The sun sets on the end of July.
The sun sets on the end of July.
Here’s a quick update from the ranch while the baby is sleeping.
Here she is chilling’ with her post bath mohawk, drinking from her sippy cup and eating puffs. She only really likes to feed herself. Unless she sees me attempting to eat a plate full of food, then she wants what I’m having, and spoon-feeding is allowed.
I don’t think they’ll ever make a stroller meant for the trails I roll the poor girl across. A few trip sup the prairie road to the fields and back and the thing’s sort of worse for the wear. But all that bouncing can be worth something…
and also the reason I almost always put the baby in the pack.
Peace, Love and Huggies,
Jessie and her sidekick
Coming Home: Building good days a gift in this unpredictable life
by Jessie Veeder
Out here on the ranch, for some reason, I like to define them.
And there are about a million criteria for the qualifications of both, which, I guess, is a good thing and a bad thing, respectively.
But it could have been worse.
It could always be worse.
Funny, we say that a lot around here.
Get bucked off your horse and land in a cactus patch? Well, at least it wasn’t your head smashed on that big rock over there.
Couldn’t get the swather running after six hours of tinkering in the field under the hot sun? Well, at least you didn’t have to be in a conference room meeting all day.
Get your four-wheeler stuck up to its belly in the creek again because you tend to think you’re magic when you’re on that thing (Dad)? Perfect. Now I have some material.
When I think about it now, maybe that’s why I found my way back here. Because of the optimism that was somehow always generated even after the day had gone completely haywire. It’s a trait that could only occur in people who truly love what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t be drawn back to that?
Through the years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity for bad days, for long walks home after the pickup quit, for lessons learned about polyester shirts and welding torches, for doctoring a herd of cattle with pinkeye well after the sun went down, saying to one another, “Well, at least the nail you stepped on didn’t go all the way through your big toe,” or “Would have been so much harder without all your help.”
But now that I think about it, it’s sort of telling that we continue to say, “Well, it could be worse,” and skip over the entire concept that in times of tractor breakdowns, man-chasing momma cows and an incident with an exploding motor that almost started the entire barnyard on fire, it could always be better, too.
But just yesterday as I strapped the baby to my chest and took off hiking across the home pasture with my niece chatting happily beside me on a quest to fill my cap with enough wild raspberries to make some sort of dessert, I couldn’t help but label that moment “one that could not be better.”
Even with the flies and the thorns.
We woke up that Sunday morning to a smiling baby and a hankering for blueberry muffins. So we made them. Because, what luck! Blueberries were on sale and I had some in the fridge. So we cooked them up, along with eggs and bacon, and had ourselves a regular, fancy brunch.
And that evening, after stripping the baby down and watching her play and splash in the baby pool on the deck while the sun shone gold on the hilltops outside, after feeding her bananas as she sat in her robe and tiny socks, we tucked her sleepily into bed and ate a supper of grilled brats and beans together around the table outside. My husband put his feet up after a day of fixing equipment, and my niece and I saddled up the two lazy horses in the barnyard and took off together, walking slowly across those hills dotted with wildflowers and berries and we just kept saying, “Well, it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”
It just couldn’t be better.
And while I know there are plenty of ways to define the bad days, the days that are out of your control, I couldn’t help but think in that moment how wonderful it is to know that you can build your own good ones.
How to make wild raspberry dessert
Wake up in the morning to a happy husband, a well-rested niece and a smiling baby. Snuggle the baby. Play and roll around with her on the floor. Put her in her high chair so she can feed herself blueberry puffs. Hear your husband say, “Man, it would be nice to have a blueberry muffin right now.” Remember you have blueberries in the fridge.
Locate a blueberry muffin recipe with the help of your niece. Preheat the oven and read the directions while your niece mixes up the ingredients. Think that maybe bacon and eggs would go good with fresh blueberry muffins. Because you always have bacon in the house.
Proceed with the bacon cooking while blueberry muffins bake.
Crack and fry some perfectly over easy eggs. Find a double yolker. Declare it good luck.
Pour some orange juice, put the baby in her high chair, make a plate and gather around the table. Declare that Martha Stewart has nothing on you.
Hear Pops say something about all the raspberries out in the pasture. Decide that they can’t all go to the birds.
Put the dishes in the sink pull on your jeans and boots. Strap the baby to your chest, douse skin in bug spray and sunscreen and head out the door with your niece and the dogs. Declare it a beautiful morning. Declare that it’s sort of hot though.
Peel your eyes for raspberries. Locate raspberries in the thorny brush below where the juneberries, bullberries and chokecherries grow. Watch the dogs disappear in and out of the brush patches chasing phantom rabbits and birds and taking a break from the heat. Find it funny.
(Chicken dinner for you if you can spot Dolly down there…)
Send the niece in to the deep brush to get the fat berries.
Check your back pocket for the baggie you brought along. Realize you dropped it somewhere. Take off your hat. Decide that will do.
Pick a berry. Eat a berry. Put a berry in the hat. Swat a fly. Pull a thorn. Pick a berry. Eat a Berry. Put a berry in the hat.
Repeat Step 9 like a hundred or so times.
Check to make sure the baby strapped to your chest isn’t eating the berries too. Pick up the toy she dropped in the thick brush for the third time.
Wipe the sweat. Pick a thorn out of the niece’s hand. Eat a berry. Check your stash. Wonder if that’s enough to make anything. Declare it officially hot out now. Eat a berry. Climb the hill to the teepee rings to catch some breeze.
Realize the baby dropped the toy again and now it’s out in the wild pasture to be found 100 years from now, along with all Pops’ missing gloves and tools.
Head back to the house, noticing the beautiful wildflowers along the way.
Strip off your clothes and check for ticks. Strip off the baby’s clothes and check for ticks. Put her on the floor to play.
Rinse the berries.
Eat a few more
Look up some recipes online for raspberry dessert, trying for the perfect concoction that doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the raspberry.
Eat a couple more raspberries.
Deny every suggested recipe found…
Decide that there is no dessert you can make that tastes as good as a wild raspberry itself.
Eat more raspberries
Have lunch. Put the baby down for a nap. Putz around the house. Wait for Husband to get home..
Give the baby a bath. Put her in her robe. Decide she looks like an adorable old man. Feed her something yummy. Rock her to sleep.
Grill brats. Eat on the deck.
Leave the dishes for the husband.
Declare it a beautiful night.
Listen to your niece tell you stories and wonder where the time went and when she grew up so quickly.
Head back to the barn. Let the horses out. Walk to the house. Strip down. Check for ticks.
Eat some raspberries.
Declare it a good day.
Sleep tight. Good night.
Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.
Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.
Juneberries make the best pies in the world.
Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.
Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.
Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.
I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.
And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…
Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.
I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.
Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.
So that was a loss.
Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.
Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.
I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.
When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.
But we were both wrong.
At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.
It was crawling toward my butt crack.
Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…
Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…
I’m having gardener’s remorse.
Up until now I didn’t know that was a thing, but it’s a thing.
My big fat mouth got me in trouble last year when I went around waving my giant carrots and perfect, beautiful green beans around like I was Queen of the Prairie and I opened up a can of worms that’s too full now to close.
Yup, you probably remember it from last year. I dared say “My garden’s better than your garden” to Pops and now he’s throwing down the gauntlet.
And it’s not looking good for me.
In fact, at this point, I think I’ll be lucky to get a radish, seeing how, after ten trips to the garden (and ten back inside to soothe a fussy baby) I finally got the thing in a few weeks ago and now, no matter how I squint, I am pretty certain my peas are not coming up.
And neither is the spinach.
But even if they did decide to make an appearance, it would have only been to face the magic cow who somehow got by the dogs and the fence to take a little stroll through the beans and a stomp on the cucumbers, the only vegetation in the entire plot that showed promise, besides the thistle.
Meanwhile, down the road, Pops, who’s typically a pretty laid back horticulturalist, went to a special store and bought sheep poop for crying out loud!
I saw it in bags on his driveway in April and I knew shit was about to get real, in more ways than one you know…
And, before he had to endure last year’s episode of coming over to ask for tomatoes because his had contracted some unsightly spots, Pops would have shared this useful little gardening tip with me.
But not now. Nope. Because I guess I was a little too cocky about my endless supply of cucumbers and those spotless tomatoes, and, well, he’s just not having it.
Not this year.
This year he bought sheep poop.
And I’m not positive, but I think he let that cow in my yard…
Coming Home: Reaping what I sowed with garden boasting
by Jessie Veeder
Lord, it’s good to be humble.
It’s a lesson I’ve implemented in my daily life since discovering, at a young age, just as soon as I think things are moving along swimmingly is about the exact time I fall on my face.
Unless it comes to mini golf. Or bowling. Or board games … you know, all the things that matter most in life.
Yeah, give me a tiny golf club and I’ll ride it around the mini-golf course, galloping and whooping at my (lucky) hole-in-one. My team guesses my spot-on impression of Cher during a heated game of charades, and I am queen of the living room.
Get a strike in bowling, and the entire alley gets to witness my shopping cart/running man/stir-the-butter victory moves.
It’s obnoxious. People stare. And unless they’re on my team in charades, it makes my family roll their eyes.
But I’m afraid I’ve stepped out of my boasting comfort zone, taking that happy dance from the safety of the bowling alley and into a place where I might require a little more skill and a little less booze.
A place where talent and knowledge has been honed and passed on through the centuries by the masters of the craft.
A place that has been feeding men, women, children and the wily bunny for ages — the family garden.
I blame it on last summer’s pregnancy hormones. I think they made me overconfident in my ability to successfully grow things, and maybe those hormones had something to do with the big fat tomatoes, the giant carrots and the never-ending supply of beans that appeared in full force despite the fact that I didn’t get a thing planted until late June.
Or maybe it was the magic in the soil my husband dug from in front of the old barn where cows have been pooping for a million years, but oh Lord, did I have a great garden.
And Lord, did I ever brag about it.
Check the newspaper archives for August 2015. You’ll see the evidence.
And when Dad, the man who has been growing things since he was still growing himself, decided not to plant beans or peas because of the wily deer who sneaks in the fence for a snack every night and then found that his tomato plants turned up with spots, when he humphed about his garden looking a little shabby, well, I took it as an invitation to make sure my biggest carrots and most perfect tomatoes were on the table when he came over.
And then I sent him home with a plastic bag full of peas and an “I’m sure sorry about your garden” comment through the smirk on my face.
But now I’m in trouble.
Because apparently an arrogant horticulturalist doesn’t sit well with him, especially when he taught that arrogant horticulturalist everything she knows about planting carrot seeds and on her first attempt she’s somehow outdone him.
The man has found the whole thing entirely annoying, and now I’m afraid he’s stepping up his game in retaliation.
I sensed this might happen. There have been comments. Snide remarks. Sideways looks.
But it became pretty evident when I went over to his place earlier this spring to find 10 big bags of sheep manure waiting to be spread on that garden plot of his, a sign that he’s determined to put actual effort into a task that typically comes naturally to him and his green thumb.
And now I have a competition on my hands with the guy whom I rely on to water my garden when we’re out of town.
A competition that I’m currently losing because, with a baby in tow, it took me a good 10 attempts to get my garden in last week.
Dad? Well, his has been in since Memorial Day, just like the books tell you.
He’s in the zone, and I’m obsessively checking to see if the radishes have at least come up.
I think I better spend more time watering and less time on my victory dance.
Because, Lord, it’s good to be humble.
But, Dad, the growing season’s still young …
A photographer came to visit the ranch and I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t pretty people. We spent the day before working an art event in town that I had been planning for months and didn’t get home until after eleven. It was the last event in a week with a full schedule. I was tired. I had to gather the troops. I sorta forgot to take a shower and fix my hair. I didn’t make even a remotely healthy lunch for my niece and I (because when you’re tired you much prefer Doritos to salad). I didn’t put pants on the baby. I didn’t get the horses in ahead of time to prepare them and de-bur them so that they were photo ready. And I didn’t mention in the newspaper column below the part where the baby stuck her finger up my horses’s snotty nose, which was bleeding a bit because of a fresh little cut.
That was horrifying. And there was a man from Minneapolis with a big camera to witness my disgust.
So this is my confession published in newspapers across the state, in case you might get the wrong idea when you see the photos and article in the magazine that we have our shit together out here.
Because we don’t.
But I think you all knew that already…
Coming Home: Glossy pages don’t reflect our not-so-glamourous life
by Jessie Veeder
This morning a big yellow screwdriver sits next to a half-eaten pan of cinnamon rolls (the kind out of the freezer section, not out of my KitchenAid mixer) and that sits next to a couple baby books about farm life that feature a perfect red barn against green rolling hills dotted with smiling black and white cows.
Like, why don’t the horses in the books have cockleburs in their manes? Aren’t horses born with them?
And momma, why don’t you wear an apron like the mommas in the books? And where is that fresh-baked pie that’s supposed to be sitting on the windowsill to cool?
Yes, follow us around for a day and you would see that clearly the authors of these children’s farm books didn’t base them off of our life.
And while Edie’s not old enough to start asking questions (sigh of relief) I did have a reporter call me a few weeks ago with some questions of her own. Like, what’s life like on the family ranch for two people who got to move back to it? What does a typical day look like?
I couldn’t think of an interesting or straightforward way to answer that. When she called my husband just got home from work and he was rocking the baby, trying to keep her happy so I could have an uninterrupted conversation. When that was over, he was going to go to his next job of taking care of this place. And when he returned we would have leftover lasagna for the third night in a row because I got distracted by a writing deadline when I should have been doing laundry because I’m out of clean underwear, for crying out loud.
And so they sent out a photographer to see for himself. A photographer who likely had a hope of capturing what I’m sure he envisioned as some picturesque scenes of a family of three working side by side and meeting up for a picnic meal with the grandparents who live down the road.
But this was an agricultural magazine so I hope they knew better. And while I was raised in an environment where both my parents worked, ran a ranching operation and managed to keep three kids alive, I’m learning what that really means as an adult. And I’m not sure we’re exactly killing it.
I mean, when a photographer shows up, completely announced and expected, a balanced and together woman would have had pants on the baby. Or combed her hair.
Or at least cleared the evidence of her recent Dorito and Oreo lunch from the counter.
And when the request for a photo of my husband and I riding side by side through a herd of calm cattle sent me down to the barnyard attempting to lure uninterested horses in with a bucket of grain before resorting to leading one with the shirt I was planning on wearing tied around his neck so that I could spend the next half hour before my husband arrived home currying the tangle of burs out of their manes and tails so I wouldn’t embarrass the long line of Veeders who once called this place home, I began to question if we were really worthy of the press.
But at least he got authentic. Authentic sweat. And authentic cussing as my husband and I attempted the impossible task of moving a herd of cattle toward a man with a camera standing in an open pasture.
Needless to say, none of it was picture perfect.
Because around here burs stick to horses while they fill up on green grass that makes them fat and sassy on the hilltop behind the barn that needs painting. And inside, where the books might write in the apple pie, we have a screwdriver instead. Or a calf tagger. Or a hammer.
And it might not be glamorous, and it might not be easy, but that’s why they make frozen cinnamon rolls.
Here’s Edie, doing what we do in the morning.
Rolling and flipping and grabbing and smiling and screaming at her toys because they aren’t doing what she wants them to do and I have no idea what that might be but it sure pisses her off.
But mostly she’s plain happy, as long as there’s action.
So when she’s done rolling and flipping and screeching I put her on her horse.
And as you can see she likes it.
So you can imagine her delight when we put her on a real horse yesterday.
We had a branding at the neighbor’s and Pops brought the horse around before he rode it back home.
I wish we had a video camera to record what she moved like when we put her close to the nose of that bay and then up on his back. It was one of my favorite moments with her.
All of the sudden I had this flash-forward moment to all of the things I dreamed about doing with our daughter out here on this place someday. I saw her up there so tiny and excited, reaching for the horn of the saddle and squealing and then reaching further to grab the black mane and I saw her at five years old, blond hair and curls, riding a pony while I lead her around the pen in front of the barn. And then I saw her at ten years old, on a big horse, following behind us across the pasture in the warm glow of a sinking summer sun, her face flushed and dirty, her hair windswept.
And then she’s sixteen and I’m holding my breath, her ponytail flying and bouncing under her straw hat as she rounds the last barrel at a rodeo and I let out a sigh of relief…
Maybe it was watching the neighbor girls that I used to babysit all grown up and beautiful, helping to ride and wrestle calves, or maybe it was the light of the evening casting long shadows and reflecting off the dust in the air, making everything soft and dreamlike, but I was nostalgic for a future with this tiny little human who could just as easily grow up to prefer video games to horses.
But for now she seems delighted by it all, by the big outdoors and the blue sky and the grass and especially the animals.
She has a physical elated reaction to them. She sucks in air and reaches out her hands and grabs their fur. When we go to feed the calf she has a mini hyperventilation spell. When she’s crying for no apparent reason all I have to do is open the door and walk out on the deck and a smile spreads across her face.
She leans down from my arms and tries to get closer to the dogs.
She reaches out for the kitty’s fur.
The wild world is hers…
Yes, this is Edie. Our daughter. Our baby discovering that the fun is just beginning.
It’s raining, the grass is getting greener and the calves are being born. I love this time of year where things are fresh and new and there’s nothing ahead of us but the promise of warmer weather (after a couple spring snow storms that leave us holding our breath of course).
The bottle calf in the barn has made me a little nostalgic and I’m having a flashback of a bottle calf my little sister and I took care of back when I was the boss and she didn’t care…
Coming Home: Everything is better with some cows around
by Jessie Veeder
Calving season is in full force here at the ranch, and this year it’s extra special for my husband and I because part of the new herd we’re building is our own.
And by better, by no stretch of the word does he mean easier. If I learned anything in my life it’s that better doesn’t always mean easier. (I’ve found this to be true in ranching and in motherhood.)
Last week, one of our best new cows gave birth to twins. I was in Bismarck with Mom and Edie at a singing job when I got a text with a photo from Dad telling me the news. My little sister, my mom and my husband all got the same message and I smiled at the realization that we’re living in an age where my dad sends group texts to his family about cows.
This morning one of those twin babies is waiting for me in the barn because, as it goes sometimes with animals, the cow didn’t recognize the second twin as hers.
So I’m her momma now, a job I happily volunteered for because feeding babies is something I know how to do, and it’s not just due to my new role as a mom.
I have pretty vivid memories of all of the bottle calves we had when I was a kid growing up out here. One in particular left a big mark on my sister and I, mainly for the role that little calf played in our epic, sisterly fights.
I was 12 and so I pretty much knew everything, and my little sister was 7 and not as eager as she should have been at being bossed by me.
The calf, lovingly named Pooper, became our responsibility and part of our daily chores, which we eagerly took on in the beginning. Because, in the beginning, calves are adorable and have yet to grow into a 150-pound puppy on legs who has figured out two little girls are his only food source, and coincidentally has also figured out how to escape his pen in order to chase them down the road after the empty bottle, tongue out, bellering, head down in feeding position in case he caught up to one.
And he always caught up to one; it just was never this one. Because I employed the age-old advice: Want to survive a bear attack? Just be faster than the guy you brought with you.
Turns out my little sister never forgave me for it. Last weekend I took her down to the barn to have a look at the new baby, and she started getting the cold sweats. Instead of seeing an innocent newborn creature, Alex was having flashbacks of snowpants full of slobber, swift head butts to her rear and unanswered cries for help directed at a big sister sprinting to the house half a mile away, leaving her to suffer a terrifying death by the tongue of a baby calf.
Apparently, the times we spent together feeding Pooper were the first times she heard me cuss like a sailor, knocking me off my very low pedestal. I know because she brings it up at family dinners, holidays and probably the toast she made at my wedding.
Needless to say, my little sister will find different ways to help with the cattle business. Like babysitting Edie.
And I don’t blame her. It’s not easy playing momma to a baby with a giant head and four wobbly legs, especially when you’re feeding her with one hand and trying to put the pacifier back into your human baby’s mouth with the other.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Because everything is better with some cows around.
Here’s the news from the ranch today and it’s adorable.
We have a bottle calf. I call her Lola.
Or Sweet Cakes.
Whatever comes out.
She’s the other half of a set of twins born last weekend. The momma seemed to see one baby and forgot about the second so now the little babe is mine.
Ok. So there’s that.
The other news is sorta old news, but Pops and his pup Waylon had an unfortunate accident with the side-by-side and now little Waylon is in a cast and it’s the most pathetic and adorable thing in the world. He gets along just fine but sorta drags that leg everywhere he goes. All because he can’t stand to be away from his momma, so he jumped out of a moving vehicle to get her.
So there’s that.
When my little nephew, who adores Waylon, found out that his favorite puppy had an owie, he took Gramma to the drug store and bought him a get well card and a stuffed goose to play with that is as big as the puppy himself.
So that’s adorable as hell.
And this morning when I went to feed the calf, Waylon and his peg leg tagged along, but not before attempting to bring his favorite stuffed goose with him.
Ugh, and as if I didn’t already have a toothache from the sweetness, the goose is so big that Waylon, in his attempt to drag it down the road, tripped and tumble rolled over it about three times before giving up because, get this, he got distracted by a butterfly.
The adorable little puppy tagging along with me to feed the adorable calf waiting for me in the barn got distracted from the giant stuffed goose my adorable nephew gave him to literally go frolicking after a butterfly.
When I woke up this morning I felt shitty, with a scratchy throat and puffy eyes and a runny nose, but those ten minutes in my made getting out of bed worth it.
That and this drooly little thing of course.
Now go forth and keep smiling. It’s almost Friday.