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.   

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.

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.