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, 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.

North Dakota Living, Teaching, Travel & Adventure

North Dakotans in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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