With so much summer stretching out ahead…

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Smoke from fires in Canada are making our world hazy and hot. It sort of coincides with my mood this week as I mill around waiting for the 4th of July and my annual road trip to Minnesota where I’ll spend a few days with my family at my Grandparent’s lake cabin.

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I have to leave Husband behind because he’s on call…at work…to water my garden…and to all of the animals on this place.

I know we’ll all have a more relaxed vacation knowing someone’s back at the ranch, but some days it seems like we spend more weekends apart than together.

That’s actually probably true, especially in the summer when my schedule is packed with performances.

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It will all cool off and slow down in a matter of months and here we will sit, waiting for the holidays, waiting for a baby…

Summer is so fleeting that I just want to squeeze every ounce of pretty and warm and bright out of it if I can.

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Last night we joined my parents for a supper of grilled steak kabobs and vegetables on their back deck that looks out into the coulee where the crick runs, a place I used to spend every waking summer minute as a kid.

As the sun sunk and my mom and husband worked on finding the bottom of the bottle of red wine, I looked out over that familiar coulee and started counting the fireflies flickering and making their presence known to us.

Of course fireflies exist in a world this green and lovely.

Why not just make it more lovely with tiny dancing stars close enough to touch?

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If there was ever a winter I cannot remember it.

If I was ever cold, the feeling escapes me.

If I ever worried before–about money, about this unborn baby, about my parent’s getting older, my husband on the road or my goals being met–in that moment, I knew nothing of it.

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If I ever knew anything but the tall green grass reaching up over the fence line, the dogs lying lazily in the front yard, the cat catching grasshoppers in the lawn, the garden slowly growing, the wildflowers dotting the prairie, the horses grazing on the hilltop in the home pasture, the laughter coming from the lungs of my mother, the handsome man sitting next to me wearing jeans spotted in grease, a result of what he called “a good day at work,” the little kick in my tummy or those flickering fireflies, I  couldn’t recall it.

Not now. Not at the beginning of July with so much summer stretching out ahead…

A speech for a season of celebration…

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We’re a week or so out of the ranch wedding weekend extravaganza and while the two newlyweds are off in Jamaica honeymooning, the rest of us are here, basking in the North Dakota’s official summer heat.

Last weekend was my hometown’s annual reunion celebration called “Homefest” and Husband and I spent last Friday on Main Street catching up with old friends and Saturday I got a chance to sing to the crowd of longtime residents, new residents and people visiting home again.

The party never stops around here in the summer when we try to cram 12 months of fun into the few summer weekends we get up here.

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And so it goes with those brides and grooms planning to get married. They generally want to do so in the summer so they don’t freeze to death on their way to the church or lose their guests in an unexpected blizzard.

So to honor the wedding and party season, I wanted to share with you the little speech I prepared for my little sister’s wedding. It’s about love and the time we share between the celebrations…

Cheers to love. Cheers to summer.

And cheers to finding the best ways to celebrate it all.

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Now, imagine me, my hormones and my emerging baby bump trying desperately not to lose it and burst into tears in front of our friends and family…
Today we celebrate love. That’s what weddings are about. The joining of two people because they met somewhere, and they clicked, so they went on a date to a movie or for drinks and they hit it off, so they went on another date and another one and then maybe she caught a cold and had to break plans and stay home and he showed up with orange juice, Champaign and chicken noodle soup—and no one had ever done anything like that for her before so she tried to find ways to keep him around, meet his parents, bring him to her family ranch, get him on a horse or two and convince him to start a new life in a wild place.

And maybe along the way there were disagreements, an old Ford Explorer might have blown up, plans might have been made and broken, wine spilled, …a cat might have been hit by a car…(and lived…don’t worry, it lived)…

But in between those weird and unexpected moments that life throws us, in the quiet times known only by the two of them, there were stolen kisses, reassurances when they were unsure, a hug stolen while she put the dishes in the sink, because at that moment he just loved her so much he had to touch her, inside jokes shared over yard work and eating lasagna on the couch together watching HGTV….

He might have bought her diamond earrings and surprised her by leaving a giant picture of a giraffe he painted in her apartment.

She might pick him up a new shirt she knows he’ll like on a shopping trip or drive a good 20 miles out of town to bring him leftovers or Taco Johns for lunch when he’s working weekends….and those are all nice things…

Really nice things.

The things you do when you have finished falling in love with each other and just are.

In. Love.

But it’s not just the love thing these exploding cars, giraffe paintings, unruly cats and stolen hugs equal out to.

No. When you get to this point, the “let’s get married” point, it is about more than just love.

I know this because a wise man once asked me to marry him by asking me to be his family.

I thought about that today as my little sister stood up in front of the people who love them and a man who brought her chicken noodle soup when he didn’t know her very well yet, but knew he wanted to take make her feel better…

With this ring, you two are family.

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But even better,

With this ring, we’re all family.

And what a wonderful thing that is! Two young and adorable people fall in love over drinks, a late night delivery of chicken noodle soup and a road trip gone ary and a few years later we find ourselves traveling from all corners of the country to gather in front of a barn that has stood for almost 100 years on a place that has existed in one family for an entire century…all because a 100 years ago two people fell in love and made plans to work together for as long as the future gave them…

The same wise man that gave me my ring once said “Love is living every day to make the other person happy.”

It’s a nice concept and not one that I can always say we remember to implement…but in love not every day is easy…and in love, not every day are we at our best.

But I bet our great grandparents and grandparents and parents will agree that love found them raising babies and careers and finding things to cook for supper together, but it’s not just love and only love that has kept them fighting and stealing kisses in the kitchen and eating lasagna on the couch watching HGTV together…

And so I’m so glad love made Alex my little sister…

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and now love has made Travis my brother…and love has made us all, under this big tent in the middle of nowhere and the middle of everything…

Family.

Turning to the hills…


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The summer has never looked better around here. Despite the crazy months that lead up to late June, I have taken a moment or two to admire how the grass is growing and how happy the cattle look out there munching away.

It’s funny to think that, if everything turns out according to plan, after all of these years, this will be the last summer of my life spent walking these hills with the little voice of worry and wonder about what we should do to make ourselves a family.

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Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always taken to these hills to work things out, to be alone, to take a moment, to breathe. The first sixteen years of my life in these coulees were spent wandering and creating and singing and dreaming of what life would be like when I grew up and got a chance to work things out on my own.

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In between then and now I spent my time visiting these hills, riding and admiring and remembering and saying “we’ll be back someday,” and then packing the car to leave again.

And in those between years, when we were juggling new jobs and new houses, learning what it means to be an adult and losing hope for the family we were trying to make, when it didn’t work out, I found my way home to these hills to cry and ask why.

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Besides on the shoulder of my husband, these hills are the only place I’ve truly allowed myself to wail.

Because no one can hear you when you’re out here alone.

And the trees don’t have ears to wonder about those sorts of things.

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When we finally found our way here for good, five years ago this summer, a period of time that seems so long and so short all at once, I walked these hills with many moods and agendas on my shoulders…to get my butt in shape, to work out a new career plan or creative project, to train the dog, to shoot photos of wildflowers, to check the horses in the field in the winter, to get the creative juices flowing, to ward off a bad mood, to scream at the top of my lungs or to just breathe.

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Not once in the last seven years have I walked these hills without the quiet voice in the back of my mind that wondered about all those unborn babies…and the ones that might make it to this earth to be ours and grow up in these hills like we planned it.

And so I don’t really know what to do with the news that perhaps, this time, the dream might come true.

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That we found a doctor and the doctor found a problem and two little white pills fixed it and now I have a belly that makes it so I can’t button my pants and a due date that makes it so I can’t schedule shows into the winter and a house full of stuff we’ve accumulated during nine years of marriage and not one closet open or one room cleared out for another human, no matter how much we hoped to plan for this one day.

Because despite the hope, we just kept living, filling those closets and filling our lives with work and things and people we love, because that’s what you do when plans don’t work out, you just keep living the best way you know how.

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But what do you do when all of the sudden you wake up with a hunch and day by day you hope and wait and realize that maybe those plans are working out? What do you do when you realize what you’ve wanted for so long just might come to you after all,  God willing…

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How does a person handle being every bit as terrified as you are excited? What do you do when the people you love, upon hearing the news, congratulate you, tell you they’ve been praying, eyes swelling up with tears at the relief of it all?

We hug back and smile.

But honestly, we’re still in shock. In disbelief.

Because we don’t know how to be the normal people with a normal pregnancy and a normal plan.

We don’t know how not to be terrified.

But we also don’t know how not to be hopeful…obviously…or we would never have made it this far.

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Last night after an evening spent in town saying goodbye to a friend who has become part of our family over the last couple years, we pulled into the driveway and I stripped off my town clothes and pulled on a t-shirt, pants and my walking shoes. It was a beautiful evening and I needed to climb these hills, check on the way the setting sun hit the wildflowers, let the grass brush against my legs, smell the growing things and stretch my muscles.

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I think I can feel this baby move inside of my belly.

I don’t know if I’ll ever believe it.

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But walking out on that trail that leads to the fields, putting the barnyard behind me, my parents’ place to my right, my favorite pasture to the left and no particular destination ahead, it was such a familiar view, a familiar thing to do, but I don’t feel like myself.

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I haven’t felt like myself for months.

Perhaps I won’t ever feel like my old self out in these hills again…

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God willing.
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So it goes with love, land and family…

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Well, it’s finally here!

Wedding week at the ranch. The relatives are starting to roll in, (and helping to mow the yards), the fences are painted, the decorations are in a pile somewhere waiting for their places, we’ve got the burs out of most of our horses so they’re ready for company and we are watching the ever-changing North Dakota weather forecast to be reassured that it isn’t going to rain on our big parade.

Oh, and I vacuumed and scrubbed my floors, so things are getting serious around here.

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To say it’s been a busy spring around here would be an understatement. When we’re all working together for the common goal of beautifying this old place, every minute between work and sleep has a plan in place. And while there’s plenty of work left to do out here, it has been amazing to me how a love declared and a date set can get things in motion the way that it has. Weddings, for all of the hub bub and money spent, details agonized over and tiny bows tied, really become something special in the end for the way they bring the people we love from all corners of the country to celebrate a new family being formed.

I mean, how many times in your life do you get your aunt and uncle from Omaha in the same place as your mom’s family from the east coast and your cousins from Texas?

As the first round of relatives arrive, I can’t help but think that this wedding is extra special to our family in a lot of ways. For one, the baby of our little family has found someone weird, kind and patient enough for a forever future together.

But also because that future is set to begin on the dirt that holds our family’s history, where our great grandfather homesteaded before he went off to war, where he brought his new wife home, where they raised cattle and crops and five children. Where she planted yellow roses that still bloom in the bushes below the cabin. Where he lost her when she was only thirty-six and their youngest son, our grandpa, was only eight.

And on the very dirt where my sister will stand in a white dress waiting for her groom, our grampa  grew up to be a hardworking, dedicated cowboy who didn’t ride the rodeo or buy up thousands of acres, but carried on in his father’s footsteps and kept a steady and growing business of crops and cattle through tough times while raising kids, our dad one of them, who fell in love with the landscape and the idea of taking care of it, an important outcome for a man who dreamed of the future of his ranch with his family on it.

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And so on Saturday my little sister will stand in front of that barn as the fourth generation to chose to stick around her home. Before she walks down the isle with our dad on her arm, our ring bearer nephew and our flower girl cousin will proceed her dressed in thier best and representing another generation of kids to know and love this place.

Then my little sister will declare her love for a man who followed her west to this place and they will continue the story 100 years after our great grampa Eddie staked his claim and put up his homestead shack next to that barn.

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My big sister and I will stand next to her and I will hold her flowers as they kiss.

Then I’ll look over at my husband standing across the aisle and we will smile at the thought of the baby in my belly, due to come into this world at the end of November, at the beginning of a long winter and of a new and long-awaited chapter in the story of lives lived, families grown and dreams fought for out here on the Veeder Ranch.

And so it goes with love and land and family…it holds the past, the present and the ever evolving and unpredictable future…

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A horrifying story

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Ok, so it’s beautiful outside right now, green and warm and it’s fixing to thunderstorm the way we’ve been waiting for, and I should show you a bunch of pretty pictures of it and lament about my favorite season and all that…but it just isn’t in the cards today.

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Because today I have to tell you a horrifying tale that involves my mother and a glass of wine.

Better get under your blanket, because you’re going to want to pull it over your head in a minute here.

So my family spent all day Memorial Day weekend working outside. Pops, Husband and my Father in Law were building fences, I was pressure washing everything I could pressure wash because I love shit like that, and my momma was planting flowers at her house.

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Well, I don’t think I have to mention it again, but when you’re out and about in the grass on a warm spring day you’re bound to get a tick or thirty-seven.

So that’s why when we came in for lunch, we did the regular neck slap, hair scratch, take-a-look-at-my-back-do-you-see-anything check and then went on with our sandwiches and back to our business.

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Well, later on that evening, after the whole house was hosed down, enough fence was repaired and mom’s flowers were in pots where they belonged, Husband and I showered up and snuggled down in our house and mom and Pops changed out of their work gear and settled in their comfy chairs to watch a movie.

Pops probably had a little whiskey and Mom poured herself a glass of red wine. She leaned back at her favorite spot on the couch, grabbed the remote and her glass of wine and took a good, long, well deserved sip, pausing for a moment after the swallow to remove what she thought was a little piece of cork stuck to her tongue.

But people. It wasn’t a cork.

No it was not.

It was a tick.

My mom had a tick in her wine and it went into her mouth.

O.M.G.

I mean, just recently Husband saw one crawling across my face and kindly mentioned it before it hit my mouth, which was disgusting enough…but not as disgusting as what happened to my mom.

She takes the cake for the most horrifying tick story on the ranch so far.

Imagine that. The woman on the ranch who goes outside the least wins the title.

Good one mom.

Good one.

Sunday Column: Spring Cleaning.

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I spent my work break today pulling woodticks off of Gus.

I’ve never seen so many ticks on a dog in my life. I think there were more ticks than dog actually.

I’m horrified.

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And I’ve even taken preventative measures. Nothing can stop the little bloodsucking bastards around here.

So there’s that.

On my next break I’ll tackle brown dog…there’s more square inch of actual dog, so I’m guessing there’ll be more tick…

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‘Tis the season

And it’s also the season for spring cleaning and raking and fencing and painting and all around maintenance and clean up.

We do this a little bit every spring when the weather warms up, but there’s a sense of urgency this year because Little Sister is getting married out here in like two months.

Yeah, that little sister…tell me we haven’t all grown up…

Anyway, a big party to plan means we’re doing things like pulling weeds in front of the barn where there’s usually a bunch of hay.

No one’s ever pulled weeds out from in front of the barn ever in the history of the world, so that was fun.

Seriously. I have an entire pickup full of dried out six foot tall pigweeds waiting to be disposed of when the wind decides to give it a rest.

Oh, and I bought paint for the little tin tack rooms too. I’m going to match them to the barn. It’s going to be adorable.

Just call me Martha Frickin’ Stewart, Queen of the Barnyard.

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Sometimes all we need is a party around here to get our shit together, and picked up and thrown out. Seriously. We even cleaned the shop a little. Well, at least got rid of some of the Tupperwear bins full of childhood things none of us girls could throw away when we moved out of the house. Because one day I might want to display that old 4-H horse show trophy in my adult home.

Sheesh.

Anwyay. So that’s what’s been on my mind. Weeds and grass and woodticks and weather and weddings and putting this place together.

I have to focus on something or I’m going to have a mental breakdown about the fact that my little sister is grown up enough to get married and own a home…

Wahhh…

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Coming Home: Giving the farm the Martha Stewart Treatment
by Jessie Veeder
4-19-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: We’re just kids in cars

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A few weeks ago, in Western North Dakota, three teenage boys were driving home together from a basketball tournament when the pickup they were in hit an icy patch on the highway and slid into the path of a semi.

None of them made it home that night.

When news of a tragedy like this spreads to our small town and rural neighborhoods, our hands go to our mouths and our hearts drop as we think of their families and remember our own losses.

These three young boys, though I didn’t know them, have been on my mind and on the minds of those across this state, which seems to get bigger and smaller all at once as we reach out and connect in our shared stories and experiences.

After this column was published I received email after email from those who were remembering someone they lost, or those grieving, or those comforted by reading words that were on their minds.

Thank you for those notes. The human experience is as tragic as it is beautiful and I am fortunate to have an outlet in which I can reach out and express my personal thoughts with the hope that they resonate with someone.

Your words back to me mean the world to me. It’s the reason I keep attempting to put thoughts down week after week.

Because we need to know that we’re not alone out here in this unpredictable world.

Coming Home: We’re just kids in cars
by Jessie Veeder
3-9-15
http://www.inforum.com

Throwback Thursday (or the horrifying path known as Memory Lane)

I don’t always participate in Throwback Thursday, but when I do, I make sure the photo is epically embarrassing, and drags at least one of my siblings/cousins/parents/best friends down the horrifying path known as Memory Lane with me. 

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No, that’s not Christopher Robin. That is my little sister.

And no. That is not Madonna. Madonna might wear matching socks over her stirrup pants and a scrunchy on the top of her head, but I doubt she would button the top button on her turquoise silk shirt.

That’s big points for modesty right there.

Big points for modesty and sisterhood and fluffy bangs and the first day of country school back in the day where my idea of fun was catching frogs in the crick below the house and sliding down cactus filled gumbo hills in the pouring rain.

But not before I changed out of my school clothes, for the love of spandex.

No, not a minute before.

Happy Thursday. May your memories be as sweet as they are mortifying.

(Sorry Big Sister, I didn’t think it would be fair to leave you out of this one…)

Sunday Column: My great grandmother was Strong Man Johnson

A few weeks ago I gathered a group of women together for coffee and a visit at the pioneer museum in town. I was asked to craft a story that featured farm woman advice for city girls and, while I had a few ideas, I thought it would be wise to get the conversation flowing from  the minds and experiences of women of all generations.

So I called my friend Jan, who grew up with my dad on a ranch down the road, and she called her mother, the woman who raised her out there, and taught Jan enough about making chokecherry syrup and canning salsa that Jan could be of help to me in one of my  “canning emergencies…”

The two women joined me, my mom and another three generations of women to talk work and worry, weather and washing machines and what it was like, and what it is like,  to raise children and crops and cattle out here on the edge of the badlands.

Really, I could have stayed with them chatting all day and into the night. The history and knowledge, the fortitude and respect and connection to place was palpable. But so was the humility. They were all so humble when faced with questions about their accomplishment and hardships on a land and under a sky that could be so beautiful and so brutal all at once.

I asked them what they learned out there so far away from the conveniences of town, and what it was like without the help of today’s modern technology when there was so much on the line.

My friend’s grandmother, who homesteaded her place, and then helped her sister follow suit before falling in love with a town boy and moving him out to the farm with her, gave the end all answer:

“You just roll up your sleeves and do what has to be done. There is no other choice.”

And so this has been on my mind as I’m working to extract all the wisdom and lessons and strength in these women’s’ stories.

And I’ve been thinking of my own grandmother, and her mother, a first generation Norwegian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island when she was only 16 and made her way west to Minnesota before marrying and moving out to their homestead in Western North Dakota when she was only 18.

She raised twelve children and lived well into her 90s.

I was a young girl when she died, but I do remember visits to her room in her nursing home, her teasing the grandkids with her cane and this photo that set on her night stand, the youngest on her husband’s lap added to the photo later to make the family complete. My grandma Edie, dad’s mother,  is the girl in the middle with the bow.

I wish I would have been old enough to ask her things. I wish I would have known her.

Now all I have is stories and other people’s memories, my dad’s particularly, of a woman who used to call herself “Strong Man Johnson” before heading out the door of the house and pretending to lift it off its foundation at the grandkids’ delight and horror.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. My Great Grandmother Gudrun, Strong Man Johnson.

Coming Home: Winters on the prairies took immense strength
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

And now, after it’s been published, I’ve received a few emails from those who knew her, one in particular from a woman who cared for her in the nursing home and remember’s Gudrun’s story of baking five loaves a bread every day.

The spirit of these women drives me. It inspires me and it reminds me that I am braver and more capable than I think I am. Because it’s in this heart that pumps this blood, the blood of strong women.

May we raise them. May we praise them. May we be them.

My grandma Edie. One of Gudrun’s five daughters

Sunday Column: About an impromptu sledding party

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Last weekend we had an impromptu sledding party with the neighbor kids.

I just happened to be hanging out with my nephew building a snowman in 50 degree weather, so it was perfect timing.

Impromptu is always perfect timing for me. Especially in the winter when the days can get sort of long without a project or a visit or two from the neighbors.

We gotta stick together around here.

Stick together and then, you know, let small children push us down an icy hill into a quickly melting crick below.

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It was fun watching my friends’ kids playing on the same hill where we used to play, sliding down with their dads, squealing the same kind of screams, laughing the same kind of laughs and pushing it to the limit they way we used to, you know, trying to see how many could actually fit on a sled at once without crashing into a pile of tears and bloody noses at the bottom.

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There were rice crispy bars, 

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Snowball fights,

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Soaking wet mittens,

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Negotiated rides back up the hill…

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It was the best way to spend a winter afternoon out here in the middle of all this snowy hills.

It was just like old times.

Coming Home: Sledding quickly into the life we imagined
by Jessie Veeder
2-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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