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.

Under the early morning sun…

Mornings come early for my family during the work and school week — that’s the thing about living so far from the edges of town.

At 6 a.m., the house is dark and quiet and as sleepy as we are, when just hours before it was buzzing and humming and squealing with the negotiation and untimely roughhouse play that dads always bring to the bedtime routine. I remember it from my childhood, too, my dad teaching us to properly make a fist, our spindly arms swinging at him, trying to tackle him to the ground, to show him our muscles while he did things like put one big hand on my forehead, the other on my little sister’s, and we clenched our jaws then laughed and giggled and swung our arms into the air between us.

And there were a hundred other games we made up on the brown shag carpet of the living room, tumbling and jumping, growling and squealing like wild little bear cubs ripe to learn our lessons, doing anything we could to avoid the teeth-brushing portion of the night that led to bedtime. My mom would look over from cleaning up the supper dishes or sweeping the floor to suggest that we “Be careful now. Careful! Someone’s going to get hurt.”

Because someone usually got hurt, even though we tried our best not to admit it.

I hear her voice come out of my mouth now as I watch my own children launch their bodies from the couch and onto their dad’s back while he bucks and kicks and tries to dump them off. They use my throw pillows as weapons, they team up to distract him and execute an attack, they holler and whoop and laugh hysterically, golden hair strung out of their ponytails, cheeks flushed as they dangle from each of his arms, arms that seem made for this sort of thing, cut into shape from years of swinging hammers and hauling Sheetrock, sanding oak smooth and digging in fence posts. They ask him to show them his muscles and he puffs up his chest, rolling up his sleeves for his audience. They do the same, just like we used to do, my sister and I. Then they launch another attack to put those muscles to use.

“Careful now. Careful now girls. It’s almost bedtime. Five more minutes…”

I say this and so you might not believe that my husband is the more cautious of the two of us when it comes to our young children and their play. Knowing the guy since childhood, I guess I understand it. I never pushed my body’s limits the way he pushed the limits of his, driving his three-wheeler too fast over prairie trails, finding the highest cliff from which to jump into the lake, wrestling and playing football, peddling his bike off ramps that just got higher; broken ribs, broken shoulder blade, broken collarbone. A fish hook under his fingernail.

I suppose I can relate, having spent plenty of my youth in a cast, but my circumstances always felt more like bad luck and clumsiness to me. I always thought his scars screamed wild boyhood. I think back on it and the only difference I see now is that the hurt made me more afraid. It just made him want to try again.

I watch our daughters run wide open down the scoria road in their cowboy boots and I can almost feel the rocks scrape and dig into my bare knees. He sees them climb a thing they’re not ready to climb and he moves to help make them stronger. He shows them how to tighten their grip. How to clench a fist. How to bend their knees at the drop. I yell, “Careful!” He shows them how.

I pull my 6-year-old out of our bed, untangling her long, skinny legs from her little sister’s. They both found their way to us in the middle of the night and curled their bodies up in the space between us to ward off bad dreams. It’s my job now to wake us all up. It’s so early, but it’s time.

It’s his job to make them breakfast. It’s my job to fix their hair. It’s his job to make sure their teeth are brushed. It’s my job to drive them to school. It’s his job to pack the snacks, and on and on, step by muddy puddle jump — we make a mess and clean it up and find our way together under this sun, no matter how early it rises…

Spring cleaning gives time to reflect

My sister’s husband is working on building a chicken coop today and so my niece, Ada, spent our ride to town telling me how many chickens she’s going to get.

Sounds like hundreds. And I’m thrilled for them. Because it means that I don’t have to get chickens ever in my life. It’s kinda like the boat thing, you know, the only thing better than having a boat is having a best friend with a boat. That’s what I think about chickens. Eggs for days and no poop to scoop. I’ll save us all the cartons.

Building something like a chicken coop is a typical spring task at the ranch. The sun warms the ground and we’re ready to head outside to thaw out all of those ideas we conjured up while eating carbs and pulling our beanies down over our ears. But it also means cleaning. Oh, the cleaning. I’m always amazed by the amount of mud, random screws, mismatched gloves, beanies, boots, neckerchiefs, and, because my husband’s a carpenter, random electrical wires, plumbing parts, tools and hardware store receipts that accumulate in our entryway over the winter. I spent all morning Sunday trying to arrange it all so I could mop. And by the time I got to the mopping part, the kids had come in and out of that door 37 times, dragging more mud and dolls and winter clothes and random twigs with them.

My daughters were busy driving their kids to Hawaii in the little hand-me-down electric car that always gets stuck in the scoria halfway up the driveway. And the disagreement about who’s turn it is to push and whose turn it is to drive derails the game for a spell, although it does make it a bit more realistic. Adulting comes with all sorts of obstacles and predicaments. Like making the choice between spring cleaning and pouring a Sunday margarita….

Most of the time, I chose both. I’ve always been good at multitasking.

Anyway, the mess here is endless, between the ranch and the garage and the house and the yard, I’m fully committed to the idea that I’ll never catch up. And I know I’m not alone in it overwhelming me sometimes. If I dedicated every minute of my waking life to trying to control it, I still don’t believe I’d fully dig us out. Because, we just go on living, don’t we? Do the dishes and your husband comes in to make a sandwich. Clear the kitchen table of Play Dough to turn around to the kids making Barbie Doll phones out of tin foil and puffy paint. Get to the bottom of the laundry hamper and you’re still wearing clothes, aren’t you? Fix the fence and watch a bull jump right through it. Living’s messy. It requires lots of chores…

Last weekend my husband was also committed to clearing some clutter, so we were, as we usually are on the weekends, busy bopping around the place to see what tasks we can get checked off the list. This leaves the kids within earshot, but to their own devices, with a few tattle tale moments, skinned knees or request to help push the blue car out of the ditch sprinkled in. I stood in the driveway procrastinating sorting 1,000 gloves and watched as my daughters pretended to be mothers riding their bikes and changing diapers and, as I said, making plans to head to Hawaii.

And then I had a flashback of when they were smaller, just a few short years ago, at age 1 and 3, then 2 and 4, when my children required so much more out of me in the entertainment department—to peek-a-boo, to pour the paint, to rattle the rattle or build the blocks.

Now look at them, they’re in the sweet spot of sisterhood and childhood and play, immersed together in a world of their own creation. Rosie stopped her bike/car and her eyes caught mine, “Mooommmmaaa, you can go now! You don’t need to watch…”

And so this is the phase we’re in. Maybe I’ll get a duck or something and add it to my sister’s coop. It seems, with my kids in Hawaii, I might need something new to fuss over this summer, because I’m already sick of cleaning…

To get away, and be glad to be back…

It was spring break and so we let loose two little pale-as-our-snow Northern prairie girls in Florida. They swam with dolphins, caught a lizard, came face to face with a couple of sea otters, snorkeled and rode a roller coaster and jumped in the backyard pool approximately 3 million times, which is about equal to the amount of times they yelled, “Watch this!”

And so we watched. We, the parents who clearly overpacked, realizing our two little girls had no intentions of ever removing their swimming suits. And so we had to drag them out of that pool every night for the entire seven-day vacation, wondering if fingers can be eternally pruned. Or as Edie used to say, “sprinkly.”

We got back to the ranch and woke up to the official first day of spring. Which doesn’t really mean that it’s going to feel like spring around here, except now we can leave the house in the light and come home in the light and therefore we can see the light at the end of the winter tunnel. And that’s why Northerners need places like Florida. So much so that in the mix of a bazillion people at SeaWorld, Rosie spotted one of her preschool friends.

And then, the next day, we ran into folks from a neighboring town and so Disney is right, it’s a small world after all. Especially when all the frozen people are planning to head south at the same time.

What a blessing it is to get away for a bit. This vacation was one that was supposed to kick off, quite literally, the day the world shut down in 2020. It was a gift from my husband’s family, the kind that has aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers, grandkids and Gramma and Grandpa scheduling time to live in a house together for a week and do nothing but the fun things. Who would have thought that it would take two entire years to actually get us there? The last time we did something like this as an entire family, my daughters were just a dream and my now-teenage nieces and nephew were much shorter, much younger and found me less embarrassing.

Which I proved wasn’t such an unreasonable sentiment when I took that nephew along to help me deliver our leftover boxes of beer and soda to the neighbors at 11 p.m. the night before we left our Airbnb because I “would just hate to see it go to waste.”

Those neighbors opened the door slowly to a woman in PJs and humidity hair and they looked as cautious and confused as they should have been and suddenly I became overly aware of my nerdy North Dakotan accent. I’ve never felt more Midwestern in my life, except for moments later when the poor woman finally took the boxes and began to close the door and I couldn’t stop myself from popping my head in to elaborate: “There’s just a few beers, some pop, I mean soda, and a juice box or two, you gotta dig for those, sorry… you know, we heard you back in the pool and thought you might put it to use. Hate to see it go to waste! Enjoy! Enjoy your vacation!” Because when in doubt, just keep talking. That seems to be my motto. Lord help me.

My nephew couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He literally ran himself into our glass patio door and we both laughed harder than we ever have together. He said it was his favorite memory of Florida, beating the dolphins and his shark-fishing excursion, me embarrassing myself.

And isn’t that how it goes if you do it right? My dad asked Rosie, my 4-year-old, what was her favorite part of the vacation and she said it was swimming in the backyard pool and staying in the same house as all her cousins and her Nana and Papa. No dolphin jump or roller coaster ride or new princess outfit complete with a sword beats any of that, the actual time spent. Sometimes we just need a few plane rides and a four-hour wait in the rental car pickup line to get us there.

And now we’re home. And it’s spring. And soon the calves will be born and the crocuses will bloom and my daughters will be riding their bikes on the lone piece of pavement on the ranch, fingers fully dried out and “unsprinkled.” To be gone long enough to miss it. To be away in paradise and be glad to be back, well, what a gift. What a blessing.

We are the water

We are the water
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It’s the time between winter and the full-on sprouting of spring. The time where the snow still peeks through the trees, the wind still puts a flush in your cheeks, birds are still planning their flights back home and the crocuses haven’t quite popped through the dirt.

It’s my favorite time of year.

When I was a little girl, I lived for the big meltdown. My parent’s home is located in a coulee surrounded by cliffs of bur oak and brush where a creek winds and bubbles and cuts through the banks. And that creek absolutely mystified me. It changed all the time, depending on rainfall, sunshine and the presence of beaver or cattle.

In the summer it was lively enough, home to bugs that rowed and darted on the surface of the water and rocks worn smooth by the constant movement of the stream flowing up to the big beaver dam I loved to hike to. In a typical North Dakota fall, it became a ribbon carrying on and pushing through oak leaves and acorns that had fallen in its path. In winter, it slowed down and slept while I shoveled its surface to make room for twists and turns on my ice skates.

But in the meltdown it was magical. It rushed. It raged. It widened in the flat spaces and cut deep ravines where it was forced to squeeze on through. It showed no mercy. It had to get somewhere. It had to open up. It had to move and jump and soak up the sun and wave to the animals waking up.

I would step out on the back deck, and at the first sound of water moving in the silence I would pull on my boots and get out there to meet it, to walk with it, to search for the biggest waterfalls, gawk at how it would scream out of its banks and marvel at how it had changed.

Around every bend was something a little more amazing — a fallen log to cross, a narrow cut to jump over, a place to test the waterproof capacity of my green boots. The creek runs through multiple pastures on the place and as long as the daylight would allow I would move right along with it, and then return home soaked and flushed.

And I would do the same thing the next day. Because even as a kid I knew this magical time was fleeting and that there are places along that creek that very few people have ever been. I took great joy in the fact that I was one of them.

And it was performing only for me.

I still remember a dream I had about the creek when I was about 10 or 11. I dreamed it was huge, like a river you would find in the mountains — a river I had yet to discover at that time. The landscape was the same — the oaks and the raspberries existed there — but the water was warmer and crystal-clear and it pooled up at the bottom of gentle waterfalls that rolled over miles of smooth rocks and fluffy grass.

And I was out in it with friends I had never met before as an adult woman with long legs and arms and we were swimming in its water and letting the current push us over the waterfalls and along the bottom of the creek bed until we landed in the deep water. And we were laughing and screaming with anticipation, but weren’t afraid — we were never cold or worrying about getting home for dinner or what our bodies looked like in our bathing suits.

We were free. I was free. And the water was rushing.

And we may never know if there’s a heaven, but we know that there are snowbanks that fly in with the burning chill of winter’s wind. Those banks reach up over my head and stay for months on end only to disappear with the quiet strength of a sun that turns it to water rushing around the trees, settling in hoofprints and dams to be lapped up by coyotes and splashed in by geese, sinking in the earth and changing it forever.

And that’s something that makes me believe in something.

Like perhaps we are like that drop that fell from the sky, afraid of the mystery that was waiting for us as we hurtled through the atmosphere only to find when we finally hit the earth that we are not one drop alone in this world.

No.

We are the water.

On the coldest day of the year, I forgot my coat…

It was 20 below zero this last Tuesday.

I forgot my coat.

As we were trying to get out the door for school, breakfast eaten, hair and teeth brushed, gathering the kids’ coats, hats, mittens, snow pants, folders, extra shoes, snacks, leotards, piano books, babies, blankies and a partridge in a pear tree, Rosie decided she needed her fingernails painted.

She would not budge on this, no matter how much I tried to explain to her that time was ticking. Because, of course, 4-year-olds don’t care about time. Four-year-olds live in the moment, and at that moment, Rosie desperately needed to have pink fingernails to match her friend Lily.

And in my moment I weighed whether or not it was quicker to argue with her or to just paint her dang fingernails as swiftly as possible so we could get on to the last-minute teeth-brushing portion of our morning.

I chose to powerpaint the fingernails based on the baby doll dressing argument of last week where we were, again, up against the clock, and so I set out explaining the whole time thing. My husband swooped in then and suggested maybe Rosie could dress her babies in the car on the way to school. Good idea. We were out the door. Hallelujah. And all was fine until about 4 miles down the road when my dear daughter realized that I didn’t pack the correct attire for baby No. 3.

“These are all jammies!” she exclaimed. Her dolls needed dresses.

And so then Rosie got to deal with disappointment after all, despite our best efforts. She’s a young child with high expectations, so she does her fair share of dramatic stomps to her room. But that morning’s letdown had us all trapped in the car, so I got the dramatic 4-year-old-sized lecture instead. Which is always fun at 7:45 a.m. And life went on.

Anyway, I’m confessing all of this so that you might understand how I could have forgotten MY OWN JACKET on a trip to town on the coldest morning of the year.

Because I remembered it was “twin day” at kindergarten and what to dress Edie in to match her BFF. And I remembered to pack her pink shoes and put her hair in a “medium ponytail.” I even remembered what “medium ponytail” meant. And I remembered the leotards for gymnastics, and a snack for after school, and the piano books and the kids’ hats, mittens, snow pants, folders, extra shoes, baby dolls, blankies, the partridge in a pear tree and the kids’ coats, of course.

And my coffee. I remembered my coffee. And my banana for breakfast while I drove, which reminded me that I lost the banana I packed for breakfast yesterday and now I wonder exactly where and when it will show up to haunt me in this car.

So you see, I remembered lots of things. So maybe there wasn’t room for more?

The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I remembered all of the girls’ things, plus my coat, but I forgot my computer workbag and I didn’t realize it until I arrived at my office. And all of this wouldn’t be such a big deal if we lived down the block or around the corner or just a few miles out of town. But we live about 30 miles from town. Which means retrieval of anything we forgot takes a good, solid hour out of the day.

So yeah, this morning, at minus 20 degrees, I forgot my coat. I called my husband and you won’t be surprised to hear that he wasn’t surprised. He said he double-checked to make sure the kids had their coats and hats, but didn’t think he needed to check for me. Now he knows better. He’ll bring it in for me on his way to work.

Because it was 20 below.

And I forgot my coat.

Not for the Faint of Heart

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My youngest has been playing mother to her baby dolls for four weeks straight. She tucks them in at night, feeds them in the morning, washes them, changes their diapers, brings them outside to play and calls them her sweeties.

And if this sounds all sugar and spice, I also want to make sure you know she gets after them, too. They can be naughty, and she can be strict. This mothering thing, it’s not for the faint of heart. Especially when you’re only 4.

Recently I called home from a weekend away and Rosie got on the phone to update me. I asked her how it was going, and she said good. She’s very busy taking care of her babies.

“Oh, great, how many babies do you have today?” I asked.

“Edie!” she yelled to her older sister in the next room and also directly into the phone. “Come here and help me count my kids!”

Turns out, that day, she had four.

Earlier this week, those four children came with us to preschool drop-off. Adding four to the two that already live in this house made for a marathon morning routine. We barely made it to school on time due to the clothing changes, feedings, teeth-brushing, fitting them all in one baby doll car seat and then, of course, all the kisses goodbye.

Her orders for me while she was away at school? Bring them all to day care in Florida.

OK then.

“Is it hard being a mom?” both of them have been known to ask me after I let out a big sigh or, despite my best efforts to remain calm, do not, in fact, remain calm.

I reply honestly. I tell them sometimes it is hard. Just like sometimes it’s hard being a kid. And while I’m not sure if that’s the right answer, it is the truth, and I guess I’ve decided on the truth when it comes to parenting.

Turns out parenting in the truth also means things I didn’t think about, like apologizing to them when I’ve overreacted or admitting there are just some things even mommies don’t know.

So then, of course, they go ask Daddy. As if he has more of a handle on where we go when we die the same way they’ve observed he has a better handle on things like numbers and biology and why Rosie just can’t jump inside of the television and live with Bluey. (Did I ever tell you about the time I got kindergarten math homework wrong? Did I ever tell you how many times Rosie has asked us to tape her into the TV?)

Anyway, it’s as if knowing all the parts of a horse and every lyric to every ’90s country song counts for nothing…

“Did you even go to school?” my oldest asked me at bedtime last night after I failed to properly explain why the nights are longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. It was 9 p.m. on a Monday, and I’m pretty sure I was already sleeping.

But Edie moved quickly from that question to her confession for the day. These usually happen in the final hours of bedtime…

“Mommy, the kids at school all gave better valentines than me. I don’t think they liked the suckers I brought.”

Turns out jealousy is one of those things they learn in kindergarten. So is the one about friends who don’t always act like friends. And the one where you don’t always win the contest or learn it the quickest, where you’re not always the best or get the most attention and get left out, and on and on, and it can be hard for a kid…

And hard for a mom.

Which is what I went with in trying to ease her little mind. I told her that mommies get jealous too. Everyone does. And to help get through it, she should try to think about all of the good things that make her uniquely Edie. And I try to do the same. After all, there are so many reasons to be proud.

Her big blue eyes welled up then and as she leaned in for the hug, I felt like she forgave me for all the things I don’t know and just trusted me on this.

And oh, this parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart. Even when you’re a grown-up…

A Confession and a Recipe

Confession: On Monday afternoon I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies with Rosie and my nieces, because, as you recall, my youngest needs baked items to go with her band performances.

On Tuesday morning I packed four small cookies intended for the car ride home after gymnastics practice. By the time we made it halfway to school drop-off that same morning, the three of us girls had polished them off.

Yeah, I have weaknesses. And hearing my 6-year-old’s dramatic speech that morning about why and how much she loves chocolate chip cookies and all of the reasons she should be allowed just one more made me realize that perhaps vices are generational.

And so I had myself a good think on it after I devoured approximately three to four more cookies for dessert that evening before my husband hid the Tupperware from me. And I could have been mad except someone needed to save me from myself. Self-control is not a thing I possess at 8 p.m. midwinter, midweek. And so here I am…

Self control has left the building…

Confession: I had no idea who was playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday. I mean, I figured it out and it might be un-American, but I make up for it with my love of cheeseburgers, a good halftime show and an excuse to gather with the neighbors and eat All. The. Snacks. And so I participate in the tradition.

And at the center of our tradition is a particular bread-bowl dip my mom has made for years. It’s been the center of many chicken wing, Crockpot chili spreads across kitchen counters and at the top of my recipe pile when I’m asked to “bring something” or “share that one really good bread bowl dip recipe” year after year (mostly from the same friend because I’m assuming he thinks it tastes better if he never writes it down or remembers it).

So I’m going to share it with you all here today. And I was going to make it on Sunday, except I forgot that it was Superbowl weekend the minute I submitted this column, and it was a long drive to town, and so we ate the queso and sliders my little sister brought over and I contributed chicken nuggets to the cause. Our Super Bowl Sunday looked like playing hide and seek and baby dolls and putting kids to bed after the halftime show and I’m just fine with that. Regardless, I think you should have this recipe, for Superbowl and beyond, so here you have it! Happy Valentines Day!

Priscilla’s Dip Baked in Bread

Serves: 10 (or like, me, for two or three days of snacks)
Ingredients:
1 round loaf of shepherd’s or sourdough bread
2 cups sour cream
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
6 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 jar (5 ounces) chipped beef, finely chopped

Directions:
Cut off the top of the bread as you would cut off the top of a pumpkin; reserve the top. Pull out the inside of the loaf in chunks, saving them for dipping.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, green onions and chipped beef. Pour the mixture into the bread shell. Replace the top of the bread, wrap it in aluminum foil and bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

In the oven, crisp the bread pulled from the center. Serve with your favorite cracker and the crisped bread for dipping and then, the best part: eat the bread bowl!

Drive Careful, Watch for Deer and other things we say here…

Drive carefully. Watch for deer. How was the drive? Is it icy? Blowing snow?

Leave early. Drive slowly. Check the weather. Call me when you get there. Call me when you leave. I’ll wait up for you. I’ll leave the light on.

In rural North Dakota, especially in the icy and volatile tundra that is the 17 months of winter, I grew up hearing these statements as a sort of language of love. Because to get to most anywhere we need to go, we have to consider the roads.

A 30-mile drive to school, work, groceries and the nearest gas station. A 90-mile drive to a big-box store or an airport. A 140-mile drive to a specialty doctor or to have a baby near a NICU, to get your wisdom teeth removed, a treatment for your cancer or, sometimes, before Amazon delivered the world to your door, just to find the right size of envelope or diapers.

How are the roads?

My little sister just texted me that question as I arrived in town and she’s making plans to bring her girls to gymnastics later this afternoon. It rained all day yesterday, right on top of the ice and snow, and then, just to be dramatic, the wind blew all night at 40 mph.

The fact that the roads between the ranch and town were just fine was some sort of weather phenomenon, ruining any excuse I might have been able to scrounge up for why I barely got Edie to kindergarten in time. And why I forgot my workbag with my computer in it and basically everything I needed for a long day in town. It wasn’t the roads. It’s just me. It’s just me in the middle of winter — frazzled, pale and distracted, trying to get two tired little children up out of their beds when it’s still dark outside.

Because what I think we’re really meant to be doing this time of year is eating a bottomless serving of straight-up carbs and hibernating. My word, it’s hard to fight nature these days. (I yawn for the 50th time in 10 minutes).

For the last three weeks, I’ve been back and forth from the ranch and across the state on these January roads, bringing my children’s book to libraries, schools and stores along the way. I’ve driven in blinding snow and clear skies, in the dark of the early morning and the quiet of late nights, on patchy ice, highways wet with cold rain, by snowdrifts and through snowdrifts, into the sun and away from it, past big trucks stuck in ditches and moms like me pulled over in SUVs, and snowplows, and semis hauling cattle and giant wind turbine blades and crosses along highways and interstates, lit up with solar lights or decorated with flags and flowers or a high school jersey reminding us that, when we’re moving this fast — blur-shaped people on wheels at 80 mph, trying to keep a schedule, to get there on time, to get home for supper or homework or bedtime — it only takes a split second for the whole plan to change.

And that’s why we ask. That’s why we wait up. That’s why we tell you to watch for the deer or the moose or the ice or the snow or the wind or the rain. That’s why we tell you to drive safe. Please. Drive safe. Because it’s the only way to feel we have a semblance of control of these miles we need to trek on stretches of highways, interstates and back roads that are equal parts freedom and fear.

The moving, it’s always been hazardous for humans. It’s not new to these times we’re living in, the walking or riding across uncharted landscapes or well-worn trails. Handcarved boats with handsewn sails taking us out to a sea that angers easily or a river that goes from calm to raging just around the bend. If only all these years of evolution could protect us now from those unexpected waves. Sometimes we start to believe it can. So just in case, we say:

Drive safely.

Travel safe.

From the top of it all

I have a good life. Not much to complain about when it comes down to it really, except for the weird cat that keeps pooping on the rug right outside the door, my daughters’ occasional meltdowns about waffles not tasting waffle-y enough, impending deadlines, unending laundry, unfinished projects and cold toes.

Nothing out of the usual. Nothing unrelatable. So I’m sitting pretty lucky these days.

But some days, during a break in the morning news, I cry at the Walgreens commercial. And the commercial for a web browser that tells the story about a dad sending his daughter off to college. And then they video chat. And anything with a cute baby or a puppy or a grandpa or a soldier coming home. And lately, I cry at the weather report.

Now, don’t get all worried about me, I’ve got the serious stuff addressed. This is just me being hyper-emotional, the way I’ve always been. And I spend quite a bit of my life laughing, so I figure I’m balanced.

But some days are worse than others, and like so many things, it goes in waves and I find myself running for the hills. Because I’ve learned over the course of my pushing-40 years (gasp!) in this breathtaking and heartbreaking place it’s the only thing to do to recover my senses and gain my balance and center myself once more.

I remove my body from the television screen, the radio, the podcasts, the music, the computer and all of those heartbreaking, heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories and just try to live in my own for a moment.

It hasn’t been easy to do this lately, between the life-threatening cold temperatures, traveling each week to promote the book, darkness that falls too early in the winter, school drop-off and pickup and gymnastics and piano lessons and getting everyone to bed on time, I’ve had to make a special space in my day for clarity.

It’s why I keep an extra pair of snow boots and a furry hat in my car. Just in case. You never know when you might have a chance to escape.

I found my chance one recent afternoon. I had a few of those teary moments over coffee and the news while I moved through my morning trying to pull it together, get to the computer, make it to the meeting, keep up on emails, plan for an event, meet a deadline and keep my head above water in pretty work sweaters between four walls.

4:30 came around and I had a meeting at 6. I figured an hour and a half would do it.

So I got in my car and pointed it toward a favorite refuge, the only other place in the world besides the ranch where I can look winter in the face and call it truly beautiful.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’ve written about it here before, on similar weepy days in the fall when I’m overwhelmed and worried, on summer days when I’m tan and moving to the next adventure, and winter. I really love it in the winter. And it never lets me down.

So in 15 minutes I was there, turning off the highway and following the snow-coated road toward the river and the buttes, stopping to capture how the sun looks above the frozen water and if I might catch the bison grazing somewhere in the snow.

I drove slowly to admire the lighting. I rolled down my window a bit to feel the fresh, 20-degree air and pulled over where the road ends, next to a trail that can take you to the top of it all.

I checked my watch. I had 20 minutes before I needed to turn my car around and head back to my other world. I was in my town coat and dangly earrings.

I switched out my fancy boots for snow boots, covered my hair with a beanie and trudged on up there, slipping and sliding and panting because, well, I just felt like it.

I felt like climbing. Because winter looks like peace from the top of it all. All 360 degrees of it, surrounding me and telling me it’s OK to cry.

Especially for the beautiful things.

Plowing Through

Typical for a January
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OK, North Dakotans, how are we doing out there? Are you making sure you’re anchored down? Holding on tight and staying fed with the proper amount of knoephla and carbohydrates to keep from blowing away or freezing to death?

Anyone else find yourself up to your floorboards in a snowbank in your sister’s driveway on your way to school drop-off and work last week?

Anyone? Anyone?

Well, let me tell you, there’s nothing like starting a day running late at 7:30 a.m. because I had to literally pry my daughters’ eyeballs open and negotiate Every. Single. Move… from alarm, to getting dressed, to each bite of breakfast, to teeth brushing, to finally getting their boots on and their little defiant bodies buckled into the car.

It’s a good hour-and-a-half process, the morning routine. And Lord send us help if we misplace a mitten or choose the wrong T-shirt/legging combination. By the time I get in my car to go pick up my niece for preschool, I’ve burned 3,000 calories and sweat through my bra.

I’m telling you this so you don’t judge my decision to just “plow through” the giant drift of snow that showed up in her driveway the night before. Because “plowing through” is my default on those hard mornings. Yeah, I channeled Cruella de Vil, forward-leaning, elbows out, wild hair, bloodshot eyes. Then I hit the gas and sank like the Titanic. No amount of rocking or cussing or frustrated steering wheel pounding was going to get me outta there.

I called my husband and made my meek request for backup.

And then came the back-seat commentary.

“Mommy, remember the other day when you went in the ditch by the house and Papa had to come and pull you out? Is that like this?”

Apparently the event was traumatizing enough to become a core memory. Edie was only 2. Now that I think of it, that was probably the last time we had this much snow. My track record isn’t great.

“Mommy, you failed at driving today,” said Rosie as my husband arrived with the feed pickup to hook up the chains and remind me to take it out of park, hit the gas and not the brakes as he attempted to pull our SUV full of distressed females backward up the hill because the drift in front was long and deep and was going to need a tractor, clearly.

Assessing that very situation, my husband, bless him, just called my actions “an interesting choice” before leaving me at the wheel as we jerked and spun and jerked and spun and spun and sighed and whimpered and stayed stuck…

Then came my favorite part: my brother-in-law knocking on the window. I had an official audience now. He wondered how hard I gassed it.

Not hard enough. He gave me a perfect 10.

He went to get his pickup. And now there were two pickups and what I thought were just two of the three men on the place out in the cold morning trying to right my wrong. Except my dad got the memo somehow, likely through the famous sister-to-mother channel. News of a crisis moves fast this way.

And so then there were three. Three witnesses to my poor decision-making, which must be the magic number because in a couple more tugs, we were free.

“Our nightmare is over!” yelled Edie from the back, and I honestly don’t know where she gets her theatrics…

Except that it wasn’t over. I still had to call the school to explain myself and how I am mother of the year because my children had to remind me not to use bad words during the whole ordeal. They’re likely scarred for life…

I know I am.

So anyway, that’s how I’m doing out here. Pretty typical for a January, thanks for asking…

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