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.

To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

Cows by the dam

To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

To gather. As a ranch woman, this phrase conjures up images of roundup season, sitting on top of my horse and moving our cattle together from all corners of our pastures.

It’s the throaty hum of the animals’ voices as they call to their calves or to one another or out into the world, seemingly saying, “I’m here, I’m coming. All right already.”

It’s the creak of the old cows’ bones as we let them slowly navigate themselves toward a well-worn path they know toward home. And it’s the “heya” and the “c’mon” we let out of our lungs as we follow the small sea of black backs, the quiet counting and calculations in our heads, our warm breath cooling down in the autumn air.

It’s the swing of our leg off the saddle and the swing of the gate when they’re all in and accounted for so we can take a deep breath, put our hands on our hips and say, “Well, all right then…” and move on to the sorting.

I recently participated in a different kind of gathering down in Elko, Nev. A gathering of cowboy poets, musicians, artists and fans from across the world in an event dedicated to the stories we tell about a way of life that I would say is more rough than it is romantic, except it’s the rough parts that make it so.

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The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. That’s what they call it. And I like that they call it that, because that’s what it is.

It’s a gathering of people, ideas, stories, music, art and conversation in a small town in the dessert in the middle of winter when the cowboys and ranchers that create have time to take leave from the Plains or the mountains to connect with other artists and an audience eager to hear from them so that they might be a part of that life, too, if only for a few days under a felt hat.

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Mike, Dad and I with Cowboy poet Jake Riley

That is, if they have someone at home to feed the cattle and the kids. Which is where my husband falls in the story. Because everyone wants to be a cowboy until it’s actually time to do cowboy stuff, and so he got the less-glamorous gig of wiping toddler noses and rolling out hay bales while I was shaking hands and singing under the lights.

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And I couldn’t help but look out into the audience of hundreds of anonymous silhouettes sitting still and quiet and ready to nod along and feel overwhelmingly grateful that somebody thought the world needed an event like this. Because in the 20-some years that I’ve been writing music and performing, I’ve never found a better muse than the rural community, rugged landscape and ranch life in which I was raised.

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An American Forrest , Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Corb Lund on stage in Elko

But in the miles I’ve traveled up and down the Midwest, I have questioned if it ever really resonates, if there is anyone else out there who thought the world needed a song with a rhythm based on hoof beats. I’ve spent a career slowly finding those people who do, and then, three airplanes later, I found myself in a land where they’ve all congregated for us, caffeinated, fed, inspired and ready to listen.

To gather.

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Shared the stage with Brigid & Johnny Reedy

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This talented little ranch girl Marinna Mori

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With film maker Clare McKay and songwriter Anna Rose Pozzi

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Ran into Cowboy Poet, songster and podcaster Andy Hedges

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With the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

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And then randomly, one of my favorites, Colter Wall was in the greenroom

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Dad

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The morning gathering of entertainers at the Western Folklife Center

I kept saying it to myself as I looked out in this community the Western Folklife Center created in Elko for people like me and people nothing like me at all.

What happens when we gather? Those differences become less important than the way a song about loss reminds us both of similar struggle.

Or the way we collectively clapped and laughed, the whole auditorium full of us, as he yodeled and kicked up his leg.

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Backstage listening to the Munsick Boys

Or the silence none of us discussed but honored as an 85-year-old legend, with a voice worn from years of songs and stories, closed his eyes and worked through another one on a stage that afternoon.

And so I couldn’t help but feel a bit like our cattle that week down in Elko, surrounded by a sea of hats and smiles, reaching out to touch one another as we drew closer to say, “I’m here! I’m coming. All right already,” taking a familiar path toward a place that feels like home.

And I’m back at the ranch now, hands on hips, ready for the sorting…

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The Animals of Winter

Animals of winter
Like the animals of winter

Last week, I went out into the winter. I squeezed into my long underwear, pulled on layers, tied my scarf around my neck, made sure my wool cap covered my ears and zipped my coat to my chin.

The snow was fresh and the wind was blowing it in sparkly swirls around the barnyard. The hay bales were adequately frosted in neatly stacked white drifts, remnants of the small blizzard that blew through the ranch in the evening and was lingering into the late morning hours.

I stuck out my tongue to taste the snowflakes and snuggled down into the collar of my coat like a turtle as I walked toward the horses munching on hay below the barn. I wished I had their fur coats, thick and wooly and brave against the wind. I wished I had their manes, wild and tangled and smelling of dust and autumn leaves, summer heat and ice.

They keep it all in there, all of the seasons.

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They nudged and kicked at one another, digging their noses deeper in the stack of hay, remembering green grass and fields, tasting warmer weather in their snack. I lingered there with them, noticing how the ice stuck on their eyelashes and clung to the long hair on their backs.

I scratched their ears and pulled some burs out of their manes and imagined what grove of trees they picked to wait out the storm last night, standing close and breathing on one another’s back. A herd.

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I followed them out of the protection of the barnyard and into the pasture where the frozen wind found my cheeks and the dogs cut footprints in the fluffy snow in front of my steps. They played and barked and jumped and sniffed and rolled in the white stuff, like children on a snow day.

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I found the top of the hill and let myself feel the cold. I had forgotten how my cheeks can go numb, how my fingertips ache, now my eyelashes stick together at the close of a blink and how the wind finds its way through the layers of clothing and freezes my skin.

I forgot that sometimes it doesn’t matter that you took care to wear wool socks and three pairs of pants — we are never as prepared as the animals. Sometimes, the weather just wins.

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I wished I had fur on my ears, tufts on my feet, whiskers to catch the snow. I wished I had hard hooves to anchor me, my own herd to lean against, to protect me from the wind. I wished I was part of a pack, chasing and jumping and rolling through the drifts.

I might have stayed out longer if I had these things. I would have explored how the creek had froze, stuck my nose in the snow, walked along the banks of the coulee, leaned against the buttes and followed the indecisive sun.

But my scarf wasn’t thick enough, there was snow in my boots and my skin is fragile and thin. No, my body’s not wooly and my nose is not fuzzy. And my fingers? Well, if we can’t have hooves, then we at least have fingers, to knit sweaters and sew together blankets, our hands to build fires and houses to protect us, our arms to wrap around one another, our feet to propel us toward shelter or sun and our brains to invent things like warm, spicy soup and hot coffee and buttery buns.

No, we might not have fur coats, but we have opposable thumbs. I pointed my frozen feet toward the house and flung open the door, stripped off my layers and stood over the heater vent, happy for my warm house and man-made blankets.

And happier still for a promise of spring that isn’t too far away on this winter day…

Winter Horses

The best laid plans…

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Greetings from a hotel room in Elko, Nevada where I landed on Monday night to be a part of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, but have spent the first few days in Urgent Care and fighting off a terrible flu. Luckily I haven’t missed any performances and the medication is kicking in so I’m ready for a whirlwind three days of performances, but it’s just another reminder that there are things we simply can’t control, no matter how long I’ve been planning for them.

Our health is one of them for sure. And then, of course, there’s the weather. It’s always the weather. T

A few weeks ago that variable threw another wrench in my plans as I found myself holed up in Fargo during an epic blizzard.  So that’s what’s this week’s column is about. That and how my darling husband is keeping it all together while I’m out telling my stories and trying to stay healthy. Thank God for him.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go blow my nose and write the next one!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
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I spent last week across the state in the middle of a 72-hour Fargo snow day.

I arrived in front of a winter storm so epic that they gave it a name, you know, like they do hurricanes. And I suppose it deserved a name since Mother Nature added a 50 mph wind on top of 50 feet of snow and we all woke up to a regular Elsa-style eternal winter.

And so there I was, stranded inside a hotel room among the buildings of downtown Fargo, all the work I was supposed to be doing canceled, which freed me up for things like sleeping in, watching movies and eating brunch for like three hours before heading into lunch, and then supper and then cocktails and so on and so forth until it was time to sleep again.

It was just terrible. I was unnerved. Probably because I was super rested and hadn’t had this much free time since high school… I was half-tempted to start work on another degree…

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

My husband answered my phone call to report that things were going just fine. Cows were fed, dogs were fed, horses were fed, cats were fed, kids were fed…

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“Yeah, I’m getting so much done at home with them,” he said. At least I think that’s what he said. I could barely hear him over Edie singing the entire soundtrack to “Frozen II” at the top of her lungs in the background.

“No you’re not,” I replied, because I know the truth.

“Of course I’m not,” my darling husband declared. “All I do is make food and clean it up and make food and clean it up and make food and clean it up…”

So, yeah, everything was fed. Which isn’t an easy task, I know, especially when it means bundling up a squirmy 2-year-old who barely ever wears pants and coaxing a glamorous 4-going-on-16-year-old out of her ball gown and into snow gear in order to load them up in the old pickup and feed the cows a few bales.

The whole getting ready process alone takes a lunch break to accomplish, and that’s if one of them manages to actually stay in her snowsuit long enough to convince the other to find some socks.

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“What do you mean Rosie bit Edie in the forehead?” I asked him, clutching my chest, mildly alarmed between sips of cabernet. Turns out there was a fight in the feed pickup over the silk costume gloves my husband let Edie wear outside, because girlfriend’s gotta look glam. And that, apparently annoyed her little sister…

I wondered if this was foreshadowing. And then I wondered if there were bite marks. But I didn’t ask.

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Instead, I adjusted my pillows on the hotel bed, grabbed a handful of snack mix and said something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I wish this weather would cooperate.” (Takes a sip of wine.) “But it looks like the interstate’s closed from here to Bismarck.” (Opens new bag of Cheetos.) “It could be a while until I get on the road…” (flips through the channels on the hotel television).

And then I put him on speakerphone so I could really get comfortable while I tried my nicest Midwestern wife tactics to wrap up the phone conversation so I could catch up on episodes of “Beat Bobby Flay.”

“Well, I suppose,” I said.

“Where did you go for supper?” he asked.

“I should let you go. Sounds like you have your hands full,” I tried.

“Have you forgotten the normal volume of our lives?” he asked.

“Did I hear something crash? You should get that,” I suggested.

“Is it still blowing bad?” he asked.

And we went on like this for a while until someone or something in the house peed on the floor.

And eventually the road cleared as it always does and I pointed my car back west through the snowbanks, feeling at least five years younger and a million times grateful that I married a man who can handle all the crumbs and baling twine and bite marks so I can focus on things like work and surviving blizzards that have names I can’t remember.

If you need me, I’m home now, likely feeding or wiping something…

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Actually, no, if you need me I’ll be in Elko while my husband is feeding something or wiping something. I owe him, I know. He knows it too.

See ya out there!

A New Song

A New Song

“If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”

I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.

I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…

“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”

My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.

I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.

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My 2005 Release

It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.

And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.

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I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.

When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.

I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.

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But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.

Jessie Veeder Music

I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.

When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.

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Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?

At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.

The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.

And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.

Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.

And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight…

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Watch for the release of my new album, “Playin’ Favorites” that celebrates the songs that influenced me in the spring. 

And check out my music website,jessieveedermusic.com for a list of places I’ll be playing near you! 

To be a cowboy

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To be a Cowboy
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In a few short weeks, I will pack up my guitar and head for the desert in Nevada for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

It will be my second invite to this event that features cowboy singers, entertainers, makers and poets from across the country, each looking like the plains and valleys, mountains and foothills they were born to and all trying to answer and ponder the question — what does it mean to be a cowboy?

I close my eyes and I see him, my Great-Grandpa Veeder. I see him as a kid who came to settle this area with an ill father and a mother who had seven other children to care for. And so he took to it, helping to break up land, grow vegetables and raise horses for farming and threshing

I like to think that he was a man who, like the Badlands full of rocks and rattlesnakes, was not so easily tamed. And so he became the 50 mph winds, the biting, relentless horse flies, the dropping temperatures, the green grass and the rain that eventually fell with a promise that this all might work out if he was brave enough to endure it.

He couldn’t have known then that the work he was doing might someday be revered as sort of glamorous. He just took to it, like I said, and at barely 21, he bought his own place down the road and the rest is a history I walk by on my way to catch my well-broke horses or give my daughters a ride on their pony.

History like his old threshing machine that sits as a relic among the tall grasses and thorny tangle of prairie roses.

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History like that humble red barn he moved in and rebuilt with his two sons, one of them my grandpa.

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Time has passed us by enough now that we are wondering what to do with it. Should we tear it down or rebuild it? Has there ever been a truer metaphor for this generation of ranch families?

A relic that reminds us we have entered another realm entirely. A realm where steel siding and roofing and concrete would serve us much better, just like the new tractors with GPS and Bluetooth connections that we will likely never be able to afford, no matter how hard my great-grandfather, and my grandparents and my parents, worked to get us to this place where we can ponder.

Are we cowboys? Not like him. Not like Great-Grandpa Eddie.

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As a kid, I spent my winter nights sitting on the pink carpet of my room inside the walls of my parents’ house tucked in the hills and oak trees of a ranch that has now been in my family for over 100 years. Behind my guitar, with a pen in my hand, I would attempt to work out the mysteries of the place in which I was raised, and will myself to understand how I was meant to belong here.

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I wasn’t strong enough to open gates on my own. I wasn’t patient enough to break the horses my father broke. I wasn’t gritty enough or savvy enough or ballsy enough or grown-up enough to do the very thing that I wanted to do, which was to jump in and be brave.

But I love the sound a horse makes when she’s clipping the green grass from the ground. And the smell of the clover and the way a hay bale rolls out in the winter snow behind an old feed pickup and the black line of cattle following it.

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I love the creak of a saddle, the scum on an old stock tank and the bite of the wind on the hilltop and the weather that changes up here like the light and the seasons and how it feels to really be out there in it.

Knowing it. Working it. Caring so desperately about it.

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And so on that pink carpet, I wrote it all down. These cattle. These horses. This land and the big sky and this overwhelming sense that this might be our purpose, no matter how completely uncertain it is.

To be a cowboy.

See ya in Elko.

Click herefor a full line up of performances and where you can catch my dad and me performing.

 

This New Year, let a toddler inspire you…

This new year, let a toddler inspire you
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Facing down the new year, like Rosie!

Isn’t it funny how time ticking on still astounds us, regardless of how we are aware that the spinning earth moves us on into a new hour, a new day, a new week and on and on until we’re standing in a life we almost all say, we could have never imagined…

Each new year, like many of us do, I make a small list of goals I’d like to accomplish. And although I’ve gained a good solid 5 pounds eating fudge and prime rib this holiday season, I don’t like to clutter this list with things like “eat less pasta and more carrots” because, for me, that’s a daily struggle.

No, I like the goals on this list to be a bit more tangible, like spend more time with my friends, or get my children’s book done for cryin’ out loud. Those were on my list last year, along with more dancing and the same amount of pizza. As you can imagine, with two little girls, I did really good with the dancing and pizza thing and, astonishingly, I made enough progress on that book that it looks like it might be a reality for this new year.

But I’ve been playing phone tag with my across-the-state friend for about six solid months, and it’s left me wondering why on earth that is the goal I couldn’t get to? I didn’t realize that “time for friends” thing would be so unrealistic. Oh man, how adults can complicate things?

I would like to blame it on that time thing, and how it piles on us ailments and responsibilities and big complicated feelings, but above all of that is how easily we can forget that time is a gift. And there’s nothing like the holidays, that space between Christmas and New Year’s Day spent with growing kids and aging parents, to remind you of a life that’s fleeting.

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Like my children will never again be 2 and 4 at Christmas. The reality struck me as I was dancing my way into the new year in my mother’s kitchen. She had the music on and her granddaughters were holding hands and twirling, sliding and stomping, skipping, clapping, giggling and shaking their tushies to the beat between the kitchen cabinets.

My 2-year-old, Rosie, is particularly into busting a move, and I found I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she waved her hands and wiggled, demanding us all to “watch this!” And that was classic Rosie, really, living the two years of her life with absolute abandon, with a life mission to do it herself, to make a mess and to get a laugh.

IMG_0690Over the past week, I had been pondering and discussing what I might put on my new year list — finish the new album, declutter our living spaces, start a compost bin, save more money — but everything I came up with felt like very adult tasks that should be on my list of everyday chores, satisfying and responsible maybe, but uninspired.

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Watching my young daughter in the kitchen that night, hair flying from her ponytail and into her face, feet bare, tongue out, letting her tiny body show the world what was inside her heart, I just really wished I could be her.

And that was it. Inspiration. I threw tangible to the weeds and wrote my list, not just for the new year, but for the new decade as I learn to embrace motherhood, friendships, aging and new phases.

I want to live life more like Rosie. And that looks like this:

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  1. If you want something done, do it yourself.

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  2. If you can’t get it done, holler for help.
  3. Wake up running, but embrace your naptime/bedtime.
  4. Worry less about what you look like and more about what you feel like.

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  5. And while you’re at it, remember: true fun is usually messy.

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  6. Ask for a taste of whatever they’re having.
  7. Push the limits, but know when to retreat to the tent in your room for a book and blankie break.
  8. Love. All. The. Animals.
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  9. When you do something good, make sure you know where they keep the treats.
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  10. Dance like you were made for it.

Happy New Year!

Oh Christmas Pug, Oh Christmas Pug…

The Christmas pug
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Holiday magic. It’s 6:30 a.m. the day after Christmas and I’m in it up to my ankles here at the ranch, dodging unwrapped boxes, doll strollers, toy kitchen utensils and half-eaten candy canes, bleary eyed and still full from last night’s supper on my way to the coffeepot.

And now, holiday magic is chewing on the slipper that’s attached to my foot. And although it tickles, it’s a better plan than the doll-sized plastic sunglasses I just extracted from her tiny jaws while the rest of the house sleeps.

Because, OK, OK, I’m up, I’m up. And, you guessed it, holiday magic is a puppy.

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Actually, her name is Millie Sunny Elizabeth Scofield. She’s a tiny 8-week-old pug, and I am officially insane.

But I figure, at this point, with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old taking turns strapping her into the doll stroller, I’m surrounded by so much cute and chaos that maybe no one will notice. And if they do, I’ll just tell them that she was cuter than a Roomba.

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And there’s no turning back now. Because, oh I had to do it.

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In my other life, I had a pug. His name was Chug. My husband brought him home to me at a pretty low time in our infertility journey, and Chug lifted my spirits by incessantly licking my face and peeing in my husband’s boots.

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When we moved to the ranch, Chug, being the furthest creature from a ranch dog there is, tried his paw at it anyway. I once watched him fiercely chase a bull out of our yard at my husband’s command and retrieve a pheasant out of a field, so you could say he was confident.

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So confident he even took on a porcupine, which took out one of his eyes. I think that’s what convinced the rig worker that took him that he was homeless or pathetic enough to need rescuing the day he went missing. I guess most people don’t expect a one-eyed pug to be wandering around 30 miles from town, but Chug the pug always knew how to pull at the heartstrings.

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Almost three years after his mysterious disappearance, I heard through the grapevine that our one-eyed pug was living in Dickinson, 60 miles from the ranch. He’d found himself living with another couple trying to start a family.They called him Captain, made him wear a life jacket on their boat and kept him full of love, affection and plenty of treats.

I went to see him when I was pregnant with my first daughter and judging by his healthy waistline, it was clear he was just fine in his new home. By that time, I had processed his absence, and so I thought perhaps it was sweet serendipity that he found his way to a family that needed him the same way we needed him all those years ago.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if he ever peed in their boots…

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Anyway, that’s the saga of Chug the pug. And as for Millie Sunny Elizabeth Scofield? Well, you can tell by her name that her story with us is already quite a bit different in all the same ways our lives have changed since Chug came into our lives.

And so she’s fitting in just fine so far, in her bed under the Christmas tree and the seat of the doll stroller and in the arms of my children who will have her as a lesson in responsibility and tenderness, patience and poop-scooping and from now on I will never know if they ate all their supper of if it was the pug.

Now I’ve gotta run. The kids are stirring and the tiny pug is dragging a Christmas shoe that is three times her size across the floor.

Sending you love and a wish to keep the warm, snuggly feeling of Christmas on into the new year.

Christmas tree tumble puts things into perspective

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Christmas tree tumble puts things into perspective
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Merry Christmas.

I want to share with you all the holiday spirit that’s floating around this place. I’d really like to tell you that I’m writing this as I sip hot cocoa in my best holiday sweater while a Hallmark movie is playing on TV and the snow softly falls on the treetops outside.

I would have told you that, in my other life.

But this life looks less like “all is calm” and more like the giant cedar tree my family cut off of the ranch in the middle of the weekend’s blizzard toppling down in a huff of glitter and glass bulbs, timber style, just as I reached up and put on the finishing touches.

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That was after four days of putting one or two ornaments on at a time as I got distracted by a nose wipe, a potty break, supper, a phone call, a visitor, a job or a coloring emergency. Yeah, coloring emergencies are a thing.

But thank goodness we narrowly missed a real emergency as I hollered “WATCH OUT” at my girls from atop my ottoman perch, as one of the biggest Christmas trees we’ve ever had in this house tried it’s best to take out my scruffy little daughters.

They came out unscathed, but blinking and wide-eyed, an ornament dangling from the oldest’s hair.

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“Our TREE!” she exclaimed as I took assessment of the damage.

And I would have cried except no one was bleeding and, well, of course this happened. Because I just got done sending a text to my friend telling her “I’m going to get this Christmas tree decorated if it’s the last thing I do,” and the universe laughed and laughed.

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And so I did what any completely capable, calm, cool and collected woman, wife and mother would do — I called my husband, told him to bring power tools and went to the kitchen to bake cookies with the kids.

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Because a tree trimming disaster that I can’t even blame on the cat? Well, it’s a long way from my heart.

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In my other life, my younger life, before I had the experiences that have helped me sort the big things from the little things, I would have face-planted on my bed and declared it a holiday disaster.

But today? Well, today it was annoying at worst. Funny at best. Because I’m learning to give up the notion of perfect and give in to the eccentricities that are, frankly, embedded deep in my DNA.

Like, I will never be the woman who has scented holiday candles and matching Christmas towels in every bathroom of the house. But I will be the woman who is proud to show my husband that I put the Christmas lights up on the house, only to discover that I hung them with the plug on the opposite end of the outlet. I’m that woman.

Christmas cookies

And the holidays, well, they can get overwhelming or lonely or sad, even with all the sparkle and glitter and feel-good moments on TV. I know this. I get it. I’ve been there. If you’re missing a piece of you, or battling demons, or taking care of someone fighting for each breath, or fighting for a breath or a break of your own, you would give anything to be able to laugh at a Christmas tree tumble.

And maybe you would anyway, because you know what the end of the world might feel like, the worst day of your life, the hardest thing you can imagine. And it’s not a living room filled with broken bulbs from Target.

And while I doubt Martha Stewart would drill her Christmas tree to the wall, I think I could give her some tips on how to ignore a 2-year-old attempting to climb in the kitchen sink while I help the 4-year-old make the Christmas cookies of her dreams in the middle of a life I used to pray for while watching the snow fall on the bare branches outside, in a quiet and clean house, alone and hoping, in my other life.

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A new member of the cousin crew

Emma

My little sister gave birth to her second daughter on Nov. 22. They named her Emma Evangeline, Evangeline for our Gramma Edith’s middle names.

See, my grandma Edith had 11 brothers and sisters and at the time of her birth, each of her sisters got to pick out a name for her. And so she was Edith Evangeline Delores Linseth. Add the Veeder on the end of that when she got married and us grandkids had fun singing her name to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt… da da da da da da da…”

If I let my daughters name Emma, her name would be LaLa Sprinkle Pancake, so kids must have been more sophisticated back then…

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Rosie is obsessed

But anyway, Emma is fresh and squishy and looking like she’s always belonged here, all 9 pounds, 5 ounces of her. My daughters, husband and I had been waiting impatiently for her arrival, marking the date on the calendar, wondering if we’d have a cousin on one of their birthdays. But no, Emma has her own birthday, so that’s one thing she won’t have to share with her sister and cousins. For now anyway.

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Emma and her sister Ada

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline (center). Special to The Forum

Fast forward a year or so and I see some joint parties in her future, which, frankly, I would have loved to have with my cousins if they all lived closer. And so now officially my little sister and I are raising four little girls, aged 4, 2, 2 ½ and 0 in this wild and muddy place.

And depending on the moment, we are all doing just fine, but feel free to stop over anytime with a bottle of wine or a bottle of Advil. Or cookies would be good, too. Or chocolate…

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My little sister could probably use the chocolate about now. She and her family have been living in the 600-square-foot cabin on the ranch while they wait for their new house to be set over the hill from ours, right behind the barnyard where, coincidentally, a woman named Emma once lived and raised children of her own.

Emma was our great-aunt, married to our Grandpa Pete’s brother Lorraine. The two brothers farmed and ranched and raised children on this place in a different time. Ask their children and they will remember what living close to their cousins meant to them — a friend over the hill, small adventures, dirt bike ramps, mud pies and someone always there to witness, and maybe help harness, the near catastrophes they made for themselves.

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I wonder if those kids could have ever imagined another tiny Emma and spunky Edith living on those very same spots 50 years later?

Looking into Emma’s tiny face and running my fingers through her dark hair, I can’t help but flashback to the younger version of my little sister, Alex, loading up our mom’s pink hard-topped Samsonite suitcase and dragging it down the scoria road toward the mailbox after a disagreement with our mom. Alex was known for her hot-cheeked temper and knack for declaring a frustrating situation the “Wowst day of hew life!”

When our Grandma Edith drove down the road for a visit that afternoon and asked her what she was doing, my little sister replied “I’m wunning away from that witch!” She was running away to Gramma’s house, likely, but Gramma coming over for a visit sort of foiled her dramatic plans, and so she sat on the big rocks by the road and contemplated what she might do for supper before dragging that suitcase back home and making amends.

And so I guess what I’m saying here is:

1. I hope Emma turns out just like her mother.

2. I can’t wait for Emma (or Ada) to run away to my house. I will help them unpack their stuffed animals, give them Oreos and secretly call their mother to laugh about it.

Because judging by the beautiful and chaotic present, it’s apparent that we need one another. And we’re so incredibly lucky to be here together on this place.

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline Lala Sprinkle Pancake. We’re all here for you, girl. With chocolate.

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The Nutcracker experience…with a 4-year-old

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Last weekend, I took my 4-year-old daughter to the Moscow Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

If I hadn’t been raised with grandparents who once took a 5-year-old me in a velvet dress and patent-leather Mary Janes to a performance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it might have never crossed my mind to drive my young daughter three hours to the big town to experience such a thing.

But I was. And I remember the feel of the big seat folding up and down underneath my small body, the melody of the music, magic of the stage lights and the weight of my eyelids as my grandpa’s arms carried me, sleepy, out into the night when the curtain fell.

Of course, Edie had never seen a ballet, but I told her she could wear the new sequin dress her great-grandparents sent her and I even put on a dress myself and lip gloss on us both to seal the deal and held out hope that the outfit wasn’t going to be her favorite part of the whole experience.

Let me tell you. I. Had. No. Idea.

Below is a rough transcript of about three of the 90 minutes of dialogue I had with my small daughter sitting in the seat next to me, whispering in my ear while snowflakes, sugarplum fairies, creepy looking mice, a nutcracker and countless ballet dancers leapt and twirled across a lit-up stage while the people around us tried to enjoy the show, despite the incessant narrative that was being asked of me.

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Ahem.

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Edie, coming up for air after the shock and wonder of the first dance.

Edie: “So is it really Christmas or are they pretending it’s Christmas?”

Me: “Well, it’s Christmas in the ballet, but technically, they’re just pretending it’s Christmas. It’s not Christmas today.”

Edie: “So is that a real nutcracker or is he just pretending to be a nutcracker? And is she a real doll? Or a person?”

Me: “They’re just pretending, but in the ballet, the magician is making them come to life.”

Edie: “Oh, look at those dresses. I want a dress like that when I grow up. I want a dress like that with no sleeves and sparkles and I want a prince. We’ll dance and get married. Are they married? Are these the same people in different outfits or different people? Where’s her blue dress? Why does she wear dress jammies? I have dress jammies. She has dress jammies like me.”

Me: “Shhh… whisper.”

Edie: “Do those boys have feet? I can’t see their feet. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Where’s the music coming from? Where are the speakers?”

Me: “There. Do you see them? No? They’re right there: Do you see those snowflakes? Gramma Beth performed this dance when she was young.”

Edie: “Gramma Beth? Gramma Beth was young? Are these dancers young? Do these dancers have grammas? Do they have mommies?”

Me: “Yes, they have mommies.”

Edie: “Where are their mommies? Where do their mommies live?”

Me: “Ugh, I guess in Russia.”

Edie: “Where’s Russia?”

Me: “Shhh, just watch. Look at those scary mice!”

Edie, looking away: “I don’t like those mice. Is this just pretend? What was that noise? What happened to the mouse?”

Me: “He fell down. The noise scared him. They took him to the hospital to be checked out. He’s OK.”

Edie: “Well, where is his mommy? Do the mice have mommies? I don’t see the doctors? Where’s the hospital? Does he have blood? Does he need a Band-Aid? Oh, look at that tutu! When I grow up, I want a tutu like that…”

And so on and so on until the lights went up, they all took a bow and Edie sat in her seat wondering if it was over.

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I didn’t have to ask her how she liked it, so I asked about her favorite part.

“All of it,” she exclaimed, and then I carried her up the stairs and out into the crisp night, her Cinderella jelly shoes dangling from her toes and my hope of an experience etched deep enough for her to remember some of it, if only the dresses with no sleeves and the seat that folded up beneath her.

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