Sunday Column: The kids and the quiet

Yesterday Husband and I spent the last hours of daylight out here on the ranch putting up a fence to contain our yard and keep the cows out of our attempt to grow some grass for crying out loud.

We plotted and pointed, making plans for how big we wanted the space, how much we wanted to attempt to mow and contain.

It was just the two of us out there of course, but just like the other plans we’ve made for this colossal house project we embarked upon a few years ago, I couldn’t help but visualize the kids who might roll around in that grass someday, staining the knees of their jeans.

Husband, to make a point, stepped in the middle of the yard, grabbed an imaginary football and threw it across the imaginary grass.

“We want to make sure that there’s enough room here to throw a football,” he said.

I smiled and said “you’re right,” and then we were quiet for a beat or so, just long enough to let hope in before our hearts broke for the thirteen-millionth time in our lives.

We have a good life. We’re building one out here with passion and optimism for a nice little future, one that we always thought would include children.

And on a ranch, kept together solely because of and for the sake of the generations, my husband and I walk with the silent urgency of creating the next.

I will tell you there is no quiet like the quiet of hopes not yet realized.

Coming Home: Sharing home with the next generation
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!

Fart Gun


I spent the weekend with Darth.

And he spent the weekend with his fart gun.

I thought it was an imaginary thing when he made me lean over so he could “Tell me a secret.”

“Ok,” I said. “What’s your secret?”

“Fart Gun,” he said.

Fart. Gun.

And then he laughed and laughed and said.

“Find it!”

And then I laughed and said, “Okay, yeah…go find it you crazy kid.”

Go find that weird imaginary and apparently “top secret” flatulence weapon…

And then we played Darth Vader some more…


and pirates…

and a little superhero game I invented while finishing up the chores called “Sock Boy,” the world’s most helpful and domestic hero.


Have a laundry situation? He’ll sort it out!

Need someone to hold your dustpan? He’s there in a jiffy!


Big home construction project? He’ll help you prioritize!

photo-25 Making french toast? He can beat eggs with the best of them.


Yes, it was a busy day for for a little man, and after a story or two about barnyard animals and wild things romping about, he was tuckered out, tucked in and snoring…

And when he woke the next morning you know what came toddling out with him?

A Fart Gun!



The Fart Gun is a real thing…

It was in his bag.

His mother packed it for him.

“Well look at that!” I declared.



And that’s pretty much all the both of them said for the next two days.

Forget Darth Vader, let’s shoot this Fart Gun at my aunt while she’s working on her taxes.


Forget the Pirate thing, let’s point it at the dog’s butt, pull the trigger and laugh hysterically.


Forget the whole “Sock Boy” routine, it’s just me and my Fart Gun now.


And ever.







Well played big sister

Well played.

Sunday Column: The Happiest Place on Earth

Well, Christmas is coming and I’m coming down from a fabulous weekend spent performing winter songs across the state.

Turns out I’m also coming down with the Christmas plague and it’s currently compromising the voice I so desperately need to work during this holiday season.

Because asking me not to talk is like asking me not to breathe.

Anyway, that’s a story for tomorrow. Today, I want to catch you up on what I learned on another trip I took with the nieces and the in-laws to a tropical, magical land known as Disney World a few weeks back.

There were princesses and Mickey shaped ice-cream bars,

castles and spinning tea cups, roller coasters and stuffed animals, a big ‘ol tree house,

a few even bigger whales,

giant strollers running into my ankles, It’s a Small World After All and maybe not enough tequila.

And those are just some of the highlights. Because we did it all.

Since these three little princesses came into this world, this auntie has always imagined what it would be like to watch their eyes light up in the Happiest Place on Earth. Judging from the plethora of pink and purple paraphernalia and the never-ending collection of Disney DVDs I had a hunch the place might kinda be their thing.

And anyway, I have memories from a trip my family took to Disney Land in an RV, picking up relatives along the way. I was five years old and the magic of it all had yet to wear thin, and so there is still magic in the memories.

I wanted that magic for my nieces.

So we talked about it last Christmas, my mother and sister-in-law made plans and eleven months later we were all on a plane leaving the great white north for sunny Florida.

And it was fabulous and frantic and exhausting and unexpected and just great fun for lots of reasons.

Turns out though, that the best parts are never expected, and I think that’s the same in Disney as it is in life.

Coming Home:
Happiest Place on Earth doesn’t always mean Disney
by Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum

Peace, Love and cough syrup.


A princess in the garden.

Pops has always kept a garden. He grows things like peas and carrots, radishes and green beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and plenty of weeds. Once or twice he grew corn just tall and delicious enough for the horses to find their way from green pastures into the yard for the free buffet.

We no longer plant corn.

Yawning Horse

I love Pops’ garden. I love it as much as the deer love his peas and the moles love his radishes. I love to watch it sprouting from my parents’ deck. I like to watch their cat hunt for mice and big bugs out there. I love breaking off rhubarb stocks, digging around for the first sign of a ripe carrot and the taste of the first fresh garden tomato on a BLT.

A few weeks ago Pops’ garden had a new tiny visitor, a little girl named Addy who flew in all the way from Texas to explore the ranch where her grandpa grew up.

Addy climbed hills and picked flowers,

looked out for Little Man,

chased the cat, bossed the dogs,

got a woodtick or two, and probably a few mosquito bites too.

I followed the little darling around because I didn’t want to miss a word that came out of her adorable little mouth.

“Jessie, can I borrow your ring for when my prince comes?” she asked as she made her way out of my bedroom with one of my big bling rings wobbling on her tiny pointer finger.

“Well of course you can Addy. You can have anything you want. Want my wedding ring too? Take it. Want all of my necklaces and my horse and my car and the pug? You might need those too, you know, so you’re prepared when your prince comes.”

I would have given that girl anything she wanted, but Addy didn’t want everything, she just wanted to play. So we did. I showed her around the place, showed her where the tiger lilies grew and where the dogs go for a swim. Addy wanted to swim too, so I found someone to tell her it might not be a good idea.

There was not a chance I was uttering the word “no” to this girl.

So instead I took her to the garden to teach her about growing things and how you’re supposed to step over the pea plants and not necessarily on them.

I watched as she put her hands on her knees and squatted down to get close to the leaves of the strawberry plant, where she declared and made known to the world every bug that crawled on its leaves.

I gave her a taste of rhubarb and watched her cute little face pucker up while she threw the stalk down, declaring it sour before asking for another one.

I followed her following the cat who was hot on the trail of a mouse.

I tried to convince her that pulling weeds might be fun.

She convinced me it was time to go inside.

But before dinner was on the table we were back out there again because Addy said, “Jessie come out here, I think that it’s growing! The garden is growing!”

And so she was right. It was growing. Growing by the minute like this little girl’s wonder and knowledge of the world. So I told her that it might grow faster if we watered it a bit. She grabbed the end of the hose and I headed for the spigot.

“Ready. Set. Go!” Addy yelled in my direction as I pulled the lever up and the water made its way through the hose and to the little girl’s hands squeezing the nozzle.

Addy was watering the garden.

It’s what good princesses do. They tend to the growing things and make the world a little bit greener, the sky a little bit bluer, the birds a little bit chirpier and grown women cry at the utter cuteness of it all…

It turns out, little garden princesses make rainbows too.

At least that what princess Addy did. She made a rainbow with the sun and the water.

“Look Jessie, I’m watering the rainbow!”

“No Addy, you made it! Look at that, you made a rainbow!”

And then I cried a little bit under the protection of my sunglasses so my family observing from the deck could not see that she was melting my heart into a puddle in my chest.

Turns out that making rainbows make princesses thirsty and so Addy needed a drink…

And I cried some more.

Yes, Pops has always kept a garden, but if he never plants another one, it won’t matter. All of the failed attempts at squash, overgrown asparagus and horse-chewed corn on the cob was worth it.

Because it turns out gardens are not made for horses or rabbits or moles or regular people who like home grown tomatoes. No. Gardens are made  for princesses, and finally, one came to visit ours!

Hanging with the kids

One of my favorite parts of my summer so far has been the couple times I’ve taken youth groups out to hike around in the badlands south of Boomtown. It’s gratifying for so many reasons, the first being that I, along with my partner in crime, Extension Agent Marcia, get to be the kids’ gateway to adventure, which I like to imagine makes us like super heros in hiking shoes.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic. But maybe it makes us at least kinda cool.

Anyway, in a town in the middle of an economic boom that’s making headlines across the globe, sometimes the little people get lost in the shuffle, so I’ve made it part of my mission to help when I can. Life’s been busy lately for so many of us trying to  keep up with the demands of a town stretching and growing by the minute, but if I can help these kids out of the bustling elements for just a few hours I come home feeling like I’ve done something really worth while.

Plus, it’s a really great excuse for me to drop what I’m stressing about and focus on what it’s like to be a kid who just wants to climb to the top of the buttes and ask a million questions about whether or not that cow over there is a buffalo, if ticks can jump, what’s this bug on my ear and, umm, can you help me find the iPod I dropped in the long grass?

So that’s what I did yesterday with Marcia and my friend Megan, my partner in photography crime. We took almost 30 kids between third and sixth grade on a photography expedition

 complete with a scavenger hunt and challenges and cactuses and humidity and yes, a million woodticks, that, according to Google, can not jump.

Now, I’m not great with kids, I will be the first to admit it. I treat them like tiny adults and sometimes I see their little eyes glaze over when I attempt to explain complicated things that, well, kids don’t really care about. But we get along fine. I release them into the wild and tell them to be careful of cactus.

Someone always gets into a cactus.

So off they went, covered in bug spray and that sweaty, dirty film kids get from running around outside in the humidity of summer. We took photos of our feet and photos of the sky, photos of the grass, photos of bugs, photos of our names in the dirt. We took photos of our hands and our friends jumping up in the air, photos of the road and a butterfly and dandelion puffs.

We took photos of our eyeballs, photos of the bus, photos of the buffalo that were really black cows and photos of footprint of a dog that we were certain was something wilder.

And when we were done taking photos by the picnic area, off we went to take photos on the trail, the group splitting up a bit, the boys running ahead and the girls hanging back to take on my challenge of photographing every species of wild flower they could find.

And there were dozens.

They took it seriously.

They were my kind of women.

Unfortunately for them, however, their trusty trail guide forgot her wildflower book at home and her memory is getting foggy in her old age. Needless to say I didn’t feel as wilderness womanly as I would have liked to when I had to reply to their questions with “maybe you should Google it when you get home.”

Well, it was either that or make something up, and, as we all know, I cannot tell a lie.

And, you know, their eyes. They glaze over.

Anyway, among the wildflower explorers was one girl in particular that pulled at my heartstrings and made me consider calling her mother and asking if she would let me keep her daughter. She was small and quiet, dressed in jean shorts and tennis shoes, her brown hair cut in a bob and her eyes wide with wonder, as if the task of finding every species of wildflower on the trail opened up an entirely different world to her.

She took it seriously, but not competitively. I watched her hang in the back of the line, getting down close to a sunflower to document it from all angles. I saw her touch them, examine them, study them and, I think, truly fall in love with them.

She couldn’t get enough. We’d been out in the wild hills of the badlands in the heat of the day for a few hours and this girl had her eyes to the ground. She gasped with delight at the discovery of a new species like the other girls, but she just took a little extra time.

She reminded me of me at that age and how I could have stayed out there forever. Even when the other kids were sort of melting and hungry and thinking it was time to head back, I found her wandering quietly behind the group, examining her world full of flowers.

I’ve been busy lately. I have been pushing myself and worrying about the little things. I have been racing the clock and working to fit things in.

This is what happens when you grow up.

I forgot that I never wanted to grow up in the first place.

Yesterday I was reminded that there is always time to wander.

And that’s why I  hang with the kids.

Sunday Column: New kids in town

Well, it looks like spring found us after all.

And thank goodness, because the nice weather makes us all better, happier, more motivated versions of ourselves.

At least it’s supposed to.

Although I think it may not apply to those of use who have to stay inside to tile a bathroom on the first nearly 80 degree day of the year.

But that’s ok. I’ll get my chance to enjoy when the work’s done. I’m just happy for the kids around here, especially the ones who have come to Boomtown from less blustery and more southernly states.

We promised it would warm up kids, and we keep our promises around here.

Enjoy the warm and enjoy this week’s Fargo Forum column on the new kids in town.

Coming Home: Warm welcome to new kids in our state
By Jessie Veeder
April 28, 2012
Fargo Forum

Three princesses.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses your world can turn from dull to pink with the simple opening of a car door. Suddenly the wind blowing quietly through the brown bare trees and the sound of the snow softly falling on the roof is eclipsed by tiny, high pitched voices asking tiny high pitched questions about where the horses are, why we have a giant hole dug in front of the house in the shape of a garage, can they put on their cowgirl boots, do they have to wear their mittens, where are the dogs, where is my dad, who is my dad, where is my mom, where is Little Man, can they get a drink of water, can we go ice skating, can we go sledding, can we climb that tree we climbed when we were here this summer, can we walk in the deep snow up through the trees and to the top of the hill?

Can you and Uncle C come with us?

When you’re an aunt you answer all questions. Every. Single. One. No matter how hard it is for you to sort through all the talking at once, because your world has been quiet and brown lately and it takes a while to adjust to a different pitch and all that sparkle.

And when you’re an aunt to three princesses you have a duty to really think through your answers. Because I was a princess once I’m pretty sure, and princesses don’t ask questions they don’t intend on remembering the answers to.

Same goes with promises.

So I keep those, especially the one I make when I’m half sleeping about homemade chocolate chip pancakes in the morning without thinking about the ingredients I may or may not have in the fridge.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses who lives thirty miles from town and you have made a promise about pancakes only to discover that there is no Bisquick for miles, you figure out pretty quick how Betty Crocker does it.


When you’re an aunt you let them wear their cowgirl boots in the house and suggest they wear their mittens while you take them sledding and climbing through the trees and skidding across the frozen dam because real cowgirls wear mittens on 20 degree snowy days in March because cowgirls need all of their fingers.

And then you take them to see the horses and promise them that as soon as the weather turns they will come out with those cowgirl boots and you will take them riding. And they will believe you.

Because once you were a princess too and princesses keep promises.

When you’re an aunt and you load those three princesses up into your car to take them home only to promptly get pulled over by a very detail oriented police officer, you secretly hope the cuteness he finds when he arrives at your window will help get you out of the offense while you calmly explain that cops are nice humans who are just looking out for other humans like their aunty who forget about important laws like putting the new tags on your license plates.

Then the princesses will shrug their shoulders and say that’s ok, the same thing happened to their daddy.

When you’re an aunt you will take a similar calm and assured approach to the blizzard you suddenly find yourself in with precious cargo in tow.

You will ask them to sing “You are my sunshine” while you white knuckle it on icy, snowy roads, the windshield wipers on full blast, praying that the Good Lord helps deliver you the last twenty miles to their house where you let them eat Girl Scout Cookies while you make them supper.

And then you might eat a whole box of Thin Mints all by yourself, blaming it on the stress of driving three princesses 90 miles through a blinding blizzard, the 3,000 calories a reward for getting them there safely and without any screaming.


When you’re an aunt to three princesses you don’t forget when it’s Saint Patricks Day, even if it means that your fingers may be permanently green from all the food coloring you put in their noodle soup and thirty seven glasses of milk they insisted on drinking before bedtime.

When you’re an aunt you don’t think about things like maybe they shouldn’t have thirty seven glasses of milk before bed because little princesses have little bladders.

But when you’re an aunt to three princesses you just say “Oh well, it’s alright” and then you ask them to put on their sparkly dresses and twirl while you watch and laugh and clap and remember what it was like to be small looking up to your big sister and chasing your little one around the coffee table…


and you don’t ever mention to anyone the soft spot you have for the middle one, because you were a middle princess once too and you know how it is.

But you will quietly thank her for reminding you as you watch them all dream, tucked in snug under the covers of their parents’ king sized bed, little pink arms and legs sprawled out so that there is no room for you to squeeze in.

When you’re an aunt to three princesses you accept your fate, grab a pillow and make a bed for yourself on the couch, wondering how you will go back home tomorrow to all that quiet and beige, cupboards without fruit snacks, clothing without sequins, pancakes without chocolate chips, trees and hills and soon to be melting snow without children waiting to break in those cowgirl boots in the puddles…

And then you will close your eyes and dream of fairies and horses with wings, dolphins who can sing, puppies who can talk, diamond encrusted crowns, beautiful dresses and matching shoes, monkeys jumping on beds, leprechauns and all of the things princesses teach you to remember exist…

And then you might snap out of it to find that you’ve been watching three straight hours of  the Disney Channel…

It was a day like this…

It was this kind of day
a hug and kiss kind of day

a put your pole in a puddle
and fish kind of day

You ran down the big hill for fun

basked in the warm pre-spring sun

It was a big stick kind of day
a muddy crick kind of day

a ketchup and mustard
picnic kind of day

You took the hand of your best friend to hide
beneath oak trees and sky blue and wide

It was your best horse kind of day
a no-chores kind of day

 an open the windows and doors kind of day

you used your paint to you let your art spread
to your cheeks and, oops, the dog’s head

You found renewed energy
forgave your enemies
noticed the small things you’ve missed

like a spider’s spun web
brighter thoughts in your head
the way that it feels to be kissed

It was a day made for races
in wide open spaces
a good day to climb way up there

the best way to tangle your hair

Yes, it was a day just like this
short sleeves, walking sticks

the only place in this world I would wish
to spend next to you in this gift.

Days spent like this…

I have been hanging with Little Man a lot lately. We’ve been chillin’, drinking bottles of milk, throwing snack foods on the ground, giving the kitties kisses, watching Mickey Mouse, practicing our walking skills and pooping our pants…wait…that one is just him.

He is a blessing, a joy, a wonder of new accomplishments and experiences. He tests the limits of what he is made of about 64 times a day because  that’s what being a child is all about. Reaching, learning, climbing on the table when no one’s looking just to see if you can.

I wish I could be more like him.  He’s taught me so much already in his short little year-and-some-months life and the time I get to spend with him one-on-one opens my eyes to things I didn’t know about life before I met him.

Like a tiny kid in tiny Carharts might be on the top of the list titled “Cutest things in the world”

This is also on that list:

And, well, he stands alone pretty well on that list too.

I have also learned that cute can get into your cupboards, pull the lab’s tail, wake up at 3:30 am, throw his vegetables on the floor, then his fruit, then his sippy cup,  laugh hysterically about it…and then get you to laugh hysterically about it too…while you happily clean up the mess.

Because cute is cute, even when he’s the reason you went to work with mashed peas stuck to your butt.

In addition, in my previous life I did not pay adequate attention to The Disney Channel. And to that I would like to formally apologize to Walt Disney himself. And then I would like to thank him. Because Walt, The Disney Channel is a little gift from heaven. Because that’s where Mickey Mouse lives. And Little Man loves Mickey Mouse just enough for me to be able to have a moment to tame my hair and brush my teeth.

Macaroni and cheese is also a gift, especially when the vegetables, fruit and sippy cups fail.

So is the song “You are my Sunshine.” Works every time.

And you know what else I’ve learned during the time I’ve been spending with this little bundle of smiles and snorts and boogers?

Well, I’ll tell ya, days spent like this:

And this:

They are my favorite days.

Poop, peas, Mickey and tail pulling included.

Who woulda thought?

A letter from me.

So here I am, 27 years ago on my first birthday getting ready to dig into some cake.

Last night I found myself in this same spot, in a house on the end of the same road, on the same day of the year, doing the same thing.

Yup. I turned 28 yesterday. And somewhere between digging into the angel food cake my momma bakes me each year, opening presents in my parent’s living room and reflecting on the past while thinking seriously (like I do on August 25th each year) about what I want to be when I grow up, I realized that really, in 28 years of life in this body, not much has changed about me, except for maybe the length of my limbs…

Please, allow me to reflect for a moment:

See, despite being thrust into a world with a big sister who liked frilly, pink, sparkly things…and ballet slippers…it was quite evident at a young age that being stuffed into a tutu was not where my pudgy body felt the most comfortable.

Oh, I will admit, I tested it a bit, having gone through a stage at about 2 or 3 where all I wore was leotards, tights, leg-warmers and velcro shoes. I am not sure whether or not to be thankful to my wonderful parents who obliged this trend, allowing me the freedom of expression, even though that freedom included spandex and a sweaty toddler.  Thank Martha that phase only stuck long enough for a few choice photos to exist.

Yes, soon I realized I was much more comfortable in outfits made out of denim and plaid.

That worked for me. Dance lessons be damned, I was going to be a gardener.

A gardener and a vet.

Oh, there was a moment, I think in the leotard phase, that I wanted to be a beauty shop.

Yes. A beauty shop. 

But I think that was tossed out of the equation as soon as I got on the back of my first horse.

Then I was for sure going to be a rodeo star. A singing professional horse trainer and barrel racer. That would make my life complete. That and living in a hollowed out tree like the kid in my favorite book “My Side of the Mountain.”

Yes, I would be a gardening vet and professional singing horse trainer who lived in a hollowed out tree and on Fridays I would attend county fairs and jump my amazing horses off of one-hundred foot towers and into tiny pools of water like the woman in the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken.” Only, I wouldn’t go blind.

I would need my eyesight to attend to the animals.

I remember it that way anyway, being young and full of magnificent ideas about the world I would create for myself once I was an adult. And then you hit about 15 and you start questioning everything that you had laid out so nice and neat in your imagination. And then you go to college and you experience mass confusion. And then you get your first job, ditch your first job, fall in love or out of love, get your own dog or goldfish and continue searching for a spot in this world…the spot you were pretty sure existed when you were four or five or six.

Where the hell did it go?

When I moved back here, to the ranch, a little over a year ago, I made a small promise to myself to do the things I remember loving so much as a kid. That explains the gumbo hill fiasco, you know? And I have. But now that the newness of this back at the ranch experience is wearing off, I have found myself losing sight of that promise, pushing it away to make more room for paperwork and plans.

Yes, paperwork and plans, they exist in an adult’s life. But they don’t have to move everything else–time spent watching the sunset, picking wildflower, exploring the coulees, or trying to catch a frog–out of the way. It’s hard to remind myself of that sometimes.

So when I received an email from one of my long-lost friends last month, a friend who really only knew Jessie Blain Veeder as a young kid in elementary school, I was excited to hear that she had found one of the letters I had written to her as a best friend forever who was left behind at the country school as she moved to the big town.

I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. And my long-lost best friend–who used to be as wild as I was, dirty knees, swinging from the branches of the small oaks, falling in creeks and exploring the barn– felt compelled to share that letter with me.

Word for word. Spelling error for spelling error.

As a gift for you all, dear readers, in the week of my birthday, I am going to share it with you now:

Dear Caroline (CBO):

I am writing to you from my school room. I heard that you invited me to your house this summer and I think that would be wonderful. I Miss you a whole bunch and I wish you still were at this school. I haven’t written or talked to you for a very long time. I have this friend and her name is Gwen she reminds Me of you. Thats why I like her. We are going to the Theodore Rosevelt National Park tomorrow for our field trip and it is supposed to be 80 outside. I herd that you are going to a horse camp. I am too. Are you in 4-H? I am. I am going to 4-H horse camp. I am going to Bible Camp and Youth Camp for 4-H. I have been riding horse alot this year. I am sooooooo glad winter is over. Rondee is substitute teaching today because my teacher is sick. She has been gone for four days. Friday Monday and Tuesday and Wednseday. We get out of school on the 20th of May. We have play day on the 20th too. I am doing the three legged race with Gwen. We have been practicing for a long time and we are going to Kick Mike and Dan’s Butt. For sure. They never practice and we are getting pretty good at it. Do you remember when we won the three legged race together? What are you going to be when you grow up. Ever since my runt Dog named Tiny died I have been thinking that there was something I could do to save her. So I have decided I want to be a vet. I love animals and I want to help them. I have been playing vet at recess alot and I have discovered that I know alot about animals. We are bottle feeding a calf his name is A.J. We had twin calves too. I named them Rockey and Bowinkle. We have many kittens but most of them are wild. The calico cat has had 9 or 10 batches of kittens ever since you left from your last visit. Well It is time for class better go. 

Your friend forever



Thanks Caroline. Thanks for the reminder that the person who wrote you this letter is still in me–wild hair, wild ideas, wild kittens and all.

Happy birthday little girl. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Because of you,  I think we’re gonna be ok.