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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A moment in the plans we’ve made

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This week’s column is a little reflection triggered by branding day at the ranch a few weekends back.

It really is something to take a breath in the middle of this crazy life and realize that the crazy was actually your intention and what you’re doing is a little piece of a dream coming true.

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Oh, and for those of you who don’t reside in Western North Dakota, a slushburger is a sloppy joe.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement. In six months or so I’ll be calling you at 3 am wondering what we were thinking.

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Coming Home: Taking time to appreciate moments as ranch, family expands

I rushed to get the slushburger in the slow cooker, the chip dip layered and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He’s more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.

The neighbors would be here in an hour or so to help ride, and I had to get Edie and my niece dressed and down the road to gramma’s with the burger, melon and grocery bags full of paper plates and potato chips so I could climb on a horse of my own.

It was branding day at the ranch, and the sun was quickly warming up the world as I finally made it to the barnyard, buckling my belt as I ran past the neighbors and the guys already saddled and waiting to take off over the green hills together, splitting off at the corrals up top to gather cattle in the corners, search the brush and trees and meet up at the flat to take them home.

It’s one of the best views in my world, to see the cowboys and cowgirls you trust most riding together on our land, connected by generations, friendships and blood, dedicating a Sunday to getting a familiar and time-honored job done. I loped my horse across the flat to catch up and watched a trail of black and red animals form a jagged line across the crick and up the road, kicking up dust and bellaring to their babies as our crew gently coaxed them along.

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My husband and I have dreamed about the days we could figure out a way to own our own cattle out here, a goal we began to realize last winter with the help and partnership of my dad. We branded a handful of our own calves last year and worked this year to crunch numbers and build plans. And it’s been scary, exciting and challenging to say the least, balancing full time work and family while helping to take care of this place and the animals on it.

But last Sunday we sorted and doctored those animals together while the neighbor kids sipped juice boxes and waved sorting sticks outside the fence, my grandparents sat watching in the shade, my sisters standing together, my little sister arching her back against the weight of her pregnancy while my mom and aunt opened the door of the car to let out my fresh-from-her nap daughter, and I willed myself to take a moment to appreciate that I could stretch out my arms and nearly touch all of the most important things in this world to us.

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And then I reached down to loosen the belt on my jeans that are growing tighter each day as my belly swells with the newest member of the crew, due to arrive in December to these grateful arms.

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Some secrets should be kept secret…

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Coming Home: In marriage, some secrets should be kept secret
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

“Oh, by the way,” he said as he pulled on his pajamas pants and emerged from the closet. “There was a bat in the bedroom while you were gone.”

I sat straight up in bed, groaned a long “Noooo!” and clamped my hands to my mouth as I flashed back to the days of living in the old farmhouse and the traumatizing experience of discovering a really (like really) large family of bats hibernating in the space between the door and the screen we never used.

These things you never get over, no matter how rustic you think you are.

And, just to be certain we were both up to speed on all our bat incidents, my husband took the next moment to compare the most current bat situation to a similar episode in our past. Because there’s more than one.

“Remember when we had that bat in the bedroom in the old house?”

“Who could forget.”

“And we were laying there and it just flew in out of nowhere, through the fan blades and then all over the house.”

“Thanks for the reminder. I wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight anyway.”

“Yeah, well it was like that only it was in this closet. It flew out, right at me,” he explained as he reenacted the event, arms waving, voice rising, my stoic husband suddenly becoming animated at the memory. “So I quick got out of the room, closed the door and ran downstairs to get reinforcements.”

I don’t want to know what the reinforcements were. I don’t want to know how he got rid of it or why, for some reason, the racquetball racquet that had been tucked away in the cobweb filled corners of our storage space long enough for it to become a sports-shaped fossil was now mysteriously laying next to my husband’s boot collection. I just want to imagine the bat was a figment of some sort of sleep-walking dream so I can continue to feel civilized in the new house that my husband was supposed to promise to make bat proof.

“How did it get in here?!” I whined as I scanned every corner of the room looking for an answer. I pulled the covers up over my mouth and waited for him to reassure me that it was indeed a dream or, at the very least, an isolated incident.

But that’s not how my life tends to go out here.

“I don’t know. It could have come up through the vents from the basement or something.”

“The BASEMENT!” Do we have bats in the BASEMENT?!”

“I don’t know….”

I stared at him, wide eyed in silence from behind my cover shield, willing him to give me a better answer.

He blinked.

I didn’t.

“Yeah. It occurs to me now that maybe I shouldn’t have told you. My dad suggested I don’t tell you… but you know, I want you to be on the lookout.”

How thoughtful.

 

Why God made wheels…

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If she had wings, she’d never come down from the sky.

That’s why God made wheels for this girl of mine.

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And once I thought He made her so we could show her things.

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But it goes the other way.

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Because she reminds us of a better, wilder world, every single day.

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Stick Shift…Shit

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Why I blame my dad for my stick shift struggles
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I have a confession to make.

In the years I spent growing up out here on the ranch as well as those being all grown up here on the ranch, I have never properly learned to drive a stick shift.

Oh, I can make it work. I can get from Point A to Point B if Point A is the house and Point B is the barnyard over the hill, the hay yard, or my parent’s house a mile down the gravel road, but that’s where my gear-finding, clutch-pushing confidence ends.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. Some things are just expected of you living out here among cows and barbed-wire fences. But I have a handicap.

And I could say I have no one to blame but myself, because I’m ultimately responsible for taking the initiative to master something I need to know, but forget it.

I blame my dad.

I blame my dad and all the old, impossible, gear sticky, seat-stuck-too-far-back, ancient and impossible pickups he enlisted to teach me to drive back in the day.

I mean, how’s a girl to grab a chance at finding the right gear when the gear indicator knob long ago popped off and rolled around on the floorboards before meeting its ultimate fate in some brush patch Dad was fencing one day in 1995?

Am I in reverse? The only way to find out is to release the clutch and hope I don’t kill it before rolling backwards while simultaneously hoping I’m not in first because there’s not much room for error in the 10 inches between the front of the pickup and the shop.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. There was one pickup he tried to teach me on that you literally had to push down a hill like a Flinstones car to get started. And once it turned over, well, you had to keep it gassed for fear of starting the whole ritual over again.

God forbid it quit at the bottom of a coulee somewhere.

Some of the biggest fights I had with my dad happened behind the wheel of his old pickups where he more than one chose the “just leave her to sort it out” method, and frankly, my pubescent tears of frustration just didn’t allow for that sort of sorting it out.

That’s the flashback I had yesterday when I suggested my husband run me through the workings of the hydraulic bale spear so I can feed cows on my own. I had left chicken baking in the oven, and we brought along the wiggly toddler who wants nothing more than for me to just scooch on out of there and let her take over.

Needless to say, I had a few distractions to blame for me killing it 37 times between my attempts at picking up and rolling the bales out.

But we were in Dad’s pickup, the one with the sticky gears, missing gear knob and seat that doesn’t move forward, so I blame him.

I will always blame him.

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The beasts, in their final resting place. RIP…RIP…

Me and my shadow

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The snow melted into big rivers today, shrinking and sinking the drifts in the draws and creating a glorious slop of mud along our prairie trails and I’m hoping we’ve seen the last of the white stuff for the season.

History has taught me better though.

But we’re honing in on another spring season and I’ll take the warm up where I can get it.

I take to the hilltops like I do every year to check out the thaw.

In my other life the only thing that indicated the passage of another winter was a collection of fresh gray strands in my hair and new lines on my face.

These days it’s chronicled by my shadow…

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It’s my honor to carry this child across this prairie and through the quick tick of the clock, sun up and sun down, spring, summer, fall, winter and then again and again until she can climb these hills herself, without my hand to hold, and find for herself a dry place to lay in the sun the same way my dad taught me to do on the first warm day of spring.

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I hope this place is forever her refuge.

 

Because of the women they were yesterday…

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It’s International Women’s Day.

Yesterday the wind blew snow across the plains at 60 miles per hour at times. I got out of bed at 6 am after a completely sleepless night with my one-year-old. I climbed in the warm shower and got my hair washed and legs shaved. I pulled on my robe and shuffled downstairs to wake my finally sleeping daughter, to kiss her cheeks, to change her diaper, to get her dressed, to send her out the door with her dad so she could spend a day at daycare and I could drive in the wind three hours across the state for work and then drive myself home again hopefully in time to miss the dangerous and snowy dark and to rock my baby to sleep.

I’m a mother living on a 100+ homestead at the end of a long winter.

Some days I feel lonesome and isolated.

Most days I feel fortunate.

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Every day I think of the women in my family who raised kids before me out here on the edge of the badlands before electricity, before telephones, before washing machines and the conveniences of our modern world that make it easier for women like me to pursue my own dreams.

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My grandmother Edith as a young woman helping on her family farm

I wish I could talk about dreams with my great grandmother Gudrun who came to the United States from Norway at sixteen years old and raised twelve children out here in the early 1900s,  in all our brutal seasons.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Great Grandma Gudrun with her twelve children, my grandma Edith in the center in the plaid and bow

I wish I could talk dreams with my grandma Edith, one of Gudrun’s middle daughters, who grew up on that homestead with eleven siblings, married the neighbor boy, taught school children on the reservation next to the ranch, raised three kids and took many others into their small home and worked cattle alongside her husband, making sure breakfast was served in the morning and supper was on the table at night.

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Grandma Edith holding me

I wish I could talk dreams with my great-grandma Eleanore, who raised two boys on her own as a working woman after the war in a time where single mothers weren’t a common thing.

And I am so grateful I can talk dreams with my mother’s mother, my grandma G. I’m grateful that I’ve taken the time to ask her what it meant to raise four girls in the fifties and sixties as a working career woman. I’m grateful she’s shared with me the struggles and accomplishments she’s found so important to her and to the lives of her daughters so that I can better understand how far we’ve come.

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My grandma Ginny with three of her four daughters, two of her four granddaughters and one of her two great granddaughters. 

And more than anything, I am thankful for my own mother who taught me to persevere, to pay attention, to laugh, to be kind, to recognize the struggles and have compassion for those different than you, to never be the victim and to work hard.

Always work hard.

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I have become the woman I am today because of the women they were yesterday. 

Let’s celebrate that strength in our past and look to the future with muscles flexed today. 

For a little motivation, a little celebratory music, here’s “Work Girl.”

A country kid needs a town kid

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Door always open to home of old friend
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-17
http://www.inforum.com
Fargo Forum

I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family’s kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day.

I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver’s license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.

She was one of those friends for me. In the fragile time between elementary school and being ruled adult enough to leave home, she played a role in my adolescence that not only helped me survive it, but made me feel like my quirkiness (weirdness?) was not only accepted, but also appreciated.

I could make her laugh, and she made me feel safe in a friendship at a time in a young girl’s life when friendship is often volatile, fleeting and prone to drama.

(Except for that time in eighth grade when we got the rebellious idea to walk down to the local drug store to pick up a couple boxes of hair dye and disastrously turn her perfectly blonde hair blaze orange and mine a weird color of navy blue, our 20+ years of friendship has been pretty clear of drama.)

I can’t speak for her, but I feel so lucky and sort of surprised by it sometimes. As childhood friends go, our stories are linked in many ways, but in many more ways we are completely opposite.

As a teenager, she was focused, practical and matter-of-fact where I was uncertain about fitting in. I was messy and disheveled; my car was covered in scoria dust and full of pop bottles and dirty socks. I was creative and in my own head, tentatively tipping my toes in the wild edge of bad decisions. She made her bed every day, washed her car in the driveway on the weekends and showed confidence in who she was — solid, studious and pretty well-behaved — no matter who approved.

She was long and lean with coordinated limbs built for sports. I didn’t have an aggressive bone (or muscle) in my body. And while basketball, volleyball and track turned into her high school passions, I traded sports for music, rodeo and high school love.

So our schedules and interests didn’t allow us to easily spend every waking minute together the way many childhood friends are often defined, but I hope she looks back on those days and says I was there when she needed me.

I know I can say that for her. Because if there was a quality I’d like to steal from her (besides those long legs and lungs for long-distance running), it’s that I might be as fiercely loyal.

I’m thinking about her today because we got to spend some time together last weekend as we often do when I head to the big town where she lives with her husband raising two sports-crazed boys between the sidewalks.

Whenever I make a trip there for music or shopping I give her a call and her door— just like it’s always been — is open for her friend who usually rolls up later than planned in a dusty car, plastic bottles and spare mittens spilling out onto the driveway.

Not much has changed as we tallied the years, except we’ve gotten closer. I’m going to give her most of the credit there. My loner and introspective tendencies don’t always make for the best phone-call-maker and catcher-upper. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m humbly aware of, one that’s disconnected me from some of my favorite people. But she’s hung on to me in the ways only people who really understand one another tend to do.

And when I called last weekend to tell her we were going to swing by to say hi on our way to go furniture shopping, she offered to watch Edie to help save our sanity and ultimately feed graham crackers to the next generation of country kid waiting out her time in town.

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Hot Dish and Ice Slabs and how to stay warm in the winter

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Coming Home: Hot dish and ice slabs key to staying warm in the winter
by Jessie Veeder
1-22-16
http://www.inforum.com

Northerners. We like to boast that we’re hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head.

We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup.

We like to say this place isn’t for the faint of heart.

I say these things too, but sometimes while using up a good 40 minutes and all of my back muscles shoveling 200 of the 15,000 pounds of snow off our deck, I start making a list of all of the reasons people live closer to the equator.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now having lived up here for the majority of my life, but the truth is these North Dakota winters have always been hard on me.

The inevitable bitter cold and lack of sunshine starts to convince me that I’m doing all the wrong things in the wrong place and that life is harder and sadder and more desperate than it really is, sending me into a bit of a depression I’m always aware of but have never been successful at curing without help from the weather.

It’s a lonely feeling, but I know I’m not alone in it.

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No matter what we like to say to make ourselves sound tough and resilient I think we all struggle a bit with the deep freeze and endless white of this season. This is what I tell the new residents in my community with southern accents, trudging through the grocery store line in brand new muck boots and knit beanies pulled down over their ears wondering out loud how much colder and how much longer.

I’m not sure it’s hopeful or particularly helpful, but I try to stay as honest as the place that raised me. “It’s cold. It sucks. But we’re all in it together,” I say.

Maybe that’s the key to surviving it, but I think it’s something our ancestors might have been better at, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice between human contact and three billion television shows piped into our living rooms where you can watch other people live their lives in warmer places, like Antarctica or the moon.

But nothing warms your body and lifts your spirits better than living, breathing bodies eating, talking and laughing in a house together.

And lately I’ve been noticing more boots in the entryway and more dishes in the sink, a result of the invites, phone calls and drop-bys that have piled up as family and friends work to beat these winter blues by simply finding ways to be in closer proximity.

Because no matter the plot line, it turns out actually living your life is more interesting than watching pretend people live theirs.

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I suppose that’s what I was thinking when I agreed to be in a weekly curling league, a brand new endeavor organized in my hometown to give the community another cold weather weapon.

Curling is a winter sport that’s been explained as golf on ice, so I have no business being there really, considering it’s a combination of descriptors (ice/golf/sports in general) that have been known to torture me in the past.

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My team consists of my husband, little sister and brother-in-law, and between the four of us, we have about a solid 10 days of actual curling experience, eight of which reside with my husband. But it doesn’t matter, because knowing what we’re doing isn’t the point (although my husband suggested I consider working less on visiting and more on technique).

The point, I think, is the very reason a weird sport that sends you slipping and sliding across the ice yelling “sweep” at your teammates was invented in the first place — because they didn’t have Netflix in the icy tundras of medieval Scotland.

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But, just like us, they had plenty of ice and we might as well use it to get some laughs out of this long, cold season.

Because this place may or may not be for the faint of heart, but maybe by spring I can add curling to the list of reasons people chose North Dakota over Texas.

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A chance to warm up

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Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.

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And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.

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(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.

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I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.

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Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.

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Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.

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