How old stories help us hold on

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Coming Home: How old stories help us hold on

One of the best parts about sharing stories every week is that sometimes it compels others to share their stories, too, reminding me how closely strangers can be connected.

For the past few months I’ve been traveling on behalf of my new book, telling stories about crocus picking, old pickup driving and growing up on the back of my old mare.

Inevitably then, after the show, I get to hear a few of your own memories, the ones sparked by my recollection of sliding down the gumbo hill in the pouring rain in my pajamas, because—aw, you have a gumbo story of your own? One that started out with a pretty pink jacket bought to impress his family and ended with you and that pink jacket planted in the sticky mud after a too-close-for-comfort call with a rattlesnake den.

Yes, your boyfriend might have saved you from a nasty bite, but you never got over the ruined jacket.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but this is how I acquired a reverence for storytelling. It was all those afternoon coffee breaks I’d sit in as a kid, the ones where the neighbors would take their hats off after branding or a day spent fixing a stubborn part on the tractor again, and the recount of the things that went wrong during the day would spark a story about another time, a few years back, when a new spring opened up on the flat over the winter and he was loping along across that stretch and the ground just disappeared beneath that horse …

And that would remind my neighbor of a time they ran the outfitting business, and they were taking some guests on a ride through a narrow trail of the badlands and down slid their best horse with a dude on his back. It’s a story we all might have heard before, the ground becoming a little steeper with each re-telling, all the could-have-beens recounted over and over as they rehashed their gratitude that it all turned out OK in the end.

Good grief.

Thank God.

Can you imagine?

Last week I got a letter in the mail from a woman who used to help out a family friend who ran trail rides in the badlands for years. This is the ranch where our old Stormy spent years working as a trail horse, and after reading about how we recently lost him to the years, this woman felt compelled to write me to share with me her own memories of that spotted gelding. Included among her recollections was a photo of Stormy in his younger days, taking that cowboy through the sagebrush badlands. I put my hand to my mouth, surprised by the tears that caught in my throat as I folded up that letter, remembering that Stormy was someone else’s coffee-break story once.

Reminded, in a world that spins too quickly, stories are the only way we can really hold on.

Keep telling them.

Spring: From the experts

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Signs of spring come earlier for the experts
by Jessie Veeder
4-9-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action.

But I didn’t see a thing.

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But I struck out again.

Yes, to me the world was still brown with a few splashes of white snow in the deep coulees and, except for the dang hornets that have magically come to life to bang against the windows of my house, no sign of new life quite yet.

I strolled home with the dogs sniffing out the path in front of me, on their own mission for signs of spring, kicked off my shoes and went inside.

That evening my husband and I loaded Edie up in the pickup to go feed the cows, and just as we were pulling out of driveway, I got a text from dad.

“Got our first calf today,” it said.

First Calf

“Of course we did,” I said out loud to myself, wondering when the heck I will develop the sixth sense and laser beam eyes Dad has for things like this. We met him down the road a ways and Edie helped him unroll a bale by pulling out handfuls of hay and picking a nice strand to chew on herself.

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We drove over to take a look at the new baby who was standing on wobbly legs, fresh, slick and black as a bean. When my husband came back with the tagger (because we never have what we need when we need it), all four of us lingered out there in the warm spring air, leaning against the pickup doors and letting Edie work the windshield wipers, radio knob, steering wheel and headlights of the parked pickup, certain she was accomplishing the most important task on the place that day.

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After a half hour of solving life’s problems, we all went home for supper.

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The next day while I was in town for a meeting, I got another text from Dad.

“Found them first!” it said, with a blurry photo of a bunch of crocuses attached.

Apparently he also knew we were in an unspoken contest.

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I put my hands on my hips and huffed.

“Of course you did,” I texted back, thinking if it couldn’t be me, at least someone found the first promises of spring.

Thinking how different the world can look behind another set of eyes.

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And so with the first calf, the first crocus, the frogs croaking in the dam and the birds flying home and the appearance of Edie’s garden hat, I think it’s safe to say spring is here.

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Oh, thank goodness, spring is here.

Stick Shift…Shit

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Why I blame my dad for my stick shift struggles
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I have a confession to make.

In the years I spent growing up out here on the ranch as well as those being all grown up here on the ranch, I have never properly learned to drive a stick shift.

Oh, I can make it work. I can get from Point A to Point B if Point A is the house and Point B is the barnyard over the hill, the hay yard, or my parent’s house a mile down the gravel road, but that’s where my gear-finding, clutch-pushing confidence ends.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. Some things are just expected of you living out here among cows and barbed-wire fences. But I have a handicap.

And I could say I have no one to blame but myself, because I’m ultimately responsible for taking the initiative to master something I need to know, but forget it.

I blame my dad.

I blame my dad and all the old, impossible, gear sticky, seat-stuck-too-far-back, ancient and impossible pickups he enlisted to teach me to drive back in the day.

I mean, how’s a girl to grab a chance at finding the right gear when the gear indicator knob long ago popped off and rolled around on the floorboards before meeting its ultimate fate in some brush patch Dad was fencing one day in 1995?

Am I in reverse? The only way to find out is to release the clutch and hope I don’t kill it before rolling backwards while simultaneously hoping I’m not in first because there’s not much room for error in the 10 inches between the front of the pickup and the shop.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. There was one pickup he tried to teach me on that you literally had to push down a hill like a Flinstones car to get started. And once it turned over, well, you had to keep it gassed for fear of starting the whole ritual over again.

God forbid it quit at the bottom of a coulee somewhere.

Some of the biggest fights I had with my dad happened behind the wheel of his old pickups where he more than one chose the “just leave her to sort it out” method, and frankly, my pubescent tears of frustration just didn’t allow for that sort of sorting it out.

That’s the flashback I had yesterday when I suggested my husband run me through the workings of the hydraulic bale spear so I can feed cows on my own. I had left chicken baking in the oven, and we brought along the wiggly toddler who wants nothing more than for me to just scooch on out of there and let her take over.

Needless to say, I had a few distractions to blame for me killing it 37 times between my attempts at picking up and rolling the bales out.

But we were in Dad’s pickup, the one with the sticky gears, missing gear knob and seat that doesn’t move forward, so I blame him.

I will always blame him.

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The beasts, in their final resting place. RIP…RIP…

The newest member of the Kitten Caboodle Club

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This is the face she makes when I ask “Should we go see the kitties?”

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This is the face the kitties make when they hear us coming downstairs.

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I think there’s panic there as they hear the high-pitched squeals and the pitter patter of a one-year-old running down the hall and flopping her body down on the floor to get a good look at them under the bed.

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And, well, this is how the rest of it goes.

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Notice dad’s hand working to contain the excitement.

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I should really video it to give you the full effect these tiny fur balls have on my tiny bundle of energy.  But I’m usually too busy working on protecting them from that same enthusiasm and I don’t want to be distracted.
Oh, there’s nothing like having a pile of fur babies around the ranch. I’ve had a few people comment, asking why we don’t get our cats fixed out here, and the answer has to do with the fact that we live on a ranch and every animal, even our pets, serves a helpful purpose. (These days Brown Dog’s happens to be to keep us company and our arms and backs strong from lifting him in and out of the pickup.)

Anyway, simply put, farms and ranches have mice and we need cats to help us remedy that situation.

The laws and truths of nature aren’t pretty sometimes.

But these kitties are.

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The other reason is that we haven’t had a stray tom cat lurking around this place for years so we haven’t had to practice cat birth control lately. These kittens were the first batch we’ve had out here for a long time, a sweet little winter surprise, and lucky too, because they got to be born in the house instead of in the barn.

Soon a few of them will be ready to go to some of our friends’ homes who are looking for pets and pest helpers and we’ll keep the rest to help us keep this place varmint free.

And there will be plenty of snuggling to go around.

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This is a story I’ve told before, but when I was growing up, my cousins and I would go to the farm to visit gramma in the spring and summer and spend our days hunting around the farmstead for the newest batch of kittens. We got good at knowing the usual locations–a stack of hay bales, in the hole of an old tire, inside the old threshing machine–and we were so serious about our efforts we named ourselves “The Kitten Caboodle Club.”

We even made uniforms (a.k.a we puffy painted gramma’s old t-shirts).

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So it looks like Edie is the newest member of the KCC and I think she might be a natural. All we need now is some puffy paint.

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Peace, Love and Whiskers,

The KCC

A country kid needs a town kid

me-and-ashley

Door always open to home of old friend
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-17
http://www.inforum.com
Fargo Forum

I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family’s kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day.

I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver’s license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.

She was one of those friends for me. In the fragile time between elementary school and being ruled adult enough to leave home, she played a role in my adolescence that not only helped me survive it, but made me feel like my quirkiness (weirdness?) was not only accepted, but also appreciated.

I could make her laugh, and she made me feel safe in a friendship at a time in a young girl’s life when friendship is often volatile, fleeting and prone to drama.

(Except for that time in eighth grade when we got the rebellious idea to walk down to the local drug store to pick up a couple boxes of hair dye and disastrously turn her perfectly blonde hair blaze orange and mine a weird color of navy blue, our 20+ years of friendship has been pretty clear of drama.)

I can’t speak for her, but I feel so lucky and sort of surprised by it sometimes. As childhood friends go, our stories are linked in many ways, but in many more ways we are completely opposite.

As a teenager, she was focused, practical and matter-of-fact where I was uncertain about fitting in. I was messy and disheveled; my car was covered in scoria dust and full of pop bottles and dirty socks. I was creative and in my own head, tentatively tipping my toes in the wild edge of bad decisions. She made her bed every day, washed her car in the driveway on the weekends and showed confidence in who she was — solid, studious and pretty well-behaved — no matter who approved.

She was long and lean with coordinated limbs built for sports. I didn’t have an aggressive bone (or muscle) in my body. And while basketball, volleyball and track turned into her high school passions, I traded sports for music, rodeo and high school love.

So our schedules and interests didn’t allow us to easily spend every waking minute together the way many childhood friends are often defined, but I hope she looks back on those days and says I was there when she needed me.

I know I can say that for her. Because if there was a quality I’d like to steal from her (besides those long legs and lungs for long-distance running), it’s that I might be as fiercely loyal.

I’m thinking about her today because we got to spend some time together last weekend as we often do when I head to the big town where she lives with her husband raising two sports-crazed boys between the sidewalks.

Whenever I make a trip there for music or shopping I give her a call and her door— just like it’s always been — is open for her friend who usually rolls up later than planned in a dusty car, plastic bottles and spare mittens spilling out onto the driveway.

Not much has changed as we tallied the years, except we’ve gotten closer. I’m going to give her most of the credit there. My loner and introspective tendencies don’t always make for the best phone-call-maker and catcher-upper. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m humbly aware of, one that’s disconnected me from some of my favorite people. But she’s hung on to me in the ways only people who really understand one another tend to do.

And when I called last weekend to tell her we were going to swing by to say hi on our way to go furniture shopping, she offered to watch Edie to help save our sanity and ultimately feed graham crackers to the next generation of country kid waiting out her time in town.

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Goat Kids and Kid Kids

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Here’s a picture of a baby goat. A kid, if you will.

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Here’s a picture of a human kid showing another kid a pen full of kids.

So many kids. It’s all really too adorable.

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But that’s pretty much the extent of what I know about goats, honestly. I had a couple to practice goat tying on when I was in high school rodeo, but mostly they just ate, grew giant and ran free with the horses in our pastures, occasionally and annoyingly following us on a roundup or two.

Oh, and also, when I was little, I once babysat (kid sat?)  my neighbor’s baby goat named Filipe. She brought it home with her from college over winter break and couldn’t take him with her on a family trip or something, so I got the job. Filipe was tiny and young, so I kept him in the house to bottle feed him. I also fashioned a diaper for him.

And he slept in a little box by my bed next to my Christmas tree.

It was a magical relationship.

Anyway, that’s about the extent of my goat experience, until a few weekends ago when our friends asked us to come and help them doctor their herd.

Brett was our high school friend who has been living in the Colorado area since college. He recently moved his adorable family back to the ranch where he grew up and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

Brett is a cattleman and a good horseman. He and I competed in 4-H horse shows together and the one time I actually beat him was probably a fluke but also one of my proudest moments because, well, he was really good.

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Anyway, while he was gone managing one of the country’s biggest feed lots, he got into the business of raising show goats that he sells to 4-H and FFA kids across the country.

Jacobson’s Show Goats.

And turns out he’s really good at that too.

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Like a cattle man knows cattle, Brett knows his goats, their quirks, their needs, their feed regimen, the fact that llamas keep them company or the coyotes away or something I’m not sure because I can’t remember anything about this llama except her name is Creampuff…

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and what babies belong to what mommas, which is a big deal because you know, goats can have triplets, so it gets complicated.

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Anyway, we went out to help a few weekends back. Well, Husband helped. Edie and I, well, we observed.

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And what she discovered was basically it pissed her off when she caught her her dad carrying any baby that wasn’t her.

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And I learned that doctoring baby goats, tagging them and giving them shots to keep them healthy,  is a little easier than doctoring calves–mostly because they’re lighter and more portable.

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And while they might be smaller, they are definitely not quieter.

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But they are adored and well taken care of, I’ll tell you that. Because Brett has a couple little helpers who seem to know about as much about the goats as he does.

Harlee is the official goat namer, petter, feeder and snuggler…

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And Evan is the goat sorter and wrangler…

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Brett’s wife is a nurse and a good sport about the goats, so I think it’s all a nice combination.

And we had a great day with them. It was fun to see this part of their life and learn a little something new about livestock. It’s also fun to know that the future of these goats will be to help teach youth, both in the country and within the city limits, how to take care of and take pride in an animal.

I like the thought of that.

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As for Edie, despite her first impression, I can’t help but think with friends like these I can’t help but imagine a goat in our future…

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Or maybe a Creampuff…

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It might be inevitable.

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Thanks Jacobson Show Goats for letting us help!

Peace, Love and Kids, Kids, Kids!

Jessie

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Moo.

We’re thawing out a bit out here after a string of frozen days. Looks like the foreseeable future will be quite a few degrees above zero and that lifts our spirits a bit.

I’m ready for spring (and lets, be honest, that Jamaican vacation) and this baby’s ready to get outside and try out her new running skills without the cumbersome giant marshmallow snowsuit I made her wear last week when we went out feeding cows.

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But the kid doesn’t seem to mind. As long as we’re out doing stuff and seeing stuff and chatting about it, she’s happy.

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Feeding cows is a chore she likes to help with. And since the snow has melted a little and we can feed with the pickup instead of the tractor, we can go along again.

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I’ve always loved the way the cows look coming in for feed, in a black (and now some brown) line in the white snow. It’s like moving, breathing art (and hungry) to me.

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Art that says “Moo!”

Parenting on the Prairie

Good Wednesday to you all!

Just thought I’d take a little break from the frantic pace I try to achieve in my attempt to get a week’s worth of work done in the two days that Edie’s at daycare to share a couple parenting related pieces of news.

#1 Our Crazy Cat Had Kittens

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Yeah. Pixie, my husband’s pixiebob cat, turned the new carpet under the bed in the basement bedroom into a maternity ward yesterday while I was out and I came home to find her nursing four squeaky, stripey, adorable kittens.

I discovered her situation early last week when she was staring at us through the glass door on the deck. I went out to give her a scratch and, well, there was no denying the cat was knocked up.

So we let her in to watch her and make sure everything went smoothly.

And the cat was thrilled.

Turned out the little person living here didn’t share her sentiment. Because while Edie loves the kitty when she’s outside, passing her by for a point and pat on her way from the car, she isn’t so keen on another creature sitting on her mom or dad’s lap or brushing by her chair. I mean, clearly the cat should know better, it has her name embroidered on it for gawd sake.

Nope. If that cat gets anywhere near that chair Edie makes a beeline from across the room to show her who’s boss.

And on Sunday, when the cat dared climb up to share my lap with Edie, I watched my sweet innocent baby stare straight ahead to divert my attention so that I wouldn’t notice her little hand reaching over to try and pinch that cat’s paw.

So now we know my kid has a jealous bone and it’s not just reserved for humans.

And now we have four more cats to help teach her a lesson about sharing.

I’ll keep you posted. And also, let me know if you want to add a stripy kitten to your family. (Warning: they are a tiny part bobcat)

#2 I’ve Been Editing a Parenting Publication

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but since September I’ve been working as the editor of a Western North Dakota based parenting publication. It’s been a fun little project that has been unfolding pretty nicely and has been available as a free publication for readers to pick up in Western North Dakota. But we’ve recently made it available online and have a nice new website to go with it, so now you can read it too if you’d like!

www.prairieparent.com

Every issue I write a little “From the Editor” piece about what I’m learning on this new parenting journey and then my great set of writers tackle a variety of issue from staying healthy to where to get cute clothes and everything else that’s on the minds of parents out here on the prairie.

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This month’s issue is about love and there’s a really cute section called “Kids Talk” where I go out and ask kids really important questions, like what are they thankful for and how they think Santa gets to all the houses all in one night.

This month they tell me what love means to them and it’s adorable. You can read their answers here:

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If you’re interested, you can follow Prairie Parent on Facebook to get the latest updates.

But I’ll keep (most of) the kitten and Edie stories right here where they belong.

Well, it’s curling night tonight, so I better start stretching now!

Peace, love  and the glory of motherhood,

Jessie

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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Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A comparison

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Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A Comparison
by Jessie Veeder
1-1-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My gramma Edie used to keep a diary of her life here at the Veeder Ranch. They weren’t particularly thorough, and most were written in tiny scrawl on pocket calendars with most every entry detailing accounts of the weather, work, cattle and who stopped by the place for a cup of coffee or to borrow something.

It makes me wonder today, as I sit staring at the chest-deep snow drift that has piled up against my glass living room doors, how she might have documented the snow-pocalypse Christmas blizzard of 2016 if she were still alive today.

I imagine it like this:

December 25, 2016. Christmas. It snowed all day today, about 16 inches with big drifts in places. Wind was strong.

The kids got home in time to beat the storm but will have to stay an extra day to dig out. The boys pushed enough snow to get the cows fed. Gene cooked a nice prime rib meal. Had a good time with the family.

As a writer I appreciate my grandmother’s diligence in keeping her journals, but while I share her sentiment for recording history, I hold quite a bit more flair for the dramatic details.

My diary looks a little more like this:

December 25, 2016. CHRISTMAS! Well, the plague might have kept me from participating in our traditional Christmas Eve pancake supper and seeing my baby in her Christmas dress try to eat the Silent Night candle at church, but it looks like I lived. Oh, and despite the howling and whipping wind, they got power back to mom and dad’s house last night before 10 p.m., making the local linemen the real heroes of the holiday.

This morning we woke up to a fun Christmas surprise! Our baby decided she can full-on walk, so we dressed her in her red tutu, chased her up and down the hallway and helped her open her presents at home before gathering up the caramel rolls, presents, diaper bag, snowsuits, boots and a partridge in a pear tree to head down the road to spend the day at Mom and Dad’s.

We were just about to walk out the door when we got a phone call. Gramma and Grampa stayed at the cabin last night and on their way out of the barnyard they made a detour for the ditch.

At that time only a few of the bazillion predicted snowflakes had fallen, but it wasn’t long before the wind started howling, the sky opened up and we were unwrapping presents, eating prime rib and playing dominoes in a regular shaken-up snow globe.

Speaking of shaking, turns out you shouldn’t bounce a baby who has consumed two pounds of blueberries, turkey, prime rib, 27 crackers and a bite of every dessert on the table.

While an epic blizzard raged outside, inside Edie brewed up and delivered a Christmas bedtime projectile vomit that’s sure to go down in infamy.

It snowed about a good foot or so by the time we loaded up to head home. Dad followed us in his pickup in case we got stuck along the way. I think he likes plowing through the drifts more than a grown man should…

December 26, 2016. Well, the weatherman wasn’t joking.

I woke up to a chest-deep snowdrift on my deck, more snow falling from the sky and a wind that was intent on making it impossible to clear the roads.

Mom called and said their heat wasn’t working, sending Dad up to the roof to clear the chimney, successfully rubbing the shine off the Christmas snow globe analogy.

The guys spent six hours in tractors trying to get my grandparents dug out of the 12-foot snowdrift that piled up on the cabin overnight.

In the meantime, my little sister and I were snowed in at the house without any leftovers. Seriously. I should have grabbed the cheese ball on my way out the door on Christmas night. What was I thinking?

We spent the afternoon eating chili and keeping the baby from crashing on the mini-4-wheeler she got from my in-laws. I haven’t seen this much snow out here in my lifetime. I see an epic sledding party in our future, guests arriving by sled and tractor…

Had a good time with family.