Little moments to be brave

Hear Rosie’s perspective on this week’s podcast where I interview her and she sings her song. Listen here or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts.

For as long as my youngest, Rosie, could talk, she’s been asking me when she can have her own band and perform on the stage. My answer at first was to offer to accompany her, but Rosie wants her own band. And she wants to play her own guitar. And she wants to write her own music. And just this morning she informed me she wants to play drums too. So now I tell her she has to practice.

I’ve been working on writing some new songs these past few months as I prepare for a new album I’ll record this spring. This means the girls have been wandering in and out of my practice and writing sessions quite a bit lately. A few weeks ago I heard their four little feet march up the stairs and fling the door open and suddenly my lonesome little love song turned into a collaborative writing session with Rosie, who was determined to live out the promise I made to let her sing at open mic night at Gramma’s coffee shop in a few weeks.

She recently (as in, right that second) decided her song needed to be an original. Now I could skip over this part, but I don’t want you to get the impression that this was any kind of made-for-Hallmark movie-moment. Rosie’s first attempt at writing a song ended with six harmonica solo breaks, a speech about how this song is not just about her being a cowgirl, but about families working together and a stomp-off because, when her big sister wanted to try her own song, she was stealing all Rosie’s words. My husband called it their first “intellectual property dispute.” I call it the first of many dramas in the family band.

That’s where we left it, a little song unfinished on a scrap piece of paper and we all went outside to play (drama comes and goes quickly around here). Fast forward to my arrival home from my week away in Elko after taking the 17 hour drive in one shot, where I was greeted by hugs and a reminder about open mic.

Tomorrow.

She had been telling everyone at preschool, including her teachers. And they were coming to cheer her on. This was serious. I can sleep when I’m dead.

So the next morning, we finished her song and practiced it all day (I mean, are you really a rock star if you don’t cut it close?) and headed to the coffee shop to make her debut. But as the big moment grew closer, Rosie started to experience nerves, something her little five-year-old body wasn’t expecting. Her eyes were watering as she thought about not getting it right in front of a crowd. In the car, her big sister tried encouraging her and I followed with some pep talk, so completely aware of exactly how her little heart was beating. We walked in the back and practiced the song again before it was her turn. They called her name and I knelt down beside her with my guitar in the front of that tiny coffee shop filled with our smiling friends and family. It was her turn. Rosie buried her face in my arm as her cousins and big sister came up to offer hand-holding, sing-alongs, hugs, cookies or whatever it was going to take to make her brave. I whispered in her ear “come on now, you can do it!”

But little Rosie couldn’t do it. Not right then. It was all too overwhelming I think, the idea that in her head, she was a professional singer, but in real life she was still only five and she’d never done this before. Oh, I could relate. Just a few days before, getting ready to walk out to a theater full of hundreds of people so far away from home, I wondered if I truly belonged. If I was good enough. If I could pull it off. My stomach was in my throat, the same way my daughter’s was in our hometown that night. I so badly wanted her to do the thing she wanted to do, but I didn’t read the chapter in the parenting book on this.

So I told her we’d try again.

We went to the back and gathered ourselves. I wiped her little tears and told her she was brave. We practiced the song again, three or four more times. She said she wanted to try again in a little bit. So out we went to listen to the other performers and get a hug from her teachers, who promised her a pizza party if she gave it another go. Bless those two lovely women because that did it, the promise of pizza. I think that would probably do it for me too.

Her cousins and big sister at her side again, Rosie looked down, got a little teary, got it together, took a deep breath and sang.

“Daddy feeds the horses, sister cuts the twine, me and mom chase cattle, the dogs come for a ride…”

The small coffee shop crowd cheered and Rosie was so proud. She even got a tip, which she can’t get over. She didn’t know she was that good! But to everyone in that room that night, it was less about being good and so much more about being brave. That’s where it starts, at little open mics, little rodeos, little gymnastics meets, little dance recitals, little talent shows, little opportunities that we create in our little communities to help each other grow wings. I’m so thankful for the efforts of those who make things like this happen.

Anyway, if you’re wondering, Rosie’s big sister got wind of the tip and is working out her own song for next month as I type. So if you like drama, stay tuned for the saga of the sister band.

Dear New Year

Listen to the podcast where Chad and Jessie sit down to talk about highlights of the year at the ranch and why margaritas and cookies should be included in more New Year’s resolutions. Listen here or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Yesterday I watched my young daughters and their cousins fly down a slippery hill on a little orange sled, negotiating time after time who rides with whom next. Who sits in the back to hold on and who gets the front to take in the view and the likelihood of snow on their cheeks. We were experiencing a regular heat wave here. Thirty-seven above zero was a 50-some degree temperature shift toward a warmer winter day, and even though we could only find one sled buried under the giant drifts, we took it and we went to play.

Because the weather had been so cold, so well below zero for weeks, the snow piled so high that we haven’t been able to play in it. And around here, besides filling the creeks in the spring, that’s the best thing about snow.

We got a blizzard for Christmas, and a broken tractor, and a couple chances to get stuck in our yards and dig each other out. But the New Year forecast doesn’t look as brutal and so that’s the weather report in the quiet of the morning, from a mom sitting under the glow of our Christmas tree lights in that timeless, wonky, magic space between Christmas and the New Year, the dishwasher humming before sleepy kids wake up, reminding me that it’s all a little bit of a mess around here, there’s always something to be done. And we’re lucky for it. And also we’re tired. And overwhelmed sometimes. And grateful. And worried and wondering if we’re doing any of it right while simultaneously holding our ground on what we fiercely believe.

At the turn of the New Year I always feel compelled to reflect, as it seems we all do, on time and how it’s changed us, our family, and the promises I intend to make from here on out. But the further I get into this life the more I realize there are things that are so fundamentally out of our control, that maybe the ultimate gift we can promise to give to ourselves and those around us is a bit of grace.

Dear New Year,

I promise to do the best that I can most days, and other days, when I am not at my best, I promise to sleep on it and try again and be OK with that.

New Year, I won’t ever stop declaring it. If it’s wonderful, I’m saying it out loud so that I hear it, and you hear it and they hear it. We need more talk about the good things. But if it’s bad, if it’s bad in the ways that truly matter, I’m declaring it, too. I’m going to be better about that one, because I’ve learned this year that’s just as important. Because in the saying it out loud we give ourselves a chance to grieve, or to hope, or to find solutions, or to be there for one another.

New Year, I am going to continue eat the cookies. And order the steak. And pour the margarita when the occasion calls for it. Life’s too short. But I’m also going to continue to walk to the top of the hills to take in the view, and I’m taking the kids with me.

Because as I watch them dig tunnels through snow banks, declare themselves queens of the snow drift mountains, as they negotiate flying down the hills holding on to one another, I promise, New Year, if there’s fun to be found, if there’s beauty, I’m gonna be out there looking for it. That’s the most important one to me, it always has been, but more so now that these kids are watching.

Dear New Year, I look forward to the memories.

Snowed in

Happy winter! It’s official now, on December 22nd. I’m writing this in the middle of another no-school, all the roads are closed, the wind is whipping 40 MPH snow day.

And I wrote the column during the last snow day. December has had it’s way with us. So Chad and I had plenty of time between tractor thawing and snow blowing to sit down and visit a bit about windchill and frozen equipment, digging out and and staying home, Christmas traditions and finding gratitude where you can. Even Edie pops in for a snow day report. Then stick around to hear both she and little sister Rosie sing their favorite Christmas song this year. 

Merry Christmas. Thank you for following along this year and sharing your stories with us. Sending you love, gratitude for the year behind us and hope for the year ahead.

Listen to the podcast here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

The magic season

Oh wow it’s magical around here. Two young kids waking up each morning smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season to see what shenanigans the little felt elf got into this time will make it that way. So will 4 to 8 inches of heavy snow and a promise of at least 40 mph gusts to make it nice and blinding, just like the North Pole.

Yes, we’re smack dab in the middle of the Christmas countdown. As I write this almost every road in the state is closed and so we’re in a good ‘ol fashioned snow day, except with laptops and virtual learning. And depending on your experience with Google classroom, the whole magic of the snow day experience can go either way.

And so can waking up at 3 am realizing that you forgot to move that enchanting felt elf. In which case you can either embrace that you are the magic or you can use your favorite cuss words as you squinty slipper shuffle down the steps to move the elf from the bathroom perch to the fridge between the ketchup and the soy sauce, wrapped up in an old dish towel for dramatic effect.

I’d say the magic is in remembering to move it at all. Bonus for a clever idea.

It’s worth it in the morning though. My kids are in that special spot of childhood where they still believe, and finding their elf in a toilet paper hammock is about as thrilling as it gets. Although the concept of Jesus and Santa both watching you gets a bit confusing for the five-year-old, especially when the felt elf becomes a part of the felt nativity scene. (Hey, I’m running out of ideas here.)

But it’s not just the Christmas season and the elf-drawing-faces-on-our-bananas- with-a-Sharpie that’s bringing this magic, it’s the kids themselves. They just have it beaming out of their curious eyes, skipping with them to meet their friends at school and almost knocking the Christmas tree over with each of the thousands of cartwheels they’re throwing in the living room.

The lineup of performances and celebration helps too. Last week my girls ran a regular rock star schedule and I happily (and with a supply of Motrin and coffee) played the role of their tour bus driver, stylist, caterer, and personal assistant. We had a first grade Christmas program on Tuesday, a pre-school Christmas Caroling experience on Friday morning and a dress rehearsal for a cheer performance on Friday afternoon. They gave it their all in their cheer recital Saturday afternoon and then we hosted Rosie’s five-year-old swimming birthday party on Saturday night. Then we wrapped it all up with my personal favorite, the Church nativity play on Sunday morning. The girls dressed as angels and they both had lines that we’ve been practicing all month. And we got to dress in our best and watch as Edie the Angel inched all the wise men and poor little Joseph out of the way so she could do the actions to the song front and center like she was born to do.

Man, wasn’t it just yesterday that she was baby Jesus who had a blowout mid-manger scene?

Maybe we all secretly wished for this snow day to slow it down for a minute so that we might sit on our cozy chair, our kids still in their jammies and watch a Christmas movie while procrastinating trying to figure out how to log-in to their Chrome books.

I’m rambling a little I know. I sat down this morning with the idea that I would write down a few lessons I’ve learned from this season of the year and of this middle-aged-mid-parenting life. But all I want to do is write down these little things I don’t want to fade from my memory: my daughters’ red tights and sparkly holiday shoes. Their morning bed head and crumpled Christmas PJs. The mess of graham cracker gingerbread houses and h alf-drunk holiday cups of hot chocolate taking over my kitchen table and singing Edie’s favorite Christmas song at the top of our lungs on the car ride to school. And even that silly elf that wakes me up and reminds me that these are the days. These are the exhausting, adorable, hilarious, snuggle-clad, sugar cookie filled days, frosted in sketchy weather with holiday sprinkles on top.

In case you forgot to remember. In case you’ve never forgotten.

Anyway, I got a little off task here, but here’s one lesson I really wanted to pass along: Tie the tree to the wall. Fishing string works great. Do it even if no one’s doing cartwheels in your living room. Trust me.

And whatever phase you’re in this Christmas, may you do your best to find peace where you are, even if it’s 3 am and you’re barely awake dressing a felt elf in Barbie clothes…

This is five

It’s a snow day at the ranch and all the roads in ND are closed. So while all the kids were in the house, I sat down to chat with my little sister, Alex, about parenting five year olds and trying to replicate the magic Christmases we had as kids. There are interruptions, per usual, I talk about Rosie and her packrat tendencies and Alex shares a story about how she and an egg went to town.

Listen to the podcast here, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Spotify.

Happy snow day moms and dads! Don’t forget to move that elf.

This is Five

Rosie, my youngest daughter, turned five at the beginning of the month. If you’re wondering what five is like, if it’s been a while since you had a five-year-old living under your roof, or have been five yourself, then I’m here today to paint a picture.

And that picture begins with all of the things that could be hiding under a five-year-old’s pillow. Because I, myself, just had a recent revelation a few nights back when our household was conducting one of our middle-of-the-night bed shuffling rituals, the one where Rosie wakes up and climbs the stairs with her blankie at 2 am and then climbs up on our bed and then climbs up on my head to finish her good night’s sleep. And despite contradicting viewpoints on a mother’s need for personal space, I do admit that I like mine, especially at 2 am. So I made my way down to her big empty bed only to discover that it wasn’t as empty as I assumed. I slid my arm under the pillow to snuggle in and was greeted with a half-eaten bag of goldfish crackers, a Santa squishy ball, five rolls of Smarties candies, a tiny notebook, an ice-pop wrapper, a bouncy ball, a tiny doll shoe and a partridge in a pear tree.

And so it was 2:04 am on a random Tuesday night in December when I discovered my youngest daughter is a pack rat. A sneaky one.

And that not all five-year-olds are created equally.

I mean, I could leave a bag full of chocolate in the middle of the kitchen table, within reach and sniffing distance of my oldest daughter, and she wouldn’t dare make a move without first being granted permission. And chocolate is her absolute favorite thing in the entire world. But so are rules. She’s the firstborn and her universe can only run on order.

And so I’ve been moving through parenting both daughters naively and blissfully thinking that sort of discipline and obedience must be a package deal.  But it turns out the second one is sneaky, thriving on flying under the radar, letting the older one take the spotlight until her comedy routine is honed and she can steal the show. As a middle child myself, I should have known.

Anyway, today I offered to help her make her bed and the darling assured me that she had it under control, which just turned out to be a ploy to get me off her trail while she tried to figure out what to do with the sticky stash of pillowcase Sweet Tarts she’d been hoarding. I didn’t even know we had Sweet Tarts and so this is what I’m saying.

I took the child with me grocery shopping yesterday and we had the cart overflowing with what I was hoping would be at least a week or two of meals and snacks. And while I busied myself bagging up the vegetables and cereal at the end of the conveyer belt, Rosie took my distraction as an opportunity to try a new strategy. 

Among the string cheese and tortilla shells, Rosie got one of those Kinder Joy Egg things that is conveniently placed at small-child-eye-level, the kind with the candy and a tiny plastic toy, past me and through the grocery clerk. By the time I found it, I’d already paid for it.

“Rosie!” I exclaimed. “Did you put this candy in with our groceries without asking?”

“Yeah,” she replied, not phased in the least. “I didn’t ask because I knew you’d say no.”

“I would have said no,” I told her.

And then she told me, “But now you paid for it, so I might as well eat it.”

I was so baffled by her antics that I plowed my cart full of groceries right into the Christmas tree by the door on our way out, which apparently has now become a part of her core memory, because she’s reminded me and anyone within ear shot of it at least a dozen times already.

So that’s five.

Oh, and also, tonight at supper she told me she has a crush. He’s a cowboy and he’s cool and he ropes and she’s a cowgirl so what’s the deal?

The deal is, send prayers.

Happy Birthday sweet Rosie. We love every little thing about you.   

The magic of childhood

On the podcast Chad and I reminisce about some of the most magical times of our childhoods after Edie’s birthday reminded us of how exciting the little things can be when we’re young. Then I confesses some of my most embarrassing moments in the recent weeks while Chad cringes in the corner and questions his life decisions. Then stay tuned for a sweet little interview with the birthday girl!

When’s the last time you’ve been so completely excited about something that you couldn’t sleep? Like, not nerves, but the kind of happy anticipation that makes it impossible to switch your mind off. Body wiggling, so completely pumped that you wanted to close your eyes and skip days to get the thing that you could not wait for?

It’s been a while for me. I didn’t think so. If you were to ask me this question a couple months ago I’m sure I would have been able to come up with an answer to an event or activity or vacation or something that had me energized in recent years, but then last week happened and now I’m convinced that adult excited can’t hold a candle to almost-7-year-old on the night before her first sleep-over birthday party ever excited.

That kind of kid energy, it’s palpable, and for the last couple weeks we have been in a countdown to the big birthday party. With each passing day, my daughter, she leveled up, until the last two nights before the party we were left with the kind of emotion that the little darling could hardly manage. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and she certainly wasn’t going to fall asleep without checking and double checking her mother’s work, popping up out of what I thought was a dead sleep multiple times to ask me things like “Did you get the cupcakes?” “Did you call the other mommies and tell them to tell the teachers we’re picking my friends up after school?” “Do you think we should go to the pool first or just come home to play?” And then, “I’m so excited I might cry.” And then she did a little and so did I, wondering if either one of us was going to get any sleep and suddenly nervous that I was going to somehow screw something up (I mean, she has such little faith!)

So now I’ve concluded that probably the last time I’ve ever been that excited was when I was eight or nine and I was decorating our kitchen with homemade construction paper cutouts of fish and seaweed and blue and yellow streamers and planning the water balloon fight my friends and I were going to have when they came over to celebrate. And then I got a brand new bike to boot and I was over the moon.

Or the Christmas Eve night when I was right in the sweet spot of childhood and also my neighbor asked me to babysit a tiny baby goat for the holiday weekend named Filipe. And I had that goat in a box by my bed and a lit up cedar branch of a Christmas tree in my room that kept falling over with the weight of all the ornaments and lights because the little coffee can stuffed with wet newspaper didn’t stand a chance and I was anticipating the beanbag chair I’d asked for and Santa delivered…that was something. That was a memory.

And it was simple as that. A tiny baby goat in diapers and a beanbag chair on Christmas morning.

And then there was our wedding, of course. I was absolutely excited about that one, but big days like that as an adult get complicated a bit with grown-up expectations and responsibility. So much of it is in our hands then. But kids? Kids keep it simple. It’s all about the play. It’s all in their heart.

And so I hosted my first ever 7-year-old birthday party sleepover as a mom. And, to Edie’s relief, I remembered the school pickup protocol and I remembered the cupcakes. We got her the toy on her wish-list and we had tacos and did all of the things—dress-up, nail painting, charades, dance party, played house, Barbies, crafts, movie, popcorn and staying up too late. (I even let them use glitter because I’m wild and crazy and one of the girls called me fun and so it is worth sweeping it off the floor for the rest of my life.)

When we finally had to bring her friends back to their parents, I apologized to the mommies for the sugar rush and late bedtime and the glitter ornament I packed up in their bags. One of the moms even thanked me for the purple and green hair chalk in her daughter’s blonde hair. She said it was perfect for their family pictures that afternoon, but I’m not sure she meant it. I told her she’s just lucky I didn’t send a kitten home as a party favor. That was a real option…

Anyway, I asked Edie if her birthday party was everything she hoped it would be and she said she wished it lasted longer and so I took that as a yes. And I’m taking her as my inspiration going into this holiday season to strip off a few layers of adulthood-induced stress and channel that good old-fashioned childhood energy.

Anyone have a baby goat that needs babysitting?

Notes on Summer

Notes on a Rural Summer

Listen to this week’s column and Jessie’s conversation with her daughters and her little sister in this week’s Meanwhile Podcast.

By the time you read this, summer will have officially arrived for most of the kids in North Dakota. That last bell, it means more to me now that we wrapped up our first official school year with our six-year-old. I watched her stand smack dab in the middle of one hundred other kindergartners on risers dressed in matching shirts and singing a school kid version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” My favorite line? “Teacher in a tidy room, smell of paint and Elmer’s glue. For a day that seems to go on and on and on and on…” But wait? Wasn’t I just embarrassing her by existing in the classroom on the first day of school? Now she can read and frankly, does math better than me and so we’re on to our next task of cramming as much fun in a three-month time period as possible.

For my family it also means trying to keep up with fencing and haying and barnyard reconstruction projects while juggling yard work and day jobs, my performing schedule and getting the kids in their swimsuits as much as possible, even if it just means splashing in the tiny plastic wading pool currently collecting dirt and bugs on our lawn.

I’m ready for it and determined to keep my focus on what really matters…

Because summer means that my babies constantly smell like sunscreen and bug spray and come in from outside with a warm, sweaty glow on their faces. It means 9 PM supper and 10 PM bedtime because no matter how hard we try we just can’t settle down until the sun settles down. It means picking wildflowers and swatting bugs, brushing the ponies, sleepovers with the cousins and slow walks down the gravel road pulling baby dolls in the wagon.

A western North Dakota summer means digging in the garden and praying the hail from the summer storm doesn’t take our little tomato crop while we lean into the screen and count the seconds between thunder and lightning.

Summer out here means searching for the right place to dock the boat or plant a beach chair on the shores of Lake Sakakawea and spitting sunflower seeds waiting for a bite to hit your pole, trying to convince the kids to swim where they won’t scare the fish away.

And then summer is laughing even though they aren’t listening, knowing that this time of year, especially in a place where it’s so fleeting, is magic for kids. And you can’t blame them, because you remember the rush of the cold lake water against your hot skin and how you would pretend your were a mermaid or a sea dragon and the afternoons seemed to drag on for days before the sun started sinking, cooling the air and reminding you that you were not a mermaid after all, but a kid in need of a hamburger and juice box.

You remember the way the fresh cut grass stuck to your feet as you did cartwheels through the sprinklers or the how you smelled after coming in from washing and grooming your 4-H steer in preparation for county fair. You remember the anticipation of the carnival, the way the lights of your town looked from the top of the Ferris wheel and how maybe you brought a boy up there with you and maybe he held your hand.

Summer in North Dakota is dandelion wishes and a fish fry, fireflies and camping in tents that never hold out the rain. Summer is wood ticks and scraped knees, bike rides and gramma’s porch popsicles, catching candy at parades, swimming pool slides, drinking from the hose and trying to bottle it all up into memories that won’t fade.

And so I am stocking up on popsicles and doing my best to make some plans for my young daughters that don’t include any plans at all. Because they are in the sweet spot right now, wild sisters who have one another and who are just big enough to take on the kind of summer adventures that only happen when nothing’s happening and the sun is shining and the day stretches out long and lazy in front of them. Because they can only be four and six for one June, one July and one sweltering hot August before the next summer rolls around with another year behind it. And I have my memories, but the girls, they are smack dab in the middle of making them. And for all that they don’t know, for all the things they are still learning, they don’t need anyone to tell them how to spend their summer. They are experts on that one. And I intend to take notes.

Lessons in life and heartbreak on the ranch

I started this piece last week as an introduction and recap of the latest spring storm. Since then we’ve been on the warm up, watching the snow drifts turn the ground to mud and exposing some green grass. And we’ve added another bottle baby, a twin, to our mix, putting us up to a total of 4, one for each little girl to feed if we can all get out there together. It looks like this week we’ll see 70 degree temperatures for a few days, and everyone’s spirits are lifted by that. Uncle Wade headed back to Texas and the girls are in their final month of school for the year and we have summer on our minds. I’m headed off to visit a few schools this week with the book “Prairie Princess” so I’ll be seeing some of the state thaw out and green up before my eyes and whenever I get a chance I’ll be on those hilltops, checking again, for crocuses, and probably collecting a few ticks.

Lessons in heartbreak on the ranch
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As I write this, the sun is shining after another really tough weekend of weather. As you read, we are likely getting more of the forecast moisture, but by now we’re all familiar with the storm that rolled into western North Dakota that started with rain, turned to ice and then into over a foot of more snow blowing sideways in up to 65 mph gusts throughout last Saturday and into Sunday afternoon.

This one was just as hard or harder on our herd because, No. 1, wet and freezing weather is tough on livestock, especially newborn calves. No. 2, we are full-on calving now, and No. 3, we lost power on Saturday, April 23, around 3:30 p.m. and didn’t get it back until around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. As I write this, some in our county are still waiting for the lights to come back on. And it all felt a little spooky, honestly.

On Saturday afternoon, right before we lost power, the guys pulled four soaked, shaking and newborn calves in from the storm to try to save them and our entryway turned into a bovine nursery, complete with all four little girls helping to dry them, warm them and get them to eat if we could.

My sister, Alex, sat with the newest calf on her lap, scrubbing him with towels, drying him and asking him to hang in there. But after our last-ditch effort of pumping him full of electrolytes, he didn’t make it another 20 minutes. The girls were heartbroken and so we sat on the steps together, working it out with them, wiping little tears, worried that he might not be the only one in our entryway with such a fate.

My sister and I hang on to memories like this one of being kids during calving season. The excitement of bringing the calves inside always held with it a bit of anxiety knowing that they were there with us because something wasn’t going right. So that’s the lesson I tried to give the girls, that nature can be cruel, and we’re here to be caretakers, doing the best we can. But sometimes there’s nothing more we can do.

And so we move on to the next thing we can do. I don’t think they’re too young right now to learn about life and death and how to care for helpless things. It’s not too early to learn how fragile it all can be and what a big job it is to be responsible for these animals.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but my sister and I cried a bit about that calf, too. We were hoping for a victory, but it was a tough day to be born. So we focused our attention on tiny No. 4, the one the girls named Strawberry, who wouldn’t stand up or take a drink. The next morning, after a fair amount of patience, I finally got her to drink an entire bottle. This morning, she was bawling for it and I got my victory there. Funny how you can be so proud of a calf. And so the guys loaded all three of those baby bovines into the back seat of the pickup to graduate them to the barn — and that right there is why everything we own out here is covered in poop and slobber in the spring.

This week, the guys are counting the calves and keeping close watch, making sure they all get paired up with the cows who get mixed up during stressful times like this. When we woke up on Sunday morning, all four of my family members tucked in our big bed to stay warm, we were a little unsure of what we’d find down in the trees where the cattle hung out for protection on layer upon layer of hay. But these cattle are tough, and so are their babies, and as soon as the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, there were calves running and bucking and perking right up. I couldn’t believe it.

Baby Calf Kevin tucked in safe and sound

Nature is cruel, but instinct and being bred for hardiness plays a part in the equation, and those two things didn’t disappoint us in our herd. Neither did the natural protection of the trees and valleys and all of the family around us helping take care.

Fresh new baby on greening grass

This one will be in the record books. Some neighbors in other corners of the county were literally digging cows and calves out of snowbanks where they were stuck standing. And there’s so much to reflect on, and so many lessons my husband and I have learned about how we could be better prepared for next time. And so we put that in our pockets and in our plans and keep digging out, more thankful for the sunshine than ever.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Under these snowbanks is green grass, and this, I think, has become a metaphor for almost every hard time in my life. The rainbow after the rain. I believe it always comes, sometimes naturally and in its own time. Sometimes you have to just buy yourself an ice cream cone and make that count. Either way, I hope you’re all finding your silver lining. Stay warm out there. Chin up. If you need us, we’ll be mixing giant calf bottles and heading to the barn…

Listen to this week’s column with commentary in my first attempt at a podcast

Ok folks, I’m trying something new. I’ve decided to record each week’s column with a bit of commentary in a weekly podcast format. This first attempt is a bit rough as I just wanted to see what it was all about, but I think it could be a nice option for readers to be listeners. My plan is to incorporate more discussion on each week’s topic and to hopefully include some of my family, friends and maybe you in the conversation. Oh, and there will be music too.

Hang with me as I work through this, but I think it’s going to be fun!
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The dangerous life of a handyman's wife Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

This week Jessie and Chad are scrambling to get their life together so they can go on vacation. So while Chad finishes up a handyman job Jessie catches you up on news from the ranch, and a memory of the first few months of building their house. If you're scared of heights, you'll understand. If you're not, you'll still think Chad's crazy.  Find out more about Jessie, the ranch and her music at veederranch.com  and jessieveedermusic.com
  1. The dangerous life of a handyman's wife
  2. The legend of Poker Jim
  3. Is this middle age?
  4. A chance to be brave
  5. Notes from the road and the top of the hill

Not for the Faint of Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Turns out, that day, she had four.

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

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

OK then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And hard for a mom.

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

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

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

The heartbeats in between

The heartbeats in between 
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My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in my surgeon’s office on the fourth floor of Mayo Clinic, almost 700 miles from the oak tree on the ranch in western North Dakota where we were married 14 years ago when I was on the edge of turning 23. We vowed for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as if we really knew what that meant at all.

But we never know what’s coming, do we? We’ve sure learned that lesson in these 14 years, watching our plans try their hardest to fly out the window while we hang on for dear life. Turns out, even when you think you might never come up for air, there’s always the surface, the other side of the hard things. We just have to wait for it.

And so we treated our latest visit to Rochester as if we already knew the news. Eight weeks out of a sternotomy to remove a cancerous tumor attached to my airway, I was feeling a bit more like myself, a bit more like laughing, a bit lighter from the weight of pain easing. After dropping the kids with the in-laws we took to the road like we were going on vacation. Because why not? We were together. We were OK. We were driving along Interstate and highway surrounded by sunflower fields reaching toward the sky and corn taller than two of us stacked up.

We spent the five days between doctors and tests eating as much as we could and finding shelter from the rain and sun under Minnesota trees and patio umbrellas. Once, as we were indulging in a 2 p.m. cocktail and late lunch, the woman a table over stood up to tell us that we really know how to live. We didn’t know if it was the calamari, the drinks or the loud laughter, but we decided it was the best compliment we could have received.

To know how to live.

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I’ll tell you now that the doctor, on our 14th wedding anniversary, told us I am going to be OK. He said he couldn’t have done a better job repairing my airway. And that the cancer? Well, he got it all.

Life will now look like a big scar down the middle of my chest and a CT scan every six months for the foreseeable future to make sure the cancer stays gone, moving it to the back of my mind, instead of the center of our worries.

And for that we are the lucky ones.

Fourteen years ago I carried sunflowers in my bouquet as I walked down the “aisle” in that cow pasture, toward the man who would become my husband that day. Little did I know that it takes so much more than a wedding to make a marriage. Little did I know that the only thing you can really count on is that things go wrong.

And then, right again.

As we headed west out of Rochester and toward the rolling buttes of home, I imagined those fields of sunflowers waving us on into a new year, a new season, spectators with encouraging smiles, reminding me of the love and support we’ve received from our family, friends and community during these past several months.\

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Reminding me that life is just a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache. But my favorite times have always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

The adventures of tiny ranch girls…

Kids and ponies
The adventures of tiny ranch girls
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My little sister has been living in a new house on the ranch over the hill with her family for a year now. In the fall, her family welcomed a new little girl, Emma, who is now 8 months old. Her oldest daughter, Ada, is 3.

 

This means at any given moment, you could drive into the Veeder ranch and likely see a swarm of wild blond hair, glitter, flowing dresses, skinned knees, pretty chaos running down the scoria road squealing, with my sister and me trailing behind, occasionally hollering things like “Be careful!” or “Don’t push!” or “OK, OK, let the frog go now…”

Yeah. Right now, there are four girls between us — aged 4, 3, 2 and 8 months — roaming the barnyard. Which means in addition to six cats, four dogs and 10 horses, we also now have two little ponies.

Two ponies, named (you could probably guess it) Sparkles and Tootsie.

Of course.

Along with the kittens, the backyard sprinkler and endless Popsicles, these ponies have been the center of our life at the ranch this summer. Every morning my little sister puts her roly-poly baby in her pack, grabs her 3-year-old and goes down to the barn to brush, pet, pamper and, of course, feed the ponies who could care less if there’s a little girl hanging on their necks, pulling on their tails or brushing their bellies, as long as they get treats.

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And after supper, if the weather is right and they’re all behaving well enough to brave it, I call my sister and we meet them at the barn to saddle up the ponies and teach the girls to ride.

I could weave you a magical tale right now about the bonds between little girls and horses. I have plenty of firsthand experience falling in love with horses out here myself. And yes, there have been dozens of sweet moments captured between these little girls and these mini equines — but mostly it’s a firestorm of lesson upon lesson packed into a pink, noisy, explosion at the barn.

And it sounds a lot like: “OK, don’t scream around the horses remember? No, no running behind them… calm, remember? You’ve gotta stay calm… OK, OK, that’s enough grain. Woah, enough I said!”

“Edie, don’t drop the reigns. You have to hold onto them when you get off.”

“Oh, you’re trotting! Good job, good… woah, woah, woah, you’ve gotta hang on!”

“Where’s Rosie? Rosie!? Oh Lord, is your head stuck in the gate? Wait there, what the heck girl? How in the world… Daddy! Rosie’s head’s stuck in the gate!”

“OK, it’s Ada’s turn! OK, it’s Rosie’s turn. OK, it’s Edie’s turn. Yeah, you have to take turns. Yeah, you can lead her… no she doesn’t want to run… girls, no screaming around the ponies.”

“OK, no crying either. It’s OK…”

“Rosie! Rosie, don’t climb so high on the fence. Where’s Ada? Ada, enough splashing in the water tank… Edie, Edie, slow down now. Pull back and say ‘woah!'”

And on and on like this until someone gets an owie or the adults and the ponies in the pen wear out. But the adventure doesn’t end there — anything can happen in that quarter of a mile back to our houses.

Last night? Well, it was a detour to inspect a grass snake…

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followed by heroically freeing our dog, Remi, from my little sister’s sticky fly trap…

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Yesterday, it was a ladybug and a handful of sunflowers…

And today? Well, in this magical place, with these girls running wild, anything is possible.

And my sister and I, well, we’ll be right behind them, yelling “Be careful!” and saving the frogs and salamanders from their tiny dress pockets and purses.

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