Between “I do” and “death parts us”

It all starts with the best of intentions. Most clean-up, housekeeping, get-some-shit-done-around-here tasks do. Unfortunately, most of my clean-up, housekeeping tasks also end with me questioning the meaning of life, love and why I don’t just live by myself in a tiny fort made of logs by the creek like I planned when I was ten years old.

Because inside our houses, the ones we share with the people we promised to have and hold ’till death do us part, there lies unexpected secrets, secrets just waiting to jump out at us when our guard is down, when we’re comfortable and on task and thinking that this time we might have it under control.

Our poop in a group.

Our shit together.

But no. Those secrets remind us that marriage is not always the blissed-out, romantic, snuggle, love fest those ridiculous bridal magazines told us it would be.

No.

Because sometimes your husband leaves an uncooked egg bake from a camping trip he took three weeks ago floating in a cooler filled with beer and warm, melty, mushy, cloudy, curdled water and you, in your attempt at the whole “getting our shit together” thing,  has the privilege of being the one to get the first whiff.

And because it’s wedding season and the two of us had just returned from a lovely one in Minnesota, complete with mason jars and lilacs, heirloom dresses and lights strung across the beams of an old barn, I was feeling sort of romantic about the whole idea of the two of us living out our lives here in the country, quietly and easily, just like we had planned.

Perfectly planned weddings will do that to you…you know, create delusions.

But nothing says love like pulling on your muck boots, turning on the hose and testing how long you can hold your breath as you dispose of your dearly-beloved’s moldy concoction and spray down the inside of a rotten cooler, gagging and gasping when you inevitably have to take in air.

I love my husband every day…I just don’t like him every minute.

I know for a fact that he feels the same way about me.

Anyway, after I returned from the dump, I trudged inside to grab a beer from the fridge and sit on the back deck to contemplate the meaning of life and the consequences of actually living by myself in that little fort by the creek.

I took a sip and listened as the birds chirped and frogs croaked at the dam below the house and thought that some days, on hot days like these, I think I would be ok with being a frog–cool water, an abundance of flies, no worries about what outfit to wear to a quaint Minnesota wedding and definitely no three-week-old egg bake clean up surprise.

There isn’t mention of three-week-old egg bake cooler clean up surprises in any marriage vows I’ve ever heard.

Which got me thinking, when it comes to starting a life together, no one really talks about stuff like that. I’m not just talking about the annoying and surprising things, but the things that come with sharing a house, and plans, and dinner and dogs and babies and landscaping/housebuilding projects together.

The real things.

Because hopefully here is a lot of life in between those “I do’s” and the whole “death parting us” thing. That’s what I was thinking when the bride took the groom’s hand last weekend and made promises to him. I thought of all of the things that couple has been through together to get to this point.

And then I thought of what almost 8 years of marriage has looked like for us and I realized that not too often has it looked as lovely as that day we were in with the beautiful couple before us. Not even on our own wedding day, you know, the one out in the middle of the cow pasture complete with cow herd crashing, a random drunk guy trying his damnedest to spill booze on the pastor and the groomsman nearly plummeting to his death out the door of a moving RV…

Wedding Tree

Let’s just say there have been more “tragic egg bake style incidents” than I planned on. But I should have known. Just because I got married doesn’t mean the two of us (or our luck) changed. No. We just became a combined force of mistakes and small tragedies, goofiness and bad ideas, opinions and forgetfulness and big plans in the works.

But that’s what you get when you’re in it together–you get two. You get a witness. You get a built-in dinner date that sometimes is really late to dinner and it pisses you off.

You get a man who takes off his work boots and stinks up the entire house, but you also get a man who will drive around the countryside for hours and take a detour every day before and after work looking for your missing dog, not because he particularly likes him, but because you do. And that sort of quiet gesture makes up ten-fold for the stinky socks. And the late to dinner thing.

But forget the even score, because from what I’ve learned in eight years of marriage, there is no even score.  He will work late. You will drink too much with your girlfriends the night before and ruin the plans he made for leaving early on a fishing trip. He will take out the garbage and you will forget to get groceries until you’re both eating saltines and wondering  when the new Chinese food restaurant will start delivering to the ranch. You will unload the dishwasher, he will never remember where you put the spatulas. You will be thankful you married a man who uses a spatula.

No, the chores will never be equal because life might be a balancing act, but it sure as shit is never balanced (except when it comes to dog puke on the floor. In that instance, you will keep score). But that’s ok. That’s why you’ve got each other.

Because life is so annoying sometimes, and sometimes it’s his fault. Sometimes it’s mine. But I tell you what’s also annoying, that damn pickle jar that I can never open myself or the flat tire he’s out there fixing on the side of the road in the middle of a winter blizzard, proving that regardless of our shortcomings, life is easier with him around.

I hope he could say the same for me, regardless of the inevitable mess I make in the kitchen when I actually attempt to make a meal or the hundreds of bobby pins I leave laying around the house, driving him crazy. I think at the end of the day that’s what we really want out of this crazy love/union that we all enter into blindly knowing that it just has to work out.

It just has to work out. That’s something isn’t it? As if the whole working out thing happens on its own because we love will make it so.

Now I’m no expert here (if you want experts, ask my grandparents. They will be married for 60 years this September) but here is what I know. Love will never make you agree on the arrangement of the furniture, but love goes a long way in laughing it off when he backs into your car in the morning and forgets to tell you, leaving you to wonder all day when you might have had a car accident you can’t remember.

Love will not make him throw away that ratty State Wrestling t-shirt, but it will make you change out of your favorite sweatpants, the ones he loathes, every once in a while, you know, on special nights.

And initially, love will send him running when he hears you scream in the other room, but there will come a time when he won’t immediately come running. No. He will wait for a followup noise to help him make the decision, because love has made the man mistake a stray spider for a bloody mangled limb too many times.

And love will laugh her ass off when he gets clotheslined by the dog on a leash, leaving him laying flat on his back on the sidewalk, the dog licking his face along a busy intersection in a mountain town while drivers yell out their windows “Hey Rollerblades!”  And love will let her tell that story at every party because, judging by her hysteric laughter, it brings her great joy.

And, just for the record, sometimes love is not patient. Sometimes it needs to get to town and she’s trying on her third dress of the evening.

And sometimes love is not as kind as it should be. Because love is human.

And no human is perfect. Not individually and surely not together.

Because humans leave egg bakes in coolers in basements for three weeks.

The same kind of human that is my husband, the husband who once told me that love, to him, means doing all that you can to make the other person happy.

“Like going to that Dixie Chicks concert with you, or running to town to get you popsicles when you don’t feel well, or hemming your choir dress in college because you failed Home Ec…”

There’s so many fancy ways to say it, but if I were to do it over again, I would put things like this in my vows. I would vow to be a combined force of mistakes and small tragedies, goofiness and bad ideas, opinions and forgetfulness and big plans in the works.

And then I would promise, no matter the mess we got ourselves into, to never run away to that log fort by the creek like I planned when I was ten years old, unless I take him with me, you know, to help build a fire…

Winter’s a s**thead and then I had a flashback…

Somewhere in Montana…

Well we made it back from our road trip, dropped our bags at the bottom of the stairs in our cozy and messy house and proceeded to be welcomed by a slap across the face we have come to know as reality.

Work piled up in our inboxes.

Bills in the mail.

Closet unfurled from last week’s haphazard packing debacle.

Garbage strewn across yard from an unwelcome raccoon (or pug or lab) shaped scavenger.

And winter. Winter being a shithead. 

Pug in snow

“Septic tank’s frozen again.”

These are the messages I get when I’m in town trying to be civilized.

Great.

“Heading to the big town to pick up a snake and a pressure washer and (something else that I didn’t catch because I was thinking about where I might shower that night) because if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself around here…”

You know I know this better than anyone.

Great, now I’m having a flashback…

Phew, that was exhausting…

Anyway…last month when the arctic air whipped the trees around this place it shot the temperature down to -60 and apparently that’s too cold for a successful potty drain, so we called someone to come out and save us, and, well, I guess Husband learned something. Because last night I arrived home in the dark and he was out there in sub-zero temperatures unplugging whatever was plugged.

And he was successful. Thank God he was successful. I had to pee.

Husband is my hero.

6497241037_0a052fdbf8

My wall-building, chandelier-hanging, power-tool-toting, tile-placing, ladder-climing,  potty pumping hero.

464195_441612279222356_1084903165_o

God I miss summer.

This text message brought to you by Winter.

And now, an afternoon text chat with Husband.

Me-”I just fell off a ledge and into a snowbank in front of a thousand cars on Main Street.”

Him-”Bwahhahaha”

Him again-”I mean, omigosh are you ok?”

Me-”And a pop blew up in your pickup.”

Him-”Now that is not funny.”

Me-”And your windshield wiper broke off.”

Him-”You’re back to your car only.”

Me-”I cleaned up the pop.”

Him-”I need that pickup functional”

Me-”Relax, I think you can fix the wiper…”

Me again-”I think.”

Not so sparkly love.

There’s something about existing in nothing but white and brown for months on end that makes people around here head out to search for some color.

Some of them book a flight to Jamaica for sandy beaches, blue water and umbrella drinks, some head for the mountains so they might see the same white at a different height and some just step outside to see if the sunset is up for putting on a show tonight.

I think that’s why they put a holiday like Valentines Day in the middle of February, because we all need a little warming up by now, a little snuggle and a little smell of a rose to remind us that they are blooming somewhere.

Last night I played music for people out on dates at a fancy restaurant in the middle of the badlands. I sat at the front of the room and tried to pull out as many love songs as I could muster, wondering while I was singing Elvis’s “Fools Rush In” why I have a closet full of earth tones and black. I wondered why the only colorful thing I own is the pair red boots I wore with my wedding dress.

And my guitar strap with the little red birds.

I was glad I was wearing both as I finished up…”and I can’t help, falling in love with you…” and watched a couple hold hands and eat little pieces of lobster and steak off one another’s plates in a sea of men and women in their best clothes, dressed up right for a Thursday night.

I wished I had a sparkly pink shirt like the young woman toasting a glass of champagne with her husband or boyfriend at the table in front of me.

The night before I had warned Husband not to worry about Valentines Day this year.

“I won’t be home until well after midnight,” I said. “I’ll see you then.”

And he said “Ok.”

And that was fine. I’m not a fan of chocolate and where Husband works, there’s not a floral shop for miles. My Valentines Day gift to him was to let him off the hook.

His gift to me was his yearly rant about the holiday and why we have to designate a day to remember we love each other when he remembers he loves me everyday.

I know it’s coming, his little rant. And I know it will be followed directly by the “flowers are so predictable” speech.  I smile and remember the time he left a rose in my locker on a Valentines Day in 9th grade and I’m happy for the memory.

And happy for all the Valentines Days I’ve been able to share with with a cute and thoughtful boy who turned out to be a man who makes the coffee nice and strong, searches for his clothes in the early hours of the morning with a headlamp so he doesn’t wake me, knows his way around a kitchen, unclogs the clogs, fixes broken things and promises he will be there tonight when I sing again, no matter the hours and miles he has to put in at work today.

And I think that’s pretty nice, those little promises to make life a little nicer for one another.

It’s not always that way. Sometimes you just have to make a comment about the dirty dishes that have been piled up in the sink for days because of the silent protest you’ve made not to touch them just to see how long it will take for him to get fed up and put a few in the dishwasher already.

Sometimes you have to say something about the way his feet smell when he takes off his work boots because you fear the hidden toxins coming off of the green steam is killing the cat.

And sometimes he just has to ask what the hell is going on with your hair, because really, what the hell is going on with your hair.

But when you come in after midnight because you’ve been out singing to pretty people eating cheesecake and toasting to love to find the lights on and that smelly-footed man waiting up for you in the kitchen just to say hello and goodnight, somehow those dirty dishes don’t seem to catch your eye.

And it doesn’t matter that you’re not wearing that sparkly pink shirt you should have in your closet but you don’t.

Because in the glow of the kitchen light in the middle of a February night that was coating the world with snow and promising more white and cold, a stubborn, thoughtful, groggy man reminds you that love is never off the hook.

Especially on Valentines Day.

Dear Husband…

Dear Husband,

Good morning.

As I write this I imagine you on your way to work in your red pickup, your warm cap pulled down over your ears, a little of your scruffy hair escaping out the sides. Or maybe you’re there already, digging into the jobs you’re good at. I lost track of how long it’s been since you found me buried under a pile of covers and pillows to kiss me good morning before the sun peeked over the buttes. I turned over and pulled those covers back up over my head, waiting for a more reasonable hour to rise from my dreams.

Husband, I have known you since you were a 12-year-old boy with hair just as unruly as it was this morning as you ran your callused hands through it. I knew you when your locker was six down from mine and you would walk with me to class. I knew you when your yellow lab, Rebel, was alive and young and he would pull you on your roller blades down the street. I was there when you heard your parents had to put him down.

I knew you when you wore your football jersey on our hometown field on Friday nights. I sat in the stands to watch you play and then waited for you at the gate after the game. I was there when you broke your ribs on the wrestling mat, I heard the stories about wrecking you bike, dislocating your shoulder in a three-wheeler accident, and the one about the fish-hook that somehow got lodged in your finger. I was there when you got that shiner senior year.

I lay next to you at night and trace your scars. I know where they came from, and I am thankful for that.

I am thankful that you picked up the phone to call me one summer evening only to find me crying on the other end of the line, catching my breath between whimpers to tell you about how I jumped off a small cliff at the lake and wrecked my ankle and my chance at making the A-squad basketball team. How was I to know that would be the first of a lifetime of comforting and level-headed conversations spent with you? How was I to know that hurting my ankle wasn’t the end of the world, but that conversation with you was the beginning of a life spent with a man who never hangs up?

A man who called again and then, when he learned to drive, drove thirty miles and way too fast every Sunday to the middle of nowhere to catch a girl with equally unruly hair mowing the lawn, painting the barn, riding a horse, digging in the garden or laying out in the summer sunshine.

Yes, husband, I knew you then. I knew you when your plans didn’t extend past Saturday night, but your future was blindingly bright. I knew you when your pants were too baggy, your music too loud and you thought you were invincible, bulletproof and incapable of breaking hearts. I was there when you learned it wasn’t true.

And, thankfully, you knew me. You knew that if you showed up, played chess with my little sister, talked guns with my dad and made my mother laugh that you would be able to take that trip every Sunday. You knew to tell me true things, because an honest man might not always win, but in the end, at least he is an honest man.

And so husband, here’s what I have to tell you today.

Each time I see you walking through that door after work or catch you cooking in our tiny kitchen, the smell of your soup filling my nostrils, each time I find you in your easy chair, feet kicked up after a day filled with work, I remember for a moment that boy I used to know and my heart starts beating the same way it did  when you would meet me at my locker, when I would pick up your evening phone calls or see your old Thunderbird pull into my parent’s driveway.

But there you are, a man. A good man who cooks and fixes things and doesn’t make a damn fuss when I cry over things there’s no use crying about. A man whose heart is planted here right next to mine in a place that grew me, that grew us, up and together and away and back again. Husband, I might not always run to the door when you swing it open, my hands might be busy, my head might be somewhere else. Love, I might not always take a moment to curl up on your lap when you are in your favorite chair, I might not bring us a blanket because there might not be time that evening to sit. My Man, I might not wrap my arms around you when you are stirring a soup or making a mess in our kitchen, but I should.

My 16 year-old head over heals self would.

Because all that 16 year-old-head-over-heals-self wanted in the whole world, all of the wishes she used up on stars that fell and clocks that turned to 11:11 were wishes for a lifetime spent with you–waking up to your kisses, falling asleep in your arms, eating your cooking and building our home.

Yes, that 16-year-old-self had some things right, but she mostly knew nothing at all.

She mostly took a huge risk with her wishes spent on a teenage boy with unruly hair and pants that didn’t fit right. She knew nothing about life really. Nothing about the things that happen between those morning kisses and evening meals.

So here’s what your 28-year-old-head-over-heals-wife has to say to you today.

Thank you. Thank you for the every day good-morning kisses, yes, but mostly thank you for fighting with me without ever raising your voice or your fist, pushing me to stand up for myself and never hanging up on me no matter how many times I’ve done it to you. Thanks for staying true to yourself no matter how I push and for understanding that there are some things that you can’t change about me (like my addiction to shoes) and for not giving up on the things that are worth changing (like my lack of self-confidence and tendency to leave the back hatch of my car open over night). Thank you for never walking away in an argument, never sleeping on the couch and for always calling before you leave town to see if I need anything from the grocery store.

Thank you for fixing the things I break.

I break a lot of things.

And thank you for making me pick out and purchase my own car and schedule my own oil changes but always coming to my rescue when my tire is flat or the thing doesn’t start.

Thank you for coming with me to ride horses and for patiently teaching me, every day, how to properly use our complicated T.V. remote.

At 16 when I wished for you forever, I didn’t know that these things were important. I didn’t think about who would do the taxes or build our house, unclog the hair from the drain or clean up the puppy poop on the floor. I thought all you needed was love and affection. Those things you gave me, so I thought the other stuff came easy and fell into place like the things that happen in the “happily ever after” section no one ever bothers writing into Disney Movies.

I was wrong. It can be hard. All of the love and affection in the world can’t pay the heating bill,  help you decide who unloads the dishwasher at night, make the house remodel itself or cure a sickness while you’re out basking in the glow of one another.

No, it can’t.

But I am so grateful this Valentines Day, husband, that I was wise enough at 16 to make those wishes for a boy who would become a young man with a ring who asked me to be his family.

I’m glad I took the risk.

I am happy I said yes.

And I am happy I have you, on Sunday, and every day in between.

My husband is the only thing that makes me cool…

Well it’s been pretty quiet here at the ranch. The sun has been shining giving us some beautiful days to work with, but it gets up a little later and goes to bed a little earlier.

Just like me during this time of year, hunkering down and getting ready for the cold.

Yes, we’ve swooped into November free and clear of snowfall and biting temperatures, a gift from above for the late spring we were given. But I’ve heard rumors that we should expect snow and wind in the next few days, which would be pretty typical for these parts…

yeah, you heard me...

I guess the fact that it’s typical doesn’t make it any more fun for some of the creatures around here

Yeah, during this time of year more than the weather and sun make changes to their attitude and behavior at the ranch. The cows stay a little closer to home and the horses hang out by the hay stack, happy for the reprieve from the bugs and heat and happy to work on growing their shaggy coats. The pug snores a little louder for a little longer as he snuggles a little further into the blankets on the couch, the lab whines at the door and the herd of cats come running out from the out buildings at any sound that resembles the shaking of their food bag.

And me? Well, I acquire the qualities of all of these animals put together:  the big fluffy clothes, the munching constantly on carbohydrates, the whining and shivering at the door, the sleeping really, really hard and snuggling down with the passion of the pug.

Now I’d like to think all of these behaviors are acceptable in moderation, you know, if there’s someone around to notice that you’ve worn the same fleece pants six days in a row, to tell you to save a few noodles for the next guy, and to give you a reason to get your ass up in the morning before the sun.

But that has not been the case at the ranch this week. Nope, not at all. On Monday morning husband got up wwwayyyy before the sun and hopped a plane down to Texas for work. And while he’s been hanging out in khaki pants in corporate offices in Houston, eating at fine restaurants and experiencing valet parking,  I have been here in my fleece pants, alone with the animals, eating party pizzas and what’s left of the less than delicious noodle casserole I made on Sunday evening. And I tell you what, I have NOT been experiencing valet parking.

This is as close as it gets around here...

Yes, we’ve entered into the time of year when you need to start your car a few minutes to warm up the frost on the windshield before you get in and drive away. I’ve tried my damnedest to train the pug to do this for me, but I can’t wake him up before 10 am. So I’ve been left rushing out, robe flapping in the cold morning breeze to turn the key on my vehicle only to come storming back inside panting and rubbing my hands together, while the pug snores softly on my favorite blanket.

Oh, if only you had opposable thumbs...

Anyway, it’s day four of husband’s business trip and his absence has got me thinking about what I might be like as a single woman…and I am not convinced the outcome would be the best for me.

See, I’ve known husband since I was eleven years old. He’s been my best friend starting somewhere around fifteen when he was old enough to get his drivers license and drive out to the ranch to visit me, talk guns and horses with Pops, and teach my little sister to play chess. We went to college together, we got married, we’ve moved six times. He’s been the person in my life that unclogs the shower drain, keeps my wardrobe in check (whether I appreciate it at the time or not) and the sole reason I am not watching television on my dorm room sized TV, movies on VHS and talking on a Zach Morris era cell phone.

Here we are, Seniors at our Future Farmers of America banquet. I guess no one is really cool in a corduroy blue jacket...

Now husband and I have spent time apart, don’t get me wrong. When we were dating in college, he went back home to work and I stayed put. But in the course of our relationship it has generally been me who leaves on business trips, music gigs, and Vegas vacations with the ladies for weeks on end.

Yes, you heard me. I usually leave him at home to tend to the cats and train the pug and fend for himself. He’s good at it, you know, with his cooking skills and all. Usually by the time I come home from wherever I had been the pug is doing flips on command, there are six different gormet meals in the fridge left over from husband’s cooking experimentations, only one fork, one knife, one plate and one cup have been used the entire duration of my absence, the bed is made because he’s been sleeping on the couch, the cows are not in the yard, the garbage is taken out and he is handsome as ever…

am I right ladies?

What happens when husband leaves me?

Well, I found out a few weeks ago when he was off on his first business trip…and truth be told, it ain’t pretty.

Nope.

I retreat. I get into my projects, projects that I get distracted from when husband’s around reminding me that we need to cook and that he’s out of underwear so I should probably do laundry. Five days of husband’s absence and I turn into a complete recluse, cat woman who leaves her crafting projects on the table for days on end and eats nothing but peanut butter and jelly toast for breakfast and frozen meals for one at night. And when it’s time to turn in for the evening, I let a smelly little dog sleep in my bed with me while the big dog snores on the floor of my room with the idea that somehow these furry creatures will protect me if I happen to have an intruder…(which turns out is a bunch of shit because last night when I heard something rubbing against the side of the house outside my bedroom window those dogs didn’t move a muscle. I was left to fend for myself against the aliens with my biggest, pointiest high heeled boot in hand only to find out it was a cow munching on my lawn. Damn you cows! Now, if it’d been a raccoon,  it’d be a different story…so I’d like to think the same if it were an alien…) anyway…

My watch dog

When I am home alone I don’t call anyone, because I talk to my dogs. I don’t clean anything because I am too busy crafting,  I don’t listen to music because I am singing to myself…out loud, I don’t get anywhere on time because there is no one there to tell me to get my ass moving, I don’t do the laundry because I have extra underwear thankyouverymuch and I don’t take the garbage out because that is hubby’s job.

Yes, it’s a scary realty, me being in a house to fend for myself. And when husband left again this week, I fell into the same routines, proving that there was a reason the good Lord didn’t allow me to be single…no matter the man-repelling qualities I possessed…

Yup, that's me as a teenager...

So in day number four of living my life as a single woman, I’ve come to this conclusion (and I can’t believe I didn’t realize this much earlier): The man that I call husband, Cowboy, dearly beloved,  is the only thing that stands between me and the label “crazy cat lady.”  It’s been this way since I rolled into town school as a frizzy haired 7th grader in a kitten applique sweatshirt.

Just one look at this laid back, cute, trouble making boy gave me the wake up call I needed to pay a bit more attention to the details and, well, take some risks already…something he’s been teaching me since I first saw him throw spit balls in band class and get away with it.

Yes, husband makes me cooler. He always has.

The evidence is right here:

Without prom date....

With prom date (by the grace of God)

Maybe not a huge improvement, but at least I got that hair under control…

Yup, husband’s been the reason I found myself at parties with the cool kids in high school where I might have otherwise stayed home at the ranch to puffy paint another cat sweatshirt, the big reason I decided to experiment with a hairstyle other than a ponytail and the one who grabbed my heart by taking me on the roof of his parent’s house to look at the stars.

Reason number thirty-thousand I needed to ditch the scrunchies and find a way to keep this guy…

Who knows how many pet lizards, hamsters, puppies and pot bellied pigs I would have if I didn’t have someone across the table sorting through the consequences of such family additions? I would have found out how long that Chevy Lumina I was driving in high school would have lasted with 200,000 + miles on it had I not had someone rational there to tell me that normal people trade in their cars?  I would be watching my tiny TV with binoculars and writing this blog with dial-up internet on the refurbished 1999 version of the leftover computer from my momma’s office.

I would still be dressing like this:

Garth Brooks western shirt buttoned up to the top and a scrunchie on top of my head...yeah, that's what you're seeing here...

Don’t get me wrong here though, it’s not that husband pushes to make me a different person or tells me who I am is not good enough. In fact, I know he would love me should I ever decide to pull out that kitten sweatshirt again, which I fully intend on doing once I hit that age where I’m allowed to wear purple and red hats. No, this is what it is. Husband is the calm, cool, collected to my hyper, nerdy, scattered. He is the dog person to my cat, lizard, goldfish, pet parakeet person. He’s the “knows the right thing to say” to my “say a whole bunch of words and hope something is right,” the muscle to my Olive Oyl arms, the Drano to my drain clogged with frizzy hair.

He watches out for me so that I don’t need to rely on the pug to save me from the aliens. And I do the same for him, making sure that his hair doesn’t grow past his shoulders, fluffing the pillows and tucking the sheets in on the bed he slept in last night and by listening when he tells me he needs clean underwear…

When he’s not here I’m myself, yes. My scattered, nerdy, pet-cuddling, drain clogging, laundry avoiding self…just a little less balanced…

I can't help it, I was born this way...

And and a lot more starving…

Hunny, please come home soon, the leftover casserole is getting moldy…

This is 29…

This man got older yesterday. Yes. This is what 29 looks like after a day of waffles, neighbor visiting, gun shooting, chokecherry boiling, horse saddling, campfire cooking, exploring with a 3 year old and riding home at dark.

I think he pulls it off, don’t you?

Yes, this is what 29 looks like. The one on the right…the one on the left has a few years to go to catch up …

And if you were looking for husband yesterday you might have rolled into the yard to see him milling around the farmstead tinkering with his new gun, the one he has been dreaming of for three years, the one from “Quigley Down Under.”  Or you might have caught him helping to hold my pot of boiling hot chokecherries as I worked at straining the juice only to accidentally dump half of my work down the sink.

Then you would have seen me stomp to my room and lay face down on the bed and whimper while he slowly and patiently walked in behind me to laugh (not too hard) and tell me that we had plenty of juice, don’t worry…we didn’t need the stuff that went down the drain anyway…

Yeah, if you came at the right time you would have witnessed this act of cool collectedness from the strong and stoic half of the relationship. Or maybe you would have tried to call only to get the answering machine as he was out making plans at the new house site, driving his pickup down the road to see what pops was up to, saddling his favorite bay horse and taking a long ride to the badlands to have dinner with the neighbors, catching a frog so our three year old friend could get a closer look and then pointing out an ant pile and racing her back to camp.

It was my husband’s 29th birthday yesterday and all day long I followed this man around as he carved out his day. I listened as he talked hunting with my cousin who came knocking on the door, watched as he graciously thanked the neighbors for supper, rode beside him as he rode proud and strong on that horse he has been working on for years and sat snuggled in close as we watched “The Man from Snowy River” as the day came to a close. And the entire day I kept thinking…29. 29. 29. I’ve known this kid, this man, for nearly twenty years, he has been holding my hand for nearly fifteen, we have been married for five and we have a lifetime ahead of us…but still, I wish I could have known him from the beginning of it all.

Does that make sense?

Maybe not. I mean, what more could I want than to have grown up with a boy only to watch him change into a man I am so proud to call my family. Maybe it’s selfish, but look at him here. Where was I when he tried to carry this fish away?

Where was I? I wanted to be there to hear his small voice and the excitement as the fish flopped and he struggled and learned to be a sportsman, a hunter.

I was probably riding shotgun in my father’s pickup on the way to the ranch. Or sledding down the hills outside this very door oblivious to the young boy in town learning how to hold a bow and arrow. Unaware that the kid in the Batman pajamas sword- fighting with his little brother would one day become my whole world.

I just didn’t want to miss that. I didn’t want to miss the look on his face when he got his first puppy for his eleventh birthday or the cake his father made for him…I wanted to be there to taste it with him.

But I was busy making my own way, my own memories, my own experiences which somehow prepared me for catching this boy’s attention. This boy who wanted to be a mountain man, a cowboy, a trapper, a ninja, a wrestler and football player. I wonder while he was reaching for those dreams if he imagined himself out here with a girl like me? I girl who was so nervous when he first came to visit her on the ranch that while attempting to get on her sorrel horse she jumped right on over the horse’s bare back and landed in a heap on the other side. A girl who showed him all of her favorite places in the coulees, hoping he was the right one to show them to. 

A girl who wrote songs about him, got her heart broke by him only to live through it and start again…

a girl who never planned on being married at all…who was content, really, with being alone out here, thank you very much…but who is so grateful now that she isn’t.

So yes, this man has been on this earth 29 years and although I may have missed some of the best memories he holds, I am content knowing that I was there for some of them and will be there for more to come.  29 years and in his lifetime he may not have climbed the biggest mountains like he planned, shot the biggest deer, learned to ride eight seconds on a bucking bull, won the nation on the wrestling mat…

But he has changed the world. Because simply by living an authentic life he has helped me tackle mine with more confidence and conquerable force, by loving this land with passion and a capable energy  he has provided my family with trust and support, and by holding true to that spirit that he has been filling up with experiences, good things, difficult things, true things, he becomes more capable, more himself, more of the man he wanted to be every day.

And I am just so damn happy that he grabbed my hand when he did so I could be there to watch him become the man I’ve loved all along…

Happy Birthday Cowboy…to the moon and back…


On bulls and husbands


See that foot up there? Yeah, it’s resting on the recliner right now, exactly where it and it’s friend, Lefty, are not supposed to be.

Where are they  supposed to be? On the floor while I sweep something, put something in the laundry or rinse a dish or two in the sink.

Better yet, they should be in my grubby shoes while I push a mower outside, unpack the camper from our weekend in Yellowstone, or move a few more worthless items out of the garage.

I know, I know, that damn garage.

But it’s been a busy week at the ranch.

Well, more technically it’s been a busy week in town as the human inhabitants of the Veeder Ranch were pulled in a hundred different directions by their day jobs that include planning big events, helping establish new businesses, serving on committees, sitting in on important meetings, maintaining oil wells, delivering drinks, selling shoes, snuggling a baby and singing for their supper.

But there is no rest for the weary around here. Yes, we have jobs in town, but we have cattle out here too. And when your day job is heated and buzzing and full on busy, you can bet your fancy khakis the cows are getting out.

It’s all about timing.

So pops and I took the morning to saddle up and take off after a bull who was out visiting the sexy neighbor cows in the adjacent pasture. I will admit I took my time opening my eyelids and rolling my weary body out of the cocoon of my room, because although I love a good morning ride on the top of a horse, I was realistic about what was waiting for me outside my cozy doors.

It was what kept me lingering with slurpy sips on my morning coffee and taking the long way to the barn to stop and pull up unruly burdock and kick a couple cow turds…

because we were chasing a bull today.

Ah, man...

A single bull who made new girlfriends and settled into the clover in a new pasture.

A bull with attitude.

Because there’s no bull without attitude.


Isn’t that on a bumper sticker or something?

Anyway, I’ve been here before, behind a bull who has decided that the grass is greener and the ladies friendlier on the other side of the fence…so he hops right on over with no intentions of coming home.

Now, I brought my little camera along knowing full well there would be very little chance to whip it out, so the documentation of the bull we found standing a few yards away from the gate who spotted our smiling faces and immediately turned to run off with his women in the opposite direction, is a little patchy.

Forgive me, but when you’re heading up a steep, muddy, slippery hill at full speed to turn the cows who have no intention of turning it’s hard to take a good photo. Things get a little blurry.

But as I was taking direction from pops and recalling all the lessons I learned in similar situations like this growing up (i.e.:  how to move a bull with a few cows in order to get him to cooperate, how not to push him too hard, how not to get him running, how to stay the hell out of the way, how to let the cow horse under you do what she does best and how not to lose the shirt tied around your waist while running at full speed after cows it turns out you didn’t really need to be running after in the first place) I got to thinking that the techniques used to move bulls are similar to the techniques I have been using on the man I call husband for years.

Yeah, I'm talking 'bout you...

Let me try to explain here.

See, husband and I have an ongoing struggle in our household when it comes to getting big tasks accomplished. The damn garage is a perfect example. We will agree that the garage needs to be cleaned out and torn down. Great. But from there it gets hairy. Because as soon as that statement passes my lips, I am out there waist deep in junk throwing it all over my back and out the door willy nilly like some cartoon character with no plan about where to go from there.

Husband resists this technique with his heart and soul. Because he likes to think it out, see the outcome seventy-five different ways, make a full fledged plan to get it started and then stand back and think some more before he proceeds, weeks later, to open the garage doors, pick up each item and turn it over in his hands a few times before deciding to toss it.

The same goes with closet organization, dishes, laundry folding, construction projects, yard work and any kind of purchase.

This behavior, however, is null and void when it comes to bringing home a new dog, as you have probably already figured out by the existence of the pug.

Ok. Mooooving right along.

I have known this man for a solid thirteen years and in those solid thirteen years this quality of contemplation when it comes to a task, big or small, has never wavered.

Oh, I have fought it, yes I have. Just like I have fought a bull who prefers to run the opposite way, take after your horse at full speed or stay in the brush, thank you very much. The outcome of the choice to argue, with bull or husband, is never good. In fact it usually results in a further run in the opposite direction, a sarcastic swipe at my ways of jumping the gun and at least double the time in the brush or the easy chair.

But after some time spent battling with man and beast I am finally beginning to see the light…and damn if that light hasn’t revealed that some of the rules are the same.

So wives I offer you these tips from a woman who has attempted to nudge the most unruly of the male species in the house and in the pasture only to come out on the other end with a bull through the gate and a husband filling garbage bags in the garage.

Grab your pencils and let’s get started with today’s lesson:

On bulls and husbands

The first tip is the most important….

1) If it’s your idea, find a way to make it his. If a bull is dead set on heading south and you want him to go west, let him go south. There’s no use in fighting it, eventually all those gates lead to the place you need to go.

2) Ask once. Ask nicely. Wait patiently. What kind male soul, man or beast, wouldn’t respond positively to that?

If this isn't a face filled with love and appreciation, show me a face that is...

Which leads me to…

3) Unless you want to be disappointed, at home or in the pasture, forget about deadlines.

Which will help you when dealing with the next tip…

4) Once he’s on it, let him do it his way, even if your way is easier/shorter/faster/smarter. In the pasture, as soon as the bull is heading in the right direction, your best bet is to stay back a bit, watch his head for any signs of straying, and let him go. He might weave a little, go up some nasty rocks or gnarly trees, but as long as he’s getting there, leave him be. Same goes with your man ladies.

But better than standing back is this…

5) Find some company that is moving in the right direction. To get a bull to move he needs his lady friends along for the walk. Same goes in the household. You want him to do something, help him for crying out loud! That, or just start the task yourself. I mean the best way I can get husband to fix that gutter is to pull out our giant ladder in an attempt to do it myself…

So there you have it, five simple rules that I have found to work to my benefit about 80% of the time. What about the other 20% you ask? Well ladies, that’s why we have rule number six…

6) When all else fails, let him stay in the brush…eventually he will get thirsty and come out.

Implement these this weekend and let me know your results…

Oh, and try not to lose your shirt while you work, because then all bets are off.

Happy Friday!

Play like a man.

Husband folds my underwear in perfectly neat little squares. Husband cooks me bacon on Sunday morning while I wait impatiently in the adjoining room because he knows that I cannot be trusted alone with bacon. Husband ventures out in the cold spring air to push the snow away from the house.

Husband makes me drink Theraflu when I have a cold, even though it makes me gag and whine the entire duration of the illness. Husband unclogs my hair-ball from the shower drain and has never said a word about it really.

Husband reminds me to put the lid on the toilet when I’m done because he is genuinely concerned there is a possibility I will drop something, like my toothbrush or a bath towel in there…

Husband’s most usually right.

Husband doesn’t get mad when I forget to check the pockets of his jeans before I send them through the washer and dryer…along with his pocketknife, dollar bills, lists, pens, wrenches and other super important work things I didn’t notice.

Husband thinks I look pathetic in the morning with my head buried under the pillows and no matter how much I tell him he NEEDS to wake me up when he leaves for work at 5:30 am he claims he just can’t do it. I’m too pathetic and he’s too sweet so he puts his socks on in the dark and leaves me a cup of coffee in the pot for when I actually do rise (not quite shining).

Husband fixes drippy faucets…by ripping the entire shower apart and putting it back together with beautiful new tile.

Husband lets the cats sit on the desk to look out the window at the birds…breaking every rule he has about cats.

Husband folds my underwear in neat little squares…did I mention this already?

Did I mention husband needs a break?

Yes. Husband needs a break.

Not just any break. A real break. A break complete with a big pickup hitched up to a horse trailer pulling big boy toys off into the wild blue yonder as the speakers howl out Johnny Cash and his little brother hits the gas and hands him a big bag of Cheetos and a candy bar and promises him a glass or two of whiskey on the rocks when they get to that yonder he’s been talking about for weeks.

And so it was yesterday evening as I pulled into the drive and witnessed the Redneck Extravaganza that appeared as two grown men morphed into excited and giddy young boys pushing and craning and squeezing two fancy snowmobiles into our horsetrailer. A horsetrailer  that has hauled livestock and horses and home renovation supplies and all of our earthly possessions all over the country and still, no matter what, continues to boast a nice, unmovable layer of poop residue on the floor.

I will tell you, I had to take photos, because this piece of ranch equipment wasn’t meant to haul anything this shiny. Nothing this expensive.

I also had to take photos in case this was the last time I ever saw husband again–with so many reasons for him to never return home and so many ways he could be lethally injured riding this machine as fast as it can go up and down mountains without a voice of reason nearby to tell him to watch out for: avalanches, huge hidden rocks, man-eating raptors, grizzly bears, fences that could decapitate him, mountain caves covered in snow that could swallow him up, poisonous berries, aliens, and most dangerous of all, himself.

No. There would be nobody there to save him from the reckless teenager I know exists in that man-sized body of his–the one who used to drive 115 miles per hour down country roads in his Thunderbird during a blizzard to see a girl he might have liked a little, the kid who has been known to climb to the top of the highest cliff and do a backflip on his way down to the un-navigated water below, the boy who used to ride all over the badlands on the back of his three-wheeler, jumping cliffs and climbing buttes and more than occasionally landing on, crushing and dislocating countless bones along the way, the kid who…oh forget it…I can’t talk about this anymore…I need to take a break to check our insurance policy…

O.K. Anyway, husband has been working really hard these last few months. And although it doesn’t look like it at the ranch, Western North Dakota is a happening place right now due to the booming oil industry and husband works right in the thick of it. And he’s really good at his job.

So good and dedicated that lately he’s been working nearly 12 hour days only to come home to a wife who has an issue with a drippy faucet, burned the Hamburger Helper to his favorite pan, forgot that we don’t have a garbage disposal and left the lights on in his pickup, draining the battery while galavanting around the ranch…again.

Sssooorrryyyaaa...

Yes, with a wife like this it’s a good thing God granted men the unfaltering ability to play. Like really play. Have you ever noticed this about the species? When men get together they DO things. They hunt. They fish. They play basketball, cards or football. They ride things like 4-wheelers, motorcycles, snowmobiles or boats around. They ski or snowboard or grab a hockey puck and stick and practice their slap-shot. And if they can’t do these things in real life, they do it in the form of video games, watch other guys do it on TV or talk about all the times they have done the above activities together…and who got hurt along the way.

I admire this about men. I admire the play. I admire how they can just let it all go, the faucet, the clogged drain, the one-eyed pug that cost him a fortune, and go to a place to let loose in friendship and brotherhood and good old fashioned fun. And they don’t make excuses. They don’t justify. They don’t prioritize or time themselves or feel guilty about it. They just play.

So anyway, this weekend it’s just me, the cats, the lab and the one-eyed pug in a cone holding down the fort while husband is out inventing new ways to hurt himself and mom and pops are headed to visit my grandparents in Arizona.

The definition of pathetic...

And I don’t mind, as long as there are no more blizzards, power outages, porcupine encounters, coyote incidents or alien invasions while the troops are gone everything will be fine.

Anyway, I have a list a mile long that I have been meaning to get to that requires me to get up at the crack of dawn to check pockets, fold my underwear, unclog the sink, take out the garbage,  caulk the newly tiled shower, close the lid on the toilet seat and spend some time with bacon…

Bacon+Me=lack of self control, guilty, fat-laden, salty, happiness

But when I’m finished not doing all of the above (except, of course, the bacon part…) I think I might take husband’s lead and start on the other list–you know, the one that requires me to paint my toenails, watch movies that feature a man named Matthew McConaughey, play my guitar and sing really loud, venture into town to listen to other people do the same thing while kicking back a cocktail, eat cereal and popcorn for supper, catch up on all of my Glamour and People magazines, practice my sweet dance moves without scrutiny from onlookers and critics, eat cereal and popcorn for lunch, watch movies that feature a woman named Julia Roberts, tie up the phone-line chatting up my girlfriends, let the pug and the cats sleep in my bed, avoid the laundry at all costs…

…and not feel the least big guilty about it.

I hope you will all make like a man and do the same…

or at least your version of it…

…and for the love of Martha, watch out for avalanches.

Ten Commandments for the Hunting Widow

Ok ladies. Happy Monday. And if you’re reading this I would like to congratulate you. Because it seems you have, if only by the hair of your chinny, chin, survived the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

Now if you’re here and have in no way been affected by this phenomenal holiday that turns perfectly decent, shirts tucked in, clean shaven, soaped up Midwestern boys into growly, whiskey drinking, scratchy bearded, poker playing, primitive manly men, then revel in the fact that for the next two weeks you do not have to negotiate outings into civilization with your man based on whether or not he has indeed “filled his tag.”

And I am well aware that some of you womanly women get right in there and play like the boys do, taking no prisoners, leaving it all behind for the love of the sport. To you I tip my blaze orange Elmer Fudd hat and say, “Long live the sportswoman.” We’ll have to get together soon over wine and venison and hash out the hunt.

But for those lovely females who have uttered the words “hunting widow” in the last few days, or ever in your married or dating lives for that matter, I would like to offer you something here.

I would like to get up on my pedestal (or kitchen chair, or the railing of my deck, or my tiny desk) and tell you that “widow” does not have to be a word in your vocabulary. No, not yet. You too can enjoy the pure, animalistic, back to nature experience of the hunt with your man in all his glory. And you can love it. Or at least tolerate it. All you have to do is put on your sports bra and your wedgie free undies and gear up for a purely carnal experience and get back to the basics of man. If anything the experience may help you gain some clarity on the weird male behavior your love will be exhibiting for the next couple weeks.

So for the benefit of females everywhere who have a hankering to see what it’s all about, I have consulted with the manly men around me and have taken some hard learned lessons from my years of experience walking silently behind the most serious sportsmen in the county to come up with the following:

The Ten Commandments of Deer Hunting with your Man

Yup, that's me, that's my deer, that's my man, that's my denim jacket and that's my neckerchief.

 

1. Thou shalt not wear swishy pants

2. Thou shalt not call any animal “cute” or “adorable.” You are now the predator, the fluffy critters with the big, beautiful eyes, are the prey. You heard me. Predator. Prey.

3. Thou shalt not complain about having to pee, but will squat behind a proper bush if absolutely necessary (and be quiet about it). And while you’re at it, thou shalt wear enough warm clothes so you are not cold, and eat enough food so you are not hungry and do everything in your power to remain comfortable enough so you have nothing to complain about, because really, thou shalt not complain.

4. Thou shalt not be the first to comment on husband/boyfriends’ shortcomings with any weapon and will instead provide only positive reinforcement. I.G.: “Great shot hunny.” “Way to take your time! You’re so methodical, so patient!” “You butt looks great when you lean in like that.” And my favorite, a whispered, almost silent “wooo hooo…woo hooo” and high five accompanied by your greatest smile when he makes the kill.

5. Thou shalt not whine about how blaze orange and greenish/brownish camo are not your colors and wear the seven sizes too big clothing like Pamela Anderson would. Because if a sexy woman like you can’t pull off this color combo, no one can.

6. Thou shalt kick it in gear, power-walk style and show husband/boyfriend what it means to really get somewhere while increasing your heart rate, burning calories, and spending quality time with your man–because women invented multi-tasking for cyring out loud.

7. Thou shalt understand that while on the hunt it is perfectly acceptable to walk or sit for several hours in complete silence. And, sweet lover of the outdoorsman, this is not a time for discussion about what color to paint the kitchen walls or where you should send your unborn child to preschool or how much your dearly beloved spent on that gun slung across his back.

8.Thou shalt bring your own snacks and pay careful attention that the wrappers do not make crinkling noises and the food itself does not pack a crunch. If you must have a granola bar, bring it unwrapped for the love of venison. When man is on the trail of the big one, all he wants to eat is the big one. He is not thinking about and does not appreciate that Snickers bar or tortilla chip you are so loudly devouring.

9. Thou shalt accept the fact that while hunting there is no work on Monday, there is no house, there are no kids, there is no basement renovation or fence to build. Nothing. There is nothing but the following: Man. Woman. Beast. Hunt.

10. Thou shalt understand that if you cannot abide by the above nine commandments, thou will never again be invited along. Ever. Ever.

Which may or may not be a bad thing, you know, depending on how it all turns out.

And one more thing, before you grab that camo cap and pack the jerky, I invite you to read a previous piece of mine to get a clear description of what might happen even if you do everything wrong. Because he is your man after all, and you are his and he loves you and your over-active bladder, candy wrappers, poor circulation and everything in between–“Sneeek…Sneeeeeeek….” “Shhhhh…”

Now take off those swishy pants and go get ‘em girl. The view alone is worth it.