This place is yours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great Grandpa Eddie who homesteaded the Veeder Ranch

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

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

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

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Great Grandpa Eddie in the door of his homestead shack

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

It isn’t always money that makes us rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Work and motherhood: A gift and a struggle

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Before I became a mom I envisioned days spent with my babies like the one I got yesterday. The weather was beautiful, my daughters and I picked wildflowers and delivered them to grandma down the road, Edie ran through the sprinkler, played in the sandbox, rode her pony and spent the evening playing with her cousins while I cooked supper in honor of my mom and sisters with the windows open listening to the sounds of laughter outside. Besides the two giant pukes on my just-washed bedding, the baby was a dream. She slept and snuggled and was happy to be alive and learning.

It was a good day.

It was Mother’s Day.

But let’s be real now, not all days with kids and work are created equal. Some days it’s looks less like a dream and more a circus performance that has yet to be properly rehearsed and someone opened the gates and all the animals got out in the ring. At least that’s what it looks like on my living room floor, which matches what’s happening in my mind.

Last week, in an attempt to keep that sanity and the bills paid, we started daycare up again after losing our provider when Rosie was born. And while it’s only few days a week, it got me thinking about motherhood and work and keeping that part of yourself  that makes you tick engaged among the booger wipes and snuggles…and why it’s so hard to admit that it’s hard…and why sometimes you feel like no matter what you do, it’s not right for anyone.

And in those moments it helps to take a breath and remind myself that to have so much to love and so much I want to do that it makes me sorta crazy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it may drive me to make questionable decisions about M&M consumption…and maybe we need to work on things like that…

Coming Home: How to be a good mom, today and every day

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There are a million ways to be a good mom.

Handing your 2-year old one M&M after another in an attempt to keep her quiet while you’re on the phone conducting an interview for a magazine article that is overdue is probably not one of them.

It’s not one of the ways to become a great journalist either, but when it comes to motherhood and work, sometimes it’s about survival.

I’m thinking about this today as I sit in a coffee shop office after dropping my daughters off at their new part-time daycare perch for the first time. I’m thinking about motherhood and career and the proper amount of sacrifice and wondering if I should feel guilty about not feeling as guilty as I think I should about getting a break from my kids to get some work done … if that makes sense.

Does it make sense?

Since Rosalee was born five months ago, I have continued to work from my home office, struggling to keep my career afloat and my children entertained and happy three minutes at a time. And while it’s been wonderful to be home with them, it’s also been maddening and exhausting.

To have a career you love and babies you love at the same time is a gift and a struggle of distribution.

To have a husband with a full-time job and a ranch to run when he comes home at night makes our life look like “remember you have the babies tonight because I have a meeting” and texts about grocery lists and the triumph of finally finding the lost mermaid toy the toddler has been obsessing about. It’s about piling in the old pickup to “help” fix fence and Daddy getting in just in time to read story after story before falling asleep in his work clothes in a tiny bed next to his daughter and her pile of stuffed animals because he’s exhausted while I’m upstairs nursing the baby and finishing up the day’s emails on my cell phone.

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It’s a familiar narrative.

We’re not unique as a working family trying to make our dreams and our ends meet. But turns out there’s a lot of wondering if you’re doing anything right in between those lines of the happily-ever-after story.

Because once you put those dreams in motion, what comes next is the messy, wonderful, unpredictable, frustrating, fulfilling minutes piling up to create a life.

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But why is it so scary to admit that it can be exhausting?

I know from experience that I can be tired and grateful at the same time. Aggravated one minute and proud the next. Content in the moment while really looking forward to when the toddler can put her boots on all by herself and the baby pops those bottom two teeth already.

When I pictured myself as a mother I had expectations that I wouldn’t use M&M’s as bribery as often as I do. But that was back before I met the kids who created this new version of me who loves them fiercely and fully, but still has work she wants to do.

And you know now that I think of it, I can only wish the same dilemma on my daughters one day.

Happy Mother’s Day mommas!

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Calving season and small triumphs

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

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

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Coming Home: Calving season brings mix of wonder and worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not enough coffee in the world

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We had a wonderful Easter weekend, with a house full of guests. We were lucky enough to have everyone from both sides of our family (minus one) under our roof which, made for just the right amount of chaos.

And no amount of snow could keep us from the annual outside hunt, so there was that too. Another snow bank Easter in the books.

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Today we’re paying for it all dearly though. Because I thought it was a great idea to say “Sure, Monday at noon will be fine!’ to the lady who wanted to come over for a TV interview with me about the Lifetime HerAmerica project. Which meant I had to get after cleaning up the crusted turkey pan, candy wrappers, plastic egg pieces, punch bowl and crusted on floor crumbs and tackle my sleep deprived face and messy mom hair before her arrival.

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I also had to pray to the sleep Gods for well timed naps, which I miraculously managed, except the interviewer was late, which meant that just in time for me to mic-up the baby started to fuss and mid-way through my answer to the question about “managing it all” the toddler, complete with bed head and pink paint in her bangs from the morning’s craft project, woke up with a temperament of a poked bear.

And she wasn’t having any of it.

Especially the shirt I made her wear.

At one point in the process I was singing to Rosie and from her perch on the potty in the other room, Edie screamed for me to stop. Which I’m sure was exactly the mood they were going for.

I hope no one watches the news. That was exhausting.

And apparently, if my patience had a chance today, it’s shot to shit. I told Edie to say please today and she said I was being crabby. She even made up a song about it…

She wasn’t wrong. I sorta am, despite feeling so grateful after celebrating my favorite holiday. Funny how you can be so many things at the same time.

Oh, its all sort of funny, even the hard stuff. And I’m not sure when, but they say I’ll look back on it all one day and miss it. And I know that’s true, because we tend to forget the exhaustion and that weird, unidentifiable blob crusted under the leg of our table that was discovered with a house full of company and only remember how fun it was to hunt eggs in the snow.

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So that’s what this week’s column is all about. And when it was published, I got a few sweet emails from people reassuring me that it goes fast and that they can relate. And then there was the one woman who spoke her truth, saying I will NOT miss it because little kids are exhausting and it’s hard and the later years are easier and you know what, today I love her for that.

Because apparently, I’m crabby…and I don’t know why…

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Coming Home: As parents, when will we look back on this stage and miss it? 

“Remember when we used to hit up places like this after a long night out?” he said as he held the drooling, wiggly baby in one arm and ate chicken fried steak with the other while I shoveled eggs into my mouth between the toddler’s incessant requests for more toast, because she had just discovered jelly, a condiment she is was convinced was sent down from heaven to this café from God himself.

That was back when we would stay up until two in the morning on purpose and come rolling into cafés like these for a stack of pancakes or a pile of eggs, twenty something, tipsy and childless.

It’s a far cry from our current state of thirty-something, hungry and sleepless.

But I’m not sure how our waitress would have categorized us that morning when she walked toward our booth and caught me absentmindedly singing, “I need coffee, I need coffee, I need coffee” into my fork.

I didn’t even know I was doing it until I saw her face pull up into a full-on laugh as she handed us our menus and took our drink orders.

“I’m thinking you need coffee then?” she smiled.

“Huh, yeah,” I replied. “And maybe a little time away from the kids.”

She left and we laughed too. Our idea of a fun had morphed a bit from planning a night out on the town to planning a trip to take the toddler swimming in a hotel pool.

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Sitting down to eat breakfast at a café like this used to be a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning. These days it’s more like a bad idea, a chance to test our patience, my incognito breastfeeding skills and, apparently, experience the thrill of eating jelly out of those little plastic packets.

But in between cutting up chicken nuggets, cleaning up spills and sipping cold coffee, the reminiscing made me take notice of all the different life stages that were seated in that busy café that morning. The rumpled weekend college kids we used to be, the parents of teenagers trying hard for discussion, the elderly couple quietly and ritualistically sharing the newspaper, the 5-year-old boy out to eat with his dad who kept turning around to sneak a peek of our baby…

And behind me a woman talked with her mother about giving her teenage daughter relationship advice. And in her words I heard my own mom’s voice talking over the hum of the radio in the mini-van, driving us somewhere so we couldn’t escape it, the same technique this woman seemed to employ. And I couldn’t help but think that in a few short blinks that a different version of us will be in that café while our daughters are sleeping in or out with friends.

And we will say, “Remember when they were little and we would come to these places to make a mess and noise and barely take a bite? Remember when there wasn’t enough coffee in the world?”

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To live in these moments

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Good Monday to you. Here’s to another week of weird weather and hope for warmer and better days. This week’s column is on what sickness gives and takes from you. Since I wrote this, Dad had a good report on his visit to Minneapolis. Looks like he’s officially on the mend and we’re grateful for more rides in the feed pickup together.

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Coming Home: Long moments remind us of fleeting nature in life

This winter has been long enough. I woke up to another three inches of snow on our doorstep this morning, crushing my hopes of spring finally hanging up her coat here.

I tried to complain as I poured the coffee, but I know it will fill the dams and make the grass green.

A few days ago, before the snow came, the old stuff was working hard on melting, so we bundled up the girls and went to pet the horses and my husband took my dad out to feed the cows.

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It was the first time he’d been out on the ranch since the end of October when I sat with him in my car, watching as my husband, uncles and neighbors loaded the calves up on shipping day.

I looked over at him then, and even though the doctors said he was on the mend, he was still in so much pain. I knew somehow the road was going to be longer.

And it was. It still is.

We don’t want to be weak when we were once strong. We don’t want to be lonely when our homes were once full. We don’t want to worry about the end when we’re trying hard to live in the moment. We don’t want to rest when the sun’s shining, and there’s so much to be done.

But that’s what sickness does. It robs you of detachment and forces each moment on you. And the word “moment” changes too. In pain and worry, it stretches out before you for miles, like your engine’s sputtering on a lonesome back road. In hope and healing, those long moments turn into a reminder that it’s all so short and fleeting.

And there’s so much you could have missed if you weren’t granted another one.

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I’ve only had one near-death experience in my life, one where I wasn’t strapped in when my car went rolling too fast off of I-94. But I was a teenager and invincible and barely phased by a bruised head and broken glass. I walked away with a lesson on safety belts, but my moments weren’t tested the same way my dad’s have been these days.

“I hope I can get better. I’d hate to fade out like this,” he said to me as he sat in my easy chair and I bounced my baby in the sun streaming into our house, illuminating the dust, bits of Play Dough, toys and chaos that new little lives leave behind on the floors. I don’t know what I said then except it was probably some dismissive, reassuring quip like, “Don’t worry, it will come slow, but you’ll feel like yourself again.”

And my sick dad — working so hard at recovery — will probably not remember those rushed words, but I will never forget his and the way they hit me as I held our growing baby who entered this world during the moments he was desperately trying not to leave it.

And so the winter’s been long enough. And I’ll take the snow to fill the dams and then I’ll welcome the sunshine, because there’s so much to do.

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Love. An explanation.

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What is love? It depends on who you ask.
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My dad once told me that he didn’t believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed up answer.

I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that’s what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.

“Think about this,” he said. “What would it be like for you if you couldn’t talk to him tomorrow?”

From there he explained his theory on love and how he believed it was more about timing and choices and kindness than it was about destiny. And it wasn’t romantic really, but hearing that there were more people out there I could love, or who could love me, helped take the pressure off, even if the teenage poet in me didn’t appreciate the practicality of it at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that particular relationship did work for me. My husband and I became one of those couples who found each other as teenagers and hung on tight, not because of big romantic gestures or a dramatic series of events, but because, I think, neither one of us could imagine not being able to talk to each other every day. And although it’d be more passionate to say we were destined to be together, the truth is, in the end, it was a choice.

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Last month, I asked a group of preschoolers to define love. I wanted a few cute quotes in the name of Valentine’s Day for the parenting magazine I edit. I don’t know what I expected, but it got me wondering how I would respond if someone pulled me away from my Lego tower and asked me.

One little boy summed it up perfectly when he told me, confidently, that he shows his mom he loves her by “cooking her turkey.”

I smiled as I wrote down his answer, thinking how refreshing it is to hear such an uncomplicated take on what we grown-ups come to muddy up along the way.

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Then I thought of my mom sitting by my dad’s bedside day after day after day while he was in the ICU and unable to speak, not knowing if she would get to talk to him tomorrow, the choice no longer hers to own.

There will be a time when my girls will need me to talk to them about head and heart, and I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like that day in the pickup, to be a teenager on the edge of a wide open life, reminded that love looks less like Prince Charming and more like turkey dinner turned into turkey sandwiches turned into a lifetime of conversation with the someone you can’t bear to lose.

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Motherhood, you’re a mess…

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I’m telling you, this winter deep freeze is starting to get to us. Couple that with the fact that Edie is on a daycare hiatus and we’ve been sorta sick and stuffed up for a week or so I admit, I’m digging deep here.

Today in particular.

Because as a sweet test from God I woke up this morning without a voice. Like, I’m not just a little scratchy. No. I can barely make a squeak come out of my mouth, no matter what I do. And it turns out a mom who can only whisper is fun for a two-year-old. Because if a kid jumps up and down on the living room couch and there’s no mom-voice there to tell her to get down, is it really happening?

Apparently not.

 

This kid is driving me nuts today, it’s like she knows I’m weak. Because the other one gave me no chance to get some rest and avoid this last night. Sleeping in 1.5 hour increments is another form of torture.

Anyway, to get me through the morning and keep Edie from trying, repeatedly, to feed Rosie her baby doll bottle full of water before attempting to lift her out of her seat,

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I decided I would sacrifice cleanliness and make this Moon Sand I’ve been seeing my mom friends do for their toddlers.

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It’s an easy to make, sensory activity for kids. I used the recipe off of happy-mothering.com because I figured with a URL like that, she must be on to something.  I mixed 8 cups of flour and 1 cup of baby oil together in the mixer long enough to get it all combined. I then poured it in a long, flat Tupperware container, thinking I was being really proactive about the mess by putting newspaper down on the table underneath. But it didn’t matter. By the time she was done the stuff was in my hair, under everyone’s fingernails, in Rosie’s ear as she slept in her swing across the room and the dog’s fur in the garage.

So, yeah, it’s more of an outside-on-the-porch kind of activity, but parenting up here in the great white frozen north where it was like twenty below zero here this morning is no joke. We make sacrifices in the name of our sanity. Today my sacrifice was my floor.

But it did keep Toddlerzilla engaged for a good 45 minutes or so. And she loved it. So I think it was an ok trade off for the 45 minutes I had to spend cleaning up the mess she made.

Ugh…Spring, you can come anytime now.

Until then, here’s this week’s column on the other messes I’ve created in my attempt to make it through this season with young kids…

Not all messes in life are created equal
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“Sorry for the mess,” my friend’s husband said as he opened the door to the pickup he was letting me borrow during the week I was waiting for my new baby to be born in the big town.

I looked around to find an orange hunting vest lying on the back seat and (GASP!) a stray penny on the floor. And that was it.

Clearly, we have opposite ideas of what a mess is, I thought as I wheeled around town in that spotless pickup like a fancy pregnant pageant queen, careful not to spill any crumbs from my occasional muffin pit stop on the seats and making sure to bring my water and juice cups inside when I parked it.

I’m pretty sure you could make a dozen new muffins from all the crumbs that are residing on the floor of my vehicle these days. And don’t get me started on the extra cups. And I know I’ve explained my car situation here before, how living 30 miles from any civilization means that a girl accumulates things, just in case — like extra socks, a stash of snacks in every available crevasse, lawn chairs, spare gloves, napkins upon napkins, a 2012 issue of Glamour magazine, a talking Elmo doll and a partridge in a pear tree. But if I thought I had an issue before I gave birth to two small children, well, I had no idea what was coming.

Like two, 75-pound car seats that come with said children.

Do you know what also comes with children? Stuff. So. Much. Stuff. Like all the extra things I thought I needed for those miles when it was only me? Multiply that by three and then add a giant stroller, a Pack ‘n Play, a couple stacks of kid’s books, a stash of fruit snacks, burp rags, baby dolls and at least one dirty diaper changed along the side of the road. Oh, and Edie’s lifejacket just in case.

By the time I get the car loaded and both girls out the door and buckled safely into their seats, I’m sweating like I’ve just come in last place at a Texas marathon.

Last week we finally did get around to going to that indoor swimming pool. I slowly made the trek from the parking lot to the door with a diaper bag backpack on my back, a swim bag overstuffed with suits, clothes and towels dangling off the stroller with a car seat and the baby inside, stopping only to pull my toddler in her puffy coat out of the snow bank where she decided to lay down for a half-way break. If it wasn’t so cold, I might have joined her and if you were flying over Watford City that day, I’m pretty sure you could see us giving up on it all from your window seat.

Three days later, when I went searching for that swimming bag, I found it, of course, in my car, stuffed full of very frozen swimsuits, towels and an ice cube of a life jacket.

And that, my friend, is the sort of mess worth apologizing for…

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Northern Lights

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As I write this, the plane dad’s taking to get him home from a three month stint fighting for his life is likely landing on this frozen tundra of a place. He won this battle, and four years ago at the beginning of a frigid January, he miraculously won another one, when a valve in his heart tore open and, against all odds, he made it home.

I wrote Northern Lights, a tribute to his will to live, in the passenger seat of a long drive home that winter, watching the lights of the aurora bounce and dance across the back sky, offering a flicker of hope in the longest, coldest season.

Dad and I recorded the song in Nashville the following year and have played it at select shows since its release.

For some reason, it’s taken almost three full winters to finish and release this video. How fitting, on his homecoming, it is ready to be shared today.

Welcome home Dad. May you live to be that old cowboy they said you’d be.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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