Christmas Card Rejects.

It’s that time of year again.

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Time to roll out the holly, fill your cup up with egg nog, bake something and send out the Christmas Cards!

Now, we’ve talked about our card already here, about how, regardless of our small little family, I chose a photo of Husband and I sitting on a cooler at a music festival after a few drinks and a few hours in the sun and dust.

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I think it’s festive in its own way, you know, minus the roaring fire, twinkling tree and coordinating Christmas sweaters.

It will do just fine I think. It has to.

Because it was our only choice.

I’ve mentioned this before, a few years back, that each time the holidays roll around I’m faced with the dilemma of finding a suitable photo of my Husband and I that doesn’t make our friends and family concerned for 1) Our Relationship and 2) Our Mental Health.

It’s a tough task.

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And after spending the last few years traipsing around the countryside photographing beautiful families and beautiful couples and sending them off into the holidays armed with at least one or two catalog worthy shots, I have yet to coordinate my own JCrew photo shoot for me and my man.

We are not photogenic.

We are awkward.

And this is our catalog…

IMG_2733Merry Christmas (and no, our house still isn’t done)

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Happy Holidays from my nose and his beard

DSCN6339Warm wishes from Florida. We’re not tourists. And no, this isn’t Husband’s first time to Disney World, no matter what the button on his polo says. 

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Celebrate! The Dweebs have been released from the ranch!

IMG_2434 Happy Festivus…IMG_2510 No,no, we haven’t been drinking.  

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Aww, cute, we should cuddle up in front of the tree…take off your cap and act like you like me…
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Nevermind, put it back on…
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Uhhh, Happy New Year?

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Good tidings from the Scofields…and the creepy guy behind us…

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Sweet dance moves…
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Sweet dance moves…
  IMG_6143An attempt before…IMG_6258  It all went horribly wrong…(and I’m not just talking about my hair)

IMG_9481Do we love each other? Yes. Are we having fun? Of course. 
Does it look like it? No. No it does not.

IMG_8243Aww anyway…IMG_8244 Here’s to good cheer. 

Happy Happy Christmas Card Season One and All!
Hope the catalog of your beautiful life has more options than ours.

Peace, Love and awkward family photos,
Jessie & Chad

(Oh, and the dogs too)

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The Christmas Tree Plan

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This is what -2 with a -100 wind chill looks like.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.

And so the scene is set…

Ahem…

‘Twas the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and one of the last free weekends Husband and I have in December to spend traipsing around our countryside on the hunt for a tree.

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So it didn’t matter that our blood could freeze right there in our veins, or that our eyeballs could turn to ice cubes, our snot into icicles dangling from on our nostrils. It didn’t matter that our very lives were in danger of being taken by Jack Frost himself, we were gonna get my darn tree.

We were gonna put on 37 layers of clothes, load up in the new/old feed pickup,

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turn off of the gravel and onto the dirt/compacted snow/ice trail, drive really slow and discuss our options while looking out the window.

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We were going to spot a couple potential spruce bushes relatively close to one another on the side of the buttes, park the pickup, avoid a puppy-cicle and leave Gus inside, grab the saw from the back, trudge up the hill to the first option

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and mumble into our scarves with our eyes half open (you know, to avoid the whole icicle thing) about the potential of a tree that is a 10-foot tall version of Charlie Brown’s, but has possibilities really, because, well, it’s here and we might freeze to death if we stay out much longer weighing our options.

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But then we’re going to decide to risk it, spot another tree down the hill, walk over to discover it’s the same size as the one in Rockefeller Center and consider the possibility of building an addition to accommodate, because, well, there’s that whole freezing to death thing we’ll still be dealing with before I will turn my face toward the sun to discover one last option blowing in the wind among thorn bushes a quarter mile away.

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So I’ll decide we’ll never feel our legs again anyway and we might very well lose our noses to frostbite, but we might as well assess the bushy little tree, decide it’s not so bad, decide it will work just fine before Husband will stomp down the thorn bushes and start after the trunk with his battery-operated saw with a battery that lasts approximately 3 seconds at a time, you know, apparently death-defying cold applies to power tools too…

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And we are going to finally get the thing down after one big push, drag it to the the pickup a half a mile away,

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decide we might be dying, throw the tree on the flatbed, open the doors, get back inside the pickup, crank up the heat, blow our noses that will be miraculously still attached to our faces, and head back down the road toward home.

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Then we are going to get one mile from home and Husband is going to stop the pickup in the middle of the road, get out, run to the ditch and drag the tree back on the flatbed.

And when we arrive at home, we are going to put the tree in the basement to thaw out, I’m going to say goodbye to Husband who is crazy enough to put on one more layer and sit out in his hunting blind for the rest of the day, then I will pour myself a cup of coffee, consider adding whiskey, make plans for an evening decorating mission, because it will take me a good three to five hours to feel my fingers again and call it a Merry Merry Christmas.

That’s the plan.

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Fa-la-la-la-lahhh-la-la-la-laaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Holidays: How they hold us and haunt us

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Last weekend marked the end of deer rifle season here in North Dakota. My uncle from Texas arrived in the middle of the week with his son-in-law and nephew, Pops took some time off, Husband willed Saturday to come quicker and the entire Veeder Ranch turned into a hunting camp, just like it does every year at this time.

Boots dripping with melted snow were strewn in my parent’s entryway, a combination of camouflage, hunter-orange, fleece, wool and leather piled up on the chairs. Men were up and out with the sun sitting on hilltops and sneaking through draws.

When our Texas Uncle comes to the ranch it’s like an extended holiday around here. We all sort of hang up our evening plans and get together around mom’s table while Pops fries up fish or beef or, if there was some success that day, venison.

Ever since I was a little girl, and as long as I’ve lived in this place, this is the way it’s been.

Most years I go out with them on the hunt at least once. Because there’s something about being out with the boys who grew up here, my dad and his brother, together walking the draws they know so well, sitting quietly on the hilltops taking in the familiar view of their childhood, doing what they’ve always done, that’s always been comforting to me.

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Since we almost lost dad early this year, each tradition spent since his recovery has been regarded as a gift and a little more precious than it was before.

I seem to be seeing the world more that way lately.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I imagine it’s timely to be so grateful for second chances, for family, for walking behind my husband on a warm early winter evening, keeping quiet while he carries his bow, turns around and smiles, waving me along.

It’s never been difficult for me to be grateful for these things.

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But never in my life have I seen the world and the people in it as fragile as I see them these days.

Never have I been more aware of time and what it means for us.

And as much as I’m grateful for all of the things that fill this life of ours, during the holidays especially, I become the most aware of what we don’t have.

And who or what others are mourning.

Because what we don’t have, who we are missing, sits like a silent ache in the quiet corners of our houses.

IMG_9778Yesterday I sat down to make a Christmas Card and for the first time in my life I felt sort of silly about the whole thing.

“Who the hell wants a picture of just the two of us?” I said out loud to my husband looking over my shoulder. “Christmas Cards are for people with kids, and grandkids, so their families can see how cute they are. How much they’ve grown. We just keep getting older. This feels pathetic.”

It wasn’t sadness coming out of my mouth, but frustration. Frustration that the life I was in was perfectly good and that I should be perfectly grateful, but I couldn’t will myself to be those things at the moment, not even in the name of the holiday spirit.

All I could muster up was annoyance and a sort of anger that other people have family photos taken for the occasion, snuggling into one another on a blanket or in front of a fireplace, birth announcements for Christmas cards, big extended family shots with grandkids on Santa’s lap, and all I could scrounge up from our archives was a photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

It was a moment of pure envy. Pure poor me. It was ugly. (Others have lost more. Others have less to lose. Others suffer more than we can comprehend.)

And it sort of scared me.

Because I love that photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

I love that we have a life full of those sorts of photo opportunities. I am proud that despite all of our losses we are still trying, but most of all, we’re still living a fun life, striving for fulfillment. Holding on to one another. Laughing.

We have other dreams, dreams that don’t fill the empty void of a family we feel as incomplete, but dreams nonetheless.

We’re ok really. Most days we’re just fine.

But how do you portray this when picking out a Christmas card? The templates available to us are smattered with children frolicking in the snow, “Joy to the World” in big bold letters across their footprints.

Staring at the photo of my husband and me, in our early 30s, sun kissed and smiling despite seven years of trying and failing at creating one of those Christmas Card Template families, all I could see were our friends and family, the ones who know of our struggles, opening the card and shaking their heads.

“Poor Jessie and Chad,” they would think to themselves.

“Joy to the World” didn’t feel appropriate then.

And neither did anything with the words “Merry” or “Bright.”

But it was all bullshit. Justified bullshit, but bullshit still, and I knew it.

So did my husband.

He said, “You’re sending these to people who love us. My grandma. Your grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Our friends. They love to get mail. They will love to have a photo of us and I like this one.”

“I like this one too,” I said and carried on.

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If I learned anything this year it’s that we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. I’ve been walking through 2014 with that sucked so close to my chest that some days I can’t breathe.

But as the year progressed, as summer came shining down on our shoulders, when my little sister got engaged, as I watched my nephew turn 4, working on growing up into a cool little person, I watched my dad get better, stronger, more himself, the worry release from my mom’s face, I realized that not knowing how this is all going to turn isn’t all scary.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s sad. And always it makes the holidays a little bit shaky for us. Because being so damn grateful and so damn frustrated and so damn happy and so damn worried at the same time is confusing and emotional, especially when it comes to cutting down and decorating Christmas trees and making sugar cookies alone together in this house.

Yes, traditions can hold us together as much as they can haunt us.

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I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. That some of us celebrate as much as we mourn during this time of year. I say some of us. But maybe it’s all of us. And that’s ok.

I imagine my dad and his brother walking across these pastures where they were raised, and I doubt they take many steps before they think about their father and how he taught them to shoot their first rifle, how he was with them when they got their first big buck, two grown men, two grandfathers, just missing their dad.

I look at my husband looking back at me, waving me along the trail out there on our own hunt, I feel him standing behind me in the kitchen, I watch him cutting down another tree to stand in our house for the season and I know we can do it. We can be sad and we can be happy. Scared and hopeful as hell.

And we can sit together on that cooler under the hot summer sun, a little tipsy from one too many, smiling eyes under sunglasses in the face of a good and unpredictable life and we can be so frustrated and so thankful and so much of all of the heartache and happiness that sits in our bones under that skin that makes up the arms we have around each other and we can put it on our Christmas card, and despite all that we think we don’t have that we should, we can write “Joy to the World” if we want to.

But I don’t think I want to.

This year, I think I’ll just pick “Peace.”

Winter

Sunday Column and a Holiday Re-Cap

I just had a sugar cookie for breakfast.

Ok. Two sugar cookies. And I’m contemplating a third.

But they were relatively small–little green and red churches–so like two equals one.

Anyway, don’t judge me. I am working on coming down from a whirlwind of Christmas festivities that started ten days ago with prime rib and presents at the in-laws and carried on with the eating and merriment until last night when Husband and I crawled into the house around 11 PM under the falling snow after a quick trip to Arizona to celebrate one of our best friend’s marriage.

Yeah, we get fancy when we need to…

There was still frosting on the counter from the sugar cookie and crafting debacle that ensued on Christmas Eve.

There was wrapping paper stuck to chairs, stale Chex Mix on the table, crusty pancake bowls in the sink and undelivered presents for the neighbors waiting to be unwrapped under our un-lit and lean-y Christmas tree. 

We dropped our bags at the door and trudged up the steps, swept the remains of our day-after-Christmas whirlwind packing episode off the bed and on to the floor and proceeded to fall into a Christmas Coma.

Seriously.

I have pillow lines on my face that will take weeks to fade, just like the dents in my feet from the heels I wore to dance the night away on Saturday.

But oh, we had fun for Christmas…




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And then…the extraction of a runaway remote control helicopter from the chandelier…

And oh, we have such great people in our lives. Between our Thanksgiving Disney Adventure,  my little Christmas concert tour in mid-December, Christmas with the family and wedding festivities with my best friends under the Arizona sun, we got to see and squeeze so many people we love this holiday season.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmoreAnd it’s that kind of squeezing, that kind of love and celebration that gets us through the deep-freeze of December and helps propel us and thaw us out a enough to bear with optimism the upcoming North Dakota January.

Unfinished houses and all…

That and an occasional glass of whiskey.

And so, while the snow is falling outside my window today in quiet little swirls, I am sipping coffee from my holiday mug, planning our New Year’s meal and warming up with memories of a holiday well spent.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmore

Because in a few days I will go on missing summer, but today I couldn’t be warmer.

Sunday Column:
Horses weather winter better than their human counterparts
by Jessie Veeder
12/29/13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: Oh Christmas Tree, spindly Christmas Tree

Husband and I don’t have many traditions. Unless you count paddlefishing in May, sending him off to pheasant hunt in October and sometimes remembering our own anniversary enough in advance to buy a bottle of Champaign, I would call us sort of go with the flow type people.

Unless it comes to Christmas. We have traditions at Christmas. We eat pancakes and prime rib. I dip pretzels in chocolate and make a holiday shaped cheese ball.  I dress the pug in a Santa suit.  And we cut our own Christmas tree.

That Christmas tree thing, that’s my favorite one.

And since we moved back to the ranch we have held true to it being a magical sort of process, one that starts with a dreamy vision of the perfect cedar waiting lonely in the coulees of our favorite pasture in the sparkling snow and ends with us laughing and smiling under its boughs covered in twinkling glitter and lights.

And that’s how we remember it no matter the snow drifts, the chill or the one time when we got stuck miles from home and big brown dog puked in the pickup.

We remember it that way because our hunts usually end with a great tree. A tree that spoke to us under a beam of light. One that whispered “pick me, pick me” as we slowly walked toward its light shining down from the prairie sky. One that reached out its arms and asked to be ours, filled our house with the scent of holiday and became the backdrop to many nearly perfect Christmases spent on the ranch.

That didn’t happen this year.

No.

This year we had one day. One hour on one frickin’ freezing Sunday before the sun went down to head out into the -25 degree sunset and find our Christmas centerpiece.

Because in the middle of a life that we seem to insist on overbooking, Christmas seemed to have snuck up and bit us in the ass.

So we had no plan. We had no direction. We just had our coveralls, a saw, each other and one mission.

To fulfill our Christmas tradition.

And what we brought home isn’t pretty.

No, not really.

It’s sort of twisted and it leans and turns to the left. The branches are spindly, they gap and sag and have grown so accustomed to the relentless prairie wind that they have yet to relax so that while it is perfectly calm in the little house we’ve built, that tree, safe and sound under our roof, seems to make us believe that the wind is still blowing.

But you know what else it makes me believe? That Charley Brown, Grinchy little cedar covered in bulb and lights?

That it doesn’t matter.

That it’s sort of perfect for us, really.  Perfect for us and this year we’ve spent muddling through plans that just don’t quite turn out right.  Perfect for a man who falls of ladders and a woman who falls of ledges into snow banks in the middle of Main Street.

Perfect for a couple that doesn’t make time to keep up with the laundry or the dishes and spends way to much time eating noodles and not enough time doing sit-ups.

So when I reached for the 175th Christmas bulb, that carbohydrate loving, overly ambitious carpenter husband of mine told me to stop.

No more bulbs.

The tree is good.

The tree is his favorite.

Because it’s like us.

Just happy to be here and trying its best.

Coming Home: A perfect Christmas includes plenty of imperfections
12/20/13
By Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

The Pug: A Christmas Montage

Well, it’s official.

Chug the Pug has outgrown his Santa Suit.

He’s full grown now after all.

An old man.

Five years old.

As you can see it hasn’t stopped me from forcing him to wear it.

No.

For all of the times I’ve chased his ass out into Prairie Dog Town, down the road to a rig, over to Mom and Pops where he’s visiting his girlfriend, for all the barf I’ve cleaned up and farts I’ve endured, and for that unmentionable time, you know, with the cat… this is his yearly penance.

Oh, take it like a man…

That and the Halloween Pirate Hat.

So I suppose it’s no wonder his chest got a little too broad, his belly a solid barrel of meaty muscle pushing the hem of that funny little suit I bought when he was much younger, cuter, had two whole eyeballs and was less defiant.

It’s all that damn running around. Those hills and coulees.  All that death defying has created quite a physique.

So stand still pug. Don’t look at me like that. This is the least you can do for me for all the trouble you’ve caused.

For all the leftover bacon I fed you.

For pug sized muddy footprints you leave on my newly mopped floor, miraculously in the middle of winter where there’s no mud in sight.

For that weird, unidentifiable animal you drug to my doorstep just in time for the UPS man’s delivery.

So smile.

Because this is your Christmas suit montage.

Christmas Pug

Pug in glasses

You’re welcome world.

Peace, Love and Christmas Pugs!

Jessie

Smile, it’s Christmas.

Christmas

‘Tis the season.

The season to deck the halls.

To troll the ancient Yule tide carol.

To don we now our gay apparel.

The season to be jolly.

And ’tis the season to stand in front of the Christmas tree and smile.

It’s a Very Veeder Family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. That weirdly adorable kid in the checkered suit up there, that’s Pops. He’s known as the Godfather of the awkward Christmas smile.

You will see it carried out on various family members’ faces as we continue through the archives of the most noteworthy Veeder Christmas Tree portraits of all time.

(You’re welcome Aunt K.)

Anyway, don’t we all want to remember what we looked like on Christmas Eve 1993 when we just opened our kick-ass cow pajamas with matching slippers.

Falala-lalala-la-la-la.

These are fashion memories worth re-living and my hope is that they might give you inspiration for this year’s Christmas Tree shot.

Because if you find that you and your little sister are in matching sweatsuits, by all means, snuggle up under a quilt and get a picture of that shit.

Because it’s adorable.

Same goes when you and your cousins are forced to wear matching “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” sweatshirts on Christmas morning.

Pay attention here. This is a classic.

But not as classic as tablecloth dresses, big red bows, red-eye and eighties hair.

If only I could still pull off white tights, mary-janes…and big-ass fluffy tutus.

Because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a pouty ballerina and her big sister in even bigger glasses.

And now for Exhibit B, this time with excessive makeup, braces, forced smiles and more bows. Lots and lots of bows.

Because bows are cute as hell.

And so are puppies.

If you want to spice up a boring Christmas tree shot, go out and find yourself a puppy.

Sweet Baby Jesus that’s adorable.

And if you can’t find a puppy, a teddy bear dressed as an elf works too. 

You can thank me later for the tip.

And here’s another. If you find that you want a switch from the typical Christmas tree photo, I recommend sitting on a couch and placing a big poinsettia in front of your subjects. And also, at least one of you should be wearing a pirate shirt.

You can never go wrong with a pirate shirt.

Here’s to the holiday my sweet, sweet friends. May everything you’ve ever wanted be waiting for you under that Christmas tree!

A quick Christmas Recap…

Christmas finally arrived at the Veeder Ranch, leaving behind a wake of wrapping, boxes, bows, leftovers, a pretty severe sugar crash and one particularly annoyed pug.

It was our first Christmas in the new house and we were happy to put away the hammers and take some time to make a pie…

wrap some presents…

unwrap some presents…

and, well, torture the pug.

We broke some traditions this year, but unfortunately for that dog his Santa-suit-runway-walk will never be passed over.

Neither will the snowman cheeseball, even though it’s the same recipe I made just a month before for Thanksgiving, just, you know, it’s not shaped as a turkey this time.

No one ever tires of it. Every one loves it. Trust me.

Trust me.

Yes, it was a peaceful,

memorable,


delicious,

freezing cold,

super cute,

lovely Christmas

that began with a beautiful and thoughtful gift…

and ended with, well…this sexy little number.

Merry Christmas lovelies. I hope your holiday was better than his.

Nice try, really pathetic, but she ain’t gonna save you…

A Christmas Eve Eve Winner and your beautiful, winter photos!

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!
It is snowing here at the ranch and we’re hunkered down, working on checking off the construction and pie making projects on our list. Between the hammering and measuring and baking, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who shared your favorite winter photos as part of my little holiday contest.

The world is truly a beautiful place, even in the chilly, snowy temperatures of late December (or tropical temps for some!) and you’ve proved it to be true all over the place! Being transported to your backyards through your photos has been a wonderful Christmas gift.

It was a difficult task, but Husband and I have chosen our favorite winter scene. I will tell you, this decision was thought out over a cup of coffee, discussed, narrowed and determined with the most serious consideration. We almost had a tie. We almost had an argument. Things got heated, but we were able to narrow it down.

Little Drummer Boy, will you please take a moment out of your “Par rum pu pu pumming” to roll that drum!?

Thank you.

And the winner is: Sybil Nun for bringing Husband and I to the coast of Nova Scotia!

Photo submitted by Sybil Nunn. “Winter at Peggy’s Cove.” Nova Scotia.

Sybil, your photo is so exotic. You brought us to a world so similarly frozen and so full of wonder. We could imagine standing on those snowy rocks feeling the cold damp air blowing off of the water, freezing our eyelashes and flushing our cheeks. We love it!

You’ll be receiving a signed copy of my new album “Nothing’s Forever” and a matted print of one of my favorite winter scenes!

To honor the time each of the participants and the beauty of our winter world, I decided to post the submitted photos here for the rest of you to see in case you missed them on Facebook.

Thank you everyone for playing along and sharing your frosty world with us. Thank you for reading. Thank you for showing up here week after week with your encouraging words, relatable stories and positivity.

Merry Christmas! May your holiday be filled with love and obnoxious sweaters, family and friends who are like family, beauty and laughter and delicious food and drink on colorful holiday themed platters!

Peace to you and yours, now enjoy the show!

Photo submitted by Faye Baker “Merry Christmas from Mercer County!”

Photo submitted by Vicki Overvold

Photo submitted by Barb Grover “Children and the wonders of winter” Oslo-Norway

Photo submitted by Jeanne Ramsay “Merry Christmas from Denver”

Photo submitted by Christie Jaeger “Winter photo of our cows” Esmond, ND

Photo submitted by Susan Price Slehofer “Winter from just across the border in Montana”

Photo submitted by Karen Grosz “My favorite calming photo.”

Photo submitted by Hugh Long “Merry Christmas from beautiful Key West!

Photo submitted by Lillian Crook “Buffaloberry Bushes, Painted Canyon, c, December 16, 2012″

Photo submitted by Dan Grogan. “Southwest Virginia, two seasons ago. Happy Holidays!”

Photo submitted by Annika G. Plummer. “Merry Christmas!”

Photo submitted by Rory Guenther. “Merry Christmas!”

Photo submitted by Rachel Dwyer. “Frozen cattails :) Merry Christmas!”

Photo submitted by Rebekah Engebretson. “Fog’s friend left behind last week in Watford City.”

Photo submitted by Ed Barth.

Photo submitted by Robin Wahl. “Merry Christmas to you and yours. God bless.”

Submitted via email.

Photo submitted by Holly Mossberg. “This is my mare Elly and her offspring Dreamer in Feb. of 06 after they were pent up in the barn for two days.”

Photo submitted by Jess James.

Photo submitted by Jess James.

So many gifts.

Last Christmas Husband and I were planning the arrival of our new home. Husband worked during the coldest weeks of the year alongside his dad, Pops and our neighbor hammering nails with gloved hands, storing the air-compressor inside the heated truck so it wouldn’t freeze, climbing ladders and creating the walls to a foundation that our house was scheduled to sit on as soon as it arrived from Wisconsin.

I remember wondering what it would look like, having only seen what was to be our forever home in my head or on a blue print. I remember worrying that we wouldn’t meet our deadline, wondering how a house can possibly travel all of those miles and wind up in a place along a gravel road where a house has never been before and offering the guys a couple shots of Peppermint Schnapps as a celebration that the first step was done.

It was cold and frosty and the deadline was approaching with each passing moment, but right on schedule our house came rolling slowly down the freshly laid road and we could do nothing more but stand out of the way and watch as the crane lifted it and placed it on the concrete and wooden walls that were so carefully constructed during the depth of winter and into some long nights.

I will never forget what it felt like witnessing our home arrive out of thin air. Husband and I watched in silence with our hands in our pockets before admitting we were chilled to the bones and moving into the heated pickup where we did more of the silence thing, more of the watching. And although we knew when the roof was on and the men were gone there would be more work to be done, we were choked up at the sight of the start of it all.

That was one year ago. It was our sixth Christmas together as husband and wife and we were watching our dreams come true.

One year and I’ll have to say, nail by nail, scary ladder project by scary ladder project, and day by day it has been a test of our skills and our patience and a wonderful hand-made spectacle to watch it all slowly come together.

Two weeks ago they came to pour concrete in that basement.

Last week Husband built us some stairs.

This week we will put rock on our fireplace…

and last weekend we brought our Christmas tree home.

I have to tell you when we made plans for this house we thought out our specific needs. We wanted a lofted bedroom, an open floor plan, a giant mud room and a hardwood floor.

And we wanted to create a perfect space for a big and beautiful Christmas tree.

Oh, we still have so much to do, and realistically we should have been doing it. We should have been wiring that basement, putting doors on the closets or picking out carpet for our master bedroom. I should have been wiping saw dust off of things or washing our socks, but after our breakfast was cleaned up and all our coffee was gone on Saturday morning, my husband and I looked at each other, pulled on our Carharts and went out to find the tree we’ve had in mind since the beginning of it all.

I don’t know how to explain the magic I feel every winter I’m lucky enough to trudge behind that man in the snow on a hunt for our tree. It’s like the world goes calm and quiet, the wind stops blowing and my toes and fingers warm up.

It’s my favorite moment of the season, finding myself alone out here on the snowy acres my family has kept for almost a hundred years alongside a man I have known since we were children, searching for a little piece of our world we can bring inside and give a new life.




I remember every Christmas tree we’ve had together. I remember the first year’s drive out into the east pasture with a pickup and a small puppy. I remember how my new husband drug it up the hill with a rope. I remember the sun going down and the tires spinning as we backed up off the hill and got stuck.

I remember the puppy puke and the laughter and thinking about the long, dark walk home.

I remember getting unstuck and falling in love again as we pulled that oversized tree through the door of our tiny house and found a spot for it. I remember how it smelled.

Fast forward to the second Christmas spent tucked between mountains in eastern Montana, so far away from the familiar but together in a small apartment on the edge of town. There was no extra money that year and no Christmas tree, just a pretty centerpiece sitting on our table as a reminder of the season before we packed up and headed toward home for the holiday.

The third tree was purchased in the dark in a parking lot in a town a little closer to home and brought back to a house we were tearing apart and putting back together, the first house we purchased together. The tree had long pine needles and it didn’t smell like cedar or anything really. There was a fight about candy canes and tinsel and I cried while I put up the lights. I was unhappy, I think…or lonesome or out of place and something about that tree reminded me. There was no tree in that house the next year and after that I vowed I would never cry over Christmas again.

And I never did. We pointed our car north toward the ranch and moved back into that little house where we brought our first cedar tree in from the cold and promised one another that each Christmas we would do the same, no matter what.

We put lights on one more cedar in that little house while we planned for our future. We bundled up against the elements and fulfilled our promise to one another, speaking quietly into the hills that hold us all so close together.

I want to stand on top of those hills and scream that I take none of this for granted.

I want to open my arms and praise this life and the family who helped build it.

I want to say it out loud as if saying it will protect me from all there is that could lift this feeling of peace from my heart and set it adrift.

But for today, for this Christmas season, I will hold that feeling close. I will sit beneathe the cedar tree standing ten feet tall under the roof of our new forever home, its branches heavy with bulbs and lights and Christmas spirit, and I will breathe in its scent be grateful for today, for this life while I’m here.

Because we are not promised anything on this earth but a chance.

And I have been given so many gifts.