The moon’s named Carlile

The moon’s named Carlile
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If you see my almost 3-year-old daughter bouncing around, following behind me at the grocery store or at an event, playing at the park or with toys in Gramma’s store in town, she will likely ask you for your name.

She’s really into names. And who belongs to whom in this world.

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Like Great-Gramma Ginny is Gramma Beth’s mommy, and Gramma Beth is Mommy’s mommy, and Edie is Mommy’s daughter, and it gets a little blurry to her about how the rest works.

Somehow, the chain collapses there and Papa Gene becomes her granddaughter. Papa Gene almost always becomes her granddaughter by the end of these conversations.

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But it’s fun to hear her try to figure out how the world works in this way and how she understands that the people who love her are connected in some special way.

One day as we were driving home from town, Edie noticed the moon. It was big and bright and hanging in a darkening sky like a lone bulb in an empty room.

“The moon! Mommy! Look at the moon!” She exclaimed from her perch in her seat in the back. I said yes, yes, it’s so beautiful. Look at that. And then, for fun, because just minutes before she was giving the hills and the trees and the deer grazing in the fields names of their own, I asked her what she thought the moon’s name was.

“Carlile,” she responded, almost immediately, as if the two are old familiar friends who talk on a tin-can phone with a long line up to outer space every night before bed. “His name is Carlile.”

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Carlile the Moon. I laughed at the thought of it, picturing what Carlile might look like way up there in the lonely sky, surrounded by quiet, twinkling stars. Maybe he wears a fedora and tiny glasses that sit on the tip of a big, bumpy moon rock nose.

He’d adjust them a bit and clear his throat when he heard the little girl’s voice shouting, “Carlile, Are you there!?” from the tin-can phone, taking a deep breath before tackling the thousand questions about the universe that his tiny Earth friend was about to fire at him.

I imagine they would spend a lot of time discussing the names of the stars.

And then I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park, my little moon story coming quickly to a halt as I tackled the task of unloading my babies and getting them bathed, fed and ready for bed under a moon that suddenly felt a little more like a friend to me.

“Mommy, is your name Jessica Blain?” Edie asked as I finished our lullabies and I went in for a hug.

“Yes, that’s my name!” I agreed.

A hundred times a day, I can’t believe these tiny humans are my children. In quiet moments, the weight of what it means to belong to one another often overwhelms me…

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“Mommy, you are my mommy,” my daughter confirmed with pride.

“Yes, and you’re my baby,” I replied.

“No, I’m your big girl.”

“Good night then, big girl.”

And good night, Carlile.

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This shirt is old and faded…

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

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

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

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

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

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

So apparently I’ve become vintage.

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

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

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

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Me and scrunchie and dad’s hair….

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

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

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

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

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

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Always will.

Forever and ever Amen.

Chad and Jessie

 

 

Small things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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These roads

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

Coming Home: Kicking up dust on the road of life

We live on gravel roads that stretch like ribbons along pasture land dotted with black cattle. As we kick up dust beneath our pickup tires heading out to a chore or to meet up with a neighbor, we take for granted how these roads were built and why they’re here.

Because these days we’re in a rush, driving faster than we should past newly made plans and history– some hidden and some still standing, weathered wood on crumbling foundations.

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I remember a time when these roads were quiet. It was where my cousins and I would skip like characters from “The Wizard of Oz” down the middle of the scoria without a care. The only vehicle to meet us was our great uncle driving with his windows down or my mom looking to borrow some sugar from a neighbor.

If we were lucky it would be the Schwan’s man hauling the promise of orange push-up pops, and we would put the game on time-out and sit on the front porch trying to get to the bottom of the treat before it melted and dripped down our fingers.

We didn’t know that there would ever be anything here at the end of this road besides imagination and our grandmother’s cookies. We didn’t know that anything but our boots and old feed pickups would kick up dust on the road.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to tell the story of this place as part of my living. And because of that, and because of the long winters and the new babies and the close calls with losing the important people we love, I sometimes lie in bed at night breathing while the vice grip on my heart tightens. Funny how the darkness falls and talks us into wondering how this place and the people in it can seem so eternal and so volatile at the same time.

Maybe because between the past and the future there are so many colors here, cut down the middle by this winding gravel road of home.

It makes me wonder what memories were held in the hearts of those people who have long ago returned to the earth. What would they think if they saw us driving our fancy cars to houses that sometimes feel too big to hold the love, if that even makes sense at all?

How far away I feel from that life some days even though I believe our goals haven’t changed — to do the best we can on a landscape where trees grow, calves are born, ground is tilled and minds are inventing ways to make the living easier.

Inside those old houses they ate, prayed, laughed and worried in the dark just as we do in our houses with too many screens and not enough vegetables while the wind blows and knocks on our windows, reminding us that this place is not ours solely and rightfully and individually.

One day we’ll abandon these houses in decision or death, and there will be new generations searching these roads for our story.

So we should tell it now, honest and true and leave to them what they need.

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“This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live

Defining a good life

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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.

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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.

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

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

Pops and Me on a horse

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

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

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

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

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Coming Home: How to define a good life
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I woke up to the sun slowly appearing over the big hill that faces our tall windows.

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

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

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

“For good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But a hard life?

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

But a good one?

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

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Bravery and Compassion in the New Year

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we know what it feels like.

Writing it down: Honoring our younger selves

Coming Home: Honoring our younger selves

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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.

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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…

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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.

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

PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE
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.

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