About Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I am working on living and writing my story. I grew up singing and writing music and spent my young adult life touring colleges and coffeehouses across the country. I have had a life long love affair with Western North Dakota and the 3,000 acre cattle ranch on the edge of the badlands where I grew up Now, after a couple albums, a couple of moves, a couple of dogs, a couple of jobs, one large home renovation and a long, heartbreaking road to motherhood, I am back at the ranch to sing, write and raise cattle and my baby daughter alongside my family as we take this ranch into the next 100 years. Oh, and just in case you want to know a bit more about the woman behind the words...I'm a statewide columnist, the editor of Prairie Parent, a new Western North Dakota parenting magazine, a recording artist and touring musician, a new momma and nature enthusiast. I have big hair. I trip a lot. I say stupid things. I snort when I laugh. I'm a home renovator and a damn good cabinet refinisher. I married the right man. I hate car shopping. I would adopt all of the dogs in the world if I had a big enough yard. I am addicted to coffee and candy and peanut butter. I am working on writing my story. I am home.

In dark times, hang on to hope

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Western North Dakota has become many different things to so many different people over the last 10 years of an all out and unprecedented economic boom — a refuge. A last resort. A stop along the way. An experiment. An adventure. And for many, a new home.

Last week, it became a place where a family lost their baby to the sky.

And this isn’t my story to tell except that it’s my community and my heart is breaking. In another time of my life here in my hometown, it would have been more likely that I would have known many of the families whose homes were ravaged by a tornado that whipped through a trailer park on the south side of town in the terrifying and devastating moments before midnight.

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MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

But then again, in another time, that trailer park was nothing but a field and I was a young girl with plans to leave a place that didn’t yet hold all of these new dreams, let alone my own.

But here we are now, together in this town, together between new stoplights, new foundations and freshly planted lawns, all of us on wobbly knees, all of us so focused on navigating our place here that maybe we forgot about that sky and how it can freeze our pipes and frost bite our skin only to turn around and soak us in sweat before sending down hail stones and ripping homes from the dirt.

And maybe that’s why the lump swelled up in my throat the way it did when I heard of the devastation that occurred while I was lying safe in my bed with my arms around my own baby. Twenty-eight injuries. One child lost. More than 100 people displaced in a town that has yet to become familiar to many of them.

I didn’t want this to be their experience here. I didn’t want this to be the place where a baby lost his chance at a future, where bodies were injured and belongings scattered in the dirt. I didn’t want this devastation to be a chapter in our unpredictable story.

But if we can’t control the sky, we can control how we connect our hearts to our hands and our hands to our actions. And we can carry on the narrative of compassion and neighborly love and muscle that made us a dot on the map in this wild place to begin with.

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A cat found in the rubble of a mobile home destroyed by Tuesday morning’s tornado hitting Watford City rests in the arms of Andrew Anderson, a missionary helping the Red Cross at the Prairie View RV Park.

And that’s what I see happening here now. Even if there’s no blanket soft enough and no hug tight enough to put that baby back in his mother’s arms, at least there’s a community wondering how they might help those new parents bear the weight of their grief.

Because the roads in and out of this town are full of people talking about how they’ve been helped and hurt, how they’re leaving for good or coming to stay forever.

And regardless of the story, I wish nothing for any of us but to hold on to hope. Because the sky can rumble, it can scream and shake us until we break. But in so many ways I’ve come to know it to shine again and that’s the only promise any of us can make here in this place.​

As shelter closes, Red Cross praises Watford City

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Chris Moore stands beside the American flag he has attached to the box of his pickup truck parked next to his mobile home at the Prairie View RV Park in Watford City on Tuesday afternoon. His home was damaged by the EF2 tornado that struck the park in the early morning hours, but the flag remained upright. MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

Who are we without our memories?

Happy summer everyone. We took as much of a hiatus from real life as we could over the 4th of July week to head to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Minnesota like we do every year over the holiday.

This year was pretty special as more family joined us from across the midwest and my two-year old had a blast following the big kids around the lake.

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Great Grandpa and Grandma with all ten of their great grandchildren

I’m not going to lie, traveling with two young kids and staying in a hotel for night upon night is no joke.

Kids like schedules. But there are so many reasons it’s worth it to spend a week having donut holes for breakfast, skipping naps for more swim time, serving popsicles before supper and wiping the sand and grass off of their little feet before zipping up their jammies and flopping down for bed sunkissed, dirty and exhausted from fun at 10 pm.

My only wish is that my girls could remember every minute of the weekend spent with this family, especially these special moments…

Last week, Edie caught her first fish off of her great-grandparents’ dock on a little lake in Minnesota.

After her daddy helped her pull that bluegill out of the water using the little orange fishing pole with the button reel that has likely caught many grandkids’ first fishes, she inspected its puckered mouth, ran her fingers over its scales, looked toward the shore and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Gramma Ginny, look! I caught a fish!”

Gramma Ginny is Edie’s 80-something great-grandmother who is known to her family as a woman who loves to play bridge, has read thousands of books, is probably magic because she can float in the water for hours without paddling and refuses to look on anything but the bright side in life. This is a quality that is seeing her and her family through the difficult and inevitable process of time that has taken her quick wit and memory, but has not broken her spirit.

Edie calls gramma Ginny her best friend and like any best friend, she was thrilled by her little granddaughter’s first catch. I watched them celebrate with a lump in my throat wishing time would stop for a moment.

Edie, don’t get bigger just yet. Gramma, don’t get older. Warm sun, don’t go down on Lake Melissa today; just hang in the sky a little longer and shine on my mom in her swimsuit as she floats out to the sailboat with her sisters. Don’t set on these cousins getting to know one another and growing up too fast. Don’t stop our laughing and start our worries. Not yet. Hold still now, time.

“It’s a beautiful day. A good day,” said Gramma Ginny over and over as all 10 of her great-grandchildren, from 7 months to 14 years old, navigated their relationships to one another over games of beanbag toss, squirt gun fights and kayak trips to the lily pads.

“Yes, yes it is Gramma,” we would reply, all of us reliving old memories of swim lessons from aunties, rainy day card games and mosquito slapping by the campfire, wishing we didn’t know that our matriarch’s memories slip in and out like waves as she holds on tight to her husband’s hand and wades into the familiar feel of the cool lake water towards her grown daughters with children and grandchildren of their own.

I looked at my grandparents and thought about the 60-some years of a life they’ve lived hand in hand like that and I wondered how it is that I want to stop the very thing that has given them so much adventure and fulfillment and love.

What do we know if we can’t remember it all?

Who are we without our recollections, our stories? Our memories?

We are my 2-year-old daughter, fresh and eager to discover a mysterious new world, and her great-grandmother, two best friends celebrating a catch in a special moment on a good and beautiful day.

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Seeing the garden in spite of the weeds

We’re coming off of one of those long stretches of week that sometimes happens for us in the summer when work and fun sort of collide to create this chaotic swarm of action and stress and fun.

We had a birthday party, cousins visiting from Texas, a children’s theater production, a visit from a PBS film crew, a swing set building project that likely won’t be done until Rosie gets married and it was awesome to have so much to do and so many people around us to love…

But in the middle of it all was this big Art in the Park event I’ve been planning for months as part of my work running an arts foundation in the community.

I put a lot of effort into this event. We had generous sponsors that put hard earned money into it as well. I enlisted the help of all of the family I could round up, plus my husband and board members and volunteers. In my mind, if we could pull it off, it was going to be a fun gathering of local music, artists and hands-on activities.

And after the stress of setting up and making everyone fit in a limited space, for a good three hours or so the sun-shined and the people milled and the music played and the kids got their faces painted and did projects and played in the park and the artists talked with shoppers and it was exactly as I envisioned. And I was thrilled for us all…

And then the thunder clapped and the sky opened up and it rained and rained and rained….

And a part of me wanted to cry, but a bigger part of me said instead, at least the sun shone on us for a while.

Because I was born with something in me that seems to beg me not to be let down…

And that’s what this week’s column is about…seeing the garden in spite of the weeds.

Coming Home: Never mind the weeds

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Last night, I put the girls to bed before the sun set and headed out to the garden.

It had been an entire week since I had a chance to dig in that dirt in an attempt manage my little crop of vegetables, and I could see from my window all the rain gave the weeds permission to set up shop.

But I didn’t mind. When I first moved back to the ranch, I made myself a list of the things I wanted back in my life after spending a few years thinking I didn’t know who I was. At the top of that list was a simple little promise to keep a garden. And because it was quiet last night as I kicked up the smell of damp dirt, I had a moment to remember why.

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When I was a kid, probably close to 10 or 11, I entered my garden into the county fair. Because of the timing of our growing season, I didn’t have any vegetables to present, so I decided I would document the process. I can’t remember every detail of the exhibit or what we grew that summer, but I do remember I put together a picture book with some progress photos.

I recall one photo I was particularly proud of that featured 10-year-old me in a T-shirt, ponytail and jeans standing confidently next to our little corn crop. The idea was to show the height of our stalks to the judge in a book that, between the shiny Kodak photos pasted on construction paper and the sentences spelled out in wavering Sharpie lines, told less of a story of a master gardener and more of a kid who liked a project.

I was pretty certain the judge would be impressed, which made it that much harder to process the sinking feeling when he pointed to that picture and asked, “What’s that there?”

I moved my eyes from my beautiful corn stocks down to the border of the garden where the judge placed his finger.

“Weeds,” I said as my face flushed.

Weeds that the judge suddenly made me notice for the first time in all of the hours I spent digging in that dirt and documenting my progress.

Weeds my dad never pointed out to me. Weeds my mom never mentioned. Weeds that earned me a red ribbon instead of the coveted blue.

Weeds that today remind me of the vulnerability of my optimistic nature. That I could look right past that snarl of crabgrass and creeping Jenny and only see the promise of grilled corn on the cob or the snap of a fresh pea says something about the innocence and wonder of childhood, a person I become again when I’m standing in a garden I made grow.

And I’m thankful for that judge. He did his job and I was better for it. And on days the burdens in my life grow in too close, threatening to steal my rain and choke out the sun, I know I can chop them down if I need to.

But sometimes I like that it’s in me to say never mind the weeds. Better things are coming with a little sunshine and rain.

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This place is yours

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Family ranch is a special place, not just for the ones who live there now. 

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“This place, there’s just something about it that makes people feel like it’s their own. It’s special that way I think,” my husband said as he pulled his pickup off the highway and onto the gravel road that leads us home to the ranch. Our girls were sleeping in the back and the sky was turning dark in anticipation of a summer storm.

Last week, we said goodbye to a ranch full of relatives who came to celebrate the fact that Dad gets another birthday and catch us in the act of branding and working cattle. Aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends leaned on fences, pointed cameras, served roast beef or grabbed a job, each one with a memory of time spent here making an appearance in the stories on their lips.

When a place has a 100-year family history, the things that old barn has seen as it stands watch over it all could fill some colorful pages.

And if I had millions of words and time upon time, I don’t know if I could have said it better than my husband did that day as a man who wasn’t born to it, but respects it and the people it raised enough to be granted the gift and responsibility of a home here.

But we both know that it’s not ours alone, to keep or to claim. That’s something I learned at an early age from my grandparents, before they left us too soon. Open arms, open minds and a porch light that stays on just in case is the way it’s always been.

We’re just lucky enough to help be the keepers of a flame that has remained flickering because of the hard work and good hearts of the people who kept the cows fed and the bills paid through times much tougher than these.

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Great Grandpa Eddie who homesteaded the Veeder Ranch

So when the little old farm house started on fire on that black and starry Fourth of July six years ago, we said goodbye to an old structure with a crumbling foundation and built a new cabin in its spot by that barn. Because we needed to keep a house there for the people who love this place and those who may need to fall in love with it someday.

Because as much as the coulees and hilltops of this place are sacred to me, there are dozens upon dozens of others throughout the years who have climbed these hills for a breath or got lost in the draws on purpose, bucked off of horses or scooped up barn kittens in their arms, slid on cardboard boxes down the gumbo hills or sat for coffee around the table in my grandma’s tiny kitchen. This is their place.

And if you come over for a visit, or a ride, or a roast beef sandwich, it might just become your place, too. I hope it does. It likely will. Because it’s special that way I think.

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Great Grandpa Eddie in the door of his homestead shack

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.

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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