What the cat misses out on

What the cat misses out on
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When I was a young girl growing up in the ’90s, living in the angst of the transition from not quite a child anymore and clearly not a grown woman, I have a distinct memory of looking at my family’s house cat, curled up on the throw blanket draped across the couch, and wishing I could be her.

I did the same with Dad’s cow dog, staring up at me in the garage, waiting for a scratch in the middle of my brooding over some fight with a friend, or the way my outdated clothes fit my body now, or how my hair fuzzed, not even close to the way it lay smooth on the girls in those magazines.

To be a cat, I thought, would be far less complicated. I didn’t want these feelings, the ones that were creeping over me, reminding me that the world was getting bigger, the expectations of me were quietly changing and I was starting to see it now, not certain I was ready.

To just know, like a cat, what you were supposed to do — eat and sleep and poop and curl up and meow at the door to be let out and then meow to be let in again — seemed like a less problematic existence. Even if you got left out too long in the rain, or you discovered your food dish to only be half full, not to the brim the way you prefer. Even if you didn’t have a human at all, or a bowl or a dish… a cat just needed to be a cat, and she knew how to do it.

I wasn’t so sure about the whole human thing.

Because a cat didn’t have to have the right jeans or haircut to find an acceptable place in the social circle, a dog didn’t have to pretend to understand algebra or have fights with her mother that ended in slammed doors and misunderstandings. A cat didn’t feel compelled to write sad songs on the pink carpet on the floor of her room, simultaneously hoping no one ever heard them and also that everyone would…

I’m all grown up now and when I turn on the news or listen to those sad songs or disagree with my husband, or hear a story about how we’re screwing this up, I think, in the next life, I might come back as a house cat.

Because sometimes, it seems, there is not one thing that we humans haven’t made more complicated.

Last week I sat on the back of my horse and in the crisp fall air, against the relentless wind and a sky that would eventually snow on us, I helped move our cattle home from spread-out pastures.

The notice was short for me to successfully manage all the things I thought I should be doing, but I had enough free will to chose what mattered to me that day, so I rode behind a string of black cattle, my now well broken-in body finding a familiar comfort there, free for the day from worrying about how my hair fell or what the polls or the numbers or the doctors say.

Because the job was to gather and trail and round up and sort and check and doctor and laugh and count and holler and wipe our noses on our hankies and say our toes were cold when we finished the task and went in for chili and coffee and cornbread.

And I thought, as I refilled bowls and mugs and asked around about dessert, that for a tough year I’m grateful for moments like this. It’s moments like this, perhaps the cat misses out on…

Stay safe. Stay strong. And for crying out loud, let’s take care of one another.

Jessie

Resiliency

Resiliency
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Those of you who have been following along here know that this spring I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that laid a good portion of real estate down in my airway, nearly blocking both of my lungs entirely.

Five months, two surgeries and a big ‘ol scar later, here I am, cancer free and able look back on this as a blip. Hopefully it stays a blip…

And there were many things I learned during this process, of course, but what has been the most interesting outcome has been people asking me how I stayed strong and kept hope during the uncertainty and pain, as if holding the scar meant I held some sort of secret.

Because don’t we all need some hope about now?  Don’t we all just want someone to tell us it’s all going to be ok?

The truth, of course, is that I haven’t always stayed optimistic. I didn’t always hold hope up. I had plenty of moments of completely losing it, going to the darkest possible outcome in the middle of the night, or when the sun was shining, or when my kids wouldn’t stop whining in the car for fruit snacks I didn’t pack…

I had my moments.

I still do.

I’m still terrified sometimes. 

But not as terrified as I am grateful.

When I was first diagnosed with the tumor in Bismarck, my husband and I sat down with my doctor to take a look at it and make plans for Mayo Clinic. I remember telling them, “I can’t believe I recorded an entire album with this thing!”

And then my usually stoic husband chimed in–“Maybe you should rename it ‘Tumor Tunes.’” My doctor about choked on his mask and we all started laughing.

And I didn’t know then how bad it was going to get, or what the next six months were going to look like, but after I let my thoughts wander, I find that I somehow always default back to the place where everything is ok. Because being terrified doesn’t work for me if the end goal is that I want to go on living.

It doesn’t mean that I’m naïve, or unaware of precautions or process or the worst of it, but I’m pretty good at convincing myself that I will, we will, get to the other side, whatever that side looks like.

Having that mindset then frees up some space for things like laughing. Because even in a personal crisis, the world keeps on turning and I didn’t want to miss it.

But am I saying optimism is hope? In some cases, yes. But being raised out here in the rough country of western North Dakota, I’ve watched enough calves brought inside from winter storms, witnessed Mother Nature change the best laid plans and have been bucked off of enough to be able to confidently call bull on that ‘ol phrase  “Get back up on that horse again.”

Yeah, sometimes getting back up is the only way to get through. But other times resiliency means knowing when to put that horse out to pasture before he kills you.

Knowing when to quit can often be the bravest thing we can do.

But you don’t have to be brave to be tough. Sometimes in order to see what we’re capable of, we have to be scared out of our minds. What turns us from afraid to resilient is what we do about it.

I wish I could ask my immigrant great grandfather Severin about how he felt coming across a million miles of ocean from Norway to lay claim on a property he’d never laid eyes on.  Or what it was like riding his bicycle 80 miles cross-country to his homestead. Think he was scared as a teenager on that ocean, wondering if he’d ever see his homeland again? Think he was scared raising 12 children on this unforgiving landscape.

Think he was scared walking through a herd of cattle that a group of cowboys ran across his farmstead and sorting out the ones they had stolen from him, one by one?

And if I could ask my great grandparents what made them keep fighting through the fear and tough times, I bet they would say what my grandparents would say, what my parents would say and what I would say now to my daughters now…

If it’s worth fighting for, it will give you a fight. And if that fight looks like sailing the ocean or walking miles alone, then you do it, even when you’re scared as hell. 

But sometimes the fight looks like asking for help, and, you wouldn’t guess it, but that might be the hardest part of all of it. But then, when you come up for air, screaming and kicking and ready to live again, you will know exactly how to pass it on.

Ranch mom problems

Ranch mom problems
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There have been many moments in my life when my “ruralness” has shown up in all its glory.

Last week, for example, when my 2-year-old daughter dropped her pants in the middle of the playground in town and proceeded to pee in the sand while I was on the phone trying to be a professional working remotely.

Well, professionalism went out the window pretty quickly when I screeched into the phone and then promptly confessed to my colleague that my kids haven’t been off the ranch much lately.

The only saving grace was that there were no other families around, and honestly, I was pretty proud that she didn’t get any on her pants. For us girls peeing outdoors, that’s a pretty advanced technique.

Before we had kids, the whole stamp-of-country-living thing used to show up as red scoria mud caked to my car, as a line on my shins across my dress pants and the reason I had to change from muck boots to heels on my way to work. Or maybe all the times I’ve driven our pickup to a work meeting, singing gig or grocery store run with feed buckets, fencing supplies and once, accidentally, my dad’s cow dog hiding in the back.

She was afraid of storms, so I can’t blame her, but it was a long hour-and-a-half drive to bring her back home…

Growing up on the ranch leads to all kinds of adventures for the Veeder girls. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Anyway, when I chose to raise my kids on the ranch, no one really warned me about the ways in which that upbringing might affect them — or, more importantly, embarrass me.

I should have known though. I mean, it might have been a million years ago, but I was once a ranch kid witnessing my little sister pop-a-squat right in front of the bleachers full of rodeo fans. The only time I’ve ever seen my dad run that fast was when he was being chased by a momma cow. I swear the two of them flew. At least most of that audience understood, likely finding themselves in a similar parenting position at one point or another.

But the time she peed in the middle of the lawn at an Art in the Park event in our hometown was a little harder to explain, the same way it’s hard to explain to a toddler that peeing outside is fine some places, just not others. The whole privacy thing is lost on a 2-year-old. Just ask any mom of young kids and she’ll tell you she hasn’t pooped without a guest appearance in years.

The 4-year-old at least has the outfits to pass in civilization. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

So that’s where I’m at today, working on acclimating my children to civilization. And we’re getting there. I mean, the 4-year-old at least has the outfits — long, flowy, sparkly princess dresses complete with a tiara and tiny high-heel shoes function well in the barnyard climbing on and off of ponies and picking up every cocklebur along the way. She looks the part, that one, but the fact that she doesn’t flinch at the dead bird the cat drug into the house, pulling a tick off the dog or that she can explain the birthing process of a calf without skipping a step sorta gives her away.

But, the 2-year-old? Send prayers and any tips you have for me on homeschooling and house training.

Peace, love and all my apologies to the Park Board,

This shirt

This Shirt
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I came across one of my husband’s old T-shirts while folding laundry last week. It was there in the basket with underwear and worn jeans and socks that somehow never match up right, the gray shirt with the blue collar I bought him when we were just kids.

That blue collar is frayed now, and there’s a rust stain under the word “Nike.” A little hole is forming at the seam of one arm and it won’t be long before I can hold it up and see right through it. Twenty-some years of wear on a man in work and play will do that. Ten thousand trips through the washing machine will do that.

Funny how an everyday chore can suddenly transport a person. I lifted it up and smoothed the wrinkles out on my lap and suddenly I was that 16-year-old girl again, in the mall in the big town, looking up at a wall full of men’s shirts, summoning all that I knew about the boy I liked so that I could make the right decision.

I chose the one on the very top row of course, and so I had to ask a clerk to get it down so I could bring it to the register to pay for it. I spent $25 of my hometown department store earnings on a boy for his 17th birthday.

I didn’t know at the time the long-term relationships men come to develop with their favorite T-shirts. If I dug through my husband’s drawers right now, I would find at least 15 to 20 relics of past wrestling tournaments, FFA and football championships, little pieces of his history telling the story on faded lettering and logos on the back of a T-shirt.

Here he is at sixteen. He still has this shirt…

I recently bought my husband a new shirt at the local Western store. We were going to take family pictures and I wanted the color to be right. And there I was again, looking at the wall of options, long-sleeved and short-sleeved, plaid and patterned and plain, snap buttons and embroidery.

This time I knew at a glance which ones he would wear, which ones look like him, and which ones to pass up. And it occurred to me then, when I brought that shirt home and hung it in his closet, next to his worn-out work shirt and jeans folded at the knee, that the act of successfully picking out someone’s clothes couldn’t be more personal.

To know a man well is to know the belt he wears for work with the vintage buckle and the one he pulls out for a wedding or a night on the town. It’s to know the inseam of his pants and the size of his foot in his boots, and how the man can wear out a pair every six months in this rugged place, the same way the wind and the sun wears on his cheeks and that spot on his neck his hat won’t cover.

To know a man well is to know how his shirt tucks, and that the sleeves are never long enough, his shoulders too wide and broad — just like, I thought while folding that old shirt and putting it in his drawer, my love for him.

Mille the ranch pug

Millie the Ranch Dog
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I think it’s time for a little update on Millie the Christmas puppy. Remember her?

The tiny black pug Santa dropped on our doorstep for the girls to love on and put in the baby doll stroller? Well, she’s grown into a fine addition to what is looking more and more like the Veeder Ranch petting zoo every day. Add a couple goats and a llama to our collection of ponies, dogs, cows and kittens and we could take this show on the road.

But don’t book us for any early appearances. Millie doesn’t wake up for the day until about 10 or 11. I know because she barks at us from her pillow fortress on the end of our 4-year-old’s bed.

Why does she bark at us? The jump down is too high, of course. Same as the jump up to the couch when anyone in this house thinks they’re going to be relaxing alone. Oh, the pug hates to see it. At the first sign of feet up and arms stretched behind a head, the little dog flees her pink fluffy bed to rescue you from loneliness on the couch. If only you could just give her a little boost…

And that’s what pugs are supposed to do. Lounge. And snuggle. And snore. But Millie’s multifaceted. Versatile. Complex. Put her in a box? She will shred it. Give her a squeaky toy, she prefers horse poop.

Seriously. Lord help us, it’s one of her favorite treasures. Good thing there’s plenty around the ranch for her collection by the front door, along with the dead snake, mouse guts and Barbie Doll head. Such a welcome site for visitors and the UPS man. Bonus, it makes her breath and farts completely intolerable.

Now that I think of it, Millie’s taste for dried up road apples could be her way of roughing up her fluffy edges so that she can properly fit in around here as a bona fide cattle dog.

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a way to stop a pug chasing a trail of cattle over the hill toward your poor, unsuspecting mother, the answer is no. There’s not. At least I haven’t found the command yet, and boy have we practiced.

So we have some work to do on this cow dog thing for sure, but do you know what ranch pugs are really good at? Picking up cactuses and getting lost in the long grass. They’re perfectly low to the ground for things like that.

Millie proved it on our walk across the home pasture to admire the changing leaves the other day. One minute she was frolicking with the big dogs, the next, she’s nowhere to be found, turning my half-hour stroll into a one-hour search to find out what hole she might have fallen into.

Turns out she didn’t fall in a hole, but she did pick up a few little cactuses. And so she gave up on walking for the evening of course, and there she was, waiting for someone to rescue her by the fence post.

I don’t blame her. There’ve been plenty of times in my life out here that I’ve wanted to just wait by a fence post for someone to carry me home.

And so I scooped her up, Baywatch style, and we made the half-mile trek back to the house. If she were a true cow dog, she’d be humiliated, but she relaxed right into the role she was made for. Snuggling, owning us all and being heavier than she looks.

If you need us, we’ll be wrangling the cats, feeding the ponies and shopping for llamas to add to the Veeder Ranch petting zoo.

Peace, Love and Pugs,

Jessie

Like a cat on the screen door

Like a Cat on a Screen Door
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The leaves are changing out here at the ranch at just the right pace — slowly and overnight. I can see them on the other side of my sliding glass door if I look past the kitten climbing up the screen and the other one pooping in my flowerpot.

And inside, the big cat is sleeping on my bed, the pug is chewing on a ballet slipper and my 4-year-old is putting on a fashion show, complete with green eye shadow, pink lipstick and hairstyle changes.

To top it all off, the 3-year-old is serenading us all on the microphone that some idiot mother purchased them for Christmas because for some reason I thought my children’s constant outside voices are not quite loud enough.

I’ve been working on this column for a total of three hours and this is where we’re at, fourth paragraph. No profound thoughts. No beautiful words of encouragement.

No musings on the state of the world, except maybe this is where so many of us are in these crazy times — kitchen table desks we share with Peach the naked baby doll, the sticky puddle of this morning’s pancake breakfast and coffee you won’t finish but will heat up at least 20 times between wiping butts, answering emails, defusing fights and avoiding the news and the line of sight on your second-grader’s Zoom call.

Because you’ve got pandemic hair and someone might care.

Aw, there’s an art to ignoring your children. I think it’s something parents in the ’80s and ’90s had figured out pretty well. I mean, I’m the product of the “go outside and play until we call you for supper” generation.

And that’s what we did. We rode our bikes, obeyed (most of the time) the rule to stay out of the stock dams and the world was our playground. Because we didn’t have an actual playground. Not that we needed one with all of these trees and creeks, outbuildings and forgotten machinery, cow dogs and barn cats climbing up screen doors.

My girls are too little to send outside on their own, but I’ve reached that parenting milestone where they play together in another room and I know as long as they’re loud they’re fine. And as soon as it’s silent, go check. That’s a hack not found in parenting books.

Speaking of, I haven’t heard them for a while… Peace in this house only lasts in five-minute increments.

Anyway, there also isn’t a parenting book on how to raise a kid during a global crisis. Or one on how to stay a stable parent while you fight cancer. Well, maybe there is, but who, in that situation, would have the time or energy to read it?

Just yesterday, I was listening to my 2-year-old playing babies in the living room. She was on the phone with Gramma or another mom, I couldn’t really tell, but whoever it was, she wondered if they were cancer-free.

And then she wondered how Gramma Ginny was and if her toe was feeling better and if maybe we should go get some ice cream when she gets back from her COVID test.

And lately I’ve been wondering if there was something else I should be doing to ensure that we’re raising resilient, compassionate, smart humans when there are so many distractions, when I’m not 100% healthy and especially when at anytime their little worlds can be turned upside-down, something we learned this year can happen at the drop of a hat.

Is it more conversation, a better schedule, more educational material, more structured play and lessons? Are we going to be OK here?

Well, it turns out if we just give them space to play and pretend, and we tune in every once in a while, they’ll let us know. So many of our worries came out of the mouth of little Rosie on a pretend phone call that day. But she was not angry or frantic, but caring. Compassionate. With an ice cream sundae on top.

Parents, mastering the art of ignoring our children is valuable and necessary for so many reasons, but trust me, they’re not ignoring us.

Hang in there, everyone. Hang in there like this dang cat on my screen door.

Bittersweet

Bittersweet
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I woke up this morning to a dull haze that settled into the valleys of this place. A thick kind of air that’s veiling the changing trees and golden grasses, a mysterious way to showcase a changing season

I ventured out in it to clear my head, put a flush in my cheeks, to remind these lungs and these legs that I belong here under this September sky.

At least that is what I hold on tight to, especially in the hardest times, the times when the unanswerable questions scream at us until we fall to our knees.

These questions seem louder today as our community is scouring the banks and current of the Yellowstone River for a 13-year-old boy who was swept away without warning.

Why? With the inhale of a breath, just like that, it all changes.

I march across a landscape that was, just months ago, soft and lush and full of new life. The limbs of trees bursting with new leaves, the creek beds flowing with the heartbeat of the creatures that drink from it, the colors of the wildflowers flashy and fertile, the green grasses bending and swaying with the rhythm of a warm wind.

Bountiful, beautiful, enchanting new life.

But today, the same sun that helped spring life from the earth is working on stripping the landscape of its softness, turning it sharp and dry and brown under my feet. With that sort of change, we could easily be convinced that all hope is lost. That this is it. The green will never return.

But we’ve come to understand that it’s just the spinning of the planet, the change of a season. And we know that from the deep depths of winter, eventually a crocus will push through the mud, reaching its pedals to the sky.

This is fair to us. This is nature, the circle, the seasons defined. We accept that we must harvest the wheat, pick the last berries and bundle up for winter. We only mourn the loss of a season briefly, because certainly it will come back around again.

But how do we accept it when a human heart stops beating?

When faced with insurmountable loss and grief, there’s no grip tight enough, no kiss warm enough, no clock that moves fast enough.

“Why? How will we go on? What happens to us now?”

In my life I’ve asked these questions inside of church buildings, in the lines of books, in doctor’s offices and while holding on tightly to family. But it’s when I’ve walked the silent trails of tangled brush and bugs buzzing, abandoned nests and broken branches and when I’ve screamed to the sky to hold us together, to remain predictable and steady, that I’ve come to be the most comforted. Feet in the mud, face to the sun, hands touching the grasses and lungs sucking in the air.

Because out under this, down from the hills and off the trails, I’ve found that there is suffering out here that looks just like ours. The tiny mouse doesn’t always outrun the hawk; thorns and burs tangle and take over the land. Even the mighty oak can’t run from the storm.

But then, among the bare, black, snarl of the brush in the dead of the fall, a vibrant, hearty vine wraps its way toward the sky, holding out for the season, shining bright against the gloom. Bittersweet.

And that mighty oak, despite the eminent snowstorm, releases its acorns with the hope that one of her seeds might take root and reach for the sky someday.

She seems to be whispering, “Those we must let go, will come back to us…”

On the scent of a rose, the glisten of dew on the grass, in the breath of a horse, the sigh of a newborn child or the sunrise through a bedroom window each morning — a quiet sign that those heartbeats still surround us.

And that crocus? A lesson to live this brief life with vulnerability and color — and be the first to welcome the light.

Keep Ira and his family in your hearts. May they find peace among the pain. Since I filed this column that have found his body and today they are holding a funeral in celebration of his life.

Take care of one another.

Summer Sunset

The songs that we know

The Songs that We Know
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There are songs that we know, tucked away in the back of our memories that come to in the form of a hum or a whistle while we’re doing dishes or laundry, pulling weeds or fixing on the tractor.

Maybe it was a song we learned in elementary music class, standing next to your best friend on the risers, singing at the top of our lungs without a care, the way only a 7-year-old can.

Or it might be our favorite church hymn, or the one you first learned to play on the guitar or the piano, or the verse your mother used to sing quietly while she helped you wash your hair in the bath.

These songs become a part of our DNA, just like the color of your eyes or the swirl of cowlicked hair on the back of your head, you seem to have always known the words to the first verse of “You Are My Sunshine” or “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” or that song that your dad used to sing loud and silly in the kitchen while he spun you around next to the refrigerator… “Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby… Be-bop-a-lula, I don’t mean maybe…”

You hear that now and you’re instantly 10 years old again in stocking feet on the linoleum floor…

I became a singer because my dad was a singer. People ask me why or how it came to be that I carried music with me my entire life, and that’s the answer. I always felt compelled to sing along.

As far back as the memories I can reach, my dad had a guitar or a song, picking or strumming or singing along, a comfort to him that became a comfort to me. A Harry Chapin song about an immigrant grandfather, a Guy Clark tune that sounded like a hot summer day, Lyle Lovett’s “Waltzing Fool,” Emmylou’s heartbreak and the stories and characters I fell in love with in three-minute vignettes made me want to do it too, to make music like that, and to keep them close, like old friends.

Now that I have young children of my own spinning and leaping in the living room while I play my guitar, I wonder which songs might stick in their lungs and emerge while they’re packing their bags or curling their hair. It’s been 30 years since I first stood next to my dad behind a microphone, probably at an Art in the Park in my hometown, singing Nanci Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime.” I didn’t know then that I would recount Rita and Eddy’s love story for years to come, around campfires, on flatbed trailers, at county fairs and coffee shops and colleges throughout the country — I would take them with me. A little piece of my childhood.

And while music can be timeless, our lives are not. Last fall as I was staring down my 36th year, with little wisps of gray in my hair, I suddenly felt a real urgency to somehow capture the music I grew up playing. I wanted to always be able to turn a dial and hear my dad’s voice on John Prine’s “Paradise,” to bottle up neighbor Kelly’s yodel on Night Rider’s “Lament” and capture Mike’s doboro, steele and guitar-picking the way he’s played for me on my favorite songs since I was a kid trying to be a singer.

And so a new album was born. I called it “Playing Favorites,” because that’s what we would be doing — playing our favorites, and maybe some of yours, too.

Little did I know that during the process of making the album that I would find myself struggling to breathe, finishing up the recording process while beginning an unpredictable cancer battle.

Little did I know how important this collection of songs would become to me.

And so while I’m happy to announce that, nearly a year since I knew something just wasn’t right, I am cancer-free, I’m also excited that the news coincided with the release of this album, our gift to you, available online at jessieveedermusic.com, some select local stores and anywhere you download music.

We hope you find a few familiar tunes to hum along to.

7 billion hours until chokecherry jelly time

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7 billion hours until chokecherry jelly time
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Do you know how many chokecherries it takes to make six jars of jelly? Seven billion.

Do you know how many hours it takes to accomplish this task? About the same, give or take.

Depending on whether you decide to bring most of the small children on the ranch with you when you pick them. Which I did.

And a grandpa, too.

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And when you take small children with you to pick chokecherries on a warm (OK, hot) August afternoon up in the fields where the cows haven’t had a chance to graze yet, you lose those small children in the tall grass.

That’s an actual thing.

You think they’re following you to the low hanging branches, but then you turn around and they’re gone. Don’t worry — you can still hear them, which is helpful for the rescue.

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I have so many memories of chokecherry-picking throughout the years growing up out here in western North Dakota, monitoring the blossoms in the spring, hoping a late frost didn’t kill our chances at jelly.

We would stand in the bed of the pickup backed up to the tall bushes to reach the clusters of ripe berries on the top, or I would scour the scoria road ditches with my best friend, trying to meet our goal of a full feed bucket. I can feel the horseflies biting my arms, the grass itching my legs and the sun scorching my shoulders just thinking about it.

Last week was my first time making those sort of rustic memories with my daughters and niece in tow. And given the amount of time they spent lost and tripped up in the tall grass, I think I accomplished making them appropriately itchy.

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The oldest two bounced back up pretty well, though, and with a lot of praise and Papa Gene basically bending entire bushes down to meet them, they kept to the task.

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My 2-year-old? Well, it was over for her as soon as that grass touched her armpits, and so she spent the next 45 minutes in the side-by-side yelling various versions of “Are you done yet!?” into the sky and bushes during breaks between singing at the top of her lungs and trying to figure out how to get the thing started.

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We called it quits when both my girls were whining enough to scare the horseflies away, but I think my little niece and Papa Gene would have stayed out there until every branch was bare.

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Did I tell you about the time we thought we lost my dad entirely picking chokecherries a couple years back? Sent out a search party and found him basically in the next county, because apparently the berries keep getting better one bush over…

Anyway, so that’s the first step. The next? Put the 2-year-old down for a nap while I try to convince the 4-year-old that sorting the sticks, leaves and bugs out of the berry stash is a fun game. And she believed me, but only for like 15 minutes.

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Then she needed to go put on some lipstick or change her princess ball gown or something, leaving me alone with the task of sorting, washing, boiling, straining and juicing these berries — all while breaking up sister fights, finding snacks — and, oh shoot, it’s suppertime.

Do you know what you shouldn’t do? Work on a chokecherry jelly project while also trying to make pork loin and rice. To my credit, I thought I started this project with plenty of time in between. But it’s been years since I tried to be this domestic. Like, before I had children.

And it turns out time moves a bit differently when you have small children in the house and I didn’t recall that it takes 7 billion hours and about the same amount of kitchen utensils to make six small jars of jelly.

And so this is your reminder, in case you were thinking about taking on the chore, to make sure you clear your schedule. And all of the surfaces in your kitchen. And when you spread it on your toast or pancakes, you better not spill a drop…

Maybe next time I’ll try making wine.

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New Album Out!

You’ve heard rumblings here and there in the midst of the crazy that has become 2020, but I want to officially announce it here. The new album, Playing Favorites, is officially OUT!

I’ve been working on this compilation that features some of the songs that influenced me and songs I grew up singing, for almost a year. It felt timely and urgent to me for some reason to put these songs down, with my dad and neighbor Kelly and guitar player Mike who has played with me since I was a teenager and with other musicians who have been there for me along the way. Little did I know I was recording the album with a cancerous tumor in my airway that was working to threaten my life.

Little did I know I would wrap it up in the middle of the COVID lockdown.

Little did I know about the detour my life would take.

But now its release it feels so much sweeter. Because we’re in the middle of a time when we all want to be reminded of something familiar and comforting, and these songs are just that for me, and hopefully to you too. I am so happy to be able to send them out into the world.

Purchase your signed copy today

or Download it or listen wherever you listen or buy music. 
Spotify or iTunes

Playing Favorites Album Art

This album is dedicated to my dad and his red guitar. It’s for the characters in the songs we sing and for the characters we’ve played for on flatbed trailers at county fairs, in Legion Clubs and churches, at backyard barbecues, barn dances and potluck picnics in small towns across the mid-west. When we pick up our guitars at a campfire or in the living rooms of family and friends after a good meal with good company, these are the first songs we reach for because they are familiar, safe and forgiving of our imperfections, just like old friends. On this album you will hear the voices and instruments of my dad and I, of course, but also of our friends who have so often, when we needed them most, pulled up a chair to play along. This album is for them. And it’s for my daughters, my nieces and my nephews, for my cousins and their kids and you and yours, so that you might find a familiar tune and a place to sing along.
With much love,
Jessie ❤️