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 young daughters 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.

Only the crocuses know

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

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

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

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

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

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

And aren’t we the lucky ones.

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

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

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

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

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

Because only the crocuses know.

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5 things to know about working from home, with kids

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Parents. Of. The. Year.

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, love and marshmallows,

Olaf

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Waiting on the sun

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Waiting on the Sun
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My husband stopped the pickup last week as another spring snowstorm came rolling over the horizon. He stopped along the road where the horses were working on an alfalfa bale that we plop down to keep them content through the last of this harsh weather.

We were on our way home, where we will be laying low for the foreseeable future, watching the news and wondering what tomorrow will bring, just like the rest of the world. But my husband stopped in his tracks and marched out in the wind and dropping temperatures while I waited, watching the clouds turn a deep, menacing blue and witnessing the most quiet and impulsive moment in the home stretch of the longest winter.

He walked past the new palomino he brought home for me last summer, and the gelding we call RB, notorious for checking pockets for treats. He breezed by the two sorrels and grabbed a tuft of burs off Mac the mini horse on his mission to say hello to the thing he’s missed most during the gray days spent shoveling snow and plowing through the ice and slush and repairing things on this ranch and in other people’s houses while waiting patiently for the meltdown…

As my husband reached his hand out to scratch the nose of his old bay horse, to wrap his arms around his neck, to smell that sweet horse smell, I found myself holding my breath.

I imagined them saying things like:

“Well hello there. Yeah, I’ve missed you buddy. Lookin’ good. You’ve wintered well.

“We’ll get out there soon, friend. Just waiting on the thaw.

“We’ll be out there soon. Just waiting on the sun.”

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

It wasn’t a long moment, but after I released my breath and watched the wind blow through the bay’s mane and my husband pull down his hat and head back to the road and to life’s uncertainties, I felt like I should turn away.

Because I was watching old friends reunite after months apart. Friends who have grown up together and trusted one another that now just want to go back to the old days when the grass was green.

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And even though the calendar reads spring, a season that brings so much promise and hope, I look out my window to find snow blowing across the prairie and piling up on the buttes just like my uncertainty and worry.

Because there are things we can’t control, a fact that lately has been sticking in the back of my throat, radiating up the back of my neck and sometimes streaming down my face.

But as I watched my husband step off the road, I was reminded what we’re made of out here, and how we got that way — by letting loose some perfection, dealing with the messes, brushing off the mud and dirt, fixing things that break with other broken things and leaning in against the winter with the promise of spring.

And as the clouds rolled in to stay for a few days, there were more things to fix and more news of uncertainty coming to us through the television as the sky spit and looked like it would make good on the promise of more snow, a spring delay…

But when my husband opened the door and reached out his hand to the life we chose, it reminded me that the grass is green under all that white and brown, and we’ll be out there soon. Just waiting on the sun.

Cowboy

Greetings from isolation

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Greetings from quarantine where we’re thankful for two full freezers, homemade chicken noodle soup and a community that is taking this outbreak and showing colors of caring and foresight and solidarity.

Also, YouTube. I am thankful for YouTube. Edie and I used it yesterday to work on our drawing skills and pass the time creatively while we wait for things to warm up so we can spend more time outside.

If you are home with little ones who like to create, I recommend visiting Art for Kids Hub and trying out their drawing tutorials together.

I am making it a goal to try to find a different creative project to do with Edie (and Rosie if she can sit still) each day, so watch my Instagram and Facebook stories if you want to follow along.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a podcast that I was honored to be a part of a few weeks ago. Rebecca Undem is the host of The Small Town Big Talk Show where she interviews guests about what it means to live big in a small town. As you can imagine I felt like this woman was hand picked as a friend for me, and we connected right off the bat. I was honored to be able to share a bit of my story and theories on why it’s important to invest in our small towns.

Enjoy and stay safe and healthy out there.

Sending love and a picture of Millie in a sweater.

The Small Town Big Talk Show with Rebecca Undem

On the show today, Jessie Veeder, musician, rancher, and author of a weekly column in North Dakota’s largest news publication, joins us to talk about her journey back to her rural community in western North Dakota. She shares about growing up in her community, and how she wasn’t encouraged to return due to the belief that there wasn’t a future for her there.
Now, after making her way back home, she’s contributing so much to the vibrancy of her community and she encourages us to do the same.

In this episode, we tackle… Why did it seem that you had no future in your small town? At the time when Jessie graduated, it didn’t seem that they were many prospects. Now, with great rural internet, she’s living a multi-passionate life that allows her to express all her unique gifts in a way that only she can. This future didn’t really exist for her then and now, it does.

Listen to this episode to hear more about: How to create a sense of place in your community and why it matters
Why quality of life and economic development are no longer separate in small towns How to make changes without ruffling feathers
How reconnecting to what you loved as a child can spark ideas
Why giving others ownership over projects is so important

Connect with Jessie: Websites: http://www.veederranch.com or jessieveedermusic.com Instagram: instagram.com/jessieveeder Facebook: facebook.com/veederranch

About Jessie Veeder: Singer, songwriter, writer and community advocate Jessie Veeder tells the story of Western North Dakota. An Americana musician with heartfelt, honest lyrics, Jessie has been singing and talking about the buttes and creeks of her family’s working cattle ranch since releasing her first original album at age 16. Since then she has gone on to tour nationally and record four more albums, the latest, “Northern Lights” recorded in Nashville in 2015. Jessie’s nationally acclaimed song “Boomtown,” a folk ballad about life for people in the Bakken has been featured on area news programs, national and international documentaries and put her on the frontlines of telling the story of community in oil country.

Since 2010 Jessie and her husband, Chad, have worked alongside her father as the fourth generation stewards of the Veeder Ranch where she chronicles life on the land as a weekly columnist for state-wide newspapers and on her popular blog titled “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…Her book “Coming Home,” released in 2017 is a compilation of her favorite photos, poems, stories and recipes. Jessie is currently working on a new album, “Playin’ Favorites,” due to be released this spring.

Jessie is a founding member of McKenzie County’s Long X Arts Foundation where she works as Tourism’s Art and Event director to help create and promote cultural and arts based activities in her hometown, blending her love and connection to the arts with her drive to make her community a better place to work and live.

No one’s sleeping

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My oldest daughter hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

Nighttime has become a routine of reading four books, then one more, please one more, and then singing three songs and then one more and then fulfilling a request to tell her the entire plot of “Frozen” while she comes up with another excuse for me not to leave her alone in her room.

“Please don’t go. Now tell me about ‘Frozen II.’ Please. Stay and snuggle me…”

She doesn’t want to be alone. And so none of us have been sleeping well lately, struggling between wanting to teach our 4-year-old independence and self-soothing and just giving into laying down with her, holding on tight before she grows too big to need us this way anymore.

Who cares if I wind up with a foot in my face and my body dangling halfway off the bed with no covers in reach? Who cares if we’re sleeping with her until she goes to college?

“Why now?” I wonder aloud to my husband as we telepathically will the other parent to deal with her 2 a.m. visit to our bedroom.

Is she growing? Is she scared of something? Are we spoiling her beyond repair? Are there really monsters in her closet? How do we not screw this child up?

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Last night, after the bedtime stories and snuggles and songs and snuggles, I tried a compromise to spending the night with her and set up camp outside her bedroom door. I could hear her tossing and turning as I scrolled through the news on my phone that, minute by minute, seemed to pile up to what was starting to feel suspiciously like the end of the world.

Every once in a while, my daughter would get out of her bed to check to see if I was still there, and with each check-in I reassured her, but tried not to give in. “I’m still here. Go lay in bed. I’m still here. Please, try to go to sleep.”

This went on for a good hour or so, which left me alone on the hard hallway floor facing the news of a country that’s divided and a disease that’s spreading and a world that’s uncertain and populations of people trying not to panic.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And even though I knew I should tear myself away from it, take a deep breath and find my perspective again, I just felt my own anxiety rising in the back of my throat. In the dark and quiet of a privileged life in a house on the ranch that used to feel so far from everything, I was feeling scared.

And the fear wasn’t necessarily for myself, but for a world full of people who could be impacted beyond repair, not necessarily just by the things out of our control, but more disturbingly, by the decisions we make. How do we not screw this up?

Suddenly, it was me who needed reassurance. Suddenly, it was me who didn’t want to be alone in the dark with my own thoughts. Suddenly, I could relate to my daughter who had been tossing and turning and worrying and checking to make sure I was still there for her for the past hour.

She just wanted to feel safe. I just wanted to feel safe, laying smack in the middle of a metaphor my tiny daughter had created for me.

Because collectively, right now, that’s what we all want. To feel like we’re taken care of and that we have the means to take care of ourselves.

We want to have a plan. We want to be in control. And if we can’t be in control, we at least want to feel like we have the right people, our community, sitting on the other side of the door telling us not to worry.

We’re here.

We’ve got you.

Rest easy tonight.

I know it’s not just this house losing sleep these days. So I got up off the floor and went in to lay with my daughter, who curled in next to my body and immediately fell asleep. And it might not be the right thing, but it felt right to me then, because sometimes the only thing we can do is be present and hold on.

Now, let me tell you about “Frozen II.”

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Gather around the community table

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Gather around the community table
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Greetings from a cafe in Valley City, N.D., where I’m waiting on my meal and drinking a glass of wine in a booth by myself at the end of a day — literally — singing for this supper.

Dining alone. That’s been the deal in my life since I started traveling and performing up and down the Midwest 17 years ago.

In a career like mine, performing and presenting in different towns often hundreds of miles away from my home in the middle of nowhere, besides the performing, the dining has become one of my favorite parts of the gig. Partly because I’ve created for myself the ultimate reason I don’t have to cook.

But mostly these days, when it’s so easy to take it on the go or order in, sometimes a girl just wants to sit down in front of a steak and learn a little bit about the town she’s in. Because you get to know a lot about a place from the food they’re serving. And how and where they’re serving it. And what they’re talking about over their hot hamburger or roast beef or #2 Sunny Side Up with a side of bacon and pancakes.

Yeah, you guessed it, I prefer cafes. Everywhere I go, big city or small town, I try to find one.

And I would say I don’t know why except I do know why. Because I pop into the right cafe in any town and I’m a little kid again, sitting next to my grandma Edie in the Chuckwagon Cafe on Main Street among my Great-Uncle Paul in a feedstore cap and his friends taking a break, ordering lunch, then ordering pie and then another cup of coffee because there’s another story to tell…

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

Spending their time. Spending the time. To gather around food, it’s an instinct of ours. It’s the watering hole where we go to feel connected over the shared necessity of nutrients.

Because “Everybody’s gotta eat!” If you’re from the Midwest, you’ve likely heard this phrase from your aunt or your mother-in-law or your grill-master cousin when you stop by to drop something off and they insist you stay for supper. Or at least a slice of cake. Or a Ziploc of cookies to go.

If I’ve learned anything from my upbringing, it’s that you could build the biggest house in the world, but the world will always want to gather in your kitchen. It’s the reason my grandma Edie was known to forget her Jell-O salad in the fridge until the end of the Christmas meal. Because we were distracting her, we were all in the way, she was sweating, but we were loving it.

And that’s why these restaurants and cafes, the coffee shops and bakeries, are the heartbeat of our communities, because they hold within them an energy we only get when we have a place to be together to talk about cattle prices and politics and new babies and inside jokes and how we would do it if we were in charge.

And even when I’m sitting solo in a four-person booth between the walls and among the wait staff that has heard it all, 300 miles away from home, keeping to myself, I feel more present and more myself in places like these with my #2 Sunny Side Up with a side of bacon and a real big slice of life.

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

It’s (not quite) spring, bring a shovel

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It’s Spring, Bring a Shovel
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Spring fever. There’s nobody else in the world that suffers from it more than my dad.

As soon as the sun hits that ice and snow, warming it up to see some ground exposed, he’s out of the house like a caged bird. He doesn’t know what to do with himself really, so he gets that list in his head going — all the things that need to be fixed, all the fences to check, all the tinkering to do — and then he lets it all fly out his ears as he climbs to the top of the nearest hill and plops himself down in the warmest, driest spot he can find and just lets the sun shine down on him.

That’s his thaw-out ritual. I have witnessed and I have adopted it.

But here’s the other thing about my dad in the spring: When it thaws, he forgets. He forgets that one warm day does not the summer make. He forgets that the 6 feet of snow in the coulees does not melt in a mere two hours of warm sunshine.

But he frolics anyway. And the meltdown happening at the ranch this week reminds me of an incident that happened a few years back that seems to continue on trend year after year.

It was one of the first warm days we’d had in months. There he stood, my dad, in his cap, overalls and muck boots, hammering on the tractor and shuffling around the shop. I parked my car and walked out to see what he was up to.

“Oh, had to get out here. It’s such a nice day. Feels like 60 degrees… water’s really running. Won’t get the tractor fixed today… Oh well… want to come with me to check the horses?”

“Sure. We walkin?”

“No, we’ll take the four-wheeler.”

“Really? You think it will make it?”

“Oh… we can make it… it’s a beautiful day. Beautiful. We’ll bring them some grain. Hop on.”

I hopped on and wondered how this was going to go as Dad took his four-wheeler, me and my doubts along the gravelly, mucky road and then turned, nice and easy off the path and up the melty drift that had been growing and growing all winter long at the entrance of the farmstead.

I let the warm air whip through the hairs that escaped from my beanie. My pale cheeks soaked up the sunshine. My lungs shouted “Woo-hoo!” as they remembered what fresh air above 35 degrees felt like.

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I released my white-knuckled death grip as we approached the gate to the horse pasture. Ah, it was springtime and the living was easy, and as Dad went to get the gate, I thought of all of things I was going to do under this big warm sky: plant a garden… lounge with a vodka tonic… clean up all of the things that have magically appeared as the snow disappeared (who put that kayak there?)… wear shorts… avoid washing my windows…

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

Dad hopped back on and as we continued on our little journey… grill… find my floaties… eat pineapple…

“Jessie… Jess. Jessica!!!”

“Wha… what?”

“You need to get off.”

“Wha… why?”

“We’re stuck.”

And just like that, the green and blue landscape that existed in my head was replaced by reality’s sharp kick in the pants. A good mile from the house and a good half mile to our destination, there we sat in the great white north with a 600-pound four-wheeler buried to its gullets in the heavy, wet, limitless, not-so-springlike snow.

Without a shovel.

I wasn’t surprised. The man has tested the limits of his ATV before, taking the beast where no machine was meant to go: to the tops of buttes; over giant boulders; through fences; up trees; and across muddy, ravenous, woody creek beds. I know because I’ve had to help pull, cut and dig him out.

But this particular day, as I squinted my eyes against the sunshine, I just looked at Dad and laughed. And he shrugged.

We kicked the tires. We pushed a little. We dug a little. We commented about the shovel. And then we grabbed the bucket of grain and abandoned our ride to continue the task at hand.

It was a beautiful day and we didn’t mind walking…

Aw, spring. You can’t rush it, but maybe you can bring a shovel.

Horses

Honoring a Legend

Honoring a Legend
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Last week, our family and community lost a legend.

He was a man who wore a world of stories on his face. He looked like he stepped out of a Western movie, tall and lean, dark and perfectly weathered, waiting to get to the punch line under a black cowboy hat.

I want to write his book here, to tell you all about a man who was part of the honor guard that watched over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, that he was chosen to be Queen Elizabeth’s personal bodyguard during one of her visits to the U.S., that he was one of the 13 children my great-grandparents raised on the edge of these rugged Badlands.

Lynn Linseth (far left) serving in the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Special to The Forum

Lynn Linseth (far left) serving in the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I want to tell you that from such humble beginnings he went on to become a soldier and a boxer who wrecked cars and got in bar fights and loved his family and community and raised bucking horses and children and grandchildren and lived a thousand lifetimes in his 80-plus years.

I want to write his story, but I only know him as Great-Uncle Lynn who would come over to Gramma’s when I was a kid and sit at her kitchen table while she poured him a cup of coffee and maybe laid out a plate of cookies from the freezer.

I wish I had been old enough to listen to what they were talking about. In my mind, it would have unlocked the mystery of this man who seemed to me to hold the world up. But likely the two of them, brother and sister with a lifetime of memories and struggles together, were just talking about the weather and who came to visit last night, like the diary my grandma kept, the one I page through even years after she died, for a glimpse of what she might have been lingering over, worrying about or hoping for, as if knowing her secrets might somehow make up for the fact that I never got to ask her if she ever got lonely out here with all this sky and land.

Did it ever feel like she was being swallowed up in the beauty and burden of it all, the way I feel some days when the winter is long and the list of bills and chores is longer? And how do I make the buns she used to make, the ones my dad still remembers but will never taste again…

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

Lynn Linseth. Special to The Forum
Lynn Linseth.

My grandmother was robbed of becoming an old woman, but despite his times around the sun, it seems like Great-Uncle Lynn never really grew old, not to the ones who admired him so deeply. Not to the kids he teased and taught. Not to the ones who are part of his legacy.

We all thought he just might live forever. But forever doesn’t exist here, not on this earth anyway.

And the passing of Lynn Linseth, more than anything, collectively seems to feel like the air going out of our lungs.

Because we wish we knew him better. Because we should have slowed down and asked him. Because time comes for us all. Because he broke the mold. Because the world needs more real cowboys, and who’s gonna show them now?

Rest easy, Lynn. Your story lives on in the people who loved you, and there were so many people who loved you.

We’ll see you, young and fit and full of it, when we all meet again.

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On the National Cowboy Poetry Stage

Happy Friday everyone! In honor of the sunshine, weekend I thought I’d share a performance of one of my songs on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering stage earlier this month.

On Sunday I plan to hopefully wrap up the vocal tracks on a new album I’ve been working on that celebrates the music that I grew up singing. It features my dad and all of the songs he brought into my life playing his records and tapes and red guitar. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

So I need to channel this song right now in so many ways to get me through the to-do list and plans, and on to the fun parts. Turn it up. Loud. And get to work.

If you’re looking for where I’m performing this spring and summer, check out my website at jessieveedermusic.com. More dates will be added as CD release shows as the album gets closer to completion. If you want me in your town, give me a call!

Thanks for the love and support! Now pull on your pants girl, and get to work!

The Wonder of Parenting

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The Wonder of Parenting
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When I was pregnant with my daughters, one of my favorite things to do at night was sit with my husband and wonder out loud who the person growing inside of me might become.

A boy or a girl, you think?

I wonder if she’ll have hair. Dark eyes?

The wondering was something I expected while we were waiting for the children’s arrival, but I didn’t realize how much wondering would continue as we work to raise them, and how it would go on to become our favorite subject of conversation.

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I think “wonder” is the key word here, because it’s all quite miraculous and mysterious, the whole process of raising these little humans. And for as much as I thought that our influence and style of parenting would mold and direct them, I’m learning that in so many more ways, these children were born to this world with their spirits and interests and challenges more fully determined than I could have imagined.

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Like, no matter how many pairs of overalls I have presented to my oldest daughter in her life as the practical choice for the barnyard, that little person was not born for overalls. She was born to wear a long, flowing dress, and grow her hair to match and run outside to climb fences, dig in the dirt and pick up all the frogs, bugs and slimy things she can get her hands on.

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And while she’s at it, she’s asking. All. The. Questions.

Because Edie is a fresh soul, new to this world and marveled by its wonders. She draws and twirls and remembers the words to every song and every book and can’t get enough of the beautiful things.

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And then Rosie arrived with her raspy little voice and laid-back attitude and I swear she’s been here before. Try to help her? Don’t you dare.

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Before she could walk, she was dancing on her knees, not willing to wait. Wake her up in the morning and the first thing she asks for is coffee. Tell her she can’t have it and she’s straight up mad, frustrated that she has to wait to grow up because she’s already developed a taste for it. In her last life.

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The girl has a history that’s longer than her two years with us. I think she might have been in a rock band.

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ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And my husband and I, we find it all completely fascinating. So much so that we spend conversations in the car or over morning coffee or between serving up another helping of slush burgers and telling them both for the 3,000th time to keep their little butts in their seats, wondering what we can do to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be.

And I’m not talking about creating these award-winning, genius, grade-skipping, super-athletic or super-artistic children. What we’re really interested in is how to help them create a life for themselves that is long on passion and wonder.

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I want to see them continue to light up for something throughout their entire lives, to have a hobby that fills them up, a few things that define them that they can be proud of and a story that they confidently own, even the parts that they mess up. Because if we do it right, they’ll know that we’ll love them anyway.

And in all of our conversations and wonder in the beginning phases of our parenthood journey, my husband and I haven’t come up with a specific strategy, except that we think it just might be as simple as being present — taking them along with us as we do the things we love so that they know what that looks like. And clapping when they twirl and letting them get dirty, and when it matters and maybe more importantly, when it doesn’t matter, just letting them be.

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Because, indisputably, they know who they are. They just need us there to nurture it, convince them to eat their broccoli and teach them some manners for crying out loud.

My husband said it best when he said he’s not as interested in what he can teach his children as much as he’s interested in what they can show him. And to that I say, “Amen.”

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