On the road: Now and then

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Greetings from a hotel room 100 miles away from the ranch where I just consumed an entire take-out chimichanga dressed in my jammies while sitting on the bed watching some Learning Channel special about weird ways to die.

And then I washed it all down with six or seven pieces of Halloween candy I bought during my solo trip to Target where I was only going to buy deodorant, but somehow, because I had time to kill, wound up with Christmas dresses for my girls and my nieces, a new makeup regime, three bottles of vitamins, envelopes, a new bathroom color scheme, a 37-pound bag of candy, a witch hat, princess underwear, three packages of toddler-sized white socks and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is life on the road, people. Or at least the evening portion of the program.

I know it well. I spend plenty of time here and have since deciding to try my hand at this professional musician gig a million years ago when I was younger and drove a Chevy Lumina with a 10-disk CD changer sound system installed in my trunk and all I needed to get from a Fargo gig one night to a Chicago gig the next morning was a bag of sunflower seeds, an energy drink and my favorite albums on repeat.

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Turns out what I also needed was some change for the toll booths and probably a plan for where I was going to stay the next night, but that was back before you could book a room and find a husband on your smartphone, so yeah, I did a lot more improvising.

It was back in the olden days when you had to use actual maps. And so my Lumina was filled with one of each from North Dakota to Texas and off I would go to make my way through the middle of America to perform, just a girl and a guitar trying to laugh off the requests to play Free Bird during lunch at a tech college.

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Or calm my nerves when I dropped my entire makeup bag under an automatic sink in the public bathroom after getting lost in Minneapolis and running late for my gig opening for a national act.

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And then there was the time I completely chipped the front part of my tooth off on a granola bar on a highway somewhere in Missouri with no hope for a dentist appointment before they were set to put a camera up close to my imperfections at a campus television station.

Yes, in between those gigs where I could be playing to 3 people or 300, I had nothing but the radio and the miles between the familiar and the mystery of the towns that passed by my window. Traveling and touring that extensively solo before I even hit age 21 was a weird mix of vulnerable, free, lonesome, nervous, proud and utter exhaustion. Some days it was hopeful, when the audience was captive and the stories came easy and some days were more “opening the door to my room at the Red Roof Inn and finding strangers sitting on my bed.”

And all these years later, so many things have changed, like the maps and vehicles, but the road hasn’t.

It’s still hoping for an open gas station at midnight when I’m finally heading toward home and I’m starving. It’s still floorboards full of wrappers and water bottles and dealing with the quirks of a car that inevitably acts up, locking me out of the trunk for no apparent reason. It’s movies and suppers alone to kill the time. It’s changing clothes in the car or a public restroom, and putting makeup on in the visor mirror. It’s meeting new people and inevitably forgetting a microphone stand along the way. It’s calling home at night and recapping the day, only now the voices on the other line are noisier and smaller and sweeter and there’s more to miss.

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But I love it out here when I go. I love to see the Main Streets and visit your Cenex stations and your cafes and hear your stories at the end of the night before my tires hit the road again for home or send me out in search of a glamorous hotel bed chimichanga picnic.

Rear View Road

 

Finding yourself in parenthood…

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Finding yourself in parenthood
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Before I became a mother, before I realized that you’re not always in control of the timing of your life and throughout my six pregnancy losses, I was worried about the way in which becoming a mother was going to impact me creatively — in my career and in my process.

Because, looking back on it now, I didn’t see any women like me out there who were mothers on the road singing and performing and speaking with their kids in tow. And if they were, then maybe I wasn’t hearing them talking about it, or complaining about, or, what I really wanted, writing a step-by-step instruction manual on how it was done.

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And so I only thought I could be one or the other — a creative person or a parent. But since I was a young teenager, I’ve been performing and writing music and stories as part of my living in most of its phases. After 20 or so years in some sort of a professional music career, 10 years of marriage and pregnancy losses and crying and trying, by the time I became a mother, I had fully developed a version of myself that had dug in, planted roots and wasn’t going to change without a fight.

Cue a battle with postpartum depression that I didn’t see coming and didn’t dare admit after all that time and all that struggle. Because no one tells you that even if you’re finally granted everything you thought you’ve ever wanted, you still have to learn how to exist with it.

This new tiny human was an endeavor that had changed my body, changed my mind, changed my sleep patterns and sucked me of all the freedom from which I drew my creativity, that had for so many years been tied to my self-worth and my bottom line. Turns out, nothing squashes that whole freedom-to-let-your-thoughts-wander vibe quite like a new human life in your house.

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And from what I can tell so far, it’s pretty clear that my children will never stop interrupting me. When I became a mother, I found it profoundly difficult to find inspiration beyond my new child, partly because there was nothing I found more fascinating or magical and partly because the long walks alone taking photographs of the sunset became a long-lost memory of a different version of myself.

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Now I’m almost four years into this parenting gig with, God willing, a lifetime ahead of us all, and I’m finding I’ve managed to wrestle and push and grind and hustle (and medicate) my way back to a version of myself that feels whole and connected and fulfilled and creative again. And it doesn’t look like it used to.

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So let me tell you what it looks like now (because I wish someone would have done the same for me). It looks like me trying to do a promotional photo shoot for a new album with just me, the photographer and my two young daughters dancing, singing, fighting and crying for a snack while I yell “Just a minute baby!” and smile with my guitar while the light is still golden.

It looks like them getting a hold of my phone and Facetiming my little sister and then China and me letting them go ahead and do it if it gives me three more minutes of time to try to get the shot.

It looks like “Mommy, I have to go pee,” and then helping her pop-a-squat in the pasture and getting back to it.

It looks like the one epic meltdown and the guitar dropped in the dirt that ended it all and sent us home for pizza and wine (for me, not the kids). It was nuts. It was sort of embarrassing. It was on the edge of chaos, but it got done. And we all survived (except my guitar).

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And then I found myself wondering out loud to my little sister on the phone (who was checking in after the Facetime call to see if we all survived) why do I do this? It takes me a little time after the kids go to bed to quiet the negative voices in my head and listen for the reminder.

I want to be known as my daughters’ mother. I want them to know that I am there for them fully and completely and that I love them entirely, but not exclusively, not solely. More than a strict bedtime schedule, I want to show my daughters what it looks like to have passion, to love beyond.

Because, ultimately, that was the greatest gift my parents gave me — they live and are living their lives as love in action — for the land, for the arts, for the community and, of course, for their family.

And truth be told, sometimes love and passion looks and feels and sounds a lot like work. And maybe it’s a mistake, just like the one I made tonight by keeping the photo shoot on my schedule without any help with the kids.

But I’m just out here trying to be true to myself so that my daughters can see what that looks like and lean on it when they’re out there in this big, wide world struggling to do the same.

 

 

Rose soap and the woodwork of our memories…

Lasting memories of my great grandma

When I was in kindergarten, I lived in Grand Forks with my family in a small white stucco house by the Red River.

I don’t remember too much about this time in my life, except the blond neighbor girl named Jenny, my blue bicycle, drinking Dad’s cold coffee in his basement office, my little sister’s run-in with a hornet’s nest, my sparkly jelly shoes and my Great-Grandma Rognlie. Actually, her name was Eleanor, but we called her by her last name because she was the kind of woman who took formalities seriously.

She lived in a red house a few blocks away from our little white one by the river dike, and every day I would walk there to spend time with her in those free and unplanned hours kids used to have between after school and suppertime.

And that time for me as a little girl meant saltine crackers arranged on a plate and spread with peanut butter, reading books with her giant light-up magnifying glass at her antique fold-down desk, watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS while laying on the carpet in front of her couch with the birds on it and her screened-in porch and her garden and this sophisticated woman with immaculate hair that was curled and styled every Tuesday at the salon.

When I pull from my memory, I realize that walking into my great-grandmother’s house was like walking into a different time that smelled like rose soap, tasted like frosted gingerbread cookies from the bakery and looked like a woman who worked to make money so she could put a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of two boys by herself in a time when women didn’t do those things without a man in the house, or at least they didn’t dare declare it.

But I didn’t know that about her then. I didn’t know how strong she was or the sacrifices she made or how hard it must have been or how proud it made her to see both those boys go on to graduate from universities, marry good women, contribute to their communities, succeed in their careers and raise children of their own.

I just knew she let me have Juicy Fruit gum and play her old piano and try on her fancy hats and shoes and she would order my sisters and me things from the Lillian Vernon catalog. And I knew that she always had a tablecloth on her table and a centerpiece and a game of Skip-Bo or Uno or Wheelbarrow or Solitaire and that she took the time to play cards with me after “Mister Rogers” and before my dad came to pick me up.

And on Sundays, I knew that she liked to take us all out to the Village Inn where I’d get three crayons and a paper menu and a pancake with that little dollop of whipped cream and I better behave.

And I knew that she had another husband later in her life, because I saw him in a black-and-white picture framed in her hallway, but I didn’t know him because I wasn’t born yet when he died, or maybe I was, I just wouldn’t remember, but somehow I knew that they didn’t have enough time together. None of us who love really do, do we?

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And I’m thinking of my Grandma Rognlie today because last night I watched my mom, dressed for the occasion, help my little Rosie put on her peacoat to head out the door of a theater event and I swear I could smell her grandmother’s rose soap…

And it occurred to me there is no way for my daughters to understand the complicated, compassionate, strong and beautiful story that lies within my mother. I can only hope that one day they will all grow old enough to ask the questions, woman to woman.

But right now, they know they’ll always find M&M’s in her drawer conveniently placed at their height, and on Thursday she’ll take my oldest to dance and then for a smoothie at her coffee shop and then the two sisters will run and play under the racks at her store until it’s time to head back to the ranch without sidewalks.

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And my daughters, they don’t know it now, but when they grow older these moments will lie quiet in the woodwork of their memories, waiting there for them when they close their eyes, searching for a way to feel safe and special and loved.

And they may never know the full story, and they surely won’t remember much about being small, but they will remember what matters, and it will always matter: that red house, that rose soap, that card game, those M&Ms, that Juicy Fruit gum…

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

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Good morning from the ranch where it’s been raining for three days straight, but it feels like 20, and where this truck has been stuck in our driveway since Friday night, essentially trapping those of us who don’t have the proper mud tires on our vehicles.

But as of 9:20 am, it’s gone,  which means it’s my turn to attempt the muddy trip out of here…

Yeah, there are things that are glamorous about country living, but this my fine people is not one of them.

And there’s more where that came from in this week’s column:

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

There are times when I’m being whiny about how hard life is with two little kids and two (or three?) jobs plus the ranch and the laundry and the 40-minute trip to town, and I think of the women who came before me who raised their children without air conditioning or microwaveable chicken nuggets, and I tell myself to suck it up.

Because, well, these are First World, privileged Middle-American problems and I am lucky. This is all I ever wanted, (except for maybe $1 million collecting interest in the bank…)

But yesterday, I finally wrapped up my office work for the day at 5 o’clock knowing that I had to get the girls from day care at 5:30 and it took a good 10 minutes to drive from my office to the store, but I needed essentials like milk and granola so I did it anyway and forgot the granola, but made it to day care by 5:29 and then wrestled my dear munchkins into their car seats, distributed an equal share of snack and drink for the long drive home before stopping at the gas station to fill up my tank so I wouldn’t have another gas can situation — and just as I turned the corner on the last stoplight out of town with two quiet kids munching on crackers in the back, I dared to think I might actually have it under control.

That’s when I heard a panicked voice from the back: “I have to go potty!” And at that moment, I thought that there are a lot of things about raising my children in the country that make me forever grateful for the life that we have, like wide-open spaces and wild plum picking and watching them catch toads in the backyard….

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but this?

This was definitely not one of them. So I did what any good mom would do and I asked her if she could hold it. And she did what any good almost-4-year-old would do and said she would try. Which she did while she argued with her little sister about who had the right milk cup and then who had more crackers and then gave me suggestions on my radio choices before asking, repeatedly, if she could have a piece of gum that did not exist, a request that prompted a full-on meltdown from her little sister who happens to be obsessed with gum, before, finally, about 10 miles from our home, she winced, pulled her knees to her chest and whimpered, “I really, really have to go potty!”

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And so I did what any good mom would do and said, “OK, OK, OK, just a minute, hold it just a little bit longer,” and then proceeded to cuss under my breath while trying to simultaneously speed up and slow down to prepare to pull over in the nearest approach, which just happened to be an oil location.

And while truck after pickup after SUV rolled by on their way to an oil site or home or to work or to sports practice on a busy Tuesday evening, I crouched in the ditch, my butt in the air, trying and failing to shield passerby’s from witnessing my daughter’s emergency situation, our hair blowing in the 30 mph North Dakota autumn prairie wind, her bare bum catching that breeze, waiting, er, for the plop which would put us all out of our misery.

Except that plop never came. Turns out she’d rather poop in the potty at home. Which she did, and we all lived happily ever after in our home in the hills 30 miles from the nearest public restroom.

And if you need me, I’ll be loading up that portable kids toilet I bought three months ago that’s still in the box in the garage.

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Country living and grocery store fails

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If only we had an endless garden year round to keep me from the grocery store…

Why do I make the easiest tasks so difficult?

Country living and grocery store fails

Last night, I did that thing where you have 30 minutes between work and day care pickup to power shop the grocery store and restock the essentials while planning a week’s worth of meals in your head because the list you have on hand only says “eggs and milk,” but the list in your head screams, “You’re all going to be living off of Daddy’s secret stash of ramen noodles if I put this grocery shopping trip on the back burner one more day…”

So yeah, I did that thing where I hang out between the canned beans and the pickles and text my husband about the level of our flour supply and he texts back that I should pick up some whiskey. And then I check the time and power walk through the cereal and freezer sections, throwing in a couple pizzas for good measure on my way to the checkout with a cart so full I have to hold the big family-sized box of frozen lasagna under one arm like a spectacle of the failed ranch wife and mother I’ve become.

And even though I had to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay the bill, I somehow managed to forget the most urgent of my husband’s requests: dog food and whiskey. But I’m proud to say, when it came to toilet paper and ranch dressing, my Midwestern country living instincts didn’t let me down, because, well, girlfriend don’t want to be stranded…

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But I think those instincts are also to blame for the reason I brought home my fourth box of Minute Rice for the pantry shelves that currently house 17 jars of mayo, bags and bags of dry beans we’ve never ever cooked with in our entire lives, a bigger noodle selection than the Olive Garden and enough oatmeal to feed a branding crew if we were facing down the apocalypse.

Oh, and because I’m always inspired by the beautiful produce aisle and my snug-fitting jeans, I decided I’m going to start eating healthier, once and for all. So I bought a giant container of mixed greens for all of the salads in my future… Mind you, that was before the aforementioned panicked, time-crunched walk through the freezer section for last-minute chicken nuggets, but I digress.

Because after I got all of my wares and two toddlers into the house in a record-breaking (and arm-breaking, and back-breaking) two trips, I realized I must have had that same salad conversation with myself last time I was at the grocery store when I discovered the same exact container of mixed greens sitting untouched in my produce drawer.

So I did what every goal-oriented and focused career woman, wife and mother of two would do when faced with that moment of clarity — I poured us all big bowls of Peanut Butter Crunch for supper, called my sister to see if she could use some fresh lettuce and called it a day.

Because there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow we’re having salad… and dry beans… and Minute Rice…

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Or garden tomatoes….

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Or homemade noodles (if I have flour) 

Call it a day

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Here’s a photo of my precious daughters having a moment of sisterly love.

And when I say “moment,” I mean it. Nothing lasts too long around here in the world of little girls. Sweet turns to sour and back again at the drop of a hairbrush.

So I tried to keep that in mind last Wednesday when my little family outing went a bit off the rails, which isn’t much of a surprise at all when you take a one-year-old and a three–year-old on an hour car ride to run errands and eat in a restaurant. But still somehow I’m a little shocked when my toddlers are both testing their lung capacity in the car, that this is my life.

Oh, I know this too shall pass, but there are times that argument is more convincing than others…

Call it a day

OK, real talk here: Today was a day. I would use the word tough, but I’ve had some days that truly fit that category, so I’m just going to Call. It. A. Day.

It was supposed to be an easy 60-mile trip to Dickinson with my kids. And when I use the word “easy,” I guess I don’t really mean it, because nothing with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old is easy. But my husband was going to come with us, which meant that running errands, getting my driver’s license and our passports renewed and hitting up a couple doctors’ appointments looked a little more doable with another set of hands.

So doable that I had the delusion that we could eat a nice lunch, hit up a park and maybe even get ice cream afterward. From where I stood on Optimist Hill, it looked like the perfect opportunity to turn our annoying adult responsibilities into a family outing. (Cue all you veteran parents pointing and laughing hysterically…)

But it seemed like it had potential. The kids only sang (screamed?) at the top of their lungs for the last 20 minutes of the trip and I only had to threaten to “pull this car over” three times along the way, but the first one was because the 3-year-old thought she might have to poop. Or puke. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, so she decided that she had to do neither.

Turns out she was saving it for when I left her with her dad and her little sister while I went into the DMV to pull my ticket, fill out the form and wait for 20 minutes (not bad, not bad) only to realize that to get the new “Smart ID,” I was going to have to come back with 16 forms of identification, five pieces of mail, the title to my house and my mother’s signature written in blood. Probably should have Googled that one… Yeah, nothing bulldozes Optimist Hill quite like a trip to the DMV that results in the promise of another trip to the DMV.

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Meanwhile, in the public bathrooms, my husband found himself in a situation in which he had to manage two small girls in emergency pooping situations, all while, ahem, holding it himself. When I caught up with him, the youngest was running through the door without a diaper while the older one was playing this weird toddler game where she runs as fast as she can and then throws her tiny body on the filthy floor while her bare-bottomed sister followed suit.

In our life, this was all pretty standard stuff really, so we proceeded on to the doctor’s office where my poor baby had to get a shot, which went surprisingly well thanks to a nice nurse and a couple suckers. Which, coincidentally, is what we were when we made the day-shifting decision to bring our entire family to a sit-down restaurant during naptime. Cue an in-transit crisis over sucker color choice on the way followed by empty parental threats that defied every parenting book in the history of the world.

We arrived at the restaurant and settled in for three minutes of quiet coloring, followed by sporadic singing (screaming?), negotiations, a drink spill, the food order, some crying, a Styrofoam to-go box tower collapse, two “situation removals” and “talking-tos,” actual eating and an early momma/kid exit to wait out a meltdown in the car while my husband wrapped up the check and slunk out.

We left the restaurant fully annoyed, which was exasperated by my daughter’s new favorite “bad mommy” refrain, which she was in the middle of when my husband dropped me off at my chiropractic appointment.

Turns out my chiropractor also makes a good therapist. We compared toddler war stories and he suggested I try to do more things that help ease my stress and tension.

So we skipped the trip to Menards and Called. It. A. Day. Godspeed to you parents. Godspeed.

If you need me, I’ll be on my deck with a glass of wine.

Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

How to mow the lawn at the ranch

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch
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It’s July at the ranch and the cows are out to pasture, I’m out singing for my supper, the guys are out in the hayfield and the kids are out running naked in the yard.

And while we’re all out, the grass in that yard just keeps growing. Because there’s nothing that a ranch yard loves more than a family too busy to landscape.

But when I lost Rosie in the weeds on a walk to the mailbox the other day, I thought it might be time to dust off the ol’ lawn tractor and get to work before it became a job for the swather.

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Oh, I love mowing the lawn, but apparently not enough to make it a priority over a 10 p.m. bedtime, which seems to be the only time left at the end of our summer days where I can escape to the tranquil, solitary bliss of the grass cutting motor.

Seriously though, it’s laughable what it takes to get such a simple chore done in my world these days. And because this is my life now, I’m gonna take this opportunity to walk you through it.

First things first, because we’re too cheap and stubborn to get new tires on my most prized possession, I have to dig out the ol’ trusty air compressor from the depths of the garage and air up two of the four tires. Done. No big deal, just have to pay attention to the slow leak to avoid the flat-tire-lawn-mowing-figure-eight-cut-in-our-lawn incident of June 1 that we’ve only recently recovered from.

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Next, I need to clear the area. Roll up the hose to the driveway in front. Roll up the hose to the garden in back and move the piece of barbed wire that’s supposed to serve as a makeshift gate to keep the cows out of the yard, but judging by the amount of cow pies in my grass, clearly needs to be re-engineered.

Then I properly roll my eyes and huff at the amount of toddler debris strung about before picking up five Barbies, 10 balls, a G.I. Joe, a mini lawn rake, a battery-operated four-wheeler and 35 half-painted rocks.

Next comes my favorite part — heaving the trampoline, fire pit, plastic slide, turtle sandbox and inflatable pool onto the little concrete pad under the deck and out of the way. And just when I think I’ve got it all, I need to turn and break my toe on the stake we set out to tie the pony up three weeks ago at our niece’s third birthday party.

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But really, it’s all worth it when I finally get on that mower, turn the key, put down the blade and start knocking down the roughage. The wind in my hair, the sun on my back, I start first along the sides of the road going up to the mailbox and let my thoughts wander to getting a job with the park board or something because this is my calling.

The lawn mower is my favorite piece of equipment, the lawn mower is my spirit animal, the lawn mower is my freedom, the lawn mower is… out of gas.

Next step, call Husband to instruct on gas can situation. Assess gas can situation. Lug giant gas can up the road. Spill a fair amount of gas down my leg and into my shoe. Decide it’s good enough. Start ‘er back up again to resume feelings of freedom.

Run over a log, get stuck twice, get unstuck twice, run over two big rocks in the ditch and three horse poops and have a near miss with the shovel we were supposed to use to scoop up said horse poops.

Give three kids a ride, run out of gas again, fill up again, almost get stuck one more time, sweat, smile, park and, four hours later, hands on hips, look out at that fine manicured lawn thinking Better Homes and Gardens has nothing on me. Now if they would just let me run the swather.

If you need me, I’ll be out in the yard. I have a turtle sandbox that needs to get back in its proper place.

Yours in peace, love and lawn care,

Jessie

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Outside the fence

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Coming Home: Outside the Fence
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There’s a little stem of a willow tree growing wild in our backyard. I wouldn’t have known it except my dad pointed it out in the thick of the wild grasses, bushes and weeds that we have been meaning to turn into a retaining wall for years.

Willow trees aren’t common out here among the bur oak and the ash, the bull berry thorns and chokecherry brush, except for the big ones that line the edge of the stock dam outside of our fence line, so Dad thought it was special, suggesting maybe we keep it there to grow instead of digging it up to make room for petunias or paving stones or domesticated bushes. I looked out at those big willows then and couldn’t help but think what a big jump that little seed took from home to here, what strength it had to dig in among the clover and weeds, successfully avoiding lawn mowers and chubby, curious hands.

Last month, while I was attempting to assist my 3-year-old daughter at T-ball practice, she told me to go wait outside the fence and watch like the other parents, because apparently now she’s a teenager.

Today at her little preschool Bible day camp, she gave me the same direction — and this time I was even offering a cookie.

She was sitting at a tiny table with a group of her friends and it was as if my presence immediately reminded her of her small place in the world at a moment when she was really feeling quite big. And hilarious.

Her little sister Rosie has already taken the “no parents allowed” stance on important things like hand-holding down the steps, drinking out of lidless cups and, recently, getting in on the dance circle and the horse-drawn wagon rides with the big kids, reminding me that the letting go part happens slowly and then all at once, like the way that we all noticed that tiny little willow tree that had been working on growing right under our noses day after sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day.

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Below the boards of our deck, in the corner on top of the beam, a mother robin spent her springtime gathering sticks and mud, grass and rocks to build a nest for five little blue eggs. Her work was so unassumingly diligent that we didn’t even notice the life and home she created there until among the laughter and frosting and pony rides of my niece’s birthday party.

This time, my dad looked up to find four tiny little fuzzy heads attached to beaks open wide, stretching up to find a mother surely coming with a worm or a bug.

I took the girls to get a better look from above through the cracks in the deck, instructing them to close one eye and keep the other one open to help them spot the tiny creatures who were close enough to feel our breath. I noticed the mother then, perched on the cedar fence rail that serves as a symbol, a barrier between the tame and wild world, safe and unsure. She was waiting there, watching, a worm dangling from her beak.

Tonight I am sitting alone in my backyard listening to the day quiet down with the chirping of those birds and the howling of the coyotes. That nest below me has been empty for weeks, because as fast as we think our babies sprout wings, real birds fly in a blink.

And I am the willow, the robin, the mother, on the other side of the fence with a worm, with a prayer, with a hand reaching out to steady them as they stretch toward the sky.

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