Truth, worries and what to write…

I just laid Edie down for a nap after her second projectile vomit of the day. We walked in the door, home from a trip to town to check out a weird rash she acquired and, well, I guess she has the pukes now too….

And I guess this is how I start my blog entries these days, the ones that used to begin with a vivid description of the weather, the beauty of the changing leaves, the chill in the air and the crip smell of the season’s first snow have now transformed into potty training sagas, pregnancy heartburn and puke.

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Yesterday I opened my inbox to find one of the meanest emails I’ve ever received. It was about my writing, prompted, apparently, after she read this week’s column and decided someone like me was annoying enough to warrant a sit down at the computer and tell me, most pointedly, how I was a joke.

And boring.

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And my own family probably doesn’t even read what I write because I’m a whiny woman who stays pregnant just so I don’t have to get a real job.

Those were the highlights anyway. I particularly liked the part where she accused me of staying pregnant so I don’t have to keep a real job, considering the years I battled with that very thing, as if staying pregnant was an easy task for me to accomplish.

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I had just come off of three days of travel that sent me into schools talking to kids about my career path as a writer and musician before I headed back to the hospital to check on my dad, where I left him three days before, in agony and waiting for his pancreas to heal.

My column was late that week because my dad had to take an ambulance three hours from our small town to the big town to be treated for pancreatitis and now, finally, gall bladder surgery. He drove himself to the hospital at 3 am on Tuesday morning because my mom was gone to Minneapolis. At five in the morning I gathered my things, made childcare arrangements for my daughter with my husband, kissed them goodbye and my little sister and I took the three hour drive to be with him while my mom made her way home.

In all the rush, I forgot my computer, so I was late on the deadline for the parenting magazine I edit too. Because I thought I would be able to work on it in the hospital while I waited with dad, even though that would have been impossible. And then, because I didn’t know if dad was going to be OK, I agonized on whether I should make those three school visits that week. Because I didn’t want to let the schools down, and I didn’t want to leave my mom alone and I was worried and I didn’t know what to do or where I should be or if I was doing the right thing by everyone, including this little babe I’m growing in my belly.

I cried. Dad was in severe pain. Agony. I was worried it was going to spiral out of control as we all too recently witnessed with a close family friend.

After a long day of unsuccessful pain management and doctor questions and calls about my publications and travel plans, I trudged across the street to the hotel and put the finishing touches on my publication and tried to write a column.

It was at least 11 pm when I submitted it.

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And I’m not giving you the play-by-play so that you feel sorry for me. I don’t write from that place. But what I want to say here is that this is life. And shit happens. Unpredictable shit happens and it happens to all of us and then there we are trying to figure out what we expect of ourselves in those weird, unpredictable moments.  And what the world expects of us.

And for me, in my profession, if I want to get paid, the show must go on.

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But here’s the thing. We’re all alright here. At the end of this dad will come home. He’ll heal up, I’ll get the work done and the bills paid and tuck us all in at night, thankful for another day and another chance to be alive together in this tricky and sometimes mean old world.

I’m lucky. I have great readers. As a musician and a writer I’ve never really experienced commentary this cruel. But on that particular morning I was feeling vulnerable. I was tired and hormonal, yes, but her words stung because they sounded like the voices sound in my head sometimes.

Do I deserve a writing job when all I can think about right now is how to get my toddler to eat, how I’m going to manage two kids and how am I going to get the bills paid?

Who gives a shit about that? Everyone’s dealing with shit like that. There are, as that very email pointed out, people who are dealing with real problems in this world.

I’m aware of that. Yes. Too aware sometimes. So aware and emotionally affected that I can’t bring myself watch the news most days.

And yes, some days call for me to be more profound.

But not all days. Like most people, some days you just find you got nothin’.

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So I sat down that night filled with worry and decided that it would work better if I wrote about the everyday weirdness, thinking at least it might amuse and, maybe, at the very least, make people feel better about themselves and the fact that they don’t have an unidentified rodent in their ceiling. Or maybe they have and they could email me with advice.

This isn’t hard hitting news we’re dealing with folks. But it is real life.

And sometimes real life falls a bit flat.

 

 

And because I’ve been sharing my story publicly for years now, I’m really asking for it. For dialogue and engagement. Which I got with this column.

Mostly, it was, “What?”

As in: “What? I don’t get it.”

Or “What are you doing writing in a newspaper?”

But mostly, “What was in your wall?”

In the frantic phase my mind was in that evening, I was trying to capture the calm, cool and collected nature of my husband by depicting a scene that played out before me that very morning. While we laid there in the dark of the early morning making hospital travel and daycare plans, weighing whether or not my dad’s health was in big trouble, we were reminded of the less intense, more annoying, and more trivial worries that occur of life…

Like the strange rodent that somehow got itself stuck inside our wall…

At least that’s what husband thinks is the truth.

The lie? Well, of course, it’s nothing to be worried about Jessie.

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Husband’s response makes me question life decisions
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I’ve known my husband since I was 11 years old. He’s been my best friend starting sometime around when I was 15 when he was old enough to drive out to the ranch to talk horses with my dad, and teach my little sister to play chess. We went to college together, we got married and we’ve moved six times. We’re about to bring a second child into this world together.

He’s been the person in my life that unclogs the shower drain, keeps my wardrobe in check (whether I appreciate it or not) and the sole reason I’m not watching television on my dorm room-sized TV, movies on VHS and talking on a Zach Morris-era cell phone.

And I make sure to keep his snap-shirt collection stocked.

We’re a good team, he and I, opposites in the ways that are useful — like I’m good at breaking things and he’s good at fixing them.

I didn’t really know it about myself at the time, but I think I stuck with him all those years because, as a musician with unconventional career aspirations and a weird travel schedule, I appreciated a man who was fine with not knowing what state I was in some days. A marriage to someone a little more uptight would have never worked out.

He would have had to endure too many poorly-planned trips to Kansas to stay at a Super 8 and listen to me play music to a crowd of 10 people. And a man who requires a thorough plan to make sure he packed the right loafers would have never made it past South Dakota with me.

Yes, he’s always been the king of handling it, talking it through or at least giving me a logical explanation so I can make my own decision on whether or not to panic.

But this morning I woke to the disturbing sound of something scratching at the outside of our house. Like claws running up and down the siding on the exterior of our bedroom, which I thought was weird, because our bedroom is on the top floor. And what could climb up there?

And then I just thought it was the cat, except it couldn’t be because cats don’t generally climb straight up the side of a house.

Or find themselves inside of a wall. Because, holy s*&% I think there’s something crawling inside our walls!

Which is what I screeched to my sleeping husband in the dark, the sweet sound of morning at the ranch rousing him from his dreams…

“What the hell is that?” I asked, sprawling my round, pregnant body on top of his as if smothering him was going to save me from whatever decided to take up residence in our insulation.

To which my laid-back, no-big-deal, Mr. Fix It, drain-unclogging husband calmly replied,

“Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to lie?”

And just like that the man I’ve known and loved since we were children made me question every choice I’ve made in my life up to this very unsettling point.

I should have married a man with a loafer collection …

 

Where our stories begin…

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Well, we’re officially deep into fall, which means roundup season around here where we work on getting the cattle doctored and the calves weaned and ready for the sales barn. Because we calved late, we won’t be heading to the sales barn until a few more weeks, but we worked cattle on Sunday and got a good look at things.

Because I’m a giant pregnant lady with a toddler in tow, I’m not a lot of help. But Edie and I went out to the corrals after roundup anyway to to see what kind of damage the two of us could do. After explaining every detail of the situation to her (why her dad was in the chute, why the cows were “stuck” in there too, where the horses were and on and on) I stupidly decided to teach her all about the sorting stick. Needless to say there were a lot of close call shots to the head, groin, belly, body in general, both accidental and intentional. She was delighted.

And, because I packed enough fruit snacks and granola bars, and the girl just loves dirt and grass and wind and all things outside, she hung in there pretty well while I did the things giant pregnant women with protective dads and husbands can do to help–like run part of the chute and count cattle.

Edie kept track of it all, threw some dirt around, helped me maneuver the chute, bossed me around, cried a little for her dad who had too much cow poop on his hands to pick her up, ate some fruit snacks, climbed some fences, got cow poop on her own hands and eventually laid down on the ground to watch a YouTube video on my phone for a few minutes while we wrapped it up.

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Ah, technology. Who would have thought it would come in so handy out in these pastures raising the next generation.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Working cattle is this unexplainable sort of satisfying, getting in the rhythm, neighbors helping out, the smell of the crisp fall air, the sound of cows bellering as they make their way toward the neighbor’s field via a newly discovered hole in the fence…

It’s always something around here I tell ya…

Anyway, I grew up hanging on those corrals the way Edie’s was hanging on the corrals, trying to get in on the action by finding myself a job. Being useful made me feel important, like I was truly a valued part of the operation. I want that for my daughter too, and I’m not sure you can start them on it all too early.

This morning while I was in the bathroom and Edie was brushing her teeth (this is her thing…every time I go to the bathroom, she follows me in there to brush her teeth. It’s annoying and funny and, well, these days she’s been brushing her teeth a lot…anyway) she informed me that Papa was out working, riding his horse. And so was Dada and she had fun with the cows.

I still can’t believe she’s stringing all these thoughts together, but this is where it starts, right here when they’re little minds are forming.

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And so that’s why I found it so pressing to get this kid a pony this fall, to get her used to horses by having one around that doesn’t loom so large. And apparently, because I have such good friends and followers around me, all I had to do was say the word and a friend offered us the opportunity to be the next home for their children’s pony, Mascot.

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I was so excited to bring him home to the ranch a few weeks back, and ever since she got warmed up to him (took all of ten minutes) she’s been acting like the two of them have known each other their whole lives. She brushes him, feeds him “cereal” (grain) and rides him without holding on because the kid doesn’t posses in her much fear (except when it comes to the hair dryer).

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And so this is how her story with horses and cattle begins and I can only hope that one day she looks back on it, no matter where she winds up or who she becomes, and is thankful that it instilled something special in her…

And this is what this week’s column is all about, how our stories start.

Stories that begin  on the backs of horses
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Pops and Me on a horse

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a mom years ago, I have been dreaming of my babies sitting on the backs of horses.

I don’t know why really, except so many of my memories as a kid growing up out here are connected to horses.

And while I keep the long rides bareback through the pastures in the summer in the same pocket I keep my best thoughts, not every memory I’ve made on the back of a horse is a good one.

See, I was raised by a sort of horse whisperer. My dad was breaking horses while he was still in elementary school and his connection and talent for working with the animals prove that there are things some people are simply born to do. He’s never met a horse he doesn’t get along with. And because of that, while he was raising us kids, he spent a lot of his time working with what I like to call “second chance horses.”

Or, to be more blunt, horses that other people couldn’t get along with.

And when he was near the point of trusting a horse as much as you can trust any animal, my summer job was to put some miles on them. Which I did, but let’s be honest, those horses also put some miles on me.

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Because I wasn’t born with Dad’s fearlessness, confidence and horse training instincts.

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So it was on the back of a horse I learned the virtue of remaining calm and patient as well as the hard lessons about suppressing fear to solve a problem. And the countless times I was thrown to the ground for one reason or another taught me nothing if it didn’t teach the power of getting back up again.

Yes, some of my biggest blowouts and arguments with my dad occurred out there in those pastures, tears streaked with the dirt on my face after my foot stomped or my eyes rolled in his direction. I wanted so much to understand these animals the way he understood them, probably as much as he wanted to teach me.

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But from those moments sprung some of the best times in my life, not just with my dad, but with my little sister, my husband and maybe, most importantly, alone. I suppose it makes sense that I want to pass so much of what shaped me along to my children. The same way my dad wanted it for us.

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A few weeks ago I called him up. “I have a line on a pony for Edie,” I said, thinking there was a good possibility he might think I was crazy for it. “Do you need me to go pick it up?” he responded, the spark in his voice cutting me off before I had a chance to take a second breath.

And so that was that. Off we went the next morning, my dad and my daughter and me, to load up a scruffy, adorable little pony named Mascot.

And judging by her obsession with brushing his mane and feeding him treats, I can only hope that this is the beginning of my daughter’s story, one that starts on the back of horses…

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What I don’t want to forget…

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Greetings from Minnesota. We spent the Labor Day weekend here with my grandparents and aunt at the lake cabin and in true family vacation fashion, we get to stay a bit longer because my car crapped out on us.

So send a little prayer up for my radiator so we can get on the road and head back west with the babies at a decent hour today.

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But we’ve had a nice time. Edie and Ada have the relatives wrapped around their tiny little fingers and it’s so wonderful to see Edie at this fun age developing relationships with our family.

It seems like there’s so much turmoil and unease in the news and in our world right now, some days it’s hard for me to stay grounded and optimistic about it all. But spending a stretch of days focused on extended family, creating memories, keeping it close to home, teaching and showing love and affection and feeling it in return reminds me that it begins here…

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It begins with our children.

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Coming Home: What I don’t want to forget

Yesterday I asked Edie if she pooped.

“Pew Eee,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose, scrunching up my face.

“Pew Eee Hondo,” she replied, mimicking my actions and successfully blaming the dog for the first time.

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I guess it doesn’t take long for them to start figuring out how this world works. Like, I thought I had more time before she started declaring opinions about my wardrobe, but I was wrong. She demands I take my shoes off when they’re on in the house and when I have my hair up, she makes it clear that she prefers it down until I oblige and she can move on with her little life.

And she’s got even stronger ideas about what she should be wearing. Like absolutely nothing when she’s outside in the backyard, bending over to moon the world while drinking out of the kiddie pool like her BFF Hondo. And when she’s inside? Well, she must be in a dress.

A dress and a winter beanie — I’m sure she’s right in style and I’m just her old pregnant mom walking behind her making sure she doesn’t make poor decisions, like running wide open down the scoria road toward the bulls screaming “MOOOO!”

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These are the types of things I report to her dad at the end of the day when he walks through the door. Because not only do I never want to forget, it feels a little unfair that her only audience is a hormonal woman three months away from giving birth to another one of these mysterious, messy and magical tiny humans.

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Last week my family hit up the local farmer’s market to buy some peaches and listen to my dad and his band play. I stepped up behind the microphone to sing a few songs and Edie cried the cry of heartbreak until I plopped her on my hip to sing with me. It took a couple rounds of the chorus, but before long she leaned in and sang the words to “You Are My Sunshine,” as clear and as confident as a 1-year-old can be, right into that mic. And then she grabbed it out of my hand for another round.

I’ve spent the past few days hearing from my friends who have been sending their kids off to another year of school. So many talks of firsts and nerves and “where does the time go?” and big hopes and worries about tenderness, toughness and compassion as they navigate the time out from under their parents’ wings. It’s exciting and heart-wrenching to know it won’t be long before the little world Edie’s so intent on figuring out gets bigger and more complicated.

I mean, one stage performance has already secured her a bigger audience…

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And there are a thousand things to reflect upon and have opinions on in the tumultuous times we’re living in, but today I just want to tell you how on Saturday, when we came inside from looking at the stars, Edie waved, blew a kiss and said goodbye to the moon.

And it was everything.

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Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
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Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on jessieveedermusic.com

‘Til the cows come home…and they always come home…

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Here are some photos of the guys moving a group of cows from our pasture back east where they are supposed to stay but keep coming home because, well, they’re a pain in the ass and the fence is down in some mysterious place.

Like seriously, the guys have probably moved this little herd of cows back east like half a dozen times in the last few weeks, fix a patch of fence, call it good and low and behold, I wake up to cow mooing and munching outside the fence.

The other day Husband got home, moved the cows back east, went up to the hayfield to cut and, boom, there they were. It took them the time it took him to get from his horse to his tractor to decide where they now found themselves was not, in fact, where they belong.

Dad called today and told me he thought he had the fence mystery solved. A big patch down in the trees. But just to be sure, and because it was time anyway, the guys moved all the cattle one more pasture over tonight, so if the cows are back home tomorrow, I think it’s time they give up.

Not that we don’t appreciate the entertainment here at the house…

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Peace, love and fence fixin’

Jessie and Edie

 

Hosting friends, ranch style…

We’ve had company for a couple weeks and it’s been lovely to have new faces around to marvel at a place that has started to look more like work than love lately.

I needed that.

Thanks friends. I miss you.

Appreciating this rugged, imperfect place

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They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time.

A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.

Since then the group has grown to include boyfriends, spouses, babies, dogs and a cat on a leash, which I’d never thought I’d see on this ranch in my life. But I did, thanks to the eclectic and brilliant group of people I was honored to host for a few days in our rugged little mess of a life out here, surrounded by cattle, horseflies and bats swooping against the backdrop of a black and starry sky.

It’s funny the way the familiarity of a home changes when it’s full of people you love, some of them who’ve never set foot on the place.

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Before they arrived all I could see was the unfinished trim, the landscaping I thought I’d have done by now and the complete lack of Good Housekeeping magazine touches. We spent a half a year with their visit on the calendar thinking maybe we’d at least get the basement bathroom done, because anyone with a house knows that it takes impending company to get a long-planned construction project done.

But then we ran into haying season and I was on my own with a pressure washer, a lawnmower and a garage full of tools to do what I could around here.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have to wait until Thanksgiving to think about that bathroom project again, but I obsessed over it all nonetheless, because I’m my mother’s child after all.

And then they arrived and you couldn’t see the floor or the counters anyway for all the food and toys and bodies scattered about, talking and laughing. And not one of my friends inspected the tops of my light fixtures for dust, because we were too busy telling stories, cutting onions for guacamole and taking hikes around the farmyard, where I got a chance to see our place through their eyes.

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That was another gift they gave me that weekend: a gift of appreciation for our home. They picked wildflowers and rocks and marveled at the things we’ve labeled burdens or works in progress, like the old farm equipment and tumbled down fences that need to be repaired. In the midst of the overwhelming feeling that summer ranch work brings, I loved them for it.

And now they’re gone, leaving this place feeling a little electric, pulsing from the conversations and dropped forks and baby kisses, like it needs a moment to come back down to the quiet chaos of the life we lead, sending our love to them from this rugged, imperfect place.

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Rain or shine, this is the life we chose

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We’ve been in the middle of a heat wave out here for the last couple weeks, and it’s not looking to cool off or rain anytime soon. After a long, really snowy winter, I thought we might continue the moisture trend throughout the rest of the year, but it turns out that was just a hope.

We haven’t had a good rain for months and months and we’re better off than most of the state. Fire danger is high, and there’s one raging in the badlands as I type. It worries me. It worries everyone. That’s one thing we all have in common up here in the north. We all know worrying about the weather.

Last weekend we took a quick trip to the other side of the big lake to meet up with my inlaws who were camping there. While we were leaving a little storm cell blew through, darkening the sky and soaking the ground. We never drove in the rain, but we were in its aftermath on the way home. I rolled my windows down and breathed it in.

There’s nothing like the smell of rain on a hot summer day.

It’s heaven.

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It’s hard to believe when I’m sitting here in as little clothes as a pregnant woman can get away with in the summertime, that it was ever thirty below zero and completely white out here. We live in such extremes.

And that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s a little different take on the summer and the weather and just how crazy we really are when it comes to packing as much fun and work as we can in our three months of what we envision as being a California-esque summer.

Which it never is. No matter how we grit our teeth and bare it.

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Rain or Shine, this is the life we chose

“Well, I guess this is the life I chose,” he said as he pulled on his boots and headed out the door. “Work all day in 100 degrees so I can come home and work all night in it.”

Yup. That’s the story out here on the ranch where we can’t quit our day jobs. And on evenings when the wind settles down and the sun sets just right on cows grazing on green grass in their proper places, it feels pretty dang good.

But then there are days like today where you wonder if you might be able to fry an egg on the back of those black cows and the tractor won’t start and you just roll up your sleeves, wipe the sweat, crawl back under the tractor and hope to hell in those 10 minutes of scratching your head that you’ve magically developed the necessary mechanic skills and do what you gotta do.

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Rain or shine. That’s what they say. Whoever coined that phrase obviously didn’t live in North Dakota. If they did they would’ve likely added a few more elements – like hail – or 50 mile-per-hour winds – or blinding, sub-zero blizzards. I get that about this place. And I get that about the work.

But what’s been amusing me lately is the fact that up here we seem to apply the same motto to the idea of fun. Because it’s summer here, and dang it, we’re gonna stand in the street with a beer and listen to this band regardless of the fact that it’s 40 degrees and sleeting. It’s JUNE! We only have three months to fit in all of our outdoor activities, people!

Just a few weeks ago, I went to my niece’s softball game where we all wore gloves and beanies and sat in lawn chairs under blankets while we watched the cold wind whip these poor children to a misery, and I couldn’t help but wonder at what point we stop referring to this as a fun and games.

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Don’t even get me started on the memories I have of monsoon rain turning high school rodeo arenas into soup while our mothers sat steadfast, writing scores on soggy programs shielded from the brutal weather only by visors and the slicker that’s been sitting at the bottom of the horse trailer since last year’s rodeo in Elgin.

Oh, I come by this observation honestly. As a musician who’s spends her summers singing on flatbed trailers in my home state in the name of a festival, I’ve feel I’ve been with you through it all. But nothing sums up the insanity of our people better than the view I had from the stage on the capitol grounds on the 125th birthday of our great state a few years back. As the rain shot sideways into my eyeballs, I sang Red River Valley to a crowd of diehard North Dakota neighbors as they swayed back and forth under umbrellas and makeshift newspaper hats and I wondered if this is how I might go out, electrocuted by my soaking microphone – because 100 degrees or pouring rain, this is the life we chose.

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No summer will ever be the same…

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We’re sitting right in the middle of summer here in Western North Dakota. The leaves on the oak trees have finished creating the canopy in the thick coulees, so much so that it seems that’s where you would stay dry in a heavy rain, under those oaks.

And oh, we could use the rain around here to keep the dust down at least. It seems a little late now for the crops, although the hay in the fields up top is going to be decent we think. The guys will start cutting it soon.

Probably should have started already, but isn’t that the story of our lives? Each summer is the same. Not enough of it.

This afternoon I’m heading across the state to play music with my dad and Mike under the summer sky. I’ll get home late, like 1 am, and I’m already tired thinking about it, but looking forward to it. Summer always means a few late nights of music.

Last night on our way home from work in town we noticed our young bulls got out with a few cows. We weren’t ready to let them out just yet, but they had their own plan. So Edie and I got in the pickup with Husband and watched him saddle up his horse while Edie picked at some sweet clover, declared it a flower, sniffed it, tasted it and pulled at its petals before grabbing for another one.

Husband swung the saddle and then his leg over his horse and took off over the hills to see if he could round those creatures up, and we followed in the pickup to open some gates to the corrals.

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We didn’t need to go along necessarily, I just like to go along. In my other life, the one before our daughter, this would have been a perfect night to go along for a ride. And we might have had more success as a pair of horses. I would have probably packed my camera because it looked like a storm was about to blow in, and evening storms here can produce the best afterglow on this landscape, but that’s not an option now.

I have different responsibilities. My belly is starting to swell with a new tiny and growing family member taking up residency inside. Edie reachers her arms up towards me. “Up! Up!”she says, because she can tell me what she wants now. And she seems to be a kid that always knows what she wants. My back is already tightening and stiffening and acting up, the result of the weight of two babies I carry every day, one in my arms and one inside me. I’m nervous about what the next months will bring, how I will physically do it.

How I will mentally do it.

This stage in my life is so different. Somehow I feel so outside myself and so much myself at the same time and I don’t even know how it’s possible. I had so much time becoming a woman and a wife without children. I had time to gradually grow into who she was, through trial and error and loss, I accepted that I might just always be her.

And now here I am on summer evenings when the light is just right, my camera tucked away and my horse out grazing on Edie’s clover, fixing my 1-year-old steamed broccoli and blueberries and a purple popsicle for dessert, listening to her sing and boss and test out her lungs in her chair, her little bare feet dirty, her face smeared and her hair wild, just the way she’s supposed to be at the end of a long summer day of play.

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She says “Done,” I wipe her face and run the bath and watch her blow bubbles and pretend to swim and point to her nose and her toes and her tummy and sing Twinkle Twinkle and wonder how she’s learned so much in such a short time on this earth.

Then she says “Done!” because she’s done and I scoop her up out of the tub as Husband walks through the door. She squeals for her daddy and it’s everything.

He didn’t get the bulls back, he said. They ran into the canopy of trees and disappeared.

It’s thick in there, he said. I didn’t rain, it’s not going to rain, but if it did, you wouldn’t feel a drop in those trees.

He stands over me and Edie as I wrestle her into her pajamas. She’s wiggly. I smell her toes and say “Peww!” and she laughs like I’m the most hilarious thing on the planet.

I pick her up, swing her to my right hip and find a comb for her hair, her toothbrush, her blankie, her cup…Husband takes a phone call and as I’m walking back down the hallway, I shift Edie to the front of my body to give her kisses and talk about sleep and, “ping” the baby inside me makes a swift and sharp kick to announce itself, to say hello, to make it feel real.

I squeal a little and look back at my husband. “The baby just kicked me, oh my gosh, big time!” He hears it and smiles that genuine smile I’ve come to know so well and turns to talk on the deck, because he’s on the phone and in two worlds at once…

The sun won’t go down for another couple hours, but Edie’s curtains are drawn and we rock a bit. When I hum, she hums and it’s my favorite time of day. Because I’m tired. Because she’s calm. Because it’s our constant.

But life with a child changes every day, so I know it won’t be our constant for long and that’s what makes everything sweeter and more terrifying. I can’t imagine exactly the shift that will occur with a new addition to this family, but I can predict some things…

More diapers, more messes, more long nights and teething pain, more aches and more blueberries crusted to the floor.

And less sleep.

And time that just pushes it all along too slow and too fast all at once.

This is this summer.

And no summer will ever be the same…

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Knowing what’s important in the moment

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Coming Home: Knowing what’s important in the moment

My phone dinged on the counter while I was digging in the pantry for the broom. I looked at the screen to find a message from my sister-in-law with a photo of my daughter in her life jacket and sunhat sitting on the banks of the Little Muddy River looking up at her daddy looking down at her in his Superman shirt and cowboy hat.

A smile spread across my face. It was a sweet moment captured on a kayaking trip my in-laws take each June with their friends and family. I’m usually there, but this year I opted to send my husband out the door with our toddler, her swimsuit and vats of sunscreen and bug spray so I could work on tackling the fossilized blueberries on the floor. It’s been a busy spring made more exhausting by the first trimester of pregnancy and I couldn’t stand looking at the mountain of clothes that had piled up in our bedroom one moment longer. Like seriously, they were touching the ceiling. The thought of an entire, uninterrupted weekend to tackle house and yard chores was appealing in a way that sort of scared me. Like, does this mean I’m a grown woman now? The 23-year-old version of me would have thrown a bucket of water in my face if I told her that in ten y ears we would trade an 80-degree day on the river for staining the fence and sucking dead flies out of the windowsills.

Turns out, at that moment, the 33-year-old version of me wasn’t too happy with our decision either. One look at that photo and I proceeded to cuss myself and the dirt on these floors, the unplanted garden, the unwashed sheets and North Dakota and its fifteen minutes of summer.

“I should be on that riverbank with them,” I whined, alone in the house in a raggedy tank and cutoff shorts with the top button undone. And then I posted the adorable photo on social media as a warning to other moms to not make the same poor choices.

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But as the day played out, as I folded and stored away our winter clothes, mowed our scraggly lawn, stained our weathered fence and excavated the dried fruit fossils from between the cracks in our hardwood floor, I started shedding the jealousy and guilt I felt about missing a fun moment and replacing it with a dose of vindication.

We hear it all the time as parents. “The dishes can wait, go play with your kids!” “No one ever died wishing they’d worked more!” “Chores will always be there, but the kids are one sleep away from moving out and only calling on the holidays.”

Ok, yes. Time goes fast. My 1 ½ year old daughter has already started making meal requests, so I’m well aware. And I get that these statements are well intended and meant to help take the pressure off of parents, but sometimes I feel like they put more pressure on.

Maybe my tight shorts and baby growing hormones are making me a little cranky, but do you know what else is true about those dishes? They can only wait forever if you’re willing to off paper plates until the kids are 18 or are anticipating a call from one of those TLC shows asking you to be on their next episode of “Dish Pileup” or whatever.

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And yes. The chores and work will always be there, especially if my family spends every day at the lake like we really want. But then who’s gonna make sure the cows aren’t eating at the neighbors’ and pay for those groceries I carefully selected while my two loves were kayaking care free down the river together?

I don’t know. I appreciate the encouragement to blow off my responsibilities. Lord knows I need to be reminded to relax. But here’s my amateur parenting advice for the day: You know what’s important in this moment.

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Sometimes it’s taking your baby down a waterslide on a Friday afternoon, sometimes it’s letting her watch Elmo while you pay the bills and sometimes it’s sending her off for the weekend with a sunhat and her Superman dad so that pile of laundry can get done and leave you all to play in peace.

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Squish. A short story.

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So this morning I followed dad and Edie out the door of our house to go feed the bulls and found a squished mouse head laying in my entryway, a gift my cat regularly leaves for me on the  deck rug, drug into the house on the bottom of my dad’s shoe.

And I’m just going to leave that here in case you were feeling in any way bad about your housekeeping skills, unruly pets or the fact that we don’t have control over the universe.

Oh, and then I had to pick it up with a pair of  fencing gloves and fling it out the door and I swear it’s beady little eye was looking up at me wondering how we got to this place in our lives…

Happy Thursday. We got a little rain yesterday and have a little more coming this weekend I heard. Better get those tomato plants in.

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Peace, Love and Un-welcome houseguests.

Now I’m gonna leave you with this cute photo to help cleanse your mind…

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