The Christmas Tree Plan

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This is what -2 with a -100 wind chill looks like.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.

And so the scene is set…

Ahem…

‘Twas the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and one of the last free weekends Husband and I have in December to spend traipsing around our countryside on the hunt for a tree.

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So it didn’t matter that our blood could freeze right there in our veins, or that our eyeballs could turn to ice cubes, our snot into icicles dangling from on our nostrils. It didn’t matter that our very lives were in danger of being taken by Jack Frost himself, we were gonna get my darn tree.

We were gonna put on 37 layers of clothes, load up in the new/old feed pickup,

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turn off of the gravel and onto the dirt/compacted snow/ice trail, drive really slow and discuss our options while looking out the window.

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We were going to spot a couple potential spruce bushes relatively close to one another on the side of the buttes, park the pickup, avoid a puppy-cicle and leave Gus inside, grab the saw from the back, trudge up the hill to the first option

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and mumble into our scarves with our eyes half open (you know, to avoid the whole icicle thing) about the potential of a tree that is a 10-foot tall version of Charlie Brown’s, but has possibilities really, because, well, it’s here and we might freeze to death if we stay out much longer weighing our options.

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But then we’re going to decide to risk it, spot another tree down the hill, walk over to discover it’s the same size as the one in Rockefeller Center and consider the possibility of building an addition to accommodate, because, well, there’s that whole freezing to death thing we’ll still be dealing with before I will turn my face toward the sun to discover one last option blowing in the wind among thorn bushes a quarter mile away.

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So I’ll decide we’ll never feel our legs again anyway and we might very well lose our noses to frostbite, but we might as well assess the bushy little tree, decide it’s not so bad, decide it will work just fine before Husband will stomp down the thorn bushes and start after the trunk with his battery-operated saw with a battery that lasts approximately 3 seconds at a time, you know, apparently death-defying cold applies to power tools too…

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And we are going to finally get the thing down after one big push, drag it to the the pickup a half a mile away,

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decide we might be dying, throw the tree on the flatbed, open the doors, get back inside the pickup, crank up the heat, blow our noses that will be miraculously still attached to our faces, and head back down the road toward home.

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Then we are going to get one mile from home and Husband is going to stop the pickup in the middle of the road, get out, run to the ditch and drag the tree back on the flatbed.

And when we arrive at home, we are going to put the tree in the basement to thaw out, I’m going to say goodbye to Husband who is crazy enough to put on one more layer and sit out in his hunting blind for the rest of the day, then I will pour myself a cup of coffee, consider adding whiskey, make plans for an evening decorating mission, because it will take me a good three to five hours to feel my fingers again and call it a Merry Merry Christmas.

That’s the plan.

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Fa-la-la-la-lahhh-la-la-la-laaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Sunday Column: Winter and heavy whipping cream…

IMG_9739Out here, in this season, snow comes and goes quickly. We froze our butts off early last week, only to be welcomed by a thaw at the end of it, followed by 30 mph winds that blew the snow sideways on Sunday.

Coincidently this is also the day we chose to clean out the shop and our basement, sending me winging boxes of unusable crap into the garbage pit only to have it all fly back into my face…like three of four times…before I decided to approach the whole chore from the opposite direction. You know, wind at my back…always the right choice.

A choice made after almost the entire contents in the back of the pickup blew out across the prairie on my way to the dump, sending me flailing after it.

A choice made after the old pickup without a parking brake nearly rolled into said garbage pit while my back was turned, you know, flinging things.

Winter. Some days you’re such a bitch.

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Oh, but we have ways of coping around here.

Because when the season of snow-pelting-you-so-hard-in-the-eyeballs-they-threaten-to- freeze-shut is upon us, we strip off our forty-seven layers and head to the kitchen to whip up something warm, preferably with noodles and heavy whipping cream.

Yes, if we have to have winter, at least we have heavy whipping cream to get us through.

IMG_9779So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about the recipes Husband and I concoct in our little kitchen to pass the time on long winter nights.

Coming Home: Bring on the heavy cream, butter and winter weather
by Jessie Veeder
11-23-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

IMG_2906And I realize that the holiday season is just starting, and we have a trip to Cabo in the works to help ring in the new year, so really, I should just take it easy and have a salad for gawd sake, but for some reason the thought of squeezing my pasty white squishy body in a bathing suit in a month or so is not scary enough to keep me from a second helping of Husband’s famous cream noodles.

Yes. You read it up there. Homemade noodles fried and smothered in cream.

There’s that. And then there’s the two giant pots of knoephla soup mom and I cooked up for the crew of hunters/family this weekend. And yes, it was me who convinced her to add another pot.

Because you can’t have enough creamy soup. You can’t have too much! You can always save it and have it for lunch every day until Christmas!

Want to see how it’s done? I show ya here:
Cowboy Cooks Knoephla

And don’t even get me started on the traditional holiday cheese ball I’ll be concocting on Thursday…

Or the fact that all I want for breakfast for the rest of my life is a caramel roll followed by a donut washed down with seven cups of coffee.

Because it’s winter and I’m ssstttaarrrvvinnnggg.

It’s winter and my primal instincts are kicking in.

“Stock up, stock up, stock up…” they whisper. “You don’t know where your next meal is coming from.”

And I believe the voices. Even though I do.

I do know where my next meal is coming from.

It’s coming from my refrigerator and from the imagination of the man with deep German immigrant roots who can make anything with enough butter, flour, cream, potatoes and a side of pork.

Ugh, I’m so hungry. I can’t wait until 6:00.

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Sunday Column: The longest season

It’s been snowing all weekend.

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Actually, it’s been snowing all week.

Yesterday, after a night out singing with the band until 4 am I was a pathetic pile of “I’m too old for this…”

and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with my lack of sleep. On and off white-out flurries outside my window coincided nicely with the opening and closing of my eye lids.

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At one point I mustered up enough energy to look at myself in the mirror and actually scared myself.

“Wow,” I said to MYSELF from our bathroom upstairs. “I’m a mess.”

To which my husband replied a little too quickly and a little too loudly from his perch at the kitchen table downstairs, “Yup.”

“Shut it,” I said said as I found my way back to the fuzzy blanket on the couch with my kitten.

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And that was about the extent of our conversations that day, up until I woke up from my late afternoon nap and wondered out loud what he was going to cook me for supper.

But he was putting together a gun or something on the kitchen counter, (classic hunting season scene) so I decided on macaroni and cheese and thought maybe tomorrow I would try life again.

So I went to bed.

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And today I woke up to more winter.

And so it begins.

But thankfully we saw it coming. We heard about that pesky Polar Vortex, but we could smell it in the air, see it in the wooly fur on the backs of the horses and the crust of ice on the stock dam in the mornings long before the weatherman came up with the clever graphics.

So I called up Pops and the two of us went on the last ride before the snow flew while Husband was out sitting in a blind working on filling his bow tag and our freezer with venison.

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And that’s what this week’s column is all about. It’s about noticing the signs of a changing world. It’s about the animals and how they move around us, the coyotes running wild outside our door, the deer in the rut, the horses carrying us into a new season, and this bald eagle that perched out in front of the windows of our house, posing just long enough so we could all see him before spreading his wings and flying away.

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IMG_9932Coming Home: Change of seasons hits inside and out
by Jessie Veeder
11-16-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s about the minutes we spend just being aware enough to exist out here and appreciate it for what it is.

Gold turning to gray. Sun going down turning a blue sky black and our breath to puffs of smoke.

Fall turning quickly into the longest season.

IMG_0165I 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!

Colder.

IMG_9959It’s cold.

10 degrees and it looks like that’s where it’s gonna stay. All day. The rest of the week.

I wanna snuggle up in a big ‘ol pile with this kitten and all my blankets.

IMG_9944It’s funny how fast the seasons shift around here. I’ve lived here long enough to expect it, but just a few days ago it was sunny and mild and the hilltops were gold and we were walking around saying, “What a beautiful fall we’ve been having!” “Aren’t we lucky!”

IMG_1218And then, overnight…

IMG_0155Below zero temperatures. Icy roads, people trying to remember where they put their favorite scarf. Hat. Mittens.

IMG_0160I hauled the giant tub of winter gear upstairs to sort through. Ordered a new pair of snow boots.  

Took the dogs for a walk.

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Turned around after five minutes and went back inside.

Shit. It’s cold.

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I’m not ready for this.

The dam is froze up. Ranchers are breaking ice and feeding hay.

IMG_9961I am making plans for soup for dinner every night for the next six months.

I even went to craft club and attempted to make mittens out of an old sweater.

I hadn’t used a sewing machine since I nearly failed Home Ec. in the 8th grade. This time it didn’t go much better.

I required assistance. A lot of assistance. And the mittens, well, one is done. Sorta. I might need to call Martha Stewart…and pour a drink…

Winter

But these are the things people out here do in the winter. They have hobbies. Or create new ones that will help them pass the time in the dark and cold that settles in here around 5 pm and lingers until the morning. And some might pour a little bourbon in a glass, you know, to thaw out a bit…

If the cold and the white on the plains were as inspiring to as many people as the waves in the ocean hitting the shore, or the tall pines of the mountains reaching toward the sky, we would have thousands of poets and painters here telling the story of a frozen world.

Old shack in winter

But the cold settling in on the plains is a beauty recognized by the characters out here who  can’t help but marvel at extremes. They appreciate what cold does to the body and the soul, makes it slow down, recharge, toughen up and soften up at the same time.

We take pride in the taking care of things, the animals, the driveway, one another.

We laugh at things like frozen eyeballs, snot-sicles and relocated southerners who think 20 degrees is as cold as it gets.

It is cold. But it will get colder.

My Lord, will it get colder.

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It Came In With The Night
Go find your mittens
so your fingers don’t freeze
slip on your big boots
pull your socks to your knees

Dig out your best scarf
wrap it round yourself tight
the snow has arrived here

it came in with the night.

I’ll put the roast in the oven
and heat the milk on the stove
they’ll be right here waiting
when you come in from the cold

Knocking ice from the branches
and stringing Christmas tree lights
yes the snow has arrived dear

it came in with the night.

So squeeze on your knit cap
over wild wooly hair
watch your breath float and drift
in the crisp morning air

Break the ice for the cattle
put the saddles away
yes the snow has arrived here

and I think it might stay.

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Sunday Column: Mouse catcher, cow chaser, heart breaker…

Well, it’s all about the pets these days around the ranch. Just in time for the snow to fall we have a couple more furry friends to help keep us hunkered down and warm.

I tell ya, between keeping the tiny kitten inside, alive and well fed and working to prevent the puppy from destroying my boot collection and all of the rugs in the house, it turns out Big Brown Dog, the easy one, the established member of the family, just wasn’t having the takeover.

Seemed like he needed to create a way to be noticed…

So last week he went out for a run around the ranch, checking things out, making sure there weren’t any giant sticks or random animal bones he missed dragging into the yard. He needed to get away you know. The damn puppy was driving him crazy with his crying and jumping, and nipping at his nose.

He’s too old for this.

So he took a hike to clear his mind. He needed his space. He needed to follow his nose…

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Turns out his nose led him straight into some sort of trouble, because Big Brown Dog showed up back home after dark with one of his top canines poking through his lip.

And a scrape on his foot.

And on his face.

“What the hell did you get into you poor, sweet animal?” I asked him as I kneeled down by his bed in the garage.

He just looked at me with those sad brown eyes and said nothing, because no matter how I wish they could, they can’t talk.

I called Husband out and he scratched his head, and the dog’s head, and we wondered together there looking at him what sort of adventure didn’t quite turn out as our dog had planned…

So the next morning I hoisted the stiff, sore, pathetic, sweet 110 pound dog into the back of my car (front feet first, then the back end) and we drove to the vet where they fussed over him, put him under, did a few X-rays, put the lip back in place, stitched up the hole, pumped him full of meds, prescribed enough pills to sedate an elephant, and $430 later they sent us on our way.

But not before he took the world’s longest pee outside the clinic…I mean, it was like 45 minutes…at least three patients came and went before he was done…

And then I loaded him up (front feet first and then the back end) into the car and back to the ranch where he struggled up the steps to his spot by my side of the bed and slept the bad memories away.

Poor Hondo. Always a lover…never a fighter…

8 years ago, a month after Husband and I were married, we took a trip to a farm about 70 miles from the ranch and my new Husband picked out Hondo from a litter of squirrelly, wiggly, chubby, adorable brown pups. He picked the one that seemed the most even tempered. He picked the darkest chocolate one he could find. He picked the biggest. He picked the best.

I paid $200 for that dog. He was Husband’s birthday present. He was going to be his bird dog. His hunting dog. He was the third member of our family and he’s been quite the companion, the steady link, the wagging tail when we got home.

Hondo the lab as a puppy...awwwww

Hondo the puppy…awwwww

And he’s gonna be just fine. Right now he’s under the heat lamp on his bed next to the new puppy who is likely trying his damnedest to get the big guy to play with him.

I know from experience the softie will warm up to the pup, just have to let him heal up…and let the pup grow up.

And then the two of them will be off getting into their own kind of trouble out here together.

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I wrote this week’s column before Hondo went off and got himself buggered up, but he proved my point anyway. That these animals out here are part of the fabric of this place. Growing up out here as a kid, these dogs and horses and goats and cats and lizards we were charged with learning from and taking care of were what made the place magical.

But beyond their magic they served a purpose. They had a job to do.

Hondo’s job these days might be less bird-hunting and more companion, but the new members we’re growing up and introducing will have their place soon…

Mouse catcher.

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Cow chaser.

IMG_8972Heart breaker.

Rain on a Dog's Nose Coming Home: Learning many lessons from animals
by Jessie Veeder
11-9-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

But for the next few days the big brown dog and I have a date in the morning for three pills stuffed in summer sausage and another in the evening before bed.

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We’re ok.

It’s been three months since they rushed dad off of the ranch in an ambulance. Three months since his heart betrayed him.

Three months since we sat with him, night after night, in that hospital room in the big town as this brutal winter froze us over and life’s unexpected struggles brought us to our knees.

Three months since I told him, hang on dad, in a few months it will be spring and we have so many things to do.

And for three months it has just been my husband and I living on this ranch, going back and forth between work and home, one house and the other, checking on things, making sure everything’s fed and things are running right.

See, my parents decided to stick out the winter a little closer to town, to recover and take a breath, avoid the drive on icy roads and call someone to come in and renovate the house, nice and new for when they returned.

For three months I have been sending up a prayer each night thanking God for giving us our dad back. And for three months I’ve been telling myself that we are so blessed, so lucky to all be together in one piece.

And so it’s for all those blessings that I should jump for joy each morning, ready to get up with that beautiful sunrise outside of my window, but I haven’t.

I haven’t risen to shine very bright.

It’s been one of the longest, coldest, hardest winter of my life.

But let me say this, when we moved back to the ranch, almost four years ago now, it was not to get away from the big wide world, it was not to quiet and slow things down or to live inside a fantasy of a “simple country life.”

I grew up out here. I know it’s never been simple. In fact, living thirty miles from town on a gravel road that turns from dust to mud to ice and back again, has the potential to complicate a lot of things.

I knew this. And we came home anyway. We came to work. We came to learn. We came to make a life out here surrounded by a landscape we love and a family that can help us make the most of it.

But something shifted this winter, in the way I see this place, in the way I see this world we chose to surround us. Maybe it was the unexpected call in the middle of the night and the threat, the knowledge, that it all can be taken away in a second.

Maybe it’s our ongoing struggle to have a family and the realization that some people just don’t get what they want, no matter their prayers or their faith in something…

Or maybe it was just the relentless cold piled on top of it all, keeping me from climbing to the tops of the buttes for fear of frost bite, when climbing to the tops of those buttes is what I’ve relied on to heal me up time after time, but in the past three months this world has revealed to me her edge, and in response, it seems I’ve created my own.

And I want to tell myself that when that first crocus pops up under the warm sunshine that edge will soften and I will feel more like myself, but the truth is, I don’t think I need to go back there.

I’m not sure I want that.

Because this place is my refuge, yes. When I was a little girl so green and sheltered, it was here I belonged, here I could grow up sort of innocently unscathed for a few years before being thrown into the real world, and that is what I loved about it and one of the many reasons I returned.

But I’m a grown woman now. I’m at the age where money runs out and babies don’t make it, we don’t get the job and parents get sick…

Running into the trees and singing at the top of my lungs is not going to save me from these things, but those trees can hold me for a minute, help me breathe, help remind me that I can survive these human shaped tragedies.

And that even when this place is cruel, it is simultaneously beautiful…

Human shaped miracles happen too.

I know that. I’ve seen it.

Yesterday mom and dad moved back home, back to the ranch. Mom pulled into the yard and dad was waiting there, shoveling the drive from Monday’s snow storm, ready to grab her bag full of shoes and help her with the groceries.

Husband and I came over to visit, to see their new floors, to talk about furniture arrangement, have a glass of wine and welcome them back.

Back from a lonely winter.

Back from a hard time.

Back on the right side of life’s unexpected twists.

And I know now that we’re not all always going to be ok out here, but we’re ok right now.

Right now, we’re ok.

Sunday Column: Another Superhero

Snow storm

We’re in the middle of one of those nasty spring storms that blows through North Dakota expectedly, unexpected. After a weekend spent celebrating the marriage of one of our best friends, Husband and I crawled back to the ranch with blood shot eyes and sore muscles from dancing  just in time to flop on the bed and watch the wind blow the snow around.

The roads turned to ice and the brown grass turned white and the geese wondered why the hell they ever came back.

That’s sort of what I was thinking really. Like, maybe I should have just kept drinking and dancing and singing 80’s rock songs at the top of my lungs until this March turns to July and we’re out of the winter woods.

IMG_6198If I were a superhero, that’s what I’d do. I’d just turn up the music and pour some margaritas for the world until there was enough crazy dancing, laughing and ridiculous stories to warm us all up and forget about our winter blues (and all those other worries this place has) forever.

IMG_6275Turns out I’m pretty good at this whole superhero invention thing.

Anyway, I know it’s snowing in other parts of the country and maybe some of you even got to stay home from work or school to wait it out. If you did, I hope there was dancing.

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Me? I got to stand in my muck boots in the basement with the shop vac sucking up what I like to refer to as just another little “septic issue.”

I tell you what, I could sure use that other superhero right about now,  fart gun and all.

Coming Home: Adventures of Sock Boy, Crazy Aunt
by Jessie Veeder
3-30-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Fart Gun

Sunday Column: What I say about Boomtown…

We stood in line to board the red-eye flight out of Las Vegas, my mom and I fresh off of a whirl-wind trip to shop for pretty clothes and shoes and jewelry to stock her store in Boomtown. We had our bags thrown over our shoulders and our boarding passes out, anticipating the deconstruction of our outfits that would soon ensue as we threw it all in plastic bins to walk through the metal detector, only to have to put it all back on again.

When you’re in lines like this surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and walks of life, taking off shoes and watches and unloading laptops and toothpaste tubes,  I can’t help but make up stories about the characters in my head.

Mom, Dad and baby heading out to see grandparents.

An older couple leaving their Las Vegas winter home.

Three middle aged and desperately tired women heading back to the midwest after a wild girls’ weekend in Sin City.

Most of the time my assumptions are unfounded, just a guess based on superficial cues, like the “I heart Las Vegas” souvenir shirt or the child wearing one of those monkey backpacks with a leash, running wild behind his overbearing mother.

But then sometimes the story plays out before me in a conversation I can’t help but overhear.

Two young women, maybe early twenties, cute and trim and friends, dressed in sweatpants with their hair pulled up in loose, but well-tended ponytails, light jackets flopped over their arms, lift overstuffed carry-on suitcases up on the conveyer belt and turn to answer the question coming from the couple behind them…

“You heading home?” 

A tall man, like 6 foot 3, in his mid-thirties, immaculately dressed in slick jeans and sneakers, his dark hair pulled back in perfect and long dreadlocks, has his arm around a petite young blond in a tight red knit dress as she unzips her studded high heel boots and places them in one of those bins…

“No,” replies one of the girls. “I’m heading to see my boyfriend in North Dakota. Williston.  He works in the oilfield up there.”

“Oh, right!” says the dreadlocked man turning to the blond. “We’ve been there.” 

“Is it nice?” 

I turned to my mom to make sure she was listening. Williston is our neighboring town and I needed an extra set of eavesdropping ears to hear the string of assumptions, observations and impressions that would follow about our booming community from the mouths of a few mis-matched Las Vegas residents.

It was an earful.

“It’s cold as hell. Like, it burns your face and skin a few seconds after you step out the door.” 

“We ate at that Mexican place, what’s it called…oh, I can’t remember, but you’ll find it. It’s one of the only places to eat in the state.” 

“Oh, and then there’s that Barbecue place…” 

“Yeah, you’ll see it. Two restaurants. One says “Mexican.” One says “BBQ.:

“Hahahaha…”

“Oh, well, we don’t go out much when we get there. Usually only go to the two strip clubs. There’s two, right beside each other…”

“You better wrap your arms around that boyfriend of yours when you get there and tell him you really love him, you know, to have traveled all the way up there, to a godforsaken place like this…for him…” 

Two sweatpants-clad women laugh. 

My mom sighs.

Red Dress walks through medal detector

I say at least they’re right about the cold. 

End scene. 

Cold

But here’s the thing, our community is in the spotlight right now, for good reasons and bad reasons and because there is a story around every corner, one that can be easily sensationalized or one that is sensational enough on it’s own.

And we’re in the thick of it. We may have escaped to Vegas for a few days, but a world full of rumors, truck traffic, booming populations, help-wanted signs, $15 per-hour McDonalds jobs and young men working away from home waiting for their girlfriends to pay them a visit from a warmer climate was waiting for us when we got home.

If those two young women would have asked me if it was nice up in North Dakota, they would have received an entirely different answer.

I would have at least given them a few more tips on restaurants, and maybe advised on buying a beanie, I mean, wouldn’t the boyfriend have thought to mention the windchill?

Anyway, I imagine those two young women have been here and back again and now hold on to their own impressions of my chilly home state, impressions they will bring back to share with their friends in Nevada.

I’ll tell you though, having grown up in this place when it was quiet, when it was scoria roads and “everyone knows everyone” and the only thing anyone ever knew of this place was that it was cold, and that people here have a funny accent, and that yeah, we’re nice,

North Dakota nice,

I’ll admit now reading about us in the papers, about how we’ve changed, about how some of this oil booming business isn’t so nice, isn’t so pretty, isn’t necessarily understood, it makes me cringe. It’s like overhearing a a stranger say mean things about my little sister.

“You don’t really know her! You don’t know why she is the way she is! You don’t know the challenges, how big her heart is, how hard she’s trying! You don’t understand!”

But just as I observe and make assumptions about those travelers based only on the information I’m given, so go the perceptions of my home, coming from a visitors’ own frozen lips or from the lips of those willing to share their own judgements and experiences.

So I suppose that’s why, when I get the chance, in my North Dakota accent, I talk about it. To whoever’s asking, I’m happy to explain my world the way I knew it and the way I know it now.

Not that I know everything. I’m quick to note that living in a camper in sub-zero temperatures hundreds of miles away from home is a little different than living in a new house in a familiar place. It isn’t all pretty and it isn’t all nice, but some of it is. Some of it is damn exciting. Some of it, like a sunset over the badlands and a hike through the tall grass, and the fact that my husband and I can make enough of a living to stay and work in a place we love, a place we stand up for, is as beautiful and thrilling as it ever was…

That’s what I know of this place anyway…. That’s what I would have told them…

Coming Home: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
by Jessie Veeder
2-23-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

How faith might find you…

Yesterday morning one of my best friends, my neighbor down the road with curly hair kind of like mine, a similar obsession with photographing wildflowers and a much better success rate with house plants, gardens and crafting projects, gave birth to her first child.

A beautiful baby girl.

When that baby drew her first breath from within the safe walls of a hospital made of bricks standing strong against the chilly North Dakota air, I had just landed in MInneapolis after taking the red-eye out of Las Vegas where I slept face down, hair splayed out on the tray table for nearly three hours.

When I finally landed in North Dakota, my momma and I rushed to the floral shop to buy tulips and chocolate, a small token of appreciation for the newest addition to our neighborhood, then we pointed our car toward that hospital made of bricks so that we could take a look at those tiny hands and count those toes and say hello, we’re so glad you’re here.

I’m so glad she’s here.

Now, babies are born every day. All of the people I passed on my way through the airport, all of those souls standing in line and sitting shoulder to shoulder, taking off across the sky together, have mothers who grew them and carried them and brought them into the world to grow up and drink coffee, tell stories and host dinner parties, drive cars too fast and take midnight walks, make a mean cheesecake and fall in love, fall out of love, then back again and bite their nails, own too many cats and someday, have babies of their own.

And while all of these living and breathing people, all 7.046 billion of us, have stories we can tell each other about work and family and that great restaurant we visited last night, stories we might hear over a long overdue phone call or while standing in line at the post office with a stranger, every single one of us carries with us a different story about how we came into this world.

And although we carry it with us, not every one of us is able to tell it. Because not every one of us were told–not all of us really know.

That’s the thing about humans, we may choose not to share every detail in words.

A child may never know how much he was wanted.

Or how he was a plan.

Or a surprise, a pleasant surprise.

A terrifying one.

A surprise that couldn’t be handled.

But I’ll tell you something about my friend and her husband, the couple who welcomed that beautiful baby into this cold little corner of North Dakota yesterday–yesterday they witnessed a miracle.

And they knew it.

Now their story is like everyone’s story in that it is their own. And I, as their friend down the road, am not qualified to tell it, to give justice to what it’s like to pray and worry and drive hundreds of miles to spend countless hours in doctors appointments explaining and re-explaining, planning and re-planning and spending time on procedures and money on drugs while hanging on to a hope, a hope that has hung on for years…

Five years to be exact.

That someday she will be a mother.

And he will be a father.

And they will hold their daughter, a daughter with a little splash of red hair, tiny pink cheeks, long fingers like hers and eyes like his in their arms in the brick hospital in the middle of winter on the edge of North Dakota.

Because even some of life’s most natural promises are not promised to everyone.

And then sometimes that promise does not come easy.

But when it does, well…

There are no words.

Last spring I was driving my pickup down a gravel road, coming out of the badlands and onto the highway. My friend with the curly hair like mine was my passenger and we were talking about our struggle to become mothers, another thing, besides the unruly hair, that we have in common.

My hope was dwindling, wavering and faltering after years of disappointment. Six pregnancies celebrated and then lost with nothing but an unsolved mystery, heartbreak and frustration left in their wake.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother,” I told her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It might be a sign it’s not meant for us.”

She sat there beside me then, a woman with the same hope of a family, but one who had not yet seen those two pink lines.

“I just know there’s a plan. I have faith. I can see it for us,” she said. “I can see it for you.”

Faith.

In my life I’ve had it and lost it…

Moving along that gravel road with my friend talking and holding on tight to her hope, I believed for her it would work out.

But I couldn’t hold that same belief for myself.

And then I got the phone call in the early morning hours of January 5th, the one with my dad’s voice on the other end of the line begging for help. The one that sent our whole life reeling with prayers and hope and desperate pleas that the man called dad, grampa, husband, Pops, brother, uncle, friend would live to hear us tell him we loved him a thousand more times.

The one that promised this man was not going to live.

But some of life’s promises are not promised to everyone.

I stood in that North Dakota wind outside of that hospital as they prepared my faltering father for a plane ride he might not survive. I watched that wind bend the trees down and cool the air and I struggled to catch the breath that I lost with the news…

I tried to imagine a world without my father…

Today my dad stopped by the house. He wore his blue jeans and boots, a checked wool vest and a cap he got free from a company he’s likely been working with now that he’s back working. I made him a  cup of coffee and we sat at the counter and visited a bit about the weather and plans we have for spring when the cows come back…the things I promised him we’d do when he was lying in that hospital bed for a week working on pulling through.

Yesterday I got off a plane that flew me high above the clouds, shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other people with heartbeats and stories who were flying too…

And then we came back to the earth safe and sound so that I could hold my friend’s baby in my arms where she wiggled and opened her tiny little mouth to cry a bit before I bounced her and shushed her and told her she’s ok.

She’s got all the love in the world around her and in this world where she now lives, sometimes, miracles happen…

I know, because I have faith…

Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.