Listen: Northern Lights

I spent Earth Day in my car driving across the state to get to a Lady’s Night Out event where I had the chance to talk and sing to them about the inspiration I get from loving and taking care of this place.

It seemed like a fitting thing to do on a day set aside to think about this spinning planet we call home. And despite the lack of rain, things are greening up. The wind was calm yesterday, making the ducks in the roadside ponds look like they were cutting through glass.

The trees are starting to bud and people are emerging from their houses with their hands shielding their eyes, coming out of hibernation to prune something, clean something and think about planting something.

I feel like I’m coming out of hibernation too. I’ve spent all winter working on putting together my new album and making plans for a summer of music, a summer that’s just around the corner.

Next month you’ll be able to buy the album from me or on iTunes and Amazon or anyplace in between.

In the meantime I have to tell you I can’t wait for you to take a listen. As my faithful readers  you might recognize some of the words and stories in the songs, I might have shared a few in their infancy, before they turned into music. They are songs about a couple years spent listening to other people’s stories and watching this place change around me while I tried to hold on tight to the things I don’t want to slip away. There are songs about loving a man and almost losing the one who raised me. There are songs about getting older, a song about rain, a song about working and a song about a boat…

But, as always, they’re all songs about home, this place a constant backdrop for the stories about the human condition.

I hope you’ll take a listen. And if you want, place a pre-order today and as soon as those boxes arrive, I’ll sign your copy and send it in the mail so you’ll be the first with the copy.

Click here to listen

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Thanks for your support and sharing your stories with me. If you want me to come to your town to sing these songs, let me know and I’ll be there with my guitar and stories of my own.

Peace, music and rain showers,

Jessie

Wanted: April Showers

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It’s been a busy couple weeks at the ranch. The weather has been warm and too dry for comfort and we’re deep into “getting the place ready for Little Sister’s wedding” mode. Which means we have projects, not just in the barnyard, but at our house too.

We’ve got two months and only so many weekends to finish the deck, finish the basement, finish the siding, finish the finishing touches and make a lawn grow where only a single pig weed once emerged.

But first, let’s take a ride on Husband’s new/used dirt bike and Pops’ precious Trail 90. You know, just to blow off some steam…

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Not that I’d ever driven that little motorcycle/scooter thing…no worries, this guy here is good with lessons….But he’s also adorable, which makes it hard for me to concentrate.

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“Just like riding a bike,” he said.

Except bikes have pedals and don’t die at the far edge of the field two miles from home when I finally figure out how to turn and suddenly become a professional and want to start working on a ramp so I can practice my jumps…

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I love you sweet man, and it looks like you’re going to have to get the tools…

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And the pickup…because me and the Trail 90 are getting a ride home…

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Ok, we can call the sod guy now. Because, after three years, won’t it be kick-ass to have a lawn?

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Yeah, that’s a lot of lawn. Like 7,300 square feet worth.

Like 10,000 tons of grass.

So we called in reinforcement and spent last weekend burning our forearms and getting in our squats in the name of landscaping.

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And I’ve spent the rest of the week obsessing over my sprinklers, where they’re pointing and how to aim them without soaking my jeans, drowning or shutting them off.

And the dogs have spent the last five days believing they’ve finally gone to doggy heaven, rolling and sun bathing and napping and dragging dead things on what they seem to think is their own personal, giant slab of carpet.

So there was that.

And we need rain. Not only for my sod, but for the rest of this part of the state that didn’t get the moisture in the winter or the April showers we expect this time of year.

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On Tuesday Husband left work, along with rest of the office, fire departments from three communities, the forest service and hundreds of volunteers to fight a fire near the lake that burned almost 5,000 acres and nearly took out one of our favorite campgrounds and marinas. He came home late covered in soot, stripped his clothes and showered that desperate smell off of him.

The fire was contained and, in the meantime, we just hold our breath for rain and for that pager to stay quiet.

And I adjust the sprinklers, wishing we could turn on the sky with a nob like that, add some tasks to the list in my head before setting it all aside to go out looking for spring.

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Sunday Column: Summers that can change your life

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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.

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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
4-12-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Homemade surprises.

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I spent a good two weeks away from this place. After our vacation with friends spent skiing down mountains in Colorado, I hopped a plane and met my mom in Minneapolis where we shopped at market for clothes and shoes and other fun things for her store.

It was a good hiatus from life that was sort of stressing me out, but it was sure nice to get home to the ranch to see how spring was shaping up.

Turns out it wasn’t really. Just snowing and cold. March went out like a lion, because, if you remember correctly, it came in like a lamb, so that’s what we get.

It took me a few days to get caught up on life around here, and then Easter rolled in and well, there it was, Tuesday afternoon and I had yet to take a look around the place.

Because it’s crocus season.

So after my work was done enough for the afternoon, I took a little walk out to see if I could find any that survived the melty snow.

But before I could even get outside our yard, I ran into these beauties…

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Yup, the elk came for a visit, down across the bottom of Pots and Pans, heading toward the dam right outside our door before they caught wind of me and this beast…

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And while I know the elk live around here, because I see there tracks on my walks, catch the places where they bed down at night or linger on a stray hay bale in the fields, it’s still quite something to see them right in your yard.

I took a breath and held it and watched as they ran away up over the hill, hoping that I didn’t ruin their plans for a drink. Hoping that they might come back later.

Then I took another few steps toward the little hilltops where my sister and I found the first crocuses last year. Searching the ground as I walked, moments later I looked up to find the rest of the herd following suit, another pleasant and quick surprise.

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These animals on this landscape are so imposing. In the mountains they look smaller, dwarfed by the magnificence of the peaks, but here on the rolling hills they are the kings, the largest wild animal you’ll find roaming free. And they take my breath away each time.

I wished there was someone next to me to witness it. And then I was glad it was just me.

I had been missing this place. Life and tasks and deadlines were getting in my way. I stepped outside to see what I could see and nature delivered.

But even after such an unexpected show, I was still thrilled as I always am in early April to see these pretty purple flowers again, reaching through barely thawed ground to promise me summer…

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Before getting rolled over by the gremlin of the farmyard…

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Oh well, to live out here you gotta be hardy. If anything, the crocus teaches us that…

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I’ve traveled all over the place, but home, at the beginning of spring, is still my favorite place full of the best sort of discoveries…

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I can’t be trusted with spring…

Summer arrived here for a minute or two this weekend.

And when summer arrives, I can’t be trusted.

I drink more alcohol because it tastes better on the deck.

I eat grilled brats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I blow off chores and work to get on the back of a horse.

And, I, uh, well…

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I do shit like this…

Because I lose my mind out here when the weather thaws the ground. There are so many fun things to do and not enough time to do them, so I tool around the place looking for projects that inevitably turn into predicaments…

predicaments like these…(Cue Prince Charming…)

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No worries though. Despite my idea that I should drive, followed by my insistence that I was trying to avoid the mud, and the thought that maybe, after a few minutes of rocking back and forth and flinging mud into the atmosphere, my mouth, face, hair and everything in between, we should, you know, go get the pickup and a rope, Husband and I saved the machine from its muddy, messy grave…by man power (and woman thumb on the throttle) alone.

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Here’s hoping that you had a similarly successful, summery weekend of your own.

Coming Home: Muddy March a sign of bright days ahead
by Jessie Veeder
3-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Larry on the Prairie

My brother-in-law and his family have a bulldog.

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His name is Larry.

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And despite the fact that he is ginormous and looks like a fat 95 year old man, Larry is just a puppy.

And sometimes, when my brother-in-law and his family go away for the weekend, Larry comes to visit.

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Larry really has no business being on the ranch. He’s physique is much better suited from couch lounging, nap taking and watching life happen from the house-side of a window.

But don’t tell Larry that.

Because Larry don’t care.

Larry does what he wants.

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(I know this, because when I try to get him to do what he doesn’t want to do, he locks up his legs and makes like a 100 pound bolder, literally refusing to move. Larry knows that he’s heavy as hell. Larry’s not as dumb as he looks.)

Yup. This is Larry.

And I call this photographic series of glamours shots, “Larry on the Prairie.”

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You’re welcome world. You’re welcome.

A second with Gus the cow dog.

And now for a split second with Gus…IMG_0923 IMG_0927 IMG_0929 IMG_0930 IMG_0931 IMG_0932 IMG_0933 IMG_0934 IMG_0936

Gus, the cow dog is energy embodied. Every minute is the best day of his life.

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And every minute of his life is chaos.

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Because he never sleeps.

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I swear it. I think I saw him sleep once when he was a tiny baby sitting on my husband’s lap, and that was after several minutes of the man lovingly forcing the pooch to snuggle with him.

And once he might have caught a good thirty seconds on the floor of my office because I provided him with such a nice blanket not even a terror tornado like him could refuse the pull of slumber.

Gus isn’t really into snuggling.

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He’s more into face licking, lap standing, and jumping three feet in the air upon your arrival. It doesn’t matter if you saw him two seconds ago. Every greeting from Gus is filled with the enthusiasm of a best friend you haven’t seen for years.

Come over at any given moment and you might find him tormenting the cats, ripping up the bed in his kennel, eating the cord to the heat lamp, attacking the broom when I’m trying to sweep, barking at the sky, eating cow poop and horse poop and cat poop and chewing on Brown Dog’s fat neck, then jumping up and over his back relentlessly, barking and taunting the poor old dog until he finally snaps …and then you will hear Gus The Tough wail the wail of a thousand deaths.

Because Gus has one other feeling besides happy. And that’s his hurt feeling.

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It’s pretty traumatic.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. I mean, I could teach him anything if I could only keep up with him. He’s smart as a whip. He comes back in a split second on a quick whistle. He sits when asked, and I’ll take it, even though he trembles and shakes the entire time as if the energy in him is bouncing around in that body poking and prodding and begging to be released.

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And when he makes his ears stand up like this, well, be still my heart. It’s frickin’ cute as hell and I can’t take it.

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He looks like a gremlin.

And well, he sorta is…

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Who knew this tiny little grunting fur ball that fit in the palm of my husband’s hand would turn into such a specimen…

And he’s only been alive for like six months.

Oh Gus, it’s fun to watch you grow. And I can’t wait to see how many woodticks/burs/mud/cowpoop you collect when summer comes.

Until then, let me reminisce you back to when you were small and innocent, when you peed puddles on the floor and weren’t such a threat to my cats… seriously, you need to go easy on those cats…IMG_4390 IMG_1573 IMG_1591 IMG_9881 IMG_0044 IMG_0027 IMG_9964 IMG_9958 dogs

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Gus, Gus, Gus…such an adorable bundle of energy and trouble brewing…

If you need us we’ll be out in it…

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Summer, I miss your face.

And now for a weather report.

It’s -2.

March is coming in like a cold and bitter lamb and it’s making me a cold and bitter woman.

Just freezing.

But even though landscape looks a lot like this these days…

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it’s hard to believe that in a few months it will turn from gray to green right in front of our eyes.

I can just smell the clover now. By June, we’ll be rolling in it.

By May we’ll be thawed out and warmed up.

By April we’ll spot our first wild flower.

But March? March suffers from mood swings. So I decided I’d have my own today.

I decided that while I’m freezing on the outside, at least my daydreams can be warm.

Summer!!!! I miss your face!!!!

Summer Barn

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

North Dakota Badlands

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There. Now you miss summer too.

Isn’t it nice to all be on the same page?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
3-1-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Photo by Chad Nodland

For more information on my music and
the upcoming release of my new album “Northern Lights” visit:
www.jessieveedermusic.com
www.facebook.com/jessieveedermusic

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

Sunday Column: My great grandmother was Strong Man Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My grandma Edie. One of Gudrun’s five daughters