Snowed in

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast here or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

The magic season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is five

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

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

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

This is Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I would have said no,” I told her.

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

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

So that’s five.

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

The deal is, send prayers.

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

Late Night Worries

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

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

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

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

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

Edie’s worried about war.

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

And, honestly, aren’t we all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow hunting, Barbie dolls and tuning tiny guitars

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

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

Bow hunting, Barbie dolls and tuning tiny guitars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring cleaning gives time to reflect

My sister’s husband is working on building a chicken coop today and so my niece, Ada, spent our ride to town telling me how many chickens she’s going to get.

Sounds like hundreds. And I’m thrilled for them. Because it means that I don’t have to get chickens ever in my life. It’s kinda like the boat thing, you know, the only thing better than having a boat is having a best friend with a boat. That’s what I think about chickens. Eggs for days and no poop to scoop. I’ll save us all the cartons.

Building something like a chicken coop is a typical spring task at the ranch. The sun warms the ground and we’re ready to head outside to thaw out all of those ideas we conjured up while eating carbs and pulling our beanies down over our ears. But it also means cleaning. Oh, the cleaning. I’m always amazed by the amount of mud, random screws, mismatched gloves, beanies, boots, neckerchiefs, and, because my husband’s a carpenter, random electrical wires, plumbing parts, tools and hardware store receipts that accumulate in our entryway over the winter. I spent all morning Sunday trying to arrange it all so I could mop. And by the time I got to the mopping part, the kids had come in and out of that door 37 times, dragging more mud and dolls and winter clothes and random twigs with them.

My daughters were busy driving their kids to Hawaii in the little hand-me-down electric car that always gets stuck in the scoria halfway up the driveway. And the disagreement about who’s turn it is to push and whose turn it is to drive derails the game for a spell, although it does make it a bit more realistic. Adulting comes with all sorts of obstacles and predicaments. Like making the choice between spring cleaning and pouring a Sunday margarita….

Most of the time, I chose both. I’ve always been good at multitasking.

Anyway, the mess here is endless, between the ranch and the garage and the house and the yard, I’m fully committed to the idea that I’ll never catch up. And I know I’m not alone in it overwhelming me sometimes. If I dedicated every minute of my waking life to trying to control it, I still don’t believe I’d fully dig us out. Because, we just go on living, don’t we? Do the dishes and your husband comes in to make a sandwich. Clear the kitchen table of Play Dough to turn around to the kids making Barbie Doll phones out of tin foil and puffy paint. Get to the bottom of the laundry hamper and you’re still wearing clothes, aren’t you? Fix the fence and watch a bull jump right through it. Living’s messy. It requires lots of chores…

Last weekend my husband was also committed to clearing some clutter, so we were, as we usually are on the weekends, busy bopping around the place to see what tasks we can get checked off the list. This leaves the kids within earshot, but to their own devices, with a few tattle tale moments, skinned knees or request to help push the blue car out of the ditch sprinkled in. I stood in the driveway procrastinating sorting 1,000 gloves and watched as my daughters pretended to be mothers riding their bikes and changing diapers and, as I said, making plans to head to Hawaii.

And then I had a flashback of when they were smaller, just a few short years ago, at age 1 and 3, then 2 and 4, when my children required so much more out of me in the entertainment department—to peek-a-boo, to pour the paint, to rattle the rattle or build the blocks.

Now look at them, they’re in the sweet spot of sisterhood and childhood and play, immersed together in a world of their own creation. Rosie stopped her bike/car and her eyes caught mine, “Mooommmmaaa, you can go now! You don’t need to watch…”

And so this is the phase we’re in. Maybe I’ll get a duck or something and add it to my sister’s coop. It seems, with my kids in Hawaii, I might need something new to fuss over this summer, because I’m already sick of cleaning…

Not for the Faint of Heart

Forum Communications

My youngest has been playing mother to her baby dolls for four weeks straight. She tucks them in at night, feeds them in the morning, washes them, changes their diapers, brings them outside to play and calls them her sweeties.

And if this sounds all sugar and spice, I also want to make sure you know she gets after them, too. They can be naughty, and she can be strict. This mothering thing, it’s not for the faint of heart. Especially when you’re only 4.

Recently I called home from a weekend away and Rosie got on the phone to update me. I asked her how it was going, and she said good. She’s very busy taking care of her babies.

“Oh, great, how many babies do you have today?” I asked.

“Edie!” she yelled to her older sister in the next room and also directly into the phone. “Come here and help me count my kids!”

Turns out, that day, she had four.

Earlier this week, those four children came with us to preschool drop-off. Adding four to the two that already live in this house made for a marathon morning routine. We barely made it to school on time due to the clothing changes, feedings, teeth-brushing, fitting them all in one baby doll car seat and then, of course, all the kisses goodbye.

Her orders for me while she was away at school? Bring them all to day care in Florida.

OK then.

“Is it hard being a mom?” both of them have been known to ask me after I let out a big sigh or, despite my best efforts to remain calm, do not, in fact, remain calm.

I reply honestly. I tell them sometimes it is hard. Just like sometimes it’s hard being a kid. And while I’m not sure if that’s the right answer, it is the truth, and I guess I’ve decided on the truth when it comes to parenting.

Turns out parenting in the truth also means things I didn’t think about, like apologizing to them when I’ve overreacted or admitting there are just some things even mommies don’t know.

So then, of course, they go ask Daddy. As if he has more of a handle on where we go when we die the same way they’ve observed he has a better handle on things like numbers and biology and why Rosie just can’t jump inside of the television and live with Bluey. (Did I ever tell you about the time I got kindergarten math homework wrong? Did I ever tell you how many times Rosie has asked us to tape her into the TV?)

Anyway, it’s as if knowing all the parts of a horse and every lyric to every ’90s country song counts for nothing…

“Did you even go to school?” my oldest asked me at bedtime last night after I failed to properly explain why the nights are longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. It was 9 p.m. on a Monday, and I’m pretty sure I was already sleeping.

But Edie moved quickly from that question to her confession for the day. These usually happen in the final hours of bedtime…

“Mommy, the kids at school all gave better valentines than me. I don’t think they liked the suckers I brought.”

Turns out jealousy is one of those things they learn in kindergarten. So is the one about friends who don’t always act like friends. And the one where you don’t always win the contest or learn it the quickest, where you’re not always the best or get the most attention and get left out, and on and on, and it can be hard for a kid…

And hard for a mom.

Which is what I went with in trying to ease her little mind. I told her that mommies get jealous too. Everyone does. And to help get through it, she should try to think about all of the good things that make her uniquely Edie. And I try to do the same. After all, there are so many reasons to be proud.

Her big blue eyes welled up then and as she leaned in for the hug, I felt like she forgave me for all the things I don’t know and just trusted me on this.

And oh, this parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart. Even when you’re a grown-up…

Christmas fudge and other holiday miracles…

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my family and I fully committed to the Christmas season. And when I say, “fully committed” I mean my husband helped me put lights and big homemade snowflake decorations up on the outside of the house. Because I can’t remember the last time he climbed a ladder in the name of decorative lights. I mean, it was even his idea. I swear I looked up to find a couple pigs flying overhead.

A Christmas miracle.

But it was a perfect day to do that sort of thing and we were all home with no other plans besides digesting all the Thanksgiving treats, and so we busted out the five fully disorganized tubs of Christmas decorations and sparkling Santa hats and we loaded the girls up in the side-by-side for a trip to cut the perfect cedar off the ranch.

Tradition. We’re heading into a season where we reminisce while creating moments to reminisce about. And the great Christmas tree hunt always starts and ends the same: heading to the pasture where Papa Gene saw a perfect tree on his last ride, singing along to Jingle Bells and Rudolf on repeat, spotting one on the horizon only to get closer and realize it’s 75 feet tall, hoofing it up a few steep hills and doing the same thing a few times before we finally we get it right. Then a family photo, saw, saw, saw, timber, and the realization, upon getting it home to lean up against the entryway wall, that this tree may have been smaller than the last, but not by much. (Note: items on prairie skyline are larger than they appear.)

I’m looking at the tree right now. It legit takes up half the living room.

And don’t worry, even though we haven’t learned any lessons on sizing, the great Christmas tree crash of 2019 and 2020 (and probably every year before that) has finally taught us to strap it to the wall first thing. When it about took my oldest daughter out, leaving one lone ornament dangling in her tangled hair, we decided we were done taking chances. 

Anyway, we spent the whole weekend decorating and it turns out we needed a ladder for lights on the inside of the house too. The girls got to work organizing ornaments, laying them out and putting thirty-seven or so on the same two lower branches and I made sure they weren’t looking when I fixed them and so now Christmas can come.

I don’t know the last time I’ve been this prepared ahead of time. More pigs fly. Another Christmas miracle. Now if I could just find Edie’s stocking that I managed to misplace, we could make it three.

I’m so in the spirit that I spent the afternoon making Momma’s Famous Christmas Fudge for an event in town, another tradition checked off the list. It was a special request, which is a testament to how good the recipe is. No one ever asks me to make dessert.

So because I’m on a roll I thought this would be the perfect time to share that famous fudge recipe once again, a little early this time so you have the chance to get after it, or fully procrastinate it, whichever you choose!

Enjoy!

Mom’s Famous Fudge

  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz package milk chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 pound of butter
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk (not to be confused with sweet and condensed milk. I won’t make that mistake twice)

Got it?

Ok, onward.

  • Butter an 8×12 baking dish
  • Bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil for 7 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir chocolate chips, vanilla and butter.
  • Stir until smooth and pour into the buttered baking dish
  • Refrigerate until set
  • Muster up your incredible strength to help you cut the fudge into squares and serve it up on cute little platters or in festive tins for your friends.
  • Become the favorite.

Merry Holiday Season from the ranch!  

What we don’t know…

I don’t know what it says about me and my culinary skills, but every year at Thanksgiving, the only thing that anybody wants from my kitchen is a giant cheeseball in the shape of a turkey.

By the time you read this, it has already been constructed, admired and devoured, carrot nose, pretzel feet, cracker fan and its little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup top hat all slumped and scattered to the side of the decorative plate, joining the leftover beets in the relish tray as the thing no one really wants to eat, but makes the table setting more festive.

Oh, Thanksgiving. So much of the holiday for me represents coming home. Maybe even more than Christmas, and maybe more so because on a Thanksgiving six years ago we spent our first night in our house as parents to a brand-new bald-headed baby and nothing has been the same since.

Especially the holidays.

Our Thanksgiving meal that afternoon was drive-thru Burger King with a frozen Stouffer’s lasagna for supper as we sat in the living room recliners staring at this new wrinkly human who would grow up to become the young girl who requested rainbow cupcakes for her kindergarten class this morning and questioned if I was following the rules when I helped her walk the treats into the classroom.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she said nervously as I pulled into the parking lot instead of the drop-off line like every morning before. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be doing this. I’m just not used to it.”

Not used to it. What a way to describe it. I’m not used to it either, girl. Just yesterday, you and I walked the planet essentially attached to one another. Now you’re 6 and questioning my parenting judgment and authority.

And I’m not sure I’m used to my almost 4-year-old spouting off facts about reptiles behind the driver’s seat on our way to school. When we brought these little bundles of baby home to the ranch, I didn’t know I would blink and they would already know more than me. Like preschool is just the threshold. I’ve already been confused by kindergarten math homework and she’s 3 spelling words and the discovery of voice commands away from being able to Google everything.

I thought my motherhood expert status had more of a shelf life. I mean, up until this year I still believed some of the B.S. parent answers my dad had for our incessant questions. I mean, he always sounded so confident. But back then, we were living in a land of encyclopedias and experience-it-for-yourself. He was golden as long as we didn’t ask for confirmation from Mom.

These days, these kids literally have the world at their fingertips. A few weeks ago I was teaching a writing workshop for high school kids in a neighboring town. I watched them work to complete the short writing prompt I gave them and wondered if I really had anything that might be useful to them at the end of the day.

Then it occurred to me that when I was their age, sitting at a desk in my senior English class, there was no way to anticipate that 10, 20 years later so many careers and tools of our everyday existence would be founded in technology that we could have only dreamed of in our Jetson cartoon fantasies.

Like, artificial intelligence is real, and video chat is a thing that my kids will never not know. And so is travel to Mars, for like, normal millionaires, not just astronauts.

And black holes. I mean, we have an actual picture now. Don’t even get me started on things like Spanx and eyelash extensions and dry shampoo…

Anyway, after a few minutes going down the rabbit hole, I decided to tell those students the one thing that I do know: You just really don’t know what’s to come. But you do know your heart. And what and who you love. Pair that with the mission to do the best that you can, and then when it doesn’t work out (because so many times it doesn’t work out) and when it finally does, you’ll know you put the best of you out into this ever-shrinking universe.

And if you need a recipe to take to a holiday party, a themed cheeseball never disappoints. Just text me and I’ll give you a recipe. Or better yet, we can do it together over FaceTime.

We spent the weekend decking the halls at the ranch and now I’m in the spirit! Shop https://jessieveedermusic.com/store for great prairie-inspired gifts.

Use code HOLIDAY for 20% off now until Friday! Happy Shopping!

Will our children know the quiet?

Will our kids have a chance to know the quiet?
Forum Communications

On a recent trip to a Minnesota town, I took a walk along a path by the river that wound through the city. I kept my headphones out and listened to the sound of slow-moving traffic, wind moving through the changing leaves, dogs barking, a mom and dad chatting, strolling their newborn down the sidewalk on a sunny evening, the sound of my own thoughts…

In the quiet neighborhood I noticed a little girl swinging, alone on the playground behind her apartment complex, her mom sitting on a bench at the corner of the sandbox while the child sang to herself, pumping her legs up to the sky, lost in thoughts of her own, only the way a child can do it when left to herself. What might it be like to be a bird? She closes her eyes and imagines she’s flying, imagines she has wings and a place to be. She sings to herself and the world she’s created in that slow and steady moment she was given to play alone.

I used to be that girl. I hope we all have been a version of her at some point in our childhoods, whether we grew up between these sidewalks or, like me, with miles of road and trees and creeks separating me from parks like these. With years between my sisters and me, I spent plenty of time alone as a kid, using my imagination to occupy me, to come up with a project or a song or a place I needed to be that day — checking on the wild raspberries, trying my hand at catching a frog or pushing logs up along a fallen tree and calling it a fort. I didn’t know it then, but it was the best gift I could have been given, the time to learn how to be with myself.

It’s served me well now as an adult in a career that’s sent me traveling thousands and thousands of miles along lonesome stretches of highway, navigating it alone. Dining alone. On a mission to wander.

To be quiet with myself has never been a thing that’s scared me, and now, as a parent to two young children in a world that feels noisier every day, the thing that scares me about the quiet is that our children won’t have a chance to know it. And without the quiet moments, I worry they won’t get to truly know themselves.

Last weekend my husband was digging in a water tank for the cattle behind my parents’ house, along the creek that used to be my old stomping grounds. My 5-year-old suggested we take him a picnic and so we packed up juice boxes in lunchboxes and ducked through the fences behind dad’s garden, past where the tire swing used to hang and along the beaver dam where a tin-can telephone used to connect my fort with my little sister’s across the creek.

We found a log to sit on and dug into our treats, talking about how I used to float sticks and watch the water bugs row across the clear water, and pretty soon I was leading them along that creek bank, making crowns out of reeds, picking riverbank grapes, jumping after frogs and digging in the sand. I was transported and they were transfixed the way wild places work on children. Let’s go farther, stay longer, look for more frogs, please.

Do you know we can still feel this way if we allow it? The magic — it still works on us too. I forget sometimes, but I was reminded.

There’s magic in nature. Magic. Magic in reaching for the sky, in the pumping of our legs to the rhythm of the songs we sing to ourselves. What’s it like to be a bird? Close your eyes, let the quiet in and grow yourself wings…

The injury tally

Family injury tally

“How many bones have you broken?”

“That I went to the hospital for?” my husband asked, sitting on the edge of the bed pulling off his socks for the day. “Hmm, let’s see…,” he replied, counting quietly to himself, going through the Rolodex of close calls and yelps, jump-backs and limp-aways.

“Three, four, five, six, seven… eight… at least eight… nine…”

“Nine is the number?” I try to confirm.

“Nine for sure. But that’s not counting when I think I broke a toe, or all of my fingers. I broke three ribs and a shoulder blade, both thumbs, at least once… pretty sure I broke this thumb twice,” he examines his body, feeling around for the aftereffects of 38 years of a life spent about as rough and tumble as you can get without serious consequences.

“What about your nose? I think I’ve broken my nose,” I declare rubbing the bump incurred from a heavy sled catching a famous North Dakota wind gust when I was 10 or 11.

“Yeah. Pretty sure I broke my nose too, but I never went to the hospital or anything official. Unofficially? I think I’ve broken something on me 15 or 16 times…”

That’s my husband, currently nearly recovered from his latest injury incurred when a cow kicked him right below the chest, sending him and his head flying into a metal panel fence, ringing his bell just long enough for him to scramble to the top of it, wake up and wonder how long he’d been dreaming.

It wasn’t pretty, and we don’t bounce back the same way we used to, the two of us accident-prone and together long enough to measure time based on our injuries.

Like when we took turns sitting out for gym class during our eighth grade year, dangling our legs off the stage — him with his arm in a sling from taking a three-wheeler through a giant anthill, then me in boot from misjudging my landing off a small cliff to the lake on my birthday.

Then there was the broken finger from a run-in with a bull in a chute that had me flipping off the world while getting out of typing class and piano lessons. Add that to the broken foot in sixth grade and the broken arm in seventh grade and, you know, the recent cancer thing, and I take the title for more time spent in a cast. And more surgeries.

Not that it’s a contest or anything…

Anyway, we got to counting because we had our first experience taking one of our offspring to the emergency room last week. And while we’ve both been hurt pretty bad in our lives, none of that compared hearing our firstborn scream the scream and cry the cry. And nothing cuts a Zoom meeting short quite as quickly as rushing upstairs to find your husband with one hand digging in the first aid kit and the other holding a tiny chin together.

“We need to go to the hospital,” he said calmly while I ran through a quick cost estimate on what it would take to bubble wrap every corner in the house, leaving enough left for both daughters’ entire wardrobes.

And so off we went, dropping 3-year-old Rosie off at my sister’s along the way, much to her dismay. She wanted some blood and a trip to the ER, too (competitive in every way — another story for another day).

Yes, I guess it was about time we hit that parenting milestone. And little Edie came out of her chindive into the sharp corner of the stairs with a few chipped teeth and glued together like one of her art projects left on the kitchen table. Life’s good. Thank goodness.

And if scars don’t make us stronger, at least they give us a story or two. Judging by their genetic makeup and the fearless way our daughters fly through this world, they won’t be short on broken bone tallies and battle tales.

As for their father and me? Well, we’ll just be over here praying that they bounce better than us.

Yeah, that’s lipstick…not blood. Keeping it glamorous as usual.