5 things to know about working from home, with kids

IMG_3958Working from home
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Let me set the scene: It’s the third day of social distancing. Both my husband and I are working from home.

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

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

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

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

Yes. Parents. Of. The. Year.

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, love and marshmallows,

Olaf

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Greetings from isolation

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy and stay safe and healthy out there.

Sending love and a picture of Millie in a sweater.

The Small Town Big Talk Show with Rebecca Undem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one’s sleeping

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My oldest daughter hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re here.

We’ve got you.

Rest easy tonight.

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

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

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Honoring a Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lynn Linseth. Special to The Forum
Lynn Linseth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wonder of Parenting

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

A boy or a girl, you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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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A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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