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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Community runs on heartbeats

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaidCommunity runs on heartbeats

Some days, I imagine my great-grandmother Gudrun at 17 years old, standing with her hands on her hips, 1,000 miles from everything familiar to her, looking around the place, the wind whipping her dark hair and long dress, wondering how she wound up so far away from the fjords of Norway.

Wondering how she was going to do it. Wondering what might come next.

And then I imagine her taking a big breath, letting it out quickly, and getting to work.

In her nearly 100 years of living out along the edge of the Badlands in western North Dakota, she raised 12 children — 14 if you count the ones she didn’t give birth to — and helped establish a church and a school, crops and cattle. She served as a “midwife,” before midwife was a term, delivering babies in houses on the prairie and teaching her daughters to do the same when they were needed.

I was raised 2 miles from where my great-grandmother raised those children, one of them who was my grandma Edith, the woman I named my first daughter after.

While my grandma Edith was growing up, down the road from her was a young man who laid claim to a homestead when he was just a teenager. He was married, went to war, came home and lost his wife when my grandpa Pete, the youngest of four, was just a child.

And who was there to help him with raising those children when he was trying to raise the crops and the cattle? Gudrun’s oldest daughters.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately as I watch the community where I was raised continue to work to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Everything from groceries to day care to schools to housing is stretched and moving and shifting every day. Back when my great-grandmother was raising her family, community meant survival — and I can’t help but notice how much that rings true to us all in the middle of this booming town.

Although I think it’s easy to lose sight of it in a time when our access to technology and everything from diapers to refrigerators can be delivered to our doors.

Because community also means support. And support, now more than ever, means working to understand one another by sharing our stories, our concerns, our needs, our ideas and working beyond our differences and finding a way to go beyond survive and into thrive.

I had no idea when I was singing for my supper, driving up and down the middle of the Midwest alone with my guitar at a time when people were moving away instead of back, that I would be married to my high school boyfriend and living at the ranch that raised me before I hit 30 years old. And I certainly didn’t have any idea that would be possible because, suddenly, the opportunities in my hometown would be saving people’s dreams.

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Where would we be if we weren’t tied here by blood and history? Would we be here anyway?

Last week, my neighbor called. She was raised a mile up the road from me in a time where we could still ride our bikes down the middle of the county road. She came home to start a business and raise her kids on her family’s ranch. I came home to do the same.

“The kids set up a lemonade stand on the corner by the highway, come over if you have a minute.”

And so my little sister and I loaded up our three little girls and headed to the highway to meet her and her husband and her dad and her mom and her four kids holding up “Get Your Lemonade Here” signs as trucks and pickups slowed down and pulled over to buy a cup and a Rice Krispies bar made by the next generation.

Times change. Our little country road is filled with daddies and mommies and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and daughters and sons on their way to work and home again.

I stand on that road with my hands on my hips, wondering what the future holds in a world that has somehow become bigger and smaller at the same time, determined to do what it takes, and to never forget that it runs on heartbeats.

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The devil in the barnyard…

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Coming Home: The Devil in the barnyard

Ahh, autumn’s beauty.

Serene. Peaceful. Golden hues, warm setting sun, a light breeze, 10 perfect horses grazing on the hillside. From far away, it looks like I exist in a painting. From far away, it looks like something in a coffee table book. From far away, our horses are sleek and groomed, with slick, shiny coats glistening in the bug-free air.Come a little closer, pretty boys, let me run my hands through your manes, bury my face in your coat, ride like the wind as the autumn air whips through my gorgeous hair so that I look just like that woman on her mount in the clothing poster in the dressing room at the Western store.

Yes, I’ll be her. Just let me get my long, flowing dress and giant earrings and we’ll show them what it’s like out here in the Wild West of North Dakota. We will be specimens, just what those stable horses and city dwellers dream of being — free, agile, spirited, untamed, wild and…

Horses

Full. Of. Burrs.

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I weep. I twitch. I scratch. … Yeah, from far away, it all looks so glamorous, but I’m here to tell you the truth and the truth is that I believe the devil himself created the burdock plant that grows wild in our draws and, if left to its devices, grows 6 feet tall and at full bloom produces hundreds of evil Velcro balls that attach to anything and everything that gets within 10 feet from the plant.

Yeah, you might not believe it, but cockleburs can jump. I’ve seen it and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand any of it. I mean, the Lord, I believe he created all things for a purpose. The worms for the birds, the mosquitoes for the frogs, the mice for the snakes, the snakes for the hawks, the weeds for the goats. I get it. I know how the chain works. I see the big picture. Lord, I do indeed.

But cockleburs? I just don’t get it. The only answer to the riddle of why these beastly, gnarly, poky, sticky, buds of torture exist has to be that while the sweet Lord was busily and happily creating the Earth and all its inhabitants, he had mercy on the Devil and gave in to his plea to let him have a chance at inventing something too. “Ah, what the heck?” the ever trusting Lord thought to himself. “Maybe the Devil has turned himself around.”

And so the Lord gave in, suggesting maybe the Devil start off with something small, like a nice green plant, maybe a pretty flower. Then the Devil rubbed his spindly little hands together, swished his tail and snickered with glee as he concocted a plan for a plant to take over barnyards everywhere.

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“It will start out innocently enough,” he growled to himself while God had his back turned, busy inventing baby ducks. “Some people will mistake it for rhubarb and happily collect it to bake in pies for unsuspecting neighbors (true story for another day). Bwahahahah… cough, cough, wheeeze… and then it will grow. It will grow tall and strong in the most inconvenient places, like in front of the barn, and along the water tank, or the edges of creeks and under shady trees, everywhere a beautiful horse with a long luscious mane might want to wander,” the Devil snorted.

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God moved on next to lily pads, with those pretty little yellow flowers, and then finished out his day with penguins and cotton balls, all the while trusting the Devil to do the right thing. But no. The Devil had plans…

“It won’t need sun,” he howled, pacing. “In fact, it will prefer the dark places. But when the sun does hit it, no worries. It will just sprout the best part, the best part of it all… the sticky, scratchy little balls that will jump off the plant and stick to EVERYTHING, allowing my weed to spread to every corner of the prairie!”

He laughed, he roared, “And it will multiply and grow and thrive!! Because nothing. NOTHING WILL EAT IT! Mwahahaaa!”

And with that, and a swipe of his red-hot pitchfork thing, burdock was invented.

Now I wish I wouldn’t have put on this long, flowing ball gown for this horse frolic photo shoot, because I am pretty sure I have a burr stuck to my butt…

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Country living and grocery store fails

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If only we had an endless garden year round to keep me from the grocery store…

Why do I make the easiest tasks so difficult?

Country living and grocery store fails

Last night, I did that thing where you have 30 minutes between work and day care pickup to power shop the grocery store and restock the essentials while planning a week’s worth of meals in your head because the list you have on hand only says “eggs and milk,” but the list in your head screams, “You’re all going to be living off of Daddy’s secret stash of ramen noodles if I put this grocery shopping trip on the back burner one more day…”

So yeah, I did that thing where I hang out between the canned beans and the pickles and text my husband about the level of our flour supply and he texts back that I should pick up some whiskey. And then I check the time and power walk through the cereal and freezer sections, throwing in a couple pizzas for good measure on my way to the checkout with a cart so full I have to hold the big family-sized box of frozen lasagna under one arm like a spectacle of the failed ranch wife and mother I’ve become.

And even though I had to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay the bill, I somehow managed to forget the most urgent of my husband’s requests: dog food and whiskey. But I’m proud to say, when it came to toilet paper and ranch dressing, my Midwestern country living instincts didn’t let me down, because, well, girlfriend don’t want to be stranded…

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But I think those instincts are also to blame for the reason I brought home my fourth box of Minute Rice for the pantry shelves that currently house 17 jars of mayo, bags and bags of dry beans we’ve never ever cooked with in our entire lives, a bigger noodle selection than the Olive Garden and enough oatmeal to feed a branding crew if we were facing down the apocalypse.

Oh, and because I’m always inspired by the beautiful produce aisle and my snug-fitting jeans, I decided I’m going to start eating healthier, once and for all. So I bought a giant container of mixed greens for all of the salads in my future… Mind you, that was before the aforementioned panicked, time-crunched walk through the freezer section for last-minute chicken nuggets, but I digress.

Because after I got all of my wares and two toddlers into the house in a record-breaking (and arm-breaking, and back-breaking) two trips, I realized I must have had that same salad conversation with myself last time I was at the grocery store when I discovered the same exact container of mixed greens sitting untouched in my produce drawer.

So I did what every goal-oriented and focused career woman, wife and mother of two would do when faced with that moment of clarity — I poured us all big bowls of Peanut Butter Crunch for supper, called my sister to see if she could use some fresh lettuce and called it a day.

Because there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow we’re having salad… and dry beans… and Minute Rice…

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Or garden tomatoes….

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Or homemade noodles (if I have flour) 

Call it a day

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Here’s a photo of my precious daughters having a moment of sisterly love.

And when I say “moment,” I mean it. Nothing lasts too long around here in the world of little girls. Sweet turns to sour and back again at the drop of a hairbrush.

So I tried to keep that in mind last Wednesday when my little family outing went a bit off the rails, which isn’t much of a surprise at all when you take a one-year-old and a three–year-old on an hour car ride to run errands and eat in a restaurant. But still somehow I’m a little shocked when my toddlers are both testing their lung capacity in the car, that this is my life.

Oh, I know this too shall pass, but there are times that argument is more convincing than others…

Call it a day

OK, real talk here: Today was a day. I would use the word tough, but I’ve had some days that truly fit that category, so I’m just going to Call. It. A. Day.

It was supposed to be an easy 60-mile trip to Dickinson with my kids. And when I use the word “easy,” I guess I don’t really mean it, because nothing with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old is easy. But my husband was going to come with us, which meant that running errands, getting my driver’s license and our passports renewed and hitting up a couple doctors’ appointments looked a little more doable with another set of hands.

So doable that I had the delusion that we could eat a nice lunch, hit up a park and maybe even get ice cream afterward. From where I stood on Optimist Hill, it looked like the perfect opportunity to turn our annoying adult responsibilities into a family outing. (Cue all you veteran parents pointing and laughing hysterically…)

But it seemed like it had potential. The kids only sang (screamed?) at the top of their lungs for the last 20 minutes of the trip and I only had to threaten to “pull this car over” three times along the way, but the first one was because the 3-year-old thought she might have to poop. Or puke. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, so she decided that she had to do neither.

Turns out she was saving it for when I left her with her dad and her little sister while I went into the DMV to pull my ticket, fill out the form and wait for 20 minutes (not bad, not bad) only to realize that to get the new “Smart ID,” I was going to have to come back with 16 forms of identification, five pieces of mail, the title to my house and my mother’s signature written in blood. Probably should have Googled that one… Yeah, nothing bulldozes Optimist Hill quite like a trip to the DMV that results in the promise of another trip to the DMV.

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Meanwhile, in the public bathrooms, my husband found himself in a situation in which he had to manage two small girls in emergency pooping situations, all while, ahem, holding it himself. When I caught up with him, the youngest was running through the door without a diaper while the older one was playing this weird toddler game where she runs as fast as she can and then throws her tiny body on the filthy floor while her bare-bottomed sister followed suit.

In our life, this was all pretty standard stuff really, so we proceeded on to the doctor’s office where my poor baby had to get a shot, which went surprisingly well thanks to a nice nurse and a couple suckers. Which, coincidentally, is what we were when we made the day-shifting decision to bring our entire family to a sit-down restaurant during naptime. Cue an in-transit crisis over sucker color choice on the way followed by empty parental threats that defied every parenting book in the history of the world.

We arrived at the restaurant and settled in for three minutes of quiet coloring, followed by sporadic singing (screaming?), negotiations, a drink spill, the food order, some crying, a Styrofoam to-go box tower collapse, two “situation removals” and “talking-tos,” actual eating and an early momma/kid exit to wait out a meltdown in the car while my husband wrapped up the check and slunk out.

We left the restaurant fully annoyed, which was exasperated by my daughter’s new favorite “bad mommy” refrain, which she was in the middle of when my husband dropped me off at my chiropractic appointment.

Turns out my chiropractor also makes a good therapist. We compared toddler war stories and he suggested I try to do more things that help ease my stress and tension.

So we skipped the trip to Menards and Called. It. A. Day. Godspeed to you parents. Godspeed.

If you need me, I’ll be on my deck with a glass of wine.

Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

Praise for the good kids

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Praise for the good kids

For the past month, we have had a guest in the house. And no, it’s not a mouse, and no, she’s really not a guest. She’s more than that and always has been… my niece, my family, my helper, my right-hand woman and just an all-around good kid.

Good kid. I like to say those two words together.

Good kid. There are plenty of them out there, but we don’t usually pay real tribute to them as a whole unless they’re some sort of child prodigy or sports star or young business mogul or queen or winner of something. And when we’re talking community, sometimes we forget to include them in the discussion, in the decision, in the vision for it all.

I mention this because my niece, T, reminded me of the demographic I have been away from since I was one myself 100 million years ago.

Because on Monday, T turned 16.

I remember when she was born and her first birthday and when I bought her a tiny pink cowgirl hat and she fell in the mud at the ranch and was so mad we couldn’t get her to stop crying, but let’s not go there with those memories today.

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Because today, T is 16 and she has her driver’s license so she took the 100-mile trip to stay in the basement and save our lives during the months when I had major events to plan and execute, long-distance singing trips, my husband was laid off from his job, my family had health scares and our lawn still needed mowing, our ranch still needed running, our suppers still needed cooking and our babies still needed us.

So when we couldn’t fully be there, T, who was still just 15, was. And I never worried about her with my kids for a minute, which freed me up to worry about all of the other things listed above.

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And while I was giving her a rundown of the schedule for the day in the middle of our very unscheduled life while sweeping Froot Loops off the floor on my way out the door and then coming back into the house two or three more times because I forgot my coffee cup/phone/computer/sunglasses in my rush out, it made me wonder what our life looked like to this almost-16-year-old observer.

When I was 16, I drew a picture of the house I wanted to live in, on the ranch surrounded by cattle and horses. It wasn’t a good picture — I’m a terrible artist — but you get the idea. And inside that house I thought we would have three sons and matching furniture and cupboards that you could open without Tupperware and sippy-cups falling out on our heads.

Inside that house I thought there would live two adult people canning garden tomatoes together, certain of a supper plan and free of the angst and fear you have when you’re 16 years old. Because at 16, I really thought that there would come a time in adulthood, likely right here on the cusp of my 36th year, that everyone just had it figured out. Your cupboards, your lawn, your career, your family, your paperwork… because that’s what I thought adulthood meant.

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If T ever thought that was the case, my husband and I popped her bubble in the most chaotic way. This summer threw a few hooks at us, it’s true. And when I was almost 16, I certainly didn’t see a future where an almost 16-year-old would save my almost 36-year-old butt the way that T has this summer, just by being fully and truly there.

Not by being a superhero.

Not by being a princess (although she’s earned a few tiaras).

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Not by being a child prodigy or a star athlete or winning “American Idol.”

No. She’s none of those things.

But allow me to let something as simple as this thought make the paper for once: She’s loyal. She’s confident, trustworthy and mature. She’s compassionate and helpful, organized and has good manners.

She cleans up after herself. She doesn’t complain much. She’s kind, but fierce when she needs to be. She’s loving and smart and she knows what she wants.

She’s 16. She’s my niece. And she means everything to me and she’s going to mean everything to this world, because simply and most importantly, she’s a good kid.

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A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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