Sunday Column: Raising a new generation in a familiar place

Best Friends 2

This is a photo of my best friend (the tiny little blonde thing) and me sitting on her dad’s lap when we were just babies.

This was likely taken in my parents’ little trailer where they first lived on the ranch when they got married.

I think we still have that rocking chair.

I spent my entire childhood with that little blonde girl who lived up the hill along the highway on the place where her dad was raised. We had plenty of adventures and we were lucky to have each other out here growing up in the middle of nowhere. I guarantee having her in my life went a long ways in the ‘happy childhood memories’ department.

Best Friends

We used to plan on how we would grow up, have some adventures and move back to our ranches and be neighbors forever.

Who would have thought that the best laid plans of ten year old girls would wind up coming together twenty years later.

It’s a story that doesn’t get told much out here in Western North Dakota where the focus is on Boomtown and oil and all the trouble and sacrifice and nervousness it creates.

There is that. Some of that.

And then there is the fact that I would never be here, on my family’s 100 year old ranch, living down the road from my childhood best friend who was out helping our dads work cattle last Friday just like the old days, one or two of her four kids in tow, if it wasn’t for an economy that could support us building houses and making lives and carrying on traditions out here on our family farms.

When I graduated from high school in 2001, the porch lights along the gravel roads that connected us to town, were going out one by one.

Now they are turning on by the dozens, fourth and fifth generations getting a chance to be involved in the family business, or, like many of our friends, taking advantage of the opportunity to return home to a place they were raised and raise their own children.

Take this picture for example. This is a photo of my husband and some of his closest friends at our senior prom fourteen years ago (gasp!).


At a time when our hometown and home state were dealing with outmigration and we were told to get out of here, go get an education, move to Minneapolis or Chicago and start a life, make something of yourself, it’s interesting to note that of the six young men in this photo, all six of them have moved back to western North Dakota to raise their families.

Three of them are back on family ranches and one of them is in a beautiful house outside of our hometown raising three boys.

These guys, for all the wild shit they survived in their teenage years, grew up to own successful businesses, build houses and hold and be promoted in professional jobs. One of them is even a teacher and a coach. And between them all they are raising (or will be raising, if you count our little one coming along) fourteen kids out here in Western North Dakota…a place that seemed to once be on the verge of extinction.

Now, when I look around at events happening in town, basketball games, figure skating shows, dances on Main Street, I see about a hundred more stories of hometown kids coming back to make a life in a familiar place that is growing and busting at the seams.

A place they help make better by volunteering to coach 2nd grade football or, like my best friend up the road, help run the gymnastics program. Because their memories of this place motivate them to make sure they’re making good memories for their own children.

A few weekends ago I went up to have supper at my best friend’s beautiful house up the road. She invited some of our other friends to join us, and they all brought their kids and we ate meatballs and gravy and it occurred to me how unique of a situation we’ve found ourselves in…knowing each other’s history, loving each other from the time of fanny packs and biker shorts, and getting the opportunity to raise our own children together.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. Generations having the opportunity to build lives out here.

Who would have thought?

Coming Home: Newfound hope means we’re raising kids with our old classmates
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

On top of the hill across from the golf course, my hometown is busy building a brand-new, beautiful high school.

Plans have been in the works for a few years as our student population continues to grow, forcing classes to be held in portable rooms even after a recent elementary school renovation. 

Even during these times of lower oil prices.

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The kindergarten class this year registered well into a hundred students, and in a matter of six or so years, we have not only exploded in population from 1,200 residents to closer to 10,000, but we’ve turned from an aging community into a young one.

Last weekend, my best friend — the neighbor girl who used to meet at the top of the hill so we could ride our bikes along the centerline of the highway — called us to come over for supper. A few years ago she and her husband, my classmate, built a beautiful house on her family’s ranch, fulfilling the plans we made when we were kids jumping from hay bale to hay bale to “grow up, get jobs and be neighbors forever.”

So I grabbed a bottle of wine (because someone should be drinking this wine) and headed up the hill to her house where she’s raising four kids, the youngest a son who will be only six months older than our baby on the way.

Lord help us all if this baby is a boy, too.

Anyway, that night we gathered for meatballs and gravy to catch up with a house full of friends. I looked around the kitchen, listened to the guys talk sports and bounce new babies and realized that every single one of those five grown men grew up together. And there were more of them, quite a few more of them, who couldn’t make it to the party.

And while it’s not a surprise (more than half of the classmates who attended our 10-year high school reunion had either moved back home or were making plans to move), it was fun to take a look around and think about the next chapter in our lives as friends in a town they told us no one could come home to.

But look how wrong we can be about predicting the future. One of my husband’s best friends — the one who lived right down the block and was in on more than a few paint ball and principal office shenanigans with him — held his newborn son at the table. That friend was my locker buddy, and his dad was locker buddies with my dad, and it just occurred to me that the baby boy he was bouncing could very likely be locker buddies with our baby, too.

(Would it be more or less trouble if our baby is a girl?)

And there are quite a few stories like this in my hometown these days, not just among our small class of 40 or so, but among other classes here as well. Best friends from childhood raising families alongside one another, taking turns driving kids to football or gymnastics, meeting up to barbecue, to sit and visit with a sort of ease and familiarity that comes with knowing one another when we wore our pants too baggy and drove too fast.

Who would have known? When I left home almost 15 years ago, the porch lights on the farmhouses were going out one by one. This landscape was so much darker without any real hope of new and younger hands to flip the switch back on.

And nothing was going to make it any different except a change in the makeup of this place that would make it so we wouldn’t have to struggle the way our parents did.

Around the supper table that evening there wasn’t a person raised here who didn’t respect and love it in their own way. But just because we’re connected by the land doesn’t necessarily mean that we would naturally remain connected to one another.

Except in this case it is enough, to find this place worthy of returning to and planting new seeds, a new generation raised in a familiar, changing and unpredictable place.

Sunday Column: Dad jokes

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My husband spent all weekend (and it was a beautiful weekend) in the basement with his dad, putting up sheetrock, wiring lights, sawing and cutting and nailing walls together to get the house as ready as it can be for the rapidly ticking time bomb that is the arrival of this baby.

Because apparently I’m nesting and the sawdust and unfinished nature of this house is driving me absolutely insane. So insane, that I actually found myself scrubbing the insides of the oven, racks and all.

And organizing my kitchen cabinets, which hasn’t happened since I moved all our stuff into this house three years ago.

But as much as I can do, I am still waiting on dearly beloved to get his tasks in that basement checked off so I can put together this baby’s room already. As I type I’m sitting surrounded by unopened boxes of baby gear, blankets, books and onsies hanging out in my office full of guitars, CDs, paperwork, my desk, printer, sound system and microphone.

My instincts to organize it and put it everything in its proper place is overwhelming. It’s another pregnancy symptom that I assumed was a myth.

But as I visit (battle) with my dearly beloved about the meaning of “urgency” I have been thinking and wondering about what’s going on in that handsome head of his. If his fatherly instincts aren’t based in ridding the house of saw dust, making sure we sweep under the refrigerator and vacuum the light fixtures, what are his priorities? What is going on in that head of his (because I haven’t sensed any panic so far) and where are all the web articles, books, literature and YouTube videos analyzing and giving advice on the topic of fatherly instincts?

Surly some social scientist somewhere has thought about studying what the male mind and heart is mulling around while he watches his wife or partner’s belly swell month after month.
All I have found so far are some tips on how to prepare him for this, as if he were a child. But he’s not a child. He’s going to be a dad, with lots of responsibilities he’s nervous and excited about taking on. And I’m pretty positive there’s more going on in that brain of his than being worried about keeping his regular sleep pattern.
So I’ve been studying him a little bit. Listening, learning and contemplating…
And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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Coming Home: Becoming a devoted dad is no joke for my husband
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Comunications

My husband has been practicing his dad jokes.

It’s been a long rehearsal, I’ll tell you. Six months of lame comebacks followed by a blank stare (by me) and a sort of ba-doom-chick, knee-slap, finger-gun-point routine (by him) before he officially declares it a “dad joke” and laughs his way out of the room.

Some men agonize over the best car seat/stroller/baby monitor in the world with countless hours of Internet research, testimonials and calls to their dad friends.

My husband?

Dad jokes.

Literally the first thing he said when he saw the image of our little baby floating around in his (or her) big ultrasound debut was, “Huh, look there, I think I see a mustache.”

It was such a sweet moment.

And a reminder of how embarrassing he can be sometimes.

But I appreciate that about him, and I think this kid will, too. I know I appreciated that about my dad anyway, to know that a man charged with lifting the heavy things in the lives of his family still had the energy and heart to sing “Be Bop a Lula” and dance with his daughters in the kitchen, using laughter as an exclamation point at the end of a long day.

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In our lives together, I’ve seen my husband take the same route. Lurking in his generally stoic nature will be a witty rebuttal that catches me off guard or an unexpected leap from behind a closed door so that he can relish me flailing and falling to my knees, half weeping/half laughing in terror.

It keeps things interesting.

Anyway, as we get ready for this new person to arrive, I’ve been obsessively pining over baby preparation material, because I figure if I can’t be in control of my hormones, waistline, sleep pattern or endless heartburn, I can at least learn about the things I won’t be able to control in the next phase.

And that’s where I ran across a few articles about the dad — how to help calm his nerves, prepare him, inform him, keep him involved and one of the top 25 things he should know before the kid gets here, which I read, of course, in case there was something in there that they planned on telling dads but were going to keep from me.

Needless to say, there was nothing in there about preparing for the arrival of your infant by keeping a logbook of lame jokes that will embarrass your entire family year after year, but judging by the short Rolodex my father-in-law repeats annually around the Thanksgiving table, I’m thinking the development of the skill is inherited.

It’s instinct. Which made me wonder: In all the discussion about a mother’s instincts as a couple prepares for their first addition, why does it seem like a father’s instincts go unrecognized?

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Now, I know there are good dads and bad dads out there, and the same goes with mothers, so lucky are those who have two devoted parents. And that devoted dad is who I’m talking about here. In my life, I’ve seen and have been influenced by plenty of examples of these types of men; the ones who take their kids along on cattle roundups, hunting excursions, trips to their favorite sporting event or just on a run to the hardware store.

Because in those excursions, there might be a chance to get some dad jokes in, yes, but there’s also endless opportunities to teach, to show, to answer questions and help expose a kid to a skill or a fact he can put in his pocket so that he’s better equipped to take on the world.

When my husband was asked what he was most looking forward to about becoming a dad, his response was, “To have a buddy I can show around this place.”

That seems to be a theme. A dad’s basic instinct. To teach. To prepare. To show.

Because dad was the original Google, after all. Which may make things a little tricky these days, you know, now that kids can fact-check.

But it also comes in handy when diversifying that pool of dad jokes, which apparently is the first step in the wonderful journey of fatherhood.

And, when I got done writing this column, my husband texted me his latest ‘dad jokes:’

“I went to a zoo and there were no animals except one dog. It was a Shih Tzu.”


“Without nipples, boobies would have no point.”

Lord help me.

6 weeks and counting…

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Red road coming cutting through the ranch.

It’s been over five years since Husband and I unpacked our things to live forever on this ranch and over five years since I’ve been writing about what it means to come home here in this space.

With each passing year the story of the seasons has become familiar, repeating its chorus of changing leaves,

Fall in the Horse Pasture

September 21, 2010. Horse Pasture.

falling snow,

Barnyard Fall snow

frozen earth,

October 29, 2010. Late October Snow Drift

October 29, 2010. Late October Snow Drift

warmer sky,


lush new grass, buds on the trees

Daisies and Sky

and heat on my skin.

Laying in the grass

And as the earth goes about its regularly scheduled changes, life happens to us humans and changes us as well. Only we’re not like the seasons. We don’t come back around to start over again each year. No. When a leaf falls off, we don’t grow a new one next year.

When our grass turns brown, we don’t get another chance to water and green up in the spring.

Our whole lives are measured in one spring, one summer, one autumn and one winter.

And then we go back to the earth.

Tiger Lilies

I’m looking out the window now at leaves partially blown off of the oak trees. Gold and brown. Those are the colors left now. We’ve had a long autumn. It is supposed to be 80 degrees tomorrow.

We haven’t seen a fleck of snow yet.

It hasn’t truly cooled down.

I guess each year is different. Like each life is different.


And I can’t help but notice now, with this theory in play, that I’m on the cusp of entering a new season of this life of mine.

I’ve had a long spring. A long sort of youth unattached to the responsibilities of fully caring for another human being. Responsible only for my own vision, my own love, my own outlook on life, my own plans and my own story. I’ve been in much of this season with my husband, together, in spring, cleaning up, building space, making plans, basking in the promise of warmer days ahead, being torn down by the set back of the big, unpredictable rains that made us change directions.

Rain on the Buttes

This baby kicks my side and reminds me that spring is running its course.

It’s coming to a rapid end.

And that the summer we’ve looked forward to, the warmth, the calmer weather that makes way for everyday adventure, is within view.


Five years ago I had no idea what I was going to do with my life out here. I knew that I would love it and appreciate it for all the reasons I loved and appreciated it in my youth.

But what would I do for work? What would our forever home look like? How would I ever figure out how to keep my pantry stocked perfectly living as an adult 30 miles from the grocery store the way my mom always did?

Now that we decided to settle down out here, who would I ultimately become?

And I suppose that’s why I started writing it all down. Because after asking a question like that the only logical next step is to try to find the answer.

Except for that “ultimately” part.

I don’t think we find that in the spring or the summer of our lives. I think those are the last chapters waiting to be written in the fall when we harvest what we’ve set out to produce and in the winter when we rest to reflect.


I look back now on the things I’ve written down along the way and I know it’s helped me discover that I’m a little stronger than I thought I was, with a hint of brave, but not too much that my knees don’t shake at the thought of a big idea. And I think I figured out what it means to me to have fun along the way.

But discovering my ideas, cultivating them, that’s what the safe haven of this home always gave me growing up and I’m so glad I let my guard down enough so that it could continue to work its magic in that way even after the freedom of childhood wore off.

I think the 8 year old version of me would be pleased to know that we’re still writing and singing and riding horses in the home we love so much.

I take a lot of stock in imagining what that little girl would think of us now.

So I can’t help but wonder what she would say to me now that I’m about to become a mother…


Lately I’ve found myself reflecting on this question, trying to tap into the memory of what it was like to be so young, trying to remember and understand what was done by my parents to help cultivate my imagination, to give me protection and freedom at the same time.

Now that I finally feel I have a grip on what kind of woman I am, I have an entirely new uncharted landscape of motherhood ahead of me, and I can only imagine, a whole new set of stories to write and reasons to be inspired to see what I’m made of.

And I’m thrilled for the chance to add “Motherhood” to the list of categories.

And a little bit scared.

And a little bit brave.

On the cusp of a new season…

Badlands Sunset

Sunday Column: A letter to this baby…

Last weekend Husband finally got a chance to get off the ranch and out of the basement building project to load up the pickup and head to the big town so that he could participate in the very exciting/horrifying/intense process of learning all about the birthing process in a class we took through our hospital.

Now I’m not going to be what you might call a young mother, and lately I’ve started to realize my extra years of experience in this world has made me increasingly aware of reality…i.e. the older you get the more you realize that shit can go wrong and shit does go wrong and if it doesn’t go wrong it isn’t always easy so it’s best to be prepared.

In my younger days my ignorance was my bliss. But I guess those days are gone. Because I know just enough to worry, and not enough to feel prepared, I decided it was a good idea to take this class and take some notes.

And so off we went. My husband and me and this baby bump of ours on what will likely be one of the last overnight outings we take together before this baby makes his or her arrival.

Seven hours of lessons and questions and video examples and breathing and I am holding on to my initial idea that it’s nothing short of a miracle that anyone survives the process of being born.

We walked down the street to grab lunch and said “I can’t believe we’ve arrived here. I can’t believe we’re at a frickin’ birthing class. I don’t even feel like us.”

“I know,” was all he could say back.

We felt like normal people there. Like a normal couple having a normal baby and having the normal questions and normal worries.

We weren’t the couple with the infertility problems. The couple who have been fighting to be parents for almost 8 years. The couple who lost six pregnancies before this.

No. Now we’re the couple preparing for the birth of our first born. And my back hurts. Oh shit my back hurts. And after walking around Menards for three hours yesterday before we heading home with supplies for the basement and the nursery, my ankle bones are stiff and creaky. I take a bite of a granola bar and my heart burns up to my throat. I’m having crazy dreams. I get up to pee about every fifteen minutes…you know, all the things that happen to a woman when she’s busy growing a healthy baby. All the miserable things I’m happy to be experiencing.

Because at the end of all that pushing and breathing and contracting we learned about last weekend, at the end of my waddling stage, my nesting stage, my stretchy pants stage, we will get the greatest gift of all. And if I learned anything in the years that I’ve settled into adulthood it’s that sometimes the fighting and the suffering and the worry and the wait make the best things better.

We can’t wait to find out.


Coming Home: Dreaming of baby and all she could be…
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Dear Baby,

Last night I dreamed you were born. A girl with a thick head of dark hair, tiny and perfect. As I held you, the hospital room filled with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors, all the people who love you already.

I opened my eyes to the dim light streaming through the tops of the autumn trees, stretched my arms above my head and felt you move inside my belly.

You’re not born yet, Baby.

You have two more months to grow.

We have two more months to wait before we get to know you.

Baby, you’re making my back ache and my ankles creak with the physical weight of your impending arrival. I walk around the house in your dad’s flannel shirts, and he laughs at the sight of his wife groaning as I bend over to pick out a pan for supper or put my hands on my no-longer-existent hips to ask him what’s so funny.


But he’s not laughing because anything’s funny. He’s beaming. He can’t help it. The thought of you growing healthy and strong out in this world seems to put actual light in his eyes.

I guess that’s the twinkle they talk about.

Because you’re such a beautiful mystery, a journey we only dreamed to travel. A wish we hold our breath for.

And now, after seven years of hoping, in two months when you draw your first breath in this world, we will finally be able to let ours go.

And still we’re not ready. This house on the ranch we’ll bring you home to is still only half finished. The basement is covered in sawdust as your dad scrambles to put up walls and wrap up loose ends for your arrival.


I have your crib and a chair to rock you still sitting in unopened boxes next to the tools in the garage.

Your nursery is still my office, with papers and guitars sharing the space with a box of your bottles and a dresser full of outfits and blankets your grammas and aunties already bought for you.


You’ll learn that about us, Baby. That we we’re not the most organized people, but we have big plans, and our big plans make messes. You’ll find as you grow up in this house with us that the dishes will wait in the sink if the day is too beautiful to spend behind closed doors.

You’ll find that some days we track in more dirt than we sweep away, and that our work and commitment out here on this ranch will keep us from long vacations and big fancy toys because we want to take care of this land so that you can grow up with mud on your boots and fresh air on your face while you learn all you’re capable of.

But in the midst of all the challenge and heartbreak that you’ll find in this life with us, I hope you’ll find that I play more than I vacuum, sing more than I holler, hug more than I scold and through it all we can laugh, even on the messiest days.

And I hope you grow to like our cooking and that there might be some things we can teach you, because believe me, Baby, we know you have endless lessons to teach us.

And, Baby, I want you to know that I’ve loved your dad since I was much too young for things like that. And so you can imagine the fun we have picturing you and how our qualities might combine to make up the person you’ll become. For all the time spent in my belly behind my guitar, he wonders if you’ll come out singing.

I worry you’ll be wild like him, turning my hair gray with your affinity to drive too fast or climb too high.


Boy or girl? Blond hair? Brown eyes? For years we have dreamed you a thousand times, a thousand different ways, but none of it matters. You’ll be perfectly flawed, perfectly imperfect, like us and unlike us in so many ways, the only person in this world we love before we’ve even been introduced.

And we can’t wait to be introduced.


Sunday Column: On weather and roots

Badlands Sunset

The sky out here is volatile. Perfectly pleasant one minute, and violent the next, those of us who grew up here in the north country have a sort of “expect the unexpected” instinct born in us when it comes to the changing weather.


But it doesn’t mean we don’t get caught off guard. Just because we know that at any moment the clouds could build, one on another on another, and send the air swirling above our heads bending branches or sending hailstones flying, doesn’t mean we’re always ready for it.

But that’s the thing about this sky. As soon as you come to trust that another calm 80 degree day will pile up on another 80 degree calm day,


you head to the lake with your dad’s pontoon and friends from out of state to show them another side of the prairie, and just like that you’re caught out in the middle of the big water trying to out-boat a wall of hail and rain while a tornado warning buzzes on your smart phone and your little sister’s heart proceeds to lodge directly in her throat.

And suddenly I remember why I am a prairie person and not a boat person.

Rain on buttes

Because if I were on a horse in that storm, I’d give him his head, close my eyes and he’d run us both home.

On a boat? Well… on a boat on the big lake with friends working to get to know this foreign place we call North Dakota  I felt so completely out of my element.

I wanted to show them the world that I knew and what we do out here when it’s hot. How we find ourselves a beach and set up shop. How we dig in the sand or the mud, pick rocks and sip drinks and thank God for the lake in the heat of the day.

And then the sky turned black and chased us down and everything I knew about what we do on a hot day blew away in the waves with the wind…

But when it was all said and done and we were back safely to shore, wind swept and nervously laughing, I think maybe I caught a glimpse of what it might be feel like to be, like the new friends who braved the adventure with us, on unfamiliar ground…

Coming Home: Wishing for solid ground in an unfamiliar place
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

The dark blue clouds sparked with lightning on the horizon in front of us, and the deep rumble of the thunder seemed to shoot up from the ground below our horses’ feet to settle and roar smack in the middle of my 10-year-old heart.

It was one of those calm and sticky summer evenings, the perfect combination of humidity, heat and timing just right for brewing a storm out of thin air. And so there we were out chasing cattle, my little sister on her white pony, my dad and me, miles from the safety of the barnyard, staring up at the sky growing darker by the second.

It was my first lesson in remaining calm in an uncontrollable situation that escalated quickly, the types of situations that, out here, are generally always caused by the sky or an animal.

Because there’s nothing nature does better than teach us lessons about our own human vulnerability.

Against an angry thousand-pound bull or a cloud full of hail stones, we are nothing but skin and bones, muscle and a built-in instinct to survive that we humans don’t exercise very often.

But out here, the animals do.

“These horses know how to get home,” Dad said to us, his silhouette darkening against a flashing horizon. “I know you can’t see the ground, but they can feel it. Just let their heads go and they will get you home.”

And there was our lesson in trust—in our dad, in our animal and in the inborn instinct that is survival.

Last night, the sky was brewing up storms across the state. The air was thick outside our house and the weatherman on TV predicted the unpredictable. There will be wind. There will be rain. There will be storms tonight.

The phones and Internet conversations began buzzing in a Boomtown filled with people new to the prairie. Where do we go? What do we do? When will it hit?

I’m a woman born and grown on the sweeping open prairies under a sky that will softly kiss the hilltops with light one minute, only to turn around to swallow up the land in a fury of wind and rain the next. I know this. I’ve seen its volatility and in some ways I’ve blamed its constant impulsiveness on my own. How could the drama of such sweetness and rage not get under my skin?

But these days, home on these familiar plains, I’m a minority. For the thousands of new residents who have come north from the rocky soil of a mountain range, the sandy beaches of the coast, or the dry heat of the desert, the roll of the thunder coming up from the horizon to rest in your gut is not a familiar feeling. And it can be terrifying to know that under this big open sky in the middle of America, anything can happen.

Even those of us whose roots are long planted here are still at risk of being taken off guard.

And so I’m thinking of my first lesson in the danger of our sky today, because last weekend, while taking new friends out on the boat on the big lake in the heat of the day I looked up at that horizon and watched white clouds turn to black, lightning flash, heard the thunder crack and felt the waves grow bigger underneath us as my husband put the throttle down to escape the white wall of hailstones and rain that were chasing us toward the shore on the other side of the lake.

I turned to my friend, a former Utah resident who has spent the past nine months discovering and learning about her new home on the prairie. I wanted to reassure her, but as I looked up at the darkening sky I felt my usual confidence in my home dissipate and my vulnerability swell on that water.

I wished desperately for solid ground and a trusted horse that would know his footing and bring us all home.

And for the first time, I think I began to understand what it might feel like to dig new roots in this fickle and mysterious place.


What we never thought we’d know…

So yesterday, we saw our baby…BabyOr a little fuzzy silhouette of it anyway, a snapshot of what I’ve been working so hard on growing the last few months of my life. 

There is the hand that I swear pushes on my bladder every five minutes…

And there’s the foot I can feel poking and fluttering on all sides of my belly button at all hours of the day.

Baby Foot

I’m surprised we could get any pictures at all considering this kid never holds still.

Trouble already.

I can’t believe this is happening.

This picture, this sonogram, looks like every other sonogram I’ve every seen really. It’s a little smudge of a baby the size of a mango, but this time the little smudge of a baby the size of a mango is ours.

It was a date I’ve been looking forward to since we decided to put a family together all those years ago. I imagined what it would be like to make plans to head to the Doctor’s office together where I would lay on the table in a dark room with Husband at my side, staring at the screen where our little one would be the star of the show.

I wondered what it would feel like. I wondered what I would think. I wondered if I would cry or just hold my breath.  I wondered if Husband would hold my hand or just put them in his pockets the way he does when he’s concentrating on something. I wondered how he would act. I wondered what he would say…

I found out yesterday.

He said “Oh, look there, I think I see a mustache.”

And so that’s how that went.

And it was wonderful.

We were normal people with a normal pregnancy doing normal things that normal couples get to do when they have a baby on the way.

And then they printed off a reel of photos of little white smudges of feet and ears, a belly and bended knees a whole world and life forming under my skin and we listened to the heart beat and Husband put the number in his memory and we walked on air out of there to sit at a table at a restaurant and order anything we wanted, to sit as long as we wanted, to say whatever we wanted about this moment as we lived it…

Because we never thought we’d really live it…no matter how our friends and family willed it to be or reassured us it would all come together…that they’d been praying.

How do you ever know.

I didn’t.

And if I would have known how it might all turn out in that moment I’d been wondering about, it wouldn’t have mattered as much when we finally lived it.

And it mattered so much. That day, yesterday, with my Husband clutching the reel of our first baby’s photos, practically skipping out into that hot, humid air blazing on his pickup in the parking lot in a town that took us a three hour car ride to reach, was simply one of the most ordinary, extraordinary moments of my life, one I never thought I could give him… give us.

And there we were, eating lunch in the summer sun together talking about strollers and cribs and how much tiny camouflage he plans on purchasing in the next few months.

There we were, two planning on three. Just like that, like we’ve never had our hearts broken time after time. Like we never had a moment of thinking otherwise. Like there was never a doubt we’d ever arrive here.

What can I say about this except that sometimes when you hold out hope, hope gives in.

Some would call that faith.

I don’t know what I call it except maybe a gift, just like every other life that exists here. After all of our trouble and worry and struggle, how it happens at all is a true and utter miracle.

We spent the rest of the afternoon milling around furniture stores, trying out couches and opening drawers on bedroom sets. Husband picked up some jeans and I tried on dresses. We bought a first aid kid and bathroom supplies and wandered through the baby aisle confusing ourselves.

I had a feeling that if I would have asked for the moon that day, my Husband would have set out building a ladder tall enough to let him wrap his arms around it and bring it down.

But I don’t need the moon…no.

Just a scoop or two of ice cream for the way home at the end of a day we never thought we’d know…

With so much summer stretching out ahead…


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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…

Turning to the hills…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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

I don’t know if I’ll ever believe it.


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.


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.

Sunday Column: Summers that can change your life


Summer is making a promise to appear once again and I am thinking today about the way life can change in that short season.

When we were younger, summer meant a break, a breath, a transition onto the next phase in our lives, the next grade, the next chapter.

Now that I’m all grown up, it’s changed a bit. Summer means hustle and heat and a chance to get things done around here. It’s not a transition but a season we look forward to so we can warm up and make plans.

But sometimes when you’re in the middle of making plans for your life, your life changes.

That’s what happened to me almost nine years ago today. I opened the classifieds to look for a summer job to get me through the slow months between touring in the spring and fall, and I ran across a job opening for a Special Event planner at a performing arts school in Fargo, ND.

I was a year out of college, planning a wedding and getting ready for the rest of my life. The job was going to be a stopover, a temporary position, a stepping stone to the happily ever after.

Turns out on my way I found what have become some of the most important people in my life. I fell in love with them between flipping burgers, moving picnic tables and changing the lights in the porta potties. They made me laugh while we worked our asses off in the 104 degrees of the hottest summer of my life.

trollwood friends

And when that summer was over, we just held on to each other. Not out of some master plan to never lose touch, but because we liked each other. Because when we meet up we get a break, a laugh, a chance to be our true selves together before rushing back off into the real world, the one we were imagining that summer, the one that we never seem prepared for.

The one that’s a lot easier with these friends on the other end of the line.

We’re scattered all over the mid-west now, married or paired off or single, but we meet up when we can. Just a few weeks ago it was flinging ourselves down a mountain in Colorado.

It seems we always find an excuse to drive or fly in the direction of each other.

And so I was thinking about my friends when I wrote my column this week. I was thinking about them and so I wrote about them,  but maybe didn’t get to say exactly what I wanted to say in the end. Because it turns out it’s hard to conjure up words to describe how lucky I am to have found a set of people who are just so perfectly themselves that they make me believe in all different kinds of love.

And in summers that can change your life…

Coming Home: Stepping stone job fosters lifetime of friendship
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Sunday Column: How do you measure the value of art?

I’ve had the privilege during the last few weekends of February to be involved in a variety of celebrations focused on music.

Last weekend, for example, I was one of dozens of local musicians who stood on the stage and sang our own versions of Bob Dylan tunes as part of the first ever Dylan Fest, an effort to applaud a man of prolific talent with a broad scope of influence.

The weekend before I stood on the same stage to sing and celebrate women and the wide variety of music that lives in us.

And then I moved down the street and shared the stage with those women as we celebrated songwriting.

The day before I had been in our capitol city celebrating North Dakota musicians. And after the awards ceremony, I gathered with my band on a small stage for an after party where we found ourselves surrounded by musicians of every genre singing along, collaborating and sharing that stage together in the name of camaraderie and respect for our work and an overall passion for words and notes and dancing along for the love of it all.

I have to say, for a woman who has been performing most all of my life, I continue to be surprised by the way music can gather people together of all different ages and backgrounds and stories and experiences and hold us there, connecting us in the moment.


It happened last weekend on a big stage and it happened for me on a smaller stage later that day where I found that I had collected a drummer and a lead guitar player from Bismarck and paired them with a bass player from Fargo and a steel guitar player from Minneapolis and we mixed it all up with a rancher from Western North Dakota and his daughter, the writer and singer who had the big idea for the whole shenanigan in the first place.


In that restaurant in Fargo in the middle of city streets in the middle of winter there were a hundred different stories and a hundred different reasons why we all found ourselves there—a birthday party, a gathering of friends, a drink after work, a chance to hear something new—but there we were, not just in the same room, but nodding our heads and clapping our hands and sharing our stories and toasting and drinking and living in the moment together.

And man did we have fun, the six of us misfits fitting nicely together up at the front of that room singing songs I wrote that some of them had never even played before that night.

And then old familiar tunes that we could all sing along with.


These experiences just keep getting better and more meaningful to me as an artist. And I’m not sure why except to say I have begun to realize how special they are, not only as an artist, but as the person who has sat in a crowd and found myself so moved by what someone else had to say.

Because not only did it make me feel like I wasn’t alone, but because it meant that they weren’t either.

And so I’ve been thinking lately about the value of that moment and how important it is for a community to cultivate it.

Because some of the best moments of my life have been built by music.


Some of the hardest have been processed through the same medium.

And if there wasn’t a song to reflect it all, well, then I have always been compelled to make one for myself.

So how do we measure the worth of such a thing?

Coming Home: The value of art, music not easy to measure
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Photo by Chad Nodland

For more information on my music and
the upcoming release of my new album “Northern Lights” visit:

My column appears weekly in newspapers across the state of North Dakota. If you’re interested in running my work, please contact me at