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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Musings, North Dakota Living

Not That Good at Juggling

Another harvest has officially come and gone. When harvest is over, summer is over, and we might as well face the facts that fall is pretty much here.

It always starts great – spirits are high, the farmers are excited, and everyone is full of energy and ready to go.

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Then, as the harvest season progresses, energy wanes a bit. It’s imperceptible at first, but it becomes just a little bit harder to stay out combining until dark. Backs start aching and sleep is in short supply. A few weeks before harvest is over, we also begin to lose workers one by one as they pack up and go back to school. It’s always a little sad to see everyone go, but there’s a practical problem too: When school starts, we lose over half of our workers. The students and teachers going back to school — including two of my younger brothers, two young seasonal farmhands, my mom, and myself — also double as combine operators, grain cart drivers, meal wagons, and truck drivers. They leave with the skills and the manpower and the smiles that just make everything go more smoothly around here.

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School started this year for us local teachers on August 17. At that point we were only about half done with harvest. Since then, I have found myself juggling very different roles. Each morning, I’ve tried to make myself presentable and drag myself to school in my heels, clutching my book bag and a jug of iced coffee and scrambling to throw together meaningful lessons for 150-some students in four different English classes. Each evening, I’ve come home and changed into grungy field clothes and work boots and attempted to throw together a passable meal to bring to the field. On a few occasions I’ve taken over for my grandpa after dinner and combined for the rest of the evening. After shutting down for the night, I’ve gone home to rinse off, crash into bed, and do it all over the next day — never mind frivolities such as working out, doing laundry or dishes, or spending time with my husband.

I do love harvest. But I admit that since August 17, I’ve been a little bit anxious for the juggle to be over. Do you know how hard it is to switch from comfy work clothes and ponytails and no makeup, to trying to look like a professional every day? Believe me, it is hard. (For me anyway.) Furthermore, the only things I can think of from my own experience that match the intensity of harvest is 1) planning a wedding in four months and 2) school starting, along with getting classrooms and lessons ready, getting back into a bell schedule, and meeting all those new faces.

As of this last week, however, harvest is finally over after six long weeks, and we can all breathe a little easier now.

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There is a lot to be thankful for here, don’t get me wrong. My family is always thankful to get another harvest into the books. I’m lucky to have a good teaching job. And I’m always grateful for the time spent together and the fact that we’re lucky enough to be a farm family.

But let’s be honest, I’ve never been that good at juggling.

I think I’m ready for fall now.

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Musings

North Dakota’s New Identity, As Revealed by Magnets

North Dakota has changed, to state the obvious.

Change is not easy. I should know. I used to cry big alligator tears when my parents sold off family vehicles (I just wanted them to go to a good owner!) or when we moved away from my childhood home (they did it sneakily when I was away at summer camp, the rascals!). But of course, without change, we would have no progress, no new friends, no new members added to the family, and no iced coffee sold in cartons, since that was definitely not around when I was younger. And that would just be tragic.

When I was growing up, North Dakota had a strong rural and agricultural identity. We had been through an oil boom before, in the 80s, but it was on a smaller scale and its evidence had slowly faded away as I grew up. With our rural identity, we prided ourself on our badlands, our bison herds in the west and our North Dakota State University Bison in the east, our farms and ranches, our small towns, and the wide open spaces. I really shouldn’t use past tense when I say “prided”; we still pride ourselves on these things (4-peat FCS national champion football team, anyone?).

But I think, in a way, a place’s identity is revealed by its magnets. Yep, simple little refrigerator magnets. Think about it: A place will print on magnets whatever it is best known for — whether the locals love it or not — and sell those magnets to tourists in gift shops and gas stations. My husband and I have started a little magnet collection to commemorate the places we’ve been, and sure enough, the silly little things portray the images that we want to remember most about those places. In Boston, we bought a Fenway Park magnet. In Maine, a lighthouse magnet. From Ireland I brought home two magnets: a little wooly sheep and an idyllic country scene with a pint of Guinness in the foreground. From Scotland I purchased two bitty Highland cattle. (Boy, are they cute!) We also have a Great Wall magnet from China, a Shakespeare magnet from England, a magnet replicating a Monet painting from France, and a little pirate magnet from the Bahamas.

You get the point.

North Dakota magnets, for many, many years, portrayed a few key things: scenes of the badlands, bison, wheat fields, western meadowlarks, and the like. But, when I was in Medora last weekend, my husband and I noticed that a new breed of magnets has officially overtaken the old. The Bakken is now our identity, and it is splashed all over those little North Dakota magnets.

The Old:

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And the New:

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Obviously, this has been happening for years now. Cenex and Conoco wasted no time stocking their stores with t-shirts, caps, and coffee mugs depicting oil wells and rigs when all of this began. Some shout “North Dakota Oil Country” or “Rockin’ the Bakken” in large letters, and some take a little more vulgar route with slightly obscene slogans.

It makes sense, though. After all, what is it that has attracted people by the thousands to our state? Not the bison and meadowlarks, that’s for sure, although I like those things myself.

When we were examining those magnets in Medora, the nostalgic side of me wanted to buy that meadowlark magnet just to say, I remember how it used to be. I remember the empty spaces and the empty roads and I remember when meadowlarks outnumbered people. But the realistic side of me wanted to embrace this new identity and buy an oil country magnet just to say, This has revived our state. This has given people opportunities, and this has finally reversed the trend of young people leaving our state. And that means something, too. 

In the end, we settled on a magnet that simply said, “Medora.”

Change isn’t easy. A new identity creates some growing pains — for both the people that were here first and the people moving in. But luckily, we don’t have to pick a “side.” North Dakota has room for more than one identity… and my refrigerator has room for more than one North Dakota magnet. I should really go back to that store.

Has this change been easy for you?

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“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” 
-Bertolt Brecht