Defining a good life


January’s the longest month up here. It’s the coldest. The days are short and the nights of darkness drag on. If you’re prone to depression, this is when it hits you hard. The holidays are over and the appeal of the fuzzy sweater sort of hunkering down has worn off, making you crave a tropical vacation, or at the very least, a warm up to above zero so you can throw a proper sledding party.

These past few weeks have ticked by slowly for us. With a new baby, it’s not so appealing to bundle everyone up and head out on an errand, a visit or for activity that’s not necessary, although I have made a few trips to help avoid cabin fever. And, since dad’s been in the hospital since Halloween, it’s been strangely quiet around here. My husband has taken to the chores and ranch management alone, with the occasional “help” from his little family when it’s warm enough for us to come along for the ride.


Feeding cows happens for him when he gets home from his day job after the sun has set. Depending on how our timing works out, he may or may not have supper with us and he may or may not be home in time to say goodnight to Edie.

When my dad’s around some of the chores are split a bit, helping to ease the time burden that comes with a full time job.


Since dad’s been sick, and on his worst days teetering on the brink of death, we’ve had a chance to realize what it must have been like for my family out here after my grandma and grampa died. It explains why my parents haven’t spent much of their time sitting still. And it explains why most of my memories are of riding along with my dad, on a horse, or in an old feed pickup. Because that’s the only chance we got to spend time together. And we’re so lucky that he didn’t see us kids in the passenger’s seat or on the trail behind him as a burden and even more lucky that he made watching him and helping him work a fun adventure, full of laughs and appreciation for the beautiful place, even when he was armpit deep in fixing a plugged water tank or up to his neck in bull-berry brush fixing fence on a 90 degree day.

I realize now that for every time he took us along he was sort of sacrificing his time, slowing down his pace to have us there beside him. I didn’t realize how much value time held out here until coming home as an adult and trying to make it all work, fit it all in, family, work and ranching. Each minute of daylight is gold and it can be maddening if you let it take you over. But I don’t remember noticing.  I guess that’s a testament to the way I was raised and the good memories I chose to keep close.

Pops and Me on a horse

I can only hope we can do the same for our girls, to take them along and take the time to point out the grouse in the brush, the deer on the hillside, the way the moss grows on the rocks and the frogs croak at night. That’s the only way they’ll love it the way we love it, is if we show them why it all matters so much.

But if we falter, I’m happy to report, we will soon have Papa home to set us straight, to show us the things we haven’t learned yet, to set us on the right path and to teach his grandkids about the backs of horses.

Yes, after nearly three months of hospital stays, and a long, scary stint in the ICU, dad is in recovery, working on building up his strength to come home. And we’re so thankful, knowing how easily it could have turned the other way.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers. We will be so happy to have him here to continue to live this life we call good.

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Coming Home: How to define a good life
Forum Communications

I woke up to the sun slowly appearing over the big hill that faces our tall windows.

“One ribbon at a time” is a quote I read somewhere describing the sunrise, and I recite it in my head as the pinks, purples and golds appear in the sky just long enough to transform and fade into blue.

Some mornings I don’t take the time to notice it the way I used to before the babies arrived, but when I do, it always reminds me of the reasons we moved back home to the ranch seven years ago.

Has it been seven years already? That number sounds so permanent to me, as if the house and the kids and the cattle aren’t enough solidification of the decision we made when we were so young to plant our lives here for good.

“For good.”

When I say it that way it means forever, but I look at it here, written down, and I feel compelled to define it.

When we’re planning out our hope for the future, the “good” is what we tally up to help finalize our decisions. We chose our people based on the laughs, the calm and the well-timed casseroles or phone calls they bring into our lives. It’s the good that brings us closer to the imperfect parts of them — the scars, the mess, the mistakes that make up their not-as-pretty storyline. I think the same can be said for the places we chose.

Last summer I participated in a series of interviews for a project that will showcase the unique lives of women in all 50 states. This included a series of long phone conversations with a few female journalists in big cities on the East Coast, answering questions about what life was like out here on a landscape they’ve never seen before.

While we talked, I imagined them in trendy haircuts sitting in a high rise behind a desk in a web of cubicles, photos of boyfriends or children pinned to the fabric of their makeshift walls. Walls inside walls inside walls.

I wonder if they imagined me on the phone during my toddler’s nap time, my belly swelling with a new baby on the way, sweeping the dirt and little pieces of scoria off the floor as a line of black cows trudged by our fence line on their way to the dam for water.

“I suppose it is a lot to take on,” I remember remarking after one interviewer asked why we chose what she called “a hard life.” I just described how we are responsible for the fences and the water, the buildings, the animals and the land. And we have so much to learn as we attempt to fill the big shoes that left this here for us.

But a hard life?

No one out here has ever declared it to be so, not even as it’s all done on second shift, when the sun is going down, or while it’s coming up, a ribbon at a time.

But a good one?

That I’ve heard. And that’s why we’re here.

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Bravery and Compassion in the New Year


Happy New Year from the ranch where we spent the holidays trying to keep our house and our spirits warm against the chilling sub-zero temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, Hettinger, North Dakota, a small town on our southwestern boarder, reached -45 degrees — and it may have been the coldest recorded temperature on Earth that day.

The coldest recorded temperature on Earth, right in my home state. I’m not sure that’s a record anyone wants, but here we are.

And here we are on the other side of the holidays and one whole month into being parents of two kids.


And this morning we’re back to the real world after spending the holidays together, keeping up the traditions of pancakes and church on Christmas Eve, and presents and prime rib on Christmas morning at the ranch despite the fact that my parents were spending their holiday in a hospital hundreds of miles away.


Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I know. Now I know what that feels like, a lesson I’ve taken from all of the hard times we’ve endured as a family along the way, suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in the story. And  that compassion, I’m coming to realize, can be the gift we take from the hard stuff.

Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with my little sister who took the trip to see mom and dad in Minneapolis. In a miraculous gift to us, dad was released from ICU before Christmas and after a pivotal procedure, is showing some signs of coming out on the other side of this thing. So we could breathe a sigh of relief and truly smile and laugh as we watched our kids take in the magic of the season.

After lukewarm feelings about present unwrapping at my in-law’s the weekend before, Edie woke up looking and acting like the epitome of a kid on Christmas morning.

My little sister’s husband was working over the holiday, so she spent the night at our house with her baby daughter and we got to sip mimosa, eat caramel rolls and sit on the living room floor helping them unwrap gifts. It was everything we needed and watching Edie snuggle her new sister and help her younger cousin was everything magic can be to adults who sometimes forget that it exists.

My older sister and nephew joined us later and we spent the rest of the day making appetizers, watching the kids play with their new toys and trying not to screw up Christmas dinner, which we did, sort of, but I blame it on my husband’s newfound obsession with his Traeger grill.  But it didn’t matter really and it was sort of fitting that supper was just slightly off, a reflection of how we felt about the quiet day spent being grateful and worried and hunkered down and hopeful in the face of a new year.


That you can’t predict it is the greatest gift and torment this life hands us. I look at my new daughter’s face this morning and there are no truer words to describe what I’m feeling about life, on January 2nd, stepping over into what we all refer to as a fresh start.


I’m not so sure about that. Even with this new life in my arms, I don’t feel fresh. To feel fresh I think I’d have to feel less worn. But I’m not sure I want to feel any other way right now. The sleeplessness means I have a new baby, a second child, one I could never even bring myself to imagine…and a toddler with a plugged nose and a newfound refusal to sleep whose existence changed everything. And this worry I carry for the wellbeing of my parents means they’re still here with us for another day, and God willing, another new year.

And so I’ll take it. I’ll take what I know to be true for now and be grateful that this year, as each year before, has made me braver, and stronger instead of scared and hard.

Bravery and compassion. Let that be my gift for the years to come.


Coming Home: Finding compassion is the gift given to us in hard times
 Forum Communications
Published December 24, 2017

Christmas is here. The weatherman on the news this morning is warning us of the impending winter storm, the kind that will blow cold arctic air in from Canada and give us a gift of a white and freezing holiday.

My husband will come home from work tonight after the sun has set and make little tweaks to the tractors and pickups, making sure they’re ready to feed the cattle and plow through the snow banks for the rest of the season. Typically he and Dad would be making plans together to prepare for the snow, but Dad has the bigger task before him of fighting for his life in an ICU in Minneapolis.

And I can’t help but think this holiday, as I wrap presents and struggle to form Santa cookies from the store bought, refrigerated dough so that Edie can slowly and meticulously place an entire bottle of sprinkles on one cookie, what a charmed life we’ve been living here.

The holidays, especially Christmas, can be a hard time for so many people. It was for us for many years before the babies came, because it was a small reminder of the absence of the thing we wanted most. But we were the lucky ones, always grateful for our family and that, because we live so close, we were usually able to be together.

This year my parents will be spending Christmas in a hospital in another state and we will be here at the ranch with their grandchildren celebrating and missing them. It’s a reality that reminds me of the hard things in our lives that we’ve lived through — job losses, baby losses, career fails, health scares and near misses — that have set me back on my heels, forced me to catch my breath and had me declaring out loud, “So that’s what it feels like.”

It’s a simple phrase, but one that is meaningful to me, especially in the toughest of moments. But I declare it. I say it out loud and with intention because it reminds me that through the hardest struggles, if I can find no meaning, no rhyme or reason for the pain, at least the experience will foster in me a newfound compassion for others who have or may find themselves suffering the same fate.

Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I’m suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in that sort of story.

And I don’t know what to do with that awareness except to show gratitude for the moments we’re given and for a supportive and loving community that has been there for us in numerous ways.

And I can pass on the generosity and compassion in ways that might help families in similar situations, because now we know what to do.

Now we know what it feels like.

Writing it down: Honoring our younger selves

Coming Home: Honoring our younger selves

Forum Communications

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 10.26.08 AMA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit schools across the state through a program called “Poetry Out Loud,” a national organization that our state arts organization facilitates.

I spoke to the students in a few different formats, gave them writing prompts, talked music and road time and tried my best to give them a chance to share their stories too. Because really, these kids, they’re more interesting than I ever will be.

Things like this make me more nervous than some of my biggest performances. Because I remember a time when I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t forget what it was like to be young. And nothing reminds me of the ways in which I’ve failed that promise than standing in a gym full of young people.

When I grow up 2

I can’t remember the context in which the promise was made, but I do remember a time in my life when I was jumping into the big lake, the cool summer temperature creating goose bumps out of my skin, the freezing water closing in over my head no match for my desire to swim and dive and splash. I came up for air to catch a glimpse of the grownups sitting in lawn chairs and long sleeves on the shoreline and wondered when it happens. Do we just wake up one day more likely to choose the comfort of the shore over jumping off the rocks?

I couldn’t imagine it and didn’t want to believe it. At a young age, I was unusually aware of fleeting moments, and I think writing was my way of capturing time and holding on to it for dear life.

That might be why I’ve never thrown out a thing I’ve written on paper since I started, a little tidbit I shared with the students hoping to remind them that what they have to say is valuable.

I keep those books on a shelf next to my bed and hardly ever open them up. But every once in a while I’ll be looking for something, shifting things in my home and I’ll pull one out and thumb through the scribbles, the unfinished lines, the clichés and imagery and self portraits and I’ll be shot back in time — to the rushing heart beats and confusion of falling in love with a boy, to the pressure of a future undecided, to the failings of a friendship or the frustrations of a family — and I’m so happy for the gift of these unpublished, private words.

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Because they remind me of what it looked, felt and sounded like to come into this flawed and hopeful version of myself — what it was like to be young and raw and true.

Kids, you know more about who you are than they’ll ever give you credit for.

And as you grow up, don’t discount the power of the kid who chose to swim no matter the weather. She knows some good and true things about what you want out of this one short and precious life.

Work and play, a confession

Ok, so Edie and I got our butts out the door this morning in time to take in a Mommy and Me gymnastics class in town.

One of my best friends teaches the class in this beautiful new facility: an entire room made of mats and bars and trampolines and hula hoops and balls and balance beams and oh my gosh it’s a toddler’s dream come true. So I had to sign her up, despite my aching back and giant belly.

To say Edie had fun would be an understatement. I think you could say that of all the toddlers there for 45 full minutes of games and music and jumping and running off steam. I was sweating before we even got on the mat, because squeezing an almost two-year-old who insists on wearing a dress every day into spandex isn’t the easiest feat, especially when you can’t breathe when you bend over.

Anyway, this is my life now, my fun is watching her have fun, even if it means a little suffering on my part.

These days I’ve been working hard on trying to find a good balance between that fun thing and that work thing, so once-a-week gymnastics seemed like a good addition to the fun category. And now I’m sitting with my feet up counting kicks in my belly and trying to avoid the realization that in about two months I’ll be a mommy to an infant and a two-year-old. (insert “oh shit” emoji here).

After all it took to bring Edie into the world, I can honestly say I hadn’t even really given myself a chance to picture what life with two might look like. But let’s be honest, I had no idea what life with one was going to look like either, my tactic was just to lean into it and let it play out. And here we are, almost two years in and I finally feel settled enough as a mom to go ahead and flip it all topsy-turvy again.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about motherhood in these twenty two months? Learn to expect the unexpected and know that each hard thing is a likely a phase.

For example, my child is currently in the “embarrass you in front of your unexpected company” phase by walking up to said company, looking them in the eyes, grunting and declaring “I pooping!” before waddling over to the nearest puddle, splashing in it and then bending down to drink from that puddle like a dog.

And all I could do was laugh and say “well at least she has clothes on…she’s usually naked when she’s outside.”

Between taking antacids for the pregnancy heartburn and helping her change in and out of her three favorite dresses, that’s pretty much my life these days.

And when I’m not doing that, I’m trying to get some work done, because I am one of the crazy ones who decided that being a “work from home” mom was the way to go.

And while it has it’s genuine perks (flexibility being the top and all-out choice making dominator) I’m convinced only crazy people try to have professional phone conversations with a toddler in the house.

So with this on my mind, this month’s issue of Prairie Parent discusses kids and work. For my editor’s contribution I explore what being a work from home mom really looks like and share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. You can read it here:

Confessions of a work-from-home mom

If you’re an expecting or new mom or dad trying to decide if you should take your baby to work or work from home around your baby, this issue is worth a read, because we explore both options.

And if you just want to shake your head and be glad it’s not you sacrificing your house to the Play Dough gods in the name of getting through a conference call, then read it and shake away…

And with that I’ll leave you to it. I’ve got to go lay on a heating pad and, you guessed it, pop an antacid.

Peace, Love and a blurry photo of my kid on a trampoline because she wouldn’t stop moving for one second so I could get a damn picture…

Jessie and Edie

The Kitchen Table

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

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

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

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

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


Coming Home: If kitchen tables could talk

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

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

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

If only these kitchen tables could talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it shine…

Edie calls my guitar my “Sunshine” and I never want to forget it.

When I get my “sunshine” out she cries until I sit her on my lap and let her play with me. And we can only sing “You are my Sunshine.”

She’s so bossy and I’m putty in her hands.

Here she is on one of her 37 renditions of our song.

​I can’t help but look at her in these sweet moments and wonder what kind of woman she’s going to grow up to be. I wonder if she will spend her life behind a guitar or the windshield of a motorcycle, the screen of a computer or the wheel of a tractor…

In hard and confusing times like these, I’m so thankful that I have her to give me hope for the future. I pray I can do right by her, to help guide her toward love and acceptance and bravery when she’s worried and wondering. I hope I can always be her rock, the way good parents and good people should be to our children…

Funny, I never expected my baby to be my rock in return.

My rock and my sunshine. ​

Let it shine, my friends, in any good and decent way you can.

We need your light.


Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
Forum Communications

Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on

Memory’s sweet scent

Sweet Clover

My cousin from Texas is here visiting the ranch this week and she brought her three children with her. They spent this morning with us, playing with Edie’s toys (much to her dismay) running around outside and helping me dig radishes in the garden while my cousin and I tried to catch up between wiping noses and serving goldfish crackers.

Tonight they’ll come over for supper and I hope to take them up to the top of the hill we call Pots ‘n Pans the way we used to as kids, but with less emergency pee breaks and cactus in their butts, because there will be adult supervision…

This time of year makes me nostalgic for some of the magical times I had here as a kid. I know my cousin feels the same about this place, no matter how long she’s been away from here. That’s why she’s packed her three kids in a car to drive the million miles from Texas to North Dakota, for the memories.

And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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Sweet clover under my skin

I imagine everyone has some familiar scent that hits their lungs and brings them back to a time in childhood when they felt so deeply loved, so overwhelmingly safe, so much themselves. So free.


Maybe it’s your grandmother’s warm cookies from the oven or the smell of a diesel tractor plugging across a field. Maybe it’s your parent’s home or the fur on the back of your old cat or the salty air blowing across the ocean and onto vast beaches.

For me, it’s sweetclover.

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I wish I could pick the right words to describe the sweet, fresh scent that fills the air tonight and gives me comfort when I breathe it in, moving across the landscape, stepping high …

My first best memories are lying among it, rolling down hills on the ranch as the sun found its way to the horizon and my cousins, tan and sweaty, hair wild, would fling their bodies after me. We would find ourselves at the bottom in a pile of laughter, yellow petals sticking to our damp skin.

For us, the clover was a blanket, a canopy of childhood. A comfort. It was our bouquet when we performed wedding ceremonies on the pink road wearing our grandmother’s old dresses, an ingredient in our mud pies and our crown when we felt like playing kings and queens of the buttes. It was feed for our horses and a place to hide from the seeker, to rest after a race, to fall without fear of skinned knees. It was a promise of summer and a wave of color to welcome us home together.

It’s there all season, the seeds tucked neatly under the dirt, and still I’m surprised when I open the windows of the pickup after a late night drive and the fragrance finds its way to me.

And I’m taken back …

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I’m seven years old and my grandmother has our bunk beds made up in the basement and my cousins will be coming down the pink road soon. And when they get here, we’ll climb Pots and Pans and we’ll put on a wedding and look for kittens in the barn. We’ll play “The Wizard of Oz,” and I’ll be the Tin Man. We’ll chase each other on the hay bales in front of the barn and then hide from each other in the tall grass that scratches and brushes against our bare legs.

I wish I could bottle it up for the cold winter days that showed no sign of release. I wish I could build my house out of it, weave it inside my walls, plant it in my floor and lay down in it at night. I wish I could wrap those cousins, my family, in its soft petals and sweet stems and watch as they remember now, the kids we once were before time took us and made us think that we were anything less than free…

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A mother is born.


My little sister gave birth to her first child last week in the late hours of the evening of July 20th,  just before spring officially turned into summer in the changeover of the solstice and just like that the world is a little brighter, the future more full of wonder.

But I don’t know what was harder, giving birth to my first baby, or the long wait to hear the news that my little sister had successfully and safely given birth to hers.

My mom, big sister and nephew arrived to the hospital early to sit in the waiting room in case there was any reason they might need us. In case she came quickly. In case there was something we could do other than speculate, nervously chew our fingernails, watch terrible daytime television, scroll through news headlines and pace the hospital floors.

Turns out that’s about all we could do, until my husband and dad arrived in the evening with Edie, a wild little gift sent to distract us from the long wait.


By the time we got the text from my brother-in-law, the one that said “She’s Here!” the whole lot of us, the entire family minus one brother-in-law, had supper, watched Edie climb up and down from the waiting room chair about 150 times,

went through dozens of YouTube kid songs,


chased the cousins chasing each other down the hall


and lost Papa and the kids for an undocumented amount of time because they went outside to get some air, examine the landscaping rocks and pretend that they were zombies and got locked out of the building. It wasn’t until gramma’s worrying instinct shifted for a moment from her youngest daughter to her missing husband and grandkids that their lives, in my nephew’s words, were finally saved.

It was a long wait…


And while I had complete faith in the process, in her doctor and the hospital and the way things were going, I surprised myself at how nervous I became just sitting there helpless, knowing my little sister, the one who used to follow me up the crick when we were kids, the one who sat with me to watch Garfield cartoons after school every day, the one who had wild curly hair that matched her fierce little attitude, was a few rooms down in the middle of one of the hardest tasks she’ll ever face.

If there was a way I could have ensured a painless and fearless process for her, I would have ordered it up. But that wouldn’t be fair. Every mother has her own story of how their children entered their life, with a wail or a sigh, a quiet exchange or a dramatic display, and now my little sister and her beautiful, dark haired daughter, have theirs.

And while I’ve had the privilege of watching her tackle almost every phase of her life with confidence and some nervous nail biting as she grew into the woman she is today, I am looking forward to seeing her in her next role as mother to a daughter who has her eyes.

Turns out maybe there was a plan for all those years my husband and I spent waiting to have children…maybe it was so that we could raise them together, my little sister and I.

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Coming Home: To have my little sister along with me

She used to follow me up the coulee and along the crick, her purple barn jacket zipped up under her chin, the rubber soles of her boots keeping a careful distance between her and her big sister who hadn’t discovered her lurking behind the trees yet.

I would leave the house unannounced to sing to myself as I inspected my tree fort, the frog count on the crick and the wild raspberry plants growing alongside the beaver dam. And she almost always followed, stopping at the tire swing for a quick ride.

My daydreaming mentality made it so I almost never noticed her behind me until we were well into our journey up the crick and I had no choice but to keep her along with me, no matter my protest. Because she’s always been more strong-willed than me, more stubborn and certain and all of the things I could have used more of in my life. But I was on my way to growing out of her, I thought, the way big sisters do when they find themselves searching for the independence needed to survive impending adulthood. And I was five years older and wiser and I didn’t know where she fit in my world as I sat cross-legged on the pink carpet of my bedroom floor, strumming my guitar and writing love songs to the clouds.

But she was there, right across the hall from me dreaming her own dreams, right behind me in my footsteps, right beside me in dad’s pickup and in the front row clapping during my volatile and sensitive years, the ones that prepare us to launch out and on our own, but I wasn’t there for hers.

I missed the parts where she found herself in love for the first time, her winning baskets on the court, her late night cries over friends, her name in the paper on the honor roll, the straight As on the fridge.

I was gone by then, out of the house and down the road miles and miles and I’m sure she could have used a sister in the house for that.

It’s funny, I’ve never really thought about it until today—today when I’m struggling to find a way to convey what it’s like to wait for her call…if she needs me…if it’s going ok…if she’s arrived…

By the time you read this she will have given birth to her first born, a daughter. As I type she’s in the hospital room, my baby sister wincing at the needles, breathing through the pain, leaning steadfast into a new life…

A new life that seemed like a faraway myth all those years ago as we walked together in the trees, the sun sinking below the treetops to sparkle on us through dark branches as we headed up the trail toward home. And a hundred years later, or just a blink of an eye, here we are in big forts we call houses, two wide-eyed, wild-haired children raising children of our own.

And I’m so glad to have her along with me.

Taking time before time takes us away…

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It’s been over a week since we got back to the real world after the vacation Husband and I took just the two of us, and boy did we get back to reality. Since then we’ve had a family reunion event, work catch-up, Little Sister’s baby shower,

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my in-law’s anniversary party, branding…



and zero time to unpack.

You should see my room.

No. You shouldn’t. I don’t even want to see my room.

Yes, summer’s arrived in full swing in our neck of the woods and so has begun the mad rush to fit in as much work and fun as we can in the 90 days we get of summer.

I love this time of year. Already the heat has sent Edie, Sylas my niece and me to the pool in town on opening day to take a dip,


running through the sprinkler, filling the baby pool, planting flowers, riding horses 8480C446-7BEA-43BF-BB3E-85162447DB0Dand all of the summer things I envisioned for us this year. It’s going to be a good one.


Now if we could just get some rain while we anxiously await the birth of the new addition to the clan. Little Sister is due in about two weeks, but just to freak her out I like to tell her she is for sure going early.

Any minute now…


She protests. But as she’ll soon find out, in motherhood, it’s best to just surrender the whole illusion of control thing.

It’s one of the reasons parents need vacations most of all.


I wish my parents had time for more of them when we were growing up. I’m sure we gave them plenty of reasons to want to leave us with the grandparents.

We’re just lucky we got the chance before this happens…


Edie’s only child status expires December 8th…

Coming Home: Time away together is an investment in each other


We said we would take a honeymoon later. I was on the verge of turning 23, out of college a couple years and on the road with my music. He was on the verge of 24 and climbing oil derricks, seven days on, seven days off and more if he could.

We were on a mission, on a roll, in love but on our own schedules.


We’d go when we had a bit more money.

We’d go in the winter when we craved the heat.

We’d go before the first baby.

We’d go. We promised we’d go.

But when you’re almost 23 and almost 24 you know nothing about time and how it sneaks up on you like the white streaks of hair around your temples or that old shoulder injury that grabs you when you’ve been fencing all day, and then suddenly you’re 10 years older and wiser, perhaps only because that’s what time forces on you.

And so we finally went. Last week, to honor those 10 years, we dug out our swimming suits, sent the toddler to her cousins’ and hopped a plane for a resort by the ocean, just the two of us, for the first time.

Oh, we’ve done plenty of traveling — work trips across the globe, family trips to the mountains, road trips and camping trips and trips to warm places with friends — but it was time to designate one of those tropical post-car trips for ourselves.

And I’m not saying you need to take vacations to places with sandy beaches and palm trees to stay in love, but I am saying it helps.

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To see your man out of his element with the sole mission to relax, have fun and drink rum is like being reintroduced to the person you fell in love with before you had a toddler and cattle and a mortgage on a partially-finished house.

But if you hate long airplane rides or prefer, like one of my cowboy friends, that the air doesn’t get the chance to touch your legs outside your Wranglers, I’ve decided now that we’re back, sunburned and broke, that all you really need is a few days away somewhere.

Because if you don’t invest in each other, who will?

And part of the investment is remembering why you chose one another for this business of life in the first place. Funny how uprooting, for even a short amount of time, can help put it all in its place. I think it’s the daydream moments you get when you’re doing unfamiliar things, like swimming side-by-side in the ocean, watching the boats come in and out of the bay, wishing time would stand still so you never have to vacuum again …

And then a stingray swims between your legs and you jump up on your complimentary floaty faster than Michael Phelps wins gold medals and you’re reminded of the first of many reasons you’ve chosen life together on the prairie.

Reason number two?

I got seasick sitting on the floaty.

Life and love: just one reality check after another.

Go get yours, friends.

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