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.

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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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.

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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

Smile, it’s Christmas.

Christmas

‘Tis the season.

The season to deck the halls.

To troll the ancient Yule tide carol.

To don we now our gay apparel.

The season to be jolly.

And ’tis the season to stand in front of the Christmas tree and smile.

It’s a Very Veeder Family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. That weirdly adorable kid in the checkered suit up there, that’s Pops. He’s known as the Godfather of the awkward Christmas smile.

You will see it carried out on various family members’ faces as we continue through the archives of the most noteworthy Veeder Christmas Tree portraits of all time.

(You’re welcome Aunt K.)

Anyway, don’t we all want to remember what we looked like on Christmas Eve 1993 when we just opened our kick-ass cow pajamas with matching slippers.

Falala-lalala-la-la-la.

These are fashion memories worth re-living and my hope is that they might give you inspiration for this year’s Christmas Tree shot.

Because if you find that you and your little sister are in matching sweatsuits, by all means, snuggle up under a quilt and get a picture of that shit.

Because it’s adorable.

Same goes when you and your cousins are forced to wear matching “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” sweatshirts on Christmas morning.

Pay attention here. This is a classic.

But not as classic as tablecloth dresses, big red bows, red-eye and eighties hair.

If only I could still pull off white tights, mary-janes…and big-ass fluffy tutus.

Because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a pouty ballerina and her big sister in even bigger glasses.

And now for Exhibit B, this time with excessive makeup, braces, forced smiles and more bows. Lots and lots of bows.

Because bows are cute as hell.

And so are puppies.

If you want to spice up a boring Christmas tree shot, go out and find yourself a puppy.

Sweet Baby Jesus that’s adorable.

And if you can’t find a puppy, a teddy bear dressed as an elf works too. 

You can thank me later for the tip.

And here’s another. If you find that you want a switch from the typical Christmas tree photo, I recommend sitting on a couch and placing a big poinsettia in front of your subjects. And also, at least one of you should be wearing a pirate shirt.

You can never go wrong with a pirate shirt.

Here’s to the holiday my sweet, sweet friends. May everything you’ve ever wanted be waiting for you under that Christmas tree!

An Easter snowsuit.

Only in North Dakota would a little girl have to bundle up in full snow gear to hunt for Easter eggs.
An Easter egg hunt in a snowbank is not something any of us were too thrilled about.

But we’re hearty northerners and six feet of snow has never stopped us from fulfilling our traditions.

But looking back on my childhood now it occurs to me I should have prayed for snow on Easter…


Because a snowsuit  would have covered up my embarrassing Easter jumpers.

Easter Flashback

And we all know a snowsuit is timeless.

Turns out, so is a swimsuit.

The verdict’s still out on the OshKosh Hat.

Hope your Easter was less snowsuity and more swimsuity.

Peace, Love and Egg Hunts,

Jessie

Uncontrollable urges.

I had two Thanksgivings.

Which means I had approximately seven helpings of turkey, five helpings of mashed potatoes, ten spoonfuls of broccoli salad, three turkey shaped sugar cookies, a half of a turkey shaped cheese ball, a slice of pumpkin pie, another slice of pumpkin pie, a pint of cookie salad, four days of leftovers and no hope of fitting into my skinny jeans for the rest of my life.

But this story isn’t about me and my uncontrollable urges.

It’s about the pug and his.

Because besides making a few dozen ridiculous and unnecessary choices involving doughnut cake and thirds of everything, I also made the ridiculous and unnecessary choice to bring Chug the damn pug to Thanksgiving at my in-laws’.

I had good intentions. I mean, my nieces like him. And so does my Mother-in-Law. She thinks he’s hilarious.

Also, I knew if I left the little shit at the ranch for the weekend the dog would hitchhike his ass up to the nearest oil site on the hunt for a lonely oil field worker who would let him in his camper, feed him the other half of his steak before inviting the little weasel to snuggle down on the couch with him for the night.

So I loaded him up in the backseat of the pickup between the wine bottles and my bag full of stretchy pants and off we went to hug and visit and play ping pong and Barbies and board games and drink wine and wait patiently for the meal I could smell wafting from the house before we even pulled into the drive.

And all was going well. It was. The pug was behaving himself, sniffing the butts of the other family dogs, making friends, cleaning up crumbs from the kitchen floor, sneaking up on laps, licking faces…

and winking on command.

And then, four minutes before the meal was set to be served, that lovable, crowd-working dog lifted his leg and pissed on the floor smack dab in the middle of the living room and right before my eyes, sending me screaming and chasing the one-eyed monster out of the room and barreling through the kitchen before sliding to a stop in the dining room where I scooped him up and snapped out of my blind rage only to find we had landed ourselves in the midst of a crowd of relatives who had just received news of my cousin’s engagement.

I’m pretty sure my swearing, screaming and all the fur flying was just the atmosphere they were looking for in that moment.

And now the pug’s for giveaway.

Again.

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…