About Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I am working on living and writing my story. I grew up singing and writing music and spent my young adult life touring colleges and coffeehouses across the country. I have had a life long love affair with Western North Dakota and the 3,000 acre cattle ranch on the edge of the badlands where I grew up Now, after a couple albums, a couple of moves, a couple of dogs, a couple of jobs, one large home renovation and a long, heartbreaking road to motherhood, I am back at the ranch to sing, write and raise cattle and my baby daughter alongside my family as we take this ranch into the next 100 years. Oh, and just in case you want to know a bit more about the woman behind the words...I'm a statewide columnist, the editor of Prairie Parent, a new Western North Dakota parenting magazine, a recording artist and touring musician, a new momma and nature enthusiast. I have big hair. I trip a lot. I say stupid things. I snort when I laugh. I'm a home renovator and a damn good cabinet refinisher. I married the right man. I hate car shopping. I would adopt all of the dogs in the world if I had a big enough yard. I am addicted to coffee and candy and peanut butter. I am working on writing my story. I am home.

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.

Dear Husband on our 13th Anniversary

Next week we will be celebrating our 13th year of marriage. Thirteen doesn’t seem so lucky, but I’m only really superstitious about those sorts of things when things go wrong.

And what I’ve learned from 13 years of marriage is that the only thing you can count on, really, is things going wrong. And then, right again.

And what’s life but a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache? But my favorite times with you, well, they’ve always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

And so here were are, you and me and the kids and the dogs and the cows and the plans that seem to be going in a reasonable direction, until they aren’t. If we were sea people, we would say we’re good at readjusting our sails.

But we’re not sailors. We’re just two kids hell-bent on being landlocked in this rugged and unpredictable place, trying to belong here in our own way, in our own generation, knowing that even without the waves to take count, the wind can wear you down.

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Dear husband, last night I left you with the kids at suppertime so I could drive into a rainstorm and sing about our lives on a stage somewhere a few hours away. When I pulled out of the drive, my guitar and stories loaded up in the back seat, our daughters were standing naked in the mud puddles, dancing and splashing in the aftermath of a glorious late summer rain and you were laughing and waving and loving them. And I was loving you there with them.

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I love you. I always have.

A few days ago, our 3-year-old daughter asked me about my wedding. She wanted to know what I wore and if we danced and if I married her daddy. So I pulled out our wedding album and showed her photos and talked about that day in the cow pasture when you married me underneath the 100-year-old oak tree while our oldest daughter squealed and smiled and instructed her little sister to stop turning the pages so fast.

Wedding TreeThere was a simple quote in that wedding album that I pulled as inspiration for the special day, when I was just turning 23 and thought I knew what I was up for. It read: “Love is enough.”

And it struck me at that moment in the living room surrounded by Barbies and baby doll strollers, half-drunk milk cups and things that cost money spread out on the floor that’s never properly vacuumed in this sweet and maddening little mess we’ve made, that I was wrong there. Love is not enough. I’m sorry, all you romantics out there, but it’s true.

In order for love to be enough to survive this life together, the affection can’t stand on its own. You have to expand it, to stretch and define it more broadly so that it also means kindness, especially when you don’t feel kind, which will morph itself into patience.

And then patience lends itself to selflessness and turns the other person’s joy into yours if you let it. And if you look at love as less of a feeling and more like a doing for the other, that’s how love turns to freedom, which is one of my favorite parts about love.

And my favorite part about loving you. Because you let me be me, even in the times that makes our love a bit lonely. But I don’t have to tell you that, dear husband, because you’re the one who showed me.

And I didn’t marry you because I simply loved you. I could have loved other men, I know. Although I never really tried. I found you and here we are, more tired than we’ve ever been and more human, too. Adding years and payments and lawn care and cattle and children who spill things and who will always need us and make us worry and wonder if we’re screwing it all up will do that to the definition of love. Make it more human.

Because the stakes are higher, the days are longer and the floor is stickier and the ground is muddier, but we’re still standing on it, which comes in handy when this prairie wind blows.

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch
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It’s July at the ranch and the cows are out to pasture, I’m out singing for my supper, the guys are out in the hayfield and the kids are out running naked in the yard.

And while we’re all out, the grass in that yard just keeps growing. Because there’s nothing that a ranch yard loves more than a family too busy to landscape.

But when I lost Rosie in the weeds on a walk to the mailbox the other day, I thought it might be time to dust off the ol’ lawn tractor and get to work before it became a job for the swather.

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Oh, I love mowing the lawn, but apparently not enough to make it a priority over a 10 p.m. bedtime, which seems to be the only time left at the end of our summer days where I can escape to the tranquil, solitary bliss of the grass cutting motor.

Seriously though, it’s laughable what it takes to get such a simple chore done in my world these days. And because this is my life now, I’m gonna take this opportunity to walk you through it.

First things first, because we’re too cheap and stubborn to get new tires on my most prized possession, I have to dig out the ol’ trusty air compressor from the depths of the garage and air up two of the four tires. Done. No big deal, just have to pay attention to the slow leak to avoid the flat-tire-lawn-mowing-figure-eight-cut-in-our-lawn incident of June 1 that we’ve only recently recovered from.

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Next, I need to clear the area. Roll up the hose to the driveway in front. Roll up the hose to the garden in back and move the piece of barbed wire that’s supposed to serve as a makeshift gate to keep the cows out of the yard, but judging by the amount of cow pies in my grass, clearly needs to be re-engineered.

Then I properly roll my eyes and huff at the amount of toddler debris strung about before picking up five Barbies, 10 balls, a G.I. Joe, a mini lawn rake, a battery-operated four-wheeler and 35 half-painted rocks.

Next comes my favorite part — heaving the trampoline, fire pit, plastic slide, turtle sandbox and inflatable pool onto the little concrete pad under the deck and out of the way. And just when I think I’ve got it all, I need to turn and break my toe on the stake we set out to tie the pony up three weeks ago at our niece’s third birthday party.

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But really, it’s all worth it when I finally get on that mower, turn the key, put down the blade and start knocking down the roughage. The wind in my hair, the sun on my back, I start first along the sides of the road going up to the mailbox and let my thoughts wander to getting a job with the park board or something because this is my calling.

The lawn mower is my favorite piece of equipment, the lawn mower is my spirit animal, the lawn mower is my freedom, the lawn mower is… out of gas.

Next step, call Husband to instruct on gas can situation. Assess gas can situation. Lug giant gas can up the road. Spill a fair amount of gas down my leg and into my shoe. Decide it’s good enough. Start ‘er back up again to resume feelings of freedom.

Run over a log, get stuck twice, get unstuck twice, run over two big rocks in the ditch and three horse poops and have a near miss with the shovel we were supposed to use to scoop up said horse poops.

Give three kids a ride, run out of gas again, fill up again, almost get stuck one more time, sweat, smile, park and, four hours later, hands on hips, look out at that fine manicured lawn thinking Better Homes and Gardens has nothing on me. Now if they would just let me run the swather.

If you need me, I’ll be out in the yard. I have a turtle sandbox that needs to get back in its proper place.

Yours in peace, love and lawn care,

Jessie

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A spectator in a familiar world

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Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

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And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

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Outside the fence

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Coming Home: Outside the Fence
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There’s a little stem of a willow tree growing wild in our backyard. I wouldn’t have known it except my dad pointed it out in the thick of the wild grasses, bushes and weeds that we have been meaning to turn into a retaining wall for years.

Willow trees aren’t common out here among the bur oak and the ash, the bull berry thorns and chokecherry brush, except for the big ones that line the edge of the stock dam outside of our fence line, so Dad thought it was special, suggesting maybe we keep it there to grow instead of digging it up to make room for petunias or paving stones or domesticated bushes. I looked out at those big willows then and couldn’t help but think what a big jump that little seed took from home to here, what strength it had to dig in among the clover and weeds, successfully avoiding lawn mowers and chubby, curious hands.

Last month, while I was attempting to assist my 3-year-old daughter at T-ball practice, she told me to go wait outside the fence and watch like the other parents, because apparently now she’s a teenager.

Today at her little preschool Bible day camp, she gave me the same direction — and this time I was even offering a cookie.

She was sitting at a tiny table with a group of her friends and it was as if my presence immediately reminded her of her small place in the world at a moment when she was really feeling quite big. And hilarious.

Her little sister Rosie has already taken the “no parents allowed” stance on important things like hand-holding down the steps, drinking out of lidless cups and, recently, getting in on the dance circle and the horse-drawn wagon rides with the big kids, reminding me that the letting go part happens slowly and then all at once, like the way that we all noticed that tiny little willow tree that had been working on growing right under our noses day after sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day.

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Below the boards of our deck, in the corner on top of the beam, a mother robin spent her springtime gathering sticks and mud, grass and rocks to build a nest for five little blue eggs. Her work was so unassumingly diligent that we didn’t even notice the life and home she created there until among the laughter and frosting and pony rides of my niece’s birthday party.

This time, my dad looked up to find four tiny little fuzzy heads attached to beaks open wide, stretching up to find a mother surely coming with a worm or a bug.

I took the girls to get a better look from above through the cracks in the deck, instructing them to close one eye and keep the other one open to help them spot the tiny creatures who were close enough to feel our breath. I noticed the mother then, perched on the cedar fence rail that serves as a symbol, a barrier between the tame and wild world, safe and unsure. She was waiting there, watching, a worm dangling from her beak.

Tonight I am sitting alone in my backyard listening to the day quiet down with the chirping of those birds and the howling of the coyotes. That nest below me has been empty for weeks, because as fast as we think our babies sprout wings, real birds fly in a blink.

And I am the willow, the robin, the mother, on the other side of the fence with a worm, with a prayer, with a hand reaching out to steady them as they stretch toward the sky.

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