Late Night Worries

Back after a week off, Jessie and her husband Chad catch up when they can, which is in the middle of the night. The family’s Halloween costumes remind them of Jessie’s lack of sewing skills and Chad’s ability to do everything (annoying, right?) And they dig in to what keeps us up and wakes us up at night. While the episode’s lighthearted, the column, “Edie’s worried” digs into how we deal with our children’s fear, and how difficult it can be to balance the truth with the comfort. Listen here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

“Are witches real?” she asked me, her mother, the one who is supposed to know all the things and also because she’s too young to Google it. And, of course, I said no. I made a good argument about it too, making sure to tell her that I’ve been alive for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never seen a witch. They are make believe for the fun of a story and take it from me you’re safe and sound in this house surrounded by mysterious trees that have just shed all of their leaves, under a moonlit sky with the coyotes howling in the distance.

She listened intently with a concerned look and then nodded her head and quietly said “ok.” And then she decided that she’d better make a “No witches allowed” sign to hang on all of our doors, you know, just in case.

My daughter Edie is a soul who feels everything a little bit deeper than most. She cries out of excitement and sentiment and also, just today when I picked her up from school, she cried as she reported that a kid in school said no one should like pineapple on their pizza but she does like pineapple on her pizza and kids shouldn’t call out other kids that way. She’s cried over injustices like that, and out of the sheer cuteness about the new baby kittens or the bottle calves and just yesterday over the fact that her birthday is only 23 days away, but so far in her short life, except for her brief stint truly fearing hot lava, I’ve rarely seen her cry out of fear.

And while I haven’t heard much about the witches lately, Edie’s become worried about something else, something I’m having a hard time explaining away with my magic motherly logic.

Edie’s worried about war.

It comes up between the bedtime book and the snuggle, when I turn the lights out and it becomes quiet and no math problem she’s working out in her head, or spelling word she’s visualizing or song that I can sing can help quiet it. She saw it on TV somewhere, probably just in passing, likely images of what’s happening in Ukraine mixed with the little she knows about history and the way humans move through this world, sometimes hurting one another beyond comprehension. And so she’s trying to comprehend.

And, honestly, aren’t we all.

I answer her worries the best I can in those quiet moments with something like,  “Kids don’t have to worry about things like this. That’s why you have parents and grownups. You’re safe here, with us, at the ranch. We’re here to keep you safe.”

I wish I could tell her that war is like witches and dragons and ogres, dark fiction made up to give us the spooks. But I can’t. And if I’m being honest, I’m scared too when I look out at the world and see its darkness, understanding there are so many things out of our control, wondering too, what would I do, if I no longer felt safe in my own home?

“But is everyone in the world safe tonight?” she asks me as and she snuggles into the crook in my arm.

How do I answer that one? Even if war were nothing but a made up dark chapter in a fairytale, the answer to this question is most certainly no. No, not everyone has a warm bed to sleep in. Not every kid is loved and snuggled and read three books and fed a warm supper. Not everyone knows where they are going to sleep tonight or if they’re safe in their home.

There’s no manual for this and I’m searching for a 6-year-old version of the truth, one that helps my child understand gratitude and compassion, but doesn’t scare her or make her feel helpless.

I tell her we can help where we can. We can write down our worries. We can say a quiet prayer. We can love one another. We can plan her birthday party and be kind and cook each others supper and when it’s dark and it’s past our bedtime and we’ve had a couple popsicles and the world is feeling a little off kilter we need to remember that we have each other and for now that has to be enough…

Bow hunting, Barbie dolls and tuning tiny guitars

So the snow has melted, and Halloween has come and gone and I am behind on everything. We’re trying out some real equipment to make the podcast sound better, so we’ll be recording an update tonight. In the meantime, here’s what we did last weekend for Halloween. . And don’t think for a second Chad put his costume together any sooner than 15 minutes before Trunk or Treat. We had some beautiful weather, no snowsuits necessary. I love Halloween

Next up is planning the girls’ birthday parties and selling calves. It’s a busy time of year around here, one that marks milestones and lots of reason for celebration. And now, this week’s column, which is sorta old news by now. We’ll catch up tomorrow on the podcast!

Bow hunting, Barbie dolls and tuning tiny guitars

As October winds down and November comes in like a yeti, so we welcome bow hunting season at the ranch. My husband has been into archery since he was a little kid and has had our daughters practicing shooting their little recurve bows at a target set against the backdrop of the trees surrounding our house for the past year or so. He takes them out there, their arrows packed in the small, homemade leather quivers their grandpa Scofield made them, and I watch my husband patiently go through the process of safety and form and encouragement. Each arrow that actually manages to stick in the target they declare a “Bullseye!” and he never corrects them. I imagine every arrow counts to him as much as it counts to them, a real-time demonstration of skill and passion passed down to a new generation.

Last weekend a couple of our good friends from college headed west with their bows and camo and coolers and groceries to the ranch. It’s become one of our favorite times of the year, having this kind of company, the kind that has known us for years, at our best and at our worst. The kind who are smack dab in the middle of the same parenting phase we are in, and so maybe I don’t have to vacuum every corner of the house or worry about a meal plan because they always have it covered with homemade lasagna and soups, wild game and donuts, drinks and the occasional can of sauerkraut, plum jelly or jerky left behind. They even do the dishes. And let me tell you, three big, burly, camo-clad men making short work of the after-supper clean-up is quite the stereotype blasting site to behold in my kitchen. Glass of wine while they finish up here? Don’t mind if I do.

And while I’m completely aware weekends of hunting house guests could go the way of the dogs, for me their visits have come to feel like a little vacation in my own home and a nice reminder of the true gift we have here at the ranch. Because these men are so grateful for the opportunity it’s fun to see our place through their eyes, even more so now that our kids are getting older, because they’ve started to include them in the action and take them along. It’s a dream these dads have had for years watching their little bald burrito babies turn slowly into tiny people curious and vocal and wanting to learn, to be like dad.

So they spent a lot of time out at that target against the trees, everyone practicing patience and celebrating each shot, bullseye or not. And I know that we don’t always consciously do this, but I imagine when we’re teaching our children about the things that we know and love, it’s with the hope that it might enrich their lives in some way, or at least give them an option to be intrigued or infatuated, or completely disinterested, if that’s the case.

When the dust settled on the hunting weekend and our guests had packed up and left us with a couple jars of sauerkraut and a plan to be back, our daughters settled into what I thought might be a lazy Sunday afternoon after a few days of fresh air and late bedtimes. But it wasn’t long before my oldest was pulling out every craft supply in the house with a mission of creating Barbie dresses out of socks and no matter how many times I suggested that I could just grab my hot glue gun, the girl insisted this was a project that required sewing.

Now, weren’t we just speaking of skills that have been passed down from generation to generation? Yeah. Sewing wasn’t one of those skills for me, (just ask my Home Ec teacher). But before I could come up with an alternative project I walked into the kitchen to find her camo-clad dad at the counter with the sewing kit making Edie’s Barbie Christmas Sock Dress Vision a reality.

The man’s versatile, you have to give him that, and holds pretty true to that ‘ol Jack of All Trades adage. We’re lucky girls. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go tune some tiny guitars. Because if winter is coming this early, they may be interested in learning a couple indoor activities to get

Unplugging like it’s 1998

This week on the podcast I sit down with my husband to talk about why it’s become so important to me to finish reading an actual book, and then he tells me why he thinks one of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the worst villain of all time. We talk libraries and old cell phones, bow hunting and the new wild animal that has made its appearance at the ranch. Listen here or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

I’m doing a mental health check. As the sun sinks in the sky earlier each evening and the frost settles into the mornings to glisten with the sunrise and show us our breath as we hurry through chores or out to start cars or to grab the morning paper (do any of you still get the morning paper?), it’s time to realize that I can’t lean on the sun as much anymore.

Winter is creeping in and I’ve decided to be proactive about how I’m going to handle it. And how I’m going to handle it is to pretend like it’s 20 years ago.

And I’m not trying to come across with major “good ol’ days” energy exactly, but I feel like 20 years ago there was a lot more space in my head for me.

Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you stood in line for something, maybe the grocery store aisle or the post office and just stood there? No digging your phone out of your pocket to scroll the latest updates on social media or the news feed custom made for your specific brand of dread and drama? `When did we stop making small talk? When did we make the switch from the urge to notice what’s happening around us to absolutely needing to watch a stranger make a chicken dish, or a fool of herself, or put on a full face of makeup or be absolutely outraged about something on Instagram?

In the middle of a Thursday evening errand, I would be much less stressed if I just read the covers of tabloids and Women’s Health magazines in the rack to pass those three to four minutes instead of checking work email or engaging in an endless scroll of cute outfits I can’t afford and triggering headlines of world news I absolutely cannot change, all while waiting to pay for the avocados I need for that Instagram chicken dish.

There was a time when we didn’t fill each empty, slow-moving minute with information and entertainment, wasn’t there? I mean, at least I remember it as a child of the 80s and 90s. We might be the last generation to have lived through a time when you couldn’t just Google it, and had to rely on resources like the evening news to get the scoop, your friends for fashion advice, your grandma’s recipe box for a dish and your parents to reassure you that it’s all going to be OK. By today’s standards of drowning in information and trying to sort fact from fiction, we were living in the dark ages. And if anything, that explains the questionable hair choices.

Anyway, I’m not trying to make a big case for what is better or worse here. Time ticks on and we all tick with it. It’s just that right now I’m feeling overwhelmed and, along with my young daughters’ constant refrains of “mom, mom, mom,” I think one of the culprits is the continuous dinging and flashing of my phone.

Here’s where my husband would say, “just ignore it,” and then I would roll my eyes because I have made it my job to not ignore it. I’m a communicator. I run a business and a non-profit. All the work that I do is tied to making sure I’m getting the message out and connecting people with the stories I tell. And the paradoxical thing is that I’m doing it in all the ways that are currently making me crazy. I have to stay connected. This is how we communicate now, and honestly it has created for me a certain type of freedom, opportunity and audience that I could have only dreamed up when I was on the road 20 years ago, driving from town to town to sing songs about North Dakota in a half-filled room of strangers in Kansas.

But I think there’s a fine line a lot of us cross back and forth between constant connection and being present. And right now I’m starving for presence, if not for my mental health, but more importantly to model it for my children. Because I want these daughters of mine to know how to listen to the voices in their heads as they grow in the quiet moments of their youth, the ones that whisper to them, “This is who you could be, darling. This is who you are.” I want to help them to be comfortable in the silence, because that’s when the music is made.

So as fall gives over to the cold blanket of a long winter, I’m not making any big declarations really, except to notice what’s happening here. And then maybe I’ll read more books before bed, take more walks and cook more recipes in my grandmother’s handwriting. And when we’re all together or maybe more importantly, when I’m alone, I’m turning off the WiFi and Bluetooth connections to all the information and stories in the world to free up some space to make our own.

The Layers of Fall

We don’t give this time of the year much recognition because we’re all scrambling to get work done before winter comes, so on the podcast I sit down to recognize it and talk it out with my husband. The conversation turns to fall work and food, naturally, because we’re up north and we’re getting cold and we’re starving for carbs and cream. Hear why I thinks Chad would be a good contestant on reality game shows and learn why my all time favorite meal was after I jumped out of a plane over the beach

There’s a moment between summer and late fall at the ranch that’s so good at being glorious that it actually makes us all believe we could last forever under a sky that’s bright blue and crisp and warm and just the right amount of breezy all at the same time.

Up here we’re easily swayed to forget about the drama that is our seasons. I imagine it’s a coping mechanism we develop that gets us crazy stoic people through -20 degree temperature snaps.

It’s forgetting that gets us through, but it’s remembering too. The combination is an art form.

Because at -20 degrees we remember that one-day it will be sunny and 75.

And when it’s sunny, 100 degrees and 100% humidity and there’s not a lake in sight, we remember the -20 degrees and somehow find a way to be grateful for it all.

Yes we keep taking off layers and putting them on again until we make ourselves the perfect temperature.

Funny then how we’re not really good at giving the in-between moments the credit they’re due around here. We usually grab them up and soak them in just enough to get some work done on a horse, paint the house, wash the car or get the yard cleaned up for winter.

Because we’re taught up here to use those perfect moments to prepare us for the not so perfect ones that are coming.

That’s why fall, though a romantic season for some, gives me a little lump in my throat that tastes a lot like mild panic.

Because while the pumpkins are nice and the apple cider tastes good enough, I can’t help but think that autumn is like the nice friend who slowly walks over to your lunch table with the news that your boyfriend doesn’t want to go out with you anymore.

And my boyfriend is summer. And when he’s gone, I’m stuck with the long and drawn out void that is winter promising Christmas, a hint of a sledding party and a couple shots of schnapps to get me through the break-up.

Hear what I’m saying?

But the change is beautiful. I can’t help but marvel at it no matter its underlying plot to dry up the leaves and strip them from their branches and jump start my craving for carbohydrates and heavy whipping cream in everything.

So I always decide to give it the credit it’s due when it starts to show off in full form, taking a break for the office and house work to marvel at the leaves, collect some acorns and walk the trails the cattle and deer cut through the trees during the heat of summer.

I will never call this moment a season, it’s too fleeting and foreboding for that, but I will reach out and touch those golden leaves and call it a sort of magic.

The kind that only nature can perform, not only on those leaves, but also on the hair on a horse’s back, the fat on the calf, the trickling creek bed, the tall dry grasses, used up flowers and a woman like me.

Yes, I’m turning too. My skin is lightening. My hunger unsuppressed. My eyelids heavy when the sun sinks below the hill much earlier than my bedtime.

My pants a little tighter with the promise of colder weather.

Ok. I’ve been reminded. Summer–a month of electric thunderstorms and endless days, sunshine that heats up my skin and makes me feel young and in love with a world that can be so colorful– is over.

And so I’m thankful for the moment in these trees to be reminded that I have a little time yet, but I best be gathering those acorns.

And pulling on my layers.

What they left behind

This week’s column is a revisited story from my book, “Coming Home.” Get your copy at www.veederranch.com.

On the Podcast this week I sit down with my husband to talk about homestead houses and how history can haunt us, just like the Goat Man Chad encountered near the Lost Bridge in the badlands. Find out what word I just made up out of thin air last week, hear a story about Lutheran kids dressing up as nuns and get the scoop on the spooky relic from the old house behind my childhood home that chills me still. 
Listen here, or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

What they left behind

It’s a gloomy day, the rain is falling, the sky is gray and the trees are stripped from black branches. It’s Halloween season and all of the sudden I’m reminded of the old house that used to sit up in a grove of trees behind the yard where I grew up.

It’s not so uncommon around here for a family to purchase land from neighbors or inherit an old family homestead, so there aren’t many farmsteads around these parts that didn’t come with an old structure lingering on the property, providing ranch kids with plenty of bedtime ghost story material.

And so it went with the old house that stood tucked back on the other side of the barbed wire fence, against a slope of a hill, surrounded by oak trees and the remnants of Mrs. B’s famous garden. Her hearty lilac bushes, her grove of apple trees, her wild asparagus and rhubarb still thrive in the clearing she made in those trees all those mysterious years ago, before the family up and left, leaving that garden untended, the root cellar full and a house seemingly frozen in time.

“What happened to them?” I would contemplate with my cousins, one of our favorite subjects as our eyes grew heavy, tucked in bunk beds and sleeping bags scattered on the floor, together growing up, together trying to figure out what the passing of time really means and how a story could be left so undone.

Gramma took some old dresses, vintage black smocks with pearl buttons and lace collars from the small bedroom closet of the old house. We would pull them over our heads to perform pretend wedding ceremonies or attend fancy parties like we saw on our mothers’ soap operas, the fabric smelling like mothballs, dust and old forgotten things.

But no matter what character you were that day, you couldn’t help but think about who the real woman in those dresses once was. And who would leave them behind?

So, as it goes with kids, our curiosity outweighed our fear and we went on a mission to collect samples of this family’s life that still existed between those walls.

And while I remember kitchen utensils hanging neatly on hooks, canned beets and potatoes lined up on shelves, the table and chairs sitting in the sunlight against the window, waiting for a neighbor to stop over for coffee, I also remember bedrooms scattered with old newspapers and magazines, the dates revealing the last years of occupancy, the fashion of the season, stories of drought and cattle prices sprawled out among diary entries and old letters, a glimpse into a world that existed long before us kids sifting through the rubble in tennis shoes with neon laces.

And then I remember the dentures. Or maybe I just remember the story my oldest cousin told about the dentures. It doesn’t matter now who was actually there to witness it, it evolved to belong to everyone. An expedition to the old house, a creak of a cupboard door and the discovery of a jar full of teeth that nobody noticed before.

“The place is haunted.” That was the consensus, especially when, at the next visit, the unwelcome house guests were greeted at the door by a flurry of bats (or, more likely, a bat or two). Yes, the spirits of that mysterious couple came back to the place. How else could you explain the thriving asparagus plants? The teeth?!

And so that was our story of the old house, a strangely fantastic pillar of our childhood adventures and a structure that had to eventually be burned down due to its disintegrating floor joists and general unsafe environment.

I stood in my snowsuit and beanie and watched the flames engulf the graying wood and shoot up over the tops of the black oak trees and wondered how it all eventually came down to this; a life turned into old forgotten things, turned into ashes, turned into stories.

Maybe that’s the scariest tale of them all.

But each fall the apples in the old woman’s orchard ripen, each spring her lilacs bloom and each year their names come to our lips because of what they left behind, making me wonder if we were right about the haunting thing after all.

It’s tomato season, and I’m coming for you!

If you’re not hungry, you will be after listing to this week’s episode of the podcast. It’s all about soup season, comfort food and the different styles of cooking my husband and I grew up with. Listen at the link here or on Spotify of Apple Podcasts.


It’s official. When I’m in town and my friends, family and colleagues see me coming, they turn their eyes, put their heads down start walking for the nearest exit or crosswalk. And it may be because they know that if they make eye contact we could potentially find ourselves in an hour-long conversation about the weather and the meaning of life because I’ve lived as a Midwestern Lutheran Norwegian long enough that I’ve over-mastered the art of a good visit, but mostly I think it’s because of my tomatoes.

When I planted the tiny plants in my new raised bed this spring, along with the hope that was hanging in the air, apparently so was some magic, because I’ve never had a crop like this. And Lord help me, I can’t possibly process, puree, chop, stew or can one more. It’s not in my blood. I don’t have what it takes and also Chad will have to build me another pantry.

So I’m working on offloading and if you look like you could use a vegetable, I will hunt you down with a paper bag filled with produce. I will pop in your store with the offer. I will casually ask in a conversation that has nothing to do with vegetables. Need some tomatoes? Sure you do, I’ll be right back. And then I am right back with a promise of more tomorrow if you want, and I’ll throw in some cucumbers for good measure. If you leave your car unlocked, I will pull the old zucchini trick and leave you a surprise. Just this morning I left a grocery bag full of peppers on the desk of a coworker while she was out getting mail. “Peppers for Val,” I wrote on the Post-it note, and then I slunk away unnoticed, except I noticed the bag of cucumbers and tomatoes I dropped off yesterday still sitting in the corner untouched. If this was a sign to back off, I’m ignoring it.

Besides the dilemma of what to do with it all, I’m really in heaven over it. There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling a perfect carrot from the ground that was bare just a few months before. Each perfectly round tomato plucked from the stem in my backyard feels like a pretty little miracle and I’m so obnoxiously proud. Like, I’m not the only one who has ever grown a cute little red pepper for crying out loud, but it still feels so special, each one. Which is why I can’t bear to let any go to waste. I even save some semi-spoiled produce for my little sister’s chickens and make special trips to deliver it to the crazy birds myself. I consider it a little thank you for the eggs. And also, they seem to get as excited as I do about the whole thing, so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, in a few short weeks the frost will settle in and my garden will settle down, and I know that this growing and harvest season is so fleeting. Which is maybe the main reason it feels special, having a garden. It comes in its own good timing, which is such a holy thing to me. Am I getting dramatic? Maybe. Just this afternoon I started writing a song about tomatoes. Hit material…

Anyway…it’s been a few years since I shared the recipe my husband put together during the first fall we spent at the ranch using garden tomatoes and fresh carrots. It’s in my book, “Coming Home,” and some of you may have seen it before, but ‘tis the tomato-season. So here’s your reminder to try it out, try it your own way, and if you need tomatoes, there’s a bag for you in the corner of Visitor Center in Watford City. Or just send me an email me. I will deliver.

Cowboy’s Garden Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup water or chicken stock. Add more depending on how thick you like your soup
  • 3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup (about 3 medium carrots) diced
  • ¼ of a large purple onion, diced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 12-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1½ cups heavy whipping cream (room temperature)

Directions

In a large soup pot add the diced tomatoes, carrots, onion and garlic to ¼ cup water and simmer on low for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the tomatoes start to gently boil. Stir in the tomato sauce, butter, seasonings and bouillon cubes and simmer the soup on low, allowing the onions and carrots to cook, about 30 minutes.

Once the vegetables are cooked through, slowly stir in the heavy whipping cream and say “M’m! M’m! Good!” while Campbell sobs silently to himself.

Heat (don’t boil) for a few minutes, serve it up and have yourself a happy and well-fed fall.

The yard light’s back on

This week on the podcast I catch up with my husband after he returns from leaving for a 75 day hunting trip (ok, maybe is was just 5 days). A small change in the barnyard makes me reflect on how wrong they all were about the future of our home, and Chad wonders if I would wish my kind of creative drive on my children, and then asks me to explain gravity. There’s lots to unpack here, figuratively and literally…listen here or on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

There hasn’t been a yard light in the barnyard of the homestead place for ten years. It went out when we took the old house down after a fire and we didn’t get around to rewiring it. When the house went, so did we, we left the barnyard and moved up over the hill to a new house and so no one lives there full time, we just work there now—we saddle up, feed horses, bring the bulls in, ride the ponies…

When I left home at seventeen, I had this vision of all of the yard lights in my rural community going out, one by one by one behind me as I drove away and kept driving. In my lifetime, at that time, I had only seen things getting quieter out here. I saw old neighbors packing up and moving to town. I saw schools close and businesses come and go and come and go. I saw star football players heading to college and not looking back. We were told not to look back, unless it was to reflect—on a simple upbringing in a less complicated time in a place where work ethic and sacrifice are badges of honor—because it makes you employable, you know, having come from a small place, heading off to the big places. But don’t come back here. Not when you’re young. Not when there’s more opportunity, more money to be made in places where the streetlights and stoplights replaced yard lights long ago.

Last week, in the dark, I pulled my car off the highway and followed my headlights down the big hill on the gravel road, past my parents’ place and across the cattle guard. It’s at this point in my drive, if the weather’s cooled down or warmed up, depending, that I like to roll my window down to catch the scent of that little valley with the cattails and the stock tank. It smells like cool summer nights riding home from moving cows, or long walks through the draws after a day that tried to break me. It smells like plum blossoms or cattle watering, fresh cut hay or the thaw or the cold coming in, you know, like the scent of snow.

It smells like home and I try to catch it when I can, when I think of it. When I need to be reminded who I am and why I’m here.

And then up another big hill to the mailboxes and grain bins I take a right turn into my drive and then look to my left at the sky past the buttes to see what the stars are doing and then down to the barnyard and then, well look at that, the light was on.

Dad got the light back on.

It caught me so off guard, that yard light once again illuminating the scoria drive, the barn a shadow behind it, the little guest cabin that replaced the old house, waiting, now under its watch, for someone to come slip through the gate and under the covers.

And I wasn’t expecting it, but I remembered then that my dad did tell me, that the electricians were coming, that some old wiring was going to be replaced. I didn’t connect the yard light to that information I guess. But what took me most aback was my reaction to it. It stopped me in my tracks, it bubbled a lump up in my throat. Memories of pulling into my grandma’s yard as a little kid sleeping shotgun in my dad’s pickup for a weekend trip and then as a ranch kid leaving the place after a family supper or after a long ride or a late day helping or running wild past our bedtime with the cousins when my grandparents were still alive and we were all young, all of us, and we paid no mind to how anything would ever change that.

Seeing that light on made me realize that I didn’t think of its absence at all really. Not the way I thought I would. When it went out it was just gone and life carried on. We put a new yard light in over the hill and felt lucky and maybe that’s why. I didn’t have to mourn it, because the story I was told as a kid about this place, it turns out that they got it all wrong.

Because look at me, I am 39 now and driving my children home in the dark and in front of me the yard lights glow like beacons of hope for the future.

September and what keeps it precious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to Middle Age

Chad and I have officially climbed the hill to reach middle-age and on this week’s episode we talk about it. Like, what would we tell our younger selves, why Chad settled into his beard and cargo pants, how I just can’t anymore with uncomfortable underwear and why time is worth so much more than money. Listen here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

Yeah, here I am hanging out on the top of the hill, teetering and a bit wobbly, inching toward the day I take a step over.

By the time you read this I will have just turned 39.

Over the hill. That’s how they define it.

I’m at the age where the High School marching band is playing the music I listened to as a teenager. I’m at the age where I couldn’t name one relevant popstar in a lineup. I’m at the age where I spend an excessive amount of my paycheck on multi-vitamins, pro-biotics and physical therapy appointments and I genuinely get excited about a vacuum cleaner.

I’m at the age where I’ve started telling my kids they don’t know how good they have it.  I say things like, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have all these choices! When I was a kid I had one pair of tennis shoes and that was it. When I was a kid we listened to the AM radio station and looked out the window on road trips,” which prompts one of my favorite questions, “Were there even cars when you were a kid?”

Ugh. I remember asking my dad the same thing. I pictured him driving around as a kid in a covered wagon and I didn’t understand why he laughed so hard at the question.

I was five and he was 37, from the olden days.

And so I find myself there too. From the olden days, born and raised before high speed Internet and smart phones. When I wanted to talk to my boyfriend, I had to call his house and talk to his dad first. The horror. When we took a picture we had to wait at least an hour to see the result, and that’s only if you lived in a big town with a Walmart or something.

I am from the unique generation that grew up as high tech grew up. We were in high school during the release of the first cell phones and in college when Facebook was invented. We remember traveler’s checks and the movie theaters only taking cash. We paid per text message and wondered why it was event a thing. And we remember TGIF television where we had to, “gasp!” be in front of the TV on time and watch the commercials.

I could be wrong, but us almost-40-year-olds may be the last of human-kind that considers actually picking up a phone to ask a question, have a conversation or make a weekend plan.

We’re vintage like that.

Vintage like the relics of our childhood we recently found in a thrift store/museum. The orange Tupperwear juice pitcher that every household had in the fridge filled with green Kool-Aid. The TV Guide collection. The BUM sweatshirt. The McDonalds Happy Meal Smurf set. The My Little Ponies and GI Joe Figurines, Disney on VHS tapes and giant TVs that took a couple friends to move into our first apartments that cost us $400 per month.

Those were the days.

I say that now too, while rubbing that spot on my neck that always kinks, no matter how much I spend on ergonomic pillows.

When my family asked me how I wanted to spend my birthday, I didn’t say a long nap, but I wanted to. Instead I said I just wanted to stay home with the kids, maybe ride some horses and make breakfast. Let me sit for a little longer in the morning with my cup of coffee and I meant it. That’s all I wanted, to take it easy because I’ve been busting my butt the last decade or two.  

39. If I’m lucky, that’s almost half my life behind me, but whew, that last part went fast didn’t it? How long does it take to start feeling like you’re getting things right? My thirties set me firm in what motivates me and solidified a career path that twenty-something me was too scared to define. And my thirties brought me into motherhood and then turned around and slapped me in the face with the inevitability of my own mortality. It cut me open, literally, right down the middle and is still working on teaching me that healing takes patience, that I can’t do a thing if I don’t take care of myself properly.

In my twenties, I thought I could do it all if I wanted to.

My thirties helped me discover that I don’t want to.

And while our society tries to tell women like me that we’re losing relevance (remember the pop star thing?) I’m happy to now have the audacity to call bull on that.  I’ve been working my whole life to get to the very place I stand, and I got most of the way by navigating with an actual map.

So cheers to middle age, a place from which we can tell you from experience that you’re going to regret those jeans in a few years, but you most definitely should wear them anyway.

Summer, don’t leave me…


This week on the podcast, I have coffee with my little sister, Alex, who is a former guidance counselor and teacher, to get some perspective on back to school. Alex gives some tips on the best questions to ask about your child’s day to actually get a response and I try to get to the bottom of why having a kid going into first grade is carrying more weight than the first day of Kindergarten. We talk season changes on the ranch, back to school traditions and more. Listen at this link or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.  

What can happen in a summer at the ranch? When you’re raising two young daughters this is where they sprout and bloom, in this season of sunshine and sprinklers and butterflies and toads. We’re winding it down now.

If you’re reading this in your local newspaper, I am probably in one of the big towns coaxing those daughters to try on pair of school shoes, making them stand up, walk around a bit, feeling where their big toe hits, asking them if they feel ok. Do they feel ok? It’s the exact same thing my mom used to do, word for word it seems. Because these days you can get just about anything to come to you in the mail out here with the click of a button, but the shoes need to be tried. It’s a back-to-school ritual that we’re in now because I blinked.

I blinked.

They all told me not to, but I did and the spring that brought record breaking snow drifts with it, then it melted and made way for a summer filled with armpit high grass and wildflowers and healthy black calves kicking up their heels on the hilltops and laying down in the cool draws. Because the rain came to feed the hay crop and you should see the bales dotting the fields. Here we spend our three fleeting months of summer preparing for the long winter and we’re all more prepared than ever it seems. Thanks to the rain. Thanks to the sun. Thanks for the work.

I watched my daughters’ sandy hair turn blonde under that sun, and their pale skin tan, their cheeks rosy and flushed when they came in for popsicles. And I saw them stretch out of their long pants so they could properly skin their knees on the scoria road as they ran wide open toward their cousins’ house. I want to run wide open with them right back into the spring so we can do it all over again, but this time I’ll keep my eyes wide open. I promise.  

Why does this always happen to me? Why do I get lonesome for this season before it’s even officially over? Is it because it always feels like we’re at the end of one of those predictable summer themed movies, where the lighting is perfect and they conquer a fear and they all fall in love in the end at a beach house somewhere along the coastline? Back here in the real world I’m picking the ripe tomatoes from my garden and hoping for rain again, the sun is setting low at 9 pm and  the credits are rolling and I have to get back inside to get to the dishes….

And nothing has changed here except sort of everything. Kids learn to ride their bikes and climb the monkey bars backwards. They make friends in the campground they’ll never see again. She decides not to wear shirts with unicorns on them because she’s not a baby anymore. They fix their own hair, get their own milk to pour, decide they like tomatoes, grow an inch…

It’s all so gradual, these quiet transformations, like summer herself. You go out one day and notice the sweet peas coming with the green grass and the next time you look they’re dried up and gone, making way for the sunflowers to bend in the wind alongside that green grass turned golden.

This is us too you know, I need to make the reminder should we forget that we are as much a part of the transformation of seasons and time ticking as the rising and setting of the sun. You might not have noticed. You might have blinked, and that’s ok.

So stand up, walk around in it now, how does it fit? Does it feel ok? Do you feel ok?

Summer Don’t Leave Me

Summer don’t leave me
stay under my feet
hang warm in the sky
don’t dry up the wheat

Summer stay near me
to kiss my skin tan
mess up my long hair
hold tight my hand

Summer please stay here
in the chokecherry trees
on the back of a good horse
in the green of the leaves

Oh, Summer my good friend
there’s only so many hours
so take the storms and the rainbows…

but don’t take my wildflowers

Wild Sunflowers