Truth, worries and what to write…

I just laid Edie down for a nap after her second projectile vomit of the day. We walked in the door, home from a trip to town to check out a weird rash she acquired and, well, I guess she has the pukes now too….

And I guess this is how I start my blog entries these days, the ones that used to begin with a vivid description of the weather, the beauty of the changing leaves, the chill in the air and the crip smell of the season’s first snow have now transformed into potty training sagas, pregnancy heartburn and puke.

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Yesterday I opened my inbox to find one of the meanest emails I’ve ever received. It was about my writing, prompted, apparently, after she read this week’s column and decided someone like me was annoying enough to warrant a sit down at the computer and tell me, most pointedly, how I was a joke.

And boring.

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And my own family probably doesn’t even read what I write because I’m a whiny woman who stays pregnant just so I don’t have to get a real job.

Those were the highlights anyway. I particularly liked the part where she accused me of staying pregnant so I don’t have to keep a real job, considering the years I battled with that very thing, as if staying pregnant was an easy task for me to accomplish.

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I had just come off of three days of travel that sent me into schools talking to kids about my career path as a writer and musician before I headed back to the hospital to check on my dad, where I left him three days before, in agony and waiting for his pancreas to heal.

My column was late that week because my dad had to take an ambulance three hours from our small town to the big town to be treated for pancreatitis and now, finally, gall bladder surgery. He drove himself to the hospital at 3 am on Tuesday morning because my mom was gone to Minneapolis. At five in the morning I gathered my things, made childcare arrangements for my daughter with my husband, kissed them goodbye and my little sister and I took the three hour drive to be with him while my mom made her way home.

In all the rush, I forgot my computer, so I was late on the deadline for the parenting magazine I edit too. Because I thought I would be able to work on it in the hospital while I waited with dad, even though that would have been impossible. And then, because I didn’t know if dad was going to be OK, I agonized on whether I should make those three school visits that week. Because I didn’t want to let the schools down, and I didn’t want to leave my mom alone and I was worried and I didn’t know what to do or where I should be or if I was doing the right thing by everyone, including this little babe I’m growing in my belly.

I cried. Dad was in severe pain. Agony. I was worried it was going to spiral out of control as we all too recently witnessed with a close family friend.

After a long day of unsuccessful pain management and doctor questions and calls about my publications and travel plans, I trudged across the street to the hotel and put the finishing touches on my publication and tried to write a column.

It was at least 11 pm when I submitted it.

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And I’m not giving you the play-by-play so that you feel sorry for me. I don’t write from that place. But what I want to say here is that this is life. And shit happens. Unpredictable shit happens and it happens to all of us and then there we are trying to figure out what we expect of ourselves in those weird, unpredictable moments.  And what the world expects of us.

And for me, in my profession, if I want to get paid, the show must go on.

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But here’s the thing. We’re all alright here. At the end of this dad will come home. He’ll heal up, I’ll get the work done and the bills paid and tuck us all in at night, thankful for another day and another chance to be alive together in this tricky and sometimes mean old world.

I’m lucky. I have great readers. As a musician and a writer I’ve never really experienced commentary this cruel. But on that particular morning I was feeling vulnerable. I was tired and hormonal, yes, but her words stung because they sounded like the voices sound in my head sometimes.

Do I deserve a writing job when all I can think about right now is how to get my toddler to eat, how I’m going to manage two kids and how am I going to get the bills paid?

Who gives a shit about that? Everyone’s dealing with shit like that. There are, as that very email pointed out, people who are dealing with real problems in this world.

I’m aware of that. Yes. Too aware sometimes. So aware and emotionally affected that I can’t bring myself watch the news most days.

And yes, some days call for me to be more profound.

But not all days. Like most people, some days you just find you got nothin’.

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So I sat down that night filled with worry and decided that it would work better if I wrote about the everyday weirdness, thinking at least it might amuse and, maybe, at the very least, make people feel better about themselves and the fact that they don’t have an unidentified rodent in their ceiling. Or maybe they have and they could email me with advice.

This isn’t hard hitting news we’re dealing with folks. But it is real life.

And sometimes real life falls a bit flat.

 

 

And because I’ve been sharing my story publicly for years now, I’m really asking for it. For dialogue and engagement. Which I got with this column.

Mostly, it was, “What?”

As in: “What? I don’t get it.”

Or “What are you doing writing in a newspaper?”

But mostly, “What was in your wall?”

In the frantic phase my mind was in that evening, I was trying to capture the calm, cool and collected nature of my husband by depicting a scene that played out before me that very morning. While we laid there in the dark of the early morning making hospital travel and daycare plans, weighing whether or not my dad’s health was in big trouble, we were reminded of the less intense, more annoying, and more trivial worries that occur of life…

Like the strange rodent that somehow got itself stuck inside our wall…

At least that’s what husband thinks is the truth.

The lie? Well, of course, it’s nothing to be worried about Jessie.

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Husband’s response makes me question life decisions
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I’ve known my husband since I was 11 years old. He’s been my best friend starting sometime around when I was 15 when he was old enough to drive out to the ranch to talk horses with my dad, and teach my little sister to play chess. We went to college together, we got married and we’ve moved six times. We’re about to bring a second child into this world together.

He’s been the person in my life that unclogs the shower drain, keeps my wardrobe in check (whether I appreciate it or not) and the sole reason I’m not watching television on my dorm room-sized TV, movies on VHS and talking on a Zach Morris-era cell phone.

And I make sure to keep his snap-shirt collection stocked.

We’re a good team, he and I, opposites in the ways that are useful — like I’m good at breaking things and he’s good at fixing them.

I didn’t really know it about myself at the time, but I think I stuck with him all those years because, as a musician with unconventional career aspirations and a weird travel schedule, I appreciated a man who was fine with not knowing what state I was in some days. A marriage to someone a little more uptight would have never worked out.

He would have had to endure too many poorly-planned trips to Kansas to stay at a Super 8 and listen to me play music to a crowd of 10 people. And a man who requires a thorough plan to make sure he packed the right loafers would have never made it past South Dakota with me.

Yes, he’s always been the king of handling it, talking it through or at least giving me a logical explanation so I can make my own decision on whether or not to panic.

But this morning I woke to the disturbing sound of something scratching at the outside of our house. Like claws running up and down the siding on the exterior of our bedroom, which I thought was weird, because our bedroom is on the top floor. And what could climb up there?

And then I just thought it was the cat, except it couldn’t be because cats don’t generally climb straight up the side of a house.

Or find themselves inside of a wall. Because, holy s*&% I think there’s something crawling inside our walls!

Which is what I screeched to my sleeping husband in the dark, the sweet sound of morning at the ranch rousing him from his dreams…

“What the hell is that?” I asked, sprawling my round, pregnant body on top of his as if smothering him was going to save me from whatever decided to take up residence in our insulation.

To which my laid-back, no-big-deal, Mr. Fix It, drain-unclogging husband calmly replied,

“Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to lie?”

And just like that the man I’ve known and loved since we were children made me question every choice I’ve made in my life up to this very unsettling point.

I should have married a man with a loafer collection …

 

The Everything…

I had a rough week of pregnancy last week. And by rough, I’m not saying anything other than I was just ridiculously uncomfortable, sleepless, full of heartburn and reflux and backaches and all around moderately suffering to grow this baby who’s been continuously punching my bladder for months now. And it’s a good thing, to feel him or her move around in there so vigorously, reminding me that all is well and I am grateful for that. But I’m also, you know, pretty damn uncomfortable. So I’ve been whining about it to my husband, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a gift to us to be able to whine about the little inconveniences of creating a miracle and a dream come true.

I have about one month to go in this second pregnancy. This week I have one more trip to take across the state to talk with students in a few schools about poetry and writing, and I’m looking forward to it. And then it’s home to hunker down, wrap up some work and follow my husband around and annoy him about moving furniture, and boxes and desks and getting things ready for our new tiny roommate.

I can’t wait to meet him. Have I shared that my guess is it’s a boy?

Which probably means it’s a girl.

Either way, the child is going to be forced to wear his or her fair share of dresses, I’m certain.

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This week’s column is a reflection on what that means: looking ahead and behind and soaking in the right now.

Memories and planning and everything in between 
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I woke up this morning to the baby in my belly kicking, rolling and stretching his or her arms, snapping me instantly out of a dream and into the reality of another day spent being a pregnant mother.

Inside this dark house, long before sunrise, my other loves were slowly waking up too. I lifted my daughter out of her bed and got her dressed for the day while she worked on slow blinks, little hands pressed to her face to wipe away the night.

She doesn’t know what’s coming in the next month or so and I’m torn between the excitement of a new arrival, the nerves of handling the chaos that’s about to ensue, and nostalgic about the time we’re spending together, just us two girls, the way it is most days.

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Yes, the look of my “most days” is about to change, and I realize I spent so much time worrying about becoming a mother for the first time, I never gave much thought to what it would be like to become a mother to a second child.

My little sister brought her baby out last weekend. I kept her inside with us while her mom was out and about on the ranch. I looked around the living room scattered with toys, the autumn sun shining through the windows on my tiny niece laying on the floor and watched as Edie brought her cousin blankets, toys and kisses, stopping every so often for a quick twirl in her dress.

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I remembered a time when this house could be so quiet that I could hear my thoughts bounce back to me from the walls of these rooms.

Scooping the baby into my arms, I realized how many of those thoughts were memories of all the mittens my little sister and I dropped in the coulees, how many times our boots filled with creek water, how many burs and grass stains we accumulated as we stepped out of our parents’ footprints to march our way to growing up.

It’s funny how quiet those memories can become when you use them to start making plans.

 

And so much of my time these days I spend worrying about the logistics of those plans — the cattle, the crib, the unfinished garage, the landscaping, the money, the potty training, the birth, the casserole, the disorder of every closet in this house — some days it’s hard not to think that if we could just get it all done we’ll have finally made it like we promised each other all those years ago.

But this morning I sat my daughter on my lap to comb her hair and the baby in my belly kicked at her back. I laughed as my husband, all dressed for work, stood beside the chair beaming while his daughter beamed right back, knowing the next step was being scooped up in his arms to head into the day.

And here I sit, in a quiet house, listening for those thoughts, the ones that remind me that this … this, is the plan.

And the memories.

And the everything.

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In her dress, life’s just more beautiful

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This week’s column is a little more about “The Dress.” Which my darling daughter is, of course, currently wearing as she sits on the potty and watches videos as I sit on the bathroom floor in front of her typing this on my laptop and waiting to hear a tinkle.

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On Saturday she actually plopped a poop in that potty, but that’s likely only because we rushed her there while she was clearly working on somethin’.

This is what my life has become.

But I have to admit that my daughter’s obsession with all things dresses, and pretty, and hair and painted fingernails has provided such an unexpected reality for me, a mom who, until I discovered her love for a good twirl in a floor length gown, has never played a legit princess movie in the house and really doesn’t get dressed up too fancy unless I’m heading to a performance.

But she’s been watching. She see’s what’s special, decides what she makes her feel good and smart and beautiful and independent and she goes all in.

And she’s not even two yet.

I didn’t realize this identity development, these preferences, started so young.

Last week I had her up in my room with me while I was getting ready for a meeting. She went into my closet and tugged on the bottom of one of my dresses and said “mommy dress, mommy dress,” and so I pulled it out and put it on. Her smile lit up that dim room. She was thrilled, she bounced up and down and told me I was “bootiful. Bootiful mommy in a bootiful dress” And then she instructed me to twirl. And so I did.

And there we were, the two of us, mom and tiny daughter alone in the house, in my bedroom, in the middle of nowhere, laughing and singing and dancing and twirling, telling one another how fabulous, beautiful and lovely we are in dresses way too fancy for an ordinary day. But to Edie there’s no such thing as an ordinary day and I hope I never forget the complete innocence and freedom in that moment with her. Because it was everything.

My only wish is that she could always remember it too….

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My daughter’s love for dresses
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We have an issue in our house these days. At least that’s what I’m calling it, dare I utter the real word and ignite the flame.

I’ve been dealing with the “issue” moderately successfully for the past few weeks, but last night it raised its voice loud and clear while I was chained to a phone with a cord, trying my best to have a professional conversation as the last human on earth who still owns a landline and my daughter let out a series of loud, desperate and relentless cries that only got louder and more inexorable as my poor husband worked to remove her from the room.

Did she fall and hit her head? I didn’t hear a thump, but maybe she’s bleeding. Did she need stitches? An ambulance? Or maybe she saw a ghost — you know like one of those supernatural phenomenons that only innocent children can spot?

That’s a thing, right?

“Do you have to go?” The now-concerned voice on the other end of the phone asked me as I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to pretend that nothing catastrophic was occurring in my household.

Which turned out to be true, despite my worst-case-scenario predictions. I hung up the phone and opened the door to my daughter’s room where she sat on her daddy’s lap, in her jammies, tears streaming down her face.

“What on earth?” I asked him in the best version of the mom voice I now posses.

He looked me straight in the eyes with an expression as defeated as any strong, healthy man can possess and simply replied, “The dress.”

Yes. The dress.

He dared suggest she wear anything else and there were not enough bribery lollipops in the world…

I blame my sister-in-law for handing it down — this floor-length, checkered, floral and quilted little number with just the right amount of twirl to bring a toddler the high she needs to become addicted.

But I think it’s also a hereditary thing. Because I wouldn’t wear anything but a pink leotard, purple tights and legwarmers for my entire second year of life, God gave me a daughter and then introduced her to “the dress.” Needless to say my mother is loving every minute of my peril.

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She wakes up and it’s the first word my daughter says, and she will say it — “dress, dress, dress, dress” — until I retrieve it from my unsuccessful hiding spot in the hamper.

The other day she wore it out to the pasture where the guys were building corrals, and I suddenly became sympathetic to the prairie girls who came before her as I watched her unsuccessfully try to run and frolic, making it only a couple steps before getting tangled up and pummeled to the ground.

“Well, maybe she’ll want to take it off now,” I thought as I hoisted her up for the 50th time in five minutes. But I knew better. Judging from her smiles and squeals of delight, I realized it was quite clear the challenge of the dress only made living more fun.

And, according to my darling girl, infinitely more beautiful. Proving that the only ones who have an “issue” is her parents.

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Where our stories begin…

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Well, we’re officially deep into fall, which means roundup season around here where we work on getting the cattle doctored and the calves weaned and ready for the sales barn. Because we calved late, we won’t be heading to the sales barn until a few more weeks, but we worked cattle on Sunday and got a good look at things.

Because I’m a giant pregnant lady with a toddler in tow, I’m not a lot of help. But Edie and I went out to the corrals after roundup anyway to to see what kind of damage the two of us could do. After explaining every detail of the situation to her (why her dad was in the chute, why the cows were “stuck” in there too, where the horses were and on and on) I stupidly decided to teach her all about the sorting stick. Needless to say there were a lot of close call shots to the head, groin, belly, body in general, both accidental and intentional. She was delighted.

And, because I packed enough fruit snacks and granola bars, and the girl just loves dirt and grass and wind and all things outside, she hung in there pretty well while I did the things giant pregnant women with protective dads and husbands can do to help–like run part of the chute and count cattle.

Edie kept track of it all, threw some dirt around, helped me maneuver the chute, bossed me around, cried a little for her dad who had too much cow poop on his hands to pick her up, ate some fruit snacks, climbed some fences, got cow poop on her own hands and eventually laid down on the ground to watch a YouTube video on my phone for a few minutes while we wrapped it up.

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Ah, technology. Who would have thought it would come in so handy out in these pastures raising the next generation.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Working cattle is this unexplainable sort of satisfying, getting in the rhythm, neighbors helping out, the smell of the crisp fall air, the sound of cows bellering as they make their way toward the neighbor’s field via a newly discovered hole in the fence…

It’s always something around here I tell ya…

Anyway, I grew up hanging on those corrals the way Edie’s was hanging on the corrals, trying to get in on the action by finding myself a job. Being useful made me feel important, like I was truly a valued part of the operation. I want that for my daughter too, and I’m not sure you can start them on it all too early.

This morning while I was in the bathroom and Edie was brushing her teeth (this is her thing…every time I go to the bathroom, she follows me in there to brush her teeth. It’s annoying and funny and, well, these days she’s been brushing her teeth a lot…anyway) she informed me that Papa was out working, riding his horse. And so was Dada and she had fun with the cows.

I still can’t believe she’s stringing all these thoughts together, but this is where it starts, right here when they’re little minds are forming.

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And so that’s why I found it so pressing to get this kid a pony this fall, to get her used to horses by having one around that doesn’t loom so large. And apparently, because I have such good friends and followers around me, all I had to do was say the word and a friend offered us the opportunity to be the next home for their children’s pony, Mascot.

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I was so excited to bring him home to the ranch a few weeks back, and ever since she got warmed up to him (took all of ten minutes) she’s been acting like the two of them have known each other their whole lives. She brushes him, feeds him “cereal” (grain) and rides him without holding on because the kid doesn’t posses in her much fear (except when it comes to the hair dryer).

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And so this is how her story with horses and cattle begins and I can only hope that one day she looks back on it, no matter where she winds up or who she becomes, and is thankful that it instilled something special in her…

And this is what this week’s column is all about, how our stories start.

Stories that begin  on the backs of horses
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Pops and Me on a horse

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a mom years ago, I have been dreaming of my babies sitting on the backs of horses.

I don’t know why really, except so many of my memories as a kid growing up out here are connected to horses.

And while I keep the long rides bareback through the pastures in the summer in the same pocket I keep my best thoughts, not every memory I’ve made on the back of a horse is a good one.

See, I was raised by a sort of horse whisperer. My dad was breaking horses while he was still in elementary school and his connection and talent for working with the animals prove that there are things some people are simply born to do. He’s never met a horse he doesn’t get along with. And because of that, while he was raising us kids, he spent a lot of his time working with what I like to call “second chance horses.”

Or, to be more blunt, horses that other people couldn’t get along with.

And when he was near the point of trusting a horse as much as you can trust any animal, my summer job was to put some miles on them. Which I did, but let’s be honest, those horses also put some miles on me.

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Because I wasn’t born with Dad’s fearlessness, confidence and horse training instincts.

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So it was on the back of a horse I learned the virtue of remaining calm and patient as well as the hard lessons about suppressing fear to solve a problem. And the countless times I was thrown to the ground for one reason or another taught me nothing if it didn’t teach the power of getting back up again.

Yes, some of my biggest blowouts and arguments with my dad occurred out there in those pastures, tears streaked with the dirt on my face after my foot stomped or my eyes rolled in his direction. I wanted so much to understand these animals the way he understood them, probably as much as he wanted to teach me.

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But from those moments sprung some of the best times in my life, not just with my dad, but with my little sister, my husband and maybe, most importantly, alone. I suppose it makes sense that I want to pass so much of what shaped me along to my children. The same way my dad wanted it for us.

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A few weeks ago I called him up. “I have a line on a pony for Edie,” I said, thinking there was a good possibility he might think I was crazy for it. “Do you need me to go pick it up?” he responded, the spark in his voice cutting me off before I had a chance to take a second breath.

And so that was that. Off we went the next morning, my dad and my daughter and me, to load up a scruffy, adorable little pony named Mascot.

And judging by her obsession with brushing his mane and feeding him treats, I can only hope that this is the beginning of my daughter’s story, one that starts on the back of horses…

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Worry like a mother…

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What it means to worry like a mother
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My mom hasn’t been sleeping well. She says she wakes up in the middle of the night and lies there in the dark and breathes her fears and worries in and out — about her kids and grandkids and the unpredictable and uncontrollable things that happen to us in the circle of community.

My mom is known for worrying. She’s got her mind on the big things, like car crashes on icy roads, resulting in an obsession with weather forecasts and road reports, which she relentlessly relays to her children. She’s already telling me not to drive to Fargo next month, because it will be November and it’s likely to snow.

And she worries about the little things too, like Edie having the right outfit for family photos or Papa playing too wild with the grandkids in the living room pillow fort, interjecting playtime with warnings to “Be careful!! Careful!”

Her worrying used to make me crazy when I was young and invincible and had the sense that the world wouldn’t let me down. I didn’t wish the worry of the world on my mother’s shoulders, I simply didn’t understand what worry was.

Because she carried it for us.

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“I haven’t slept well in three years,” I tell her now, sympathetic to how loud and daunting the dark nights can become when a heart is being stretched by one child snoring face-down on her blankie in her bedroom and the other kicking and rolling and hopefully growing strong and healthy, heart flickering at 140 beats-per-long-and-agonizing-minute in my womb.

These days I can’t close my eyes without thinking of the mothers who have seen their most unreasonable midnight worries come true. No matter how many times we reassure them, “Mom, I’ll be safe.” “It’s just a concert.” “I’ll call you we get home.” The harsh and heart-wrenching reality that’s blaring on computer and television screens is that sometimes, sometimes, the fear that keeps you up at night is the very fear you wake to in the morning.

And that’s what they don’t tell you about becoming a parent when your belly is round and heavy on your body. They don’t tell you about the weight you carry with you long after your children learn to stand on their own two legs, drive their own four wheels or fly with their own set of wings.

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Today, despite my aching back, I want to keep my baby safe in my womb and my daughter close within the familiar embrace of this landscape. I want to shut out the world and stay here, just us, forever, to protect them. And it makes me feel silly and selfish and then it makes me angry that in this big world I keep telling them is so beautiful that such ugly and evil can make me want to keep them from the freedom and perils of growing up healthy and strong in it.

But right now I don’t know what else to do. So I vow to love them fiercely, to model compassion and to try my damndest to raise them to be the good humans.

And worry like a mother.

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Unexpected free time…

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It’s Monday.

Another busy enough week looms and both Edie and I have been battling a cold for a good week now, because apparently we don’t waste time in getting in on cold and flu season.

We spent the weekend in Bismarck where I had a singing engagement and my mom chased my daughter around the event grounds while dad and I sang, trying to keep her hat on and her little hands occupied.

They had fun, Edie rode a little pony, jumped in the jumpy castles and ate popcorn. I had a meeting there the day before, so we stayed in a hotel and Edie got to go swimming, which is pretty much her favorite thing to do in the world besides singing and twirling around in her dress.

And apparently she’s ready for the belly flop olympics as well…

Oh my gawd, this girl did this like thirty seven thousand times before I finally had to wrestle her out of the pool and calm her down so she could take a breath.

She’s got a lot of get-up-and-go that one. But she comes by it honestly. And lately, as we’ve been exploring this world together, trying to fit in a good amount of work and play into each day, I’ve also been thinking that my other big hope is that I can teach her how to find peace and inspiration in the quiet times. I hope she seeks it out. I hope I can teach her how to properly work, properly play and properly take a breath and relax and enjoy the moment.

I need to stop and remind myself of this important part of this life as well sometimes.

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So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about an unexpected unscheduled Saturday and how I chose to use it…

How I spent an unexpected dose of free time 

Apparently when I’m pregnant I can’t help but feel like I’m a ticking time bomb, waddling around counting the days until my world explodes into unmanageable chaos.

So I have a tendency, I’ve learned, to try to manage the heck out of everything in my path in the meantime.

I overbook my work schedule, I annoy my husband with reminders about unfinished house projects, I organize places like bathroom cabinets, I plan house additions and I deep clean the oven, (because apparently deep cleaning the oven is strictly a hormonal thing…)

Yes, my mentality as a pregnant woman is a weird sort of frantic, but after months of running around trying to fit it all in, I think I’m gonna have to call it.

I’m tired.

But I still have a good two and a half months to grow this baby, which, in my brain, should be enough time to finish that entryway addition and get a good start on my novel.

Last weekend my husband left to go hunting in Montana, Edie went to spend a couple nights with my mother-in-law and my Saturday event got cancelled, which left me with an unexpected window of time that I planned to use to clean out my office to make way for the crib and the tiny baby socks.

Blame it on the late night spent singing, or the rainy day, or just plain laziness, but that Saturday I didn’t step foot in that office. Nope.

I was alone in my house in the middle of nowhere for over 24 hours and nobody called and I called nobody.

I didn’t use my voice, I didn’t go outside, I didn’t cook or get dressed and moved only to do a couple loads of laundry and take out some stinky garbage. I read. I ate. I seriously took binge-watching Netflix to the proper level. I took a nap.

And I had to keep reminding myself that it was OK.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I finally had some quiet moments to myself, and I couldn’t help but use it to wonder why the luxury of free, unscheduled time made me feel so anxious. Maybe I’ll just blame it on my workaholic parents who I’ve rarely seen spend an entire Saturday relaxing…

Which I sort of get now. Before becoming a parent, I would have likely spent that Saturday being productive in leisurely and creative ways, like taking a hike in the rain to come up with new ideas, inspiration and motivation.

But that was before I understood how fast you become accustomed to taking care of the constant needs of young children, and how it becomes embedded so deep into the muscles of your body you forget how to be alone with both your hands free and a mind with a quiet space to wander again.

Which I probably should have done. I should have let my mind wander. But I was too busy having zero inspiration, feet up, hair up, counting baby kicks between bites of popcorn and reminding myself to enjoy it because it’s all gonna hit the fan again soon enough…

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Long ago and just down the road in a land without Internet…

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How the progression of time and technology collide and converge

Long ago, before the invention of the Internet, I would spend winter evenings sitting on the worn-out pink carpet on my bedroom floor, pressing record on a cassette player/radio trying to catch my favorite song so I could play it back, over and over again, and commit it to memory.

Before that most of the music I learned by standing on the stage in the lunchroom/gym/music room of our little country school as our music teacher plunked out the tune to “The Old Gray Mare” on his piano.

And then, at home, my dad would play his guitar at the end of the day and I would sing along to Harry Chapin or Nancy Griffith songs. Sometimes he would teach me a special part and, as I got older, I would bring him new songs I found on the radio.

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A few years later I started learning them on my own guitar, pressing pause and play and pause and play so I could write down the lyrics, going through the entire process again and again as I worked to figure out the chord progression, writing it all down on lined notebook paper.

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I’m thinking about this today because I’m in the process of moving things out of my office to make room for the new baby. I’ve saved these old lined notebooks, the ones with the handwritten words and chords to my favorite songs in the nooks and crannies of my shelving units, closets and drawers.

And it’s not like it’s at all organized, these archives of my musical history, but if you pull it all out you can see the progression of the time and technology that occurred during my youth, the words and chords from ’90s country songs transforming from an 11-year-old’s handwriting into neatly typed, transcribed and printed transcripts. And it reminds me how I was there, on the edge of adulthood when the world started opening up wider, connecting us to one another from the other side of a computer screen.

I remember back in college, I was driving across the state with my boyfriend (now husband) reading out loud from a book to pass the time, and he said to me, “Jessie, one day you’ll be able to drive down the highway and surf the Internet.”

“No way!” said the young woman who just purchased her first cell phone, the smaller kind with the antenna that you pulled up instead of the kind with the magnet stuck to the roof of your car. I just couldn’t see a way …

And now I’m going to have to tell that story to my children, and they are going to say “They had cars when you were a kid?!” the same way I did to my dad.

“Yes, children, we had cars,” I’ll reply. “But we didn’t have the Internet! Those were the days!”

And then they’ll probably Google it just in case, just like they’ll Google “cassette tape” before they roll their eyes and show me for “like the 50th time!” how to use the smart TV that will always be far smarter than me…

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The Kitchen Table

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A new kitchen table arrived at our house last week. We ordered it custom made and waited a long time for its arrival, not taking lightly the weight such a furnishing decision has on the landscape of our lives, having spent our time in this house gathering around an antique piece that has been in our family for generations, and sitting in broken kitchen chairs handed down to us from my parents, which I have no doubt is a punishment in disguise when my arm gets pinched in the one my friend broke at that party I threw once as a teenager…a little run-down reminder of the bad decisions of my youth…

Anyway, we’ve lived most of our adult lives up until this point on the receiving end of hand-me-down furniture. It wasn’t until Edie arrived and I found myself spending considerably more of my time inside our little house that I decided to finally make an investment in such things. And so we bought a new couch and recliner and a custom made rocking chair that is too big and too bulky and not not at all what I expected or wanted, but there it sits because, dammit, it was expensive.

And then this table, this big heavy investment made of hickory with three leaves tucked inside that can expand it across the entire house. They delivered it and I held my breath, hoping it would fit knowing that everything these days seems to be built for mansions. And we don’t have a mansion, no, but this kitchen table was set to be the centerpiece of our house really. In our little cabin style, open flooring plan it’s where everything gets sorta dumped. Mail and pretzels, my camera bag and books. Husband’s game cameras and broad heads and hats. Edie’s markers and Play Dough and naked baby doll.

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Since becoming a work at home mom, that old kitchen table has become my desk. And since Edie’s become a pint-sized office assistant, it’s become her desk too.

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When friends come over it turns from appetizer table to supper table to game table. We walk around it, move it out of the way, abuse it, spill on it, don’t wipe it, clean it, shine it enough and if it could talk it would tell us that we don’t have it together. Not a bit. That we laugh loud, that we argue too much. That we shouldn’t leave the door open when we go in and out because the flies get in. And we should serve more vegetables maybe, but boy does that baby like strawberries, and maybe we should try cleaning them up before the fossilize on its surface.  It would say there’s lots of music here, and lots of plans being made and maybe we should have more company and make more pies and play more cards like they used to back when it was new…

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Coming Home: If kitchen tables could talk

It sits low, lower than the kitchen tables they make these days, its claw shaped feet at the bottom of the wooden pedestal look like they’re clutching the hardwood floor. Without its three leaves it’s perfectly round and could seat four for a card game. With its three leaves it seats six quite comfortably for a meal.

Years ago, in that little brown farmhouse over the hill, one of those six people was my dad as a curly haired kid, stabbing a pancake under the neon glow of the kitchen light serving its purpose before the sun rose, before heading out to milk the cows, before the bus rolled in down the red scoria road under the dark sky and crisp morning air that only farm kids know.

I pull all three of those leaves out now, cradling them in my arms as I head to the basement to lean them against the wall and out of the way to make room for our new kitchen table arriving that day, custom made and ready to serve us.

If only these kitchen tables could talk.

This old claw-foot table had a short life with us, but a long life under the elbows of generations of my family out here, belonging first, I think, to my great-grandmother Gudrun who arrived in America when she was only 17 and went on to raise 12 children just down the gravel road.

I doubt she brought many possessions with her. I doubt she had many to bring. And I’m not certain at what stage that claw-foot table entered her life, if it was brand new or refinished, but I imagine it was a big deal.

How many plans were made there, passing the bread, the top worn slowly by cups of coffee finding their way up to worried or laughing mouths and down again. How many dishes were passed between the hands of relatives and neighbors? How many prayers sent up of gratefulness or despair? God is great … God is good …

I’ve said those prayers there too, feeling the roughness of my uncle’s working hand in mine, the other hand squeezing my cousin’s, too hard the way kids do, anxious to move on to the Jello salad dessert my grandma always forgot in the fridge in the bustle of preparing a big holiday meal.

Years later my oldest cousin had it in her home for some time, after our grandparents died and the people left behind have to make decisions about how important these things are to us. My aunt counted that table at the top of the list and kept it useful and in the family, holding on in resourcefulness and nostalgia, the way we were all raised here it seems.

I wipe off the sticky, fifth generation fingerprints one last time and take notice of it again. Worn and beautiful it sits, now free of all the papers and place settings, quaint and clutching the ground the way it does, hanging onto the memories and the beauty of the generations the way only old and precious things can.

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And now a poem shared with me from Thelma after she read this column in the paper

PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE
by Joy Harjo from her book The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. it has been since creation, and it will go on.
 
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
 
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
 
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
 
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
 
The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
 
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
 
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
 
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
 
Perhaps the world will end here at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Work from home mom

What I don’t want to forget…

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Greetings from Minnesota. We spent the Labor Day weekend here with my grandparents and aunt at the lake cabin and in true family vacation fashion, we get to stay a bit longer because my car crapped out on us.

So send a little prayer up for my radiator so we can get on the road and head back west with the babies at a decent hour today.

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But we’ve had a nice time. Edie and Ada have the relatives wrapped around their tiny little fingers and it’s so wonderful to see Edie at this fun age developing relationships with our family.

It seems like there’s so much turmoil and unease in the news and in our world right now, some days it’s hard for me to stay grounded and optimistic about it all. But spending a stretch of days focused on extended family, creating memories, keeping it close to home, teaching and showing love and affection and feeling it in return reminds me that it begins here…

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It begins with our children.

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Coming Home: What I don’t want to forget

Yesterday I asked Edie if she pooped.

“Pew Eee,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose, scrunching up my face.

“Pew Eee Hondo,” she replied, mimicking my actions and successfully blaming the dog for the first time.

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I guess it doesn’t take long for them to start figuring out how this world works. Like, I thought I had more time before she started declaring opinions about my wardrobe, but I was wrong. She demands I take my shoes off when they’re on in the house and when I have my hair up, she makes it clear that she prefers it down until I oblige and she can move on with her little life.

And she’s got even stronger ideas about what she should be wearing. Like absolutely nothing when she’s outside in the backyard, bending over to moon the world while drinking out of the kiddie pool like her BFF Hondo. And when she’s inside? Well, she must be in a dress.

A dress and a winter beanie — I’m sure she’s right in style and I’m just her old pregnant mom walking behind her making sure she doesn’t make poor decisions, like running wide open down the scoria road toward the bulls screaming “MOOOO!”

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These are the types of things I report to her dad at the end of the day when he walks through the door. Because not only do I never want to forget, it feels a little unfair that her only audience is a hormonal woman three months away from giving birth to another one of these mysterious, messy and magical tiny humans.

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Last week my family hit up the local farmer’s market to buy some peaches and listen to my dad and his band play. I stepped up behind the microphone to sing a few songs and Edie cried the cry of heartbreak until I plopped her on my hip to sing with me. It took a couple rounds of the chorus, but before long she leaned in and sang the words to “You Are My Sunshine,” as clear and as confident as a 1-year-old can be, right into that mic. And then she grabbed it out of my hand for another round.

I’ve spent the past few days hearing from my friends who have been sending their kids off to another year of school. So many talks of firsts and nerves and “where does the time go?” and big hopes and worries about tenderness, toughness and compassion as they navigate the time out from under their parents’ wings. It’s exciting and heart-wrenching to know it won’t be long before the little world Edie’s so intent on figuring out gets bigger and more complicated.

I mean, one stage performance has already secured her a bigger audience…

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And there are a thousand things to reflect upon and have opinions on in the tumultuous times we’re living in, but today I just want to tell you how on Saturday, when we came inside from looking at the stars, Edie waved, blew a kiss and said goodbye to the moon.

And it was everything.

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I don’t think Montana wants us…

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Ok, so the very first time my boyfriend, now husband, took me on a trip to the wilds of Montana, we borrowed his dad’s Ford and loaded his 1970-something pop-up pickup camper to make the long drive across the big ‘ol state. It was 110 degrees and the air conditioning was out in the pickup and I nearly died of heat stroke by the time we made it to our campsite, where it rained just in time for us to get everything unloaded.

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More recently, a few years back, on another trip west to Montana, our pickup broke down pulling our camper on the way home from a music festival.

The time before that, same pickup issue, same music festival.

The time before that, on a family trip to Yellowstone, we had three flat tires before we even made it to Glendive, not even a quarter of the way into our trip. And that was before we hit a deer in our new-to-us pickup and then, narrowly escaped running over a motorcyclist who had wrecked on the interstate, where we spent the next three hours working as first on the scene responders, calling 911 and working with emergency crews.

Luckily I think the man was ok.

And we haven’t been back to Montana for a while.

But my husband thought he would give it another go last weekend and, well, here’s how it turned out…

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Coming Home: When the best laid plans go awry
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“Well, I’m on my way home now anyway,” he said on the other end of the phone. I called him for something trivial, like why the lawnmower wasn’t starting, just the kind of phone call every husband likes to get when they’re off on a manly weekend getaway. (The same way he likes that I call it a manly weekend getaway).

He’d been preparing for a trip with his dad to scout for elk in Montana for a couple weeks. The plan was to pack up the pickup and pop-up camper with essential supplies like cans of Vienna sausages, a couple sleeping bags and a spotting scope and head a few hours west into the foothills to see if they could find a good place to hunt during the season.

I was excited for him to take the time away to do something he’s passionate about. He doesn’t golf, participate in fantasy football or go to the bar to shoot darts; when you work full-time and try to run a ranch, build a house and maneuver tiny ponytails in your off hours, it doesn’t leave much time for extracurriculars. But he does bow hunt. Bowhunting is his thing.

So off he went for two full days of no grooming, no vegetables, no broken down equipment and no tiny ponytails, kicking up dust, blaring the radio and howling the primal howl of his ancestors out the window of this pickup on his way to the wilderness…

Or at least that’s how I envisioned his departure that Friday evening.

But come Saturday afternoon it was apparent it didn’t end well. Actually, it sounds like it didn’t start well either.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, it started with the brakes,” he said, going on to explain that they were miles along a dirt road in a primitive land where cellphones are useless and bigfoot originated, when they heard the grinding noise and consequently spent the next several hours using the resourcefulness the two men honed from years of patching together old broken stuff from parts saved and scrounged off of other old broken stuff to get the brakes fixed enough to limp the pickup back to the paved roads of civilization known as the town of Ekalaka, population 343.

And while I admit I might have spoken too soon about that whole “no broken down equipment” thing, they did fix those brakes in Ekalaka, as they often do in those small town body shops.

Which was a good thing, because it turns out brakes are an imperative part of the recovery equation when you’re driving down the highway at 70 mph and the top of your camper blows completely off, sending those Vienna sausages, sleeping bags and a stray shoe or two bouncing down the highway, busted and bruised just like the broken down dreams of your manly man-cation…

“I’ve always wondered how people lose shoes on the highway,” I remarked. “See you when you get home. I’ll have the TV turned to that channel you like where they’re always fishing…”