Writing it down: Honoring our younger selves

Coming Home: Honoring our younger selves

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Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 10.26.08 AMA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit schools across the state through a program called “Poetry Out Loud,” a national organization that our state arts organization facilitates.

I spoke to the students in a few different formats, gave them writing prompts, talked music and road time and tried my best to give them a chance to share their stories too. Because really, these kids, they’re more interesting than I ever will be.

Things like this make me more nervous than some of my biggest performances. Because I remember a time when I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t forget what it was like to be young. And nothing reminds me of the ways in which I’ve failed that promise than standing in a gym full of young people.

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I can’t remember the context in which the promise was made, but I do remember a time in my life when I was jumping into the big lake, the cool summer temperature creating goose bumps out of my skin, the freezing water closing in over my head no match for my desire to swim and dive and splash. I came up for air to catch a glimpse of the grownups sitting in lawn chairs and long sleeves on the shoreline and wondered when it happens. Do we just wake up one day more likely to choose the comfort of the shore over jumping off the rocks?

I couldn’t imagine it and didn’t want to believe it. At a young age, I was unusually aware of fleeting moments, and I think writing was my way of capturing time and holding on to it for dear life.

That might be why I’ve never thrown out a thing I’ve written on paper since I started, a little tidbit I shared with the students hoping to remind them that what they have to say is valuable.

I keep those books on a shelf next to my bed and hardly ever open them up. But every once in a while I’ll be looking for something, shifting things in my home and I’ll pull one out and thumb through the scribbles, the unfinished lines, the clichés and imagery and self portraits and I’ll be shot back in time — to the rushing heart beats and confusion of falling in love with a boy, to the pressure of a future undecided, to the failings of a friendship or the frustrations of a family — and I’m so happy for the gift of these unpublished, private words.

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Because they remind me of what it looked, felt and sounded like to come into this flawed and hopeful version of myself — what it was like to be young and raw and true.

Kids, you know more about who you are than they’ll ever give you credit for.

And as you grow up, don’t discount the power of the kid who chose to swim no matter the weather. She knows some good and true things about what you want out of this one short and precious life.

Out of respect for the angels.

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It’s been a rough couple weeks at the Veeder Ranch. After a bad bout of pancreatitis, three surgeries and a week and a half hospital stay in the big town, dad’s finally home resting up and probably making plans to do things he shouldn’t be doing yet.

We’re shipping calves on Thursday and, well, there’s lots to do to get ready for that. So it wasn’t great timing for my daughter to come down with this weird flu all last week where she would trick you into thinking she was just fine, twirling around in her dress and bowing like a princess, right before snuggling into your arms and barfing all over you. I brought her in to the doctor on Monday for a rash and then again at the end of the week because I thought she was going to starve to death for lack of food hitting the bottom of her stomach.

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And then she gave it to me, the little darling. So yeah, having the flu at 8 months pregnant, now I know how that feels. My husband had to take a couple days off work to deal with the ailing, whining females in the house, pushing back his plans to build corrals and move cows home after work in preparation for this week. And for those of you who don’t understand the daylight savings time thing we have happening up here in the winter, we get daylight now only until about 5:15 pm, so there’s not much time for ranchers who also work a day job to get much done after work.

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Anyway, the man didn’t complain. But then he got the flu himself and all I can say is that sounds about right. ‘Tis the season.

Isn’t it interesting how much we take our health for granted until it slams us hard and reminds us that it can stop us in our tracks? All the big plans we’ve made don’t mean much when you can’t get up out of bed, and in the case of dad, in our most uncertain moments of the ordeal, whether or not he ever would again.

And in these moments, when we’re at our most vulnerable, it’s when the littlest things have the most impact. My aunt made several two hour trips to the hospital, for example, to be there for my mom when we couldn’t. My uncles are coming this week to help with the cattle. And that is something they think is a little thing that they can do, but it’s a big thing. A very big thing.

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Because it goes the other way too, in times of crisis and worry and sleep deprivation, the small inconveniences in life, the bad news on television, a rude or misplaced comment that may have otherwise rolled off your back, those poke and grate harder and can become unreasonably unbearable, because there’s no more room to place them.

You’re already carrying a much too-heavy thing.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about the moments that make the heavy things feel a bit lighter and how simple it is to choose to be kind in spite of it all. Because often we think that having faith takes the form of big, complicated, grand miraculous gestures, scriptures and the regiment of religion, but I think more than all of that, it’s inside of us.  And when you choose to be a light, well, maybe that’s the way angels work.

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All the ways I’ve seen angels at work
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She took his hand and looked him square in the eyes as he lay there in the hospital bed, in pain, worried and frustrated. His thoughts and words were clouded under the mask of painkillers, and it was her job to check his vitals, help manage his pain and answer his family’s questions about what was going on in our dad’s body.

Seeing him in that hospital bed, the man who was in his wool cap and on a horse just days before, laying there so vulnerable and sick brought back too many memories of that long January night just three years ago when his heart tore and we nearly lost him.

Could we be there again? How much agony should we put into this moment that turned into a week of waiting in that hospital room with him? Because worrying and calling the nurse is all a person can do in moments of helplessness.

I’m not sure I’ve said it out loud before, but I’ll say it here: I think I might believe in angels.

Maybe not in the literal sense, where they swoop down from heaven with outstretched wings — I don’t think it’s as theatrical as that.

But I think I’ve seen them inhabit the shape of things here, if only for the moments in which we need them — the body of a good dog, a well-timed breeze, an outstretched hand — all small things with the capacity to restore, if only briefly, a worn-out faith in this place.

I’ll confess these days my faith has been waning. With this world growing smaller, and so many words thrown out and scattered recklessly, it’s hard to escape the cruelty that humans choose to inflict on one another. It’s wearing me out and making me sad and scared.

I’ve seen the price people pay for anger and hatred; we’ve all seen it reported to us, seemingly, hour by hour. But that morning that nurse looked into my dad’s eyes and rubbed his arm in a genuine attempt to bring him comfort, I knew I was witnessing an angel moment, one that nurse pulled out effortlessly in the hectic and so very unglamorous demands of her day. It’s her job, yes, but it would be much easier for her to make her rounds, do her duty and keep her heart out of it.

I imagine it would certainly keep her schedule on better track.

And as it turns out now, my dad’s going to be OK. His ailment was excruciating, but his life’s not in danger. And for that we’re grateful.

But the whole ordeal has worn on our nerves and made us less patient with the little things because of the weight of the big thing we’ve been carrying for days on end.

Yet I vowed in the hospital hallway to take a cue from Dad’s nurse, so I offered a smile and directions to the cafeteria to a man who looked lost, because Good Lord, aren’t we all?

If the cost of kindness is nothing but a few minutes, I’m willing to pay it forward, out of respect for those angels.

The Everything…

I had a rough week of pregnancy last week. And by rough, I’m not saying anything other than I was just ridiculously uncomfortable, sleepless, full of heartburn and reflux and backaches and all around moderately suffering to grow this baby who’s been continuously punching my bladder for months now. And it’s a good thing, to feel him or her move around in there so vigorously, reminding me that all is well and I am grateful for that. But I’m also, you know, pretty damn uncomfortable. So I’ve been whining about it to my husband, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a gift to us to be able to whine about the little inconveniences of creating a miracle and a dream come true.

I have about one month to go in this second pregnancy. This week I have one more trip to take across the state to talk with students in a few schools about poetry and writing, and I’m looking forward to it. And then it’s home to hunker down, wrap up some work and follow my husband around and annoy him about moving furniture, and boxes and desks and getting things ready for our new tiny roommate.

I can’t wait to meet him. Have I shared that my guess is it’s a boy?

Which probably means it’s a girl.

Either way, the child is going to be forced to wear his or her fair share of dresses, I’m certain.

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This week’s column is a reflection on what that means: looking ahead and behind and soaking in the right now.

Memories and planning and everything in between 
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I woke up this morning to the baby in my belly kicking, rolling and stretching his or her arms, snapping me instantly out of a dream and into the reality of another day spent being a pregnant mother.

Inside this dark house, long before sunrise, my other loves were slowly waking up too. I lifted my daughter out of her bed and got her dressed for the day while she worked on slow blinks, little hands pressed to her face to wipe away the night.

She doesn’t know what’s coming in the next month or so and I’m torn between the excitement of a new arrival, the nerves of handling the chaos that’s about to ensue, and nostalgic about the time we’re spending together, just us two girls, the way it is most days.

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Yes, the look of my “most days” is about to change, and I realize I spent so much time worrying about becoming a mother for the first time, I never gave much thought to what it would be like to become a mother to a second child.

My little sister brought her baby out last weekend. I kept her inside with us while her mom was out and about on the ranch. I looked around the living room scattered with toys, the autumn sun shining through the windows on my tiny niece laying on the floor and watched as Edie brought her cousin blankets, toys and kisses, stopping every so often for a quick twirl in her dress.

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I remembered a time when this house could be so quiet that I could hear my thoughts bounce back to me from the walls of these rooms.

Scooping the baby into my arms, I realized how many of those thoughts were memories of all the mittens my little sister and I dropped in the coulees, how many times our boots filled with creek water, how many burs and grass stains we accumulated as we stepped out of our parents’ footprints to march our way to growing up.

It’s funny how quiet those memories can become when you use them to start making plans.

 

And so much of my time these days I spend worrying about the logistics of those plans — the cattle, the crib, the unfinished garage, the landscaping, the money, the potty training, the birth, the casserole, the disorder of every closet in this house — some days it’s hard not to think that if we could just get it all done we’ll have finally made it like we promised each other all those years ago.

But this morning I sat my daughter on my lap to comb her hair and the baby in my belly kicked at her back. I laughed as my husband, all dressed for work, stood beside the chair beaming while his daughter beamed right back, knowing the next step was being scooped up in his arms to head into the day.

And here I sit, in a quiet house, listening for those thoughts, the ones that remind me that this … this, is the plan.

And the memories.

And the everything.

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In her dress, life’s just more beautiful

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This week’s column is a little more about “The Dress.” Which my darling daughter is, of course, currently wearing as she sits on the potty and watches videos as I sit on the bathroom floor in front of her typing this on my laptop and waiting to hear a tinkle.

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On Saturday she actually plopped a poop in that potty, but that’s likely only because we rushed her there while she was clearly working on somethin’.

This is what my life has become.

But I have to admit that my daughter’s obsession with all things dresses, and pretty, and hair and painted fingernails has provided such an unexpected reality for me, a mom who, until I discovered her love for a good twirl in a floor length gown, has never played a legit princess movie in the house and really doesn’t get dressed up too fancy unless I’m heading to a performance.

But she’s been watching. She see’s what’s special, decides what she makes her feel good and smart and beautiful and independent and she goes all in.

And she’s not even two yet.

I didn’t realize this identity development, these preferences, started so young.

Last week I had her up in my room with me while I was getting ready for a meeting. She went into my closet and tugged on the bottom of one of my dresses and said “mommy dress, mommy dress,” and so I pulled it out and put it on. Her smile lit up that dim room. She was thrilled, she bounced up and down and told me I was “bootiful. Bootiful mommy in a bootiful dress” And then she instructed me to twirl. And so I did.

And there we were, the two of us, mom and tiny daughter alone in the house, in my bedroom, in the middle of nowhere, laughing and singing and dancing and twirling, telling one another how fabulous, beautiful and lovely we are in dresses way too fancy for an ordinary day. But to Edie there’s no such thing as an ordinary day and I hope I never forget the complete innocence and freedom in that moment with her. Because it was everything.

My only wish is that she could always remember it too….

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My daughter’s love for dresses
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We have an issue in our house these days. At least that’s what I’m calling it, dare I utter the real word and ignite the flame.

I’ve been dealing with the “issue” moderately successfully for the past few weeks, but last night it raised its voice loud and clear while I was chained to a phone with a cord, trying my best to have a professional conversation as the last human on earth who still owns a landline and my daughter let out a series of loud, desperate and relentless cries that only got louder and more inexorable as my poor husband worked to remove her from the room.

Did she fall and hit her head? I didn’t hear a thump, but maybe she’s bleeding. Did she need stitches? An ambulance? Or maybe she saw a ghost — you know like one of those supernatural phenomenons that only innocent children can spot?

That’s a thing, right?

“Do you have to go?” The now-concerned voice on the other end of the phone asked me as I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to pretend that nothing catastrophic was occurring in my household.

Which turned out to be true, despite my worst-case-scenario predictions. I hung up the phone and opened the door to my daughter’s room where she sat on her daddy’s lap, in her jammies, tears streaming down her face.

“What on earth?” I asked him in the best version of the mom voice I now posses.

He looked me straight in the eyes with an expression as defeated as any strong, healthy man can possess and simply replied, “The dress.”

Yes. The dress.

He dared suggest she wear anything else and there were not enough bribery lollipops in the world…

I blame my sister-in-law for handing it down — this floor-length, checkered, floral and quilted little number with just the right amount of twirl to bring a toddler the high she needs to become addicted.

But I think it’s also a hereditary thing. Because I wouldn’t wear anything but a pink leotard, purple tights and legwarmers for my entire second year of life, God gave me a daughter and then introduced her to “the dress.” Needless to say my mother is loving every minute of my peril.

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She wakes up and it’s the first word my daughter says, and she will say it — “dress, dress, dress, dress” — until I retrieve it from my unsuccessful hiding spot in the hamper.

The other day she wore it out to the pasture where the guys were building corrals, and I suddenly became sympathetic to the prairie girls who came before her as I watched her unsuccessfully try to run and frolic, making it only a couple steps before getting tangled up and pummeled to the ground.

“Well, maybe she’ll want to take it off now,” I thought as I hoisted her up for the 50th time in five minutes. But I knew better. Judging from her smiles and squeals of delight, I realized it was quite clear the challenge of the dress only made living more fun.

And, according to my darling girl, infinitely more beautiful. Proving that the only ones who have an “issue” is her parents.

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Where our stories begin…

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Well, we’re officially deep into fall, which means roundup season around here where we work on getting the cattle doctored and the calves weaned and ready for the sales barn. Because we calved late, we won’t be heading to the sales barn until a few more weeks, but we worked cattle on Sunday and got a good look at things.

Because I’m a giant pregnant lady with a toddler in tow, I’m not a lot of help. But Edie and I went out to the corrals after roundup anyway to to see what kind of damage the two of us could do. After explaining every detail of the situation to her (why her dad was in the chute, why the cows were “stuck” in there too, where the horses were and on and on) I stupidly decided to teach her all about the sorting stick. Needless to say there were a lot of close call shots to the head, groin, belly, body in general, both accidental and intentional. She was delighted.

And, because I packed enough fruit snacks and granola bars, and the girl just loves dirt and grass and wind and all things outside, she hung in there pretty well while I did the things giant pregnant women with protective dads and husbands can do to help–like run part of the chute and count cattle.

Edie kept track of it all, threw some dirt around, helped me maneuver the chute, bossed me around, cried a little for her dad who had too much cow poop on his hands to pick her up, ate some fruit snacks, climbed some fences, got cow poop on her own hands and eventually laid down on the ground to watch a YouTube video on my phone for a few minutes while we wrapped it up.

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Ah, technology. Who would have thought it would come in so handy out in these pastures raising the next generation.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Working cattle is this unexplainable sort of satisfying, getting in the rhythm, neighbors helping out, the smell of the crisp fall air, the sound of cows bellering as they make their way toward the neighbor’s field via a newly discovered hole in the fence…

It’s always something around here I tell ya…

Anyway, I grew up hanging on those corrals the way Edie’s was hanging on the corrals, trying to get in on the action by finding myself a job. Being useful made me feel important, like I was truly a valued part of the operation. I want that for my daughter too, and I’m not sure you can start them on it all too early.

This morning while I was in the bathroom and Edie was brushing her teeth (this is her thing…every time I go to the bathroom, she follows me in there to brush her teeth. It’s annoying and funny and, well, these days she’s been brushing her teeth a lot…anyway) she informed me that Papa was out working, riding his horse. And so was Dada and she had fun with the cows.

I still can’t believe she’s stringing all these thoughts together, but this is where it starts, right here when they’re little minds are forming.

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And so that’s why I found it so pressing to get this kid a pony this fall, to get her used to horses by having one around that doesn’t loom so large. And apparently, because I have such good friends and followers around me, all I had to do was say the word and a friend offered us the opportunity to be the next home for their children’s pony, Mascot.

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I was so excited to bring him home to the ranch a few weeks back, and ever since she got warmed up to him (took all of ten minutes) she’s been acting like the two of them have known each other their whole lives. She brushes him, feeds him “cereal” (grain) and rides him without holding on because the kid doesn’t posses in her much fear (except when it comes to the hair dryer).

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And so this is how her story with horses and cattle begins and I can only hope that one day she looks back on it, no matter where she winds up or who she becomes, and is thankful that it instilled something special in her…

And this is what this week’s column is all about, how our stories start.

Stories that begin  on the backs of horses
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Pops and Me on a horse

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a mom years ago, I have been dreaming of my babies sitting on the backs of horses.

I don’t know why really, except so many of my memories as a kid growing up out here are connected to horses.

And while I keep the long rides bareback through the pastures in the summer in the same pocket I keep my best thoughts, not every memory I’ve made on the back of a horse is a good one.

See, I was raised by a sort of horse whisperer. My dad was breaking horses while he was still in elementary school and his connection and talent for working with the animals prove that there are things some people are simply born to do. He’s never met a horse he doesn’t get along with. And because of that, while he was raising us kids, he spent a lot of his time working with what I like to call “second chance horses.”

Or, to be more blunt, horses that other people couldn’t get along with.

And when he was near the point of trusting a horse as much as you can trust any animal, my summer job was to put some miles on them. Which I did, but let’s be honest, those horses also put some miles on me.

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Because I wasn’t born with Dad’s fearlessness, confidence and horse training instincts.

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So it was on the back of a horse I learned the virtue of remaining calm and patient as well as the hard lessons about suppressing fear to solve a problem. And the countless times I was thrown to the ground for one reason or another taught me nothing if it didn’t teach the power of getting back up again.

Yes, some of my biggest blowouts and arguments with my dad occurred out there in those pastures, tears streaked with the dirt on my face after my foot stomped or my eyes rolled in his direction. I wanted so much to understand these animals the way he understood them, probably as much as he wanted to teach me.

Maah Daah Hey-Something spooking the horses

But from those moments sprung some of the best times in my life, not just with my dad, but with my little sister, my husband and maybe, most importantly, alone. I suppose it makes sense that I want to pass so much of what shaped me along to my children. The same way my dad wanted it for us.

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A few weeks ago I called him up. “I have a line on a pony for Edie,” I said, thinking there was a good possibility he might think I was crazy for it. “Do you need me to go pick it up?” he responded, the spark in his voice cutting me off before I had a chance to take a second breath.

And so that was that. Off we went the next morning, my dad and my daughter and me, to load up a scruffy, adorable little pony named Mascot.

And judging by her obsession with brushing his mane and feeding him treats, I can only hope that this is the beginning of my daughter’s story, one that starts on the back of horses…

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Friday Confessions…

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Happy Friday. It’s a beautiful fall day here at the ranch, the leaves have really started to turn, some have even started to fall from the branches, much to my dismay. It’s warmed up enough to awaken the boxelder bugs and hornets, two really annoying bugs that have no purpose in this world. I particularly like it when a hornet flies directly into my hair for no reason and gets stuck there. Waving my arms frantically, screeching and running in circles in my favorite fall activity.

I also like it when I randomly find a boxelder bug climbing up my bare arm. I have to say, the lack of bugs is a really huge perk to the season fully changing into winter. I’m not moving to the Amazon anytime soon.

Anyway,  Edie’s sitting in her chair eating popcorn and watching Bubble Guppies and my back hurts like a bitch so since I’ve decided to parent from my recliner for a second before we load up and head to the rodeo in town, I thought I’d gather some random thoughts to take us all into the weekend.

I promise to be inspirational..

#1. Ok, so my pregnancy app informed me today that I am 30 weeks pregnant, which apparently means the baby that is sitting low enough to send me to the bathroom every five minutes and high enough to give me instant heartburn after eating a cracker is the size of a large cabbage. And if this is the cabbage they’re referring to, then I believe it.

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Seriously, that cabbage, grown by one of our local farmers, is holding a lot of coleslaw waiting to happen there….or sauerkraut, depending on your picnic.

Yeah, I’m feeling like I’m cartin’ around a lot of baby these days. This second pregnancy thing in my mid-thirties is no joke. Especially when you combine it with toting around a 30-pound princess who can walk just fine on her own until she decides she can’t.

Which brings me to

#2. This. Damn. Dress. 

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It’s all she will wear. When we wake her up in the morning for daycare I can trick her into a proper outfit because she’s not fully awake, but as soon as she gets home she runs to her closet saying “dresssss, dressss!” and no other dress will do. Nothing twirls the same. Nothing else will do for dancing.

Or flossing.

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Or hiking.

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Or relaxing.

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Or hauling rocks.

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Or playing the drums.

The only thing that makes her happier is when I’m in a dress too.

And even though I’ve spent plenty on a variety of adorable outfits that I will be wrestling her into each time we go in public, I think it’s so amazing to see how tiny humans develop their preferences so early in their lives. Because it’s not like we’re watching lots of princess shows or getting dressed up for parties very often around here, but this girl knows what makes her feel pretty and powerful, and this hand-me-down-dress just happens to be the thing for now.

I’m hoping she’ll bend a bit on the wardrobe thing soon, but let’s be honest, I wore strictly leotards, tights and leg warmers my entire second year of life, so I deserve this.

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#3. The Pony situation. 

IMG_1753Gramma took Edie to ride a pony last weekend at Applefest while I was singing. I’ve been in the market for a pony for her, since, well, let’s be honest, since before she was born, and it looks like my little wish is going to come true tomorrow thanks to a generous friend. We’re going to pick us up a pony named Mascot tomorrow morning and I’m so excited!!!

#4. October’s coming up and like the true nerd I am, I’ve already got our costumes figured out. But if you’re looking for an idea, I think this is a home run.

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You’re welcome.

#5. Here’s a picture of my sweet niece, baby Ada.

IMG_1709 (there, now I’ve cleansed your pallet). We’re heading in to see her in a bit and I know you’re jealous, of the snuggles and her hair. She’s the tiniest, sweetest, most snuggly baby ever and in so many ways the opposite of her cousin Edie (who wasn’t snuggly or tiny and was bald) but who can’t get enough of her. It’s been so fun watching my little sister figure out this motherhood thing. She’s great at it. Tomorrow the two of us are going to stroll our baby daughters in a 5K “fun” run/walk. I put “fun” in quotes given that I can barely walk, or even waddle these days. It was her idea and I’m going to blame her for every ache and pain I endure as the aftermath of such “fun.”

#6. My garden wasn’t great this year, but I’m blaming the hot weather. This is the last of the harvest, besides the carrots I’ll be digging up for a while. I used it to make Husband’s Garden Tomato Soup and you should too if you get a chance. Here’s the recipe if you need it again. It’s heaven.

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#7. Speaking of recipes, there are a few more in the book. I just placed my third re-order and it seems like they’re going fast. So if you want to stock up on a great Christmas gift for the storytellers/ranch dwellers/prairie lovers/nature appreciators in your life, you can order it here (www.jessieveedermusic.com). I’ll sign it and send it along. Get it before it’s gone again!

Jessie Veeder Book Cover copy

#8. My sweet tooth game is strong. This is different from my last pregnancy. I’m taking guesses on boy or girl. My hunch is a boy, and so was the hunch of the random lady in the post office, who was right about the girl thing last time, so we’ll see.

Wow, it won’t be too long before we see! Time goes fast, except the last two months of pregnancy. These months are lasting seven years.

Anyway, I better go. I wanna grab a scoop of ice cream from the freezer before we head to town.

Thanks for reading. Much love to you all and much hope that you can take a lesson from the beloved Pooh this weekend.

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See, told ya I’d be inspirational.

Peace, Love and Chip ‘n Mint,

Jessie and Edie

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The Kitchen Table

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A new kitchen table arrived at our house last week. We ordered it custom made and waited a long time for its arrival, not taking lightly the weight such a furnishing decision has on the landscape of our lives, having spent our time in this house gathering around an antique piece that has been in our family for generations, and sitting in broken kitchen chairs handed down to us from my parents, which I have no doubt is a punishment in disguise when my arm gets pinched in the one my friend broke at that party I threw once as a teenager…a little run-down reminder of the bad decisions of my youth…

Anyway, we’ve lived most of our adult lives up until this point on the receiving end of hand-me-down furniture. It wasn’t until Edie arrived and I found myself spending considerably more of my time inside our little house that I decided to finally make an investment in such things. And so we bought a new couch and recliner and a custom made rocking chair that is too big and too bulky and not not at all what I expected or wanted, but there it sits because, dammit, it was expensive.

And then this table, this big heavy investment made of hickory with three leaves tucked inside that can expand it across the entire house. They delivered it and I held my breath, hoping it would fit knowing that everything these days seems to be built for mansions. And we don’t have a mansion, no, but this kitchen table was set to be the centerpiece of our house really. In our little cabin style, open flooring plan it’s where everything gets sorta dumped. Mail and pretzels, my camera bag and books. Husband’s game cameras and broad heads and hats. Edie’s markers and Play Dough and naked baby doll.

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Since becoming a work at home mom, that old kitchen table has become my desk. And since Edie’s become a pint-sized office assistant, it’s become her desk too.

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When friends come over it turns from appetizer table to supper table to game table. We walk around it, move it out of the way, abuse it, spill on it, don’t wipe it, clean it, shine it enough and if it could talk it would tell us that we don’t have it together. Not a bit. That we laugh loud, that we argue too much. That we shouldn’t leave the door open when we go in and out because the flies get in. And we should serve more vegetables maybe, but boy does that baby like strawberries, and maybe we should try cleaning them up before the fossilize on its surface.  It would say there’s lots of music here, and lots of plans being made and maybe we should have more company and make more pies and play more cards like they used to back when it was new…

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Coming Home: If kitchen tables could talk

It sits low, lower than the kitchen tables they make these days, its claw shaped feet at the bottom of the wooden pedestal look like they’re clutching the hardwood floor. Without its three leaves it’s perfectly round and could seat four for a card game. With its three leaves it seats six quite comfortably for a meal.

Years ago, in that little brown farmhouse over the hill, one of those six people was my dad as a curly haired kid, stabbing a pancake under the neon glow of the kitchen light serving its purpose before the sun rose, before heading out to milk the cows, before the bus rolled in down the red scoria road under the dark sky and crisp morning air that only farm kids know.

I pull all three of those leaves out now, cradling them in my arms as I head to the basement to lean them against the wall and out of the way to make room for our new kitchen table arriving that day, custom made and ready to serve us.

If only these kitchen tables could talk.

This old claw-foot table had a short life with us, but a long life under the elbows of generations of my family out here, belonging first, I think, to my great-grandmother Gudrun who arrived in America when she was only 17 and went on to raise 12 children just down the gravel road.

I doubt she brought many possessions with her. I doubt she had many to bring. And I’m not certain at what stage that claw-foot table entered her life, if it was brand new or refinished, but I imagine it was a big deal.

How many plans were made there, passing the bread, the top worn slowly by cups of coffee finding their way up to worried or laughing mouths and down again. How many dishes were passed between the hands of relatives and neighbors? How many prayers sent up of gratefulness or despair? God is great … God is good …

I’ve said those prayers there too, feeling the roughness of my uncle’s working hand in mine, the other hand squeezing my cousin’s, too hard the way kids do, anxious to move on to the Jello salad dessert my grandma always forgot in the fridge in the bustle of preparing a big holiday meal.

Years later my oldest cousin had it in her home for some time, after our grandparents died and the people left behind have to make decisions about how important these things are to us. My aunt counted that table at the top of the list and kept it useful and in the family, holding on in resourcefulness and nostalgia, the way we were all raised here it seems.

I wipe off the sticky, fifth generation fingerprints one last time and take notice of it again. Worn and beautiful it sits, now free of all the papers and place settings, quaint and clutching the ground the way it does, hanging onto the memories and the beauty of the generations the way only old and precious things can.

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And now a poem shared with me from Thelma after she read this column in the paper

PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE
by Joy Harjo from her book The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. it has been since creation, and it will go on.
 
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
 
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
 
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
 
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
 
The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
 
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
 
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
 
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
 
Perhaps the world will end here at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Work from home mom

Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
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Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on jessieveedermusic.com

‘Til the cows come home…and they always come home…

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Here are some photos of the guys moving a group of cows from our pasture back east where they are supposed to stay but keep coming home because, well, they’re a pain in the ass and the fence is down in some mysterious place.

Like seriously, the guys have probably moved this little herd of cows back east like half a dozen times in the last few weeks, fix a patch of fence, call it good and low and behold, I wake up to cow mooing and munching outside the fence.

The other day Husband got home, moved the cows back east, went up to the hayfield to cut and, boom, there they were. It took them the time it took him to get from his horse to his tractor to decide where they now found themselves was not, in fact, where they belong.

Dad called today and told me he thought he had the fence mystery solved. A big patch down in the trees. But just to be sure, and because it was time anyway, the guys moved all the cattle one more pasture over tonight, so if the cows are back home tomorrow, I think it’s time they give up.

Not that we don’t appreciate the entertainment here at the house…

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Peace, love and fence fixin’

Jessie and Edie

 

Hosting friends, ranch style…

We’ve had company for a couple weeks and it’s been lovely to have new faces around to marvel at a place that has started to look more like work than love lately.

I needed that.

Thanks friends. I miss you.

Appreciating this rugged, imperfect place

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They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time.

A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.

Since then the group has grown to include boyfriends, spouses, babies, dogs and a cat on a leash, which I’d never thought I’d see on this ranch in my life. But I did, thanks to the eclectic and brilliant group of people I was honored to host for a few days in our rugged little mess of a life out here, surrounded by cattle, horseflies and bats swooping against the backdrop of a black and starry sky.

It’s funny the way the familiarity of a home changes when it’s full of people you love, some of them who’ve never set foot on the place.

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Before they arrived all I could see was the unfinished trim, the landscaping I thought I’d have done by now and the complete lack of Good Housekeeping magazine touches. We spent a half a year with their visit on the calendar thinking maybe we’d at least get the basement bathroom done, because anyone with a house knows that it takes impending company to get a long-planned construction project done.

But then we ran into haying season and I was on my own with a pressure washer, a lawnmower and a garage full of tools to do what I could around here.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have to wait until Thanksgiving to think about that bathroom project again, but I obsessed over it all nonetheless, because I’m my mother’s child after all.

And then they arrived and you couldn’t see the floor or the counters anyway for all the food and toys and bodies scattered about, talking and laughing. And not one of my friends inspected the tops of my light fixtures for dust, because we were too busy telling stories, cutting onions for guacamole and taking hikes around the farmyard, where I got a chance to see our place through their eyes.

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That was another gift they gave me that weekend: a gift of appreciation for our home. They picked wildflowers and rocks and marveled at the things we’ve labeled burdens or works in progress, like the old farm equipment and tumbled down fences that need to be repaired. In the midst of the overwhelming feeling that summer ranch work brings, I loved them for it.

And now they’re gone, leaving this place feeling a little electric, pulsing from the conversations and dropped forks and baby kisses, like it needs a moment to come back down to the quiet chaos of the life we lead, sending our love to them from this rugged, imperfect place.

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