A new member of the cousin crew

Emma

My little sister gave birth to her second daughter on Nov. 22. They named her Emma Evangeline, Evangeline for our Gramma Edith’s middle names.

See, my grandma Edith had 11 brothers and sisters and at the time of her birth, each of her sisters got to pick out a name for her. And so she was Edith Evangeline Delores Linseth. Add the Veeder on the end of that when she got married and us grandkids had fun singing her name to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt… da da da da da da da…”

If I let my daughters name Emma, her name would be LaLa Sprinkle Pancake, so kids must have been more sophisticated back then…

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Rosie is obsessed

But anyway, Emma is fresh and squishy and looking like she’s always belonged here, all 9 pounds, 5 ounces of her. My daughters, husband and I had been waiting impatiently for her arrival, marking the date on the calendar, wondering if we’d have a cousin on one of their birthdays. But no, Emma has her own birthday, so that’s one thing she won’t have to share with her sister and cousins. For now anyway.

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Emma and her sister Ada

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline (center). Special to The Forum

Fast forward a year or so and I see some joint parties in her future, which, frankly, I would have loved to have with my cousins if they all lived closer. And so now officially my little sister and I are raising four little girls, aged 4, 2, 2 ½ and 0 in this wild and muddy place.

And depending on the moment, we are all doing just fine, but feel free to stop over anytime with a bottle of wine or a bottle of Advil. Or cookies would be good, too. Or chocolate…

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My little sister could probably use the chocolate about now. She and her family have been living in the 600-square-foot cabin on the ranch while they wait for their new house to be set over the hill from ours, right behind the barnyard where, coincidentally, a woman named Emma once lived and raised children of her own.

Emma was our great-aunt, married to our Grandpa Pete’s brother Lorraine. The two brothers farmed and ranched and raised children on this place in a different time. Ask their children and they will remember what living close to their cousins meant to them — a friend over the hill, small adventures, dirt bike ramps, mud pies and someone always there to witness, and maybe help harness, the near catastrophes they made for themselves.

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I wonder if those kids could have ever imagined another tiny Emma and spunky Edith living on those very same spots 50 years later?

Looking into Emma’s tiny face and running my fingers through her dark hair, I can’t help but flashback to the younger version of my little sister, Alex, loading up our mom’s pink hard-topped Samsonite suitcase and dragging it down the scoria road toward the mailbox after a disagreement with our mom. Alex was known for her hot-cheeked temper and knack for declaring a frustrating situation the “Wowst day of hew life!”

When our Grandma Edith drove down the road for a visit that afternoon and asked her what she was doing, my little sister replied “I’m wunning away from that witch!” She was running away to Gramma’s house, likely, but Gramma coming over for a visit sort of foiled her dramatic plans, and so she sat on the big rocks by the road and contemplated what she might do for supper before dragging that suitcase back home and making amends.

And so I guess what I’m saying here is:

1. I hope Emma turns out just like her mother.

2. I can’t wait for Emma (or Ada) to run away to my house. I will help them unpack their stuffed animals, give them Oreos and secretly call their mother to laugh about it.

Because judging by the beautiful and chaotic present, it’s apparent that we need one another. And we’re so incredibly lucky to be here together on this place.

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline Lala Sprinkle Pancake. We’re all here for you, girl. With chocolate.

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The Nutcracker experience…with a 4-year-old

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Last weekend, I took my 4-year-old daughter to the Moscow Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

If I hadn’t been raised with grandparents who once took a 5-year-old me in a velvet dress and patent-leather Mary Janes to a performance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it might have never crossed my mind to drive my young daughter three hours to the big town to experience such a thing.

But I was. And I remember the feel of the big seat folding up and down underneath my small body, the melody of the music, magic of the stage lights and the weight of my eyelids as my grandpa’s arms carried me, sleepy, out into the night when the curtain fell.

Of course, Edie had never seen a ballet, but I told her she could wear the new sequin dress her great-grandparents sent her and I even put on a dress myself and lip gloss on us both to seal the deal and held out hope that the outfit wasn’t going to be her favorite part of the whole experience.

Let me tell you. I. Had. No. Idea.

Below is a rough transcript of about three of the 90 minutes of dialogue I had with my small daughter sitting in the seat next to me, whispering in my ear while snowflakes, sugarplum fairies, creepy looking mice, a nutcracker and countless ballet dancers leapt and twirled across a lit-up stage while the people around us tried to enjoy the show, despite the incessant narrative that was being asked of me.

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Ahem.

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Edie, coming up for air after the shock and wonder of the first dance.

Edie: “So is it really Christmas or are they pretending it’s Christmas?”

Me: “Well, it’s Christmas in the ballet, but technically, they’re just pretending it’s Christmas. It’s not Christmas today.”

Edie: “So is that a real nutcracker or is he just pretending to be a nutcracker? And is she a real doll? Or a person?”

Me: “They’re just pretending, but in the ballet, the magician is making them come to life.”

Edie: “Oh, look at those dresses. I want a dress like that when I grow up. I want a dress like that with no sleeves and sparkles and I want a prince. We’ll dance and get married. Are they married? Are these the same people in different outfits or different people? Where’s her blue dress? Why does she wear dress jammies? I have dress jammies. She has dress jammies like me.”

Me: “Shhh… whisper.”

Edie: “Do those boys have feet? I can’t see their feet. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Where’s the music coming from? Where are the speakers?”

Me: “There. Do you see them? No? They’re right there: Do you see those snowflakes? Gramma Beth performed this dance when she was young.”

Edie: “Gramma Beth? Gramma Beth was young? Are these dancers young? Do these dancers have grammas? Do they have mommies?”

Me: “Yes, they have mommies.”

Edie: “Where are their mommies? Where do their mommies live?”

Me: “Ugh, I guess in Russia.”

Edie: “Where’s Russia?”

Me: “Shhh, just watch. Look at those scary mice!”

Edie, looking away: “I don’t like those mice. Is this just pretend? What was that noise? What happened to the mouse?”

Me: “He fell down. The noise scared him. They took him to the hospital to be checked out. He’s OK.”

Edie: “Well, where is his mommy? Do the mice have mommies? I don’t see the doctors? Where’s the hospital? Does he have blood? Does he need a Band-Aid? Oh, look at that tutu! When I grow up, I want a tutu like that…”

And so on and so on until the lights went up, they all took a bow and Edie sat in her seat wondering if it was over.

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I didn’t have to ask her how she liked it, so I asked about her favorite part.

“All of it,” she exclaimed, and then I carried her up the stairs and out into the crisp night, her Cinderella jelly shoes dangling from her toes and my hope of an experience etched deep enough for her to remember some of it, if only the dresses with no sleeves and the seat that folded up beneath her.

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A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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Just call me Martha Stewart

From now on, you can call me Martha Stewart
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Excuse me for a moment while I make an announcement.

It’s very important, something I never thought would happen to me in this lifetime, and I’m very proud of how far I’ve come in my life, so I feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

Ahem: Yesterday, my friend called me for cooking advice.

Now this might not seem like a big deal at first glance. I mean, my little sister calls me about every time she’s in the grocery store for a reminder on how to make things like chili or slushburgers or how to properly boil an egg, but that’s my little sister, bless her and her domestically challenged soul. She makes me feel so superior.

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But this wasn’t my little sister, or my friend from college calling about that dip that goes over really well during the Super Bowl. No.

Ask this woman how to hard boil an egg and she’ll likely give you answers based on temperatures and yoke textures, because she’s made this sort of thing her living and dare I say, her expertise. She’s taught classes on food safety and nutrition and set up lesson plans on how to make things like butter in jars or how to properly pickle things so that you don’t give your friends botulism for Christmas.

Like, I mean, she’s probably never Googled “how to make chokecherry jelly” right before accidentally dumping a whole day’s worth of work down her kitchen sink and running to her room to lie facedown on her bed and cry. Not that I know of anyone who has, but anyway…

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This woman, my friend, is raising four growing children on a ranch 30 miles from the nearest grocery store or take-out restaurant and cooks for a crew of men at least twice a day. And I guarantee what she’s stirring up doesn’t come out of a yellow box and rhyme with “Mac the pony has fleas.”

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And I admire her. She once hosted a party where her friends got together to make freezer meals to plan ahead and I would have made it except for I was out on a highway somewhere in the middle of North Dakota in my car eating McDonald’s while my husband was at home feeding my children supper at 10 p.m., some sort of elaborate elk meat stew he likely took 64 hours to create.

Because my husband is the cook in the family. And in all reality, it’s likely because of him that my friend picked up the phone in the first place, because she knew that our family likes to make homemade noodles together, a tradition my husband picked up from his mother and her German heritage. And so after entering into my relationship with him boasting the cooking skills of someone who once left a failed Hamburger Helper attempt on the stove with a note, “I’ve gone to get cake,” I’m now pretty pleased to report that I can, indeed, pull off a pretty fail-proof homemade noodle.

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Which helps me with homemade pizza. And homemade knoephla. And homemade chicken noodle soup. Which was what my friend had attempted when she called with her question.

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A question, mind you, that had nothing to do with her failure and everything to do with her success. On the first try. Without 20 years of practice and guidance from her mother-in-law.

She wanted to know, like the domestic diva she is, if she could make the noodles ahead of time and cook them later. You know. Because she plans ahead.

And I was so excited she called me with such faith in my abilities in the kitchen that I seriously contemplated delivering her a completely made-up answer, if only that answer wouldn’t have put her entire family at risk of food poisoning. And so I told her I’d call my mother-in-law and get back to her right away. Which I did.

But still. She called me. And so I call that a cooking win.

And from now on, you can call me Martha Stewart. Thank you for listening.

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Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

On the road: Now and then

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Greetings from a hotel room 100 miles away from the ranch where I just consumed an entire take-out chimichanga dressed in my jammies while sitting on the bed watching some Learning Channel special about weird ways to die.

And then I washed it all down with six or seven pieces of Halloween candy I bought during my solo trip to Target where I was only going to buy deodorant, but somehow, because I had time to kill, wound up with Christmas dresses for my girls and my nieces, a new makeup regime, three bottles of vitamins, envelopes, a new bathroom color scheme, a 37-pound bag of candy, a witch hat, princess underwear, three packages of toddler-sized white socks and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is life on the road, people. Or at least the evening portion of the program.

I know it well. I spend plenty of time here and have since deciding to try my hand at this professional musician gig a million years ago when I was younger and drove a Chevy Lumina with a 10-disk CD changer sound system installed in my trunk and all I needed to get from a Fargo gig one night to a Chicago gig the next morning was a bag of sunflower seeds, an energy drink and my favorite albums on repeat.

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Turns out what I also needed was some change for the toll booths and probably a plan for where I was going to stay the next night, but that was back before you could book a room and find a husband on your smartphone, so yeah, I did a lot more improvising.

It was back in the olden days when you had to use actual maps. And so my Lumina was filled with one of each from North Dakota to Texas and off I would go to make my way through the middle of America to perform, just a girl and a guitar trying to laugh off the requests to play Free Bird during lunch at a tech college.

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Or calm my nerves when I dropped my entire makeup bag under an automatic sink in the public bathroom after getting lost in Minneapolis and running late for my gig opening for a national act.

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And then there was the time I completely chipped the front part of my tooth off on a granola bar on a highway somewhere in Missouri with no hope for a dentist appointment before they were set to put a camera up close to my imperfections at a campus television station.

Yes, in between those gigs where I could be playing to 3 people or 300, I had nothing but the radio and the miles between the familiar and the mystery of the towns that passed by my window. Traveling and touring that extensively solo before I even hit age 21 was a weird mix of vulnerable, free, lonesome, nervous, proud and utter exhaustion. Some days it was hopeful, when the audience was captive and the stories came easy and some days were more “opening the door to my room at the Red Roof Inn and finding strangers sitting on my bed.”

And all these years later, so many things have changed, like the maps and vehicles, but the road hasn’t.

It’s still hoping for an open gas station at midnight when I’m finally heading toward home and I’m starving. It’s still floorboards full of wrappers and water bottles and dealing with the quirks of a car that inevitably acts up, locking me out of the trunk for no apparent reason. It’s movies and suppers alone to kill the time. It’s changing clothes in the car or a public restroom, and putting makeup on in the visor mirror. It’s meeting new people and inevitably forgetting a microphone stand along the way. It’s calling home at night and recapping the day, only now the voices on the other line are noisier and smaller and sweeter and there’s more to miss.

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But I love it out here when I go. I love to see the Main Streets and visit your Cenex stations and your cafes and hear your stories at the end of the night before my tires hit the road again for home or send me out in search of a glamorous hotel bed chimichanga picnic.

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Finding yourself in parenthood…

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Finding yourself in parenthood
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Before I became a mother, before I realized that you’re not always in control of the timing of your life and throughout my six pregnancy losses, I was worried about the way in which becoming a mother was going to impact me creatively — in my career and in my process.

Because, looking back on it now, I didn’t see any women like me out there who were mothers on the road singing and performing and speaking with their kids in tow. And if they were, then maybe I wasn’t hearing them talking about it, or complaining about, or, what I really wanted, writing a step-by-step instruction manual on how it was done.

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And so I only thought I could be one or the other — a creative person or a parent. But since I was a young teenager, I’ve been performing and writing music and stories as part of my living in most of its phases. After 20 or so years in some sort of a professional music career, 10 years of marriage and pregnancy losses and crying and trying, by the time I became a mother, I had fully developed a version of myself that had dug in, planted roots and wasn’t going to change without a fight.

Cue a battle with postpartum depression that I didn’t see coming and didn’t dare admit after all that time and all that struggle. Because no one tells you that even if you’re finally granted everything you thought you’ve ever wanted, you still have to learn how to exist with it.

This new tiny human was an endeavor that had changed my body, changed my mind, changed my sleep patterns and sucked me of all the freedom from which I drew my creativity, that had for so many years been tied to my self-worth and my bottom line. Turns out, nothing squashes that whole freedom-to-let-your-thoughts-wander vibe quite like a new human life in your house.

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And from what I can tell so far, it’s pretty clear that my children will never stop interrupting me. When I became a mother, I found it profoundly difficult to find inspiration beyond my new child, partly because there was nothing I found more fascinating or magical and partly because the long walks alone taking photographs of the sunset became a long-lost memory of a different version of myself.

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Now I’m almost four years into this parenting gig with, God willing, a lifetime ahead of us all, and I’m finding I’ve managed to wrestle and push and grind and hustle (and medicate) my way back to a version of myself that feels whole and connected and fulfilled and creative again. And it doesn’t look like it used to.

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So let me tell you what it looks like now (because I wish someone would have done the same for me). It looks like me trying to do a promotional photo shoot for a new album with just me, the photographer and my two young daughters dancing, singing, fighting and crying for a snack while I yell “Just a minute baby!” and smile with my guitar while the light is still golden.

It looks like them getting a hold of my phone and Facetiming my little sister and then China and me letting them go ahead and do it if it gives me three more minutes of time to try to get the shot.

It looks like “Mommy, I have to go pee,” and then helping her pop-a-squat in the pasture and getting back to it.

It looks like the one epic meltdown and the guitar dropped in the dirt that ended it all and sent us home for pizza and wine (for me, not the kids). It was nuts. It was sort of embarrassing. It was on the edge of chaos, but it got done. And we all survived (except my guitar).

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And then I found myself wondering out loud to my little sister on the phone (who was checking in after the Facetime call to see if we all survived) why do I do this? It takes me a little time after the kids go to bed to quiet the negative voices in my head and listen for the reminder.

I want to be known as my daughters’ mother. I want them to know that I am there for them fully and completely and that I love them entirely, but not exclusively, not solely. More than a strict bedtime schedule, I want to show my daughters what it looks like to have passion, to love beyond.

Because, ultimately, that was the greatest gift my parents gave me — they live and are living their lives as love in action — for the land, for the arts, for the community and, of course, for their family.

And truth be told, sometimes love and passion looks and feels and sounds a lot like work. And maybe it’s a mistake, just like the one I made tonight by keeping the photo shoot on my schedule without any help with the kids.

But I’m just out here trying to be true to myself so that my daughters can see what that looks like and lean on it when they’re out there in this big, wide world struggling to do the same.

 

 

Rose soap and the woodwork of our memories…

Lasting memories of my great grandma

When I was in kindergarten, I lived in Grand Forks with my family in a small white stucco house by the Red River.

I don’t remember too much about this time in my life, except the blond neighbor girl named Jenny, my blue bicycle, drinking Dad’s cold coffee in his basement office, my little sister’s run-in with a hornet’s nest, my sparkly jelly shoes and my Great-Grandma Rognlie. Actually, her name was Eleanor, but we called her by her last name because she was the kind of woman who took formalities seriously.

She lived in a red house a few blocks away from our little white one by the river dike, and every day I would walk there to spend time with her in those free and unplanned hours kids used to have between after school and suppertime.

And that time for me as a little girl meant saltine crackers arranged on a plate and spread with peanut butter, reading books with her giant light-up magnifying glass at her antique fold-down desk, watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS while laying on the carpet in front of her couch with the birds on it and her screened-in porch and her garden and this sophisticated woman with immaculate hair that was curled and styled every Tuesday at the salon.

When I pull from my memory, I realize that walking into my great-grandmother’s house was like walking into a different time that smelled like rose soap, tasted like frosted gingerbread cookies from the bakery and looked like a woman who worked to make money so she could put a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of two boys by herself in a time when women didn’t do those things without a man in the house, or at least they didn’t dare declare it.

But I didn’t know that about her then. I didn’t know how strong she was or the sacrifices she made or how hard it must have been or how proud it made her to see both those boys go on to graduate from universities, marry good women, contribute to their communities, succeed in their careers and raise children of their own.

I just knew she let me have Juicy Fruit gum and play her old piano and try on her fancy hats and shoes and she would order my sisters and me things from the Lillian Vernon catalog. And I knew that she always had a tablecloth on her table and a centerpiece and a game of Skip-Bo or Uno or Wheelbarrow or Solitaire and that she took the time to play cards with me after “Mister Rogers” and before my dad came to pick me up.

And on Sundays, I knew that she liked to take us all out to the Village Inn where I’d get three crayons and a paper menu and a pancake with that little dollop of whipped cream and I better behave.

And I knew that she had another husband later in her life, because I saw him in a black-and-white picture framed in her hallway, but I didn’t know him because I wasn’t born yet when he died, or maybe I was, I just wouldn’t remember, but somehow I knew that they didn’t have enough time together. None of us who love really do, do we?

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And I’m thinking of my Grandma Rognlie today because last night I watched my mom, dressed for the occasion, help my little Rosie put on her peacoat to head out the door of a theater event and I swear I could smell her grandmother’s rose soap…

And it occurred to me there is no way for my daughters to understand the complicated, compassionate, strong and beautiful story that lies within my mother. I can only hope that one day they will all grow old enough to ask the questions, woman to woman.

But right now, they know they’ll always find M&M’s in her drawer conveniently placed at their height, and on Thursday she’ll take my oldest to dance and then for a smoothie at her coffee shop and then the two sisters will run and play under the racks at her store until it’s time to head back to the ranch without sidewalks.

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And my daughters, they don’t know it now, but when they grow older these moments will lie quiet in the woodwork of their memories, waiting there for them when they close their eyes, searching for a way to feel safe and special and loved.

And they may never know the full story, and they surely won’t remember much about being small, but they will remember what matters, and it will always matter: that red house, that rose soap, that card game, those M&Ms, that Juicy Fruit gum…

If you need someone to build an ark…

 

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If you need someone to build an ark…

“We’re supposed to get 1 to 3 inches of snow today,” he whispered, his shadow looming over me as I rubbed my eyes in the dark of the early morning, removed the toddler foot lodged in my ribs and tried to make sense of the horror of the first words I heard in my waking moments on the second day of October.

Here’s a tip, ladies and gentlemen: Unless you’re at a ski resort, this is not the sort of news you deliver to someone you love before delivering their morning coffee. I mean, just because you know it, doesn’t mean you need to pass it on.

I suggest lying instead. Say something like, “I think we should plan a trip to Florida!” and watch the stars and hearts appear in your loved ones eyes. She’ll make you caramel rolls for sure. Denial. That’s the lesson for today.

Because it’s been raining here for a good four days straight. The kind of rain that has kept the autumn ground lush and green, magically making white-topped mushrooms pop out of nowhere, keeping the yellow on the flowers and the road in and out of our house drivable only if you have a big four-wheel drive pickup, horse, tractor or hovercraft of some sort.

I imagine a hovercraft is what that water hauler was wishing for on Friday evening when he made the wrong turn onto our approach with his big rig onto a scoria road that couldn’t hold one more raindrop, let alone 25 tons on 18 wheels. And so there he sat, 50 feet of diagonal metal sideways across the only way out of the swamp we now call home.

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And so there we all sat, effectively immobile, jammed, lodged, wedged and in no uncertain terms stuck, stuck, stuck with no hope of moving until the relentless clouds relented… which didn’t happen until Tuesday.

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And so we did what any normal family would do when trapped in the house for an undetermined amount of time — home construction projects.

Don’t be jealous. Because when you live with the kind of man I live with, the kind who gives weather reports to the entire household before you and the sun have the chance to rise, then you know that we don’t need to take the 30-mile trip in the rain to the lumberyard to resurface the floors, build shelves in the entryway, change the laundry room into a pantry, install four new lighting units and roll out homemade noodles for supper to boot.

Because we have everything we need to survive the apocalypse scattered like a tornado of mismatched nuts, bolts, tools, scrap metal, tiles, epoxy, wire, wood, gears, motors, ladders and deep freezers in the garage attached to this house that will forever be a work in progress.

Yeah, my man’s prepared to be stranded, I tell you, and not the kind of stranded where you stay in your robe and slippers and eat macaroni and cheese and watch Netflix.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got God on the line here… he’s looking for someone to build an ark and, well, frankly, I have some questions…

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Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

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Good morning from the ranch where it’s been raining for three days straight, but it feels like 20, and where this truck has been stuck in our driveway since Friday night, essentially trapping those of us who don’t have the proper mud tires on our vehicles.

But as of 9:20 am, it’s gone,  which means it’s my turn to attempt the muddy trip out of here…

Yeah, there are things that are glamorous about country living, but this my fine people is not one of them.

And there’s more where that came from in this week’s column:

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

There are times when I’m being whiny about how hard life is with two little kids and two (or three?) jobs plus the ranch and the laundry and the 40-minute trip to town, and I think of the women who came before me who raised their children without air conditioning or microwaveable chicken nuggets, and I tell myself to suck it up.

Because, well, these are First World, privileged Middle-American problems and I am lucky. This is all I ever wanted, (except for maybe $1 million collecting interest in the bank…)

But yesterday, I finally wrapped up my office work for the day at 5 o’clock knowing that I had to get the girls from day care at 5:30 and it took a good 10 minutes to drive from my office to the store, but I needed essentials like milk and granola so I did it anyway and forgot the granola, but made it to day care by 5:29 and then wrestled my dear munchkins into their car seats, distributed an equal share of snack and drink for the long drive home before stopping at the gas station to fill up my tank so I wouldn’t have another gas can situation — and just as I turned the corner on the last stoplight out of town with two quiet kids munching on crackers in the back, I dared to think I might actually have it under control.

That’s when I heard a panicked voice from the back: “I have to go potty!” And at that moment, I thought that there are a lot of things about raising my children in the country that make me forever grateful for the life that we have, like wide-open spaces and wild plum picking and watching them catch toads in the backyard….

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but this?

This was definitely not one of them. So I did what any good mom would do and I asked her if she could hold it. And she did what any good almost-4-year-old would do and said she would try. Which she did while she argued with her little sister about who had the right milk cup and then who had more crackers and then gave me suggestions on my radio choices before asking, repeatedly, if she could have a piece of gum that did not exist, a request that prompted a full-on meltdown from her little sister who happens to be obsessed with gum, before, finally, about 10 miles from our home, she winced, pulled her knees to her chest and whimpered, “I really, really have to go potty!”

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And so I did what any good mom would do and said, “OK, OK, OK, just a minute, hold it just a little bit longer,” and then proceeded to cuss under my breath while trying to simultaneously speed up and slow down to prepare to pull over in the nearest approach, which just happened to be an oil location.

And while truck after pickup after SUV rolled by on their way to an oil site or home or to work or to sports practice on a busy Tuesday evening, I crouched in the ditch, my butt in the air, trying and failing to shield passerby’s from witnessing my daughter’s emergency situation, our hair blowing in the 30 mph North Dakota autumn prairie wind, her bare bum catching that breeze, waiting, er, for the plop which would put us all out of our misery.

Except that plop never came. Turns out she’d rather poop in the potty at home. Which she did, and we all lived happily ever after in our home in the hills 30 miles from the nearest public restroom.

And if you need me, I’ll be loading up that portable kids toilet I bought three months ago that’s still in the box in the garage.

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