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.

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

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

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

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

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Coming Home: How to define a good life
Forum Communications

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

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

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

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

“For good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But a hard life?

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

But a good one?

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

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‘Til the cows come home…and they always come home…

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Here are some photos of the guys moving a group of cows from our pasture back east where they are supposed to stay but keep coming home because, well, they’re a pain in the ass and the fence is down in some mysterious place.

Like seriously, the guys have probably moved this little herd of cows back east like half a dozen times in the last few weeks, fix a patch of fence, call it good and low and behold, I wake up to cow mooing and munching outside the fence.

The other day Husband got home, moved the cows back east, went up to the hayfield to cut and, boom, there they were. It took them the time it took him to get from his horse to his tractor to decide where they now found themselves was not, in fact, where they belong.

Dad called today and told me he thought he had the fence mystery solved. A big patch down in the trees. But just to be sure, and because it was time anyway, the guys moved all the cattle one more pasture over tonight, so if the cows are back home tomorrow, I think it’s time they give up.

Not that we don’t appreciate the entertainment here at the house…

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Peace, love and fence fixin’

Jessie and Edie

 

A moment in the plans we’ve made

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This week’s column is a little reflection triggered by branding day at the ranch a few weekends back.

It really is something to take a breath in the middle of this crazy life and realize that the crazy was actually your intention and what you’re doing is a little piece of a dream coming true.

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Oh, and for those of you who don’t reside in Western North Dakota, a slushburger is a sloppy joe.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement. In six months or so I’ll be calling you at 3 am wondering what we were thinking.

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Coming Home: Taking time to appreciate moments as ranch, family expands

I rushed to get the slushburger in the slow cooker, the chip dip layered and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He’s more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.

The neighbors would be here in an hour or so to help ride, and I had to get Edie and my niece dressed and down the road to gramma’s with the burger, melon and grocery bags full of paper plates and potato chips so I could climb on a horse of my own.

It was branding day at the ranch, and the sun was quickly warming up the world as I finally made it to the barnyard, buckling my belt as I ran past the neighbors and the guys already saddled and waiting to take off over the green hills together, splitting off at the corrals up top to gather cattle in the corners, search the brush and trees and meet up at the flat to take them home.

It’s one of the best views in my world, to see the cowboys and cowgirls you trust most riding together on our land, connected by generations, friendships and blood, dedicating a Sunday to getting a familiar and time-honored job done. I loped my horse across the flat to catch up and watched a trail of black and red animals form a jagged line across the crick and up the road, kicking up dust and bellaring to their babies as our crew gently coaxed them along.

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My husband and I have dreamed about the days we could figure out a way to own our own cattle out here, a goal we began to realize last winter with the help and partnership of my dad. We branded a handful of our own calves last year and worked this year to crunch numbers and build plans. And it’s been scary, exciting and challenging to say the least, balancing full time work and family while helping to take care of this place and the animals on it.

But last Sunday we sorted and doctored those animals together while the neighbor kids sipped juice boxes and waved sorting sticks outside the fence, my grandparents sat watching in the shade, my sisters standing together, my little sister arching her back against the weight of her pregnancy while my mom and aunt opened the door of the car to let out my fresh-from-her nap daughter, and I willed myself to take a moment to appreciate that I could stretch out my arms and nearly touch all of the most important things in this world to us.

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And then I reached down to loosen the belt on my jeans that are growing tighter each day as my belly swells with the newest member of the crew, due to arrive in December to these grateful arms.

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Spring: From the experts

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Signs of spring come earlier for the experts
by Jessie Veeder
4-9-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action.

But I didn’t see a thing.

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But I struck out again.

Yes, to me the world was still brown with a few splashes of white snow in the deep coulees and, except for the dang hornets that have magically come to life to bang against the windows of my house, no sign of new life quite yet.

I strolled home with the dogs sniffing out the path in front of me, on their own mission for signs of spring, kicked off my shoes and went inside.

That evening my husband and I loaded Edie up in the pickup to go feed the cows, and just as we were pulling out of driveway, I got a text from dad.

“Got our first calf today,” it said.

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“Of course we did,” I said out loud to myself, wondering when the heck I will develop the sixth sense and laser beam eyes Dad has for things like this. We met him down the road a ways and Edie helped him unroll a bale by pulling out handfuls of hay and picking a nice strand to chew on herself.

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We drove over to take a look at the new baby who was standing on wobbly legs, fresh, slick and black as a bean. When my husband came back with the tagger (because we never have what we need when we need it), all four of us lingered out there in the warm spring air, leaning against the pickup doors and letting Edie work the windshield wipers, radio knob, steering wheel and headlights of the parked pickup, certain she was accomplishing the most important task on the place that day.

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After a half hour of solving life’s problems, we all went home for supper.

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The next day while I was in town for a meeting, I got another text from Dad.

“Found them first!” it said, with a blurry photo of a bunch of crocuses attached.

Apparently he also knew we were in an unspoken contest.

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I put my hands on my hips and huffed.

“Of course you did,” I texted back, thinking if it couldn’t be me, at least someone found the first promises of spring.

Thinking how different the world can look behind another set of eyes.

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And so with the first calf, the first crocus, the frogs croaking in the dam and the birds flying home and the appearance of Edie’s garden hat, I think it’s safe to say spring is here.

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Oh, thank goodness, spring is here.

Moo.

We’re thawing out a bit out here after a string of frozen days. Looks like the foreseeable future will be quite a few degrees above zero and that lifts our spirits a bit.

I’m ready for spring (and lets, be honest, that Jamaican vacation) and this baby’s ready to get outside and try out her new running skills without the cumbersome giant marshmallow snowsuit I made her wear last week when we went out feeding cows.

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But the kid doesn’t seem to mind. As long as we’re out doing stuff and seeing stuff and chatting about it, she’s happy.

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Feeding cows is a chore she likes to help with. And since the snow has melted a little and we can feed with the pickup instead of the tractor, we can go along again.

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I’ve always loved the way the cows look coming in for feed, in a black (and now some brown) line in the white snow. It’s like moving, breathing art (and hungry) to me.

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Art that says “Moo!”

A chance to warm up

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Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.

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And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.

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(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.

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I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.

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Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.

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Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.

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The cow feeding ritual…

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Dad retired last week from his job as Economic Development Director in McKenzie County. He’s been in that position for 24 years. He retired so he could run for County Commissioner. And he was elected. And so he’s not really retiring from his position as a community leader, actually, he’s just going to lead in other ways. And also, he’s taking another job.

So I’m not sure my parents will ever retire really, for both of them their work is so closely tied to their hearts.

I wrote this after we threw dad  little party to celebrate one chapter ending and another one beginning. So many of his friends, family and colleagues stopped by, even more wrote to wish him well.

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And it turns out he didn’t take a day to rest or relax like I was hoping when I wrote this column. He had a couple meetings to round out the week he spent packing up his office.

But he did, like he always does, take some time for the cattle, the other job he’s been in for his entire life. The one he’ll likely never retire from.

Oh, and he also always finds an excuse to knock on the door to check in on us…

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Coming Home: Feeding cows memorable in so many ways
by Jessie Veeder
11-20-16
http://www.inforum.com

Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.

It’s a ritual that goes along with keeping cows around here through the months of November (or October if winter comes early) and on into April or May or until the grass comes back. It’s just one of the winter ranching chores that goes along with keeping the water open, the tractors running, the roads and trails clear of snow and mastering the art of doing it all while wearing seventeen layers of winter clothing.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while dad shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers. There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

Last week we celebrated dad’s retirement from 24 years as the county’s economic development director, a job he was passionate about, one that had him helping to problem solve in the slow times when people were moving away from this community and troubleshooting during boom times when it seemed like the entire country was moving in and looking for their place here.

It was a stressful and rewarding career, one that he’s not necessarily done with as he’s moving on to similar work, but it’s one that often kept him up at night or late in town at meetings. And so, for most of my life, he’s had that job and he’s had the ranch and the work that needed to be done to keep things running, in different ways throughout the years, sometimes late in the evening, or in the early mornings and always on the weekends.

Since moving back to the ranch almost five years ago, my husband and I have been trying to learn as much as we can from him about what it looks like and how to function as full time working people who also run cattle. I told him I had no idea how hard it must have been for my mom and dad when I was growing up and riding along with him, often feeding cows in the cold and in the dark when he made it home from work. I never knew because he never made it look like work.

My parents didn’t complain because this is the life they wanted and agreed on.

I get that, although I probably complain more.

Monday was dad’s official first day in 24 years that he didn’t wake up as the county’s economic development director. He has a month or so before he settles into his new professional role, so I was hoping he’d take a minute to relax and take a breath.

I pulled out of my driveway and up past the hay yard and down the county road, heading east for work and there was dad, in the late morning chill of November, dressed in his wool cap and Carhart coat driving his feed pickup, unrolling a hay bale, spending the first day of retirement, feeding cows.

 

 

 

 

On horseback…

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We’re in the thick of fall at the ranch, which doesn’t mean as much pumpkin spice flavor as it does wooly horses, wooly caps and scrambling to get things buttoned up and rounded up for the winter.

On Sunday gramma came over to watch Edie do the things Edie does, like try as hard as she can to stand on her own, fall down and get concussions…oh, and blow kisses, and I headed out with the guys for a ride out to the west pastures to move the cows to a different pasture and find some strays.

The weather looked sort of threatening and chilly from behind the glass windows of my house, so I bundled up in layers and squeezed into the riding jeans I haven’t worn since I was three months pregnant, and headed out into a calm and sort of rainy day.

And it was a much needed trek for me, something I used to take so much for granted before I had a little one attached to my hip. Now, if I want to go out for a ride it involves “arrangements.”

So many simple things these days involve more planning than I ever did in my pre-baby life. But it’s worth it all around. Gramma gets one on one time with the baby and I get one on one time with the things I love most.

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I traveled those hills on my sorta of slow and lazy horse, took two pees in the pasture behind bullberry bushes because I drank too much coffee,

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Here, hold my horse…

chased cooperative cattle through open gates,

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got sorta lost looking for a stray, got slapped a few times by wayward branches, got kinda wet in the rain and the deep creek running high because of all the fall moisture and came home a different woman, reminded that heaven isn’t the only thing that can be found on horseback…

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Sometimes, you wind up finding yourself again too.

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Moving cattle: A Script

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Coming Home: Sister on the ranch is friend for me, un-hired help for dad
by Jessie Veeder
8-21-16
http://www.inforum.com

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite parts about living back at the ranch is that my sisters have decided to re-plant roots in our hometown. Having a sister nearby as an adult is like having a best friend who doesn’t care if your floor is swept and will call you out on your questionable attitude without worrying about offending you.

Anyway, when it comes to ranch life and work, I’ve rarely seen my petite almost-5-feet tall big sister without heels on almost as many times as I’ve seen her on the back of a horse, so you can guess which sister and I get in the most ranch-related shenanigans.

And how much help the two of us have been for our dad throughout the years.

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So this is a confession: My little sister and I can be pretty worthless when we get together. And contrary to our parents’ prayers and our husbands’ hopes, it hasn’t gotten any better as we’ve, ahem, matured.

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Nothing exemplifies our incapabilities more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, Little Sister’s missing boot and the hairdo I can’t fit under my hat so that Dad can get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch our horses and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it up on those horses.

The man is patient. He’s had to be out here in the wild buttes of Western North Dakota surrounded by girls. Sometimes I wonder if his life on the ranch as a father would have been a little easier if he would have had a boy tossed in the mix.

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But he’s never once complained, and you gotta love him for it. He’s just grateful for the help, even when his help is riding a half a mile behind him talking over how weird it would be if we rode cows instead of horses as he works to keep the herd from brush patches in the morning that’s turned hot in the time he waited for us to join him.

Because we really are a lot of help, with one of us swatting and screaming at anything that resembles a bee and the other tripping over anything that resembles the ground.

To really paint you a picture, I would like to present to you an actual roundup script.

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

Jessie: I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?

Little Sister: Should I come with you? I should probably come with you … eeeek! A bee, eeeeeeeek!

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Pops (racing through the brush and up a hill): Just stay there!!! Stay there! I’ve got it!

Jessie: Oooh, raspberries.

An undocumented amount of time passes.

An undocumented amount of raspberries are eaten.

Little Sister: Maybe we should go find Dad.

Daughters catch up with father who is behind 25 head of cows. The women are trailing four cattle and currently heading toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Jessie (hollering across the pasture): We’ve got these here… thought we were going to the other gate.

Pops (hollering from behind the cattle he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): Actually you’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek.

Little Sister: Whaatt did he saaayy?!! Should I leave them???

Jessie: DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?

Pops: Yess, ssheeee sshhoullld leeaave them!!

Jessie: HEEE SAAAYSS LEEAAVE THEM!

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“Slap,” a branch hits Jessie across the face.

Little Sister stops to double over from hysterical laughter.

Father rides up over the hill alone to finish collecting the cattle before all parties return to the barn where father thanks daughters for their help.

(Yeah, really.)

End scene.

Don’t tell my husband about my hopes for another girl …

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Some adorable stuff.

Here’s the news from the ranch today and it’s adorable.

We have a bottle calf. I call her Lola.

Or Sweet Cakes.

Or BeBe.

Or Bubba

Whatever comes out.

She’s the other half of a set of twins born last weekend. The momma seemed to see one baby and forgot about the second so now the little babe is mine.

Ok. So there’s that.

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The other news is sorta old news, but Pops and his pup Waylon had an unfortunate accident with the side-by-side and now little Waylon is in a cast and it’s the most pathetic and adorable thing in the world. He gets along just fine but sorta drags that leg everywhere he goes. All because he can’t stand to be away from his momma, so he jumped out of a moving vehicle to get her.

So there’s that.

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Photo courtesy of dad’s phone…

When my little nephew, who adores Waylon, found out that his favorite puppy had an owie, he took Gramma to the drug store and bought him a get well card and a stuffed goose to play with that is as big as the puppy himself.

So that’s adorable as hell.

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And this morning when I went to feed the calf, Waylon and his peg leg tagged along, but not before attempting to bring his favorite stuffed goose with him.

Ugh, and as if I didn’t already have a toothache from the sweetness, the goose is so big that Waylon, in his attempt to drag it down the road, tripped and tumble rolled over it about three times before giving up because, get this, he got distracted by a butterfly.

A butterfly!

The adorable little puppy tagging along with me to feed the adorable calf waiting for me in the barn got distracted from the giant stuffed goose my adorable nephew gave him to literally go frolicking after a butterfly.

When I woke up this morning I felt shitty, with a scratchy throat and puffy eyes and a runny nose, but those ten minutes in my made getting out of bed worth it.

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That and this drooly little thing of course.

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*not her bottle*

 

Now go forth and keep smiling. It’s almost Friday.

You’re welcome