Something To Be Proud Of

That’s something to be proud of; that’s a life you can hang your hat on.” -Montgomery Gentry

My Grandpa Wayne would be 90 years old this week. He died this past August, just two months shy of nine decades. I can’t let this week pass by without reflecting on that nine-decades long, amazing life. He was, as he liked to say about others, “quite a guy.”

My earliest memories of Grandpa Wayne revolve around my grandparents’ farm in northeastern North Dakota west of Grand Forks, where my grandpa lived in his boyhood and which provided my grandparents’ livelihood later in their lives. Mostly, I remember him working. But I also remember him pouring himself a root beer, fizzing over ice, in his blue plastic cup before settling into his easy chair after a long day working on the farm. I remember him lying on his side on the shaggy green carpet, playing a game of solitaire during a few minutes of rest. I remember driving with him to town in his old green “town car,” which he would park in front of the gas station to buy my brothers and I a couple candy bars. He worked hard, like to tease us, and let us drive his golf cart, which was undoubtedly my first-ever experience driving.

But his life started long before my early memories of him. He was born in October 1931, the first child of his parents Clara and Syver, at his grandmother’s house in town. (I often wonder, did Clara experience the same joy and trepidation at my grandpa’s birth that I did when my first son was born?) He was raised on a farm as a boy during the Great Depression and World War II. His father Syver died in a terrible blizzard in 1941, leaving behind his wife and five children with a sixth on the way. His mother Clara remarried a couple of years later, resulting in a blended family with a total of 9 kids.

After high school, Grandpa Wayne enlisted in the Army as a paratrooper. He narrowly missed being sent to Korea because he took a typing class in high school, and the supply room at Fort Bragg in North Carolina needed someone who could type. Home on furlough in 1951, he ran into my grandma, Marilyn Hendrickson, at a dance. He had brought another girl to the dance (my grandpa said she was pretty; my grandma said she wasn’t) but ended up giving my grandma a ride home that evening instead. The rest was history. Their first summer of marriage was spent on a military base in Utah; the next six months were spent apart as he continued living on the base and she went back to her teaching job at a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie.

After the Army, Grandpa Wayne worked for the Michigan elevator, drove a delivery truck for Sweetheart Bread, and worked as a farm hand. He finally got the chance to farm for himself when he and my grandma first rented, then purchased, his stepfather’s farm where he had lived as a boy. My grandparents had three children, my mom the first, and spent the next several decades farming. The years of their last decade farming start to overlap with my early memories mentioned above. In 1996, they retired and moved to Bismarck to be close to us.

Even in retirement, Grandpa Wayne was never one to sit around. He set up a woodshop in his garage, where he made furniture and wood boxes. Then he started coming up to our farm in McKenzie County to help my dad during planting and harvest. Lucky us, because we got to work alongside our grandpa for almost 20 summers. After he got macular degeneration and couldn’t drive himself, we would give him rides back and forth from Bismarck. He always told the best stories on those car rides about growing up, serving in the Army, and farming. But as soon as we got to the farm he’d be off, tooling around on four wheelers and farm equipment and his little S10 pickup.

We always said he was better at operating equipment with only a little eyesight than we all were with full eyesight.

Grandpa Wayne passed away early in the morning on August 30, 2021. He was simply the best, coolest guy around. I loved his stories, his sense of humor, his work ethic, and his steady presence in our lives. In recent years, he loved when I would stop by with my boys. He would say, “That Kasen, he’s fast” or “That Finn, he looks like he’ll be a football player.” He would always slip me a couple $20 bills and say I needed diaper money. He finally got to meet Grady in person this past April, after almost a year of nothing but window visits. That is the last photo below.

It hurts to think of life without Grandpa Wayne, and I imagine it will for a while. That’s the price you pay for loving and admiring someone so much. But his life was something for him, and the rest of us, to be proud of. I’m proud to tell his stories to my boys as they grow, and to make sure they know that nothing comes for free without a little hard work (except diaper money now and then, if you’re lucky).

Happy 90th birthday, Grandpa Wayne. Thank you for everything.


Defining Adventure

I just came back to resurrect my blog – and found this in the drafts folder. Apparently I never got around to publishing it 5 years ago, so I’m publishing it now! More to come soon.

Just like that, summer – and my maternity leave – is almost over. I have one full week left before little guy goes to daycare, I start my eighth year of teaching, and we settle into a rhythm that we haven’t had to deal with yet. I’m not ready, but then again, I wasn’t ready for little guy to arrive in April, either, and that turned out just fine.

It will be an adjustment, but adjust we will. When school starts, I will get the inevitable question, “Did you do anything fun this summer?” In the past, my answers would have included adventurous things like a trip with girlfriends to Ireland and Scotland, backpacking in Glacier, or a last-minute vacation to Boston with the hubby. This summer, my answer is pretty tame. We went to Minnesota for a week and to South Dakota for a friend’s wedding, but mostly, I was a mom for the first time.

Which got me thinking. While I was pregnant, I heard so many things like, “Enjoy your freedom now, because those days will soon be over!” Was my freedom this summer indeed over? Well, yes, in many ways it was. I couldn’t jump in a car like I used to, and it’s a lot harder to get any work done around here. When little guy takes his one guaranteed nap every morning, I have a decision to make: Should I shower and get ready? Make myself a tasty breakfast? Do a few minutes of uninterrupted housework? or learn how to use that new vinyl machine I’ve been meaning to use all summer? (Breakfast usually wins, FYI.)

Here’s the thing: I can’t complain at all. I love being a mom. I love being married. And before that, I loved being a non-mom and non-married. The most important thing, whether you are a new parent, single with no kids, married with 3 dogs, or retired with 35 grandchildren: Just do you! I spent most of my twenties unmarried and didn’t have my first baby until I was 31. And it worked for me. And if you got married at 21 and already have 8 kids at age 31, and that works for you, great! I have found that in the world of parenting, a lot of comments get thrown around. Too many parents tell non-parents how good they have it, how much “freedom” they have. Too many single people tell married people how good they have it. Too many mothers of two tell mothers of one how much harder life will be when they have two, and too many mothers of three tell mothers of two how much harder life will be when they have three, and so on, and so on.

When I tell people how easy my baby has been, and how he sleeps through the night, I get more scoffs: “Just wait until your next one!” or “Your second one will probably be awake all night every night.” How do they know?

Here’s the thing: We all are where we all are. We don’t know all the details of other people’s backstories. What if we didn’t tell others that life is about to get worse? What if we acknowledged that every phase of life has joys and challenges alike? What if we let people be happy where they are right now?

We have a sign in our son’s bedroom that says, “You are our greatest adventure.” Previously, I might have defined adventure as going on an exciting trip to try exciting new things. Now, an adventure is taking my baby to town and scoping out a new walking path for us and the stroller. I’m sure some non-parents might roll their eyes at this definition of “adventure,”  and some parents of four might roll their eyes at the idea that just one baby is an adventure – “one baby is so easy” after all, right? But really, adventure is just taking a step into the unknown – like moving away from home for the first time. Joining a college team. Getting that first job. Refusing to get a job right out of college. Having a first baby. Having a fourth baby. Adopting a baby. Traveling the world. Really, adventure is anything that scares us just a little bit – but we do it anyway. And when we find out it’s ok, after all, we deserve to be happy that we took that step.

My summer adventure of learning to be a mom, while different than my past summer adventures, has been a great one. My little guy and I won’t be spending as much time together after next week, but that will be an adventure too. And if your adventure this summer was a camping trip, good for you. If it was traveling to China, good for you. If it was adopting a puppy or moving or having a third baby or finally tackling that house remodel or buying a pop-up camper, good for you. Let’s let each other be happy and proud, wherever we are at.

Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Teachers. Colleagues. Siblings.

Once upon a time, in 2009, I started my first year of teaching in a little western North Dakota town. Shortly after, my younger brother Tommy decided he was going to be a teacher too. A few years later, our last brother Joey also declared that he was going to become a teacher.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we all taught together at the same school?” one of us joked.

Fast forward to 2016: Tommy and I both accepted positions at the same school last year, which was pretty awesome and which I wrote about at the time. Then, this year, I held my breath as Joey graduated from college and looked around for jobs, because there happened to be one open here. I hoped he would apply, and he did. Then, I held my breath hoping that he would get offered the job. He did. Then, I kept my fingers crossed that he would accept.

After considering whether he really wanted to become an adult yet, he did.

Granted, Joey is in a different building in our district than Tommy and myself, which put a slight damper on the whole thing, but when I showed up at the first day of back-to-school district workshops and had two brothers there in the same room, I thought that was pretty neat.

Who would have thought that the joke someone made years ago would come true?

The three of us were quite a trio growing up. I, the older sister, took on the role of second mother to them, which included anything from changing diapers, getting them dressed, and making Malt-O-Meal, to downright bossing them around. Danny, the brother right behind me, flitted in and out of our tight-knit circle of three, but he was close to my age and he didn’t need a second mother. He was more often with our two older brothers, playing army guys and video games and sports. Tommy and Joey, though, were young enough to actually enjoy my interfering in their lives. They were game for all the pretending I came up with; they made forts with me, they pretended to be puppies or kitties or whatever I could get them enthused about that day – at Christmas, it was reindeer- and they played along with my invented games on the trampoline.


I take the blame for all of the dressing up they were “forced” to do, by the way.

As we all grew older, I drove them to baseball games and art lessons and the swimming pool. We worked together, hoeing trees and moving grain trucks and picking up groceries for my mom from the big towns. When my dad went on an endless number of road trips to meetings and auctions, we often tagged along – my little brothers, as a way for my dad to give my mom a break, and me, as a way for my dad to ensure that my little brothers would actually be watched over on these trips. I was officially their chauffeur, their 4-H leader, often their cook when my mom was busy, and their supervisor. Someone had to make sure they were earning their keep around the house, darn it.


In 2016, things are different. They’re not the “little” boys anymore. We are now not only siblings, but colleagues. Co-workers. Friends – which, then again, is still the same as it’s always been. Having two brothers in the district is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, one that we can look back on fondly and tell our kids about someday. And that’s not the whole of it: our brother Danny has been a basketball coach in the district for several years. Last year, he and Tommy coached together, and they actually look so much alike that some of their own players couldn’t even distinguish them from each other. Furthermore, Tommy’s wife Olivia works in one of the school libraries. That’s right: Five of us with the same last name have worked in this small district in recent years.

And yet, they keep hiring us….


But seriously, how great is that?

Musings, North Dakota Living

A Different Summer and a Full Heart

Just like that, summer – and therefore my maternity leave – is almost over. In a little over a week, the little guy will go to full time daycare, I will start my eighth year of teaching, and we will settle into a routine that we haven’t had to deal with yet.

It’s been a different summer for me. When I return to school next week, I will get the inevitable question, “Did you do anything fun this summer?” In the past, my answers would have included adventurous responses like, Oh yes, I went to Ireland and Scotland with a couple girlfriends, or, My husband and I went on a last-minute trip to Boston, or, I went backpacking in Glacier National Park with my brother and his friends. And so on.

But this summer, I’ve had a different kind of adventure: I’ve been learning how to be a mom. A sign in little guy’s nursery aptly says, “You are our greatest adventure.” In the old days, I might have scoffed at the idea that an adventure would consist of staying home with a baby and trying to get things done in 10- or 20-minute spurts, between feedings and changings and walks with the stroller. But really, isn’t an “adventure” something that is new, exciting, and scares us a bit? In that case, having a baby is definitely an adventure. It’s arguably one of the most fun ones, too.

My summer is also different because I’m not helping with harvest much. For the first time in almost 20 years, I’m not packing morning lunches and rushing out to combine as we push to get as much harvest done as possible before half of the “help” has to go back to school. Being a new mom this summer, I’ve been let off the hook. It turns out new babies are one of the (very) few things that actually take precedence over harvest. That’s just an understood fact in my family, even though most of us are now grown-ups. Had my husband and I set our wedding during harvest, I’m not completely sure half of my family would have shown up. Luckily, I’m not that dumb.

It’s been kind of nice having one less demand, I must admit. For one thing, I actually get to watch some of the summer Olympics. For another, I get to think about school BEFORE the first day of school. (Not that I’m doing much more than thinking.) But when my husband walked in the other night with the familiar smell of combine cab lingering on his shirt, I felt a little bummed out to be missing it. I’ve written many times before about my love for harvest. I love the excitement and comraderie. Also, like teaching, nothing in harvest is guaranteed except that it’s bound to get interesting. For example, your combine might start a field on fire and burn down 500 acres. You might lose your combine brakes while careening down a hill toward a bull standing in the middle of the gravel road, thinking man, hitting a bull with my combine is a crappy way to go, for at least one of us. You might even have poop thrown at your combine windshield as a “joke” by one of your siblings.

Hint: two of these things happened to me. The other one happened to one of my brothers.

Last night, I brought hamburgers out to the field for the guys. Of course, I brought  the little man along, so he got his first taste of a family tradition – supper in the field.

That was pretty neat.




And today, when my dad mentioned he would like some help before the possible rains come tomorrow, I decided to leave the little guy with husband and combine for a couple hours. It was good getting back in that cab and settling down to watch the reel spin, barley stalks falling like waves into the header. It was good being out there listening to the familiar hums and rattles of the combine. It was good seeing my dad across the field in his combine, and my brother dropping off another truck to fill.


All of that was pretty neat too.

Tonight I’m back at home sitting with my little guy on the couch. We’re watching Olympic swimming. And my heart is full with this new “adventure” next to me kicking his legs to beat the band, and with the memories of all my old adventures, and with this summer that flew by way too fast, and with harvest traditions, and with my upcoming school year…

and with the fact that my baby just peed all over the wall next to the couch. That’s what I get for writing instead of replacing his diaper right away. Must have been inspired by all that splashing in the Olympic pool.

Good thing he’s cute!


Musings, North Dakota Living

A Girl and Her Horse

Sometimes in July, when I am driving through the badlands and the long rays of the setting sun are splaying out over the landscape, a memory comes flooding back to me. It’s a memory of a young girl and a chocolate chestnut Morgan horse, a young girl and a horse who loved each other. At least, the girl very much loved the horse, and she was convinced the horse loved her back.

That girl, of course, was me. This horse came into my life when I was young and tender and obsessed with all things horse. I had an entire bookshelf filled with books like Black BeautyMisty of Chincoteague, My Friend Flicka, and Thunderhead. I had a crate full of “Grand Champion” brand toy horses with names like Firefly, Winnie, Midnight, and Buck. (And yes, I think I could still tell you all their names if I pulled them off the shelf in my old bedroom.) I had a board game called “Herd Your Horses.” If no one would play with me, I would study the game cards that taught young horse enthusiasts about breeds, markings, and colors. I had one reference book about horses that I read many times from cover to cover. (Usually, I skipped the informative but rather shocking section about breeding. The ways we learn, eh?)

In real life, I had grown up riding rather unruly real-life horses from time to time, horses belonging to my Grandpa or maybe an aunt or uncle. These horses and ponies had names like Copper, Pepper, Alexander, and Squirt. But when I was 10, my dad decided we should have our own horses again, as it had been many years since we’d had any. He looked around and settled on a three-year-old, strong-willed sorrel quarter horse named Jackson.

Jackson was a lot of horse for a 10-year-old girl, and after one particularly nasty fall that involved a five-gallon pail, a bareback gallop, and my dad landing on top of me, I was done with him. I wouldn’t ride anymore. So the next summer, my dad, in an attempt to get me riding again, looked around again. This time, he found the perfect horse: A gentle Morgan horse named Kenny. It was a match made in heaven. He was older than Jackson and smaller, and I fell in love instantly. Most importantly, he was mine; my dad bought him specifically for me.

I’m not quite sure why I’m not smiling here, but it’s my earliest picture with Kenny:


Here we are a little older (my dad is on Jackson):

img 1

I could write on and on about the memories I have of that horse, memories of trail rides, cattle drives, parades, and one week at a horse camp in Bottineau. We spent eight blissful summers together.

img 2

It should have been more, but you see, 14 years ago this week our time together was cut short. The first real tragedy of my young life happened on a beautiful July day like many of the days we’ve been having this month.

Rather than tell you the story from my 31-year-old self, I thought maybe my 17-year-old self could tell it, because recently I came across an essay I had written that fall after I returned to school for my senior year of high school. Our assignment for English class was to write about an “autobiographical incident,” and of course, still grieving, I wrote about Kenny. Here it is:


The shrill ring of the telephone cut through the doldrums of household chores on a warm summer afternoon. It was July 25, 2002. I answered and was somewhat relieved to hear my mom’s voice, as she and my dad were supposed to arrive home more than three hours earlier. The relief only lasted a moment. “Rachel?” she began. “I’m afraid I have some bad news… We’ve had a bit of an accident with Kenny.” With those words, I felt as though I had taken a kick to the stomach, and my carefree and happy summer was thrown into a turmoil of tears and heartache.

Kenny was my horse. I remember the day my dad brought him home. He was 10 years old; I was 11 and afraid of horses ever since a bad fall from our spirited quarter horse the year before. But something about the gentle chocolate chestnut horse standing in our yard drew me to him, and from the moment I sat in that saddle, I knew I had found “my” horse. Everyone loved him, because he was perfect. He was gentle and honest, but he had a spirited, slightly mischievous side. We often raced with my cousins in the midst of laughter and flying manes and tails. Kenny didn’t like to lose a race, but even if he did, he was still the best horse in my view.

The summers we spent together were magical. We chased cows, climbed buttes, and raced through tree rows at top speed. He alone was privy to many of my secrets, problems, and fears. I had days that I didn’t feel like riding, but once I got in the saddle everything was good again. But that Thursday in July changed everything.

My parents had gone riding on the Maah Daah Hey Trail of the Badlands that morning. The terrain was rough as they attempted to make their way back, so Mom decided it was best to get off Kenny and lead him. Thats when the accident happened: Kenny’s back feet slipped from a ledge, and in his attempt to scramble back up, the ledge collapsed and he fell about 13 feet off the embankment, landing on his back. He couldn’t get up; his back legs were useless. He lay quietly in the gully as my parents waited for a vet, who said there might be a chance that Kenny would be ok.

After I hung up the phone, I tried to keep myself busy. I finished my chores with tears spilling out of my eyes. I put on a brave face and went to my brother’s baseball game to wait for my dad to arrive with the news. When he finally pulled up to the baseball diamond, I raced over to his suburban, but when I saw his face every hope that I had was dashed. My dad had tears in his eyes. I had never even seen him cry until that day. All he said was, “I’m sorry, Rachel, I’m so sorry.” They buried Kenny where he fell.

Of course I was so thankful that my mom was not harmed in the fall, and I do not hold it against my parents because they would never mean for something like that to happen. But after that, my carefree summer was over. I still feel empty when I remember that when I go back to the farm next year, he won’t be there waiting for me. I know a horse is “just a pet,” but Kenny was more than that to me. He had worked his way into my heart, where there is now a huge horse-sized hole. I feel sad when I see his halter hanging in the garage. I will never forget those brown eyes or that white crooked stripe running down his face.

I know that, despite the sadness I feel now, someday the pain will ease. In its place will be regret that I couldn’t spend 15 more summers with him. Even more, in its place will be beautiful, happy memories. Memories of one of the best friends I have ever known in my short life, and memories of a girl and her horse, forever a part of her heart and soul. 


Gosh, a bit of a tear-jerker eh?

Eventually, the sadness did fade away, and my parents found another young Morgan horse for sale. I named him Chico, and we’ve spent many summers together since then, having a blast doing many of the same things together Kenny and I did. We’ve both slowed down in recent years, but I still love the creak of a leather saddle and the view of a July sunset from the back of the horse.

Although I don’t think about Kenny too often anymore, sometimes my mind travels back – back to those vulnerable years in my life, when, in my innocent and imaginative mind, my best friend really was a chestnut Morgan horse named Kenny. And mostly I smile at those memories. But I might feel just a little sad sometimes, too.

This week, I remember that girl and her horse.



A New Reality

Some days, I can’t believe this little guy is actually here and is actually mine.


Although he was due mid-May, he let me know he was on his way on April 26, almost 3 weeks early, when I woke up to contractions at 4 a.m. and snow out the window (of course, because we had to drive an hour and a half to the hospital, so why wouldn’t it snow?) I wasn’t ready for this, naturally. I had things to do. I didn’t have my sub plans done for the rest of the school year. I didn’t have my hospital bag packed. We didn’t have the carseat out of the box, much less installed, and we hadn’t even taken our childbirth class yet, for goodness sake! I even tried to go to work that morning because surely, this baby wouldn’t be coming when Mom isn’t ready. Luckily, husband didn’t let me.

Baby didn’t care about any of that. No, he basically said, to heck with all of your plans Mom, and entered the world as cute as a button at 4:13 p.m., almost exactly 12 hours after my contractions started and 24 hours after I left school the day before, completely clueless as to what was about to happen to my life.

In 24 hours, I went from trying to encourage 140 students, 139 of whom are taller than me, to care about things like where to put a semicolon and why they should appreciate Lord of the Flies (which can be a pretty tough sell, I’ll be honest) to trying to keep one tiny 6-pound human alive. I’m really not sure which of the two is more difficult.


“Baby Kasen,” as his small cousins refer to him, has been here for two and a half months now. For two and a half months, reality as I knew it before has flipped upside down. Last summer, I was doing things like tooling around Ireland and Scotland with a couple girlfriends, picking out cute swimsuits at Target, and trying to decide which lake activity to do next during family week at the lake. This summer, I’m watching a LOT of Netflix while I’m stuck nursing him on the couch, obsessively Googling various types of baby gear, and although we did make it to the lake, between feedings and trying to safeguard my baby from his very well-meaning but overzealous cousins, I didn’t make it out on the water more than a few times.


What I am sure of, though, is that life has never been so great. For months, as my bump grew bigger and bigger, I listened to well-wishers warn me about this new reality I was about to experience. They said things like “Enjoy sleep now – you will never sleep again!” (Who actually sleeps all that great while super pregnant?!) and “Enjoy your free time now – you will never have free time again!” and “Enjoy [fill in the blank] now – you will never [fill in the blank] again!” I know these well-wishers meant, well, well, but by the time little man showed up, I was terrified. I really like sleep, for example. Like REALLY. Just ask my family. I started putting myself to bed in kindergarten because my parents sometimes wouldn’t get around to it soon enough. I also really like free time. And lots of other fill-in-the-blanks. Part of the reason I was in denial on April 26 is because I really didn’t want my current reality to end.

But looking back, I wish more people would have said things like, “Life is about to get awesome. You might be tired, but believe me Mama, it will be worth it. It will be so worth it.”

THAT would be nice to hear when you’re waddling around with a sore back and a strange melon-sized blob inside you that digs into your hip so hard sometimes during class that you have to grip the podium and gasp as a roomful of teenagers stares at you.

Because here is the thing about my new reality: I do sometimes miss the ability to jump in my car and go where I please, and I’ve been peed and pooped on quite a bit, and not every moment is a cake walk. Case in point: He literally had his diaper off for SIX SECONDS before this happened:


Being a new mom is a learning curve, all right. Never trust a naked baby.

But honestly, when I do get in my car to go somewhere, I love bringing little man along. Hanging out with a tiny human that I actually carried and delivered into this world, who is a spitting image of his handsome dad, is pretty darn neat. And when he smiles at me, none of those fill-in-the-blanks that I’m now “missing out” on now matter at all.


This new reality is worth it.


“Did my heart love ’til now?” – William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet



Roots and Roads

After a little hiatus, this blog is getting a facelift.

When I started Boomtown Diaries, it was 2012 and the oil boom was in its heyday. I was teaching and single, living on my family’s farm and trying to navigate my 20s, the dating world, and the craziness that the oil boom brought with it. The quiet towns and countryside that I knew growing up were gone, and every day it seemed new oil rigs were going up and new things were happening, both good and bad.


I love to write and wanted a way to record what I was experiencing, so I started the blog Boomtown Diaries to tell some of those stories.

Four years later, things have changed. The oil boom is a bust. There are various speculations about how long the bust will last, and if and when the boom will come back, and what will happen to the price of oil, but one thing is for sure: Things have slowed down around here, along with our state’s economy. To be honest, it comes with a bit of a sigh of relief. Our communities have room to breathe, to catch up on infrastructure, and to finally gather themselves, whether or not the boom comes back in full force.

Personally, things have changed for me as well. I am still teaching, but I changed my single status in 2014 after my long adventure to Asia.


And this year came the biggest change of all when I became a mother to my little guy, Kasen, in April.


With all of these changes, there are still so many things to write about in western North Dakota, whether it is updates on the slowdown in oil, mishaps on the farm, the new high school our community opened this spring, the latest recipe my husband or I am trying out, or a trip down to the badlands.


So in this post, I introduce my new blog to you: Roots and Roads. Roots, because my family has deep roots to this place, North Dakota, that give a sense of connection and tradition and history. Roads, because they are the connectors between us and adventure, us and experiences, us and other people, and us and memories. Think of all the roads we use every day: the dirt roads that we live on, the highways that take us to work and to church and to town on Saturday night, the interstate that takes us west to adventures, and that trail that we drive down when we need a little solitude. Roads, both literal and symbolic, expand our lives and give us the freedom that we crave.


This blog will hopefully capture that necessary balance in life between the roots that ground us, no matter where we are from, and the roads that take us everywhere.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Growing Up with Five Brothers

As I mentioned before, we found out a couple months ago that our coming little one is a boy. This does not surprise me at all. I’ve always had an abundance of men in my life. I’ve had two grandpas, both hard-working and respectable farmers, my dad, five brothers,  seven fine uncles, and so many male cousins it’s not worth counting them all. Now, of course, I also have my husband, and soon will have another little man to add in to the mix.

He’ll fit right in.

That’s not to say I haven’t had special women in my life as well – I have, including my mom and grandma, who have become two of my best friends as I’ve grown up, along with aunts, (fewer) female cousins, and now, sisters-in-law, but the women in my life have generally been pretty outnumbered.

In my family, I was third in line out of six. I like to tell my brothers that that’s how I know our parents really wanted me — by the time I came along, they already had two boys, and they wanted a girl, so obviously I was a pretty big deal, right? That, and my grandma had made a pink baby blanket for my oldest brother just in case he was a girl. He wasn’t, so she saved it for the next baby. He wasn’t a girl either. So, my pink baby blanket (which I still have, and which is not in very good shape anymore), is actually older than my oldest brother. Good thing I came along so Grandma could finally give it to someone!


Only 14 months after my arrival, my parents were surprised with the arrival of another boy. Then a few years later, another boy, and finally at the end, yet another. I was old enough to have memories of the births of the last two, and believe me, they did not arrive without some major disappointment on my part. I mean, I had prayed for a sister earnestly at age 5 and again at age 8 while we awaited their arrivals. How could God not answer my prayers when I prayed SO HARD? I wouldn’t even hold the second-to-last brother for a solid month. But, by the last one, I just decided to accept the fact that my little playmates might be boys, and they might not like playing dress-up as much as I did, but they were pretty cute and I did like them a lot. If I was so used to brothers, what was one or two more?




That’s not to say I didn’t try to make the little ones fit into my world, though. Here is evidence, courtesy of my youngest brother and our cousin:


(They say I “forced” them into such things, but I think they loved the attention I lavished on them all the time.)

Growing up, the six of us siblings were pretty good friends. Oh, we had our fights, like any siblings. We caused trouble for our parents as well, I’m sure, considering I have memories of lining up for “family” spankings given by my dad. (Now that’s a bonding experience for siblings if there ever was one.) However, the fights and even the spankings were generally few and far between, and the friendships between us only grew stronger as we grew up. Especially when we moved to the farm for the summers, we weren’t around our school friends anymore, and nothing forces family time like working together on a farm all day every day.

When I tell people I have five brothers, I usually get one of two reactions: 1) “Oh, you poor thing! You must have been picked on all the time!” or 2) “You must be so spoiled!” Well, both are true to an extent, but both are also not completely true. As for the first response – “you poor thing” – it’s true, I was often the brunt of teasing and pranks, especially from the two brothers that loved to tease, Andy and Danny. A sister, after all, is the perfect target with all of those emotional reactions. I can’t count the number of times I had one of them try to steal my diary, listen in on my phone calls over the landline (no cell phones back then, remember?), or wait for me to come home, hiding behind some obstacle with an air-soft gun and waiting to use me as target practice for those little plastic BBs.

Once in high school, I was typing on MSN messenger with my cousin, which was all the rage at the time. Our conversation, of course, was about boys. I thought I heard a noise behind me, but I couldn’t see anything when I turned around. But when I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, I turned around again and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. I noticed a pair of binoculars pointed at my computer screen over the back of the couch with a blanket over top. “I see you!” I screamed into the darkness. Unfortunately, it was too late – the guilty brother, who happened to be Danny, ran away gleefully while shouting which boy I liked at the top of his lungs. I often thought during those moments that if I just had a sister, I wouldn’t have so many of these problems. Right?

Was I spoiled, too, being the only girl with all these boys? Oh, maybe a little. My dad always says, “Boys are special, but every dad needs at least one daughter,” and I know he might have a little bit of a soft spot for me. But lest you think I was too spoiled, just see the previous two paragraphs above. I also maintain that not only can I drive a combine as well as any of them, but I’ve also done more hours of housework in my life than all of them combined. Somehow I was the only one who “knew how” to do the dishes and clean the bathrooms. That’s what they would use as an excuse, anyway. I remember one brother saying, “But Rachel does such a better job at the dishes! She should do it!” It’s true, I DID do a better job — so I did them, muttering under my breath the entire time.

There is a third result of growing up with five brothers, too: I have thought often that I sometimes had no idea how to be a girl. There was no female drama in my house growing up. Just a lot of wrestling, army toys, and guns. There was no one to steal clothes from, or practice braiding hair with, or any of the other girl stuff that sisters learn from each other. I didn’t notice so much when I was little, but as I grew older and realized just how much goes into being a girl – the makeup and the hair and the housework and the drama and the other stuff that comes with turning into a woman – I had many a moment of wondering just why I had to be the only girl in the middle of all these carefree brothers. They seemed like they had it a lot easier.


Those tough adolescent years are behind me, though, and these days I’m perfectly ok being me, woman and all. As for all those boys, now turned into men, I’m grateful for growing up surrounded by them. What woman doesn’t need more good men in her life? I’m proud of the five of them and the dads and husbands and workers they have turned into. While none of us are perfect, and we’re all figuring out life in our own way, I know our strong family ties have done nothing but good things for all of us. Close siblings make the best friends, and I am lucky enough to have five of them.

I really could have done without the plastic BB attacks, though.

Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Waiting on Baby

I’ve written before about the crazy life we’ve built since getting married 14 months ago — and we certainly aren’t slowing down anytime soon with Baby #1 on the way. We found out a few weeks ago that it is a boy, which makes perfect sense in my family. I grew up with 5 brothers and numerous male cousins, and learning that the newest member of my family will be a boy too, well, came as no surprise to me.

Plus in our own little family, considering our dogs Lucy and Scout are both girls, now my husband will be slightly less outnumbered.

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So here we are, waiting for Baby with another four months to go. These are exciting times in our little home on our farmstead — but they are nervewracking too. Worries overwhelm me sometimes: Will I be a good mother? Will I even know how to be a mother? Will our home be a good place to raise a baby? Where is all this baby stuff even going to fit? Our little house already seems packed to the brim! Will I ever sleep again? Everyone tells me no, I will not. And I REALLY like to sleep.

Teaching while pregnant adds a whole new level of interesting. My feet and my back have never hurt so badly — and I’ve got four months to go yet.  At least the emotional turmoil of the first trimester has stabilized; it was pretty rough and I think my students knew something was weird. Sometimes though, even still, I get home and I’m so exhausted from dealing with other humans all day that all I want to do is curl up and stare at the wall. My poor husband, who spends much of the day working in solitude, just wants to have a conversation with someone. He’s very patient, thank goodness!

Then, of course, there is the fact that high school students have no filters:

“Mrs. M, you are HUGE already. You’re only half done?!” (I don’t think some of these kids have ever seen a pregnant woman.)

“Mrs. M, you look like you’re going to pop! Is your baby due soon?” (Um… no. It’s going to get a lot worse, kid.)

“Mrs. M, can you feel your baby kick? Will you let me feel next time he kicks?” (Um… double no. I like my personal space!)

“Mrs. M, can I babysit your kid?” (Well, if you didn’t lose every assignment I give you, I might be less worried about you losing my kid.)

“Mrs. M, you better name your baby after me.” “No, me!” “No, me! I’m your favorite!” “How about Hank?” “At least give him a middle name after me!”

“Mrs. M, you are so cute when you are fat!”

Sigh. And, once again, I’ve got four months to go….

But all of this is okay, because so far Baby is healthy, and deep down I do know that this, our farm, will be a great place to raise him. I can’t wait to buy him a pony when he gets a little older and teach him about country life and working hard and that nothing is owed to anyone for free. I can’t wait to give him some of the life I had growing up, full of family and love and siblings and pets and adventures.



My husband can’t wait to teach him about music, hunting, and carpentry, and all that other guy stuff. My dad can’t wait to take him out on the tractor. My mom can’t wait to retire from her job and spend more time visiting her grandkids, including this one. The baby’s aunties and uncles and cousins will welcome him with open arms, and my grandma is busy these days making a blue baby quilt, like the pink one I still have today.

And you know, despite all the worries and backaches that come along with waiting for Baby, I think we’ll do alright.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Quiet on the Western Front (and Why I Love North Dakota)

It’s been quiet around here. Winter is, by nature, quiet in general. People don’t venture out as much. The long hours of dark at night send everyone indoors to spend cozy nights at home. With many of the birds migrated and animals hibernated, the blanket of snow covering everything mutes the otherwise busy sounds of the outdoors.






Here in the oil patch, there’s another reason for the quiet. The slowdown in the oil market has sent many of our transient neighbors home, perhaps for the winter, perhaps permanently. I can barely believe the lack of traffic on my way to school in the mornings. It was just a couple years ago that a lot of my writing was devoted to the crazy oil traffic. (I wrote blog posts like “Rules of the Road: Oil Field Edition” or even “Oil Field Dating Service” inspired by one very interesting traffic incident.)

It is difficult to predict when, and how much, oil production will pick up again. Experts discuss the issue in the news, mentioning the foreign oil market and America’s export laws. Who knows? In western North Dakota, we don’t have a lot of control over those worldwide issues, but we do feel the immediate effects of both the boom and the slowdown.

I can’t decide if I’m overjoyed about the quiet or not. I yearned for it when all of this started, and I admit I love my drive in the mornings now, but it’s funny what a person can get used to. And there is our economy to consider. As a teacher, I see the direct effects in school, as well. We have lost a handful of individual students, but our enrollment overall is staying pretty steady and is even predicted to continue to grow whether the oil prices pick back up or not. I wouldn’t mind going back to my smaller class sizes, but it’s also nice to have the hustle and bustle in the hallways, especially when you consider where the enrollment of our county WAS headed before all of this oil stuff exploded. In the news last week, I read an article stating that North Dakota’s population has hit a record high, and that is something to be grateful about.

Regardless of personal or professional feelings, it is what it is: quiet on this western front. At least for now.

The quiet of winter, on the other hand, is not dependent on oil. It is something familiar to anyone who’s grown up here. I love it. Oh, I love summer too, and the color and the warmth and the activity, but winter forces everyone to slow down, to be more selective about outings to town, to get out the slow cooker and enjoy those cozy nights at home when there is little work to be done outside.


This weekend, the temperature is at zero degrees, the windchill below zero. This morning, Hubby and I ventured to the little Lutheran church in a nearby town. My grandpa attended this church his whole life, and my dad and his siblings grew up attending there. When we pulled up for 9:00 service, there were only a few pickups parked next to the church, fewer than usual. Sure enough, we were 2 of only about 10 people in the congregation today. (I did say that people in winter need to be selective about their outings! Or maybe people have escaped to warmer weather this week, I’m not sure.) Either way, as I looked around, I realized that the people there were the same people I used to see in church 10 and 20 years ago. Almost everyone at the service this morning was a local, an original local.

After the service, we headed down to the basement for coffee and cookies and struck up small talk with one of the ladies.

“A little chilly out today, isn’t it?” she remarked. (Mind you, the windchill really is below zero.) When we agreed, she continued, “But it could be a lot worse, a lot worse. We really can’t complain.”

Spoken like a true North Dakotan.

The men who sat at our coffee table, all in their 60s and 70s, struck up another conversation about the lutefisk feed today in a neighboring town. “Headed over there today at eleven,” one remarked. “They do a real nice job with their lutefisk. Steamed, not boiled.” The others all chimed in with which groups in which towns host the best lutefisk feeds. The conversation shifted in time to other Norwegian foods, and the table as a whole decided that those Vikings really weren’t that nice until they started adding cream, flour, and sugar to their diets.

Spoken like more true North Dakotans.

It reminded me that despite the roller coaster of the last few years in this area, and the booms and the slowdowns and everything in between, some things stay the same. It’s harder to see those old constants through the craziness, sometimes, but they’re there: People who grew up here will always downplay the nasty winter weather. What’s the use of complaining about it, anyway? It’s as constant as the oil field isn’t. Those Norwegian roots are still there, and towns still host lutefisk feeds. And hopefully, little churches will always be having coffee and cookies in the basement after the service.

I love those things, I love North Dakota, and I love this quiet (for now) western front.

North Dakota Living, Teaching, Travel & Adventure

North Dakotans in Mexico

I write this blog post from the deck of our suite overlooking the Caribbean sea. The sun is just coming up, the waves are crashing on the beach, and the palm trees are swaying. Although it is our last morning here, these are the sounds that have helped settle me and all my anxieties over the last few days.

A few months back, I made the declaration that if I’m going to be pregnant all winter and stuck indoors in our little house on the farm, I at least want to sit in the sun for a few days over winter break. So, I started researching resorts in Mexico, we booked a four-night stay and airline tickets, and here we are. I typically choose adventurous travel where we walk all day and learn new things and experience other cultures, but this is pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

I was frazzled the day we got here. Teaching is a stressful job, and we just wrapped up the first semester at my high school the day before we left. Teaching is also one of the best jobs, no doubt, but on a daily basis, I am needed by 140-something students, and they all need different things: some, reassurance; others, attention (and they will get it in whatever means necessary); others just need a little help with their grammar and writing skills; most of them need understanding — and some just need help passing the class and earning the credit. And that’s just the students. As a teacher, you are also needed by parents, committees, principals, and each other. It’s a demanding job, and while I love it, it’s also exhausting at times, especially at the end of a semester. I finished all my grading by Friday at 4, jumped into my husband’s pickup to head to Bismarck, and by 5 a.m. on Saturday we were on a plane headed south. I still felt a bit shellshocked, and it took a day or two for me to stop thinking about all my students and a couple nights for me to stop having dreams about school (Really! That happens.) But as I lay on the beach a couple days ago, I couldn’t help but think that the sound of the waves really are mesmerizing, that the sun and salty breeze really did feel amazing on my face — and what was I so stressed out about back home, again?

(In May or June, it usually takes us teachers about a week to recover from the shell shock, so this wasn’t too bad.)

We also took a tropical trip last year for our honeymoon, but being pregnant sure lends a different feel to things. First of all, instead of packing a lot of cute outfits to go out in at night, I realized very quickly as I was packing that most (ok, all) of my maternity clothes have been purchased in late fall and early winter — basically a lot of sweaters — and I was limited to grabbing whatever summer clothes didn’t look obscene on me. It turned out to be a very small pile. Also, I usually bring a few suits and cover-ups, but I invested in exactly one maternity swimsuit and found exactly one cover-up that still fit. I haven’t worn a tankini in years, but why start out this baby’s life by sunburning it, right? I mean, it’s going to be almost half Norwegian. We don’t mess around with sunburns.


This lack of clothing options really made packing a lot simpler.

Needless to say, we haven’t been going out much at night, anyway, but luckily my husband is pretty easygoing and likes bingeing on Netflix just as much as I do. (That is, he watches Netflix while I fall asleep at 8 every evening.) The last noticeable pregnancy change is my appetite: I usually love seafood, but now the sight and smell of it makes me sick. And here we are right next to the ocean, fresh seafood galore!

We’re having a great time, despite those weird little things. Although I’m not exactly getting a cultural experience on this trip (we’re not seeing much of Mexico itself as we haven’t even left the resort once since getting here), we have met a lot of new people, thanks in no small part to my outgoing husband. I can be pretty reserved at times, so I enjoy watching these interactions. On the plane down here, he offered everyone around us “North Dakota deer jerky.” I was thinking, Oh my gosh, we can’t offer food to strangers, they’re going to think we’re trying to poison them. Boy was I wrong! He had several people around us munching on jerky and declaring how good it was. Pretty soon we knew all our neighbors on the plane. He also knows some pretty decent Spanish after taking four years of it in high school (I took three years, yet remember literally two phrases) and has been practicing it on all the locals. They love it. “Tu Español es muy bueno!” they all exclaim to him. He’s made friends from South Dakota, Chicago, Texas, and Arkansas, and was chagrined when the only other people we met from North Dakota weren’t friendly at all. “They’re giving us a bad impression!” he whispered to me. He’s been our own North Dakota one-man ambassador squad down here.

And he takes good care of me. When I woke up one morning with a sore back, he called the spa immediately despite my protests which he thoroughly ignored. “My wife needs a pregnancy massage,” he said, and it was booked just like that. It was amazing, by the way. I never wanted it to end.

I am a lucky girl in more ways than one. I live in the best place in the world, but I get to travel, too, and all with a good man at my side.


Nothing like a little rejuvenation of spirits at the ocean! I think I’m ready to come home now.

Musings, North Dakota Living

One Year Later

Hubby and I had a whirlwind courtship (can I still use that word?), a whirlwind engagement, and a whirlwind first year as a married couple. We really don’t know anything else but whirlwinds. I keep telling myself that life will slow down, but based on past patterns and future plans I just know that’s not going to happen. Either way, making it through the first year is an accomplishment, and that deserves some reflection.

When we got married last November, we were as happy and hopeful and scared as any couple jumping into the big commitment. We were hoping for a fall day, although in November you never know what you will get. That turned out to be an understatement: What we got was a frigid 5 degrees, freezing wind, and several inches of snow.

On the plus side, the sun was out for most of the day and we managed to get a few decent pictures outdoors before rushing back in to warm up.


I was far from a giddy and blushing bride. I was at a new job and had limited time off. To make things worse, the weekend before the wedding, my wedding dress was still too big in places, so I had spent the last of my free time getting it altered. I was short on sleep, and I definitely didn’t like all the pressure of trying to look perfect on my big day (looking perfect has never been my strong suit). Most of all, I was stressed out about being the center of attention for an ENTIRE. DAY. — my worst nightmare.

But despite all of that, it really was the best.

First of all, our wedding party was darn good-looking.



And I loved how the decor turned out.


My grandma made our favorite kind of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting.



The dance rocked.



I had almost all of the people I love the most surrounding me, and the fact that everyone traveled all that way just to be there made my heart so full that I can’t even really describe it.



And of course, there was this guy.


Since then, things haven’t slowed down at all. We finished out the school year in Bismarck, where I worked at a local middle school and my husband worked for a custom woodworks shop. We moved twice in that time, adopted a dog, and then made the decision to move back to the family farm. We packed up our stuff yet again (though some of our stuff was never even unpacked), put some of it in storage, lugged ourselves and our pup out West, and settled into the same little modular house where I started my crazy oil field life four years ago.

Speaking of that life, when I quit my job here two years ago and went overseas to Asia, I didn’t know if I’d ever live here again. I definitely didn’t think I’d find a guy who wants to live here too. But in a lot of ways, now, it feels like I never even left. I’m back in my old job in my old classroom and even teaching some of my former students. I’m back with my horses and my farm dogs and my brother living down the road.

The only (big) difference is, I have a good man by my side now, and that was definitely worth leaving for. I think back and am sure the Big Man Upstairs whispered to me to leave my old life, just so I could go find Corey and we could start this new one together.



Yes, it’s been quite a first year. We’ve had some big laughs and nasty fights and I think I can safely say we’ve both had a pretty giant learning curve regarding each other. I wonder why he has so many towels hanging over the door, and he wonders why I leave the cupboard doors open after rummaging through them. I bemoan giving up closet space, and he bemoans the fact that he gets so little of it. He hates doing laundry, and I hate sharing food. (He made the mistake of eating my leftovers from a restaurant once.) Every day, we’re still learning how this whole married thing works.

We’ve got a long way to go.

But one thing I know for sure: I love him more now than I loved him on our wedding day. And I thought I loved him a lot then.

Speaking of whirlwinds and learning curves, things are about to get even crazier…

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