7 billion hours until chokecherry jelly time

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7 billion hours until chokecherry jelly time
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Do you know how many chokecherries it takes to make six jars of jelly? Seven billion.

Do you know how many hours it takes to accomplish this task? About the same, give or take.

Depending on whether you decide to bring most of the small children on the ranch with you when you pick them. Which I did.

And a grandpa, too.

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And when you take small children with you to pick chokecherries on a warm (OK, hot) August afternoon up in the fields where the cows haven’t had a chance to graze yet, you lose those small children in the tall grass.

That’s an actual thing.

You think they’re following you to the low hanging branches, but then you turn around and they’re gone. Don’t worry — you can still hear them, which is helpful for the rescue.

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I have so many memories of chokecherry-picking throughout the years growing up out here in western North Dakota, monitoring the blossoms in the spring, hoping a late frost didn’t kill our chances at jelly.

We would stand in the bed of the pickup backed up to the tall bushes to reach the clusters of ripe berries on the top, or I would scour the scoria road ditches with my best friend, trying to meet our goal of a full feed bucket. I can feel the horseflies biting my arms, the grass itching my legs and the sun scorching my shoulders just thinking about it.

Last week was my first time making those sort of rustic memories with my daughters and niece in tow. And given the amount of time they spent lost and tripped up in the tall grass, I think I accomplished making them appropriately itchy.

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The oldest two bounced back up pretty well, though, and with a lot of praise and Papa Gene basically bending entire bushes down to meet them, they kept to the task.

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My 2-year-old? Well, it was over for her as soon as that grass touched her armpits, and so she spent the next 45 minutes in the side-by-side yelling various versions of “Are you done yet!?” into the sky and bushes during breaks between singing at the top of her lungs and trying to figure out how to get the thing started.

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We called it quits when both my girls were whining enough to scare the horseflies away, but I think my little niece and Papa Gene would have stayed out there until every branch was bare.

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Did I tell you about the time we thought we lost my dad entirely picking chokecherries a couple years back? Sent out a search party and found him basically in the next county, because apparently the berries keep getting better one bush over…

Anyway, so that’s the first step. The next? Put the 2-year-old down for a nap while I try to convince the 4-year-old that sorting the sticks, leaves and bugs out of the berry stash is a fun game. And she believed me, but only for like 15 minutes.

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Then she needed to go put on some lipstick or change her princess ball gown or something, leaving me alone with the task of sorting, washing, boiling, straining and juicing these berries — all while breaking up sister fights, finding snacks — and, oh shoot, it’s suppertime.

Do you know what you shouldn’t do? Work on a chokecherry jelly project while also trying to make pork loin and rice. To my credit, I thought I started this project with plenty of time in between. But it’s been years since I tried to be this domestic. Like, before I had children.

And it turns out time moves a bit differently when you have small children in the house and I didn’t recall that it takes 7 billion hours and about the same amount of kitchen utensils to make six small jars of jelly.

And so this is your reminder, in case you were thinking about taking on the chore, to make sure you clear your schedule. And all of the surfaces in your kitchen. And when you spread it on your toast or pancakes, you better not spill a drop…

Maybe next time I’ll try making wine.

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The Animals of Winter

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Like the animals of winter

Last week, I went out into the winter. I squeezed into my long underwear, pulled on layers, tied my scarf around my neck, made sure my wool cap covered my ears and zipped my coat to my chin.

The snow was fresh and the wind was blowing it in sparkly swirls around the barnyard. The hay bales were adequately frosted in neatly stacked white drifts, remnants of the small blizzard that blew through the ranch in the evening and was lingering into the late morning hours.

I stuck out my tongue to taste the snowflakes and snuggled down into the collar of my coat like a turtle as I walked toward the horses munching on hay below the barn. I wished I had their fur coats, thick and wooly and brave against the wind. I wished I had their manes, wild and tangled and smelling of dust and autumn leaves, summer heat and ice.

They keep it all in there, all of the seasons.

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They nudged and kicked at one another, digging their noses deeper in the stack of hay, remembering green grass and fields, tasting warmer weather in their snack. I lingered there with them, noticing how the ice stuck on their eyelashes and clung to the long hair on their backs.

I scratched their ears and pulled some burs out of their manes and imagined what grove of trees they picked to wait out the storm last night, standing close and breathing on one another’s back. A herd.

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I followed them out of the protection of the barnyard and into the pasture where the frozen wind found my cheeks and the dogs cut footprints in the fluffy snow in front of my steps. They played and barked and jumped and sniffed and rolled in the white stuff, like children on a snow day.

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I found the top of the hill and let myself feel the cold. I had forgotten how my cheeks can go numb, how my fingertips ache, now my eyelashes stick together at the close of a blink and how the wind finds its way through the layers of clothing and freezes my skin.

I forgot that sometimes it doesn’t matter that you took care to wear wool socks and three pairs of pants — we are never as prepared as the animals. Sometimes, the weather just wins.

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I wished I had fur on my ears, tufts on my feet, whiskers to catch the snow. I wished I had hard hooves to anchor me, my own herd to lean against, to protect me from the wind. I wished I was part of a pack, chasing and jumping and rolling through the drifts.

I might have stayed out longer if I had these things. I would have explored how the creek had froze, stuck my nose in the snow, walked along the banks of the coulee, leaned against the buttes and followed the indecisive sun.

But my scarf wasn’t thick enough, there was snow in my boots and my skin is fragile and thin. No, my body’s not wooly and my nose is not fuzzy. And my fingers? Well, if we can’t have hooves, then we at least have fingers, to knit sweaters and sew together blankets, our hands to build fires and houses to protect us, our arms to wrap around one another, our feet to propel us toward shelter or sun and our brains to invent things like warm, spicy soup and hot coffee and buttery buns.

No, we might not have fur coats, but we have opposable thumbs. I pointed my frozen feet toward the house and flung open the door, stripped off my layers and stood over the heater vent, happy for my warm house and man-made blankets.

And happier still for a promise of spring that isn’t too far away on this winter day…

Winter Horses

A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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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.

A spectator in a familiar world

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Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

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And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

Badlands Sunset

A real version of Country Living magazine

Nashville

Just got in from Nashville (where it was an unseasonable 25 degrees without their “windchill”) and arrived to blowing snow and no travel advised. There’s a reason only the strong survive up here (and a reason we all head south about now) but even the strong are getting cranky about it…

 A real version of Country Living magazine
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The snow was blowing big flakes sideways across the prairie and the weatherman warned of minus 30 wind chills and it was just another February morning in western North Dakota.

I loaded up the kids and the car: coats, hats, mittens, blankies, sippy cups, snow pants, snacks for the trip to town, more snacks for the trip back home, lunch bag, computer bag, checked my pocket for my phone and we were on our way… Backed out of the garage, up the driveway, around the little corner and, with a sip of coffee, noticed that with the fresh snow, it was nearly impossible to distinguish where, exactly, our little road was.

Leaned forward, squinted my eyes, misjudged the curve entirely and sunk that car full of snacks and snowpants up to the floorboards in the ditch. Before I even reached our mailbox.

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So I want to talk about country living for a minute. Are there glamorous parts about it? Sure. When the sun is setting on a 70 degree summer day and you’re on the back porch listening to the crickets singing and watching the lightning bugs flicker in creek beds. These are the things Martha Stewart, Country Living magazine and that adorable home-renovating Gaines couple sell you about the whole rural experience.

That and the solitude, fresh air and the fact that they’ve never walked outside to find their pet goats standing on the roof of their car, but I digress.

But I’m guessing neither Martha, Joanna or the editors at Country Living have ever lived where that fresh air hurts your face, winter lasts 37 months and every outfit must coordinate with snow boots and a beanie. No. They live in a world where the dirt, mud, melty snow and apple juice magically stays off of their photo-ready vintage farmhouses decorated with fragile antiques and (*gasp) white rugs.

In these magazines and home renovation shows I’ve learned plenty on how to make a cozy breakfast nook (I’ll never have a breakfast nook) and what flowers to put in my foyer (I will never have a foyer). Curiously, I’ve never come across any tips on what to do when you drive your car in the ditch in your own yard 30 miles from civilization. Sigh.

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Luckily I’ve found myself in this predicament enough times that I’ve developed my own list. The first step being, of course, slamming my hands on the steering wheel in exasperation.

The second is new to me, but involves answering all 50 million of my 3-year-old’s questions about why we’re not moving, which is my favorite step.

The third? Pray that my dad’s home so I don’t have to suffer the humiliation of explaining this situation to neighbor Kelly or risk death by frostbite while hoofing it down to the house for a shovel. Good thing I always pack snacks.

Anyways, I guess what I’m saying, Martha, is some of you have never been pulled out of the ditch by your dad’s old feed pickup in a wind chill blizzard warning and it shows.

If you need me, I’ll be conceptualizing my own magazine idea that will offer fewer tips on decorating that space above your cabinets and more information on the flooring that best blends with scoria mud, how to find a body shop that will removed goat hoof dents and a list of excuses you can use on your neighbor should you find your car stuck in a snowbank. In your own yard.

I think it’s going to be a hit.

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Like a spider mother

Rosie and Me

Coming Home: Not that different from a spider mom

On a long, late night drive last week, I stumbled upon a radio program that aims to explore the topic of love and how it unfolds, beats, bends and connects us.

It’s a big task, telling love’s story. I wasn’t convinced I was up for a bunch of sappy romances, if that’s how it was going to roll out, but I put in a lot of road time and good radio has the potential to save my sanity, so I gave it a try.

How did they kick it off? With a story about a common spider — the kind that is likely spinning a web in my basement right now — that spends the majority of her lifespan spinning an unexceptional but practical web in which to lay her sack of eggs that will hatch and feed on another set of eggs she’s laid specifically for that purpose. And when they’ve run out of other options for nourishment in the web, the mother taps on her silk, summoning her babies, and then, well, I didn’t really see this one coming… They eat her.

And in that moment, driving 65 mph down the highway after a late night of work and a long and challenging week with my children, I cried.

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Last night, I was leaving my mom and dad’s house when I remembered I needed to make a dish to bring to a party I had the next evening. I forgot about it, so I didn’t have any ingredients for the promised festive appetizer, and a trip to the grocery store with two kids is a good three-hour extravaganza that I didn’t have time for the next day.

I swore.

And my mom went to her freezer and gathered all the ingredients I needed for a dip and she sent me on my way, just another small act in a lifetime of having a mother who would just as easily give me her life as she does her frozen bread bowl.

It sounds silly saying it that way, too trite for the magnitude of the sum of all of motherhood’s parts, but in that moment, driving down the highway with the vision of that spider’s sacrifice, it felt like I was allowed to feel the true weight of my children on my body.

Your heart forever walking around in the world? Yes. We’ve all heard that one. But this spider’s story resonated more with me.

Piece by piece by piece, we give — our time, our milk, our lessons, our worry, our words, our sleep, our hopes, our songs, our bodies, our space, our home. Our freezer bread.

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And it may not be a big, grand finale gesture like our sister in the web weaves, but if she could see beyond where she sits in the corner with the dust and her life’s mission — if she could see you up there at 3 a.m. laying on the hardwood floor outside your toddler’s bedroom door, because it’s the only way she’ll quiet down now — she would nod her spider head and admit we’re not that different.

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Click here to listen to the spider episode, which is the introduction to the great podcast “This is Love.” I recommend it for heartwarming and unconventional stories about what it means to love

Do you have a favorite podcast? I want to hear it! Seriously,  a good podcast saves my sanity!

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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The promise of spring

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I wrote a version of this week’s column for a presentation I gave to a congregation and community celebrating Harvest Fest. I wrote it after roundup and shipping and selling our calves, a special time of year for us and one we were so grateful to do alongside my dad this year.

On Saturday we celebrated my oldest daughter’s third birthday and on Sunday we celebrated my baby, who turns one this Saturday. We were surrounded by friends and family in a life as parents. A life that just four years ago, I wasn’t convinced we would have.

And while I won’t deny that there are hard and sad and hopeless things in life that will not and can not be changed, but simply endured, sometimes there is light. And we have seen it.

Read the full version of my talk below or click on the link for the newspaper version. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with gratefulness.

I am grateful for you.

Coming Home: The promise of spring

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When I was a kid, on the first warm day of spring, my dad would take us to the top of the nearest hill to find a dry spot where snow gave way to grass. We would sit down then on that piece of ground, maybe without our snowpants for the first time in months, and lean back, letting the warm sun shine on our faces and my dad would say something like, “Such a beautiful day. Isn’t this marvelous.”

Dad is the only person I know who regularly uses the words “marvelous.”

But it makes sense for a man who’s been accused of being optimistic, sometimes to a fault. On his way to roundup cattle or to fix a fence, my dad never passed a raspberry bush, a chokecherry tree or a plum patch without taking a detour for a taste. He’s never driven by a deer in the draw or an eagle in the sky without stopping or slowing down to recognize it. And when he sees a feather from a turkey or a hawk on a ride through the hills, he stops along the trail, gets off his horse, and picks it up to put in his hat. Or when we were younger girls, to give it to one of us.

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This is the way I grew up. The fourth generation born to a ranch that has now been in the family over 100 years.

As a kid it was hard not to fall in love with a world, with life, when someone was walking in front of you pointing out all of the things there was to love about it. And that bluebird that followed my father while I was following him, well, it was hard to live a life without her following me too.

As a ranch kid, though, you don’t get the benefit of being sheltered from some of the tough lessons of life. The unexplainable stuff. The things you can’t control. I remember saying silent little prayers to myself when my dad would bring a calf in from the cold, feed it and warm it in the basement, only to delay the inevitable.

I saw how his eyes dropped, how he shook his head and paused for a moment before sucking in breath, exhaling and moving on.

I remember my heart breaking and somehow knowing, that he could only do what he could.

The rest wasn’t up to him.

Winter

Last week I sat on the top of my horse and rode next to my father as a grown woman. We were chasing the cattle we own together on the place where my dad was raised, where I was raised and where I’m raising two daughters of my own.

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Last year at this time my father lay in a hospital bed at the beginning of a five-month battle with pancreatitis that had him fighting for his life. And while my mom sat by his side in a hospital hundreds of miles away, my husband, young daughter and I were home, taking care of the cows, shoveling snow, carrying out holiday traditions, waiting for our new baby to arrive and feeling powerless to change the trajectory of my dad’s circumstances.

His prognosis was dire and our hands could not do anything to fix it.

Losing my dad so soon was not in our plan.

And while all I wanted was a big, extraordinary miracle to save my father’s life, I have never lived in my faith that way. When I lost my grandmother when I was only eleven years old, I remember looking at her casket at the front of the church and wishing she would just sit up and tell us it was all a bad dream.

But I did not pray for that, because I didn’t believe those were the sort of miracles God sends.

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I find my faith in the small miracles, the way the setting sun illuminates our world in glowing pink and orange on it’s way to the other side of the earth. The way it rises every day, regardless of our joy or our pain. I see my faith come to life in a newborn calf, just born minutes before, standing steady on his own four legs as his mother licks him clean. I see it in the snowflakes piling up on my doorstep, knowing, when I look closer, each one is perfect, unique, and so, so fleeting.

I see God in the red on the tomatoes I planted with my daughters our garden, each one round and perfect and ready for picking with nothing but dirt, water and that trusty sun.

And I see it in the chubby fingers of my daughters, the ones that came to us just as I was losing faith in miracles of any size.

As I grow up I come to understand that I was right when I was a child, that faith and God aren’t wishes granted or one big miracle that answers your prayers, but a million tiny, beautiful moments that pile up like those snowflakes on the top of the hill outside our window in the winter only to melt with the spring sunshine and remind us that, as my husband would say, “There’s more here than us.”

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My dad’s recovery was proof of those small miracles. The kind hands of a caring nurse, my mother’s relentless devotion to her husband, the capabilities and training of the doctor,that moved him to take a risk. My dad’s strong heart that refused to quit beating. His lungs that continued to suck in air.

I looked over at him as he sat on his horse in his wool cap and leather chaps, the cattle in front of us moving their way across the creek and toward the gate. My husband, uncle and neighbor stretched out on horseback in the hills surrounding us, and my dad stopped. He put his gloved hands together, the leather of the reigns between them, and he looked up at the sky. Then he looked over at me and he hollered,

“This is me. Thanking God.”

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And it’s cold today. The snow is blowing sideways outside our windows. Winter is coming to test us. To freeze us. To make us sad or lonely or desperate. To make us question.

But faith? Faith is the promise of sunshine on that hilltop to melt that snow

Faith is remembering the marvelous promise of spring.

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