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 young daughters 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.

Mother of Mermaids

I used to be a mermaid. For a land locked girl who only made it to the swimming pool in town once or twice a summer, it seemed unlikely. But my cousin and I, we would use the big rocks up on the hill next to the pink county road to mark out the boundaries of our underwater cove and then we would swim to the surface to sit up on those rocks and see the world from a new perspective, the perspective of a sea dweller.

And we’d pick our mermaid names, and declare the color of our hair and our tails and we would pretend we were weightless and spinning and flipping through the water, and that we held some sort of magic that we don’t have up here on the surface, on the prairie, where the summer heat browned our skin and flushed our cheeks and the wind whipped the curls out of our hair.

Who knew then, when I was 5 or 6 years old, that I would one day become a mother of mermaids. I saw my daughters’ final transformations recently when we headed to the lake cabin in Minnesota to carry out the tradition of spending the holiday with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The weather was hot and sticky, and the lake was warm and clear. We had summer sausage sandwiches with potato chips and juice boxes, topped it off with a Popsicle and we moved from the shade to the sun to the water. All the elements seemed to be just right for the magic needed to make a mermaid out of a kid. And so off they went from the dock into the water, with no hesitation, just bare feet first, and then up to their armpits and then, poof, under the water they went to become a part of that little lake with all its mysteries and enchantment, down below the surface with the other swimming, slimy and shiny creatures.

And I didn’t notice the shift right away. I was out there myself, the way moms and dads are, to float and splash, supervise and clear away the dreaded seaweed. I heard them little by little make the declaration, the color of their fins, their mer-names, and the sea-monster older cousin they had to escape from. And after an hour or so, I thought they may want to come in for a break, maybe have an ice cream or warm up under the sun, but they couldn’t be distracted by such mundane human things. And so I sat my human body up on the dock, and then back on the floating hammock thing my mom bought online that looked bigger in the picture but worked just fine for observing mermaids. I watched them splash and screech and swim and play and I wondered if there is anything more magical than a kid in a lake, both things sparkling in the sun? I wondered if there could be any feeling more free than the dive of a little body, young and bursting with energy made for just this, learning with each bend of an arm, arch of a back, kick of a leg or water up the nose, what they’re capable of. What they truly love. Joy embodied.

And if you’re wondering, someone has to come up with a way to feed those who have just grown their tails. And so that evening, before the sun started to sink, before the fireworks crackled across the dark blue sky, I made those sea dwellers a paper plate full of ribs and corn on the cob and macaroni and cheese, and used it to bribe them back up on land.

You see, I used to be a mermaid once, so I know a little magic myself…

Yes, I used to be a mermaid. And those big rocks, well, they’re still there up on the hill next to the pink county road where my mailbox sits now. It’s all these years later, but if I stand up there and the wind’s just right, if I close my eyes tight, I think I might be able to be a mermaid again…

Tiny, perfect things

There is a hill on the ranch that is completely covered in tiger lilies. My little sister went on a ride with Dad and they discovered them, a scattering of bright orange petals opening up to the bright blue sky.

It has been a dry year here, with our spring rain coming to us late, and so our wildflower crop is just now appearing. And this news about the tiger lilies may not seem so thrilling to some, but it’s exciting for us.

Because the flower is so perfect, and so exotic looking, and they don’t always come up every year. So when they do, we feel like we have access to our own personal florist, Mother Nature.

I don’t know if everyone has a favorite flower, but the tiger lily is mine. I carried them at my wedding, a bouquet of orange walking with me down a grassy, makeshift aisle in a cow pasture. We had to mow and build benches and move cow pies to make it presentable for guests, but we didn’t get rid of all of the cactus. My little sister found this out as she was making her trek down the aisle in front of me. I didn’t know if she was crying because of the cactus in her leg, or if she was so happy for us. I think a little of both.

Anyway, that’s what happens when you live in a wild place. No matter how you try to tame it, the flies and the thorns, the barn swallows and the raccoons, they don’t care about your fancy new deck furniture that you got for the family reunion — they will show up to eat the cat food and then poop on it.

And so then you sort of become wild, too. I know because I caught myself standing outside in my underwear one morning yelling at the birds to find a new place to make their messy clay nests. Not here, swallows. Not on the side of my house! And my husband? Well, he likes to scare raccoons at midnight… also in his underwear.

Anyway, I guess that’s why the wildflowers seem so special out here. For so much of the year we’re battling the elements, praying for rain, shoveling snow, bundling up, tracking mud in the house, pulling burs out of horses’ manes, cutting down weeds and clearing and cleaning and building and doctoring. The wildflowers, especially the tiger lily, seem like a reminder that there is perfection in this world, in the smallest things. Tiny, pretty miracles surviving despite and because of the hot sun and clay dirt.

I took my girls to that tiger lily hill the other day to check out this year’s crop. On the way they were singing Bible school songs they just learned, doing the actions and repeating the lines over and not quite right the way little kids do in the cutest way.

They had never seen a tiger lily before, and so it was a fun and easy Easter egg hunt, each girl grabbing up more than a handful of the flowers and thrilled with it all. With the familiar songs they were humming, and their sun-flushed cheeks and mosquito-bit arms, I couldn’t help but think: Now isn’t this the quintessential ranch summer?

I wonder what they will remember about being a little kid out in these hills. Do they feel as wild and free as I used to feel out here, enamored with the mystery of this place and how it can change so magically by the hour, the sun sinking down, turning the tips of the trees and grass and my daughters’ hair golden?

I hope so. I hope they feel as wild and beautiful and as loved as those lilies, because they are to me. My own little tiger lilies on the hilltop, growing before my eyes.

My favorite little flowers reminding us that there are perfect things in this world.

Free and safe and lonesome…

There’s a hill outside my house we call Pots and Pans.

When we were kids, my cousins and I would take the trek from my grandparent’s barnyard, past the bulls munching on hay, over the corral fences, along the dusty cow trail, up big granite rocks, stopping to declare we were kings and queens of the world, taking a juice box from our fanny packs to sit for a break along the way, kicking up little cactuses to add to the drama and adventure of finally making it up to the peak where old pots, pans and sifters waited for us among the sandstone rocks so that we could pretend the way kids do, while the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks.

And we could see everything from way up there. We could see the red barn our grandpa moved in with his brother and dad 50 years before. We could see the grain bins and the black cows and the sorrel and bay horses and the line of old fence posts trying to hold them in. The reflection of the hot sun on the stock dam and the tops of the oak trees bending in the relentless wind. And the mailbox and the pink road cutting through it all. We could see it all up there and I remember it making me feel free and lonesome and safe all at the same time.

And we were just kids, so we could have played anything up there. We could have been superheroes or dinosaurs, gold miners or Jesse James and his gang. We could have been magical fairies or mermaids or wild horses even. Kids that age, in the sweet spot between 3 and 10, with space and freedom like that, we could have been anything.

But we gathered those pots and pans up and we pretended to be grown-up versions of ourselves making supper for our children out of dirt and sweet clover, washing dishes, singing to them and putting them to bed in the house we made from the boundaries of the rocks and the tree line.

We could have been anything, and so we pretended to be grown-ups. What a thing to pretend. If we only knew how much of it really becomes cooking supper and tidying up the messes we make, tucking one another in at night and wondering what it’s going to be like…

Because we thought that we would someday be old enough and know enough to be as free as we wanted to be. No more rules. No more bedtime. No more supper table to sit at until we finished the spinach on our plates. We didn’t know then that maybe, on that hilltop, picking cactuses out of our little cousin’s bare legs, that we may have been as free as we’ll ever be.

Last week, we gathered up on that hilltop again, all of us cousins, over 30 years later, carrying our children on our backs, or holding their little hands, explaining the magic to our husbands and boyfriends, stepping on cactuses and gathering up the old pots and pans that had scattered down the bank over the years, just like us I suppose, gathered up from Texas and Minnesota and South Dakota and from just down the road outside the houses we put here, under that big hill, all grown-up now, like we wanted to be.

If you’ve ever wondered, like me, what keeps us bound to one another, I wonder if it isn’t as simple as the memories. It sounds silly, but for us cousins, it only had to be as epic as finding kittens in the old barn, or pretending that pink road was made of yellow bricks and one of us was Dorothy.

We held onto one another because we were given time and space to create a bond on a landscape with no agenda but to be to us what we dreamed it to be. And so the years between then and now, in the growing-up part that took us far from those hilltops, we held those memories, those old pots and pans and cactuses and black cows and clay buttes as a part of us.

Standing on that hilltop with them again, all these years later in the thick of the messy and wonderful and complicated lives we built, the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks again. We could see everything… free and safe and lonesome, all at the same time.

Maybe it’s the rain

Maybe it’s the rain
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I’ve been working on another book the past few months. Like the last, it’s a compilation of some of my favorite photos, columns, blogs, poems and recipes from the past 10 years I’ve spent documenting what it means to raise kids and cattle and make a life on the ranch.

Like the last, it’s been a nostalgic and difficult project to take on with full-time work, ranch life and two loud and wonderfully distracting kids in the house.

I typically don’t spend much time looking back on what I’ve written because I have to focus on what to write. And so I’ve been seeing our lives a little differently lately, thinking about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t, how some things have changed completely and how some things haven’t changed at all, and it’s from that place that I share this piece on that limbo between past and present, a reflection brought on by the rain.

It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where Popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses’ bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees.

We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.

But that day we resigned to the weather, keeping busy with tasks in a house that was sinking and shrinking with the weight of time.

And then the clouds rolled in, dark and as ominous as the lightning on the horizon, and we found ourselves standing, noses pressed to the screen door, watching the water form new rivers and waterfalls in the corrals.

The buttes in the horse pasture turned from rock to slick mud in a matter of minutes, and soon I found myself running behind my new husband through the mud, past the new barnyard river and scrambling up to the top of those buttes where we stood side by side before launching our bodies down the steep bank of that hill, sliding on the slippery, wet gumbo, just like we used to do as kids.

I’ve told this story before. You may remember it and how it ended in bruises, bloody scrapes and a heap of laughter spilling out into that dark, rainy night.

I’m thinking about it now because last weekend I found myself out in the rain again with my husband. We were riding through an unfamiliar pasture looking for a couple stray cows. The day was still, but the sky kept spitting on us, a little mist followed by small, flying drops hitting our cheeks and gathering on our horses’ manes.

It was a quiet rain, the kind that seems to clean up the landscape, making the colors richer against the gray sky. And I just kept looking at my husband on the back of his bay horse, his black hat and red scarf moving along the big landscape, and I started thinking about the times in my life where the rain made the moment.

I decided this was one of them.

And it was perfect timing, I think, following behind him on trails where he broke branches for me or hollered my name from a hilltop. We were doing work, and we were living out a plan, rain or shine.

But that day, I preferred the rain, because I was starting to wonder if it is possible to spend the rest of my life here without losing the magic of this place. A few days before, I received a note from a man telling me that my life seemed romantic in a way that few people know and that I was lucky for it.

I sort of felt like a fraud, wondering if I gave him a false conclusion. Settling into a new life as a mother and a new partnership as parents, no matter how much we wanted it, hasn’t been an easy and seamless transition. I’ve been struggling with it in ways I hadn’t expected.

I began to wonder if I was the same woman who slid down that gumbo hill with that young man six years ago.

We pushed up the bank of a wooded coulee, and I listened to the rain hitting the leaves and the branches break against the chest of my horse, and I thought about how I was taught to lean forward as a horse takes you through the trees so that you don’t catch one to the face and get pulled off.

It’s a lesson I reach back for when I’m in the thick of it, the same way I reach back for the girl who kissed a boy under that old oak tree in the field, promising him forever, no matter the weather.

So maybe it’s the memories we make that keep this place magic.

Or maybe it’s just the rain.

Rain on the Buttes

I’ll be performing at the TAK Music Venue in Dilworth, Minn., on June 17 and in Jamestown, N.D., on June 24. Hope to see you all out and about!

Checking in with dad

Father’s Day is just around the corner so I thought I’d check in with the dad of the house.

How’re you doing?

A. Fine. Tired.

What’s your favorite thing about being a dad to two girls?

A. They see me as fun and I love that.

 What’s your favorite thing to do with them?

A. Everything is my favorite thing to do with them.

What’s the biggest challenge about parenthood that you didn’t see coming?

A. Personal time. It’s not that I didn’t see it coming, it’s just that you don’t know what that means until you can’t poop alone.

How do you think it’s changed our relationship?

We have a relationship?

Haha…ugghh…that’s depressing.

It’s not. It’s going to sound like it’s a bad thing, but in my mind it’s turned our relationship into a partnership. It made us a lot closer in a lot of ways, but a lot farther away in a lot of ways. It makes you appreciate each other I think. At least me anyway.

I think parenthood has shown me what I’m capable of. Do you think it has changed you in any way?

A. It makes me want to be better. It’s very important to show my girls what a good man looks like, what a good dad looks like, what a good husband looks like. All of those things they don’t know they’re learning, but they’re learning it. How I speak and the language that I use and how I talk about people and to people. Now it’s more important than ever because there are little people who are going to be doing what I’m doing and saying what I’m saying.

What are you most looking forward to doing with the girls as they get older?

A. I think about it in two ways. I’m really excited to see which one of them is into what I’m into. It would be so awesome if I could get one or both of them into archery, but I’m also really excited to see what they can get me into. Like, I live my world, but it’s pretty exciting to think about how they can influence me. I try to imagine, are they going to be athletes or artists? Or am I going to get super into physics or some scholastic thing? I like that stuff, but if they were into it then I would be super into it just so I could be at their level.

Plus as a dad you have to be one step ahead of everybody. So if they’re into math then I have to make sure I’m just a little bit better at math. I don’t know what moms feel like but dads are just supposed to be good at everything. Think about it, as a little kid, your dad was invincible. I’m not fully serious, but that’s what dads are to me.

How do you define a good dad?

A. In its simplest form a good dad is somebody who cares and can be a role model. And being a good role model means showing them how you treat yourself, how you treat other people, how you interact, how you resolve conflict by not losing your temper, that it’s never OK to treat people poorly. It’s very important to teach respect.

That will be one of the hardest challenges that we’re going to face as parents. How are we going to teach our kids to treat people with respect and dignity, to not be mean, not be a bully when they’re going to be bullied and people are going to be mean to them and they are going to be disrespected? How do you teach your kid to live one thing while understanding that you’re playing by a set of rules that other people aren’t going to play by?

 So what do you hope that they learn from you?

A. I think more than anything, and maybe especially because they’re girls, I want them to learn that they can do anything. I want them to be self-sufficient. There’s no reason that either of them can’t do anything that they want to do. And I want to give them the opportunity to do it and the know-how. I want to teach my kids that even if they don’t know how to do it, they know how to learn how to do it. I’ve always said from forever, that if I ever had girls they’re not going to be the kind of girls who have their boyfriends back their pickup and trailer up for them. That’s a metaphor for everything I think.

And I want to teach my girls to be what and who they are regardless of what anyone says and have the confidence to own that, because having that confidence is what’s going to make and break it for them. How do you give your kids confidence? I know you can break it, but can you give it?

I think you can.

I look to your dad a lot because he raised girls and he raised them here (on the ranch). I think you just do stuff with them, and you just keep doing it. And you know, knowing him now, I know that he was terrified, but he did it anyway. Because mostly being a parent is finding a new thing to be afraid of every single day. You figure one thing out just in time to learn the next thing to be scared of. That’s what being a dad is.

Oh man…some day they’re gonna start driving. I don’t even want to think about that.

I don’t want to think about that either. Last question. What would be the best Father’s Day ever?

A. Going fishing. Hopefully we would catch some fish because fishing isn’t very fun if you don’t catch fish.

You want to go fishing with Rosie? She’s crazy!

A. Yeah. I’ll give her a bucket of minnows and she’ll be so happy. She’ll probably eat a worm.

The Cowboy Hat Phenomenon

“Are you a real cowboy?” A young boy in our small grocery store asked when he noticed a man wearing a cowboy hat, boots and jeans head toward the dairy section.

“Yes, I am,” the man replied, smiling at the two young brothers hanging on to their mother’s cart before continuing with his errand.

The boy turned to his younger brother to confirm it with the 3-year-old. “He’s a real cowboy,” he whispered in his ear.

A real cowboy. Just walking around, buying milk. Who would have thought?

And he was probably someone I know — so many of the ranchers are connected out here — but I only heard this story secondhand. My friend called me specifically to tell me. To remind me that we have something unique out here. Something special. Real cowboys. At our grocery store.

Of course I’ve seen the phenomenon the cowboy hat creates in certain environments. I’ve been there, in a sea of people in the big town, heads floating, trying to find my dad or my husband, easy to spot. The only cowboy hat in the crowd.

A line of hats at a hometown funeral

Or the time my husband was holding my purse in the bar in one of those big towns, waiting patiently for me to quit talking, or get done in the restroom, or order a drink, or get going already, and a random guy seemed to be offended somehow, by the hat and satchel combo. “Nice purse!” he said, his face a little too close to the cowboy. “Thanks,” my husband calmly replied, baffling the man looking for a fight.

The situation didn’t line up. So he said it again, a little closer the second time, with the same reaction, and again, a little louder until I finally came for the purse and the cowboy and off we went, my husband no worse for the wear.

My favorite picture of my husband

When you wear the hat properly, it seems you carry the legend of the cowboy with you. And by properly, I mean proudly, with the story to back it. Some with the years of weather showing on their face, some fresh and ready to take on the world, shoulders back, shirt pressed, boots properly broken in. To wear a hat takes the appropriate type of confidence.

Dad and I with Forrie Smith, who plays Lloyd in Yellowstone and has a cowboy story worth hearing.

A few weeks ago, it was farm week at my daughters’ day care. Every day the students get introduced to a different animal — there are wagon rides, dummy roping, pigs and goats, bottle calves and horses, the whole deal. And so we got a note telling us to dress our children appropriately, which meant to us jeans, snap shirt, belt and, of course, a hat.

My oldest daughter, Edie, who is 5, is starting to realize there are uncertainties and discomforts of the world, like worry and embarrassment. So she was wondering if anyone else was going to be wearing their cowboy hats that day. She didn’t want to be the only one.

“Of course!” I declared. “It’s farm week. There will be lots of cowboys and cowgirls dressed up.” And so she went with it, with her sister beside her in a matching outfit, both ready to fully be the ranch kids they are. In town.

But before we even opened the door to Edie’s classroom, I knew I’d made an error. Not a hat in sight. Not even a boot. She looked down at the ground, her hands shyly at her side and slowly walked in. My heart sank for her. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed.

Isn’t she too young to be embarrassed?! Too little to be worried about what other people think? I wanted her to own it. To be proud. To be a cowgirl out loud if she wants to!

And then a little boy looked up at us from his toy trucks and declared, “It’s Edie! Edie’s a real cowboy!” And that was that, just what she needed. She was a legend all day.

And aren’t we lucky here, to have these cowboys just walking around, buying milk and holding purses, riding horses and learning letters. Aren’t we lucky?

New in the shop! This sweet Prairie Princess tee for girls. In teal and pink. Click here to grab yours today!

My favorite people in the whole wide world

My favorite people in the whole wide world
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Today Edie, who is 5, told me that Rosie, her little sister, who is 3, is her favorite person in the whole world.

It was in a moment when the day was clear, the rain had just fallen and the wind was calm and so we lingered a bit longer in the barnyard after feeding our bottle calves. We saddled up the pony and the big horse and Edie practiced reining around the one barrel left over in the arena from when I used to practice the same thing 100 years ago.

And Rosie, she sat on Tootsie while the mini horse scouted out every last lone blade of grass in the dirt. One step, one bite, one step, one bite, and on and on until the duo headed back to the grain bucket.

Anyway, there was no place on earth we would have rather been at that moment, and I think that’s why it struck me. That Edie declared it. Her favorite person in the whole wide world was just born three years ago, and so how lucky to have that many more years ahead of them to ride ponies and fight over the tractor seat and jump off corals and cheer one another on and steal shirts and shoes and keep secrets…

And I know they love one another. I know because for every 10 minutes of peaceful playing, there is another five or so where one is devastated by the other. If it’s not a push or a hit, it’s usually over who gets to be the mom when they’re playing dolls. And generally it resolves with them deciding they can both be moms. They’re aunties, taking care of their kids together, because that’s what they see I suppose, and that makes me smile.

“Pretend that we’re sisters,” they say, as if they can’t fathom a world where they’re not, and so they fast-forward it to make it more interesting. Teenage sisters. Mommy sisters. Superhero princess sisters. And then there’s the game where Rosie turns into a troll who ate, well, Rosie, and then it becomes the game where you fight a troll to save your sister…

And on and on they go, as sisters.

Most evenings, at suppertime (which always runs too late in case you were getting any sort of impression that we have it remotely figured out around here), we ask the girls, “What was your favorite part of the day?”

And before they can answer, they have to argue a bit about who gets to ask first, and who gets to answer first, but eventually we get around to the fact that, most days, they can’t decide.

Was it when they found the barn kittens? Or was it riding horses? Or picking sweet peas or swinging in the backyard or getting a Popsicle and then an ice cream cone at Gramma’s? Or maybe it was climbing gumbo hills with their cousins or big flakes of snow that fell in the yard, oh wait? Was that today? Or was that yesterday? Little kids, their memories are like a dream I think.

Because there is no time when you’re more fully in the moment than when you are a child. Mornings into afternoons into evenings, it all lasts, as Rosie would say, “for ages!” And then not long enough.

A few days before the favorite sister declaration, I was walking with my daughters along a trail in the trees behind our house, watching them adventure, stop for every stick and bug, navigate every poop pile, and I found myself anxious to tell them to move along. We have to get up this hill so we can look for flowers so we can get back to the house so I can get supper on. This is the narrative that runs through a mom’s head, the next thing that affects the next thing.

But I looked at them then, with the light streaming through the trees, lighting up the tiny buds on the branches and their gold hair loose from their ponytails, and I stopped, took a breath and willed myself to be more like them. Because we had nowhere to be but there. And these are my favorite people in the whole wide world.

On pain and carrying on

Dealing with chronic pain requires taking things one day at a time
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To those of you who are suffering with chronic pain and showing up to your life, day in and day out as best as you can, today I want to say “I see you.”

For the past year or so, before the scope and sternum surgery that removed the tumor from my airway and declared me cancer free, and for the months since, I have been dealing with chronic headaches and nerve pain that is always there, sometimes putting me flat on my back and other times relenting just enough to allow me to do something other than think about the pain. I’ve been doctoring, researching, trying medications and treatments, changing my diet, justifying it as a repercussion of the trauma my body endured and crying in frustration because I want my life back to the way it was before.

Today I feel like I’m finding a light at the end of the tunnel, help through physical therapy and check-ins at Mayo Clinic, and I’m feeling hopeful. Hopeful enough to realize that maybe it’s time to share it here. Because people on the street, or at the grocery store, and, of course, in my circle of family and close friends, they ask me how I’m feeling. And, in the spirit of being honest, I’ve made a promise to myself after what I’ve been through, to not beg off on that question. In the spirit that my story, even if it’s not pretty right now, might help someone else.

And so, I tell them: I’m still recovering. I’m hopeful I’ll get to the other side of this.

But man, when you’re in the middle of it, in the middle of work that needs to go on, in the middle of motherhood and trying to be a good partner instead of a sick partner, in the middle of wearing out the optimism, putting off big plans not to mention the laundry, and worst of all, shushing my children when I should be dancing with them in the kitchen, it’s hard.

Because it turns out that the level of their voices, their enthusiasm, temper, frustrations or needs don’t quiet down because we aren’t feeling well. In fact, I think, these children might amp up just to see if we’re still the momma or daddy they know us to be. Turns out we still want to/need to be a parent even when it physically hurts to raise our voice or comb their hair. And the house seems small when we so desperately need a rest, especially when they find us at the moment we’ve finally fallen asleep, or snuck away for a shower. They want to climb in the bed or get help with doll clothes or need a drink or to tell us how her sister wronged her. And we listen while our body aches or works so hard to heal it feels like we’re drowning…

And so this is another lesson I’m learning in compassion during the past year or so of getting rid of cancer and trying to heal up a body that is screaming at me. Because I’ve been smiling and carrying on as best as I can despite it, it occurred to me that there are people around me doing the same thing day in and day out, working and raising kids, taking care of aging parents and businesses, serving on boards, continuing to show up while coping with physical pain or mental illness that tries its hardest to break them down. And when you ask them how they are, they will say, “Oh, just fine, thank you.”

And so today, while I’m feeling good and hopeful, feeling like I have a plan and that I can see the other side, I just want to tell you that you are strong and brave and doing good. I pray you get well if you can, and if you can’t, you find relief from the pain and a peace to the chaos.

And while I’m here, thank you a million times to the partners, family and friends who are fully and completely here for us, to pick up when and where we can’t.

Here’s to one day at a time and a better tomorrow.

North Dakota, we’ve been claimed

Somehow we’ve been claimed
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As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here in the buttes and prairies of North Dakota, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road for years, I have often found myself on the other end of the question: Why here?

Before I made the decision to stay here for good, before I became a mother working and raising those children in the middle of my 30s, trying desperately to find a way to do the right thing for the legacy of this ranch, I struggled to find an answer. I used to think I had to be so profound. I used to think I had to convince them…

Because asking me why North Dakota, why the prairies, why Middle America, is like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night. How do you answer it?

Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard? Who has lived here for years, or arrived fresh and unconvinced? Who comes home again?

We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and faces streaked with dirt after a hot August day in the field. Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s pickup, 12 years old behind the steering wheel.

We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those back roads at night, on front porches, in the back seats of cars and under blankets shared in the stands at football games.

We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve. The barnyard light.

We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, Jell-O with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.

We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the only stoplight in town.

High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same and knowing, working, voting, crying out for change.

We’re number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written. Snake-bitten.

We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.

Chokecherry jam, mosquito bites, country fairs, one station on the radio, too young for our first beer, FFA and 4-H steers. Too young to leave here.

We are race car tracks and endless power lines, hockey rinks and barbed wire fences. Drilling rigs and endless fields of wheat. September heat.

We are bicycle tires on quiet streets, fireworks in May, Popsicles and swimming pools and a stop at the Tastee Freez, please. The new kid in town. The doctor who knows you and your children too. Rodeos and American Legion, football heroes, lead singers, the Ferris wheel in town for the weekend. The underdog.

Powwows, three-legged races, familiar faces, dances in the street.

Throwing rocks in the creek.

We’re “Pete’s kid,” and “Your mother wants you home right away!”

We are pushed to go and pulled to stay; we are leaving this place as soon as we’re grown.

And we are the sky we can’t explain, unpredictable, colorful and full of rage and gentle hope that it’s all going to be OK.

We are someday.

We’re the wind, relentless. The snow, endless. Sharp and hard, steadfast and certain like the winter and the change in weather.

We are the dirt under our nails, tangled hair, the cattails and bluebells and big white-tailed deer. We are new Main Street signs, and small high school hallways, and hope, even though…

We are all of these things that make up a home, but home is not ours to take. Somehow, we’ve been claimed.

Lost tooth memories

Losing a tooth and gaining memories
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My oldest daughter lost her first tooth last week. On her 47th jump off the panel fence while we were feeding bottle calves, she fell and jarred her little jaw enough to knock a loose tooth looser.

By bedtime, all bathed and fresh and ready for sleep, she let her daddy pull that wiggly tooth, the one I swear she just grew yesterday.

And while she went into the whole thing brave and tough, chaos ensued well past bedtime when she realized a part of her that was once in her mouth, was now in her hand.

And there was blood.

And crying. From both Edie and her little sister. (And maybe me a little, because I thought he was just going to wiggle it!) But, for Edie, all that was scary was calmed by the dollars left under her pillow. I’m still not sure Rosie is over the trauma of it all.

Come to think of it, maybe neither am I. Because it all seems to be happening at once. She turns 5 and learns to ride her bike without training wheels, she loses her first tooth, I register her for kindergarten and listen to sad ’90s country for a week straight — and then I blink and she’s taking the painting she did in junior high, the old lamp in the attic and packing up the station wagon, waving goodbye to me while I stand in the very same driveway where she just learned to ride her bike yesterday.

At least that’s what Suzy Boggus told me as I drove out of the elementary school parking lot wiping my tears away. The song has a bit more bite than it did when I was singing along to it on my bus ride to school.

Letting go.

We’ve taken a large step into that phase of parenting now, and my girls take twirling leap after spinning bike tire toward their independence. I see it now in how they’re suddenly so aware of the wide-open spaces that surround them. No more fenced yard holding them in — they climb right under it and wonder now if they can get themselves from our house to Gramma’s or aunt Alex’s.

Maybe if they run to the top of the hill and stand on the tallest rock. Maybe if they follow that deer trail, or the cow dog. Maybe if they didn’t pick up every pretty rock they found along the way. Maybe if they wouldn’t have face-planted in the dirt running too fast down the hill. Maybe if they would have told their mother they were leaving the yard, she could have come and rescued them from themselves a bit earlier.

But oh, so much of me loves to watch them suddenly realize that all of this is theirs to make footprints on. To take care of. To inspect for crocuses, to pick up a cactus or two on their jeans. The big blue sky, the tall oaks, the stock dam and the crick and the sticks they throw for the dogs, the mud that gets stuck to their boots, the big rocks that will become their special, secret spots, even though we can see them from the house…

My daughters, at 5 and 3, are entering the sweet spot of childhood where memories are made and the world seems wide open and full of questions and mystery. They’re entering a phase of childhood in which I can remember for myself now, and how it felt to fall in love with this place.

How it felt to hold my little sister’s hand and help her through the fence.

How big my dad’s fingers felt in my mouth when he helped pull out my first tooth…

I can remember that, Edie. You’ll remember it now too… you’ll remember now…