The “good days” are a mess

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Happy Halloween.

Whew. October 31st, I think I’m happy to see you. Not just because I’m looking forward to dressing up as a mermaid with the toddler and trying to convince my baby to keep the fishy bonnet on her head as we traipse around town this afternoon, but also because this is the last day of what has been a month that’s been chaos.

Chaos with a month-long chest cold on top.

Chaos as in working nights and every weekend.

Chaos as in a house addition project that’s not going swimmingly.

Chaos as in I thought I filed my column last week but got distracted by something (Lord can only guess) and I forgot to hit send, which marks the first time since I started this gig that I missed a plan for the column.

Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Next month.

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And we’re getting by on coffee and granola bars and trying to go with the flow even when the flow looks like dragging my meltdown-mode toddler out of gymnastics and negotiating every holiday and birthday and gymnastics class in her little life to get good behavior out of her for the pumpkin painting event at the Nursing Home we were headed to. It was likely the fact that the kid likes grammas and would do anything to paint and not my threats that made that experience more lovely than stripping her out her leotard while she swung at me and I pretended to be one of those calm moms who wasn’t going to get to the car and threaten to take away all her birthdays.

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And right now it’s 8:45 am and she’s asking for candy…soooo…we’ll see if we survive today.

We will survive today. Because, as dad reminded me in one of my long “trying to figure out my life” discussions: “These are the good days.”

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And the good days are messy. Perpetually messy, like my toddler’s hair and our bedroom.

Messy like the bed and the floor under Rosie’s highchair.

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Messy like the best laid plans and the never finished dishes and the bathroom floor with every drawer emptied by the baby in the name of keeping her occupied so I can finish my makeup.

Messy like the seats and the dashboard and the cubbies of my car.

Messy like the desktop of my computer. And my desk for that matter, because I have projects going on and little people who don’t take very long naps.

Messy like my closet full of things I wear too much and things I used to wear in a life that looked different. Less complicated.

Not as sticky.

I feel like I’m never going to get caught up. Does anyone ever feel like they’re caught up?

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Last weekend I spent the entire Sunday morning cleaning the main floor of my house, sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming while my toddler followed me around telling me that it hurt her ears, only to watch it all unravel as almost every member of my extended family made their way through the door to play with the kids and encourage them to walk around eating crackers.

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I looked around at the crumbs and the toys and the laughing people and realized what my problem was. I can’t seem to get caught up on things like the landscaping or the window washing, not necessarily because I can’t find the time, but because I am using that time for other things.

Like trips to the playground outside with the kids.

Trying to do a good job and my work. Driving to town to go to the doctor to get the girls’ flu shots and make sure I don’t have pneumonia. Daily phone calls to my little sister. Constructing my baby’s Halloween costume out of felt and hot glue.

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Cookie decorating with Edie while my baby unloads the Tupperwear cabinet.

Staying up too late catching up with my husband while we ignore putting away the laundry. Visits to the pool and to the horses and to the nursing home and to gymnastics and Sunday family visits and crafting projects and pumpkin painting and all the things that make messes…

So I guess I will get to the mess when I get to the mess. Because the absence of crumbs must not be that important to me. If it were, I would spend more time on exterminating them. Because in my life there has never been enough time available to fit in all of the things I think would be fun or important to do.

And I guess fun or important to me doesn’t always include getting to the dishes first.

Oh, sometimes it does. Like when I know company is coming.

But mostly, I’m just a little embarrassed by the sticky spot on my floor when someone unexpectedly drops by, but I always let them in.

Of course I always let them in.

Because one day these girls will be old enough to help me dust the shelves and unload the dishwasher and make their beds and I fully intend on teaching them the importance of taking care of our things and our house and our ranch, but maybe sometimes not at the expense of a good ride or a trip to the pool on a hot sunny day.

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Because I like to do stuff. To keep busy and engaged and sometimes that makes us all crazy, our kitchen countertops cluttery, and my toddler collapse in a pile in the middle of the parking lot while I try to make her hold my hand and walk with me so she doesn’t get hit by a car. So then sometimes I need to learn to step back and chill it out and give us all a minute so that we can continue on with the “good days.”

Happy Wednesday Halloween. Here’s to candy and chaos and surviving the rest of the week!

Mermaid Edie

In those boxes under the stairs…

Coming Home: Some things are worth saving
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OK, please tell me everyone has it — that space under the stairs or in the attic or the corner of your bedroom piled up to the ceiling where you put all the things.

All the things you want to save but don’t know what to do with, like the junk drawer every Midwesterner tries and fails to clean out every three years.

Please tell me you know what I mean so I don’t feel alone in the stacks of boxes I’m wading through here to make room for a plumbing project under those stairs.

Because I usually blame my husband for all the clutter, but four hours and 10 tubs full of less-practical things later, I’m admitting I’m guilty of the sentimental version of his shortcoming. And apparently it comes with baggage.

Because does the 35-year-old version of me need the graphic design projects I completed my junior year of college? Or a psychology textbook? Or a stack of blurry and misfired shots from my high school camera or this keychain that probably meant something to me but now I can’t remember what?

At some point in my life I must have thought so. But last weekend, in the name of time and an attempt to declutter my life to make room for the two new little lives that exist in our house now, I tossed them. I tossed them because, while it all served as a reminder of the things I used to do, it was no longer what I needed to remind me of who I used to be.

Some things aren’t worth saving, I decided. But it didn’t take much more digging to find the things that were. A box of random photos I hadn’t seen in years, photos that spanned decades, randomly tossed in a box and buried under things to deal with another day.

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Evidence of Sisterly Love and overly festive jammies

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A reminder of my fashion forward-ness

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That time we puffy painted everything…and babysat the neighbor’s goat over Christmas break

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A picture of me that could be a picture of Rosie (with brown eyes)

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Halloween with the little sister a million years ago

A photo of a 1-year-old me tucked under my grandma’s arm on her old brown couch, both of us worn out and sleeping in her little farmhouse that I can still smell if I close my eyes.

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An image of my little sister, 6 years old, standing outside with a Band-Aid and a tear on her face. She always had a Band-Aid and a little tear.

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A rare photo of my mom and all of her young daughters in our kitchen. Dad sleeping against the piano while we opened presents at Christmas.

Me, 16 with bad hair and a bad sweater, sitting next to my boyfriend in a wrestling T-shirt.

And then piles of carefully folded letters and notes we wrote to each other while we were falling in love with no real grasp on the future or that it might look like a house on the ranch with our babies and a space under the stairs stacked with books and DVDs, paint cans, a witch hat, yearbooks, sports buttons, trophies, a salamander and memories worth digging out sometimes to remind us where it began.

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Which, it turns out, helps in the whole moving forward thing. These things are worth saving.

Distracting things.

If you need me, I’ll be under the steps, trying again.

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Oh, love can come a long way…

Dear Daughters

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Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
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Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

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Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

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And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

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But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

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And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

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You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

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The heebie jeebies

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Coming Home: Spooked by ghosts, even if they’re just imaginary
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Last week, my dad was hauling our old feed pickup back from the shop on a flatbed trailer during oil field rush hour traffic, a little white-knuckled and stressed at the task.

Tired from a full day of work, annoyed at fellow drivers and maybe running a worst-case scenario or two through his head, he glanced in his rearview mirror to find a white pickup bearing down on him, looking like it was going to run him clean over.

He had a moment of panic, a few curse words and a split-second prayer to Jesus before he realized the threatening pickup was actually the one he was hauling on the trailer behind him. He freaked himself out.

And I tell ya, I can relate. Lately, I’ve been feeling a little of what I refer to as the “heebie-jeebies” around this place.

I think it started with the stray bat that made a surprise appearance in our bedroom, iced the cake with the weird creature scratching on the inside of our walls and now continues to send shivers down my spine every time the music on my office computer decides to play at random times, with no explanation or human close enough to make the command.

To top it off, I’m now literally sleeping with the light on because whatever ghost is living in this house has decided to keep the ceiling fan bulbs partially lit in our bedroom, no matter what button we push or switches we turn.

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It goes along with the weird situation with the chandelier we thought was broken one day only to find it working the next.

Must be our ghost. I mean, it makes sense. Our house is new, but it sits on an old homestead. And there were people on the land long before that. So maybe one of them moved in with us and enjoys a good prank every once in a while.

I mean, it must get dull being a ghost, especially when all we watch is “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

Which is what I was thinking last weekend when I went riding with my niece and she discovered my missing sock out in the middle of the horse pasture. After running over a few scenarios in my head, none of which effectively explained how the thing got from my bedroom to a patch of grass a mile out of the house, I decided it was our ghost.

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And when I explained it to my husband — how I pulled off my riding pants and socks that morning to put on my church clothes and when I went to put them back on again, my sock was nowhere to be found — he wasn’t as spooked as I wanted him to be.

He just calmly suggested that maybe my sock was stuck in my pant leg and dropped out during our ride through the pasture. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as runaway pickups or haunted houses, but certainly more logical, which is clearly what a woman spooked by a sock needs in her life.

That, and a little more sleep.

If you need me, I’ll be under my bed.

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Small things

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A few small things
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I love standing on the top of the hills around our house and scanning the horizon and the ribbon of road below me to see who might be coming or going — the sun, a neighbor, an oil field worker on his way home.

But often I feel like looking closer to see what’s happening underneath the grass, in the shady cool places of the ranch. All those small pieces that make up the mosaic of this landscape fascinate me.

In my other life, before the babies came, I would spend my evenings in my walking shoes, enjoying quiet moments out in our pastures. My favorite was when my husband would come along and we would wander together, slow and hushed along the deer trails, noticing how the dragonflies swoop and swerve, their delicate and transparent wings reflecting the sun.

Pushing a path alongside the beaver dam, the late summer cattails fuzz and the flowers hang on in the shade, staying cool and crisp as they reach for small glimmers of sun peeking through the trees. On the surface of the creek, the water bugs stay rowing and afloat by some combination of mechanics or magic above the school of minnows flashing their silver bellies in the hot sunlight.

I look at him; we look up at the birch tree branches. He looks at me and I tell him to watch for mushrooms growing on trees and chokecherries and the plums in the draw.

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And we walk. Along that creek that runs between the two places and down to the neighbors’, through beaver dams and stock dams and ponds where the frogs croak wildly. We would clear a path through bullberry brush and dry clover up to our armpits, jumping over washouts and scrambling up eroded banks, noticing how some oak trees have fallen, hollowed out and heavy with the weight of their age, the weight of a world that keeps changing, no matter if a human eye ever sweeps past it or inspects it or theorizes about it, or tries to save it. It changes.

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We’ve been married 12 years now, but I’ve loved this person since I was a just a kid. Three years ago on those quiet walks, we could only imagine a time in our lives where moments like these would have to be planned and adjusted to accommodate baby bedtimes, bathtimes and suppertime schedules.

That our life and our living room would be covered in noise and toys and new tiny moments we’ve created on our own that now hold their own mystery.

And I used to wish that this man and I would walk together in the coulees in these acres for a lifetime, with eyes wide to the small things that live and thrive and swim and crawl and grow outside our door.

And now, I hope that for us and for our own little creatures living and growing and crawling and thriving inside of these doors so that we might all move together in life like we moved through those trees — switching leads, pointing out beauty, asking questions, being silent, stepping forward, taking time and loving the moment … and one another in it.

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Hoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

Chad on his bay horseHoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

My husband used to have a big yellow dog that would pull him around town on his Rollerblades. Young, strong and full of heart, the two of them flew through the quiet streets of our hometown, back when Rollerblades were cool and so was he.

I never knew the Chad that existed before that dog. They called him Rebel, except the only rebellious thing about him was that he’d take a cracked door as an invitation to go wandering.

Before Rebel, Chad’s family had a pup named Cookie. I never knew Cookie or the young boy my husband was when he loved that dog except I saw the home movie his parents took when they surprised their boys with her.

Chad always described it as one of the best and most exciting days of his childhood, so I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the footage of that young kid standing so stoic and serious with that puppy in his arms, willing away his fidgety little brother with the darts of his eyes.

Last night, my husband and I started talking about our new border collie pup, a welcome addition after we lost the lab we had since we got married 12 years ago today. We are excited to see what kind of cow-dog she might become.

And then, without really realizing it, we started recounting our memories together according to which animals were there loving us, bucking us off, running away, getting hurt, growing old and teaching us lessons along the way.

“So, I starting hanging around you when you just got that horse, Tex,” he recalled.

“And my old mare Rindy, you remember her,” I said, reminding him of the first time I took him riding at the ranch and how I wanted to impress him so badly that my enthusiastic attempt at a graceful mount on her bare back resulted in me landing in a heap on the other side.

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Then there was his mom’s dog, Phoebe, who got her through the sadness of an empty nest, and our cat, Belly, who was so bonded with my little sister that we all got to watch her give birth to kittens on the beanbag chair in her bedroom.

And I never thought about measuring a good life by the good animals who witnessed us growing up, heartful and heartbroken, falling in and out of love with people and life and learning how to let go and hold on tight to one another or the big plans we’ve made and changed a million times.

They’re along with us, on the end of a leash, the reins or the bed, steady and predictable.

“Cowboy’s close to 20,” my husband realized then about the young bay horse that made a cowboy out of that lovestruck teenager.

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Seems like time wears itself thinner on the backs of the beasts we love until, one day, we catch ourselves remembering them and the scruff of their fur and the click of their paws on the pavement and how they pulled us through when we were young, strong and full of heart.

Things I used to be…

Things I used to be
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There are things I used to be.

I used to be more careless. I used to be flexible. I used to be able to say “yes” loud and clear without worrying what “yes” would cost me.

I used to be OK in a bikini, stretched out across the front lawn with a magazine and an endless afternoon in front of me. Because I used to be younger.

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I used to be younger, and thinner and less affected by the one margarita I ordered with supper. I used to order two and then sing into a long night without worrying about the morning and the thin thread attaching me to the little bodies breathing in and out, eyes closed tight in their beds without me.

I used to have spare time that I didn’t spend on searching for sippy cup lids or calculating the coupon cost per diaper.

In my other life, I never once uttered the words, “Don’t lick the doorknob!” and I certainly never made 37 negotiations a day that involved two more bites or five more minutes and no, you can’t put the puppy in your purse.

And I certainly didn’t use the phrase “be careful” as often.

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There are things that are buried in me now under these new layers of motherhood. I think about peeling them back only when I’m looking through old photographs of myself toasting to the sky or in the rare quiet moments that last long enough that I’m almost convinced I could be her again, before the creak of the door or the cry out of the lungs of the fresh soul in her crib in the dark calling for her momma.

I am momma.

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Last week, I was driving the ribbon of Interstate 94 that stretched out west for home. My babies were tucked in the back as the landscape zoomed by their windows and my eyes were heavy with the weight of exhaustion my new body holds. It overwhelmed me.

I signaled, parked in a rest stop and found a shady spot to take a break. I used to be unprepared, but this new version of me had blankets to spread out under our bodies and so we all laid down in a big pile under clouds rolling slowly, slowly, slowly across a blue sky.

And I want to say it before it absorbs into my skin and gets lost in the bigger, more urgent stories of a life…

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If I died tomorrow, this 20 minutes at a rest stop along I-94 with the baby navigating the lines of my tired face, my husband lifting the toddler to the sky, her squeals, our laughter, all four of our bodies touching one another, touching the earth, looking up at the trees and the fact that we simply couldn’t be anywhere else in the world if we wanted to, will make the highlight reel when I close my eyes at the end of my life.

Because I used to be so many things, but now I have these layers attached to this wonderfully agonizing winding and unwinding thread, and I will never be who I used to be because now I am a mother.

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Banquet in a Field: Telling our food story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing the garden in spite of the weeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Home: Never mind the weeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Weeds,” I said as my face flushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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This place is yours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grampa eddie

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.

homestead shack

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.