So many gifts.

Last Christmas Husband and I were planning the arrival of our new home. Husband worked during the coldest weeks of the year alongside his dad, Pops and our neighbor hammering nails with gloved hands, storing the air-compressor inside the heated truck so it wouldn’t freeze, climbing ladders and creating the walls to a foundation that our house was scheduled to sit on as soon as it arrived from Wisconsin.

I remember wondering what it would look like, having only seen what was to be our forever home in my head or on a blue print. I remember worrying that we wouldn’t meet our deadline, wondering how a house can possibly travel all of those miles and wind up in a place along a gravel road where a house has never been before and offering the guys a couple shots of Peppermint Schnapps as a celebration that the first step was done.

It was cold and frosty and the deadline was approaching with each passing moment, but right on schedule our house came rolling slowly down the freshly laid road and we could do nothing more but stand out of the way and watch as the crane lifted it and placed it on the concrete and wooden walls that were so carefully constructed during the depth of winter and into some long nights.

I will never forget what it felt like witnessing our home arrive out of thin air. Husband and I watched in silence with our hands in our pockets before admitting we were chilled to the bones and moving into the heated pickup where we did more of the silence thing, more of the watching. And although we knew when the roof was on and the men were gone there would be more work to be done, we were choked up at the sight of the start of it all.

That was one year ago. It was our sixth Christmas together as husband and wife and we were watching our dreams come true.

One year and I’ll have to say, nail by nail, scary ladder project by scary ladder project, and day by day it has been a test of our skills and our patience and a wonderful hand-made spectacle to watch it all slowly come together.

Two weeks ago they came to pour concrete in that basement.

Last week Husband built us some stairs.

This week we will put rock on our fireplace…

and last weekend we brought our Christmas tree home.

I have to tell you when we made plans for this house we thought out our specific needs. We wanted a lofted bedroom, an open floor plan, a giant mud room and a hardwood floor.

And we wanted to create a perfect space for a big and beautiful Christmas tree.

Oh, we still have so much to do, and realistically we should have been doing it. We should have been wiring that basement, putting doors on the closets or picking out carpet for our master bedroom. I should have been wiping saw dust off of things or washing our socks, but after our breakfast was cleaned up and all our coffee was gone on Saturday morning, my husband and I looked at each other, pulled on our Carharts and went out to find the tree we’ve had in mind since the beginning of it all.

I don’t know how to explain the magic I feel every winter I’m lucky enough to trudge behind that man in the snow on a hunt for our tree. It’s like the world goes calm and quiet, the wind stops blowing and my toes and fingers warm up.

It’s my favorite moment of the season, finding myself alone out here on the snowy acres my family has kept for almost a hundred years alongside a man I have known since we were children, searching for a little piece of our world we can bring inside and give a new life.




I remember every Christmas tree we’ve had together. I remember the first year’s drive out into the east pasture with a pickup and a small puppy. I remember how my new husband drug it up the hill with a rope. I remember the sun going down and the tires spinning as we backed up off the hill and got stuck.

I remember the puppy puke and the laughter and thinking about the long, dark walk home.

I remember getting unstuck and falling in love again as we pulled that oversized tree through the door of our tiny house and found a spot for it. I remember how it smelled.

Fast forward to the second Christmas spent tucked between mountains in eastern Montana, so far away from the familiar but together in a small apartment on the edge of town. There was no extra money that year and no Christmas tree, just a pretty centerpiece sitting on our table as a reminder of the season before we packed up and headed toward home for the holiday.

The third tree was purchased in the dark in a parking lot in a town a little closer to home and brought back to a house we were tearing apart and putting back together, the first house we purchased together. The tree had long pine needles and it didn’t smell like cedar or anything really. There was a fight about candy canes and tinsel and I cried while I put up the lights. I was unhappy, I think…or lonesome or out of place and something about that tree reminded me. There was no tree in that house the next year and after that I vowed I would never cry over Christmas again.

And I never did. We pointed our car north toward the ranch and moved back into that little house where we brought our first cedar tree in from the cold and promised one another that each Christmas we would do the same, no matter what.

We put lights on one more cedar in that little house while we planned for our future. We bundled up against the elements and fulfilled our promise to one another, speaking quietly into the hills that hold us all so close together.

I want to stand on top of those hills and scream that I take none of this for granted.

I want to open my arms and praise this life and the family who helped build it.

I want to say it out loud as if saying it will protect me from all there is that could lift this feeling of peace from my heart and set it adrift.

But for today, for this Christmas season, I will hold that feeling close. I will sit beneathe the cedar tree standing ten feet tall under the roof of our new forever home, its branches heavy with bulbs and lights and Christmas spirit, and I will breathe in its scent be grateful for today, for this life while I’m here.

Because we are not promised anything on this earth but a chance.

And I have been given so many gifts.

An inflatable Christmas miracle.

winter

Well folks, the countdown to Christmas is on and I have to say my Christmas spirit has been looking a little less like Santas and snowflakes and snowmen and a little more like procrastination.

I have approximately ten days before Chris Kringle comes down my fake chimney and I haven’t so much as hung a stocking.

I had the best of intentions last weekend. I swept up the floor, moved the remnants of the tiling project out of the way, cleared the table of the leftover Thanksgiving decorative gourds and had a long talk with my wild cat about leaving the Christmas tree alone or else.

I even had the husband bring in the three boxes of Tupperware totes filled with all of my holiday cheer.

I was ready for a tree. I was ready for the lights. I was ready for Christmas to throw up all over this house.

I was ready to put the pug in the Santa Suit.

I even unwrapped a decorative dish.

And then I got distracted by a holiday prank that has been years in the making. And I’m telling you that it may go down as the only way to properly celebrate the holiday.

I’m not sure my mother would agree.

Ok, so here’s the deal. My mother is the Christmas queen. We’ve talked about this before. She decks the halls with boughs of holly, beautiful wreathes, hand-made wooden cowboy Santas,twinkling white lights, matching Christmas bulbs, beaded garland and a tree that stands upright, symmetrical and perfect in the corner of a family room glowing in the light of the subtle cinnamon candles flickering and highlighting the decor neatly placed on every surface.

My mother loves Christmas indeed. But it’s her own kind of Christmas. It’s a Christmas that blends in nicely with the season surrounding her outside. It’s kind of like how she only takes one bite of a fun-sized Snickers bar and wraps the other half back up and puts it in the fridge for later.

The woman has the self-control necessary to understand when enough is just perfect enough. She’s classy and soft and graceful and delicate and beautiful and she likes her Christmases that way.

Visit her house on the holidays and you will find fudge cut in perfectly bite sized squares on a simple red platter.

You will see white lights wrapped neatly along the cedar rail fence outside.

You will see mini pine trees lining her walkway and a wreathe on the door. You will hear Mannheim Steamroller music coming from within.

You will see and smell and taste all of these things and it will feel like Christmas. My mother’s Christmas.

And there won’t be an inflatable Santa in sight.

Because for as much love as my mother has for her holiday, she has an equal amount of passionate hate for Christmas decorations with faces that blow up and glow and wave and eclipse the perfectly lit and perfectly beautiful house behind them.

I mean, the woman can’t drive by an adorable puffy, air-filled Frosty without the uncontrollable urge to smack the thing across the face.

Or pop it with her keys.

Or shoot it with her nonexistent B.B. Gun.

Photo courtesy of karlfrankowski on Flickr, because I’m too busy dealing with my mother’s reaction to inflatables to take my own photo.

Seriously. Once we were strolling along a street in a quaint and peaceful small town, admiring the lights and feeling warm and fuzzy about the season and we came across a giant snow globe blowing air and styrofoam over an inflatable baby Jesus sleeping peacefully inside and I had to hold the woman back.

Her hatred is palpable and hilarious and a constant topic of holiday dinnertime discussion.

So as her loving family who have endured years of helping our dear mother trim the immaculate tree of her dreams while being denied tinsel, colored lights, battery operated ornaments and the Chipmunks Christmas album, we decided it was time to rebel.

But don’t blame me. No, don’t you dare. I’ve had the idea, but never the guts to put in place. Blame my Little Big Sister and her prankster husband. Blame their trip to the big town and the adorable, inflatable and giant cow wearing a Santa hat sitting next to the adorable, inflatable and giant pig wearing a Santa hat they found in one of those big box stores.

It had to be done.

And so it was. On December, 8  2012 the four of us put a plan into place that would finally give the inflatables a chance and leave my mother helpless to stop it.

Step 1: Get mom out of the house. Tell her you’re making chicken noodle soup. Tell her Big Little Sister, her husband and Little Man will be there. Tell her it will be fun.

Step 2: Distract the woman with wine and cheese and food and the grandkid.

Step 3: Make up a story about how the guys have to go out to the quonset to get the rest of your Big Little Sister’s Christmas decorations, a task that anyone who has ever seen the quonset knows could take up to one to thirty-seven hours, depending on the location of the desired item in the towering pile of junk that’s accumulated in there over the years.

Step 4: Try to keep a straight face as the boys put on their winter gear and head to your mother’s house to place that inflatable, adorable and  giant cow wearing a Santa hat next to the adorable, inflatable and giant pig wearing a Santa hat on the roof of your mother’s house.

Step 5: Try to keep a straight face as the boys return, say it’s time to go and your Big Little Sister makes up an excuse to stop over at her mother’s house on the way out so that she might catch a glimpse of her reaction to this prank.

Step 6: Wait until she leaves the driveway to follow them out so that you might catch it too.

Step 7: Laugh your ass off as you witness your Christmas Queen mother get out of the pickup, put her fists in the air and yell to the heaven’s “Whhyyy?! Whyyyyy?! Wwwhhhyyyyyy!?” before she turns toward your husband and brother-in-law and runs after them with those fists.

Step 8: Bwwwaahahahahahaha!

Inflatable prank

photo courtesy of Pops’ camera phone…

Step 9: Make no offer to remove them (and hide all the guns).

Hmm. Perhaps I have a little holiday spirit in me this year after all, but I guess that will happen when you witness a Christmas miracle.

Happy holidays. I hope your Christmas is shaping up to be exactly how you like, inflatable or no-inflatables.

But I hope there’s inflatables.

And a pug in a Santa suit.

A Very Veeder Christmas

A very merry first day back to work after Christmas to you all. I hope you all had a lovely time working on polishing off those sugar cookies and have packed a turkey sandwich, a leftover noodle salad, a piece of prime rib, some chocolate kisses, peanut brittle and maybe a holiday orange or two to get you through a full day away from the kitchen.

We celebrated in Veeder style out here at the ranch beginning with mimosa and husband’s famous caramel rolls in the morning and ending with our first attempt at homemade pie for dessert.

Yup, I (helped) make this

And so I would like to present to you some of the highlights of our big day in my 2nd Annual Very Veeder Christmas Re-cap.  It must be done. Because, as always, it was a holiday to remember at the ranch, filled to the brim with traditions that have warmed our souls and lifted our spirits year after year…

Traditions like the holiday themed cheeseball:

I know it's hard to believe he's edible considering how absolutely life-like he is, but it's true. And he was delicious.

The “quick, take a picture of the cat under the tree with the presents isn’t that so cuuutteee oh my gaawwdddd” photo:

The beautiful tree:

The forced, awkward holiday photo shoot, under the direction of yours truly…which never works when she who is to be directed is my annoying, shutter happy little sister:

Let's do this people...

I hope that wasn’t as painful for you as it was for me.

Let’s cleanse our pallets now with an explosion of cute…


And one of our newest and most favorite traditions yet: watching Little Man take in the holiday while Pops follows him around helping him open presents, pry into the fourteen layers of plastic packaging then disappear in a full out investigative search in the garage for the appropriate sized batteries, assemble the toys and proceed with his instructional session with the one-year-old on how to scootch a toy truck along the floor while making “vrroommminnng” noises as the rest of the family watches in anticipation of Little Man following suit…

It must be a grandpa thing.

Awww. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without adorable little children playing at your feet and… well…the annual presentation of the pug in his Santa suit…

Load him up Cowboy

Don't look at me like that...this is your Christmas duty...

Ta Da!

Nothing spreads holiday cheer like the glare of hatred coming from the one-eyed pug who refuses to move on account of the outfit.

I’m not positive, but I think might be the only one in our family who finds this type of pet humiliation utterly hilarious….

bwahahahahaaa…(tap, tap, is this thing on?)

Yes, it was a holiday to remember at our house filled with love and laughter, snuggles and eating, just the right amount of humiliation and maybe one Christmas cookie dough fight. But in all of the familiarity of the season, there are some traditions that just couldn’t be fulfilled, and this year it was snow.

Ah well, I don’t hear anyone complaining really, considering last year at this time we were trudging our way through snow drifts up over our heads to get down the road to Mom’s and Pop’s for Christmas morning.

But the lack of snow isn’t the only thing that’s changed around here since we celebrated Christmas 2010…

What a difference a year makes!

Cheers to a wonderful new one ahead, filled with beautiful memories and at least one less than embarrassing photo to match.

Or, you know, you could just go with it…

Momma’s Mouth Watering Fudge-A Christmas Gift

The Merriest Christmas to all of you. I hope you’re reading this and looking forward to a weekend filled with friends and family and laughter and delicious food. To honor your friendship and support I am giving you a gift that has been enjoyed by many families around the countryside here Christmas after Christmas, courtesy of my Momma. You remember her? My Momma, the woman who has Santa Clause’s cell phone number on speed dial and continues to make Christmas the most magical time of the year. Every year.

There she is, buried under presents and squished between a couple other holly, jolly family members...

And one of the ways she does this is by whipping up this recipe and distributing it in fancy little green and red containers adorned with bows to every person who has touched her family’s life or made her laugh or brought her a bottle of wine at the perfect moment a bottle of wine was necessary throughout the year.

Men drool over this. Women hide it in places their families won’t find it. Kids sneak pieces of this heartfelt delicacy while their parent’s have their backs turned. It’s a little bit of heaven in your mouth.

It’s my momma’s fudge..and I’m going to give you the recipe.  A recipe that is sure to put you on the top of the “Nice” list year after year.

Make this and even the family members who’ve disowned you will be knocking at your door, apologizing for their wrong doing with a bottle of champaign begging you to forgive them…and please, can I have a piece of that fudge.

It’s that easy.

Really.

I can even make  it…all by myself!

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 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’re looking for me and this fudge, we are more than likely shamefully hiding out somewhere.

Merry Christmas friends. Much love from our house to yours!

A Cowboy Christmas reminder…

Well, it looks a little like a Charlie Brown Christmas around here, but husband and I did it. We got a tree…or something that looks like it might have come off of a tree somewhere.

Not the Rockefeller Center Tree, but at least we'll save on our electrical bill...

And it finally smells a little less like the small brown stinky present the pug left on my carpet last night and a little more like the holidays in this house.

Yes, the pug continues to hold a spot at the top of the naughty list, but we’ve gone ahead and decked the halls anyway…

Don’t worry, he’s been adequately punished…

hey, at least I sent him out in the cold with the proper gear...

And that’s all I was asking for. A little holiday cheer, a pug in a santa hat, and a tree, any tree, to put all of those presents under.

Yes, when husband came home before dark for the first time in weeks last night we decided to head out before the sun sunk down below the horizon. Despite the beautiful weather we have been experiencing this December, husband and I haven’t been out and about on the place together for a while. So we loaded up the lab and the pug in his humiliation hat and headed out to check on things.

Down the pink road and into the quickly setting sun we drove, dressed in jeans and boots and nothing but a hat, coat and gloves. As we took a turn onto a prairie trail we both marveled at the weather we’ve been having. We couldn’t believe we don’t have to wear seventeen layers beginning with underwear and ending with a wool cap over the top of a wool cap. Last year at this time we were on a snowmobile zooming over the top of ten foot snow drifts in our search for an oversized Christmas tree that would spend the rest of the month in the house poking the back of my neck as I sat at my computer desk.

Yes, last year we had a bit more ambition, a little more time, the pug had two eyeballs and we had a very white Christmas.

Last Christmas

This year? Well, Cliff the weatherman says it’s supposed to be 40 degrees.

Do you know what I am going to do on Christmas if it is 40 degrees?

Go find my horses and ride off into the tropical North Dakota December sunset, because riding horses on a warm, snow-less December day on the northern plains might be a once in a lifetime experience.

I think the horses were feeling the same thing as they came to greet us on our hunt for holiday cheer. Our pickup rolled slowly across the grassy pasture and the paints and the sorrels and the buckskin and bay, fat and happy and furry came trotting down from the horizon to sniff our pockets for treats.

I buried my nose in their fluffy coats to smell the little pieces of summer they hold in their skin. I scratched their noses and took some photos as they posed for me, black silhouettes against a darkening sky. And standing out there on the open prairie with the winter chill on my skin as those horses breathed and snorted and leaned into our hands on the cusp of Christmas, just like a shot from a gun I was flooded with a memory that set me right with the season…right in the place I needed to be…

…to Christmas morning when Pops gets up before the sun. Hours before our bare feet hit the floor to find our warm slippers, he is pulling on his wool cap, his overshoes and coveralls in preparation for the chill of the morning winter air.

If we get up early enough we might catch the tail lights of his ranch pickup as he heads out over the hill, the empty grain buckets he is intending to fill rolling around in the box as he bounces along the gravel road.

And as we walk past the sparkling tree with presents piled high, our stockings filled for the brim waiting for us, as we put our caramel rolls in the oven, brew our coffee and pull our robe tight around us to go wake the children, our little sisters or our husbands, Pops has just parked his pickup next to the grain bin and pulled out those buckets from the back. He is un-latching the creaky door to shovel the sweet smelling feed into the containers, piling it high to the top as the dust from the previous season pools in the crisp air around him.

Carefully he is loading the buckets, two at a time into the back of the pickup… and then he grabs one more and fills that one too before pulling down his cap against the cold and reaching for his handkerchief to wipe his chilly nose.

As we are pulling on our sweaters and sipping our first cup of coffee, pops is heading toward where he last saw the horses, out in the field above his house or down in the coulee between the two places.

And while we’re turning on the holiday music and buttering our caramel roll, Pops is taking a moment to scratch his buckskin between the ears, pull a few burs from the bay’s mane and give them that extra bucket of grain before heading out to check the water and then on into the yard as the sun rises slowly over the house.

When I was younger he would take me with him if I was up in time. And in those quiet moments on Christmas morning when the frost was sparkling on the trees, or the snow drifts were lurking in the shadows of the rising light. in the moments my toes might have been a little chilly and my nose a little runny I don’t remember thinking that we needed to hurry to get back. I don’t remember feeling anxious about opening my presents or checking out my stocking to see what Santa might have brought us. I don’t remember thinking about hot cocoa or Christmas cookies or the new sled I hoped I would be getting…I knew we would get there in time

The only thing I remember on those Christmas mornings when I sat next to Pops on the bench seat of the feed pickup is the lesson he may have mentioned out loud…or maybe not…

No matter the day, no matter the season or the weather, the blizzard or the warmth, no matter how many presents are waiting for you under the tree, our first responsibility is to care for the things that depend on us…

And on Christmas we always throw them a little extra.

If only some of those things that depend on us didn’t poop on our floors…

Alright, alright…I’ll take off the hat…


The list

Christmas is right around the corner. Like, right there. I can see its sparkly ribbons and the ball on its Santa hat from here and I am finding myself a little anxious about the whole thing. I’m saying things like, I’m not ready! I have to bake something! I have to wrap the presents and find a Christmas tree and put up lights! It has to snoooowwwww! It hasn’t even really snowed yet!!!

I’ve been so wrapped up in other things this December, like planning the arrival and set-up of our new house, that Christmas and I haven’t been able to spend time together.

So this week I have  “Christmas” on my agenda. I’m not going to lie, I don’t like having to pencil it in. I much prefer when the season infiltrates into my life naturally. I like when the ground has just the right amount of sparkly snow and husband and I are able to go out and cut the tree together. I like when I have a weekend to put up the lights and replace my usual brown candles and wooden frames with red and green decorations and boughs of cedar.

I love it when the house smells like cedar. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas at the ranch.

Last night when husband and I got in late from dinner at my big sister’s new house I walked through our entryway full of tools and living room piled to the ceiling with unwrapped presents and realized that, with Christmas just a few days away and husband working so hard on the new house, it isn’t likely we will have a tree this year. And it’s the last Christmas we’ll spend in this little house.

It made me a little sad as I crawled into bed, thinking about our first Christmas spent as a married couple in this house. I pulled  the covers up and closed my eyes to remember the first tree we cut together from the place. Our first tree as husband and wife….

We’d been married about four months and there was snow on the ground. We headed out the door in early December to drive the trail to the east pasture, the pasture on the edge of the badlands that grows the most Christmas type trees on the place,  our new puppy riding in the back of the pickup. We bumped and bounced along the rough and frozen path until we got to the top of the hill looking over one of our favorite spots. Deciding he had pushed his luck and the limits of his 4-wheel drive, we got out of the pickup to scope out the hills on foot, our little brown lab trailing in our footprints behind us.

It is one of my favorite memories, watching my new husband dressed in his wool cap and neckerchief, jeans and big boots, milling over the size and proportion of a cedar tree that we had spotted on the top of a hill together. I remember it being just before dark as the sun made its way down over the buttes as our new puppy and I watched eagerly as husband carefully sawed off the top of our chosen tree and drug it up the hill to the pickup.

We followed in his snowy footprints and walked together talking and laughing at how our puppy was jumping through the drifts, watching our breath puff in and out with our words. We reached our pickup as the sun was setting, loaded our puppy and the tree in the back and I plopped my snow-suited body down next to husband in the cab. He started the engine, put the vehicle in reverse, stepped on the gas and, well…we didn’t move..

Husband put in drive, stepped on the gas…and…ummm…we were not going that way either.

Reverse.

Drive.

Reverse.

Drive.

Stuck.

Husband got the shovel and I stepped out and sunk knee deep into the snow bank we decided to park in. I trudged around to the back of the pickup to check on the puppy who, in all of that back and forth, had lost his cookies all over in the box of the pickup…and if memory serves me right, it seemed he had indulged in a lot of cookies.

So there we were, my new husband and I, out on the prairie in the middle of winter at sunset, a good five hilly miles away from our little house with a Christmas tree and a sick puppy in the back of the pickup…two supplies we found are  pretty worthless in times like these.

But you know, I don’t remember feeling panicked or frustrated or upset in any way. I do remember being grossed out by the dog puke, but not enough to not laugh about it. I knew somewhere in that youthful and hopeful heart of mine that I married a man who was perfectly capable of getting us out of a jam like this and on down through the hills to help me drag that tree into the house and make it a Christmas to remember.

So I got behind the wheel as husband shoveled and instructed me on the technique of successfully rocking a pickup out of a snowbank that had us high-centered. He shoveled the snow, wet and sticky from the warmth of the now disappearing sun and I leaned my head out the window to hear his instructions to drive forward, then backward, then forward again.

And then, as the stars started showing their shiny faces one by one over the snowy hills, husband scootched me out of the driver’s seat to get behind the wheel, I grabbed the puppy and with one mighty rev my man drove us and our giant Christmas tree out of the snow bank and to the front door of our home in the barnyard.

I remember us laughing the entire way home with relief, thanking those stars above that we weren’t walking.

Thankful that we were there together in our own adventure…

Thankful for a Christmas together.

I fell asleep last night with this memory floating in the air above my bed, playing itself out for me. I woke up this morning while my husband of nearly five Christmases still lay sleeping beside me.

I wrapped my arms around him and lay there in that memory for another moment. And in the quiet of the farmhouse, in the still of the early morning before the sun appeared, I listened to my husband breathe.

I listened to him breathe, kissed his shoulder and rolled out of bed to find the list of things I have to do to prepare for Christmas this weekend.

And at the top, in front of wrapping presents, making fudge, cleaning the house, and writing cards I wrote in big, bold letters…

  1. “Find a Christmas Tree with Husband.”

 

 

The Christmas Card Crisis…

Hello, hello…happy Sunday everyone. I come to you from under my favorite blanket on my favorite recliner in my favorite sweatpants and fleece shirt while the snow blows and drifts outside the windows of this little house. The heat is on, the music is playing, the laundry is rolling in the dryer downstairs. All should be well shouldn’t it? I mean, this is the best place to be on a cold and dreary December day.

.Except one thing.

I just realized it is December.

Like December 9th or something right?

Sweet mercy, it’s almost Christmas!!!!

I’m in crisis.

I have been so consumed with photo taking, eating, working, writing, snuggling, and planning for the arrival of our new house (yeah, that’s happening in like a week or so, but we’ll talk more about that later) that  I have completely neglected the whole process of making it look a lot like Christmas around here.

I have no tree. I have no baked goods. I have no lights or tinsel or twelve-foot inflatable Santa riding a motorcycle on my front porch. My gift ideas are still ideas (the inflatable Santa and is one of them…but don’t tell my momma) and I haven’t even dug out Chug’s santa suit yet! I know he’s pretty damn disappointed.

I am very upset with myself. I am. But wasn’t it just yesterday that I was jumping in the lake in my swimming suit? Now I am digging in our chest full of winter gear to find my favorite mittens and scarf. Wow, time flies when you’re working, crafting, photographing, riding horses, chasing cattle, drinking margaritas with friends, swimming in big lakes, walking around aimlessly in the hills, yelling at the pug to get off the couch and planning the house you are going to live in for the rest of your life.

Anyway, today I woke up with every intention of making a dent in this holiday season. And the first item on the list was this:

1) Make and order our Christmas Cards

Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward.

That should be checked off in a good 20 minutes…

All I need to do is find a relatively decent photograph of husband and I. No problem. We’re together all the time. I have a camera I take with me wherever I go. I am sure during the course of the 360 days since we ordered our last Christmas card someone has taken a semi-decent photograph of the two of us in a khaki pants and holiday sweaters by a crackling fire with perfectly placed stockings with our names on them behind us as we smile with the warmth and love of the season.

I am sure someone has captured us clinking wine glasses together in a nearby vineyard as we gaze lovingly and knowingly into each other’s eyes.

Or maybe they caught us on top of a mountain in our Eddie Bauer ski clothes, with cheeks perfectly flushed from the crisp mountain air, arms around one another as we took a moment to sip a hot chocolate and pose as the clouds rolled by in the bright blue sky before we “swished, swished, swished” down the face of the powdery mountain.

I think I have that photo around here somewhere….

Or what about the one where we were caught together in a delightful fall day, raking leaves in our matching fleece shirts and mittens, finding it so refreshing and romantic to be outdoors together that we just couldn’t contain our joy so we began playfully throwing leaves at one another. I could use that one with a card that says something like: “Joy to the world, the yard work’s done…”

Hmmm…



Or what about the one with us in that hot-air balloon sailing over the Grand Canyon? Didn’t we do that this year? Didn’t someone document it?

Or on the beach with our perfectly sculpted abs from all of that P90X we’ve been doing. Yeah, I think I was wearing a bikini with one of those sarong things and my hair was blowing in the sea air while husband scooped me up in his arms as the waves crashed against our legs. I KNOW someone captured that moment. That would be a perfect Christmas card photo…

Funny, I can’t find that one anywhere…

And now it has been a good two hours and all I have is more snow, less coffee and thirty-seven thousands photos scrounged up of the two of us either double-fisting drinks at a concert, holding an awkward pose with forced smiles in a scenic place or captured moments of annoyance…

But I have lots of photos of hubby. Gorgeous photos of him riding through the prairies so stoically handsome or standing on a horizon somewhere looking masculine…

Maybe I could just scrounge up a semi decent photo of myself and, well, you know, smoosh them together. People do that don’t they?

Yeah, this ain’t gonna happen is it?

Seriously, if anyone was on that hot air balloon ride with us, can you please send me the photos?!!

Maybe I’ll just call it good with this one this year. I mean, it has holiday cheer written all over it.

Happy Holiday preparation everyone. I’ll be in the bathroom practicing my classy, warm, inviting, Eddie Bauer model smile if you need me…

It might be a while…

Goodbye Summer

 

 

 

 

A quick Christmas recap (with some humiliation splashed in)

Outside the Christmas window

And now, a quick recap of a Very Veeder Christmas so you can all move on with your lives and wait, with bated breath, for the next dramatic adventure of the ranch pug in bad outfits, or weather report that involves more snow, or photos of tiny birds far away because I lack the appropriate sneaking skills.

And also because I promised you I’d let you know how the cheese ball turned out.

Ok, here we go:

This was the tree. My momma’s famous tree. A tree that only tipped over once during the season due to that one last bulb that set it over the edge. Yeah, surprisingly it wasn’t the evil cat.

Because the devil cat was too busy hanging out in this bag…

This is utter humiliation and annoyance and all of the things that are so awkward and wonderful about the holidays. Please note and oooh and aahhh over my holiday vest.

And these are the gifts, sure to provide hours of entertainment and complete happiness:

For little sister, a shiny new ukulele. To which she exclaimed with glee: “What? A ukulele? Oh my, oh my, oh my I had no idea! I will never put it down. Ever. I’ll prove it to you. All. Christmas. Day.”

“So many possibilities! We should put on a Christmas Ukulele Concert! And this will be our album cover when we take it to the streets.”

“But first I better learn a chord…oh man…I need to Google this shit…”

And a gift for Cowboy:

…now get your butt back in the kitchen.

Yes, the kitchen, where we feasted on prime rib, mashed potatoes, cranberries, smoked turkey, broccoli salad, sweet potatoes, and Cowboy’s famous cookie salad.

This is the table:

And upon this table a reindeer shaped cheese ball was born…

…and about one second after this photo was snapped, his head fell off.

But don’t worry, it was promptly reattached and relocated to the fridge…

…where it fell off again.

And so did his nose.

And for a moment I thought Christmas was ruined.

Until this came traipsing through the kitchen.

Bwahahahahhaahahaahaha! (Oh, and I’m in so much trouble)

Ok. Sorry. Moving on.

So after an uncooperative, but delicious reindeer shaped cheese ball was consumed, a beautiful feast with friends and family, a couple glasses of Santa’s Surprise (my famous cocktail…which was actually a Sex on the Beach, but that was deemed an inappropriate title for a Christmas drink) we headed outside to burn off some calories before the inevitable pie and cookie gorge.

The posse: My mother in law, father in law, pops and little sister…

Oh and don’t be alarmed, that is not Freddy Kruger on the snowmobile. That is husband.

He didn’t want to get cold.

Ok, this is the beginning of a sledding race between Freddy, I mean, husband and little sister…

…and this is how it ended…

This is pops demonstrating the depth of the snow…a severe situation…

…and this is what happens when you lose your sled at the bottom of the hill in these circumstances…

..turns out you also lose your arms and the bottom part of your legs. Poor pops, how’s he gonna eat pie now?

This is more holiday humiliation:

I think I heard him whisper “sweet mercy…” but I can’t be sure…

Oh Christmas. There is no better season…

…for love crashing down a snow covered hill…

…wearing sparkling bows as fashionable hair accessories…

…crowd pleasing performances…

…torture…

…and humiliation…

Speaking of, let’s see that ukulele performance one more time!

Hope you had a great one!

Love you all.

A Country Church Christmas

It’s the morning after Christmas and from the comfort of my bed where I have decided to remain watching “Julie and Julia” and drinking coffee out of my favorite snowman cup, I can see (and hear) my dearly beloved practicing the D chord on the new “used” guitar I collaborated and schemed and finagled to buy him this Christmas.

And I am gathering he liked the surprise, because the first thing he said to me this morning as I rolled over and let him know that I am not getting up any time soon is:

“Good morning. Good to see you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go learn to play guitar today.”

So he’s working on it. And the thing about husband is, he probably will learn how to play guitar today. I have been practicing and playing guitar since I was twelve years old and husband will more than likely swoop in with a mission and learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” in a couple weeks.

Better than me.

Because I can’t play “Stairway to Heaven.”

Husband is good at everything.

Which drives me crazy, but comes in handy mostly.

Anyway, here I am this Sunday morning surrounded by unwrapped gifts and ribbon and leftovers and dishes, still under the covers in my little cabin in the North Dakota hills listening to husband take his first steps on the way to rock star status and I am thinking, this movie and coffee and private concert in bed in the morning should become an after Christmas tradition.

And I think I can arrange that.

Because I have had some practice at maintaining traditions this Christmas season, and, if I do say so myself, we did it proud this year.

As you know this little house has been around. My grandpa built it and my dad and his family have celebrated many Christmases between the walls. When I was growing up, my cousins and aunts and uncles gathered around the Christmas tree in our “Beef, it’s What’s for Dinner” sweatshirts (our gramma was a member of the Cattlewomen Association and felt her grandchildren should advertise the cause) and performed carols and put on plays on Christmas Eve and then dressed in our best and headed out to the little country church down the road for the candlelight service.

Evidence, I must always provide evidence. That's me on the right being held against my will by my oldest cousin. My sister and my other cousin to the left of me, thrilled about our matching outfits.

And as we grew a little older and time took people away and changed our world like it often does, the tradition of Christmas Eve spent in this house for my family continued.  After my grandmother died, my other grandparents from eastern North Dakota would move in for the season to ring in the holiday at the ranch. And they brought with them their own tradition of pancakes and gifts before church.

It was always cozy. It was always magical. It was always sweet and syrupy with the smell of cedar and cinnamon candles and hot coffee.

And there was always a trip through the starry, crisp and sparkling landscape to our little country church.

So that is how husband and I hosted Christmas Eve this year. With blueberry waffles and bacon and my homemade chokecherry jelly and gifts and laughter and photos by the Christmas tree (sans beef shirts.)

Me, cookn' the bacon. Yeah, sometimes I chip in with the parts of the meal that don't involve mixed drinks and wine.

Then we left it all to be cleaned up later as we piled in the car and let our headlights cut through the foggy, frosty night and take us the 35 miles to the little white church on the hill that was waiting for us with lights on.

Our drive to church wasn’t always this long. See, we used to attend services only five miles north of our home in a tiny little country church in the middle of a field called “Faith Lutheran.” This is where my sisters and I, along with the neighborhood farm kids within a 25-mile radius, took Sunday school lessons from my pops. And during the Christmas season, pops would put together a list of hymns that he knew and could realistically be played on the guitar and we would sing “Go tell it on the mountain,” “Away in the manger,” and “Winds through the olive trees,” loud and angelically in our red and green sweaters, hair combed and hands at our sides.

Then, in the grand finale, we would light each other’s candles and hold them steady, peacefully, prayerfully, as we sang “Silent Night,” to sweet baby Jesus on the eve of his birth.

And I like to imagine the crowd of eight families who filled that tiny church wall to wall had tears in their eyes at the beauty and innocence of it all…

But, sadly, the voices of little ones will no longer fill the Christmas Eve air out on the prairie where our little Faith Lutheran church stands. Because, without sounding too dramatic, the changing landscape of rural America has finally made its way to our little corner of the world as many young families choose to make their homes in town and family farms are left to be worked on the weekends.  The population of the congregation of that tiny church has dwindled and tapered off to the point of no return and Faith Lutheran, home to my first Christmas song solo, closed its doors for good this summer.

Leaving behind only one country church in our community, about 35 miles north of our ranch. First Lutheran Church, the last of its kind, still stands proud and tall on the rolling landscape, surrounded by wheat fields and oil wells and farmyards and cattle, and continues to welcome the family members of those who founded the place of worship, those who dug its foundation and built its steeple.

And I am one of those relatives, because, as pops reminds us each time we pull onto the gravel road that leads to its door, he helped build that steeple–the one that reaches toward the heavens…you know way up there, almost to the clouds. Yup, he did that, all the while overcoming his horrifying feelings toward heights.

Yup, pops helped build that steeple. So under that steeple we walked through the doors on Christmas Eve, hand in hand, side by side with those we love.

And we hugged neighbors and classmates we haven’t seen for years. We straightened out our holiday scarves and smoothed our dresses and talked about new babies and Christmas dinners and as the pastor stood before us, our chatter silenced and Christmas Eve candlelight service began.

And it opened with gusto as a neighborhood boy played “Good King Wenceslas” on his saxophone, cheeks rosy, shirt pressed and tucked into his blue Wranglers and belt buckle. I admit I might have welled up a bit as I remembered our humble Christmas concerts with guitar accompanist and wondered where all the children have gone.

And noticed that this church with the steeple wasn’t bursting at the seams with families squished in pews, sharing hymnals.

But that didn’t stop their voices, no matter the number, from filling the air with the music I remembered singing shoulder to shoulder with the kids who shared my landscape, called the little church out on the prairie theirs and grew and learned under the same remote sky.

So I sang the melody to  “Oh little town of Bethlehem,” as my pops’ voice sang the base. I listened to the greeting and looked down the pew to my little sister as she sang from memory “Go tell it on the mountain.” I smiled at the little neighbor kid, who wasn’t so little anymore and we sang together “Away in the manger,” just like we used to.

And then the sermon, the offering, the prayer and, with the lights turned low, in a chain reaction, we lit one another’s candles and sang over our flickering lights “Silent Night.”

And there was that magic again.

There it was. I have felt the same way every Christmas Eve since I could first form a memory.

My voice a little stronger, a little louder, my father’s voice a little more weathered, my little sister a bit taller, my momma a grandmother now.

But there we all stood, side by side, under that steeple, remembering our little church, thankful for this one, thankful for family, thankful for our place in this world.

Thankful for a tradition, that, no matter the time, the roof or the steeple we worship under, the family that had to leave us, or the friends and babies we welcome with open arms, we keep.

We keep and celebrate…

…and remember.

And maybe someday soon, husband will be performing his own rendition of “Joy to the World,” at church on Christmas Eve.

I am sure of it.