How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

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IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…

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Sunday Column: The kids and the quiet

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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
10-12-14
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!

Season Change. Sunrise.

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“I wonder how many sunrise and sunset photos I’ve taken since we moved back to the ranch?” I asked my husband as I threw on my robe this morning and rushed downstairs for my camera.

The first thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning is to turn around and look out the window at the horizon, hoping for a show, hoping for a nice day or rain or snow or whatever it is I want from the sky, as if the sky ever cared about our personal wishes.

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“Thousands,” Husband replied as he poured a cup of coffee.

“I wonder if any of them look the same,” I asked out loud, knowing the answer. Knowing that sunrises and sunsets are like snowflakes.

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It’s the time of year when everything is starting to lose its color. Most of the leaves on the trees have dried up and turned brown, the other half, the oaks, for some reason this year are hanging on to a dull green, dropping their acorns and refusing to turn.

I can relate…

For the next seven months, a glowing sunrise and a pink sunset will be a welcome pop of color on a barren white landscape and I will find myself pulling on my big boots and rushing out to the tops of hills to stand under it, willing the color, the warmth, to absorb into my skin and warm me up.

Yes, it’s that time of year where we panic a bit, rushing to get the things done that we promised ourselves we would tackle in July, but then there was that concert and then the lake and then the party on the deck with the margaritas…

Now we have fences to build, garages to clean, boats and campers that didn’t really get used as much as intended to pack up and winterize. Soon the calves will be weaned and the horses will put on their long, scruffy coats.

Which reminds me, I have to find my hats and gloves. Dig out my sweaters.

Because the snow could come any day now. The sky could cloud up, the wind could blow just right, and then it will be too late for things like grilling burgers drilling holes into the ground for fence posts. Because the ground will be frozen solid, shut down and dormant with the frogs and the flies and snakes and the squirmy things that only come out with the sun.

Some days I feel that way. Like I should hole up under the earth like a frog, find a spot in a tree somewhere like those frantic squirrels hoarding all those acorns and squawking in the trees outside my window in the morning when I wake up to look at the sky and will the sun to shine….

Sunday Column: My sister, the coach…

And now I give you one of the most embarrassing photos of myself on file.

IMG_20141006_0001Here I am. Twelve years old. Fresh into my seventh grade year, first year out of country school. First year in a real sport. Trying my hand at volleyball, but apparently not trying my hand at ironing my wrinkled shorts that are pulled up way beyond my bellybutton, barely able to contain the size Large shirt I was given.

Where are my arms?

I don’t know.

Where are my braces?

Coming next year.

Where was my talent for sending a ball over the net, at least once or twice a game?

Non existent.

But you can’t blame me for trying. Growing up is all about finding out what you like and what you’re good at, and unfortunately, sometimes, they don’t go hand in hand.

For example, I liked wearing leotards…

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

But I was no good at dancing.

You know who was?

That little California Raisin doing jazz hands to the left of me.

Yup, Big Sister was made to dance, as you can tell….

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Thirty-some years later and she looks exactly the same…think she even still has those pants… could probably fit into them…

My spandex leotards, as you can see from the photographic evidence provided, didn’t stand a chance on me the first go ’round.

Yeah, the right sister is the dancer.

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Because it turns out me, my long, gangly, noodle arms, lack of coordination or control over those limbs, my fear of floor-burning my entire body and my nonexistent competitive nature didn’t magically combine to create a phenomenal athlete.

But rest assured the athleticism in our family didn’t start and end with those jazz shoes. Because along came Little Sister.

There she is down there on my right, strangling our momma dog in a mischievous love embrace, hair wild, planning her next move…

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And her next move was to get straight A’s, make sure everyone is being nice to everyone else, practice dribbling and shooting the basketball on the only slab of concrete on the entire ranch, make varsity and head to state basketball…then do it all over again during volleyball season.

IMG_20141006_0004Always working, always making plans that one.

Anyway, this year Little Sister, all grown up now, is at the beginning of her first year as a guidance counselor in our hometown’s elementary school and at the end of her first season as a junior high volleyball coach.

So last week Big Sister, Mom and I headed to the school, bought some popcorn at the concessions and went to watch her work and cheer on her team of Wolves.

And then I had a flashback…

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*cringe*

Anyway, it was quite a proud moment for us and one we hadn’t seen on that woman since her days of hitting free throws and playing mean defense in high school.

We watch Big Sister put on dance recitals and my family comes to my concerts, but we haven’t had a chance to be spectators in Little Sister’s work life for years.

And she was good at it. So positive and encouraging. So adorable and official with her clipboard under her arm. I couldn’t help but think, watching those skinny seventh grade girls hit the ball back and forth over the net, that if I were them, I would have loved her as my coach…

We were so proud.

So that’s what I said here in my column this week. I wrote about why it matters in our town now, the town that’s bursting at the seams…why it matters that someone like Little Sister would find her calling here, chose to come back home with a big wide world out there ripe for the picking. The same big wide world that seems to be making their way here too, with their hopes and their plans and their volleyball playing children…

Coming Home: Little sis shaping kids’ future one volleyball game at a time
by Jessie Veeder
10-5 -14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Coming Home, my weekly columns, appear in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum, Bismarck Tribune, Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald.

“Cow Dog,” defined

Pudge

You all know this about me, but I grew up with dogs who slept in barns and garages, on hay bales and under heat lamps. They were the first to go into the brush after a wayward, ornery bull and the first to be there to lick your face and give you a nudge when you fell of your bike and skinned your knee.

They were cow dogs. Working dogs. Partners.

They chased field mice, got in fights with raccoons, rolled in cow poop, howled with the coyotes and rode in the back of pickups.

Dogs

In various stages of my life out here we had a border collie, a blue heeler, a kelpie, an Australian shepherd and mix of a few.

This place is hard on dogs it’s wild and dangerous and full of just the kind of trouble that makes life worth living of dogs like these, so, unfortunately, some of our beloved canines, due to snake bite or bull fight, didn’t make it to old age. 

But regardless, I am almost certain they had the best lives for them out here. They were made for this place, as tough as the ground they run across.

pudge

As a kid I knew inside dogs existed, I just didn’t know anyone who had one. I knew there were dogs who wore sweaters and had their own place on couches, but, it was like how I knew a million dollars existed somewhere, it knew it was true, I’d just never seen it.

In a few weeks, Husband and I are going to bring home our first real cow dog. I am so excited I’m counting down the days.

Here he is on the bottom, left side of the pile.

I’d tell you his name, but, well, last night we had a lengthy discussion on that topic that I won’t get into, but it got pretty heated. Good thing we have a some time to get this all worked out.

Anyway, I was thinking about this little guy and how he’s going to change the make-up of this place. And how his makeup: border collie, heeler, kelpie, Australian shepherd and Catahoula, is the make-up of all of the best cow dogs a girl could ever ask for…

And how he’s the same animal as that big brown dog laying out in the garage, snoring away a rainy October day, but how they might as well be a different species.

Lab in stock tank

The biggest difference? With a cow dog in the family standing guard in the yard, a herd of cattle will find it pretty hard to stand and chew cud on my new concrete patio.

Because labs, frankly, don’t give a shit.

Lab

And I need something out here to give a shit.

I need my little cow dog.

I can’t wait!

So in honor of Throwback Thursday I found this little gem: a declaration I made when I was 8 or so that used to hang on my grandmother’s fridge, ready to tug at the heart strings of all of the ranchers stopping by for coffee with a blue heeler-cross waiting for him in the bed of his feed pickup…and, well, to put the wayward city slicker in his place…

Country dog:city dogAs you can see, I was pretty passionate…

I promise to never put you in a sweater little guy.

But you might have a place on the couch…just for a little while…

 

Sunday Column: Texting on horseback

Yesterday I went out riding with Pops and Little Sister. We rode up to the fields to put some cows back in their place. It was a gloomy day, but sort of perfect for riding, just a little bit chilly, a little bit breezy, exactly what to expect for autumn in North Dakota.

I loved the view of the Blue Buttes and the two black cows and their calves along the road and two of my favorite people on my favorite horses in front of me. I wanted to tell you all about it. Show you the view from up here.

So I took a photo on the phone I had zipped up in my pocket, pressed a little icon, hit share, and, snap, just like that, it was out there for everyone to see.

I didn’t even have to stop my horse.

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I was grew up out here when bag cell phones were the smartest communication technology we could own. The idea of taking a photo on a cell phone that fit in my pocket while chasing cows in the middle of a field was unfathomable.

I mean, we didn’t even start getting cell service out here in these hills until last year!

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So it’s a weird juxtaposition, this technology in the wild places. I mean, think of how many walks home from the broken down tractor or feed pickup my dad could have saved if he could just call home to mom for a ride?

We wouldn’t have to re-live that time when mom drove right past him coming in out of the trees after his three mile walk from the west pasture at every Thanksgiving dinner.

The woman is a focused driver.

He could have just called. IMG_0331

Anyway, I guess I’m young enough to keep up and take advantage of this ever-changing phenomenon, but old enough to remember playing Oregon Trail on the computer at school on the first Macintosh computer ever invented.

In fact, I have this memory I rehash every time I call up Pandora on my smart phone or try to settle an argument about that one actor who plays that one guy in that one movie while Husband and I are on a road trip: The time he told me, on one of our long drives back to the ranch from college across the state, “Jessie, one day we’ll be able to drive down this highway and surf the internet.”

To which I replied: “Never! I can’t even imagine!”

It turns out he was right.

photo-66And it turns out you can do it on horseback too.

“Is that poison ivy?” You might wonder while you’re fixing fence…and the answers will be right there in the pocket of your snap shirt.

Wanna scare the shit out of your mouse-a-phobic aunt? You can instantly torture her with what you found in the tack room with one click of a button…

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“Are these boots as adorable as I think they are?” You might ask yourself while shopping 100 miles away from your fashion forward mother…and so you’ll just take a photo and send it along to her for an instant “Yes! Buy HAVE to buy them!”

So this is what I’ve been thinking about lately and what this week’s column is about…about how I’m thankful for technology, how it connects me to you, how it helps us tell our stories, how it helps me pay the bills…literally, and figuratively…

But what I’m not sure I expressed accurately in the 700 words I’m allowed is this:

I was born before anyone had a home computer.

We didn’t get internet in our house until I was well into Junior High.

I did research with Encycopedias.

And then, when we got the internet, with a modem.

When I was growing up we had maybe 20 channels. I’m not even sure. Maybe 10. I didn’t pay that much attention.

Leotard

I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 18 years old and headed to college. And it was for making calls home.

I remember what it was like to be disconnected, except I didn’t know that I was ever disconnected.

And I’m thankful for that too.

Thankful that I am old enough to know that we survived without it, so that, when I drop my phone in the toilet at a gas station, I don’t lose my mind or my life.

I just lose my phone.

And it’s sort of nice.

Now, if they could just invent bur repellent my life would be complete…

Burs


Coming Home: Alone, yet always in contact
by Jessie Veeder
9-28-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Hey, while we’re at it, you should follow me on Instagram!
instagram.com/jessieveeder

Boomtown Video (FB)

A full life, a full freezer…

Heeeyyyyaaaa!!! It’s FRRIIIDDDAAYYY!

IMG_5109It’s been an exciting week at the ranch, beginning with this:

IMG_5538No, that’s not Ted Nugent, that there is my handsome, bearded husband with the bull elk he called in and shot with his bow in our favorite pasture.

Drawing an elk tag in North Dakota is a once in a lifetime experience, and being able to successfully harvest one in your own backyard with a bow and arrow is really a rare event.

To say I am proud is not quite enough. What I am is so completely thrilled for this guy, because in the past few months I have watched him immerse himself in a passion he has pushed aside for work and family and building us a house out here. And while all of those things are the responsible choices  people like him make, to see him take a breath and just be the man he is is just, well, better and more important than that fencing-the-yard-in-so-we-can-have-grass project…

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Because he’s been scouting the animals for months, watching bulls like this chase each other around the hills, vying for the attention of the cows, getting themselves all worked up and crazy and quite the sight to see.

IMG_5458He’s sat and watched patiently. He has gathered the right equipment and practiced shooting his bow every night.

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He knows what it means to take the life of a majestic beast that we admire so much off of our place. He understands the responsibility of it and he takes it seriously. And he took his shot quietly and alone and then called in reinforcements to get this animal home to be properly butchered, removing the hide to be tanned for leather, the horns for mounting on our wall and the meat to fill our deep freeze and our bellies for many months to come.

So that’s what we’ve been doing this week, ending our days by cutting and wrapping meat and answering phone calls from our excited sportsman friends and relatives looking for Husband to re-hash the story from the big hunt…because that’s part of it, the sharing of stories…

Oh, but we did take a break to take a drive to meet the newest member of our family who was born a week or so ago.

Be still my heart, I cannot wait to get this smooshy little creature home! And apparently I couldn’t shut up about it so Husband loaded me up in the pickup and took me for a drive to have a snuggle with him.

Four more weeks and counting. Hondo, get ready…you’re gonna love him I’m sure.

With all these distractions it goes without saying that there is enough dirt on my floor to plant carrots and laundry piled up in places where underwear shouldn’t be. Right now I am procrastinating working on making a dent in the dust an dirty shirts and then I’ll sit down and work on new music, getting ready to record a new album, sorting through songs like sorting through socks, matching up melodies and stories and rhymes.

There’s so much to do and the weather is hot, tricking us all into thinking that summer might linger like this good week we’ve had out here in our little piece of paradise.

Here’s to a beautiful weekend, full freezers and full bellies!

Peace, puppies and elk steak,

Jessie

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Horses and Home

IMG_5428It’s a little familiar, a little bit wild
A big dream in the wandering eyes of a child
It’s all of the secrets wrapped up in the land
And all that we know about the pride of a man

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It’s letting it go then holding on tight
It’s what’s left to lose at the end of a fight
It’s saying a prayer before hitting the ground
And when you need to be gone, it’s where you can be found

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

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It’s dirt under nails and work left to do
It’s fist clenching, back breaking, things that can bruise
It’s broke bits and burs and get up again
And all of the reasons to call someone friend

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

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We put up fences to own this place
Tame all the wild beasts and give them names
But we cant’ be sure just who’s being saved
When we let go of the reigns…

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It’s wind through your long hair then on to the trees
Forgiveness and bravery on trembling knees
And then there’s the part where you think you might be
Stronger than most and a little more free

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

IMG_5483 That’s how it goes
With horses and home

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Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…

 

 

Sunday Column: On passion.


My husband has spent a great deal of our lives together being the guy, the calming force, the quite supporter behind my passions. He has been the man who uses his vacation from work to drive with me to a show in Nebraska.

He’s the first ears on a new song in the dark of our living room.

He’s the subject of my sunset photographs.

He’s the lifter of things that are too heavy for me to carry.

He’s the one that says, well why not, when I have another elaborate idea.

He’s there sorta half-sleeping at 2 am when I get in from a late night spent singing.

He’s the one who questions it when it needs questioning, applauds it when it needs applauding, feeds it when it needs feeding, sells it when it needs selling and shakes his head when I deserve it…

Because sometimes, even in a marriage, it’s all about boundaries…when to be there and when to leave some space…and how to tell which to chose.

This weekend the band and I had an awesome gig opening for North Dakota born singer and The Voice Contestant Kat Perkins at a concert in our capital city. It was something we’ve been looking forward to for months and a really good reason to wear my leather pants.

It turned out to be quite the evening, drawing thousands of people ready to support a couple North Dakota girls singing their hearts out under a beautiful sky. The guys nailed it, Kat was amazing in every way, the crowd warmed up the chilly air and I busted out some dance moves and managed to not fall on my face on the stage.

It was one of those gigs that was hard to describe. It was so much fun. There was so much energy. We were so happy to be up there on that stage doing what we love to do the most to a crowd that came to have fun.

Now I’ve managed to make singing a part of my career, and as jobs go, it’s not always bring your family to work day. But there are some gigs I can’t do myself, so I need to call in the troops to help sell CDs, make sure my fly is zipped, take some pictures and just generally be there for moral support because I might be, you know, a little nervous about the thousands of people…

When your office is a stage the best part is looking out and seeing the faces of the people who love you smiling back and singing along.

And in the case of Saturday, my bandmates giving their all, my Pops next to me playing harmonica, my mom selling T-shirts and CDs, my friends who drove for miles (one even hopped a plane) to be there to cheer me on and my husband out there snapping photos and ensuring I don’t forget to eventually get my gear from the stage to the car at the end of the night.

Anyway, the day after the show my weekly column was published. I sat down earlier that week and wrote it about the man who has stood behind my passions all these years, many times putting his own aside to make sure that I had someone in the audience, something to photograph, or someone at home who remembered to turn the porch light on…

Life is such a balancing act in so many ways. In our work we can lose ourself. In our passions we can become selfish. In our love we can become resentful.

My husband has a theory that marriage is all about doing everything you can to make the other person happy. Love is finding joy in other people’s joy.

It’s an easy concept but not one that’s always easily implemented. We all know this. We all argue and fight and huff about the little things that seem big at the time. Sock folding and dinner making and tracking mud in on the floor. And then there’s the big things, ones that seem unresolvable. We all have those too.

But this past month I have seen my husband take a breath a bit and decide to grab a hold of something he loves and sort of lose himself in it in order to find himself again.

Bow and arrow

I could go on about this now, about how when we live with someone we notice the shifts and changes, the ebbs and flows, the worry, but I won’t.

All I will say is that I would give a thousand nights like Saturday night if it were the only way to see that man do the things he loves and spend time being completely and utterly himself…the way he encourages me to be.

But I know it doesn’t work that way. I know my happiness is his too. And I just hope he knows it goes both ways…

Coming Home: Time to rekindle passions after long seasons of work
9-14-14
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com