It isn’t always money that makes us rich

Even without much money, family can make us rich
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When we were young kids, my little sister came home from a weekend with her friend spent four-wheeling and boating on the big lake and asked my dad if we were poor.

Because somewhere between kicking up dust and riding the boat’s wake she realized what they had that we didn’t, and she wondered why.

Ah, comparison. It happened to my little sister earlier than it happened to me, but eventually we all outgrow our childish blinders to notice the things that make you comprehend we aren’t all created equal here.

I find myself struggling with this as I work on growing my children up in a world that strongly suggests that life is happier with more things in it. Bikes and cute clothes, an iPad with endless games, a toy-barn full of toy cows, a big sandbox, one of those lawn mowers that spits out bubbles as it goes and more space in the house to make a mess with it all.

Just this month I ordered my kids a big ol’ playset to go in the backyard, something that I never had as a kid, would have loved, but did just fine without. And knowing what needs to come of those four big boxes in my driveway, it looks like my girls might be off to college by the time we get the thing set up.

Then last week I stood under our big old barn reaching up toward a blue sky with an armful of the winter’s bale twine and a fresh cow pie squished under the heel of my boot. I was cleaning up the pens and tack room, sorting and organizing in an attempt get ready for the weekend’s branding.

 

 

 

I was sweaty and dirty and a little on edge from all of the mice running for their lives from under every grain bucket I moved and I was sort of cussing us for not keeping on top of the work out here and for not having nicer equipment, more organized outbuildings, well-kept fences and a bigger, nicer house that could accommodate all the family and friends we expected that weekend.

I looked up at that big old barn and the breeze blew the scent of that freshly squished cow pie to my lungs and I smiled.

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I don’t know how my dad answered my little sister that day, but if my children ever ask I’ll be sure to reply, “The list of things we won’t be able to give you could fill pages…

“But the scatter of those mice, the scent of the plum blossoms in the coulees in the spring, the ache of your muscles after a long day in a saddle, tangled-up hair and jeans that won’t come clean, forever knowing the sound quiet makes as day turns into night, the flicker of the fireflies and watching them glow so unafraid of the dark as we stand together on the deck of a home that, thank God, will never be big enough to hold all of the people we love, well children, I think we might actually be rich.”

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Garden wars continued…

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In case you’re wondering about the state of landscaping we’re in around here. ‘Tis the season.

Gardening season means secret manure stashes, friendly father-daughter rivalry
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Well, it’s officially gardening season around here, which means the friendly competition I have with my dad about who is better at keeping the cows from eating the bean plants and pooping on the radishes has begun.

And it seems we’ve both stepped up our game a bit. Turns out Dad’s had his eye on a big pile of old manure in the barnyard that he failed to mention until it was beautifully spread on his newly tilled and leveled garden spot. Which made me nervous because at the time he was planting his tomatoes in that fresh and fertile soil, my garden was quickly becoming a graveyard of seeded-out dandelions and Canadian thistle. And because Dad is still recovering from his illness, he’s home more… and restless… which means he’ll be in his garden. A lot.

So I decided to ignore the dead patches in my lawn, the retaining wall that desperately needs to be built and the deck that needs to be finished and focus on what was really important — growing better vegetables than my father.

It was time to get serious. I made plans to move my front yard garden into the spot below my house where we used to feed cows every winter, the spot that my little sister still calls “Cow Pie Heaven.”

The ground is more level, the soil is more fertile and I could just imagine the bounty of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans and peas overflowing from the borders of the $400 fence I loaded up in the back of my pickup while my mother-in-law watched the babies.

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Yeah, that’s right, I called in the troops. This garden is gonna require child care. Which became even more evident in my 75 attempts to actually plant the thing over Memorial Day weekend.

Turns out it takes about two hours to get the girls fed, clothed, sunscreened and bug-sprayed, and another hour to find their shoes and sun hats scattered across my patchy lawn before I haul them out to my new little slice of vegetable heaven.

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And while in my dreams I imagined the three of us sun-kissed and laughing in that garden for hours, what it really looks like is 20 frantic minutes of me planting three seeds at a time between picking up the toys the baby tossed, shooing away the gnats from her chubby cheeks and trying (and failing) to keep the toddler from drowning the carrots we just planted and shoveling dirt on top of her own head.

How she did that more than once can only be explained by the fact that she’s my daughter.

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Three days and six baby baths later, I got the thing planted thanks to the help of Dad, who decided to show a little mercy and wrangle the kids while I made my cucumber mounds and he made sure to tell me his are up already.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be out looking for that secret manure pile (because only my dad would have a secret manure pile) and not giving any thought to the fact that I can get perfectly good tomatoes at the market…

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What Edie has to say…

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Coming Home:
2-year-old Edie thinks she’s 30-something, or 60-something, or something

Yesterday, I told my 2-year-old that it was time to take a nap. She replied, of course, that she didn’t want to. When I asked her why, she said, “Because it’s too dangerous.”

The day before I told her “never mind” after she asked me for the 40th time what I was doing. She replied, “Never mine? Oh, never yours.”

My daughter calls the fly swatter a “shoo fly,” and announces the presence of every bug within a 10-mile radius, demanding that I bring her the shoo fly to take care of every one. On nice days at home, this is about all we do.

Edie calls her rubber boots “scrubber boots,” and I hope she never stops

My 2-year-old thinks she’s a 30-something mother or a 60-something grandmother, or a teenage girl, depending on her most recent and influential caretaker.

When she’s wearing her jeans, boots and a hat, she’s just like Chad, her dad that she often calls by his first name. She also calls him a queen, which is fun for us all. And as it turns out, when she’s outside, she spits just like him, too. Discovered that little gem the other day.

Yes, little Edie Elizabeth transitions in and out of her personas with ease, keeping us on our toes. On our way home from town last week, she initiated conversation by asking, “How you doing girlfriend?”

That night at supper, her icebreaker of choice was, “So, how’s your mom doing?”

Then she insisted that I take the cantaloupe off of her cantaloupe, proving that she is indeed a toddler after all.

And that’s why these tiny humans are so amazing really, just the right miraculous combination of spitfire and inherent sweetness to keep us all on our toes.

For example, a few days ago she wrapped her skinny little arms around both her baby sister and I, declaring us her “best friends.” About a half hour later, she must have changed her mind as she tested the waters by gently slapping her so called best-friend-baby-sister’s cheeks.

These are the things parenting books don’t prepare you for, these big personalities that come out of a tiny human you somehow had a hand in creating.

This morning, on our way into town, we passed a man sitting on a big ol’ Harley in the parking lot of our little grocery store. He was a large man, bald, tattooed, wearing leather — a straight-out-of-the-textbook Harley-Davidson owner.

“Look Mommy, that guy’s got a motorcycle,” my daughter chirped from the back seat. “What’s his name?’ she asked, because she always wants to know, leaving me to make up a lot of characters to appease her.

“Larry,” I lied. “I think his name is Larry.”

“Yup, he’s Larry,” she replied. “He’s perfect.”

And then my heart swelled up big enough to leak out eyes that were seeing the world as Edie sees it… where naps are dangerous and biker men are perfect and I think I’ll just enjoy this moment and worry about it later, like when she actually becomes a teenager.

Me and my dark cloud…

Yesterday this happened….

IMG_6546I’m still finding salsa bits in all corners of my house today and probably will be until the same thing inevitably happens with a tub of sour cream or jar of pickles or something, and then I’ll just divert my attention to that…and other stories of my annoying dark cloud…

Coming Home: Am I the only one plagued by comedic bad luck? Maybe.

Have you ever had a week where you feel like there’s a dark cloud of bad luck following you around? I’m not talking about catastrophic events, but rather painful toe stubs, coffee cups falling randomly from the cupboard, a printer that will only print blue ink or a chandelier that quit working one day only to magically work again the next?

Yeah? Now imagine this is your life.

Seriously. I’m a klutz. A magnet for small disasters. A target for falling things.

Once, while painting our house, I got my head stuck in a ladder. Like, bad. And because I was all alone outside while my husband was inside working on another project, there was a legit chance I could have died that way.

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I was stuck long enough anyway to contemplate the meaning of my last words to my husband. But no matter how I spun it, “Hand me that paint bucket, would ya?” just didn’t seem like a profound send-off to the after life.

Anyway, I lived through that one to continue to make a dramatic story out of every family trip. Seriously. Once, we made it an entire 50 miles into a 500-mile road trip before we had to change every tire on the camper. EVERY. TIRE.

And after that, we hit a deer with the pickup we bought the week before, so yeah, why don’t you ride with us next time.

If you like slapstick, hang out with me, a woman who has bigger ideas than the muscles attached to my flailing arms — flailing because bats seem to prefer to fly right for my head instead of the million miles of open sky available to them.

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Hang with me if you like performing the Heimlich maneuver at restaurants because I’ll likely inhale a chip. Or mistake wasabi for guacamole.

Come along and I’ll tell you how I got my big nose from my dad … and a flying sled and an unruly beer bottle, thanks so much for asking.

I mean, how many people have been smacked in the head by a 15-foot board flying off a trailer one day only to fall through the floor of a barn the next?

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Have you ever witnessed a woman in her best dress fall directly on her face for no apparent reason, flashing her entire rear end to a restaurant full of strangers? No? You should have been there for that one.

And the time I bent over to retrieve a napkin and banged my head so hard on the kitchen table that dinner guests fell silent to watch those little cartoon bluebirds circle around my head.

How many times can a dad rush his young daughter to the emergency room for a crushed foot, a disjointed wrist or a smashed finger from an unfortunate incident between a 2,000-pound bull and a metal post?

How many times can a husband shake his head at his wife before his head actually falls off and he turns from bystander to victim?

Yeah, life’s tough out here for me and my cloud, and I’d buy a helmet — but then I’d just be asking that coffee cup to fall on my toe next time.

Be careful out there friends.

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Work and motherhood: A gift and a struggle

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Before I became a mom I envisioned days spent with my babies like the one I got yesterday. The weather was beautiful, my daughters and I picked wildflowers and delivered them to grandma down the road, Edie ran through the sprinkler, played in the sandbox, rode her pony and spent the evening playing with her cousins while I cooked supper in honor of my mom and sisters with the windows open listening to the sounds of laughter outside. Besides the two giant pukes on my just-washed bedding, the baby was a dream. She slept and snuggled and was happy to be alive and learning.

It was a good day.

It was Mother’s Day.

But let’s be real now, not all days with kids and work are created equal. Some days it’s looks less like a dream and more a circus performance that has yet to be properly rehearsed and someone opened the gates and all the animals got out in the ring. At least that’s what it looks like on my living room floor, which matches what’s happening in my mind.

Last week, in an attempt to keep that sanity and the bills paid, we started daycare up again after losing our provider when Rosie was born. And while it’s only few days a week, it got me thinking about motherhood and work and keeping that part of yourself  that makes you tick engaged among the booger wipes and snuggles…and why it’s so hard to admit that it’s hard…and why sometimes you feel like no matter what you do, it’s not right for anyone.

And in those moments it helps to take a breath and remind myself that to have so much to love and so much I want to do that it makes me sorta crazy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it may drive me to make questionable decisions about M&M consumption…and maybe we need to work on things like that…

Coming Home: How to be a good mom, today and every day

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There are a million ways to be a good mom.

Handing your 2-year old one M&M after another in an attempt to keep her quiet while you’re on the phone conducting an interview for a magazine article that is overdue is probably not one of them.

It’s not one of the ways to become a great journalist either, but when it comes to motherhood and work, sometimes it’s about survival.

I’m thinking about this today as I sit in a coffee shop office after dropping my daughters off at their new part-time daycare perch for the first time. I’m thinking about motherhood and career and the proper amount of sacrifice and wondering if I should feel guilty about not feeling as guilty as I think I should about getting a break from my kids to get some work done … if that makes sense.

Does it make sense?

Since Rosalee was born five months ago, I have continued to work from my home office, struggling to keep my career afloat and my children entertained and happy three minutes at a time. And while it’s been wonderful to be home with them, it’s also been maddening and exhausting.

To have a career you love and babies you love at the same time is a gift and a struggle of distribution.

To have a husband with a full-time job and a ranch to run when he comes home at night makes our life look like “remember you have the babies tonight because I have a meeting” and texts about grocery lists and the triumph of finally finding the lost mermaid toy the toddler has been obsessing about. It’s about piling in the old pickup to “help” fix fence and Daddy getting in just in time to read story after story before falling asleep in his work clothes in a tiny bed next to his daughter and her pile of stuffed animals because he’s exhausted while I’m upstairs nursing the baby and finishing up the day’s emails on my cell phone.

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It’s a familiar narrative.

We’re not unique as a working family trying to make our dreams and our ends meet. But turns out there’s a lot of wondering if you’re doing anything right in between those lines of the happily-ever-after story.

Because once you put those dreams in motion, what comes next is the messy, wonderful, unpredictable, frustrating, fulfilling minutes piling up to create a life.

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But why is it so scary to admit that it can be exhausting?

I know from experience that I can be tired and grateful at the same time. Aggravated one minute and proud the next. Content in the moment while really looking forward to when the toddler can put her boots on all by herself and the baby pops those bottom two teeth already.

When I pictured myself as a mother I had expectations that I wouldn’t use M&M’s as bribery as often as I do. But that was back before I met the kids who created this new version of me who loves them fiercely and fully, but still has work she wants to do.

And you know now that I think of it, I can only wish the same dilemma on my daughters one day.

Happy Mother’s Day mommas!

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Spring’s little gifts

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We went from winter to summer here in Western North Dakota. Last Saturday it was nearly 80 degrees and so I loaded the kids up with sunscreen and attempted to clear the yard of dog poop while Edie sprayed the hose into the little plastic pool and Rosie watched and drooled in her stroller.

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The sunshine made us all feel so alive and happy that I didn’t even mind shoveling the dead squirrel in full-on rigamortus from the yard for the thirteenth time that week (country living is glamorous).

And when we heard the next day was going to be even warmer, we went ahead and made plans to go fishing, successfully transforming us from grumpy, nose to the grindstone workaholic types, to full-on retirees–if retirees wipe toddler noses and baby butts while they’re poles are in the water.

Oh, it was the complete heaven that comes when we get nice weather up here. Because when it’s nice, it’s glorious. The lake was still and the fish were biting, at least for Pops, who proves time and time again that he’s the luckiest of the lucky ones.

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I looked over at him who is getting better and better every day and said “Isn’t it a great day to be alive?”

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And it was indeed. It is indeed.

Cheers to spring turning rapidly into summer. Just make sure you’re checking for ticks.

Love, the Girls of Spring!

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Coming Home: Relishing the signs of spring, whether good or bad

Throw open the doors and bring out that old book that props up your window. Let the sun in and the breeze blow through the house because I think spring might finally be happening after all.

I wouldn’t dare say for sure, except last weekend I picked some crocuses and a tick off the back of my neck, and out here those two things might be the most reliable indicators that sub-zero temps are on their way out, for a few months anyway.

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It’s incredible what a 70-degree day will do to a person up here where winter drags its heavy feet coming and going.

After a February that lasted three months, I promised my friend who has been living on a ranch in North Dakota with her husband for just a few years, that spring always comes … eventually. She didn’t look convinced.

Maybe because I wasn’t so convinced myself.

But here it is, however late. It’s that promise that keeps us crazies living up here in the great white north, all bundled up and waiting to walk around in our Ice Cream Shirts (with a jacket in the pickup just in case). And now that I see it in writing, I realize that I might be the only one in the great white north who uses the term “Ice Cream Shirt.” I’ll explain.

Ice Cream Shirt: The term our grampa Pete used to describe a button up, collared cowboy shirt with short sleeves, the type of shirt a man might have to wear if he spends his days scooping ice cream. Also, a piece of clothing the man himself probably never wore, because of the thorns in the bullberry brush and frankly, arms that aren’t accustomed to the sun should probably remain in the protection of sleeves, no matter the weather.

It’s the same sentiment my friend’s husband has about shorts. “I don’t like things touching my legs,” he said. “Like grass or bugs or air.”

That’s a cowboy for you.

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And it’s my understanding that even the ones who live in the desert might only be caught in shorts on that Caribbean cruise his wife bid on at a church silent auction or something.

Oh, there are good reasons for these unspoken wardrobe rules out here.

My little sister found out firsthand last weekend on our hike up to the top of the hill we call Pots and Pans. We were both dressed in tennis shoes, leggings and had a baby strapped to our chests, practical for a sidewalk stroll but brutal when you march right into a giant cactus patch, proving once again that out here, sunshine comes with a few small, annoying price tags, some with tiny stickers and others tiny legs.

Oh well, shedding a little blood is a small price to pay for a spring crocus bouquet, said the girl with a cactus plant dug into her ankle to the other with the tick stuck behind her ear.

Happy spring everyone. Wear what you want and soak it in!

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For the love of an old dog

Coming Home: How do you say goodbye to a pet who was your first family?

It’s always a rainy day for this kind of news.

But if the sun happens to be shining when you hear it, standing in the vet’s office bouncing your fussy baby while your big-hearted old dog waits for you on a blanket in the back of your car, well you’d just resent it’s hopeful rays anyway.

It was the coughing and wheezing on our walk that weekend that found me and my old companion looking at one another wondering how I was going to get his tired and stiff 110-pound body hoisted up into the back of my SUV without killing us both.

But turns out, it’s not those old bones that are killing him, it’s that big ‘ol heart. At least that’s what I heard the vet say, words I knew were coming despite my hope for something that might return him to the days when I would open the back hatch of my little Saturn and he’d leap in, sleek and slobbery and hoping for a trip to the lake.

And it’s not that I didn’t know this was coming.

Nearly 12 years alive for a chocolate Lab is what you can expect. It’s just that the gray hair around his muzzle now matches the hair along my temples and the silver shining out the sides of my husband’s hat; hair that reminds me we’re not those kids anymore, freshly married with a world of plans and time in front of us and a new puppy peeing in the house and chewing on our shoelaces and soaking up the extra love and affection and time spilling out of us.

And now we’re in the thick of it, wiping butts and noses, raising careers and cattle and sometimes passing each other like ships in the night. And sometime between then and now our puppy with an affinity for sticks too large for him to carry turned into an old dog getting ready to leave us.

I swallowed that lump in my throat at least a dozen times while I waited to pay for the prescription medication that might make him comfortable and keep him here with us a little longer.

I put the baby in the car and his big old muzzle leaned on the seat, breathing heavily over her as she closed her eyes to sleep and I closed mine to cry, that dog’s life story unwinding in my head and all tangled up in the lifespan of our marriage.

He was our first family member and the one constant in a life together that has often felt as overwhelming as it has wonderful.

The moves, the renovations, the family plans broken, the slamming doors, the celebratory hugs, the pheasant hunts and long walks, the dozens of songs, the sleepless nights, the pregnancies, the babies — he’s helped bring us here and has always welcomed us home.

This morning I’ll give him his pills tucked up in a hot dog, scratch his belly and let him out to sit in the sun that’s shining today, giving us hope for a little more time before we have to figure out how to live without him.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed to share sympathy and stories of their favorite pets. I’m happy to report Hondo seems to be doing better on the meds. We are going to love him every minute we have left with him.

A poem shared with me by one of you, my special readers

The Power of a Dog

By Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years that nature permits
Are closing in asthma or tumors or fits
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers, or loaded guns.
Then you will find–its your own affair
But–you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You still discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em the more do we grieve;
For when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Calving season and small triumphs

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The babies are starting to be born out here just in time for warmer weather. And although calving season means more work and less time with daddy, it’s also a fun excuse to load up the girls and ride along on the treasure hunt for new babies in tall grass.

And I’m happy to report that this week we’ll be able to ditch the beanies….

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Coming Home: Calving season brings mix of wonder and worry

We’re in the middle of calving season here at the Veeder Ranch. And because we’re in North Dakota, our plans to calve mid-April didn’t necessarily get us out of the cold woods.

Every coulee and protected place on the ranch is still full of snow, so every day is like a scavenger hunt for shiny, little black heads popping out of the tall grass, if they were lucky enough to be born in a dry spot.

Edie is the queen of the barnyard when she’s sitting next to her daddy, bouncing along the prairie trails in the pastures, unaware of the lessons she’s already learning about life and death and a mother’s fierce love.

Last week she stood on the pickup seat looking out the window as her dad’s attempt to tag a new baby turned into a game of Ring-Around-The-Pickup with a protective momma.

When he flung the door open, faced flushed and breath heavy, Edie unflappably asked, “Whatcha doing, Daddy? Running with the cows?”

And it reminded me of all the times I watched my own dad test his speed and agility in snow boots and coveralls trying to avoid a concerned momma’s head-butt as he worked to get a closer look at her baby. This business of being born out here is a dangerous game for every man and beast involved.

I’ll never forget the time I opted out of my bench seat perch to stay in and watch “Wheel of Fortune” with Gramma only to have Dad come crawling up to her doorstep, bruised, bloody, covered in earth and lucky to be alive.

Yes, calving season, even in the best weather, sprinkles ranch life with adventure and wonder. On the best days, it’s miraculous to count the precious new lives that arrive without fanfare and are up on their four wobbly feet sucking and ready to live within minutes.

On the bad days, when the wind whips hard and cold and wet, it takes every muscle and all your spirit to lift those lives out of the muck and trudge on. Ask any rancher and he’ll likely admit this year has taken its toll, sending a fair share of babies from the pasture to the entryway heat lamp, each life saved a sigh of relief.

On Sunday, we walked into Mom and Dad’s to find our own entryway baby, born in a snowbank to a momma with good intentions but bad timing. It was one of the first Sundays since Dad has been home that we had the whole family together. We huddled around that poor frozen soul lying among our boots as my uncle helped Dad put warm colostrum in her belly, rub her body and move her limbs.

And even though we knew we probably shouldn’t get attached, we named her April, put our warm hands to her cold nose, stroked her soft ears and watched her come back to life, stand up on her own four legs and find her place back by her momma’s side.

And among all the mud and medicine, work and worry, it felt like nothing short of a triumph for us all.

These roads

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

Coming Home: Kicking up dust on the road of life

We live on gravel roads that stretch like ribbons along pasture land dotted with black cattle. As we kick up dust beneath our pickup tires heading out to a chore or to meet up with a neighbor, we take for granted how these roads were built and why they’re here.

Because these days we’re in a rush, driving faster than we should past newly made plans and history– some hidden and some still standing, weathered wood on crumbling foundations.

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I remember a time when these roads were quiet. It was where my cousins and I would skip like characters from “The Wizard of Oz” down the middle of the scoria without a care. The only vehicle to meet us was our great uncle driving with his windows down or my mom looking to borrow some sugar from a neighbor.

If we were lucky it would be the Schwan’s man hauling the promise of orange push-up pops, and we would put the game on time-out and sit on the front porch trying to get to the bottom of the treat before it melted and dripped down our fingers.

We didn’t know that there would ever be anything here at the end of this road besides imagination and our grandmother’s cookies. We didn’t know that anything but our boots and old feed pickups would kick up dust on the road.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to tell the story of this place as part of my living. And because of that, and because of the long winters and the new babies and the close calls with losing the important people we love, I sometimes lie in bed at night breathing while the vice grip on my heart tightens. Funny how the darkness falls and talks us into wondering how this place and the people in it can seem so eternal and so volatile at the same time.

Maybe because between the past and the future there are so many colors here, cut down the middle by this winding gravel road of home.

It makes me wonder what memories were held in the hearts of those people who have long ago returned to the earth. What would they think if they saw us driving our fancy cars to houses that sometimes feel too big to hold the love, if that even makes sense at all?

How far away I feel from that life some days even though I believe our goals haven’t changed — to do the best we can on a landscape where trees grow, calves are born, ground is tilled and minds are inventing ways to make the living easier.

Inside those old houses they ate, prayed, laughed and worried in the dark just as we do in our houses with too many screens and not enough vegetables while the wind blows and knocks on our windows, reminding us that this place is not ours solely and rightfully and individually.

One day we’ll abandon these houses in decision or death, and there will be new generations searching these roads for our story.

So we should tell it now, honest and true and leave to them what they need.

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“This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live

Neighbor Kelly

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There’s so much more I could say about neighbor Kelly, so many stories that he would tell so much better than me, but I’ve only got 500 newspaper words for this week’s column.  He’s been like my second dad for as long as I can remember and I hope you have a neighbor like this in any weather…no matter where you are.

Coming Home: On the ranch, being a good neighbor means so much

Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don’t think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we’ve tested him.

Neighbor Kelly was the go-to guy to call when Dad wasn’t home for emergencies like a loose horse, broken appliances and keys locked in cars when you’re late for a meeting. Just a mile away, Kelly is quick on response time, too, there in a flash with a coat hanger and a plan. And depending on the season, his Carhartts and wool cap.

Oh, Kelly’s collected hundreds of rescues like this throughout the years because when you live in the middle of nowhere, being a good neighbor means wearing a dozen different hats.

So Kelly is a locksmith, yes, but he also earned his exterminator badge that time he tackled the suspected pack rat problem by camping out on the living room floor with Dad, pellet guns pointed at the cabinet under the sink waiting for the signal.

And when Mom found herself a snapping turtle in the garage, Kelly was there to assist in a plan to wrangle it back to the dam.

Kittens stuck behind the refrigerator? Call Kelly — he’s more agile and can fit back there.

Seating for hundreds needs to be built for your daughter’s wedding in your cow pasture? Kelly’s got a hammer and a case of beer.

Cows need to be moved? Kelly’ll be there early with a horse and maybe his bullwhip just for kicks ’cause he might get a chance to climb that big butte and snap it like the Man from Snowy River.

Because Kelly’s the guy who’s entertaining like that. He’s the sweetest harmony in the band, the best dressed and the only one who can yodel.

He’s the guy you call if you want an epic sledding party because he’s got an unmatched dedication to fun that sends him out there for hours with a shovel clearing a fast course, complete with a jump at the bottom and a campfire at the top and a new snowboard waiting to send him to the emergency room.

Most notably though, he’s the Lefty to the Poncho that is my father. When Dad called us in the middle of the night, unknowingly staring death in the face, we called the ambulance and then we called Kelly.

And when they airlifted Dad to Bismarck for an emergency surgery during an ice storm, Kelly drove the three hours on those roads behind us to sit with us in the waiting room. Recently, when Dad was in the hospital in Minneapolis, Kelly made that trip too, and a trip almost every day now down the road a mile to see his friend as he recovers.

And I can’t imagine this place without Kelly up the road.

I’m just hoping it warms up so he can take those Carhartts off soon.

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