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.

The yard light’s back on

This week on the podcast I catch up with my husband after he returns from leaving for a 75 day hunting trip (ok, maybe is was just 5 days). A small change in the barnyard makes me reflect on how wrong they all were about the future of our home, and Chad wonders if I would wish my kind of creative drive on my children, and then asks me to explain gravity. There’s lots to unpack here, figuratively and literally…listen here or on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

There hasn’t been a yard light in the barnyard of the homestead place for ten years. It went out when we took the old house down after a fire and we didn’t get around to rewiring it. When the house went, so did we, we left the barnyard and moved up over the hill to a new house and so no one lives there full time, we just work there now—we saddle up, feed horses, bring the bulls in, ride the ponies…

When I left home at seventeen, I had this vision of all of the yard lights in my rural community going out, one by one by one behind me as I drove away and kept driving. In my lifetime, at that time, I had only seen things getting quieter out here. I saw old neighbors packing up and moving to town. I saw schools close and businesses come and go and come and go. I saw star football players heading to college and not looking back. We were told not to look back, unless it was to reflect—on a simple upbringing in a less complicated time in a place where work ethic and sacrifice are badges of honor—because it makes you employable, you know, having come from a small place, heading off to the big places. But don’t come back here. Not when you’re young. Not when there’s more opportunity, more money to be made in places where the streetlights and stoplights replaced yard lights long ago.

Last week, in the dark, I pulled my car off the highway and followed my headlights down the big hill on the gravel road, past my parents’ place and across the cattle guard. It’s at this point in my drive, if the weather’s cooled down or warmed up, depending, that I like to roll my window down to catch the scent of that little valley with the cattails and the stock tank. It smells like cool summer nights riding home from moving cows, or long walks through the draws after a day that tried to break me. It smells like plum blossoms or cattle watering, fresh cut hay or the thaw or the cold coming in, you know, like the scent of snow.

It smells like home and I try to catch it when I can, when I think of it. When I need to be reminded who I am and why I’m here.

And then up another big hill to the mailboxes and grain bins I take a right turn into my drive and then look to my left at the sky past the buttes to see what the stars are doing and then down to the barnyard and then, well look at that, the light was on.

Dad got the light back on.

It caught me so off guard, that yard light once again illuminating the scoria drive, the barn a shadow behind it, the little guest cabin that replaced the old house, waiting, now under its watch, for someone to come slip through the gate and under the covers.

And I wasn’t expecting it, but I remembered then that my dad did tell me, that the electricians were coming, that some old wiring was going to be replaced. I didn’t connect the yard light to that information I guess. But what took me most aback was my reaction to it. It stopped me in my tracks, it bubbled a lump up in my throat. Memories of pulling into my grandma’s yard as a little kid sleeping shotgun in my dad’s pickup for a weekend trip and then as a ranch kid leaving the place after a family supper or after a long ride or a late day helping or running wild past our bedtime with the cousins when my grandparents were still alive and we were all young, all of us, and we paid no mind to how anything would ever change that.

Seeing that light on made me realize that I didn’t think of its absence at all really. Not the way I thought I would. When it went out it was just gone and life carried on. We put a new yard light in over the hill and felt lucky and maybe that’s why. I didn’t have to mourn it, because the story I was told as a kid about this place, it turns out that they got it all wrong.

Because look at me, I am 39 now and driving my children home in the dark and in front of me the yard lights glow like beacons of hope for the future.

September and what keeps it precious

This week on the podcast I sit down with my little sister and talk of the weather turns to embarrassing moment confessions. The flies and the wasps and the rooster and the tomatoes and the mice are taking over the ranch and we talk about it all. Catch it here or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The evenings are getting cooler as the sun sets a bit more quickly and I’m canning tomatoes and chopping up peppers from the garden for salsa so we can have a piece of summer when winter hits hard.

I can preserve our garden vegetables, but haven’t yet found a way to capture the smell of the season changing and the color of the green and gold leaves against an overcast morning sky. This season is so unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.

But this year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves this spring are the first to display their colors this September and I’m reminded of roundup season and spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we rode behind our dad to gather cattle.

Working cows in the fall has always been one of my favorite events of the season. My memories find me as a young girl bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.

I would strip off my cap first, and then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done. Dressing in layers is a different level on the ranch.

Moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me—probably because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate. It was during that long wait that I would make up the best songs, sing the loudest, find sticks for slingshots or the perfect feather for my hat.

Turns out these days my role working cattle hasn’t changed much. I remain the peripheral watcher, the one who makes sure the cows don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate.

Recently our little ranch crew met in the morning to move cows to a different pasture. Dad, my uncle and aunt who summer up here from Texas, my little sister, my husband and I saddled horses in the crisp air of the morning and met to stretch out across the Peterson pasture and make the move through a couple gates to Hughes (every pasture has a name, these attached to the old homesteaders.)

It was pretty nice and easy because that’s the way we work cattle here. Just let them take the lead mostly, which occasionally finds you off your horse walking through the thick brush or chasing out across the pasture after a stray, or, sometimes deciding on another approach entirely because that’s the way they want to go.

With the exception of a wreck, nothing can really ruin this for me, sitting horseback on a cool morning slowly making its way into a hot afternoon.

I could walk these trails on the back of a horse forever and not get tired of them. Because each month the pastures change–a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows and dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.

And I am the most alive when I’m out here, and what makes it even sweeter is that I know the rest of the crew, my family, feels the same way too. I listen as they make conversation about the calf crop and plans for the day. I follow behind like I always have and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.

I wait for instruction and find my direction while my husband cuts a path through the trees to search for hidden cows and my dad lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.

I move a small herd toward the gate with my sister and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture. Dad comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him toward the rest of the herd. We meet up quick to wonder where uncle Wade might be and find him over the hill waiting at the gate with the rest of the cattle. We push them through to taller grass and up to water to help them settle in. We wonder if we got them all.

And that’s how it goes generally, the six of us, this time with the exception of Dad stopping to take a picture of my little sister, creating the opportunity for one squirrelly calf to cut back. He laughed as he went after her, thinking what his own dad might say about stopping for a picture.

But why not take a picture? Morning makes its way into the afternoon and if we let ourselves, we might remember that we don’t get an infinite number of fall days like this in our lifetime. Isn’t that what keeps it all so precious?

We head toward home and talk about lunch and the fencing that needs to get done. And cattle prices. And the deer population. And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing…even though, year after year, up here… I always feel the same.

Cheers to Middle Age

Chad and I have officially climbed the hill to reach middle-age and on this week’s episode we talk about it. Like, what would we tell our younger selves, why Chad settled into his beard and cargo pants, how I just can’t anymore with uncomfortable underwear and why time is worth so much more than money. Listen here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

Yeah, here I am hanging out on the top of the hill, teetering and a bit wobbly, inching toward the day I take a step over.

By the time you read this I will have just turned 39.

Over the hill. That’s how they define it.

I’m at the age where the High School marching band is playing the music I listened to as a teenager. I’m at the age where I couldn’t name one relevant popstar in a lineup. I’m at the age where I spend an excessive amount of my paycheck on multi-vitamins, pro-biotics and physical therapy appointments and I genuinely get excited about a vacuum cleaner.

I’m at the age where I’ve started telling my kids they don’t know how good they have it.  I say things like, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have all these choices! When I was a kid I had one pair of tennis shoes and that was it. When I was a kid we listened to the AM radio station and looked out the window on road trips,” which prompts one of my favorite questions, “Were there even cars when you were a kid?”

Ugh. I remember asking my dad the same thing. I pictured him driving around as a kid in a covered wagon and I didn’t understand why he laughed so hard at the question.

I was five and he was 37, from the olden days.

And so I find myself there too. From the olden days, born and raised before high speed Internet and smart phones. When I wanted to talk to my boyfriend, I had to call his house and talk to his dad first. The horror. When we took a picture we had to wait at least an hour to see the result, and that’s only if you lived in a big town with a Walmart or something.

I am from the unique generation that grew up as high tech grew up. We were in high school during the release of the first cell phones and in college when Facebook was invented. We remember traveler’s checks and the movie theaters only taking cash. We paid per text message and wondered why it was event a thing. And we remember TGIF television where we had to, “gasp!” be in front of the TV on time and watch the commercials.

I could be wrong, but us almost-40-year-olds may be the last of human-kind that considers actually picking up a phone to ask a question, have a conversation or make a weekend plan.

We’re vintage like that.

Vintage like the relics of our childhood we recently found in a thrift store/museum. The orange Tupperwear juice pitcher that every household had in the fridge filled with green Kool-Aid. The TV Guide collection. The BUM sweatshirt. The McDonalds Happy Meal Smurf set. The My Little Ponies and GI Joe Figurines, Disney on VHS tapes and giant TVs that took a couple friends to move into our first apartments that cost us $400 per month.

Those were the days.

I say that now too, while rubbing that spot on my neck that always kinks, no matter how much I spend on ergonomic pillows.

When my family asked me how I wanted to spend my birthday, I didn’t say a long nap, but I wanted to. Instead I said I just wanted to stay home with the kids, maybe ride some horses and make breakfast. Let me sit for a little longer in the morning with my cup of coffee and I meant it. That’s all I wanted, to take it easy because I’ve been busting my butt the last decade or two.  

39. If I’m lucky, that’s almost half my life behind me, but whew, that last part went fast didn’t it? How long does it take to start feeling like you’re getting things right? My thirties set me firm in what motivates me and solidified a career path that twenty-something me was too scared to define. And my thirties brought me into motherhood and then turned around and slapped me in the face with the inevitability of my own mortality. It cut me open, literally, right down the middle and is still working on teaching me that healing takes patience, that I can’t do a thing if I don’t take care of myself properly.

In my twenties, I thought I could do it all if I wanted to.

My thirties helped me discover that I don’t want to.

And while our society tries to tell women like me that we’re losing relevance (remember the pop star thing?) I’m happy to now have the audacity to call bull on that.  I’ve been working my whole life to get to the very place I stand, and I got most of the way by navigating with an actual map.

So cheers to middle age, a place from which we can tell you from experience that you’re going to regret those jeans in a few years, but you most definitely should wear them anyway.

Summer, don’t leave me…


This week on the podcast, I have coffee with my little sister, Alex, who is a former guidance counselor and teacher, to get some perspective on back to school. Alex gives some tips on the best questions to ask about your child’s day to actually get a response and I try to get to the bottom of why having a kid going into first grade is carrying more weight than the first day of Kindergarten. We talk season changes on the ranch, back to school traditions and more. Listen at this link or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.  

What can happen in a summer at the ranch? When you’re raising two young daughters this is where they sprout and bloom, in this season of sunshine and sprinklers and butterflies and toads. We’re winding it down now.

If you’re reading this in your local newspaper, I am probably in one of the big towns coaxing those daughters to try on pair of school shoes, making them stand up, walk around a bit, feeling where their big toe hits, asking them if they feel ok. Do they feel ok? It’s the exact same thing my mom used to do, word for word it seems. Because these days you can get just about anything to come to you in the mail out here with the click of a button, but the shoes need to be tried. It’s a back-to-school ritual that we’re in now because I blinked.

I blinked.

They all told me not to, but I did and the spring that brought record breaking snow drifts with it, then it melted and made way for a summer filled with armpit high grass and wildflowers and healthy black calves kicking up their heels on the hilltops and laying down in the cool draws. Because the rain came to feed the hay crop and you should see the bales dotting the fields. Here we spend our three fleeting months of summer preparing for the long winter and we’re all more prepared than ever it seems. Thanks to the rain. Thanks to the sun. Thanks for the work.

I watched my daughters’ sandy hair turn blonde under that sun, and their pale skin tan, their cheeks rosy and flushed when they came in for popsicles. And I saw them stretch out of their long pants so they could properly skin their knees on the scoria road as they ran wide open toward their cousins’ house. I want to run wide open with them right back into the spring so we can do it all over again, but this time I’ll keep my eyes wide open. I promise.  

Why does this always happen to me? Why do I get lonesome for this season before it’s even officially over? Is it because it always feels like we’re at the end of one of those predictable summer themed movies, where the lighting is perfect and they conquer a fear and they all fall in love in the end at a beach house somewhere along the coastline? Back here in the real world I’m picking the ripe tomatoes from my garden and hoping for rain again, the sun is setting low at 9 pm and  the credits are rolling and I have to get back inside to get to the dishes….

And nothing has changed here except sort of everything. Kids learn to ride their bikes and climb the monkey bars backwards. They make friends in the campground they’ll never see again. She decides not to wear shirts with unicorns on them because she’s not a baby anymore. They fix their own hair, get their own milk to pour, decide they like tomatoes, grow an inch…

It’s all so gradual, these quiet transformations, like summer herself. You go out one day and notice the sweet peas coming with the green grass and the next time you look they’re dried up and gone, making way for the sunflowers to bend in the wind alongside that green grass turned golden.

This is us too you know, I need to make the reminder should we forget that we are as much a part of the transformation of seasons and time ticking as the rising and setting of the sun. You might not have noticed. You might have blinked, and that’s ok.

So stand up, walk around in it now, how does it fit? Does it feel ok? Do you feel ok?

Summer Don’t Leave Me

Summer don’t leave me
stay under my feet
hang warm in the sky
don’t dry up the wheat

Summer stay near me
to kiss my skin tan
mess up my long hair
hold tight my hand

Summer please stay here
in the chokecherry trees
on the back of a good horse
in the green of the leaves

Oh, Summer my good friend
there’s only so many hours
so take the storms and the rainbows…

but don’t take my wildflowers

Wild Sunflowers

This world needs more barn dances

In this week’s podcast, my husband and I reflect on who taught us to dance, how our Dirty Dancing days are over and pontificate on the old house that used to be on the ranch, who lived there and why they left

I think what this broken old world needs is a few more barn dances.

You may have forgotten that those used to be a thing that people did.

Above the house where I grew up is an old shed. It’s sat there for nearly a hundred years now I think. It outlasted the homestead house where a family used to live and then one day moved away, leaving what seemed to be everything behind—dresses and books and filled-in calendars and ledgers and dishes in the cupboards, canned garden vegetables in the root cellar, the lilac bushes and the apple orchard and mattresses and lace curtains moving like quiet ghosts with the wind cutting through the gaps in the walls. Old houses fall apart in the most slow and lonesome way when there’s no one there to sweep the floors and wipe the windows and serve the bread.

They left the house and all those things and they left that little wooden shed my dad said used to be a granary. He remembers it and he remembers those neighbors.

They used to have dances in there my dad told me when I was poking around as a kid. It seemed impossible to me. That granary was much too small, not even close to 1,000 square feet. If you danced it would be a tight circle. Add a guitar and a fiddle and the quarters would be beyond close. Tight. Unimaginable to us these days, losing ourselves and one another in wide-open floor plans, separate rooms and all the space between. Houses are big enough now so that you never have to lay a hand on each other on your way to the kitchen sink, or sit with legs touching on the living room sofa, or fall asleep to the sound of your sister breathing in the small bed next to you. Not if you didn’t want to anyway. Not if you’re what we call “lucky” to have all that room…

Back then I imagine the landscape, and the work that needed to be done upon it, gave you all the space you needed from the next living soul. Lonesome looked a bit different back then.

Maybe that’s why they turned tiny granaries into dance floors. Because wouldn’t you want to hear the slow drawl of the neighbor’s fiddle spill out of the leaky roof and into the night sky lit with stars? Wouldn’t you want to put your hand on her waist and swing her around laughing? Wouldn’t you want to sing along, to hear their voices overlap and chatter, gossiping and encouraging and entertaining to help you forget for a moment the worry of it all?

You would have wanted to then, when it was a bit quieter. When the world you knew stretched only as far as the horizon, or as far as you could afford a train ticket to take you. You see, they were islands too, in much different ways. And then, in so many of the same. Humans have always been humans, after all.

But the dancing in that tiny building, well, one hundred or so years ago, there was no other choice.

Now we have so many. So many excuses. So many oceans we’ve put between us… But last week a man in the middle of rural North Dakota, more than one hundred years from when the first barn was raised on this northern prairie landscape, called his family, his neighbors and friends, and told them to come on over to the Homeplace. Come on over to the barn. We’ll feed you. There will be music. And there will be dancing.

He’s been doing it for years, so they knew. They had it on their calendars. And his daughters and their families and he and his wife, they made the Fleischkuechle and the kuchen because that was tradition too. And me, well me and the guys were lucky enough to witness it all from the little stage in the corner of the loft of the old barn with the shined up floors where we strummed guitars and sang some songs they knew and some they didn’t and all with a beat for a good two step, or a waltz or a chance to join hands in a circle. Because I heard him say it into the microphone when he welcomed them all to that loft after a picnic supper–he didn’t want his grandchildren to grow up in a world where there were no barn dance. So he made sure, at least for his community, it was not a lost tradition.

And from my perch behind the microphone he reminded me that we may not all have big beautiful barns preserved from the cruel weather of time, but if we’re lucky, we have a spot that might work just fine enough for dancing in a circle.

Because I’m not sure, but I think it’s true, that just like old houses, people, they fall apart too, slow and lonesome if there’s no one there to sweep the floors, to brush past, to breathe the same close air, to sway side to side, and open the curtains and let the light in and serve the bread and do the things that, together, people are meant to do…

Showtime in the badlands

From fishing trips to film crews, Bible camp a barn dance and a musical in the badlands, family life has been a bit of a blur the last week. I catch up with my husband after bedtime to share the latest and reminisce about memories in North Dakota’s favorite tourist town, Medora. Listen to the podcast here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. 

I’m writing this as my girls are sleeping in two hotel beds in the middle of the badlands in North Dakota. In fact, the hotel is named The Badlands Hotel. Or is it Motel? I’ve always wondered about the difference between the two.

The lights are off and I’m brewing hotel/motel coffee hoping they sleep another hour or so on Mountain Time because it was a late night coming in from the musical last night.

If you’re from North Dakota or a state within a decent driving distance from it, you probably have memories tucked away from the time or times you’ve visited this little tourist town in the badlands. That’s why Medora exists really. To make those wholesome memories for you. If you were a kid during your first visit (and I hope you were because, like Disneyland, that’s really where the magic is) you remember ice cream cones on the boardwalk, wagon rides, mini-golf and that really cool wooden playground that looks like the town itself. You played there with your cousins at a family reunion or your classmates on an elementary school fieldtrip to learn about Teddy Roosevelt and the Marquis de Mores’ and visit the National Park.

If you were a mom or a dad or a grandparent during your first visit, you probably made everyone get dressed up in vintage western costumes get their black and white, old timey picture taken. Or maybe you told everyone they needed to put on long pants and boots or tennis shoes and meet up at the trail rides and only some of them listened and so there were some sore butts the rest of the weekend.

And no matter who you were when you made the first memories, you remember that it is hot down here in the summer in the deep Little Missouri River valley, surrounded by high clay cliffs and yucca plants, cedar trees and prairie dogs.

And of course, you remember the musical.

For those of you who have never been to Medora, North Dakota, this is what it’s known for. “The Greatest Show in the West!” running in the Burning Hills Amphitheater built right into one of those steep badlands banks since 1965. It’s pretty spectacular really, just the venue itself. I go to take in that view and appreciate the vision and ambition that brings families from around the world to our little corner of it. Where else do cowboys and cowgirls in patriotic costumes carry the American flag up and down the steep banks of the wilderness under the spotlight of the production. And man, do I always want to be the one on that horse carrying the flag in the spotlight. That feeling doesn’t change when you get older I guess. Anyway, there’s singing and dancing and clogging and a little bit of reenactment and special guest performers (last night it was basketball tricks) and fireworks at the end! They really go all out and I don’t care who you are, it’s wholesome as heck, and you leave there feeling a little lighter maybe, especially if you bring a kid or two with you so they can remind you to watch with a little less of the adult cynicism that you’ve come to acquire over the years and more of their innocence.

That’s the part that got me last night sitting between my two young daughters who were wearing the blinking, sparkly, light up cowgirl hats we bought them at the start of the show because who could resist?

They were so dang cute and they were experiencing this little North Dakota kid milestone for the first time. (Well, technically the last time my oldest was here she was a baby and had a massive blowout during the first dance number and we had to buy her a Medorable t-shirt to get us through the rest of the show.) And next to us were their cousins and their grandma and their aunts and that’s why this place holds a special soft spot for so many around here. Because that’s the sort of crew you bring along with you to a place like this, to do something, together and feel good (and usually sorta sweaty) about it.

And so that’s what we’re doing today when the kids wake up. They’re putting their light-up cowgirl hats back on and we’re turning into tourists in our own countryside. We’re mini-golfing. We’re lazy-rivering.

We’re shopping. We’re listening to music and, dangit, we’re getting ice cream (Of course we’re getting ice cream) in this little gem or a tourist town with the other moms and dads and grammas and grandpas and aunts and uncles because, if you can get away for a night, this is what you do in North Dakota in the summer…

And the kids are stirring now and my little sisters knocking with my latte from the cute shop down the street, so we better get to it!

40 Years

Listen to my interview with my parents and learn what my mom thought when dad brought her to the ranch when there were still party lines and how dad’s night in county jail gave him clarity on the direction of his life. 

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last week.

There aren’t many photos of their simple backyard wedding day around the ranch, just a few tucked inside old photo albums among snaps of cousin birthday parties, family in Christmas sweaters, Hereford cattle and my dad holding a string of fish he caught on their “honeymoon” to the big lake in the Badlands where my mom might have begun to realize what she was really getting into — it was going to be a no-real-frills existence with this man, not that the woman needed frills.

But she was up for it. I like to imagine that not much scared my mom back then. She had survived and left a problematic marriage well before she was out of her 20s. She packed up her hand-me-down furniture, clothes and dishes and called her sister and she was out of it, on her own with her young daughter in tow.

When she met my dad, she didn’t need him. She had her friends and family and her guts and she was working on finishing her social work degree. She taught ballet for extra cash, and aerobics, too. And knowing my dad, all of that was likely the appeal anyway, that she didn’t need him. That he could be who he was and she would take it or leave it. The woman wasn’t there to change anyone.

But it turns out he did change, maybe a bit, not for her but because of her. I’m privy to more of the scoop as I’ve taken Dad along for long road trips to music gigs throughout the years. On the miles of county roads and interstates, you get talking about things you might not otherwise get around to.

He told me the two had broken up at one point before their engagement and a few weeks later he found himself hitching a ride from a skeptical sheriff who didn’t fully believe his story about his broke-down pickup but let him spend the night in a county jail cell because there were no hotels in the town. And so he was sorta broke, sorta lonesome and sorta wondering what the heck he was doing. If he died that night, would anyone even know where he was?

He wanted her to know.

He laughs now thinking about it, but really, how do you decide to take the leap into committing to build a life with someone? Did Dad really need this sort of dramatic experience to make him see the light? Realistically, he probably only realized it was the light in hindsight. But it’s a good story with a good lesson I think, that you have choices. That when you are responsible for the life you build, it makes you one of the lucky ones.

In my experience witnessing my parents’ marriage throughout my lifetime, it’s been the sweet way they mix independence and individuality with support and care that’s always made me feel secure. Watching them, I never got the impression that you had to give a part of yourself up to be with someone.

And my young ballerina mother from the Red River Valley couldn’t have thrown herself into a more foreign situation — with the country churches and schools, the party line phones and that time she found a rattlesnake in the house when she was home alone with just my sister and me as a little baby—but I’ve never heard resentment once. They chose this life together and as the years went on, my mom figured out how she could best be herself in it, determined to bloom where she planted her life, understanding the important hold this place had on my father.

These days I’m getting to know them in a different season of their lives, one that looks like retirement (well, sort of) and grandchildren and the ability to do things they could have never done in the years spent raising kids and cattle and careers.

How lucky are we to continue to learn from them? I know they love one another by the way they let the other one be, as if to say, “I love you because I know you and we’ve got this.” And in the past 40 years, they’ve been dealt some pretty mountainous obstacles that took the ways in which they are very much the opposite to fully get through. No one tells you that can make all the difference. My parents have never shied away from the tough things.

But they’ve never argued on what they find moral and right. They’ve never disagreed on the way they both view giving and helping. They didn’t even disagree when my dad flat-out gave their minivan to a person who needed it more. And so I guess it’s the ways in which they are the same that really pack the power punch.

Anyway, in true no-frills fashion, we didn’t plan a big fancy anniversary party this year. Instead, my mom went fishing with my dad, this time on a nice pontoon. With magazines and wine. And that sounds just like them, doesn’t it?

It’s mid July and they’re in the hay fields

From haying to old Bible camp memories, weird pets, the proper way to pronounce s’mores and how to deal with an accidental toad murder, Jessie and her husband cover all things mid-western July in this week’s podcast, because if you blink, you might miss it. 

It’s mid July and the guys are in the hay field. Everyone is in the hay field. The heat and the rain and the humidity have created a jungle of grass out here, up past our stirrups, belly high on the cows, over my daughters’ heads in some places. That’s how we describe it when we see one another in town, at the Farm and Fleet, or a t-ball game or anywhere another rancher was convinced to go because it was a little too wet to bale.

It’s mid July and across the state small towns are holding homecoming gatherings, blocking off Main streets so they can pull in a flatbed trailer and use it as a stage for the band they hired from Bismarck or Minneapolis or just down the road because it’s summer in North Dakota and it’s time for dancing in the streets. And the committee that made the plans, they’re hoofing tables and chairs, picnic tables and signs, dressed in matching t-shirts and sweating because they’ve been at it since 6 am, cursing the weather, but glad it isn’t rain, although even rain wouldn’t stop it. We have three fleeting months here, we don’t have the luxury of letting a little bad weather stop us.

It’s mid-July and the lake people are not coming in. Not now, are you crazy? This is their sweet spot and it shows in their bronzed skin and the pictures of the fish they’ve caught. Their kids have another month to find their shoes, but until then, they’re gone with bedtimes and balanced meals.

It’s mid-July and the peas in the garden are ripe for the picking. We send the kids to collect some for supper and they don’t make it to the pot and that’s just fine, because the best way to eat a garden pea is fresh off the vine anyway, the same goes with beans and cherry tomatoes and does anyone need lettuce? It’s coming out of our ears.

It’s mid-July and the wild sunflowers are blooming in the ditches along the highways and county roads. If you’re not in a hurry — in mid-July it should be crime to be in a hurry — you pull over to pick a handful among the sweet clover and wild grasses, the grasshoppers sticking to your legs, the horseflies buzzing, the heat reflecting off of the pavement forming beads of sweat along your hairline. Some little bugs will take the trip back home to the vase with you, a black ant unknowingly hitching a ride to a new world on the petal of a flower.

It’s mid July and the kids are catching baby toads in the yard, five total in a Tupperwear habitat, pinching them carefully between the pads of their little fingers and holding them up to their eyes to get a closer look at their rough skin, tiny eyes and soft, thumping throats. How they just appear like that in the garden is a mystery like the fireflies blinking outside the fence when the sun finally disappears way past that bedtime we set only to miss. It’s mid-July and the magic of growing and momentary things is everywhere, but most especially in these children stretching up towards the sun.

It’s mid-July and the sprinkler’s on. It’s mid-July and we’re at the Farmer’s Market. It’s mid-July and we’re swatting mosquitoes and cutting watermelon and the tops off of freeze-pops. It’s mid-July and we’re camping, poking sticks in the fire and itching bug bites. It’s mid-July and we’re grilling burgers and sending the kids outside to husk sweet corn. It’s mid-July and we’re at another Rodeo, another softball game, the county fair, the state fair, the grandstands at a demo-derby, a concert in the park, the pool in town, yes we dove right in and there’s as much water under us as there is over our heads and we don’t want to hear it, although we say it ourselves, it’s going fast. It always goes so fast…

What to lose in a fire

Listen to the podcast here, or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Chad and I discuss how a place like this humbles you and why, when he dies, he wants to come back as my aunt’s Corgi.

Ten Julys ago my husband and I stood on the scoria road on the homestead place and watched as my dad’s childhood home started going up in flames. We had been living there, in what we called “gramma’s house,” the first two years as we worked on building our own home on the ranch until one sweltering summer night we arrived home from a trip to the lake, turned on the lights and noticed smoke coming from the basement and traveling inside the walls. An electrical fire started by a lightning strike while we were gone.

A few months later, when we were living in my parents’ house and all our Earthly possessions were scattered across their lawn, airing the smoke out while we reorganized from a chaotic scramble to save them, I remember thinking this:

When the walls of our home were smoking from the inside out into the night, we did not grab onto one another. No, we placed our arms around computer screens and television sets, appliances and guitars. We threw our possessions on the earth to be saved and to save us from the need we might feel to replace them.

What it would cost us to purchase another would mean time and money, the things that take up the biggest part of us some days.

And there it all was, out in the great wide open of the sky, stacks of important papers and photographs, hats and shoes, books I’ve never read and albums I haven’t listened to in years. We pulled these things from the flames so that it could lay there, waiting for us to decide what to do now. And suddenly I had this overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want any of it. 

I didn’t want a choice between red boots or black, I didn’t want the papers reminding me what it costs to live. I didn’t want the movies suggesting I should stay in and watch a world that doesn’t exist for us.

I didn’t want the memories waiting in boxes for me to recall what we were when we were sixteen and sun kissed and the world scared us, because things like this, unnerving, uncontrollable things, they will happen. And they will happen to us.

I didn’t want it weighing on me. Not that day. And sometimes, not these days. Not ten years later.

I heard once, somewhere on the car radio, a man who said, “We do not have a soul. We have a body.”

I pause to think of this today when my clothes feel heavy against the wet sticky heat of the summer and the body that houses my soul is feeling tired at the thought of moving through the tasks we’ve laid out for the day, cleaning up after ourselves, moving our stuff from room to room, from yard to house, from floor to laundry, from table to sink.

And I think about where my soul might live next.

Perhaps in the body of the yellow bird that returns to the feeder outside of this office window, concerned with nothing but her next bite, spreading her wings and cooling herself in the puddles left from an early morning rain.

A bird attached to nothing but the sky.

Or maybe a long living oak with the mission to reach my branches out to the sun in the summer, to release them in the autumn chill and sleep until the spring sun asks me gently to bloom again.

I would have roots that would keep me grounded and grass and branches from the aspen or the birch to keep me company, to lean on, to protect me from the wind.

Maybe a wildflower, a thistle or a cricket screeching my song into the night.

I could be all of those things.

But today I don’t want to be attached to anything…

I’ve felt like this as a teenager, before I understood what I was so anxious about and why I suddenly had so many emotions pulling at my skin.

I remember walking out into the rain on a cool late summer evening, just to be out there, away from the four walls of a house, away from the telephone and, things that needed to be thought through. I felt heavy that day and I wanted to be a blade of grass, grounded and soaked in this rain.

I walked further into the protection of the oaks and stepped off of my path, then slowly out of my shoes and finally out of my clothing. I stood there in the lush green of the weeds and wild fruit bushes, under a canopy of leaves dripping the rain down through their branches and onto my bare skin…
I was comfortable like this for only moments before I glanced down at my pale skin and remembered to be self-conscious. But for a moment I was there, holding my breath, and I was the rain and the clouds and the dirt. I was the grass and the still, damp air.

And I’m not wishing for the reminders of a good life to disappear. Today I am just asking to not be held accountable for my possessions or a body that doesn’t do much to hide the relentless emotions of this soul, the one that crinkles up my nose when it cries, bites the scar on my lip in worry and screams air out of my lungs in frustration…Today I am just taking a moment to remember that someday my soul may have wings…

Get your goat

Listen to the podcast here, where Chad and I talk growing up in the 90s and all my goat related incidents.

Did I ever tell you about the time my best friend and I went to pick up a goat in her dad’s old Lincoln? I just got my driver’s permit and off we went 20 miles on the highway to pick up a rodeo goat from our neighbor. I think I told you this, but it’s one of those core memories you get when you’re young enough that not too many scary things have happened to you yet and old enough to start putting yourself properly in harm’s way. Anyway it ended up with a blown tire and two thirteen-year-old girls in the ditch crying in the rain by the old church and it ended with our friend’s grandpa helping us change a tire and a goat standing in the backseat popping his head up between us as I drove that Lincoln back home at 30 MPH.

This is what friendship, teenage-hood and wild and free looked like in the 90s, before cell phones, affordable all-wheel-drive vehicles and hovering parents. Mostly we were left to our own devices, and mostly we were fine until the times we teetered on the edge of disaster on a back-road somewhere.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I entered my daughters in a kids’ rodeo in my hometown. I spent some of my life entered in barrel racing, pole bending and, of course, goat tying in high school rodeo back in a time where you could bring your fastest, most sound ranch horse to town in a stock trailer freshly cleared of cow poop and you wouldn’t be entirely laughed off the rodeo grounds. I wasn’t competitive really (*read, ranch horse,) but I had fun working to beat my time and with my friends on the road trips across the state where we would ride part of the way in the gooseneck of that trailer, bundled up and stretched among the horses as the highway rumbled underneath us (And that’s just one example of 90s safety standards and I’m hoping the statute of limitations protects my parents in this confession, Amen.)

The thing about the sport of rodeo is that it’s more about the practice, practice, practice than the 12-20 second race you’re running, or the 1-8 second ride. And I loved to practice, particularly goat tying (hence, the goat-getting adventure). For those of you unfamiliar with the event, in goat tying the cowgirl races her horse at its highest speed down the center of the arena where a goat is staked and waiting for her. The cowgirl dismounts the still-moving-at-a-rapid-speed horse, hits the ground running (literally and hopefully) and catches that goat, flips it over and ties three of its legs together. The girl with the fastest time wins and now that I’ve typed that all out it sounds sorta brutal. But the goats weren’t injured, switched often and were well cared for between rodeos. The girls? Well, there’s plenty of face planting and dirt eating in this sport to which I’ve contributed my fair share of statistics.

Anyway, my girls are too young to enter the goat tying portion of the rodeo, but when I lead them into that old indoor arena in my hometown, the one that served as a hockey rink in the winter, the smell of the cool dirt, concrete walls and horse sweat transported me back to my high school rodeo days when my girlfriends and I would spend countless hours practicing our goat-tying dismounts inside the dimly lit and echo-ey walls. The taste of that dirt hopped right back on my tongue and I swear I scooped some out of my waste band as I remembered us as teenagers hauling our goats to town in the early mornings to put them up in the fairground’s pens while we went to history then algebra, then choir then Earth science with the plan to practice tying those goats right after school.  But our plan to practice together comfortable and temperature controlled in a real, indoor arena honing our skills no matter the North Dakota weather didn’t come without a handful of hitches. Well, just one hitch really. One hitch a handful of times. Because I’m not sure what qualified as embarrassing in your high school experience, but getting called by name, over the intercom for the entire school to hear because “Jessie, Gwen, Nikki, please come to the office right now. Your goats have escaped and they’re loose around town. Again, Jessie, Gwen and Nikki, your goats are loose in town and you need to go get them,” could have qualified for us if we weren’t so thrilled for an excuse to leave in the middle of the school day to go do cowgirl stuff.

Did I ever tell you that story about the goats? No? Well, there it is.

My friend Gwen and I back in the day