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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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Musings

A New Reality

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

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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.

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“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.

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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:

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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.

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This new reality is worth it.

 

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

 

Musings

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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:

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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And I loved how the decor turned out.

 

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

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The dance rocked.

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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.

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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.

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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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How To's, Musings

Pheasant Feast

I know, I know, deer season has just come and gone and here I am still writing about pheasant. And yes, it was a successful deer season, with 3 out of 3 tags filled in my family. But I did say I would write about those delicious little pheasant nuggets sometime, and I’m not one to back down from a promise, and pheasant season isn’t over yet, so back to pheasant hunting it is – specifically, my family’s favorite ways to cook up pheasant.

My dad invested in a dual basket gas cooker (basically a heavy duty deep fat fryer) a few years ago.

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Since then we’ve been working on that pheasant nugget recipe, experimenting with different Shore Lunch flavors and the oil temperature until we now consistently get these tasty little morsels you see here:

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Mm, mmm!

To make these nuggets, cut up thawed pheasant breast into nugget-sized pieces. Roll each piece in egg, and then shake it in a bag of Shore Lunch (we use cajun). Heat the oil in the gas cooker to 350 degrees. Drop in the pheasant nuggets and fry for about 5 minutes, or until they float and look golden-brown.

Easy peasy, as they say.

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If you don’t have a deep fryer, or don’t think you like deep fried food (in which case, I don’t get you at all), we have another pretty tasty pheasant recipe in the form of cajun pheasant alfredo.

To make the alfredo, I like to soften up the meat a bit beforehand, as pheasant can be a little gamey. To do so, I soak pheasant breasts in milk overnight and then throw them in the slow cooker on low, with a cup of chicken broth, while I’m at work. Then that night, I drain and shred it. Perfectly soft and shredded for pasta! Regardless of how you end up with your cooked and shredded/ diced/ chopped pheasant, here is what you do with it:

First, boil water and set linguini to cooking. Also, toss cooked pheasant pieces in cajun seasoning.

Next, in a large saucepan, sauté diced tomatoes, green peppers, and green onions in a little bit of oil (I’m sure other veggies would be great, too.) Add seasoned pheasant pieces. Season veggies and pheasant with basil, pepper, salt, and  garlic powder. Pour in 1-2 cups of cream and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese; stir all together until cheese is melted. Pour over linguini and toss. (There is a bit more detailed recipe below.)

Pretty tasty!

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Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Cajun Pheasant Alfredo

2 pheasant breasts (cooked and cut into small piece)
8 oz linguini
2 tsp cajun seasoning
1 green onion, diced
2 T tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2 C cream
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

Cook linguini according to package.
Coat cooked pheasant evenly with cajun seasoning.
In a large skillet, sauté green onion, tomatoes, and pepper in olive oil. Add cooked pheasant pieces to skillet. Season with salt, pepper, basil, and garlic powder.
Add cream and parmesan cheese. Stir all together until cheese is melted.
Pour over linguini and toss.

Musings, North Dakota Living

A Friendship Worth Celebrating

Things have more or less settled into a routine around here. Ok, less. Things never seem to get into a routine. This last week, I took a personal day on Friday to attend my cousin’s wedding in the twin cities. However, on Wednesday I fell deathly ill at school, went home, and ended up taking off both Wednesday and Thursday as well. Three days off, one doctor’s appointment, one wedding, and 1272 miles later, I wound up at school at 7:30 this morning staring at piles of various papers on my desk, not even sure where to start. Did I mention parent-teacher conferences start tomorrow?

Oh, well. Who needs a routine, anyway? Or sleep, for that matter?

It was all worth it because the wedding I attended was my cousin Beky’s, one of my best friends and definitely my longest friend. It was special to watch her say her vows to the man of her dreams in her family’s backyard. The day was gorgeous and so was the wedding itself. Amid the flowers, pretty dresses, smiles, and toasts, I watched my cousin throughout the day. She looked both happier and more emotional than I have ever seen her. I was happy for her happiness, and I understood the emotions, too — girls like me and Beky are pretty attached to our big, close families, especially our dads, and marriage doesn’t come without a little bit of bittersweet. I mean, have you ever seen the movie The Father of the Bride? That movie made me cry like a baby back when I was about 13, and I vowed never to get married and leave my dad like that.

At the reception, I gave a little speech about our friendship, which I’ve decided to write down here in honor of Beky and her big day.

For Beky: A Friendship Worth Celebrating

My cousin Beky and I grew up in a sea of boys. I had five brothers; she had four; and when we added in the boy cousins it seemed there were too many boys to count. The problem with being an island of two girls in a sea of boys was that we did not have a clue how to be girls. We would rather play whiffleball, wear our brothers’ t-shirts, and ride bike to our grandpa’s farm to play in the old machinery than touch glitter or fingernail polish. We didn’t cause quite as much ruckus as our brothers, so we were pretty much left alone by our families, except for the never-ending jobs we felt like we were always doing. We were often in charge of babysitting, driving our little brothers to baseball, cleaning bathrooms, and of course, picking rocks and hoeing weeds. All of this is best summed up in the fact that our favorite make-believe game was not playing princesses like other girls our age, but orphans forced to work. (True story.)

We grew into teenagers, spending a lot of time together in both North Dakota and Minnesota, where Beky is from. We get a lot of grief from our relatives, especially Uncle Tim, about how we liked to “chase boys” when we were of that age. What our relatives seem not to understand, however, is that we were terrible at it. My signature move when it came to talking to boys, was well, just not speaking at all. Beky might have been better at carrying on a conversation with the opposite gender, but I once saw her knock over a boy that she liked — who happened to be pretty scrawny — and carry him across the park (another true story). We often drove around in my family’s rickety brown-and-tan suburban, which didn’t help matters much. We were probably also wearing our brothers’ shirts. Remember when I said we didn’t know how to be girls? Well, case in point.

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As we grew into young women, our dating skills improved slightly. But as my dad would say, it was hard to find someone who could meet our standards when we were trying to find men that could match up to our dads. We waded through the muck of the dating world together, watching other girls find their soulmate at age 21 or 22. We didn’t let us get this down, however. We made our own adventures together instead. As teenagers, we went to camps, our Aunt Barb’s house to help with her Vacation Bible School, horse clinics, and France the first time. We also had numerous bad hair experiments and a lot of different road trips. In our 20s, we attended NDSU together where we made “family dinners” on Thursdays and went to spinning classes at the wellness center. We also went to France a second time, took a cruise in the Caribbean, went on trail rides, and most recently visited Ireland and Scotland. Beky is one of my favorite travel companions.

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There was one boy that was with us through all of it — our cousin, JT Rice, who passed away in 2011. He and I loved to tease Beky. We would rate her behavior for the month and put her in various behavior categories, which ranged anywhere from gold (only JT and I were in the gold level) down to tinfoil and poop brown. I know that if he were here today, he would be so proud of the woman she has become. And I know he would approve of her new husband for taking such good care of her and carrying on the torch by being willing to tease her now and then. Maybe her behavior rating would even go up now that she is married. Probably not, though.

We continued to struggle through the world of dating throughout our 20s. No, it was not easy — it really CAN be a battlefield — but in 2013, both of our luck changed. Beky was almost 27 and I was 28 when we both began dating the men who would become our husbands. We were engaged within two months of each other and married within a year of each other.

I was the brave one who went first into wifey-hood, and Beky, I can say honestly that I think both the battle and the wait were worth it. Maybe some of us just need to go through some struggles to really appreciate what we have now. God was looking out for both of us all that time. The most amazing thing about this is, even though we still don’t know how to be girls, we managed to find two wonderful men who, only God knows why, want to spend the rest of their lives with us.

Here’s to our friendship worth celebrating 🙂

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