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.

Let it shine…


Edie calls my guitar my “Sunshine” and I never want to forget it.

When I get my “sunshine” out she cries until I sit her on my lap and let her play with me. And we can only sing “You are my Sunshine.”

She’s so bossy and I’m putty in her hands.

Here she is on one of her 37 renditions of our song.

​I can’t help but look at her in these sweet moments and wonder what kind of woman she’s going to grow up to be. I wonder if she will spend her life behind a guitar or the windshield of a motorcycle, the screen of a computer or the wheel of a tractor…

In hard and confusing times like these, I’m so thankful that I have her to give me hope for the future. I pray I can do right by her, to help guide her toward love and acceptance and bravery when she’s worried and wondering. I hope I can always be her rock, the way good parents and good people should be to our children…

Funny, I never expected my baby to be my rock in return.

My rock and my sunshine. ​

Let it shine, my friends, in any good and decent way you can.

We need your light.

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Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
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Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on jessieveedermusic.com

Take the picture

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I’m trying to get my photo situation under control. Or, I should say, I’ve been thinking about getting my photo situation under control.

Since I moved back to the ranch seven years ago, that’s pretty much been the mission of my life, to take photos of it all. I would tout my big camera along with me everywhere, capturing the way the sun set on the petals of a wildflower, the soak of the rain, the sparkle of a snow bank, the lines on my husband’s face.

I was obsessed. I created thousands of images and posted them here. I loaded up my computer, my phone, my camera cards. I did my best at organizing them at least by year, but even with my best effort, it became sort of a kazillion GB mess.

Now that I’ve added a child to the mix of things, it’s gotten downright ridiculous. I made an 80 page photo book just of the first two months of her life with every intention of doing another one at least by her first birthday, suddenly so aware and sort of frantic about the importance of not only taking the photo, but printing it as well.

And rightly so. About the time that my baby was born was the time that every technology in my universe seemed to fail me. My computer crashed and on its way to its death, it drug along the external drive where I had backed up everything. And because we had terrible internet at the time, the great mysterious services like the Cloud were useless to me.

Needless to say, there was a lot of cussing and despair involved in my attempt to recover my precious memories. And I wound up saving my computer in a fragmented form, thanks to a techie band mate, but I couldn’t save the backup. And the backup was what I really needed…

Waahhhhhhh…..

I was determined to be better about all these damn photographs I was going to be taking in this next phase of my life. I was going to keep on top of it. Make prints. Make books. Make use of them so that when Edie’s my age she doesn’t have to figure out how to recuperate ancient laptops to retrieve her memories the way we do with old home movies and slides.

I was going to put her memories in books I tell you! I was going to do better than my mother, who has our memories in piles in a trunk in her living room and the overflow in a drawer in the buffet and another overflow in another drawer in the kitchen.

But I’m not convinced people can change. And here I am, a year and a half later with one photo album and another thousand photos of my baby in all phases of getting there on my computer and an overwhelming feeling that our memories have the potential to be lost forever if I don’t get on the ball, especially cause here I am pregnant again, and Oh My GAWD, I’m halfway through this baby-growing business and I haven’t even taken a photo of my belly!!!

I took like seventy thousand photos of my growing belly with Edie!! This kid’s not even born yet and I have some explaining to do!!

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So anyway, I have a goal. Before this baby is born, I’m going to catch up on the album thing. It’s not that hard. I just have to do it.

In the meantime, I have signed up for a cool service called Chatbooks, where they automatically send you little square books featuring photos off of my Instagram feed. So if anything, in the end, I’ll have a nice little collection of our day to day life, because I put the responsibility in someone else’s hands.

So this was on my mind when I was putting together September’s issue of Prairie Parent. Because soon it will be school picture time, and soon moms and dads of seniors will be digging through the archives of their child’s life, pulling out the favorites, and putting them in books and on poster boards for relatives and friends to reminisce over.

Time goes too fast. I always thought it. I think it more every day. Photographs and videos are our only visual connection to a past we can’t hold on to. So I’ve decided not to apologize about it, and just keep snapping. And while I regret a few photos taken of me (Ahem…Little Sister!!!) I don’t think I’ll ever regret one taken of my growing and changing family…

Read more about “Taking the Picture” in my From the Editor column in this Month’s Prairie Parent. And check out the full issue of the magazine online at www.prairieparent.com

Counting Photos, Collecting Memories

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A song comes to life

Coming Home: How a song comes to life in the garden

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She was munching on a pea pod I’d plucked from the plant in front of her, her fine blonde hair escaping from the ball cap she insists on wearing backwards, rendering it completely useless for protecting her rosy cheeks from the 80 degree day.

Before she finishes her first garden treat, she’s reaching out her hands, mouth full, mumbling “more.” I pick her two, one for each hand. Pleased, she struts across the garden in her cowboy boots and shorts, trampling over my onions on her way to see if she might get the chance to pull up an entire bean plant before her momma tells her “no!”

We’d been in the garden together for approximately 10 minutes and this is about the way it goes — a series of “come heres,” “no, no, nos” and “stop walking on my peppers!” as if a toddler understands any more about the concept of a garden than the cool touch of the dirt and the crunch of that pea pod she’s started asking for by name while she points out the window toward the yard.

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I was removing the grip of her chubby fingers from the leaves of that plant when I looked up to find my husband and dad, back from the hay field, apparently taking a moment to see how this scene was going to turn out, a pregnant momma trying to save her garden from Toddlerzilla.

I put my hand up to shield my eyes and hollered, “hello” as they made their way over to take a seat on the grass in front of us, smelling like diesel exhaust and sweat. Edie squealed “Papa” and ran toward them.

They sat there together for a bit, commenting on the cool breeze, feeding Edie more peas while I pulled up radishes and weeds and that was that, just another moment in a series of moments on the ranch.

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“I went home that night and I was choked up about it,” Dad said the other night as we were driving home from a performance. “I saw you out there with her and it just reminded me of that song you wrote…”

I dreamed you high up on his shoulders, on a horse, riding along. I dreamed you digging in the garden and I wrote you in a song…

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And I thought, oh, of course. That song I wrote all those years ago, dreaming up that very moment, which seemed so out of reach at the time. I only sang it alone in my house and cried through multiple takes in the studio where I recorded it weeks after losing my fourth or fifth pregnancy … I lose count.

And then there we were, together in the middle of that scene, sweating in the hot sun and getting the chance to take it all for granted.

But leave it to Papa to say, “Well, look at you now! Who would have thought?”

Yes. Look at us now.

Because in this life we’re all made for something, holding tight and letting go. And some things, they are certain, and some things we’ll never know…

List to full length version of “For You Child” from my 2012 album, “Nothing’s Forever” available for purchase at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

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‘Til the cows come home…and they always come home…

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Here are some photos of the guys moving a group of cows from our pasture back east where they are supposed to stay but keep coming home because, well, they’re a pain in the ass and the fence is down in some mysterious place.

Like seriously, the guys have probably moved this little herd of cows back east like half a dozen times in the last few weeks, fix a patch of fence, call it good and low and behold, I wake up to cow mooing and munching outside the fence.

The other day Husband got home, moved the cows back east, went up to the hayfield to cut and, boom, there they were. It took them the time it took him to get from his horse to his tractor to decide where they now found themselves was not, in fact, where they belong.

Dad called today and told me he thought he had the fence mystery solved. A big patch down in the trees. But just to be sure, and because it was time anyway, the guys moved all the cattle one more pasture over tonight, so if the cows are back home tomorrow, I think it’s time they give up.

Not that we don’t appreciate the entertainment here at the house…

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Peace, love and fence fixin’

Jessie and Edie

 

Paying the good stuff forward

Summer Sunset

We had our 20 week ultrasound scan last week. My husband and I got up really early to drop Edie off at daycare and take the three hour drive to the doctors to make sure everything was going and growing healthy and normal in there. So I wrote this column in the passenger seat of our pickup, driving into the sun on Highway 94, thinking I would write about that week’s “pay-it-forward” moment and how sometimes the smallest gestures of kindness can help brighten worried hearts.

I didn’t really realize that was the diagnosis of my attitude lately until I started writing this. That’s the thing about having he chance to reflect on my life in writing very week, often I discover a few things about myself along the way…

Because they all tell you the second pregnancy is different, but I didn’t know how much. When I was pregnant with Edie, it was all so new and exciting and terrifying. I documented every milestone, took weekly photos of my growing belly, made (and executed) nursery plans, even took naps sometimes and counted down the minutes until her arrival.

Baby #2? Well, despite a tiny little scare early in the very early stages of my pregnancy, and now that I’m through the icky first trimester sickness and hanging out in the sweet spot, I have to admit, if it weren’t for this little one’s jabs and kicks to remind me, I might forget I was pregnant.

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Four months pregnant and this is the first real photo documenting it…

And it makes me feel sorta weird, a little bit guilty maybe? But pre-Edie I had no one to think about but me and that mysterious growing human inside of me (and my husband too, but he pretty much takes care of himself you know?)

After Edie? Well, I have Edie. And she’s a lot of kid you know. One-and-a-half going on thirteen, a spitfire who strips off all her clothes as soon as she hits the back yard, a baby who already has opinions on what dress she wants to wear and what she wants for “supper” (which is breakfast, lunch and supper in her language.)

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At my last checkup they asked me if I’d felt this baby move yet and I had to take a minute to try to remember. And it made me feel bad. And then sorta worried, like am I already screwing this second child up?

But mostly I’m nervous. I’m not sure I’m the mega-mom I see my friends being, the ones with three or four kids, carting them around to church and hockey and picnics in the park and playdates and just nailing it really.  I work from home thirty miles away from civilization, the park and the pool and most of said mom friends. Lots of days are a combination of frantic and lonesome. I can’t imagine how the hard stuff might multiply with a newborn in the house.

And while this was the plan (albeit a bit earlier than I expected) I’m not certain I’m cut out for being a mom of two. And I know it sounds ungrateful, given all we’ve been through to get here, but it’s honest. And I was honest before when I said I didn’t know if I was cut out for the first one, despite and because of all the heartache

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A few weeks before Edie was born…

These were the thoughts that were going through my head when I sat in the drive through after a long day one evening last week and realized, after I ordered, that I had forgotten my wallet…and well, surprisingly, it all worked out nicely actually.

Which, when I really slap myself back into reality and out of my hormonal worries, I know is going to be the case with me and my husband and these two babies. Because we’ve gone through so much to get to this chaotic point in our lives, I do believe we deserve all the crazy/wonderful/beautiful/weird/unexpected that’s ahead of us.

And honestly, worry couldn’t have changed or predicted anything it turned out to be so far, and what it’s turned out to be is a hilarious, vivacious, smart, hot little mess of a human that’s turned every moment into something more special. And it’s hard sometimes and awesome lots of the time.

So, after I submitted the column with the worry tucked in the back of my throat, we opened and shut the door on a great doctor’s visit where our new little person barely sat still long enough to get all the photos they needed. And I breathed a sigh of relief, smiled at my husband and passed the gratitude along…

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Coming Home: In a world of worry, pay the good stuff forward

Last night, the person in front of me paid for my meal at the drive through.

It had been a long Monday, and I got to the end of it only to realize I hadn’t really eaten anything all day. So I went to one of the only drive-throughs in town, sacrificing nutritional value and inevitable heartburn to make sure that I didn’t pass out on my drive home.

And really, there’s nothing like a fast food taco when you’re pregnant and starving. Next time I’ll remember to pack an apple or something, I decided as I reached in my purse to dig out my money only to realize I didn’t have my wallet. Combine mom brain with pregnancy brain and things like this happen I guess — wallets get left in diaper bags in baby rooms 30 miles away.

Crap.

Does any place take checks anymore? Remember when we used to write checks for things like tacos?

“Do you take checks?” I asked awkwardly while trying to explain that I left my wallet at home, and I’m so sorry this sort of thing never happens it’s just been a crazy day…

“Well you don’t have to worry about it, doesn’t matter,” she stopped me. “The car ahead of you paid for you. They left a note. Have a great night.”

She might as well have handed me a squirmy new puppy because that’s how surprised and happy the simple gesture made me, especially given the timing and my overall grumpy attitude with the world lately.

I blame it on hormones and lack of sleep, but some days it’s something more.

It’s bad news on my television screen. It’s the lack of rain and the heat. It’s too much on my list and too little daylight.

It’s missing my husband who gets up early for work and comes home late from the hay field. It’s my puny tomato plants.

It’s nothing really, in the grand scheme of it all.

Funny how we let ourselves get this way when things are going pretty dang good really. It’s the blessing of a good life, to have the time to complain.

This morning, as I type, we’re on our way to our mid-pregnancy sonogram. My husband is driving into a hot sun, and I’m squinting into the computer screen because I forgot my sunglasses and I have a deadline. Our daughter is safe and sound, playing with her friends at daycare. Her gramma will pick her up this evening, giving us more time in the big town to maybe have a long lunch without picking hot dogs up off the floor.

In an hour we’ll see the little fuzz of our new family member, the length of a banana, inside my belly and hold our breath until they tell us that all is well.

Now that we’re down to it, maybe my mood’s been a little less about the puny tomato plants and a little more about the quiet worries sitting in my gut with the banana baby, tickling my nerves.

Maybe we’ll buy someone lunch today, pick their baby’s hot dogs off the floor and pay the good stuff forward.

Baby #2

Hosting friends, ranch style…

We’ve had company for a couple weeks and it’s been lovely to have new faces around to marvel at a place that has started to look more like work than love lately.

I needed that.

Thanks friends. I miss you.

Appreciating this rugged, imperfect place

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They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time.

A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.

Since then the group has grown to include boyfriends, spouses, babies, dogs and a cat on a leash, which I’d never thought I’d see on this ranch in my life. But I did, thanks to the eclectic and brilliant group of people I was honored to host for a few days in our rugged little mess of a life out here, surrounded by cattle, horseflies and bats swooping against the backdrop of a black and starry sky.

It’s funny the way the familiarity of a home changes when it’s full of people you love, some of them who’ve never set foot on the place.

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Before they arrived all I could see was the unfinished trim, the landscaping I thought I’d have done by now and the complete lack of Good Housekeeping magazine touches. We spent a half a year with their visit on the calendar thinking maybe we’d at least get the basement bathroom done, because anyone with a house knows that it takes impending company to get a long-planned construction project done.

But then we ran into haying season and I was on my own with a pressure washer, a lawnmower and a garage full of tools to do what I could around here.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have to wait until Thanksgiving to think about that bathroom project again, but I obsessed over it all nonetheless, because I’m my mother’s child after all.

And then they arrived and you couldn’t see the floor or the counters anyway for all the food and toys and bodies scattered about, talking and laughing. And not one of my friends inspected the tops of my light fixtures for dust, because we were too busy telling stories, cutting onions for guacamole and taking hikes around the farmyard, where I got a chance to see our place through their eyes.

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That was another gift they gave me that weekend: a gift of appreciation for our home. They picked wildflowers and rocks and marveled at the things we’ve labeled burdens or works in progress, like the old farm equipment and tumbled down fences that need to be repaired. In the midst of the overwhelming feeling that summer ranch work brings, I loved them for it.

And now they’re gone, leaving this place feeling a little electric, pulsing from the conversations and dropped forks and baby kisses, like it needs a moment to come back down to the quiet chaos of the life we lead, sending our love to them from this rugged, imperfect place.

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Memory’s sweet scent

Sweet Clover

My cousin from Texas is here visiting the ranch this week and she brought her three children with her. They spent this morning with us, playing with Edie’s toys (much to her dismay) running around outside and helping me dig radishes in the garden while my cousin and I tried to catch up between wiping noses and serving goldfish crackers.

Tonight they’ll come over for supper and I hope to take them up to the top of the hill we call Pots ‘n Pans the way we used to as kids, but with less emergency pee breaks and cactus in their butts, because there will be adult supervision…

This time of year makes me nostalgic for some of the magical times I had here as a kid. I know my cousin feels the same about this place, no matter how long she’s been away from here. That’s why she’s packed her three kids in a car to drive the million miles from Texas to North Dakota, for the memories.

And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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Sweet clover under my skin

I imagine everyone has some familiar scent that hits their lungs and brings them back to a time in childhood when they felt so deeply loved, so overwhelmingly safe, so much themselves. So free.

 

Maybe it’s your grandmother’s warm cookies from the oven or the smell of a diesel tractor plugging across a field. Maybe it’s your parent’s home or the fur on the back of your old cat or the salty air blowing across the ocean and onto vast beaches.

For me, it’s sweetclover.

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I wish I could pick the right words to describe the sweet, fresh scent that fills the air tonight and gives me comfort when I breathe it in, moving across the landscape, stepping high …

My first best memories are lying among it, rolling down hills on the ranch as the sun found its way to the horizon and my cousins, tan and sweaty, hair wild, would fling their bodies after me. We would find ourselves at the bottom in a pile of laughter, yellow petals sticking to our damp skin.

For us, the clover was a blanket, a canopy of childhood. A comfort. It was our bouquet when we performed wedding ceremonies on the pink road wearing our grandmother’s old dresses, an ingredient in our mud pies and our crown when we felt like playing kings and queens of the buttes. It was feed for our horses and a place to hide from the seeker, to rest after a race, to fall without fear of skinned knees. It was a promise of summer and a wave of color to welcome us home together.

It’s there all season, the seeds tucked neatly under the dirt, and still I’m surprised when I open the windows of the pickup after a late night drive and the fragrance finds its way to me.

And I’m taken back …

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I’m seven years old and my grandmother has our bunk beds made up in the basement and my cousins will be coming down the pink road soon. And when they get here, we’ll climb Pots and Pans and we’ll put on a wedding and look for kittens in the barn. We’ll play “The Wizard of Oz,” and I’ll be the Tin Man. We’ll chase each other on the hay bales in front of the barn and then hide from each other in the tall grass that scratches and brushes against our bare legs.

I wish I could bottle it up for the cold winter days that showed no sign of release. I wish I could build my house out of it, weave it inside my walls, plant it in my floor and lay down in it at night. I wish I could wrap those cousins, my family, in its soft petals and sweet stems and watch as they remember now, the kids we once were before time took us and made us think that we were anything less than free…

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Rain or shine, this is the life we chose

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We’ve been in the middle of a heat wave out here for the last couple weeks, and it’s not looking to cool off or rain anytime soon. After a long, really snowy winter, I thought we might continue the moisture trend throughout the rest of the year, but it turns out that was just a hope.

We haven’t had a good rain for months and months and we’re better off than most of the state. Fire danger is high, and there’s one raging in the badlands as I type. It worries me. It worries everyone. That’s one thing we all have in common up here in the north. We all know worrying about the weather.

Last weekend we took a quick trip to the other side of the big lake to meet up with my inlaws who were camping there. While we were leaving a little storm cell blew through, darkening the sky and soaking the ground. We never drove in the rain, but we were in its aftermath on the way home. I rolled my windows down and breathed it in.

There’s nothing like the smell of rain on a hot summer day.

It’s heaven.

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It’s hard to believe when I’m sitting here in as little clothes as a pregnant woman can get away with in the summertime, that it was ever thirty below zero and completely white out here. We live in such extremes.

And that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s a little different take on the summer and the weather and just how crazy we really are when it comes to packing as much fun and work as we can in our three months of what we envision as being a California-esque summer.

Which it never is. No matter how we grit our teeth and bare it.

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Rain or Shine, this is the life we chose

“Well, I guess this is the life I chose,” he said as he pulled on his boots and headed out the door. “Work all day in 100 degrees so I can come home and work all night in it.”

Yup. That’s the story out here on the ranch where we can’t quit our day jobs. And on evenings when the wind settles down and the sun sets just right on cows grazing on green grass in their proper places, it feels pretty dang good.

But then there are days like today where you wonder if you might be able to fry an egg on the back of those black cows and the tractor won’t start and you just roll up your sleeves, wipe the sweat, crawl back under the tractor and hope to hell in those 10 minutes of scratching your head that you’ve magically developed the necessary mechanic skills and do what you gotta do.

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Rain or shine. That’s what they say. Whoever coined that phrase obviously didn’t live in North Dakota. If they did they would’ve likely added a few more elements – like hail – or 50 mile-per-hour winds – or blinding, sub-zero blizzards. I get that about this place. And I get that about the work.

But what’s been amusing me lately is the fact that up here we seem to apply the same motto to the idea of fun. Because it’s summer here, and dang it, we’re gonna stand in the street with a beer and listen to this band regardless of the fact that it’s 40 degrees and sleeting. It’s JUNE! We only have three months to fit in all of our outdoor activities, people!

Just a few weeks ago, I went to my niece’s softball game where we all wore gloves and beanies and sat in lawn chairs under blankets while we watched the cold wind whip these poor children to a misery, and I couldn’t help but wonder at what point we stop referring to this as a fun and games.

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Don’t even get me started on the memories I have of monsoon rain turning high school rodeo arenas into soup while our mothers sat steadfast, writing scores on soggy programs shielded from the brutal weather only by visors and the slicker that’s been sitting at the bottom of the horse trailer since last year’s rodeo in Elgin.

Oh, I come by this observation honestly. As a musician who’s spends her summers singing on flatbed trailers in my home state in the name of a festival, I’ve feel I’ve been with you through it all. But nothing sums up the insanity of our people better than the view I had from the stage on the capitol grounds on the 125th birthday of our great state a few years back. As the rain shot sideways into my eyeballs, I sang Red River Valley to a crowd of diehard North Dakota neighbors as they swayed back and forth under umbrellas and makeshift newspaper hats and I wondered if this is how I might go out, electrocuted by my soaking microphone – because 100 degrees or pouring rain, this is the life we chose.

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My husband and his stuff

For those of you who’ve been following our story since we first moved back here in 2010, you’ve heard the following complaint. Since this column appeared in newspapers a few days ago, I’ve had plenty of feedback assuring me I’m not alone, which makes me feel better and worse at the same time…

But that doesn’t get me any closer to finding the floor of my garage, although he might be getting there. After three weekends of clearing and cleaning and organizing things like plumbing parts and electrical wire and coolers and tree stand chairs, I think we’re getting there.

But seriously, it’s time we declare it’s gone to new levels.  That’s all I’m saying.

That’s all I’m saying…

A Wife’s Dilemma: M Husband and His Stuff

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My husband and I have this ongoing fight in our house. It goes something like this:

Him: Have you seen the charger to the phone I had back in 2001 during our first year of college?

Me: I think I put it in a bin somewhere in the basement with the rest of the unidentifiable cords from various electronic devices that no one’s used for 15 years.

Him: Don’t touch my stuff.

You think I’m exaggerating. I wish I were. The man’s a saver. He comes from a long line of savers, the kind that cut their paper plates in half and hoard washing machine motors in their backyards. In high school he spent his weekends restoring an old, leaky, 11-foot wooden boat his dad found in some stranger’s backyard, just because they thought that they could.

As a gift his grandma gave him an ice cream bucket full of every kind of nut and bolt she’d collected throughout the last 50 years, and never once has he gone to that bucket and not found what he needed.

These are the things he brags about.

So he comes by it honestly. And if I didn’t spend so much of my time wading through bins packed with old electrical wire, if I was his neighbor in need of a particular fitting for a pipe on my stock tank or a friend who suddenly found himself without AC in his pickup on a 90-degree day, I would call my husband, because he’s the guy who has five bins full of random plumbing supplies and an air-conditioning recharging kit, and I would respect the heck out of him for it.

But I married him. I’ve been married to him for almost 11 years now, and I’m beginning to realize that the whole “’till death do us part” line seems to also apply to the drill battery that’s been hanging out in our garage for a solid five years, even though it’s clearly marked “bad” in black Sharpie across a strip of duct tape.

Why? I ask him, my hands stretched out in defeat as I jam my toe on the wheel of the broken down lawn mower that’s been sitting in my garage for three years. But I know the answer. It’s a trait both learned and deeply rooted in his blood. And it’s not derived out of the need to have and to hold material things, but rather the opposite. It stems from part of his DNA that tells him he doesn’t need to waste money on anything new, because when the wheelbarrow tire goes flat, he has a perfectly good one waiting in the wings.

When there’s no Farm and Fleet in range that makes the sort of barbed wire spool he’s envisioned for the back of his 4-wheeler, he has the stuff to build his own.

And when he suddenly finds himself in need of a 2001 Nokia cell phone charger, he would know just where to find it, if only his wife would just stop touching his stuff.