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.

My sister over the hill

My sister over the hill
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My little sister, her husband and their two young daughters have lived over the hill from us at the ranch for over a year now. When they sold their cute little home in town and moved into the cabin while they built a house out here, Alex was pregnant with her now one-year-old, her two year old was climbing the walls and neither one of us could have understood how much the two families would come to rely on one another in the coming months.

Not many people predict a cancer diagnosis, let alone a global pandemic over the horizon waiting to make us all feel isolated, helpless and utterly disorientated, but here we are, all more grateful than ever to have backup.

We celebrated my youngest’s third birthday last night, and this morning my little sister texted me: Let me know if your girls’ poop is blue from all that frosting!

Only a best friend/sister would want to know a thing like that, if only to laugh together about the absurdities of parenthood.

Being in the middle of this season of raising our daughters together is one of those unexpected gifts that all of those years of infertility struggles gave us. If my husband and I would have been able to start our family the way we thought we should almost fifteen years ago, our children would be babysitting their cousins instead of growing up alongside them like sisters, eating blue frosted cupcakes together in their leotards after gymnastics on Tuesday nights and fighting over baby doll strollers and Play Dough rolling pins. And while Alex wouldn’t turn down a couple babysitters living down the road, I think we all feel pretty lucky (not to mention outnumbered) around here.

And the thing is, while raising children on the ranch thirty miles from the nearest structured entertainment comes with so many blessings—the wide open spaces, the life long lessons, unlimited pet inventory and an abundance of big rocks and hay bales to climb—there’s plenty about it, especially as a parent of young kids, that can make you feel pretty isolated. 

Like when you’re in the middle of making supper for a hungry family and you realize you don’t have the main ingredient in your pantry. Like beans for chili or, in my case a few weeks ago, cheese for grilled cheese…

You just can’t have tomato soup without grilled cheese. Also, you sorta halfta have cheese….

Yes, my neighbor/ little sister is my extended pantry, sounding board, change of scenery, chicken nugget lunch time date, quick drop off point and, most importantly, a second mother to my daughters, which is my favorite part.

Because everyone needs a fearless backup who isn’t afraid to climb her own auntie/mom butt up to the top of the playground to retrieve your defiant screaming child while you have your hands full helping the other one take an emergency pee in the grass…

When my girls play “babies” together and neither one of them wants to be the daddy, they pretend they are aunties who live in the same pink house together because their husbands are out hunting or working, or, you know, they died….

Yeah, it can get a little dark in my kids’ pretend world. Alex tells me that’s normal, which is another reason I like having her around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Rosie needs help on the potty and, frankly, now I’m curious.

Cheers to sisters/friends/family/shoulders to lean on in this crazy world of parenting. My wish is you have one down the block or right over the hill.

5 years

5 Years
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This week’s column is all about our firstborn turning five and how fast the years fly. And tomorrow our second born turns three, and officially we don’t really have any babies or real toddler-types in the house these days, considering Rosie has a vocabulary of the old man she used to be in her previous life.

Anyway, it’s been nothing but cupcakes and balloons, baby doll and Barbie gifts, wrapping paper and streamers around here, and we have so much to be thankful for…

But let me know if you need any cake, and I’ll ship you some…

My firstborn daughter just turned 5.

Five. An age that seemed so far away when we brought her home from the hospital on Thanksgiving day, feeling somehow exhausted, excited, overwhelmed and at peace at the same time.

Five is an age that seemed imaginary when I was walking her back and forth on the floor of our room, trying to soothe her and get her back to sleep for the fourth time that night, wondering if I was ever going to have a full night’s rest, thinking this phase might just last forever.

Five is an age that seemed like a lifetime when she took her first steps walking down our hallway on Christmas day and we thought, “Well, now it’s getting real, isn’t it?” The growing-up thing.

That first year goes slow and then fast and then, apparently, every year after that is a blink.

I opened my eyes this morning and that newborn baby was downstairs before the sun, dressed in her new birthday outfit and begging me to help her put together the 370-piece Lego set she unwrapped the night before. Hold on girl, let me get my coffee…

And also, what was I thinking? 370 pieces is a commitment I wasn’t ready for.

Being ready. That seems to be a theme in the lives of parents. The being ready when the little pink line shows up. The being ready when we bring them home. The being ready when they have a poop explosion in the middle of the Sunday school program five minutes before they are supposed to make their debut as Baby Jesus No. 4.

Being ready when they ask the tough questions about where they were before they were born and how many stars are in the sky and when great-grandma got to heaven, did she get to be young again?

I thought these kinds of questions came later. This is only five. Pretty soon she’ll be reading and then she’ll be driving, taking her little sister along on the big wide-open road away from us and toward a life of their own making.

Once I asked my husband his greatest wish for his daughters and he said that if they grew up and felt like they could unapologetically be themselves, whoever that is, we would have done our jobs.

And then he said something that I loved. He said he was excited to learn from them, to get into what they’re into, whether it’s ballet or trapshooting, science experiments or cake-decorating.

Just the other day he proved he wasn’t bluffing when he came up from watching TV in the basement with the girls and said, “You know, those Barbie movies are actually pretty good.” Something I never thought would come out of his mouth five years ago.

The same way I never thought I would be sitting down at 7 a.m. to put a Lego tower together.

But you do it for them, for your children. Because their happiness is your happiness, and isn’t that the greatest gift they can give us, to live beyond ourselves so that they can go out into the world and ask the big questions?

Even if that day seems about as far away as the day we put the last block on this Lego tower…

Happy birthday, Edie… And happy Birthday Rosie! You are our dream come true.

In honor of Shop Artists Sunday and I’m running a SALE on downloads and signed copies of my recent albums Playing Favorites and Northern Lights and signed copies of my book, Coming Home. PLUS a FREE SONG DOWNLOAD with each signed copy you purchase!Give the gift of stories and songs this holiday season! Visit this link to shop https://jessieveedermusic.com/store.
Sale now until the end of the week!

How to give yourself a break

How to catch a 2-year-old in a lie
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How to catch a 2-year-old in a lie:

Buy powdered sugar doughnuts.
Tell her she can have only one.

Watch as she tries to convince you that she needs one while insisting the powdered sugar around her mouth is a result of the pancake… no, the pizza… she just ate.

It wasn’t a doughnut.

She did not already eat a doughnut.

She’ll take it to the grave.

How to make a 4-year-old mad:

Tell her there are doughnuts. Ask her if she wants one.

Then, when she doesn’t reply for hours, eat the last of them.

Guaranteed as soon as they’re gone, she will immediately want one.

She’ll never forgive you.

How to deal with a global pandemic:

Buy doughnuts.

Eat all the doughnuts.

Maybe this is terrible advice.

I’m pretty sure this is terrible advice, but man, are we all exhausted yet? And I wanted to sit down and dole out some sort of counsel, something to help guide you through this difficult time that keeps dragging on endlessly, testing our patience, our resiliency and our faith, but all I have today is doughnuts.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s relevant, because maybe that’s all you have today as well. And that’s OK. You don’t have to know what to do, you just have to do your best, and if your best is turning on the Disney Channel and zoning out to episodes of “Bluey” with your kids instead of doing the laundry or working together to clean up the baby doll nursery they’ve created out of the living room, then I’m going to give you a pass.

I’m going to give myself a pass, too, especially if it keeps me from scrolling through the news feed on my phone. Because yes, I need to stay informed, and yes, staying informed, to me, feels urgent and important. But it also makes me feel helpless and filled with anxiety and maybe, now that I think of it, full of grief.

Which is what I think we’re all experiencing, collectively, but in our own ways. On our own time. Grief at the loss of normalcy we once knew, for the experiences we’ve been robbed of and, most importantly, for those we’ve lost along the way.

And sometimes that grief looks like denial. Sometimes it looks like anger or sadness or fear or complete withdrawal.

Or picking fights with your husband for no real reason.

And sometimes it looks like a kitchen table full of arts and craft projects and a living room floor full of baby dolls and their strollers and diapers and three laundry baskets overflowing with unwashed clothes and an attention span of a gnat. Or a detour for doughnuts.

And that’s OK. Tomorrow, you might feel like green beans, a run and getting to that laundry.

Or maybe not.

Just take care.

And also, Husband, if you’re reading this, let’s try not yelling at the TV so much. Because now, every time a commercial comes on during “Bluey,” the 4-year-old tells the lady trying to sell us organic bread that she’s lying.

All right. I think that’s enough advice for the day.

If you need me, I probably won’t be doing laundry.

Coping with uncertainty


Coping with uncertainty
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Winter is settling in around here, just in time for roundup and sending the calves to the sale barn.

I’m planning today to make chicken noodle soup to put in the Crockpot so I can get up and ride and help sort and send them off tomorrow, and have a nice hot meal waiting for us when we get in.

We’re going to need it.

It’s going to be cold.

For the past few years we’ve made a ritual out of meeting my husband and dad at the sale barn with the kids to watch our calves go through the ring. Last year, I dressed my daughters in their pink hats, snap shirts and boots and we headed to Dickinson after the truck. The girls got pop and a burger and fries at the café, and then a candy dessert. They played with their dolls and toy horses on the wide benches and my oldest, Edie, cried when we had to explain our calves weren’t coming home with us.

The buyers and cowboys in the sale barn had a good chuckle and soft spot for that, I think. A bittersweet moment in the cycle of ranching.

This year, in an effort to avoid crowds, the girls and I will stay home while my husband takes the pickup and trailer with the last of the calves that won’t fit in the semi out to the highway and down through the breaks and out to the big town. I’ll stay home and wait to hear, part nervous, part relieved to get on with the plan and on to the next ritual of feeding hay, checking water tanks and mineral blocks and sending up prayers for enough moisture to fill the dams and a warm spring for calving.

There’s so much in this world that is out of our control. Perhaps growing up on a ranch has helped me cope with the uncertainties, especially the kind we’re all facing this year. To do what you can, the best that you can, is all you can do. Anyone who has ever brought a cold, wet calf who hasn’t sucked yet into the basement or entryway to warm up and feed and hope over knows this, especially when it doesn’t turn out the way you prayed it would.

To do all you that you can, the best that you can, seems to be a theme these days doesn’t it? If only we could all trust and accept that that is exactly what our neighbors are doing as well—the best that they can, with what they know. With what they fear. With the weight of it all. If we can go to that place, to imagine what it might be like in the other person’s shoes, perhaps then, even if we don’t agree, even if we’ve never been there ourselves, we can at least find a bit of compassion.

And reacting, deciding, listening and learning with your heart planted in empathy, well, that could make all the difference in the world right now…

If you need me I’ll be searching the house for my long johns and making sure I have an adequate supply of cream for the soup.

Stay warm now. Do what you can. Take care of one another and for goodness sake, take care of yourself, so we can see you at the sale barn next year!

The waking up

The waking up
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It’s early morning here at the ranch and I feel, for some reason, like talking about it.

Because this time of day, the space when the sun has not quite risen, where the coffee is brewing, my husband is searching for his socks and the kids are slowly rolling waking up in the cocoons of their bedrooms, have been some of the most serene and precious moments in my life.

As I wander around the house, cleaning up dishes from the night before, filling my coffee cup and taming my hair, I stop by each window to take a peek at how the horizon decided to make an appearance today. Sometimes it comes dancing in wearing ravishing bright pinks and golds and purples with streaks of fluffy clouds reflecting its light.

Sometimes it’s quiet against a clear sky turning the crisp grass silver and making the frost on the trees glisten.

And sometimes it’s hidden under a blanket of rain clouds or comes up with the snow that has been falling all night.

But it doesn’t matter, I always look, bending down slightly as I rinse a dish in the sink or watch the horses in the pasture below me as I brush my teeth in the bathroom. In those moments, when the sunrise wakes with me, I catch myself in a smile I put on without an effort, without even being fully awake…

These were how my mornings were growing up. As country kids who lived miles from our school we had to wake up early… way before the sun. Dad would knock on our doors and swing them open. “It’s time to wake up, girls.” And as my older sister and I would roll over to catch a few more blinks, my little sister across the hall would bounce up, always prepared, always on time, eager to get to the last bowl of Frosted Flakes.

And somewhere between waiting on the bathroom, pulling on my favorite Levis, fixing my ponytail and shuffling to the kitchen for breakfast while my mom sat on the other side of the counter chatting quietly and sipping her coffee, I got used to the idea of a new day as the sun slowly lit up the trails beneath the dark oak trees that surrounded our house.

It was in those mornings at the ranch, waking one another gently, getting ready for the day together, that we were our best family. We knew for certain that morning after morning, Dad would be there to open the door to our bedrooms and let the light from the hallway flood in; we knew Mom would have our cereal out on the counter; we knew when the small yellow bus would come bouncing down the road; and we knew who would be saving us a seat when we boarded.

What we didn’t know was what was going to happen in the between-hours as the sun made her way to the horizon, up over our heads and back down again. We didn’t know what we might learn, or what or who might come into our lives unannounced. We didn’t know if tears would fall over a failed test or a missed shot. We didn’t know when an opportunity might arise or that a love might be blossoming in the hallways of our schools.https://8b6c77f8d9bcf2649841d31658de8de7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

But we walked through the day with the memory of that morning, the sound of our father’s voice rising us from our dreams, the taste of sugared cereal on our lips, the smell of our mother’s coffee and we knew that no matter how the day turned on us, the sun would rise and we could start from that familiar and safe place again tomorrow.

In times of uncertainty and angst, cancer and COVID and a general feeling of doubt lingering in the air, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of providing a safe and familiar rhythm in our home — for my children, of course, but for my husband and I as well. To know that home is a safe haven, and that it’s not a promise everyone is given, makes me cherish it even more.

And the home that we built with large windows facing the east where the sun rises every morning is a reminder to me, in the good times and the bad, that the waking up will always be worth it.

Every kid needs a tire swing

Every kid needs a tire swing
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We used to have a tire swing tied to the branch of a scrappy and tall oak tree that reached out over the steep banks of the small creek that runs through the ranch.

Mom could see it from the window above the kitchen sink, hanging on the other side of the fence that separated our mowed yard from the horse pasture that us kids regarded as the wilderness. When we could get a push or two from Dad between the work and the worry, there was nothing in the world that felt more like flying.

But mostly my little sister, or the neighbor girl and I, would take our turns on our way to the beaver dam to check on the frog population or to pull logs up over leaning trees to make secret forts and pretend we were living as grown ups in another time.

Even when I was just a kid, I thought that every kid should have a tire swing. The only thing that would have made it better was if we could let go to be dropped in the water on a hot day, the way I saw them do it on the country music videos. But the only time the water was high enough was in the years the snow turned to water fast and furious enough under an unexpectedly warm March day when we still wouldn’t dare put away our knit caps and coveralls, let alone strip down and jump in.

It didn’t matter to us, though — we were happy with any formation we could come up with that would make a big push out across the steep bank a little more dangerous — standing on the top, one-handed, no-handed, doubles, triples, a fast spin from your friend, a pullback and running leap on your own… and on and on until we were called inside or got distracted with another idea for how to make our own fun.

Remember those days? When time stretched out in front of us like a newly discovered trail, curiously winding instead of urgently ticking down on wristwatches and cellphones, screaming at us to hurry, reminding us there isn’t enough…

This fall, my husband spent several days behind the wheel of the backhoe, clearing out a tangle of fallen trees and underbrush to build a bigger driveway in front of the house, leaving behind a tall oak, gnarly and mangled, to stand magnificently on his own right outside our door. I always liked this tree, the way the twists of its branches told a story of perseverance, the way its trunk consumed ancient remnants of barbed wire, its bark determined enough to grow over the scars, revealing the secrets of a tree with a purpose beyond growing and shading and shedding its leaves.

But clearing the brush and weeds away really showed it off, ominous against a gray sky, inviting in the sun. Magical no matter what. It seemed both me and the tree loved the new landscaping plan.

But we weren’t the only ones. As soon as the dust cleared, my dad came over with a rope swing for the grandkids, and just like that the old man of a tree had a new purpose.

I watched my girls spin and squeal with their cousins under the shade of that oak. As the leaves cut loose in the breeze and spiraled to the earth around us, I laughed as I remembered the break of the rope all those years ago, and my little sister marching up to the house, tears in her eyes, to deliver the news (and request a trip to the hospital because the wind that got knocked out of her convinced her of internal damage).

And while my little sister was just fine, it was a big dramatic last trip on that swing. I was a teenager then and I realized it had probably been years since I had my last turn. I remember feeling a little sad about that…

We’re all grown-up now and so much has changed, so many things missed, pushed aside as memories we visit when we need them.

But I’m comforted knowing time hasn’t changed our minds. We all still agree every kid needs a tire swing, and a big push that feels like flying…

What the cat misses out on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie

Resiliency

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

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

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

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

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

I had my moments.

I still do.

I’m still terrified sometimes. 

But not as terrified as I am grateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranch mom problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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