The music continues…

This week my mind is on the music as I work on a new album and pack for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I sits down with my husband to talk about what it means to still be recording and creating music at 39 and I answer a listener’s question about the songwriting process. Chad’s been busy building the addition, so he gives a little sheetrock-covered update too. 
PLUS, I shares a rough cut of the song I wrote about my Great Grandpa Eddie at the end of the podcast, so stay to have an exclusive listen. 

When I was a young teenager, like 13 or 14, every spare minute I had at home was spent trying to teach myself to play guitar on the pink carpet of my room. Leaned up against the frame of my waterbed (hey, it was the 90s) I pressed stop and play and stop and play on my CD player trying to figure out the chords to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” or Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” I found these songs in my parent’s album collections and there was something about them that spoke to me more than anything I was hearing on the two FM radio stations that came in at the ranch.

Maybe it was the fact that the first songs I ever heard were coming from my dad playing and singing around the house. I knew the lyrics to Emmylou Harris and John Prine songs before I even heard their original versions. And when I began to discover my own musical tastes, when I could buy my own albums and play them on repeat, I was surprised to find there was something lonesome about it. Because I couldn’t imagine a world beyond my nook of rural America where real people like this existed, playing guitars in coffee shops and clubs and forming and breaking up bands and writing and recording music.  Somehow, it made me feel even more isolated, more landlocked, more obscure in my community and so very far away from a world where people create music for a living. I suppose I felt that my only access to it was to learn to play it myself and to attempt to write my own.

MEDORA — AUG 5: Tour of Teddy Roosevelt National Park. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Center for Creative Photography/University of Arizona).

I was only fourteen or fifteen when I wrote some of the music for the first album I released my senior year of high school. If I knew then what I know now, I wonder if would I have put myself out there that way. That’s the thing about adolescence—the naiveté keeps you brave.

I’m thinking about this today because for the past month or so I’ve been knee deep in working on music for another album. There was a time I would have told the 39-year-old version of me that I’m too old for this now, that to be creative, to have something to say, you must be relevant, and 39 didn’t seem relevant to me when I was in my early 20s driving up and down the middle of the country trying to write songs about places and things I knew nothing about. There was also a time when I thought that in order to be successful you had to remove yourself from all the familiar things and build yourself back up again somewhere more important. Go to Nashville. Go to California. Go to New York City. Then you’ll be something. Then you’ll have something worth saying.

I grew out of that phase somewhere between South Dakota and Oklahoma in my Chevy Lumina with a caved-in trunk I couldn’t open because of a fender-bender I still hadn’t dealt with. The man I loved and the place I loved was hundreds of miles away, I just cracked the front of my tooth off on a granola bar and I was supposed to be playing in a Nebraska college town in two hours. Was it this I loved? Or was there something else to it?

Last weekend I spent countless hours on the carpet in my grown up room working and re-working songs that could only be written by the woman I am now, hollering down to my daughters to “shush for a minute” and “play walkie-talkie in the basement please!”

I pulled out my harmonicas and immediately I saw two sets of bare feet under my bedroom door. Soon my daughters were playing harmonica too, dancing, singing and requesting for assistance writing their own songs.

I couldn’t help but think about the smoky smell of my dad’s guitar case on the 1980s shag carpet and me sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening. And then another thing hit me: this is how it can start, yes, but this can also just be how it is. There doesn’t have to be more to any of it except that it brings you some sort of peace or some sort of release or some sort of joy. If my daughters ask, that’s what I’ll tell them. Not everything we do with passion has to come to a famous, star-studded, glamorous end. Sometimes the best part is in the learning, or the listening or the creating or the dancing along.

As it turns out, the teenage version of me was right. To write it continues to set me free. And so that’s what I’m doing here, leaned up against my bed frame on the carpet in my room.

Snowed in

Happy winter! It’s official now, on December 22nd. I’m writing this in the middle of another no-school, all the roads are closed, the wind is whipping 40 MPH snow day.

And I wrote the column during the last snow day. December has had it’s way with us. So Chad and I had plenty of time between tractor thawing and snow blowing to sit down and visit a bit about windchill and frozen equipment, digging out and and staying home, Christmas traditions and finding gratitude where you can. Even Edie pops in for a snow day report. Then stick around to hear both she and little sister Rosie sing their favorite Christmas song this year. 

Merry Christmas. Thank you for following along this year and sharing your stories with us. Sending you love, gratitude for the year behind us and hope for the year ahead.

Listen to the podcast here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

The magic season

Oh wow it’s magical around here. Two young kids waking up each morning smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season to see what shenanigans the little felt elf got into this time will make it that way. So will 4 to 8 inches of heavy snow and a promise of at least 40 mph gusts to make it nice and blinding, just like the North Pole.

Yes, we’re smack dab in the middle of the Christmas countdown. As I write this almost every road in the state is closed and so we’re in a good ‘ol fashioned snow day, except with laptops and virtual learning. And depending on your experience with Google classroom, the whole magic of the snow day experience can go either way.

And so can waking up at 3 am realizing that you forgot to move that enchanting felt elf. In which case you can either embrace that you are the magic or you can use your favorite cuss words as you squinty slipper shuffle down the steps to move the elf from the bathroom perch to the fridge between the ketchup and the soy sauce, wrapped up in an old dish towel for dramatic effect.

I’d say the magic is in remembering to move it at all. Bonus for a clever idea.

It’s worth it in the morning though. My kids are in that special spot of childhood where they still believe, and finding their elf in a toilet paper hammock is about as thrilling as it gets. Although the concept of Jesus and Santa both watching you gets a bit confusing for the five-year-old, especially when the felt elf becomes a part of the felt nativity scene. (Hey, I’m running out of ideas here.)

But it’s not just the Christmas season and the elf-drawing-faces-on-our-bananas- with-a-Sharpie that’s bringing this magic, it’s the kids themselves. They just have it beaming out of their curious eyes, skipping with them to meet their friends at school and almost knocking the Christmas tree over with each of the thousands of cartwheels they’re throwing in the living room.

The lineup of performances and celebration helps too. Last week my girls ran a regular rock star schedule and I happily (and with a supply of Motrin and coffee) played the role of their tour bus driver, stylist, caterer, and personal assistant. We had a first grade Christmas program on Tuesday, a pre-school Christmas Caroling experience on Friday morning and a dress rehearsal for a cheer performance on Friday afternoon. They gave it their all in their cheer recital Saturday afternoon and then we hosted Rosie’s five-year-old swimming birthday party on Saturday night. Then we wrapped it all up with my personal favorite, the Church nativity play on Sunday morning. The girls dressed as angels and they both had lines that we’ve been practicing all month. And we got to dress in our best and watch as Edie the Angel inched all the wise men and poor little Joseph out of the way so she could do the actions to the song front and center like she was born to do.

Man, wasn’t it just yesterday that she was baby Jesus who had a blowout mid-manger scene?

Maybe we all secretly wished for this snow day to slow it down for a minute so that we might sit on our cozy chair, our kids still in their jammies and watch a Christmas movie while procrastinating trying to figure out how to log-in to their Chrome books.

I’m rambling a little I know. I sat down this morning with the idea that I would write down a few lessons I’ve learned from this season of the year and of this middle-aged-mid-parenting life. But all I want to do is write down these little things I don’t want to fade from my memory: my daughters’ red tights and sparkly holiday shoes. Their morning bed head and crumpled Christmas PJs. The mess of graham cracker gingerbread houses and h alf-drunk holiday cups of hot chocolate taking over my kitchen table and singing Edie’s favorite Christmas song at the top of our lungs on the car ride to school. And even that silly elf that wakes me up and reminds me that these are the days. These are the exhausting, adorable, hilarious, snuggle-clad, sugar cookie filled days, frosted in sketchy weather with holiday sprinkles on top.

In case you forgot to remember. In case you’ve never forgotten.

Anyway, I got a little off task here, but here’s one lesson I really wanted to pass along: Tie the tree to the wall. Fishing string works great. Do it even if no one’s doing cartwheels in your living room. Trust me.

And whatever phase you’re in this Christmas, may you do your best to find peace where you are, even if it’s 3 am and you’re barely awake dressing a felt elf in Barbie clothes…

This is five

It’s a snow day at the ranch and all the roads in ND are closed. So while all the kids were in the house, I sat down to chat with my little sister, Alex, about parenting five year olds and trying to replicate the magic Christmases we had as kids. There are interruptions, per usual, I talk about Rosie and her packrat tendencies and Alex shares a story about how she and an egg went to town.

Listen to the podcast here, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Spotify.

Happy snow day moms and dads! Don’t forget to move that elf.

This is Five

Rosie, my youngest daughter, turned five at the beginning of the month. If you’re wondering what five is like, if it’s been a while since you had a five-year-old living under your roof, or have been five yourself, then I’m here today to paint a picture.

And that picture begins with all of the things that could be hiding under a five-year-old’s pillow. Because I, myself, just had a recent revelation a few nights back when our household was conducting one of our middle-of-the-night bed shuffling rituals, the one where Rosie wakes up and climbs the stairs with her blankie at 2 am and then climbs up on our bed and then climbs up on my head to finish her good night’s sleep. And despite contradicting viewpoints on a mother’s need for personal space, I do admit that I like mine, especially at 2 am. So I made my way down to her big empty bed only to discover that it wasn’t as empty as I assumed. I slid my arm under the pillow to snuggle in and was greeted with a half-eaten bag of goldfish crackers, a Santa squishy ball, five rolls of Smarties candies, a tiny notebook, an ice-pop wrapper, a bouncy ball, a tiny doll shoe and a partridge in a pear tree.

And so it was 2:04 am on a random Tuesday night in December when I discovered my youngest daughter is a pack rat. A sneaky one.

And that not all five-year-olds are created equally.

I mean, I could leave a bag full of chocolate in the middle of the kitchen table, within reach and sniffing distance of my oldest daughter, and she wouldn’t dare make a move without first being granted permission. And chocolate is her absolute favorite thing in the entire world. But so are rules. She’s the firstborn and her universe can only run on order.

And so I’ve been moving through parenting both daughters naively and blissfully thinking that sort of discipline and obedience must be a package deal.  But it turns out the second one is sneaky, thriving on flying under the radar, letting the older one take the spotlight until her comedy routine is honed and she can steal the show. As a middle child myself, I should have known.

Anyway, today I offered to help her make her bed and the darling assured me that she had it under control, which just turned out to be a ploy to get me off her trail while she tried to figure out what to do with the sticky stash of pillowcase Sweet Tarts she’d been hoarding. I didn’t even know we had Sweet Tarts and so this is what I’m saying.

I took the child with me grocery shopping yesterday and we had the cart overflowing with what I was hoping would be at least a week or two of meals and snacks. And while I busied myself bagging up the vegetables and cereal at the end of the conveyer belt, Rosie took my distraction as an opportunity to try a new strategy. 

Among the string cheese and tortilla shells, Rosie got one of those Kinder Joy Egg things that is conveniently placed at small-child-eye-level, the kind with the candy and a tiny plastic toy, past me and through the grocery clerk. By the time I found it, I’d already paid for it.

“Rosie!” I exclaimed. “Did you put this candy in with our groceries without asking?”

“Yeah,” she replied, not phased in the least. “I didn’t ask because I knew you’d say no.”

“I would have said no,” I told her.

And then she told me, “But now you paid for it, so I might as well eat it.”

I was so baffled by her antics that I plowed my cart full of groceries right into the Christmas tree by the door on our way out, which apparently has now become a part of her core memory, because she’s reminded me and anyone within ear shot of it at least a dozen times already.

So that’s five.

Oh, and also, tonight at supper she told me she has a crush. He’s a cowboy and he’s cool and he ropes and she’s a cowgirl so what’s the deal?

The deal is, send prayers.

Happy Birthday sweet Rosie. We love every little thing about you.   

Mr. Tanner and the Joy of Singing Along

Dad in his high School band, Cherry Creek,

I’m excited to share this week’s column and podcast that hones in on the music and the stories and what makes them so significant and important in our lives. And so of course I sit down with my dad on the podcast and we hash out some of our favorite folk songs and the stories behind decades of making music together. You get to hear my dad in his element, reciting lyrics and talking about his favorite musicians and all his time spent performing in his 50+ career as a musician.

Enjoy and thank you for believing as much as I do in the power of the story of the every day characters, the fabric of our communities.

The joy of singing along

Listen to the podcast here, on Apple Podcast or Spotify

There’s a Harry Chapin song I grew up listening to on my dad’s tape player. Harry Chapin was a Grammy award winning musician in the 70s and one of the greatest folk songwriters of his time. He created characters in his three to five minute songs that took you along to fall in love or break a heart or, in the case of “Mr. Tanner, the owner of a dry cleaning store in a small town in Ohio who sang while he worked long hours in his shop, to follow the encouragement of his friends and neighbors and use all his savings to “try music out full time.”

In the performance and recording of the song, in the backdrop of the chorus among the instruments a deep and pure baritone voice emerges as Mr. Tanner himself, singing the chorus to “Oh Holy Night.”

It’s beautiful, the whole thing, and the song takes you to his performance at a concert hall in New York. And if you’re listening for the first time, you hope for the outcome of fame and accolades for Mr. Tanner and his beautiful voice because “they said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.” 

But Harry Chapin doesn’t deliver that fairy tale. That’s what makes him one of the best. Mr. Tanner’s debut performance was met with cold reviews, “Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order…” And so Mr. Tanner went back to Dayton, Ohio, and the song ends with him singing to himself late at night while sorting his clothes, against the haunting lines of the chorus …

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul
He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole

This song came back to me recently after a particularly challenging week where I was working to bring a renowned concert pianist to our small community and the logistics just weren’t falling into place the way I had hoped. I was anxious about his arrival and worried about getting the arrangements just right for him. The man has played for every president since Ronald Reagan and I wanted his time here in our little community to be up to a particular standard and I felt I was falling short. I was feeling flustered and tired and considering what it would take to retire early when the last song was played and the crowd emerged wowed and thankful for the opportunity. I watched as the pianist to the presidents signed autographs and chatted with the community and breathed the kind of sigh of relief you breathe when something challenging comes together in the end.

After the last guest headed for home and the pianist made his way to his hotel room, I stuck around the venue to gather our things and wrap up, always the last to leave. Then from the empty hallways of the big school I heard the trumpets, violins and high-pitched guitars of a mariachi band echo from small speakers and bounce off the concrete walls. Unexpectedly, a big, beautiful baritone voice joined in with the recorded singer, filling the dark school with life again and reminding me, in the best way, that at 10 p.m., the next shift had begun.

I stopped on my tired feet to listen from behind the wall for a moment, not wanting to disturb or embarrass that voice, not wanting him to stop. This man wasn’t singing for the crowd that had just dispersed. Or on a big stage, or for the president or on YouTube to be available for the masses. He was singing for himself, because “It made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.

And what I heard was filled with so much joy and exultation it turned my mood and immediately reminded me that at the core of it all, what really matters here. These gifts we’re given and how we use them, it’s up to us and us only.

I turned the corner and the man realized, like me, he wasn’t alone. He smiled and turned the music down. I told him he made my night and please, please ignore me now, and keep singing. And then I made my way home in the dark, with the music turned up, singing along.

The perks of being a ranch kid…

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! This week’s column is an update on shipping day and on the podcast Chad and I catch up after a really busy couple weeks and talk about all things, including the significance this time of the year has for our family. We talk a bit about our rocky road to parenthood as well as how scary it can be to face taking over a ranch operation before you feel fully ready. Also, call us if you need a kitten or some tips on how to survive a 7 year old birthday sleepover party!

Listen to the podcast here, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google.


The perks of being a ranch kid

“Aren’t you glad you kept them home from school?” My dad said to me, standing in his work boots and Carhart jacket, looking a little out of place in the middle of the blinking lights and pings of the pizza place arcade.

He had just bought us all supper and he was sort of beaming watching all four of his small granddaughters take their best shot at skee ball and whack- a-mole and I just couldn’t help but declare, out loud to him and my aunt, that this had been a great day. And they whole-heartedly agreed, our bellies full of carbs and cheese and ice cream, all of us smelling, and looking, a bit like sale barn.

We started the day in the chill of a barely above zero morning watching the guys sort the calves from the cows in the pen. I’d been gone for two days before, across the state singing for my supper and was feeling the repercussions of messing with the weekday schedule and questioning my career path. The evening prior I was still sixty miles from home and my friend called to let me know my six-year-old was at gymnastics in town and was wondering why I didn’t pack her leotard. And then I had to explain that I didn’t pack her leotard because my darling dear daughter was supposed to be on the bus heading home where her dad was in the tractor moving corrals and watching for her. It’s moments like these when the thirty-mile drive to civilization to retrieve a confused kid seems vast and crazy. And it’s moments like these I thank God for friends who have made the same mistakes and help without judgment, and a sister in town for groceries who can pick up the confused kid on her way home.

I bring this up because it sent me reeling a bit. I have a crazy schedule and a set of unconventional jobs, so when something slips with the kids, I find it fair game to beat myself up about it. I wonder if I chose a more 9 to 5 route if it would make me better at schedule keeping. Or if I could have found a way to stay home with them full time if the laundry wouldn’t pile up so high and our meals would be planned out and I would be a better, less distracted mom. I was putting Edie to bed that night trying to sort out how I was going to get the girls to school and be back in time to help get the calves on the truck and make sure the soup was set up and ready for lunch when I was reminded, out of the darkness, that I was in charge here.

And the kids could stay home from school on shipping day.

Of course they could! It’s, as my aunt pointed out, “the perk of a ranch kid’s job.” And to prioritize our children’s involvement in the process of what puts groceries in our cupboards is arguably one of the most important jobs of a rancher. They’re never too young. That’s why we’re here.

Not that it’s easier. Because a six and four year old were no help at all in the snow and the chill of the morning sort, but they felt a bit a part of it anyway, even if that part was throwing snow in the air and kicking frost off the fence rails. But if you thought they weren’t helpful there, they really weren’t in the sale barn, strutting in with their purple boots and pink backpack full of coloring projects and plastic ponies, my little sister and her two young daughters right behind us.

But the moment we stepped into that sale barn, the scent hit our nostrils and we were transported back to when we were the kids, getting to pick out an orange pop and a candy bar from the café before finding our place on the sale barn bench. So, first things first, the only place in the world a can of pop still costs $1 and we were all sorts of nostalgic.

And also? We were a spectacle, the four little girls and my sister and me. Add to the crew my dad, husband, my aunt and uncle and our calves had a regular cheering committee in Dickinson that day. When those calves hit the ring and the auctioneer pointed us out, I turned around to my daughters and squealed with nervous excitement “our calves! There’s our calves! Then I hit my sister’s leg and turned around to face the music with a weird and nervous smile while taking pictures.

In case you are wondering, this is not sale-barn protocol.

You’re just supposed to nod. That’s it.

But you know what is sale-barn-protocol? Rounding up the kids and their plastic ponies from the far corner of the bench seats where they were using up a little too much of a stranger’s personal space for their make-shift-pasture and heading out for pizza and ice cream to celebrate, smelling like sales barn and smiling, reveling in the perks of the job.

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

The parenthood juggle is real

In this week’s podcast, Chad and I sit down to pontificate on what we’re feeling here. Is it stress, the season change, or just trying to get the kids out the door on time for school? Plus, my current book choice and my fear of heights prompts Chad to give a bit of insight on what it was like working as derrick hand at the height of the oil boom, which then gets us talking about how far our community’s come. If you want a linear and precise hour of conversation, this isn’t it, but then, isn’t that life. Maybe you can relate. Listen here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

We have to wake up early to make it to town before 8:20 am when they lock the doors of the elementary school, forcing you and your child to make the walk of shame to the front office and sign in as a tardy kid. We have to wake up early because, after pulling them out from under the covers, it takes my children at least an hour of coaxing and back rubbing and sweet talking turned to hollaring “open your eyeballs!” for my dear darling daughters to be convinced that it’s time to start another day.

Before kids, mornings were my slow roll into creativity, the time I would take to myself to sip coffee, reflect and come up with something to ponder for publication. I never missed a deadline.

These days I’m sweating before 7 am, and it’s not because I got myself into a morning workout routine. By the time we’re all up, dressed, fed, brushed, clothed, snacked, packed and buckled into the car, I’ve played the part of lawyer, cook, zookeeper, stylist, housekeeper, secretary, barista, chauffer and, depending on what kind of morning the 4-year-old is having, therapist, all in an hour and a half’s time.

I’m sitting down now, in the calm after the storm, and I desperately want to be profound, but honestly I’m just happy I remembered I had a deadline in the first place. After ten years of submitting a weekly column, it’s only now begun to surprise me.

The juggle is real people and the only thing I’ve mastered in this working parent game is the art of doing my makeup in the visor mirror of my car between preschool drop off and my impending appearance in public. And no, I have not figured out where that weird smell is coming from in the backseat.  

Speaking of cars, here’s a thing I’ve actually done and I’m not too proud to confess. Because maybe that’s why I showed up here today, not with anything deep, but to make you feel better about yourself. I have actually driven myself home from work, the kids safe inside with my husband, turned off the ignition and fell plumb asleep at the wheel. I don’t know how long I was there, but no one knew I was there, so no one came looking.  

Last weekend my husband and I decided to paint the old shop, a project that has been on my list all year. In the time it took to coach my daughters through the difference between painting-the-shop-clothes, school clothes and cowgirl clothes my husband could have had half of it done already. I made a wager that it would take Rosie, our four-year-old, exactly two seconds before she had herself covered in red paint and wondered if we should see if grandma wanted to babysit for this part.  And while I was right about the timing of the red paint, what I didn’t account for was the amount that would end up on the dog.

But the girls were happy to help. They dug in and painted every inch of the shop they could reach before Rosie started presenting all of the reasons she should be allowed to run the spray paint gun and Edie asked to use the 24-foot ladder. My dear sister showed up with the cousins to offer up a jump on their trampoline and they were off, leaving a trail of red paint in their wake and me alone to supervise my husband on that 24 foot-ladder.

So many things are harder with kids around. I am just going to say it plain as can be here. But then I’m going to say: of course they are. They’re supposed to be. I have to remind myself of that every once in a while.

It. Is. Supposed. To. Be. Harder.

If the goal is to raise capable, compassionate people then the lessons have to be taught in the day to day. In the encouragements and the apologies and the patience shown in letting them do things like pouring their own cereal in the morning when the very adult version of you is screaming inside for all the Cocoa Pebbles now scattered across the kitchen floor. And the time it’s going to take for her to go get a broom and sweep it up and on and on because have you ever read, “If you give a moose a muffin?”

Yes, if I want to raise a kid that understands how to make an old building look like new again, I guess it’s up to us to show them that it’s work. And it’s fun. And it’s a mess. But we can do it. And there will be some fighting. And early mornings. And sometimes you will pop right out of bed and get there early and other times you’ll be the tardy kid and no one’s perfect, you just have to try your best and sometimes your best is catching a power nap in the car alone. And that’s just fine too.

Just always use your manners. Please.

Ok, how’s that for profound on a deadline?

Taking a back seat to the dogs

If you like dogs this is the podcast episode for you. I recently realized my true place on the ranch and, well, this is my way of working it all out. I sit down with my husband, Chad to reminisce about the good dogs, the bad dogs and all the reasons we love them. Which got us thinking about the best dog movies of our childhood, our infamous pug and that time Chad found himself butt-naked on the deck with a shotgun in the middle of the night…Listen at the link or on Spotify, Anchor or Apple Podcasts


I have a little beef with the hierarchy of things around here and I guess it’s time to complain publicly because, well, maybe someone out there can sympathize.

Recently, I was getting a ride from my dad in the side-by-side from my house to the farmyard to pick up another vehicle. This sort of exchange is common here during this season because of the tractor moving and stock trailer moving and cow moving that come with the change of weather. Dad hopped in the driver’s seat while me, his dear middle daughter who, at a certain dramatic time in our lives together, could be credited with saving his ever-loving life, had to balance on the end of the bench seat with half a butt cheek and one leg out the door while we tooled down the road.

Why? Because heaven absolutely forbid, we ask the dog to move.

Nope. No one say a thing about it.

Well I’m saying a thing about it.  See my dad has three dogs. They’re working dogs, cattle dogs, they have a job and they have a place and their place is inside the cab of the side-by-side waiting for Dad to come out of the house and get to ranching so they can come along.

The cast of characters is lovely really. Juno is a fluffy Aussie and Border Collie mix with the sweetest temperament who is nearing the end of her days here.

Juno in a flower pot

About seven years ago she had puppies with our dog, Gus, and dad kept one and named him Waylon. And Waylon is not a pup anymore, but a giant Hanging Tree mix with one blue eye and a real aversion to drama.

Waylon

Then, last winter, around Christmas time, anticipating Juno’s last few years here, enter Oakley, a pup he added to the mix with the idea that the old dog would help her get wise to the rules of chasing cattle through the trees before that old dog is too old to come along.

Rosie and Oakley as a pup

Not like you can really stop her though, remember. They’re all waiting for him. And they. Are. Not. Moving.

Nope. Not even for a grown woman who politely asks if maybe they can scooch over just a smidge, ugh, just a little, just need to get the door closed, ah, nevermind, this is fine, I’m fine, I’ll just sit on the floor here and let my leg dangle out the door…

As it turns out, along with teaching these dogs to ‘sick ‘em’ and ‘sit’ and ‘go back’ and ‘stay,’ they’ve all mastered my dad’s art of selective hearing in times like these. Did you know that dogs have that skill?

I’ll note here, that during this recent incident, the other dogs were not along. So it was just Waylon and me and Dad and there was plenty of room for scootching. But there was not scootching.  Not even a nudge. And there certainly wasn’t any suggestion that maybe the dog could get out and run over the hill with us.

Waylon was visibly making the move to ignore that I exist, suddenly forgetting his name, turning his back to me and focusing his gaze intently on the smudge on the glass of the driver’s side door. I think he even raised his left paw and put it on my dad’s shoulder, just to prove his point.

We got to the barnyard and I swear Waylon would have kicked me out before we came to a full stop if he could. “Good riddance, where we going now Boss?” And both dog and human left me to get my own ride, carrying on with their day together like this was normal.

Which apparently it is now. Just last weekend we were loading up horses and help in the pickup to roundup cows a ways down the road. I thought I might sit up front with Dad and my little sister, maybe be in charge of the radio dial, take in the autumn foliage out the window. But Dad cut me off at the pass to open the tiny back door for me to slide on in. With Waylon. But Waylon wouldn’t move of course. Apparently, he couldn’t see me. He wanted the window seat. So I said “excuse me” and slipped on past to take my place the middle tiny back seat of the old pickup with the missing fencing gloves, miscellaneous tools, half-empty water bottles, extra feed store caps, sandwiching my body between two dogs who had just taken a dip in the stinky black mud at the crick in the barnyard while my little sister and the new puppy sat up front, the fall breeze blowing through their hair/fur on our way to get work done.

I mean, I’m a grown woman! I’m dang-near middle aged! I have aches and pains! I survived cancer! I saved my dad’s life once (or maybe more, probably but who’s counting?)

And this is my beef. I have taken a literal back seat to the dogs.

Thank you for listening.

Peace be with you.

A piece I wrote when I was 8 or so. I guess I have always known…

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.