Storms: Memories made and recalled


Well, yesterday we took advantage of the benefits of the recent spring storm and spent the afternoon sledding at the neighbor’s. The sun was shining, melting the snow enough to make a nice little snow fort and a really weird looking snowman my husband built with Edie.



This week we’ll see warmer temps, turning that snow to mud, because that’s the thing about spring storms, the pass through quickly, but the memories hang on tight.


Coming Home; New storms whip up memories of old ones

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If you were anywhere in North Dakota last week, the weather was likely on your mind. You were talking about it over coffee, your TV turned to your favorite weather reporter, checking road reports and calling friends to ask what it was like over there in Bismarck, or Keene, or down by Hettinger. And then you brushed off your shovel, or, if you’re lucky, got that new fancy snowblower ready.


Yup, our quintessential North Dakota March storm landed, just like it does almost every year.

Out here we fed up the animals, stocked up on heavy whipping cream, snuggled the baby, shuffled around the house and periodically looked out the window to comment:

“Not as much as they predicted yet.”

“That rain’s gonna make things slick. Might lose power.”

“Boy, it’s coming down hard now.”

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When you’re safe and warm in your home, winter storms like these don’t leave as much of a scar on your memory, but it doesn’t always go that way. For all the miles between here and there in these rural places, you’ve likely been caught out in one of these blizzards at one point in your life. And if you have, there’s no better time to rehash it, compare it and dramatize it than when you’re waiting out another one.

Funny, I used to wonder how my old relatives could remember the exact dates for weather-related incidents — the blizzard of ’66 or the flood in August of ’87 — until I grew up and had a few dramatic weather experiences of my own.

Like the tornado that wiped out parts of southern Dickinson while we were obliviously looking out the windows of our house there, realizing we’ve never seen a sky that color or rain whip sideways that fiercely.

That was July 2009. I remember that.

And I remember the blizzard of October 2001, because it came out of nowhere and it took us two whole days to get back to the university from a concert in Bismarck. We were completely unprepared and stuck on the interstate for hours with our exit in sight, but no bathroom. And man, I had to go so badly I considered hard the consequences of a ranchgirl-ditch-pee, but changed my mind when I opened the door and got pummeled in the face with freezing snow. Never mind the audience of cars lined up behind us, I didn’t much care for a frostbit butt.

No, there’s nothing like Mother Nature to keep you humble, insignificant and sleeping in your car at the gas station off I-94 in Mott after making it all the way from Green Bay in record time, but running into a blizzard in your home state that made it impossible to get home that night in blinding snow and two-wheel drive. It was spring of 2006. I remember that.

But I hope you only remember this spring storm for the warm smell of knoephla on your stove and the card games you played when you lost power. I hope that was all the drama to be had, except, of course, what you told in your stories.

Now, hurry up spring!

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Gloves, muskrats and other misplaced things

IMG_4843 2We’re in the middle of an ice storm/blizzard/no travel advisory/typical almost spring storm today. And so it looks like March is coming in like a lion, or maybe, more accurately around here, like a wet muskrat in our window well.

Yeah, there’s a wet muskrat in our window well. My dog alerted me of our visitor this morning by barking at it incessantly and so I pulled on my robe and rubber boots over my pajama pants and trudged out there, wind whipping pellets into my squinty eyes, to give the little rodent a little 2×4 lifeline to help him save himself. And locked the dog in the kennel to give him a chance.

I would have grabbed my gloves if I could have found them, but I can never find a complete pair of gloves around here…

And so I give you this week’s column:

Coming Home: The curious case of the inevitable missing glove
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We have an issue here at the ranch. Besides the weird animal that may or may not still be living in our wall, we have another epidemic that’s driving me mad. It has five fingers, it comes in all sorts of sizes, colors and textures and you can find one laying on every surface of the house, on every dash and under every seat in every vehicle on the place and scattered along trails, dangling from trees, laying on the bottom of stock dams and mashed into the dirt like artifacts from long, long ago.

I’m talking about gloves. Fencing gloves. Riding gloves. Fingerless gloves. Rig gloves. Mitten gloves with places for your fingers inside. Hunting gloves. Baby gloves. Toddler gloves. Gloves that some random kid left here one winter. Carpenter gloves. Mom gloves, Grampa gloves, and of course, the biggest culprit of them all, Daddy/Husband gloves, whose hands fits nearly every one of these categories, if only he could find a matching pair.

Yeah, that’s the thing about it all. No one can ever find a matching pair. It’s like the mystery of the missing socks that disappear into the black hole in our washing machine or fall prey to the little laundry elf that no one ever sees. And I would blame this missing glove phenomenon on that elf, or at least the creature in my wall, except that I’ve come to understand how it happens. Because once, on one of my rides, I came across my dad’s red wool cap laying in the absolute middle of nowhere, off of any beaten path, a good two miles from the barnyard, and I knew he must have been in a hurry chasing something across that wide prairie that has the tendency to swallows wayward things up.

I’ve done it myself, leaving one of my mittens to dangle for eternity on the branch of an oak tree after I took my horse quickly through a coulee trail trying to get around a group of cows heading the wrong direction. I put my hand up over my face to ward off an inevitable slap from that branch and it took my mitten clean off, left and then lost in the dust.

I think about that mitten when I come across things like an old fencing pliers half-dug in the dirt way out in the east pasture, likely accidentally kicked out of a pickup by my grandpa years ago. Or when I watched my dad drive his fencing vehicle too fast along a bumpy trail, steel fence posts, flying out in his wake, and I think, well, that explains so much.

So if we can’t find anything out here, at least there will be something left behind for the archeologists. Unfortunately, they’ll likely come to the conclusion that we were a people with only one hand…

And a never-ending collection of free snap-back caps collected from every feed store, implement dealership, oil company and bull sale along the way.

But that’s a story for another time…

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Love. An explanation.

Mom and dad on wedding day

What is love? It depends on who you ask.
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My dad once told me that he didn’t believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed up answer.

I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that’s what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.

“Think about this,” he said. “What would it be like for you if you couldn’t talk to him tomorrow?”

From there he explained his theory on love and how he believed it was more about timing and choices and kindness than it was about destiny. And it wasn’t romantic really, but hearing that there were more people out there I could love, or who could love me, helped take the pressure off, even if the teenage poet in me didn’t appreciate the practicality of it at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that particular relationship did work for me. My husband and I became one of those couples who found each other as teenagers and hung on tight, not because of big romantic gestures or a dramatic series of events, but because, I think, neither one of us could imagine not being able to talk to each other every day. And although it’d be more passionate to say we were destined to be together, the truth is, in the end, it was a choice.

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Last month, I asked a group of preschoolers to define love. I wanted a few cute quotes in the name of Valentine’s Day for the parenting magazine I edit. I don’t know what I expected, but it got me wondering how I would respond if someone pulled me away from my Lego tower and asked me.

One little boy summed it up perfectly when he told me, confidently, that he shows his mom he loves her by “cooking her turkey.”

I smiled as I wrote down his answer, thinking how refreshing it is to hear such an uncomplicated take on what we grown-ups come to muddy up along the way.

edie and chad

Then I thought of my mom sitting by my dad’s bedside day after day after day while he was in the ICU and unable to speak, not knowing if she would get to talk to him tomorrow, the choice no longer hers to own.

There will be a time when my girls will need me to talk to them about head and heart, and I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like that day in the pickup, to be a teenager on the edge of a wide open life, reminded that love looks less like Prince Charming and more like turkey dinner turned into turkey sandwiches turned into a lifetime of conversation with the someone you can’t bear to lose.

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This life, it’s a mess.

Happy Monday. I hope your team won last night.

I’m sitting on the bed upstairs with my laptop, working on emails and preparing for a meeting this evening, sort of furiously trying to manage my work before the toddler wakes up. She’s wiped out from the party she hosted last night and there’s a big ‘ol mess of leftovers, dishes, toys and tiaras (yes, we pull those out for the Super Bowl around here) that I’m avoiding. Our daycare situation has changed, and this is our first week without it. I’m panicking a bit, cause momma’s still got work to do, but my mother-in-law is coming to the rescue to ease us into it and I’m grateful.


Making cookie bars for Super Bowl

My mom was able to come home late Saturday night and spend the evening with us. She’ll be here for the rest of the week while my uncle stays with my dad in Minneapolis. It was strange to watch the Super Bowl last night and know that he was there, in his bed in a rehab facility, wishing he was home. When they zoomed out on the lights of the city during the halftime show I couldn’t help but think of him as one of those millions of lights so far away and I missed him.

When I wrote this column last week we planned on having him home by now, but a minor set back has him there waiting for a bit more healing without a definite timeline. The difference though, is we know he’s coming home now. The difference is, he’s no longer dying. He’s on his way to a recovery, a slow one, but a recovery nonetheless. And we’re grateful.

This mess of a life will be easier to tackle with him back beside us all.


Searching for calm in this mess we call life
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After three long, agonizing months in and out of ICU in a Minneapolis hospital battling pancreatitis and fighting for his life, my dad is set to come home to the ranch in a few weeks.

Friends are calling wondering what they can do, making plans to clear the driveway, buy groceries and welcome him back, and we are so very grateful.

And while I want to say that we’re all finally able to let that breath out that we’ve been holding in all this time, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely true yet. When a loved one has gone through such a traumatic, life-threatening experience, I’m not sure when you begin to trust that that it’s truly over. He’s coming home, but he’s got a long road to recovery, one that will be done out here, so far from the team of experts that saved his life.

It’s times like these the isolation of rural living sinks in. And it can scare you if you let it. The fact that my dad made it all those miles between the cold buttes and coulees of the ranch to a place with skyscrapers and sidewalks that could save him is truly a miracle that wouldn’t be possible in a different time. And now, somehow, it feels like years since we had him here, home and healthy with us. These months have passed slowly.


Last weekend my great uncle stopped by the house to visit. He’s one of the three remaining children of 12 born just down the road from the ranch.

“Come on in, it’s a mess, but that’s life,” I said as I hugged him with my free arm, my sleeping baby in the other, my toddler behind us with the door open sitting naked on the potty.

I replayed those words in my head for days since I blurted them. It’s a phrase I’d never uttered before and one that may have resonated with him had I not said it with such haste in an attempt to explain away my housekeeping skills.

Because he just recently lost his wife after a long health battle and he came home for a visit with his brothers.

“It’s a mess, but that’s life…”

He stood in my kitchen, surrounded by the remnants of breakfast and Edie’s art project and our small talk about weather turned to a story about his immigrant father and how he rode his bike 80-some miles across the prairie to borrow a wagon to pick up his bride.

“Can you imagine what my mother was thinking? I don’t know if she knew what she was getting into…”

I couldn’t help but think then, that what she got herself into brought us to that moment in my kitchen that day, comforting one another, worrying about Dad’s homecoming and smiling as that man, who has known much more mess in this life than stray socks and spilled orange juice, called my daughters beautiful.

These are the reasons we stay here, standing brave, holding our breath, in this mess of a life.


January. Or, Mom vs. Mittens

IMG_3820Being a mom to little kids in the great white north comes with its unique challenges. All the extra steps we need to take to go anywhere without suffering frostbite is one of them…and along with that comes my newest and biggest rival: Tiny Mittens.

Squeezing a pair of those buggers on a two year old’s wiggly hands while she’s bundled up like a puffy mummy, repeating “outside, outside, outside…” while I’m bent over, sweating and the baby’s squawking in her swing is a reason only the strong survive up here.

And now my sweet darling daughter has started to do this new thing where she goes boneless and drops to the floor with her eyes closed tight whenever she senses any sort of urgency from her mother, so getting her dressed is like dressing a large, limp, noodle. And getting her to find that nice balance between limp noodle and escape convict is really fun…It’s fun in the grocery store. It’s fun walking out of gymnastics. It’s fun in parking lots in freezing temperatures and it’s fun at potty time…and suppertime…and bath time…and bedtime.

And so I’m dreaming of summer and 80 degrees where the girl can run wild (or flop on the ground) buck naked if she wants, because by the time July hits we’ll have lost all patience for clothes…along with all the mittens that don’t fit anyway…

Here’s this weeks column, where I complain more about it…


Spring-it’s just around the corner. I promise.
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Congratulations North Dakota! You’ve made it to the end of the longest month.

From here I can see spring — if I stand on the top of the highest hill, on a rock, with my binoculars, but probably only because February’s a short month and the past week we’ve had a break from the sub-zero temperatures long enough for us to find optimism and wrangle the toddler into her snow clothes and play outside.

If I start the process after breakfast, we’re usually ready to hit the small sledding slope in the backyard just in time for her afternoon nap. Because there’s nothing more fun than a tired, over-bundled toddler who just face-planted in the snow and has lost the will to save herself because it took too dang long to put her mittens on.

Seriously, if there’s a children’s mitten out on the market that doesn’t require a team of engineers and detectives to maneuver two tiny thumbs in the thumb holes and a therapist to convince the kid to keep them on, I’ll pay you for your recommendations.

Think of all the free time I would have if someone could solve the mitten problem. I might actually get supper on the table before dark, which currently isn’t possible because dark starts at 4 pm.

Oh, I’m only complaining a little, but I think it’s allowed in January. Our mutual annoyance with this long, cold month is what keeps us Northerners bonded together. January is the reason that there’s an entire colony of North Dakotans who abandon ship and relocate to Arizona each season.

And I would be jealous, except who can blame them? Especially when most of the Arizona-bound population has put in their years of earflap caps, long underwear and toddler mitten holes.

People in Arizona don’t have to deal with mitten holes.

Oh, but they come back eventually, usually around mid-May or June, when 42-below zero has become a distant memory, leaving only a scratchy little patch of frostbite you acquired on that one January night you had to walk home because you got the feed pickup stuck up to its floorboards in a snowbank.

If only we could ship our cattle to Arizona for January as well. I’m sure they’d be pretty pissed if they knew there were cows in this world that have never had to lean in against 40 mph winds whipping ice pellets at them, so I haven’t told them.

It came in with the night 4

No, we keep them blissfully unaware and fed each evening with giant bales of hay that smell like the beautiful, green, sunny summers we get up here.



For that reason I hope that cows have memories. Because there’s nothing like the scent of that hay rolling out behind the pickup (that just conveniently dropped its four-wheel-drive) to remind us that this weather is fleeting and the tall lush grass, crystal clear creek water and sweaty, tick-filled days of summer are just around the corner.

Come on over, I’ve got a telescope and a tall hill, so I bet we can see it coming.

Just don’t forget your mittens.


Defining a good life


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.


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.


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.

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Coming Home: How to define a good life
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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.

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Partying like a parent


Happy Monday to you. I hope you’re somewhere warm, successfully avoiding the plague that has swept through our house this past week. I mean, there’s better ways to ring in the New Year than pink eye and double ear infection, but we chose to spend Friday making a trip to the doctor to make sure that we didn’t give our little niece the RSV diagnosis she had or vice versa. Oh, and while you’re at it, can you take a look at my husband’s eyes?

And so we laid low this weekend, negotiating antibiotic administration with the toddler, washing every surface and pillowcase, and visiting the baby I tried my best to keep in quarantine. Guess that’s all it took to be on the mend and here we are staring down Monday and the Christmas decorations I have to put away, wondering if the scratch in my throat and the crust in my eye puts me next on the list for a doctor visit.

Ah, parenthood. When you’re not bending over to pick up the tiny, plastic cow you just stepped on you’re Googling potential illnesses.

This is our life now. And so we celebrate accordingly.

Coming Home: Ringing in the New Year like the real adults we are
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Happy New Year from the ranch where it’s freezing cold, nobody is sleeping and everyone is having a hard time finding pants that fit.

If I were a resolution-making woman I’d be working on the one thing on that list I can control, but my current motto seems to be “the faster I eat these cookies the sooner I can get on my diet plan.” And I’ve had three already and it’s only 10 a.m., so I’m well on my way to getting started.

We welcomed 2018 just up the hill with friends we’ve known nearly all our lives. Twelve years ago, our midnight toast would’ve just been the peak of our evening instead of something we moved up to 10 p.m. to ensure we all got in on it.

If The Ghost of New Year’s Future would’ve visited us at 22 to show us that scene there would have been some explaining to do.

Yes, now we call our kids down to the basement to show us how to use the new hoverboard thing they got for Christmas and marvel at the speed and agility of the 11-year-old as she spins and swoops on an invention that got its name from an ’80s movie we were alive to see in theaters.

And then, just to make sure everyone remembered that we’re in our mid-30s, I watched my husband get ready to take his turn, but not before I grabbed his hands, looked him straight in the eyes and in front of his high school buddies, his small children and Jesus, reminded him in my best, seriously-I’m-not-even-joking voice that He. Can. Not. Get. Hurt.

If I would’ve pulled that overprotective crap in our other lives I would have subjected my young husband to some serious ridicule by those same high school buddies.

But we’re living a different life now, so instead I watched two of those friends take him by each elbow in order to give him a chance to get his legs without breaking his back.

Because they understand the havoc spending a month in traction would create. They also have cows to feed, hockey to coach, butts to wipe, bills to pay and sidewalks to shovel, so they didn’t bat an eye at my stern suggestion.

Instead they nodded their heads and then relayed a few stories about buddies of theirs who tried this very thing last Christmas and broke an elbow/hip/ankle/brain…

“It’s best to not be overconfident and try this before the second beer,”  they suggested. Which comforted me enough to leave them and go back upstairs to feed the infant and set the toddler on the potty, which is likely how I would have celebrated the countdown if we didn’t make some minor adjustments to the midnight-striking schedule.

Adulting can be flexible like that.

And if I were a resolution-making woman, I might resolve we all be more adventurous, but I think it’d suit us all better to resolve to spend more time with the people who know and love us enough to hold us up and cheer us on.

Seems we need it more as the years tick by, in life as well as in new-age gadgets…


Bravery and Compassion in the New Year


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Coming Home: Finding compassion is the gift given to us in hard times
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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.

Time reminds us.


Rosalee Gene came into this world quickly on Friday, December 1st at 9:14 am. Before she was born she didn’t have a name. We hadn’t found one that we were set on, should the baby we were growing be a girl. We decided we needed to meet her first.

And when I met her I knew. I looked up at my husband looking down at the squishy, wailing, slimy, dark haired little human resting on my chest and he said he knew too.


“You say it first,” he said.

“Rosalee,” I said.

“Yes. Rosalee.”


And so we have our little Rosie Gene. Gene named after my dad who has, for over a month, been in a fight for his life, battling a pancreas that is dying on him.

It’s been excruciating, this wait and see. The long hospital stay. The ICU, the terminology, the air flight to Minneapolis, hearing my mom’s tired voice on the other end of the line. Our hearts stopping at every ding of our phones.

As I type my dad’s in critical condition in the ICU in a hospital in Minneapolis known for their expertise in pancreatitis. He is intubated. He can’t talk. They are making plans to remove the fluid that builds up as a result of the inflamed pancreas, a dangerous condition stemming from a dangerous condition and the whole healing process is a Catch 22.

And we can’t be there with them. Because we have to be here. Taking care of our daughters and the ranch and each other waiting on news.

To be so simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting and overwhelming, but we’re taking it day by day, minute by minute, praying and hoping and dreaming of an outcome that brings dad home to the ranch to meet Rosie Gene. We have so many people, a whole army of community members doing the same thing and we are grateful. And I am so grateful for this family of ours.

I wrote the piece below as I was waiting in Bismarck for Rosie to arrive. Since then dad has taken a turn for the worse and we have had a week at home with our new baby girl. Today is my husband’s first day back at work and my first day home with both of them. We cut our Christmas tree last night off the place, determined to keep in the tradition and spirit of the holiday because that’s what my parents want and that’s what we need to do for these kids of ours, and really, in times like these, what choice do we have but to chin up and be strong.

Christmas Tree

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and casseroles and cards and texts and phone calls and emails and love. They mean so much to us.

Coming Home: Time is a reminder to love one another
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By the time you read this we will be a family of four.

I’m writing this from a borrowed laptop in the basement of my best friend’s house in Bismarck, waiting on a baby who has shown us that it’s not safe to drive the three hours home, because we might not make it back in time to deliver.

It’s fitting really for this to be the sort of in-limbo news I’m sharing considering the tough and unpredictable month we’ve had as a family.

Since October turned to November, my dad has been fighting for his life as his pancreas does the hard work it needs to do to heal itself. After my dad was rushed back to the big town for another week in the hospital, the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom called in the family to see him off on a plane ride to seek the help of the experts in Minneapolis.

We left Edie in good hands with my in-laws and found ourselves surrounded by close family and skyscrapers in the big city, not knowing if our dad would come out of this, reminded, once again, what living minute by minute can feel like.

It’s excruciating.

And as we sat with him in the ICU, we slowly sunk into a world so far from the buttes, golden grass and the peaceful calm of the ranch we kept telling my dad to visualize that we barely remembered it existed ourselves, the foreign sound of the monitor beeps and the taste of lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup becoming our new normal.

How many times can you ask a person how he’s feeling before sending you all off the rails?

If we really wanted to know we could ask the people in the room next door who’ve been there longer or are fighting harder, the ones we walked by in the hallway in a weeping embrace, saying they did all they could for her.

And then we can say a prayer of thanks because, for now, we are the lucky ones.

We are the lucky ones who still have some hope here.

My husband and I left my dad with my mom and good doctors to heal slowly in a hospital bed in one of those skyscrapers that lights up the city skyline at night, each twinkle in the rearview mirror reminding me of the millions of stories beginning and ending under the light of the moon, living room lamps, restaurant candles or the fluorescent hum of the hospital lights we’ve come to know too well.

Any day now those lights will be the first thing our new baby sees as he or she takes that first breath in this world. And I will never forget the way it felt to try to hold life in my womb so tight these past few days, terrified to bring a new soul into a world that suddenly felt so unfamiliar to us all.

But time, you see, we don’t own it here, no matter the grip we thought we had on it all.

I think, at the end of the day, the only thing we really have to hold on to is our capacity to love one another, which is even more amazing when you realize you just get more of it when you give it away.

Time is just a reminder that you don’t have forever to do it.

Grateful and waiting


I’m finally getting to it. A chance to take a little breath and let you know that it’s been a rough month for my family. As all major health issues go, it’s a long saga, but since Halloween, dad has been fighting a hard fight against pancreatitis, one that we thought we had licked after they sent him home in early November, only to send him back to the hospital in the big town a week later to continue the fight.

We left mom to be with him on Thanksgiving in the hospital and my sisters and I celebrated Thanksgiving and Edie’s birthday at my inlaws’ home. At this point we were hopeful that he was on the slow mend, but on Friday morning we got the call that they were finally going to air lift him to the experts in Minneapolis. It was scary. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. Mom called in the troops and we made plans to drive to the cities to be with him until we knew he was stable and in good hands.

Which he is now, it turns out. Thank God. But it’s going to be a long, long road to recovery.  In the meantime, we’ve had such wonderful support from family, neighbors and friends helping to get the hay hauled, the fences fixed, the cattle moved and our babies in safe hands while we made the trip. We’ve had understanding bosses, cousins, aunts and uncles who have rushed to the scene to give hugs and make sure we’re eating or resting or taking a minute to joke or smile. And we’ve had each other and a strong faith in our dad that he’s a bulldog, a fighter, and he can make it through this.

And then, there’s this thing about this baby we’re growing. And so I’m writing to you from the basement of my best friend’s house in the big town I’m set to deliver in. I’m on a borrowed computer and living out of a suitcase I packed for an overnight stay at my inlaw’s that has turned into a week away now. We drove through on our way home from Minneapolis and I stopped for my weekly checkup only to be told to hold tight, this baby’s coming any day. That was Monday, and no big news yet, but we all agreed that being 3 hours from the delivery room wasn’t a great idea. So I’m hanging tight here. My husband is at home now waiting for the call and our daughter is with her gramma, wondering where the heck her parents are and likely showing her true sassy nature by now. I miss her. I left her just as she was turning two and the next time I see her she will no longer be an only child.

edie 3


edie 2

But we are so thankful for family and so ready for this little ray of sunshine to arrive in our lives, although a few days ago I couldn’t imagine it. I wanted to hold him or her in there forever, safe from the chaos of this world. I couldn’t imagine bringing a baby into such uncertainty. Into a life without my dad.

But I think we’re ready now. Dad’s on his long road, my mom is there with him, we have more family coming to their side in the cities and life goes on, even when it’s scary.

I wrote this week’s column reflecting on the uncertainty of our life’s past events, not knowing how much more grateful we would become in the coming week. It’s so interesting to me to recognize how in the hardest times of our lives, when we want to scream “It’s not fair!” we are called on to be the most grateful. Even when it’s terrifying….

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. I’ll keep you posted!

Coming Home: The burden of being grateful



In the hardest times of our lives it seems we are reminded to be grateful.

Grateful that it isn’t worse.

Thankful you still have your health or your loved ones besides you. That the cut wasn’t deeper, the hit harder, the sickness more violent, the call closer.

That in the end, we should be grateful that they’re still here with us.

Or be thankful that they’re in a better place, even if you’re not sure you believe in that place anymore.

And in between those harrowing moments, those close calls, held breaths, long hospital stays, prayers sent up, phone calls made during tragic or near tragic reminders of this very frail life we lead, we do the regular things that humans do.

We cook rice on the stove and burn the chicken on the grill. We talk too long on the phone about what we think of someone. We’re late to appointments because the dog got out again. We fight about money in front of the babies, throw our hands in the air in disgust, walk out and slam doors. On good days, we laugh about the rearview mirror she broke on her way out of the garage, because isn’t it just like her to cut it so close, that woman!

On bad days, we wonder what the hell she was thinking. And what we’re doing wrong.
We take it all for granted, because we can’t live in that space of our own vulnerability, the space where we sit, understanding full well that we don’t have control in this life.
It’s too raw and exhausting to be so aware of our own mortality, even if being aware means being equal parts grateful and terrified.

My 2-year old daughter looks up at the night sky, searching for the moon among the stars and exclaims, “The moon, Mommy, it’s beautiful! The stars, Mommy. Look at the stars!”
And when the night turns to day, bringing with it the sun, she takes equal notice of its magnificence. “The sun, the sun!” she declares before looking at me and asking after the moon. “Where the moon, Mommy? Where the moon go?”

That child doesn’t yet know darkness the way grownups come to know darkness, and each day the world gives her the bright shining light of the sun. But in all its glory and promise, she won’t forget about her moon.

It will be few more years before the child has the vast expanse of the universe explained to her, a few years before she starts to learn that that moon doesn’t shine for her exclusively.

A few more years before it all starts to become as confusing as it is wondrous.
But right now she’s little, even though she doesn’t know it. And it doesn’t matter. The size of this universe might just as well be as far as her arms can reach for all it matters to her.

Because to her, what she can see of the sky is enough.

And to me, right now, those outstretched arms are enough to keep me equal parts grateful and terrified.