’ll be laying face down in a carpeted corner somewhere, exhausted and finally giving in after a wonderful week spent wrapping and unwrapping, decorating and celebrating, laughing and baking and eating everything, driving and visiting friends, singing for my supper and trying every holiday cocktail concoction possible.

Staring down a new year has always been bittersweet for me. I get a little panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach that’s directly correlated to the tasks I thought I might get done and the potential of a brand new chance to get things right.

See I try to be a person who looks back only occasionally to catch a good memory, remember a lesson learned or laugh at something that was damn hilarious.

I’ve been known to leave the awkward, tough and uncomfortable situations that occurred throughout my life in the dust where I think they belong, but the anticipation of January 1st always has me looking back on the little things that I could have done better; like taking deep breaths whenever I found my husband on a tall ladder,

the pug packing his nap-sack for another runaway attempt,

or the cat dangling painfully from the tips of my fingers. 

Deep breaths.

It works on the little things and it worked as we could do nothing but watch the volunteer firefighters try to save the little farmhouse we called home this summer.

Breathing, sometimes in this life that’s all we can do.

Sometimes that’s all I want to do as I sit on the hilltops on the back of my horse and watch as the wind bends the grasses, rustles the trees and tangles my hair, but in all of the moments I’ve set up for myself throughout the year sometimes breathing is the hardest.

And the most important thing.

This year I wrote it all down.

This year I sang it out loud and sent it out into the world.

This year I cried a little and sucked it up.

This year I was scared. Really nervous. This year I did it anyway.

This year I made dessert for breakfast, mistakes that looked like reasons and music that sounded a little more like me.

This year I rode a little harder I think. I drank too much coffee and too much tequila, ate too much pasta and maybe didn’t make as much time for that breathing thing as I should have.

Or sit-ups.

But I laughed. A lot. I got my oxygen that way I think. I laughed hard as I rode off into the sunset on a horse working his hardest to get rid of me.

I laughed as we stuck it out. I laughed as I forgot to put it in drive while pushing the gas pedal and wondering why the hell I wasn’t moving.

I laughed as our whole life was strung out on the lawn outside of my parents house. I laughed at the idea that we had all of this stuff, all of this space and no place to put it.

I laughed at the annoying things–the twisted ankles, the slippery roads, the runaway dogs and messes I never get around to cleaning up–I laughed because we were all still alive and loving each other, knowing that those things are a long way from our hearts.

Because this year I helped build us a house,  jumped out of a damn plane, landed safely on the ground and ate the best fish taco I’ve ever had in my life next to the best friends they make.

This year the ranch, my home got, clean, fresh, bought and paid for water, I got a newspaper column, finished that album,
kept some promises and saw my world from the clouds.

This year I loved as much as I possibly could.

And next year I intend on opening that heart up even more.

I do.

Next year I will learn all of the words to Rocky Top. I’ll get practicing tomorrow.

Next year I will master meal planning, organization and the mandolin.

Next year I will play the harmonica on my new deck next to my garden busy growing tomatoes and basil and pumpkins I think.

Next year I will be 30.


Next year I’ll be ok with that.

Next year I’ll do sit-ups. And maybe some lunges.

Next year I’ll bake more bread, visit more friends, spend more time listening and saying the things that need to be said.

Next year I’ll walk to more hilltops just to sit for a while.

Next year I’ll drink too much coffee and red wine. Next year I’ll still love peanut butter

I’ll still love this.

And I’ll still love him.

I’ll always love him.

And at the end of any day, at the end of any year, that’s the most important thing anyway, no matter who’s climbing ladders, what catches fire or how many wild dreams (or wild dogs) we are chasing.

Thanks for hanging in there with us. Cheers to an adventure filled 2013.

And cheers to more laughter.

A quick Christmas Recap…

Christmas finally arrived at the Veeder Ranch, leaving behind a wake of wrapping, boxes, bows, leftovers, a pretty severe sugar crash and one particularly annoyed pug.

It was our first Christmas in the new house and we were happy to put away the hammers and take some time to make a pie…

wrap some presents…

unwrap some presents…

and, well, torture the pug.

We broke some traditions this year, but unfortunately for that dog his Santa-suit-runway-walk will never be passed over.

Neither will the snowman cheeseball, even though it’s the same recipe I made just a month before for Thanksgiving, just, you know, it’s not shaped as a turkey this time.

No one ever tires of it. Every one loves it. Trust me.

Trust me.

Yes, it was a peaceful,



freezing cold,

super cute,

lovely Christmas

that began with a beautiful and thoughtful gift…

and ended with, well…this sexy little number.

Merry Christmas lovelies. I hope your holiday was better than his.

Nice try, really pathetic, but she ain’t gonna save you…