New Album Sneak Peek

Playing Favorites Album Art
Since October I’ve been working on an album that pays tribute to the folk music I grew up playing with my dad, neighbors and friends. It’s an eclectic mix of cowboy music, hymns, folk music, beautiful songwriters and it sound so much like us.

I wanted to record it locally so that we could bring in the musicians I’ve been playing with for years and so that we could capture what you might hear around a campfire, in the living room, on a flatbed trailer at a county fair or in the corner at the American Legion Club.

My plans were to be on the road with this album in May, but COVID and my tumor sidelined that plan, and so we’ve taken a little more time with it. (Also, can you believe I recorded an entire album with a giant tumor in my airway? Jeesh) Watch for its release mid-Summer and take a moment to check out this sneak peek, behind the scenes of making “Playing Favorites.”

Thank you for the love and thank you Makoche Studios for doing such a beautiful job telling the story.

How to be grateful

Thank you all for the outpouring of support, well wishes, love and prayers as we take  the next step to get this cancer out of me. I talked to the thoractic surgeon at Mayo on Friday and it sounds like they will open me up at my sternum to get the best look at the remaining tumor. The goal is to remove all of it by cutting my tracheal tract and putting it back together.  They will have a big team of doctors there to make sure they can handle any surprises and will be able to tell right away if they were able to get it all. If they can’t, I will be given the time I need to heal up and then we will proceed with radiation. This type of tumor responds well to radiation (and not well to chemo). 

I feel confident in the plan, nervous, and ready to get it behind me. I’m expecting the surgery to be scheduled in June sometime, but we haven’t made those plans yet. 

We have received such an outpouring of love from people far and wide and we feel your prayers and thoughts lifting us up and we are so grateful. 

How to be grateful
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When my girls walk out the door to play outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, as they run toward the playground or up the road to the big rocks, they say, “It’s a beautiful day!” Or, “It’s a perfect day for a walk,” or “It’s a good day to ride our bikes.”

And there are plenty of things that I say and do that I don’t want my kids to repeat (because I am a mother, but I’m far from perfect,) but I beam when I hear them have this sort of gratitude for a sunny day.

Because they’re so young, it gives me a bit of hope that the declaration and recognition of the good and beautiful things that they see and feel might become a sort of instinct that will serve them well when life is less than fair, less than perfect or unexpected in the worst ways.

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Since the removal of the tumor that was blocking my tracheal tract this month, and the unexpected diagnosis that it is “cancerous,” I’ve been thinking about what has notoriously pushed me through the difficult times in the past. And I’ve been thinking about gratitude and how it serves me.

But first, I want to share that I’ve been having a hard time saying that I have cancer because I don’t feel like the amount of suffering I am going to endure here warrants that loaded and scary word. Because I’ve seen cancer take its difficult toll on the people I know and love and I’ve seen sickness ravage their bodies and take the light from their eyes.

I don’t know this for certain, but from what I understand, my life with this diagnosis will be short-lived. And because of that, something in me wants to save that word for the warriors who’ve had to fight harder. And the ones that we lost to it.

I realize now the “it could be worse” mantra is one I go to when I’m staring down a fear or suffering with grief or worry. I would say it during our infertility struggle and pregnancy losses, and I would say it when my dad was sick and dying in the hospital bed. He survived. We all survived it. It could be worse. We are the lucky ones.

To recognize others’ suffering beyond our own, I think, is a useful tool. But then, sometimes, so is walking to the top of a hill and crying out “Why?!” In my life, I’ve done both.

But for now all I can think is that I’m thankful to breathe better and thankful for a diagnosis and for good doctors and a supportive community and that it’s a beautiful day to watch my girls drink from the water hose and tear off their clothes to run naked in the sprinkler.

Thankful that, because the stars aligned just right to keep me safe, I can be here for that.

And I’m thankful that all through my childhood, the people who surrounded me pointed out their blessings as they saw them so that I could see them, too.

Even if it was as simple as melting snow on the hilltops, a ripe tomato from the garden, the back of a good horse, enough Juneberries to make a pie or just the sunshine on our shoulders on a perfect day to ride our bikes.

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The carpet sea of lava

The carpet sea of lava
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I wonder if they’ll remember this, when their dad was a jungle gym and they were so small and wild, hanging off his arms like monkey bars, standing on the tops of his bent legs and leaping off into a carpet sea of lava without fear.

In the movies, they would slow this part down, the part where I sat on the floor of our bedroom in my pajamas, watching my young family roughhouse and play.

In the movie, they would play a suggestive song and hone in on my children’s big, wide-open laughs, pieces of their blond hair loose from pigtails and floating in the sunbeam from the crack in the curtains, his strong hands tossing them safely while they squeal. And my smile, too. You would see it, grateful but apprehensive about the turn our story’s taken.

And anxious to get back to complaining about the constant state of stickiness on our countertops the way people do when things are going along just fine enough that you get to be genuinely annoyed by crumbs and laundry and the light fixture that flickers and muddy little boots tracking in on floors that never stay clean, instead of so damn grateful for it all.

But this isn’t a movie — we can’t slow any of it down. And my soundtrack is the voices in my head going down rabbit holes and back again, panicking and then reassuring myself the way I’ve done when faced with tough news about the delicate health of my family members. I know how to find faith there, to center myself. But I’m not sure how to be the one who needs prayers.

For six months, I’ve been having a hard time getting my breath. Was it a cold I couldn’t shake. Asthma? Stress? Was it the reason for the headaches I couldn’t tame with Advil or a nap?

Last week, I found out why. A tumor blocking 90% of my tracheal and bronchial tract. A slow-moving cancer that has likely been growing in my body and spreading to my airway for years, just waiting to make its presence known when it became life-threatening enough to send us rushing to Rochester, Minn., to meet with the experts at one of the best hospitals in the country.

And so that’s what we did. We wrung our hands and clenched our teeth and took deep breaths and called our family and met with the experts and got a plan. And then my husband and I, we sat for three days in a hotel room waiting for the next step, unable to go anywhere to distract ourselves in a world that is all but entirely shut down.

So he laid down and I laid on his chest and we pretended we were on vacation and it was raining. We ordered in food and watched terrible television and woke up early on Monday morning and headed to Mayo Clinic where I hugged him goodbye, the doctors removed the tumor from my airway and I woke up to deep breaths again. Feeling good. Feeling just fine. Headed home.

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That part is over. The next step is going to be rougher, a surgery that we’ll learn more about in a few days, one that will have me in the hospital and away from my sticky counters and muddy floors for a while.

In my life as a writer, lessons seem to find me where I stand. Yesterday, my little sister wondered out loud why we need to keep being reminded, in these dramatic ways, to be grateful.

Is there something more I need to learn here? I don’t know yet. Do these things happen for a reason? Maybe.

But maybe they just happen and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. And there have been some divine interventions that have taken me out of the path of disaster on this journey so far, so I’m just going to work on the brave part.

I know I can be brave.

And I know I can be angry as well as grateful. Terrified and hopeful. Panicked and at peace. In my life, I’ve been all of those things at once already. I’ve had some good practice. But until now, I didn’t know the fear of not being able to be there for my children.

There’s no other option than the option of being OK, so I’m going to be OK.

Yes, in the movies, they would slow this all down, so maybe I can, a little bit, to be like my children — impervious to the worries of the world, dangling from jungle gym arms, too wild and held by too much love to fear the carpet sea of lava.

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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake with your toddlers

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Baking with your kids in 10 easy steps
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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake
with your toddlers:

Step 1: Make sure the kids are sleeping and you’ve had ample time to pour a glass of wine, forget what it’s like when they are awake, browse Pinterest and become delusional enough to believe that you should attempt baking with two toddlers.

Step 2: Wake up the next morning to a rainy day and ask, “Girls, do you want to make a Rainbow Unicorn Cake today?” They will say yes, but then don’t get to until right before naptime so the kids are nice and cranky and you can spend all morning threatening to take the opportunity away from them if they don’t stop strangling each other.

Step 3: Start gathering the ingredients. This will take between 20 minutes and 50 hours because you will have to take one of them potty, get the other one a Band-Aid, deny them both another snack before giving in and getting them a snack, clean up a puddle of puppy pee and get them to wash their hands without flooding the bathroom.

Step 4: Get them ready to measure, mix and pour. Set each up with a separate job and then watch them argue over which one gets the spatula. Get them both spatulas like you should have in the first place. Watch as they enjoy stirring the whipped cream concoction and for half a second, allow yourself to think, “Maybe one of them will wind up on the Food Network.” Scratch that thought while picking up the one who fell off the stool again. Get another Band-Aid.

Step 5: Get out the food coloring like the mom-idiot you are. Offer to let them pick which color they want. Listen to them fight over pink. Convince one to chose purple and place a few drops in their bowls. Listen to the youngest cry because she wanted to do it herself. Give in and let her do it herself, but make sure you tell her “just a little bit” as if that means anything to anyone. Blink and realize she’s squeezed nearly the entire bottle out into her mix. Realize that by some magic act, your hand is now completely pink, but the 2-year-old came out unscathed.

Step 6: Let them crush the Oreos for the crust. Set them each up with a little plate and measuring cup for mashing. Grab your phone to snap a pic of this photoworthy moment of the youngest putting the third Oreo in her mouth and the oldest licking the frosting out of the middle of every cookie. Tell them they can only eat one cookie as if that means anything. Confiscate the cookie plates and do the crushing yourself.

Step 7: If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely about six hours into what the mom-blogger promised to be a quick and easy baking project. Yell to the kids, who have now abandoned you and disappeared into the recesses of the house where they are being suspiciously quiet, “Hey girls! It’s almost time for the sprinkles, come help me then we can eat it!” Read the rest of the recipe. Realize that you’ve just lied to them, because this cake needs to chill. For four hours. Cuss the blogger under your breath, but not quiet enough that your 4-year-old won’t hear when she appears in the kitchen wearing a face full of pink lipstick. Decide not to ask where her sister is.

Step 8: Wonder if it’s too early for wine.

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Step 9: Squish a pile of pudding underneath your foot on your way to the cupboards to get bowls because you’re the mom and you’ve decided to skip right to the eating phase. Serve them up a plop of a tie-dye concoction that resembles the blog photo only because you bought the same sprinkles. Watch as your offspring, for which you’ve sacrificed your body and your kitchen, take one bite and hate it. Stand alone in a pile of pudding eating both bowls yourself.

Step 10: Declare that you’re never doing that again.

*Tip from the baker: You can use this plan to accomplish many things, including: Take Your Toddlers on a Bike Ride; Make an Elaborate Craft Project; or, my favorite, Take Them All Fishing. In these cases, simply skip to Step 10.

Here’s a link to the actual recipe if you’re insane and want to try it. 

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Mine didn’t turn out remotely like this, in case you were wondering. I hope yours does.

Do what we can do

Do what we can do
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Last week, I sat down and recorded myself singing. It was sort of chilly, but warming up the way early spring mornings do. And I wanted to be outside.

I wanted the recording to pick up the sound of the wind and the geese flying in overhead. I wanted to show the trees and sky behind me, and the sun I was squinting into. It wasn’t the most professional or produced, but it was a moment I felt I needed to take to do something in the face of the circumstances that are out of our control.

So I did one thing I knew I cold do — I sang familiar songs and hymns and talked into the camera about the crocuses blooming and the calves being born, my way of sending a little mini-concert and a piece of spring to the residents at nursing homes in our communities who can’t go out and can’t receive visitors.

This weekend at the Good Shepherd Home in town, they were supposed to be having a prom, complete with dresses, a fancy meal and a live band. Instead, they are playing tic-tac-toe on the window with their relatives and friends who sit on the other side, close enough to touch, but still so far away. What a heartbreakingly backward scenario our elderly find themselves in, the people they love most staying away to keep them safe.

It feels especially tragic when you know the positive effects that human interaction has on their physical and mental well-being. It’s the same for humans of all ages. We were made to be social. Made to be part of a village, made to take care of one another, to touch and hold and to laugh and cry together in the same spaces.

What an impossible situation to find ourselves in, going out in the world with the notion that every other person we see is a threat to our health. And yet, for now, this is our reality. To help one another. To keep one another safe.

On Feb. 4, 1920, The McKenzie County Farmer reported, “The McKenzie County Board of Health on account of a number of cases of influenza in the county deem it advisable to close all churches, lodges, theatres and public gatherings for a period of two weeks, or until further notice.”

100 years ago, in a time before video chat, Amazon Prime, grocery and food delivery, the county was asked to stay home, too. But 100 years ago, people weren’t as accustomed to instant gratification and 24/7 news and information streaming into their homes and in the palm of their hands.

It makes me wonder how the fear and uncertainty, isolation and loneliness compare. Those stories are held now only in journals, letters, newspaper clippings and the memories passed down in conversations with the people who raised us.

So much of the perspective we need right now can be found in the past. Because in the middle of it all, it’s the good memories that sustain us, and the new, good memories made that help push us on into another day.

And so I sang for them, because music can help transport us. And my friend, she brought her horses into town for a nursing home visit, because the smell and touch of something so familiar does the same.

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And we arranged for an artist to come to paint on the other side of their windows and ask them questions about who they are and what they love as they watched their story come to life in a picture.

 

And in a time where we feel helpless, doing what we can do, whether it’s singing or sewing or cooking or making a phone call or simply playing tic-tac-toe on a friend’s window, can help lift us all up in these uncertain times and remind us that, even when we’re apart, we exist for one another.

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*Bismarck based artist Melissa Gordon was hired by our local arts Foundation through an Art for Life Grant offered by the North Dakota Council on the Arts. 

A piece of the sky

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A piece of the sky
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I spot a feather lying in the tall brown grass on my nightly walk to the east pasture. It’s from the wing of a hawk that has come back home for the spring, and I imagine it twirling and fluttering down from above to land softly on earth, a little piece of the sky landing right in my path.

I bend over to pick it up and put it in my ponytail for safekeeping, the same way I’ve done since I was a kid following my dad around the ranch, chasing cows on horseback or in his footprints on a hunt. It didn’t matter what we were doing, he would always stop in his tracks, get off his horse or bend down and pick up that feather to give to me.

This afternoon, I took my young daughters out to fly the kites I bought them for Easter. It was sunny and the wind seemed right, but it was pretty cold and I didn’t really have time for it. I should have been prepping for a conference call or making them lunch, multitasking my way to the end of another day.

Instead, I took to a pretty unmanageable task: a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, a puppy, two kites and one mom hauling them all up a steep bank of a slippery hill to get the right wind. Because I was in it now, committed to getting those kites up, a small accomplishment turned big when that butterfly caught the air just right and started dancing against the sky.

The girls squealed with amusement and started jumping up to try to catch it, clumsy little ranch kids dressed in snowsuits in April. And for 30 seconds I felt so proud, before that kite did a nosedive back to earth, little Rosie needed to go potty and Edie got distracted by an old anthill.

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My dad told me his mom used to love to fly kites. She used to make them, box kites out of newspaper with tissue tails, and she would take her kids out on the right day in March to fly them.

Until today, I’d never flown a kite myself, not that I can recall anyway. Until today, I didn’t know that story about my grandma and her kites.

And I don’t know quite what I’m saying here except there are things we do just because we do them, like rolling all the windows down on the car on a hot day to let the air whip through our hair and dry the sweat on our sticky skin, even though the air conditioning’s on and it doesn’t really make sense except it makes us feel something.

I don’t know when my dad’s feather picking went from something he did once to a ritual, but 30-some years later here I am, a grown woman walking home with a feather in her hair. And I used to think that if I collected enough of them, I could build myself a pair of wings and fly away.

I know better than that now. We have to leave the flying to the birds, and focus on the task of being human.

But every time I see a feather, I pick it up. And if I told you now that I do it for my daughters, I’d be lying. I pick up those feathers for me. It’s what I do.

And I don’t really know why, except maybe it’s like my grandma and her kites, planted firmly in the earth, holding on tight to a little piece of the sky.

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Online Concert Saturday

Jessie Veeder Photo Medium

I’ll be performing a little virtual concert as part of the Safe at Home Fest that features area musicians this Saturday at 4:30 PM CT. I’ll go live from my house or my yard somewhere the kids can’t find me.

So grab a drink, head on over to facebook.com/jessieveedermusic and call it happy hour. I’ll try to fix my hair and put on a clean t-shirt.

Visit https://sites.google.com/view/safeathome/home for a full lineup of area musicians performing throughout the day.

“See” you on Saturday!

A safe place to land

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A safe place to land
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Today it’s the wind that’s getting to everyone.

Even in the protection of the trees, the house is shaking, creaking and groaning under the assault of the weather. If I let my little kids go outside, they might fly right out of here, Mary Poppins-style.

So we’re playing inside today and watching the trees bend and sway while I shuffle these children from activity to argument to food and back again as time ticks on. It’s the outside that’s saving us these days, exactly the way it always has for me, rescuing me from the darkness of my own thoughts and from the work and worry that seems to push on me harder between the walls. And outside is the only thing currently rescuing my couch from being used as a trampoline…

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Outside is where new calves are being born on this ranch as I type, their mommas finding a safe spot in the trees or a dry spot in the sun to bring them into this world, lick them clean and urge them, only minutes earthside, to stand on their own four legs.

And if all goes well, like nature intended, a day growing in the sunshine will find those little calves running and bucking and kicking their legs up into the sky.

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The same sky that chatters with the faint cry of cranes and geese flying back to us, their summer home, trading places with their fellow bird for their spot in the V that helps carry them to a safe place to land.

 

They’ll come down to poke through a tangle of last year’s foliage to find green grass and clover and, right on time, the soft petals of crocus after crocus, slowly and deliberately emerging from the damp earth.

They’ll come down to sit in the beaver dams and stock dams and sloughs and lakes that are just warming up enough to lose the last of their ice. We would be so cold, but they were made for this, the birds.

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So then what are we made for? I can’t help but wonder it more each day as the world is shaken and we adjust our habits and face loss and uncertainty in so many of its forms. And unlike the birds, unlike the beaver or the cattle, the grass and the wild wind whipping through this place, humans can answer this question with list upon list of our individual strengths and passions that help make the world go ‘round.

But if there’s a collective answer for us, I think now more than ever we might realize that it is to take care. And so it has always gone out here on the ranch. The regimen of digging into the stockpile of work, feeding and caring for the animals and the land so that it can, in turn, feed and care for a larger world, feels a bit more comforting now.

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It reminds me that even the howling wind has a purpose, to slow us down so it can help move the rain clouds and spread the seeds. And although we might not all be able to withstand the bitter cold or the blazing heat or this relentless uncertainty alone, we can lean into the wind and, like the geese and the cranes, find our spot in the V and together, find a safe place to land.

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Only the crocuses know

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Only the crocuses know
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A few days ago, I went out searching for crocuses.

The sun had been warm enough to dry the hilltops and gravel roads and so I thought a few of them may have been summoned. With my head down searching, I climbed to all the familiar places on the ranch where I know they live, just under the dirt, waiting for the right morning to take the risk and reach up.

I didn’t see a hint of that purple promise of spring.

The next day, I woke up to a blanket of fresh snow covering every inch of this place. It was April 1. I’d been fooled.

And so the snowflakes fell in big chunks outside our window all morning as my kids were slow to wake up for another day of playing mommies or monsters or dress-up. I shuffled around this house, picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

A few weeks ago, these tasks and countless requests from my children would have been competing with my sense of urgency to get my work done, to meet a deadline, to prepare for an event, to wake my kids up early to get in the car and leave the ranch with the sunrise. These days, the only place we need to be is home.

And aren’t we the lucky ones.

“Seems like we’re just living like we used to live out here,” my dad observed, recalling memories of his childhood on this place before the road to town was paved, before private phone lines, before he was old enough to know what he might be missing in that great big world that existed beyond these hills.

A few months ago, my 4-year-old started to ask me every night, “Where are we going tomorrow?” It was a question that snuck up on me, like somehow I didn’t think she would notice the rushed breakfasts, the late suppers, the weekends spent without me while I was on the road singing for that supper.

You all know we’re only in the beginning of this plea to retreat and distance ourselves from the lives we’ve grown accustomed to. And that looks like different things to different families, depending on situation and story.

But for us, even with the weight of worry heavy on my chest for all of the circumstances out of our control, I’m finding peace and strength in leaning into what is, like picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

And my walks to the hills, a daily reminder that to everything there is a season, and there’s no amount of worry and wishes that will make the crocuses grow.

Because only the crocuses know.

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5 things to know about working from home, with kids

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Let me set the scene: It’s the third day of social distancing. Both my husband and I are working from home.

We have 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters who have demanded that we call them Anna and Elsa for the past three days. My name has been permanently changed to Olaf.

It’s lunchtime and we decided to spice it up by pretending we were all in a fancy restaurant. I was the hostess and my husband was the waiter, serving the girls up the most gourmet chicken nuggets money can buy and Cass-Clay whole milk aged to perfection in our best wine glasses. We get the children settled and teach them the proper way to hold the wine glass (pinky up, tea party style) because we are parents of the year.

Three minutes into our feast, my husband’s phone rings. He takes the call while I clink glasses with Anna and Elsa. But my husband isn’t well versed in “work-from-home” etiquette. He forgets to lock himself in the bathroom. Instead, he stays in his position directly across the table from 2-year-old Anna and discusses price and timeline with a customer while I try to convince the girls that it’s customary to whisper in fancy restaurants.

To which 2-year-old Anna responded, in her best outside voice, “MORE WINE PLEASE!”

Yes. Parents. Of. The. Year.

With schools and day cares closed these days, many of you are finding the reality of working from home with kids that I’ve been honing for the last four years.

And I would like to take this platform to offer you some survival tips, but honestly, I’ve got nothing. I mean, I started writing this column at 7 a.m. and I’m guessing it will be next month before I finish it up. And that’s why they invented day care.

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But for the foreseeable future, home is where the heart/office/school is. So while I have no advice, I do think it’s important to be transparent as we work together remotely in these tumultuous times. So, if you call me, please know that one or more of these things are happening:

  1. Exactly 30 seconds into our chat, my children, who were previously quietly zoned out in front of “Dora the Explorer” or playing dolls together sweetly, will suddenly, and urgently, need marshmallows. And while I employ the tactic of moving from room to room trying to get away from them and their demands, I will inevitably give in and throw the bag at them to gain a few minutes of quiet. Which I will get, because after they’ve indulged themselves in a few handfuls, they will have dumped the rest of them on the floor and engaged in an enthusiastic game they invented called “squash them all over the floor with our bare feet.” And I will allow it. Because I’m on the phone.
  2. One of them will suddenly have to poop. Really, really, really bad. This probably happens during 80% of my work calls. So if I’m on the phone with you, there’s a good chance I’m also in the bathroom wiping a butt. Sorry, but this is also why I only advocate for FaceTime meetings with my friends, because they love me regardless…
  3. Someone will fall off of something and wail a wail of agony so alarming that you will wonder if they lost a limb. I assure you they haven’t. But that’s precisely the reason I tell them a million times a day to stop standing on the couch/bed/chair/table. Don’t worry though, they won’t learn their lesson.
  4. Which brings me to, if you try calling and I don’t answer, it’s likely because: A: someone has the iPad and has hung up on you because it interrupted “Daniel Tiger”; B: I’m trying to get one of them to nap; C: I have no idea where my phone is; or D: We are outside and I’m in the third hour of pushing them on the swings.
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  5. Oh, and if by some miracle they are sleeping when you call and there’s a glimmer of hope that we might get through a conversation uninterrupted, don’t get too comfortable. They will wake up. And someone will have to poop.

Hang in there, moms and dads! We can get through this with patience, good humor and MORE WINE PLEASE!

Peace, love and marshmallows,

Olaf

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