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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Baby gumball on the town.

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So as promised, here is the result of my last minute Halloween costume crafting debacle.

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I think we pulled it off, even if I had to explain it to a few people, and even if she was mistaken for a little boy wearing a colorful helmet while we were trick-or-treating.

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But I personally see a strong resemblance to the real thing, don’t you?

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It was, as I planned, a fashionable as well as functional costume, given the chilly weather that evening. And she owned that costume, really committed to it by keeping her gumball hat on all night.

She surprised me.

And, in true Edie fashion, she loved the chaos of the evening. We visited grampa at his office, made a stop at a friend’s work, walked with cousin S around to area businesses as part of our town’s Trail of Treats and then hung out at mom’s store so we could see all the cute costumes as they came in for candy, which has become one of my favorite traditions.

There are so many young kids in this town it blows my mind every year. My husband remembers trick-0r-treating on Main Street with about a handful of other kids when he was growing up, now there are hundreds and hundreds of cupcakes and Ninja Turtles, inflatable dinosaurs, princesses, zombies and witches. The girls at mom’s store had to go down the street for more candy multiple times to keep up. It really is incredible to see, especially when you remember a time when we were closing down country schools and worried about enrollment. It wasn’t so long ago.

Anyway, this is how a gumball machine hits the town.

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And this is how she looks on donuts and sugar…

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After we had supper in town, where Edie spent her time staring at the cute server and trying to steal the pens out of her apron,  I had good intentions of stopping by neighbors’ on the way home, but it was over. We were tired.

But it was pretty clear that our definition of fun has completely changed since she came along, and although we were ready for it, I didn’t realize just how great something as simple as spending Halloween with my baby could be.

We got home and watched her wind down and play on the floor a bit, stripped her out of her sparkly pants, washed her up and put her down in her crip to sing herself to sleep as another little milestone, another 1st, was put in the books.

I can’t help thinking, especially after good days like those, that it has all been so worth the wait.

So very worth the wait.

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Maybe it’s the rain

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I’ve been working on a  book this fall, a compilation of some of my favorite photos, columns, blogs, poems and recipes from the past six years I’ve spent documenting what it means to come back home again.

It’s been a fun, nostalgic, enlightening and difficult project to take on during a transitional time for us as a family, a time in which we’ve gone from two to three, from couple to parents, from dreamers to sort of dream-come-truers.

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Because I typically don’t spend much time looking back on what I’ve written,  I have to focus on what to write, thinking about what’s meaningful in the moment and what could be learned, I have had to sort of force myself to sit down in my spare moments and look back. And so I’ve been seeing our lives a little differently lately, thinking about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t, how some things have changed completely and how some things haven’t changed at all and it’s from that place that I wrote last week’s column, that limbo between past and present, a reflection brought on by the rain.

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Rainy horse ride triggers memories of couple’s beginnings
by Jessie Veeder
10-23-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com

It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses’ bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees.

We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.

But that day we resigned to the weather, keeping busy with tasks in a house that was sinking and shrinking with the weight of time.

And then the clouds rolled in, dark and as ominous as the lightning on the horizon, and we found ourselves standing, noses pressed to the screen door, watching the water form new rivers and waterfalls in the corrals.

The buttes in the horse pasture turned from rock to slick mud in a matter of minutes, and soon I found myself running behind my new husband through the mud, past the new barnyard river and scrambling up to the top of those buttes where we stood side by side before launching our bodies down the steep bank of that hill, sliding on the slippery, wet gumbo, just like we used to do as kids.

I’ve told this story before. You may remember it and how it ended in bruises, bloody scrapes and a heap of laughter spilling out into that dark, rainy night. I’m thinking about it now because last weekend I found myself out in the rain again with my husband. We were riding through an unfamiliar pasture looking for a couple stray cows. The day was still, but the sky kept spitting on us, a little mist followed by small, flying drops hitting our cheeks and gathering on our horses’ manes. It was a quiet rain, the kind that seems to clean up the landscape, making the colors richer against the gray sky. And I just kept looking at my husband on the back of his bay horse, his black hat and red scarf moving along the big landscape, and I started thinking about the times in my life where the rain made the moment.

I decided this was one of them.

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And it was perfect timing, I think, following behind him on trails where he broke branches for me or hollered my name from a hilltop. We were doing work, and we were living out a plan, rain or shine.

But that day, I preferred the rain, because I was starting to wonder if it is possible to spend the rest of my life here without losing the magic of this place. A few days before, I received a note from a man telling me that my life seemed romantic in a way that few people know and that I was lucky for it. I sort of felt like a fraud, wondering if I had lead him to a false conclusion. Settling into a new life as a mother and a new partnership as parents, no matter how much we wanted it, hasn’t been an easy and seamless transition. I’ve been struggling with it in ways I hadn’t expected.

I began to wonder if I was the same woman who slid down that gumbo hill with that young man six years ago.

We pushed up the bank of a wooded coulee, and I listened to the rain hitting the leaves and the branches break against the chest of my horse, and I thought about how I was taught to lean forward as a horse takes you through the trees so that you don’t catch one to the face and get pulled off.

It’s a lesson I reach back for when I’m in the thick of it, the same way I reach back for the girl who kissed a boy under that old oak tree in the field promising him forever, no matter the weather.

So maybe it’s the memories we make that keep this place magic.

Or maybe it’s just the rain.

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Memories in October Rain

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Today it’s snowing. Big white, silent flakes falling from the sky and accumulating on the earth and tree branches, coating the grass, which has turned green again in late fall due to all the rain we’ve had.

The last of my garden is sitting in a basket safe from the weather in the garage, tomatoes in various sizes and states of readiness, waiting for me to turn them into salsa, someday soon hopefully.

Our plans for finishing up the rest of the outdoor projects–hauling hay, staining the house,  mowing the lawn one last time–have come to a pause as we wait for it to melt off again.

Sunday it was nearly 80 degrees.

Saturday was in the 30s.

‘Tis the season of extremes in North Dakota.

And ’tis the season of nostalgia for me.

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Coming Home: October rain brings back childhood memories
by Jessie Veeder
10-9-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It rained all day yesterday. Big sheets of water fell from the sky, straight down and then sideways, giant drops making puddles in places puddles rarely exist in the dry autumn months around here.

I’ve always been fascinated with the rain around here, and yesterday, as I stood with Edie pressing our noses to the glass doors on this house, it occurred to me that fascination still holds.

Because water transforms this place. It’s one of the only kinds of real magic I know exists, besides how the heck the hornets keep getting into the house.

In the unpredictable weather we live in up here, I find it comforting to know that we can always count on a season change. But I’ve never seen one like this.

It’s been so wet this fall that overnight big white mushrooms sprouted up like oversized golf balls scattering our lawn, a lawn that had to wait until October to fully turn green.

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We rarely get soaking rain like this so late in the year. This morning I looked out the window and noticed that the trees looked like they were shivering, their leaves shaking on the branches as they work to hold on tight to this season.

Tomorrow it might snow.

These weather shifts always turn me a bit nostalgic.

I drive through my parents’ yard, my tires splashing through the puddles that have been forming in the same places since I was a kid and I remember the time when my little sister—she was about 5 or 6—took her sled out to where the warm sun had melted the snow in the driveway. A big body of water had formed and to her it looked like a perfect place to try to float. So she plopped her sled down on the edge and took a seat.

I can still see her brown curls escaping from her ponytail and her look of surprise and disappointment when her sled-boat sank, freezing cold water flooding over the shallow edges of the plastic sled, soaking her purple snowpants.

Funny how something as simple as a puddle can bring back big memories. I guess that’s what happens when you find yourself all grown up in the place that grew you.

I opened the windows of this house this morning and the smell of damp leaves and the brisk morning air turned me back into a 12-year-old girl on the back of my red mare riding alongside my little sister on her white pony, Jerry.

We’re on our way to the reservation to round up cattle and bring them home to wean. Our noses are cold and we can see our breath, but the sun is shining, the dew making the yellow leaves sparkly and golden.

And we’re paying no attention really. We’re just kids, spitting plum pits at one another and screeching when that pony, like he always did, decided he had enough for the day, gave up and laid down on the trail in an attempt to get rid of that curly-haired cowgirl on his back.

Dozens of autumns have passed since, creating countless memories I could recall, but the scent of the season and the change of the leaves always turn me into that little girl in a red barn jacket, as if that’s the only person I’m supposed to be in this season.

And I can’t help but wonder, as I open up the door so Edie can feel the cool air, what this season might mean to her when she’s a grown woman. I wonder what she’ll remember with the crunch of the leaves beneath her boots and what stories will fall from the sky and gather like big puddles of October rain.

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