Praise for the good kids

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Praise for the good kids

For the past month, we have had a guest in the house. And no, it’s not a mouse, and no, she’s really not a guest. She’s more than that and always has been… my niece, my family, my helper, my right-hand woman and just an all-around good kid.

Good kid. I like to say those two words together.

Good kid. There are plenty of them out there, but we don’t usually pay real tribute to them as a whole unless they’re some sort of child prodigy or sports star or young business mogul or queen or winner of something. And when we’re talking community, sometimes we forget to include them in the discussion, in the decision, in the vision for it all.

I mention this because my niece, T, reminded me of the demographic I have been away from since I was one myself 100 million years ago.

Because on Monday, T turned 16.

I remember when she was born and her first birthday and when I bought her a tiny pink cowgirl hat and she fell in the mud at the ranch and was so mad we couldn’t get her to stop crying, but let’s not go there with those memories today.

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Because today, T is 16 and she has her driver’s license so she took the 100-mile trip to stay in the basement and save our lives during the months when I had major events to plan and execute, long-distance singing trips, my husband was laid off from his job, my family had health scares and our lawn still needed mowing, our ranch still needed running, our suppers still needed cooking and our babies still needed us.

So when we couldn’t fully be there, T, who was still just 15, was. And I never worried about her with my kids for a minute, which freed me up to worry about all of the other things listed above.

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And while I was giving her a rundown of the schedule for the day in the middle of our very unscheduled life while sweeping Froot Loops off the floor on my way out the door and then coming back into the house two or three more times because I forgot my coffee cup/phone/computer/sunglasses in my rush out, it made me wonder what our life looked like to this almost-16-year-old observer.

When I was 16, I drew a picture of the house I wanted to live in, on the ranch surrounded by cattle and horses. It wasn’t a good picture — I’m a terrible artist — but you get the idea. And inside that house I thought we would have three sons and matching furniture and cupboards that you could open without Tupperware and sippy-cups falling out on our heads.

Inside that house I thought there would live two adult people canning garden tomatoes together, certain of a supper plan and free of the angst and fear you have when you’re 16 years old. Because at 16, I really thought that there would come a time in adulthood, likely right here on the cusp of my 36th year, that everyone just had it figured out. Your cupboards, your lawn, your career, your family, your paperwork… because that’s what I thought adulthood meant.

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If T ever thought that was the case, my husband and I popped her bubble in the most chaotic way. This summer threw a few hooks at us, it’s true. And when I was almost 16, I certainly didn’t see a future where an almost 16-year-old would save my almost 36-year-old butt the way that T has this summer, just by being fully and truly there.

Not by being a superhero.

Not by being a princess (although she’s earned a few tiaras).

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Not by being a child prodigy or a star athlete or winning “American Idol.”

No. She’s none of those things.

But allow me to let something as simple as this thought make the paper for once: She’s loyal. She’s confident, trustworthy and mature. She’s compassionate and helpful, organized and has good manners.

She cleans up after herself. She doesn’t complain much. She’s kind, but fierce when she needs to be. She’s loving and smart and she knows what she wants.

She’s 16. She’s my niece. And she means everything to me and she’s going to mean everything to this world, because simply and most importantly, she’s a good kid.

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A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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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.

Dear Husband on our 13th Anniversary

Next week we will be celebrating our 13th year of marriage. Thirteen doesn’t seem so lucky, but I’m only really superstitious about those sorts of things when things go wrong.

And what I’ve learned from 13 years of marriage is that the only thing you can count on, really, is things going wrong. And then, right again.

And what’s life but a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache? But my favorite times with you, well, they’ve always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

And so here were are, you and me and the kids and the dogs and the cows and the plans that seem to be going in a reasonable direction, until they aren’t. If we were sea people, we would say we’re good at readjusting our sails.

But we’re not sailors. We’re just two kids hell-bent on being landlocked in this rugged and unpredictable place, trying to belong here in our own way, in our own generation, knowing that even without the waves to take count, the wind can wear you down.

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Dear husband, last night I left you with the kids at suppertime so I could drive into a rainstorm and sing about our lives on a stage somewhere a few hours away. When I pulled out of the drive, my guitar and stories loaded up in the back seat, our daughters were standing naked in the mud puddles, dancing and splashing in the aftermath of a glorious late summer rain and you were laughing and waving and loving them. And I was loving you there with them.

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I love you. I always have.

A few days ago, our 3-year-old daughter asked me about my wedding. She wanted to know what I wore and if we danced and if I married her daddy. So I pulled out our wedding album and showed her photos and talked about that day in the cow pasture when you married me underneath the 100-year-old oak tree while our oldest daughter squealed and smiled and instructed her little sister to stop turning the pages so fast.

Wedding TreeThere was a simple quote in that wedding album that I pulled as inspiration for the special day, when I was just turning 23 and thought I knew what I was up for. It read: “Love is enough.”

And it struck me at that moment in the living room surrounded by Barbies and baby doll strollers, half-drunk milk cups and things that cost money spread out on the floor that’s never properly vacuumed in this sweet and maddening little mess we’ve made, that I was wrong there. Love is not enough. I’m sorry, all you romantics out there, but it’s true.

In order for love to be enough to survive this life together, the affection can’t stand on its own. You have to expand it, to stretch and define it more broadly so that it also means kindness, especially when you don’t feel kind, which will morph itself into patience.

And then patience lends itself to selflessness and turns the other person’s joy into yours if you let it. And if you look at love as less of a feeling and more like a doing for the other, that’s how love turns to freedom, which is one of my favorite parts about love.

And my favorite part about loving you. Because you let me be me, even in the times that makes our love a bit lonely. But I don’t have to tell you that, dear husband, because you’re the one who showed me.

And I didn’t marry you because I simply loved you. I could have loved other men, I know. Although I never really tried. I found you and here we are, more tired than we’ve ever been and more human, too. Adding years and payments and lawn care and cattle and children who spill things and who will always need us and make us worry and wonder if we’re screwing it all up will do that to the definition of love. Make it more human.

Because the stakes are higher, the days are longer and the floor is stickier and the ground is muddier, but we’re still standing on it, which comes in handy when this prairie wind blows.

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch
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It’s July at the ranch and the cows are out to pasture, I’m out singing for my supper, the guys are out in the hayfield and the kids are out running naked in the yard.

And while we’re all out, the grass in that yard just keeps growing. Because there’s nothing that a ranch yard loves more than a family too busy to landscape.

But when I lost Rosie in the weeds on a walk to the mailbox the other day, I thought it might be time to dust off the ol’ lawn tractor and get to work before it became a job for the swather.

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Oh, I love mowing the lawn, but apparently not enough to make it a priority over a 10 p.m. bedtime, which seems to be the only time left at the end of our summer days where I can escape to the tranquil, solitary bliss of the grass cutting motor.

Seriously though, it’s laughable what it takes to get such a simple chore done in my world these days. And because this is my life now, I’m gonna take this opportunity to walk you through it.

First things first, because we’re too cheap and stubborn to get new tires on my most prized possession, I have to dig out the ol’ trusty air compressor from the depths of the garage and air up two of the four tires. Done. No big deal, just have to pay attention to the slow leak to avoid the flat-tire-lawn-mowing-figure-eight-cut-in-our-lawn incident of June 1 that we’ve only recently recovered from.

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Next, I need to clear the area. Roll up the hose to the driveway in front. Roll up the hose to the garden in back and move the piece of barbed wire that’s supposed to serve as a makeshift gate to keep the cows out of the yard, but judging by the amount of cow pies in my grass, clearly needs to be re-engineered.

Then I properly roll my eyes and huff at the amount of toddler debris strung about before picking up five Barbies, 10 balls, a G.I. Joe, a mini lawn rake, a battery-operated four-wheeler and 35 half-painted rocks.

Next comes my favorite part — heaving the trampoline, fire pit, plastic slide, turtle sandbox and inflatable pool onto the little concrete pad under the deck and out of the way. And just when I think I’ve got it all, I need to turn and break my toe on the stake we set out to tie the pony up three weeks ago at our niece’s third birthday party.

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But really, it’s all worth it when I finally get on that mower, turn the key, put down the blade and start knocking down the roughage. The wind in my hair, the sun on my back, I start first along the sides of the road going up to the mailbox and let my thoughts wander to getting a job with the park board or something because this is my calling.

The lawn mower is my favorite piece of equipment, the lawn mower is my spirit animal, the lawn mower is my freedom, the lawn mower is… out of gas.

Next step, call Husband to instruct on gas can situation. Assess gas can situation. Lug giant gas can up the road. Spill a fair amount of gas down my leg and into my shoe. Decide it’s good enough. Start ‘er back up again to resume feelings of freedom.

Run over a log, get stuck twice, get unstuck twice, run over two big rocks in the ditch and three horse poops and have a near miss with the shovel we were supposed to use to scoop up said horse poops.

Give three kids a ride, run out of gas again, fill up again, almost get stuck one more time, sweat, smile, park and, four hours later, hands on hips, look out at that fine manicured lawn thinking Better Homes and Gardens has nothing on me. Now if they would just let me run the swather.

If you need me, I’ll be out in the yard. I have a turtle sandbox that needs to get back in its proper place.

Yours in peace, love and lawn care,

Jessie

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A spectator in a familiar world

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Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

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And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

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Outside the fence

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Coming Home: Outside the Fence
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There’s a little stem of a willow tree growing wild in our backyard. I wouldn’t have known it except my dad pointed it out in the thick of the wild grasses, bushes and weeds that we have been meaning to turn into a retaining wall for years.

Willow trees aren’t common out here among the bur oak and the ash, the bull berry thorns and chokecherry brush, except for the big ones that line the edge of the stock dam outside of our fence line, so Dad thought it was special, suggesting maybe we keep it there to grow instead of digging it up to make room for petunias or paving stones or domesticated bushes. I looked out at those big willows then and couldn’t help but think what a big jump that little seed took from home to here, what strength it had to dig in among the clover and weeds, successfully avoiding lawn mowers and chubby, curious hands.

Last month, while I was attempting to assist my 3-year-old daughter at T-ball practice, she told me to go wait outside the fence and watch like the other parents, because apparently now she’s a teenager.

Today at her little preschool Bible day camp, she gave me the same direction — and this time I was even offering a cookie.

She was sitting at a tiny table with a group of her friends and it was as if my presence immediately reminded her of her small place in the world at a moment when she was really feeling quite big. And hilarious.

Her little sister Rosie has already taken the “no parents allowed” stance on important things like hand-holding down the steps, drinking out of lidless cups and, recently, getting in on the dance circle and the horse-drawn wagon rides with the big kids, reminding me that the letting go part happens slowly and then all at once, like the way that we all noticed that tiny little willow tree that had been working on growing right under our noses day after sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day.

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Below the boards of our deck, in the corner on top of the beam, a mother robin spent her springtime gathering sticks and mud, grass and rocks to build a nest for five little blue eggs. Her work was so unassumingly diligent that we didn’t even notice the life and home she created there until among the laughter and frosting and pony rides of my niece’s birthday party.

This time, my dad looked up to find four tiny little fuzzy heads attached to beaks open wide, stretching up to find a mother surely coming with a worm or a bug.

I took the girls to get a better look from above through the cracks in the deck, instructing them to close one eye and keep the other one open to help them spot the tiny creatures who were close enough to feel our breath. I noticed the mother then, perched on the cedar fence rail that serves as a symbol, a barrier between the tame and wild world, safe and unsure. She was waiting there, watching, a worm dangling from her beak.

Tonight I am sitting alone in my backyard listening to the day quiet down with the chirping of those birds and the howling of the coyotes. That nest below me has been empty for weeks, because as fast as we think our babies sprout wings, real birds fly in a blink.

And I am the willow, the robin, the mother, on the other side of the fence with a worm, with a prayer, with a hand reaching out to steady them as they stretch toward the sky.

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How Independence Day transforms us

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In my childhood memories, the Fourth of July might have lasted all summer, the same way a summer day drags and stretches on long and slow, the hot sun beating on the fresh-cut lawn, its clippings stuck to my damp feet as I walked to the garden to snag a taste of a sugar snap pea or pull on the top of a carrot to see how they’re coming along.

Growing up on a ranch in North Dakota, you quickly learn that the work is never finished, especially in the summer when the fences need fixing along with everything in between them. But when it came to Independence Day, my family was always sure to take a breath, take a break and head to the water.

In the years when Dad couldn’t get away from the ranch for long, the holiday meant loading up the lawn chairs and digging around those carrots to look for worms so we could plant our fishing poles in the bank of the Little Missouri River or the shore of Lake Sakakawea.

But mostly it meant packing up our best red, white and blue for a road trip to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Minnesota where we would eat summer sausage sandwiches while we watched the boat parade from the shore, waving our little American flags before sticking them in the lawn where we played croquet and sat around the campfire singing and pulling our hoods up around our faces to ward of the swarm of mosquitoes. Many times the holiday would be the only trip we would get to take in a summer filled with putting up hay, fixing broken down swathers, moving cattle to new pastures and completing our 4-H woodburning/gardening/rabbit/latchhooking projects. Which is maybe why being by the water in Minnesota always felt so luxurious to my sisters and me.

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For a long weekend, we got to ditch our jeans for cutoffs and swimsuit tops, our boots for flip-flops and wear a sundress to the flea market down the road and pretend we were from a big town somewhere. We got to be a part of a culture that was laid-back and lazy, lounging and reading magazines on a beach towel with nowhere else to be. We ate chips and drank pop and took evening strolls on the bicycle-built-for-two on paved roads while the neighbors in fancy cars slowed down to wave us by.

We took the boat out and bobbed in the water while our aunt attempted to get us up on skis — because we were lake people, tan and smelling of sunscreen, aloe vera and bug spray, and lake people know how to ski. It doesn’t matter if it’s for three minutes after a 30-minute attempt at a lesson.

I’m all grown up now, raising young daughters of my own on the ranch where I was born, but each year the Fourth of July comes around and I feel like that 10-year-old girl again. And so I follow suit with plans to head to that Minnesota lake to meet up with family and transform for a moment.

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My overworked husband lets the sun hit the places on his body that are perpetually covered in fire-retardant fabric and denim. He pulls out his dusty tackle box and fishing poles and gets to tangling and untangling, heading first to the bait shop for smelt and earthworms, because the Fourth of July smells like fish and dirt. And my young daughters become the mermaids they were born to be, jumping and splashing in the cool water until the sun goes down, the campfire flickers and their fins turn to dancing feet while Papa Gene plays guitar and their cousins twirl them around.

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Because the Fourth of July sounds like “This Land is Your Land” sung in my father’s voice as the fireworks crack and pop across the lake. And I turn into a version of myself unconcerned with deadlines or supper on the table, a lake person with no fences to fix or cows to chase from the garden, with a little sunburn on my cheeks, a little less weight on my shoulders and a little grass at my feet, thankful for our freedom and the eternal summer stretching out before us.

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Come rain or shine or rain or wind or heat or hail…

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Summer fun, rain or shine
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I’m telling you when it comes to getting the most out of summer, rain or shine, North Dakotans don’t mess around.

As a musician who has been singing at these outdoor events most of my life, I’ve sang “Home on the Range” when the skies were most definitely cloudy all day. And blazing down temperatures of 105 degrees, burning my skin and making a nice sweat puddle down my back and behind my guitar.

Or, like last week, pouring down monsoon-style sideways rain for hours on the Wells County Fairgrounds while the audience sat under a canvas tent in puddles upon puddles of muddy water with the strings of their hoods tied around their chins, nothing but blankets, raincoats and trash bags shielding their soggy bodies as they tapped their toes and swayed along to the music.

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When it rains on a summer day in rural North Dakota, we tend to get a little punchy about cussing it. Most sane people would just go ahead and let 3 inches of relentless, pelting rain ruin their outdoor celebrations, but that type of person likely doesn’t endure 17 months of winter. But we do. And when summer finally does come, it’s a glorious reward for those long winters, and we refuse to waste a moment.

So in North Dakota, we say things like, “Well, we need the rain, it’s been so dry,” and then the show goes on. Or the rodeo. Or the 4-H goat show. Or the parade…

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Even when, in the first 45 minutes of our three-hour trek across the state to stand on that soggy stage, the windshield wiper on the driver’s side of my dad’s pickup flung clean off into the abyss of the monsoon. I guess it was exhausted. And I laughed, maybe a little too hard, because, well, of course that happened.

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But Dad wasn’t laughing. I guess he didn’t think standing in a downpour for 20 minutes trying to make the repair so we could make it to Fessenden on time was very funny. Thank you, New Town Napa guy, for saving us so we were able to get back on that rainy road and arrive at 5 o’clock on the dot, right at showtime, running from the rain to plug in, mic check and do what we came there to do. Rain or shine.

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And I loved it. I loved that that die-hard audience of all ages with their jackets zipped up to the top reinforced all my ideas that we are here to live and love and clap along and say “I think it’s going to let up” in all kinds of weather. Rain or shine.

And so I smiled and closed my eyes and sang my love song to the rain, while outside that tent it was clear that no crops were to be planted that day, but we were going to be together regardless, swaying and singing and laughing and soaking wet…

Because we’re North Dakotans, and when it comes to summer fun, we don’t mess around.

4-H in my memories

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Old photo brings back proud horse show memories from childhood
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It’s 4-H Week in McKenzie County and I spent yesterday afternoon talking with 4-Hers about the photographs they took of their roosters and kittens, sunsets and sisters, horses and old country churches.

I’m always amazed at the poise, passion and pure creativity these kids possess and am always happy to be involved where I can. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, 4-H held it all for me. It was my connection to civilization for a week in the summer and a good excuse to do a project.

I spent hours on the floor latch-hooking a rainbow or at the kitchen table woodburning or pressing and identifying wildflowers. I grew a garden. I tried my hand at drawing. I took photos of my cats and dogs and horses, and true to form, I never baked a thing.

But my favorite was the horse show. A few days ago I was looking through old photographs in search of some other memory, and out of the pages falls a photo of me, my little sister, and my sorrel mare Rindy, standing stoic and proud in our pressed white shirts, Wrangler jeans, hats and boots at the fairgrounds. I suppose she was about 6 and I was around 11 and we were the perfect age to take this seriously and make it our life. I held that photo and a flood of memories washed over me.

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I could smell the ShowSheen and feel the sweat pooling up on my back, my stomach knotting with excitement and nerves. My little sister and I at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare in the backyard with Mane ‘n Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water. I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince my little sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on the green grass in our yard, not fully understanding or giving a care to what was on the schedule for the next morning.

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My little sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed-on dirt and yellow fly and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade. Because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

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Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning. It probably rained during the night, soaking the ground nice and good and I likely woke up bright and early because I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon.

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I would have pulled on the crisp, dark blue jeans and clean white shirt Dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and tucked it all in nice and neat before heading out to the barn with my little sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer, only to find that the mare had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back. Typical ranch horse.

So we’d get to brushing in the crisp of the early morning and to get her shined up again in time to head to town in the old horse trailer and show her off, two girls and a mare on her annual and only trip to town.

Yes, it’s county fair season across the state and across the country and I’m basking in the memories. Good luck to all you 4-Hers. Have fun and be as proud as those two little girls in that photograph.

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All the things to love

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All the the things to love
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Last night, as we were driving back to the ranch late from a performance in a bigger town, my dad said he wishes he could live a whole other lifetime so he would have time to fit in all of the things he wants to do.

He said it sort of casually to our friend sitting in the passenger’s seat, the man who has played guitar next to me during most of my music career and stood on stages with my dad in their younger lives. I sat in the back seat listening to them talk about the getting old stuff they are facing now — retirement and bad shoulders, travel and finances and grown children.

But I couldn’t shake what my dad said about the other lifetime, because it’s the same thing that has come out of my mouth time and time again, but it was the first time I’d heard it come out of his.

I wish there were another couple hours to linger a bit on the most important, or the sweetest, or the warmest, or the most fun things. To sit on the back of this horse a little longer, or with my arms around my sleeping child, or climb another hill, or make a trip to see my friends, or help or host or work on the ideas that tumble and toss in my head — the ones that need nothing but a little work and the extra time, time that we cannot, no matter how we try, create.

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And it’s funny that he said it then, after we wrapped up a night of music in a beautiful park in the middle of a growing town. That evening I stepped away before we went on the stage to have a look around. I watched daddies strolling babies, grandparents taking walks, a woman playing fetch with her dog, kids screeching down the slide, and I thought, ‘Well, I could live here.’

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And then for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine it. It’s the same way I imagine myself being a part of the families riding their bikes down a charming city sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. I wonder what it looks like in their houses and then I recognize that there wasn’t ever just one way to be me.

This spot out here on the ranch, where the cattle poop in my driveway and eat my freshly potted plants, might have remained the quiet little pile of abandoned cars and farm machinery if I would have followed through with my idea when I was 22 years old to move to the big city and sing.

What if he never asked me to marry him? What if he bought that motorcycle he talked about and headed farther west while I headed east, uncompromising in the vision I had for myself at that moment as someone who shouldn’t go home again?

There’s nothing there for me. They told me so. Would I have bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb in the Midwest or traveled to Nashville like they all told me I should do?

Would I have broken his heart and met someone new? Would I have children now with different colored eyes and unfamiliar names and would we ride our bikes and play fetch in a park like this listening to another woman singing about a life I could only imagine?

And in these imaginary scenarios, I like to think that I am happy and content, that whatever choices I made would find me just fine. And if I’m being honest, a part of me wishes that there was some way I could find out what would have become of me in Minneapolis or in Nashville or on a ship on the Mediterranean. What would my new favorite places become?

Because as much as there are things in this world that terrify me, those don’t weigh as heavy as the weight of all the things there are out there to love, if only we had another lifetime.

“Oh, I hate this getting old stuff,” our friend said to my father and then they both got quiet, staring ahead at a dark and familiar road, the headlights lighting up the night.

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