Banquet in a Field: Telling our food story

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Dad and I had the opportunity to entertain for a unique event in Belfield, ND a few weeks ago for the Banquet in a Field event. Hosted by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee, this event was focused on connecting consumers and North Dakota growers and producers. As cattle ranchers we were happy to have the opportunity to help support the idea that we need to find new and interesting ways to tell the story of our food, helping to bridge the gap and break down barriers in our industry.

The event was a great success, hosting 140 guests at Kessel’s Arrow K Farms, literally placing consumers where it all begins–right in our beautiful North Dakota backyard. The evening was not only a showcase of production agriculture, it was a first-hand look at scenic Western North Dakota.

As guests socialized and enjoyed appetizers made from local ingredients, dad and I played our old standards under the shade of tall cottonwoods that have likely stood as windbreaks for generations. The wheat field in front of us rolled in the much appreciated breeze and I felt fortunate to have my two world’s colliding in this special way.

It was even better that we were invited to the multi-course meal served by a local FFA chapter. My favorite part? The kids came around offering little shot glasses of milk–your choice of chocolate or white.

Below is this week’s column with a little more on the experience, but more about the importance of supporting and energizing efforts to tell our agriculture story. It’s why I do what I do, in a small way “opening the doors” to this place so that you might be able to see how important this land and these animals are to our family and the plates we help fill. Because we all know how food connects us, now let’s connect to our food.

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If we don’t tell our food story, who will?

We sit at kitchen tables, on blankets in the park, around picnic tables at street fairs and on tailgates after a long morning in the field. We crack eggs in our pancake mix while we tell our kids about the time their grandmother baked coffee filters in an early morning batch, her attempt at a legendary April Fool’s joke.

We flip our burgers on shady decks while our friends talk about the time they got lost in Mexico City. We scoop up spoonfuls of peas and choreograph a song and dance routine, complete with a jazz-hand landing to convince our toddler to open her mouth.

We grab a handful of dad’s caramel corn and remember the time spent with him in the kitchen. We’re grateful we paid attention to the recipe so he can live on in the sweet, sticky reminiscence.

No matter where you eat it, food connects us, it reminds us and it’s part of our story. But when was the last time you’ve thought about the story of your food?

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It was a muggy summer evening in western North Dakota and I stood next to my dad under the shade of a grove of tall cottonwood trees along the edge of a beautiful wheat field. We were strumming our guitars and singing about eating watermelon after a summer ballgame as a slow and steady line of community trickled into this farmyard from a makeshift parking lot behind the family shop.

They shook hands, made introductions and wondered what to expect as they walked past beautifully set tables next to grain bins and farm machinery, ready and waiting to celebrate food in a unique way — right where it all starts.

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We hear the phrase “farm-to-table” thrown around these days as a way to make us feel more connected to the food on our plate. On that evening, the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce took it a step further by inviting the community to meet directly with a local family who dedicates their life’s work to growing and caring for the land and the food we eat at their first annual Banquet in a Field event.

Over bites of mini cornbread muffins, lentil dip, sunflower toastettes, oven-roasted potatoes, beef picanha and honey apple cake served by kids from the local FFA chapter, a conversation, centered on North Dakota’s agriculture producers, began.

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And so did the celebration. Because our agriculture story is sometimes harder for us to tell than the story behind our grandmother’s recipe for award-winning chili. The fact that North Dakota is the lead producer of the navy and pinto beans it contains? Well, that’s something I know the Kessel family hosting us that evening was proud of.

And we should be, too. Because if we don’t spread the message and help the world understand that a tomato makes ketchup and that big, beautiful wheat field rolling in the breeze that evening is just a step on a long journey to appearing in the pasta you’ll be serving for your best friends as they reminisce about the time you all ran into the ocean naked, who will?

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The Banquet In a Field Events were the idea of CommonGround, a group of women in agriculture who volunteer to engage and outreach with non-ag consumers. It was started by and continues to be supported through the soybean and corn checkoffs. One of the reasons CommonGround created this event was to build stronger connections between North Dakota consumers and the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Because Banquet In A Field was such a success, the Dickinson Area Chamber Of Commerce Ag Committee is already making plans for next year. The event will be a key community resource, going forward, for those who want to learn more about how agriculture impacts their daily lives. Find out more at dickinsonchamber.org/banquet-in-a-field/

Seeing the garden in spite of the weeds

We’re coming off of one of those long stretches of week that sometimes happens for us in the summer when work and fun sort of collide to create this chaotic swarm of action and stress and fun.

We had a birthday party, cousins visiting from Texas, a children’s theater production, a visit from a PBS film crew, a swing set building project that likely won’t be done until Rosie gets married and it was awesome to have so much to do and so many people around us to love…

But in the middle of it all was this big Art in the Park event I’ve been planning for months as part of my work running an arts foundation in the community.

I put a lot of effort into this event. We had generous sponsors that put hard earned money into it as well. I enlisted the help of all of the family I could round up, plus my husband and board members and volunteers. In my mind, if we could pull it off, it was going to be a fun gathering of local music, artists and hands-on activities.

And after the stress of setting up and making everyone fit in a limited space, for a good three hours or so the sun-shined and the people milled and the music played and the kids got their faces painted and did projects and played in the park and the artists talked with shoppers and it was exactly as I envisioned. And I was thrilled for us all…

And then the thunder clapped and the sky opened up and it rained and rained and rained….

And a part of me wanted to cry, but a bigger part of me said instead, at least the sun shone on us for a while.

Because I was born with something in me that seems to beg me not to be let down…

And that’s what this week’s column is about…seeing the garden in spite of the weeds.

Coming Home: Never mind the weeds

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Last night, I put the girls to bed before the sun set and headed out to the garden.

It had been an entire week since I had a chance to dig in that dirt in an attempt manage my little crop of vegetables, and I could see from my window all the rain gave the weeds permission to set up shop.

But I didn’t mind. When I first moved back to the ranch, I made myself a list of the things I wanted back in my life after spending a few years thinking I didn’t know who I was. At the top of that list was a simple little promise to keep a garden. And because it was quiet last night as I kicked up the smell of damp dirt, I had a moment to remember why.

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When I was a kid, probably close to 10 or 11, I entered my garden into the county fair. Because of the timing of our growing season, I didn’t have any vegetables to present, so I decided I would document the process. I can’t remember every detail of the exhibit or what we grew that summer, but I do remember I put together a picture book with some progress photos.

I recall one photo I was particularly proud of that featured 10-year-old me in a T-shirt, ponytail and jeans standing confidently next to our little corn crop. The idea was to show the height of our stalks to the judge in a book that, between the shiny Kodak photos pasted on construction paper and the sentences spelled out in wavering Sharpie lines, told less of a story of a master gardener and more of a kid who liked a project.

I was pretty certain the judge would be impressed, which made it that much harder to process the sinking feeling when he pointed to that picture and asked, “What’s that there?”

I moved my eyes from my beautiful corn stocks down to the border of the garden where the judge placed his finger.

“Weeds,” I said as my face flushed.

Weeds that the judge suddenly made me notice for the first time in all of the hours I spent digging in that dirt and documenting my progress.

Weeds my dad never pointed out to me. Weeds my mom never mentioned. Weeds that earned me a red ribbon instead of the coveted blue.

Weeds that today remind me of the vulnerability of my optimistic nature. That I could look right past that snarl of crabgrass and creeping Jenny and only see the promise of grilled corn on the cob or the snap of a fresh pea says something about the innocence and wonder of childhood, a person I become again when I’m standing in a garden I made grow.

And I’m thankful for that judge. He did his job and I was better for it. And on days the burdens in my life grow in too close, threatening to steal my rain and choke out the sun, I know I can chop them down if I need to.

But sometimes I like that it’s in me to say never mind the weeds. Better things are coming with a little sunshine and rain.

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This place is yours

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Family ranch is a special place, not just for the ones who live there now. 

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“This place, there’s just something about it that makes people feel like it’s their own. It’s special that way I think,” my husband said as he pulled his pickup off the highway and onto the gravel road that leads us home to the ranch. Our girls were sleeping in the back and the sky was turning dark in anticipation of a summer storm.

Last week, we said goodbye to a ranch full of relatives who came to celebrate the fact that Dad gets another birthday and catch us in the act of branding and working cattle. Aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends leaned on fences, pointed cameras, served roast beef or grabbed a job, each one with a memory of time spent here making an appearance in the stories on their lips.

When a place has a 100-year family history, the things that old barn has seen as it stands watch over it all could fill some colorful pages.

And if I had millions of words and time upon time, I don’t know if I could have said it better than my husband did that day as a man who wasn’t born to it, but respects it and the people it raised enough to be granted the gift and responsibility of a home here.

But we both know that it’s not ours alone, to keep or to claim. That’s something I learned at an early age from my grandparents, before they left us too soon. Open arms, open minds and a porch light that stays on just in case is the way it’s always been.

We’re just lucky enough to help be the keepers of a flame that has remained flickering because of the hard work and good hearts of the people who kept the cows fed and the bills paid through times much tougher than these.

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Great Grandpa Eddie who homesteaded the Veeder Ranch

So when the little old farm house started on fire on that black and starry Fourth of July six years ago, we said goodbye to an old structure with a crumbling foundation and built a new cabin in its spot by that barn. Because we needed to keep a house there for the people who love this place and those who may need to fall in love with it someday.

Because as much as the coulees and hilltops of this place are sacred to me, there are dozens upon dozens of others throughout the years who have climbed these hills for a breath or got lost in the draws on purpose, bucked off of horses or scooped up barn kittens in their arms, slid on cardboard boxes down the gumbo hills or sat for coffee around the table in my grandma’s tiny kitchen. This is their place.

And if you come over for a visit, or a ride, or a roast beef sandwich, it might just become your place, too. I hope it does. It likely will. Because it’s special that way I think.

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Great Grandpa Eddie in the door of his homestead shack

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.

It isn’t always money that makes us rich

Even without much money, family can make us rich
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When we were young kids, my little sister came home from a weekend with her friend spent four-wheeling and boating on the big lake and asked my dad if we were poor.

Because somewhere between kicking up dust and riding the boat’s wake she realized what they had that we didn’t, and she wondered why.

Ah, comparison. It happened to my little sister earlier than it happened to me, but eventually we all outgrow our childish blinders to notice the things that make you comprehend we aren’t all created equal here.

I find myself struggling with this as I work on growing my children up in a world that strongly suggests that life is happier with more things in it. Bikes and cute clothes, an iPad with endless games, a toy-barn full of toy cows, a big sandbox, one of those lawn mowers that spits out bubbles as it goes and more space in the house to make a mess with it all.

Just this month I ordered my kids a big ol’ playset to go in the backyard, something that I never had as a kid, would have loved, but did just fine without. And knowing what needs to come of those four big boxes in my driveway, it looks like my girls might be off to college by the time we get the thing set up.

Then last week I stood under our big old barn reaching up toward a blue sky with an armful of the winter’s bale twine and a fresh cow pie squished under the heel of my boot. I was cleaning up the pens and tack room, sorting and organizing in an attempt get ready for the weekend’s branding.

 

 

 

I was sweaty and dirty and a little on edge from all of the mice running for their lives from under every grain bucket I moved and I was sort of cussing us for not keeping on top of the work out here and for not having nicer equipment, more organized outbuildings, well-kept fences and a bigger, nicer house that could accommodate all the family and friends we expected that weekend.

I looked up at that big old barn and the breeze blew the scent of that freshly squished cow pie to my lungs and I smiled.

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I don’t know how my dad answered my little sister that day, but if my children ever ask I’ll be sure to reply, “The list of things we won’t be able to give you could fill pages…

“But the scatter of those mice, the scent of the plum blossoms in the coulees in the spring, the ache of your muscles after a long day in a saddle, tangled-up hair and jeans that won’t come clean, forever knowing the sound quiet makes as day turns into night, the flicker of the fireflies and watching them glow so unafraid of the dark as we stand together on the deck of a home that, thank God, will never be big enough to hold all of the people we love, well children, I think we might actually be rich.”

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Garden wars continued…

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In case you’re wondering about the state of landscaping we’re in around here. ‘Tis the season.

Gardening season means secret manure stashes, friendly father-daughter rivalry
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Well, it’s officially gardening season around here, which means the friendly competition I have with my dad about who is better at keeping the cows from eating the bean plants and pooping on the radishes has begun.

And it seems we’ve both stepped up our game a bit. Turns out Dad’s had his eye on a big pile of old manure in the barnyard that he failed to mention until it was beautifully spread on his newly tilled and leveled garden spot. Which made me nervous because at the time he was planting his tomatoes in that fresh and fertile soil, my garden was quickly becoming a graveyard of seeded-out dandelions and Canadian thistle. And because Dad is still recovering from his illness, he’s home more… and restless… which means he’ll be in his garden. A lot.

So I decided to ignore the dead patches in my lawn, the retaining wall that desperately needs to be built and the deck that needs to be finished and focus on what was really important — growing better vegetables than my father.

It was time to get serious. I made plans to move my front yard garden into the spot below my house where we used to feed cows every winter, the spot that my little sister still calls “Cow Pie Heaven.”

The ground is more level, the soil is more fertile and I could just imagine the bounty of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans and peas overflowing from the borders of the $400 fence I loaded up in the back of my pickup while my mother-in-law watched the babies.

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Yeah, that’s right, I called in the troops. This garden is gonna require child care. Which became even more evident in my 75 attempts to actually plant the thing over Memorial Day weekend.

Turns out it takes about two hours to get the girls fed, clothed, sunscreened and bug-sprayed, and another hour to find their shoes and sun hats scattered across my patchy lawn before I haul them out to my new little slice of vegetable heaven.

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And while in my dreams I imagined the three of us sun-kissed and laughing in that garden for hours, what it really looks like is 20 frantic minutes of me planting three seeds at a time between picking up the toys the baby tossed, shooing away the gnats from her chubby cheeks and trying (and failing) to keep the toddler from drowning the carrots we just planted and shoveling dirt on top of her own head.

How she did that more than once can only be explained by the fact that she’s my daughter.

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Three days and six baby baths later, I got the thing planted thanks to the help of Dad, who decided to show a little mercy and wrangle the kids while I made my cucumber mounds and he made sure to tell me his are up already.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be out looking for that secret manure pile (because only my dad would have a secret manure pile) and not giving any thought to the fact that I can get perfectly good tomatoes at the market…

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Calving season and small triumphs

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The babies are starting to be born out here just in time for warmer weather. And although calving season means more work and less time with daddy, it’s also a fun excuse to load up the girls and ride along on the treasure hunt for new babies in tall grass.

And I’m happy to report that this week we’ll be able to ditch the beanies….

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Coming Home: Calving season brings mix of wonder and worry

We’re in the middle of calving season here at the Veeder Ranch. And because we’re in North Dakota, our plans to calve mid-April didn’t necessarily get us out of the cold woods.

Every coulee and protected place on the ranch is still full of snow, so every day is like a scavenger hunt for shiny, little black heads popping out of the tall grass, if they were lucky enough to be born in a dry spot.

Edie is the queen of the barnyard when she’s sitting next to her daddy, bouncing along the prairie trails in the pastures, unaware of the lessons she’s already learning about life and death and a mother’s fierce love.

Last week she stood on the pickup seat looking out the window as her dad’s attempt to tag a new baby turned into a game of Ring-Around-The-Pickup with a protective momma.

When he flung the door open, faced flushed and breath heavy, Edie unflappably asked, “Whatcha doing, Daddy? Running with the cows?”

And it reminded me of all the times I watched my own dad test his speed and agility in snow boots and coveralls trying to avoid a concerned momma’s head-butt as he worked to get a closer look at her baby. This business of being born out here is a dangerous game for every man and beast involved.

I’ll never forget the time I opted out of my bench seat perch to stay in and watch “Wheel of Fortune” with Gramma only to have Dad come crawling up to her doorstep, bruised, bloody, covered in earth and lucky to be alive.

Yes, calving season, even in the best weather, sprinkles ranch life with adventure and wonder. On the best days, it’s miraculous to count the precious new lives that arrive without fanfare and are up on their four wobbly feet sucking and ready to live within minutes.

On the bad days, when the wind whips hard and cold and wet, it takes every muscle and all your spirit to lift those lives out of the muck and trudge on. Ask any rancher and he’ll likely admit this year has taken its toll, sending a fair share of babies from the pasture to the entryway heat lamp, each life saved a sigh of relief.

On Sunday, we walked into Mom and Dad’s to find our own entryway baby, born in a snowbank to a momma with good intentions but bad timing. It was one of the first Sundays since Dad has been home that we had the whole family together. We huddled around that poor frozen soul lying among our boots as my uncle helped Dad put warm colostrum in her belly, rub her body and move her limbs.

And even though we knew we probably shouldn’t get attached, we named her April, put our warm hands to her cold nose, stroked her soft ears and watched her come back to life, stand up on her own four legs and find her place back by her momma’s side.

And among all the mud and medicine, work and worry, it felt like nothing short of a triumph for us all.

Neighbor Kelly

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There’s so much more I could say about neighbor Kelly, so many stories that he would tell so much better than me, but I’ve only got 500 newspaper words for this week’s column.  He’s been like my second dad for as long as I can remember and I hope you have a neighbor like this in any weather…no matter where you are.

Coming Home: On the ranch, being a good neighbor means so much

Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don’t think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we’ve tested him.

Neighbor Kelly was the go-to guy to call when Dad wasn’t home for emergencies like a loose horse, broken appliances and keys locked in cars when you’re late for a meeting. Just a mile away, Kelly is quick on response time, too, there in a flash with a coat hanger and a plan. And depending on the season, his Carhartts and wool cap.

Oh, Kelly’s collected hundreds of rescues like this throughout the years because when you live in the middle of nowhere, being a good neighbor means wearing a dozen different hats.

So Kelly is a locksmith, yes, but he also earned his exterminator badge that time he tackled the suspected pack rat problem by camping out on the living room floor with Dad, pellet guns pointed at the cabinet under the sink waiting for the signal.

And when Mom found herself a snapping turtle in the garage, Kelly was there to assist in a plan to wrangle it back to the dam.

Kittens stuck behind the refrigerator? Call Kelly — he’s more agile and can fit back there.

Seating for hundreds needs to be built for your daughter’s wedding in your cow pasture? Kelly’s got a hammer and a case of beer.

Cows need to be moved? Kelly’ll be there early with a horse and maybe his bullwhip just for kicks ’cause he might get a chance to climb that big butte and snap it like the Man from Snowy River.

Because Kelly’s the guy who’s entertaining like that. He’s the sweetest harmony in the band, the best dressed and the only one who can yodel.

He’s the guy you call if you want an epic sledding party because he’s got an unmatched dedication to fun that sends him out there for hours with a shovel clearing a fast course, complete with a jump at the bottom and a campfire at the top and a new snowboard waiting to send him to the emergency room.

Most notably though, he’s the Lefty to the Poncho that is my father. When Dad called us in the middle of the night, unknowingly staring death in the face, we called the ambulance and then we called Kelly.

And when they airlifted Dad to Bismarck for an emergency surgery during an ice storm, Kelly drove the three hours on those roads behind us to sit with us in the waiting room. Recently, when Dad was in the hospital in Minneapolis, Kelly made that trip too, and a trip almost every day now down the road a mile to see his friend as he recovers.

And I can’t imagine this place without Kelly up the road.

I’m just hoping it warms up so he can take those Carhartts off soon.

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Gloves, muskrats and other misplaced things

IMG_4843 2We’re in the middle of an ice storm/blizzard/no travel advisory/typical almost spring storm today. And so it looks like March is coming in like a lion, or maybe, more accurately around here, like a wet muskrat in our window well.

Yeah, there’s a wet muskrat in our window well. My dog alerted me of our visitor this morning by barking at it incessantly and so I pulled on my robe and rubber boots over my pajama pants and trudged out there, wind whipping pellets into my squinty eyes, to give the little rodent a little 2×4 lifeline to help him save himself. And locked the dog in the kennel to give him a chance.

I would have grabbed my gloves if I could have found them, but I can never find a complete pair of gloves around here…

And so I give you this week’s column:

Coming Home: The curious case of the inevitable missing glove
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Gloves

We have an issue here at the ranch. Besides the weird animal that may or may not still be living in our wall, we have another epidemic that’s driving me mad. It has five fingers, it comes in all sorts of sizes, colors and textures and you can find one laying on every surface of the house, on every dash and under every seat in every vehicle on the place and scattered along trails, dangling from trees, laying on the bottom of stock dams and mashed into the dirt like artifacts from long, long ago.

I’m talking about gloves. Fencing gloves. Riding gloves. Fingerless gloves. Rig gloves. Mitten gloves with places for your fingers inside. Hunting gloves. Baby gloves. Toddler gloves. Gloves that some random kid left here one winter. Carpenter gloves. Mom gloves, Grampa gloves, and of course, the biggest culprit of them all, Daddy/Husband gloves, whose hands fits nearly every one of these categories, if only he could find a matching pair.

Yeah, that’s the thing about it all. No one can ever find a matching pair. It’s like the mystery of the missing socks that disappear into the black hole in our washing machine or fall prey to the little laundry elf that no one ever sees. And I would blame this missing glove phenomenon on that elf, or at least the creature in my wall, except that I’ve come to understand how it happens. Because once, on one of my rides, I came across my dad’s red wool cap laying in the absolute middle of nowhere, off of any beaten path, a good two miles from the barnyard, and I knew he must have been in a hurry chasing something across that wide prairie that has the tendency to swallows wayward things up.

I’ve done it myself, leaving one of my mittens to dangle for eternity on the branch of an oak tree after I took my horse quickly through a coulee trail trying to get around a group of cows heading the wrong direction. I put my hand up over my face to ward off an inevitable slap from that branch and it took my mitten clean off, left and then lost in the dust.

I think about that mitten when I come across things like an old fencing pliers half-dug in the dirt way out in the east pasture, likely accidentally kicked out of a pickup by my grandpa years ago. Or when I watched my dad drive his fencing vehicle too fast along a bumpy trail, steel fence posts, flying out in his wake, and I think, well, that explains so much.

So if we can’t find anything out here, at least there will be something left behind for the archeologists. Unfortunately, they’ll likely come to the conclusion that we were a people with only one hand…

And a never-ending collection of free snap-back caps collected from every feed store, implement dealership, oil company and bull sale along the way.

But that’s a story for another time…

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Her America

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Last summer I took part in a series of interviews for Lifetime’s new series “Her America.”  It’s a digital content series that gives an unapologetic look at real American women today and features interviews with 50 women across 50 states.

Among all of the wonderful women they could have chosen to represent North Dakota, I was honored to be chosen to tell our story.

At the time of the interviews and photographs, I was just entering the the second trimester in my pregnancy with Rosie, not knowing if it was a little girl or little boy I was carrying. How fitting then that we are now proud parents of another North Dakota girl and how wonderful to have documentation of that time in our lives.

Click here to see my story and then explore the other exceptional and interesting women across the country at  heramerica.com.

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Where our stories begin…

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Well, we’re officially deep into fall, which means roundup season around here where we work on getting the cattle doctored and the calves weaned and ready for the sales barn. Because we calved late, we won’t be heading to the sales barn until a few more weeks, but we worked cattle on Sunday and got a good look at things.

Because I’m a giant pregnant lady with a toddler in tow, I’m not a lot of help. But Edie and I went out to the corrals after roundup anyway to to see what kind of damage the two of us could do. After explaining every detail of the situation to her (why her dad was in the chute, why the cows were “stuck” in there too, where the horses were and on and on) I stupidly decided to teach her all about the sorting stick. Needless to say there were a lot of close call shots to the head, groin, belly, body in general, both accidental and intentional. She was delighted.

And, because I packed enough fruit snacks and granola bars, and the girl just loves dirt and grass and wind and all things outside, she hung in there pretty well while I did the things giant pregnant women with protective dads and husbands can do to help–like run part of the chute and count cattle.

Edie kept track of it all, threw some dirt around, helped me maneuver the chute, bossed me around, cried a little for her dad who had too much cow poop on his hands to pick her up, ate some fruit snacks, climbed some fences, got cow poop on her own hands and eventually laid down on the ground to watch a YouTube video on my phone for a few minutes while we wrapped it up.

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Ah, technology. Who would have thought it would come in so handy out in these pastures raising the next generation.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Working cattle is this unexplainable sort of satisfying, getting in the rhythm, neighbors helping out, the smell of the crisp fall air, the sound of cows bellering as they make their way toward the neighbor’s field via a newly discovered hole in the fence…

It’s always something around here I tell ya…

Anyway, I grew up hanging on those corrals the way Edie’s was hanging on the corrals, trying to get in on the action by finding myself a job. Being useful made me feel important, like I was truly a valued part of the operation. I want that for my daughter too, and I’m not sure you can start them on it all too early.

This morning while I was in the bathroom and Edie was brushing her teeth (this is her thing…every time I go to the bathroom, she follows me in there to brush her teeth. It’s annoying and funny and, well, these days she’s been brushing her teeth a lot…anyway) she informed me that Papa was out working, riding his horse. And so was Dada and she had fun with the cows.

I still can’t believe she’s stringing all these thoughts together, but this is where it starts, right here when they’re little minds are forming.

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And so that’s why I found it so pressing to get this kid a pony this fall, to get her used to horses by having one around that doesn’t loom so large. And apparently, because I have such good friends and followers around me, all I had to do was say the word and a friend offered us the opportunity to be the next home for their children’s pony, Mascot.

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I was so excited to bring him home to the ranch a few weeks back, and ever since she got warmed up to him (took all of ten minutes) she’s been acting like the two of them have known each other their whole lives. She brushes him, feeds him “cereal” (grain) and rides him without holding on because the kid doesn’t posses in her much fear (except when it comes to the hair dryer).

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And so this is how her story with horses and cattle begins and I can only hope that one day she looks back on it, no matter where she winds up or who she becomes, and is thankful that it instilled something special in her…

And this is what this week’s column is all about, how our stories start.

Stories that begin  on the backs of horses
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Pops and Me on a horse

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a mom years ago, I have been dreaming of my babies sitting on the backs of horses.

I don’t know why really, except so many of my memories as a kid growing up out here are connected to horses.

And while I keep the long rides bareback through the pastures in the summer in the same pocket I keep my best thoughts, not every memory I’ve made on the back of a horse is a good one.

See, I was raised by a sort of horse whisperer. My dad was breaking horses while he was still in elementary school and his connection and talent for working with the animals prove that there are things some people are simply born to do. He’s never met a horse he doesn’t get along with. And because of that, while he was raising us kids, he spent a lot of his time working with what I like to call “second chance horses.”

Or, to be more blunt, horses that other people couldn’t get along with.

And when he was near the point of trusting a horse as much as you can trust any animal, my summer job was to put some miles on them. Which I did, but let’s be honest, those horses also put some miles on me.

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Because I wasn’t born with Dad’s fearlessness, confidence and horse training instincts.

Feeding Horses

So it was on the back of a horse I learned the virtue of remaining calm and patient as well as the hard lessons about suppressing fear to solve a problem. And the countless times I was thrown to the ground for one reason or another taught me nothing if it didn’t teach the power of getting back up again.

Yes, some of my biggest blowouts and arguments with my dad occurred out there in those pastures, tears streaked with the dirt on my face after my foot stomped or my eyes rolled in his direction. I wanted so much to understand these animals the way he understood them, probably as much as he wanted to teach me.

Maah Daah Hey-Something spooking the horses

But from those moments sprung some of the best times in my life, not just with my dad, but with my little sister, my husband and maybe, most importantly, alone. I suppose it makes sense that I want to pass so much of what shaped me along to my children. The same way my dad wanted it for us.

Horse on horizon

A few weeks ago I called him up. “I have a line on a pony for Edie,” I said, thinking there was a good possibility he might think I was crazy for it. “Do you need me to go pick it up?” he responded, the spark in his voice cutting me off before I had a chance to take a second breath.

And so that was that. Off we went the next morning, my dad and my daughter and me, to load up a scruffy, adorable little pony named Mascot.

And judging by her obsession with brushing his mane and feeding him treats, I can only hope that this is the beginning of my daughter’s story, one that starts on the back of horses…

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