A sentimental branding day roaster

Listen to Jessie and her husband Chad discuss the big plans they have for the ranch and the reason they love having guests at branding day on this week’s podcast, “Meanwhile, back at the Ranch…”

I have a big roaster that sits on my shelf in the storage area of our basement. It’s next to the cake stand and the air mattress pump, the extra mason jars and the quesadilla press thingy I’ve never used. I received this giant electric roaster as a wedding gift 16 years ago. I can’t remember now if it was something on the gift registry or if I asked for it, but I know I wanted it.  A roaster that can hold a full sized turkey. A roaster that can hold enough chili to feed half the county at a fire department fundraiser.  A roaster to serve three hundred sausage links at a pancake supper. The roaster that I imagined using to feed the crew roast beef sandwiches after a long day of riding, sorting and branding calves.

And maybe one day the roaster that I’ll use to serve our famous cheesy potatoes at my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Who knows. But I had dreams for it. 

What happens to my oldest’s face when you say “smile!”

I pulled that thing off the basement storage shelf last weekend and dusted it off. On the bottom back side of the appliance, sixteen years ago, I had written SCOFIELD in black magic marker. As my husband was helping me unwrap and season six rump roasts for the next day’s branding, he mentioned that we should write our last name on the lid too. “I’ve done enough firemen supper dishes to know how helpful that is,” he laughed.  And I realized then, right in the middle of my messy kitchen on a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of summer at the ranch, that I was also standing right in the middle of a little piece of a dream that had come true.

It sounds so silly. A roaster. But there we were.

And the next day we were pushing cattle across the greenest pasture you could imagine, riding good horses side by side and laughing at my little sister getting chased by a calf who mistook her horse for his momma. On a hill a half-mile away my dad was chasing another bunch of cows toward us with neighbors and friends checking the draws. The plan was to meet on the flat and follow them up through the gates to the pen, and it didn’t go perfectly, but it never does and that’s the fun of it really, as long as no one gets hurt.

And in the pens up on the hill, another group of friends and family were waiting to help. Some of them had driven from their homes in the neat rows of the suburbs three hours away to lend a hand and be a part of the action. This is my favorite part about branding day. It’s getting the work done, riding out on a stretch of green pasture, making sure the calves and mommas are all accounted for and healthy, but it’s also the fact that we get to watch our friends’ kids from town run around the ranch, climb trees and fences, practice roping, help hold the little calves down and get on the back of a horse or snuggle up to his soft nose.

I like that they can have free access to the barn cat’s kittens and to the frogs in the stock dam. I like that they usually discover something slimy or dirty and that is the exact reason they are here. And I like to see the excitement and the pride my daughters hold for their home when they have guests to show around, to play with and to help climb up on the ponies. The way their friends run full speed into a wide open pasture meadow reminds them how special they have it.

And I guess that’s what that big ‘ol roaster is making me think about today as I wash it up and put it away. The work is never ending here, but one task is done for the year and I have moved from being that kid climbing fences and trees and taking kids to my secret spots on the ranch, to the adult here that maybe they will remember for my branding day beans and roast beef sandwiches, and, more hopefully, for always making them feeling welcome here.

Notes on Summer

Notes on a Rural Summer

Listen to this week’s column and Jessie’s conversation with her daughters and her little sister in this week’s Meanwhile Podcast.

By the time you read this, summer will have officially arrived for most of the kids in North Dakota. That last bell, it means more to me now that we wrapped up our first official school year with our six-year-old. I watched her stand smack dab in the middle of one hundred other kindergartners on risers dressed in matching shirts and singing a school kid version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” My favorite line? “Teacher in a tidy room, smell of paint and Elmer’s glue. For a day that seems to go on and on and on and on…” But wait? Wasn’t I just embarrassing her by existing in the classroom on the first day of school? Now she can read and frankly, does math better than me and so we’re on to our next task of cramming as much fun in a three-month time period as possible.

For my family it also means trying to keep up with fencing and haying and barnyard reconstruction projects while juggling yard work and day jobs, my performing schedule and getting the kids in their swimsuits as much as possible, even if it just means splashing in the tiny plastic wading pool currently collecting dirt and bugs on our lawn.

I’m ready for it and determined to keep my focus on what really matters…

Because summer means that my babies constantly smell like sunscreen and bug spray and come in from outside with a warm, sweaty glow on their faces. It means 9 PM supper and 10 PM bedtime because no matter how hard we try we just can’t settle down until the sun settles down. It means picking wildflowers and swatting bugs, brushing the ponies, sleepovers with the cousins and slow walks down the gravel road pulling baby dolls in the wagon.

A western North Dakota summer means digging in the garden and praying the hail from the summer storm doesn’t take our little tomato crop while we lean into the screen and count the seconds between thunder and lightning.

Summer out here means searching for the right place to dock the boat or plant a beach chair on the shores of Lake Sakakawea and spitting sunflower seeds waiting for a bite to hit your pole, trying to convince the kids to swim where they won’t scare the fish away.

And then summer is laughing even though they aren’t listening, knowing that this time of year, especially in a place where it’s so fleeting, is magic for kids. And you can’t blame them, because you remember the rush of the cold lake water against your hot skin and how you would pretend your were a mermaid or a sea dragon and the afternoons seemed to drag on for days before the sun started sinking, cooling the air and reminding you that you were not a mermaid after all, but a kid in need of a hamburger and juice box.

You remember the way the fresh cut grass stuck to your feet as you did cartwheels through the sprinklers or the how you smelled after coming in from washing and grooming your 4-H steer in preparation for county fair. You remember the anticipation of the carnival, the way the lights of your town looked from the top of the Ferris wheel and how maybe you brought a boy up there with you and maybe he held your hand.

Summer in North Dakota is dandelion wishes and a fish fry, fireflies and camping in tents that never hold out the rain. Summer is wood ticks and scraped knees, bike rides and gramma’s porch popsicles, catching candy at parades, swimming pool slides, drinking from the hose and trying to bottle it all up into memories that won’t fade.

And so I am stocking up on popsicles and doing my best to make some plans for my young daughters that don’t include any plans at all. Because they are in the sweet spot right now, wild sisters who have one another and who are just big enough to take on the kind of summer adventures that only happen when nothing’s happening and the sun is shining and the day stretches out long and lazy in front of them. Because they can only be four and six for one June, one July and one sweltering hot August before the next summer rolls around with another year behind it. And I have my memories, but the girls, they are smack dab in the middle of making them. And for all that they don’t know, for all the things they are still learning, they don’t need anyone to tell them how to spend their summer. They are experts on that one. And I intend to take notes.

The Promise of a Greener Summer

This week’s column on the rain and the rain and the rain. It rained almost five inches over the course of a couple days out here last week, filling the dams, pushing the river over its banks, sending creek beds rushing and greening up the grass. There are places that were flooded in the state and it got a little scary, but out here we opened up our arms, lifted our faces up to the sky and said a prayer of gratitude.

The Promise of a Greener Summer
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Click to listen to commentary and this column on the Meanwhile Podcast

It’s been raining at the ranch for the last few days.

Raining, and thundering, and pouring and making puddles and filling the creek beds. It’s been a while, a couple years maybe, since we’ve seen a long, soaking rain take up the entire day, followed by another and then another, so I didn’t believe the thunder when it was threatening my walk in the hills the other night. I thought it was bluffing the way it did all last spring when the sky refused to open up and the wind howled and the prairie was burning. So I carried on like the superstitious kid I am, the kid raised by a rancher whose never owned a rain gauge for fear that if he ever put one out, it would never rain again.

My dad, he judges the amount of rain by what’s sitting in the dog dish or the buckets outside the barn or the puddle that always forms in his driveway. And then he calls me, just a mile down the road, to take a look at my gauge. Because up until a few months ago, I didn’t know the reason my dad never had gauge himself was so specifically calculated. I just thought he never got around to it or something…so maybe it’s been our fault, this drought?

Anyway, it seems the sky has had enough of its silent treatment and just as I got to the gate a half a mile from home, it opened up and started to really pour and so I pulled up my hood and hoofed it toward home, turning my stroll into a jog into a full-on run when the thunder clapped again and the rain turned to little pieces of hail.

My kids were standing in the doorframe watching the drowned rat that was their mother struggle and puff her way back to the front door, laughing and thinking, well, maybe I was right to ignore it, to have low expectations so I wasn’t disappointed.

That evening a double rainbow appeared right outside our house looking to have sprung up right at our kids’ playground set. I called the girls out of the bath and they left little footprint puddles on their way to patio doors where we all stood with our noses touching the screen, breathing in the scent of the rain and counting the colors.

Now girls, this is what spring is supposed to do. Bring it on. Let the heavens pour down and wash that winter away. Wash it clean and squeaky. We’ve been dusty then frozen then thirsty and our hair needs washing…the worms need air…the lilacs need watering…The horses need waking up.

Rain sky. Cry it out. Turn the brown to neon green and make the flowers hunch over under the weight of your drops.

I don’t mind. Really. I will stand in it, I will run in it all day if it means it will fill the dams and grow the grass.

I’ll splash in your puddles, let it soak in my skin, slide down the clay buttes, jump over the rushing streams. Because I forgot what this feels like, being soaked to the core and warm in spite of it.

I forgot what it looks like when the lighting breaks apart the sky. I forgot how the thunder shakes the foundation of this house, how it startles me from sleep and fills my heart with a rush of loneliness, a reminder that the night carries on while I’m sleeping.

I forgot how clean it smells, how green the grass can be, how many colors are in that rainbow.

So go on. Rain. Rain all you want.

Rain forever on this hard ground and turn this pink scoria road bright red, his brown ground green. Let your drops encourage the fragile stuff, the quiet beauty that has been sleeping for so long to wake up and show her face now. It’s time.

I’ll be there waiting to gasp over it, to gush and smile and stick my face up to catch the drops on my tongue, and return home flushed and soaked and tracking mud into my house where the soup is on.

Rain. Rain. Rain. You fill up the buckets and gauges and puddles and tap at my windows… and promise me a greener summer.

If you want a slice of rural America, visit a Cenex station

My niece Ada walked right up to him, a man in work coveralls, thick glasses and a Scotch cap. His face was weathered from years of living and I had my hands full of Icees and personal pan pizzas and a couple treats I let the two 4-year-olds pick out after preschool that day.

We were having a special lunch while we waited for my kindergartner to get out of school on Friday and so we chose the Cenex station because they have basically everything. And Ada broke away from my side to say hello and he reached into the inside pocket of those coveralls and handed her a million dollar bill with a laugh.

Then I had to abandon our lunch with the cashier because Rosie had to go potty really bad, like most 4-year-olds do at the most inconvenient times. When we finally sat down and got them settled in the dining area of the convenience store, I couldn’t help but think of what a slice of life this place is.

This old Cenex station used to be on the corner of Main Street in my hometown when I was growing up. A small store with a few candy bar treats, but mostly supplies and parts and sunflower seeds and a drink cooler and most everything you could grab to get you by for now on the ranch or in the field — and if not, they could order it or help fix it in the shop attached.

I remember popping in there with Dad when I was a kid, maybe getting an orange pop for the ride home. And when I finally got my driver’s license, it’s where I would gas up because I could put it on the ranch account. It’s where most kids who lived in the country gassed up and where some of them worked after school and on the weekends.

When I was a teenager, my boyfriend (who’s now my husband) took me there to get wasp spray for the wheel well of his dad’s old boat trailer after he witnessed me getting stung right in the middle of the forehead when he disturbed the nest in our attempt to escape to the lake. I don’t know why, but something about walking into that Cenex store with that giant wasp sting and that boy looking for revenge, well, it stuck with me. Must have been love. Anyway, when I look up for the memory I swear I can still smell that place, a little bit of grease mixed in with diesel exhaust, probably what that old man’s coveralls smell like.

The Cenex store is a fixture on the landscape that is rural America. As a musician, I’ve traveled enough county roads and highways to see my fair share of versions of this place, each one retrofitted to make sense to the size of the town. The fancy ones exist along the highways and interstates, but I prefer the ones tucked into the Main Streets of small towns a long way from the exit signs. There you can usually find what you need, plus a couple old timers in a booth in the back having coffee and looking up to see if the person coming through the door might be familiar. Or even better, someone they don’t know about yet.

Anyway, that old Cenex store looked nothing like this bright, shiny pizza pit stop we have now in a newer development in town, complete with a mini food court, fancy restrooms, a wall full of anything you want to drink, clothes, parts, gloves, coolers, toys, and of course, wasp spray. You name it. I picked the pepperonis off of the girls’ pepperoni pizza and watched them wiggle and giggle and use too many napkins in the booth and couldn’t help but think that this place is sort of a metaphor for my hometown turned boomtown. The idea is the same, but we can afford to have some nice things now.

And so there we sat, a mom with an SUV full of car-seats and cracker crumbs dug into the floorboards making a Friday special with a couple of Icees. And in the booth behind me two middle-aged men sat facing one another, a bible open between them, talking about Jesus and what it means to be a man. Across the room, a job interview, one man in work boots asking another about his driving record and through those sliding glass double doors (they’re automatic now) the faces come in and out, some familiar, some new, some we don’t know yet and some just passing through with million dollar bills…

An abandoned service station in small town ND.

Listen to commentary and the column on this week’s podcast

In this week’s podcast I took advantage of the rainy weather and had my husband Chad as my first guest. We visit about how things have changed in our hometown since we grew up there in the 90s. He also proves that he’s intellectual by using the word “unbeknownst.” You’ll hear Rosie in the background and also our thick ND accents take the stage before I read the column and share a song. Thanks for listening!

Listen below or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

Lessons in life and heartbreak on the ranch

I started this piece last week as an introduction and recap of the latest spring storm. Since then we’ve been on the warm up, watching the snow drifts turn the ground to mud and exposing some green grass. And we’ve added another bottle baby, a twin, to our mix, putting us up to a total of 4, one for each little girl to feed if we can all get out there together. It looks like this week we’ll see 70 degree temperatures for a few days, and everyone’s spirits are lifted by that. Uncle Wade headed back to Texas and the girls are in their final month of school for the year and we have summer on our minds. I’m headed off to visit a few schools this week with the book “Prairie Princess” so I’ll be seeing some of the state thaw out and green up before my eyes and whenever I get a chance I’ll be on those hilltops, checking again, for crocuses, and probably collecting a few ticks.

Lessons in heartbreak on the ranch
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As I write this, the sun is shining after another really tough weekend of weather. As you read, we are likely getting more of the forecast moisture, but by now we’re all familiar with the storm that rolled into western North Dakota that started with rain, turned to ice and then into over a foot of more snow blowing sideways in up to 65 mph gusts throughout last Saturday and into Sunday afternoon.

This one was just as hard or harder on our herd because, No. 1, wet and freezing weather is tough on livestock, especially newborn calves. No. 2, we are full-on calving now, and No. 3, we lost power on Saturday, April 23, around 3:30 p.m. and didn’t get it back until around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. As I write this, some in our county are still waiting for the lights to come back on. And it all felt a little spooky, honestly.

On Saturday afternoon, right before we lost power, the guys pulled four soaked, shaking and newborn calves in from the storm to try to save them and our entryway turned into a bovine nursery, complete with all four little girls helping to dry them, warm them and get them to eat if we could.

My sister, Alex, sat with the newest calf on her lap, scrubbing him with towels, drying him and asking him to hang in there. But after our last-ditch effort of pumping him full of electrolytes, he didn’t make it another 20 minutes. The girls were heartbroken and so we sat on the steps together, working it out with them, wiping little tears, worried that he might not be the only one in our entryway with such a fate.

My sister and I hang on to memories like this one of being kids during calving season. The excitement of bringing the calves inside always held with it a bit of anxiety knowing that they were there with us because something wasn’t going right. So that’s the lesson I tried to give the girls, that nature can be cruel, and we’re here to be caretakers, doing the best we can. But sometimes there’s nothing more we can do.

And so we move on to the next thing we can do. I don’t think they’re too young right now to learn about life and death and how to care for helpless things. It’s not too early to learn how fragile it all can be and what a big job it is to be responsible for these animals.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but my sister and I cried a bit about that calf, too. We were hoping for a victory, but it was a tough day to be born. So we focused our attention on tiny No. 4, the one the girls named Strawberry, who wouldn’t stand up or take a drink. The next morning, after a fair amount of patience, I finally got her to drink an entire bottle. This morning, she was bawling for it and I got my victory there. Funny how you can be so proud of a calf. And so the guys loaded all three of those baby bovines into the back seat of the pickup to graduate them to the barn — and that right there is why everything we own out here is covered in poop and slobber in the spring.

This week, the guys are counting the calves and keeping close watch, making sure they all get paired up with the cows who get mixed up during stressful times like this. When we woke up on Sunday morning, all four of my family members tucked in our big bed to stay warm, we were a little unsure of what we’d find down in the trees where the cattle hung out for protection on layer upon layer of hay. But these cattle are tough, and so are their babies, and as soon as the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, there were calves running and bucking and perking right up. I couldn’t believe it.

Baby Calf Kevin tucked in safe and sound

Nature is cruel, but instinct and being bred for hardiness plays a part in the equation, and those two things didn’t disappoint us in our herd. Neither did the natural protection of the trees and valleys and all of the family around us helping take care.

Fresh new baby on greening grass

This one will be in the record books. Some neighbors in other corners of the county were literally digging cows and calves out of snowbanks where they were stuck standing. And there’s so much to reflect on, and so many lessons my husband and I have learned about how we could be better prepared for next time. And so we put that in our pockets and in our plans and keep digging out, more thankful for the sunshine than ever.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Under these snowbanks is green grass, and this, I think, has become a metaphor for almost every hard time in my life. The rainbow after the rain. I believe it always comes, sometimes naturally and in its own time. Sometimes you have to just buy yourself an ice cream cone and make that count. Either way, I hope you’re all finding your silver lining. Stay warm out there. Chin up. If you need us, we’ll be mixing giant calf bottles and heading to the barn…

Listen to this week’s column with commentary in my first attempt at a podcast

Ok folks, I’m trying something new. I’ve decided to record each week’s column with a bit of commentary in a weekly podcast format. This first attempt is a bit rough as I just wanted to see what it was all about, but I think it could be a nice option for readers to be listeners. My plan is to incorporate more discussion on each week’s topic and to hopefully include some of my family, friends and maybe you in the conversation. Oh, and there will be music too.

Hang with me as I work through this, but I think it’s going to be fun!
Click here to listen on Spotify
Or search “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” on Apple Podcasts

The Magic of Childhood Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

It's windy and cold at the ranch, but this week Jessie and her husband Chad warm up by reminiscing about some of the most magical times of their childhoods after their daughter's seventh birthday reminded them of how exciting the little things can be when you're young. Then Jessie confesses some of her most embarrassing moments in the recent weeks while Chad cringes in the corner and questions his life decisions. Jessie reads her column, then stay tuned for a sweet little interview with the birthday girl.  For more stories and pictures about The Veeder Ranch and to learn about Jessie and her books and music visit veederranch.com or jessieveedermusic.com Share your stories with us! Email jessieveeder@gmail.com — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/veederranch/support
  1. The Magic of Childhood
  2. The perks of being a ranch kid…
  3. A Horse Ride Down Memory Lane
  4. Late Night Worries
  5. Unplug like it's 1998

We are the water

We are the water
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It’s the time between winter and the full-on sprouting of spring. The time where the snow still peeks through the trees, the wind still puts a flush in your cheeks, birds are still planning their flights back home and the crocuses haven’t quite popped through the dirt.

It’s my favorite time of year.

When I was a little girl, I lived for the big meltdown. My parent’s home is located in a coulee surrounded by cliffs of bur oak and brush where a creek winds and bubbles and cuts through the banks. And that creek absolutely mystified me. It changed all the time, depending on rainfall, sunshine and the presence of beaver or cattle.

In the summer it was lively enough, home to bugs that rowed and darted on the surface of the water and rocks worn smooth by the constant movement of the stream flowing up to the big beaver dam I loved to hike to. In a typical North Dakota fall, it became a ribbon carrying on and pushing through oak leaves and acorns that had fallen in its path. In winter, it slowed down and slept while I shoveled its surface to make room for twists and turns on my ice skates.

But in the meltdown it was magical. It rushed. It raged. It widened in the flat spaces and cut deep ravines where it was forced to squeeze on through. It showed no mercy. It had to get somewhere. It had to open up. It had to move and jump and soak up the sun and wave to the animals waking up.

I would step out on the back deck, and at the first sound of water moving in the silence I would pull on my boots and get out there to meet it, to walk with it, to search for the biggest waterfalls, gawk at how it would scream out of its banks and marvel at how it had changed.

Around every bend was something a little more amazing — a fallen log to cross, a narrow cut to jump over, a place to test the waterproof capacity of my green boots. The creek runs through multiple pastures on the place and as long as the daylight would allow I would move right along with it, and then return home soaked and flushed.

And I would do the same thing the next day. Because even as a kid I knew this magical time was fleeting and that there are places along that creek that very few people have ever been. I took great joy in the fact that I was one of them.

And it was performing only for me.

I still remember a dream I had about the creek when I was about 10 or 11. I dreamed it was huge, like a river you would find in the mountains — a river I had yet to discover at that time. The landscape was the same — the oaks and the raspberries existed there — but the water was warmer and crystal-clear and it pooled up at the bottom of gentle waterfalls that rolled over miles of smooth rocks and fluffy grass.

And I was out in it with friends I had never met before as an adult woman with long legs and arms and we were swimming in its water and letting the current push us over the waterfalls and along the bottom of the creek bed until we landed in the deep water. And we were laughing and screaming with anticipation, but weren’t afraid — we were never cold or worrying about getting home for dinner or what our bodies looked like in our bathing suits.

We were free. I was free. And the water was rushing.

And we may never know if there’s a heaven, but we know that there are snowbanks that fly in with the burning chill of winter’s wind. Those banks reach up over my head and stay for months on end only to disappear with the quiet strength of a sun that turns it to water rushing around the trees, settling in hoofprints and dams to be lapped up by coyotes and splashed in by geese, sinking in the earth and changing it forever.

And that’s something that makes me believe in something.

Like perhaps we are like that drop that fell from the sky, afraid of the mystery that was waiting for us as we hurtled through the atmosphere only to find when we finally hit the earth that we are not one drop alone in this world.

No.

We are the water.

On the coldest day of the year, I forgot my coat…

It was 20 below zero this last Tuesday.

I forgot my coat.

As we were trying to get out the door for school, breakfast eaten, hair and teeth brushed, gathering the kids’ coats, hats, mittens, snow pants, folders, extra shoes, snacks, leotards, piano books, babies, blankies and a partridge in a pear tree, Rosie decided she needed her fingernails painted.

She would not budge on this, no matter how much I tried to explain to her that time was ticking. Because, of course, 4-year-olds don’t care about time. Four-year-olds live in the moment, and at that moment, Rosie desperately needed to have pink fingernails to match her friend Lily.

And in my moment I weighed whether or not it was quicker to argue with her or to just paint her dang fingernails as swiftly as possible so we could get on to the last-minute teeth-brushing portion of our morning.

I chose to powerpaint the fingernails based on the baby doll dressing argument of last week where we were, again, up against the clock, and so I set out explaining the whole time thing. My husband swooped in then and suggested maybe Rosie could dress her babies in the car on the way to school. Good idea. We were out the door. Hallelujah. And all was fine until about 4 miles down the road when my dear daughter realized that I didn’t pack the correct attire for baby No. 3.

“These are all jammies!” she exclaimed. Her dolls needed dresses.

And so then Rosie got to deal with disappointment after all, despite our best efforts. She’s a young child with high expectations, so she does her fair share of dramatic stomps to her room. But that morning’s letdown had us all trapped in the car, so I got the dramatic 4-year-old-sized lecture instead. Which is always fun at 7:45 a.m. And life went on.

Anyway, I’m confessing all of this so that you might understand how I could have forgotten MY OWN JACKET on a trip to town on the coldest morning of the year.

Because I remembered it was “twin day” at kindergarten and what to dress Edie in to match her BFF. And I remembered to pack her pink shoes and put her hair in a “medium ponytail.” I even remembered what “medium ponytail” meant. And I remembered the leotards for gymnastics, and a snack for after school, and the piano books and the kids’ hats, mittens, snow pants, folders, extra shoes, baby dolls, blankies, the partridge in a pear tree and the kids’ coats, of course.

And my coffee. I remembered my coffee. And my banana for breakfast while I drove, which reminded me that I lost the banana I packed for breakfast yesterday and now I wonder exactly where and when it will show up to haunt me in this car.

So you see, I remembered lots of things. So maybe there wasn’t room for more?

The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I remembered all of the girls’ things, plus my coat, but I forgot my computer workbag and I didn’t realize it until I arrived at my office. And all of this wouldn’t be such a big deal if we lived down the block or around the corner or just a few miles out of town. But we live about 30 miles from town. Which means retrieval of anything we forgot takes a good, solid hour out of the day.

So yeah, this morning, at minus 20 degrees, I forgot my coat. I called my husband and you won’t be surprised to hear that he wasn’t surprised. He said he double-checked to make sure the kids had their coats and hats, but didn’t think he needed to check for me. Now he knows better. He’ll bring it in for me on his way to work.

Because it was 20 below.

And I forgot my coat.

Drive Careful, Watch for Deer and other things we say here…

Drive carefully. Watch for deer. How was the drive? Is it icy? Blowing snow?

Leave early. Drive slowly. Check the weather. Call me when you get there. Call me when you leave. I’ll wait up for you. I’ll leave the light on.

In rural North Dakota, especially in the icy and volatile tundra that is the 17 months of winter, I grew up hearing these statements as a sort of language of love. Because to get to most anywhere we need to go, we have to consider the roads.

A 30-mile drive to school, work, groceries and the nearest gas station. A 90-mile drive to a big-box store or an airport. A 140-mile drive to a specialty doctor or to have a baby near a NICU, to get your wisdom teeth removed, a treatment for your cancer or, sometimes, before Amazon delivered the world to your door, just to find the right size of envelope or diapers.

How are the roads?

My little sister just texted me that question as I arrived in town and she’s making plans to bring her girls to gymnastics later this afternoon. It rained all day yesterday, right on top of the ice and snow, and then, just to be dramatic, the wind blew all night at 40 mph.

The fact that the roads between the ranch and town were just fine was some sort of weather phenomenon, ruining any excuse I might have been able to scrounge up for why I barely got Edie to kindergarten in time. And why I forgot my workbag with my computer in it and basically everything I needed for a long day in town. It wasn’t the roads. It’s just me. It’s just me in the middle of winter — frazzled, pale and distracted, trying to get two tired little children up out of their beds when it’s still dark outside.

Because what I think we’re really meant to be doing this time of year is eating a bottomless serving of straight-up carbs and hibernating. My word, it’s hard to fight nature these days. (I yawn for the 50th time in 10 minutes).

For the last three weeks, I’ve been back and forth from the ranch and across the state on these January roads, bringing my children’s book to libraries, schools and stores along the way. I’ve driven in blinding snow and clear skies, in the dark of the early morning and the quiet of late nights, on patchy ice, highways wet with cold rain, by snowdrifts and through snowdrifts, into the sun and away from it, past big trucks stuck in ditches and moms like me pulled over in SUVs, and snowplows, and semis hauling cattle and giant wind turbine blades and crosses along highways and interstates, lit up with solar lights or decorated with flags and flowers or a high school jersey reminding us that, when we’re moving this fast — blur-shaped people on wheels at 80 mph, trying to keep a schedule, to get there on time, to get home for supper or homework or bedtime — it only takes a split second for the whole plan to change.

And that’s why we ask. That’s why we wait up. That’s why we tell you to watch for the deer or the moose or the ice or the snow or the wind or the rain. That’s why we tell you to drive safe. Please. Drive safe. Because it’s the only way to feel we have a semblance of control of these miles we need to trek on stretches of highways, interstates and back roads that are equal parts freedom and fear.

The moving, it’s always been hazardous for humans. It’s not new to these times we’re living in, the walking or riding across uncharted landscapes or well-worn trails. Handcarved boats with handsewn sails taking us out to a sea that angers easily or a river that goes from calm to raging just around the bend. If only all these years of evolution could protect us now from those unexpected waves. Sometimes we start to believe it can. So just in case, we say:

Drive safely.

Travel safe.

From the top of it all

I have a good life. Not much to complain about when it comes down to it really, except for the weird cat that keeps pooping on the rug right outside the door, my daughters’ occasional meltdowns about waffles not tasting waffle-y enough, impending deadlines, unending laundry, unfinished projects and cold toes.

Nothing out of the usual. Nothing unrelatable. So I’m sitting pretty lucky these days.

But some days, during a break in the morning news, I cry at the Walgreens commercial. And the commercial for a web browser that tells the story about a dad sending his daughter off to college. And then they video chat. And anything with a cute baby or a puppy or a grandpa or a soldier coming home. And lately, I cry at the weather report.

Now, don’t get all worried about me, I’ve got the serious stuff addressed. This is just me being hyper-emotional, the way I’ve always been. And I spend quite a bit of my life laughing, so I figure I’m balanced.

But some days are worse than others, and like so many things, it goes in waves and I find myself running for the hills. Because I’ve learned over the course of my pushing-40 years (gasp!) in this breathtaking and heartbreaking place it’s the only thing to do to recover my senses and gain my balance and center myself once more.

I remove my body from the television screen, the radio, the podcasts, the music, the computer and all of those heartbreaking, heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories and just try to live in my own for a moment.

It hasn’t been easy to do this lately, between the life-threatening cold temperatures, traveling each week to promote the book, darkness that falls too early in the winter, school drop-off and pickup and gymnastics and piano lessons and getting everyone to bed on time, I’ve had to make a special space in my day for clarity.

It’s why I keep an extra pair of snow boots and a furry hat in my car. Just in case. You never know when you might have a chance to escape.

I found my chance one recent afternoon. I had a few of those teary moments over coffee and the news while I moved through my morning trying to pull it together, get to the computer, make it to the meeting, keep up on emails, plan for an event, meet a deadline and keep my head above water in pretty work sweaters between four walls.

4:30 came around and I had a meeting at 6. I figured an hour and a half would do it.

So I got in my car and pointed it toward a favorite refuge, the only other place in the world besides the ranch where I can look winter in the face and call it truly beautiful.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’ve written about it here before, on similar weepy days in the fall when I’m overwhelmed and worried, on summer days when I’m tan and moving to the next adventure, and winter. I really love it in the winter. And it never lets me down.

So in 15 minutes I was there, turning off the highway and following the snow-coated road toward the river and the buttes, stopping to capture how the sun looks above the frozen water and if I might catch the bison grazing somewhere in the snow.

I drove slowly to admire the lighting. I rolled down my window a bit to feel the fresh, 20-degree air and pulled over where the road ends, next to a trail that can take you to the top of it all.

I checked my watch. I had 20 minutes before I needed to turn my car around and head back to my other world. I was in my town coat and dangly earrings.

I switched out my fancy boots for snow boots, covered my hair with a beanie and trudged on up there, slipping and sliding and panting because, well, I just felt like it.

I felt like climbing. Because winter looks like peace from the top of it all. All 360 degrees of it, surrounding me and telling me it’s OK to cry.

Especially for the beautiful things.

Plowing Through

Typical for a January
Forum Communications

OK, North Dakotans, how are we doing out there? Are you making sure you’re anchored down? Holding on tight and staying fed with the proper amount of knoephla and carbohydrates to keep from blowing away or freezing to death?

Anyone else find yourself up to your floorboards in a snowbank in your sister’s driveway on your way to school drop-off and work last week?

Anyone? Anyone?

Well, let me tell you, there’s nothing like starting a day running late at 7:30 a.m. because I had to literally pry my daughters’ eyeballs open and negotiate Every. Single. Move… from alarm, to getting dressed, to each bite of breakfast, to teeth brushing, to finally getting their boots on and their little defiant bodies buckled into the car.

It’s a good hour-and-a-half process, the morning routine. And Lord send us help if we misplace a mitten or choose the wrong T-shirt/legging combination. By the time I get in my car to go pick up my niece for preschool, I’ve burned 3,000 calories and sweat through my bra.

I’m telling you this so you don’t judge my decision to just “plow through” the giant drift of snow that showed up in her driveway the night before. Because “plowing through” is my default on those hard mornings. Yeah, I channeled Cruella de Vil, forward-leaning, elbows out, wild hair, bloodshot eyes. Then I hit the gas and sank like the Titanic. No amount of rocking or cussing or frustrated steering wheel pounding was going to get me outta there.

I called my husband and made my meek request for backup.

And then came the back-seat commentary.

“Mommy, remember the other day when you went in the ditch by the house and Papa had to come and pull you out? Is that like this?”

Apparently the event was traumatizing enough to become a core memory. Edie was only 2. Now that I think of it, that was probably the last time we had this much snow. My track record isn’t great.

“Mommy, you failed at driving today,” said Rosie as my husband arrived with the feed pickup to hook up the chains and remind me to take it out of park, hit the gas and not the brakes as he attempted to pull our SUV full of distressed females backward up the hill because the drift in front was long and deep and was going to need a tractor, clearly.

Assessing that very situation, my husband, bless him, just called my actions “an interesting choice” before leaving me at the wheel as we jerked and spun and jerked and spun and spun and sighed and whimpered and stayed stuck…

Then came my favorite part: my brother-in-law knocking on the window. I had an official audience now. He wondered how hard I gassed it.

Not hard enough. He gave me a perfect 10.

He went to get his pickup. And now there were two pickups and what I thought were just two of the three men on the place out in the cold morning trying to right my wrong. Except my dad got the memo somehow, likely through the famous sister-to-mother channel. News of a crisis moves fast this way.

And so then there were three. Three witnesses to my poor decision-making, which must be the magic number because in a couple more tugs, we were free.

“Our nightmare is over!” yelled Edie from the back, and I honestly don’t know where she gets her theatrics…

Except that it wasn’t over. I still had to call the school to explain myself and how I am mother of the year because my children had to remind me not to use bad words during the whole ordeal. They’re likely scarred for life…

I know I am.

So anyway, that’s how I’m doing out here. Pretty typical for a January, thanks for asking…

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