The law of the land and other gruesome truths…

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I grow vegetables. Vegetables attract bugs. Bugs attract frogs. Frogs eat bugs. I like bug-less vegetables so I like these frogs. So I don’t mind when I wear my shortyshorts to the garden and they jump splat on to my bare legs. Nope. Love them.

And because we live right by a stock dam we have the slimy creatures hanging out all over our lawn. Dozens of them jump up and make their presence known when I wander out there. I don’t mind protecting them from my stupid dogs. We help each other out.

Or at least I try…

But I still can’t get over that unfortunate incident with the lawn mower last summer. It haunts me. I was so careful. I was giving them time.

But that particular frog needed more.

And that’s nature.

The law of the land.

And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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At the ranch, circle of life can be tough to witness
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

When I was a little girl my big sister and her friend rescued a baby robin from a knocked-down nest. I was so young at the time that the memory doesn’t have any details, except for the way that creature’s eyes looked before they were open, all blue and puffy, and how naked and impossibly fragile it was.

Tonight I’m out on my deck listening to the coyotes howl and watching a couple does come down the hill to take a drink in the dam. They’ve been creeping slowly toward their spot, shaken but not deterred by what sounds like a muskrat slapping and splashing in their water hole, and I’m wishing he would cool it. I mean, all those girls want is a little drink.

The way we do this circle of life thing seems so painstaking sometimes.

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A few weeks ago all of the ranch dogs turned up with porcupine quills in their noses (well, all but our big old Lab who learned his lesson years ago when he came home full of sorrow and one tiny quill barely dangling from his nostril).

So my husband and dad had the task of pulling a few quills from snouts after work that day. It wasn’t the first time.

And if those dogs don’t learn their lesson, it won’t be the last.

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These are the things that happen out here. Sometimes between the beautiful sunrise and sunset we’re reminded that nature is not the Disney movie we’d like to imagine it to be.

For example, earlier this summer, Dad was driving his side-by-side down the road with his brother and his two dogs. They were taking it slow, noticing the scenery and catching up when he noticed a baby killdeer running and flitting beside them. So he slowed down and remarked on the tiny bird, pointed it out to his brother, marveled at the little creature. And just as he finished saying some tender thing about being a witness to new life, his pup jumped out and snatched it up, bit it right out of the air like a scene out of an old Loony Tunes cartoon, feathers flying, tiny bird leg dangling out the dog’s mouth.

And that was that.

I have dozens of similar stories that I could pull out of the archives to help illustrate my point, like the time Mom’s cat drug a not-quite-dead-chipmunk into the house, or the one where my husband smashed a mouse with his boot in the middle of our living room in the middle of Easter dessert while his big sister stood shrieking on our couch.

And I have one about bats that I don’t want to get into right now, but why I’m bringing this all up in the first place is because just the other day, in the middle of a visit about the baby, my grandparents and my nephew going to kindergarten, Mom pulled out the latest.

“Oh, did I tell you about the bird in the sink?”

No. No, she hadn’t.

“Oh, I was standing at the sink and a bird flew up out of it.”

“Wait. A bird flew out of your sink!?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Well anyway, it flew up at me and then started banging against the window and so I screamed.”

“Yeah, I bet you screamed.”

“And Dad came huffing in, wondering what was going on, you know …”

“Because you’re easily startled.”

“Yeah. And so he was able to grab the bird against the window and bring it out to the door to set it free.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

“But, well, then I heard him holler, ‘Don’t look, don’t look!”

“Oh, no …”

“Cause the cat was out on the deck …”

“Oh. No.”

“And as soon as that bird left his hands, well, she got up off her chair and snatched it up, and that was that.”

If this were a Disney movie, I think that would have turned out differently.

Yes, the law of the land is hard to buck sometimes.

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Moving cattle: A Script

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Coming Home: Sister on the ranch is friend for me, un-hired help for dad
by Jessie Veeder
8-21-16
http://www.inforum.com

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite parts about living back at the ranch is that my sisters have decided to re-plant roots in our hometown. Having a sister nearby as an adult is like having a best friend who doesn’t care if your floor is swept and will call you out on your questionable attitude without worrying about offending you.

Anyway, when it comes to ranch life and work, I’ve rarely seen my petite almost-5-feet tall big sister without heels on almost as many times as I’ve seen her on the back of a horse, so you can guess which sister and I get in the most ranch-related shenanigans.

And how much help the two of us have been for our dad throughout the years.

Jessie and Little Sister

So this is a confession: My little sister and I can be pretty worthless when we get together. And contrary to our parents’ prayers and our husbands’ hopes, it hasn’t gotten any better as we’ve, ahem, matured.

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Nothing exemplifies our incapabilities more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, Little Sister’s missing boot and the hairdo I can’t fit under my hat so that Dad can get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch our horses and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it up on those horses.

The man is patient. He’s had to be out here in the wild buttes of Western North Dakota surrounded by girls. Sometimes I wonder if his life on the ranch as a father would have been a little easier if he would have had a boy tossed in the mix.

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But he’s never once complained, and you gotta love him for it. He’s just grateful for the help, even when his help is riding a half a mile behind him talking over how weird it would be if we rode cows instead of horses as he works to keep the herd from brush patches in the morning that’s turned hot in the time he waited for us to join him.

Because we really are a lot of help, with one of us swatting and screaming at anything that resembles a bee and the other tripping over anything that resembles the ground.

To really paint you a picture, I would like to present to you an actual roundup script.

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Pops: Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more cows then we’ll move them nice and easy.

Jessie: I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?

Little Sister: Should I come with you? I should probably come with you … eeeek! A bee, eeeeeeeek!

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Pops (racing through the brush and up a hill): Just stay there!!! Stay there! I’ve got it!

Jessie: Oooh, raspberries.

An undocumented amount of time passes.

An undocumented amount of raspberries are eaten.

Little Sister: Maybe we should go find Dad.

Daughters catch up with father who is behind 25 head of cows. The women are trailing four cattle and currently heading toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Jessie (hollering across the pasture): We’ve got these here… thought we were going to the other gate.

Pops (hollering from behind the cattle he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): Actually you’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek.

Little Sister: Whaatt did he saaayy?!! Should I leave them???

Jessie: DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?

Pops: Yess, ssheeee sshhoullld leeaave them!!

Jessie: HEEE SAAAYSS LEEAAVE THEM!

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“Slap,” a branch hits Jessie across the face.

Little Sister stops to double over from hysterical laughter.

Father rides up over the hill alone to finish collecting the cattle before all parties return to the barn where father thanks daughters for their help.

(Yeah, really.)

End scene.

Don’t tell my husband about my hopes for another girl …

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Unfinished Projects

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Coming Home: Not alone living amid the unfinished projects
by Jessie Veeder
8-7-16
http://www.inforum.com

If I were more of a linguist, I would have the term for it. But you know what I’m talking about. It’s that crack in the Sheetrock in the living room, right in the corner above the TV that really peeved you off when you first noticed it.

Why didn’t we get that fixed months ago?

OK. So I’m a woman who has been living in a house under construction for most of my married life. Because I wed a man who has just the right amount of knowhow and crazy to take on complete house remodeling projects and then, when that didn’t kill us, a near complete build from scratch.

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Right now, as I type, I’m sitting on a deck that, for two and a half years, has been partially completed. It’s really nice and will probably be even nicer when he finally gets around to building us a staircase so we can get down to the lawn without going through the house.

I’m looking forward to that even if it means I’ll feel less like Rapunzel, sort of trapped up here, looking down on my little lawn kingdom complete with an incomplete retaining wall and barbed wire temporarily stretched across where those nice garden gates will hang someday.

Someone needs to get married out here again or something so we can get the rock siding finished, for crying out loud.

Yes, I’ve learned to be patient. Because what choice do I have? I don’t have a clue how to build a staircase and I’m not crazy enough to attempt it under the “if you want something done you gotta do it yourself” motto. Carpentry was never one of those skills I really cared to acquire. I’ve acquired enough skills I didn’t want, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, I know I’m not the only one who suffers this way. I mean, I have a few friends who live behind manicured lawns along city streets who spend their weekends checking off lists at the Home Depot and even they have a missing tile somewhere. Right?

Right???

Anyway, while I’m becoming alarmingly immune to unfinished projects, I was reminded that I’m not alone by none other than my own flesh and blood last weekend when I enjoyed a few family suppers on my parents’ deck, gathering together because my uncle was home from Texas for a few days. My parents have a backyard that has a sweet view up a beautiful, tree-filled coulee. Their deck is right off their dining room and kitchen, making it easy to enjoy meals outdoors on summer nights.

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If it wasn’t for that dang screen door.

Seriously, that screen door. I swear. It’s been years, YEARS, of needing to have the right touch to get it to slide open, of guests struggling with a plate of food in one hand and a desperate look of awkward panic on their faces as they attempt to find that right maneuver before being rescued and let outside by my dad, who eventually always just sort of kicks it off its tracks and says something like, “I swear I just fixed that.” Mom makes this aggressive sigh of resignation before we can all sit down and relax until, heaven forbid, someone forgot there was noodle salad inside.

And I only mention this because it makes me feel better.

About all our unfinished trim. And the crack in the Sheetrock.

And this island of a deck.

If I were a linguist, I’d have a word for it.

If I were a carpenter … well … I’d probably have more unfinished projects.

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A Friday update…

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Here’s a quick update from the ranch while the baby is sleeping.

  • Edie’s getting sassier every day and I’m declaring now that I’m in big trouble. Good Lord she has me wrapped around her finger and also who knew 8 month-olds had agendas for the day.

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    Here she is chilling’ with her post bath mohawk, drinking from her sippy cup and eating puffs. She only really likes to feed herself. Unless she sees me attempting to eat a plate full of food, then she wants what I’m having, and spoon-feeding is allowed.

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  • Also, the girl will crawl. But only to get to the cereal puff I put just out of her reach. And I think I can relate. Like, I will run, but only if means a burger when it’s all over.

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  • The guys have been trying to get the hay crop in for weeks. It’s not going well. Between the rain and equipment that breaks I think we’ll have to feed the cows lettuce from the grocery store this winter. In the meantime, they are getting their fill in Pops’ garden. Yesterday would mark the third trip they’ve made to the Veeder Backyard buffet in the last two weeks. At first I laughed an evil laugh about it all, but then I took a look for myself and realized that even with cow sabotage, dad currently still has more vegetables growing in his garden than me. But I’m not worried. I found enough spinach to make a couple salads. And some radishes. And look! Tomatoes. It’s only a matter of time he’ll be knocking on my door asking for some samples.

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  • Seems like even when things are going shitty, Pops still sees the beauty in this life we’re leading. Here’s a photo he sent me earlier this week from hayfield probably like five minutes before he broke down. Looks like heaven.

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  • And here’s a rare photo of all of my dogs in the same frame. Dolly is a sweet thing but the girl can’t sit still. It’s in her genes. Seems like her and Edie have that in common, but out of all three dogs Gus is Edie’s I would say. When I bring her out in the yard he doesn’t get too far from her. It’s sweet and unexpected from the high energy beast.

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  • We got my parent’s hand-me-down hot tub and now I feel really fancy when I put the baby to bed and head down there with my plastic cup full of wine, my raggedy swim suit and flippy floppies. Hot tub trips have replaced date night for Husband and I, because we haven’t had an official one since the baby’s first month on earth. I just realized that last night and it made me one part disappointed in us and one part amazed that time has gone that fast. Maybe we’ll have a date next month when we celebrate our ten-year anniversary.

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  • Ten years already?!!! Didn’t we just get home from our Junior prom?

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  • We went over to the neighbors’ last week. I opened the cooler and found this scene.
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    Yesterday Husband was sitting at the counter eating, looked up from his plate and informed me that “there’s a nipple under the dishwasher.” A phrase and a scene that wouldn’t have existed in our old life
  • I started writing this yesterday afternoon and now it is morning today. The baby woke up from her nap and the rest is history. The whole baby thing combined with the fact that we haven’t had good Internet out here since we moved and haven’t had Internet at all since Edie was born has made this website and work from home thing nearly impossible. Husband and I are looking forward to doing things the real world gets to do, like streaming cat videos on YouTube and checking out what all the hype is about this whole Netflix thing. Someday. Someday…For now we’re just using the shit out of our cell phone hotspot and depleting Edie’s college fund.
  • Here’s a photo of Edie on our walk the other day, as a storm rolled in all around us.
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    I don’t think they’ll ever make a stroller meant for the trails I roll the poor girl across. A few trip sup the prairie road to the fields and back and the thing’s sort of worse for the wear. But all that bouncing can be worth something…

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    and also the reason I almost always put the baby in the pack.

  • But oh shit, my back is killing me.
  • We’ve made up for our lack of snow this winter with an abundance of rain this summer. It’s almost August and it’s green as can be. Here are a couple photos of wildflowers to prove it.

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  • I forgot to water my garden last night. But maybe that’s the key to success. Just do what I did last year, like hardly pay attention to the thing at all, and maybe I’ll reap giant carrots and buckets of beans again. That math seems to add up.
  • Have a great weekend. I plan on hanging at the ranch, gearing up for an August that will find me away from the ranch more than at home. Because if I thought things would slow down with the birth of this wild child, well, it’s safe to say it’s kicked back in high gear again.
    North Dakota readers, click here to see if I’ll be performing in your area in August
  • The baby’s awake…if you’re reading this, I’ve kept her busy long enough to hit “publish.”

Peace, Love and Huggies,

Jessie and her sidekick

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Building good days.

Coming Home: Building good days a gift in this unpredictable life
by Jessie Veeder
7-24-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com

Bad days.

Horse frustration

Good days.

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Out here on the ranch, for some reason, I like to define them.

And there are about a million criteria for the qualifications of both, which, I guess, is a good thing and a bad thing, respectively.

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Except for the time I got my finger smashed between a metal bar and a post by a 2,000-pound bull. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad day, I mean, things were going pretty good up until the emergency room visit that resulted in a cast on my middle finger that sent me out of the hospital flipping off the world.

But it could have been worse.

It could always be worse.

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Funny, we say that a lot around here.

Get bucked off your horse and land in a cactus patch? Well, at least it wasn’t your head smashed on that big rock over there.

Couldn’t get the swather running after six hours of tinkering in the field under the hot sun? Well, at least you didn’t have to be in a conference room meeting all day.

Get your four-wheeler stuck up to its belly in the creek again because you tend to think you’re magic when you’re on that thing (Dad)? Perfect. Now I have some material.

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When I think about it now, maybe that’s why I found my way back here. Because of the optimism that was somehow always generated even after the day had gone completely haywire. It’s a trait that could only occur in people who truly love what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t be drawn back to that?

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Through the years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity for bad days, for long walks home after the pickup quit, for lessons learned about polyester shirts and welding torches, for doctoring a herd of cattle with pinkeye well after the sun went down, saying to one another, “Well, at least the nail you stepped on didn’t go all the way through your big toe,” or “Would have been so much harder without all your help.”

But now that I think about it, it’s sort of telling that we continue to say, “Well, it could be worse,” and skip over the entire concept that in times of tractor breakdowns, man-chasing momma cows and an incident with an exploding motor that almost started the entire barnyard on fire, it could always be better, too.

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But just yesterday as I strapped the baby to my chest and took off hiking across the home pasture with my niece chatting happily beside me on a quest to fill my cap with enough wild raspberries to make some sort of dessert, I couldn’t help but label that moment “one that could not be better.”

Even with the flies and the thorns.

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We woke up that Sunday morning to a smiling baby and a hankering for blueberry muffins. So we made them. Because, what luck! Blueberries were on sale and I had some in the fridge. So we cooked them up, along with eggs and bacon, and had ourselves a regular, fancy brunch.

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And that evening, after stripping the baby down and watching her play and splash in the baby pool on the deck while the sun shone gold on the hilltops outside, after feeding her bananas as she sat in her robe and tiny socks, we tucked her sleepily into bed and ate a supper of grilled brats and beans together around the table outside. My husband put his feet up after a day of fixing equipment, and my niece and I saddled up the two lazy horses in the barnyard and took off together, walking slowly across those hills dotted with wildflowers and berries and we just kept saying, “Well, it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”

So peaceful.

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It just couldn’t be better.

And while I know there are plenty of ways to define the bad days, the days that are out of your control, I couldn’t help but think in that moment how wonderful it is to know that you can build your own good ones.

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The case of the mystery peas…

 

Last night Husband came home from mom and dad’s with an armful of mail and a ziplock baggie on the counter full of fresh garden peas.

I was standing in the kitchen feeding the baby and he plopped that ziplock down on the counter next to me.

“Your dad thought you might want these,” he said. “They’re from his garden.”

I held the spoon full of smushed plums in a hover position in front of my wiggling baby and with my other hand I examined that bag of peas in disbelief and envy.

“He does NOT have peas yet!” I declared to my husband who had moved on with his life, and pulled the hover spoon from my hand and into the baby’s mouth.

“No wayyyy!!!” I declared again.

“Yup,” said the man I married.

In my head I visualized the plants I examined in his garden just week before. In my head I thought there was no way they could have flowered and grown a plethora of vegetables while I was away on a camping trip for the love of Martha Stewart.

But my head was foggy. I was tired. Turns out the baby doesn’t sleep much on camping trips.

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And neither does her mom.

The dad?

The dad could sleep on the back of a cheetah chasing after a gazelle in the jungle. Wait, do cheetahs even live in the jungle?

Probably  not.

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I don’t even know things anymore. Earlier that morning I sneezed and immediately said “Pew.” Instead of “excuse me.” And then, realizing my error, I corrected it by saying “Thank you.” In front of all the family. They are very likely concerned. But what the hell? This baby took all of my brains.

Anyway, back to the peas. I left them sitting on the counter without further discussion while I went about making supper, cleaning up the baby, throwing a load of camping blankets in the washing machine and generally biding my time before the child went down for the night so I could too.

But I couldn’t get past the peas. He couldn’t possibly have peas already. Didn’t they just sprout a few weeks ago? Mine are barely visible leaves in a sea of black dirt out front. And while he planted them on Memorial Weekend like he was supposed to, and used a pile of sheep manure, and watered and weeded and basically pulled out his A+ horticulturalist game, there is no way that little vegetable plot could be that far along and that far ahead of mine…

Unless…

Husband came out from putting the baby down and sat in his chair. I plopped down the ottoman and stared blankly out the window while I mulled over my conclusion before turning Husband and declaring…

“I’m pretty sure dad transplanted his garden from a greenhouse. I mean, think about it. One day his garden is dirt and the next he has full fledged plants. I never saw the in-between! That has to be it. Those pea plants were started already when he put them in the ground. It makes sense. Makes total sense!!”

“Those peas were from the Farmer’s Market.”

“Wait. What?”

“Your dad. He got them from the Farmer’s Market.”

“Wait. What Farmers Market?”

“The one in Minnesota. He thought it would be funny to give them to you and tell you they were his. I didn’t know how long to let it go. He thought it would be funny to mess with you. And it was.”

Well that explains it.

If you need me I’ll be out in my garden…

Because this. This is what I’m dealing with.

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Wild berries, worms and cuss words…

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Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.

Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.

Juneberries make the best pies in the world.

Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.

Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.

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Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.

I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.

And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…

Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.

I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.

Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.

So that was a loss.

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Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.

Because, well…pie.

Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.

I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.

When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.

But we were both wrong.

At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.

It was crawling toward my butt crack.

Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…

Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…

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Garden Wars…

I’m having gardener’s remorse.

Up until now I didn’t know that was a thing, but it’s a thing.

My big fat mouth got me in trouble last year when I went around waving my giant carrots and perfect, beautiful green beans around like I was Queen of the Prairie and I opened up a can of worms that’s too full now to close.

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Yup, you probably remember it from last year. I dared say “My garden’s better than your garden” to Pops and now he’s throwing down the gauntlet.

And it’s not looking good for me.

In fact, at this point, I think I’ll be lucky to get a radish, seeing how, after ten trips to the garden (and ten back inside to soothe a fussy baby) I finally got the thing in a few weeks ago and now, no matter how I squint, I am pretty certain my peas are not coming up.

And neither is the spinach.

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But even if they did decide to make an appearance, it would have only been to face the magic cow who somehow got by the dogs and the fence to take a little stroll through the beans and a stomp on the cucumbers, the only vegetation in the entire plot that showed promise, besides the thistle.

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Meanwhile, down the road, Pops, who’s typically a pretty laid back horticulturalist, went to a special store and bought sheep poop for crying out loud!

I saw it in bags on his driveway in April and I knew shit was about to get real, in more ways than one you know…

And, before he had to endure last year’s episode of coming over to ask for tomatoes because his had contracted some unsightly spots, Pops would have shared this useful little gardening tip with me.

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But not now. Nope. Because I guess I was a little too cocky about my endless supply of cucumbers and those spotless tomatoes, and, well, he’s just not having it.

Not this year.

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This year he bought sheep poop.

And I’m not positive, but I think he let that cow in my yard…

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Coming Home: Reaping what I sowed with garden boasting
6-26-16
by Jessie Veeder
InForum
http://www.inforum.com

Lord, it’s good to be humble.

It’s a lesson I’ve implemented in my daily life since discovering, at a young age, just as soon as I think things are moving along swimmingly is about the exact time I fall on my face.

Unless it comes to mini golf. Or bowling. Or board games … you know, all the things that matter most in life.

Yeah, give me a tiny golf club and I’ll ride it around the mini-golf course, galloping and whooping at my (lucky) hole-in-one. My team guesses my spot-on impression of Cher during a heated game of charades, and I am queen of the living room.

Get a strike in bowling, and the entire alley gets to witness my shopping cart/running man/stir-the-butter victory moves.

It’s obnoxious. People stare. And unless they’re on my team in charades, it makes my family roll their eyes.

But I’m afraid I’ve stepped out of my boasting comfort zone, taking that happy dance from the safety of the bowling alley and into a place where I might require a little more skill and a little less booze.

A place where talent and knowledge has been honed and passed on through the centuries by the masters of the craft.

A place that has been feeding men, women, children and the wily bunny for ages — the family garden.

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I blame it on last summer’s pregnancy hormones. I think they made me overconfident in my ability to successfully grow things, and maybe those hormones had something to do with the big fat tomatoes, the giant carrots and the never-ending supply of beans that appeared in full force despite the fact that I didn’t get a thing planted until late June.

Or maybe it was the magic in the soil my husband dug from in front of the old barn where cows have been pooping for a million years, but oh Lord, did I have a great garden.

And Lord, did I ever brag about it.

Check the newspaper archives for August 2015. You’ll see the evidence.

And when Dad, the man who has been growing things since he was still growing himself, decided not to plant beans or peas because of the wily deer who sneaks in the fence for a snack every night and then found that his tomato plants turned up with spots, when he humphed about his garden looking a little shabby, well, I took it as an invitation to make sure my biggest carrots and most perfect tomatoes were on the table when he came over.

And then I sent him home with a plastic bag full of peas and an “I’m sure sorry about your garden” comment through the smirk on my face.

But now I’m in trouble.

Because apparently an arrogant horticulturalist doesn’t sit well with him, especially when he taught that arrogant horticulturalist everything she knows about planting carrot seeds and on her first attempt she’s somehow outdone him.

The man has found the whole thing entirely annoying, and now I’m afraid he’s stepping up his game in retaliation.

I sensed this might happen. There have been comments. Snide remarks. Sideways looks.

But it became pretty evident when I went over to his place earlier this spring to find 10 big bags of sheep manure waiting to be spread on that garden plot of his, a sign that he’s determined to put actual effort into a task that typically comes naturally to him and his green thumb.

And now I have a competition on my hands with the guy whom I rely on to water my garden when we’re out of town.

A competition that I’m currently losing because, with a baby in tow, it took me a good 10 attempts to get my garden in last week.

Dad? Well, his has been in since Memorial Day, just like the books tell you.

He’s in the zone, and I’m obsessively checking to see if the radishes have at least come up.

I think I better spend more time watering and less time on my victory dance.

Because, Lord, it’s good to be humble.

But, Dad, the growing season’s still young …

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Where everybody knows your name (or the name of someone you might be related to)

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For those of you who grew up or continue to grow up in a small town…

Coming Home: In a state that’s a big small town, there’s always a seat at the table
6-12-16
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communication
http://www.inforum.com

The white noise of conversation and laughter filled the bar like the scent of the burgers frying on the grill in the back. The three of us stepped inside from the sunny early evening, our eyes adjusting to the dim light, scanning the room for an open table to grab a drink and a bite to eat.

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When my quick scan revealed there wasn’t an empty table in the place, I figured we would just turn around, head out the door and find a restaurant without a wait.

But we were there with Merrill, a radio personality, musician and host of the event that evening, and it appeared that he saw the room a bit differently than we did. Like, there may not have been an empty table, but there certainly were empty chairs. And as Dad and I started heading for the door, we noticed Merrill talking and shaking hands with a couple at a table with three empty seats.

“They said we could join them,” he declared as he waved us over and started adjusting chairs. And then he informed the waitress of his plan.

“Well, if it’s OK with them,” she said, a little concerned.

Which I thought was weird. Because Merrill, being the friendly, recognizable personality he is, well, I just figured he knew this couple. It’s North Dakota after all.

We’re like one big small town, a statement that doesn’t make sense at all unless, well, you live in North Dakota.

By my not-scientific-at-all-estimation, if you’ve lived in this state for longer than 10 years, the chance of running into someone you know at a restaurant in any given community from east to west is a good 60 percent.

And if you don’t know anybody in that restaurant, strike up a conversation and the likelihood of the two of you finding a friend or relative in common is like 90 percent.

Which was the case with this couple, who had never seen Merrill before in their lives but were friendly enough to let three strangers infringe on their date. We didn’t have to go too far past our initial introductions to find places and people in common.

Small talk revealed that they were both retired and living in Bowman. (My old boss is from Bowman. Do you know the family? Yes. Yes.)

And the woman, who had seen me perform in Hettinger a few years back, had ties to the Killdeer area. (Oh, we’re just north of there. Yes, we know so and so. Relatives of ours.)

And from there we fell into an easy banter of stories that somehow always seems to have me recounting the tale of the raccoon that snuck into Mom and Dad’s house through the screen door every evening to rearrange the rocks on the decorative bird bath and the more recent revelation about another raccoon that climbs up on my deck every night to poop on my rug.

Then over burgers and fries we learned that they like to go to the car show in Medora every year, which revealed that he’s spent his life tinkering and repairing old cars. Which reminded me of my brother-in-law, who had just recently given up on an old Volkswagen Bus that was just never going to run right. Which reminded him of a story about the time he bought an old VW Beatle that once broke down and left him stranded on such a windy North Dakota day that he just opened both doors to that little car and let the wind push him home.

Which reminded Merrill about the road trip he took with his friends, all crammed in a VW Bug to Mexico and back years ago.

“I had a girlfriend when we started the trip. She wasn’t my girlfriend when we got home,” he said. “Never talked to any of them again actually.”

And our laughter and conversation became part of the buzz of strangers and friends telling stories in the dim light of a bar on Saturday evening in small town North Dakota.

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This not-so-glamourous life…

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A photographer came to visit the ranch and I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t pretty people. We spent the day before working an art event in town that I had been planning for months and didn’t get home until after eleven. It was the last event in a week with a full schedule. I was tired. I had to gather the troops. I sorta forgot to take a shower and fix my hair.  I didn’t make even a remotely healthy lunch for my niece and I (because when you’re tired you much prefer Doritos to salad). I didn’t put pants on the baby. I didn’t get the horses in ahead of time to prepare them and de-bur them so that they were photo ready. And I didn’t mention in the newspaper column below the part where the baby stuck her finger up my horses’s snotty nose, which was bleeding a bit because of a fresh little cut.

That was horrifying. And there was a man from Minneapolis with a big camera to witness my disgust.

So this is my confession published in newspapers across the state, in case you might get the wrong idea when you see the photos and article in the magazine that we have our shit together out here.

Because we don’t.

But I think you all knew that already…

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Coming Home: Glossy pages don’t reflect our not-so-glamourous life
by Jessie Veeder
6-5-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inform.com

This morning a big yellow screwdriver sits next to a half-eaten pan of cinnamon rolls (the kind out of the freezer section, not out of my KitchenAid mixer) and that sits next to a couple baby books about farm life that feature a perfect red barn against green rolling hills dotted with smiling black and white cows.

Today as I reflect on the last couple weeks, I’m wondering if I should even read those little farm books to poor Edie. Maybe I should just toss them in the trash and keep her from asking some hard-hitting questions about this place.

Like, why don’t the horses in the books have cockleburs in their manes? Aren’t horses born with them?

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And momma, why don’t you wear an apron like the mommas in the books? And where is that fresh-baked pie that’s supposed to be sitting on the windowsill to cool?

Yes, follow us around for a day and you would see that clearly the authors of these children’s farm books didn’t base them off of our life.

No.

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And while Edie’s not old enough to start asking questions (sigh of relief) I did have a reporter call me a few weeks ago with some questions of her own. Like, what’s life like on the family ranch for two people who got to move back to it? What does a typical day look like?

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I couldn’t think of an interesting or straightforward way to answer that. When she called my husband just got home from work and he was rocking the baby, trying to keep her happy so I could have an uninterrupted conversation. When that was over, he was going to go to his next job of taking care of this place. And when he returned we would have leftover lasagna for the third night in a row because I got distracted by a writing deadline when I should have been doing laundry because I’m out of clean underwear, for crying out loud.

And so they sent out a photographer to see for himself. A photographer who likely had a hope of capturing what I’m sure he envisioned as some picturesque scenes of a family of three working side by side and meeting up for a picnic meal with the grandparents who live down the road.

But this was an agricultural magazine so I hope they knew better. And while I was raised in an environment where both my parents worked, ran a ranching operation and managed to keep three kids alive, I’m learning what that really means as an adult. And I’m not sure we’re exactly killing it.

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I mean, when a photographer shows up, completely announced and expected, a balanced and together woman would have had pants on the baby. Or combed her hair.

Or at least cleared the evidence of her recent Dorito and Oreo lunch from the counter.

And when the request for a photo of my husband and I riding side by side through a herd of calm cattle sent me down to the barnyard attempting to lure uninterested horses in with a bucket of grain before resorting to leading one with the shirt I was planning on wearing tied around his neck so that I could spend the next half hour before my husband arrived home currying the tangle of burs out of their manes and tails so I wouldn’t embarrass the long line of Veeders who once called this place home, I began to question if we were really worthy of the press.

But at least he got authentic. Authentic sweat. And authentic cussing as my husband and I attempted the impossible task of moving a herd of cattle toward a man with a camera standing in an open pasture.

Needless to say, none of it was picture perfect.

Because around here burs stick to horses while they fill up on green grass that makes them fat and sassy on the hilltop behind the barn that needs painting. And inside, where the books might write in the apple pie, we have a screwdriver instead. Or a calf tagger. Or a hammer.

And it might not be glamorous, and it might not be easy, but that’s why they make frozen cinnamon rolls.

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