The best times are now

The Best Times are Now
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Apparently love is in the air this fall. In the past two months, I’ve attended four weddings, sang the couples love songs and watched the brides walk toward their grooms wearing big, beautiful dresses and holding big, beautiful dreams.

I like weddings for the reasons most people like weddings — a good excuse to get together in the name of celebrating a happy occasion and a fun reason to dress up and dance. But I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up in years and in my marriage, the rest of the reasons have shifted on me a bit.

Like now, instead of getting my own groove on, it’s more fun to watch my little girls spin, clap and twirl to the music, outlasting most of the adults in the room. I could watch that all night.

But more than that lately, I’ve appreciated weddings for the little reminder they spark in me. Those big beautiful dreams these couples are holding, that was us, with the world just waiting on us to make plans or make it up as we went along.

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We’ve been married over 12 years now, so that familiar feeling of being 23 and carefree is fading as we wade through the muddy waters of what it actually means to be married. Like full-in, full-on married.

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I was contemplating this a bit last night as I coaxed my husband up to the bedroom after finally getting our two young daughters to sleep and the dishes cleaned up from supper. He just kicked his feet up in his chair and I remembered that I just washed our bedding and, well, I could really use some help with the dang fitted sheet. Romantic.

He sighed and trudged up the stairs after me and as we stood in our room discussing our pillow preference and laundry situation, I was struck by the partnership of it all. In those big, beautiful dreams we held at our own wedding, I doubt we thought of moments like this.

Like, isn’t it just really nice to have someone in the house to help us sort out the annoying parts of the everyday grind? I mean, I can do the sheets and the dishes, the baby bath and bedtimes alone, but it’s all just better with him.

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And when it comes to the tough stuff, the sad things, the grieving, the uncomfortable decisions, the worries and wondering, if I could give advice to any young person looking for love, I would shout, “Pick someone you want next to you in the trenches of life!”

Because there will be trenches. And then be prepared to be your soldier’s soldier as well.

On our way home from a wedding last weekend, I was thinking about time and how it can wear on us. I commented on when I thought I might have been in my prime, less stressed, more hopeful maybe. Younger. More beautiful.

“I think it was around 23,” I said to my husband.

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“No, I think it’s right now,” he said back to me.

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And I believed him. Because love is in the air, and the best times? What can we do but believe that they’re right now.

In those boxes under the stairs…

Coming Home: Some things are worth saving
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OK, please tell me everyone has it — that space under the stairs or in the attic or the corner of your bedroom piled up to the ceiling where you put all the things.

All the things you want to save but don’t know what to do with, like the junk drawer every Midwesterner tries and fails to clean out every three years.

Please tell me you know what I mean so I don’t feel alone in the stacks of boxes I’m wading through here to make room for a plumbing project under those stairs.

Because I usually blame my husband for all the clutter, but four hours and 10 tubs full of less-practical things later, I’m admitting I’m guilty of the sentimental version of his shortcoming. And apparently it comes with baggage.

Because does the 35-year-old version of me need the graphic design projects I completed my junior year of college? Or a psychology textbook? Or a stack of blurry and misfired shots from my high school camera or this keychain that probably meant something to me but now I can’t remember what?

At some point in my life I must have thought so. But last weekend, in the name of time and an attempt to declutter my life to make room for the two new little lives that exist in our house now, I tossed them. I tossed them because, while it all served as a reminder of the things I used to do, it was no longer what I needed to remind me of who I used to be.

Some things aren’t worth saving, I decided. But it didn’t take much more digging to find the things that were. A box of random photos I hadn’t seen in years, photos that spanned decades, randomly tossed in a box and buried under things to deal with another day.

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Evidence of Sisterly Love and overly festive jammies

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A reminder of my fashion forward-ness

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That time we puffy painted everything…and babysat the neighbor’s goat over Christmas break

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A picture of me that could be a picture of Rosie (with brown eyes)

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Halloween with the little sister a million years ago

A photo of a 1-year-old me tucked under my grandma’s arm on her old brown couch, both of us worn out and sleeping in her little farmhouse that I can still smell if I close my eyes.

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An image of my little sister, 6 years old, standing outside with a Band-Aid and a tear on her face. She always had a Band-Aid and a little tear.

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A rare photo of my mom and all of her young daughters in our kitchen. Dad sleeping against the piano while we opened presents at Christmas.

Me, 16 with bad hair and a bad sweater, sitting next to my boyfriend in a wrestling T-shirt.

And then piles of carefully folded letters and notes we wrote to each other while we were falling in love with no real grasp on the future or that it might look like a house on the ranch with our babies and a space under the stairs stacked with books and DVDs, paint cans, a witch hat, yearbooks, sports buttons, trophies, a salamander and memories worth digging out sometimes to remind us where it began.

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Which, it turns out, helps in the whole moving forward thing. These things are worth saving.

Distracting things.

If you need me, I’ll be under the steps, trying again.

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Oh, love can come a long way…

Yes to Apple Day

Coming Home: Say “Yes” to Apple Day

Last weekend, my friend up the hill invited us — and the entire contents of my little sister’s apple tree — over to her house for what she refers to as “Apple Day.”

Apple Day sounds like what it is — an entire day dedicated to transforming the fruit of an over-productive tree into delicious treats we will store away for the long winter so that we can pull them out and reminisce about the three minutes of summer and one minute of fall we once had — and that time we all got together and canned 700 quarts of applesauce, assembled 3,000 apple crisps and made 500 from-scratch pies.

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“Mmm, tastes like a perfect autumn day,” we’ll say as we serve it up over ice cream, likely to the very same friends who we made it with, so I won’t be able to take much credit because it’s my friend who’s the brains of the operation.

And my sister and I? Well, we spent most of the day saving our babies’ lives from the big chunks of choking hazards we kept dropping on the floor.

And stirring.

And eating.

Because when my friend does Apple Day, she makes sure she has banana bars, three different soups, bread and a sample of our newly created crisp in the oven. And ice cream. Always the ice cream.

It was a lovely day. Because yes, we got to take home enough treats to fill a freezer, but mostly because it’s always been like this with her, my oldest childhood friend, and it was nice to stir up the memories.

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My mom likes to tell the story of her as the tiny 3-year-old she used to babysit who gave my mother a tutorial on how to properly crack an egg while standing on her tippy toes on a stool in her kitchen.

And when we were growing up, my friend would lead the charge of recipe creations made out of ingredients like Hot Tamales, angel hair pasta and marshmallow cream. If it sounds disgusting, it was.

But so was the green garden pepper smeared with peanut butter she convinced me to eat when I was 10. Turns out that’s actually a thing her family eats.

So now, whenever I taste an out-of-the-garden-pepper, I think of her freckled, sunburned face laughing as I spit it out cartoon-style.

It’s the same way I think of her and I standing in the road ditch north of my place every time I taste a Juneberry pie that is never as good as the one she made from the berries we plopped in that bucket tucked into the sling where my casted arm rested, a result of a summer horse injury that didn’t really stop us.

Nothing really stopped us back then. And now look at us, all grown up with a thousand excuses to say no to the things we think we don’t have time for, like standing side by side rolling out dough and laughing.

And so today, for so many reasons, I thank God for a friend who says yes. Yes to pie and a house full of kids who get to grow up with sweet memories tucked away, too.

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Listen

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Listen, Because it’s important
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I’m sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for a flight to take me up and out of this city, back home to resume life as normal.

I came for a conference meant to connect people from all walks of life and give us the tools to start a conversation about acceptance, inclusion and understanding as we work to build our communities together — all of those things that start with a story and hover around an open mind.

It’s interesting to reflect on this in an airport where all of these lives in bodies converge, touch, talk, brush by one another, hold on to the same railing and sit side by side, knees nearly touching, everyone carrying the weight of their own world on their way to the sky.

So close, but we’re strangers.

I like to sit in places like these because I can be anonymous and sort of invisible if I want to be. My life in a small town doesn’t offer me that very often, even though last week I wished I were as I was sitting in road construction traffic for nearly an hour with a screaming baby in the back, giving into my urge to scream too and bang my fists on the steering wheel, as if that were going to change anything about my situation.

Yesterday, as part of one of our workshops, we were tasked to stand in front of a stranger and talk for one minute while the other person just listened under the assumption that we are an amazing person.

It was one of those exercises that make even the most confident person sort of squirm. It was uncomfortable. I was self-conscious. A 60-second pointless ramble to a person I will likely never see again. I just wasn’t convinced.

But something shifted when it was my turn to listen and her turn to speak. I fought my urge to ask questions, to relate, to say “me too,” or “tell me more about that” or ask her how she’s doing now.

We did the exercise three or four more times, sharing different parts of our stories with different strangers, and I left there exhausted but a bit enlightened. When’s the last time I gave someone, a friend or a stranger, the good grace of simply listening, without remark or request?

We want to know about community and how to build it. We want to know peace and how to find it. We want friendship and love and hope and healing. We buy the books and the movies and podcasts and take a plane to a big, unfamiliar city where we can disappear from our real lives for a moment.

But we weren’t meant to hide our stories. Hard or unnerving, collected or entertaining, we can only help ourselves if we spill those stories out into the world like baby Rosie’s wails in my car that day, filling up the space with the certainty of her existence, willing me not to wail back and pound my fists the way I did, but to hear her.

And then scoop her up in my arms.

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The privilege of growing old

Maybe growing old isn’t what I once thought it was
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When I was a young kid, my grandma Edith would take us to town. I would ride in the back seat on the blue velvety cloth seats of her sedan, my feet dangling above the floor and my eyes reaching just high enough to watch the power lines whiz past the window.

She would run errands. To the drugstore, to the grocery store, to the Chuckwagon Cafe where her brother sat drinking coffee in his seed cap and then to the nursing home to visit her mother.

Great-grandma Gudrun was as close to 100 years old as most people ever get when I was the epitome of a kid, scraped knees and carefree. And when you’re a kid, close to 100 might as well be 100 million.

And there are things I remember about her there — mostly her stark white hair and her cane, the candy she offered and the tiny TV quietly flickering other people’s stories in the built-in shelves among her trinkets…

But I was a kid and all my memories revolve around how I felt and what I saw. Shy and quiet, wanting to escape to visit the birds in the atrium or feed the fish. Hoping she didn’t forget the candy.

It never occurred to me to think about what it meant to her to see her daughter with her great-granddaughters trailing behind. She raised 12 kids, after all. I wonder now if she liked the quiet that came with aging, or did it make her uneasy? I have so many things I want to ask her now that I am not that timid, unaware kid anymore.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Last weekend, the arts organization I belong to helped host a Harvest Fest at the area nursing home and assisted living facility, the same place Gramma Gudrun used to live. Her son, the same man who used to drink coffee in the Chuckwagon Cafe, lives there now.

He sat outside on the front porch all afternoon and listened to his nephew, my dad, and his band play music while kids and families loaded up on horse-drawn wagons, squealed at the chickens, goats, bunnies and mini horse in our makeshift petting zoo, won apple pies in game after game of bingo, ate dessert and painted wooden pumpkins inside.

This event was a way of welcoming the community to engage and connect with their elders over stories attached to those apple pies, or the fancy chickens my friend brought to town. To tap their toes to the music under a clear, fall sky and remember where we came from. And maybe, help ease the fear that comes with aging. For them.

And for us.

When I was 8 or 10 visiting my great-grandma, I never imagined what it might be like to be an old woman. But I can imagine it now.

And I can see what a privilege it is and how we need to do better at not only celebrating it, but embracing the slowdown. The sit down. The process.

Because at the end of our lives, we only have the memories, and I understand now that it’s up to us to make sure that our elders never stop making them.
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Dear Daughters

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Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
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Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

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Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

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And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

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But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

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And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

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You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

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Love and Seasons

October 8, 2010. Late Fall

Coming Home: Love and Seasons
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The window is open in this house tonight, letting the summer out and the cool autumn air in. It’s dark before 10 now and the crickets in the grass are louder than the frogs in the creek.

On the ranch, we mark time by seasons a bit differently. Calving season. Branding season. Haying season. Roundup.

Winter.

The hay is nearly hauled off the fields now and because the leaves on the ash and oak trees are putting on their short and beautiful show, and the tomatoes in my garden are turning red and thriving despite my neglect, I am declaring it my favorite time of year.

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Even though it’s fleeting.

Even though it means 17 months of winter.

Last week, I watched my baby use her tiny fingers to pull up the grass in her great-grandparents’ lawn beside a lake in Minnesota as my grandpa united my cousin in marriage to his bride. Beside me, family gathered from around the country, sitting in crisp white chairs to witness a marriage ceremony performed by a man who knows them all.

And knows about love.

I stood up in front of them then and sang a song I wrote about the promises we keep for the long haul.

“When you were a younger man, you used to laugh and turn your face up, at all the words we’ve made up, there’s only one for love…”

We’re one step into a new season of our life together, my husband and I. We’re raising these children and trying to teach them about love without date nights or Champagne toasts, but with divide-and-conquer chores, suppers on the table too late, Daddy falling asleep rocking the baby while Mommy works way past bedtime…
There are a hundred thousand million ways we show one another devotion and I’m ashamed when I have to be reminded in the middle of this life to stop, take a breath, give a kiss, hold a hand and stop acting like we have forever because we only have today.

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The night before we packed up the kids and our good clothes to head to the lake, my husband had to remind me. To take a breath with him. To remember where it all started.

My grandpa has been married to my grandma for 64 years. I’m certain along the line somewhere they’ve had to remind one another, too.

No love is perfect.

But in the entire world, I can’t think of a better man to stand before two people on the threshold of their marriage and remind us all that at the end of the day, at the end of the season, who did the most dishes or swept the most floors or changed the most diapers won’t matter.

But making each other breakfast will. That will matter. My grandpa knows this.

And on the ranch, we mark the passing of time by the work we have done. And maybe my favorite season is fall — for the roundup, or the harvest — because it reminds us of what cannot be done alone.

And who we need beside us as we face the winter…

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This shirt is old and faded…

Some things stand the test of time
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“How old is that shirt you think?” I asked my husband as he came downstairs and scooped up both our babies to sit with him on his easy chair.

“Well, you got it for me when I was fourteen or fifteen, so like 20 years,” he replied before he pointed out each hole and stain the he and the shirt picked up along the way.

Yup. I remembered when I got it for him. The first gift I ever got a boy, a gray t-shirt with a blue ring collar and a couple faded stripes across the front. I had to ask the sales clerk to retrieve it for me from the top rack. And I probably paid fifteen hard-earned dollars for it without knowing that twenty years later that boy would still be wearing that shirt, in a home we built, holding our babies, reminiscing with me about that Mary Chapin Carpenter song I used to listen to about an old shirt like that…

I looked it up on YouTube then and my little family and I broke down in an impromptu living room dance party as the TV streamed through every 90s country song I didn’t remember I remembered.

Which brings me to the fact that I turned 35 last week. And I wouldn’t be feeling so many feels about it except that when I was in Vegas a few weeks back I stepped into one of those hip and trendy (do people still say hip and trendy?) clothing stores and everything they were selling were things I wore when I was in junior high, for like triple the price.

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That’s me on the far left, in 9th grade, wearing velvet and a racing stripe skirt. Found both at that store. Both back in style, just like my giant eyebrows.

So apparently I’ve become vintage.

So vintage that I found myself saying the words my parents used to say when things like bellbottoms and polyester print shirts came back in style for a hot minute.

“Oh my gawd, I should have saved everything I owned!”

Like all my scrunchies. Because scrunchies are back. Lord help us, scrunchies are back.

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Me and scrunchie and dad’s hair….

And then my mom bought my little sister and I tickets to see Reba McEntire and Brooks and Dunn in concert and I sang along to every word at the top of my lungs like I was on the school bus driving down gravel roads heading to my country school.

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So I guess for me, 35 is the age. Overnight I’ve become that woman who wishes there were more Reba McEntires in the world. And Mary Chapin Carpenters and Randy Travises and Bonnie Raitts. It’s the time in my life I catch myself saying, “They just don’t make (insert clothing, appliances, music) like they used to.”

And if my fashion conscious mother and sisters would let me, I would just keep this hairstyle and these boots, and these jeans and call it easy and good like the good old days that seem as warm and worn in as my husband’s 20-year-old t-shirt.

Because in the face of the hectic and unpredictable present, sometimes looking back is easier than looking forward. And then when you do have to face that uncertain future, it’s nice to realize that there are things that stand the test of time, like good true music, and good true love.

Happy Birthday to that boyfriend today. I didn’t get you a new t-shirt, because I like that old one…but get ready for an epic, toddler built cake when you get home.  Love you. Always have.

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Always will.

Forever and ever Amen.

Chad and Jessie

 

 

The heebie jeebies

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Coming Home: Spooked by ghosts, even if they’re just imaginary
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Last week, my dad was hauling our old feed pickup back from the shop on a flatbed trailer during oil field rush hour traffic, a little white-knuckled and stressed at the task.

Tired from a full day of work, annoyed at fellow drivers and maybe running a worst-case scenario or two through his head, he glanced in his rearview mirror to find a white pickup bearing down on him, looking like it was going to run him clean over.

He had a moment of panic, a few curse words and a split-second prayer to Jesus before he realized the threatening pickup was actually the one he was hauling on the trailer behind him. He freaked himself out.

And I tell ya, I can relate. Lately, I’ve been feeling a little of what I refer to as the “heebie-jeebies” around this place.

I think it started with the stray bat that made a surprise appearance in our bedroom, iced the cake with the weird creature scratching on the inside of our walls and now continues to send shivers down my spine every time the music on my office computer decides to play at random times, with no explanation or human close enough to make the command.

To top it off, I’m now literally sleeping with the light on because whatever ghost is living in this house has decided to keep the ceiling fan bulbs partially lit in our bedroom, no matter what button we push or switches we turn.

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It goes along with the weird situation with the chandelier we thought was broken one day only to find it working the next.

Must be our ghost. I mean, it makes sense. Our house is new, but it sits on an old homestead. And there were people on the land long before that. So maybe one of them moved in with us and enjoys a good prank every once in a while.

I mean, it must get dull being a ghost, especially when all we watch is “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

Which is what I was thinking last weekend when I went riding with my niece and she discovered my missing sock out in the middle of the horse pasture. After running over a few scenarios in my head, none of which effectively explained how the thing got from my bedroom to a patch of grass a mile out of the house, I decided it was our ghost.

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And when I explained it to my husband — how I pulled off my riding pants and socks that morning to put on my church clothes and when I went to put them back on again, my sock was nowhere to be found — he wasn’t as spooked as I wanted him to be.

He just calmly suggested that maybe my sock was stuck in my pant leg and dropped out during our ride through the pasture. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as runaway pickups or haunted houses, but certainly more logical, which is clearly what a woman spooked by a sock needs in her life.

That, and a little more sleep.

If you need me, I’ll be under my bed.

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Small things

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A few small things
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I love standing on the top of the hills around our house and scanning the horizon and the ribbon of road below me to see who might be coming or going — the sun, a neighbor, an oil field worker on his way home.

But often I feel like looking closer to see what’s happening underneath the grass, in the shady cool places of the ranch. All those small pieces that make up the mosaic of this landscape fascinate me.

In my other life, before the babies came, I would spend my evenings in my walking shoes, enjoying quiet moments out in our pastures. My favorite was when my husband would come along and we would wander together, slow and hushed along the deer trails, noticing how the dragonflies swoop and swerve, their delicate and transparent wings reflecting the sun.

Pushing a path alongside the beaver dam, the late summer cattails fuzz and the flowers hang on in the shade, staying cool and crisp as they reach for small glimmers of sun peeking through the trees. On the surface of the creek, the water bugs stay rowing and afloat by some combination of mechanics or magic above the school of minnows flashing their silver bellies in the hot sunlight.

I look at him; we look up at the birch tree branches. He looks at me and I tell him to watch for mushrooms growing on trees and chokecherries and the plums in the draw.

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And we walk. Along that creek that runs between the two places and down to the neighbors’, through beaver dams and stock dams and ponds where the frogs croak wildly. We would clear a path through bullberry brush and dry clover up to our armpits, jumping over washouts and scrambling up eroded banks, noticing how some oak trees have fallen, hollowed out and heavy with the weight of their age, the weight of a world that keeps changing, no matter if a human eye ever sweeps past it or inspects it or theorizes about it, or tries to save it. It changes.

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We’ve been married 12 years now, but I’ve loved this person since I was a just a kid. Three years ago on those quiet walks, we could only imagine a time in our lives where moments like these would have to be planned and adjusted to accommodate baby bedtimes, bathtimes and suppertime schedules.

That our life and our living room would be covered in noise and toys and new tiny moments we’ve created on our own that now hold their own mystery.

And I used to wish that this man and I would walk together in the coulees in these acres for a lifetime, with eyes wide to the small things that live and thrive and swim and crawl and grow outside our door.

And now, I hope that for us and for our own little creatures living and growing and crawling and thriving inside of these doors so that we might all move together in life like we moved through those trees — switching leads, pointing out beauty, asking questions, being silent, stepping forward, taking time and loving the moment … and one another in it.

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