Shifting winds of confidence…

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Shifting winds of confidence
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Some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself that I’m a rock-star cowgirl who has this work, ranching, cattle and kid-raising situation under control.

Like last weekend when I was helping sort cows into the chute for medicine, for example. I was following the cattle down the alley with a sorting stick yelling “Whoop, whoop, c’mon girls, hya, hya, hya!” feeling strong and capable. When they loaded right into the chute and I grabbed the rope to close the gate, climbed up on the fence for a head count (which we all know is the most important thing, really) and then hopped back down to do it all over again, I had a brief moment where I thought, “Well, this is the life. I can do this. I was made for this.”

But that confidence? Well, it comes in waves. Or, because we’re in North Dakota, more like gusts.

Because just as soon as the wind blows my neckerchief the right way so that I start feeling like the underdog ranch hand in a John Wayne movie finally getting the respect I deserve, the wind shifts and covers me in a nice, authentic layer of dirt and cow poop better known as a reality check.

But I’m nothing if I’m not diverse in my experiences. Sometimes, in the course of two days, I feel like I’m five different people.

Last weekend I started my morning off as snuggly-booger-wiping-Mom, moved on to pony-riding-lesson-Mom in the afternoon

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and then I loaded up my guitar to be a singer-in-the-big-town at night.

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Then I headed home in the dark so I could get up early to be pancake-making-Mom in the morning, cow-chasing-Mom in the afternoon and supper-making-dishwashing-deadline-meeting-bedtime-story-lullaby-singing-Mom in the evening.

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And maybe that’s where the whole problem lies in the first place, now that I think of it. Maybe there are just too many things weighing on my mind for me to properly and swiftly react to the angry, pregnant, half-ton cow lowering her head and running toward me in the sorting pen while my husband tries to find his voice to warn me.

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“Surely she isn’t coming for me?” I wondered to myself in the half a second I had to think about the meaning of my life. “Surely she’ll go around this rock-star cowgirl who has her life under control. Seriously, everyone underestimates my capabilities. I was born to do this. It’s in my blood. If I just wave my hands and yell ‘hya’ and…oh…my…g… RUN!”

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Yeah, some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself I’m an underestimated rock-star-cowgirl-mom. And some days a 1,300-pound cow rams her giant, angry head into the bony part of my backside, sending me running for my life to the fence line and my husband into near cardiac arrest.

Because, like I said, this whole “under control” thing? Yeah, it comes in gusts.

And the sigh of relief I breathed when I reached that fence? Well, I just hope it shifted the winds and blew someone’s neckerchief the right way.

If you need me, I’ll be folding laundry and sitting on an ice pack.

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I write it down

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Coming Home: I write it down
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As a writer who documents my life weekly, the gift I get in exchange for the deadlines is a chance to look back on previous versions of myself.

Because sometimes I feel compelled to look back, like I did last night as I tried to quiet the worries that come with full-blown adulthood, a worry much different from the ones I used to possess.

In a few weeks, my little sister will be moving her family to the ranch. They’ll build a house right down the road from us. When they’re all bigger, our girls will be able to meet on their bikes to play. In fact, if the wind is right and they find a hill, they could stand outside and yell to make plans.

Time will tell if they ever figure that one out — the same way time has shown us.

Seven years ago, I sat with my little sister on the love seat in the back room of my parent’s house while she was home deciding the next step to take after college, deciding whether or not to move back. And we were a bit younger then, but the same amount of uncertain about how it might all turn out.

The love seat was small and so my sister and I were shoulder to shoulder, and my other shoulder was smashed up against my husband’s leg as he leaned back, sprawled out on the arm of the overstuffed piece of furniture. The three of us, we were a sandwich, and I was the lettuce, the cheese, the pickle, mayo and turkey. They were the bread and we were everything you needed for a good bite.

We closed our eyes and listened to dad blow the air from his lungs through the harmonica he wore around his neck. We heard a lonesome sound, one that’s familiar and haunting.

I got a shotgun, a rifle and a four-wheel drive

And a country boy can survive…

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We leaned in closer, not knowing then what those words might mean after more years passed, his hair more silver than it was yesterday, his fingers callused, his voice ringing with those pieces of gravel that dug their way in from years of playing songs like this in bar rooms.

We didn’t know then. We just knew it was quiet that night. The dogs were asleep and the trucks were taking a different route. We knew the stars were out.

Country folks can survive…

In the kitchen, the warm scent of brownies my mom was frosting fresh from the oven drifted back to us smooshed together, the sandwich, on the love seat. I couldn’t see her from my position as the lettuce, cheese, pickle, mayo and turkey, but I knew my mother was sipping wine and running her long fingers along the pages of a new magazine.

Everything I ever knew for certain then was filling my lungs and my ears, touching my shoulders and swaying along to all of the things I was on the inside. What I didn’t know didn’t matter then.

I was his lungs and heart and pieces of his gravelly voice.

I was her fingers and worries and holidays.

I was his good-nights, his battles and his wishes.

I was her blood, her memories… her shoulder.

And I remember thinking that if I were not those things, I might not exist at all.

But we are much more now, that sandwich, busy now becoming pieces of the new little hearts we’ve created. And time will reveal to us the rest, but it isn’t good at helping us remember, so I write it down.

The in-between pages

Mother of Daughters

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half my life behind me and they are children, so young and fresh, running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles.

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I look at them, the 1-year-old’s cheek flushed from the chill of the early spring evening, pointing to the sky and trees, digging her hands in the rocks, pulling on the grass, picking up dirt, trying to place it all, trying to name it all, doing what she needs to do to become the person she needs to be in this mysterious world.

IMG_0506I watch my 3-year-old stomp her sparkly new boots in the cold, dirty water of the season. Her gold hair flying out from under her knit hat, the bottom of the dress she insists on wearing swoops and swings below her barn jacket, collecting the elements. And she’s singing and she’s yelling and she’s dancing and she’s stomping and she’s making up stories and I think to myself, “Well, isn’t she just everything all at once?”

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And she’s not afraid. They’re not afraid. They are not worried. They are not wondering if they are smart enough, funny enough, talented enough, pretty enough, good enough.

None of that exists for them. Not now, anyway. Now, they are just unabashedly who they are.

 

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

And when they were born, I knew I would have to teach them things that I haven’t figured out yet myself, even though I am a full-grown woman and maybe I should know how to be brave by now. And sometimes, maybe I do. But sometimes I don’t.

And I should have had plenty of time to conquer how to love myself despite my flaws, the flaws and failures I catch myself counting sometimes.

“My daughters would never do that,” I thought to myself as my 3-year-old ran down the hill declaring she was the fastest runner in the world. “Not now, anyway. They don’t know how to be flawed, they only know how to be human.”

 

And it hit me then, standing in the middle of that gravel road as the sky opened up and dropped a sprinkle of cold rain on a trio of girls in muddy boots: My girls came into this world knowing and it’s my job to do what I can to keep it that way.

But they have a job, too, and it’s to remind me of what it looks like before the world gets in.

Because I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half of my life behind me and I am holding their hands and we are running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles, together becoming the people we need to be in this world.

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We’re Island People now…

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A few weeks ago we attempted a vacation with our friends in the Dominican. I spent the days leading up to it doing the laundry, packing myself, packing the girls, making work arrangements, avoiding trying on my swimsuits and locating and managing all the things you need to locate and manage in order to be gone for a week. On Wednesday I finally dropped the girls off at the inlaws’, met my husband at home, put the finishing touches in my suitcase, shut off the lights and locked the doors behind us and by the time we reached the mailbox we got an email telling us our flight was cancelled.

Blizzard.

No flights leaving North Dakota ever for the rest of our lives.

Or at least it seemed like it. No flights to the Dominican anyway, not until the following week, no matter what magic we tried or what town we were willing to drive to.

It’s a long story from there that continues with our friends in the Dominican on Thursday and my husband and I in Jamaica, alone, on Saturday afternoon and ends with us staring at a road closed sign at 2:30 am a week later in our attempt to get home.

Turns out it’s impossible to leave and impossible to return around here.

Coming Home: We’re Island People Now
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There have been plenty of times I’ve felt like I like I live in the middle of nowhere. Like, every time I’m out of milk and a trip to the store and back takes me, at minimum, two hours.

But when you live 30 miles from the nearest grocery store, you never just pick up milk. And you never only go to the grocery store. Because you made the trip, you might as well hit up Tractor Supply Co. and then the post office and your sister’s to get back your casserole dish and then maybe the pharmacy and then Mom’s store to see what’s on sale…

The point is, around here, there’s no such thing as an easy trip. Anywhere.

And last week, at the lonely and desperate hour of 2:30 am, my husband and I were reminded again of that harsh reality. After a total of 10 hours in a vehicle, 20 hours in airports, 14 hours on planes, 10 days away from home and 30,000 hours on the phone with the travel company discussing the impossibility of getting from North Dakota to the Dominican Republic like we planned six months prior, my husband and I were finally staring down the last 15 miles that stood between us and our own beds.

The only thing left to do was move the “ROAD CLOSED” barricade stretching across the dark highway and magically turn our pickup into a boat to float across the Little Missouri River that was currently and conveniently flowing right over the Lost Bridge that, prior to this point in all of our 30-plus years, has never been under water.

Yeah, there’s a first time for everything, but if you think we were coming home from our first trip to the Dominican Republic, you would be mistaken. Because when you live in the middle of nowhere North Dakota and you plan a vacation to a tropical destination in March — or any month between September and May — there is a 70 to 95 percent chance that there will be a snowstorm with a clever name scheduled to fly in and ruin your plans.

So while our friends caught their direct flight to the Dominican Republic from Canada, where apparently everything including the weather is nicer, my husband and I rerouted our plans to Jamaica. And it took three days and a lost bag to get from here to there, but we made it to the beach.

We just had to make it to a beach. I mean, I suggested we just forget it and go back home and use our time off to work on the ranch or the house or our taxes, but when I couldn’t get my husband’s sobbing under control, I decided on Plan C. It could have been me that was crying, but I can’t remember.

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All memories of my former life were wiped clean as soon as I face-planted on the lawn chair on the beach and woke up with the resort logo imprinted on my cheek and a sudden craving for mimosas, which became a steady staple in my diet as the newest resident of Jamaica.

Turns out I’m way cooler in Jamaica.

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I read books. I jump off cliffs.

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I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding for a woman I just met.

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I eat out every night. I nap.

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I’m friends with people from across the globe. I get massages. I jump off cliffs.

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I hang out under waterfalls.

Ok, maybe I’m not that cool, but regardless I stared down that two-hour detour at the bridge that morning clinging on to Jamaica-me for dear life, milling over the repercussions of calling my in-laws to tell them to pack the girls and meet us at the airport because we’re island people now.

Which is sort of true for our real-life anyway, given the river situation.

Oh well. In only a few months, you couldn’t convince me anywhere else in the middle of nowhere is better than our middle of nowhere.

I think I’ll just stock my fridge with Champagne and get a floaty for the stock dam and home will be about as close to paradise as you can get. Happy spring!

How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps

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Husband and I took a break from the never-ending winter last week, dropped the kids at Nana and Papa’s and headed out on a tropical location. How we wound up in Jamaica alone when we were supposed to be in the Dominican with friends is a story for next week.

This week I’m going to leave you with some tips on how to get out the door with two toddlers. It seems simple enough, but all you parents out there know, there are way more than 20 steps, but I only get so much space in the paper. Anyway, when I wrote this, we still had plenty of snow on the ground, but the air was warming up. When we arrived home from our vacation, we found that snow is quickly turning to mud, which means not as many clothes, but plenty more laundry.  Today Edie added a few more steps to the process as she searched for just the right amount of jewelry and the proper hair bow to put under her snow clothes for a trip to help load cattle, adding another thirty or so steps to this process, so really, you know, it’s not an exact science.

Anyway, if you need me I’ll be catching up on that laundry and itching my sunburn.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps
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So you want to go sledding with two toddlers? Here’s how to do it in only 20 steps.

Step 1: Check the weather. Declare to the entire house that it is now above zero and you are all going outside.

Step 2: Tell the 3-year-old to go find her snow gear while you attempt to wipe all the syrup off of the 1-year-old. Respond to 3-year-old’s cries for help because she can’t find her mittens.

Step 3: Try to find the mittens while wondering why in the bleep you can never find the mittens.

Step 4: Pull the 1-year-old out of the pantry that you forgot she could open. Sweep up the sugar she was eating.

Step 5: Marvel at the way your 3-year-old’s body can transform into an instant limp noodle while you attempt to get her rubber band legs into her snow pants. Leave her lying on the rug half-dressed while threatening to cancel Christmas if she doesn’t, literally, straighten up.

Step 6: Start sweating.

Step 7: Locate the 1-year-old in the kitchen. Clean up the 5,000 plastic baggies she has pulled out of the box.

Step 8: Lay the puffy toddler-sized snowsuit out on the floor and attempt to wrangle the wiggly little child’s limbs into each proper compartment.

Step 9: Dig out her little hands and spend the next 45 minutes trying to get them into her mittens. Allow the same time frame for the snow boots.

Step 10: Set that tiny human down on the ground to waddle around. Cry at the cuteness. Also, wonder where you put her beanie.

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Step 11: Start searching for the beanie all over the house, declaring to whoever is in the house with you (which is likely just your children) that it’s the only one she will keep on her head and what the heck could you have possibly done with it, you just had it a second ago for crying out loud!

Step 12: Check on the 3-year-old, who is sitting at her little table fully outfitted in her snow gear and fully invested in a coloring project she has to be convinced to abandon for the sledding hill.

Step 13: Realize you should have taken her to the potty before you started all of this. Continue your search for the missing hat.

Step 14: Give up on the missing hat. Locate smaller, less practical hat and squeeze that on the 1-year-old’s head. Notice that she’s taken off her mittens and one boot’s now laying on the kitchen floor. Repeat Step 9.

Step 15: Hastily pull on your own snow gear as your tiny, puffy humans crowd around you. Hurry now, Momma — each passing second is a second one of them could pull off a mitten.

Step 16: Declare joyfully, “Let’s go!” — and then take the 20-minute waddle–style trip down the steps, past the kitty (stop for a pet) and out the front door.

Step 17: Plop puffy children into sleds and proceed to pull them toward the sledding hill. Continue sweating, as previously indicated in Step 6, while you vow to start a workout program tomorrow.

Step 18: Take three runs down the hill, all while yelling at the dogs to stop licking and jumping on the children. Have the time of your life for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or the time it takes for someone to lose a boot.

Step 19: Carry one crying, slippery, puffy child on your hip while pulling the other limp noodle child toward home.

Step 20: Undress the children as fast as you can because now you have to pee. Discover that the missing hat was zipped up in the 1-year-old’s puffy snowsuit the whole time. Swear. Sweat. Repeat Steps 1-20 tomorrow.

 

At the end of a life…

Coming Home: At the end of a life
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Over supper tonight I was attempting to tell my husband about the highlights of my recent getaway to Nashville when my 3-year-old interrupted me repeatedly, insisting her story was more interesting.

“I went to the big town and swam in a hotel pool and met a friend with curly hair who shared her mermaid while you were on vacation to Menards,” she declared.

Nashville. Menards. To a 3-year-old, it’s all the same and another reminder that I was back to the reality of two-toddlers-in-the-house-supper-conversation as we rolled into bath time and bedtime and now here I am trying meet a deadline, piecing thoughts together as the clock pushes midnight…

A few years before my grandmother Edie died, she went on a trip by herself to Alaska. I’m not sure why I remember her vacation so vividly, but maybe it was because the timing fell in the short years she lived after her husband died and so, even as a 9-year-old kid, I was aware of her loneliness.

I understood somehow it was an adventure she never had a shot at as a daughter of homesteading immigrants turned into a rancher and mother of four turned into a widow before she even had a chance to turn 60.

I like to think of her standing on the deck of the cruise ship, posing in front of an iceberg, her magenta lips smiling wide and brave at a new beginning. There have been a million times since she died that I feel like we were robbed of her long life. She would have loved Nashville.

Last week, my husband’s grandmother died while I was sitting in a pew at the Grand Ole Opry. I found out between acts. And even though I suspected it was coming, my heart sank and I cried.

Of course I cried at the loss of a life so precious to all of us. I watched the rest of the show with that lump in my throat, thinking of Leona and how she would have loved the Opry if we could have ever convinced her to spend that kind of money on a ticket when she could listen for free on the radio for crying out loud, which was just one of the many reasons we loved her.

Leona was a woman raised on the dirt of the Great Depression who made up for her low thermostat setting with her warm nature and good humor. The first time I met her I was just a teenager, warned not to leave too many bites of pancake on my Perkins plate, not because she would judge you necessarily, but because it would drive her crazy.

“She cuts her paper plates in half,” said my future husband.

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Maybe then I laughed at the absurdity, but ask me now and I will tell you this world needs more people like Leona. There’s not enough space here to tell you all of the reasons, but I hope I’ve said enough for you to understand why I kept her on my mind as I bought a round of drinks at Tootsie’s, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and cleaned all of my plates.

Tomorrow, at her funeral, I will learn a little more about the places she went to forget about the burdens of life. I have a hunch her trips were more twirls across the dance floor with the men she loved than overpriced flights across the country.

She always seemed as content with where she was as she was content with that old VHS player no one could convince her to upgrade. And as a person who is always reaching and wondering, I admired her for that.

We were given the gift of Leona’s long life, but I wish I would’ve asked her if she thought we ever have enough time, although I think I know the answer. It’s only the ones left behind who feel robbed.

Leona, tomorrow I’ll play you “Red River Valley.” We’ll miss you forever.

A song for strong women

On International Women’s Day I think it’s appropriate to share this video of my song “Work,” inspired by my Norwegian immigrant Great Grandmother Gundrun, and all the women who have built (and are currently building) their muscles out here in this cold, rough, beautiful landscape. 

“Strong women
may we know them
may we be them
may we raise them.”

A real version of Country Living magazine

Nashville

Just got in from Nashville (where it was an unseasonable 25 degrees without their “windchill”) and arrived to blowing snow and no travel advised. There’s a reason only the strong survive up here (and a reason we all head south about now) but even the strong are getting cranky about it…

 A real version of Country Living magazine
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The snow was blowing big flakes sideways across the prairie and the weatherman warned of minus 30 wind chills and it was just another February morning in western North Dakota.

I loaded up the kids and the car: coats, hats, mittens, blankies, sippy cups, snow pants, snacks for the trip to town, more snacks for the trip back home, lunch bag, computer bag, checked my pocket for my phone and we were on our way… Backed out of the garage, up the driveway, around the little corner and, with a sip of coffee, noticed that with the fresh snow, it was nearly impossible to distinguish where, exactly, our little road was.

Leaned forward, squinted my eyes, misjudged the curve entirely and sunk that car full of snacks and snowpants up to the floorboards in the ditch. Before I even reached our mailbox.

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So I want to talk about country living for a minute. Are there glamorous parts about it? Sure. When the sun is setting on a 70 degree summer day and you’re on the back porch listening to the crickets singing and watching the lightning bugs flicker in creek beds. These are the things Martha Stewart, Country Living magazine and that adorable home-renovating Gaines couple sell you about the whole rural experience.

That and the solitude, fresh air and the fact that they’ve never walked outside to find their pet goats standing on the roof of their car, but I digress.

But I’m guessing neither Martha, Joanna or the editors at Country Living have ever lived where that fresh air hurts your face, winter lasts 37 months and every outfit must coordinate with snow boots and a beanie. No. They live in a world where the dirt, mud, melty snow and apple juice magically stays off of their photo-ready vintage farmhouses decorated with fragile antiques and (*gasp) white rugs.

In these magazines and home renovation shows I’ve learned plenty on how to make a cozy breakfast nook (I’ll never have a breakfast nook) and what flowers to put in my foyer (I will never have a foyer). Curiously, I’ve never come across any tips on what to do when you drive your car in the ditch in your own yard 30 miles from civilization. Sigh.

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Luckily I’ve found myself in this predicament enough times that I’ve developed my own list. The first step being, of course, slamming my hands on the steering wheel in exasperation.

The second is new to me, but involves answering all 50 million of my 3-year-old’s questions about why we’re not moving, which is my favorite step.

The third? Pray that my dad’s home so I don’t have to suffer the humiliation of explaining this situation to neighbor Kelly or risk death by frostbite while hoofing it down to the house for a shovel. Good thing I always pack snacks.

Anyways, I guess what I’m saying, Martha, is some of you have never been pulled out of the ditch by your dad’s old feed pickup in a wind chill blizzard warning and it shows.

If you need me, I’ll be conceptualizing my own magazine idea that will offer fewer tips on decorating that space above your cabinets and more information on the flooring that best blends with scoria mud, how to find a body shop that will removed goat hoof dents and a list of excuses you can use on your neighbor should you find your car stuck in a snowbank. In your own yard.

I think it’s going to be a hit.

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The part not found in parenting books

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On pet fish and falling in love
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As a wife and a parent to two toddling humans, I find that I don’t have to look very hard if I want to feel like I’m doing something wrong.

There’s contradicting advice, opinions and experiences lurking in every day care pickup line and waiting on the other side of every click, swipe or ding. On any given day, I’m certain I’ve faltered far more than I’ve conquered, the feeling of desperation creeping in on me as I negotiate suppertime cooperation for a promise of a pet fish or no treats ever for the rest of your life.

In moments like these, I find myself wishing I were the mother I just knew I was going to be before I actually had children. But now that the current version of me has two little reality checks in tow, the one thing I’m trying to not lose sight of is the thing that got us into these “one-more-bite-of-lasagna” negotiations in the first place: our marriage.

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Last week a headline caught my eye: “Date nights could have saved my marriage.” A little twinge of panic shot up from my gut. I wanted to see the rest of the story, but I was terrified of discovering a familiar play-by-play. I wasn’t ready for that kind of reality check.

So I made a plan, one that favored the whole “work-life balance” myth, and I convinced my husband to attend an event I planned for the community. We called my parents to watch the kids and he met me at Paint Night Date Night, where I registered guests and then met him at our seats, drank a glass of Champagne and tried our hand at creating a unified painting of two tree branches reaching out toward each other under the moonlight.

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How fitting. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but just like the other couples in the room with us, we didn’t show up to become artists, but to carve out some time to sit side by side and do something other than fall asleep to Netflix.


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And so I kept it going, and the next night I made arrangements to head to the big town to attend a community symphony event. It was a trip that was part work research, part construction supply shopping, part the perfect chance for an uninterrupted meal and part Sunday morning trip to urgent care because we have young kids and the little darlings like to cough directly into my eyeballs.

And I bet you know what I’m going to say here, but I’m going to say it anyway. Sometimes in the thick of being in love, it can be hard to remember what falling in love means. Being in love is the man sitting with me in the waiting room of a strange hospital and laughing at how my illnesses always seem to coincide with our romantic plans.

Being in love is an insurance card. Comfortable. A lot of times predictable. But falling in love is not knowing quite how the painting is going to turn out, or if you really wanted to try it in the first place, but taking a swig and dipping the brush anyway.

And I think the falling in love part should be in those parenting books. I mean, it won’t get the toddler to finish her lasagna, but it will at least help the two of you laugh about it when you’re out shopping for a pet fish.

 

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Wilderness Dreams

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Coming Home:Wilderness dreams come back on days like this
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When I was a little girl all wrapped up in the magic of this place, my favorite book of was “My Side of the Mountain,” a story about a boy who finds himself living alone in the wilderness inside of a giant hollowed out tree.

I still have the book buried somewhere in this house, holding all the secrets to adventure like all the books I loved about kids taming horses and dogs and braving wild prairie storms. Forget after school microwave popcorn and “Super Mario Bros.” — I wanted real adventure!

I’m sure I wasn’t unlike most kids at 9 or 10 years old. We all had a little more confidence than we had experience, so maybe it wasn’t unusual that I was convinced I could survive out in the wilderness alone. Without a house. Or a toilet. Or my mom’s cheeseburger chowder. Yeah, there was a time that was my plan.

In the evenings, I would step off the bus and head up the creek behind our house to work on building what I called “secret forts.” In the oaks and brush that grew along the bank, I would I use every muscle in my spindly body to collect and relocate every fallen log within a 200-foot radius to lean against a bent tree, creating a leaky little tent. And when it was complete, I would look around to make sure my little sister hadn’t followed me here, ruining the whole secrecy thing.

And then I would lay down under the flawed “shelter” of 50 logs to think about my next step. Make plans for a door. And a blanket. And rocks for a firepit.

But as the dark crept in, I would decide I wasn’t quite ready to spend the night, emerging to follow the cow trail back toward the house where supper was warm and waiting. For months, this was my daily ritual, and one of my signature childhood memories.

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I thought I wanted to be alone out there, left to my own survival skills, but it turned out that having company was a nice addition. So eventually I gave in and helped my little sister build her own fort. A much smaller fort. Across the creek. Out of site.

We built a tin-can telephone that stretched from my fort to hers and brought down old chair cushions from the shed, tried to catch frogs and spent our evenings planning our next move — spending the night. But we never did it.

Summer gave way to fall, and the leaves fell and covered the floor of our paradise. We would pull on our beanies and trudge down the freezing creek to clear out the fire ring we weren’t yet brave enough to use. And then the cold set in and the snow came and the neighbor girls called us to go sledding, and our wilderness dream waited on a warmer season.

I can’t help but think about those girls on days like these. Days when the cold sets in, burned casserole from the night before sits waiting for a cleanup on my countertop and the dark, naked trees behind my grown-up house seem to call to me to come out from behind these walls.

Come have an adventure, girl.

I step outside and let the frozen air fill my lungs and bite my cheeks. I step outside and miss my sister. I step outside and I’m alone with a woman who used to be a girl I knew, a girl who thought she could tame coyotes, break unbreakable horses and live alone in the wild.

I step outside to look for her. I know she’s here somewhere, waiting for me to come and play.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.