This life, it’s a mess.

Happy Monday. I hope your team won last night.

I’m sitting on the bed upstairs with my laptop, working on emails and preparing for a meeting this evening, sort of furiously trying to manage my work before the toddler wakes up. She’s wiped out from the party she hosted last night and there’s a big ‘ol mess of leftovers, dishes, toys and tiaras (yes, we pull those out for the Super Bowl around here) that I’m avoiding. Our daycare situation has changed, and this is our first week without it. I’m panicking a bit, cause momma’s still got work to do, but my mother-in-law is coming to the rescue to ease us into it and I’m grateful.


Making cookie bars for Super Bowl

My mom was able to come home late Saturday night and spend the evening with us. She’ll be here for the rest of the week while my uncle stays with my dad in Minneapolis. It was strange to watch the Super Bowl last night and know that he was there, in his bed in a rehab facility, wishing he was home. When they zoomed out on the lights of the city during the halftime show I couldn’t help but think of him as one of those millions of lights so far away and I missed him.

When I wrote this column last week we planned on having him home by now, but a minor set back has him there waiting for a bit more healing without a definite timeline. The difference though, is we know he’s coming home now. The difference is, he’s no longer dying. He’s on his way to a recovery, a slow one, but a recovery nonetheless. And we’re grateful.

This mess of a life will be easier to tackle with him back beside us all.


Searching for calm in this mess we call life
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After three long, agonizing months in and out of ICU in a Minneapolis hospital battling pancreatitis and fighting for his life, my dad is set to come home to the ranch in a few weeks.

Friends are calling wondering what they can do, making plans to clear the driveway, buy groceries and welcome him back, and we are so very grateful.

And while I want to say that we’re all finally able to let that breath out that we’ve been holding in all this time, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely true yet. When a loved one has gone through such a traumatic, life-threatening experience, I’m not sure when you begin to trust that that it’s truly over. He’s coming home, but he’s got a long road to recovery, one that will be done out here, so far from the team of experts that saved his life.

It’s times like these the isolation of rural living sinks in. And it can scare you if you let it. The fact that my dad made it all those miles between the cold buttes and coulees of the ranch to a place with skyscrapers and sidewalks that could save him is truly a miracle that wouldn’t be possible in a different time. And now, somehow, it feels like years since we had him here, home and healthy with us. These months have passed slowly.


Last weekend my great uncle stopped by the house to visit. He’s one of the three remaining children of 12 born just down the road from the ranch.

“Come on in, it’s a mess, but that’s life,” I said as I hugged him with my free arm, my sleeping baby in the other, my toddler behind us with the door open sitting naked on the potty.

I replayed those words in my head for days since I blurted them. It’s a phrase I’d never uttered before and one that may have resonated with him had I not said it with such haste in an attempt to explain away my housekeeping skills.

Because he just recently lost his wife after a long health battle and he came home for a visit with his brothers.

“It’s a mess, but that’s life…”

He stood in my kitchen, surrounded by the remnants of breakfast and Edie’s art project and our small talk about weather turned to a story about his immigrant father and how he rode his bike 80-some miles across the prairie to borrow a wagon to pick up his bride.

“Can you imagine what my mother was thinking? I don’t know if she knew what she was getting into…”

I couldn’t help but think then, that what she got herself into brought us to that moment in my kitchen that day, comforting one another, worrying about Dad’s homecoming and smiling as that man, who has known much more mess in this life than stray socks and spilled orange juice, called my daughters beautiful.

These are the reasons we stay here, standing brave, holding our breath, in this mess of a life.


January. Or, Mom vs. Mittens

IMG_3820Being a mom to little kids in the great white north comes with its unique challenges. All the extra steps we need to take to go anywhere without suffering frostbite is one of them…and along with that comes my newest and biggest rival: Tiny Mittens.

Squeezing a pair of those buggers on a two year old’s wiggly hands while she’s bundled up like a puffy mummy, repeating “outside, outside, outside…” while I’m bent over, sweating and the baby’s squawking in her swing is a reason only the strong survive up here.

And now my sweet darling daughter has started to do this new thing where she goes boneless and drops to the floor with her eyes closed tight whenever she senses any sort of urgency from her mother, so getting her dressed is like dressing a large, limp, noodle. And getting her to find that nice balance between limp noodle and escape convict is really fun…It’s fun in the grocery store. It’s fun walking out of gymnastics. It’s fun in parking lots in freezing temperatures and it’s fun at potty time…and suppertime…and bath time…and bedtime.

And so I’m dreaming of summer and 80 degrees where the girl can run wild (or flop on the ground) buck naked if she wants, because by the time July hits we’ll have lost all patience for clothes…along with all the mittens that don’t fit anyway…

Here’s this weeks column, where I complain more about it…


Spring-it’s just around the corner. I promise.
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Congratulations North Dakota! You’ve made it to the end of the longest month.

From here I can see spring — if I stand on the top of the highest hill, on a rock, with my binoculars, but probably only because February’s a short month and the past week we’ve had a break from the sub-zero temperatures long enough for us to find optimism and wrangle the toddler into her snow clothes and play outside.

If I start the process after breakfast, we’re usually ready to hit the small sledding slope in the backyard just in time for her afternoon nap. Because there’s nothing more fun than a tired, over-bundled toddler who just face-planted in the snow and has lost the will to save herself because it took too dang long to put her mittens on.

Seriously, if there’s a children’s mitten out on the market that doesn’t require a team of engineers and detectives to maneuver two tiny thumbs in the thumb holes and a therapist to convince the kid to keep them on, I’ll pay you for your recommendations.

Think of all the free time I would have if someone could solve the mitten problem. I might actually get supper on the table before dark, which currently isn’t possible because dark starts at 4 pm.

Oh, I’m only complaining a little, but I think it’s allowed in January. Our mutual annoyance with this long, cold month is what keeps us Northerners bonded together. January is the reason that there’s an entire colony of North Dakotans who abandon ship and relocate to Arizona each season.

And I would be jealous, except who can blame them? Especially when most of the Arizona-bound population has put in their years of earflap caps, long underwear and toddler mitten holes.

People in Arizona don’t have to deal with mitten holes.

Oh, but they come back eventually, usually around mid-May or June, when 42-below zero has become a distant memory, leaving only a scratchy little patch of frostbite you acquired on that one January night you had to walk home because you got the feed pickup stuck up to its floorboards in a snowbank.

If only we could ship our cattle to Arizona for January as well. I’m sure they’d be pretty pissed if they knew there were cows in this world that have never had to lean in against 40 mph winds whipping ice pellets at them, so I haven’t told them.

It came in with the night 4

No, we keep them blissfully unaware and fed each evening with giant bales of hay that smell like the beautiful, green, sunny summers we get up here.



For that reason I hope that cows have memories. Because there’s nothing like the scent of that hay rolling out behind the pickup (that just conveniently dropped its four-wheel-drive) to remind us that this weather is fleeting and the tall lush grass, crystal clear creek water and sweaty, tick-filled days of summer are just around the corner.

Come on over, I’ve got a telescope and a tall hill, so I bet we can see it coming.

Just don’t forget your mittens.


Mother of daughters…


On Sunday my Little Sister came out to the ranch to visit. The weather was nice, like 30 degrees, which is like 60 degrees warmer than it was last week, so we were anxious to take our girls outside and get a little fresh air.


And that’s where I pause a second. Saying “our girls” still feels so fresh to me. I have two young daughters now and my Little Sister has been a mom to her own for seven months.

Just a few short years ago it would have been just the two of us out and about at the ranch, maybe taking a hike or going along to feed cows, mixing a Bloody Mary for an afternoon treat, not knowing how completely different our lives would soon be.

I don’t know if we ever envisioned it, with the big age gap between the two of us, that we would be exchanging little girl clothes and rocking our babies side by side.

“Did you ever think we’d be doing the ‘mom bounce’ together,” my little sister asked yesterday after we came in from pulling the older girls on the sleds and watching Edie try to comprehend why the sand in her sandbox wouldn’t budge.


I had a little bit of a flashback then, of the things my little sister and I would do out here on the ranch to pass the long winters as kids. On a day like this you could find us building a snow fort or finding somewhere to sled or ice skate. And we would probably, eventually, get into a fight like siblings do, about something stupid, but not stupid enough to send either one of us inside.

Because who wanted to be inside on a rare, nice winter day?

Not us.

When Edie came into the world I couldn’t help but wish for her a sister. And when my little sister gave her a little girl cousin, we were both thrilled that at least they would have each other. And now Rosie is here and we get the privilege of watching the beginning of a sisterhood that has the potential to be powerful and wonderful and challenging and all the things these girls will need from each other as they grow up.


I remember what it meant to me, to have my older sister spend time with me, dressing up and dancing to pass a long winter night. Or teaching me things I found so embarrassing, like how to shave my legs or what bra I should wear.

I’m not sure if I did the same for my little sister, you know, teaching her the gross girly stuff. That’s never really been in my wheelhouse. But I remember teaching her letters and numbers and sounds to make words, I remember building her a fort across the creek from mine, close but far enough away for a tin can telephone. And when I got older, I drove her to her orthodontists appointments and took her and her friends to a concert in the big town. I watched her play basketball and I cheered her on and she inspired me with her determination and confidence and made me proud.

Out here, in the middle of nowhere especially, I think girls need each other. Because it can be lonesome. Because it can be intimidating. Because girls just need other girls to remind them that they have muscles too and that they can do it, and if not, they have help.

My sisters have been gifts to me and I can’t wait to see what our girls become, with each other and on their own.


But then there’s a little piece of me that’s nervous for them, knowing the unique challenges girls face in the big wide, intimidating world. Because there was a time I was scared to grow up to be a woman in it. And I don’t want that for them. I don’t want them to question their strength, but to flex at every possible moment. I want them to howl and sing and back up the pickup to the horse trailer like a champ. I want them to wear what they want and pursue what they want without that voice in their head wondering what people will think of them. And if Edie’s being an idiot, I want Rosie to have the brains and strength to tell her. And I want Edie to trust her enough to only be pissed for a few days about it.


And the other way around, of course. Because we’re all idiots sometimes. That’s the point here I guess, I want them to feel safe enough in their skin and in their relationships to make mistakes. Big, giant, mistakes if they must.

Because being a woman in this world, it’s a mess. A big, loud, glittery, dirty, grass stained, complicated, scary, wonderful mess. And I want them to be proud of it. Proud of themselves. And proud of each other for it…


Dear Daughters: Be anything but afraid of growing up
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My two-year-old stood before me, her little pastel jewelry set draped around her neck and wrists, and took a bow. “I a queeeennn!!!” she declared as she bent down to the ground and stood back up, beaming before sprinting down the hallway for more props.


This is not a label we parents have given to her, but one of many she’s picked up for herself as part of the pretend world she’s creating, the way a 2-year-old should.

Better a queen than a princess, I thought to myself. She might as well pretend to be the one in charge. And just as I completed the thought, the little queen came flying out of her room, transformed now into a big, scary, growling monster, proving that in the mind of a toddler, you can be anything. The very same day she was also a tiger, a bear, a guitar player, a dancer, a cook and “funny.” I know, because she told us. And then she laughed and laughed.

As for me, well, it’s starting to sink in that I am now the mother of two girls. It’s a responsibility that feels a bit heavy and significant these days as I watch the news and am reminded what being a girl in this world can mean. I listen to my daughter who is just learning language, point to her dad and declare him a boy and then to me, a girl. Her sister? A baby.

She’s learning the difference already, if only by length of hair and lack of whiskers, and it reminds me of the time in my life when I was convinced femininity wasn’t something to be proud of.

I suppose I was staring puberty in the face and knew enough from watching my older sister to decide that I didn’t want the burden and fussiness that came with that sort of transition. The bras, the boys, the maintenance of pretty — it was scary and unfamiliar territory I wasn’t ready to navigate.

I was convinced that it would all be easier if I had been born a boy, for those reasons and because I thought that it would make me fit better out here at the ranch, that I would have more muscle to open the gates, or that somehow being a boy would make me braver or more capable, more trusted with things I wanted to be a part of, like horses and chores.

I didn’t want to face the pressure of the “girl” stuff. And so I worked harder to show those muscles, so much so that there were times I faked interest in things I had no real interest in and probably missed out on things I would have liked to be a part of.

Eventually I came into my own — that’s part of the process — but, darling girls, I don’t want you to be afraid, like I was, of growing up. I don’t want you to be afraid of being a girl.





Because girl or boy, you’re in charge of your identity and your body. You have the power to create you. So today you might be a queen, but tomorrow you can be anything.

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
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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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Last night Rosie and I left daddy and Edie at home, bundled up and headed to town to meet my little sister and her friends for a birthday painting party.

And because she’s not me, this sort of painting party didn’t involve inviting friends over to re-do a room or paint an accent wall. This one involved food, wine and a professional guiding us through the stages of painting some sort of masterpiece on our own canvas.

It was fancy. So I got Rosie all dressed up for the occasion. And by dressed up, I mean out of her jammies and into a cute little onsie, pants, shoes and a bow to top it off, because we were going to be seen out in public.


For the record, I put some pants on too. Skipped the bow and onsie, but took a shower even. And we were off.

I figured my little angel would probably sleep through most of it. She’s been so easy so far so why should it change? And that was the case right up until about ten minutes in, I  got the first layer of paint on the canvas (first step completed) was about to get up and get another helping of chip dip, picked up the baby to go along and realized that in true Scofield-baby fashion, she had waited until we were at a party to shit her pants.

And by shit I mean, poopsplosion, of course, right out of her diaper, through her new onsie, through her pants, onto the cute little apron they let me wear and out into the word…

Needless to say, I finished my canvas painting after we got home from town this afternoon.


Yeah, photographic evidence that a true artist is raising a true artist right there…

But as we were driving there this morning, my dear oldest daughter reminded me why despite all the poop, I love this whole parenting thing…

We got up and bundled to hit the road for the doctor’s office for a follow up on Edie’s ears in -24 degree temperatures. The sun was shining on the snow covered ground and Edie, watching it roll by from her seat in the back declared: “Look at the snow! There’s sparkles in it!”

And for the rest of the 40 minute drive she watched in awe.


So I decided to take a page from her book and take time out of it all to notice the sparkle in this day. I hope you can too, despite the deep freeze, the inevitable poopsplosions and ear infections that seem to be hanging on.

And look at that! We’ve warmed right up to zero.


Happy Friday everyone. May your weekend be as ‘precious’ as Edie declared her hair to be this afternoon.

Peace, love and kitties…

Seriously, does anyone want a kitty?

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Partying like a parent


Happy Monday to you. I hope you’re somewhere warm, successfully avoiding the plague that has swept through our house this past week. I mean, there’s better ways to ring in the New Year than pink eye and double ear infection, but we chose to spend Friday making a trip to the doctor to make sure that we didn’t give our little niece the RSV diagnosis she had or vice versa. Oh, and while you’re at it, can you take a look at my husband’s eyes?

And so we laid low this weekend, negotiating antibiotic administration with the toddler, washing every surface and pillowcase, and visiting the baby I tried my best to keep in quarantine. Guess that’s all it took to be on the mend and here we are staring down Monday and the Christmas decorations I have to put away, wondering if the scratch in my throat and the crust in my eye puts me next on the list for a doctor visit.

Ah, parenthood. When you’re not bending over to pick up the tiny, plastic cow you just stepped on you’re Googling potential illnesses.

This is our life now. And so we celebrate accordingly.

Coming Home: Ringing in the New Year like the real adults we are
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Happy New Year from the ranch where it’s freezing cold, nobody is sleeping and everyone is having a hard time finding pants that fit.

If I were a resolution-making woman I’d be working on the one thing on that list I can control, but my current motto seems to be “the faster I eat these cookies the sooner I can get on my diet plan.” And I’ve had three already and it’s only 10 a.m., so I’m well on my way to getting started.

We welcomed 2018 just up the hill with friends we’ve known nearly all our lives. Twelve years ago, our midnight toast would’ve just been the peak of our evening instead of something we moved up to 10 p.m. to ensure we all got in on it.

If The Ghost of New Year’s Future would’ve visited us at 22 to show us that scene there would have been some explaining to do.

Yes, now we call our kids down to the basement to show us how to use the new hoverboard thing they got for Christmas and marvel at the speed and agility of the 11-year-old as she spins and swoops on an invention that got its name from an ’80s movie we were alive to see in theaters.

And then, just to make sure everyone remembered that we’re in our mid-30s, I watched my husband get ready to take his turn, but not before I grabbed his hands, looked him straight in the eyes and in front of his high school buddies, his small children and Jesus, reminded him in my best, seriously-I’m-not-even-joking voice that He. Can. Not. Get. Hurt.

If I would’ve pulled that overprotective crap in our other lives I would have subjected my young husband to some serious ridicule by those same high school buddies.

But we’re living a different life now, so instead I watched two of those friends take him by each elbow in order to give him a chance to get his legs without breaking his back.

Because they understand the havoc spending a month in traction would create. They also have cows to feed, hockey to coach, butts to wipe, bills to pay and sidewalks to shovel, so they didn’t bat an eye at my stern suggestion.

Instead they nodded their heads and then relayed a few stories about buddies of theirs who tried this very thing last Christmas and broke an elbow/hip/ankle/brain…

“It’s best to not be overconfident and try this before the second beer,”  they suggested. Which comforted me enough to leave them and go back upstairs to feed the infant and set the toddler on the potty, which is likely how I would have celebrated the countdown if we didn’t make some minor adjustments to the midnight-striking schedule.

Adulting can be flexible like that.

And if I were a resolution-making woman, I might resolve we all be more adventurous, but I think it’d suit us all better to resolve to spend more time with the people who know and love us enough to hold us up and cheer us on.

Seems we need it more as the years tick by, in life as well as in new-age gadgets…


Parenting. It’s no joke.

Ok guys, I’ve been trying to get this posted for about 2 hours. Since sitting down to type it while the toddler was coloring and the baby was sleeping in her rocker, I’ve been sidetracked for the following reasons:

1. Edie was putting the stickers I gave her in her mouth. She knows better. She does it anyway.

2. After asking her to stop, like three times, she still thought stickers were a good form of nutrition. So I took them away. She was then done with that project and needed to get down immediately to head to her room to look for a doll. Fine. Great. Go play.

3. Baby needed pacifier

4. Ten seconds pass and Edie’s out of her room. She needs her Elsa and Rapunzel dolls and she needs them stat. They are downstairs in the basement. She can’t go unaccompanied and can’t be convinced to stay where she is. I grab the baby and we go downstairs.

5. The kittens are in the basement. Edie remembered. She needed to go see them. Which reminded me that I needed to change the litter. Up the stairs for a garbage bag. On the way I notice the dishes that hadn’t been cleaned up from an evening with friends. I  proceed with my cleaning tasks while Edie plays.

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6. Baby needs to be burped.  Edie wants to watch a movie. I put on Chicken Little.

8. Baby poops. I convince Edie to come back upstairs with us. We head upstairs.

9. Halfway up Edie realizes that she forgot her play phone. I convince her to stay right there, I’ll get it. I go get it.

10. I change the baby and remember that Edie needs a potty break. I put the toddler on the potty and while I wait I put some things away in the baby’s room and hang a picture that has been sitting on the floor for weeks.

11. I switch a load of laundry.

12. Check on Edie. Still working on the potty thing.

13. Baby needs to be fed. I feed the baby and sorta dose off for a few minutes to the sounds of a cooking show on TV.

14. Wake up and realize that Edie’s still on the potty. She doesn’t want to get off…still working on something and I’m not going to mess with the process…so here we are again.

So friends, don’t let the peaceful family photos above fool you into thinking that we live in a portrait. Nope. I’ll blow that theory up right now: everything that came before and everything that came after these shots were taken was chaos. Actually, let’s be real. There was quite a bit of chaos during as well.


But today I braved it all and took the kids into town for gymnastics because we needed to get out of the damn house. And nobody had a meltdown for more than a few seconds at a time (not even me) and so I call it a win.

And that’s a small victory on this long road we call parenting. And as of New Year’s Day, I’m officially only one month in to being a mom of two, so I’ll soak up every one.

Hold on…sounds like Edie’s done.

Coming Home: Parenting: The joke’ s on us
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You guys, this parenting thing is no joke.


I say this as I’m celebrating my first month spent working to keep two kids happy, healthy and out of harm’s way. And by out of harm’s way, I mean so many things. Like encouraging the toddler to be helpful, but not the “pulling-her-infant-baby-sister-out-of-her-swing-to-change-her-diaper” kind of helpful.

Or the “shoving-the-pacifier-back-in-her-tiny-mouth-with-the-strength-and-grace-of-a-hippo” sort of helpful.

But it’s hard, because 2-year-olds have issues with limits and infants would prefer to be left alone to eat, sleep and poop, thankyouverymuch.

At least that’s the prerogative for this infant anyway, thank the Lord in Heaven. Because the Lord in Heaven knew that if he gave me the wide-awake, must-be-moving-at-all-times new baby that was our firstborn, I would be building my mother-in-law a cabin in our backyard and offering to pay her to never leave.


But that’s not the case. Our little Rosie has been a laid-back dream, a baby who looks like me but takes after her father. It’s our 2-year-old (the one who looks like her father, but takes after me) who’s been keeping us on our toes by deciding that sleep is no longer an activity she needs in her life and making sure we all know it by staying up and scream-crying about it until 2 a.m.

How naïve of me to think we had bedtime down pat just in time for another round of late night feedings.

Good thing I haven’t really slept in two years anyway.

But we sort of expected retaliation, especially when my overly ambitious husband decided to use the short week he had off to be home with us to work on potty training the toddler.

He said he was tired of having philosophical discussions with her about the meaning of life while changing her diaper, so he took to task. Which has actually been going pretty well since we got through the first few days of wiping pee puddles off the floor — with the exception of that incident last week where I was nursing the baby and Edie declared an emergency: incoming poop (I’m always nursing the baby when Edie declares emergencies), so I rushed her to the bathroom, whipped off her pants and sent that emergency turd out “splat” on the floor so quickly I didn’t notice it until I squished it nice and flat with my foot.

“At least you had socks on” was my husband’s attempt at finding the bright side, while I stood in the hallway and laughed the hysterical and desperate laugh only a mother of a toddler and an infant can pull off.

It’s the same laugh I used during Rosie’s newborn photo shoot where the photographer posed her all curled up and diaper-less in her dad’s going-to-town cowboy hat, only to leave it full of pee.


“At least you didn’t put it back on your head!” I said, but he didn’t laugh with me on that one. He just stared blankly into the warm puddle.

So maybe parenting is a joke after all, one you need to be the right amount of exhausted to understand…

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.

Keeping the spirit.


It’s been a long week at the ranch. I’m not going to lie. We’re still holding our breath, waiting to hear that dad’s condition is improving, but with this sickness, it’s one step forward and one (or two or three) steps back. But we’re trying to stay positive.

And we’re leaning on our family and community.

And we’re trying to keep the traditions and spirit of the season surrounding us, not just for our babies, but to lighten our own hearts.

This week we decorated the Christmas tree with baby Rosie rocking in her swing while her big sister declared everything to be so “bootiful.”

On Sunday we attended our rural church’s Christmas program and were surrounded by the love of our neighbors and the light of these innocent little children who are absolutely cherished.


Rosalee was Baby Jesus #5 and Edie was a lamb, who wouldn’t perform until the woman in charge gave her a microphone. And so she was declared my daughter (as if it wasn’t already apparent).


And I was determined then to keep that Christmas theme up for the rest of the day and so we baked Christmas cookies.


Little Sister and baby Ada brought us the kind that come out of a refrigerated tube and they turned out imperfect and ugly.  Edie spent a good hour shaking sprinkles on her one special cookie, and she was delighted by the whole thing while I frosted the rest and Little Sister worked to keep Ada’s little fingers away from the frosting. But it was something to keep our hands busy while we tried to quiet our minds from the worry.

The worry’s always with us. But this season especially, I’m trying my best to dig deep and stay calm and believe in better days to come.

It’s something I know now that my parents have done for us in our lives when loss and sickness and uncertain times have knocked on their door. I know now what it’s like to want to curl up and cry, but there’s breakfast to make, diapers to change, Jingle Bells to sing and babies to rock.

Because this is life. And it can glow and sting all at once…

Before Rosie arrived I wanted to hold her safe in my womb until our lives were put back in place the way she deserved them to be when she entered this world, as if I had control of such things.


Now I know better. To be simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting, but we needed her here with us, to keep us busy, to make us smile and to patch the aching parts of our hearts up with hope.

Last weekend we loaded up the pickup with the girls, my little sister and baby niece to take a drive across the ranch looking for a wild cedar to cut for our Christmas tree. This is a ritual we started with Dad when we were just little girls, and it felt good to be out there, working to keep in the tradition of the holiday. We rolled and bumped slowly along prairie trails and fence lines, stopping to watch a herd of elk cut through a clearing and up along the horizon.


“Look at that Edie,” we exclaimed. “Look at the elk!”

“Ohh,” she replied, her eyes wide with wonder before turning to me and asking, “But where are the hippos?”

And sitting side my side the cab of the pickup, dressed up warm for a long, cold season, our frazzled nerves were calmed for a moment as we all let the air out of our lungs and laughed.

And I said a quiet prayer of thanks for these children who remind us to keep breathing.

Today I can do nothing but be thankful for our little lights.


Prairie Parent: Carrying on my Mother’s Christmas Traditions

This month’s Prairie Parent celebrates the holidays. Check it out online and read my “From the Editor” piece reflecting on how mother’s are often the real Santas of the holidays.

Becoming my Mother. Becoming Santa Clause.
From the Editor, Prairie Parent
December 2017

And while you’re at it, enjoy my mother’s fudge recipe. I’ve shared this before, but since it’s not likely she’ll be able to send out her fudge packages to friends and family this year, perhaps you can make and share this in her honor. I know she’s going to miss being home for Christmas this year. But I’m going to try my best to keep her beautiful traditions going while she’s away this holiday and each Christmas here after so that my girls can have the warm Christmas memories I’ve been fortunate to cherish.

Momma’s Mouth Watering Fudge

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz package milk chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 pound of butter (No worries, I’ll post my Momma’s instructional aerobic video after Christmas)
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Got it?
Ok, onward.

  • Butter an 8×12 baking dish
  • Bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil for 7 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir chocolate chips, vanilla and butter.
  • Stir until smooth and pour into the buttered baking dish
  • Refrigerate until set
  • Ask your hubby or the woman in your life with incredible strength to help you cut the fudge into squares
  • Serve up on a cute platter and stand back and smile as you experience that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with spreading holiday cheer.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of my book “Coming Home” there’s still time to get a signed copy before Christmas! Recipes, photography, poetry and stories from the ranch. It makes a great gift for the prairie lover in your life.

Order it today at