Where we float

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

There’s something about having access to a lake like Lake Sakakawea that makes a 16-year-old feel simultaneously invincible and terrified. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Where we float
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Recently, I loaded the girls up in the car for an impromptu trip to the shore of Lake Sakakawea, where my husband was finishing up a carpentry job on a cabin.

Our ranch is only about a half-hour drive to the shores of that big rustic lake surrounded by buttes and ranch country with more shoreline than California. As teenagers, my boyfriend and I would take every chance we could get to load up his dad’s old pickup with the canoe, or, if we were lucky and could get it running, his fishing boat, and head down to her muddy shores.

There’s something about having access to a lake like this that makes a 16-year-old feel simultaneously invincible and terrified. Like kings of the universe, but insignificant enough to understand that there are things in this world that could swallow us whole.

I stood on the edge of that water with our young daughters as we watched that boy I loved then, now a full-grown man, skip rocks halfway across the bay. The sun revealed a glint of white around his temples where his dark hair used to bleach in the sun, the same way our daughters’ hair is turning white under the first rays of summer.

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I felt the cool clay on my bare feet, the same bare feet that I used to prop up on the dash of his gray Thunderbird going way too fast with the windows rolled down, on our way to find a spot where we could fling open the doors of that old car, strip some layers off of our hot skin and run into the water, frantic and young and splashing until that lake did, in fact, swallow us up, just like it promised. But just for a moment, before we had to come up for air.

And the thing about love is that you can fall into it with anyone, anywhere. And maybe I fell in love with him in the halls of that high school when everything else was awkward and uncertain, except the boy who showed up each day to walk me to science class. But the campfires he built and the fish he caught and the cool water and the laughing and the way that he kissed me in that Thunderbird kept me there with him to see what the next summer might bring.

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That was 20 summers ago. Twenty summers that brought us right back here to the muddy banks where it began, watching our babies strip down to undies, splashing, tossing rocks and searching the banks of this massive shore for treasure upon treasure upon treasure, me with our girls and my darling dear husband, enamored, exhausted and smack-dab in the maddening middle part.

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And sometimes it feels like we were never those kids, like it was a million years ago, but in a million more our daughters will be doing the same. And then unlike us, they will likely fall in love again, and again and again until the timing is right or, more likely, completely wrong, and so then they will dive.

And I will watch them and be reminded about the falling part, the frantic, feet flying toward the freezing water, gasping for air, falling part and be glad for the memories…

And then, when I need to, I will tell them about the holding each other up part. Because that part, well, that’s where we float.

Chad and Jessie

 

How to be grateful

Thank you all for the outpouring of support, well wishes, love and prayers as we take  the next step to get this cancer out of me. I talked to the thoractic surgeon at Mayo on Friday and it sounds like they will open me up at my sternum to get the best look at the remaining tumor. The goal is to remove all of it by cutting my tracheal tract and putting it back together.  They will have a big team of doctors there to make sure they can handle any surprises and will be able to tell right away if they were able to get it all. If they can’t, I will be given the time I need to heal up and then we will proceed with radiation. This type of tumor responds well to radiation (and not well to chemo). 

I feel confident in the plan, nervous, and ready to get it behind me. I’m expecting the surgery to be scheduled in June sometime, but we haven’t made those plans yet. 

We have received such an outpouring of love from people far and wide and we feel your prayers and thoughts lifting us up and we are so grateful. 

How to be grateful
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When my girls walk out the door to play outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, as they run toward the playground or up the road to the big rocks, they say, “It’s a beautiful day!” Or, “It’s a perfect day for a walk,” or “It’s a good day to ride our bikes.”

And there are plenty of things that I say and do that I don’t want my kids to repeat (because I am a mother, but I’m far from perfect,) but I beam when I hear them have this sort of gratitude for a sunny day.

Because they’re so young, it gives me a bit of hope that the declaration and recognition of the good and beautiful things that they see and feel might become a sort of instinct that will serve them well when life is less than fair, less than perfect or unexpected in the worst ways.

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Since the removal of the tumor that was blocking my tracheal tract this month, and the unexpected diagnosis that it is “cancerous,” I’ve been thinking about what has notoriously pushed me through the difficult times in the past. And I’ve been thinking about gratitude and how it serves me.

But first, I want to share that I’ve been having a hard time saying that I have cancer because I don’t feel like the amount of suffering I am going to endure here warrants that loaded and scary word. Because I’ve seen cancer take its difficult toll on the people I know and love and I’ve seen sickness ravage their bodies and take the light from their eyes.

I don’t know this for certain, but from what I understand, my life with this diagnosis will be short-lived. And because of that, something in me wants to save that word for the warriors who’ve had to fight harder. And the ones that we lost to it.

I realize now the “it could be worse” mantra is one I go to when I’m staring down a fear or suffering with grief or worry. I would say it during our infertility struggle and pregnancy losses, and I would say it when my dad was sick and dying in the hospital bed. He survived. We all survived it. It could be worse. We are the lucky ones.

To recognize others’ suffering beyond our own, I think, is a useful tool. But then, sometimes, so is walking to the top of a hill and crying out “Why?!” In my life, I’ve done both.

But for now all I can think is that I’m thankful to breathe better and thankful for a diagnosis and for good doctors and a supportive community and that it’s a beautiful day to watch my girls drink from the water hose and tear off their clothes to run naked in the sprinkler.

Thankful that, because the stars aligned just right to keep me safe, I can be here for that.

And I’m thankful that all through my childhood, the people who surrounded me pointed out their blessings as they saw them so that I could see them, too.

Even if it was as simple as melting snow on the hilltops, a ripe tomato from the garden, the back of a good horse, enough Juneberries to make a pie or just the sunshine on our shoulders on a perfect day to ride our bikes.

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The carpet sea of lava

The carpet sea of lava
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I wonder if they’ll remember this, when their dad was a jungle gym and they were so small and wild, hanging off his arms like monkey bars, standing on the tops of his bent legs and leaping off into a carpet sea of lava without fear.

In the movies, they would slow this part down, the part where I sat on the floor of our bedroom in my pajamas, watching my young family roughhouse and play.

In the movie, they would play a suggestive song and hone in on my children’s big, wide-open laughs, pieces of their blond hair loose from pigtails and floating in the sunbeam from the crack in the curtains, his strong hands tossing them safely while they squeal. And my smile, too. You would see it, grateful but apprehensive about the turn our story’s taken.

And anxious to get back to complaining about the constant state of stickiness on our countertops the way people do when things are going along just fine enough that you get to be genuinely annoyed by crumbs and laundry and the light fixture that flickers and muddy little boots tracking in on floors that never stay clean, instead of so damn grateful for it all.

But this isn’t a movie — we can’t slow any of it down. And my soundtrack is the voices in my head going down rabbit holes and back again, panicking and then reassuring myself the way I’ve done when faced with tough news about the delicate health of my family members. I know how to find faith there, to center myself. But I’m not sure how to be the one who needs prayers.

For six months, I’ve been having a hard time getting my breath. Was it a cold I couldn’t shake. Asthma? Stress? Was it the reason for the headaches I couldn’t tame with Advil or a nap?

Last week, I found out why. A tumor blocking 90% of my tracheal and bronchial tract. A slow-moving cancer that has likely been growing in my body and spreading to my airway for years, just waiting to make its presence known when it became life-threatening enough to send us rushing to Rochester, Minn., to meet with the experts at one of the best hospitals in the country.

And so that’s what we did. We wrung our hands and clenched our teeth and took deep breaths and called our family and met with the experts and got a plan. And then my husband and I, we sat for three days in a hotel room waiting for the next step, unable to go anywhere to distract ourselves in a world that is all but entirely shut down.

So he laid down and I laid on his chest and we pretended we were on vacation and it was raining. We ordered in food and watched terrible television and woke up early on Monday morning and headed to Mayo Clinic where I hugged him goodbye, the doctors removed the tumor from my airway and I woke up to deep breaths again. Feeling good. Feeling just fine. Headed home.

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That part is over. The next step is going to be rougher, a surgery that we’ll learn more about in a few days, one that will have me in the hospital and away from my sticky counters and muddy floors for a while.

In my life as a writer, lessons seem to find me where I stand. Yesterday, my little sister wondered out loud why we need to keep being reminded, in these dramatic ways, to be grateful.

Is there something more I need to learn here? I don’t know yet. Do these things happen for a reason? Maybe.

But maybe they just happen and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. And there have been some divine interventions that have taken me out of the path of disaster on this journey so far, so I’m just going to work on the brave part.

I know I can be brave.

And I know I can be angry as well as grateful. Terrified and hopeful. Panicked and at peace. In my life, I’ve been all of those things at once already. I’ve had some good practice. But until now, I didn’t know the fear of not being able to be there for my children.

There’s no other option than the option of being OK, so I’m going to be OK.

Yes, in the movies, they would slow this all down, so maybe I can, a little bit, to be like my children — impervious to the worries of the world, dangling from jungle gym arms, too wild and held by too much love to fear the carpet sea of lava.

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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake with your toddlers

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Baking with your kids in 10 easy steps
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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake
with your toddlers:

Step 1: Make sure the kids are sleeping and you’ve had ample time to pour a glass of wine, forget what it’s like when they are awake, browse Pinterest and become delusional enough to believe that you should attempt baking with two toddlers.

Step 2: Wake up the next morning to a rainy day and ask, “Girls, do you want to make a Rainbow Unicorn Cake today?” They will say yes, but then don’t get to until right before naptime so the kids are nice and cranky and you can spend all morning threatening to take the opportunity away from them if they don’t stop strangling each other.

Step 3: Start gathering the ingredients. This will take between 20 minutes and 50 hours because you will have to take one of them potty, get the other one a Band-Aid, deny them both another snack before giving in and getting them a snack, clean up a puddle of puppy pee and get them to wash their hands without flooding the bathroom.

Step 4: Get them ready to measure, mix and pour. Set each up with a separate job and then watch them argue over which one gets the spatula. Get them both spatulas like you should have in the first place. Watch as they enjoy stirring the whipped cream concoction and for half a second, allow yourself to think, “Maybe one of them will wind up on the Food Network.” Scratch that thought while picking up the one who fell off the stool again. Get another Band-Aid.

Step 5: Get out the food coloring like the mom-idiot you are. Offer to let them pick which color they want. Listen to them fight over pink. Convince one to chose purple and place a few drops in their bowls. Listen to the youngest cry because she wanted to do it herself. Give in and let her do it herself, but make sure you tell her “just a little bit” as if that means anything to anyone. Blink and realize she’s squeezed nearly the entire bottle out into her mix. Realize that by some magic act, your hand is now completely pink, but the 2-year-old came out unscathed.

Step 6: Let them crush the Oreos for the crust. Set them each up with a little plate and measuring cup for mashing. Grab your phone to snap a pic of this photoworthy moment of the youngest putting the third Oreo in her mouth and the oldest licking the frosting out of the middle of every cookie. Tell them they can only eat one cookie as if that means anything. Confiscate the cookie plates and do the crushing yourself.

Step 7: If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely about six hours into what the mom-blogger promised to be a quick and easy baking project. Yell to the kids, who have now abandoned you and disappeared into the recesses of the house where they are being suspiciously quiet, “Hey girls! It’s almost time for the sprinkles, come help me then we can eat it!” Read the rest of the recipe. Realize that you’ve just lied to them, because this cake needs to chill. For four hours. Cuss the blogger under your breath, but not quiet enough that your 4-year-old won’t hear when she appears in the kitchen wearing a face full of pink lipstick. Decide not to ask where her sister is.

Step 8: Wonder if it’s too early for wine.

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Step 9: Squish a pile of pudding underneath your foot on your way to the cupboards to get bowls because you’re the mom and you’ve decided to skip right to the eating phase. Serve them up a plop of a tie-dye concoction that resembles the blog photo only because you bought the same sprinkles. Watch as your offspring, for which you’ve sacrificed your body and your kitchen, take one bite and hate it. Stand alone in a pile of pudding eating both bowls yourself.

Step 10: Declare that you’re never doing that again.

*Tip from the baker: You can use this plan to accomplish many things, including: Take Your Toddlers on a Bike Ride; Make an Elaborate Craft Project; or, my favorite, Take Them All Fishing. In these cases, simply skip to Step 10.

Here’s a link to the actual recipe if you’re insane and want to try it. 

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Mine didn’t turn out remotely like this, in case you were wondering. I hope yours does.

5 things to know about working from home, with kids

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Parents. Of. The. Year.

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, love and marshmallows,

Olaf

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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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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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