Sunday Column: On the little yellow boat…

April did us a favor and, after bringing us a little spring storm, it warmed up nicely this weekend. 50 degrees uncovered all sorts of treasures for us, mostly mud and things stuck in mud…like dog poop, leftover construction materials and the Christmas tree that made it out the door, but not quite to the garbage pit.

We set out then in that spring air to do some tidying. When the weather warms up I get crazy. I want to do everything that I haven’t been able to do (because of the seven months of snow and subzero temperatures) all in one day.

I want to till up the garden spot. I want to plant grass seeds. I want to finish the garage. I want to ride all eight horses. I want to buy baby chicks from Tractor Supply. I want to roll up my pants and wade in the creek. I want to fix the barn. I want to start our landscaping project. I want to work on my tan. I want to go swimming. I want to make margaritas and grill burgers and have a deck party.

I want to buy a boat…

I think brown dog has the same idea…

Yes, a few days of warm weather will get the plans rolling. And the smell of the thaw, the sound of the water, the blue sky and sun and things uncovered by melting snow had me poking around the place, in search of projects, things I could accomplish.

And in my search I stumbled upon one of the ranch’s most unique relics. Sitting next to the shop covered loosely by a blue tarp and snow turned to ice water is Husband’s yellow boat, the one he brought with us to the ranch when we were first married. The one he built with his dad during the long winter nights when we were all just trying to make it out of high school alive.

The one he took me out in, to go fishing down in Bear Den, a little unknown nook of Lake Sakakawea a few miles from the ranch. The tiny hand-made boat where we sat back to back and trolled the shore, with nothing but sun-seeds, a couple beers and worms in our cooler.

And when the sun started sinking down below those buttes that surrounded the lake, it was that boat that got us stuck. Stuck in mud up to the floorboards of Husband’s little Dodge.

And there we sat. The little pickup connected to the little boat, stuck in the bottom of a badlands canyon, a new husband scratching his head and a wife in flip-flops clawing her way up the steep, cactus ridden banks that held them on a prayer that maybe her cell phone might find enough signal to call Pops to come and rescue them.

Pops, who had no idea where they went in the first place.

Pops, who wasn’t home, but got the message an hour or so later..

“Dad…*scratch scratch*…stuck….*static static*….Bear Den…*crackle crackle*…”

When I think spring I think of that fishing trip with my husband. When I think of that fishing trip, I think of that boat. When I think of that boat I think about mud and dads and how they have so many ways of saving us…

So I wrote this.

Coming Home: Little yellow boat never meant for fishing
(I’m having trouble with my hyperlinks,
please click URL below to read the column)
by Jessie Veeder

Happy thaw out. May this season bring mud and good memories….

The Roof (or why I’m in search of 20 giant trampolines.)


You know Husband’s building a garage? Yeah? I’ve mentioned that right?

It’s a massive project. For the past month or so, each weekend the men in my life are up there crawling around, nailing things to other things, coming in for a beer, a Diet Coke or a sandwich or something. Every weekend I’ve been making enough soup or casserole to feed them at the end of a long cold day spent way up there, too far from the ground and too close to the sky in my opinion.

And every weekend it’s been kinda shitty weather. You know, because we wait to do these sorts of projects until it is certain to dump snow or ice on us at any moment.

Why would a person build a garage in the summer when the weather is warm and a guy could get a little sun on that white belly? That would be too practical.

No. We wait until winter when it’s kinda chilly and kinda icy and terrifyingly dangerous to be lifting rafters up 22 feet and then dangling from them like damn monkeys.

So every weekend I tell them to be careful. I plead with them to watch their step. I contemplate the cost of fashioning them all with full-body helmets. I wonder how many mattresses I would have to buy to cover the area around the entire circumference of the garage with the thought that if they’re plummeting 22 feet to their immanent death and there’s a nice pillow top waiting for them at the bottom, perhaps they’ll only break a leg and not their necks.

Maybe I should invest in giant trampolines.

Anyway, point is, I hate this project. It’s dangerous and it’s making me crazy.

Now I know life is dangerous, I have terrible depth perception. Just the other day I whacked myself in the lip with the phone in an attempt to answer it. Once, I bent over to pick something up and I nearly knocked myself out on the kitchen table.

Needless to say, I do not go on the roof of that garage.

No, I stay inside and sweep or make cookies or paint or stain something. Sometimes I go outside to pick up nails or boards or things that could get buried in the snow or possibly impale my dearly beloved on his inevitable trip off the roof.

For the past few weekends my sweet mother-in-law has been coming over to to keep me company and to organize the mess that is her carpenter son and his wife who seems to have an aversion to the vacuum cleaner (unless it’s a special occasion).

So on Sunday I worked on putting rock up on a wall in our kitchen, a project that has been in limbo for a good six months or so. And while I was mixing mortar, climbing up and down the little ladder and making up new cuss-word combinations, my mother-in-law was downstairs organizing tools in our basement workshop.

There’s a special place in heaven for this woman, I tell you what. And when this house project is finished, when the damn tiling and painting and sanding is complete and the basement is transformed from a workshop into a livable space, I’m going to pour my mother-in-law a strong margarita and then I’m going to pour one for myself and we are going to drink it while I make an appointment for a manicurist and then another appointment for a therapist.

Because last Sunday when I was upstairs trying to get giant rocks to stick to the damn wall, my mother-in-law was in the basement putting away the paintbrushes when she looked up to see her oldest son, my husband, plummet from the sky, past the window and to the hard, frozen ground.

She dropped her paintbrush, clutched her chest and ran up the stairs past me in a frenzy, saying something about how “the guys came off the roof…I mean, they fell. He fell off the roof,” as she flung open the door and ran outside to assess the situation.

And I followed her in a panic, calculating the amount of damage a fall from 22 feet could inflict in the 3 seconds it took to get my body outside to find my father-in-law, standing up but dazed and bleeding a bit from his eyebrow where his now-missing-glasses dug into his face.

And then there was my husband, slow blinking, covered in snow, but standing upright, thank God, standing upright, moving his eyes from the giant frozen hump of dirt that broke his fall up to the demolished scaffolding ten or twelve feet in the air where they were standing just seconds ago before it gave out, sending them slamming hard and quick into the ground while, T, my brother-in-law, stood helpless below them.

It wasn’t a 22 foot fall. Ok. Just about half of that.

I stood in front of my husband and looked him in the eyes, probably doing the most annoying thing a person can do to someone who just experienced major head-to-ground impact. I repeated, “Are you ok? What happened? Are you ok? Oh my gawd!” about thirty-seven times before his slow blinks got a little faster and he could begin to answer me.

“Guess we didn’t put enough screws in,” he said as his brother brushed the snow off his back and my mother-in-law searched for her husband’s glasses.

“Shit,” I said.

“Yeah, shit,” he said.

“Come inside now for a minute,” his mother said.

But these boys, they don’t listen. And, with a few house building projects under his belt, this isn’t my father-in-law’s first plummet from a roof.

So they ignored the women’s pleas of “Taking a break. Having a sandwich. Assessing the head-injury situation” and they put up a new piece of scaffolding, this time with a proper amount of screws, and continued on with the damn shingling project, barely skipping a beat while the women in their lives stood with hands on hips trying to catch our breath and slow our palpitating hearts.

And now I’m researching what kind of money I can get for my right kidney. Because I’m going to sell it so I can hire professionals with harnesses and body armor to finish this damn garage.

It’s either that or giant trampolines.

If you need me, I’ll be in my office Googling “Tequila IV”


Thursday Throwback: Gumbo Sliding.

In honor of throwback Thursday and all of the new Veeder Ranch followers, I wanted to share with you one of the first stories I wrote on this blog. For readers new to my shenanigans, it might help you understand what it felt like for me to spend my first summer back on my family’s ranch under the buttes as an adult. For those who have been with me for my long haul of misadventures (Three whole summers now! Thanks for hanging in there and I love you!) this will be a testament to how much I’ve matured since then


Something like that.

Anyway, that first summer I spent in my grandmother’s little brown house was romantic and whimsical and nostalgic. Everything that surrounded me was so familiar–the smell of the clover, the pink dust from the scoria road, the sound of the horses grazing in the pasture outside my bedroom window, the way I can always find a cow pie to step in–yet I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

And, because I didn’t have a job lined out, because the plan was to take a breath, I had some time to poke around in the barn and look for new baby kittens, to pick wildflowers, to make mud pies, ride my horse bareback, keep the grass mowed, kick the cows out of the yard, splash in big puddles, and, well, slide down the gumbo hills in the pouring rain.

In my pajamas.

…and tell you all about it.

Every thrilling, agonizing minute.

When I am asked to speak at events I often read this post as a way to introduce the audience to the woman they’re dealing with for the next 15 to 45 minutes. I read it not only to introduce myself and to entertain, but to remind them (and me) that   regardless of the outcome, regardless of how much we’ve learned about keeping our composure, keeping out of trouble and keeping out of the hospital since we turned into adults, sometimes all we need is to allow ourselves the freedom to act on impulse.

And fling our bodies down a muddy hill because, well, we think it could be fun.

So I invite you to take a minute to read about a silly grown woman who lost her head for a moment, but never regretted it.

And more than likely will never do it again…unless there’s lots of tequila involved.When spontaneity strikes, at least put on pants…
From the archives
August 10, 2010

Peace love and ointment,


A princess in the garden.

Pops has always kept a garden. He grows things like peas and carrots, radishes and green beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and plenty of weeds. Once or twice he grew corn just tall and delicious enough for the horses to find their way from green pastures into the yard for the free buffet.

We no longer plant corn.

Yawning Horse

I love Pops’ garden. I love it as much as the deer love his peas and the moles love his radishes. I love to watch it sprouting from my parents’ deck. I like to watch their cat hunt for mice and big bugs out there. I love breaking off rhubarb stocks, digging around for the first sign of a ripe carrot and the taste of the first fresh garden tomato on a BLT.

A few weeks ago Pops’ garden had a new tiny visitor, a little girl named Addy who flew in all the way from Texas to explore the ranch where her grandpa grew up.

Addy climbed hills and picked flowers,

looked out for Little Man,

chased the cat, bossed the dogs,

got a woodtick or two, and probably a few mosquito bites too.

I followed the little darling around because I didn’t want to miss a word that came out of her adorable little mouth.

“Jessie, can I borrow your ring for when my prince comes?” she asked as she made her way out of my bedroom with one of my big bling rings wobbling on her tiny pointer finger.

“Well of course you can Addy. You can have anything you want. Want my wedding ring too? Take it. Want all of my necklaces and my horse and my car and the pug? You might need those too, you know, so you’re prepared when your prince comes.”

I would have given that girl anything she wanted, but Addy didn’t want everything, she just wanted to play. So we did. I showed her around the place, showed her where the tiger lilies grew and where the dogs go for a swim. Addy wanted to swim too, so I found someone to tell her it might not be a good idea.

There was not a chance I was uttering the word “no” to this girl.

So instead I took her to the garden to teach her about growing things and how you’re supposed to step over the pea plants and not necessarily on them.

I watched as she put her hands on her knees and squatted down to get close to the leaves of the strawberry plant, where she declared and made known to the world every bug that crawled on its leaves.

I gave her a taste of rhubarb and watched her cute little face pucker up while she threw the stalk down, declaring it sour before asking for another one.

I followed her following the cat who was hot on the trail of a mouse.

I tried to convince her that pulling weeds might be fun.

She convinced me it was time to go inside.

But before dinner was on the table we were back out there again because Addy said, “Jessie come out here, I think that it’s growing! The garden is growing!”

And so she was right. It was growing. Growing by the minute like this little girl’s wonder and knowledge of the world. So I told her that it might grow faster if we watered it a bit. She grabbed the end of the hose and I headed for the spigot.

“Ready. Set. Go!” Addy yelled in my direction as I pulled the lever up and the water made its way through the hose and to the little girl’s hands squeezing the nozzle.

Addy was watering the garden.

It’s what good princesses do. They tend to the growing things and make the world a little bit greener, the sky a little bit bluer, the birds a little bit chirpier and grown women cry at the utter cuteness of it all…

It turns out, little garden princesses make rainbows too.

At least that what princess Addy did. She made a rainbow with the sun and the water.

“Look Jessie, I’m watering the rainbow!”

“No Addy, you made it! Look at that, you made a rainbow!”

And then I cried a little bit under the protection of my sunglasses so my family observing from the deck could not see that she was melting my heart into a puddle in my chest.

Turns out that making rainbows make princesses thirsty and so Addy needed a drink…

And I cried some more.

Yes, Pops has always kept a garden, but if he never plants another one, it won’t matter. All of the failed attempts at squash, overgrown asparagus and horse-chewed corn on the cob was worth it.

Because it turns out gardens are not made for horses or rabbits or moles or regular people who like home grown tomatoes. No. Gardens are made  for princesses, and finally, one came to visit ours!

Change the channel.

Husband and I have knack for making life complicated. We’re accident prone, the two of us, together and separately. We both like to take the long way, the back roads, with the windows rolled down even if it’s raining a little.

We like to make things from scratch, like noodles and pies and soup, even if we don’t have a recipe or a professional at hand. We like to mix our drinks strong. We like to make big plans and then take our time getting there.

We like to do things ourselves. Like, you know, finishing houses.

I think we drive our families crazy.

We must. We drive ourselves crazy. I mean, we’ve only moved six times in the last six years of marriage. We’re only on our third major home renovation/construction.

We’re only, almost, almost, almost done.

railing 2

But not quite, despite the fact that it’s all we’ve been doing for the last two months: get up, clean up the dishes from the night before, get dressed, go to work, come home, put on work clothes, find a project, tile something, varnish something, sweep something, move something, put carpet on something, saw something, paint something, look at the clock and say “damn, it’s 10 already,” and then wonder out loud what to have for supper while you pour a bowl of cereal and pull the popsicles from the freezer.

Needless to say, we’re kind of tired. And between the dreary weather, our less than adequate diet, all the mud being tracked in on the floor and the saw dust in the air, I’m not surprised to find we’re slipping a bit.

laying carpetA few weeks ago Husband called me while I was on the road to a photo shoot. He had to tell me he just got out of the bathroom to discover that he had been walking around all day with a pair of my pink underwear shoved up the sleeve of his shirt, a result of a quick attempt at finishing the laundry.

I wondered out loud if they were my pretty pink underwear or my raggedy, embarrassing pink underwear.

He said it didn’t matter, his wife’s underwear up his sleeve at work was embarrassing, pretty or not.

And now I’ve gone and put it on the internet, which I guess, is probably even more embarrassing.

But whatever. It’s funny. I laughed hysterically at the thought. So did my friend in the passenger seat of the car as I relayed the sad story of what our lives have  become.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve shared this here or not, but in the time we’ve been living back at the ranch we’ve been approached by a few different production companies about following us around for a reality show. One in particular wanted to fly Husband to Georgia to try out for a deep fat frying cooking competition. They said they like how he looks and like what he deep fat fries.


I guess that’s what happens when you put your life on the internet, but a reality show on the two of us is a ridiculous idea. We’re not as pretty as the Kardashians and we don’t have enough free time to manage as many redneck adventures as the guys on Duck Dynasty. The only thing that would be entertaining about following us around with a camera would be watching all the ways I manage to screw up during the day and hearing all of the one-liners Husband manages to deliver at my expense.

Cut to last Friday where a late and very sick Jessie attempts to make it to a doctors appointment in the pouring rain only to find that her way is blocked by a semi jack-knifed and stuck across her parents’ approach and the road leading to the highway, forcing her to turn around and brave the monsoon on ten miles of muddy, deteriorating, pot-holey, all around shitty road.

Listen to her cuss as she drives a little too fast and defies the ditch and her death.

See her wave her arms at the sky and plead for the rain to stop.

Watch as she explains the situation to the receptionist at the clinic right before she gets diagnosed with bronchitis and a sinus infection and heads out to the pharmacy to load up on $150 worth of medication. Notice that she didn’t pick up her inhaler thingy, but she won’t realize it until she gets home in the monsoon.

But before she can get home Jessie needs gas. Now watch her overflow her gas tank at the local Cenex in the pouring rain while a trucker at the neighboring pump munches on a candy bar and declares it six gallons of environmental hazard.

Watch her face clench as she contemplates calling him an environmental hazard.

Cut to Jessie at home attempting to make a rhubarb cake without a cake pan for a party starting in approximately 35 minutes. Listen as she sweetly asks her husband to go borrow one from her momma.

Now watch as she puts together a dip she’s made for years with cream cheese instead of sour cream. Now look at that, she just dropped an entire container of cherry tomatoes on the floor. She’s cleaning them up now as her husband walks in, but it looks like she missed a few hanging out in the bottom of the fridge. Hope she doesn’t close the…oh, look at that, she closed the door.

See the tomatoes squish.

Watch her fling her body face first on the bed as her husband tells her she needs to pay attention.

So that would be one episode.


I mean, if I had a dollar for every time my dearly beloved stood above me as I am sprawled out on the floor, shaking his head and wishing out loud that I would just “pay attention”, I would be rich enough to hire someone to finish building this house for crying out loud.

That’s one way I could avoid falling into bucket of grout water.

Uff. Da. Our reality show would make you all feel better about your organized, saw dustless, home renovation-less,  mud-free, squished-tomato-free,underwear-up-your-sleeve-free life.

Some days I wish I could change the channel.

Horse frustration

All in a day’s work…

So there I was, legs dangling and flailing as I maneuvered and shimmied myself out of the window of my friend M’s big blue pickup parked outside the front door of the pizza place in Boomtown.

It was a perfect parking spot for a spectacle that could only occur when my friend and I get together. And it was the perfect time of day–6:00 PM, the dinner rush hour when hundreds of men are flocking in from the oil fields in search of dinner, a cold beer, and if it happens to be an option, maybe some entertainment.

Well, if the gentlemen were paying attention as they shoved their hands in their pockets, talked on their phones and shuffled past that blue pickup and on through the door for some grub, they might have paused a moment to wonder what the hell was going on in there.

Why was the pickup shaking?

Why did it just park, backup, and then park again?

Why were those women laughing so hard?

Why weren’t they getting out? What are they doing in there? Wait…is she climbing out the damn window? 

If they would have stopped to ask I would have answered:

Yes. Yes, I’m climbing out the window. Why? Because the damn doors of this pickup, the ones we used to get in here, worked just fine thirty miles ago. But now? No. Now they are stuck. All four of them. 

We tried our best to open them, punching and flinging our bodies at the doors in an attempt to dislodge whatever is potentially lodged, so that’s what the shaking was about.

We tried cutting the engine and starting it again, the sort of control+alt+delete thing that works on computers, but as you can see from my ass hanging out the window and my legs dangling and flailing as I attempt to reach the ground, kind sir, that didn’t work either.

And we’re hungry, but not surprised. This kind of shit happens to us all the time. And her husband will never believe it. She’s calling him now. He’s going to ask her if she unlocked the doors.

We did.

But I got this. I got this. No big deal. I’m climbing out the window. No, don’t worry about the gravel road we accumulated on the way here, I’ve had plenty of gravel road on my outfits in my lifetime. Yup, we’re starving and I’m climbing out the window to get the pizzas to bring home to our husbands who will shake their heads and wonder what we did wrong. 

We will say nothing. They won’t believe us. Thanks for asking.  Now if you’ll excuse me…”

That’s what I would have said if one of those men had asked. But none did. Thankfully. They probably knew better, knew not to get involved as my friend made the call to her husband and I lowered myself to the ground, laughing uncontrollably and wondering how the hell I was going to get back in that big truck of hers with two pizzas and a box of cheese balls, a dinner clearly made for adventurers like us.

Adventurers and friends who have found ourselves in the throes of a small photography business we created that sends us along muddy back rads to chase toddlers through fields, try to fit babies in buckets and race the sun with a senior in a prom dress to the top of a butte in an attempt to get the best shot.

We’ve been nearly a year in business and we’ve learned a lot about our craft and our friendship, but mostly we learned that it isn’t a day’s work until one of us twists and ankle, trips over our own feet, drops a camera, slips and dangles dangerously from a ladder, or, you know, runs out of diesel twenty miles from town.

So we weren’t surprised about this door thing, because we were due for another mishap, that dark cloud that hovers over our fluffy hair hadn’t quite delivered that day.

But it was a mystery, I declared as I handed the pizzas in to M through the open window, giggling, mumbling, grunting, hoisting and stretching my legs up there in an attempt to follow.

And then I said, “You know, when you get home to show your husband, these doors are going to open right up.”

My friend laughed and said she was sure of it, “but really, what the hell?”

And we laughed for the next 15 miles where I said goodbye and got in my car, praying the doors would open and that it would start, because, you just never know.


But we did know. We knew it was going to be a mystery forever.

We knew we would laugh about it now and be glad we had one another for witnesses. Because when she got home to declare the pickup in need of repair,  those doors opened right up.

Ah, well. Just another days’ work…

Three princesses.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses your world can turn from dull to pink with the simple opening of a car door. Suddenly the wind blowing quietly through the brown bare trees and the sound of the snow softly falling on the roof is eclipsed by tiny, high pitched voices asking tiny high pitched questions about where the horses are, why we have a giant hole dug in front of the house in the shape of a garage, can they put on their cowgirl boots, do they have to wear their mittens, where are the dogs, where is my dad, who is my dad, where is my mom, where is Little Man, can they get a drink of water, can we go ice skating, can we go sledding, can we climb that tree we climbed when we were here this summer, can we walk in the deep snow up through the trees and to the top of the hill?

Can you and Uncle C come with us?

When you’re an aunt you answer all questions. Every. Single. One. No matter how hard it is for you to sort through all the talking at once, because your world has been quiet and brown lately and it takes a while to adjust to a different pitch and all that sparkle.

And when you’re an aunt to three princesses you have a duty to really think through your answers. Because I was a princess once I’m pretty sure, and princesses don’t ask questions they don’t intend on remembering the answers to.

Same goes with promises.

So I keep those, especially the one I make when I’m half sleeping about homemade chocolate chip pancakes in the morning without thinking about the ingredients I may or may not have in the fridge.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses who lives thirty miles from town and you have made a promise about pancakes only to discover that there is no Bisquick for miles, you figure out pretty quick how Betty Crocker does it.


When you’re an aunt you let them wear their cowgirl boots in the house and suggest they wear their mittens while you take them sledding and climbing through the trees and skidding across the frozen dam because real cowgirls wear mittens on 20 degree snowy days in March because cowgirls need all of their fingers.

And then you take them to see the horses and promise them that as soon as the weather turns they will come out with those cowgirl boots and you will take them riding. And they will believe you.

Because once you were a princess too and princesses keep promises.

When you’re an aunt and you load those three princesses up into your car to take them home only to promptly get pulled over by a very detail oriented police officer, you secretly hope the cuteness he finds when he arrives at your window will help get you out of the offense while you calmly explain that cops are nice humans who are just looking out for other humans like their aunty who forget about important laws like putting the new tags on your license plates.

Then the princesses will shrug their shoulders and say that’s ok, the same thing happened to their daddy.

When you’re an aunt you will take a similar calm and assured approach to the blizzard you suddenly find yourself in with precious cargo in tow.

You will ask them to sing “You are my sunshine” while you white knuckle it on icy, snowy roads, the windshield wipers on full blast, praying that the Good Lord helps deliver you the last twenty miles to their house where you let them eat Girl Scout Cookies while you make them supper.

And then you might eat a whole box of Thin Mints all by yourself, blaming it on the stress of driving three princesses 90 miles through a blinding blizzard, the 3,000 calories a reward for getting them there safely and without any screaming.


When you’re an aunt to three princesses you don’t forget when it’s Saint Patricks Day, even if it means that your fingers may be permanently green from all the food coloring you put in their noodle soup and thirty seven glasses of milk they insisted on drinking before bedtime.

When you’re an aunt you don’t think about things like maybe they shouldn’t have thirty seven glasses of milk before bed because little princesses have little bladders.

But when you’re an aunt to three princesses you just say “Oh well, it’s alright” and then you ask them to put on their sparkly dresses and twirl while you watch and laugh and clap and remember what it was like to be small looking up to your big sister and chasing your little one around the coffee table…


and you don’t ever mention to anyone the soft spot you have for the middle one, because you were a middle princess once too and you know how it is.

But you will quietly thank her for reminding you as you watch them all dream, tucked in snug under the covers of their parents’ king sized bed, little pink arms and legs sprawled out so that there is no room for you to squeeze in.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses you accept your fate, grab a pillow and make a bed for yourself on the couch, wondering how you will go back home tomorrow to all that quiet and beige, cupboards without fruit snacks, clothing without sequins, pancakes without chocolate chips, trees and hills and soon to be melting snow without children waiting to break in those cowgirl boots in the puddles…

And then you will close your eyes and dream of fairies and horses with wings, dolphins who can sing, puppies who can talk, diamond encrusted crowns, beautiful dresses and matching shoes, monkeys jumping on beds, leprechauns and all of the things princesses teach you to remember exist…

And then you might snap out of it to find that you’ve been watching three straight hours of  the Disney Channel…

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. 

Trail Riding

It was a beautiful fall weekend at the ranch and to celebrate roundup and the change of the seasons and friends and horses and kids and ranch life in general our community got together for a trail ride.

The Blue Buttes Trail Ride is a tradition that has been organized on and off for years in this rural “neighborhood” that spans a circumference of 30 some miles.

When I was growing up this event was the like Christmas. The opportunity to ride my horse across pastures all day alongside my best friends made me feel grown up and capable and wild and free and a million things that a little girl wants to be when she’s 8 or 9 or 10.

Sometimes it snowed. Sometimes it rained. Sometimes the wind blew and sometimes we got all three. But regardless of the weather, the neighborhood showed up. They showed up with their horses and wagons and drinks and snacks and kids and they rode together on a trail mapped out weeks before that stretched for miles across pastures and cleared fields, through coulees and along fence lines and roads.

I don’t remember anything from when I was a kid about the route we took or the weather really, I just remember being so excited the night before that I couldn’t sleep. I remember riding my old mare, Rindy, kicking my feet out of the stirrups during the third or fourth mile, swinging my leg over the top of my horse’s neck and thinking I was cool.

Thinking that there was no kid in the world luckier than me.

And so this weekend, almost twenty years later (20? REALLY?) I saddled up again to hit the trail with my neighbors. And I have to say, aside from a little horse malfunction due to all of the energy in the air on that warm fall morning, it wasn’t long before I was feeling all those things again.

Cool? Well, maybe it was more temperature related than attitude, but capable and wild and free and lucky?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And really proud of my community and how they’ve held on to this tradition despite a changing world.

Proud of how they’ve kept their kids on the backs of horses and encouraged them to run.

Humbled by how they swing ropes and hitch up teams of horses to wagons.

Proud of their potluck dinners and generosity and enthusiasm for a lifestyle that is unique and important and tested by the modern world every day.

For twelve miles I sat on the back of a good horse and rode next to a friend. We talked about life and house building, husbands and pets, horses and work.

And we observed our world as it played out before us, young kids, their stirrups barely reaching the bellies of their mounts, kicking and flying back and forth across the pastures as fast as their horses were willing to take them.

Those kids would have gone faster and further if they were allowed.

And we watched families connected as they talked and laughed and moved through the pastures and gates. Old friends catching up.

Sisters laughing and joking.

A big extended family loaded and bundled up in a wagon sharing snacks and stories.

A husband and wife riding quietly side by side, helping one another along.

Whatever’s going on here.

And my friend and I, getting to know one another and the landscape that stretched for twelve miles as Pops pointed out where his mother was born, the dam where he used to swim and the route we took nearly twenty years ago when I was 8 or 9 and knew nothing but those miles and the back of my favorite horse.

Last Saturday I may as well have forgotten everything I’ve ever learned and all the things I’ve seen and have come to know in those years between. I may as well have forgotten I’d ever wanted to be anyone else.

Or anywhere else.

Because I was having good old-fashioned, genuine fun.

And I was the luckiest kid in the world.

A prayer for wild women…

To be content at the end of the day. As the sun goes down and the world goes dark, to know that it was yours for the taking, and so you took.

This is my prayer for you and wild women everywhere.

To know you’ve tamed some wild things, and let the others run free. To have ridden hard and fallen harder.

To have found your way back to your feet.

This I hope for you.

To have loved a good man, a good horse and a good dog, but not necessarily in that order.

To have been loved. I know you have been loved.

To have mud on your boots, on your face and under your fingernails and still call it a good day. To know the smell of a well-worked horse and call it sweet. To stand in the rain because it’s raining.

To find a soft place to land, wild women, I pray for a soft place to land.

To climb a hill to be closer to the moon.

To do it yourself because you can do it better.

To work. To work. To work. And to love it as much as you can possibly love it.

Wild woman.

Wild, wild women.

This is our prayer.