Time reminds us.

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Rosalee Gene came into this world quickly on Friday, December 1st at 9:14 am. Before she was born she didn’t have a name. We hadn’t found one that we were set on, should the baby we were growing be a girl. We decided we needed to meet her first.

And when I met her I knew. I looked up at my husband looking down at the squishy, wailing, slimy, dark haired little human resting on my chest and he said he knew too.

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“You say it first,” he said.

“Rosalee,” I said.

“Yes. Rosalee.”

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And so we have our little Rosie Gene. Gene named after my dad who has, for over a month, been in a fight for his life, battling a pancreas that is dying on him.

It’s been excruciating, this wait and see. The long hospital stay. The ICU, the terminology, the air flight to Minneapolis, hearing my mom’s tired voice on the other end of the line. Our hearts stopping at every ding of our phones.

As I type my dad’s in critical condition in the ICU in a hospital in Minneapolis known for their expertise in pancreatitis. He is intubated. He can’t talk. They are making plans to remove the fluid that builds up as a result of the inflamed pancreas, a dangerous condition stemming from a dangerous condition and the whole healing process is a Catch 22.

And we can’t be there with them. Because we have to be here. Taking care of our daughters and the ranch and each other waiting on news.

To be so simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting and overwhelming, but we’re taking it day by day, minute by minute, praying and hoping and dreaming of an outcome that brings dad home to the ranch to meet Rosie Gene. We have so many people, a whole army of community members doing the same thing and we are grateful. And I am so grateful for this family of ours.

I wrote the piece below as I was waiting in Bismarck for Rosie to arrive. Since then dad has taken a turn for the worse and we have had a week at home with our new baby girl. Today is my husband’s first day back at work and my first day home with both of them. We cut our Christmas tree last night off the place, determined to keep in the tradition and spirit of the holiday because that’s what my parents want and that’s what we need to do for these kids of ours, and really, in times like these, what choice do we have but to chin up and be strong.

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Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and casseroles and cards and texts and phone calls and emails and love. They mean so much to us.

Coming Home: Time is a reminder to love one another
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By the time you read this we will be a family of four.

I’m writing this from a borrowed laptop in the basement of my best friend’s house in Bismarck, waiting on a baby who has shown us that it’s not safe to drive the three hours home, because we might not make it back in time to deliver.

It’s fitting really for this to be the sort of in-limbo news I’m sharing considering the tough and unpredictable month we’ve had as a family.

Since October turned to November, my dad has been fighting for his life as his pancreas does the hard work it needs to do to heal itself. After my dad was rushed back to the big town for another week in the hospital, the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom called in the family to see him off on a plane ride to seek the help of the experts in Minneapolis.

We left Edie in good hands with my in-laws and found ourselves surrounded by close family and skyscrapers in the big city, not knowing if our dad would come out of this, reminded, once again, what living minute by minute can feel like.

It’s excruciating.

And as we sat with him in the ICU, we slowly sunk into a world so far from the buttes, golden grass and the peaceful calm of the ranch we kept telling my dad to visualize that we barely remembered it existed ourselves, the foreign sound of the monitor beeps and the taste of lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup becoming our new normal.

How many times can you ask a person how he’s feeling before sending you all off the rails?

If we really wanted to know we could ask the people in the room next door who’ve been there longer or are fighting harder, the ones we walked by in the hallway in a weeping embrace, saying they did all they could for her.

And then we can say a prayer of thanks because, for now, we are the lucky ones.

We are the lucky ones who still have some hope here.

My husband and I left my dad with my mom and good doctors to heal slowly in a hospital bed in one of those skyscrapers that lights up the city skyline at night, each twinkle in the rearview mirror reminding me of the millions of stories beginning and ending under the light of the moon, living room lamps, restaurant candles or the fluorescent hum of the hospital lights we’ve come to know too well.

Any day now those lights will be the first thing our new baby sees as he or she takes that first breath in this world. And I will never forget the way it felt to try to hold life in my womb so tight these past few days, terrified to bring a new soul into a world that suddenly felt so unfamiliar to us all.

But time, you see, we don’t own it here, no matter the grip we thought we had on it all.

I think, at the end of the day, the only thing we really have to hold on to is our capacity to love one another, which is even more amazing when you realize you just get more of it when you give it away.

Time is just a reminder that you don’t have forever to do it.

Grateful and waiting

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I’m finally getting to it. A chance to take a little breath and let you know that it’s been a rough month for my family. As all major health issues go, it’s a long saga, but since Halloween, dad has been fighting a hard fight against pancreatitis, one that we thought we had licked after they sent him home in early November, only to send him back to the hospital in the big town a week later to continue the fight.

We left mom to be with him on Thanksgiving in the hospital and my sisters and I celebrated Thanksgiving and Edie’s birthday at my inlaws’ home. At this point we were hopeful that he was on the slow mend, but on Friday morning we got the call that they were finally going to air lift him to the experts in Minneapolis. It was scary. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. Mom called in the troops and we made plans to drive to the cities to be with him until we knew he was stable and in good hands.

Which he is now, it turns out. Thank God. But it’s going to be a long, long road to recovery.  In the meantime, we’ve had such wonderful support from family, neighbors and friends helping to get the hay hauled, the fences fixed, the cattle moved and our babies in safe hands while we made the trip. We’ve had understanding bosses, cousins, aunts and uncles who have rushed to the scene to give hugs and make sure we’re eating or resting or taking a minute to joke or smile. And we’ve had each other and a strong faith in our dad that he’s a bulldog, a fighter, and he can make it through this.

And then, there’s this thing about this baby we’re growing. And so I’m writing to you from the basement of my best friend’s house in the big town I’m set to deliver in. I’m on a borrowed computer and living out of a suitcase I packed for an overnight stay at my inlaw’s that has turned into a week away now. We drove through on our way home from Minneapolis and I stopped for my weekly checkup only to be told to hold tight, this baby’s coming any day. That was Monday, and no big news yet, but we all agreed that being 3 hours from the delivery room wasn’t a great idea. So I’m hanging tight here. My husband is at home now waiting for the call and our daughter is with her gramma, wondering where the heck her parents are and likely showing her true sassy nature by now. I miss her. I left her just as she was turning two and the next time I see her she will no longer be an only child.

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But we are so thankful for family and so ready for this little ray of sunshine to arrive in our lives, although a few days ago I couldn’t imagine it. I wanted to hold him or her in there forever, safe from the chaos of this world. I couldn’t imagine bringing a baby into such uncertainty. Into a life without my dad.

But I think we’re ready now. Dad’s on his long road, my mom is there with him, we have more family coming to their side in the cities and life goes on, even when it’s scary.

I wrote this week’s column reflecting on the uncertainty of our life’s past events, not knowing how much more grateful we would become in the coming week. It’s so interesting to me to recognize how in the hardest times of our lives, when we want to scream “It’s not fair!” we are called on to be the most grateful. Even when it’s terrifying….

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. I’ll keep you posted!

Coming Home: The burden of being grateful

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In the hardest times of our lives it seems we are reminded to be grateful.

Grateful that it isn’t worse.

Thankful you still have your health or your loved ones besides you. That the cut wasn’t deeper, the hit harder, the sickness more violent, the call closer.

That in the end, we should be grateful that they’re still here with us.

Or be thankful that they’re in a better place, even if you’re not sure you believe in that place anymore.

And in between those harrowing moments, those close calls, held breaths, long hospital stays, prayers sent up, phone calls made during tragic or near tragic reminders of this very frail life we lead, we do the regular things that humans do.

We cook rice on the stove and burn the chicken on the grill. We talk too long on the phone about what we think of someone. We’re late to appointments because the dog got out again. We fight about money in front of the babies, throw our hands in the air in disgust, walk out and slam doors. On good days, we laugh about the rearview mirror she broke on her way out of the garage, because isn’t it just like her to cut it so close, that woman!

On bad days, we wonder what the hell she was thinking. And what we’re doing wrong.
We take it all for granted, because we can’t live in that space of our own vulnerability, the space where we sit, understanding full well that we don’t have control in this life.
It’s too raw and exhausting to be so aware of our own mortality, even if being aware means being equal parts grateful and terrified.

My 2-year old daughter looks up at the night sky, searching for the moon among the stars and exclaims, “The moon, Mommy, it’s beautiful! The stars, Mommy. Look at the stars!”
And when the night turns to day, bringing with it the sun, she takes equal notice of its magnificence. “The sun, the sun!” she declares before looking at me and asking after the moon. “Where the moon, Mommy? Where the moon go?”

That child doesn’t yet know darkness the way grownups come to know darkness, and each day the world gives her the bright shining light of the sun. But in all its glory and promise, she won’t forget about her moon.

It will be few more years before the child has the vast expanse of the universe explained to her, a few years before she starts to learn that that moon doesn’t shine for her exclusively.

A few more years before it all starts to become as confusing as it is wondrous.
But right now she’s little, even though she doesn’t know it. And it doesn’t matter. The size of this universe might just as well be as far as her arms can reach for all it matters to her.

Because to her, what she can see of the sky is enough.

And to me, right now, those outstretched arms are enough to keep me equal parts grateful and terrified.

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Out of respect for the angels.

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It’s been a rough couple weeks at the Veeder Ranch. After a bad bout of pancreatitis, three surgeries and a week and a half hospital stay in the big town, dad’s finally home resting up and probably making plans to do things he shouldn’t be doing yet.

We’re shipping calves on Thursday and, well, there’s lots to do to get ready for that. So it wasn’t great timing for my daughter to come down with this weird flu all last week where she would trick you into thinking she was just fine, twirling around in her dress and bowing like a princess, right before snuggling into your arms and barfing all over you. I brought her in to the doctor on Monday for a rash and then again at the end of the week because I thought she was going to starve to death for lack of food hitting the bottom of her stomach.

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And then she gave it to me, the little darling. So yeah, having the flu at 8 months pregnant, now I know how that feels. My husband had to take a couple days off work to deal with the ailing, whining females in the house, pushing back his plans to build corrals and move cows home after work in preparation for this week. And for those of you who don’t understand the daylight savings time thing we have happening up here in the winter, we get daylight now only until about 5:15 pm, so there’s not much time for ranchers who also work a day job to get much done after work.

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Anyway, the man didn’t complain. But then he got the flu himself and all I can say is that sounds about right. ‘Tis the season.

Isn’t it interesting how much we take our health for granted until it slams us hard and reminds us that it can stop us in our tracks? All the big plans we’ve made don’t mean much when you can’t get up out of bed, and in the case of dad, in our most uncertain moments of the ordeal, whether or not he ever would again.

And in these moments, when we’re at our most vulnerable, it’s when the littlest things have the most impact. My aunt made several two hour trips to the hospital, for example, to be there for my mom when we couldn’t. My uncles are coming this week to help with the cattle. And that is something they think is a little thing that they can do, but it’s a big thing. A very big thing.

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Because it goes the other way too, in times of crisis and worry and sleep deprivation, the small inconveniences in life, the bad news on television, a rude or misplaced comment that may have otherwise rolled off your back, those poke and grate harder and can become unreasonably unbearable, because there’s no more room to place them.

You’re already carrying a much too-heavy thing.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about the moments that make the heavy things feel a bit lighter and how simple it is to choose to be kind in spite of it all. Because often we think that having faith takes the form of big, complicated, grand miraculous gestures, scriptures and the regiment of religion, but I think more than all of that, it’s inside of us.  And when you choose to be a light, well, maybe that’s the way angels work.

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All the ways I’ve seen angels at work
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She took his hand and looked him square in the eyes as he lay there in the hospital bed, in pain, worried and frustrated. His thoughts and words were clouded under the mask of painkillers, and it was her job to check his vitals, help manage his pain and answer his family’s questions about what was going on in our dad’s body.

Seeing him in that hospital bed, the man who was in his wool cap and on a horse just days before, laying there so vulnerable and sick brought back too many memories of that long January night just three years ago when his heart tore and we nearly lost him.

Could we be there again? How much agony should we put into this moment that turned into a week of waiting in that hospital room with him? Because worrying and calling the nurse is all a person can do in moments of helplessness.

I’m not sure I’ve said it out loud before, but I’ll say it here: I think I might believe in angels.

Maybe not in the literal sense, where they swoop down from heaven with outstretched wings — I don’t think it’s as theatrical as that.

But I think I’ve seen them inhabit the shape of things here, if only for the moments in which we need them — the body of a good dog, a well-timed breeze, an outstretched hand — all small things with the capacity to restore, if only briefly, a worn-out faith in this place.

I’ll confess these days my faith has been waning. With this world growing smaller, and so many words thrown out and scattered recklessly, it’s hard to escape the cruelty that humans choose to inflict on one another. It’s wearing me out and making me sad and scared.

I’ve seen the price people pay for anger and hatred; we’ve all seen it reported to us, seemingly, hour by hour. But that morning that nurse looked into my dad’s eyes and rubbed his arm in a genuine attempt to bring him comfort, I knew I was witnessing an angel moment, one that nurse pulled out effortlessly in the hectic and so very unglamorous demands of her day. It’s her job, yes, but it would be much easier for her to make her rounds, do her duty and keep her heart out of it.

I imagine it would certainly keep her schedule on better track.

And as it turns out now, my dad’s going to be OK. His ailment was excruciating, but his life’s not in danger. And for that we’re grateful.

But the whole ordeal has worn on our nerves and made us less patient with the little things because of the weight of the big thing we’ve been carrying for days on end.

Yet I vowed in the hospital hallway to take a cue from Dad’s nurse, so I offered a smile and directions to the cafeteria to a man who looked lost, because Good Lord, aren’t we all?

If the cost of kindness is nothing but a few minutes, I’m willing to pay it forward, out of respect for those angels.

The Everything…

I had a rough week of pregnancy last week. And by rough, I’m not saying anything other than I was just ridiculously uncomfortable, sleepless, full of heartburn and reflux and backaches and all around moderately suffering to grow this baby who’s been continuously punching my bladder for months now. And it’s a good thing, to feel him or her move around in there so vigorously, reminding me that all is well and I am grateful for that. But I’m also, you know, pretty damn uncomfortable. So I’ve been whining about it to my husband, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a gift to us to be able to whine about the little inconveniences of creating a miracle and a dream come true.

I have about one month to go in this second pregnancy. This week I have one more trip to take across the state to talk with students in a few schools about poetry and writing, and I’m looking forward to it. And then it’s home to hunker down, wrap up some work and follow my husband around and annoy him about moving furniture, and boxes and desks and getting things ready for our new tiny roommate.

I can’t wait to meet him. Have I shared that my guess is it’s a boy?

Which probably means it’s a girl.

Either way, the child is going to be forced to wear his or her fair share of dresses, I’m certain.

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This week’s column is a reflection on what that means: looking ahead and behind and soaking in the right now.

Memories and planning and everything in between 
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I woke up this morning to the baby in my belly kicking, rolling and stretching his or her arms, snapping me instantly out of a dream and into the reality of another day spent being a pregnant mother.

Inside this dark house, long before sunrise, my other loves were slowly waking up too. I lifted my daughter out of her bed and got her dressed for the day while she worked on slow blinks, little hands pressed to her face to wipe away the night.

She doesn’t know what’s coming in the next month or so and I’m torn between the excitement of a new arrival, the nerves of handling the chaos that’s about to ensue, and nostalgic about the time we’re spending together, just us two girls, the way it is most days.

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Yes, the look of my “most days” is about to change, and I realize I spent so much time worrying about becoming a mother for the first time, I never gave much thought to what it would be like to become a mother to a second child.

My little sister brought her baby out last weekend. I kept her inside with us while her mom was out and about on the ranch. I looked around the living room scattered with toys, the autumn sun shining through the windows on my tiny niece laying on the floor and watched as Edie brought her cousin blankets, toys and kisses, stopping every so often for a quick twirl in her dress.

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I remembered a time when this house could be so quiet that I could hear my thoughts bounce back to me from the walls of these rooms.

Scooping the baby into my arms, I realized how many of those thoughts were memories of all the mittens my little sister and I dropped in the coulees, how many times our boots filled with creek water, how many burs and grass stains we accumulated as we stepped out of our parents’ footprints to march our way to growing up.

It’s funny how quiet those memories can become when you use them to start making plans.

 

And so much of my time these days I spend worrying about the logistics of those plans — the cattle, the crib, the unfinished garage, the landscaping, the money, the potty training, the birth, the casserole, the disorder of every closet in this house — some days it’s hard not to think that if we could just get it all done we’ll have finally made it like we promised each other all those years ago.

But this morning I sat my daughter on my lap to comb her hair and the baby in my belly kicked at her back. I laughed as my husband, all dressed for work, stood beside the chair beaming while his daughter beamed right back, knowing the next step was being scooped up in his arms to head into the day.

And here I sit, in a quiet house, listening for those thoughts, the ones that remind me that this … this, is the plan.

And the memories.

And the everything.

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Her own eyes.

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This is how they look when they both say “cheese.” It’s unreal, sometimes, the familiarities you catch in your child as she grows up.

It’s one of the curiosities of parenthood,  wondering what qualities you might find of yourself in them along the way.

My daughter has my husband’s smile.

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And his fearlessness, his bravery and confidence.

And the blonde hair of his youth.

She has my spirit I think. My musical heartbeat, my humor.

She shares our love for dirt and grass and sky and all things nature.

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But she has her own eyes. Blue and unexpected.

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I want to say, if I could keep her this age forever, I would. But it wouldn’t be fair to hold her back from all the wonders of growing up.

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I just wish I could save her from the heartache parts.

And I wish we all just had more time…

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I used to believe in forever, but now I think forever is too short.”
– Winnie the Pooh

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In her dress, life’s just more beautiful

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This week’s column is a little more about “The Dress.” Which my darling daughter is, of course, currently wearing as she sits on the potty and watches videos as I sit on the bathroom floor in front of her typing this on my laptop and waiting to hear a tinkle.

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On Saturday she actually plopped a poop in that potty, but that’s likely only because we rushed her there while she was clearly working on somethin’.

This is what my life has become.

But I have to admit that my daughter’s obsession with all things dresses, and pretty, and hair and painted fingernails has provided such an unexpected reality for me, a mom who, until I discovered her love for a good twirl in a floor length gown, has never played a legit princess movie in the house and really doesn’t get dressed up too fancy unless I’m heading to a performance.

But she’s been watching. She see’s what’s special, decides what she makes her feel good and smart and beautiful and independent and she goes all in.

And she’s not even two yet.

I didn’t realize this identity development, these preferences, started so young.

Last week I had her up in my room with me while I was getting ready for a meeting. She went into my closet and tugged on the bottom of one of my dresses and said “mommy dress, mommy dress,” and so I pulled it out and put it on. Her smile lit up that dim room. She was thrilled, she bounced up and down and told me I was “bootiful. Bootiful mommy in a bootiful dress” And then she instructed me to twirl. And so I did.

And there we were, the two of us, mom and tiny daughter alone in the house, in my bedroom, in the middle of nowhere, laughing and singing and dancing and twirling, telling one another how fabulous, beautiful and lovely we are in dresses way too fancy for an ordinary day. But to Edie there’s no such thing as an ordinary day and I hope I never forget the complete innocence and freedom in that moment with her. Because it was everything.

My only wish is that she could always remember it too….

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My daughter’s love for dresses
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We have an issue in our house these days. At least that’s what I’m calling it, dare I utter the real word and ignite the flame.

I’ve been dealing with the “issue” moderately successfully for the past few weeks, but last night it raised its voice loud and clear while I was chained to a phone with a cord, trying my best to have a professional conversation as the last human on earth who still owns a landline and my daughter let out a series of loud, desperate and relentless cries that only got louder and more inexorable as my poor husband worked to remove her from the room.

Did she fall and hit her head? I didn’t hear a thump, but maybe she’s bleeding. Did she need stitches? An ambulance? Or maybe she saw a ghost — you know like one of those supernatural phenomenons that only innocent children can spot?

That’s a thing, right?

“Do you have to go?” The now-concerned voice on the other end of the phone asked me as I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to pretend that nothing catastrophic was occurring in my household.

Which turned out to be true, despite my worst-case-scenario predictions. I hung up the phone and opened the door to my daughter’s room where she sat on her daddy’s lap, in her jammies, tears streaming down her face.

“What on earth?” I asked him in the best version of the mom voice I now posses.

He looked me straight in the eyes with an expression as defeated as any strong, healthy man can possess and simply replied, “The dress.”

Yes. The dress.

He dared suggest she wear anything else and there were not enough bribery lollipops in the world…

I blame my sister-in-law for handing it down — this floor-length, checkered, floral and quilted little number with just the right amount of twirl to bring a toddler the high she needs to become addicted.

But I think it’s also a hereditary thing. Because I wouldn’t wear anything but a pink leotard, purple tights and legwarmers for my entire second year of life, God gave me a daughter and then introduced her to “the dress.” Needless to say my mother is loving every minute of my peril.

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She wakes up and it’s the first word my daughter says, and she will say it — “dress, dress, dress, dress” — until I retrieve it from my unsuccessful hiding spot in the hamper.

The other day she wore it out to the pasture where the guys were building corrals, and I suddenly became sympathetic to the prairie girls who came before her as I watched her unsuccessfully try to run and frolic, making it only a couple steps before getting tangled up and pummeled to the ground.

“Well, maybe she’ll want to take it off now,” I thought as I hoisted her up for the 50th time in five minutes. But I knew better. Judging from her smiles and squeals of delight, I realized it was quite clear the challenge of the dress only made living more fun.

And, according to my darling girl, infinitely more beautiful. Proving that the only ones who have an “issue” is her parents.

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Making the costume, making the memories

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Ok, so Halloween is just around the corner. My daughter will turn 2 in a little over a month and a few weeks after that (if not before…) we’ll welcome a new family member into our house and our home and our hearts.

And so, as you probably guessed, I’m feeling a little panicky at this point. There’s not much time left to get my office cleaned out and made into a proper baby’s room or make the “plan ahead” schedule for the work that needs to continue to move forward while I’m in my post-baby fog. Running my own business means I don’t technically get maternity leave, so it’s up to me to get prepared if I want some time off. So far I’m not prepared.

At all.

But I could be working on being prepared, except there’s too many other fun things to do, like hit up the pumpkin patch in the big town this weekend, force Edie out of her prairie dress and into one I’ve had in the closet for six months and make her pose for her “almost” two year-old photos and, of course, most important of all, get to working on her Halloween costume.

Which is what I did a few weeks ago when she was at her Nana and Papa’s (instead of working on the office/baby’s room like I planned.) I found this adorable idea online and ordered the supplies and sat in front of Netflix and got to work.

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Buy this costume from lauriestutuboutique on Etsy. Or try to make it like the fool I am…

When the tutu was done I was so excited at its poof and fluff and pretty certain my frilly daughter would find it suitable and wonderful and whimsical just like I imagined. I couldn’t wait to show it to her, to try it on and finish up adjusting the straps before hanging it in the closet to await the big day of Trick-or-Treating. I could just envision her delighted smile and giggle. I felt like Martha Stewert and super-mom and the winner of Project Runway all combined into one emotional, pregnant mess.

And then she got home and crushed my dreams. One look at the brown, orange and yellow tutu sent my toddler into a physical reaction of distaste and disgust. And then, because she’s a good talker, she followed up the sour look on her face with the following words, spoken as she pushed the homemade costume away from her before turning her head

“Don’t like it. That dress is gross.”

Cue a mother’s heart breaking in half. I had to go into my messy office/baby’s room, papers and baby decor scattered from wall to wall, and sit with my failure, my unnecessary hormonal tears and the “gross” tutu I had created for my baby who clearly isn’t a baby anymore.

She followed me in there then, and with the same disgust on her face, removed the tutu from the bed, placing it outside the door and out of her line of sight, and then climbed up beside me.

“Mommy cry? Don’t cry mommy,” she said as she leaned into my shoulder. And that made me laugh and shake my head, realizing I was watching a strong, independent girl who knows what she wants develop right before my eyes.

But what Edie doesn’t know is that I’m a strong, independent girl myself and I am working on ways to win this battle, the same way I won the battle of the dress this morning and managed to get her to smile for the camera in that adorable denim frock just the way I envisioned, dammit. It took an hour, some tears and a gramma intervention, but it happened.

I won.

This time anyway.

I’ll keep you updated on the Halloween costume situation. But if she’s going as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz this year, it’s because we just might be able to pass the dress she’s currently obsessed with off as a costume, all it needs is some ruby slippers, a basket and a Toto.

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Happy costuming parents and friends. Enjoy this “From the Editor” piece for this month’s Prairie Parent, where I explain why I even try. And while you’re there, read more from our amazing contributors on traditions and why they matter in our families.

 

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Making the costume, making the memories
Prairie Parent, From the Editor
October 2017

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Where our stories begin…

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Well, we’re officially deep into fall, which means roundup season around here where we work on getting the cattle doctored and the calves weaned and ready for the sales barn. Because we calved late, we won’t be heading to the sales barn until a few more weeks, but we worked cattle on Sunday and got a good look at things.

Because I’m a giant pregnant lady with a toddler in tow, I’m not a lot of help. But Edie and I went out to the corrals after roundup anyway to to see what kind of damage the two of us could do. After explaining every detail of the situation to her (why her dad was in the chute, why the cows were “stuck” in there too, where the horses were and on and on) I stupidly decided to teach her all about the sorting stick. Needless to say there were a lot of close call shots to the head, groin, belly, body in general, both accidental and intentional. She was delighted.

And, because I packed enough fruit snacks and granola bars, and the girl just loves dirt and grass and wind and all things outside, she hung in there pretty well while I did the things giant pregnant women with protective dads and husbands can do to help–like run part of the chute and count cattle.

Edie kept track of it all, threw some dirt around, helped me maneuver the chute, bossed me around, cried a little for her dad who had too much cow poop on his hands to pick her up, ate some fruit snacks, climbed some fences, got cow poop on her own hands and eventually laid down on the ground to watch a YouTube video on my phone for a few minutes while we wrapped it up.

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Ah, technology. Who would have thought it would come in so handy out in these pastures raising the next generation.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Working cattle is this unexplainable sort of satisfying, getting in the rhythm, neighbors helping out, the smell of the crisp fall air, the sound of cows bellering as they make their way toward the neighbor’s field via a newly discovered hole in the fence…

It’s always something around here I tell ya…

Anyway, I grew up hanging on those corrals the way Edie’s was hanging on the corrals, trying to get in on the action by finding myself a job. Being useful made me feel important, like I was truly a valued part of the operation. I want that for my daughter too, and I’m not sure you can start them on it all too early.

This morning while I was in the bathroom and Edie was brushing her teeth (this is her thing…every time I go to the bathroom, she follows me in there to brush her teeth. It’s annoying and funny and, well, these days she’s been brushing her teeth a lot…anyway) she informed me that Papa was out working, riding his horse. And so was Dada and she had fun with the cows.

I still can’t believe she’s stringing all these thoughts together, but this is where it starts, right here when they’re little minds are forming.

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And so that’s why I found it so pressing to get this kid a pony this fall, to get her used to horses by having one around that doesn’t loom so large. And apparently, because I have such good friends and followers around me, all I had to do was say the word and a friend offered us the opportunity to be the next home for their children’s pony, Mascot.

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I was so excited to bring him home to the ranch a few weeks back, and ever since she got warmed up to him (took all of ten minutes) she’s been acting like the two of them have known each other their whole lives. She brushes him, feeds him “cereal” (grain) and rides him without holding on because the kid doesn’t posses in her much fear (except when it comes to the hair dryer).

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And so this is how her story with horses and cattle begins and I can only hope that one day she looks back on it, no matter where she winds up or who she becomes, and is thankful that it instilled something special in her…

And this is what this week’s column is all about, how our stories start.

Stories that begin  on the backs of horses
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Pops and Me on a horse

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a mom years ago, I have been dreaming of my babies sitting on the backs of horses.

I don’t know why really, except so many of my memories as a kid growing up out here are connected to horses.

And while I keep the long rides bareback through the pastures in the summer in the same pocket I keep my best thoughts, not every memory I’ve made on the back of a horse is a good one.

See, I was raised by a sort of horse whisperer. My dad was breaking horses while he was still in elementary school and his connection and talent for working with the animals prove that there are things some people are simply born to do. He’s never met a horse he doesn’t get along with. And because of that, while he was raising us kids, he spent a lot of his time working with what I like to call “second chance horses.”

Or, to be more blunt, horses that other people couldn’t get along with.

And when he was near the point of trusting a horse as much as you can trust any animal, my summer job was to put some miles on them. Which I did, but let’s be honest, those horses also put some miles on me.

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Because I wasn’t born with Dad’s fearlessness, confidence and horse training instincts.

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So it was on the back of a horse I learned the virtue of remaining calm and patient as well as the hard lessons about suppressing fear to solve a problem. And the countless times I was thrown to the ground for one reason or another taught me nothing if it didn’t teach the power of getting back up again.

Yes, some of my biggest blowouts and arguments with my dad occurred out there in those pastures, tears streaked with the dirt on my face after my foot stomped or my eyes rolled in his direction. I wanted so much to understand these animals the way he understood them, probably as much as he wanted to teach me.

Maah Daah Hey-Something spooking the horses

But from those moments sprung some of the best times in my life, not just with my dad, but with my little sister, my husband and maybe, most importantly, alone. I suppose it makes sense that I want to pass so much of what shaped me along to my children. The same way my dad wanted it for us.

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A few weeks ago I called him up. “I have a line on a pony for Edie,” I said, thinking there was a good possibility he might think I was crazy for it. “Do you need me to go pick it up?” he responded, the spark in his voice cutting me off before I had a chance to take a second breath.

And so that was that. Off we went the next morning, my dad and my daughter and me, to load up a scruffy, adorable little pony named Mascot.

And judging by her obsession with brushing his mane and feeding him treats, I can only hope that this is the beginning of my daughter’s story, one that starts on the back of horses…

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Worry like a mother…

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What it means to worry like a mother
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My mom hasn’t been sleeping well. She says she wakes up in the middle of the night and lies there in the dark and breathes her fears and worries in and out — about her kids and grandkids and the unpredictable and uncontrollable things that happen to us in the circle of community.

My mom is known for worrying. She’s got her mind on the big things, like car crashes on icy roads, resulting in an obsession with weather forecasts and road reports, which she relentlessly relays to her children. She’s already telling me not to drive to Fargo next month, because it will be November and it’s likely to snow.

And she worries about the little things too, like Edie having the right outfit for family photos or Papa playing too wild with the grandkids in the living room pillow fort, interjecting playtime with warnings to “Be careful!! Careful!”

Her worrying used to make me crazy when I was young and invincible and had the sense that the world wouldn’t let me down. I didn’t wish the worry of the world on my mother’s shoulders, I simply didn’t understand what worry was.

Because she carried it for us.

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“I haven’t slept well in three years,” I tell her now, sympathetic to how loud and daunting the dark nights can become when a heart is being stretched by one child snoring face-down on her blankie in her bedroom and the other kicking and rolling and hopefully growing strong and healthy, heart flickering at 140 beats-per-long-and-agonizing-minute in my womb.

These days I can’t close my eyes without thinking of the mothers who have seen their most unreasonable midnight worries come true. No matter how many times we reassure them, “Mom, I’ll be safe.” “It’s just a concert.” “I’ll call you we get home.” The harsh and heart-wrenching reality that’s blaring on computer and television screens is that sometimes, sometimes, the fear that keeps you up at night is the very fear you wake to in the morning.

And that’s what they don’t tell you about becoming a parent when your belly is round and heavy on your body. They don’t tell you about the weight you carry with you long after your children learn to stand on their own two legs, drive their own four wheels or fly with their own set of wings.

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Today, despite my aching back, I want to keep my baby safe in my womb and my daughter close within the familiar embrace of this landscape. I want to shut out the world and stay here, just us, forever, to protect them. And it makes me feel silly and selfish and then it makes me angry that in this big world I keep telling them is so beautiful that such ugly and evil can make me want to keep them from the freedom and perils of growing up healthy and strong in it.

But right now I don’t know what else to do. So I vow to love them fiercely, to model compassion and to try my damndest to raise them to be the good humans.

And worry like a mother.

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Friday Confessions…

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Happy Friday. It’s a beautiful fall day here at the ranch, the leaves have really started to turn, some have even started to fall from the branches, much to my dismay. It’s warmed up enough to awaken the boxelder bugs and hornets, two really annoying bugs that have no purpose in this world. I particularly like it when a hornet flies directly into my hair for no reason and gets stuck there. Waving my arms frantically, screeching and running in circles in my favorite fall activity.

I also like it when I randomly find a boxelder bug climbing up my bare arm. I have to say, the lack of bugs is a really huge perk to the season fully changing into winter. I’m not moving to the Amazon anytime soon.

Anyway,  Edie’s sitting in her chair eating popcorn and watching Bubble Guppies and my back hurts like a bitch so since I’ve decided to parent from my recliner for a second before we load up and head to the rodeo in town, I thought I’d gather some random thoughts to take us all into the weekend.

I promise to be inspirational..

#1. Ok, so my pregnancy app informed me today that I am 30 weeks pregnant, which apparently means the baby that is sitting low enough to send me to the bathroom every five minutes and high enough to give me instant heartburn after eating a cracker is the size of a large cabbage. And if this is the cabbage they’re referring to, then I believe it.

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Seriously, that cabbage, grown by one of our local farmers, is holding a lot of coleslaw waiting to happen there….or sauerkraut, depending on your picnic.

Yeah, I’m feeling like I’m cartin’ around a lot of baby these days. This second pregnancy thing in my mid-thirties is no joke. Especially when you combine it with toting around a 30-pound princess who can walk just fine on her own until she decides she can’t.

Which brings me to

#2. This. Damn. Dress. 

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It’s all she will wear. When we wake her up in the morning for daycare I can trick her into a proper outfit because she’s not fully awake, but as soon as she gets home she runs to her closet saying “dresssss, dressss!” and no other dress will do. Nothing twirls the same. Nothing else will do for dancing.

Or flossing.

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Or hiking.

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Or relaxing.

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Or hauling rocks.

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Or playing the drums.

The only thing that makes her happier is when I’m in a dress too.

And even though I’ve spent plenty on a variety of adorable outfits that I will be wrestling her into each time we go in public, I think it’s so amazing to see how tiny humans develop their preferences so early in their lives. Because it’s not like we’re watching lots of princess shows or getting dressed up for parties very often around here, but this girl knows what makes her feel pretty and powerful, and this hand-me-down-dress just happens to be the thing for now.

I’m hoping she’ll bend a bit on the wardrobe thing soon, but let’s be honest, I wore strictly leotards, tights and leg warmers my entire second year of life, so I deserve this.

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#3. The Pony situation. 

IMG_1753Gramma took Edie to ride a pony last weekend at Applefest while I was singing. I’ve been in the market for a pony for her, since, well, let’s be honest, since before she was born, and it looks like my little wish is going to come true tomorrow thanks to a generous friend. We’re going to pick us up a pony named Mascot tomorrow morning and I’m so excited!!!

#4. October’s coming up and like the true nerd I am, I’ve already got our costumes figured out. But if you’re looking for an idea, I think this is a home run.

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You’re welcome.

#5. Here’s a picture of my sweet niece, baby Ada.

IMG_1709 (there, now I’ve cleansed your pallet). We’re heading in to see her in a bit and I know you’re jealous, of the snuggles and her hair. She’s the tiniest, sweetest, most snuggly baby ever and in so many ways the opposite of her cousin Edie (who wasn’t snuggly or tiny and was bald) but who can’t get enough of her. It’s been so fun watching my little sister figure out this motherhood thing. She’s great at it. Tomorrow the two of us are going to stroll our baby daughters in a 5K “fun” run/walk. I put “fun” in quotes given that I can barely walk, or even waddle these days. It was her idea and I’m going to blame her for every ache and pain I endure as the aftermath of such “fun.”

#6. My garden wasn’t great this year, but I’m blaming the hot weather. This is the last of the harvest, besides the carrots I’ll be digging up for a while. I used it to make Husband’s Garden Tomato Soup and you should too if you get a chance. Here’s the recipe if you need it again. It’s heaven.

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#7. Speaking of recipes, there are a few more in the book. I just placed my third re-order and it seems like they’re going fast. So if you want to stock up on a great Christmas gift for the storytellers/ranch dwellers/prairie lovers/nature appreciators in your life, you can order it here (www.jessieveedermusic.com). I’ll sign it and send it along. Get it before it’s gone again!

Jessie Veeder Book Cover copy

#8. My sweet tooth game is strong. This is different from my last pregnancy. I’m taking guesses on boy or girl. My hunch is a boy, and so was the hunch of the random lady in the post office, who was right about the girl thing last time, so we’ll see.

Wow, it won’t be too long before we see! Time goes fast, except the last two months of pregnancy. These months are lasting seven years.

Anyway, I better go. I wanna grab a scoop of ice cream from the freezer before we head to town.

Thanks for reading. Much love to you all and much hope that you can take a lesson from the beloved Pooh this weekend.

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See, told ya I’d be inspirational.

Peace, Love and Chip ‘n Mint,

Jessie and Edie

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