Spring’s little gifts

IMG_6048

We went from winter to summer here in Western North Dakota. Last Saturday it was nearly 80 degrees and so I loaded the kids up with sunscreen and attempted to clear the yard of dog poop while Edie sprayed the hose into the little plastic pool and Rosie watched and drooled in her stroller.

IMG_6083

The sunshine made us all feel so alive and happy that I didn’t even mind shoveling the dead squirrel in full-on rigamortus from the yard for the thirteenth time that week (country living is glamorous).

And when we heard the next day was going to be even warmer, we went ahead and made plans to go fishing, successfully transforming us from grumpy, nose to the grindstone workaholic types, to full-on retirees–if retirees wipe toddler noses and baby butts while they’re poles are in the water.

Oh, it was the complete heaven that comes when we get nice weather up here. Because when it’s nice, it’s glorious. The lake was still and the fish were biting, at least for Pops, who proves time and time again that he’s the luckiest of the lucky ones.

IMG_6080

I looked over at him who is getting better and better every day and said “Isn’t it a great day to be alive?”

IMG_6078

And it was indeed. It is indeed.

Cheers to spring turning rapidly into summer. Just make sure you’re checking for ticks.

Love, the Girls of Spring!

IMG_6002

Coming Home: Relishing the signs of spring, whether good or bad

Throw open the doors and bring out that old book that props up your window. Let the sun in and the breeze blow through the house because I think spring might finally be happening after all.

I wouldn’t dare say for sure, except last weekend I picked some crocuses and a tick off the back of my neck, and out here those two things might be the most reliable indicators that sub-zero temps are on their way out, for a few months anyway.

1xhsyrzf7uvwa4b-os-4i5trawzq6p4y

It’s incredible what a 70-degree day will do to a person up here where winter drags its heavy feet coming and going.

After a February that lasted three months, I promised my friend who has been living on a ranch in North Dakota with her husband for just a few years, that spring always comes … eventually. She didn’t look convinced.

Maybe because I wasn’t so convinced myself.

But here it is, however late. It’s that promise that keeps us crazies living up here in the great white north, all bundled up and waiting to walk around in our Ice Cream Shirts (with a jacket in the pickup just in case). And now that I see it in writing, I realize that I might be the only one in the great white north who uses the term “Ice Cream Shirt.” I’ll explain.

Ice Cream Shirt: The term our grampa Pete used to describe a button up, collared cowboy shirt with short sleeves, the type of shirt a man might have to wear if he spends his days scooping ice cream. Also, a piece of clothing the man himself probably never wore, because of the thorns in the bullberry brush and frankly, arms that aren’t accustomed to the sun should probably remain in the protection of sleeves, no matter the weather.

It’s the same sentiment my friend’s husband has about shorts. “I don’t like things touching my legs,” he said. “Like grass or bugs or air.”

That’s a cowboy for you.

cowboy-in-spring.jpg

And it’s my understanding that even the ones who live in the desert might only be caught in shorts on that Caribbean cruise his wife bid on at a church silent auction or something.

Oh, there are good reasons for these unspoken wardrobe rules out here.

My little sister found out firsthand last weekend on our hike up to the top of the hill we call Pots and Pans. We were both dressed in tennis shoes, leggings and had a baby strapped to our chests, practical for a sidewalk stroll but brutal when you march right into a giant cactus patch, proving once again that out here, sunshine comes with a few small, annoying price tags, some with tiny stickers and others tiny legs.

Oh well, shedding a little blood is a small price to pay for a spring crocus bouquet, said the girl with a cactus plant dug into her ankle to the other with the tick stuck behind her ear.

Happy spring everyone. Wear what you want and soak it in!

IMG_5870

Calving season and small triumphs

IMG_6168

The babies are starting to be born out here just in time for warmer weather. And although calving season means more work and less time with daddy, it’s also a fun excuse to load up the girls and ride along on the treasure hunt for new babies in tall grass.

And I’m happy to report that this week we’ll be able to ditch the beanies….

IMG_5581

Coming Home: Calving season brings mix of wonder and worry

We’re in the middle of calving season here at the Veeder Ranch. And because we’re in North Dakota, our plans to calve mid-April didn’t necessarily get us out of the cold woods.

Every coulee and protected place on the ranch is still full of snow, so every day is like a scavenger hunt for shiny, little black heads popping out of the tall grass, if they were lucky enough to be born in a dry spot.

Edie is the queen of the barnyard when she’s sitting next to her daddy, bouncing along the prairie trails in the pastures, unaware of the lessons she’s already learning about life and death and a mother’s fierce love.

Last week she stood on the pickup seat looking out the window as her dad’s attempt to tag a new baby turned into a game of Ring-Around-The-Pickup with a protective momma.

When he flung the door open, faced flushed and breath heavy, Edie unflappably asked, “Whatcha doing, Daddy? Running with the cows?”

And it reminded me of all the times I watched my own dad test his speed and agility in snow boots and coveralls trying to avoid a concerned momma’s head-butt as he worked to get a closer look at her baby. This business of being born out here is a dangerous game for every man and beast involved.

I’ll never forget the time I opted out of my bench seat perch to stay in and watch “Wheel of Fortune” with Gramma only to have Dad come crawling up to her doorstep, bruised, bloody, covered in earth and lucky to be alive.

Yes, calving season, even in the best weather, sprinkles ranch life with adventure and wonder. On the best days, it’s miraculous to count the precious new lives that arrive without fanfare and are up on their four wobbly feet sucking and ready to live within minutes.

On the bad days, when the wind whips hard and cold and wet, it takes every muscle and all your spirit to lift those lives out of the muck and trudge on. Ask any rancher and he’ll likely admit this year has taken its toll, sending a fair share of babies from the pasture to the entryway heat lamp, each life saved a sigh of relief.

On Sunday, we walked into Mom and Dad’s to find our own entryway baby, born in a snowbank to a momma with good intentions but bad timing. It was one of the first Sundays since Dad has been home that we had the whole family together. We huddled around that poor frozen soul lying among our boots as my uncle helped Dad put warm colostrum in her belly, rub her body and move her limbs.

And even though we knew we probably shouldn’t get attached, we named her April, put our warm hands to her cold nose, stroked her soft ears and watched her come back to life, stand up on her own four legs and find her place back by her momma’s side.

And among all the mud and medicine, work and worry, it felt like nothing short of a triumph for us all.

Not enough coffee in the world

IMG_5431

We had a wonderful Easter weekend, with a house full of guests. We were lucky enough to have everyone from both sides of our family (minus one) under our roof which, made for just the right amount of chaos.

And no amount of snow could keep us from the annual outside hunt, so there was that too. Another snow bank Easter in the books.

IMG_6077

Today we’re paying for it all dearly though. Because I thought it was a great idea to say “Sure, Monday at noon will be fine!’ to the lady who wanted to come over for a TV interview with me about the Lifetime HerAmerica project. Which meant I had to get after cleaning up the crusted turkey pan, candy wrappers, plastic egg pieces, punch bowl and crusted on floor crumbs and tackle my sleep deprived face and messy mom hair before her arrival.

IMG_5454

I also had to pray to the sleep Gods for well timed naps, which I miraculously managed, except the interviewer was late, which meant that just in time for me to mic-up the baby started to fuss and mid-way through my answer to the question about “managing it all” the toddler, complete with bed head and pink paint in her bangs from the morning’s craft project, woke up with a temperament of a poked bear.

And she wasn’t having any of it.

Especially the shirt I made her wear.

At one point in the process I was singing to Rosie and from her perch on the potty in the other room, Edie screamed for me to stop. Which I’m sure was exactly the mood they were going for.

I hope no one watches the news. That was exhausting.

And apparently, if my patience had a chance today, it’s shot to shit. I told Edie to say please today and she said I was being crabby. She even made up a song about it…

She wasn’t wrong. I sorta am, despite feeling so grateful after celebrating my favorite holiday. Funny how you can be so many things at the same time.

Oh, its all sort of funny, even the hard stuff. And I’m not sure when, but they say I’ll look back on it all one day and miss it. And I know that’s true, because we tend to forget the exhaustion and that weird, unidentifiable blob crusted under the leg of our table that was discovered with a house full of company and only remember how fun it was to hunt eggs in the snow.

IMG_6064

So that’s what this week’s column is all about. And when it was published, I got a few sweet emails from people reassuring me that it goes fast and that they can relate. And then there was the one woman who spoke her truth, saying I will NOT miss it because little kids are exhausting and it’s hard and the later years are easier and you know what, today I love her for that.

Because apparently, I’m crabby…and I don’t know why…

IMG_5400

Coming Home: As parents, when will we look back on this stage and miss it? 

“Remember when we used to hit up places like this after a long night out?” he said as he held the drooling, wiggly baby in one arm and ate chicken fried steak with the other while I shoveled eggs into my mouth between the toddler’s incessant requests for more toast, because she had just discovered jelly, a condiment she is was convinced was sent down from heaven to this café from God himself.

That was back when we would stay up until two in the morning on purpose and come rolling into cafés like these for a stack of pancakes or a pile of eggs, twenty something, tipsy and childless.

It’s a far cry from our current state of thirty-something, hungry and sleepless.

But I’m not sure how our waitress would have categorized us that morning when she walked toward our booth and caught me absentmindedly singing, “I need coffee, I need coffee, I need coffee” into my fork.

I didn’t even know I was doing it until I saw her face pull up into a full-on laugh as she handed us our menus and took our drink orders.

“I’m thinking you need coffee then?” she smiled.

“Huh, yeah,” I replied. “And maybe a little time away from the kids.”

She left and we laughed too. Our idea of a fun had morphed a bit from planning a night out on the town to planning a trip to take the toddler swimming in a hotel pool.

IMG_5233

Sitting down to eat breakfast at a café like this used to be a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning. These days it’s more like a bad idea, a chance to test our patience, my incognito breastfeeding skills and, apparently, experience the thrill of eating jelly out of those little plastic packets.

But in between cutting up chicken nuggets, cleaning up spills and sipping cold coffee, the reminiscing made me take notice of all the different life stages that were seated in that busy café that morning. The rumpled weekend college kids we used to be, the parents of teenagers trying hard for discussion, the elderly couple quietly and ritualistically sharing the newspaper, the 5-year-old boy out to eat with his dad who kept turning around to sneak a peek of our baby…

And behind me a woman talked with her mother about giving her teenage daughter relationship advice. And in her words I heard my own mom’s voice talking over the hum of the radio in the mini-van, driving us somewhere so we couldn’t escape it, the same technique this woman seemed to employ. And I couldn’t help but think that in a few short blinks that a different version of us will be in that café while our daughters are sleeping in or out with friends.

And we will say, “Remember when they were little and we would come to these places to make a mess and noise and barely take a bite? Remember when there wasn’t enough coffee in the world?”

IMG_5224

 

To live in these moments

29469003_1787315134652057_5573746340405444608_o

Good Monday to you. Here’s to another week of weird weather and hope for warmer and better days. This week’s column is on what sickness gives and takes from you. Since I wrote this, Dad had a good report on his visit to Minneapolis. Looks like he’s officially on the mend and we’re grateful for more rides in the feed pickup together.

19702586_1789232687793635_7775135062083914310_o

Coming Home: Long moments remind us of fleeting nature in life

This winter has been long enough. I woke up to another three inches of snow on our doorstep this morning, crushing my hopes of spring finally hanging up her coat here.

I tried to complain as I poured the coffee, but I know it will fill the dams and make the grass green.

A few days ago, before the snow came, the old stuff was working hard on melting, so we bundled up the girls and went to pet the horses and my husband took my dad out to feed the cows.

29340444_1782760125107558_2449944453394202624_o

It was the first time he’d been out on the ranch since the end of October when I sat with him in my car, watching as my husband, uncles and neighbors loaded the calves up on shipping day.

I looked over at him then, and even though the doctors said he was on the mend, he was still in so much pain. I knew somehow the road was going to be longer.

And it was. It still is.

We don’t want to be weak when we were once strong. We don’t want to be lonely when our homes were once full. We don’t want to worry about the end when we’re trying hard to live in the moment. We don’t want to rest when the sun’s shining, and there’s so much to be done.

But that’s what sickness does. It robs you of detachment and forces each moment on you. And the word “moment” changes too. In pain and worry, it stretches out before you for miles, like your engine’s sputtering on a lonesome back road. In hope and healing, those long moments turn into a reminder that it’s all so short and fleeting.

And there’s so much you could have missed if you weren’t granted another one.

29261226_1782760251774212_9000966411085938688_o

I’ve only had one near-death experience in my life, one where I wasn’t strapped in when my car went rolling too fast off of I-94. But I was a teenager and invincible and barely phased by a bruised head and broken glass. I walked away with a lesson on safety belts, but my moments weren’t tested the same way my dad’s have been these days.

“I hope I can get better. I’d hate to fade out like this,” he said to me as he sat in my easy chair and I bounced my baby in the sun streaming into our house, illuminating the dust, bits of Play Dough, toys and chaos that new little lives leave behind on the floors. I don’t know what I said then except it was probably some dismissive, reassuring quip like, “Don’t worry, it will come slow, but you’ll feel like yourself again.”

And my sick dad — working so hard at recovery — will probably not remember those rushed words, but I will never forget his and the way they hit me as I held our growing baby who entered this world during the moments he was desperately trying not to leave it.

And so the winter’s been long enough. And I’ll take the snow to fill the dams and then I’ll welcome the sunshine, because there’s so much to do.

29342187_1782760315107539_6374176928387039232_o

A thousand breathless moments

How little, not big moments, remind you about living

There are moments in this life that remind you what living is. And I can say from experience that it’s only a little bit the parts that you plan out to do the trick, like jumping out of an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico. Making it safely to the sandy beach after swallowing the atmosphere in the world’s most terrified silent scream does indeed make you thrilled to be alive, but I think it’s a lot more the quiet moments after the jump that stick with you in playback.

527620_10151452453770062_1103443360_n

Like the margarita I had with friends on the beach afterwards, laughing at how close I came to throwing up my breakfast on the way down.

530789_10151452476095062_618713557_n

This chapter in my life doesn’t involve any sky diving plans, although some days the story feels a lot like jumping out of a plane with a prayer and no parachute. Right now the adventure is supper negotiations with a toddler when we’re all spent from the day, evening hours wearing a path in the floor bouncing the baby to sleep and balancing schedules so the cows can get fed, the taxes can get filed and the work can get done so the bills can be paid.

And in the in-between moments the floors are swept and spilled on, the laundry is cleaned and soiled and the plates are filled and washed over arguments won and lost while we make plans.

When they say they lived “Happily Ever After,” they mean for you to fast-forward to the highlight reel. Only sometimes the highlight footage is found tucked in the mundane.

img_5146.jpg

Last weekend I took my two-year-old to watch the High School production of the Wizard of Oz. My daughter loves to dress up, and so I made a big deal out of it. She chose her dress, her hair bows, we painted her nails and she picked out a necklace from my drawer to wear. She didn’t know what a play was, but she was thrilled anyway.

IMG_4919

“Mommy! You look so different!” she exclaimed after I put on the purple dress she suggested and we both did a twirl. Then we put on our fancy coats and headed to town, and while the high school students were making moments for their highlight reel they were also making memories for me, watching my little daughter worry for Toto, her little body hardly heavy enough to keep the theater chair from folding in on her.

IMG_4935

And it was that. And then, later that night, it was looking over to find my usually stoic husband dancing with the little neighborhood girls at the fireman’s fundraiser, and then it was my dad, who had been deathly sick for months, now able to sit in a vehicle to watch the neighborhood kids fly down the sledding hill and his granddaughter build a snowman,

and then the baby’s first giggle and all of us racing upstairs to lay out together as a family on our brand new bed that had just been delivered and about a million tiny little moments between that carry momentum to me these days that render me as breathless as a jump from that plane.

Northern Lights

Video

As I write this, the plane dad’s taking to get him home from a three month stint fighting for his life is likely landing on this frozen tundra of a place. He won this battle, and four years ago at the beginning of a frigid January, he miraculously won another one, when a valve in his heart tore open and, against all odds, he made it home.

I wrote Northern Lights, a tribute to his will to live, in the passenger seat of a long drive home that winter, watching the lights of the aurora bounce and dance across the back sky, offering a flicker of hope in the longest, coldest season.

Dad and I recorded the song in Nashville the following year and have played it at select shows since its release.

For some reason, it’s taken almost three full winters to finish and release this video. How fitting, on his homecoming, it is ready to be shared today.

Welcome home Dad. May you live to be that old cowboy they said you’d be.

Defining a good life

IMG_3519

January’s the longest month up here. It’s the coldest. The days are short and the nights of darkness drag on. If you’re prone to depression, this is when it hits you hard. The holidays are over and the appeal of the fuzzy sweater sort of hunkering down has worn off, making you crave a tropical vacation, or at the very least, a warm up to above zero so you can throw a proper sledding party.

These past few weeks have ticked by slowly for us. With a new baby, it’s not so appealing to bundle everyone up and head out on an errand, a visit or for activity that’s not necessary, although I have made a few trips to help avoid cabin fever. And, since dad’s been in the hospital since Halloween, it’s been strangely quiet around here. My husband has taken to the chores and ranch management alone, with the occasional “help” from his little family when it’s warm enough for us to come along for the ride.

IMG_3535

Feeding cows happens for him when he gets home from his day job after the sun has set. Depending on how our timing works out, he may or may not have supper with us and he may or may not be home in time to say goodnight to Edie.

When my dad’s around some of the chores are split a bit, helping to ease the time burden that comes with a full time job.

IMG_3504

Since dad’s been sick, and on his worst days teetering on the brink of death, we’ve had a chance to realize what it must have been like for my family out here after my grandma and grampa died. It explains why my parents haven’t spent much of their time sitting still. And it explains why most of my memories are of riding along with my dad, on a horse, or in an old feed pickup. Because that’s the only chance we got to spend time together. And we’re so lucky that he didn’t see us kids in the passenger’s seat or on the trail behind him as a burden and even more lucky that he made watching him and helping him work a fun adventure, full of laughs and appreciation for the beautiful place, even when he was armpit deep in fixing a plugged water tank or up to his neck in bull-berry brush fixing fence on a 90 degree day.

I realize now that for every time he took us along he was sort of sacrificing his time, slowing down his pace to have us there beside him. I didn’t realize how much value time held out here until coming home as an adult and trying to make it all work, fit it all in, family, work and ranching. Each minute of daylight is gold and it can be maddening if you let it take you over. But I don’t remember noticing.  I guess that’s a testament to the way I was raised and the good memories I chose to keep close.

Pops and Me on a horse

I can only hope we can do the same for our girls, to take them along and take the time to point out the grouse in the brush, the deer on the hillside, the way the moss grows on the rocks and the frogs croak at night. That’s the only way they’ll love it the way we love it, is if we show them why it all matters so much.

But if we falter, I’m happy to report, we will soon have Papa home to set us straight, to show us the things we haven’t learned yet, to set us on the right path and to teach his grandkids about the backs of horses.

Yes, after nearly three months of hospital stays, and a long, scary stint in the ICU, dad is in recovery, working on building up his strength to come home. And we’re so thankful, knowing how easily it could have turned the other way.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers. We will be so happy to have him here to continue to live this life we call good.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.10.42 PM.png

Coming Home: How to define a good life
Forum Communications

I woke up to the sun slowly appearing over the big hill that faces our tall windows.

“One ribbon at a time” is a quote I read somewhere describing the sunrise, and I recite it in my head as the pinks, purples and golds appear in the sky just long enough to transform and fade into blue.

Some mornings I don’t take the time to notice it the way I used to before the babies arrived, but when I do, it always reminds me of the reasons we moved back home to the ranch seven years ago.

Has it been seven years already? That number sounds so permanent to me, as if the house and the kids and the cattle aren’t enough solidification of the decision we made when we were so young to plant our lives here for good.

“For good.”

When I say it that way it means forever, but I look at it here, written down, and I feel compelled to define it.

When we’re planning out our hope for the future, the “good” is what we tally up to help finalize our decisions. We chose our people based on the laughs, the calm and the well-timed casseroles or phone calls they bring into our lives. It’s the good that brings us closer to the imperfect parts of them — the scars, the mess, the mistakes that make up their not-as-pretty storyline. I think the same can be said for the places we chose.

Last summer I participated in a series of interviews for a project that will showcase the unique lives of women in all 50 states. This included a series of long phone conversations with a few female journalists in big cities on the East Coast, answering questions about what life was like out here on a landscape they’ve never seen before.

While we talked, I imagined them in trendy haircuts sitting in a high rise behind a desk in a web of cubicles, photos of boyfriends or children pinned to the fabric of their makeshift walls. Walls inside walls inside walls.

I wonder if they imagined me on the phone during my toddler’s nap time, my belly swelling with a new baby on the way, sweeping the dirt and little pieces of scoria off the floor as a line of black cows trudged by our fence line on their way to the dam for water.

“I suppose it is a lot to take on,” I remember remarking after one interviewer asked why we chose what she called “a hard life.” I just described how we are responsible for the fences and the water, the buildings, the animals and the land. And we have so much to learn as we attempt to fill the big shoes that left this here for us.

But a hard life?

No one out here has ever declared it to be so, not even as it’s all done on second shift, when the sun is going down, or while it’s coming up, a ribbon at a time.

But a good one?

That I’ve heard. And that’s why we’re here.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.12.23 PM

Sparkle.

Last night Rosie and I left daddy and Edie at home, bundled up and headed to town to meet my little sister and her friends for a birthday painting party.

And because she’s not me, this sort of painting party didn’t involve inviting friends over to re-do a room or paint an accent wall. This one involved food, wine and a professional guiding us through the stages of painting some sort of masterpiece on our own canvas.

It was fancy. So I got Rosie all dressed up for the occasion. And by dressed up, I mean out of her jammies and into a cute little onsie, pants, shoes and a bow to top it off, because we were going to be seen out in public.

IMG_3436

For the record, I put some pants on too. Skipped the bow and onsie, but took a shower even. And we were off.

I figured my little angel would probably sleep through most of it. She’s been so easy so far so why should it change? And that was the case right up until about ten minutes in, I  got the first layer of paint on the canvas (first step completed) was about to get up and get another helping of chip dip, picked up the baby to go along and realized that in true Scofield-baby fashion, she had waited until we were at a party to shit her pants.

And by shit I mean, poopsplosion, of course, right out of her diaper, through her new onsie, through her pants, onto the cute little apron they let me wear and out into the word…

Needless to say, I finished my canvas painting after we got home from town this afternoon.

IMG_3439

Yeah, photographic evidence that a true artist is raising a true artist right there…

But as we were driving there this morning, my dear oldest daughter reminded me why despite all the poop, I love this whole parenting thing…

We got up and bundled to hit the road for the doctor’s office for a follow up on Edie’s ears in -24 degree temperatures. The sun was shining on the snow covered ground and Edie, watching it roll by from her seat in the back declared: “Look at the snow! There’s sparkles in it!”

And for the rest of the 40 minute drive she watched in awe.

frost

So I decided to take a page from her book and take time out of it all to notice the sparkle in this day. I hope you can too, despite the deep freeze, the inevitable poopsplosions and ear infections that seem to be hanging on.

And look at that! We’ve warmed right up to zero.

IMG_3395

Happy Friday everyone. May your weekend be as ‘precious’ as Edie declared her hair to be this afternoon.

Peace, love and kitties…

Seriously, does anyone want a kitty?

FullSizeRender 42

 

Bravery and Compassion in the New Year

IMG_3289

Happy New Year from the ranch where we spent the holidays trying to keep our house and our spirits warm against the chilling sub-zero temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, Hettinger, North Dakota, a small town on our southwestern boarder, reached -45 degrees — and it may have been the coldest recorded temperature on Earth that day.

The coldest recorded temperature on Earth, right in my home state. I’m not sure that’s a record anyone wants, but here we are.

And here we are on the other side of the holidays and one whole month into being parents of two kids.

IMG_3083

And this morning we’re back to the real world after spending the holidays together, keeping up the traditions of pancakes and church on Christmas Eve, and presents and prime rib on Christmas morning at the ranch despite the fact that my parents were spending their holiday in a hospital hundreds of miles away.

IMG_3116
IMG_3152

Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I know. Now I know what that feels like, a lesson I’ve taken from all of the hard times we’ve endured as a family along the way, suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in the story. And  that compassion, I’m coming to realize, can be the gift we take from the hard stuff.

Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with my little sister who took the trip to see mom and dad in Minneapolis. In a miraculous gift to us, dad was released from ICU before Christmas and after a pivotal procedure, is showing some signs of coming out on the other side of this thing. So we could breathe a sigh of relief and truly smile and laugh as we watched our kids take in the magic of the season.

After lukewarm feelings about present unwrapping at my in-law’s the weekend before, Edie woke up looking and acting like the epitome of a kid on Christmas morning.

My little sister’s husband was working over the holiday, so she spent the night at our house with her baby daughter and we got to sip mimosa, eat caramel rolls and sit on the living room floor helping them unwrap gifts. It was everything we needed and watching Edie snuggle her new sister and help her younger cousin was everything magic can be to adults who sometimes forget that it exists.

My older sister and nephew joined us later and we spent the rest of the day making appetizers, watching the kids play with their new toys and trying not to screw up Christmas dinner, which we did, sort of, but I blame it on my husband’s newfound obsession with his Traeger grill.  But it didn’t matter really and it was sort of fitting that supper was just slightly off, a reflection of how we felt about the quiet day spent being grateful and worried and hunkered down and hopeful in the face of a new year.

IMG_5125IMG_5135

That you can’t predict it is the greatest gift and torment this life hands us. I look at my new daughter’s face this morning and there are no truer words to describe what I’m feeling about life, on January 2nd, stepping over into what we all refer to as a fresh start.

IMG_5250

I’m not so sure about that. Even with this new life in my arms, I don’t feel fresh. To feel fresh I think I’d have to feel less worn. But I’m not sure I want to feel any other way right now. The sleeplessness means I have a new baby, a second child, one I could never even bring myself to imagine…and a toddler with a plugged nose and a newfound refusal to sleep whose existence changed everything. And this worry I carry for the wellbeing of my parents means they’re still here with us for another day, and God willing, another new year.

And so I’ll take it. I’ll take what I know to be true for now and be grateful that this year, as each year before, has made me braver, and stronger instead of scared and hard.

Bravery and compassion. Let that be my gift for the years to come.

IMG_3143

Coming Home: Finding compassion is the gift given to us in hard times
 Forum Communications
Published December 24, 2017

Christmas is here. The weatherman on the news this morning is warning us of the impending winter storm, the kind that will blow cold arctic air in from Canada and give us a gift of a white and freezing holiday.

My husband will come home from work tonight after the sun has set and make little tweaks to the tractors and pickups, making sure they’re ready to feed the cattle and plow through the snow banks for the rest of the season. Typically he and Dad would be making plans together to prepare for the snow, but Dad has the bigger task before him of fighting for his life in an ICU in Minneapolis.

And I can’t help but think this holiday, as I wrap presents and struggle to form Santa cookies from the store bought, refrigerated dough so that Edie can slowly and meticulously place an entire bottle of sprinkles on one cookie, what a charmed life we’ve been living here.

The holidays, especially Christmas, can be a hard time for so many people. It was for us for many years before the babies came, because it was a small reminder of the absence of the thing we wanted most. But we were the lucky ones, always grateful for our family and that, because we live so close, we were usually able to be together.

This year my parents will be spending Christmas in a hospital in another state and we will be here at the ranch with their grandchildren celebrating and missing them. It’s a reality that reminds me of the hard things in our lives that we’ve lived through — job losses, baby losses, career fails, health scares and near misses — that have set me back on my heels, forced me to catch my breath and had me declaring out loud, “So that’s what it feels like.”

It’s a simple phrase, but one that is meaningful to me, especially in the toughest of moments. But I declare it. I say it out loud and with intention because it reminds me that through the hardest struggles, if I can find no meaning, no rhyme or reason for the pain, at least the experience will foster in me a newfound compassion for others who have or may find themselves suffering the same fate.

Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I’m suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in that sort of story.

And I don’t know what to do with that awareness except to show gratitude for the moments we’re given and for a supportive and loving community that has been there for us in numerous ways.

And I can pass on the generosity and compassion in ways that might help families in similar situations, because now we know what to do.

Now we know what it feels like.

Keeping the spirit.

IMG_2882

It’s been a long week at the ranch. I’m not going to lie. We’re still holding our breath, waiting to hear that dad’s condition is improving, but with this sickness, it’s one step forward and one (or two or three) steps back. But we’re trying to stay positive.

And we’re leaning on our family and community.

And we’re trying to keep the traditions and spirit of the season surrounding us, not just for our babies, but to lighten our own hearts.

This week we decorated the Christmas tree with baby Rosie rocking in her swing while her big sister declared everything to be so “bootiful.”

On Sunday we attended our rural church’s Christmas program and were surrounded by the love of our neighbors and the light of these innocent little children who are absolutely cherished.

IMG_2932

Rosalee was Baby Jesus #5 and Edie was a lamb, who wouldn’t perform until the woman in charge gave her a microphone. And so she was declared my daughter (as if it wasn’t already apparent).

IMG_2929

And I was determined then to keep that Christmas theme up for the rest of the day and so we baked Christmas cookies.

IMG_5019

Little Sister and baby Ada brought us the kind that come out of a refrigerated tube and they turned out imperfect and ugly.  Edie spent a good hour shaking sprinkles on her one special cookie, and she was delighted by the whole thing while I frosted the rest and Little Sister worked to keep Ada’s little fingers away from the frosting. But it was something to keep our hands busy while we tried to quiet our minds from the worry.

The worry’s always with us. But this season especially, I’m trying my best to dig deep and stay calm and believe in better days to come.

It’s something I know now that my parents have done for us in our lives when loss and sickness and uncertain times have knocked on their door. I know now what it’s like to want to curl up and cry, but there’s breakfast to make, diapers to change, Jingle Bells to sing and babies to rock.

Because this is life. And it can glow and sting all at once…

Before Rosie arrived I wanted to hold her safe in my womb until our lives were put back in place the way she deserved them to be when she entered this world, as if I had control of such things.

9

Now I know better. To be simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting, but we needed her here with us, to keep us busy, to make us smile and to patch the aching parts of our hearts up with hope.

Last weekend we loaded up the pickup with the girls, my little sister and baby niece to take a drive across the ranch looking for a wild cedar to cut for our Christmas tree. This is a ritual we started with Dad when we were just little girls, and it felt good to be out there, working to keep in the tradition of the holiday. We rolled and bumped slowly along prairie trails and fence lines, stopping to watch a herd of elk cut through a clearing and up along the horizon.

IMG_2833

“Look at that Edie,” we exclaimed. “Look at the elk!”

“Ohh,” she replied, her eyes wide with wonder before turning to me and asking, “But where are the hippos?”

And sitting side my side the cab of the pickup, dressed up warm for a long, cold season, our frazzled nerves were calmed for a moment as we all let the air out of our lungs and laughed.

And I said a quiet prayer of thanks for these children who remind us to keep breathing.

Today I can do nothing but be thankful for our little lights.

22g