Sunday Column: Dreaming of horses…

Chad and Jessie Maternity 1

Coming Home: Dreaming of horses, the best gift a ranch kid can get
by Jessie Veeder

A funny thing happens when you’re in the home stretch of your first-ever pregnancy. Between all of the unpleasant symptoms we’ve all heard about — the heartburn, the aches and pains, the insomnia — you suddenly find yourself with an overwhelming need to purchase a festive Christmas baby hat because the most important thing in the world is being prepared for this new baby’s first Christmas photo under the tree.

It’s all you can think about, never mind that you don’t yet have the car seat properly installed or a single diaper stocked up. If you have this hat, you will be ready.

But three days later when that handmade Rudolf hat with the red button nose arrives in your mailbox, you’ve completely forgotten that 5 a.m. panic order altogether. Because you’ve already moved on to the next obsession.


And lately, for me, three weeks away from my due date, I’ve decided I should really be thinking seriously about this kid’s first horse.

It’s not logical, I know, not in the sequence of things anyway. I mean, I have a good few years to find the right animal, one I can trust to take care of my firstborn as he sits tall in the saddle beside us, chasing cows or checking fence, honing his skills and his way around this place.

But to have a horse of your own as a kid is a unique and life-shaping privilege, one not granted to every child, and one I want to give to mine. Because I remember how I was one of the lucky ones. I inherited an old red mare from my grandma. Her name was Rindy, and she was short and squat with just the right amount of attitude and a rough trot.

I would ride her bareback in the summer, learning about balance and patience as I searched the tree lines for raspberries, leading her to big rocks or side-hills to help me swing my short legs up on her back if I happened to climb down or fall off.


I broke my arm tumbling off Rindy.

I broke my foot jumping off her in a youth rodeo.

I won “best groomed” at a sleepaway horse camp because she couldn’t find a mud hole to roll in like she did at the ranch each time I groomed her the night before a 4-H show.

I put red, white and blue yarn in her mane and rode her in the county fair parade.

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I rode double, or triple, with my best friends on her back, trotting through clover fields, seeing how fast we could go before we all tumbled off, leaving her grazing a few yards away as we rolled around on the ground laughing.

And in the fall I would saddle her up, pulling the cinch as tight as I could around her round back, and she would puff out her belly to trick me into thinking that’s as tight as it would go only to let the air out once I climbed on, her way of controlling her comfort level, I suppose.

Oh, that horse was something. But that’s the thing, anyone who had a horse of their own as a kid will tell you stories like these about an animal that helped raise them in an environment that has the potential to be intimidating for a kid.

But a horse out here gives a kid some power. I felt like I was worth something on Rindy’s back, like I could help move a cow through a gate or learn where the fence lines run. I had a partner, a big companion that gave me new abilities. I was stronger and bigger up there. I was capable.

Who wouldn’t want to give that gift to a child if they could?

And so I have that Christmas hat in the drawer, we’ve set up the crib, I’m washing onesies and putting away diapers, and late at night, when the world is dark, my husband’s chest rising in sleep next to me, I lie with my eyes open in our bed, a hand on my swollen belly, waiting on this baby and dreaming of horses.

Maternity Haze

Sunday Column: A new season…

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 12.02.21 PMYesterday was cow gathering day on the ranch. I helped pull burs from the horses’ manes and sprayed flies and waved as my sister, husband and dad loaded up the trailer and headed for the hills.
It’s roundup season and I’m in my stretchy pants working on the finishing touches of growing this baby (and online shopping and eating everything I can touch).
It’s been a beautiful fall with temperatures in the mid 70s and the colors changing nice and slow. And while the best way to experience it is on the back of the horse, I’m happy staying on foot, wandering the hills and looking forward to the day we can get this baby up on his own horse.
So that’s what this week’s column is about. A little reflection on roundup season and spitting wild plums at my little sister as we followed behind our dad. She used to have a white pony named Jerry who would, every once in a while, decide he needed a break and spontaneously lay down and try to roll her and the saddle off his back.
He was a shit.
But so was she sometimes…so they were a good pair.

Ah, I love this time of year.

If you need me I’ll be out taking pictures…

And if you have a reliable pony to sell, well, we’re in the market…

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Coming Home: Ever-changing seasons make me feel alive
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications 

This season change is so predictably unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.

This year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves are the first to change their colors this September. I’m reminded it’s nearing roundup season, and I have a flashback of spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we ride side by side toward the reservation.

I’m bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.

I would strip off my cap first, then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done.

Moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me. Perhaps because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate — a task with the perfect amount of adventure, freedom and accountability.

It was during that long wait from when the crew gathered all the cattle in the pasture and moved them toward my post that I would make up my best songs or find the perfect feather for my hat.

And while this year my growing belly and precious cargo have kept me from the back of a horse, my adult role working cattle hasn’t changed much.

I’m the eternal watcher, the girl who makes sure the cattle don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate, left to my own devices while the guys head for the hills.

And even if it all goes awry, even if the cows head for the thick trees or go running the wrong way past the gate and down a hill and the plan morphs depending on the attitude of a herd of bovines, around here I’ve always found it a pleasantly hectic adventure.

And I’m feeling compelled to live it in my head today, knowing it’s a ritual I’ll miss this season, pulling on our boots to sit on the backs of horses swatting at the sticky flies with their tails on a calm and sunny morning that promises to turn into a hot afternoon.

Each month the pastures change — a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows then dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.

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And I’m the most alive when I’m out here. I follow behind the guys making plans for the day and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.

I find my direction while my husband cuts a path through the trees and Pops lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.

I move a small herd toward the gate and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture.

Pops comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him. We meet up, finding my husband waiting at the gate with the rest of the herd.

And that’s how it goes, the three of us pushing the cows along: Pops at the back of the trail counting and taking mental notes, my husband on the hillside making sure they turn the right way, and me watching the brush.

The sun warms our backs and sweat beads on our foreheads as we head toward home, talking about lunch and the fencing that needs to get done that day.

And the deer population.

And a pony for my nephew.

And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing, even though, year after year, out here, I always feel the same.

And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing, even though, year after year, out here, I always feel the same.

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I can’t be trusted with spring…

Summer arrived here for a minute or two this weekend.

And when summer arrives, I can’t be trusted.

I drink more alcohol because it tastes better on the deck.

I eat grilled brats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I blow off chores and work to get on the back of a horse.

And, I, uh, well…

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I do shit like this…

Because I lose my mind out here when the weather thaws the ground. There are so many fun things to do and not enough time to do them, so I tool around the place looking for projects that inevitably turn into predicaments…

predicaments like these…(Cue Prince Charming…)




No worries though. Despite my idea that I should drive, followed by my insistence that I was trying to avoid the mud, and the thought that maybe, after a few minutes of rocking back and forth and flinging mud into the atmosphere, my mouth, face, hair and everything in between, we should, you know, go get the pickup and a rope, Husband and I saved the machine from its muddy, messy grave…by man power (and woman thumb on the throttle) alone.


Here’s hoping that you had a similarly successful, summery weekend of your own.

Coming Home: Muddy March a sign of bright days ahead
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications


Spring in Winter.


While the east coast braced themselves for a winter storm that was promising to be so epic they actually gave it a name, North Dakotans were out in shorts and tank tops watching the January snow turn into mud in 50+ degree weather.


The weather this week has been so gloriously warm that it is starting to freak us all out a little bit. I mean, we’re definitely grateful, and we definitely know that a good ‘ol ND winter cold snap is coming again soon, but it’s a little eerie to have summer-like temperatures in the middle of winter. We feel like maybe we’re being tricked.

We look at each other and say, well, we’re going to pay for this later aren’t we?


But what the hell. For once, we’re on the warm side of the weather news up here in the tundra, so you can bet we went out and made the most of it.

And by making the most of it, I mean, scraping all of the ice and snow off of our driveway and marveling at the fact that it’s no longer a skating rink/hip-breaking zone…for now anyway. And then opening up the garage doors and sweeping and rearranging and building steps and wiring…

And while Husband was doing all that, I decided to take a 4-wheeler ride up to the fields where I knew I would find the horses.

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I’m still battling the cold of the year, my theory being that all of the germs have thawed out and traveled to my lungs to torture me, so I definitely wasn’t walking anywhere…or sweeping anything…or holding any boards…or helping my dearly beloved do anything useful.

Nope. Too sick.

But not too sick to pull my beanie down over my ears and head for the hills on a motorized vehicle, the dogs and I kicking up mud as we followed the road up to the flat.

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Up here the weather is a freak, so even with the plague, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to feel some warm sunshine on my shoulders, because I know full well I might not have another chance for a while, memories of last winter’s months long sub-zero deep freeze are still pretty vivid.

And while I’m hoping for more snow before the summer rolls in, it was nice to see the golden grass and feel the warm air for a bit.

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And it was nice to see the boys, content and fat and fuzzy and full of burs up there in the fields munching and chill as they let the same sun warm their backs.


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I mean, they were so relaxed that none of them really attempted to drop-kick Gus out of their way as he sniffed and frolicked around them, getting to know these creatures he’ll be riding with this summer.

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I think maybe these horses feel like they’re on a tropical winter vacation up here in these fields…all you can eat buffet…warm weather…no work to be done for months.

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Ah, winter, if you stayed like this for a while I think we could all manage just fine.

But before you make any real commitments, why don’t you go ahead and send one more freeze to kill off this bug and a big snow to get my sledding hill ready, to fill up the creeks and dams and nourish the wildflowers and grass for spring.

Not that I don’t appreciate the break, but, you know, winter we all have a job to do up here…and you’re laid back attitude is sorta freaking us out…

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Sunday Column: The longest season

It’s been snowing all weekend.


Actually, it’s been snowing all week.

Yesterday, after a night out singing with the band until 4 am I was a pathetic pile of “I’m too old for this…”

and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with my lack of sleep. On and off white-out flurries outside my window coincided nicely with the opening and closing of my eye lids.

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At one point I mustered up enough energy to look at myself in the mirror and actually scared myself.

“Wow,” I said to MYSELF from our bathroom upstairs. “I’m a mess.”

To which my husband replied a little too quickly and a little too loudly from his perch at the kitchen table downstairs, “Yup.”

“Shut it,” I said said as I found my way back to the fuzzy blanket on the couch with my kitten.


And that was about the extent of our conversations that day, up until I woke up from my late afternoon nap and wondered out loud what he was going to cook me for supper.

But he was putting together a gun or something on the kitchen counter, (classic hunting season scene) so I decided on macaroni and cheese and thought maybe tomorrow I would try life again.

So I went to bed.


And today I woke up to more winter.

And so it begins.

But thankfully we saw it coming. We heard about that pesky Polar Vortex, but we could smell it in the air, see it in the wooly fur on the backs of the horses and the crust of ice on the stock dam in the mornings long before the weatherman came up with the clever graphics.

So I called up Pops and the two of us went on the last ride before the snow flew while Husband was out sitting in a blind working on filling his bow tag and our freezer with venison.



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And that’s what this week’s column is all about. It’s about noticing the signs of a changing world. It’s about the animals and how they move around us, the coyotes running wild outside our door, the deer in the rut, the horses carrying us into a new season, and this bald eagle that perched out in front of the windows of our house, posing just long enough so we could all see him before spreading his wings and flying away.


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IMG_9932Coming Home: Change of seasons hits inside and out
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

It’s about the minutes we spend just being aware enough to exist out here and appreciate it for what it is.

Gold turning to gray. Sun going down turning a blue sky black and our breath to puffs of smoke.

Fall turning quickly into the longest season.

IMG_0165I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!

Sunday Column: Texting on horseback

Yesterday I went out riding with Pops and Little Sister. We rode up to the fields to put some cows back in their place. It was a gloomy day, but sort of perfect for riding, just a little bit chilly, a little bit breezy, exactly what to expect for autumn in North Dakota.

I loved the view of the Blue Buttes and the two black cows and their calves along the road and two of my favorite people on my favorite horses in front of me. I wanted to tell you all about it. Show you the view from up here.

So I took a photo on the phone I had zipped up in my pocket, pressed a little icon, hit share, and, snap, just like that, it was out there for everyone to see.

I didn’t even have to stop my horse.


I was grew up out here when bag cell phones were the smartest communication technology we could own. The idea of taking a photo on a cell phone that fit in my pocket while chasing cows in the middle of a field was unfathomable.

I mean, we didn’t even start getting cell service out here in these hills until last year!


So it’s a weird juxtaposition, this technology in the wild places. I mean, think of how many walks home from the broken down tractor or feed pickup my dad could have saved if he could just call home to mom for a ride?

We wouldn’t have to re-live that time when mom drove right past him coming in out of the trees after his three mile walk from the west pasture at every Thanksgiving dinner.

The woman is a focused driver.

He could have just called. IMG_0331

Anyway, I guess I’m young enough to keep up and take advantage of this ever-changing phenomenon, but old enough to remember playing Oregon Trail on the computer at school on the first Macintosh computer ever invented.

In fact, I have this memory I rehash every time I call up Pandora on my smart phone or try to settle an argument about that one actor who plays that one guy in that one movie while Husband and I are on a road trip: The time he told me, on one of our long drives back to the ranch from college across the state, “Jessie, one day we’ll be able to drive down this highway and surf the internet.”

To which I replied: “Never! I can’t even imagine!”

It turns out he was right.

photo-66And it turns out you can do it on horseback too.

“Is that poison ivy?” You might wonder while you’re fixing fence…and the answers will be right there in the pocket of your snap shirt.

Wanna scare the shit out of your mouse-a-phobic aunt? You can instantly torture her with what you found in the tack room with one click of a button…


“Are these boots as adorable as I think they are?” You might ask yourself while shopping 100 miles away from your fashion forward mother…and so you’ll just take a photo and send it along to her for an instant “Yes! Buy HAVE to buy them!”

So this is what I’ve been thinking about lately and what this week’s column is about…about how I’m thankful for technology, how it connects me to you, how it helps us tell our stories, how it helps me pay the bills…literally, and figuratively…

But what I’m not sure I expressed accurately in the 700 words I’m allowed is this:

I was born before anyone had a home computer.

We didn’t get internet in our house until I was well into Junior High.

I did research with Encycopedias.

And then, when we got the internet, with a modem.

When I was growing up we had maybe 20 channels. I’m not even sure. Maybe 10. I didn’t pay that much attention.


I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 18 years old and headed to college. And it was for making calls home.

I remember what it was like to be disconnected, except I didn’t know that I was ever disconnected.

And I’m thankful for that too.

Thankful that I am old enough to know that we survived without it, so that, when I drop my phone in the toilet at a gas station, I don’t lose my mind or my life.

I just lose my phone.

And it’s sort of nice.

Now, if they could just invent bur repellent my life would be complete…


Coming Home: Alone, yet always in contact
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Hey, while we’re at it, you should follow me on Instagram!

Boomtown Video (FB)

Horses and Home

IMG_5428It’s a little familiar, a little bit wild
A big dream in the wandering eyes of a child
It’s all of the secrets wrapped up in the land
And all that we know about the pride of a man


It’s letting it go then holding on tight
It’s what’s left to lose at the end of a fight
It’s saying a prayer before hitting the ground
And when you need to be gone, it’s where you can be found


And that’s how it goes
With horses and home


It’s dirt under nails and work left to do
It’s fist clenching, back breaking, things that can bruise
It’s broke bits and burs and get up again
And all of the reasons to call someone friend


And that’s how it goes
With horses and home


We put up fences to own this place
Tame all the wild beasts and give them names
But we cant’ be sure just who’s being saved
When we let go of the reigns…


It’s wind through your long hair then on to the trees
Forgiveness and bravery on trembling knees
And then there’s the part where you think you might be
Stronger than most and a little more free


And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

IMG_5483 That’s how it goes
With horses and home


Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…



Like rain in August…

It rained this morning. In August that’s a gift around here. Things have stayed green and fresh because of these little showers. So we are happy and so are the cows.

There are things in this life that are just simply good, and a rain in August in Western North Dakota is one of them.

The other is a ride through the pastures with Pops under overcast skies, checking the cows, the grass and the chokecherry crop.

There are a million chokecherries.

And you should see the raspberry bushes.

Aww, I miss summer, even when I’m in the middle of it.

I wonder how that can be? How can I be lonesome for these long days when I’m out in them, doing the things I wish to be doing when the winter drapes it’s cold arms around us and holds on for dear life.

I have done this my entire life, not just with summer, but other things as well. Like I remember distinctly laying on the floor of my grandma’s little house at the ranch, in a sunny spot after an afternoon of playing outside in the barnyard with my cousins, and feeling so content, so where I wanted to be, that I squeezed my eyes tight together and wished to never grow up…wished for time to stop…

How could I know at a such a young age that the way things were in that moment would inevitably change? How could I know enough to be sad about the fact that as it was happening it was also, slowly ending…slipping away from me into another uncertain day?

Yesterday, after my ride with Pops I came home to my Husband sitting in the Bobcat moving dirt around our house, creating a nice slope in the yard where we can plant some grass, build a fence and continue with the whole making our lives out here project.

I took a drive to the gas station and got him some fuel. I came home and helped him move boards out of the way, hauling and stacking and making plans for the next project.

It was Sunday and it was just us out there getting things done and I have always liked it that way, I’ve always liked Sundays, always wished them to be a little longer…

We’ve spent so much of our life here in the last few years planning for the future, the next project, that I am much more in love with the moments after they’ve passed than when I am in them.

And some days I just miss when it was a little simpler…when we lived in my grandmother’s house over the hill and everything was broken and tumbling down, we didn’t have enough space for our things, we had wide eyes and a few less gray hairs and the rest of our lives to look forward to, so let’s just go down to the river and go fishing…

But anyway, our lives stretch out before us every day, staring at us with ideas and procrastination and all of the things we should be doing.

Some days it’s nice to just believe that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing. And I knew it. I knew that when Pops came over on his 4-wheeler to get his dog (she decided to spend the night with us) that I should follow him down to the corrals and saddle up.

I knew that I should taste the chokecherries, even though I knew they were going to be bitter, not quite ripe for the eating.

I knew that I should get Husband a treat at the gas station, something sugary and cold to drink.

I knew that I should be standing out there in the yard with him taking directions and lifting things I am too wussy to lift.

I knew I probably shouldn’t have pointed out that my belly button was filled with dirt from all the manual labor…and then showed him…

Except I only knew after he told me I should keep that stuff to myself…but who else am I supposed to tell…that shit is funny…

And I knew that days like these, days where we get to choose what we should be doing, days where we get to make progress at building our lives, days where we get to sit on the back of a horse and ride a little further just because there’s time, are things that I’ll miss when the snow falls, my hair turns gray and they are gone from me.

Like rain in August…

I don’t want summer to end.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t think Husband will ever admit that he also had dirt in his belly button…