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

How To's, Musings

How to: Iced Mochas

We are officially settled in to our little modular home on the farm. The appropriate items have been put into storage for the time being, the rest of the boxes are unpacked, and we can actually walk through the guest room now. My husband is hard at work at his new job, and my teaching job starts again in about three and a half weeks.

Oh dear.

What do teachers even do during the summer? you non-teachers may ask. Well, I wish I could tell you. Every year when school gets out, the summer seems to stretch before me like an endless dream. Time! I think. Time to do all my projects, all my trips and travels, all those units I’m going to plan for the next school year. And every summer, suddenly it is nearly over and I think I might have done a project or two, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. I know I haven’t planned any units for school. That one’s for certain.

What I’ve really done this summer, besides a bit of travel and running around to family events, is move to our new home in western North Dakota and drink a lot of iced mochas. And you know what? If I don’t have much more than that to show for the summer, I guess that’s ok.

Right now, I’m going to share with you how I make these iced mochas. They are delicious and cheap. Kind of like my time this summer. Sigh.

How to Make Delicious Iced Mochas at Home (or any other variations of iced coffee!)

Step 1. Cold brew coffee. I learned about this method via Pinterest and Pioneer Woman. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she is a ranch wife and mother with a brilliant blog and show on Food Network. Cold brewing means that rather than brewing a hot pot of coffee the traditional way, you pour cold water over coffee grounds, let it soak or “brew” for several hours, and strain the liquid out. This method is great for iced coffee in the summer because 1) you can make a large amount of iced coffee at once and 2) the coffee is strong and cold enough to handle ice cubes without melting them and getting all watered down.

Here is the link to the instructions on Pioneer Woman’s blog that first led me down this wonderful iced coffee path: “The Perfect Iced Coffee.”

A few of my own tips to add to her instructions:

First, I’ve experimented over the last couple summers with different types of coffee — extra dark roast, French roast, breakfast blend, medium roast, etc. Although right away I went all out to create the darkest, strongest coffee possible, I found the taste to be a little too overpowering and backed off to a less intense blend. Honestly, though, I think I use a different brand or type of coffee every time. It depends on what’s on sale and what I have in my cupboard when I get a hankering. You may have to experiment to find your own personal preference. I typically just dump whatever grounds I choose into a large Tupperware container that looks like this:

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Second, Pioneer Woman recommends straining the coffee through a cheesecloth. However, the cheesecloth I had on hand was not fine enough to actually strain out many coffee grounds, so my first attempt ended with a pile of coffee grounds on the bottom of my pitcher. The next time I tried it, I didn’t feel like running to the store to search for finer cheesecloth, so I rummaged through my supplies to see what I could use instead. I was delighted when I found an old sheet I had recently ripped up to use for rags (it was very clean, I promise). The piece of sheet, draped over my big strainer as I pour the coffee through, lets through the liquid without letting a single coffee ground escape. Perfect! It’s not just an old sheet anymore – it has a special place in my drawer as a very important kitchen tool. And yes, it is in fact an old Sesame Street sheet, so Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, and the Cookie Monster are there to help me every time I make iced coffee.

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Final tip: I used to pour the cold coffee into a pitcher. But then I decided to splurge on a beverage dispenser at Target for about $16, and it was the best decision I ever made. (I say that a lot). Walking to the fridge and dispensing iced coffee into my glass is a breeze. It’s also helped a lot as I’ve slowly transitioned into my family’s iced coffee lady. Summers ago, my little brothers started to realize that when I’m around, the fridge ALWAYS has iced coffee in it. So when they’re out working in the hot sun, they stop in for frequent “coffee breaks.” It was a problem when I just had coffee in a weenie little pitcher and didn’t know about the cold brew method. I would make a pot of coffee in the coffee pot, wait hours for it to cool… and it would be gone before I even had a chance to pour myself a glass. But now, with my big, tough drink dispenser that can hold up to two gallons of cold brewed iced coffee, it’s no deal at all! The boys get their coffee, and I don’t get grumpy. I like to think the cold brew method and my beverage dispenser have improved family relationships around here.

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The coffee dispenser, of course, has a prominent place in the refrigerator:

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Ok, I think I’ve spent enough time discussing cold brew coffee. But it’s a serious matter, you guys.

Step 2: Once you have your jug of iced coffee, pour the desired amount into your desired drinking container.

Step 3: Add whatever it is you like to add to your coffee. In recent summers, I have kept a carton or two of International Delight’s Iced Mocha on hand.

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I pour a mixture of about two-thirds iced coffee and one-third ID Iced Mocha into my glass. Then I top with a little splash of half-and-half and a handful of ice and end up with a creamy, delicious, refreshing iced coffee drink. My husband adds a splash of flavored creamer, such as French Vanilla, instead of half-and-half. Some of my brothers add only cream and no Iced Mocha. It just depends on what you like! Pioneer Woman even recommends using sweetened condensed milk, which I haven’t tried yet but which sounds delicious.

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If you like iced coffee as much as I do, this method might be worth a try. It’s made my summer iced coffee habit so much easier and economical.

Now to those unit plans… Aw, maybe tomorrow.

Musings, Travel & Adventure

Scottish Adventure

When we booked our tour to Ireland, I just knew I had to see Scotland as well. First of all, beyond my obvious love of travel itself, I was an English major and have always loved British literature and history. Second of all, have you ever read the Outlander series? I’m not usually much of a freak fan, but ever since I’ve read the series a few years ago, I’ve been dying to see the land so richly described in those books. All three of us had already been to England, so we left it off the list. I went there with my Shakespeare class in college. (I told you I have a thing for literature!) Here is proof:

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So, the day after our Ireland tour ended, we struggled to life at 4 am and caught a shuttle from our hostel to Dublin Airport. Our tickets were booked with RyanAir, a notorious budget European airline. I say notorious because general consensus is that while they have great prices, working with them is a nightmare. For example. although my suitcase fits carry-on size for most airlines, it was much too large for RyanAir’s carry-on allowance, so I paid for a checked bag. However, my checked bag, at 70 euro, actually cost more than my plane ticket itself! That, along with the ticket printing fiasco of the night before, torturously long lines at the airport, and uncomfortable seats that don’t bother to recline, made us very happy to reach Edinburgh!

We also tried something else that was new on this little detour: we booked a place to stay using the website AirBnB, a relatively new trend in traveling that offers rooms, apartments, and even whole houses – from local residents and their own homes. The prices are almost always better than hotels, and it allows the locals to make a little extra cash. AirBnB is available nearly everywhere, but of course, in a place like Edinburgh, you do end up with a lot more options than you would in, say, North Dakota. The place we booked was a little apartment up a long spiral staircase, right in Old Town and with a view of Edinburgh Castle. It was amazing, and our hosts were gracious and accommodating. I would highly recommend AirBnB for your future travels. Just read the reviews first to get an idea if you are getting a good place or not.

Anyway, back to our adventure in Scotland. We were only there for 3 days, so we packed as much into that time as we could. Here is a little breakdown of what we did:

Day 1: Edinburgh. Since we arrived so early in the morning, we started with some breakfast and then hit up Edinburgh Castle as soon as it opened. This architectural and historical treasure dominates Edinburgh’s skyline, sitting on top of the volcanic rock that slopes down toward the Royal Mile. We spent about three hours exploring all the nooks and crannies that the castle has to offer.

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After the Edinburgh Castle, we took a tour of Edinburgh’s underground. As I mentioned, Edinburgh sits on top of a volcanic rock, which slopes from Edinburgh Castle down to Hollyrood Palace below. The road connecting the two is known as the Royal Mile, which runs right down the spine of the volcanic rock. Off the Royal Mile is a series of “closes,” steep and narrow alleyways sloping sharply down, where the citizens of Edinburgh lived for centuries in tenements and apartments. When the Royal Exchange was constructed on the Royal Mile, it was built right on top of some of these downward-sloping closes, which are therefore now underground. These were closed to the public for years, but now, you can tour the closes through companies such as Real Mary King’s Close. Ghost stories also abound, and numerous ghost tours are advertised as well. It was very interesting, but a little creepy, I admit.

We spent the rest of the day exploring Edinburgh. We also tried “haggis,” Scotland’s national dish. Haggis is various sheep parts – heart, liver, lungs, and sometimes stomach – ground with spices into a type of sausage. I’m telling you, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but it actually wasn’t too terrible! Haggis is often served with “neeps” and “tatties” (turnips and potatoes).

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I do have a tendency of trying gross things. Remember the spider? The haggis was much tastier, though.

Day 2: Scottish Highlands. We booked a day trip to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness. What a great decision! We loved it. Although it was a lot of time spent in the van, we were able to see much more of Scotland than we would have otherwise. Our day trip left at 8:00 in a 14-passenger bus/van hybrid driven by an energetic local woman. She entertained us the entire way with historical stories about William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots, among others. The trip was rich with information and history. We caught glimpses of Sterling Castle, Doune Castle (where several shows have been filmed, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones, and of course, Outlander!), and the stone tower where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive by her own people. One of our stops along the way was Glencoe, site of the terrible massacre of the Clan MacDonald in 1692 ordered by King William III. This lovely glen, despite its grim history, offered some good photo ops.

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Next was Loch Ness, which I’m sure I don’t need to define for you. Did we see the monster? Well, no, unless you count the rather scary man telling stories on our ferry. But we did have a lot of fun.

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On the way back, we caught some photos of these little cuties. The Scottish Highlands are full of them! Is it strange that I would like to put a couple in my yard at home?

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This was overall a great day, and worth every pence (see what I did there?) that we spent on the tour.

Day 3: Back in Edinburgh. On our last day, we booked a rather intense 3-hour bike ride to see more of the city of Edinburgh. I mentioned that Edinburgh is hilly? Well, this left us so thoroughly exhausted that we were pretty worthless that afternoon. We did a little shopping, stopped for some coffee, and possibly downed one last beer or two before we needed to catch the bus to the airport.

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In summary: I loved Scotland! Like Ireland, the culture was rich, the scenery was beautiful, and the locals were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. I’m definitely going back someday! Until then, I’ll be saving money and living in my little modular house with my hunky husband! I’m thinking next time he can come with me…

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Musings, Travel & Adventure

Eight Days on the Emerald Isle

GO TO IRELAND. Do it. If you’ve been thinking about it, do it. If you have vacation time to use up, do it. If you have any extra money, do it. And if you don’t have any vacation time or extra money… do it anyway.

I’ve wanted to go to Ireland for years. My paternal grandpa, Tim, was 100% Irish, and I grew up proud of my Irish heritage, though the other three of my grandparents are largely of Norwegian background and therefore make up an even larger part of my heritage. (I’ll go to Norway next!) My friend and I talked about going on a trip to celebrate turning 30 this year, and we finally settled on the Emerald Isle. We invited a few others to join us. After my cousin Beky accepted, we had a trio. We booked an eight-day tour that took us around the country, which started in Dublin, headed up to Northern Ireland, traveled down the west coast through Galway, visited the south part of the island including Cork and Kilkenny, and ended up back in Dublin.

I did a little bit of research before we went, and discovered that one of my ancestors came from County Down (in what is now Northern Ireland) in 1880. The other came earlier, in 1840, from County Tipperary in the southern part of Ireland. Eventually, their descendants moved to western North Dakota and two of them, James Dwyer and Grace Taylor, married. James and Grace were my dad’s grandparents. Although our tour took us to neither County Down nor County Tipperary specifically, we did drive through both areas, which made our visit that much more interesting for me.

Here is a brief rundown of our eight day visit:

Day 1: Dublin. We arrived in Dublin, checked into our hotel, and visited the downtown a little bit that evening.

Day 2: Dublin to Derry. We got on the tour bus and drove north to Belfast, birthplace of the famous Titanic and also a hotseat of conflict between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists in recent decades. From there, we went to Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, which sports neat formations of hexagonal rocks as well as a beautiful coastline. Finally, we checked into our hotel in Derry, another hotseat of Catholic/ Protestant conflict. ‘ We also ate fish & chips meal #1. This started a strange little obsession with fish & chips which lasted for the week.

Here are some pictures from the Giant’s Causeway: IMG_3563 IMG_3569 IMG_3581 Day 3: Derry to Galway. We traveled from Derry down to Galway, a quaint town on Ireland’s western coast. In Galway, we did a little shopping, visited a couple of pubs, and had fish & chips meal #2. Yum. IMG_3592 Day 4: Aran Islands. This may have been the highlight of the entire trip. We took a ferry from Galway to the Aran Islands. When we arrived, we rented bikes, bought a picnic lunch at the grocery store, and headed to a set of dramatic cliffs about 5 miles away. It was overcast and cool, and we weren’t expecting such an intense bike ride (it was almost all uphill), but eventually we struggled up to the cliffs – where we promptly decided it was much too windy to actually eat our picnic lunch, took a couple of hurried pictures and tried not to get blown off the cliff, and headed back to the village. The return ride was much, much easier. IMG_3614 IMG_3616 IMG_3618 IMG_3638 IMG_3646 Day 5: Galway to Cork. Our bus took us from Galway to Cork, with stops at both the Cliffs of Moher, which were too foggy for us to actually see, and Blarney Castle. We did get in line to kiss the Blarney Stone, but only one of us (Beky) kissed it. The other two of us were too freaked out by heights (Jackie) and germs (me). That night, we checked into our hotel in Cork and spent some time listening to live pub music.

Here are my travel companions taking advantage of selfie opportunities in front of Blarney Castle: IMG_3668 Day 6: Cork to Kilkenny. On this day, we headed to Kilkenny, with a stop in the morning at the port town of Cobh, last port of call for the Titanic, as well as a stop at the Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery. Once in Kilkenny, we checked into our hotel and went out for a bike tour of the town. Our guide, a Kilkenny native with a great sense of humor, led us to various spots of interest in the medieval town and the lovely Kilkenny Castle. IMG_3687   IMG_3689 IMG_3690 IMG_3695 Day 7: Kilkenny to Dublin. We left Kilkenny and headed back to Dublin to spend more time in the capital city. One of the highlights of this day was a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, where we learned about the process of making Guinness and even learned how to pour a pint! Afterward, we ate our 3rd dinner of fish & chips. (The fish & chips dinners were slowly improving with each attempt. I felt I was on the verge of discovering the perfect fish & chips meal.)

We also walked through Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells. That night was another highlight of the trip – an evening at the Merry Ploughboy Pub, where we were served a delicious dinner and treated to a show of traditional Irish pub songs and dancing. If you ever get to Dublin, make it a point to spend a night at the Merry Ploughboy! IMG_3699 IMG_3705 Day 8: Dublin. This was our last day in Dublin. Highlights of the day included Murphy’s Ice Cream (AMAZING), a garden festival at Christchurch Cathedral, a little shopping, and a great meal at a delicious little pub called The Norseman. This pub had a fabulous selection of food and beer, and I couldn’t help from ordering just one more fish & chips dinner — and this one was the BEST yet! Furthermore, there was more traditional pub music and a lively atmosphere. I would highly recommend the Norseman as well if you find yourself in Dublin.

Unfortunately, that night was spent at the hostel in a frustrating attempt to get our plane tickets printed out for RyanAir on an ancient computer in the hostel lounge, which seemed to eat up a large amount of Euro for minutes used and sheets printed. I swear, I spent an hour and a half just trying to get those darn boarding passes. But I finally printed them successfully, and we left early the next morning for Scotland.

Despite the poor ending to the last night, I thought Ireland was fabulous. Next time, maybe it will be eighty days instead of eight!

Musings, North Dakota Living

7 Months, 3 Houses

Hubby and I moved last weekend to our third house since our wedding seven months ago. We are back on the farm, in boomtown, in oil country, in western North Dakota, starting our new jobs and a new adventure together. I will miss some things about living in the capital city, but then again, when I lived in the capital city, I missed it here, too. I read a quote once that said, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” It’s true; no matter where I am, I miss someones and somethings somewhere else. But that’s ok — at least I have all those someones and somethings to love!

I digress. Here is the story of the move:

Upon starting summer vacation in early June, I assume I have lots of time to move before school starts up again this fall, so rather than packing up my house, I pack a suitcase and go on vacation to Ireland and Scotland with two girlfriends and without a care. While on vacation, I get an email from my father, who is helping us to get rid of our house in the capital city. The email informs me that I must be out of my house by the following Saturday. Upon doing some calculation, I realize that gives me three days to move out once I return from Europe.

I also realize at this point that I haven’t packed one thing besides my suitcase. I haven’t even collected one cardboard box. Uh oh.

So, late on the Wednesday night before the move, I return home to a happy reunion with my hubby after being away for two weeks, followed by a lot of frantic wrapping, sorting, packing, boxing, carrying, and loading into two trailers. We should be good at this by now – not only is this our third house together, but I have moved nine times in the past six years, and in the past nine years, my hubby has moved a whopping 18 TIMES!

And every move is just as terrible as the one before.

Luckily, we have the help of my parents, grandparents, and one brother. After three long days, we load the last box, take out the last bag of garbage, wipe down the last shelf in the refrigerator, and decide that it was probably good we didn’t have much warning — kind of like ripping off a bandaid.

And just like that, here we are, enjoying the long western North Dakota evenings and unpacking at a much slower pace than that of packing. Our new home, a little modular on the family farm, is shaping up nicely after a few days of TLC. Never mind that the spare bedroom looks like this right now:

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(I know. Don’t judge.)

The more important thing is that right outside the window it looks like this:

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The view outside is a bit better than the view inside, don’t you think?

I think those boxes in the spare bedroom can wait a little longer….

Musings, North Dakota Living

That Person

Yesterday, in my Timehop app (which shows pictures and status updates from today’s date in past years), I was shown one particular memory which stood out to me. It was a picture of my cousin Beky and I on a Caribbean cruise four years ago. It wasn’t the picture that got my attention, but the fact that it was only four years ago that surprised me. Four years is a decent amount of time, but so much has changed since then – for both me and Beky – that it seems like it must have been at least a decade ago.

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This was in our dating days, the days that I would never again wish to repeat, although I learned a lot of valuable lessons during that time. Lessons like: Never move to the same place the guy lives with any type of expectations, unless you’re married. If it’s not right, END IT IMMEDIATELY rather than letting it drag out forever; it’s not good for either of you. During those lonely times, you are more likely to date people you wouldn’t normally date, but if your dad “forbids” you to date a guy, try to swallow your pride and do what’s best for you rather than trying to prove your dad wrong. Finally, and most importantly, if the guy is a jerk to you, enlist your Grandma’s support! Those kinds of lessons.

Now, thankfully, those dating days are behind both me and Beky. I was married last fall, and Beky will be married at the end of this summer. The dating world really is a brutal one, and for those of you lucky enough to find the right one early on, I give you kudos. Some of us, however, have to search a little harder before we find THAT person. And you know what? I think sifting through all the dirt of the dating world makes me appreciate my person even more.

I didn’t even know it was possible to be so lucky.

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For me, it wasn’t love at first sight when I met him at my cousin’s house. But as the Andy Griggs song goes, “The moment I looked twice” a couple weeks later, I was hooked, and I haven’t looked back since. His eyes, his deep voice, his intelligence, his life experiences, his easy way of carrying on a conversation, and his interest in everyone and everything around him were just some of the things that hooked me. We were joined at the hip from our first date and were engaged pretty quickly after about 6 months of dating.

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I’m not so idealistic to proclaim that he is the “perfect” guy, but let’s be honest, I’m much less perfect. Sometimes I can’t believe he has the patience to deal with me on a daily basis. Furthermore, I am so proud of him I could burst. He devoted his early years to learning music in the fields of percussion and audio engineering. He went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. He worked as a live audio engineer in Nashville and met countless talented musicians (including one of my favorites, Dierks Bentley!). Then, he decided to make a life change and move back home to North Dakota, after which I was lucky enough to snag him. He went back to school for carpentry, was brave enough to work for my dad on the farm last summer (truly, that was brave), and then got the job he wanted working in a custom cabinet shop.

Now, he’s found an opportunity to move both of us back to the place I love the most: my family’s farm in western North Dakota.

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His willingness to be a part of my family, work with my dad and brothers, and embrace the life I’ve always loved is one of my very favorite things about him.

He’s just great.

Did I mention he’s even letting me go off to Ireland and Scotland with two of my girlfriends (yes, one of them is Beky!) for two weeks starting tomorrow? What a guy!

Life has changed a lot for me since that Caribbean cruise four years ago. And although I am not sure where we will end up in another four years, one thing I can say for sure is this: Life is so much better with that person.

Musings, North Dakota Living

To Be Little

A farm is a great place to be little. Horses, dogs, kittens, barns, wagons, four-wheelers, lawn mowers, grandpas and grandmas, and perfect places for forts — need I elaborate?

I should know. I was lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents with farms. My Irish Grandpa Tim lived on a farm in northwestern North Dakota his entire life, and he farmed until 2005, the year he died, at 87 years old. My Norwegian grandparents, Wayne and Marilyn, farmed in northeastern North Dakota until they retired in 1996 and moved to be closer to us grandchildren. I spent countless days at both farms in the summer. My brothers and I chased kitties, fed horses, explored barns, rode in anything from tractors and grain trucks to wagons and golf carts, and sat in the laps of my grandma and grandpas.

It was heaven for six kids who loved kitties, horses, barns, tractors, grain trucks, wagons, and golf carts. And especially their grandma and grandpas.

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Now we are watching the next generation of the family begin to enjoy these same things. My niece and nephews are visiting this week and making their own memories. I love exploring the farm with them, seeing everything through their little eyes and helping them to learn to love the farm, too. Here’s a little sampling of what we’ve been busy doing:

We’re finding lots of ways to get around…

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Feeding the horses…

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Making forts under the grain bins…

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Having a pretty darn good time…

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And hanging out with Grandpa Mike.

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Come to think of it, all those things are still fun, even though I’m not so little anymore. The problem when we get older is we don’t take the time to actually do them. But wouldn’t life be a little better for all of us if we took a little ride outside on whatever transportation is available, gave a hug or a pat to one of our pets, or built a fort somewhere? If we took time just to be “little” again?

If you’re looking for me this summer, I just might be trying to convince my husband to pull me around in the wagon…. 😉

Musings, North Dakota Living

Where I’ve Been

I don’t always do well with change. For the past 16 months, I’ve gone through so many changes, I couldn’t keep up. I stressed out, lost sleep, moved twice (going on three times), took on two new jobs (going on three), found a husband, and adopted a dog. And although they’ve been mostly good changes, they came just a little too fast for me. During those 16 months, I also hit a serious writer’s block. I broke out of the block just once last spring to write about my new bike. Then I slipped back into life-change-overload.

I’m not naive enough to assume that every reader is dying to know every detail of my life, but I also feel a need to explain why this blog has sat empty for so long, collecting cyber dust. I just couldn’t let it go, though. Every October, I renew my blog subscription. When it came up last fall, I renewed it again even as I asked myself, “Will I ever write again?”

I knew I would, though.

Here is a brief summary of where I’ve been for 16 months:

December 2013: Returned from Asia. Started dating a great guy. Felt generally overwhelmed by reverse culture shock and living back at home for the first time in years. [See an explanation here.]

January 2014: Picked up a job teaching middle school English in my hometown.

March 2014: Turned 29.

June 2014: Became engaged to the great guy after only 6 months of dating. (But so what? He’s great!)

July 2014: Hired at a new job in my hometown. Took a trip to Boston. Started wedding planning.

August 2014: Started the new job, still teaching middle school English.

October 2014: Moved into a new house. Stressed out majorly over the state of my wedding dress, which DIDN’T FIT AT ALL and which the bridal shop told me was GOOD ENOUGH. I drove to the shop in Fargo numerous times on the weekends. Finally, I took it to a seamstress friend in Watford City, and she fixed it for me. She’s an angel.

November 2014: Got married. The day was freezing, but the dress fit, and the groom was the best part of all.

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And, the new husband moved into the new house. Major learning curve began — living with a husband! I’m afraid I’m probably as challenging to learn to live with as he is. (Or more. I admit it. I’m getting persnickety in my old age.)

January 2015: Moved again, to another house. (It’s a long story).

March 2015: Turned 30. We adopted a puppy from the local shelter and named her Scout. Boy, is she cute.

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April 2015: Decided to move back to the oil field! (Yes, it’s true!) My husband is going to work up there. So, I accepted a high school teaching job and resigned from my current job.

May 2015: Currently, here I am, struggling along, trying to pack up and clean up my house and find a place to live and make it to summer vacation and pack for a trip to Europe and restart my blog and brace myself again for the oil field! If I ever needed writing as therapy, it’s now.

What a crazy life.

I just can’t seem to help myself…

Musings, North Dakota Living

On Bicycles

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
– Christopher Morley

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” 
-H.G. Wells

A few days ago, I bought a bicycle. It’s a beauty, an Electra Verse 21D in sky blue and canary. The second I spotted it as I walked between the two aisles of shiny hybrid bicycles in the REI store in the twin cities, I knew I was in love. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions for my first bike purchase in 17 years, though, so I tried not to yearn, and instead asked the friendly REI associate some practical and pointed questions about the style of bike I should buy. The more I explained my biking style and habits, the more he continued to gesture toward that exact blue-and-yellow piece of eye candy that I was indeed yearning for. My hopes went up. My heart rate quickened. I blurted out, “I’ll take it!” It had taken me approximately 5 minutes to pick out the bicycle of my dreams, another 15 minutes for the guys to install a kickstand and water bottle cage, 2 minutes to pay — and I was out in the parking lot, riding in circles.

Who cares about a little rain?

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This got me thinking about the power of the bicycle. Susan B. Anthony said once, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” (You can read an interesting article on the concept here.)

I, for one, am inclined to agree with her. Although I’m fortunate enough to grow up in a time when women can study and vote, I did find it pretty liberating riding around in the rain in the parking lot after the frozen shackles of a long, cold winter. That counts, right? And how many summer days growing up did my brothers and I spend riding our bikes to the local swimming pool, the baseball diamond, and the Mini Mart? How many times did my bike get me faithfully to class on time? How often have I cruised down a paved road in the badlands, thinking there can’t be a better way to enjoy the view? Liberating, indeed.

The bicycle is a wonderful piece of equipment, and it deserves some props, which is why I have decided to wake up from my no-blogging and no-traveling trance, and write this, my first blog post in months. I feel about as rusty as, well, an old bicycle. (Sorry.) I can’t think of a more deserving topic, however. In fact, the excitement of my purchase at REI got me thinking about the last time I experienced this kind of thrill, riding around in circles just for the heck of it, not caring a hoot about the dollars I just spent…

In the summer of 1997, I was 12 years old and had approximately 300 dollars in my little checking account. This money came from working on my Grandpa Tim’s farm in the summers — for every day we worked, we earned the dollar amount of our age. So the summer before, every time I spent a day out picking rock or hoeing trees or chasing cows, I made 11 dollars that day. (This was a sweet deal, because we were guaranteed a dollar raise once a year!) At the end of every summer, my dad deposited our earnings into our little checking accounts. Under his guidance, we doled out portions to savings and charity, and the rest was ours.

On this particularly beautiful evening in 1997, my dad drove me down to Dakota Cyclery on Main Street in Bismarck. I was bouncing with anticipation and clutching my navy blue plastic checkbook, with its barely-used blue-patterned checks. In the shop with my dad, I looked at bike after bike, trying out gears, admiring colors, and marveling over the fact that each one had handle brakes rather than pedal brakes — I had never owned a bike with handle brakes! Finally, I chose the one: A Specialized Hard Rock in forest green, with 21 speeds and a water-bottle cage. The green paint had tiny sparkles in it, and I was smitten. I proudly wrote out the check for $250 in my 7th-grade cursive, tearing it carefully on the perforated line and handing it over to the salesman. My first big purchase with my own money (Random tidbit: The second big purchase with my own money was a 12-gauge shotgun) — and what a purchase it was!

Even better, after a few test circles in the parking lot — sound familiar? — my dad let me ride it home from the bicycle shop. With the seat as low as it could go, I could just barely stretch my feet enough to pedal it. That first ride on my first grown-up bike, with the wind blowing back my hair as I cruised home, was a crowning moment in my adolescent life, and when I think of happiness and liberation, I think that moment sums it up pretty well.

Here’s the bike back in its glory days. I’m not sure I would go as far as to call those my glory days…

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up that forest green Hard Rock just because I have a new bike love in my life. After helping to transport me through the rocky adolescent years, the Hard Rock came with me to college in 2003, where it took me to English class, Burger Time, and once, through the Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 a.m. My cross country teammates often borrowed it when they were too injured to run. In 2007, I took it to a bike repair shop in Fargo for its 10th birthday and bought it a tune-up, new brakes, and new tires. It was my transportation on one first date, one long healing post-breakup ride, and one particularly infamous trip to Dairy Queen which resulted in my brother Danny breaking his wrist. On several occasions, we have gone down to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to admire those badlands together. Nope, that bike’s not going anywhere. We’ve been through a lot.

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But, there’s no reason you can’t have a little bit of new with a little bit of old, so that’s how I found myself in REI looking at new bicycles for the first time in 17 years. I’m thinking I’m going to make a lot of new memories with this new bike, too. I may not be making any more 2 a.m. Taco Bell trips, but I hate to rule anything out…

So if you’re looking for me this summer, I’ll more than likely be on one of my two bicycles somewhere, enjoying my little bit of liberation.

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Musings, Travel & Adventure

Coming Home: Not As Easy As I Thought

When I flew out of Minneapolis for Asia on a Friday in early fall, I felt queasy. Three months wasn’t a long time to be gone — or was it? I had no idea what to expect. Would I like Asia? Would I like living out of my backpack for that long? Would volunteering be rewarding, difficult, or both? Would I like the food? Would I get sick? Would I still like my brother Tommy after all that time spent together? (Kidding, Tommy.)

I really didn’t know all the answers to these questions, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. I love to travel, but I also love home, and previously my longest trips had only been a couple of weeks at most. I was determined to make the best of it regardless of what I found overseas, but I knew it wouldn’t be the most comfortable period of my life by any means. That really wasn’t why we were going. If anything, I wanted to be uncomfortable. So as we flew out of Minneapolis that rainy autumn morning, I did my best to push my nervous thoughts to the back of my mind. I remember commenting to Tommy, “Well, no matter how this trip goes, it will be a sweet feeling to land back on American soil in December!”

Because coming home is always an amazing feeling, right?

Fast forward to that December plane ride home to America from Beijing, and something remarkable had happened, for better or worse: I really didn’t feel as amazing as I had thought I would to be coming home. I didn’t feel excited. I didn’t feel eager. Instead, the same queasy feelings that accompanied me on the way to Asia were flitting around in my stomach during the return flights. What was going on? Could it be that I actually enjoyed myself so much that I was now going to pine away for Asia? This was unexpected. The thought of facing “real life” back home was as terrifying to me now as flying into the unknown in Asia had been. I had definitely experienced culture shock when we had first landed in Cambodia months earlier, but it hadn’t taken long to adjust. In fact, it didn’t take long at all for me to fall in love with Cambodia and Thailand.

I had also heard of something called “reverse culture shock,” a term used to describe a difficult adjustment back to life in America. I assumed, however, that it was only for people who spent years overseas. I was not at all prepared for it to be difficult for me. But strangely, it was. It turns out three months was long enough to pick up new habits and expectations, and not long enough for me to miss home much at all.

When we finally landed in Minneapolis, I felt empty.

I had planned and looked forward to and lived the trip for so long, and it had gone so fast, that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself now that I was back. Three months no longer seemed too long, but not long enough at all. I missed Asia incredibly. Where was the sunshine? Where was the diversity? Where was the fresh fruit being sold on every corner? Where were the challenges of trying to converse with people who don’t speak my language? Where were the interesting crowds of people? And why is everything here so darn expensive? Christmas, while it is one of my favorite times of year, just made everything worse. After living out of a backpack for that long and cycling only a handful of outfits, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I owned, and getting more stuff as gifts seemed unnecessary. I missed the simplicity of only a few days earlier. I missed the friendliness and curiosity of the Khmer and Thai and Chinese locals. I didn’t really miss the bad plumbing, but even our fancy American bathrooms added a whole new adjustment. And oh boy, I missed the food. (Except, of course, the fried tarantulas! Those I can live without.) I was pretty excited one night after Christmas to find both pad thai and a native Thai waitress at a new restaurant in town, and she was pretty excited too when I tried out one or two of my terribly-pronounced Thai phrases on her.

I was genuinely surprised and a bit bewildered by the overall difficulty of adjusting back, and I was hard on myself for it, especially when I considered how fortunate I am here at home. Was I just being dramatic? Or negative? I didn’t want to be like that. But it wasn’t until I had an email conversation with my friend E, who currently lives in China, that I understood these feelings weren’t necessarily bad or unusual. She assured me that it happened to her, too, the first time she moved to China for a summer and then returned to America. Through our conversation, I began to look at the whole process differently. Instead of feeling depressed about missing my adventures in Asia, could I take that new perspective that I had wanted so badly and work to apply it to my familiar life here? Could I simplify things, focus on teaching and family and all of the important things, and most of all, know in my heart that these experiences, even if we never get to have them again, make us who we are?

What I was feeling made even more sense when I came across this quote by Miriam Adeney:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” 

This idea resonated with me greatly. I left a small part of my heart in Asia even after a few short months, and that’s okay with me. Dramatic? Maybe, but whatever. I’ve never been one to hold back much. And the richness I’ve gained from the whole trip has emerged during the weeks I’ve been home, especially once I was able to get past feeling empty and lost. Most importantly, I’ve started to realize that you don’t need to fly across the world for new experiences. It’s about saying “yes” when opportunities present themselves, trying new things, accepting people no matter where they come from, and enjoying the little things that surround us daily.

Coming home has turned out to be its own new experience now that I’m adjusting again. I feel like I’m getting a fresh start, so I’ve decided to fill my life with things that are meaningful, big or small. I’ve taken up local adult classes on everything from photography to crochet. I’m drinking tea for the first time ever. I sleep less and converse more. I have a new fascination for people from other cultures and have become more outgoing in general. I also have a new appreciation for drinkable tap water and flushing toilets! That new perspective is working its magic, and coming home — well, truthfully it hasn’t been as easy as I thought. It’s a little too cold now and a little too expensive, and I still find myself looking at flights online during my free time. I will more than likely jump on a plane overseas the first time the opportunity arises.

But this is home. And I’m finding again that it’s not so bad, after all.

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Musings, Travel & Adventure

A Bittersweet Detour

The purpose of our three-month long trip to Asia was to train in Cambodia and  volunteer teach in Thailand, but we thought it was necessary to end with a week-long detour into China since we were in the right hemisphere and everything. (You can read a little about this Chinese detour here and here.) We enjoyed every stop we made, but we had one major goal in mind: To visit the famed Great Wall of China.

I’m happy to say that on our very last day in Asia, we finally made it.

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Furthermore, we accomplished the impossible: We actually had the Great Wall to ourselves for most of the morning. In China, a land of 1.35 billion people and countless tourists, it can be difficult to find personal space. And this is the Great Wall. Surely, even in December, we would be admiring it with fellow crowds of tourists. But I am not kidding when I say that the one and only time I enjoyed complete solitude in my almost three months in Asia was on the Great Wall of China, which, depending on the source, is visited by four to ten million tourists a year. Amazing!

Several things helped our cause:

First, it was not peak travel season in China. When we went, it was between Chinese holidays. Near the Chinese New Year holiday in January, more people start traveling again, but we were there weeks before the Chinese New Year, and also, the schools were busy wrapping up their semesters.

Second, we were helped out greatly by the friendly manager at our guesthouse in Beijing. He had recommended going to the Jinshanling section, which is a bit farther away than the more popular sections of the Great Wall near Beijing. We took his advice, and I’m glad we did. He also helped by lining up a private car to drive us there. As we had flights to catch in the afternoon, we decided to leave at 5:30 a.m. and were there before 8:30. I’m not even sure if it was open yet, actually. I think they just let us in anyway.

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Third, it was absolutely freezing. Granted, I had just left Thailand where I’d been sweating in the heat and humidity for months, and I had turned into a bit of a cold weather weeny. But even hardened, wizened agriculture men Adam and Danny, who had recently left the North Dakota winter, claimed it was cold. And they were well prepared! Tommy and I, on the other hand, were trying to make do with any clothing we had from our Thailand backpacks that could count as slightly warm, as well as scarves, hats, a fleece-lined flannel, and other outerwear hastily purchased on the China streets. Tommy was forced to wear socks under hiking sandals. Yes, it was cold, my friends; but apparently North Dakotans are among the few crazy enough to go romp around on the Great Wall when the temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit and there is a biting wind blowing across the rugged Yanshan mountains.

That’s not to say we didn’t do some precautionary warm-up stretching:

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It was probably good for me, anyway. I needed a taste of winter so I would be prepared to go back home.

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Standing on the Great Wall for the first time was breathtaking. (Perhaps I’m remembering the icy wind that hit me in the face and literally took my breath away.) But in seriousness, in that moment it was worth every minute spent applying for visas and every penny spent getting there. At the Jinshanling section, the Great Wall stretches over ridges and mountain peaks as far as the eye can see in either direction. And once we were up in the sunlight hiking around, even the cold wasn’t so bad.

We were like a group of kids on a really impressive playground.

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The first humans we spotted in the late morning were two Chinese merchants, a chatty, smiley wife and silent, serious husband, who haul their coolers and water jugs to the top of the Great Wall every day to sell drinks to thirsty tourists. These two are tough, I tell you. The cold barely phased them. Partly in admiration and partly in desperation, we purchased cold beers and hot black tea with the last of our RMB – it seemed fitting to spend it there, despite the steep prices – and sipped it on the Great Wall while the wife cheerfully learned how to use my camera, laughed at our pronunciation of “thank you” in Mandarin, and taught us a couple of new words.

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We did eventually run into a smattering of tourists straggling onto the Wall, who looked equally as cold as we did, but we were on our way out by then. We had flights to catch and real lives to get back to and these kinds of moments can only continue in one’s memory, anyway.

It was a bittersweet feeling, stopping on those ancient stones and gazing over the mountains, knowing I wouldn’t be back to this part of the world for a while.

Mostly, it was just bitter because of that bitter cold I mentioned.

Because as far as memories go, this one’s pretty sweet.