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

If we listen as much as we speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s ok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would I do?

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

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

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

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To my baby girl on her first birthday…

Dear Baby Girl,

Last night I rocked you to sleep in your room, the lights were low and I hummed the tune it seems I’ve been instinctively humming in your ear since you arrived a year ago.

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If you asked me to recreate the melody without you in my arms I don’t think I could, but with your cheek resting on my shoulder and my cheek resting on the soft fluff of the hair on your head, the song comes to me easily, like a breath or a blink or a sigh.

Baby, the way you’ve taken to this world has surprised and delighted me.

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Yesterday evening I fed you blueberries for the first time, and you couldn’t pick those sweet treats up fast enough, eager for the new taste, pushing all other food aside, squealing and kicking those chunky little legs until I gave you more.

I fed you so many blueberries I’m surprised you didn’t turn blue, and it’s likely your next diaper will have me paying for that choice, but man, little one, were you having fun.

And I guess, so was I.

Because your fun is my fun.

Your happy is my happy.

I get that now. And it’s beautiful and terrifying all at once, but when I close my eyes to find my own sleep at night, when the worries of mommies and daddies start creaking and pushing to fill the quiet space left for sleep, those are the kind of moments and memories I summon up to fight them.

Before you, I didn’t have that kind of weapon.

Because, baby, a year ago those legs that you were kicking so eagerly in that highchair were stretching and kicking the inside my belly.

I leaned back in chairs or in bed and watched. I grabbed your daddy’s hand so you could kick him, too, and we wondered who you might look like, when you might arrive and how our lives will change.

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What I didn’t know is that once everything changed, it would continue to change, every moment and every day.

And I wasn’t prepared for the ache that gets tucked in with the joys of the milestones. I didn’t know what a month does to a child, bringing you new teeth, new words and new hair, longer legs, bigger smiles, tighter hugs and a louder voice.

And the thread that connected us so tightly in the beginning unravels a little bit more.

Nine months felt like years when my body grew you, baby.

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Twelve months feels like a blink and you’re standing on those little legs, with one hand on the couch and the other reaching toward your daddy in the hallway. You hadn’t seen him all day, you wanted him to pick you up so you could take his cap off and try to put it on your head, so you stretched for him, his words encouraging you to let go of the couch and walk.

“You can do it, you can do it!”

And so you did.

Three little steps, just like that. He lifted you up, and we all clapped together in the kitchen.

Baby, on Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated your first birthday complete with decorations, cake and the entire family.

Last year on Thanksgiving we brought you home from the hospital, just the three of us. We were nervous and raw, uncertain and the most thankful we’ve ever been.

I didn’t think I could be more thankful than that.

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But you’ve proven me wrong.

A year later and every day it’s something new. You say “momma” and “dada”, “hi” and “bye” and “uh, oh,” your favorite of all. You wave, blow kisses and truly think you can read books by yourself and all of these are things that one-year-olds do, nothing’s so out of the ordinary for a baby your age, except every new discovery, every new challenge you master shows us how you are so uniquely, simply and innocently you in this world.

And as easy as a breath or a blink, a sigh or that song I hum to you at night, we love you baby. Happy Birthday.

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The chance to be ungrateful…

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It was truly a “take your daughter to work day” today as I hauled Edie to town and used her as a model for a little photoshoot I did for this new publication I’m working on for Western North Dakota called “Prairie Parent.”

When work means taking photos of cute kids in cute clothes with your friends and their kids and your baby on a beautiful fall day, it really can’t get any better.

Even if poor little Edie is coming down with something…and I think so am I.

And we have a big weekend of music coming up which means another trip across the state and a little prayer up to stay healthy. And a lot of packing. And a lot of catching up to do on work and laundry between now and Thursday.

Somedays I’m a little overwhelmed, but today I focused on the positives. I thought I was handling it thanks to my mom and the sunshine.

I don’t always think I’m handling it. Sometimes it’s harder to keep it all level and balanced. Sometimes it all comes boiling out my mouth because I can’t stop and think because I’m tired of thinking and I need to say things out loud so that it might all come together in some semblance of perspective.

And that’s what I got last week…

Lucky to have the chance to be ungrateful
by Jessie Veeder
9-19-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Last weekend on the way to meet my husband’s family to celebrate his grandmother’s 87th birthday, I had one of those moments where I broke everything down that wasn’t working in my life. Something my husband said set me off and I took it as an opportunity to let the steam out of the frustration kettle that had been boiling for a couple weeks.

Then I worried about making enough money to make it worth it and moved that into my frustration about unfinished projects.

And by the way, the house is never clean and how am I going to keep cockleburs out of the baby’s mouth if they keep coming in on the bottoms of our jeans?

Seriously? Is there anyone else in the world who has to worry about their baby eating cockleburs in the house?!

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And it just went on from there while the baby slept in the car seat behind me and my patient, but probably pretty annoyed, husband tried to offer solutions I wasn’t in the mood to hear like men tend to do with women during meltdowns like these.

Please tell me other women have meltdowns like these.

I threw those words at the windshield and we rolled down Highway 85 on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, the leaves turning gold on the trees, sparkling against a blue sky. By the time we got to where we were going the radio was a bit louder and conversation had turned to the new funny laugh that Edie was trying out lately and what we needed to pick up while we were in the big town.

We spent the day watching Edie get passed around from cousin to aunt to gramma to uncle. We strolled through the zoo and heard her use her new scruffy laugh while watching the otters swim. We swatted away hornets and took some family pictures and ate three different types of cake, gave hugs and drove home toward the setting sun, not a trace of residue on the windows from my morning words.

Earlier that week I stood over our kitchen counter. It was scattered with Tupperware containers, unopened mail, sunglasses and probably a spare tool or two. I had a knife in one hand and a fork in the other and as I sliced into the big juicy steak we pulled from a freezer packed with meat we just picked up from the butcher, I was overcome with this unexpected wave of complete gratefulness, so much so that I had to stop and say it out loud.

“We are so lucky that this is our meal. On a regular Tuesday night,” I said to my husband sitting in front of his plate full of vegetables from the garden and his steak grilled to perfection. “There are people in this world who’ve never tasted a fresh garden tomato.”

He agreed.

Lucky.

Thing is, I didn’t think about that Tuesday night steak on my Saturday morning rant. It was long dissolved into my uncertainties of the week, crumpled into wondering if we were doing anything right.

And I’m sitting here this morning sort of worried about how quickly the taste left my mouth.

Just over a year ago I was holding my breath for a baby to come in and throw my schedule into chaos, just like she’s doing, just like I was complaining about on Saturday morning.

And now here she is, staring up at me from the living room rug while she’s pooping her pants. And I am grateful.

I’m lucky to be grateful. But maybe sometimes, and I’ve never thought of this before, we’re even more lucky to have the chance to be ungrateful.

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A Friday update…

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Here’s a quick update from the ranch while the baby is sleeping.

  • Edie’s getting sassier every day and I’m declaring now that I’m in big trouble. Good Lord she has me wrapped around her finger and also who knew 8 month-olds had agendas for the day.

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    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.

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  • Also, the girl will crawl. But only to get to the cereal puff I put just out of her reach. And I think I can relate. Like, I will run, but only if means a burger when it’s all over.

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  • The guys have been trying to get the hay crop in for weeks. It’s not going well. Between the rain and equipment that breaks I think we’ll have to feed the cows lettuce from the grocery store this winter. In the meantime, they are getting their fill in Pops’ garden. Yesterday would mark the third trip they’ve made to the Veeder Backyard buffet in the last two weeks. At first I laughed an evil laugh about it all, but then I took a look for myself and realized that even with cow sabotage, dad currently still has more vegetables growing in his garden than me. But I’m not worried. I found enough spinach to make a couple salads. And some radishes. And look! Tomatoes. It’s only a matter of time he’ll be knocking on my door asking for some samples.

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  • Seems like even when things are going shitty, Pops still sees the beauty in this life we’re leading. Here’s a photo he sent me earlier this week from hayfield probably like five minutes before he broke down. Looks like heaven.

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  • And here’s a rare photo of all of my dogs in the same frame. Dolly is a sweet thing but the girl can’t sit still. It’s in her genes. Seems like her and Edie have that in common, but out of all three dogs Gus is Edie’s I would say. When I bring her out in the yard he doesn’t get too far from her. It’s sweet and unexpected from the high energy beast.

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  • We got my parent’s hand-me-down hot tub and now I feel really fancy when I put the baby to bed and head down there with my plastic cup full of wine, my raggedy swim suit and flippy floppies. Hot tub trips have replaced date night for Husband and I, because we haven’t had an official one since the baby’s first month on earth. I just realized that last night and it made me one part disappointed in us and one part amazed that time has gone that fast. Maybe we’ll have a date next month when we celebrate our ten-year anniversary.

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  • Ten years already?!!! Didn’t we just get home from our Junior prom?

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  • We went over to the neighbors’ last week. I opened the cooler and found this scene.
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    Yesterday Husband was sitting at the counter eating, looked up from his plate and informed me that “there’s a nipple under the dishwasher.” A phrase and a scene that wouldn’t have existed in our old life
  • I started writing this yesterday afternoon and now it is morning today. The baby woke up from her nap and the rest is history. The whole baby thing combined with the fact that we haven’t had good Internet out here since we moved and haven’t had Internet at all since Edie was born has made this website and work from home thing nearly impossible. Husband and I are looking forward to doing things the real world gets to do, like streaming cat videos on YouTube and checking out what all the hype is about this whole Netflix thing. Someday. Someday…For now we’re just using the shit out of our cell phone hotspot and depleting Edie’s college fund.
  • Here’s a photo of Edie on our walk the other day, as a storm rolled in all around us.
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    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…

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    and also the reason I almost always put the baby in the pack.

  • But oh shit, my back is killing me.
  • We’ve made up for our lack of snow this winter with an abundance of rain this summer. It’s almost August and it’s green as can be. Here are a couple photos of wildflowers to prove it.

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  • I forgot to water my garden last night. But maybe that’s the key to success. Just do what I did last year, like hardly pay attention to the thing at all, and maybe I’ll reap giant carrots and buckets of beans again. That math seems to add up.
  • Have a great weekend. I plan on hanging at the ranch, gearing up for an August that will find me away from the ranch more than at home. Because if I thought things would slow down with the birth of this wild child, well, it’s safe to say it’s kicked back in high gear again.
    North Dakota readers, click here to see if I’ll be performing in your area in August
  • The baby’s awake…if you’re reading this, I’ve kept her busy long enough to hit “publish.”

Peace, Love and Huggies,

Jessie and her sidekick

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Raising children in this world

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Coming Home: Teaching our children in the midst of a harsh world
by Jessie Veeder
6-19-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com

It’s hard to think of anything else these days but what’s in the news. It’s tragedy and politics all wrapped into a messy ball of emotions and fierce beliefs as we try to predict and manipulate our future. It can be as paralyzing as it is polarizing.

And if I had questions — about money or friendship or God or the things that scared me — my parents had an answer to help make me feel safe again.

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During baby Edie’s second week in this world, she sat sleeping in my arms as news of the San Bernardino mass shooting flashed on our television screen. Outside our house, it was cold and quiet. Not a bird to sit on the fence railing, the wind likely blowing the tips of the gray trees back and forth and I was alone with this tiny, fresh and oblivious human watching the window to the world flash terrifying images of helplessness, heartbreak and fear into my home.

My first instinct was to cry with outrage. How selfish to bring a baby into such a violent world. And then thoughts and plans on how I could possibly protect her from evil and heartbreak, worry and fear, started swirling and bouncing around in my freshly postpartum brain, without conclusion.

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And time passed. Conversation about the wonder of her fresh face and tiny hands turned to sleep schedules and teething remedies. Conversations about the state of our country turned to oil and cattle prices and the impending election and we settled into a life on the ranch with a baby as the fear of those first few weeks settled into the cracks in the floor of this house.

But last week I woke up to a reminder. Forty-nine killed, another 53 wounded in the name of hate.

I cried again. Dozens of mothers lost their babies that day. I couldn’t shake my grief.

I put Edie in her sunhat and strolled her out to the dirt patch that’s working on becoming our garden, and I dug in the earth. There was nothing else I could do in that moment except to nurture what was in front of me.

So I planted seeds. I picked up the baby when she fussed. I bounced her and lifted her up to the sky. I nursed her to sleep. I turned on the sprinkler and watered the ground. I strapped her to my body and walked up the road and back. I let my worries and thoughts bounce off the hills.

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Tragedy isn’t new to the human race. Children across the world live and suffer through much more than seeing it on their television screens with the privilege of shutting it off and returning to the swing set in their backyard.

And while parents worth the job want to protect their children from the harsh realities of this world, I know that protection from the truth is a disservice to our human race.

Because kids aren’t immediately responsible for helping to make decisions for a better world, but eventually they will be.

Letting them in on the truths of life, teaching them about respect and consequences, helping them process pain and suffering, cultivating their ability to have compassion, all of these are important lessons that can only be taught against the backdrop of reality.

Listening teaches them to listen.

Questioning teaches them to question.

Yes, I want my daughter to feel safe here in her home protected by the coulees and hills of North Dakota. Held tight in my arms. But holding her so close will inevitably hold her back from learning to understand, appreciate and respect the differences we celebrate as human beings.

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As parents it’s our biggest role to create the compassionate helpers in this world.

And while these hills can’t protect us from pain and tragedy, they can hold us.

And we can hold one another.

And if I can teach my daughter anything, I hope it’s that.

 

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To nurture the world…

My heart is heavy today. I’m looking for a reason not to be afraid of the world I’ve brought my daughter into.

50 souls. 50 brothers, sisters, wives, best friends, grandchildren, aunts, uncles. Mothers. Fathers.

Sons. Daughters.

5o more with physical and emotional wounds.

A country torn and aching and seemingly at a loss of what to do next.

I spent the day yesterday in little spurts of tears, going back and forth from the garden to my baby, because there was nothing I could do personally to change things and I just felt an overwhelming need to nurture the world at my fingertips.

IMG_9934IMG_9947IMG_9950IMG_9954That night, while rocking my daughter to sleep I decided I must hold on to the truth that I know. There is violence and hate in this world, yes, but I have to believe there is so much more love…

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”-Fred Rogers

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Sunday Column: The thread that ties us together

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We baptized baby Edie yesterday. We have a happy, healthy baby girl surrounded by the love of a great big family who all showed up for her.

That’s all anyone can ask for in this life, to have something so precious tied to you.

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I have known in my life that this isn’t a gift granted to everyone, but when you’re wrapped up in the challenge and goodness of it all, sometimes you’re given a moment that reminds us again to be grateful and humble and happy in the gifts we’re given.

This week’s column is on one of those moments and the thread that winds and unwinds between us….

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Coming Home: Feeling the strong yet fragile thread that ties child, parent
by Jessie Veeder
3-27-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It was one of those little scenes that would play out in the movie version of your life, one that offers comic relief to a series of tense emotions, an argument or a confession: a pile of little kids stacked up on a battery-operated toy pickup, driving back and forth in front of the stage where I played with the band last Saturday, and one little boy, dressed in boots and a Wrangler butt pointed in our direction as he rolled by, bent over the side revealing to us a tiny full-moon.

An oblivious drive-by.

In the middle of a song I was singing about being strong and holding on, I looked over at my bass player to make sure I wasn’t the only one witnessing the cutest and most hilarious thing in the world. He looked back at me with a big grin, and I finished the song through stifled giggles.

So much for keeping it together.

But it was a welcome scene. On one of the first nights I spent on a stage away from my baby, we were singing to a crowd of kids, families and bouncy houses at an event raising money to grant wishes for children with cancer.

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Up on that stage, you get a bird’s-eye view of a community coming together to help ease the burden on families who have been sentenced to watch their babies suffer. From up there, it was hard to tell which children were sick, which were healthy and who had overcome so much in their short lives.

Take a step down and it might become a bit clearer, but from where I stood they were all just kids busting out their best break-dancing moves, giving smaller kids rides on the horse on wheels, requesting that we play the chicken dance and working to break their sugar quota for the year.

Watching their enthusiasm for being let loose at an event designed for them used to remind me of what it was like to be a kid with boundless energy oblivious to the worries of the world.

Now I look out over those dancing, laughing, bouncing children and every single one of them is Edie.

Edie who loves music. Edie who, in just a few short months, might be dancing to it. Edie who would love that toy horse on wheels.

Edie, who was likely fighting off sleep in her dad’s arms. Edie, happy and healthy and so fresh to a world where anything can happen.

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Some days having a baby feels like having a tiny little anchor tied to your ankle. I say this with love and honesty as I try to put into words what all you parents out there have experienced tenfold already.

It’s similar to the “heart outside your chest” analogy I suppose, except to me that always sounded so raw and terrifying. Ever since Edie was born, I haven’t felt ripped open as much as I feel like I have been walking around with a thread spooling and unspooling, connecting me to her.

That night I was 60 miles away from my daughter, standing on that stage, and I imagined that thread stretching out along the highway, through the badlands and over the river to where she was breathing, happy and healthy and loved.

Looking out in that crowd of children dancing, I imagined a spider web of threads connecting those tiny souls to the souls sitting on folding chairs, visiting and laughing and keeping one eye out for the little heartbeat they created.

I could say here now how I can’t imagine what I would do if little Edie got sick enough to be granted her wish to ride a rollercoaster or pet a giraffe in Africa, but does it need to be said?

Until the last four months I didn’t know about the thread. And last weekend I was reminded that the thread is as fragile as it is strong.

I opened my eyes in the dark of the early hours of this morning. In the quiet I thought about the little girl in the princess costume being granted a trip to Disneyland. And then about that little boy on the tractor.

I smiled. My baby stirred. The thread pulled tight.

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Sunday Column: Raising a new generation in a familiar place

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This is a photo of my best friend (the tiny little blonde thing) and me sitting on her dad’s lap when we were just babies.

This was likely taken in my parents’ little trailer where they first lived on the ranch when they got married.

I think we still have that rocking chair.

I spent my entire childhood with that little blonde girl who lived up the hill along the highway on the place where her dad was raised. We had plenty of adventures and we were lucky to have each other out here growing up in the middle of nowhere. I guarantee having her in my life went a long ways in the ‘happy childhood memories’ department.

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We used to plan on how we would grow up, have some adventures and move back to our ranches and be neighbors forever.

Who would have thought that the best laid plans of ten year old girls would wind up coming together twenty years later.

It’s a story that doesn’t get told much out here in Western North Dakota where the focus is on Boomtown and oil and all the trouble and sacrifice and nervousness it creates.

There is that. Some of that.

And then there is the fact that I would never be here, on my family’s 100 year old ranch, living down the road from my childhood best friend who was out helping our dads work cattle last Friday just like the old days, one or two of her four kids in tow, if it wasn’t for an economy that could support us building houses and making lives and carrying on traditions out here on our family farms.

When I graduated from high school in 2001, the porch lights along the gravel roads that connected us to town, were going out one by one.

Now they are turning on by the dozens, fourth and fifth generations getting a chance to be involved in the family business, or, like many of our friends, taking advantage of the opportunity to return home to a place they were raised and raise their own children.

Take this picture for example. This is a photo of my husband and some of his closest friends at our senior prom fourteen years ago (gasp!).

friends

At a time when our hometown and home state were dealing with outmigration and we were told to get out of here, go get an education, move to Minneapolis or Chicago and start a life, make something of yourself, it’s interesting to note that of the six young men in this photo, all six of them have moved back to western North Dakota to raise their families.

Three of them are back on family ranches and one of them is in a beautiful house outside of our hometown raising three boys.

These guys, for all the wild shit they survived in their teenage years, grew up to own successful businesses, build houses and hold and be promoted in professional jobs. One of them is even a teacher and a coach. And between them all they are raising (or will be raising, if you count our little one coming along) fourteen kids out here in Western North Dakota…a place that seemed to once be on the verge of extinction.

Now, when I look around at events happening in town, basketball games, figure skating shows, dances on Main Street, I see about a hundred more stories of hometown kids coming back to make a life in a familiar place that is growing and busting at the seams.

A place they help make better by volunteering to coach 2nd grade football or, like my best friend up the road, help run the gymnastics program. Because their memories of this place motivate them to make sure they’re making good memories for their own children.

A few weekends ago I went up to have supper at my best friend’s beautiful house up the road. She invited some of our other friends to join us, and they all brought their kids and we ate meatballs and gravy and it occurred to me how unique of a situation we’ve found ourselves in…knowing each other’s history, loving each other from the time of fanny packs and biker shorts, and getting the opportunity to raise our own children together.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. Generations having the opportunity to build lives out here.

Who would have thought?

Coming Home: Newfound hope means we’re raising kids with our old classmates
by Jessie Veeder
10-25-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

On top of the hill across from the golf course, my hometown is busy building a brand-new, beautiful high school.

Plans have been in the works for a few years as our student population continues to grow, forcing classes to be held in portable rooms even after a recent elementary school renovation. 

Even during these times of lower oil prices.

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The kindergarten class this year registered well into a hundred students, and in a matter of six or so years, we have not only exploded in population from 1,200 residents to closer to 10,000, but we’ve turned from an aging community into a young one.

Last weekend, my best friend — the neighbor girl who used to meet at the top of the hill so we could ride our bikes along the centerline of the highway — called us to come over for supper. A few years ago she and her husband, my classmate, built a beautiful house on her family’s ranch, fulfilling the plans we made when we were kids jumping from hay bale to hay bale to “grow up, get jobs and be neighbors forever.”

So I grabbed a bottle of wine (because someone should be drinking this wine) and headed up the hill to her house where she’s raising four kids, the youngest a son who will be only six months older than our baby on the way.

Lord help us all if this baby is a boy, too.

Anyway, that night we gathered for meatballs and gravy to catch up with a house full of friends. I looked around the kitchen, listened to the guys talk sports and bounce new babies and realized that every single one of those five grown men grew up together. And there were more of them, quite a few more of them, who couldn’t make it to the party.

And while it’s not a surprise (more than half of the classmates who attended our 10-year high school reunion had either moved back home or were making plans to move), it was fun to take a look around and think about the next chapter in our lives as friends in a town they told us no one could come home to.

But look how wrong we can be about predicting the future. One of my husband’s best friends — the one who lived right down the block and was in on more than a few paint ball and principal office shenanigans with him — held his newborn son at the table. That friend was my locker buddy, and his dad was locker buddies with my dad, and it just occurred to me that the baby boy he was bouncing could very likely be locker buddies with our baby, too.

(Would it be more or less trouble if our baby is a girl?)

And there are quite a few stories like this in my hometown these days, not just among our small class of 40 or so, but among other classes here as well. Best friends from childhood raising families alongside one another, taking turns driving kids to football or gymnastics, meeting up to barbecue, to sit and visit with a sort of ease and familiarity that comes with knowing one another when we wore our pants too baggy and drove too fast.

Who would have known? When I left home almost 15 years ago, the porch lights on the farmhouses were going out one by one. This landscape was so much darker without any real hope of new and younger hands to flip the switch back on.

And nothing was going to make it any different except a change in the makeup of this place that would make it so we wouldn’t have to struggle the way our parents did.

Around the supper table that evening there wasn’t a person raised here who didn’t respect and love it in their own way. But just because we’re connected by the land doesn’t necessarily mean that we would naturally remain connected to one another.

Except in this case it is enough, to find this place worthy of returning to and planting new seeds, a new generation raised in a familiar, changing and unpredictable place.

A neighborhood tradition.


We helped our neighbors brand  calves this Sunday. The sun was finally shining enough to give us hope the corrals might dry up by the time the day was over, so it seemed like the perfect day to get some work done.

Branding calves is a traditional chore that happens once a year. And whether your herd is 50 or 500, branding is always a great and necessary excuse to get neighbors, friends and family together to get some work done under the big prairie sky.

Branding, for those of you who are not familiar with ranching operations, is what cowboys do to identify their calves a month or two after they are born in the spring. Each ranch has a certain symbol associated with its operation and that symbol is placed on the cattle by using grey-hot irons that have been heated up in a fire and placing those irons momentarily on the calf’s hide.




At one time cowboys ran their cattle in open range on land not divided or sectioned off by fences. Branding your cattle meant that each ranches’ herd could graze freely on the open range and could easily be identified come roundup time when the calves were taken to market. Today in Western North Dakota ranch land is split up and sectioned off into pastures. If a neighbor’s cattle break down a fence and get into a field or an adjacent pasture, they are easily identified. In addition, branding cattle has traditionally been a way to deter cattle thieves, as brands are registered and inspected when taken to market.

With most calves born in March and April, ideally a rancher would want to get their branding done in May, but with the snowy and wet weather that occurred during calving and on into the late spring, things have been delayed a bit this year.

Now every operation has their own traditions and ways they like to work their calves. Around here a typical branding day would start early in the morning with a ride out into the pastures to roundup all of the mommas and babies and gather them into a corral where the crew then sorts the calves off from the cows into a smaller pen.

There’s a lot of mooing at this point, which will not cease until the mommas are back with their babies, the end goal the crew will work to accomplish as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

Once the calves are sorted the real work begins.  Typically, if the calves were younger, a crew of able bodied cowboys and cowgirls would work to catch and “wrestle,” or hold the calves in place on the ground while another crew works quickly to vaccinate, fly tag, brand and, if it’s a bull calf, castrate.  If all goes well the calf is only down for a few short minutes before the crew releases the baby back into the pen to find his momma.

At the neighbor’s last weekend the process was the same, but because the calves were a little older and a little bigger, Cowboy Kelly decided it would be easier on all of us, calves included, if we used the chute.

And because, as I have mentioned earlier, I was out a little late the night before, drinking some adult beverages, I was ok with missing the opportunity to brush up on my calf wrestling skills. But my desire to be involved was completely selfish anyway, because around this neighborhood it seems you always find you have plenty of help.

And so was the case on Sunday as one by one under a sun that turned my fair skinned friend’s skin pink, even under her cowboy hat, the crew pushed the babies through the chute and Cowboy Kelly marked them with a brand that has been attached to his family’s ranch and cattle for over 100 years.


I stood by Kelly’s daughter, my best friend and neighbor when we were growing up, as she tagged the calves to help keep the summer flies away and counted and inspected each and every one for her father.

My best friend is a mother now. I watched her carry one of her babies piggyback as she trudged through the mud to shut the gate and I wondered when it was exactly that we grew up.


She just had her first son, her third child, a little red headed boy, a few months ago. He was likely sleeping in his great grandmother’s arms in the house as his grandma set out the dishes, turned on the oven and put ice in the cooler for the crew.

His two blonde and freckled sisters were hanging on the fence in their pink boots and ponytails, watching the action, counting the calves and asking questions next to their cousins and aunts who stood just close enough to make sure they didn’t fall and hurt themselves.

I look at those girls and it’s like I’m looking at my friend, new freckles appearing with each hour those little noses see the sun. I used to stand next to her on that very fence, watching our dads, asking questions, wearing holes in the toes of our red boots, happy with the business of being friends.

And so I stood next to her again on Sunday and we were ourselves, older versions of the children who used to ride their bikes up on the highway between our two ranches, weaving in and out of the yellow center line, our feet off the pedals, the wind tossing our hair, making plans to grow up and get married and work and be cowgirls and mommas out here on our ranches, the only place we knew, the only place on earth for us.

So I guess we are grown up now. And so are those boys we brought home to help with branding back when we were sixteen or seventeen and hoping they could pull it off.

Hoping our dads approved.

When the last calf got his brand, the crew gathered for a Bud and to  lean on fences and find some shade. I snapped a few more pictures as my friend tallied up the ratio of bull calves to heifers.

She’s always been good with numbers.

I’ve always liked words.

And so I’ll tell you the most important part about branding. Everyone will agree.

While we were standing in the sun and the smoke of the branding irons, inside the house our mothers were cuddling the babies and cooking up a casserole meant to stick to a hungry man’s ribs.

Because the number one promise after a successful day of work in this neighborhood is a hearty meal and the chance to catch up, to visit a bit after a busy calving season.  It’s why you can always get a crew, because the work load is eased by friendship and comradery and the spirit that still lives out here on 100 year old ranches, the spirt that holds hope that it could carry on like this through the generations in the faces of the children we used to be.