A letter to you as you let go of my hand

Dear Daughters,

Last week I ran into another mom in the grocery store while I was pushing you, Rosie, in the car cart through the cereal section. I had just picked you up from preschool and you were helping me pick out snacks for your big sister’s backpack.

Rosie and her cousin Ada on their first day of Preschool

Turns out we needed to pack snacks for kindergarten, a line in the welcome packet I must have skimmed past 60 times and still didn’t register until you, Edie, informed me three days in. You were snarfing down a granola bar and I was horrified thinking how hungry you must have been watching the other kids take their apples and fruit snacks out after recess for three days straight. A lump formed in the back of my throat and I wanted to cry. I thought I had it under control. Turns out I didn’t really.

But you, dear Edie. You totally did.

I was retelling this story to the mom in the grocery store, adding that I had spent the entire day in and out of those tears because when I watched you, Edie, walk so confidently into those big doors, a music montage of your entire childhood and your future rolled through my head. Then suddenly you were grown and I was helping you pack your car to leave me. Like really leave. And it shook me up a little bit.

Also, did I mention you kicked me out of the room the first day of school? I held your hand and helped you find your desk. You sat down, folded your hands in your lap and I took your picture. You asked me how many more pictures I needed and then you asked me when it was time for the parents to leave.

“Do you want me to leave?” I was surprised. You’re usually so shy. But you whispered “Yes,” confidently in my ear, and so off I went then. Into my own new realm of parenthood, the realm where neither of you are babies anymore.

That mom in the store could relate. She told me she cried in her car and then wrote her son a letter to open when he graduates from high school. She said it was five pages. Or maybe it was more. And she said I should do the same. To write you a letter. And the thing is, I’m a writer. I write about you two all the time. But to write to you? She was right. I should.

When I was getting ready to head to surgery to get my tumor removed a little over a year ago, I was terrified of leaving you two without a mother (you may not remember, but you girls regularly trace the line of my scar with your little fingers, ask if it still hurts and then when I say no, we reassure one another that I’m OK now).

And so I thought I should do just that, to write you each a letter, just in case I had to leave you before I was ready. I thought maybe I could look ahead and try to imagine a world in which I wasn’t there for you for things like this: your first day of preschool Rosie, and kindergarten Edie. For your big wins and heartbreaks, for all the fights over hair and outfits and nights that got too late and the trouble you’ll get into as you search for yourself.

But I couldn’t bear the thought of it. I couldn’t find the words just as I can’t seem to find them here today. Except that I never want to forget, Rosie, that some mornings you cry because your oatmeal spoon has oatmeal on it. And Edie, we told you twice last week not to get too close to the stock dam, and twice you got stuck so deep in the mud we had to get a shovel to dig your shoes out.

So I told you that, and now I guess I’ll tell you this: The world is going to be that oatmeal spoon and that black, sticky mud sometimes. It’s either going to seem fine to everyone else, but not to you, or seem fine to you, but not to everyone else. While it’s our job as parents right now to keep you fed and safe and out of the deep end, it’s my hope that we can raise you to be so completely and incredibly yourselves that you’re not scared of being scared or uncomfortable or a little bit lost. You’ll know how to ask for a hand, and how to generously give of yours.

In this milestone, dear daughters, the one where you are letting go of my hand, I can’t tell you how honored and grateful I am to be here, watching you, ready for when you need it again.

And also, dear daughters. You have kindness in you. Let it shine out your ears.

You are brave. Let that bravery lift up others.

You are ours and you are wonderfully you and we are so proud of you.

Love,

Mom

P.S. I bought you some Twinkies

Blue Buttes and the backdrop of childhood

There are sets of buttes that frame the landscape of our ranch. When you’re turning off the highway and coming down toward home, or when you find yourself on the top of a hill, searching for cows, or the dogs, or the other riders who are supposed to be with you, if you look north, as far as the eye can see, there they stand — the Blue Buttes — the backdrop to this little painting we live in here at the Veeder Ranch.

Every time I look at them, I’m reminded of a story that my dad told me about a drawing he colored of a cowboy on a mountain during a project in elementary school. He used his crayons to make the man’s hat brown, his shirt yellow, the sky blue and the mountain he was riding along purple.

When the teacher asked, “Why did you paint the mountain purple? Mountains aren’t purple!” my young dad said he felt embarrassed and confused. He didn’t think he was wrong. The only encounter he had up to that point with anything resembling a mountain was the Blue Buttes that waved to him from about 7 miles north. And they sure looked purple to him.

Oh my heart.

This week my oldest daughter, Edie, will start her first day of kindergarten. It’s a milestone she’s more than ready for, but I can’t stop kissing her cheeks and looking at her wondering how this happened. Wasn’t I just measuring her milestones in weeks and months? And now here we are staring down an entirely new chapter and all I can do is reminisce with her about how I used to rock her to sleep every night by pacing the floor.

Oh, I’m not ready. Like, in denial, putting off school shopping, not ready.

Recently we took Edie to the big hospital to get her tonsils taken out and while they were in there, they took her wiggly front tooth, too. (A fun surprise for all of us when she came off of anesthesia.) So if she didn’t look like a kindergartener before, she certainly does now.

So very soon, off she’ll go into a world that, day after day, will teach her things, so many things, she didn’t know before. Like, maybe, that the Blue Buttes aren’t actually blue or purple. And that 5+5 is 10 and 10X10 is 100 and then maybe the lines in a Shakespeare play and the periodic table and, too soon, that the Tooth Fairy is actually her mother, scrounging up cash, writing notes and sneaking into her room at night.

Right now my daughter is full of magic and innocence, collecting toads with her little sister in her ballet costume, drawing flowers with faces, playing dolls, hoarding special rocks, pumping her legs on the swing and believing that maybe unicorns exist somewhere. She’s also arguing with me about brushing her hair, choosing outfits that don’t match but make her “feel like herself,” and reminding me that every day of parenthood, if you’re doing it right, is a day closer to letting them go where they need to go.

But for now I’m soaking in the fact that, for now, where my girls need to go is outside to see if we can find some more toads. And can they please wear their princess dresses and bring their dolls in their strollers?

And then after that they might find themselves in the trees, following the secret path up to the top of the hill to check on the sunflowers, the wind tangling up their already messy hair. And if they look north, as far as the eye can see, they will find those buttes, purple and blue as can be, the backdrop of their childhood that I hope will never lose its magic, even in memory…

Mother of Mermaids

I used to be a mermaid. For a land locked girl who only made it to the swimming pool in town once or twice a summer, it seemed unlikely. But my cousin and I, we would use the big rocks up on the hill next to the pink county road to mark out the boundaries of our underwater cove and then we would swim to the surface to sit up on those rocks and see the world from a new perspective, the perspective of a sea dweller.

And we’d pick our mermaid names, and declare the color of our hair and our tails and we would pretend we were weightless and spinning and flipping through the water, and that we held some sort of magic that we don’t have up here on the surface, on the prairie, where the summer heat browned our skin and flushed our cheeks and the wind whipped the curls out of our hair.

Who knew then, when I was 5 or 6 years old, that I would one day become a mother of mermaids. I saw my daughters’ final transformations recently when we headed to the lake cabin in Minnesota to carry out the tradition of spending the holiday with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The weather was hot and sticky, and the lake was warm and clear. We had summer sausage sandwiches with potato chips and juice boxes, topped it off with a Popsicle and we moved from the shade to the sun to the water. All the elements seemed to be just right for the magic needed to make a mermaid out of a kid. And so off they went from the dock into the water, with no hesitation, just bare feet first, and then up to their armpits and then, poof, under the water they went to become a part of that little lake with all its mysteries and enchantment, down below the surface with the other swimming, slimy and shiny creatures.

And I didn’t notice the shift right away. I was out there myself, the way moms and dads are, to float and splash, supervise and clear away the dreaded seaweed. I heard them little by little make the declaration, the color of their fins, their mer-names, and the sea-monster older cousin they had to escape from. And after an hour or so, I thought they may want to come in for a break, maybe have an ice cream or warm up under the sun, but they couldn’t be distracted by such mundane human things. And so I sat my human body up on the dock, and then back on the floating hammock thing my mom bought online that looked bigger in the picture but worked just fine for observing mermaids. I watched them splash and screech and swim and play and I wondered if there is anything more magical than a kid in a lake, both things sparkling in the sun? I wondered if there could be any feeling more free than the dive of a little body, young and bursting with energy made for just this, learning with each bend of an arm, arch of a back, kick of a leg or water up the nose, what they’re capable of. What they truly love. Joy embodied.

And if you’re wondering, someone has to come up with a way to feed those who have just grown their tails. And so that evening, before the sun started to sink, before the fireworks crackled across the dark blue sky, I made those sea dwellers a paper plate full of ribs and corn on the cob and macaroni and cheese, and used it to bribe them back up on land.

You see, I used to be a mermaid once, so I know a little magic myself…

Yes, I used to be a mermaid. And those big rocks, well, they’re still there up on the hill next to the pink county road where my mailbox sits now. It’s all these years later, but if I stand up there and the wind’s just right, if I close my eyes tight, I think I might be able to be a mermaid again…

My favorite people in the whole wide world

My favorite people in the whole wide world
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Today Edie, who is 5, told me that Rosie, her little sister, who is 3, is her favorite person in the whole world.

It was in a moment when the day was clear, the rain had just fallen and the wind was calm and so we lingered a bit longer in the barnyard after feeding our bottle calves. We saddled up the pony and the big horse and Edie practiced reining around the one barrel left over in the arena from when I used to practice the same thing 100 years ago.

And Rosie, she sat on Tootsie while the mini horse scouted out every last lone blade of grass in the dirt. One step, one bite, one step, one bite, and on and on until the duo headed back to the grain bucket.

Anyway, there was no place on earth we would have rather been at that moment, and I think that’s why it struck me. That Edie declared it. Her favorite person in the whole wide world was just born three years ago, and so how lucky to have that many more years ahead of them to ride ponies and fight over the tractor seat and jump off corals and cheer one another on and steal shirts and shoes and keep secrets…

And I know they love one another. I know because for every 10 minutes of peaceful playing, there is another five or so where one is devastated by the other. If it’s not a push or a hit, it’s usually over who gets to be the mom when they’re playing dolls. And generally it resolves with them deciding they can both be moms. They’re aunties, taking care of their kids together, because that’s what they see I suppose, and that makes me smile.

“Pretend that we’re sisters,” they say, as if they can’t fathom a world where they’re not, and so they fast-forward it to make it more interesting. Teenage sisters. Mommy sisters. Superhero princess sisters. And then there’s the game where Rosie turns into a troll who ate, well, Rosie, and then it becomes the game where you fight a troll to save your sister…

And on and on they go, as sisters.

Most evenings, at suppertime (which always runs too late in case you were getting any sort of impression that we have it remotely figured out around here), we ask the girls, “What was your favorite part of the day?”

And before they can answer, they have to argue a bit about who gets to ask first, and who gets to answer first, but eventually we get around to the fact that, most days, they can’t decide.

Was it when they found the barn kittens? Or was it riding horses? Or picking sweet peas or swinging in the backyard or getting a Popsicle and then an ice cream cone at Gramma’s? Or maybe it was climbing gumbo hills with their cousins or big flakes of snow that fell in the yard, oh wait? Was that today? Or was that yesterday? Little kids, their memories are like a dream I think.

Because there is no time when you’re more fully in the moment than when you are a child. Mornings into afternoons into evenings, it all lasts, as Rosie would say, “for ages!” And then not long enough.

A few days before the favorite sister declaration, I was walking with my daughters along a trail in the trees behind our house, watching them adventure, stop for every stick and bug, navigate every poop pile, and I found myself anxious to tell them to move along. We have to get up this hill so we can look for flowers so we can get back to the house so I can get supper on. This is the narrative that runs through a mom’s head, the next thing that affects the next thing.

But I looked at them then, with the light streaming through the trees, lighting up the tiny buds on the branches and their gold hair loose from their ponytails, and I stopped, took a breath and willed myself to be more like them. Because we had nowhere to be but there. And these are my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Lost tooth memories

Losing a tooth and gaining memories
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My oldest daughter lost her first tooth last week. On her 47th jump off the panel fence while we were feeding bottle calves, she fell and jarred her little jaw enough to knock a loose tooth looser.

By bedtime, all bathed and fresh and ready for sleep, she let her daddy pull that wiggly tooth, the one I swear she just grew yesterday.

And while she went into the whole thing brave and tough, chaos ensued well past bedtime when she realized a part of her that was once in her mouth, was now in her hand.

And there was blood.

And crying. From both Edie and her little sister. (And maybe me a little, because I thought he was just going to wiggle it!) But, for Edie, all that was scary was calmed by the dollars left under her pillow. I’m still not sure Rosie is over the trauma of it all.

Come to think of it, maybe neither am I. Because it all seems to be happening at once. She turns 5 and learns to ride her bike without training wheels, she loses her first tooth, I register her for kindergarten and listen to sad ’90s country for a week straight — and then I blink and she’s taking the painting she did in junior high, the old lamp in the attic and packing up the station wagon, waving goodbye to me while I stand in the very same driveway where she just learned to ride her bike yesterday.

At least that’s what Suzy Boggus told me as I drove out of the elementary school parking lot wiping my tears away. The song has a bit more bite than it did when I was singing along to it on my bus ride to school.

Letting go.

We’ve taken a large step into that phase of parenting now, and my girls take twirling leap after spinning bike tire toward their independence. I see it now in how they’re suddenly so aware of the wide-open spaces that surround them. No more fenced yard holding them in — they climb right under it and wonder now if they can get themselves from our house to Gramma’s or aunt Alex’s.

Maybe if they run to the top of the hill and stand on the tallest rock. Maybe if they follow that deer trail, or the cow dog. Maybe if they didn’t pick up every pretty rock they found along the way. Maybe if they wouldn’t have face-planted in the dirt running too fast down the hill. Maybe if they would have told their mother they were leaving the yard, she could have come and rescued them from themselves a bit earlier.

But oh, so much of me loves to watch them suddenly realize that all of this is theirs to make footprints on. To take care of. To inspect for crocuses, to pick up a cactus or two on their jeans. The big blue sky, the tall oaks, the stock dam and the crick and the sticks they throw for the dogs, the mud that gets stuck to their boots, the big rocks that will become their special, secret spots, even though we can see them from the house…

My daughters, at 5 and 3, are entering the sweet spot of childhood where memories are made and the world seems wide open and full of questions and mystery. They’re entering a phase of childhood in which I can remember for myself now, and how it felt to fall in love with this place.

How it felt to hold my little sister’s hand and help her through the fence.

How big my dad’s fingers felt in my mouth when he helped pull out my first tooth…

I can remember that, Edie. You’ll remember it now too… you’ll remember now…

Ode to a Kitchen Table

One set of markers. And then another.
Some in their boxes, some without covers.
Two lined notebooks, spiral bound.

An orange water cup. A princess crown.
One egg carton for some creation,
Forgot now what sparked such imagination.
A small sticky puddle of chocolate ice cream.

Some glitter, some glue sticks, a five-year-old’s dream.
And somewhere in pencil is Rosie Gene’s scrawl.
There’s a splash of nail polish, a race car, a doll.

A pile of sweet tarts left stacked from Monday.
Ten-thousand hair bands. A unicorn. Clay.
And underneath, on the floor, I don’t want to look,
half a cookie, a puppy, squished Play Dough. A book.

When the supper bell rings, you’d think, if you’re able
You could serve your fried chicken at the kitchen table
But able we’re not, because, well, we have kids
and it seems that our table has turned into this.

A surface for projects and dreaming and snacks,
and paper for drawings, stacks upon stacks.
I’d clear it away, some days I insist,
then others I simply just let it exist.

As an ode to these times that quickly pass by.
Oh, the mess we can clean, but the clock won’t unwind.
I know it is true, I remember the time
when our table was set up simply to dine

and make up to-do lists, eat cinnamon toast
or romantic spaghetti or a Tuesday night roast.
I remember the quiet, the slow conversation
about long weekend plans, or gasp, a vacation.

But now if we’re lucky, two words pass between us
overtop of tall tales and loud songs and screeches.
And this table, it listens, it hears all these things,
the “Please sit on your butt” and “Listen to me!”

And the “What’s been your favorite part of the day?”
Or, “I love it when you make the hot dish this way.”
Oh, I can’t help but think it’d like to talk too,
to say maybe go easy on the paint and the glue.

Or to comment on how fast they want to grow up
from bottles to sippies to pink big girl cups.
To thank goodness for sponges and quality soaps
and for all of the prayers it heard as we spoke.

Because here among colors and the half-squeezed juice box,
the pipe-cleaner bracelets and collection of rocks,
if you sweep past the crumbs and the coffee cup rings
you’ll find a spot at the table, a front seat to our dreams.

5 years

5 Years
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This week’s column is all about our firstborn turning five and how fast the years fly. And tomorrow our second born turns three, and officially we don’t really have any babies or real toddler-types in the house these days, considering Rosie has a vocabulary of the old man she used to be in her previous life.

Anyway, it’s been nothing but cupcakes and balloons, baby doll and Barbie gifts, wrapping paper and streamers around here, and we have so much to be thankful for…

But let me know if you need any cake, and I’ll ship you some…

My firstborn daughter just turned 5.

Five. An age that seemed so far away when we brought her home from the hospital on Thanksgiving day, feeling somehow exhausted, excited, overwhelmed and at peace at the same time.

Five is an age that seemed imaginary when I was walking her back and forth on the floor of our room, trying to soothe her and get her back to sleep for the fourth time that night, wondering if I was ever going to have a full night’s rest, thinking this phase might just last forever.

Five is an age that seemed like a lifetime when she took her first steps walking down our hallway on Christmas day and we thought, “Well, now it’s getting real, isn’t it?” The growing-up thing.

That first year goes slow and then fast and then, apparently, every year after that is a blink.

I opened my eyes this morning and that newborn baby was downstairs before the sun, dressed in her new birthday outfit and begging me to help her put together the 370-piece Lego set she unwrapped the night before. Hold on girl, let me get my coffee…

And also, what was I thinking? 370 pieces is a commitment I wasn’t ready for.

Being ready. That seems to be a theme in the lives of parents. The being ready when the little pink line shows up. The being ready when we bring them home. The being ready when they have a poop explosion in the middle of the Sunday school program five minutes before they are supposed to make their debut as Baby Jesus No. 4.

Being ready when they ask the tough questions about where they were before they were born and how many stars are in the sky and when great-grandma got to heaven, did she get to be young again?

I thought these kinds of questions came later. This is only five. Pretty soon she’ll be reading and then she’ll be driving, taking her little sister along on the big wide-open road away from us and toward a life of their own making.

Once I asked my husband his greatest wish for his daughters and he said that if they grew up and felt like they could unapologetically be themselves, whoever that is, we would have done our jobs.

And then he said something that I loved. He said he was excited to learn from them, to get into what they’re into, whether it’s ballet or trapshooting, science experiments or cake-decorating.

Just the other day he proved he wasn’t bluffing when he came up from watching TV in the basement with the girls and said, “You know, those Barbie movies are actually pretty good.” Something I never thought would come out of his mouth five years ago.

The same way I never thought I would be sitting down at 7 a.m. to put a Lego tower together.

But you do it for them, for your children. Because their happiness is your happiness, and isn’t that the greatest gift they can give us, to live beyond ourselves so that they can go out into the world and ask the big questions?

Even if that day seems about as far away as the day we put the last block on this Lego tower…

Happy birthday, Edie… And happy Birthday Rosie! You are our dream come true.

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Sale now until the end of the week!

Ranch mom problems

Ranch mom problems
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There have been many moments in my life when my “ruralness” has shown up in all its glory.

Last week, for example, when my 2-year-old daughter dropped her pants in the middle of the playground in town and proceeded to pee in the sand while I was on the phone trying to be a professional working remotely.

Well, professionalism went out the window pretty quickly when I screeched into the phone and then promptly confessed to my colleague that my kids haven’t been off the ranch much lately.

The only saving grace was that there were no other families around, and honestly, I was pretty proud that she didn’t get any on her pants. For us girls peeing outdoors, that’s a pretty advanced technique.

Before we had kids, the whole stamp-of-country-living thing used to show up as red scoria mud caked to my car, as a line on my shins across my dress pants and the reason I had to change from muck boots to heels on my way to work. Or maybe all the times I’ve driven our pickup to a work meeting, singing gig or grocery store run with feed buckets, fencing supplies and once, accidentally, my dad’s cow dog hiding in the back.

She was afraid of storms, so I can’t blame her, but it was a long hour-and-a-half drive to bring her back home…

Growing up on the ranch leads to all kinds of adventures for the Veeder girls. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Anyway, when I chose to raise my kids on the ranch, no one really warned me about the ways in which that upbringing might affect them — or, more importantly, embarrass me.

I should have known though. I mean, it might have been a million years ago, but I was once a ranch kid witnessing my little sister pop-a-squat right in front of the bleachers full of rodeo fans. The only time I’ve ever seen my dad run that fast was when he was being chased by a momma cow. I swear the two of them flew. At least most of that audience understood, likely finding themselves in a similar parenting position at one point or another.

But the time she peed in the middle of the lawn at an Art in the Park event in our hometown was a little harder to explain, the same way it’s hard to explain to a toddler that peeing outside is fine some places, just not others. The whole privacy thing is lost on a 2-year-old. Just ask any mom of young kids and she’ll tell you she hasn’t pooped without a guest appearance in years.

The 4-year-old at least has the outfits to pass in civilization. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

So that’s where I’m at today, working on acclimating my children to civilization. And we’re getting there. I mean, the 4-year-old at least has the outfits — long, flowy, sparkly princess dresses complete with a tiara and tiny high-heel shoes function well in the barnyard climbing on and off of ponies and picking up every cocklebur along the way. She looks the part, that one, but the fact that she doesn’t flinch at the dead bird the cat drug into the house, pulling a tick off the dog or that she can explain the birthing process of a calf without skipping a step sorta gives her away.

But, the 2-year-old? Send prayers and any tips you have for me on homeschooling and house training.

Peace, love and all my apologies to the Park Board,

7 billion hours until chokecherry jelly time

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

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

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

And a grandpa, too.

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

That’s an actual thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe next time I’ll try making wine.

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The heartbeats in between

The heartbeats in between 
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My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in my surgeon’s office on the fourth floor of Mayo Clinic, almost 700 miles from the oak tree on the ranch in western North Dakota where we were married 14 years ago when I was on the edge of turning 23. We vowed for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as if we really knew what that meant at all.

But we never know what’s coming, do we? We’ve sure learned that lesson in these 14 years, watching our plans try their hardest to fly out the window while we hang on for dear life. Turns out, even when you think you might never come up for air, there’s always the surface, the other side of the hard things. We just have to wait for it.

And so we treated our latest visit to Rochester as if we already knew the news. Eight weeks out of a sternotomy to remove a cancerous tumor attached to my airway, I was feeling a bit more like myself, a bit more like laughing, a bit lighter from the weight of pain easing. After dropping the kids with the in-laws we took to the road like we were going on vacation. Because why not? We were together. We were OK. We were driving along Interstate and highway surrounded by sunflower fields reaching toward the sky and corn taller than two of us stacked up.

We spent the five days between doctors and tests eating as much as we could and finding shelter from the rain and sun under Minnesota trees and patio umbrellas. Once, as we were indulging in a 2 p.m. cocktail and late lunch, the woman a table over stood up to tell us that we really know how to live. We didn’t know if it was the calamari, the drinks or the loud laughter, but we decided it was the best compliment we could have received.

To know how to live.

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I’ll tell you now that the doctor, on our 14th wedding anniversary, told us I am going to be OK. He said he couldn’t have done a better job repairing my airway. And that the cancer? Well, he got it all.

Life will now look like a big scar down the middle of my chest and a CT scan every six months for the foreseeable future to make sure the cancer stays gone, moving it to the back of my mind, instead of the center of our worries.

And for that we are the lucky ones.

Fourteen years ago I carried sunflowers in my bouquet as I walked down the “aisle” in that cow pasture, toward the man who would become my husband that day. Little did I know that it takes so much more than a wedding to make a marriage. Little did I know that the only thing you can really count on is that things go wrong.

And then, right again.

As we headed west out of Rochester and toward the rolling buttes of home, I imagined those fields of sunflowers waving us on into a new year, a new season, spectators with encouraging smiles, reminding me of the love and support we’ve received from our family, friends and community during these past several months.\

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Reminding me that life is just a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache. But my favorite times have always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.