Spring’s little gifts

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We went from winter to summer here in Western North Dakota. Last Saturday it was nearly 80 degrees and so I loaded the kids up with sunscreen and attempted to clear the yard of dog poop while Edie sprayed the hose into the little plastic pool and Rosie watched and drooled in her stroller.

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The sunshine made us all feel so alive and happy that I didn’t even mind shoveling the dead squirrel in full-on rigamortus from the yard for the thirteenth time that week (country living is glamorous).

And when we heard the next day was going to be even warmer, we went ahead and made plans to go fishing, successfully transforming us from grumpy, nose to the grindstone workaholic types, to full-on retirees–if retirees wipe toddler noses and baby butts while they’re poles are in the water.

Oh, it was the complete heaven that comes when we get nice weather up here. Because when it’s nice, it’s glorious. The lake was still and the fish were biting, at least for Pops, who proves time and time again that he’s the luckiest of the lucky ones.

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I looked over at him who is getting better and better every day and said “Isn’t it a great day to be alive?”

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And it was indeed. It is indeed.

Cheers to spring turning rapidly into summer. Just make sure you’re checking for ticks.

Love, the Girls of Spring!

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Coming Home: Relishing the signs of spring, whether good or bad

Throw open the doors and bring out that old book that props up your window. Let the sun in and the breeze blow through the house because I think spring might finally be happening after all.

I wouldn’t dare say for sure, except last weekend I picked some crocuses and a tick off the back of my neck, and out here those two things might be the most reliable indicators that sub-zero temps are on their way out, for a few months anyway.

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It’s incredible what a 70-degree day will do to a person up here where winter drags its heavy feet coming and going.

After a February that lasted three months, I promised my friend who has been living on a ranch in North Dakota with her husband for just a few years, that spring always comes … eventually. She didn’t look convinced.

Maybe because I wasn’t so convinced myself.

But here it is, however late. It’s that promise that keeps us crazies living up here in the great white north, all bundled up and waiting to walk around in our Ice Cream Shirts (with a jacket in the pickup just in case). And now that I see it in writing, I realize that I might be the only one in the great white north who uses the term “Ice Cream Shirt.” I’ll explain.

Ice Cream Shirt: The term our grampa Pete used to describe a button up, collared cowboy shirt with short sleeves, the type of shirt a man might have to wear if he spends his days scooping ice cream. Also, a piece of clothing the man himself probably never wore, because of the thorns in the bullberry brush and frankly, arms that aren’t accustomed to the sun should probably remain in the protection of sleeves, no matter the weather.

It’s the same sentiment my friend’s husband has about shorts. “I don’t like things touching my legs,” he said. “Like grass or bugs or air.”

That’s a cowboy for you.

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And it’s my understanding that even the ones who live in the desert might only be caught in shorts on that Caribbean cruise his wife bid on at a church silent auction or something.

Oh, there are good reasons for these unspoken wardrobe rules out here.

My little sister found out firsthand last weekend on our hike up to the top of the hill we call Pots and Pans. We were both dressed in tennis shoes, leggings and had a baby strapped to our chests, practical for a sidewalk stroll but brutal when you march right into a giant cactus patch, proving once again that out here, sunshine comes with a few small, annoying price tags, some with tiny stickers and others tiny legs.

Oh well, shedding a little blood is a small price to pay for a spring crocus bouquet, said the girl with a cactus plant dug into her ankle to the other with the tick stuck behind her ear.

Happy spring everyone. Wear what you want and soak it in!

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Calving season and small triumphs

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The babies are starting to be born out here just in time for warmer weather. And although calving season means more work and less time with daddy, it’s also a fun excuse to load up the girls and ride along on the treasure hunt for new babies in tall grass.

And I’m happy to report that this week we’ll be able to ditch the beanies….

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Coming Home: Calving season brings mix of wonder and worry

We’re in the middle of calving season here at the Veeder Ranch. And because we’re in North Dakota, our plans to calve mid-April didn’t necessarily get us out of the cold woods.

Every coulee and protected place on the ranch is still full of snow, so every day is like a scavenger hunt for shiny, little black heads popping out of the tall grass, if they were lucky enough to be born in a dry spot.

Edie is the queen of the barnyard when she’s sitting next to her daddy, bouncing along the prairie trails in the pastures, unaware of the lessons she’s already learning about life and death and a mother’s fierce love.

Last week she stood on the pickup seat looking out the window as her dad’s attempt to tag a new baby turned into a game of Ring-Around-The-Pickup with a protective momma.

When he flung the door open, faced flushed and breath heavy, Edie unflappably asked, “Whatcha doing, Daddy? Running with the cows?”

And it reminded me of all the times I watched my own dad test his speed and agility in snow boots and coveralls trying to avoid a concerned momma’s head-butt as he worked to get a closer look at her baby. This business of being born out here is a dangerous game for every man and beast involved.

I’ll never forget the time I opted out of my bench seat perch to stay in and watch “Wheel of Fortune” with Gramma only to have Dad come crawling up to her doorstep, bruised, bloody, covered in earth and lucky to be alive.

Yes, calving season, even in the best weather, sprinkles ranch life with adventure and wonder. On the best days, it’s miraculous to count the precious new lives that arrive without fanfare and are up on their four wobbly feet sucking and ready to live within minutes.

On the bad days, when the wind whips hard and cold and wet, it takes every muscle and all your spirit to lift those lives out of the muck and trudge on. Ask any rancher and he’ll likely admit this year has taken its toll, sending a fair share of babies from the pasture to the entryway heat lamp, each life saved a sigh of relief.

On Sunday, we walked into Mom and Dad’s to find our own entryway baby, born in a snowbank to a momma with good intentions but bad timing. It was one of the first Sundays since Dad has been home that we had the whole family together. We huddled around that poor frozen soul lying among our boots as my uncle helped Dad put warm colostrum in her belly, rub her body and move her limbs.

And even though we knew we probably shouldn’t get attached, we named her April, put our warm hands to her cold nose, stroked her soft ears and watched her come back to life, stand up on her own four legs and find her place back by her momma’s side.

And among all the mud and medicine, work and worry, it felt like nothing short of a triumph for us all.

These roads

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

Coming Home: Kicking up dust on the road of life

We live on gravel roads that stretch like ribbons along pasture land dotted with black cattle. As we kick up dust beneath our pickup tires heading out to a chore or to meet up with a neighbor, we take for granted how these roads were built and why they’re here.

Because these days we’re in a rush, driving faster than we should past newly made plans and history– some hidden and some still standing, weathered wood on crumbling foundations.

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I remember a time when these roads were quiet. It was where my cousins and I would skip like characters from “The Wizard of Oz” down the middle of the scoria without a care. The only vehicle to meet us was our great uncle driving with his windows down or my mom looking to borrow some sugar from a neighbor.

If we were lucky it would be the Schwan’s man hauling the promise of orange push-up pops, and we would put the game on time-out and sit on the front porch trying to get to the bottom of the treat before it melted and dripped down our fingers.

We didn’t know that there would ever be anything here at the end of this road besides imagination and our grandmother’s cookies. We didn’t know that anything but our boots and old feed pickups would kick up dust on the road.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to tell the story of this place as part of my living. And because of that, and because of the long winters and the new babies and the close calls with losing the important people we love, I sometimes lie in bed at night breathing while the vice grip on my heart tightens. Funny how the darkness falls and talks us into wondering how this place and the people in it can seem so eternal and so volatile at the same time.

Maybe because between the past and the future there are so many colors here, cut down the middle by this winding gravel road of home.

It makes me wonder what memories were held in the hearts of those people who have long ago returned to the earth. What would they think if they saw us driving our fancy cars to houses that sometimes feel too big to hold the love, if that even makes sense at all?

How far away I feel from that life some days even though I believe our goals haven’t changed — to do the best we can on a landscape where trees grow, calves are born, ground is tilled and minds are inventing ways to make the living easier.

Inside those old houses they ate, prayed, laughed and worried in the dark just as we do in our houses with too many screens and not enough vegetables while the wind blows and knocks on our windows, reminding us that this place is not ours solely and rightfully and individually.

One day we’ll abandon these houses in decision or death, and there will be new generations searching these roads for our story.

So we should tell it now, honest and true and leave to them what they need.

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“This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live

Neighbor Kelly

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There’s so much more I could say about neighbor Kelly, so many stories that he would tell so much better than me, but I’ve only got 500 newspaper words for this week’s column.  He’s been like my second dad for as long as I can remember and I hope you have a neighbor like this in any weather…no matter where you are.

Coming Home: On the ranch, being a good neighbor means so much

Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don’t think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we’ve tested him.

Neighbor Kelly was the go-to guy to call when Dad wasn’t home for emergencies like a loose horse, broken appliances and keys locked in cars when you’re late for a meeting. Just a mile away, Kelly is quick on response time, too, there in a flash with a coat hanger and a plan. And depending on the season, his Carhartts and wool cap.

Oh, Kelly’s collected hundreds of rescues like this throughout the years because when you live in the middle of nowhere, being a good neighbor means wearing a dozen different hats.

So Kelly is a locksmith, yes, but he also earned his exterminator badge that time he tackled the suspected pack rat problem by camping out on the living room floor with Dad, pellet guns pointed at the cabinet under the sink waiting for the signal.

And when Mom found herself a snapping turtle in the garage, Kelly was there to assist in a plan to wrangle it back to the dam.

Kittens stuck behind the refrigerator? Call Kelly — he’s more agile and can fit back there.

Seating for hundreds needs to be built for your daughter’s wedding in your cow pasture? Kelly’s got a hammer and a case of beer.

Cows need to be moved? Kelly’ll be there early with a horse and maybe his bullwhip just for kicks ’cause he might get a chance to climb that big butte and snap it like the Man from Snowy River.

Because Kelly’s the guy who’s entertaining like that. He’s the sweetest harmony in the band, the best dressed and the only one who can yodel.

He’s the guy you call if you want an epic sledding party because he’s got an unmatched dedication to fun that sends him out there for hours with a shovel clearing a fast course, complete with a jump at the bottom and a campfire at the top and a new snowboard waiting to send him to the emergency room.

Most notably though, he’s the Lefty to the Poncho that is my father. When Dad called us in the middle of the night, unknowingly staring death in the face, we called the ambulance and then we called Kelly.

And when they airlifted Dad to Bismarck for an emergency surgery during an ice storm, Kelly drove the three hours on those roads behind us to sit with us in the waiting room. Recently, when Dad was in the hospital in Minneapolis, Kelly made that trip too, and a trip almost every day now down the road a mile to see his friend as he recovers.

And I can’t imagine this place without Kelly up the road.

I’m just hoping it warms up so he can take those Carhartts off soon.

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Gloves, muskrats and other misplaced things

IMG_4843 2We’re in the middle of an ice storm/blizzard/no travel advisory/typical almost spring storm today. And so it looks like March is coming in like a lion, or maybe, more accurately around here, like a wet muskrat in our window well.

Yeah, there’s a wet muskrat in our window well. My dog alerted me of our visitor this morning by barking at it incessantly and so I pulled on my robe and rubber boots over my pajama pants and trudged out there, wind whipping pellets into my squinty eyes, to give the little rodent a little 2×4 lifeline to help him save himself. And locked the dog in the kennel to give him a chance.

I would have grabbed my gloves if I could have found them, but I can never find a complete pair of gloves around here…

And so I give you this week’s column:

Coming Home: The curious case of the inevitable missing glove
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Gloves

We have an issue here at the ranch. Besides the weird animal that may or may not still be living in our wall, we have another epidemic that’s driving me mad. It has five fingers, it comes in all sorts of sizes, colors and textures and you can find one laying on every surface of the house, on every dash and under every seat in every vehicle on the place and scattered along trails, dangling from trees, laying on the bottom of stock dams and mashed into the dirt like artifacts from long, long ago.

I’m talking about gloves. Fencing gloves. Riding gloves. Fingerless gloves. Rig gloves. Mitten gloves with places for your fingers inside. Hunting gloves. Baby gloves. Toddler gloves. Gloves that some random kid left here one winter. Carpenter gloves. Mom gloves, Grampa gloves, and of course, the biggest culprit of them all, Daddy/Husband gloves, whose hands fits nearly every one of these categories, if only he could find a matching pair.

Yeah, that’s the thing about it all. No one can ever find a matching pair. It’s like the mystery of the missing socks that disappear into the black hole in our washing machine or fall prey to the little laundry elf that no one ever sees. And I would blame this missing glove phenomenon on that elf, or at least the creature in my wall, except that I’ve come to understand how it happens. Because once, on one of my rides, I came across my dad’s red wool cap laying in the absolute middle of nowhere, off of any beaten path, a good two miles from the barnyard, and I knew he must have been in a hurry chasing something across that wide prairie that has the tendency to swallows wayward things up.

I’ve done it myself, leaving one of my mittens to dangle for eternity on the branch of an oak tree after I took my horse quickly through a coulee trail trying to get around a group of cows heading the wrong direction. I put my hand up over my face to ward off an inevitable slap from that branch and it took my mitten clean off, left and then lost in the dust.

I think about that mitten when I come across things like an old fencing pliers half-dug in the dirt way out in the east pasture, likely accidentally kicked out of a pickup by my grandpa years ago. Or when I watched my dad drive his fencing vehicle too fast along a bumpy trail, steel fence posts, flying out in his wake, and I think, well, that explains so much.

So if we can’t find anything out here, at least there will be something left behind for the archeologists. Unfortunately, they’ll likely come to the conclusion that we were a people with only one hand…

And a never-ending collection of free snap-back caps collected from every feed store, implement dealership, oil company and bull sale along the way.

But that’s a story for another time…

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Her America

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Last summer I took part in a series of interviews for Lifetime’s new series “Her America.”  It’s a digital content series that gives an unapologetic look at real American women today and features interviews with 50 women across 50 states.

Among all of the wonderful women they could have chosen to represent North Dakota, I was honored to be chosen to tell our story.

At the time of the interviews and photographs, I was just entering the the second trimester in my pregnancy with Rosie, not knowing if it was a little girl or little boy I was carrying. How fitting then that we are now proud parents of another North Dakota girl and how wonderful to have documentation of that time in our lives.

Click here to see my story and then explore the other exceptional and interesting women across the country at  heramerica.com.

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January. Or, Mom vs. Mittens

IMG_3820Being a mom to little kids in the great white north comes with its unique challenges. All the extra steps we need to take to go anywhere without suffering frostbite is one of them…and along with that comes my newest and biggest rival: Tiny Mittens.

Squeezing a pair of those buggers on a two year old’s wiggly hands while she’s bundled up like a puffy mummy, repeating “outside, outside, outside…” while I’m bent over, sweating and the baby’s squawking in her swing is a reason only the strong survive up here.

And now my sweet darling daughter has started to do this new thing where she goes boneless and drops to the floor with her eyes closed tight whenever she senses any sort of urgency from her mother, so getting her dressed is like dressing a large, limp, noodle. And getting her to find that nice balance between limp noodle and escape convict is really fun…It’s fun in the grocery store. It’s fun walking out of gymnastics. It’s fun in parking lots in freezing temperatures and it’s fun at potty time…and suppertime…and bath time…and bedtime.

And so I’m dreaming of summer and 80 degrees where the girl can run wild (or flop on the ground) buck naked if she wants, because by the time July hits we’ll have lost all patience for clothes…along with all the mittens that don’t fit anyway…

Here’s this weeks column, where I complain more about it…

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Spring-it’s just around the corner. I promise.
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Congratulations North Dakota! You’ve made it to the end of the longest month.

From here I can see spring — if I stand on the top of the highest hill, on a rock, with my binoculars, but probably only because February’s a short month and the past week we’ve had a break from the sub-zero temperatures long enough for us to find optimism and wrangle the toddler into her snow clothes and play outside.

If I start the process after breakfast, we’re usually ready to hit the small sledding slope in the backyard just in time for her afternoon nap. Because there’s nothing more fun than a tired, over-bundled toddler who just face-planted in the snow and has lost the will to save herself because it took too dang long to put her mittens on.

Seriously, if there’s a children’s mitten out on the market that doesn’t require a team of engineers and detectives to maneuver two tiny thumbs in the thumb holes and a therapist to convince the kid to keep them on, I’ll pay you for your recommendations.

Think of all the free time I would have if someone could solve the mitten problem. I might actually get supper on the table before dark, which currently isn’t possible because dark starts at 4 pm.

Oh, I’m only complaining a little, but I think it’s allowed in January. Our mutual annoyance with this long, cold month is what keeps us Northerners bonded together. January is the reason that there’s an entire colony of North Dakotans who abandon ship and relocate to Arizona each season.

And I would be jealous, except who can blame them? Especially when most of the Arizona-bound population has put in their years of earflap caps, long underwear and toddler mitten holes.

People in Arizona don’t have to deal with mitten holes.

Oh, but they come back eventually, usually around mid-May or June, when 42-below zero has become a distant memory, leaving only a scratchy little patch of frostbite you acquired on that one January night you had to walk home because you got the feed pickup stuck up to its floorboards in a snowbank.

If only we could ship our cattle to Arizona for January as well. I’m sure they’d be pretty pissed if they knew there were cows in this world that have never had to lean in against 40 mph winds whipping ice pellets at them, so I haven’t told them.

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No, we keep them blissfully unaware and fed each evening with giant bales of hay that smell like the beautiful, green, sunny summers we get up here.

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For that reason I hope that cows have memories. Because there’s nothing like the scent of that hay rolling out behind the pickup (that just conveniently dropped its four-wheel-drive) to remind us that this weather is fleeting and the tall lush grass, crystal clear creek water and sweaty, tick-filled days of summer are just around the corner.

Come on over, I’ve got a telescope and a tall hill, so I bet we can see it coming.

Just don’t forget your mittens.

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Defining a good life

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January’s the longest month up here. It’s the coldest. The days are short and the nights of darkness drag on. If you’re prone to depression, this is when it hits you hard. The holidays are over and the appeal of the fuzzy sweater sort of hunkering down has worn off, making you crave a tropical vacation, or at the very least, a warm up to above zero so you can throw a proper sledding party.

These past few weeks have ticked by slowly for us. With a new baby, it’s not so appealing to bundle everyone up and head out on an errand, a visit or for activity that’s not necessary, although I have made a few trips to help avoid cabin fever. And, since dad’s been in the hospital since Halloween, it’s been strangely quiet around here. My husband has taken to the chores and ranch management alone, with the occasional “help” from his little family when it’s warm enough for us to come along for the ride.

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Feeding cows happens for him when he gets home from his day job after the sun has set. Depending on how our timing works out, he may or may not have supper with us and he may or may not be home in time to say goodnight to Edie.

When my dad’s around some of the chores are split a bit, helping to ease the time burden that comes with a full time job.

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Since dad’s been sick, and on his worst days teetering on the brink of death, we’ve had a chance to realize what it must have been like for my family out here after my grandma and grampa died. It explains why my parents haven’t spent much of their time sitting still. And it explains why most of my memories are of riding along with my dad, on a horse, or in an old feed pickup. Because that’s the only chance we got to spend time together. And we’re so lucky that he didn’t see us kids in the passenger’s seat or on the trail behind him as a burden and even more lucky that he made watching him and helping him work a fun adventure, full of laughs and appreciation for the beautiful place, even when he was armpit deep in fixing a plugged water tank or up to his neck in bull-berry brush fixing fence on a 90 degree day.

I realize now that for every time he took us along he was sort of sacrificing his time, slowing down his pace to have us there beside him. I didn’t realize how much value time held out here until coming home as an adult and trying to make it all work, fit it all in, family, work and ranching. Each minute of daylight is gold and it can be maddening if you let it take you over. But I don’t remember noticing.  I guess that’s a testament to the way I was raised and the good memories I chose to keep close.

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I can only hope we can do the same for our girls, to take them along and take the time to point out the grouse in the brush, the deer on the hillside, the way the moss grows on the rocks and the frogs croak at night. That’s the only way they’ll love it the way we love it, is if we show them why it all matters so much.

But if we falter, I’m happy to report, we will soon have Papa home to set us straight, to show us the things we haven’t learned yet, to set us on the right path and to teach his grandkids about the backs of horses.

Yes, after nearly three months of hospital stays, and a long, scary stint in the ICU, dad is in recovery, working on building up his strength to come home. And we’re so thankful, knowing how easily it could have turned the other way.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers. We will be so happy to have him here to continue to live this life we call good.

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Coming Home: How to define a good life
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I woke up to the sun slowly appearing over the big hill that faces our tall windows.

“One ribbon at a time” is a quote I read somewhere describing the sunrise, and I recite it in my head as the pinks, purples and golds appear in the sky just long enough to transform and fade into blue.

Some mornings I don’t take the time to notice it the way I used to before the babies arrived, but when I do, it always reminds me of the reasons we moved back home to the ranch seven years ago.

Has it been seven years already? That number sounds so permanent to me, as if the house and the kids and the cattle aren’t enough solidification of the decision we made when we were so young to plant our lives here for good.

“For good.”

When I say it that way it means forever, but I look at it here, written down, and I feel compelled to define it.

When we’re planning out our hope for the future, the “good” is what we tally up to help finalize our decisions. We chose our people based on the laughs, the calm and the well-timed casseroles or phone calls they bring into our lives. It’s the good that brings us closer to the imperfect parts of them — the scars, the mess, the mistakes that make up their not-as-pretty storyline. I think the same can be said for the places we chose.

Last summer I participated in a series of interviews for a project that will showcase the unique lives of women in all 50 states. This included a series of long phone conversations with a few female journalists in big cities on the East Coast, answering questions about what life was like out here on a landscape they’ve never seen before.

While we talked, I imagined them in trendy haircuts sitting in a high rise behind a desk in a web of cubicles, photos of boyfriends or children pinned to the fabric of their makeshift walls. Walls inside walls inside walls.

I wonder if they imagined me on the phone during my toddler’s nap time, my belly swelling with a new baby on the way, sweeping the dirt and little pieces of scoria off the floor as a line of black cows trudged by our fence line on their way to the dam for water.

“I suppose it is a lot to take on,” I remember remarking after one interviewer asked why we chose what she called “a hard life.” I just described how we are responsible for the fences and the water, the buildings, the animals and the land. And we have so much to learn as we attempt to fill the big shoes that left this here for us.

But a hard life?

No one out here has ever declared it to be so, not even as it’s all done on second shift, when the sun is going down, or while it’s coming up, a ribbon at a time.

But a good one?

That I’ve heard. And that’s why we’re here.

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Sparkle.

Last night Rosie and I left daddy and Edie at home, bundled up and headed to town to meet my little sister and her friends for a birthday painting party.

And because she’s not me, this sort of painting party didn’t involve inviting friends over to re-do a room or paint an accent wall. This one involved food, wine and a professional guiding us through the stages of painting some sort of masterpiece on our own canvas.

It was fancy. So I got Rosie all dressed up for the occasion. And by dressed up, I mean out of her jammies and into a cute little onsie, pants, shoes and a bow to top it off, because we were going to be seen out in public.

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For the record, I put some pants on too. Skipped the bow and onsie, but took a shower even. And we were off.

I figured my little angel would probably sleep through most of it. She’s been so easy so far so why should it change? And that was the case right up until about ten minutes in, I  got the first layer of paint on the canvas (first step completed) was about to get up and get another helping of chip dip, picked up the baby to go along and realized that in true Scofield-baby fashion, she had waited until we were at a party to shit her pants.

And by shit I mean, poopsplosion, of course, right out of her diaper, through her new onsie, through her pants, onto the cute little apron they let me wear and out into the word…

Needless to say, I finished my canvas painting after we got home from town this afternoon.

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Yeah, photographic evidence that a true artist is raising a true artist right there…

But as we were driving there this morning, my dear oldest daughter reminded me why despite all the poop, I love this whole parenting thing…

We got up and bundled to hit the road for the doctor’s office for a follow up on Edie’s ears in -24 degree temperatures. The sun was shining on the snow covered ground and Edie, watching it roll by from her seat in the back declared: “Look at the snow! There’s sparkles in it!”

And for the rest of the 40 minute drive she watched in awe.

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So I decided to take a page from her book and take time out of it all to notice the sparkle in this day. I hope you can too, despite the deep freeze, the inevitable poopsplosions and ear infections that seem to be hanging on.

And look at that! We’ve warmed right up to zero.

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Happy Friday everyone. May your weekend be as ‘precious’ as Edie declared her hair to be this afternoon.

Peace, love and kitties…

Seriously, does anyone want a kitty?

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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 …