If we listen as much as we speak

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Because isn’t this what we try to teach our children?

In these heated times, listen as much as you speak
by Jessie Veeder
2-5-17
Forum Communications

Last weekend we slowed down our typical agenda and spent some much-needed time with our good friends. Because we both live in rural North Dakota, we thought it would be fun to meet in the big town to do some shopping, eat out and take our babies swimming in the hotel pool.

My friend and her husband have a son who turns one soon and in the years prior to the arrival of our long-awaited children, we would spend hours on the phone together discussing doctors appointments, crying over losses and wondering why it was so hard for us and so easy for others.

These days, much to our delight, we talk about car seat choices and sleep schedules and how working from home and taking care of a toddler is the hardest and most wonderful gig we’ve had so far.

When we finally get a chance to get together, we hardly take a breath. Our husbands shake their heads and change the diapers and connect on what it’s like to be working daddies married to emotionally charged women.

So much of what we’re going through at this moment is the same — same demographic, same type of rural existence, same stage in motherhood, same small-business goals — but (and I think I can speak for my friend here) there are still experiences and pieces of our lives that don’t fully translate.

There are personal situations and feelings that we may never truly absorb or comprehend about one another, no matter how much we have in common or how much we adore each other.

And that’s ok.

“Be careful not to assume your experiences are the experiences of others.”

This statement appeared to me somewhere tucked inside the political back and forth that has become our lives in America these days. For some reason it really spoke to me as a line that somehow sums up what I’ve been feeling in a neat little package tucked in my pocket just waiting and ready to be disputed at any given time.

I’m not sure if I’m going to explain it properly here, but since becoming a mother it feels like every nerve I possess is exposed, every emotion so volatile. I see children in a different way now. I see them attached to mothers like me who felt them kick inside their bodies and welcomed them in the early mornings or long dark nights to worry and pain and then wails of relief.

I see those children, no matter the race, religion or distance across the ocean, and I see Edie.

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I see their mothers, by birth or by adoption, by choice or by chance, and I see myself.

And then I wonder if they walk on this earth the way I do, so aware of how each decision made holds their babies so fully in their wake.

But that’s where the shared experience begins and ends. Because I might just be naive enough to think that loving a child the way a good mother loves her child is, in so many ways, universal.

What if I couldn’t give Edie a decent meal? What if the home I planned to raise her in was invaded or destroyed? What if she woke up with a fever or fell and broke her arm and I had to calculate and sacrifice our tight budget to afford a trip to the emergency room?

What if the only chance I thought we might have at surviving this life was to load up my one-year-old on a raft and float across the sea with nothing certain but uncertainty at the shore?

What would I do?

There are mothers in this world making choices like these while I sit in a hotel room drinking wine and playing cards with my best friend, our babies sleeping safe and sound beside us.

It’s not lost on me in these trying times, in a world seemingly teetering on the edge, that our opinions can be thrown around, but dear friends, they won’t go as far as the compassion we might find in stories we hear.

If we listen as much as we speak, we just might be reminded that we are nothing but the lucky ones.

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Hot Dish and Ice Slabs and how to stay warm in the winter

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Coming Home: Hot dish and ice slabs key to staying warm in the winter
by Jessie Veeder
1-22-16
http://www.inforum.com

Northerners. We like to boast that we’re hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head.

We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup.

We like to say this place isn’t for the faint of heart.

I say these things too, but sometimes while using up a good 40 minutes and all of my back muscles shoveling 200 of the 15,000 pounds of snow off our deck, I start making a list of all of the reasons people live closer to the equator.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now having lived up here for the majority of my life, but the truth is these North Dakota winters have always been hard on me.

The inevitable bitter cold and lack of sunshine starts to convince me that I’m doing all the wrong things in the wrong place and that life is harder and sadder and more desperate than it really is, sending me into a bit of a depression I’m always aware of but have never been successful at curing without help from the weather.

It’s a lonely feeling, but I know I’m not alone in it.

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No matter what we like to say to make ourselves sound tough and resilient I think we all struggle a bit with the deep freeze and endless white of this season. This is what I tell the new residents in my community with southern accents, trudging through the grocery store line in brand new muck boots and knit beanies pulled down over their ears wondering out loud how much colder and how much longer.

I’m not sure it’s hopeful or particularly helpful, but I try to stay as honest as the place that raised me. “It’s cold. It sucks. But we’re all in it together,” I say.

Maybe that’s the key to surviving it, but I think it’s something our ancestors might have been better at, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice between human contact and three billion television shows piped into our living rooms where you can watch other people live their lives in warmer places, like Antarctica or the moon.

But nothing warms your body and lifts your spirits better than living, breathing bodies eating, talking and laughing in a house together.

And lately I’ve been noticing more boots in the entryway and more dishes in the sink, a result of the invites, phone calls and drop-bys that have piled up as family and friends work to beat these winter blues by simply finding ways to be in closer proximity.

Because no matter the plot line, it turns out actually living your life is more interesting than watching pretend people live theirs.

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I suppose that’s what I was thinking when I agreed to be in a weekly curling league, a brand new endeavor organized in my hometown to give the community another cold weather weapon.

Curling is a winter sport that’s been explained as golf on ice, so I have no business being there really, considering it’s a combination of descriptors (ice/golf/sports in general) that have been known to torture me in the past.

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My team consists of my husband, little sister and brother-in-law, and between the four of us, we have about a solid 10 days of actual curling experience, eight of which reside with my husband. But it doesn’t matter, because knowing what we’re doing isn’t the point (although my husband suggested I consider working less on visiting and more on technique).

The point, I think, is the very reason a weird sport that sends you slipping and sliding across the ice yelling “sweep” at your teammates was invented in the first place — because they didn’t have Netflix in the icy tundras of medieval Scotland.

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But, just like us, they had plenty of ice and we might as well use it to get some laughs out of this long, cold season.

Because this place may or may not be for the faint of heart, but maybe by spring I can add curling to the list of reasons people chose North Dakota over Texas.

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A chance to warm up

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Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.

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And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.

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(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.

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I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.

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Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.

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Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.

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On the backs of old horses

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Somewhere in time’s own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.
~Stanley Harrison

Life lessons learned on the backs of old horses
by Jessie Veeder
1-15-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

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Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don’t have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen.

Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won’t shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he’s seen it a thousand times.

He won’t be spooked by a pheasant flying out of the brush because he’s too focused on stealing snips of sweet clover while he walks.

He won’t buck because he’s learned it doesn’t pay, and he won’t run off because he knows better and, frankly, he’s too tired for running.

Never been on the back of a horse?

An old horse will make you feel comfortable, anticipating the trail, avoiding the holes, calmly swishing the flies with his tail and generally ignoring the fact that your nerves are making you squeeze your legs too tight around him, your reins are too loose and dragging and you’re leaning a little too far to the left. There’s really nothing stopping him from walking back to the barn if he wanted.

But he won’t.

Because old horses know the right times to get away with bad behavior (tip: always lean forward when he takes you through the trees.)

I learned to ride on the back of an old red mare named Rindy. She was perfect for me in all the ways she was imperfect; her lack of withers and round belly made me pay attention to the cinch, her rough gait made me focus on my seat and her cowiness taught me to be cowy too.

And just when I thought things were going along smoothly, that old mare would throw in a little surprise, teaching me that paying attention is the first rule of horsemanship.

Anyway, Rindy has been gone for years, replaced by an old rodeo horse named Annie before Dad traded one of his colts for an old mule and a speckled trail horse named Stormy a few years before I moved back to the ranch.

Stormy became the grampa out here, deserving of every extra nibble of grain he ever received.

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He was the first horse I put all my nieces and nephews on when their legs were barely long enough to straddle the saddle.

Stormy was responsible for the truest faces of pure joy I’ve seen on any kids and that’s just one of the reasons I will forever be grateful for him.

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But that’s the thing about old horses: just when they’ve become so completely priceless and precious and irreplaceable, we start to notice the creak in their joints and the hair on their muzzle turning gray, a reminder that time doesn’t go easy on even the best things.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Stormy gave his last ride to my oldest niece this summer. We took off after supper just the two of us riding the home pasture, taking it slow, Stormy trailing a couple horse lengths behind me, the way he always has.

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It’s fitting really, because Stormy was the first horse my niece ever rode. I remember what she said before I hoisted her up on his back, her little straw hat with the pink piping sitting proudly on her head. “My tummy feels funny, like there’s flutters in there,” she declared.

Stormy taught her what nervous felt like, holding the power to turn a little girl into the cowgirl she dreamed she could be.

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And he was ready and waiting in the pasture when she was old enough and brave enough to go trotting over the hill alone, a story we revisit together often and one my niece will no doubt carry with her for her lifetime.

Because that’s what old horses give us and in return we carry their spirit in memories, stories, lessons learned and on the back of every horse we’ll ever ride again.

Rest easy, old friend. You were loved.

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Gathering Memories

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Yesterday, after months of combing through the archives, I’ve finally compiled and submitted a collection of what I think tells the story of my relationship to memories, family and place for the book I’ve been working on. I’ve been back at the ranch for almost six years and have been writing about it since day one.

The process of combing through the stories, musings, recipes, poems and photos captured during these years was different than I expected. I felt a little like this deer outside my window, trudging through the pileup trying to reach the open road. Reading through pieces written during the months we first moved back to the ranch and into gramma’s little brown house, I was reminded of just how much this place inspired me and how it gave me the opportunity to see it again with new and grown up eyes. Coming home restarted my music and my writing. It coaxed me to pick up a camera. It made me creative again.

Reading back through the archives reminded me of this. And it made me grateful and happy and lonesome for the little brown house and the young woman with all those plans.

And it also made me a bit crazy. Spending that much time by yourself in a quiet house trying your best to focus, wondering what it is that people might want to hear from you will do that to a woman.


I’ve been working on it for months and I’m sorta sick of myself, but so grateful for the opportunity and sorta proud that I stuck to writing it all down so that I can look back on the winter of 2010 and remember those snow drifts and that young woman who claimed to the top of the biggest hill in sub-zero temperatures just to catch the sunset.

On nights the baby doesn’t sleep or supper is a third helping of leftovers, it’s nice to be reminded that that hill and those snowshoes and that sunset is still out there. And it’s even sweeter knowing that you all want to go along on that walk with me.

That’s been the best part of all, the knowing that you’re out there listening and reading and sharing your stories with me too.

That’s the whole reason I started writing it down in the first place, so that we could share a piece of what we love about our life on the ranch in the middle of nowhere western North Dakota, and that story and your support has gone further than I could have imagined.

And so that’s why I’m doing the book. To give you something to hold in your hands, to page through, to touch and give as gifts and sit on your coffee table as a reminder of the common little memories, moments, fascination and love we share of this beautiful weird wide-open life we’re living

And I don’t know everything about anything, just a little about horses and how to play guitar, but as we grow older we gather things; books and news, fine china and canning jars. 

Broken down pickups with no back seats…

Me? 

I gather memories.

Thank you for reading. 

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When it’s colder than Antarctica…

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Happy Monday night everyone.

I had a weird dream last night that I was on a fancy ship and it was sinking, all the rooms were filling up with water and I was watching it happen like a movie. I woke up after a scene where me and a woman, who spent what I was sure to be our last breaths painting her nails, discovered we were the sole survivors.

I’m not sure what that means, except it stuck with me all day and I think the chaos I experienced in my sleep might be responsible for the chaos that ensued in my house today.

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In other words, Edie discovered the kitchen cabinets. And, even though I was prepared enough to buy those baby-proofing cabinet locks, I didn’t install them yet. And, when I went to do it today, I discovered that the baby-proofing cabinet locks I bought are stupid. And I hate them. And I need different ones. But I live 30 miles from town and apparently we’re in another two-day blizzard warning, so I have to wait for Amazon.com again, the same store that was responsible for my stupid purchase in the first place.  Because nobody’s review said they were stupid.

So basically, nothing’s safe anymore. When I go to get ready for the day, Edie thinks she needs to put on makeup and scatter my bathroom drawers across the floor into the bedroom where she then unloads my entire bottom drawer before moving on to the next one so she can try on all of my bras before heading to the closet for the scarves.

And I could stop her. But then I would never get my teeth brushed, hair combed, face washed, eyebrows plucked, etc.

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So I just let her loose. And if you can picture what our master bedroom and bathroom looks after those ten minutes, well, just apply that scenario to every room in the house.

Oh, I love her. She’s so fun right now.

Fun and exhausting.

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She’s sleeping now after a bedtime performance featuring her singing and waving her arms and swaying back and forth across the living room. There was to be no “night night” until the applause.

So now I have a moment to share this week’s column, which is basically an extension of my last post and my thoughts on the new year and how sometimes I think we don’t give the whole “who we are in the moments we’re in” enough credit.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately–the need to focus on the present instead of all of the plans I think I need to be making.

And I was doing really good at it for the first week of the new year. But you guys, yesterday it was colder here than in frickin’ Antarctica and the North Pole…

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and I had a couple glasses of wine in the evening and my sister was here to instigate and my mom was here to cheer us on and my husband was in the “whatever you want wife” mood and before I knew it I booked him and I a trip to Jamaica.

I feel like it was a bit of a cabin fever, I’m freezing my ass off and it’s our tenth year of marriage and we never had a proper honeymoon impulse purchase, but it’s done and, well, I did say we needed to have more date nights so, well, take that new years resolution!

So that’s where we’ll be at the end of May. And until then you can find me and Edie in this house at the other end of a trail of bras. I’ll be there trying my damnedest to get this book done. I’m almost there friends.

Almost there.

If I could just keep Edie out of the kitchen cabinets.

Peace, love and childproofing,

Sunday Column: A resolution for more sweet things
by Jessie Veeder
1-8-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I’m finding it hard to concentrate this morning.

After another two days of more snow, the sun is finally shining bright through my window and the arctic, frosty air is creating a big rainbow halo over the stock dam.

If I didn’t know better, I would think it might actually be a nice day out there. But I’ve lived here long enough. This is what five below zero looks like.

The baby is at daycare, and it’s the first time in a couple weeks that I’ve been home without her. It’s quiet. I can hear the furnace turn on and off, the background music to the thoughts I should be thinking about the symbol of a new year, a fresh start, another chance to make myself better.

However, I keep getting distracted by the part of the internet that features tropical vacations while last night’s dishes stay piled in the sink and Edie’s toys stay scattered on the ground alongside the crumbs from the crackers she was carrying around, one in each hand, before her noodle supper.

Welcome to 2017.

It looks about exactly like 2016 except colder, messier and, well, there’s more snow.

I’ve always sort of hated the fact that the whole new-year-new-beginnings thing falls smack in the middle of the longest season. I mean, how does anyone expect to swear off carbs and start a treadmill regime in January in North Dakota when we need the extra padding the most? It’s irresponsible.

Talk to me in July about healthy resolutions, and I’ll be the first one to schedule us a hiking trip.

Talk to me about resolutions in January and, well, here are the necessary life changes that are on my mind:

  1. More snuggles
  2. More sleep
  3. More sweaters
  4. More vacations

Oh, and I should probably shovel off my deck before it collapses under the weight of the five foot snowdrift, but that looks like the only mildly productive resolution I’ve accumulated.

Don’t get me wrong, I have career goals brewing, and some fun projects coming down the pipe for 2017, but this year I’m not sure how complicated I want to get in making personal promises to myself.

Because I’ve spent the entire duration of 2016 in the new-to-me universe of motherhood, wondering what it is I should be doing and how my limited time, limited energy and limited money is best spent, a question that seems more pressing now that I’m responsible for a little one, and she grows and changes by the second.

And you know what I just realized? It isn’t caring for this new life that’s been so tiring and challenging. No. That’s been the fun part.

The hard parts have been on me and that nagging voice in my head that I keep nurturing, the one that keeps suggesting that what I’m doing isn’t enough.

Working more or home more? Daycare or no daycare? More play dates? More real dates? Early mornings spent writing? Even earlier mornings on the treadmill?

Nobody tells you that about new motherhood. They don’t tell you that the biggest adjustment is getting to know the new version of yourself after that baby is born.

It’s been over a year and I’m not sure I’m there yet, except I’m determined to stop being so hard on her in 2017.

I’m determined to like her. Because I haven’t written a song or done a lunge in months, but I have pulled a tiny human in a sled to the top of a snowy hill all in the name of a smile, and I think that might be just as important (and more aerobic) these days.

And I simply can’t bring myself to say I’m going to eat fewer caramel rolls in 2017 because the New Year needs more sweet things, not less.

So here’s a thought I’ve never really entertained in a life spent making plans (plans that got us to this very magical and demanding moment of our lives): Maybe what we’re doing right now is exactly what we need to be doing right now.

And maybe it’s perfect timing after all. January is the best month for snuggling.

 

 

The last day of 2016: Just a few things.

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Welcome to the last day of 2016.

Out here it arrived in the form of high winds, blowing snow, icy roads and a no travel advisory, much like Christmas. So we did what I’ve been getting used to doing, we stayed home and did home things, like eating and playing toys, working on my book three minutes at a time, doing laundry and destroying every room in the house before cleaning it up and moving on to the next room.

Here how my daughter helps me put clothes away…

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Husband spends most of his free time in the tractor pushing snow around, which promptly just blows back in its place. On Thursday I planned on busting out of this joint to go to a movie with my niece and sister, but first Husband had to come home from work and clear the way. Seriously. So I found myself staring out the window in my coat watching for the tractor to come down the road like a little kid waiting for Santa. Because I hadn’t been out of the yard since the day after Christmas.

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But it’s been sorta nice. My niece was here for a few day visit so I had 13-year-old company and 13-month-old company and we all get along swimmingly.

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I should have spent some of this time in the black hole between Christmas and New Years to make a plan for the next year, to write it all down nice and neat, set some goals with intentions to see them through, but I didn’t. And I like goals. I like declaring them. It’s the only way I move forward with my work, make any new music or stories and  continue to justify doing what I love for a living. So there are some new career goals that have been brewing.

But this year, this 2017, I’m not sure how complicated I want to get in making personal promises to myself. I’ve spent the entire duration of 2016 in the new-to-me universe of motherhood and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the process it’s that the best thing I can do for myself is to work on being fine with what I’m doing and who I am in the here and now.

I feel like I’ve spent so much of this year wondering what it is I should be doing. Seriously. Most of my conversations have fallen into that category. Should I be working more? Should I be home more? Daycare? No Daycare? More play dates? More time with my friends? I should wake up early to write. I should wake up earlier to get on the treadmill. We need more date nights. Definitely more date nights.

Basically, I spent the year trying to figure out where and how my limited time and limited energy and limited money is best spent, a question that seemed more pressing now that I am responsible for a little one, and she grows and changes by the second.

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And it’s not that I wasn’t confident in my role as a wife and mother, it’s just that I wondered where the rest of me fit into my life now. Nobody tells you that about new motherhood. They don’t tell you that one of the biggest adjustments is finding and getting to know the new version of yourself after that baby is born.

It’s been a year and I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I’m getting closer. Like, I know that nurturing my creative energy and keeping that as the focus of my work continues to be important to me, but now it looks a little more like planning and work to find it (like, “gasp!” scheduling some alone time!)

And I know I’m a happier person when I get to spend actual quality time with my husband and daughter. And by quality time I just mean time spent being a family, feeding cows together, having supper or just playing on the living room rug, so I’m going to try to do more of that. It sounds simple, but between ranch work and work work and house building it hasn’t been. And neither has calling someone sometimes to watch her so the two of us can do some things on our own. I have to do more of that in 2017.

But I think that’s it. I think I’m not going to worry so much about the stuff in between. If I get to the treadmill, great! But I’d rather pull my daughter up the hill in her sled (if the damn  wind quits blowing) and get my huffing and puffing in that way.

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And I don’t want to say I’m going to eat less caramel rolls in 2017 because that’s just asking for disappointment.  And the new year needs more sweet things, not less.

And when I’m feeling a little scattered or lonesome, I’m going to call a friend. Because that’s what friends are for and I need to remember that, for me and for my friends as well.

Cheers to a New Year. Thanks for following along and sticking with this story of ours. And thanks for sharing yours along the way.

Here’s to collecting memories and making new ones. If you need us we’ll be out sledding with the neighbors.

Peace, champaign toasts and sippy cups,

Jessie

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Time, memories and the magic of Christmas

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Well, it was a Christmas to remember for so many reasons.

The first was waking up on Christmas Day to a baby who decided that she’s ready to full-fledge walk.

And so we spent the weekend watching her wobble and bobble and dance and clap and experience her world on two feet.

Tomorrow she’ll be running.

Next week she’ll tell me she’s training for a marathon.

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And in between all of the present wrapping and unwrapping, eating, drinking and being merry, an epic winter blizzard of North Dakota proportions raged outside our doors, making us grateful to be together warm and cozy inside…

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only to send the boys out the spend the entire next day behind tractors and skid steers and shovels trying to open the roads and feed the cows and whittle away at the ten foot drifts that had piled against our houses, doors and pathways.

And then there was a Christmas ditch situation and a memorable the-baby-ate-too-many-blueberries-and-other-Christmas-treats bedtime projectile vomit episode that will go down in infamy.

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And now that the company has gone and the wind has died down and the sun is out, making the chest-deep snowdrift on my deck sparkle and shine, I have a moment while the baby snacks on Cheerios (and blueberries…what’s wrong with me?) to share last week’s column about the magic of Christmas, which, I’ve decided, lies in the simple and crazy precious memories we create without even realizing it.

Even when nothing goes as planned.

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Christmas reminds us of the magic of time
12-25-16
Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was too old to believe in Santa Clause when reality finally started tugging at my sleeves.

I tried to shoo the truth away as long as I could, not so eager to grow up and exist in a world surrounded by it because the truth never seemed quite as thrilling as the dreamed up.

I suppose I’ve always been one to hang on to the coattails of magic as long as it lets me, as long as it doesn’t grow too wild and reckless, sending me spinning and whipping off its haunches.

I think that’s what keeps me telling and retelling the best parts then, the ones from a childhood spent believing that maybe my horse could understand the words I spoke, my “secret spot” 12 feet off the road was actually secret and Santa Clause would exist as long as I found a way to never grow up.

I never wanted to grow up.

Of all of the memories I’ve collected as a kid in these hills, I remember that most clearly.

I was sensitive enough to the trials of adulthood to know that children had it best. I knew because I was listening from the other side of my closed bedroom door — hushed conversations in the kitchen while we were supposed to be sleeping, the stories of lost love coming from dad’s record player, the hugs from strangers at my grandparents’ funerals.

I knew what time did to people, and I wondered how I might make it miss me.

My grandpa died when I was six years old. His death brought our family back to the ranch for good, and it gave me another five years or so living down the road from my grandmother.

Actually, it gave us all that time with her, but I don’t own my family’s memories. I only have mine.

And I remember one summer evening lying in the patch of sun that lit up the carpet through the open window in my grandmother’s living room.

The TV was on, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as watching the way the dust caught the stream of light, turning it from invisible to visible.

My grandma had fallen asleep in her easy chair with a newspaper on her lap, her head tilted back, sort of snoring. She had a habit of holding a toothpick in the corner of her mouth, and I noticed as she took those deep, noisy breaths that her toothpick was still there, in danger, I was certain, of being sucked down her throat as she slept, unaware.

That’s the kind of kid I was, so comfortable and in love with the familiarity of my good and safe life, and a little too aware of its volatility, a little worried I was too lucky.

I sat up, eyes fixated on that toothpick, watching my grandmother’s lips purse and pop with each breath in and out, suddenly becoming distinctly aware of time.

I didn’t want to live in a world without her.

And I didn’t want to live in a world where time made me think it too cold for sledding or allowed me to walk by a swimming pool or a lake or the perfect puddle and not want to, (have to) jump in.

And so Christmas has come again, and the new year is right behind, bringing with it the recognition of time passed, new promises and reminders to miss the people who’ve left us here to admire the twinkling lights without them.

Now that I’ve succumbed to adulthood, I wish I could remember what it was like to truly believe in such an impossible thing like Santa Clause. My six-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.

But if I could, I would tell her a secret I’ve learned in the growing up we were so afraid of: I would say she was doing the right thing in holding on tight to her gratitude. Then I would tell her not to worry so much about time, because time gives us memories, memories we get to go back to whenever we want, but also, memories just waiting to be made.

And that, child, is the most magic you’ll find in this life.

Hold on tight to its tails.

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Our responsibility. Their Future.

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This week’s column was written in the chaos before the election, before the results. It was written in the dark quiet of my living room after I put the baby down for the night. While my husband was serving the chili he made at his monthly volunteer fireman meeting.
It was written after months of agonizing over the choices we were facing in the race for the leader of our country, on the eve of election day with the weight of what our decisions mean for our children sitting heavy on my heart.
In my last post, on Veteran’s Day, I asked for you to share your stories of kindness, given or received or witnessed. Please continue to share your accounts of good in the world, as we all need to be reminded that we have one another’s backs…
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by Jessie Veeder
11-13-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib.

Because I don’t know what babies dream about, but I do know it’s not the state of our nation.

She will not lose sleep over the big decisions and important matters we are faced with as members of our free country.

No.

She is too small.

She is too innocent.

And so it’s my job to worry for her. To make these decisions for her.

To speak for her future as I head to the polls.

By the time you read this, we will have elected the next president of the United States.

By the time you read this, that civic duty will be done.

But tonight, as I write this, the big decision is hanging in the air, looming in sound bites and accusations, scary threats and big promises and words assembled just right and I know for certain I will not sleep the way my baby sleeps tonight.

In the years I’ve spent writing this column, I have not mentioned many words about my politics. I promise you friends, I’m not going to start with it tonight as I sit in my easy chair in the middle of my life full of big plans.

In the middle of my country making big decisions.

No, I haven’t spoken much about politics, but I have spoken about kindness. I have mused at length about community and finding comfort there. I have talked about the importance of sharing our stories and how those stories connect us, turning strangers into friends or, at the very least, into people we have come to better understand.

Because we do not and we cannot and we should not all have shared experiences, opinions or beliefs. We shouldn’t expect it, no matter how it ruffles our feathers or makes us nervous or takes us away from our comfort zones.

It might be one of the most difficult tasks for a human (believe me, I know), but the acceptance, recognition and curiosity about all of our differences can be what make a full and well-rounded life. It’s what fuels our suppertime discussions, keeps us educated and, above all, gives us the chance to cultivate our compassion for people in situations we will never understand unless we try.

I’m writing this tonight as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else.

Because that baby sleeping in her crib down the hall? I don’t know who she will grow up to become. That’s the thing about children—their story is as much written as it is unwritten. They are as strong-willed as they are vulnerable.

And as much as I want to protect her from any harm or ill will or hurt feelings, more than anything I want her to grow up to find herself in a country, in a community (because we are a community aren’t we?) that accepts her and respects her for her accomplishments and potential as well as her differences and struggles.

And tonight I just can’t shake this sense of urgency in doing my best for her and all of those sleeping babies who are going to grow up and into our decisions.

And maybe that’s my politics.

Or maybe that’s my religion.

Or maybe that’s just my hope for our future.

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Home-Construction Role Models

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I spent the weekend across the state singing, doing my best to pay tribute to the great Johnny Cash at a concert on Saturday and then playing music in one of my favorite bars with some of my favorite musicians that evening.

It was the first time I’ve been away for the weekend without the baby and/or my husband. Usually the babe gets to come along and we leave Husband in the dust to work on the house or the ranch for the weekend. Poor guy, he never gets to have any fun.

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But this weekend I left them both home. My mother-in-law came over to hang out with Edie while my husband and his dad worked on trying to finish up the basement.

This is our life. It has been for years, trying to fit in home construction on the little 48-hour space that we call the weekend. I spent the previous weekend going as far up the ladder as my comfort zone would allow to put stain on the house and kicking the five-years-ago versions of ourselves for thinking it would be a good idea to build a 30 foot house with cedar siding that needs to be re-stained every few years.

That was dumb. Especially when half of us hate heights and the other half has no fear and leans out too far once he’s at the top of 30 foot ladders.

So, to survive, I’ve learned there are things I just can’t watch.

And so here’s this week’s column, written after a weekend spent outside on ladders and in town at the hardware store and in bed late at night realizing that my life will forever be in a constant state of construction.

So if you want good advice, don’t ask us. We had every idea of what we were getting into, and we did it anyway.

Coming Home: The height of a ladder gives couple perspective
by Jessie Veeder
11-6-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

“When you get married, marry someone with money,” he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. “Or just be rich yourself. That would be better.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” he said. “Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich.”

This is the advice we give when you bring your children to our home. I’m not proud of it, but it came to us after a weekend spent trying to make progress on this not-ever-going-to-be-finished house we decided to construct ourselves almost four years ago. And, because we’re hosting a Thanksgiving/first birthday party here in less than a month, we need to get that basement finished, you know, the one that was supposed to be done a year before the 1-year-old was born.

So my husband spent the weekend standing on a ladder mudding the sheetrock on the walls, my niece worked to save the baby from climbing the staircase and eating box elder bugs while I spent my weekend outside on a much taller ladder trying to put stain on the house before winter and cursing the idiots who decided to side a 30-foot house with cedar that needs to be refinished every three years.

Because I hate ladders. And heights. And my husband hates projects like this, but he also hates hiring anyone to do a job we can do ourselves, especially when we’d like to have money in that bank at the end of it all. Because I figure by the time Edie’s 18, her college tuition will likely be approximately a million dollars a year, so we better start cutting back where we can.

Ramen noodles for everyone!

“In my next life, I’m not going to be a ‘DYIer.’ I’m going to be a ‘Hire Someone Elser,’ ” he said while he stood at the top of that ladder trying to reach heights I was unwilling to attempt, maneuvering a stain sprayer while his wife suffered anxiety-induced heart palpitations looking up at him with a white-knuckle death grip on his ladder, wanting desperately to believe that the tightness of my grip was directly related to the likelihood of him falling to his death.

“I should have married you in your next life!” I hollered up to him. “Now careful! Seriously, don’t lean so far over like that, my gawd, I can’t watch this!”

And so, given the weekend’s events, you can see where we were coming from with the money advice. Because while it’s not often people like to admit that money buys happiness, I can tell you with complete certainty that I would have been a lot happier watching a paid professional work a spray gun 30 feet in the air. And I know I would have been happier with the finished product.

Because at least it would be finished.

But it’s not. Nope. We ran out of house stain, daylight and weekend, and if you come over for the party, you’ll likely come in to a half-stained house and an almost-finished-basement, which may or may not have carpet because we did what we could and called it all good enough.

But we’ll have so many people crammed into this little house you won’t be able to see the floor anyway, so in the big picture, I guess it’s a blip.

Like my niece said as she walked the aisles of Menards with me in search of more Sheetrock mud, “What would this family do together if we didn’t do work together?”

“Go fishing.” That was the first answer that came to my mind. But how much real marital bonding can you accomplish on a beautiful lake? Certainly not as much as you get when you’re praying for his life as he extends beyond his comfortable reach 30 feet from the hard, cold ground.

It sure makes you love each other more when you’re back on solid earth, realizing you’re both alive to see another day.

So, yeah, if you want to spend your weekends catching walleye in the summer sun, make sure one of you has some money. But if you want death-defying, love-igniting, budget-friendly adventure, well then, we’re your role models.

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