What I don’t want to forget…

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Greetings from Minnesota. We spent the Labor Day weekend here with my grandparents and aunt at the lake cabin and in true family vacation fashion, we get to stay a bit longer because my car crapped out on us.

So send a little prayer up for my radiator so we can get on the road and head back west with the babies at a decent hour today.

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But we’ve had a nice time. Edie and Ada have the relatives wrapped around their tiny little fingers and it’s so wonderful to see Edie at this fun age developing relationships with our family.

It seems like there’s so much turmoil and unease in the news and in our world right now, some days it’s hard for me to stay grounded and optimistic about it all. But spending a stretch of days focused on extended family, creating memories, keeping it close to home, teaching and showing love and affection and feeling it in return reminds me that it begins here…

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It begins with our children.

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Coming Home: What I don’t want to forget

Yesterday I asked Edie if she pooped.

“Pew Eee,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose, scrunching up my face.

“Pew Eee Hondo,” she replied, mimicking my actions and successfully blaming the dog for the first time.

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I guess it doesn’t take long for them to start figuring out how this world works. Like, I thought I had more time before she started declaring opinions about my wardrobe, but I was wrong. She demands I take my shoes off when they’re on in the house and when I have my hair up, she makes it clear that she prefers it down until I oblige and she can move on with her little life.

And she’s got even stronger ideas about what she should be wearing. Like absolutely nothing when she’s outside in the backyard, bending over to moon the world while drinking out of the kiddie pool like her BFF Hondo. And when she’s inside? Well, she must be in a dress.

A dress and a winter beanie — I’m sure she’s right in style and I’m just her old pregnant mom walking behind her making sure she doesn’t make poor decisions, like running wide open down the scoria road toward the bulls screaming “MOOOO!”

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These are the types of things I report to her dad at the end of the day when he walks through the door. Because not only do I never want to forget, it feels a little unfair that her only audience is a hormonal woman three months away from giving birth to another one of these mysterious, messy and magical tiny humans.

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Last week my family hit up the local farmer’s market to buy some peaches and listen to my dad and his band play. I stepped up behind the microphone to sing a few songs and Edie cried the cry of heartbreak until I plopped her on my hip to sing with me. It took a couple rounds of the chorus, but before long she leaned in and sang the words to “You Are My Sunshine,” as clear and as confident as a 1-year-old can be, right into that mic. And then she grabbed it out of my hand for another round.

I’ve spent the past few days hearing from my friends who have been sending their kids off to another year of school. So many talks of firsts and nerves and “where does the time go?” and big hopes and worries about tenderness, toughness and compassion as they navigate the time out from under their parents’ wings. It’s exciting and heart-wrenching to know it won’t be long before the little world Edie’s so intent on figuring out gets bigger and more complicated.

I mean, one stage performance has already secured her a bigger audience…

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And there are a thousand things to reflect upon and have opinions on in the tumultuous times we’re living in, but today I just want to tell you how on Saturday, when we came inside from looking at the stars, Edie waved, blew a kiss and said goodbye to the moon.

And it was everything.

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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
Forum Communications

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

Our responsibility. Their Future.

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This week’s column was written in the chaos before the election, before the results. It was written in the dark quiet of my living room after I put the baby down for the night. While my husband was serving the chili he made at his monthly volunteer fireman meeting.
It was written after months of agonizing over the choices we were facing in the race for the leader of our country, on the eve of election day with the weight of what our decisions mean for our children sitting heavy on my heart.
In my last post, on Veteran’s Day, I asked for you to share your stories of kindness, given or received or witnessed. Please continue to share your accounts of good in the world, as we all need to be reminded that we have one another’s backs…
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by Jessie Veeder
11-13-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib.

Because I don’t know what babies dream about, but I do know it’s not the state of our nation.

She will not lose sleep over the big decisions and important matters we are faced with as members of our free country.

No.

She is too small.

She is too innocent.

And so it’s my job to worry for her. To make these decisions for her.

To speak for her future as I head to the polls.

By the time you read this, we will have elected the next president of the United States.

By the time you read this, that civic duty will be done.

But tonight, as I write this, the big decision is hanging in the air, looming in sound bites and accusations, scary threats and big promises and words assembled just right and I know for certain I will not sleep the way my baby sleeps tonight.

In the years I’ve spent writing this column, I have not mentioned many words about my politics. I promise you friends, I’m not going to start with it tonight as I sit in my easy chair in the middle of my life full of big plans.

In the middle of my country making big decisions.

No, I haven’t spoken much about politics, but I have spoken about kindness. I have mused at length about community and finding comfort there. I have talked about the importance of sharing our stories and how those stories connect us, turning strangers into friends or, at the very least, into people we have come to better understand.

Because we do not and we cannot and we should not all have shared experiences, opinions or beliefs. We shouldn’t expect it, no matter how it ruffles our feathers or makes us nervous or takes us away from our comfort zones.

It might be one of the most difficult tasks for a human (believe me, I know), but the acceptance, recognition and curiosity about all of our differences can be what make a full and well-rounded life. It’s what fuels our suppertime discussions, keeps us educated and, above all, gives us the chance to cultivate our compassion for people in situations we will never understand unless we try.

I’m writing this tonight as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else.

Because that baby sleeping in her crib down the hall? I don’t know who she will grow up to become. That’s the thing about children—their story is as much written as it is unwritten. They are as strong-willed as they are vulnerable.

And as much as I want to protect her from any harm or ill will or hurt feelings, more than anything I want her to grow up to find herself in a country, in a community (because we are a community aren’t we?) that accepts her and respects her for her accomplishments and potential as well as her differences and struggles.

And tonight I just can’t shake this sense of urgency in doing my best for her and all of those sleeping babies who are going to grow up and into our decisions.

And maybe that’s my politics.

Or maybe that’s my religion.

Or maybe that’s just my hope for our future.

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A permanent scar: The beauty and tragedy of loss

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I have a tattoo on my back. It’s a rendering of the old oak tree in the middle of the ranch where my husband and I got married. And out from its branches three little blue birds are tattooed on my skin, flying away, in different directions, caught mid air in the most unsure stage of flight.

My husband has a similar tattoo covering his shoulder, only his oak tree features three red and orange oak leaves.

His leaves, my blue birds, they represent three pregnancies we lost.

The oak just represents us, the place where he asked me to become his family.

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I was 27 or 28 when we made the decision to put a permanent reminder on our bodies of our love and our loss. Since then we went on to lose three more pregnancies.

When I list it like that, in a sort of chronological order, it makes it seem like an occurrence, a medical issue that we’ve since figured out and moved on from.

I suppose that’s the reason for the tattoos, although we couldn’t really say at the time except that we both felt the need to mark our bodies in some way, a physical representation of major emotional events, painful losses that leave invisible, emotional scars that we can’t sort out or figure out what to do with.

So we made our own physical scar. We went through the process of the needle dragging across our skin and oddly, the burning pain of it, the seven-plus hours of sitting still and gritting my teeth was cathartic and meditative in a way the actual process of losing those babies wasn’t. Because I was in control. I had the power and I made the decision to do this to myself.

And when it was over and I saw what would forever be inked on my skin until I’m a 100 year old woman sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch, it was a relief to know that story would not get buried in the deepest pit of my chest.

We didn’t know at the time what would become of us becoming parents. We didn’t know, but sort of sadly assumed, there would be more birds, more leaves, to add to the picture, but it didn’t matter. We put ointment on our new scar and moved on.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It comes every year as a way to bring people together to recognize an often-silent pain that affects 1 in 4 women. 1 in 4 families.

As one of those families, this is the first time I have really paid attention, or set out to recognize this official day.

I’m not sure why.

I haven’t been silent in talking about our experience, so why not embrace an event that encourages us to support one another and tell our story?

I don’t have an answer except that I have not coped with these six losses by looking back. I have chosen not to remember loss dates or would-be due dates. I’ve kept the couple of ultrasounds pictures we were able to see tucked away in our safety deposit box, cried the sort of cries that come up from the pit of your guts and make you feel like throwing up, climbed to the top of the hills out here on this ranch and wailed some more, and then came home.

I’ve sought out doctors. Avoided doctors. Embraced the pain and then put it away.

I was determined to not let this struggle be at the forefront of the definition of me as a person, or let the heartbreak tear us apart as a couple. I didn’t want to be looked at as the poor people who might never have a family. I didn’t want pity. I just wanted answers.

And then I found myself scared of the answers. And I’m not just talking about the “you will never have children of your own” answer.

I was also scared of finding the solution.

I found myself asking, “What happens if it all works out after all? Who will I be without this pain that I’ve kept messily crumpled inside my bones, until, in the strangest moments, the wind catches it and sets me off?”

“If I get what I want, and I cry sometimes anyway, what will it be for?”

I woke up this morning to kicks in my belly, my back and hips aching under the weight of a swollen, almost eight month pregnant belly I’d never thought I’d see.

Almost two years ago, after eight years of losses, we got one of those answers I was so scared of. Nine month’s later we got a positive pregnancy test. Three agonizing, hand wringing, breath-holding months after that we saw our baby’s forming profile in an ultrasound.

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In a little over a month we will meet him or her.

And we’re elated and terrified and in utter disbelief.

And every day I think about those women who are crying those gut wrenching cries at the top of a hill or in the quiet of their rooms.

Some of them reach out to me and want to know what doctor I saw or how they figured it all out, how we got to where we are. I will talk with them for hours about it if they want to, in grocery store lines or around a table at a wedding reception or in the bathroom at a restaurant. Because I have suddenly turned from a hopeless case to a story of hope and how refreshing and frustrating our story sounds to a woman who’s suffered loss and spent thousands of dollars, traveled hundreds of miles, taken dozens of pills to get to where we are right now…placing our hands on my big belly and worrying about trivial things like setting up the crib or replacing the carpet in the nursery.

But truthfully, we were just damn lucky.

I had a condition that was finally recognized and one that could be remedied. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, if there was another word for guilt that wasn’t defined as doing something wrong, I feel it. I wonder why it worked out for us but not for others. I am aware at how my growing belly makes women who struggle with infertility or loss feel. It’s not an easy sight to lay eyes on.

Sometimes, in the midst of celebrating or telling a story about my pregnancy, or making a complaint about my heartburn or my lack of sleep, I hesitate, I look around the room and wonder who might be wishing and praying for morning sickness that turns into swollen feet that turns into a prayer finally answered.

I was that woman. I am that woman.

And I don’t want to leave her behind or forget her in my impending date with motherhood. I want to tell her everything will work out, but I know that’s not what she wants to hear. She knows it might not be true.

I want her to know that I know how she feels, to call me anytime, but it’s different now, now that we’re getting what she wants.

I want to tell her to keep trying, to keep hope, but I know how impossible it is.

Women like us, from what we’ve seen, in the case of infertility or loss, we’ve come to realize that you might rely more on God, or magic, than on finding a remedy for the pain or the missing piece of the equation you need for your body to work.

And so on this day moms and dads who have suffered loss will light a candle in memory of lives that they hoped to nurture longer.

The flames will flicker in living rooms, on nightstands, in would-be-nurseries all over the world, bright with hope yet terrifyingly fragile like the young lives they represent.

And tonight, for the first time, I will light candles in this house too–six for the babies of ours who were never born, and one for the women and couples out there searching for answers or a way to help acknowledge the pain of loss.

Because there is healing in acknowledgement. I didn’t understand that until that needle hit my skin five years ago, leaving a permanent mark on my body, a physical manifestation that screams “this happened to us, and we survived.”

One day I might add the last three blue birds to my body. Maybe one day my husband will fill in those last three leaves.

If we feel compelled to commemorate that chapter, that loss, maybe we will.

And maybe you’ll light a candle tonight. And maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll sit in your room and cry, or maybe you’ll go out to a movie or sit side by side and be quiet. Or maybe you will just make spaghetti and watch T.V. and find peace with the fact that because you’ve suffered in this way you have found a level of compassion for others you didn’t know existed before.

Because there’s nothing you have to do when there’s nothing you can do and that’s the beauty and the tragedy of the whole damn thing.

For support or information on perinatal or neonatal loss, visit: www.harlynnsheart.org

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From Lost to Found: A Pug Story

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Search “Chug the Pug” on this blog and you will find countless entries on this little black bean of a dog that came into our lives to help us through a rough patch, and then continued on his merry way,

peeing in my husband’s shoes, losing an eye to a porcupine, snuggling up with the kittens,

chasing bulls out of the yard, showing up the bird dogs with his pheasant retrieval skills, snoring, snorting, howling and just all around creating hilarious chaos and merriment wherever he went.

He was a character in our lives out here at the ranch, one I loved to torture by dressing him up in a Santa suit and making him pose for countless photos.

A lap dog by breeding, Chug the Pug hated to miss out on an opportunity for adventure, proving time and time again that there are no limits, just mind-set.

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Chug the Pug, my search partner


My new readers may not have heard about our chubby little one-eyed pet because about a year and a half ago Chug decided to make his rounds to the nearest rigs and oil sites around our ranch to meet his neighbors, get his belly scratched and feast on table scraps and the occasional steak while he waited for us to come and find him.

It was a problem for us, all the kindness he was shown on these rigs, because it meant more wandering for an animal who could previously be trusted to stay within the safe limits of the farm yard.

And it meant that one day, when we went to retrieve him, he was nowhere to be found.

After a couple months of my husband taking daily trips up and down the highway, passing our name around to oil field workers who move in and off site by the days and hours, and checking with neighbors, I finally decided that Chug the Pug had likely hitched a ride with a lonely trucker and was sitting shot gun with a bandana around his head an his tongue hanging out the window, off to find a bigger adventure.

I liked that story better than any alternative. It helped me come to terms with the fact that I’d never see him again. 

And that’s the way that it was… that was the story I’d tell…

Until a couple weeks ago when I found out the rest of the story….

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Coming Home: Lost dog finds his way to the right home
by Jessie Veeder
7-26-15
Forum Communications

I sat behind the desk at my office and picked up the ringing phone. Young and determined, we were in our third year of marriage, had just moved back to our home state, just lost our first pregnancy and were chin deep in renovating our first home in an attempt to get our grown-up story on track. 

For two years our lives were covered in sawdust, paint and power tools. We worked during the day and in the evening we re-seeded the lawn, built a new staircase, laid carpet and lost two more pregnancies along the way.

You need to take out a wall? Get your hammer and break it down.

You want a baby? There wasn’t a doctor in the state at the time that could give us the blueprint for that.

When I picked up the phone that day, I heard my husband say, “I just saw a poster. There are pug puppies for sale. Little black ones,” he said. “I’m going to call.”

So he called. And two weeks later he brought home a little black smush of a puppy with a pink tongue and curly, wiggly tail.

Because we needed a distraction. Something else to love.

Fast-forward through six years filled with home renovations, new jobs, three more lost pregnancies, and a move out to the ranch, and that little pug became the star of our lives and the stories on my blog, his cow-chasing, raccoon-wrangling, porcupine-fighting adventures winning over the hearts of my readers across the country.

Until a year and a half ago when he decided to explore a rig over the hill from our house and didn’t come home. When my husband’s nightly searches didn’t yield any answers, I came to terms with the fact that I would never see Chug the pug again.

Until last week when I looked down at my phone and found a message from a stranger staring back at me.

“I think we have your dog Chug. Our friend found him on a rig and brought him home. It selfishly breaks my heart to message you but I just read your blog and I knew I had to … you can call me …”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I dialed the number.

“He just loves cats,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“And he loves to go out on the boat and swim … We bought him a life jacket … The neighbors adore him. He sleeps in our bed with us … he’s well loved …”

And then the line went quiet. Two strangers, 60 miles apart, connected by an animal, each with her own bond, not knowing where to go from here.

So we made plans to meet up the next day. I would be through Dickinson on my way home from my 20-week ultrasound, halfway through a pregnancy we never thought we’d know with the chance to see the dog that helped us through the worst of things.

I anxiously knocked on the door and was greeted by a woman about my age, a tiny little yorkie and a one-eyed, barrel-chested black pug with a little extra squish around the middle.

I reached down to scratch his chin and pull on his soft ears, and he looked up at me, as well-loved as a dog could be.

I looked at the woman with her clasped hands and nervous smile. She invited me in, introduced me to her friends who had gathered for moral support or to be witness to this uncommon story, and we all started gushing about this small world, missed opportunities and how my online documentation of Chug led her friend to help find me.

And then there was that silence again.

She spoke.

“I contacted you because if it was my dog I would want to know what happened to him. This is a tough situation, but …. we can’t have children, and these dogs are like our kids.”

I looked at Chug rolling around with the yorkie on the floor, then down at my growing belly and back at the woman whose struggle for a family was all too familiar and fresh in my mind.

“Maybe he came into your life for a reason,” I said.

Judging by the sighs in the room and the tears in my eyes, I think we all agreed.

And so the decision was made. I said my goodbyes and pointed my car toward a life we could only dream of when we first called that little dog ours.

A girl needs a dog

What we never thought we’d know…

So yesterday, we saw our baby…BabyOr a little fuzzy silhouette of it anyway, a snapshot of what I’ve been working so hard on growing the last few months of my life. 

There is the hand that I swear pushes on my bladder every five minutes…

And there’s the foot I can feel poking and fluttering on all sides of my belly button at all hours of the day.

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I’m surprised we could get any pictures at all considering this kid never holds still.

Trouble already.

I can’t believe this is happening.

This picture, this sonogram, looks like every other sonogram I’ve every seen really. It’s a little smudge of a baby the size of a mango, but this time the little smudge of a baby the size of a mango is ours.

It was a date I’ve been looking forward to since we decided to put a family together all those years ago. I imagined what it would be like to make plans to head to the Doctor’s office together where I would lay on the table in a dark room with Husband at my side, staring at the screen where our little one would be the star of the show.

I wondered what it would feel like. I wondered what I would think. I wondered if I would cry or just hold my breath.  I wondered if Husband would hold my hand or just put them in his pockets the way he does when he’s concentrating on something. I wondered how he would act. I wondered what he would say…

I found out yesterday.

He said “Oh, look there, I think I see a mustache.”

And so that’s how that went.

And it was wonderful.

We were normal people with a normal pregnancy doing normal things that normal couples get to do when they have a baby on the way.

And then they printed off a reel of photos of little white smudges of feet and ears, a belly and bended knees a whole world and life forming under my skin and we listened to the heart beat and Husband put the number in his memory and we walked on air out of there to sit at a table at a restaurant and order anything we wanted, to sit as long as we wanted, to say whatever we wanted about this moment as we lived it…

Because we never thought we’d really live it…no matter how our friends and family willed it to be or reassured us it would all come together…that they’d been praying.

How do you ever know.

I didn’t.

And if I would have known how it might all turn out in that moment I’d been wondering about, it wouldn’t have mattered as much when we finally lived it.

And it mattered so much. That day, yesterday, with my Husband clutching the reel of our first baby’s photos, practically skipping out into that hot, humid air blazing on his pickup in the parking lot in a town that took us a three hour car ride to reach, was simply one of the most ordinary, extraordinary moments of my life, one I never thought I could give him… give us.

And there we were, eating lunch in the summer sun together talking about strollers and cribs and how much tiny camouflage he plans on purchasing in the next few months.

There we were, two planning on three. Just like that, like we’ve never had our hearts broken time after time. Like we never had a moment of thinking otherwise. Like there was never a doubt we’d ever arrive here.

What can I say about this except that sometimes when you hold out hope, hope gives in.

Some would call that faith.

I don’t know what I call it except maybe a gift, just like every other life that exists here. After all of our trouble and worry and struggle, how it happens at all is a true and utter miracle.

We spent the rest of the afternoon milling around furniture stores, trying out couches and opening drawers on bedroom sets. Husband picked up some jeans and I tried on dresses. We bought a first aid kid and bathroom supplies and wandered through the baby aisle confusing ourselves.

I had a feeling that if I would have asked for the moon that day, my Husband would have set out building a ladder tall enough to let him wrap his arms around it and bring it down.

But I don’t need the moon…no.

Just a scoop or two of ice cream for the way home at the end of a day we never thought we’d know…

Turning to the hills…


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The summer has never looked better around here. Despite the crazy months that lead up to late June, I have taken a moment or two to admire how the grass is growing and how happy the cattle look out there munching away.

It’s funny to think that, if everything turns out according to plan, after all of these years, this will be the last summer of my life spent walking these hills with the little voice of worry and wonder about what we should do to make ourselves a family.

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Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always taken to these hills to work things out, to be alone, to take a moment, to breathe. The first sixteen years of my life in these coulees were spent wandering and creating and singing and dreaming of what life would be like when I grew up and got a chance to work things out on my own.

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In between then and now I spent my time visiting these hills, riding and admiring and remembering and saying “we’ll be back someday,” and then packing the car to leave again.

And in those between years, when we were juggling new jobs and new houses, learning what it means to be an adult and losing hope for the family we were trying to make, when it didn’t work out, I found my way home to these hills to cry and ask why.

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Besides on the shoulder of my husband, these hills are the only place I’ve truly allowed myself to wail.

Because no one can hear you when you’re out here alone.

And the trees don’t have ears to wonder about those sorts of things.

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When we finally found our way here for good, five years ago this summer, a period of time that seems so long and so short all at once, I walked these hills with many moods and agendas on my shoulders…to get my butt in shape, to work out a new career plan or creative project, to train the dog, to shoot photos of wildflowers, to check the horses in the field in the winter, to get the creative juices flowing, to ward off a bad mood, to scream at the top of my lungs or to just breathe.

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Not once in the last seven years have I walked these hills without the quiet voice in the back of my mind that wondered about all those unborn babies…and the ones that might make it to this earth to be ours and grow up in these hills like we planned it.

And so I don’t really know what to do with the news that perhaps, this time, the dream might come true.

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That we found a doctor and the doctor found a problem and two little white pills fixed it and now I have a belly that makes it so I can’t button my pants and a due date that makes it so I can’t schedule shows into the winter and a house full of stuff we’ve accumulated during nine years of marriage and not one closet open or one room cleared out for another human, no matter how much we hoped to plan for this one day.

Because despite the hope, we just kept living, filling those closets and filling our lives with work and things and people we love, because that’s what you do when plans don’t work out, you just keep living the best way you know how.

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But what do you do when all of the sudden you wake up with a hunch and day by day you hope and wait and realize that maybe those plans are working out? What do you do when you realize what you’ve wanted for so long just might come to you after all,  God willing…

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How does a person handle being every bit as terrified as you are excited? What do you do when the people you love, upon hearing the news, congratulate you, tell you they’ve been praying, eyes swelling up with tears at the relief of it all?

We hug back and smile.

But honestly, we’re still in shock. In disbelief.

Because we don’t know how to be the normal people with a normal pregnancy and a normal plan.

We don’t know how not to be terrified.

But we also don’t know how not to be hopeful…obviously…or we would never have made it this far.

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Last night after an evening spent in town saying goodbye to a friend who has become part of our family over the last couple years, we pulled into the driveway and I stripped off my town clothes and pulled on a t-shirt, pants and my walking shoes. It was a beautiful evening and I needed to climb these hills, check on the way the setting sun hit the wildflowers, let the grass brush against my legs, smell the growing things and stretch my muscles.

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I think I can feel this baby move inside of my belly.

I don’t know if I’ll ever believe it.

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But walking out on that trail that leads to the fields, putting the barnyard behind me, my parents’ place to my right, my favorite pasture to the left and no particular destination ahead, it was such a familiar view, a familiar thing to do, but I don’t feel like myself.

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I haven’t felt like myself for months.

Perhaps I won’t ever feel like my old self out in these hills again…

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God willing.
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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: The kids and the quiet

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Yesterday Husband and I spent the last hours of daylight out here on the ranch putting up a fence to contain our yard and keep the cows out of our attempt to grow some grass for crying out loud.

We plotted and pointed, making plans for how big we wanted the space, how much we wanted to attempt to mow and contain.

It was just the two of us out there of course, but just like the other plans we’ve made for this colossal house project we embarked upon a few years ago, I couldn’t help but visualize the kids who might roll around in that grass someday, staining the knees of their jeans.

Husband, to make a point, stepped in the middle of the yard, grabbed an imaginary football and threw it across the imaginary grass.

“We want to make sure that there’s enough room here to throw a football,” he said.

I smiled and said “you’re right,” and then we were quiet for a beat or so, just long enough to let hope in before our hearts broke for the thirteen-millionth time in our lives.

We have a good life. We’re building one out here with passion and optimism for a nice little future, one that we always thought would include children.

And on a ranch, kept together solely because of and for the sake of the generations, my husband and I walk with the silent urgency of creating the next.

I will tell you there is no quiet like the quiet of hopes not yet realized.

Coming Home: Sharing home with the next generation
by Jessie Veeder
10-12-14
Forum Communications

I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!

Sunday Column: To simply live.

A few weeks ago on one of the first warm days of not-quite-spring, Little Sister made her way out to the ranch after school. We didn’t have any plans in particular, except that we both felt like we needed to take advantage of a sunny afternoon and then throw something on the BBQ for grilling.

Maybe we’d clean up the ditches.

Maybe we’d walk to the top of the rock hill in the east pasture.

Maybe we’d search for crocuses.

Maybe we’d catch the horses and take the first ride of the season.

And because that last idea sounded like the best idea, we called up Pops to see if he’d join us. But Pops was likely out on his own spring day walk-about and so, understandably, wasn’t answering calls.

We could have taken a ride by ourselves, just the two of us, but something about it didn’t feel right.

So Little Sister and I meandered, up to the top of Pots and Pans, where we kneeled down to inspect the crocuses, then along the top of that hill and across the fence to the fields where we followed the trail past where once, a million years ago, Little Sister watched me jump off my horse and emerge from the weeds with a concussion and a crooked and broken wrist.

We followed that trail down to where it met the road and we talked about everything and nothing like sisters do. Taxes and deadlines, summer plans and new recipes, our funny nephew, our mutual hatred for wood ticks, traffic and how things have changed around here.

Then we took a left off of that road and walked down to the hay pen where we used to feed cattle in the winter. Where once, when I was little, I watched dad get chased down by a mad momma cow while he was ear-tagging her calf.

It’s funny how all of these places out here hold different obscure memories for all of us. I doubted that Pops remembered that momma-cow incident, but at the time I was sure it was the closest he’d ever come to death.

Because, even as a kid I was aware that this life was fragile. I think growing up on a ranch surrounded by the sometimes cruel realities of nature helps a kid understand these things.

It’s a lesson I am glad to have, but sometimes I wish I could tuck away the worry as easily these days as I did back then.

See, I’ve told my sister, and I’l tell you, that ever since that long, cold week in January spent sitting next to our dad and willing him to live, to take more breaths with us, to keep pumping blood through that heart, I’ve been jumpy and much too aware that at any moment everything could change.

And I’m planning on it wearing off, that worry melting away from me as the sun warms my back and the tips of the long grass. I plan on unclenching my teeth and dropping my shoulders a bit as I remember that we can only know what’s in this moment, and in this moment we’re fine.

My sister talked about the future then and where she might build a house someday and we walked up the hill toward my house, then headed for the trail in the trees that would take us back inside, stopping to take a look at the Blue Buttes and how the sun hit them that evening, turning them purple…

And then we turned around, two sisters standing side by side. Two sisters who cried over the idea of their father’s last day on earth and took turns sitting with him during those long nights in the hospital, me from 10 to 2 am, her from 2 to 6…these two sisters who learned to ride horses by his example saw that dad riding towards them up over the crest of that hill.

His first ride, the one we prayed for, the one I promised him he’d have again if he just held on.

Last weekend I stood next to my dad on a stage behind a guitar and we sang out into a small crowd of dancing people words to songs it seems we’ve known forever, if forever was a promise we ever believed we were given.

But it doesn’t matter now. Because these things we do, the things that unclench our jaw and soften the hard parts of living, I believe they pull us through with their own promises, not to live forever, but to simply and fully live.

Coming Home: Some things in life are uncomplicated 
by Jessie Veeder
5-3-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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