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.

 

 

Time, memories and the magic of Christmas

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

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

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

Tomorrow she’ll be running.

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

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

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

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

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

Even when nothing goes as planned.

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

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

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

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

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

I never wanted to grow up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on tight to its tails.

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A little Christmas reality

I’ve been a mom now for over a year, so needless to say, I’ve learned plenty of lessons. Like, every day is a lesson on how much sleep you actually need to live. I’m still alive (I think) so apparently you don’t need much.

Last week was one of those weeks at the ranch that I think all parents look back on with fondness and then relief that it’s over.

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It started on Sunday when, after the church Christmas program, 2015’s Baby Jesus #4 turned 2016 Angel #6, leaned in for a snuggle and puked the puke of the mighty all over her mother, down my shirt and into the deepest unclean-able crevasses of the easy chair, and it just sort of went on from there….

and into a week that started with a sick baby and ended with a trip to the big town sixty miles away on the coldest day of the year (like -50 windchill) to pick up Husband’s broken brand new pickup from the shop only to find what we all already new…diesel pickups don’t start in sub-zero temperatures when unplugged and outside.

And in between (after rescheduling for the third time due to that damn month-long blizzard thing we’ve been dealing with) I finally got a chance to get Edie to her one-year photos and one-year shots only to discover upon arrival (and the arrival of her general foul mood) that the poor child was in the process of cutting all four molars and both of her eye teeth at once, just in time to smile for the camera.

Which she managed to do in true Edie fashion, in between fits of sorrow.

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Little did she know that the torture I was putting her through in the name of memories and photo books and embarrassing her at her high school graduation wasn’t going to compare to the torture coming to her next in the form of four big needles.

And that’s when I learned my biggest lessons since the birthday glitter catastrophe of November 24th:

#1: Don’t schedule shots and photos on the same day, even if it will save you a trip. Save your sanity instead.

#2: Planning a child’s photo session is a good way to invite disease or disfunction to your family.

But we made it through like we always do and everything is fine in the whole big picture. Last night I got home late from singing at a Christmas concert just in time to fall asleep and wake up again to rock my poor crying baby with a runny nose and a mouth full of teeth back to sleep in months between 3 and 4 am, which sets me up nice and exhausted for the week of Christmas.

But at least we finally got our tree. The week before the deep freeze, sub-zero temperatures, snow drifts up to my armpits and general good naturedness of an ongoing North Dakota blizzard finally had me persuaded to give up on the whole cutting-our-own-Christmas-Tree tradition and just get one in town for crying out loud. And so that’s what this week’s column is about.

It’s about the expectations. And then it’s about the reality.

And the truth is, the reality, in all its mess and mayhem, just can’t compete with the fantasy because, well, it’s real. It’s our life. And I wouldn’t trade it.

Puke and all…

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Coming Home: Christmas in my mind different than reality
by Jessie Veeder
12-18-16
Forum Communications

When I was dreaming of having a baby of our own for all those years, I ran through how it might look in our house at Christmas: cozy and warm tucked in the trees, hot cider on the stove, a fire crackling in the fireplace, our baby crawling playfully around the fresh-cut cedar we found together on the ranch under a blue sky and after a little impromptu snowball fight.

I held onto that dream through all those childless holidays, come hell or 75-below zero windchills. Even when daylight and landscape were against us, we rallied, we bundled up and took the time to find a tree and make a memory.

But that was back when we took our time for granted.

That was before we had a one-year-old, a house to finish, cows to feed, a broken pickup in a snow bank and a series of days spent getting stuck and unstuck, stuck and unstuck in 50-mile-per-hour winds and miles and miles of snow banks in our way.

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Yeah, this December all it took was one look out the window, the sub-zero temperature gauge and the calendar boxes quickly counting down to the big day and suddenly I became a little more flexible on that whole Christmas Tree Tradition thing. Not that I couldn’t count on my husband to try plowing through the snow banks to make it happen if that’s what I wanted.

But what I wanted was not to freeze my nose off having to pull him out.

And also, I wanted a Christmas tree before New Year’s.

So we went to town.

You heard me.

We had to get some things anyway, like light bulbs and doors for the rooms in the basement, so we might as well pick up one of the last sorry trees they had left in the back, all wrapped up tight and snug and out of the whipping winds.

And the baby loves to go shopping.

You should see her in a store, smiling and waving at everyone, babbling like she’s in a parade. So maybe we made the right choice, swapping a sled for shopping cart…

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Anyway, we picked out our rugs and our Lysol and our spindly, $35 Christmas tree and while I strapped Edie in her car seat, my husband strapped that sorry-looking tree to the roof of my SUV.

And it was a sight somehow reminiscent of both the Griswolds and Charley Brown’s Christmas as we drove an hour home, through the badlands and into a dark, 30-below zero, regular North Dakota blizzard, the heat blaring as we sipped the fancy grocery store coffee we grabbed on the way out of town.

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When I was rocking Edie by our tree last year, her tiny wrinkly body pressed against my chest, peaceful and innocent, I imagined what the next year’s Christmas would look like — a different kind of chaos, ornaments hung on the tree just above her reach, her squeals of delight at the pretty lights, an evening spent watching Christmas movies while we wrangled her up and decorated the tree together as a family.

Well, that’s sort of what happened … just replace the whole “squeals of delight” thing with my sick baby projectile vomiting down the inside of my shirt, all over her favorite blankie and in the deepest cracks of the easy chair.

Change “ornaments hung on the tree” to “the house strewn from wall to wall with partially unpacked boxes of frozen decorations and a tree losing about a thousand needles by the minute.”

Then finish it off by swapping “together as a family” with “my husband in the barnyard pulling Dad and his pickup out of another snow bank while my glass of wine and I found the least breakable ornaments to put on the tree at 10 p.m.”

No, it wasn’t the magical Christmas tree tradition I imagined, but it was real, and you know what? I’ll take it. For so many reasons, I’ll take it.

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A Letter to the Real Santa

I’m working on my book today. The baby’s in daycare and the air outside is so cold that it burns my skin the minute I step out in it. It’s a perfect day to sit behind this computer to work to gather up memories and photographs and all the important things I think I’ve said about this life we’re living out here and who it is we think we were and who we are becoming.

It’s not an easy task. I’ve written too many words. I’ve had too much to say. I don’t know if it’s good or valuable or worth it or what.

I’m sort of sick of myself at this point.

And then I found this in the archives and, well, it seemed to lift the weight of it all a bit.

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Merry Christmas Season!

See ya in between the pages.

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Sunday Column: A Baby Jesus #4

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I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas weekend. We have one more holiday visit to make to wrap up Edie’s first Christmas. We’ll hit the road tomorrow for eastern North Dakota to introduce her to my mom’s side of the family and her cousins, great aunts and uncles and of course,  great grandma and grandpa.

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It’s safe to say between the food, the visits, the gifts and the games, baby Edie fits well into our Christmas traditions.

And she’s already started a few of her own.

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This week’s column is about her a stage debut, baby Jesus, a fart in church and other meaningful messages.

Sunday Column: We all have a story about how we came into this world
by Jessie Veeder
12-27-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Edie made her stage debut as “Baby Jesus No. 4” in church last Sunday.

As the story of Mary, Joseph and the angel unfolded on a stage filled with neighbor kids in homemade costumes, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins looked on adoringly, waiting for their kid to take the stage as a camel or a wise man.

Turns out Edie’s first church fart led to a poop explosion that leaked through the special “Baby Jesus No. 4” outfit I picked out for the occasion, which also seeped onto her dad’s pants, which sent him and his sweet, stinky daughter to the back room for a quick change, only to have her re-emerge down the aisle dressed in fuzzy footie pajamas right on cue and right in time to lie down in a bouncy seat manger among a half-dozen barn animals, a dove, a monkey, a skunk, a couple shepherds, the angels, Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

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The little country church where I grew up is experiencing a baby boom, and there was our Edie, second to youngest by a day, right in the middle of a Christmas story with carols, memorized lines and a close call with the Christmas tree, the advent candles and a toddler in a donkey hat.

It struck me then that Edie’s only 4 weeks old and already she has a memory. Not one that she’ll recall necessarily, but one I will retell to her year after year, about her first Christmas, her first stage debut and her first trip to that little church.

When I was young, I used to love to hear the story about the day I was born. It was a drought year, 100 degrees for days on end and a tough year for cattle. I was expected mid-July, but it was late August and my dad drove my mom over summer fallow fields in their old pickup to help induce labor.

But I came on my own time, in a small hospital in my hometown, delivered by an old Norwegian doctor with a thick accent. And when my dad held me for the first time, he looked out the window to find the sky had opened up and it was finally raining.

I don’t tell it as well as my parents do, because it isn’t my memory. But it is part of my story, a part that I loved to hear because it made me feel like my coming into this world had something to do with the long-awaited rain.

When I tell Edie the story of her birth, I will tell her how peaceful it was, arriving at the hospital in the early hours of the morning. I will tell her how she came to us quickly and without issue, and how I wailed a breath of relief and gratefulness when I heard her cry.

I will tell her how we got to take her home on Thanksgiving, which was fitting because we were the most thankful we’ve ever been, and so began weeks of an endless stream of guests, friends and family lining up at the door to meet her.

Watching all 20 or so children stand up in front of the church last Sunday to help tell the most famous birth story of all and seeing our tiny baby girl among them, I couldn’t help but think that each and every one of those children have their own special “coming into the world story” that they will hear year after year.

And some will hear about that day in church, about how she recited her lines as Mary perfectly, about how he ran down the aisle on a stick horse, the most gallant and swift 2-year-old king of all, about how he almost knocked the Advent candle over into the Christmas tree and about how only Baby Jesus No. 4 could get away with such a loud fart in church.

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Christmas Card Rejects.

It’s that time of year again.

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Time to roll out the holly, fill your cup up with egg nog, bake something and send out the Christmas Cards!

Now, we’ve talked about our card already here, about how, regardless of our small little family, I chose a photo of Husband and I sitting on a cooler at a music festival after a few drinks and a few hours in the sun and dust.

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I think it’s festive in its own way, you know, minus the roaring fire, twinkling tree and coordinating Christmas sweaters.

It will do just fine I think. It has to.

Because it was our only choice.

I’ve mentioned this before, a few years back, that each time the holidays roll around I’m faced with the dilemma of finding a suitable photo of my Husband and I that doesn’t make our friends and family concerned for 1) Our Relationship and 2) Our Mental Health.

It’s a tough task.

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And after spending the last few years traipsing around the countryside photographing beautiful families and beautiful couples and sending them off into the holidays armed with at least one or two catalog worthy shots, I have yet to coordinate my own JCrew photo shoot for me and my man.

We are not photogenic.

We are awkward.

And this is our catalog…

IMG_2733Merry Christmas (and no, our house still isn’t done)

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Happy Holidays from my nose and his beard

DSCN6339Warm wishes from Florida. We’re not tourists. And no, this isn’t Husband’s first time to Disney World, no matter what the button on his polo says. 

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Celebrate! The Dweebs have been released from the ranch!

IMG_2434 Happy Festivus…IMG_2510 No,no, we haven’t been drinking.  

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Aww, cute, we should cuddle up in front of the tree…take off your cap and act like you like me…
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Nevermind, put it back on…
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Uhhh, Happy New Year?

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Good tidings from the Scofields…and the creepy guy behind us…

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Sweet dance moves…
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Sweet dance moves…
  IMG_6143An attempt before…IMG_6258  It all went horribly wrong…(and I’m not just talking about my hair)

IMG_9481Do we love each other? Yes. Are we having fun? Of course. 
Does it look like it? No. No it does not.

IMG_8243Aww anyway…IMG_8244 Here’s to good cheer. 

Happy Happy Christmas Card Season One and All!
Hope the catalog of your beautiful life has more options than ours.

Peace, Love and awkward family photos,
Jessie & Chad

(Oh, and the dogs too)

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The Christmas Tree Plan

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This is what -2 with a -100 wind chill looks like.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.

And so the scene is set…

Ahem…

‘Twas the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and one of the last free weekends Husband and I have in December to spend traipsing around our countryside on the hunt for a tree.

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So it didn’t matter that our blood could freeze right there in our veins, or that our eyeballs could turn to ice cubes, our snot into icicles dangling from on our nostrils. It didn’t matter that our very lives were in danger of being taken by Jack Frost himself, we were gonna get my darn tree.

We were gonna put on 37 layers of clothes, load up in the new/old feed pickup,

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turn off of the gravel and onto the dirt/compacted snow/ice trail, drive really slow and discuss our options while looking out the window.

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We were going to spot a couple potential spruce bushes relatively close to one another on the side of the buttes, park the pickup, avoid a puppy-cicle and leave Gus inside, grab the saw from the back, trudge up the hill to the first option

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and mumble into our scarves with our eyes half open (you know, to avoid the whole icicle thing) about the potential of a tree that is a 10-foot tall version of Charlie Brown’s, but has possibilities really, because, well, it’s here and we might freeze to death if we stay out much longer weighing our options.

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But then we’re going to decide to risk it, spot another tree down the hill, walk over to discover it’s the same size as the one in Rockefeller Center and consider the possibility of building an addition to accommodate, because, well, there’s that whole freezing to death thing we’ll still be dealing with before I will turn my face toward the sun to discover one last option blowing in the wind among thorn bushes a quarter mile away.

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So I’ll decide we’ll never feel our legs again anyway and we might very well lose our noses to frostbite, but we might as well assess the bushy little tree, decide it’s not so bad, decide it will work just fine before Husband will stomp down the thorn bushes and start after the trunk with his battery-operated saw with a battery that lasts approximately 3 seconds at a time, you know, apparently death-defying cold applies to power tools too…

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And we are going to finally get the thing down after one big push, drag it to the the pickup a half a mile away,

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decide we might be dying, throw the tree on the flatbed, open the doors, get back inside the pickup, crank up the heat, blow our noses that will be miraculously still attached to our faces, and head back down the road toward home.

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Then we are going to get one mile from home and Husband is going to stop the pickup in the middle of the road, get out, run to the ditch and drag the tree back on the flatbed.

And when we arrive at home, we are going to put the tree in the basement to thaw out, I’m going to say goodbye to Husband who is crazy enough to put on one more layer and sit out in his hunting blind for the rest of the day, then I will pour myself a cup of coffee, consider adding whiskey, make plans for an evening decorating mission, because it will take me a good three to five hours to feel my fingers again and call it a Merry Merry Christmas.

That’s the plan.

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Fa-la-la-la-lahhh-la-la-la-laaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Holidays: How they hold us and haunt us

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Last weekend marked the end of deer rifle season here in North Dakota. My uncle from Texas arrived in the middle of the week with his son-in-law and nephew, Pops took some time off, Husband willed Saturday to come quicker and the entire Veeder Ranch turned into a hunting camp, just like it does every year at this time.

Boots dripping with melted snow were strewn in my parent’s entryway, a combination of camouflage, hunter-orange, fleece, wool and leather piled up on the chairs. Men were up and out with the sun sitting on hilltops and sneaking through draws.

When our Texas Uncle comes to the ranch it’s like an extended holiday around here. We all sort of hang up our evening plans and get together around mom’s table while Pops fries up fish or beef or, if there was some success that day, venison.

Ever since I was a little girl, and as long as I’ve lived in this place, this is the way it’s been.

Most years I go out with them on the hunt at least once. Because there’s something about being out with the boys who grew up here, my dad and his brother, together walking the draws they know so well, sitting quietly on the hilltops taking in the familiar view of their childhood, doing what they’ve always done, that’s always been comforting to me.

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Since we almost lost dad early this year, each tradition spent since his recovery has been regarded as a gift and a little more precious than it was before.

I seem to be seeing the world more that way lately.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I imagine it’s timely to be so grateful for second chances, for family, for walking behind my husband on a warm early winter evening, keeping quiet while he carries his bow, turns around and smiles, waving me along.

It’s never been difficult for me to be grateful for these things.

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But never in my life have I seen the world and the people in it as fragile as I see them these days.

Never have I been more aware of time and what it means for us.

And as much as I’m grateful for all of the things that fill this life of ours, during the holidays especially, I become the most aware of what we don’t have.

And who or what others are mourning.

Because what we don’t have, who we are missing, sits like a silent ache in the quiet corners of our houses.

IMG_9778Yesterday I sat down to make a Christmas Card and for the first time in my life I felt sort of silly about the whole thing.

“Who the hell wants a picture of just the two of us?” I said out loud to my husband looking over my shoulder. “Christmas Cards are for people with kids, and grandkids, so their families can see how cute they are. How much they’ve grown. We just keep getting older. This feels pathetic.”

It wasn’t sadness coming out of my mouth, but frustration. Frustration that the life I was in was perfectly good and that I should be perfectly grateful, but I couldn’t will myself to be those things at the moment, not even in the name of the holiday spirit.

All I could muster up was annoyance and a sort of anger that other people have family photos taken for the occasion, snuggling into one another on a blanket or in front of a fireplace, birth announcements for Christmas cards, big extended family shots with grandkids on Santa’s lap, and all I could scrounge up from our archives was a photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

It was a moment of pure envy. Pure poor me. It was ugly. (Others have lost more. Others have less to lose. Others suffer more than we can comprehend.)

And it sort of scared me.

Because I love that photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

I love that we have a life full of those sorts of photo opportunities. I am proud that despite all of our losses we are still trying, but most of all, we’re still living a fun life, striving for fulfillment. Holding on to one another. Laughing.

We have other dreams, dreams that don’t fill the empty void of a family we feel as incomplete, but dreams nonetheless.

We’re ok really. Most days we’re just fine.

But how do you portray this when picking out a Christmas card? The templates available to us are smattered with children frolicking in the snow, “Joy to the World” in big bold letters across their footprints.

Staring at the photo of my husband and me, in our early 30s, sun kissed and smiling despite seven years of trying and failing at creating one of those Christmas Card Template families, all I could see were our friends and family, the ones who know of our struggles, opening the card and shaking their heads.

“Poor Jessie and Chad,” they would think to themselves.

“Joy to the World” didn’t feel appropriate then.

And neither did anything with the words “Merry” or “Bright.”

But it was all bullshit. Justified bullshit, but bullshit still, and I knew it.

So did my husband.

He said, “You’re sending these to people who love us. My grandma. Your grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Our friends. They love to get mail. They will love to have a photo of us and I like this one.”

“I like this one too,” I said and carried on.

Christmas card 2

If I learned anything this year it’s that we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. I’ve been walking through 2014 with that sucked so close to my chest that some days I can’t breathe.

But as the year progressed, as summer came shining down on our shoulders, when my little sister got engaged, as I watched my nephew turn 4, working on growing up into a cool little person, I watched my dad get better, stronger, more himself, the worry release from my mom’s face, I realized that not knowing how this is all going to turn isn’t all scary.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s sad. And always it makes the holidays a little bit shaky for us. Because being so damn grateful and so damn frustrated and so damn happy and so damn worried at the same time is confusing and emotional, especially when it comes to cutting down and decorating Christmas trees and making sugar cookies alone together in this house.

Yes, traditions can hold us together as much as they can haunt us.

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I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. That some of us celebrate as much as we mourn during this time of year. I say some of us. But maybe it’s all of us. And that’s ok.

I imagine my dad and his brother walking across these pastures where they were raised, and I doubt they take many steps before they think about their father and how he taught them to shoot their first rifle, how he was with them when they got their first big buck, two grown men, two grandfathers, just missing their dad.

I look at my husband looking back at me, waving me along the trail out there on our own hunt, I feel him standing behind me in the kitchen, I watch him cutting down another tree to stand in our house for the season and I know we can do it. We can be sad and we can be happy. Scared and hopeful as hell.

And we can sit together on that cooler under the hot summer sun, a little tipsy from one too many, smiling eyes under sunglasses in the face of a good and unpredictable life and we can be so frustrated and so thankful and so much of all of the heartache and happiness that sits in our bones under that skin that makes up the arms we have around each other and we can put it on our Christmas card, and despite all that we think we don’t have that we should, we can write “Joy to the World” if we want to.

But I don’t think I want to.

This year, I think I’ll just pick “Peace.”

Winter

Sunday Column and a Holiday Re-Cap

I just had a sugar cookie for breakfast.

Ok. Two sugar cookies. And I’m contemplating a third.

But they were relatively small–little green and red churches–so like two equals one.

Anyway, don’t judge me. I am working on coming down from a whirlwind of Christmas festivities that started ten days ago with prime rib and presents at the in-laws and carried on with the eating and merriment until last night when Husband and I crawled into the house around 11 PM under the falling snow after a quick trip to Arizona to celebrate one of our best friend’s marriage.

Yeah, we get fancy when we need to…

There was still frosting on the counter from the sugar cookie and crafting debacle that ensued on Christmas Eve.

There was wrapping paper stuck to chairs, stale Chex Mix on the table, crusty pancake bowls in the sink and undelivered presents for the neighbors waiting to be unwrapped under our un-lit and lean-y Christmas tree. 

We dropped our bags at the door and trudged up the steps, swept the remains of our day-after-Christmas whirlwind packing episode off the bed and on to the floor and proceeded to fall into a Christmas Coma.

Seriously.

I have pillow lines on my face that will take weeks to fade, just like the dents in my feet from the heels I wore to dance the night away on Saturday.

But oh, we had fun for Christmas…




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And then…the extraction of a runaway remote control helicopter from the chandelier…

And oh, we have such great people in our lives. Between our Thanksgiving Disney Adventure,  my little Christmas concert tour in mid-December, Christmas with the family and wedding festivities with my best friends under the Arizona sun, we got to see and squeeze so many people we love this holiday season.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmoreAnd it’s that kind of squeezing, that kind of love and celebration that gets us through the deep-freeze of December and helps propel us and thaw us out a enough to bear with optimism the upcoming North Dakota January.

Unfinished houses and all…

That and an occasional glass of whiskey.

And so, while the snow is falling outside my window today in quiet little swirls, I am sipping coffee from my holiday mug, planning our New Year’s meal and warming up with memories of a holiday well spent.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmore

Because in a few days I will go on missing summer, but today I couldn’t be warmer.

Sunday Column:
Horses weather winter better than their human counterparts
by Jessie Veeder
12/29/13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: Oh Christmas Tree, spindly Christmas Tree

Husband and I don’t have many traditions. Unless you count paddlefishing in May, sending him off to pheasant hunt in October and sometimes remembering our own anniversary enough in advance to buy a bottle of Champaign, I would call us sort of go with the flow type people.

Unless it comes to Christmas. We have traditions at Christmas. We eat pancakes and prime rib. I dip pretzels in chocolate and make a holiday shaped cheese ball.  I dress the pug in a Santa suit.  And we cut our own Christmas tree.

That Christmas tree thing, that’s my favorite one.

And since we moved back to the ranch we have held true to it being a magical sort of process, one that starts with a dreamy vision of the perfect cedar waiting lonely in the coulees of our favorite pasture in the sparkling snow and ends with us laughing and smiling under its boughs covered in twinkling glitter and lights.

And that’s how we remember it no matter the snow drifts, the chill or the one time when we got stuck miles from home and big brown dog puked in the pickup.

We remember it that way because our hunts usually end with a great tree. A tree that spoke to us under a beam of light. One that whispered “pick me, pick me” as we slowly walked toward its light shining down from the prairie sky. One that reached out its arms and asked to be ours, filled our house with the scent of holiday and became the backdrop to many nearly perfect Christmases spent on the ranch.

That didn’t happen this year.

No.

This year we had one day. One hour on one frickin’ freezing Sunday before the sun went down to head out into the -25 degree sunset and find our Christmas centerpiece.

Because in the middle of a life that we seem to insist on overbooking, Christmas seemed to have snuck up and bit us in the ass.

So we had no plan. We had no direction. We just had our coveralls, a saw, each other and one mission.

To fulfill our Christmas tradition.

And what we brought home isn’t pretty.

No, not really.

It’s sort of twisted and it leans and turns to the left. The branches are spindly, they gap and sag and have grown so accustomed to the relentless prairie wind that they have yet to relax so that while it is perfectly calm in the little house we’ve built, that tree, safe and sound under our roof, seems to make us believe that the wind is still blowing.

But you know what else it makes me believe? That Charley Brown, Grinchy little cedar covered in bulb and lights?

That it doesn’t matter.

That it’s sort of perfect for us, really.  Perfect for us and this year we’ve spent muddling through plans that just don’t quite turn out right.  Perfect for a man who falls of ladders and a woman who falls of ledges into snow banks in the middle of Main Street.

Perfect for a couple that doesn’t make time to keep up with the laundry or the dishes and spends way to much time eating noodles and not enough time doing sit-ups.

So when I reached for the 175th Christmas bulb, that carbohydrate loving, overly ambitious carpenter husband of mine told me to stop.

No more bulbs.

The tree is good.

The tree is his favorite.

Because it’s like us.

Just happy to be here and trying its best.

Coming Home: A perfect Christmas includes plenty of imperfections
12/20/13
By Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com