How NOT to make my mom’s holiday fudge

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Merry day after Christmas. It’s going to take me a good week or two to scrape the Christmas off my floors,

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but it was a truly special holiday for so many reasons, the main being that we are all here together, happy and healthy.

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And we all survived the fudge making debacle of 2018.

 

Coming Home: How not to make my mother’s mouthwatering holiday fudge

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Brought to you by Carnation evaporated milk, which is NOT Carnation sweetened condensed milk, even though they basically come in the exact same packaging.

First, go to Las Vegas for three or four days in the middle of December, just long enough to get good and sleep-deprived so that when you return home you are utterly exhausted and unprepared for Christmas, which you realize is in, like, 24 hours.

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Then, after falling asleep putting the kids to bed at 7 p.m., wake up the next morning determined to give everyone you’ve ever encountered in your life a container of homemade fudge, because that’s what your mom would do.

Now make a list:

  • 8 bags of chocolate chips
  • 1 (or probably 2) giant bags of sugar
  • Vanilla
  • 4 pounds of butter (you heard me)
  • 4 cans of evaporated milk

After waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get you and the kids out the door for the day, make sure you use your allotted lunch time to take your baby to a doctor’s appointment that lasts a good two hours and ends with a screaming child. Only then will you be in desperate need of a potty break and the perfect amount of discombobulated and starving to really tackle the grocery store and that list that didn’t include a giant Red Bull, a bag of M&M’s and Cool Ranch Doritos, but dang it, you have baking to do.

And bake you shall, but don’t start until around 9:30 p.m. when the baby is sleeping and the toddler will likely only emerge from her room three or four more times, the last just in time to witness you dumping an entire can of rotten evaporated milk across the kitchen and onto your Crocs as you attempt to check the expiration date. (And yes, wear Crocs because it’s what chefs wear and now you know why.)

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Because, to do this right, you should buy sweetened condensed milk and pour it in the bowl with four and a half cups of sugar before realizing that you bought four cans of the wrong kind of milk.

Then, you should try to use it anyway and burn the sugar to the bottom of the pan before abandoning that idea and digging through your kitchen cabinets for a can of the right kind of milk, which you will find and wonder about when it pours out in chunks into another four and a half cups of sugar.

Then, and only then, should you call your mother, who will have three extra cans. Send your husband over there. While he’s gone, break into the emergency basement wine and the bag of Doritos and call your sister.

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And when your husband returns, he should return with the milk, two new Christmas outfits for the grandkids, leftovers and a partridge in a pear tree. Kiss him and tell him he’s the best husband in the world, and then get into the longest story in the world while you gather your ingredients, measure, mix and pour, so that by 11 p.m. your fudge pans are cooling and he’s elbow-deep in a sink full of dishes and he doesn’t even know what hit him.

Make sure to save him a piece or two before delivering the fudge to co-workers, daycare providers and that lady who once told you about the toilet paper sticking out the back of your skirt.

And when they say, “You shouldn’t have,” make sure to reply, “Oh, it was nothing! Such a simple recipe.”

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Click here for the real, full fudge recipe. If you’re not me, it’s so easy and delicious.

 

How to take the perfect Christmas Card photo

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Hello friends. We’re in the final countdown to Christmas. We’re heading out the door tonight for the in-laws and I should be packing and wrapping and looking at my list and loading up the car, but I wanted to thank you all first for the beautiful Christmas cards. I know capturing that special photo wasn’t easy. So I wrote some tips for this month’s Prairie Parent.

How to take a Christmas card photo

14 easy steps

Read it here.

Courtney-Crane

Photo submitted by Courtney Crane

Merry Christmas! Love you all.

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And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
Forum Communication

It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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Bravery and Compassion in the New Year

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Happy New Year from the ranch where we spent the holidays trying to keep our house and our spirits warm against the chilling sub-zero temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, Hettinger, North Dakota, a small town on our southwestern boarder, reached -45 degrees — and it may have been the coldest recorded temperature on Earth that day.

The coldest recorded temperature on Earth, right in my home state. I’m not sure that’s a record anyone wants, but here we are.

And here we are on the other side of the holidays and one whole month into being parents of two kids.

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And this morning we’re back to the real world after spending the holidays together, keeping up the traditions of pancakes and church on Christmas Eve, and presents and prime rib on Christmas morning at the ranch despite the fact that my parents were spending their holiday in a hospital hundreds of miles away.

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Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I know. Now I know what that feels like, a lesson I’ve taken from all of the hard times we’ve endured as a family along the way, suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in the story. And  that compassion, I’m coming to realize, can be the gift we take from the hard stuff.

Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with my little sister who took the trip to see mom and dad in Minneapolis. In a miraculous gift to us, dad was released from ICU before Christmas and after a pivotal procedure, is showing some signs of coming out on the other side of this thing. So we could breathe a sigh of relief and truly smile and laugh as we watched our kids take in the magic of the season.

After lukewarm feelings about present unwrapping at my in-law’s the weekend before, Edie woke up looking and acting like the epitome of a kid on Christmas morning.

My little sister’s husband was working over the holiday, so she spent the night at our house with her baby daughter and we got to sip mimosa, eat caramel rolls and sit on the living room floor helping them unwrap gifts. It was everything we needed and watching Edie snuggle her new sister and help her younger cousin was everything magic can be to adults who sometimes forget that it exists.

My older sister and nephew joined us later and we spent the rest of the day making appetizers, watching the kids play with their new toys and trying not to screw up Christmas dinner, which we did, sort of, but I blame it on my husband’s newfound obsession with his Traeger grill.  But it didn’t matter really and it was sort of fitting that supper was just slightly off, a reflection of how we felt about the quiet day spent being grateful and worried and hunkered down and hopeful in the face of a new year.

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That you can’t predict it is the greatest gift and torment this life hands us. I look at my new daughter’s face this morning and there are no truer words to describe what I’m feeling about life, on January 2nd, stepping over into what we all refer to as a fresh start.

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I’m not so sure about that. Even with this new life in my arms, I don’t feel fresh. To feel fresh I think I’d have to feel less worn. But I’m not sure I want to feel any other way right now. The sleeplessness means I have a new baby, a second child, one I could never even bring myself to imagine…and a toddler with a plugged nose and a newfound refusal to sleep whose existence changed everything. And this worry I carry for the wellbeing of my parents means they’re still here with us for another day, and God willing, another new year.

And so I’ll take it. I’ll take what I know to be true for now and be grateful that this year, as each year before, has made me braver, and stronger instead of scared and hard.

Bravery and compassion. Let that be my gift for the years to come.

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Coming Home: Finding compassion is the gift given to us in hard times
 Forum Communications
Published December 24, 2017

Christmas is here. The weatherman on the news this morning is warning us of the impending winter storm, the kind that will blow cold arctic air in from Canada and give us a gift of a white and freezing holiday.

My husband will come home from work tonight after the sun has set and make little tweaks to the tractors and pickups, making sure they’re ready to feed the cattle and plow through the snow banks for the rest of the season. Typically he and Dad would be making plans together to prepare for the snow, but Dad has the bigger task before him of fighting for his life in an ICU in Minneapolis.

And I can’t help but think this holiday, as I wrap presents and struggle to form Santa cookies from the store bought, refrigerated dough so that Edie can slowly and meticulously place an entire bottle of sprinkles on one cookie, what a charmed life we’ve been living here.

The holidays, especially Christmas, can be a hard time for so many people. It was for us for many years before the babies came, because it was a small reminder of the absence of the thing we wanted most. But we were the lucky ones, always grateful for our family and that, because we live so close, we were usually able to be together.

This year my parents will be spending Christmas in a hospital in another state and we will be here at the ranch with their grandchildren celebrating and missing them. It’s a reality that reminds me of the hard things in our lives that we’ve lived through — job losses, baby losses, career fails, health scares and near misses — that have set me back on my heels, forced me to catch my breath and had me declaring out loud, “So that’s what it feels like.”

It’s a simple phrase, but one that is meaningful to me, especially in the toughest of moments. But I declare it. I say it out loud and with intention because it reminds me that through the hardest struggles, if I can find no meaning, no rhyme or reason for the pain, at least the experience will foster in me a newfound compassion for others who have or may find themselves suffering the same fate.

Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I’m suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in that sort of story.

And I don’t know what to do with that awareness except to show gratitude for the moments we’re given and for a supportive and loving community that has been there for us in numerous ways.

And I can pass on the generosity and compassion in ways that might help families in similar situations, because now we know what to do.

Now we know what it feels like.

Keeping the spirit.

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It’s been a long week at the ranch. I’m not going to lie. We’re still holding our breath, waiting to hear that dad’s condition is improving, but with this sickness, it’s one step forward and one (or two or three) steps back. But we’re trying to stay positive.

And we’re leaning on our family and community.

And we’re trying to keep the traditions and spirit of the season surrounding us, not just for our babies, but to lighten our own hearts.

This week we decorated the Christmas tree with baby Rosie rocking in her swing while her big sister declared everything to be so “bootiful.”

On Sunday we attended our rural church’s Christmas program and were surrounded by the love of our neighbors and the light of these innocent little children who are absolutely cherished.

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Rosalee was Baby Jesus #5 and Edie was a lamb, who wouldn’t perform until the woman in charge gave her a microphone. And so she was declared my daughter (as if it wasn’t already apparent).

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And I was determined then to keep that Christmas theme up for the rest of the day and so we baked Christmas cookies.

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Little Sister and baby Ada brought us the kind that come out of a refrigerated tube and they turned out imperfect and ugly.  Edie spent a good hour shaking sprinkles on her one special cookie, and she was delighted by the whole thing while I frosted the rest and Little Sister worked to keep Ada’s little fingers away from the frosting. But it was something to keep our hands busy while we tried to quiet our minds from the worry.

The worry’s always with us. But this season especially, I’m trying my best to dig deep and stay calm and believe in better days to come.

It’s something I know now that my parents have done for us in our lives when loss and sickness and uncertain times have knocked on their door. I know now what it’s like to want to curl up and cry, but there’s breakfast to make, diapers to change, Jingle Bells to sing and babies to rock.

Because this is life. And it can glow and sting all at once…

Before Rosie arrived I wanted to hold her safe in my womb until our lives were put back in place the way she deserved them to be when she entered this world, as if I had control of such things.

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Now I know better. To be simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting, but we needed her here with us, to keep us busy, to make us smile and to patch the aching parts of our hearts up with hope.

Last weekend we loaded up the pickup with the girls, my little sister and baby niece to take a drive across the ranch looking for a wild cedar to cut for our Christmas tree. This is a ritual we started with Dad when we were just little girls, and it felt good to be out there, working to keep in the tradition of the holiday. We rolled and bumped slowly along prairie trails and fence lines, stopping to watch a herd of elk cut through a clearing and up along the horizon.

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“Look at that Edie,” we exclaimed. “Look at the elk!”

“Ohh,” she replied, her eyes wide with wonder before turning to me and asking, “But where are the hippos?”

And sitting side my side the cab of the pickup, dressed up warm for a long, cold season, our frazzled nerves were calmed for a moment as we all let the air out of our lungs and laughed.

And I said a quiet prayer of thanks for these children who remind us to keep breathing.

Today I can do nothing but be thankful for our little lights.

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Prairie Parent: Carrying on my Mother’s Christmas Traditions

This month’s Prairie Parent celebrates the holidays. Check it out online and read my “From the Editor” piece reflecting on how mother’s are often the real Santas of the holidays.

Becoming my Mother. Becoming Santa Clause.
From the Editor, Prairie Parent
December 2017

And while you’re at it, enjoy my mother’s fudge recipe. I’ve shared this before, but since it’s not likely she’ll be able to send out her fudge packages to friends and family this year, perhaps you can make and share this in her honor. I know she’s going to miss being home for Christmas this year. But I’m going to try my best to keep her beautiful traditions going while she’s away this holiday and each Christmas here after so that my girls can have the warm Christmas memories I’ve been fortunate to cherish.

Momma’s Mouth Watering Fudge

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz package milk chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 pound of butter (No worries, I’ll post my Momma’s instructional aerobic video after Christmas)
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Got it?
Ok, onward.

  • Butter an 8×12 baking dish
  • Bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil for 7 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir chocolate chips, vanilla and butter.
  • Stir until smooth and pour into the buttered baking dish
  • Refrigerate until set
  • Ask your hubby or the woman in your life with incredible strength to help you cut the fudge into squares
  • Serve up on a cute platter and stand back and smile as you experience that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with spreading holiday cheer.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of my book “Coming Home” there’s still time to get a signed copy before Christmas! Recipes, photography, poetry and stories from the ranch. It makes a great gift for the prairie lover in your life.

Order it today at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

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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.

 

 

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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