How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps

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Husband and I took a break from the never-ending winter last week, dropped the kids at Nana and Papa’s and headed out on a tropical location. How we wound up in Jamaica alone when we were supposed to be in the Dominican with friends is a story for next week.

This week I’m going to leave you with some tips on how to get out the door with two toddlers. It seems simple enough, but all you parents out there know, there are way more than 20 steps, but I only get so much space in the paper. Anyway, when I wrote this, we still had plenty of snow on the ground, but the air was warming up. When we arrived home from our vacation, we found that snow is quickly turning to mud, which means not as many clothes, but plenty more laundry.  Today Edie added a few more steps to the process as she searched for just the right amount of jewelry and the proper hair bow to put under her snow clothes for a trip to help load cattle, adding another thirty or so steps to this process, so really, you know, it’s not an exact science.

Anyway, if you need me I’ll be catching up on that laundry and itching my sunburn.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps
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So you want to go sledding with two toddlers? Here’s how to do it in only 20 steps.

Step 1: Check the weather. Declare to the entire house that it is now above zero and you are all going outside.

Step 2: Tell the 3-year-old to go find her snow gear while you attempt to wipe all the syrup off of the 1-year-old. Respond to 3-year-old’s cries for help because she can’t find her mittens.

Step 3: Try to find the mittens while wondering why in the bleep you can never find the mittens.

Step 4: Pull the 1-year-old out of the pantry that you forgot she could open. Sweep up the sugar she was eating.

Step 5: Marvel at the way your 3-year-old’s body can transform into an instant limp noodle while you attempt to get her rubber band legs into her snow pants. Leave her lying on the rug half-dressed while threatening to cancel Christmas if she doesn’t, literally, straighten up.

Step 6: Start sweating.

Step 7: Locate the 1-year-old in the kitchen. Clean up the 5,000 plastic baggies she has pulled out of the box.

Step 8: Lay the puffy toddler-sized snowsuit out on the floor and attempt to wrangle the wiggly little child’s limbs into each proper compartment.

Step 9: Dig out her little hands and spend the next 45 minutes trying to get them into her mittens. Allow the same time frame for the snow boots.

Step 10: Set that tiny human down on the ground to waddle around. Cry at the cuteness. Also, wonder where you put her beanie.

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Step 11: Start searching for the beanie all over the house, declaring to whoever is in the house with you (which is likely just your children) that it’s the only one she will keep on her head and what the heck could you have possibly done with it, you just had it a second ago for crying out loud!

Step 12: Check on the 3-year-old, who is sitting at her little table fully outfitted in her snow gear and fully invested in a coloring project she has to be convinced to abandon for the sledding hill.

Step 13: Realize you should have taken her to the potty before you started all of this. Continue your search for the missing hat.

Step 14: Give up on the missing hat. Locate smaller, less practical hat and squeeze that on the 1-year-old’s head. Notice that she’s taken off her mittens and one boot’s now laying on the kitchen floor. Repeat Step 9.

Step 15: Hastily pull on your own snow gear as your tiny, puffy humans crowd around you. Hurry now, Momma — each passing second is a second one of them could pull off a mitten.

Step 16: Declare joyfully, “Let’s go!” — and then take the 20-minute waddle–style trip down the steps, past the kitty (stop for a pet) and out the front door.

Step 17: Plop puffy children into sleds and proceed to pull them toward the sledding hill. Continue sweating, as previously indicated in Step 6, while you vow to start a workout program tomorrow.

Step 18: Take three runs down the hill, all while yelling at the dogs to stop licking and jumping on the children. Have the time of your life for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or the time it takes for someone to lose a boot.

Step 19: Carry one crying, slippery, puffy child on your hip while pulling the other limp noodle child toward home.

Step 20: Undress the children as fast as you can because now you have to pee. Discover that the missing hat was zipped up in the 1-year-old’s puffy snowsuit the whole time. Swear. Sweat. Repeat Steps 1-20 tomorrow.

 

A song for strong women

On International Women’s Day I think it’s appropriate to share this video of my song “Work,” inspired by my Norwegian immigrant Great Grandmother Gundrun, and all the women who have built (and are currently building) their muscles out here in this cold, rough, beautiful landscape. 

“Strong women
may we know them
may we be them
may we raise them.”

Wilderness Dreams

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Coming Home:Wilderness dreams come back on days like this
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When I was a little girl all wrapped up in the magic of this place, my favorite book of was “My Side of the Mountain,” a story about a boy who finds himself living alone in the wilderness inside of a giant hollowed out tree.

I still have the book buried somewhere in this house, holding all the secrets to adventure like all the books I loved about kids taming horses and dogs and braving wild prairie storms. Forget after school microwave popcorn and “Super Mario Bros.” — I wanted real adventure!

I’m sure I wasn’t unlike most kids at 9 or 10 years old. We all had a little more confidence than we had experience, so maybe it wasn’t unusual that I was convinced I could survive out in the wilderness alone. Without a house. Or a toilet. Or my mom’s cheeseburger chowder. Yeah, there was a time that was my plan.

In the evenings, I would step off the bus and head up the creek behind our house to work on building what I called “secret forts.” In the oaks and brush that grew along the bank, I would I use every muscle in my spindly body to collect and relocate every fallen log within a 200-foot radius to lean against a bent tree, creating a leaky little tent. And when it was complete, I would look around to make sure my little sister hadn’t followed me here, ruining the whole secrecy thing.

And then I would lay down under the flawed “shelter” of 50 logs to think about my next step. Make plans for a door. And a blanket. And rocks for a firepit.

But as the dark crept in, I would decide I wasn’t quite ready to spend the night, emerging to follow the cow trail back toward the house where supper was warm and waiting. For months, this was my daily ritual, and one of my signature childhood memories.

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I thought I wanted to be alone out there, left to my own survival skills, but it turned out that having company was a nice addition. So eventually I gave in and helped my little sister build her own fort. A much smaller fort. Across the creek. Out of site.

We built a tin-can telephone that stretched from my fort to hers and brought down old chair cushions from the shed, tried to catch frogs and spent our evenings planning our next move — spending the night. But we never did it.

Summer gave way to fall, and the leaves fell and covered the floor of our paradise. We would pull on our beanies and trudge down the freezing creek to clear out the fire ring we weren’t yet brave enough to use. And then the cold set in and the snow came and the neighbor girls called us to go sledding, and our wilderness dream waited on a warmer season.

I can’t help but think about those girls on days like these. Days when the cold sets in, burned casserole from the night before sits waiting for a cleanup on my countertop and the dark, naked trees behind my grown-up house seem to call to me to come out from behind these walls.

Come have an adventure, girl.

I step outside and let the frozen air fill my lungs and bite my cheeks. I step outside and miss my sister. I step outside and I’m alone with a woman who used to be a girl I knew, a girl who thought she could tame coyotes, break unbreakable horses and live alone in the wild.

I step outside to look for her. I know she’s here somewhere, waiting for me to come and play.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

What’s normal anyway?

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What’s normal anyway?
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On the evening of Christmas Day, after all the gifts were opened, the leftovers were boxed up and the goodbye hugs were given, we arrived home to our house in the middle of nowhere to discover an open front door, a bag of scattered garbage and every boot in the entryway missing.

In another setting, I imagine one’s mind might have automatically thought “burglar.” But in my life, my husband just mumbled, “Apparently the dog can get our new front door open” as he trudged with his arms full of bundled-up babies through that open door.

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As I wandered around my yard the next morning, shielding my eyes against the sun reflecting off acres and acres of fresh, sparkling snow under which any one of my boots could be lying (and hopefully not shredded), I couldn’t help but think that these are not the sort of problems normal people have.

Unless, of course, you live on a ranch in rural North Dakota. In that case, I’m guessing you’re with me here. You’re also with me on the thrill of the weekend morning drive to town without the kids so that you can stock up on a grocery supply that fills the deep freeze and hopefully lasts a few weeks.

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And if you’re from rural North Dakota, or maybe anywhere up here in the great white north, please tell me I’m not the only one who has found herself and that overfilled cart stuck wheels-deep in the snow-packed parking lot on the way to the car. Like, so stuck I needed assistance from the nice lady who just pulled into her spot to witness me spinning out and grunting profanities under my breath in failed shove after failed shove to free it.

“No, these are not the sort of problems normal people have,” I thought again as I unwrapped the celebratory doughnut I purchased to eat on the 30-mile drive home… and then the second one because I was alone in my car with no one there to judge me…

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And, when I arrived home, I muttered it yet again, because after all that effort I forgot the milk and had to call a neighbor on the hunt for an ingredient I needed for my New Year’s Eve party dip. Because I swore I bought it, but it could have flipped out of the cart in my efforts to free it from the grips of the winter parking lot, or maybe it is in my car, just living in the black hole of space where the sippy cups, Froot Loops and missing gloves go to die.

Next time I accidentally lock the barn cat in my car while unloading the kids, I’m sure she’ll find it and have a front-seat feast, just like she did with my missing package of cashews a few weeks back — which was a welcomed clue to her existence before I accidentally drove her to a meeting in town.

Which, judging from the cat in a sweater I saw being pushed around in a stroller at the airport last month, showing up to a meeting with a cat might actually be normal everywhere but here. I don’t know anymore.

Happy New Year, you weirdos!

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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A song for a new season

A song for a new season
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If I could fill my page with words to make up an ending to each season that has given us her all — glorious orange sunsets and wildflower purple and the deep, dark blue of the rain — I would give the wind a voice.

And his voice would be deep and coarse as he reminisced about the way the grass bent beneath him as he worked to push the storms through the buttes and over the prairies. He would tell us how he worried it might dry up, or maybe how he thought the big banks of snow might never disappear and he would cry about the flames he can’t keep from rising, and he would declare, “It has to be, it has to be, just like I must take the leaves from your trees.”

And then he would laugh a big laugh at the way our hair stands on end when he comes around and how we lean into him out here. If I wrote the book, I’d make the wind tell us.

If I could paint the most beautiful cooldown, I would splash the canvas with gold and rich pinks and burgundy hues. I would use my soft brush to give the sky more clouds, thousands of clouds, for the sun to reflect her light and choreograph her show. And I would paint her glow on horses’ backs and splash her down between the shadows of the trees where the deer go to water.

And next to the barn, the cats would bask in the light — the light I would make live forever if I could, or at least to live on that canvas in the space between day and night, sun and storm, warm and cold…

If I could paint the cooldown, I would use all of my brushes. And if I were to sing an encore for the season’s end, I would put the chorus on the wings of the geese so as they catch the wind and touch those clouds, it would ring familiar and in harmony with the croak of the frogs taking a breath in the creek bed to “ooh” and “aah” along..

And then, the wild elk bedded down in the tall yellow grass would throw their heads back and bugle a sad song of goodbye, the crickets would hush and the coyotes would take to the hilltops. The kittens would purr softly, the mice would hold still already and the cattle would stop their chewing to hear as the verses moved from the crocus to long days and onto cool rain and the smell of snow coming…

And then, the song would swell and blend with the howling dogs in the yard and the last screech of the red-tailed hawk as the bridge pushed through to the sound of the geese fading out, heading south.

And in their place would be only the sounds of winter.

And a palette of blues and grays, a familiar wind to remind us and a new quiet chorus repeating

Small things

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A few small things
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I love standing on the top of the hills around our house and scanning the horizon and the ribbon of road below me to see who might be coming or going — the sun, a neighbor, an oil field worker on his way home.

But often I feel like looking closer to see what’s happening underneath the grass, in the shady cool places of the ranch. All those small pieces that make up the mosaic of this landscape fascinate me.

In my other life, before the babies came, I would spend my evenings in my walking shoes, enjoying quiet moments out in our pastures. My favorite was when my husband would come along and we would wander together, slow and hushed along the deer trails, noticing how the dragonflies swoop and swerve, their delicate and transparent wings reflecting the sun.

Pushing a path alongside the beaver dam, the late summer cattails fuzz and the flowers hang on in the shade, staying cool and crisp as they reach for small glimmers of sun peeking through the trees. On the surface of the creek, the water bugs stay rowing and afloat by some combination of mechanics or magic above the school of minnows flashing their silver bellies in the hot sunlight.

I look at him; we look up at the birch tree branches. He looks at me and I tell him to watch for mushrooms growing on trees and chokecherries and the plums in the draw.

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And we walk. Along that creek that runs between the two places and down to the neighbors’, through beaver dams and stock dams and ponds where the frogs croak wildly. We would clear a path through bullberry brush and dry clover up to our armpits, jumping over washouts and scrambling up eroded banks, noticing how some oak trees have fallen, hollowed out and heavy with the weight of their age, the weight of a world that keeps changing, no matter if a human eye ever sweeps past it or inspects it or theorizes about it, or tries to save it. It changes.

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We’ve been married 12 years now, but I’ve loved this person since I was a just a kid. Three years ago on those quiet walks, we could only imagine a time in our lives where moments like these would have to be planned and adjusted to accommodate baby bedtimes, bathtimes and suppertime schedules.

That our life and our living room would be covered in noise and toys and new tiny moments we’ve created on our own that now hold their own mystery.

And I used to wish that this man and I would walk together in the coulees in these acres for a lifetime, with eyes wide to the small things that live and thrive and swim and crawl and grow outside our door.

And now, I hope that for us and for our own little creatures living and growing and crawling and thriving inside of these doors so that we might all move together in life like we moved through those trees — switching leads, pointing out beauty, asking questions, being silent, stepping forward, taking time and loving the moment … and one another in it.

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Hoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

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My husband used to have a big yellow dog that would pull him around town on his Rollerblades. Young, strong and full of heart, the two of them flew through the quiet streets of our hometown, back when Rollerblades were cool and so was he.

I never knew the Chad that existed before that dog. They called him Rebel, except the only rebellious thing about him was that he’d take a cracked door as an invitation to go wandering.

Before Rebel, Chad’s family had a pup named Cookie. I never knew Cookie or the young boy my husband was when he loved that dog except I saw the home movie his parents took when they surprised their boys with her.

Chad always described it as one of the best and most exciting days of his childhood, so I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the footage of that young kid standing so stoic and serious with that puppy in his arms, willing away his fidgety little brother with the darts of his eyes.

Last night, my husband and I started talking about our new border collie pup, a welcome addition after we lost the lab we had since we got married 12 years ago today. We are excited to see what kind of cow-dog she might become.

And then, without really realizing it, we started recounting our memories together according to which animals were there loving us, bucking us off, running away, getting hurt, growing old and teaching us lessons along the way.

“So, I starting hanging around you when you just got that horse, Tex,” he recalled.

“And my old mare Rindy, you remember her,” I said, reminding him of the first time I took him riding at the ranch and how I wanted to impress him so badly that my enthusiastic attempt at a graceful mount on her bare back resulted in me landing in a heap on the other side.

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Then there was his mom’s dog, Phoebe, who got her through the sadness of an empty nest, and our cat, Belly, who was so bonded with my little sister that we all got to watch her give birth to kittens on the beanbag chair in her bedroom.

And I never thought about measuring a good life by the good animals who witnessed us growing up, heartful and heartbroken, falling in and out of love with people and life and learning how to let go and hold on tight to one another or the big plans we’ve made and changed a million times.

They’re along with us, on the end of a leash, the reins or the bed, steady and predictable.

“Cowboy’s close to 20,” my husband realized then about the young bay horse that made a cowboy out of that lovestruck teenager.

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Seems like time wears itself thinner on the backs of the beasts we love until, one day, we catch ourselves remembering them and the scruff of their fur and the click of their paws on the pavement and how they pulled us through when we were young, strong and full of heart.

In the name of the fair

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Fair season is winding down up here in the great hot north. I hit up my third fair of the year last weekend, this time without the kids, to sing under the watchful eye of the world’s biggest Holstein cow. On the other side of the building 4-H kids stood, shoulders back, showing off the sheep or goat or steer they’d been working to feed up, groom and halter train all summer, unaware of just how many life lessons were packed into that project.

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We took the long, impromptu trek to the state fair a few weekends back with, meeting up with a bunch of family. I bought my two-year-old a wrist band and she fearlessly jumped on every ride she was tall enough to sit in.

I mean, she didn’t even bat an eye at the thought of reaching the top of the Ferris Wheel. She just grabbed her cousin’s hand and off she went growing up and I stood below, watching and wondering if I should start worrying now about her sense of adventure.

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Like, should I be hiding my husband’s dirt bike already?

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I suppose she comes by it honestly when it comes to carnival rides. When I was a kid, the bigger and faster, the better. And so when I had to accompany her on a ride that spun and jerked around a bit, I happily obliged, even though the seats were ripped and like five out of the ten carts were out of order. We squealed and laughed and then squealed and laughed some more as it jerked us around and spun us in circles…for like six hours. Seriously, the ride lasted forever. It gave us our first opportunity at a mother/daughter ESP moment as we looked at each other, wincing, both trying to will it to stop while I seriously questioned my parenting choice of hotdog before spinny ride.

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But we lived and we headed to the livestock barns to check out the pigs, goats, and cattle and grab an ice cream.

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Oh I love a good fair. The county fair was my favorite weekend of the summer growing up, because I was and always will be, a project person. And so I did projects. And showed horses and looked forward to one of the few times in the summer that I got to stay long hours in town and hang out with my friends.

And so I was eager to take my two-year-old to her first county fair this year…and, well, here’s how it went.

In the name of the fair
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It was 175 degrees and 200 percent humidity. I knew because my hair told me soon as I sat up in bed.

The higher the hair, the closer to God, and I got closer to God with each passing, sweltering hour.

It was 175 degrees and 200 percent humidity, so I did what any good and reasonably sane mother would do: I loaded up the kids and went to the county fair in town.

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Because this was our only chance before they packed up the carnival and quilting projects, put the horses away, sold all the 4-H steers and took the show rabbits off of ice and back home to safety.

Plus, they were selling giant glasses of freshly squeezed lemonade, which taste really good after lugging a 30-pound 2-year old across the parking lot because she suddenly wants to “hold you.”

Yeah, if only she could hold me. “One day child, one day,” I said quietly to myself, her sweat melting into my sweat as she began sliding down my legs at the food stand where the two of us had a 175-degree decision to make between pizza or hamburgers while my nephew spun around us in the wheels he strapped to his shoes so he “wouldn’t have to expend so much energy.”

Kid had the right idea. So did the lady who took one look at me as I trudged across the asphalt dragging a wagonful of children as if I was on the last legs of a yearlong trek across the Sahara. She handed me a handful of Popsicles and saved my life.

Ah, the county fair. It’s always hot at the county fair.

Unless it’s hot and windy.

Or windy and raining.

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I stuck one Popsicle down my shirt and handed the melting children the rest and continued our journey past the livestock sale toward the carnival for a flashback to all of the sweat that trickled into my eyes when I was a 4-H kid standing in my long-sleeved white shirt holding on tight to the halter of my clean-enough horse.

Which reminded me of the once-a-year horse-washing ritual I would perform on my mare in the grassy backyard, complete with hose, Mane ‘nTail and a ShowSheen finish only to wake up to an open gate and a horse that escaped to the nearest mudhole. That happened more than once.

But still, we persist. In 175 degrees or 175 mph winds. In the name of the county fair. And big, godly hair.

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It isn’t always money that makes us rich

Even without much money, family can make us rich
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When we were young kids, my little sister came home from a weekend with her friend spent four-wheeling and boating on the big lake and asked my dad if we were poor.

Because somewhere between kicking up dust and riding the boat’s wake she realized what they had that we didn’t, and she wondered why.

Ah, comparison. It happened to my little sister earlier than it happened to me, but eventually we all outgrow our childish blinders to notice the things that make you comprehend we aren’t all created equal here.

I find myself struggling with this as I work on growing my children up in a world that strongly suggests that life is happier with more things in it. Bikes and cute clothes, an iPad with endless games, a toy-barn full of toy cows, a big sandbox, one of those lawn mowers that spits out bubbles as it goes and more space in the house to make a mess with it all.

Just this month I ordered my kids a big ol’ playset to go in the backyard, something that I never had as a kid, would have loved, but did just fine without. And knowing what needs to come of those four big boxes in my driveway, it looks like my girls might be off to college by the time we get the thing set up.

Then last week I stood under our big old barn reaching up toward a blue sky with an armful of the winter’s bale twine and a fresh cow pie squished under the heel of my boot. I was cleaning up the pens and tack room, sorting and organizing in an attempt get ready for the weekend’s branding.

 

 

 

I was sweaty and dirty and a little on edge from all of the mice running for their lives from under every grain bucket I moved and I was sort of cussing us for not keeping on top of the work out here and for not having nicer equipment, more organized outbuildings, well-kept fences and a bigger, nicer house that could accommodate all the family and friends we expected that weekend.

I looked up at that big old barn and the breeze blew the scent of that freshly squished cow pie to my lungs and I smiled.

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I don’t know how my dad answered my little sister that day, but if my children ever ask I’ll be sure to reply, “The list of things we won’t be able to give you could fill pages…

“But the scatter of those mice, the scent of the plum blossoms in the coulees in the spring, the ache of your muscles after a long day in a saddle, tangled-up hair and jeans that won’t come clean, forever knowing the sound quiet makes as day turns into night, the flicker of the fireflies and watching them glow so unafraid of the dark as we stand together on the deck of a home that, thank God, will never be big enough to hold all of the people we love, well children, I think we might actually be rich.”

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