September and what keeps it precious

This week on the podcast I sit down with my little sister and talk of the weather turns to embarrassing moment confessions. The flies and the wasps and the rooster and the tomatoes and the mice are taking over the ranch and we talk about it all. Catch it here or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The evenings are getting cooler as the sun sets a bit more quickly and I’m canning tomatoes and chopping up peppers from the garden for salsa so we can have a piece of summer when winter hits hard.

I can preserve our garden vegetables, but haven’t yet found a way to capture the smell of the season changing and the color of the green and gold leaves against an overcast morning sky. This season is so unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.

But this year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves this spring are the first to display their colors this September and I’m reminded of roundup season and spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we rode behind our dad to gather cattle.

Working cows in the fall has always been one of my favorite events of the season. My memories find me as a young girl bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.

I would strip off my cap first, and then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done. Dressing in layers is a different level on the ranch.

Moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me—probably because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate. It was during that long wait that I would make up the best songs, sing the loudest, find sticks for slingshots or the perfect feather for my hat.

Turns out these days my role working cattle hasn’t changed much. I remain the peripheral watcher, the one who makes sure the cows don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate.

Recently our little ranch crew met in the morning to move cows to a different pasture. Dad, my uncle and aunt who summer up here from Texas, my little sister, my husband and I saddled horses in the crisp air of the morning and met to stretch out across the Peterson pasture and make the move through a couple gates to Hughes (every pasture has a name, these attached to the old homesteaders.)

It was pretty nice and easy because that’s the way we work cattle here. Just let them take the lead mostly, which occasionally finds you off your horse walking through the thick brush or chasing out across the pasture after a stray, or, sometimes deciding on another approach entirely because that’s the way they want to go.

With the exception of a wreck, nothing can really ruin this for me, sitting horseback on a cool morning slowly making its way into a hot afternoon.

I could walk these trails on the back of a horse forever and not get tired of them. Because each month the pastures change–a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows and dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.

And I am the most alive when I’m out here, and what makes it even sweeter is that I know the rest of the crew, my family, feels the same way too. I listen as they make conversation about the calf crop and plans for the day. I follow behind like I always have and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.

I wait for instruction and find my direction while my husband cuts a path through the trees to search for hidden cows and my dad lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.

I move a small herd toward the gate with my sister and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture. Dad comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him toward the rest of the herd. We meet up quick to wonder where uncle Wade might be and find him over the hill waiting at the gate with the rest of the cattle. We push them through to taller grass and up to water to help them settle in. We wonder if we got them all.

And that’s how it goes generally, the six of us, this time with the exception of Dad stopping to take a picture of my little sister, creating the opportunity for one squirrelly calf to cut back. He laughed as he went after her, thinking what his own dad might say about stopping for a picture.

But why not take a picture? Morning makes its way into the afternoon and if we let ourselves, we might remember that we don’t get an infinite number of fall days like this in our lifetime. Isn’t that what keeps it all so precious?

We head toward home and talk about lunch and the fencing that needs to get done. And cattle prices. And the deer population. And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing…even though, year after year, up here… I always feel the same.

Shifting winds of confidence…


Shifting winds of confidence
Forum Communications

Some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself that I’m a rock-star cowgirl who has this work, ranching, cattle and kid-raising situation under control.

Like last weekend when I was helping sort cows into the chute for medicine, for example. I was following the cattle down the alley with a sorting stick yelling “Whoop, whoop, c’mon girls, hya, hya, hya!” feeling strong and capable. When they loaded right into the chute and I grabbed the rope to close the gate, climbed up on the fence for a head count (which we all know is the most important thing, really) and then hopped back down to do it all over again, I had a brief moment where I thought, “Well, this is the life. I can do this. I was made for this.”

But that confidence? Well, it comes in waves. Or, because we’re in North Dakota, more like gusts.

Because just as soon as the wind blows my neckerchief the right way so that I start feeling like the underdog ranch hand in a John Wayne movie finally getting the respect I deserve, the wind shifts and covers me in a nice, authentic layer of dirt and cow poop better known as a reality check.

But I’m nothing if I’m not diverse in my experiences. Sometimes, in the course of two days, I feel like I’m five different people.

Last weekend I started my morning off as snuggly-booger-wiping-Mom, moved on to pony-riding-lesson-Mom in the afternoon


and then I loaded up my guitar to be a singer-in-the-big-town at night.


Then I headed home in the dark so I could get up early to be pancake-making-Mom in the morning, cow-chasing-Mom in the afternoon and supper-making-dishwashing-deadline-meeting-bedtime-story-lullaby-singing-Mom in the evening.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And maybe that’s where the whole problem lies in the first place, now that I think of it. Maybe there are just too many things weighing on my mind for me to properly and swiftly react to the angry, pregnant, half-ton cow lowering her head and running toward me in the sorting pen while my husband tries to find his voice to warn me.


“Surely she isn’t coming for me?” I wondered to myself in the half a second I had to think about the meaning of my life. “Surely she’ll go around this rock-star cowgirl who has her life under control. Seriously, everyone underestimates my capabilities. I was born to do this. It’s in my blood. If I just wave my hands and yell ‘hya’ and…oh…my…g… RUN!”


Yeah, some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself I’m an underestimated rock-star-cowgirl-mom. And some days a 1,300-pound cow rams her giant, angry head into the bony part of my backside, sending me running for my life to the fence line and my husband into near cardiac arrest.

Because, like I said, this whole “under control” thing? Yeah, it comes in gusts.

And the sigh of relief I breathed when I reached that fence? Well, I just hope it shifted the winds and blew someone’s neckerchief the right way.

If you need me, I’ll be folding laundry and sitting on an ice pack.


Why I’m here.

We were out late last night working cattle.

And by late, I mean after dark.

And by after dark I mean, a sliver of a moon, a thousand stars, 50 head of black cattle, five people and one flashlight.

No, it’s not all raspberry picking, sunflowers and margaritas on the deck out here.

Sometimes we have to get Western.

And when all available cowboys and cowhands have jobs and responsibilities in the sweet and useful hours of the day, sometimes we find ourselves chasing the sun while we’re chasing the cows.

It’s difficult. Since moving back to the ranch two summers ago I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned how to can a tomato, tile a shower, where to find a missing pug, how make a meal from what I have in my pantry because I’ve got no choice, I’m not driving to town, how to kill a burdock plant, what time of day makes the most magical photos and how long I can go without taking a shower before the neighbors start to complain…

But above all of that, mostly I’ve learned there aren’t enough hours in the day.

And I don’t know how Pops has done it all these years.

Ranching is a full time job. It’s not just about watching them graze in the pasture and riding through them like the Man from Snowy River every once in a while to get your cowboy fix. You have to feed them, move them, watch the water, watch for illness, doctor, move them again, find them when they’re out, fix the fence, move them, fix the fence, patch up corrals, bring them home, let the bulls out, get the bulls in, roundup, doctor, wean the babies, fix the fence, get a plan for hay, move the hay, feed the hay, break the ice on the stock dam and check them every day.

My dad has always had two full time jobs, one of them being ranching. His goal was to keep this place in the family and, during that time, that was the only choice. He would come home from work in the winter and I would bundle up in my Carharts and we would roll a bale out for the cattle in the freezing cold, nearly dark landscape. Sometimes I would drive the pickup while he scooped out cake or grain for a line of cattle trailing behind in the falling snow.

In the spring we would drive out and watch for calves being born. I would sit in the pickup as he braved the wrath of momma while he tagged and checked the baby.

There was more than one time that momma won the battle.

Summers were spent riding horses and moving pastures.

Fall was roundup and time spent in the pickup on the way to the sale barn.

And then he’d do it over again.

Every memory of being a side-kick ranch kid was one I hold close to me as part of my makeup, no matter the fact that I likely wasn’t one bit of help, except maybe that driving part.

And I like to think I’m good company.

I’ve been bucked off, had my fingers smashed, broken bones and cried out of frustration when facing a seemingly impossible task.

Ranching is not a job for the weak, and often I wondered (and I still wonder) if I’m made up of the things my father is made up of.

Why all of those years of long hours in town and late nights? Why not a house in town with a lawn, beer with the guys on Friday nights, golf on Saturday?

I never asked him because it’s a stupid question.

I’ve never asked him because I know the answer.

I’ll tell you here, but I have to do it  quickly, because in an hour, we have to be home from town and saddled up. We have to bring more cows home and it’s gets dark earlier every night.

So here’s what he’d say:

This is it for me. Give me the beaches of the Caribbean, the steep mountains of Montana, give me perfect city streets laid out and predictable, give me the cactus and mysterious heat of the dessert, give me the shores of the mighty Missouri, the fjords of my grandparents’ homeland and I will say they are good.

I will tell you they’re beautiful.

I have seen them and I believe that’s true.

But I would not trade one day out in these pastures for a lifetime on those beaches, even if it means broken tractors and working until midnight with no light but the stars.

And I don’t know what else to say about it except this is my home and I will do what it takes to make sure that it stays the truth.

And that’s why I’m here.

The difference between us.

I convinced Husband to accompany me on a ride after work on Tuesday. The weatherman warned me it might be one of the last nice autumn days for a while and I felt the need to take advantage of it.

Plus, I dreamed the night before that I was riding a fast horse like the wind through the tall grasses in endless pastures and I suddenly felt the urge to make that dream come true.

An evening ride wasn’t a hard thing to convince my dearly beloved to participate in. Especially if it meant he could pretend he was looking for cows and actually getting work done. So off we went, the two of us, seeking the only kind of marriage therapy that works for us–a little ride together through our world.

The breeze and the light were perfect and my horse was just the right amount of lazy.

Suddenly I felt a wave of creativity as the sun crept down toward the edge of the earth.

So I asked Husband if he would be opposed to a little “sunset photo shoot” along the horizon, you know, because he has always made such a nice silhouette.

As usual, he humored me and I quickly planned out a method of capturing the romantic vision I had of my husband riding his bay horse at full speed across the landscape.

I got off my horse and crouched down among the grass as my husband followed my directions to “run your horse back and forth in front of me for a while until I say stop.”

So he did.

Thrilled with the results of that handsome man and his handsome horse romantically frozen in a moment of speed and power inside of my camera, I hollered at him “Go faster!”

So he went faster, back and forth, working on his horse, going nowhere in particular, just back and forth across the sky.

But from behind my camera they could be going anywhere, that man and that horse.

I felt like an artist with the power to freeze time, the gift of my camera allowing me to catch that horse’s mane as it reached toward the sky and his feet as they gathered beneath him.

“Go faster!” I hollered from my spot behind the camera.

So Husband made that horse go faster. 

Watching them move across that landscape was beautiful and romantic and rugged and western and kind of like a John Wayne movie scene…all of the things Husband can be to me sometimes.

“Stop. Come back. Come here!” I yelled, suddenly struck with another idea.

The idea that if my husband could be all those things as a silhouette, I wanted a shot at what I could be as a dark, mysterious woman on a horse against the backdrop of a setting sun.

Husband stopped his horse in front of me and I handed him my camera.

“Can you take some pictures of me now?”  I asked as I climbed up on my horse who was lazily munching on the tall yellow grass. “I’m going to go really fast. See if you can get my hair blowing in the wind as I ride off into the sunset.”

Husband took my camera and snapped away as I worked to channel the dream from the night before, the one where I leaned into the neck of my horse and kicked him gently as his hooves moved faster and faster across the landscape, gaining speed, pushing forward, becoming one fast blur as our hair whipped together in the wind.

Only, it seemed my horse didn’t have the same dream.


His dream involved less running through endless pastures and more grazing through them.

And about half-way through our second pass across the photo shoot area, Husband yelled “Faster!” and the horse between my legs, the one I envisioned behaving like Black Beauty as I channeled my inner rodeo queen, began to behave more like the mule in that John Wayne movie with the nun.

And in one swift jump and kick, that horse demonstrated the major, glaring difference between me and my dearly beloved:

Silhouette or not, you are who you are.

And I am not a sexy silhouette.

His favorite season

Today is Pops’ birthday.

May 31st.

It seems like the perfect day for a man like this to be born, his arrival into the world coinciding with the arrival of the most beautiful things on the ranch: green grass and blue sky. Maybe that’s why he’s been in love with it all of his life, holding on tight to the memory of what blossoms and mud and wet prairie grass smells like through the rough winters and draughts. That promise that things will always get better. That summer will come again.

My Pops has always been an eternal optimist. Maybe I’ve figured out where that comes from.

Yes, Pops is turning 50-somethingorother today. If you ask him how old he is he will tilt his head up a little and think about it, as if he can’t remember. Sometimes he can’t. Because he’s not really concerned about the business of age. It’s a cowboy thing I think. As long as his legs are moving and his arms are strong enough to finish the job, as long as he can show the young guys how it’s done, teach them a thing or two about what it means to really work, then he’s just the right age.

Old enough to have learned his lessons.

Young enough to remember them.

I joke with Pops about how his hair is turning white, a hereditary trait, like his nose, that he passed along to me. I look in the mirror and little pieces of him are reflected in my face: skin that turns brown in the sunshine, dark eyes and the laugh lines around them, unruly hair, that prominent nose.

That damn nose.

Yes, these are qualities I will keep with me my entire life, a reminder of the man who raised me. A man I’ve always been certain will never grow old. I can’t imagine it. I don’t think any son or daughter can.It’s like coming to terms with the fact my little sister is no longer 12 years-old and I am no longer 17…like time was supposed to stop ticking when I left home. Like things were supposed to stay the same and wait for me to return.

I’m back now and I see that it isn’t true. I have eyes that are opened a bit wider by life and the realization of what it takes to make something of yourself beyond the approach that leads into my parents’ driveway. I am back and I am living down the road from the people who loved me and raised me and gave me wings to get on out of here…and left me to make my own decisions about coming home.

I didn’t see myself at 28-years-old having my parents for neighbors. And if I did I couldn’t have guessed what it would be like for them to turn from caretakers and decision makers in my life to friends. I wouldn’t have known when I left at 17 that ten years later the best part of a trip to town would be visiting my momma at her new store and seeing her eyes light up with excitement about a new chapter in her life.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the best thing for my soul would be taking a ride on a good horse alongside my father in his favorite season.

I have tried to put my finger on what it means to be living as an adult so close to my parents. In Hollywood Land you have one scenario and it looks a lot like  “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But that’s not it for us. My parent’s have too many things going on in their lives to be walking into our house unannounced and making comments on my cooking.

In fact, I can barely catch them on a weeknight between their high-demand jobs, meetings, friends and Pops’ daily visits with his grandson. But when we do all get around the dinner table, there’s as sense of familiarity that goes along with it…and I find that ten-year-old version of me and work to make them laugh before spilling about the things that happened that week that might make them proud.

Then we clear up the dishes together, an adult woman finally realizing why helping with the dishes was so important all of those years I fought my mother on it.

My parents’ passion for life is inspiring and I am thankful I am their neighbor so I can witness it. I am afraid if I would have stayed away I wouldn’t have had the chance to understand my mother’s creative spirit and learned that you don’t stop taking risks just because you’re getting older.

If I wouldn’t have unpacked my bags in the house where my father grew up I may not have been capable of grasping the magnitude of his ties to this place and the pain that he must still feel every day from losing his parents at such a young age…only a few years older than I am today.

I think about this place without my father and it’s like taking out its heartbeat. Because you don’t outgrow your parents. And thinking about it today  I imagine how much he misses his every day he’s here fixing the fences his father wired, driving that old tractor they bought together, drinking coffee in his mother’s kitchen.

Especially on his birthday.

Yes, my father was born on this day fifty-some years ago, a child of the buttes and grasses under a blue sky that promises rain in the spring. He dug his hands in this dirt, planted the tree outside my window and knows every creek bend in the coulees and granite rock on the hilltop.

If you ask him what he wants to do today he would tell you he just wants his family around, his grandson especially.

I will buy him a bottle of whiskey. One of us will get him a bag of M&Ms. Mom will have a gift wrapped. We will write our names on cards and thank him for being the “best dad in the whole entire world.” And then he will sneak off into the pasture to catch a horse and take a ride.I will listen for the back door to creak and hope to catch him walking up the road to the barn.

Because it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day today, the kind that my Pops waits for all year, and I want to be out in it with him.

Happy Fiftysomethingorother Birthday Pops!

This is 29…

This man got older yesterday. Yes. This is what 29 looks like after a day of waffles, neighbor visiting, gun shooting, chokecherry boiling, horse saddling, campfire cooking, exploring with a 3 year old and riding home at dark.

I think he pulls it off, don’t you?

Yes, this is what 29 looks like. The one on the right…the one on the left has a few years to go to catch up …

And if you were looking for husband yesterday you might have rolled into the yard to see him milling around the farmstead tinkering with his new gun, the one he has been dreaming of for three years, the one from “Quigley Down Under.”  Or you might have caught him helping to hold my pot of boiling hot chokecherries as I worked at straining the juice only to accidentally dump half of my work down the sink.

Then you would have seen me stomp to my room and lay face down on the bed and whimper while he slowly and patiently walked in behind me to laugh (not too hard) and tell me that we had plenty of juice, don’t worry…we didn’t need the stuff that went down the drain anyway…

Yeah, if you came at the right time you would have witnessed this act of cool collectedness from the strong and stoic half of the relationship. Or maybe you would have tried to call only to get the answering machine as he was out making plans at the new house site, driving his pickup down the road to see what pops was up to, saddling his favorite bay horse and taking a long ride to the badlands to have dinner with the neighbors, catching a frog so our three year old friend could get a closer look and then pointing out an ant pile and racing her back to camp.

It was my husband’s 29th birthday yesterday and all day long I followed this man around as he carved out his day. I listened as he talked hunting with my cousin who came knocking on the door, watched as he graciously thanked the neighbors for supper, rode beside him as he rode proud and strong on that horse he has been working on for years and sat snuggled in close as we watched “The Man from Snowy River” as the day came to a close. And the entire day I kept thinking…29. 29. 29. I’ve known this kid, this man, for nearly twenty years, he has been holding my hand for nearly fifteen, we have been married for five and we have a lifetime ahead of us…but still, I wish I could have known him from the beginning of it all.

Does that make sense?

Maybe not. I mean, what more could I want than to have grown up with a boy only to watch him change into a man I am so proud to call my family. Maybe it’s selfish, but look at him here. Where was I when he tried to carry this fish away?

Where was I? I wanted to be there to hear his small voice and the excitement as the fish flopped and he struggled and learned to be a sportsman, a hunter.

I was probably riding shotgun in my father’s pickup on the way to the ranch. Or sledding down the hills outside this very door oblivious to the young boy in town learning how to hold a bow and arrow. Unaware that the kid in the Batman pajamas sword- fighting with his little brother would one day become my whole world.

I just didn’t want to miss that. I didn’t want to miss the look on his face when he got his first puppy for his eleventh birthday or the cake his father made for him…I wanted to be there to taste it with him.

But I was busy making my own way, my own memories, my own experiences which somehow prepared me for catching this boy’s attention. This boy who wanted to be a mountain man, a cowboy, a trapper, a ninja, a wrestler and football player. I wonder while he was reaching for those dreams if he imagined himself out here with a girl like me? I girl who was so nervous when he first came to visit her on the ranch that while attempting to get on her sorrel horse she jumped right on over the horse’s bare back and landed in a heap on the other side. A girl who showed him all of her favorite places in the coulees, hoping he was the right one to show them to. 

A girl who wrote songs about him, got her heart broke by him only to live through it and start again…

a girl who never planned on being married at all…who was content, really, with being alone out here, thank you very much…but who is so grateful now that she isn’t.

So yes, this man has been on this earth 29 years and although I may have missed some of the best memories he holds, I am content knowing that I was there for some of them and will be there for more to come.  29 years and in his lifetime he may not have climbed the biggest mountains like he planned, shot the biggest deer, learned to ride eight seconds on a bucking bull, won the nation on the wrestling mat…

But he has changed the world. Because simply by living an authentic life he has helped me tackle mine with more confidence and conquerable force, by loving this land with passion and a capable energy  he has provided my family with trust and support, and by holding true to that spirit that he has been filling up with experiences, good things, difficult things, true things, he becomes more capable, more himself, more of the man he wanted to be every day.

And I am just so damn happy that he grabbed my hand when he did so I could be there to watch him become the man I’ve loved all along…

Happy Birthday Cowboy…to the moon and back…

This is my dad

This is my dad.

You may have met him here before in various circumstances. I talk about him a lot, you know, cause I’m his side kick. I guess I always have been. He’s been the harmonica to my guitar, the harmony to my solo, the encouragement behind the uncertainty, the swat on my horse’s rump when is time to get going and pretty much the one person in this world who understands what it’s like to have a nose that seems to keep growing, despite the fact that neither one of us has successfully pulled off a lie.

We share some of the same qualities, my pops and I. I think it drives my family crazy. I mean the big nose and curly hair are a few of the obvious, but the lame jokes and over enthusiasm for the little things (like a field of wildflowers, deliciously ripe tomatoes, a perfectly placed breeze and a song that warrants discussion and repeat plays) are sometimes annoyingly perky and overly positive for members of the Veeder clan who have heard enough already and really don’t care for tomatoes, thanks very much.

We have a tendency to go on and on.

Anyway, yes, pops and I are cut from the same cloth, that’s for sure. But there is one important quality I didn’t inherit from him, or if I did, it’s hidden somewhere down deep and I’m waiting for it to come forth and show itself.

Pops is cool.

Here he is riding a bronc with a broken arm. Seriously. See the cast?

Yup, he’s cool like that.

I mean, the man spent most of his life on the back of horses he worked to get to stop bucking only to willingly get on the back of broncs he hoped would buck like hell.

And bulls. I think he might have done the same with bulls.

Yup. Cool.

Cool like the lead singer of a traveling band who drove around the countryside playing dances and events in this really sweet bus.

In high school.

Give me a break.

I mean, the guy’s got stories, and sometimes, when his brother’s in town or his best bud comes down for coffee or a beer, I get to hear them. I just stay quiet and listen, laugh and can’t believe it.

I can’t believe this man who has been singing Neil Young songs for swaying audiences since he was fifteen years old understood the importance of teaching those songs to his daughters, giving them a guitar of their own and letting them tag along if they wanted to.

I always wanted to.

Come to think of it, I can’t believe a man who’s been thrown from the backs of countless horses gets all up in arms, pissed actually, when one of his own hits the dirt in the same fashion. Shit happens, yes. But he can’t stand it.

Which brings me to the daughters thing. He has three. Yup. He was pops to three little girls with grass stained knees who somewhere along the line became three grown women.

And he has found himself the only man of the house for the last 28 years.

The only man.

I have always wondered about this, wondered what the good Lord was thinking granting a man like this, a man who could teach a son a few things about being a cowboy, hunter, fisherman, tractor driver and all things some little boys are made of, three wild-haired daughters with wills like the wind. 

I always wondered if a son would have made his life easier, more fulfilling, although I never wondered if he wished for one. He never made us feel that way. He just took us along.

And riding shotgun in the pickup or sitting beside him as he played his guitar I worked to learn as much as possible from him about ranching and cattle and music and what it means to truly love a place and love your family beyond measure.

I continue to learn from him every day.

It took me a while to understand this, but as we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday and pops’ three daughters were scattered across the prairie raising a baby, visiting a boyfriend and rolling in late with a pickup full of kayaks and chicken for dinner, it became very clear to me the type of man it takes to raise daughters.

As I looked at the lines on my pop’s face I realized that his whiskey voice, silver hair and disjointed nose may have emerged during his time on the back of bulls, driving too fast or singing in bar bands–but that was just practice, a workout, training so he could build himself some muscles.

Muscles to lift his girls up on the back of horses, into pickups, and off the ground when a fall broke their bones or a boy broke their heart–muscles to lift bags and beds and boxes into their cars…

…and guts to watch them kick up dust on the road as they drove up on over the horizon and out on their own.

Guts to walk them down the aisle only to leave the light on, just  in case they ever need to come home…

Because it’s men whose heart and mind have always been open to adventure, surprise, opportunity and wild rides; men with gentle hands and expectations who stay up late at night without complaint waiting for the car to pull into the drive, no matter the hour; men with enough hair to hold a colorful array of barretts and enough security in their manhood to show up to work with remnants of pink nail-polish on their fingernails; it’s only the strongest men, only the manliest men, the most composed, most tender- hearted, most exceptional men…

…the coolest men who are blessed and charged with making sure little girls understand that they have muscles of their own.

Happy Father’s Day Pops. Thanks to you I get stronger every day.

Something about the pug and the radio

Top ‘o the afternoon to ya! Hope you’re all enjoying a beautiful St. Patty’s Day. I am going to confess here that I am wearing gray and black, and not the required green and feeling a little guilty about it. But I am in mourning, because today Chug the pug is getting his eyeball removed. After his unfortunate run-in with a porcupine, it seems the porcupine won.

And the eyeball lost.

Sweet mercy.

The burial (of the eyeball, not the pug) is tomorrow.

RIP Adorable Eyeball

Anyway, on a more exciting note:  the reason I’m popping in today is to let  you all know that  my story about one of the greatest cowboys I know will be airing on Prairie Public this afternoon at approximately 3:46 pm and 7:46 pm central time.

You can listen to it live here at Prairie Public’s website, or if you ‘re in the ND area, tune in!

All of my commentary will also be available online after the fact on the Prairie Public Radio “Hear it Now” program page so you can listen at your convenience.

I am so excited to share this story with a broader audience because it is a story about a man with the most optomistic of attitudes, a man who has passion as big as the prairie skies and has taught me so much about knowing who you are and doing what you love.

My pops.

Read the original post, The Art of Cow Cooperation and get ready, like I am, for the cows to finally come home!

Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have one more moment in honor and memory of the eyeball:

Thank you.

See ya on the radio.

Cowboy Cooks Knoephla

Everybody loves to eat. Especially during this season of the cool down when we all want to give in to those animal instincts telling us to stock up and hibernate.

Yes, everyone loves food. Even those of us who have been known to use our ovens for storage have a dish we try to re-create from our childhood—grandmother’s oatmeal cookies, aunt’s pickles, mother’s secret homemade mac and cheese that turned out was just Velveeta with a little milk over fancy noodles.

And out here, where the coyotes howl outside our window, the grocery store is a good thirty miles away and delivery is not an option unless you are planning on paying a serious fee, we count on those familiar favorite recipes to bring us together around a dinner table, in one room, under the vast prairie sky.

Hey, just because we get more dirt on our clothes and poop on our shoes than the rest of civilization doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a fine dining experience.

So we make our own.

Well, “we” may not be the most honest term here.

Because, like my good friend Napoleon Dynamite, I have some sweet skills…cat scouting skills, Internet surfing skills, guitar skills, horse hairdressing skills, and the most practiced and honed skill of all…eating. Passionate eating.

I am good at eating.

But not so good at cooking…unless I have specific instructions and an entire day and a half to plan it out and execute a recipe. And by then I’m usually too tired from the effort of it all and too full from sampling each ingredient that I have no wish to eat again for another solid, well….ummm….thirty to forty minutes.

It’s exhausting.

No, I have little patience for food that doesn’t come directly from a box.

So although I can’t provide you with life-changing recipes that you will pass on from generation to generation (unless you wish to pass down that mac and cheese recipe, then I’m all in), I can give you something better.

Yes, much, much better.

See I know someone who doesn’t say much. He’s skilled and handsome and very, very tolerant. An unlikely character who knows cooking because he honed his skills alongside a woman who honed her skills alongside a woman who put heart and flour and some of that wholesome German-Russian discipline into her food.

Yup, he knows cooking.

So I married him.

Oh, husband has recipes, secret recipes that he has sharpened and perfected and put his own, rugged twist on. He has them tucked up under his hat and they come out of him in all of this lovely, delicious and oh so soul warming, buttery and carbohydrate loaded food that makes me weak in the knees. And then I promptly lay down in bed, pull the covers over my head knowing that I could die in my sleep and my last meal would be the best meal of my life.

Ok, I’m a little dramatic perhaps, but he does cook….really, really well.

We can all thank his momma for this.

And you can thank me and number one skill—persuasion—for getting him to agree to let me follow him around our tiny kitchen and document his every move.

Yup, my mad skills come in handy.

So hold on to your ladles as I present to you the first installment of—

A Cowboy In the Kitchen: Recipes and philosophy from the epitome of man—the cowboy.  Expect heartiness. Expect butter. Expect meat. Expect robust flavors. Expect bad grammar. Expect a mess.


But please, don’t expect diet food.

Our agreement? Husband gets to wear his hat and his fancy shirt, in all its polyester glory...

Today’s Recipe:


Homemade Knoephla Soup with Chicken (cause a cowboy’s gotta get his protein)

And before we go any further, the cowboy wants you to know that this doesn’t have to be pretty.  And it ain’t gonna be quick. Soup is about the process; so hang in for the long haul and don’t get hung up on meticulous measuring. There will no measuring spoons or cups, but a lot of pinches, dashes and shakes.

The only spoon you need is your taste test spoon. Use it often for best results.

And last but not least…

The #1 rule of soup. You can always add to it, but you can’t take it back.

Mooooving right along.

Cast of characters:

  • A Cowboy
  • A good attitude (no bitchin’ in the kitchen)
  • 3 to 5 ice cubes
  • Your favorite whiskey
  • Six chicken drumsticks or three chicken leg quarters,  thawed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 6-8 green onions
  • 4 large carrots
  • Half and Half
  • Chicken Base or Bouillon Cubes
  • Bay leaves
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Celery Salt
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Salt

(Yup, I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot of spices. But, didn’t John Wayne say something about trust?) Anyway.

And finally…

  • One brother-in-law who will smell this from his camper in the yard and come over to see what’s cookin’

Step 1: Prepare

  • Put the ice cubes in your favorite glass
  • Pour desired amount of whiskey over the cubes
  • Take a drink

(This is not optional)

Step 2: The Broth

  • Put as much water in to the pot as you want soup broth.  (Too much is better than not enough. A cowboy’s logic in the kitchen and in life. )
  • Place chicken and bay leaves into the water
  • Add a two fingered pinch of rosemary and a sprinkle of salt
  • Bring to a gentle boil
  • Continue boiling until the chicken is cooked through–approximately 1/2 hour, but the longer the better, as the point is to cook the flavor out of the chicken to create a tasty broth.

Now kick back in your favorite recliner, sip some more whiskey and wait.

  • Once the chicken is cooked to your liking, remove it from the pot and skim the excess fat off the top of the water

  • Season the broth with:
    • A sprinkle of salt
    • A pinch of minced garlic
    • A couple shakes of basil
    • A couple shakes of celery salt
    • A pinch of thyme (Cowboy’s not sure what this is, but puts it in anyway ‘cause it sounds fancy)
    • A generous couple shakes of parsley
    • 3 tablespoons of chicken base (or several bullion cubes)

Waft the soup up to your nose to get a good whiff. Smells delicious. Add more seasoning if you wanna.


And while you’re at it why don’t you take another sip of whiskey

Step 3: Soup contents

  • Remove the skin from the chicken and pull meat from the bone. Cut into bite sized pieces

  • Peel and dice four medium sized potatoes

  • Slice four large carrots

  • Dice 6-8 green onions

  • And…a half a stick of butter (optional. If you’re feeling diety, you can skip it, but it sure makes it tasty)


Add all above ingredients to the soup and continue cooking on low heat until the potatoes are tender. About 20 minutes.


mmmm…it smells good in here…I’m stttaaaarrrrvvvviiinnngggg…..

On a side note, this is what we have to work around...ridiculous.

In the meantime…the best part…


Step 4: The knoephla

  • Mix one egg with a cup of milk

  • Add a dash of salt and stir

  • Sprinkle flour on your counter or table to avoid stick

  • Add flour (about 3 to 4 cups) to the mixture and then knead the dough on the table until it no longer sticks to your hands and the consistency reminds you of play dough

  • Roll the dough out in to thin, round strips that look like small snakes

  • When the potatoes are done, using a kitchen scissors, clip off about ½ inch pieces of the dough and drop into soup mix

(you don’t have to use all of the dough, just put in as many as you like. Cowboy usually needs to upgrade to a bigger pot)

  • Cook kneophla until they float to the top of the soup mixture. About 10-15 minutes.


Step 5: The finale

  • When the knoephla pieces pop to the top of the mixture, take a little taste of the broth to see if it needs anything. Add more seasoning if you wanna.
  • Then, if you’re feeling too skinny, add to the mix a ½ pint of half and half. (c’mon you know you wanna) Heavy whipping cream also works, but we didn’t want to scare you off.

  • Say, “mmm.mmm.mmmm.”
  • Stir
  • Ladle into big boy sized bowls and serve with crackers and bread (because really, we need more carbs)

Time to eat!


Then leave the dishes for tomorrow and tip your hat down over your face and turn in for the night.


Agh, I’m exhausted.

We ate too much...


Cowboy says: “If it’s not the best soup you’ve ever eaten it’s because you missed the important ingredient…whiskey….or was that love? Yeah, love.

Repeat steps 1-5 adding more whiskey, which results, consequently, in more love.

Happy Kneophla to ya!

The art of cow cooperation.

I had the pleasure on this fine fall day of accompanying pops, just like old times, in bringing the cows home in fall roundup fashion.

My pops loves cows. He is first a horseman, but second a sort of cow whisperer. I am not kidding. It is, in its own way, extraordinary. His method for punchin’ cattle is not necessarily the bullwhips and whooping and hollering old western type of scenario most think of when visualizing a cattle roundup.

No, there isn’t even much swearing involved (unless I’m along. Then there might be a few slung here and there, I’m not gonna lie…) Anyway, the art of chasing cows with my pops is actually, I might stretch as far to say, a sort of “zen” experience, with the motto being, “slow and steady…let the cows think they are in charge.”

And really, they are. In charge that is. The cows. Because they will always outnumber us, no matter the strategy, no matter the brains and brawn you and the cow horse that is under you posses.  Most of the time things generally go as planned, with the cows catching wind of the horse at their backs and filing, nose to rump, on the trail to the gate. Just like pops had visualized. But then there are the days when the cows see that same gate open to greener pastures, and then choose, very casually, very snarky, to simply not enter and, you know, run as fast as their creaky legs can carry them to the nearest, most snarly, most thistle ridden brush there is on the entire place.

Yeah, I can see ya girl.

Then laugh and whisper to each other as pops and I discuss the idiotic fact that we own a pug, two labs and an old, crabby shepherd between the two of us and not one sense to possess a decent cow dog (whose job it is to correct these bovine attitudes). And then we proceed to dismount and walk into the critter and weed ridden brush to chase them out ourselves.

“Hya”  “Whoop.” “Come on girls.” “Yip. Yip. Yip.”

Arms waving, these are a few of the most choice phrases used by pops and me to encourage cow cooperation.

(I admit, I sometimes say “Dammit.” I know I shouldn’t, but I am passionate.)

Anyway, no matter the attitude, this type of situation is bound to occur on a cow-moving extravaganza, but it very rarely causes heart failure and hissy fits in the cowboy.  Because pops is a man who has been working cattle on this ranch his entire life, so he knows the drill.  He gets in their heads. He sees what a rebellious cow is thinking before she makes her move. He knows where all the gates are located in case the bovines get picky, he has been in all of the draws and has crossed all of the creek beds and has had to run damn quick to the tops of all of the clay hills. He’s got it down, so there really is no need to cuss, Jessie, geesh.

But for the last five years, pops has done this type of work, moving anywhere from 10 to 50 to 100 cows by himself on the back of his most savvy horse for years, being out here as the lone cowboy since his kids left home.

So he is really happy to have help, no matter how distracted that help may be by her camera and the lazy, spoiled pleasure horse she stupidly selected to take with her on the job.



But it all worked out, like it always does on this fine fall day. After watching as a few surly strays decided to run down the steepest cliff with the most thorns and bogs in the entire pasture, with pops in the lead, saying “Well, if this is how they’re going to be, we’ll just follow them around the entire pasture until they find the gate,” we calmly rode in after them. And then I remembered why cowboys wear chaps as one of those thorns found a home in my shin. I might have said “shit” but I can’t remember.

And then, after a few “Yip yips” and Hya”’s, like well trained beasts, they came out of the brush…and proceeded to head for the other side of the pasture to a lovely spot where a deep creek winds up and back again through cliffs and washouts and lots and lots of thistles.

We followed.

We followed as the cows, with their rather large calves at their tails, waded in mud up to their knees to get away from us. And then proceed to swim across the deep creek and climb and claw and scramble out its steep, 90 degree bank. You know, to get away from us.

I shook my head, kicked my pokey mount along and scratched at the thorn in my leg. Pops laughed and commented on how gorgeous the view is out here. He said this is his favorite pasture. He pointed out the nicest calf.

What a beautiful day.

And it was, because just as I was sure these cattle were calling the Greyhound Bus to get the next ticket to NYC  (you know, to get away from us) we popped up over the hill and saw them file in line behind their girlfriends and their babies who were making their way through the open gate.

Just like pops had planned. Just like he asked them to.

And as they all gathered for a drink of water before their final destination, pops looked out over his spread, their shiny black coats glistening in the sunlight and said, “Look at those beautiful cows. What a herd. Take a picture of that Jess. Those are some great cows.”

So I did. I took a picture.

Then shifted my lens to snap a picture of a cowboy. You know, a real one.

“Happy Trails Y’all”…well we don’t really say “ya’ll” around here…let me try it again..

“Happy Trails You Guys!”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Until we meet again.